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Tuesday, November 15

Musings on WoW's Upcoming Expansion

There are some things that never cease to amaze me. One of which is how often World of Warcraft gets mentioned in the general chat channel of other MMOs. I can honestly say that no matter what game in the genre I’m playing, even in betas, someone is talking about WoW. It happened all throughout Rift’s beta, but I could understand that. Rift deliberately went after Blizzard’s money-making behemoth throughout their entire ad campaign. Recently, I spent a weekend testing Star Wars: The Old Republic. Mere moments after creating my character and entering the game world, I saw WoW mentioned. For a solid five minutes, players announced the faction and server they came from in WoW. The list grew and grew in my chat window.

Sure, that may seem like harmless chatter. Players expressing their curiosities about what other games people are playing shouldn’t be uncommon. The discussion veered off course quickly, however. First, the abundance of Horde players in comparison to Alliance was observed. Then the homophobic obscenities were fired off at Alliance players. Someone tried to argue, “But Humans have the best racial for PvP,” but that just stirred up more obscenities.

The comparison’s between Warcraft and SWTOR eventually started popping up, followed by the usual claims that WoW is dying and that most of their player-base will be switching to SWTOR or Guild Wars 2 when they come out. We’ve heard this all before. It’s true that Warcraft’s subscription numbers have been going down at a steady pace. If you look at subscription trends for the game, this actually should be expected. Patch 4.3 will be the last for Cataclysm. Typically, the game’s player base drops off significantly towards the end of an expansion then bounces back when the next one releases.

What makes Mists of Pandaria different from past expansions is the number of players who attribute the next expansion directly to the loss of subscribers. In the same general chat I was talking about earlier, I actually saw someone say “Mists of Pandaria will be the WoW killer,” not another AAA MMO. I’ll be the first to say that I enjoyed Cataclysm. It may not be my favorite WoW expansion, but I witnessed the development team take some bold steps in their design philosophy.

Mists of Pandaria continues this trend. My subscription ran out a little while ago and I didn’t mind letting it do so. I don’t have the schedule to raid anymore and the people I enjoyed PvPing with don’t play anymore. Contrary to the feelings I’ve seen expressed on fan site forums, WoW’s official forums and in various chat channels in Rift or SWTOR, Mists of Pandaria makes me consider playing the game again.

Of all the changes I’m excited for, Pet Battles isn’t really one of them, but to each their own. I know plenty of people who play that enjoy collecting. Whether that means armor sets, mounts or pets, they all appreciate that extra aspect of the game. Blizzard recognizes a problem that players run into after they’ve reached max level. I’ve seen it, too. Eventually, the game world feels empty. Wouldn’t it be nice if after a month’s time following an expansion or patch, you didn’t find the majority of players AFK in Stormwind or Orgrimmar, but continuing to enjoy the expansive world outside the city walls?

The developers are well aware that simply introducing new dailies or instances can only keep players occupied for a finite amount of time. If there is one theme I’ve noticed from all of the announcements made at BlizzCon, it’s options. Giving players more ways to progress their character the way they want to is always a good idea.

I ran my druid through the remade 5-man Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub instances so many times in search for valor points, that I couldn’t stand to play the character anymore. With Mists of Pandaria, players can earn valor from dailies as well as heroics. I’m usually never a fan of dailies, especially when they’re tied to factions who provide best in slot enchants that aren’t account bound. It’s also a pain to wait in queues all day as a DPS just to get your valor. The incentives for tanks and healers to queue up were nice in theory, but in practice didn’t make all that much of a difference. With Mists of Pandaria, players don’t have to rely on others to get their weekly valor points.

Challenge mode dungeons are another interesting take on PvE content. I would venture to say that unless the rewards are right, we won’t see people utilizing this content over traditional dungeons for the long haul. The same goes for Scenarios, which are WoW’s combination of Rift’s Instant Adventures and a scaled down Rift Zone Invasion that is instanced instead of open world.

The changes to talent trees aren’t something I was really expecting, at least not in the way they’ve proposed it. That being said, I really can’t thank them enough for doing this. In all certainty, players will quickly establish cookie-cutter specs for individual fights, but at least the system is finally flexible. Variety and utility are the spice of life. If between a choice of three talents, one can’t come across as a clear cut DPS increase, but each offers the player a unique or interesting crowd control or movement ability, then everyone is a winner. Way to go, Blizzard.

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