There’s a lot of information coming out about patch 7.3.5 at this point. Not everything, of course, and a lot of it is based more on datamining than actual stuff that has been announced. But it seems fair to say that World of Warcraft’s immediate future for the next lengthy expansion gap is on the test servers right now, and some of it is obvious while some pieces are… less so. And, if I might be so bold, it even gives us a pretty clear picture of the next few months right out of the gate.
Right now the live game is, obviously, focused on Antorus. That’s the focus for the actual gameplay, and the slow trickle of wings into the group finder are the big thing to do and look forward to until the whole of the content is available by January. For that matter, I think that part of the goal of the next month or so is to give people all the reason in the world to run and explore Antorus and see the story for themselves if they’re interested in having a personal stake in what happens next.
One of the things that I noted as being a bit unusual compared to 2015’s BlizzCon was that there was no mention of a beta date or anything masquerading as a release when Battle for Azeroth was announced. Those of you who remember the furor around the Legion announcement will also recall that a beta test was promised by the end of the year. (That didn’t wind up happening, but there was something in testing, at least.) And I think it’s important to compare, contrast, and then step back to the present.
When Legion’s pre-release BlizzCon rolled around, WoW was coming down off of an expansion with the absolute shortest patch cycle of any expansion, and it was one that was almost universally despised. I’m not saying it’s a law of the universe that no one liked Warlords of Draenor, but no one liked Warlords of Draenor. I think some of the promised content that didn’t get delivered came to nothing partly because the expansion was so loathed that it got cut down behind the scenes significantly.
We were already well into the content gap by the time Legion was announced in August, and when BlizzCon arrived people had moved past “waiting for content” and into “angry” pretty cleanly. The promise of a beta and a pre-purchase, as much as anything, felt like a saving throw to an unhappy population.
By contrast, Legion has been a pretty well-received expansion, it’s had new content coming out at a decent clip, and at this point in its life cycle the focus seems to be on avoiding the game’s usual year-long content droughts in terms of perception if not impact. With the new raid right around the corner, Blizzard’s team probably knew full well that the holiday season and a good chunk of January could be devoted to that before the question of “so what now” started to really surface.
That means that instead of jumbling the expansion pre-purchase and testing into the holiday season, we can have the pre-purchase delayed until just after the Christmas holiday, and we can probably expect 7.3.5 sometime in January or very early February.
Which would be about the right time to let people start playing allied races.
If you’ve been following the test realm datamining, you’ll know that a good chunk of what’s needed for allied races is already in place – we’ve got broadcast text, abilities, ability icons, mounts, customization, all of that. It’s still being refined, but it’s in there. And while official statements have mentioned that some of what can be found in datamining will be for Battle for Azeroth, at no point has it been said that the content in question will be held back until Battle for Azeroth fully launches.
Let us also remember that Legion allowed us to make and play Demon Hunters ahead of time if you already purchased the expansion. And let’s also remember that when 7.3.5 drops, we’ll have a large-scale leveling rework in place that makes allied races far easier to use in gameplay.
And perhaps most importantly, there’s nothing about the four allied races we’ve already learned about in-depth that actually ties them to Battle for Azeroth explicitly. Your Horde characters don’t need to head to Zandalar in order to learn about the Nightborne; you’ve already adventured around them for over a year. They know you. If you need to finish their storyline and do some quests to get them on board with you, well, hey. You have probably already done that. These races are perfectly positioned already to sign up before the next major conflict, not after.
In other words, from a development standpoint, there’s no need to try putting together a whole bunch of content to keep people occupied while the expansion development continues. It’s enough to just provide people with reason to go back and level and then make use of years of content which already exist in abundance. (Heck, I’m pretty sure at various points I’ve said that using older content effectively is one of those things WoW really ought to get better at.)
“But what about Silithus?” And yes, there’s definitely some Silithus stuff happening in the datamining and the lore, that will definitely be there. That needs to be there, because some people aren’t going to want to pre-purchase or make new alts or whatever. I don’t think it’s something that’s necessarily will replace the existing hullabaloo on Argus, but it will bring something new to be done for at least a little while.
So let’s say early February is when we actually get 7.3.5. From there, we can spend time leveling our allied races for a few months while the beta for Battle for Azeroth starts moving into full gear. That should provide enough content to keep people excited as beta news trickles out, leading up to the big events that makeup the Battle for Azeroth pre-patch and the pre-launch events. February through August, perhaps.
It feels like there should be something more between those two points, even if it’s just a little something, but we’ll need to see more before we can know. At this point, we don’t know enough to say what it is just yet.
Of course, we don’t even actually know when our pre-purchasing option will become available; it’s entirely possible that the allied races won’t be a package deal, or they won’t be turned on until after the pre-patch. Those ideas are plausible. But the structure of what we’ve seen so far show off an awful lot of work for these races, and that says to me they’re planned for earlier availability.
Think of it this way: if we weren’t going to get them as new options well before the expansion, why is it that we haven’t seen all of the customization and mount options for the Zandalari and Dark Irons? That would seem to go hand-in-hand, right?
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to an announcement confirming this within five minutes of posting this, thus making this column something of a waste of speculation. These are the breaks.