It seems World of Warcraft is still quite a ways from ‘dying’ and the doomsayers might have to hold onto their… doom for a little while longer. Blizzard bought Proletariat, a studio known for Spellbreak, and is merging the studio into their WoW development team.
- The two have been collaborating on WoW since May.
- The deal was closed in July.
- Blizzard plans on hiring hundreds more developers over the next to years to work on WoW.
- Proletariat is Boston-based, meaning this is the first major addition of remote workers to WoW.
While it’s – for the most part – a good thing that Activision-Blizzard doesn’t seem to be giving up on WoW yet, Shadowlands made it clear that development was not going well. The pandemic certainly had a visible effect on the expansion’s development, the cadence of content drops being so slow it basically forced them to pull another “Warlords of Draenor” and cut Shadowlands short by one major patch.
Let’s set up some context here. Warlords of Draenor was the first big bust that WoW suffered. While the levelling experience is praised to this day, the endgame was devoid of content, the biggest update in the first major patch was Twitter integration, and Garrisons were designed in a way that made players never have to leave them. The lack of a major city hub for players to hang in didn’t help.
The expansion was plagued by several re-writes and re-designs well into its testing phases. A massive amount of content (including the aforementioned major cities) was cut. Reception was so bad Blizzard was forced to pivot yet again, rushing the story’s conclusion with patch 6.2, Fury of Hellfire, cancelling the traditional 6.3 patch to pour their resources into Legion.
I remember them announcing Grom Hellscream would be the final boss of the expansion during Blizzcon. That changed too. Was the awkward rewrite worth it, though? Yes. The next expansion, Legion, had its fair share of issues (all of them do), but it is still widely regarded as the best ‘modern’ WoW expansion to date.
The one after Legion, Battle for Azeroth, began on a nonsense premise involving a burning tree, and the story only got worse from there. Gameplay-wise, systems that were very well designed in Legion were iterated on and became visibly worse – world quests, borrowed power, they were all lesser versions of their original implementation.
Shadowlands doubled down on the ‘backwards iteration’. Aside from the whole new world being a pain to navigate, you now had to pick up world quest dailies, everything was a grind and the story was arguably at an all-time low (tied with WoD, of course). WoW hadn’t really experienced two bad expansions in a row until now and players left in droves.
While most expansions, the first major patch drops somewhere between 3-5 months after launch, it took over 8 months for Shadowlands’ 9.1 to come out, with 9.2 taking just as long. The content drought was palpable: There’s only so much daily grinding (killing the same rare mobs for a 5% chance to get a cosmetic) a player can do before burnout seeps in, but the modern daily farming system’s problems is a story for another day.
Learning From Mistakes
Shadowlands ended much like its story – on a whimper and a laugh. If its final big patch was cancelled in favor of pooling resources on a ‘juiced-up’ sequel in Dragonflight (launching at the end of the year), then there might be hope the game can bounce back as it did so many times before.
Despite all the artificial time-gating that has been exacerbated in recent years, the game tends to struggle with providing varied yet fulfilling experiences. Systems filled with potential get abandoned from one expansion to another (Mage Tower, Island Expeditions, Warfronts, probably Torghast), but with a sizable increase in workforce, Warcraft could be able to start pushing more content more often.
The main concern here is the age old debate of quality vs. quantity. WoW suffers not only from large periods of content drought but also from poor design decisions. We’ve yet to see if Dragonflight learns from its predecessors’ mistakes and delivers a polished experience. It doesn’t need to be ‘fresh’, it just needs to be fun. When you start to see the game design, that’s not a good sign.
What’re your hopes for Dragonflight? Do you reckon it’s got a shot to revitalize the game, now that the team’s expanded? Let us know in the comments below!
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