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The Evolution of World of Warcraft:Part 1

Bow Down To Us: WoW • Home

July 30 2010

The Evolution of World of Warcraft:Part 1
by Lodur

Do you remember the very first time you logged into World of Warcraft? How about any fantasy MMO? How did it feel?

How about now? Do you even still log into those games anymore?

Over the years WoW has been running, it has changed graphically, functionally and story wise. It has been a long journey to get to where it is today, and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

I remember my first log in well. The opening cinematic played with an epic score behind it. The worlds various races and creatures were displayed in beautiful detail. I had been a fan of the franchise since the days of Orcs vs Humans. I followed the story as it grew and developed from pure combat to a grand epic adventure with Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne.

Stepping into the world for the first time felt epic. It felt as if I could play a part in the developing story while at the same time gleaming bits of lore from the world’s past.

It has been over 5 years since World of Warcraft was released. When you first set foot into Azeroth (version 1.0 or affectionately dubbed vanilla wow), it felt as if you were stepping into an amazing world. You took on the role of a new hero, playing your part in world wide conflict. You felt the vastness of the world when you looked around you as well as when you tried to run between quest givers and their various goals. Unfortunately you really truly felt your insignificance to the overall story. This part of the game really played out like the beginning of so many fantasy novels to come before it. You start as a lowly, weak character and you are given menial tasks such as delivering messages, playing population control with local wildlife or even being sent to retrieve baubles that the quest giver is too lazy to walk 5 feet to pick up themselves. This was the hand-holding portion of the game. The first 10 levels offered you an introduction not only to your chosen class but the mechanics of the game itself. It provided you with everything you needed to know about locomotion in the game and how to progress.

As you leveled higher you gained access to more diverse missions. Some quests required you to go into an instance and kill a specfic NPC, while others had you gathering mats for a showdown with a powerful villain. These quests start as early as the kill orders for Van Cleef in The Deadmines or taking down Thermaplugg in Gnomeregan. The instances as well immersed you in this feeling of an epic world. Even though they were some of the first instances you experienced, Deadmines and Gnomeregan felt big, and felt as though their story was important. They both took a fair amount of time to complete when they were first released, and in Gnomeregan there were a lot of side-quests to complete and so much to see.

As you gained levels and grew into the same power as one of the heroes from the stories, this feeling only increased. The instances increased in size and more of them revealed bits and pieces of the story of the world. From Scarlet Monestary, to Maraudon the scale and importance of these zones was apparent. They were made for small groups as well, instead of a raid group.  These instances were built for five players. As you unlocked bits of story or liberated trapped spirits, you had a sense of accomplishment with your four companions.

Following this same line of thinking, the first set of end game raids offered further locations that were important to the story of the world of Azeroth. Scholomance is a great example. This is the school that trains all of prospective necromancers for the Scourge, the game’s main enemy for both factions. The Scholomance school is housed within a crypt that lays beneath the old keep of Caer Darrow. Once owned by the noble Barov family, Caer Darrow fell into ruin following the Second War. The cultists killed the Barovs after promising them immortality and turned the ancient crypts into a school for necromancy known as the Scholomance. When you are sent to the zone, it is your job to cleanse it of its evil taint dealing a blow to the scourge.

I remember setting foot into the instance for the very first time and being blown away by it; the scale of the zone and the variety of mobs. The sheer number of bosses available was amazing and when we were finally done, I remember smiling to myself for an epic mission done well. Other iconic zones like Black Rock Spire and Black Rock Depths helped to make the end game feel full and robust. Offering varied areas for players to play in and clear.

The end game became very important. It contained the best gear, and outside of questing offered the most story and the chance to interact with (or kill) important non player characters from the story. As the game progressed to this point, further end game instances were added. With the release of Molten Core, 40 player raids were introduced. They felt at the time, extremely grand purely because of the scale. Such a large number of players heading into one zone to do battle with what is essentially an army of powerful heroes. When you look back on the history of the world and find that a handful of heroes saved the day at the darkest time, taking 40 people of near equal power to the heroes of yore is a huge deal. To quote Blizzard’s own site about the zone;

“The Molten Core lies at the very bottom of Blackrock Depths. It is the heart of Blackrock Mountain and the exact spot where, long ago in a desperate bid to turn the tide of the dwarven civil war, Emperor Thaurissan summoned the elemental Firelord, Ragnaros, into the world. Though the firelord is incapable of straying far from the blazing Core, it is believed that his elemental minions command the Dark Iron dwarves, who are in the midst of creating armies out of living stone. The burning lake where Ragnaros lies sleeping acts as a rift connecting to the plane of fire, allowing the malicious elementals to pass through. Chief among Ragnaros’ agents is Majordomo Executus - for this cunning elemental is the only one capable of calling the Firelord from his slumber.”

Getting to set foot in a place of such importance, to take on a villain of such a high profile was epic and it felt important. This theme continued through the rest of the raiding content as we fought the Daughter of Deathwing the destoryer, Onyxia, in her dragon lair. We then stormed the citadel of the son of the aforementioned dragon Deathwing, Nefarian. After that we moved to take out a re-emerging god before it could be completely reborn in the Temple of Ahn’Qiraj and we finished the game experience by facing a floating citadel of the Lich King himself and destroying his right hand lich, Kel’thuzad. Kel’Thuzad was the founder of the Cult of the Damned and one of the principal agents of the Lich King responsible for the spreading of the plague of undeath across Lordaeron. In truth much of the death and destruction and taint that infects the world of Azeroth is due to this character, and finishing the game with him as the final boss was an epic end to a grand story.

While the stories and events in these raids were heroic and awe inspiring, organizing 40 players for a raid was quite a daunting task. Making sure each of the game’s three roles were filled (and filled properly) was an exhausting and thankless task. Often times, raids would fail to organize simply because there were not enough people. The raids themselves required a heavy time investment to actually run the instances, but it also required a lot of time spent outside of the game gathering materials for potions and items to boost your character’s effectiveness. Blizzard seemed to notice this and it began to release smaller, 20 man raid zones in which guild members would need to depend on each other more to achieve success. 20 people was a lot more manageable both time-wise and organization-wise than the 40 man model. These were met with much enthusiasm, and it would appear they took note of this in the first expansion.

The Burning Crusade

Released on January 16th, 2007 in North America, Europe, and Australia, the first expansion to the universe did quite a few things. First it introduced two new races into the mix, one for each faction. Alliance players received the Draenei, a blue tentacle-faced creature that is tied to the world of Outland, while Horde players received Blood elves, a magic addicted, twisted version of the High-Elves previously found in the game’s earlier real time strategy incarnations.

Blizzard also did a little class swapping. In the original game, each faction had an exclusive player class available to them. Alliance received Paladins, while the Horde received Shaman. Both classes were steeped in lore for both sides and offered a special flavor when playing as one faction or the other. In TBC though, Draenei were allowed to become shaman and Blood Elves were allowed to become Paladins. This effectively balanced the classes so that both factions had equal access to all the tricks and abilities possible.

The quests were very robust and introduced players to what was on the other side of another key story piece, the Dark Portal. As players set foot onto the soils of Dreanor, otherwise known as Outland, they were greeted by a truly alien world. Bits of land floating in mid air, giant cracks in the ground everywhere with gaping holes leading into the twisting nether and the presence of the Burning Legion made blatantly visible. Simply walking onto that land there was a big deal.

This is the original homeland of the Orcs before they breached the Dark Portal. It is also the last refuge of the Draenei before their arrival on Azeroth. The game retained its epic feel with grand sweeping vistas and interaction with non player characters that were important to the story of the game many of which were thought long since dead.

Probably the most important change in the Burning Crusade expansion were those made to dungeons and raids. The dungeon design model had been moved to a static 5 player setup which was nice for quick and and easy dungeons and gear. They did however add something else. At maximum level, and with proper reputation levels, players gained access to a Heroic version of each dungeon. It offered harder hitting mobs and bosses and a more difficult dungeon. As compensation, players gained better drops and access to badges which were used as currency to purchase various items.

The introductory BC raid zone was a small, 10 player zone named Karazhan. Like all the other raids before it, Karazhan was iconic as it was the home to Medivh; the mage and prophet who was so corrupted by the burning legion that he helped to open the Dark Portal and bring the Orcs to Azeroth. Players were tasked with unraveling the secrets of his estate as a small group.

Entering the home revealed a pocket dimension as well as magical energies and creatures unheard of. This beginning raid forced players to work together as they never really had to before… at least in a raid. Everyone had to participate and give full attention or the group was doomed to fail. The instance required coordination, communication and forced players to think outside the box in many cases. It marked the growing power of the player character in a way, as now it took less of them to overcome these obstacles than ever before. This also marked another important movement. Players began to reorganize into smaller guilds full of friends and relatives. People that enjoyed playing the game together rather than only enjoying the game. It was an important transition as with 40 man raids, it was almost impossible to get all 40 people on the same page without any hiccups. It also allowed people to be carried or not give their full attention and reap the benefits while creating cliques within the raid group. Moving to a smaller introductory raid helped to curb that sort of mentality, at least somewhat.

As players transitioned into larger raids with Gruul’s Lair and Magtheridon’s Lair, the smaller raid cap of 25 players allowed for a raid design that forced all 25 members to participate at a high level. At the same time it forced a tighter social circle among the raiders that was easier to encompass an entire raid group. Players were often times forced to use odd abilities that they may or may not have used for some time on their characters in order to achieve victory. The smaller model worked very well throughout the expansion.

The lore of the game was mainly found inside of the raid environments. From Karazhan with the story of Medivh, through The Eye and facing the lost High Elven prince Kael’thas and besting the only one to come close to rivaling the Death Knight form of Arthas, Illidan, most of the story was back loaded into the raids. Some players were not pleased by this, as for those that did not have time to raid or simply didn’t care for it, yet still wanted the lore of the world, felt as though they were snubbed and overlooked.

The largest point for this was the last raid instance of the expansion, The Sunwell Plateau. Players fought their way through the plateau to reach the incarnation of the Sunwell before it could be used to summon forth a being of unimaginable evil. The very same sunwell that was used to restore Kel’thuzad to un-life and what was formerly the source of all the High Elve’s magics. This is a key story point, and a rather huge event as to get there one must fight Demon generals, Frost Wyrms, a tainted celestial being and still come face to face with a key story villain before all is calm. The end sequence for the dungeon also marks a monumental update in the lore of the game, that not all players were able to experience first hand. The game had become slightly more casual-player friendly, but at the expense of pushing story to the side for only the most dedicated of players to see.

As the Burning Crusade came to an end, players began to look to the future to see exactly what else was in store for them. To wonder what other changes were on the horizon and what new stories they could unravel. What foes would they struggle to defeat and more importantly, what new adventures they would have.

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dpking2222 08:19am, 09/01/2010

Karazhan was, and still is, my favourite raid. Purely and simply because it was the first one I did while at the appropriate level. I never got to experience Vanilla raiding while at 60 because I dinged to 60 on the Burning Crusade launch night.

Buddha's avatar
Buddha 08:28am, 09/01/2010

That actually happened to a lot of folks.  I remember the ol’ school raiding, and I must say, most memories actually aren’t that fond.  It wasn’t something I enjoyed.

Now Kara, I enjoyed for the first few times, however much like vanilla raiding, it quickly turned into a chore.  And then I despised it.

It’s been long enough now though that I think I would enjoy a romp through there on my new hunter just for kicks.

dpking2222 08:31am, 09/01/2010

Yeah, well, you can only get so much enjoyment out of it, and it did get rather repetitive after the first 2 months or so.

Lodur's avatar
Lodur 09:51am, 09/01/2010

kara was awesome. Especially when I Off tanked kara as restoration on the shaman and the main tank was a boomkin. Res gear was so OP back the.

Buddha's avatar
Buddha 10:09am, 09/01/2010

I’d be curious to see just how far I could get with my hunter if I specced specifically for insane pet tanking.

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