This series of articles is my personal critique of World of Warcraft based on my experiences and observations of ingame issues. I firmly believe that the game could’ve improved in numerous fields with just a bit more thought put into the game design, and that it had numerous opportunities to do so throughout the years. The first page will commonly address and analyze the issues in the game (some which are well known to the playerbase, some which are usually overlooked), while the second page will hold an attempt to present a viable solution for those issues.
Before anything else, I would like to say that World of Warcraft has been one of the best games I have ever played, as no other game had me want to play for over 6 years. There was so much to do, to see, or to experience. Playing with thousands of others ensured I would meet different kinds of people and see something new every day. But good stuff never lasts, there’s really no denying that the game has become something less over the years. Blizzard has continuously worked, updated and adapted the game throughout its life cycle, making some decisions for the better and some for the worse. The game has become more complex, more rich in terms of quantity of the content and game mechanics, yet still on the far end of their design decisions there are those that simply sucked the charm right out of the game.
Intro – Over the years there have certainly been some great improvements to the whole profession part of the game. Jewelcrafting, Inscription and Archeology were all great additions to the game, each in their own respect, and even though Archeology seems a bit too much like pure grinding, Blizzard has made some changes for Mists of Pandaria that could make the whole profession a bit more refreshing.
Other small, yet still meaningful modifications have been implemented over time; special super-sized bags were introduced for carrying materials; navigating through recipes has been made easier with special categories; trainers for all professions have been added into every city; the players can fully mine an ore vein in a single action (unlike right-clicking the vein 6 times in the initial version); players can fish anywhere unrestricted by their skill level; fishing without a fishing pole has been introduced just recently; enchants can be mailed or sold on the Auction House thanks to Inscription, and many more.
However, even though all of those small upgrades contributed to the quality of professions, several core issues remain unresolved. While the whole game has continuously evolved, the whole profession system has, on a fundamental level, remained in its initial, archaic form. A couple of things could do well with a serious overhaul, so for a better illustration of those issues let’s briefly go over the way professions work.
Professions – The professions in WoW fall into two categories, Primary professions and Secondary professions, the main difference being that a player can only pick up to two Primary professions which can be dropped (the player loses all the known recipes and progress), while the player can have any amount of secondary professions which cannot be dropped. The Primary ones are Blacksmithing, Leatherworking, Tailoring, Alchemy, Engineering, Jewelcrafting, Enchanting, Inscription, Mining, Herbalism and Skinning, while the Secondary are Cooking, Fishing, First Aid and Archeology.
The primary professions can also be further divided into gathering (Mining, Herbalism, Skinning) and crafting professions. While the gathering ones manage to hold their weight with each expansion, the crafting ones suffer from being cluttered with junk.
The professions also have their own level categories which require the player to reach a certain amount of skill points in order to advance to the next tier of crafting or gathering. Those levels are the following:
Progress – Skill points are only a progression bar just like character experience, the player can’t lose them unless he abandons the profession. One of the more tedious designs is how they level up. There’s a very familiar (and utterly silly) system at play here – those damn colors that determine what’s the ‘’current content’’ (covered more thoroughly in Part 2: Character Progression). But that system is even worse here than it is during questing. Gray colored items don’t give any skill points (as expected, most of the items turn to gray very quickly), the green colored items give 1 skill point in about 15 crafted items, and even yellow colored ones (which is supposedly the adequate difficulty for the player) give a skill point only 50% of the time.
Making progress with a gathering profession is a little less punishing since the world is littered with material nodes (herbs, mining veins), and there’s always an abundance of monsters that can be skinned. This would at least be tolerable if the player could just progress through his profession without the need to return to the main city every few skill points.
Sidetracking – What makes leveling professions so unappealing during questing is a basic design that could seriously use an overhaul; the need to go back to the trainer with each new ‘’skill level’’. This makes leveling professions completely out of the way from questing, and discourages the player to take up a profession until he can somehow shorten his travel time; either by getting a normal ground mount, a flying mount, or some kind of a teleporter (portals, spells and similar).
Since all of the profession trainers are located in the main cities, walking all the way over there every time the player gets a few skill points in order to buy the next skill level is, simply put, just busywork. Sometimes that playing experience can even transcend from boring to frustrating. If Blizzard wanted to make the game less tedious by giving the players the Looking For Group system so that they don’t have to walk all the way to the dungeon, the least they could have done is to do the same with professions.
It should be noted though, the walking distance isn’t the issue; the system won’t be improved by a teleport of some sorts, as the player would still have to walk (or use the flightpath, which gives him enough time to go make lunch and watch a TV series) back to where he was questing or gathering materials. The walking itself is the problem. Why do gathering professions have trainers at all? Why couldn’t the professions just level up by simply mining ores or collecting herbs without those arbitrary trainers? They don’t sell any recipes anyway, so they serve no purpose other than being this one-time only barrier.
No one in his right mind will choose to level a profession during the questing part of the game, but this then directly makes all of those craftable items on early levels completely useless. Again, combine this with the speed of leveling (covered in Part 2: Character Progression) and the player ends up outleveling those items by the time he gathers the materials needed to make them (unless he buys the materials from the Auction House).
Useful Items – Comparing the time required to complete a quest and the time required for creating anything below maximum level, it just isn’t worth the effort since quest rewards will always be more powerful than crafted gear. In most cases the player can’t even sell those items for a decent price to other players. The only thing that remains is to sell them to a vendor for a miniscule price.
As an example, let’s look at the state of potions, healing potions in particular. Considering how rapidly the character gains more maximum hit points, making potions that can be used only once per combat is just not worth the effort. The most powerful level 60 healing potion heals for roughly 2,000 hit points, but the player has about 10,000 hit points with level 58 Outland gear; a level 80 WotLK healing potion heals for 20,000 hit points but the player has 100,000 hit points with early Cataclysm gear. Once per combat… That’s beyond silly.
But just to get to those high level potions the player needs to craft hundreds of potions that heal for 240 hit points. What is he supposed to do with those? They are even too weak for a low level character to use because the potions also have a level restriction. In fact, they always seem about 5 levels too low for any meaningful impact. The same problem exists with crafting gear; it’s always 5 levels weaker than anything the player can find at that level.
Just as most potions and gear have a minimum level restriction to use, many Engineering explosives have a maximum target level restriction such as “Unreliable against targets higher than level 44“.
Spamming Junk – When the highest level of a profession is reached, chances are that 99% of its items can reasonably be considered as trash. The issue doesn’t arise from the usefulness of that specific item, but from the way getting skill points is designed from a profession’s internal perspective. In most cases the player gets one new recipe for a 10 skill point range, or in other words, the player will more often find himself in a position such as this – he has 4 Green colored recipes which are very unlikely to grant a skill point, only one yellow recipe, the other 48 recipes are already Gray and the next recipe to buy from the trainer is 10 skill points away.
Logically, all players seek out the recipe which requires the least possible materials, and the only thing left to do is to spam that yellow button, fill their bags with 15 belts of the same type, and hope that they will get just enough skill points. This whole concept is just nerve-wrecking, and it would be about time to consider a complete revision.
The Big Picture – The whole profession system seems like it was designed specifically for the player’s second or third characters. Actually using anything below maximum level can only be accomplished if the player already accumulated a bizarre amount of gold to buy the materials from the Auction House, or simply outright made the items for his second character. Since the craftable gear doesn’t scale in levels, even if he sends a crafted full gear set to his lower level character it will almost immediately be replaced by quest rewards, as it is quite possible to get to maximum level in a week or two.
Most of the craftable leveling gear has already been pushed out of the picture by the existence of Heirloom items, designed specifically for those same low level characters, which can easily be acquired by maximum level characters. Both the Primary and Secondary professions suffer from these issues. So many professions, so many possibilities and variety, and yet it is all continuously watered down as expansions keep coming out. The profession tab of all maximum level characters is beginning to look more and more like a huge junkyard.