Go ahead, you can blame me. Just be sure and spread that blame a little thin, because you’ve got about 10 million people right behind me who screwed it all up just as bad.
You see, once upon a time there were MMOs that put hair on your chest – which is perhaps why men became the stereotypical player. Venturing down the virtual road to the local merchant was itself a quest of great peril, and the cobblestone 2D roads of early MMOs proved rife with legitimate and aptly named highway robbery. Gangs of villains, the diabolical avatars of endlessly repressed rage, roamed the streets with impunity, their vengeance striking indiscriminately and without warning.
Now these lands are the realm of the casual, and the threat from marauding bands of power levelers is minimal. These days, assuming I don’t have the requisite flight points to take advantage of organized Mass Transit, as long as I stick to well-paved roads I can venture from coast to coast as unmolested as a Roman citizen of the old world. For a game that supposedly offers extraordinary realms of adventure, World of WarCraft often feels about as hazardous as a suburban park on a summer’s afternoon.
But those hearty vagabonds from early MMOs like Ultima Online who remember fondly the struggle of survival in a brutal frontier, could at least rest assured that they might be part of the 1% that could experience the end-game content of even casual friendly World of WarCraft. Though isolated and a reward for days stolen from young lives, there was still hardcore content to be found. Except, that’s not quite so true any more.
The most recent expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, is a triumph in virtually every way. It provides a landmass rich with content, and even more surprisingly, an epic storyline that embraces a rich and professionally crafted history. As a player, you are asked to face the monstrous forces that can destroy worlds.
Unfortunately, the law of the land is No Geek Left Behind.
Employing a conflagration of devastatingly overpowered Death Knight abilities, I thrive in the new direction of the world’s most significant MMO. I am given relatively unbridled access to storied enemies of epic stature with little investment on my part, and topple them like so many puppet Central American dictators. Gone are the days of forty-man raids that required precise timing, impeccable ability and accredited study in one’s class structures. In its wake, content of considerable, but reasonable, difficulty opens the grand stories of the world to virtually all.
And, as exactly the kind of casual player to whom this new mandate is designed to appeal, I find myself oddly disappointed. Perhaps it is that I had long since made peace with the casual nature of my play, or that I took a different kind of pleasure from knowing that true heroes walked the land in rare garbs of many colors, but my desire to fully see the game’s content is apparently proportional to the unlikelihood of seeing that content. In other words, the easier it is to finish the game, the less I’m motivated to try and do it.
Not so long ago I, and 39 of my closest friends, did rare battle with fire gods in the bowels of the earth, and it was a big deal. It was difficult, occasionally tedious and a monumental reward for countless hours lost that might have been better spent with friends and family.
Now, as I grind my way through the beautifully crafted content of Northrend, casually amassing loot the likes of which would have once stirred the pumping humors of the most addicted players, I find the world largely unthreatening and thus a little underwhelming. Certainly the time commitment is still there, but the payoff doesn’t seem quite so grand. It’s less like spending a lifetime to build some grand cathedral, and more like spending a lifetime building a Pizza Hut.
I am generally a champion for the people, and eschew the hardcore nature of most games. I tend to side with those who feel they paid for the content, and they should damn well get to enjoy what they paid for. This seems like a natural fit for me – big story, fancy skills and full access, but somehow the balance seems to have shifted too far.
I should not think to myself, “oh look, there is the looming shade of an eternal dragon that rules all of time – I wonder if I can solo him.”
I understand and appreciate the decision to go this direction, and I’m not among the rabid throng that longs for the bygone days of visionary gaming masochists like Brad McQuaid. But, I also appreciate the mythical and am comfortable with there being some degree of content that seems simply unattainable, particularly in a shared space such as this one.
Somehow simply knowing these grand spaces of epic difficulty exist gives me a context within which to consider myself and my character, and should I ever happen upon these hallowed grounds, the sense of accomplishment is that much greater.
Besides, it gives the crazies something to do with their prodigious time.
Sean Sands is co-founder of www.gamerswithjobs.com and a professional writer. Frequently criticized by friends and colleagues for “talking about World of WarCraft again,” Sean has developed a key immunity to such scorn that should probably be studied by science.