On Reformation

Filed under: Reflections — Tags: , , , — halbyrd @ 11:53

A while back, I made a rather lengthy post about why I was fed up with World of Warcraft. Since then, Blizzard has announced the next expansion, Cataclysm. Rather than being more of the same, however, Blizzard is using this expansion to address many of the problems I had with WoW in a way they’ve never tried: by giving the game a complete overhaul.

The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, while they added significant chunks of content–new zones, new races, new dungeons, and even a new class–were basically patches on the same old game. Changes both major and minor happened to class mechanics on a regular basis, but the core nature of the game has not changed much. The new content zones are where much of the realm’s population resides, and everywhere else is a howling wasteland, devoid of any human presence. Home faction capitals have a small presence, but the population there is fleeting, only there long enough to finish whatever business they have in the Auction House.

Cataclysm is set to change that paradigm, however. Certain things that are expected of an expansion will still be there: the level cap will be raised, new zones will be introduced, new raid dungeons opened up, and everybody will have a new set of loot to chase after. As with The Burning Crusade, two new races will be introduced, one each for Horde and Alliance players, with their respective starting zones. Every class will get a few new abilities, and the number of available talent points will go up. The graphics engine will receive another update, adding a new layer of spit & polish to the proceedings. So far, no major surprises.

Here’s where things start getting screwy, though: the new content isn’t going to be limited to the new zones. This time around, the two major continents of the original game, Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, are getting remade top to bottom. The events of the eponymous cataclysm will serve to literally reshape the land, with old zones taking on a new complexion. New quest lines are being written for every zone, and the type of questing is shifting increasingly toward story-focused tasks. Largely gone are the old standbys of FedEx (take x to y) and bounty (kill x number of y monsters for lazy sod z), except in early levels where their simplicity allows new players to get used to their class mechanics. With two new continents’ worth of stuff to explore and do, getting around is going to be a lengthy proposition. Towards that end, Blizzard is finally implementing a long-asked-for feature: support for flying mounts in “old world” Azeroth.

Perhaps more significant even than the mass of new content are the changes to core gameplay mechanics. Aside from the usual slew of balance tweaks, the way abilities are learned and used is being changed. Previously, each ability was improved by purchasing successively more powerful ranks from the class trainer. Now, the abilities will scale with level and associated core stats, with new abilities being added where needed to further flesh out each class’ repertoire. On the subject of stats, many secondary stats on gear are being merged or eliminated, with their function being rolled into core stats where appropriate. Spell-slinging damage dealers will care about Intellect for more than their raw mana pool, healers will care about spirit for mana regeneration–yes, even Healadins. Hunters won’t care about Intellect anymore, as they’re being moved to an energy-based system that better fits their class mechanics–and incidentally allows Blizzard to put some sanity checks on their damage scaling, so they won’t be ping-ponging between impotence and infinite godlike power.

Another significant pair of changes involve talent specialization, and the very process of leveling up. The idea of glyphs to “customize” your spec was well received in Wrath, and is being expanded into the Path of the Titans. The idea here is that you will progress through the final five levels through a gated series of quests, rather than through simple XP grind, and get a chance to pick out glyphs that compliment your intended build along the way. Many of the “boring-but-essential” talents, such as those that boost damage or critical strike chance, are getting moved either here, or getting rolled into specialization mastery bonuses. In effect, such bonuses become perks handed to you for investing a certain number of points in a given talent tree. The Mastery stat, which is replacing a lot of secondary stats on gear, is designed to complement this, further boosting the potency of your spec bonuses.

They’re being rather more tight-lipped about how things are going to work over on the PvP end of things, but one presumes that area of the game is getting similar attention. My not-so-secret hope is that they will finally implement the dual-system ability mechanics the game has needed for so long. As my previous post complained, it’s nearly impossible to get the one set of ability mechanics balanced so that changes to the PvE end won’t unbalance PvP, and vice-versa. Better by far to formally acknowledge the split, and set things up so that abilities have different behavior when in world PvP zones, Battlegrounds or Arenas. This leaves random in-world PvP a bit hard up, but that stopped being interesting to anybody but gankers and griefers years ago.

Time will tell if all this pans out, naturally, but the effort is laudable. They’ve managed to rekindle genuine interest in a game I’ve been following only diffidently, and one that’s quite aged as well. Here’s hoping that Blizzard’s grand experiment pans out.


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