Since I started playing WoW again people have been asking me what do I see in that game. Especially since I often mention how I’m not a big fan of MMO’s in general. If you read my video game reviews here, you know that I’m all about immersion and storytelling – things that are usually not associated with MMO games. Why do I keep coming back to WoW despite their crappy customer support and my own lack of enthusiasm for the massive multiplayer style game mechanics. This is an excellent question.
My standard canned answer as of late has been “the random dungeon thing”. You see, I discovered that I can play WoW with other live people without actually talking to them. No, you don’t understand – to me this is brilliant. I just push a button, and I get thrown into a dungeon with 3-4 random folks without the usual pre-instance foreplay bullshit. No hanging around in the town chatting up strangers. No awkward traveling together to the instance location. It is almost like playing L4D only instead of frantically shooting zombies you babysit your cool-down timers. Frantically at times… It is actually a fun multiplayer co-op experience. But that’s not the main reason why I started playing WoW again.
As I mentioned before, I am not the type of guy who is easily impressed or entertained by game mechanics. I love games that have interesting characters, and tell worthwhile stories. WoW doesn’t really have much of that does it? It has characters, but NPC’s don’t usually do any character developments – most of them are just static quest dispensers. It is also not very good at telling stories. Granted, most quests come with the associated background fluff, but it is often hard to treat it seriously when you know that most things you do will have no effect on the game world.
So let’s summarize this:
- Most of the quests in WoW are shallow meaningless and unappealing
- There is no character development and basically no prominent NPC’s you could get attached to
- There is no overall driving plot or story
Why the fuck am I even playing this game?
It’s the setting folks. I admit it – I’m that guy who will sit there and read all the Codex entries in Mass Effect games or Dragon Age. I’m the guy who will actually read the various books in Morrowind and Oblivion. It’s like an addiction. When I find a setting I like, I like to immerse myself in it completely. I think it started back in high school when I discovered pen and paper RPG. I got invited to a game of Warhammer Fantasy RPG by one of my friends, and not wanting to look like a complete n00b I ran out and bought the rule book. I still remember cracking that sucker open – it was a magical tranformative experience. I actually got to explore and learn about a world that did not exist – read about the races that inhabit it, their cultures, religion, customs and beliefs. It was awesome. I ingested the contents of the entire book over the course of the weekend, and was hooked. Similar thing happened when someone lent me a Vampire: the Masquerade rule book. Next thing I knew, I owned several World of Darkness books for systems I wasn’t even going to play, and had a shit-ton of illicitly downloaded source-books.
If you think I’m kidding ask me to show you my Corax source book for Warewolf: Apocalypse. It’s a book that provides rules on how to play a Ware-Raven. And the only reason I have it is the “background fluff”. Most of the people in my gaming group at the time were not very much into WoD (especially Warewolf: Apocalypse setting) , and even if they were I can’t imagine anyone actually wanting to play a ware-birds. But I was like “WTF? Ware-avians? I’ve got to see this”.
The point is that I am a big sucker for that kind of stuff. I own army books for Warhammer Fantasy Battle and 40k for armies I don’t even collect. I have rule books for RPG systems I have never played, and probably never will. Every time I find a setting I like, can spend weeks exploring, reading, researching and talking about it.
And guess what? World of Warcraft is a huge, complex, diverse and interesting place. Every time I visit a new area I see something interesting – and old ruin, a strange race, a new faction that I previously haven’t heard about, etc… Then I go hit the Wiki pages and read up all about it. Everything in the game has heaps of lore associated with it. Lore which was collected from various sources such as the older Warcraft games, the pen and paper RPG rulebooks. It’s all about exploring: I often go out of my way to seek out places I have only read about and visit them in person, or spend hours reading about something I just saw few minutes ago. Granted, the fluff is sometimes shallow, and silly but that is pretty much expected. Even the pen & paper RPG fluff is often kept shallow and vague on purpose – it’s because you are supposed to use it as background information, fill in the blanks yourself and run with it.
That’s why WoW keeps drawing me in. I like this setting – it is silly, offbeat world of fantasy, thinly veiled pop-culture references. It is actually quite interesting to see how Blizzard injects it’s product with all these memes and references, and at the same time inspires fair share of memes and references on its own. That’s also probably why other MMO’s I have tried left me cold. They simply didn’t have a setting as complex and lore-rich as WoW – they didn’t have the expansive and constantly expanding world, the attention to detail, the pages upon pages of collected fluff and the huge community devoted to cataloging, explaining and celebrating every noteworthy tidbit of information about the game.
I’m still not a fan of grinding. Grinding for experience and materials in areas I didn’t particularly enjoy visiting is what made me quit the game the first time around. The lack of plot and story would normally turn me off but I came to a realization that every WoW location, race and NPC has a metric ton of lore associated with it. The world seems shallow and static at first, but once you start reading about it, you realize that there is a good deal of depth to almost everything. Each place has a history, each conflict has a reason and each race has it’s culture, architectural style and flavor. That there was an great amount of research, concept design and thought put into designing this whole world. Granted, you could get most of this lore and flavor without paying a monthly fee – but there is just something about experiencing it yourself.