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The Progression of the Game

David Souza Posted:
Editorials 0

World of WarCraft exploded into the gaming world among copious amounts of expectations and accolades. Whether by article or word-of-mouth it's hard to ignore the blockbuster hit that carries Blizzard's signature style of game play. Now, five months into live retail play, we took a look at some of the aspects and how they've progressed since this MMO giant hit the shelves back in November of last year.

Updates! Updates?

Many gamers have been floored by the myriad elements that make up WoW, whether it's the stunning graphics, visceral sounds or fast-paced combat. Another thing that excited many gamers at launch was the promise of monthly content updates. Those who have played other MMOs know well the anticipation that can slowly turn into annoyance as long awaited updates and patches drag on for months at a time. The ambiguity of "It's coming soon," seems to have worn a permanent numbness into the gamer psyche.

So you may ask, "How well has Blizzard delivered on their monthly content updates?" The simple answer is: they haven't. In fact, a couple months post launch some players challenged Blizzard as to their promise on scheduled updates. Official Blizzard posters denied making such claims but were quickly pointed to their own website where, in plain text, monthly content updates were promised. After some backtracking Blizzard announced that they would not be able to keep to a definitive content update schedule.

What the WoW community has seen in updates since launch has been intermittent at best. Snippets of patches are shown as teasers with only the promise of delivery as soon as they are thoroughly tested. Having seen only two major updates in the five months since launch, many in the community have found their hopes for timely updates fading.

Nevertheless, Blizzard has recently gone on the record as stating that their timetable of patch rollouts up to this point has been unacceptable. Though they have committed to a more expeditious schedule for patch release Blizzard has stated that it will likely not reach the aforementioned monthly update pledge it made early on.

Even with a somewhat lackluster turnout speed for WoW's patches Blizzard has delivered rather well on the content. Each patch has seen many positive changes to the game world, including numerous bug fixes, additional quests and dungeon instances, new trade skill recipes and much more. Perhaps the most hotly debated part of any game patch is those changes that affect character classes...

A Game With Character...

One of the most compelling aspects of WoW when held up to other MMOs is it's truly enjoyable selection of character classes. From the staple warriors, rogues and priests intrinsic to fantasy to the more unique shamans and hunters WoW offers a plethora of flexibility and enjoyment to its players. Many players identify with certain character classes, playing certain archetypes over the years, from one game to the next. WoW delivers both the classic feel of fantasy with a very personalized twist. Priests that can lay waste with the power of shadow walk beside warriors who are nearly as deadly as any rogue in combat. Mages master the powers of fire, cold and arcane energies...but which one a mage specializes in is a point of personal preference, and every path offers its advantages and disadvantages.

There are as many different viewpoints on the strengths and weaknesses of a character class as there are players playing the game. The viewpoint that holds the greatest sway, however, is that of the developers at Blizzard. While players eagerly anticipate patches for improvements and variety to be added to their preferred classes there is also the sense of dread that many hold at the thought of nerfs to their class.

Overall since the launch of the game most of the class balancing has empowered the character classes. Many classes have seen new abilities and spells, most of which add true use to the class as opposed to fluff offered to assuage the player community. Some examples include new personal buff spells for druids and mages, reduced rage costs for warrior abilities and the rogue abilities that allow for escape from hold and slow effects.

Still, there is the inevitable removal or toning down of certain powers that the developers find unbalance certain aspects of game play. While not as sweeping as the improvements made to classes certain changes inherently affect how a character is played. The overall increase in the cost of a warlock's fear spell is indicative of this, as is the removal of inherent resistances to hunter pets. Both affect a core part of each class that saw changes for the worse.

To PvP or not to PvP

I'm an old time PvPer, having spent nearly a decade online going toe to toe with players from around the globe, and I can tell you this: WarCraft delivers like no other in the arena of PvP.

The visceral feel of the PvE environment bleeds over (if you'll excuse the pun) into the PvP game. The fast-paced game play of WoW lends itself beautifully to conflicts between players. The combats can be played out in innumerable ways and the strengths and weaknesses of each character class really shines when applied to PvP. Whether on a PvP or PvE server the PvP game is central to the WoW experience. So where has Blizzard taken the PvP game since launch?

Two components form the basis for dedicated PvP in the World of WarCraft. One of them is the PvP Honor system that has been touted since early on in the development of the game. For many players the promise of the in-depth and immersive PvP game that Blizzard proffered has them slavering for more. A system where you can advance your character through dynamic combat with other players instead of staid raid instancing is enticing to many in the community.

The other part of the couple is what Blizzard has dubbed simply "Battlegrounds." In these instances players from both the Alliance and Horde engage in combat with objectives. Towns, mines and graveyards can be captured and lost, dynamic PvP quests can be found from the NPCs that share the battlefield with the players and the blood of fallen enemies can be used by allied spell casters to summon mighty creatures to unleash upon your enemies. This all sounds great, the only question being asked is, "Where is it?"

After nearly half a year post-launch the Honor system launched as part of WoW's most recent content patch. I've spent time on both the Test server and live servers (PvE and PvP) engaging other players in combat. No longer does killing an enemy mean little more than another dead corpse at a player's feet. The Honor system tracks every kill a player makes including all those made by a player's group or raid as long as the player contributed to the kill in some fashion (although contribution, at this point, can include simply being close enough to the kill to garner credit).

Players then gain rank based on their contributions to their faction's (Horde or Alliance) at the end of each week. The ranks are awarded based on a percentage scale so that the higher ranks each have fewer and fewer players, making the climb to the summit of PvP rank a long and focused trek. The system has caused some concern among more casual players who feel that they will never be able to compete in the PvP Arena. Blizzard has stated they are still looking into the balance of all aspects of the PvP Honor System.

Battlegrounds, while still on the horizon, aren't going to make it live for at least one more content patch. Even then only one Battleground will launch and it will, as can be expected, aimed at the end game player base. Blizzard says it intends to provide Battlegrounds content for all levels in time, but in light of the fact that the game is creeping up on it's six month mark and not even one Battleground is live many players have expressed dissatisfaction with Blizzard's ponderous rate of PvP content updates. I think if Battlegrounds deliver on their promise the wait will be well worth it.

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David Souza