Something I think Blizzard absolutely nailed in Legion and has fallen down on in Battle for Azeroth is release pacing.
By this, I don’t mean the 77 days, 11 weeks nonsense either – while that was nice, it is also not really the root of my desire to write this today.
Legion had a cadence of releases that was faster, but it also had a pattern, in retrospect. The major 7.x patches contained a new 5-player dungeon, new story quests, and the post 7.1 major releases also both included new world zones and Artifact weapon revamps, with Concordance of the Legionfall and the Netherlight Crucible. The raid data was also present in the patch, but not really opened – the one exception being Trial of Valor, which was designed to slot into the space between Emerald Nightmare and Nighthold, leaving ToV to open in 7.1.
Then, you had the “minor” patches, the 7.x.5 ones. These opened a raid (only exception being Antorus, which was opened with 7.3.2) and with the raid came world bosses, some additional quests, and a cinematic.
This pacing was nice not just because of the steady release schedule, but also because every patch had a major, marquee piece of content. 7.2.5 could have been a dull patch, but having Tomb of Sargeras made it interesting (until we saw the mechanics of the raid). Blizzard could have released Nighthold near launch, but by tuning it and holding the raid in the wings, we got to have a full Suramar Insurrection storyline play out prior to the raid. 7.2 was kind of padding the content schedule with its “one quest a week” storyline, but it also had the Mage Tower and that pulled people in to play (even if they gave up and waited for later to out gear).
It’s what I like about the Final Fantasy XIV patch schedule – they have a cadence of consistent content releases and you know what to expect and when.
Part of the reason that I think BfA has fallen down in this regard is that patch content has been bereft of content or consistency. We’ve had 3 raid tiers over 3 raid zones, but Legion in the same span had 4 raid zones as 2 tiers. We’ve had the Operation: Mechagon megadungeon, but Legion in the same patch version had the Return to Karazhan megadungeon and Cathedral of Eternal Night added, with CoES also having a Mythic Plus version to expand that gameplay mode. In solo content, BfA has added two world zones vs. Legion’s 1 to this point, but Legion also had solo gameplay via the Mage Tower (guys, I loved the Mage Tower), added world quests to the original zones, and had the building mechanic on the Broken Shore that could change the gameplay available by adding different enemies, treasure chests, world bosses, and the Mage Tower (I really loved the Mage Tower).
Sure, at this point, BfA has had more cinematics and decoupled many of them from raids, and the world zone point is one that can be legitimately counted as a point in favor of BfA, I feel like the overall content structure just hasn’t added that much. BfA has added more Islands and two warfronts – Darkshore and the Heroic version of Arathi Highlands, which is an advantage for it as well. You could also argue that the 8.2 story content was more fully-featured than that of 7.2, and that 8.1 story content also likewise was more featured than that of 7.1, all of which are things BfA has working for it.
However, I think that for a player like me, I am missing content to sink my teeth into in BfA. Nothing has really struck me like Legion patches, and I think a part of that is that Legion patches had more variety. Broken Shore construction turn-ins, as meh and bland as they were, did add something to the game and made Broken Shore more of a steady hub. It also added player choice to the zone on a wider scale – the server could collectively pool its resources behind one of the projects in order to further their goals. If the Mage Tower was close to being up, I would spend more time on Broken Shore putting in the effort in order to make sure it went up (guys, I really…think this joke has run its course). Mechagon and Nazjatar have rotating elements which in theory can work similarly, but there is no choice to work towards and since Wowhead posts the current day’s events quite helpfully, if you have no need of the current events, there is no reason to log in. It is a part of something we talked a lot about at the start of the expansion – player agency.
Perhaps another post is brewing in that – and I have some ideas – but broadly, I would state that while Blizzard has done well in restoring player agency in some places (Mythic Plus azerite gear farming) they’ve continued to deny it in others. I do think Nazjatar and Mechagon would be cooler if you could push for certain events to take place by doing certain quests or contributing manapearls to an effort – or if you could pick one of your bodyguard choices from Nazjatar to join your war campaign and be selectable from the mission board, with a very special trait to help mission success (I want the mission board to burn to ash and never return, but its an example!). Having the choice of bodyguards is cool, and I really like it – I just want more things like that, and for them to have broader reach. Being able to control or influence events, being able to create special events (if you ever reached the weirdness of having all three Broken Shore buildings up at once, it created a different set of gameplay than one up, two up, or none up) – all of these things make players feel like their actions matter.
The lack of these leads to a feeling of ennui with the current content – the zones are cool, sure, but if I don’t need reputation or the rewards from today’s event spawns, then I have no need to even play the content. The launch dungeons are cool, but the sense of reward is out of whack and I have no desire to play them as a result – I haven’t entered a dungeon in WoW short of a raid since January – I need to do Operation Mechagon but just haven’t brought myself to it. There just hasn’t been that lure to log in with new content, because it just feels like there isn’t as much.
This weakness in BfA’s patch consistency is at the forefront of my current feelings about 8.2.5. Plot aside, my biggest beef with 8.2.5 is a stunning lack of content. The war campaign and related Wrathion quests is all you get. There’s nothing more to do or look at, and while they could hotfix in something before a patch 8.3, the likelihood of that is pretty slim. To be fair, while this maps with the lack of story content in 7.x.5 patches in Legion, it also would have been the opening of the new raid last expansion, so we would have had something else to go with it. Having just the War Campaign quests, from a purely gameplay perspective, is pretty weak. If you take the quests slowly, listening to all the dialogue in them, you get an hour of new gameplay, tops. If you like Timewalking raids, Firelands adds something, and the bee quest for Alliance players addresses the discrepancy of Horde players who could already get Kua’fon, and the gameplay of those is…well, it is present.
Personally, I hope that Blizzard locks into a groove like they did in Legion for 9.0 and forward, with steady, planned content releases and consistent scheduling and staggering of content. The dungeon > raid cadence of patch releases was really cool because it meant you could run the dungeon a handful of times alongside the existing raid tier, and then you’d have a new raid a little less than 3 months later.
Either way, Blizzard needs to do something major to hook players in with 9.0, and at this point, we only have a month (in all likelihood) to find out.