A Quick Look at Why I Like Modern MMO Gameplay

To be honest, I’ve hit a seasonal writer’s block, at least partially because I’ve spent less time playing games (save for, oddly, Diablo III?) and more time doing other things (got a wedding to plan after all, and we’ve discussed finding a way to expatriate to Japan in a few years!) but also because what I have wanted to write has been winding and analytical. I like that – but given less time available for writing, it is leading to a draft graveyard in my account.

However, I think there is something I can touch on cleanly and quickly.

When the WoW Classic fervor came around during Blaugust, I spent a lot of time editorializing about the ways in which Classic gameplay was different, and how WoW in particular changes from expansion to expansion, which has led to a more complicated mode of moment-to-moment combat on average.

Now, I am one of those in this sphere of blogging that likes this about WoW – the game has fitted itself better to what I want from it over time. But, while I’ve sort-of disclosed this over time, what I never really explored is the why behind it.

Well, let’s change that!

One thing I have found as I’ve gotten older is that action games are…less appealing to me. For example, Overwatch – I like it, generally, and the gameplay is interesting and has some good mechanics at its core. However, I don’t really play Overwatch and haven’t past maybe a month or two past the game’s launch in 2016. Why? It is primarily the community – as it exploded in popularity, it just felt awful in a fair number of matches to even play, and the end result was that I just didn’t want to subject myself to the community.

The second aspect, however, is something that touches on that “getting older” lead-in from above. Now, granted, I am 34 – “old” isn’t really the word, and I know that. However, what I have found is that generally, I’m no longer a twitch-action superstar. Not that I was ever amazing eSports level sharpshooting in any game, but there was a time when I really enjoyed first person shooters and other various quick-reflex games. At this point in time however, I find myself a little slower to respond, wanting more time to fire back and often not maneuvering a map as well as I once could. Surely, with enough time spent practicing, I could get there – but given the community aspect mentioned first, I just don’t have the interest in spending the time engaging in that way. Blizzard is in all likelihood going to sell me Overwatch 2 under a different pretext – the single player.

Given that, then, there is a gap in my enjoyment of modern gaming – a desire to fill in with higher-speed, reactive gameplay. If a fast-action shooter can’t really fill that gap, what does?

Well – I could take an MMO like WoW, which I play and whose base gameplay pacing is more to my liking. I could play a class with a lot of abilities that can be jammed into smaller windows of time – like a Demon Hunter. I can select a role that breaks me out of a fixed rotation of priority system to have to intervene with threat management or survival, like, say, tanking.

By playing a vengeance Demon Hunter in WoW today, I scratch about 90% of that action gameplay itch.

I have a big rotation and toolbox, and need to intervene often to keep myself alive and keep mechanics moving. Mobility is required both proactively and reactively to manage fights correctly. I even get to make use of targeting via mouse-movement for things like Sigils and Infernal Strike!

At present, the reason the WoW combat still appeals to me is because it is a sort of basic action game, requiring lots of active management, button presses, and input. Does that mean it is good? Not necessarily. I try to be careful (as I was during that Classic launch window) to avoid projecting my opinion and feeling as representative of a larger trend. I have no illusions shrouding my judgment – my opinion is not popular among a large subset of players, and I imagine that many players who like the current WoW combat gameplay feel that way for a variety of different reasons.

Now, through this lens, it is easier for me to explain my challenges with early BfA. The slower scaling of Haste as a stat made gameplay feel sluggish for a longer period than I am used to, and when coupled with the GCD changes, it felt even worse. The GCD change was important here, because it also added massive slowdowns to portions of the toolkit I was used to for Legion, and not just for my Demon Hunter. These also led to a different challenge – the metagame and theorycrafting around my chosen class and spec de-emphasized the Haste stat, so even as it accrued slower and the GCD changes hurt that feeling, it also was something I geared less of for a while.

When Classic came out, I made an effort to play a prot warrior, because I wanted to try that original flavor of tanking, but I failed out pretty hard when the core gameplay loop was waiting on your rage to build from auto-attacks and then waiting for that next melee swing to be able to use Heroic Strike. Classic, again, to be clear, has some better character growth mechanics compared to the current game, but for me and what I get out of WoW in 2019, it just wasn’t fitting the way it did in 2005. That is a reflection on me, not the game. In 2005, I was playing the game alongside shooters like FEAR and Half Life 2, so it had a role to play alongside those games. Somewhere along the way, the core gameplay I wanted out of the majority of my gaming time merged those two tastes together enough to where modern WoW is a fantastic use of my time to satisfy that taste and Classic simply isn’t.

It also goes a long way to explain why my go-to distillation of Final Fantasy XIV gameplay is “WoW, but slower.” It isn’t a “slow” game (and in fact has been adding more abilities as oGCDs which accelerate the pace of combat more and more from expansion to expansion), but since the core loop is introduced as hotbar, tab-target gameplay but with a 2.5 second global cooldown, suddenly, it makes a lot of sense!

Overall, I felt this was something interesting about me to share, and as I enter my winter phase of playing anything but my core MMOs mostly, it was something I felt I could write about in one shot without getting trapped and watching the post sink.

6 thoughts on “A Quick Look at Why I Like Modern MMO Gameplay

  1. That is some interesting insight. I haven’t played World of Warcraft in forever so I can’t comment on any of that. But it did made me realize something about me and my friends back when we tried Guild Wars 2.

    Back during that game’s release I liked the action combat, how every class required some quick decision on how move and what skills to use. I guess that wasn’t something my friends enjoyed as much then, they probably preferred the more old-school style of combat and role-based gameplay of games like Everquest 2 (where we met). Eventually we all left Guild Wars 2 for different reasons and each end up in different MMOs that catered more to our tastes.

    I wish I had that kind of insight back then maybe we could have talked about it and figured another game to try together. Anyway, sorry for being kind of an off-topic comment but I wanted to write something more meaningful than “Thanks for giving me the kind of insight I wish I had all those years back and which explain a lot of my tastes in MMOs gameplay!”

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    1. Thanks for the comment – I definitely appreciate it! The Guild Wars 2 comparison is a solid one – I haven’t played enough of that to say with any real expertise, but the taste I did get was that there is a more action-y feel to it compared to old-school MMOs. It is probably part of what I liked about it, TBH.

      Knowing that about myself does help me play games that line up with my interests better – it goes a long way to explain why I love jobs like Dancer in FFXIV – lots of rapid pressing of buttons, procs and random chance events lighting up my UI and allowing me to weave more into my rotation – all of that strategy and pacing is very much up my alley. It took me until recently to piece together why that taste also prevents me from getting what I want out of slower-paced games.

      Outside of MMOs, the odd thing is that I do enjoy some slower games, and a good chunk of what I’ve played lately has fit in that type of play very well. I’m not sure what it is about the MMO space in particular that makes me want speed nowadays and quicker to discard slower games. I’m sure when I do figure that out, a new post will be forthcoming!

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  2. I feel very similarly on Wow’s current gameplay. Expansions where it’s at it’s best always felt like a beautiful hybrid between a slightly slower strategy game and a console action game. Bfa really did feel sluggish. I didn’t know that haste was changed, but the GCD changes as well as that weird gear scaling they did while leveling up really made things feel off.

    Movement and area denial are the two parts of WoW’s gameplay that always felt incredible. When I was casually leveling my Demon Hunter in BfA it felt so much better than the other classes, it felt like the spec was both mobile and had retained a lot of what made the class feel unique. When playing other classes, I always felt like things were both slow and that each spec was a button or two off from being a complete build.

    Classic was a beautiful cohesive package, but modern Wow’s gameplay has this unique pace to it that I think no other game has really ever matched. I just don’t think the current incarnation is fully fleshed out right now.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I definitely agree – the reason I enjoy BfA gameplay more now than at launch definitely has to do with smoothness and that speed coming back in. It’s also a lot of why I haven’t really played alts much yet – the leveling process brings the pace crashing down again and it feels really iffy. I’m still hoping to powerlevel my remaining alts this expansion out of tradition, but I don’t feel any strong compulsion to do so given the slowdowns in their early gameplay.

      My biggest hope for Shadowlands is that the new abilities coming from these various Covenant-related systems have enough of that pace-quickening restored to offset what we lost going into BfA. The demo at Blizzcon was promising – the abilities on offer there felt fluid and easily integrated into the normal rotations, but it is way too early to say for sure that will hold. To your last point, though – it feels like unpruning can help with that fleshing out and build a more complete combat ecosystem on top of the foundation, which is solid but in need of some tweaks, definitely.

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  3. Rotation suggests rhythm: and that is what they broke in BfA, in my opinion. WoW is a slow game, I guess — I have quite a few years (and miles) on you and have worried for the past few years if I’d be able to continue raiding, if I’d not be able to twitch in the environment and so far, so good. I can still play in a comparable fashion to my peers. So much of all games are based on repetition, knowing when to duck in a hallway or rolling your fingers over the keyboard; putting in the repetition time is the hard choice one makes when playing; effort and reward and all that jazz!

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