Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Can Recycling Save the World...of Warcraft?

‘Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss’
-Won’t Get Fooled Again, Pete Townsend

Most people these days agree that recycling is good for the planet – it saves natural resources and landfill space, creates jobs, can cut down on pollution. With the release of patch 3.2.2 and the return of Onyxia, Blizzard is making a strong case for winning ‘Recycler of the Year’. In some ways, perhaps this last expansion should have been called Wrath of the Recycling King. Think for a second about what we’ve seen in the expansion so far:
- The first big raid was Naxxramas; recycled from patch 1.something
- Arugal was dragged out of Shadowfang Keep and resurrected to serve as a mini-boss in Grizzly Hills
- We got to revisit a scene out of Warcraft III in the Caverns of Time: Culling of Stratholme.
- We defeated the Black Knight in the Argent Tournament. Now we get to kill him again – 3 times!
- Trial of the Champions (or is it Crusader? I’m so confused!) brings us Anub’arak. How the Hell did Tirion dig him up? I can’t use Redemption on enemies.
- Confessor Paletress summons images of old bosses, though this doesn’t quite count because they don’t use their original abilities (if they did, this might actually be an easier fight)

Blizzard looks to continue the recycling with Cataclym, where we’ll be seeing heroic version of Shadowfang Keep (Arugal, part 3?) and Deadmines. I’ve heard rumors that Ragnaros will be somewhere in there, and Deathwing will be the featured baddie (since I have not played all that long, has Deathwing ever actually been faced down as a boss?). Given the recent history of the expansion, and the announcements on Cataclysm, I would not be at all surprised if Arthas throws some recycled bosses at us in Icecrown. Anyone for Patchwerk again?

While recycling is good for the planet, is it good for Blizzard? There seems to be a big difference of opinion on this. There are folks like Lodur over at Matticus who are very excited over these developments. These folks remember raiding Onyxia back when; who look back with fondness at the frustration of banging their heads against that particular wall, and are happy to relive those memories, and make new ones. They’re looking forward to seeing what new wrinkles Blizz puts into those old characters, and seeing how well their own new abilities match up. I think many of these folks are looking forward to these new encounters, not just because of the nostalgia factor, but also because they’re hoping they will be as challenging now as they were then. (Based on my first attempt at Onyxia last night, which was cut short by unstable servers, I think they’ll be disappointed – we didn’t get her down in the time we had, but it was not the 'holy-crap-this-is-impossible' event that I thought it might be. The difficulty right now seems to be in the unfamiliarity that most of us had with it.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, folks like my GM. They look at the recycling of content as laziness on Blizzard’s part, a further slide down the slippery slope that started with the whole change to the emblem system that came out in 3.2. Already feeling alienated by the direction WoW had taken, content recycling is pushing them further away from the game. They feel that the game has gotten too easy, that ‘epic’ gear is too commonplace, and that recycling is evidence that Blizzard is putting as little effort into game design as players have to put into getting those epics. While forum posts threatening to quit the game over one thing or another are not new, the case of my GM (well, former actually; he gave up the GM spot a couple of months ago) are representative of a general loss of enthusiasm amongst a set of the playerbase.

To be honest, I’m kind of mixed on the subject of content recycling. On the one hand, I do feel as if Blizzard is somehow slacking on the raids since Ulduar hit. The design of the Crusaders’ Coliseum, with its no-trash, no-scenery, four raids in one! approach feels like a bit of a ‘cheat’, even though some of the encounters in there are actually fun and creative. Taking an old encounter and just upping the HP and damage of the boss is not creating new content. Will Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep be exactly the same as they used to be? If we see Kel’Thuzad resurrected once again in Icecrown, will it be the same fight that we just did, with maybe one new wrinkle? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then we are right to feel that Blizzard is cutting corners. BUT....

Does it really matter?

From what I can glean from the forums, the new Onyxia is pretty much the same as the old Onyxia. I wouldn’t know, as I never fought the old Onyxia. I never went into Blackrock Spire or Blackrock Depths; never raided Molten Core or Black Temple. Yes, I did Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep (as any good Paladin should – Verigan’s Fist, ftw!) but that was a long time ago. There are lots of players these days who have never done any of them, for whom these dungeons and raids are not ‘old news’, but the stuff of legend. Leveling is faster and easier than ever, and can be done with stunningly little group play (even less than when I started playing, which was in the spring of 2007). There is little reason or opportunity to run these instances at proper level; introducing them as high-level will play into the nostalgia factor for the folks who have been there, while giving others the opportunity to experience it for the first time. In many ways I prefer the prospect of facing van Cleef as a level 85 bad-ass more than I want to see yet another iteration of Anub’arak. When Cataclysm hits next year you can also expect that there will be plenty of people pushing through the levels that will not set foot in Naxx, Eye or Ulduar on the way up – will it be so terrible to have these people square off against Sartharion in a buffed-up version of Obsidian Sanctum? It might actually make a certain degree of sense given the importance of the Black Dragonflight in the expansion.

Recycling in and of itself won’t save the Real World; it must be part of a larger strategy that includes proper resource management, source reduction and changes in consumption. Recycling in the world of World of Warcraft has to be a part of a larger Blizzard strategy for breathing new life into a game that seems to be getting stale for many players. Time will tell if this is a winning strategy for Blizzard.

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