Tag Archives: Shadowlands

Arrival in a Level Squished Northrend

I suppose, given the nature of the level squish, I should call it a “level expanded” Northrend.  But it’s current status is a by-product of the level squish, so you get what you get.

In checking out the Shadowlands pre-patch, running through the new starter area is fine and dandy, but it is only a 1-10 level experience that won’t take you more than an hour unless you’re set to explore every nook and cranny of the place.  And for us… Ula, Skronk, and I… the idea was always to go check out Wrath of the Lich King in its new 10-50 incarnation.  So it was off to Northrend!

Northrend awaits

Back in the day WotLK was a level 60-70 experience.

As the level cap grew in WoW though, Blizz started experimenting with expanding the level ranges of some of the older content so that players in a game with a 100+ level cap and an xp curve adjusted to suit that wouldn’t constantly out-level zone and expansion content.

Blizz took a shot at solving this first with the Legion 7.3.5 patch, which expanded the level ranges for expansions and made everything scale to your level within those ranges.  At that point you could go to Northrend at 58 rather than 70 and could stick around until 80.

  • All starting zones scale up to level 10.
  • World of Warcraft Vanilla (Eastern Kingdoms & Kalimdor) scales up to level 60.
  • At level 58, players can choose between Outland or Northrend (capped at level 80).
  • At level 80, players can choose between Cataclysm or Pandaria (capped at level 90).
  • Zones still have a minimum level requirement.
  • Dungeons also scale
  • Quest rewards scale up to your level.

That was not enough.  Levels were still a problem.  And last week we all dropped down to a level cap of 50 with the promise of being able to choose any of the expansions as a route to that, pending the release of the Shadowlands expansion, at which point the cap would go to 60.

I made this graphic, so I am going to use it again

So off we went on the boat to Valliance Keep in Northrend.  Our little group was:

  • Merchi – Level 10 Hunter
  • Fergorin – Level 10 Shaman
  • Mendula – Level 10 Priest

Waiting for Ula… or Mendula

Unlike the old days, one of the first quests you get sends you to Dalaran, a flight point you get by default.  You can also fly directly to Howling Fjord, as that flight point is available as well.  There would be no need to repeat our 2008 ride across the continent.

Our first ride across Northrend

One of the first things I noticed looking at the map… the real map… was that while the expansion now scales from 10 to 50, the individual zones are not all equally accessible.  There are different ranges for the zones.

  • Borean Tundra 10-50
  • Howling Fjord 10-50
  • Dragonblight 15-50
  • Grizzly Hills 15-50
  • Sholazar Basin 20-50
  • Zul’Drak 20-50
  • Crystalsong 25-50
  • Ice Crown 25-50
  • Storm Peaks 25-50

So they haven’t gone full Legion/BFA “all zones are equal” with the scaling.  They do want you to go through the content in some semblance of the original order.  And that is fine.  We didn’t have any intention otherwise.

Running through the initial content was fun.  It has been nearly a dozen years since we did this, but a lot of it remains fairly fresh in my memory.  And what I had forgotten was renewed and fresh again as we moved along.

I didn’t do a lot of posts about particular zones or bits of content back then.

When we got down to the the mist shrouded beach at Riplash Strand and the haunting music I could vividly recall the first night in the expansion.  We were all out there together and I particularly recall being held up on one quest that required you to slay a named mob, Gamel the Cruel.

Gamel, Gamel, bright as a camel…

Back in the day there was no sharing a kill with people outside of your group and there was a crowd of people showing up to slay him.  This wasn’t the happy times of the launch of WoW Classic either, with everybody lining up politely and waiting their turn. (Except Poncho! Never forget Poncho the line cutter!)  I recall standing on his spawn point and casting consecrate with my pally in hopes of getting the first hit on him.  It took quite a few tries before we got him.

But it is not 2008 any more and much has changed.  You can now get a hit on a mob that somebody on your faction has started with and get credit.  And there certainly were no launch day crowds down at the beach with us, though we saw a few other players around almost everywhere we went.

And when we went to get Gamel another player ran up after we had started… a Horde player too.  But he was able to get credit, because the faction exclusion doesn’t apply to named quest mobs.  Everybody gets credit in this happy new world.

We carried on, running down the quests, swimming through the misty water, and advancing down the quest chains.

Swimming in the mists

I had the pumpkin head transmog on because I had to explain how to hide your helm, which used to be a checkbox in the settings… and still is… but which now requires you do interact with a transmog NPC.  Fortunately somebody had the Tundra Yak out in Valliance Keep, so we could use the NPC on that.

And, then when I got a new helm I had to add in that transmog isn’t applied to your character, but to the individual piece of gear, so my pumpkin head was gone.

I also had to bring up… still bitter… about how the Azure Water Strider, the most OP mount in the game and maybe the best thing to come out of Mists of Pandaria, had been nerfed so it no longer let you walk on water by default.  Our mounts had to schlep through the water like suckers.

No walking on water here

We made our way along, found ourselves out at the D.E.H.T.A. camp to run through their quests, then down to the shore and the first interaction with the Kaluak.  I spent a lot of the time with the Kaluak back in the day.  Vikund, my main, still carries the fishing pole he got from reaching exalted status with them.

We finished that up and made it to the airfield.  Along the way we all made it to level 20.

Another achievement

At level 20 the list of things like battle grounds that open up to you can take a while to flash by.

The leveling is probably a bit faster than the rate you might want if you didn’t want to hit level cap before you finished up the expansion, but that is okay.  I’m not sure we’re in it for the long haul, but for now it is fun and memories and an odd mesh between how the game used to be and how it plays now.

What is that diamond? Is this The Sims?

There are still some oddities.

At one point I was standing around and decided to talk to the trade skill trainers.  I trained cooking, then got the option to train Northrend cooking.

Cooking choices

That made some sense to me because Blizz had divided up trade skills into expansion based grouping.  When I trained Northrend cooking I was then able to train up a bunch of recipes.

Then I went to the fishing trainer and that was less clear.

All the fishing

When you get fishing you get the option to train up all the expansion fishing variations.  That seemed kind of odd.  I guess it knows where you are fishing and can apply the skill up to that  area.  But I feel it might have been better to have skipped this one.

And some bugs from Exile’s Reach followed us.  In the starter area you get some skills early on, but later you choose a spec.  If your spec did not include one of the initial skill it stayed on you your hot bar and was usable… until the game tried to push a new skill onto the bar after you left the starter area.  Then the skill would just disappear, replaced on your action bar by a new one.  And it is never well received when things just disappear, so we spent some time trying to figure that one out.

But otherwise it has been a light and fun trip through some old memories.

Ula also wrote a bit about this on her blog.  Check it out.

Coming Ashore at Exile’s Reach

With the big squish last week came a new introduction experience for players starting off in World of Warcraft.

You can still use the old-ish race-specific starter zones, but Blizz has rolled up this whole new zone to help get people going, so I figured I would give it a look.  So I rolled up a Gnome hunter… mechanical pets for the win… and chose that as my starter path.

When you load in you find yourself on a boat.

A nice boat.

And, of course, my first thought on seeing the boat was, “Oh, we’re going to do the ship wreck starter trope, aren’t we?”

Seriously, the industry needs to sit down and brainstorm some game starting options beyond “jail break,” “ship wreck,” “amnesia,” and “lets just not talk about it.”

On the boat you go through the basics of move and attack and what the UI elements mean.

This is the XP bar, you will stare at it for 60 levels then it will disappear

This was pretty clear, though I have the problem of already knowing how to do these things, so I sometimes get ahead of the tutorial or do things that they don’t want you to do yet.

Meanwhile, the weather was beginning to get stormy… because of course it was.

It was sunny when I arrived

And, sure enough, you end up in the water as the ship goes down.

You knew it was coming

On the beach you go meet up with the captain and start going through a series of quests and see the usual things.

It isn’t WoW without murlocs

It is really two series of quests.  There is a main story, but you also get a series of quests related to your class.  As a hunter, that meant learning how to tame and hand a pet as well as using traps.

I will say that one of the things that kept tripping me up was the fact that most of my hunter experience over the last year was in WoW Classic, so I kept looking for ammo and pet skills and stuff like that.  Things have changed a lot over the years, and swapping straight from 2006 to 2020 puts the two eras in sharp relief.

Also on the odd front, when I was learning about hunter skills, I got the achievement for completing 100 quests.

100 when?

That was odd, since I would say by then I had maybe done a dozen.  I saw somebody else get the 50 quests complete achievement as well, so something is clearly up with the quest counter.

I made it through the hunter training, then took a break.  When I came back, Ula and Skronk from the instance group were on and into experience as well.  We were able to group up and share notes and finish the last bits of the tutorial.

After fighting through some ogres, the final task is to do an instance run.  As with much of the tutorial, a pop up was displayed to tell us what to do.  In this case, it was to use the Dungeon Finder to enter the instance.

The instance is right there though…

This highlighted the problem of these pop up notifications.  I had already experienced a couple of them that wouldn’t go away.  If you earn a new skill or pick up some new gear, there is a pop up to inform you.  But if I already dragged the skill to my action bar, or dragged it to an action bar other than the one indicated, the pop up would stay there, annoyingly telling me to do the thing I had already done.

Furthermore, I had a couple of cases where, even after having successfully satisfied the pop up’s request it came back later to tell me to drag the same skill to the action bar.

But the Dungeon Finder pop up was a special hell.  Since we were already in a group, only the group leader could press the button to send us into the instance, which meant the other two could never dismiss that pop up.

Conflicting pop ups

Fortunately for me, with the big monitor, it was easy enough to ignore that pop up way down in the lower right corner, but it still managed to grab my eye every once in a while as we ran through the instance.

In the instance you have some NPCs to guide you as you move along to the final boss fight.

The final ogre in the instance

You learn to the mechanics of running an instance, including the fact that sometimes everybody gets loot but you.

No cape for me

We wrapped that up, left the instance, and turned in the quest for that, which popped Ula and I up to level 10.  Skronk… Fergorin… was still a couple of chiclets shy of the level, so we ran around and killed orges and looked for missed quests until he made it.  Then it was time to take our final, definitive leave of Exile’s Reach.

Are you sure you want to go?

When you’re ready to go, you are flown off over the island for one last glimpse, then it is off to Stormwind.

One last look

Once in Stormwind we grouped up and followed the quest path that welcomes you to the city.  You visit a few locations, get to buy your riding skill and get handed a mount. (Though, thanks to mounts being account-wide I already had that mount, plus access to more than 200 additional mounts.)

We hit a point where the quest sent us off to meet with King Anduin, which felt like the start of the BFA intro, so we ran off to find Chromie in order to choose our timeline.  We wanted to go back to Wrath of the Lich King.  However, Chromie wasn’t having it.  So I ran back and spoke to the king and went through his quests.

I didn’t want to have to keep running back and forth to check with Chromie, so I ended up doing the full intro into BFA… which meant doing the jail break start, so two tropes in one night… up through the intro to Boralus Harbor quests, which ends at the flight point.

I stoned back to Stormwind then and rode back to Chromie.  At that point I was able to choose my timeline in the way I indicated in my previous WoW post.  I reported back to the others on this and they followed in my footsteps and got lined up for Northrend as well.

But I had heard other people say that you should get an option to talk to Chromie before that.  So later on I rolled up a Horde character, a goblin warrior, and ran through Exile’s Reach again, both to see it from the Horde side and to see if I missed the turn-off to Chromie.

The Horde version of the island is mostly the same.  Sure, you get orcs and goblins and a more sinister looking boat.

It is going to sink all the same

The story is 90% identical for Alliance and Horde, though I did spot at least one amusing difference that hinged on the difference between gnome and goblin engineering.  I also got the achievement for 100 quests again at the same point I had with my Alliance hunter, so there is something about my account that must be incremented to cause that.

I also spotted a few more flashing help messages.

Low health? Then EAT! Don’t take that potion! I don’t care if you’re still in combat!

I made it through to the end… I’d guess you could roll through the whole thing in 30 minutes if you were efficient… certainly less than an hour… and flew off to Orgrimmar after finishing the instance (with strangers this time, so I was able to use… and thus dismiss the reminder for… the Dungeon Finder) and what not.

There I went through the tour.  You have to march all the way over to the Valley of Honor, but it is all in a day’s intro.  And when we got to the point where that seemed to be done, I noticed a dialog option with the next quest offered.

Maybe you want some Chromie action sailor?

I totally did not see that option my first time through, and Ula doesn’t recall having seen it either.  It is entirely possible that I just missed it clicking through to the next quest… and I guess that means if you click through too fast you have to go to Boralus Harbor. This time I took the direct option to Chromie.

Chromie looks a little out of place in Orgrimmar.

Chromie stands out in gnome form there in the Valley of Spirits

I mean, she is a dragon and all and just goes around as a gnome or something.  But it still must be a bit jarring for your average orc to run across a gnome just hanging out in town.

Anyway, as starting areas go it was as good as most.  It was mildly engaging and, while there were a few bugs, a lot of the problems I had were more related to me knowing the game already and getting ahead of myself.  Clearly it didn’t think people would group up ahead of running the instance, for example.  I suppose it was a good thing there were only three of us, because that is all the instance serves at once.

There is always the question about whether or not learning the mechanics actually teaches you how to play.  I found my hunter to be powerful enough that I would just shoot via auto-attack and let my pets do the work, so I didn’t really build up the idea of a rotation.  But that can come later.

And, in the end, we got ourselves pointed towards Northrend with some fresh characters, which was our real goal.

Related:

Into the Level Squished World of Warcraft

It was busy in EVE Online last week, but I still found a bit of time to poke my nose into World of Warcraft to see what the Shadowlands pre-patch and the big level squish did to us.

In preparation I made sure, the night before the patch, to list out all of my characters with their current level and how much xp they had on their bar to see how things changed.  That wasn’t because I expected Blizz to mess things up.  And my characters all aligned with the chart I borrowed from WoW Head for my previous post.  But still, if you don’t record something you can’t tell how much things changes.  So my Eldre’Thalas characters fell out like this:

  • Vikund – 120 – 50
  • Tistann – 120 – 50
  • Alioto -120 – 50
  • Tokarev – 116 10% – 48 53%
  • Hurmoo – 112 36% – 46 100%
  • Makarov -112 25% – 46 100%
  • Maloney – 111 26% – 45 100%
  • Makawao – 66 1% – 26 3%
  • Garnatz – 62 48% – 25 100%
  • Blintz – 48 46% – 21 100%
  • Honecker – 42 9% – 18 44%
  • Hruga – 33 5% – 14 22%

I had three characters at level cap and they ended up at 50 as expected.  And my level 116 mapped right into level 48 with a half a level of xp in his bar, which I guess was about right.  But then a few of the other ones ended up with their xp bar filled up to 100% so that they were effectively one level higher than I expected.

I am not complaining.  I’ll take the level.  I said I was likely to regret squandering the double xp that Blizzard had been offering on retail WoW for months, but a couple of free levels helped mitigate that I suppose.

Also, the level curve in the new 20-50 world is pretty easy.  I have already pushed Tokarev from half way into level 48 to level 50 just by doing some battle pets matches.  (The first week of the squish was also a 200% xp week for battle pets, so I went in and leveled some up.)

I feel like I’ve been here before

I was, however, a bit surprised at the shape of the leveling world post-squish.  For ages I have had this chart in my mind.

The promised shape of the leveling experience

And, since I have been following my usual policy of only watching the high level news about the upcoming expansion so as not to spoil anything, I let my brain draw its own picture of how I expected things to be.  Basically, that chart viewed as a series of parallel vertical paths into Shadowlands.

My vision in Excel format

However, when I got into the game with my first character with 100% xp and figured I would just go kill a mob close by to get the level, I found gray mobs where I happened to be, which was in the Warlords of Draenor content.  (Say what you will about garrisons, I do still hang out in them, largely to make 30-slot bags and do pet battle stuff.)

I then discovered that there still existed a way from the starter areas up to the level cap that ran through the old expansions in something akin to the old way.  Each expansion had a new level range, with a cap on it.

The horizontal stack with level caps on each expansion

That seemed like a ticket to a somewhat unsatisfying ride to 50.  With everything squished down and the xp curve juiced up, it meant that players on that route were very likely to out-level the content before they finished it, a problem the game already suffered from in its level 120 cap form.

Also, I was a bit confused as to how to get to the world I was promised, the realm of parallel paths to the level cap.  Fortunately, somebody quickly mentioned Chromie and I remembered that this was all revolving around her and the time stream in order to explain it in the lore.  So I ran over to the Stormwind Embassy area in Stormwind and found her.  There is a little hourglass on the map that shows you where she is.

Where to get Chromie timed

There, if you are eligible… more on that in another post… she will let you slide into whichever time line you want, so long as it is one of the six she has to offer currently.

The six paths

There is plenty of room on that selection screen to put Shadowlands when they squish that before the next expansion.

I was confused for a moment as to where Battle for Azeroth and the Kalimdor & Eastern Kingdoms content was hiding.  But BFA is on by default, it already scales up to level 50 without visiting Chromie.  Meanwhile, I realized that the content on the old continents was wrapped up into Cataclysm, since that was the point when they changed and updated all of it.  The Cataclysm zones are not off on their own island like Northrend, but blended into the old locations.

So there it is.  And as I even think I figured out why Blizz would bother keeping the old style form of the world with all the expansions stacked in horizontal bands.

So long as the content is stacked that way, players retain the ability to go run old instances and raids solo for transmog gear and pet drops and the like.  That is a surprisingly critical item so far as the community is concerned.

Next up will be my venture into the new starting area, Exile’s Reach.

The WoW Shadowlands Pre-Patch with the Big Level Squish Arrives Today

The Shadowlands expansion has been delayed, but the pre-patch is still arriving today.

The pre-patch comes with a lot of stuff.  The patch notes for the pre-patch are long and detailed and touch aspects of the game from character customization to class updates.  Every new expansion means relearning you class.  Blizzard even put up a video to help players with the changes.

But, in my opinion, the biggest thing in the pre-patch, and perhaps one of the most ambitious changes Blizzard has ever made to the game, is the level squish.

After some rumblings, the WoW team came out in March of last year with the statement that leveling in WoW needed help.

The question that brought this up

120 levels is a lot, the time it takes to get through them and into the current content felt like too much, and levels themselves were no longer all that special.  Gone were the days when you would get a talent point to spend every level, or even a new skill or a skill upgrade every other level. (Unless, like me, you were back playing WoW Classic.)

So Blizz decided to put the level cap back to 60.  There will now be a new level 1-10 starter area, after which veteran players will be able to play through levels 10-50 via any one of the past expansions, though new accounts will apparently be forced to level through Battle for Azeroth.  And, at the top of the pyramid, for now at least, will be the Shadowlands expansion, taking players from level 50-60.

What the new level ranges will be

Back at BlizzCon this was all summed up this way:

Leveling up after Shadowlands

The basics of the squish are pretty simple.  There is the new leveling path above.  If you have a level 120 character before the squish, you will have a level 50 character afterwards.  If your character is under level 50, there is a chart.

Where will you end up after the squish?

I stole that chart (and modified it a bit) from the article about the big squish over at WoWHead.  That covers a lot of the details, but also brings up some of the unknowns.  I haven’t seen a clear answer about when a new character will unlock flying, for example.  And how the new 10-50 path will play with the Shadowlands classes is still up in the air.  There are a lot of questions to be answered.

In preparation for the squeeze I finally spent some time in retail WoW over the past weekend.  As predicted, I do in fact regret squandering the 100% xp boost that Blizz has had running there for months now.  I ran through Darkmoon Faire and grabbed a few levels with various characters, just to get them a little further along.  But I could have easily had eight or more level 120 characters if I had put in a couple week’s worth of effort rather than the three I do have.

I also went through and noted down the names, levels, and percentage into their current level, for all of my characters.  I am curious as to whether or not that chart above will hold true and what happens with the excess xp hanging around.

But the patch is here.  Everything is going to change.  We’ll have to see how it looks once the smoke clears and the servers are up again.  There was some talk in the instance group about maybe rolling some fresh alts for a run through WotLK, just to see how it plays.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Are We Going to Get a Level Squish with Every WoW Expansion Now?

The level squish is coming.  Shadowlands may have been delayed, but Blizzard is still giving us the 9.0.1 pre-patch in a matter of days… hell, we’re close enough to start measuring the time comfortably in hours… and so I started thinking about that.

At some point Blizzard recognized that too many levels had become an issue; levels were no longer special and leveling needed help. So they set out to fix the problem.  The level squish is the solution, announced at BlizzCon last year.  With the pre-patch everybody at level cap, currently level 120, will suddenly be level 50.

There is a new starting experience that will cover levels 1-10, after which all of the past expansions, as well as post-Cataclysm vanilla WoW, will run in parallel as level 20-50 experiences, allowing the player to choose which path they want to take to level 50, or swap between them, or whatever.

And then Shadowlands will pick up and be the level 50-60 experience.  We got all of that last year at BlizzCon.

What the new level ranges will be

Blizzard, for whatever reason, will favor Battle for Azeroth for you first run through, but if you already have a character at level cap you will find it easy to choose your route though the game.  Or so we’re told.  I haven’t played with it yet, but we’ll take that as read because that isn’t really the topic today.

Instead, the topic is what happens after Shadowlands?

There will, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, be an expansion after Shadowlands, and probably a few more after that.  World of Warcraft isn’t as lucrative as it was a decade ago, but it is still by far the most lucrative and reliable money maker the company has.  This cow will be milked on schedule so long as it remains profitable.

But if you add another expansion after Shadowlands, another ten level experience, because Blizzard has decided that ten levels is the optimum cap raise for an expansion, we will, with the passage of time, be at level 70 then 80 then 90 and so on and back into the problem that brought about the level squish in the first place.

Blizzard is silly and sometimes seems incapable of spotting the oncoming train of a problem, but they just solved this spiraling level cap issue so I have to think it will remain fresh in their minds long enough to consider the expansion after Shadowlands.

I am pretty sure that at BlizzCon 2021, after they finish celebrating the success of Burning Crusade Classic, and whatever server move solution they have come up with to link it to WoW Classic, during the usual summing up segment that kicks off the keynote, the big reveal for the franchise will be the next expansion for retail WoW.

And I am curious, during the big panel to go over the main details, if they will tell us that, with the launch of this expansion, the level cap will again be 60, that being the optimum level cap since it was where the game started (stop looking over at the level 70 cap on Burning Crusade Classic) and that everybody will be squished back down to level 50 again, that Shadowlands will be made another parallel track on the 20-50 experience, and that the new expansion will occupy the level 50-60 slot.

Are we embarking on an era where levels 50-60 will always be the new expansion and any past expansion will be made yet another option on the way there?  It seems both over-wrought and deceptively simple as a solution.

I suppose the real question is whether or not it will work?  Will players be happy to reset to level 50 every expansion only to earn their way back up to 60 yet again?  If levels lacked meaning before, what meaning would they have in that scenario?

And, finally, can Blizzard stop changing up character classes and specs and whatnot so much with every new expansion? That all trickles down on the parallel 20-50 expansions ever time they do.  That is the reason they need to introduce Burning Crusade Classic.  The content is all still there in game, mostly unaltered since 2008 or so.  But every time they change up classes and specs and talent points and gear and all the other things that work together and dictate how your character plays, they change up how the expansions play.

Blizzard Delays Shadowlands Expansion

I speculated just yesterday that, with the clock running down on the WoW team, the Shadowlands expansion might end up being delayed as rather large changes were still being made late in the beta.

And today we have this from the WoW team:

To the WoW community,

I wanted to let you know that we’re delaying the release of Shadowlands to later this year—and while we’re still in the process of determining the right new date to launch, we felt it was important to let you know about this change in plans as soon as we could. This was an incredibly difficult decision for the team, as we’re as eager to get the expansion into your hands as you are to play it—but ultimately, we feel it’s the right decision for the game—and for our players.

Over the past several months of testing, we’ve made significant progress iterating on and polishing the core features and gameplay of Shadowlands. We’re at a point where the zones, the campaign, the level-up questing experience, and the story we have to tell are essentially ready to share. We’re excited by the Covenants at the heart of the expansion, and it’s been a thrill to see Torghast take shape into a fun new kind of WoW experience, thanks in no small part to your input.

However, as everything started coming together and we’ve been listening to and building upon your feedback, it’s become clear we need a little more time for additional polish, and to balance and iterate on some interlocking pieces—particularly those related to the endgame. Shadowlands is one of the most intricate expansions we’ve yet created, and while we’ve made great progress, the challenge of tuning the endgame was compounded by the team having to work from home.

Blizzard has a commitment to quality. We believe Shadowlands will be something special, and we’ve heard from many of you who feel the same. We need this extra time to ensure that Shadowlands lives up to its full potential.

In the meantime, we’re excited to announce that beginning October 13 we will be releasing the Shadowlands pre-patch, which lays a lot of the groundwork for the expansion and includes our revamped character leveling, new-player experience on Exile’s Reach, and a host of new character customization options. And once we get closer to Shadowlands’ release, you’ll be called upon to defend Azeroth against a resurgence of the Scourge during our pre-launch event.

Thanks for your support and passion, and for your continued help and feedback as we head toward the finish line.

We’ll see you in the Shadowlands soon,

John Hight, Executive Producer of World of Warcraft

The original promise from Blizzard was that we would get the expansion in the fall of this year, a season that runs until December 21st, so they still have enough runway left to make that target.

We shall see how this rolls I suppose.

In the mean time, we did get a date for the pre-patch.  We now have until October 13, 2020 to finish up what we’re doing before that hits.  Then we can start wrestling what the level squish really means.

Addendum: Word is that Blizzard sent out a note to everybody who had already purchased the Shadowlands expansion offering up a refund if they wanted it, no questions asked.  It is nice to see that Blizz has learned some lessons over the years.  Most people won’t take it, but the fact that they offered it is good PR.

I expect that this is also the reason they waited until today, the first day of Q4 2020, to make this announcement.  Q3 is locked in and if they ship before the end of Q4 they will be able to recognize revenue for all the pre-orders and new purchases, which will make the quarter for them.  But there was no point in letting even a few refunds drag down Q3 I guess.

The Shadowlands Expansion is coming to WoW on October 26th

I knew if I was away for a few days some big news item would drop.  Actually, a few things came up while I was gone, but for me the big one was Blizzard announcing the launch date for the Shadowlands expansion.

The worldwide launch, similar to how the company launched WoW Classic last year, will happen across time zones landing on October 26th or 27th depending on where you live.

The world-wide launch plan

There is also a release date trailer… which looks pretty good.

I wish my in-game experienced looked so good.  I probably need the latest generation video card to get there.

By a complete luck, when I wrote about potential launch dates, my sample date for estimating the time between releases was October 27th.  If only I had been that on the nose with my new year’s predictions, where my call was August 18th.  No points for that prediction I guess.

So, if Shadowlands launches on time, the time between expansions list will end up looking like this:

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 778 days
  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 670 days
  • Legion to Battle for Azeroth – 728 days
  • Battle for Azeroth to Shadowlands – 804 days

That still makes Battle for Azeroth the longest running era for WoW, running out to 804 days, passing even the run from the launch of vanilla in 2004 to the release of The Burning Crusade 784 days later.

I have not been paying much attention to the Shadowlands beta.  That probably makes it more likely I will enjoy the expansion, if my rule of surprise… not knowing the content ahead of time keeps me more engaged… holds true.  We shall see.

We still have one major milestone to hit before launch though, and that is the pre-launch patch.

While the pre-launch patch is generally a big deal, as it opens up the lead-in stories and quests that set the stage for a new expansion, this one is doing extra duty as it will also usher in the level squish.  The level squish will make 50 the new pre-expansion level cap.  All old content will scale for levels 10 to 50, and a new level 1 to 10 starter experience will be introduced.

What the new level ranges will be

For at least some period of time my highest level character in WoW Classic (my hunter is level 54) will be higher level than any of my retail WoW characters, which will cap out at level 50 pre-expansion.

Strange but true.

So the big question is when the 9.0.1 update will hit, bringing with it all of these changes?

Another chance to guess a date!  I am going to guess it will hit the week of September 21st.  This is a big change, so my thought is that Blizzard will want some extra time to work out the wrinkles.  That will give them five weeks to get things settled down.

Of course, with the 10-50 scaling of all of the old content, it also means that if you were solo farming some old raid for a specific drop… maybe something for one of the Raiding with Leashed achievements… you had best get it done before the patch hits, as all the content will be level 50 afterwards.  How things will play out when you get to level 60 is an open question for me still.  We shall see.

Addendum Oct 1, 2020: The release has been delayed.

Blizzard Continues Its Pandemic Profit Roll in Q2

We got the 2020 Q2 financial results for Activision Blizzard earlier this week and it confirmed what many had probably already guessed; people staying home play (and pay for) more video games.

So, not really a surprise that they did well, though I am sure senior execs from Bobby Kotick on down will claim that their leadership was the magic ingredient.  It is always their work that causes anything good and unavoidable market conditions that cause anything bad.  So the execs get huge bonuses and the employees… well… and it isn’t just people on the Activision side of the house.

Anyway, as the presentation shows, revenue was up year over year.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2020 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 10

Of course, things were looking pretty meager a year ago, with the 2019 Q1 results showing people had fallen away from Battle for Azeroth with Q2 reviving slightly… margins up from 16% to 20%… on anticipation of WoW Classic and the Rise of Azshara update which unlocked flying in the expansion.

It wasn’t until the Q3 results that included the launch of WoW Classic that things began to look better.  And then, of course, the national disaster of the pandemic hit and kept everybody home.

So things are looking up for the company.  Surprising to me is the lack of depth in the portfolio at Blizzard and across the company.  The only thing new in Q2 was the Call of Duty: Warzone battle royale addon to the Call of Duty franchise and the promise of the Shadowlands expansion for WoW some time this year.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2020 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 7

Of course, maybe that shouldn’t surprise me.  Activision is mostly Call of Duty these days, and Blizzard has some other titles, but WoW is still the revenue juggernaut and when it sags there isn’t anything to take up the slack.  A new card pack for Hearthstone isn’t going to make a huge impact at this point and Diablo: Immortal still seems to be far from going live.

So I expect things will remain upbeat so long as we’re all encouraged to stay home as much as possible, and there no doubt be a spike when the Shadowlands expansion launches in Q4.  But the company remains the same.  It is WoW and everything else.

For those interested, the financial data, presentation, and audio of the conference call, can be found on the Activision Blizzard investor relations page.

Shadowlands Beta and the Coming Release

My time in Azeroth remains focused on WoW Classic.  My interest in Battle for Azeroth is pretty low since I unlocked flying (I am squandering that 100% xp boost, I know) and I have been trying not to pay too much attention to what is going on with the upcoming Shadowlands expansion in my usual attempt to keep some of it a surprise.

But I cannot help but see the headlines in my feed and the Blue Tracker over at MMO Champion, which I use to pick up specific news and updates, has been very much focused on Shadowlands.

And the big news this past week is that Shadowlands has now officially entered beta and people can try/test all of the leveling content, classes, and some instances.  Blizz has posted a preview round up to cover some of what is coming.

This feels a bit late in the year, relative to past releases, for an expansion to hit beta.  I know that things take as long as they take, and that Blizzard has pegged this for the three month period of “Fall” as the release window… so it won’t be another August launch… but I seem to recall there being traditionally something like a 3-4 month gap between beta and launch (somebody did a study of this, but I cannot find it at the moment), which would put Shadowlands in the October to November time frame.  The past launch to launch timeline have been:

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 778 days
  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 670 days
  • Legion to Battle for Azeroth – 728 days

If Shadowlands launches on October 27th, just to pick an early-ish Fall date, that would make the gap between launches 805 days, if I did my math correctly, making it the longest time between expansions.

Technically Blizzard has until December 21st, the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year and the point at which somebody decided winter officially starts in the northern hemisphere, to ship Shadowlands and still meet their Fall promise, which would be 860 days.  And the fine print for the expansion per-purchase says that you will get it by December 31st, so it could well into winter and an 870 day gap.

And I guess that is okay.  We’ll all be indoors, and probably all the more so when COVID-19 returns hard and the seasonal flu joins in to tag team us and shelter in place makes staying home the only option.  Lots of time to play video games and a great need to escape the news will make Azeroth feel inviting.  No plagues there… currently.

Somewhere along the way Blizz also has to introduce the level squish, turing the current level 1-120 game into a level 1-50 game, on to which Shadowlands will add another ten levels.

What the new level ranges will be

I am sure that will introduce some unexpected complications.  I also look forward to the more obsessive figuring out which of the eight paths between 10 and 50 is the most efficient way to level an alt.

Blizz also announced that there will now be four versions of the Shadowlands expansion, catching up with some of the competitors I noted previously.  There will be three digital editions.  These are no surprise, having been on sale since freaking BlizzCon 2019.

Digital versions of Shadowlands

The Base Edition gets you the expansion and that’s it.  Simple.

The Heroic Edition adds in a level 120 character boost, a mount, and a transmog set.

And the Epic Edition adds a pet, a weapon effect, a special hearthstone effect, and 30 days of game time on top of the Heroic Edition.

But Blizzard also has a physical Collector’s Edition for those of you who demand the big physical box.  This gets you all of the Epic Edition stuff plus an art book, mouse pad, pin set, and the sound track.

Shadowlands Collectors Edition

That will set you back $119.99 here in the US.

You can, of course, purchase any of these now for delivery by December 31st, 2020.  Blizzard likes money, and will happily take yours if you want to give it to them early.  And if you have purchased a digital version already there is a path and a plan to allow you to buy the physical version with all the stuff.

I imagine purchasing one of these will get you into beta, though I haven’t checked on that.  I certainly haven’t gotten any of the usual “click here for Shadowlands beta access” phishing emails so far.  But the beta is still young yet.

I am not certain which edition I will end up purchasing.  I traditionally end up paying the mount tax and buying the big digital version, but collecting mounts isn’t that big of a deal for me these days.  It turns out that when you get beyond a couple hundred choices, adding in one more isn’t a huge motivator.  And Blizz just gave me a new mount again for a six month subscription, the Steamscale Incinerator.  That remains a thing.

We shall see.

My enthusiasm for retail WoW remains low.  I log in to do Darkmoon Faire monthly on my main, if only to try to nudge his trade skills along.  I am sure I will be back for the pre-expansion events.  If nothing else, I will be interested to see how the level squish looks.  But that might not come for a while.

Tough Act to Follow

We are in the waning days of the Battle for Azeroth expansion in World of Warcraft.  This expansion seems destined to rank down the list in the annals of the game.  It is a bit hard for me to even judge it as an expansion, as I did about as little as you could do and still be able to claim to have played.

Battle for Azeroth

But even with my low commitment to the expansion… I made it to level cap with two characters and unlocked flying, but did little else besides the main overland quest lines… I felt the pain of the expansion.  The whole idea that mobs ramped up in difficulty so that equipping better gear made the game harder… a problem that Blizzard acknowledged but said they didn’t care about… was just the main issue I had to deal with.  But it seemed like everything from the story to the raids was making somebody angry over the course of the expansion.

However, some of my lack of enthusiasm is no doubt related to the fact that the previous expansion, Legion, was one I did enjoy.  I played that through pretty thoroughly… for me at least, no raiding, but I ran the instances via LFG… and came away feeling pretty satisfied.  I liked the story, the zones, the mechanics of the classes I played, and I honestly felt a bit robbed when my legendary weapon abilities went away.

So I wonder how much of my disappointment… or at least my lack of enthusiasm… lays in the fact that I enjoyed Legion more.

I have, in the past, tried to articulate the problems with expansions.  They must, by necessity, reset the game in some way, undo what has gone before, in order to give you new things to accomplish.  They also stand as waypoints where  a company can assess features, add new ones, and adjust things that players were complaining about.  For WoW, the latter always involves an update to classes because there has literally never been a time in WoW when somebody wasn’t loudly and repeatedly complaining about their favorite class being bad on some other class being too good.

That means there is almost always a shake up to the status quo, something that will make some slice of the player base pack up and walk away.

And yet some expansions are recalled fondly.  Maybe not by everybody, but there is often something of a consensus about what was a good expansion and what was not.  The good ones mentioned are often:

  • Wrath of the Lich King
  • Mists of Pandaria
  • Legion

While the bad list tends to be:

  • Cataclysm
  • Warlords of Draenor
  • Battle for Azeroth

But there is clearly a pattern to that, and a regular “every other expansion sucks” seems a bit too convenient.  So I wonder how much the quality or popularity of a specific expansion influences that of the expansion after it and how much the expansion before it does the same.

As I noted above, my enjoyment of Legion might very well have shaded my reception of BFA.  Maybe.

More certainly, my time spent with Wrath of the Lich King, where I played from the last few months of The Burning Crusade and straight through the whole time it was live, made me less receptive to Cataclysm.

I have softened a bit on Cataclysm over time.  Destroying the old world still seems like a mistake… unless you think somebody was playing the long game and that Blizz meant to do WoW Classic the whole time.  And giving people flying out of the box was problematic.  But there was still some quality content there, including possible the prettiest zone in Azeroth, Vashj’ir.  And when we went back and did the instances, especially the 5 person heroic versions of Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman, those were a good time.

And it is quite arguable that my enjoyment of Mists of Pandaria… I skipped the first year of it, but then played it through until Warlords of Draenor hit…  was colored by my dislike at the time of Cataclysm and the fact that I stayed away from WoW for at least 18 months before getting into it.

Which, of course, brings me into another cycle with WoD, and the story continues.

Are the ups and downs of my relationship with World of Warcraft because of the expansions and their merit (or lack thereof) or due to my own expectations being set or mis-set by over exposure or hype?  Should we be thus optimistic about the coming Shadowlands expansion, it having followed one of the down expansions?

Every expansion is its own time in the WoW continuum, and yet none of them exists in a vacuum either.  Each one builds on the past and sets expectations for the future.