For the first time in the past three expansions, I am not in the beta for World of Warcraft’s next expansion. This is fine. It’s fine. I’m fine. As a result, all I can do in terms of evaluating the next expansion is look at systems already discussed and what has been previewed, and as I mentioned last week, my expectation without having played it is… well, it’s probably fine. It’s fine. This is fine. We’re fine. It’s fine. Just fine. It’s fine.
All else being equal, I am not tremendously hyped up a month out from launch (almost exactly, even), but there are some things that do at least look genuinely interesting and worthwhile. Sure, we’ve talked about a lot of the bad and baffling decisions that have been made with the expansion or the visible parts of its development, but today I want to highlight the things that at least are exciting to me. Your mileage may vary.
First and foremost, though, I want to establish a ground rule that is at least important to me: Nothing from the pre-patch is in here. I’ve already talked about the stuff there that I’m excited about, and honestly that’s going to be a thing no matter what. So character customization, new leveling, all that? Off the table. So what’s left? Enough stuff to fill out a column, thankfully.
Covenants are a cool idea
Every single expansion has featured multiple factions at endgame… in theory. In reality, sometimes these factions were there because the game’s mechanics required multiple factions (there was no reason to have a faction for each zone in Battle for Azeroth when they all have the same national allegiance), and frequently you ran into the core problem wherein not every faction actually mattered. Some just have more personal resonance than others, period end.
Covenants, if you strip away the mechanical stuff, have a compelling core right there. Instead of having the sprawling non-focus of all the factions from every expansion from The Burning Crusade onward, your endgame and zone focus allows you to pick out one faction and behave accordingly. No more helping the Argent Crusade or random Alliance chicanery when you have the Wyrmrest Accord to curry favor with, so to speak.
This also has the positive change that there are at least some variance points in the endgame. Nothing was more exhausting to me than logging in to Zandalar on a second Horde character to have the exact same tasks to undertake in the exact same fashion. Now, thankfully, there’s more space for alts to actually offer different experiences not solely based upon their classes. You could have two otherwise identical characters experiencing different content! Amazing!
It might be minor, and I freely admit that a good chunk of this is based on personal hangups. But this is what I’m excited about, after all. And as someone with a small army of alts, this matters a lot to me.
The Maw will need work, but I want to love it
Aside from Mechagon, the mid-expansion added zones have always been the most fun to play with in endgame WoW. I loved the Timeless Isle, had a blast on the Broken Shore and Argus, and even got some fun out of Tanaan Jungle and Nazjatar. The reason why isn’t hard to find, either; rather than treating this zone as basically similar to all the other zones but with a higher entry level, these zones assume you’re going in at max level and thus can have more mechanics going on from the start.
The Maw will probably not quite hit this goal right away. But that’s all right because it is aiming at that goal right away, and that alone means a lot. Much like Suramar, this is meant to be a dangerous zone wherein the villains are not interlopers or passive opponents but actively trying to get you the heck out of here forever. And as a part of that, this is going to have some mechanics you have to deal with above and beyond the usual mechanics of just questing and leveling.
I bring up Suramar as a point of comparison because that zone was also clearly meant to be about invading hostile territory… but while it could be difficult to navigate from time to time, the fact is that what you were actually doing in Suramar was basically just more questing and the same nonsense as you dealt with in every other zone. The mechanics were the same as always. The Maw is trying to be much more inimical from the word go, not just another quest hub to dither about within.
Whether or not this will work remains to be seen, of course. I fully expect this zone is going to need some aggressive balance changes once or twice before it really delivers on anything like its promise. But I’m looking forward to the zone itself in a way that rarely happens for zones added on launch.
Torghast is some good stuff
I love the idea of Horrifying Visions, but not the execution. The idea of challenging variable-size content that works solo or in a group? If it were happening somewhere other than the tail end of a horrid expansion and in the midst of a horrid tail-end patch, I would actually be really excited about this!
It’s a well-known fact that I have a soft spot for these sorts of gameplay modes, especially when it leans in on the stuff that Blizzard is actually good at by providing opportunities for weird, broken builds to cooperatively tear through things. (This is, for some reason, not what Blizzard thinks it’s good at.) If we’re going to be stuck getting things ported over from the Diablo franchise without much thought for the overall landscape, I’d prefer it would be more along these lines.
And tying Legendaries to this in a way that actually provides some player control instead of relying entirely upon random luck (the same luck, I might note, that never gave me a useful Legendary reward on my Shaman until the last patch of Legion)? I can support that. It’s a reward that’s meaningful without encouraging chain-running with a progression mindset. The fact that there are more cosmetics to uncover is just icing on the cake there.
Again, I have no doubt that some balance patches will be needed, that Torghast is going to have some very messy elements for the first couple months, and so forth. But it is a genuinely new sort of content that sounds like it at least tries for something better than the half-baked mire of Island Expeditions. Bring on the tower.
My thoughts that this expansion is overall going to be mostly just acceptably average doesn’t diminish these as positives. While the story is still likely to be a gigantic mess for no real reason and there are plenty of things that look half-baked or badly designed, these are things that I am at least predisposed to like. The rest… hopefully won’t be a glaring problem, at least.
Yes, that’s where my standards are right now for Shadowlands. Hey, it’s not my job to generate hype for this.