There’s a game I like to play – wait, no, that’s a lie. There’s a game I do play called “Oh, I Made Myself Sad.” It consists of a very simple play mechanic. First, I think of something that I would really like to be true, either a textually supported plot twist or a sudden design swerve or a surprise revelation. Sometimes it’s just coming up with an anime premise that sounds right. Then I remind myself that none of it is real and oh, I made myself sad.
My latest round of the game involves World of Warcraft, so now you can play along at home.
As I’ve mentioned a few times now, part of me wonders how much of the stuff going down in WoW Classic ties back into the design team wanting to see if the enthusiasm is there just for the old systems alone. Then I got thinking about Bree’s comment about wanting not Classic but the energy of the game from that period, and that got me thinking about an expansion in which both current live characters and Classic characters can move forward… at the cost of a whole lot of failure along the way.
See, remember how I’ve also said that there’s no fixing this story? There really isn’t. But years of comic books have taught me that people will forgive a certain amount of everything going off the rails if the fans are told immediately afterward that none of this matters. And it would, at least, be a different ending from Mists of Pandaria if we get to the final raid, beat the crap out of Sylvanas, and then learn… it doesn’t actually matter, we’re still screwed.
Not in the sense that her plan still comes together, mind you. We stopped her. But the problem is that the damage was still done along the way. Within about five years or so, Azeroth is going to burst free under the control of the Old Gods, and everything is screwed. The time to fix all of this was years ago.
This, then, was the End Time foreseen by Nozdormu. The damage is done. The past can’t be changed.
Except the past can totally be changed because the Bronze Dragonflight still exists. This, then, was the mission that the Infinite Dragonflight initially set out on… but the Infinite Dragonflight used the power of the Old Gods and became corrupted by them, leading to their mad service in the name of the Old Gods and the Hour of Twilight. Meanwhile, in our timeline we have the Heart of Azeroth, enough power to provide a path backwards, though it tears us down and weakens us, to arrive back in time at the steps of the Dark Portal… just as Illidan is about to rip this open again.
Yes, that’s where we’re ending up. We’re rolling the clock back to just before the Burning Crusade, but instead of going back to do that again we’re setting right into creating a divergent timeline. This time, our goal is to start by cutting off the Old Gods before they can take root by hunting down Deathwing before the Shattering. This coincides with an end to the faction divide; now that we’re all basically taking part in a time split, the faction lines that the rest of the world participates in don’t matter as much to players.
Of course, that doesn’t mean factions go away; it just means that so long as War Mode is off, you’re neutral to other players and can visit and even take quests outside of the major cities. PvP remains as it is, because to the majority of the Alliance or Horde, you’re still part of the Alliance or Horde. Queueing up for a battleground means you’re taking part in what residents at the time see as a completely still-present cold war.
Meanwhile, you can bring your Classic character forward into the expansion (it’s a one-way trip) and, essentially, do a quest line explaining that you’re joining this new group of adventurers from a broken future. It is, functionally, a new expansion to the classic game, based on the lessons that were learned for Wrath carried forward. Meaning that you’re back to a level cap of 70 (solving that issue) but with worldwide level scaling, back to talent points but with the best of both worlds in class design, and no longer stinging quite the same from the loss of systems that were abandoned.
Obviously the talent trees will look very different from the ones Classic has; the core philosophy here should be that while the game is technically downgrading by bringing players from 120 to 60, nothing is actually lost in that compression. If anything, things are gained. So if any of the current abilities absolutely need to be moved into talent trees, they should be among the absolute first options you pick up. We could also see something else neat done with talent trees, but at this point we’re already deep into the woods of things that are never going to happen, so let’s leave that speculation alone.
Since we’re going back in time, we also go back to having fewer difficulty options for content. Everything has precisely two modes, Normal and Heroic. Normal is accessed via the group finder, Heroic is not; Normal Dungeons scale up to level, all forms of raids and Heroic Dungeons are at the level cap only. Heroic dungeons take over the current keystone system as dungeon progression, Heroic raids are the progression raiding content, but all dungeons are accessible in normal mode as they get added.
I’ve already put forth a bunch of different systems that the game could use to make gearing less of a goddamn nightmare, for the record. Use one and go with it, give Heroic players about three months of having the best gear and then let normal players upgrade to catch up.
Where will we actually go for the expansion? There are lots of options for new regions to explore, including just re-using the Cataclysm areas, but my inherent whim is to actually really wildly upset things and have the expansion continent be the Broken Isles. Yes, a redesigned version of where we were just one expansion ago… but in totally different context, with different troubles, and following very different quest lines. In other words, it doubles down on the idea that this is a very different experience, top to bottom.
And if the timeline seems wonky around the world now? Well, of course it does.
Obviously, this is almost certainly not what we’re going to get. I sincerely doubt that we’ll get much more in the way of nods to what people are looking back toward with yearning beyond the vague notion that yes, we really do like talent trees, and no, the current state of the game is a mess. I strongly expect that there’s not even consideration of merging the options for live and Classic. It’s a messy, weird, strange idea from top to bottom.
But it sounds cool to me, so it was a banner round of Oh, I Made Myself Sad. And if you share my particular love of weird extended fixes, now you’re in the same boat.