Today, an interesting bit of news came out – Blizzard has pre-announced that Shadowlands will have a season 4 of PvE content. This is a new twist, however, as the new season will not mark a new raid or seasonal Mythic Plus affix, but instead will do two different things. Firstly, it will offer an affix-system to all 3 Shadowlands raids, offering boosted difficulty and raid loot and making all 3 raids relevant for players doing the content. Secondly, it will change the dungeon pool for Mythic Plus to a sampling of the last 4 expansions – the two Tazavesh wings added to the rotation with 9.2, the two wings of each mega-dungeon from BfA and Legion, and then two fan-voted dungeons from Warlords of Draenor.
This is fascinating news for a few reasons, which I wanted to break from the scheduled-post train of this week to discuss.
Firstly, I think this is a fantastic idea at the core of it. Regardless of what we might be able to infer from the news and what it means about the prospects of a coming expansion, more content is generally good and this does something really cool and interesting instead of just tweaking the same dungeons or having one viable raid. The core of many complaints about the game, including my own, is that it often refuses to change or adapt, and this is a move away from that by Blizzard, so I will give them the pat on the back for it.
Secondly, I think it says something interesting about the way the team views the game that is still a problem of sorts. The seasonal content focus is on competitive PvE content, and while not having a new raid means no race to world first (in theory, at least), it still serves a smaller slice of the community than engaging those who don’t raid or run Mythic Plus. My hope is that the season includes something for those more casual players, like increased world content, maybe more callings active, higher gear levels from world content, and the like. If the season brings an increase in item level (and it likely will given the “more powerful levels of raid loot”) then the same should hold true for world content.
Thirdly, and the initial thought that I had which triggered this post, is a simple thought – what does it say about when we can expect the next expansion to know that this is already planned and coming?
On the one hand, I think most reasonable observers know we aren’t getting the next expansion this calendar year – it’s just not going to happen. Faced with that, I am rather glad that Blizzard has thought about this problem, obvious as it is as it happens every expansion to some degree, and prepared a response that isn’t just to work through the existing content. In part, there is some necessity to respond differently anyways – when every patch lingers past the shelf date in an expansion, most players don’t really have old goals to work towards because the cadence of content drops has been such that most of us have finished what we wanted each patch, in some cases with weeks or months to spare.
On the other hand, the question to ask here is not “does this mean a delay?” but rather “how large of a delay?” The answer in my mind is that it likely means that we’re staring at a launch as far as Q2 or Q3 2023 for 10.0, which is…perhaps not ideal on the surface, if it ends up being the case. If we follow Shadowlands timeframe, 9 months of 9.2 content would put the next season at November 2022, which would then mean 9 months of the “season 4” content to wind up at August 2023, which, while long, feels pretty close to about what I would expect right now.
Now, having said that – is it a bad thing?
Not at all, I think, but it depends. Obviously, being in the current state of the game as a whole for an elongated period is…not altogether great, but this approach could be beneficial to alleviating that feeling. My thought is this – if they’re buying time for an expansion that brings aboard all the feedback fit to read and really knocks it out of the park, that is a great thing, and while I am jaded and cynical about WoW, I don’t think they’d be willing to do this if they weren’t at least trying to get it right, on some level. If the 10.0 expansion isn’t out until August 2023 but it really, absolutely nails it on feedback responses, story cleanup, and gameplay improvements, that is going to be a net good no matter how you look at it. If that is the case, them taking longer to tackle the design and development will be a concern that fades on release.
On the other hand, the aim here might be to take a 9-month content window for 9.2 and divide it into smaller windows to give a more fast-paced, up-tempo feeling to the content delivery schedule for the game. In that case, a Q1 2023 release of 10.0 could very well be on the table and the goal here could be to get closer to old seasonal pacing from before the bad times. In either case, it must be said that despite the use of existing content, this is far from a lazy or no-work scenario – tuning dungeons to a new item level tier, tuning the raids to new power levels and the “affixes,” and adding Mythic Plus mode to WoD dungeons that didn’t have it before by player choice is a lot of work, and arguably more than we’d expect because they have to be ready for any of the WoD choices to become M+ dungeons. They can use the Challenge Mode timers from them as a baseline, but even that will likely still need a great deal of tuning and tweaking, not to mention testing!
On the actual details, I know that I am eager to learn more. Raids with affixes is a new wrinkle, one that I’ve been jokingly discussing through the expansion with my guild when I was actively playing. Could it be bad? Sure, it could – not every M+ affix is great or a winner. However, it is different and new and I think that’s my interest in it – I want to see Blizzard trying new things and seeing how they work, so I will offer my praise for now and my interest in how it develops.
The specifics are going to be interesting, though, because affix invokes M+ fully, which feels like it may only apply to a single difficulty or a rotating selection of the raid content of Shadowlands. Also, there’s a part of me that fears what guilds might do if all 31 Shadowlands raid bosses are up, valuable, and worth doing every week. Does this apply to LFR? Will there be some interest in a Mythic world-first race through the newly tuned affix-afflicted raids? How will trinkets and gear from prior tiers work when scaled up? Ooh, Castle Nathria dropped weapon tokens, will they still do that? Are we getting new armor appearances or tints? Will the original versions still be available to do? Who wants to do the Sylvanas fight with affixes? Will our original skip quests for Normal and up still work or will we need to do new ones? Will the raids be wide-open to tackle out-of-order or are we stuck on the same path as the original run of each raid? Are these affixes just straight-up additions or are we getting a full Raid Keystone mode with timers and trash percentages?
I guess the thing about the gameplay side of the news here is that there is a big question mark over so much of it that I cannot help but think of exciting possibilities. But this news in general, coupled with the permanent opening of the Timewalking Mage Tower next week, add a lot of reasons to be optimistic that Blizzard is learning and growing on the content side, and if they stick the Season 4 landing, it could make things very interesting in the future.