I was subscribed to World of Warcraft for much of my teenage years, from the early days of vanilla to the final days of Wrath of the Lich King. It was a time I enjoyed a lot, but which also featured plenty of drama that eventually led to me quitting the game after my account was hacked. After playing the strategy games again I was tempted to create a new trial account and, after playing that for a while, I accepted an offer to buy the game and all its expansion packs (except for the newest) for just 7,50. I have been hopping around Azeroth again for 30 days, so now the question remains: do I subscribe again?
When I started playing I settled on creating a dwarf priest to start my adventures with and already in the starting zone it was obvious much had changed. When the Cataclysm expansion released Blizzard chose to move the canon forward and update older zones to reflect the then current point of the story. This means you start the game and you are immediately dealing with the titular cataclysm happening, rather than the admittedly dull opening quests that had you deal with very mundane, local issues. It’s a much more exciting beginning to the adventure.
You can clearly see that the staff working on the game is much more experienced now with more early quests having interesting setups and a much better flow than those vanilla originally started out with. While I appreciate these improvements, I do find issue with the broader effect of moving the entire story forward. Breaking from the linearity of the storytelling means players who start now never get the opportunity to partake in many of the storylines that are now treated as back-story; they never get to see Anduin grow up, never get to save Moira, and, most shockingly, never get to partake in the Battle for the Undercity, the most exciting part of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, as it has been removed due to story conflicts.
Because of this I didn’t really feel at home anymore and knowing some of my favorite content has been removed just for the sake of fiddling with the narrative doesn’t help either. New players keep hearing about all these cool events they missed out on and returning players will find that they are better off reliving their nostalgia on a private server. While it’s a subjective matter whether you feel the improvements to the quests justify these problems, I do find it annoying that some zones have received little to no attention in this Cataclysm upgrade, and with new expansions coming out regularly this is a problem that is likely to return.
In terms of gameplay much of the game has been streamlined and I must say some of the small conveniences were nice. Automatically looting all dead enemies around you? Great! The Adventure Guide? Super! There are many of these small improvements that I found myself using constantly and appreciating a lot. However, there are some points where streamlining goes too far, and almost entirely removing character customization is one of them. Instead of the progression tree where you could put in a point each level to improve your abilities, this process is now entirely automated. You pick a specialization and the game improves your character and provides new spells based on that.
On top of not letting me influence the way my character progresses in any meaningful way, I found returning to World of Warcraft particularly dull. I have done hundreds of quests, killed thousands of enemies, and not once did I feel threatened in the slightest. Most enemies would die in one or two hits, even while I was playing as a healer, and I didn’t die once, save for the few times I accidentally walked into Horde camps. The game was just way too easy, even in the dungeons players hardly faced any opposition. As a healer I had times where I felt useless, as the other players just didn’t need any healing.
The standard response when I wanted to discuss this matter with other players was either silence, cursing, or people stating it gets better when you hit level 110 and start doing extra hard versions of the max level dungeons. It reflects poorly on Blizzard that apparently the only content that matters is the absolute end game of any given expansion and it’s perfectly acceptable to let anything up to that rot away. Sure, it’s old content, but players are going to see it and allowing it to be this broken, and mediocre is going to turn people away before they ever buy a single month of game time. If I was completely new to this game, I would not buy into this “it gets better later” mentality if the early dungeons leave me feeling like I needn’t even participate.
I really missed having to struggle during quests, to have to manage my mana during fights, and coordinate with party members to make it through dungeons. All of that is gone, as Blizzard seems to favor a more casual playstyle where you can just join a queue, breeze through a dungeon, and then get back to questing, all without too many hurdles or peaks in difficulty. Leveling and dungeons went by much quicker and I can see how that appeals to some people, but personally I felt like I wasn’t been challenged, which only furthered this feeling of detachment I had throughout the time I was playing. The story leaves me in the cold, I can’t decide how my character plays, and I don’t even have to put in any effort to win.
So it may seem like I lean towards stopping with World of Warcraft after my free 30 days run out, but I am actually in some considerable doubt. Sure, I hate what they did with the storyline and the overbearing “dumbing down” of the gameplay, but there is plenty to love still. Azeroth is still one of the most beautifully realized fantasy worlds out there and it didn’t take long before I settled in a guild with people I really like talking and playing with. I am also very much enjoying the flavor of roleplay found in World of Warcraft and the PvP battlegrounds are now better than ever before.
I am probably going to get an extra month before deciding how long I’ll stick around, at least to get far enough to reach content I haven’t actually played before. Expect an update when that time runs out too.