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Permanent Zone Changes: Good or Bad

Posted Mon, Sep 30, 2013 by Messiah

Change is inevitable in everything, and especially in an MMO.  However, over time changes have come in much larger and noticeable ways to the World of Warcraft.  It seems years ago when WoW started, the environment stayed largely the same for long periods of time. 

Then things started to change…

It started off small with minor adjustments, then larger ones, then completely recreating zones and areas.  One of the first cases being the implementation of the Black Gate to get to the Outlands.  Later on, Azeroth was reworked to add in the Death Knight starting area.  Still later almost every zone in Azeroth was completely re-done as the Cataclysm destroyed much of the world. 

Mists of Pandaria continues the trend of change, but in a slightly different way.  Now that we have lived and played in Pandaria for a while, the very land is changing.  Mists of Pandaria has brought with it a significant number of changes to zones as each patch was released.  What have those changes been and is this constant state of flux in the world of Azeroth a good thing?

The changes that Mists of Pandaria Brought

Let’s start out with the obvious big change, this expansion brought Pandaria out of the mists to become a playable group of zones.  The addition of  new playable zones is expected with any expansion though, so let’s move on.

Starting right from the release of Mists of Pandaria we knew there would be changes coming.  After all to set the tone for the expansion we saw the Horde attack Theramore with a mana bomb.  This completely decimated the zone and changed the complexion of the area.

Later on we saw the already new zone of the Krasang Wilds gain even more to do as patch 5.1 brought with it new dailies based on the influx of Horde and Alliance to the shores of Pandaria.

When patch 5.3 launched further changes were introduced as we learned what happened around Orgrimmar and in the Barrens.  First up, in Orgrimmar we saw that city become even more of a fortress as Hellscream had barracks, towers, and warmachines constructed around the city.  The Barrens were also changed dramatically as the factions launched into their efforts to gather materials for the coming battle.

Now with patch 5.4 we see even more changes  with the Vale of Eternal Blossoms becoming what has been termed the Vale of Eternal Sorrows.  The zone has, similarly to other zones, been decimated by the Alliance / Horde war.  Hellscream has unleashed the ancient power of the Sha and caused the whole zone to dramatically change for the worse.
There are other more minor changes that we have seen over the course of this expansion as well, but they have had significantly less impact than the ones listed above.


Mogushan Palace Before and after patch 5.4.

How these changes advance the story line

Compared to the early days of World of Warcraft where patches had significantly less impact on the already existing world, the new patch process produces more meaningful changes to the existing world. 

Traditionally, patches brought with them quest additions that revolved around a few minor changes like the addition of enemies or NPC’s.  These new style patch changes that are more visually based give us more to go by.  Any visual change that we see as well as read about through the quests has a more significant impact on us. 

It is always good to see a dramatic change to go along with new content as it makes it clear that we are having an impact on the world.  When something dramatic happens it makes us feel the impact and care about the consequences more. This is true in video games just as well as in real life.  If you hear about an impact of some serious news event you may care about it, but if the you see the images and reactions from people you are impacted to a far greater degree.

So, it is pretty easy to agree that having dramatic visual changes affect the land of Azeroth significantly improves and helps with the story telling in the game.  It does come at a cost though.

In Cataclysm we saw devastating changes as well, such as the breaking of the Barrens as a huge rift opened up between the northern and southern halves of the zone.

The cost of persistent world changes in World of Warcraft

Despite being an excellent way to show changes and get players involved with the story line being progressing in World of Warcraft, changes to the world comes with a pretty serious downside.

That downside involves all players that come into the game at a later date. They will have some issues with some of the changes.  This is because they don’t get the original story of Mists of Pandaria (or any of the other modified content), instead they get the story as it is now told and miss out on a lot of the back-story.  In fact in some cases the story line can become so disjointed that some quests and lore just doesn’t make any sense at all after a change.

Think about some fairly obvious faults, such as a player just reaching the Northlands to stop the Lich King, that has already been stopped.  Or players just levelling up in the original zones and playing through the original storylines but already seeing the blasted out remains of Theramore or the changes to the Barrens, for a war they will not be part of for 60-70 levels.

While some players will not be concerned of this lack of continuity with the story line, it does seriously affect game play for those that follow the storyline and play the game later.

Is the price worth it?

Despite having some serious downsides to the story telling ability of the game to new players that come in at a later date, I believe that the persistent changes are worth it. 

Players coming into any established game should expect that they are not going to be following the same progression path that existing players followed.  While some of the disconnects could be frustrating initially, once a player is caught up, they will be able to experience any new persistent changes as they happen and will be thankful for the progression they bring to the story line.

Blizzard does do a lot of zone phasing that changes zones as you make your way through them and accomplish specific tasks or quests and it works very well in most cases.  Zone phasing allows you to see how your actions and accomplishments are having an impact on the world you are playing in.  In a perfect world, the changes would be applied this way, to the whole world on a per character basis. 

However I suspect that the reason they are not is twofold.  Firstly some changes are just too big and too complex to handle this way. Secondly, it would be a nightmare to have any interaction between players as we would all be in an almost endless number of different possible world phases.

Comments

I have pointed out several of the major changes that impacted Azeroth during the Mists of Pandaria expansion cycle, can you think of and list others?  Which had the most meaningful impact to you, from either Mists of Pandaria or any previous expansion?  Do you like or loath the persistent world changes that Blizzard is putting out in recent patches?  Make your opinions know in our comment section below.

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