Friday, January 22, 2010

No matter where we go... here we are.

I have 3 more questes to do. One is probably the coolest quest in WoW history, two others are pretty good as well, but I'm not feeling it at the moment. So, I decided to write about something different. Amazing, that.

I may have tricked you, dear readers, into thinking this was a world of warcraft blog. Shazam! Kablooey! No. You were wrong. This blog is about life, the universe, and nothing, nobody, and perhaps nothing at all. However, despite the presiding disclaimer, I will speak about WoW oncemore, because I feel like it. So, there. Take that.
I feel like Blizzard - more specifically, that part of Blizzard that works on WoW - has lost some of it's goals. Some of it's purpose. Ka-Pow! Now I have a thesis. You must be drawn in. It is law. For a little bit of background, I have played for a good four years... Got it in the summer after it came out (so 4 1/2 yrs I guess) and it was my first MMO ever. Noting the necessary haze of nostalgia and epicness that obviously cloud those memories, I will tread quite carefully into its lair.

I would challenge you to tell me the story arc of WoW Vanilla. Perhaps tell me the main villain... or the link between the various baddies... or even explain the significance of the thousands of existing storylines, both unfinished and finished, from An Azsharan Shipwreck to the Rise of the Troll God Hakkar to the Summoning of an Ancient God to Quelling a Human Uprising to... thousands more. The obvious point here is that their IS NONE. You cannot convince me that each piece of each of these storylines - while each a very worthy, interesting storyline in its own right - have anything to do with one another. In short, Blizzard did not build a game on a story - it built a game on a world.

However, this idea is slowly... slipping. Slipping away. Outland preserved a bit of it - you'd have no clue why the Consortium were there, or the history of Medivh and is ivory tower, or the Arakkoan Gods or the Ancient Gods of Zul'Aman. However, we fought, in every single zone, members of the Legion. We crushed hundreds of their troops, allied with Demon Hunters, defeated the standing leader, destroyed two of the most powerful lieutenants, up through the big, titular baddie himself, up through one of the most powerful members of the legion known to date.

In short, we went through a story.

In Wrath of the Lich King, it is even MORE present. I mean, you see Arthas is basically every zone, and even in the ones you don't see him in, his presence is felt. Almost every single dungeon touches on him. Yes, we had the Nexus War. Yes, we had the Titans. That's what, 3 storylines compared to hundreds in vanilla? Thousands? BC had more, what with Gruul and Oshu'gun and the Blood Elves Redemption and Auchindoun and the Ogres and the Cenarion Expedition and all sorts of others.

It may just be the product of having a thing like an 'Expansion'. You have to reset the level cap, gear cap, and you only have 1 continent - with 7-9 zones - to work with. It only makes sense to push across one storyline. However, this expansion scheme kind of kills that world-like realism that WoW built around itself. No, the villain wasn't always present. But you still got to see a giant dragon appearing in the throne room, and defeat the Old God C'Thun, and discover the mysteries of the trolls and the scourge and the aftermath of the wars behind and looking to the years ahead.

I am... afraid. As always. We only have around 5 zones this expansion. We have 2 heroiced old dungeons, with no more background in lore than Onyxia that we know of, and about 8 that all directly tie to Deathwing and the Black Dragonflight. Uldum's secret weapon, the raids on the Elemental Planes, all lock together to form a cohesive narrative... one with a single storyline. I am really, really scared that people will not notice that their 'world' is dissolving around them. Because if it works in an expansion, why not, while revamping the old world, make all the pieces fit together? Have the quest lines build like a plot from a novel? They could do it. I really, really don't want them to.

I think one of the easiest ways to see the decline in the world is the Role-Playing community. It was really, really hard to be a 'Mary Sue' in Vanilla. Sure, people did it, but there was no 'Arthas's betrayer' or 'Illidan's best bud' storyline to follow. You picked a path, of vengeance or light or honor or general connivery, and could make a person - a real, live person - out of all the pieces. Nowadays, it gets harder and harder to do so. If you want to play through the entire last twenty (five) levels of the game, you have to follow these plot lines.

But even more scary about WoW doing this is that other people will do it to. I mean, who's to say that the new MMO won't be all story driven? Linear or otherwise, with an intended goal and a path to follow? Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, however they spin it, it'll just be one more game - not a "real" world. This is what really, really worries me about SW:TOR. They say that they're bringing the 'story' to the MMO. Giving it a more RPG feel, letting you pick a path and meet with other people along a way. It's not a world - its a walkway. Maybe you'll have two, five, eight paths diverging in a yellow wood, but really they'll all lead somewhere, and there's only one path to follow.
Maybe I'm mad. Perhaps this is just natural evolution of the MMORPG, to a more RPG based, soloplayer style. But I hold out that this isn't true. The idea that you can build a world, from scratch to full animated glory, is so astonishing - so mind boggling - that I still find it hard to switch to any other game.

What do I hope for, in the not-too-distant future? I hope that Blizzard will release larger, more expansive expansions. One every two years, or two and a half. Include multiple coexisting storylines, and not just multiple, but tons upon tons upon tons. I am not against evolving worlds - in fact, I am heartily for them. However I am against single-lined, one stranded plots. This is a virtual World. It is a community, a hub of lore and art and music and thought, philosophy and theory and statistics and design, planning and crafting and building and living. It is not just a game - it is a world. If the day should ever come that WoW forgets this... it may be time to find a new game.

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