One of the WoW bloggers I’ve followed the longest in Matt Low, aka Matticus. I’ve followed him from WoW Insider/WoW.com/Blizzard Watch through to his own site, maintained a little less frequently, World of Matticus. His recent return to writing there carried an interesting post that got me thinking, and will fit nicely later this week when I write about community toxicity, titled Don’t Ask Your Guild About Shadowlands. It was insightful and interesting, and I wanted to discuss it briefly today.
To start with, I’m going to take a diversion into talking about another favorite topic of mine – pro wrestling! (It’ll be short and fits really well, I promise.)
In wrestling journalism (don’t laugh, it’s a thing), the man atop the shitheap is Dave Meltzer. Now, Meltzer is an odd, old guy. He has a dry sense of humor and a lot of things fly over his head, and he has a lot of internal hangups of his own (don’t read him writing about women’s wrestling or sexual assault allegations in the industry, because he cannot overcome his own biases there) but he is still the sort of de facto news guy in pro wrestling and has been for a long time. Infamously, Hulk Hogan burned a copy of his newsletter on a WCW pay-per-view broadcast in the mid-nineties – that far back, and even beyond.
This creates a sort of interesting effect, in which a lot of news sites around wrestling will read the Wrestling Observer (Meltzer’s newsletter) or listen to the various podcasts and radio shows put out by him, and then paraphrase or abbreviate what he says while using the most salacious bits as headline fodder. This leads to an effect where people will wrongly accuse Meltzer of having reported X or Y thing, when in fact, he mentioned something different or things were taken out of context to present a more interesting headline, which also has the side effect of masking some of the bad things he does editorialize about. Sometimes, a source feeds him a bunk story and he casts doubt on it but the doubt isn’t reported, or will say a tentative plan for upcoming WWE events is a certain storyline but plans can change, and when they do, he catches flak for it even though his paywalled writing and podcasting discussed it with proper framing. The end result – people’s opinions of Meltzer, his writing, or even the shows he covers, tend to be framed without full context and it is often too easy to find an opinion from someone who hasn’t even seen the show in question who will quote or misquote his opinion as their own!
WoW functions a lot like this as well at a community level. Most people (myself often included) get our news and breaking stories from Wowhead. Wowhead is a great site that does great work, but one of the things they often do is aggregate community content and present it to the larger fan base. They might watch an obscure creator who has media credentials with Blizzard, and summarize the stream with a live blog that contains inaccuracies – which, I believe with Wowhead, are rooted in a desire to get content up timely and aren’t malicious in any way (and sometimes are because the streamer/Blizzard guest misspeak). Likewise, many of us read fellow bloggers who perhaps are disenchanted with the game, who then haphazardly read partial information, frame it through their lens, and write a sizzling diatribe which lambastes Blizzard for things that they, well, haven’t done.
Today, my guild Discord lit up for a bit because of the discussion around the Gamescom animated series debut for Shadowlands, and some discussion turned to that also having a release date announcement. Speculation from that led to people talking about prepatch, and I pointed out that the content on prepatch, so far at least, seems to be the Wrath scourge invasion redone, a new world boss (no spoilers here), and some early story content that will likely push towards Icecrown and maybe even let us do the Maw experience early, similar to how Legion and BfA pre-patch allowed early access to elements of their starting experiences. This turned into a bit of a downer, as people discussed not being excited for Shadowlands, and some had even bet gold with each other that the game wouldn’t launch this year (which, to be frank, was the stupidest bet you could make, since Bobby Kotick’s pockets absolutely must see the game launch this year so I can continue to be ashamed of sharing a nickname with him – although perhaps on my 35th birthday in a couple of months I can start being a Robert to win some dignity back!).
In short – everything Matticus’ post described unfolded relatively quickly.
It’s not the first time I’ve noticed a general sort of apathy to Shadowlands. I’ve felt it at times, and had some concerns about balancing, content, the story (especially after playing Beta!), and couple that with my documented anxiety about my guild situation and how I may not continue on with them much longer, and it creates a sort of black hole where my excitement would be. Truth be told, I haven’t played the Shadowlands beta since moving into my new apartment over 3 weeks ago. Now, some of that is that I largely experienced what I wanted, did a lot of bug testing and feedback submission, and might have some desire to preserve parts of the experience for launch. Some of that is due to Final Fantasy XIV’s patch 5.3 absolutely conquering my MMO gameplay time with just how great it has been. Some of that is due to personal projects, unpacking, and dealing with various real life burdens and joys – I have a rescheduled wedding in less than two weeks and a myriad of other life things going on. Some of that has been other games capturing some time – I played Fall Guys at launch (when possible, heh), I’ve sunk an absurd number of hours into House Flipper over the last week (over a full day played in around 5 days real time, according to Steam!), and I even cleared a title off my backlog (finally played and finished Dear Esther Landmark Edition, a feat which took all of about 55 minutes – I enjoyed it though!).
However, I would be lying to say that I wasn’t excited somewhere inside for Shadowlands. I preordered the physical Collector’s Edition against my own better judgment, after having already purchased the highest-tier digital preorder (oh god, I am the problem, aren’t I?). I voraciously consumed the early stages of Beta and was all too eager to report back daily with hours of new impressions and over a gigabyte of screenshots (I know how big it was because I had to clean up my NVME drive yesterday for more space!). I’ll probably stay up (or wake up early? I haven’t checked the times yet) for the Gamescom announcements, even if it entails an incredibly awkward livestream with Ion staring around the camera lens like he’s watching a fly twirl around it. I’ve started putting serious thought into what class and role I want to play in Shadowlands (I’ve thought about abandoning Demon Hunter gameplay for my original Priest main, or perhaps even moving to something like Paladin for healing or Hunter for DPS) because I need to provide that information to my current guild or use it when shopping for a new one if it comes to that.
Yet, I think that what Matticus observes is fair and valid. For as excited as I truly am for the expansion, it’s not quite enough for me to gush on Discord to guildies or in guild chat or our brief Mythic Jaina cheese raid chats. That hype is tempered and muted by some of the looming problems that have yet to be fully addressed by Blizzard – covenant balance remains a hot-button, perhaps doubly-so with the introduction of dungeon perks which work in Mythic Plus, class balance and fun remains iffy with layers of borrowed power systems needed to create some fun depending on your spec, the story through level-up remains a sort of oddly non-cohesive experience that doesn’t seem to offer a lot of great content (although there are some gems there), and gates some of the best stuff behind covenant walls, and there is a valid concern over endgame content models and how well the Maw, Torghast, reimagined World Quest systems, and classic WoW endgame modes will hold up past the first few weeks of the expansion. Torghast is fun and I like it a lot, but will I feel that way on my 400th run? The Maw is growing on me, but will I like it when my gear enables me to stomp out the threats?
A lot of my guildies don’t have beta, and so they’re left to speculate based on the things they are told – by those of us in the beta, by those at Wowhead who aggregate up community content, and by content creators, some of whom don’t always communicate the information accurately and some of whom simply communicate imagined versions of the systems in play which leads a fair number of people to grow more exasperated with the idea of the expansion. On top of that, look at the world around us – 2020 has been a year where a lot of the delights of life have been muted, toned down, or taken away altogether – and it isn’t hard to see where some of the excess cynicism comes from!
To be fair, I think some cynicism is absolutely warranted, on the flip side. Blizzard did have a bad track record in BfA of responding to community criticism in a timely fashion, if at all. Often the development team did what they wanted to do, drove it until the wheels fell off, and then started to offer concessions to keep players. Essence acquisition, corruption acquisition and randomness, alt gameplay, and content for the lull – Blizzard seemingly had no plan and quickly spun up bandaid solutions that did help – but they came far too late for many. By the time the corruption vendor was introduced, I had already packed up raiding for the expansion, as an example. Looking at the game now, and it isn’t hard to see troubling signs – my home server has been merged twice in the last month due to sharp dropoffs in player activity, and we’ve avoided being merged until now, despite being a launch server that has been around since Vanilla day 1!
Given all of that, I think it is fair to be concerned at least a little bit, and the point of this post isn’t to hammer on people who aren’t thrilled with the track record of Blizzard lately, nor is it to accuse Wowhead or other content creators of malicious spread of false information (after all, here in the US it’s the middle of political convention time and there is enough of that going on as-is). Rather, I think it is worth noting when you’re getting roped into a game of telephone, and discussing a fourth-hand grievance from someone who has a very specific idea of what they want, which ends up more and more generalized as it spreads. Certainly, I do my level best to be honest about how I feel about the game – and I think that it is important that I say for every post about the Maw I wrote that involves more than 3 instances of the word “fucking” as an adjective, there were easily 7-10 moments in the beta that I was happy for.
I am, indeed, still excited for Shadowlands – even as there is a gnawing sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Certainly, recent news about the beta hasn’t helped that much for me – I like the dungeon mechanics idea for covenants, but fear it will lead to even more imbalance for high-end players in Mythic Plus or even just doing Mythics at launch for gear. I still have a lot of trepidation about the design of the Maw, and concerns over Torghast and how it will hold up if I take a full loadout of alts through it on a regular basis, or even just run a handful of times a week on whatever main character I take into Shadowlands. I think the level of polish starting to show on the beta content is a good sign, and I think that some classes and specs show a lot of promise to be fun and engaging (while also worrying that my beloved Demon Hunter in either flavor is, sadly, not one of them).
I guess what all of these words serve to say is something pretty simple – if you’re excited about Shadowlands, I think that is great and worth sharing. If you’re not excited about it, that is also worth sharing. I would advise that if you think X, Y, or Z in the expansion is going to be bad, you should check official sources or look for confirming information, and the same goes in the other direction too.
Just be careful about playing telephone, and don’t burn a printout of Wowhead on a live international PPV broadcast!