On Monday, I talked with MOP’s Bree about the idea of doing a piece this week about how World of Warcraft: Dragonflight was doing after two months of release. It’s ahead of the first post-Dragonflight financial release, but it seems like a useful thing to consider when we’ve gotten the first significant patch and have the second significant one on the way. She was a bit curious about whether or not we really had enough to make an evaluation yet, but she wasn’t opposed to the idea.
So I started writing it. Then, on Wednesday, people datamined the next patch and found that borrowed power is on its way back. And as I was writing about that, it turns out that the Trading Post – the biggest substantial addition for patch 10.0.5 – was apparently so borked at launch that maintenance stretched over two days and kept servers offline for an extended period (and is still buggy as of this morning).
So yeah, let’s take a look at where we’re at and what we see happening in the near future. Super.
I’ve already gone on the record as being skeptical about how the developers clearly want you to believe that we have entered the “third era” of development for the game. That having been said, I’d be a lot more inclined to believe it if subsequent interactions with the game had actually changed in some material fashion or if we saw a demonstrated change in how the developers approach patches and the like. And instead, what we have actually seen is… a long-awaited cosmetic outfit locked behind a 12-month grind with the trading post.
This is one of those things that strikes me immediately as a bad idea for reasons that might not be immediately obvious. It’s not really the timeframe in and of itself that’s the problem, nor is it the nature of the reward. Trying to get people to keep playing for a solid year? Understandable. Reasonable, even. Using a much-desired cosmetic set as the incentive to do so? Not the route I would like, but it is also an entirely reasonable one. It makes sense.
But the problem comes with messaging. On the eve of trying to get people hyped up for a new feature, people were looking at this and despairing yet again. The developers offer up a new positive feature that seems to at least have tenuous embrace from the community, and then almost immediately flub the delivery so that people are going in annoyed instead of excited.
So here we see the dark heart of the problem, and it is actually compounded by the people trying to insist that this expansion is somehow the best the game has been since Mists of Pandaria (which is a laughable statement because we’ve had a better expansion than Mists in the time since Mists, to the point that I feel like someone must have put this in a video somewhere and it’s become some sort of shibboleth for the “defend WoW at all costs” crowd). This is not the most egregious thing that WoW’s design team has done by a large margin.
But it is homousian with more egregious decisions. And as we’re staring at another datamined borrowed power system being added into the game, any claims of “we’ve changed, really, we’re not making the mistakes of the past” become a very had sell when people are watching you resurrect the past.
Sure, it’s entirely possible that the Primordial Gems thing will turn out to just be a little borrowed power, as a treat. It isn’t that big a deal, and there’s no need to freak out, maybe. There’s not even all that much to be upset about, or people are overreacting; fine, dandy, not a problem, except for the part where right now people want no borrowed power whatsoever. This expansion even made the lack of any borrowed power part of its selling points. The volume of borrowed power being introduced is irrelevant.
It’s a bad look, and right now WoW desperately needs nothing but good looks. Especially when you take into consideration the fact that this is a system being introduced before the first major patch and not one that seems to have been introduced because of some kind of community outrcy. Indeed, it feels like to a cynical eye this is something being lumped in because there’s a panicked rush in response to oh no, Dragonflight isn’t pulling the numbers we planned!
You might think that sounds silly, and it sounds silly to me. It’s a predictable outcome based on existing decisions. But is it really all that surprising to think that maybe the developers thought this was an easy slam-dunk, even if it’s a silly assumption?
One consistent problem that Blizzard has had basically forever is that it is terrible about realizing problems after it’s already caused them. Unfortunately, it also seems like the studio has an equally long history of refusing to then undo the damage, instead trying to quietly act as if it always meant to do that, tripping over its own feet while trying to convince everyone that it was totally intentional. It’s not a great plan. And I get the feeling that everyone planned for Dragonflight as a moment when players who left during Shadowlands would come back mollified and everyone would be happy again.
That is not what has happened. It’s almost the opposite of what happened. Even just from the comments on this site alone, you can see how many longtime fans are at best taking a “wait and see” approach to the expansion.
And my own personal experiences? I’ve already told my stories about getting the same piece of loot multiple times that wasn’t an upgrade the first time or any subsequent times. The endgame quickly devolved into the exact same neverending cycle with the exact same problems it’s always had, the lack of deterministic gear is still a problem (which, no, is not ameliorated by a few begrudging deterministic systems that will fill in some of your gearing needs), and it does not help that Vault of the Incarnates feels like it’s visually a parody of what people think a raid in this game looks like. It’s ugly, in other words.
My own interest dropped off reasonably quickly. It was piqued again by the Trading Post, sure… but that’s proving to be another mess all over again, isn’t it? And as much fun as the cooking event is the first time, it turns into time-gated filler the 17th time and you start just wanting to finish completing your tasks so you can move on. That’s not great.
The expansion still lacks the interesting bits that make the game stick to the ribs. And a couple months out we’re already getting stuff that’s artificially inflated, new forms of time-gating to keep you logging in and playing, and what looks like exactly the borrowed power system that developers and players alike were happy to say were gone.
So… yeah. A couple months out, the whole “third era” nonsense seems to be already well on its way to being proven as a prevarication. This is not exactly a shock or surprise if you were paying attention, but it still doesn’t fill anyone with confidence about what comes next.
And we’ll get to see next week about what’s happening to the bottom line. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see it being good news.