One of my two “interests” (some would say obsessions) regarding literature (in books or other media) is time. The other is post-apocalyptic themes. Both are highly relevant in today’s WoW world, and I want to take a couple of days to look at all the ways they factor into our everyday gaming experience. We’ll start with time today, partially because I just finished Thief of Time, one of my many Terry Pratchett books, for the second time. Of course, it has to do with an apocalypse, too, but that’s just a coincidence.
At any rate, Time plays many different roles in WoW. For one, it dictates the speed at which we can engage in combat. Secondly, it dictates the day/night cycle. Third, it’s employed when phasing occurs. Lastly, it’s a major factor in the lore. We’ll explore each of these today in the time we have together.
First, time dictates the speed at which we can engage in combat. This is the only literal time effect in the game, meaning that “real world” time is employed to slow down the otherwise furious clicking of the “rattlesnakes on crack” that are the best players mechanically among us. I’m sure we’re all aware of the 1.5 second “global cool down,” which of course is occasionally exempted and can be reduced with enough haste. Of course, there’s some abilities, player and monster, that use time. The most prevalent, obviously, it Time Warp, which increases the player’s and allies’ haste ratings and attack speed. At some level, an increase to attack speed and cast speed is a way of manipulating time, in that the players are “moving faster,” but I would have liked to see a slow down on the monsters’ parts, too, to more efficiently show the time distortion. Priests also can manipulate time with the Borrowed Time talent, which once again affects the haste of the player. So from most of the player side, the only real way we can affect time is through manipulating the haste rating, which is a pretty mediocre way to go about it.
On the other hand, mages have slow, the most direct Time affecting ability in the game. Slow seems to directly reduce the flow of time on the target, reducing their movement speed, their attack speed, and their cast speed. This is not a “haste” based effect, but an actual attack on the target from a temporal direction. Very nice integration of time effects here.
Multiple mobs use time effects, most notably members of the Infinite Dragonflight, who we’ll talk more about in the lore section. From the multiple versions of Time Stop and Time Lapse to Time Warp, it seems the enemies can actually manipulate time. They can freeze us, slow us, and even damage us with a Time Shock. Now it’s true that Thunderclap (Judgments of the Just/Frost Fever/Infected Wounds) does slow the enemy, but the claim behind these is the sonic/holy/infectious agent has somehow disoriented/punished/weakened them as opposed to actually slowing or stopping time. So, it seems that the mobs have the upper hand when it comes to time effects.
One of the lamest and most superficial “time” elements of the game is the day/night cycle. This cycle has been derided already, but a quick review of the complaints suggest that there should be more of a change between day and night than simply the sky changing color and the lighting conditions dimming. People (myself included) would like to see nocturnal animals, locked shops, increased (or decreased) guard activity, and so forth. While of course this type of change would require a fair bit of work on Blizzards part for little to no benefit on the player base (i.e. not an effective use of time), it would be very cool to have quests that could only be done at night. The day/night cycle also doesn’t need to strictly follow the “real world” day/night cycle, meaning that nocturnal players wouldn’t have all the penalties or benefits of playing at night.
It’s been discussed to death how phasing has its benefits and drawbacks. Sure, it’s cool to see a change in the game world – that is to say – to see time pass. However, not being able to quest with your friends is a bit of a problem. The only element I’m interested in for today’s discussion, though, is the statement it makes about time. Frequently, the act of phasing creates huge changes in the environment instantly which are neither logical nor even explainable in a “fantasy” setting. There are some exceptions; deploying the Town-in-a-box in the Goblin starting quests had an ingenious application, launching the player in the air and having the town spring into being beneath them, just as the box said (most goblin boxes are not that reliable). Another is the phasing in the Hyjal area after you repair the damage done to the burned areas. That at least is explained by “nature magic” and the return of Cenarius or whoever (check the lore yourself). Many of the other situations, though, simply don’t make sense. Towns appear or are rebuilt instantly. Hundreds of npcs move from place to place. It’s a very shabby treatment of time.
Lore also is somewhat shabby about how it treats time. How many of you knew that three years passed from when you logged out on December 6ths to when you logged in on December 7th (Cata release date)? Cities were destroyed and rebuilt. Leaders came to power and were deposed. Thunder Bluff was lost and retaken. A hell of a lot happened. And all of it – all of it! – would have been much cooler to witness in-game. If they knew there’d be a slew of patches in the months after (which of course they did because there always are), then there’s no reason they couldn’t have had some of these events in-game, periodically jumping six months or a year in time instead of just skipping three of the most eventful years in WoW lore. Go retake Thunder Bluff! Help repair Stormwind or Orgrimmar! There was so much that could have been done! And they wasted it. They balled up three years of our toons’ lives and disposed of them without hardly a word.
It’s a shame.
That said, the Infinite/Bronze dragonflight is an excellent, awesome, creative use of time. Since you’re always on the side of “fixing” the errors the Infinite Dragonflight are trying to introduce, the game skirts the constant possible paradox effects by making sure you’re there to prevent the paradoxes. Some say, well, isn’t us being there going to create some problems? No. It won’t, because you were always there. You just hadn’t experienced it yet and were unaware. Enough philosophy, though. The lore is more interesting.
I love/loved the event when you took the blood elf orphan to see Zaladormu in the Caverns of Time. The zone itself is amazing looking, still one of my favorite places in the game. The interaction there, foreshadowing some dark event in Salandria’s future, fits perfectly with the lore in the Cavern. I wish there was more of that instead of just constantly thwarting the Infinite Dragonflight from screwing up the timeline.
“Do you remember the battle that was not fought because the courier arrived in time?” asks a character in my most recently reread Pratchett novel. It would be nice, sometime, for the Bronze Dragonflight to be “too late” to have stopped something, or to only “recently” uncover the Infinite Dragon’s success. Instead of thwarting them, then, we’d have to into a zone where there were no Infinite dragons and simply undo what they’d already done, and upon reemerging, some major piece of the world would be different. The battle between Hellscream and Cairne. The mistreatment of Varian or Thrall when either was captured. The fall of Arthas. The summoning of C’thun. All of these things could be “unwritten” from the lore and exposed as a successful Infinite Dragonflight plot. But then, that probably belongs in the “Player-Generated Content” post.
So, there you have it. Overall, WoW handles time rather shabbily in all aspects except the two factions that battle over it. Perhaps we’ll see more time effects in the future, or perhaps phasing will become less overt, or perhaps we’ll just have to keep up our suspension of disbelief. Until whatever time comes, though, I hope you keep enjoying passing the time here and with WoW.
Stubborn (who never feels he has enough time, but who does?)
P.S. Thanks to Mangara for pointing out that I meant the Infinite Dragonflight, not the Black Dragonflight. Edited it right up. Thanks!