There was an announcement that subscription figures for WoW were way down. Subscription I assume means active accounts, because with the WoW Token being added what exactly defines a subscription has completely changed. I mean, thanks to the tokens I’ve got my account paid through to next July 2016, and it’s not going to cost me a dime.
With that news, I’m seeing discussion on social media along the lines of, “Well of course subscriber numbers are down because Warlords sucks, and this is why…”.
Okay, it’s a new expansion, and Blizzard tries new things every time around. This time there were some major changes to the core gameplay. Better? Worse?
It’s not your vanilla WoW, but overall I like it.
In fact, I’d argue that overall this expansion has kept me engaged and logging in daily FAR more than any expansion has before.
I know everyone’s mileage on these things vary, but there are lots of things I like, and I want to talk about this because it’s not all doom and gloom and end of the world like I think it would look if I were on the outside.
The first thing I see polarizing people is the Garrison.
I like the Garrison. The Garrison is my core gameplay now. It took the initial promise of the Pandarian farm and expanded it in a way that makes it an excellent starting hub for all of my activities.
Leaving what the Garrison is aside, what I like about playing in it each day is that it has similar gameplay to my mobile phone game apps, which is exactly what I hoped it would be when it was announced.
Just like on the mobile phone games I play, I am not expected to log in and play for hours in the Garrison. Instead, I can log on quick, collect some rewards and shuffle some followers around and level some up to be more effective, rearrange some teams for different bonuses, and then send them back out on missions.
It really is similar to how I play on my mobile games. I log in for a few minutes to do stuff and then it’s time to wait for them to be done.
Now, I’ve sabotaged my own gameplay here. What is quick and easy for one character becomes a lot of time when you have seven fully leveled alts that you try and keep equally maintained. Blizzard isn’t making me do that, I am doing it to myself. BUT.
BIG but. I find the time I am spending doing garrison chores on seven alts to be worth the investment. By spending so much time on garrison missions, I have constant gold and items to sell from the salvage yard rolling in all the time. With lots of epic mounts and treasure hunters, the missions all finish up fast enough to do three, four or even more rounds of missions per characters each day.
And with so many salvage crates to open, it ends up giving me a steady stream of crafting materials and epics to sell, meaning I don’t have to spend time running the herb garden or mine anymore. If I get low on ore or cloth, I use excess garrison resources to buy them at the trading post on days when the prices favor me.
It’s exactly like a small mobile game of managing the team and keeping them busy, doing profession crafting and everything else. The only time I ever have to leave the garrison to actually DO something to keep them going is when I need to go trap a lot more clefthoof for leather and Savage Blood. Just from the trapping, I have 90 Savage Blood that have stacked up that I don’t know what to do with.
Which rolls on into another thing I like that keeps me going. Getting gear upgrades from routes other than raiding. Gearing up alts so they are viable in current raids as replacements if needed.
Note, I’m saying viable replacements, not GOOD replacements. But with the way you can craft items and upgrade them, and how plentiful the upgrade materials can be, the three item limit makes a lot of sense. After all, it’s pretty easy to get three items to max, and they are comparable to good current tier normal raid gear, and even on a par with heroics.
Then there are all the BoE epic drops from raids, items you frequently find for sale on the auction house, and all the items that you can get from garrison missions that are bind on pickup.
There has never been a time in the game before where you could level and gear up an alt easier so that you can play that alt and feel reasonably powerful at that point in the game. Even if you never do LFR, you can still have your character geared up with reasonably powerful stuff so the PvE content in the open world doesn’t just eat your lunch.
There are also other things I really like. Like mobility.
A lot has been made of the lack of flying in the open world of Draenor, but honestly I don’t miss it. There are lots of different ways of moving around quickly, and if you allow yourself to adapt to them it does make distance a lot more important.
For example, if you choose to you can create a building in your garrison that lets you teleport around using waygates. If you did some of the garrison missions, one of them opened up a mole machine right outside your front gate (for Alliance, anyway) that gives you instant travel to your Gorgrond outpost.
If you were able to complete the solo Silver ranking challenge, you could unlock heroic instances and with the Inn building, complete Inn quests for very cool rewards, one of which is Avianna’s Feather, and item that has a ten minute cooldown, and when used blows you high up into the sky, and then triggers wings that let you glide for, damn half an entire zone. CRAZY far. That’s every ten minutes.
Don’t have an Inn? Not able to complete the Silver ranking challenge? You can still get the same effect by building an engineering wonders structure in your garrison. The Skyterror (I think it’s called) device does the exact same thing as Avianna’s Feather, it just has charges and looks different because you ride a rocket up into the sky and have an actual glider instead of glowing wings.
I do miss using my flying mounts whenever I want, but I don’t miss the functionality of flying because with mines and herb gardens I don’t need to fly routes to farm mats, and with the Feather and Skyterror rocket glider if I want to fly massive distances I can, at ten minute intervals. With the cooldown, it just means I have to be more careful, more mindful of what I’m doing.
I don’t mind that. Distance matters more when flying is a privilege and wasting your flight means waiting for ten minutes before you do it again. It also makes landing in tight spots feel rewarding.
Other things I like, I really like the garrison pet mechanics and daily quests. With so many pets in the game, adding a catch up mechanic that lets you buy stones to instantly turn a pet to rare quality feels perfectly timed, along with items to buy to help you insta-level them or just increase the XP rate if you like to level as you go. I have over 700 different pets, so this helps me immensely.
No longer do I have to feel like I must spend days camping a rare quality spawn of one particular hard to find pet, preventing other people from getting just one of them of any quality. If I can get just one of those super-rare pets, I can use an easily acquired stone to instantly make it rare, and leave new spawns for other players to get.
It’s funny, there are just so many things that are great, that give me freedom to choose what I want to do at any given time. It’s almost like a sandbox game now, with so many catch up options, so many old raids able to be soloed, the treasures and the LFR and such.
What can be hard is to find for yourself something you are interested in doing. Something that isn’t tied to a constantly growing story.
The one thing that I have felt lacking is a continuous engagement in the story. The Garrison Story Quests that were coming out each week were doing it for me, I truly felt engaged and delighted every single week to log in and see where the story was taking us this time. They had different rewards that felt good to get, they told us more of what was going on and felt like we were truly traveling in time through a changing world, heading towards the confrontation with the Warlords and with the problems Gul’dan is bringing to us in Tanaan.
When 6.1 brought no new quests, that took a large chunk of my engagement with the story away. I think that was a huge mistake. If there was one thing Blizzard could do to really up my involvement in playing, it would be to bring back the weekly quest chains and not have such a long dry spell. Having a quest chain building on the story every week didn’t feel like too much, it felt just right. If you want to catch up if you’re behind, being able to do the next part of the chain you’re missing each successive day would be perfect. If you miss a whole month, you could catch up in one week. That doesn’t seem too arduous a task. But having no new story quests for months, well, you gave me this wonderful thing and I got used to it. The loss hurts worse than when we never had them at all.
I do log in every day, multiple times, and I feel rewarded by doing so. Going out into the world finding pets and mounts, rares and treasures, trapping creatures, using engineering gizmos, a little archeology, even leveling new alts through Draenor still feels fun. With the XP boosts and heirloom upgrades, Draenor zones can simply FLY by if you start getting bored with them.
It’s all the little things, the attention to detail that keeps getting me.
Being able to log in and having my favorite pets wandering around my garrison, some of them seeing me and following me around, that’s delightful.
Traveling through a zone and seeing an icon on my minimap letting me know a treasure is near. I’ve got five minutes, let’s go see if I can figure out how to get to it.
Seeing a skull pop up and knowing, “Here’s a rare I haven’t killed yet! Get him and see what he’s got in it’s pockets, baggins…”
Since last Tuesday, I’ve run Firelands (just a few bosses) on all seven max characters trying to get the Alysrazor mount. No luck yet, so I also ran Black Temple and Sunwell on all seven, trying for the pets. Haven’t gotten most of them, but they go so quickly I’ve still had some cool transmog drop, it hasn’t been a waste of time. That’s a lot of old raids to run, and it’s all good.
I’ve figured out how to solo the rare Demidos with my Hunter, so I’ve been doing that once every day trying to get the pet he can drop. Seven kills, and you can only get loot on a character once a day, but sooner or later the odds will be on my side, and it feels satisfying on my non-raiding toon to be able to solo that bastard. His nerf to self healing and the constant AoE makes each win feel satisfying.
The addition of the garrison special ability, the one that changes in each zone, gets my vote for ‘new thing I never remember until too fucking late’. I can’t tell you how many Demidos kills I’ve squeaked by without using that damn Call to Arms button in Shadowmoon. Always makes me feel just a little bit like a dumbass.
“Yay I got him! Oh damn, I forgot to use Call to Arms. Shit!”
In some ways, I think this expansion is testing the short attention span player harder than any other. So much of the new content requires the player to take the initiative to seek it out and do it. There are no bread crumbs to tell you to go seek out most of these things. It’s there for you to do or not, as you choose. I wonder how much of this expansion blahs can be traced to that.
It’s also so easy to get garrison rewards to gear up your characters that are as good as or better than what drops from the current LFR, it makes me wonder how much of LFR is avoided because you’ve geared past it without ever raiding. As things stand, if it weren’t for legendary ring quests, my Hunter would never have to step foot in Highmaul for gear, everything I have is better and came from something else. I like it but at the same time I think it does marginalize the excitement of an LFR run and loot drop.
I do love being able to take an alt into LFR, without ever doing heroics, and be geared up enough to not be a massive lead weight sucking the raid team into the pit. My skill may suck, but at least my gear is appropriate for what I’m doing.
I dunno. A lot of people I like and respect look at this expansion and are bored and walking away, but I’m still here, I’m still liking it, and I’m having a good time. I wish i could point to one specific thing and say “But what about this, doesn’t this make you feel excited” but I can’t.
No one thing is a big thrill. It’s like the rest of World of Warcraft has always been; a game of incremental improvements and steady advancement. It’s not one thing, it’s a lot of little things that all add up to having stuff to do and be spoiled for choice.
Some days I wish that I had fewer alts, fewer chores, but at the same time I love all the benefits of having all professions maxed and all those garrison missions coughing up their rewards into my deep pockets.
I wonder what changes tomorrow will bring. Will gold missions get nerfed to the ground? Will crafted gear upgrades continue to work so well? Will the story of Warlords of Draenor return in 6.2 with a roar and bring back the feeling that things are happening all around us, or have we already seen the best this expansion will have to offer?
Will we someday soon see a payoff of the promise of a revamped Burning Crusade? So far this expansion has seemed like Burning Crusade 2.0, this time done with us being involved in the story every step of the way. Will we eventually see something as epic as a revamped Black Temple, with all the horror and massive scope that would entail?
Are we truly going to see the birth of the Burning Legion, as fel power returns in spades, and the demons and the green skinned orcs crank everything up all over again, but this time we get a front row seat? Where is this whole thing going? Are we still building to a big payoff, are we in halftime or is the game nearly over and minutes left to make the play?
Everything is good as it is right now… while we wait. While I wait. But I know that if things don’t pick up soon, it’s going to be hard to stay with it. It’s all well and good to know we’re in for a shipload of trouble in 6.2, but what I hear about the story seems like it’s timeless isle 2.0, and I don’t know about anyone else, but timeless isle wasn’t story, it was more self-starting solo content. Treasures and rares and little things to do tucked in out of the way corners.
I need to see this story pick up where it left off, advance and grow towards something epic. There needs to be a central narrative that all these little things are built around for it to feel satisfying. I’m hoping… I’m still hoping. Blizzard did a great job on the previous garrison missions. I’m really pinning my hopes on those returning.
If you’re not enjoying this expansion, I can understand. It’s really a different animal from what has gone before. In this lull between content patches it’s starkly apparent how much I depend on knowing there is more story coming, and finding things to mark the time until new stuff arrives.
I do wish, if Blizzard takes any lesson away from this expansion, it’s that investing more time in the advancement of the story at max level through weekly quest chains pays off MASSIVE dividends in keeping me invested in logging in each and every week feeling like we’re going somewhere exciting. Those are so worth continuing, they are the one thing i would say is MOST worth continuing.
Everything else feels a good bit like marking time waiting for their return. the weather is fine and it’s nice to hang out sitting on my surfboard, but there is only so long I want to chill while I wait for a ripping wave to haul my ass into shore roaring like a freight train.