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.
Story – Where do we go? Almost anywhere.
The weird and sad part about Warlords of Draenor is that more so than any previous expansion, it takes place in a box. We could literally go home and have none of what happened on Draenor ever matter again because the whole thing was undertaken in the most asinine way possible.
The games have always had a somewhat lackadaisical approach to maintaining continuity, but Draenor in particular smacks in every way of trying to have time-travel cake without actually thinking about the ramifications. So we’re back in time, but we’re not actually back in time, but things can be different if the developers want to tell a different story or (more likely) just don’t feel like adhering to the existing story, and ultimately none of it matters because as soon as we leave, it’s all nullified. We may as well not have even gone, and if not for the Iron Horde on our doorstep, we wouldn’t have.
The bright side, of course, is that the next expansion can go anywhere. The question is where the developers want it to go, and I’m going to guess the answer to that is “away from the past.”
While we’ve got a long history of killing villains in every WoW expansion, the fact remains that we’ve also picked up several new ones along the way. Azeroth seems to be in a pretty solid place vis-a-vis this expansion, but the fact is that we’ve more or less been completely uninvolved with what’s going on back home the entire time. There are any number of threats that might be coming back around, and quite frankly, I’m hoping that the next expansion features some tie to all of the stuff that’s gone down in this expansion.
Honestly, I’d love to see something that continues to involve the Draenei and almost completely ignores Orcs for the expansion, and there’s an obvious route to go with that – the Burning Legion. We’ve had an expansion focused on them, but it was almost entirely based upon things that were happening in Outland and significantly removed from everywhere else. Let’s see demons coming back around. Let’s see Draenei that have been sleeper agents for the Legion the whole time. Let’s see Velen die and bring Yrel over to lead her people in this reality.
As long as I’m dreaming, let’s also trim up the maps for Azuremyst Isle and Quel’thalas because boy does that stuff ever need an update it’s never going to get.
We’ve had three expansions now warning us that the Legion is coming, we’ve seen tons of stories about it, and we know the threat is out there. It’s fresh in everyone’s mind. So let’s actually go and fight this threat already.
Mechanics and the damage done
When Blizzard adamantly restates its longstanding policy that gameplay trumps story, in the past few years I’ve been left just staring and cocking an eyebrow. If you like anything other than raiding, you’ve gotten neither in recent years; everything has been tilted toward making raiding easier to get into and experience, not actually providing new forms of gameplay beyond the bone thrown in the shape of Mythic dungeons and Timewalking. Put simply, the designers have made a lot of mechanical decisions over the past several years that would be best reversed, and yet simply reversing them is a great way to cause plenty of hurt feelings.
I mean, you could argue that the removal of Justice and Valor was a terrible idea, and you’d be right, but when the currencies were removed and gold was given to everyone by way of compensation? That would be the ship sailing on just saying, “They’re back now; be happy!”
Unfortunately, this is an area in which I don’t have a whole lot of hope, especially because the last developer word on the major problems with the Garrisons started and stopped with Garrisons being “too rewarding.” Not that the Garrisons offered no personal options in a meaningful sense, isolated players, turned the gameplay into a series of chores, or otherwise weakened the game as a whole – no, it was that they offered too many rewards, which in and of itself means that there is apparently some parallel universe in which Garrisons are simply brimming with constant epics for everyone that I am unaware of. Or it means that we’re getting another expansion with Blizzard bumping the decimal point for people allowed to advance their characters past the level cap another space to the left.
In terms of advancement, I honestly don’t see anything less than another level cap bump, and if it’s going to be another five-level increment, I’ll honestly be surprised. There will, of course, be another complete rewriting of classes and abilities from level 1 onward because the various leveling perks weren’t exactly a huge success and pretty much everyone in the world likes having new abilities rather than minor variants on old standbys.
On the off chance that I’m right and we are smacking face-first into the Burning Legion, if we’re ever going to get a Demon Hunter in the game, this is pretty much the last chance the game has to do that. Whether or not it will is another story, and whether or not it should is a valid question. We are not in urgent need of another class and spec to balance, especially not when the game is already struggling to manage several of its existing specs. But if there was ever a time, it’s now.
I doubt we’ll see that, though. I’m doubtful we’ll see new classes or races. Quite honestly, as much as I’d like to be excited, I’m watching this expansion with a sense of dread. The game has been at the heart of so many ill-conceived decisions over the past few years that there’s an aura of foreboding around it, as if you’re almost begging the game to let you still enjoy playing. That’s not a comfortable place to be.
Making the expansion announcement now is the right decision, though. So I suppose we’ll just see what happens.
Feedback is welcome in the comments below or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time around… oh, come on, what do you think I’m going to be discussing? Floral arrangement? Really, it’s pretty obvious.