Up I got this morning, bright and early so I could take in the news I missed from last night. I was looking forward to lots of stuff on how they’d improve on the Professions systems, and what the next generation of followers-based gameplay would be. Except that’s not here. Nothing like that is here. Despite planning for a year, all that seems to have been revealed last night is more details on ‘features’ that, I’ll be honest, I have no interest in. In fact, the closer I examine the various (clearly accurate) synopses of last night’s interviews, the less I see.
I’ve said for a while that I’m no longer the person for whom this game is being designed for. That expansion, for me, is Legion, I now realise with a shock that last night made me go to bed before I said anything really stupid. They did Class Fantasy for me, and the Professions stuff, and in a meeting somewhere these things stopped mattering. I suspect it was the same meeting where the Vanilla Server people reminded the company of what it was that made this game successful: Red v Blue. However soft and inclusive Warcraft pretends to be, it was based on an RTS that only cares who wins. Plot exists but is very much secondary to victory. That’s where we’re going, and I really hope they know what they’re doing.
When Blizzard use a Delorean to take the piss out of their own Expansion failure? Yes, the game has most certainly changed.
More importantly, when the Deep Dive panel directly references Warcraft II, you realise that ‘back to basics’ is just that. AI has NEVER truly been a significant part of this MMO until everybody went crazy over those Mage Tower Artifact Weapon skins. Now there’s the tech in place to be able to provide what is clearly considered as ‘robust’ artificial opposition, or else these three player Island Invasion things wouldn’t be a thing. All the lovely, cosmetic and aesthetic stuff that mattered so much in the last Expansion’s presentations has been totally, almost surgically removed from selling a game that appears to focus purely and simply on letting you beat the crap out of other people, with occasional questing.
Somewhere between Legion expansion and here, a lot of key personnel have left the Warcraft IP: presumably, they’re all working on ‘Classic’ Warcraft. Some have left completely, and that makes me feel that it wasn’t simply a reorganisation of resources that is at play. Sure, this may be the biggest single workforce that’s ever been a part of the IP’s creation, but we’re not making the same game here. There is no clear continuation, after a year of planning, on how the aesthetics will play out. All we have is a bunch of technical constructs which in places, seemed very naked. I find myself wondering how this came to pass: was the feedback on Legion so bad that everybody hated how much work everything was, and just wanted to kill shit for a while?
I find myself thinking that Legion’s legacy, such as it is, will be to show people like me that we had our chance to enjoy the details, but we complained too much. This is almost like a punishment for not appreciating all the clever subtleties that the designers added over time. You didn’t like our Class Fantasy or our Professions journeys, so we’re not bothering with that anymore. Instead, here is a bunch of shit to nuke. You do it in Overwatch when you’re not playing Warcraft. If we just repeat that mechanic in Azeroth you’re less likely to get bored and drift away, right? If all else fails, we know you’ll give us money regardless.
Warcraft has simply returned to what it did best: letting you kill things, with increasingly sophisticated levels of detail.
In essence, that’s what the game was, back at the start. Make a character, level to 60, kill your way there, then kill stuff to keep yourself happy. Except, for many of us, that became the last thing that mattered. That’s when Community took over and we evolved away from the violence and created things we enjoyed more. Legion was the expansion where the designers acknowledged this and tried to give those people more of the same… except the problem with making dreams come true is that no two fantasies are ever alike. That’s why the ‘Blizzardworld’ joke in Overwatch is as clever as it undoubtedly is. Everybody’s fantasy is different, so you need to paint such things in broad strokes and never in detail.
Warcraft’s Devs have learnt the lesson that they don’t make the game experience for its audience. That’s their job to create for themselves.
Blizzard does not create game diversity, it simply provides the medium in which that evolves. Sure, it could help by introducing more female races, and I sense now that is on the cards, but for now, its best hope for keeping people engaged is to make the framework of the game as strong as conceivably possible. If there is nothing in the new Expansion package that makes people happy it is a simple choice: play, or don’t. This isn’t about seducing players in with anything except robust, dynamic game experiences, just like it was back in Vanilla. Making us Legendary was a joke. Class Fantasy was a joke… and possibly, at this stage so is the Mobile game/followers mechanic, but the jury is clearly still out. Using niche gameplay systems to sell your Expansion is in the past. Now, it is all about the action.
Ron Burgandy, at this point, can continue to speak for me.
I won’t be unsubbing. I’ll continue playing. For now, there is not enough meat on the bones to make subjective decisions from a distance. Now, I’d really like to play some of this stuff in beta, and that’s not happened for several Expansions: this can only be a good thing, on reflection. I was right last night, this is the true reboot that should have happened with Warlords, was unsuccessful with Legion and now is probably going to work with Battle for Azeroth. This is a game not trying to be all things for everybody. It is what it is: occasional MMO, mostly RTS, with periods of beat the crap out of other people when you feel like it. It is, in effect, a Classic reboot. Hell, even class buffs are coming back.
Seriously, what’s not to like about that?