I started playing World of Warcraft during Mists of Pandaria, lured in by the lush emerald forests of this long-lost world, enthralled by a story that had its hooks in me through to the end. I remember soaring across the aqua skies of the Jade Forest, stunned by the beauty of the gorgeous Serpent’s Heart statue sitting right at its heart – and audibly sobbing when it was destroyed a few quests later. This was World of Warcraft, the MMORPG all of my friends had told me about, and it was glorious.
Fast-forward to 2020. After an extended hiatus away from WoW, I jumped back into the woeful world of Shadowlands, inspired by that epic cinematic where my longtime favorite character Sylvanas Windrunner shatters the Helm of Domination. I was beyond excited, eager to explore the macabre afterlives that Blizzard promised. I made a new character and dove headlong into the fray – a whole new World of Warcraft was out there, ready for me to explore.
Except, it looked the exact same as it did back in 2012. How, I asked myself, is that possible? Having meandered over to the gorgeous Final Fantasy 14 universe during Shadowbringers, I know that MMOs can look stunning, so why does the alleged best of the genre look like this? Following Dragonflight’s release, I remain equally as unimpressed with WoW – it’s the same thing over, and over, and over again. Honestly? We just need World of Warcraft 2.
And that became very apparent to me during my FF14 adventures. It’s no secret that Square Enix has created its own unique graphical style, defined by glitter, magic, and majesty. I was blown away when I first entered Ul’dah, scampering through the streets like a lost child to the beautiful piano of ‘Sultana Dreaming.’ It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and the more I dive back into FF14, the more stunned I am.
Set apart by just a year, there’s no comparison between Shadowlands and Endwalker. WoW, unfortunately, is the ugly duckling next to a gorgeous, snow-white swan. While I thought Shadowlands’ Ardenweald was gorgeous and Revendreth presented the perfect gothic paradise, FF14’s Old Sharlayan simply took my breath away, as did the colorful, sky-top dream world of Radz-At-Han. Graphically, WoW’s just inferior: your characters look like pixelated blobs next to FF14’s stunning bunny girls and cat boys – everything just feels so outdated.
But it’s not just the visuals that feel like an unwanted blast from the past. WoW’s gameplay is now similarly stale. With every expansion, we see the same grind on repeat with little else to celebrate. Sure, Dragonriding was cool in Dragonflight, but doesn’t Guild Wars 2, another of my childhood MMOs, already have that?
Compared to FF14, where the story and dungeons can feel somewhat overshadowed by side activities like fashion competitions, FC house parties, and general chaotic fun, WoW doesn’t feel like it has much substance other than playing the story, completing a dungeon or raid, then going through those same motions again.
Player housing is something WoW players have been requesting for some time, and I really think it would change the game entirely. FF14 champions community spirit, and while you can create Guilds in WoW, there’s no set place to call home. WoW feels soulless at the moment, and has done for some time – you log on, you grind with friends, you log off. There’s nothing that keeps me tied to Azeroth. In fact, the gameplay – and its overly complex, grindy systems – is so punishing that it’s pushing me away.
And a new WoW expansion won’t bring me back. At the moment, there’s no innovation. The game’s overarching narrative feels like it’s at a crossroads post-Shadowlands, and gameplay still feels old and clunky. Now would be the perfect time for Blizzard to go ‘okay, let’s revamp this series,’ instead of pushing out yet another expansion that will delight for a few hours and probably cause disappointment for many more. Final Fantasy 14 is doing it with Dawntrail – come on, WoW, do the same.
WoW holds its place in my heart as one of the most inspiring multiplayer games I played as a kid, but gaming has evolved since then and WoW has remained largely stagnant. Where once the Jade Forest felt like a dream, it feels outdated now, a relic of a bygone era. Please, Blizzard, WoW is an old favorite, but I don’t want it to look and play like something from my childhood.
It’s time for a brave new Azeroth, something that puts the ‘wow’ back into WoW. Imagine the spectacular, moon-bathed vistas of Ardenweald recreated with modern standards. Imagine seeing the Sylvanas Windrunner in-game as they appear in the trailers, or the Alexstrasza whose scales shimmer in the sunlight that bathes the Dragon Isles. Imagine WoW if it looked like FF14 – that’s everything I need and more.
Like I said, we’re at a crossroads – Sylvanas Windrunner is gone, we’re back in Azeroth, and the Alliance and Horde have finally scratched out the battlelines in favor of peaceful cooperation. In my opinion, WoW 2 needs to split them down the middle again and bring a little more ‘war’ (and also Valeera Sanguinar – whatever happened to her?) to Warcraft. Now is the time, now is the hour – but will we see it happen? I’m not holding out hope.