Review: World of Warcraft Computer GameBack to SeanKReynolds.com home
I've been playing World of Warcraft from Blizzard Entertainment for a few months now and I thought I'd write a review of the game.
In short, it's really fun and I'm hooked. I haven't played any other massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs, if you're a gamer who's been living in a cave for the past 5 years) mainly because I use a Mac and most of the newest games aren't available on Mac. WOW is an exception as Blizzard releases their games for Windows and Mac, so I finally get to see what the fuss is all about. It turns out the game is quite fussworthy!
Bear with me if I blab about WOW features that are common to other MMORPGs, I wouldn't know so they're new to me in WOW. :)
The game is set in the world of the Warcraft real-time strategy games from Blizzard, a short time after the events of Warcraft III and its expansion game. The brief team-up between the Alliance and Horde (to defeat the demons wanting to destroy the world) has fallen apart, and now the two sides struggle to control the territories of the world in the face of assaults from strange monsters and the actions of their former allies.
You create an Alliance-side character (human, night elf, dwarf, or gnome) or a Horde-side character (orc, troll, tauren, or undead). You pick your gender and customize your appearance (hair, skin color, etc.). You pick a class, such as warrior, mage, druid, hunter, or priest (your race determines your available class options, as undead are basically evil and cannot be paladins, humans too "civilized" to take the shaman class, and so on). Then you jump into the game, pursuing quests, killing hostile creatures, and wandering all over a HUGE game map at the same time as dozens or hundreds of other players. You can even enable combat between yourself and other players' characters (called player-vs.-player or PVP), though if you leave that disabled you can't be attacked by other players. Questing and looting gives you experience points which advance your character in a manner familiar to anyone who's played a roleplaying game, giving you new abilities and new choices.
The Good Stuff
WOW has a lot going for it. Rather than ramble on in paragraph form, here are some bullet points about strong features of the game.
- Things in the game (quests, monsters, items, etc.) are ranked in terms of power/value by color (usually the thing's name, but sometimes its level or some other feature). Trivial quests are gray (usually from forgetting to do a quest from a much lower level, or wandering into a newbie area of another race), easy ones green, reasonably-challenging ones are yellow, and very tough ones are red. Likewise, trivial monsters are gray, easy ones green, challenging yellow, and deadly red. Items have their own hierarchy, from gray to green to blue and on up. Basically this lets you see at a glance if the thing is worth your time (gray junk items sell for copper pieces, gray quests give you very little XP, etc.).
- Monsters and NPCs are also color-coded by hostility level. Green means they're friendly and won't attack you at all, yellow means they're neutral to you and won't attack unless they are attacked, and red means they're hostile and will attack you if they detect you. As with the power-level color cue, this helps you figure out if an area is dangerous to you or not (you could walk safely through a group of neutral monsters even if you're much weaker than them, as they'll just ignore you as long as you don't attack).
- Newbie Areas: When you start a new character, he or she is 1st-level and pretty vulnerable, but Blizzard was smart and made the starting areas for each race very safe. First, it's usually a town. When you step out of town, the creatures in the immediate area are neutral-yellow, which means you're very unlikely to get mobbed by multiple enemies unless you do something stupid like indiscriminately use an area attack or whack several enemies in a row without killing them off in turn. If an angry monster seems too much for you, you can run back to the town and the town guards will attack and kill the creature if it's pursuing you (though you don't get XP for it). This means the newbie areas are very safe and you don't risk dying unless you screw up.
- Many Quests: While the newbie areas tend to be a little more linear in their quests (the local priest gives you quest A, then quest B when you finish A, then C when you finish B, etc., though there is always more than one quest-giver) for teaching purposes, once you're out of that you end up with many available quests to pursue, enough that your quest log (the window that tracks all of the quests you've agreed to do, and includes all relevant info like what you need to do to finish the quest, who you need to talk to about it, what the reward will be, etc.) may hit the limit of 20 active quests, forcing you to finish off some of them before accepting more. In particular, once you hit the part of the game where your quests require you to enter nearby territories (which have their own quests) you're never lacking something to do.
- Overlapping Quests: In some cases the designers were smart or nice or both, as they present you with quests that have overlapping goals. For example, the military boss of your current town may want you to attack the local quillboars (anthropomorphic boar-men) because they've been raiding caravans, and requires you specifically to take out 8 of their scouts and 8 of their spellcasters to meet the criteria for finishing the quest; nearby in the town is a guy whose family was killed by the quillboars and he wants vengeance, offering you a reward if you bring him 60 quillboar tusks from your kills. If you're smart you'll do agree to both of these quests at the same time (so they're both in your quest log) so when you're hunting the quillboar scouts and spellcasters, odds are you'll end up collecting some of the boar tusks you need. The end result is that you can go back to town and "cash in" two or more quests in a short period of time, which is a nice chunk of XP all at once.
- Fast Low-Level Leveling: The quest rewards for your initial quests are enough that in just a couple hours of play you've earned 2-3 levels and are no longer at risk of instant death from combat with a common zombie or angry sewer rat. Not only does this increase the survivability of the character (which reduces player frustration, as dying is not fun), it gives the player quick and tangible reward-feedback for their first hours of play. For the first-time player, this gets them hooked into the idea of powering up their character and encourages them to spend more time playing for that purpose. For the experienced player, this gets a new character out of the weakest levels and lets them wander into other parts of the world (especially with a team of PC buddies). Either way, a smart move by Blizzard.
- Death: In any serious game, it really sucks when your character dies. With WOW, the live environment mean you can't just reload your last saved game. Fortunately Blizzard was very smart and made the penalty for dying almost nothing -- if your character dies, it appears at the closest graveyard as a ghost, and you have the option to talk to a powerful spirit who'll resurrect you on the spot (at a cost of having temporary resurrection sickness) or run back to your body and self-resurrect (with no resurrection sickness or XP penalty). There's also a slight amount of damage done to your equipped items, but that doesn't usually add up unless you die several times in a row, and any armorer or weaponmaker NPC can repair your items for you with one click. In effect, when you die all you're really losing is time. Compared to the standard D&D penalty where dying means you're out 500 gp (or 5,000 gp in 3.5) and you lose a level, the WOW model is much nicer on the PCs. It has to be, as there's no human DM to keep a character from wandering into a dangerous area and dying, but it's still a really nice feature.
- Hearthstones: There is a lot of travel in the game, which takes time. Sometimes when you've finished a quest far from the guy who assigned it to you, you just want to get back to the guy ASAP because it's time for bed or a bathroom break. Thus, the invention of the hearthstone, a magic item every character in WOW has. If you activate your hearthstone, it teleports you back to the inn in your home town. You can change your home town by talking to an innkeeper (handy if you wander to a new area ... the only purpose of designating a home town is that it points where your hearthstone takes you). It's also a nice way to get out of a dangerous area; using the hearthstone takes about 10 seconds so you need to find a safe place to use it, but often it's better than trying to fight your way out of an enemy keep after taking out its leader. The hearthstone is a really great feature, and lends itself to other time-saving tricks (like taking a boat to the other continent to find a quest item, then using your hearthstone to get back instantaneously).
- Reusability of Powers: Rather than limiting certain powers to a number of uses per day (which is very easily worked around in a realtime game where you can log on or off when it's convenient for you, and if you only play once a week it doesn't matter if an ability is 1/week or 1/day), WOW has a nice "cooldown" mechanic where once you use an item or ability, you can't use that item or ability again until a certain period of time has passed. For example, if you drink a healing potion, you can't drink another one until about 2 minutes later (otherwise you could click 6 times on a stack of them and heal up a huge amount, which is a disincentive to buy or use bigger, more expensive potions). Similar items often share the same cooldown -- all potions do, most spells do, and so on. It's a nice way of limited "at will" abilities in a realtime game where time is a more significant than whose turn it is.
- Buffing Food: If you find an eatable food item in the game, 99% of the time it's something that restores hit points. If you find a drinkable food item in the game, 99% of the time it's something that restores mana points (for spellcasting). I think this is great (but of course I've always liked stuff that doesn't rely wholly on magic for its effects). There are even special/rare/powerful foods with much greater effects (like boosts to stamina and strength) but require a higher-level character to use. Unlike potions, eating and drinking can't be done in combat, you actually need to sit down, so it keeps this from being an instant way to heal (but gives low-level characters easy access to healing without requiring everyone carry a dozen potions).
- Upgrading Spells: As spellcasters gain levels, they can purchase new spells, in many cases improved versions of spells they already know (like Arcane Missiles Rank 1, Arcane Missiles Rank 2, etc., with better damage or better range). There's nothing stopping a spellcaster from sticking to his low-level spells (they generally cost less mana) but as they become less effective over time there's an encouragement to try to keep up. For example, the attack spell that does 60 points of damage is great at level 5 where enemies have at most 200 hit points, but it's almost useless when you're 20th level and the creatures you're fighting have 1,000 hit points or more. It's interesting to note that among D&D players the complaint is that sorcerers don't know enough spells to keep them from being boring, but my 55th-level mage (as of this writing) only knows about a dozen spells (compared to a Sor10's 26 known spells, plus cantrips) and gets along quite fine with "only" that many and without boredom (I'm not counting Rank 1 and Rank 2 as two spells, FYI).
- Caster Balance: The game has an interesting balance of spell types among the classes. Priests are the best at healing, but druids, paladins, shamans, and even warlocks can heal, too. Mages are the best at pure ranged damage output but the other classes all have their share of attack spells. Druids get some nice buff spells (which work even when they're shapechanged into animal forms) as do the priest and paladin. Basically everyone has something they're really good at, though other classes may be able to fill in for that role, much as the D&D bard can fill in as a healer, mage, or rogue in a pinch. This encourages a balanced assortment of classes when you group together for a tough quest ("Looking for mage/priest/tank" is a common call in the recruiting chat channels in the game). This also encourages you to play characters of other classes, as you want to fiddle with what class features most appeal to you.
- Casting Time: Spells are either Instant casting time (happens immediately) or Channeled (requiring a certain amount of time, varies by spell). Instant spells can't be disrupted while casting in combat. Channeled spells provoke threat from nearby attackers, and if you're hit it delays finishing the spell (channeled spells have a progress bar to show you how long until the spell is done). As you gain levels, you can learn abilities to reduce the casting time or threat-provoking. Obviously instant spells are more handy with a monster in your face, but they generally do less damage than a channeled spell. As most spellcasting has a shared cooldown time (after casting spell X, you need to wait a few seconds before X, Y, or Z spells are available) this prevents you from casting spell X ten times in 2 seconds. It's a nice breakdown, and encourages you to plan strategy based on casting time and cooldown (such as starting casting with a channeled spell, then casting an instant spell right after that which doesn't have a shared cooldown with the first spell, then another channeled spell while the cooldown for the instant spell cycles, etc.).
- Gathering Skills: Gathering skills are skills that let you gather resources from the environment. If you see a river, lake, or sea, you can use the fishing skill to get fish from it (fish are an eatable food, and thus restore hit points). If you see a rare plant, you can collect it. If you see a mineral node, you can mine it for ore. If you see a dead beast, you can skin it. Successfully gathering a resource adds to your skill rank. Some resources are more difficult to gather than others (requiring a higher level of skill to succeed). You can either sell the gathered materials or use a trade skill to make it into something game useful.
- Trade Skills: Trade skills are skills that let you make stuff. Use alchemy and herbs to make potions. Use cooking and animal bits to make food. Use leatherworking and leather to make armor. Use tailoring and cloth to make clothing. Use first aid and cloth to make bandages. Use smithing and metal ore to make armor and weapons. Use this stuff for yourself or your friends, or sell it.
- 24 Hours: WOW is available all day and night (barring a few hours each week for server maintenance, and the occasional outage). If it's 3 a.m. and I can't sleep, I can log on and play. As it's a global network of players, odds are that even at that time there are other people online (it's only midnight in California) and I can find a group if I don't want to try a quest solo.
- Item Damage: It's easy for a computer to handle the little bits of damage that accrue on armor and weapons over the course of several combats -- something that would be horrendously tedious in a pen & paper game. This adds a nice element of realism without slowing down active gameplay. You can get your stuff repaired at any weapon or armor vendor (it costs money depending on how damaged it is), so there's a slight incentive to not charge into battle and suck up damage rather than being careful and trying to attack at range first.
- Quasi-Living Undead PCs: One of the playable races on the Horde side are the Forsaken undead. Unlike your typical D&D undead, which have no metabolism whatsoever, the Forsaken (and presumably other "monster" undead you encounter in the game) are much like living creatures in that they need to breathe, are affected by poison, and so on ... clearly they have some life-like traits, they just operate on a different system than your typical orc or human (undead have a resistance to mental-control spells, but you have to manually activate it and it lasts only a short while, which keeps it from being too powerful). This means that the game can have undead PCs without a huge disparity in character power at the same level, plus designers don't have to account for too much weirdness when designing encounters because all eight races are still pretty similar.
- Pulling Monsters and Evading: A typical tactic for this sort of game is to "pull" a monster by attacking it with a ranged attack, which causes it to charge toward you and away from any other creatures near it ... if you do it right, you can pick off a creature from a group without causing its buddies to run after you, too. The really clever thing is that the game won't let you pull a creature an infinite distance away from its normal patrolling ground ... it eventually reaches a practical limit and stops chasing you, turns around, and returns to its territory ... and it's pretty much immune to any attacks against it while it runs home. This keeps a really fast PC from pulling a creature into a faraway mob of PCs in a safe area. Smart. Kinda funny to see a monster go tearing by with no concern for you as it makes its way home, but smart from a preventing-cheese point of view.
- Macintosh: I have a Mac. I use a Mac because I've been doing graphics stuff on computers for a very long time and Macs were the best for that, and now I have thousands of dollars invested in Mac software; I'm not switching to a PC. This means I don't get to play the cool new games because they're almost never released on Mac, or I have to wait for a port which can take years. Blizzard gets kudos from me because they release their games on both platforms at the same time, which means I've been able to play all three Warcraft RTS games and now WOW. I haven't been able to play any other major MMORPG, but now I can play WOW, and it's fun!
- Resting: Any MMORPG is going to have people who play every day and people who play much less often than that, such as once a week or even less. This means that the person who plays more gets more XP and levels up faster ... and that sucks for the guy who only has time to play once per week, especially if he's friends with a daily player and wants to adventure as a group. From Blizzard's perspective, the weekly player is better than the daily player because they're paying the same monthly fee but are using one-seventh of the server capacity; ideally they could put 100 daily players on one server and make $X per month and 700 weekly players on another server and make 7 times $X per month. But you can't apportion your players that way, so what do you do to help the weekly guy keep up? (After all, if he falls too far behind, he's going to cancel his subscription and provide no more income to Blizzard.) WOW has a resting mechanic; if you log out from the game at an inn, you accrue a "resting bonus" for a certain amount of time. When your character is rested, your XP from kills increases, which helps you make up for the disparity between you and Mr. On Every Day. The longer you stay logged out at an inn, the longer your "resting bonus" lasts (up to about a week, I believe). Note that XP is also adjusted for level (as does D&D), so a Terry Tenth-Level questing with Eddie Eighth-Level is going to earn less XP for the same monsters and quests; this plus the resting system tends to even out things in the long run.
The Bad Stuff
There are a few annoying things, some of them limitations of the technology, some of them deliberate to make the game challenging, and some are just frustrating for no reason I've been able to tell so far. As with the good stuff, here are some bullet points.
- Travel Time: Willow calls WOW "the running game" because it seems like you spend most of your time running to where you want to be questing. I admit, having to run everywhere really sucks, especially as the roads meander (like real roads) so you can't just click due south to make yourself run in that direction and eventually get there (you'll hit a tree, or a mountainside, or some other barrier that stops you from moving). It means that on long stretches of road where you're not worried about encounters, you still have to sit attentively at your computer, reorienting yourself to the road every few seconds. Yes, the flight paths mean you can dodge some of this (but not all ... for example, there's no flight point from the Crossroads to Ratchet, or from anywhere to the Shimmering Flats), and having a mount reduces this somewhat (though only by 40%, and only once you reach level 40 when you can buy a mount), but for much of the game it's still an annoyance.
- Poor Drop Rate: The game has a lot of "grinding" quests where you have to kill monsters and collect body parts (like "the master alchemist wants ten grizzly bear hearts"). That in itself isn't so bad, but sometimes the drop rate for these items is really poor, like 10% or even less (so about 1 in 10 creatures drops the required item). That means for the "ten grizzly bear hearts" quest you may need to kill 100 or more grizzly bears before you get all ten hearts and can finish the quest. This means you spend a lot of time fighting the same monster over and over, which can become tedious (then again, you may be amazingly lucky and get them in just ten kills). If you're lucky, you may find an overlapping quest (see the fifth bullet point at the top of this review) but in some cases it's just grind, grind, grind. I know some people that have spent several days just trying to finish one of these grind-drop quests, and that must have been really boring. Rather than give a quest for 10 items with a 10% drop rate, make it 20 items with a 20% drop rate or something similar; more frequent rewards (just like the rapid level increases in the early part of the game) keep the player interested and they don't feel like they're just toiling for the amusement of a player-hating game designer.
- Vague Map Reveals: Initially an area map is almost completely blank (only surrounding natural features like a mountain range may be visible), and only by exploring do more details (rivers, cities, and so on) appear on your map. However, sometimes those map-reveals are really slow to happen, or don't reveal details that you can see from your character's point of view, leaving much of your map blank until you happen to find the right reveal-point. For example, a big mountain with a city on the west side of it may only show up on your map when you get to the city, leaving a big blank on your map as you continue to bump into the east, north, or south side of the mountain over and over again. My main complaint about this is about the roads; roads are lumped in with whatever map feature is near them, so it's actually possible to walk half the zone map and back without triggering a reveal point for anything you've passed, which means that your map is still blank despite the ten minutes of in-game road-walking you've done. This becomes an issue when a monster chases you somewhere and you'd really like to get back to the relative safety of the road but the road isn't on your map; even worse, sometimes you have to go perilously close to an enemy town for the map to reveal the road in that area at all. I'd really like to see road revealed by itself just for the ease of travel.
- Annoying Map Item Collisions, Part 1: There are some terrain items that physically stop you (like a wall) and some that do not (like shrubs). Games like Doom were very clever in that when you tried to walk through a doorway and missed a little bit, it would still let you pass through after nudging you to the side a little bit (the real-world equivalent of brushing your shoulder against the doorjamb). WOW doesn't have this: if I'm trying to get through a door and I'm off by a little bit, I get stuck and in most cases I have to manually move myself to the side or even back up before I can progress forward through the door. It takes me out of the illusion that I'm actually in the game (how often do you catch your shoulder on a doorjamb and fail to push forward?). As some of the doorways are oddly-shaped or ornate, it just means more things to get yourself caught on. It would be great if these things were more slide-friendly.
- Annoying Map Item Collisions, Part 2: Some of the other collision-enabled terrain items are annoying because they don't really serve a purpose in being collision-enabled. For example, crossroad signposts: a signpost with signs sticking out in all four directions is something your character can get "caught" on easily, and when at a busy intersection (with a lot of PC traffic) it's one more thing to have to navigate. It would be easier if the post was a collision object (makes sense, it's about two feet wide) but the signs were not so it would be easier to walk past the thing. Other examples are tiki torches (they don't burn you, they just provide light, so why make it so you can crash into them?), the ten-foot-long ground-level toothlike protrusions sticking out of the doorways of horde inns (Sun Rock Retreat, I'm talking to you -- shouldn't it be easy to enter the inn door, not confined to a narrow access lane?), and other decorative items placed in towns, particularly in Horde settlements (which are fond of spiky things) -- they are enough to hang up movement through a high-traffic area.
Here are some other things that are neither good nor bad, just interesting from a world or game-design standpoint.
- No Doors: With the exception of a few doors requiring quest keys or existing for dramatic purposes, there aren't any doors in WOW. It makes sense because having doors would mean an extra second or two delay any time you wanted to go in or out of a building (even if it's just a click-to-use door), overlapping use commands from multiple characters trying the same door, obnoxious players closing the door on other players trying to open it, forcing monster AI to deal with doors (can they sense what's beyond the door? can they open the door? do they wait by the door?), and so on. Given the forethought put into the lack of doors, I'm surprised there are as many other map item collision issues still in the game (see above).
- No Collisions With Creatures: You can walk right through any PC, NPC, or monster without trouble. It makes sense because worrying about creature collisions adds a lot of work to the programming, and creature collisions means it's possible for a pair of gnome characters to automatically stop a charging dragon in a doorway. It does mean that battles can get a little confusing when monsters and allies overlap a bit, but the user interface allows you to deal with that with commands (like "target the monster my ally is targeting," "cycle to the next monster in view," and so on).
- Player Metagaming Based on Lack of Death Penalty: My many years of D&D have given me a healthy respect for character death, even though it's not much of a penalty in WOW. I'm careful with my encounters and don't take on things that are too much above my level partly because I don't like taking risks with characters and partly because having to run back to my dead body from a graveyard is a waste of time to me. However, there are many players who are completely trivial about death, so much so that they'll recklessly throw themselves at any encounter they have a remote chance of surviving, because "I don't care if my character dies." It's a weird mentality, and if you're a player like me you have to make sure there aren't any players of the other type in your group or you're likely to get killed for their recklessness. This play style isn't a bad thing (in fact, the lack of a serious penalty for death in the game encourages this sort of behavior), it's just a little surprising to me given my background.
- Trade Skills Aren't Dependent on Class: You can be a warrior and be an enchanter. You can be a mage and know nothing about enchanting but me a master weaponsmith. A priest may or may not know how to make powerful bandages. That shaman or rogue might be an amazing alchemist. It's an interesting split in that the trade skills aren't dependent on your class, and progressing in a trade skill has almost nothing to do with your level (you can reach a reasonably high skill level in a trade at a relatively low character level).
What I'd Like To See
Here are some things I'd like to see in the game. Blizzard may already have plans to implement these things; if not, I give full permission to use these ideas for WOW without any need to credit me at all. Of course if they want to hire me as a freelancer, I'd be up for that as well....
A lot of these have to do with the Cooking skill, that's because many of my characters have it and I like to cool in real life, too.
- Make Cheese with Cooking: There are a lot of cheeses in the game, but they're only available from NPC vendors or as treasure from killed creatures. In the real world, cheese is pretty easy to make ... all you need is milk, mold, rennet (a curative, derived from animal or plant sources), salt (optional), spices (optional, for flavor), and cloth to strain it through. It would be easy to duplicate the cheeses that already exist in the game with Cooking recipes and existing items in the game: milk (store-bought), mold (harvested herb or store-bought), rennet (animal-drop, store-bought, or harvested herb), salt (store-bought), spices (store-bought or harvested herb), and cloth (linen, wool, silk, mageweave, or whatever, depending on rarity or special properties of the cheese). Given the reliance on herbalism materials, it should be easy to keep economically feasible yet not a windfall source of easy money (in the same way that animal-meat drops limit the ability to exploit the current uses of Cooking).
- Make Vegetables with Cooking: I've mostly been playing Horde, so my information is a little skewed, but it seems that there are very few recipes that are just vegetables. Given the many herbs and plants you can collect in the game with Herbalism, it would be cool if there were some recipes that let you use those herbs with your Cooking skill, either as stand-alone recipes (vegetable casserole, etc.) or as garnishes to existing dishes (Big Bear Steak + Feralas Mashed Potatoes = Mmm Mmm Good!).
- Make Bread with Cooking: Milk + Egg + Flour (store-bought or harvested herb) + Whatever = Incredible Variety of Breads that we see in the game. Same rationale as cheeses.
- Make Spices with Cooking: It would be neat if you could use Herbalism or Cooking to create Mild Spices, Hot Spices, or Soothing Spices out of herbs you can find or buy in the game.
- Make Beverages with Cooking: Refreshing Spring Water or other waters (perhaps even conjured water from mages for exotic types) + herbs = interesting teas, or alcohols, or other beverages (coffee, juice, etc.). Drinks that restore mana, teas that remove illnesses or negative effects, teas that give small buffs in the way that food does. Why limit access to Blended Bean Brew to the holiday season? Roleplayers would love to sit and talk with each other over a nice cup of coffee or tea ... or enjoy some time in an inn with a few drinks of stronger stuff. Champagne at weddings. Wine for toasts. And so on.
- Make Desserts with Cooking: It's so obvious. Cookies, candy, pies, cake. They're fun, and not just for Valentine's Day or Halloween (excuse me, Love Is In The Air or Hallow's End). Roleplayers would love to have wedding cakes and birthday cakes. And for those who love to throw snowballs, Happy Fun Rocks, and Heavy Leather Balls, there's always the Banana Cream Pie (Use: Throw me!).
- Make Rings with Blacksmithing: Not necessarily as a magic item (though that would be nice, too), but let them combine precious metals and precious stones to create cool rings. Wedding rings, friendship rings, jeweled bragging pimp-daddy rings that would make Paris Hilton jealous. Perhaps guild rings would replace guild tabards among the rich and famous of Azeroth.
- Road-Pathing: If would be great if you were standing on the road at the north end of the Barrens, could right-click on the signpost that says "Camp Taurajo," and the game would just run you along the road all the way to Camp Taurajo, following the road as it twists and turns stopping when you get there. It would be slower than flying, more dangerous than flying (monsters could still attack you), but less tedious. You could interrupt at any time (like if you saw a mining node you wanted to tap) and resume at any signpost. It wouldn't be that hard (I've worked on computer games, I know how pathing works).
- Cool Non-Combat Pet Abilities: It would be neat if your hunter's pet gave you some sort of non-combat reward or benefit based on what sort of creature it was. Birds and bats might (once they're at a certain level) let you use flight paths at a discount (because you're riding your pet instead of the rented flier). Bears and great cats could catch fish if you let them wander near a river. Creatures like swoops and owls that drop eggs (if you kill a wild one) could give you an egg every day. Others might give you shed teeth (crocolisk), fur (wolves), and similar items. Nothing game-breaking or super-valuable, but it would be neat, play up on the symbiotic relationship between the hunter and pet, and distinguish each kind of pet in more than what can it do in a fight.
- More Enchantable Body Slots: There are several body slots (belt, helm, pants, trinket, and ring) for which there are no enchantments (for example, you can put a +3 agility enchant on a pair of gloves but there are no enchants you can put on a belt). While adding these other enchant categories would end up powering up the game (five more slots that you can add armor or stat bonuses to), you can always limit the enchants available so it's not a huge powerup. For example, while there may be a skill 290 formula for +9 agility to boots, the only skill 290 enchant for helms is +1 intelligence, belt is +1 strength, and so on.
- Enchantstones: Trade skills such as alchemy, blacksmithing, leatherworking, and tailoring are good ways to make money in the game, as all of them produce tangible goods that you can dump in the auction house and forget about until the item sells or the auction expires. Heck, you can even advertise your items in the tri-city trade channel and mail it cash-on-delivery to someone on another continent. By contrast, enchanting is an active process that requires the seller and the buyer to be online at the same time and in the same location, which limits the amount of business an enchanter can do (if he's online only at off-peak hours, his chances of making a sale are much lower because there are fewer potential customers online). It would be great if enchanters could create a physical item representing a particular enchant (such as Enchantstone: +1 agility to gloves), and then be able to sell that enchant either at the auction house or by mailing it to someone COD. That would bring enchanters sale-ease parity with other tradesmen. (Leatherworkers can already make armor kits that anyone can use to add on to an existing piece of armor, so there's a precedent for this kind of item.)
- Flightpath Beacons: While flightpaths make it easier to get about the world, you can't fly to a particular flightpath until you speak to the flightmaster at that flightpath, which often means you have a long walk before you get the opportunity for the easy flight. While part of the challenge is exploring a new area to find a flightpath, it's really an annoyance when you have a group assembling to go to a dungeon near a flightpath and one person in the group doesn't have it, which means the entire group has to wait for that one guy to make the walk to the flightpath. A flightpath beacon would be a one-use expendable item; by activating it you learn the location of the flightpath encoded into it, and can use that flightpath target as if you'd been there. They could be purchased from the flightmaster in question (so I could buy one for my buddy I'm going to quest with later this week), on sale for relatively cheap (to avoid hugely inflated prices in the auction house ... if anyone can buy the Crossroads flightpath beacon for 10 silver, only an idiot is going to spend 1g for it in the auction house), and could even have a minimum level requirement (equal to that of the zone) so you don't have 1st-level characters walking into endgame flightpaths and being stupid (right now the likelihood of instant-death for such characters generally prevents this from happening).
- Dyeing Clothing: My main character is a tailor, and there are dozens of patterns out there for mundane and magical clothing. The weird thing is that if you know the pattern that teaches you how to make a blue silk shirt, you need an entirely different pattern to learn how to make a red silk shirt. It would be really nice if there was a general "dye this item" pattern that would let you change the color of a created piece of clothing; perhaps by incorporating bleach and twice the amount of dye you'd need to make the item from scratch. For example, if making the blue silk shirt requires 2 bottles of blue dye, making it red requires 1 bottle of bleach and 4 bottles of red dye. It would be really nice if you could do this to other items so you could develop a color scheme for your character. For example, my mage character prefers red or purple clothing, but right now she's wearing green and brown items because they're the best items she's been able to find for her level; it would be great if I could (with my maxed-out tailor skill) dye these items so they're all red or purple to suit her style. Likewise, maybe your hunter character really likes his raptor-hide armor, but would like it to be green instead of brown.
- Recycling Items: Once you make a shirt or a suit of armor or a leather cloak, you can't unmake it. It would be great if you could tear that item apart and get some of the component materials back, even if it was just a fraction of what you put into it. I understand the game design reasons for not allowing this (if it takes 4 bolts of silk to make a shirt, and you gain 1 skill rank for making that shirt, making 4 shirts means you can recycle each for 1 bolt of silk and make a 5th shirt for a net gain of 5 skill ranks), it just seems weird in a suspension-of-disbelief sense that once I make a big giant robe I can't decide to cut it up and make a couple of headbands out of it.
(I'll also point out that the game already has two similar things in the game. One, the enchanting skill lets you disenchant magic items to get magical reagents, but destroys all other components of the item in the process. Two, leatherworking skill lets you take multiples of a weaker kind of leather and turn them into a single unit of a stronger kind of leather, such as 3 Light Leather --> 1 Medium Leather. So there's a precedent in the game for being able to take something apart and building up from smaller scraps.)
- Barber Shop: You pick your character's hair color and configuration at character creation, and it never changes after that. I would be neat if there was a place in town you could go to in order to reconfigure those things, like a barbershop. Been walking around for 20 levels with a goatee? Grow that thing out into a beard! Sick of your long hair? Shave it off! The game (like many games) defines so much about you based on what stuff you have, there should be a way to reconfigure your basic appearance in ways that a real person in that world could do (I'm not talking cosmetic surgery, just haircuts!). (This idea was suggested for MMO's in general by "MatrexsVigil" on Monte Cook's message boards).
- Summoning Tokens: One of the inconveniences of grouping for a quest is that it sometimes takes ten minutes to an hour to get everyone in the same place. Some things make that easier, like a mage's ability to teleport self and portal others, or a warlock's ability to summon people to him. But in a party without mages or warlocks you're stuck running or using "public transportation." The game already gives each character a hearthstone that lets them teleport to the inn that is their "home" ... what if you could make or buy an item that's keyed to you and tradeable to someone else so that when they activate it, you are summoned to their location? Perhaps only warlocks can create them, perhaps only warlocks can activate them (or perhaps like summoning they require 3 people acting on the summons but a warlock knows how to use the item solo). If you're planning a dungeon run on Friday night, just have your four buddies send you one of these in the mail and you can gather them in just a few seconds ... even right outside the dungeon! Heck, they'd be a nice way of "calling the cavalry" if you get stuck ... just use the summoning token to conjure up your 60th-level buddy who owed you a favor for something. This item has a lot of possibilities. To keep it from getting too crazy, you could limit the number of summoning tokens each character can hold, or the number you can have attuned to you at once (creating a second one destroys the first, so you're not "on call" for everyone in your guild).
- Teleport to Hearthstone: Speaking of hearthstones and mage teleports, I understand the game reason for only letting you teleport to major cities, and requiring you to learn a separate teleport spell for each of them. However, every character in the game starts with a device that lets them teleport home once an hour -- the hearthstone. It would be cool if mages could learn a spell that lets them teleport to their hearthstone's location. Why is this useful, if you can already hearth there in the first place? Because some quests require you to jump between two different locations ferrying stuff back and forth, and if neither location is an inn or a major city that means you have to fly, ride, or run ... being able to hearth from Orgrimmar to Gadgetzan, then teleport to Undercity, then hearth-teleport back to Gadgetzan in just a few minutes would be incredibly convenient. It could have the same casting time as a hearthstone (10 secs) and the same mana useage as a teleport or portal just to prevent in-combat abuses.
- More Mailboxes: The major cities all get a lot of lag around the mailboxes because everyone needs to check their mail and they're right by the inn (where you hearth to). In most cases the mailbox is right by the bank and auction house as well. Mailbox, inn, bank, and auction house are all high-traffic areas, and putting all four of them near each other contributes to lag (more players in an area = more unscripted motion happening = more things your local copy of the software has to deal with = slowdowns).
Orgrimmar already has a second, little-used mailbox in the Drag (an area with shops and such far from the laggy hub of the main mailbox). Why not put a mailbox by each of the city teleport destinations? Playing a mage, it would be nice to be able to leave a dungeon, teleport to a major city, check my mail without having to wade through a laggy area, and then log out right there.
It also would be nice to have a mailbox by each of the zeppelins (or deeprun trams, if you're playing on the Alliance side). Sometimes you have to wait five minutes for the next zep to arrive, during which time you're just sitting there on the platform. It would be great if you could use that time checking your mail -- which would also redirect some of the lag-traffic away from the main city mailboxes.
- Class Training Items as Dropped Treasure: Some of the treasures you can find in the game are leatherworking and tailoring patterns, cooking recipes, and blacksmithing and engineering plans. These allow you to learn how to make certain trade items without paying a profession trainer. If you can't use the pattern, recipe, or plan, you can give it to a friend or sell it. There are no equivalent drops for class abilities (including spells): if your mage wants to learn Fireball: Rank 5, he must go to the mage trainer. If your warrior wants to learn how to hamstring an enemy to reduce its ability to run away, you have to go to the warrior trainer. These abilities are already limited by level (you can't learn them from the trainer until you hit a minimum level for that ability). Why not have these things available in written form, too? You could even have cool thematic versions for each one: wizards have spell crystals, warriors have training manuals, rogues have cryptic secret messages, warlocks have demon stones, priests have prayer books, and so on.
- Transform Meat Spell: Ok I admit this is one that's purely for my convenience as a cook. Quite often I end up with a half-stack of cooked food of one type (such as Big Bear Steak) and a half-stack of another type (such as Tender Wolf Steak). Both of them heal the same hp over the same amount of time and give the same bonuses to spirit and stamina for the same duration. But because they're different recipes, I can't combine them and so they take up 2 slots in my inventory. It would be nice if there were some way for me to convert all of the Big Bear Steaks into Tender Wolf Steaks or vice-versa just so they stack together and only take up one inventory slot. I understand that there are other game ramifications (Big Bear Steak might be rarer than Tender Wolf Steak or needed for some quest), so this is mostly me begging for a game feature that'll just suit me. :)