I recently read a post at Tobold's about the nature of Blizzard expansions, and it got me thinking.
I keep referencing World of Warcraft 2 in my posts ("Maybe Blizzard will change this in WoW2"). But it dawned on me that there's really no real difference between sequel and expansion with MMOs. We're already playing World of Warcraft 2. Blizzard is about to release World of Warcraft 3.
WoW3 is a 10-level long game, complete with its own endgame. The mechanics are different, but they are backward compatible with WoW and WoW2. In fact, all that old content is being updated to use the new mechanics. For some classes, the spells and talents are different. Itemization has greatly changed. Tank design, one of the fundamental parts of the standard group game, has greatly changed in design.
As Blizzard learns more about MMO design, classes take on new wrinkles and learn to work together better. The overall play experience at each point is better than the previous version.
Sounds a lot like a sequel to me.
Still, let's look at it another way. Here are the most obvious changes you would notice if you were to be dropped back from now (late TBC) all the way back to Week 1 of WoW. I'm skipping the obvious stuff like (no dark portal, no outland, no draenai/blood elves).
(Let me hear it, old school WoW people! Reminisce with me a little.)
- Mounts are purchased at L40.
- There is no leveling boost between L20 and L60.
- A fair amount of the uncommon loot you get is not useful to any class or build in the game (two handed swords with Spirit, cloth armor with Strength, etc).
- PvP is unstructured and open and gives no reward other than the fun of it. There is no battleground or arena system, however there are raids on opposing cities and constant skirmishing between Southshore and Tarren Mill (as a result, questing in Hillsbrad is a nightmare).
- Paladins, Druids, Shamans, and Priests have one meaningful build each: healing.
- Healing gear didn't make healers spells more effective.
- Paladins are Alliance only and Shamans are Horde only. Each faction thinks that the other's exclusive class is overpowered.
- The only tanks are Warriors. Their only button to generate threat is Sunder Armor, and boss tanking is mashing that button.
- You zerg (15-man) the 5-man content, and in fact this was how the max level instances (both of them) are run. "LF6M for Strat, any class." This experience is largely free of tactics or strategy.
- There is no meaningful Silithus zone.
- There is no Mauradon or Dire Maul.
- There is no Stranglethorn fishing event or Gurubashi arena master event.
- There is one raid zone, Molten Core. To get there, you have to clear through the longest instance in the game, every single time you want to raid there. The shortcut to avoid this long clear is to swim up a long river of molten lava, and roughly 20% of your raid dies while doing so. It's still worth it.
- Molten Core had all of Tier 1 and Tier 2, and both looked terrible.
- There are no badges or tokens that are shared by classes. In your raiding career, you can go months before seeing an upgrade; when your piece finally does drop, your fellow class members want it just as badly as you do. In fact, most instance runs, you expect to get no loot at all, so DKP and other guild currency systems are ported from other games.
- The most reliable way to get zomgepics is raiding. People who otherwise have no interest in raiding do so solely to get zomgepics (much like battlegrounds now). In related news, raids are 40-man affairs where afk'ing is rampant (again, much like battlegrounds now). You silently loathe 10-30% of your raid members for this reason alone (yes, much like battlegrounds now. Blizzard threw battlegrounds under the bus to improve raiding.)
- Raiding requires resistance gear for everyone; the only way to create that gear is to raid and wipe and get the random crafting materials to drop from the trash mobs in the very instance you're crafting the gear to be successful in.
- There is no heroic mode of anything.
- There are no flying mounts.
- There is no guild bank.
- There are no realm transfers. There is no character renaming.
- There is no way to report gold spam. There is a lot of gold spam.
- There is no online armory. People lie about their build all the time.
- There is no way to mark targets. Hilarity ensues on more than half of all fights.
- Some class's entire raiding experience is hitting one button to decurse the raid.
- Quest targets are farmed for useful drops.
- Travel is completely different. There are no summoning stones. There are far fewer flight paths, and you can't make a multi-point flight, you have to travel to one, then the next.
- You either have a warlock, or you commute. Most max level characters don't have epic ground mounts. Commuting is not trivial, and zone chat and hearthstones are much more meaningful because of this. You actually hang out in the same zone as an instance that you want to go to, in the hopes that someone else shows up. Instances are much slower to get rolling.
- There are no daily quests. You grind mobs for money, and you like it and say thank you.
- Escort quests are both prolific and maddening because of frequent bugs. (robot chickens, anyone?)
- Some dungeon set pieces are tied to trash mobs that are inconvenient to get to. Also, the drop rate on these trash mobs are lower than similar pieces tied to instance bosses. (I'll never forgive you, Devout Gloves! Don't believe that tooltip, they weren't BoE originally!)
- The interface sucks is simple and clean. (kidding, PvD)
- Most high-level crafting patterns are world/realm drops (aka very very very rare random drops), which are either sold for ridiculous amounts of gold or are learned by someone's alt, never to be seen in general population on that realm.
- The Auction House is in only one city per faction, and that city is crowded.
- No handy minimap icons like ! or ? letting you know where you can get or turn in a quest.
- Warlock and Hunter pets don't despawn when you were mounted. Those classes have a larger aggro radius by default as they ride.
- Paladins only have one duration of buff: five minutes. Keeping paladin buffs going during a raid is comical.
- Warlocks don't have soul shard bags. Inventory is constantly a mess for them.
- No mage tables or warlock soulwells. Conjuring food/water/healthstones takes forever.
- Paladins can nuke Horde PC Undead toons with Exorcism.
- Tauren don't have Kodo mounts, they instead get a buff to run at mount speed (plainsrunning)… but it's not under player control when this ability turns on. Hilarity ensues.
You see what I'm getting at. We're currently playing a game that has the name World of Warcraft, but when you compare it with the original World of Warcraft, you could easily call what we're playing a sequel instead of an expansion.
WoW3 will be backward compatible with WoW2 and WoW1. Soon, you will be able to load your WoW3 toon and play all that content with all the improvements. The graphics in WoW3 will be slight upgrade from WoW2, just like WoW2 was to WoW1.
The whole expansion/sequel distinction is overrated when it comes to talking about MMOs. These games are continuous. They evolve.
(Also, going back and reading the patch notes and seeing "Patch 1.2 Major Changes 2004-12-18" and remembering reading them makes me feel really old.)
revised 2008-08-25 with additions and corrections from the commenters: Ianedes, Pete, P, Rudo, BookhouseBOy, Hellscreamy, Kyladar, Din, Hiryu. Thank you all!
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