I've been playing WoW since vanilla version starting in 2006. Except for a six-month hiatus in late 2011, I've been a daily player. I've seen multiple patches come and go, some good, most not-so-good. Still, through it all, Blizzard manages to keep getting my $15 bucks every month because the game is fun.
That doesn't mean that there aren't elements in the game which, quite frankly, suck. And I don't mean suck as in "accidently suck" - but rather elements of the game that are intentionally designed to suck.
Video games, movies, books, and any other form of virtual entertainment is meant to do one thing - and that's engage the user in a level of mental awareness commonly termed "suspension of disbelief".
This mean that, if the media is designed properly, you become so completely immersed in the experience that you literally suspend disbelief and completely lose yourself in the experience. This is best evidenced by watching a wide screen DVD - you know, the one that projects the image onto your T.V. with the lost real-estate manifested as the black bands across the top and bottom of the screen.
Once the movie starts, and you get into it, you stop noticing these areas because your brain is completely focused on the presented images. You've immersed yourself in to the story line so deeply that you don't even notice the television anymore. Your brain shifts processing over to the right side and your creative half takes control of your brain locking out concrete concepts such as time and any sensory input that would serve as a distraction to what has currently commanded your focus.
This is successful suspension of disbelief and, over the years, has become my benchmark for determining the quality of an experience of whatever it is I am engaged in, be it reading a book, watching a movie, or playing WoW.
WoW has several features of in-game design which, when encountered, brutally haul me out of right-brain bliss and rudely deposit me into the left-brained land of "lol...wut?". I am jerked completely out of the game experience and my logical left side starts to pick-apart the game, gleefully exposing the stupidity.
After playing MoP for a while, I realized that my internalized "List of Design Atrocities" had changed very little. And in a fit of ranting-driven in-game rage-play, I present them to you.
- NPC's and Pets - There are several quests in Pandaria where you have some NPC tagging along on your quest. The NPC helps you by providing advice, bashing mobs or healing. The general intent is to make it easier for you to complete whatever quest it is that you've been sent out to accomplish. In the case of pets, (I'm talking about you, hunters, mages, and 'locks!), the pets serve to protect and enhance your character's abilities by shoring up weak spots and generally increasing overall chances of survival.Where Blizzard fails in game-design with this concept is that the NPC or pet rapidly becomes so irritating, through it's programmed actions of inept movement and self-placement, that you start dreaming about a fireball to the face and leaving their smoking husk on the side of the trail. Then, maybe, you can actually get stuff done.All pets and NPCs share this same obnoxious trait - they dance around you constantly, getting in the way of whatever it is your trying to do. Want to loot a corpse? You move your mouse to right-click the corpse and suddenly your pet has danced-in between your mouse pointer in the body. Need something boss?Trying to select your next target? (You know, because tab-targeting is MUCH better in Panda...) Click the targeted mob and somehow you end-up opening an NPC dialog box. In combat.Got into a tight spot? No worries - your pet/NPC will be there with you. Right on top of you. And slightly behind you. Obscuring you. Need to look at some key detail? How about a nice view of the back of the NPC's head, instead?One would think that, after so many years of development, Blizzard would have perfected the algorithms of NPC placement and kept these sub-characters from distracting you from accomplishing your goals. Nope. NPCs/pets are perfect in that they're always placed at the wrong spot at the wrong time providing a never-ending distraction. Why they have to wander around behind you, instead of healing like a good dog, really generates unnecessary frustration.Oh, and before I forget, please add a STFU option to the mage's water elemental. And an option to auto-disable growl in parties and raids.
- Crafturbating (Usefulness) - I have to admit, I was pretty excited when I first saw the crafting options for MoP. Because, innocently, I thought that I would finally be able to craft wearable that I can actually use. And, by use, I mean: equip. As in: not melt for chant-mats or pimp-out on the auction house.Within an hour of exploring Pandaria, however, I quickly learned that crafting has remained pretty much an exercise in generating matts for enchanters to melt.To be fair, I'm talking about crafting items at the higher levels - starting MoP at level 85 with max'd crafting skill. By the time you've accumulated the mats necessary to craft an armor item, you've already be awarded a similar item of higher-value through questing. And the loot you get from 5-man instances surpasses even that.You end-up with countless hours spent gathering materials to make some item that will bump your crafting skill only to find that the item you've made is either already useless or will become useless very quickly because of better items that are showered upon you in-game. This is why Darkmoon Faire is so popular - I can bump-up five crafting points in a profession without having to make anything useless.As a design flaw, Blizzard actually made crafting even more useless with MoP because now quest reward gear is tuned to your character for most cases. No longer does my warrior have to act all gracious when receiving a cloth-belt for completing some quest as he only accepts plate now. While I applaud Blizzard for implementing this long-desired feature, it actually detracts from the game because of the ridiculous frequency (in both quantity and value) of items makes almost everything you can craft worthless.Items that are really high-end, and we're talking blue level-450 stuff, is pretty much made worthless because by the time you've accumulated the matts necessary to craft the item, because your character has already gotten a comparable piece of gear that's significantly better through instancing or raiding.From a design perspective, this is an absurdly easy fix. Crafting high-end items should bequeath the same traits as that of heirloom gear - that the crafted gear improves with your character so that the act of crafting something actually adds value to the game as well as providing visual recognition of your character's achievement.
- Crafturbating (Absurdity) - This has been a long standing gripe of mine. Outside of enchanters, who can magically melt stuff decomposing items into materials used for enchanting, no other profession apparently is smart enough to allow the character the ability to un-make something they have crafted. Tailors cannot salvage cloth, blacksmiths are too derp to figure-out how to melt down and re-use armor, engineers are brilliant at putting together marvelous items but are clueless when it comes to reverse engineering.This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. My engineer puts something together and the game tells me I am too stupid to take it apart?Every time one of my characters has to sell a piece of crafted gear that they themselves made, I am suddenly wondering what the point was of crafting it in the first place. I mean, I spent 400g worth of materials to make the damn thing and my only option for efficient disposal is some vendor who "generously" offers me 19g for the item.Apparently my character is also derp in the mercantile arts.
- Runecrafting - I love my death knights! OP to the max and capable of withstanding punishment normally only found in public school teachers or college bar-tenders. Blizzard introduced the concept of Runecrafting when they introduced death knights into the game.And then did absolutely nothing with it.And successfully continued this trend of ignoring rune-crafting across multiple patches and up to the MoP release.This dk skill has so much potential and it's really a sad shame that it has been neglected for so long.
- Talent Trees - with every new release, and every major patch, all characters wait to see not when, but how hard, they will be smacked with the nerf hammer. (Nerf hammer. It's a fail that you even had to introduce this concept, Blizzard. See rant-point 9.) Every class has three talent trees available to them and there's a plethora of web sites that will quickly school you in the "best" talent tree to take for your character. Every patch and release requires, no, demands that you re-spec your toon should you want to enjoy comparable levels of play with other classes. Who also re-spec'd.Druids who were renown healers in WotLK suddenly all became tanks in Caty and then boomkins in MoP. Just to be a member of the "best" sub-class.This, in itself incomprehensible, has become the accepted status-quo for WoW and everyone is pretty much ok with the inevitable "guess I have to re-spec and re-gear my toon" shuffle thrust down our collective throats with every software upgrade.I call "shenanigans".Rift beats the pants off of Blizzard in this this aspect of the game. Rift too offers a choice of three different specializations within a character class. (Cleric tanks rule!) But Rift succeeded where Blizzard failed simply in that Rift did not penalize your ability to succeed at the game by choosing one talent specialization over another. All talent specs are playable to the same degree!Mind blowing concept, isn't it?In MoP, for example, I had to re-spec my beloved pally tank to ret because I just couldn't take the time required to bash down mobs in a PvE encounter. I mean, sure, it's great that I could whack down 2-5 mobs at a time, with complete confidence in my survivability. But it just takes freaking forever. Shield! Block! Gentle poke with pointy stick. Parry! Dodge! Tap with mace.It's significantly more time-efficient to re-spec my pally as ret and re-gear, than to grind through the PvE aspect of the game. The net effect being that I no longer have the same sense of affinity for my character. W00t. Fun.Why should the survivability of my mage be dependent of the specification I've chosen? To me, mages are all about fire-blasting and face melting. Why should I have to re-spec to arcane in one release, re-spec to frost in another, and then fire in a third, just to keep my dps comparable with other classes or even within my own talent tree?Ridiculous.
- Fishing - Blizzard has been unable, despite some improvements, to make fishing suck less. Next to travelling, fishing is probably the biggest time waster in the game. I am seriously considering hiring one the neighborhood kids to come over and mindlessly click-fish for my toon while I'm playing Xbox just so I don't have to experience the pain of fishing.Blizzard actually improved the suck-level of fishing with the MoP release with deeper integration into MoP requirements. Cooking now heavily relies on fishing; you cannot achieve top cooking achievements without fishing. Daily quests for various factions requires fishing in order to progress rapidly through reputation grinds.And guess what? The act of fishing itself still sucks! Cast. Wait. Click. Harvest. Endlessly repeat. Sometimes skill up. Wonder what's for dinner. Cast. Wait. Click. Harvest. Yawn. Cast. Pet the dog. Click. Harvest. Think about Halo-4. Cast. Wait. Click. Harvest....I was perversely pleased to learn that Blizzard introduced a secondary profession that actually sucked more than fishing (with the release of Cataclysm), that profession being archeology. But at least, in MoP, Blizzard was kind enough to accelerate the leveling process. Archeology still sucks, don't get me wrong, endlessly flying from the end of one continent to another to dig little holes in the ground to find worthless bag-filling crap. But at least you can level it faster than fishing.Point is, when I am playing, I should be strategizing how to accomplish something, not budgeting how much time I want to waste grinding a pointless secondary skill that offers little reward.
- Stupidification - Blizzard, to it's credit, has consistently and actively been dumbing-down the game for several years. I, personally, suspect that Blizzard is trying to stupidify the game to the point where it's playable on a console. Given the nature of linear progression, soon our UI will consist of a four-button interface: Hit, Defend, Cast, Run-away.WoW used to contain elements within that contributed to the concept of suspension-of-disbelief. Did your hunter bring enough arrows to make it through the raid? Want to quaff down multiple potions to reap the benefits accumulated from your hard-work, research and knowledge? Smite thy enemy with several debuffs at once while formulating a damage-avoidance policy?Used to be no problem. Now, scrolls overwrite potion buffs, of which you can only have two. Arrows are magically generated. And there's the hated global cool-down timer. (Because Blizzard can't simulate simultaneous action or it would imbalance PvP or some other stupid excuse.) The game used to require strategy, planning, tactics and some levels of dedicated thought in order to survive presented scenarios. Even in PvE. Now, it's pretty much just playing the Hulk - smash, loot, smash, loot - in an endless cycle broken only by considering when to activate some obscure ability that has a 5-minute cool down.Most long time players agree - one of the greatest releases of the game, truly the pinacle of design quality and just plain fun, was evidenced in the Burning Crusade release. Gear wasn't handed out like prozac, achievements represented significant effort and investment, and characters had to know wtf they were doing in instances in order to avoid the constant threat of party wipes.One of the design aspects of the game that was prevalent in BC that I miss the most was that of crowd-control when facing packs of mobs. You actually needed to have specific dps classes present in your party in order to survive the encounter. And Blizzard also required that players actually had to know how to play their classes. (I'm looking at you, pew-pew hunter.)Chain trapping was an art. DPS had rotations that had to be strictly followed in order to maximize damage. Aggro was something tanks had to carefully manage and were required to actually switch targets in order to apply. Healing was balanced by mana generation. And on and on...As an intentional design decision, game playability has become significantly more stupid with every major release that is now to the point where that as long as you can button mash certain icons on your UI, you've contributed all you need to contribute. Thought, timing or talent is no longer required in normal game play.
- Vehicle combat - If you raided in the past, I'd dare say that one of the most frustrating (and ridiculous) aspects of the game was the fight with Malygos. How many of us experienced long LFG queue times only to be dropped into EoE and ended-up begging other players to not rage-quit?Why?Because vehicle combat sucks. If you were lucky enough to get the full vehicle UI, (thankfully, that bug no longer exists), you had to defeat some mob or boss with vehicle that was, at best, extremely frustrating (and often pointless) to operate.Hey! Congrats on reaching end-game! We're going to reward your hard-work and dedication by completely removing you from your learned skill set and dumping you into, or onto, something that has no relevance to your class or abilities. Commence button mashing!Unfortunately this trend has continued into MoP despite a general consensus that this is one of the least-desirable aspects of the game.Farming in MoP is a prime example. You know, because it's really a secret kind of fun to have to rodeo some plant into submission by rapid clicking an icon. Yawn. I mean, I could be fishing, right?Unfortunately, vehicle combat is here to say. It's as if Blizzard has said: "Look, we spent ungodly amounts of development dollars putting this sub-system into place and you're going to use it, like it or not."If you have to keep vehicle-based combat in-game, then ffs, limit the experience to PvP where players have already developed a high-level of pain tolerance and acceptance of in-game absurdity.
- Ghostcrawler - The Blizzard employee (Mr. Greg Street) known as Ghostcrawler is the lead systems designer. And the one responsible for most of the flaws in the game that persist release after release. And for the infamous and smirking "nerf hammer" comment. Yeah, I was there at that BlizCon and I saw it. I have mad respect for Mr. Street and for his skills. To a point. Definitely way short of automatically accepting that every nugget that spews forth from his brain pan being that of pure gold. Or elementium or whatever.Personally, and speaking as a software developer, I have to tell you that it's not a good thing for a system designer to have to a use "nerf-hammer" as it only evidences that the previous design was flawed. Smirking your way through a press-conference promising that one OP class is going to face the nerf hammer isn't a good thing. How the hell did this flaw ever make to production in the first place?If your patch or major release design is so flawed that players abandon the class specialization that they've chosen to play as a result, then you're not doing it right. You've only succeeded in reducing the love of the game for those people. How can you not get this?Oh, and in the real world, we usually refer to the "player base" as "customers". This way, it acknowledges their value to us, the organization, and imparts a sense of gratitude for their business. Ghostcrawler has kind of managed, through countless conventions of fanboi idolatry managed to reverse the concept. Still, I get that WoW is an inhumanely complex virtual environment that requires endless hours of meeting, analysis, and testing by the design team in order to keep the balance of the game as stable and consistent as possible.But you really suck at the concepts of "stable" and "consistent". If you didn't, then you wouldn't constantly be cramming major changes "in order to balance gameplay" down our collective throats. You wouldn't make smirking promises of pending nerfdom for particular classes. You would, instead, design the game concepts correctly and ensure that those concepts were properly implemented in code.If you can't get right in beta, then maybe it's time to bring some new blood to the table. Get a design lead that understands and actually listens to the customers and leaves their ego at the door. Go back to embracing your corporate philosophies that generated the pinnacle BC release and screw release schedules. If it's not right, then don't push it out. We're willing to wait for quality content.Promise.
- Storage - I am really surprised at how much time I spend managing storage of my toons. Either the personal storage, bank storage, or guild bank storage, there just never seems to be enough empty slots for me to save all the stuff I need to save. And the stuff I do save is impacted by some obscure absurdity principal that only Blizzard understands. For example, a pouch of 20-gems takes up the same space and weight requirement as a tauren-sized, plated, chest piece.Stacking alleviates some of the issues (thank you for allowing me to stack parchment in lots of 100!) but the concept isn't universally applied across similar items.I get a 32-slot mining bag but I can't put gems into it.Or now, in MoP, I accumulate a plethora of trinkets (a spittoon - really?) that I don't want to destroy, or can't sell, but they're forever going to take up a bag slot.My main toon's bank vault looks like the discount rack at Macy's with all the tabards but I can't put them away in void storage where I never have to look at them again.Bank slots have the same restrictions as bag slots. Really? I should be able to stack bars of ore 100-deep on my bank because, you know, that's the whole point of a bank.When you find yourself actively managing storage, especially in your bank, and very-especially in your guild bank, then you're not playing the game. (And, perversely, getting more stuff to put into storage.) If you're not playing the game, then what's the point?
Ok - I'm tired and want to end this rant so I'll just summarize...
I can ever tolerate a lot of the problems I've enumerated if I had the conviction that these flaws would be addressed at some point in the future. However, Blizzard continues to concentrate on development and not maintenance, as a software practice, because of the revenue generated by major releases. Patch content, maintenance, is an expense.
Exacerbating the problem is that game patches have lost their significance because real problems take several cycles (equivalent to years in real time) to address, if ever addressed at all.
Internally within Blizzard, focus and emphasis is on major content releases increase because of a diminishing subscriber base which, in turn, accelerates the release cycle sacrificing the overall quality of the game resulting in a reduction of the feature set that brought the subscribers on-board in the first place. (You may have to read that sentence twice - but basically it means that Blizzard is to busy shooting itself in the foot to look for bandages.)
Putting the player-base into a myopic and hypnotic cycle of accumulating achievement points for non-essential content, emphasizing reputation accumulation, secondary skill building without providing commensurate rewards for doing so, and forcing your customers to use crappy secondary interfaces such as vehicle combat only detracts from the game. There's too much focus on these non-essential by-products of the game which, in turn, obfuscate all the great features that gave the game it's towering subscriber base.
I love WoW - and I want to play the game. I don't want to be forced to spiral-off endlessly down non-productive paths that contribute absolutely nothing to the overall feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction that used to be ingrained into every aspect of Azeroth.
Don't even get me started on pet battles...