Monday, July 30, 2012

What Makes World of Warcraft so Special?


After all, it is a worthwhile question to ask. A game that has been going strong for eight years now and is close to releasing yet another highly successful expansion is an obvious success story. What then, has made World of Warcraft so popular with players?

As someone who (somewhat regretfully) admits playing WoW on and off again for five or so years, I feel I am overly qualified in making an assessment for why WoW had remained an engaging experience for so many for such a long time.

Without further ado...



1. Ease of Use

Simply put, World of Warcraft is an easy game to play. You can create a character, pick up a few quests, and begin exploring the world all in a matter of minutes.

Beyond that, once you start getting into the upper levels, WoW makes sure that you are fed a steady diet of gear upgrades and quests. The difficulty curve in WoW is gentle, and whether you are killing monsters or completing dungeons, you'll find that there won't be much more of a challenge at level 52 than there was at say level 1.

In my opinion this is a brilliant design decision by Blizzard, as it makes leveling up an addictive process that is facilitated by the relative ease of questing, dungeon running, and monster killing.

Add in the fact that you are often doing quests with friends or guild members, and the game becomes a stress free environment where you can have loads of fun without too much effort.

All it really takes in WoW is a time commitment, and if you have spare hours on hand, you can easily accomplish nearly everything in the game.

That being said, World of Warcraft wouldn't be such a juggernaut of a game if it's only appealing factor was how easy it was...

2. Story/ Lore

This is a major selling factor for WoW in my opinion, as to me a game is nothing without an enthralling storyline backed up by a hefty amount of lore.

Luckily for WoW, it is based off an RTS series that is chock full of some of the best lore in the video game industry. Characters like Illidan, Arthas, Thrall, Sylvanas, and others help to add a certain flavor to WoW that other MMOs are lacking.

Even Star Wars: The Old Republic, a game created by Bioware (the best single player RPG makers in my opinion), fails to connect with the gamer through its characters to the same degree as WoW.

And though WoW lacks SWTOR's voice overs, its quest text is often intriguing and fun to read, especially if its from a character of some significance.

The great lore in WoW also helps to explain its large playerbase, as many were attracted to the game thanks to their love of the characters from the RTS series.

Additionally, once people have played the game for a couple years, it becomes hard for them to consider other MMOs, not only because they've made friends in the game, but because they've become attached to the story and lore itself.

Therefore, the lore in WoW plays a huge role in both attracting and retaining its playerbase.

3. The World

Though WoW is classified as what is known as a "Themepark MMO," it contains a world that many "Sandbox MMOs" would kill for.

You can explore to your hearts content; climb the nearest mountain, swim in the nearest river, explore that cave off the beaten path, fish in the random pond out in the forest, etc. And once you are at max level, you can even fly around the world, reaching any area you please with ease.

Other MMOs, namely SWTOR, suffer from what I like to call the "invisible wall affliction". What this means is that MMOs like SWTOR have worlds that aren't truly open environments.

There are impassable mountains blocking your path, barriers keeping you on the beaten path, and overall few areas you might call "open" or "explorable".

In WoW however, the world is your oyster. Go anywhere, anytime, for any reason. The zones are incredibly open, allowing you to blaze your own trails, create your own shortcuts, and so on and so forth. In other games, you feel restricted and enclosed by a predetermined path that developers force you to tread.

Not so in WoW. It's world allows a freedom of movement and exploration, coupled with an immense amount of depth, that is absent for nearly every other MMO out there.

Until other developers learn how to craft a world like Blizzard, WoW will remain a powerhouse in the MMO industry. 


4. Atmosphere

No, I'm not talking about the air quality on Azeroth (though I'm sure it's pristine). I'm referring to how WoW has a unique appeal thanks to its art style, sound effects, and NPCs.

Even though it's eight years old, WoW still manages to draw you in visually thanks to its great art style. Not only does it help the game run well, but it also gives it a certain charm that is lacking in WoW clones such as Rift or Lord of the Rings Online.

It's a visual style that becomes so familiar and iconic that leaving it and going to another game feels wrong.

In addition to the visuals, WoW makes great use of ambient sound. Cities and other environments in the game feel alive thanks to this, much more so than they do in SWTOR or Rift.

Furthermore, the NPCs are scripted in such a way that towns and cities feel alive and active. There isn't a sense that you're in a ghost town, as there is when hanging out in the Imperial Fleet while playing SWTOR.

 5. Gameplay (Namely, Combat)

I'll keep this one short and sweet. Bar none, WoW has the smoothest gameplay of any MMO I've played. There may have been games with more intuitive combat systems, but WoW's is still the best in terms of fluidity and usability.

And since you're playing a game mainly for it's gameplay, that has to count for something right?

Closing Thoughts

In closing then, I'm sure there are plenty more reasons I could list, such as the quality of its dungeons, raids, and in-game utilities, but I think you get the picture.

I hope that my analysis has helped you understand why it is that WoW is such a runaway success even to this day, and why no competition looks like it will take from it the title of King of MMOs anytime soon.

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