Saturday, August 24, 2019

Welcome To Difficult: Wow Classic

As the big day draws ever nearer, all thoughts turn to WoW Classic. Well, for some people. I've been thinking about it on and off but I can't say it's been on my mind 24/7.

One thing that did occur to me was to check the exact time the new-old game launches. Almost everything I read just says "27th August" but of course nothing's ever quite as simple as that.

Blizzard have a very handy timetable on the official website that gives the American launch date as the 26th, not the 27th. I can't say I've seen that spelled out anywhere before. As the footnote explains "To align with other regions, the Americas will launch slightly ahead of August 27 in local time".

Here in the UK we also get a Monday start - barely. Servers should open for us at 11pm, by which time I can guarantee I will have been in bed for at least a couple of hours because my drug regime means I run out of steam at about eight in the evening. EU players technically begin on the 27th, at the dead of midnight, while Asia and Oceania join in at breakfast time.

I understand that time zones mean all the servers actually come online simultaneously but that's self-evidently not going to be the human experience. Given that launch is happening during the working week and that the majority of Classic players are likely to be of working and child-rearing age, being able to come home at five or six PM is a major advantage to having to log in at bedtime or breakfast.

Only to be expected. It's been that way in most MMORPGs I've played for the last twenty years. I bet Runescape doesn't do launches at 11pm UK time, though.

It's an entirely moot point at any rate. We're in no hurry. It suits us very well to start our Classic journey on Tuesday morning, with the whole day ahead. I'm home sick for the summer and Mrs. Bhagpuss doesn't work Tuesdays. I'm not even convinced she's going to get around to playing straight away- she hasn't made a character yet.

What's more, the server we've picked, Hydraxian Waterlords, is still showing as "Medium" population. Given eight or ten hours for the rush to subside (always assuming enough people want to stay up all night for there to be a rush), there's every chance we won't have to face a queue on login. Or not a ridiculously long one, anyway.

Once we get in there's the nature of the experience to consider. I made a second character today, a Gnome Warlock. It was entirely predictable. When I played WoW for six months I tried a lot of classes but the two I liked best were Hunter and Warlock. And obviously the two races that appeal to me in Classic are Gnome and Dwarf. If it ain't broke, as they say.

There's been some discussion around the blogosphere on the subject of how "difficult" Classic is going to be and also on how things like Add-Ons might affect that perception, not to mention the actual experience. They are thorny topics indeed.

On difficulty, my feeling is that those who played during Vanilla will be surprised to find almost everything "easier", and certainly faster, than they remembered. That's because they have those memories. They know, even if the knowledge is dim and cobwebbed, how to play the game. In 2004 they had no pre-knowledge and learning slows things down.

Players who only know the post-Wrath of the Lich King game will almost certainly find Classic a lot slower and considerably more fiddly and annoying. That may be perceived as difficulty; more likely tedium. They won't stick around.

I'm fine with Classic not being "difficult". What I want is for it to be involving - even immersive, if we can still call on that ancient concept. For that to happen the original systems and mechanics that Blizzard have taken so much trouble to re-create need to have integrity.

To that end I was very heartened to read Marathal's short post this morning. Community Manager Bornakk replied to a thread on the forums about the much-publicised LFG Addon, confirming that Blizzard aren't at all happy with it. What's more, they aren't going to allow it:
"After careful examination, we believe the nature of ClassicLFG is incompatible with our social design for Classic. Thus, in an upcoming patch (in the weeks following launch), we will be adding restrictions to the Classic add-on API that will significantly limit this add-on and others like it."
I sometimes complain about paternalism in MMORPGs but this is not that. This is proper custodianship, although I'm not quite sure why the fix has to wait until a few weeks after launch.

I was actualy playing WoW when the original LFG Finder was introduced. It was right at the end of my run and I stayed on a week longer than I planned to try this new-fangled option.

It worked. I got groups and got ported to the dungeon. It was efficient, clinical and alienating, all factors that have only increased over time as the mechanic has spread like a virus to most triple-A MMORPGs.

When we talk about difficulty, I'm reminded of the process of forming groups to do dungeons in EverQuest in the years before and just after WoW. Everyone remembers the the calling out in /ooc or /shout, sending and receiving /tells, trying to find a place in a group or fill one. Everyone talks about how long it took and how tedious it was but what no-one ever seems to mention is how dangerous putting a group together could be.

Not the reecruiting, obviously, but physically getting the members of the group together in one place, at the entrance to the dungeon. Norrath was both big and lethal. Dungeons were distant from population centers, tucked away in obscure corners of zones filled with aggressive creatures, monsters that could be much higher level than the ones the group planned on fighting in the dungeon itself.

I remember one occasion when, having taken half an hour or so to put a group together to take a crack at Mistmoore, so many of the group got killed trying to get there, some of them multiple times, that we broke up before we ever entered the dungeon. When Gates of Discord arrived to drive half the population of EQ in the welcoming arms of Vanilla WoW, most of the guild I was in refused point-blank even to try to join groups in Natimbi, let alone Qinimi, because they were convinced they'd never get there alive.

And they were right. Even with Spirit of Wolf and Invisibility the chances of dying in transit to your waiting group were significant. I found it "fun" or at least involving. I lasted longer in GoD than almost anyone on my friends list. I got past the entry level zones and did a little in the next tier. It was probably the hardest gameplay of my MMORPG career and after a few months I'd had enough, too.

That was taking things too far but to my mind getting to the dungeon should be as much of an adventure as crawling through it. Seperating the two experiences is a big mistake. I realize that traveling across Azeroth is never going to be anything close to the terrifying experience crossing Norrath was back in the day but at least it's heading in the right direction.

I only hope I will be. I do have a tendency to get lost trying to find my group.


  1. The only thing that addon does is reads chat for "LFG [Insert dungeon]" (allowing you to invite them) and allows you to whisper your name/class/level to someone who wrote "LFXM for [Insert dungeon]". You still have to get to the dungeon on your own. That's why I actually think they shouldn't have touched the addon, it just makes looking for group less tedious.

    1. Yes, I knew that. The Addon makers presumably can't make Add-Ons do anything that the mechanics don't exist for in-game. I still think that, even as it stood, the Addon was a step too far bcause it allows players to sidesstep personal interaction. Anything that reduces the need for people to talk to each other is going to diminish the social aspect of the game, which is a big part of why many people are going to be playing. I agree that forming groups the old-fashioned way is tedious but as with a lot of tedious activities it comes with beneficial side-effects.

    2. I just don't consider "LF3M WC 2DPS 1H" and following "inv please" social interaction, there's no actual conversation beyond some routine words.

    3. Wow! (er, no pun intended). My experience of /lfg done by tells/whispers in the MMORPGs where it used to be routine is a conversation in full sentences, discussing what's needed, what my role would be, where to meet and probably a joke or two. Of course, I never did it in WoW. Maybe there's a cultural divide I'm not aware of.

    4. The closest I've ever seen to conversation when forming a group is when people used to hurl bile and insults at me every time I tried to sign up for raid healing on a paladin.

    5. Just some examples of what else people might reply to "LF3M WC 2DPS 1H":

      "What's WC?"
      "What's the level range for that again?"
      "Are you OK with taking a druid healer?" (Since druids didn't have a res in Classic and resing was commonly also considered the healer's duty, it required some accommodation from the rest of the group.)
      "Do you already have a leather wearer?" (If someone wanted to go to the dungeon for a specific loot, they might prefer to hedge their bets by being the only person in the group who could use that loot.)

      And even after having been invited, there was often talk about things like looking for the last few group members in different zones, or how long it would take people to make it to the dungeon. Sure, the quiet types who knew exactly what they wanted and kept all communication to a minimum existed too, but it was not exactly the standard.

  2. I'll be interested to see if modern pugging mentality comes to WoW Classic or survives long there - not about grouping up but the "gogogogo" types that are so common in the modern game. I imagine there would be a lot of frustration from some that the group isn't going fast enough or that they are using CC, when in Classic I presume, it will absolutely be necessary for quite some time.


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