September is nine months away. Legion’s due date is no closer to being clear or any more precise than that, and with the Alpha back up, its time for some Real Talk (TM) about what we can expect in the many, many weeks that follow. The problem for many isn’t just that we don’t know what Warcraft has in store for us, it’s wrapped up in how the Company keep everyone occupied until there’s actually some legitimately new content to be experienced by everybody. After all, if you don’t play any of the other games in Blizzard’s ‘family’ of titles? The next few months could be quite lean indeed. So, this morning I’m here to whip out the Crystal Ball (here since Cataclysm) and try and see behind the Mists of Pandaria and the Fog of Warlords and no, that’s quite enough bad puns, than you very much.
Time to sit down and address what 2016 holds for the World of Warcraft.
That Movie Release in June
First item of business, rather inevitably, is where Legion fits into the Warcraft Movie ‘puzzle.’ From what we now know about the plot? Those who suggested that Warlords of Draenor was actually the expansion this movie should have tied in with may well have had a point. As a result, its fair to suggest that the release is likely to simply generate interest in playing the Universe as has been the case with a title such as Star Wars: Battlegrounds. It’s not a tie-in per se but once your kid sees the world of Azeroth all lovely and sparkly, she’ll want to go be a part of it too. Therefore, Legion needs to live up to its high definition counterpart, which it will… well, mostly. You’re fine if you stay in the new stuff but go back to Stormwind and it will undoubtedly both look and feel its age, and this might be a problem. Blizzard are slowly and surely updating all the models in the world, but the landscapes/buildings that were rebooted for Cataclysm will look quite plain when you stick them next to high definition Dalaran.
How Blizzard will fix this is yet to be determined, but you can guarantee that it will happen at some point, in one form or another. The grass you walk on isn’t the same as it was, nights and days now actually run their course and the World does feel darker at the appropriate time. But there’s still a long way to go, and how the disparity between ‘past’ and ‘present’ is addressed long term is yet to be clearly defined. For now, I suppose Blizzard will hope everyone buys a 100 boost, arrives in Dalaran and effectively never leaves. Except that’s not all there is to it in terms of progression this time, and that’s an area of business which has yet to be either explained or addressed on the Alpha.
That Pre-Expansion Event before June?
If Blizzard were aiming to get everyone onto the Broken Isles in six months, then the next few weeks would need to see some fairly substantive movement in terms of missing pieces. Not all specs are complete and playable with Artefact Weapon ‘support’ for one thing, though last week’s reboot has at least put Shaman on the map whereas before they didn’t exist. Then there’s the stuff you do to actually get your weapon, which is wrapped up with the much-anticipated Horde and Alliance standing as One THING which is promised but has yet to materialise. Then there’s stuff in Karazhan, and quite possibly other places too, most of which I can’t talk about because SPOILERS. There were briefly some signs of the Event being deployed in low level zones, and there’s dialogue that’s been data mined that points towards events going down… but that’s it. If we wanted to be playing this game when the Movie released we’d probably need all that ready to go by March, if everyone’s being realistic.
There’s a third quest zone now playable on Alpha (see below.) The two zones opened before Christmas are considerably less laggy and more welcoming. There is clear and defined progress, but whether this is fast enough to make a June deadline? Only Blizzard have the answers, and they’ve not released a major press release this year thus far on anything other than hotfixing existing content or eSports. I’m not touching the latter with a bargepole, so let’s look at the former briefly to see what that might tell us.
This is the Dawning of the Age of the Stealth Hotfix
Once upon a time, Blizzard would warn people stuff was about to change, then they’d release patch notes and THEN you’d get the change, normally after a period of scheduled maintenance. Not any more. Now I wake up and find overnight they changed something and only the dataminers being tipped off sharp eyed players have alerted the Community. In the last two weeks, for instance, we’ve got Valor for Legendary upgrades and Legacy Meta achievements streamlined in current content that by rights shouldn’t get a significant nerf until Blizzard are ready with 7.0. Is this going to be enough to keep people playing? You know, I don’t think Blizzard are really that bothered right now. People come back for the Weekend events they want, raiders gonna raid and farmers gonna farm, and that’s fine for most when there’s distractions like Diablo’s new patch on the table. Once Overwatch comes back from Incentive Hell that will also act as a displacement activity, so this stealth tweaking does the job, and that’s all the game really needs.
The fact that nobody’s talking about anything much right now and the regular sites are having to string content out to ensure their readership are still interested tells you all you need to know. Nobody has a clue what’s going on, so as long as everyone’s reasonably happy and everything still works? Just carry on as normal. It’ll be fine.
You have no Idea, that’s what you’re saying, right?
So, here we are, officially able to call this the end of an Expansion, yet singularly incapable of pinpointing its exact demise. That makes life a wee bit difficult for those of us who have a finite yet extensive list of objectives before Legion hits, because aiming for a goal always makes this stuff easier to plan. No matter, until all my alts are 100 (long way off) and everyone’s raking it in via Garrisons (even further off) we can fill in the blanks with upgraded Seasonal Events and the undoubted carrot of a store mount along the way. Hell, Blizzard could take the game free to play which would keep people distracted for WEEKS if it so desired, but what is more likely to happen is at Pax South, at the end of January, you’ll see people getting codes for larger Beta Access which will occur sometime in March, which could be when we see the pre-Expansion stuff on the PTR.
However with the best balls in the world, I’m still unable to reveal the future. That’s Blizzard’s choice, first and foremost, and this time around they’re really in absolutely no hurry to give anything away. Part of me really doesn’t blame them, because as we have discussed at length there is an awful lot riding on this Expansion not only correcting the mistakes made by Warlords, but moving the entire franchise into it’s second decade with confidence. The bigger issue now for players doesn’t seem to be the time it takes, but the quality of what is presented to them. A lot of claims are being made around the fantasy and immersive qualities of the Legion storyline, and I can say with certainty from what I’ve played thus far there are neither punches pulled or risks avoided. This is a pretty uncompromising set of developments on both sides of the faction divide.
Very few people will emerge from the end of this Expansion truly untouched by the experience.
So, again, as I seem to do a lot of in the closing paragraphs of these articles, we all have to wait and see what happens. Right now, you’d be better served watching people getting hyped about eSports and looking forward to the Convention they’ll be visiting first in 2016 and before you know it Blizzcon tickets will be announced and no-one will really be that bothered there’s no Expansion release date. Blizzard have become very adept in the last twelve months at the business of distraction, and 2016 will be where they need to employ pretty much every trick they’ve learned not only to maintain momentum, but to deflect criticism. I for one have no issue waiting for our new Demonic Overlords. There’s mounts to farm, and pets to battle, and that’s before I start picking off unfinished achievements and Dungeon metas.Related: Alpha, Beta, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Legion, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday