So now we know what’s coming next. World of Warcraft: The War Within is our next expansion, and… you know, that’s not really a great title. It’s not an atrocious one, by any means, but it’s not what I’d call a slam dunk either. That’s neither here nor there, really, but it just kinda sticks in my head for some reason. But we’re not here to talk about titles; we’re here to talk about actual execution.
In the last edition of WoW Factor, I listed 11 things with varying degrees of likelihood in terms of what I wanted to see from the next expansion. What did I actually get? Well, arguably five of them, with another three in the “nothing announced, but wait and see” space. (And at least two of the ones we didn’t get were things I didn’t really expect to see anyway, like housing.) We also got a definite plan announced for at least the next few years. So let’s unpack this expansion a bit and then next week we can talk more about the whole “Worldsoul Saga” thing.
Much of what got announced for the expansion up to this point all has a natural question mark hanging over its head, insofar as it all sounds like good stuff but it remains to be seen if Blizzard can actually deliver. That’s been the real limiting factor for the game over the past several years, and nothing has particularly changed now. I say this first because it’d be easy to caveat everything with “unless Blizzard screws it up,” so let’s just all rest assured that the possibility is well-known already.
The addition of Delves as a new form of content isn’t just surprising, it speaks to an actual philosophical change that… honestly the Dragon Isles already could have used. Maybe it was some level of overwhelming caution, but there was definitely a sense of experimenting with the idea that some people just do not like the game’s progression raiding scene. Pitching the level of rewards at being on par with mid-to-higher Mythic/Heroic raiding also makes sense as an extra level of commitment.
Of course, we know players will need keys to unlock those rewards, but I see that being a symbiotic reward loop. You can’t just stop in briefly and get everything, but you can expect the time you spend playing to be rewarded, and it strikes a good balance when you consider that there are limits in terms of quantity to be earned from either of the aforementioned methods. Even just a weekly refresh of a couple keys would be a pretty good setup.
Making Delves a part of the Great Vault is also a bigger deal than it might seem. For better or worse, the Great Vault is really what WoW’s gearing model is built around at this point. Including Delves there is perhaps the clearest signal that this is important to Blizzard and something it wants to use as a cornerstone moving forward. For all the talk about moving into another era with the game, this is one of the most concrete steps to actually move into another era.
I’m also honestly really impressed by the ideas on the table right now for Hero Talents, which is an interesting idea that I think is going to be complicated to evaluate at best. Put very simply, Hero Talents are an idea that the game has been brushing against irregularly for years at this point, but it’s one that’s never been completely realized in the morass of different things with “hero” in the name.
Hero classes have a defined place and context, but some hero classes were always just kind of powered-up versions of existing classes. So how do you square that? Well, you make another tree specifically for those archetypes. It feels like the sort of thing that could easily wind up feeling like borrowed power, except that its placement and the way of handling it also keeps it feeling integral. It’s a part of your character, not something external.
Now, it’s obviously way too early to speculate too much about the future, but it strikes me that it would also be easy to introduce another set of Hero Talent options for the next expansion and even just let players mix and match between the two. If the same basic rules are operational, you go from having one set of Hero Talents out of two choices to having four choices, either picking two sets of 10 or expanding the sets to cover more levels. The former would definitely allow for some interesting options, and it’s modular, a chance to add something new to each class that’s expansion-specific without being borrowed.
That part in particular seems to be something that the developers have wanted to play around with for a long time, giving players expansion-themed abilities of some sort, but they haven’t found an effective way to do so before now without relying on borrowed power, which sucks. Hopefully, yes, this squares the circle nicely.
Our last big feature, at least to me, is the whole idea behind Warbands. Just at a glance, this helps really hammer home how much we’re moving toward cross-faction play; it’s been far too long in coming, but the fact that your characters are a unified group matters. The number of things that are being added together and becoming cross-character is also heartening, especially the very welcome transmog changes. If I’m going to run an old raid several times to get appearances, there’s nothing more annoying than getting the drop I want on the specific character I don’t want it on.
If there’s one watchword that seems to be important here, it’s mostly about the removal of chores. WoW has never really been designed with a clear image of what it considers chores and what it considers gameplay, and so it’s kind of bounced around back and forth with that, but this is definitely more firmly settling the idea of things that players consider chores. Re-finding flight paths? A chore. Re-earning reputation? A chore. Gearing up a character? That’s gameplay, kids. And it opens the door for having different characters to not just explore different gameplay styles but to all work together in that regard.
Now, I mentioned right at the start that a lot is going to be dependent on whether or not Blizzard successfully pulls all of this off. For better or worse – and it’s worse – Blizzard does not have a great track record over the past several years, so it’s easy to be very cynical about this. I’ll admit to some cynicism on my part, as a lot of my reaction right now is kind of “this sounds good… if you actually do this half as intently as you’re promising.”
At the same time, the fact that this at least sounds good is a step up from the last three expansions, which either sounded bad from first principles or at best sounded like there might be space to do something interesting outside what was promised. It remains to be seen if they’re actually going to follow through on the momentum or why we needed a limp half-step like Dragonflight in the middle, but there’s at least something that’s interesting at the core.
Now, moving on further… well, that’s next week.