The wife and I finally decided to return to Azeroth. Seeing as how I’d heard such wonderful things about the new starting areas of each of the new races, we rolled up both goblin and worgen pairs and set about experiencing the new world…
Are you from Jersey?
The latest affront, at least to me, is the new goblin race. Back in the original game and into the Burning Crusade (after which I stopped playing), goblins were portrayed as sort of the used car salesmen of Azeroth. If they were set in the Star Trek universe they’d be the Ferengi. With the new starter zone, it appears the goblins originate from the shore — The Jersey Shore. Perhaps I missed it in the various updates since I left, but at some point the goblins of Azeroth have turned into guidos. And while the actual meat of the story of the volcano on their home island and the escape isn’t bad, the whole thing is laden with bling and silliness to the point of distraction.
To top it off, they committed, what is to me, the ultimate sin in MMOs and that is imposing story on my character. One of the strongest elements of an MMO is how I pick a race and a class and I get the bare bones of a back story to tell me something of the home town I’ve chosen and how someone of my class becomes a member of my class and from there I can do anything I want with it. But in Kezan, Blizzard tells me who my friends are and my girlfriend (if you are male you get a girlfriend, if you are female you get a boyfriend, so basically they also give the finger to anyone of anything other than heterosexual leanings) and numerous other details. Sure, I can choose to ignore it and pretend it never happened, but I suspect that there will be times in the game where I do quests that will call back to my time in the starter zones.
As an added bonus, don’t bother trying to actually play with any other people during your life in Kezan or the escape. Being grouped with even just one other person makes the whole thing play bizarrely as you take turns phasing in and out on each other, interacting with NPCs the other can’t see, driving around in your individual cars because you can’t ride together… it really is designed to be a single player experience. The only way to enjoy it is to not fight it and accept the fact that Blizzard is telling you, “Welcome to our MMO! We have millions of people playing! Now… please play by yourself for the next few hours.”
A Cat in a Hat, sure… A Dog in a Hat?
After both of us being thoroughly annoyed at the lame comedy of the goblins and the incredibly poor multiplayer experience (yeah, we did the whole goblin bit as a duo, which was just stupid) we decided to make some werewolves next, and to go it alone.
The worgen area is not without its puns, but thankfully they are back to the more subtle variety and aren’t beating you with a club screaming “I’m funny! I’m funny! Laugh, dammit! Laugh!!” It takes a far more serious and somber tone. It’s a more gripping story, and proof that when Blizzard tries they can write really good stuff… it’s just a shame they don’t try very often and the result of a good solid story like this is that it will stand in stark contrast to the bulk of the game.
Playing alone clearly is how this was designed and it worked very well, even though we were playing the same thing simultaneously the simple act of not being grouped solved all the technical weirdness we experienced on our goblins. It isn’t without it’s problems, though. One of the two hiccups we experienced was when the game allowed the wife to phase into the same phase I was in during the town attack, after the attack had started. She missed most of the action, running through mostly empty streets with no indication of where to go except by me saying things like “I think we turned left there”, only catching up to us as we fought Sylvanas. The other hiccup was shortly after when a dozen people started the next quest where we were supposed to follow a worgen to the cathedral, but a number of us couldn’t see him and had to abandon and restart the quest to fix it.
The worgen vehicle missions were also a lot easier to do, especially since they didn’t involve you driving cars on elevated roads using horribly jerky controls. Overall, it just flowed more smoothly, and most importantly to me they didn’t impose anything on my character that didn’t derive directly from the story. When I transitioned from starter area to the night elf city, I did so with a nice solid history of how my race came to be where it is with no baggage at all, free to continue my character’s story any way I like. I suppose it also helps that the setting is much more appealing to my sensibilities. There is a very Jekyll & Hyde, old London feel to the story that suits the whole werewolf bit like a glove. I rather think I would enjoy playing an entire game in that setting. But I digress.
Is this the end?
Now, having played through both of the new race starter single player campaigns, I’m fairly certain that I’ll never do it again. The advantage to this design is that it is a newbie area that doesn’t diminish as it ages. Old design starter areas eventually suffered when players couldn’t complete certain quests due to a lack of people to fight elite mobs. The disadvantage here is going to be sameness.
Personally, when I play single player games, I play them once. Then, if there are achievements or something to unlock, I might play through a second time, or replace certain segments. After that, I’m done, and the game collects dust. When I play MMOs and create new characters, I always delighted in fighting quests I hadn’t done before. WoW actually helped with that for a while when they sped up leveling but still had eleventy billion little quests, thus causing you to outlevel an area and be forced to abandon quests to take up new, level appropriate ones. But now, if I were to make another goblin or worgen, I’m faced with the knowledge that the first few hours of the game will be identical to my previous experience. There is only one story for each race, and you have to play it. There are no divergent paths, no quests you didn’t see last time, no event you didn’t experience. People keep telling me that by making a new player area that doesn’t need other people the game is more “alt friendly”, however from someone who usually makes dozens of alts this new design actually makes me never want to create alts. I mean, what’s the point? It’s going to be exactly the same.
On the other hand, by creating a single player experience, I suppose Blizzard has made it so that I can memorize the fastest possible path through the starter zones to get to the real game. Or perhaps in a future patch they’ll just allow me to skip it and create a level 12 character from the start.
Unfortunately, with the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic‘s reported focus on story, I suspect this sort of shared single player experience is on the upswing. I’d much have preferred for Warhammer Online to have done better and set the new standard, where people were grouping (open groups) and PvPing fresh out of character creation. Perhaps Rift and its polish level can turn the tide a little toward open socialization and away from solo play.