This is a post that has been a long time coming, since the PTR cycle began in earnest back in January, but you’ll notice that I haven’t touched much upon the upcoming 8.1.5 patch, despite it being 6 days away as of this writing.
Well, to be honest, I am kind of beyond WoW at this point. I still raid, as I’ve discussed before, but outside of that, my gameplay time in Azeroth has ground to a halt. I haven’t mount farmed, alt leveled, or done world quests in weeks.
So the news of a new patch coming is, mostly, irrelevant to me at present. I will likely play a little bit more in order to push to get the allied race unlocks that come with the patch. I’m moderately excited for the new raid coming in April and the story quests that accompany it, mainly because I think this expansion needs a bit of new direction.
I want to explore something that stands out like a sore thumb, though – one change in particular that exemplifies something that bothers me about the way in which current Blizzard communicates changes and the way in which they think of those changes.
Oh yeah, we’re going with this one.
So 8.1.5 introduces a new portal room to each faction capital, replacing the hodge-podge of portals all over the cities (Alliance players, for example, have a Boralus portal in the top of the tower in the Mage District, with a Hellfire Penninsula portal in the bottom, a Legion Dalaran portal near the throne room, a Darkshore portal over at the docks, the Cataclysm portals in the lake by the keep, the Pandaria portal on the other side of the lake, and a few other random portals sprinkled about I’m probably forgetting).
This is, on the face of it, a good idea. Consolidate travel options, give players one place to go for all of their travel options, make it easy to remember so you’re not sorting out the portal locations. Great!
But the Cataclysm portals are still going to stay where they are. Okay, sure, story significance dictates it, and there are quests that use the portal area, sure. Fine.
Now we’re changing the portals, so instead of Legion Dalaran, you get an Azsuna (?!) portal, you get Stormshield and now with the Garrison Hearthstone I have two ways to access the content from WoW’s worst expansion to date – awesome, the Pandaria portal is still there and goes to Jade Forest – which is fine. I now get a Northrend Dalaran portal, a Shattrath portal, an Exodar portal (why?), and I still get Boralus. Okay, so that is all fine – some baffling exclusions here, but it is serviceable. Fine.
Now we go to the Shrine in Pandaria, where the Northrend Dalaran and Shattrath portals are removed. Okay, I get those in Stormwind now, but that is a bit weird. Now we go to Legion Dalaran, where every portal but the Stormwind/Orgrimmar ones are gone, including the basement portals for artifact and class hall quests! We have no means now to get to the Caverns of Time directly, as those portals have all been removed. What?
What, on the surface, was a cool idea – consolidating portals into a standardized place – has become a victim of over-correction. Many of these portals have been in-game for years, and removing them to replace them with nothing is a bit of an odd decision.
On the forums, Bornakk’s justification, well, falls flat. Trying to sell the loss of convenience as a cool feature is, frankly, kind of insulting. Now, let me be clear here, because I am going to rant for a moment here in a few paragraphs, but the inconvenience is on the scale of minutes, rather than hours or noticeable chunks of playtime (well, currently adding 5 minutes once a week to my gameplay is equivalent to 2.1% of my weekly gametime in WoW, so…). It isn’t a catastrophic blunder, and it alone is not the reason people would quit playing, I would wager.
However, what it is to me is a tone-deaf, “play the game our way or else” kind of move. Travel time between locations isn’t fully an engaging experience – it’s actually one of their principal objections to us flying in the beginning of an expansion’s content! I don’t, past the first few flights, get really in the zone and focus on the world around me flying between Uldum and the Caverns of Time. I’m more likely to aim and auto-run, then get up and grab a drink or do something else while my character flies unattended. Mages can’t sell me portals there, so that doesn’t matter either. I have a Dalaran Hearthstone and a Garrison Hearthstone alongside my regular one, and between those 3, I can get to a lot of places in the world without an excess of annoyance.
A lot of players have suggested that there is a nefarious purpose to inflating travel time – it inflates the player metrics and shows more time spent playing. While I think that this is conspiracy-theory levels of silly, the other thing is – yeah, I kind of see that. Honestly, I can’t put it past my current vision of Blizzard – removing portals to increase “engaged” time sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would do if I knew that some asshole suit was watching the numbers and could just cut me out of a job because people aren’t playing.
The problem I run into with this is that I can’t even really justify it on any metric. I do think portals can remove the sense of a continuous world the game tries to portray, and on that level, I would be at least slightly understanding.
However, the portals they remove don’t even really change that – they just make it more infuriating to do. If I tossed my Dalaran Hearthstone, right now, I could still get there directly with the portals in my capitals. In 8.1.5, I have to take a random-ass Azsuna portal (seriously, why Aszuna?) and then fly up to Dalaran…unless I haven’t unlocked Legion Pathfinder 2, in which case, I have to take a flight path. Oh, and the Narthalas Academy location does not have a flight path! (CAN YOU FEEL THE CONVENIENCE OF PORTAL TRAVEL YET?!?!) What purpose can these changes actually serve? Sure, I’ve gained a central location for my portals, which is nice…unless it is a Cataclysm portal…and I lose most portals in other cities I did use on a semi-regular basis…and if I was new to the game and hadn’t unlocked Pathfinder for Legion or WoD, would be dumped in a location that would be highly annoying for travel to any content I might actually want to do, but also…none of these portals open up magical new options for mages to sell portals, because if I’m a level 100 character who has done the intro quests for Legion, I can go to Legion Dalaran from anywhere once every 15 minutes, and I can go to my Garrison in WoD once every 15, from which I can go to Stormshield (for whatever unknown reason I would want to go there), so the only portal option this even semi-opens is for mages to sell Shrine portals. Why bother with this degree of removal just to open up, realistically, one potential sales opportunity for mages?
Nothing changes the fact that Northrend, the BC race starter zones, Pandaria, the Broken Isles, or Zandalar and Kul Tiras are all supposed to be a part of this world of Azeroth but I can’t fly between them anyways! Portals weren’t hurting my immersion, because if I try to really explore and go to these places, I hit fatigue water and die. When is the last time people really, seriously bought portals from mages, and why would it warrant attention now?
As much as I would like to stick to my gut, and say that people pushing this as a means to increase MAU count are being silly and paranoid…I can’t find an alternate justification. It seems like the only real reason that makes sense is that some bean counter saw an easy chance to increase engagement time without adding actual content, and took the shot.
It’s a shame, because here is the thing about this patch – it actually has some cool content in it.
8.1.5 has actual escalation of tensions between the Horde and Alliance, and escalation of tensions within the Horde’s ranks! It has honest to god Heart of Azeroth content that brings an interesting sub plot to it! It has our first real taste of Old Gods and done in a legitimately interesting fashion! It has the stories for the new allied races, which are largely endcaps to 8.0 anyways, but hey – here they are! The new raid seems pretty cool, if small, and has gear with some interesting effects! The profession questlines…suck, but hey, it was at least a cool-sounding idea, not everything can be a winner!
Any goodwill I had towards the patch is dampened, however, by the fact that this iteration of Blizzard insists on putting itself into the hot seat for no good reason. There is no rationale outside of a cynical, awful business move for the portal changes. None. You could have kept the same options and put them in a fancy room, but you made a choice that required MORE IMPLEMENTATION WORK to deliver players LESS, and now you are spending the precious remaining community management resources explaining the nonsensical removal of fucking portals, instead of posting survival guides that hype me up for new features, talking about the Crucible of Storms, Old God lore, literally anything else, because you can’t pull your heads out of your asses long enough to realize that your portal change makes no fucking sense. You’ve left us with a snarky, ill-conceived forum response, a backpedal (the Legion Dalaran basement portals will be around for characters doing the class hall/artifact quests only), and with no actual justification provided for the change. Left with that, the playerbase is spending all their time trying to rationalize this change, and you’re running out of goodwill with many players – so naturally, many of us have gravitated to this being a shitty business decision – making gameplay more annoying to (hopefully) make me play longer, even if it is on a timescale of minutes per session.
Well, the joke is on you, if that is the case – this is the least amount of time played I’ve ever had in an expansion, even counting Warlords of Draenor, or the 4 months I spent not playing WoW at all during MoP due to life events. I’ve stopped mount farming – and not for a lack of wanting the drops I don’t have yet. I’ve stopped doing world quests – but not because I can’t use the rewards.
I’ve discovered that the only way to play the game is on my terms, and I’ve reclaimed my play time. And in truth, sure, I am still excited for elements of 8.1.5 – as disclosed above, many elements of the patch are (tentatively) quite promising and have me excited to try them. I will enjoy those elements, but a large part of that enjoyment will come from playing them on my own terms, rather than yours. I’m likely not doing world content at all until 8.2. I’ve done the war campaign once per faction (so thank you for my pending alliance wolf/horde horse pair), and I don’t have any inclination to do it again on alts.
The one trait that you’ve kept, Blizzard, throughout all of the game’s life, is this – you are ridiculously stubborn. The issue that brings, is that early in the game’s life, you were meaningfully stubborn – you fought to defend choices that often made the game better, even if they weren’t always 100% enjoyable, and I felt like someone legitimately believed in the changes and wanted to push through the choppy waters knowing there was smooth sailing after the initial resistance. But now? It borders on obstinate – telling me that the way I play isn’t what you had in mind, defending Azerite by claiming that you know it’s bad but the player power increase is great guys, or trying to defend decisions about mount speed, flight, and the ways in which we make our way around the world. Modern Blizzard defends bad decisions until we give up – on the change, on the game, or on Blizzard as a whole.
I’ve already given up on hope for most changes in BfA – I’m content to just raid until 9.0 and hope that the game is better next expansion. I can feel myself, more and more, feeling like I am just giving up on the game. I avoid reading r/wow, I stay off negative-WoW twitter, I don’t watch streams or YouTube videos from people who trash the game a lot, and yet, just in my own playtime, I feel apathy to it. I’m no longer delighted to play WoW, short of fleeting moments of raiding.
Changes like the portal removal are small, and on their own, insignificant. If the game was amazing in more aspects, portals wouldn’t be a hot topic, and Blizzard could remove all of them and tell us to hit the boats and airships when we want to ferry between zones, and you know what? If the game is 5+ hours a day engaging for me, I’ll take those awful transit methods, because the content on the other end is worth it.
But at this point in time? Pick your battles, Blizzard. Put the fucking portals back.