It’s scary just how much of my World of Warcraft life mirrored that of your run-of-the-mill addict. At the start everything was good: all my friends were playing and we were all having a blast, whiling away our youth in the fantastical land of Azeroth. Then people started to leave, the ones who couldn’t spare the time at first but as the month went on the nomenclature changed from “I just stopped to playing” to “I’m out” or “I’ve been clean for 2 weeks now!”. Indeed in the years that have followed since my hey days where I was spending 1 day (total play time) out of every 6 in World of Warcraft I’ve found myself relapsing and going back to it whenever an expansion comes out. Strangely enough though whilst the attraction to go back is strong it seems I’m becoming better at saying no.
I kind of missed everything in the Burning Crusade as that was when I found myself destitute, languishing without a guild and without a group of friends I wanted to play with. However Wrath of the Lich King saw me return with meteoric fury, flush with a new group of friends I made through work I lovingly plunged dozens of hours back into the game. It wasn’t the same as the height of my addiction days but then again I had much less time on my hands than I did before so on a relative scale it was probably pretty close. However the same cycle of people leaving and going clean happened again and eventually I found myself leaving the world once again.
I returned for the latest expansion, Cataclysm, for a while and even made my way into some of the high level raids thanks to having some contacts in the right places. However this time around I didn’t last that long before the magic wore off and I realised how long it would take for me to gear up a character to the level I wanted. I haven’t gone back since then as my dedication to reviewing one game per week (only 1 week missed so far!) has overridden any desire I might have had to while away my time in that familiar crack den.
This is a feeling that I believe is shared by many long time World of Warcraft players who have been with the franchise since day 1. It’s hard to believe it but release day was almost 8 years ago and those fresh faced teenagers who started out with this game are now adults with all the fun responsibilities that come along with it. Thus it is not surprising that for the first time in 4 years World of Warcraft’s subscriber base has declined to 9 million. Whilst this is very likely to see a major bump come Mists of Pandaria time they’ve been on the downward slope for a while and that makes you wonder what the future holds for this iconic game.
Ever since I first heard about the latest upcoming expansion I heard in tandem that it was slated to be the last expansion with World of Warcraft bowing out to the upcoming secret MMO dubbed Project Titan. It made sense as the writing appeared to be on the wall with subscriber counts but it seems that Blizzard intends to keep World of Warcraft going for much longer with the expansion pack to follow Mists of Pandaria already in production. Whilst that might seem crazy if you compare the numbers on other MMOs that are widely believed to be successful you can see that Blizzard could easily keep the franchise going with 10~20% of the numbers they have now. Depending on how well Mists of Pandaria does at stemming the attrition rate it may take the release of Project Titan to see the end to World of Warcraft. Even then it might take a year or two before the subscriber count hits danger territory for Blizzard.
I’ve long relegated myself to coming back and playing through each expansion that comes out mostly because the levelling experience, especially since Cataclysm, is one I very much enjoy. I’ll definitely be back for the expansion when it comes out late next month but as for me becoming a long time subscriber again? I can’t see that happening any time soon. In fact I’m not sure that any MMORPG will be able to captivate me in the same way as World of Warcraft did back in the day and from what I can tell I’m not alone in this feeling. Still the nostalgia feeling will be enough to swell their ranks for a time and that may be all Blizzard is looking for.
The new year is upon us and its a good a time as any to take stock of the year that just past. 2011 was quite a year for gaming with several hotly anticipated block buster releases hitting the shelves, some mere weeks after each other. It was also something of a coming of age for this blog in terms of game reviews, seeing myself being flown up to Sydney to preview Modern Warfare 3 and getting my very first ever review copy of a game. Now with the year over it’s time for me to put my vote in for game of the year and whilst I’d love to say it was a close competition it really was anything but.
All in all 2011 saw me complete 22 games total (there were far more played, see here for an explanation as to why they didn’t get reviewed) and here’s an exhaustive list of the reviews in chronological order:
As I was creating this list it struck me just how mixed this list of games is. Whilst the dominant platform is still PC for me there’s 2 other platforms in there and their respective releases both felt right at home on their platform of choice. The dominant genre here would appear to be FPS although just going off the usual 8~10 hour playtime rule for said genre I dare say that the vast majority of my gaming time in 2011 was spent on RPGs or games with a RPG element to them. Although if I’m honest I have blown quite a lot of my time recently in Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer and a heck of a lot more in Star Wars: The Old Republic (review coming soon!).
Before I dive into the game of the year however there’s a few games that deserve recognition either for their accomplishments or outright failures.
Gemini Rue is by far the most underrated game of the bunch. It’s been well received critically both here and elsewhere but it’s still a title most people would not know if they heard it. I’d say this was because of its lack of a release on Steam when it first came out (which has since changed) even though it had a digital distribution channel. Still the game is expertly crafted, bringing up all kinds of nostalgia whilst delivering a story that I really cared about, thoroughly exploiting all aspects of its chosen pixel art medium. Whilst it might not make the cut for my game of the year it would definitely get my vote for independent game of the year, hands down.
For most over-hyped/biggest let down of the year the title can go to none other than Duke Nukem Forever. I was thinking about making it a tie between said title and Rage but in defense of id’s latest release it at least had some redeeming features in the engine and game play. Duke Nukem Forever is unfortunately nothing like that being little more than a generic shooter that rode the Duke brand as hard as it could. Indeed it’s the definition of a critic proof release as for Gearbox it was a commercial success despite it’s woeful critical reception. I’ll be honest this is the only game that I played through to the end just so I could review it as for any other title I would’ve just stopped playing and not bothered to review it.
So what then is my game of the year for 2011? The answer is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
As a game Human Revolution really is something amazing. The graphics are simply superb with it rightly taking the title away from Crysis as being the game to stress test your new rig with. That’d all be for naught if the game wasn’t good but suffice to say it’s brilliant. The plot and characters are engrossing, there are wide and varied game mechanics ensuring that no 2 playthroughs are the same and it has rekindled that feeling that everyone had when they first played the original Deus Ex. Put simply Deus Ex: Human Revolution sets the bar for the FPS/RPG hybrid genre and does it with an almost effortless elegance. It’s fitting then that it received my highest score review score of the year, putting it second only to StarCraft 2.
With 2011 now done and dusted its time to look forward into 2012 and the games it holds for us. It’s already shaping up to be a fantastic year for gaming with games like Diablo 3 and Mass Effect 3 due out early in the year. It will also be the year when I ramp up my game review efforts significantly on here as I’ve got plans to make my console reviews better (and do more of them), dabbling with the idea of producing video reviews and overall playing more games so that I can do more reviews. In the end that’s what its all about, well that and my not-so-secret desire to be a games journalist… 😉
I’ve played my fair share of MMORPGs since my first introduction to this genre way back in 2004. After falling from the dizzying heights that I scaled within World of Warcraft I set about playing my way through several similar games only to either find them half done, unplayable or have their community boil down to just the hardcore in little over a month. There are only two MMORPGs that I’ve ever gone back to after an extended period of absence: World of Warcraft and EVE online. Both had characteristics that begged me to come back after I had left them for good and both have continued to reinvent themselves over the course of their long lifetimes. Today I want to take you through World of Warcraft’s latest revision, the Cataclysm expansion.
This expansion signals the return of Deathwing, one of the dragon aspects of Azeroth who’s first appearance in Blizzard’s Warcraft line of games dates all the way back to Warcraft 2: Beyond the Dark Portal. His emergence from the depths of Deepholm have torn the world asunder, laying waste to much of the original world and changing the landscape of Azeroth permanently. This expansion differs significantly from the previous 2 in that it did not add a whole new world, it reinvented the old whilst adding a few new zones. This allowed the developers the opportunity to redo the entire old world in order to make the 0-60 levelling experience more fluid as well as allowing everyone the opportunity to use their flying mounts in the old world. This is in addition to the complete overhaul of every class, 2 new races, a dozen new dungeons, 4 new raid encounters, a new secondary profession, rework of the stat system and an overhaul of the badge based reward system.
I had a few choices when it came to exploring this new old world that Blizzard had set before me. Reports from friends told me the levelling experience was quite nice and the new starting zones were of similar quality to that of the Death Knight area, long praised for its intensely immersive experience. Still I had 2 level 80 characters ready, willing and able to experience the new content right away and logging onto one of them I was instantly greeted by some of my long time World of Warcraft buddies. The decision to level my 80 Shaman had been made for me before I knew it and I set about blasting my way to 85.
The first thing I noticed was the vast improvements to the game experience that Blizzard have added since the last time I played. First there’s a quest helper that not only tracks all your quests it also points you in the right direction and marks out an area for you to find the mobs or items required to complete it. Additionally the character panel has seen a significant revamp with many of the stats now providing insight into what they mean, like the amount of hit required to not miss a certain level target. There’s also lots of tiny little additions that make the game experience just that much better, like the little icon that hovers above your head when you get 5 stacks of Maelstrom Weapon as a shaman something which required a whole other mod to achieve. The revamped raid/party bar is also quite good and a testament to how necessary the Grid mod was before Blizzard rolled their own. There are still a few things missing that I still consider necessary like a damage meter and a loot browser but overall Blizzard has shown just how closely they watch the community and listen to what their needs are so that they can include those things into the main game.
The levelling experience from 80 to 85 was incredibly enjoyable, probably the best experience I’ve had out of any of the previous releases. I was never lost for somewhere to quest as part of my usual trips back to Ogrimmar there would always be a quest on the Warchief’s board that would send me to a level appropriate area. Whilst this has left me with a couple areas left uncompleted (like Vashj’ir and Uldum) it did mean that I didn’t spend time on lower level quests that yield significantly lower experience. The usual line is that the levelling time from 80 to 85 was supposed to be the same as 70 to 80 but I found that it was significantly less, probably about half or so. I think this can be attributed to the random dungeon system they added in a while back with the added bonus that instead of having to do long quest chains to get those juicy dungeon quests nearly all dungeons have quest givers right at the start.
Like any of the Blizzard titles what really got me was the depth and breadth of the lore behind each of the areas. Whilst many of the quests are you’re standard kill X of those, gather Y of these type of encounters there are quite a few that really bring you into the world that Blizzard has created. The screenshot above is from one such encounter where after leading a band of goblins up the hill I’ve finally met with Alexstrasza who soon after takes me on a direct assault against Deathwing himself. There’s also extensive use of the phasing¹ technique giving you that feeling of being the hero of the world, even though you’re in a world of heroes. This lead me to follow many long quest chains to their completion as I just had to know what happened next, spending hours battling various foes and gobbling up the quest text at every opportunity.
The end game has improved significantly as well. Back in Ulduar Blizzard began experimenting with teleporters that would take you a fair way to the part of the instance you wanted to be at. They continued this in Icecrown Citadel and they have made their way into every instance I’ve played thus far. The instances themselves are also quite entertaining with new boss mechanics and some instances even having in game cinematics. Sure you’re over them once you’ve seen them for the 5th time but it’s a nice touch and goes a long way to revamp the old dungeon grind.
I’ve spent the last month playing through the level 80 to 85 content and I’m still not lost for new things to do in Cataclysm. It seems every other day I find myself in a new dungeon I hadn’t yet done or a new section of a quest area I hadn’t yet discovered and that’s just what keeps me coming back day after day. I’ve still yet to dive into the revamped old world in the form of levelling a new character but from reports I’m hearing from both long time veterans and first time players the experience is as enjoyable as my level 80 to 85 experience. So for those of you thinking about reactivating your old account or for anyone who’s had the slightest inclination to play World of Warcraft you won’t go wrong by starting now in the new world that was torn asunder in Cataclysm.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is available right now on PC for$39.95. Game was played over the course of the last month on the Oceanic Dreadmaul server as a Enhancement Shaman.
¹Phasing, in World of Warcraft, is when part of a world is in a sense instanced. This allows them to show a different world to different players which is usually used to show the effect of a quest on the world around you. The example given is that if you get 10 wooden planks to repair someone’s house it will in fact be repaired. However anyone who hasn’t yet done that quest will see that house as still damaged.
Over the course of this blog’s life I’ve made references to the fact that I’m a long time World of Warcraft player. For the past 6 years I’ve been an on again, off again player frequently returning to Blizzard’s flagship MMORPG for a fix of their latest offerings. Having spent the last month or so playing through the latest Cataclysm expansion I was drafting up a review in my head when I realised that in order to do a proper review of the current content I needed to give a little background on my experience with this game. Today I want to take you through the last 6 years of my life with Blizzard’s iconic game in anticipation for tomorrow’s review of the Cataclysm expansion.
Going back 6 years puts me as a young university student who’s been keenly devouring any and every detail he could find about Blizzard’s upcoming game release. Although I was still at home out in the country with my only connection to the Internet being a share 56k dial-up I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game. As luck would have it I managed to win myself a spot in the coveted close beta and managed to convince my boss to download all the client patches for me. I spent a few good weeks smashing my way through the beta as a paladin called Arathar before it was closed down in preparation for the full release.
The day of the release was quite torturous for my friends and I as we’d been out quite late the night before and only managed to sneak in about 4 hours sleep before we hit up the local games store for our copies of the game. We hadn’t pre-ordered the game so getting in early was imperative and thankfully we were able to score a copy each before we all went our separate ways to begin playing. The experience that awaited us was, to put it bluntly, quite tragic as the servers caved under the load of thousands of people trying to login especially on the chosen Australian server Blackrock. We resigned ourselves to switch to another server (Gorgonnash) and began levelling in earnest, most of us hitting level 10 before calling it a night. This is where Nalafang was born and still resides today.
The next few months were an interesting time for our rag-tag bunch of MMORPGers. We spent many hours questing together, running what dungeons we could and basically just soaking up the world that Blizzard had created for us. Along the way many of my friends started dropping out, usually around the level 40~50 area where it really started to get a bit heavy on the time investment. I continued on and started gathering a group of friends with whom I’d run dungeons with almost daily. After a month or so of this my small team of dungeoneers reformed into a bigger and better guild, Aureus Dawn. A couple weeks later saw our GM drop out and had me assume the position giving me my first taste of what it meant to lead a group of people through a virtual world.
Things just kept getting better as my runs got a reputation for actually finishing content and magically dropping one world epic at least once a week. I started talking with other guild leaders and eventually managed to find another 3 to group with for our first attempt at the first ever raid in WoW: Molten Core. Our first run didn’t see any bosses down but it wasn’t long until we were smashing our way through content and our 4 guild tag team had to split into 2 separate raids to continue on. As time passed the lines between the two separate guilds blurred significantly and I was called into an IM meeting between my officers and the other guild. They proposed that we should merge under a single banner and go ahead with running our raid completely independently. The idea was met with resounding support and they then surprised me by nominating me as the guilds new GM, placing me at the top of the food chain in a 40 man strong raid team. I was elated and soon after Ascendance was formed and we began hitting Molten Core in earnest.
Soon after the new raid instance, Blackwing Lair, was released and our guild decided to have a crack at it. From memory we did end up making it past the first boss after a couple attempts but progress stalled after that. The same fate also hit us in Molten Core as we struggled to down the final boss, stymying our progress in other raids. Inevitably this began to wear on people and personality clashes began to escalate from small fights into guild sized dramas that threatened to tear the guild apart. Thanks to the piecemeal nature by which the guild was formed there were several loyal factions and once one of the faction leaders decided to go the rest of them would follow. This lead to the demise of Ascendance as a guild who ultimately merged in with another bigger guild to continue running. Times were good there until I developed a large amount of contempt for the leadership and ended up causing dramas of my own, eventually leaving them for one of my long time friends (and previous 4 guild raiding buddy) guild, Dark Ronin.
I found a good place there for the longest time, finding my niche as the Rogue class leader and spending many hours pouring over my DPS logs figuring out how to be the best I could be. Eventually however the same traits that made those people elect me to the position of leadership previously caused me to develop the same level of contempt for the leadership as I had previously. I hadn’t been enjoying the game and decided that I needed a fresh start on another server. I found myself a top raiding guild, repsecced my paladin to holy and transferred servers. This lasted for all of a month before I quit entirely, vowing to leave WoW behind forever and never giving it a second glance.
About a year passed before I even thought about WoW again when I saw that the first ever expansion was due to be released soon. Remembering the fond times I had had levelling I thought that it couldn’t hurt to give the game a go again. I spent a little time levelling my rogue in the new areas and enjoyed it for the most part. I even managed to meet up with an old friend, Scottdasmall, who was a long time guild member of mine. I eventually joined his guild and played casually for a couple months, getting both my characters to 70. After that however I just couldn’t get hooked like I did last time and resigned to put the game down again but not with the same disdain as I did before. It wasn’t long however until the next expansion was released and I started looking at WoW again.
This time however I had friends I had met outside of work to play with. Problem was they were Horde players and this was long before faction transfers were available. If I wanted to play with them I’d have to level another character. Thankfully this was just after the Refer-a-Friend scheme came out, making the journey to 60 much quicker. I rolled myself another toon and levelled up with them so that I could play alongside them. Wrath of the Lich King made it extremely easy to get into raids with almost anyone allowing me to gear up my character just like I had in days gone by. Eventually my new found guildies wanted to start raiding in earnest and I joined them, spending countless hours in Ulduar and eventually making it up to the final boss before the raid fell apart.
I dropped the game again at that point for a good 6 months although I kept a much closer eye on what was happening whilst I was away. I eventually came back for a few months to play through the Icecrown Citadel instance, even gearing myself up with an exceptional amount of loot from there, but when I saw that Catalcysm was on the horizon I gave it up once again figuring that anymore effort would be almost for naught very soon. About a month ago I reactivated my account after purchasing the collector’s edition of Cataclysm and have been playing it ever since.
There is of course so much more to this story but in the interests of berevity I’ll spare you the details, at least for now. Needless to say that World of Warcarft has been a very big part of my life for the better part of a decade and will continue to be as long as it’s around. This post was more to show you how I’ve been through almost every aspect of the game, from the high points of end game raiding, to the darkest times of guild dramas and finally ending up here today where I enjoy the game in a way that I’d never envisioned when I first set foot in this virtual world. I’ve tried nearly every other MMORPG out there but none of them has kept me coming back in the way that World of Warcraft does, and that’s a testament to just how good Blizzard is at creating a captivating and engaging world.