Day one of a new patch is always an interesting sight.
Logging in, I hadn’t read up too much on the actual quest chain that would unfold, other than a “few hours” being the marked time needed. It was, in actuality, pretty easy to follow – a breadcrumb guides you to Anduin in Stormwind (as Alliance) and so you go there and follow a series of quests that unfold one at a time from there. The adventure, much like the nature of the patch, is a globetrotting one, but so far, it is relatively simple. If you somehow don’t look at the quest arrow reminding you that Uldum is right next to Silithus and find yourself porting around to take Uldum portals, it could get frustrating – and the change in Pandaria portals such that the one in Stormwind drops you in Jade Forest instead of Vale is annoying. Still, I didn’t find the travel time particularly annoying, and in fact, if you take the chance to fly overland (how many of us want!) when doing the back and forth, you get a good view of the changes to the two zones that pin together the patch.
I took it slowly – I worked out after work, I came home, ate dinner, watched some YouTube videos, and didn’t even log in until close to 9 PM. I had my cape equipped by midnight, and spent maybe another 30 minutes goofing around before logging out to respond to Shintar’s comment on one of my posts from yesterday!
My early impression of the story content is as it has been for most of BfA – the story content is where the design cohesion is most present – it means that the path is narrow and the chance for deviation is minimal, but I enjoyed it. At its core, WoW is a game about problem solving as your character – learning how to fight and solve challenging combat encounters, learning how to navigate the world effectively, sometimes solving environment puzzles, and generally asserting some agency within the world (of Warcraft). What I really enjoy about the world content so far is that it focuses in on this sharply – most of the puzzle solving world quests aren’t minigames done the same on every character, and most of the objectives of the Assault zones are you as your character getting to play. It feels pretty nice – no one asked me to stop what I was doing to play Bejeweled, pet battles are present but less common, and the assaults have what I liked about launch Warlords of Draenor’s endgame world content model. The objective of the assaults is simple – fill the bar. You get a few quests of standard variety (kill 8 of this mob, find 4 of this item, etc) and outside of that minimal guidance, the world is yours. If you want to do nothing but right click objects to fill the bar, you can (very carefully to avoid combat, but still). If you just want to enact Mogu genocide in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, that works and is a viable path to completion. Most players will likely take a mix of the two – killing packs of mobs and then right-clicking a few things to fill out your progress.
The additions to each zone are pretty cool, but it does depend on which segment of the zone is under assault as to how cool it looks. For me, the Vale was appropriately dressed up for Old God, with obelisks flying overhead, cultist banners all over, and tentacled monsters roaming as eyeballs fixed to the hills of the zone watched from above. Uldum was…well, not, as the assault was about the local threat rather than the Old God one, so while the abyss wyrms were flying overhead, the zone itself wasn’t really all that different.
The story being told is interesting, but definitely beats you over the head with the core themes and foreshadows the coming fall of N’Zoth very early on. The early quests that bring Wrathion back into the fold are interesting enough, and while the assault quests don’t have a lot of story on their bones, they do a good enough job of introducing why we’re in these zones specifically and how the assaults came to be. While Uldum has almost no actual changes outside of the assault specific ones, Vale has been impressively refitted in a way that maintains some references to the 5.4 Eternal Sorrow-ing that was done to the Vale. It looks like it did in 5.3, but during the current assault, you can fly into the gatekeeper statue just like Siege of Orgrimmar’s early bosses and fight through a void-corrupted version of it. Also, they made slight tweaks for the Rajani encampment and my favorite change, the sealed up underwater door to Siege of Orgrimmar (which is good, because the early PTR phase I played had the original 5.3 Vale geometry and that meant that it was like Siege never happened and you couldn’t zone in!)
I have yet to do a live-version Horrific Vision, so not much to say there yet, but I did complete both Assaults and received my first corrupted items…which were lower item level and worse stats, so I didn’t equip them. If you’re looking to play catchup on item level, it seems like the patch will definitely do that well – you get a choice of 430 Azerite armor pieces for a Rajani quest early on, the corrupted bracer I got from an Assault chest was 440 (unclear if this is item level scaled for the reward, however) and the catchup gear (which I haven’t seen yet) seems like it will make pushing an alt over 415 quite simple.
Also, as my last positive, the Ny’alotha raid portal has whispers that get louder as you get closer, which is an awesome bit of flavor.
Now, onto the bad.
The quest chain being so long up front is fine in that after a long break from the game, it gets you a ton of stuff to do. However, it also feels too long for one sitting (and it is clearly designed to be done rapidly) and it makes me concerned for what future lack of content that will bring about. In Legion, Broken Shore’s 11 week model was too thin over too long, and Argus’ 3 week story chain was packed fairly dense but did feel better, but this is too dense. I think the story would have benefitted from being a 3-5 week affair, and if you really want everyone to have the legendary cape before doing Ny’alotha, that’s fine – just introduce it earlier in the chain. Wrathion even introduces that he’s been researching the corruption of N’Zoth at the beginning of the quests and then kind of sits on the side for an hour or so until you end up in a vision of N’Zoth and suddenly now he pops back up to share his ideas.
The game does a somewhat poor job of delineating the repeatable content from the one time content. I fully expect a player not paying a ton of attention will blitz through the story content and not really look at the repeatable stuff until a guildie prods them about it. While I’m happy the assaults exist alongside the existing emissary quests rather than just being a longer rotation, it is somewhat harder to tell what is actually repeatable, and the map button about Assault content can be easy to miss.
Blizzard has sidequests already prepared and ready to go, which is great, but if you logged out pre-patch in Boralus (not sure for Horde), you’ll get a breadcrumb to go to Anduin but have the option to pick up a quest from Jaina to run off to continue the Calia Menethil/Derek Proudmoore saga. It’s still pretty clear which one the game wants you to do first (it pushes the Anduin quest at you aggressively while the Jaina quest is just an exclamation mark on the map) but if you aren’t particularly engaged or paying attention, it can be easy to miss that.
I’m irritated that the team spent the early patches making War Resources a semi-precious resource, with world quest rewards for them being paltry, only for the early quests of Visions of N’Zoth to toss piles of them at you. On the other hand, this is a net good for what is likely going to be the longest-lived patch of 8.x, but still!
The revamp of Uldum and Vale of Eternal Blossoms, while cool, still feel out of place for a long-lived final patch. Sure, the zones have multiple invasion areas with different enemies and such, but it still feels like a cop-out over making Ny’alotha a real place we can go to, or some other zone that would be new. My hopeful thought on this topic is that by using old zones revamped, Blizzard can allocate more team members to Shadowlands sooner and push that over the finish line faster, but if we do indeed end up waiting for August or September (or later!) for the expansion, that is going to feel really bad. I don’t want to harp on this too much, because I do actually like the idea on some level – using old zones for current content is a reminder of the mass of Azeroth and feels more real on some level – Uldum and Vale aren’t completely and eternally peaceful just because we did some quests there 8-10 years ago (also, holy shit, that is the first time I thought about the age of those zones, and now I’m having a reckoning with mortality…). I would like to see more of it, in fact! However, I think it needs to accompany fresh new content, and that distills down my feelings on the matter nicely.
The content loop feels like it will be really thin overall, which is probably my biggest complaint. The front-loaded quests are great, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be a couple of assaults every few days, and a few runs of HVs per week. Once March comes around, you can max-rank your cloak and any farming past that is just running up the numbers on Corruption resistance. Having said that, I think the ease with which the increased item level will allow players to run roughshod over older BfA content is going to allow some farming, I think raid soloing will get exponentially easier if you are mount farming, and I do think Ny’alotha is built to last, as the mechanics seem interesting and it is the largest raid in BfA by a fair amount of bosses, which helps. However, it is also worth keeping this in mind – BfA raids have suffered from a lack of farmability as no tier sets per class means everyone needs to farm once per armor type to have a full set, and if this patch stretches past 6 months, the number of people running Ny’alotha is going to be sharply reduced. We’ve already seen raiding start BfA at a lower point than expected in terms of total numbers of guilds running content, and that trend has only continued downward over the expansion.
Corruption is a cool idea, but it has some worrying prospects. One of the worst players in my guild got an Infinite Star corruption piece, which is currently seemingly overtuned and vastly OP. He is carrying enough corruption to mess with other players, and doesn’t want to cleanse it because of the DPS increase of Infinite Star. So, our raid leader now has to either – A. let him keep it and try to watch for and coach around fuck-ups in managing the mechanic, or B. tell him to cleanse it and deal with the fallout of restricting that choice. As I predicted, most guide sites have come through with early sims and guides and you can look to see if a trait suits your played specs pretty easily. Of course, if you have multiple specs you play, you may end up needing to maintain multiple sets of corrupted gear, which, while a minor nuisance, means more bag space being plugged up.
Speaking of bag space, the assaults continues the Nazjatar/Mechagon trend of tons of weird drop items that are used for various puzzles in the new zones or certain rare things, like tethers to catch a rare mount or various shards, eyeballs, and corrupted bits alongside lots of flavorful trash drops. It’s cool that the game works in these little puzzles and hidden things, even if they aren’t for me personally, but the amount of bag space one can dedicate to these things grows to be excessive.
Lastly, something I touched on yesterday when discussing ephemeral grinds – the lack of transparency on so many of the new mechanics is bothersome. Cloak rank-up caps, the return of Artifact Knowledge with no in-game indicator or warning short of drastic drops in AP needed – these things just make the game harder to interpret clearly and more prone to exaggeration and misstatement. The only way I can see to make these mechanics clear to me is to use a third-party website, and for a game that smacks me in the face with a giant splash screen on first patch login, that feels weird and wrong.
Overall, my day one impressions can be summed up thusly – Visions of N’Zoth is a fun patch with interesting content, but if it has a lifecycle like most end patches in past WoW expansions, ooh boy, this content is just not enough to last. Hell, at this pace, I hope we have a 9.0 pre-patch in June – which won’t happen, but I fear that there just isn’t enough here with 8.3 to really keep everyone invested until we cross the finish line. Arguably, the activity I’m most likely to engage in is Heritage Armor questing and Allied Race stuff, and even that feels like it would be a waste given that when 9.0 comes out, the time investment needed will be drastically reduced.
The raid and a few weeks of regular play remain to get a true impression, but for now, if this is the bulk of patch 8.3, I have some serious apprehensions about how well the game will survive in the lead-up to Shadowlands.