WoW: Joining the Dark Side

WoW Sith
I never thought I’d say this, but last night I created a World of Wacraft account. Oh sure, it was the free-up-to-level-20 Starter Edition, but I’m seriously considering subscribing.

Why? The only reason there is for subscribing to WoW in this age of excellent free-to-play and buy-to-play titles: Jeremy Soule did the soundtrack for Mist of Pandaria. Just kidding, I refer, of course, to the fact that I have a friend who’s been trying to get me to play forever. My friend, who I rarely get to see anymore, has heard Azeroth irresistibly calling to him to return yet again, and this time, rather than make fun of him for never trying anything new (I’ve tried to get him to play just about every MMO I’ve ever been through, and he’s almost always turned me down), I decided to take the plunge with him.

It’s strange actually being in this game I’ve seen and read and know so much about, and yet have never personally experienced. Just about everyone I know that plays MMOs has played WoW. WoW was the game that, circa 2006, everyone left RuneScape for. I didn’t want to pay the three times higher subscription fee, so I contently stayed there, harboring just a little vague resentment toward WoW. Later, when games like LotRO started going F2P, I moved on to things that didn’t cost me money. I must say that I’ve taken some pride in being that one guy who’s been playing MMOs nonstop since 2005, but has never played WoW. I’m really not sure how I feel about giving that up. It kind of feels like selling out, but I can’t really give a good reason as to why. But I’ve come to the conclusion that, if I don’t at least give WoW a try, I am, in a way, just as irrational as someone who won’t play anything but WoW.

So, my first impressions? It feels… old. I’ll probably be tried and convicted for the high crime of being a WoW hater for saying this, but I feel like it hasn’t really aged very well at all. I’m perfectly willing to believe it’s because I know it’s old, but from the way every WoW player talks about the game I went in expecting to be wowed (pun only somewhat intended) by how perfect everything was. Character customization is pretty slim. Heck, RuneScape had more options than this when I first played in 2005 (granted, there are a lot of races, so there’s that, but couldn’t I at least adjust my character’s height or build?), and even with the recent character model redesigns, I’m still not impressed by the graphics. The interface feels a little cluttered. The settings menu isn’t organized very well (I spent a good five minutes or more trying to figure out if there was a way to stop my character from yelling at me because his spell was in cooldown when I hit it a second early or late, as I tend to mash the key a few times, and I still haven’t figured out how to move the buff/debuff box under my character portrait where it belongs). Also painful is the fact that I keep reverting to Guild Wars 2 mode and trying to run around the target while casting, either getting the “can’t cast while moving” message or worse, interrupting myself (I quickly switched to a Paladin, a class with mostly instant casts). And then there’s the miles of quest text they give you as motivation to go kill five rats. I know, I know, I’m totally spoiled by modern fully-voiced games, it’s true. But isn’t the operative word there modern? It really kills my momentum to stop and read stuff, and the temptation is so strong to just skip it and grind on. The writing had better be good later on or I, like so many players before me, am probably never going to do much more than skim any of it.

Perhaps the worst mechanic, one that I thought even WoW would have dropped by now, is mob tapping, the idea that, as soon as you do damage to something, you own it until one of you is dead and no one else can get quest progress, XP, or drops from it. I’ve heard the argument that it’s somehow supposed to encourage people to group up (something you can’t do as a starter), but to me it simply removes all incentive to help other players. If I’m supposed to form a temporary group to kill things for one quest, how is that different from open tapping? What’s worse is when there’s exactly one specific, unique person I need to kill for a quest (and believe me, those Blood Elves have a thing for bringing peoples’ severed heads to them). I must have waited 10 minutes to one-shot some loser elf, impatiently waiting my turn among a crowd of other “newbies” (mostly in heirloom gear with that obnoxious orc chauffeur motorcycle) also waiting to kill said elf. And this was on a medium population server. It got better as I moved farther away from the starting point, but it’s still an incredibly frustrating mechanic that, in my opinion, has no place in a modern MMO.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the game or anything. There are a lot of nice touches. The voice toasts when you click on NPCs, for instance. In a game where you’re stuck skipping reading pages of questgiver text, they’ve done a nice job of having a nice array of voice clips to give you something to go on. Similarly, Blizzard has always done a great job of giving different races unique personalities. You can almost guess the character’s race simply by reading what they said to you. Also, capes. It’s silly, but I’ve missed capes since going to games like SWTOR and GW2. Why GW2 hasn’t included capes yet is still a mystery to me. I mean, I get that cloth physics simulation is hard and all, but a good cape looks way cooler than a rose growing out of your back or those dumb flappy wings. Perhaps the most appealing advantage of WoW is its extremely well developed endgame. As someone who much prefers the journey to the destination, even I find this appealing. It’s something that’s often a little lacking in F2P/B2P games, and I wouldn’t mind running on the gear treadmill for a little while.

My biggest fear with the game is that I won’t find it worth my monthly $15. Honestly, if I didn’t know anyone who was playing, there’s no way I would even be interested at this point. But I’ve spent a lot more than $15 in a month to spend time with friends, so I guess it’s not unreasonable to just be a social WoW player.

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