Blaze your own path and create your own legend in a massive high fantasy world.
PC Release: November 23, 2004
By Ian Coppock
It shocks almost everyone when I tell them I’ve never played World of Warcraft before. Not even a little bit. It’s a general assumption that if you’re an avid gamer, you’ve played World of Warcraft, and played it a lot. Not me.I’ve put off playing World of Warcraft for a myriad of reasons, but I finally decided to fire up “WoW” as it’s popularly known, and give it a long-overdue try. What I found surprised me, and gave me a glimpse into the digital landscape that’s ruled gamedom for over a decade.
In terms of revenue and number of players, World of Warcraft is the biggest video game in human history. Since its release in the fall of 2004, World of Warcraft has been played by tens of millions of people, and has grossed over 10 billion dollars for Blizzard Entertainment.
Ten. BILLION. Dollars.
The original version of WoW contains a decent amount of content, but five expansions have been released since the game hit the market, with a sixth expansion due to drop this fall. It is a fact, not an opinion, that this game is one of the biggest digital ecosystems ever devised by mankind.
How, then, has such a gargantuan entity eluded my interest for so long? Well, World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) meaning that it’s a persistent game world populated by thousands of players at any given time. Longtime readers will know that I’m not traditionally a multiplayer gamer, but recently I’ve recanted those feelings and branched out a bit. WoW allows many players to inhabit that same instance of a game world simultaneously. You can duel each other or, more importantly, team up to explore enemy-laden dungeons.
Gone are Warcraft‘s real-time strategy trappings, and in its place is a world where instead of gathering resources and building armies, you’re forging alliances with your friends and tackling dungeons requiring five, ten, or several dozen players.
Though World of Warcraft‘s gameplay is a far cry from the strategic intricacy of its predecessors, the game is set in the same universe and picks up about five years after the events of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. In the years since the chaotic events of the Warcraft III games, most of the world’s races have grouped together into two competing power blocs: the Alliance and the Horde. The Alliance has expanded beyond its human/dwarf base to include the Night Elves and a new race, the gnomes, while the orcish horde has absorbed a rogue faction of undead who do NOT answer to the Lich King. Both sides are led by a mix of new and old heroes, and uneasily coexist in something akin to the Cold War.
In the backdrop of all of this, I decided to create a Night Elf character who was good with a bow, and set off into the heart of the forests these purple tree-huggers call home. You can create a character by picking from one of several races, and then pick a class. I’ve heard that in the years since the base game’s release you can mix and match almost all of them. Most races, though, are locked into either the Alliance or the Horde.
Anyhoo, after creating a burly hunter and befriending a baby tiger, I set off into the woods to embark upon my grand adventure. My first mission? Kill five baby tigers.
My next mission after that? Gather five units of moss.
My next mission after that? Find three gemstones.
My next… mission… after…. (snore)
One of the reasons I’ve never played this game before is that I was told that the entire game is about 50% boring fetch quests, and 50% raids with friends. The former of the two is certainly true; I spent a few hours running around the woods collecting shit before I realized, “what the hell am I doing?” I don’t consider gathering groceries for a mute non-player character very fun.
To be fair, World of Warcraft locks off a lot of content if you haven’t advanced to level 20, and though the game is free up to that point, I’m going to give it some benefit of the doubt and assume other, hopefully more exciting stuff was barred from me. I make pretty decent money these days but I’m not about to shell out fifteen bucks a month for a bunch of fetch quests. That’s the second reason I’ve never played this game.
By now, any WoW fans among you are probably screaming that I should bring up the core missions, which I will do. The main plot of World of Warcraft concerns the disappearance of the human king, and some nefarious plot involving dragons. When you’re not busy completing quests out in the countryside, you’re gathering friends for all-out war against the monstrous inhabitants of these dungeons. You’re also spending time leveling up your character by killing random monsters, or “grinding” in the wilderness.
Once again, this was a gameplay function I found less than enthralling. I generally don’t like any form of turn-based or cooldown-based combat; I find it cumbersome, and silly to see in action. You just walk up to a creature and hammer your spells and attacks as they become available, until the thing dies. There’s no finesse or agility to it; the combat is simply walking up to a hostile creature, letting it hit you as you hit it. Whoever dies first loses.
So the side questing is a bust and the combat is a bit repetitive. Is fighting in a dungeon or raiding with other people fun? I will say yes, but it’s much better if you’re with friends. Most of my friends have neither the time nor the money to play WoW consistently, so I dived into the splintering hell that is joining up with random people. I will admit that there is some small thrill to ganging up against some big creature, but more interesting to me were the conversations I had with a few other players.
I asked some people in my party what made the game fun for them. The few who answered my question earnestly instead of with a smartass remark said that exploring dungeons with friends was fun. When I asked why it was fun, they said it was because of leveling up, and because they got new items. And then they’d go exploring again.
An endless cycle of dungeons, leveling up, new items, and dungeons again. I think I’m starting to understand why some call World of Warcraft addictive.
I’ve read many articles over the years as to how the allure of World of Warcraft has ensnared so many people. My next-door neighbor in college lost his scholarship and grades to its alleged grasp. But, for whatever reason, World of Warcraft has failed to grasp me.
Yes, I didn’t get past level 20 and a few features of the game were locked off to me. Some WoW fans will probably say that this is therefore not a full review of World of Warcraft, and they may be right. However, I just couldn’t push myself to keep soldiering through boring side quests and repetitive, button-mashing fights with random creatures. I didn’t want to spend hours fighting animals in the forest just to level up. It also didn’t help that the game’s visuals have not aged well, and that any exposition or narrative to be found in the game is tied up in a crucial few NPC conversations and cumbersome writing. This game’s higher-level ecosystem of guilds and fighting may very well be interesting, but I couldn’t be asked to surmount its basic mechanics. If a game’s basic mechanics are boring, its funner higher functions become inaccessible.
Ultimately, narrative is what makes me decide whether a game is worth my time. It’s not everyone’s preferred criteria, but it’s the criteria that I believe most strongly argues whether or not video games can be art. More than that, it’s the thing that holds my attention. Pretty visuals do the job sometimes, but the gameplay offered in World of Warcraft did not. The story-rich universe I was introduced to in Warcraft III felt stripped down and pushed to the back in World of Warcraft, and I didn’t care for that one bit.
Now, none of this is to say that World of Warcraft is a poorly designed game, because it wouldn’t have taken over the video gaming world otherwise. It’s a well-oiled multiplayer machine with lots of features, but not a lot of soul. Lots of colors and explosions, few stories. Maybe the narrative of World of Warcraft is destined not to be an overarching story, but the tapestry of jokes and shared experiences between players. Either way, it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t understand how millions of people find this game so enthralling, but if any of what you’ve read here sounds intriguing, I doubt there’s a better-designed game out there for it than World of Warcraft.
You can buy World of Warcraft here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.