There are lots of things that I’m genuinely excited about when it comes to the next World of Warcraft expansion. Battle for Azeroth has a premise that gives me reasons to be hopeful, systems that seem pretty cool, and at least one thing that I’m pretty sure I want (even if I’m not sure whether or not the final version is exactly how I want it). So we’re starting from a good point here.
We’ve also got some time until the expansion is released, and based on the total lack of any firm information on dates for testing, much less launch, I would be surprised to see this expansion before November 2018. So that leaves us with some pretty big questions to be answered, and the more answers we get sooner, the better. So let’s take a gander at the questions we’ve still got hanging over our head after the expansion reveal.
What will rewards look like?
We’ve seen some Alliance and Horde-themed armor on display already, and honestly, that stuff looks great. It’s a magnificent fusion of the design aesthetics that have long dominated both factions, bringing in elements of several different racial designs while still feeling distinctly Alliance and/or Horde. I love them and can already think of characters who would wear them.
But will those characters wear them? I don’t know. How do we get them?
This is still kind of an open question; we don’t know what rewards will come from island expeditions or warfronts, both of which seem ill-suited to just dropping gear. For that matter, a 10-20 minute run for one piece of gear is going to feel kind of lopsided anyhow. So what will the reward structure be like?
It’s a known fact that I’m a big proponent of currency systems in cases like this, since that lets you pick a goal and work toward it; it also has an advantage here for this particular content, because you are actually doing things directly for your faction. Justice/Valor/Whatever points or badges never really had a solid grounding in lore, but “good work smashing the Horde, you’ve earned credit toward a new pair of boots” is not exactly an overwhelming logical leap.
Plus, the “no titanforging” caveat on Heart-enhanced slots makes gear drops a bit more… limited than they’ve been in the past. Let’s put that there.
But there are lots of ways to make you feel as if your work in these departments is meaningful and worthwhile. I’m hoping that it’s something more interesting than just Azerite, since these are fun forms of content at a glance that could give players lots of chances for interesting gameplay. Discussing the reward structure sooner rather than later is a good thing.
What about professions?
Legion did journeyman service to improving how professions work. It still has some pretty notable issues running through it, of course; I don’t agree with the objections some players have about dungeons being involved, but crafting is still messy as heck. Legion made it better, but there’s a world of difference between “better” and “good.”
Much as I would like to hope against it, we’re likely getting another number bump to profession skill. It’s a thing that just happens, like it or not. The question becomes what else we’re getting to make that feel worthwhile. Whatever it is, it’s likely to be simple; can we at least hope it’s going to be less smashingly obnoxious than the rather ill-conceived mess that we got through Legion’s item reforging?
The big sticky problems here, as always, comes with the crossover between professions that create wearable gear and the professions that solely or mostly enhance existing gear. The game has never been entirely sure about how to balance the two and make gems feel useful without being mandatory; we’ll see how things play out once we learn a bit more.
What’s going down with artifacts?
A good chunk of the stuff on every single artifact is, functionally, irrelevant. Leveling up a trait that improves the damage on Stormstrike 10% is not really interesting; similarly, having Stormstrike create a field of lightning once you use it doesn’t change much. These elements can easily be incorporated into the core abilities. But there are traits and abilities unlocked with each artifact that are, in fact, core parts of the current rotations for each class.
So what’s happening with these? It might seem like a somewhat inconsequential thing, but how that shakes out is going to have a huge, lasting impact on the way we play our specs through Battle for Azeroth. All of that escalating power baked into our weapons is going to have to go somewhere.
This is where, honestly, abandoning the system hurts the most. Just making it part of the character’s power makes the whole thing feel like something of a shaggy dog story that may have some unfortunate implications for leveling through Legion content later; outright removing it makes your next weapon feel like a downgrade even if it isn’t. This is something that can be handled well, and it really depends on information we don’t have yet.
How does max-level crossover work?
It’s ironic, on some level, that for an expansion so fixated on the conflict between the factions, we’ll spend most of the expansion separate from the other side. Only at the level cap will we actually be crossing over to the other faction’s zones. And that raises some interesting questions, because while we know world quests and emissaries will be sticking around, the current system relies on rotational traits that… aren’t really present now.
In Legion, the trick (so to speak) was that each zone had its own faction, and that worked out fairly well. You had five reputations to raise, along with one “hidden” reputation (no, it wasn’t really hidden, I know) and a catch-all option right at launch. There was immediate and obvious space for all seven days of emissaries.
Things are a little different for this expansion. You could argue, based on what we’ve seen, that there will be a faction for each of your three factional zones, maybe a couple on the other side… but you’re still coming up a bit shy. Not to mention that the story seems to imply that at least one zone (hosting the opposite faction’s capital) is going to be pretty darn hostile to you; I can’t see anyone in Tiragarde Sound being all right with a faction helping the Horde, no matter how insistent they are on neutrality.
For that matter, I can’t see the Alliance being on board with Blood Trolls, either. (“All right, so you guys want to destroy all life on the planet… but you’re going to kill the Horde first, right? We can work with this.”)
There are ways that this can work, of course, especially when you consider that there are seven sub-factions within each overarching faction. We’ll just need to know more about how emissaries are going to work this time around.
What will unlocks look like for allied races?
What we know so far is that unlocking allied races will be account-wide and require quests. The problem is that “collect five bear heads” and “kill Gul’dan five times on Mythic difficulty” are both quest objectives. For that matter, “collect five bear heads” and “collect five hundred bear heads” are both quest objectives. “Get revered with Timbermaw Hold” is also a quest objective.
You get my meaning. Just saying that something requires a quest does not, in and of itself, say a whole heck of a lot. There are quests that can be completed quickly, some that take all night, and some that are month-long projects. Just knowing that there’s a quest doesn’t actually say a whole lot.
As people have pointed out, we know about class matrices and such for four of the six allied races, and all four allied races in question tie into currently relevant content. This ties in to the next question a bit, but the point is that it’s wholly plausible to have this as the “unlock demon hunters early” content for expansion pre-orders. However, we still don’t know what it’s actually going to take to get these guys into our camps, and that will have significant impact.
On the one hand, the bright side is that we will only have to do this stuff once. On the other hand… well, “once” could be pretty obnoxious just because of that. Or it could be a somewhat perfunctory effort. The more we know about this, the better; it’d be nice to know whether unlocking our allied options is a challenge on par with unlocking flight in Draenor or it’s more of a gateway to make sure you can’t roll one if you aren’t up-to-cap in your faction.
What’s the next year going to look like?
Here’s the big question, and the one that is kind of made louder by the lack of beta dates. Historically, it’s about a year between expansion announcement and expansion release. That’s been nudged in various directions over time, but WoW has consistently wound up at around the one-year mark. So if we’re wrapping up the expansion storyline now (and we are), what will we be doing over the next year?
Obviously, there are things to be done along that path. In fact, I think I’ve outlined several possibilities right in this very article – unlocking the allies currently available, absorbing artifacts, seeing the faction split come down, and so forth. But we do not actually know for sure about any of this just yet. All we know is that we’ve probably got a year before release, the expansion isn’t available for order just yet, and we’re going to need something for the next year.
This obviously ties the most into the answers to other questions, but conversely, it’s the question that needs answering soonest. The patch deployment through Legion has been pretty agile, so let’s see if we can stick the landing during a year of quiet before the expansion actually hits.