After eight years of playing World of Warcraft, you can bet that I know the game inside and out. I played during a time when hunters had to feed their pets or risk them defecting mid-combat and Auberdine was whole (and unbelievably annoying), where Blackwing Lair was the highest-level raid content available and +10 intellect on gear was pretty much game-breaking. Hell, I remember when Thousand Needles was just a desert and there were maybe 10 quests in all of Azshara — three if you played Alliance.
Having so much experience with the game has given me the fairly rare gift of being able to fully appreciate each and every change, the subtleties of which are lost on players who only started during Cataclysm or Mists of Pandaria. Watching the quest styles, the storyline, and the technology required to launch them all progress over time has been absolutely thrilling. The problem is that I’ve also been able to see the cracks of age crop up throughout the older expansions, once heralded as revolutionary and ahead of the game, especially now that I’m leveling my fifth 90.
The developers have managed to keep World of Warcraft feeling pretty fresh, especially with the massive overhaul of the “classic” Azeroth that came with Cataclysm. Skepticism ran pretty high before its release; I know I wasn’t the only one who ragequit for a short time after their plans to basically destroy the world as we knew it were announced. We clung stubbornly to our simple grindfests and linear storylines. I don’t think any of us could even have imagined the things that the design team managed to accomplish in Cata. The Plaguelands are actually fun now, for God’s sake, something once thought impossible to pull off. We also saw the first redesign of classic instances with the new and vastly improved Stockades and Deadmines (though I really do miss Mr. Smite). And we finally realized just how sick of the “old ways” we were.
Well, except for a vocal minority who complain about the good old days and how WoW’s been dumbed down, which is funny since I still see them logged in and leveling panda monks on a daily basis. Yes, the game has been simplified, but you know what? It needed it. Even during the pre-Cata days, World of Warcraft was among the easier MMOs, certainly not as punishing as Everquest or Final Fantasy, and that was a breath of fresh air for those of us looking for a way to de-stress and just have fun. I say Blizzard should put together a “vanilla” server for the oldschoolers who lament the game’s new directions and let them see how long they last. I can tell you right now that if I had to go back to the old ways, I’d probably last another week before permanently giving up.
Mists of Pandaria continued the ascent into awesome with the most breathtaking landscapes and storylines yet. It introduced more revamped instances (Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery) and a simplified way of leveling up cooking skills, allowing players to basically go from 1 to 500 by purchasing reagents from a supply vendor or doing a minimal amount of fishing in Pandaria. Quests somehow became even more dynamic, earning reputation with the Pandaria factions was significantly less painful than the rep grinds of yore, and with patch 5.1, commendation tokens could be purchased to speed up reputation gains account-wide once the original character reached Revered status. On top of rewarding valor points and gold, daily quests also gave Lesser Charms of Good Fortune which could be turned in 90 at a time to receive higher-quality charms that gave an extra loot roll in raids.
The past two expansions truly have been the developers feeding us all caviar on velvet cushions. Unfortunately, Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King have not fared quite so well. When compared to the “new classic,” Cataclysm, and Pandaria, they seem woefully last-gen and frustrating. New content for Pandaria is still being rolled out on a fairly regular basis, meaning that the design team’s attention is rightfully focused on delivering a more current player experience, but once that all dies down, I’d love to see them go back and make a few tweaks to Outlands and Northrend.
And, well, I’ll admit it, there’s one thing I’d like to see them change that expands to Azeroth, too. In Pandaria, players receive class-specific quest rewards for their efforts. Monks get monk gear, shamans get shaman gear, and the options (if there are any) encompass all possible specs. Having played so many characters through the various expansions, I can tell you that there’s a huge dearth of decent gear for some class/spec combinations. One of my alts is a Mistweaver monk, and in trying to outfit her appropriately (spirit > haste > intellect), I’ve found that I can be halfway through a zone before finding any upgrades that are useful to me. Leather rewards are almost always agility-centric. It’s true that I get lots of vendor fodder as a result, but in the meantime, my monk is woefully undergeared compared to what a rogue or a DPS warrior would have at her level. Many of the rewards are useless for any class based on the fact that their stats haven’t been updated along with the game mechanics. I still find strength/agility plate rather frequently, especially in Outlands. Cataclysm gear may match current mechanics, but there still seems to be an imbalance as far as how much gear is available for various classes and specs.
Drop rates for quest items are another thing that were updated for ease from Cataclysm and on. Anybody remember gathering murloc heads back when Southshore still had Alliance areas? The drop rate was atrocious. Outlands was chock full of quests where you’d spend what seemed like an eternity doing murder circuits of mobs and waiting for respawns just for one person to complete an objective. Northrend was admittedly a bit better, but there were still a few instances where my finger hovered over the “Abandon” button. Revising the drop rates for quest items would make a huge difference in player enjoyment through these older areas. To alleviate any concern over losing too much potential XP to the higher drop rates (and thus fewer mobs killed), the bonuses for quest turn-ins or mob kills could be increased just a tiny amount.
Cataclysm did affect several of the older reputations, such as Timbermaw Hold, by making them easier to max out. Quests for these factions now give more rep upon completion than they did in the old days, but many others could benefit from a similar update. Coilfang Armaments can no longer be turned in for Cenarion Expedition rep, and with the way that the quests are set up, it quickly becomes a grind-fest to either run Coilfang Reservoir instances ad nauseam or collect random drops, such as Unidentified Plant Parts. A revamp of the quests in Outlands to “catch up” to current styles (more on that later) could be a great time to increase reputation benefits, as well. The same can go for Northrend in the case of the Argent Tournament. I would be thrilled to see grand commendations available for these older factions or the introduction of “championing” tabards to those not already offering them, allowing players to purchase faction tabards at Friendly level and wear them in dungeons to funnel rep gains towards that faction. As it stands, Burning Crusade factions require exalted to be able to purchase their tabards, which serve no purpose other than RP or completing achievements. This isn’t an attempt to completely kill any sense of challenge, and great caution would need to be used in determining how to buff rep gains for the older reputations, but to be blunt, most people are not farming these reputations anymore for anything other than pets or mounts just because they are such an immense pain to complete compared to newer reputations.
As far as the aforementioned revamp of quests goes, Outlands is the primary culprit here. Cataclysm and Pandaria tend to give their quests in small, manageable handfuls that make efficient questing easy, but Outlands throws them all in your face at once, filling up your map with turn-in points and objective areas so plentiful it becomes overwhelming to look at. Streamlining quest delivery is definitely needed. The auto-update feature introduced with Cataclysm, where quests may be completed and advanced in the field rather than having to go back into an objective area three or four times, would be an absolute godsend in earlier expansions. An update to quest mechanics using newer technology now available would also help to dissipate the decidedly last-gen feeling now permeating Outlands. Northrend’s quest mechanics aren’t too terribly far behind the current standard, but some minor tweaks are required, such as lowering the number of items required to complete a quest (25 Zul’Drak rats for Gluttonous Lurkers) for sake of ease or fixing the way that Gymer constantly gets stuck on environmental geometry and is so large that zooming the camera out all the way still makes it impossible to see what’s in front of you.
Another specific area of Northrend that could use a good revamp would be the Argent Tournament. Horde and Alliance players must complete a rash of daily quests, most of which are static, in order to receive various types of tokens, starting with Aspirant’s Seals to unlock the ability to “champion” a city. Once all of the required Aspirant’s Seals are turned in, players then need to present each of five city faction representatives with 25 Valiant’s Seals in order to unlock dailies rewarding Champion tokens which can then be turned in to each city faction’s Argent Tournament quartermaster for mounts, pets, and other vanity items. Each pet costs 40 tokens, and each city offers two mounts: one costing 5 tokens and 350 gold, and one costing 100 tokens. This doesn’t even take into account the Argent Hippogryph, available for 150 tokens, or the Argent Pony, which costs another 150 tokens and completes an achievement as well as giving you access to repair vendors while your Argent Squire/Gruntling is out (thankfully, you get this non-combat pet as a reward rather than having to pay for it, too). The good news is that during this veritable blitzkrieg of dailies, you’ll likely hit exalted with your main Argent Tournament faction and unlock more dailies that reward Champion tokens, taking your maximum obtainable tokens from 5 per day to 14 per day, but let’s say you don’t. Let’s look at the math and see what’s required to get every single pet, mount, or achievement item with this assumption in mind:
25 Aspirant’s Seals = 5 days
25 Valiant’s Seals x 5 city factions = 25 days
40 Champion tokens x 5 city factions = 25 days
5 Champion tokens, 350g x 5 city factions = 5 days, 1750g
100 Champion tokens x 5 city factions = 100 days
150 Champion tokens = 30 days
150 Champion tokens = 30 days
Subtract 20 days during which you will be able to earn both Valiant Seals and Champion tokens
TOTAL: 200 days
Yeah… about that. The daily quests reward a few gold and some rep, but at level 90, other than obtaining the vanity items, there’s no real benefit to them. Two hundred days for a “vintage” faction seems a little ridiculous. If you get to the point of earning 14 Champion tokens per day then it will take significantly less time, but due to variables such as reputation gain buffs from level 25 guilds, previous faction-related quests completed, etc. it’s hard to give a concrete total since different players will reach this at different times. How about lowering the token cost for players who have Exalted reputation with the various cities, or giving a regular currency cost option, i.e. either farm the tokens or pay the gold?
Another issue is the mechanics behind the jousting vehicle quests offered at the tournament. Each of the special jousting mounts handle sluggishly, with wide turns required to change direction. The controls feel clunky enough with a mouse; I can hardly imagine how awful it must be for keyboard-turners. The delay between activating a vehicle ability and its actual triggering during each joust event can be as long as one or two seconds even with no game or input latency issues, which is a veritable eternity in the gaming world and often means the difference between success or failure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to activate Shield Breaker while the enemy NPC was in front of me, only to have it tell me I was not, in fact, facing it, or to have it fire off once I had run off to the side or ahead of my competitor. I’m not sure if this was done intentionally, in order to give it a more “realistic” feel, but I can’t really think of any other vehicle quests with such clumsy controls. It’s less like riding a horse, and more like being dragged helplessly behind it.
More streamlining and updating of old instances would be fantastic, as well. The first one to spring to mind is Blackrock Depths. The Scarlet Monastery of old was split into four different instances, yet combined, I’m pretty sure they would still be smaller and more easily navigable than BRD. Eight years later, I still have trouble finding my way through that instance, and I’ve never been on a run of it that’s lasted less than 45 minutes to an hour. Getting to the instance itself can also be a hassle, since it requires running through a large quarry where not even ground mounts are allowed. Mauradon is another confusing and overly massive dungeon, though it at least allows players to choose either the orange or purple entrance, or take a portal hidden in a twisty-turny cavern outside of the dungeon to a spot near the end. It was a good start at trying to make it a little less daunting of a run, but improvements could still be made, especially seeing how the bar has been set with the other instance revamps. Somewhat related, I’d also be excited to see non-classic raid bosses updated to drop pets and max-level five-man options available for old raid instances. The developers went through all the trouble to make the content, after all, so why not ensure that as many players as possible get to see it?
I lied earlier, by the way, when I said there was only one thing on the classic continents to change. One more thing that Azeroth could benefit from is a Cataclysm-style revamp of Silithus. Silithus has already been redone once, shortly after the pre-Outlands introduction of the two raids making up Ahn’Qiraj, but obviously, that was several years ago, and it hasn’t been touched since. The quests are still extremely oldschool and require farming the Encrypted Twilight Texts that drove so many of us to madness back in the day. I was a bit disappointed to go back to it after Cataclysm and find no changes; it was almost like the developers forgot about it, a missed opportunity considering the Twilight forces already found throughout the zone that should have been a natural tie-in to the expansion. Silithus is one of only two options for questing between the 55-60 range, the other being Blasted Lands, which while a lot of fun since its revision still goes stale after leveling a couple of characters through it. Either way, the last few levels before Outlands are currently unpleasant, since you risk burning yourself out by playing the same content over and over or suffering through a boring grind.
Some exciting news for professions, however — patch 5.2 will be rolling out a simplified version of blacksmithing that allows players to level from 1 to 500 using Ghost Iron Ore and special crafting projects. It remains to be seen if this will affect other professions (lord knows Jewelcrafting needs it), but in the meantime, here’s to hoping that it’s a sign of the developers making their entrance into the catch-up game to keep World of Warcraft interesting and around for a very long time.