Warcraft: one MMO to rule them all.

Strangely familiar logo?

Strangely familiar logo?

The general buzz about the next WoW expansion got me thinking. Why are so many of us still playing this game?

There is no debate about whether or not WoW is the most successful MMO in the market. Whether you believe it’s in decline, or the subscription numbers are fuzzy or you’re a Blizzard acolyte, there is no escaping the fact that Warcraft is the MMO to benchmark all others against. Personally I’m not too fused by those debates. The central question is “Is it a good game?”

The short answer is “Hell yes”.

On nearly every level it excels. While some other games may do an aspect of game play well – WAR’s PvP is terrific when there is sufficient players around – WoW offers everything from raiding, PvP, crafting and PvE. What it does it does very well. But what is it that attracts and keeps players in the world of WoW?

Something for everybody
Without doubt WoW offers the broadest experience to the broadest possible player base. You can level you character all the way to level cap (presently 80) without even speaking to another player. You can play for ten minutes of seven hours depending on the time you have, and still get something done. At the other end of the spectrum WoW offers a rich, challenging and fun endgame experience with heroic dungeons and raids. If you’re mercantile at heart you can speculate on the Auction House. Not only does WoW appeal to broad range of play styles, it also cuts across demographics and age groups.

WoW has transcended nerd culture – predominately white males aged 13-35 – to include players of all ages, backgrounds and sex. At least 30% of it’s player base is female. That in itself is testament to it’s accessibility and it’s broad appeal.

The famous Blizzard  polish
Ah yes, the famous “Blizzard polish”. Content or games are released “when they are ready”. Having worked in IT and seen project after project fail because artificial dead lines demand it, it’s refreshing to see a companies central ethos revolve around the quality of the finished product. Is it any wonder why people are still playing Star Craft, Warcraft III or even Diablo II years after there release?

Most games that are more than a few years old are played for nostalgia. People are still playing Blizzard games for fun. Think Defence of Towers or South Korea’s Star Craft obsession. WoW is over four years old and still the MMO to beat.

Guided starting experience
I still remember when I first logged into WoW, creating a character and entering the world. You could describe it as easy, but that implies the game is overly simplistic.  Actually, what WoW does is introduce you to the MMO world gently. WoW aint no EVE. The starter zone and the first few levels are designed to introduce you to your class, basic abilities and the games quest mechanics.

By level ten you know the basics of WoW. The Death Knight starting experience brought that to a whole new level: it combined both story telling with a prefect introduction to playing the new class. 

The world changes at the right pace
People often complain that the world is too static. And yet Azeroth has changed: the Burning Crusade gave us Outlands and two new races; the Zombie Invasion mixed things up while the Lich King gave us the zones of Northrend and the Death Knight class. Since then we’ve had Call of the Crusade, the construction and completion of the Argent Coliseum and several new dungeons and raid instances. Either through patches or expansions  the world does change. The new phasing technology being used by Blizzard now changes parts of the world for individual players.

The world if WoW is less than five years old and we have seen quite a bit of change as far the addition of content goes. The new expansion promises even further change. Some may claim that things don’t change fast enough, but in retrospect players have experienced a fair degree of change that keeps them engaged with the game. Actually the pace of change is about right, considering they have 11 million plus players to contend with. While those at the elite level may want change to be more rapid, for the vast majority of player the pace of change is about right.

Too much change would isolate or drive players away.

The game is suffused with a sense of humour and fun
WoW is like Toy Story in it’s use of humour. Adults get the sly pop-cultural references while kids like the quest lines involving poop.

Humour is often overlooked as one of the key strengths of Wow. But it’s the visual humour, pop-cultural references and slap stick nature of some of the quests make WoW fun to play. Haris Pilton, the diminutive, blonde Blood Elf  in Shattrath perfectly encapsulates this approach. 

Other examples include Achievement titles such as “Mama said knock you out”: this Naxx achievement references rapper LL Cool J’s song of the same title. Come on, that’s cool.  Frequently I’ll chuckle at the references sprinkled throughout the game. Blizzards games often contain a fair degree of humour. Warcraft II – the strategy game – players will no doubt remember clicking on peons and peasants over and over in order to hear them complain.

Easy to play, harder to master
The game allows even the most casual player to level up a character. You can be the infamous Huntard or Death Noob but enjoy yourself none-the-less. But if you want to raid or compete seriously in PvP then you really have to know your class and abilities.

My recent raiding experience clearly demonstrated this point to me. I’ve moved from a casual to raiding play style. And yet, to be an effective raider I had to understand the game on a whole new level. It actually took time, effort and hard work to improve my performance in raids.

It’s a big, big, big world
WoW lives up the title of “massively multiplayer”. The game world is enormous, spanning three continents and the world of Outlands. Zones vary from lush tropical jungles, to scorching desert, forested woodland and storm ravaged mountains. You enter WoW and you feel like you’ve entered an entirely new universe.

What about WoW’s shortcomings?

“Oi, you! Shameless Blizzard fan boi! What about the parts that blow!” I hear you say?

Just to balance this post, in case it may be thought I’m simply a rabid Blizzard “fan boi”, I do have some criticisms of the game.

PvP is meaningless
Battleground victories or defeats mean nothing, while the “battles” themselves are sprawling zerg fights between under geared noobs and overpowered twinks. Chat in most BG’s is abusive and harsh. You really have to toughen up when you enter a WoW battleground. Be prepared to be abused by players on your own team or be frustrated by the total incompetence of your team mates.

Crafting is simplistic
The crafting “game” offers no challenge. Simply collect X amount of materials. The only challenge stems from either farming materials in the world or having enough gold to purchase them off the Auction House.

Performance is not necessarily skills based
In PvP there is little chance a level 75 player, no matter how skilled, is going to defeat you average level 80 player in PvP. The same is true of PvE endgame content. While it is possible to raid Naxxramas in underpowered gear, it’s highly advisable that you gear up, get the right enchants and carefully select your talents.

If you don’t perform the other members of your raid team will let you know. Most likely they won’t even accept you into the raid. WoW is not a skills based game: success is more dependent applying cookie-cutter talents specs perfectly matched to the right gear.

That is not to say there are not skilled players out there: indeed there are some incredible raiders and PvP players out there. However it is impossible to perform at the highest levels without the right set of epic gear, gems and chants.