Nerfs, Story, and Doing It Wrong

I’m not usually one to say that people are “doing it wrong” in how the play the game unless they are just REALLY “doing it wrong”. A death knight tanking for a pug in intellect gear is “doing it wrong”, and you won’t convince me otherwise. I don’t generally care, though, if you play PvE, PvP, run dungeons, don’t run dungeons, roleplay, play the auction house, or pay for a subscription just to be able to log in and talk to friends without ever moving out of the starter zone. I don’t care if you are VP capped, aren’t VP capped, which spec you chose, or what your cooking skill is at. It’s a game. Play it the way you enjoy.

I think there are different ways of looking at what qualifies as “doing it wrong”, though. There’s the “this isn’t at all how your class is designed, and it makes you a severe liability to anyone you party with unless you party just to go to the Barber Shop” aspect. (Again, death knight tanking in intellect gear.) There’s “what you’ve done isn’t optimal”. (“Not optimal” isn’t necessarily the same as “not viable”, folks.) There’s “you aren’t doing it the way I prefer, even though you are doing it well within what the developers say they intend”. (A sure sign that I don’t want to meet this person outside of the game, as I probably don’t live my life the way they prefer, either.) And there’s “something other than what the developers intend, but they haven’t done anything to stop you”.

I want to look at that last one. I think there may be a lot of displeasure with the game because of that. People doing something that is entirely possible, doesn’t even take any special effort to do it, but not quite fitting the vision Blizzard has for the game.

Disclaimer

I want to say before I go on that I am not happy with everything in the game. There are things I’m not happy with simply because they aren’t designed in a way that fits my ability to play, but I accept that it’s good for the game as a whole. There are things I’m not happy with that other people don’t have a problem with, but I think a few tweaks would make more people happy than unhappy. There are places where I think Blizzard isn’t bridging the gap well between what they intend and how the player recieves it, both in game mechanics and storytelling. My point with this post is NOT to say everything in the game is just fine and no reasonable person should have any complaints. I want that to be clear from the beginning.

We’re all “doing it wrong” at least some of the time.

Here’s the thing… if you aren’t invested in the story, I think you may be doing it wrong.

That isn’t a judgement I’m passing down based on my own love of the lore. In that respect, it comes under the heading of “It’s a game. Play it the way you enjoy.” It doesn’t get in the way of me enjoying the story if you don’t know who Grom Hellscream was, or look at Alexstrasza and all you can think is, “Why is that dragon wearing earrings?” What I’m saying is that Blizzard’s intention is to tell a story. If you aren’t invested in the story, or if you seperate your interest in the story from playing the game, then I’m not so sure you’re doing what the developers intend.

This isn’t a porn flick. They aren’t stringing together just enough story to connect the scenes. (“Hero! Head to BOOTY BAY! A ship full of female pirates has gotten stuck in a huge pit of mud conjured up by a cult of warlock, and we need someone to help get them out of there! You’ll find the female pirates climbing all over each other to try to get out, and some of them have probably already had to shed their clothing… poor things. Help them quickly before you miss it– er… before they die!”) Blizzard has put a lot of effort into the story, and I think a large part of why the questing experience has been redone the way it is in Cataclysm is because players were ignoring the story.

Now, I can’t blame some people. Some of the differences in the past were very small. (The female orc who gives you quests at the Crossroads would treat a female Forsaken very differently from how she’d treat a female Tauren or orc, and she treated females in general different than males.) If someone had already done this once or twice (or more) there just comes a point where you don’t want to do the same thing all over again. But what about all the people who just don’t care about story and were more focused on levelling? And what about people who would get part of the way through a zone and then lose interest? Or get tired of how long it was taking to move through that zone and figure, “I’ll just come back and finish this someday when I’m working on Loremaster”? Or the people who insist on playing only Alliance or Horde and have never seen the story from the other side? (I swear, I can’t remember now where it was, but I saw someone asking last year if it would be worth it to go through the Horde quests before Cataclysm, or if the story just the same as it is for the Alliance.) In many zones, I fell into the “I’ll come back and do the rest of this someday when I’m finished levelling” group. So I got parts of the story out of order. And  not what the developers intended. In that way, I was doing it wrong.

Blizzard said, going into Cataclysm, that they were putting more of the focus back on the story. We now have a questing system that herds you through the story, making it more likely that you see it all in order. The story has (in most zones) been updated, the quests have been streamlined, and the rewards from quests make it more worth it to turn in a quest that’s green for you than to just farm mobs that are yellow or orange. There are a lot more requirements that you finish X quest before you can move on to Y quest. In many cases, the story from one zone will bleed over into the next zone so that you feel like your character is experiencing an on-going story, rather than each zone standing on it’s own. They’ve also made some zones so that you need to see it from both factions to really understand what’s going on there. It’s the same basic story, but each faction only gets half of it.

I’ve said many times in the past that, coming into the game in Wrath, the Vanilla dungeons looked to me like they were the equivalent of watching Exorcist II. (Exorcist III is my favorite, but you need to see The Exorcist to understand it. Exorcist II only matters if you just REALLY want to know what happened in the girl from the first movie’s life when she got older.) Story lines seemed to wrap up during the quests, and the dungeon was just sort of there if you wanted a little more. Not all dungeons have been redone, but there are more of them that now are the wrap-up at the end of the questline, rather than being an epilogue. And raids aren’t just sitting there for people who love to raid. People who are following the story, whether they want to raid or not, aren’t getting the whole story without doing raids.

It’s not just the land that changed.

I have seen many, many people in Cataclysm who don’t want to quest while levelling an alt because they’ve “done them all before and hated it”. But these people haven’t done the quests since Cataclsym came out. So, no, they HAVEN’T “done them all before”. I’ve come across people who have avoided certain zones in Cataclysm because they hated struggling through that zone before Cataclysm, or felt it had very little for their faction. (Alliance in Stonetalon Mountains is a big one.) It’s not just the land that changed! Blizzard wants you to roll an alt or two and go see the story.

Personally, I think they’ve done a wonderful job with Duskwood. The land hasn’t changed. For that matter, the quests haven’t really changed. They are a little easier to do. The Legend of Stalvan questline doesn’t have you running all over several zones anymore. The thing that makes me feel it’s so well done is that there are explantions for why these same quests need to be done again. There’s a reason the Town Hall no longer has the papers that tell the story of Stalvan Mistmantle. They acknowledge that some adventurer already solved this problem for them before, but it’s a problem again. These are the same problems because the problems have come back… not because no one bothered to update things.

On the Alliance side, your quest experience will differ depending on your race pretty much up until it’s time to go to the Plaguelands. Horde is still more of an Eastern Kingdoms/Kalimdor split, though the trolls do have their own unique starting experience now. (Blood elves and draenei, I’m sorry… I know your pain. I’ve tried doing those starting experiences in Cataclsym, and it sucks to be left behind.) My biggest complaint about the racial differences in the story is that worgen get spit out into the Night Elf storyline, but Duskwood is part of the human storyline. Duskwood is a great story for worgen, and I think they should have made sure worgen get sent there.

“Once upon a time, there was this bloody elf…”

Blizzard isn’t just making this up as they go along. The story is planned, and they have a lore bible. (If you don’t believe me, ask Anne Stickney to tell you who Evelyn Fredericksen is.) Now, I don’t know how much is in the lore bible, but I don’t believe every-freakin’-detail of the story is planned ahead of time. But I’d say it’s entirely possible that they always intended to bring the Shen’dralar back, for example, as so they decided along the way that this presented an opportunity to make Night Elf mages playable instead of just being NPCs. As opposed to, say, just stuffing in bringing back the Shen’dralar to have Night Elf mages covered in the lore.

My point is that the story isn’t a side thing for people who are interested. The story is what drives the rest of the game. Blizzard wants people to see the story.

Keeping that in mind… yes, the levelling experience is easier now. If I were Blizzard, I would have done the same thing. I would not expect people to devote a year or two of playing the game to levelling just one character when I’m also expecting them to see the story from the point of view of multiple characters. I’d want players to be able to move through that story relatively quickly so they can see it from multiple points of view while certain content is still current. Are there some issues with doing it this way? Absolutely. Does that mean it needs to be “harder” in order to be “better”. Only if you lack imagination. (Which, by the way, is my complaint about raids. I think Blizzard’s developers could add “challenge” to raids without it always being a numbers game. I can do challenging things. That doesn’t mean I can race against a timer well, or that I have quick reflexes.) I think a certain amount of unpredictability could make the experience more engaging, and many of us would consider that “better”.

What about the nerfs? The title said there would be nerfs.

I haven’t watched blogs as closely in the past couple of months as I did before, but that doesn’t mean I’m completely out of touch. I have not been able to miss the nerf drama.  I’ve seen people get outraged over the nerfs. I’ve seen people accept that the nerfs would be a good thing for them. Today, I saw Fannon get so disappointed over the nerfs that I feel like he’s missed the point.

I’m picking on Fannon specifically, but it comes from seeing a lot of views about the nerfs that he doesn’t exactly express in his post, in addition to ones that he does. I gave him a heads-up that this post is partially a response to his. I single him out because I feel like I can disagree very strongly with him and not run the risk of a flame war breaking out. Fannon’s awesome. My wolpertinger is named Fannon the Invisible Bunny Monster.

Ghostcrawler has explained that they look at how many people they intend to be at a certain point in the content, then look at how many actually are, and make a decision on nerfs. They weren’t seeing anywhere near the number of people at the point they intended for them to be at in Firelands. A lot of people are taking this as Blizzard saying “you failed”. It could just as easily be Blizzard saying “we failed”. It doesn’t have to mean you weren’t good enough for the challenge. It could mean Blizzard didn’t get the challenge where they meant to have it in the first place.

I’ve also had it explained to me (because, as much as I would like to do raids, it’s just not happening) that the gear and progression has changed. That, in the past, clearing normal mode in one tier of content gave you the gear you needed to be ready for normal mode in the next tier. What was explained to me is that Blizzard made it so that clearing normal mode gets you ready for heroic mode, and clearing heroic mode gets you ready for normal mode in the next tier. And that a lot of people missed that change and went into normal mode Firelands thinking they were ready when they really weren’t. That seems to me to be a failure on Blizzard’s part in communicating the change well. Either that, or they communicated it just fine and there are a bunch of people who decided they didn’t want to do it that way and got their asses handed to them. I don’t know which.

At any rate, the point becomes that Blizzard intends for people to be moving through content at a certain rate, and boatloads of people are behind now. So the nerf isn’t necessarily to put the challenge level where Blizzard meant for it to be all along, but to put it where it needs to be at this point for the appropriate number of people to catch up to where Blizzard wants them to be in content. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be this easy, but is seen as being necessary to get people caught up. This is not your guild’s failure, and cleaning up a mess is rarely glamorous.

Hopefully, you aren’t reading this. I ran out of titles for sub-sections.

The game has changed. Tales of “back in my day” are great for reminiscing, but rarely considered a standard that people should return to. Really… try applying it to real life. Back in my grandmother’s day, people didn’t name a baby right when it was born. There was a fairly good chance it wouldn’t live very long, and cemetaries have plenty of tiny graves marked “Baby Surname”. Back when I was a kid, VCRs were pretty new-fangled, and not everybody could afford one. We watched a show when it came on, or we waited until the summer when re-runs started. If it was something special that wasn’t going to be re-run, we watched it THEN. And no-damned-body better call while it was on, either, because not everybody had one of those new “answering machines” to catch the call. People still answered the phone when it rang.

This isn’t Vanilla. It’s not Burning Crusade. It’s not Wrath. There’s a gap, apparently, between what Blizzard intends for Cataclysm and what people expect. Blizzard is making the game, so I say it’s their responsibility to bridge that gap. They’ve gone to great lengths to put the focus back on the story and open raiding to as many people as possible, but the dungeon finder still makes it possible to skip the story while leveling. They’ve also neglected to make PvP tie into the story well. (It could. There’s a reason the Alliance and Horde are still fighting – or, perhaps, fighting again – in Warsong Gulch. Maybe winning Warsong Gulch in PvP should give your faction a buff in Ashenvale. Or something. Make PvP matter in the story experience.) At the same time, they don’t go through and put a stop to everything that can be done outside of what they intend. They aren’t putting an end to twinking, even though they’ve said they aren’t making the effort to support that style of play. So maybe the lesson is that you don’t HAVE to approach the game in a way that matches their intentions, but if you don’t like how the game works when you aren’t in step with them, you have to accept that. Or ask yourself if you want to keep playing WoW… if it’s really the right game for you.

I did take issue with this part of Fannon’s post:

I know that there are quite a number of people who are happy with these changes to the raids because it gives them a chance to finally see the content. But I think that there is a difference between seeing the content and experiencing the content.  The idea of merely seeing the content reminds me of a tourist: Someone who comes to visit and see the sights, but wants to have a good, relaxing time and not really get their hands dirty. While experiencing the content implies slogging through the worst that the raid can throw at you and working through the inevitable failures and hardships. These are two very different types of players who want two completely different types of gaming experiences.
However, nerfing current content when there is no alternative, higher-end content available means turning everyone into the Tourist.

I think that assumes quite a bit about what a person is looking for in the content. It may very well be true for people who are more focused on raiding for the sake of raiding, but it certainly wouldn’t be true for me. Even with the nerfs, I can’t go into the raids. I could even get together a group of nine people that I’m comfortable with and the fact is I would just fail. At least for a while. When I stopped failing, my performance still wouldn’t be considered acceptable for most raiding groups. It’s not because I’m stupid or need to L2p. It’s because my brain processes things in a way that makes the mechanics of fights extremely difficult for me. And I don’t want to raid for the sake of raiding, anyway. I want to get the story. So I would still have a real challenge to get through in order to see the story I want so badly. I would definitely feel like my character was part of something truly historic in Azeroth’s history. I would not be a tourist.

I take on challenges that aren’t part of the intended way of playing not because I’m bored with what is intended, but because those are challenges I can handle. Doing things like two-manning a five man dungeon while at the level for it is actually EASIER for me. Not just because it elimnates the need for strangers and soothes my social anxiety. It also means things move at the pace I need to be good at what I’m doing, and gives me the opportunity to do things I’m quite good at that aren’t my job when five people are present.

Maybe WoW finally got too big. Maybe we’ve just kind of become “the general populace”, and there’s no good way to make even most of us happy with the game design. But, again, the game has changed. We can either change with it, find our happy place within it and accept how that limits the experience, or just leave. Making that decision should probably start with acknowledging that one aspect of the game is just that… one aspect. Raiding is not the whole point. PvP is not the whole point. Playing the auction house is…

Geez, can’t somebody just make a game where you are an auctioneer? And don’t make it a Facebook game!

P.S. I’d love to write a post at some point on changes I think they could make to the game. I’m not making any promises on when that would happen. Maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe next year. I still haven’t finished the Brann Bronzebeard post. Go read Boozekin while you wait for it.

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7 Responses to Nerfs, Story, and Doing It Wrong

  1. I think an issue like this will always be wildly disagreed upon, by people with different stances toward the game, and all of them legitimate. Your perspective is completely valid. By the same token, so is Fannon’s.

    There is a certain degree of personal versus overall satisfaction that has to be considered when regarding these nerfs. From a distant, impersonal perspective, the nerfs were a good move. Many groups were struggling with early Firelands content, and needed the boost. However, from a personal perspective, I absolutely hated them and did not want them, because I didn’t NEED them. And this is where the disparity comes in. Sure, casual raider X deserves to see the content…but what about my needs? I deserve to also enjoy the unlobotomized challenge of genuine raid content, not a declawed version that is laughably easy.

    As for story? I’d love for there to be some reason why suddenly, inexplicably, Ragnaros & his buddies went from being awesome badasses to wimps overnight. At least in ICC the gradually increasing buff was somewhat explained as the Argent Crusade slowly pushing into ICC and whittling away at the Lich King’s strength. But here? There’s no canonical explanation. It’s just…pathetically and suddenly easy.

    Finally, I get the impression from this post that you feel raiders and story-lovers are these two separate groups, and that the needs/desires of one group is vastly different than the other. But I, obviously, belong in both groups. And when I down a raid endboss like Cho’gall or Nefarion or Ragnaros, I savor and look forward to that moment because of a) the lore implications – we’re changing this dynamic world and making a difference! and b) because the raiding/teamwork aspect is JUST as important to us as the story. It is a multiplayer game after all – it’s not an MORPG. Having our Ragnaros kill giftwrapped and handed to us – which is literally what happened to us this week – deprived us of the satisfaction and enjoyment of having earned the kill.

    It’s no different than if they just randomly changed lore and history without any rhyme or reason, ruining the carefully, meticulously-crafted RP backstories that roleplayers had worked very hard on. Or making an “I Win” button in PVP that made all the hard work and research PVPers put into their game obsolete. They took an element of the game that raiders like Fannon and myself loved, and tossed it aside. They had a good reason, sure. But it’s still vastly disappointing.

    I’m glad others will get to see the content. But I’m sad that the only way to do this was to sacrifice my own satisfaction.

    • I do know there are raiders who also love story, but it’s really difficult to go through and label every group when there’s quite a bit of overlap. After all, while it’s true that raiders like you exist, it’s also true that there are raiders who don’t care about story. And true that there are people who love lore who could raid much easier than I could, but simply have absolutely no desire to. And that’s still just some of the people who do PvE content.

      I agree that it sucks for people who really didn’t need the nerfs… who could have gotten it down in another week or so. But that gets into the “trying to make everyone happy”. And it still means, if you’re going to implement one change for the whole game that will let the number of people you want caught up to… well… catch up… it means nerfing the content. Maybe Blizzard should work on an “optional nerf”. I don’t know that it can be done with how things are built, but I’m sure they could develop something. Put the “optional nerf” in at the point where they’ve decided a nerf is needed, and let people decide for the rest of the tier if they want to do it that way or finish it the way it was. I’d think the COULD do something like that, because wasn’t the ICC buff optional? But, as you said, they also had a lore explanation for it. I haven’t seen anything to indicate that there should be a lore explanation for Ragnaros being easier now. That would imply that, from a story perspective, he’s not. That it’s purely mechanics to let people catch up.

      • I think having the nerfs be optional, or even having it be slowly introduced and not “BAM ALL AT ONCE” would indeed have been more acceptable to the vast majority of unhappy raiders. In fact, considering they did this very thing in ICC, I think that’s why this sudden HUGE wave of nerfs was so surprising and shocking.

        I really think this would have been a much better course of action. Gradual nerfs (maybe 10% every 2 weeks or something?), which could easily be explained by the Avengers of Hyjal making headway into retaking the Molten Front and driving back Ragnaros’ forces. Story relevance, raiders who were on the verge of defeating Ragnaros still have time to do so – or at worst, with only a slight nerf, so that it was still a legitimate challenge – while people who were stuck on an early boss can still feel satisfaction at overcoming a challenging fight, rather than getting a pity kill.

  2. Grimmtooth says:

    Fannon’s got some good points, both in the quoted and unquoted material. A lot of is perception, as to how you feel about the changes and nerfs and lore and so forth. I’ve had my say on that point elsewhere and I won’t dwell on it other than to say that your points are equally valid for the exact same reasons.

    Blizzard has a tough job, pleasing so many different play types.

    What did catch my eye was the comment about how Blizz wanted to focus us on the stories. I wish they were as interested in tweaking that as they were raid bosses, honestly. You can’t GET the entire storyline in some of the early zones without the quests going grey. I know they can math. And since they now control exactly how many quests you need to do to get from one hub to the next, they know exactly how much they overshot on the XP rewards. So it would be nice if they tweaked each zone so that you didn’t out-level the story before having to go elsewhere to earn XP. It would be nice to level up AND enjoy the full story rather than have to decide between the two.

    • I agree about the grey quests, but I wonder how much of that they feel they’ve made up for with how quest rewards have been improved. It’s something where I’m not sure how much is my own perception and how much is really “this is still a problem”. I was really surprised when I realized green quests are worth turning in now, because I leveled my hunter in Wrath by skipping around around for the best XP and then had to backtrack for story. Green quests were very NOT worth it, so part of my mind is trained to think that’s still true. I have to remind myself that it’s different now. I didn’t really pay attention to whether or not it’s worth it when they go grey.

      I also think they could have taken the handful of zones they didn’t update/didn’t finish updating, and changed the level range for them instead of abandoning them. I know I read an interview at some point where it was said that they realized they had way more content than people could get through before they outleveled it, so that’s why some whole zones didn’t get changed. Sure, Blasted Lands will take you all the way to 60 now, but even with XP need to level nerfed in Outland and Northrend, the point is that you still end up going back to Outland and Northrend. It would have been nice if they’d revamped those skipped zones to make them fill those levels so you could smoothly quest all the way to 80 and then go into the new zones.

      • Grimmtooth says:

        Or, they could go in and update Outland and Northrend, which they say they want to do but don’t have the resources for – a claim which I can quite believe. Bobby Kotick (CEO of Blizz/Activision) does not strike me as the sort of person that would gladly spring for an entire fourth dvelopment team to tackle new development not directly related to the next expansion, live team, or next patch.

        That in a nutshell is one of my frustrations with the revamp, was that it feels rushed, like in the battle between project management and marketing, marketing won and they shipped before they felt it was ready to.

        Blizzard must be a hella place to work, because a tell-all about working there would be a techy best-seller. :)

  3. Paul says:

    I wasn’t invested in the story, but that wasn’t me doing it wrong, it was the game doing ME wrong.

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