The Tower Of Azora, In 2005 And Today

Milady at Hypercriticism writes a fascinating post on a single, tiny facet of World of Warcraft that many ex- and current players will remember: the Tower of Azora.

She’s looking at how WoW’s game design has changed, and how, in particular, Blizzard’s world-building has changed.

What would the Tower of Azora had Blizzard decided to fully incorporate it in their Cataclysm remake? Milady attempts to answer that question in a post that’s thought-provoking whether you agree with her or not:

“If Blizzard had cataclysmed Azora, they would have had it explained out to passers-by, they would have stripped it naked for the player to stare and yawn, commodified it into a quest hub. No enchanting trainer at the top of it: what for? Every profession is now found in the capital. No more inconvenient trailing back and forth.

They ironed out Azeroth. Every thing that stood out as unique was pressed down upon the flat surface of convenience. In so doing they turned a world with its peaks and valleys into a two-dimensional print. Following the creed of balance they made everything equal: nothing harder or more desirable, nothing different. Enchanting, with its inaccessible trainers and excessive material expenditure, and its grindy furbolg reputation that granted a much-coveted recipe only a few obtained, and with it fame and clients. Then they made each class equal in what they could do, so that nobody was discriminated in the basis of being a paladin without crowd control. The saddest of these equanimities was the shadow priest that now just did raw dps. Tanking and healing styles were fused into one big blob.

This did not only affect the enjoyment of the gameplay – it also changed how players viewed the world. The shadow priest was more effective now that he could put out more damage, but he was no longer fulfilling a unique role, different from all the rest. He might as well be firing darkened fireballs. They ‘balanced’ the gameplay to the detriment of the world.

Read the rest of “The Tower Of Azora And EQNext” »

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Saying Farewell To Cataclysm

It’s been nearly two years of dragon fly-overs and a shattered world. So, how are WoW bloggers around the world saying farewell to Cataclysm?

  • Tzufit writes a great piece asking a rather depressing question – at the end of the day, did Deathwing win?“Despite all of the darkness in the narrative of the Wrath expansion, somehow Cataclysm has managed to be the most depressing installment of WoW to date. We returned to our homes to find that they weren’t the same anymore, that beloved friends had died, and favorite places were forever ruined. “
  • Reliq looks back at Cataclysm and its various patch incarnations“I enjoyed Cataclysm. But I didn’t love it. I loved Wrath – the entire continent to explore, the gorgeous art throughout – but Cataclysm was like little weekend getaways to various zones that are just next to ones you go to all the time.”
  • And Shyraia looks back over Cataclysm, point-by-point“I hated how steep the increase in difficulty was. We went from facerollilng to being facerolled. And quite a few people lost courage through that. “

Are you sorry to see Cataclysm go?

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Smart Kids and MMO Graveyards

And finally, some great posts unconnected to the big controversies of the day…

  • JD Kenada at Amateur Azerothian is getting into the Olympic spirit by organising… the Transmogolympics!
  • Anne Stickney at WoW Insider argues that Cataclysm failed because it bored the smart kids“Quests like Welcome to the Machine and The Day Deathwing Came were instantly loved because they presented something so completely different than anything we’d seen before that they were immediately far more interesting than any other quest presented in the expansion.”
  • Ocho at Casual Aggro is now 100% convinced – Diablo 3 is an MMO. And he’s got some very interesting arguments“Cheating in single player games allows players to explore the game on multiple levels and fairness never even comes up in the equation. However, you cheat in Diablo 3, which does not claim to be an MMO and what happens? You get BANNED. “
  • And finally, Melmoth at Killed In A Smiling Accident writes a lovely piece on his equivalent of the Elephant’s Graveyard – the Disk of Abandoned MMORPGs“Rarely do I attempt to resurrect a game from its magnetised mausoleum, but often I wish myself a Frankenstein of files, able to take a perfect piece from this crypt, some small segment from this other, and thence hammer and hew, stretch sinew and stitch, until my meisterwerk takes form. Would it be a monster? Would it be misunderstood?”

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Four Cataclysmic Story Disappointments

Remember the Abyssal Maw? Remember how it was going to be a raid in Cataclysm?

Today Rades revisits the old promises – and the old, promising plot hooks – of Cataclysm, in an interesting look at the expansion that could have been

“Speaking of Deathwing, how about that smooth-talking, clever, sneaky, manipulative villain we all knew and loved from the old games and the novels, huh? I sure did enjoy the way Deathwing used his infamous guile and silver tongue in Cataclysm to twist alliances, turn friend against friend, and trick his enemies into doing his dirty work. And it was a great touch seeing his old fake identity, Lord Daval Prestor, make an appearance.

Oh, wait, that’s right. None of that happened, at all. He just burned things.

This is a CRIME, Blizzard! Deathwing’s personality in the novels was so good! A trickster, a spy, a master orator, and a puppet master, novel-Deathwing was always in control, had his claws in every pot and was playing ALL the sides. Call me crazy, but I LIKE an intelligent villain who’s got plots and schemes! And he had style, too. He might end up betraying you and roasting you with dragonfire, but dammit he’s going to deliver a witty line and dryly have a chuckle at your expense first.

But the Deathwing we saw in Cataclysm was a sad, sad shadow of his former self. We didn’t get ANY of his charm or flair, instead we just got…well, an angry dragon. I was (and am) incredibly disappointed that his character was so drastically gutted. ”

There are no exceptions here – everything that Rades highlights would have been a fantastic addition to an expansion that was somewhat anemic storyline-wise. And as usual, he does a fantastic job of bringing the stories and the characters to life, giving complexity and depth to the world of Azeroth.

It’s a pity that Cataclysm didn’t live up to this post. But on the upside, have a read through it, and you’ll be able to imagine, at least for a moment, the glory that might have been WoW’s third expansion…

What did you think of Cataclysm’s storyline?

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On Warlocks: Cynwise’s journey to the heart of warlockery concludes

Some time ago, noted Warlock blogger Cynwise decided to write a two-part article about the decline of Warlocks in Cataclysm.

No-one predicted what would follow.

His original article became a massive, multi-part, thirty thousand word treatise that we’ve linked to twice already and compared to no less than Hunter S. Thompson’s quest for the American Dream.

And with some justification. This is an astonishing treatise, filled with both original research and insights born of years of play and a personal struggle with the game and class he loves.

Now, it’s finished, and it finishes on an up note, as Cynwise looks into the Warlock in the upcoming WoW expansion Mists of Pandaria, and discovers that a brave new world awaits

“I find it ironic that I named this series after Gibbon’s masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon assembled a wealth of material around the collapse of Roman governance in Western Europe in the third through sixth centuries, but he used it to formulate a monocausal theory – that the Roman Empire’s fall was inevitable because of the influence of Christianity. This theory overlooks much in pursuit of forwarding an Enlightenment viewpoint of the Medieval period and Christianity as bad, and the Greco-Roman classical tradition as good.

As a historian, I have always preferred the works of J. B. Bury, who did not dispute the evidence Gibbon presented, but rather interpreted them differently. Bury posits that Rome’s fall was not inevitable, but rather the result of a series of incidents which lead to a catastrophe. Internal political pressures, external migratory pressures on the Germanic tribes, inflation, increased taxes to deal with the Sassanid Empire’s threat, a series of terrible decisions by Imperial and Provincial leaders alike – all these contributed to the calamity of the fourth and fifth centuries. I recommend reading Gibbon so you’ve read him, but I recommend Bury if you want to see the vast scope of problems in Late Antiquity, and how monocausal theories need to take them all into account.

To quote Bury:

The gradual collapse of the Roman power … was the consequence of a series of contingent events. No general causes can be assigned that made it inevitable.

It’s my hope that this series has been more like Bury than Gibbon. While there has been a central theme to this work – inelegant complexity without reward led to the decline of Warlock populations in Cataclysm – it is my firm belief that it was a series of design decisions and balance changes during the expansion which contributed to the decline of this class. Attributing it to any one specific change misses the big picture. Our personal reasons and agendas need to take a back seat to the data.

The Warlock class declined in Cataclysm. Based on what I’ve seen so far in the Mists of Pandaria Beta, it is too early to write its epitaph, but its recovery is by no means a certain thing. It is transforming into something very different what came before, and it is my sincere hope that it flourishes and thrives in its new incarnation.

Let’s see what the future holds for this great class.

Cynwise has also helpfully indexed all of the Decline and Fall series in one place.

If you haven’t read these pieces already, and if you’ve got even a passing interest in Warlocks, game design, or why some classes work and others don’t, I’d strongly recommend taking the time to read through it – particularly “The Loss Of The Warlock’s Soul”, which squares the circle of game mechanics versus the fantasy a game presents better than any other article I’ve read.

We’re not an accredited institution over here, sadly – because if we were, we’d definitely be awarding Cynwise a Doctorate if not a Professorship of MMO writing for this astonishing magnum opus.

Go read.

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WoW – Sometimes, Things Just Go Wrong

Whilst WoW in general is less highly-regarded these days than it was at its height, it’s safe to say that there have always been things to love and things to hate about it. Today, several bloggers are picking up on its down points – and whilst none of them is arguing that WoW is entirely awful, they’ve all got some interesting things to say:

  • Rades waxes lyrical in a rare annoyance post, discussing how dissatisfied he is with Aggra’s completely emotionless face“I sure can’t wait until the final Mists cinematic where we see Thrall deliver a sad speech about Garrosh’s downfall and what it means to the Horde and etc., while Aggra is standing at his side, gazing out at the crowd with her dead, soulless gaze. “
  • Matthew Rossi at WoW Insider takes on a question that has been bouncing around since Mists – did flying mounts ruin Azeroth?“If immersion is a design goal, then soaring over the clouds definitely can be seen as ruining that immersion.”
  • The Grumpy Elf takes on the big question, asking “Was Cataclysm that bad?” – and comes up with a surprising, controversial answer“The number one problem with cataclysm was not a problem with design at all, it was a problem with over estimating the ability of the average player to work in a group setting while partnered with random people.”
  • And finally, Doone at T.R. Redskies has been trying the Pandaria beta, and is tired of being treated like a child“Ever since the crossover from accessibility to triviality, those currently making the game have long forgotten what it is to be approachable and to be trivial to the point of pointlessness. The game is increasingly patronizing.”

What do you think? Is Pandaria patronising? Did flying mounts diminish the world?

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Things That Aren’t Pandas

Believe it or not, there are some things happening today that don’t have anything to do with black-and-white bears with low libidos, too…

  • Khizzara of Blog of the Treant – who is presumably pretty happy about the new Druid glyphs – has written up a long, detailed review of her favourite and least favourite Cataclysm raid bosses. An interesting read. “When the person calling things out is saying, “Kill drakes, new adds up, onslaught, SAPPER!” in one breathless rush, then perhaps there are too many things going on at one time.”
  • There are a lot of blow-by-blow descriptions of Guild Wars 2 out there right now – but I found Gazimoff’s description of how very, very unique spellcasting is in Guild Wars 2 particularly interesting – “Switching from playing a spellcaster in other MMOs to playing one in Guild Wars 2 is a little like changing out a greying Gandalf for something from a martial arts movie.”
  • Children of Wrath is featuring a detailed and controversial critique of the way Blizzard have handled neutral factions in WoW so far“Nearly every neutral faction has more or less acted in a vacuum. Despite a host of previously introduced factions being updated and brought into the current timeline, every neutral entity acts as if they existed within a bubble, completely oblivious to anything that happens outside of their demesnes. “
  • Anafielle of Sacred Duty posts an eye-opening explanation of why she has quit SWTOR for good – centering around the surprisingly critical role of the combat log in MMO endgame“I had no idea how much of my fun raiding was caught up in this stream of information that I completely took for granted… until I had to play without one. It sucks.”
  • And Gordon at We Fly Spitfires has a fresh and original take on the old question of why many people feel embarassed about admitting we play MMOs“Being the first out of 10 million people to achieve something is nothing to sneeze at”

Enjoyed these links? Let your friends, aquaintances and fellow guild members know about them!

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The State Of the World Of Warcraft

Blizzard are back dominating the news cycle again, as today they’ve not only announced the revamped Scroll of Resurrection but also have completed their series of post-mortem interviews with the game developers, talking about what went right and what went wrong with Cataclysm.

In general, there seems to be a fin de siècle feel in the WoW blogosphere at the moment, with a lot of people looking at where WoW is now, how it has done over the expansion, and what’s to come. Here are four particularly interesting posts on the subject from today – and there will be more to come over the next few weeks, I’m sure!

  • Vidyala at Manalicious is considering how the new cross-realm tools – raiding, dungeons and more – are totally changing the nature of WoW as a guild-based game“Apotheosis is raiding hard-mode content with a group of 25 people. Their policies and involvement may differ considerably from Business Time’s. But in the space that we intersect, we get along famously. I also cannot overstate that this is absolutely the best thing that could possibly happen for guilds of any size or goal. “
  • Anafielle at Sacred Duty takes on Blizzard’s claims about raid tuning, saying that 25-man vs 10-man raid difficulty has been way out of whack“Each damage dealer in a 10 man raid was expected to put out 82% of the DPS of each damage dealer in a 25 man raid. 82%. Call it 85% with more healers DPSing in 25. Wow. This is how they define even tuning.”
  • Gnomeageddon argues in a very personal post that how we see WoW is very much a matter of perspective“Is your WoW filled with amazement that so much can be provided for so many for so long? Or is it WoW filled with bugs, class imbalance and downtime?”
  • And Tzufit of Tree Heals Go Whoosh talks about how she’s really enjoying her new endgame… in Outland“Now, 4 years since the release of the Sunwell patch that marked both the winding down of the BC era and the beginning of my time in WoW, I find that my minipriest has found her way home to Shattrath once more. Although the city may be deserted compared to how it was on my first night there, it is still as interesting to me as ever. “

What’s your opinion on the State of WoW right now?

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Blackwing Descent and The Worgen – What’s the Story?

If you wanted to name two of the biggest successes of WoW: Cataclysm, the Worgen starting zones and the Blackwing Descent raid would be well and truly on the list. Both of them succeeded on many levels – the Worgen zone contains one of the best pieces of WoW Machinima I’ve ever seen, as well as a genuinely compelling story, whilst BWD ranks as one of the best raids from WoW, and certainly the best of this expansion.

But that doesn’t mean they’re flawless. And in two interesting posts from the weekend, two seperate bloggers independently explored what could have made them even better.

First up, The Renaissance Man is unabashed in his love of BWD – in all aspects but story. And so, he delves into the story of the instance – what could Blizzard have made clearer, and just why the hell was Nefarian back, anyway ?

“How are Nefarian and Onyxia back? This is really the crux of the issue. If you establish that Nefarian is back, then there’s pretty much a de facto reason to go kill him again. After all, not very many good guys are named Nefarian, or Nefarius, or whatever play on nefarious the favored son of Deathwing decides to go with this time. Kael’thas’ return was justified by the fact that you didn’t actually make sure he was dead in Tempest Keep, a fact that you rectify when you meet him in Magister’s Terrace by decapitating him. But you definitely took the heads of both Onyxia and Nefarian. You hung them from the gates of Stormwind for all to see. So how’d they get them back?

One of the key focal points of the expansion was Deathwing’s visit to Stormwind. People see it every time they log in, and it was the climax of the introductory cinematic. The towers are still molten, and the stature of poor Danath Trollbane is still being hauled back up from the lake. Those same towers that we hung the heads of Deathwing’s favorite children from, and soon thereafter, said children return to prominence, if a little worse for wear. That explains the how they came back. “

Not only had I not really thought of the lack of external story – which became obvious as soon as TRM started talking about it – but I also had no idea what it was. This post’s fascinating both as an analysis of story in game design, and just to find out exactly why Nefarian had his “only a setback” moment.

Meanwhile, Cassandri of Hots and Dots has been playing through the Worgen questline. It has a reputation for strong story, and that’s justified – but in a few areas it falls down. Cassandri explores what could have been if only the story had paid more attention to how momentous its events actually were

“I think this sums up my feelings about the Worgen starting zone the most. The biggest, most life altering – personal – moments in my young characters life: being attacked, infected and presumably sure that you’re going to die soon or turn into a monster, changing into a Worgen, experiencing The Shattering of the world first hand… they’re all there but not treated and timed well to let you as a player really come to grips with them.

Why is there no quest or even a chat option when I can ask one of my quest givers in Gilneas City about my you’re-running-out-of-time bitten debuff?”

As I said above, I’m extremely impressed with some aspects of Gilneas – and I’d say the cinematics in the questline are some of Blizzard’s Machinima team’s finest. But Cassandri does have a strong point – the events of the storyline are earthshattering for your character, and it would have turned a very good storyline into an amazing one to focus on them a little more.

I’d say that’s particularly the case with the Shattering, actually. The Worgen questline is the only place in WoW, to my knowledge, that you get to live through the Shattering, and whilst that’s praise-worthy on its own, with a bit more focus on the human side of that event it could have been truly amazing. The fodder’s there to make your character intro rise above normal gaming and into actual, affecting story.

What do you think? Could BWD or the Worgen have benefitted from Moar Story?

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DPS responsibility, Irritating Sexism, War Stories and Final Grades

Some interesting discussions on a variety of topics today – plus more info on the game de jour, Guild Wars 2!

Oh, and whilst I’m at it – Guild Wars 2 Beta Signups are now open

On to the awesome articles:

  • Tobold responds to yesterday’s criticism of SWTOR Heroic Flashpoints, discussing the crazy idea that maybe DPS could be the role with responsibility“What if tanking and healing was relatively easy, and fails were predominantly caused by the damage dealers not dealing enough damage per second? Well, what would happen would be that damage dealers would be extremely unhappy.”
  • Ravious at Kill Ten Rats gives us details of just what a Guild Wars 2 World vs World battle is like“We just didn’t have enough players. This was a well defended keep and someone had taken the time to upgrade the NPC defenders. Every minute a swarm of hefty NPCs would appear near our siege, and we had to waste precious time taking them down, healing, and finally getting back to the door.”
  • Apple Cider Mage issues a takedown notice for the tired old ‘Make me a sandwich, woman!’ joke“World of Warcraft has a fairly even split of men and women now, if current numbers are to be believed. There’s no reason to NOT accept that at any given moment, you’ll be surrounded by women, whether they choose to reveal this to you or not. “
  • And Tzufit’s “Cataclysm Final Grades” project has more-or-less come to a close, with wide selection of really interesting posts about the evolution of the various classes in this WoW expansion

Found these posts interesting? Please consider sharing them!

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