50 Shades of Complexity

Now that I have your attention, I apologize for the shameless semi-titillating title. But I have lately been feeling a bit overwhelmed by what I perceive to be the sudden immensity of this game. I can’t put my finger on why, but I feel like it has gotten way more complex in a very short time. And I feel like the rate of complexification (if there is such a word) is gathering momentum, some gigantic Indiana Jones boulder that is gaining on me no matter how fast I run. It remains to be seen if I will be ignominiously squished or if I will be able to jump out of its way and follow leisurely in the path it has carved.

I grew up in Southeastern Minnesota, in beautiful wooded rolling hills carved out by the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. After I joined the Army I was sent for training in Arizona, and my most vivid recollection of arriving there was of the sheer immensity of the desert. Looking up at the sky and following it down to the impossibly far horizon, I suddenly became personally aware of the vastness of the world. It was overwhelming, both intimidating and exciting.

Intellectually, of course, I had known there were such things as deserts, and that “the world is vast.” Sure, sure. The Sonoran Desert did not suddenly spring into existence when I arrived. But seeing myself as a tiny bug on the face of the planet gave me a perspective I had not previously had. It was truly an epiphany for me.

And so to my point (which I do have) — is my feeling of being overwhelmed by complexity in WoW just an “Arizona moment” or is game complexity rapidly accelerating? After giving it some thought, I think it is some of both, but much more of the latter than the former.

The leveling process for this game was very simple when I first started — kill stuff, gather stuff, deliver stuff to NPCs. Instances and even raids were similarly simple — don’t stand in bad shit, kill trash, kill the boss. If you were a tank, gather up adds and hold aggro, if you were a healer, don’t let the tank die.

Achievements were pretty straightforward too. Go find all the animals on a list and /love them all. Step your toe into every area of Kalimdor. Get exalted with these dozen factions. I’ve never been much of an achievement chaser, but until Mists, I felt like I could do most of them if I wanted to.

Naturally as the game matured, quests, instances, raids, achievements, even professions all got more complex. Until maybe the middle of Mists, I felt like it was a decent linear progression. When Timeless Isle hit, though, I started to suspect that the nice 45 degree straight graph line was ever so slightly beginning to curve up. I was a frog in the pot on the stove, saying “Waaaiiiiit a minute, I think this water is actually getting HOT!”

In the hype leading up to Warlords, it seemed like Blizz was also seeing the new complexity, and they announced several measures designed to simplify things. Reforging is too complicated because it requires — Children, please leave the room — MATH! Having to put gems and enchants on every piece of gear is too complicated. Class rotations are too complicated, and there are too many abilities. Having to level up professions to be able to get current stuff from them is too complicated. Flying makes it too complicated for the developers. Guilds having to actually work for perks is too complicated. Et cetera.

Fast forward to today. We have:

1. Secondary stats on gear. What a nightmare of complexity this is. Does anyone except for a few theory crafters understand them? Seriously, what the hell benefit does any class derive from “versatility”?

Blizz did not in fact do away with reforging, but now instead of player preference, it is done randomly via “rerolling” and only for at most three pieces of gear. (This way you don’t have to do any math, except to calculate the odds against getting what you need.)

Most gear cannot be gemmed or enchanted, and even for gear that can be, it is only for secondary stats.

The whole secondary stats fiasco is so bad that even gemming and enchanting what you can is usually not enough to overcome bad luck, to the point that conscientious raiders sometimes have no choice but to change their specs, based on their gear, not on their personal preference or needs of the raid. Removing choice from the player is of course simpler, but it also stinks as a game philosophy.

2.  “Pruning” and “rebalancing.” In some ways I will admit this has made some rotations simpler, although I do not believe that is necessarily a good thing. But it has also made them more complex, because there seem to be more and more timing dependencies for optimal casting — “Cast Awesomebolt only when you have 5 stacks of Gojuice and when Otherthing will come off cooldown within 12 seconds and target is less than 30% health. Crits for additional 1.31% of AP if 3 or more targets are within 10 yards.” Note to Blizz: Reforging involved too much math??!?

Removal of nearly all instant casts for healers and ranged casters, combined with the introduction of extreme movement-heavy bosses, has greatly increased the complexity of raid mechanics for many players. Yes, elite players will quickly overcome this, but for most of us ordinary folk this deadly combo is a pretty unreasonable complication in what are already ridiculously complex mechanics.

And raid mechanics have in fact become ridiculous. Worse, Blizzard does nothing to help players understand them. I double-dog dare you to read the Dungeon Journal explanation of The Blast Furnace and have any clue how to approach it. Without FatBoss and Icyveins and other third party assistance, current raids — even normal mode — would be beyond the reach of all but hardcore raiding guilds.

I am not saying raid mechanics should be easy to execute, but I am saying they should be relatively easy to understand. All of them, not just the ones that affect your role. But it has gotten to the point that ranged DPS  seldom understand melee mechanics, and other way around. To say nothing of healer and tank mechanics. There are just far too many of your own mechanics to keep track of.

3.  Profession simplification. Is your game life simpler with garrisons? ’nuff said.

4.  Leveling. Story lines in this xpac are far richer and more complex than even in Mists. That is probably a good thing, but it tends to complicate the leveling process — no more kill kill kill ding ding ding. You miss too much by that approach, from story lines to quest line achievements to getting followers. And Blizz does not help you discover quest lines — if you do not stumble upon them or use some third party assistance, you may never see or experience them. It doesn’t seem right that just finding quests is complicated.

Clearly, I could go on and on — I suspect some of you think I already have — but it seems to me that Blizz is introducing complexity faster and faster. Soon we will have Twitter and selfies in the game, presumably with suitable achievement sets for each. (I am imagining such achievements as “How Tweet It Is” — Take a Selfie with every race in your faction while standing around Kargath’s dead body, and tweet your accomplishment to every officer in your guild during the Darkmoon Faire.)

As the game becomes more and more complex, I play a smaller and smaller percentage of it. I honestly don’t know if that’s good or bad. For the free spirit side of me, it’s good because I can pick and choose the things I want to do. For the OCD side of me, it’s bad because I can never catch up. But I wonder if Blizz is confusing complexity with content? Because even though I feel the game is overwhelmingly complex, I still feel there is very little to do in the current expansion.

Go figure.





About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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