If you want to celebrate Halloween in an MMO, Warcraft has you covered.
More importantly for observers like me, the changes to Hallow’s End in the ‘Warlords of Draenor’ expansion could mean big things in general for the future of all the seasonal events. There were the first hints of evolution during Brewfest, that players would be able to spend seasonal currency on things aside from the relevant rewards, and this has indeed been built on. This festival, which culminates unsurprisingly on November 1st, gives everyone a chance not only take part in some good-natured fun, but perhaps most importantly of all affords some love to the much-maligned Garrison. For this Festival, and for Winter Veil in December, you’ll be able to buy decorations to customise your home away from home in Draenor. This move came as a surprise to pretty much everyone, considering the almost deliberate reticence Blizzard showed in wanting the structure to be customisable at any point prior to this. Complaints were made back in December last year, after launch, that it might be nice to see your Garrison reflecting the changes in festival timelines, but no indication was given at all these complaints had even been heard, let alone taken to heart. However, players can now complete FIVE Daily quests at L100, which will reward enough new currency (Spooky Supplies) to allow a single player to have completely decorated their structure in under a week.
What you get for your effort’s not too shabby either:
Ghoulish Guises: “Dress your garrison’s guards in festive costumes.”
This is a simple transform of all your Lunarfall Guards into a selection of the standard costumes available to players via the Candy Buckets (of which one appears in your Garrison, but you only get a single chance to use it.) It doesn’t work on the Faction guards if you’ve specified a preference either. But it’s kind of cool to have undead pirates around the place after nearly a year of the same old blue and gold as Alliance.
Hallow’s Glow: “Pumpkins, candles and other décor for your Garrison.”
Standard Hallow’s End décor goes here. Always heavy on the pumpkins (Stormwind’s making a fortune from export but the carbon footprint must be horrendous, shipping all this stuff into the past.) Ironically when Blizzard made so much fuss about the new artwork taking time during Warlords beta and not mixing the old and new, that’s exactly what has happened here. I don’t see any new artwork for anything, which I not surprising, but still something of a disappointment. Now I understand the problem’s Blizzard has made for itself with updating some of the game’s skins, but not all of them.
Seer’s Invitation: “Invites an Arakkoa seer to your Garrison.”
Now, this is better, because it manages to successfully combine a new element and an old one with a lot of style: bird person outside your Town Hall is permanently summoning the souls of Draenor’s departed to party on (dude) and generally float around your structure being decorative. Cross everything a blonde guy in armour and a huge sword doesn’t turn up and get them all to form an unstoppable undead army. Because we all know how that turns out.
Witch’s Brew: “A Pandaren Brew Witch, who brings plenty of fresh brew for your Garrison.”
This one was a surprise, because normally you don’t immediately reference the previous Expansion, you simply pretend it didn’t exist for a while until some time has passed and everyone forgets the bad bits about it. A lovely Pandaran lady sells you beer, that works like the Ghostly Wands from the Candy Buckets and will transform you into an Alemental. Which, as you can see, are rather lovely HD skins and therefore a welcome addition to proceedings.
Creepy Crawlers: “A ghoulish box of spectral rats, maggots, and spiders.”
And finally for Hallow’s End, this unassuming addition to your decorations gets me most excited of all, because it is, in effect, content in a box to ‘purchase’ for the first time I can remember in this MMO. I am taken back to the days of Craftsman’s Writs in the pre-Invasion events prior to The Burning Crusade launching, when a player would ‘buy’ a quest from a vendor using a currency and it would reward them with Reputation. A lot has passed in the intervening period, the grind for reps and gear, items and general prestige has taken up hundreds of hours of my time, not all of it satisfying (it must be said.) But this box is different, because it exploits a niche that those inhabiting it are not ever likely to relinquish, and it capitalises on the need for people to collect. In this case?
It’s all about the Vanity Pets and the Toys.
By placing this ‘item’ a player spawns three capturable Battle Pets in their structures: the Ghastly Rat, Ghost Maggot and Spectral Spinner. There’s effectively no contest for these pets either, allowing players to battle at their leisure and respawn the trio until (presumably) they get three rare versions thereof, or multiple numbers of the same pet for PvP battling purposes. Then there’s the rare spawn Arachnis who has a chance to drop a new seasonal item for your Toybox: the Sack of Spectral Spiders. This is where things get very interesting indeed, because normally these items would only be available via group content, or by collecting a seasonal currency for said event. This is looking an awful lot like test-bedding on Blizzard’s part, presumably to see how many people pick up this particular ‘decoration’ and use it inside their structure. One of the biggest single criticisms of the Garrison since the Warlords Expansion launched was that, after a time, there was nothing ‘new’ to do in it. One wonders if such ‘mini content’ had been offered to players over time in kit-like formats such as this whether such criticisms could have been assuaged or even halted. If this is a litmus test for what could come in Legion, I’d urge everyone with even the slightest interest in variety to decorate their Garrison at the earlies possible convenience, because Blizzard have the numbers and I’m sure will be looking with interest at the take up for all of these ‘decorations.’
Away from the Garrison, of course, there remains a largely unaltered Festival in the ‘older’ content that Blizzard tend to do little to alter over the years. You can still set fire to the Horde’s Wickerman from Stormwind, and bomb the Undercity with stink bombs to get your faction counterparts all riled up, and vice versa. In that regard very little has changed at all, except the key addition of two items for players to spend currency on: the Ancient Heirloom Armor Casing and Timeworn Heirloom Armor Casing will allow you to update heirloom armour, trinkets, shield or offhand items to L90/100 respectively. If you wonder why you can’t do weapons? That was offered in Brewfest, and presumably will be again at Winter Veil, with a monthly option to do the same at the Darkmoon Faire. This is Blizzard listening to criticism about using currency once you’ve bought all the seasonal items available, but it still does not go far enough, because for some heirlooms are not a decent incentive. However, Timewalking has shown that people respond favourably to Mounts and Toys as encouragements to play. I’d expect to see this model being far more prevalent as a result in future.
All in all, Hallow’s End now has the feel of being something for everyone in game, whereas previously (and rather surprisingly) it seemed to exclude end game content as relevant. There is a real sense now of Blizzard grasping that the core audience that remains both active as players and sub-payers are not in game simply as raiders. This MMO is slowly evolving into something less competitive and far more casual than it has ever been at any point in its lifespan. That means placing more displacement activities into the roster, and acknowledging that expecting people to simply stay to raid may not be enough any more. The addition of a new slew of Timewalking dungeons from Cataclysm in the upcoming 6.2.3 patch (more on that next week) shows a company who appear to be read to respond a lot faster to criticism than they have been at any other point in the game’s history. From a personal standpoint, I have to say, I wish this had happened a year ago. I am amazed it took Blizzard this long to realise how potentially game changing it would be to give players the chance to pick and choose content for themselves, and that it took nearly half the player base departing in pretty much short order to expose the need inside Azeroth to give players a notion not simply of real immersion, but of having some real say in the game’s aesthetics.
Needless to say, Hallow’s End is definitely a step in the right direction.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Halloween, MMO, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday