Posted in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight underwhelms, Wrath frustrates

Yesterday, Blizzard had its big World of Warcraft reveal — a two-in-one. New expansion and next step of WoW Classic. I have thoughts — deep, profound, possibly gassy thoughts — on these, so let’s comb through this.

Dragonflight

As I (and many others) said in recent months, Blizz really had to bring it hard with this expansion. BFA and Shadowlands were so underwhelming in the end and the playerbase kind of disillusioned that this had to revitalize interest.

So what do we get here? Dragons, dragons, and (spoiler) more dragons. Players can roll up dragon characters (and their associated Evoker class), go to the Dragon Isles, and fly around on personalized dragons.

Listening to the WoW devs gush (according to a carefully and sometimes awkwardly written script) about the new race, I felt like they were pulling my leg. I mean, it’s a dragon humanoid, which looks as good as any other MMO dragon humanoid, which is “not very.” Hey you get wings and spikes and Au Ra envy, good for you. But I’m going to say what people aren’t here: The race is kind of a mess, visually. It’s not quite the draw that they think it is.

I mean, you know me. I am not a dragon fan. I think it’s such a tired and overplayed fantasy creature that MMOs go to time and again, and WoW leaning this hard on dragons is a huge miss with me. Shouting “DRAGONS!” at every turn is not going to get me to run full-tilt at your game again. I need more.

So thematically, this fell flat. The zones look cool, but the story and motivation here is lacking. Dragonriding is, what, flight 2.0 designed by Guild Wars 2? What about those of us who want those flight mechanics without hugging dragons? Guess we’re out of luck. It’s not that thrilling of a feature announcement.

There are a bunch of quality-of-life improvements designed to stick around, which is something that I approve. Better UI, the return of talent trees (yay), and more involved crafting.

But Dragonflight feels like it’s missing a huge exciting tentpole feature. There’s nothing here that’s making me want to resubscribe tomorrow. It’s decidedly middle-of-the-road when this needs to be a whole lot more.

Wrath Classic

It feels like a judgment upon retail WoW that I was legitimately more thrilled to hear confirmation of Wrath Classic than Dragonland 2: The Dragoning. We already know, more or less, what we’re getting here, but what’s really great is that we’re getting it in 2022. Everyone is already done with Burning Crusade, so it’s time to move on.

But it wasn’t a slam-dunk announcement. I was less-than-thrilled to hear was Blizzard’s glee at selling yet another level boost like it’s a good thing rather than something that has been incredibly divisive and destructive to WoW Classic since TBC Classic launched.

What’s worse is that Blizz up and decided that one of the best features of Wrath, the dungeon finder, won’t be included in this version. The studio claims that this is what the Classic community wants, and I call B.S. on that. Everyone I know is beyond tired of trying to find and put together dungeon groups in that game. The dungeon finder was an invaluable tool that let players get into dungeons without the hassle, and it boggles my mind (and makes me see red) that it’s not included.

Seriously, this is a dealbreaker for me. And maybe that’s a good thing, because I was so on the fence about Classic anyway that it’s probably a good thing to remove it from the table altogether.

Conclusions

While I’m sure that Dragonflight is going to get some interest because (a) new WoW anything will do that and (b) dragons interest some people, that expansion seems as boring, tepid, and safe as could be. It’s not anywhere near a Wrath or Legion level of expansion — and it absolutely NEEDED to be that. This is like someone coming up to you and giving you permission not to be hyped about the future.

As I said on Twitter yesterday, “I don’t know about you all, but that Dragonflight reveal was so boring it legitimately almost put me to sleep. The cinematic, the features, the interviews, the deep dive… all of it. There’s no soul to any of this, it’s just a colorful candy shell.”

For me, my interesting in WoW — Classic or Retail — is now at an all-time low. Just as well, I have plenty of other worlds to explore.

Posted in World of Warcraft

The high stakes of World of Warcraft’s next expansion

You’ve certainly seen the news that World of Warcraft is going to make its much-overdue expansion announcement next month. I say “much-overdue” because according to Blizzard’s long-established cadence of announcements and releases, the studio was due to reveal this last fall. But of course Blizzard’s been a hot mess internally and nobody firmly expected such an announcement.

In any case, we’re going to get one next month along with a reveal of the Warcraft mobile title that the studio’s been working on. And I can’t think of a time when the stakes were so high for an expansion — or even the announcement of such — for World of Warcraft.

It’s now been six years — since 2016 — since Legion launched, the last truly successful and broadly liked expansion. It was also the last time we saw Blizzard be truly ambitious with an expansion release, packing it full of fun and exciting features. Since then, we’ve had a one-two punch of sad, soggy expansions (Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands), both of which squandered their premise, relied way too hard on temporary power systems, and, in the case of the latter, ended in a severe content drought. User numbers for Blizzard as a whole have plummeted in the last half-decade, and WoW certainly is part of this problem.

Simply put, while there are players for WoW right now, there’s no real visible excitement for the current game or hope in the future. People hate the story, they’re tired of the meaningless progression systems, and they miss a game with true ambition. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but this is the general sense I’m getting.

So I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the stakes are high, because they truly are. It’s do-or-die time for Blizzard. If the studio comes out with a lackluster expansion announcement that fails to do anything innovative, exciting, or ambitious, they might as well pack it in. “More of the same” CANNOT cut it this time around. Nobody’s going to wait — or come back — for anything short of an event expansion.

What would such an expansion look like? Again, let’s look at Legion as a prime example. Not everything from Legion worked, but so much did and it had broad appeal because it wasn’t hanging its whole hopes on one or two features. It had a raft of them — class bases, artifact weapons, world quests, allied races, zone choice, invasions, and so on. It felt grounded in the world of Azeroth while still offering some fresh takes. Players felt like their characters would actually experience meaningful progression again.

That’s the bar that is set for the future expansion announcement to clear. And I honestly don’t know if Blizzard has the drive, resources, or developers to achieve it.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW Classic: Taking off at level 70

I’m not completely happy with the number of group quests that Nagrand ends up spewing my way, but this actually turned into a few nice memories. When I was trying to nail down one particular quest, a guildie gladly flew my way — he had it as well — and we had so much fun doing it that we ended up knocking out six more group quests as a duo in short order. That was a satisfying feeling.

Then a day later, I went up to a small hill to kill Tuskar, a huge elephant. It’s a group quest but sometimes I can squeak those out with the help of my earth elemental tanking, so I figured I’d try it. But once there, I saw two Horde players waiting for him. So I hung back, let them tag it, and then joined in to help out. After that, I used a series of emotes to basically ask if they’d help me do the same — and through emotes, they let me know they would. Lots of hugs and waves after those kills, and I appreciated the connection that MMOs can make with us even to this day.

The really good news from this past week is that, for the first time in Burning Crusade Classic, I hit level 70! This takes a huge mental load off, grants me several nice quality-of-life improvements, and lets me focus on the next stage. All in one swoop, I…

  • …don’t have to worry about rested XP or logging out in inns (until Wrath)
  • …got my slow flying mount (yay flying)
  • …am getting tons more gold per quest turn-in
  • …received my Heroism ability

So now the next major goal with this character is two-fold and intertwined. I want to finish up Blade’s Edge, Netherstorm, and Shadowmoon Valley quests — and save up the 5,000 or so gold that I need for epic flight. I’m already 1200 gold in, so it’s a good start on that. Dungeons? Dailies? Eh, if they happen, they happen, but that’s not where my mind is at.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW Classic: Butting up against older MMO design

As I’ve said before, one of the fun things about going back to an earlier version of an MMO you’ve played is that you’re reminded of so many things that were washed away by the passage of time. I had forgotten how pretty Nagrand could be, especially at night. WoW has some great skyboxes in retail, but that sort of thing stretched back to the first expansion.

Another thing I’m reminded of, almost on a daily basis, is how slow progression is. Everything takes a lot more time to do, especially pushing up that experience bar to full. I had hopes that I was going to ding 70 in this zone and get my flying mount, but as I write this, I’m on the cusp of 69 with not enough quests to get me to the end. I would absolutely love to run dungeons to make up the XP deficit, but finding groups without the LFG tool is so difficult. Everyone who gets on their soapbox to talk about how LFG tools kill community need to step off, because this doesn’t build anything other than frustration.

In the meanwhile, I’m trucking on. Nagrand is a generally nice place to quest — visually speaking — although it has too many group quests for my liking. I am rediscovering this, too. Burning Crusade is very much in the older WoW mindset of trying to force people together on the landscape. So now I’m yelling for help in general chat in addition to yelling for a dungeon group in the LFG channel. Golly, wouldn’t it be great to have tools that would help you do this?

Some of my guildies gripe about Nagrand and its propensity to throw “kill 30 critters” quests at you left and right. I actually don’t mind that for this expansion. I need the XP, for starters, so some measure of grinding needs to happen. And as a skinner/leatherworker, Nagrand is a goldmine of raw mats.

I’ve felt the itch to alt a bit, but without a LFG tool and knowing how much time it takes to get even a single character through all of this, it tamps down on my desire to reroll. Besides, now I’ve got a couple of elemental summons that are fun to use and a terrific battle rotation. My Shaman has almost everything I want in a character, so why look elsewhere?

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW Classic: Breaking the fourth wall

While I certainly wasn’t a fan of the environment of the Bone Wastes in WoW Classic, it actually didn’t end up being as trying as I thought it would be. I quested through the rest of Terokkar at a relaxed pace, spending stretches of time simply grinding. My whole goal here was to get to level 67 before I left the zone so that Nagrand could make up the final three levels.

There were a few quests that required a buddy, but fortunately one was always at hand — either from my guild or just in the vicinity. Nothing feels quite as good as knocking out an elite group quest.

The Explorer’s League quests were always good for a laugh, particularly this fourth wall-breaking quote. I know some people don’t like WoW’s sense of humor, but I usually do. It’s not a game world that really should take itself too seriously, so I’m fine with pop culture references and Dad Jokes.

too many legs too many legs TOO MANY LEGS

Before I knew it, Terokkar was done (save for dungeon quests, but I’m not going to sweat those right now). I loved that transition between the forest of Terokkar to the savannah of Nagrand. I’m looking forward to spending the next few weeks in Barrens ver 2.0!

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW Classic: Retreating into the past for comfort and stability

Playing WoW Classic is sometimes a very weird experience when you start to let your mind think about it. I’m not talking about the actual gameplay experience — it’s still solidly fun and more engaging than modern WoW, in my opinion — but the act of going *back* to an earlier era of the game. Back to where you’ve already gone and conquered.

Unlike the first time around, we know where all of this is going. It’s a little like being sent back 10 years to live the last decade of your life all over again with the assurance that things will more or less turn out the same as they did last time. We know Wrath is coming. I would hope that the next expansion would be the end of the Classic progression, preserving that popular era as a playground for the indefinite future.

But sometimes I log in, and even while I’m playing, I’m asking myself, “What’s the point? If I’ve not only done this before but know the future, why am I doing this?” It’s an important question to ask, I think, because your time is precious and not something to be wasted lightly.

For me, at least, I don’t feel that it is a pointless endeavor. Maybe pointless to pay Blizzard, but that’s a different discussion. But to play? It relaxes me, it still delivers a lot of fun, and I get to boost my social skill by talking with my guildies. And if we know where we are going, well, there’s an upside to that too. We can look forward to the content, changes, and systems we know will work well. I can’t wait for the LFG dungeon finder, achievements, and Death Knights.

In a time where retail WoW is floundering without a promise of an upturn ahead, it’s comforting to know that Classic provides exactly that.

Posted in World of Warcraft

WoW Classic: From Zangarmarsh to Terokkar

WoW Classic’s continued to be a soothing balm in my often-chaotic schedule, and even with its simplicity — or perhaps because of it — I’ve really enjoyed settling in to slowly work on a quest or three as I marched through the Burning Crusade zones.

Zangarmarsh was, as it used to be, a personal favorite. I love how chill and zen the whole place is, what with its blue glow and giant mushrooms and gently falling rain. It’s easily the coziest atmosphere in all of Burning Crusade, and I wasn’t in much of a rush to get it done.

I hacked out a couple of additional levels, climbing up to 64, got a couple piece of upgraded gear (but not as many as I would have liked), and killed every darn firefly that I saw in the hopes of getting that firefly pet. Nope. Nada. My streak of luck in this regard remains unbroken since 2007.

Before too long, however, there were only dungeon quests left in Zang. And because of the lack of an LFG queuing tool, getting into a dungeon group’s been almost impossible. I’ve tried, mind you. But the few ones that I found ended up falling apart before even stepping foot into an instance. So I figure that if this is the expansion where I just don’t do dungeons, oh well. I can still complete the zone content and have a level 70 ready for Wrath whenever Blizzard gets off its hiney.

In the meanwhile, I headed southward to Terokkar Forest. The actual forest part of this zone still looks stylistically amazing. I love the twisty trees and the sun beams and the eerie green glow. I wish that this look extended to the full zone, not just a section of it, but I’ll take it when I can get it.

I had some PTSD moments when I went to Shattrath for the first time in this expansion and saw the great Aldor elevator. I must’ve died on that thing two dozen times if it was one. And sure enough, I saw a guy on a mount overshoot the lift and end up sailing 100 feet in an arc down to his death.

Good times, that.

Posted in World of Warcraft

Comfort gaming and WoW Classic

I won’t lie — January hit me like a freight train of Blahs. Whether it be burnout from work, the post-holiday gloom, or a one-two combo of sickness and a huge snowstorm, I was in a funk more often than not. I hate being like this, because it feels like I’m slogging through the day and being rather unproductive. And that spills over into all areas of my life, including (but certainly not most importantly) gaming.

It’s such a cruddy feeling to finally have some time at the end of what’s been a long and frustrating day to game… and not be feeling any of your normal selections at all. Nothing’s hitting the spot, so to speak, even though there’s plenty to do and play. When I hit moments like this, I find myself doing one of three things: Splurging for a new game that I’ve wanted to try for some time, returning to an old comfortable favorite, or rolling up a new character as a new project.

What I found myself doing, toward the end of last month, was the second. After a half-year away, I logged back into WoW Classic. I had left the game disgusted with Blizzard’s scandal, which personally stunk, because I had a whole lot of fond attachments and memories with both versions of the MMO. But I needed time away to see how the studio would handle it all — and hopefully make changes.

After six months, the answer to that is kind of messy. Really messy. I’m encouraged that they booted some of the more problematic employees and managers, but who really knows if they got the real offenders or not. Bobby Kotick is on his way out, which is another note of hope for the future. There’s the Microsoft acquisition and Blizzard still ignoring worker demands and WoW’s whole uncertain state.

Does it make me a bad person for coming back? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel that way. I really hated how the scandal seemed to unfairly penalize players and the good devs working on the game, and at least my conscience can be assuaged by knowing that I didn’t give money to Blizz for six months as a quite small response. But I do know that I was in a big gaming funk and slipping back into WoW Classic was incredibly soothing.

I was actually surprised to see that I wasn’t booted from my guild (they were surprised too — apparently I missed the purges that routinely happened). I dusted back off my Draenei Shaman and worked her way through the remainder of Hellfire Peninsula. At this point, I’m incredibly far behind the pack. But the pack is doing stuff like raiding and endless dailies that I’m in no rush to get into, so it’s totally fine.

Comfort gaming. Sometimes you just need it. This is hitting the spot for me and, in a small way, helped propel me out of my general state of funk.

Posted in World of Warcraft

The foggy future of World of Warcraft

Well, for a game and a company that a whole lot of people have written off at this point, World of Warcraft and Blizzard are keeping the headlines on them as they make bold play after play. The studio cracked down on boosting rings (long past time), announced cross-faction instance play (ditto), and is prepping some features in Patch 9.2 and beyond that seem to be bending to community demands.

But even I, the great MMO prognosticator that I am, can’t determine if these are moves of desperation or a game setting a better course for the future. Honestly, WoW seems shrouded in this fog of mystery right now. Without any BlizzCon or big roadmap, all we know is what’s coming in the next big patch… and that’s pretty much it. Expansion? There’s probably one coming, but even that announcement is overdue. It’s certainly not going to hit this year, breaking the every-two-years cycle that WoW has long held.

Even WoW Classic is a bit of an unknown right now. I mean, there’s the Season of Mastery and the phases of Burning Crusade Classic, but what everyone wants to know is, where’s the Wrath Classic announcement we’re sure is coming? And when might that launch?

World of Warcraft has been battered by so many factors that it’s impossible to point to one as the focal point of blame. But a lot of it has been self-inflicted, from bad leadership that routinely ignored the playerbase to two lackluster expansions that drained the fun factor out of the game, and it’s high time for all of this to change. It’ll take more than one or two announcements to do this, too. Better leadership, better communication, and better design choices are key.

While Wrath Classic will be an easy win for Blizzard, the next retail expansion has to really step up and knock one out into deep left field. It needs to hook us on a story that’s actually interesting, deliver features that people really want (cheap plug for housing here), stop investing into borrowed power design, and really bring the FUN back. WoW still has a lot going for its favor — a terrific art style, snappy combat, and a still-sizable playerbase — but it’s been accruing a lot of bad elements that it needs to shed at this point.

I just feel like after everything that’s happened recently, all bets are off whether WoW is going to go up or down. I’m sure a lot of people have opinions on a future direction, but from where I’m sitting, everything is so much more uncertain than it’s ever been with this MMO before.

Posted in Music, Podcast, World of Warcraft

Battle Bards Episode 199: World of Warcraft Tavern Tunes

Episode 213: Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker Battle Bards

The END(walker) of Final Fantasy XIV came, went, and brought us some excellent music along the way! In this episode of the Battle Bards, Syl and Syp joust back and forth over the tunes from FFXIV's latest expansion. Is it an acquired taste or an instant hit? Let them be the judge! Episode 213 show notes Intro (feat. "Opening Cinematic," "Welcome to Our Town," and "Black Steel, Cold Embers") "Vibrant Voices" "The Nautilus Knoweth" "On Blade's Edge" "The Day Will Come" "Spoken Without End" "Festival of the Hunt" Which one did we like best? Jukebox Picks: "Welcome to Wonder Labyrinth" from Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth and "Elm St." from Nightmare on Elm Street Outro (feat. "In the Balance") Talk to the Battle Bards on Twitter! Follow Battle Bards on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts! This podcast is produced using copyrighted material according to Fair Use practices as stated under Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act.
  1. Episode 213: Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker
  2. Episode 212: Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood
  3. Battle Bards Episode 211: Shops and services

At the start and end of a long day of adventurin’, the Battle Bards love to kick back with a frosty mug of (ginger) ale or a stein of (root) beer at their favorite taverns. And what watering holes have better music than World of Warcraft, which actually released a full album of it? In today’s show, Steff, Syl, and Syp share some more great music from the social hubs of Azeroth.

Episode 199 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Vanilla Tavern,” “Deepwater,” and “Hunter’s Refuge”)
  • “Kul’Tiran Taverns”

  • “Dive Bar C”

  • “Slaughtered Lamb”

  • “Pig and Whistle”

  • “Midsummer Fire Festival”

  • “Temple of the Moon”

  • “Thunderbrew”

  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes from Ithirahad and Katriana
  • Jukebox picks: “Chinatown” from Katana Zero, “Shooting Star” from Overwatch Animated Shorts, and “Main Theme” from Fantasian
  • Outro (feat. )