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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It Is Our Divine Right to Expand

In playing Warcraft 3, I've come to that point at the end of Reign of Chaos, where I'm pretty good at the basic game and unit control. And then, unit balances all change hands and places with The Frozen Throne expansion. Suddenly, I'm forced to deal with new units and a new hero for every race, as well as an increased itemization brought on by shops. The game takes on a new sense of balance, but the tables are shifted enough that I'm thrown off by the difference.

Obviously, this happens every time I play through the campaigns and finish the battle of Mount Hijal, and move on to Frozen Throne. I do really enjoy the campaigns and enjoy the storyline, but it brings up an interesting concept. In Warcraft 3, the Frozen Throne changes everything about multiplayer balance, and strategy, but it leaves the core game completely untouched. In fact, Reign of Chaos is a seperate game from Frozen Throne, so seperate that if you want to play the original campaigns you must use a different program (although the Frozen Throne play disk will still run Reign of Chaos).

This is a stark contrast to the expansions of games like Neverwinter Nights, and Morrowind, where the game balance and original gameplay were drastically changed by the introduction of the expansion. In Morrowind's case, new items and mobs change player abilities, and in Neverwinter Nights, the new classes are only partially balanced with the original campaign, and the doubled max level cap means that bosses and random spawns become more powerful for the begining campaign than those that were intended (and in most cases, the player exceeds the maximum level of spawn, and is just killing epic dragons left and right, or insanely large amounts of lower level creatures).

The problem with the expansion packs is that it is entirely new content and extended gameplay, but you are really stuck with three options. The first is to make it play as a seperate game, which makes the original or vanilla game useful for nostolgia. The second way is to just combine the two, and hope for the best, which leads to unbalanced gameplay. The final way is to take the time and effort to incorporate the expansion into the main game and make sure it is a balanced, but unique, addition. The last point is difficult in terms of money and time. No developer wants to spend two or three years on an expansion just to turn around and have to spend another incoprorating it.

I am a big fan of expanding content that expansion packs provide, but I can see the biggest problem is in their integration. Without proper integration, it's basically just a new game or mod over an old skin, or else it's a bunch of uber loot that makes the original stuff worthless.

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