How Blizzard hurt 'World of Warcraft' by making it better

Blizzard Entertainment
opinion
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Before I ever had student loans to pay, I borrowed money from someone in my virtual guild so I could buy a tiger to ride around on. That's an absurd thing to say about a video game, right? But using the game's social tools to get past its difficulty curve is what made World of Warcraft so special about a decade ago.

In the lifetime since I stopped playing, Blizzard has turned WoW into an entirely different (and much more friendly) game. You can essentially go through it as a single-player RPG now, as damn near every rough edge has been smoothed out. This was undeniably for the best, but in doing so, Blizzard removed the game's soul.

Blizzard has turned 'WoW' into an entirely different game. This was undeniably for the best, but in doing so, Blizzard removed the game's soul.

Get your Ner'zhul out of my Alleria

Like any massively multiplayer online game, you choose a server when creating a character. I played on Alleria because it was where my friends played. Thanks in no small part to its placement near the top of the alphabetical server list, Alleria was a hugely populous server back in the day. It's pretty dead now, but it used to be a happening place, I assure you.

Alleria, like plenty of other servers, had its own celebrities. Risen was a pretty dominant raiding guild back in the day — it even got writeups on gaming sites. I remember watching Failure, a prominent member of Risen, become one of the first people on the server to hit level 70. Only now do I realize how ridiculous everything I just wrote is.

There was also a cadre of hooligans who made it a point to disrupt the global LookingForGroup chat channel, which wasn't particularly helpful for finding groups. I may or may not have been one of those hooligans. Who can say?

I remember watching Failure, a prominent member of Risen, become one of the first people on the server to hit level 70.

'World of Warcraft: Legion' is the most recent expansion pack. Blizzard Entertainment

Based on a few weeks in February that I spent furiously racing to level 100 in the current version of World of Warcraft, it seems to me that through cross-server implementation, any kind of serverwide personality has been erased. Presumably to combat dwindling populations, Blizzard made it so you'll see players from other servers around the world. This started with PvP matchmaking before eventually shifting over to the entire game a few years later.

As a result, you're unlikely to ever see the same person pop up in chat twice. It's not like there's much chat going on these days anyway, though. Outside of some unfortunate political discussions in trade chat (which is only accessible in cities), there's hardly anyone talking about anything in the game's questing areas. Barrens Chat is largely a thing of the past.

Mixing server populations in the game world was the correct move: WoW would feel even more dead without it. Still, the days of logging in and seeing the same people horsing around in global chat every night are long gone. Azeroth is now more businesslike than ever.

Why is this even an MMO, anyway?

The entrance to Ironforge, which used to be a social hub in the old days of 'World of Warcraft.' WoWWiki

The thesis statement of any MMO is going to a city for the first time. It's when these games feel the most alive, as hundreds of other players congregate in one place to turn in quests, engage in commerce, socialize or just mess around. Which cities are the most bustling naturally changes over time. Ironforge, for example, is a dead zone because it's not really close to anything relevant anymore. What was once a lively social hub full of players dueling each other at the entrance gates is now an empty hole in a mountain.

What was once a lively social hub full of players dueling each other at the entrance gates is now an empty hole in a mountain.

World of Warcraft can now be enjoyed largely as a single-player experience. This has become clear in the past two expansions, "Warlords of Draenor" and "Legion." In Warlords, the new major questing area ditches the concept of a capital city for a little base that you build out and upgrade over time. This base has everything you'll ever need in your time in Draenor, and since every player has their own, you won't see other people running around in your base. 

Legion expands on the concept with Class Halls, which are social spaces, but are only useful to players of the same class. If you're a priest, you'll only ever see priests in your Class Hall. It's odd that what used to be such a social game has only become more segregated over time. 

Build your own personal, lonely garrison in 'Warlords of Draenor.' Blizzard Entertainment

World of Warcraft is an undeniably better game, but it's not the same culture

Despite everything I've said so far, I really do believe now is the best time to get into World of Warcraft. For just $20, you can get a free month and an astronomical amount of content to play through. Thanks to intensely refined quest design and drop rates, you'll never have to grind or spend too much time doing anything boring in your journey to the endgame. Easy matchmaking tools and cross-server play make finding other players for group content a breeze.

That said, having played it both before and after all of those quality-of-life improvements were made, it does feel like we've lost something special. A decade ago, I made friends using the LookingForGroup chat channel (which still exists, but is now opt-in). I joined a guild where I saw actual relationships form, with more than one ending in marriage. Since I had to repeatedly play PvP matches with the same people on my server, I got to know them. They were sad when I leveled up and left the PvP bracket they purposely chose to remain in.

I joined a guild where I saw actual relationships form, with more than one ending in marriage.

The problem with the current version of World of Warcraft isn't that all of that old stuff is gone, but that the game doesn't force you to see it anymore. What used to be front and center is now relegated to a corner seen only by those who want to see it. You can fill up your experience meter and max out your stats with hot loot without ever entering the chat, save for hardcore, end-game raiding scenarios. World of Warcraft is better than ever, but it's not the game it once was. 

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