Saturday, July 12, 2014

BETA :: 1999


Cast your mind back, if you will (or indeed can) to late May in 1999.

Myself, Mr Alt and two friends decide we will fly to the US, to see Episode One of Star Wars on the weekend of release. I still carry those tickets in my handbag after nearly 20 years as a reminder not of the awesome nature of the film, but the lesson that was learnt in the experience. I should probably also confess that I've NEVER seen the movie again since that point. Not once. I walked out of the theatre in Connecticut that we'd picked (as we were staying on Long Island) and felt utterly and totally cheated. The past history of the franchise I had kept as a reference point from my childhood bore absolutely no resemblance to the film I'd seen, and I felt has if George Lucas had failed to grasp a vital point: a story is only great when it engages ALL of your audience. He seemed to have focussed on all the parts of the 'past' that he had an interest in, but nobody else did. As a result, for large portions of the film, I was bored.

Star Wars had never bored me before, and my first response wasn't to blame Lucas. Perhaps it was my fault. Maybe I'd been too enthusiastic about the build up, travelling all this way, perhaps the gravitas of the moment had somehow over-inflated my expectations. Except, in retrospect, the World seems to have agreed with me on my assessment. I suspect that's why so many people are fired for the next set of films because, hopefully, the lessons of 1-3 will finally have been learnt and we're going to get something that truly mirrors what the original movies did in a time when storytelling probably mattered far more than the special effects ever would.

After a decade, it appears Blizzard still haven't learnt some rather important lessons about storytelling either.

Not as Intended.

It is now impossible to enter Draenor without 'playing' the Tanaan Jungle portion of the content to arrive there, which is what I needed to do this morning so I can start a 'clean' copy of the Garrison for some robust testing. I had high hopes when I arrived at the Portal, but by the time I left I KNEW I'd only ever want to do this version of events once. I'm disappointed too with what counts as 'training' for new players and more significantly, after a decade of playing this game, this morning had me sitting at the screen for the first time in ten years of opening content and thinking 'Oh God this is boring, do I REALLY have to do this?'  I wanted to make sure I still felt the same way about what I'd seen after some reflection and so I've been away, come back to my keyboard and concluded that this sequence feel really, REALLY out of place.

Let's now see if we can pin down where the problems actually occur:

  • Bolted On

    Having run through the Garrison 'opening' sequence on quite a few occasions now, I find myself thinking that I have absolutely no invested interest in the Tanaan 'sequence'. I've saved the world so many times now this has become a job, and the 'gravitas' of the situation I am thrown into has very little personal relevance. Whereas the Garrison is very much your individual responsibility, and the onus to construct it is very much in your hands, this 'story' is driven pretty much entirely by acts of NPC awesome (one in particular, no I'm not going to spoil.) The final 'battle' you take part in is yet another 'climb into a vehicle and destroy X things' which we were doing in TBC but back then it was new and exciting. Now it seems like a bit of an afterthought. I have nothing to personally make me care about these races. I have no connection to the struggle they are involved in, save to turn up and be a hero.

  • One Long Battle

    It may not take long in 'relative' terms to compete this and make your way out to 'safety', but there is no real respite between 'fights.' There is no time to paint a picture of the NPC's you are fighting with, no opportunities to create relationships as there has been in previous expansions. Simply throwing in a large number of NPC's that are familiar does not make you have an affinity with them, it's like one of those all-star movies where you can name every actor but have no favourite character because nobody has been written that well. That's where the next point becomes more painfully obvious.

  • No Soul

    The events of this opening sequence left me cold. Focusing on the 'Warlords' isn't dramatic for me, or engaging. It's a continual progression of Orcs with different models, mobs who (presumably) have to die, and finally for me this is where the real lack of soul begins to tell, because I have no connection with these 'people.' It stops being about immersing me in a story as a backdrop and becomes about simply getting out of this phase of gameplay and into the next one. Questing isn't interesting, and is in one place deliberately gimmicky to the point of the gimmick being more fun than the objective of the quest, and that just says to me that the process needs more work. Part of me wants to make my own way through the zone and I am presuming this isn't an option, especially as this is supposed to be 'training' for the 'new' L90's, and that too I have some issue with.

  • The 'Training' Is a Lie
    So, I'd expected an experience that would push players to use their skills in a sensible manner. Perhaps this is not yet totally functional yet, I don't know, but simply rewarding groups of spells as 'reward' for completing a quest? REALLY? How does that make players more competent and how does that teach them to play their class better? From what I can see you're given mobs to kill and (as yet) no indicator of which spells to use, or which abilities are more situational... this is all a bit of a false impression. As this is Beta I am going to assume that some things will change, but knowing the timescales we have, I can't see the sophistication of this system being drastically improved. I'm quite willing to be proved wrong here, of course, but if this is what Blizzard feel is acceptable as training for new players I am really very disappointed indeed.

  • I've Been Robbed.

    Even though I had my reservations with The Jade Forest, and the Pandaria 'ethos' in general, in the wider scheme of things my actions made sense and had a larger sense of importance in those early stages of gameplay. It could well be that the pre-Portal Event is yet to lay a large wodge of expositional justification, I don't know, but I feel cheated with this as my 'escape.' Epic battles do not make things awesome, Blizzard. Killing hundreds of people, destroying thousands of lives, does not have the same impact as one life lost to whom you feel a genuine bond of empathy and compassion. I have no idea how many Orcs I had to slaughter to get out of Tanaan but it didn't matter, and neither did they, and that is a problem. This means I resent the needless slaughter of thousands of lives just to help me escape so I can build a Garrison to destroy the Iron Horde ALL OVER AGAIN. It seems that we have learnt nothing at all from Pandaria, and actually that's where all the issues should have started raising red flags. 

If you take the time to read my work on a regular basis you'll know how much I love what Blizzard does. I have now gotten the opportunity to build a 'new' Garrison and (hopefully) get a lot of broken things working again, which fills me with unbounding enthusiasm. It is, therefore, more than a little depressing that to get to a stage where I am Mistress of my own Destiny and able to actually influence gameplay like never before, I am forced to be reminded just how awful linear progression can be when it is done far below the standards I'd expect from a Blizzard product.

Just goes to show, you can never tell what you'll get in a Beta.


Press K to Craft said...

I think we're still missing pieces of the opening experience. We need a lead in, which will probably be the event in Blasted Lands that prods you into the portal, instead of Khadgar. I think that's why it feels Bolted On right now, it's a middle piece, not the whole event.

For One Long Battle, we're missing the cinematics and transition pieces, but yes more interaction with the other NPC's would be great, even it's canned dialog when you click on them.
No Soul, my biggest issue with this was it felt really small. Seriously all 5 warlords crammed into this small area? How come they haven't beaten them selves to death yet?

Training System - Agreed, it's too short/not enough in depth. Hoping it's just the first pass, the DK starting area was better with how it gave out talents and pieces. But, I've only done this with transferred characters, maybe we need to do this with a fresh boosted 90? Unknown at this point.

Agreed with the last point, maybe the pre-event will get me to care about the expansion, but right now, it feels disjointed and not compelling yet.

Great article, you summed up my feelings so far on this.

Raymond Hafner II said...

So, this isn't a comment about the Blizzard part of the article, but about the Lucas and Star Wars part.

If you've not heard of the Machete order of Star Wars, it might interest you.

arcanewordsmith said...

This is why, for the most part, I try not to read too much of the Beta (except flavour stuff) details or take part. For me it is simply to early to pass judgement be it positive or negative. I would hate to be excited for the new expansion, though, and end up frustrated and annoyed by what the current experience brings.

As you said, some of this will change prior to launch and hopefully enough of it does because it does sound incredibly frustrating. Questing for the sake of questing is definitely not fun, compared to questing with an inviting storyline or emotional connection.

Atanae said...

IMO, the "opening experience" we go through is really intended for players new to 90, specifically it looks like the "training scenario" Blizzard spoke of. If you notice, the rewards are "you learn x spell/talent" along with a number of rare quality gear items - just like the DK start zone. The content is tuned to those unfamiliar with a class (hence why my Druid, which I have played since Vanilla, roflstomped the quests but my Mage (that I rarely payed and is 496 TI geared) has grown quite friendly with the death angel thing.

It may be, for time, EVERYONE goes through this, and maybe the data mined "toggle" allows you to bypass that event (which is highly trivialized if your ilvl is over 510).

I never saw this as a "pre event" but rather the feeder quests that gets you to where the story starts - the "prologue" if you will.

I think the story of Draenor starts the second you land in SMV/FFR.

That said, I think the Tanaan quests need a bit of tweaking. It just seems weird that ALL the Azeroth NPC are just clumped together en masse with one guy leading the way, then inexplicably, half just disappear. The quest chain does feel incomplete - like the major beats are there, and the actual quests are done, but the ambiance needs to be fleshed out still.

Drea B said...

I don't mind the Taanan experience, but I spent my first run through making snarky remarks at the screen, much to the amusement of my husband. So I can't say I'm invested in it, it is just a stepping stone I had to walk over to get into the appropriate starter zone.

I've done it twice, and I can see it will get very old very fast if there is no skip option for alts.

What I found most jarring though was after I'd played through the Taanan jungle and on my goblin and come out at Frostfire Ridge, to find Khadger is with us still and is the one porting in my peons from Orgrimmar. He works just fine as Alliance, but I found him jarring on the Horde side. I also found having Saurfang as my mission co-ordinator guy kind of strange.