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The Evolution of World of Warcraft: Part 2

Bow Down To Us: WoW • Home

August 28 2010

The Evolution of World of Warcraft: Part 2
by Lodur

Wrath of the Lich King

The Burning Crusade expansion fixed quite a few issues that were present in the vanilla release of World of Warcraft, however at the same time it created a new set of problems.

The reputation grind was absolutely brutal for most players. Each set of dungeons, heroic dungeons and raids were linked to specific factions. Players earned the ability to access heroic dungeons only by first gaining a certain reputation level. Make no mistake this was a grind. Each area of Outland had a specific cluster of dungeons and each zone had quests designed to give you reputation bonuses with the correct faction for each dungeon. Running normal versions of the dungeon also awarded rep up to a certain point, which then required you to grind the repeatable quests to get the rest of the way through to the desired rep levels. The gains from quests and from dungeon runs were minimal and it took a very, very long time in order to gain the necessary rep to run the heroic version of each dungeon. Take into consideration that heroic instances allowed players to get the gear they needed to prepare for raiding and the fact that each set of dungeons was tied to a very specific group as well, which made it tedious to continuously run the same instances over and over again just to farm reputation points.

When Wrath was released there were some very necessary changes made to this model. First of all, heroic versions of the dungeons were available to all players the moment they hit the level cap. This allowed easier access to the gear necessary to start the end game content. This was a fantastic and rather large change that all players embraced.

Secondly, no instances were tied to a specific reputation. Instead players sought quartermasters of the faction they wished to garner reputation with and purchased a tabard. The tabard then allowed the player to walk into any dungeon and earn reputation points from each kill. This allowed players control over which factions were leveled, and also made certain that players were not running the same two instances every night in order to gain the rep necessary for enchants and upgrades that were on par with their starting heroic dungeon gear. Reputation rewards in Wrath also afforded players head slot enchantments. This change was a big thing as far as opening up access to the game and content, and ultimately was a very smart move on Blizzard’s part.

Raid size in BC had also been altered from the 40 man model to the 25 man model as the primary end game content. The expansion also included a 10 man raid zone that was received very well, Karazhan. The short coming of the raids though remained, again, largely with the size. 25 players was smaller than 40 for sure, but for some groups it was a difficult number to maintain. Those who could not maintain the numbers were unable to see the endgame content, and missed a large chunk of the lore behind the game and that expansion.

When WoTLK was released they decided to allow all end game raids to be done as either 10 or 25 man modes. This was largely a welcome change. It allowed for smaller groups to still progress through the game and experience all of the end game content. The ability to use smaller raids also encouraged tighter group cohesion and helped to create closer raids, and guilds. More people were able to experience the end game content and experience more of the lore of the game. It has always been Blizzard’s goal to make the game more accessible, and they did that quite well with Wrath.

Wrath also introduced a new class; the Death Knight. The Death Knight could be from any race and offered a new tank class to the mix, bringing the total of available tanks in the game up to 4. It offered a unique playstyle and a new resource mechanic with runes and runic power. The class was also dubbed a “two-handed tank” meaning that as a tank, it ignored the traditional sword and board playstyle of Wariors and Paladins, and instead accomplished its goal through using 2 handed weaponry. Not only did they have a unique playstyle, but it was also tied in heavily with the expansions lore. The Death Knights have long been the domain of the Lich King, yet this small fraction has broken away to fight against him. Any race can be a Death Knight, as the lord of the undead does not discriminate. The starting zone for the class showcased a new technology as well, phasing.

Phasing allowed developers the ability with which to update and transition landscape and zones in real time. By doing this, they allow a more dynamic story to be told. As players progress through certain quest lines or zones, some of those zones update to show new areas, new mobs or sometimes even new quests. In an MMO this allows developers to create a more dynamic world and take out some of the more static elements. It allows for further immersion and lets you experience more of the world. This technology was heavily used throughout the game zones and will continue to be used throughout the next expansion.

Another thing that this expansion did right was the inclusion of the main villain, Arthas, throughout the entire expansion. In TBC, Illidan was considered the main threat. He was, however, woefully missing from the vast majority of the game. There was not motivation at the end to kill him really because he mostly just sat on top of his temple being emo. Arthas must have forgotten his razor blades because he is there to harass you every step of the way. In quests, in dungeons, his touch is everywhere and you know it. So by the time they released Icecrown Citadel, and finally allowed you to face off with the Lich King, you had plenty of reasons to want to kill him. That sense of antagonism is a great motivator.

Wrath truly showed that Blizzard could learn from past mistakes, and could do a hell of a job updating and keeping things fresh and new.


Let’s talk now about the new expansion. Cataclysm is the word on every World of Warcraft fan’s lips. The world as we have known it for the last 5+ years is about to change. Torn asunder and born anew. The game promises epic lore with the return of one of the dragon aspects, the death dealer himself; Deathwing. Accompanying Deathwing are the elemental lords, new lush zones and NPCs of races long since thought lost, as well as an epic story unraveling the Old Gods and the Titans. This comes at a time when the beta is in full swing and invites have gone out. I have been lucky enough to get a key, so I would like to share my experience so far with you.

The game feels epic right out of the box. You are greeted by an amazing score, and a world that has been torn apart.  Familiar places have all changed, and there is a rift between Azeroth and the elemental planes. There is real power at work here, and you can see it in any zone you visit.

The expansions since WoW’s release have also done a great job of scaling your power. In the original game you had to take a veritable army to accomplish the big goals in the game (40 players). In TBC, with new levels for each player, it took less of you to win the day (25).  And in Wrath, this trend continued as you could accomplish your goals with even fewer players (10).

This downward goal continues in Cataclysm. To put it in perspective; in WoW, your starting quest was the proverbial kill 10 boars quest. In TBC, this was killing 10 daemons of the burning legion and in Wrath, you were sent to disrupt the forces of the Lich King and erode his power. In Cataclysm, your starting quest lines are to resurrect gods. At this point in the game, your character has played a part in the downfall of two old golds, has battled to save or destroy 3 of the 5 dragon aspects, freed the servants of the titans from their mind controlled shackles, saved two worlds from destruction and re-ignited the Sun Well, and then making a quick stop to stomp the Lich King into the ground. It is only fitting that you start Cataclsym with the task of bringing back the ancients because at this point you are as powerful as some of the main lore characters in the game.

Visually the game itself is polished and has added new layers of detail through a world that is over 5 years old. Zones are vibrant, textures are crisp and the game itself feels very new if only by virtue of the updated graphics and the world being reformed in many of the zones. There is very heavy lore that is easily accessible to all players both solo and in groups, and the antagonist is there in the very beginning of the zones. So far, even as a beta, it does a great job drawing you into the world through story, questing and NPC interaction.  World exploration is a huge deal, and there is a lot for you to see.

New talents, talent trees with specialization and new spells are present for all classes, changing they way many of the players have been playing their characters for some years now. The game will also add two new races; Worgen, the Were-wolf like people of Gilneas will join back with their Alliance brethren, while Goblins will join forces with the Horde. New race/class combinations await players, and old lore is brought back to the forefront to draw new players and keep only players interested.

Quests are interesting; the world is truly at war and a player’s efforts are rewarded. This release is shaping up to take the game as we know it and change it so drastically that it will seem like a completely new game. Only time will tell if this game will live up to the mountain of hype from the previous releases, or if it will continue upon the path of evolution the game has taken.

As a final note, I find it simply amazing how this game has grown and flourished when the developers themselves only thought it would be around for a couple years. The game show now signs of slowing down and continues to make life difficult for other MMO developers.

Filed under: Features

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Psynister's avatar
Psynister 07:47am, 08/30/2010

The only question now is - where will we go from here (Cataclysm)?

Buddha's avatar
Buddha 09:13pm, 08/31/2010


LordKaladar's avatar
LordKaladar 09:32am, 09/01/2010

The Wheel will turn and everything will be reset.

I really wish they would use the ‘phasing’ to allow new players to experience the story chronologically, if they want to. The current three areas, Azeroth, Outlands, Northrend kind of segregate the story into pieces, but.. what will happen to Outland and Northrend with the changes to the original zones?

Lodur's avatar
Lodur 09:53am, 09/01/2010

The game will end with us fighting Sargeras in the twisting nether. IMO. (level 100 btw that’s my prediction. you can count it)

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

Final boss fight?


I called it.

Psynister's avatar
Psynister 10:46am, 09/01/2010

I sort of wish Outlands would accidentally disappear on purpose and leave us the crap alone. I dislike Northrend even more so than Outlands, but it’s so OL is so disconnected from the current story now that it’s almost a complete waste of time to even have it as you’ll only be going to get a few levels and then leave without doing anything related to the overall story of the zones.

Similarly, Northrend’s story will have very little meaning to what’s going on in Cataclysm, you’ll play with the scourge a bit here and there, and then you’ll leave it again without stepping foot in ICC.

I’m not huge on story and lore in my video games, but I do need things to at least make some bit of sense as I’m going along, and with Cataclysm I don’t think that Outlands really fits in anymore. It has it’s place, but it’s unimportant to the big picture which is Deathwing.

LordKaladar's avatar
LordKaladar 10:49am, 09/01/2010

Thats why I think the Deathwing stuff should come AFTER 80. Yeah, I know it axes the ‘casual’ appeal and the new race starting areas, but.. BC didn’t let that keep BELFs and Goats from suffering the Azeroth grind.

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