Sunday, April 22, 2018

BFA Alpha Dungeon Impressions

I've now run four of BFA's dungeons, two on Kul Tiras and two on, or at least associated with, Zandalar.

I'm not going to get super-in-depth, but let me give the basic rundown:

Atal'dazar:

This is one of those interestingly laid-out dungeons in that it's actually quite compact. There are four bosses, arranged around a kind of square pit with bridges spanning the middle. You can go fight one boss at the bottom of the pit at any time. You then need to fight your way around the rim of the pit to get to one of the other bosses, and killing them opens up a quick shortcut to the next boss (whichever you pick, north or south.) The final boss becomes available when the others are down.

The dungeon aesthetic is really cool, as a kind of ancient golden city, in keeping with the larger Zuldazar feel.

THE MOTHERLODE!!:

Yes, that's the correct spelling of the dungeon name.

This is a Venture Company Azerite mining operation that you go find. I don't think it's actually on Kezan, and appears instead to be some island (I don't know where the instance portal is.)

This dungeon has you kind of circle around the final boss, fighting a very large number of trash packs (you'll want to pull carefully here.) There are some interesting new shredder/robot models here, and the final boss fights in a kind of goblin-themed updated Mimiron's Head (I believe he drops a recipe for engineers to make the mount.)

It has a very goblin aesthetic - lots of environmental devastation and oil slicks, mine carts, and the like.

Tol Dagor:

This is a big prison off the coast of Tiragarde Sound that Alliance players escape shortly after they arrive in Kul Tiras. A bit like Vault of the Wardens, you reverse the process, sneaking into the prison through the sewer and then working your way up to the roof where you can fight the Warden.

There are some interesting ideas here, like a boss who runs at 50% and releases a ton of prisoners to slow you down as you chase him.

Waycrest Manor:

Man, if you wanted a proper haunted house dungeon, this totally gets that feel, but in a different way than Karazhan or Black Rook Hold. The Manor is fairly labyrinthine, with many narrow corridors and doors to search through. You'll find three bosses on the main floor - one on each of the west wing and the east wing and one in the courtyard, and once you have the three preliminary bosses down, you can find a rather narrow, nondescript door that lets you down into the basement, and through there you descend into some ancient Drust ruin where the penultimate bosses are. From there, you descend further to fight the final boss.

This place has a fantastic atmosphere and while I'm sure groups will quickly figure out the most efficient route through the house, if you want to go in blind with a bunch of friends I think you'll have a really good time exploring.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Daughter of a Knight of Stormwind

Big Spoilers for a Character You Haven't Met Yet!

There is a new character we meet in Kul Tiras who appears as if she will be a recurring figure throughout the expansion, and perhaps beyond. We know her only as Taelia, and when we first arrive in Kul Tiras, she is amongst the people who help us begin to establish a foothold on the island.

Spoilers to follow:


Thursday, April 19, 2018

What Happens to Alliance vs Horde After BFA?

BFA promises to put the conflict between the two player factions center-stage. It's reflected in a lot of the expansion's features: each faction has its own continent (though of course we get to go to the other one at the level cap, meaning that for most of the expansion you'll experience it as kind of one bifurcated six-zone continent,) we have Island Expeditions in which we race to grab resources faster than the other side can, and then we have Warfronts, where we battle it out with the other side over key locations (I missed the actual Warfront test, but if you were disappointed that Arathi Highlands barely got a revamp in Cataclysm, the Warfront version of it looks totally re-done, including the terrain. It almost makes me wish that they'd do this for the whole old world, but, you know, not, because I remember what happened with Cataclysm.)

The faction conflict has played a major role in earlier expansions - Cataclysm saw full-scale war break out in many of its low-level zone revamps, and Mists put a lot of focus on the war while we were exploring (and exploiting) this new land we had found.

But even if the faction war was very close to the center of an expansion like Mists, it hasn't really been front-and-center since perhaps Vanilla (and even then, while the cinematic and advertisements emphasized the conflict, the actual story was much more about faction-neutral threats.)

Take, for example, the settings: while the individual zones are all new, we have a long history with both Zandalar and Kul Tiras. Many Alliance characters (those who were around during the Second War) might very well have been to Kul Tiras before. The Zandalari have been perhaps more isolationist in their history, but both factions got to know them decently before Zul turned the empire against the rest of the world. One assumes that before Zul started preaching that Zandalar was reasonably open in communication with the rest of the world.

Obviously, it remains to be seen just how much we deal with the faction conflict in this expansion. I'd honestly not be terribly surprised to see something of a stalemate that ends not in some grand peace treaty but more like a de-escalation at the end of the expansion.

Conflicts are difficult to resolve. If you look at world history, simmering rivalries don't tend to go away once a war ends. World War II was largely launched by Germany as a kind of retaliation for their loss in the previous World War. It was only after an utterly devastating defeat and confirmations of the horrific crimes their country had committed, not to mention a very forceful division of the country into different occupied territories, that Germany really made a lasting change toward peaceful co-existence.

And there's no real "end of history" as long as there are still people around. The best people can work for is a longterm peaceful state that they try to preserve as long as they can.

So matters settling between Alliance and Horde is not the be-all-end-all of their relationship or even individual identities. We've seen with the Void Elves that sometimes members of one faction will leave (or be chased out) and join the other. Hell, if the Void Elves made a push for it, you could even imagine Silvermoon City becoming an Alliance city once again.

There's also, of course, the gameplay mechanical problem. Even if the story absolutely justified a longterm peace and unification between the two factions, there's still so many aspects of the way that WoW is built that make peaceful cooperation not work. If I take my human to Orgrimmar, I'm going to get swarmed by guards and potentially other players (even as a PvE player, you get flagged in the other faction's cities.) So as much as my character might have bonded with that Orc Hunter - we've gotten to know each other and realized that actually, we're really both looking for the same thing in this world - the game's mechanics would not let me go visit her nice apartment in the Valley of Honor.

So we can talk about two things: story changes and mechanical changes.

Story-wise, I could imagine a kind of "stay on your side" solution to the conflict. If the Forsaken abandon Lordaeron, fully relocating to Kalimdor, that would leave the Eastern Kingdoms basically in full Alliance control (even the Searing Gorge/Burning Steppes region would now be in Alliance hands, with the induction of the Dark Irons.) The only Horde territory would really be Quel'thalas, and perhaps the factions could negotiate a peaceful "leave the Blood Elves alone" treaty. With the Eastern Plaguelands between Quel'thalas and the rest of the continent, I could imagine the Alliance leaving them be.

Meanwhile, the Night Elves might leave Kalimdor after the burning of Teldrassil (though I'd imagine far more bitterly) and settle in the Eastern Kingdoms, leaving the 'Myst isles as the only real Alliance territory there, which the Horde might respect given that A: it's not actually on the continent and B: the Draenei are basically never aggressors.

There would still be serious conflicts (I imagine a big splinter-faction of Night Elves unwilling to leave Kalimdor and a total mess left behind by the Forsaken) but without many contested borders, you could see the conflict start to die down.

But you could go farther if you changed gameplay mechanics.

I have no idea what the population of WoW players is these days. They used to publish this, but as things started to decline toward the end of Cataclysm, they eventually stopped talking about those numbers (presumably because it wasn't as effective as bragging rights.) There's still enough players to do stuff in game, thankfully, and I imagine that that will hold as long as they put out expansions more like Legion and less like Warlords. But one of the oddities of WoW is that you're always only playing with half the players. What if you could group up with the other side?

Now there are areas where this wouldn't work: battlegrounds, warfronts, and faction-conflict-centric content would probably never really work for cross-faction grouping (though we've seen them straight-up do this on Ashran, so we know that the technology exists and that they're willing to do it sometimes.)

But Blizzard claims that BFA is going to "resolve" the faction conflict. Most of us, I think, assume that this will not really change the fundamental mechanics of the game, but will simply allow them to focus on other stories moving forward.

But what if they're actually thinking of something more radical?

People have wanted cross-faction grouping for basically all of WoW's history. But we also know that Blizzard doesn't like doing something in WoW unless there's both a gameplay and story justification. As much as we might have wanted Demon Hunters as soon as we knew that Blizzard was willing to add classes to the game, we didn't get them until Legion because we needed to justify them.

A lot of people kind of groaned when we discovered that the next expansion would be focused on a conflict that many players find played out. But what if that's the whole point: Blizzard wants to end the faction conflict, and once they have, that will open the possibility of grouping up with your friends regardless of faction?

Take the change to the PvP servers: In BFA, PvP will be entirely opt-in (unless you go to an enemy faction's location or instanced PvP like a battleground. Essentially, it means that PvP servers will now be the same as Normal PvE ones.

Could that reflect the future of the story?

Any time peace is made, you have people with grievances who aren't ready to stop fighting. Now, you'll be able to declare your stance on peace mechanically. Sure, the leadership at Stormwind may decide to sacrifice Ashenvale in the name of an end to war, but if you're some Kaldorei guerrilla who's not going to let some 20-year-old human give away the forests you fought 10,000 years to protect, you might flip on that PvP flag and take on any damned greenskin who wants to log your trees.

Thus, the conflict between the factions becomes more of an individual choice for players and characters, while those who aren't interested in fighting against each other can work together to fight the other threats to life on Azeroth.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Alliance and Horde Intros to Battle for Azeroth - Part Two: The New Continents

SPOILERS

Following the Siege of Lordaeron, the factions are keen to regroup and figure out what to do next. These two events take place in a clear sequence, so we'll start with the Horde.

Alliance and Horde Intros to Battle for Azeroth - Part One: Siege of Lordaeron

SPOILERS

While I believe it existed in earlier builds, the latest build gave us the intro quests that open Battle for Azeroth. I suspect there's more to see (the Burning of Teldrassil will, I believe, also see player involvement,) but these events cover what I imagine to be some combination of the pre-expansion story content and the journey to the two new continents (and then of course carries on through said continents.)

So, we begin with the Siege of Lordaeron.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Lines of Succession on Azeroth

Leaders die. While they range from absolute unquestioned authority to loosely held rallying figure, each of World of Warcraft's races has had some sort of leader. But even in the relatively short period of time that WoW covers (I believe the canon is that each expansion is about a year, meaning that we're at less than a decade at this point,) we've seen many leaders depart. Of the eight original playable races, only the Night Elves, Gnomes, and Undead have not seen a change in leadership (and one could argue that the Night Elves' leadership was at least adjusted with Malfurion's return in Cataclysm.) We've seen deaths - Vol'jin, Cairne, Varian - retirements - Thrall - people turned to diamond - Magni - and in one case, the violent overthrow (and later, death) of a Warchief - Garrosh.

With the two factions going to open war and greater upheaval likely to come, how do the various races of Azeroth plan to deal with such changes?

Humans:

Stormwind just underwent an upheaval, with the death of Varian Wrynn. Anduin was a sort of acting monarch when he was a young child, though Bolvar Fordragon was regent for him. But now that Anduin is an adult, he's also taken on leadership of Stormwind and it seems the Alliance in general. As someone so young, succession is probably not something he's given a lot of thought to, but with the violent world he lives in, Stormwind doesn't really have much of an heir at this point. Theoretically the House of Nobles might put forth a potential successor if the Wrynn line were to die out, but no one really likes them, and their influence seems minimal at this point. Indeed, there's not a real clear successor to the throne of Stormwind, and while Genn Greymane has been a close advisor to Anduin and is sort of a human king, I doubt that many Stormwindians... Stormwinders? would be happy to see the King of Gilneas take over.

Dwarves:

The Dwarves have the benefit of having three leaders, but there's a tricky issue here which is that Muradin doesn't have any children, and so his heir would, logically, be Moira, who already represents the Dark Iron clan. Moira has her own son (who really shouldn't be a baby anymore) who she considers the proper heir to both the Bronzebeard and Dark Iron clans. But even if we see a rapprochement between Bronzebeard and Dark Irons (as made possible by the Dark Irons' addition as an Allied Race,) having one person (either Moira or her son) representing two clans would make the Wildhammer Clan very uncomfortable, as they'd be guaranteed to be outvoted in any decision in which they dissented.

Gnomes:

Though he has been leading the Gnomes for a very long time, technically High Tinker Mekkatorque is a democratically elected leader - more of a President than a King. This means that if he should come to harm, there is a mechanism by which the Gnomes could choose a new leader. Tinkmaster Overspark is probably a logical successor in the case of an emergency.

Night Elves:

Tyrande and Malfurion both lead their people, and both are the heads of their own organizations - the Temple of Elune and the Cenarion Circle, respectively. Malfurion's successor in the Circle could actually be Hamuul Runetotem, but given that he is a Tauren loyal to the Horde, it's very unlikely that the Night Elves would even consider him remotely as a leader. On the other hand, Tyrande has priestesses who could take over the Temple, but what I think is more likely is that Shandris Feathermoon could take over Night Elf leadership in a time of crisis. She is the head of the Sentinels and is Tyrande's adopted daughter, meaning that she has a familial connection and plenty of credibility as a leader.

Orcs:

Currently, High Overlord Saurfang is the leader of the Orcs. But this old veteran serves primarily as a military leader. Granted, the Orcs tend to be fine with the military and politicians being intertwined. There is presumably a line of command that flows down from Saurfang, which means they've most likely got contingencies in place. On the other hand, in a real leadership crisis, it's not unthinkable that the Orcs might attempt to pull Thrall out of retirement to lead them once again, even if he'd be reluctant to do so.

Trolls:

Thankfully, in BFA it appears that they are at least acknowledging the existence of another WCIII Troll character (in fact, was Vol'jin even in WCIII?) But it's not totally obvious what role Rokan has in Darkspear society. With the recruitment of the Zandalari Trolls, it would be easy for the Darkspear to fade in relevance, though I'd hope the Horde would reward the Darkspears' long service with appropriate power and respect. But even if we can claim Rokan as the racial leader of the Darkspear Tribe, we don't have much else to go on if something happens to him.

Tauren:

Baine took over after Cairne's death in standard primogeniture succession. But Baine does not appear to be married or have kids, so it's not clear who would take over. Unlike Malfurion, Hamuul is less central to Tauren leadership (though he has played a big part in Horde politics - he was the one who brought in the Forsaken. So you can blame/thank him for Warchief Sylvanas.) The most important thing is that the Tauren should be very careful to never let Magatha Grimtotem back into Thunder Bluff, though I'm sure that she'll try if anything happens to Baine.

Undead:

The identity of the Forsaken is tied so closely to Sylvanas that it'd be hard for anyone to replace her. That being said, Nathanos Blightcaller is her right-hand man (and if they were both still alive, would probably be her consort. Windrunners all seem to be really into humans.) Another possibility could be Lillian Voss, who seems to have a more... positive... outlook. She doesn't wish to spread the curse except to those who consent, and she considers the curse a common ground that makes the Forsaken one big family - not necessarily the rigid cult of personality that Sylvanas has created. With Undercity falling and Sylvanas at the top of the Horde heap, the Undead should definitely be thinking about contingency plans.

Draenei:

Similarly, it's hard to imagine the Draenei without Velen. On the other hand, we've actually seen that on Draenor B, but while Draenor's Draenei had the Council of Exarchs, it's not clear that our own have that other level of governance. I'd imagine that without Velen, we'd probably see the Draenei reinstitute it, with Vinidcator Boros perhaps as High Vindicator, Romuul as Chief Artificer, etc.

Blood Elves:

Lor'themar does have Rommath and others who serve with him on the council, and Lady Liadrin has taken a prominent role in Blood Elf affairs. The Blood Elves already dealt with their big power vacuum problem so I don't think they have much to worry about now.

Worgen:

Tess Greymane is Genn's daughter and is presumably the heir to the throne (given that Liam is dead.) Ironic, of course, that a member of the Uncrowned would be, well, crowned, and Tess is not a Worgen. That being said, the Worgen generally identify primarily as members of the kingdom of Gilneas - they're still human on a certain level, and so I doubt anyone would have a problem with Tess taking over.

Goblins:

Oh boy. Wouldn't the Bligewater Cartel love to get rid of Gallywix? While technically a member of the Steamwheedle Cartel, Gazlowe would be a reasonable person to take over for Gallywix, and there's also Boss Midna. I'm not too worried about the Goblins.

Pandaren:

So here we have an odd situation. Ji and Aysa lead their respective factions of the Pandaren, but they're also clearly close to one another. The role of the Pandaren, particularly in the Horde/Alliance conflict, is not very clear. Arguably, Taran Zhu is the closest thing to a racial leader for the Pandaren, but do the Wandering Isle Pandaren treat him that way?

Lightforged Draenei:

Technically speaking, I think Turalyon is the leader of the Army of the Light, now that X'era is dead. Given that the Lightforged really care far more about devotion to the Light than race, I don't think anyone would have a problem with that. And as a strictly regimented military organization, it seems clear that Captain Fareeya or Lothraxion could take over.

Void Elves:

Alleria seems to be taking the role of racial leader for the Void Elves, but should anything happen to her, we'd probably see Magister Umbric, who independently led his people down this path, take over.

Highmountain Tauren:

Mayla Highmountain is the High Chieftain of the Highmountain, but there are other tribal leaders who could step in if there's a problem.

Nightborne:

Thalyssra is clearly the main leader of her people - having led the whole Dusk Lily rebellion. Valtrois, Oculeth, Silgryn, Lunastre - any of these could take over should there be a problem.

I'm going to wait to find out more about the yet-to-be-implemented Allied Races, as it's likely we'll see new NPCs added to flesh them out.

Friday, April 13, 2018

What's Important on Kul Tiras and Zandalar?

Now that we know that Azshara will be a major boss early in Battle for Azeroth - the equivalent of Gul'dan in Legion - there area  lot of questions to be asked regarding what will come next.

We've moved pretty far past it as a model, but the Burning Crusade had an interesting system for dungeons and raids - Hellfire Peninsula, Zangarmarsh, and Netherstorm each had dungeon hubs with three dungeons a piece that then had an attached raid that would conclude the story of the dungeons and the zone. BC of course was pretty ambitious in terms of how many dungeons they had at launch (15,) which was made easier by having similar aesthetics and enemy types in the connected ones. As of Cataclysm, we've tended to get more distinct, but fewer dungeons, and it's actually fairly rare to see dungeons firmly attached to raids the way they were in BC and Wrath (and of course in Vanilla, many of its biggest raids actually required you to clear your way through a dungeon to even get to the entrance - Naxxramas was originally going to require you to go through the dead side of Stratholme.)

Nowadays, however, Blizzard is pretty happy to conclude certain stories within dungeons - I think a really great example of this is Skyreach, which finished off the story of Spires of Arak, even though I bet a lot of people wouldn't have minded an Arrakoa-themed raid.

Now Legion actually returned a bit to the BC model - we had Darkheart Thicket thematically connected to the Emerald Nightmare, we had Court of Stars and the Arcway leading into the Nighthold, Halls of Valor and Maw of Souls leading into the Trial of Valor, and then of course new dungeons added with Tomb of Sargeras and Antorus (though Seat of the Triumvirate was very different thematically from Antorus, and set on a different fragment of Argus. Can I just take a brief aside to mention how impressive 7.3 was? I mean, three legit-sized zones, each with a different feel? More like a mini-expansion than a patch.)

At this point, we only have two raids confirmed for Battle for Azeroth, and one of those we really only know who the final boss is (though if we don't get to see Nazjatar before we kill Azshara I'll be pretty disappointed. I'm thinking it ought to be a new zone somewhere between Kul Tiras and Zandalar.)

While historically, plenty of final raids have come in zones that were added (or in the case of Warlords, made accessible) later in the expansion, one could probably expect that we'll get at least a couple more within the continents around which this expansion revolves. So let's go zone-to-zone and think about what we might find there!

Nazmir:

This seems like the obvious place to start because it's the one zone we already know contains a raid. The plot of Nazmir, and indeed a lot of Zandalar in general, revolves around the Blood God G'huun, who was created in this Titan facility in an ill-advised attempt to reverse-engineer the Old Gods. Given that we have both a dungeon (The Underrot) and a raid (Uldir) in this zone, I don't think there will be much story that remains to be told, so we can probably move on.

Drustvar:

Drustvar has one dungeon in it (every BFA zone has at least one dungeon,) called Waycrest Manor, which seems likely to be the expansion's haunted-house dungeon (we got the gothic/vampire look in Blackrook Hold in Legion - maybe this will have more of a Victorian ghostly feel?) As this dungeon looks to be tying up both the story of the Waycrests and that of Gorak Tul, the ancient Drust leader, I suspect that there's not going to be much story left to tie up in Drustvar, unless they decide that we're going to learn a lot more about the Drust later on.

Zuldazar:

Zuldazar has two dungeons in it already (King's Rest and Atal'dazar, the latter of which I've actually run at this point,) but as the oldest city on Azeroth, there's probably a lot of potential for story hooks here. The question is really how much of Zandalar's story will be wrapped up in Uldir. I'd hope it isn't completely, as we're going to have a lot more time to spend there. But given that Zul is a boss in Uldir, I'm tempted to suspect that new stuff will have to happen after Uldir for there to be a big climactic thing to do in Zuldazar.

Tiragarde Sound:

Tiragarde Sound has three dungeons (Tol Dagor, Siege of Boralus, and Freehold,) but what's interesting about them is that none feature Lady Ashvane, who is the main villain of the zone, as a boss. I believe that Siege of Boralus covers her main attempt at a coup against Katherine Proudmoore, but it seems like she might come back as a raid boss later on, not unlike Zul. Would that raid be here? It's a big zone, but the primary interesting features are covered pretty well by the Freehold dungeon and Siege of Boralus.

Vol'dun:

The plot of Vol'dun (I haven't finished it) mostly revolves around a group of Setherak (the cobra-people) who have turned on the Trolls and each other. There is certainly a plot against the Snake Loa, Sethrallis, but there are also a lot of stories about how this was an area where the minions of the Old Gods caused havoc, creating the desert from an area that was jungle. I could imagine an Old God-themed raid here, but only if it doesn't step on Uldir's toes too much.

Stormsong Valley:

There is a dungeon here called Shrine of the Storms that absolutely has some big Old God stuff going on. Apart from the Naga attacking in the west and the Horde attacking in the north, the Shrine seems like the main place you'd find raid-worthy stuff going on. The Shrine dungeon could simply have us exploring the well-known parts of the massive island on which it stands, and a raid could have us delve deep into the island's interior to find something worth fighting.

It remains to be seen what other raids we'll come across. I suspect we might be seeing a lot popping up on other islands later in the expansion, but I'd also like to see them use the massive zones that they've created.