Azeroth is a huge game world with a lot of variety between the different zones. It has an enormous amount of lore, countless characters with a detailed backstory and even a lot of the items in the game have a story behind them. With such an enormous world and so many things happening all around you, it shouldn’t be a problem to go out there and have an adventure on your own.
Well, I’ve tried, but it’s really hard, and Blizzard seems to be trying their hardest to implement changes that somehow directly affected my current “adventure”.
You see, I really like customization and trying new things that are a little bit off the beaten path in games. When WoW was fresh I didn’t really bother all that much with this, because I still had plenty of fun with the regular content. Especially when playing your first character everything is new and exciting. But after a while you start to see a pattern. Enter a new zone, do a bunch of quests, get some new items and gain a level or two, go to the next zone, repeat. Well, if you like playing just for the story, that’s probably fine the first time around. When you start a new character and eventually end up in a zone you’ve already quested through with your first character, things might get ugly. Suddenly Random NPC-Guy #25 has lost his treasured hanky…again! In the same place! And it has been picked up by the same Random Evil-Mob #412! Again! What are the odds? Especially considering that Random Evil-Mob #412 should be dead, because I already killed him.
The fact of the matter is, that everybody experiences exactly the same story, due to the quest-heavy gameplay. While you sometimes have the choice of going to another zone for a few levels, especially with the expansions, the experience is insanely linear. Chances are…no, there’s not a chance…it’s a fact: Nothing you do in WoW hasn’t been experienced exactly the same way by millions of people before you. People with the same class, spec, equipment and professions have done exactly the same quests in exactly the same order with exactly the same outcome. They’ve seen the same “shocking” twists, killed the same “super evil” enemies just before they could blow up the universe and there’s nothing special about anything you’ll be able to do, especially while leveling your character.
It was more or less like that right from the start, but it has actually gotten a lot worse. Nowadays, the first expansion, The Burning Crusade, is considered to have a very unstructured and badly paced questing structure compared to later expansions and the overhaul the 1-60 content received with Cataclysm. To me that’s a very good example how the gameplay experience progressed.
I remember my first questing through the Outland zones quite well. At first it was a lot of fun, the rush and excitement of the very first WoW expansion was really something special and that experience will never be reproduced as long as WoW exists. But I wasn’t even halfway through Hellfire Peninsula when I started complaining about the quest structure in the game. All quests were in one zone, you hopped from quest hub to quest hub and when you left a zone you could rest assured you had seen everything. In WoW classic you didn’t have any choices either, but the zones weren’t self contained and a lot of quests lead to other zones or another continent and there often were quests “hidden” in remote corners of a zone, only available through rare quest drops or by simply being available at unusual levels (like the lvl40 quest in Westfall).
These days Blizzard doesn’t think that’s such a good idea so they force feed you all the content, making sure there’s nothing left to discover after casually finishing a zone.
I actually had to accept the quest at one point, because I couldn’t farm leather anymore…the damn thing kept popping up every 2-5 mobs and throwing the old one away each time to skin the mob got pretty annoying.
So, questing and story isn’t something where you can experience something unique or at least create a custom experience, which leaves the gameplay or the way “how” you play through the linear content.