Why you really want attunements. Or: Watch your keys, friend

Unlock meh!
“See that door? It’s locked. I wonder what’s behind it..
See the lock? There must be a key somewhere to fit that particular lock…
There’s probably something worth guarding behind that door if it’s locked like that!
Damn, I really need to find that key now!
Keys – oh boy, my favourite!”

Oh, the suspense!

Attunements, such good memories you and me. That endless questline to get into Onyxia’s Lair, the crumpled up note that just wouldn’t drop in BRD. Countless wipes during countless jailbreaks. Then, getting a rogue to help you through the Shadowforge door. Jumping into the lava to enter the Molten Core for the very first time. You messed that one up alright, Executus.

In the Burning Crusade, you were still quite great. At least for a while. Not even Karazhan came for free and what a great place that was. The countless tears we shed to get Vashj down. The realm PuG I joined (the only time ever) just for a Kael’thas kill before the patch. Gawd, that lovely ring – and hands on the best title. Black Temple…I don’t know how many visits to Akama it took in total. The questline must have been 100 quests long (at least), some of which brought tears to my eyes because we kept wiping like sissies fighting those elites in SMV. All just to see Illidan. And who wouldn’t want that?

Attunements, you gave our guild a direction. You made us teamwork and plan. You gave us time. And long stories with epic moments. The excitement to get there – and everyone could get there in due time if they really cared to.

Then, things kinda changed. I felt sorry for those that came after us. Later, things never were quite the same. No more locks, just open doors. Open doors guard no treasure.

Why attunements were made of win

1) Vorfreude
Maybe you’ve heard the term before. I don’t think there’s an equivalent in English which is rather striking, given the fact that its vocabulary is generally so vast. “Vorfreude”, translated from German, means “the joy of anticipation” – the long wait before a great event, the excitement, the nervousness beforehand which are very often greater and better than the thing itself. Vorfreude is a good feeling: looking forward to something rather than having everything at once, right nao! Instant access to everything, ye I know that’s how the trend has gone in almost every possible way in WoW – but I loved earning my way to attunements, having that distant goal while enjoying content on the way, beating challenges, removing obstacles in my path. I also loved helping guildies to get there.

2) Long, epic questlines
The questlines were often long, with plenty to do on the way. Traveling was a big part, running different instances, picking up different items, talking to all sorts of NPCs. They increased in difficulty until a group was the only way to get further. They were also a great preparation or introduction to what was to come: what the background story and history of the places were, so you understood why you actually went there. I don’t think I ever got more lore from quests than during instance attunements, being as raid-focused as I was. What am I doing here? Who are these people and why are they locked up in chains? Ah, I see.

3) Content progression
A very big factor was that attunements actually timed the way content was consumed. There was a clear path of progression, a sort of dramatic script. Not necessarily in the sense that you could only ever raid one instance at a time, but you could never access everything at once. And while that could stall you, what it really did too was grant guilds time. Less rushing, less stress trying to keep up with omg-everything. More time to prepare the guild because you really had no other choice. A more natural flow of content that would last longer since it was more well-spread. Patience, suspense. Why do people think they must always get everything and at once? Good things take time, anyone?

4) Cooperation
Already mentioned under 1) and 2), the increasing difficulty of quests, frequent group quests or instance runs forced people to teamplay. You needed help to get those elites down for the next step, you needed a party to enter a heroic. The challenges weren’t overly hard but they required cooperation – no going solo for you. And on a bigger scale, guilds would engage in big attunement efforts to get ready for raiding; getting everyone up to par, attuning new members quickly, helping each other with that last step or two of the chain, no matter how often you’d already done it (eugh). I know some guilds moaned about this, but you know what: this kinda stuff is what guilds are there for. That’s WHY people play in guilds. Or used to. Anyway. I realize anything vaguely resembling “guild preparations” is a nuisance these days. 

5) Keys (and other trophies, harrr!)
Last but not least, attunements brought us keys. Keys of all sizes and flavors, shiny keys and rusty ones. Keys made of copper or brass, keys made of bronze or bone. Keys dropped by a keymaster, keys acquired after a long series of quests. Keys that opened huge steel gates or the tiniest locks in a dungeon. Keys that all told a story about where we’ve been and what we have done. Keys jingling merrily on our key ring.
And of course other trophies that we would keep for keep’s sake; like a necklace or cloak that took so much effort to acquire that parting was no option. These were our real trophies, our mementos, our battle scars.

Holding on to your keys

I don’t know what other MMO players want of their games these days. I know that I want adventures. I want challenges that are hard and long and I want to beat them with a group of people I call comrades or friends. I want my rewards to tell stories.

I want keys – and attunements are keys. Keys to open locks. Locks that open doors, doors that lead into a world of adventure. You want to watch out for them, friend; for every good fantasy story has keys in it. It can’t be a good thing if they slowly start disappearing in the sands of time.

13 comments

  1. I agree with the emotional impact of keys. I’m not so sure about epic questlines and gated content, because the current game is full of really long questlines that are 100% gated …

    Honestly, I never had a problems with attunements. But I also don’t have a problem with them being removed. I don’t really care .. which doesn’t happen often when it comes to MOMRPGs ;)

  2. I’m dead with you. I worked my butt off for attunement after attunement and key after key. It’s not a “they have it so much easier now” complaint, though, it’s that I feel that things have been cheapened. Raids used to be fine meals, eaten only after a long preparation period, where a team of chefs had worked in unison to make a delicacy. Now, they’re fast food. Pull up your raid car to the window, order which boss you want, and wipe (your mouth with a napkin?).

    Vorfreude is a good word for what’s missing in WoW, and perhaps that’s why such a huge chunk of the player base is getting bored with it. It’s hard to be bored and anticipatory at the same time.

    Great post.

  3. 1) We do have a word for it: “Christmas.”

    The removal of keys feels like a turning point. It’s Blizzard putting in an active effort to remove a symbol of what we’ve done. It’s the death of an era, in a way, and along with attunements seems to say “we don’t want the kind of player who likes this sort of thing.” That’s obviously their choice to make, but I made my choice to give my money to an organization that isn’t cheapening everything it touches.

  4. Yep, I can only agree. I already decried the loss of attunements two years ago, but it’s nice to see more people come out of the woodwork after the removal of keys.

    @Nils: The point is that keys can make something stand out. I agree that it gets tedious if everything requires a key and making it past the gates doesn’t actually reward you with anything interesting.

    I kind of have to laugh when I think back to the old attunement chains and how people used to complain about a “long” chain consisting of fifteen quests or so, just to unlock a faction or raid. And yet now we have places like Vashj’ir, which is essentially a 150-quest-long attunement to get the Throne of the Tides instance quests…

  5. I’ve been an advocate of the removal of attunements back then and I suppose I still am. You make many very good points for their existence (and I absolutely see the emotional value of finally getting attuned.) The disadvantages, however, were quite huge.

    The Onyxia quest line was fun the first time around, maybe even another two times or so but then it just got really, really tedious. BT attunement was a huge PITA for raiding guilds. Got a new recruit or maybe an alt you want to get into raiding? Not only do they have to follow a huge chain of small group content but you’ll also have to take the full raid to both SSC and TK before you can continue your work in BT. Then next week you have another new char to take along…

    The “one person needs the key” approach used later was a bit better from that point of view as you would at least be able to continue raiding if not each and every member of your raid had completed their attunements.

    Then again, “Lf1M keyholder for UBRS” got quite annoying as well. Especially considering that you’d have to run LBRS over and over again to get the key.

    From a pure mechanical point of view, I much prefer the approach of a soft barrier to entry to content instead of a hard lock. Less “must be this tall to ride” and more “if you take this ride at your age you’d better have a damn robust stomach”.

    Maybe keys/attunements are not the best memorabilia to get out of these awesome quest chains. I much prefer something that is not directly connected to group play, such as the T .5 chain of quests. Too bad that the rewards there weren’t well suited for keeping around.

  6. Y’know, it’s funny. I’ll spend 10+ hours on a sidequest in something like Final Fantasy XII, but blatant time sinks and hard gates in MMOs deeply annoy me. It’s tied to the subscription. Getting charged for time significantly changes what I’m willing to spend time on.

  7. @Nils
    I know that there are still long questlines today and hard ones too, but the difference with attunements really was that you were forced to do them if you wanted to raid. tit for tat, a requirement – a concept almost gone from the game today. and it did support playing in groups and guilds, so it added to the social aspect which has again declined overall. these are obviously factors I personally care for a lot, besides the whole ‘symbolic value’. also the fact that attunements brought some order and timeline to consuming content is, from a designing pov, rather big.

    @Stubborn
    Thanks! =) I wouldn’t say the raids got easier either; I just bemoan the whole pre-effort people got robbed of. and again you have the “challenge vs. reward”-effect playing into it, it simply felt like a much greater effort and reward to finally get into BT after beating so many challenges to open that door.

    @Kleps
    That makes two of us…
    and of course, how could I ever forget christmas lol! ;)

    @Shintar
    Thanks for the link, I have missed that post of yours! else I sure would have added my support as it’s always vexed me too.

    You raise a really good point btw; the fact that there are still questlines like this in WoW today, but somehow nobody minds it if they come in a different wrapper (?) many people still happily do 150+ quests just to enter a 5man or get a zone achievement.

  8. @scrusi

    Hehe, well you see, things like waiting around for the keyholder or doing jailbreak for the 50th time, which I absolutely agree with you were at times hellishly annoying, are still things I do not mind at all in MMOs. I actually think they are necessary; they add something to the experience, the world, the community. you can call it waiting around for nothing, but maybe the truth is that during those “downtimes” you and your mates did the silliest things and had the funniest conversations. maybe you met people you otherwise never would have met, because you needed to find class X somehow. and while attuning 20 guild members can be dull, it does a lot in terms of team spirit and makes for as many silly and memorable moments (my article being testimony to that) as dull ones.
    my point is probably, that by taking away the bad, you always take away the good too. that’s what happened here and for me personally, the price was way too high to pay.

    we have all this ‘time optimization’ pressure going on in the world today, not just the virtual one. somebody would constantly have us believe that we must save time….to do what? to me it appears that our modern society is more stressed than ever although we optimize time and communication more than ever. surely that makes no sense. maybe we actually need ‘timesinks’?

    I guess I’m going too OT now with this analogy, hehe…but anyway, I liked stepping stones like those in oldschool MMOs. there are extremes of course, I’m not for timesinks for timesink’s sake – I agree with you too, that in some cases the ‘1 keyholder’ method was better. or you could give attuned guilds a perk today, so the issue with (unattuned) recruits isn’t that bad.

    However, in the more general sense I don’t see why we have to save so much time in our MMOs and what for? so we finish faster and get bored sooner, like so many already are of Cataclysm? isn’t the “way to get there” the whole point of why we are playing?

    @Tesh
    I don’t know, after that logic you might as well ask an MMO to be a silver platter for you to pick and choose from because you’re paying for it? I still consider myself the adventurer in MMOs who gets to explore the world that was set before him. and I want that world to surprise and challenge me, not to bend after my every will or at my convenience. that’s just boring.

    also, I think you can debate what a timesink is and what not (see my above comment to scrusi).

  9. Well, from a pure game design/gameplay standpoint, I’m pretty much on the same page as you. I think I do have a lower tolerance for grind, but that’s a matter of degree, not direction. It’s the “paying for time” to do that playing that pisses me off. Like I said, I’ll happily just plug away at an offline game that I’m not paying constantly for. If the grinding is fun, and I don’t feel like I’m just doing chores, I’m happy.

  10. I tend to share the overall sentiment of the article too. Removing attunements has not been somehow better for the fun-factor in the game. If anything, its been zero sum. Players havent gained anything from it. You are still “encouraged” to run 5-man content over and over and over again for badges and loot. It would be far more exciting if something else was at stake or if I was working toward something special while being in there.

    Attunement/key quests were a more entertaining alternative to pure grind.

  11. I honestly believe, with WOTLK content, the best thing they could have done but didn’t was tie attunements for raids into heroics. To get into ICC you needed to do a special quest chain in the three ICC heroics, to qualify for the Argent Tournemanet you need to do something or other in the heroic, etc. etc.

    I’m inclined to agree with Doone. We didn’t gain anything by removing attunements. Making them easier and not locking them to raid instances would have done the trick.

  12. @Tesh
    Yeah, I get your point. I’m not actually for grinding a lot either, it needs to be fun and have a direction and sense – but I feel that’s what attunements had, probably more than any other questline otherwise. I knew exactly why I did them, they were challenging and they provided me with story. the fact that they were a ‘must’, well yes – a lot of things in games are a must. If we start get annoyed about that, we can’t play someone else’s games anymore.

    @Doone
    *Nods*
    I think Shintar really hit this too; people still do such questlines for other reasons anyway, imo less attractive ones. but somehow that feels okay as long as being ‘locked out’ of an instance is not tied to it…it makes no sense to me personally, since none of the old attunements were too hard for anybody, not nearly as hard as for instance some of the heroics in Cata.

    @Straw
    I’m not sure about that; I don’t see the point of attunements if they aren’t tied to any lockouts – then they’re not attunements. I can’t see how they were too difficult either, they just took some time and that was a good thing imo. but maybe I misunderstood you.

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