[Article first published as World of Warcraft Add-Ons - the Fall of a Purist on Blogcritics.]
Now if any of you read this with any sort of regularity, you’ll know that I play World of Warcraft. Until recently, I may have been one of the few that played it without add-ons or UI modifiers. I’m counting Recount as an exception here, because that just shows how much damage we’re doing and who I can blame for breaking my traps.
I was, in short, almost a purist, and classified add-ons as sanctioned cheating since they take a lot of the challenge out of the game. In fact I said I wouldn’t allow myself to use any add-ons (again, except Recount) until I had leveled a character to 80 “clean,” which was the cap at the time. I’m the same way with most games I play on the PC and consoles. Game Genie style devices or mechanics haven’t touched my consoles via my hands since I was 10, when I doubled my party’s initial health in the first Final Fantasy for the NES. After I beat the game, the victory seemed so tainted end empty that--at 10 mind you--I felt I had to start over and beat it clean before claiming victory. It’s just how I roll. I can probably credit my father with this – he wouldn’t let me use a calculator in elementary school until I could do my multiplication tables up to 15 in my head.
I started playing WoW right before the Burning Crusade expansion came out so I didn’t play much of the game “vanilla,” but I still got through heroics and Karazhan’s ghostly denizens, and even plowed through Arthas’ frosty minions in Icecrown Citadel in Wrath of the Lich King without too much issue. Evading boss attacks and knowing when to do what was relatively easy: for example an enrage is obvious as a boss turns bright red, and most of the other attacks coming my way were clearly telegraphed with an animation (like something showing up on the ground or some sort of charge-up). On my end, I would have to just pay attention to when my abilities were active so I knew when to use them. I knew for example that when it said “Lock and Load” above my head, I had two free explosive shots at my disposal. I didn’t need fancy glowing screen filling notifications.
In every WoW iteration though, Blizzard incorporated the functions of the most popular add-ons into its stock user interface, making the need for additional add-ons even less necessary in my mind, and giving me even less of a reason to download them. My “Lock and Load” example from above now makes explosive shot glow with a gold border so I know it’s active. I’ve got no problem using that now, as it’s in a player’s stock toolkit. Eventually however, after years of countless reactions to my playing with an unedited stock interface that went from the bewildered to the surprised to the downright strange, I stepped into the Blackwing Descent raid encounter a couple months ago and it finally happened: after the slew of wipes we experienced I downloaded Deadly Boss Mods. DBM and other certain other add-ons have almost become a requirement for even being invited to raid groups, since it flat out increases the chances of success by giving you warnings and timers for absolutely everything that’s going on. Don’t have DBM installed? You might find yourself back in Stormwind or Orgrimmar spamming the Looking for Group channel, because you just got kicked from your (former) raid group.
I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t downloading it for me, but for the guild, and that my having this installed would contribute to less wipes and save us a lot of time and repair bills. After running raids in the Cataclysm expansion a few times, I found with the add-on I was required to think less and able to act more, with the jury still out on whether or not that really was a good thing. I mean I perform much better, but did DBM make me a better player or bring me down to a new lower standard of gameplay?
All of us became worse players in Wrath of the Lich King, which was incredibly easy compared to Burning Crusade and Cataclysm. A lot of people blame that lack of difficulty in Wrath for the frustration-fueled departure of players after level 80, but I think they’re only half right. It was Wrath combined with DBM and other third party add-ons that created a class of players characterized by (a) an ability to collect epic gear damn near blindfolded, (b) an expectation that all things be that easy for them, (c) an inability to cut it when things became a little bit difficult, and finally (d) a level of being spoiled that precludes them from even trying.
My self-assessment that I am a half-decent player comes from what I’m able to do with the tools I have been given – which I’ve handily been able to do through level 85. And the way some of these Cataclysm boss fights go, add-ons are pretty much needed to get through them. So I shouldn’t feel so dirty using DBM right? I guess it’s for the team. Either that or I've just gotten good at rationalizing.
Now playing a rogue on the other hand… that’s a feeling of dirtiness that’s unforgivable.