WoW Patch 6.1: Dude, Where’s My Content?

In a few days, Blizzard will release the first major content patch for Warlords of Draenor. Except there’s one problem.

A wallpaper for World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorWhat’s the content of this patch?

I haven’t been following World of Warcraft news quite as closely since I’m not currently subscribed, so when I didn’t see any previews of significant content for 6.1, I assumed I was just missing something. But then Blizzard put out their official trailer, and I saw that this really is a tiny patch.

The one major feature that was datamined for the patch, the Iron Docks quest hub, has been confirmed to be delayed to a later patch, and it also turns out it’s just a short quest chain, not a daily hub.

So what are we left with? The only new content is a continuation of the legendary quest chain — which if Mists of Pandaria is any guide will likely comprise about fifteen minutes of actual gameplay/story spread over a few weeks of grinding — and some new garrison quests, which are mostly centered around new incentives for existing content. Oh, and a racing minigame at the Darkmoon Faire.

I suppose a mention could be made of the Blackrock Foundry raid, as well. This was intended to be launch content but was not ready when the expansion released. Oh, the official line is that it was ready but the release was just gated, but the expansion went live in November, and BRF wasn’t opened until February, and they were testing it again on the 6.1 PTR. That’s not launch content.

At the same time, though, it did release before 6.1, so it’s probably not right to count it as 6.1 content, either. It’s in a weird limbo.

Blackhand in the Blackrock Foundry raid in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorOtherwise, 6.1 just offers quality of life tweaks like the heirloom tab (which was intended for launch and was delayed), the new Blood Elf models (also a delayed launch feature), and oddball features like an in-game selfie camera and Twitter integration.

So we’ve got ourselves a major content patch with no major content.

I don’t think anyone was expecting 6.1 to be enormous. The first patch is usually relatively small. Cataclysm’s first content patch added some dungeons — revamped, true, but Zul’gurub was pretty much all new, and it did expand the endgame a fair bit — and Mists of Pandaria’s added a daily hub and some scenarios.

Those aren’t blockbuster patches, but they’re certainly much more than just a handful of quests and a selfie camera. 6.1 isn’t even going to re-enable flight as it was originally suggested to.

Hell, 6.1 would be a tiny patch by any game’s standards. Titles like Neverwinter and The Secret World put out bigger patches than this, and they don’t have anywhere near Blizzard’s resources. The only other game I know of that puts out patches this small is Guild Wars 2, but their patches are far more regular.

Prior to launch, it sounded as if Blizzard had big plans for WoD’s patches. Farahlon and the Ogre continent in the south were all offered as potential patch additions. Farahlon in particular was strongly hinted to be a new zone for 6.1.

A screenshot of Gorgrond in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorBut now Farahlon and the Ogre continent are in the “we might still do it but probably not” category, and 6.2 is planned to add Tanaan Jungle, which was supposed to be launch content and is now believed to potentially be the final major content patch for Warlords of Draenor.

So it needs to be asked again: What the Hell is going on at Blizzard?

Here we have by far and away the most successful MMO on the market, made by one of the biggest gaming companies in the world. There are more people working on World of Warcraft than ever before, with it having absorbed much of the resources from the cancelled Titan project. And what they deliver is the longest content drought in the game’s history, followed by the smallest expansion in the game’s history (with over half its raid content delayed for months), followed four months later by an itsy bitsy teeny weeny “content” patch comprised primarily of features that were supposed to be in for launch but had to be pushed back.

Even after fourteen months, WoD was launched unfinished, and after four more months, it’s only starting to approach the state it should have been in at launch — and still missing Tanaan. It boggles the mind.

I’m not fond of tinfoil hat theories, but at this point, it’s clear that Something Is Up. Three possibilities occur:

A screenshot of Telador in World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor1: Blizzard is shifting gears and now plans to churn out expansions that are as small as possible as quickly as possible, with little post-launch development. Most of the resources are already devoted to 7.0.

2: Blizzard realized they took the wrong path with Warlords of Draenor — possibly due to a large amount of negative buzz pre-launch — and they’ve decided to cut their losses and focus on getting this expansion over with as quickly as possible so they can work on something better. Most of the resources are already devoted to 7.0.

3: Blizzard has developed a streak of gross incompetence. Most of the development is now being done by a thousand monkeys working at a thousand typewriters.

All possibilities seem rather paranoid and far-fetched, but at this point, what other conclusion are we supposed to draw? Myself, I think the truth is likely some combination of possibilities one and two.

If I were currently playing the game, I’d be hopping mad, but as it stands, I’m just terribly confused. This simply doesn’t add up.

Dance, cow, dance!But on the plus side, it is clearer to me than ever that I made the right decision by not buying WoD at launch. The amount of content it has delivered to date isn’t worth $120.*

*($50 for the expansion plus four months of subscription fees at $15 per month.)

Worst of the MMO Industry

Recently, I did a post running down my opinions on the very best examples of major MMO features from across the industry. But I am not all smiles and sunshine. I’ve also encountered plenty of bad design, obvious mistakes, mediocrity, and bitter disappointment.

My rogue taking on an early dungeon in RiftToday, I’ll be looking at the worst failures of the MMO industry.

As before, this is a subjective list and should not be viewed as totally definitive. I know some of these choices are bound to be controversial.

Questing: It’s a tie!

I don’t think traditional MMO questing is as tedious or unpleasant as some do, but certainly there’s a lot of mediocrity out there. However, there are two games I’ve played where questing is even more dull than the rest.

The first is Dragon’s Prophet. Its questing isn’t really all that much worse than the average, but it is overly repetitive — often sending you to the same place to kill the same enemies multiple times — and the poorly translated quest text makes it impossible to become invested in the story.

The other is WildStar. WildStar’s questing suffers from all the sins of traditional MMO questing — repetitive tasks, long travel times, and so forth — and couples them with a shortage of mobs and items, long respawn times, and an insipid commitment to make all quest text Twitter-length, which destroys any chance for interesting story or immersion and generally makes me weep for the future of humanity.

A screenshot of a Mechari form WildStarA special mention also needs to be given to the game’s challenges, which pop up in the middle of quests without warning and require you to complete a task under a time limit. With how much wandering and searching WildStar’s questing takes in the first place, it’s very hard to beat the time limit, and even if you do, the rewards are purely random and may not be at all useful. They’re an exercise in frustration and nothing more.

Group PvE: The Secret World

It pains me to say anything negative about TSW, because it is a truly brilliant game that deserves far more recognition than it’s gotten. However, it’s not perfect, and when it comes to traditional group content, it is a failure.

It’s not even that the content itself is bad. The dungeons are excellent: light on trash with stunning visuals, good stories, and interesting mechanics. I can only assume the raids are of a similar quality, though I’ve never done them and likely never will.

But the systems around the group content are terrible. Firstly, there’s no group finder worthy of the name, so the only way to find a group is to sit in Agartha — the game’s most boring and lifeless area — and spam general chat, potentially for hours on end.

Secondly, while the dungeons technically have three difficulties, really there’s only one: nightmare. Elite mode has no real incentive for repetition, so it’s just something to run once to unlock nightmares, and normal mode is largely useless and tends to be ignored by the players. This means that if you want to run dungeons in TSW but don’t want to sweat blood in the brutally unforgiving nightmare dungeons, you pretty much can’t, unless you don’t mind getting absolutely nothing useful for your character out of it.

My Templar tanking the Varangian in the Polaris dungeon in The Secret WorldAnd of course because elites are so useless, that makes it even harder to find groups for them.

Scenarios are a bit better, not requiring the trinity and having a wide range of difficulty settings that are all at least somewhat rewarding, but their rewards are fairly specialized, and not everyone likes scenarios. They have no story, which is the main strength of TSW normally.

PvP: The Secret World

If you ask me, nearly all MMOs have very bad PvP. But TSW’s is just a little more awful than the rest, so it gets the crown.

I’ve only briefly experimented with PvP in TSW, but it was a miserable experience. Queue times are long, the population is small, and my lifespan tended to be numbered in single digits’ worth of seconds, during which I was usually stun-locked.

Now, no doubt my build and gear were not optimal for PvP. But there’s nothing in the game to give you any idea what does work for PvP, and while not being optimized for PvP is a bad idea in any game, it’s far more crippling in TSW. A PvE player shouldn’t be completely useless in PvP.

My Templar battling in El Dorado in The Secret WorldThe one good thing I can say is that the community is actually halfway decent, which is very rare in online gaming and doubly rare in a PvP environment. But I would still advise you to stay far, far away from TSW’s PvP.

Story: Guild Wars 2

I don’t think the MMO genre is a wasteland of good story as some do, but I will acknowledge there are plenty of candidates for worst story. WildStar has very interesting backstory, but it ruins all that by constantly ramming its forced and immature humour down your throat. Rift is the very definition of bland and derivative. WoW has had some major story blunders. I don’t think Neverwinter is even trying.

But Guild Wars 2 is as bad as it gets. It’s like they tried for a sort of goofy comic book feel like WoW, but fell way short. Instead of delightfully cheesy, it’s just cheesy.

And the voice acting is atrocious, and the dialogue is cringe-worthy, and the plot is rambling and incoherent, and there’s no real continuity… I could just go on and on. GW2’s storytelling is abysmal. You can find better on any random fan fiction forum.

Exploration: Star Wars: The Old Republic

Offering interesting potential for exploration is something a lot of MMOs struggle with, but SW:TOR is just a little worse than most. The maps are narrow, linear, and sterile, and there’s little or no reason to go off the beaten path, even on the rare occasions you can.

My Imperial agent in Star Wars: The Old RepublicI’m told there’s some sort of jumping puzzle stuff surrounding datacrons, and I think there’s a collection system of some sort that rewards exploration, but I never encountered any of this when I played, so either these things are only for high levels or they’re very poorly advertised. Either way, exploration isn’t a significant part of SW:TOR.

Crafting: Aion

As I stated in the “best of” post, I’m not fond of MMO crafting as a rule. Aion edges out the competition for the worst title by having all the problems of standard MMO crafting plus a huge reliance on RNG, with everything having a chance to fail. Even picking a flower can fail, forcing you to start over. And man, does it take a long time for a Daeva to pick a flower, for some reason.

Player housing: Rift

This is bound to be a controversial choice. A lot of people love Rift’s housing for its insane customization potential, and that is cool.

But once you’ve made your virtual dream home, then what? There didn’t seem to be any practical use for housing in Rift, no reason to take time out of questing to visit your home. Maybe one appears later, but the game failed to sell me on why I should care about its housing.

My rogue on a gulanite hellbug mount in RiftAt least in Aion I had a garden where I could grow reagents.

Business model: Star Wars: The Old Republic

Much has already been written by myself and others on the topic of SW:TOR’s “free to play” model, and I don’t want to repeat it too much. It’s just awful. In every way. It’s the hard sell of all hard sells.

The truth is the free mode is only intended as a trial, and you’re supposed to subscribe, but it doesn’t even work as a trial because the gameplay is so miserable you can’t get a good feel for the game. And even if you do subscribe, you’ll still be constantly nickel and dimed by the cash shop.

SW:TOR is actually a decent game, but so long as its business model remains as is, I can’t recommend it to anyone.

Character customization: WildStar

I very nearly gave this to World of Warcarft due to its extremely limited options to customize individual avatars. However, WoW’s plethora of different races does give one a lot of potential looks to choose from, and it is a very old game, so it doesn’t seem entirely fair to judge it based on the limitations of its era.

MY spellslinger in WildStarSo WildStar gets the nod here. It’s very much like WoW in that your only real choices are race and gender, and there’s no significant customization beyond that. Oh, sure, there are a lot of options for different faces and body types, but in the end, they all look pretty much the same. If you want to play a human female who isn’t a googly-eyed Barbie doll, you’re out of luck.

There’s no excuse for that in this day and age.

Combat: World of Warcraft (but really it’s a tie)

Combat is another area where there’s not a lot of games that are actually bad, but plenty that are mediocre. I don’t think I’ve ever played an MMO where the combat was actively hurting my enjoyment — except maybe Star Trek Online, but it’s been so long since I tried it that my memory is hazy.

I’m gonna give this to WoW because it set the standard, though I could just as easily have picked Rift, SW:TOR, LotRO, or any number of other mainstream MMOs.

It’s not that the WoW system of combat is bad — it’s functional and has some occasional thrills — but it’s incredibly thin and often dull. It’s usually very immobile, it’s visually bland, it requires no real thought, every fight plays out more or less the same, and there’s no challenge at all. Enemies fall dead after just one or two hits. Even on the rare occasions an enemy does present a challenge, it’s more a matter of numerical supremacy than true challenge, and you can faceroll them once you get more levels or better gear.

My hunter in the Arathi HighlandsIn my more cynical moments, I think people only criticize TSW’s combat because they’re not used to a game where enemies don’t evaporate from a dirty look.

Events: World of Warcraft

WoW epitomizes all that’s wrong with holiday events in MMOs. They’re carbon copies of real world holidays, which feel horribly out of place in a fantasy world. They never change from year to year. They require excessive grinding for incredibly mediocre rewards. What few rewards are worthwhile are usually locked behind exceedingly low drop rates and mountains of RNG.

No real effort is put into WoW’s events, so they don’t feel like events at all.