Blizzard is in a tough position with World of Warcraft. Eight years after launching the MMO, as the market shifts towards free-to-play, it faces declining subscription numbers. It's latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, released earlier this week with markedly less fanfare than its predecessors.
Everybody loves progress, but no one likes change, as is evident when looking at the game's user review average on Metacritic and reading the scathing testimonials from disgruntled fans.
Mists of Pandaria currently has a total of 313 ratings submitted by users. Of them 114 are categorised as positive, eight as mixed and 191 as negative. The majority of these negative reviews mentioned an over-simplification of the game, which - ironically - has driven the design of World of Warcraft from the outset and has been a major contributor in the MMO's overwhelming success.
"Can't believe I bought this game," says SCougar91, who gave the game a rating of 0. "The whole idea of it should have turned me off from the get go, but loyalty to the series made me want to try it. The game has become a simplistic MMO that requires very little time and effort to play, which is not what I'm looking for. A dumbing down of a genre is what were seeing here."
Others have criticised the expansion for using the "same recycled old engine", apparently expecting Mists of Pandaria to provide a significant overhaul.
"Crashy servers, terrible graphics and still using the same textures from 2004 which look like if they came straight from a nintendo 64 game," writes Renoxzor, who also gave the game a 0. "The best part is having to relearn all your characters with every new patch, did you take a break to have fun outside, bad news... your gear is now outdated and you need to farm it again... Did you have the best gear from hardmode bosses? Bad news, it's garbage, the first green drops will be a major upgrade... The only thing this paid patch brings, pandas, tons of pandas... only the male panda is unique, sorta... the female only uses the female dwarf model with a panda head."
Some have attacked Blizzard as a company, referencing other titles such as Diablo 3 to supplement criticisms of Mists of Pandaria.
"Blizzard became a greedy, **** company. Diablo 3 was a spit in the face, and this is the last straw. I wonder how many times people gonna eat the same recoloured, casual turd?"
Company hate aside, other users make some salient points, you just have to sift through the hate to find them: "Blizzard creates good games. But at some point in the last 5 yeas they stopped caring for the playerbase and instead are only thinking profit and money. MOP is not a bad expansion per say. But its just not good enough in terms of 10 million subscriber based game that should be delivering content regularly and with full focus on improving every aspect of the game.
"Blizzard is not doing that. For the last 5 years most of the money they got for WOW has gone into other games they are making and WOW is suffering because of it. It has been left to rot - just like 8 months of last raiding tier in Cata goes to show. They didn't even have an active Live content crew on the game to keep the subscribers intrested.
"Instead they created Annual pass so ppl could SUB for MOP beta. Just bad all around. Im playing and leveling - but the bitterness of how BLizzard is doing their buisness these days is hard to swallow"
On the one hand it might be a bit unreasonable to expect Blizzard to pour significant resources into creating sweeping changes for an old game on the decline, but on the other World of Warcraft is much as service as it is a game, one that asks customers to continuously pay for access. From this perspective should we be expecting more from Blizzard and its expansions, even if they've probably moved on to bigger and better things?