Thursday, July 7, 2016

Warlords Closing Thoughts

The Legion prepatch is upon us and Warlords of Draenor came out 11/13/14. Perhaps a more relevant piece of information to note would be that the most recent major patch came out 6/23/15, or over a year ago. Just wanted to start out with that.

Legion is set to release August 30th, 2016. Last year, er, a year and a half ago, I was prepped, ready, and roaring to go. I had enough of Mists and while I was still playing nearly every day, I was ready for some new monsters to kill and pixels to loot.

While I am still very ready for some new monsters to kill and pixels to loot, the "preparation" for this expansion has been dramatically different. I have not been playing every day, I am very much not prepared, and I haven't exhausted every possible piece of playable content in Warlords. The reason being that Warlords was rather disappointing.

especially this thing

Sure, maybe it wasn't for you, but I'm not the only one who feels this way. A lot of people (those who intend to come back) usually quit entirely and don't come back until the expansion hits. I had felt a pull to play WoW during Warlords dead time, and so, through some generous donations I was able to re-up some play time and do a couple meaningful things while Warlords is still here. In this time that I've played the content that made me quit for about eight (or more? I don't remember) months, I've noted that the verdict has been unchanged. I feel compelled to explain.

In my own opinion, the quality of the game has been decreasing steadily over time. A common argument that I think vastly misrepresents the problem is the complaint that "there's nothing to do."

There is plenty to do. I in fact just did something relatively exciting, which was get pathfinder of Draenor. I can now fly in Draenor, because apparently my druid forgot how to shift into a bird after going into an alternate timeline (but remembers each time she goes back home).

oh that's what I'm supposed to do, right...

I've raided several times with my guild, a good guild being, in my opinion, one of the most important factors to the enjoyment of the game. I'm even on a PvP server for the first time in my life, which has actually been pretty okay, and has definitely spiced things up for me.

I have plenty of mounts and pets I could farm, achievements I could do, old raids I could now solo that I haven't even tried yet, now that I can fly archaeology is a valid choice of activity, and there are countless other things.

The problem is that these things fall into either or both of these categories: this feature was not necessarily added with Warlords, and/or this feature is not compelling or interesting enough to do.

Sure, the new mounts, pets, and archaeologies (it's a word now) that were added with Warlords wouldn't exist in the game without... Warlords having come out, but they were not new features. The new features that came into the game with Warlords were, ultimately, disappointing.

The biggest negative in my opinion were garrisons. While I enjoyed aspects of the garrisons they ultimately, when looked at a whole, were a big stain on the expansion. As with most things in life and video games, there is not one specific reason why something is good or bad. I enjoyed follower missions and I enjoyed building the garrison and unlocking things in it. The problems arose when you coupled the garrison's ease of access (personal hearth, mailbox, bank, reasons to come back every 30 minutes) with the lack of a formal main city. I'm not sure what the alliance Ashran town looked like, but what amounts to an outpost on an island is not a main city.

Why is this such a problem? Similarly to how guilds are a much more important aspect towards the enjoyability of the game than people realize, the interaction with other players is also important. The game has become more and more isolated over time, the aspect of community all but gone. The trend started with the LFD tool.

the best place to meet the worst people

Ironically, at least in my opinion, something that was supposed to help fix the lost community aspect - cross-realm integration - actually drew away from it. We are aware that we cannot interact with those people in the same way as the ones on our server, and it's not guaranteed that we will continue to see them in the world or even ever see them again, due to the ways that the phasing works. Part of the aspect of community was in fact seeing similar people again and again. Recognizing complete strangers' names because they had some of the same habits and schedules as you was part of feeling like a community. If I never see any of the same people each time I play, well...

This could possibly be remedied, but I'm not sure if it's even on Blizzard's list, let alone possible. Make cross-realm integration so seamless that we genuinely cannot tell that someone is on a different server. Allow 100% of the regular interactions that you could have with someone on your server with people who are on connected cross-realm servers. Keep phasing consistent so that we exist in the same phase as the same people consistently over months and months. The feeling of being part of a community with cross-realms cannot exist without fully operational integration.

So while before we lost some aspect of community within our own servers because we could just form groups with whomever anytime - which, trust me I understand, has a lot of benefits - we now feel isolated in the very place that was supposed to be the most immersive, the outside world itself. Enter garrisons, and they just took any reason to go out into that world anyway.

So Warlords' biggest problem was that it was lonely. It was an empty, soulless place. While the game already feels a little lonely and isolated, it wasn't that obvious. Garrisons simply piled it on in an unmistakable and very obvious way.

Do I have any other reasons? Well, besides the fact that not only was 6.2 over a year ago, it also didn't do... anything. The most important thing it did was add Hellfire Citadel and Tanaan Jungle. It added the shipyard, Draenor flying, bonus events, mythic dungeons, and timewalking. Wow, that sounds like they did a bunch of stuff, so why would I say otherwise?

The shipyard was a garrison addition. Not only was it clunky, but it was simply a slightly different version of follower missions - something we already had. Just like follower missions and the garrison itself, once you've completed the task of building up the shipyard - which is not very fun or eventful in itself - it's just a matter of sending your boats on missions every 4-24 hours.

at least they're cool looking I guess

Flying in Draenor was a big deal for a lot of people. As we will recall, the flying debacle was a pretty huge thing. Probably the biggest controversy ever to hit the shores of our World of Warcraft. If I can be honest, while I was not on the pro-flying I'll-quit-if-they-don't-reintroduce-it team, it was basically a necessary addition. It should not have been such a big big thing and should have been in the books for integration from the conception of Warlords. So not only is flying not a new feature, but the entire situation prior put a bad taste in everyone's mouths about the whole thing. It was a hasty retraction and fix for an absolutely ridiculous and lengthy battle.

Bonus events are a "new feature" in the loosest definition of the term. Bonus events give you bonuses for doing certain things during those events. So what we have is absolutely nothing new, but slightly increased rewards for doing existing things.

unenthusiastic 'whoo' sound

Mythic dungeons added a higher difficulty to already existing content. This is what we could call a "cop-out." Just like rehashing existing dungeons, which is something I dislike as a concept and have discussed before, it's recycling content.

Timewalking. What did we just say about mythic dungeons? Recycling content? These aren't even rehashes, but the same dungeons with a new loot table. Great stuff, of course, since you're making outdated and unused content relevant again, but not new.

A new zone and a new raid are important, but unless you're in a progression raiding guild, both of these things are tired out rather quickly. You have an incentive to play about once a week, if you are interested enough in playing that you'd continue to log in every Tuesday rather than just quit altogether.

So, sure, 6.2 did add stuff but not over a year's worth of stuff. Coupled with no remedy for the empty loneliness that engulfed Warlords, you have what continues to be an uneventful and isolated expansion.

"There's already so many features, what do you think they possibly could have added then, if you're so smart?"

It's not a matter of adding new things anymore. There are already so many features that it would be quite difficult to come up with anything new mid-expansion that was very compelling. However, fixing existing problems should be pretty high up on the list. The 6.2 patch added staple new content - HFC and Tanaan - but it was like adding whipped cream and a cherry to the top of a garbage pile. Blizzard is at a point with WoW now where it's not a matter of adding new hip rad and cool content, but fixing the problems that exist within the existing content. This should be coupled with new zones, dungeons, and raids, but the majority of the changes we should be seeing are not "more versions of the same crap" but fixing the crap so it's less crappy.

What they added was crappy follower missions 2.0, incentives to do the same crap, LFD for old crap, and a hasty and necessary fix to a crappy decision they made and attempted to stick behind despite the very, very obvious reality that they made the wrong choice (flying).

of course, crap is not an uncommon theme in this game

Now, for the conclusion. I haven't been reading about Legion on purpose because I feel, personally, that I can keep my jaded cynicism to a minimum if I'm not aware of what I'm going to be experiencing. If I have no expectations, then I don't have to worry about them being met or not.

I have heard quite a few things, though. It's really hard to stay completely in the dark without using the internet. I even heard about a new piece of information that was playing on the TV at Gamestop (while preordering Monster Hunter Generations!), so it's really unavoidable.

Unfortunately, what happened is that these pieces of information have created some expectations for me. The things that I have heard sound pretty good. It sounds like maybe they had the same idea I did - it sounds like they may have realized their weaknesses and the kinds of things that they have to fix, and are fixing to do so with Legion. Now I have a little twinge of hope in the back of my mind that Legion is going to improve the situation. Hope that I didn't necessarily want to have, but now is unavoidable.

also heard balance is being overhauled again. whelp

I know Blizzard is a good company that can make a good game. They clearly did so before. Whether or not WoW is on the decline due to the MMO genre itself falling out of popularity, they're still running the show. They have successfully added new features, new content, and new approaches to existing features that have been positive. The bulk of Warlords, however, was simply a dark time.

From the basis of its conception, it was supposed to play off of lore we all knew and loved, but they shoved it into an alternate timeline so that they could do whatever they wanted with it without argument. While the leveling experiencing was probably the best part of the entire thing, they genuinely failed at creating any sort of longevity. Part of me wonders if maybe they actually did realize early on that Warlords was a bust, which is why they sort of just brushed it under the table and ignored it while working on Legion. Maybe that's exactly why 6.2 was so uneventful and just attempted to add incentives for people to continue to play - just to keep people occupied while they worked on piecing back together the things that make World of Warcraft a good game for the next expansion.

But what do I know.

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