Blizzard recently filed a trademark for “The Dark Below,” presumably the next World of Warcraft expansion. In a Reddit thread concerning the matter, someone joked that the expansion will feature every character being reset to level 1, and how the expansion would take place in the future as we play the descendants of our now-dead characters. Others commented on how neat it’d be to regain the excitement over seeing our first piece of blue gear. Sadly, I wonder if that excitement is even still possible.
Like many, I’ve put most of my MMO career into WoW as I dabbled into other genre entries on the side. I started out at level 1 in games like TERA, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Guild Wars 2 with nothing to my name but crappy default gear. Yet when I leveled up and got my super awesome fantastic quest rewards, I never entirely drooled over them; I just grabbed the appropriate piece of gear and continued with my grinding.
This is something developers don’t want. More and more people are falling into the mindset of grinding through content as quickly as they can to experience endgame, the “real game” in an MMO. While there have been attempts to address this concern, such as SWTOR’s focus on narrative and the complete reworking of content from World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, there’s still something missing. So what is it?
It’s easy to look at the MMO genre and say it’s in a rut. The early excitement over Elder Scrolls Online has subsided, World of Warcraft continues to lose subscribers, and, while EverQuest Next does look appealing, is that really the answer? Heck, I was excited by its potential, but even now, I wonder if I’ll be excited to explore the new world or just rush through things to reach max level.
Perhaps MMO developers should be focusing on solving that problem. Leveling and questing should be treated as a long-awaited road trip. Instead, it’s viewed as a redeye flight to our ideal destination.