Intermission

There are almost certainly going to be spoilers in this blog for the foreseeable future — if you do not wish to have any pre-knowledge of the next WoW expansion, do not read it.

Blizzcon has come and gone, and we got the next expansion announcement many of us were expecting. Over the next few weeks we will undoubtedly learn a lot more about it, as Blizz gives out more information and the data miners get down to business and possibly as the beta kicks off. There are lots of sites that recap everything we know so far, and I am going to assume you have a basic idea of what was revealed at Blizzcon.

I have not really dug into all the details of what we know, but here are my preliminary and somewhat unorganized thoughts after watching a few of the meatier Blizzcon events about 8.0 (“Battle for Azeroth” — an expansion title certain to be abbreviated as BfA and of course lampooned with endless variations of Big F***ing Something-that-starts-with-A.)

Excitement. Specifically, there was not much of it, either from the dev team or the fans. No gigantic buildup like we had for WoD or Legion. No great unveiling of some cool new enemy, no major changes to baseline game mechanics, no new classes, no new planet. We are going back to Alliance v. Horde and staying on Azeroth.

I do not think this is a bad thing. As I have written before, I am kind of ready for a little break from fighting The Great Battle For Azeroth’s Existence. And I get a nervous tic whenever I hear Blizz talk about “exciting new changes” because lately that seems to have turned out badly. So I was relieved when I did not hear about any Really Big Changes coming in BfA. I watched most of the WoW events while connected with some guildies on Discord, and their overall reaction was pretty much, “Cool about the next xpac, but I am not super excited about it.”

BfA almost seems like an intermission expansion, a sort of place holder that allows Blizz to tweak many of the sweeping class and other changes they made in Legion. So I am kind of excited to not be excited, if you know what I mean. I think this is a good move on Blizz’s part.

Blizz attitude. I was encouraged by the general tone of the devs as they interacted with players and presented panel topics. In particular, I thought the Q&A session was the best we have had in at least a couple of years. The questions did not seem to be cherry-picked for the purpose of Blizz tooting their own horn, the dev panel gave what I thought were very straightforward and realistic answers, and the live questions were for the most part respectful and well-expressed. (With the exception of the idiot who wasted time by asking about the ceilings in raids… But even that was treated with more respect than it deserved and explained in terms of some of the technical camera reasons for it. Bravo, Blizz.)

Learning from Legion. Many of the announced changes were clearly a result of things that had not worked well in Legion, and I was gratified to see Blizz has in fact been listening to players about many of the real current annoyances. One recurring theme seems to be a move away from the extreme spec-unique approach to classes. Not only has this been the underlying cause of a lot of Legion player complaints, but I suspect Blizz found out how unmanageable it is to have what are basically 36 separate “classes”. A few of the changes I thought important:

  • No artifact weapon. The replacement mechanic — a neck piece that is essentially a relic-enabler for certain pieces of gear — echoes the whole 7.3 relic crucible, but Blizz did say that the neck piece will not be spec-unique, that it will work for gear for all specs of a class.
  • Possible gear simplification. I did hear Hazzikostas say something along the lines of gear level should matter, and that it is not cool to have to carry lots of gear around with you, so I am tentatively optimistic that BfA will un-complicate  many of the gear problems we see in Legion.
  • Somewhat related to the above, it seems like the neck-enabled gear will be a replacement for tier, eliminating the horrible Legion system that made old tier more useful than current tier and that forced complicated computer simulations for every possible gear combo.
  • Raid buffs will return. Blizz seems to understand that players like to feel they contribute something special to group efforts, and they as much as admitted that stripping away all raid buffs was a mistake. We will see.
  • When it came to the question of legendaries, at first I understood Ion Hazzikostas to virtually confirm what a terrible idea the Legion version of these had been and say they would not continue in BfA. However, in retrospect, I think there was less clarity than I thought, and I am not sure Blizz is done with bad implementations of legendaries. Still, it seems they do not plan to make legendaries unique to specs, which I hope will be an improvement no matter how they decide to implement them.

There were a ton of other things I both liked and disliked about the new expansion, and over the next few months I am sure I will have more to say about them. Just a quick mention of the ones that caught my attention for now:

  • Bigger backpacks are on the drawing board. Yes, at last we will get a somewhat larger basic bag, beyond the tiny 16-slot one we have had ever since the start of WoW.
  • Some sort of whole-character transmog. I was unclear about this, but apparently there will be some ability to morph certain classes-races into variations of those. Or possibly have pseudo-independent characters of these other races. For example there will be Darkiron Dwarves and Void Elves. It’s not obvious to me why this is so cool, nor under what circumstances it may occur, so stay tuned. Honestly, I missed the whole point of this, so maybe ignore anything I say about it.
  • Flying will be on the same basic schedule as for Legion, so I guess that means something like 6 months into the expansion.
  • A substance called azerite will be the new artifact power — it will enable the magic neck piece and we will grind it forever. Get ready.
  • Esports-friendly activities will continue and be expanded in the form of Mythic+ dungeons and the new Warfront scenarios.
  • Blizz is phasing out the entire PvP or PvE server system. All servers will be both, with a toggle switch players can set to determine under which set of rules they play. (I am assuming this may have similar implications for the dwindling number of “RP” designated servers, but I don’t know that for sure.)
  • There will be 6 new realm character slots added per account.
  • Blizz will have legal, Blizz-controlled Vanilla servers up and running in the foreseeable future. One hopes this will finally shut down the whimpering of the atavistic crowd that cannot seem to come to terms with change, but that seems unlikely. We will see.
  • Eastern Kingdom will be Alliance-controlled and Kalimdor will be Horde-controlled. There will be some “footholds” in each, though — for example, the Exodar will still be Alliance. Also, the starting areas will not change for the races, rather when one gets to something like level 110 the true nature of what happened will be revealed. And yes, Teldrassil has been torched by the Horde, so go back and get your idyllic screenshots now.

The only thing really missing from the entire BfA discussion was timing — we do not know when it may be targeted to go live, nor do we know when even the beta will start. I expect sometime after the first of the year for the beta (or more likely another “special alpha” for the select few), and the expansion going live by around November. Again, stay tuned.

It was definitely an interesting weekend.

Aaaaaaaannndddd — We’re off!

Unless there has been a gaming news blackout on your home planet, you know that the next WoW expansion will be unveiled officially next week at Gamescon. Already the blogosphere and the forum-o-sphere and the Twitterverse have spewed out thousands and thousands of words on the subject, more will be written in the coming days and even more in the coming months.

Speculation of course is rampant. The leading theory is that the new xpac will have the general theme described in a leak from a week or two ago — the one published on MMO-Champion and then hastily unpublished at Blizzard’s request. To my mind, the fact that Blizz was so concerned about it pretty much proves it was an actual and unintended leak. I do not think even Blizz would be so cagey as to engineer a false leak, then feign concern deep enough to have it retracted, all to throw everyone off the track of the “real” xpac theme. But if they did, honestly my hat would be off to them, it would be a brilliant strategic feint.

For those of you who did not get a chance to see the MMO-C item before it was yanked, you can get the main points in this gottabemobile piece published yesterday.

I am not going to speculate further about the various parts of the new content, there will be plenty of time for that in the weeks and months to come, and it really is pointless until we have some official word on it. But I will make a couple of comments:

1.  Lessons from the past. Historical precedent notwithstanding, I fervently hope Blizz has taken lessons from their past mistakes. For example, I hope they are technically prepared for the huge server loads at launch, and that for once we might have a smooth rollout. If they use themes from the past — for example a water world theme — I hope they remember all their mistakes from Vashj’ir. And I hope they have learned their lesson about flying — it is toothpaste that cannot be put back in the tube, they must allow it at a reasonably early time in the new xpac, better yet, build play around it from the beginning.

2.  Player choice. I would like to see a turnaround in philosophy by reinstating more player choice in the game. This would involve things like letting players choose how they want to earn their gear and what that gear will provide in terms of stats — that is, a step away from pure RNG as the sole determining factor. More player choice would also manifest itself by moving away from strict linear play that requires raiding for all players as the only acceptable end game.

3.  Class balance. Class balance seems terminally broken. I would love to see a serious effort to restore not only individual class and spec balance, but also decent meta-balance across classes. Not the band-aid approach we have had in WoD. There should never be vast differences between the highest performing damage dealers and the lowest ones, among skilled players. It’s fine for some classes to perform slightly better on certain types of fights than others, but the huge pendulum swings of WoD are unacceptable. And no player should be forced to play a certain spec because that class’s other specs are not viable. Last, step away from the homogenization of classes and bring back the unique “feel” of each class.

4. Early player feedback. By this, I mean Blizz needs to dig deep into player feedback from beta and the PTR, not just apply a quick fix and move on. I don’t really have any good examples for this, but I know that many of the worst problems in WoD were noted by players in beta and on the PTR, and Blizz’s responses — if they did not outright ignore them — often tended to be quick tweaks that never addressed the underlying problem. Which brings me to my last comment,

5.  Time. Blizz needs to take the time necessary to bring us a fully-developed and fully-tested product, not rush it out the door to meet some accountant’s deadline before the next quarterly report. Yes, if the expansion is delayed, players will whine and throw tantrums and such, but better that for a few weeks than having it continue over the life of the expansion. Because once it launches, there will be a swift judgement about it, and if it is perceived to be bad, then there is almost no way to ever change that.

Everyone make sure you are strapped in, we are done with the little kids’ merry-go-round, the roller coaster ride is about to begin!