The Decline of World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft has been a successful MMORPG that carried the genre since it released and hit the ground running in November 2004. Since then, I’ve accumulated 100 days played on my main character and have explored every expansion in one way or another. While my primary class has fluctuated from Druid to the Paladin and eventually the Shaman, I’ve been through the best and worst of times with World of Warcraft and admittedly, Battle For Azeroth was one of the worst expansions. While the pacing was great and the whole experience was streamlined, it further emphasized all of the problems with the Massively Multiplayer Online roleplaying game.
The Class Fantasy and RPG Focus Damaged Over Time
While the expansion before Battle For Azeroth, Legion, did much to recover class fantasy, BFA took a step back in that direction. Players ditch their heirloom weapons earned through their class halls for a new necklace known as the Heart of Azeroth and Azerite armor. This system made everyone’s experience a lot more similar and a broken Azerite armor system takes the place of many tiered gear that may have been in its place if Blizzard just stuck with the heirlooms throughout both expansions. This reduction in class fantasy further emphasized the fact that many classes feel similar, with everyone having speed enhancing abilities, everyone having stuns or fears, and a lot more overlapping abilities. Classes were made to feel the same initially with Cataclysm but Battle For Azeroth lowered the bar so quickly after Legion that it felt like a freefall drop into raiding that felt basically the same from my Paladin to my Death Knight.
Content Droughts and Broken Promises
Over the years, Blizzard has added content to World of Warcraft and only significantly cut content when Cataclysm shattered Azeroth. Quality of life changes have ironically taken away from the experience and simplified it for newer players at the expense of veteran players. Blizzard has made several promises for content since the early days that never came to fruition such as the dance studio promised for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and the canceled Abyssal Maw raid planned for Cataclysm. From one expansion to another, it felt like Blizzard was over promising and under-delivering, while making their fans wait several months for a new update to bring new content to the game between expansions. These droughts began with Warlords of Draenor and have been a recurring theme with each expansion. Blizzard is constantly working on the next expansion at the expense of players who want to stick around.
Easier Isn’t Always Better
With the release of World of Warcraft Classic last year, Blizzard received a significant increase in subscriptions and twitch viewership alike. Since the release of Classic servers, Blizzard has confirmed a doubling in subscriptions. This may have split the community but it also brought many lapsed players back and they’ve stuck around since. For the first time in many years, fans of the vanilla World of Warcraft experience could legitimately go back to their roots without the risk of a private server going under and losing all of that progress. While this fractured the player base, it became clear that many people were hungering for a challenge and Classic WoW servers fulfilled this feeling. Many fans who have jumped on over the years since Cataclysm had never experienced the initial leveling experience and had never seen the world before Deathwing fractured it.
In many ways the game has gotten better. The graphics are better than ever, cinematics keep players engaged with the story, most quest text is spoken to the heroes of Azeroth rather than requiring the players to read it, but the game has noticeably become much easier. The simplification of World of Warcraft began after the merger between Activision and Blizzard during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, admittedly my favorite expansion to date. Classic WoW doesn’t have the group finder or raid finder system and players don’t magically get teleported to the dungeons, gamers have to read quest text to know where they’re going if they don’t have addons, working with fellow adventurers is key to making your way to level 60 but this is no longer a requirement.
As the game became more streamlined, the social aspect has diminished and it has gotten worse and Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime has opened up about it. Group finder has made nearly every aspect of the game as easy as finding or starting a group with randoms using a menu rather than spamming local and trade chat. Instead of reaching out to people, you’re programming a system to do it for you and there’s very seldom a requirement to chat in group. The popularity of WoW Classic showed Blizzard many ways the current version of the game is better and worse than the original experience and Shadowlands may be the beginning of fixing the issues. Before group finder, friends were required for reliable dungeon runs and before raid finder, guilds were required to coordinate 10 and 25 person teams.
Can Shadowlands Repair the Damage Done by BFA?
The next expansion, known as Shadowlands, is currently in Alpha and the wide consensus between players taking part in it is positive. Tier sets are returning with the new expansion, replacing the azurite armor system. The questing experience will be streamlined in a different way to encourage gamers leveling from one to the reduced level cap of 60. Instead of adventuring through every expansion’s content while only getting a taste of it, adventurers will now choose between the continents of previous expansions to level through the whole way. One of the most innovative features coming to World of Warcraft with Shadowlands is Torghast Tower of the Damned, which brings roguelike mechanics to an endless dungeon.
Many classes are being repaired in Shadowlands with the reintroduction of classic skills to broaden their toolset such as Kill Shot for Hunters and Auras returning to Paladins. These changes will all work to undo some of the damage done by BFA but I wonder if it will be enough and if players who stay subscribed for Classic WoW will check out Shadowlands or not. Group finder and raid finder will remain in the game but I anticipate more socializing for Torghast Tower of the Damned runs. With over 100 days played on one character, I’m looking forward to delving into another expansion to see if World of Warcraft will continue to decline or if it will rise from the ashes.
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