Last week, we did the quiet half of the Warcraft year, and for my last column of 2016 it’s time to get busy with the real meat on Azeroth’s bones. July through December was when everything interesting happened, often on a weekly basis leading up to the official release of Legion on September 30th. I also managed a holiday and a new health regime in this six months, but let’s face it you don’t care about attempts to lift my own body weight, so without further ado, let’s go back to when things really started getting interesting.
When Demon Hunter early access was announced for August 9th you could hear the squeals of delight from thousands of miles away. I’ve still not played one completely through the starting area, and I’ll admit they have as much appeal as Stollen or Turkish Delight over Christmas, but so many of you people appear to love the ability to double jump and drift across the entire Broken Isles without dying, so who am I to judge your life choices. That was the same day that pre-expansion events were scheduled to arrive, and I went on holiday for 10 days. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.
Once the pre-expansion patch launched on July 19th, there were far greater issues to concern myself with: Blizzard attempted to introduce an ‘Action Cam’ feature that allowed you to watch yourself in the third person (in a manner similar to spectating in those FPS games you love so much), but the changes to camera distances and console commands caused far bigger issues, including motion sickness with yours truly. It all got fixed in the end, of course, but the fight that happened as a result of what were totally unannounced changes should be a salutatory reminder to the designers that this is the way the future will always play out when anything contentious ends up on the table.
Oh yeah, and Blizzard used streamers to give away beta keys and lots of people complained that this was bad and wrong. Instead we should have tied them to balloons and set them off into the atmosphere because that was OBVIOUSLY a better chance for more people to win. Honestly, at this point it didn’t matter because the game was pretty much done and dusted anyway.
Once we got to August, honestly, nothing else mattered except running alts through the pre-expansion Festival of Gearing, listening to the Warcraft audio drama and wondering if the servers would hold together once we were ready to roll. Okay, there was the 26th when Facebook Live streaming was introduced, but apart from that… all that mattered was E-Day. As it happens on the 30th, I was playing fifteen minutes before the announced start time and then went to bed at 2am. Normally, I’d have stayed up late and leveled until the sun came up but this year, after over a decade of being at the front of the queue to consume content, it was time to take a step back.
All told, it was one of the smoothest launch events I can remember. Sure, there were horrendous issues and bugs in places that transformed what should have been epic scenes into a laughable farce, but none of it actually detracted from the brilliance of the narrative. When all was said and done, the expansion delivered exactly where it mattered, and there was a brief and beautifully glorious Honeymoon period where nobody complained and everyone played to 110. For some of us, it also saw the serious curtailment of hours and hours online, a fact which I’m happy to say has helped keep me sane in the months following the expansion.
Nobody saw it coming, but you remember back in February when I told you Blizzard acquired King? Well, now we know why; they needed a company who could translate Class Order Halls to a mobile platform, and then it happened. There’s a Companion App for Warcraft, and without it I’d not have made nearly as much progress as I did in the first four weeks of gameplay, thanks to my daughter’s new school and me becoming a full-time taxi service. In shock news, the App is really quite good to boot and hints that you’ll see more additions to the UI as time goes on.
There were also some fairly serious woes for Mac users, as I can attest to having spent large portions of September making my husband’s client playable. However, it was all sorted eventually, but it has become apparent there are other issues with the UI that are still causing problems. On that point, if you’re having trouble loading the game in places like Dalaran then open your WTF folder, go to the config file and type the following: SET worldPreloadNonCritical “0.” It is sanctioned by a Dev and should make your life considerably easier going forward. But I digress, and we’re only a month in.
Blizzard Voice happened. You’ve not used it at all, have you? Nope, you’re all still on Discord.
The biggest surprise of the month, of course, was the launch of Karazhan on the 25th, which I don’t think anyone saw coming. Locked inside this patch was, among other surprises, a 5 man rare boss in of all places Gnomeregan, dropping a Toy that nobody expected. It became apparent that an awful lot more stuff had been hidden in this expansion and subsequent patches than has ever been fully revealed. Yes, we know there are mounts and possible new pet families but I’m guessing as time goes on, there will be remarkable amounts of surprises that appear that nobody picked up on first time around: the high definition wreaths for Winter’s Veil are the first indicator that far more than skins and Broken Isles textures are being upgraded. I wonder, does this mean we might yet see a high-definition version of Stormwind and Orgrimmar in the future?
This month was also the first time I realized that with the way AP works currently, I’d not need to unlock any more specs other than via the opening ‘Class Fantasy’ adventure because seriously who needs 3 DPS weapons as a Hunter to begin with? I also grasped that the alt family wasn’t getting a look in until I’d finished at least one weapon, and as I’m still not there yet on my Hunter? Maybe they’ll get played over Christmas. Maybe.
Blizzcon X happened, and now we know we’ll all be going to Argus next year with class specific flying mounts. Nothing else really matters, right? Well, that’s not strictly true because people started exploiting mechanics to get more AP, and there was a lot of muttering about how the game was being paced. However, for most of my American friends, November was when your wheels either completely detached from the wagon or you were celebrating America being ‘Great’ again. In fact, if I’m honest, most of the news in November had a lot to do with the reaction of the continent to the truth that there was a new ruling party in charge.
It may have been Warcraft’s 12th birthday, there might have been leader boards posted for Mythic Plus dungeons and everything may have been for sale in the Blizzard store over the Black Friday weekend… but mostly, people were reacting to the world and not pixels. However, when it became apparent that PvP Season 2 would start without the accompaniment of a patch there were hints that things were getting serious. Plus, we should not forget that the Trial of Valor launched with the minimum of fuss on November 8th and was quite significantly nerfed yesterday, presumably because so few Guilds have even attempted to complete it past Normal/Heroic mode.
And so we arrive at the closing of the year, with a January date for the Nighthold’s opening but not necessarily the same date for major class changes. In fact, it’s not clear at all when we could see 7.1.5 on the table, considering the fact so much of the content within it is subject to further developmental faffing. That means those of you waiting for the Brawler’s Guild and micro holidays might well have a significant wait on your hands. A Q&A on the patch did little to either reassure or convince the community in general that Blizzard is on top of the problem, and in shock news this week people started to suggest that maybe, it could be delayed to allow more time for development.
If I’d suggested at the end of 6.2 that this game needed more time for tweaking, people would have run me out of town with pitchforks. It’s incredible how short the memories of some people are. Elysium launched last week, and unsurprisingly has been very well received. However, how long it’ll stay active with such a public gesture of defiance to the source code remains a mystery. At least it’ll give people something to argue about over Christmas dinner.
There you have it: twelve months of progress, and a game that bears little resemblance now to the game that started the year. What happens now, of course, is anybody’s guess, but once we’re into 2017 there will be plenty of chances to speculate. For now, I wish you a peaceful and non-eventful Winter Veil, and may all your World Quests give Legendary rewards.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Legion, MMO, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday