Blizzard admits WoW is rough for new players and plans to fix that: 'We know that we have a lot of work to do'

Alleria, an elf touched by the void, stands proud among the ruins of a familiar city in World of Warcraft: The War Within.
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

If I didn't have years of prior experience playing World of Warcraft, I imagine my first hour in The War Within alpha would've gone much worse. WoW immediately buries you in buckets of spells and items and quests that even had me gasping for air trying to make sense of it all. The new and returning player experience is rough, and Blizzard is willing to admit as much, according to a recent interview with Windows Central.

"We know that we have a lot of work to do on new player acquisition, but we hadn't been focusing there, we were focused on retention," vice president and executive producer Holly Longdale said.

And it shows: In a recent Activision Blizzard financial report, the company noted that Dragonflight has kept more people subscribed to WoW than recent expansions. Typically, people come flooding in and then peace out when new updates slow down before the next expansion release. Longdale said Blizzard set goals for player retention and beat them. "But user acquisition is a weakness."

Right now, WoW drops new players onto a tutorial island, called Exile's Reach, to teach them how quests, loot, and dungeons work. It's streamlined and fast, but it lacks the flavor of the classic starting zones for each playable race, like the violet forest that Night Elves start in. Each race, whether they're with the Horde or Alliance, has a distinct perspective on the world that you'd learn in their intro quests—which are admittedly much slower to work through than Exile's Reach. That context is what rooted every character to the world.

Longdale said Blizzard has work to do when it comes to the "player fantasy," the role-playing, in WoW. "There is work to do there. And that's something we want to aim for in the future."

The "future" doesn't seem to include The War Within, or at least I didn't see any evidence of that work being done in the alpha. New players are blasted through the same starting experience and dumped right into Dragonflight's storyline (currently it's Battle for Azeroth).

With features like level boosts and Warbands—which makes your progress in an expansion apply to all your characters—it feels like that individuality is at risk of being erased. For experienced endgame players, WoW characters are as close as they can be to Final Fantasy 14's one-character-can-do-it-all approach to classes and professions. The last distinction they have left is their race and class and how that positions them in Azeroth. I'd love to see Blizzard put the effort into bolstering the new player experience so that we don't lose something that, in my opinion, is an essential part of playing WoW.

Associate Editor

Tyler has covered games, games culture, and hardware for over a decade before joining PC Gamer as Associate Editor. He's done in-depth reporting on communities and games as well as criticism for sites like Polygon, Wired, and Waypoint. He's interested in the weird and the fascinating when it comes to games, spending time probing for stories and talking to the people involved. Tyler loves sinking into games like Final Fantasy 14, Overwatch, and Dark Souls to see what makes them tick and pluck out the parts worth talking about. His goal is to talk about games the way they are: broken, beautiful, and bizarre.