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WoW Wednesday: The Thorny Legacy of the War of Thorns

To say that the War of Thorns, World of Warcraft’s latest pre-expansion event, has had a rocky start is one of the milder understatements of the week. With Blizzard’s latest expansion, Battle For Azeroth, just around the corner the time is ripe for one of the hit MMORPG’s pre-launch events. Most noted among the playerbase for introducing limited time in-game rewards, achievements and some of the best questlines the game has ever offered, Warcraft’s pre-expansion patch is also utilized for introducing new mechanics, new technology and allowing players to adjust to the often massive changes with their class. The last two pre-patch events for the highly celebrated Legion and critically panned Warlords of Draenor were notably some of the most involved and rewarding in recent memory, including not just in-game rewards and invasion styled events for the former but interesting story dialogue and choices with the latter, tied together with rare Feat of Strength in-game achievements and a satisfying storyline.

Sadly in this case, the War of Thorns has more than come up short in many player’s eyes, featuring not only a host of middling technical changes and updates, but a story that at best has most feeling it was a sub-par experience and at worst offers not only a slap in the face to Horde fans but a poorly written saga in backyard bush burning.

the War of Thorns "Are... Are you sure?"

One of the “This is Fine” brothers found in Azeroth, located in the Burning of Teldrassil.

Focusing on the beginnings of the Battle for Azeroth the War of Thorns features the Horde as the aggressor, launching an all-out assault on the Night Elven land of Ashenvale to control the new nuclear-like resource ominously called Azerite. Following either of the incredibly similar faction questlines will lead you to the turning point of the story, the Burning of Teldrassil, a dramatic event that features one of the most questionable character choices for the Horde’s current leading character and political figurehead, Sylvanas Windrunner. As illustrated in her Wabringer’s cinematic, Sylvanas seemingly chooses to destroy the tree-continent less out of a sound tactical decision and more to simply spite a dying Elf. In fact, this event makes even less sense to Horde players who are told outright that the Warchief wants to control Teldrassil and its people as a hostage at the beginning of the quest line. Compiled with other questionable character choices this entire storyline leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth and it’s not simply from the ash.

Finishing the twenty quest event unlocks both a unique faction-based mount and a series of World Quests, daily events in the world that see players taking on quest objectives for some catch-up rewards. While Legion’s pre-patch event featured a variety of unique gear colorations, the catch-up gear for the War of Thorns is basic gear most players will receive for paying for Character Boosts to instantly reach level 110. Engaging in Battle for Azeroth’s new War Mode, included in the Pre-Patch, players can engage in World Player versus Player Content and receive extra rewards. Playing with War Mode on max level players will receive marginally better gear from claiming player bounties in the world while leveling players, who are not able to access the pre-patch event and have been entirely excluded unlike in the past, will receive an utterly underwhelming 10% experience boost. At least that would be the case if not for the world’s currently broken Sharding system.

Introduced in Warlords of Draenor as a method of adjusting and controlling server populations on the fly, Sharding worked by creating smaller pockets of players on linked servers, phasing them between instances as players entered or exited zones. The pre-patch recently introduced a new version of the system, which now phases players as they move through the world at higher speeds. Several bugs, however, have turned Sharding into the most dangerous game-ender in Warcraft, shutting down major in-game cities, overcrowded zones and battlegrounds for hours on end, locking players out of their characters until that portion of the server is rebooted. For those engaging in the lackluster War Mode players can be seen phasing in and out of existence as they desperately try to fight the enemy faction raids on Orgrimmar and Stormwind.

All of this is compounded not just by the usual bugs and fixes of a typical patch day in the World of Warcraft, but also the fallout of Legion’s game design. With the retirement of Artifact weapons, the main super-powered weapon players developed and bonded within Legion, entire end-game raid encounters have been utterly broken. With each class built around the 40+ passive effects that Artifacts offered each individual player, only a handful have been baked back in with the pre-patch, resulting in a basic stat stick that leaves players feeling underpowered and encounters overtuned.

Sadly, the War of Thorns is just fine. Much like Cataclysm’s pre-patch event, it merely exists in the world of Azeroth. Today the pre-patch culminates in the Battle for Lordaeron, an Alliance Military effort to besiege and conquer the home of the Forsaken with its own quests and storylines for players to engage with. Rewards are still frugally found and with the fateful fall of Lordaeron (spoilers ahead) there are more questions than answers left as Azeroth advances onward to its next expansion.

With Battle for Azeroth just around the corner, the War of Thorns doesn’t inspire confidence in what comes next for the World of Warcraft. Bogged by technical issues, poor implementation of new balancing mechanics, a distinct lack of player reward, and a story that feels rushed despite being written well in advance, this campaign leaves me with a lack of confidence. While players were excited for Legion to bring a war for the world of Azeroth, the War of Thorns has left me feeling far less hopeful for the future of Warcraft.

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About Phil DeMerchant

A proud member of the Horde trapped in a puny Alliance body, Phil's been playing World of Warcraft for longer than his on-again off-again romance with Dark Souls. When he's not fighting through the land of Azeroth, he's crafting his next investigative YouTube video on the Games Industry, putting his years of experience to use discussing ethics in media.