[WoW] Assorted thoughts, the curse of accessibility, crafting in Pandaria

mop_ally

 

Accessibility is the curse of Warcraft at the moment. Whatever the designers do, they can never seem to please all of the people; even offering a  range of content from chilled out casual daily quests and farming, to high speed challenge dungeons with a leaderboard and ranked battlegrounds will not stop players complaining when they try content that was aimed at a different group and find it wasn’t tuned for them. It must be frustrating for devs who are trying to entertain the masses, and World of Warcraft has never tried harder to provide entertainment than it is right now, with Mists of Pandaria. The new expansion is terrifically endearing, like a puppy that just wants to be loved.

If you have enjoyed WoW PvE in the past but burned out on lack of content or high end raiding or the frustration of being bottlenecked by group content, there has never been a better time to come back to the game. The new continent is beautiful, the zones are stunning, the storytelling is classic Blizzard (spotty in parts, but lively and likeable, and the good parts are really exciting), and the company has also made real efforts to tweak the gameplay with modern updates.

For example, the picture above shows Spinks (who is in the foreground, bottom right) fighting a big elite mob. You can see the shiny spell effect wings of the paladin who is helping her, behind the mob. That character is Alliance. That elite quest mob was not tagged to either one of us, we both got the kill. Now anyone who has been playing GW2 will be au fait with this, because it’s a game where no mob is ever tagged. In Pandaria, only the named quest mobs get this treatment, but they have done it fairly consistently. So while you will still be competing with other players (unless you group) for mobs in farmed out daily zones, when you go for the bosses, everyone can pile in.

I quite like the interplay of both different types of fight. Sometimes you have to compete and others you cooperate.

The world feels very vibrant compared to some previous expansions. I couldn’t say exactly why this is, but there is something very lively and lived in about Pandaria.  They’ve really taken the Chinese inspiration, put a fantasy twist on things, and run with it. As far as the storytelling goes, I will have more to say in future, but the goal has clearly been to make the player feel like a hero. And not just the murdering zillions of kobolds kind of hero. The kind of hero who helps people who need heroes. There are thrilling set pieces where your character helps to defend a village from bandits, in classic wuxia style, or takes part in larger battle scenes, and these offer much better actual gameplay than previous set pieces such as Wrathgate (however cool it was).

And maybe it’s because I play a warrior, but the wuxia storytelling style really plays to the warrior as a class. It felt very appropriate that Spinks might just take a feisty young panda girl under her wings and teach her a bit of warrioring along the way (I hope that panda grows up to be panda Mulan, just saying). So it felt more personal to me than Cataclysm, and more meaningful also.

Accessibility to a fault

Now the expansion seems to be trying to train people to play the game, even though anyone who has managed to get to level 85 probably already has a clue or two about that. So the introductory quests are quite streamlined and don’t encourage you to explore much. You could, but its not encouraged. Later on, the world does open up more, but throughout the first three zones I never had any fights that left me below about 80% health. I was thinking, “This is fun and all but surely they didn’t mean it to be THIS undertuned?”

However, by the time you get to the level 90 content, mobs will put up more of a fight and there is a definite trend for requiring movement in fights. There are mobs which put damage down on the floor, or have an attack which will do loads of damage if you are standing in front of the thing, or need you to run out of melee range, etc.  All of this is very well telegraphed (well I thought so, but I’m an experienced raider), and I’m sure the idea is to train players for instance and raid bosses. Which is great, and all very well, but not very satisfying to players who already knew that.

The panda starting zone, to my mind, is even worse. It’s very fun, very in genre (with nods to Ranma, for example), very railroaded and easy up until the last few encounters. The intent is very clearly to be an introduction to both the pandas and to the gameplay for new players. And as above, this is great and all, but the majority of people rolling pandas are probably not new players.

For my money, the best starting zones currently in the game are the Blood Elf and Draenei areas, and it’s because they open up very quickly and encourage you to wander around, explore the areas, and smell the roses. I would have enjoyed a Pandaran area more in that style, with more quest hubs, more hints about the culture (maybe for the various classes, like Pandaran magi et al) and less about ‘you will follow this questline until it ends.’

Crafting

Crafting actually feels coherent in this expansion. The goal is clearly to make it easy for people to train Pandaria crafting skills, but characters who are actively played will have access to more recipes, and more specialist materials. This is made easy by the baseline materials being incredibly plentiful. ‘Actively played’ doesn’t mean that they need to do hard group content (there may be raid recipes and materials in future I guess), they just need to be levelled through the content and after that can amble around doing the odd daily quest or anything else that involves a bit of random killing. So a casual solo player will have better access to crafting and recipes in this expansion than ever before.

In some crafts, such as Blacksmithing, if you want to raise the skill above 575, you will need recipes that are accessed from a vendor that you will have to open up by completing a questline. But it is a questline that can comfortably be done solo. I think this is a nice balance between gating content and still making it accessible in a non-frustrating way for more casual players.

Accessible Progression

I think Blizzard are aiming for an accessible form of progression in MoP. This is good news for all those players who do enjoy the progression aspects of WoW but have felt frustrated or gated in the past when hitting a progression brick wall that only raiders could pass. There are still ‘gates’ (or things you have to do before you can access other content you want to see), but people who enjoy working on progression goals but prefer a more casual or solo style will also have cool things to work towards.

See, it was never attunements themselves that were the issue, and people who argued in favour of them were always pretty much on the money. A lot of people enjoy planning out how they will attune a new character. Just now you can largely do it with less frustration. Not ‘no frustration’ because sometimes someone else beats you to that rich trillium node, or you wish you could just skip the dailies, but mild frustration is also a part of the genre. For a lot of players, it adds to the sense of achievement when you stick at it and finally get the thing/key/content/progression that you want. And I think Blizzard realise that, and have embraced it.

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15 thoughts on “[WoW] Assorted thoughts, the curse of accessibility, crafting in Pandaria

  1. I am not sure yet if I like the crafting approach. Mostly for selfish reasons, because I hadn’t intended to level my shaman, who is my alchemist. But now I want her transmute cooldowns very badly. I think alchemy uses a discovery system, so I might still be able to get her to 600 without questing. It just makes me realize how totally out of whack I was when I made my death knight the herbalist, and my shaman inscription/alchemy.

    How did you like the last zones of Pandaria? I wasn’t a big fan of Townlong Steppes. I felt the difficulty went up steeply, and my friend and I were discussing that we reached a point where we were wondering why our character is fighting all those yaungol and mantids. Why as horde am I doing that? Because I can’t help being a hero? What’s Nazgrim doing? I felt Jade Forest was freaking fantastic when it came to the horde storyline and the quality of NPCs, but after Kun-Lai Summit you’re on your own.

    Dread Wastes I liked better. It gave me Icecrown with insects vibes.

    • You can totally level alchemy without questing (I did that on my alt), you’ll have to buy herbs from the auction house but if you pick the cheap ones it’s really not too bad. Just start by making one of the recipes you can buy from the trainer at 500 skill that uses [green tea leaf] as an ingredient, you’ll discover more recipes while making it.

      Townlong is odd for me because I decided to go to Dread Wastes instead,(i really like the Klaxxi, they remind me of Forsaken) got to 90 there, and am only backfilling now. But I hear what you say, I’m not really feeling it. I did like that the difficulty increased but not really grabbed by the story. And I was hoping the Horde storyline was picked up in Townlong but I guess not …

      Of the other zones, I enjoyed all of them. Kun-Lai is probably my favourite because I really loved all the Grummle quests and trekking up Neverest. And the used Yak Wash.

    • I had the same moment in Townlong where I realized that I couldn’t be bothered to do quests for these pandas. I just don’t have a reason to be there. Plus, bugs. I didn’t like them in Silithus and I don’t like them any better in pandaland. I’m at 88 and wondering how I get to 90.

  2. I mostly agree with you but I think the problem is ‘entitlement’ and not ‘access’. It seems that we have a number of people who believe that the only good solution is ‘do everything the way I want’.

    • This reminds me of something I read in a completely unrelated article yesterday (he’s writing about why he sometimes likes to take trains rather than fly everywhere)

      “Consumer culture has made us too accustomed to getting only what we want, no more and no less. Experiences are atomised into their component parts ((…)) to maximise the impact of the parts we prefer, with no thought to how their context changes them. But if you only ever get what you know you already want, serendipity is denied and the richness of experience is reduced to the button-pushing delivery of crude hits of fun, excitement, novelty or reassurance, often consumed in the private bubble of home or headphone.”

      I think of this when I read people nerdrage about being forced to do content they hate (ie. questing/ exploring/ the actual stuff most people play WoW for) so that they can get to their preferred hardcore endgame.

  3. So, when thinking about the difficulty of the first zones in MoP, I assume you went into the Jade Forest dressed in your end-game, ilvl 400+ raiding suit, correct?

    Jade Forest is tuned to about ilvl 372. When I went in with a severely undergeared Monk (1-85 in 24 hours left me at about ilvl 200 with Heirlooms) the intro fights were tricky, especially some of the miniboss mobs.

    Same thing with the cataclysm zones, when I went in on my raid geared toons they blasted through hyjal/vash’jr with ease, then later alts went in undergeared and had difficulty until they got some gear.

    Of course, now I know you can just travel on up to the gear vendor and suit yourself in 372 gear, which is especially nice if you’re starting MoP on an alt and switching specs, in my case from Holy to Ret on my prof gathering alt.

    Anyway, yeah, it is not difficult, but it is not easy, in the gear that the zones are tuned for. I do however think it could be made to be more difficult, but it seems the masses would cry if there were consequences ;)

    • That’s a fair point (as it happens I stopped playing during Firelands so my raid gear was about 380 or so), although if you’re able to level 1-85 in 24 hours, you’re also able to get to the AH and pick up some cheap crafted leather :) But it’s fair that the zone needs to be tuned to new 85s who haven’t been running Cata instances and heroics.

      What surprised me more is that it was the same in Valley of the Four Winds. I do kind of expect the intro zone in a new expansion to be tuned low so that they can throw some gear at people, but I wasn’t expecting to breeze through the next one quite so breezily. Will be curious to see if you have the same experience.

      • Well at 88 I’m still not having a lot of trouble, but then I’m also always with my wife who is a disc priest. We’re having fun with the stories and quests more than anything.

        They probably should tune up the valley of the four winds however, since its guaranteed you’ll be around 380+ by the time you get there.

    • You only have to get to the fish village in JF (on alliance side) to access the ilvl 372 catchup gear vendor. I thought this was a good design idea, btw. My undergeared mage came in around ilvl 325 and had no problem reaching that point to regear.

  4. As far as difficulty is concerned, I noticed a ramp up at around Kun-Lai, when you start hitting level 88 mobs with 250k – 350k health. Dread Wastes at 89 was downright difficult at times, where I actually died on my shaman once or twice. Haven’t hit Townlong Steppes myself, but I play Alliance so we’ll see how the story compares.

  5. MoP didn’t introduced shared tapping of quest bosses. That’s been in since Cataclysm. And having leveled through Outland very recently, I noticed they even changed the Elites in Outland to use this mechanic. So its a very neat feature. Just not a new one.

    To fix the “newly dinged 85 is in crappy gear” problem, Blizzard gave us:
    – Buy/craft low level crafted 384 armor and jewelry. You get a 372 weapon for showing up to Pandaria.
    – Go to the Adventuring Gear vendor and buy a complete matching set of 372 gear, if needed. Or gear up your offspec in case you want to tank/heal in dungeons, but not questing.

    I think Jade Forest is probably tuned for 300-333 gear. But if you show up in 372-397 gear, try killing quest mobs 3 at time. Gave me a reason to do something other than using the same button over and over, and more excuse to some of the my new AoE and defensive talents. Hell, I even respecced a few. Was fun.

  6. Nice to see I’m not the only one who still thinks the BC races have the best starting zones. (Also nice to see that they’ve not been knocked off of that perch, either.) One thing about the BC starting zones is that in both Ghostlands and Bloodmyst there are wandering elites that will kill you without so much as batting an eyelash. You have to get over to Outland and Northrend to find that nowadays; I don’t suppose they put that back into the Pandaren starting zone?

    Outside of that, I think that WoW’s problem is that it is too big. Not the size of the world, but the number of players. Azeroth has to cater to so many tastes that it simply can’t be everything to everyone. I can understand the desire to be that –after all, Blizz wants to grow the sub base– but I think it is smarter to pick a focus and emphasize that.

  7. Hi Spinks,

    It’s funny. You wrote this post the same day that I wrote my post announcing that I wasn’t going to raid anymore, partially because I was so frustrated with how inaccessible raiding felt to me – someone who had raided consistently since Vanilla.

    And I know I’m not the only one. My Twitter feed and my guild forums are packed with stories about people that thought they were geared enough to go and ended up not being, the fact that farming (literally) and exhaustive amounts of fishing are required to stay prepared, the daily grind and the rep grind (which was minimized, but is still present).

    I would argue that anyone who wants to raid now has to jump through more hoops to show that they want to do it than before. I don’t see how that’s improving accessability to something. I see it as making something more difficult when it doesn’t have to be.

    • I saw you lost the raiding bug. I know it can feel a bit empty when something has taken up so much of your time and kind of … doesn’t any more. And so much status in WoW is bound up with progression raiding, and that takes a bit of getting used to as well. Like, not seeing yourself as a high status player any more (that was my experience.) Enjoy the extra free time and not feeling pressured all the time!

      I imagine LFR raiding now is going to be a case of: level, do some dailies, run some heroics, profit. And you could gear up just through heroics if you like those. The dailies could be spaced out. And once LFR is out, people could probably gear from that for more intense raid groups. So that’s why I’m calling it accessible.

      It’s a different matter if you are really progression minded and feel the need to be in the best possible gear a week after the expansion launches. I don’t know how hard the raids are actually tuned or whether its feasible to do normal mode in iLvL463 gear. I’d be surprised if it isn’t, though.

      I know there will be a lot of complaints about the dailies, but they don’t actually mean things aren’t accessible. There’s nothing stopping any player from doing them except time, and they can take as long as it takes.

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