In the wake of BlizzConline 2021, I have some criticisms about the WoW Classic presentation. Specifically, the first part of the panel about The Burning Crusade coming to Classic was kind of unstructured and cringeworthy, and it probably would have been better-served by a more dry recounting of the features that came to the game with the first expansion. And… that’s it! That seems to be the only thing that was wrong with this announcement.
Once you step back from that (and the absolutely destructive fact that we all knew this was happening a day ahead of time due to Blizzard’s own self-inflicted leaks), there’s really nothing whatsoever to fault with the presentation. Heck, there’s nothing whatsoever to fault with the actual execution that we’re getting so far. And it’s worth looking at this specifically because it’s an example of a team behind World of Warcraft listening to players, considering the possibilities, and getting everything right without any sort of need for major changes.
First and foremost, the era split being addressed head-on is basically exactly what the game needed. While I tend to agree with Blizzard’s assumption that most people will want to move on to TBC instead of staying forever in the past, the results of this effort is that the choice ultimately resides in the hands of the player rather than Blizzard just ramming through a straight-up progression server. That is most of what we’re looking at here, but it’s just different enough to acknowledge the divergent opinions.
Removing artificial affectations like spell batching is also a smart decision, in no small part due to the simple timing of things. While the loudest and perhaps most toxic group of players insisting on Classic servers were adamant on keeping things without any changes, the fact of the matter is (as was demonstrated by the actual launch) that some things have changed, and the careful recreation of spell batching was not actual central to enjoying the title. So now that changes are happening anyhow, it’s the right time for it to go away.
Perhaps most importantly, though, none of the changes really affects the core experience that was TBC from having been there. It’s a difficult road to walk when trying to preserve the right version of the game as it was, but even the inclusion of faction-specific seals for both sides feel like a smart move. As someone who was there for this expansion, I think the changes are noteworthy but not onerous in the least. I think they’re all smart decisions.
Of course, I’ve never been in the hashtag-no-changes crowd to begin with, so you may not regard my opinion as valid there. Take from that what you will, but I certainly don’t feel like it’s violating the spirit of the project the way that other positive features I’d like to see in the game would be.
Putting this into context, I think that having Holly Longdale leading the project is definitely a win for the game. It’s clear that Longdale both knows what she’s talking about with regard to history and has plenty of experience managing progression servers, both of which are important for this particular iteration of WoW.
I can see some people being a bit perturbed by the early launch of Draenei and Blood Elves or the option to character boost, but at least from my perspective, both of these choices are good ones given context. There are no doubt a lot of people who want to play the game but are more interested in TBC than the original classic version; these players actually get a chance to still play for just a small up-front investment into the experience.
More substantial is the early release of two new races, but that also strikes me as a certain degree of acknowledging the changes. Draenei and Blood Elves have at this point been in the game longer than they haven’t; they’re no longer this surprising new feature shrouded in mystery. It makes sense to simply let people prepared to roll right into Outland with these races when no one is really going to be all that blown away by the presence of new options.
To put all of this succinctly, I’ve been over here heaping praise on the team for this and I’m not even actually planning on playing TBC at the moment. Something is obviously being done right here because I’m impressed and almost into the idea until I occasionally remind myself that I don’t actually need a refresher course on the expansion. (Because I was there and I played it the first time.)
And then there’s the retail side. And… well, that’s what prompted at least a good chunk of this column because I was looking at the latest controversy in which players are pretty livid that the live team has decided the customization options added at launch are enough, which is barely acceptable for most races and leaves a lot of underserved races like every allied race completely out in the cold.
Covering this stuff is exhausting. It’s a case where the priorities of the development team seem wildly at odds with the priorities of actual players, and it took us years to get to a point where the most exciting answer from the subsequent Q&A was at least getting a “we’re not saying no” to the idea of Alliance and Horde players partying up together. Not any actual plans, just at least not the standard blanket denial of player requests for something.
And in contrast to that, we have Holly Longdale over here who clearly knows exactly what sort of project she’s working on, how to manage it, how to leverage the resources available to her, and how to create a vision of the game that does change a few things from the strict confines of the classic experience but does so in service to improving the overall gameplay.
The people in charge of a given MMO are both given an outsized and undersized importance in various ways. There are always things that individual leads are given credit for that aren’t really under their direct control and things that they’re blamed for that are similarly not their fault. But what leadership is unambiguously responsible for is management and vision. The person in charge of a given project is responsible for what’s seen as a priority and what isn’t, for directing resources and staff to address certain problems or ignore others.
It’s for exactly that reason that I feel all the more impressed with how well Longdale is handling her team. I might have felt like part of the presentation didn’t work for me, but the content of it absolutely worked. We have an obvious and clear example of knowing what players want, how to deliver it, and how to balance the need for preservation with avoiding mistakes that were bad calls even at the time.
This is showing just how much Blizzard has to work with and how much influence a project lead can actually have. And in the wake of the online convention, I’m not exasperated with the Classic team but actively impressed, despite not being the target audience in the least. That should say something.
Other than just “you shouldn’t have tried playing a Nightborne.” That’s not something that should have been said.