WoW Factor: Oh no, Visions of N’zoth is real bad

    
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how did this happen, jazz hands

Based on a wholly informal poll based on what’s going around the community right now, I’ve compiled most of the agreed-upon positives for the most recent World of Warcraft patch. It goes something like this:

  • Some people wish to play the Short Worgen and now they can
  • Tentacle fetishists have won once again
  • Bar-filling fetishists have also won
  • “It’s better than nothing” and then there’s a picture of Sonic the Hedgehog shrugging and smirking
  • A couple of new transmog options exist
  • If you ignore all the parts that are bad, some of the parts that are left over are acceptable or all right!
  • It’s coming out near that Picard show and that sure looks fun!

So what in the name of Farmer Fruitley’s Fruit Snacks happened here? A lot of different things, but a lot of the problems with Visions of N’zoth don’t come down to just content being bland or unpleasant but bugs, lack of polish, and grinds that absolutely no one has the patience for any more. And remember, kids, this is the last patch before the next expansion! Oh boy.

Now, while I enjoy poking fun (because it’s deserved), I also don’t want to be seen as holding a WoW patch to an unfair standard, so I’m going to focus my comparisons on patch 7.3 from Legion. Legion most definitely had its issues, chief among them being that you weren’t able to fly in the zones of Argus after players had just unlocked flight before, but it still did contain three new zones, which brought with them a whole lot of new content, cosmetics, and so forth.

This patch brings no new zones. It brings corruption moments to existing zones and Horrific Visions, all of which are reskins of existing zones. And none of them is persistently available, either; it’s not that you have new things available to do in Zone X, just that stuff can happen in these zones and it’s nice when it does.

Patch 7.3 also brought in a new dungeon, which 8.3 does not have. It brought in a new system for doing stuff with your artifact weapon, which 8.3 does not have for the Heart of Azeroth. (The designers did keep the essences locked per character, though, so that’s… a non-change.) Oh, and it brought a conclusion to an expansion-long plot that featured a reasonably long and significant cutscene wrapping things up, which is a far cry from the 30-second explosion that caps off Ny’alotha.

But it does have a new raid! They both have that right. Joy and rapture. Also, patch 8.3 has brought in the largest selection of bugs since the gates of Ahn’qiraj opened up.

aghblacghle

You don’t really need me to tell you all of this, of course; either you already know that people are not happy with Visions of N’zoth or you are presumably working in the Fanboy Mines. A much more interesting question, at least to me, is why? Why is it that there’s supposedly so many people working on the game and this patch drops unexpectedly late and full of bugs? Why is so much of this a bad reflection on where the game was two years ago? What in the world happened to that Blizzard polish?

It’s easy to point to “well, it’s the end of an expansion that no one liked” as the rationale, but let’s not forget that 6.2 – you know, the end of an expansion no one liked – contained a new system for Garrisons in the Shipyard, a whole new zone, a bunch of new daily stuff to do, and so forth. That sure didn’t make up for how bad the expansion was up to that point, but it definitely took some of the edge off, didn’t it?

For that matter, if we want to make the argument that everyone is just busy working on Shadowlands instead of the core game, that still doesn’t exactly sync up with the fact that Shadowlands does not appear to be moving particularly fast compared to usual WoW development. It’s no slower either, but the next expansion has no new races (Allied or otherwise) that we know of, it has no new class, and it mostly seems to just compress and flatten leveling systems. It’s possible that a lot of that is back-end stuff that isn’t as visible to players, but it’s hard to explain current issues away with an upcoming expansion.

Now… at least one of the major bugs is kind of explained away, or at least it’s understandable why it wasn’t caught. Auction house changes really require internal testing rather than relying upon players because no one is running an auction empire on the test server. Why would you? It’s all temporary. This doesn’t excuse the lack of testing, but it does at least explains it.

But… where was the internal testing? What is actually going on over there?

The optimistic part of me wants to believe that Blizzard is actually doing more behind the scenes than we know of, that the demand on the art team is in creating a vast array of additional assets, rebuilding the character creator, and generally making huge improvements ahead of Shadowlands that kind of required something to be pushed out the door half-finished.

And to a certain extent, Visions of N’zoth didn’t have to do a whole lot other than exist. There’s probably no timeline wherein it was somehow going to redeem this expansion. Maybe there is something to the repeated theory that Blizzard just didn’t care at this point, that it had to put out some sort of patch and was basically coasting along with the idea that this one barely matters anyhow.

No expression.

Here’s the thing, though: This also feels like a splinter in our collective eye, in a way. Yes, every patch has always had bugs, but this one feels different in a rather substantial way. It seems that the reception is harsher, the forgiveness even from die-hard fans less forthcoming, as if now that the dam has finally eroded, the waters are tumbling through faster than anyone can stanch the flow.

Maybe the designers didn’t or couldn’t put as much effort into this one, but usually you’re not able to tell that. If there’s one word that has consistently been associated with Blizzard, it’s polish. Even the weaker patches of the game usually came with a sense of completeness, of bulk, of refinement.

Why did this patch come out so late? Why does it have bugs and grinds that seem tailor-made to make players angry? Why is it that at a time when the game really needs to be convincing players that this is building toward something – a task that has traditionally been managed even during bad expansions – we find ourselves with a last patch that’s kind of a hot mess?

I wish that there was a smoking gun to point to, some bit of uncommon behind-the-scenes manipulation to explain everything. Unfortunately, it appears that the actual answer right now is just… not caring, or not thinking that not caring matters all that much. Assuming that players will keep playing no matter what; that’s always worked before. Or, if players do leave, they’ll be back for the next expansion, so why worry?

And… well, that’s kind of going to be the focus of next week’s column, since all of this is setting up a question we need to start asking about Shadowlands when this is the care going into the end-of-expansion patch.

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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K38FishTacos
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K38FishTacos

Don’t like the corrupted mechanic.

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Carebear

people are not happy with wow ever after cataclysm yet they still buy the expansions and support it.

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Utakata

Mop and Legion despite some of its flaws where pretty good, IMO. So with that, I expect folks buy it hoping that there will be another hit.

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Carebear

MoP got its recognition only after the bad WoD expansion… when MoP was current expansion people had different opinion.

And Legion came after a bad expansion, so people overrated it. Still i think legion was good compared wod and bfa. I also think MoP was even better than legion just because classes were much more fun to play and zone design was still “flat” and not a nightmare to traverse.

But most people in every expansion when its current, are pissed off.

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Utakata

I don’t think it’s that at all. That’s like saying Wrath was really mediocre because Cata was so bad, everyone thought it was good. That’s not a metric nor a narrative one should be measuring the reponse of players by, as that becomes entirely subjective at best.

Since you and I don’t have any actual numbers or citations where we conclude this either way or not, I am going to base my position on the ole subscription numbers when Blizz used to publicly post them. Evidence of those suggest many players don’t stick around in their err…’comfort zone’, narrow minded or otherwise, if they don’t like what is going on. They usually tend to bolt. And a few are likely quite vocal about it. What is left are folks who likely are satisfied the way things are. Further complicating this is the ever revolving door of MMO’s that the same players sticking around today where not likely the same players that where back then. And all points in between and beyond…

Thus we can’t sit in our hubris and surmise things based on what we just don’t know because WoW’s sales are presumably not slumping. We don’t know they are. What seems to be apparent though, and back to my original point to which I stand by, players are willing to give the new a try to see if it’s improved from the former experience. You simply can’t fault them for that. /shrug

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

I remember covering MOP and the disdain for it before and during was incredible. Even now a lot of people sneer at the pandas. Once I got in and played, I loved it (I believe I skipped the launch because I was deep in GW2). Definitely my 2nd favorite WoW period, even with its clear problems. Was just saying the other day if (big if) I go back for Shadowlands, it’ll be to play a new toon through MOP under the new leveling system.

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Utakata

On the side: Wouldn’t it be nice if they allowed us to choose which expansion to max level on, then gear through it in it’s respective endgame? That is, we could choose the latest expansion or the rest of the game or even both or all. It would be a sandbox full of theme parks. And a place where we never get bored or yearn for a forgotten past and a power creep of our own choice…

…the problem with big Blizz sometimes, they rarely dream big. /le sigh

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

Many people are sadly extremely narrow-minded and are afraid of trying anything new, including games of other types. They often make false assumptions about other games based on incorrect information posted by others and they would rather keep playing what they already experienced, even if they stop liking the game. I was one of them, until I just decided to give other things a try no matter what others say about them.

Some other people are just incapable of enjoying anything that even slightly changes the mechanics of what they found as “good for them” in single game, so they keep returning to same game even after trying other games, even if they also realize that the game they keep returning to keeps getting worse.

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Carebear

I agree. People are not willing to get out of their “comfort zone”..

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Anthony Clark

The Blizzard of old is dead.

The corporate buyouts killed it.

So sad. The executives killed it.

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rosieposie

Hmm, maybe laying off most of their QA department might explain a thing or two… just a wild, crazy, unsubstantiated thought.

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Paragon Lost

Got 10 of the 12 classes to the cap, got them geared up over 400 to 420s ilevel, about all I could stomach. Couldn’t get the drive to get the Demon Hunter and Death Knight from their 110’s to the cap and then gear up. Don’t want to do the whole ilevel with the crappy corruption thread.

The story lines have sucked for a long time and I truly hate the Heart of Azeroth item. Don’t want to bother with the legendary cloak this time around, so I canceled my account yesterday for the time being. I’ve had issues with their design philosophy for a long time, I’ve just been able to ignore or get over the worst parts of it. I’m not sure I can anymore. :/

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Jonathan Straka

Imagine using Tanaan Jungle and the Shipyard as examples of better content. Spoiler: this patch is actually pretty good, and the outrage is more reactionary nonsense.

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Jeremy Barnes

Denial is the 1st stage of Grief

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Utakata

Lol! Nice one! <3

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Bruno Brito

this patch is actually pretty good

Yeah, this is why even Belullar which is pretty tame towards Blizz was tearing this patch a new asshole in his latest videos.

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Nathan Aldana

tell that to my guildmate who after her third to 4th failure to clear a horrific vision is now both out of tokens and also still about 5 upgrade levels off from being able to do the lfr due to needing the lvl 6 cape for nzoth

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Utakata

Out of tokens? What this rubbish?

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Jokerchyld

I believe YOU enjoyed the content, but objectively it was rushed and incomplete for an end game patch. From the bugs, to lack of things to do, to the anemic end cinematic to the entire expansion.

MrEllis
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MrEllis

Maybe leadership failed this patch? It’s not like Blizzard didn’t have the infrastructure, money or talent.

Did they do away with crunch in a way that crippled work flow? Did they shift managers or lose key staff we didn’t know of? Did they upgrade software for production that caused work flow to stop or slow? There are so many variables that could lead to this, we have no information about. It’s a giant machine with so many cogs any given piece breaking could cause results to take at any point thereafter.

I do know this, the overall fun factor didn’t benefit from this patch. I don’t feel my experience was enhanced so much as extended. I usually come back to an expansion at this point and play catch up for the next one. Most of the systems are refined by now and they’ve added a lot of end game content at this point. But here I am, going to zones I happily left before, fighting an elder god that barely holds my interest. The amount of effort they put in this seems minimal. I’m sure they spent time on assets, I’m not knocking the work artists put into it off hand, but the entire concept overall sends a message of mediocrity.

This isn’t something they’ll fix, Blizzard is too massive to react quickly. They’ll band aid it and throw us bones in hopes of appeasement.

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Jeremy Barnes

I think this would be the 1st expansion where the new leadership would have been responsible from the very beginning

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Danny Smith

It feels like either they have no direction on where to take the franchise after exhausting the warcraft 3 jumping off points finally or they simply aren’t given the time or budget needed to finish the mechanics of anything.

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Khrome

This expansion had no designer *anywhere* in sight of the game. It feels designed by an excel sheet, which was fed with anonymized statistics – Numbers, which were interpreted as a design document. The cost of developing certain mechanics. The retention rate when certain patches were released. The usage of mechanics across the board.

“Artifact weapons saw a lot of engagement from players. Lets remake that mechanic so we see a lot of engagement from players.”

Combined with:

“Artifact weapon design cost was high due to many different abilities, testing required, etc, so lets make it cheaper by making it a straight up alternate level grind.”

No one at Blizzard thought to think about what this combination actually meant: They went by statistics and statistics alone. No one ever bothered to play their own game: Everyone at Blizzard was so convinced by the absolute truth of their excel sheet that they were downright hostile to anyone suggesting that “it isn’t fun”.

Contrast this to Cataclysm and WoD, while bad expansions, they at least had some *human* thought behind them. Someone believed that people clamored for harder instances in Cataclysm. They remade the world for flying. They simplified the vanilla zone questlines. All things people asked for in some form or another, and they did try new things with the zones, dungeons and raids to keep things fresh.

WoD was also a passion project for someone. Garrisons, while ill-advised knock-offs of mobile games of the time, were still a form of housing which people wanted, a place of their own in the WoW world. The zones, dungeons and raids which, while few, were still of very high quality. They made a slight step back from the daily quest obsession from MoP, which was highly criticized at the time – Again, *human* thought.

But BfA? You cannot convince me that *any* feature of the entire expansion was ever evaluated and criticized from a human perspective. They kept the garrison type gameplay, but removed all ‘difficult parts’ from it. War assets were still a thing, but their entire reason for existing has been all but removed. They kept the artifact weapon system, but greatly simplified the good bits while keeping the bad bits nearly unchanged. Warzones were meant to bring the Horde vs Alliance conflict to the foreground, but they made it PvE only – Which makes zero sense, not to mention that the scenarios are literally impossible to fail, removing any sense of accomplishment from engaging them and making them just a point on a checklist. Island expeditions were basically forgotten about immediately after the release of the expansion, and i still don’t see what the idea behind those was except ‘players need more ways to waste their time’.

The individual storylines were fun when taken in isolation, but when put into context of the plot of the game as a whole they immediately broke down – No one writing for this expansion has played any of the other expansions and only read the wiki summaries for the involved characters. Oh, and a personal pet peeve? Right after a gigantic, planet-sized monster stabs Azeroth and having been alerted that MAJOR COSMIC THREATS are looming looking to destroy *the entire planet*, am i really supposed to believe that all factions completely forget about this the next week and go to squabbling about completely meaningless dynamite replacers? What the flying fuck? That the faction lines are still so rigid is a testament to how idiotically stubborn Blizzard is – And even worse, THE ONE THING they still decide on with their ‘human heads’ is to basically deny that it’s no longer 2002 and the ‘horde vs alliance’ schtick has gotten so fucking old and boring, not to mention completely and utterly meaningless now.

And now, instead of looking back and fixing the rest of the game so it feels one one whole again, they once again shoo everyone off into the next expansion so people can “please” completely forget about *all* the work they did in the previous 20-odd years. New players are *forced* to play the BfA content “because it gets them up to speed for the next expansion”, which is set to not just ignore the old world mechanically, but thematically as well.

It’s so… Ridiculous. A fail on so many different levels. I can’t pinpoint to any specific thing which makes the game so infuriating at the moment, except for the obvious fact that Blizzard no longer cares for World of Warcraft anymore in any way that really matters. They only have a profit margin to reach to please their shareholders: Customers and even their own developers are subject to the whims of the almighty excel sheet.

I have zero confidence in Shadowlands turning into anything but a gigantic debacle. BfA really hurt the game in a much more comprehensive way WoD ever did (i bet most of the sub gains from classic have fallen away by now as well, but you won’t hear them announce that), and i fear that Shadowlands will drive the stake through its heart.

It’ll go on. It’s Activision-Blizzard after all. But i wouldn’t count on it ever reaching its former heights again. No, even worse, i wouldn’t count on Blizzard even having the *ambition* to do that.

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Sorenthaz

This expansion had no designer *anywhere* in sight of the game. It feels designed by an excel sheet, which was fed with anonymized statistics – Numbers, which were interpreted as a design document. The cost of developing certain mechanics. The retention rate when certain patches were released. The usage of mechanics across the board.

That’s kind of how Ion has come off as being throughout everything I’ve seen/heard from him. Very data-driven design, even though that does not make for a good player experience since it’s essentially removing entertainment from the equation and trying to grasp what formulaic design will keep folks playing with optimal retention (and, if possible, growth).

On one hand it’s kind of bizarre considering he was apparently part of a big raid guild back in the day before getting on the WoW team, but at the same time I guess it’s not surprising since usually top end raid guilds are the types to do that stupid level of data-driven analysis and care about efficiency and optimization.

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Jeremy Barnes

That’s the problem when you’re a slave to MMORPGs from 20 years ago. They spend so much time ensuring that every class does within 3% DPS of each other in raids that they don’t spend time on..ya know, guys, is this fun?

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Bruno Brito

Ion is a former hardcore raider. Of course the only thing he sees is raiding. Which shows, since, in detriment of everything else, raiding in WoW is the best it ever has been.

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Nathan Aldana

except for n’zoth, which has been declared one of the worst designed boss fights ever unless you include the mythic-only phase

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Khrome

On one side i would agree, but this makes the fact that every single patch makes the previous raid completely pointless hurt even more. Blizzard is actively killing the *one* thing they still know how to do properly.

And as Nathan says, even *that* they fucked up this patch. I think it’s time to really give up, especially given that this patch is what we get for the next 8 months *at minimum*, though i would not be surprised if Shadowlands gets delayed well into 2021.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

“Artifact weapons saw a lot of engagement from players. Lets remake that mechanic so we see a lot of engagement from players.”

The difference of course is that people cared about their Artifact weapons. Nobody cares about the flaming heart of idiocy. Removing Artifact weapons gutted a great expansion and made it trivial.

The dry, rote nature of BfA is exactly the kind of thing that would be created from stats on an excel spreadsheet.

And, as a non-raider, I liked WoD. As you say, there was a passion there, a coherence, that BfA so obviously lacks. And it was fun, if you weren’t a raider.

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Bluxwave

I see you have a lot.

A issue these days is many areas are not taking care of the aspects that alot of people have put a HUGE amount of effort and time into for even up to 50 years.

Its getting bad.

I am doing all I can everywhere to help.

I have even a backup version of windows because Microsoft only has one OS. No backup OS.

A computer specialist company that doesn’t have one backup ? jokes right?

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Annoyed badger

why the hell do people still peddle the blizard polish idiocy? They have been a shovelware get it out the door in a crappy half arsed state since cataclysm.