Saturday, 4 December 2010

Bytes To Bytes, Bits To Bits

I haven't played World Of Warcraft since the end of August, and I'm not sure what I want to do with my account. It's paid up until the end of March 2011, so it's not like there's any urgency, but it's been on my mind somewhat lately. I've considered logging in to give away all the stuff I can, including the gold, and I've considered just cancelling the account without doing this. I've considered playing again, too, as I still read some WoW blogs and the talk of the Shattering is quite interesting. And yet, the longer I go having not played, the less find myself caring about the game; at the moment, the only things that interest me are seeing the new Azeroth from a levelling perspective, and continuing my Worldview series (oh how optimistic I was that I would cover any significant amount of the world before it got Shattered!). Honestly, the main thing preventing me making a decision on the matter is the thought of having to download the various patches released since I last played.

I have almost no interest in raiding, least of all in Icecrown Citadel. I don't care about loot – this close to Cataclysm it's all pointless anyway. The only slight interest I have is seeing how my level 80 characters (and my 77 warrior) perform with the new talent trees. I also wouldn't mind going to Ulduar again, not to defeat bosses, but to do a Worldview post (or series) there, as it really is a fantastic place.

In some respects one of the things I miss most about WoW is gone forever: the exploration and discovery. Sure, the world is changed, and sure, there are and will be new zones and dungeons to see, but the game is no longer really new and strange and exciting to me. It's like Morrowind in that respect, a game I spent countless hours playing just because it was so big and there was so much to see – misty, rain-soaked swamps, ash-blighted mountains, a strange giant mushroom town, ethereal and dangerous Daedric ruins, and best of all the creepy steampunk Dwarf ruins, with their mysterious rumbles and clangs. However, because I have experienced all of that, it is of course no longer new, so the adventure of playing though the game again is but a shadow of what it was; very little is new but what I have since forgotten, and the dated, awkward mechanics of the game-play become foremost in my attention, particularly in the long beginning when your character is weak and lacking in the array of skills you acquire by the end of the game – once you've become used to leaping over mountains and covering the length of Vvardenfell in less than a minute, going back to being weak, earth-bound and slow is quite demoralising.

In contrast to games like Morrowind, World Of Warcraft does an excellent job of making you feel at least somewhat powerful right from the start – at no point are you in danger of being killed by a lone mudcrab, and when you try to hit something, you mostly do actually hit it, rather than flail uselessly around it (assuming it's roughly your level or lower). Of course, the memories of past glories are there, and many level 80 characters have seen things a newbie wouldn't believe: setting ghouls on fire off the shoulders of dragons, watching Moonfire glittering in the dark near the Wrathgate, many of these moments preserved in time by the umbrella of Achievements. But World Of Warcraft does a much better job of drawing you in so you see past the limitations of the gameplay mechanics, and moreover, there is just more: more terrain to explore, more variety of things to kill, more weapons to wield, more people to talk to, whether real or NPC. There mere fact that it offers twelve different ways to start the game, depending on the race you choose, and ten different ways to play through the game, depending on the class you choose, is another way Blizzard improves upon the much more initially linear approach Morrowind et al take.

I feel I'm very much an Explorer type – I love seeing what's over the next hill or through the next door. Seeing new things is largely what keeps me interested in a game, and when I've seen all there is to be seen, I start to lose interest. To some extent, I'm reluctant to cancel my WoW account now, with Cataclysm so close, because there really will be, for a time, lots of new things to explore. On the other hand, there are many, many other games that can offer a more completely new experience – Dragon Age, Guild Wars 2 and LoTRO are just three that come to mind right away, and that's just in the (MMO)RPG genre.

Beyond games, there's also my programming: right now I'm still pretty much a noob in the world of web-based software development, and it's still new and exciting. More importantly, it's more directly useful to my life, as it's something I feel I could really build a career out of, as opposed to the mostly stuck-in-a-rut jobs I've had up til now. And the best part is, software development will always offer new things to discover and learn about; innovation is integral to the enterprise. Programming is important to me, and I don't want to let a 'mere game' get in the way of making something of my life.

Perhaps once I'm more settled in a software development career I'll come back to WoW, if it's even still around by then. Or, perhaps I'll ride the wave of the Next Big Thing in MMOs, exploring along with everyone else.