Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Dragons! Why Did It Have To Be Dragons?

It's more than a little unfortunate for ArenaNet that another mmo gaming company chose to release a cinematic on the same day they chose to plug the first episode of the revamped, replayable Living World Season One. Especially when you consider that gaming company happens to be Blizzard and the cinematic in question is the official announcement of the details of the next World of Warcraft expansion.

I mean, come on! Even I was watching the Blizzard stream, which started very conveniently for me at five in the evening, and I don't even play the blasted game.

The question is, having watched it, would I want to start? For the moment, let's just focus on the content of the expansion itself, putting all the other baggage to one side. No moral choices here, just aesthetic and entertainment ones.

On first impressions, based on what I saw and heard in the Livestream and read in the press release and media coverage afterwards, yes I probably would. I'm not saying I'd make a long-term home in WoW just off the back of what I just watched but I can easily see me buying the expansion and playing for a month or two.

It has a couple of things that appeal to me: a new race/class and a new starting area. The race itself isn't all that exciting. It's yet another dragon/human hybrid. I'm sure that's not the official description but a Drakkin by any other name is just as clichéd. At least it looks halfway decent. I never liked the look of the Drakkin and EverQuest II's Aerykin aren't much better.

Granted, it's a "Hero Class" so it starts at Level 58, but that's still better than going straight into the new at-cap content. With the new cap moving to 70, that's a dozen levels of new content if you roll a new Dracthyr character rather than just ten, although what that means, given the level squish that preceded the last expansion, is a lot harder to say. 

It seems unlikely there'd be a whole starter zone for a mere two levels but what do levels even mean in WoW now anyway? Maybe that's how it was for Death Knights back in Wrath. I played one but I can't remember. 

I could remind myself soon enough if I wanted to find out, though. Wrath of the Lich King Classic is coming. Not quite sure when but it's definitely on the way.. 

That doesn't even qualify as news, more like confirmation and I wouldn't begin to suggest any connection with the Norrathian drogon kin, even if  Holly Longdale is working for WoW these days but it felt very strange to see her fronting such a big announcement in her capacity as Lead Producer for the retro Classic faction.

What was even odder was the way her reminiscences about WoW sounded more heartfelt and convincing than anything the two WoW lifers sitting next to her could contribute. She has the ardency of a convert.

More of a surprise were her comments on the absence of the Group Finder from the servers at launch (Assuming I heard that right. It seemed a little muddled.). Of course, it wasn't added until late WotLK, so I'm guessing it will turn up eventually. Or maybe, if Wrath Classic really does signal the end of the line for the WoW Classic Experience, it won't.

Going back to the expansion, which I haven't mentioned is called Dragonflight, I was amused to see what looked suspiciously like both the Guild Wars 2 UI and GW2's Griffon mount make appearances as exciting new innovations. It wouldn't be WoW if it didn't add features other games perfected years ago. I'm pretty sure I've seen the crafting commission system in at least three mmorpgs I've played before, too.

The cinematic was quite nice. A little subdued, I thought. Almost thoughtful. As for the discussion that followed, it was a litany of saying the right things but with some surprisingly convincing self-deprecatory banter between the principals. 

And it's certainly better to have figureheads spouting things we want to hear than the opposite, even if they do sometimes seem to be doing it through gritted teeth. I'm not sure Kaylriene will have heard everything he was hoping for (I'm sure he'll let us know.) but at least it's a gesture in that direction.

The new zones look very pretty. More importantly, they don't look weird or spacey or unearthly or doomy or other-dimensiony or any of the other things I'm sure most WoW players have had about enough of by now. A return to Azeroth and landscapes that look suitably fantasy-real has to be a relief for everyone, not least the artists.

The last big ticket item in the expansion pack I won't comment on, other than to say I have no opinions on Talent trees in WoW and precious few thoughts on them in any game. A necessary inconvenience is about as emotional as I ever get about the mechanic. I'm sure it'll be a big deal to someone, just not to me.

I'll also pass on any comments on the lore or the story. None of it meant anything to me at all. I barely recognized any of the names. It's not as if I haven't played the game, either. I probably have a few thousand hours in WoW. That stuff just washes over me.

What was conspicuously missing from both the livestream and the press release was any detailed timescale. I think we did get a definite nod to "this year" but that was about all. We shouldn't have to wait too long to find out whether Dragonflight is going to be enough to rekindle the light in the eyes of the faithful. 

I suspect, at best, it'll be a holding excercise. WoW's glory days are most likely behind it now. It would be kind of appropriate if an expansion based around dragons turned out to be the beginning of a long tail for the game.


  1. My biggest takeaway from his is that this expac doesn't have a "the word is ending!" vibe to it. Thank goodness.

    And I opened my mouth and nothing came out when they basically admitted they'd screwed up and wanted to fix things. Who knew that they'd actually do that? I certainly didn't.

    1. Yes, it was a bit of a turnaround. It's not like they were openly admitting any major failures but at least they didn't have their fingers in their ears chanting "La la! Not listening!" for once.

  2. Holly has the passion of somebody who was on the outside playing and then came into the game. There is a difference between supporting something because you work there and supporting something because you liked it.

    My first thought in all of this was to wonder if this was the WoW version of The Serpent's Spine expansion for EQ. But then I remembered how big of a change that was to EQ and tossed that idea aside.

    1. Yep, she sounded like a player talking alright. Then again, she sounded like that when she talked about EQ while she worked there, too.

      It really does have some surface similarities with Serpents Spine. I noticed it too. The whole thing feels like an amalgam of ideas I've seen elsewhere, though. Not necessarily a bad thing - it depends what they do with them. Anyway, it all looked better than I expected. Now they just have to get the moral hazard stuff down to an acceptably typical level so we can all hold our noses and dive in.

  3. For me leaving ethical and moral considerations aside is impossible. Activision/Blizzard chose their path. They will be walking it without me. I literally can't imagine what content they could possibly provide that would bring me back.

    1. You can surely run a thought experiment, though? It doesn't indicate acceptance or conciliation to make an assessment of what does or doesn't look like good content for a video game expansion. In fact, if you were to aknowledge that the content was something desirable and then chose not to participate in it for reasons external to the quality of the work itself, wouldn't that lend weight to your moral choice? It's easy to opt out of something you wouldn't have much time for anyway, much harder to deny yourself a pleasure you know you'd enjoy.

      Also, when we talk about never buying anything from Blizzard again, for whatever reason, aren't we in danger of anthropomorphizing a corporation? Blizzard doesn't have a mind or a personality let alone a moral will. All of those are things we assign to it, mostly for convenience, because it's not reasonable or even possible to itemize the offenders and the level and degree of their offence in every discussion of the problem.

      The actions we condemn were taken by individuals, not abstractions, though. "Blizzard" is just a brand name. Even when companies issue those "Mission Statements" or talk about "Corporate Ethics" all they're doing is expressing the attitudes and opinions of the most powerful individuals within those companies. It's entirely possible for those individuals to leave and be replaced by others with different objectives or principles, at which point the ethics of the company will be reframed. Company ethics are a poilte fiction we should never take at face value, good or bad.

  4. All moral questions aside to sit in line with your post here, I found the announcement to be a bit of a yawner at this moment in time. However, the removal of any borrowed power systems this time around and allowing us to fly without a pathfinder achievement (although this might be 'fly' with an asterisk, if it's just the dragon rider guff) are certainly steps in the right direction.

    I really cannot begin to say whether I'm truly 'done' with WoW or not. I'd say the chances are high that I'm not, but it's hard to say.

    I don't think I'll ever play as much again as I did during Wrath, but I still skipped the Wrath announcement/info because I also have no interest in revisiting it. Oddly, as much as I enjoyed it at the time, the nostalgia engine is lacking in any sort of power or drive in this case, so entirely unlike when the urge to revisit Asheron's Call a while back.

    1. The absence of borrowed power was noticeable. I did like the way the owned that problem, even though it was a very nuanced form of ownership.

      On the flying issue, I thought from the moment we knew (or thought we knew) it was going to be a dragon-based expansion that there'd be flying from the start. It would be a positive taunt to the playerbase otherwise. I quite like the griffin in GW2 but it's not remotely close to true flight as you get in WoW. It'll be interesting to see just how much free flight they do allow. I imagine 100% when the skill is fully trained but they could, cannily, budget for that to take about as long as it takes to qualify for your flying license in the recent expansions.

  5. I haven't played WoW since Legion and before that since WotLK. While this expac announcement sounds fun which is something that I feel has been lacking in WoW for a while I just don't think I'm ever going back. I can't see myself playing WotLK again, it just wouldn't be the same. During Legion I revisited WotLK and enjoyed it with the newer bells and whistles.

    The new expac does look fun though!

    1. I think it sounds more fun than just about any WoW expansion I can remember. Usually it's all about the existential threat, whereas this one sounds like it's about exploration and discovery. They do mention some kind of vague threat in the backround, in that the dragons are the protectors of Azeroth and the beacon has been lit because they're needed (Or something - I wasn't really following the detail to be honest) but they certainly weren't leading with the end of the world for once.


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