Friday, August 29, 2014

Some Hope for Fans of the Infinite Dragonflight

Apparently there are a few new Infinite fellows that have been data mined or simply found in the Warlords Beta. Some can be found, perhaps unsurprisingly, near the Caverns of Time. What could this mean?

Image care of MMO Champion.

Well, I don't want to jump the gun on anything here. New NPCs do sometimes pop up just for a little bit of flavor. Yet the Infinites are players in the whole Warlords situation that have not really been seen there.


When Garrosh arrives in Nagrand, he is there with Kairoz, his Bronze Dragon ally. But Kairoz must be doing something very non-kosher, because he broke Garrosh out of the Temple of the White Tiger with the aid of Wrathion and... a couple of Infinite Dragons. The Infinite are of course the biggest enemies of the Bronze Dragonflight, but are also the Bronze flight itself - either a future version or one from a parallel universe.

But Kairoz does not have much time to act upon Draenor. Kairoz makes the rookie mistake of being haughty and rude to Garrosh Hellscream, who promptly murders the crap out of him, slicing Kairoz from neck to navel with a shard of the Vision of Time. Kairoz' body can be found in Nagrand.

But Kairoz was not working alone. I'm not sure if Wrathion is really playing all that big a role - I kind of suspect he's actually getting in a little over his head. But the Infinites clearly have an interest in this timeline-hopping chaos.

The general impression I have is that Grommash's raid tier is going to concern itself primarily with the Iron Horde under siege, and either falling to corruption without Garrosh to warn against it, or fending off a Burning Legion that really, really wants its Horde. There's not much for the Infinites there, but then, the Infinites are all about subtlety.

This is all just a fingers-crossed moment for me, but I'm hoping that the presence of these new NPCs portends a grand re-entrance for the Infinite Dragonflight.

Also, I want a freaking Infinite Drake mount.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Imagining Timewalker Dungeons

Blizzard has figured out some interesting tech that allows them to scale content to the player, or to scale players to the content. Primarily this has been used for beta testing and the PTR. Right now, on the beta, you will always be the right level and properly geared for any dungeon you test, because the game scales you. For example, Bloodmaul Slag Mines is an entry-level dungeon, something you can probably start running the moment Warlords goes live (though if you didn't raid at all during Mists, you might want to quest a bit to gear up.) Shadowmoon Burial Grounds, on the other hand, is a level 100 dungeon - even on normal, you're expected to be at the level cap. But both dungeons can be tested at basically any level on the Beta.

Blizzard has done tons of work over the years, creating new dungeons for every expansion. You spend a lot of time in them while they're current, but you pretty much pass them by when you level up to the next expansion's content. And level-cap dungeons, like Shattered Halls, Pit of Saron, Grim Batol, or soon Gate of the Setting Sun, you basically just ignore.

The sad fact is that as the past few expansions have gone, there have been fewer and fewer dungeons, which I've always thought are the backbone of what makes WoW WoW (raids being a kind of intense super-dungeon that you don't do as frequently.)

Actually, the place of dungeons versus raids has always been a kind of difficult thing to pin down. In Wrath and Cataclysm, the dungeons that came out with the final raid patch allowed you to get gear equivalent to the previous tier's raid gear. Blizzard was frustrated that players were skipping places like Firelands or Ulduar because they could easily get equal or better gear running dungeons. I would argue that the solution to this problem was in LFR. Any player is going to easily be able to raid while the raid is fresh. If LFR had been around during 4.2, I'm sure that most people would have run Firelands plenty of times before they were sent into End Time, Well of Eternity, and Hour of Twilight.

Still, one of the issues with dungeons is that, because you can run them indefinitely (the "random heroic" option in the Dungeon Finder kind of invalidated the one-day reset Heroics used to have,) you can easily get burned out on them. This problem has been compounded by the fact that we've gotten fewer and fewer dungeons to run.

Never was this issue a bigger problem than during the stretch of patch 4.1 and 4.2. 4.1 introduced the revamps of the former raids Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub. The problem was that everyone was heavily incentivized (with better gear and higher Valor returns) to run those two dungeons to the exclusion of the other nine Cataclysm heroics that had come out at launch. Later, the 4.3 dungeons would take on that role, and while I personally preferred those dungeons, it meant that the effective span of dungeon options just expanded from two to three, which is still not that great.

Mists of Pandaria never dipped below its nine total heroics, but we never got a single new dungeon during the entire expansion.

While I still have some small hope that Blizzard will recognize how important 5-person dungeons are to WoW, and focus more on producing dungeons, the trend is a little disheartening. Warlords of Draenor is going to launch with 8 dungeons, which is the smallest number ever (though granted, there are seven brand-new dungeons to Mists' six.)

Now the interesting thing that Blizzard has talked about is the concept of a "Timewalker" dungeon. The Timewalkers, of course, in-lore are basically mortals who are taking up the job of the Bronze Dragonflight now that Nozdormu has lost his super Aspect powers. In practice, these dungeons would essentially just scale you down, or perhaps they would scale up, to the appropriate level.

I expect this could be done with relative ease for most BC-forward dungeons. Vanilla had some funky dungeon design, with places like Blackrock Depths clearly meant to be a several hours' evening activity with some close guild mates and not the kind of place you'd want to PUG with a bunch of strangers. They've worked on this a little, largely by breaking the dungeons into digestible chunks, but sometimes you lose something (for one thing, there seem to be gaps in BRD that don't correspond to any Dungeon Finder wing.)

Then there's the question of rewards. While I think there could be some difficulty in figuring out just exactly how those should work, I do have a somewhat radical solution: scale everything up. It's clear from things like Item Upgrades and Warforged gear that it's fairly trivial to just bump up the item level of a piece of gear and have the values on it increase. Would it, then, be such a bad thing if the Red Sword of Courage became a viable weapon at level 100?

I maintain that dungeons, when they're good and appropriately challenging (not BC heroic hard, not Mists heroic easy) are the most fun you can have in WoW. Opening up the grand library of dungeons for players to experience would be fantastic. Plus it means that rather than running the same eight dungeons over and over and over for one or two years, you'd instead have a variety of 62 (not counting vanilla ones, except those that got revamps.) I don't know about you, but jumping around a list of 62 dungeons seems like it would last a bit longer than 8. And a lot of players never got to run Magister's Terrace or Forge of Souls when it was current. (The one thing I'd say about all of those is that Halls of Origination should probably be separated into two dungeons, because seven is just too many bosses.)

I know this is something Blizzard has talked about, and I really think it would be a great way to bring the nostalgia while simultaneously upping variety. While I hope this doesn't get used as an excuse to not come out with new dungeons in, say, patch 6.2 or whenever, I think it would be a great addition to the game.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Picking Things Up with the Alliance and Horde

Massive upheaval was the name of the game for the past two expansions, though that had been the case somewhat in Wrath as well (newer players who knew that Stormwind didn't used to have a harbor might have assumed that was a Cataclysm addition, but it actually came in Wrath.) One of the things that's kind of interesting, though also a bit frustrating, is how our journey to Draenor will mostly be leaving Azeroth behind to go about its own business for a while. Cataclysm saw familiar zones totally overhauled and stories jump forward in progression. Mists did take us away from our home territories a bit, but the action all came back to familiar lands - particularly for Orcs and Trolls, who saw their home zone and capital city become the central point of conflict. Mists was, in many ways, an interesting trick - one that I liked, actually. Pandaria seemed so utterly foreign and different when we arrived, but the more we found out, the more familiar it got, with the Old Gods and the Titans playing prominent roles, and the climax to the expansion taking place beneath Orgrimmar itself.

Warlords of Draenor appears, at least for now, to be far more isolated. It's a little early to predict the whole trajectory of the expansion at this point, but I suspect that the events of the expansion are really going to be limited to Draenor. The aftermath of the Siege of Orgrimmar and the peace treaty signed between the Alliance and Horde does not appear to be in focus. While more and more Azerothian forces arrive as you establish yourself on Draenor, I don't foresee anything like 5.1's Landfall happening - you are part of an expedition, and not a full-scale deployment. Your forces are a small elite group that is going to gather material and allies in Draenor, rather than opening the way for your forces to back you up. And one thing that's nice for those of us who preferred the "grudging cooperation" between the factions in Vanilla, BC, and Wrath over the all-out war in Cataclysm and Mists, is that the two sides are small enough teams headquartered far enough away from one another that there's really no reason to squabble (except in Ashran, which is just because they needed to do something PvP focused.)

But we're also going to see basically nothing of Vol'jin or Varian. Really, other than a few figures, like Khadgar, Thrall, and Maraad, we're really not getting anyone super-important from Azeroth to come with us. The Velen we interact with is not our Velen. That prophet is presumably still at the Exodar. Thrall is obviously no longer Warchief, and with the Cataclysm dealt with, he doesn't have to stick around as World Shaman either. Sure, it might have been better to bring someone like Saurfang, who actually, you know, knows Draenor, but I can understand why Thrall would be really eager to see what Draenor was like.

So what is going on back home?

There was quite a lot of chaos that happened during the last few in-game years. Most of it is because of Garrosh, either directly or indirectly. After the war in Northrend, there was a serious power-shift. Under Hellscream's leadership, the Horde expanded aggressively and totally industrialized. Territory expanded in just about every direction, but in response, the Alliance invaded the Barrens, laying siege to Mulgore and striking at the soft underbelly of the Horde. With Theramore destroyed, I'm not sure that the Alliance was able to do much in the Barrens during the Pandaria campaign. Overall, while they did gain some territory, Hellscream's leadership has really wound up costing them any of the advantages that they had post-Northrend.

The Alliance is still struggling, but while the Horde practically collapsed in on itself, the Alliance is holding. The destruction of Theramore was a devastating blow, but it was also the last serious defeat they would suffer during the war. Garrosh had pushed Sylvanas into more aggressively spreading into Lordaeron, which she did with gusto, but the invasion of Gilneas was not quite as successful as, say, Hillsbrad. While there's little there to indicate so to an Alliance player, Gilneas is basically holding against the Forsaken. Silverpine is essentially all Horde territory now, but the Greymane Wall, shattered though it is, does effectively mark the border, albeit a shifting a porous one, between Horde and Alliance ground. But Gilneas is not a functioning country anymore, with the civilian population in exile. The only people there are Alliance forces who are trying to establish a permanent foothold, and it's going to be a while before the Gilneans can move back in.

Despite these difficulties, the Alliance has been growing its membership. When Moira Bronzebeard returned from Blackrock Depths, the fear was that she intended to essentially lead a coup to install the Dark Irons as the chief controllers of Ironforge, which could of course jeopardize the status of one of the absolutely core members of the Alliance. However, as time has gone by, Moira has proven herself to be a loyal leader, and while many of the Dark Irons remain loyal to Twilight's Hammer, a large number of them are now reintegrating into the greater Dwarven, and by extension Alliance society.

Likewise, the Night Elves have finally decided that it's time to let the Highborne come back and practice Arcane magic as long as it's done responsibly. I don't know if it's such a huge population, as most of the Highborne sailed east and became the High Elves and then the Blood Elves, but it can't hurt.

Now Dalaran is of course a cause for some controversy. During the worst of Garrosh's abuses, Varian Wrynn and Lor'themar Theron had been engaged in very, very secretive talks. The Blood Elves had, of course, been members of the Alliance at one time, and while there were absolutely some old bitternesses about the way that the Blood Elves were treated post-Third War, it wasn't as if it was any worse than Garrosh. The Blood Elves have also been separated from family - those High Elves who were in human territories during the Scourge invasion might actually be a pretty big population. In the era of Hellscream's brutality, it didn't really make any sense for the Blood Elves to be in the Horde, rather than the Alliance (which, in the meantime, and become far more tolerant and diverse anyway.)

Unfortunately, the actions of a small few can make things much harder for everyone else. Despite losing Theramore, Jaina had largely been able to separate the actions of Hellscream from those of the Blood Elves in Dalaran. However, when it became clear that the Mogu's Divine Bell had been stolen from its safe place in Darnassus by Sunreaver Agents, she drew a line. And perhaps that was too broad a line. Jaina locked down Dalaran and began imprisoning anyone in the Sunreavers - effectively any Blood Elf or just any Horde people in Dalaran. The thing that's so frustrating about this is that she wasn't entirely wrong in her convictions. It's pretty clear that Aethas Sunreaver - the leader of the Sunreavers - was involved in that plot. But by broadly arresting any Blood Elves - or killing those who resisted arrest - she stirred up all the old resentments and torpedoed those talks that Varian and Lor'themar had engaged in.

Many Blood Elves are likely still in Violet Hold, and that's something that needs to be taken care of. However, the upshot of this is that, while the Alliance lost the opportunity to not only regain an old ally but also deprive the Horde on one at the same time, Dalaran itself has reverted to being a purely Alliance force and institution. Is it a good trade? Well, one wonders. If the Blood Elves were to flip over, Dalaran would probably be Alliance by default anyway. Now, however, the Alliance has got to deal with a complex situation where they need to let those Blood Elves go at some point, but they need to do it in such a way that it does not threaten to bring up tensions again (actually, immediately post-Orgrimmar would have been a great time, but I don't know if Jaina would have been up for that.)

Speaking of prisoners: Sylvanas currently has one of the key members of the Knights of the Ebon Blade in her own dungeons, being "re-educated" after fraternizing with members of the Alliance (really just his fellow Death Knight.) This is kind of a big deal. For one thing, whose jurisdiction is Koltira Deathweaver under? One could argue that he should answer to Darion Mograine, but given that the Ebon Blade is a neutral organization, he shouldn't have been participating in the battle for Andorhal in the first place (same with Thassarian.) But if he's a member of the Horde, would he not be representing Silvermoon? Yes, he's Undead, but with the exception of Sylvanas and her Dark Rangers, the Forsaken are primarily undead humans. It's not as if anyone Undead defaults in loyalty to the Forsaken (for one thing, half of them are members of the Alliance.) And even if, by serving as a commander of Forsaken forces, he did wind up under Sylvanas' command, one still wonders - is the Horde cool with brainwashing as a disciplinary action?

Garrosh attempted to reign Sylvanas in, but the Forsaken seem more aggressive and dangerous than ever. There's really no long-term solution for them. Most probably wish they'd just gradually die out and let living people repopulate Lordaeron, but it's clear that Sylvanas does not have anything like that in mind. Essentially, she wants her own little slightly-less malevolent Scourge to live there forever. But unless you can get humans to go volunteer for a Forsaken afterlife (which seems unlikely,) her vision is going to require a pretty horrific abuse of the very concept of Free Will.

Luckily, despite the bloodshed there, Kalimdor actually seems to have a more thoughtful peace process going on. Tyrande has agreed to allow the Horde uncontested control of Azshara. The question then becomes Ashenvale. Azshara's strategically important given the huge harbor there, but the Horde's main source of lumber in Kalimdor is just west of there. The Night Elves are presumably interested in halting the logging of Ashenvale, which could be a problem, especially given that post-Siege, the Horde's probably going to need to rebuild. Still, the Night Elves are in a good position to reestablish themselves throughout much of Kalimdor. The question, as it is for the Alliance from now on, is one of restraint.

The Horde itself is going to be going through a bit of chaos. Orgrimmar was devastated by the Siege, and it's likely that the former Kor'kron or just ordinary Orcish supporters of Garrosh, are going to be really upset about the fact that they have to bow down before a Troll as Warchief. The Darkspear have just gotten elevated to a position of incredible power, but that also makes them targets. I would be very curious to see how the Horde interacts with the Zandalari from here on out. The Orcs are now somewhat leaderless as a race. Thrall does not seem to want to be that figure for them anymore. While many I'm sure will adjust to Vol'jin, there's a lot of dangerous racial pride among the Orcs, which could threaten to cause some big problems.

Hopefully the peace treaty will allow the Tauren to open up Mulgore once again, and perhaps they will be able to resume their ties with the Night Elves (no two races on opposite factions are so close. Seriously, I think the Tauren are closer to the Night Elves than they are to the Undead.)

Depending on how things go in Draenor, it's possible that Azuremyst and Bloodmyst Isles are about to get a huge immigration. With SPOILER, some of the Draenei of the other universe might decide to move to Azeroth, though the reverse is also a possibility. No one has really made much mention of the fact that the Exodar is once again functional, but it's possible that that remains a closely-guarded secret, perhaps known only to a select few.

Fundamentally it looks like the balance has seriously shifted from the early days of Garrosh's tenure as Warchief. When he started, he got the Alliance on its heels while the Horde pushed forward. But now, there's been a massive backward swing, and the Horde is left trying to pick up the pieces. The Alliance then has a major choice to make. Do they take this time to consolidate and reinforce their own territories, or do they try to establish a permanent domination of the Horde. Some, like Jaina, have lost all faith in the Horde's ability to coexist peacefully, and believe that by allowing them to rebuild, they are only ensuring another Warchief Hellscream some time later. But Varian has a different outlook, and is seeking to establish more of the kind of cooperation that existed when Thrall was Warchief - but this time, with a little more transparency and fairness. Varian values restraint, but his critics would call it hesitation. The Alliance has great power now, and could very likely crush the Horde if they wished, but instead, they are hoping that a healthy Horde will mean a peaceful Horde, and a potential ally for the other, far greater threats when they show up.

Only time will tell which course is wiser.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Quick Guide to the Iron Horde and the Orcs of Draenor

Given that we're dealing with a parallel universe, it's possible that Orcish history was quite different than it was in our universe. The official story ever since Warcraft III was that before the corruption of Mannoroth, the Orcs were a fundamentally peaceful people. I think that we're getting a somewhat different story these days, but one that's a bit more realistic. The Orcs weren't peaceful, but they weren't uncontrollably aggressive.

The Horde itself may actually have existed in one form or another long before the arrival of the Burning Legion. The Orcs are a diverse people, but it's perfectly understandable that they would have some framework by which to unite and fend off the Ogres, Arrakoa, Botani, or whatever else might be causing them trouble.

Ner'zhul was generally respected by all the Orcs - a kind of Orcish Pope, in a way - despite the fact that he belonged to only one of the many clans. It was around Ner'zhul (and standing behind him, Gul'dan) that the Horde of our universe coalesced. One could even argue that Ner'zhul was the first Warchief, though I believe that the title and position did not truly exist until Gul'dan's Shadow Council elevated Blackhand, who would later by usurped by Orgrim Doomhammer, who would pass the mantle on to Thrall, who would unfortunately name Garrosh as his replacement, who was overthrown by Vol'jin, which is where we are today.

But the Iron Horde had a different history. Garrosh engineered its creation so that his father - or rather, the man who shared a name and face with his father - would be its leader. So who are all these people?

The Warsong Clan:

At the core of the Iron Horde is the Warsong Clan. Grommash led the Warsong, but when he rose to the position of Warchief, he left behind his clan to the strange prophet Garrosh. Garrosh now rules the Warsong in Nagrand from the city of Grommashar. Much as he had pushed the non-Orc and non-Tauren from the heart of Orgrimmar, Garrosh has decreed that only the Warsong and the Burning Blade can stay in Nagrand. The Warsong are the elite warriors of the Iron Horde, and its most fervent supporters.

The Shadowmoon Clan:

The Shadowmoon Clan are deeply in tune with the magic of the spirits. Their leader is Ner'zhul. When Grommash and Garrosh approached Ner'zhul, they leveled a massive threat - either they could find a source of power to contribute to the Iron Horde's cause and join them, or they could be destroyed. Out of desperation and pride, Ner'zhul broke a centuries-old law, taking upon himself the void power of the Dark Star - the Naaru K'ara, who had been injured in the arrival on Draenor, and had gone into its dark cycle. Wielding the terrible power of the Dark Star, Ner'zhul's Shadowmoon Clan threatens to overrun the vast Draenei population in Shadowmoon Valley.

The Thunderlord Clan:

Frostfire Ridge is home to the Frostwolf Clan, but it has also always been home to the Thunderlord Clan - a clan of talented hunters and rock-climbers. The Thunderlords have long been rivals to the Frostwolves, and they have seen the Iron Horde as a chance to get the edge over the Frostwolves once and for all.

The Blackrock Clan:

Located in northern Gorgrond, the Blackrock Clan has become the main industrial force within the Iron Horde. They have great numbers and a great deal of experience not only mining their mineral-rich homeland, but also dealing with the angry giants - ancestors of the Ogres who sort of progress from the Ogron to the Gronnlings, then the Gronn, and then the Fomor. Blackhand essentially acts as the Iron Horde's chief industrial foreman, putting into practice the many schematics and blueprints that Garrosh brought with him.

The Shattered Hand:

Not so much a clan as a kind of gang, the Shattered Hand is a collection of outlaws and escaped slaves. Clanless, they flock to the banner of Kargath Bladefist, who escaped his bonds as a gladiator slave to the Ogres by tearing off his own hand and replacing it with a massive blade. The Shattered Hand largely survives in the dark and mysterious forests in the Spires of Arak, and is full of desperate and dangerous Orcs.

The Bleeding Hollow Clan:

We actually don't get to see much of the Bleeding Hollow just yet, as we leave Tanaan Jungle pretty shortly after closing the Dark Portal. The Bleeding Hollow practice a very dangerous kind of shamanism that involves blood magic. They are led by Kilrogg Deadeye, who, according to the ways of the clan, tore out one of his eyes in order to get a vision of his own demise (man, I guess they should hang out with the Shattered Hand and make a big "self-mutilation club.")

The Burning Blade Clan:

The Burning Blade is one of the smaller clans in the Iron Horde, but they are peerless warriors who use some kind of shamanistic magic that combines with their skill at arms to make them extra-deadly. Notably, these are the only other clan that Garrosh felt worthy of remaining in Nagrand.

Non-Iron Horde Orcs:

That pretty much outlines who is in the Iron Horde. The Iron Horde is present in just about every zone, though to varying degrees. But not every Orc has joined up. Who's out?

The Frostwolf Clan:

I don't know what it says that the Frostwolves joined our Horde but not the Iron Horde, but it could have something to do with Garrosh preventing them. Still, it seems the the Frostwolves really would prefer peace and not the endless drumbeat of war - or at least they'd rather fight real threats, like the Ogres, rather than get involved in some pointless aggression against the Draenei or some other world they had never heard of. The Frostwolves are definitely on the defense, but they are brave warriors who are deeply held together by bonds of family and real honor.

The Laughing Skull Clan:

Perhaps too crazy even for the Iron Horde, the Laughing Skull Clan lives in the jungles of Southern Gorgrond. They seem to have adapted their culture to that extraordinarily dangerous part of Draenor, but given their rivalry with the Blackrock (and perhaps the Thunderlords, given how close they are,) they make for convenient allies.

The Shadowmoon Dissenters:

Not all of the Shadowmoon Clan has joined up with the Iron Horde. Many were horrified by what Ner'zhul had done, breaking the ancient laws. Chief amongst them is Rulkan, Ner'zhul's wife. These outcasts have holed up in Windreaver's Rise in Shadowmoon Valley, and seek aid from the Draenei and the Alliance in saving them from their own vengeful clan-mates.

The Shadow Council:

While it has its share of Ogres and Draenei (given that Draenei is essentially a political name, one might as well just call them Sargerai and leave it at that,) the Shadow Council is primarily Orcs, led by Gul'dan. There's no mention of the Stormreaver Clan here, which in the old lore was a clan Gul'dan founded to give himself prestige enough to deal on equal footing with the other orc warlords. Without the support of the Iron Horde, the Shadow Council has been forced to operate more openly, with many Legion-affiliated demons being summoned into Draenor to attempt to take the world directly.

Who's Been Left Out?:

So who are we missing? It's certainly possible that a lot of the Orc clans we're familiar with have shifted and changed over the course of the past few decades. Just as Theramore became a new human nation (sadly gone now - I'd really like to see them establish some new little quest hub where they're attempting to rebuild,) it's totally possible that some of the clans that we're familiar with just don't exist yet. The other possibility is that the clans never would have existed in this parallel universe anyway.

The Twilight's Hammer Clan:

Cho'gall is certainly a figure in Draenor, but it's in his previous position as one of the top Warlocks in the Shadow Council. Essentially, he and Teron'gor (aka Teron Gorefiend, pre-Death Knight conversion) are Gul'dan's main lieutenants. I believe that in the original lore, Twilight's Hammer was actually one of the Orc clans of the Horde, but Cho'gall took it over and dialed the insanity up to eleven, and post-Second War, he started recruiting non-Horde races to join. Now, there could totally just be a retcon here, where Twilight's Hammer was never a clan, or perhaps that he would form it later on.

The Bonechewer Clan:

No Bonechewers here. It's possible that the Bonechewer Clan came about only after Draenor was devastated by Warlock magic. Scary as they are, there doesn't seem to be any cannibalism in any of the Orcish culture.

The Dragonmaw Clan:

There really don't seem to be Dragons anywhere in Draenor, except for the Fae Drakes used by the Draenei. Honestly I have no idea how this fits into the lore, as I had always assumed Fae Drakes were native to Azeroth and affiliated with the Night Elves. How those Fae Drakes got there is a mystery, and probably one we won't get an answer for. The simplest explanation for the absence of the Dragonmaw is that they just didn't exist yet at this time. The grey skin of the Dragonmaw suggests that they might have been an off-shoot of the Blackrock Clan (never understood why Saurfang has the typical Fel-green skin while the Orcs in the conveniently-named Blackrock Mountain have grey skin - probably just an oversight or some retcon mix-ups.)

Transitioning From Warlords

The trajectory of Warlords of Draenor seems to be more or less set. Blizzard has raised the possibility that there might only be two raid tiers in the expansion, which I honestly think is a very strong indicator that that will be the case - Blizzard has a history of trimming down what they have announced, but I don't think they'd have said anything on the subject if they really intend for there to be a tier between Blackhand and Grommash.

I could be wrong, of course, and it's possible that Blizzard's dungeon design team is already working on something to use as a middle tier, but is hedging its bets. Still, I think that they are planning to have a new expansion out soon enough that two raid tiers will fill in the time for Warlords. I would not be surprised if, given how long it has taken for Warlords to come out, they may very well be scaling Warlords down in order to make sure that the next one comes out quicker.

Why they are doing this, I'm not sure. While I love time-travel stories, I know there has been some grumbling about the extraordinarily complicated justification for the Warlords story (a straight time-travel story, though it would have "changing history" implications might have been easier, or a straight "parallel universe" story set on a different Draenor that nevertheless is at the same point in history as Outland,) and there's certainly a lot of disappointment that we're following up a major chunk of Mists of Pandaria that was about all Orcs, all the time, with an expansion that is laser-focused on the Orcs.

I think there's enough worthwhile stuff in Warlords that I'm excited to play through it, but I'm also kind of chomping at the bit for other stuff. Most of the zones in Draenor are gorgeous (stand-outs for me are Spires of Arak and Shadowmoon Valley,) and I'm very happy to see the Draenei playing a major role (though it's frustrating that they're not the Exodar Draenei. Really hope that Yrel becomes a kind of recurring character and isn't just put in mothballs after Warlords.) And actually, despite my Orc fatigue, it is kind of cool to see the individual character and personalities of the various Orc clans. I'd love to some day do the same with the human kingdoms, but I'm not going to hold my breath. (Ok, granted Stormwind, Gilneas, Lordaeron, and Dalaran have kind of gotten that.)

Blizzard claims that their new philosophy for expansions has been to have one lead into the next. BC and Wrath were hardly connected other than that the headlining villains from each of them were fan-favorites from Warcraft III. But there were hints at Cataclysm in both BC and Wrath, with the Nether/Twilight Dragons. Mists brought center-stage the Alliance/Horde conflict that had blown into full-out war during Cataclysm, and obviously Warlords follows very directly from Garrosh's defeat in Orgrimmar.

It will be hard to predict where we will go from Warlords, because we really don't know what the expansion is going to look like when all the pieces have fallen into place. Having played on the Beta since day one, I often have to remind myself that the expansion doesn't actually even begin for nearly three months, so I'm kind of jumping the gun.

But we know that demons are going to play a big role in the final raid, which could suggest we get a big Legion-themed expansion. Granted, the demons in Warlords are from the alternate-universe Legion, and I suspect that with very few characters excepted, we're going to be returning to the main timeline's figures. So is the Legion a feint?

On the other hand, it's possible that while we won't be facing the B-Universe's Legion, the presence of demons is going to push us toward confronting our own. Still, I'm skeptical that we'll be heading off to Argus or some such place immediately after spending so much time on another non-Azeroth world.

To me, the most obvious direction would be to finally have our long-awaited Azshara/South Seas expansion, but only if Azshara has retained her ties to the Burning Legion. If Azshara has totally abandoned demons in favor of Old Gods, then it's possible that such an expansion would be a wild left-turn. That's something I'd be fine with, but it doesn't really gel with what Blizzard has been saying.

The other alternative is that the whole Kairoz/Infinite Dragonflight thread will be picked up once more. But I really don't know what that expansion would be like. Blizzard's going to have to tread carefully with these guys. When you have something like a dungeon, you can isolate a single event - the Culling of Stratholme, the Opening of the Dark Portal, etc. These dungeons have basically been pass/fail. Either you succeed, and history goes on as it ought to, or you fail, and... well, you run back from the graveyard and try again. But having an entire expansion of "making sure history goes as it should" would be extremely constricting, plot-wise. I could see alternate versions of various zones smooshed together to make a kind of crazy-looking continent with some as-yet unrevealed part of the Caverns of Time at its center (preferably looking something like the End of Time in Chrono Trigger,) but in order to avoid all the paradox stuff, you'd probably have to stick to the multiverse established in Warlords, which then has the problem of making stakes difficult to establish. After all, if you save this Lordaeron from the Scourge, is it really a victory? Or are there an infinite number of other Lordaerons (including our own) that get overrun.

There's very little that I can see coming in Warlords that would point to an Old Gods or Emerald Dream expansion, and beyond those four possibilities, the really obvious ones have kind of run out. Granted, as I pointed out in an article not too long ago, there are certainly some less obvious alternatives. The question then, is how we're going to lead in. Siege of Orgrimmar has a very strong tie with the subject matter of Warlords of Draenor, but we've never seen a connection that intense before. If it's that strong again, we'd almost have to have a Legion-themed expansion, but perhaps they'll dial back a bit.

It is, of course, very early to make any solid predictions. Perhaps it's even too early to speculate. Still, given that they are already working on those new zones, it's pretty clear that the expansion to follow Warlords has already been decided upon. Hopefully they made the decision after getting the reaction to Warlords, so they could anticipate what the players want more of (hint: not Orcs.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Classes - Coming From a Different Angle

Nothing gets the blood of an altoholic pumping like the idea of a new class. New abilities, new specs, new visuals, new flavor - a new perspective on Azeroth. As I'm sure anyone who reads this blog is aware, I am often happy to speculate on new classes (it's usually Demon Hunters, but not always.) Usually, I look at the lore and try to figure out what's missing from there. Adding a new class is, of course, a much bigger project than a new race. Blizzard basically just had to build new models and a couple of zones, and bam: playable Goblins are just part of the game now. But the Death Knight, introduced nearly six years ago, needs the same kind of care and maintenance that any class requires.

Lore's an important part in adding to the game. DKs were a well-established presence in Warcraft, going back as far as WCII, though the modern, Scourge DK came with WCIII (along with about 75% of the stuff in WoW.) Monks were a bit more of a stretch, but we did have the Brewmaster character in the Frozen Throne, and it wasn't a huge leap to extrapolate on that, making Brewmasters essentially the "drunken boxing" style of Kung Fu monk.

But beyond lore, there's also just flavor - filling archetypes that transcend Warcraft. Death Knights filled a niche that hadn't been filled - they were the first class to be able to apply diseases to enemies (at the time, only some Priests, depending on race, got Devouring Plague, and Infected Wounds didn't exist yet.) More importantly, it was also the first heavily-armored, tanking-capable class to have a "dark" theme, with Paladins and Druids as clear "good guy" classes and Warriors being strictly neutral.

Likewise, Monks finally filled the niche of the unarmed-fighter, and the flavor thankfully allowed us to get all three major group roles out of the class.

So what little niches need to be explored for a new class? In some areas, there might be already something that fills that niche, but is strange in its isolation. Ultimately, we have a pretty good spread already, but there are a few places in which to expand.

1. Ranged Weapon Classes

Before Mists of Pandaria, Guns, Bows, and Crossbows were all available to Rogues and Warriors (technically I think you can still equip them, but you have to put away your melee weapons to do so, making them useless.) There were four kinds of ranged weapons - those previous three and Thrown weapons. Everyone had a ranged slot, which meant that those classes would take along their ranged weapons for the stats and Hunters would carry around some melee weapons as well.

In the interest of simplifying, the ranged weapon was gotten rid of. Everyone basically just has the weapons they actually use, and Hunter get to equip their ranged weapons in the main-hand slot. Wands (which were the one thing cloth classes put in their ranged slot) became melee weapons and Relics (which were used by Paladins, Shamans, Druids, and Death Knights) were gotten rid of as well. Overall, this simplification has been a good thing for the game, and has made gearing up slightly less onerous.

The weird consequence, however, is that Hunters now have three entire weapon types all to themselves. There's not a single class other than them that actually uses these weapons.

The lore problem is that just about every potential class that is seen using ranged weapons is funneled into the "hunter" category. The Farstrider rangers clearly are Hunters, as are the Ironforge Riflemen. Beastmasters are Hunters (even though you never see Rexxar wielding a bow.) Shadow Hunters are, I suppose, Hunters. The point here is that you could probably find a different niche for a class that uses ranged weapons.

With Hunters using Focus (for quite some time now, actually,) the idea of Hunters as being magical has kind of faded away. In Warlords, if I recall correctly, "Arcane Shot," which was there sort of to justify the use of Mana, is going to be only for Survival. Hunters are being focused more on the physical and mundane. This then seems like a great opportunity to open up a class that focuses more on magic while shooting arrows, bolts, or bullets.

2. More Ranged/Melee Hybrids

One of the oddities of WoW is that there are tons of tank/dps, heal/dps, or tank/heal/dps hybrids, but there are only two classes that can be both melee DPS and ranged DPS. Shamans can sort of shift around their priorities to serve either function - both Enhancement and Elemental use Lightning Bolt and Shocks, and they have a signature lava spell, but they play very differently. Druids became almost entirely different classes, with Feral functioning somewhat like a Rogue and Balance using a totally unique Eclipse mechanic.

Admittedly, I think the best place to expand these options would be if we got fourth specs for the various classes (other than Druids, who are obviously all right already.) Ranged specs for pretty much all the melee classes could work (perhaps not Monks.) Rogues and Warriors could use "hunter weapons," while Paladins and DKs could become spell casters (the latter fulfilling the "Necromancer" archetype by focusing far more on summoning undead minions - like a cross between Beast Mastery and Demonology.)

Hunter also flirted with the idea of having a melee spec back in vanilla, but it never really materialized, even though it seems like something that could work.

Either way, this might be something to bear in mind when designing a new class as well - providing a variety of options, which would of course then appeal to a wider group of players.

3. Pure DPS: Never Again

WoW launched with four classes that could only be DPS. They're lovely classes, but they're also kind of a pain. With Pure DPS you have a couple problems:

The first is that if it's a new class, you can be assured that a lot of players leveling up during that expansion are going to be playing that class. If it's pure DPS, getting a dungeon group together will be a nightmare. Even the DK, who was a Tank/DPS hybrid, caused problems here, because you'd have groups forming without healers.

The second is that when you have three specs that all do the same basic thing, it becomes very hard to design them with any distinction. Mages have an elemental theme that thankfully leads naturally to different mechanics, though it took them a while to figure out what to do with Arcane. Warlocks needed a huge overhaul in order to bring some spec identity - previously every spec would basically revolve around Immolate, Corruption, and your Curse/Bane, then filler. Hunters are getting differentiated a bit more in Warlords, largely by cutting some shared abilities. Rogues are still very similar across the specs, though in fairness I haven't yet tried out Combat on the beta (because yuck! Combat!)

4. Spreading around the classic wizard magic

There's really only one class in the game that does magic in the classic "white hair, pointy hat with stars on it, has a talking owl friend" way. The only class that comes anywhere near the Mage in terms of wizardry is the Warlock, which then of course is also in the same niche - in fact, no two classes are closer together - cloth-wearing pure DPS casters who use literally the exact same gear. It's no wonder that there's such a rivalry.

Many "power archetypes" have a light-armored/heavy-armored, ranged/melee variant. Priest and Paladins are both practitioners of Holy magic. Shamans and Druids are both nature-based, even if they are pleasantly distinct visions of nature. Warlocks and Death Knights both tap into dark powers to use Shadow magic against their foes. And Rogues, Warriors, and Hunters are all somewhat practical, using good old steel and wood to fight their fights.

There's not really any other "Arcane" based class. Yes, Balance druids use Arcane magic, but flavor-wise, it's a very different thing, and is more like they're drawing on the Holy/Natural power of the stars, instead of manipulating the underlying energy of the universe.

5. Figuring out a new Role

This one's a real dangerous idea that threatens to take us down the rabbit hole. Many RPGs have more than just three group roles. A common addition is the "Support" role. This is the type of class that is less about their own performance, and is more about enhancing the performance of others. The classic example here is the Bard.

The thing is, I'm not sure this role would really fit, mechanically. First off, I think there's a lot of overlap with healers, as a role that has you focusing on your allies rather than your enemies. Additionally, Blizzard sort of tried that in vanilla. Paladins and Shamans were really brought more for their buffs than anything else. Paladins would basically spend most of their time refreshing Blessings on other players (the Blessings used to be very complicated - there were like seven of them, and they had a five-minute duration, and at least in vanilla, you had to cast them each individually per player. There were add ons to help you coordinate with other paladins.) Mechanically it was just not very compelling.

The other issue is that the culture of the game will make things rough for buffers. So much of the way players judge each other is in damage and healing meters. If you're running a raid and there's a Bard who's only doing a third of the DPS as the Rogue next to him, some jerk will kick him, even though the reason that Rogue's DPS has been shooting so high is because the Bard has been channeling his "Song of Triumph" on him. Unfortunately, the culture of the game has a tendency to ignore nuance, which is also somewhat natural when you're in a group of 25 people. As a support class, you're volunteering to make your contribution harder to quantify and less visible.

So What Does That Leave Us With?

The game as it stands could probably stick with the classes it has and be ok. The way that raiding and dungeon-running and everything works is fine. But new features get people excited about the game, and there's no more exciting feature than a new class. It's a delicate move, fitting a new class into a ten-year-old game, but I think that it's in the best interests of the game makers, and the players, to get more options as time goes by. Certainly, it should be done with care. If you add too many too quickly, you risk throwing the game balance entirely off. But the current rate of about one every other expansion seems to be ok. The DK certainly had its hiccups, but by Cataclysm (or really even just late Wrath) it was pretty well-settled. The Monk was, surprisingly, in great shape once it went live (the only balance issue was perhaps the damage output while healing.) As long as they do it carefully and take it slow, Blizzard can certainly fit more classes into the game as time goes on. And I hope they do.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Enduring Mystery of the Infinite Dragonflight

The Infinite Dragonflight is perhaps the most confounding and confusing set of villains in Warcraft for the very simple reason that time travel always makes things more complicated. But I happen to be a lover of time-travel shenanigans. (Incidentally, Doctor Who is back, and Peter Capaldi is great!)

The nature of the Infinite Dragonflight seemed relatively straightforward when they were first introduced in the Burning Crusade. They seemed to be trying to sabotage the success of the Third War by changing the past - either killing Thrall before he could become Warchief and lead his people to join with the Alliance and Night Elves, or preventing the Horde from ever getting to Azeroth in the first place, which would of course would mean that the Alliance would never form, and the Orcs might never redeem themselves. Their interference in the actual Battle of Mount Hyjal was nowhere to be seen, and it's here that some of the gameplay and story kind of butt heads.

There was always something a little tricky about it, though. The Infinites attempted to stop the opening of the Dark Portal, which in a vacuum seems like a pretty noble thing to do. Likewise, the Infinites seemed very invested in preventing Arthas from diving down the slippery slope at Stratholme. In some ways, the Infinites almost seemed to be trying to do the right thing, but in a way that changed history, and thus had the potential to cause terrible chaos.

Our last interaction with the Infintes was in End Time - a post-apocalyptic future in which Deathwing had succeeded in destroying all life on Azeroth, including himself. It was there that we faced Muruzond, and the truth of the Infinites was confirmed. Nozdormu and the Bronze Dragonflight (perhaps all of it) would one day become the Infinite Dragonflight. Nozdormu watched - even aided us - as we killed his future self, and he was there to provide his own eulogy. Just as Aman'thul had shown him when he was made Aspect of Time, Nozdormu now saw his death for the first of two times with his own eyes, and with solemnity and a little Tralfamadorian wisdom, accepted its eventuality.

All of this made some sort of sense (at least for those who are used to the logical gymnastics required for time-travel stories.) There was definitely a big loose thread, which was that we had defeated Deathwing and prevented End Time, which would seem to have erased the reality in which we killed Muruzond.

Well, kids, things just got a whole hell of a lot more complicated.

Spoilers for Warlords of Draenor and the Hellscream short story to follow.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Character Models Implemented and other Beta News

In the latest Beta build, the five remaining model revamps for 6.0 have finally been implemented. Male Humans, Male Night Elves, Female Tauren, and both Trolls are now updated in the Beta. Like most of the models, these are not entirely finalized yet, but we are getting to see some of the animation.

Blood Elves still have their original BC models, and will not be updated until a later patch, though it's most likely they will come soon. I expect them to be along by 6.1.

As someone whose main has been a male human paladin since vanilla (ok, there was a time in BC when my main was the Undead rogue and in Mists he's kind of shared that status with the DK,) it was with great anticipation and nervousness that I checked out my guy's new look.

The male human has long been a focus of complaints, though frankly, I never really understood why it was so reviled in comparison to, say, the female troll. The new model look significantly more modern. At the moment, a lot of the expressions on the faces look a bit similar, but then again, that was the case for the old models as well. I think that the whole "same face" thing is blown a little out of proportion, but I'll be relatively content if my guy winds up looking roughly the way he does in the beta. The only really weird thing is that I feel like my old model has lighter hair. Luckily, that's a quick fix in the barber shop.

Human males in particular have got great facial animations, sometimes raising an eyebrow or smirking a little with certain emotes. I also tested out the Male Troll and Male Night Elf. The troll likewise is very expressive now - really the only complaint I have about the troll is that the two-tone white/blue hair seems to have been either consolidated into a simple blue or a simple grey. The Night Elf (which we have not yet had an Artcraft for) seems like it needs the most polish, and the face seems a little stiff when emoting, compared to the other very expressive new models (again, male humans look wonderful when emoting.)

Running and casting animations also feel a lot smoother. Forgive the favoritism here, as human male is the most important of these revamps to me, but it's great to see that humans actually look like they're running when they do. No longer are their arms glued to their sides at the elbow. Oh! And their absurd forearms have been dialed back a bit so that they have wrists and joints and all that.

I'm not sure that my guy really looks that much like he did, but this was one of the models getting a pretty extensive revamp, so that's to be expected a little.

I've been going with a different haircut and facial hair option lately, but here's a look at Jarsus with his original coif on the new model (also, yes, that sword model is bugged. It should be pointed in the opposite direction. It looks fine when I'm holding it.)

In other Beta news:

The log-in screen has been implemented. In the grand tradition of vanilla and BC, the Warlords log-in screen shows the Red Dark Portal (Draenor side.) There's actually  pretty cool animation where it activates when you first get to the screen. Additionally, the character-select background settings for Dwarves, Night Elves, Undead, Orcs, and Tauren have all been updated a little, adding more modern visual effects, like fog and a glowing purple lantern in the Undead one or a more detailed battlefield for the Orcs. The Tauren have had their second relocation (after their select screen was changed during Cataclysm,) and they appear to be on some rise in Thunder Bluff, perhaps.

A lot of voice-acting has been added to the game. So far I've heard new voices for Maraad, Yrel, Cordana Felsong, Baros Alexander, and several of the Arrakoa Outcast NPCs, as well as a new generic Arrakoa Outcast NPC voice. Additionally, Soulbinder Tulaani (an NPC in Talador who can become a follower) and one of the Rangari (also a follower, I believe a character from Gorgrond) have unique voices. I can only assume other figures like Khadgar and Durotan will have their own as well. Hopefully Thrall will get some new ones, because I'm a little sick of "Hello, friend. What is it you wish?" (For those of you who started playing in Cataclysm or later, back when Thrall was Warchief and in Orgrimmar, that was just one of his emotes. Another used to be "Welcome to Orgrimmar, have you come to serve the Horde?" but given that Thrall hasn't really been in Orgrimmar since then, it doesn't really work.

Garrisons seem to be in the late pupal stage of development, and are just about ready to come out of their cocoon. Most of the buildings have some kind of interactive function, like daily dungeon quests from the Inn or tasks to gather armor scraps at the Armory. I have to say, there are enough interesting buildings that I actually do anticipate it being difficult to decide what to get, which is a good sign.

Professions still need a little implementation. I can't get any new Engineering recipes. Also, the Enchanter NPC at my garrison is ignoring me.

Gear in dungeons and raids has not been implemented, or at least has not been added to the Dungeon Journal.

As usual, there are a couple bugs here and there (sadly one that is preventing me from progressing through Spires of Arak on my Paladin.) But I can see why they were confident enough to announce a release date this month. I am very confident that everything will be in place for November 13th.

I'm eager for November to get here. Not just so that I can play the expansion for real, but also so that I can delete this massive second copy of the game from my poor, overcrowded hard drive (though I hope I have my new computer by then.)

"Hellscream" Sorts Everything Out

WoW's official website has a new short story up titled Hellscream, and boy howdy does it clear some ambiguities up nicely. Honestly I suspect that it may have been written specifically for that purpose, but it's actually pretty entertaining, and lets you get into the heads of the two Hellscreams.

But many of the lingering questions about Warlords of Draenor are now clarified decisively. Spoilers to follow!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blizzcon and The Subsequent Expansion

"Subsequent Expansion" is the term I'm going to use for whatever expansion brings us 7.0. Because Warlords is still a little less than three months away, it's still the "next expansion."

As some recent interviews have suggested, Blizzard wants to try to get expansions out faster, to the extent that we might actually be looking at an expansion with only two raid tiers. Personally, I'm not all that crazy about the idea (I'd rather have something like Wrath, with four raid tiers over two years, though stretching out the middle ones so we aren't stuck on the last one for so long,) but on the other hand, it increases the opportunities for all the things you wanted to hear at the latest expansion reveal, but didn't.

WoW expansions have, I believe, always been announced at Blizzcon. Indeed, it's been somewhat like clockwork (except that Blizzcon doesn't always come at the same time every year.) So here's why this could have strange consequences:

Blizzcon this year is happening, I think, in early November, or possibly late October (I don't have the date in front of me, so I could be a little off.) If they truly wish to release another WoW expansion a year after Warlords, then one would expect them to announce it at Blizzcon - right before the release of Warlords.

This seems unlikely for a number of reasons - the chief one being that in the run-up to the new expansion, they wouldn't want to distract you by saying "well, you're about to finally check out the crazy stuff we announced last year, but before you do, here's what you'll be waiting a year for while you're working on that!" It seems far more likely that at this year's Blizzcon, the WoW discussions will focus more on laying out the patch schedule and showing off new features that will make their way into the game (like Timewalker Dungeons, for example.)

But of course there is no law that says that Blizzard must only announce their new expansions at Blizzcon. Reaper of Souls, for instance, was announced elsewhere. WoW has been Blizzard's tentpole for ten years now, (though I would guess Starcraft is their most popular game,) so I would think that they would generally prefer to make the big announcements at their own convention. But just logistically, time wise, announcing a new expansion at Blizzcon wouldn't really work - if they can actually manage to speed up the process.

If they announce it this year, they steal Warlords' thunder. If they announce it next year, it means that either they're going from announcement to live in a very short span of time or they've failed at the expansion-a-year goal. Even if it's more like a year and a half of Warlords, it really means they'd have to go into Beta very soon after its announcement.

See, here's what worries me about Warlords: Two raid tiers in a single-year expansion could work (though the main pitfall I think you'd experience is that Warlords as a whole would be kind of forgettable. "Oh yeah," we'd think. "We were level 100 for a short bit in that alternate universe expansion. Weird.") But Blizzard has never been able to accelerate the expansion process. I know they claim the new people added are now "up to speed," but there's always room for new excuses that might be perfectly legitimate. If Blizzard proceeds with the assumption that Warlords is going to be shorter than previous expansions, but then it isn't, then it'll be seriously content-starved.

And just as an aside, why can't we get an expansion with more than nine dungeons at launch anymore? Counting revamps, we've had 9, 9, and now 8 with Warlords. BC had 15 and Wrath had 11. That means BC launched with nearly twice as many dungeons as Warlords has.

I'm very eager to see what Blizzard has to present at this year's Blizzcon, because while I'm seriously doubtful that they would announce a full-on WoW 7.0 expansion, I think it will be a good opportunity to gauge just where WoW is going in the next couple years.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Less Obvious Expansion Ideas

WoW's first couple expansions were somewhat obvious choices. Not in a bad way, mind you, but it was pretty clear in vanilla that we'd have to go to Outland and we'd have to go to Northrend at some point. Illidan, Arthas, and Deathwing were all big figures who had been conspicuously absent in Vanilla. Outland (then called the Outlands) had been explored as early as Warcraft II's Beyond the Dark Portal expansion, and Northrend was introduced in the same game that we learned about Kalimdor.

The first few expansions burned through some big characters, though, and Blizzard has, wisely, I think, tried to start building up new lore (all lore is new at some point, of course) for the new expansions. At least one Pandaren had been established before WoW, and actually, even such organizations as the Shado-Pan were already on the books before Mists of Pandaria came out, but nearly everything in Pandaria was built from the ground up.

Garrosh Hellscream has, of course, been a pivotal figure in the Warcraft universe, but has only existed since the Burning Crusade expansion. (Of course, at this point "only" seems a little silly when referring to an expansion that came out eight years ago. Ugh, I just made myself feel old.)

It seems that there's a canon of obvious future expansions that always get talked about when we're due a new announcement. A South Seas/Azshara expansion (a lot of people thought that the Dark Below would be that, though it turned out to be an expansion for Destiny, and not WoW,) an Old God expansion, maybe an Infinite Dragonflight expansion (fingers crossed!) and of course, if they wanted to pull that trigger, an ultimate Burning Legion expansion that has us finally confront Sargeras (possibly set on Argus.) And of course, despite Blizzard basically ruling it out as anything more than a raid instance, the Emerald Dream, which people have been expecting as the next expansion since before Burning Crusade.

But Mists and Warlords were both somewhat surprising. When I first heard about the trademark for Mists of Pandaria, I actually was very skeptical that the Pandaren would even play all that big a role. I figured it would be in the South Seas, on an archipelago, and that the "Mists" referred to the Kvaldir, who might be warring against the Naga. My speculation on the name "Warlords of Draenor" is on this blog, so you can see for yourself, but I remember imagining that it could be another part of Draenor we would discover, floating in the Twisting Nether, and that perhaps we'd have all new societies, including perhaps a group of brutal Draenei, becoming somewhat more Orc-like after being cut off from Velen.

The obvious expansions are fine, but they're finite, and some of them Blizzard is probably going to want to sit on. There are some early quotes from Vanilla where some developer said that the Lich King would take eighty level 100 players to take down when asked what his power level was. Obviously, at this point level and in-lore power level are somewhat divorced concepts. There's no way that Garrosh, even covered with Y'shaarj's blood, was anywhere near as powerful as the Lich King or Deathwing. And neither of those guys (ok, maybe the Lich King) were as powerful as the Old Gods, one of whom we fought at level 60. I absolutely loved Wrath of the Lich King, even if I do remember things that rose-tinted glasses would usually filter out, but Blizzard is in the position now where they don't get to have Arthas around anymore, which is a little frustrating.

There's a reason Batman doesn't kill the Joker, and instead opts to send him to Arkham Asylum. It's because damn, DC doesn't want to be in a position where they can't use the Joker anymore.

But I think it's also good to try something new and shake things up. Frankly, for all the complaints about "whimsical Pandas," I thought the story of Mists of Pandaria was top notch - the only flaw being that Horde players had to make a sudden shift between standing behind Hellscream and fighting against him (though the Dagger in the Dark scenario was a pretty decent attempt at justifying that.) Personally, I wasn't that crazy about the aesthetics of a lot of the Pandaria zones, but it was a matter of personal taste, and not a judgment of quality (though I think there's nothing in WoW that's anything like Valley of the Four Winds - a zone where you can actually imagine people really living and not starving to death!) But regardless of aesthetics, the character of Pandaria was wonderfully rich and the story of the expansion felt fuller than any that had come before, even my beloved Wrath.

Warlords of Draenor cheats a little bit in its originality, but it's something I'm willing to let slide given that it's kind of a 20th anniversary celebration of Warcraft. My only real issue with that is that if Blizzard insists Warcraft's all about Orcs and Humans, when do we get to hear about the humans? Warcraft's the only fantasy universe where the "boring race they spend too much focus on" isn't humans. But still, it's cool to see Draenor as it was pre-Outland, and I'm overjoyed to have an opportunity for the Draenei to actually do something (mumbles something about the fact that only one of the major Draenei characters in the expansion is actually from our universe.)

But post-Warlords, what comes next? What are the less obvious expansion ideas? Of course, as the "less obvious ones," these are all kind of inherently less likely, and are kind of stuff I'm pulling out of thin air.

Further Exploration of Draenor B:

In an interview, Tom Chilton said that he'd love to explore more of Draenor, but right now it looks like at most we're going to be getting all the Outland zones to fill out the map of Draenor (except Zangarmarsh, but it's ok, because Blade's Edge Mountains and Terrokar Forest are each represented by two zones in Draenor.) Given that Draenor as we know it is really just one continent on a potentially larger planet, you could imagine all kinds of crazy parts elsewhere.

A Trip to Eastern Kingdoms Past:

Just like the previous example, I wouldn't recommend this as the immediate follow-up to Warlords, but given hat we're seeing what the various Orc Clans were like in the early days of the Horde (albeit different thanks to Garrosh's imported Goblin technology and foreknowledge) I would love to see the Eastern Kingdoms before the First War. We've never seen Alterac before it was a ruin, and we've never seen (in WoW) an unplagued Lordaeron (except in the Culling of Stratholme dungeon.) Stormwind probably looked totally different before the First War, and hell, Stromgarde used to actually be an important capital. And that's not to mention the various Dwarves, High Elves, or Trolls that populated the place. If we went back a few centuries earlier, you could even see the War of the Three Hammers, and see what Blackrock Mountain was like before it went volcanic. I know that Cataclysm already gave us a new version of the Eastern Kingdoms, but one wonders what it would be like if it were to be rebuilt from scratch the way they're doing in Warlords.

The Freaking Moon:

Elune has to exist in more than just a metaphorical way, because we've met her son, Cenarius. Azeroth has two moons (actually, so does Draenor... weird.) Is Elune up there on the moon? Is she somehow a spirit that resides within the moon? What is the other moon's deal? We seem pretty happy and have the magical/technological capability to go to Outland, which was a planet presumably thousands of light-years away, then became trapped in another dimension. And now we're not just doing that, but going to a version of Draenor in an alternate universe. Don't you think that at this point, the Alliance and Horde might get to the moon? And how much do you want to bet that the smaller, blue moon, is actually a massive orbiting Titan facility?

Wrath 2: The Rescourgening:

There's only one reason that "there must always be a Lich King." It's because Blizzard knows that the Scourge is the best group of villains they've ever come up with and they want to keep them around. But other than a Cataclysm-style or Warlords-style revamp/remake of Northrend, how the hell would you do another Scourge expansion? Well, Azjol-Nerub was a tiny dungeon, and far from the massive zone that we were all hoping it would be (and then of course, in the following expansion we got our massive underground cavern zone in Deepholm.) It does seem like there could be more nooks and crannies to explore in Northrend. Speaking of...

What I thought the Dark Below was going to be:

For some reason, the "Dark Below" to me did not immediately make me think of the Naga, as for some reason it made me think more about being underground than underwater. It strikes me that we could, at some point, have a massive Old Gods-themed expansion. Cataclysm was kind of that, but it was sort of diluted with all the Elementals and the Black/Twilight Dragonflight (actually, if you ask me we could have focused a bit more on the Black Dragons in Cataclysm.) But given that Azeroth is a quasi-artificial planet, one wonders if the whole planet has mechanisms like the ones you find under Storm Peaks, and if we could explore them.

While I'm happy to go to Draenor (go Yrel!) I'm also intrigued and perhaps naively getting my hopes up that we'll get another expansion announcement at Blizzcon this year (for the record, it's super unlikely, and the big reveal will probably be Legacy of the Void and maybe a new Diablo III expansion, as well as some news about the patches that will be coming with Warlords.) I'm sure there are plenty of ideas floating out there that would also make for great expansion ideas, but for a while now, we've been in a kind of "anyone's guess" state of the game. So for curiosity if nothing else, I'm excited to see where the game goes.

A Non-Evil Antagonist

When you watch this trailer, how do you react? Because with the exception of the very last line "But we will be conquerors," everything that Grommash does in this trailer is actually really awesome and laudable. He declines the demon blood offered to him by Gul'dan and he freaking kills Mannoroth in a manner that took the Pit Lord completely by surprise. This Grommash is just as heroic, if not more, than the one who died at the end of the Orc campaign in Warcraft III. This is one who never fell to corruption, who always stood strong against the Burning Legion.

The thing about the Iron Horde is that, in a way, they're just plain better than the Old Horde. Their industry probably doesn't run by EPA standards, but it's a hell of a lot less harmful than Fel magic. No matter what the Iron Horde does, it seems really unlikely that anything like Outland is going to be the result.

I mean, that trailer shows you exactly what you'd hope your people would do if a bunch of demons tried to corrupt them - not just defy the demons, but utterly defeat them as well.

The Iron Horde is not intrinsically evil the way that the Old Horde was. But are they good?

No. That's clear.

But they're only evil in the way that, to be frank, the vast majority of human history has been. Think about this: it's only in very recent years that the notion of international cooperation on a global scale has been even thinkable. The Orcs are a decidedly pre-Enlightenment society. Arguably, they're an Iron Age civilization, except that they've just been given a whole bunch of modern technology (well, I don't know exactly what stage of technological development an Iron Star is from, but I'd approximate Industrial Revolution-era.) If you handed a bunch of machine guns and tanks to a bunch of pre-Roman Celts, it wouldn't exactly be pretty, and it would hardly be surprising that they'd probably go on a rampage of conquest, with little thought to the consequences.

Is it evil? Certainly by today's values. And I'm not even saying that we shouldn't be applying those values. But the Iron Horde, unlike the Old Gods or the Burning Legion, wants conquest, rather than destruction.

How does this differ from Garrosh's "True Horde?" Well, the distinction is subtle. Indeed, one could argue that the "True Horde" were more of this mundane kind of "evil of the past." The only reason why I don't think this quite holds up is that Garrosh should have known better. The modern Horde is not modern in the real-world sense, but the culture of the Horde has progressed to the point where endless war and conquest is no longer sustainable or even desirable. Many of the Horde races are just looking to keep their own territories safe, and engage with the world in a position of strength. The civil war that took place in Mists of Pandaria was about establishing the character of the Horde. Garrosh felt it was a machine built for conquest, and Vol'jin felt it was a stable coalition of nations, united to protect each other and benefit mutually from their alliance.

On Draenor, the Iron Horde has never learned to exist in a stable global environment. Everything in Draenor is trying to kill you, and thus there's no incentive for peace. They are dangerous because they have an old-fashioned mindset, and Garrosh, being a real reactionary, went back in time specifically because he knew that those Orcs of Draenor would share his old-fashioned way of looking at things, and thus he'd have a Horde that would act the way that he felt it should.

What thus intrigues me about the Iron Horde is that, without demon blood crowding out any rational thoughts, I wonder what will happen as we begin to score victories against them. Obviously, the mechanics of the game do place some limits on the storytelling, but one almost wants to capture an Iron Horde orc, show them the kind of society that the modern Horde has become, and see if perhaps they'd far prefer that to the society that the Iron Horde is.

By taking demon blood out of the equation, the Iron Horde is no longer a group of supernatural monsters, but is instead a misguided population irresponsibly armed with dangerous weapons.

I suspect that for the most part, we'll deal with the Iron Horde as we have with any of the supernatural threats we did in the past. But this time, we're not fighting demons (well... maybe some demons, but not in the Iron Horde,) zombies, lovecraftian monsters, or evil spirits. These are people. And not just people, but, for at least the Orcs in the Horde, people who actually turned away from the evil that they or their parents' generation did not.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

WoW 2: What Would That Be?

The idea of a "World of Warcraft 2" has been floating around for quite some time, but it's always been something of a complicated notion. Certainly, there are sequels to MMOs, like Everquest and Guild Wars. But the problem with MMO sequels is that you either split the player base, or you essentially obsolete the old game.

Think about how many hours, days, or even months you've sunk into your characters in WoW. It would be pretty disappointing to find all that washed away, or at least stuffed in a crate with mothballs. MMOs end, yes (as all things must,) but the company that makes one needs to have some really compelling reason to do so - usually it means the money's dried up. And even though WoW is almost at half its subscriptions than it had at its peak, it's still the biggest subscription-based MMO in the world by a large amount (not sure how Wildstar is doing. I actually hope it does well, because it looks cool and I'd try it out if they made a Mac client.)

But apparently Tom Chilton, game director of WoW, says that Blizzard has, actually, considered doing a WoW 2. But I have no idea what form that would take.

Now one possibility is that this would be a new IP that takes the structure of WoW. This would be like what they did with Starcraft - taking what they had learned making Warcraft and Warcraft II and making a totally new setting and switching genres, but preserving the gameplay.

But generally, when I think of sequel, I usually think of a more direct sequel. In my mind, in order to be WoW 2, you'd have to make it set on Azeroth and deal with the Alliance and the Horde.

Of course, as mentioned above, the pitfall of an MMO sequel is that you set everyone back to one. If you needed to really change the balance of the game (perhaps by trimming classes, or splitting them - such as making the more nature-based Beastmasters a separate class from the more military-like Marksmen) you would have to bring everyone back down to level 1, and essentially have them start over.

New mechanics and new gameplay could certainly motivate people to do that, but you'd also probably lose a ton of players as well.

But of course, if you let people carry over their characters, you'd have to use the same classes and races, and at that point, isn't it just an expansion? You might totally revamp the early-level stuff, but of course, we saw that already in Cataclysm.

In a sense, we've already had WoW 2. It was called the Burning Crusade. We're about to get WoW 6.

But then, Blizzard has always been more about expansions than sequels. Sequels really need to fundamentally change the mechanics of the game. Beyond the Dark Portal and the Frozen Throne were not sequels, because they still worked essentially the same way. But a lot of other companies would be happy to call them sequels, because their campaigns at least are fully-formed, other games. Starcraft II is being released in three segments, but Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void are not considered sequels. They are expansions.

So I don't really know if I'm going to hold my breath for WoW 2. This is something that's been talked about for a long time, and I think that until WoW's system is just totally ready to collapse (which I think is decelerated every time they do a big revamp, like the talent system in Mists) we're just going to be seeing expansions to WoW, and not a sequel.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Bit of Time Travel Philosophy and How It Relates to Draenor

Time Travel is one of the most popular concepts in science fiction and fantasy. It's an inherently weird idea that can have really surprising consequences. We also don't know A. whether anything other than the most simple form of time travel (forward, 1s/s) is possible, and B. what rules it would follow if one was able to "sequence break" through time.

So let's talk about the various ideas. These aren't so much science and science fiction (except the first one) because we really don't have much evidence to work with.

1. Mundane Time Travel

Mundane time travel is the time travel that you are currently experiencing right now. Every second, you're a second farther into the future. Exciting, isn't it?

And yes, this is more complicated because of relativity, but in most situations, time appears to pass roughly at the same speed everywhere, and you're never going to be able to turn back the clock, even if you travel at relativistic speeds (as far as we know. Maybe if you break the speed of light you'll go back, but we also think that's physically impossible.)

2. Terminator 1/Twelve Monkeys Time Travel (Consistent Universe, Stable Time Loop, You Already Changed the Past)

In the first Terminator movie, the AI Skynet revolts in the distant future of 1997, turning the Earth into a nuclear wasteland. But a man named John Connor leads a resistance and is on the cusp of defeating Skynet for good. So Skynet sends one of its Terminator (robot assassins) back in time to kill Sarah Connor, John's mother, before he's ever born. However, as it turns out, it was this very act that led to John Connor's birth, as the humans send back Kyle Reese to protect Sarah, and Kyle and Sarah do that thing humans do and Sarah becomes pregnant with John. But unfortunately, the fate of the world is also sealed because when the Terminator is killed, human scientists discover a remnant of the robot and begin to research it. This research then eventually leads to the creation of Skynet. Hence nuclear near-apocalypse.

So the events of The Terminator are pre-ordained. Everything that happened had always happened that way, and the act of time travel has always been a part of those events in the universe. There's no strong paradox here, because everything is consistent, though there's a weak paradox in that the Skynet AI technology apparently sprang from nothing, with no inventor or creator.

The idea here is that the one timeline takes into account time travel anyway. Essentially, it means that if you travel to 1911 and take a picture of yourself, then before you even think of building a time machine, there's already a photo somewhere of you in that year, and no matter what, you will go there and you will take that picture.

3. Rubber Band Timeline (Final Destination?)

Rubber Band Timelines imply that there is some kind of fate that awaits everything, but the smaller details can change. If, for example, you have a prophetic vision (which is basically information time travel) that if your friend gets on a plane, he will die in a crash, it means that you can warn him not to get on the plane, but that he will then die in a car crash on the way back from the airport, or some such thing.

The implication of this style of time travel is that there is some kind of regulating force - either intelligent or just inherent to the universe - that causes certain important events to take place regardless of the smaller actions you take. It differs from number 2 above because in 2, it would just happen that you wouldn't have ever gotten him to not go on the plane, and the vision you received (assuming it was accurate) would play out either despite or even because of what you did. This version is flexible, but still unbreakable.

4. Back to the Future Time Travel (Paradoxes can happen, and they are dangerous!)

When Marty McFly goes back 30 years to the 1950s, he accidentally disrupts the moment that his parents met, thus endangering his own existence. Marty watches his siblings fade away on a photograph he had with him, and at some points, when his parents seem unlikely to get together, he himself begins to fade away. When this happens is perhaps a little arbitrary, but there also seems to be a bit of a rubber band here in that just getting his parents together is enough to satisfy the universe that he can still exist. His memory doesn't change even though his parents' history does.

This is a bit like rubber band time travel, but with the possibility of that band snapping, with seriously dangerous consequences.

5. Terminator 2 Time Travel (You Can Change the Past)

Ignoring later sequels, Terminator 2 ends with them destroying the last Skynet technology, which should theoretically prevent Judgment Day from ever happening. The Terminator did definitely come from the future, but it's a future that has been prevented, and the universe has switched onto a safer track. This one's a bit troubling, because there are some seeming Strong Paradoxes. For example, with no Skynet, there's no way for Kyle Reese to have gone back in time in the first place to father John or warn Sarah of the machines. But this version of time travel apparently allows for the new timeline to overwrite the previous one, so that essentially, the Terminator and Kyle just popped into existence at some point in the 80s, their origins forever shrouded in mystery.

6a. Multiverse Time Travel - Tangent Universes

This is one way of totally paradox-free time travel. The tangent universe version of the multiverse time travel concept works like this: if you go back in time to change the past, you create an alternate universe. The one that you came from continues to exist, and history as you remember it still has happened exactly as it did. But by interfering in the past, you spawn an entirely new universe, and in this universe your changes do have long-lasting effects. This may indeed be what people who think they're experiencing example 5 are actually living through, but with no way (or desire) to return to their original timeline.

6b. Multiverse Time Travel - Parallel Universes

This version suggests that rather than universes branching off into a giant tree, splitting each time there's a new interference or even just uncertain event in any universe (which, according to quantum mechanics, could mean new universes every... like countless times in the last second,) that there are and have always been a huge (perhaps infinite) number of universes that are somewhat different. In this case, time travel could actually have you hopping into a universe where your arrival was always part of its history, and the changes you wrought were always going to be a part of that universe. In fact, the universes might even be out of synch, so that one appears to be, oh, let's say 35 years off. Thus "time travel" in this case is actually just universe-travel, only appearing to be a difference in time due to the somewhat accelerated or decelerated history. Just like in 6a, you leave behind the universe that you are from, and it continues to exist and remembers you, and indeed, might be able to duplicate your technology or magic in order to follow you to this other universe.

So Who's the Lucky Winner?

Warlords of Draenor fits perfectly with 6b. Here's why:

Garrosh arrives in Draenor 35 years in the past. We follow him perhaps a year or a number of months later, and it looks like the same amount of time has passed for him as it has for us (this one's a little sketchy. I don't know how long they say that Garrosh was on Draenor before we show up.) He changes the past by convincing Grommash not to drink the Blood of Mannoroth (and gives him a kick-ass Iron Star to shoot at the Pit Lord,) but he doesn't really change the past, because we're all still here.

So why is it a parallel universe and not a tangent universe? Two things: First is that they're out of synch. Garrosh arrives in the "past," and the Iron Horde, in the "past," assaults us in our present. We follow them into the Dark Portal in our present, and arrive in this same "past."

The other, and far more convincing thing, is an Orc named Rulkan. Rulkan is Ner'zhul's wife. In our timeline, Rulkan had died years before the founding of the Horde, and it was in the guise of Rulkan's ghost that Kil'jaeden convinced Ner'zhul that the Draenei were intending to attack the Orcs, which began the war against the Draenei. And it was only after besieging Shattrath City unsuccessfully that the Orcs drank the Blood of Mannoroth to get an edge over the Draenei.

And in this Draenor, Rulkan's still alive and well.

Without a dead Rulkan, we really don't have the same motivations for the initial fight against the Draenei, and that's independent of Garrosh's actions.

So what it looks like we're dealing with is not a past version of Draenor, but a universe that is 35 years behind ours, and that was never the same Draenor that our Outland once was.

Not only does this mean that there's no risk of paradox, but it also makes it plausible why, for example, Orc and Draenei players wouldn't necessarily run into their own doppelgängers. If Rulkan is alive, then Spacegoatwarriorxxxawesome might have died on Argus, or maybe he was never even born.

The Iron Horde is not from our past, or even our alternate past, but is from a parallel universe. And while may seem like the past, our adventures on this "Draenor" are taking place in the present day.

How Many Raid Tiers in an Expansion?

In a very interesting interview with Tom Chilton, WoW's Game Director talked about some intriguing details about Warlords. I recommend checking it out (it's on MMO-Champion and a bunch of other sites.) First of all, Chilton talked about how the WoW team grew by 80 members over the last year (not sure how much they had to start with.) The idea was that they wanted to get a quicker pace of expansions in the future, but they needed a bigger team to produce stuff in the volumes they need. The problem is that with so many new employees, they also needed to get those guys up to speed, which in the short term slowed down their development process. The hope, then, is that now that those guys are up to speed, they will be able to hit the pace they've been aiming for.

I'll believe it when I see it, but if this expansion-a-year cycle is what they're shooting for, what does that mean for raids?

To be clear, Chilton said that any raid tier is going to get a minimum of four months. They don't want another Ulduar situation, where the super-awesome raid everyone worked really hard on (and is beloved by players) gets obsoleted before people have had time to really work on it. But he also said that they want a maximum of six months, which is certainly very welcome given that we're in the middle of a fourteen month stretch of Siege of Orgrimmar.

The interesting thing about this, though, is that he actually said that they are considering not having multiple raid patches in Warlords, if they are able to speed up the expansion-building process. If that were the case, then we could very well actually wind up with only two raid tiers in the expansion.

Reflexively, the thought makes me shudder a little, but on the other hand, if we got two raid tiers and then another expansion (with another starting raid tier, of course) a year after Warlords, it would actually mean more raid tiers.

The question, then, I think, is how we want our expansions paced. Right now, and since WoW started, expansions have been a biennial thing. And in a lot of cases, it's worked out that with three raid tiers, you can sort of start with the expansion's headliner villains, then go and deal with a secondary threat, then return to take out the big bad. Think Naxxramas-Ulduar-ICC, BoT/BWD-Firelands-DS, or HoF-ToES-ToT-SoO. Scourge-Old God-Scourge, Black Dragonflight/Twilight's Hammer-Fire Elementals-Twilight Dragonflight, Sha-Mogu-Sha. Yeah, some of these are a slight stretch, but it works.

The thing is, if we wind up facing Grommash in the raid tier immediately following Blackhand, will that be enough of a build-up? And will Warlords feel kind of light as an expansion?

Really, what it kind of boils down to is whether we want to have two light expansions in place of one heavy one. And while the common response is quality over quantity, it's pretty clear that new expansions are exciting. If they can truly keep them coming once a year, you're far less likely to see these subscription drops (and while I do respect Blizzard as artists, they are also in the entertainment industry, and money is what keeps the gnomes in the giant hamster wheels that generate the power for Blizzard's headquarters fed,) which I think are often from lack of content (also bad decisions about daily quests. 5.0 was pretty rough.)

On the other hand, and this is very likely just because it's what I'm used to - is a year long enough for an expansion?

Leveling up is not a super-long process, at least the first time, which actually means that a huge amount of the work put in to build a new expansion gets consumed in the first week or two (though alcoholics like me can keep that going for a long time, though I am really sick of the Horde intro to Jade Forest, even if I've done it more on Alliance.) But still, it does take a little while to gear up, and to catch up and get your character in a position where you can feel really well-put-together. I'm at a point, for example, with my Paladin and Death Knight where I can stand back and say "yes, these guys really are outfitted as they should be at the end of this expansion." I feel powerful. I can take my DK and slaughter the Ordon Yaungol without breaking a sweat (except maybe the super-powered ones in the shrine.) Every expansion, though, that gets reset (to an extent, every tier, but someone in full ToT epics is still going to feel pretty powerful in most of Pandaria.) So the consequence of this is that if you got an expansion every year, you'd be back to leveling greens once a year.

And that might cut down on some of the alts I level, but on the other hand, I'm insane, whereas most players focus on one or maybe two or three characters. And I'm sure that now that they probably have all three of their hypothetical characters rocking nice sets of SoO and Timeless Isle World Boss gear and probably all of them glimmer with legendary cloaks (to be fair, I've only done that on the Paladin and DK,) they're really, really ready for something new, and likely find themselves in that position relatively often.

Granted, from a player's perspective it's not such a bad thing to be able to take a break from WoW for a while and not feel like you're missing anything, but Blizzard clearly needs, financially, to keep people engaged and playing.

So the year-long expansion cycle, if it is indeed possible, could be a good thing or maybe not. I think right now, Blizzard should try to see if it can pull it off (but for the love of the light, don't sacrifice quality for it.)

And give us some damn Demon Hunters already. Jeez!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Warlords' Final Boss Revealed Plus More Details

I'm not going to put this in a spoiler-alert cut, because frankly, if I did, it would suggest a more surprising answer to the question: who is the boss of Warlords of Draenor?

The answer is the simplest one. Who is on the box art? Who is the main figure of the cinematic? Who's in the center of the reveal-poster? (And in case you were wondering, yes, I'm padding this paragraph so that if people want to freak out about spoilers, this way they'll have had to read through the whole paragraph, which makes it their fault.) Grommash Hellscream is the expansion's final boss, and let me just say here: well duh.

I always felt this held a strong possibility, and seemed to be the way that things were going, but I was sort of hoping for a twist. Unfortunately, I think that Warlords of Draenor's plot has been as straightforward as possible, to the point of being predictable. Now, I understand that a straightforward plot can be fine - look at Star Wars (the movie, as opposed to the series of movies, which got a little more complicated, and then stupid when they did the prequels.) But nuance was what made me interested in World of Warcraft in the first place, and unfortunately, the whole narrative of the Iron Horde removes a lot of the nuance from the Orcs as a people (one could make the argument that by revealing it wasn't just demon blood that turned the Orcs evil, you are adding nuance, but so far there doesn't seem to be a lot of reflection on that in the quests - though granted I've stuck mostly to the Alliance side in the Beta.)

Now, this is all somewhat pessimistic prognosticating, and the "Iron Citadel" final raid that I imagine basically looking like the Underhold in Orgrimmar or another Blackrock Foundry may not be anything like what I assume it will be. It might not even be Draenor B's Hellfire Citadel equivalent. And Gul'dan might wind up tempting Grommash with the blood of... well, some other demon, because Mannoroth is a little overdrawn at the blood bank right now.

So what's in the middle, then?

Well, Blizzard was very careful to use language that made no promises. In fact, I think technically they didn't even promise Tanaan (though that's a guarantee - the zone is clearly there and partially in-game, only inaccessible after the Dark Portal starting experience.

So while none of these are guarantees, here are some of the possibilities:

Tanaan Jungle and Farahlon will probably be added in as new zones.

New dungeons could come in new patches, though whether these will be truly new dungeons, or if they'll implement the "Timewalker" system (which will boost old dungeons to max level... perhaps the rationale behind the revamps to Blackfathom Deeps and Razorfen Downs?) My hope is both! But we'll see.

On flying, they say they'll be taking player feedback into account. If we want it by 6.1, it'll be there. If people are happy without it, it'll stay out. This will, I'm certain, be a divisive issue, but my recommendation would be to build, say, Farahlon and Tanaan around flight, the way Icecrown and Storm Peaks were. As the current leveling zones stand, I'm fine with flight being restricted until level 100, as they are clearly built with ground mounts in mind.

There will be a legendary chain similar to the cloak that you begin at level 99, and will grant a ring. The ring will have a visual effect (like that Black Diamond Ring from ZG, though presumably fancier.) They have said that the existence of the ring will not rule out tier-specific legendary weapons of the old style.

They're hoping to get a transmog system where you save the appearance of your gear to a collection and never have to worry about deleting it. This will not be in 6.0, but it's something they're working on. Very happy about this.

As usual, they're planning to go for an accelerated patch cycle, but they've acknowledged that it depends on how long the next expansion takes. They say that every raid tier will get a minimum of four months, which I think is wise. (No more tragedy of Trial of the Crusader obsoleting Ulduar.) There was some comment about maybe not doing multiple raid content patches, which I don't understand, and will have to look into a little more (there will definitely be at least one more raid patch, but I wonder if they mean there might only be two raid tiers, but with another expansion coming out the following year? Would that be good or bad for the game? This is PURE SPECULATION so don't freak out about it.)

They're not finalized on the patch cycle, because they want to take into account player feedback. Sounds good (just don't overcorrect!)

There are no plans for a new battleground, but they do want to make the new version of the Nagrand arena into an arena for Arena.

Garrisons will probably be getting some tweaks and upgrades as the patches roll out. Not exactly shocking, but good news.

There aren't any class quests planned, though that is not all that surprising. Green fire was a very specific thing that Warlocks had been asking for for a long time, and the fact that it was more than just a glyph or something is really amazing (honestly, I think the green fire quest chain is just pure fan service in the best way.)

Oh, and last but certainly not least - they assure people that there will be ample time to get to level 100 before the anniversary celebrations of Molten Core and Tarren Mill v Southshore go away. I hope that means like, two months (though I assume the Core Hound mount will be account-wide.)