Today, I’d like you to put down that tinfoil and instead join me in a game of ‘What If?’ I refuse to spoil anybody with Legion details, and because there’s really not much to reveal until I can get my own character and not a premade copy into the testing progress, that means my options for discussing the content are fairly limited. Today therefore I’m going to start a game of ‘Building the Perfect Warcraft Expansion’ with you: before we start, let’s be clear of the rules.
I won’t spoil you (too much) with what I know, and instead I’ll only use the generic changes that are obvious from the Alpha as a basis for speculation. In ‘Building the Perfect Warcraft Expansion’ you have to remember that your point of view isn’t everybody’s, and so there will be need to be an element of ‘generic’ interest in what you suggest. Most importantly, you’re not just planning for Legion, you need to look ahead to the long term future of this game. A lot of what is happening right now is accomplishing just that, and when I present my five elements that will create the perfect Warcraft Expansion on launch (whenever that might be) they’re based on the understanding that this time, the Developers are building for keeps.
Are you ready? This is how I’d build a Perfect Warcraft Expansion, in five simple steps.
1. Modular Content
This is going to sound a bit 1970’s for some of you, or maybe like you’re back at college, but even the most organic of game concepts begins its life as a set of building blocks, a framework around which you can easily slot and drop various aspects and themes. What I’m seeing now in Legion is a foundation where the 100-110 ‘experience’ is a constant, and scales regardless of your level. That means that, in essence, Devs have built the ‘journey to cap’ as a flat space that rises and falls in relation to you. Onto this are bolted the quests, treasures and Bonus Objectives you’re used to from Warlords, modular content that has already been tried and tested.
The major change to the equation for players will be that End Game is being similarly streamlined: a series of constantly switching ‘daily quests’ that will include Professions, story content and pure dumb grinding, allowing people to tailor their experience to suit particular needs. What this means going forward is that it is likely you’ll see a succession of ‘hubs’ similar to the Garrison where all of this content is presented but instead of making it more attractive to stay put, the game will actively force you out into the world to succeed. One can only hope that in building the perfect Expansion that includes visits to the old world and not simply just content focussed on the Broken Isles.
2. Meaningful Choice
Right now, choice is vast and often confusing for both new and experienced players. What you decide to do with your time is almost as important as the amount you possess, and that requires the Devs to be a little more proactive in how they guides players to their eventual destinations. The introduction of the Adventure Guide is a really important step forward in giving players an idea of what is available across the range of different ‘modules’ available to them, but it is not an incentive to play. That’s where the sizeable raft of Weekly Events come in: you’ll want to level Pets in the week when you get extra XP, and one assumes that once the Expansion goes live, there’ll be similarly tailored ‘weekends’ that allow you to capitalise on making the most of particular places to capitalise on the bonuses you’re offered.
The logical progression from this is that Blizzard could offer the same kind of ‘incentives’ whenever a seasonal event comes around. The Darkmoon Faire already allows the canny an XP boost, for instance, it would make sense for the Midsummer Festival to perhaps tie into a Timewalking Weekend in some way if the two overlap. That way you are given rising incentives to log at particular times and make the most of what is on offer. Of course, if we’re building the perfect Expansion, you’d want every day to be a reason for logging in, and that’s where raiding and dungeons come in.
3. Repeatable Group Content
A lot of time and effort goes into raiding and dungeon content, and as soon as players outgear it, it is effectively redundant. That’s not really optimal when so much work is presented at the front end, and Blizzard have now finally built a way using scaling to keep all these formally organised elements challenging for the entire lifespan of an Expansion. It might seem like Easy Mode if you’re blitzing through LFR on a weekend, but I know that there’s many people who can tell you just how hard Mythic content remains both in Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry, and this is the key to not simply extending an Expansion’s lifespan but legitimately keeping the encounters as relevant. Because once you can scale everything to fit players and not the other way around? Life becomes very interesting indeed.
I’d also expect to see Blizzard further experimenting with specific challenges for raiders and five mans inside instances: a step up from Achievements, if you like: do the fight this way and be rewarded with something special. Maybe it will be a limited time cosmetic item such as the Challenge Mode armours, or a mount that nobody else can obtain unless they consciously decide to attack the content in a particular manner. The future in this MMO is definitely prestige based, you need only look at the PvP changes to understand the significance that looks maintain over anything else. Give players a choice that doesn’t affect their power in relation to anyone else and you’re golden. In this game of ‘Building the Perfect Warcraft Expansion’ you’ll also get extra marks if that happens for people outside of organised content.
4. Substantive Solo Activities
This is a biggie, and would at least in my mind acknowledge that Activision Blizzard understand that at least some of their audience doesn’t give an Elekk’s rear end about playing with anybody else. I always thought that something like the grind that awarded you with ‘the Insane’ title was really what needed to be offered to those people for whom it doesn’t matter how many rewards you suggest, they’ll just do something utterly ridiculous regardless. It’s like grinding for your Timewalking mount in a weekend, or gathering 100,000 herbs to then mill them all live on Twitch so people can watch you. Call this the Ridiculous Solo Challenges portion of ‘Building the Perfect Warcraft Expansion’ and give everyone who wants to be the antihero a chance to do it like this, writ large.
There’s a Fishing Artefact already datamined in Legion, for starters, which says to me that at least somebody on the Warcraft Dev team got the memo about obsessive compulsive tendencies. If that works, I’d bet you a pile of Brann Bronzebeard’s dirty smalls that we’ll see an Archaeology version pop up somewhere along the line, and when that happens you’ll not see me for dust. Yeah, it was nice knowing you people, but I have a ridiculous thing to complete and I’m off now… The point is well made. If you build that ridiculous, I will come, and if I’m prepared to do it? Yup, you’re pitching this just right.
5. Bigger Community Focus
Here’s the Joker in the pack, and what has been hinted at in various interviews around other games in the Blizzard-specific stable: would there be space for user-developed content at any point in the equation? Ironically, data mining sites already provide a version of this this but in a different way. Allowing miners access to the content months before it even goes live allows those places (and the opportunist individual) to develop Guides that are often far beyond the capacity of the company itself to provide. This effective outsourcing of work to third parties means that when you come to start your journey, you don’t even need to think if you don’t want to. All the hard work’s already been done by somebody else. There is no surprise unless you choose it.
If Blizzard allowed people to build their own content, a lot of this would change overnight. It would give players the chance to create content in their own ways and without being tied to the process of mining. However, the potential hurdles that would need to be negotiated to bring this to fruition are a lot larger than they would be in games such as Starcraft or Heroes which use a ‘set’ foundation for construction. Perhaps plays could be given an ‘instanced’ space similar to the Garrison or a 5 man dungeon as a starting point, where the ‘rules’ were not the same as open world spaces. It certainly has to be possible that a certain amount of user-generated input could be considered, but it would come at a price to the current status quo. In this game of ‘Building the Perfect Warcraft Expansion’ it would certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. Maybe we’ll need to wait a bit longer before this becomes a workable reality.
So, that’s my five desires, all nicely headed and explained. I’m fairly confident that at least a portion of this is coming already, watching what Legion’s presenting on the Alpha. Notice I was quite generic too: my professions needs fit nicely into point one, playing in old dungeons slotting into point three. What happens next is important: we finally have the PvP portion of the equation live to test, and the last puzzle piece of the Demon Hunter quest ‘experience’ is included in the data files. That means, like it or not, that everything promised for the Expansion does at least have some kind of presence in the Alpha. However, until I can copy a current character and test whether all my Transmog actually fits in the Wardrobe feature, and play the pre-Expansion event? This really isn’t Beta, however much people might try and convince me otherwise.
That’s what is needed soon: a Beta where Blizzard aren’t afraid of people breaking things, that balance isn’t an issue and that they’re confident everything will actually work. I’m not getting the sense right now that this is the case, and until that happens? Building the perfect expansion is still only words on a screen, and we’re no closer to Legion’s release. With the Movie less than three months away and Overwatch now slated for a late May release? That pre-Expansion Event still seems a lifetime away, and players are beginning to get twitchy.Related: Alpha, Beta, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Expansion, Legion, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday