On WoW Classic, OSR D&D and limitations in design.

I’ve recently joined the WoW Classic hype train. I played way back in the day in 2004 from when the WoW beta came out and grinded out a Priest to level 60 for my sins.  I never bothered with any of the expansions beyond sometimes jumping into a free trial to play and realizing the game just wasn’t the same anymore.

Being back in WoW Classic is awesome and it goes beyond the nostalgia tingles.

People actually socially interact with one another, group up and form friendships because the quests are increasingly difficult to do solo and there’s no way to easily look for groups such as a dungeon finder tool. The community is also less hostile and individualistic as a result, since you need others griefing them becomes a bad idea.

The pace is much slower and because you’re forced to explore much of the world slowly,  methodically and on foot the world feels a lot bigger despite being objectively smaller. Entering a new zone feels amazing as you have a whole new land to explore.

Due to leveling being difficult growing in level, even early on, creates a real feeling of accomplishment and growth as you can now can safely wander the long grasses of Mulgore, rather than having to stick to the roads, without worrying about cougars killing you.

Limitations such as bag space, expense of food and water, weapon talents and equipment degradation force you to manage your money and inventory well, play carefully, take frequent stops back to hub areas, and interact with others for support. This furthers the social element of the game as you need to rely on others to get through.

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Lack of a quest finder on the mini-map means you have to read the quest logs which often point you in a physical direction such as ‘North of Thunderbluff’. You can’t just blindly follow the minimap but have to soak in the world or ask for help when lost.

The Horde/Alliance divide feels real as both factions get their unique class of Shaman and Paladin respectively, which is a mystery to the other and are of course denied any communication with one another. PvP is a real danger and because the cost of death isn’t insignificant it makes it a tense experience.

This isn’t a case of rose tinted glasses, these are all quantifiable game elements that are missing from the retail version of the game which despite having vast quantities of content and slickly designed mechanics doesn’t have the ‘world’ part of World of Warcraft anymore.

In terms of game design most of these elements on a surface level are not ‘fun’

It’s not ‘fun’ to have to slowly walk around everywhere. It’s not ‘fun’ to not be able to do quests by yourself. It’s not ‘fun’ to have to manage resources such as food, water and bag slots. It’s not ‘fun’ not to be able play every class in the game. It’s not ‘fun’ to be forced to socially interact with others in the world to progress. It’s not ‘fun’ to have to read quests and not be able to easily follow them. It’s not ‘fun’ to die easily when you get in over your head fighting things tougher than you or from PvP or pulling too many mobs.

On the surface fixing these ‘not fun’ elements as the retail version does will make the game more ‘fun’, in practice fixing them breaks the game as  when combined together they achieve the goals of making the world feel large and expansive, forcing players to socially interact with one another, creating a real sense of danger in the world and as a result a genuine sense of accomplishment.

Many of these reasons align with why I enjoy old school D&D games.

Players are forced to work together as a group and gather up the support of hirelings as well which necessities them making friends with NPC’s because the game world is a tough and hostile one. Players can’t simply rely on being able to easily kill everything they meet as the world isn’t balanced around them. Players have to roleplay interactions and can’t just roll their persuasion skill to do so as it doesn’t exist, they have to actually talk with NPC’s and come up with ideas. Players have to manage their food, light, water and inventory encumbrance. Players have to play smart and carefully as death can occur easily. Players have to slowly map and explore the world, hex by hex, and sticking to roads becomes a meaningful choice as it means avoiding the horrors of the wilds. Dungeons have to be mapped out lest players become lost and confused in the darkness.

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All this combined means that a real sense of accomplishment is created when goals are actually achieved as players know they’ve had to work for it within the limitations of the world and game system.

Again many of these old school D&D elements are not ‘fun’ on a surface level and as a result have been scoured from modern versions of the game but that has also meant modern versions of the game are fairly shallow and hollow experiences that lend themselves to individualistic power fantasies rather than a group game of exploration and adventure.

Therefore we have a good lesson to be learned, in design the tyranny of fun can become a dangerous one to adhere to, it falsely promises a better experience but forgets that accomplishment and creativity emerge from limitations.

As an aside I’m Esus, Tauren Warrior, on Skullflame if any of you nerds wanna join me. 🙂

 

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