There’s a lot of information coming out about patch 7.3.5 at this point. Not everything, of course, and a lot of it is based more on datamining than actual stuff that has been announced. But it seems fair to say that World of Warcraft’s immediate future for the next lengthy expansion gap is on the test servers right now, and some of it is obvious while some pieces are… less so. And, if I might be so bold, it even gives us a pretty clear picture of the next few months right out of the gate.
Right now the live game is, obviously, focused on Antorus. That’s the focus for the actual gameplay, and the slow trickle of wings into the group finder are the big thing to do and look forward to until the whole of the content is available by January. For that matter, I think that part of the goal of the next month or so is to give people all the reason in the world to run and explore Antorus and see the story for themselves if they’re interested in having a personal stake in what happens next.
Antorus is out now, and if you want to see the cinematic that ends the very long-running story about the Burning Legion and Sargeras, well, that’s easy to do. It’s kind of spoiler-filled, though, so I’m not going to be talking about it here in any detail beyond mentioning that Azeroth does not exactly end things without a major impact. And needless to say, people have already started asking “why is it that World of Warcraft’s next expansion is going back to factional squabbles when this just happened?”
It’s a question with lots of good answers. So I want to dive into exactly those. In fact, you can neatly divide the answers up into three categories: The anthropic principle, real-life parallels, and the change of flavors. And it’s not that one or the other is the “real” answer or the “right” one; it’s that all three of them combine perfectly to make factional squabbles a perfectly reasonable next destination after the cosmic invasion of the last expansion.
Back in May, I wrote a whole article about why I was leaving World of Warcraft behind. All of the reasons I had back then? Still valid. Fact is, I’m still proud of that column (to the extent that I’m proud of anything I write; low self-esteem is a hell of a drug). So why am I here talking so much about Battle for Azeroth? How are you supposed to reconcile those conflicting facts? Do I hate this game or not?
The answer to those questions, in reverse order, is this: no; I highly doubt anyone actually wants to reconcile anything about my stated views; and because what we’ve seen so far actually addresses a lot of the problems I wrote about back in May. New information means new evaluation.
Obviously, this is not a blanket statement of “the next expansion will make everything better” because there are far too many question marks left to feel smug or confident about that. But, and this is an important “but,” we’ve got signs that several of the problems from Legion are actually being addressed. And considering that Legion was pretty good already, that brings us to a good spot.
There are lots of things that I’m genuinely excited about when it comes to the next World of Warcraft expansion. Battle for Azeroth has a premise that gives me reasons to be hopeful, systems that seem pretty cool, and at least one thing that I’m pretty sure I want (even if I’m not sure whether or not the final version is exactly how I want it). So we’re starting from a good point here.
We’ve also got some time until the expansion is released, and based on the total lack of any firm information on dates for testing, much less launch, I would be surprised to see this expansion before November 2018. So that leaves us with some pretty big questions to be answered, and the more answers we get sooner, the better. So let’s take a gander at the questions we’ve still got hanging over our head after the expansion reveal.
The last time I saw this many people asking “why?” about a new World of Warcraft expansion was at the announcement of Mists of Pandaria. I agreed then, too; the idea of bringing in the Pandaren to the game seemed to be slipping into territory that just didn’t feel appealing to me. I’m still not entirely sold on the idea, a fact which is not helped at all by the fact that the very next expansion was so creatively bankrupt the team seems to have thrown every good idea at once into Legion.
Really, we don’t know what happened behind the scenes of Warlords of Draenor development, but that seems like a plausible theory.
So, yes, Battle for Azeroth. That is the actual title of the next expansion, one which feels almost as if it was cobbled together by drawing a few random words that usually get used with the game and hoping they assembled a coherent sentence. It seems, at face value, like a really dumb idea, especially since the very basic premise is one that you know is absolutely not going to be resolved by the end of the expansion.
Every so often, when I can think of no better introduction, I put some genuine musing into the opening of What Are You Playing. Usually it’s meant to be absurdist nonsense, but this past weekend is an example of my actually thinking about something, debating how I felt about the whole Allied Races announcement for World of Warcraft. It feels like something I wanted, and yet it feels like it’s not actually how I wanted it, which was an odd sensation.
In some ways, allied races seem like something that we’ve long needed in the game, especially since some of the races in question have just been around for so blessedly long. In other cases, they seem like a patch on another issue… and yet it’s another issue that’s being addressed in the same breath. And at the end of the day, you can explain a lot of it just by thinking about action figures.
The release of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is going to bring with it a lot of core system changes. This is neither surprising nor unwelcome. We’ve also been warned for ages that we won’t be carrying Artifacts forward, and at this year’s BlizzCon we got our first glimpse at the system that will ultimately replace that system in terms of gameplay, the Heart of Azeroth.
I usually find what works pretty well as a quick litmus test for systems like this is to see how fast we all “get” the system in the newsroom. If some of us are confused as to how the system is supposed to work, it’s not being explained all that well. And I can’t tell you that the Heart of Azeroth has been particularly well-explained so far; it’s a straightforward and positive change to the game, but we’ve had better-explained systems. So let’s take a look at how things are meant to work, based on what we know now.
It’s really, really weird to me to think that we’re getting an announcement about a new World of Warcraft expansion next week. Admittedly, we haven’t been told the details yet, but let’s be real here: The only conclusion if we don’t get an expansion announcement is that the game is shutting down. Everything has been set up to pull that trigger, everyone’s expecting it, we all know it. And we’ve even seen rumors, datamining, and hoaxes flying about faster than you can say “someone photoshop up a Murloc in Tier 2 Warrior gear.”
Some of the speculation is, of course, complete hogwash. “The next expansion will bring back talent trees!” “The next expansion is about Jaina as a dreadlord!” “The next expansion will have Blue Mage!” But some of it is, at least, stuff that’s been hinted at. So with a week or so to go, let’s take a look at what we know is on the table as being possible, being plausible, and being reasonable.
The classic break-up line is “it’s not you, it’s me.” It is, of course, usually a lie, and it often gets followed up shortly afterward with a line that makes it clear that it is really you. But it’s still a not-terrible way to ease into a breakup, to convey the idea that you want to move forward without bad blood between you.
So I’m sorry, World of Warcraft, but it’s not me. It’s you. It’s really on you. And a little bit on me, perhaps, but the parts that are on me have more to do with the fact that I’m aware I have better options open to me. It’s like declaring that you won’t go to Dunkin’ Donuts any more when the store in your area is constantly on fire; a bit of that is on you, but you could put out the fire.
Wait, I already did that fire joke, didn’t I? Let’s move on.
This has been a very stupid week. I know this because any other week, World of Warcraft completely destroying the reason for acquiring new gear would stand out as the stupidest thing I’d heard all week. As it was, it was just the stupidest thing I heard on Wednesday. I heard it when I woke up, so it had an early chance to establish that lead, and while I couldn’t be certain it had no real way of losing that lead through the end of the day.
I don’t know if it’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all week, but it’s definitely high in the running.
A lot of parts of Legion have produced some degree of controversy, and by and large, I’ve been on the side of these being good decisions that need to be made for the good of the game. This, on the other hand, is a terrible decision that does nothing positive whatsoever for the game. It hurts every form of content and reward currently in play, and it’s the sort of thing that seems so catastrophically ill-considered that your first thought upon hearing it is, well, that it can’t be real. But it totally is. And the eleventh-hour rolling back of several parts doesn’t exactly change the core problems behind the idea or why players immediately reacted with anger.
Boy, this is a time I am glad to be wrong. I was outright worried that Blizzard was going to hold patch 7.2 for a much longer span of time, but no, it’s hitting World of Warcraft on March 28th. That’s good! It’s still squarely aimed at trying to kneecap something else going on that same day, arguably, but at least it isn’t being held for months. I’m going to count that as a good thing.
In fact, there’s something very good baked into the announcement, something that’s easy to miss. Of course, there’s also something very bad baked in as well, or at least the hint of something bad, a thought I’ve stated before in passing but I haven’t really elaborated on before. So today I want to examine both sides of this. Why this patch date makes me very happy and very worried at the same time. (Mostly the former, if you’re wondering, but the latter is relevant.)
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.