The Mustering of Azeroth: I’ve Suffered Well

I have a strange relationship with the death knight class in World of Warcraft. I’ve always said I love everything about death knights except actually playing them. The playstyle has just never quite clicked for me, and as a result my death knight has long been one of my most neglected alts.

My death knight in World of WarcraftAnd yet the fact remains I really love the idea of the class. For sheer style points, they’ve always been one of the best classes in WoW, with cool spell effects and consistently amazing tier sets. And most importantly, they have an incredible story.

Death knights were WoW’s first (and for a long time its only) hero class, and thus the first class with its own unique starting experience.

That starting experience was a quantum leap forward for WoW’s story-telling. I can still remember when I made my first death knight and was completely blown away. After months of my WoW experience being collecting bear asses, the epic experience I knew and loved from the Warcraft franchise was back. I was rubbing shoulders with legendary lore figures, getting to love a new cast of characters, and wading into massive battles with the fate of Azeroth on the line.

I’ve gone back and made other death knights on other servers several different times just because I loved that starting experience so much.

And so maybe it’s not surprising the death knight class campaign in Legion has been one of my favourites. In fact, with eight classes down now, there’s pretty good odds it will go down as my single favourite campaign.

Archerus: The Ebon Hold in World of Warcraft: LegionAs with all the best class campaigns, the death knight story draws heavily on what has come before. The original starting experience did a very good job of forging a sense of camaraderie between the player and the NPCs, and the Legion campaign very wisely brings pretty much all of them back and puts them at the centre of the story. It felt great to once again be fighting alongside Thassarian, Koltira, and Darion. It was as if no time had passed.

I was especially reminded of how much I love Darion Mograine as a character. Part of it is just his awesome voice, but I love his unique combination of breathtaking bitterness and cynicism tempered with lingering traces of optimism and nobility.

“All is not lost… not yet.”

The Ebon Blade has also always done a very good job of selling the anti-hero angle, and that’s one area where I can’t help but compare with the demon hunter campaign. As much as I hate to use the buzzword, the Illidari mostly come across as a bunch of angry edgelords.

The death knights have a more nuanced approach. They’re monsters, and they know they’re monsters, and they’ve decided to turn their hideous nature against even worse monsters so as to preserve that which is still good in the world. They do heinous things, and they know that no one will ever forgive them for what they’ve done, least of all themselves.

The death knight class story in World of WarcraftThe camaraderie that exists between the Knights of the Ebon Blade, as well as their tremendous self-awareness, adds a very sympathetic angle to what would otherwise be a tremendously unlikable bunch of people.

There’s even more to praise about the death knight campaign, but the rest starts to veer into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say we got to revisit some long-neglected locations, storylines, and characters, and it’s definitely enriched Warcraft lore as a whole.

Really my only big complaint about this story is that it left me wanting more. A lot more. I know the odds of this happening are exactly zero, but I would love to see a single-player game that’s all about the Ebon Blade and their story. They’re such a fascinating bunch.

Gameplay-wise, I also had more fun with my DK than I have in the past. Legion’s changes to the rune system seem to have sped up and smoothed out the rotation a bit. Blood still feels off to me in a way I can’t quite define, but I’ve had a pretty good time playing frost and unholy.

Legion unholy is pretty much the only pet spec in WoW I’ve truly enjoyed (well, I was a big demonology fan for a long time, but I liked it despite the pets). As unholy, your pets don’t feel like they’re detracting from your character — they’re a bonus rather than a crutch — and the sheer number of them you can summon is a real power-trip.

Apocalypse is also one of the very few artifact abilities that is genuinely impressive. One of my few complaints about artifacts is that the abilities granted by these supposedly awesome weapons tend to feel surprisingly weak, but Apocalypse is an exception, looking and feeling awesome to use.

My Tauren death knight in World of WarcraftAlso, if you’re not shouting “APOCALYYYYPSE!!” in your best Lich King voice whenever you use it, you’re playing the class wrong.

Meanwhile, frost spec does a very good job of capturing the “unrelenting killing machine” fantasy of the death knight class. It is a bit on the simple side, but you can add complexity through talents, and it’s fun and relaxing to play.

If you haven’t played a death knight in Legion, you might want to consider it.

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BlizzCon 2017 Wishlist/Predictions

BlizzCon, the Christmas in November for Blizzard fans, is now just a few weeks away, and as always I’m here to make my predictions and list my hopes for what we’ll see there.

Queen Azshara at her height of powerThis year, I think we all know what the big story will be.

Something something Kul Tiras:

It is at this point about 99.9% certain that the next WoW expansion will be announced at BlizzCon 2017. We know Antorus is Legion’s last raid tier, so the time is right. The question then is not whether an expansion will be announced, but what it will be.

I’ve talked before about the datamined armour set pointing to Kul Tiras. Since then, we’ve also learned that the key art for Warcraft at BlizzCon is a lavish portrait of Jaina Proudmoore, the most famous Tirasian in the Warcraft universe, which I think all but confirms Kul Tiras as the setting of 8.0.

But what will we be doing in Kul Tiras?  As I said in the linked post, Azshara and the Naga are the first thing that comes to mind, but there have been so many false alarms on that front over the years that I’m trying not to get my hopes up.

Kul Tiras has historically been very anti-Horde, and Jaina has pretty much turned into her father at this point, so this could also be another expansion focusing on the faction conflict. I hope not, because that angle is beyond played out at this point, but it’s definitely something I could see Blizzard doing. Maybe this will be Mists of Pandaria 2 with Jaina playing the role of Garrosh.

Sadly, I don’t think that’s as far-fetched as it sounds.

One thing I did find interesting is that one of the panels on the BlizzCon schedule is devoted to the voice actresses who play Warcraft’s female characters. Maybe it’s nothing, but to me that seems a bit of a random thing to do, considering how male-dominated WoW has tended to be.

However, if this is the first expansion with a female villain — Azshara — then it would make a lot more sense.

Then again, it could also make sense for a faction war expansion focused on Jaina and Sylvanas. Hmm…

There’s also a solid chance a Kul Tiras expansion could be something totally unexpected that none of us could have seen coming. Warlords of Draenor proved anything is possible, for better or for worse. Mostly for worse, if I’m being honest.

Features:

So now that we’ve read the tea leaves regarding the story and setting, what about the features?

As always, I want to see a new class and/or new specs. New ways to play are always exciting.

Alleria Windrunner in World of WarcraftThere’s a fair bit of speculation going around that Alleria’s story on Argus is setting up a new void-themed archer class. I would love to see that proven true, because that’s pretty much my dream class.

But realistically I don’t think we’re going to see any new classes or specs so soon after the addition of demon hunters and Legion’s big class shake-ups. I think Blizzard will prefer to play it safe on that front for now — though I do think it’s very likely we’ll see new race/class combos opened up.

However, it has now been more than five years since a new playable race was added to World of Warcraft, and I think odds are very good that drought is about to break.

I’ve wanted Vrykul to be playable for years, and after Legion, I feel like that possibility is closer than ever. Legion did a lot to expand their culture and flesh them out as a people, and given that we’ve now seen equivalents of most playable classes among them (the Valkyra are basically paladins, for instance), part of me suspects Blizzard is prepping them for playable status.

If Vrykul are added, I think they would probably be another neutral race. Their culture fits in well with the Horde, but their connection to humanity gives them an in with the Alliance. It’s too hard to judge which faction suits them more, so why bother? Giant Vikings for all, I say.

The Vrykul land of Stormheim in World of WarcraftIf we don’t get Vrykul, there are still a few other possibilities for new races. I’m surprised Ogres aren’t already a playable race for Horde, and on the Alliance front, Furbolgs could be an option. They’ve long been allies of the Night Elves, so it would make sense.

There’s a lot of speculation around Nightborne being made playable, too. I think they’d be too close to our existing Elven races to really justify the development — they look very close to Night Elves and act very close to Blood Elves — but I can’t rule it out.

If any races do get added, look for them to be the first hero race(s). That is, expect them to start at a high level, similar to demon hunters or death knights. I think Blizzard has just given up on leveling at this point, and even I have to admit 110 levels (presumably soon to be 120) is a daunting prospect for anyone.

There’s also been talk of new character customization options being added for all existing races, and I think there’s a decent chance of that. The new Eredar looks on Argus could be a test of this. Personally, I’d love to be able to give my rogue blue hair.

Of course, we’re bound to get the usual new zones, dungeons, and raids. Beyond that and a possible new race, I don’t expect a lot of big news. I think Blizzard is done with adding permanent new systems or features at this point.

I don’t think class halls will continue to be relevant past Legion, but expect a mission table of some sort — with new followers to restart the grind.

The warlock class hall in World of WarcraftSimilarly, I don’t think class campaigns will continue. Even Blizzard doesn’t have the resources to maintain twelve distinct stories indefinitely. Well, they probably do, but it would cut into their ability to add more exclusive gear, mounts, and boss phases for the 0.1% of people who do mythic raids, and obviously we can’t have that.

However, class campaigns have been popular enough that we might see something similar. One possibility that I see is that instead of each class having its own story, there are a couple of different campaigns shared between several classes. For example, shamans, druids, and hunters could share a campaign, since they’re all nature-themed classes.

We already know artifacts are going the way of the dodo — though I still can’t imagine why — but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some max level progression system that’s nearly identical to the artifact power grind, just without the artifact.

I expect 8.0 zones will use Legion’s level-scaling system, but I don’t think the Broken Isles will scale past 110, and I don’t see the tech being applied to legacy content. It’s just too big a change, and Blizzard tends to be relatively conservative. Which is a shame because I’d love to see a “One Azeroth” update with global level-scaling. So much potential that could open up.

The rest of the catalogue:

Matt Horner and Nova in StarCraft IIBeyond the WoW expansion, I don’t see a lot of big news coming out of BlizzCon 2017. We already know Diablo won’t have any news, and I imagine it will be steady as she goes for the other games.

Hearthstone will get a new expansion. Overwatch will get a new map and/or character. Heroes of the Storm will announce some new heroes.

I’d love to see some more story content for StarCraft II, but there’s no reason to believe that will happen. Most likely we’ll just see a new War Chest and co-op commander. We already know that the next commander is Terran, and it will probably be Matt Horner. He was one of three unreleased commanders with achievement headings in Legacy of the Void’s beta, and the other two — Stukov and Karax — are now in-game. I’m hoping he’s focused on air units, especially Battlecruisers.

We know Blizzard is working on at least one new game, which is believed to be an MMORTS for mobile platforms. Reeeaally not sure how to feel about that, but I don’t have to decide now, as I very much doubt it or any other new title will be ready for reveal at this BlizzCon.

Similarly, I suspect Blizzard is probably working on more remasters of old games, but they probably won’t announce anything so soon after the release of the StarCraft remaster.

My monk using the Zen Flight ability in World of WarcraftGiven that Blizzard’s idea of a remaster seems to be only a minor tweak to graphics and nothing else, the idea of revamps of their older titles doesn’t excite me much anymore. The one I would like to see is Warcraft III, as it’s the only one whose gameplay can still hold up in 2017. It doesn’t need more than a graphical spit-shine.

In summary, I predict Kul Tiras will be the headline, probably with a new race(s), which I hope will be Vrykul, as well as new race/class combos. There will be only minor updates to the other games, of which Matt Horner will be the only one that really matters to me.

What do you expect or hope to see at BlizzCon 2017?