Today, I’m going to spitball a bit on something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
It is exceedingly common to see the current state of Battle for Azeroth compared to Warlords of Draenor, and not in a favorable way. While a new raid is about to launch, and another is in further testing on the PTR with a fourth for the expansion undoubtedly entering into PTR testing near spring, BfA has offered more content than WoD, but, many would argue, less meaningful content. With the artifice of the time gates we saw in Legion stripped away, a lot of us are left with the feeling that there is either too much to do (chasing the best possible gear, high war/titanforges, specific goals and achievements) or too little to do (gearing has a harsh point of diminishing returns at which point doing more gearing tends to be substantially less rewarding).
In Warlords of Draenor, we know from things that were shown to us, discovered later, or found tucked away in data files, developer interviews, and the like, that the expansion was intended to have a much longer post-release content plan, along with a more robust content release at launch. Specific, unique faction capitals gave way to hubs on the PvP island of Ashran. Characters we would have expected story intervention from were teased and then not delivered (Wrathion, primarily). Big nostalgic hits from Burning Crusade were similarly teased and then failed to deliver – the big pink bubble of Shattrath City still sitting in Draenor taunting us to this day. However, it became apparent that prior to launch, the team had been shuffling major and minor changes that led to the launch content being cut down to size (chief among them the need to completely rebuild Gorgrond with only months to spare). Further, the post-launch waning of enthusiasm for the game made it clear that Blizzard needed to pull the ripcord on WoD sooner than anticipated. Blackrock Foundry opening was held for 6.1 despite being fully ready on launch day with no additional post-launch PTR testing, a decision that probably saves people from naming 6.1 the worst WoW patch of all-time (if we remove BRF opening, and rightly so, I would argue, then the content left is Twitter integration, the selfie camera, and Garrison raid bosses…). The Shattrath content, rumored to contain interesting story about breakout Draenei superstar Yrel having a dark side (which might have made the Mag’har quests in BfA less shocking), was cut. Instead, while 6.2 offered a pretty mechanically sound raid in Hellfire Citadel and a pretty mechanically interesting zone in Tanaan Jungle, it was also, clearly, the end of the road for WoD.
Blizzard got so panicked that in August 2015, the announcement of Legion was made – at Gamescom, with months to go to their Blizzcon event, and with no further content on the calendar for WoD. In the coming months, we got some tweaks that added foundational systems to the game, ironically – weekend events came out of the WoD lull, as did Mythic difficulty for dungeons and Timewalking. I could write posts upon posts of the missed opportunities of WoD – I still really wish there would be some story hook, even a bad one, to get us back to Draenor liberating Shattrath. Perhaps Genocidal Yrel will help get us there!
But to the main issue I want to discuss today – could Battle for Azeroth have only 4 patches (8.1, 8.1.5, 8.2, and 8.2.5)?
Well, on the one hand – I think the evidence Blizzard has presented publicly says no. The What’s Next panel at Blizzcon 2018 clearly called that there was more past 8.2.5, but not in a state the team could talk about yet. Further, the content we do know is coming in 8.2 would not really be appropriate expansion-ending content – Azshara, while a major plot point, also is not that high on the hierarchy of Old God battles we need to have, even though she is a major lore character in her own right. It would seem downright rushed to push through Nazjatar just to end the expansion with Azshara while we wait to move on, and who even knows how long that wait might be?
On the other hand, though, I think cutting the patch cycle short could happen for a few reasons. Firstly, and again with WoD as the primary example, plans on WoW can and do change. When WoD was announced, we’d be smashing through a Chronal Spire, there was Farahlohn, an Ogre island, and a Shattrath raid, with unique faction capitals that were developed enough for the playable demos at Blizzcon 2013 to take place in them, with quests that were unique and did not wind up in WoD retail, and with a Garrison that could be placed anywhere in Draenor you wanted (well, in any zone, at least, with a few options per zone). While the intent seems that BfA will be a 6 patch expansion, with 3 major and 3 minor patches, that could very easily end up changing. Secondly, however – I think it might actually work better with the story.
Alright, so here’s my thing – a lot of my recent story and lore posts have focused on the idea that after all the hype, our engagement with N’Zoth is either going to be cut short and fully contained in 8.3, or so catastrophic in lore that it would transcend and consume multiple expansions with us killing Azeroth’s world soul and doing a lot of crazy shit. However, there is an option C I could conceive of in this scenario.
BfA is not doing well, this much is obvious. The game’s metrics are slipping by all publicly available data, communities for the game are spewing forth negativity, pitchforks against Activision have been sharpened to a fine point, and the game has gone from top of Twitch during the Uldir raid race with Method to barely top twenty, being beaten by a collection of expected and unexpected titles alike. Even in places where we endeavor to be positive, the game has instilled a sort of ennui into many of its players with the reward mechanisms in BfA. If we relegate N’Zoth to a third-act baddie, only barely seen at the end of the expansion before he is defeated, he’ll just be another disappointment on the pile.
But you could make a real, honest-to-god Old God expansion in a different way. You could, say, use the 8.2 and 8.2.5 patch cycle to clean up the Azshara story, deal with Sylvanas (perhaps in a mini-raid, maybe in some other way), and then the finale of Battle for Azeroth could see us resolving the faction conflict only to see N’Zoth surface and swallow our world in void – leaving the looming threat of Old Gods for its own expansion, and moving on to 9.0.
This approach has some pros and cons, to me. It would be hard to say that Blizzard tried to make something out of BfA post-launch if they end up doing a 4 patch plan, given that some systems and a lot of new content are coming in 8.2 that might end up feeling weird in a world where it does not develop further past that point, and the players will ultimately tar and feather BfA in the same way they did WoD, where the expansion title will become a punchline with no need of explanation. If the game shows some signs of life in the future, especially in 8.2, it would be hard to not look back at BfA and wonder what could have been with a bit better development cycle and some luck.
On the pro side, the shorter content cycle would allow more time to push for what works – to properly iterate new reward cycles, new content designs, and to deliver a better framework by which to deliver us the content in the game. For the sake of the lore, having N’Zoth be a larger presence with time to develop plots and stories with him would be a boon.
There would be some challenges – how do you wrap up the faction conflict story? 8.2.5 could hold the answer to that, with a mini-raid, maybe even a new dungeon, and some war campaign quests. How do you give up on the lore lead-ins to Old Gods from the content in BfA like Stormsong Valley? Simple answer – you don’t. Things can exist across expansions, after all, and WoW would do well to have characters, plot lines, and more do a better job of moving from expansion to expansion in one piece. Does this mean no more Allied Races? Well, I’d say no – we’ll probably get something in 8.2, if I had to wager, and the future of the game can have plenty more.
At first, I kind of recoiled from the idea of effectively cutting BfA short. It would be a perception nightmare for Blizzard, having two expansions in 4 years that both fall on their face and have to be thrown overboard to right the ship. To be clear, I actually think BfA could be great if systems are improved in 8.2 and beyond and I want to see the team try to make that kind of improvement to the game without just leaving BfA as a concept in the dust. However, on the other hand, it seems more logical to me that Blizzard could switch right on over to 9.0 with the right setup, and if player feedback in the 8.2 PTR ends up being largely negative, I would imagine it is an option the team would take under advisement, even if they ultimately stick with their guns.
But also, I kind of just really want an Old God expansion, and so in the end, it is all about selfish desire!