**A Forewarning… This is a long one. Grab a few cold ones or a full course meal to enjoy while reading**
We’ve all heard the phrases before.
“This MMO is going to be the World of Warcraft killer.”
“World of Warcraft will fall when this MMO comes out.”
“This MMO looks so much better than World of Warcraft, surely this will be the nail in the coffin.”
Fourteen years later, World of Warcraft is still standing despite its flaws. Will there truly be an MMO that will kill World of Warcraft before its eventual demise? Let’s face it… a game cannot go on forever and World of Warcraft will, one day, eventually fade away into nothing more than a memory, but the question still remains whether or not another MMO will come up and drive the proverbial stake through Azeroth’s heart or if World of Warcraft will simply burn out like a star that loses its fuel.
Regardless of what happens, it is my personal belief that no MMO will end up killing World of Warcraft. After enjoying fourteen years as the measuring stick, I cannot see any game within that genre knocking the king from its throne. That doesn’t mean that a game cannot come along to draw a player away from World of Warcraft, though.
Enter Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
A little backstory for myself. My very first MMO was EverQuest. I started playing in 2000 at the tail end of the Scars of Velious expansion. I didn’t really get to experience any of that raid content, but I did get to experience an epic 14-hour raid as my guild cleared all of Vex Thal in one shot during the Shadows of Luclin expansion! I also enjoyed going to the Temple of Ssraeshza and screaming out “HE HAS THE SWORD” whenever we went to go fight Emperor Ssraeshza himself.
EverQuest was a grindfest and a half. At the time, quests didn’t exactly reward you with experience. Dying made you lose experience (and levels if you weren’t careful), and the most accessible way to gain all that experience back was to go out and kill things in the game world (or get lucky and find a friendly Cleric who would give you a 96% exp resurrection). It was tedious… it was (sometimes) mind-numbing, but with the right group of friends and/or random players, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t fun.
I wanted to mention that because Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is being created by team members who were apart of the original team that created EverQuest. After spending a considerable amount of time on their website, I have realized that Pantheon IS EverQuest all over again. Everything that they are offering with the MMO just feels like a wave of nostalgia washing over me and reminding me about how games reward skill; that an MMO will reward a player based on the amount of time and work they put into it.
Pantheon understands that content is king when it comes to MMOs and while EverQuest had limited content, they had systems in place that had an end that was very difficult to reach. It gave you a reason to come back and play the game and it was a system that allowed you to spend an hour working on it or an entire weekend (or week if you were on vacation!). It definitely gave you rewards for putting in the time and effort and it provided a challenge in doing so. It wasn’t an impossible challenge, but it also wasn’t something that was just a walk in the park, either. Pulling enemies and making sure their buddies didn’t come with them was an art form. You couldn’t run 30 yards away to escape a perilous situation. You had to cross a border and load the next zone over to get a mob to stop chasing you… either that or you got your character to a reasonably safe spot and let the mob claim you so you could easily run back and get your corpse.
Pantheon looks to bring this style of gameplay back and add newer twists to it. One of the things they are looking to add is a weather system that affects you like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does. If it’s cold, hot, rainy or something else entirely, you have different gear/clothes that you can wear to combat the adverse effects the weather will have on your character.
They also have a Progeny system where you can actually retire your character and continue playing as that character’s son/daughter. They’re bringing back the fact that spells are just not handed to you as a reward for dinging up to the next level. You actually have to go out into the world and find them for yourself!
Pantheon even states that they are not appealing to every gamer with this game. They are targeting a specific demographic of gamers that miss the old days of MMOs. They also believe that younger players who share the same mindset, despite not playing older MMOs, will find enjoyment in Pantheon due to the fact that it is a cooperative, social game. To clarify, I don’t mean social in the sense that you have to connect with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc in order to communicate, but in the sense that you need to form groups if you want to hunt the best EXP, form raids to take down the toughest challenges, etc. EverQuest had the same system and while, yes, there were plenty of places to solo, there were also places that required groups to kill enemies to farm EXP with. They even offered bonus experience for being in a group as a way to encourage players to play together and actually talk to each other.
The fact that Pantheon is trying to resurrect that style of MMO in this day and age is very admirable. Then again, it doesn’t sound like they are looking to compete. They are trying to provide an option for gamers who want that old style of MMO back, but don’t want to reinvest in EverQuest which is going on their twenty-fifth expansion. This is the kind of MMO I grew up with and the kind of MMO that I crave.
So why would I leave World of Warcraft after spending the last fourteen years there?
The issues lie in Blizzard’s design philosophies. The “look, but don’t touch,” the “taste, but don’t eat” approach has become extremely frustrating. Blizzard has grown into a system that gates your progression. They have become fearful of giving all of the content to the player when a patch launches and has opted to offer nibbles of the content week by week. They claim that they don’t want players chewing through the content too quickly and then end up with nothing to do, but in hindsight, isn’t that the developer’s fault for making a limited amount of content that can be consumed too quickly?
Let’s take some of their systems that they only offer at different times of the month. The Darkmoon Faire, for example. When I first heard about the changes back in Cataclysm and saw that it was getting its own, dedicated zone/island, I imagined that it would be World of Warcraft’s version of the Final Fantasy VII Gold Saucer. We could come and go as we please, play a myriad of mini-games and buy cosmetic prizes that may be timed, seasonal, themed, etc. They could have easily added items to NPC inventories to buy, added new games, etc to keep people coming back, but instead, they only offered this feature for the first week of every month.
Timewalking Dungeons was another great feature that they added to the game. If you got sick and tired of running current dungeons and wanted a blast from the past without walking in and killing everything just by looking at it, then you could queue up for some of your old favorites and attempt to experience those dungeons as if you were that level all over again. Imagine having access to that 24/7 as an option to stave off boredom? Sounds great, right? Sadly, you have to wait until that time period rolls around on the calendar before you can do it and it may not be the dungeons from the expansion you want to run. If Shattered Halls was your favorite dungeon, you couldn’t queue for it during the Wrath of the Lich King timewalking event. You had to wait months for The Burning Crusade to come into the rotation so you could do it.
I will give Blizzard credit though, with Pet Battles, The Deaths of Chromie Scenario, the Brawler’s Guild, and even (to an extent) World Quests and Mythic+ Dungeons, Blizzard is learning more and more that they can create content that has an end, but it takes a very long time to reach it and still have it be okay. The problem is, they don’t have enough of that content to offer enough variety to keep people coming back and logging in.
In fact, they waste so much time developing systems that don’t even carry over into the next expansion. Players have asked for Guild Housing (a feature EverQuest had before World of Warcraft even launched, by the way), ever since the game’s inception and the closest thing we were given were Garrisons in Warlords of Draenor. The Garrisons were a nice thought… your own personalized city that you can invite your friends to. It was a great idea that COULD have carried over into Legion, but they decided to abandon Garrisons at the end of Warlords of Draenor and now they are completely useless to a level 110 character.
So they brought them back in the form of Order Halls in Legion. Garrisons, but they’re for your class! Horde and Alliance congregate there to fight against the Legion and unique class stories make you really feel like you’re playing a Mage or a Paladin or a Shaman, etc. Sadly, Order Halls are going away at the end of Legion and will not be used in Battle for Azeroth. Same with Artifact Weapons. We spent an entire expansion leveling them up, developing new styles of play and while, yes, a lot of the abilities are being baked into classes next expansion, those weapons and that system are not moving forward as well.
Add in the fact that they keep redesigning classes, forcing the player base to re-learn them every expansion and you start to give off an aura that despite your decade+ of experience, that you still have no clue how to design a consistent, thematic game. Blizzard’s approach feels like they balance the classes around the game they want to design instead of balancing the game around the classes and leaving them alone.
I’ve stuck with World of Warcraft for fourteen years because I’ve made some great friends there. I’ve tolerated the fact that while the lore is amazing and some of the systems are fun, that there are way too many mind-boggling flaws, some of which defy the very basic do’s and dont’s of game design.
At the same time, as someone who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Game Design, I can understand why they make the choices they do. They have turned World of Warcraft from a game that used to be about the hardcore MMO player into something that is accessible for everyone. It’s like when the WWE went from TV-14 to TV-PG. A lot of people miss the TV-14 era, but understand with TV-PG there would be no U.S. Army partnership, no Susan G. Komen partnership, no Make-A-Wish partnership. There wouldn’t be the sponsors there is today. There wouldn’t be as much of a global reach as there is and the WWE, honestly, is better off for making that change.
World of Warcraft is no different. By becoming accessible to everyone, they hit record subs in the 10+ million range multiple times. It’s a business model that works for them and, honestly, they deserve all of their success because World of Warcraft is a game that appeals to a broad range of players.
But there are those out there who want something more. We want something challenging. Something old school. Something hardcore.
Pantheon is looking to offer that up to those gamers who want all of that and more. Pantheon will not kill World of Warcraft. That game will live until it becomes the white dwarf of the magnificent sun it once was, but Pantheon may just kill World of Warcraft for ME. The game is currently in a pre-Alpha state right now so there is a long way for it to go still, you better believe I will be saving up some money in order to make a pledge that will allow me access to it. I’m highly curious to see if it can do something no other MMO has been able to do for the past fourteen years… and that’s set me free from the world of Azeroth.