Last week was a pretty fun ride, I have to say. Leaving aside everything else we had to chew on after a weekend’s worth of BlizzCon, the World of Warcraft team really went to town with the class previews. I didn’t discuss them last week mostly because we had other things to talk about, but I did greatly enjoy reading them, and after a week or so to mull over all of the changes I think we’ve got enough space to consider all of the changes being made.
Overall, I’m thoroughly happy about what’s being done with all of the classes. There are a couple of losses and a few classes not receiving perhaps as much attention as they deserve, but on a whole the class changes are positive and improve the game for the better. There’s also a lot we don’t know, unfortunately, and the changes aren’t actually the same as opening the beta that we kind of need to already have running at this point, but the first impressions are positive.
Well, folks, we’re officially living in a post-BlizzCon world. Until the next one. The point is, we’re done with that convention, and all that’s left is considering what is coming next for World of Warcraft and how close we got to all of the various elements that I said we really needed to come out of the convention. So how did Blizzard do?
Pretty well, actually. If you missed the four liveblogs I did and didn’t see my reactions in real-time, I suppose that’s news. (The Grand Magistrix has power over time.)
As with any convention, there was good and bad. Now that we’ve all had a few days to digest the information that’s come out of the weekend festivities, it’s a good time to examine the systems that were announced, the order of the presentation, and how well the job of managing expectations while building hype has been achieved. It’s not perfect, and it’s too early to call it even a return to form, but this far nothing has knocked my cautious optimism off the rails, so that’s something.
It’s go time tomorrow: BlizzCon is almost here, and I’m going to be liveblogging my way through most of the event. And boy, it’s coming at an interesting time, what with the game officially declaring that it will no longer announce subscription numbers in the same year that the game has lost about 45% of its subscriber base.
I could write a whole column on that, sure, but it would mostly be 1200 words about the simple fact that the Powers That Be realizing how bad the news looks even when the financial falloff isn’t as bad as it may appear. But to be quite honest, what’s far more interesting to me is what needs to happen over the next couple of days, and I’m penning this now so we can all argue about whether or not BlizzCon delivered after it’s all over. So what do we need to see about Legion to serve as a much-needed boost to World of Warcraft player morale?
The funny thing about World of Warcraft – and I should note here that I’m using “funny” in this case as a synonym for “odd” rather than “hilarious” – is that the game has been around long enough to make a lot of design mistakes, fix those mistakes, and then make those same design mistakes again. I find the overall thrust of patch 6.2.3 kind of baffling, since it’s bringing back a currency that should not have been removed in the first place for a purpose that almost no one liked, and hoping that this will get people to stick with the game for the lengthy gap until Legion arrives.
Ultimately, though, it’s a symptom of some issues that the game has had for a while, a longstanding set of bad habits that have an awkward tendency to stick around long after it should be obvious that these are bad ideas. So just to change things up with the game’s next expansion, perhaps it’s time to look at some bad habits the game has long been guilty of and actually address them rather than just assuming they don’t really matter.
For about four years, Cataclysm handily defended its title of Worst World of Warcraft Expansion, coming in behind all of the actual expansions as well as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Warhammer Online, and Superman 64. It was bad, that’s my point here. And the stuff that we have to go through along the leveling path for it is still bad, which unfortunately means levels 1-60 followed by 80-85 (with the granted exception of the Worgen starting area).
So it’s understandable to look at one of its major features with a certain amount of terror. “What, you want to revise the world? We already had an expansion do that, and it was awful!” And you would be right in saying that, yes, but there are lots of reasons the game needs some revisions to existing content… and more importantly, why the noxious crap of Cataclysm need not afflict any future updates to older content.
We’re going to find out a lot about World of Warcraft: Legion in November. Not just because I expect that’ll be around the time we get our beta announcement and date, which may even be as soon as BlizzCon ends; we’ll just be told a lot while we’re there. We’re going to just be learning a lot of design goals and ideas from the panels and what-not whilst we’re there. And that, I think, is a good thing. It’s so something we already need, but you know, I already wrote that column.
So I have a little more than a month before I find out all of the things I want that I’m not getting. And while I’ve spent the past several weeks listing some of the things that I’m looking forward to seeing from the game’s next expansion as examinations of larger topics, let’s talk a little bit about the stuff that I’d really like to see from the expansion that I’m also not expecting to actually see happen.
I’m going to be very surprised if we see World of Warcraft: Legion before June 2016. The odds are good that a beta announcement is coming in November, and roughly seven months of beta seems fairly normal. I certainly wouldn’t push the beta any lower than four months, which would give us a launch in March at the absolute earliest. This means that even in our most unrealistic scenario, we’re looking at a content gap of nine months.
More likely, a year. At least.
Yes, I’m aware that we’ve been told there’s more work already done on Legion, but we’ve heard that during every single World of Warcraft expansion announcement, and it has yet to mean much. So after an expansion that didn’t exactly fill anyone’s heart with joy, we’re facing down an almost identical gap in terms of content, only this time it’s coming after an expansion that lasted for only a patch and a half.
So here’s what Blizzard needs to do between now and then.
So what’s the deal with World of Warcraft’s Demon Hunter? We just don’t know yet. But the space to speculate is pretty awesome.
I mentioned in my last column that in some ways, Legion feels like an expansion that should have been launched back in the post-Wrath of the Lich King space. Certainly the design elements seem a little odd, bringing in a lot of bits and pieces that had all but vanished from the game since that much-loved expansion was done with. There’s speculation to be done there, but the more immediate speculation is about the game’s second Hero Class and what it means for the game as a whole.
We don’t know yet how the class will play in any detail; we know a handful of abilities, we have some idea of the class resource (but not its real mechanics), and we know that in all likelihood they’re going to just be carting around a specialized weapon for the whole expansion because of the Artifact system. But we can still make some guesses based on that.
All right, let me just say for the record that when it comes to this expansion, my speculation last week was meant as just that. But it turns out that I was right on the money, that this was all ramping up as a reminder that the Legion exists, and now we’re going to be storming the beaches quite literally with our new Demon Hunter pals to kick some demons up and down the block like an old, familiar can.
Or whatever you kick up and down the block. I don’t know what your deal is. You do your thing, my friends; I do not judge you in the least.
I said last time that I was rather doubtful of what we’d see with this expansion announcement, and now we’ve seen what World of Warcraft has to offer. So now we get to analyze, speculate, and think about what this means for the next several months. Let’s get on that, shall we?
On August 6th, we now know, we’ll be hearing the name and some details on the next World of Warcraft expansion. What we don’t know is what that expansion will actually contain. The space after this expansion is a blanker space than usual, with lots of possible directions and an absolute dearth of information indicating what direction the story will go in from here.
More to the point, the next expansion is going to be judged pretty harshly simply by virtue of coming immediately after an expansion best described as “maybe worse than Cataclysm.” It’s an uphill battle all around. Now that we know for certain that we will be hearing about the next expansion in a little over a week, let’s look a little bit at what we might be exploring in the next expansion in both story and mechanical terms.
We know that Hellfire Citadel is going to be the last raid in World of Warcraft‘s current expansion. We know that the expansion wasn’t going to even have flying, but it was added in due to popular insistence. We know that there aren’t going to be any new areas such as Farahlon added into the game for this expansion cycle.
You could be forgiven for looking out at the landscape of patch 6.2 and asking “is this really it?” And you would really be right to ask whether or not this is something with any sustainability.
While the official word from the top is that the designers are keeping a close eye on content consumption and what that will mean for future content releases, but the fact is that the current patch is clearly meant as a final patch for the cycle. And here we are with no news about the next expansion or even what comes next.
Did anyone else get flashbacks to the Xbox One launch with World of Warcraft‘s flying announcement? I pictured a lot of arm-folding and sulking as it was being delivered. “All right, I guess we’ll do what you guys say you want, but we were still totally right to say you didn’t want it.” Maybe it’s just me. The point is that players have finally sort of been listened to about an issue that’s been getting serious blowback since the expansion launch.
Pretty much everyone expects that this year’s BlizzCon will feature another expansion announcement for the game, of course, which makes the development team’s attitude particularly relevant. I can tell a convincing story in which this year’s expansion is an actual return to form; I can also tell a story in which it’s a pretty major misstep again. So let’s look at what could come next for the game, from the really good to the really, really bad.
It’s been a little while, hasn’t it, friends? In the time since I last penned WoW Factor (which missed an installment purely due to transit strangeness – the only time I’ve ever missed a column, I do apologize), some stuff has happened. Like what? Oh, nothing major, just World of Warcraft completely losing its sub jump from the beginning of the expansion. Three million players, gone. And while you can feel free to giggle under your breath at those who take this as a sign that the game is dying (7 million subscribers is not exactly a low number), it also does put the game at subscriber numbers below what it had back before The Burning Crusade.
The game isn’t dying. But a 30% loss of subscribers tells a story where it is more than a little sick. Amidst speculation that 6.2 is the game’s last major content patch, there’s reason to believe that something should be done, that things need to change, that the center cannot hold.
Community manager Bashiok pointed out on the forums, quite rightly, that there’s rarely a single silver bullet issue that causes these things. In this case, I think there’s a whole magazine of bullets.