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.
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.