I find it somewhat ironic (and frustrating) that the more time I spend playing games, the less time I have to write about them, but there are more things I want to say. It shouldn't be a surprise though. There are only so many hours in the day (especially the kind of "free" hours that permit such activities) so you just have to do the best with what you have. Lately I've been spending most of my time back in World of Warcraft. I haven't been doing much with Hearthstone because I've pretty much discovered everything I "need" to know about it at this point. It's quick, it's fun, it's casual, and I'll be pitching a few dimes at it here and there. But with a full wipe still on the horizon, I really don't feel any need to continue to play it at this point, knowing that everything will be reset. It just doesn't feel like an effective use of my time to "sink" more into it right now. And as we just talked about, time is certainly of the essence these days. So I thought I would share some observations I've had about WoW and the 5.4 patch. There are spoilers below if you're one of the two or three people that is still trying to avoid discovering who the new Warchief of the Horde is until you finish Siege of Orgrimmar for yourself... so fair warning.
A Timeless Experiment
First off, the Timeless Isle. It does a couple things that are necessary, albeit in a rather clumsy fashion. The first is that it feels like a "test" on Blizzard's part in terms of attempting to implement more "dynamic" open-world content. Now how we define "dynamic" is open to interpretation as many MMO's have their own spin on the term. But regardless, Timeless Isle is Blizzard's first real attempt at designing a zone with very few directed activities or quests and a much more "open" event structure. The biggest problem is that it is just too small of an implementation. The Isle is very small, and the events are too few. Granted part of the problem is that it is so new and there are so many players involved, that the time scale of events is probably not exactly what Blizzard had in mind. But the fact remains that it is very difficult to participate in a lot of events if you aren't actively "camping" them and waiting for them to begin. If you are off on your own somewhere and waiting for a notification, odds are the event will be long over before you can arrive, even given the Isle's small geographical space. So I'll give Blizzard a "thumbs up" for trying, and maybe we'll see more of this type of activity in the next expansion, but for now it is really too small of an experiment to be effective.
The other thing the Isle does is assist in very rapid gear progression for alt characters (or in my case, inactive mains). Of course this always brings up the inevitable debate about the effort required to obtain items, "dumbing down" the game, etc. But I'm going to leave that issue aside because quite frankly, it isn't really relevant to WoW (or any other themepark style MMO). The fact is if you are going to design "rides" for your guests, you have to give them a way to access them. WoW has decided to follow a model where significant story events and other pieces of content are only accessible through raids. Well if that is the case, things like "free epics" on the Timeless Isle (or LFR itself for that matter) become a necessity. We can debate whether or not that overall design decision is a good one or not, but for better or worse that was the decision that was made, so we get things like Timeless Isle.
The problem I have with this aspect of the Isle is there is no real way to take random chance out of the equation, even at higher cost. My shaman has enough timeless belts and boots to open her own accessory boutique, but can't find a set of spaulders. My death knight has enough timeless pants and shirts to open his own Hot Topic, but can't find a set of gloves. Now for 7500 coins you can buy a timeless token of a specific armor type....... but totally random slot. Essentially there is no way to get a specific token for both an armor type and slot. I know we are already getting a lot of stuff basically for "free" here, but I really think Blizzard should have included a way to obtain specific tokens, even at a much higher cost. I'd be more inclined to "grind" more coins if I knew that, for example, I could buy a timeless plate glove for 20k. There should always be a way to reduce the "random" nature of things, even at extreme cost. It gives the player a bit more sense of control, and a feeling that "eventually" they can earn what they want.
The other significant part of 5.4 I wanted to talk about is the leadership of the Horde. I really hope they have something more in the works here, because passing the title to Vol'jin just feels lazy to me. Sometimes the obvious choice is the good one, and sometimes it's not. Right now this feels like a "not" situation to me. It feels like they just took the quick and easy way out and they really don't have a sense of direction for the Horde right now. Of course I could be totally wrong and they already have a plan in place to make the transition to Vol'jin a more interesting event. And if that is the case, then the decision makes more sense. But right now it just feels like "Oh snap, we gotta do something. Umm... here, Vol'jin. You lead for a while until we figure things out."
One way this might make more sense is if Blizzard intends to "de-escalate" the Horde/Alliance conflict for a while in favor of a new storyline in the next expansion. Varian seems willing to "walk away" at this point with Garrosh being dealt with, and Vol'jin is certainly in no position to lead the Horde on any offensive campaigns at this juncture. But the problem with this is that Blizzard has clearly sown the seeds of dissent within each of the factions. Sylvanas and the Forsaken are becoming stronger and more aggressive, and her position is actually strengthened further by the removal of Garrosh. She probably controls the strongest military faction in the Horde right now with the Orcs and the Kor'kron decimated. And on the Alliance side of the equation, Jaina and the Kirin Tor have no love for the Horde whatsoever. She already pushed Varian to continue the campaign after the defeat of Garrosh. Why would she all the sudden be content with a new peace? These are issues Blizzard will have to resolve in the interim between now and the next expansion if that expansion is going to open a new storyline and leave the Horde/Alliance tensions behind.
In terms of what that expansion will be, we will almost certainly find out at BlizzCon in a couple months. The defeat of Garrosh already brings about the "end" of the Mists of Pandaria storyline, at least insofar as Blizzard has revealed it. If you think back to Burning Crusade, remember that the whole final patch with the Sunwell raid and the Isle of Quel'danas was basically an "Oops, the next expansion isn't ready yet. Here, play with this." With Mists ending so abruptly, and no real time frame on the next expansion available, we may see a similar scenario play out here. This actually could work out nicely as a way to "tie up" things with Sylvanas and Jaina as noted above... or it could do what the Sunwell did in BC and completely invalidate most of that expansion's storyline. We shall see.