It took me a long time to identify what felt off about World of Warcraft’s upcoming expansion. Something was definitely bothering me, but the thing was is that we know exactly what an expansion with the bare minimum effort looks like now, and it sure as heck didn’t feel like Battle for Azeroth was Warlords of Draenor But Again. Yet something kept nudging at me, some comparison that was just slightly eluding me as I dutifully tested new quests, new system revisions, and so forth.
Then I realized that the whole thing was basically Cataclysm and it clicked.
Mind you, I say this not as an indication that the expansion is nearly as bad as Cataclysm was. (There’s still far too much of the actual game to see, for example.) But far from my own optimistic excitement, it feels like the expansion is making a lot of the same missteps as that particular black mark, and it doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
The Battle for Azeroth beta is here, at long last, and it feels like it might have come a little early in the process. Usually beta testing is mostly for when you have all of the core stuff in place, but this feels like it’s just officially being called a beta when some of the pieces are still being moved into the right direction. That might be more nitpicky than anything, so I’m not going to spend too much time on it; World of Warcraft has had a tricky relationship with “alpha” and “beta” terminology, but it’s still not even in the list of the worst offenders.
I got my beta invite (at the same time the official changeover happened, even), but I haven’t yet gotten a chance to actually play around in it. However, I think now is as good a time as any to talk about the things that I am actually nervous about when it comes to Battle for Azeroth. Yes, I’ve been a pretty big advocate for the expansion and what we’re hearing so far, but there are things about the expansion that still make me nervous now that we’re moving into the beta phase. So let’s talk about that.
If Allied Races show us anything, it’s that World of Warcraft is really in no danger of running out of new races to throw at us. This particular system is adding nearly twice as many new races in one expansion as we’ve had added during the entirety of the game’s lifespan thus far, there’s another one that looks to be set up for this as well (hello there, Vulpera), and there’s a deep roster of other options that people have asked to have for ages. Yes, it would take some work to retrofit Vrykul and Ogres, but considering the work going into new male orc poses, Zandalari Trolls, and Kul Tiran Humans, it is definitely not insurmountable work.
Of course, as I alluded to a while back, we sort of have a disconnect right now where we’ve got far more race options than class options. And while we’re awash in races, we seem to be in danger of running out of classes that can’t be pretty cleanly modeled by what’s already in the game. That doesn’t mean we can’t get any new classes, of course, but it’s hard to justify the inclusion of a Pirate class when we already have a Rogue spec doing everything such a class would theoretically offer. The inclusion of mechanical Hunter pets alone basically short-circuited talk about “Engineer” as a class.
Not that this means we’re out of options, of course; in fact, there’s still plenty of things left in the bank of known or reasoned class options that we can’t play just yet. So let’s talk about some of those options, and along the way I’m sure we can fit in some fun discussions about the difference between classes and hero classes.
Hooray, we have a release date for World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth instead of just a release window! And contrary to what many skeptics (myself included) expected to get, it is actually quite a bit faster than other releases. But as you all have no doubt noticed by now, my love of math means that I’m hardly sore about this. It just means that there’s another data point to consider when we look to the future.
So let’s talk about this new piece of information while using the same information from the column in which I made a reasonable estimate, based on this new information. Again, I think it’s important to note how much faster this expansion is actually releasing compared to prior expansions; it’s significant, even if it means that the people predicting things like June were being wildly wrong about “optimistic” predictions. (After all, pessimistic predictions were equally wrong, just in the other direction; my own estimates were off by 2-3 months.)
Last week, we got confirmation that Kul Tiran Humans and Mag’har Orcs are coming to the Allied Race roster for World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. We don’t know when, but I have a bit of a theory about that as it is; from what we know, it’d make sense to have Dark Iron Dwarves and Mag’har Orcs brought in at the start of the expansion, while the Kul Tiran Humans and Zandalari Trolls are brought in after you’ve finished the leveling story for the respective factions. The former are more solidly members than the latter, after a fashion.
But we don’t know for certain when they’re getting added, just that they will be. And that’s interesting, because it means that both factions have significantly increased their race options within one expansion. And that becomes kind of relevant when you look at how many choices individual players have in terms of having something for all of these different races to do.
One of the important things to note about World of Warcraft lore is that it’s never been static. It will retcon itself six ways from Sunday letting you know that the stuff you thought was true was never actually true, and it’s something the franchise has been doing since the second installment of the series was launched. (Remember when Azeroth was the name of the human nation, not the freaking planet?) This is not a game where the lore has been carefully planned out so that you can make reasonable predictions much of the time, this is where the lore repeatedly changes as new installments come out.
This is fine. I really like games where all of the lore is written out and planned well in advance (obviously) but I also have appreciation for the way that WoW’s backstory does change with the tides. It rarely outright invalidates the past, but the past is not static as we learn more about it.
Enter the speculation about Druids in Kul Tiras, speculation that seems to be getting backed up with increasing amounts of evidence. And as I look at all of this, I can’t help but note that even a moment’s consideration reveals that this is an enormous mess for the game’s overall lore.
Last week, we looked at the composition of the Alliance in World of Warcraft. This week, we’re looking at the Horde. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you missed the prior column, catch up and get back to us here.
One of the things that’s always been true about the Horde in World of Warcraft is that it is, by and large, a more heterogeneous collective of races and nations. This is partly by design, and partly because the Horde just seems to have a different way of handling its membership and its populace. If the Alliance needs a group of skilled trackers in a new landscape, it’ll find its best scouts and train them; the Horde, meanwhile, will just befriend a local group of existing trackers and welcome them into the Horde.
Does that sound a bit off the mark? Well, let’s take a look.
Watching as speculation and mining swirls around the Mag’har as a future allied race, I can’t help but start thinking about the bigger picture in World of Warcraft. Because soon we’ll be able to make another couple of allied races, and we’ll have more on top of that, and it brings up a pretty good question: what, exactly is the Alliance at this point?
You might think that’s a silly question, but both the Alliance and the Horde are kind of nebulous political groupings, and their extant members are a pretty big deal when you’re speculating about who’s going to be next to sign on board. Plus, I think it helps a bit to consider what could be coming in the future, both for future customization options and further development.
So, then, let’s start with the Alliance, because it’s first alphabetically and a bit simpler to put together. What actually comprises the Alliance?
It’s funny to me that people had such an aggressive reaction to the changes coming to Hunter pets and damage formulas in Battle for Azeroth. The latter in particular should be both invisible and completely immaterial for actual play; the only real change is that they now use weapon damage on abilities which were previously disconnected from weapon damage, but these formulas have always taken into account, say, the difference between two-handers and dual-wielding options. The former is, at its core, an opportunity to make pet families relevant again after most of the pets of Legion were more or less difference in appearance only, which is a far cry from the days when your choice of pet was significant.
To make it clear if it’s remotely ambiguous: Yes, these are changes I support and ones I think are good for the game on a whole.
And yet all of this does prompt a pretty salient question about World of Warcraft because even if these are intelligent choices, the weapon damage issue has existed for ages now. The time for fussing about with Hunter pets was also ages ago. It’s a big change to functionality being tossed into the mix more or less out of the blue with no other prompting, and that raises the question that’s been relevant ever since Cataclysm rolled around: Why is it that Blizzard can’t stop messing with everything?
Not so long ago, our editor-in-chief was talking about how World of Warcraft needs some form of multiclassing system. So let’s talk about how the game could do that, yes? That’s something we haven’t talked about.
It’s actually one of those weird things that has, for various reasons, never actually come up at all as a promised feature of any sort, especially as the various specs within a class have become more and more diversified. In the earliest days, an Enhancement Shaman and an Elemental Shaman both had the same tools and had talents to emphasized different ones; these days, they share a minority of abilities and mostly get their own unique kit. You can swap between specs pretty freely, but not between classes.
But that’s not to say we couldn’t get some form of multi-classing. Heck, it felt like the various spec-bending talents for Druids were already halfway toward this sort of support, and Druids themselves sort of lean into the direction of multiple classes under one roof. So with absolutely no indication that such a feature has ever been seriously discussed beyond fan theories, let’s look at how this could work in World of Warcraft.
Last week, I wrote about the addition of allied races without having actually gotten to play around with them much. You have to understand that at some point in the past I angered an elder deity of some sort, a fact which I myself was not previously aware of, but which remains the only real way to explain World of Warcraft releasing its pre-orders on the same day that my other game of choice released a major update which demanded my attention.
Or it was just bad luck, but “angered the gods” feels like a more all-encompassing explanation of same.
The bright side, though, is that it meant I finally had a chance to experience both big new things at the same time, enjoying the worldwide level scaling at the same time as I was enjoying my new allied race characters. So now that we’ve talked a little bit about the conceptual side of things, let’s talk about the actual leveling experience beyond the first unlocks.
Well, folks, I hope you’ve made your pre-purchases of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth and started playing your allied races. I found out about the opening of pre-purchases when I was busy being out of the house and unable to buy anything, so I admittedly managed to get a bit of schadenfreude out of the fact that everyone else was equally unable to buy the expansion in the interim. When I actually got home I decided to give it a shot mostly for a lark, at which point it went through without a hitch.
The lesson here is that very mild patience is rewarded, and if that patience is a result of not having any alternatives that’s close enough, I guess.
The opening of pre-purchase brings along with it plenty of fun stuff to discuss, ranging from the actual unlock quests and scenarios to how the release date compares with predictions and existing data. So let’s all put down our moose-cows for a little bit to think about thing in a larger context, and then we can collectively get back to tearing up low-level zones with our allied race alts.
Ah, another day and another thing to enrage people in World of Warcraft. Last time, it was that the Allied Race unlocks might (will) require you to actually play the endgame a bit. This time, it’s that the refer-a-friend service no longer allows you to gain huge chunks of experience just for turning in a breadcrumb quest to arrive at a new zone. Or, alternatively, it’s that Blizzard has just noticed that a decade-old service could be used for some unscrupulously fast leveling roundabouts, and now that it’s sort of proud of the 1-100 leveling experience again, we can’t have that.
Much like the bit ages ago with Star Wars: The Old Republic and the pointless controversy over a cash shop lightsaber, this is one of those situations where everyone involved is being either willfully or unintentionally dim. It’s not that the players grousing about this are right, and it’s not that it was the right decision to make. So, just as I did for that, it’s time to sit both sides down and explain why this is dumb across the board.