Warlords: Where did it all go wrong?

It all looked so good, so full of promise, wonder and nostalgia. However, Warlords has sadly proven the old Heraclitus quote that you can “never step into the same river twice“.

The Big Whimper of a L-L-L-L-Launch

The expansion started off with a whimper. Servers didn’t work properly for days, rubber banding and being booted from instance servers (including trying to enter or exit your garrison meaning you were effectively stuck), and abilities taking 30 seconds or more to actually go off were commonplace occurrences for the majority of players. Blizzard’s explanation for this was the mass return of players swelling the subs numbers from 6 million to 10 million.

What I find fairly suspicious is that ALL of these extra returning subscribers just so happened to ALL return on exactly the same night?

Not even partially gradually, either before or after launch?

Anyway, it took around 4 days for the majority of problems to at least subside, still longer to be rectified, and although some lingered for weeks after, players were actually able to start the levelling process from 90 to 100. After 14 months of Siege of Orgrimmar players were ravenous for new content. Like the walkers in Walking Dead we were hungry as hell for something new, anything fresh, juicy new content. And we revelled in it.

For about 3 weeks.

The experience of levelling that first time in Warlords was admittedly the best levelling experience the game has ever offered. It appeared varied, dynamic and full of surprises. However with each alt levelled through the same content, the same zones, the more the curtain was pulled back on what was actually there and after the initial couple of runs through the content we started to see exactly what Blizzard had done.

If you’ve ever played Guild Wars 2, and I have a small amount after buying the game recently, then you’ll see exactly what Blizzard tried to do. They’ve essentially tried to mash the Guild Wars 2 levelling structure into and over the top of the already existing WoW levelling methodology. With “events” where you wander into an area and fill up a progress bar by performing different activities (usually either collection of items or killing of mobs), these then give a healthy chunk of XP & gold, but are not repeatable. Once an event is done it’s done.

You will also come across items in the world which contain pieces of gear (think of the Treasures littered about Pandaria, same thing), which give XP upon discovery as well as the piece of gear. However most of this gear is by and largely useless. Either because it’s too low level to be of any real use, or because it’s not even usable by your class.

Garrison outposts in each zone initially give the levelling experience the appearance of being more repeatable, as each outpost is vaunted to give different quests and storyline through the zone. However in practice I haven’t found this to be the case. You’ll do the first handful of quests to establish the outpost, which are the same regardless because you’ve not made your choice yet, and even after you have chosen, the quests handed out don’t really rely on your specific choice. You do get a small perk dependant on the choice you’ve made, such as a Frostwolf mount you can mount up on while moving and collect items & kill mobs whilst mounted (Nagrand/Horde), but that’s about as good as it gets. Plus the perk is limited to the zone it’s based in. So no riding that frostwolf mount in Frostfire Ridge!

Life At 100

Life at 100 in Warlords is exceedingly dull. In fact I’d go so far to say that life at max level is the worst experience I’ve been through in WoW in the 6-7 years I’ve been playing it now. Outside of raids (more on those later) day to day life on Draenor is bland. And it’s bland for quite a few reasons.

First up, there’s really no reason to login every day. With Blizzard doing their usual knee-jerk to the community’s reaction to their stupidity regarding dailies at the start of Mists (too much all at once leading to burn out), and going a full 180 down the route of minimal to zero dailies for the most part, it means there’s no reason to login. Certainly the scrapping of Valour and Justice points was a big factor in this. An extra handful of Garrison resources for running your daily dungeon is not what most would consider ample reward. Especially after you’ve already maxed out all your Garrison building plots to level 3 and potentially have a small mountain of Garrison resources building up or even possibly maxed out.

Apexis Crystals were also implemented poorly. The gear that they can be used to purchase and upgrade was quickly out-levelled. They require a ridiculous amount of AC’s, and much like crafted gear, by the time you got the resources to buy pieces, you were already likely to have gotten equivalent gear elsewhere, especially if you’re a raider. The other major problem with the Apexis gear was the itemisation on the pieces. It was horrifically bad, terribly so. In fact the only use I have for AC’s at the moment is getting another bonus roll token.

Garrisons themselves started off as great fun, establishing them, upgrading and then further upgrading of plots and buildings as the weeks went by. However as buildings began to get maxed out, and the amount of work they required dwindled, they eventually became largely unused. Certainly my profession specific buildings have gone largely unused (Jewelcrafting & Enchanting huts), bar the daily gold quest from my JC hut and the ability to xmog enchants via the Enchanter’s hut. The reason that they’ve not seen much use is strongly linked to another reason why Warlords has suffered.

Professions in Warlords underwent huge changes in terms of their appeal and viability to players. Most people picked a specific profession for several reasons in previous expansions:

  • Combat/Profession perks (higher stat jewels for Jewelcrafters, fur lining for Leather-workers, extra sockets for Blacksmiths etc).
  • Potential to craft goods and items for sale on the Auction House.
  • Thematic reasons.
  • Ability to craft items for guildies using freely available/purchasable materials.

However Blizzard decided to make several changes to most professions that killed them for a lot of players:

Combat/Profession perks were removed. This left most professions without any sort of flavour, making them feel bland, flat, non-engaging and uninteresting.

Production of Crafted items (gear/weapons) was rooted in mats that could only be generated at a limited rate, and to compound matters even further, these generated materials were BoP, meaning that you were severely limited by your own production of these mats to be able to craft the initial gear. Beyond that, if you wanted to upgrade them, each stage of crafted gear required its own specific item to bump up its item level, which again demanded ridiculous amounts of these same BoP mats. Much like the Apexis gear from earlier, by the time you had enough resources to actually get or even upgrade these pieces, you were likely to have picked up something else either equivalent or better from LFR at the very least. Too little, too late, even more so now for alts where LFR BRF gear is iLevel 655.

The above meant that your first pieces of crafted gear were likely to go on the AH, in order to try and make SOME gold from your effort. But that only lasted a few weeks before prices plummeted and never recovered.

Reforging’s removal was also a huge mistake, leaving many players with deliberately badly itemised gear. Lack of decently itemised gear led to characters with a lot of secondaries all around the same level of bland equivalence and as a result nothing really felt special to get. You couldn’t chase down a specific stat, or customise for it, so you had to take what you were given, which was bland and poorly itemised pieces, especially in Highmaul.

The changes round raiding this expansion haven’t worked out in its favour IMO. Yes the race to World First (won by Method fairly quickly) was interesting as usual, but didn’t for me settle any lingering questions from the 10 vs 25 days. Difficulty in general saw a bump upwards, and the gearing levels throughout tier 17 have meant that you need to be virtually fully geared at one level before attempting the next.

Plus that and the staggering of instances, especially considering the recent iLevel bump for BRF gear, has meant that the initial raid instance, Highmaul, is all but obsolete already. Blackrock Foundry LFR gives gear equivalent in item level to, and far better itemised than normal mode Highmaul. Normal mode BRF gives gear now equal to Heroic Highmaul. So beyond literally 1 or maybe 2 pieces, Highmaul is now for all intents old content that is less likely to be run by anyone outside of gearing alts.

Making BRF virtually its own tier, separate and distinct from Highmaul was a dumb move frankly, and means players have to gear up through 2 distinct raids in order to get ready for 6.2.

The changes to Mythic being 20 man only as well has only benefited a small handful of guilds, those chasing World Firsts. There’s not even any server first raid achievements now, having been excised in Warlords.

Flying Walking Onwards

This whole no flying thing has been dragging on for far too long – players are getting pissed off and bored manually traversing the same terrain on foot over and over again. Numerous flight-points haven’t helped. All they’ve accomplished is to remove player agency and reduce the desire for exploration. It’s all well and good designing content to be consumed on foot, but what’s the continued reason when that content is past its expiration date? Stubbornness?

We all know that flying won’t and was never going to be introduced until Tanaan Jungle becomes active in 6.2. Otherwise you’d be able to fly over a completely unfinished area of the map, but if Blizzard would just admit that it would go a long way towards soothing player’s ire over the issue. But they don’t, they just continue putting out blasé posts stating it’s how they intended the content to be consumed. Puhlease.

Gold inflation has been a big feature of this expansion as well. Gold incomes have rocketed, even for those players like myself who don’t go anywhere near the AH. A half decently geared character can go in and run through the 25 man heroic Cataclysm raids, and each boss will drop 125g as well as 4/5 pieces of gear. In total, for about 8+ bosses you’re seeing incomes of about 2k per run per character. Clearing all 3 tiers in Cataclysm at that rate would net you about 8k or thereabouts per character per reset. Garrison missions as well are capable of generating decent amounts of gold per character per day. I rocketed from 80k to 200k over the first couple of months of the expansion doing nothing really special, and not really going out of my way to earn that gold. It did enable me to put the maximum gold amount on my druid before I server/faction transferred her, still leaving my main with a pretty healthy bank balance.

But all this gold will have repercussions further on down the line, especially in later expansion packs. I imagine that the Cata bosses will receive gold nerfs akin to those of earlier bosses pretty soon, and other gold making opportunities will be pruned back, lest inflation get out of hand. But perhaps this is all in preparation for the WoW Gametime tokens they’ll be introducing in 6.1.2. You can purchase these things for real cash money, then punt them on the AH for an arbitrary amount of gold. My estimate will be about 25k gold, especially after prices settle following the initial splurge. You can of course then buy them ingame for gold, use them and it’ll add 30 days to your current subscription. So WoW will effectively be free to play for those players making enough bank to cover the cost of these tokens per month!

Another big reason why people are so bored and feckless at the moment is the lack of structure in content outside of raids. Again this harkens back to the lack of dailies, but the fact is that once you’ve hit max level, there’s very little reason, achievement points aside, to go back and pick up the treasures you missed whilst levelling. The content that it took them so extraordinarily long to work on (hello 14 months of SoO!) seemed to be mainly consumed within the first few weeks of levelling & limited exploring. And that’s the problem with one-shot content that can’t be repeated per character. Once it’s consumed/done then it’s gone forever, only to ever be seen again on an alt. All that work they put in for a one time deal per character. Shockingly short-sighted on Blizzard’s part, because surely they should’ve known that once that content was gobbled up, especially considering how ravenous players were for it after 14 months of a content diet, players would have ripped through it at high speed. And they did, leaving very little left to be going on with.

The big problem here of course was WoW trying to be something it’s not. Guild Wars 2. WoW has its strengths, GW2 has its strengths, but they’re not the same thing.

Another big issue with the expansion is the feeling of emptiness the world displays as a whole. With people playing hermit in their garrisons 80% of the time, especially given that they’ll likely have consumed the majority of the one-shot content aimed at them, the world feels devoid of life, of players. Looking at my guild roster, at least 60-80% of those online are idling in their garrisons. Blizzard would’ve been far better off making a centralised, neutral hub, same as TBC & Wrath, to foster a sense of the world being alive with players in it. Instead, nearly everyone is stuck inside a private instanced mini-zone with no chance of running across other players.

This of course has been yet another cause of people feeling bored with WoD, because it feels empty, there’s no content left to consume and it all feels very meh. People then log in less as a result, and those that do stay inside their garrison the majority of the time!

Because of this, guilds are collapsing left and right. Recruitment threads and adverts are at an all time high, even on the mega-populated servers like my Druid currently sits on. It has a population double that of the joint population of the three connected servers my pally sits on. That includes Horde & Alliance! But still adverts for desperate guilds aching to recruit extra bodies are prevalent. Twitter and the forums are full of people showing their boredom and ennui with the expansion, and numbers seem to be anecdotally dropping through the floor.

What did Warlords actually do right?

For all that, the expansion has got a few things right, and it’s not all been bad news. For a start, the major thing for a LOT of players that Warlords got completely spot on were the new player models. 6.1 finally rounded out the intended suite of newly updated models, and each race, including the Blood Elves, now look really really nice. I was really worried that my Belf’s new face would look silly or too twee, but they absolutely nailed it on release. Similarly with all the other races, they’ve all seen massive improvements, particularly the vanilla races on the alliance side, such as human males and female dwarves. The improvements seen by both (and others) have seen race changes ahoy for a lot of players!

Secondly, the Heirloom tab has been a joy. For someone semi-restarting on a new server, creating alts and being able to instantly fit them out with a full suite of heirlooms without having to mail items back and forth like crazy has been an absolute god-send. It’s brilliant just being able to click a UI element and have the heirloom item just drop into your bags, and means you don’t have to pre-plan a character, and collect heirlooms from multiple different character banks & bags, you can just create and get on with levelling! The other big thing of course around this that they’ve got absolutely nailed was the Chauffeured Chopper for level 1’s. A rewards for collecting 35 heirloom pieces, it’s the same speed as basic ground mounts, and whether this does away with the need for purchasing the first level of mount riding I’m not sure, but even if not, it’s not as if it was a huge cost anyway. But it just makes levelling a lowbie so much quicker and fun now. No more hoofing it by foot at 60% speed 😀

The Selfie Camera, whilst not my particular cup of tea (same as IRL), seems to be mega popular. I’m not a big fan of ego-centric media (erm, let’s ignore the fact I said that on a blog eh?) like selfies, but players absolutely love this addition to the game. Especially if my Twitter feed is anything to go by. That said, it’ll probably remain popular for a while though before the novelty wears off.

Another massive boon in this expansion has been the switching of primary stats on most gear. Whilst this hasn’t benefited me in any way, as both my paladin and hunter still use the same primary stats regardless of the spec they’re currently running (Prot/Ret & BM/Surv), it has made it possible to recover acres of bag space.

Speaking of which, the final thing they got right was the way that the default, addon-free bags are handled in the UI. Being able to specify what a specific bag should be used for was a big step up. Still somewhat short of what add-ons can offer, but a big step in the right direction.

How can the situation be turned around?

So with such a long list of complaints and things that are killing interest in the game right now, how can Blizzard go about fixing the situation?

First up and foremost, get player flight in ASAP. Make it easier and more convenient for players to get to the content that’s still there, give players their agency back and give them control back.

Bring back VP & JP and improve the itemisation and iLevel of gear purchased by it. VP/JP gave players a reason to run 5 man content, weeks and even months after outgearing it. 5 mans were a quick and easy way at max level when fully raid geared to get these points, and it made gearing alts a lot quicker as you were likely to end up with a pretty decently geared group that had no interest in the gear. Queue times have shot right up again in this expansion, and this is the primary reason why. Trying to bribe players with “rewards” that are meaningless and un-needed means that players don’t run this content after out-gearing it, at all. I certainly haven’t stepped foot inside a 5 man dungeon since hitting 630, and I’m 676 right now, so it’s been a right while.

Make professions interesting again & bring back combat perks/profession bonuses. Bring them back up to the level of utility that they’ve experienced in previous years, because right now it feels completely pointless having any profession beyond being able to quickly knock yourself something up. Many players used their professions to play the AH and make some decent gold, but that’s all but been destroyed at the moment.

Bring back socket bonuses and gem slot colours. This was a big one. yes, having only prismatic/neutral sockets means you can gem whatever you want, but it takes a lot of strategy out of the game when it comes to player customisation. Ditto…

Bring back reforging! Without hit & expertise reforging can serve its original purpose which was to improve player customisation options. Secondary stats at the moment, particularly versatility & multistrike, are bland. They don’t really feel actively engaging and it’s hard to feel the difference any of them make. Especially tertiary stats like Leech & Avoidance. Getting these doesn’t feel special, it doesn’t make a piece more worthwhile taking over a better itemised piece, so it’s therefore pointless.

As mentioned earlier, gold inflow will need nerfed to maintain stable server economies especially after Warlords. Unless Blizzard have got to the point in the game’s lifecycle where they don’t actively care about player gold levels, in which case either watch out for absolutely massive gold sinks (potentially more mounts and of course the WoW GameTime token), or none at all. Erm, dur?

Make garrison buildings give meaningful perma-buffs whilst they’re active. This would make having a particular building actually worthwhile. Perhaps bring back profession/combat perks by having certain buildings at level 3, rather than having the profession itself maxed?

What’s likely to happen?

In a few months we are likely to be below 6 million subs again. People are leaving/quitting/stopping playing in droves at the moment, and as mentioned earlier, guilds are collapsing as a result and the game feels barren of content and players. Blizzard’s lack of commentary on this is also telling, because you know when they’re not talking about something that’s of concern to a lot of the players still left, then that’s concerning.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: By the time 6.2 launches it’ll be nearly 2 full years (Sep 2013 with SoO, through WoD launch through to 6.2) with only a single launch of fresh content with Warlord’s release. Content that was largely one-shot stuff consumed in pretty short order, lacking in any real longer-term repeatable content worthwhile doing.

6.1 is utterly lacklustre and in no way suffices in terms of content. Yes it brought the heirloom tab, the alt-bike and new Belf Models, but that’s not “content” per se. Just “stuff”.

In Conclusion

There are a lot of things wrong with the game right now, meaning life in WoW is not as good as it was say a year ago. Even during the long Siege of Orgrimmar period, I was never once as bored with the game as I am right now. Quite frankly if I didn’t have guild obligations I would probably stop playing for a while altogether and get caught up properly on my frankly massive back-catalogue on Steam. Certainly I intend to make more videos around other games over the coming months, not solely WoW videos, as frankly at the moment there is next to nothing to actually talk about in the current game. Progress in BRF continues, but aside from that there’s actually very little encouraging me to log in right now.

Blizzard needs to fix the game, and they need to pull the finger out about doing it. However given how fast they’ve been at producing content these past 2 years, I seriously doubt that that’s on the cards any time soon…