First of all, let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: It is possible that this column will contain spoilers about the future of World of Warcraft because, well, it’s discussing a leak. That leak may be for real, but it may also be completely fake and bear only tangential connection to what actually happens next. Fairly warned be ye, although considering that the game is in a place where it sort of could use the encouragement of leaks being real I don’t think the spoilers are really worth fretting over.
So let’s move on to the discussion of the hour, the supposed leak for the expansion World of Warcraft: Age of Darkness. Is it legitimate? On a scale of yes to no, I’m going to rate that a solid “tonally varying statement of ‘ehh, maybe’ that spends about eight seconds on the ‘ehh’ and ends with a hand movement indicating ambiguity.” You know, the sort of thing that would work really well if this were a video but not so much in text.
Leaks and I have an unpleasant relationship, as I’ve indicated in the past. Before I’ll spend any time really thinking about a leak, it needs to have something to give me a feeling that it isn’t false at face value, and that’s always hard to do. This one obviously passes the criteria of not being an obvious troll or fake leak, but it also manages to be plausible without leaning hard on fan wish fulfillment.
How do I figure that? Well… wish fulfillment has a certain mouth feel, let’s say. There’s a point when it stops feeling like it’s just a list of things that fans want and starts being a list of things fans want that may or may not actually make any sense, frequently because it’s the stuff that only appeals to fans. Things like exploring the Nerubian underground kingdoms, for example, fall hard into the realm of wish fulfillment.
Parts of this leak brush up against that. The idea of a Tinker class, for example, definitely falls into that realm with both its two specializations and role as ranged DPS, especially as it’s been one of the oldest white whales for player classes since we’ve always had lots of NPCs roaming around using it. It’s never quite happened, but it always feels like it could, and while it seems like it would be a basic class rather than a hero class… well, that’s kind of plausible here, isn’t it? If you have a level squish, that might be reasonable.
The level squish is definitely a part of the leak that adds to that feel of legitimacy. It seems almost certain now that a squish is going to happen; way too much time has been spent talking about it from a development perspective if it’s not going to go anywhere. Also, it seems… well, like it’s the sort of solution that’s going to kick the can down the road for a little while rather than solve the overarching issue, so that feels legit.
On the flip side, the whole idea of account-wide leveling is one of those things that I personally like but also feels very un-Blizzard in a certain respect. It rewards long-term investment, and I could see it being something of a paean for players who had lots of leveling already accomplished or even just a way to ensure that alts still accomplish something in the larger sense, but “perpetual leveling” also seems like too horizontal an idea for the current team to adopt long-term. Of course, this is assuming that an account-wide system wouldn’t be gutted like so many other expansion features.
Add in the idea that Kalimdor is the only thing getting reworked at the start of the expansion and, well… it feels a bit implausible in spots, which could either confirm that it’s legitimate based on the “why else would you claim that” factor, or prove that it’s bunk. Both would make a certain amount of sense.
The story beats are all predictable, kind of boring, and the nonsense we’ve been predicted and building up for a long time. A lack of a real faction melding also feels like chickening out halfway through, like a version of the venerable Peanuts gag where Charlie Brown gets near Lucy while running, then slows down, walks over very slowly, and nudges forward with his foot so that he won’t trip even if she pulls the damn ball away. You know: missing the point.
So, yeah. It’s… plausible? But hardly airtight, and there’s nothing that jumps out at me as either being obviously true or transparently false. So that makes me consider whether or not I’d want for it to be true, to which the answer is…
Actually, it’s the same answer. Ehh… maybe?
The thing is that while there are nice ideas in the leak/speculation/whatever, two things give me pause, without my bothering to ask if it’s all real. The first is that not a lot of space is given over to understanding why we got to where we are right now, just in trying to change things. People feel like you don’t get much out of leveling? Have fewer levels with more stuff in them. People feel like there’s nothing to work toward other than gear at the level cap? Bam, account-wide leveling stuff. Do you want a new class? Mic drop! Another world revamp? Alakazorp!
And yes, these changes at face value aren’t bad ones, but they’re also the sort of changes that could fail to understand that the fundamental issues run deeper. A lot of things need to be altered down on a foundational point for all of this stuff to really work. This just ties into the next issue, that a lot of this stuff does include basic foundational shifts for the way the game works… which is, in and of itself, something that we literally had two expansions back.
All of these shifts would necessitate some pretty basic reworkings to how classes work, right? You know, the same thing that happened in Legion. And again, we’d have no certainty that anything would stick, and so we’re right back to having to learn how to play the classes we loved at one point all over again. I honestly had high hopes that the expansion would be the new normal, but instead… well, here we are staring down the need for another foundational shift.
And yes, this could be a shift back to stuff like seals and auras for Paladins and totems for Shaman and stuff that players remember being really cool from Classic, something that I have verbally agitated for. But do you really feel confident that this time is when it’s going to stick? Do you really feel like this revision is the one that’s going to be the new normal?
I realize that this is the definition of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. But that’s why I wind up at a shrug and a “well, maybe.” I could see myself being excited for this, but it’s not an automatic sell just yet. You need to earn that one again.