When it comes to popular games, it seems as though writers don’t feel that they have to extol their virtues. They’re already popular, after all. Instead, it becomes the trend to slant to the sharply critical, perhaps to serve as a counter-balance to that popularity.
And so it is with World of Warcraft. Fourteen years after its launch, this fantasy MMORPG is still relatively popular and has incited countless cycles of attraction and rejection among its playerbase. People love to grouse about it because of its prominent status, but what I see a lot less often is an open admission as to what makes the game so attractive and fun as to pull millions of players into it on a regular basis.
So call this fanboying if you will, but today I want to create a list that ignores the (often valid) criticism of World of Warcraft and instead refocus on what what just works with the game and why it is an MMO that is still worth playing in 2018.
1. That Blizzard polish™
I don’t think you can really appreciate how smooth and polished World of Warcraft is unless you’ve spent a good amount of time dipping into other MMOs. There’s a wide range of polish out there, and World of Warcraft is most definitely on the high end. When you’ve played an MMO where the movement is janky, where the systems are oblique, and where too much is obviously broken, then coming back to this game is a revelation. It was one of the aspects that helped WoW set itself apart back in 2004, and that still serves it well today.
2. Its popularity works in its favor
I love a good underdog story and I’m often out there championing smaller and less noticed MMOs for their qualities. But when an MMO has a diminished population, it can be disheartening to be a part of that dwindling community where you have to worry about possible game shutdown.
While World of Warcraft is nowhere near as huge as it once was, it still contains a massive critical mass of players and receives great amounts of public attention. That’s comforting to those who want to be part of a highly active game that has as assured of a continued future as any MMO on the market.
3. It still looks great
When we’re talking about 14-year-old MMOs, not too many have aged well in the graphics department. The ones that do are the ones where the studios have spent considerable effort to improve the engine and place a high premium in artistry. And that’s World of Warcraft for you. The stylized graphics and lush color palette still have the capacity to make your eyes water with joy. Personally, the graphical style of WoW was one of the very first things that attracted me to this game, and even to this day, it’s one of the best parts that I enjoy.
4. What it does, it does generally well
There are plenty of things that World of Warcraft doesn’t do at all, like player housing, player vendors, or player-created missions. But the systems that are in place generally work well and have benefited from years of refinement. The other day I was looking at the in-game map with its quest markers and realizing how clear and functional it is in directing me where I need to go and what I need to do.
And speaking of doing things well…
5. Combat is spot-on
As a centerpiece of most MMOs, combat is a hard thing to get exactly right and easy to mess up in various ways. I’m not going to claim that WoW’s combat is perfect, but I’ve always enjoyed how responsive it feels, the look of the animations, and the pacing of each encounter. Plus, in this day and age of frantic action combat popping up everywhere, it’s a relief to play a classic tab-targeting format.
6. It revels in simple (and charming) humor
I’ve always seen World of Warcraft’s humor in the vein of Weird Al Yankovic’s. Weird Al is great, but nobody is going to claim that Weird Al is sophisticated and subtle in his jokes. Neither is WoW. Some people strongly dislike this MMO’s blatant jokes and goofy attitude, but more often than not, I find it endearing and amusing. Yes, even the poop quests.
7. Sometimes you just want a good theme park experience
I’ve often compared World of Warcraft to Disney’s theme parks mostly for the sheer attention to detail and atmosphere that runs through both. You’re not getting an open-ended experience with either, but you don’t always want that. Sometimes it’s terrific to have a meticulously crafted guided experience that adds that little bit “extra” to elevate it above contemporaries. When I play this MMO, I’m here for the rides, the environment, and the way it makes me feel when I’m roaming around its carefully constructed lands.
8. It still has the capacity to be a major event
Plenty of MMOs release stories, festivals, and expansions every year, but only a few of them can make an honest-to-goodness event out of them. Like it or hate it, World of Warcraft’s pre-expansion quests stirred up tons of interest and discussion. And this past month’s Battle for Azeroth felt like THE summer event for MMOs. There’s an energy and attraction to that, and I’m glad WoW still has this in it.
9. The storytelling has gotten loads better
It used to be a joke how disposable the quest texts (and associated tales) were in World of Warcraft. But I’ve noticed that for the past few expansions, Blizzard has definitely grown storytelling chops that are serving the game well. We can debate how good these stories are (I generally like them), but at least we could agree that we’ve come a long way from 2004 with all of the scripting, cutscenes, voice acting, phasing, environmental details, and other techniques that are used to convey these in this MMO.
10. There’s a whole lot to do
Again, we’ve come such a long way since 2004’s idea of an “endgame.” I’m often overwhelmed with the choice of activities in this game, and I know that if I feel bored it’s because I — and not the game — am limiting myself. There’s all the usual suspects of questing, dungeon crawling, and raiding, but there’s also transmog hunting, achievement achieving, playing the auction house, rooting out secret quests, going time traveling, collecting mounts, making pets fight each other, and more. I adore variety and choice, and this game has those in spades.