Back in World Of Warcraft after many, many years away from Azeroth in our new Inventory Space video series, I’m surprised at how disjointed the new player experience has become. Sure, Blizzard streamlined the start of the game, but in doing so, it was nearly impossible to pin down my sense of belonging to the world. As Blizzard creates new spaces for new regions and races with each expansion, I wonder: has the game gotten too big? Or in other words: am I unable to grasp how vast it is getting?
The new player experience in WoW is very different from what I remember. Back in my day you’d pick a race, like Human for example, and start your journey in Elwynn Forest going after Kobolds for their candles. As you slowly progressed, quest givers would push you towards the small town of Goldshire. Here you will get a base in professions, maybe fish in the nearby rivers or search for iron ore veins for that relaxing tinkle. And as your confidence grew and you took down an enemy that sported an intimidating gold border for the first time, you would graduate into the dusty fields of Westfall.
You are now encouraged to choose Exile’s Reach, a new fast, fast and simplified starting island. It’s a showroom filled with WoW’s hippest quests, like ones where you slam a giant boar through armies of ogres, or mutate animals with a gnome-designed zapper. It’s all tied together by a bespoke storyline that culminates in an NPC-guided instance where you’ve slain a dragon! Yes, there are basic fetch quests, but even those are punctuated with voice lines (I know!) and weird cutscenes (huge!). In all honesty, it’s great publicity for WoW’s progress over the years.
But if you follow the flow of Exile’s Reach, you quickly lose track of your place in Azeroth. You bounce back to Stormwind after spending 20 minutes there, before being transported across the ocean to the Dark Isles of Kul Tiras. Time flies and you level up to 15, 20, 30 at lightning speed. Gold will positively fall from your pandaren pockets, when you purchase a mount and then learn to pilot your own gryphon. Head into town and there are portals that take you to many of the major towns in the game. Not once has anyone offered you a chance to tackle a dungeon; maybe it’s buried in the menu?
“No matter where I was, I understood my place in Azeroth”
I know I know. I could play WoW Classic for that delicious vanilla flavor, or choose Elwynn Forest as my starting area instead of Exile’s Reach. Even still, I think normal WoW retail has become a disjointed experience that’s more concerned with shuttling me into daily max-level quests, than fitting me into its rich history. But with expansions and regions in the wazoo, I don’t know if Blizzard knows how to pull it all together in a package that’s all-encompassing but doesn’t take you hundreds of hours.
Do not look at me ! I have no idea how Blizzard can fix a fractured Azeroth. Maybe, just maybe, it needs to shape its world and systems by forcing players onto a stable path, rather than building a highway through many of its forgotten areas. I say this because Final Fantasy XIV does not allow you – without spending money – to bypass its story as a new player. You’re bound to commit to its beginnings and methodically work your way through its expansions one by one, so by the time you’ve reached the endgame, you know exactly how you got there. This approach doesn’t come without a major caveat, though: the early parts of FF14 are slowwww, to the point where it can be actively off-putting for folks who want to reach for the more modern, engaging stuff.
Yet WoW has lost the sense of adventure it so brilliantly captured. And I think that’s because Azeroth at the time was the perfect size, with regions that I learned to understand deeply, to the point where I could trace a mental route through its areas with relative ease. No matter where I was, I understood my place in Azeroth. I knew the chasm between Alliance and Horde members, and where their battle lines were drawn. Things were harder back then like earning money and traveling – heck you couldn’t get a mount until you were level 40 and had 100 gold to spare which was a effort to scrounge together at the time. Without a mount, you were forced to run between areas or use public transport (Gryphons and Airships) to get around.
But I wouldn’t say the difficulty of the game translated into frustration. On the contrary, it forced the interaction of the community and marked many of its dirt tracks in my memory. I vividly remember spawning “LFG Scarlet Monastery” in the dungeon finder portion of the chat, swiping through a bunch of randoms, and riding my ram through several areas to tick it off. Here is a video that illustrates how you will learn the lay of the land and the seamless nature of it all.
Azeroth is a sea of bolts today, with many of the game’s oldest – and arguably best – areas bypassed by Blizzard’s streamlining. And because it’s so huge now, with so little emphasis on your own adventure, it’s impossible to wrap your brain around it all. Somehow the world of WoW has grown so large that it feels less expansive as a result.
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