Back in February, I wrote about how Blizzard could help restore some player confidence about Shadowlands. And we’re a few months in, and… yeah, that’s not really what we’re getting. What we’re getting, instead, is a whole big lot of not much at all.
One some level, this is not entirely surprising. Blizzard has proven increasingly inward-looking over the years when it comes to World of Warcraft, marketing much more heavily toward the converted than those who might be coming to the game for the first time. This makes a certain amount of sense, even; with the game’s extant cultural footprint, it’s probably easier to remind people of fun from the past than try to court people who aren’t aware of your title.
But what’s interesting to me is watching the overall community reactions and how Blizzard is managing (or not managing) that. In a far cry from prior expansions that had a lot of people anxious ahead of time, it feels like the approach to Shadowlands so far is to just assume it’ll get hype. And that… I don’t quite see happening thus far.
The reason I linked that column is that I laid out three points that Blizzard could address to start getting people in the mood of “yes, this expansion is worth getting excited about.” The first was seeing ability previews and what’s getting un-pruned, which… we did! And it honestly looks pretty lackluster, without many changes or alterations that people requested. As for future leveling plans? Silence. Customization options? Completely absent from previews and discussion.
Oh, there’s been a lot of datamining for these things. I already know new options I can’t wait to use on some of my characters. But the thing about datamining is that while it can help drive further hype, it doesn’t really build hype by itself. It has to focus on things you’re already excited about, and it exists only in spaces that you go to if you’re already paying extra attention to the game.
Customization options are themselves a weird point because… as much as some people (me) love them, they don’t really sell you on the game. They’re an enhancement to a game you’re already sold on. All the customization options in the world won’t sell you on a title you’re not already having fun with, and the lackluster options already present in WoW sure didn’t stop people from adoring the game during its high points.
I am, of course, reading all of the datamining about new changes. I keep up with this stuff. I also keep up with the community, with people who are both in the pre-sold group and people who are very fond of the game but increasingly tired of it. There’s a lot more people in that latter group, and past the people whose employment hinges upon being excited for WoW, I’m not seeing much, if any, pop for this particular expansion.
It doesn’t help at all that this is a feature-light expansion following up another feature-light expansion. Technically, Battle for Azeroth shouldn’t feel feature-light; it added six new races with Allied Races, and while the unlock process had significant issues, that’s still a lot. But the lack of any new classes and the general awfulness of the Heart of Azeroth meant that it felt like a downgrade across the board. Now that Shadowlands includes no new races or classes, it’s definitely light on features.
There’s good cause for it, sure. Revamping leveling probably takes a lot of work. But at the same time, who bought that the number squish in Warlords of Draenor was a “feature”? Especially when we got another one two expansions later, and then another one not long after? I’m guessing just about nobody.
Even then, the problem as I’ve discussed before wasn’t so much that there needed to be a level squish so much as “the game does not have 120 levels worth of stuff.” And the overall look of specs and classes doesn’t seem that different now that we’re staring down a more complete look at what everyone looks like from 1-60.
That’s why I find myself looking and feeling a need for some actual hype here. People who are going to be playing WoW in a year’s time no matter what are going to buy the expansion because of course they are. This is more content and more stuff to do. What the content is and why doesn’t matter nearly so much as “this is more content, we need more content.” That’s not the audience you need to convince.
One of my friends is pretty far into the WoW fan mines but the other day prompted a pretty dark discussion about looking forward to the expansion. It’s the only game in town, but just… why? When the community remains exclusionary and unengaging, when the game has gutted most social activities outside of “guild drama,” and when the next expansion isn’t something you really want to engage with… why bother playing the expansion?
The answer, of course, is that the expansion is necessary to keep playing the game. But that also prompts some uncomfortable thoughts about why you’re playing a game when you aren’t having fun.
And it’s a hard question to answer. This is a friend whose presence in the game matters to me, but also a friend who finds the game just not very fun to play at the moment. (And if you’re about to suggest “Classic” in the comments, that is literally where said friend and I met. What, you thought that long-form narrative just made up a friendship? You’re silly.) And there’s nothing about Shadowlands that makes you sit up and say that you need to see that.
I really want to be wrong about this, but as someone who reads loads about WoW on a daily basis, I’m hard-pressed to explain to someone why the expansion is exciting beyond “it’s more content.” Heck, the more I learn about Torghast, the more it feels like a mild diversion away from the same M+/high-end raiding endgame that’s already been an issue in the past two expansions, right down to the randomness.
Oh, and we’re losing emissary quests, too, in favor of something more like Mechagon… which was a daily, and the whole point of changing to the Emissary setup was to move away from the daily feeling of missing out, and…
You knew that joke was coming around again. Be thankful it happened near the end.
Obviously, it’s not as if the game can really add features to the expansion at this point; right now we’re into the point of implementing and refining features. But I feel as if even the developers are out of ways to give us an incentive for playing and enjoying this expansion. The lack of details on covenants and how soulbinding is supposed to work – presumably, some of the big hype elements – isn’t helping matters either. I feel like the game dearly needs to give fans a reason to pick up this expansion and play it, and as of yet, that hype just isn’t there.
And the longer it fails to materialize in any way, the harder it’s going to be to convince people to come back or pay attention. It’s weird to me.