Realizing that there could be a stretch of content draught between 9.2.5 and the release of Dragonflight, Blizzard is trying something new – a new content season in World of Warcraft’s Shadowlands expansion, set to occupy the time from August 2nd until whenever Dragonflight comes to be.
For those not in the know, WoW has been on a seasonal content model since Legion, which is just a newer way of denoting a tier. Unlike tiers prior to Legion, the new season upgrades the item levels of all repeatable content – world quest rewards, Normal through Mythic dungeons, a new seasonal Mythic Plus affix for keystones level 10 or higher (this started with BfA), and then the new raid for the patch. Season 4 Shadowlands is different than prior applications of this model, though, in a couple of ways – the first is that the dungeon pool for Mythic Plus is changing, so it will be 8 dungeons comprised of the two wings of Tazavesh, the two wings of both prior mega-dungeons (Mechagon and Return to Karazhan), and then two dungeons from Warlords of Draenor scaled up to current content and given Mythic Plus affixes for the first time ever (Iron Docks and Grimrail Depot). The second is that there is no new raid, but instead a rotation of the 3 Shadowlands raids, with one active per week as a “fated” raid, with a Mythic Plus-style affix (no timer, but just a global mechanic added to the raid) and with upgraded, scaled difficulty and higher item level rewards.
As a bet on filling the gap, this is a fascinating approach, because it takes what many players would do in a content draught anyways (run Shadowlands content at max power for any remaining rewards like mounts/transmogs/etc) and instead makes it current content, with the increase in difficulty and reward that would be expected in the modern game. It’s a timesaving move on the development team’s part (it takes effort to rescale and retune existing content, but not nearly as much as designing completely new content from scratch) and it offers something for players to do that isn’t just the current raid (which has already been out for nearly 5 months and is one of the lowest completion raids in WoW’s history) and Mythic Plus until everyone is pushing low 20 keys, but instead a unique twist.
There’s just one complicating factor – no one I know seems to be that excited for it.
Now obviously, that’s just a local-level anecdote, and the plural of anecdote is not data. However, it is intriguing to me, because while Season 4 is aimed squarely at the critique of not having things to do in the game, there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for it as the date draws closer.
To me personally, the concept of Season 4 is intellectually very interesting. It seems like a smart and well-done way to give players a different set of content to do and to keep the content of 9.2 from growing as stale as the rest of Shadowlands did, with elongated 9-month seasons that meant even most low-investment players could run through for Ahead of the Curve achievements and Keystone Master runs, and it lets people get a good look at the content of Shadowlands free of the yoke of early systems – doing Castle Nathria without needing to think about Renown, getting to run Sanctum of Domination without Shards of Domination being a factor, having tier set bonuses from the recent tier, dual legendaries, and the insane scaling of late expansion WoW, where your character feels the most invincible and badass.
But at the same time, nothing about Season 4 has me that excited. The most FOMO-triggering event that Season 4 has given me as someone out of the game for 8 months at this point is that it means the end of Season 3, with no ability to get AOTC or KSM for it and the accompanying rewards with those achievements. The old dungeons in M+ is a cool concept, but it just doesn’t mean that much to me, and a new KSM mount with a cool purple color is nice, but it’s the same mount model we’ve had all expansion and I already have two of those as-is. Unlike a normal Season, with a full patch accompanying it, there doesn’t appear to be any new world content or stuff for your more casual players – just straight-up dungeons and raids. While there could maybe be encrypted story content hiding in wait for players to see, it seems unlikely, as not even encrypted files hinting at such are in the game. What that leaves us is…well, the same 3 raids that people got tired of but harder, including one of WoW’s lowest completion rate raids ever, and a collection of 8 dungeons that, while interesting, are all retreads of content that most players who would be eager for such content have already done, unless they’re new to the game in Shadowlands.
To an extent, I view the lack of enthusiasm I’ve witnessed for the season as a sort of player apathy. I actually think that Blizzard trying to do a new thing is a good outcome, and as I said when the season was first announced, I think it is genuinely great to see them acknowledge that content gaps are a thing the game suffers from and to try to do something about it instead of just letting it be. I don’t blame them for using existing content to tie things together either – I think that it’s for the best that they put the development time they have into the expansion to come and focus on smart recycling and reuse of content for a “new” season of content to keep Shadowlands relevant. As a first round of what hopefully becomes a new tradition, it’s not a failure if it sort of flops, provided they learn some lessons from it. And, who is to say it will actually flop? Right now, in my circles of WoW players, it feels like a flop, but it hasn’t even started yet – it may very well be exactly the spice the game needs to keep players engaged.
For me though, I wish that the game had a bit more bridging content, and so, here is my wishlist for future “finale” seasons.
One thing I love about FFXIV patches is that there is a point in an expansion patch cycle where content moves away from the current expansion story and starts a segue into the next expansion. This makes each expansion feel well-supported and built up. WoW, by comparison, just sort of ends an expansion, and the next expansion has a pre-patch event that just occurs out of nowhere with 0 build-up. Instead of just launching 11.0 after Dragonflight and giving a pre-patch event with almost no context in-game, a finale season could do the same as the cooldown patches of the FFXIV cycle – give us a few chapters of story, a little bit of build-up and lead-in. BfA ended and we just went to Icecrown in the 9.0 pre-patch to see the sky opened up, with the game only offering text explanations of what happened. What if there was a final BfA season with a thematic M+ affix, a raid affix like what will be in this season 4 experiment, and a few weeks of story content to present a basic rationale in-game for why Sylvanas went to Icecrown and gave us some reasoning? That would have actually been pretty cool, but instead we just skip ahead to where she’s already done the thing and we have to read the book to really know. You can put some version of those events in-game (you know, the place where they should live!) and then still sell the novel with the fleshed-out full version.
New/Unique Gear Models/Tints
Being able to complete prior-tier transmog wardrobes is nice and all, but it would be neat to see some new visual kit tied to this new mode of filling gaps in content. New models are certainly work, and so I wouldn’t wager on those – but new tints of the existing armor? Now that could be a thing. We know that there are often unused tints of certain armor sets as-is, and it would be neat to see affixed-raids and final-season dungeons cycle in those options.
New World Content
It doesn’t need to be huge or a new zone, but alongside a quick story interlude, give us a little bit of world questing, some dailies, maybe even a new reputation. Just something to give more player types access to new content and to tie together reward structures with some form of further catch-up gear for launching right into the affix raids and new season M+. This new season idea, while genuinely a neat attempt, misses a big chunk of the playerbase by only offering them a meager increase in dungeon drops, a mode of play which many more casual players simply don’t engage with as often, if at all. It feels like a very-strange step backwards for Blizzard, whose design teams have been making pretty good content for those players since as far back as Mists of Pandaria, when the idea of new zones per patch became the norm.
In Closing (This Post and Shadowlands)
Ultimately, Season 4 is one of those things that is an excellent idea on paper and could be great in execution, but it seems to be hampered before it has even left the gate due to uneven content spread that favors the dungeon and raid audiences, the audiences who are already eating well at the Warcraft table, while leaving players less inclined towards those modes of play with table scraps. It comes with the bonus baggage of not being particularly exciting even to the audiences for whom it is geared towards, which makes me feel an almost-pity for the WoW team, who clearly had a good idea and an interesting solution to a legitimate problem the game always faces at expansion’s end.
Having said that, WoW is an iterative game that builds on what came before, and I think that this concept can be leveraged in the future with a bit more pre-planning to really deliver something great. I genuinely applaud Blizzard for the effort and I hope, whether I am playing WoW in a hypothetical Season 4 of Dragonflight or not, that the team delivers a version of the idea at that time that really sticks the landing. It’s too early now to say that the Shadowlands one won’t hit the mark, of course, but at the same time, it feels like a lot of Shadowlands – an interesting idea done a little quirky that doesn’t quite land and appeals to a smaller and smaller portion of the fanbase.