World of Warcraft
Some big big news for Azeroth fans out of BlizzCon this year, the biggest of which was likely the new expansion, Battle for Azeroth.
I was genuinely surprised that this did not leak as much as past BlizzCon expansion announcements have. I was also a bit unimpressed by the name. I mean, Battle for Azeroth makes for a decent acronym unlike WoW Legion, but even Blizz pointed on that had used this phrase previously, though only as a description.
And so we have a new expansion headed our way about which I am not entirely enthused. This is the problem with expansions; they eventually stretch an MMO out to in crazy directions and, unless you keep up and never take a break, it is easy to feel left behind or to ask when enough is enough?
I have in the past criticized Blizz for being unable to churn out an expansion in less than two years. However, the flip side of that is we haven’t gone as crazy with content sprawl the way its contemporary, EverQuest II, has. And I couldn’t even make a game list off the top of my head as to the number of zones EverQuest has. Feeling the need to feed users a new expansion TWICE a year for quite a stretch, and then once a year since then has left EQ with a huge amount of content, most of which has been made obsolete by later changes. The Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server started up back in February 2011 and has, with a couple of exceptions, unlocked content at the fastest rate allowed, and still has two expansions to go before it catches up to live.
That is cool and all… it is likely the only way to get people to replay some of the plethora of zones in Norrath… but holy crap that is a lot of mostly neglected content.
So maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Blizz for their rate of expansion release. Then again, if they could pace the content right, people wouldn’t care so much. #NoMoreDraenors
Anyway, having purchased the Virtual Ticket and listened through the WoW panels, these are my initial gut reactions to various aspects of the what is coming.
- New places to play/explore – and a double bonus for a troll themed location
- Ten more levels
- Unlocking some new playable races
- Six more character slots per realm to allow for those new races
- All the usual new stuff with an expansion
- Islands expeditions with advanced AI behavior… this will really piss some people off
- Island expeditions in normal, heroic, mythic, and PvP levels will keep too many people from being pissed off
- Flying on the same trajectory as Legion
- Another stats squish… this time with ilevel!
- Bigger base bag eventually if you use the authenticator
Not so interesting:
- Horde vs. Alliance being played up as a central theme
- New playable races look remarkably like current playable races
- 100% boost in playable elf races
- Legion legendaries pretty much getting tossed
- Azurite collection being the real central theme
- The Heart of Azeroth? Somebody been watching Titanic?
- War Fronts – Maybe this is Keen’s Warcraft 4 RTS?
- New social features, if only because nobody I know plays WoW anymore so my friend’s list is almost always gray
- Will that level 100 boost I haven’t used turn into a level 110 boost?
- Launch date?
We are, I will admit, a good year away from seeing this, so there is plenty of time to hammer out details, but I wasn’t carried away with that “I’m going to delete all my other games and play this forever!” temporary enthusiasm that can come with new expansion announcements.
Also on the list of things for WoW is expanded zone level scaling. The whole WoW Legion thing about every zone being the right level for you will be hitting other parts of the game with the upcoming Patch 7.3.5, within some parameters. You will, for example, be able to play from level 60-80 in either The Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King content. Since, as things stand now, you will burn through the ten levels each provides long before you finish the content, this could be a boon.
Likewise, Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, both currently five level expansions, will scale from 80-90. So you can skip Cataclysm and play the excellent zones in Mists of Pandaria.
Sounds good in theory, I will be interested to see how it plays out in practice. I suspect that you’ll still outrun the levels bracket if you insist on doing both the quest chains and dungeons. And, likewise, I suspect that you will effectively be able to do one expansion or the other and mostly not level out before you’re done. They say you can switch back and forth, but the xp curve just isn’t going to support doing all the things from 60-90, the way that the current 1-60 leveling experience fails to support that.
I’m just going to call this its own product for now. No details, no timeline, and even Blizz admits that the obvious and potentially divisive “what is vanilla really?” question remains very much unanswered, but lots of reactions. I think in the local blog neighborhood there were initially more posts and comments about WoW Classic than the expansion. Some examples:
Posts and comments were all over the map, with surprise, enthusiasm, and disdain all represented, but it was a lot more positive than I thought it might be. There was a very strong hate vibe towards any thoughts of classic back when Blizz was on that side of the argument. Now that seems to have dissipated some. Maybe because WoW Classic is getting its own development team so won’t be seen to be stealing resources from mainline WoW?
And, of course, the press was in in with “What the hell Blizz, you said you wouldn’t/couldn’t do this?”
My own favorite was the Steve Messmer piece over at PC Gamer (I even met him at EVE Vegas!) where he interviewed J. Allen Brack and made sure to take him to task for his 2013 BlizzCon comments about the prospects for a Vanilla WoW revival, the infamous, “You think you do, but you don’t” response. (Recorded and on YouTube of course.)
Telling people the don’t really want something that they’re asking for like you know better is never a winning play, and doubly so in the face of the popularity of other similar ventures in MMOs like EverQuest and RuneScape. Fun stuff.
Meanwhile, a lot of what Blizz said about WoW Classic was set in the future tense. It sounds like they had a small group do some research and found a viable path forward. Everything else, however, seemed to be couched in “we will,” “we’re going to,” and “we want to.” Basically, when Bhagpuss said something about the year 2020 I realized that we are at the tail end of 2017 and wanted to amend that with “the end of 2020… if we’re lucky.” As I tend to say, we shall see.
And one of the lingering questions in the back of my head is how much will this cost? Is this going to be a freebie people get with their current WoW subscription, which seems an obvious but not certain assumption, or will it really be its own product right down to the billing? My guess is that it will be bundled with WoW… I think part of the reluctance for Blizz to roll another subscription MMO is not wanting to make people choose between their products… but we won’t know until Blizz tells us.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is now free. So you have to pay $15 for remastered StarCraft but StarCraft II you can just download. Yes, that isn’t exactly like matched against like, and old StarCraft is also free, but I find it amusing.
I also continue to feel a barely perceptible vibe that remastered StarCraft is getting a boost as a competitive esports platform while StarCraft II is heading more into a PvE, co-op, story line future. Maybe that is just me.
Not much, as expected. Really, only two 30 minute panels, one essentially about four Twitch streamers and one about the necromancer visual effect. The Diablo franchise is asleep. I suppose it is better than the long hibernation the franchise had after Diablo II, what with seasons and all, but nothing new is on the horizon.
Those Other Games
New heroes, maps, and/or card packs as applicable. And they’re still fixing Heroes of the Storm.
As somebody mostly interested in World of Warcraft, I have to admit that I do pine a bit for the days when BlizzCon was really WoWCon with a StarCraft tournament along for the ride. When I looked at the schedule I didn’t see a lot of WoW, which is something that made me consider skipping the Virtual Ticket.
But then there were the “What’s Next,” “Deep Dive,” and “Q&A” panels for WoW were all informative and worth going through. (The Q&A panel always makes me feel really good about the WoW community, because the questions are often either things I wanted an answer too or wished I had thought to consider) Those three answered a lot of the questions about the new expansion. The three bullet point lists above about WFA I made during the opening ceremony and then updated as I listened. I probably still missed some things… I know I did, actually… but I feel more informed. And, as I tend to say, hearing how the teams present these things adds a layer of information you don’t get from the recap on the news sites.
Likewise the WoW art effects panel and creating a dungeon boss panel were both interesting to listen to, if less informative about upcoming products. They were interesting from the angle of hearing about process, especially the boss creation
And then there was the Behind Blizzard Worlds panel, which was a nostalgia tour of Blizzard and products and ideas and who championed what and who was against this or that to start.
Contentious items included the whole Horde vs. Alliance things, which the EverQuest players, including Rob Pardo, initially felt would divide friends. He got over that and we are seeing a renewal of that factional rift again with Battle for Azeroth. I think, in the end, the server silos divided more people that the factions did, and the two factions did give us two story lines to play through with each expansion.
The real world 24 hour clock of Azeroth also faced a lot of push back. Again, anybody who played EQ immediately thought of night time as dark and dangerous and thought the game might be nearly unplayable during prime time for most gamers. Instead Azeroth is gently lit, and very playable, day or night.
And then there were the mistakes they made and the games they cancelled that shaped the company’s philosophy. Don’t cry for Titan, it wasn’t the first MMO Blizz canceled. Before WoW there was an MMO called Nomad that never saw the light of day.
So, while I would have liked more WoW on the menu, I guess I got a pretty good fill of information. I want to go back and listen to the Blizzard Worlds and the Q&A panel again before they disappear from the Virtual Ticket site. After than I will just have my memories and a pair of goofy mounts.
And so it goes.