Enough with the Epeen

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What is a mere level 80 player character to do when her epeen isn’t big enough? Endgame gear hates you…

I imagine that I might move too slowly for this blog ever to comment on truly recent discussions, but still a lot of the World of Warcraft-related blogs I read have been discussing gear and raid or PvP (player vs. player) content. I’m fascinated by the discourse here because of my own circumstances, and the number of times I have been angered or felt hard-done-by thanks to the various cultures which surround such aspects of the game.

For background’s sake, I’ve a level 80, undead warlock who grew up pretty much exclusively on PvE (player vs. event) content, namely quests. I was put through a few dungeons, but very rarely in any normal sort of group with players of the same or a similar level. Most of the time I was run through by higher-level characters, so that they might easily trump any enemies in the dungeon and kit me out with some decent weapons and armour. Rarely did this actually happen, and I’m now a level 80 with next to no raid experience, and only now a few weeks’ outings in PvP battlegrounds to my credit.

Even if the race to 80 had not been so hasty, I was unlikely ever to try WoW‘s PvP content. The few occasions in which I accidentally had this mode triggered, such as by killing an Alliance quest-giver or entering an enemy’s capital city, were petrifying. I earned the title of “Explorer” once I reached the late 70s, which is an achievement for having visited every zone within the game, at the expense of having to make my character vulnerable to attack by other players time and time again.

My fear was fairly rational – I often entered into these PvP arenas at a much lower level than those playing enemy characters, meaning they could kill me pretty easily. There was also a feeling of personal vulnerability which was somewhat less rational. After all, my character is vulnerable to PvE-based danger all the time, in the non-player combative characters and beasts that roam Azeroth and Outland. Players do hit harder though, and the two play styles are different enough that one cannot rely on beast tactics in order to save themselves during a duel.

Little was I aware at the time that this feeling of inferiority would persist even once I’d reached level 80, all thanks to the dreaded gear.

For most players, the uphill climb from level 1 to 80 is a challenge all of its own. When that summit has been reached, however, World of Warcraft throws you an entirely new (and largely unforeseeable) set of challenges which pit fresh arrivals against veterans, whose level 80 characters have long since scored the optimal gear for their class. One case in point is a recent battle for the Isle of Conquest in which I, a destruction warlock, squared off against a demonologist gnome warlock. Demonologists as a class have slightly better armour and health anyway, but this player’s character was running around with a buffed-up 50,000 health, where mine has a ceiling of around 28,000. This utterly baffling discrepancy made sure that I was not going to survive the battle, and there was not one thing I could do about it, for I have already swapped most of my armour out for wares specifically designed for this PvP content.

PvP is a cruel beast, and I’ve made no mention of the challenges I faced when switching play styles, too. Gone are the PvE battles in which you can take your time and set up curses before blasting the enemy to pieces at leisure. No, PvP is a twitch reflex game in which warlocks in particular are basically best used as cannon fodder. Death is swift.

The game can be played without ever setting foot inside a battleground, however. These arenas of combat have storylines of a sort, but really they’re only there to dictate the visual theme and provide the warring factions with a motivation. More than that, while players might join a battleground inside fixed parties, or see the occasional recurring face from time to time, it is in fact a random assortment of players from all the game’s servers, banded together for 15 minutes and then sent back home. PvE content is where the storylines and social interaction really come in, and it’s where gear discrepancies hurt the most, for not having the right gear at level 80 can make for a very hostile game indeed.

At the height of the PvE game has always been heroic dungeons, at least since the launch of WoW‘s second expansion. When players reached the maximum level of the time, they were invited to play harder versions of the dungeons they’d already completed, in order to attain better gear and some reputation with the various in-game factions. As you might gather, raid or heroic gear is of a different sort than PvP, because the encounters are scripted and can be analysed tactically, instead of having to provide reflex defences. They’ve long appealed to me, because while it’s taken my playing alt. (alternative) characters to really get to know those dungeons which my warlock had skipped over, the dungeons have provided some of the most memorable storylines and social encounters within the game.

The community will not, however, let me play.

Just as PvP encourages its players to attain ever-better gear simply to ensure that they survive long enough against battle-hardened veterans, so heroic raids and dungeon ‘instances’ are designed on an upwards scale, so that early dungeons like Utgarde Keep and Naxxramas offer easier, entry-level challenges when compared to the more recent offerings, like Ulduar and the Argent Tournament trials. The trouble is that even entry-level challenges are made hostile by what I’m still delighted to call ‘epeen’ culture (Wine, 2007). That is to say that most if not all raids are formed by groups so fanatical about statistics and gear types that phrases like the following are what welcome new players to the team:

  • “If you’re not making more than 15k DPS, you’re being carried”
    This is basically asking for 15,000 damage per second per player for the whole raid, or else your contribution is deemed worthless.
  • “Level 80s only”
    A common and slightly more justifiable barrier, in which even capable characters below that threshold might be shunned simply for their label falling a little short – particularly in PvP battlegrounds.
  • And countless cases in which people assume you know all the many acronyms and nicknames for the bosses and spells within the encounter. Failure to know them all requires the tank (or leader) to stop and explain himself to the group which, to all but the one in a hundred who actually make superb tanks, comes across as hostile.

So to sum that sort of affair up, the battle to achieve better gear for no reason other than to be permitted into the game’s killer content is made all the more unsettling and vicious because players.. do not yet have the right gear. If you attempt to join a group which hopes to tackle a raid for its juicy weaponry, only to be shown up for not having good enough gear, it’s not uncommon for you to be brutally and rudely kicked out of the group without any explanation – and certainly without any hope of attaining said gear.

It’s often suggested that games ad online worlds will form their own culture and community quite naturally, without the sort of designer input which may even stifle it. I can’t say that I’m enjoying what World of Warcraft has wrought upon its players in this fashion.