WoW: Early Impressions

I think the most striking thing about World of Warcraft in its early stages is how ordinary it seems. This is a very conventional CRPG. You get quests, you kill monsters, you collect loot to sell or craft. I deliberately chose the most unconventional race — undead — but even that’s more conventional than it sounds, with only minor gameplay differences from any other race. (Apparently undead player characters, as opposed to undead monsters, aren’t even considered to be undead for the purposes of magical effects.) One thing about the quests that surprised me was they’re not always delivered in the conventional way, by NPC conversation: I’ve received one quest opportunity by reading a letter that I found on a slain enemy, and another simply by being present to witness a scripted event encountered while executing a different quest. But under the paint, the quests only come in a few well-worn shapes. I may go into more detail in future posts.

There may be something of the “Shakespeare is so full of clichés” effect here, accusing something of unoriginality because it’s been so widely imitated. But then, WoW isn’t that old. Most of the RPGs I play even today predate it. No, more likely this is a case of the developers focusing on craft rather than originality. There experience is in fact pretty smooth, especially for a new player with a low-level character. The in-game tutorial is a thing of beauty: it refrains from popping up too often, and when it tells me something I’ve already figured out, I usually feel like I’ve been cleverer than expected, not like it’s wasting my time by overexplaining. And there’s amazingly little downtime. After most combats, I pop back up to full health and mana instantly, and when I die, I have the option of resurrecting immediately at the nearest graveyard.

[UPDATE: This paragraph contains misinformation. See the comments.]That last point is something of a freebie for low-level characters, though. Above level 10, you have to either run to your corpse in ghost-form (which is particularly strange if you’re already undead), or wait six minutes to resurrect. Are there other ways in which the game makes things more convenient for newbies? I suppose the passivity of the early monsters counts: in the starting areas, nothing attacks you unless you attack it first. Beyond that, we’ll see. Certainly newbies are the ones to cater to, to draw them in and get them hooked. Once they’re hooked, they’ll put up with more. Ah, but why put in the six-minute wait at all? I don’t know. Maybe to make it more difficult to leap back into those small-village-sized boss fights I’ve heard about. Maybe just to provide a disincentive for dying that doesn’t involve permanent harm. Maybe I’ll figure it out once I’ve experienced it.

Another thing I have yet to experience is any real multiplayer play. Presumably I’ll make an effort to join into groups at some point, because that’s clearly the point of the game, and the main thing separating this from the single-player CRPGs it keeps reminding me of. But I’m kind of surprised how well it’s accommodated solo play so far, especially since I’m playing a primary spellcaster. Yes, warlocks need meat-shields to keep them alive, but they get one built-in. At level 1, you get an imp companion, which attacks stuff for you; at higher levels, you can learn to summon other, bigger sorts of demon. In some ways, this demon seems better than a party: you can re-summon it whenever it dies (provided you survive whatever killed it), and you don’t have to split loot with it.

One thing that seemed strange to me in the early quests: one of the authority-figures in the initial undead village goes out of his way to tell you that you’re free to do as you please and even hints at insurrection against Lady Sylvanas, Queen of the Forsaken. There followed a quest to join in a battle against rebel undead, which seemed like an ideal moment to switch sides, but if it’s possible there, it’s difficult — you pretty much have your hands full being attacked, so figuring out whether you can manipulate the faction system at the same time seems onerous. I don’t even know if it’s possible to gain the favor of enemy factions — I know I managed to do such things in Everquest, but the division between Alliance and Horde seems too fundamental to the game design for that. But for the moment, at least, I’m just accepting every quest I’m offered, heedless of consequence, on the basis that I’m not yet too committed to this character to start over. Soon after the above, I was offered quests to murder some human farmers just in case they decided to join with the enemies of the undead, and to spread plague. I only briefly considered this as a test of loyalty vs morality before agreeing to the deeds.

5 Comments so far

  1. malkav11 on 11 Jan 2011

    A couple of things – it’s not “go back to your corpse or wait six minutes”, it’s “go back to your corpse or talk to the friendly spirit guide to resurrect in place” (except doing the latter does more damage to your equipment and gives you resurrection sickness). It’s not clear to me if you missed the guide or are talking about waiting for res sickness to clear (I don’t think it takes six minutes, though.).

    Also, unfortunately, there’s not really any moral decisions or branching plots, probably due to the difficulty of implementing such things in the context of an MMO of WoW’s sort. The only way to change from Alliance to Horde or vice versa is an out of game payment to Blizzard, and unfortunately it also comes with a forced race change to a race that belongs to that faction, which to me removes the point entirely. Every now and then there are two feuding factions (the Aldors vs the Scryers; the Frenzyheart Tribe vs. the Oracles, possibly something in Cataclysm that I’ve yet to see) where you can pick one side or the other and building faction with one loses you faction with the other, but these are invariably minor factions and your decision makes no great impact on the overall storyline, only the specific factional rewards differ. And ultimately, you can, if you feel so inclined, build your faction to max with one then switch to the other and repeat the process.

  2. Merus on 12 Jan 2011

    “One thing that seemed strange to me in the early quests: one of the authority-figures in the initial undead village goes out of his way to tell you that you’re free to do as you please and even hints at insurrection against Lady Sylvanas, Queen of the Forsaken.”

    I haven’t yet played the undead starting quests, but it’s likely you ran across a reference to the frequent splintering of the undead faction. The specific faction PCs play as is a splinter of the larger group of undead. The Forsaken themselves have had some problems with insurrection during the war against the Lich King, which is why (as you’ll discover) the rest of the Horde trust Sylvanas about as far as they can throw her, with the exception of the blood elves. Orcs act as guards in the Undercity, not undead. (Amusingly, this is reflected in the mechanics – undead and blood elves start off at a reputation disadvantage to the other races.)

  3. Carl Muckenhoupt on 12 Jan 2011

    OK, looks like I completely misunderstood the death mechanics — no, I didn’t miss the spirit healer, but there was definitely a mention of some consequence that I was avoiding by being too low-level to trigger it, and there was definitely a six-minute countdown timer (which I consistently interrupted), and somehow I got the impression that these two things were related. I still don’t have a clear idea what the six-minute countdown is for — do you resurrect in place if you let it time out or something?

    Death in this game is confusing, and best avoided for that reason alone.

    As for moral choices, I’d say that the game does have them to the extent that you can choose to not accept quests. But I suppose you miss out on most of the game content that way, especially since a lot of quests are contingent on other quests.

  4. Jason Dyer on 12 Jan 2011

    Explained here:

    Once you click on the button to release spirit or your 6 minute timer is up, you will be transported automatically to the nearest graveyard that is designated to be usable by your faction and enter ghost form.

  5. Carl Muckenhoupt on 12 Jan 2011

    Thanks, that page is much clearer than the one I had been looking at before writing this post:

    Death is the state a character is in when their health reaches zero (or less). They have 6 minutes to stay there, or resurrect from the spirit immediately. When this happens, they leave a corpse at the location where they died.

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