It’s not long now until World of Warcraft: Legion launches, which is all that I’ve been waiting for now for a while. Sure, technically I could have experienced everything in the game so far in the beta, but there are things I like far more about the launch. And it’s not just because I know full well that everything I do in the beta is just going to be wiped away when the live servers catch up to the expansion.
I’ve talked before about how much I like expansions and why they’re a good thing for games in general, but as I look forward to the end of the month my thoughts are on the next expansion that I’ve got on deck. Heck, there’s another Final Fantasy XIV expansion that we’ll be hearing about in October; that has me excited as well. So today I want to talk about what excites me about launches, both for expansions and new games alike, because at the end of the day, they’re pretty similar.
1. New character options
Expansions bring in new races, classes, specializations for classes, and so forth. New games usually include at least one or two classes that I’ve never seen before. Even games that give me character options that I’ve seen before usually let me do so in unfamiliar worlds at the very least, and there’s concurrent lore and flavor to go along with that.
I’m excited to play with a new class in Legion just like I’m excited to play around with all of the new spec options (and I have been playing with those). When Final Fantasy XI let us sail to the Near East, I spent a day unlocking all of the new jobs, even though at least one of them was a job I never really intended to play much. New options are neat.
2. Exploring new regions
I still have fond thoughts about Star Wars: The Old Republic‘s first expansion, even though it didn’t really give me any new character options, because it introduced a new space. Sometimes, that in and of itself makes a big impact. Sure, all of the pieces fit together in familiar ways, but just seeing a new region and new landscape can make a huge impact on how the game feels.
This one tends to not last quite as long just because navigating new maps the same way that you navigated old maps doesn’t have the same long-term impact. But hey, there’s nothing saying you can’t start flying or swimming or otherwise exploring new dimensions of map layouts.
3. Being stupid
I tend to know a lot about games. It’s not just because it’s my job, either; I like knowing stuff. I do research. But when a new MMO comes out, or a new expansion launches? I don’t know things. I’m dumb. I’m guessing and trying to figure things out.
And boy, that’s fun.
Sure, everyone figures things out eventually, some ideas are proven wrong, possibilities collapse into the actual best options, and so forth. That doesn’t diminish the joy of discovering it and living with it. I know full well that my Necromancer/Warrior build in classic Guild Wars wasn’t very good, and the fact is that I knew it when I made it. But it was fun, and that mattered far more. Exploring the possibilities of what I could do was a nifty thing beyond just what I had to do.
4. Rewriting the rules
Expansions do this a little bit more than new games, but both manage it. With an expansion, all of the stuff that you knew to be true is not necessarily true any longer. But a new game can manage it too, making you question build-in genre assumptions. Think that you need to focus on a certain sort of ability or a certain style of equipment? Not here! It’s fun to realize that all of the things you know as absolute truths get rewritten a bit, not working the way that you had previously expected.
5. Running into others
As long as we’re all being stupid and none of us knows what we’re doing, we’re more likely to bump into one another and cling to each other for help. I’ve made great friends on expansion and game launches just by being around and being helpful… or by needing help that someone else can provide. It creates a bond that lingers.
Once everyone has settled into a routine, that madcap activity tends to die down a bit, even in games with strong populations. But when you’re still all running about and figuring things out, you wind up running into new people you might not have met otherwise. It’s a good thing.
6. Breaking old limits
I’m not just talking about level caps; those are an expansion thing, but they’re kind of prosaic. No, this stretches across old games and new, and the easiest way to point to it is look at Champions Online. Remember power set selection in City of Heroes? Now you can mix and match! No more adhering to firm sets! Remember grouping up for leveling in EverQuest? Here in World of Warcraft, you can just go ahead and level with quests!
Expansions get to pull the same trick, too. Are you tired of trying to juggle your cooldowns to refresh your self-buff as a Ninja in Final Fantasy XIV? Now you can extend it yourself! Do you want a new way to advance your character once you hit the level cap in Guild Wars 2? Now you can have one! Not all of these approaches work, but they do indicate a playfulness, a recognition of what the old limits were and how you can now surpass them.
7. Seeing the memes
Not going to lie; I love seeing people come up with new memes and jokes about stuff that I’m experiencing in the game. It’s silly, but it’s fun. Heck, I think my favorite part of Overwatch is simply the sheer number of jokes people have come up with about the characters and the lore behind the game.
8. Experiencing new content
New dungeons, new minigames, new styles of fights, new crafting, whatever it is – if it’s structured content, I put it under here. I love seeing new twists on familiar formulas as well; sure, the dungeons in SWTOR weren’t novel in terms of design, but they were very different when it came to mid-instance decisions. (Yes, that didn’t last, but the point stands.) And it’s rare for a game not to have at least a few elements that are pretty neat to see in action; I might not think much of TERA‘s dungeons, but boy, when its big monster fights were on, they were on.
9. Sharing excitement
This might be my favorite part of the whole shebang. Sure, I know, when a new game launches you’ll have your fair share of people decrying it as the worst thing ever. But separate from critical analysis is the actual excitement, the sort of thing that inspires you to create and enjoy, the part that makes you say that whatever flaws a game has, it’s still fun to experience the novelty of it.
I recount the boat ride for Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urhgan‘s launch frequently because I remember sitting there with all these other players, everyone talking in hushed and eager tones about what was going to be in the Empire. It was that breathless sense of wonder, that feeling of having a brand-new toy to enjoy. I love that. It’s probably the second best part of a launch.
10. Taking a day off from work
Look, if you have an employer who understands this, it’s pretty great. [Editor’s note: Let us know when you find one. Just kidding.]