Things just got A LOT more interesting for WoW.
New datamining from Wowhead today revealed a big batch of new data that seems to lead us towards an expansion. The day started off in earnest, with a simple reveal, but as more was uncovered from the newest PTR build, an easy picture of the future came together quickly.
The first news – simple enough. Death Knight skin textures were uncovered in the newest build of the PTR. Not just any DK skin textures…but ones for every race that cannot currently be DKs. This was pretty telling and exciting all on its own, because the implication is very heavy – the current DK starting experience remains a story of the Lich King from Wrath-era, raising new DKs and setting them loose on Azeroth, only for them to rebel and break away. This has been the reason given that new races could not be them – they didn’t die in the Third War, so the Arthas-era Lich King didn’t have access to say…Pandaren corpses to raise.
This is quite exciting news, because given all of that, it points at something we all suspect – Shadowlands is the theme going forward, and there will be some mass death event or the base excuse of the Fourth War as the means to justify a new supply of bodies to raise as Death Knights.
However, that leaves something else in play – just who is doing the resurrections here, anyways?
In the theoretical space of “new death knights” there are a few players at this point in the lore that could be doing it. Lillian Voss uses a val’kyr to raise Thomas Zelling in the Horde war campaign from 8.0. Sylvanas has been generally more interested in resurrection and the accrual of lost souls, so maybe her. The Lich King spent the DK campaign in Legion building a new Four Horsemen, so that has been a thing. Hell, even player DKs got in on that!
However, there is both more and less clarity offered by the second piece of datamining from Wowhead today, one that really paints an interesting picture.
From this text we get a few incredibly large lore spoilers for the end of BfA, so I would say now is an opportune time to turn away if you really care.
N’Zoth is vanquished. Unlike much of the speculation going into the end of BfA, we end in a very Blizzard-ian fashion – the evil is vanquished, and yet not all is well. While N’Zoth has been dealt with, there is an uneasiness in the air around Sylvanas – Anduin specifically stating that he fears what a cornered Sylvanas is about to do, as she is roaming around undetected but Anduin feels threatened by this specifically.
Then…the topic of Bolvar Fordragon is raised. Taelia Fordragon, daughter of the current Lich King wants to meet her father, and she is pushing Jaina for that introduction. Jaina and Anduin discuss the difficulty of the choice before them – do they introduce the girl to her father in his current state and break her heart, or risk her finding out on her own and being both broken-hearted and incensed at them for concealing the truth? It is a difficult choice, one that carries a ton of weight, but the other thing it does in service of a Shadowlands expansion is introduce the Lich King to the proper, full lore for both factions. Horde players have already seen him via the Vol’jin quest, but now Alliance players have that lead-in established. It paints a picture of a 9.0 patch story with layered plots to introduce – Sylvanas, The Lich King, perhaps Bwonsamdi and Vol’jin, and the aftermath of whatever ultimately happens inside Ny’alotha. New Death Knights wandering the world from god only knows where.
Before this point, to be fair, I still was pretty firmly on the Shadowlands train, but this really pushes me onto it fully. 8.3 containing the skins for the Allied Races tells a more interesting story…
This year’s Blizzcon is being said to be a make or break within the company, with everyone well aware of how last year’s disappointed and eager to correct the path. A flurry of PTR activity for 8.3, with two builds in a week and each adding substantial content both playable and hidden points to an eagerness to get the news of what happens out ahead of Blizzcon.
Why? Well, at this point, we know that Blizzard uses the datamining sites for publicity. Blizzard proved with 8.2.5 that if they wanted to hide things from us in a patch, they could do so quite easily. Further, they know where the limits of dataminers lie – Saurfang’s new model leaked only via texture data – the same means that the Allied Race DKs have currently leaked, as the models that belong to the new textures are still encrypted (although, to be fair, since these are playable races, we have those models!). Blizzard has left a large amount of 8.3 open and visible via these means – there’s no longer any doubt. The broadcast text they left exposed, the texture data, the story beats – all of it suggests quite clearly that Blizzard is trying to sweep most of the BfA content off the table so that Blizzcon can be held exclusively to discuss 9.0. The thing that fascinates me most is that we have 3 weeks before Blizzcon day 1 at this point and if anywhere near this pacing is maintained through that time, we will have a lot to discuss.
Now, I expect that the major story beats of the raid will not be revealed in this way, at least not all of them. Wrathion’s corruption remains a mystery, as does his seeming non-corruption by the fight against N’Zoth. Jaina tells Anduin that N’Zoth’s threat is ended, but we have no idea how that occurs and what cost that bears. Azshara discusses helping us to defeat him (?!) but yet we don’t know what comes of that. There are new Il’gynoth whispers to decipher, all of which point forward with some looking at his Legion whispers and giving an idea that things have since changed – five torches to light the way is now five lanterns extinguished, among other choice references. There are likely to be handfuls of cinematics here to show us the way forward. Of course, the other thing that I find quite fascinating is the continued lack of Sylvanas in all of this. The new Jaina and Anduin broadcast text reference her, of course, but it leaves us wide open for what is likely to be a patch 8.3.5, and 9.0 – a combination of resolutions to the BfA plot threads and a full-force blast forward into the future.
Blizzcon 2019 has to make up for the completely lackluster 2018 con in nearly every way. Fans there live experienced a bevy of growing pains with space utilization and line management that will hopefully improve with the new space added and better usage of existing space. On the announcements side, I expect a full expansion for WoW and not aimless discussion of the game’s least popular expansion. I expect Diablo IV and a quiet snuffing of any mentions of Diablo Immortal (now not just because of the lackluster 2018 announcement but also because of the perilous nature of discussing that title and the involvement of Netease given the current Blizzard news). Overwatch needs more than maps and heroes. Heroes of the Storm…well, I’m not sure what to expect here, because the game is, despite Blizzard’s protests, quite obviously dying and it is hard to say what can come of it. Hearthstone needs…well, Hearthstone is going to have a lot of challenges coming out of this week. Overall, after a rough 2019 in terms of decision-making, public perception, and gameplay quality, Blizzard needs more than ever to reaffirm a commitment to their values, to the quality of their titles, to their audience, and to paving a better path forward on all fronts.
Patch 8.3 and the handling of its PTR phase has me absolutely excited for what is to come. While 8.3 is good, it is not the fresh start or reset switch an expansion is, and at this point, what I want from them is a commitment to starting fresh and dedicating themselves to getting back on solid footing with fans.
Now, if you want to skip discussion of the issue with Blizzard this week, feel free to head on down to the comments and let me know your Blizzcon predictions!
If you want to read this though, well, here we go.
I debated whether or not I wanted to address this at all – it’s a thorny issue with no clear winners and a lot of losers.
For those not in the know somehow at this point, Blizzard came under a lot of scrutiny this week for suspending a Hearthstone Grandmasters player, Blitzchung, for repeating a protest slogan from the ongoing movement in Hong Kong. In addition, he was stripped of his earnings, banned for a year, and the casters working the event in which this happened were fired.
There are many issues in play here. Blizzard acted according to their rules in the suspension of Blitzchung, which cite an ability to ban a player from the Grandmasters for any action that offends the audience or makes Blizzard look bad. This is a challenge, because yes, that is a rule, however, it’s also atrociously defined and leads to a lot of questions about enforcement (players at American College who put up a sign in their cam view during an event afterwards were disqualified from that event but have yet to face the same punishment). The firing of the casters seems a bit out of line, but at the same time, they are said to have encouraged Blitzchung to make the statement and ducked in anticipation of it.
Here’s the part where I stake a first key position – Blizzard is a publicly-traded company and has a duty to shareholders to maintain or increase profits. Currently, Vox estimates that around 12% of Blizzard’s overall revenue is from mainland China – not a big slice of the pie currently, but China is going through a lot of growing pains as its society grows more stratified and the expectation is that its economy is going to grow a larger middle class with disposable income. Blizzard as an entity must serve its shareholders with growth, and if their projections indicate that there is money on the table, they must take it, even if they must sweep a lesser amount of it aside with this action. To be clear, I do not like that this is the case, but as long as we are confined to live within a capitalist society, it is what it is. This is the same decision Blizzard has made previously with edits to their games, that many entertainment companies make to grow into this market. You can dislike it, but it is not a new phenomenon.
I have a position on the protests themselves outside of the context of gaming, but it would be too long to get into and frankly not worth doing here. Obviously worth stating is that I support people seeking freedom and their right to self-determination – but I also am willing to admit that I simply do not know enough about the parameters of the conflict to offer a meaningful take and so I’ll refrain.
Finally, the other position I take in this issue – I think Blizzard has bungled the response in a severe way and it risks making Blizzcon a distracting morass of protests or worse, dangerous. The only official statement I have seen as of this writing was posted to the Hearthstone Weibo feed in China, which doubled-down on their decision. Blizzard has, in the west, remained silent on the issue even as fans cancel subscriptions, delete accounts altogether, and constantly make the BlizzardBoycott hashtag trend in the US. Now, the actual numbers of these people canceling or deleting remains to be seen, but the appearance on the internet is that there is momentum in such a movement.
Here’s my distillation of my conflicted stance – I think Blizzard has absolutely handled this poorly in both the initial decision and their silence since. I think the Hong Kong issue is very complicated and a lot of people are projecting onto it in bad faith to use for their own political ends, with a lot of it feeling kind of gross. I saw a lot of disgusting posts on various Blizzard subreddits that voiced support for a Blizzard boycott with gross homophobic language, and the fact that a lot of bad faith actors like former WoW team member Mark Kern have signed on to the idea tells me that is a group of fellow travelers I never want to find myself in. I’ve felt for most of 2019 that the Blizzard I loved is dead or in a deep slumber, and the new Blizzard is a more corporate and greedy company and the quality of their output has gone down drastically. Having said that, I also am a firm believer in the idea that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.
As a result, I’m not really tapering my WoW time more than I already have, mainly because over the last year I have already tapered my spending of both money and time with Blizzard due to what I’ve perceived as quality gaps in their products. I did pickup my WoW 15th Anniversary Collector’s Edition and display the statue because it does represent a part of my life that has been significant in many ways. I do find myself slightly bothered with Blizzard, but more because I feel like the studio they represent themselves as would have been better able to make a sound decision and explain their rationale clearly, but 2019 Blizzard fired too many PR people and was obviously caught on the back foot with this despite how clear the optics were. Lastly, Blizzard did make a rule that gave them an out, but the rule is so shoddy and ill-defined that I can’t blame anyone for feeling like there is a sinister undertone to it, but to be perfectly clear, this is not Blizzard censoring anyone – Blitzchung said what he said to millions (and it obviously reached more people because of their actions) and Blizzard isn’t doing this to serve China – they’re doing it to serve themselves by making a choice to take what they project is a bigger marketshare and more profits because that is the rational behavior under our current economic system. Again, to be very clear – I loathe that, but I also understand it.
I don’t blame anyone for wanting to boycott Blizzard, for actually doing so, or for not wanting to and feeling how they feel about it. I would push back heavily on the idea of “injecting” politics into gaming – everything is political, and the fact that people believe that to not be the case says more about them than it does the media they are critical of.
In my mind, I have a small hope that there will be a glimmer of old Blizzard in a sweeping response to this that attempts to right the ship and balance for all parties involved, and I am somewhat optimistic that it will be addressed prior to Blizzcon. If that addressing is up to snuff is another matter altogether, and one that remains to be seen, but like all the 8.3 and 9.0 speculation in WoW, there’s not long until we find out!