WoW Factor: The time-skip Shadowlands theory and the longing for World of Warcraft 2

    
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WoW Factor: The time-skip Shadowlands theory and the longing for World of Warcraft 2

All right, here we go. Normally this is the sort of thing that I wouldn’t actually spend a whole week on because believe it or not I do actually have a couple of other World of Warcraft projects to write columns about (what can I tell you beyond “sometimes inspiration comes during content lulls”) and my point in this column is generally not to dunk on fan theories. I’ve long been of the mind that even when fan theories about the game are wrong, they do generally have the seeds of genuine care within them, and I’d rather only try to puncture ones that are actively destructive.

In this particular case, I don’t think the theory currently going around about Shadowlands being the prelude to a time skip is destructive or dumb or bad, just kind of wrong. But in this case, I do think there’s something larger to talk about. I also know that this week has absolutely exhausted me and I need something that I can comfortably bang out a column for in a relatively straightforward fashion, so… here we are. Let’s talk about all that.

For those of you who have manged to miss this particular fan theory, the genesis isn’t particularly complicated: An interview included a mention that time flows a little bit differently in the Shadowlands themselves, which some fans took to mean that while we’re adventuring there things will proceed much faster in the outer world, making Shadowlands a capper before a gigantic revision of the game sold as World of Warcraft but now it’s the sequel to itself. Details of what that would entail are a bit more vague, although it usually means the next expansion fundamentally jumping you into another time skip, but only after you’ve passed through the Shadowlands, a chance to remake the original continents again and so forth.

I don’t need to really explain why this is probably wrong, right? Wait, no, that’s kind of the crux of the column, I do.

Above, you'll see the once-ominous portal...

On a fundamental level, the obvious reason why this is wrong is because the interview in question wasn’t really about time for players so much as giving an explanation for how various NPCs who died at significantly different times can all be winding up in the Shadowlands as rough contemporaries; it’s hard to believe that Uther and Ysera are arriving at the same time, for example. In other words, it’s “time flows differently” as synecdoche for “repeat to yourself it’s just an expansion pulling out lore fanservice, I should really just relax” before someone writes an enormous set of fan theories about why Ysera showed up so quickly.

Beyond that, though, there’s the simple question of what this would even look like, which the fan theories generally stop shy of actually having a clear picture of. Like, there’s the general assumption that there will be a time skip and the world will have a reset of some sort, but it’s still… basically just WoW. It’s an ambiguous hope that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I don’t think it necessarily can because it’s a fan theory of “this will happen, then WoW will be better.”

This is where we tie into the whole idea of WoW 2 as a thing. That one comes up a lot. And I definitely understand where that’s coming from… but I also think it’s kind of missing the actual problem going on here.

The desire for WoW 2 is, in some part, born out of the understanding that current WoW is definitely not as good as the game was in prior times. Fine, you’ll get no argument from me on that point. Furthermore, as the theory goes, the problem is that there’s just not much more that can be done to actually improve the game as it is, that the outdated systems and game elements and even the engine require a complete rebuild in order to really improve the game.

And on that… well, I’m not sold, I’m sorry. I understand why it’s appealing, but the problems with WoW don’t seem to have anything to do with the things that can be replaced with a sequel.

Consider for just a moment all of the stuff that’s being added in terms of customization options in Shadowlands. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad for this. I definitely cannot wait to tweak many of my characters with new options. There’s no problem there. But I think it’s also telling how these changes are also bringing the game and the characters up to what I would personally consider still the low end of character options, but higher on the low end. This isn’t engine limitations that have prevented this, it’s a lack of willingness.

This seems like more of a half-move.

For that matter, let’s consider that WoW lacks a lot of stuff present in most other noteworthy MMOs. Housing? Dyes? Noteworthy crafting? All absent, all having been asked for basically for the duration of the game’s lifespan. There wasn’t even a cosmetic outfit system in the game until the third expansion (by contrast, that’s a feature that all the other games we here consider in the “big five” had within the first year of operation, if not a launch feature).

Heck, one of the things that baffles me is the fact that over the game’s lifespan, it has added three classes. Three. The Elder Scrolls Online – a game that has been running for six years and has particularly open class structure – has already added two in less time. That’s kind of a paucity of options.

One of the things that I mentioned in my column about what happens if it turns out Shadowlands is a bad expansion was that the same people calling the shots for Battle for Azeroth were making the decisions for Shadowlands. Sure, you might have different individual artists and programmers, but the people signing off on design decisions? Same people regardless. And are you really confident that any sequel to WoW wouldn’t have the same people making the same basic decisions?

Don’t misunderstand me; I really do get the urge for something new that feels less long in the tooth. There’s a lot of archaic and outdated stuff in WoW, and some of it is stuff that might be best served by a strategic jettison of old ideas and content. But then, that’s what the game has been strategically doing for years, and it hasn’t really worked out in the long run; it’s usually been regarded poorly. (Unless there’s a sudden “the old world revamp from Cataclysm was Actually Good” movement I somehow missed, but just typing that sentence makes me tired.)

But no, I am pretty sure that when we finish up in the Shadowlands, we’re not going to be moving through any sort of time skip. And while I understand the motivation behind the idea, I think it’s kind of blaming the wrong source for any discontent with the game right now. If you’re still holding out hope for a sequel to WoW, I’ll be the last one to tell you to stop hoping, but the lack of the sequel is not what’s holding the game back right now.

Seriously. Three classes. There has got to be a way to add more player options than that.

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

I grow tired of bashing World of Warcraft. It has become nothing like it was and I suppose it was inevitable due to designers “fiddling” with a multitude of bits and bobs we were used to “back-in-the-day”. Once they began messing with our skills, they just couldn’t help themselves. it has become a way of life, I suppose. Most of us hated those changes, but we adapted, because WoW was pretty much the only game in town until GuildWars 2, Final Fantasy 14 ARR+, and Elder Scrolls Online.

I don’t play WoW as much and probably can see that “light at the end of the tunnel”, I suppose as I have yet to pre order Shadowlands. I am just not excited about its’ premise and the confusion with the current story line. I haven’t felt as though my character(s) ever really were a part of the story. I wasn’t truly a part of the story. I felt more of the audience basically going through the motions of completing a few quests that were centered on a particular event in the story. For me, I feel Blizz dropped the ball quite a while back with the way they utilize their story, but hey, that’s just me.

Do we need a WoW 2? Maybe? However, “we” do not truly matter all that much. Our money matters, I suppose-

I’m not even sure I actually could become invested in a WoW 2. I recall how invested I was for an EQ 3. That never happened and it may not in the foreseeable future.

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Wrecktangle

My issue with WoW currently is that most of the systems in it are half assed rips from Diablo.

To the point they even tried to condense abilities to make it feel more actions with builders and spenders across all the classes.

Take out the Diablo driven systems. Put back the RPG systems. And you will have a good time. But WQ, mythic+ dungeons, and the whole meta game where there is no end in sight is boring. I like my BiS lists. I like feeling like ok. I have completed what I wanted on my priest now for my warrior.

With the current endless treadmill it feels bad.

blazbluecore
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blazbluecore

Youre comparing two games that got released 10 years apart. WoW in 2004, and ESO in 2014. ESO has six classes because its a mediocre mess of a game that barely survived. Blizzard had billions of dollars to create a fk ton of classes but instead they decided to just collect their free check from consumers who they know have no other good alternative MMO to play.

blazbluecore
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blazbluecore

I agree whole heartedly. My thoughts exactly. That’s the worst thing about Blizzard. They refuse to innovate or push the genre forward because theyre comfortable with sitting on their laurels and collecting their free money. It is pathetic because WoW has so much potential to be amazing. And it is just above average because there is no one to compete with their type of MMO.

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Montana Ponderosa

I think this is all just a big ploy to redesign the system more similarly to ESO. “Going forward, with each expansion they’ll be able to shunt the previous one off into another alternate time line and make the new expansion the default level 10-50 content.”

That and they’ve run out of ideas so they’re just gonna bring back dead people for the 900000th time. Necromancers be damned, this is ‘different.’

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Techno Spice

I disagree with most of what you said regarding Cataclysm and the SoTG. Cataclysm was a great expansion; people just get attached to familiar things and don’t like change (people still play EQ1). If anything that’s the only reason Blizz wouldn’t consider a timeskip.

WoW’s combat system is wildly out of date for the times,when action combat is the new hotness and you have games like ODIN: Valhalla Rising on the horizon. There won’t be a WoW2 but not because it isn’t needed, but because, like the dyes and the lack of housing, Blizz/Acti isn’t willing to put forth the effort when they’ve found milking nostalgia has a lower investment to profit return.

I doubt there’ll be a time skip but it does need one and it does need to go into WoW2 to keep the integrity of the IP afloat. Currently with Blizz/Acti brown-nosing China and cyclical re-skinning of original models condescendingly offered as “new content”, there isn’t any reason to respect this game. I haven’t played since BoA was boring (because it’s all recycled content) and probably won’t give Blizz the time of day again unless a sequel is advertised. The novelty has worn off and they haven’t produced any in expansions.

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Oleg Chebeneev

There wont be WoW2. There is no need for it either. Game aged very well.

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traja

Time would need to flow irregularly for it to explain how NPCs arrive at the same time but not affect how time passes outside of Shadowlands from the reference frame of the players inside it. So I think it leaves room for speculation even if there is a NPC related motivation as well.

Personally I would wish to see a time skip to reset the story and characters. I find it completely impossible to care about the current situation. Nothing has a feeling of actually mattering since they have been going from one calamity to the next for so long.

Trying to put my personal wishes aside I would guess that there is a small time skip but nothing too serious. There is money to be made with those familiar characters after all. Also Blizzard writers are terrible so whatever they do it’s likely to feel shallow.

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styopa

First, kudos for using “synecdoche”. I’m not sure its meaning is precisely synonymous with “substitute” but close enough. I bet you could track your reader count by checking the Google hits on that word though. :)

Second, while I tend to agree with your points generally, at a certain point renovating a house is more expensive than tearing down and building anew. Implementing new systems, ideas,and mechanics seems to be hard enough for Blizzard; that every one of those ideas comes with the baggage of having to go back through 15 years of game content and retrofit to bring it up to code…well that just might make some really clever ideas untenable.

I do not know that now is that point, but you’d have to concede that theoretically, there is such a point in every product.

What makes me leery of Blizzard building a wow 2 is simply that they still don’t seem to conceptualize that there will be another expansion in even in bfa which is what, their 6th? The concept of future proofing mechanics or design, or building something deliberately to accommodate future growth seems an alien concept…that constant grinding (literally) gear change on the power curve with each expansion is a core problem they can’t solve. So why build something new if you can’t conceptually escape the problems of today’s version?

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Utakata

As much as iIwould like to wrap the pigtails in the /tinfoil over this, I really don’t think Shadowlands will be WoW’s Seventh Umbral Calamity. But another expansion that will discard all the mechanics down a memory hole at it’s end, like with all it’s previous expansions of late.

So if your a fan of game that keeps trying to reinvent itself every paid for content patch, then this game is for you. If you are looking for a sequel because your sick of that cycle…then maybe it’s time to consider playing another game. /sigh

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Matthew Yetter

They’ve pretty much designed Shadowlands for this, I think. Going forward, with each expansion they’ll be able to shunt the previous one off into another alternate time line and make the new expansion the default level 10-50 content.

Sooner or later they’ll have to either give up on WoW or create WoW 2. But the design philosophy behind Shadowlands seems to be to stave that day off for as long as possible.