After the press kit leaked on Thursday, showcasing the WoW announcements in a fair amount of detail, I kind of hoped for more from Blizzard’s first fully-online panel setting. We did get more details, but there is still a lot of ambiguity around the future of Shadowlands and some potentially (depending on your viewpoint) problematic things coming for the implementation of TBC Classic. Also, while I am a big Diablo fan, I haven’t watched the panels yet and so while there’s cool stuff there for me, I’m not at a point yet to discuss. I’ll probably watch them tomorrow and write them up!
The Burning Crusade Classic
So, let’s actually start with TBC Classic, because I have less skin in the game there and I think I can write it up succinctly as a result. TBC Classic is going to continue with the structure in place with Classic, in that the game is going to bring in the newer WoW code, working directly from the original TBC code and doing side by side comparisons to keep things in line. This seems fine, it is what they did with Classic and that has been very well received.
On the topic of changes, though – this is where the panel actually went interesting to me. The big parade of Classic content creators and fans were all doing #NoChanges prior to WoW Classic, insisting point-blank that the game have the original presentation, warts and all. Blizzard did things like bespoke recreation of spell batching in order to make the new code behave similarly enough to the old code that it felt functionally identical. TBC Classic, on the other hand…well, Blizzard phrased it as #SomeChanges.
What are they looking at changing, though?
Well, to start with, spell batching is going away, so TBC Classic should use the current spell behavior of the retail game, as the codebase is a branch from that. They talked about changes to specific boss tuning, providing the example of Mu’ru from Sunwell Plateau. In the original iteration, Mu’ru had a lot of spell pushback, which they nerfed, followed shortly thereafter with the blanket nerfs that came to Sunwell in the later portion of patch 2.4. They specified an intent here to keep the spell pushback nerf in place, but to keep Mu’ru’s health at the original, higher number.
TBC also brought the faction-exclusive classes across the aisle, but Paladins had flavor per faction, with Blood Elf Paladins having Seal of Blood while Alliance Paladins all had Seal of Vengeance. In balancing, Blood far exceeded Vengeance, creating a gap between the factions on the same class. With TBC Classic, they’ll be giving the opposite faction Seal spell to Paladins at level 70, giving them parity on performance.
Arena teams in TBC, where Arena began, were limited to a precisely-sized roster that matched the player count of the mode the team was enrolled in. With TBC Classic, you’ll be able to have twice as many players on a team, alleviating the issue of not having all your players online for ranked play. Modern matchmaking algorithms will also be employed to ensure shorter queue times, but otherwise maintaining the rest of the PvP experience from TBC.
Last up for changes, the TBC Classic iteration will be getting some modern quality of life improvements, like the option for a single level 58 purchasable character boost and the benefits of modern cloud server technology, reducing some of the instance errors that began to crop up more noticeably during TBC back in 2007.
The big question going in though was progression from the current Classic servers and how that would work. Blizzard has an answer that I think serves fairly well here. Once TBC Classic launches, you’ll be presented with a choice on each character – either you can stay locked in Classic, with a vanilla-era server that has that existing codebase and progression, or you can move to a TBC Classic server. This choice is one-time per character and permanent. However, as an additional bit of modern flexibility (and cashflow generation) you can also pony up some real life cash to clone your character to both game types, keeping your current character available for vanilla-era play while also being able to play a copy of that character on a TBC-era server.
TBC Classic is slated for 2021, with beta opt-ins already available, although no assigned dates for beta or launch as of yet.
In my opinion, this announcement is sort of interesting, because it is clear that Blizzard is brushing against the limits of what the Classic audience will allow. The introduction of paid boosts and paid cloning will likely be met with some controversy, and while I do think that the design intent is kind and thoughtful, it is also undoubtedly going to be a revenue generator and is at least somewhat justified at the business level through the income this will undoubtedly produce. For me personally, the presence of a boost increases the chances that I would consider engaging with TBC, but for the actual Classic audience, I have no doubt there will be some measure of screaming online over that choice. The character clone option is a nicety for those who’ve been deep into Classic but may want to run multiple modes of content or be able to experience TBC without having to leave behind a social group intent on staying, but again, this is also a revenue generator. I actually feel like the clone option will be less controversial in some ways. A lot of Classic players I’ve seen (certainly the types engaging hardcore with the content) are, sadly, elitist and the kind of boost-shaming we started seeing in retail once that went live in late Mists of Pandaria is almost assured to occur in Classic. However, cloning allows the hardcore already in Classic to have their cake and eat it too – stay doing vanilla progression with an existing guild while also having the ability to pick up right in TBC with your current gear as of the cloning. Because this directly sells to existing Classic fanatics, I expect it won’t meet as much resistance. Some purists surely won’t like it, but I think it will wash down fairly smoothly.
The panel wasn’t particularly well presented, in that it was easy to tune-out at the start with the more personal conversation of it, which then led to it being heavily backloaded with all the actual, nuts-and-bolts information I think people wanted. I’m glad that we know how servers will work now, but there’s still a lot of questions about how they’ll manage the TBC patch cycle outside of just content. Patch 2.4 increased raid loot drop rates across the board, added more drop sources for Badges of Justice, removed attunements for Hyjal and Black Temple, introduced retained spell ranks when switching talent specs, added GCD reduction as a benefit of Spell Haste, and increased daily quest limits, which substantially alters the flow of gameplay compared to what many will remember from the first year and change of TBC. Patch 2.3 was Blizzard’s first major attempt at revamping leveling, reducing the XP curve from 20-60 by 15%, increasing XP gain from quests between levels 30 and 60, making outdoor elite quests soloable, adding new quests and Mudsprocket to Dustwallow Marsh, changes to level ranges from dungeons, more items from dungeon bosses, and increased quest experience from dungeon quests.
All of the patches of TBC had some form of substantial game overhaul, as the game was meeting some teething pains while growing into the juggernaut it would become in Wrath of the Lich King. Remember, TBC launched within a few months of the infamous South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” and during TBC, there was the Night Elf Mohawk ad campaign, along with the other celebrities that made cameo appearances in commercials for the game at that time. For the Classic audience, who demands a certain degree of illusion maintenance, any patch Blizzard tunes the Classic experience to is potentially a landmine that will explode on them. Yet, I wouldn’t expect them to roll out content seasons alongside patch changes. My suspicion, then, is that we’ll see 2.4.3 code as the Classic launch point, with all the changes that entails cumulatively over the TBC patch cycle, and there will be a messaging battle with players to ensure that this is received as well as it can be.
For me personally? TBC is the expansion I played the least. When I was leveling through it, I enjoyed it well enough (it was also my first Blizzard beta thanks to having been live at Blizzcon 2005), but I never got into the endgame of it. I didn’t run any Heroic dungeons, I stepped into Karazhan twice and Gruul’s Lair once, and I never really got into the flow of content. TBC was definitely a sort of petri dish for what WoW would become in later years – there was a currency system for gear that advanced to the better-tuned Emblems in Wrath of the Lich King, reputation was made to matter more but it also gated more content than before, the raid attunements in vanilla went well enough that the team went hog-wild with them in TBC, such that players had to bust out Microsoft Visio to make flowcharts for all the requirements to simply partake in the endgame content of the expansion…
…basically, if vanilla is a tribute to how much the developers enjoyed Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot, TBC was the point at which we saw more of the team’s unique ideas come to the forefront, for better or worse. That might sound like a slam, but I recognize that in order to get to the point where I really got sucked into the game, you need this kind of experimental space to try new things and see what sticks. I personally wasn’t that big of a Burning Crusade fan, but at the same time, I played it, I liked it enough to run out on launch day for Wrath, and while I didn’t play that much TBC, there were real life factors influencing that as much or more than my perception of the content quality.
The boost makes it at least more likely that I would pick it up as a curiosity, provided that it isn’t absurdly priced (if it’s $60, you can go fuck yourselves Blizzard, sorry) but even then, I’ve been trying to get more into both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic lately, to sample more broadly from MMOs. TBC is unlikely to sink its hooks into me, but the foundation is there for Wrath of the Lich King Classic, and boy, when that comes out, I will be a hermit in my corner jamming out to the Grizzly Hills song.
Also, Holly Longdale’s coat during the opening ceremony was cool and I wish the whole team would get WoW-ified versions of it instead of bowling shirts, because that would be visually quite fun.