Monday, April 9, 2018

My Life as a Gamer: "Battle For Azeroth"'s Release Date Isn't Good News

Over the weekend, at PAX East, Blizzard announced that Battle For Azeroth--the next World of Warcraft expansion--will go live worldwide on August 14th of this year.

The reaction by those of us who've done this dance before was not one of overwhelming glee. Those either directly participating in the open testing on the Alpha client for the expansion, or monitoring those that are, felt dread more than glee at the announcement because the timeframe now established, compared to the current state of the test realms and Blizzard's known behavior patterns, puts confidence on the expansion being Good Enough at launch somewhere around this:

Testing on the new expansion's content and mechanics are not finished, not by a long shot.

  • There are 12 Classes and 36 Class Specializations. Over half are still untouched, and those touched are broken. The previous changes made to make room for Legion's key features of abundant Legendary items (some of which are required to have a given Specialization function properly) and Artifact Weapons (some of which have to be developed to a specific point to make a given Specialization function properly) broke all of the classes' functionality prior to Level 100 and entrance into Legion. This is not fixed.
  • The new Heart of Azeroth and Azerite Armor mechanics replicate the Artifact Weapon and Legendary item systems in effect. Both are still unfinished, and the latter is flat-out broken- making some classes or Specializations unplayable.
  • The new Warfront feature hasn't be tested at all yet.
  • The new Island Expedition feature (Scenarios from Mists of Pandaria, version 5 now.) just got open for testing and all permutations are not available yet, so flaws are still being found; this feature is not yet ready.
  • All of the new dungeons have not been tested yet, let alone in all possible difficulty modes. None of the new raids have been so tested yet, and the Mythic mode in particular requires significant time testing for bugs and other unintended effects.
  • The four new Allied Races that become available with the launch (immediately, or unlockable at the new cap of 120) have not been made available for testing yet.
  • The overworld endgame content has not been made playable for testing yet, and there isn't much to test either; there is not much at all to do outside of raiding and dungeons at the new cap of 120.
  • Garrison-style Mission Tables and Followers (etc.) are back again for the War Campaign. No one likes this.

Let me put this into perspective.

Between six and eight weeks before the launch of an expansion, there is a pre-release patch to the live game. This patch changes all of the mechanics to that of the new expansion, and adds all of the new content to the game; all the devs need to do is change a variable and those who bought in can access the new stuff. The reason is for players to get used to the changes made to how the game works well before the new content becomes available to play through. Sensible enough.

Get out your calendars and count back eight weeks prior to August 14th. That's June 19th; we're about eight weeks out from that date, making it two months before all of these broken mechanics--the core of the game--have to be fixed, finalized, and put through the necessary polish to be Good Enough to go live. Given the devs' behavior since the Beta of Warlords, that is not possible; they have consistently allowed things that they've been told--loudly, repeatedly, with documentation--is broken and unplayable to go live and only fixed it once it went live and the player outrage compelled proper action.

Remember, this expansion isn't in Beta yet, and they want to go live in four months. This screams RUSH JOB!, and it's a large part of why Warlords of Draenor did so poorly and gets regarded so poorly by the players- it was a Rush Job, and everyone knows it. The expansion cannot be ready for launch by the announced date.

If you haven't already pre-purchased, don't do so now. Wait for the expansion to go live and see how things shake out; it is possible (and if things don't turn around soon, and hard, it will become so) that we've got another Warlords of Draenor style of Big Nothing Burger going down. Your time and your money are precious things; respect them and wait for definitive word on if this it before spending those things.

If the devs had any real stroke, we wouldn't see this expansion go live until December, at the least. I doubt they do anymore; this is the sort of thing you see when the Money Bags are the real shot-callers, and therefore it's a wonder that Legion did as well as it did (despite its own significant failures of game design). The old days of trusting that it will be Good Enough when it goes live are done; Wait And See, folks. Don't trust the brand to be good; we already got burned badly once, and all of the signs of another half-baked release are on the horizon.

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