MMORPG players are abuzz about World of Warcraft’s next expansion, Battle for Azeroth, which begins next month. (There are too many posts to link here; throw a dart at the blogosphere and you’ll find a post on Battle for Azeroth preparations.)
Nothing makes me puzzle over my association with the MMORPG genre more than a World of Warcraft expansion. Nothing makes me feel so out of place-so much like an outsider, like I don’t fit in with the MMORPG player crowd.
In the weeks before last Tuesday’s “pre-expansion” patch, all the social medias and blogs were filled with people “getting ready” for the expansion. I don’t know what it means to “get ready” for an expansion. I have no understanding of the thought process that goes into this. Me? I just log in after the expansion launches and play it.
But this “getting ready for the expansion” seems to be a ritual of sorts that every WoW player goes through. Something like a religious cleansing rite that players collectively celebrate.
“Getting ready” for an expansion sounds like work to me. No part of the experiences that people described in the last couple of weeks leading up to WoW 8.0 sounded the slightest bit “fun” to me. And it’s not like people sounded excited about the experiences they were having, either. It sounded like a big chore for them, too. They sounded unhappy, trapped, unable to figure out what else to do. It’s like watching people exhibiting self-destructive behavior. It’s uncomfortable to watch. I actually feel bad for some of these dedicated WoW players. The average WoW player sounds like they’re heading off to the meat-packing plant run by an abusive boss because that’s all they know in life: Get up, go to work for hours of mindless chores, then home and sleep and repeat the next day. That’s what the core gameplay loop for most WoW veterans sounds like to me.
Preparations before the pre-expansion patch weren’t the end of it, either. In the time since the patch, the social medias have been filled up again with people racing to … I don’t know what, exactly. I can’t think of any other MMORPG where an expansion “ends,” and old content is actually removed, and there is an odd limbo time “in between” before starting the new cycle. I have no idea what people do in WoW after one expansion is over and the next begins. Last time, there were invasions which were both fun and useful for leveling alts. I haven’t heard of anything like that this time.
I just don’t get it. And that’s exactly what makes me feel like an outsider. Somehow it makes me the weird one.
I’m not the only one expressing this sentiment around WoW either. Roger went so far as to say he’d never played WoW, which is equally puzzling to me. It costs nothing to play the first 20 levels of every class/race, which is actually a lot of content and (arguably) the best part of the game anyway. I have played WoW before, now and then going all the way back to 2006. (Even in 2006 I first played on a free trial.) I don’t have any sort of philosophical issue with the game’s existence. I’m not boycotting it or anything. I even enjoy it when I play it. It’s just that I see it for what it is, and always tire of it quickly: It’s not a religion, it’s just another MMORPG, one of hundreds at this point.
I played Legion for less than a month. I re-subscribed to WoW during the pre-expansion Invasion events, which were great fun, frankly more fun than anything I can ever remember seeing in WoW before or since. Then I leveled one character to 110 fairly quickly through the Legion zones. I liked it. The new zones were beautiful. I took tons of screenshots, some of which I still use as desktop wallpapers. Then it got less fun as soon as I reached Suramar, so I cancelled my subscription before the second month rolled around because I could already tell I probably wouldn’t play another two weeks, let alone two more years. I have no interest in WoW dungeons or raids or gear or achievements or transmogs or PvP or auction houses, and I’ve never been in a WoW guild.
Going through a new zone for the first time is basically the only fun part of WoW for me (and most MMOs to be honest), and that doesn’t take very long (it took about two weeks according to my Legion posts).
I can’t make much sense of it. I can only assume it boils down to differing personality types and life situations. I have many personal theories about how various personality archetypes enjoy different types of games, a subject for an entirely different post. Repetition in games tends to drive me batty, but other people find it enjoyable. Sometimes I can appreciate the calming effect of repetition, but it’s usually only when I’m already mentally or physically exhausted.
I suspect another powerful motivating factor that I’m lacking is camaraderie. If one were to do a survey I bet that one would probably find that long-term WoW players usually play with a guild or a group, and it’s more the company of their fellow players they find enjoyable than the game itself. I can understand that, though I haven’t experienced anything like that since I played Quake. I almost never play MMORPGs with other players because I rarely have the freedom of time required, and when I do, it feels foreign to have to “coordinate” with other people before tasks can be completed. In my experience, as long as you can deal with the mental stress of random strangers, it’s always more efficient to complete content alone using group finders.
And yet, despite all that, the world-wide excitement still makes it very tempting anyway to plop down a whopping $65 to buy Battle for Azeroth and a 1-month subscription, even knowing full well I won’t play more than a couple weeks before putting WoW away again for another two years. Just to “fit in,” if just for a little while.
P. S. Yesterday Blizzard released a “short” featuring Jaina Proudmore which basically broke the Internet. It’s cool. The main takeaway for me from that short is that it looks like Blizzard is now copying the same visual style as Guild Wars 2’s cut scenes hehe. But I feel nothing whatsoever for this completely unknown character. The sum total of everything I know about her is that she walked out of one meeting in Legion (I think), which had almost zero dramatic impact on me. NPCs in WoW are just pixels to me; it’s impossible to convey emotion and drama through chat bubbles. Unless this expansion makes some big changes along the lines of adding hours of dramatic cut scenes like FFXIV does, WoW isn’t capable of delivering a compelling story to me in-game.
UPDATE: Oh the War of Thorns “limited time event” begins today.