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Before I start this, I should note that I’m a huge World of Warcraft fan. It was actually the first computer game I played, since I grew up with consoles and never got around to PC gaming. I jumped on board about a month after the launch of vanilla WoW, and I played all the way through Wrath. I even worked at Blizzard for a couple of years, in a position my NDA explicitly forbids me from disclosing. What I’m saying is, you can trust me when I say I know WoW and its players pretty well.
I’ve been loosely following the progress of WoW since I walked away from it late last year. Cataclysm certainly looked like a step in the right direction, but the gradual dumbing down of WoW with simplified talent trees, charity epics and gold flowing from the hills like a waterfall turned me off to the whole thing. I enjoyed Wrath of the Lich King, but the challenge I had seen in dungeons like Upper Blackrock Spire and Blackwing Lair, and to a lesser degree the Black Temple, never really resurfaced. When a group of ten random people could clear a raid in one night, I knew that the game couldn’t offer me much of a challenge.
Mist of Pandaria, announced at Blizzcon yesterday, looks like it’s designed to do one thing – make the fans happy. While this is certainly a good plan for generating sales, it doesn’t do much for the hardcore player looking for a challenge. All of the announced features seem to be making WoW even easier, and while casuals should absolutely have a place in any game, it just doesn’t seem like the same game that drew our passion and love in 2005. If you remember, Pandaren were added to Warcraft 3 as a joke – fans just happened to like them so they got retconned into the story.
Hell, even Blizzard was amazed that people liked them. Here’s a quote from the guy that designed the Pandaren Monk art for the original joke, Samwise Didier:
“But so we put that up in there and everyone was like “Oh my God! A PANDA RACE? That’s kind of cool!” And I’m like “Are you kidding me, really? You want to see pandas in Warcraft III or whatever?”
And now they’re taking that joke and shoving it into WoW. It’s been sad to watch the Warcraft lore die over the last few years and it’s pretty evident that Blizzard may be running out of ideas. They’ve basically pillaged everything they can from their history instead of coming up with new stories to tell, and an entire expansion based on the Pandaren makes it clear that they don’t have much left for World of Warcraft.
What’s really telling is the addition of a Pokémon-like mini-game, in which players will force their non-combat pets to fight. You’ll also be able to find and capture pets in the wild and then train them to be better fighters. It’s an interesting concept for killing time between raids or groups, but it also says a lot about how the WoW player base has changed in the last six years. Essentially, WoW has gone from MMO to casual Facebook game; it just has a nicer interface.
We’ll have to see how the expansion goes – maybe I’m just an idiot. Maybe people want to play as Pandaren, and maybe they’ll have a great time. But it certainly looks like the WoW I loved is dead, and there won’t be any reason to come back. I just don’t think Blizzard knows how to update the franchise for hardcore players anymore. That, or they don’t care.
Guess we’ll just have to wait for that other top-secret Blizzard project, huh? Are you still going to play World of Warcraft after the new expansion?