The last opportunity that Blizzard had to really restore player confidence was Warcraft III: Reforged. And…
Yes, that’s very good, please stop laughing. I know. It’s hilarious in hindsight. Remember to breathe. That’s it. Yes, I know it sounds really silly to say that, but it was a shot at reminding people that this is a studio capable of producing really good games, right up until it managed to de-master one of its most classic games. It sure did nothing to reassure anyone that Shadowlands isn’t going to be a mess and a half.
So right now, if you haven’t already pre-ordered the next World of Warcraft expansion, you are not being given many reasons to do so. Heck, you have lots of reasons not to do so and to assume that it’s going to be steaming hot garbage. But what in the world could the developers do to actually address this problem? It’s too late to, say, bring the whole thing back to the drawing board or somehow release a non-awful version of patch 8.3, obviously, but I do think there are ways to reassure players and boost confidence just the same.
Will Blizzard actually do any of this? Once again, I ask you to please stop laughing.
Outline the unpruned abilities and a leveling roadmap
One of the big points during the expansion’s BlizzCon presentation was the un-pruning of abilities. “Auras are coming back for Paladins,” for example, was a big old bullet point. But which auras? When? How will the different auras interact with the three different Paladin specs? What will Paladins of all specs have to look forward to in turns of returning abilities, and how will they alter the actual feel of playing the class?
Because let me tell you, I find it painfully easy to imagine a story wherein the returning abilities are things like Detect Undead, Concentration Aura, the resistance auras, and Devotion Aura. And at that thought, let me muster my most profoundly unenthusiastic “wooo” in faux-celebration.
That’s also ignoring the fact that at least one class (Demon Hunter) doesn’t really have a whole lot of history to un-prune; sure, it has lost a thing or two, but not enough to fill out a whole leveling path. If you want people to be excited about this huge leveling plan, you have to give people something to be excited about, and a big part of that is giving people specific things to look forward to. Not just generic platitudes or vague concepts, but actual tangible abilities and how they will affect things, why they’re relevant again.
Ideally, what we should be getting is a proper leveling roadmap. The stated goal is that players should be getting something new every level, and while it might be subject to change, we should be able to get some idea of what that “something” is for every level and why it should matter. More to the point, those un-pruned abilities should be things people actually miss and want back; as I’ve mentioned before, having poisons back as a pre-battle chore for Rogues is short of an interesting change by one full spec design.
Remember how the team actually did this for Legion? Remember how even while people were upset with some of the changes, it was still an active talking point for months around the reveals? Yeah.
Clarify the leveling plan post-Shadowlands
You might be tempted at this point to say that they can’t announce the plans for the next expansion when we’re still like three years away from that being a thing! And to that I say hogwash. Not because they should have everything absolutely locked into place at this point, but they should at least have a plan.
When it comes to this sort of long-term project, basically everything should be planned out in some form pretty far in advance. Let’s use the faster-to-make Magic: the Gathering as an example: As the team is busy rolling out the newest set, the next set is being finished, the set after that is pretty well through design, and the next major set is already well into planning and development. That’s not to say nothing is going to change on that next major set you’ll probably be seeing in a year and a half, but if you were to break into the company offices, you would find actual design already in progress.
The point is that while Blizzard shouldn’t be ready to announce the next expansion theme or location (although it really should have those at least halfway to locked in), it should have a plan about what it expects to do with leveling at this point. That plan might change, but the devs can at least share something to give players a feeling that the game’s design isn’t being figured out at the last minute.
For that matter, the powers that be could really swing for the fences and explain what the overall plans and/or needed feedback will be. I feel like this is one of those places Blizzard has increasingly failed, but it’s not something that can’t be done. “Hey, we answered this question thusly in the past, but maybe you guys really want X in the game. We’re looking for feedback about it.” Sure, you’d need to filter the feedback into useful levels, but isn’t that literally the point of this job?
Show that customization, show those new rewards
We’re supposed to be getting a whole new way to play with our endless tower of making legendaries. Cool! Great. Show some of that off. Yes, again, it might not remain in the same form forever, but considering that the expansion is probably about seven months off I find it hard to believe there’s no way to make a mock-up or some examples. Give players a sense of how this gameplay loop is meant to work.
For that matter, show us all the new customization we’re supposed to get. Show us the results of some of this work. Sure, players have mined out a bit, but if the only addition is four hairstyles per race we’ll all be rightly disappointed. Show us redesigns to the character creator. Show us our new options. Yes, some of these things might be mockups and not show up in exactly that form in the live game, but that’s fine. People can understand the difference between an early version and a finished product if you make the distinction clear.
But when you show people nothing, all anyone has to go by is datamining, and it’s why Blizzard’s whole set of complaints about leaks rang so hollow at the convention.
People weren’t digging this stuff up because it’s funny to kneecap big reveals but because for most players this point in the game’s life is kind of scary. It feels like things are being half-finished and abandoned. The quality has kept dropping. There’s no sense of consistency to the lore or the gameplay or design. It feels like the people making this don’t care about the game; they care about mechanically doing the stuff that’s supposed to keep players subscribed.
I don’t actually care whether the people making the game have a passion for it except insofar as it shows in their work. Right now, the game seems to be at its highest point of garbage corporate product. And if the studio wants to counteract that image and restore love for the game to its past heights, it needs to actually do something other than just sit around.