BlizzCon has come and gone. The MMO news sites and blogs are full of information and analysis. Even Yahoo put a new story on its front page about the costumes of BlizzCon.
In a way, I wish I had subscribed to BlizzCon on DirecTV. Even though I was busy this past weekend and probably would be just now starting to watch the whole thing, there is a dramatic difference between reading bullet points and second hand analysis and actually hearing the devs in question talk about their product.
On Pandas and Reactions
One of the things I do not get is the people who have posted comments all over that they do not get the negative reactions to the whole Panda thing. The responses I have read pretty much boil down to two talking points.
- Pandaran were already in the lore
- There are already talking cows in game, so how can you get mad about pandas?
The first covers the Kung Fu Panda similarities and, while technically correct, you would have a tough time convincing me that we would be talking about pandas in WoW if the original movie had bombed and never been heard from again. No, nobody is going to let that connection go. In fact, I am going to point out that Jack Black was the musical guest at BlizzCon 2010 AND is the voice of said panda of the Kung Fu, so it is obviously a conspiracy. Blizzard got him drunk and he spilled all the Kung Fu Panda secrets.
So if you think you are going to make a point or hold the line against ignorance, you can go stand over in the corner with the Warhammer Online fans who are still saying, “No, Blizzard copied Warhammer,” and see how well that plan ends up. Do you want to be those people?
The second point though comes across to me as an almost willfully obtuse denial of what people are really reacting to. What these responses ignore is that on the scale of adorable cuteness, pandas are off the meter. They are like nuclear bombs of cuteness.
Nobody looks at a tauren and goes, “Awww, how cute!”
The World Wildlife Fund did not pick the panda as its logo because pandas are the most endangered species ever, but because they knew people would put WWF stickers on their cars just because they have a cute panda on them.
And it is that cuteness, that almost sickening saccharine level of adorableness that is putting people off. Nils did not delete all his characters because Blizzard introduce another anthropomorphic animal race, but because the thought of playing in a world with happy, fat, martial arts pandas made him want to run away screaming.
It is Blizzard’s playing of the very obvious “cute card” that irks some. Even I winced and the thought of pandas, and I play Pokemon. Have you seen some of those Pokemon? There are some that are clearly out of a genetic research lab looking to exploit some sort of cuteness gene.
But to top pandas in cuteness you would have to introduce a race of adorable fuzzy kittens that randomly spouted LOL Cat quotes. I am not sure that current technology could correctly transmit that much cuteness and it might all become some sort of grotesque Terry Gilliam stop-motion animation… which would actually be pretty cool… hrmm.
Anyway, in the end, pandas do not really matter. The Warcraft lore has been full of such silliness since day one. A few people will gag on the idea and go away, but most players will get over it and feel equally happy with both the fact of pandas in the game and the reality that they cannot be druid.
Of Pokemon and Pet Battles
I am not sure where I stand on this one.
I think I will like this a lot, but only if it feels organic to the game. Letting me use my already fabulous array of companion pets is a good start. If I am going to be able to go out into Azeroth and hunt for new and different pets with my characters, so much the better.
My worry is that pet battles are going to going to end up feeling like Legends of Norrath, a completely different game that you happen to be able to play within WoW. If I feel like Blizzard needs to develop a stand-alone pet battle application, it will have failed me.
A new class. What is not to love?
Simplified Talent Trees
Here is where I am probably going against the grain, but I really do not like talent trees.
Talent trees… or AAs or traits or whatever your game of choice calls then… they either matter or they do not.
If they matter, then you are setting people up to fail, because the only way they can matter is if you set the content up to make them matter.
And I will point out that I have lived this whole success/fail thing based on spec. The instance group, which was kind of throwing together its talents based on whim and what looked neat, ended up having a really tough time finishing off late Burning Crusade instances in WoW until somebody suggested we rethink our specs.
So we went out, did the research, found the “right” build for each of us. After that, the only problems were whatever tricks a given instance had to try and trip people up. If it wasn’t the “I win” button, getting the right spec was the path to easy mode, to speed runs, and doing three instances in a night.
I know, boo hoo, let the noobs suffer if they cannot find Elitist Jerks, but I resent the need to go out of game to get information required to succeed. And I resent talent trees being an ever changing (for Blizzard at least) one right answer puzzle. But most of all I resent Blizzard for tuning encounters to a spec, and then turning that back a notch so it didn’t feel like a challenge, just a dance routine to learn and repeat.
On the other hand, if you make a talent tree that does not matter then why waste my time? If you make the content so that you can forget to spend your talent points and still succeed, which is how a lot of the re-done 1-60 Azeroth instances feel. And, of course, by that point we were spending our talent points for the optimum build, so there was almost no challenge to them.
And all of this is also me feeling both a nostalgia for EQ and MUDs, where you picked a class and you got what that class was and nothing else, along with the MUD days of choosing stats up front that would forever rule the destiny of your character. There was always going to be a stat that you were low on, the stat roller required that. Choosing which stat you were forever going to be looking for on equipment was important and you couldn’t go back and re-spec.
So a simplified spec tree seems like a good deal to me, as long as they take the opportunity to weed out the bad choices. My measure for success on this is if, when this goes live, there isn’t an immediate and obviously correct answer as to which mage spec sucks. Because up to this point, one of the mage spec has always been the poor relation. Fix that, and it will be a winner in my book.
Unless, of course, they fail to make the content fit the optimum spec. And they will.
What Really Matters
When Mists of Pandaria comes out, I am sure I will buy it. I am sure I will roll a panda monk like everybody else who plays. I am sure I will fiddle with the pet battles and admire the new talent tree.
But pandas, pet battles, and talent trees can all get thrown under the bus and not kill this expansion for me.
What will kill it is not being fun.
The expansion had better be fun and engaging and funny and have stuff for me to do solo along with a hell of a lot more stuff for me and my pals to do as a group.
And I am not sure Blizzard can manage that, because to do that would require a re-think of a lot of the things that were changed in Cataclysm.
So sure, they can make a better 1-20 experience for the Pandarian, and a monk class that is a new experience, and some pet battles to entertain us at quiet moments. But after level 20, it will still be the same post-Cataclysm Azeroth, with solo focused content and too-easy instances tuned to incompetent dungeon finder groups.
And the rest of they key new content will be 86-90. As cool and as interesting as the 81-85 zones were in Cataclysm, I never hit level 85. I got bored playing solo. I never saw one of the instances. At the time you had to find the instances before you could access them, and the quest lines never seemed to get me to one.
So there might be some nice new group content, but would I even have the wherewithal to get through Cataclysm just to find it and join in?
Which brings me back to wishing I had seen some of the BlizzCon panels. I always find there is more to be taken away when you have heard people who are working on a project present it than by just reading the details as transcribed by someone else. I might have a better feel for what is in the expansion for me if I had seen them speak.
As I said I will no doubt buy the expansion. I will play.
But will I stay?