The end of an era, for now…

What happens when a beloved game becomes so bad, you don’t know if you should keep playing regardless in hope of a brighter tomorrow, or call it a day?

This is the choice many players of World of Warcraft have faced at one time or another. Particularly over the past couple of years.

Battle for Azeroth wasn’t very well received, but players kept playing.

Shadowlands was even less well received, but some players kept playing.

Then the revelations about Blizzard and its internal history of sexism, sexual assault, senior management covering up said offences, the firing of victims whilst shuffling offenders off to different departments or games, and the worst part, the actual death of an employee who felt so overwhelmed by the abuse that she felt no other recourse than suicide.

None of this was recent behaviour either. Much of this type of behaviour spanned decades of offending by senior staff at Blizzard and their favoured underlings, who were more or less allowed to behave as they wanted with impunity.

Sadly, this historic abuse and behaviour only came to light publicly over the past year or so. Since then of course many employees have either fled the company or had to be fired because they didn’t leave. Some abusers got out ahead of the oncoming storm, others, as we’ve seen recently, have only been fired over the past few months.

Whilst Blizzard are going through a period of tremendous upheaval and churn, and rightly so in order to clean house and set themselves aright for the future, the appeal of their once powerhouse franchises, WoW, Overwatch, Diablo et al, have begun to wane.

This is due to a combination of the distaste some players feel contributing to Blizzard’s bottom line, and generally the quality of the games themselves, and the level of neglect they’ve seemingly been suffering from over the past year.

Quality of the game aside for a moment, personally I have no issue continuing to pay Blizzard for WoW, primarily because the offenders are (hopefully mostly) out of the door and will receive no compensation from my monies. Most of the staff at least, still working there are good, honest developers, QAs, artists and so on, trying to get themselves back on their feet again after a period of turmoil.

However, what I have felt keenly is the fact that right now, World of Warcraft is probably in the worst condition the game has ever been in during its lifetime.

Stagnant, uninspired, bogged down by complicated and needless systems, and a gameplay loop designed and driven entirely by FOMO, WoW has become a shadow (no pun intended) of its former self.

Generally we used to get one good expansion, followed by a bad one, followed by another good one, and on and on.

However, the last good expansion was Legion, and since it ended in 2018, players have been subject to reheated Legion leftovers for 4 years now.

World Quests: Again.
Mission Table missions: Again.
Uninspired PvP & PvE rewards: Again.
Mythic+ designed around the release dungeons, followed up by one “mega-dungeon” split into 2 for addition to the m+ pool: Again
Systems of borrowed power that don’t live beyond the confines of a patch cycle, never mind an expansion: Again
Tired recolours of Mounts, Pets, Armours etc: Again.

It’s just all very “meh” and the same dish served up time and time again, getting colder each time it’s re-served and presented as “fresh”.

For me the last straw was the Mage Tower. A rehash of a fun experience in Legion that I absolutely adored, but given class changes, ability pruning, dead artifacts etc etc, the entire experience felt very… empty.

It didn’t feel as fun as the original iteration, and as such I didn’t even try very many. I gave the Guardian Druid and BM Hunter runs a few goes each, but I didn’t enjoy it.

Maybe coming off the back of 5-6 solid weeks of unsuccessful Mythic Painsmith Raznal progression without a fresh reset just burnt me out on attempting challenging content.

Either way, the game became very quickly something I didn’t want to be playing.

So I cancelled my sub.

This for me is a massive deal. I’ve never cancelled my sub even once since I came back full-time in 2009, and when my sub runs out in late-February, I’ll be breaking that 13 year streak of being consistently subscribed to the game.

I’ve never missed out on a raid tier, patch or expansion. I’ve played EVERYTHING the game has released for the past 13 years, at least certainly in a PvE context.

And it looks like 9.2 has the distinct dishonour of being the first content I’ve skipped out on since February 2009.

And maybe 10.0 as well if the game, predictably, doesn’t massively shake things up and retreads the same tired, well-trodden path it has since Legion’s release.

Another direction…

With Final Fantasy 14 proving to be a significant change in pace, it has pushed me to make the jump. The jump off the treadmill that I’ve been on for surprisingly 3 different decades!

FFXIV is a massive change. Different art style, narrative approach, developer mentality, community attitude, and a general complete lack of toxicity from everyone I’ve ever met in the game.

When Endwalker, FFXIV’s most recent expansion, released at the start of December, it was so popular that the servers weren’t able to cope. It took nearly 3 weeks for login queues to return to normal levels, and that only happened because the developers had to do two things:

  • Stop selling the game to new players.
  • Stop making the trial available to new players.

This was an extraordinary step. A game so successful that it had to stop being sold. Unbelievable! And of course, killing the infamous meme (albeit temporarily) about the trial in itself was another big step.

As of the time of writing, neither restriction is yet lifted for new players, two weeks after being implemented. Of course the inability of Square to install new servers due to microchip shortages has had a large impact on the game too, as normally the developers would just throw more servers at the issue, but that hasn’t been an option here.

In terms of what FFXIV does right, where to begin?

Narratively FFXIV is in a different league to WoW. Where FFXIV is a (more or less) single continuous narrative told from A Realm Reborn right the way through to the recent Endwalker, and deals with subjects and characters in a more complex and mature way, WoW’s narrative design is, sad to say, very amateurish and shoddy in comparison. It’s like comparing Shakespeare to Dan Brown.

Characterisation is something that is another huge difference between the two games. In FFXIV characters are consistent, believable, show personal growth and each are individually unique. Their words and actions belie the level of thought and care shown by the game’s writers and developers over the course of expansions-long development arcs.

In World of Warcraft? “Morally grey” anyone? The characterisation in WoW essentially boils down to “Which character will we give this “arc”/exposition dump/quest to?” Characters are largely interchangeable, and as a result become fairly nondescript. Rarely/Never do we see actual character growth, personal drama or consequences. Everything that happens to any given character is generally either washed away by the next patch/expansion, or any consequences are designed specifically to drive the “narrative” for the next patch/expansion without any real thought given as to impact or lore.

Outside of narrative and characterisation, in terms of actual in-game systems, the Transmog system is light-years ahead of WoW in some respects, and lagging in others. The range of “glamours” that you can put together is astounding. Whereas the ability of players in WoW to put together a transmog for say casual gear is severely limited, in FFXIV players can put together a glamour that features Jeans, Wooly Jumpers, Sunglasses/Glasses/Monocles, frilly dresses, demon and angel outfits, schoolgirl and maid outfits, gear that resembles major characters, heavy knight’s armour, ninjas, dancers, business suits… the list is endless and goes on and on and on.

Where it falls down is in how looks are stored. WoW’s collection of looks is superior to FFXIV’s glamour dresser, which is limited to just 400 slots across all gear slots, and that includes necks and rings, which are visible on your character. Mind you, where the glamour system pulls back ahead here is that whereas WoW has many recolours of gear items which are separate entries, most gear in FFXIV is able to be dyed a large array of different colours.

Classes! My god, it’s so good to not have to have an army of alts in order to play different classes. Now these so called “jobs” are equivalent to only a single spec in WoW, but you can play any of the 20 Jobs in FFXIV on a single character. Switching jobs, and roles, is little more than the click of a button.

But there’s more than just those 20 combat Jobs. There are 11 profession Jobs to dive into as well, and as you’ll have guessed, you can max all of these on the same character as well. No limitation to just two professions here. And these are full on Jobs too, with their own separate gear and skills required.

There are a tonne of other things I could rave about, but one last one for now: The Music!

Oh my god the music is so good! And varied in styles too, as boss tracks (each raid boss has its own composition) can vary from the usual orchestral affair to full on orchestra and choir in full blast, through to metal, dance and anything in between. And it’s all just gorgeous. Achingly beautiful compositions sit alongside heart-pumping metal tracks and it all just fits, perfectly.

The future

For now, and for the foreseeable future, FFXIV will be my main home in the MMO sphere. WoW has withered away in my estimation, which is something I never thought would ever happen, but as the meme goes, “No king rules forever…”.

Currently I’m in the Heavensward patch content, the quest content that gets released with each expansion’s major x.1/x.2 etc patch.

And I care. I care more about these characters and their stories and situations after playing for just over 100 hours than I ever cared for any lore character in WoW in 13 years. I’ve become attached to them because of how well they’re written and voice acted. Deaths, character returns, betrayals, it’s all just so damned good and makes me care about what happens next.

Sadly, the same can’t be said about World of Warcraft.

Come February 22nd, I shall login to my main characters, my Paladin, Hunter and Druid, and log them out in appropriate places, just in case I never revisit them, and right now, that may turn out to be a very distinct possibility.

I had a HUGE amount of fun in World of Warcraft over the past 13 years, even when expansions were bad (name checking Cataclysm and Warlords of Draenor here specifically), but this time? This time it feels different, as I doubt that the team that are left are able, regardless of how individually talented each of them are (and by gods they are, particularly the Art Department!), will be able to save the sinking ship that is WoW.

And it makes me sad. I’ve fucking loved World of Warcraft. And in many ways I still do, and always will. Mainly for the good memories and friends and fun times I was lucky enough to find along the way.

And there were a lot of those.

Man I’ll miss it if I never return.

Especially my Gnome.