Where to start with this one? So, this new expansion is not only not void, not light, nor just Kul’Tiras, nor just Jaina. This is an expansion that brings WoW back to grounded fantasy terrain.
At the end of the day, though – I need time to marinate on the themes and ideas. I want to hear the Q&A tomorrow afternoon, I want to see the art panel and understand better that side of the equation.
Here, however, is what I can talk about – gameplay.
As long as Blizzard is unwilling to stream a demo client installer out into the world for Virtual Ticket folks, the best reason to be at Blizzcon (besides huge parties) is to play the announced content and wrap your head around the vision.
So, let’s dive in!
Overall, my time was spent about 50/50 between the leveling demo and the Alliance dungeon demo – Freeport. I got 30 minutes of leveling as Havoc in, the dungeon as Havoc, and about 70 minutes of leveling gameplay as Vengeance.
I…like the overall direction, as seen from the demo. Here’s the thing – regardless of the theme, WoW’s gameplay loop is largely built around a stream of quests that are simple, quick, and relatively painless. The hardest part of the leveling content was not having my UI or Logitech G13 gamepad to play with. The dungeon we did, Freeport, felt complete. It was quite obviously built fully, tuned to a degree, and had a good layout with trick paths and options, coupled with interesting trash that made us pay attention. The bosses largely boil down to mechanics, but they are interesting and funny in some cases.
While no-one at Blizzard has yet to say anything about an Item Squish being official here, the demo and screenshots of the Heart of Azeroth feature make plain that we have a big squish, one that indeed follows a pattern I thought Blizzard might take (not bragging…too much). Item values per item level seem to have come up, relatively, which item level itself has gone waaaaay down. The characters we had were 110 and wearing green starter gear that was…item level 185?! That is not a typo, nor an error. What is disarming is how Blizzard hasn’t really said anything. Two panels I attended, both had a screenshot showing a character at 110 in item level 185 gear, and not a peep was heard.
However, I think this has been done exceedingly well. The item squish here…works. Really well. I only noticed it because of the panel screenshots, and this made me check the paper doll in the demo, and surely enough, item level 185. But, it felt absolutely correct – nothing really felt bad, gameplay was the same, and that is a testament to the quality of the math behind the squish, because the numbers are tiny now. As a point of comparison, consider this:
Kaylriene, Havoc today: 4,700,000 health, 1,200,000 DPS
Kaylriene, Vengeance today: 8,000,000 health, 650,000 DPS
Kaylriene Demo, Havoc 8.0: 15,500 health, 2,000 DPS
Kaylriene Demo, Vengeance 8.0: 25,500 health, 1,500 DPS
So, I mean…holy shit, that is a tremendous drop. The DPS here is damn close to mid-tier Burning Crusade numbers, with higher health. This is a greater degree of squish, by far, than the original one. I still need to know what this means – because it seems fairly apparent that our current gear is going to nose-dive in item level come 8.0!
Also, Artifact abilities are just straight-up gone. Some traits are baked in as passives – Vengeance had a spellbook entry for the old Gold Trait Painbringer, but the actives are gone. I don’t know if this is intentional, but it was 100% for me and my team – Fury of the Illidari and Soul Carver are gone, Ret Paladins no longer have Ashes to Ashes, Blood DKs no longer have Consumption, and so on. Buffs are back, however – my class of choice these days brings a 3% Haste aura to the party!
So here’s the thing – I really enjoyed my time with the demo, and I am eagerly anticipating seeing the 120 experience. However, for what we do know, there is much we do not. The Heart of Azeroth system – traits TBD. Warfronts – cool sounding, but need to see them. Island Skirmishes – awesome sounding and looking, need to play a few. World changes, sound cool, not enough details at the moment.
Further, none of the communities collective pet-peeves was even briefly grazed upon. Legendaries? Question mark. Warforging and Titanforging? Don’t know. (Quest items still appear to upgrade, that I can tell you.) Will the Azerite grind at the heart of the…Heart of Azeroth system be as bad as AP? No idea! For as far along as Blizzard does appear to be (two leveling zones and two dungeons tuned and on display for public consumption), there is the appearance of much still needing to be done.
I’ll go right to it here, then – I really like the cinematic, what gameplay I have done, the things I’ve heard, and the idea presented to me. Even after my wild speculation, I do enjoy that we are getting a grounded, genre-fitted fantasy experience that can bridge us into the horror of Old Gods and Void, or such. (certainly, with Queen Azshara as an eventual villain, we’ll get to Old Gods shortly!) Having said that, I do have reservations. The endgame systems are still largely blank slates, with us players projecting our wants onto them to build the idea we want.
But if you ask me to defend my Alliance, by god, I just might be there for the battle.