Complete Disengagement – But Why?

Here’s the thing – you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been completely silent for a while. I’ve been silent on the forums, this blog, and I honestly haven’t signed into WoW for about 3 months outside of here or there for a few minutes.

Why? Because I’m almost completely disengaged from the game. I always have a period of downtime between expansions, but with Mists it’s been pretty severe. An entirely new content patch was released and I still haven’t really signed on to take part in it.

In the meantime I’ve been playing other games. Animal Crossing, free to play MMOs, and I’ve especially delved into Final Fantasy XIV.

Throughout it all I’ve thought back to WoW and all I can wonder is why? Why did I lose interest so quickly? Mists of Pandaria was, arguably, one of the best expansions in terms of mechanics improvements. It had great, regularly updated content. Pet battles, farming, LFR improvements and now flex raiding…but why don’t I care anymore?

The argument can be made that I’ve grown out of the game, which is entirely possible. But I’ve been playing pokemon games with the exact same mechanics since I was a kid. I love Blizzard games. It’s why I’m going to blizzcon. So I can understand growing out of it to a point where I still log in to chat with guildmates, etc. but I’ve gone from semi-interest to “I’d rather go wash some dishes instead.” I still love talking about WoW on twitter…but why don’t I like playing it?

I’ve wracked my brain lately trying to figure out what about Mists was making me so disinterested. Now that I’ve thought on it, I have all these colorful swirls of half-created ideas and reasons floating around in my brain, and I’m going to try to put them to paper to explain my feelings.

Even though I was bored with Cata mechanics-wise, I was still very engaged in the storyline up until Thrall took over at the end. The world was literally about to end in a flash of fiery old God magic. Yeah, I was sick of my 85 sitting there with nothing to do, but I was hooked up until the very end of the expansion on just the storyline itself.

Fandral betrayed me, so I stuck around to see him die in Firelands. Deathwing was an omnipresent threat, and the heroic dungeons that accompanied dragon soul really pushed that home. There was such rich storyline everywhere I looked. Is that what kept me playing? I’m starting to think so.

Mists of Pandaria did not have a bad storyline. It had amazing writing and art associated with it. Here’s where things start to get murky in my explanation, because these thoughts are still all jumbled and muddied together.

We, as players, knew from the outset of the expansion that we were essentially going into Pandaria – a completely unspoiled land – to cause complete and utter chaos. From the very start I was uncomfortable with that key plotline. I want to be heroic, I don’t want to help unleash a Sha that destroys a decade’s worth of work for Yu’lon’s reincarnation. I don’t want to be a driving force behind Pandaren from the Wandering Isle turning their backs on their own people. That feels…gross. I can attest that throughout the questing in Pandaria, save for a few areas like the Dread Wastes, that I kept completing quests and kind of side-eying my computer at the resolutions I was given.

“Oh um…defeated this enemy, I guess…but the entire village was destroyed in the process and lots of people died…”

WoWface

(True story I made this exact face at least 50 times throughout my time playing MoP.)

We’ve gone to Draenor to defeat the remnants of the legion. We went into Northrend to battle the undead scourge and plague. We defended Azeroth from an aspect drunk on corrupted power. And now we went into an absolutely beautiful uncharted land to…despoil it.

And we did. We despoiled the heck out of Pandaria.

The other major draw to the Mists expansion was the Pandaren themselves. A race of gentle, balanced folk who treasure ideals of family, unity, and peace. They were pretty awesome but…and I feel bad saying this…a little boring.

I read the book about Vol’jin. It tried to hammer home the point of Taran Zhu and the Pandaren being a serene, balanced race so hard that I struggled to get through certain parts of the book. We get it. They’re awesome, ascended people who can fight with the grace of a lotus flower. Taran Zhu can kick a Zandalari troll’s head off without a single piece of fur being out of place. Chen is super lovable and haughty and knows how to throw some punches! Haha woo! He also makes good beer! Did I mention beer? BEER BEER BEER BEER BEER. There’s a whole lotta beer cause Pandaren loooove beer!

That’s not a bad thing, but it gets very repetitive and monotonous when it’s all you get for a 2 year expansion period.

When you look at the key characters that came from the Pandaren race you get people like -

Taran Zhu: It seemed like the overwhelming consensus among my friends was that we all strongly disliked Taran Zhu. The guy was a smug, self-superior xenophobe that was ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE. The really crappy thing is that he was completely xenophobic from the outset and WE PROVED HIM RIGHT. He never had his, “I was so wrong.” epiphany moment because we went in with every single faction stereotype blazing and lived up to all his negative expectations. Cool beans. No character growth there, no satisfaction, just a bland annoying character.

Chen Stormstout: It’s hard to find negatives about this guy because it seems like he was purposely written not to have any. That should say it all.

Emperor Shao Hao: We got to see his transformation into the full embodiment of Pandaren ideals. He banished all of his negative emotions except pride, and hoped that his legacy would live on in the Pandaren people. It did. If there’s one thing Mists of Pandaria hammered home to me, it was a complete lack of emotion on the side of the Pandaren.

Maybe lack of emotion isn’t the right way to describe it. One of the short stories – “The Blank Scroll” features a lorekeeper that perfectly embodies all the Pandaren ideals. She’s stoic, almost all-knowing, and exists solely to guide the other characters in the story to an inevitable conclusion and lesson.

And THAT is what Pandaria itself, and all the Pandaren are. They were a storyline that exists to lead the alliance and horde, and your own character, to a certain storyline conclusion. And that is one of the problems. That’s about as “on rails” in terms of a game/story that you can get.

The mogu and the klaxxi are absolutely fascinating in concept. In execution it was fairly lacking. The mogu got the, “We are the generic bad guys in this expansion. We exist to fill out your daily quests and an eventual raid.” and the buck kind of stopped there. Lots of little tastes of Titan and Old God lore throughout both the Mogu and Klaxxi stories, but not enough to really let us sink out teeth into it. Why were the Zandalari even there? It’s sort of explained in the book, but not to a satisfying end. They’re there for a daily hub and to fill the first wing of Throne of Thunder, I guess.

I was more interested in the story behind the Twin Consorts or the implications of it than I was in the burdens of Shao Hao.

Wrathion was a shining star in this expansion, so it wasn’t all negative. The guy is an incredibly interesting character, and I can’t wait to see how he handles future challenges.

Another huge problem is that we went into this expansion from the start knowing that Garrosh was probably going to be the big bad. That’s like being handed a book by someone who goes, “Oh by the way, the main character dies at the end.”

At that point, how you get there starts mattering less. We didn’t lose a single major lore character to death this expansion. That could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. There wasn’t as much investment from me because I knew Garrosh was going to be set up as the evil big bad, I knew the alliance and horde weren’t going anywhere, and I knew that any major sense of loss would be handled by sacrificing Pandaria itself instead of losing Anduin or something like that. I knew this as I started leveling my first character to 90. And that was when the Sha of boredom first crept into and took root in my brain.

In a lot of ways, I think the overwhelming amount of spoilers and datamining has destroyed a lot of the magic behind WoW. There are sites and resources dedicated to spilling out as much info as quickly as possible before patches even make it to the PTR. Can these spoilers be avoided? I am honestly going to say that at this point, no, they can’t be. I had a friend on twitter who was desperately trying to avoid being spoiled on the warchief reveal when Garrosh was killed, and she was accidentally spoiled within 2 hours. It only got worse after a few days as more and more people discussed every semblance of the plot from all possible angles.

As players, we’ve caused this problem. We’re our own worst enemy. We strive to be so well prepared and are just so curious about the game, that we remove a lot of the magic behind it by discussing changes/lore plotlines ad infinitum before they’re even in the game. I honestly think this is why Blizzard has started leaning so heavily on the book franchise. It’s a lot harder for book spoilers to be leaked to MMO champion since you cannot datamine a kindle.

Part of why I enjoyed FFXIV was because I picked it up at early release without having played the beta or looking any of it up. It was all new, it was all magical. I can’t expect that from WoW anymore, obviously, but it might be nice if maybe, as players, we can have enough respect for one another that we don’t immediately dish out every new plotline the instant it’s posted to MMO champion.

This also goes for Blizzard. You can set up an expansion without giving away the ending. I absolutely want the lore and quest devs to be involved and answer lore related questions, but going into MoP the way they did was a mistake. We knew at the last Blizzcon about Garrosh. The element of surprise was completely gone, and with it – so was some of the magic of the game.

I don’t know. Like I’ve been saying, it’s really hard to put these thoughts to words. I think I’ve rambled on enough for now. I hope some of what I said made sense. And I truly hope that at some point in the future, the game will captivate me again the way it has for the last 9 years.

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