Archive for January, 2011

WoW: Grouping it

Last night, for the first time, I spent a little while in a group. Not a large group — it was just me and one guy from work. (I’m still reluctant to quest with anonymous strangers, although I suppose my WoW experience won’t be complete until I’ve tried it at least once.) I was using a newer and less-experienced character, an Orc rogue named Crumbcake. I may wind up using Crumbcake exclusively for social play, because I don’t want her to level faster than my friends on that server, but she doesn’t really seem like an ideal sort of character for that sort of thing. The real social roles are healing and enhancement — abilities that become more effective when you have someone to share them with. Rogues are experts at sneaking, which seems like it would be more effective when you’re alone, because non-stealthy companions are liable to get into fights that you’ll have to either break stealth to participate in, or ignore and be a bad teammate. But even without force multipliers, playing with someone else will tend to increase both participants’ survival rate. Quests tend to become available when you’re at the experience level that can just barely pull them off without dying if you’re lucky. You can overcome this by only attempting quests that are a level or two below you, and indeed I think you’re likely to do this automatically after a while just because of all the quest XP there is lying around, but with a partner, it’s much less of a worry.

Nonetheless, there are some obvious and immediate downsides to adventuring with a group, and I don’t just mean the mechanical aspects, like splitting loot. It requires coordination, particularly schedule coordination. I remember a “test” in A Tale in the Desert that involved putting together a group of seven people for a time-consuming pilgrimage to a number of remote shrines. It was probably the most challenging thing I ever attempted in the game, even though there was no obstacle beyond keeping the group together. WoW groups are of course more flexible than that — if someone has to log off, everyone else involved can keep going. But even with just two people, we spent a substantial amount of time discussing what we were going to do, rather than just going out and doing stuff like a solo player. Coordination of this sort is necessary because grouping implicitly asks you to be attentive to other people’s needs. Not only is it experienced as a bad thing when you’re kept waiting, it’s also experienced as a bad thing when you know you’re keeping other people waiting. I kept my partner waiting for an embarrassingly long time at one point while I tried to find my way to the Windrider Master in Orgrimmar — it was my first visit there, and, like all the capital cities, it’s laid out in a confusingly three-dimensional way. (It turns out that the only way to get up there was by an elevator which I hadn’t recognized as an elevator.) That’s an extreme case, but it’s a symptom of the larger disadvantage that group play isn’t self-paced. When I’m soloing, I can stop in the middle of a quest to try out a fishing hole I noticed. When I’m not, I feel like I’m wasting other people’s time if I stop to read the quest descriptions thoroughly instead of just skimming them.

WoW: Fishing with Oleari

So, after registering the game so as not to lose momentum with Pleasance, what do I do for my next session? I take Oleari fishing, of course! After reading advice here, I was eager to get her trained in some Professions, and figured that while I was at it, I might as well try fishing in the Tauren starting area (still a fairly short run away). There’s a really inviting lake there. It looks like it belongs in summer camp, and it turns out to be ideal for the novice fisher, well-stocked with “Brilliant Smallfish” which are also a godsend to the novice cook. Moreover, the fact that I decided to spend time on this shows how much the questing has lost its urgency now that I’m no longer rushing to do as much as possible before the trial expires. If your focus is on quests, you get rushed around from place to place pretty quickly, exhausting the quests in one area and then being sent on a quest to the next. It can be nice to just stop and pull things out of a lake once in a while. It does get boring pretty quickly, though, and unlike all the other professions I had tried, I ended my first session long before the game mechanics forced me to. But only partly because of the fishing; I was falling asleep by then. It was a short session, and this is a short post.

WoW: Paying Up

A funny thing happened the other day: Pleasance stopped getting XP. I was doing quests that should have given her experience, and the game reported them as if they did, but the progress bar that forms a major and oft-consulted part of the game UI remained resolutely stuck at one percent of the way to the next level. It was most puzzling until I realized what had happened: Pleasance had reached the level cap for trial accounts. I considered switching to Oleari for the next couple of days, but I felt like I was on a roll and wanted to keep going. It strikes me that this is something Blizzard planned out pretty well: trial accounts are capped at level 20, which is also a pretty major upgrade point. Among other things, level 20 is when you can learn to ride, a not inconsiderable time-saver and status symbol. Warlocks in particular get a demonic horse with flaming hooves for free at level 20. So, that’s one way the game goads you into taking things farther (and faster).

So anyway, I’m a paid-up citizen of Azeroth now, albeit still just vanilla WoW without any burning crusades or anything. Upgrading to a paid account also solved another little mystery: the mystery of why RealID didn’t work as advertised. RealID is what Blizzard calls the ability to contact your friends by their email address, and it’s another thing that’s not available to trial accounts. There are probably good reasons for this involving privacy concerns and/or fraud prevention. Even with the rules as they stand, I’ve already experienced one rather pathetic in-game phishing attempt. Someone with a character name involving the word “Blizzard” whispered a grammatically weird message to me, asserting that there had been complaints about me and that my account would be suspended if I didn’t visit a certain URL. Anyway, now that I can easily contact the few friends I have who are actively playing (and whose character names I find it difficult to remember), I might actually make good on my repeated promises to try out some group play. Just, you know, don’t take my word for this until it’s phrased in the past tense.

Now, I’ve already asserted that the WoW payment model is outside the boundaries of the Oath. But now that I’ve actually had a full week (including two weekends) of experience with the game, I’m wondering if it might be more appropriate to consider the purchase of the game as subject to the Oath, and just leave off the monthly payments. Despite what I said before, this game actually feels somewhat finishable (if rather large) — just following the game’s lead and doing quests as they’re presented to you results in a good sense of progress, and there’s got to be a point where that progress stops. Even if Blizzard is constantly tweaking the content, the quest tree as a whole forms a single coherent story with world-altering effects, similar to those found in single-player CRPGs. It wouldn’t be stretching things far to describe this game as having a single-player campaign mode. It’s just a single-player campaign with the peculiar feature that other players occasionally run by. And certainly there are and have been other games on the Stack that were mainly intended as multiplayer, but which I’ve only attempted to play alone. (Red Alert is a good example.) But I have yet to make up my mind about this.

WoW: Professions

One of the really striking things about my World of Warcraft experience so far is the lack of grinding. I mean, sure, there are quests that involve seeking out and killing wandering creatures, but even so, that’s not grinding, it’s questing. It’s not driven by our personal need for more power to make the rest of the game easier, it’s driven by some NPC in a position of authority telling you to do stuff and rewarding you with goodies and XP and congratulations. (Lots of single-player CRPGs have the NPCs heap praise upon you for achieving tremendous things that no one else could, but here they do it in a context where other people who have done exactly the same things are wandering around and calling each other names.) What’s more, the kill-stuff quests usually come paired with a quest to do some other task in or past the area where the stuff to be killed resides, so I find I generally just wind up automatically meeting my quota (or coming very close to it) in the course of pursuing my other duties.

There is, however, one aspect of the game that feels very grindy, and that’s the Professions. Professions are mainly crafting skills. They’re completely optional, but the fact that they’re optional makes them fit into the category of self-directed power-seeking that I mentioned above. And yes, they involve simple repetitive activity, although for the most part you don’t have to participate; you can just tell the computer to make twenty bandages or whatever, and it’ll do the iterations without need for further input.

In what I assume is an effort to force diversity, no character can practice all the professions. There are four professions that everyone gets — cooking, fishing, first aid, and archeology, of all weird combos — and on top of that, you can take up to two electives. I haven’t chosen these slots for Oleari yet, but Pleasance has taking Tailoring and Enchanting. These, it turns out, are a widely-recommended pairing for mage-types, but I didn’t know this when I picked them. I picked them because they made sense: a warlock can only wear cloth, so I figured this combination would let me make my own enchanted equipment. It turns out there’s another wrinkle to it: the Enchantment profession also involves disenchanting things, which destroys them but returns a certain amount of enchantment supplies (magic powders and the like). Now, you can buy the same supplies from town, but they’re pretty expensive. Tailoring, however, can produce items that have small stat bonuses without explicitly enchanting them. These items can, however, be disenchanted. So there’s a nice dovetailing of the grind there: if you make some clothing and then disenchant it, you get to practice both Tailoring and Enchanting, and get some relatively cheap Enchanting supplies into the bargain.

To some extent, you can buy your way into professional skill. Take Cooking. The first Cooking recipe you learn is for a spice cake, the ingredients of which can be purchased from a guy standing right next to the trainer who gave you your first point of Cooking skill in the first place. If you have the cash to spend on it, it makes sense to just whip up a bunch of spice cake then and there, increasing your skill with each step. However, as you gain skill, easier tasks start failing to yield skill. The menu of things you know how to make is color-coded by how likely they are to yield a skill point, so it’s easy to pick the things to practice with.

The other limiting factor to grinding professions is scarcity of resources. Most low-level recipes (other than spice cake) need meat. Unlike in our world, wolf meat is apparently commonly eaten in Azeroth, as is bear — the closest thing to a normal meat animal I’ve seen is those pigs back in the orcish territories, and even those pigs are pretty fierce. The point is, the only way to obtain meat for food is to engage it in combat. You might think Tailoring would be a different matter, but no, the only source of raw cloth is fallen adversaries. This affects First Aid as well, because the same cloth drops are the raw material for bandages. You can buy thread — most Tailoring recipes require it — but there’s nary a usable loom in sight. Battle is your loom. So, this puts a brake on how much practice you can put in between quests. No one’s becoming a master craftsman without also becoming a war hero.

Except that there seem to be professions immune to this. Like Fishing. I haven’t done a lot of Fishing yet (and haven’t done any successful Fishing at all), but it seems to be mainly just a matter of finding an appropriate lake for your skill level and then hitting a button every ten seconds or so to keep casting your line. There’s something of a tradition to this, I suppose. Everquest had similar fishing mechanics, as did A Tale in the Desert. It’s a low-risk, low-reward, easy-to-implement mechanic for anyone who wants to just waste time.

Archeology I have no idea about. There’s an Archeology trainer in the Undercity, but he seems to be broken: I go to him to purchase training, and he gives me a completely empty purchase menu. Maybe there’s a quest or something I’ll have to complete first.

WoW: Enter Oleari

I’ve been doing a little more experimentation, and I seem to have found another race/class combo that I like, judging by how much time I’ve spent with it: Oleari the Tauren shaman is almost as advanced as Pleasance now. Admittedly, this is in part because I know how to do things more efficiently now, and I’m over the stage of metaphorically standing around staring at the skyscrapers like a tourist. But it’s also because I’m finding it a pleasant thing to play.

Shamans in WoW are generalists, competent in buffs, ranged damage, melee, and healing. This pretty much covers the needs of any combat situation, from stalking prey to helping out a comrade in distress. Their one unique mechanic is spells that drop “totems”, which produce an aura that buffs friendlies within a certain radius. A totem can only be in one place at a time, so they effectively create a variation in the terrain. I foresee this getting interesting. Playing the early stages, it makes sense to drop a totem somewhere relatively safe and then pull enemies towards it by angering them with ranged damage spells. But this won’t work as well against monsters with their own ranged damage, or ones that take you by surprise.

Tauren have turned out to be another surprise. I knew that they were a minotaur-like race with great strength and stamina, the giants of their world. I didn’t know that they were also Plains Indian stereotypes. Their architectural style is all totem poles and hide tents (raising the troubling question: what kind of hide?), their ethos is one of spirituality and reverence for nature, and their chief enemies are greedy companies (run by goblins, it seems) that want to exploit the natural resources on their sacred lands. Some of the NPCs even say “How”.

There’s a question I’ve considered before: should RPGs that feature significantly different character races be considered racist? And it was something of an abstract question when I posed it in the past, concerned with whether it encouraged the habit of considering race as the defining feature of a person. Here, the same concerns are overlaid with an actual depiction of an existing race, disguised as cows. As a white guy, this isn’t really my battle to fight, but there have got to be some Native American gamers out there playing this and rolling their eyes. But I’ll say this: at least they’re not portrayed as bad guys because of their race. Which is a contrast to my other recent experiences: the Undead are definitely bad guys through and through, chiefly concerned with murdering the living as efficiently as possible (when they aren’t distracted by infighting, anyway), and so evil that even the Orcs feel uneasy about them. So after that, it was a bit of a surprise to see a Horde race whose actions are at least as justified as anyone else’s. Where Pleasance had a quest chain about spreading plague, Oleari had one to cleanse the tribe’s tainted wells.

At any rate, exploitative or not, it feels nice to be adventuring in the fantasy version of western America that they’ve set up for the Tauren: wide-open spaces, rolling hills and sparkling waters, a bright sun, prairie dogs and cougars supplementing the more exotic fauna. Warcraft was definitely stuck in the Tolkienesque pseudo-medieval mold, but World of Warcraft is larger than that.

WoW: Special Quests

Up to level 12 now. My last session involved a couple of quests of particular interest.

First, there was a “quest” to, in effect, sit and watch a cutscene. This isn’t really a game that can support cutscenes in the truest sense, but it can play out scripted actions and dialogue between NPCs while you watch, kind of like in the Half-Life games — and, as in Half-Life, you’re free to jump around and act silly while it happens. I suppose this wasn’t really the first event of this kind I’ve seen, but it was considerably longer than previous ones, and of more obvious importance: it concerned Lady Sylvanas herself demonstrating to a major orc leader that she has the ability to create more undead to swell the ranks of the Horde, and the orc reacting with horror and disgust, rejecting Sylvanas in no uncertain terms. The Lich King was mentioned, and this is a point where I’m at a disadvantage for having joined at so late a date: I don’t know whether they’re talking about stuff that happened in the “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion, or whether it’s all part of the basic WoW backstory. Not that it matters a lot. Either way, it’s part of the gameworld’s history now. The more important thing is that the confrontation itself seems like it’s also an important part of the gameworld’s history. This is a major diplomatic moment, a shift in the world. But it’s also something that happens afresh every time a new undead player character reaches this point in the quest tree. There’s nothing unusual about this in single-player games, but it seems a little strange for a shared world. I’m told that one of the expansions actually introduced mechanisms to keep players who were at different stages of the overall scripted plot in their own separate worlds, but I have no idea if this event is significant enough to merit such treatment.

Second, I finally got a variety quest! Most quests up to this point had been of a few basic types: go talk to this person, kill a certain number of that creature type, gather a certain number of this plant, or kill as many of that creature as necessary to gather a certain number of that item drop. This last is probably the canonical WoW quest, the sort that people bring up when they’re making fun of the game (“Bring me eight blood weasel tonsils!”). There were a few exceptions to this pattern, mind you. At one point, a quest required riding a bat to the Undercity, but that was mainly done as a tutorial in hiring bats, which are basically inter-city transit. This new quest also involved riding a bat, but not in the same way. Instead, I rode it in a repeating loop over a couple of islands so I could bombard them from the sky with vials of plague. In a sense it was just another “kill N of this creature” quest, but it didn’t use the normal combat mechanics at all — it was essentially a special-case minigame, where you have no control over your movement and just have to try to target your throws close enough to as many of the victims as possible. Anyway, it was a welcome break from the familiar grind. I’ve heard about other special-case quests, like the Cataclysm Plants vs Zombies quest, and look forward to seeing more of them. Does that mean I’m getting tired of the core game already?

WoW: Other people

I’ve been spending a little more time with Pleasance. She’s level 10 now, which means it’s time to choose a major. At level 10, WoW characters gain access to three class-specific areas of specialization with their own upgradeable skill trees (or “talent” trees, as they’re called here). For Warlocks, the three specializations are Affliction (mainly improving your damage-over-time and draining attacks), Demonology (making your summoned pet more effective), and Destruction (expensive but powerful direct-damage spells). After considerable consideration and googling, I’ve decided to invest my first talent point in Affliction. I do this partly because of the zero-downtime promise: drain attacks kill the enemy while healing you, and Warlocks can convert health into mana. (Mind you, I haven’t exactly had much downtime anyway. I assume it becomes more of a problem at higher levels, when you have more hit points to regain.)

The other reason I choose Affliction is a claim I saw that damage-over-time is less than optimally useful for solo play (in which anything that survives your damage-over-time long enough to get the full use out of the spell is going to get a few hits on you in the process), but shines in the context of an adventuring party, where you become the specialist in steadily whittling down boss monsters (while someone else specializes in keeping them from killing you). I figure this might give me a push to start looking for group. So far, I’ve been soloing it.

In fact, I haven’t been interacting with other players much at all. I have some friends that play WoW, but they’re not on the same server as Pleasance. (This is another reason I was experimenting with other characters.) Only two interactions so far stand out, and one wasn’t really an interaction, but more like a parallel action: I was off questing in a remote area that apparently is only much useful for that purpose, and found another undead warlock, with a pet just like mine, pursuing exactly the same quests as me, fighting the same quest-mandated monsters. We didn’t speak at all, but I occasionally paused to watch him fight, standing ready to step in if he looked like he was in trouble. There was a little flutter of fellowship-feeling, at least on my side.

The other was an annoyance. In the orc starting area, someone was trying to recruit strangers to become charter members of his new guild. I don’t know why. He didn’t explain what he was up to. He was certainly up to something: he clearly wasn’t interested in actually having a bunch of newbies in his guild, because he promised that we could quit immediately afterward. He even offered money at one point, but mostly he was trying to recruit through persistent pleading. I declined, because obviously annoying behavior shouldn’t be encouraged, but he kept thrusting his petition on me whenever I stood still. Note that I only ever stood still when I was trying to talk to an NPC about a quest. The guild petition would appear in a special sub-window, replacing whatever contents were there already, to wit, the details of the quest I was trying to begin or complete. I guess it’s possible that the petitioner didn’t realize this was happening, but he should have at least understood that repeatedly asking someone to sign something they’ve already refused to sign isn’t a very effective way to gather signatures.

Still, that’s pretty mild stuff compared to my general experience with online gaming. I haven’t run into any real griefing yet, and no PKing at all. Which probably shows that I need to get out and meet people some more.

WoW: Trying some other races and classes

I spent a little while creating new characters to see if there was anything I liked better than the undead warlock. The short answer: no, not yet. Perhaps my first (and still longest) experiences with the game have colored my perception of how it should be played? Do most people stick with their first choice? I didn’t bother advancing any of my experiments beyond level 5, so I suppose I haven’t really seen the possibilities at their best. But then, a more dedicated and knowledgeable player than myself informs me that the classes only start really playing substantially differently at around level 30.

The first alternative I tried was a troll rogue. That’s one that I pretty definitely won’t be taking to level 30. Not because of the rogue part — I didn’t really play long enough to see it diverge noticeably from vanilla fighter, and will have to try another rogue sometime to see how the stealth mechanics work — but because of the troll part. The characterization of playable trolls came as surprise to me; somehow, it isn’t one of the parts of WoW that’s managed to seep into the public consciousness. Playable trolls in WoW are jungle-dwellers, or perhaps beach-dwellers to judge by their starting area, which is full of grass huts and tiki idols. And they talk with Jamaican accents. Not only that, their Jamaican accents are transcribed phonetically in their printed dialogue. And that gets right up my nose, because it reminds me too much of one of the things I hated the most about Everquest. My primary character in EQ was an ogre, and thus spent a fair amount of time interacting with other ogres down in Ogreopolis 1Not its real name; I don’t remember what Ogreopolis was really called. Ogres were supposed to be dim-witted, so signposts and other written materials tended to be misspelled, and a lot of players took this as a cue to misspell things a lot in their spoken text. And it got worse over time. The signposts were at least comprehensible, but the ogre community left them behind and continually upped the bar in their abuses, seemingly competing to see whose dialogue would take the most effort to decipher. I doubt that the troll players in WoW have taken things to that extent, but the memories make me wince every time I see words like “dese tings” pop up in the dialogue window. It’s something I’d like to avoid, and thus, troll NPCs are also things I’d like to avoid. It doesn’t help matters that they also have gangly frames and long ears, which combine with the accent for a Jar Jar Binks flashback.

The more familiar attributes of Orcs, by contrast, give me nothing other than a thrill of recognition. These are the first things in the game that I’ve felt were clearly modeled on the original Warcraft. They have spiky, thatched watchtowers! They have workers who say “Zug-zug”! They have pig farms! They’re also the only things I’ve heard say “For the Horde”, which I don’t remember from Warcraft, but which is such a familiar WoW catchphrase that it’s nice to finally hear it, to solidify the impression that I’m playing the game I’ve heard so much about. This was pleasant enough that I actually made two orc characters, a warrior and a mage. The only real drawback I’ve found to orcs so far is that they have a certain number of troll NPCs hanging around.

The mage worried me a little, because, unlike the warlock, it doesn’t get an automatic pet, and therefore nothing other than friends to draw the enemies away. Apparently mages eventually get spells to freeze enemies in place, but I didn’t get that far, and had to just overpower them with damage, which they seem to be capable of dealing pretty quickly at low levels. The one interesting mechanic I found for the mage was that for the spell Arcane Missiles, which costs no mana to use, but which you can’t cast at will; sometimes in combat you just see a bracket appear on the screen indicating that your Arcane Missiles are ready now. I’m not completely clear on what triggers this, and all that the various WoW websites seem to say is that it’s a “proc”, without explaining what that means.

The warrior class turns out to have a somewhat interesting overarching mechanism: Rage. Rage is like mana, in that it powers various of the Warrior’s special attacks, but unlike mana, it doesn’t just build up over time. By default, it decays; most combats begin with your rage meter empty. You fill it up by fighting. Thus, it’s a mechanic that forces you to not start off with your most powerful moves, kind of like limit breaks. It also provides a motivation to immediately seek out a new enemy once combat is over, so that all the rage you’ve built up doesn’t go to waste. I suppose this isn’t the only game that has a mechanism like this, but it was nice to see it on a melee specialist, which could be pretty bland otherwise.

One thing that was really striking about the experience of creating several characters in a short span of time was how difficult it was to come up with names. (The character creation screen has a button that will generate a random name for you, but where’s the fun in that?) I mean, it was difficult coming up with the name of my warlock, in that it was a decision I agonized over. But with these new guys, it was different: I just found it difficult to come up with a name that wasn’t already taken. I must have just got lucky with “Pleasance”, which was a first attempt. As I kept failing, I tried sillier and sillier things, eventually realizing that all the silly character names I had seen on other players were a product of exactly what I was going through.

1 Not its real name; I don’t remember what Ogreopolis was really called

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.

A defense and rationale for embarking at this late date on World of Warcraft

I don’t play MMOs. That should be clear by now. I’ve played a couple of MMOs in the past, however — and they’re the reasons why I don’t play MMOs. I got into Everquest for a while when it was new and exciting, and played it obsessively until I had discerned its fundamental lesson: that “addictive” does not imply “fun”. Some time later, while unemployed, I got involved with the first telling of A Tale in the Desert, the experimental MMO without combat (but with plenty of conflict), but after a while it came to feel like a job, and I left it behind shortly after landing a job in the real world.

The big problem with MMOs for a personality like mine is that they don’t end (or, in the case of A Tale in the Desert, don’t end soon enough). If the game doesn’t tell me it’s over, I don’t know to stop playing. The fact that all the joy has been sucked out of the activity is not enough to make me stop, as anyone who has read this blog for long enough can attest. So I don’t play them.

But I think I have to make at least a momentary exception for World of Warcraft.

The thing is, I hesitate to even describe WoW as a MMO. No, it’s THE MMO, the definitive one — heck, practically the only one these days. It’s the Harry Potter of the genre, both in the sense of “universally-recognized best-seller” and in the sense of “the one who lived”. There’s a definite pattern to other MMO projects: someone notices that Blizzard is making ungodly money and decides that they want a slice, they spend a bunch of time and money developing something, it attracts maybe one percent of WoW‘s audience for a little while before most of them drift away because of the lack of content. WoW, it seems to me, is a good example of success breeding more success. A large player base probably makes for a better MMO experience, if only because it increases the odds that your friends are already playing. The mere fact that it’s had so many years of continuous development makes for a better experience. The fact that Blizzard isn’t likely to pull the plug on it any time soon has got to make it a better experience than its worried competition.

This is a game with a unique position in our popular culture, a game still played by literally millions of people six years after its release. It’s been parodied in a thousand awful webcomics. It’s left a massive enough print on gaming that even venerable Dungeons & Dragons, father of its genre, has been reasonably accused of imitating it lately. And yet I have not even tried to play it until now, which, for someone who takes games seriously, is kind of like being the proverbial English major who’s never read Hamlet. I suppose it was inevitable that I’d want to give it a whirl eventually, but the “Cataclysm” expansion’s massive revamp of the long-untouched starting areas was the thing that nudged me into doing it now.

How long I’ll be playing it, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll give up when my ten-day trial period is over. Even if I decide to start paying for it, though, it’s clear that this game has no place on the Stack: the whole monthly-fee model doesn’t fit the terms of the Oath at all. Nonetheless, I intend to blog about it as if the Oath applied to it. If at any point I can’t think of something to post about my experiences, I’ll take that as a sign that it’s probably time to give it up. Either way, I do intend to keep playing and posting about other games too.

The first character I have created is an undead warlock named Pleasance. I’ve already brought her up to level 9, and will doubtless have more to say about that experience in my next post, but I’m inclined to experiment a little with other characters before going into details.

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