I have to admit that reading Blizzard development blogs generally makes me sad. They’re invariably authored by Greg Street, and typically bring nothing innovative or new to the table; they’re almost explicitly designed to excuse decisions that were widely unpopular or, in retrospect, just plain ol’ bad decisions.
As I had something of an axe to grind regarding questing throughout this last year, I was sceptical when approaching Dave Kosak’s recent blog about quests in Cataclysm and whether or not they were a success. Expecting the worst, I’m happy to say I got the best; a lucid and honest blog that commented on what he (“they”) felt worked, and what they felt didn’t. All this was wrapped up in a nice, unambiguous, series of questions that actually got me thinking differently to how I thought prior to reading it.
This is what Blizzard development blogs should be.
“Leveling up a new character to 60 nowadays is a great deal of fun. Every zone has stories to play out, with interesting nooks and crannies and plenty of hidden gems or references for players who remember the pre-Cataclysm world. Zones like Ashenvale now live up to their premise (intense Horde-vs.-Alliance combat), and previously empty zones now have a lot of character (see: Azshara). The content just flows. It's still World of Warcraft, but the quests have a modern feel, with lots of action and storytelling”.
While I first thought I disagreed here, it’s actually quite telling that any criticism of the experience he’s describing isn’t actually a criticism of the quests at all. For me, the 1-60 experience is a bit dull and disjointed because it’s too easy and players out-level the zone too quickly. But neither of these criticisms really have anything to do with the quests themselves; tuning and pacing decisions have nothing to do with epic content if you’re playing it for its own sake.
I disagree slightly with the Ashenvale appraisal because I believe the conflict should have involved players, but as you played the zone you definitely felt that the Horde Vs Alliance conflict was overbearing throughout it. Other zones, like the excellent Stonetalon Mountains, also played out their own versions of the conflict with strong storytelling.
I did love finding the little easter egg references to the past, and I did believe Azshara needed a REAL rework.
Of course, that was the 1-60 experience. What did Mr. Kosak think of the level 80-85 zones?
"We were aiming for a really global feel with Cataclysm, so we set the max-level zones in varied environments all over the world (underwater, across deserts, in the elemental plane of earth, etc)... The downside to creating these stories is that the zones on the whole ended up being way too linear".
I won’t quote the entire section, but two huge points are brought up:
1) The zones felt disconnected to each other.
2) The questing in the zones was too linear.
Both of those issues are the ones I feel have been complained about most. I think the most damning one, and one that many commentators have spoken about, is that this linear approach (also common across the lower zones) stops players from having options; we don’t like that. Players like depth, and depth is the ability to solve a problem in multiple ways – something that the game in its entirety has lacked throughout Cataclysm.
Here, however, it’s acknowledged that players don’t like being shoe-horned in directions they didn’t choose, and I’m interested to see how that may get solved moving ahead.
The first point about disconnection, of course, is almost moot. Yes, it’s a very good point; but the mere fact the next expansion is pushing back into a new and connected world should alleviate any issues. This is a shame in many ways, because the zones themselves had extraordinarily well delivered stories in and of themselves. As is mentioned in the blog, they all felt different but they all had their own experiences to share. Once again, the phasing in Uldum was a pain but that’s also acknowledged elsewhere.
Speaking of Uldum, please – no more Harrison Jones.
And then of course, we get to phasing.
"We're going to be a lot more careful going forward. The Firelands dailies in patch 4.2 gives you a much better idea of our future direction. There were sweeping visual changes to the world as you progressed, but there’s very little actual phasing. For the most part, everyone is playing together on the same map. That’s important to us. Looking ahead, we’re going to be a lot smarter about how we show changes to the world, and we’re going to do everything we can to avoid splitting players up".
I admit that I’ve hated phasing in the past. It’s split players up, ruined access to certain areas or NPC’s, and generally caused nuisance where none need be caused. The Firelands wasn’t perfect, but did create a far improved version of phasing that didn’t split you and your friends up so harshly. Again, my complaints about the Firelands dailies are more complaints about dailies themselves (and the 4.2 setting) rather than these particular quests.
The mere fact it’s an acknowledged problem, and that quest designers don’t actually want to split players up, is enough.
However, there is one thing I don’t want to see on dailies again; that’s obvious gear upgrades. When you design raid content that’s heavily gear-dependent for large swathes of players, anything that provides a gear solution becomes “mandatory”. Dailies, in my view, should be optional and the 4.2 ones weren’t thanks to the rewards.
"Cataclysm was in many ways Thrall’s story, but it was hard for players to follow his development over the course of the expansion. Going forward we want to convey a clearer narrative, delivered in the context of solid gameplay. We have some ideas on how to do that, and we’re also going to keep experimenting. This is important to us -- we talk about ways to tackle this problem all the time".
Talking about the Elemental Bonds questline, I think it’s very hard to accurately assess how “good” it was. On the one hand, I loved the Abyssal Maw moment mentioned in the blog but also hated trying to work through the Plane of Air spirits on my own when it got round to my fourth character. I know exactly what’s being complained about here. But my other complaint about Elemental Bonds revolves around the mistaken assertion that Thrall would be accepted by Alliance players (he wasn’t), and that his story was largely told out of game.
That’s a significant hamstring.
Being fair, this isn’t Mr. Kosak’s problem because he didn’t create it; and in trying to make a fun and interesting questline, he’s candidly admitting where Blizzard came up short. Incidentally, I’m also going to omit the discussion about how Thrall ruined established lore for several characters just by being there (seriously, NOTHING will convince me that Fandral Staghelm would have attacked him rather than his most hated enemies – Children of Wrath has a great blog on this topic).
But I reckon the concept of Elemental Bonds was ambitious, and it was damn-near pulled off. I look forward to seeing the next evolution of this type of scripted quest event.
What about Dragonwrath and Fangs of the Father?
”Most likely future legendary quest lines will be built similar to the rogue experience: a couple key story moments, a lot of flavor, and some very specific challenges. But I wouldn't expect very many quest lines like these. Like legendary weapons themselves, they're going to be rare and special”.
This is about the only place where Mr. Kosak makes no sense. In one part of the blog he talks about how resource-intensive these “class quests” are, then in the next he says that they’ll be done similar to the rogue experience where only one class got to experience it. I would argue that Dragonwrath was far superior, purely because it was experienced by many more players.
Now, to nail my colours to the mast, I’ll happily come out and say that legendaries shouldn’t be in the game at all in my opinion. But because they are, limiting awesome story developments to only a select number of classes, something that a player couldn’t have made a choice about at character creation, is horribly unfair.
I would LOVE to see how Wrathion’s story developed, given how much I enjoyed working with Rhea in the Badlands. But I hate playing a rogue; I don’t find sitting around waiting on resources to be fun. Equally, I’ve liked Kalecgos since I first came across him standing against Kil’jaeden and would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing him evolve into the Aspect of Magic.
Legendary quests, in my view, should be far more like Quel’Delar; stop barring entry to awesome content via the character creation screen. It doesn’t make any sense. Making these questlines rarer, even one per expansion, would be fine with me if everyone had the opportunity to get involved in it.
But to summarise, we move back to better comments.
"The worgen area is so marvelously gothic, and Kezan is unmistakably unique and gobliny. The art and the quests all work together to establish a racial character. So that’s a big win. As for the mechanics themselves, I’m glad we were so experimental, but our general feeling now that all is said and done is that we went a little too ‘gimmicky’ with the player’s initial experiences. Everyone can agree that the goblin experience gets pretty wild in places... But moving forward, we're re-focusing on core gameplay mechanics. World of Warcraft works best when you’ve got your boots on the ground and you get to play your class".
Hard to disagree. The feel of Gilneas and Kezan was very cool, but some of the quests just felt like pointless, gimmicky mini-games that had no real relation to “the game” itself. Differing types of quest like shooting cannons or lobbing bears onto trampolines are fun, but overdoing them promotes an overwhelming sense of “WTF” rather than “this is awesome”. When they’re so heavy in starting zones there’s the added problem of a new player not really learning anything during those first 10 levels, which are very important for deciding whether or not you like what a new class represents.
All told, I really enjoyed this blog and I urge anyone sticking around with World of Warcraft to read it. It’s a clear indication that some of the folks at Blizzard really do know how to properly identify a problem and set themselves to solving it.
As a result, Dave Kosak was probably part of the 600.
Let’s hope not.