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.
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.
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.