I was listening to the Twisted Nether Blogcast this morning and found myself thinking about one thing. And later on when I read the comments on the last few days postings about micro transactions and paying separately for different content I noticed that I could combine these two into a single post (and stop posting for the rest of the week... clever!).
The one thing that started to bug me was that how far the level capped people have separated themselves from the beginning player and how different the actual starting zone game is from the much famed 'end game'. For me the illusion has always been that 'the game starts at the cap', but I have come to notice that actually the game is what you make of it. For me -and for several others, I've noticed- the game almost ended at the gap between the levelling game and end game. And it still is at a standstill, even though I get geared up at almost each heroic run I get into. There just isn't any drive in the gearing game like there was in the levelling game.
What bothered me in the Blogcast was that Daewin told how he had levelled from 1 to 80 within the free trial period. For a content and quest enthusiast I am this seems more of a travesty, as he has been running through the main content in the game by 'power levelling' and completely discarding the background. In my mind, he has exactly played the game to win, maximising the 'win the content' mentality and completely discarding the RPG elements of the game. The race, class and talent build have been just mechanics to use and nothing more.
This sounds to me as extremely alarming in the sense that the content Blizzard has become renown of has been discarded so easily. On the other hand, the preaching that the end game is where the game is does the same: it doesn't matter why we are trying to get to Arthas, it only matters for as long as he is the 'final boss'. What happened to Kael'Thas or Illidan? Where did all the earlier end bosses disappear? And why?
The second thing that struck me was that in fact the game has been changed so that the journey doesn't matter anymore: to be honest, the emphasis of the content has been increasingly in the end game content anyway for at least for the last expansions, and the next one is trying to make a slight shift in there by destroying what we have learned to be a persistent world.
I'm completely disillusioned about the fact that we're playing the game instead of playing the character or role. There is no story to the characters, only the story of the gear and where we got it. The game's levelling design at the moment enhances the illusion that you MUST hurry to the level cap to even experience something within the game, which already has a huge amount of both solo and group content before that. Due to the fact that everyone is ushered to the level cap by the speeded up levelling, the group content is greatly shunned and empty, and next to no new players (and certainly no new alts) experience the group content as a challenge or interesting content.
The disparity between the rich background content of the starting areas and the earlier content and the end game content (both gearing and raiding) proves to me that the RPG aspect of the game is dead to a large extent, and that Blizzard is serving mainly to the level capped population. And is making sure that the newcomer to the game gets this from the beginning levels on, that the actual world of Azeroth doesn't mean a thing in itself: the only thing that really matters is the highest level raid instance, to which the access has been made easier for everyone to try to enter. If they are lucky or persistent enough. The sad part of this is that the players forget the immersion aspect of the vast lore of the world and play the game like it was a some sort of Mario Bros in fantasy land.
WoW has all the content, lore and adventure, but we're playing it for the game mechanics.