WoW Factor: The good and (very minor) bad of World of Warcraft patch 8.1.5

    
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Don't call it a comeback.

We’ve spent three weeks explaining, in no small amount of detail, why people are unhappy with the current state of World of Warcraft. We’re going to spend subsequent weeks explaining further details of why people are unhappy. But it’s kind of a failing if we spend the time pointing out problems without acknowledging positive aspects, and here we are with a new patch that actually contains lots of good stuff! And a couple of not-so-good bits, but even those are relatively minor.

No, I don’t count things like “not fixing the Heart of Azeroth” as a bad thing. That was never in the cards.

I’m not going to be able to comprehensively cover every individual bit here and there, both because I’m writing this before we have formal patch notes and I think we’re at the point that a 5% damage tweak on one ability or another is not exactly fixing any real problems. But let’s talk about positives, starting with the obvious aspect of the long-awaited allies whose roles we can now assume.

Jump in any time.

Kul Tiran and Zandalari, oh boy!

Part of me sort of wonders when these guys were actually added to the planned rosters. After all, Zandalari and Dark Irons were the big additions promised with the initial reveals… and then we later found out about Kul Tirans and Mag’har. Were these always planned? I couldn’t tell you. But I’m glad to see this happening just the same.

The obvious complaint here is that these two races were ready to go a long time back and got held back for a big pop whenever the developers decided the game needed it. Is that true? I don’t know, but I also don’t think it matters. Even if that’s not the actual reason, it’s certainly the way things come across, and while there’s some story justification following the last raid, it feels like the justification could have been added earlier.

But dwelling on that past a certain point becomes crankiness for its own sake, and why indulge in that? The point is that they’re here, they contain fun new combinations, and I for one am happy as heck to see that expansion. I wish we had eyes on more potential allied races because I’ve said before and will doubtlessly say again many times, the whole concept of allied races is the best thing this expansion has going for it right now.

Also, Troll Paladins make me happy. That’s just a fact.

EAT.

Tools of the Trade are something

Let’s not mince words: Crafting in World of Warcraft feels like something the designers don’t want to remove but also don’t want to make useful, playable, or fun in any reasonable fashion. I don’t think that the current update is actually fixing any of that. But I really like the idea that every profession gets something unique and fun and different tied to that profession, and while I might not wholly agree with the implementation, the idea that it is a distinct flavor choice for your character is a good thing.

It helps that most of the effects appear to be more focused on a unique experience in the world rather than having a direct asset in battle; we still don’t know exactly how things like Blood Contracts will work, for example, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an edge in dungeons. But it doesn’t need to be, and this sort of uniqueness is one of the game elements we’ve long needed to make crafting feel relevant. It’s not that we absolutely have to be making great endgame gear; it’s that we need to be making something that matters and that you have reason to care about.

Of course, my big fear is that none of this is going to matter after the expansion is over, but let’s not let that affect the fundamental good elements here. And being able to repair your gear yourself is pretty awesome, no matter what.

Above, you'll see the once-ominous portal...

The portal rooms and the back and forth

Revamping the portal rooms is something the game has needed for a while because travel in the game has been steadily getting worse for a while. This is for both good and bad reasons. It’s a good thing that the game increasingly doesn’t feel locked into a single area, so you can have quests that venture across the now-expansive world. It does, however, cause a problem of highlighting how static these areas are; you can still head back to alternate Draenor, for example, despite the whole Mag’har scenario meaning that it’s apparently some awful hellscape.

This fixes that… to an extent. Really, it’s not a very different from the fix that every prior expansion has had, but it’s a fix that also makes travel to some places easier and some places a lot harder. Sure, it’s much easier to go to alternate Draenor now, but it’s more annoying to get to Hellfire Penninsula, which is where Outland is actually meant to start. I’m not sure the trade is a good one, and while I do think it’s good to have these in centralized locales instead of dotted all across old expansions, it feels less than ideal on balance. It’s a good change with some baffling dumb changes rolled in – let’s leave it at that.

Jaina's not doing great here either, but Jaina being characterized by random number generation is a consistent issue.

And more story

And… yeah, here endeth the positive gush because the narrative just keeps going down the same familiar and boring route. So now we have Sylvanas just being openly and obviously duh-duh evil because the story needs to set her up as a big bad, but complaining about this is complaining about an issue that’s existed since the lead-in to this expansion. The complete mangling of her character arc has been ongoing for ages, and new installments compound the issue (and put the lie to any “see where we’re going” nonsense) but aren’t really causing it so much as not fixing it.

Call me tired, but the general story beats here are really doubling down on the stuff that people called and were bored of back when the expansion launched. Oh, look, here’s a reminder that Azeroth is dying; we’ll solve that later. Here’s a questline dealing with some minor characters from a book. Here’s the expected post-raid aftermath that’s not terribly interesting and mangles Sylvanas some more. Here’s the Old God influence that people kept touting as an explanation for why people are acting out of character coming in far later than the out-of-character actions started.

It’s not that it’s being badly handled in a technical sense; it’s that there’s no real reason to care. The beats are predictable, and it winds up in a place where the stakes are functionally non-existent. It’s Garrosh 2.0, and no one is going to be surprised by the outcome, and now everyone is expected to pantomime that this is Very Important And Seriously Scary.

None of this would probably matter as much if not for the fact that this is all also required for getting those allied races. I suppose this qualifies as “showing your work” in the broadest sense.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Since I just spent the end of this criticizing story stuff… yeah, doing a story piece next week seems like a good idea, huh? Let’s get back to that.

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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