BlizzCon is fast approaching, and it seems highly likely that Blizzard are about to announce the eighth expansion to their almost thirteen year old MMO. The game is old enough that it’s possible for couples to have met in Azeroth and had a child by now who could raid the Tomb of Sargeras with them. And yet, with Legion being the most popular expansion since Wrath of the Lich King, development shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. But all good things must come to an end, and WoW’s end – be it a year or a decade from now – is as inevitable as the sun blinking out forever someday.
The end of WoW is a possibility that’s surely never far from player’s minds, especially those who live and breathe for their Azerothian alter egos. I know people who have max level characters across every class, who throw themselves into raids every week and have sunk tens of thousands of hours into the game. And I’m no part-timer myself. So the prospect of interest in the game dwindling enough to lead to servers closing down is cause for worry and speculation, especially as the game shows more and more signs of aging. Sure, they continue to graphically update the game and introduce new mechanics, but some things can’t be fixed in an expansion. World of Warcraft will always be limited to the foundations the game was built on, which in itself is a bastardisation of the Warcraft 3 game engine, as far as I understand it.
The way I see it, though, it’s no cause for worry. As the MMO as a genre grows older its interesting to see the various ways in which some of the games stay alive after their discontinuation. Many close down for good. Some, like Everquest and Guild Wars, move onto sequels whilst keeping the original game alive with a smaller development team for those dedicated few. In Runescape’s case, Jagex came to realised that the game had transformed so much that they needed to bring back an older edition as a separate game to keep a portion of their audience happy. But some games, like Wurm Online and The Secret World, have opted to modify the game to become available for offline play.
Now, Wurm Online is still going, but the developers opted to create an edition called Wurm Unlimited that’s purchasable on Steam for players who want to run their own servers or play by themselves with customisable rulesets, such as changing the amount of time it takes to harvest a resource. And while I haven’t played it myself, PC Gamer’s Secret World: Legends review portrays the game’s move to single-player as being a slightly awkward but somewhat successful shift, concluding that “The more that you want to play it as an MMO, the more you’re likely to chafe at this reboot’s restrictions, especially in terms of loot. For more solo or narrative-focused players, however, it’s a great second chance to see what it has to offer, as well as the Secret World’s best chance in years to expand its reach and continue telling its story.”
MMO’s aren’t, as a rule, built to be played offline. World of Warcraft especially stands out as an MMO that has enjoyed iteration upon iteration within its lifetime, and most recently has gained functions in the world that encourages and requires player co-operation, such as particular world quest bosses and rare mobs. This, I think, would be the biggest issue in turning World of Warcraft into a single-player experience. As for dungeons and raids… well, just because the game isn’t an MMO doesn’t mean it has to be single-player entirely. I can’t picture Blizzard being comfortable with handing the reigns of server administration and hosting over to players such as with Wurm Unlimited. However, I can see them dedicating some server space for hosting online parties to go dungeon delving or raiding, though I can’t guess as to how much demand there’d be for raiding in a static world.
As for the gameplay side of things, I don’t think WoW would prosper as a single-player game if it were transformed in the state it’s in today. The entire world’s questing and story was overhauled back in Cataclysm, but the time period between the Cataclysm overhaul and now is greater than between the original game and Cataclysm. Blizzard recently reviewed the 1-40 levelling experience and re-balanced the amount of damage it takes to kill enemies, as low level players were wiping the floor with bosses without so much as a second thought. There’s still a lot of work to be done though, and with each patch and expansion the cohesion of the overall game slips more and more in favour of the last ten levels being the sole focus of enjoyable content. You typically won’t find any challenging or gripping content gameplay-wise until you’re playing through the most recent expansion, and that’s hundreds of hours of dedication which most players aren’t going to be willing to dedicate.
All hope is not lost, though. Talk among the WoW playerbase seems to be mostly unanimous on the front of the old levelling experience needing a new touch of paint, and with the new level-scaling system and world questing system, there’s a decent chance that Azeroth is going to get the modernisation it needs to bring it up to speed with the modern day expansions. Blizzard themselves have acknowledged the need for this in Q&A’s, so I’m definitely interested to see what’s in store as BlizzCon approaches. But while I hope that this update would lay the groundwork for a single-player World of Warcraft, I hope even more that the day when it’s needed is still far in the future. And besides, I’m sure that when Blizzard does finally call it a day for WoW or releases a sequel, they’ll keep the servers for the original game up for many years afterwards.