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In Darkest Knight

Where once I set to any new World of Warcraft information, such as this fresh bag of facts about the new Death Knight class, with the hopeless hunger of a hardcore Star Wars fan hearing there’s to be a novel about the secret origin of Moff Tarkin or something, now I only pick up stuff about patch content and the like in passing. I react in the same way I would to hearing about an old crush who I eventually learned wasn’t terribly interesting. Got a new haircut, has she? Yeah, I suppose she would make quite a good primary school teacher. A belly-button piercing? Really? With her stomach?

I am so over WoW, and have been for around half a year now. In retrospect, I blame the Burning Crusade.

While it was big and beautiful and thoroughly devoured all my spare time for several months, I think it also broke what I loved about Warcraft. Because everyone just ferried off to the same areas en masse as they climbed up the level ladder, and after that to the same instances and battlegrounds, there wasn’t much room for exploration and wild adventure. No tales of “did you hear about the two-headed ogre on the other continent?” “Have you done that quest with the hallucinogenic potions?” In WoW vanilla, at least for its first year, higher-level players were like seasoned sailors returning from far-flung corners of the uncharted ocean. Here be dragons, yetis and murlocs. None o’that now. Just one big sightseeing bus that everyone gets on together, receiving a stamp on their souvenir passport at each stop.

And so the numbers took over. With the simple joy of being in another world evaporating fast, the snobbish statisticians inhereted the game. In Outland, you’re defined only by the damage per second of your weapon or mana buff of your chestpiece. I had a miserable time in my last month or so, the Guild I was in pestering me to do this, upgrade that, attune for this place. Improve Those Numbers. It’s exactly what people want, of course. The days of a steady stream of new players are, I suspect, over as a result though. WoW’s no longer famed for its accessibility. It’s famed for the obsession of its players. While the mainstream press will cry that this obsession is something to do with avoiding reality or killing things in obscene numbers, actually it’s just about watching the numbers go up. It’s a remarkably overt way of feeling like you’re achieving something, which is why people get so hooked.

I’m not stupid enough to think I’ll never go back. It’ll happen, inevitably, with the next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, and already dull sparks of interest are flickering in my jaded brain. I’ve been reading this discussion of the new Death Knight class on the official site (one of those faintly hilarious promotional pieces that pretends it’s journalism but it is really some guy answering his own questions), and where it talks about the importance of having another Tank class is where I leant forward to listen more closely.

One of my WoW problems is the rigidity of the group you need for an instanced dungeon. Gotta have a warrior, gotta have a priest, gotta have a mage. This made being five adventurers going off to vanquish evil incredibly difficult, as you ended up hanging around waiting for the right class to join your group, ignoring myriad requests from other folk, desperate to play but who didn’t fit the precise requirement. Sorry to bring it up again (especially as I’m not actually suggesting WoW change to be like it, which would be insane – I’m just making a point about how it affects the experience), but as I strongly suspect it’s going to be my game of the year, I can’t help but refer to Team Fortress 2 here. Need a medic or an engineer or a spy? Someone can just change to one, right there. No waiting, no begging, no losing horribly required.

The new Death Knight class means there’s a wider choice of tanks, and thus potentially more hope of finding a balanced pick-up group. “The design balance we’re aiming for is one where all the tank classes are equally good at tanking in general so that you can use whatever tank you happen to have for five-player content, but at the same time we want tanks to be clearly distinct so they excel in different ways in various raid encounters,” says the ‘World of Warcraft design team’ in the ‘interview’ (what, multiple mouths speaking in one freakish chorus?). “So our goal is to make the death knight a viable, fun tank that coexists with the current tanking classes without replacing them. Keep in mind that even though the death knight is a hero class, that doesn’t mean it is more powerful than the other classes, just that it will offer a very different playing experience.”

Promising. I just hope it means I have more chance of dropping occasionally into the game and having some fun, rather than having to play hour in, hour out in the hope that fun just happens to come along.

Edit – just found this recent interview with Blizzard’s Chris Metzen in which he admits “there was nothing really personal about” The Burning Crusade, and hopes to fix this with Lich King. Ooo. But… oh God. Just when I thought I was out…

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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