Seems that everybody else is jumping on the Warlords of Draenor commentary, so as usual I'm bringing up the rear.
Here are some thoughts about the announced WoW expansion:
- Blizzard is taking dead aim at EQ Next.
Remember how EQ Next will be more of a sandbox with player housing? Blizzard does, and the new Garrison ability is designed to counter that. The idea is to give a player just enough of a taste of the sandbox that they won't be tempted by EQ Next's bigger sandbox environment. Blizz isn't about to change their themepark MMO environment into a sandbox, so they decided that most players will only want a little bit of a sandbox instead. Of course, this could backfire on Blizz to where enough players say "Hey, this sandbox is kind of fun, maybe I'll go try out EQ Next and see what it is like." But knowing Blizz' track record, I doubt it.
- The rest of Azeroth doesn't matter.
If you didn't realize this when Cataclysm's revamped Azeroth left Outland, Northrend, and the BC starting zones out of whack (story wise), then they made it pretty plain with Warlords of Draenor. They expect to give an account a free jump to L90 with a purchase of WoD, and "learning to play your class" means "going to the Proving Grounds". This is the real intention of the Proving Grounds; to make all of the legacy software in WoW irrelevant. Sure, you can level the old fashioned way, but Blizzard doesn't want you to. The solution to fixing story problems caused by Cataclysm is to simply pretend that they don't exist; they want a new player to skip years of MMO development so you can get to the end game.
- "It's all about the endgame" is what WoW is about.
That refrain about endgame is how WoW has kept its dominance over all other MMOs to this point. Any other challenger to WoW's crown has been smacked down because of players who rush to the level cap and then complain that there's nothing to do. While WoW has fallen victim to that complaint before (see: Cataclysm), Blizzard has kept WoW going with enough new endgame content to keep its core subscriber base satisfied.* Now, with WoD's "instant L90" and the Proving Grounds, Blizzard is basically saying that those people who claim "endgame is where the game begins" were right all along. A new player can buy all of the WoW stuff**, jump to L90, hang around in the Proving Grounds for a few hours, and take off for Draenor. No fuss, no muss.
On the flip side of that, Blizzard is running the risk of eliminating one of their big edges over their competition: their years of developing the world of Azeroth. You can spend up to a year playing one toon and still not reach the level cap, but by eliminating that richness of the experience, Blizzard is reducing the entire WoW focus to ten levels and raiding. A smart company can exploit that should there be delays once the level cap is reached.
- The devs didn't watch Star Trek.
The City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison ought to be required viewing for anyone who wants to make time travel the centerpiece of an MMO expansion.*** To stop someone from altering the timeline, you jump to a period just prior to their entrance into the timeline and stop them when they appear. Allowing them to work their disruption and THEN show up to put the pieces back together just makes for messy storytelling and makes suspension of disbelief incredibly hard to pull off.
The devs wanted to go to Draenor; I get that. And I get that probably 70% of WoW players won't care because they just want to kill stuff and hang with their friends. But surely they could come up with a better excuse to go to Draenor than this. This just seems like they had "Heroes of the Storm" on the brain when they dreamed up "let's have them all go back to kill Gul'dan and company!"
- The devs DID read comics.
This story smacks of comic book alternate Earths. The difference here is that while the alternate Earth idea for comics came about because too many authors had written stories that simply couldn't be reconciled without this handwaving, WoW had much tighter control over the story and the direction of the game. They shouldn't have gotten themselves into this sort of trouble --in game-- where they needed to perform this time travel handwaving.
- And Doctor Who... Don't go there.
Keep The Doctor --and The Master-- out of it. I'm quite looking forward to The Day of the Doctor on November 23rd, and I don't want to have arguments claiming that The Doctor was the model for Azerothian time travel disrupting it.
Besides, I'll sic a Weeping Angel after you if you suggest such a thing.
- The Old Gods are Behind This.
I guarantee it. We'll probably find out that the Infinite Dragonflight is behind this, with the Old Gods pulling their strings. Why? Because who else would hate both the current Azeroth and the Burning Legion? Blizzard has shown via the Mists storyline that they're unwilling to deviate from the Legion, the Lich King, or the Old Gods as the big bad for the end of an expac, so this expac will be no different.
The final boss? A corrupted Nozdormu, who creates the Infinite Dragonflight from the Bronze Dragonflight. Pure speculation, but there's two groups that have access to time travel, and this wraps everything up in a complete package.
- Trolls will show up somewhere.
There hasn't been a WoW expac without them as an adversary, so why stop now?
- Blizzard continues to get a lot of mileage out of their graphics engine.
New character models notwithstanding, from Vanilla through Mists the artists have been able to maximize the terrain to great effect. If you look closely at the terrain, it's still the same old stuff that's out there in the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, but just reworked to maximum effect. I believe this will continue to be the case with WoD.
- Warlords of Draenor won't get a release date until EQ Next and Wildstar have one first.
It's a game of one-upsmanship, and Blizzard has shown that they intend to wield their power as the 800 lb gorilla of the MMO market to maximum effect. Wildstar's devs have said that they intend to go straight after WoW, so expect WoD to drop right before Wildstar does. As much as I think this entire behavior is infantile, there's no denying that it works.
I guess I had more to get off my chest than I expected. I know I've got some months --maybe even years, if I go and do what I usually do and start a new class from scratch-- before I make a decision on WoD, but I find myself stuck on the entire concept of the thing. This expac has the feel of a Michael Bay movie, where it's all pretty, but there's nothing at it's heart that makes sense.
*Just a guess, but I suspect that 2-3 million of the subscriber base are what I'd call WoW's core players, those who'd play WoW until they turned off the lights.
**Not a cheap investment, by the way. It's still somewhere over $100 if you will buy all of the expacs + Warlords of Draenor when it comes out, unless Blizz really cuts the price on all of the previous expacs to a minimal charge.
***Back to the Future I through III comes in a close second. Oh, and while I don't like Harlan's behavior as a human being (go read his Wikipedia entry for an eyeful), there's no denying he wrote some classic SF.
Edit: Fixed some punctuation and grammar errors.