Wednesday, April 21, 2010

WoW, Cataclysm and the continuity factor

It's beginning to be that time in WoW where we annually lament the affect the good weather has on the end-game.  By that I speak of the "Doldrums".  I'm not entirely prepared to say the Doldrums are beginning this year or that they're in the immediate offing, but last year they started extremely early and the current state of raiding in WoW has me wondering if they might not start as early this year too.  We've been having problems with sporadic raid attendance again lately which has caused a few raid cancellations over the past few weeks.  I'm not entirely sure that even if we hadn't had to cancel those raids we'd be any further along in our progression though.  We're still 7/12 and working on Putricide.

The pervasive progression problems (never finished Ulduar on regular mode or accomplished any of the second half hard-modes, and never finished Heroic TOC-10, and didn't get past the first boss in Heroic TOC-25) has me contemplating my future in WoW at the moment.  I haven't accomplished all my current goals on my two main characters (Paladin and Druid) but I'm mostly biding my time by leveling my Horde Druid.  I'm not sure I have much more in mind with him other than to PVP and do the occasional raid so I fully expect that even pushing forward full bore with him I'll be back in my current state of mind again later in the Summer.  At the end of the day raiding is really the reason why I'm still playing WoW, and as I've come to expect little in that regard I've been casting about longingly looking for alternatives to WoW.  Unfortunately for me none of the others I've tried in the recent past have met my satisfaction.  I've been looking at Age of Conan but I'm not certain I like the combat techniques and given that reticence I haven't been willing to even give it a shot.  Which just leaves SWTOR at this point and that isn't expected until some point next year.  Ignoring all the open questions I and others still have about it.

Factoring into all this is the news trickling out about Cataclysm.  I'm looking forward to Cataclysm and trying to imagine what play will feel like them.  Hard in that we have so few real details but one thing I know I'm definitely worried about is the state healing will be in.  I don't have enough to go on right now, but various comments Ghostcrawler has made about healing have me wondering if healing will actually become factually harder than it is today.  Ghostcrawler has indicated Blizzard wants mana to become an issue for healers and wants to introduce some level of thought into the process.  As tanks will generally have more health and heals will generally do less healing than they do today I'm guessing Blizzard expects some level of coordination amongst the healers in how they heal in a raid environment.  I'm just not seeing how Blizzard will make that easier or alleviate the concerns healers have today - they play an all together different game called whack-a-mole.  As I really enjoy healing, and particularly in PVP, its one of the aspects I'm most interested in.

Most people dislike change, and myself in particularly, but another aspect of consideration is the appearance I've spoken about often regarding Blizzard's lack of long-term planning.  Every two years the game changes drastically.  Core mechanics are added and removed; classes are almost completely redesigned, or at the very least are modified to great extent that it's almost like playing a completely new game.  I understand that developers need to adapt to changing circumstances but from my vantage point what we're seeing is chaos.  Blizzard is purposely developing for Cataclysm in direct opposition to the development they completed for WotLK.  Ghostcrawler couches replies to this sort of question as "changing their minds", but I'm not as certain that what we're seeing is a change of mind so much as what we're seeing is a complete rethinking entirely.

Just look at the Druid and Paladin classes as examples of this.  In Vanilla Druids were essentially healers only.  In BC they became amazing and as healers they were given the terrific new spell Lifebloom.  Lifebloom and Rejuvenation were the primary healing tools used on 5-man runs and raids alike, with Regrowth filling the role of primary go-to heal but also using Healing Touch to some extent.  However Blizzard completely neutered that healing style by nerfing Lifebloom and then greatly increasing it's mana cost so that it could no longer be used as it had during the whole of BC.  Until now it's used only as a niche tool and mostly in PVP.  During WotLK Resto Druids heal primarily through Rejuv and Wildgrowth and using Regrowth or Nourish as the primary heal and never using Healing Touch at all.  With the odd additional spell like Nourish or Regrowth, the tools are largely the same but the way you use them are as different in WotLK as it was in BC when compared to Vanilla.  Now we're being lead to believe that the way Resto Druids will heal in Cataclysm will be completely different again.  There's very little continuity between the expansions and it's just not the one class that this can be said about.  Paladins are in the same boat, but so are most other classes as well.

Ignoring the class continuity issues you can look at the emphasis of the game in general and say the same things.  Blizzard has continuously experimented with end-game development throughout the entirety of WotLK so that the raiding experience has not been the same for more than one tier of content.  As we haven't gotten any detail of how they intend to handle end-game content in Cataclysm we're left to wonder if we can expect the same treatment in Cataclysm or whether we'll actually settle down into a predictable experience.  A lot of people are complaining about the lack of challenge in the current end-game content (clearly they aren't talking to the vast majority of guilds that are seeing that challenge) which has me wondering how Blizzard will address the issue.  Blizzard addressed the mass complaints about end-game raiding in Vanilla by developing content in BC that was somewhat more accessible at the initial stages but then went further by removing key requirements and by eventually developing content in WotLK that is immediately accessible to all and introducing the hard modes/heroic raids as the "real challenge".  I'm seeing as much complaining about the current state of end-game raiding as I was in earlier years.  What a dilemma!  Makes me really pine for some sand-box elements like being able to plop down a fort, take territory, and attack/defend.

And I think that is really what I'm hoping SWTOR will be like.  In WoW you have either instanced PVP (or Arena) and raiding as the end-game content and little else.  If you are like me -- beating your head against content and getting precious little progression to show for it - then you might wish there were other options to waste some hours on.  In WoW there simply isn't and I go through cycles where I become motivated to finish quests I've haven't completed yet or run more dailies or do nothing but PVP.  But on the opposite side of those cycles I sit look for something else to do that simply isn't present.  In SWTOR I'm hoping there is end-game raiding, PVP and a system of world-PVP where we can conquer territory.  Players need a system of progression.  In the case of WoW that is a stark option between PVP tiers or from end-game raiding.  As I'm in that part of my cycle where I'm not getting that and not really motivated to do anything else I can't but wonder if I want to continue on into Cataclysm or whether I seriously need to find something else to do.  SWTOR needs to hurry up and get here!