When Blizzard Entertainment announced that Project TITAN had been shut down, my disappointment went deep.
Not because I might be stuck with World of Warcraft another decade, but more so because that studio known to define gaming trends had tossed the towel at their attempt to revolutionize an aging genre, instead seemingly reverting to a solution others have been excessively complimented on, the one that embraces walking the beaten path, the one that all too easily follows, in defining game dynamics and features, the dull philosophy of "let's add a fresh coat of paint to this relic called RPG."
Troll me for considering, in light of this argument, MMOs and traditional RPGs as equals, but as of late, every role-playing game I salivated over, Elder Scrolls Online, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and last but not least, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, followed a far too conventional pathway in game design, character progression, story lines, crafting systems, and combat mechanics.
By most measures, that doesn't mean I didn’t find these titles exciting, much even less undeserving of my time, and in fact, I'd be remiss to negate the creative process which made each of these experiences a reality. Were it otherwise, were these agglomerations of people called "dev teams" deprived of imagination, I wouldn't even bother.
Bethesda, EA, and CD Projekt Red: your artists and developers are a gifted lot. They imagine universes that can charm, seduce, carry the most cynical and hardened of us all. Take The Witcher series for example. It's, beyond debate, an illusion of epic proportions, one that pulls you into its lore, through countless adventures, to paint a fantastic society worthy of those found in the most revered fantasies built for the contemplative screens. Now our screens do more, thanks to a developer’s ability to slap on top of story-telling a little something that belongs to us gamers, and us only: gameplay. Couch potatoes follow Jon Snow; we mouse handlers and key pushers are Jon Snow. We bleed and slay our own way to glory and fame, as bravely and valiantly as he does, and when it comes to the farmer's girl, we get to choose whether or not the oath matters.
So what am I whining about?
Well, I've already played Mr. Snow... Countless are the times I acquired resources and learned to master the crafts of blacksmithing and herbalism. I’ve perfected rotations and survived by a hair on the count of a well-timed potion intake. I've specialized in skill-sets plenty, and every time have they enabled me to overcome greater challenges. I’ve conversed with villagers; sure. I’ve explored the maps to the last corner; I’ve completed the side quests. I’ve watched the sunset, I’ve picked up plants, I rode the horse.
I could go on, but you catch my drift. You dazzle me visually again and again, but the bottom-line is: been there; done that.
Hard to contest that the RPG experience, albeit its broadness and attention to detail, is a lazy one from an innovative standpoint. I worry that our beloved industry, which carried us through the years with imagination, is behaving a bit more everyday like the exhausted resource that is cinema. We are beginning to see, and worse yet, expect recipes.
I used to feel secure in my optimistic views on the future of gaming, because Blizzard was there. I knew they’d lead the way. I knew they wouldn’t care for a rinse and repeat. If they did something, it had to take us forward. It had to broaden our horizons. It had to set standards. A title released meant gaming was forever changed. Then came the dark year of 2014. That’s when discreetly, the core of its genius slipped and its culture embraced conformism. I did not know it at the time. After all, Hearthstone was one most impressive release. Yet looking back, I can safely say that it also was the first release in a series that meant we gamers lost our champion, the safekeeper of creation before gameplay, despite the fact that they’re still producing great, quality games.
Overwatch is a reskinned and improved version of Team Fortress. Heroes of the Storm is that for League, and Hearthstone for Magic. Did Blizzard take these games and make them their own? Absolutely. And yes, each title more than deserve its success. Still, when is the philosophy that made you epic coming back? Great games isn't your purpose. It isn't your mission. Blizzard, you probably won’t read this, but please come back. Please dare to innovate. You’re here to show the way forward. We expect that out of you. For the love of gaming, we need that of you.