Recently, World of Warcraft’s lead systems designer Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street did a “Post Mortem” interview on the Cataclysm expansion.
My initial reaction to reading through this interview was “Old Fail is Old”. However, on further contemplation I realized that I had a specific bone to pick with the Cataclysm expansion and I believe I can pinpoint exactly when I first realized the whole experiment was on very thin ice.
Now, Cataclysm was a WOW expansion with some serious issues, and anyone playing it could probably write you a dissertation. In fact, if you read the interview above you’ll find that Blizzards technical lead just did. And while this seems at first glance to be a sober assessment of the expansion’s problems, this humility coming from Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street is a new thing. Back when Cataclysm was released we found a very different Greg Street pontificating sarcastically to the Warcraft Community how they just didn’t measure up in a post entitled “Wow, Dungeons are Hard“. This post was the first indication that the expansion was well and truly boned.
You see, Greg Street had this great idea for Cataclysm to tune the difficulty of the opening Cataclysm dungeons up to an extremely challenging level. Clearly this was done to appease the constant whining of the “hardcore” gamers who wanted a challenge, but Greg Street seemed to forget, somehow, that the game had Ten Million subscribers or something.
This dungeon difficulty was tuned on the backs of the healing classes by making every dungeon a completely unforgiving experience for keeping the party alive. Even if everyone in the dungeon was playing their class competently, the healer still had to be stupidly judicious about healing anything or they soon would run dry their Mana bar – which meant nothing would be getting healed at all. And, at the start of Cataclysm, finding pick-up groups where everyone played their class competently was a tricky thing. My primary character is a Priest healer, so I remember this well.
Now, as it so happens, a lot of the people who play Healers are not the hardcore challenge-mode kind of people that Greg Street was apparently speaking to when he taunted the rest of us in his “Dungeons are Hard” post. They are often wives, girlfriend and best-friend types who play to do something with their significant other when that significant other has the urge to fight dragons. Those folks were not into Greg Street’s hard-mode fantasy and they headed for the exits pretty quickly. And often times they took their significant other with them.
The beginning of Cataclysm was like watching a slow motion train wreck as people began drifting away after only a few weeks. I, myself, try to be a pro healer and the initial challenges did not bother me so much. But I saw what it did to other people, and the wives of other people, and I saw how our guild began shrinking after not very long at all.
Based on the Post Mortem interview, it may be that Blizzard and Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street have tuned into this fact. Cataclysm was an expansion with quite a bit of intelligence but very little wisdom. We shall see if their next expansion Mists of Pandaria does any better.