I don’t actually use the Escapist forum. Let’s get that sorted right now. I do, however, occasionally find myself morbidly fascinated by a thread title that happens to appear in the hot topics box thing while I’m doing something marginally more informative on the site, and today some weeks ago when I actually wrote this entry and then didn’t post it for ages a little gem about grind leapt out at me and instigated some sort of thought process.
Let me be the first to say that I don’t actually mind grind. Perhaps I’m boring or easily fooled. Perhaps I don’t mind simplistic gameplay if it’s bracketed in an interesting enough story to actually feel like something is being achieved, or if it provides new mechanics frequently enough to give me new toys to play with and incorporate into what the hardcore kids would call my rotation. There are bits of the WoW thing that manage to do that; I’m levelling a Gnome Warrior at the minute and pootling ’round Westfall chopping up bandits feels fairly productive. Their power bases are attacked one by one to destabilise their control and shut down their plans ready for the final attack on the Deadmines. This is decent enough stuff. I can play the Death Knight starting area over and over again, thanks to the phased progression by which the environment actually changes as bits of the Scarlet Crusade’s stronghold are overrun by grobbly undead horrors, making it look like I’m achieving something.
Of course, it’s not all like that. There are whole regions of the map where context and achievement are absent, where the samey gameplay doesn’t fit into any sort of proper narrative flow or provide any new special effects to wow at (a hellish experience called ‘midgame’), into which I’ve often ventured just to complete a wee Warlock quest and then bolted from never to return.
WoW also gets grilled for its daily quests; do this thing once a day for twenty days, collect twenty-four of those, and accumulate fifty gold, and you’ll get a dinosaur for your character to ride on. Dailies are, I admit, boring – again, because of the lack of context. Once I’ve killed the slavemaster and rescued the slaves once, I don’t really want to do it again – it doesn’t make sense to me. Even if the game world hasn’t moved on, my character’s inbuilt narrative has, and so there’s no real context for recovering old ground like that, and so I don’t want to do it.
On that note, one of my problems with Death Knights is the way that levelling up professions with them means trooping through level 1-55 content that, frankly, feels like it could be and should be skipped, just in order to farm stuff to make other stuff with.
What I’m driving at, I suppose, is that grind isn’t necessarily a problem for me as long as I am moving forwards, however slowly. Having to go backwards, to break the narrative flow and do something for mechanical purposes (farming items, levelling professions, chasing gear or achievements, practicing an instance), is where things start getting dull. That’s what I was being faced with with Sybeth a few weeks back. Having reached level 80, there’s nothing for her to do other than repetitive, immersion-breaking daily quests, farm for raid gear that I’m really not interested in (I don’t understand, or care to understand, the mechanics of the game well enough to be welcome in raid groups; WoW is brain-off story time), or go back and wander around areas that are beneath her for the sake of an abstract, out-of-context concept like an achievement.
Since this entry was originally written, of course, the Undead narrative has moved on quite dramatically, and it’s largely due to that that I faction-switched Sybeth and started playing through their starting zones in my roleplaying gear. It’s been quite enjoyable, largely because the piss-easy gameplay is contextualised by some sort of story (even if that story only exists inside my head and on this blog at the moment).
Anyway, that’s not actually where I was going with this. While it’s quite cathartic to have a gripe about how I don’t like the WoW endgame all that much, what set me off on this little voyage was the persistent referral to ‘World of Warcrap’, and the treatment that WoW often receives for being a big ol’ bucket of grind.
The thing about grind is that we more or less invited it into our homes way back when. I remember Baldur’s Gate, people – I have distinct memories of following the main story, and just the main story, and only being able to get about five levels of experience open for my characters to occupy and necessary to crack the final few encounters. Levelling up the rest of the way involved traipsing back and forth across the map, often recruiting and discarding NPCs to pick up their quest chains and thus disrupting the levelling process of my preferred party members, and basically pursuing a lot of insignificant sidelines in order to accumulate new doom spells and shiny objects. It sounds suspiciously familiar, doesn’t it? Computer RPGs have had this flaw for as long as I’ve been playing them, and bending WoW over a barrel while praising the Bioware games of yore seems like a double standard.