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WoW Wednesday: Is Warcraft’s Best Expansion a Problem?

After last week’s post, something interesting happened. I got mail from someone who was worried about my outlook on Azeroth, wanting to reassure me that if I took a break, it was perfectly okay. That concern started as a trickle, and then awareness blossomed of others, people reaching out to make sure I wasn’t playing out of obligation. Then came the discussions with those who not only sympathized but admitted they’d decided to cancel subs and also walk away.

Their reasons for leaving are pretty much identical: instead of not enough to do, as was the case in Warlords, there’s just too much work, and faced with grinds they simply could not accommodate, they chose to leave without complaint. It mirrors the viewpoint of many, both hardcore and casual players. But how can this be? There’s an almost universal agreement that this expansion is the best the game has ever been since the dark days of Cataclysm, so what’s gone wrong?

Why are people only now suggesting that all is not well in Azeroth?

How Much is Too Much, Exactly?

Blizzard has now gone on record as stating that they grasp that the mechanics around gaining Artifact Power from the launch of Legion were not handled or indeed executed well, and things will change on that front come 7.2. However, for those players who don’t have the time to grind three/four weapons across all specs in order to keep a raid place viable because their team demands this, there was little sympathy from the people in charge. In fact, Lead Designer Ion Hazzikostas had some amazingly harsh words for those raid leaders in the latest Legion Q&A, going so far to suggest that extended grinds to gain a small competitive advantage simply weren’t viable.

For those of us who make a conscious decision to step away from the game to pursue other interests, the reality of all the grinding is simple and pretty much intractable since those first days of Vanilla: you make the time, or you don’t. The nature of grinding, truthfully, has changed very little since the time I began playing in 2005. The only limiting factor that remains is the amount of effort that you’re prepared to put into the process from start to finish, and when. There may seem to be a great deal more to do in Legion, but in reality, it is just as it always was. The difference 12 years on, I am told by many in the know, is as much about individuals as the level of gear they wield.

Bringing Players with More Class(es)

It is a different generation of new and younger players who live and play in Azeroth than it was over a decade ago, and many of them have less interest in learning for themselves than at any point previously. For many veterans, given a straight decision between having to spend long hours grinding and doing something that isn’t gaming, the latter often wins simply because you can’t earn a decent living playing World of Warcraft. What is often forgotten between those two sets of players are the people who have tons of free time and an almost obsessive need to beat this game, however hard or high the mountains are to climb.

These players have multiple 110’s just as they owned multiple Garrisons back in Draenor, and farms in Pandaria. They’ll grind every weapon acquisition quest line, and be ready to learn flying well before many people who simply don’t have the time to start the process. These people have bought game time using WoW Tokens, know all the AH tips and tricks and will continue playing this game without really caring about Artifact Power. In fact, all this talk of grinds and issues is pretty much a case of the ‘same old complaints’ about a game which for them gets played a particular way, regardless of high-end complaints.

We’re Only Halfway There

This is the moment where I remind myself that people leave this game all the time. Even providing players with more content than it is possible to consume, some individuals will walk away regardless. My disappointment with the current state of affairs has a lot to do with personal circumstances and very little to do with the content, on considered reflection. I would far rather be writing at present than playing, and that’s not an ideal situation when you need to be constantly consuming content to give it a fair review.

For many, this is the moment they just give up the sub and go, knowing full well that the Company will offer them incentives and catch up mechanics at the end of the game’s life cycle. Why stress about AP catch-up when you’ll be able to get that easier and faster before the next Expansion launches anyway? Thanks to the dearth of online Guides you can also pick and choose which bits of content to cheese in a couple of evenings anyway. Honestly, there’s not a problem leaving now, because this has always been the way this game’s been played by a section of users.

Nothing Left To Lose

This is the best Warcraft has ever been, we all know this. It’s easier to get feedback heard too, though you’d be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t the case. There’s one person I know on Twitter who keeps telling anyone who’ll listen how all these complaints that were registered in Alpha still made it live, clearly demonstrating that designers only hear what they want to. Heaven forbid that the complaints being referred to were conscious design decisions and that maybe with an active user base in the millions there’s going to be a bit of deviation between what’s an intended feature and what’s an aberration.

The truth here is that some of it works and some of it doesn’t and that will continue to be the case for as long as I’m a fan of Bond movies and people don’t think before they press ‘Tweet.’ This is not about the designers being in the Last Chance Saloon when you see how much a WoW token currently sells for. Many people think this expansion is the best it has ever been and amazingly, I still count myself amongst them because as I spent about 1600 words explaining last week, the game is not the problem in this relationship. I am. My playing only twice or three evenings a week is not going to cause the downfall of Azeroth and this is the bigger point that has to be taken away from the whole exercise.

Warcraft's best expansion

Everything is still absolutely fine in the Best Expansion ever

All this talk of the hardcore leaving and there being no-one to test raids is about as likely as me getting as six book fiction deal with Penguin. For every major guild that folds there’s a bunch of other people super hyped just waiting to jump in and take over. Oh, and if you wonder why there appears to be so few theory-crafters doing the job in the wild, the real reason is that most of them got offered jobs in Irvine, and sensibly decided to take them. After all, if you enjoy crunching numbers in your spare time, chances are you’ll have no issues doing that as a paid occupation. Someone did get the chance to make this game their living, and thanks to them, this is the game you now play.

So, where does that leave me? I managed two nights play at the weekend. All my legendary items are upgraded. I ground out the Ghost Archaeology Moose. I completed some steps to get one of the Falcosaur mounts, and I’m almost there on the other. Most importantly, however, I picked up the final part of my Skinning quest line and once three legacy raids and an instance are complete, it’s done. There’s a whole different post to be written on how those journeys have become anathema to some but for me, it’s just another thing to add to the pile of Things to Do the next time I’m online, which hopefully will be while you’re reading this.

 

I still maintain the real reason for playing is loving what you do, and whilst for some that sensation is far easier to manage with a binary approach, I’m a little different. The last week, when I’ve been doing a lot of writing about Azeroth in the third person, has gone a long way towards me being able to rationalize my place in the current scheme of things. What I could really do now with is more lore-related content, and perhaps this weekend I can get into the Nighthold and finally see if Gul’dan’s gonna get his just desserts for screwing up on Draenor. I sense this might happen, but as the answer to that could still be considered Spoilers for some, let’s not go there.

People leave this game all the time, and new people arrive, and like the vast and expansive Community it remains, none of this really changes that much at all. Blizzard fixed the justifiable complaints made over Draenor, and now everybody has something to do. If your complaint isn’t with the content itself but how long it takes to complete, that’s still job done regardless.

This game’s in a better state than has been the case for quite some time.

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