Tuesday, October 27, 2009

WoW hunter changed to shooter gameplay

When Blizzard announced Cataclysm, they also announced that the hunter class in World of Warcraft would undergo significant changes, not using mana any more. At the time that bit of news went unnoticed, due to all the other significant changes to the game. But now Blizzard revealed more about the changes to hunter gameplay, and the changes are more significant than we originally thought: Instead of using hotkey abilities with mana, hunters in combat will now change into "aiming mode", with a crosshair in the middle of their screen. Using the mouse wheel they can change between first-person and third-person view. The keyboard selects what kind of shot they want to fire, but the actual firing is done by targeting the enemy with the crosshair and clicking the mouse. The WoW hunter class is being changed to classic shooter gameplay. Apparently lots of people complained that the standard auto-attack plus hotkey combat was too slow, and not really appropriate for the hunter class. So in future a big part of the damage calculation for hunters will depend on how well you aim your crosshair. This is an attempt to modernize World of Warcraft, shooter gameplay apparently is more popular with the younger crowd.

If this piece of fake news fooled you, you're too gullible for the internet. I would have saved it for April fools' day, but we'll probably know too much about Cataclysm already at that date for any fake news about the expansion to be believable.

The reason I wrote this, is to get you thinking about gameplay changes in World of Warcraft and the MMORPG genre in general. You might think changing WoW hunter gameplay to mimic first-person shooters is an outlandish idea. But if we'd find somebody who has played Everquest in 2000, hasn't seen any MMORPG since, and we show him a typical WoW raid combat, he'll probably find the current combat gameplay as outlandishly strange as a FPS hunter. MMORPG combat in general, and World of Warcraft combat in particular, has become a lot faster. Having to make decisions faster and to press buttons quicker than before makes combat harder. So to balance that, tactical aspects of combat have been made easier: Aggro management is a lot easier now than in vanilla WoW, and mana management has become downright trivial for many classes.

Not only don't I like the change towards faster, less tactical gameplay, but also I have a sad feeling of déjà vu. Once upon a time I was happily playing turn-based strategy games, enjoying the gameplay based on interesting tactical decision making. Then real-time strategy games came along, removing a lot of tactical decision making and replacing it by speeding up gameplay. That was a lot more popular with the mass market, and turn-based strategy games disappeared from the main stream. Nowadays they are niche products, made for a small community of grognards, with titles like Europa Universalis or Heart of Iron, which are pretty much inaccessible for the average gamer. Or there is a small turn-based part leading to big real-time battles, like in the Total War series. The best turn-based games nowadays are remakes like King's Bounty, or indie games like Fantasy Wars. The big games from big companies with big budgets are all real-time strategy games now.

So MMORPGs getting faster and less tactical is something that worries me, because I don't know where it will end. Is the future FPS-RPGs like Borderlands transformed into massively multiplayer games? Do you agree that MMORPGs have become faster and faster over this decade, and is this something you like or dislike?

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