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The Progression of the Game

David Souza Posted:
Editorials 0

Instances to Investigate

A central focus of almost every fantasy game is the dungeon. While there are a respectable amount of dungeons dotting the landscape of World of WarCraft the most dangerous, and rewarding, dungeons are referred to as instances.

Instances are dungeons were elite creatures (much more powerful versions of normal creatures) challenge a group of players along their quest to plunder the secrets and riches of the dungeon. Each instance is unique to the group of player characters who entered the instance, and another group of players will find themselves in a different "copy" of the same dungeon. In many ways, instances are the pinnacle of the PvE game. While some non-instance content requires groups to overcome most is solo-able by an experienced player. Instances are where groups are necessary and where teamwork is required and rewarded.

Instances have come under close scrutiny by both Blizzard and players since launch. Each patch has seen a focus on instance balance and tweaking. This is one area where, in almost every case, the changes have been positive for the player base. Many instances have enjoyed an increase in loot drops and variety. Many of the more difficult instance encounters have been toned down to accommodate the players. It seems that Blizzard is finally getting around to going over their instances with a fine-tooth comb.

One aspect of the instance game that was changed in the most recent patch affects the group size of players allowed to enter each instance. Player caps were put on all instances so as to not trivialize the acquisition of certain loot. Small raid groups were tackling some of the instances, intended for a single group. This made the instance easy, even for those who had little or no experience with instance game play. While this has many positive effects, including Blizzard dedicating itself to making instance gear superior to what is has previously been, it also has the drawback of limiting guilds and friends from always playing together. Perhaps scaling would have been a better implementation for keeping the level of challenge up to par. Even so Blizzard has already begun to deliver on its promise. The loot drop tables have already been increased in certain zones like Upper Blackrock Spire, Stratholme and Scholomance which have seen the addition of over fifty new items over the last couple of content updates.

A previous content patch also brought us the new instance of Dire Maul, in reality three separate instances moving slowly in difficulty from the mid 50s to 60th level. The theme and background of the entire set of dungeons shows the quality Blizzard can deliver when given the chance. Each instance is balanced extremely well for a group of five for the prescribed levels. As a player progresses from one part of Dire Maul to the next they gain what is needed to conquer the challenge of the next Dire Maul instance. The story also unfolds nicely in the quests that can be found both inside and outside of the instance. The final instance is truly dynamic and can be overcome in a myriad of ways, each offering different rewards.

There are many dead zones to be found around the world where players cannot yet transition. These are placeholders for many of the instances that Blizzard has in store for future updates. If Blizzard keeps its focus on instances as it has each of these will one day offer an exciting and challenging gaming experience.

Scotty, Where The Hell Is That Server Stability You Promised Me?!?

Any player of WoW can tell you that the biggest monkey on its back has been the problematic stability of the game servers. Many players, understandably, become disenchanted with the beautiful landscapes and compelling game play when they constantly suffer server problems. Whether it's disconnects, lag or simply the inability to log in for long periods at a time WoW has been plagued with server problems.

To its credit, Blizzard has been constantly upgrading its hardware in an attempt to alleviate the literal game-stopping problems of its server infrastructure. Early on much of the lag evidenced seemed to sprout from overwhelmed database queries, the game literally unable to keep up with the traffic of items being looted in-game. Players would often find themselves "stuck looting" and unable to continue playing without waiting long minutes for the database to catch up, or logging off and on again to free their character from being stuck in the database queue.

Server loads were one culprit attributed to the problem of server lag. Blizzard offered free character moves from high population servers to low population servers of the same rule set. This remedied some of the problem. Meanwhile Blizzard would often use log in queues as a stopgap measure for server lag on many servers, causing some players to wait upwards of half an hour to log into their preferred server.

Like many of its predecessors, WoW has not solved the problem inherent to stability when large groups of players are found grouped in small areas. Players suffer from many negatives when they find themselves in the vicinity of many other players. Lag, disconnects and out and out application crashes all occur when too many players congregate in a small area. Note that this is rarely a problem in cities, even when there are literally hundreds of players in one city. The problems are generally seen when great amounts of combat take place, especially in the case of large-scale PvP battles. One can find themselves hiccupping as they approach a large battle, at the end being spammed with several seconds of attacks or simply find themselves kicked to the log in screen. This happens within large raid instances such as Molten Core and Onyxia's Lair as well, though the effect is usually less severe.

With all the problems the servers have suffered, however, they have slowly and steadily increased in stability since launch. While the first couple of months were a string of constant ups and downs many servers now see many days with no downtime and little lag. Reboots tend are more expedient now, whereas early on players would sometimes wait an hour for a simple reboot to occur. While still suffering from some occasional lag most players can still come home from work and not spend half their evening simply trying to log into the game to play.

In Conclusion...

While some may argue with me World of WarCraft has come a long way since launch. I believe the game will enjoy unprecedented growth once Blizzard has polished the last of the rough edges. While many point out that Blizzard should have been ready for the 1.5 million players that overwhelmed them with the launch of their next blockbuster even forearmed with that knowledge it's hard to believe that anyone would be ready for such an influx of players. It's real now, while before it was simply academic.

Be prepared fellow gamers, the future of World of WarCraft is a bright one.

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David Souza