World of Warcraft: The Value of Player Autonomy

A Highmountain Tauren in World of Warcraft looking at his map

After wrapping up The Last of Us and pondering what to play next, I found it strange that World of Warcraft came to mind.

Where The Last of Us forces you to navigate tense and dynamic combat scenarios, World of Warcraft’s gameplay is dull and formulaic. For the most part, you’ll be performing the same sequence of spells or attacks again and again — something the game’s community has affectionately dubbed a “rotation.” Aside from select dungeon bosses, the game’s NPC enemies leave you little reason to stray from your rotation. Most fights come down to attrition: deal more damage to an enemy than they deal to you, and you win.

But if WoW’s gameplay is merely serviceable, why was I craving it?

An Unlikely Comparison

The answers seem to lie in the juxtaposition of WoW and The Last of Us. Comparing these titles seems fruitless: both titles are entirely different games with different priorities. And yet, the peculiar dichotomy that arose after I played both titles back-to-back was revealing.

For me, The Last of Us was bittersweet. After becoming emotionally invested with the main character’s post-apocalyptic journey and helping him survive hours of brutal combat encounters, I felt betrayed when his moral compass ultimately didn’t align with mine.

So perhaps it makes sense that I’d want to wash out the bitter taste left in my mouth by the flawed (but well-written) characters of a linear, narrative-driven survival game with WoW. After all, WoW is all about leading your own journey and making your own choices in a massive online world. Unlike The Last of Us’s Joel and Ellie, my character is Warcraft is an extension of myself — a conduit for my interests, behaviour, and morals.

A Never-Ending Story

Another important distinction is that WoW’s world provides persistent progression. Barring a shut-down of the game’s servers, my character’s journey is eternal. I can pick up whenever I’d like and continue furthering my character’s skills, power, or accomplishments.

The same can’t be said of The Last of Us. As a singleplayer, non-persistent experience, The Last of Us allows you to experience an eventful and poignant segment of its characters’ lives, but no more. Once the dust has settled and the credits roll, you return to your life, and the game’s characters (ostensibly) return to theirs.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m looking forward to continuing Joel and Ellie’s story in the upcoming The Last of Us Part II. But until then, I’ll continue to enjoy walking my own path in Azeroth.


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