What if WoW had…

Although I wasn’t playing gaming over the weekend we did discuss it amongst family as several family members still play World of Warcraft actively. During these discussions certain points came up that, for me, represent baffling gaps in this game’s content offering – features you find almost as standard in the modern MMORPG genre.

Housing

The obvious missing area is character housing. The garrison was an abortive and very limited attempt at a customisable ‘home base’ for our characters, but in reality it was far too rigid in how you laid the buildings. The very strong links between the garrison and the main campaign of the expansion also hampered it greatly as a means for creativity – having to do the same quest chains on every character to unlock the garrison’s potential got very repetitive.

Legion bought class halls as a replacement to the garrisons without any meaningful customisation, and later the Vindicaar spaceship (dimension ship?) that had none at all. So we’ve made negative progress on this front since Warlords (it’s not often I can say Warlords did something better than Legion!)…

As I’ve discussed in the past, I’d want housing to be part of a crafting renaissance in WoW – not just a gold sink. The game could sorely do with a new profession, it’s been a long, long time since they added inscription. Woodworking or something similar could add a chance to make furniture, and the odd natural weapon or shield, to players who want to spend their time more productively.

Real mentoring/level scaling

Playing other games so regularly, I’m left wishing World of Warcraft implemented a more finely tuned mentoring or level-scaling system. Level-scaling zones have been introduced as a relatively new feature to give you more time in zones to finish the quests or other content before things ‘go grey’. However that doesn’t solve the biggest problem with character level-based MMORPGs – if you want to play with a friend on a character with widely differing levels then either the experience gain of the lower-level one will be reduced, the lower level character will find themselves unable to contribute meaningfully, or some combination of the two. I’ve never been a fan of “speed run” style gameplay:  where you follow a high level character through a dungeon or other content hoovering up the drops while the lead character slays everything because they’re so over-powered.

I’d much rather be able to sync my level to that of my friend(s) so we can all contribute and help one another – this allows me to jump in without worrying that a) I’ll spoil their fun and b) I’ll outlevel content on that character myself by doing something other than his or her current zone.

Rift has very flexible mentoring/syncing

So many games offer this in some flavour: there are those that auto-sync your character to the zone or instance as appropriate (Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars the Old Republic, Neverwinter) and others that give you some measure of control over the sync, mentoring-style (Everquest 2, Rift). Neither set of examples is exhaustive, being able to “just play together” is no big thing in 2018, yet WoW still hasn’t introduced this. Auto-sync’ing characters to a zones level range isn’t new, but expanding the zones level range massively yet not capping the characters level is.  The current WoW system is markedly inferior to any of the above example game’s syncing systems in terms of the “just play together” issue.

An easy appearance system

The transmogrification gear appearance system is wildly popular from my limitied experience of other players outside my immediate circle. Farming old content to get certain looks for your character is a legitimate pastime in WoW. But, like level-sync above, the system developed by Blizzard is more restrictive and convoluted than several analogous systems that were introduced in other MMORPGs before or since.

Rift and Lord of the Rings Online are my two go-to games for how I want games to implement this – just give me one or more additional sets of ‘cosmetic’ gear slots that are ‘appearance-only’ so I can quickly create a new look – that should override any slot that is filled out and should not require any further attention until I chose to override it with another look. I should be able to change this anywhere (out of combat I guess?), and not require visiting a NPC (WoW), nor a costly material payment (Guild Wars 2 or Final Fantasy 14!).

Customising a character’s look is a fundamental part of MMORPG gameplay for many, many players – don’t try to monetise or limit it developers!

Alternate advancement

The last thing I’d like World of Warcraft to see is some kind of alternate advancement system. Everything character development-related in World of Warcraft these days is so combat and vertical-progression oriented. It would be wonderful if the devs could introduce new ways to tweak or customise our characters that weren’t just adding ‘more powah!’. Here I’m talking offering more choices of abilities or things to work on that aren’t combat-oriented (e.g. lifeskills).

Examples that come to mind are the Planar Attunement system from Rift, this offers a mix of very minor stat boosts (mostly elemental-specific resistances or boosts to certain weapons), but more importantly interesting utility powers that you gradually unlock – I especially like the teleports to the various original zones.

Everquest 2 has a crazy-complex alternate advancement system that allows you to shift the theme of your character class somewhat – it’s part talent tree and part class-feature unlock. A popular Inquisitor build uses this to shift most combat spells from ranged into melee variants to make you a ‘battle cleric’.

I suppose there’s a danger that alternate advancement systems can become focused on ‘mandatory builds’ – the community trying to impose optimised builds on players of a given class. That’s no different from the same issue with talent trees as a primary character customisation system, however. I prefer AA options that give non-combat utility or thematic options. I think they do give you something else to work towards that’s not just the gear grind once your character hits the level cap.

I have the impression that Blizzard, in WoW’s early years, were well-known for taking ideas and adding polish. They wouldn’t be the first to do this feature or that system, but when they did it would be slick and genre-best (or close). They took a lot of already genre-standard tropes and made this leviathan MMO by doing the same things better. These days, something feels different, like their game system devs are not focused on doing things better than the competition, but rather doing things differently regardless of the  cost to usability…

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6 Responses to What if WoW had…

  1. melbrankin says:

    We use to joke when playing everquest2 what system wow would borrow, tweak and claim as their own from our game. As wow grew it started to lead in accessibility and content we saw the reverse with everquest borrowing wow ideas much to the annoyance of our guild.
    I do wish that meaningful alt advancement would make its way into wow, it was a good way to stretch out character development and added flavour.

  2. Wait, Neverwinter has leveling scaling? Was that in at launch, or did it get added later? And more importantly, how did I not know this?

    • Telwyn says:

      Shintar could answer this better than I, but it’s been there a while – your character gets autoscaled to certain content, mostly the instanced stuff. It means you can run dungeons with friends regardless of level.

      • Shintar says:

        Yeah, some very basic scaling has been in game since very early on and they’ve expanded on it over a time. I wrote about it when they added more with the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. The 1-60 levelling zones are not scaled, but some of the 60+ content is, as well as certain instances.

  3. Sylow says:

    Hmm. For me the boat has sailed, i don’t see me in WoW again. But would it have had some of the suggestions, i might’ve been there for more than three months. Especially something like a level scaling system, so playing together with friends would’ve been an enjoyable experience, instead of feeling like punishment, would’ve gone a long way.

  4. Meznir says:

    The artifact weapon path seemed Wow’s attempt at AA – but as soon as you had all the points in the weapon, all customisation was gone and it was always intended to be something that was thrown out at the end of the expansion (which they are). It’s like they are afraid of having anything permanent in the game for fear of putting off new players. It really feels like money making is affecting game design and so players can’t work towards anything for the long term. If AA was focussed on non combat like you suggest, then that shouldn’t be prohibitive to new players.

    Garrisions failed because they put everything there instead of the real world. Most notably herbs, mining and other items from the buildings. They also seemed to miss a lot of the point of housing but having very little customisation and collecting (just a couple of statues and the room for archaeology finds). Though again they said from the start that it wasn’t intended to be player housing and that it would be thrown out at the end of the expansion.

    A lot of the other systems seem to be a fudge – crowbaring functionality in using the existing infrastructure instead of designing new systems and coding them in. I could see the need for doing that in games that use existing engines (e.g. Neverwinter, STO etc) but WoW is bespoke. It’s like all the original developers have left and the new ones are afraid to touch the code and instead do building block coding.

    I love this game and still play it addictively – but it could be so much improved in many ways.

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