Remember this as emblematic of both WoW's decline in quality and its rise in popularity. This is how Blizzard ruined the genre: by building up its initial hype on the backs of informed niche-market customers who were seeking the ultimate escapist fantasy, a persistent world in which they could give meaning to their actions through the impact they could have on other players, then dumbing every single game element down, removing any expectations of quality in other to draw in ever more simpleminded mass-market deadheads with no attention span or capacity for appreciating the complexity a true virtual world can offer. That first part is what died with World of Warcraft. The second part, the simplistic instant-gratification loot-farming and achievement-grinding gameplay devoid of any ramifications is what every other company has been attempting to copy from WoW for the past ten years and more. The first, WoW's initial set of campaign promises during its beta, was the true definition of an MMO. The second, its shameful decline, the falsely labelled MMO experience which (because WoW was the first such game to break out onto the mass-market) was most gamers' first and only exposure to the MMO label, is the false definition with which an entire generation of gamers has grown up.
However, those who remember the early promises of MMOs as persistent worlds before the meaning of "massive" was forgotten and everything boiled down to endlessly slaughtering the latest re-skinned, static, endlessly respawning goblins for achievement unlocks likely still hold some nostalgia for World of Warcraft's backstabbed promises. I know. I still remember the false hope. I still miss that feeling of finally finding panacea, one single world into which I could escape from reality.
I miss that sense of wonder and hope at the start. I miss Loch Modan.
This is where a few of us started on a journey to help that same paladin on his level twenty class quest. This was when the world itself still had some meaning, when you needed to travel and not simply teleport wherever you wanted to. The objective was an instance deep within enemy territory, in Silverpine Forest. We gathered and traversed several higher-level areas, dodging mobs which could have instantly killed us, hiding behind terrain, having stealthers scout ahead to tell the paladin when the coast was clear of enemy players. We had no time to fight. We were on a mission. Yes, the quest was invalidated by the idiotic leveling mechanics which allowed any paladin to simply get a top-level buddy as his bodyguard, but this was a problem to be addressed, patched, fixed into functionality. Instead, the entire notion of epic cross-map adventures was abandoned.
This spot is where I began to realize that questing was too simple in WoW. I wrote a guide to Loch Modan quests to help my guildmates level more efficiently through it. It became so popular that our website shortly exceeded its bandwidth limit (which didn't take much in the days when many players were still on 56k dial-up modems) but it's where I started seeing the "kill ten rats" routine as a chore, something I was mostly trudging through seeking more complex and meaningful content. Spoiler alert: never really got there.
Loch Modan is also where, much later, I realized that WoW's crafting system had become a joke. Having played EVE-Online before WoW, I was still working under the assumption that any MMO developer would try to work all of the available world resources into a scarcity-driven player-driven, crafting-driven in-game economy. Then came WoW. I was at maximum level and passed through Loch Modan again for I-forget-what reason and spotted players gathering starter resources. They were gathering resources which served no purpose but to increase their skills so they could go to the next zone and mine slightly higher level resources to increase their skills to yadda-yadda. No attempt was made to integrate crafting into the game as a whole. It became a minigame unto itself.
I miss the world tree.
WoW-clones make you feel big, pat you on the back, hand you undeserved endorphin boosts at every step.
I miss Duskwood.
I miss this spot at the border of the Tanaris Desert and Un'Goro crater.
I miss Un'goro Crater. More games should have remote areas populated by dinosaurs. We need an MMO modelled after Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. However, Un'Goro crater was also where I realized WoW's PvP would likely never evolve past idiotic griefing. There were no towns in Un'Goro, nothing to fight over. The only reason to fight each other was to ruin each others' day... and it was one of the most popular gank locations in the game. Un'goro was where PvP became redefined from meaningful faction conflict to idiotic, simplistic dick-measuring over who killed whom.
I miss water adventures.
I miss Tarren Mill.
World of Warcraft was supposed to be, above all else, a Warcraft game. It was to be a strategy game from a single unit's perspective. You were supposed to be a common soldier rallying your guildmates to help your faction change the face of the game world, advancing battle lines across blood-soaked landscapes, gaining and losing ground in dramatic sieges. Instead? Kill ten rats.
I miss Blackrock Mountain.
This was before teleporting became the sole method of travel, before WoW was tailored to impatient little imbeciles who want everything now-now-now, who can't be bothered to fight for their right to party, who don't understand that in a persistent world PvE, crafting and PvP must interact, that this creates the interdependency which drives a real player community and not just a random assemblage of disinterested casuals looking for the same anonymous quick thrill they could get in any Counterstrike server.
I miss the old WoW instances: stealth runs in Lower Blackrock Spire with a three/two split of rogues and druids bypassing trash mobs for quick loot, Stratholme runs during which the ziggurats would recharge so quickly that you had to coordinate your group to drop them all at once, forty-player raids in which every five-player group had its assigned role and each player had to be aware of his individual role, where coordination was the operative word. I miss challenge.
I quit WoW when the Silithus raids came out. I re-activated for a month or two when Burning Crusade came out, hoping Blizzard would take the chance to revitalize a weak product's gameplay. Instead, I found a game where every meaningful requirement for planning and foresight from food/water requirements to spell reagents to travel times had been removed and everything was more instanced and less relevant to the persistent world than ever. Even instances were shrinking instead of growing. I found a combat system where tanks no longer carefully built aggro on one mob at a time but simply constantly taunted everything at once, where healers no longer had to balance their heal stat with other functionality, where careful pulling via hunter traps had been eliminated and my druid was no longer a hybrid class but merely an overspecialized mage, priest or warrior stand-in from one form to the next.
Worse, I found a game which had completely abandoned any pretense of being a virtual world, and this is what has dictated industry expectations from then onwards: busywork. Hand the players constant endorphin boosts, keep them constantly spinning their wheels on endlessly repeatable small-group instance farming. Never demand anything which might require involvement or intelligence. Roleplaying and strategy scare idiots away and this is now a mass-market genre. It must cater to idiots. Excise all the old hopes, murder quality and slit the throat of complexity. Instead of throwing customers into a brave new world, isolate them. Keep each one running the gear-farming treadmill, locked in an operant conditioning slot-machine nightmare, desperate for that next piece of loot, that next pop-up text telling him he's saved he world (though there no longer is any such world because everything lacks interconnection) and keep them all paying.
Blizzard was in a unique position, when World of Warcraft launched, to raise the bar, to fulfill MMOs' failed promise. They had the funds, the popularity, the willing involvement of hordes of nerds willing to put the effort into keeping a true virtual world alive. Instead, they threw the bar out altogether. They knew where the money was, and marketed to the most worthless segment of the populace, to the majority. They marketed to imbeciles with no attention span, no appreciation for a coherent fantasy world, no sense of building a personal identity, no sense of proportion and their own role within a persistent community.
Blizzard not only caters to but promotes stupidity, not because they were constrained but of their own choice. World of Warcraft, despite its balance, bug, server stability and other problems, would have been the most successful MMO no matter what. Blizzard's hype machine ensured that. They did not choose to destroy the MMO concept to stay in business. They were already making money hand-over-fist. They chose to destroy the best incarnation of escapism for sheer greed.
Capitalism is a sin. I don't mean this in the religious sense but as both insult and injury to intellect, to scientific, social and artistic advancement. World of Warcraft is a giant leap backwards perpetrated in place of the best chance of advancement. It represents willful destruction by those who were best placed to create within their artistic medium. WoW represents everything that's wrong with the game industry because it had the best shot to do everything right and threw it away because enough profit is never enough.
I had a seven-day free offer within WoW. I've used maybe a couple of hours of it flying around. I don't even need to visit any of the new areas. Playable Pandas and a retconned orc race tell all I need to know about how this game has progressed since I last declared it disgusting. There is only one thing left for me to do. I am a druid. For aeons, the druids slept in their barrow-dens beneath the new old world of Kalimdor, dreaming. WoW represents a stolen dream. The only thing left is to recapture it. I have taken my character back to the dream, back to the betrayed promise of the beginning, to dream once more, and forever. He will remain there, sleeping in the barrow dens, until the end of the world.