Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hopes and fears for exploration in Cataclysm

Among the various new features promised for the upcoming Cataclysm expansion of World of Warcraft, one that interests me a lot is the new archaeology secondary profession. This works supposedly by you searching through ruins and finding "notes" , which then can be combined into "ancient glyphs", which are used to give your character further bonuses independant of the inscription glyph system.

Now according to the Bartle Test, I'm an explorer. So I have high hopes for this new system leading to some real opportunity to explore the lands of Azeroth. Ideally these ruins would pop up randomly all over the world, thus by you running around and looking under every bush and stone, visiting the most remote and least populated places you'd have the best chances to find those notes and artifacts.

But what I'm afraid of is that there will be only a handful of ruin "spawn" points, always at the same locations, and before the expansion is even released we'll have all the coordinates of all possible ruins listed on some website. Or that you don't need to explore to find them, because with the archaeology skill they will show up as golden spots on your minimap, just like herb or ore nodes. Even worse, if there are in the early days far more people interested in ruins than there are ruin spawn points, we'll see half a dozen people standing around the same spot, seeing who can click fastest when the ruin finally pops.

As you can see there is a huge span between my highest hopes and my deepest fears. How can that be? Because if you look at it closer, you will find that feature announcements not really tell you very much. In a press release even a game like Tabula Rasa sounds great, and then it shuts down because in reality it wasn't all that great. Often players think they know what a feature means, but if you look at various implementations of the same feature, lets say "player housing" in Ultima Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Final Fantasy XI and Star Wars Galaxies, you'll have 4 completely different systems which have very little in common. A few lines of text on the official site, like "Archaeology: Master a new secondary profession to unearth valuable artifacts and earn unique rewards." plus some developer words in a blue post or pronounced on some panel during Blizzcon isn't really telling us much about how the new feature will actually work.

And this example is why my blog talks very little about upcoming games and expansions, maybe mentioning various announcements without going too deep into analysis of what was said. I *am* looking forward to various future games, from Cataclysm to Star Wars: The Old Republic. But I don't feel comfortable of saying too much about a game before I haven't even played the beta. Remember the vast network of Warhammer Online blogs which were created before the game was even in beta? Most of them shut down a few months after release, because reality didn't live up to what people had imagined based on feature announcements and developer videos. I can imagine a dozen different systems for archeology in Cataclysm, and still never get the guess exactly right. So why bother with speculation? Safer to wait and see, at least until the beta.

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