Monday, October 18, 2010

World of Warcraft 4.0.1 First Impressions: Muscle Memory, my Ancient Nemesis!

"This is going to be horrible," I mutter darkly over TeamSpeak, watching the cheerful Mac rainbow whirl carelessly in the center of my screen and the Blizzard downloader bar chug away at a snail's pace.

"Don't worry about it. You'll be fine," my guildmates' voices soothe even as they start respecing their characters. It's easy for them to be nonchalant. They're actually good. They wouldn't know noobery if it came up and crit them for 40k in the face.

The last 10% finally drains away; the launcher announces with cheery world-ending charm that I am now permitted to play. I log in only to find myself, almost immediately, facing one of the hardest bosses I have ever encountered in my 4 year WoW playing career...

... muscle memory.

For those of you who honestly have no idea what I'm talking about, on Tuesday, World of Warcraft uploaded a large patch (4.0.1) as a prelude to the Cataclysm expansion due in December. While the patch included a few shifts in lore (more are due in 4.0.3), the main changes were to the player classes themselves. While previous patches and expansions introduced small nudges and adjustments in play style, rotations and so on, 4.0.1 pretty much threw out almost everything and started from scratch. They got rid of the old 51 point talent trees, with their fluff talents and uninteresting mechanics, in favor of hyper-streamlined 31 point trees and more rigid specialization. Almost every class has some new move right off the bat, and not just "Oh hey, this is somewhat nice to have" moves but "wait, what do you mean I have to use this every cooldown at just the right time or the world will end?" kind of moves.

Most importantly, the patch has done an absolute number on some very classic and well established mechanics and moves; some of which have been removed from the game entirely. In hindsight, players affected by this may have been the lucky ones. At least they're left with empty spots on their bars, ready to be filled with new and useful skills. The ones who're really screwed are those who have their old abilities in name alone, their skill bars filled with unrecognizable shadows of their former bread-and-butter actions. What once had to be used on every cooldown is now only to be used when your resource bar is full, when your AoE is off cooldown, when the moon is in retrograde and the owl hoots five times.

You know, all of that is well and good in and of itself, except it never works like that because muscle memory is a b****. You may tell yourself until you're blue in the face that no, hitting Shield of Righteousness like it's going out of style is no longer a good career move given that you now have to wait for the perfect moment, but it doesn't matter; your fingers are already skittering across the board and mashing the old keys as if sleepwalking their way through your old rotation, which is pretty much what you're doing. Our classes... our old classes... have become second nature to us by now, to the point where we start playing them that way almost automatically. And now, thanks to this patch, our hard-earned experience is now coming back to smack us in the face.

To put it in other terms, imagine you've been playing Assassin's Creed for months and then, suddenly, UbiSoft hotfixed the game so the L/R buttons were the jump buttons, counters were done by holding down the X constantly and combo kills were only ever supposed to be used when fighting a single guard and would get you killed in groups. Or an FPS where suddenly the "shoot" button becomes the "cover" button and grenades are now only to be used once in an entire match? That might give you an idea of the magnitude of changes WoW has now undergone.

Lots of classes have ended up with this problem. I'm particularly struggling with my protection paladin, seeing as they've pretty much been gutted and rebuilt from the ground up. Three abilities that used to be constantly used in WoTLK - Consecration, Hammer of the Righteous and Shield of Righteousness - are now traps with which to suck in my threat, my rotation and my wandering fingers. Consecration is no longer a spammable ability and eats mana like it's going out of style; Hammer of the Righteous shares a cooldown with another important ability and is ONLY supposed to be used in crowds and Shield... oh boy, where to begin with its Holy Shield integration and its stacks of Holy Power? These are supposed to be used in completely different ways than they once were and yet my damned muscle memory keeps insisting on mashing those keys in a nostalgic echo of my once proud Prot rotation.

I'm going to keep trying. I want to trust Blizzard when they say that it will all work out, that this will all make the game better. But man, for the first time, it's hard to be optimistic especially when my trained fingers apparently work better than my lagging brain.

"Your tanking will be absolutely fine," my guildies keep insisting until I grab them all and drag them into a random heroic. Luckily, the heroic dungeons are currently super-easy and the monsters hit like wet noodles, but that's good... it meant that my hunter friends survive when they pull the angry troll warriors away from my desperate, muscle-memory-cursed tank. Such a thing had never happened before in all of WOTLK; I *never* lost aggro on anything. TeamSpeak is silent.

"I told you so," I mutter glumly.

Gorram it, I hate being right.


  1. This made me smile, not that I will ever log into WoW again that ship sailed when 40 mans stopped being the focus. I honestly think that Blizzard needs to start over WoW 2 or whatever because like many gamers muscle memory can kick our butts and bad habits once formed are hard to get rid of. I'd like to point at vehicles in Halo: Reach they changed something and I'm no sure what it was but they changed it and all the nonsense moves my hands do now without first consulting my brain no longer result in massive carnage and victory in the vehicles.

  2. Pffft, don't front Brian. You stopped playing WoW because you found out all the hot chicks you gifted mounts to were actually 50 year old saggy men.