Before stepping into more speculative posts, since I leave for Blizzcon in 3 weeks (!) – I want to talk a bit about what it is that has me so absolutely excited for the new expansion reveal we all expect at Blizzcon.
Because, while yes, new content is always great, I think this is going to prove to be a pivotal expansion for WoW, at a time in its history when the MMO genre is quietly growing around it with big name entries like Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, and Destiny 2 even.
An End To Drought?
WoW has been well-known for its actiony gameplay, painterly art, and its massive windows at the end of damn near every expansion with no new content. These content draughts have, in some form, happened at nearly every point of WoW’s existence, as the current version of the game winds down in preparation for the next big thing. Especially since the 1 year draught that capped off Wrath of the Lich King, it has become the trend.
Legion has, to its credit, defied expectations on content delivery in many regards. We are currently receiving the largest stream of content, the fastest we’ve ever gotten it, with a consistent pace of 11 weeks between each delivery, and each content package staggered in size between large and small to better flesh out the game. However, this is not the first time such a feat has been accomplished – Mists of Pandaria did an excellent job, releasing 4 patches in the first year, and then – 14 months between 5.4 and Warlords of Draenor launch.
Ask even the most excitable, pro-WoW stalwart in the world if they expect that Blizzard won’t have a content draught at the end of Legion, and they will likely laugh in your face. It’s the one thing that meets with the largest dose of cynicism – and rightly so. Blizzard, despite lots of bluster and promise, has yet to ever make good on the timely release of a new expansion. Even my post with a fairly conservative May 1st 2018 date is laughable, and again, I’d argue for good reason. I think the earliest prediction I’ve seen people buy into is August 2018 – and even that is met with skepticism.
Do I think that Blizzard is going to defy expectations here? While I hope so, it would be truly historic if they did – so I am hoping that the proof is in the pudding at Blizzcon.
But speaking of time…
Announcement Droughts are a New Thing, Though
Legion has one other timing peculiarity – as I mentioned in all my hype around Gamescom time, if Blizzard were to wait until Blizzcon, it would be the longest wait between expansion release and the following expansion’s announcement.
And, well – we know that 8.0 wasn’t revealed at Gamescom, so…here we are! History has been made!
When I think about why that is, though – that is where my mind goes to work. Blizzard loves to hype things, and hell, Ion as game director LOVES to hype things, but yet we’re here, over 400 days post-Legion, and not a peep on an expansion. I’ve not been shy about this, I think that doing so is purposeful and will result in the largest scale of announcement we’ve ever had – ever. With a much larger WoW team, coupled with an aggressive release pacing during Legion, I honestly think that waiting on the announcement was done so that we could get really solid, concrete info about the new expansion. Coupled with over 4 hours of panels at Blizzcon, I think the wait will pay off. We’ll have been waiting 430 days at that point, and we are going to want deets.
Details that we can’t answer definitively yet, like…
We Actually Don’t Really, Truly Know What the Theme Is, and It’s Driving Me Fucking Insane (is that a theme?)
For all the bluster in my speculation posts (at this point my love of them should be well-known :)) – there are a lot of potential directions 8.0 could go in from a story and lore perspective. The game is giving us huge hints about the Void. External lore like audio dramas are out pointing at the Light as an oppressor maybe being a thing. Blizzcon key art has Jaina just dripping with lore potential. These themes can be interwoven, of course, but this is the largest set of branching paths we’ve ever had leading up to the reveal of what’s next. I think that is why the variety of leaks and fan expansions are all filled with at least some details that I can buy into. Like Veil of Shadows – is it likely an accurate leak? Probably not. But hey – there’s just the right mix of fan ideas coupled to pretty interesting and plausible lore hooks and gameplay philosophy that, you know what – sure, I can get the cynicism and doubt that it’s accurate, and I’m there too, but man, it sounds like fun, and hey, I bet some elements of it end up being right.
Right now, you could show me some Light-infused WoW logo, some Void infused one, a sea-swirly one with Naga and tentacles, or even an Elfy-one called Windrunner, and you know what? I could talk myself into seeing all 4 as accurate! Because all 4 of those ideas fit into the current story development and would work with proper explanation.
Even outside of the story, though…
How In The Hell Is Blizzard Going To Top Artifact Weapons or (insert your favorite Legion thing here)
I mean, think about this – Legion is, more than any other version of WoW, so completely and utterly different from what came before that it is damn near impossible to even conceive of what 8.0 will look like.
Imagine if Artifacts went away and we just got dropped weapons again. It would make sense in any other expansion transition, but this one? Hell no! Even if they did somehow decide to do that, what happens to traits? Where do those powers go?
What happens with level scaling? We assume it will be in the new content, but will it actually? Will it apply to everywhere including new content, or just new content? Even with all the conjecture about themes, where the hell are our new zones going to be? What happens to Mythic Plus? What about World Quests? Will Emissaries still be open out in the Broken Isles? Will Legiondaries still drop, and if a Sephuz drops in the woods with no one to hear it, do they post about it on the forums? Talents – question mark. Professions – question mark.
I mean, to take a step back, we have assumptions that we have made about what comes next. Will some form of Artifacts still be around – probably. Mythic Plus? Almost certainly. World Quests/level scaling – yep, I’d bet on it.
But even given those assumptions, that’s about all we have. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone willing to stake a claim on a definitive answer about what we get in 8.0 as continuations of those systems. I think we all have our own ideas about what the best way forward is, and what lessons to learn from them in Legion, but I’d be hard-pressed to even figure out how they move forward. If my idea about leveling content to the new cap is accurate, how would World Quests in that game even work? There is just so much potential for changes, revamps, and new things alongside these ideas – and I haven’t even touched on if we’ll get some new form of Garrison tech to carry on after Order Halls are done.
The Stakes for Blizzard Are Very High
As I mentioned at the start of the post, Blizzard now faces actual, steep competition, both from inside (Overwatch is rapidly gunning for Blizzard’s most popular IP, and then there is Destiny 2 on Battle.net) and outside (Final Fantasy XIV just recently announced 10 million subscribers). Legion has been, even with mis-steps, a giant leap forward from the complacency that marked Warlords of Draenor. Unlike the big MMO boom of 2006-2009, however – none of these games are really aiming to be a “WoW-killer.” They are all just doing their own things, and gaining in popularity as they push their own, unique and different versions of the MMO forward. Final Fantasy XIV, for all its similarities, takes a slower and far more story-driven approach to the formula. Guild Wars 2 has its own completely different gameplay paradigm, with different methods of advancement and a story, chapter-progression idea that encourages active play while certain story elements are live in the game. For WoW to not lose its long-ago won number 1 badge, it has to be ready to evolve with its contemporaries, and while Legion has done some of that, 8.0 will be a trial of that. If the game falters or slips, there are other MMO’s people can (and do) play, and without adequate incentive to return to WoW, they may never come back.
Blizzard’s Transition of WoW is Complete, and 8.0 Will Show Us The New Way
Legion launched, and then quickly shifted game director from longtime lead Tom Chilton to former lead encounter designer Ion Hazzikostas. Legion, one can imagine, is a game forged under two visions in parallel, but 8.0 will be Watcher’s first test as the sole man atop the totem pole. It is hard to say currently what pieces of the Legion systems and overall design were done by Watcher or Kalgan – but 8.0 will make that crystal-clear, and if the result is that those on the fence about the game see the things they don’t like about Legion amplified, well, it might hurt the game. I personally don’t think this is a bad thing – I like Ion’s approach to the game as he has stated in interviews, and I do think 8.0 will benefit from one clear leader helping to shepherd the game. (FWIW, I liked Tom Chilton too – I’ve been playing the game for 12.5 years now so I mean, they’ve done something right.)
But there has also been a gigantic shift in lore, too. With Chris Metzen being gone from Blizzard, and the WoW Chronicle books reshaping the lore from scratch, more or less – 8.0 will be our second foray into this new world, and also, similarly, the first where Metzen has been gone through the entire development process. While Legion has struggled more in this aspect (particularly on the Titan questions) – 8.0 is a chance to stick the landing into this new lore and really dive in.
Also, a part of me really hopes that Christie Golden’s hiring as a Blizzard employee is not just for novelizations, but also for actual in-game lore work. It could use a strong guiding hand.
So, at the intersection of all of these thoughts is a game that is in a positive state of upheaval (in my opinion). The team, leadership, lore writers, actual lore, gameplay – nearly everything has changed drastically over the course of Legion, and Blizzcon will be our first glimpse into what these changes have brought about.
And that is why I am so fucking excited for Blizzcon. For the first time in a long time, I have absolutely no real idea what we’ll get to see, or what we’ll be playing when 8.0 comes out – and that is a fantastic feeling!
Oh, and then there are teasers like this just hanging out online…
(yes I know the quote is from Hearthstone, but hey – curious choice…)