Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Spring Malaise

Well, I honestly didn't want it to go this way, but 6.1 has been a bust for much of anything interesting.

I don't know what else my expectations were. A few posts ago I wrote explicitly of how disappointing patch 6.1 looked coming up on the horizon. And it turned out to be pretty well everything I wrote about then: fixes to systems from 6.0, stretching content in the garrison, minor fixes to problems in the garrison without any ambitious overhauls. No new areas of content whatsoever.

I've finished the legendary questline, involving that ring and Garona Halforcen. Or... I've finished as far as that story goes for now. 

Spoiler Time (skip this part if you get nitsy about the legendary questline) 

Having Garona as a "legendary follower" is nice enough, except that on a storyline basis, I just don't trust her. Garona, in our original timeline flipped allegiances and even after her "brainwashing" by Gul'dan was defeated, still managed to slip off to assassinate King Llane of Stormwind at the warlock's behest. Khadgar should presumably know better this time around, but I don't see him doing anything different from what was done before.

I'm not going to argue, really, with having a follower you can throw at any mission and get a 100% chance of success. But still, if we were role-playing this story out for real, I'd probably exercise a commander's initiative to remove this person from my garrison. Garonna is dangerous. She always has been.

In regards to the cinematic wrapping up chapter 6.1, I can hardly be surprised that Gul'dan has taken control of the Iron Horde. Gul'dan is the schemer supreme of Warcraft. It was more or less inevitable that he would rise to the top in this conflict. So, the last raid will be full of Burning Legion demons instead of Orc Warlords. Archimonde, fresh from his engagement with Nordrassil in the Caverns of Time, will be doing a repeat performance. I'm not really sure what his main target is now.

Subscriptions Fall (very sharply) 
Chart by MMO-Champion.com. Note that last bit at the end. 
So, um... I don't like to be that guy who insists on telling you, "I told you so." But my prediction about WoW's subscription numbers were pretty much exactly what happened. Maybe they were a little bit worse than what I imagined.

A brief recap: When Warlords went live, WoW subscriptions surged back to just north of 10 million subscribers. But even by the dead of winter, maybe six weeks later, endgame had grown generally stale. The petite Highmaul Raid was seen as a disappointment and Blackrock Foundry was sometime in the future. Between January and the end of March, WoW gave up all those subscriptions they gained at the beginning of Warlords and then some. WoW Watchers have called this the largest drop in subscription numbers in a single period in the game's history.

I haven't found very much commentary about the drop in subscriptions except for this interview over at VentureBeat with Ion "Watcher" Hazzikostas, in which Watcher makes the standard, "Blah blah blah, it's cyclical, blah blah" noises we've heard for the past five years. The best he says, addressing the sharpness of recent trends is that it kinda makes sense that such a dramatic uptick would be followed by a dramatic downturn.

I was looking at Patch 6.2, which is maybe not an answer to current game trends at all since it has been in planning for some months at least. They claim to do these three things, in this order:

  1. Iterates on existing systems
  2. Polishes some things
  3. Adds some new content

I'd just love to see some new content. I'm particularly disappointed that, having identified no compelling reason to run the new set of dungeons, they have come up with the idea of making "mythic" dungeon runs, in which you can fight the same ol' dungeons we've had since November, only tuned harder (and I guess, for better gear). And then there's the "Timewalker" dungeons which will allow us to go back to "relive the memories" of a number of Burning Crusade era dungeons like Arcatraz and Shattered Halls as the server will scale your gear back to an appropriate strength.

I was trying to decide which of these ideas I liked less and quickly settled on the Timewalker idea. Not only did Watcher's two examples count among my very least favorite heroic runs of that expansion, there is no way I feel the need to "relive the memories" of any old content. But nevertheless, all it seems Blizzard is doing these days is finding new ways to repurpose old content; Nevermind create much that is new.

Tanaan Jungle will have a load of new story. And you'll build a shipyard at your garrison. And um... some demons we've mostly fought before are going to appear in a new iteration of Hellfire Citadel for a raid. I presume we have to kick Gul'dan's butt or something. I expect Grom... excuse me... Grommash Hellscream will realize his errors like he did in our timeline and grab credit for the last boss kill in Hellfire Citadel.

A Dire Time
So, why am I so down on WoW right now? That's not a rhetorical question. I really want to figure this out.

I feel like Warlords of Draenor has been pretty light on story, which is always important for me. A lot of what has gone on has lacked urgency You could have sunk the Spires of Arak in a catastrophic earthquake/tsunami and it wouldn't have impacted the main story. There have been strong pieces of story that were satisfying (the death of Garrosh) and ones that have been inexplicable (what happened to Admiral Taylor, exactly?). I got that the Highmaul ogres were allies of the Iron Horde, but what was Cho'Gall up to? Why did that whole invasion of his just fizzle out before the third wing?

There's another problem that I have been trying to put into words for some time, and maybe becomes more apparent in light of the steep drop in subscriptions:

A lot of people came back to WoW to check out Draenor and then about as many left fairly promptly again. I've speculated about what would be the "last straw" to dissatisfaction with the game.

Maybe it's just too much change, once and for all. In the past three expansions, Blizzard has been taking away from our characters a lot more than they have been adding to them. They give different iterations of a variety of abilities, but still... the greater direction of development has been to cull and cut back various pieces of character.

For example, maybe a Shaman player hadn't been in game since Wrath of the Lich King, and came back to see Draenor in November. The first thing she might have noticed was that her totems were gone... those four elemental totems that had resided at the bottom of her bag since she leveled the character in vanilla. Next, she might wonder why she couldn't cast searing totem anymore. What happened to Water Breathing, a perfectly nice utility spell that made so much sense for a shaman to have. You can't lay a totem forest anymore because that's just not how they work at this point. She can't wield two-handed hammers anymore. Can't choose which elemental shield to raise. Can't lay a Searing Totem unless she's Enhancement. All her healing spells have been rejiggered so much that they have almost no similarity to what they used to do.

See, all these things. None of them were dealbreakers with players, but all these cuts and abilities removed and warped add up and make you realize... you can never go home in Azeroth. I guess there's a large portion of the player base that wants their WoW progression fast and dirty. But that's not the experience we had in Burning Crusade. Or Vanilla.

That experience is not coming back.

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