Unfortunately, this is a bit stale as a preview, but I still wanted to get a chance to get some of my thoughts out on the upcoming World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade expansion. Naturally, everything is constantly changing, and I don’t have access to any “inside information,” so my rambling and analysis is based on publicly available information.
First of all, I’m wondering when the damn thing will come out. Blizzard has said Q4 of this year, anywhere from October through December. I’m guessing at this point we’re looking at December. It’s a must for them to have it out pre-Christmas, but I’m not sure they’ll beat Thanksgiving.
Better Dungeon Design: Blizzard seems to have done a much, much better job of dungeon design. Each dungeon has 1-3 separate wings design for 5 or 10 people, allowing for casual groups to enjoy. Then, each dungeon has a “raid” wing for the uber guilds to tackle. Given the raid limit being dropped to 25 (see below), and that there are pickup groups for the 20 man content in the existing game, my guess is the lower level raid dungeons will be achievable by pickup groups.
Additionally, Blizzard is making it so there is a way to enable a “hardcore” mode for the 5 man dungeons, where the dungeons are re-playable with harder monsters and better loot for level 70’s. Thus every dungeon is effectively a level 70 dungeon (as well as the intended dungeon), adding much more end game content. This also addresses an issue I’ve complained about in the past: players breezing by “leveling” content on their way to the end game, making it under-utilized. Overall, these changes please me, because they cater to both the casual and hardcore player, and ensure that content is not bypassed.
25 Man Raid Limit: Blizzard has reduced the raid limit in the expansion to 25 man, previously from 40. This does a number of things. First, it reduces the administrative overhead of an end-game guild. It’s much easier to get 25 dedicated people (plus alternates) than it is 40. Second, it allows individual players to make more of a contribution during raid encounters, as there is less redundancy.
Third, it will somewhat reduce lag because of the lower number of players in an instance running around. Finally, it puts all the content more in the “pick up group” range, as it’s a lot easier to form a pickup of 25 than 40. But I’m not sold it’s a completely good change yet…
Arena/Battleground PvP: PvP has always been one of the weak points of World of Warcraft. It was an afterthought, not something included from the ground up. To a certain extent it seems that this has changed in the expansion. Blizzard has worked to include a variety of different PvP angles.
One system is the Arena system, which will allow players to compete in organized teams of 1,2,3 or 5. Ladders and cross faction play will be set up. Additionally, there are slated to be new battlegrounds, which are aided by the new “battle group” system which allows for cross faction play and serves to reduce the horrific wait times that some servers faced in the past.
Lastly, Blizzard has changed the ranking system to be based on point accumulation and expenditure, as opposed to the current tiered ranking system which is a combination of points and comparison to your peers. This is another change made mandatory by the cross-server battlegrounds throwing off the existing system. Of course, Blizzard is waiting months to make this change, rather than address it now, when it’s already an issue, but that’s just their standard sloppy MO.
25 Man Raids: Although I ultimately believe the 25 man raid change was for the best, Blizzard has caused a certain amount of distress across the raiding community. 40 man raid groups are now forced to cut about a third of their members, leaving a number of players out in the cold and forced to reform and adjust. While this isn’t the end of the world, what strikes me as frustrating is the suddenness with which Blizzard alienated and rejected so many of their players, causing endless amounts of guild drama and strife. In the long run, this will be for the best, and there was probably no other way to handle it. But I find such a huge change to gameplay after two years to be somewhat unprofessional.
Cross-Classing: My biggest disappointment with the expansion is the decision to allow Dranei to be shaman and Blood Elves to be paladins. This is essentially Blizzard caving to two years of whining of players about imbalances (in a game that is designed to be rock paper scissors), and the elimination of anything beyond polygonal diversity in gameplay. The only good argument Blizzard has made about the change is the fact they can now design end game PvE encounters around these classes, since both factions will need them.
To me, it is an indication of sacrificing their vision of differentiation between the two factions by a homogeneity that might, in theory, quiet the bitching masses (unlikely), but in fact, makes the game about as exciting as vanilla ice cream (admittedly, vanilla ice cream is good, and I’m not sure why vanilla gets such a bad rap… it’s a metaphor).
New Race Abilities: In the vein of selling out, Blizzard has made the racial abilities of both the new races, the Dranei (alliance) and the Blood Elves (horde), vastly overpowered compared to the existing races. I understand there needs to be “pizzaz” and draw to get the population of these new races up, but they’ve already dealt with this to a certain degree by mandating, at least at a raid level, the need for horde paladins (Blood elf only) and alliance shaman (Dranei only). Topping it off with imbalanced racial abilities is just poor design. While the short term need might make it seem a good move, before long, those characters will be level 70, and they will be wreaking havoc in PvE and PvP situations, as they will be “better” characters than the original races.
This means one of the following things: A) Blizzard is content with a pretty severe imbalance in the name of selling expansion software, B) Blizzard plans to nerf the new races racial abilities, potentially in a few months after the populations are balanced, or the elusive C) Blizzard plans to tweak existing racial abilities to make them more competitive. C is possible, and there have been rumors of such a thing occurring, but Blizzard also has not tweaked these skills in some time–are they saving the rebalancing for the expansion, or are they content to let people bitch (in this case)?
Not sure if I should cry or be happy
New Talents: The jury is out on these, and will remain so for awhile due to the contentious nature of class balance. Since their rolling announcement a month ago, the new talents have already undergone huge changes. Without getting into details (which, if you are an avid WoW enthusiast, you are already on top of, and if you’re a casual, you don’t care), Blizzard has alternated from lip service changes, to huge, balance impacting changes, to making changes they said they weren’t ever going to make. Fortunately, Blizzard can continue to tweak talents into the expansion, so any glaring insufficiencies will either be addressed, or officially ignored, Blizzard style.
Outdoor PvP: As mentioned above, I’m pleased with the fact that PvP is intended to be more central to World of Warcraft in the expansion. I worry though that PvP has not been a part of Blizzard’s game design DNA, and that the players will not embrace it properly. In particular, my concerns lie around Outdoor or “world” PvP, which is PvP which takes place throughout the non-instanced world. This sort of PvP tends to be messy, unfair, and includes killing people as they fight monsters or corpse camping people till they log off in disgust.
In an attempt to integrate PvP into The Burning Crusade, every Outland zone will include some form of “outdoor” integrated PvP target. Arguably, this is a rip off of some of the concepts of Mythic’s Warhammer Online game, but Blizzard is in the market, and they’re not, so it goes. The most written about feature (and the one Blizzard is most proud of) is the contested cities in zones that feature a sort of king of the hill/capture the flag situation where both factions duke it out for control. The cities are dynamic, with creative manners to wage war against your foe: for example, you can call in gryphon or wyvern air strikes against targets in the contested cities.
It remains to be seen how the population imbalance problems will affect the world PvP. To a certain extent, these problems were alleviated by the linking of servers for battlegrounds, but this will do nothing for world PvP. If world PvP is not competitive, it’s no fun. If Blizzard puts too much value on the neutral towns, it’ll be unfair to the population disadvantaged servers. If they put too little, the content won’t be utilized and thus wasted. It remains to be seen how this will play out.
So there you have it. Obviously, one can speculate until the Tauren come home (yes, I just was that cheesy), but the good news is that the expansion seems to be, at least in most cases, more well thought out than the original game. One of the chief concerns some people have had is that there be enough square footage in terms of physical space in the expansion. The world is supposed to expand 25%, but given the “newbie zones,” the actual amount of playable end game content could be crowded. Hopefully, the plethora of dungeons will help fight this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are monster shortages as people complete their “kill 10 burning crusade monster” quests. In theory, players will find a way to persevere beyond these hardships so that they might continue paying their $14.99 to Blizzard monthly. We wouldn’t want those poor game developers to starve.