Larìsa at the Pink Pigtail Inn posted today about immersion in WoW, how the recent inclusion of RMT pets breaks her immersion into the game. Frequent readers here knows that immersion is very important for me when I play a game and they also know that I’ve been pretty critical of the latest changes to WoW when it comes to immersion.
The importance of immersion
Immersion is one of the many facets of a game. Depending on who you ask it won’t have the same importance. For me it’s one of the most crucial elements of a game, on the other hand a friend of mine couldn’t care less about it,for him it’s all about hardcore raiding and immersion equals loss of time in his mind.
No mater how much you care immersion still remains a very important part of a game. If we truly didn’t care at all about it we would be playing chess or solving complex logic puzzles (not that there’s anything wrong with those two activities). Instead we are choosing to be a warrior and go on to fight dragons. A more subtle example would be the class we choose. If you want to roll a healer in WoW you could choose to be either a priest, paladin, druid or shaman. Four choices but most of the time you will hesitate between two, one for its abilities and the other because of a gut feeling. That gut feeling is immersion, it’s you seeing yourself more as a druid than any other class.
There’s a reason why games like Fallen Earth and Dragon Age are doing so well right now. They got immersion down right. Yes, you’re going to miss ammo in Fallen Earth and your horse might not be there the next time you log on but it’s all part of living in post-apocalypse. The funny part is people love it, they are willing to put up with those annoyances for the fun of feeling like living in a real post-apocalyptic world. Just like back in WoW it took 4 hours to do blackrock depths from start to finish. It was long but it worked because from the story standpoint it was the old capital of the Dark Iron dwarves.
When it all changed for WoW…
Let’s review our history first. Back in 2004, WoW is released worldwide. It promptly outshines EQ2 wich came out at the same time by offering players a much more accessible gaming experience. The days of MMO for the hardcore are gone and now everyone can enjoy the game. Back then there was no flight path to camp Taurajo in the barrens. Taurajo was far and to make it feel that way (immersion) you had to leg it for 5 minutes to get their everytime from crossroads. A few months later Blizzard figured out it was more of a pain than a benefit to have players run there and they added a flight path. A bit less immersion but way more fun for everyone.
And that’s been Blizzard motto with the game :”If something isn’t fun then it needs to be changed”, their words not mine. So every now and then WoW would change to accomodate the player base. This became apparent with the release of Burning Crusade when they revamped the raiding experience to give a chance to everyone to experience it this time around. And for the most part they kept immersion pretty intact up until the Sunwell patch. The Sunwell patch was the first obvious time that a zone had been designed with the gameplay first and not immersion. They did dress it up nicely but you could see the point of the island was to get you geared and give you enough money to raid. It was also a great success. By doing a compromise in a spot of the game they allowed everyone who wanted it a chance to set foot into raid progression. The major barriers to raiding at the time, namely money and starter gear could all be solved there. So for a time, all was good and balanced.
Then patch 3.0 came not long before Woltk and with it came achievements. This was a turning point in that Blizzard was introducing a whole new dimension to the game that had nothing to do with the story, raids or gameplay. According to Blizzard it’s intended to be a complement to the game, a way to mark your victories and milestones. The reality of it is that it completely changed the way WoW is played for most people. Suddenly, gathering as many pets and reputations as possible is important. if you want to raid Ulduar you need to have the achievement to prove you are worthy of doing it. Reading the trade chat in cities is enough to depress me now, all you hear is LF healer ToC 25 ,pst achievement. So for most max level WoW players the game can be resumed to waiting around in Dalaran while waiting for something to happen… again, immersion doesn’t seem to be important here.
Finding the middle ground
As with most things in life I’m pretty sure the answer must lie somewhere in the middle between immersion and accommodating gameplay. Like I said before if a game motivates me to do something else then it’s doing something wrong. So if I have to take a 20 minutes flight path for the sake of immersion I’m not interested, I’ll go watch videos while in flight. On the other end, abominations like ToC where all you do is fight generic bosses isn’t working either. The more I look at it the more I think that BC pre-achievments had the best of both world.
Here’s to hoping they get it right again with Cataclysm.