Perfect Ten: Why no one should recommend World of Warcraft ever
Last week, MOP’s Justin (friend to man and beast alike) posted his list of MMOs he would recommend people play. It was a pretty good list! It wasn’t the list I would have written, but that’s why we’re separate people and not a single fused mass pulling ourselves along on withered, inhuman appendages. That would cause lots of problems in our respective marriages, for one thing. Also, it’d probably render us ineligible to collect multiple paychecks.
One thing I did not ask, however, was why he didn’t include World of Warcraft as a game he would recommend, even though some of our readers wondered it aloud. I would think that the reason for that would be pretty obvious, given that it was a list of Justin’s recommendations. But because I do love being contrary, there’s a good list of reasons why no one, ever, should recommend World of Warcraft as a game to be tried. Under any circumstances. Let’s even make it a nice round dozen reasons… but then subtract two, for no good reason.
1. It’s already a common point of entry
When someone asks me about comics that are worth reading, my suggestions don’t turn to superhero titles put out by the big two. They don’t even turn to things like Maus or Watchmen or Sandman because the odds are near absolute that if you’re asking about these things, you’re familiar with these options. It’s not that they’re not good; it’s that I’m recommending things you already know about.
WoW, for better or worse, is a familiar point of reference for people who may not even know about other online games. Saying that MMOs are “like World of Warcraft” usually serves as a common starting point. So recommending it is kind of silly; someone looking for recommendations has decent odds of having started in the game anyway.
2. It’s become the norm
When MOP’s Matt Daniel was first talking about Hearthstone to me (well before it launched, in the long-long ago), he explained to me that it was kind of like a stripped-down digital Magic: the Gathering. The two of us both love board games and have played a lot of them together, and I would argue that there are other games that Hearthstone more closely resembles… but comparing it to Magic was a good baseline. Magic is the archetype against which other games can be effectively evaluated, because it has the pedigree and the popularity.
Similarly, WoW is usually a good starting point to explain a lot of MMO mechanics. If I describe a game as “like WoW, but with a strong narrative focus and more complex combat mechanics,” you probably have a picture in your mind of what I mean. When something becomes the standard against which other games are judged, you’re less likely to recommend it as something others haven’t heard of.
3. It’s not the game’s glory days
Yeah, this one is subjective. Most of the game’s editorial staff is pretty firmly fond of Wrath of the Lich King as the height of what WoW has accomplished (I’ve opined on many occasions that Final Fantasy XIV is, effectively, a sequel and expansion to that version of WoW), but that is hardly scientific. There are grounds for people to praise the narrative thrust and novel setting of Mists of Pandaria, or the higher challenge of Cataclysm’s endgame dungeons. You could really even point to The Burning Crusade as the place where so much of the game was shaped for the future, a real grand experience.
Pretty much no one can defend Warlords of Draenor as the best the game has to offer, though.
What’s fairly indisputable is that the game’s subscriptions have been going downhill since the start of Cataclysm, and while I have nice things to say about Legion (lots of them, even), Legion is an expansion partly built upon leaning on remembered glory. The heights are past, and you’re remembering them now.
4. The current game has an issue with the past
I’ve argued in the past that the key part of an MMO that makes it feel like an MMO is a sense of persistence, that what you do today is going to still be there tomorrow. There’s no reloading from an older save, nor are older zones going to be removed from the game. Relevance and power might change, but you can count on a degree of persistence from one moment to the next.
Except that modern WoW is not only not going that route but seems to actively avoid it; every new expansion seems to more aggressively wipe the slate clean and start fresh. The Garrison was abandoned once Warlords of Draenor became the past, and we all know class orders and artifacts are vanishing when Legion is no longer the most current expansion. That means that it’s sort of missing a core element of MMOs in that respect.
5. Starting fresh is an odd experience
Start fresh with Legion and you have a level 100 boost waiting for you. This means you don’t have to languish around in the old world and can jump into current content… but it also means that you’re thrust into the fourth act of an ongoing play that is only going to make cursory efforts to bring you up to speed. You are inevitably going to be missing a whole lot of references.
Of course, you could start from the bottom… in which case you’re still missing references and you’re also missing, like, all of the people. Plus, there’s nothing to mark your progress from one patch and bit of story to the next; you’re just going through zones with no real sense of why things link together. It’s a fine introduction to the mechanics, not so much to the world.
6. You don’t get a sense of the genre
I first came to WoW having played City of Heroes, Guild Wars, and Final Fantasy XI. This did not, in fact, give me a comprehensive picture of everything that could be done with the genre, but it did at least give me a sense that WoW’s standards were not, in fact, universal. Remember how I mentioned above that the game has become a norm? This is the flip side to that.
We’ve largely moved on from the batch of years when every single game was WoW with a twist, like “WoW with more grimdark” or “WoW but free-to-play” or “WoW but it’s absolutely horrible.” The skeletal structures are still there, but WoW remains kind of… thin, compared to what can be done. There’s still no housing, there’s less persistence, there’s not much character creation, there’s none of the more out there systems various games sport. It’s a McDonald’s hamburger, demonstrating the basic points of the concept but not expanding far beyond that.
7. Lots of players are just there for it anyway
Some portion of any MMO’s population is going to consist of people who just don’t play anything else. They’ve never played any MMOs before, and when they’re done with that game they’re not going to play any subsequent MMOs. That population is present in WoW, and it seems to be a bit larger than the median I’ve found in other MMOs, percentage-wise.
That’s going to give anyone who’s never visited the game some issues. If you haven’t played many MMOs, you’re going to think that “WoW is the whole world” mentality is normal; if you have, it’s probably going to frustrate you to no end.
8. Age is a factor
The oldest game on the list in question is Lord of the Rings Online, and Justin not recommending that game would just be weird. WoW, for all its virtues, is getting downright old; the game has been continually upgraded and improved, but it is increasingly showing its age as it soldiers along with its older code base. That’s all well and good, but older games are by necessity just not as novel as new ones.
9. It sure as heck doesn’t need help from us
In terms of industry footprint, the reality is that you pretty much know about WoW already. It’s there. You might not have heard of Secret World Legends (although you probably have if you’ve been around here for any length of time), but even if you’ve never played it you almost certainly know about it. I have friends in FFXIV who have never played any other MMO but are still well aware of it. The game is old enough and has enough name recognition that it doesn’t require any further recommendation.
I’ve compared it to recommending Dungeons & Dragons for tabletop roleplaying or Settlers of Catan for board games. Sure, there are probably a few people unfamiliar with it, but it’s almost impossible to seriously read about this stuff without being exposed to discussions of it. It’s familiar background noise. That doesn’t mean any of these options are bad – I think D&D 5e is pretty great, for instance. But I wouldn’t recommend it as a bold new system for someone to try.
10. Recommendations aren’t laws
A list of the most important MMOs ever would have to include WoW, sure. But a list of games that you would personally recommend? I’d probably leave it off, too.