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.