9.2. is bound to be the final patch by all indications.
First, players are generally unimpressed both by story and gameplay issues of Shadowlands – to put it mildly. Borrowed over borrowed powers are a mess, the story ranges from fine at its best moments to awful, characters are generally uninspiring, Shadowlands feels like a weird place to be at, and Torghast appeared to be an unlucky experiment (which had its moments, but all in all…).
Second, in no alternative universe I see how the Jailer’s story could have been stretched over a couple of patches more. Despite all the 9.1.5. fixes which are welcome but are really, really too late, the best Blizzard could do is to wrap up the expansion asap – throwing in a proper endgame zone (Korthia proves they still can do that), a final raid to kick Jailer’s butt, and finalize the hanging loose ends of Sylvanas and Anduin story, so that we could quit the death realm for good. I do not expect anything extraordinary from 9.2. – just some decent gameplay, and “whatever” considering the story. I grew so tired of the current writing (the big story, not the smaller local ones) that even placing Sylvanas in Ardenweald would not piss me off, just end it somehow: to hell with epic twists and turns and character development, just let all this mess rest in peace.
So, what do I expect from the new expansion – and expansions that follow?
Considering gameplay, simplifying is the most desired demand all over the player base now. People – and myself – got really tired of borrowed powers and really need a rest. Let older approach return, when the only thing that matters in your character power is your gear that you get through various activities. No amplifiers except for jewellery sockets, enchants and sharpening stones – in other words, all you can get via professions. No complex extra systems with zillions of AP to farm. This change alone covers most of the bothers.
New modes of gameplay. Sure, I would welcome experiments like Torghast, mage tower, warfronts, visions, islands and all, but the one thing that would make this content actually work is: cosmetics, period. Implement a number of cosmetic rewards, and apply two modes of getting them: one, a set, weapons, pets which you can gradually work on, earning some currency or progress points, two, the coolest mount ever which may or may not drop from the final boss. This would transfer the whole activity to the fun department, and being totally unobligatory, it would have more reasons to visit at lesiure and not to be burned out. Achivements, group and challenge modes would not hurt, of course.
A better scale of time spent/difficulty/rewards in the open world. No one would deny that anima income was ridiculous and discouraging in 9.0. – in my case, I dropped the whole activity until improvement in 9.1. and doing this content of covenant sanctum rewards today. Korthia is an excellent example of how you do it properly: your designed trip is 15-30 minutes top to complete the daily duties, you could stretch this to an hour hunting rares and chests, but all in all it’s quick, and super rewarding for even the smallest session.
Time-Gating. That’s a tricky one. Renown was an awful system because it required artificial completion of mundane stuff to see the story, and in general was time gating for the sake of time gating. Again, we do not need any new systems: reputations and faction-related currencies, along with the weekly loot limit, are a natural threshold in character power and cosmetic rewards. On the other hand, I’m all for time-gated story as is. This way, when you complete the initiate leveling, you have a couple of months of plot development, with pieces of lore and epic events waiting for you every week – and it is exciting!
Skipping the Story. That said, at the same time campaigns – and well, everything lore, marked as yellow quests, should be allowed to be skipped on alts once your main – or other alt has seen it all. To the developers’ credit, Blizzard has already made some significant steps in this directions, and no small ones: Threads of Fate, skipping many intros in BfA, skipping 3 steps of 9.1. campaign, opeining Taza’vesh flight path to all alts, but I wish they went all the way through. The less you have to replay the story parts, the less you hate it by your 5th-10th-50th alt. Let players decide upon that – how many times they need to see the yellow quests for the lore to sink in. And by all means, access to every new system, feature and zone – like Mechagon, Torghast, dungeon, raid, gear improvement, whatever, should unlock immediately across the account after one of your alts does it. That’s just gotta be a golden standard of modern WoW, encouraging alt gameplay and increasing MAU in the long run.
Currencies and Crap. I’m ok when we have currencies associated with the current area – like archive research, manapearls, tinker parts, crystals or whatever. It serves as a natural mild gating and adds some great flavor to the new location. However: calculate the income better, so that it comes in encouraging amounts and does not get outdated once players do high end group content, rendering the gear rewards useless once you have enough to purchase them. One more thing: one currency at a time. No one needs dozens of overlapping currencies to farm in dozens of different places and activities: e.g., get your mount or weapon for 5 void lord cores, 10 void beastling hides and 50 lightforged seals.
World Quests/Dailies System. I don’t know, maybe the current mix works? Dailies have this inconvenience of accepting the quest and giving it in (and travel time is actually the most precious resource in the game). I do not like it in Korthia when I have to poke every questgiver about rewards and go back through the whole map to give them in – when I could just complete the requirements and teleport out of the zone to covenant sanctum, Oribos or whatever.
World quests are devoid of this flaw, but at the same time, a peaceful journey from point A to point B should not be poked every 30 seconds with “Champion! Several azerite WOONZ lay exposed nearby!”. I have no solution here, really. Maybe world quests are better, but you only get briefing if you click on the quest name at your side bar? Or an option to switch all briefings on/off? Or both?
Player Housing. But of course. We had Haflhill, garrisons, order halls and everything: just take the successful ideas and make them work. I’d like to see here: phasing, by all means, with an option to invite guests. Customized versions for all races – and not limited by race, for example, if a draenei wants a gnome house, he should have it. Upgrades and easy access – obviously, you should be able to buy a basic hovel at level 10-20, but as you get more gold and levels, you can grow your house wide, up (and down!). Customized furniture spots – obviously. A place to show off a mog set – like a rack. A music box. A place to show off you victories over bosses. Customized garden and yard – by all means. And professions serving the whole deal: inscription can do music sheets and library books, leather and blacksmith do furniture, jewellers – lamps, tailors – curtains and so on, and on and on. Obviously, once you unlock an appearance, you should be able to “transmog” it on a click out of a dropping menu.
Well, enough with gameplay I think, let’s talk lore.
Ethereal Worlds – do NOT work. I said it once Shadowlands was barely announced, I said it before they were announced, and my worst fears came true. Player characters must relate to the locals – and that means they must have basics in common. Villages and towns, local factions and tribes, be they on a planet K’tzopp or in Azeroth, must function so that they relate to player lifestyle. That means fishing, that means hunting, that means growing crops and shit. We could not care less about anima troubles. We are out of this world, and will never be close to locals – because we function differently.
That is why Emerald Dreams, Void worlds, Ethereal worlds, Shadowlands are out of question. We can be there for a course of one patch, yes, as a task force bringing supplies to a hostile, unwelcoming land and ending a big bad threat, but longer? No. We could try tuskarr or pandaren cuisine and engage in their activities, learning about their cultures, but could we do that in Revendreth? Do we want to embrace the lifestyle of venthyr? We do not. There’s no engagement for that simple reason – no matter how big friends we are with kyrian, how many renown levels we earned, or whatever, we will always be out of place, never call this place home.
Personally, I would see anything close to ethereal once: when we end the Void Lords in the grand finale of the whole franchise. Even then, our base of operation should be some “normal” planet at the outskirts of their zone of influence.
Azeroth. Obviously, it’s the place we care about most, and that’s where we wanna be most of the time. Of course, there is a mild possibility of the new continents – like “dark side” of Azeroth, new isles, underwater kingdom or antarctic Southrend – but all in all it’s impossible to expand it forever, and so there is only one solution: to archive the old world and quests to Chromie and her bronze kin (the thing they’re doing anyways), and revamp the older continents, starting a new chapter.
This opens an endless range of possibilities – basically, you can recycle every continent, open them one by one due to new expansion stories. We could start from the areas around our faction capitals, which were overrun by troggs, quillboar and what not – because factions were exhausted by war, and the leaders were missing for who knows how long. We could repel the invasion from the Light Portal (Yrel is out there, and she’s zealous and angry >_<) and solve a questionable Turalyon/Alleria affinity to these primal forces. We could solve the undead problem in Northrend, as Bolvar was in Shadowlands, has no helmet, and let it all slip through his fingers. We could revisit Pandaria, and Broken Isles. By the way, access to all the continents or even zones could be restricted until the related expansion.
What I mean is discovering Azeroth anew could be adventure of a lifetime which will keep us super engaged, as we fight for our home again, start from scratch, and it could last last for another 10 years. This is a ready setting to feed upon, for both players and developers, and it’s a perfect opportunity to return to the basics and play with nostalgy big time while at the same time offering new, modern approaches and layouts for the world.
Narrative. Everyone says the very same thing for two expansions in a row: explain. Tell. Show. I let it slip through my fingers in BfA, because the main villain there was War, and it was done well, and it was spruced with personal journeys of Talanji, Jaina and other characters. In Shadowlands, we had nothing but Jailer and Sylvanas, and we still do not know what they’re up to, final raid looming on the horizon. The only reason to chase Jailer so far is damsel in distress – or rather, king in distress. The only motivation in Shadowlands by its finale is to save our beloved little lion, period. That’s the worst writing ever.
Villains could be weird and ridiculous as you please, but we need their plans to be revealed during the intro cinematic, and during questing, so that we had our answer from the very beginning: why do we fight? Here’s the big bad guy, here’s what he’s doing, and here’s why he’s doing this – let’s get him, boyz! It’s not much to ask.
Again, to be fair to the developers, the campaigns and zone stories are always done pretty well. It’s the big picture, and the big setting that is flawed, and needs to be fixed big time.
So, be it a Big Gnoll War, or Silithid Rising, or Northrend’s new icy boss, or a Light Portal invasion – I’m ready to accept every turn of events. But! As long as it’s in Azeroth, and as long as I understand whom and why I need to put into the ground :) As we see, the writers of the small stories do their job well. We just need our home to fight for, and a convincing villain with motives and plans, not just a scary model and big, but empty words :)
Well, this is it. Of course, it’s just my thoughts, but given that many of them sit well and vocalized by the wide player base, I could hope that developers would at least make some steps in this direction.