On Fantasy Part III: World of Warcraft

I was going to wait till I hit my second 60, but its a long and tedious path and I’ve a good bit of grinding to go. Being the last of a three part series (here are one and two), perhaps I can come up with some conclusions. The incentive for this whole thing was to investigate a genre that was taking up most of my time. What are the draws of fantasy? What keeps it strong? How is it evolving?

Whereas the first two entries focused on art of the pen, World of Warcraft is art of the pixel. (read info here)

The art team has done a top job in creating a seamless world – elven forests, dragon-infested volcanic wastelands, snow-capped mountains, shipwrecks, castles, crypts, farmlands and underground cities. The style is deliberately exaggerated, practically cartoonish – evidenced by the bulging biceps and ridiculous shoulder pads. (check out male
tauren in wrath…)

Gameplay has always been Blizzard’s forte. Compared to other MMOs, the actual gameplay is rather fast-paced and exciting (PVP practically too much). There’s a good discussion here on pros and cons of Warcraft’s gameplay.

Grouping – Ever since the Tolkien’s Fellowship ventured into the Mines of Moria, “dungeon crawling” has been a fantasy staple. Blizzard implemented instances so every five or ten-person group can have a fresh zone to hack through. But it’s not all killing. For instance, in Dire Maul, an ancient Elven ruin that has become inhabited by ogres – you can craft an ogre suit. This allows you to trick the Captain of the Guards and send him away. Once you slay the Ogre King, his none-too-bright peons crown you the new King. If you left the Captain alive, he’ll bring you a tribute chest filled with rare items.

Another fun way to tackle instances is in a stealth run. As a rogue (or a druid in cat form), you can sneak through the hallways of the dungeon to assassinate bosses or open locked chests full of treasure. One wrong move means instant death, but its still a lot of fun.

Raiding – It’s a relatively new concept, mostly because the predecessors of MMOs (table-top RPGs and MUDS) didn’t have the population to pull it off. Basically, 20-40 (or more) high level players band together to tackle a legendary monster, such as a dragon. Raids not only require excellent equipment to survive, but players must coordinate and follow complex strategies. The advent of VoIP programs like Ventrilo have helped, along with user interface mods which can programmatically react to the encounter.

One of my favorite raids is still Onyxia, the black dragon of Dustwallow Marsh. Entering her lair requires a long key quest, but after that it’s a relatively quick encounter (~30 mins). The fight starts off simply enough, with a warrior “tanking” her, absorbing the fiery breaths and claw swipes. The other players avoid her tail and breath, as well as the eggs incubating in the corners of her lair. Once she’s hurt a bit, she’ll take to the air and rain down fire randomly. But when she lands, watch out. Tiny cracks in the floor split open, spewing burning lava. She’ll also fear players, running them half hazardously into the fire or the whelp caves. Needless to say, it can be quite chaotic. Once you kill her, you mount her head on a pike inside the capital city for all to see.

Emergent Behavior – one of the coolest things I’ve seen in game occured soon after a new raid instance was released – Zul’Gurub. Populated by savage trolls, ZG let players fight the blood god Hakkar. During this boss fight, players were infected with a poison that was both deadly and contageous – it would spread to nearby players every three seconds. This made for a fun boss fight – players had to strategically adapt. However, once the disease spread to major cities, it became an epidemic. Guards would act as carriers – their regeneration was too strong to ever die from the disease, but they would continue to infect the player population. Blizzard had to take the servers down to “vaccinate” them. The fun and interesting things that “emerge” in MMOs are too numerous to count. But it’s an essential part of these games, giving them years of replayability.

Perhaps the real draw of fantasy is that it gives a legit rationale for killing lots of stuff with swords, battleaxes, and fireballs. As Conan said it best: “To crush your enemies — See them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!”

That’s about it. If you want to look me up, I play Booti on Destromath and Venomus on Mug’thol. Send me a mail.

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