In the book "The Little Guide to your Well Read Life", Steve Leveen offers recommendation on choosing the right book to read. His first rule is simple. If you don't like a book after fifty pages, close the book and move on. Time is too valuable and there are too many good books out there to waste it on a book you don't enjoy. You may miss out on a book that gets considerably better after the past fifty pages but is it really worth slogging through material you don't like to find out?
I have a similar philosophy with console games. If a console game doesn't grab me in the first two hours of play, it's better to shelf it and play something I like. The only game I've played in the past few years that didn't follow this theory was Zelda: Twilight Princess on Wii. Zelda got considerably better after the first six hours or so and became the best console game I've played since God of War even with a very weak beginning. Gears of War, Crackdown, Elite Beat Agends, The New Super Mario Brothers; these games all grabbed me within the first ten minutes and never let go.
In my preview of The Buried Sea I talked about all of the basic features that the expansion had: sixty instanced group missions, two new sets of point-based loot, seven huge uninstanced zones and a whole variety of new mobs to fight. It all looked very exciting but given the preview alone, I had no idea if those sixty missions were actually any good.
I haven't played the Buried Sea nearly as much as previous expansions, but with the few missions I have tried, I found the answer to that question. They're not.
On a Sunday afternoon a few weeks past, myself and a group of friends tried out three of the missions involving the lost love of of some pirate. These are pirate missions, from the first set of missions one can acquire. These are supposed to be the easiest missions available, missions for sub level 75 low-geared characters and we were geared in Anguish level equipment.
Even getting to the instances proved a challenge. You talk to one NPC to receive the mission and then must purchase a ticket for one of two different boats (if they tell you which one you are supposed to take, I missed it) which will take you to the instance. Once you figure it out, you'll know it the rest of your days but it wasn't clear at all how the tickets worked until you actually got a mission and had someone point out the boat you need to take.
The missions themselves include a lot of the same "pick up 10 siren head" collection quests we've seen before. Each mission seems to have a conclusion, however, that takes you away from the standard. Unfortunately the drop rates for the collection quests are extremely chaotic - one time we received ten quest items out of ten within the first twenty kills, another time it took us two hours to get the same ten. Rather than focusing the missions on the exciting conclusions, the missions force you through tedius collection or kill X steps.
The third quest in line gives you two tasks: kill thirty sirens and collect ten siren heads. First of all, I can't imagine how a sirin won't have a head after we kill her, but more importantly, we shouldn't kill fifteen of our thirty sirens and only get one head. What is the point in having the "kill 30 sirens" if we'll need to kill ninety to get the heads we need? Well, it turned out that once you complete either step a ship wrecks and you must rescue the crew. Perhaps the ambushing sirens all have heads but we never found out because all ten to twelve sirens attacked us at once and wiped out our party. By this time we had enough. We quit the quest and called it a day. At least three of us planned to switch to Warcraft that afternoon.
Three missions out of sixty is probably not enough of a sampling to make a full judgement. The other fifty seven missions might all be wonderful dynamic stories and adventures. Perhaps it's only those three that are so poorly tested or developed. I should really spend more time playing through more of the missions before snapping to a judgement about The Buried Sea. What I have seen so far is a lot of running around in huge complex zones to hunt down instances and hope that something along the mission doesn't get fowled up along the way.
My time is the most important commodity I have. I only have a few hours every week to play these games. More and more hobbies take up that time and I have to decide exactly where my time is best spent. Should I keep trying to slog through poorly designed missions until I find the ones that are good enough, well tuned enough, and rewarding enough to spend my time? Or should I go somewhere where I know the sort of output I am likely to expect?
The Burning Crusade has some problems. Last weekend I made a spectacle out of myself in the general channel when my level 62 character had to collect owl feathers for a drunken dwarf. The feathers rarely dropped on big white owls that killed me faster than the demons of the Gate. What sad state in my hunter's career had I reached when my job as a Hunter of the Outlands is to collect feathers from owls? Needless to say, I dumped that quest and moved on.
That's not the only example of a poorly designed quest in WoW. It has lots of problems. However, per hour played I have more fun in WoW than I do in EQ. Granted it isn't doing what I prefer doing - grouping with friends - but it offers a better tangible and intangible reward for the time I spend. And the Burning Crusade only cost $10 more than the Buried Sea.
Tonight I went in with five of my guildmates to complete "Locating the Statue". We defeated the four statue guardians. We defeated Brendanus Riordan even with his billion hitpoints. We examined the statue of Prexus. I even took a screenshot. The transcript, however, never showed up in anyone's inventory. So now what, do the quest again? We spent our two hours. We finished the steps. Why should we have to do it again and hope that this time it isn't bugged? I wasted one evening, why waste another?
I'll likely get back into the Buried Sea and find some missions that I enjoy. At this point, however, I'm far more likely to have others slog through those painful poorly-tuned missions and tell me on the forums or in chat banter which ones are worth my time and which are not.
In the mean time, however, when ever asked by a new player which massive online game to play, I have little reason to point them anywhere else but World of Warcraft. It's a better game.
The Buried Sea has an excellent list of features but my first fifty pages makes me want to put the book back on the shelf.
3 April 2007