So at the risk of being dinged for spoiling the current World of Warcraft expansion, let me say this: Azeroth is not going to be destroyed or completely overtaken by the Burning Legion. That's a given. The threat certainly feels real, and I hope more than anything that when our victory comes it feels like a natural outgrowth of the story rather than an arbitrary "well, the story says you win right now so the Burning Legion just got dumb," but it's pretty much a given that we're going to win out in the end. The basic premise of the game doesn't work otherwise.
The question, of course, is where we go next.
A lot of people have been speculating whether Legion is meant to be the final expansion for the game for precisely that reason, and while I think that's obviously wrong on the face of it (it'd be silly to turn down that money, after all), the point stands that from a narrative perspective, this is it. This is the big confrontation that has been built up since Warcraft III, and if you have no doubt that there will be a next expansion, it still raises the question of "where does it go?"
Let's explore the possibilities.
Patch 7.2 is the first real content patch that we've gotten for World of Warcraft post-Legion. Obviously, 7.1 wasn't devoid of content, but it was far more a patch about nudging in the things that just barely missed launch... and frankly, Karazhan (which was the centerpiece of the patch) didn't really have a whole lot of staying power. It felt thin.
Mind you, 7.1 is still more of a content patch than 6.1 was, so I'm arguing more that it wasn't substantial enough to really sell itself rather than dredging up some truly awful comparisons. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
Regardless, 7.2 is a meaty update with a whole lot of stuff going on all at once, including a whole bunch of storyline content bringing us into the actual war against the Legion proper. I haven't been testing a great deal of it myself because I tend to prefer putting most of my effort into stuff that's not getting wiped so that I'll have to do it all again, but let's take a look at what we already know is out there.
The state of World of Warcraft's professions in Legion is a weird one because it's obvious how much work has gone into crafting for the expansion. So much of it is nice and effective work; it's clear Blizzard put a lot of effort into professions to make them engaging. I'd even go so far as to say that most of the professions are in a better state than ever, simply because you can jump right in rather than having to do a bunch of tedious catch-up; you can easily log in and start doing what you want, progressing organically.
Unless, of course, you want to make something that's actually relevant at level 110. Then you're straight-up screwed.
That's the central problem I see when talking about all of the work done on professions for this expansion. It's very clear that tons of work went in to making a lot of content for all of the various professions, and the development team wants you to really push the envelope and play with all of them. It just failed to give much in the way of reasons to do so.
So World of Warcraft patch 7.1.5 is out now... but I'm going to be honest, that doesn't feel like much of anything. It's there, it's all playable, but it feels kind of... perfunctory? There's not a whole lot of additional meat in this patch, it's just refinements and prepwork for the Nighthold and continuing to do the stuff you already do. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn't exactly fill up my senses.
It's a John Denver reference. Look it up.
Instead, I want to talk about Demon Hunters. And Death Knights, and Monks, and where we're going from here. At this point, we've brought the game's initial lineup of nine classes to a not-much-higher 12... or, if you'd rather look at endgame viability, we've brought the nine viable endgame specs up to a sense-shattering 36. This raises the question of whether or not we actually need or even want more classes at this point, given the huge number of options we already have.
This year has been a pile of garbage and I'll be glad it's over. It's not that I'm convinced 2017 will be any better than 2016, mind you; it's just that I'll be glad that 2016 is gone, since it contains a whole lot of strife and misery and evil. And I could just predict 2017 for World of Warcraft, but the reality is that what I see as the most likely possibilities for the game involve the developers not learning obvious lessons and sailing gleefully into another big content gap, which doesn't exactly make 2017 feel more welcoming.
That doesn't mean that's inevitable, though, so instead of just a set of predictions, I'd rather go for a more straightforward wish list. Forget what I expect to see; what do I want to see? I mean, aside from the Draenei rising to a place of prominence rather than being perpetual victims, since if there was any expansion to do it this would be the one, but I think that whole Light's Heart thing already shot the chances of that to hell.
Talking about World of Warcraft in 2016 is really different because the game had two different years this year. And unfortunately for anyone trying to develop a comprehensive picture of the past year (yo), we're on the positive side of the year.
I mean, remember when Legion launched at the end of August and everyone was pumped? I sure do. I remember the prepatch and the events leading up to that launch, too, and everyone was excited. You could run around and get weapon skins and transmog outfits, that was nifty. And you could level your alts up nice and quickly; I took major advantage of that. There are issues right now, sure, but the general feeling is that Legion delivered what it promised with aplomb.
But I can't just talk about the past three and a half months because before that came eight months with nothing. No expansion, no patches, no new content, nada. I freely admit that I'm spoiled by the content cadence of other games, but it makes this past year - and its much busier last third - a very complex thing to discuss in the context of WoW.
It's been a little while, friends, but that happens. Last time I was making bets about what we'd see for World of Warcraft at BlizzCon, and as it happens I came up within a pretty solid margin of error. Since then, it's been a pretty straightforward few weeks of plugging away at the test server whilst punching at various enemies on the live servers, running through world quests, looking for Legendaries that never appear except by pure, blighted luck.
Of course, seeing as how luck has been the watchword of every part of this expansion to date, it's not exactly a surprise.
I could rant about that, obviously, but at this point it seems a little counterproductive and not particularly new; the fact that this expansion is a soup of random rewards with random stats at random intervals is a problem, but not one I haven't already discussed, and not one I want to dwell on right now. Instead, I want to focus on the patch after 7.1.5, because we've heard enough about 7.2 that I'm already looking forward to it, even though it's a way away. It's something every WoW expansion has tried to have, but this time it might actually get pulled off.
My original plan this week was to talk a little bit about patch 7.1, but two things have made that less than possible. The first is that a rather nasty depression jag has kept me from having the gumption to do everything required to hit the inadvisably limited revamp of Karazhan, and the rest of the patch just feels like, well, the parts of the expansion that were pretty much finished but not quite ready for launch. The other is the fact that this is the BlizzCon weekend, and that means I really ought to be talking about that first and foremost.
Last year, obviously, BlizzCon managed to hit some weird notes for World of Warcraft, made worse by some baffling decisions surrounding Legion's test schedule and information release. This year, of course, the expansion is already out, so we're not waiting in an awful drought of information. So it seems like now is an excellent time to predict what, exactly, we'll see out of BlizzCon for WoW fans. There might be some stuff for fans of other franchises too, but that's not what I'm here for at the moment. So what are the odds we'll hear about this stuff?
Patch 7.1 is just around the corner for World of Warcraft, and it makes me just a little bit anxious. Why? Because the expansion has been out for a pretty short span of time, that's why, and I remember the last expansion where we got a plethora of big patches early and then had a long stretch of nothing. That was Mists of Pandaria, and while that was, strictly speaking, better than what happened with Warlords of Draenor, it's still not good...
But that's not what I want to focus on today. No, today I want to talk about the lore going on just beneath the surface of Legion because it may be our best chance to do exactly that before things kick into high gear. After all, while we're happily preparing to dive headlong into Karazhan, there are much bigger implications about the nature of what we're really dealing with... and the not-so-subtle implication that Sargeras isn't the enemy we once thought he was.
Legion is humming along nicely as we near the two-month mark. It's still got that decent balance of having enough to do that you're unlikely to get bored without so much to do that it's easy to become overwhelmed. Some people have even gotten a Legendary item or two, although based on my own experience, I can confidently say that there's not exactly a rush to pick up that "equip two Legendaries" upgrade at the bottom of the upgrade path for your order hall.
Boy, that randomness thing is working out really well, let me tell you.
Mild snark aside, there are things I'd like to see in the future, and while the current state of World of Warcraft is better than it's been in quite some time, there's room to improve. So as we continue along in the salad days of this expansion, here's the stuff I'd really like to see in the future, however likely or unlikely it might be moving forward.
I've still been having a blast in Legion over the past few weeks. Nithogg might have been unkind to me by offering me no loot on two separate characters, but that's not going to derail my overall enjoyment of the game as I do world quests, group up for difficult targets, queue through heroics, head off through older raids, and so forth.
Unfortunately, World of Warcraft's dungeon situation is still kind of a hot mess. And with Mythic-only Karazhan on the way whenever 7.1 actually hits, I can't help but think it's going to get messier before it gets better.
This speaks to problems that have sort of rolled through WoW ever since the end of Wrath of the Lich King, so it's something that requires a fair bit of unpacking. It also runs through some pretty long-standing misconceptions that persist in portions of the community, too, but those are also well worth unpacking. The short version, though, is the same as it's ever been: The dungeon queue does not exist merely for bad players; it exists for a huge portion of the playerbase, and excluding it also excludes that same portion.
I've now made my way through all of the zones in World of Warcraft: Legion twice. There's something to be written about that, which I think is at once a success and a failing of design. Zones never become irrelevant or boring, but alts never get to bypass zones or do things differently, just in a different order. And it's always ending with Suramar. But as relevant as all of that may be, it's not what I want to talk about this week.
Whenever I'm in a new expansion, part of what I think about are the individual zones. Especially for this expansion, the individual zones matter a lot. You're going back to them regularly, exploring, taking on new world quests, exploring more lore, and so forth. We've got only five new zones in this expansion, but they're large and they're important. So let's step back and look at the zones of the Broken Isles, moving around in a logical and vaguely clockwork fashion. It makes sense to me, anyhow.
All right, so it's actually closer to a week and a half. I'm torn between an eye-rolling "it's only been a week and a half" and a sort of disbelieving "it's only been a week and a half?" on this expansion; I'd say I can't recall the last time I was this invested in an expansion for this game, but I can, and it was a long time ago. It certainly hasn't happened recently; that's the important takeaway.
So World of Warcraft: Legion is here. It's out right now, and if you read this column you've probably either been knee-deep in it or you're wondering if this is the time to finally break your Cal Ripken-like streak of not caring about WoW. (Yes, it is.) I've hit the level cap, I'm well on my way with my second character, I've been doing world quests, I don't have a fox yet. So let's talk about the expansion a bit now that it's live and shaking down.