WoW Factor: Draenor’s imminent content drought

Oh boy, not ready.

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.

Sure, we wrapped up all the reasons to still play for the next several months, but we've got stuff coming, we promise!Whether or not Tanaan Jungle is the answer to all of your complaints about this expansion isn’t really the issue, although I’m rather fond of it. It’s not a magical solution to the many problems this particular cycle has had, but it’s fun stuff to play through on a whole. But it’s also the only new thing that I’ve really had to do in the game in a meaningful sense since the expansion launched. Hellfire Citadel would be super satisfying if I were interested in raiding as a full-time hobby, but I’m not, so it isn’t.

The stated goal of Blizzard, of course, has been that the huge content gap between the last patch of Mists of Pandaria and the launch of Warlords of Draenor should not happen again. That means, at most, we have 13 months now before the next expansion, placing its launch in July of 2016. And we haven’t heard anything about it yet, placing the actual announcement around the time of BlizzCon – not unexpected, but still a bit worrisome, since it’s likely if not certain that the announcement will precede the actual release by a reasonable margin.

What’s even more… baffling, for lack of a better term, is the fact that this expansion is so small. Previous releases have covered a wider space, found more things to do between launch and the ultimate conclusion. Not only does this release end without having done much beyond faffing around on the same single plotline, but we never even face the central villain of the expansion. Grom Hellscream gets completely sidelined for a different villain altogether, and so the entire exercise winds up as an anticlimax, with our expected enemies turning out to just be red herrings.

It really feels as if the designers themselves aren’t sure where they’re going at this point.

All of that could be forgiven if the longstanding Blizzard mantra of gameplay over story had held up, but instead, this expansion hasn’t even offered much of that unless you’ve been taking part in the raids. Mythic difficulty and Timewalking dungeons are nice on one level, but a more cynical part of me with less inclination toward charity notes that they are, fundamentally, a way to repackage existing content instead of developing any new content. All of the money and energy and narrative goes into designing bigger and better raids, and the game feels much smaller as a result. We’re locked away in our Garrisons, and while the stated problem with Garrisons from the official sources is that they were “too rewarding,” I think a more fundamental problem is that they weren’t enjoyable to play through.

There’s even an element of weaseling out with the game’s stated potential interim patch. We know that there will be no more raids and no new zones, and the expansion is essentially finished with this patch. While there’s more that can be done to bridge the gap between here and the next expansion, the question becomes how meaty any of it could be with those restrictions. Actual new dungeons or new battlegrounds or the like seem roughly as probable as a free-to-play model switch mid-expansion.

What we needed for a last patch was a crescendo. After only two patches, one of them remarkably lackluster, there was no time to build anything but a mild sound. I’ll be the first to admit that I wanted to see where the developers were going with the expansion before writing it off altogether, but with our current placement, there’s not much good to say about where it started or where it finished.

While the idea of near-yearly expansions would be a pleasant one (although the price is another matter), I honestly don’t believe it’ll happen. There’s a lot of talk from the development team at this point that doesn’t seem to match what’s actually being done. While the company has produced expansions on a faster turnaround, that’s not how things have been trending, and to really keep up the pace with the game we’d need to see a major release before that 13-month gap was up. Ideally, we’d be getting a new expansion… well, around the time BlizzCon takes place, since that’ll be nearly half a year between major updates.

Oh, well, boats. That makes everything all right, then.

I don’t see that happening, and I don’t see any other stopgap solutions really working in the long run. Blizzard learned its lessons about things like the Ruby Sanctum, but the studio doesn’t seem to have learned any associated lessons about release schedules and pacing.

Yes, I understand why the focus right now is on talking about the current patch and expansion rather than talking about what will be coming out or what the team might do for interim releases. But that’s also neglecting the fact that player confidence, by and large, is at a low point. Between subscription losses, the flying debate, existing expansion complaints, and a slightly buggy launch for the patch, players really need to be shown signs that things are going to be on the up swing from here on out.

This may be the time to just settle in for the long haul without content because I honestly don’t see that changing – and with very few exceptions, I don’t think this patch really does much to address what it is people have found lackluster about the expansion to this point. It’s a better patch than 6.1, certainly, and I’d even call it a good patch. But it’s a good patch in the middle of a bad cycle, and the idea that this is the note the expansion ends on means that at best, we’re looking at a long gap on a sort of sour note.

At worst, well… let’s not even contemplate that. I like saying good things about games, and those already lie thin upon the ground of Azeroth.

Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to, as often is the case. Always, in fact. Next time around, yes, I really do want to talk about horizontal progression rather than just tagging on another batch of levels. For that matter, would it even be worthwhile to add at this point?

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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