WoW Factor: Is Age of Darkness really the next expansion, and is it what we want and need?

    
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Whoops.

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.

This sounds normal, sure.

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?

This isn't going anywhere.

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.

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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Alyn
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Alyn

While I have stated in a previous article that featured Azeroth as it might appear in Unreal engine, I had fantasized how interesting a story-driven WoW 2 might be.

Alas, though I do not think the creative imagery and strength is left in Blizzard to complete such a task. Granted some of those that went before might have the desire. I fear this is what we see now. Just a continuation and a pretense that all is well and somehow maintaining.

Better we as a community celebrate what we had and just move on.

There is hope, a microscopic one.

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Marty Woods

The lack of faction melding doesn’t feel like “chickening out” it seems more like Blizzard have their heads on straight and know if they did meld factions they would lose a whole chunk of their pvp player base .

Its a contentious issue and one best avoided .

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Teh Beardling

I kind of agree with some of the comments below that we just need a WoW 2. The design and engine is so dated and could use a fresh foundation to build from. We could maybe get true housing, more depth in class design and maybe even trade skills that didn’t suck a big fat one. I also agree though that I don’t want the current team to build it. Ion and his team are waaaaay to out of touch to the modern day populace to make a good game from scratch. I think the only reason wow survives now is it’s history. People have a decade or longer investment in it. If BfA had launched today has the base game it would have failed, miserably.

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Akagi

What will housing do? It exists in ESO and it’s absolutely pointless waste of space.

I also agree that WoW 2 should be made, it should take place in pre-sundering Kalimdor where the races are different:

– no Orcs
– no Forsaken
– There are tons of Trolls
– there aren’t many Elves (because they are just beginning to exist)
– there are Humans, or pre-Humans (Vrykul or whatever they were)

and there are other bad guys.

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Jokerchyld

First and foremost it will offer choice. Right now I can take advantage of housing because it doesnt exist. Just because you think housing is a waste of space doesnt mean the rest of the player base agrees with you.

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Akagi

What point does it have then?

It’s a means to get people to spend on the Crown Store to get more shit to decorate their houses with… as well as get them to buy bigger and fancier houses.

The fact that every player can have the same exact house is so utterly stupid. Just like their One Tamriel update where they added scaling so you can level in whatever zone you want, except that if you pick a random (or the last for the story line) zone for DC, AD or EP, you will not understand what goes on in the story, why are you fighting some guys…

The game is designed to milk whales and it’s not even worthy of being called a TES game and the housing is one of the biggest ways to milk people. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I got my free canton room in the Morrowind chapter, put some pictures on the walls, some table and chairs and I realized how stupid this is.

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Dug From The Earth

Maybe they think that by putting azeroth in the “dark ages” that it will be more lore friendly for them to explain the sudden shift to a more “vanilla” like feel? (if they try to go that route)

I know players have also been complaining for some time how each expansion makes us feel like gods, or god killers, and then we go back to killing rats when the next expansion comes out. Maybe the “dark ages” will be a lore reason of why we are back to rat killing on a more permanent basis.

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Bruno Brito

Even if this xpac is the dog’s bollocks, the next one won’t be.

As long as Blizzard keeps this idiocy about changing the game everytime a xpac drops, they’ll keep making people play different versions of the same boring game.

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Rick Mills

“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.”

You can’t dig deeper than the foundation or the house will fall down. The game is founded on level-progression. Nothing in Legion changed that. If you change level-progression, you change the game – Like Tuor of GOndolin said below – time for WoW 2.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

i don’t know that the game has really been around traditional level-progression in a while. item-level for sure, but actual character levels have been more artificial as time has gone on. I mean granted, I think the current incarnation of levels to be exceptionally ill-equipped to show any kind of progression outside of a superficial ‘security blanket’ style progression.

But yeah, not disagreeing with WoW2, but I think they could reincarnate WoW into that. Of any company, they have the resources. Unfortunately they also have Ion, which means anything that adding to the eternal glory of the raider gets largely ignored.

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Rick Mills

Agree!
I’m mainly speaking ostensibly. Without levels, though, it would be like releasing an expansion in the form of Nazjatar and Mechagon, or Tanaan Jungle, etc…

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Tuor of Gondolin

What I think we need is WoW 2. I don’t think we’ll be getting it, though.

K38FishTacos
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K38FishTacos

While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t trust Activision-Blizzard to provide a satisfactory product. Can you how imagine how they would build mtx into a completely new game?

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Age of Darkness is old news, now Shadowlands is the next hot leak.

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Daniel Reasor

Based on your recommendation, I went and found the Shadowlands “leak” discussion thread at one of the other, more toxic, sites.

I now think that we should have a periodically updated article here, summarizing the growing number of competing fake leaks that emerge in the weeks leading up to BlizzCon for easy comparison and contrast. “This fake leak says we’re getting a Tinker class, but this other says we’re getting TinkerERs. Which would you prefer?”

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

I agree, for every legitimate leak you have to dig through a bag of trash.

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Utakata

Personally, I prefer they call it Pinkers. And have it as a Gnome only class. /winks left pigtail

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Zora

Leaks always existed in a weird feline state (of the Schrodinger’s kind) and right now the game exist in a similar condition where, after being told more or less everything that would happen right until 8.2 and azshara at the reveal of the expansion a lifetime ago… we’re now not getting told a single thing of what should happen in a very near future so close that’s practically melding with the present.

I can’t imagine if that’s a marketing choice to build suspense or if after having everything planned years in advance they just changed idea halfway and need to play catch-up, but either way that’s the point in time where, lacking official info, leaks start filling the void.

I suppose it’s a game in itself, wading through the mud to pick apart the wheat from the chaff?

Alyn
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Alyn

“I’d heard you were dead.”
“I heard you wear a red lace corset,” I said matter-of-factly. “But I don’t believe every bit of nonsense that gets rumored about.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

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Sarah Cushaway

Ugh. Kvothe is fucking insufferable and needs to die.