I suspect that an awful lot of MMO producers are still clutching their heads and moaning at the mention of World of Warcraft. While I've been playing it, I've been thinking about how it works, and why it works so well - and what can still be done with it.
From people's enthusiasm, it's plain that Blizzard put an awful lot of time into researching other games, and looking at wishlists for them. A great many of the things that players continuously talk about for other games are there from day one in WoW - a lack of grind, mounts, instanced areas, RP servers, trade channels, a way to sell crafted goods, a non-boring crafting process, working interdependence of crafts, in-game mailboxes, minimal zoning, and all the interface gadgetry your heart could desire, from mapping to quickbars.
One of the most important things is that communication is made very easy. Straight away, there are channels for trade, looking for groups, and "general" talk. In addition, there are local defense channels, and one each for party and guild. And then you can create your own channels, private or otherwise. You can message an online player directly, with whisper rather than tell - a small but atmospheric change. And if they're not online, you can send them a mail, at a minimal in-game cost (look, a money-sink that doesn't feel bad!). You can also leave the basic channels, and the game remembers, per character, what channels you want to listen to. One of the major annoyances, for me, in Dark Age of Camelot, is that I have to listen to my guild's alliance chatting all the time. Other games could really do with this ease of communication.
Crafting has always been one of my favourite areas of any MMO - one of the things that's preventing me from being too interested in the new Dungeons & Dragons Online game is that they've confirmed that there will be no crafting in the first release. WoW's crafting is pretty damn good. I'm not altogether convinced about the situation where some of the components for items can only be got from drops - this prevents low-level characters from building craftskills to great heights - but since most of those components can be bought in the Auction House, it's not so bad. There's no grind to the crafting, which is fantastic, and by the time you get as far as the crafting trainers, around level 5, you can make gear which is immediately useful. Indeed, as far as I can see, as long as you improve your crafts by about 5 points per level, you should be able to make yourself usable gear all the time. Crafting isn't boring - resulting in almost everyone doing some.
The interface has many useful aspects that I haven't seen elsewhere. There's a minimap visible all the time, and that's used for the gathering skills, to indicate the presence of herbs or minerals, or whatever, as well as to pinpoint people you should talk to for quests. The pointer in the middle that shows your location also has a direction arrow, so you can see which way you're facing. There are more quickbars available than I've yet been able to use - you can have about 40 icons onscreen without any trouble. Items on the quickbars work whether you left or right click. Right clicking in inventory does "the expected thing" - if you're talking to a merchant, it sells it (with a small period in which you can undo that, if it was by mistake), and otherwise it uses or equips the item. Almost all alerts and events are accompanied by small sounds - mostly unobtrusive, but distinct enough to pick up on.
Finally, the breadth of the world, and the number of quests you can take is, well, incredible. In DAoC, the advent of Catacombs brought about conversations in which people were amazed that you could work through an entire level on quests alone. In WoW, that's standard, and indeed expected. The only reason you go hunting is for craft components.
There isn't a whole lot left to add to WoW, at least if you're cherry-picking from existing games. Player housing is notably absent, but I'm not sure what it could add that the inns, auction house and bank don't already cover. Further PvP options could go in; there's some distance to go before WoW reaches DAoC's heights in that. There's an expansion coming up, though there's absolutely no information as to what might be in it. I'm looking forward to seeing what Blizzard can possibly add to the game - and by extension, to MMOs in general.
Posted by Drew Shiel at August 8, 2005 2:16 PM