This is traditionally the time of year where I light a roaring Cooking Fire, hang up my stockings for Greatfather Winter and cook up for you good people a review of the year that has passed in-game. 2016 is one that will be remembered not simply for the Warcraft Movie but for an Expansion that pretty much redefined the MMO’s modus operandi going forward. However, in January, Legion seemed a very long way away. We’d already been Alpha testing since just after Blizzcon, and there were already welcome indicators then that what we were about to get would be significantly more awesome than anything that had come before.
As we entered the year you could only level to 106 on the Alpha client. There was still only one Hunter spec to take (and I’ll be honest, I’ve not played Survival since) and we only had three zones to explore. I’d forgotten just how long it took to go from start to finish, that the next nine months would see the game being tested pretty much constantly the entire time in one form or another. It does make me wonder why Ion Hazzikostas was surprised at some of the more committed player’s choices at launch: when you have that much time exposed to the client ahead of release, it gives the more dedicated individuals a great deal of time to think about what matters most.
It also became apparent that the game client had undergone some interesting upgrades along the way, allowing the company to alter items ‘live’ without the need to restart the UI with a patch. In the space of two weeks, Valor for Legendary upgrades and Legacy Meta achievements were effortlessly streamlined into current content, so if you weren’t lucky enough to be doing the whole Alpha thing, there was still plenty to occupy yourself with, despite the fact there’d been no new raiding content since the Summer. We won’t talk about that too much, but it does look as if the lessons from Warlords are being learned going forward. However, back in the dark days of winter, that was a pretty distant memory.
There’s really only one story in February that matters, and that’s what happened on the 23rd. That was when Activision-Blizzard bought King, the people who (until that point) just made a small game called Candy Crush. Let’s face it, nobody thought that mobile gaming tech would amount to much. How wrong we were. I was expecting a redo of a classic RTS, or maybe an Orcs v Humans level in Bubble Witch. I don’t think anybody really thought this purchase would herald a mobile app for Warcraft that most of us had craved when Garrisons were everything. That development after Legion’s release pretty much kept my ability to play alive in the early days, when real life meant I’d not get more than a few hours at a time to take part.
Almost a year on, I can see this App becoming almost as significant as the game itself, adapting with each new major patch and expanding the abilities for players to co-exist both inside and out of the UI. It is, of course, just the first step in a long and potentially fruitful new avenue for expansion; what else could be designed to work with this? I’m still expecting an RTS to appear on my tablet at some stage, let’s be honest, and that’s probably more of a possibility than the Pokemon Go-style pet battle app so many keep asking for but is unlikely to ever materialize. However, having said that, if it appears as next year’s April Fool’s gag…
This was the month I got in trouble with my then Editor for an article that never saw the light of day on this site, but was re-written and used on my personal blog. No, I’m not telling you what it was about, but the replacement post I produced, around why I’m still playing this game after 12 years, remains a piece of work I am extremely proud of. The fact was, it was all a bit samey in March, very little was actually going on unless you had access to the Alpha, and many players were leaving the game for pastures new. There was one bright spot when the new YA series of Warcraft Novels was announced, beginning with Traveler which was released with surprisingly little ceremony in November. I’m not sure how the sales went, but with Activision Blizzard announcing that they’ll be starting their own publishing arm this month, I’m sure it’s not the last we’ve heard of this series.
So, the first 17 days of April were nothing to write home about. Then on the 18th, everything changed.
— World of Warcraft (@Warcraft) April 18, 2016
Those of us paying attention realized that if we didn’t get a release date soon, we’d run out of year. Then, a lot of fuss started rumbling around the ‘Vanilla’ server group and how Nostalrius was the new Black, and almost as if the company knew they had to deflect the firestorm that was burning, there the date was. Of course, the issue of Legacy servers refuses to go away and if I believe the news I’m hearing, an awful lot of people have already signed up for Nost’s newest iteration, Elysium. It doesn’t matter, of course, because that group of people never really bought into Legion to begin with, and are unlikely to ever do so in the future. I lost a good friend over that whole débâcle, as I recall. They were not great days, but I stand by my position.
The future is the only place this game should ever be heading for.
Finally, after a six-month Alpha client, beta was finally announced, and it became apparent that an awful lot was going to change from what we’d already seen in the client. Specs were still being tweaked, changes were being made and remade, and some important issues were being raised that amazingly still made it to Live without change. However, once more people were able to get in, I decided it was time for me to leave. I stopped participating in testing and went back to Legacy inside current content, because I realized that if I spent the rest of the Summer testing, there would be little or no desire to play when the game went live.
However, there was finally a dearth of things to talk about: some creative marketing was presented for the upcoming Movie, which included some horribly clunky stereotyping on top of (what I considered) was some quite horrendous sexism in the original version of the poster. However, far more creative was the ways by which players in countries which didn’t have 100% Azerothian saturation were encouraged to pick up and play the game for the first time, with tickets allowing you a free copy of the client to dive in and take part. Also, who could forget the Warcraft Cookery book that was announced this month. What, you never wanted to know how to make Westfall Stew? What kind of Warcraft fan are you?
The Warcraft Movie opened in the US, and grossed just over $24 million in its opening weekend. Yes, this is a pitiful amount of money, and is probably unsurprising under the circumstances, but it really doesn’t matter one iota because everywhere EXCEPT the USA, the Film wasn’t just well received, it was happily clasped to the collective fanbase’s chest like an old friend. However, let the records state that in China the film grossed $156 million in its first five days, making it the biggest debut of a foreign language film in the country’s history. That means it beat the lifetime earnings of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ which could only manage a paltry $124.2 million. Whether this means there’ll be a sequel or not is still very much in the air, but as the title is now available to buy at the checkout of the supermarket two minutes walk from here, I think we’ve all moved on.
The other big issue in June came from Beta when there was a concerted effort by some players to make the primary crafting reagent in Legion BoA. Fortunately for all concerned, this never came to fruition, but ironically this week I’m still writing about those who seem to resent hard work in order to get what they need. Of course, back then there was no real conception of just how long certain things would take to either grind or collect, or indeed of how much work would be required to make other things reality once the client went live. In some things, there’s very little change.
With that, the first six months is over and done with, and I find myself quite grateful this half of 2016 is nothing but a memory. It was often so tough back in the early months of the year to find topics to write about that I was scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel on many occasions, simply to find something worthwhile to discuss every week. When the only game you play seriously is Warcraft, and you won’t be swayed by the other games in the Activision Blizzard stable, it can be slim pickings, but somehow I survived to make it through to the end of another year.
The second half of 2016 was undoubtedly far more interesting, and finally gave me the Expansion I’ve been craving since Wrath of the Lich King.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Legion, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday