Friday, August 14, 2009

Did Blizzard Just PTR-Spoil The Expansion?

MMO-Champion may have the full details of the WoW expansion announcement a week out from Blizzcon. They are aided and abetted in part by Blizzard's inexplicable decision to bring up PTR's for patch 3.2.2 days before the keynote. Among other things, the test patch revamps the Onyxia fight up to level 80, and includes NPC's with eleven race/class combinations that the game currently does not permit.

All Races, All Classes?

A new face on the PTR's

I can, of course, claim credit for the latter. In the comments of my Blizzcon predictions from earlier this week, I wrote:

"It doesn't sound like Blizzard is willing to throw in the towel on lore-based race/class restrictions just yet (this WILL happen, but not as a marquis feature of this expansion), so we can scratch Pallies, Shamen, and Druids and figure that the new races get the other seven classes. /yawn."

When I write something like that, Blizzard tends to make me look foolish in relatively short order.

Now, a few new combinations (one for each race except Draenei, with two Tauren and Dwarves) alone does not prove that they're allowing all races to be all classes. Once you look at the actual list, though, it becomes harder to understand.
  • Dwarf mages were removed during WoW's beta because the lore says that the Dwarves of Ironforge don't do arcane magic - that's the evil Dwarves. Not the hugest stretch, but they clearly did feel strongly about this once upon a time.
  • Dwarf Shaman is a bit more of an issue. The Alliance didn't have Shamen until the Exodar crashed in Kalimdor. Was that really enough time ago for someone to have class changed? Then again, the lore says that Draenei Shamen were founded by a fallen Pally, and Dwarves can be Pallies, so maybe.
  • Troll Druid begins to push it. We've never seen a single druid outside of the two traditional races, Night Elf and Tauren.
  • Night Elf Mages?! Wasn't the whole reason why the High Elves split from the Night Elves a disagreement over the use of arcane magic?
Now you can paper over the last one by doing, well, exactly what they've done on the PTR's, namely introducing a subfaction of Night Elf mages who were sort of a missing link between the Night Elves and the High Elves. Fine in isolation. The lore is Blizzard's fictional creation, and they're free to change it. But really, once you're coming up with excuses to justify such an egregious stretch, why keep any restrictions at all?

In short, it appears that my far-fetched expansion idea may not have been as far off as I thought. If MMO-Champion is right - and it's a credible rumor, emerging at about the right time relative to the con - then this will be an expansion that heavily encourages alts, giving Blizzard time to revamp the remainder of the old world of Azeroth (including flight). New races and new race/class options may increase demand just enough to allow that to happen.

Expect the new expansion to be all races, all classes.

No Gear Reset?
The other half of the rumor is that the level cap will only increase by five levels, and that the Onyxia revamp is only the beginning of the raid content revamp. This is a game changer for itemization, because it paves the way for the next expansion to avoid a total gear reset. A few of the various things that become possible in the context of a smaller level increase:
  • Blizzard is pressed for time, and old content is sitting, unused and ready to go.
  • Between 10 and 25 man loot and hard modes, item level inflation is going to be absolutely out of control by Icecrown. Bringing the level 81 quest reward greens up to that level would be nuts.
  • By extension, the decision to add better loot to existing 5-mans makes sense if there will be no gear reset, with expansion content tuned around higher end gear from current dungeons.
  • Icecrown, like Naxx v1.0 and Sunwell before it, would arrive relatively close to an expansion. A smaller level increase with no gear reset would make that content remain relevant as possibly the level 85 entry level endgame, allowing more players to actually see the end of the Wrath story arc.
  • This also avoids the problem Blizzard faced at the Wrath launch, where there was only time for either an entry level raid OR tougher content and Blizzard felt that they had to choose the entry level. With the older content (Icecrown and recycled stuff) serving as entry level, they will be free to tune the new content for elite players.
  • The talent trees get more and more precarious every time Blizzard adds 10 more points. Meanwhile, Blizzard has shown no interest in adding more than a handful of legitimately new spells each expansion. Five levels means fewer new talent points and fewer levels without new spells.
  • With recycled raid content, Blizzard could conceivably provide a leveling path in raid content. There's no need to disperse your guild into half a dozen five mans if there is raid content that offers good loot upgrades and experience straight from level 80-85.
Will it work?
Overall, if this is how the announcement plays out, there does seem to be a little something for everyone. Group players don't have their gear reset. Alt-a-holics get a vast world of new possible race/class combos, including new races, and revamped content to make the leveling path more polished. Blizzard gets to reuse a ton of content, launching the expansion faster than anticipated for lower development costs while they work on their Mystery Projects.

That said, there are some catches. Will there be as much new leveling content for the 5 new levels as for 10 of the current expansions, or will new solo content for characters currently at the cap get the short end of the stick? Will players, solo and group alike, miss having legitimately new content to go with their revamped stuff, if there indeed will not be a new continent? How big is the demographic that really always wanted to make another WoW alt but never got around to it because they weren't happy with race choices or travel times? If they do balance expansion content around ilvl 200+ epic gear, how will new players who hit level 80 gear up for the new expansion?

Obviously, we can't be certain that this isn't some red herring, if for no other reason than because I have now written about it. (Some of my earlier speculation may end up being relatively accurate, but I guess that's the advantage of the shot-gun approach.) They HAVE to know that people datamine the PTR's by now. If this all holds up, though, we certainly won't be able to say that they just gave us another continent and 10 levels just like the last two expansions. For that reason alone, the Cataclysm sounds like it might be the way for WoW to go.


Hirvox said...

Er.. the Highborne have been in the game since Dire Maul. They're not new. Even the original Naxxramas had a Highborne mage who informed players of the Atiesh questline.

Lore-wise, they're the original elves, of which the Night Elves and the High Elves are offshoots. The Night Elves stayed on Kalimdor and followed Malfurion Stormrage. The High Elves, led by Dath'Remar Sunstrider, sailed east to what is now known as the Eastern Kingdoms.

Klepsacovic said...

Dwarf shamans aren't too farfetched, though they need some tinkering with the player story. The Wildhammer clan is shamanistic, however currently player characters are from the Bronzebeard clan.

Longasc said... - I already commented on this at Keen's blog.

Seems to be a sellout for me. The most bang for the buck without having to do too much new.

But I already got told that making flying mounts possible in Azeroth is a lot of work. For the graphics artists and zone designers, so that stuff looks pretty.

BUT not for BALANCE or gameplay reasons of the old zones. These are to be skipped to reach endgame content, new player or guys who return to WoW.
And as nobody really does world pvp anymore, they have no fear of dragon-riding newbie hunters either.

They give a damn shit about their own lore and give in even more to their themepark entertainment attitude.

Jormundgard said...

I think I'd prefer a new continent to a revamped Azeroth. I'm very skeptical of this Boubouille post, but the expansion as described is starting to sound like World of Altcraft.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

Human druids should of been possible from the get go as well, maybe we'll see those?

Frankly I'm just perplexed by class/race restrictions, it feels like something from old school d&d.

As for a 5 level only increase ... why increase it at all? I know you touched on it, but it didn't make any sense. How would a 5 level increase help with raiding?

thedoctor said...

Very good read. I am really interested on what Blizcon is going to reveal because this stuff is wild.

Green Armadillo said...

@Hirvox: Ah, those guys, I spent very little time in Dire Maul, so I'd forgotten that they were NE's instead of HE's.

@Klep: Yeah, someone else made the point about the Wildhammers in another discussion I was having on this. The same is true of the mages, it's not genetically impossible, it's just something that the Bronzebeards don't do. And, like I said, you can explain away any one of these situations where there was a reason for the restriction, but why would you stop after doing most of the hard ones?

@Long: The time for an old-world revamp is graphically prohibitive if it's IN ADDITION to a new continent. The whole point of focusing on the revamp would be to clear up time for making the world flyable and adding a handful of new zones with some new content. And yes, the point when they added the space goats was the point at which I resolved not to take their lore more seriously than they do.

@Jorm: The context of this expansion is that most of the top talent has moved on to Mystery Project 4, and yet they still want it out in under two years. Recycling content would be needed to make that possible. That said, I'm bracing for the possibility that this will be a smaller expansion if I'm correct.

@Pan: Five levels would presumably mean five more talent points, higher HP and DPS (after you re-gear to recover your combat ratings), and even physically outleveling some of the trash. Bosses con as +3 to players, but their attacks don't do any more damage and they don't get any more HP, which is why we have people soloing level 60 stuff these days. At 10 levels, the advantage to the players starts to become overwhelming, but at five levels - especially if you know this in advance and tune Icecrown towards, say, level 81 players so that it's very very hard at launch - the current content might still be usable.

@The Doctor: Either this is all a very well done fake (in fairness, we have seen some well done fakes over the years, though this one would be even better in my view) or this is about the level of detail we're going to get out of Blizzcon. I'm sure there'll be some lively Q&A, but the expansion won't be out for at least six months. (There is still one last patch in the Wrath era, even if it is less important to give players time to beat Icecrown if it will remain relevant into the next expansion.)

Keith said...

assuming this is all true then I would say:

"Seems to be a sellout for me. The most bang for the buck without having to do too much new."

is quite correct in one manner, that blizzard wants maintain WOW instead of innovate.

look at all the changes DESIGNEd to make people roll alts.

Anonymous said...

i smell epic troll blizz is must messing with the dataminers before blizzcon

Pangoria Fallstar said...

thanks for clearing that up, :D

mag jay said...

I think I like it...the game looks different and interesting.

Smashie said...

Am I the only one who feels kind of sentimental toward the old world? Of all three releases of the game, the old world was the most engaging, challenging, and rewarding content hands down.