Thursday, November 25, 2010

Troll overengineering

Quests in World of Warcraft have come a long way in the last six years. While most quests in vanilla WoW were of the “kill 10 foozles” variety, with a few FedEx quests and rare escort quests thrown in, we now have scripted events, phasing, NPC interactions, vehicles and even mini-games in quests. That is a huge improvement, and questing has become a lot more fun over the years. The Shattering brought many of these improvements to the old level 1-60 zones, in an effort to improve the new player experience. Having said all that, I must nevertheless question the wisdom of using some of the most complicated quest technologies in the level 1-5 new troll starting area.

Now for a veteran, rolling a new troll character is fun; and the facts that trolls are now able to become druids, and not every Horde player wants to play a cow as druid, has led to a newbie zone full of troll druids. Far from being the usual fare, the new quests have you collecting a posse of baby raptors using a whistle, lasso an ultra-fast raptor mob and get a taste of riding, get a NPC druid friend/henchman named Zuni to help you through a dungeon full of nagas, and help the leader of the trolls Vol'jin to kill his nemesis, the Sea Witch, during which fight your friend Zuni tragically dies. But while these quests are interesting to veterans, they are often badly described and confusing to new players. For example the quest text for the final battle against the Sea Witch tells you to kill that witch, but as she had 600k health and you are level 5 that isn’t actually your role in that fight. Instead you battle low-level “manifestations”, and extinguish three braziers, none of which is listed in the quest text or the objectives in the quest tracker. You do this quest by *not* doing what the quest asks you to do. Furthermore many of the new quest texts were not very precise with directions. As a result the general chat in Durotar was full of players asking about this and other troll newbie quests, being unsure what to do. That is not the new player experience that would persuade a larger percentage than the current 30% to get past level 10 in the free trial.

So after playing a troll warrior to level 7, I created an orc mage to see how the old orc/troll starting area had changed. Except for introducing the orcs vs. humans lore aspect earlier, and grouping the first mobs to kill closer together, the orc starting experience was basically unchanged. Mostly kill quests, a quest to collect cactus apples, and one quest to hit lazy peons with a cudgel to get them to work. Simple, but still fun. The only depressing thing about it was to see in direct comparison how much WoW is skewed against melee now, and how much Blizzard still hates warriors: The mage at levels 1 to 5 was easily twice as powerful as the warrior in that level range, killed mobs with two shots, and got the more interesting and universally useful abilities at levels 3 and 5, while the warrior at those levels got only abilities that can be used only once per combat (Charge and Victory Rush).

So while I very much welcome added quest complexity and a Plants vs. Zombies mini-game in Hillsbrad, I think that for new players at least levels 1 to 5 should have remained simple, like the orc starting area is now, and not overly elaborate, like the new troll starting area. The troll newbie experience is simply overengineered, showing off all the new bells and whistles Blizzard added to their arsenal over the years, but somehow misses the basic purpose of a newbie zone when it comes to really new players.

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