This is not a doom and gloom post. Aside from those 600 Blizzard employees who were laid off yesterday, for whom I have the utmost sympathy. No. I want to take a closer look at David Kosak’s Cataclysm Post-mortem, which was posted a few days ago over at the official US site.
The downside to creating these stories is that the zones on the whole ended up being way too linear. For example, because we wanted to show your character re-growing the burning devastation of Mount Hyjal, there was really only one way to play that zone: you started at point A, and you worked your way through to point Z. Pretty glorious the first time, but frustrating on your second or third character because there’s only one way to do it, and no way to skip around. That’s a lesson we’re going to carry forward for sure. We want big sweeping stories, but we want to give players the freedom to explore those stories on their own terms.
Now, I find this an interesting comment to make because there has long been a tension between the Narrative and the way it is explored in World of Warcraft. Looking back at my beta-era posts; I absolutely adored the new max-level Cataclysm zones. Initially at least. The story unfolded beautifully in Vashj’jir and Mount Hyjal, and was interesting in later zones but a lot of the storylines felt hollow and unexplored when viewed as part of the bigger picture.
We were aiming for a really global feel with Cataclysm, so we set the max-level zones in varied environments all over the world (underwater, across deserts, in the elemental plane of earth, etc). However, as a result, they ended up not feeling as connected as we’d like. You get widely different experiences in zones that aren’t geographically related to one another. That’s something important that we’re keeping in mind moving forward – World of Warcraft works best when there’s a sense of place. A connected world to explore.
I completely agree with David on that front. The scattered nature of the 80+ zones resulted in mostly self-contained zones, which caused issues when it came to furthering the story. I think this stems from viewing the story on a per-zone basis rather than a ‘world basis’. How does the Neptulon stuff really impact on Theramore? Not all that much, there’s a few things that are vaguely linked but much of the devastation caused by Deathwing, and the subsequent influx of beings taking advantage of the chaos, is curiously interlinked.
For me the epic moments of the expansion were seeing things that were connected. Seeing the marks that Deathwing had made during his stop over in Stormwind, and the way the troubles of Stormwind impacted on Westfall – that was intriguing and worrying. To make a global experience you need to design globally, things may have their local differences but they can’t stand alone without context.
Otherwise you end up with Harrison Jones.
I liked that zone, but there are times when comedy needs to take a back seat to slightly more adult implications – or those adult themes lose their impact – lose the epicness. Much of what made Wrath work as an expansion was the tragic personal tales we encountered that had us travelling all over the place (such as a certain Paladin in Icecrown.) Talking to Mathias was a much more emotional experience for me than following Thrall’s internal struggle around. Emotions are cool and meaningful, but in a cartoonish world it is hard to get across concepts of personal sacrifice and struggle, of the great cost of war, when players have been running around playing Indiana Jones for most of the zone.
Looking forward to Pandaria
I am mildly hopeful for the expansion. If I can become socially engaged in the game again I will have a lot of fun.
Our goal is to load up the world with lots of interactive spaces, cool encounters, great characters, and neat spaces to explore. That’s part of the reason we’re keeping you grounded (literally) in Pandaria, and why we’re focusing on a single continent.
I think that’s a pretty decent goal to have. Interactive spaces, exploration and great characters are certainly more of a draw for me these days than ‘cool encounters’. If they manage it, then they should give GW2 a run for their money until Titan makes an appearance. While I like a lot of things about Star Wars: The Old Republic, it does often feel like I am running around a stage – I can’t even select half the NPCs, and my character can’t sit in any chairs. Well, except for the one on the bridge of her ship. With zones on separate planets, it’s very difficult for Bioware to really get the exploration feel to the game (especially with liberal use of exhaustion zones and invisible walls on places like Tatooine) but with bonuses for Holocrons I’ve seen a lot of players talk about the fun they’ve had in hunting those bonuses down.
In Warcraft, the issue is not so much the open world, but that locations rarely flow naturally into each other. Verdant jungles sit next to icefloes, and deserts impinge on primordial craters. This is in part down to the mish-mash beginnings of the lore, and there is very little way out of these rather odd-environments. I’m hoping that Pandaria will give us the beautiful environments that we expect, with some of that story and environment flow that we’ve been promised. We want things to explore and we want grand tales. And fun combat. and Pokemon.