World of Warcraft's Plunderstorm event proves we'll put up with anything for cool transmogs

(Image credit: Blizzard)

My name is Fraser Brown and I will ruin my life for a cool in-game cosmetic item. There, I've said it. I feel a bit better now. Well, not that much better, because I'm painfully sleep-deprived and my back hurts from spending too much time hunched over my desk. At least I can dress my World of Warcraft toons like fancy pirates now, I guess? 

Back in March, Blizzard surprised World of Warcraft players with a limited-time mode. Plunderstorm is unlike anything Blizzard's done with WoW over the last two decades. It's a battle royale that you have to make a new character for, featuring mechanics specific to the mode. So instead of using your normal PvP loadout, you drop into a match with nothing, and gain new abilities by grabbing loot from chests, monsters and dead players. 

I hate it. I hate it so damn much. 

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Granted, it's very cool that Blizzard sprung this event on us, and I really hope we get more of these limited-time modes. Novelties like this keep me coming back. But WoW's regular objective-based PvP modes are so much better. They're more polished, tactical and let you use characters you've actually developed. The main issue I have with it, though, is that it's a battle royale. And battle royales are bad. The novelty of the genre has worn off, and now the thought of dropping into a game and scrounging around for supplies for 20 minutes makes me want to walk straight into the storm. 

I'm not much of a PvPer these days because age has dulled my desire for competition, and when you combine that with the fact that Plunderstorm is a battle royale, you'd think I'd simply avoid it. I've only started up WoW again after many months away, so I've got plenty of other things to occupy my time with. But I have to play, because I've gotta get these damn transmogs. 

Once upon a time, I really gave a shit about raiding and ranked PvP, but these days I can't even be arsed being in a guild. Now my power fantasy is all about being an orc or a goblin or a walking corpse with exceptional drip. I will still do some Looking For Raid, but again, just so I can expand my wardrobe. This goes for pretty much every MMO I play now. I used to be staunchly opposed to opening up my wallet for microtransactions, but I've spent an embarrassing amount of money playing dress-up in Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's really eating into my real-life clothes budget, which in turn has been eating into my food and bills budget for many years. 

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Plunderstorm's reward track is a bounty of riches, featuring a large assortment of pirate-themed goodies that includes mounts, pets, weapons and outfits. And it just so happens that I'm working on an undead pirate at the moment (bucking convention by making him a Forsaken Beast Master rather than an Outlaw), so I've really got no choice. Well, I do, but I have absolutely no willpower.

This is why, last week, I just decided not to sleep for a day.

This is why, last week, I just decided not to sleep for a day. I was just gonna grind it out. Power through. For some pirate clobber. I'm the worst, but at least I'm not alone! In every single lobby, you'll find people chatting about how close they are to the end, and how happy they are that it's almost over. So many players are treating this like work. They despise the mode, but the allure of some cool transmogs is too great to ignore.

I suspect most of these players are, like me, primarily interested in PvE. There's a tension at the heart of Plunderstorm because Blizzard has tried to make a PvP mode that welcomes PvE players. "We want players who just want to have a good time, they go in and they want to have an awesome pirate party with their friends and collect plunder, fight monsters and play it all for the cool abilities that are in there," Blizzard told us. "There's a gold monster on the map that drops plunder. There are chests you can open. Even if you're not winning, you can earn stuff, you could still have fun. That's really what we've been focused on."

(Image credit: Blizzard)

So you can play Plunderstorm like a PvE game. A clunky, boring PvE game, sure, but a PvE game all the same. But that only makes it suck so much more when someone interrupts your monster-murdering and kills you, removing you from the match. It's hard not to resent them, despite the fact that they're also playing the mode the way it was designed. So you've got these two communities, who play the mode in two distinct ways, forced to play together. And they just don't get on. 

Blizzard has done a good job of making it a less frustrating experience through updates, though. I have played Plunderstorm for two days and I'm almost done. I jump in, I do my quest, and after that I usually just walk into the storm and let someone murder me. It's a horrible way to play, but marginally better than trying to stick it out until the end of the match, which is only worth it if you claim the top spot. The amount of plunder you get has been increased, and every level on the reward track requires the same amount of renown. 

Part of me wishes it was harder, I confess, because if I knew I wasn't going to get everything, I simply wouldn't bother. I'd be free! Brains are weird. People play games in really strange ways and have odd priorities. And lots of different priorities, too. Some folk get perverse joy from ambushing other players who are just about to open a chest after defeating a tough enemy. I, meanwhile, am a middle-aged man who's willing to have a shit time for two days just so I can dress up a zombie like a pirate. 

Of course, Blizzard knows that we're all beholden to our weird brains. The cavalcade of rewards and the easier grind is designed to keep up playing, keep subbed, even if we're not really having a very good time. When the next season begins, this will all be gone, so we've got to just grin and bear it. A community that's ravenous for cool transmogs is easy to exploit. And all the PvE players being encouraged to jump in get fed into the PvP meat grinder, giving the PvP players a quick and bloody fix—some easy kills to reel them in.  

It's going to be really interesting to see what Blizzard's takeaway is after the event is over. I'm sure there are fans, but all I've seen is PvP and PvE players yelling at each other, and folk just determined to grind the renown as fast as possible so they never need to play again. That said, the people having a shitty time are also the ones more likely to mention it. This skews the perception of the event. 

Hopefully there will be some kind of post-mortem, which might also give us some insight into what Blizzard's going to do with limited-time modes going forward. Of course, this won't paint the full picture. More likely, we'll just find out it was immensely popular, in terms of players numbers and time-played. But all that tells us is something we already knew: people love pirates. 

Fraser Brown
Online Editor

Fraser is the UK online editor and has actually met The Internet in person. With over a decade of experience, he's been around the block a few times, serving as a freelancer, news editor and prolific reviewer. Strategy games have been a 30-year-long obsession, from tiny RTSs to sprawling political sims, and he never turns down the chance to rave about Total War or Crusader Kings. He's also been known to set up shop in the latest MMO and likes to wind down with an endlessly deep, systemic RPG. These days, when he's not editing, he can usually be found writing features that are 1,000 words too long or talking about his dog.