I talked in early December about having uninstalled World of Warcraft. At the time, I wrote a fairly basic summary that tried to analyze my personal reasons at a high level and discussed the reasons I felt like the game wasn’t worth keeping around on my NVME drive anymore – in short, that WoW’s overall design, story direction, and the developer interactions with the community were falling well short of what I saw as worth supporting.
Today, I think I want to revisit the topic a little bit, because I think I can be more pointed in my critiques, while also doing something I was very careful to not do in that prior post – directly mentioning competing games. In that post, I felt it was important to not do “WoW bad, FFXIV good” because I knew that it would seem like a cheap shot or low blow on the game, and I wanted to frame the failures I see in WoW solely through WoW. However, it is important to my reasoning and rationale to explore the competition through the lens of how they stack up to WoW and why someone might choose one over the other – and to be more specific and pointed about the things in my personal play experiences that led here.
Gameplay Design Decisions Via Raid Difficulty
WoW’s gameplay has attempted to push players into more varied content diets over the last few years, that much is well-known if you play the game. If you raid, you need to do world quests – in Legion, it was for emissary caches and potential legendary drops, in BfA, it was mostly for stopgap Azerite pieces and Heart of Azeroth levels, and in Shadowlands, it’s all about Renown (and Zereth Mortis rep in 9.2). However, the most pressing thing that actually led to me quitting is none of these – it is raid design.
My raiding background in WoW deals largely with what I would best describe as a ragtag group of raiders. Far from being parse-chasers or high-end optimizers, my guild was, for much of its history, largely raid-loggers. I don’t think that is a bad thing, in fact, I rather liked that and find it weird and offputting when someone calls another player a “raid-logger” intending it as an insult. Who fucking cares if people don’t want to spend a large amount of their time playing the game outside of the very-different social and gameplay function raids serve? It says more about the person saying it as an insult, in my eyes.
What was enjoyable about the way raids scaled up until BfA is that such a group could, with some focus, take down Normal and progress through Heroic all the way up to Ahead of the Curve. Mechanics had a group responsibility, but it was usually easier to understand and then the rest boiled down to personal and role responsibility. What that meant for us functionally is that we could take whomever we wanted for raid, and the changes to make flexible raid sizes the norm were great for that. As long as we met a ratio-range for tanks/healers/DPS, we were golden, and we could bring the 10+ people we enjoyed playing with – generally, regardless of skill level outside of meeting some minimums which we never had to enforce.
Legion was changing that very slightly, but BfA, particularly Nyalotha, and then pretty much all of Shadowlands, has ramped the difficulty up in a very unfortunate way for a group like that. While our merger in BfA gave us a fairly good number of above-average players, we were still largely a group that was social/semi-casual. Shadowlands, by force, began to make raid performance far more of a thing. Mechanics failed by a single person are more rarely adjustable issues, but instead cascading failures that lead to wipes and disappointment, disappointment leads to people being irritated, and irritated people look at logs, overanalyze performance, and harden to outside critique. Raid performance became more contentious – I detailed being against a progression team over the summer, but as the fall came and our Heroic Sylvanas kills were a sort of hit-or-miss endeavor, I felt myself falling into wanting that too. For me, that wasn’t something I had ever previously wanted, and the fact I was thinking about it being viable was a sign for me that the game design was starting to fray the group. Through that lens, I could see how the dominoes had fallen, how people were slowly getting to that point one by one, and I understood better where it came from – I still felt very iffy about the idea, but more that it was feeling necessary to avoid contentious discussions on Discord with frustration taking hold. There was a very real sense, in my eyes, that a progression split would be beneficial.
A particular breaking point was after my group had gotten repeat Heroic Sylvanas kills, and the other group had not yet gotten one at all. Attendance was dwindling, and the remaining players merged to get the rest the AOTC kill. It took a lot of effort. A lot. Heroic Sylvanas as a fight is the junction of all the things that directly undermine the ethos we’d had for so long – high cost for personal failures, lack of ability for high-performers to carry above and beyond, requirement for precise mechanical control, single player failures cascading rapidly to impact the whole raid, and no real way to fully outgear those challenges. We’d have some good pulls, and then lose a battle resurrection in phase 1 to the stupid arrow mechanic and have to wipe. We’d have a solid string of phase 2 runs, only to have someone fall off, precipitating a wipe. Low DPS would be especially low on Sylvanas, and the punishing DPS check meant that was a tough barrier, leading to a lot of good phase 3 attempts wiping to enrage. I certainly wasn’t immune to it either – I tend to play overly safe when possible, so my DPS tends to be lower until I get very comfortable with a fight, and if something rattles my confidence in the way I play an encounter, it takes multiple pulls past that point to get it back.
By that time, I was playing New World, and I was dreading raid nights. I didn’t want to log on, I felt a sense of apprehension about being on and it wasn’t enjoyable for me much, if at all. I didn’t want to just not be on, but I found myself watching to see if raids formed and then staying in New World. If I was asked to come, I’d often find myself subconsciously dragging my feet. When the end of the raid came, I’d usually hop off pretty quickly. We had a few weeks where no Sylvanas kill came after the first time we helped the other group get the kill, and I could feel myself just not wanting to play. I liked the social aspect, and I felt like it was unfair to be super-frustrated with any of the individual raiders, but it was frustrating. I was just not having a good time, and I can see the elements of the game design that caused that friction.
You might say, perhaps even rightfully, that this is an unreasonable ask, that the content be clearable under those circumstances, but my whole premise rests of the fact that it is how the game has been for years. We’ve been doing the kind of group compositions and strategies we’ve had for around a full decade, and it takes longer (usually to get up the gear slope) but we’ve always gotten there. For three straight tiers in a row, the struggle was real, and I didn’t like how it made me feel, either towards my fellow raiders or the game. When I came back to the guild in late summer, I was not an officer, so I don’t have any stake in that way, but I consider a lot of the guild built on a foundation that I helped lay, and seeing the conflict and frustration the raids were driving was disappointing but understandable. The split into two teams, an unavoidable outcome, made it worse in that way – when my group was consistently first across the line, it would make members of the other team feel bad, and while that isn’t the intention, that feeling comes from an understandable place. When it works as it has for the last two tiers, it becomes a bedrock assumption – unintentional though it may have been, there was a gap, and that elicits a complicated set of emotions.
Of course, none of this is helped by the ongoing content draught – the fact that WoW has not had raid content added since July 2021 and the next update is not yet dated and likely to still be another full month off. I knew that I would personally be taking a break for Endwalker in FFXIV, whether or not we were still raiding at that point, but it was a non-factor for raiding, because after we limped over the finish line once more on AOTC, we did some achievements in Sanctum of Domination and wound down the tier.
I’ve kept up with coverage of Sepulcher of the First Ones, and I don’t see much that indicates to me that a change in design philosophy is coming. It seems like things will be much the same on the raiding front, and that is disappointing to me. I’ve been clearing the content, but it has worn the edges of my longtime raiding friends, frayed the group as a whole, and created a lot of splits that suck but are also understandable in the context of the larger group and the game design.
Couple that with the various foundational aspects of the 9.2 design (re-earning flying for just the new zone, the timegate on double-legendaries, the nonsensical storytelling) and I just have no interest in it. There are a handful of things that are better from 9.1.5 and some that 9.2 improves, only to replace those irritants with new ones instead. It feels like it can never truly be a steady march of progress for modern Blizzard, instead we’re lucky to get 2 steps forward for every 1 back. It sucks, and I got tired of trying to hype myself up for aspects of the game that I did like. I’m not foolish enough to say the game sucks as a whole – it doesn’t – but I think this is the most misguided, directionless, and devoid of enjoyment WoW has ever felt. The soul has been sucked out of it, such that it has a knock-on effect on social groups, the content you do enjoy, and the overall perception of the game. A commenter on Reddit actually summarized it well, “unfortunately, if given a few hours with the game, I can find something I sort of enjoy,” and that to me really encapsulates the game experience – if I reinstalled it and logged in right now, I’m sure I could find something to do that I would maybe enjoy or at least feel alright about, but I used to enjoy the game overall – I didn’t have to go looking for things to like.
The Competitive Landscape of MMOs and Gaming In General
For this post, I do not want to leave it unstated – if Endwalker had not come around, if I had not had New World kind of making the contrast stark for those brutal last weeks of Sanctum of Domination, I’d probably still have WoW installed and putz around in it once or twice a week. WoW has never had this combination of factors, this weakness in content coupled with strong competitors offering something different. A big part of why I ended up in New World even for the intense few weeks I did spend there is because it was different and new for me – at a time when WoW was just dull drudgery, New World was something. I bounced off it when I hit the high-40/low-50 level range, but for the hours I did get from it, I don’t feel bad about it.
And then there’s FFXIV. I’ve played FFXIV since 2014, and seriously/up-to-date on content since 2017, and it has always been my runner-up MMO. A big part of why that has been is that for as much shit as I (rightly, I think) give Blizzard for timing releases in WoW to coincide with big FFXIV milestones, it works. I love both games, but one is the original, years-consuming passion, and the other is the second, and so when that first one fires up with new content dated to push me away from FFXIV, I don’t necessarily like it, but the choice becomes clear enough, and that is the intention, obviously.
Endwalker benefitted greatly from releasing at this point in time, where Blizzard has fucking nothing left, and all they could do was their first Sepulcher PTR testing on Early Access day 1 and their first ever in-game PTR cinematic unveiling on the actual launch day of Endwalker. It was, frankly, pathetic – and while I would say they were meager offerings and it might be a coincidence, they’ve done that same-day release bullshit so consistently that I think it was intended to take some shine off of FFXIV. Of course, the PTR raid boss testing is barely a blip, and the cinematic they released was…well, it kind of brought some hard questions about the story into focus, so it was even more pathetic on that front. It actually, somewhat humorously, drew a sharp contrast between the story of FFXIV and that of WoW – I had just been through a nearly 40 hour storyline of epic proportions, and WoW’s cinematic counteroffering was…a poorly-conceived redemption story for a character who has become one of the worst in the game (I’ve seen the scuttlebutt about the Afrasiabi sabotage, and I will address that in a post of its own). I had a story that made me tear up, feel deep emotional connections on one hand, and the plastic, empty, overly simple moralistic storytelling of WoW on the other hand. If the plan was genuinely for that cinematic to upstage the release hype for Endwalker, boy was that an unforced error!
Yet, in any other time, I might have let it be. If 9.2 had released that day as a whole, live patch, I might have had a tough decision to make. In the end, though, there was no hold from WoW over me at that point, and the decision I made to uninstall WoW came on the 7th, that very same day as the cinematic unveiling. Not just because of it, but it ended up being the last illusion-breaker I needed to get over the hump – I couldn’t force another spoonful of the awful story of WoW down the hatch in service of gameplay systems that are, at their absolute best, marginally better than FFXIV.
Through that lens, I can see why Blizzard has always been so fiercely on the ball with countering FFXIV launches – not a single expansion for FFXIV has launched in peace without the WoW team pushing a major patch alongside it, because with nothing left to make me consider WoW, I started to consider if I even had room for it anymore. The answer to that, at least for the moment, was no.
And that decision could have been made absent the odd strategy – if I don’t take into consideration what I saw as desperate and stupid attempts to counter-program, I would still have felt that way and still would have uninstalled the game. The desperation from Blizzard that I perceived was just a cherry on top.
Outside of MMOs, gaming is moving in exciting and agile directions that seem so far out of Blizzard’s reach it is astounding. You can get a boatload of games on the Xbox Game Pass for the same cost as just WoW per month, there are tons of games I can play that let me get right into the core of what I enjoy without doing padded busywork in small doses, and even the biggest FFXIV patch delay that came during the pandemic doesn’t match the time spent waiting for 9.1 or 9.2. Paying Blizzard $15 a month to do months or years-old content with no date for anything new to come seems like a poor value proposition, especially when my personal goals for the content that is there are largely met. Sure, I could farm old raids for mounts I don’t yet have, but the draconian lockouts on old raid content just make that an exercise in frustration, each week without a drop getting more and more irritating. It is fine for some people, and was fine for me for a long time, but Shadowlands has exposed how slow-moving WoW is as a development effort, not just in terms of time waiting on content, but on how outdated its approach feels and how mismatched its systems and design feel to what its audience wants. If you drag your feet on every meaningful change that improves things, you only slow yourself down and find yourself left behind.
Would I Come Back To WoW?
Something that has been derisively said by guildmates in a joking way is that I will be back for 9.2, and I know at this point that it won’t happen. I know that and can know that because I have been following the game still, with about the same level of vigor.
In truth, leaving WoW sucks. It’s hard, because I have given so much of my life and entertainment time to WoW and it formed the basis for me even writing here. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on WoW merch, going to Blizzcon, and even went on a Blizzard campus tour and only really visited the WoW team and the Blizzard library. It has been a big part of my life, and leaving it behind isn’t a decision I take lightly.
At the same time, because it has been such a big part of my life, I haven’t closed the door to it entirely. I’m for-sure out for 9.2, but if the next expansion pitch is particularly good, I could be convinced to return. I still follow the game and discuss it for that very reason – I’m not yet firmly against ever playing it again, but I see how much happier my friends that have largely given up on it are and I kind of want that for myself. They come back to start an expansion, play the good parts of the launch stories (the individual zones mostly) and then check out before the overarching narrative and various single-use, discarded patch content comes to play. But I need more than Blizzard-hype – I need to see solid alpha and beta feedback, see a clear learning of lessons on the nature of content and how to build meaningful gameplay, and I need to see a chorus of non-Blizzard voices saying it. I’ve bought and played 8 expansions on Blizzard’s hype alone now, and I’m perfectly willing to sit this next one out if I see the same sort of flubbed landing I saw in alpha and beta for Shadowlands.
I hate when people use real human relationship metaphors for their time in WoW, so I say this next thing with great irritation at not having a better way to communicate this thought – I loved WoW and I feel like from Legion on, it stopped loving me back. No matter how cool elements of each expansion since then have been, the core has felt missing – the heart has been gone.
But I am not in the mindset of dismissing the game completely yet, which I why I continue to follow it and will continue to write about it. I want a reason to return to the game, proof that such a decision is viable and not a waste of my time digging through shit to find an occasional piece of gold. Shadowlands has not been a good use of my time, and neither was BfA before it. I have to come to the conclusion from all of this that being on the day 1 rush of 10.0 will be a mistake as well, unless substantial evidence otherwise comes up.
So I won’t eliminate the possibility of ever coming back to the game, but I know that what I see in 9.2 is just more disappointment. My hope is that 10.0 is good, because if it also ends up being directionless and overly concerned with keeping in the game for a long subscription regardless of the quality of the content, then I might just stop looking to WoW at all.
Ultimately, all of this is just my opinion, though. I’m not here to tell anyone that you shouldn’t play WoW (or should, either) – the world is so often devoid of joy that I am not interested in trying to take it from anyone else where they may find it (which is why I find people who pop in to discussions like this to be like “I quit two expansions ago, don’t get why anyone still enjoys WoW” to be assholes, because it just offers less than nothing to a conversation and isn’t even worth engaging with). I think the game has problems, and for me those problems add up to an experience that is no longer worth it. For you, that might very well be different, and I hope it remains different to my feelings about the game for as long as possible. I’d much rather be in the situation of enjoying the game and wanting to play it, because sitting in a room with reminders of how much I liked this game once upon a time and having no desire to play it is still a thing I am getting used to. If I don’t buy it at launch in CE, it will be the first WoW expansion I haven’t purchased a collector’s edition of in fifteen years, probably more like 16 by the time it launches.
The thing is, for as fun as ranty posts can sometimes to be to write, I take no joy in being this disappointed in WoW. I’ve never been so thoroughly pushed away from the game by its design before, and it is a new experience to feel like the only way to win is to not play. At the same time, being free of it has let me enjoy much more content in FFXIV and go deeper into that game than I ever have before, and that has been an enjoyable experience.
I think that has been my big takeaway here – ultimately, there’s not one thing that has led me here, to this moment of not playing WoW and not wanting to play it. It is a series of small wounds, things that might be almost meaningless on their own, but combine and add a force-multiplier effect to each other. WoW is a game that I’ve enjoyed for so long that I cannot yet simply walk away from it, but I feel that becoming more of an eventuality – a thing that will happen at some future point, when further disappointment stacks too high to overcome.
I hope to be wrong, but I don’t have a lot of hope that much will change even into the future, and thus, here we are.