A sickly green mars the formerly star-crossed skies of Draenor. A planet that once housed an indescribable primordial beauty now finds itself besieged to an extent never before witnessed. Savage, free beasts that used to roam this alien planet’s expansive lands find themselves twisted into malformed shadows of their former visage. Indigenous trees that could previously sweep you up in their widespread presence now burn as fuel for the Fel. On top of all this, the throne of command and power formerly possessed by Draenor’s original usurpers, the Iron Horde, has become uprooted, deformed, and guided by new management.
This mental image of oncoming destruction is something we hopefully have to look forward to sooner rather than later. Welcome to 6.2, the upcoming content patch for World of Warcraft and an update that holds more weight than just being another patch to tally up with all the rest. Gul’dan has wrought control of the once mighty Iron Horde, morphing them into the Fel monstrosities he had always envisioned as their fate. In seizing control of Draenor’s formerly largest threat, Gul’dan has ushered onto the would-be Outlands, a fate far worse than anything the Iron Horde could’ve ever accomplished. By Gul’dan’s hand, the Burning Legion in full force has finally arrived on Draenor. Their way of entry and base of operations lays across the former seat of power for the Iron Horde: Tanaan Jungle. With 6.2, the end may be nigh for Draenor not just in a story sense, but a content perspective as well.
Content has become a controversial topic at the heart of Warlords of Draenor and World of Warcraft‘s existence. At the time of writing this analysis, Warlords of Draenor has been out for nearly 7 months. In the span of those 7 months, there has been a 6.1 content patch released to support the game and “prolong” its content. The patch itself has been contested and controversial in its release due to the actual content packaged in with the patch, specifically when compared to Mists of Pandaria’s 5.1 patch. It’s raised an interesting question towards the WoW community and myself especially: what exactly constitutes as content within an MMO, and does this possibly new approach to content distribution hold a more controversial future for WoW’s development?
Warlords of Draenor’s development, no matter from what perspective you interpret it, has been rather contested within the community. Just take a look at the General Discussions within MMO-Champion, though the site’s forums are rather free for anyone to reign/express themselves. The expansion has included a plethora of changes that have affected WoW to its very fundamental core, yet people contest if what’s been included in the expansion constitutes as “content”. Content is a rather subjective term. To understand what exactly is at the center of this debate about content, one must comprehend what changes WoD has included through its development cycle.
These additions to the game have come in many forms:
An overhauled Raid system
Warlords of Draenor changed up the way difficulties are separated and operate within World of Warcraft. The game’s previous Raiding difficulties were split into an arguable more complicated fashion when viewed in hindsight: LFR, Flex, Normal 10 or 25, Heroic 10 or 25. With the release of the Flex system at Mists of Pandaria‘s conclusion, players were always forced to formulate a group of exactly 10 or 25 to conquer the present content. Flex difficulty has evolved since its first implementation within Mists; it is now present within all of the game’s difficulties, excluding the highest. Players are now able to gather 10-30 players beneath their banner to conquer the latest content and take no penalty for not having the maximum number of people they could provide. Only Raiding’s new-found highest difficulty, Mythic, has a set amount of people required to tackle its challenges (20 players). This number, oddly specific and far different than the former 10 and 25 man difficulties, has generated an albeit mixed response throughout the community since its release.
New Faces, Same Races
One of the biggest features coupled with the expansion’s release was the restructuring and update to all of the game’s pre-Cataclysm races. The quality placed into the models themselves is indisputable, but the resources expended on updating over 12 already existing races (males and females use completely different models/skeletons) instead of adding new races is questionable. In Burning Crusade, Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria, the new race(s) added in each expansion gave a new zone an entirely new culture to explore thoroughly. With Warlords, though the update is appreciated (especially by yours truly), I understand the gripe some have with this change. However, to contest this gripe, Warlords taking it on itself to update all the older existing models has allowed for Blizzard to approach a better avenue for storytelling with their cinematic presentation.
Massive class, PVE, and PVP changes
Reputation grinds, ability pruning, stat “squish”, PVP overhaul, an emphasis on raiding, Garrisons… all highly controversial, additional content.
The grind for Reputations has become a literal grind, though optional since none of the Factions’ vendors sell gear based on your standing with them
Abilities have been nitpicked or combined to reduce to high number of abilities we had gained over the past ten years, but some contest that it’s simply “dumbing down the game”
Stats have been squished and useless stats removed (Expertise, Hit Rating); not much contest over this. Items that drop now have their Tertiary stats randomized; Best-in-Slot gear still exists, but through hoping those pieces of loot the boss just dropped are itemized for your character. With Tertiary stats being the primary randomization point, only stats such as Warforged, Sockets, Avoidandance, Indestructable, Leech, and Speed are randomly placed on a piece of gear. For some, RNG has become a more important factor to the game, but having the stats that randomize on gear not be “required” (though sockets can be very important) is a solid decision.
PVP has had CC nerfs, “diminishing returns”, and an entire open world area devoted to Open World PVP: Ashran. The reaction to these changes have been argued and opposed, but Blizzard has continued to try and work with the community to remedy these changes and find an agreeable solution.
Like the Reputation grind, Raiding has had its lockouts all separated to allow for players to experience all difficulties every week. The problem associated with this is burnout; without a limiter on how much raiding one can necessarily “perform” in a weekly basis, along with Itemization in the game being completely altered, people play the same two raids again, and again, and again until their metaphorical eyes bleed.
Garrisons are WoW’s version of player housing. Though Garrisons are useful and fun, their execution has some issues. The Follower and “Work Orders” systems are interesting but are another layer to that “grind”. You simply show up in your Garrison, collect the resources gained from your Orders and Followers, pickup a daily quest or two, and then rinse and repeat.
Patch 6.2 Content
These changes to the game have made Warlords of Draenor a subject of controversy within the community. It’s thrust World of Warcraft into a paradise for those who ignore/don’t feel a need to grind, while tossing more hardcore and obsessed players into a state of burnout and disinterest. 6.2 hopes to remedy this grind, however, with new avenues to gain gear, a new raid (change of scenery), an entire new zone to explore, the ability to make old dungeons “relevant” again by scaling down to the level they’re meant for (Timewalking!), and a whole new addition to your Garrison in the form of a Shipyard.
The present state of WoW is a matter of interpretation. Every expansion offers a new way to experience and play the game while still retaining its fun gameplay roots and that feeling of what makes World of Warcraft one of the best MMOs on the market. The condition of WoW as patch 6.2 lays on the horizon is fine; it’s what comes with and after the patch itself the players should be pondering.
With 6.2’s initial release on World of Warcraft’s Public Test Realm (PTR), the patch is being prepared, tested, and then released per usual. Despite this, the implications behind this batch of new content is heftier than anything WoW has previously experienced. This isn’t simply from a content base either; the scope and delivery of this patch will affect the game’s content distribution for the remainder of Warlords of Draenor, narrative progression for the continued development of the Warcraft universe, and more definitively flesh out the very future of World of Warcraft.
For those who don’t consistently keep up with with information gained from Blizzard, you’re more than likely wondering, “What exactly is so important about 6.2? Isn’t it just another content patch? Won’t there be more this expansion?” Well, that’s where the speculation of this article stems from; we don’t know what exactly is going on with the future of Warlords of Draenor, nor World of Warcraft in general. As 6.2 draws nearer to its eventual release, a heavy question hangs over the head of World of Warcraft: what will be the fate of WoW after 6.2’s release?
A big fear many harbored after Warlords of Draenor‘s announcement was how long it would take for the expansion to release; would there be another content drought, as experienced with Cataclysm’s Patch 4.3 (this patch was released in November 2011; Mists of Pandaria was released September 2012). At the time of WoD’s unveiling, Siege of Orgrimmar and 5.4, Mists of Pandaria‘s final content patch, had been released for about two months (Release date: September 10th, 2013).
By the time Warlords of Draenor was released, 14 months had passed; the game’s release date was November 13th, 2014. The “expansion’s end content drought” has existed now for two expansions now — almost three; Wrath of the Lich King had a 3.3.5 content patch which alleviated the 12-month-wait for Cataclysm — and needs a solution.
There’s been a marginal amount of information shared on something that normally isn’t talked about until Blizzcon: World of Warcraft’s next expansion. From the information gathered over the course of time since Warlords of Draenor’s release, we can piece together a rational conclusion on what truly lies beyond 6.2. A popular belief right now harbored by the WoW community is that there is no 6.3 after 6.2.
The Future of World of Warcraft
Recently on MMO-Champion and coupled with 6.2’s announcement, a plethora of speculation has started to wind up as to what exactly is in store after 6.2: a faster new expansion release, another content patch, or “expansion’s end content drought” #3? A user has compiled the surprising amount of insight gathered about the next expansion. Unfortunately, the materials gathered paints an answer that raises more questions.
Let’s pick apart everything stated that makes the future of WoW and Warlords of Draenor so in question:
1. According to Tom Chilton, announced that Warlords of Draenor may only have two raid tiers to speed up the next expansion’s release.
- In an interview back in August of 2014, Tom Chilton, one of WoW’s lead developers, specified that to speed up the next expansion’s development and release, WoD may include only two raid tiers. In every expansion since Burning Crusade‘s release, there has been at least three tiers of raiding associated with that expansion. Burning Crusade brought forth Tiers 4-6 during its duration. Wrath of the Lich King housed technically four tiers, Tiers 7-10, with Tier 10 being exclusive to the game’s at-the-time newly released raiding difficulty, Heroic. Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria housed Tiers 11-13 and 14-16 respectively. To break the pattern of content releases for expansions can be taken as odd. However, if Blizzard somehow manages to finally release their expansions on an annual release pattern, an ideology that has been strived for since 2006 but has yet to be executed properly, the content drought normally faced at the end of expansions may finally be a thing of the past. Still though, this remains to be seen, and hasn’t been successfully accomplished since that statement’s publishing in 2006.
2. The expansion after Warlords of Draenor is apparently already in production, and Blizzard has been working to restructure the time it takes them to develop expansions.
- During Blizzcon 2014, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime expressed in an interview the WoW development team’s shared sentiment with the playerbase for releasing expansions more timely. He shared that the expansion following Warlords of Draenor is already in production and the team has altered their approach to development by looking at ways to “parallelize” their expansion to expansion “linear content creation model”. First Morhaime, now Chilton outlining a stressed interest on developing expansions faster.
3. Chilton quelled the marginal annoyance present throughout the community after initially announcing Grommash Hellscream, one of Warlords of Draenor‘s main characters and arguably main antagonist, was the expansion’s final boss.
- To offset this disdain, especially after 14 months of defeating another Orc Chieftain who stood as an expansion’s final boss (cough cough Garrosh Timescream), Chilton said though Grommash was apparently the expansion’s “final boss”, the raid itself would have “heavy Burning Legion influences (skip to about 4:40).”
Well, with Patch 6.2’s release on World of Warcraft’s PTR, we’ve gained a clear image of what the next tier looks like: a Burning Legion themed raid within the Iron Horde’s corrupted former stronghold. Considering Grom’s position as the Iron Horde’s Warchief has recently been wrested from his control by a certain Green Orc, along with the fact that through datamining information about 6.2, the raid’s final boss has been unveiled to unexpectedly be Archimonde. So.. where exactly is Grommash and his supposed role in the expansion’s potential final raid, especially when he had been announced as the expansion’s final boss?
The answer to this is quite frank: Grommash may die in the Hellfire Citadel’s Mannoroth encounter. According to Grom’s soundfiles, it sounds as though Grom is either grievously wounded or killed. He delivers the same line he does in the expansion’s Cinematic, “We will never be slaves.” For something so important to be uttered in such a tone, it implies a symbolism.
Other interviews are spread across the span of Warlords of Draenor’s development that detail Blizzard’s new focus on timely expansion releases. The user who had thoroughly compiled all information on content development for WoD included other interviews that have occurred and offered insight as to what is to come during Warlords’ relevance and whatever comes after. Other instances of discussion with Blizzard have revealed that the next expansion’s zones are “already in production”, and if “things go well, there will be less of a gap [between expansions].”
With all this in mind, from a deep analysis of Warlords of Draenor’s core features to information compiled since the expansion’s unveiling and release, we can speculate and rationalize the following:
- Blizzard seems adamant about changing their approach to Tier based content. Instead of including three tiers in an expansion, they’ve opted for two in the hopes of developing their expansions, which act as much larger outlets of content than patches themselves. The comments made by Chilton and other big-wigs within Blizzard have pointed towards 6.2 being the final raid and possibly content patch of the expansion. If the next expansion ends up being unable to be developed as quick as Blizzard is hopeful it can be, I can see there being one or two more content patches included during the duration of Warlords of Draenor. After all, Blizzard has been rather vocal about expressing their commitment towards remedying the lulls between each new batch of content released for the game.
From a narrative perspective, we can interpret the events of WoD and its future quite clearly. If Grommash isn’t the final boss of 6.2’s Hellfire Citadel, does that imply there’s another Burning Legion centric raid planned for the expansion, and thus another content patch? Furthermore, Gul’dan, who as of 6.2 has wrought the Iron Horde from Grommash’s control, is not a boss within the instance. Via his soundfiles, it’s revealed Gul’dan is present throughout the patch and the raid, but isn’t the focus of an actual encounter within Hellfire Citadel.
Everything that has come to be in 6.2 has been the result of Gul’dan’s machinations to properly cause the Burning Legion’s spawning upon Draenor. He obviously succeeds, but what happens after the raid’s conclusion? We don’t face Grommash, nor Gul’dan, and Archimonde stands as the final boss of the raid. Even more-so, unless Cho’gall’s supposed master turns out to be Archimonde, the events of Admiral Taylor’s Garrison are explained, and Kairozdormu’s true intentions uncovered, there are many loose threads still left to be concluded.
What Blizzard’s outspoken stance on content development, the actual content released within WoD, and the narrative present in the current expansion point towards is an image of the future that looks quite bright if executed properly this next expansion cycle:
- The grind introduced with WoD that has become more apparent has to be continuously remedied with new content and new, better, healthier ways to experience that “grind”; avenues that invite the player to experience them and have them enjoy every second, not scare them away or bore them. 6.2 will alleviate this issue a marginal amount, but if 6.2 ends up being the expansion’s final patch and by some horrific chance we’re in for another content drought, it won’t just be back for the players: it’ll be detrimental for the overall health of the game.
Due to the events of the story within 6.2, though there’s been nothing datamined pertaining to the patch’s own conclusion aside from the raid’s boss list, it seems as though Gul’dan will either escape whatever transpires in Hellfire Citadel or die. More than likely, considering the severely important role the Orc has had throughout the expansion (arguably more important than Grom), Gul’dan will find a means of escaping Draenor and travelling to our universe. The fel Orc has been aware of the fact that we originate from an alternate universe. If Archimonde is slain in 6.2, the Burning Legion of this alternate Draenor will have been successfully repelled and “defeated”.
Gul’dan, who refers to Archimonde as his master through soundfiles, will be without a master and “defeated” himself. He would need a means of accomplishing his goals of absolute destruction through one possible means: travelling to our universe, getting into contact with our Burning Legion, and calling them forth. Furtermore, Wrathion’s involvement may be important. He’s continued to become a bigger player within the story and was apparently directly involved with Admiral Taylor’s Garrison right before the events that transpired there. This is even without mentioning Kairozdormu’s enigmatic actions and the expansion’s sudden focus on the Void, Cho’gall’s link to it, and his supposed “Master” who’s coming to Draenor (NOTE: it may just be Archimonde).
Though the Twisting Nether and Void are apparently two different entities entirely, there’s a possibility that the Void is still where demons originate from. I don’t suspect this is the case, otherwise it throws into question the foreshadowing Ner’zhul’s actions and a certain quest from your Tavern that implies a much bigger picture going on).
Development-wise, this would connect Warlords of Draenor directly to the next expansion and make its content approach much more fluid. If you haven’t noticed, all of the terribly old Demon models have been updated in 6.2. When 5.4 released for Mists, it had Garrosh’s updated model which turned out to be a sort of “teaser” towards the upcoming updated Player Orc models. Blizzard may have just hinted that the reason the demons were so thoroughly updated was because the next expansion will directly involve a conflict with the Legion. This allows for more fluid storytelling, a direct bridge between expansions, and overall makes sense in wrapping up the narrative put forth by Warlords of Draenor.
This outlook of “less content patches, quicker expansions” may actually be coming to fruition. Though I personally would rather faster expansions, having content patches be their cost is questionable and up for interprettion. Still, if Blizzard intends to maintain their players’ interests after ten years of Warcraft, they’ll need to change up the formula, continue to invent new ways to experience the magic that is World of Warcraft, and start delivering on their vision of faster content releases all while still providing a consistent and accessible manner to experience the content of their games. Blizzard has their work cut out for them, but if any developer has proven over the years they can accomplish the nigh impossible, it’s them.
Here’s to hoping, and here’s to the always good fight.