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I forgot what class I was playing


I'll set the dramatic stage for you: I was running around on my hunter, having a grand old time just killing off some quests and slaying Mantid left and right. Pandaria was my oyster -- it was the perfect treat for a lazy Sunday afternoon. In the middle of my journey, around the southern scar that tears through The Dread Wastes, I ran into a warlock.

We ended up questing next to each other, and were getting along fine. I never actually talked to him, mind you, but we were comfortable soloing in the same vicinity. But as it happens often enough, there can a point when I grabbed a few mobs and he did as well, and they got all entangled with our pets. Now, this is fine and all, neither of us died, but during the entanglement something happened.

I thought I was playing my warlock again.

I was looking at his Voidwalker and wondering why he wasn't attacking my target. Without looking down, I instinctively started pressing 1 rapidly, which for years has defaulted to my primary class attack plus a pet attack macro. The Voidwalker came over as instructed, and as I was lost in the moment of combat, during the fog of our virtual war on internet dragons, I thought to myself "My Tier 5 really does look pretty badass."

It was at that moment that I realized I was looking at the other player, at the warlock next to me, and not my hunter. And then? And then I felt sad.

I felt sad for the loss of identity and uniqueness. I felt sad for the time when playing a warlock was fundamentally different than playing a hunter or a frost mage. I felt sad for the times that have come and gone, for the players that have left never to return, for the way that things used to be.

But this is a video game! And games are about having fun and not being sad. They're (ideally) a place that you can go to escape the rest of the world we all live in, and for a while become the hero of our childhood, slaying dragons and saving towns. But it was nagging at me, this sadness, this sense that something was off.

What is off is the homogenization of our classes. What is off is the homogenization of the game. We travel out into the world, doing the same quests, the same way, the same time, over and over. When discussing game design the illusion of choice is often brought up -- making the player feel like they're in control, when in reality they are operating in a finely tuned machine.

Right now the classes, and the experience, is mainly determined by where you stand. If you're a ranged character, you stand in the back and kill the mob or heal the players. if you're a melee character than you're up front, and if you're a tank you're facing the boss alone. That's really all the perspective the end game has, and in what might be a slightly cynical view, that's all the choice you really get. Each class, while having different spells, is so similar that the experience of playing the game doesn't differ.

It's important to understand a distinction here -- the experience vs the class. Now yes, each class is different in some regards; mages have different spell names and effects than hunters do. But at an experience level, at a play style level, both are fundamentally the same. In fact, all ranged are so similar now I challenge anyone to show me something that sets their class apart from others so much that their gameplay experience with their class diverges significantly from any other class.

I'll eat my hat if someone can give me an example.

There is an outlier -- at least in solo play. The rogue can do some crazy things that other classes can't. Stealth is the name of their game and they use it masterfully, reaching places in a minute where others are taking 20 or more. That's a unique class that doesn't have a counterpart, and when you're playing a rogue it feels significantly different than if you were playing a warrior or a paladin.

Things were not always like this, however. There used to be a time when the class you played meant something. Paladins were a crazy combination of spell casting, healing themselves, and slamming a big hammer at the head of an undead (because they did 5% more damage to them). Warlocks dotted you up and then went afk for a smoke coffee break. And the rogue? You never saw the rogue, until he was sitting up and down on your corpse -- or whatever that is called.

The classes used to be different, the experience in playing them used to feel different, and the illusion of choice used to run much deeper. That isn't happening anymore, and I pray for a time when we go back those differences. I never want to forget I'm playing a hunter again. It's time for the de-homogenization of WoW.


Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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