Monday, 6 June 2011

The plot thickens... just don't get Lost!

Matthew Rossi talked about it on WoW Insider, We talked about it on this weeks Group Quest, and yet I remain confused by the notion that Cataclysm somehow has too much content...

Despite being only five levels worth, mechanically speaking, Cataclysm seems to me to be much more than an expansion of the game World of Warcraft, It seems more accurate to say it's a total reinvention there of...

This doesn't however, mean it's a complete reboot of the story, as it is a complete reboot of the world. Cataclysm picks up the story established over three RTS's, an MMO, and nearly a dozen novels, to say nothing of the various comics, manga, etc. Packed into these five levels is the continuation of a story that grows and grows exponentially:

In the beginning it was just Orks vs Humans ('cause y'know, they didn't like each other... one lot are green for pity's sake!) Then we found out what had turned the Orks into what they are today and how that big-bad was coming right at us! That expansion of the plot, or the universe, doubled in storylines again, we found out what happened as a result of those events, we found out how they had been set in motion in the first place and that lead to us asking more questions: How had it all come to pass? We learned that. How did those things affect and tie into current events, eventually that was explained. Suddenly a demonic force that corrupted the peaceful Orks leads to a good man turning to evil and a two-piece combo of (horribly unholy and in no way stylish) armour and runeblade, and too the aspect of earth (himself a story arch not in the original) being corrupted by the Old Gods (themselves a developed story arch) and smashing the world apart.

The more Blizzard tells us about the world they created the more we ask and because they're even bigger lore-nerds than we are and get even more excited by Azeroth and the World of Warcraft; the more they expand, interconnect, and throw out there.

Maybe Cataclysm does have "too much" content and potential, in that finally the amount of exponentially growing story/universe has exceeded the time it will take for players to earn 5 levels worth of XP and hit 'endgame'... but maybe Blizzard saw that coming. Maybe with all the directions they're taking (questing/ dailies /gear /patches) they're proposing a new less linear model. This is after all an online world not a story book.
The feeling that people have already 'finished' Cata' and are growing bored is based on the old model of:
Do A to get to B, do B to get to C, do C to get to D, keep doing D until (you find yourself looking down on those n00bz still doing A-C, and) Blizz' gives you a new maximum to rush too.

As we see new questing, new original plot, new world changing events - story arcs playing out in dailies and 5mans - all coming in post level 85, the game seems to have changed (pun intended.)
'End game' is quickly becoming neither as final and repetitive, nor an indication that you have 'finished' the current game. After all, a virtual world can no more be completed than the real world can. But there in lies the problem:

I hope against hope that Blizzard isn't going to fall foul to the Lost syndrome... whereby they create a fantastical and captivating world, with hundreds of plot hooks and story lines all promising to come together in a truly biblical conclusion, that its enraptured consumer base assumes will live up to their ever increasing expectations... only to run out of time/steam/money/etc and leave lots of potentially amazing lore hanging (why did the statue only have 4 toes people?!) in the proverbial twisting nether.

Let me say now I don't think that is going to happen. I'm optimistic that Blizzard's writers have plans for all the major story arcs and we are either going to see life on Azeroth grow and grow, or one by one resolve and pass into the antiquities of Lore ready for new stories to be told, there however, that danger... especially if the player base doesn't embrace the seemingly new mindset toward content and lore. To go on -after hitting level cap- to quest, finish zones, worry a bit less about endlessly increasing their stat numbers and improving their DPS and more about understanding what's going on in the virtual world around them. Or worse, if this is a new direction from Blizzard, when they lose their way, lose their nerve and fall back to traditional thinking, will all these new avenues they've left open for future questing content become dead ends as the focus shifts back to new raiding content, epics, and iLevels... Was the Abyssal Maw the first casualty of this? Plot plans abandoned as "smaller, more frequent" patches quickly become the old-style large infrequent ones?

Maybe... again, I hope not. Personally I think the new Cataclysm content we see coming in is a really fresh way to involve the player in the world, let them chose when and how they consume the entertainment and storytelling . A shift away from the idea of end game content being a repetitive sync to keep users subscribed, and toward level cap being a purely mechanical limit with the adventure being it's own reward.

Then again I'm a Alt-aholic and Lore nerd... for the completionists out there it's always going to be  about getting to the last goal, and that's also cool, it's a game at the end of the day.

I don't think there can ever be 'too much' development of the fantasy world we all love... just as long as they don't try and end with everyone being in a quasi science vs religion analogy, or it all just being a dream... and no damn polar-bears!

Keep pushing the button Blizz', and...

...Swear Allegiance


  1. From the D&A: " We’ve decided for now that the Vashj’ir quest line along with the Throne of the Tides dungeon does a pretty good job of finishing the Neptulon story."

    This is an example of them already falling down on current story. Not to mention other stories -anyone remember the Sunwell? id gladly of given up Mankirk to the dustbin of history for finding out what the changes to the Blood/High elven nation are.

  2. Indeed, both good examples which make us the player-base pause to worry.There is at presant, however, plenty to show Blizzard are still putting out great narrative, Id argue some of their best stuff...

    Its how much more they've got to tell vs time/opportunity/audience factors that will be the interesting thing to see.