Greatest Game of 2004: World of Warcraft

Wow and Back Again, and Again…

So, in High School I played video games, a LOT of video games.  In college I played video games, but not as many.  In grad school I rarely played more than online poker but it would seem I had for the most part “grown” out of my video game obsession.  That is until a certain contributor on this site invited me over to his place and showed me this new craze called World of Warcraft.  I started playing a night elf priest and instantly got sucked in to pressing two buttons to kill kobolds, wolves, and running from point A to point B.  There was exploration, progression, a complex learning curve, monotonous grinding, dancing, and to top it off idiot 12 year olds to make fun of in general chat.  I don’t think I even made it back to my apartment before running out to the store and picking up my own vial of digital cocaine.

And thus began a 6 year love affair with the MMORPG known to gamers as simply “WoW”.  For much of that time WoW was more than just a computer game, it was an obsession.  I literally would spend more waking hours playing that game then doing other daily activities combined.  Work was just something I did in between my “real job” which was playing the game.  Food was just something to fill my stomach so I could keep playing WoW.  Now I could go into several reasons why I justified becoming so obsessed and some of them would be external factors involving my personal life.  However, to spare you those boring details I will focus on the aspects of the game itself that sucked in so many poor saps like myself.

This game, more than any other, can be best described as one thing: huge.  The amount of detail coupled with the size of the zones makes even just roaming around without any purpose a rewarding experience.  Also Blizzard was a bit of a pioneer in creating a seamless exploring experience where a player could move between zones with seldom a loading screen to be seen.  The graphics engine itself was never first in its class, however the style of graphics they used still was capable of creating incredible atmosphere with minimal resources.  If your computer could handle Warcraft III then it could probably log in and play WoW, at least in its first stages.  However, higher end machines were still rewarded with a largely customizable graphics interface and superior performance in high traffic environments such as the larger cities, raids, and Battlegrounds.  With each expansion the graphics would receive a minor face-lift although the core feel and look to the game never really deviated much from the original concept.

Another successful element was the variety of game play.  Blizzard designed WoW so so you never were hurting for an excuse to log on “just for a few minutes.”  Whether you were grinding out levels by questing, farming up materials for trade-skills, running dungeons with guildies, running mindless loops around the city of Ironforge, or sitting on a fucking pier pressing the “fish” button you never ran out of things to waste your time (don’t get me started on WoW fishing, only Blizzard could market a game that involved digitizing something that was already boring and make it even more boring).  Just when the game was getting stale or your character had done every quest, they introduced daily quests where you received rewards for doing the same exact thing every day.  And when that was getting stale they threw in achievement grinding for even more months of stupid pointless activity.

Although, the one thing that really got me hooked more than anything else was raiding.  The WoW raiding experience was something that no other game has even come close to providing or recreating.  What made raiding so amazing and unique?  No two WoW players will agree on this but for me it was the fact that in the early stages of the game so few players even got the chance to be in a true raid.  Plenty of guilds attempted to get into raiding only to fail miserably.  They either didn’t have the talent, knowledge, or most likely the right mix of people to make it work.  Most people would wait months for the chance to be accepted into a raiding guild that was organized enough to go fairly regularly and be able to actually kill stuff.  The fights were challenging, the dungeons were long, the rewards were epic.  A guild could spend months perfecting the mechanics of a single boss fight before they finally were rewarded with a kill.  The experience was more often frustrating than fun but when the boss finally went down one can’t help but compare it to a victory that  might shared with a sports team (for examples of this see any movie about sports ever made).

Maybe it was the fact that raiding was only for the WoW “Elite” that increased its appeal.  Maybe it was because you might win that epic weapon that you could wear on your back and prance around Ironforge while all of the out of guild “noobs” would sit there drooling at your character.  Maybe it was because if you spend 4 or 5 nights out of the week raiding with the same handful of people you actually become quite close and often would end up finding out way too much information about their personal life.  Ok, so that is not really a good thing but I did end up enjoying the company of several of my guildmates (for more information on the weird interpersonal relationships that form from a game like WoW catch the series “The Guild” on streaming Netflix).

Well, to make a long story short I found myself going from being barked around by a raid leader who was a former Army drill sergeant (I am not joking about this) to taking a bit of a different approach when I found myself leading raids for quite some time.  It is the sort of thing that only an idiot would put on a resume but I swear I learned quite a bit about leading, dealing with drama, and reacting under pressure while I was leading and organizing raids.  It turns out its much more difficult then you would think to get 25 people to all move their asses out of fire at the right time.  It was because of all this that WoW was feeling more like a job then a game and after two years of subjecting myself to feeling frustrated and bored 95% of the time, the 5% of excitement and elation wasn’t enough to justify having it take over my life any more.  I left my guild and took some time off to enjoy some of the finer things in life.

Throughout the last several years I have played WoW off and on again.  Sometimes it was because there was nothing better to waste my time with, or a new expansion was released that I wanted to try out.  More than once I even convinced some of the guys on this site to give it a go but trying to convince Dave that the “grind is totally worth it” becomes harder and harder.  Yes, I still have an active account but I sense that will be going away fairly soon.  I think the MMORPG market is thirsty for a fresh alternative to WoW.  They have been waiting for one ever since the second expansion and no company has come even close to making a product that is polished enough to draw the masses away.

WoW’s success was never really about innovation.  In fact almost all of WoW’s gameplay borrowed heavily from other MMO’s that came before.  I think it was more about finding the perfect mix of RPG, Player Vs. Player, mindless activity, epic content, and cross demographical appeal that made WoW stand apart from the countless other MMO’s that have come and gone during its existence.  Personally, I can’t wait for the elusive “WoW Killer” to finally be released so we can move on.  The MMO genre has so much potential but is being stifled by the fact that few companies want to put in the resources to develop an MMO just to have it be swamped by WoW’s business as usual.  WoW was a fantastic experience and I have had some of the most fun in a video game exploring those worlds and slaying epic bosses but I think its time for all of us to move, for the good of the video gaming industry!

And to the developers at Blizzard:  Pandas?  Seriously?  We go from bad ass dragons and kings of the undead to kung fu pandas?  /cancelaccount

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