Monday, August 29, 2016

My Life as a Gamer: Legion is Almost Here (And None Too Soon)

Yeah, I'm talking World of Warcraft again.

The next expansion, Legion, goes live in North America on Tuesday. Of course I've spent time enjoying the run-up to this launch; these Demon Invasions have been the most fun I've had in this game in years. Been leveling many an alt, and my core stable of alts are all at Level 100 and about ready to go. I got around to rolling my Horde Demon Hunter alt last night, and he should be ready to go on time.

So, looking back on Warlords of Draenor, it is clear that this was a filler expansion whose real objective was to cover up the need to bring back the most hated (for good dramatic reasons) villain in the franchise: Gul'dan.

What I think happened is that the fallout for the game's business after Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria saw sub numbers plummet from 12 million active accounts to below five million, lead to a move internally (coupled with Project Titan's failure and salvaging into Overwatch) to conclude that most WOW players stuck around only so long as leftovers from Warcraft 3 remained. Wrath of the Lich King finished those off, and Cataclysm lacked appeal so millions quit (and proper-hard Heroic Dungeons at launch did not help, as these folks were casuals so they would never Git Gud; they hit a wall in character progression and gave up).

They had to do something, as World of Warcraft was the company's cash cow. They did a lot of somethings, as this push also produced Hearthstone and Overwatch in order to find other revenue streams, but in terms of World of Warcraft it would lead to the conclusion that a lot of long-demanded features and a casual-friendly baseline for content difficulty while Git Gud folks get funneled into the highest tiers of difficulty. In short, Legion is a Hail Mary play and Warlords was a stall move to set up best possible odds for success.

But what that leads to is this question: if Legion meets Blizzard's expectations, then where does the game go from here? Another post-climax clean-up (which, thematically, Cataclysm was) won't cut it; they have to follow-on from the logical conclusion to Legion's climax (i.e. Azeroth wins) or whatever gains gotten will fade just as fast or faster. That means taking on the challenge of leading players to the true Final Bosses: the Void Lords (as defined in the setting bible). Yes, this means finally smashing the Burning Legion for good is NOT the end. Old Gods next, then their masters (said Lords), then the end comes. That's at least three more expansions, if not four or five.

Any of which they could fuck up, and WOW can't take another fuckup like Cataclysm or Warlords of Draenor. No matter if Legion is a hit and succeeds or not, any follow-up that fails can and likely will end WOW; it's not as resilient as it once was and the gaming world is not what it was in 2004- alternatives to MMOs (not just WOW) are a lot stronger now and former WOW players have viable options to pursue. As WOW is MMOs what D&D is to tabletop RPGs, ruining WOW is likely to ruin the entire genre and medium, so the devs have to be careful going forward.

So even success doesn't end the game's problems. Much like defeating the Legion anywhere but its home plane doesn't kill it for good. We'll see soon enough if WOW has what it takes to permanently kill the threats facing it.

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