Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Raid Engagement

A raid is defined by its bosses, the complexity of encounters, the design and scale and scope of the place, how it guides us through the space and gives us a new environment to explore - but does a raid have to engage us emotionally? What part does that play in our enjoyment of a raid?

While browsing YouTube at work during lunch (as one does), I found along the list of "see also" videos on the side, a link to a Lich King kill video. It has been a long, long time since I did that fight, and much longer since I really thought about it, but I thought - what the hell, I'll watch it again. And man, it really brought everything back in spades. The feeling of hopeless despair, the anguish and anger that Arthas brought out in me, the frustration of seeing him slip away time after time, while waiting to get a chance to take our own crack at him.

And we did, eventually, and we did kill him. I remember how jubilant and exhausted and satisfied I was after the ordeal, how happy to be done with a whole story, it felt like an arc was complete, a resolution was reached. That's what made Wrath the best expansion to date - it was about the god-damned story. That's what people remember, that's what got us engaged, and that's what the game resolved - it gave us a full-stop, at the end of the book. Close it, it's done. But of course, this is a franchise, and it needs to continue, so it did.

Cataclysm's failure I think, had more to do with following up Wrath. There was no way that they could personalize the terror of Deathwing the way the Lich King was personalized for us through the RTS games. We had (most of us, anyway) walked in his shoes, as a Paladin, then as a Death Knight. We came out the other side, and committed atrocities with him, killed Uther with him, raised Sylvanas as a Banshee from her dying breath - we did all this, and now we were back for vengeance. There was no way Deathwing could live up to that.

There is no raid in all of Cataclysm that comes close to Ice Crown Citadel in terms of emotional impact. Nothing carries the weight or gravity that the Citadel had. Even now, thinking of it, I feel nothing but melancholy as if I really did go to war there, even though I was just playing a video game. I left a piece of myself there, and I wrote a story to cement my relationship with the place.

Now, we have Pandaria, and I'm trying, so hard, to engage with the raids here as emotionally as I did the raids in Wrath - and I just can't do it. Part of it is the scope of things - it's just smaller in a lot of ways. We're raiding a tomb in Mogu'shan Vaults. That's it. Nothing noble or heroic about it, there's the thin veneer of trying to save Pandaria from the Guru'bashi as they try to get a weapon to use to regain the Thunder King but face it - we're mercenaries and treasure hunters. It does not inspire the hand-shaking awe of the Citadel.

Take then, the Heart of Fear - a lovely construction and a wonderful raid to explore and fight in, grand cathedral like rooms and lovely work all-around. But the stakes aren't there - we have only the most tenuous grasp of the Empress and while the Sha is a terrifying enemy, the engagement is recent. The ending of Jade Forest was amazing, but man, that didn't inspire me to lust after killing the Sha, especially after killing another Sha over and over again in Kun'lai.

Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the Hell out of these raids - some of the best fights in the game since Tier 11 and I'm super excited to kill them all. I just wish I felt for them the way I did for Arthas. Does anyone else need this kind of emotional and personal impact in the raid to really enjoy it on a visceral, sub-dermal  level? Can Blizzard put out another raid with that level of emotional impact?

I hold out hope.

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