When I first set foot in the world of Azeroth more than 8 years ago, I was completely and unabashedly amazed. Coming from Runescape, WoW was this immense, untamable beast, and I was quite literally lost. I remember the excitement of downloading the game (which took all day) and barely having enough time to explore the Night Elf starting zone before bed. I remember the wonderment of finally saving up my first silver and of taking all night to reach Darnassus and hit level 10. As a druid, level 10 was a big deal. Level 10 was when you unlocked the quest to get Bear Form, finally putting an end to the monotony of casting Wrath. But alas, the monotony of Maul spam hit around level 12 as you relentlessly pushed onward to 20, when you finally got Cat Form, the jewel of druid leveling. Aquatic Form came at 16 after completing a quest in Moonglade, and travel form was a godsend at level 30, back when you couldn’t get your first ground mount until 40. This was all before WoW’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade, and it’s now 7 years later, and we’re onto expansion number 5. The game has changed, to say the least, but has it been for the better?
Quite frankly, yes. WoW has gotten better and has advanced in so many ways over the past decade that to list all changes would be near suicidal. Now, I can’t say to know the game as well as many of its players, having taken a break from its 3rd expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, until its 5th and most recent in Warlords of Draenor, but I do know games, and I know MMOs.
In terms of gameplay, mechanics, spells, abilities, professions, leveling, questing, and so much more, the game has unarguably advanced and changed for the better. Druids now get Cat Form at level 4 and Bear Form at level 7. Balance druid’s get Moonkin Form at level 16 (where it was previously 40), and both travel and aquatic forms come at 16 as well. You get your first ground mount at level 20, and your faster one at 40.
Talents have changed drastically. Anyone who’s played since before 2011(?) knows, and probably misses, the old talent system, where you gained a talent point every level and could put it into whichever of your three talent trees that you wanted. As a druid, you could go 41 points into feral to get the meat of your (my) favorite spec and then 20 into restoration to pick up a few useful perks there as well.
But no longer is there this tree-crossing. Now, you unlock your first specialization at level 10, where you almost immediately gain some of that spec’s (and only that spec’s) most defining abilities. Talents are now awarded every 15 levels, starting at level 15, where you gain some of your most key abilities, rather than step-by-step boosts to say, crit damage or spell power (lol spell power). Everything is so different than when I left, and I’m nostalgic. I miss it. But, I understand why they did what they did: to progress.
This is where the debate really heats up. Vanilla WoW players want their game back. It was harder and more complicated, and that’s how they liked it. Players get their mounts at level 20 now? Bullshit. Cat Form unlocks at level 4!? Complete bullshit. It’s just so easy. I understand these sentiments, and I count myself among this crowd. But! I also understand how hard these things could be on newer players and why they did in fact “dumb down” the game.
However, despite my understanding for progression, I will say that the one thing I miss most of all is the old talent system. I miss getting a point every level, no matter how trivial that point was. It gave a real sense of progression and was especially meaningful if your newest level didn’t unlock any actual abilities for your class.
“Oh well, at least I can increase my nature damage another 2%.”
It was something. It was nice. Now, a new (and sometimes just as useless) talent unlocks every 15 levels. It’s just not enough.
The changes made to bring more core abilities to classes at much earlier levels, however, is a good one. This way, players can get a real sense for how a spec and class plays before they sink hundreds of hours into it, only to find out it’s not for them. Want to play a Balance druid? Here’s your Eclipse bar, Starfire, Starsurge, and Moonkin Form, see how you like it.
Now, I actually wrote the majority of this before Jake posted his own WoW musings the other day, and I have to say we combat each other quite humorously. Jake is in fact one of these newer players having trouble dealing with all of the buttons, spells, abilities, add-ons, and general fast-paced and more complicated gameplay of WoW. Jake likes things simple. It explains his love for Destiny, with its sole focus on gunplay, and for Pokemon, with its four-at-a-time move selection. WoW has both the complicated encounter design and the action bars overflowing with abilities, and Jake is lost.
As stated in his previous article, Jake likes healing. He likes it for its simplicity and the lower number of buttons needed to be pressed to be effective. Granted, healing will get harder at the raid level (as I’ve told him), but maybe by that time he’ll be ready, or even look to a DPS class with an easier rotation.
As for me, I like the complexity of WoW. I like hitting 10 keys a second and having to watch buffs, timers, and positioning during my fights, and these are the reasons why I love my feral druid; lots of buttons, fast-paced combat, and a complex rotation. These are the same reasons I’d also like to level a rogue or a mage in the future. I want to master my class, and I don’t want it to be easy.
Which way is best? Should a game stay unchanging? Should things still be as they were in vanilla WoW? Anyone who played back then will most definitely say yes. That was the game they grew up with, came to know, and loved. Are things better now? Well, yes, they are. Are they easier? Yep, for sure, but it’s better that way for the wider gaming audience (and for Jake). WoW is so much more accessible now to players new to the game and new to MMO’s entirely.
So, which side are you on: the Nostalgics or the Progressives? Do you miss the sweet vanilla of WoW as it was back in its first few years, or do you savor the heartier chocolate of the denser, yet simpler, WoW of the future?
I, for one, prefer a twist. On a sugar cone, please.