This week sees patch 8.1.5 launch, and it largely continues the development path we have seen thus far in Battle for Azeroth – more content along the same lines as that which we have already had over the course of this expansion. The war campaign progresses, the Heart of Azeroth gains some more power (and some ominous foreshadowing?), and a mini-raid is due to open next month, bringing with it 2 new bosses and our first glimpse at the Old God-infused future we all suspected was coming before the expansion was announced.
While there is some content in 8.1.5 that I think is genuinely exciting (although likely not to add much to my overall playtime past this week), I think the easiest way to state how many of us seem to feel about the patch is this: it continues the 8.0 philosophy and design, for better or for worse. If you are currently enjoying the game, it will offer you more things to enjoy, and if you aren’t, well, it will likely prod at you with the design philosophy.
However, for someone like myself, dissatisfied with the current state of the expansion but always anticipating the next new content release, 8.1.5 releasing to live servers marks another possibility – PTR servers will be available to test new content. What new content?
Why, patch 8.2, of course.
Why Be Excited for 8.2?
My excitement for patch 8.2 stems from the fact that it will be the first major content patch of Battle for Azeroth where production should have been done almost completely post-launch, at a point where the flaws in the expansion were apparent. Past alpha, past beta, past the early hype and likely designed mostly at the period when the fanbase was starting to reach an open revolt. Now, I speculated that 8.1 would learn from the alpha and beta feedback and iterate upon it – and I was mostly wrong. However, I do think that the larger amount of live feedback should feed into a successful patch 8.2 – it is certainly my hope.
To tie back into that point, the only things that have been announced publicly about the patch so far do seem to indicate a degree of atonement on Blizzard’s behalf. Patch 8.2 is where all Azerite rings on armor are active, in favor of the necklace having powers that must be obtained via leveling it through Artifact Power. While this may not end up being everyone’s cup of tea either (I haven’t seen anyone express love of the current Azerite system, although I imagine someone out there does), it represents a positive response to player feedback, rather than an obtuse double-down on an unpopular design. The other bit of gameplay design was mentioned somewhat offhandedly during the Blizzcon 2018 What’s Next panel, in which the team indicated that World Quests in Nazjatar might work differently – what this means is currently completely unknown, but for me personally, an iteration on World Quests as a system is something the game needs to help make that gameplay more interesting and rewarding.
Next, patch 8.2 story has the potential to be exactly what the expansion has needed. To date, we’ve had a story that is largely defined by what faction you play, and the full scope of the experience isn’t presented to either faction. Horde, to date, have had the weaker main ally story (I like the Zandalari, but the abundance of new characters reduces the excitement somewhat) but the stronger war campaign (the intrigue of Vol’jin, Saurfang’s subplot, and the overall conflict between Horde leaders and Sylvanas), while the Alliance have had, in my opinion, a stronger main ally story (having Jaina to link us to the Kul Tirans makes their story immediately have greater stakes) but a weaker war campaign (we did get to siege Dazar’Alor, but the overall war campaign has a dearth of interesting moments).
However, 8.2 brings a change in that while it seems like our campaigns begin separately, everything finally merges together in Nazjatar. We have separate camps there, but the threat is the same to both factions, and a new zone with a new story should allow both factions to go through largely the same story, which should enhance the overall experience. One of the weak points of BfA for me so far has been that the story is very hit or miss as someone who has played both factions, with elements presented in one side’s story that are never paid off or presented in the others. Unifying both factions into a single place should help with that, and having a single threat that both factions want to stop should definitely help that. The ultimate goal of both factions should be to stop Azshara, and while we may get there in different ways, my expectation is that the presence of a villain with whom both factions are acquainted should definitely help that storytelling along, and will be the first time this expansion (short of Crucible of Storms) where a raid has offered an identical motivation for both factions.
Patch 8.2 also promises a ton of new content, with two new zones, a mega-dungeon, a new raid, a new season with the item level upgrades and Mythic Plus affix that will bring, the questlines and World Quests that will likely belong to both new zones, our flying unlock, and hopefully even more. How well these things are made and received remains to be seen, but I would wager these will be better bits of content than we’ve had thus far this expansion.
For me personally, a new raid is definitely a valuable bit of content, and an 8-boss raid with Azshara at the end is something we’ve been anticipating for as long as the game itself has been out! Done well, this will be a memorable raid tier. A mega-dungeon also adds a lot, as Return to Karazhan demonstrated in its initial implementation in Legion, however, Karazhan has a rich history in WoW lore and gameplay, where Mechagon is a fully new thing. Will it live up to the bar of Karazhan 2.0? That remains to be seen.
However, there is not long to wait before we see more, as the whole point of this post is to put up this speculation – we will see datamining of this content by the end of March, I will wager.
Having patch 8.1.5 on PTR much longer serves little purpose, as much of the raid testing for Crucible of Storms has already been done, and I suspect that with 8.1.5 on live servers this week, we’ll only need 1-2 weeks past that before an early, incomplete 8.2 build winds up on PTR, with limited features for testing. If I had to guess, my expectation would be that PTR starts with only one of the new zones live, and I think it may end up being Mechagon, as I believe it has been in development longer (there are a lot of hints to it in Tiragarde that point to it being an earlier concept). I could be wrong on that, however, as Nazjatar is likely to be crucial for the flying unlock and much of the core content of the patch.
My excitement for this patch is pretty high, as if done well, I think it has the potential to be a very excellent content patch that rights the path for the rest of the expansion. I place a lot of value in the unification of the storylines, as I think the narrative will be much better off for committing the full extent of Blizzard’s writers to a single main story track. Nazjatar is a lore-rich environment, and that should provide fertile ground for us to move the story of Battle for Azeroth forward.
What little we do know of the gameplay changes excites me, as the Heart of Azeroth system has been a thorn in my side for the entire duration of the expansion thus far, with only minor relief via 8.1, and the idea of revamping world quests is a good one that I think was needed in 8.0. What Blizzard wants to do with them remains to be seen (and I fully acknowledge that what they might want to do to world quests could be worse!) but I am holding out some faith to the team that they will do right by us with the changes to come.
Bring on the new content, and with it, hopefully, a new lease on life for WoW!