World of Warcraft’s been around for more than a decade. Combat is one of its cornerstones, but also, perhaps, a bit of a relic. In light of recent MMO evolutions like Destiny, I asked Blizzard how far they’re willing to push WoW’s combat.
Over the years Blizzard has, of course, added all sorts of new classes and skills to WoW while also doing things like revamping the game’s entire talent system. Combat is, in some ways, a far cry from what is was back in ye olde vanilla(e) days, but other MMOs have taken the auto-attack + abilities formula further—or ditched it altogether. Tera, Wildstar, Guild Wars 2, etc. Meanwhile on console, Destiny offers combat so weighty and satisfying that players were willing to fight a veritable rogue’s gallery of formidable foes—a bland story, repetitive mission structure, poor decision-making on Bungie’s part—for a year before the game actually got, you know, good.
Blizzard does want to make WoW’s combat feel better. They’ve just got to balance that with expectations of a millions-strong player base that ranges in age from 0.3 years old to Your Great Grandma On Your Mom’s Side Who’s Even Cooler Than You. Blizzard’s compromise? Overhauling melee animations.
“One of the things we’re experimenting with in Legion is that we’ve done a lot of work on the melee animations,” production director John Hight told me during an interview at BlizzCon. “Part of that is to make combat feel more visceral, to involve you in that. Like with warrior attacks, they’re cool and the sound effects are cool, but we felt like the animation just didn’t quite sell it. So we put a lot of effort into revamping that. And along with that, I think it’s gonna feel a lot more responsive. We’re gonna keep an eye on that and see how people respond.”
Will World of Warcraft’s combat ever get a ground-up overhaul, though? Never say never, but don’t count on it. Hight, who was once production director on God of War III, explained:
“There’s a segment of players that absolutely get off on [really intense combat],” he said. “You know, the Street Fighter player who wants that synchronized, really tight combat system. I don’t know if that would appeal to as broad of an audience as we have. We want to make sure combat is accessible. We want to make sure that when you encounter mobs or other players, you don’t have to have the reflexes of a 13 year-old to be able to master them. If we go that route of making combat more tactile, we also have to take into account a broad range of age, experience, and ability in our players.”
I have to confess, that doesn’t bode well for my equal parts triumphant and shameful return to WoW-aholics anonymous meetings. I burned out on the combat ages ago, and—try as I might—I just haven’t been able to stoke those old flames again. That said, many elements of WoW are like comfort food, and obviously millions of people continue to adore them. It must be said, too, that Blizzard’s doing some daring things to build out once taken-for-granted elements of the game’s foundation (less gear-focused PVP, level scaling that allows players to tackle zones in any order, artifact weapons, etc).
Feel, however, is more intangible (and possibly more essential) than any of those. I’m interested to see just how much new animations and the requisite round of other tweaks impact that.