So the conclusion to the Azshara raid has been mined out, and I’m just going to link it to you here. I don’t want to talk too much about what it actually contains, but the short version without spoiling people before the cut is that it’s pretty much what you would expect if you’ve been paying attention to things. There are people who are adamant that because it so resolutely sets up exactly the tired plot people have been predicting that must be some kind of red herring.
Spoiler warning: It’s not. It’s exactly the same bland and obvious writing that people have been calling it for months now, there’s not a third-act twist that’s going to make this not lazy work of the highest order.
Instead, I wanted to cast my mind further ahead. We all know that this year will see another expansion announcement because it sort of has to, and we’re placing bets more about whether it’s going to be an emergency thing pre-BlizzCon. Instead, I want to ask a different question about what could actually win back the crowd for World of Warcraft because I don’t think a straight crowd-pleaser like Legion is in the cards again. So what could win people back?
A rewriting of the faction system
This is simultaneously the most unlikely and the thing I want to see the most, especially since Calia Menethil has been getting set up as the new leader of the Forsaken since the prequel novel. You know, the last legitimate heir to the throne of Lordaeron and all that?
I’ve said before (and will say dozens of times more, probably) that there’s no twist fixing this story. It’s a bad story told badly with lazy writing and character development. But after the second go around of “we have to work together and depose the Evil Horde Leader through violent means” it would at least make it mildly worthwhile if the result sees us moving into the next expansion without the same faction split. The Alliance and Horde still exist, but players can move between them as they desire, and there’s no longer hard rules on these two sides.
Allied races have already largely put paid to the idea of having faction-unique silhouettes (which was always nonsense), and from a lore standpoint the justification is eroding into nothing as Sylvanas becomes the scapegoat for the entirety of the Horde. It would give players something to be excited about, a state wherein your faction gets shaped by your actual personal choices. Heck, you could even keep Sylvanas alive and have the Horde just straight-up be evil; you can choose not to be with them any longer!
At the very least, having free and open communication and partying would be a major improvement, and something I’d like to see come out of this expansion. It wouldn’t justify the story, but I feel like a lot of players would get the sense that it at least led somewhere interesting.
Major combat and spec expansion
There’s a weird sort of balance right now in WoW wherein a lot of specs both feel too simple and too frantic. You’re only hitting three buttons, but you have to be hitting all three of them more or less constantly… and once you get that routine down, it becomes mind-numbingly boring because again, it’s three buttons. The various specs are, at the end of the day, kind of boring, and the loss of all the fun power and passives we had in Legion is acutely felt.
We just got a large-scale revision of every spec with Legion, and yet much like the item squish, it was handled incompetently immediately thereafter, meaning that we need this again. But the sensible key to taking this task on again would be to make for a larger-scale revamp that’s more about introducing some more complexity, add more branches of differentiation in combat, and stop burning things down to the smallest number of buttons that is still technically playable. This game is not Overwatch.
I’m not saying that we absolutely need to have every spec have a full two bars of abilities you must rotate through, nor am I saying that combat needs to more closely resemble that of another game. There are, however, lots of games that could be used as an example of this, and there are lots of ways that the game could become more interesting to play with only minor additions to buttons.
The key is not just saying “we’ll make combat better,” but demonstrating it while also demonstrating that it’s not tied to a system that the developers keep promising will go away with the next expansion. That would be a big step in the right direction.
Housing and persistent systems
Actually, let’s extend beyond that. Let’s make a mess.
Ion Hazzikostas is wrong about a bunch of stuff. He’s very wrong about the idea that you have to introduce a messy system and then abandon it because it’s messy. Instead, you introduce a system in an expansion and recognize that it’s going to cause a mess in the future, but because you can plan ahead you can be ready for that mess. You can act in a proactive fashion to deal for those messy elements. That gives the impression that you’re actually releasing expansions instead of sequels using the same game engine.
I can imagine a version of the game in which we have multiple artifacts, we still have Garrisons, we still have Class Halls (which served a different function than Garrisons because they didn’t have to be basically the same), we have the Heart added on top of that… we, in short, have lots of different pieces working together. Yes, it would make the game more complicated. But the thing is that while the immortal principle of “keep it simple, stupid” is true, the point is to make things as simple as possible without sacrificing functionality.
Persistent systems, housing among them, give players a sense that what you do now sets down a foundation for the future. That would get people more excited right away. Look at how many people were excited for Garrisons before we saw how bad they were.
Undoing what’s been undone
Is it wrong that part of me hopes to have the game’s Classic servers as a test bed for rolling things back? Yes. That’s entirely wrong. It’s also a really bad admission of having screwed up when you have to roll back changes you’ve made over the years. But at the same time, a lot of those things that were excised and removed over the years were also bad decisions.
I’d like to see an announcement for the next expansion that we’re going back to the old talent trees. People would lose their minds. There would be screaming. You could say that at the start of the expansion announcement and you’d probably have to pause the presentation for 10 solid minutes. “We’re bringing back Seals and Auras for Paladins.” Hey, look at that, people are losing their minds all over again.
If you want to win back the crowd, you have to put in the effort to remember the crowd that you’re trying to win back. The crowd that’s still in the game is there out of a dogged persistence, a determination that they’re going to stick with this game no matter what. But there’s a much bigger crowd out there that has played the game and stepped away, and that means looking at the things that have driven people away. Undoing talents, putting more and more emphasis on the top tier of progression raiding, turning all real dungeons into that same sort of content, removing gameplay interactions, burning out the meaning of levels… there’s a clear line to be drawn that’s made people drop out.
And the other approach to bring people back in a storm of fanservice is not going to work. Because… well, we’ll go over that next week. For now, let’s leave some comments down below or mail them along to email@example.com. You may wish to consider reprinting the Black Lotus card from Magic: the Gathering in the intervening time.