WoW Factor: Sticking the landing of the Legion expansion

    
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Would you like to see something unsettling?

Next week, folks, it’s go time. The expansion arrives, and so forth. My impressions of the expansion will start going out on Monday, but odds are high that you already know what they’re going to be, at least in broad strokes. For those of you who need a spoiler: I quite like Legion so far. But World of Warcraft needs to do better than Legion if it wants to shed the unpleasant image it’s accumulated over the past few years.

We already know a little bit about patch 7.1, of course, which is a good start. But what’s going to ultimately make or break Legion is the same thing that ultimately broke even those who did initially have praise for Warlords of Draenor: whether or not it sticks the landing. A great opening act is, well, great, but it doesn’t count for much if you can’t deliver on the promise of those first few moments, after all.

Patch 7.1 is going to be interesting, then, for a number of reasons. We know that Karazhan is coming back, but we also know it’s going to be a Mythic-only affair, which right away locks a certain number of people out — not just for difficulty concerns, but simply for the matter that for some people, the excessive time required to assemble a party manually just knocks an activity out of their wheelhouse. Heck, it’s something that I don’t like doing, despite having no real problem doing so; it’s annoying, and it’s time spent standing around rather than spent actually doing things.

By contrast, this was not a problem in Karazhan itself.

Sure, it’s meant to be a long dungeon, and I get the idea behind it – trying a sort of mini-raid structure for dungeons. But then, that has been tried before; uniform dungeon length and setups weren’t accepted randomly but because they made dungeons more fun and less an exercise in frustration. It will, however, be interesting to see how the dungeon works as designed; I think it’s just an idea that might need some more iterating upon before it goes live.

And that, I think, is something important to consider. At this point, Karazhan in 7.1 is an idea. It’s not an actual thing yet. We can talk about the ideas being presented, but we can’t yet talk about the implementation of same, simply because they’re still just ideas. Concepts. What’s going to make all of the difference is in how they shake out once they’re actual things being tested by the majority of the population.

Heck, this even goes for the game itself. It’s easy to overlook that the Legion testing so far has been with a small portion of the game’s overall population, and it’s not nearly the same thing as having the game be live. You simply can’t have the same experiences when you’re dealing with a test environment compared to a live environment; it doesn’t work. Balance is going to be determined by seeing how things actually shake out as opposed to earlier passes based on theory and idea.

Giving players some information about 7.1 was a smart move, but it’s still in the early stages. What’s going to ultimately determine the reception of the expansion over the longer term is a matter of implementation. The ideas we’ve heard so far are good, but what’s going to make a big difference in the long term is how it all shakes out. And the sad reality is that I don’t know that. I can say that what we’ve seen thus far looks promising, but there was a time when Warlords of Draenor looked promising too. So it’s all going to come down to implementation over the longer term, to see if the stuff that’s in place now gets built upon or horribly derailed.

Break out.However, the pre-launch is already showing off what can be done for the future. And I think it’s worth noting because the Legion invasions themselves have managed to serve as impressive, interesting content for everyone, even for players who aren’t necessarily stomping at the door to have several different characters arrive at the Broken Isles. There’s stuff to earn there, from toys to pets, and a reason for players to group up and gather in the open world as well as taking advantage of the leveling experience.

Having world quests mirror this is a good thing. Having world quests in the future that aren’t limited to the Broken Isles is a good thing, too. I’d like to think that this is something we’re going to see, that all of Azeroth is going to be relevant. There’s no reason we can’t stop back in Pandaria or Northrend to deal with something major unfolding. Deadwind Pass might have new problems to solve once 7.1 rolls around. Content can include a lot of people, especially when it’s content that deals with the core of the narrative and experience that’s unfolding.

This, really, is the chief problem that Blizzard has to contend with. It’s not just a matter of providing more than two content patches, although that’s high on the list; it’s providing content that people both can see and want to see. I’ve seen a couple of interviews indicating that tier pieces will be back in LFR, which helps a bit; providing more raid alternatives is probably a good idea all around, especially if the motivation is more effective than “pick up this legendary accessory.” Obviously, we’ve got the promise of a new five-person dungeon with a new sort of structure, as well; that’s going to get some interest.

What’s going to follow over the next few months is going to be iterations, more promises of what comes next and what players can expect along with refinement and balance. I’m expecting some stumbles, obviously. You don’t switch gears from the pipe dream of an expansion every year to more regular updates overnight. But I’m hoping that at the very least, Blizzard shows just what it’s capable of delivering over the extended period of an expansion that it hasn’t shown in quite some time. I’m hoping for new and more diverse content for everyone. And while I can’t know for certain if that’s going to turn out to be the case, the ideas on display certainly indicate that way.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. I hope you’ve been enjoying these looks at the game and the future; next week, obviously, we’ve got launch impressions and play impressions to move through. Also, at some point I would like to actually sleep. This pre-expansion period is always pretty intense.

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.