Review: WoW: Call of the Crusade

Isle of Conquest is Now Available
Isle of Conquest is Now Available

This past Tuesday, World of Warcraft released its penultimate major content patch for this expansion, entitled Call of the Crusade.

The patch features what sounds like, on paper, a really interesting set of new features, including a new raid, a new 5-person instance, loads of new gear, benefits to leveling characters, and so on. The call of this Crusade sounds enticing but is really more than just a dim sounding of the horns of war. It’s rich in lore, but light in content. The new raids are single-room, single-fight affairs. All five raid bosses in the new raid instance will appear one per week for the first five weeks, until the full instance is unlocked. That’s over a month of waiting to see the end of the new raid. A new battleground was added, but no new interesting concepts created therein.

Honestly, it seems as though Blizzard intended to give the endgame community (which now includes more than just 25-man hardcore raiding guilds) a chance to gear up two or three characters per player in preparation for the “ultimate” experiencing of the Icecrown raids and the eventual battle against Arthas.

Love or hate the class changes, but they represent the hardest aspects of this content patch. Most of the changes are geared towards getting players geared and into ever-higher levels of content, of improving the experience of leveling players to get them to high-level content more quickly, and to providing interesting “niche” playstyles for people like twinks, or player-versus-player characters that leave their toons at deliberately low-levels with outstanding gear to compete in restricted brackets of PVP action.

The biggest (and best) changes to the game in patch 3.2 are the ones relating to leveling and gearing. In The Burning Crusade, the prospect of taking a second character from 1-70 and then going through the arduous prospect of long normal instances to get passable gear for Heroics and Karazahn was punishing. Very few guilds got to see all the hard work the developers put in for Black Temple, Mount Hyjal and the Sunwell raids.

Part of the new design philosophy of World of Warcraft is to allow a greater access to the endgame while still preserving some of the “prestige” that is associated with top-level players burning through content. This is a good thing: it allows smaller (10-man) guilds to compete with larger, 25-man outfits while still providing better gear to people taking the time to run the larger raids. But in order to keep slower-moving guilds at the same level of progression as more dedicated groups, there need to be shortcuts to good gear so that entry-level requirements of the new raids can be met.

Enter the new emblem system, where running the same old Heroic dungeons that have been around since launch will provide players with the ability to buy gear almost on par with the normal-mode Trial of the Crusader raids. Coupled with experience-boosting items that can be mailed to lower-level characters, the ability to purchase mounts at drastically lower levels than previously, and the ability of guilds to make quick work of easy raids like Obsidian Sanctum, Vault of Archavon and Naxxramas, and Blizzard has provided guilds a quick and easy way to get alternate characters, new members and the like up to speed in a hurry to run through a quick, arena-style dungeon in order to get decked out in the gear necessary to join in the assault on Icecrown Citadel and the Lich King.

More casual guilds probably won’t have a full clear of Ulduar, let alone complete its hard modes and defeat Algalon the Observer. But this is OK: the new raid, coupled with the possibility of other short raids (more Wyrmrest Temple raids, for example, or another Caverns of Time instance), will provide players with the ability to circumvent the need for a full clear of Ulduar before beginning Icecrown.

The end of this expansion is in sight for all players, and this can only be a good thing. It’s how Blizzard will keep an aging game growing strong for half a decade or more. Between Heirloom items, recruit-a-friend, and battleground/PVP-based leveling, the entire focus of WoW is to get a player in as best of gear as she can, get her to the main action, and give everyone, from the ultracasuals to those chained to their toilet/IV drip/computer chair workstations, a chance to meet Arthas in battle.

0 comments

  1. Despite the general anti-WoW slant which many of our readers are possessed of, it is worthwhile to see the ways in which MMOs are maintaining their userbase.

    Even if one isn’t interested in WoW itself, the lesson can be instructive. Whilst other MMORPGs are folding up shop, despite claims on release that they were WoW-killers, WoW continues to maintain its core userbase. Surely the review above offers some insight into the whys and wherefores of this. It cannot *all* simply be some sort of mental ‘WoW Addiction’, as detractors are keen to say.

    With Final Fantasy XIV in development, and new material just released this week, it will be worth comparing the WoW approach to the way in which the FFXIV Development team intends to release updates and content.

  2. I have been following the FFXIV development process with some interest.

    WoW has become the gold standard for the “old school” of MMO design, building on the Realm/Everquest model by expanding access to high-level content to people that aren’t willing or able to devote large swathes of time to playing a game with others.

    That, I think, is the primary draw of WoW: it allows people to experience the social aspect of MMO gameplay while combining it with an otherwise engaging fantasy action game. Sure, it leaves a lot of RP to be desired in an RPG, but it provides the best cooperative person-versus-computer gaming experience right now.

    The downside to it has always been the relatively high bar for entry if someone didn’t start at the same time as a large group of other players. The game is designed to encourage group play, and on servers with older populations (i.e., more high-level players) grinding through the first 60-70 levels can be a drag. Even at higher levels, most of the players that care about being “good” players (those that take time to understand game mechanics to better improve their playstyle) are in established groups with regular schedules and don’t spend a lot of time “helping” out newer players going through older content.

    That’s one of the reasons I try to make myself available to run people’s groups through old dungeons, sharing the knowledge I’ve gained and helping them get better.

    Final Fantasy XIV seems to have taken this type of play to heart, and is looking for ways to do away with the “time=levels” component by creating a unique fantasy action game where players of all strengths can join together to overcome common objectives. It provides sufficient reward-to-time ratios for experienced players (e.g., if I help out this lowbie group, I can still get a piece of cool new armor!) and allows lower-level players to improve their game. At least on paper. I’m curious to be able to see the full implementation later this year.

  3. I am impressed with FFXIV’s commitment to abolishing the connexion between grinding and levelling, but I wonder how this will be implemented. It is all very well to say, “Levels and Experience will not be based upon quests or killing monsters,” but then it leaves one to wonder what it will be based on. Sheer time spent? Doubtless this will be unveiled later, but I expect the truth will be somewhat different from their grand claims. I fully expect to see XP awards from monsters and quests; though these may not be the entirety of the system, it seems to me they will be included with whatever their ‘new idea’ is to form a hybrid.

    My concern is that deviating too far from the levels/quests=XP concept means straying from one of the core gameplay components of RPGs. Will FFXIV still feel like an RPG; or will it feel more like an action game or a first-person shooter. In TF2, for example, rewards come with time spent (though they originally came from achievements). I honestly don’t think I would like to play a game where the only way to progress would be to spend time, and I am certain SE must realise this. There would be no better way to isolate your casual players.

    I really do applaud WoW for their constant efforts to engage new players, but I think the real problem has never been the game itself, but rather the player base. The seasoned veterans (those groups of serious players) are generally possessed of an elitist attitude and have no desire to assist lower-level players. When they hear about updates like this, they take the opportunity to complain that now other people will have some of the same gear as them without putting forward the same effort. I am reminded of the children in Kindergarten who wanted all of the toys for themselves, even if they couldn’t play with them all at once.

    Blizzard has, in my opinion, never taken a firm enough stand against these players, largely because they make up a sigifnicant portion of the userbase. Rather, the response is always a coddling, “Well, you’ve had your mount for the past year whilst these people have not, so think of that as the bonus for doing that hard work.” Were it my company, I’d say, “Look, giving it to them doesn’t change what you have. We’re going to continue to develop new stuff and find ways of engaging new players. If you don’t like it, feel free to leave. Bye-bye!”

    …Really I just hate elitists, and I find that MMOs (and online gaming in general) are full of such people, who seem bound and determined to make sure no one else is having fun unless they approve of it. I’m glad Blizzard is annoying them.

  4. I think the response you desire from Blizzard has been coming with each successive update in the 3.0 era.

    It has been my experience that the largest complainers within the WoW community have always been pretenders to the “hardcore” throne. At the very least, the big community members (like Cider and Lore at Tankspot, or Matticus for the healers, etc.) don’t seem to be losing enthusiasm for the game or their work in uncovering the mechanics. Instead, the groups you see complaining that things “are too easy now” are people that haven’t even cleared the highest levels of content. They’re more content to gripe than shut up and play (the same is true of any subculture).

    Anything that can be competitive is going to draw man-children that thrive on comparing themselves to others as self-esteem boosters.

    I think that FFXIV’s system is likely going to be time spent accomplishing various tasks will be turned into proficiencies with those tasks (the ever-present “job” system). One of the things WoW did (maybe wrong) was to try and force you to deal with the current level of content. I admit that I often pass on guild runs of lower-tiered content because there’s little “reward’ in it for me. I have a limited amount of online time per week, and I’d like to spend that time doing something to improve my character so that later in the week when the guild relies on me I can perform at an acceptable level.

    If there were some kind of reward I could receive from “mentoring” or helping lower-level characters (like what FFXIV’s Guildleves promise) then this would be a worthwhile exercise for both of us.

    The things I would like to see WoW implement are more things like the Heirloom items which scale themselves to the player’s level. Give a top-level character the ability to deck him/herself out in this level-changing gear and “limit” their level or abilities to the lower level and let them run with lower-level characters. Reward them with a few tokens of a sort that will allow them to eventually purchase top-level upgraded items on par with raid-tier gear.

    Let the elitists go on to whichever latest-n-greatest “difficult” game there is, and let the social gaming world of MMOs evolve.

  5. Hear, hear.

    The idea you mention, of ‘scalable gear’ in concert with ‘level synchronisation’ was implemented in Final Fantasy XI last year to great effect. Though that game is seeing a decline in its userbase (both as an ageing game, and as a game with an announced sequel in development), the ability to allow a player to ‘level-sync’ to play with lower-level friends whilst wearing the same gear made a huge difference and dramatically increased the ease of low-level gaming. Prior to this, the only parties with with the other few noobs, and these were largely a series of party wipes, punctuated by the occasional XP gain.

    I would really like to see such an idea implemented in WoW, though at present it doesn’t seem likely considering that their ongoing push is (and has been) towards making people create new characters for such things.

    I would really like to see a job system in WoW, so that one’s maxxed out L.80 character needn’t be shelved or used only to help others, but could simply ‘change jobs’ to focus on the levelling up without having to fill the maps, complete various ‘utility quests’, buy new gear, level professions, and so on.

    Discussion about WoW is dangerous, as it makes me want to play it. I must remain firm. I’ve sworn off MMOs until FFXIV. I WILL BE RESOLUTE.

  6. The level synch is what I had in mind. I think that’s a brilliant idea. But more than that, however, I think there needs to be a “reward” for vet players that do it, “mentor points” or something like that, which can be used to purchase high-level gear. After all, getting in “good gear” to be able to see higher and higher levels of content (because each level of raiding is a gear-check) is the focus of endgame. And once you’re 2-3 tiers into an expansion, it’s daunting to new characters and harder and harder for veterans to take time away from their progression to get others caught up.

    I think that, combined with a “hybridization” job system would be something WoW should implement in the next expansion, when levels rise to a ridiculous 90. Even offering people a “free” level 58 character (like the hero class) isn’t enough. My DK is sitting at level 63 with no discernible chance of getting higher because I spend my limited time online raiding on my warrior.

    What I would like to see is the ability to give my warrior “hybrid” capabilities as range or magical DPS or healer in addition to its current tanking/melee roles. I could do a long quest chain that would allow me to use some priest or paladin healing spells, for example, so that I could easily heal a lower-level instance if necessary. I could never replace a dedicated raid healer at the highest levels, but if I had some friends that wanted to do a quick heroic and needed a healer, it could be done. Or, if we’re in the middle of a raid and suddenly we’re at a fight where one more ranged DPS would be useful, I could use an item to grant me “mage-knight” powers and I’d get a few ranged DPS spells I could use. I’d have to swap out some of my gear for caster plate, put on a caster shield and sword, but then I’d get a few decent spells.

    The complaint is that we’d be “homogenizing” classes even more (and to some extent this is true) but it creates greater flexibility in raids and, I would argue, provides a much truer RPG experience (a la a fighter taking mage feats in a D&D campaign).