Blizzard Entertainment’s now-annual convention just ended, and it’s been two jam-packed days of news and interviews and tidbits and clarifications. Our focus today is the announcement of the next expansion to World of Warcraft, entitled Battle for Azeroth, and the surprise announcement that they’re intending on bringing back the vanilla experience with WoW Classic.
Let’s talk Classic first. Or, as J. Allen Brack joked to lead into the announcement, his favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla. Technically, I’m a vanilla player, although I didn’t join the game until late in that cycle for certain reasons. I never really got to participate in the big events that vanilla players wax nostalgic about, such as running Naxx, Molten Core, or the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj. I remember some of the things that were eventually changed as quality of life improvements. At this point, all we really know about how Blizzard plans to do WoW Classic is summed up into the following statements:
- It will be a separate team, so it won’t impact current live WoW
- They will work with community to decide how to do it
- They haven’t made any firm decisions beyond that
The announcement felt less like an attempt to start a hype train and more like heading off the legacy server questions they would have invariably been inundated with if they hadn’t announced anything. It’s very unusual for Blizzard to make such a nebulous announcement and admit they haven’t even pinned down most of the basic questions yet. We have no information as to timeline or what iteration of vanilla we’re getting. We don’t know anything about whether our old characters would be available, although I would imagine not, since it wouldn’t be an even playing field. We don’t know whether they’ll adopt a ‘progression server’ sort of thing like Daybreak Games does with their two EverQuest franchises. We don’t know price point or structure. Literally, those bullet points above are all we truly know. However, I can tell you that Hall D (aka the Mythic stage) went completely insane at the announcement. You could feel the roar of the crowd as they screamed with joy.
Next up, the big announcement. The next expansion to World of Warcraft brings the game back down out of the universe-spanning rafters and refocuses on the Alliance versus Horde conflict. As expected with the visible absence of Jaina Proudmoore through most of Legion and the rumors and leaks and datamining, Battle for Azeroth will focus on a more nautical theme. Here’s the basic breakdown of what it will feature:
- Two new continents with three zones each: Kul Tiras and Zandalar
- New level cap of 120
- Six new playable races that players will have to unlock through content
- Alliance gets Void Elf, Dark Iron Dwarves, Lightforged Draenei
- Horde gets Nightborne, Zandalari Trolls, Highmountain Tauren
- Six new character slots per server
- Allied races start at level 20
- Flying will be like it was in Legion
- Item level/stat squish
- Limited level-scaling for older content, BC/WotLK leveling interchangeable
- Eastern Kingdoms will become mostly Alliance-controlled
- Kalimdor will become mostly Horde-controlled
- Artifact weapons will be retired in favor of empowering new gear
- Expeditions with varying content to plunder uncharted islands
- War Fronts as 20 vs. NPC battles in an RTS style
- New PVP arenas, new battleground
- Server rulesets are gone in favor of players individually flagging
- Dungeons are factional until max, then open to all
- Ten new dungeons and one new raid to start
- Queen Azshara will be a raid boss later on
There’s a lot more to unpack in this and of course so many questions to still be answered. The Battle for Lordaeron that was shown in the intro cinematic (itself a surprisingly early reveal) is part of a story of factional fighting where the Horde first burns down Teldrassil for as-yet-unknown reason. Blizzard is going to consolidate the factions on their primary continents, and that’s one way to do it. The big unanswered questions are: What happens with the starting experiences in those areas? Will it be a phased thing where players start as they do now and then once their character gets to that content at endgame, then it changes? We know they can do massive phasing and its subsequent problems, but we also know they can do upending whole zones (see also: Cataclysm) and rebuilding the world from scratch. Personally, I suspect they’ll go with the same option that they did with the Dark Portal needing to go to both Outland and Draenor and build two entirely separate versions of the affected zones and let players use portals to travel between them.
This return to the original conflict of the game is fine within the scope of the game itself, even though it’s at odds with Blizzard’s overall out-of-game message of players coming together to fight common enemies. It gives the idea that this is a filler between larger conflicts, because while Sargeras is a big bad in the Warcraft universe, but he’s not the big bad. There’s nothing inherently wrong about filler expansions, the same as there’s nothing wrong with filler episodes of a TV series. You need these fillers to keep from burning out and honestly, after the in-your-face experience of Legion, I could use the downtime.
So what’s your take on all of this?