I canceled my subscription to World of Warcraft today, and though somewhere inside I feel like I’m leaving behind a part of who I’ve been for the past six or so years, it was a departure I’ve seen coming for some time. Cataclysm may be the biggest thing to happen to World of Warcraft in its expansive run, but for me, it simply isn’t enough. I’ve said it before, though with luck I won’t have to say it again—I’ve quit World of Warcraft, and I don’t intend to come back.
Before I get a shower of “cool story bro” from the zero people who visit my website at this point, let me explain my Warcraft resume in brief:
I began playing this game after the release of Burning Crusade, and my first character was Bocephus, a still level 60 Tauren Hunter (whom I haven’t played since I hit 60 back in 2008). I had never played an MMO before, and I had very little experience with RPG’s of its kind; so, quite comically, my hunter still has gear equipped with intellect on it. Even when hunters still used mana I was doing it wrong. My thought process was “Hey, my skills hurt dudes, and my skills cost mana. Mana goes away and recharges really slow. If I stack intellect, I’LL BE UNSTOPPABLE.” Ah, high school. Since then I’ve taken a Death Knight to 80 and a Holy Priest to 85—and, lucky for everyone else, I’ve gotten my stats right. I’ve never been a serious raider, but I’ve seen my share of action, and I’ve probably logged more hours than most toddlers have been alive.
One sincere regret I have is that I wasn’t around for the glory days of Vanilla WoW. From what I’ve been able to ascertain over the years from the internet (and my suitemate who has been playing since beta, whom you’ll probably hear from eventually), Azeroth was a completely different place to be back then. It may be fluffed up with nostalgic recollection, but it sounds to me like there was adventure in the game in those days. Everything was as new as it could be, the world was the player’s oyster, and getting to the level cap meant more than the ability to do endgame content.
On top of that, the game was apparently difficult—really, really difficult. Raid encounters were not only more intricate and challenging than the faceroll bonanza that Wrath of the Lich King turned out to be, but organizing 40 people to do anything is agonizing work. If you could successfully run a 40-man raid, congrats to you, and Blizzard at least owes you a plaque of some kind. Or an honorary degree in leadership, dedication, and a complete disregard for books, the opposite sex, and the outdoors. Epic mounts were much more deserving of the term “epic”—which is woefully overused these days—and Blizzard and players alike still found value in the universe of this game, the lore upon which it is based, and the adventure they embarked on to explore it. Loot was great, but the memories of how you acquired it and the achievement of actually defeating a force prevalent in the Warcraft universe must have been nothing less than pleasing.
What I have described is obviously not the World of Warcraft we have today. My problem with what Warcraft has become is in the total departure from a game that was more than just numbers and loot. Let me say quickly that the overhaul of the 1-60 zones, the 80-85 zones, and the new questing are excellent, or at least as excellent as Warcraft’s formula has the potential to be. Questing is faster, sure, and more streamlined to boot. While this has been a boon to the game, it doesn’t change that leveling up is simply seen as a means with which to advance to the endgame—where things apparently start to matter. Leveling is not really the adventure it deserves to be, at least not with the game’s current overall focus.
In WoW today, there is no achievement equaled by having the top-tier raiding gear, or as my suitemate calls them, “mad-purps”; this is fine, but not in the way it should be. When you level up, you go through gear like my friends and I go through beers on a Friday (which is a toxic amount)—but none of it ever matters. You can get all of the blue items from a mid-level dungeon, or any pre-85 content at all, and nobody would so much as bat an eyelash. Part of this is, of course, a product of how RPG’s work: higher levels usually means cooler content and better stuff. This, however, doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of your experience on your way to that content. The gear you get should always feel important, even once you’ve outgrown its usefulness. The numbers shouldn’t matter as much—the adventure should. Numbers are all this game is anymore.
Now, I know at the fundamental level of any game they are all numbers, but in no other game of its kind and size are those numbers seen so transparently through a thin varnish of half-assed lore than in World of Warcraft. The lore itself is deep and intricate, but the theatrics of Warcraft are so shallowly implemented that you can see the corners of the random-number-generators peaking out from every corner. I realized the other day as I was attempting to PUG a heroic dungeon—a fool’s endeavor—that I not only had no idea of why I was there within the context of the game, and that the only investment I had in defeating these bosses was for they loot they drop. Once again, I know this is a part of how many modern RPG’s work, and reading the quests gives some context, but this game is so clearly about the numbers that it destroys whatever investment I have with the story or otherwise. World of Warcraft is very clearly a game in which you level up to the highest number, equip big numbers to down Loot-Machines with lots of health in order to equip the big numbers they drop so that, in the future, you can do it all again. You are nothing in Azeroth if you do not have close to the highest level gear, and you will be nothing again if you do not continue to acquire it. When the numbers are the only thing you see, the whole system seems rather pointless.
I wanted to eventually have the satisfaction of knowing I defeated Deathwing, an entity whose power is of a magnitude enough to alter an entire planet—but I know all it really means is that I’ll have healed my way through the toughest, most tightly wrapped package with gear living inside it to date. There may be a degree of achievement in that, but it is resoundingly hollow. Whatever gear you acquire should be a trophy of your achievement, not the achievement itself.
Some people (multitudes, really) love World of Warcraft just the way it is—and that’s fine. I simply have expectations and needs from games that some do not share, especially within MMOs. I do not accept that an MMO can’t be more story driven or immersive, I refuse to think that an individual’s experience must necessarily be diluted by the size and breadth of its world, and I believe in a kind of MMO that can once again achieve the level of being both a game and an experience.
So now I will wander, casting my lot into this game and that. I carry the hope that one day there will be an MMO different enough from Warcraft for me to call home. Until then, I say farewell to World of Warcraft—as I would to a long time friend whom I no longer know.