The World of Warcraft New Player Experience

BY CLIFFORD REEDER: I am a massive fan of World of Warcraft and have played every expansion the game has had to offer since I was very young.  The original World of Warcraft that released back in 2004 was like a dream for me, and regardless of my experience with video games at the time, the fantasy world drew me in and kept me going.

Alongside the lore and fictional universe, I fell in love with, I also found myself learning so many new things about the games I played.  From concepts and strategies to character builds and how to perform my roles, every expansion was another set of years I spent honing my craft as a video game player and becoming more familiar with the abilities necessary to play these sorts of games at a comfortable level.

At this point in my life, keybindings and commands on a keyboard are as intuitive as where to stand during certain raid fights or what moves I should combo together during my burst phase as a Paladin.  This, however, is not the case for a lot of people.  Some people, despite their level of interest, never found themselves playing games like World of Warcraft for one reason or another, and now with the way the world is now, they’ve been given the opportunity to explore something they never saw an opportunity to until now.

Taliesin & Evitel are a married couple that run a successful World of Warcraft channel on YouTube.  They make incredibly entertaining videos discussing the news surrounding this massive RPG, as well as entertain their viewers with discussions and ratings about the content this game has.  They’ve been active on the website since 2016 and I always find myself keeping up with their news updates whenever I can.  They released a video a few days ago that I’d especially like to talk about, though, and it came at the perfect time.  I’ve been thinking about the upcoming expansion for World of Warcraft, known as Shadowlands, and wondering specifically about the new tutorial area that Blizzard is introducing to the game, known as Exile’s Reach.  Here new players will be taken through a brand new tutorial area centered around introducing brand new players to a lot of the mechanics and systems many existing players are used to.  I had been wondering about this zone because, personally, I’m wondering if this tutorial area will be effective in helping me introduce people like my father to the current state of the game, and hopefully keep them interested long enough to pursue the game’s content further.

The video I mentioned earlier is one in which Taliesin’s brother, who names himself Maldini for the viewers, tries World of Warcraft for the very first time through the previously mentioned tutorial area.  Maldini admits himself that despite playing popular games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Grand Theft Auto V and FIFA, he wouldn’t consider himself a gamer, and has very little experience with PC games.  He’s obviously nervous about his experience going forward, especially considering he is being recorded for YouTube, but he does his absolute best.

One of the earliest things I noted about his experience was his reactions to Blizzard’s brand new character creation process.  Later on in the video, he is seen to struggle with clicking and dragging items from one location to the other, yet in the character creation process, he not only has no issues navigating through these selections, he is reacting positively to the classes and animations.  Blizzard has chosen to completely revamp the look of making a brand new character with the release of Shadowlands, opting for a much larger screen with selectable discs on the left and right for the Alliance and Horde races, respectively, and all of the classes along a single line on the bottom of the screen.  This removes any clutter the original character creation screens had, as well as leaving room for the player’s model to express themselves with unique animations for whatever class the brand new player selects.

Right after making his brand new character, Maldini is introduced to his choice of faction through a cinematic.  His character, a Tauren Paladin, is on a boat sailing for the central conflict taking place in World of Warcraft’s previous expansion, Battle for Azeroth, before a terrible storm leaves the Horde forces shipwrecked on the island of Exile’s Reach.  Before this, though, players are given a few quests and tutorial prompts to learn the bare bone basics of the game they are about to play, being taught how to adjust their hands on the keyboard, look around with their mouse and talk to NPCs.  Maldini is given an early quest to use his very first ability to attack and practice his abilities, with additional prompts explaining how Paladin’s work.  There is even an additional sparring session where the player is taught about moving and facing their opponents to avoid any line of sight issues.  This early section of the tutorial is brilliantly done, despite how short it is, as Maldini has no issue navigating the menus and quests available.  The storm then rolls in, and after a short cutscene (and a lewd joke by Taliesin), Maldini is now faced with the island at large.

From this point on you can begin to see some of the struggles that inexperienced players might start to have as they begin.  While Exile’s Reach does a lot more than the racial starting zones in terms of teaching new players and giving them stepping stones, Maldini still finds himself asking questions about his experience and what he should be doing.  The more he learns, the more questions he also has, and unfortunately the tutorial can only cover so much.  Things like the murlocs dropping his quest items, moving during combat or the abilities that he needs to use are all still very foreign to him, and despite being introduced to those abilities mere minutes ago, he still has issues comprehending the usefulness of them all.  In the first aid mission, especially, Maldini unfortunately sabotages himself by left-clicking an item then attempting to left-click the quest item.  While normally the correct thing to do, the interaction between having an item selected preventing you from clicking on other interactable items and abilities forced Maldini to find an alternative to his issues.  An incredibly small oversight, but something new players can find themselves in more frequently than others.  To Maldini, the quest could have simply just not worked at all.  On top of this, Maldini also hadn’t selected the woman he needed to mend, leaving him to think that the game was, once again, broken.  Clarity is different for every player, but there were still small barriers of entry for Maldini.

After some humorous interactions between Maldini, Flash of Light and the goats, he finishes a few more quests with little issue and heads to the next section of the tutorial, which brings him face to face with aggressive creatures called quilboars.  Maldini had a few instances to test his combat abilities against sparring partners and murlocs, but without understanding that the quilboar’s were aggressive and could attack him without provocation, Maldini finds himself surrounded.  Now he is faced with having to handle a large amount of information as once.  Simple things like turning his character, healing himself or handling one mob at a time, while trivial for someone who has played the game for a long time, is a struggle for Maldini as he is quickly overwhelmed by the information and skills he doesn’t quite possess.  He, unfortunately, dies.  Rest in peace you beautiful light cow.  The upside to this little incident is that Maldini is introduced to the spirit form, World of Warcraft’s way of dealing with resurrecting your character after dying.  You may either choose to speak to the Spirit Healer and have yourself brought back to life, which at higher levels will incur penalties to your stats and armor, or you may run back to your corpse via a tombstone indicator and respawn where you had previously fallen.  Blizzard does a great job in communicating his options after dying, showing they were definitely prepared for players to fall once or twice, even in the tutorial section of the game.

While Maldini had no issues navigating the vehicle portion of the tutorial, introducing him to how vehicle driven quests might operate, his comments about “points” genuinely seemed to break Taliesin, and honestly, I understand him completely.  To him, all he sees is arbitrary damage numbers that mean nothing because the command you’re using is designed to one-shot the mobs for the quest, but to Maldini, he sees those same numbers he had been doing previously to other mobs skyrocket every time he landed a shot, not only incentivizing him to complete the quest but also positively rewarding him.  If you notice, too, the mobs in question are arranged like a bullseye, with the large zombies he is meant to hit surrounded by tiny zombies meant to mimic the aiming reticle of the vehicle’s cannon.  Moving slightly forward, Maldini finds an Orc woman being held against her will by evil magics, and this is where a genuine interaction happens that I think a lot of RPG players can relate to: Maldini tries to heal her.  Knowing his Flash of Light helps friendly targets, and knowing she is a friendly target under distress, he attempted to use his spell to either help her or free her.  Though it wasn’t what the quest had in mind, it showed that Maldini was understanding what his spells did, as well as connecting to the story and world at some significant level, which made Taliesin, and myself, very happy to see.

As Maldini moves onto the next quest, an interesting comment is made involving the structure of the tutorial thus far.  Up to this point the quests had been incredibly linear, leading Maldini from one point of the island to another, but after a quest teaching him how to sell his items to a vendor, he was then faced with a choice between going onto the next quest objective or picking up a new quest available nearby.  At this point he was confused, unsure of where to go or what to do, to which Taliesin explains “It’s up to you, man! It’s the freedom!” and Maldini replies “I’m not sure how much I like freedom.  It confuses me.”  While an incredibly hilarious exchange in itself, it does raise a valuable point of contention involving MMOs compared to other, more popular games as a whole.  RPGs have always been about freedom in a large world, allowing you to build your character however you like and progress wherever you’d like to go, while a lot of more successful and current games try to keep players on a given path.  If these games are open world, like Red Dead Redemption 2 or Grand Theft Auto V, it’s made abundantly clear that there is no means of progression.  In MMOs, you’re always working towards something, whether it is gear, items, rare collectibles or, at the base of it all, levels, whereas open-world games Maldini is more used to, the freedom is in and of itself the only thing that is present.  It confuses him because World of Warcraft is telling him he has to progress through this story and level up his character, but providing him choices now confuses him on which way is “the best” way to level up his character and progress through.  In the games we had mentioned previously, the freedom to do what you want faces zero consequences, so you face no ramifications for what you decide to do.  Here, however, he finds himself confused because he believes there is a right way to play and choose.  Whether this is an error on the tutorial’s part, a disconnect between him and the genre he’s playing, or a fundamental issue with his MMORPGs are designed compared to other games is a topic worthy of discussion, which is why I wanted to pause on it for just a moment.

We now come to a much more hilarious speed bump in Maldini’s journey.  A few quests have passed with very little issue, it seems, and now he is faced with having to do something Maldini has never been introduced to before this point: typing a command in his chatbox.  Up to this point, he has had zero reason to open his chatbox, thus he has zero idea how to open his chat box to type in the command he is required to do for this quest.  On top of this, the command “/wave” is not in quotation marks in the quest text, so Maldini reads “Type /wave to Gor’groth” as “Type or wave to Gor’groth”, leaving him terribly confused.  While a prompt appears on the bottom left of the screen after Maldini desperately tries to type what he needs to to finish the quest, I don’t believe that prompt is instructing him on how to use the chatbox, but rather that he can use it to ask other players for help.  Again, in this instance, not very useful, and I think Blizzard can definitely make some tweaks to this part for players who may be a bit more unsure on how to approach this particular quest.

We now reach the end of Exile’s Reach, and after a funny interaction where Maldini skips over the quest turn-ins for the man suspended in the air by the evil magic, he is introduced to the group finder.  This is a tutorial that has been long in the making, as the group finder has always been an intimidating part of the WoW experience for new or inexperienced players.  Joining a dungeon as a brand new player unaware of which role is responsible for what or how to properly play your class is a trap that many unaware players have fallen into time and time again, so Blizzard has sought to rectify this by providing a smaller experience at the end of Exile’s Reach.  The Dungeon Finder tool simulates what it would be like to wait for a dungeon group (though the wait times are far faster than realistic for a DPS, come on Blizzard) and then delivers Maldini into Darkmaul Citadel to face off against the evil ogres of the island and put a stop to their terrible rituals.  The NPCs attempt to explain as best as they possibly can how they will be approaching the dungeon, as one operates like a tank and the other NPC operates as a healer while Maldini is a damage dealer, and though they do try their best, unfortunately, the information just isn’t conveyed well enough for Maldini to really understand.  Taliesin has to chime in and explain what is going on and how dungeons are operated, and even afterwards, Maldini is still a little confused as to how everything works.  I am a little relieved to see that things aren’t impossible for new players, because, despite Maldini being overwhelmed and unable to follow the prompts for the mechanics happening to him, he was still able to stay alive and complete the dungeon, thus finishing Exile’s Reach and being sent to Orgrimmar, the Horde’s capital city.

Maldini gives his final thoughts on the entire experience, explaining his thought process and how he managed dealing with all of the new information presented to him.  He answers Taliesin’s direct questions about why he wasn’t using certain abilities or how he enjoyed doing quests or managing gear, but at the end, his final thoughts on the entire experience, I feel, sums up what a lot of brand new WoW players struggle with.  Maldini says, in relation to quest rewards, “When it pops up on your screen, saying you can now equip this, I’d say ‘sweet, I’ll equip this right now’, but there is a lot of stuff going on, in fairness, right, and you’re doing all these different missions and stuff, you forget about what you get for that mission because you kind of go ‘right what do I have to do now'”.  While I may have missed a word or two, I feel the moral of the story still applies.  New players to World of Warcraft are quickly overwhelmed by everything going on, and no matter how slow or linear the tutorial is, newer players will always struggle, in one way or another, to comprehend what is going on or what they may be doing in the moment.  It’s a lot to keep track of, but I feel that Exile’s Reach is an amazing starting point for not only new players but for Blizzard onwards.  If Exile’s Reach can continue to be expanded upon and tweaked upon release, I think this can become a truly unique starting experience for brand new players that makes them feel confident when heading into the crazy world of Azeroth, and I think Maldini for going out of his comfort zone to provide this entertaining and enlightening experience on how a brand new player would attempt to learn and play this game having zero experience prior.

If you are an existing fan of World of Warcraft and enjoyed the video I covered in this article, I highly recommend subscribing to Taliesin & Evitel.  They are a fun duo that always do their best to bring a positive and fun-loving spin to their videos, as well as provide the most up to date and unbiased news coverage they can about this massive game.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank Maldini for pushing himself through this tutorial.  Hopefully the lunch Taliesin provided him tasted all the sweeter as a true World of Warcraft player.