The other night I finally got around to rolling a Death Knight in World of Warcraft and playing through the starting areas. It was good, I guess - a huge step foward for World of Warcraft, anyway - but it wasn't the Second Coming of Blizzard that I'd been promised.
The more bells and whistles Blizzard hangs on the DikuMUD formula, the more it reminds me that the entirety of WoW is built on the bones of an 18-year-old text adventure. It's like if Namco were still devoting the totality of their corporate effort to getting Pac-Man just right.
In a way it even feels like a step back. The much-lauded "phasing" content, whereby your perception of the world changes as you complete quests, is only a short step from instancing, and the knowledge that other players aren't seeing the same world as me brutally grates on my suspension of disbelief. When I'm taken to the Death Knight assault on Light Hope Chapel I'm unable to forget that this isn't the real Light Hope Chapel but rather an ersatz copy spawned entirely for my benefit, and that elsewhere, in the real Plaguelands, people are interacting with these NPCs entirely oblivious to the devastation I'm wreaking.
I'm hopeful that in as little as five years we'll be looking back on this as the unbelievably primitive scratchings of neanderthals on cave walls, but in the mean time it's perhaps appropriate in an expansion about undeath that the bleached skull of Azeroth should show through so clearly. It feels like in the attempt to hear the story of Warcraft I've lost that sense of it being the world of Warcraft.