WoW Factor: Content gaps, polish, and the Legion release date

    
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WoW Factor: Content gaps, polish, and the Legion release date

The past few weeks have been pretty well packed, both in a personal and in a professional sense, so it’s easy to sort of overlook the fact that Legion finally has an official launch date. Which also means that we’re looking at around a 14-month content gap for World of Warcraft this time around, and a content gap which is going to continue for at least the next few months. So much for faster releases, then, although we’ve all more or less burned that bridge of our expectations, I imagine.

I’ve been doing my best to stay relatively pure during the lengthy test cycle; I’ve been playing enough to get a sense of the game, but I don’t like playing until my eyes bleed on a beta when I’m going to need to do the whole thing over again when the expansion actually launches. So let’s take a look at the state of the beta, the launch date, and what we can expect for the game as we move forward from here.

Unfinished but polished

More Sylvanas is a good thing, though.In some ways, I think Blizzard has become a victim of its own track record. The studio that had a lengthy reputation of taking time to deliver something very polished has a certain expectation of polish, that every new addition has to be even more polished than the previous addition to the game. The result is a beta that at once feels very unfinished in certain places while feeling polished to a mirror shine in others, and it creates an odd disconnection.

What is finished and completely working in the current test is very refined, but it comes with lots of odd gaps buttressing it on any given side. The result is a test that feels very good but also feels like being shuttled between a set of Potemkin villages, and it’s hard not to speculate about what’s going to fill in those gaps when the time comes around.

A lot of the action bars feel oddly unfinished, to boot. Some of this is the nature of how much I’ve done in the tests and how the expansion is structured; more than ever, it’s clear that Blizzard is designing this expansion as a stand-alone entity, with everything before the expansion serving more as a trial run. Another part of it is my own gaming habits; when you’re accustomed to games that strain to fit everything on 24 hotbar slots, a simpler rotation is going to feel a bit more empty. But there is also a certain element of having a very simple core flow with cooldowns, rather than having a few different things you’re juggling at once.

That having been said, the new class shifts feel really solid. Some of them look pretty scary on paper, but the experience of playing them is very satisfying, and I don’t feel that I’ve lost much in any of the cases. Ranged Survival and Marksmanship have fundamentally been rolled into Marksmanship as a whole, and you can get much of the same satisfaction; Demonology is the only tree that feels as if it has lost something, and the improvements to demons make me fall on the positive side rather than the negative.

Most of the changes made over the course of the beta have been positive, to boot. A few things have been lost, but most of those elements were either too powerful or led to degenerate gameplay. Making it a bit harder to get to class halls feels like it’s a net benefit in the end, making the whole experience more grounded rather than less. You can’t just dart back and forth from anywhere, which was one of the issues that Garrisons had.

There are also signs about the developers planning ahead a little bit more, like being ready for flying and having a framework in place well in advance. This is good, although there seem to be some weird gaps in planning or expectations that players will love things that history hasn’t shown them loving. Ah, well.

I think the game is going to be ready for August, although I think it could have used less emphasis on polish and more emphasis on trying things. There are design issues that I feel are still a gigantic pile of missed chances, some of which might have been fixed if the developers were less worried about polish. But all of that’s pure speculation, and more time does not automatically mean a better game; we should all know that by now. So put that down for what it’s worth.

Sooner we get in, the better off we are.

Gaps and the future

Saying that World of Warcraft has a problem with content gaps is only a contentious statement if you’re absolutely fixated on defending Blizzard from criticism. We’re coming in on a 14-month gap, although it remains to be seen when we’re going to have our Demon Hunter early access rolled out with the expansion pre-patch. My bet would be in June to capitalize on movie hype, but July is a realistic possibility as well.

This is most definitely not the longest gap in the game’s history, but in some ways that doesn’t matter. Players are increasingly unwilling to forgive the game for lengthy content gaps, and we’re reaching the point where every expected content gap just turns people further away from the game. You can argue that the developers have just learned to accept churn as a reality, but some of that churn is only a reality because the game keeps not catering to a large portion of players and then goes ages between updates.

Plus, saying that churn is just a reality ignores the fact that “leave and comes back for the expansion” only takes a little extra motivation to just be “leave for good.” Keeping affection and attention is much easier than fighting to earn it back every year.

The Legion launch is a chance to turn a lot of things around, starting with perception. What little hints we’ve had of the pre-patch and the pre-launch event are heartening, giving players plenty of reasons to jump in and take part in the game’s ongoing events. I’m also hopeful that the developers have a more realistic development cycle in mind for the future. Mists of Pandaria had a good cadence for patches; if we could get back to that point and start rolling things out steadily, that would be better than big patches to start with followed by silence.

To that end, I’m kind of hoping that we start hearing about the next expansion sooner rather than later. BlizzCon is probably a bit on the early side, but it would be good to know that the expansion is under development then rather than later. I don’t expect it’s going to happen, but it would go a long way toward giving a sense that the future is not going to just be a repeat of the past year of complete abandonment.

Although if they want to go ahead and patch in the new transmog system now, I’d be all right with that. Man, I love that part.

Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next time around, I want to speculate about what the game could look like without the current expansion model, and if that might be better for the game in the long run.

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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carson63000
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carson63000

CloakingDonkey What about someone who pays half a million gold in subs during the content gap (whilst making a million gold from minimal efforts in their garrison)?

I do wonder who is paying $20 for 40,000 gold, though. What are they spending it on?

carson63000
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carson63000

Hounddog74 Sorenthaz I thought that the AH did not support prices of one million plus? Leading to the game of brinkmanship on the BMAH where people try to get the last bid that takes the price so close to a million that they can’t be outbid?

carson63000
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carson63000

Maybe, instead of trying to get expansions out faster (which seems to be a lost cause), they need to release the earlier patches of each expansion cycle slower. That might avoid to “two months, patch, two months, patch, two months, patch .. massive drought” cycle, no?

Sorenthaz
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Sorenthaz

cromahr Sorenthaz The problem is it was likely the same issue with the WoD content gap: any further time they spent on WoD patches would directly cut into how much they could put into Legion, to where the content gap would be largely the same regardless.

Hounddog74
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Hounddog74

Sorenthaz

Of course it happens because of inflation, but the amount of inflation that this single mechanic has added to the game is worse than the combined history of the game put together. The fact that there are AH items priced at millions of gold just furthers the point that Blizzard completely borked the economy with Garrisions.

AvroArrow
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AvroArrow

Hounddog74 I thought people didn’t want things handed to them, that they should have to “work” for it? Expensive, hard to attain mounts seem like a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, garrisons weren’t my cup of tea but having some gold sinks in the game is only a good thing at this point. It’s a fluff item that, if you played the game, should have a reasonable opportunity to buy if you want. As long as the items are the usual mount/pet/vanity items that are outrageously priced then it’s not really screwing over anyone. If you didn’t play and/or didn’t take advantage of the gold of garrisons, tough luck.

Midgetsnowman
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Midgetsnowman

mourasaint DugFromTheEarth jeremy2020 well, thats fair I guess. I cant stand the super-srs pvp sandboxes art styles.

KaiserPhoenix
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KaiserPhoenix

Dope_Danny how about you stop spoilering you idiot?

DPandaren
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DPandaren

Tamanous They did add a nice questing area to the Horde side for Vanilla. Like, during late TBC or Wrath. :P

cromahr
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cromahr

Sorenthaz Good point, yet: “they cared more about getting Legion out vs increasing WoD’s longevity”
Well, yeah, Legion will be out a bit early, compared to the usual release schedule of DLCs (even though MoP was out in September, which was rather early as well).
However, even though they that way “got Legion out”, they should have put out more content in WoD. Not for increasing its longevity, but to give people at least something new to do until Legion comes out. I don’t think the wait for Legion would be as…bitter if the last content patch hadn’t been almost a year ago now.
People seem to be much less willing to forgive the long wait, or might not come back even if Legion turns out to be decent, and it’s no wonder considering we just went through a long content-less period at the end of MoP