In my recent month in review post, I indicated that I had actually spent a majority of my January 2020 gametime engaged with World of Warcraft and having something resembling fun – despite my concerns with the design of patch 8.3 and its content.
So what happened, and how did I end up here?
Firstly, there is a simple explanation – I’ve played the game for nearly 15 years and even when I’m not enjoying it as much, I find enjoyment where I can. Is it a weird brand-loyal Stockholm Syndrome? Maybe. But I can distill it down using some of the analysis I enjoy I doing into a series of gameplay and psychological reasons outside of that!
Patch 8.3 Brings The End of Battle for Azeroth Into Focus: Unlike other patches this expansion, 8.3 has the advantage of being the last one. It means it is going to be long-lived, that the game is at a point of stability in gearing and reward cycle at which there won’t be a sudden inflation until Shadowlands, and it means the full slate of BfA content is available to me on alts to wind through at my leisure. Since my alts have been swimming in Benthic token gear, this is great, because they can do the Nazjatar opening quests, get Essences unlocked, and roll right into N’Zoth stuff.
End of Expansion Means Defined Endpoints on Goals: My absolute favorite thing about the last cycle of content in any WoW expansion, especially for my stable of alts, is that the goals I’d like to reach are well defined, obtainable, and unlikely to change. Currently, I’ve been cycling through alts, getting them up to 430 item level average, and it has taken shockingly little time. In Legion, for example, my goal was to brush up around 910 item level, which I could do from Relinquished tokens and some LFR. With the current gearing mechanisms in Season 4, I can get to 430 relatively quickly – sure, it means most of my pieces are actually 415-425 with the legendary cloak bringing the average up, but still – it feels better and gives me a defined endpoint for most of my alts – whatever I can get through World Quests plus Horrific Visions, N’Zoth Assaults, and any dungeons or events I choose to do.
End of Expansion Catchup Is Better: Prior to Season 4 starting, my early impressions of 8.3’s catchup mechanics were that, well, they sucked. However, with world quests starting around 385 gear for my characters, and very quickly scaling beyond as high as 420 (and some 430 and even 445 rewards!), the Black Empire gear tokens are almost completely superfluous. While I still think world quest rewards scaling so high is bad from the sake of content tiering and the structure of reward systems in the game, from a selfish perspective, I enjoy being able to gear an alt quickly.
This gets better with the Heart of Azeroth, but in a confusing way. In patch 8.2, completing the Nazjatar introduction quests and then the subsequent Essence quest chain for your first Azerite Essence leveled your Heart of Azeroth to level 35, unlocking the first slot. However, in patch 8.3, it now goes immediately to level 50, which makes latecomers to the expansion or late-blooming alts save a decent chunk of time (the acquisition of around 15,000 AP). If, however, you were an unfortunate soul who did Nazjatar as current content, well, you don’t get that benefit. For me, I have only a few alts that did the Essence questline, but more who did not, so for them, the HoA level up process is vastly easier. I am somewhat mystified as to why Blizzard would leave such a big gap (almost, in a way punishing those who pushed their alts through the Essence quest as current content) but while the gap is somewhat large, a few days of emmissary quests will close the gap relatively quickly. The patch 8.3 questline, long as it is, serves another valuable purpose – pushing a ton of new essences at you. For a main who has done some content, the new essences are only really useful as Corruption Resistance until upgraded in many cases, but for an alt with only the Crucible of Flame essence? These are invaluable.
Altogether, being able to quickly get up to speed and powered up to where content doesn’t feel bad on an alt makes the game more fun, and knowing that power will (likely) help progress through leveling content in Shadowlands is also an incentive.
Horrific Visions Are Just Fun (For Me): This one is subjective, but I have been enjoying the Horrific Visions across 4 characters. Granted, something worth saying is this – I absolutely believe the tuning of the solo experience in them is garbage. My Havoc DH has 4-chested a solo run, where my priest can barely pull two packs near the front door without a serious risk of death (not even sanity loss!). The inbalance of the solo design doesn’t make me want to find a group – playing these in a group is frustrating to me, and, further, there are rewards and acheivements tied to doing the highest difficulty of these alone! I’d rather not chain my progress to the slowest member of a group, or have a wasted orb like I did in a guild run where I was calling orb usage. I vastly prefer these as tests of my own skill, without wasted time communicating a route and strategy to a group.
So they are far from perfect in every regard, but on my Havoc DH, I absolutely adore them. On that character, they are a great skill test and force a lot of careful contemplation – how to move, what route to take, what to pull, what cooldowns to use when, how to manage sanity, when to use orbs, when to allow my sanity to bottom out for the one-time saving throw talent to rescue me to keep my sanity efficiency high, etc. There is a ton of stuff to think about strategically, and I really love that about playing them on that character. My Beast Mastery Hunter is probably the closest to matching my DH on efficiency – able to cut down swaths of enemies quickly, durable and survivable, and with a fair bit of utility in damage reduction, pull management, and the like.
Other Pre-8.3 BfA Goals: I haven’t yet unlocked Mechagnomes or Vulpera, which has currently meant using my DH to farm the Rustbolt rep and waiting to do the same with my Horde DH for the Vulpera. As my raid main is at a 448 average gear level, she melts most things in Mechagon now, which makes them fun for a quick catchup. In a way, it gives me what I like about WoW world content and wish BfA had more of – where my subconscious skill with my class and spec can carry me to victory such that I can watch YouTube or Netflix, listen to podcasts, or otherwise disengage from the game while remaining in it.
Now, all of these things still leave the bitter core of patch 8.3 to address. Ultimately, I still have a lot of distaste for the core design – the multiple levels of gating on Horrific Visions (this weekend I finally “wasted” vials on my DH to farm Corrupted Mementos for power upgrades in the HVs, which has helped), the grindy nature of the cape especially if you want to engage with Corrupted gear with the best benefits, and the requirement schedule for getting enough Coalescing Visions to be able to stay on top of your cloak upgrades, which will get worse this next week as it becomes flat-out mandatory to run multiple HVs for a single rank. Couple these with some general feeling of “meh” about the raid content (I like it, but the difficulty curve on Normal is basically flat until maybe Ra’den and then falls off until the real N’Zoth fight), and I do think that if Shadowlands is coming out any later than August 2020, this is a damn weak hand to play with.
On the other hand, it is a patch that offers options in such a way that I can engage quickly, get something out of it, and bail out when I’m done. Yes, assault zones are tough…if you are killing mobs for the progress. If you do the world event puzzles? Much, much faster – each one grants 15-30% progress, so if you pull up the “Today In…” post on Wowhead, go to the marked event spots, and complete them, you can finish even the major assault in 10 minutes flat. For me, I can spend 40 minutes to do assaults across 4 characters, once a week, and then another 40 twice a week for the minor assaults on the same 4 characters. Everyone gets 3 pieces of gear, two HVs worth of entry currency, and a small dose of Azerite. An HV takes around 15-20 minutes, and I can run those for fun across my stable of cloak-bearing characters in about another 2 hours a week – but two hours that I really enjoy the challenge of. If I don’t want to do them on my alts, or hell, even my main – I don’t have to. Just having the cape is enough for raiding, and ranking it up merely gives you the added benefits of being able to equip more corrupted gear – if you so choose. Lastly, if I really want the extra HV attempts, I can do the daily minor vision in about 6 minutes a character, at the worst. It gives enough currency to push an extra HV every week, but generally, that means that my treatment varies by character (raid main – absolutely, do these every day. Priest alt? Eh, maybe two HVs a week is enough!).
In that, I do find some enjoyment – I generally enjoy the Horrific Visions, so wanting to do them propels me through the other activities, which I generally don’t dislike either – they’re not the peak of the game for me, but in a time crunch, I can choose to do the world puzzles for quick Coalescing Vision acquisition and then be able to test my skills in the Horrific Visions, or I can test my skills in the world, take longer to play through the content on alts, and have less time on my slate to push HVs. While I rave about being able to partake in world content with my character and their skills, this is a trade-off I can accept making – HVs test my character skills far more than world content, and thus engage that part of my brain far more than what tends to happen in open-world stuff.
So, now closer to a month into this patch? I still think it has major flaws that will begin to peel away players over time. However, for myself, I’ve found a bit of peace that I was missing with the prior BfA patches, and, despite intellectually knowing that the patch is not the greatest thing ever, it ends up feeling much closer to a complete, coherent content cycle than most of BfA has. As a result of that, it has my attention and has been enjoyable for me to play – for now. I imagine if you ask me in a month, or two months, and I’ll likely be desperately begging for Shadowlands details or an alpha test, but for now? It has me playing WoW again and enjoying it, at least a little bit, and some of that non-raid time is even being spent focused on the game, not half-attentively pressing hotkeys while watching GameGrumps videos on my second monitor. For BfA, that is a win, and for me, it at least justifies keeping a subscription.