Cataclysm Post Mortem - Archeology

The Cataclysm was a massive undertaking from the point of view of game design. Nothing like it has been attempted before, and nothing like it will happen all too soon again. I think we should try to learn as many lessons from it as we possibly can. I am the armchair game designer, describing what I can see from the top of my 10000ft high ivory tower. (Time and good ideas permitting, I'll write a few more texts like this in the coming weeks on other aspects of the Cataclysm. This is the second such text. The posting history of this character can guide you if you are really interested.)

First I want to thank Blizzard for archeology! I loved it, so everything that follows will be biased. I am grateful that this remained in the game, despite the removal of the original "Path of Titans" character customization.

It was either a very lucky coincidence or a stroke of genius to have this simultaneously with the remodeled world. There is no better excuse to go exploring the undiscovered country. I leveled my main from 80 to 85 mostly through archeology, and the quests almost felt like optional bonus content. It was clearly not an efficient way of racing to the level cap. What I liked most was the tranquility of it. No questgivers told me about some catastrophe, no impending doom required my immediate action. No one wanted me to kill some threatening beasts, or to collect vital supplies. I just flew across the land at my own pace, drinking the atmosphere, breathing the sights, marveling at the music, reminiscing about things that were almost lost in my memory. (Pardon the surrealism in that last sentence, but that's how it felt.)

The storytelling with artifacts is such a brilliant idea! Those achievements for archeology added real value to the profession, and added a lot of lore to the game world. Real archeology is not about finding obsolete and rotten things, but about uncovering stories. You might consider taking this to the next level with, for example, a rare artifact which starts a quest, or a set of common artifacts that can be combined to form a quest-starting item. This would lead to obvious tie-ins with the Explorer's League, or The Reliquary, respectively. So many possibilities! :-) And quests would avoid spoilers in the list of possible achievements.

Archeology has gotten so much attention to detail. As an example: an Imprint of Kraken Tentacle - the common fossil artifact with the highest vendor price - is so valuable because soft tissues don't fossilize. Only under very specific and very rare circumstances can an imprint be preserved through the ages. Such finds carry precious information from the distant past that is impossible to get otherwise. To me, little things like this add a whole lot of credibility to a world. The fossil descriptions in general have a high amount of real scientific detail to them. Is archeology part of the oceanography curriculum? :-)


But not everything is nice and dandy with archeology. It is not really for characters below level 70 due to the overhead of travel. This is not necessarily bad, because archeology is the first true "Elder Game" in WoW (i.e. game content that brings high level characters back to low level areas, but with a completely new view on the world). But archeology does create yet more pressure to obtain fast flying ... maybe Mists of Pandaria will inflate gold to the point where the cost of fast flying becomes trivial?

Then there is the unfortunate issue of bottability. I couldn't believe it when I first heard it, but apparently not everyone likes archeology as much as I do. I guess some players found the iLvl 359 gear just too compelling. The obvious fix would be to introduce archeology gear gradually over the duration of an expansion, and always have it be a tad weaker than current raiding tier. Let it be for secondary chars, or for catching up. Let archeology be optional rather than mandatory.

And then the biggie: bag space. Two dozen rare artifacts to fill up bag slots, oh my! This is the one detail of archeology that is truly evil. :-) Blizzard, you must find a better way to store all those collectible curios. Their number will only increase through the eras. You did it for mounts and companion pets already, you're going to do it for tabards "soon(TM)". Please give us a stash for the collectibles, too.

If I may repeat an earlier suggestion of mine: the collectibles could be stored as a bit vector. They do not need to be "physical" items that you move around your inventory, because you cannot equip them or trade them or enchant them. They are just an icon with an effect on click. The only relevant information is whether a character is in possession of that thing or not. A single bit. One kilobyte of storage space per character would suffice to handle over eight thousand different collectibles in game. (And yes, a specific user interface would be needed as well.)

Nevertheless, archeology is a great addition to the game! In my not so humble opinion it is the first of the secondary professions that adds real value. But of course this is a matter of taste. Still, I hope Blizzard will build on that and expand archeology further as the game evolves.

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