The real irony here is that Retail sees far less use of the Dungeon Finder than Classic would. Mythic and Mythic Keystone dungeons don’t use the Dungeon Finder and automatic group creation, they use the Premade Group Finder. So really, the only people using the Dungeon Finder are people levelling, people doing dungeons to finish quests, or people gearing up a little at the very start of an expansion. Otherwise everyone is doing dungeons the old-fashioned way, even having to travel to the instance entrance in the world.
I think it would be difficult for even the more ardent Classic purist to be upset over a Premade Group Finder compromise. It allows you to advertise a PUG to your local server community without needing to spam Trade chat. What would the counter-argument possibly be? Yeah, it didn’t exist during Wrath, but LFD did so… are you an originalist or no?
To be honest, I completely forgot about the Premade Group Finder because A) I’m not playing WoW and B) I had less than zero interest in Mythic dungeons when I was playing. I would still prefer an LFD system overall for less serious content though, especially for those on smaller servers. Sometimes you just want to press a button and get group content. If it’s good enough for PvP, why not PvE?
I kind of glossed over it amongst all the other WoW news, but let’s talk about Dungeon Finder, aka LFD.
Wrath of the Lich King Classic is coming. What is being intentionally left out is the Dungeon Finder, a feature that debuted at the tail-end of the expansion. According to Brian Birmingham, this was done for reasons:
“We know that the Classic audience is more interested in long-term social engagement, that feeling that comes from reaching out to people, talking to them about how you’re going to group, trying to coordinate, who’s going to do what role walking to the dungeon together, trying to figure out how you’re going to get to the dungeon, who’s going to summon, maybe run into a PVP fight on the way,” Birmingham says. “And then you finally get in there and you have friends that stick together with you.”
Did anyone read that paragraph and actually go “Yeah, that’s exactly what was missing in my life”?
I do not necessarily want to get into the semantic fight of what is Classic and what is not – Blizzard has tinkered with the formula of what is “classic” from the very beginning, and it’s a fool’s errand besides. But I do feel like this decision and the reasoning behind it is firmly in the “tail wagging the dog” territory. Which is funny, considering the lengths the retail WoW devs go to to specifically ignore player feedback on their many disastrous designs. Perhaps the Classic devs are more acutely aware of the temporary nature of their work if that playerbase evaporates.
That said, Dungeon Finder is indeed a conundrum. As Wilhelm succinctly puts it:
I have been down the “where does classic end?” path before, but I think you could make a very strong argument that Dungeon Finder is the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” World of Warcraft. Yes, Cataclysm changed the world, making Azeroth a different place, but Dungeon Finder changed how we played.
I will agree that Dungeon Finder is the bright red line between when classical WoW turned into retail.
Or to put it a different way: Dungeon Finder represented the democratization of WoW.
I did not start playing in vanilla, but I experienced the full depths of despair that was pugging in TBC and early Wrath. What is missing from the Brian Birmingham quote above is the 40+ minutes you spent in Trade Chat forming a group, the next 15 getting everyone through the door (“I was waiting for a summon” “Oops, I left my reagents back in the bank”), and finally having the entire run ended abruptly when someone left or got fed up. Back in 2008 burning two hours to maybe finish one heroic dungeon was okay. It certainly wasn’t going to continue being fine for long either way though.
Maybe that wasn’t your experience. Maybe you were privileged enough to have joined the game with IRL friends, or got a guild invite at the right time and place to meet people willing to routinely run dungeons with you. In which case… the Dungeon Finder should not have negatively impacted you at all. The only people it would have “hit” would have been GearScore tryhards lording over Trade Chat, or perhaps extroverts looking to hook up with randos. Thing is, both of those types would be just at home in a guild anyway. So again, no loss.
Dungeon Finder opened up the game to solo players. WoW has always had a reputation as being solo-friendly compared to its peers, but within the game itself there was a rather abrupt progression stopping point at the level cap. You could grind reputation dailies for blue gear and… that’s it. It’s fine to say that MMOs are better with friends, and to encourage the fostering of friendships within the game, but this was all stick. It also made for some questionable design considerations when 80% of the design effort went into content that only 20% of the playerbase ever saw.
Did Dungeon Finder affect WoW culture? Sure… in a roundabout way. You cannot exactly type “GOGOGO” in a hand-picked TBC pug nor can operate in radio silence the entire time. And it is certainly true success rates of Dungeon Finder groups is dependent on the difficulty of the content in question, thereby putting downward pressure on (default) dungeon difficulty. See: the Cataclysm LFD Disaster. But as the esteemed Rob Pardo said back when Dungeon Finder was released:
The other piece is that the WoW playerbase is becoming more casual over time. People who were hardcore into MMOs, they joined us first, but the people we’re acquiring over the years are casual. They heard about the game from a friend of a friend, and maybe it’s their first MMO – maybe it’s their first game. The game has to evolve to match the current player.
This was from the lead designer of vanilla and TBC, not some random intern or junior B Team dev. And this was from when Dungeon Finder was first released, so it wasn’t that it caused the playerbase to become more casual over time. Rob Pardo actually went on to say: “To be completely honest, [the Looking For Group tool] is a feature I wanted in the game when we launched the game.” Dungeon Finder was not an accident, it was not a concession to some casual boogieman. It was intentional! Which makes its removal from Wrath Classic such a contortion. What is trying to be preserved technically never existed. This is a do-over attempt with a self-selected group of purists. Which is cute – I hope Blizzard eventually releases dungeon completion rates.
Perhaps the devs did come to regret the Dungeon Finder inclusion and/or unintentional consequences over time. Certainly they felt that way about flying as the years went on. But warts and all, the Dungeon Finder saved WoW for me and presumably millions of others. What was “lost” was never really desired by me in the first place, e.g. ingratiating oneself to strangers to complete a 20-minute dungeon for badge loot. If you want a static group and a sense of accomplishment, join a guild and raid something. Opposition to Dungeon Finder is even less rational these days as the devs have included scaling Mythic difficulty to dungeons for several expansions. Hard group content never went away.
The only thing that did disappear is the dependency on social networking skills… for low-tier group content. If your guild/friend group fell apart because everyone could now get their dungeon needs met with anonymous strangers, chances are that the “bonds” were not quite as strong as you perceived. Sorry, champ: if they really wanted to play with you, they would be playing with you.
Ultimately, I suppose we will just have to see how this all plays out. Maybe the Classic community will love spamming LFG and/or Trade chat to fill the Pit of Saron group for the 50th time. My guess is that Blizzard will end up putting in Dungeon Finder by the time ICC is released, or else they are really going to need to tinker with the badge and loot economy.
World of Warcraft’s next expansion was revealed today, and its theme is… Guild Wars 2.
Sorry. It’s called Dragonflight, deals with helping dragons reclaim their legacy, will “provide a more in-depth open world experience going forward,” and features new dragonriding skill that lets you “defy gravity while using your momentum and skills.” Here is a video of it in motion:
I get that the entire history of WoW is copying other peoples’ homework and all, but something about this is… a bit too on the nose.
Anyway. There were some other items that popped out at me.
Cross-Faction Coming Soon. Technically old news (first revealed in January), it was nevertheless interesting to hear cross-faction grouping being brought up again. While Blizzard is still being ultra-conservative with it – not being able to join guilds is probably going to make organized raiding problematic – cross-faction play of some kind is one of those things that never really made sense not to have in WoW during its heyday. I have had real, non-theoretical conversations with coworkers in the past wherein we (briefly) got excited to learn the other played WoW, only to face the double disappointment of being A) on the wrong server, or B) the wrong faction, or C) both.
If only we knew why it took so long…
Talent Trees Return. Overrated. It’s mildly interesting that they have a class tree and a spec tree separately, but that is just lampshading the “lack” of a borrowed power system in the expansion.
WotLK Classic. Expected, but nevertheless still hit me in the feels. Everyone has a WoW entry point they feel nostalgic for, and for me it is WotLK… despite my actually starting to play in Burning Crusade. Epic scope, epic music, ground-breaking raiding (in 10m flavors!), and some great guild members relationships. Devs mentioned intentionally leaving out the Dungeon Finder for “social fabric” reasons which, okay, whatever. It will be interesting to see what happens to said fabric when everyone is trying to farm badges for gear.
UI Improvements. This sort of thing might seem minor at first, but not being able to get my screen looking like it did the last time I played WoW ends up being a rather large, subconscious barrier to reentry. Addon Managers can remove some of the tedium, but having a lot of the same functionality within the base UI is more ideal.
Cosmic Plot Intermission. Coming out of the narrative disaster that is Shadowlands, it’s refreshing to see Blizzard basically hitting the pause button. Nothing in the trailer hinted at some kind of Big Bad Guy to face, or that the fate of the world was once again at stake. It’s always possible that that comes later, but the tone is being set early on. Reminds me a bit of Mists of Pandaria minus the faction war.
Everything Else. K.
This is the part of the post where I talk about how I’m intrigued by what Blizzard is doing and will probably resub to see the new content. Probably not this time around.
A pause in the power escalation is necessary, but… I don’t like dragons. Not quite on the level of hate Syp has for elves, but dragons are a solid third place above “It was all a dream” and Time Travel in terms of ire. What possibly interesting story could ever be made concerning dragons? I don’t just mean in Dragonflight, I mean in any fiction. Yes, I watched The Hobbit, played Skyrim and Dragon Age, etc etc. In all cases, dragons could be replaced with an infinitely more interesting colossal beast with no impact to the storytelling. Dragons are flying, hoarding tropes. Vampires? A lot of directions you could take a story. Dragons? Replace it with an eldritch horror of some kind and get a much more engaging tale.
So, yeah. Good luck, have fun.
My blog roll is filled with WoW Classic posts, and I am loathe to add another one to the pile. But it was interesting to me scrolling through them, as there was a lot of words surrounding the sort of meta experience, but not so much the moment-to-moment or even the “but… why?” piece.
It was not until SynCaine tried to explain the difference between Easy and “easy” that I realized what WoW Classic is all about:
With that said, one major reason why Classic is fun is because it isn’t faceroll easy. Starting right at level 1, you simply can’t run into a group of mobs solo and expect to survive. When you are doing at-level content, you are always at least aware of where mobs are, about what you are pulling, and what keys you are pressing. Now don’t get confused, once you do those things, killing a mob or two is ‘easy’. But that itself is the point; you have put in the work to get a decent pull, so your reward is being able to kill said mob without too much fuss. That ‘simple’ combat is also its own strength; you really don’t want the most basic aspect of your MMO (combat), that you hope people experience for hundreds if not thousands of hours, to be tiring or require near-constant button mashing.
WoW Classic is Something To Do. Which is not to be confused with “something to do.”
Before I get into that though, I just have to laugh. “It only seems easy, because of all the work you have to put in.” Ehh… no. WoW Classic is easy. That rules exist at all does not make it any less easy. Pulling only one or two mobs at a time is the equivalent of Paint By Numbers – the hardest part is not becoming distracted by all the other things you plan on doing later while actually doing the thing you clearly don’t need to pay close attention to do. Notice how nowhere in the description of Classic combat is any hint of “engaging gameplay.” Methodical, sure. Engaging, no.
Sort of like rolling a boulder up a hill.
But that is the thing: it is Something To Do. I miss that. The other day I logged onto Guild Wars 2, walked around a capital city a bit, then logged off. There was nothing compelling to do. My characters are all max level, Ascended gear already farmed, literally nothing else than to grind out Legendaries or achievements or gold to buy Cash Shop clothes.
Meanwhile, gaining a level in Classic is also a chore, but a real one, like washing dishes. It isn’t as though there are more challenges between the start and finish, but more… stuff. Steps. Drag anchors. It takes more generic units of Time. Because of that extra time spent not engaged in anything, the cognitive dissonance is thus stronger and you end up feeling better about your life after completing the task as a defensive mechanism. It becomes Something To Do rather than something you did. More important. Certainly more meaningful than watching an episode of Big Bang Theory or scrolling past page 18 of Reddit.
It seems as though I’m making fun of people having fun in Classic, but I do in fact miss Something To Do. Yesterday I was playing Moonlighter, which is a game where you kill monsters in a dungeon at night and then sell the items during the day, so you can buy better items to do it all over again. Sound familiar? I was racking up some nice coin in the game and then… just stopped. Nobody cares, least of all me. I still had three dungeons to go before the end of the game, but I already saw myself at the end of it, with nothing to show for it but this shoehorned paragraph in a post about a totally different game.
Of course, that’s the other Classic secret sauce right there: timeliness. Leveling in Classic is Something To Do that is also exciting, as though it were a new MMO launch. I have pointed this out before, but Dark Age of Camelot is still a thing you can play in 2019. Same with Ultima Online. My blog roll isn’t filled with posts about those games though, because Classic is fresh and shiny and a game many millions of people have played. Just look at all the MMO posts from people who had otherwise stopped playing MMOs until literally last week. Amazing how that works.
I don’t think many of them will be able to Go Home Again, but if they are as starved as I am for Something To Do, maybe they will set up a tent in the empty lot. At least for a few weeks.