Tinfoil Hats and Legion

Nostalgia is Strong

Once again this week I have not really consumed much media, so I don’t have enough material to really do one of my normal Saturday morning columns.  Additionally I am still mired in this nostalgic bomb that is World of Warcraft Legion information.  I’ve still managed to stay “clean” but I know at this point it is only a matter of time before I renew my World of Warcraft account, and at least take a “taste”.  As quietly as Alt seemed to think, yesterday information about the Legion Beta client started trickling out on the data mining sites, and I have to say there is a bunch of interesting information.  So this morning I thought I would talk a bit about some of the theories I have running around in my brain.  Firstly there seems to be a much more heavy Vrykul theme than I originally thought.  I realize that one of the islands we will be visiting is essentially run by the Vrykul, and since they have more or less lost their connection to the Lich King, I am assuming we will not longer have the Valkyr resurrecting them and creating undead versions.

Much of the armor we have seen datamined has that same feel, which only serves to damage my calm all the more.  This expansion is starting to seem like an amalgam of Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King which pretty much represent the pinnacle of my enjoyment of the game.  I feel like this is absolutely what they had intended, and then when you combine actually letting us venture into the Nightmare…  they are essentially throwing everything at the screen and hoping that we love whatever it is that they come up with.  There are so many warning klaxons going off in my head telling me that the end result will never live up to the hype.  The problem is there is a hyper kid in my head on a sugar rush telling me how awesome it COULD be…  and is slowly winning out.  Basically the adult in me is losing and I am finding myself paying closer and closer attention to Legion beta information.  More than anything I am just hoping they give me a Death Knight that is fun to play again.

King Anduin

Anduin2

I’ve said before that in the Legion trailer, I thought we would be witnessing the death of Varian Wrynn because for a few moments… you think exactly that is going to happen.  That is not in fact how the trailer ends up…  but as I was preparing for it… it started me thinking that I believe over the last several expansions Blizzard has been preparing us for this.  Bit by bit they have been grooming Anduin to take the throne, and in the datamined information we can see that once again he is getting a significant upgrade in model.  Similarly we see Anduin not Varian as one of the avatars we the players get to play.  I think it is pretty much an inevitability that something will happen to Varian and cause Anduin to take the throne, bringing with him a much more three dimensional and reasoned character than that of his father.  I like Varian just fine…  but he was always sold to us as “our” Thrall, but that promise has never really materialized.

genngreymane

The game as a whole is still to some extent dominated by the evolution of “Green Jesus”.  Maybe this expansion will be different, and maybe this expansion we will see Varian as something more than a dude with two badass swords and a penchant for war.  That has always been the problem with playing Alliance, it never felt like we had a really strong focus to rally around.  The horde have such a strong identity, and that reverberates with the players that love that faction.  The alliance on the other hand, has no shared struggle…  no central driving focus that they can rally behind.  We have a bunch of really interesting secondary characters, consistently rallied behind a significantly less interesting central character.  I had hoped that we would exit out of Warlords with Yrel, but all signs seemed to point to her staying on Draenor.  Then we have awesome characters like Genn Greymane that never actually got the promise of being a true and proper leader with their own city.  You can see that Genn also got a really nice model update, but my working theory is that this has something to do with one of the artifact weapon quests… and sadly not that we might be able to actually use Gilneas as a proper city.

Lava Man

Lavaman2

I find it hilarious that after all of these years… the model is still called “Lava Man” in the back end, instead of Bolivar or even the Lich King.  This is obviously an updated version of the Lich King model, and I am wondering where exactly he will factor into the new content.  My theory is that this is probably related to the Artifact weapon quest chain, but then a part of me wonders…  if we are essentially creating an expansion with the best parts of Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, are they going to set the Lich King up for a return as well?  We are after all seeing Illidan as part of this expansion, and it is a high likelihood that after all of these years Bolivar would lose his control over the power of the Lich King.  I always questioned the sanity of allowing Bolivar to hold this position… even though it seemed pretty badass at the time.  Surely eventually the power of the throne and the helm would overwhelm him… and he would in fact turn into a proper “new” Lich King.

With Legion could we be setting in a chain of events that would end up triggering a reboot of the Lich King content essentially?  Where the Scourge under the direction of the new Bolivar Lich King would once again ravage Azeroth?  There is part of me that doubts they would do something that blatant… but then again I never expected to see Illidan again.  There is of course another option.. we might end up fighting along side the scourge under the control of Bolivar as they serve as a nearly limitless army to take on the Burning Legion.  I guess it all depends on just how big this conflict gets before the end of the expansion.  The problem is… as I let all of these theories and ideas out of my head… the more I am wanting to log into World of Warcraft in its current state and play.  I know that the same game is there that I left several months ago, and that most of the things I am really interested in wont be here until Legion.  The stranglehold of nostalgia however is absolutely a thing.

A Mixed Bag

vlc 2015-08-08 07-52-53-00

Now it is time for me to finally sit down and write the post I have largely been avoiding writing since Thursday.  For those that have been living under a rock this week, or otherwise disconnected from the internet…  Thursday was the time at which Blizzard broke with tradition and announced a new World of Warcraft expansion at a convention other than Blizzcon.  For awhile now I had made the comment that if they had a shot in hell at keeping players interested… they could not afford to wait until November to announce what was coming down the pipe.  Looking at the convention calendar the only slot that really made sense was either GamesCom or Pax Prime…  and since they were planning a significant presence at GamesCom that was my theoretical choice.  The truth is while I said this… I never actually expected it to happy until last week when they actually verified that was the case by posting the moment the announcement would happen.  Thankfully for me it happened over my lunch hour and I freely admit I went into this announcement with a bunch of emotional hype.  Deep down inside of me there is still a player that hopes someday for World of Warcraft to turn into the game I really want to play.  You can’t be engaged in a decade long relationship with a game without having some glimmer of hope.

vlc 2015-08-08 07-54-10-59

A few days ahead of the announcement I posted my list of “serious” predictions… that in truth only had one valid prediction.  After watching the final cinematic for Warlords of Draenor, there was literally only one place this expansion could go.  We were going to be taking on the Burning Legion in a new invasion of Azeroth, and sure enough as the teaser rolled and showed our old buddy Gul’dan pulling another of our old friend Illidan out of some kind of green crystal prison… it pretty much set the tone of the show for me.  At face value the idea of a Burning Legion expansion is pretty cool, but it also has a very “repeating history” feel to it.  In truth this entire expansion is a tapestry of cobbled together ideas left on the cutting room floor from previous games that lore fanatics have been begging for.  We are going to get to see the remainder of the Broken Isles and the Tomb of Sageras as well as finally finding out what is going on in the Emerald Dream.  These are all awesome components on their own…  but just because I love Peanut Butter and I also love Alfredo Sauce…  doesn’t necessarily mean that putting the two together is going to be even more awesome.  I am in this strange place because as much as I did not want to play a “Dances with Orcs” expansion… the Warlords reveal gave me all manner of warm fuzzies up and down my spine in spite of not really wanting them.  This reveal on the other hand, had all of these elements that I should love… but left me not really feeling anything but skepticism.

Demon Hunters

vlc 2015-08-08 07-52-17-63

The biggest feature of the expansion is that we are adding another Hero Class to the game, meaning that they will start somewhere between 95 and 100 according to further elaboration in a similar manner to how Deathknights did in Wrath of the Lich King.  This is a class that I have wanted so badly since I first knew there was going to be a World of Warcraft.  Illidan Stormrage is quite literally the only Elf in the Warcraft universe that I like, in part because he looks badass and runs around with the Twinblades of Azzinoth.  It seems that there is going to be a tank option as well for the class… which should make me even more excited to play them.  I admit the whole angry half demonic tattoo’d elf thing largely works for me, and I’ve always thought the blind fold thing looked badass.  I just feel like I should be more excited than I am about it.

Melee Hunters

I have images of me that I have posted her tanking Scarlet Monastery on my Hunter back in Vanilla.  For better or worse I spent a significant amount of my time meleeing as Hunter, in part because I was frankly too cheap to restock bullets constantly.  When I ground out the faction with the Firbolgs… I did pretty much all of it with a two-handed weapon and my pet.  Is it wrong that the announcement that Hunters are actually getting a melee spec was the point at which I have gotten the most excited for this expansion?  It seems that Beastmastery is going to work pretty much how it works today, and that Marksmanship is going to be losing the pet but essentially getting Lone Wolf like buffs.  The problem has always been that survival did not feel sufficiently different from the other trees other than the reliance on traps.  Now apparently Survival will be up close and personal in melee range while still keeping the pet, which makes it sound a lot like the Beastmaster soul in Rift.  For a long while that was my dps soul of choice, because it let me run around beating on things… while having a really cool cat pet at my side.  This might seriously be the best news for me personally in the expansion, because I love the idea of a hunter…  I just never really enjoyed being ranged dps.

Class Order Halls

vlc 2015-08-08 07-51-58-63

 

This is another really cool idea, but one that I am deeply skeptical.  Essentially the plan is to create special areas that only members of a specific class can go to.  Inside of it will be the givers of specific class based quests, and a whole new follower system that allows you to go out on adventures with fledgeling members of your class order.  All of this sounds pretty kick ass because I loved Archerus as a Deathknight, and having a specific area I could go to just for my class.  The problem there is that it never really became a “hub” for players, and as Blizzard has moved on past Wrath it progressively became a bigger and bigger pain in the ass to have to keep going back there to Runeforge new weapons.  My biggest fear however is that in WoW 8.0 this will become yet another awesome idea that has been relegated to the dustbin just like the Halfhill Farm, and soon to be Garrison and Shipyard.  The WoW team is exceptionally bad at creating constructs that will leave on with the game past a single expansion.  One of my key frustrations with the game is that it is a series of loosely connected disposable content packs rather than one seamless living and breathing world.  While Class Order Halls might be fun for an expansion, I full expect they are already planning on the next new thing to replace them.

Artifact Weapons

vlc 2015-08-08 07-51-49-61

Apparently the Relic Weapon quest from Final Fantasy XIV is coming to World of Warcraft, but they are taking it further.  If I am reading an interview correctly it sounds like there simply won’t be weapon drops in the Legion expansion at all.  This is honestly not a horrible idea at least from a game design perspective because it means that content becomes so much easier to balance.  Upgrading your weapon in any game tends to be the single biggest power boost a player can get, since it has a function…  increasing your damage/healing/survival rather than simply being a random collection of stat boosts.  By assuring that players evolve this power over time through the completion of content, this gives you a measured gauge to scale against rather than somehow trying to make things doable with crappy white quality weapons… but at the same time not an absolute train wreck when done by anyone with epic quality anything.  Again they are making a stab straight at our nostalgia by having us reforge classic weapons from lore.  The example they give is that we will be quite literally collecting the fragments of Frostmourne and reforging them into a new weapon.  I have to admit this sounds badass…  but the problem once again is… this sounds like a system that they will be all too happy to abandon come 8.0.  If they promised that from this point out, we will be able to keep upgrading our weapons with ever more intricate designs and quests backing them up… then I would probably be extremely amped.  I just lack the faith that this is going to be something that will be around for awhile.

It Could be Awesome

vlc 2015-08-08 07-51-13-70

I freely admit that the raw material of this expansion that was announced on Thursday could end up making an extremely awesome expansion.  The problem being that I just do not have faith any longer that Blizzard will create a game that I want to play for the long term.  I absolutely enjoy playing each expansion and leveling through the content.  I fully expect that I will purchase Legion when it launches and enjoy myself while leveling a few characters.  The problem is that the game doesn’t have enough that I want to do once I have gotten three characters to the new level cap.  Three seems to always be the number, it was the case in all of the recent WoW expansions, and was the case in Rift and SWTOR.  Once I have seen the content that third time… I am just done with it for the time being and ready to move on and do something else.  The systems that are there just are not sticky enough to keep me logging in on a daily basis, and the majority of my time in Warlords was spent logging in for ten minutes to fiddle with my Garrison and then logging right back out.  Now they hinted that they are trying to come up with reasons for us to run dungeons even after we have hit the level cap… and I look forward to seeing more detail on this one.  That was ultimately the thing that kept me going in Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King and the thing that ultimately felt pointless in most of the expansions since.  It honestly feels like they are trying to borrow some ideas from Final Fantasy XIV… which is absolutely a good thing… pending they actually took the time to understand why those ideas work in that game.  Right now I have zero faith…  but there is a tiny fire in side of me that wants to be in love with Azeroth again.  So here is hoping as we move closer to the likely Q2 2016 launch window that something will rekindle that fire.

Blizzard Does Not Need WoW

The Elephant in the Room

WoW-64 2014-01-14 06-28-25-45

I figure this morning I would cut with any sidebar discussions and get straight into the topic that was on everyones lips yesterday…  the Blizzard Q2 Earnings call.  If you remember during the Q1 2015 earnings call they announced a drop to 7.1 million subscribers after a peak of 10 million during the Warlords of Draenor launch bump.  I think we all knew that the numbers would be down, at least incidentally based on our own experiences from the game.  I have to say that I thought WoW token would be more of a game changer, and when they announced that World of Warcraft was down to 5.6 million subscribers I figured that the Token numbers would bolster this amount.  However based on further information it appears that this number does include token subscribers as well.  In truth this number likely does not fully account for the actual loss.  Personally I would consider myself no longer playing World of Warcraft, but my account does not actually die until mid September.  There are several folks in similar holding patterns in our guild waiting on their time to tick down as well.

MMOChampGraph As always MMO Champion has a spiffy graph charting the subscription numbers since the release of the game.  To put things into proper perspective, the subscription numbers are exactly what the subscription numbers were in December of 2005 roughly a year after the initial launch of the game.  This has lead some folks to point out that when you iron out the outliers like the Warlords of Draenor bump you end up with a standard curve that you might expect for a game of this longevity.  There was a lot to be gleaned from the earnings call, but one of the major points I got out of it.. is that while they have already announced that the World of Warcraft expansion would be revealed Thursday at Gamescom, they left it off of the list of products planned for the rest of the year.  That tells me that at the very best the expansion will be a Q1 2016 release.  That means that there will be at a minimum of a six month lag between content patches, and at worst…  honestly who knows what the worse case scenario could be.  Hopefully this will not be anywhere near as long as the content drought after 5.4, but I am seriously hoping that they reconsider Hellfire being the final patch of the expansion.

Blizzard Does Not Need WoW

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2015-06-03 23-26-08-94

I feel like the takeaway from the earnings call is not that World of Warcraft has fallen by 1.5 million subscribers in a quarter.  Anyone who was not expecting this was living in a rose colored world.  Quite honestly I half expected it to be a bigger drop just based on my own experiences.  The real take away for me however is that in spite of losing this many players Activision Blizzard had one of its strongest quarters yet.  During the earnings call there were repeated mentions of “diversification of product offerings”, which tells me that Blizzard no longer considers themselves the “World of Warcraft” company.  They see the writing on the way, that their juggernaut is winding down, and they have replaced its revenue by more agile games that are significantly easier to support.  The hard truth is that Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are making them lots and lots of money.  When Overwatch launches you can damn well bet that it is also going to make them equally large piles of money, further diluting the need for World of Warcraft.

There was a time when Warcraft was the prize bull, but that is simply no longer the case.  If you think of it from a pure numbers perspective it makes sense.  Hearthstone for example is a digital card game, and the bulk of the assets that are created for it are two dimensional images.  Granted they are awesome looking but they do not require the amount of time it takes to create three dimensional textured models and even more so huge three dimensional worlds for players to explore.  The type of content that goes into games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm is just simply cheaper to produce than the amount of time that goes into building an entire world filled with hundreds of quest givers that have to be debugged and cross checked to make sure they are not breaking something else.  To make matters worse… this expensive content is something we are extremely good at either avoiding or burning through as quickly as possible.  The hunger for new content is never changing, there is never a point where we the players will ever be satiated.  Adding a new playfield to Heroes of the Storm changes that game and its meta for months, and requires only a faction of the work that a single zone would take in a traditional MMO.

The Movie Tie In

warcraft-movie-logo The timing of all of this seems to coincide with the release of the Warcraft movie, but I question what exactly that means for the franchise.  All of the details behind the movie so far seem to point at this being a “Warcraft” movie and not necessarily a “World of Warcraft” movie, meaning that it takes place in a time before the MMO is set.  So does this mean that we will be doing more “timey wimey” stuff with the expansion, and we are somehow trapped in the timeline that we created by following Garrosh to Draenor?  Are we going to play a role in trying to stop a new invasion of Azeroth by Guldan and the Burning Legion?  The bigger question is… if all of this is going to happen are players going to stomach yet another storyline retcon?  These are all questions that I really don’t have an answer for.  I feel like if Blizzard has a shot in hell at rekindling the love of this game, they have to take us someplace new and unexplored, but do it in a way that feels epic like never before.  I still mark Wrath of the Lich King as the best expansion to date, and it built upon the success of Vanilla and the Burning Crusade polishing both to a mirror sheen.

This is simply something that going back in time cannot provide for me.  We’ve done the reboot of the world thing before with Cataclysm, and I found the whole process frustrating and annoying that places I once loved… simply no longer existed.  I feel the only real option is for us to take the fight to the Legion, and have an expansion where we are the ones laying siege for once.  What I want to see is an expansion where the Alliance and Horde finally put aside their difference, and with it the artificial barriers between players fall down.  I want to see an expansion that places us squarely in the path of epic battles as we lay siege to the worlds that the Legion has conquered before, slowly working our way back to their base of operation and banishing their evil from the universe.  That is the adventure that will bring players back, and anything less than that I think will ultimately feel hollow.  We have run out of villains that we care about… and the whole “Dances with Orcs” feel of both Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor has been infuriating for anyone who really doesn’t care a damn about Orcs.  Blizzard needs to prove to us that it can still create an opposition that is worth of the lineage of Arthas and Illidan, and I feel the only way they can do that is by having us take on the Burning Legion on their own territory.