on Jul 14, 2008
I think I’ve finally been with this game long enough to tell the difference between newbie growing pains and actual design flaws. Despite the fun this game has to offer, it is not without its eccentricities and frustrations. This list is long. This is not because the game is rife with idiocy (at least, not more than other games) but simply because the game is so immense.
I actually considered making this a series, but then I decided to just dump the whole thing on you at once. Good luck. This does not mean I won’t write more nitpicks later. All of my efforts thus far have managed to raise a character to level 37, which means a vast portion of the game still remains beyond the horizon for me.
And now begins the nitpicking, which in this case takes the form of a numbered list:
1. Low drop rates for quest items
This is one of the most notorious hassles of the game. If you want me to kill 30 bears, then ask me to kill 30 bears. Don’t ask me to collect 3 bear claws and have only 1 in 10 of them actually drop a “claw”. Like, you want 3 bear claws? Then I should have to kill one bear, because a standard-issue bear has four of them. There is nothing like having a wild bear rend your flesh in battle, only to loot the body and find the animal has… not a single claw? Just like the last 5 you killed.
I’ve killed toothless wolves, headless boars, and clawless bears. I’ve wiped out an entire village of Murlocs, who had not a single eyeball among the lot of them.
Low drop rates are annoying, but they really tend to rile people when they are both low and nonsensical. Ideally the quest should just specify the number you need to kill. Barring that, the requested item shouldn’t be something that is an integral part of the animal. Have me collect Murloc spears or earrings or something.
2. Quest Locations are Vague
Let’s see… the quest giver enlisted me to, “Slay the King of Furbolgs, on the hill north of the ruins”. Do these broken pillars count as “ruins”, or am I looking for like, big stone buildings? That busted statue could count as ruins. I mean, it’s ruined. Crap, is that hill the he was talking about? Or the one beyond? Or was he talking about something mountain-sized? Damn it, maybe I’m in the right spot, but someone killed King Furbolg recently and he hasn’t respawned yet.
Far too many times I’ve found myself slaughtering an assigned wild animal, but finding they don’t have the required body part. Am I fighting the wrong kind? (Fighting “Elder Crag Boars” instead of just “Crag Boars”, which look the same.) Or am I fighting the right monster but in the wrong region? Or is this just another instance of problem #1, where some Tigers don’t have fangs and some Boars don’t have intestines?
Some quests are supposed to be a search, but far too many simply become a search because the quest giver was an unhelpfully vague jerk. This is made worse by the fact that moving around in the game means hacking through the endless waves of monsters that evenly coat the surface of the world. Backtracking and looking for something becomes endlessly tedious when it involves killing the same four bears a dozen times while trying to guess at all of the possible meanings of the directions you were given.
You can get a plugin to pinpoint required locations on the map. I consider the game to be nearly unplayable without this. A less sledgehammer solution – and one which might preserve the intended sense of mystery in the world – would be a button to ask the quest giver for more explicit directions for players who might not have the major landmarks memorized yet.
3. Bag space is outrageously limited
At the start of the game you can carry a maximum of sixteen items. As you progress, you eventually get more bags, so you can hold more items. But the game is mercilessly stingy with bag space, and the price of bags is preposterously inflated. Like, at level ten a formless burlap sack costs more than a dozen sets of armor. One of the best bags you can get early on (via a quest) is a 10-slot container which is a feed bag for a horse for crying out loud. You can afford swords, armor, magic potions, ammunition, and training in any number of professions, but a horse’s feed bag is right out of your price range.
Keep in mind that one of the things that makes this game such a rich experience is the number of different activities – leather working, fishing, cooking, first aid, enchanting, and so on. But these professions take up a lot of bag space, to the point where you can’t participate in the activities because you can’t carry the tools you need.
My guild set me up with a full set of neatherweave bags, which can hold 16 items each – some of the largest in the game. I don’t know what just one of these bags would normally cost, but I’ll bet it’s more than everything I’ve made with all of my characters combined. For one. And I have four of them. And yet space is still tight sometimes. If it weren’t for the generosity of my guild, I’d have spent nearly all of my money just to get bag space that’s about half of what I have now.
I really don’t see the point to any of this. Sure, getting more bag space is a nice reward, but less bag space = less activities, which means less fun. What exactly is the point, here?
Of course, this problem is exacerbated, or perhaps even caused by…
4. The Needless proliferation of ingredients
If you’re learning the cooking skill you’ll want to save the animal parts you pick up. Recipes call for certain animal parts, and you need to have the right parts from the right animals. So you’ll have boar ribs, boar liver, boar meat, boar snout, boar intestines, bear meat, wolf meat, stringy vulture meat, spider ichor. Each of those items takes up a slot.
But there is almost no re-use of items. A vast majority of the ingredients you collect in the wild are part of one and only one recipe.
I wouldn’t need so much bag space if there weren’t so many different types of animal parts. There are even certain recipes that call for meat from a particular breed of animal. Beer-blasted boar ribs can only be made from Crag Boar ribs, and not from the ribs of any of the other hundred types of boar in the game. I have a recipe for “roasted bear meat”. It requires I collect “bear meat”, but it doesn’t work with the “big bear meat” I get off of higher-level monsters. Frustrating nonsense.
The game needs to cut way, way back on the number of different meats. I understand that special dishes need esoteric ingredients, but this is excessive, particularly given how precious bag space is for people that aren’t being subsidized by rich guildmates.
Yes, there are mechanical reasons for this related to how the cooking skill is leveled, but there are a lot of ways the cooking system could be overhauled to be 1) More interesting 2) Make more sense and 3) Have a more acceptable impact on bag space.
The way the system is now, it eats up a lot of space, it doesn’t make sense, and it leads to…
5. The Needless proliferation of food types
There are just dozens and dozens of different foods that all confer the same bonuses. So, maybe a roasted boar leg and a cherry pie (or whatever) both heal the same number of HP when you eat them, but they don’t stack in inventory. So a boar leg and a cherry pie together take up more space than ten cherry pies. Again, it just takes its toll on bag space, which is already scarce and which already limits the number of fun things you can do in the game.
Also: The various food types don’t give you a clue as to which is better. Which restores more health? Roasted wolf burgers or an Apple pie? Well, if you mouse over it you learn that Apple Pie is for high level characters and restores many, many times the HP. There is no rhyme or reason, there’s just this ladder of food types that don’t stack.
The system would be better if larger, more complicated food offered a bigger bonus, so a user could look at two different foods and immediately know which is better without needing to read tooltips.
6. Arbitrary Level restrictions
It has long been a pet peeve of mine: “You must be level 10 to use this item.” This isn’t so much a dig at WoW, but at about half the RPG’s out there that impose these ridiculous limits on otherwise mundane activities.
Yeah, I can see why you’d want this on armor and other combat-related items, but… food? Blacksmithing? Leatherworking? Do you really need to be a seasoned warrior before you can learn how to smelt better? Do you need to have a firm understanding of arcane magics before you can properly command a needle and thread?
I actually like the idea of a character that hangs around town and levels up crafting skills without needing to go out adventuring. For gathering professions you’ll need to have the chops to survive in high-level areas to get the more valuable resources anyway, so I don’t see the need to impose a hard limit.
And to the person at Blizzard who decided you must be level 5 to drink a glass of milk: You are a madman and you must be stopped.
My first character is level 21 now, which means she’s still a good thirty levels from being qualified to eat a pie.
Really. What the hell?
7. The realtime day / night cycle
I usually don’t get to see Azeroth during the day, because I’m at work. The in-game clock runs realtime, so if you play at the same time every day you see the sun in the same position and everything looks the same all the time, which defeats the entire purpose of having a day / night cycle. I’d rather the thing ran on (say) a three-hour cycle, which would let you see a good bit of the change while you’re playing.
Given the distances between locations (towns are a few minutes apart on foot) it’s clear this world is somewhat compressed and symbolic. If it takes (say) half an hour to walk from Menethil Harbor to Ironforge, then that would be four hours of game time, which is a more reasonable distance between towns.
8. Respawning monsters
Again, this is more about MMO’s in general, but we’ve been doing this MMO thing for… what? Ten years? At least? Are we at the point where monsters can stop beaming down from the Enterprise yet? Maybe try to have monsters appear in the spaces where player’s aren’t? At least make it so that a monster won’t respawn if a player is standing within attack range. It’s no fun being in the middle of a fight and having Scotty beam in reinforcements for the enemy right on top of you. Things like that tend to result in unjust player death. This goes double for those that rely on ranged magical attacks to do their thing.
9. Heavy Drinking Mages
Mages have to replenish their magic power by sitting down and drinking water. It takes a while. It’s a constant drag on performance, and means that everything just takes longer when you’re playing a magic user. Worse, you can’t put that time to use. You can’t work on leatherworking, or tailoring, or alchemy, or any of the other secondary activities in the game while you wait. You just sit there.
I don’t see a reason for this, other than as a simple timesink. Mages can conjure water using magic. Then they sit down and drink said water. What exactly are we accomplishing here, except to squander the player’s time?
Any game mechanic that requires you to constantly stop playing the game to do nothing for a worthless thirty seconds at a time is bad game design.
10. Wandering Elites are Asinine
In Desolace a vast portion of the desert is populated by monsters with levels in the low to mid thirties. Except, there are these massive level 39 giants roaming around. Given that you can’t see monsters until they’re thirty or so meters away, and given that you’re peering into the world through a 90 degree viewport without peripheral vision, it’s actually really easy for one of these bastards to get on top of you before you’re aware of him, particularly if you’re in the middle of a fight. What is the point of spiking the lower-level areas with these high-level monsters? Someone that wants to fight level 39 stuff will go to a harder region where he won’t have to wade through a dozen worthless level 34 mobs to get to the giant.
Suddenly being attacked by something you can’t fight and can’t outrun is more or less the same thing as being killed by a random bolt of lightning. Life is random and unfair, but when I’m playing a game for entertainment I’d like for penalties to be related to mistakes, not bad luck. This does not enrich the game experience. It’s just a pointless death to punish the player for… what? Playing the game in the first place?
And speaking of death…
11. Resurrection Sickness Sucks
If you die and can’t recover your body (because, say, four monsters spawned right on top of you and murdered you and now buzz around the corpse like flies) you can choose to re-appear in the graveyard. But you have to endure resurrection sickness, which reduces all of your stats by 75%. Fighting at one-quarter power is simply not an option in this game. There is nothing worthwhile you can fight. You just have to sit there and do nothing for ten minutes.
Ha ha. You were killed by teleporting monsters, or lag, or by one of those roaming elites we like to put in the game just to piss people off. Sucker. Go stand in the corner for ten minutes.
WoW can quickly shift from being immersive and fun to idiotic and dull, and once in a while I wonder if the people at Blizzard secretly hate me.
(People also complain about the length of the Gryphon rides in this game, although I use them to write the epic posts like the one you just waded through. Your mileage may vary.)
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.