Blizzard’s WoW | Hopes and Fears for the Future

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If you enjoyed playing Blizzard’s popular MMORPG ‘World of Warcraft’ and longed for the days when you could take a jaunt into Southshore and kill the Horde or Alliance to your heart’s content, then you would have found a place to call home on the Nostalrius servers. It seems that over 800,000 users registered with the server and 150,000 currently active users agreed that the latest World of Warcraft iteration ‘Warlords of Draenor’ is not a patch on the original experience. An experience that is no longer a playable option through the official Blizzard servers.

In fact, since the ‘Cataclysm’ expansion much of the original Azeroth was changed beyond recognition. In some ways, this was an improvement as it freshened up the levelling experience for those who had been playing for a long time and were levelling up yet another ‘alt’ character through the same old content that they had done a million other times before. However, they didn’t just change the content they started to change the talent tree systems, and also made the levelling experience into a speedy hand-held race to the end level content which was achievable in a matter of a few days in play time. A lot of old school players disliked this and, as the falling subscription numbers confirm, Blizzard started to haemorrhage paying subscribers.

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One alternative for these players was to look to go for a private server which is run independent of Blizzard and is run by a community of volunteers. Now some may argue about piracy and the fact that these users were not actively paying a subscription to Blizzard which is essentially true but they were not paying anything to Nostalrius to play on their server either. It was a community led ‘preservation’ effort to allow people to play a game they loved and keep their interest and community alive. In fact there are servers available that cover each separate expansion so that you can choose which particular version of Blizzard’s worlds you want to play in.

In fact my own experience with World of Warcraft started on one of these private servers as I didn’t know whether I would like the game or not. I played on that server for a few months and decided I liked it so I moved over to the retail servers through Blizzard and purchased a subscription along with my wife and we stayed paying our monthly fees right up until Warlords of Draenor. In total that was around £30 per month for both of us for the duration of approximately 7 years. I can definitely say that I would never have done that if I hadn’t sampled the private server first.

It seems to me a bit suspicious that Blizzard chose this particular time to tackle this group of private servers, as they have essentially turned a blind eye to them for a number of years. Now, with a movie being released soon, a new expansion on the horizon and the creation of ‘Classic Battle.Net’ (The platform to play legacy Blizzard titles such as Diablo II, Warcraft III and Starcraft) could Blizzard be eyeing up the release of legacy servers to entice back some of the subscribers they have lost from the peak of 12 million 5 years ago to the current all-time low of 5.5 million? It would certainly make sense from a business standpoint to entice some of the old nostalgic players back at a time when you are releasing new content to pique curiosity and hope that they jump ship to the current expansion. It does seem however that they also run the risk of alienating a substantial player base that loved and cared about one of their franchises enough to keep the nostalgia alive and to allow others to join in with an experience that would otherwise have been lost forever.

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Am I saying that all of these servers are run in a completely legitimate way with no money changing hands between players and server owners? No, I am not that naive and there will be some shady practices going on out there which Blizzard has the right to chase down to serve notices upon. I can’t help but think that it would have been far more worth their while to work with the community and try to build on what was already established instead of shutting it down. Instead, they are forcing the people who enjoyed the original experience to either play the cut-down and scaled back non-community driven version of WoW that exists in the current expansion, or allow the game they invested so much time and effort into, to turn to a forgotten memory. In any case, the cease and desist notice means that Nostalrius servers will be no more on April 10th of this year. Maybe we will see Blizzard roll-out legacy servers? if they did I would be tempted to check it out for nostalgia sake but would it encourage me to progress through all of the content they have to offer? I doubt it very much as the sense of community just isn’t the same as it used to be.

World of Warcraft : Warlords of Draenor Review

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World of Warcraft; A game on the cusp of celebrating its 10th year of active subscriptions. It’s become an institution to the genre of Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games, the standard to which other MMORPG games are held against, and aspire to. Many a time I’ve heard other gamers in games that are in direct competition to WoW wish for features that were missing in their current game, that would make their current experience so much better. ”It’s good…but it’s not Carling” the advert tells us. Other players do the same ”It’s good but I miss WoW’s XYZ” It is a huge game, and it just got bigger with the release of the fifth expansion, Warlord’s of Draenor.

For those of you more than familiar with the game, or at least have a working knowledge, Warlords has you scurrying back to the Dark Portal chasing WoW’s very own Jeremy Kyle  – Garrosh Hellscream. Our pal Garrosh has managed to find a way to muddle up the timeline and reactivate the Dark Portal in order to find himself back on his homeworld- Draenor, at a critical point in Orcish history.

This is where you, the player steps in.

In an attempt to try and review all that is possibly on offer in the new expansion, I have split my review into a gaming diary of seven days. I was more than  happy to rediscover my love of WoW whilst playing for this review, and I intend to explain why below.

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Day One  : Confusion and Pretty Things

After completing a full install, and thanks to the wonder of Blizzard’s installer, I didn’t have to wait all that long. I was greeted by the trademark cinematic music and trailer, and a little voice in my head said ”This is it! be excited again!” I could feel myself getting carried away in the moment, something Mists didn’t manage to do for me. I decided to use my shiny level 90 boost on my Pandaren Monk, as I love the class and it’s utility. As an aside the level 90 boost was a stroke of genius by Blizzard. Allowing players still working their way through the previous content to immediately get to the new content, in my opinion, was the best way to keep players logged in and playing. They also created a way to stop you rushing off half cocked with your new found powers, by deliberately restricting the talents and spells of your class until you had chance to engage a few enemies and unlock them. Or at least that was the theory, one that should have worked really well. What happened to me (and more than a few others I’ve spoken to) was my delightful avatar – now looking even more splendid thanks to some nifty upgrades to sprites, was unceremoniously dumped outside of the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands and Summarily executed by the standing Iron Horde Elites. Oh, I’m dead. No worries I’ll run back to my corpse and resurrect….right in the middle of the original murdering Orcs. Not cool. Some four deaths later, I had run sufficiently far enough away that I was not going to be swatted the moment I entered the corporeal realm. ”Aha!” I thought, ”I can rectify this error by using my hearthstone” which teleported me approximately 100 feet back to my original spawn point, right into the middle of some grinning Orc-kin.

Not the best start I could have hoped for. 5 minutes in and I’ve sampled the Iron Horde’s hospitality a few too many times for my liking. In mild frustration I logged into my Warlock character, who was also level 90, and made my way to meet Khadgar within the walls of Orgrimmar. Some chatter here and there and I was asked to confirm my teleportation to the Dark Portal. Boom! Cue a cinematic of absolutely ridiculous amounts of Fanboy awesome. Needless to say I was hooked instantly. What followed for the rest of my evening was a non-stop rush through the starting zone, helping the motley ragtag escape the clutches of the Iron Horde.

WoW_6Day two: Make Monk Go!

I decided to give the monk another run out, happily logging in and running like a scared rabbit worked well enough and I found myself airship bound for Orgrimmar. Quickly fighting through the initial zone again, albeit in healing specialisation (Thanks to which I mistakenly selected my spec in Undercity whilst panicking about only having a single spell – see above for Blizzards plan for newly boosted 90’s) and got to the point a lot of people had been very pleased about – The Garrison. I couldn’t see how it would be different to player housing in other MMOs. How wrong I was! The Garrison is an instanced personal quest hub. Almost like your own miniature Orgrimmar/Stormwind – minus the role-players having barely disguised cyber sex and random fireworks displays. You accrue followers and resources from accepting quests within the Garrison, which eventually allow you to upgrade it and add in buildings of your choices. The followers themselves are given as quest rewards and come in various types. Each follower has a special zone they are more effective in, and they also get assigned a skill that is used in a fairly complicated version of scissor, paper, stone. This, combined with the additional quests, items, combat pets and followers triggers a kind of insane kleptomania that Ash Ketchum would be proud of. You feel compelled to Catch Them All. Add into this heady mixture of completion-ism, the fact that there is a base chance of ALL quest rewards and boss drops to be upgraded (followers too) to either rare or epic rarity from the lowest form, means that Blizzard have really gone out of their way to make sure they are doing something new and different, and most of all, rewarding, to keep the community engaged. My night was spent goggling at the stunning snow covered landscape, taking screenshots of lava pools and watching it snow. Yes. Weather effects!

WoW_WoD_PressKit_TFu_19bDay three : Heal Me!

Today is the day I shall attempt to go into a dungeon. A new one. I tell myself as I log on. ”I know! I’ll use my monk to heal!” After realising that I’ve never healed as the monk, and watching the health bars of my team mates drain like a overfull bath, I was summarily booted from the group after we wiped out on the second or third group of enemies. Oops. My bad. After a quick look at an online guide, I felt ready to try again. Attempt number two went really well. The healer has a nice rotation and plenty of buttons to press should damage start ramping up. I did notice something that disturbed me, and then after giving it some serious thought, actually pleased me. Loot is not guaranteed when you kill a boss. The instant gratification reward system was replaced with a few coins. After my rage died down, I rationally allowed some grudging respect for the design team. What better way to get me revisiting the dungeons than making the loot unpredictable, potentially looting a better piece and accruing me vast wealth along the way?

WoW_6Day four : The Shaman Who Died (A Lot)

I made a few discoveries today. The servers that controlled the instances was unfortunately suffering in light of the recent DDoS attacks, whilst the goblins and gnomes of Blizz HQ rushed to repair them, I logged into my other characters to see how and what has happened to them since the patch release. There were a LOT less buttons on my hot-bar. After reading up on the changes, I felt that not all of these changes were for the better. My Paladin missed her angelic wings  it looked awesome, which is important to me. My shaman was missing his little spell effects that lingered around his weapons – they have now been made a passive effect based on talent specialisation, but still it felt a little flat. Other than that the other major change was the statistic squashing that affected every single piece of equipment. After the servers stabilised, I was able to check on my garrisonand my followers missions. I was offered an upgrade to my Garrison. Wow! What a way to allow players to customise their home base. The level 2 Garrison became a Fort (with suitable bigger walls and harder looking NPCs) and I had the freedom to build whichever buildings I wished. I can’t wait to expand further, with my buildings becoming little workshops that turn common Draenor materials into mounts, spell boosts, food and weapons and armour. This was a brilliant move by Blizzard.

WoW_WoD_PressKit_TFu_21aDay five: Class Balancing you say?

I’m now in full-on WoW withdrawals. Work seems to take forever to be finished before I can jump online – there are now no queues on my server. My routine has become checking for follower mission completion, looting the accrued garrison resources and making sure my work orders have finished. Blizzard have added in a narrative that really puts you in the centre of the action. It’s created in a way to really celebrate the accomplishments you have achieved since your character was born; admittedly this feels flat when you have newly boosted a level one to level 90. For someone who used to log into just to role-play, I found myself nodding to NPC’s acknowledging my character as the hero they have undoubtedly become. The little comments within the scripted quests from the NPCs such as Thrall and Khadgar give a believable feel to the game and really help with immersion. Thrall – the Guardian of a WHOLE planet, is deferring to me? I get asked to fetch 15 wolf skins from a nearby encampment. Yes the scout work still exists, it always will , but it doesn’t feel as tired as it should.

WoW_6Day six : Collect ’em all!

A few heated debates across the internet forums and legions of desperately upset players have petitioned the American Government to fix Blizzards server issues. Blizzard announced that the server population is healthier than ever, with a massive TEN million subscribers. It has stung the lead developers to release an interview, stating that all of the money in the world cannot fix the server issues. Fans scream blue murder about poor launch management and throwing more cash at server structure. Blizzard know that this initial outlay will be pointless in the long run, as content slows down and subs fall away. In a way to allay peoples rage and fears they have kindly extended every subscribed players account by five days. Nice gesture. I’m still logging in at peak times with no queue. Yes you are having to wait to play, but it means that this game is SO good you are going to have to have patience before you can get your  mitts on it! Do the crappy rides at the amusement park have long queues? Hell no! The rides that have the most hype and give the biggest thrill have the huge queues.

WoW_Dungeons_BF_EM_04Day seven : The Hunting

My day is spent struggling with the spotty garrison server issues. Unfortunately my game time was a little restricted as well. So I settled myself down to a spot of questing and generally enjoying the game. Quite a few occurrences of loot upgrades (thanks to my War Mill) and chatter with other players show the promise of Legendary quests issued by Khadgar himself, which will eventually lead to Legendary items to equip and show off. I’m now able to access my bank and trade in the metals and ore for other trade goods that I can sell. I am so happy with the way my fort is turning out and I look forward to playing the end game content.

Blizzard have shown that listening to player feedback, tweaking an already tremendous reward system from questing, has made the World of Warcraft and my own personal world a brighter place to be in.

 Score: 8/10