Based on the trend of subscription numbers, the glory days of the WoW are waning. Games have changed. For an MMO to survive anymore it’s almost mandatory to have a free-to-play model and an in-game shop. Wold of Warcraft -the still undisputed heavyweight champ of the genre- hasn’t embraced that model completely, but it does allow newbies to play the game with a “Starter Edition” up to level 20. This is a review.
First it’s probably best to divulge I don’t really know anything about Warcraft. I know there are Humans, Orcs, Elves, and Dwarves. I know the men are on steroids, the women are Victoria’s Secret models, and the shoulder pads are ridiculously huge. And outside of a few characters from Heroes of the Storm or Hearthstone, I don’t know much about the lore. Basically I’m going blind into a game that’s on it’s sixth expansion.
I decided to start my journey into Warcraft with the a Draenei character. I’ve seen dwarves and orcs before, I wanted to see who these odd behooved and behorned people were. I made a Priest named Ribida and... immediately began to see why jumping into a twelve-year-old game might be a problem. Like I said before, games have changed a lot since 2005. Pretty much everything is a kill/fetch quest, and UI’s is more reminiscent of Sim City than a modern RPG. It’s really hard to feel like an epic hero when you’re bungling your hotkeys every few minutes or killing eight panthers for some random dude.
After a while I just started to tune out the game while playing. I stopped reading quest dialogue, ran from quest marker to quest marker, and even started watching Hawaii Five-0 while running through the motion. And you know, it wasn’t too bad that way. It didn’t make the game any more interesting, but it was more comfortable to play this way. Sometimes you just want to turn your brain off, kill some fish-people, gain a few levels, and watch cheesy crime dramas.
But that type of play couldn’t hold my interest for long. Ribida didn’t get far past level 13 before I decided to try my luck with another character.
I created a Forsaken rogue named BoogyBones. I was hoping his story and the rogue class would be more engaging than Ribida. Armed with my basic knowledge of the game and a starting area I found more interesting, I tried my second stab at the game (pun totally intended).BoogyBones had a bit of a rough start, but I actually found myself enjoying the grind the second time around.
Part of the enjoyment came from a change of class. The rogue class was slightly more engaging in solo-play than the priest. Another part was the mood and setting. Fields of crystals are neat and all, but I love me some spooky Halloween theming! But my biggest source of enjoyment came from an improved story for the the various zones and questlines.
I got a better sense of purpose and and story for each of the areas I visited. I had to clear out self-righteous knights protecting a fortified hamlet. I had to collect and test crazy potions to use against my enemies. I was actually able to fight alongside Silvanas Windrunner against waves of Worgen. The quests followed the same kill/gather formula but the contextualization and storytelling for each task and were far better developed. I actually began to feel the Forsaken’s -and by extension, BoogyBones’s- place in this world. I stopped Hawaii Five-0 to pay attention to one or two story moments.
The one glaring flaw in this presentation was that for all the things I was doing, it never felt real or have any impact on the world my character resided. I’d save a stronghold from angry spirits and leave it as I had found it: infested with ghosts. I’d use terror to subjugate a murlock clan that was still hostile to me when I entered their territory. I’d take out a Worgen captain only for him to respawn. While the game was getting better at making me feel like I was an epic hero in the armies of the Horde, it was still just a game that reset its pieces after a few minutes. And I know this isn’t just a WoW issue, but it is hard to feel like this was a large persistent world when my actions didn’t seem to account for anything.
But there is an undeniable charm to World of Warcraft that I couldn’t leave alone with just Ribida and BoogyBones. I was introduced to a bonkers fantasy world that really grew on me. Sure there were elves and dwarves like you’d expect. But there are also aliens, time-travel shenanigans, robot bunnies, and mad scientists. And while the graphics aren’t good by 2017 standards, the art and style of the world are wonderful. It takes everything I like about fantasy settings and dials up the crazy and chaos a notch. I wanted to see how out-there World of Warcraft could get.
Enter Golinoni the Goblin Hunter. He was a pretty well-off executive on the Goblin island of Kezan. He spent his days hatching new schemes, playing robot football, and throwing parties. Then the dragon Deathwing blew up the island. So Golinoni started a new life as a Goblin champion, helping his people survive on a new tropical island they could exploit. Then he blew up that island. After a long series of events he eventually helped and joined the Horde to give his aid to their forces, helping cement the Goblins’ place with the other races in the coalition.
This was really the kick in the pants my WoW experience needed. Golinoni’s story felt more personal and more interesting. Quests had more personality and more variances than the usual kill/collect missions. And even though I know the starting islands were heavily instanced and every other Goblin player-character had pretty much the same experience, I felt as though Golinoni was having an impact on the world around him.
After moving on to the main continent and getting Golinoni up to level 20, I’m a bit torn on my World of Warcraft experience. On one hand, the gameplay and storytelling isn’t consistently engaging or interesting. Many quests were uninspired by modern standards, a common ailment of the game’s older zones and regions Golinoni was entering. A lot of times it felt like the game was just a time-waster; something to do while lounging or doing nothing important. On the other hand, I got glimpses of why people love Warcraft’s brand of epic fantasy. The moments I played as Golinoni that made me feel like a hero in a chaotic conflict were some of the best I’ve felt from an MMO. It made me curious about the newer content for higher-level characters.
And that’s were the Starter Edition left me: curious. I’m not sold on becoming a hardcore World of Warcraft player. I’m not even sure if the majority of content I’d be experiencing just past level 20 would be as consistently good as some of the earlier content. But I’m interested to see where my heroes’ journeys might go.
Zachary D Long likes messing around in fantasy worlds and puts up with reality. If you want you can follow him and his adventures/dog pictures on @invadingduck on Twitter. He also DMs a small D&D show called RPGeniuses that you might like if you’re into weird fantasy worlds.