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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Danny Smith

The state of WoW’s story is just a case of ‘what happens when the heros beat most of the major villains but you want to keep making money’. Just at stargate at a franchise. First there was a popular movie, so now the villain? turns out her was just one of a pantheon of villains!…. but then they all got beaten. No wait! now theres this other generic evil from this galaxy one over and another from this galaxy the other way! but these are biggerer and baddererer and this is the true threat, swear on me mum!

Thats Warcraft now. Arthas? dead. Deathwing? dead. Old Gods? barely hanging on until they start to recycle them as ‘just a setback’. Legion? gone. Sargeras? defeated. The only leftover is Azshara. After that its all pulled out their ass content by multiple writers not because “uhhh, shit, void lords?” was this deep, rich narrative they are just burning to tell, but because they need something to keep the moneymaker chugging along.

It has almost exhausted warcraft rts storyhooks and is now being written to keep players subbed rather than to wrap up a unfinished storyline and when azshara is a loot pinata thats going to be the entirety of warcrafts story going forward. We have been down this road before time and time again. How many people cared about ‘Harry Potter and Cursed Child’ after killing Voldemorte? How many moviegoers cared about Smaug after Sauron and the Nazgul from their perspective? Did anyone care about the villains of Andromeda after dealing with The Reapers?

You can’t ride a continuous story, pulling new bigger bads out your ass forever. Its why comic books can’t go 10 years without a universe wide reboot nowadays. It retroactively nueters all the heros journey that came before it, cheapens the threats of the past and really shows how cynical and pointless the whole story is when we know in 2020 there will be another box price release where azeroth is under threat from a huge villain and you need to stop it!

Heres a crazy idea for the Warcraft writers: maybe drop the ‘epic’ meme. Look at Heavensward for FFXIV. Know what happened there? ARR ends with a political assassination and you are wrongly accused so you flee to an isolationist nation and get caught up in a religious cover up and a war between dragons and the nations people. Is the world going to end? no. Is this even going to effect your home cities at all? not at all. Its a dispute brought on by grudges, bad blood and lies. You get caught up on it and choose to help those who helped you. Thats it. No world ending threat. No ‘this is the biggest bad ever, forget that Bahamut guy!’ powerlevel creep out of dragonball Z. You spend an expansion in a different nation trying to stop a war. Not a world ending forever war. Just a war between two cultures in some frozen backwater corner of the world. It was fine. People loved it. Maybe WoW’s new writers can look at stuff like that and realise ‘apocalypse fatigue’ set in for this series ten years ago at best and come up with something better than “now which character is stalin this time?”

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mysecretid

The irony is, part of me actually loved my time with Legion so much, that I would be very happy to go back and play World of Warcraft as my “designated casual-effort fantasy game” again — but story is always a key point with me in games, so I just can’t do it.

The stories in the games I play don’t have to be terribly original, or award-worthy, but they do have to be present and functional when I play.

I find this whole “Sylvanus Is EEEEEEvil” plotfine insultingly dumb.

Blizz wants to make her evil? Sure. But then do it right. Pointedly, make the transition make some form of rudimentary sense from a character-motivated perspective.

The Sylvanas thing insulted my intelligence — not because I’m some sort of fervent WoW lore-keeper, (I only really started playing the game on an ongoing basis with the release of Legion), but because the storyline built around the renewed faction war is just so relentlessly dumb and implausible on a number of levels, in my opinion.

It made me begin to wonder if anybody in charge of World of Warcraft at Blizzard at this time actually cares about what they’ve got going on in the game, or if they view it all as some sort of no-maintenance immortal cash-cow they don’t really need to do anything with to bring in the players and the bucks.

I have no answers, but I just can’t pay money for something which feels (at least to me) like its story is being “phoned in” …

My opinions, anyway. Yours may vary, and that’s cool.

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Bruno Brito

Well, i consider that while Sylvanas character was completely mangled, the story itself, good vs evil in a authocratic point of view, is fun.

To be fair, if it was another villain doing all the moustache twirling, it would be better, but hey, she’s this, so i’ll just move on. If i disconsider this, it’s…ok-ish.

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Sally Bowls

I agree with most of this. Although, I am uncertain if this plot is just the purple version of G2.0. Or whether the Old Gods and Old Daggers and (Lich King vs Death vs Void vs Light) and Who-is-Bswande’s-Boss and two “Alliance” “undead” would turn out interesting. I guess G2.0 would be most likely but an interesting alternative would not be a huge surprise for me. This patch built on events that took place 25 years ago. I hope Warcraft and I are still chugging along in another 25 years but the odds are not great.

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,

Many of the people making those complaints are just ignoring what Bliz said and if not this would be complaining about something else instead. In the Jan Dev Q&A, Ion (/sigh) said that they wanted to have KTH in but that all other Allied Races, by design, reused a lot of existing wire frame/animation stuff. KTH could not so were going to be more effort than all other races combined. So for the Blizcon announcement, they were cut and not in the expansion. After Blizcon, they decided they could do KTH. At that point, Bliz had 3 choices: They could have not done KTH (dumb! WickerDruid FTW!), launched with ZT and added KTH now, or rearranged things to pair KTH and ZT which makes more sense story wise. Horde getting DinoDruids at launch and Humans getting KTH at 8.1.5 would “generate Reddit Threads.”

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TheDonDude

Yeah, I don’t believe the whole “they deliberately held allied races back” theory. It makes zero sense.

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Dobablo

We are not permitted to believe anything that Blizzard says these days. All statements, community tweets or forum posts must be ignored and anyone who claims that Blizzard sourced information is anything less than 200% is ostracised and declared to be a brain-dead fanboi.

Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would bother playing a game of that’s what they believed and if they aren’t playing they should get list and let those of us who still get some enjoyment out of WoW have our fun.

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TomTurtle

I agree with you about the concept of allied races being the best part of this expansion, and I agree that Zandalari Troll paladins are a great addition. Having a new alternative for paladins on the Horde, one that is a more of a middle-ground silhouette is very welcome.

I’d be so excited to play them were I enticed to come back and play, but I’m not. Even with some new content, it’s not enough for me just yet. Not to mention that I’m seeing yet another tone deaf change in the game with regards to portals.

So far BfA has made me feel like I’d be better off doing what I did with Legion and just waiting for the last expansion patch and then consume all the content then with a potentially cheaper buy-in price. There’d be more time-friendly catch-up mechanics while not feeling heavily gimped at the start of the expansion.

And I’m sure we’ll have more allied races to look forward to by the end. I remember them saying something along the lines of not having anything to say about further allied races until 8.2 or such, which implies there are more to come.

I’d be more excited about more allied races were I not so sure that Blizzard is going to do what Blizzard tends to do with little regard to what the players actually want. That the most popular theory is that we’ll get Vulpera for the Horde, a great addition, but also getting Mechagnomes for the Alliance, is a thing, well, yet more tone deafness from Blizzard there. If Blizzard wants to really wow players, just saying, Sethrak would be a great choice.

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jealouspirate

The new cinematic with Baine & Jaina was very well done, technically speaking. It was beautiful to look at, good sound design, and even the dialogue was well written and acted. It was a great cinematic.

If only the story it told wasn’t just literally Garrosh/Mists of Pandaria 2.0. It really robs an otherwise great cinematic of its power. It is no longer credible for the sad “Honorable Horde Warrior” to speak, teary-eyed, of how the Horde has forgotten its spirit when it happens every couple years.

I am a sucker for Allied Races though. Both are very cool, though I wish the Kul Tirans didn’t have such a big gut. WoW’s armor does not lend itself well to texture stretching.

Aldristavan
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Aldristavan

My major gripe from 8.1.5: heirlooms can now be upgraded to 120 at significant cost yet they are actually far less powerful than basic quest rewards / leveling Azerite gear. I understand that the devs didn’t want heirlooms to be overpowered compared to other gear, but now they’re underpowered — and expensive to boot.

On the forums, some folks have commented that “that’s the tradeoff you get for heirlooms: more xp, but less powerful.” First of all, uhh.. what? They provide more XP so now everything should take … longer to kill? Secondly, historically that’s never been the tradeoff with heirlooms, so why should it be now? Those arguments just doesn’t make sense to me.

Also, I find it very odd that heirloom gear would actually ignore the Azerite gear system altogether. The Azerite armor pieces are limited to head/shoulders/chest, but they are always significantly higher in item level than same-level heirlooms. So just from the ilvl difference alone — regardless of Azerite gear powers — they’re at a significant disadvantage.

It’s all just maddening, and the devs haven’t commented on it yet.

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TomTurtle

Definitely a turn-off. I’ve seen people recommending wearing the azerite gear and then swapping in heirlooms when you go to turn in a quest. Really Blizzard? That’s so poorly designed.

Aldristavan
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Aldristavan

Right??? I’d be satisfied with at least the equivalent in ilvl because the stats would be boosted. But the rogue I was leveling (and to be fair, rogues are a bit squishy…) was having a ton of difficulty fighting quest objectives. Not “suggested 5 players” content; quest objectives.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

The actual solution to the heirloom problem would be to disconnect the XP buff and cosmetics from physical gear and replace the entire concept of evergreen alt kit with something actually interesting and beneficial for players who like lots of alts, like an account-wide reward track that gives some nice transmogs and a scaling global XP buff for all your characters.

It could be something that unlocks with achievement-related events like every 10 levels you gain with each class or race on each faction gives you another pip in the bar toward the next XP bonus level. And at each of those checkpoints you also get one piece of a race / class / faction appropriate universal transmog set.

Each time you get a particular race or class to the level cap, you unlock the final appearance which could be a really cool looking appropriate weapon skin, and along with that another +10% or 20% XP gain across the board, for all your characters in all settings.

And to pay back the investment people have made in the unlocks, they could give some credit toward progression in this new track based on the number of legacy items you have unlocked in the heirloom tab before the conversion. Also give people some retroactive credit for what they’ve already accomplished.

None of this is any sort of radical new idea. Iterations of it have been suggested continuously since they started this campaign of screwing heirloom gear into uselessness way back in Legion. But realistically, nothing like this ever will happen, because it would require Blizzard to start giving a shit about giving players anything that they’ve actually asked for.

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TheDonDude

8.1.5 was a pretty solid patch, content-wise.

The story, though? Ehhh… yeah, I don’t get why they’d do Garrosh 2.0. It so similar it isn’t even funny.

Sure, it might end differently. Maybe Sylvanas will have a What Have I Done moment. Maybe it’ll turn out she was secretly working to defeat N’Zoth. Or maybe it’ll really be Garrosh 2.0 to the very end, and we’ll team up to take her down in a raid.

None of those possibilities feel all that satisfying, though.

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TomTurtle

Even if Blizzard wraps up the story in some unforeseen, beautiful manner, I still don’t feel that would excuse the lead-up to that point and how aggravating it has felt for many players.

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TheDonDude

Agreed. 90% retread and 10% brilliance still means 90% of it is lame.

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Danny Smith

If it isn’t a straight up, and i know people roll their eyes at the term nowadays, straight mary sue reveal that sylvanas was working her secret master plan to save everyone all along with a big redemption as fantasy kerrigan i’ll eat a large hat shaped cake, because i wouldn’t want to waste a hat, but you get the idea.