World of Warcraft: The Greatest ORPG of All Time

In case you were unaware, I’ve been playing Warlords of Draenor. I sat out the two prior expansions, so this is my first time returning to World of Warcraft in several years. A lot of changes that have become commonplace for many are new for someone like me. Overtime, my close knit collective of fellow players have turned into a diaspora. Yet, assuming same-faction, that’s a far easier problem to remedy with cross-server play. With so little need to occupy the same virtual spaces, World of Warcraft has secured its title as greatest ORPG of them all.

To me, when I think of classic examples of the genre, my favorite is Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast. In a time where consoles not only were not online, but were on 56k if anything, it made sense that PSO was mostly a lobby-based world. Rather than meeting out in the wilds, players met in a single, small space and joined up there before adventuring out.

Without question, World of Warcraft began its life as a MMORPG. Azeroth was a living, breathing place (assuming you disregard the “only stands in one place” nature of most MMO NPCs), and players met one another adventuring out in the wilds. They formed bonds, groups, and guilds. They traded and warred. Reputations rose and fail, categorizing some as elitists, others as trolls, and still others as casuals.

I won’t waste your time and argue this was a better or worse time for the game. The only fact that transcends biases is that it was a different time in the World of Warcraft. The game has radically changed, evolved, and mutated into something else entirely since then. The aspects of massivity have largely been pushed aside to focus on other things. In doing so, Blizzard has created one of the premier solo RPG experiences of our time, and a game that is still startlingly competent when it comes to cooperative play.

In celebrating the game’s tenth year, it becomes painfully clear that this is a game with content that has built up and been honed over a decade. It shows. When it comes to collecting or questing, I doubt there are many games that can compare. EverQuest, maybe, but that likes the feature-rich precision of a Blizzard team that will throw the bath out with the bathwater if they think it will improve their game.

Warlords of Draenor brings even more content. It is also a marginally more competent solo experience for those still willing to somewhat interact with strangers. After a brief flirtation with their past, the return of personal looting to the game’s five man dungeons puts out the final candle in favor of WoW being a social experience. The game’s dungeons are perfectly tolerable to do in absolute silence, and now the only area of contention – the loot – is no longer a source of stress or debate. Though ‘grouping’ is still the term they use, WoW’s dungeons are more solo friendly than ever.

To me, that’s a good thing, if only because it better reflects the rest of the experience. World of Warcraft has perfected its multimillion subscriber-fueled niche within the gaming world, and secured its place in both pop culture and in games culture. For a small minority, the game will continue chugging along as a “that which once was” reminder of days which only exist on a calendar they threw out years ago. World of Warcraft has not gone gentle, but it has become a mostly gentle experience. Despite a community of curmudgeons, elitists, and trolls that still poke their heads out from their queues or ladders to remind you of their existence every once and a while, the game has never been a better blend of accessibility, varying points of access, and some degree of challenge.

World of Warcraft is a massive success, that has massively altered the course of the MMORPG genre. For better or for worse, it has changed itself and managed to stay relevant despite a decade of competition and industry-wide change. Blizzard no longer has to concern themselves with being massive because the only heavenly body left with enough gravity to shake their orbit is World of Warcraft itself. Outside of collapsing into a black hole, this game has achieved a permanent place in the sky.

I am not convinced it is all that Massively-Multiplayer anymore, but a decade of success, an incredibly well-received new expansion, and a newly re-assembled fanbase of ten million gamers all hungry for more make that opinion a non-factor. There are ten years of proof that lend their weight behind the notion that World of Warcraft is massive (economically, culturally, etc). That’s all Blizzard needs to justify the path they’ve taken the game down, whether we keep following or not.

Book of Life (Movie, 2014)

I don’t often commit to seeing a movie in theaters without knowing something about it. Movies are just too expensive to take chances on. I had heard good things about Book of Life and was struck by an interview with the main person behind it on NPR. While Mexican culture is mostly unfamiliar to me, I have a strange fascination with more ancient cultures, like the Aztec and Mayans, who undoubtedly have influenced Mexican culture alongside Spanish and Catholic influences. Knowing Book of Life was a visual film about the Day of the Dead, that alone was enough to get me interested.

First things first: the plot to this movie is dull. It centers on a love triangle where two local boys, one the son of a famous hero and the other the son of a famous bullfighter, fight for the right to marry the town’s most beautiful daughter. It’s a cliche and terrible plot device that has worn out its welcome even with superior character development, let alone the character development in this film, which is at a minimum given the focus on visuals, jokes, and keeping it kid-friendly. Thankfully the movie does try to subvert the plot in a nod to, you know, women being human beings capable of running their own lives, but it still grates.

Humor is where Book of Life hooks you. Yes, the visuals are amazing and the art style offers a unique glimpse of Mexican culture – you won’t go wrong with them. The humor, however, gets you laughing almost immediately when you are told that Mexican is the center of the world and the map depicting this puts a large mustache squarely on the country as a nod to its rich, well-coiffed facial hair history. Some jokes are a bit manic and some come at the expense of the film’s excruciatingly awkward soundtrack (Radiohead’s Creep as a song about unrequited love with a light Spanish guitar flair? WHAT?), but they all have legs. The film also doesn’t beat you over the head with them, which would’ve been an easy way for the Book of Life to cross out of Disney/Pixar land into the straight-to-DVD land of children’s movies.

Front and center, Book of Life does a fantastic job of showcasing the fantastical aspects of Mexican culture. The betting between the film’s two god characters, the journey into the culture’s two underworlds, and a large cast of psychopomps that give the second half of the film a new life all make this a worthy representative of a sadly underrepresented culture here in North America.

You won’t drop dead from the awesomeness, but, if you do, there may be a way to fight your way back to the land of the living. You’ll certainly want to because this movie belongs in the Land of the Remembered and it’ll need people like us spreading word of its many merits!