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Just How Epic Are Your Lewtz?
27/12/2008 alle 00:00
The scene is the
of Hellfire Citadel. A small group of adventurers lurks in the shadows, while
Grand Warlock Nethekurse
broods atop his throne. Suddenly, the heroes are spotted! A fel orc rushes at them with a roar, but a blast of flame from the party’s mage drops him in his tracks. More orcs have gathered their wits and join the melee. One is tackled by a druid who transforms into a panther mid-leap. The warrior hero is toying with Nethekurse, parrying blows and dancing circles around him. Enraged, the Grand Warlock doesn’t see the rogue who steps out of the shadows and plants a knife in his back. The evil orc falls with a thunderous clash.
Recognize that fight? How many of you have fought it as well?
Because I never did.
Try this one on for size:
The scene is the Shattered Halls of Hellfire Citadel. A small group of adventurers lurks in the shadows. Grand Warlock Nethekurse broods atop his throne over the bodies of his latest fel orc victims. Suddenly, an arrow thunks into Nethekurse’s chest and he rushes the heroes with a roar. The warrior intercepts him. Nethekurse deals him a thunderous blow, opening an enormous gash on his arm. In an instant the bloody wound sews itself shut. A ball of flame the size of a basketball rockets into Nethekurse’s face. It has no discernible effect, but Nethekurse brushes past the warrior to punish the upstart hero mage anyway, who sends another searing bolt of flame into his chest, again to no effect. The warrior insults Nethekurse’s mother. Enraged, the Grand Warlock wheels about. The warrior stands his ground, raises his magic sword, and with a mighty slash opens a cut in the warlock’s ornate robes. A rogue and panther materialize out of thin air and maul the villain from behind. Neither attack has any discernible effect.
They try again. And again. And again. Nethekurse’s blows, though delivered upon a warrior in magical plate armor, seem to break bones and pulp vital organs with every stroke. From the back of the room can be heard the sound of frantic prayers to the Holy Light. The warrior’s body is a grotesquely comic mishmash of terrible wounds that open and seal themselves from second to second. The rogue plunges his knives into Nethekurse’s kidneys again and again, twisting and gouging. Does this guy even
kidneys? The warrior seems only halfheartedly interested in killing the villain – He parries only about one blow in ten, and actually dodging Nethekurse’s attacks seems to be a chore. He’s more interested in using his shield to hit the warlock in the face than defending himself with it, and more interested in using his sword to cut up the monster’s robes than plunge it into his belly. The druid is trying to maul Nethekurse’s ankles, while his companions shout at him to go for the jugular instead. The mage has flung enough fire to set all of Stormwind ablaze. Is Nethekurse made of asbestos, or what?
After several minutes of this farce, Nethekurse suddenly and inexplicably drops dead. The party members look at one another in confusion; why did
blow kill him? Was it any different than the hundreds of others he shrugged off like fleabites? Oh well. Hey look, new
! Where did he
Okay, one more time: recognize
fight? ‘Cause that was the one
always seemed to be fighting.
Have you ever tried to write a
depiction of WoW combat? I have, and I’m pretty convinced it’s impossible. Really, how many
s can it take to kill a foe—let alone
s? Just how
hunters reload those guns so quickly? Have you ever thought about how weird it would look to be almost dead one second and good as new 2.5 seconds later? And don’t even get me started on tanking. Why is it more threatening to have your armor sundered than to have a poisoned blade thrust into your kidney, or be set on fire? For that matter, how exactly
you sunder a person’s armor without wounding them in the process? And
WoW combat isn’t intended to be a realistic depiction of western martial arts, but I’m pretty sure it
meant to be epic. Stop and think about that, though. What we see depicted on our screens isn’t epic. It isn’t even cool. It’s downright absurd. Yet, if you’re like me, the laugh-out-loud ridiculousness of it all intrudes upon your consciousness surprisingly rarely during actual play.
Why is that? It isn’t (thankfully) that we’re so naïve as to imagine real combat actually looks anything like what we see on the screen. And I doubt it’s because we're imagining a realistic battle (or at least what we
is a realistic battle) as we play. When I talked to
about this post, he said that when he’s tanking, he always has the vague feeling of holding the leash on a struggling dog until the dog finally decides to give up and go to sleep—and the feeling of combat isn’t much more authentic when he’s DPSing, either. As for me, no matter
of the three party roles I’m playing (tank, DPS, healer), I always have the same feeling that I’m playing
, punching buttons on a console to make distant problems go away. My mind processes the visual information on screen and parses it into “push that key, click that button.” Really, you could take away the WoW graphics, replace them with a fast-paced rhythm game (or even a bizarre typing tutorial), and it probably wouldn't change the physical activity much. In fact that actually sounds kind of fun. Imagine a DDR-style game played with the keyboard where you’re graded not only on the timing of your key presses but on
key you choose to press, and your choice of one key press alters the options for the
key press the instant before you have to press it. Set it to a funky, irregular beat, and you’ve basically re-created the gameplay of WoW.
Except … well, it wouldn’t be WoW, would it? I would never play a game like that and come up with a story like the one I opened this post with. But my fingers did the exact same thing, with different visual cues, and I
come up with that story. What gives? Why do we feel like we’re playing in Azeroth one way, and not another, if the actual gameplay hasn’t changed?
Graphics is an obvious answer, but I think it goes beyond that. Cool as WoW’s art and animations may be in isolation, watch two models going through their fight animations next to each other for more than a few seconds and they look like they’re
auditioning for Thriller
. Seeing fantasy characters and locations on the screen only tells me I’m in Azeroth. It doesn’t stop me from laughing out loud, and it doesn’t generate the tension of a good fight or the triumph of victory—that indefinable feeling of epic-ness.
It isn’t strictly the gameplay that creates epic-ness either. WoW’s actual combat mechanics, while an excellent example of Blizzard’s virtuosity with a spreadsheet, are not particularly
. I think to figure out why a fight feels epic we need to broaden our scope.
How can I even tell how powerful a blow is? What tells me that a boss hits harder than his trash? It isn’t the animation. It’s the user interface: how big a number appears over my head, and how much my health bar drops. Play an animation of a mob striking me with
over my head and I don’t feel threatened; play the exact same animation with
and I wince. Kind of odd, if you think about it, but true.
Why am I even
the fight? Is it the culmination of a quest chain I’ve been pursuing for five levels? Is it my first time to the instance? Am I just farming this boss for loot? It’s hard to feel epic when you’re killing a boss for the fortieth time (particularly if you’re on an RP server). After all the work I put in years ago to acquire my
Kilt del Cuorselvaggio
, I will never fear
again (no, I never did get it—nor did I ever figure out why he wanted my skirt so badly). But boy did I feel awesome the first time I laid eyes, at last, on
How has the journey been to
to the fight? If it’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time, I’m likely to feel that it’s more epic. Waltzing back into
and clearing the pyramid event single-handedly is a very different experience from scratching your way to that point through multiple wipes at level 42. Surprising as it sounds to say it, the longer it takes me to get to a fight—be that because I’ve been grinding the necessary XP or the right gear to handle it, because I’ve had to penetrate deep into hostile territory on a PVP server, or even just because I had a hard time finding a group—the more epic I’m likely to feel when I’m actually
None of these things really have anything to do with the mechanics of WoW combat, or the quality of WoW graphics. Many of them are just as absurd, on their face, as the combat mechanic itself. But they all come together to make the experience we call WoW, and the whole of that experience is a lot more epic than the sum of its parts.
How about you? Are you ever jarred out of the experience of WoW by the oddities of the game?
What keeps it immersive for you?
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