MMO Showdown – World of Warcraft

Our characters did not look like this.

Our characters did not look like this.

Hello again noble readers and welcome to the second instalment in our thrilling MMOdown, where Ludo and I, two long term gamers who nevertheless have next to no experience with the dreaded muhmorpuhga genre, give the genre a whirl in an attempt to understand the attraction.

Last week Ludo spoke of our experience with City of Heroes, which was refreshingly dynamic entry in a field we’d always seen as bit stale and static. We enjoyed our time in Paragon City a lot, but probably won’t be taking up a subscription and instead will await, with baited breath, the beta for spiritual successor Champions Online.

This week we decide to go for the big daddy, the heavy hitter, the MMO which defines all others: World of Warcraft. Read more after the jump.

And so we begin, after sorting out our trial code malarkey we were greeted with a fairly standard intro screen. A bit of preliminary research told us we’d start in different cities depending on race, so we both went with Undead, because of Ludo’s better-not-discussed penchant for necromancy. Our first impression was the distinct lack of options on character creation, whereas in City of Heroes we’d merrily tweaked our characters for nearly an hour in WoW we could cycle through all the possible combinations in about five minutes. I went with the bog standard Warrior, whereas Ludo, a sucker for minions as ever, chose the demon keeping Warlock, they looked pretty much the same. (It is at this point that I regret to inform you that we’ve lost the screenshots of our time in WoW, so you’ll have to take our generic screenies and witty captions instead)

With the game proper beginning we get a little canned intro discussing the origins of our race, which I’m not entirely sure anyone really cares about, whilst panning over a set of dumpy purple cottages which look like a children’s book illustration of a spooky house, this turns out to be our city. We are born into the game world within a small tomb under the undead village, honestly you’d think undead would require more tomb space but hey, whatever. As we stroll merrily out the passers by run back and forth minding their own business emphatically, this would become a theme for our stay in this game. While in City of Heroes we found groups picking up players fairly often, and high level characters strolling around casually chatting with the newbies, in WoW everyone seems very much focused on their own levelling, odd for a game in which the social aspect is so touted. And once again we are denied the ability to group with each other, or give each other things, or drop things or the ground, or do much of anything really.

We looked like this - and so did everyone else.

We looked like this - and so did everyone else.

Anyway, we stumble out into the world, surrounded by the aforementioned emphatically unspooky cottages, wandering into the biggest cottage we find a man with an exclamation mark over his head. “Shit, we’ve been spotted!” We think for a second before realising this is the other widely used exclamation mark trope, he had a quest for us. After giving us the standard ‘welcome new person’ speech he sends us off to our respective trainers, they, and many others in the town have quests for us, we eagerly snap them all up and compare notes: “Kill five zombies, kill five skeletons, kill five slightly different looking zombies” Bugger. Well, you know, I’ve known a lot of good single player RPG’s that started with “kill five rats”, you know, there’s a reason it’s a gag, it’s almost self referential now. Anyway most of City of Heroes’ quests were simple slaughterfests too, admittedly you actually felt like you were fighting crime while doing it, rather than fighting wildlife, but we enjoyed that, maybe we’ll enjoy this too.

We did not enjoy this.

It’s hard to put a finger on why butchering minions is less fun in World of Warcraft than in City of Heroes, maybe it’s because we felt like there was more of a purpose when we were fighting crime, maybe it’s because we were firing lasers from our eyes instead of learning various marginally different sword swings, or maybe it’s because we felt like superheroes, rather than feeling like a mook with a sword, no, not even that, feeling like the guy behind the mook, clicking the buttons.

There is zero immersion in World of Warcraft, at no time do you feel like a mighty (or distinctly unmighty, in my case) warrior, or a powerful mage, instead you feel like a man clicking a mouse at a computer, watching a series of numbers steadily increase and decrease under a rather unimpressive graphical overlay. It’s the reason I feel out of love with Oblivion in the end, a sudden epiphany saw me see through the pretence into the shallow mechanics beneath, and I was appalled. WoW makes no pretence of being anything more than these simple, shallow and god damn it I’m going to say it, dull mechanics. Why should it? Millions of people enjoy increasing these numbers, for reasons beyond my comprehension, but for me, every time a number floats out of an enemies head a little part of me dies inside.

Group activity - we didn't see anything like this.

Group activity - we didn's see anything like this.

We soldiered onwards, convinced that the game would, at some point become more interesting. It was revealed that sufficient levelling up (beyond the meagre level that trial players were allowed of course) would enable us to get bigger inventories, or ride horses, in order to reduce the inconveniences the game had already enforced upon us. A wise man once pointed out that this was how such games tended to operate, holding the concept of reduced irritation like a carrot in front of the gamer, who apparently never realises that the stick of inconvenience was artificially imposed in the first place. However this failed to attract us, we weren’t being put off by the downtime between quests, we were being put off because the quests and the grinding itself bored us, the idea of making it easier to get to something we didn’t want to now was spectacularly unappealing.

We learnt more skills, we did more quests and I could document them in detail here, but there’s really no need to as they were all much the same as the ones I have already talked about, and when I’m avoiding them because they would make for an uninteresting review, you can only begin to imagine how boring the game itself is. In short, World of Warcraft was every bad thing we’ve ever heard about muhmorpuguhs, the dull repetition, the endless fetch quests, the constant pointless grind. In addition the things which we thought we might enjoy about it, like the design that Blizzard are so often lauded for, was simply not present. I’m sure things are much more spectacular once you get out of the starting areas, but surely you should be impressing your players from the start, rather than expecting them to take it on faith that it’ll get better later.

On the whole, I know this will achieve nothing, WoW will continue to sell. Blizzard will never need to change it and other companies will emulate them. There must be an appeal to this type of gaming somewhere, but now, as before, I could not begin to tell you what it is.

Dante, disappointed, signing off.


26 Responses to “MMO Showdown – World of Warcraft”

  1. 1 Mike
    September 20, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Nothing less than I thought it would be really.

  2. 2 rik
    September 21, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    “And once again we are denied the ability to group with each other, or give each other things…”
    That’s normal in trial accounts!

  3. 3 Brett N.
    September 21, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    WoW is difficult. Its kinda of 9 games in one. A free trail will give you NOTHING. Most fun comes from guilds (which you couldn’t join) and long term friendship with those guildies. Helping them, them helping you doing mindless things. I do agree that their are a lot of numbers and a lot of people who like numbers. (They fialed math and like +4 alg)

    eveeryone gets a different or no fun from wow. Mine came from chatting with guild and being good, Really good (Effective) at my class. (Healer)

  4. 4 yaok
    September 21, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    i play wow and i can say ur review is garbage that explained only barelly 5% of what the game offers. I agree 1 to probably 70 is annoying but once you hit 70 its basically another game, totally different game. And why you cant trade/mail with trial accounts is because of the amount of gold sellers and spammers the game had when trials started.

  5. September 21, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    I’ve been playing WoW since 2005 and I can say that I agree with your assessment of the early levels. It really does start to open up once you reach 40. Heck, even at 15 when you start doing instances, you can see why the game is the best. WoW unlike almost every other MMO is designed toward the endgame. Basically 1-60 is training you for the end. I know that might say like why not make everyone 60 but when you see some of the stupid people at 60 you’ll understand.

    I’ve played CoH. CoH is an amazing experience… at the beginning. However, as you level up the powers you get stop feeling as rewarding and at the end of the day it was everyone zone rushing a huge boss. That’s why almost everyone you see is leveling up. The people who still play reach max level and start over. Everyone who wanted to keep playing the same character up and left.

    WoW is different from other MMOs in that the game proper starts at max level. I know you might say why not give them it at the begginning but do you really want all the awesome force powers in the first level of the force unleashed? You’ll spend your time either trolling some of the dungeons killing some of the biggest bosses you’ve ever seen or slamming other players into the ground.

    I’ll admit that the early game of WoW is pretty boring but I’d rather suffer through some bad to get to the good stuff, than CoH’s model which is have fun at the beginning but we kinda didn’t have anything for you at the end so you have to start over. You can only do that so much.

  6. 6 George
    September 21, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Yeah, World of Warcraft is incredibly lack luster in low levels. The appeal of areas, and quests wares off quick. You gotta play it till like.. level 50 for it to be interesting, and even then. If the server you’re on is low pop, it’ll get boring w/o other people to help quest or do “dungeons”.

  7. 7 mrmud
    September 21, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    There is one thing to keep in mind when basing a decision about wow on the first few levels and that is that alot of stuff has happened since launch and the first levels are in no way indiciative of the endgame.

    Thats of course no excuse to have a game where the beginning doesnt entice you to further play, Im just saying…

    The other thing that really stood out to me as a former WOW raider is the comment about shallow mechanics.
    Im sure it may seem shallow judging by the first few levels. But please go read the class mechanics forums on http://www.elitistjerks.com and come back and say that with a straight face.
    Wow has very deep and complex mechanics and the work that is being done to explore those mechanics can in many respects be compared to science (tests involving tens of thousands of swordswings to narrow determine procrates within certain bars of error and so forth). You may say what you will about doing such things, but it is not indicative of shallow mechanics.

  8. 8 TXAustin
    September 21, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    I’ve just started playing WoW.. I’ve just gotten to level 40 and from my experience you should take Blizzard on faith. The game gets vastly better as you start earning new pieces of armor and customization for your character.

    I’m by no means an expert at the game but my time from level 1-40 hasn’t felt like much of a grind. The early levels do suck, but that’s less than 1% of the game.

  9. 9 Suzaku
    September 21, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    The problem with WoW, or at least a trial account, is that playing “Classic” WoW is like playing an old game in a long-running series. The game becomes progressively, almost exponentially, better as you travel further into the game and gain access to the more recently developed locations, abilities, quests, and dungeons. Luckily, WoW is extremely accessible and forgiving, especially compared to other MMORPGs. Leveling is also extremely quick.

  10. 10 Talkback
    September 21, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    This article reeks of “Internet-Nay Say” that’s all the rage in fledgling game journalists these days. Reading this piece, it sounds like you WANTED to not like the game from the start.

    Pro Tip: Being snarky and negative does not make you right. It makes you snarky and negative.

  11. September 21, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    There is a fundamental problem with the entire methodology you are using when playing these MMOs. Like them or not, and clearly you do not, they are meant to be played for years. Not a few hours.

    You’re review for a guitar would read like this, “After spending several days with this guitar, practicing nonstop, I am unable to play anything beyond Mary Had a Little Lamb. Clearly people who appreciate music will stick with the radio, rather than this unnecessarily complex and boring device.”

  12. September 22, 2008 at 1:30 am

    The problem with trying out WoW at this late stage is that the only PCs you will find in the starter areas are people who have 4+ lv70 playing another alt.

    I played it starting from open Beta and for about a year after that(the first time around). All those empty places had tons of PCs running around doing this doing that. Those same places now are ghost towns. The only time a new player will see a high level gamer is the bunch standing in the major city’s auction house or bank (or running between those 2 places).

    At this point I think WoW needs to either remove all those old starting places and start people out at lv 50ish (at the least). The game that fun fairly fun from lv 1-60 3-4 years ago is now an exercise in self enjoyment. (This coiming from one who leveled both horde and alliance alts up to lv 70 and has done a majority of the content.

  13. 13 Reborn
    September 22, 2008 at 3:05 am

    Trial accounts feature content that is over 4 years old now, and its also worth mentioning that the undead starting zone is usually avoided by veteran players. The early levels are designed to teach new players how to actually play, so they are not lost in the end game mechanics straight away. The comment referring to the ‘shallow’ game mechanics could not be further from the truth. While the game makes actions simple to perform, there is a lot of depth in how these mechanics interact. Its also worth nothing that the game presents only the most basic concepts for the first 15-20 levels, so that new players have an idea of how basics work before the more advanced things come into play.

    Social interaction is what has made the game the juggernaught it is today, and it seems the people on the server you played on were simply non-responsive, which is not uncommen when people with high level characters simply want to make a bank alt or something similar (most people on old servers have been players for a long time, and already have an established friends list). Character customisation comes from talents specs and gear in wow, and while there are 9 classes, there is really at least 27 different styles of play, and that is not including hybrid specs.

    As this review is your opinion, I feel you have misinformed a lot of people by playing a free trial of a genre you clearly has a predisposition to dislike. However, your opinion is your opinion, and I am sure you will save many like minded people from wasting money on something they will hate.

  14. 14 onceoff
    September 22, 2008 at 4:24 am

    I agree with the comments that a lot of the levels before 40-50 are boring, there just aren’t enough skills to make the gameplay that interesting.

    I’ve got a gripe about trying out a new character/class about wow’s system.

    I can understand that it’s necessary for a newcomer to the game to require time to learn, but there’s no reason anymore for people to start at level 1. Even if it goes levels go fast. They should start characters at least level 10 or even 20. It’s not that hard.

    And what about if you’ve been playing for a while and you’ve got a character at the level cap and already know how to play?

    You want to try a new character without having to redo all the boring bits? Can’t do it.

    Is there any real reason why I can’t choose to create a new naked character with a name and a bunch of talent points at high level?

  15. 15 SonofSeth
    September 22, 2008 at 7:18 am

    Damn, since Zero Puncuation, everyone is jumping on the bashing bandwagon. As with every other copy phenomenon, it gets of lower and lower quality as you get further away from the original.

  16. 16 Dante
    September 22, 2008 at 9:26 am

    I feel I have to point out at this juncture that we never claimed this was a definitive review of World of Warcraft, it never could be because we don’t believe in reviewing games until you’ve played the majority of them, and we have neither the time nor the money, nor the inclination to do that with WoW.

    I’m sure the game gets much better in the later levels, but really is anyone expecting us to play the duration of a full length single player RPG on the basis that it might get good by then? Are we expected to shell out our cash on the basis that it might be entertaining at some unspecified time in the future?

    Crucially, the early levels of WoW gave us no indicator of how interesting it could be, front the get go of City of Heroes you can see people flying around and using amazing powers, your starting ship in Eve is deliberately rubbish, but you’ll have a new one by the end of the tutorial, in WoW I simply could not see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    And for all those claiming we’re bashing WoW because we set out to hate MMOs, I’ll point out that we very much enjoyed City of Heroes and were intrigued by Eve. God forbid someone actually legitimately dislike a popular game.

  17. 17 WorseThanNormal
    September 22, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Something very telling I read about WoW last week: Bejeweled is being added to the WoW client to give the players something to do to keep them from getting bored. CoH get’s very, very rinse-and-repeat, but at least it was constant action (or chat, and most of the time both).

  18. 18 Homelessbird
    September 22, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    As a burgeoning critic of video games, one that desires credibility, one would think you would read the comments on your articles before replying to them with the trademark sarcastic cynicism the internet seems to foster in the self-righteous.

    These people weren’t taking issue with your conclusion – that you didn’t enjoy the first few hours of World of Warcraft – but rather with your methodology. Playing a *quite* old MMO’s first few levels without the ability to group and with no intention of continuing past the initial bit is destined to be a fruitless enterprise, and the fact that you enjoyed the early City of Heroes levels does not refute that, especially since you got into a group in your time in that game.

    If you play a multi-player game, of ANY kind, in a way that removes the elements of human interaction, it will be (surprise, surprise) less fun. Not only did you play WoW without the ability to group, and thus collaborate with others to achieve your goals, you did it in an area of content that has long since been outmoded. These simple reasons make the fact that you hated the game, as well as the fact that you were interested in the others, banal and meaningless.

    Really, did you expect people to take this “showdown” seriously, when you admitted up front that you were only going to dip a toe in the MMO pool? Imagine playing Spore for only the Cell Stage. Wouldn’t you think it was a complete rip off of FLoW? If you expect to be taken seriously, take your subject matter seriously. And I don’t, by the way, play World of Warcraft.

  19. 19 mrmud
    September 22, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    But you still displayed an astounding lack of both journalistic integrity and perception (integrity by not actually checking your facts and perception by not seeing them).
    The complexity comment just shines light on how to view the entire piece.

  20. 20 Ludo
    September 22, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    Dante mentioned this briefly, but it’s important. We know that we saw less than 1% of WoW. The game is vast, but we did these articles to see how these MMO’s would stack up to our preconceptions of the genre, and WoW didn’t do anything to challenge those preconceptions in the time that we played it. We laid out the purpose of the article in the beginning. We didn’t have the money or the time to put 70 hours into each of these games and we never claimed to be delivering a full review of any of them. Most people who are unsure about making the sacrifices required to properly get into a given MMO will try the trial version first, so if the basic social functions required to make the game fun aren’t present in the trial then it’s a poor trial. As commenters here have pointed out, there are difficulties with gold miners in WoW, but it’s hard to believe that a company the size of Blizzard, with the talent they possess, can’t find a way around this.

    The starting area we picked is indeed getting a bit old by now, most of them are. But these areas are the first experience any player will have when making first contact with the game. Like any newcomer, we can’t possibly know which areas are the best to start in, we can only pick one that sounds interesting. Blizzard have added and updated a hell of a lot of content in WoW, it might be a good idea for them to take a quick look at these areas, to at least add some variations on the quests. As commenters have pointed out, many of the low level players we say probably hat a few lvl 70’s in the bank already and were looking to rush through to the good stuff, it’d be a bit better if that good stuff came a little earlier than level 70, which is where many folks here have mentioned the game becomes really good.

    One commenter mentioned restructuring the game to have everyone effectively start at level 50, to cut tthe lengthy intro bits. If we can agree the starting areas are dull, can anyone thing of any suggestions that could improve the experience for new players?

  21. 21 Jeromai
    September 23, 2008 at 5:38 am

    The problem is that WoW’s designers are not interested in the beginner lowbie leveling game. They’ve bought into the mentality that it’s all about the destination, rather than journey. All the latest tweaks have been attempts to speed people up to “the real game” and bypass the early levels.

    Clearly, you guys can see deeper into the mechanics than the majority who are sold emotionally and heavily invested into WoW’s mainstream rat-race appeal. Which is about getting better stuff for yourself over time, and way better stuff than the Joneses, woot. A more niche MMO would probably appeal to you.

    CoX is ideal for immersion and personal character customization, but makes no pretense that it is a repetitive cycle of action and killing bad guys. Eve is for complexity nuts who love to ferret out intricate game mechanics or delve into broader tactical and strategic stuff like politics and the sociology of large player-run groups.

    As you’re not really well versed with the changing landscape of MMOs and their developers, I’d mention that Cryptic’s Champions Online is moving in a different direction than the NCsoft live dev team that was running City of Heroes. It looks more console action-gamey at the moment, though the broad customization will probably still be there. Perhaps it will be the spiritual successor of City of Heroes, or perhaps it will attract an entirely new community which may not have the same heart and soul of the present one. We’ll have to see.

    If you find it doesn’t quite appeal to you then, I hope we’ll see you back in City of Heroes. The game has plenty of life in it still. 🙂

  22. 22 Illiaster
    September 23, 2008 at 7:06 am

    Give LOTRO a shot if you want an immersive storyline. I was a heavy addict of WoWCrack, having raided every content possible pre-Sunwell. And what I’ve always wished for was more of the RPG factor. I’ve always lobbied for a storyline that begins from Level 1, till 70 and beyond — so that there’s this feeling that you’re actually a part of something.

    With LOTRO, although the combat system is something I truly abhor (real-time versus queued), the epic storyline you follow implemented through books (currently they’re up to Book 14) was a very good motivation to level up. It didn’t feel like you were grinding anymore. You wanted to progress through the game, not to level, but to uncover the rest of the story.

    LOTRO isn’t ground-breaking, nor will it ever be as big as WoW — simply because of the lack of the PVP aspect, only implemented through PVMP. However, if you’re more into RPGs, immersive storylines, housing, outfits, and whatnot — then you should definitely give it a try.

    My analogy has always been, as a gamer, if you were into more of the action-genre, eg: FPS shooters, Counterstrike, etc., then WoW or Warhammer will be your MMORPG flavor. If you were more of the adventure/rpg-genre, such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, then LOTRO will be it for you.


  23. 23 Tesh
    September 23, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    What’s the old saw? “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”? I wrote an article a bit ago about what I’m calling “the old world of warcraft”, and I wound up with much the same impression. I actually like the game, but I can look past the hype and see it for what it is: a fairly straightforward level/loot grindy treadmill.

    The huge problem WoW has at the moment is the whole “the game starts at 70” mindset. By adhering to that on the design side, Blizzard has effectively killed the game’s ability to bring in new blood; the heart of any community that need to survive in the long run. As we see here, even those who relentlessly champion the game admit that the 1-60 content is largely boring and unrepresentative of “the real game”.

    Why bother with the whole leveling grind if even Blizzard is disowning it? If the publisher is so hellbent on ignoring or obsoleting such a huge swath of their own content, it really doesn’t speak well of the design. It’s certainly not conducive to getting new players up and running. Demanding that players subscribe to grind through potentially months of “boring” gameplay to reach what the designers are focusing on is pretty blasted arrogant.

    Paying dozens of dollars and hundreds of hours just before you can actually “play the game” is not something that a new player is going to want to do. It’s idiotic. WoW has some fantastic art and interesting game design mechanics, but the level grind (with characters that don’t come in to their own in a reasonable amount of time) and the overall endgame mentality of both the designers and the players is very detrimental to the long-term health of the game.

    In sum, that’s a well-written review, albeit a bit snarky and perhaps a bit hostile. There are some real problems with WoW, however, and it’s folly to ignore them for any reason.

  24. March 30, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    i can\’t wait for a new mmo to replace wow, even if it comes from blizzard again, its getting so old 😐

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