Alrighty, so this is going to veer into some weird territory – it’s probably technically speculation, in the short history of this blog, but it is also not quite that.
Up to this point, I’ve talked a lot about what story hits I want or foresee. The gameplay elements and overall ideaology I think that Blizzard will carry into an 8.0.
But, let’s talk about this from a different angle – what do I want to feel when I play 8.0?
To look back – I started playing WoW at launch in November 2004, but it was on roommate accounts and not my own, until June of 2005.
I enjoyed the way the game sucked me in. I was young, working a meh job, in my first apartment and WoW gave me something real life didn’t at that time – accomplishment. It was fictional, sure – but it was an easy way to lose myself. As my life improved, it became a way to burn time with like-minded people, burrowing into that world and exploring every niche of the game world.
Vanilla WoW was, to use the genre terms, was a sandbox MMO trying to pretend it was a theme park MMO. The endgame was great, sure, but it took almost a year past launch for the true shape of what would define WoW to present itself. It is, besides the nostalgia argument, that I would state shows why Vanilla WoW on a legacy server would not (and really has not been) successful. It was excellent, amazing gameplay for 2004, but Vanilla was a hot mess of Blizzard adapting to huge success and trying to work to build a solid way forward. Early WoW raiding was fun – but it was also a weird mess of simple mechanics gated by social roadblocks. Dungeons were fun, but they were also not inherently well-tuned until late into the 1.x lifecycle of the game.
But there was something awesome about that world – something very awesome. It felt real, realized enough that you could engage suspension of disbelief. Sure, Stormwind doesn’t have a lot of residences, or Goldshire, or anywhere in the game – but it was so much fun to explore every little bit of the world.
Over time, WoW has cemented it’s endgame, more tightly tuning the dungeons and raids, and building out a lot of endgame content, to the point where it is the focus. With Burning Crusade onwards, the game has added to the theme park aspect, with more repeatable content, like dungeons, battlegrounds, arenas, daily quests, raids, and the like. The game now is a theme park that has a pretend sandbox around it. It is still a great world, don’t get me wrong, but the emphasis has steadily shifted away from exploration and into the endgame content nearly exclusively. This is where Blizzard attempts triage, with things like Pathfinder acheivements and treasures – making an incentive to explore the map and really become familiar with it.
But this is my perspective – the game has steadily decreased the required time to play the endgame content, while trying to incentivize parallel gameplay (alts, multiple difficulties, etc) – and this is good. When I was 20, with a shitty job and a lot of time – I could play for a long time. I participated in a few of those classic Alterac Valley matches that went on for days. I didn’t stay in the whole time, but I could drop and rejoin the same match! The amount of time invested into raid preparation was immense.
I appreciate the ways in which the game has changed, to where there is so much to do, but the game very strategically paces and delivers the content in such a way that, even when I want to veg out and just play, eventually, I reach a point where I am effectively done and can log off feeling like I did the things I want to.
I still really enjoy the launch window for an expansion, because I can play it in that old-fashioned way and capture some of the nostalgia. I can buy snacks in advance, take the day off of work, and log in to play for prolonged lengths of time! And everything is new, with a very real sense of exploration. It’s when I play with the sound on, listening to every new song, every sound effect and voiceover. I read every bit of quest text, and really put myself into the world.
And here’s the thing – that is my bar for an expansion announcement. I want something that makes me look forward to a sleepless, insane launch window, where I jam towards the new level cap. Music that makes me excited to hear it. Quests that tell a story through gameplay. Dungeons with interesting twists, turns, and encounters. Raids with gorgeous environments and unique fights. I don’t think Blizzard has really done poorly at that yet. For all the shit expansions like Cataclysm and especially Warlords of Draenor get, they too really had a great launch experience. Warlords, arguably, had even better overall questing than Legion – that first few weeks were fucking awesome.
What I want, mostly, is a game that will capture that sense of wonder. I don’t expect that it will hold it 100% through the lifecycle of 8.x, but that is preferable. I want the game to capture me for that moment, allowing me to lose myself in the new zones, and to remind me of the emotional hooks that drew me into World of Warcraft all those years ago. In a lot of ways, WoW is like a significant other – I don’t expect every moment to recapture that initial interaction, but every now and then it’s always good to have that huge moment that reminds you of why you got so hooked.
That is what I want out of Blizzcon. Whatever the story, whatever the features, weapons, zones, items, dungeons, raids, and systems – I want that rush of excitement to see the new things, and the payoff for investing into the story, and the new content that will pad out my free time in a respectful manner (hopefully!) for the next two years or so. If 8.0 is a total rehash of Vanilla content with modern tuning, well, as long as it is designed as a well-assembled, complete whole, then I will be excited.
Give me wonder, mystery, and that sense of exploration. I don’t need it to stay ever-present, but a strong opening salvo will do a lot to get me hyped.
Which is also probably why I’m an addict for speculation, really. 🙂