WoW Wednesday: The Success of Shadowlands

World of Warcraft is now at an infallible turning point in its history. Shadowlands is very much on the horizon, with the release of the first few encrypted alpha builds over the last week. Excitement post Blizzcon 2019 is incredibly high, and people are eager to get into a new expansion’s worth of content. With the somewhat tepid response to Patch 8.3, “Visions of N’zoth,” we are now quickly finding ourselves at a critical junction. One that could very much mean the future for the world of Azeroth.

The last few years of Warcraft have been, particularly, very negative in the eyes of the playerbase. After the rampant and widespread success of Legion, there were understandably a number of focused and specific complaints on systems in the expansion’s life cycle. The major one, understandably, was player agency and choice; most major systems of Legion, including the artifact weapons, were incredibly linear. While some players such as myself enjoyed the idea of a ‘paint-by-numbers’ system that was easily completed, others understandably felt it incredibly restrictive.  This was exacerbated by issues with nerfs breaking entire class specializations, on top of the controversial Paragon system.

Battle for Azeroth, to its credit, attempted to correct these very specific complaints by rebuilding these previous systems from the ground-up. The Artifact Weapon system became the Azerite Armour system. Your unique spec-related artifact became the ‘Heart of Azeroth.’ Paragon caches removed rare-drops in order to cut out the feeling of elite gear being locked behind endless grinds. Legendaries, which had littered Legion and turned gearing into a largely disappointing RNG fest, were pruned in totality. Class Halls, which largely succeeded where the Warlords of Draenor Garrison system failed, were pruned and replaced with a ‘War Table.’

Understandably, none of this worked out well in Blizzard’s favor.

Each of the above is, to some extent, a large-scale endgame progression system. While most players could level up their artifact and hit their first gold trait by level-cap in Legion, the Heart of Azeroth could still not unlock all of the traits on your gear by the time you were raid-ready. The Azerite Traits, often locked to specific pieces of loot which were difficult to see drop, were ostensibly tied to your class’ power. Like Arms Warrior in Legion, Fire Mages found a similar fate when their Combustion trait was discovered to be overpowered in niche scenarios. As such it was nerfed into the ground, effectively breaking the entire spec due to how heavily class-design revolved around these RNG-activated traits.

As such, gearing became ineffably boring. Whereas getting a Legendary was often a mixed bag, with the most optimal and ideal being lost in a sea of otherwise useless editions, it was still a LARGE power increase and something interesting. Even after their ‘finished’ progression, Artifact Weapons still had a slew of unlockables and cosmetics to achieve, something which the Heart of Azeroth has never matched. Class Halls and their storylines, for all the time-gating that occurred, offered cosmetics and rewards aplenty for the intrepid player.

All of this depth was wiped away in Battle for Azeroth. So much so that the Heart of Azeroth and Azerite Gear system were reworked in almost sheer totality for Patch 8.2, “The Rise of Azshara.” There was so much lack that, despite a stellar opening gambit in the questing storylines and systems, Battle for Azeroth was rate lower than many previous expansions before it. Even in our own reviews here on, we rated both the expansion and World of Warcraft as a whole lower than any previous. Repeatable game systems such as Warfronts and Island Expeditions plagued the expansion, adding much breadth but very little depth.

Now we come to Shadowlands, the vital hope in the darkness. This was one of the many new games announced at Blizzcon 2019, where the entire convention served more as a desperate attempt to save stock prices than little else. Now is has the entire weight of a multi-year MMORPG sitting on its very small shoulders. Oddly enough, we saw this not too long ago prior to Legion’s monumental release.

Warlords of Draenor is infamous among the playerbase. Being only half as long, content wise, as any other expansion or launch in World of Warcraft’s long history it was largely considered a commercial disaster. Despite several development issues throughout its life-cycle, it also had major raids cut in the Siege upon Shattrath, a major point for that part of Azeroth’s universe. A final Patch 7.2, “the Fury of Hellfire,” was released prior to the team’s reorganization to focus on completing and releasing Legion.

Now, realistically, we sit on a similar abyss once again. Battle for Azeroth has been in many parts a massive failure across the board for World of Warcraft, reducing it in large part to a game of endless repeating treadmill systems. This is an MMORPG of now very little substance if you’re unlucky, and controversial systems if you are not.

So where do we hope to go from here?

Shadowlands is, frankly speaking, going to need to be an expansion of substance. While there are some infinitely grindable elements in Torghast, and a necessary part of an MMO in some sense, the entire game cannot be built on such systems. There cannot be a few systems that stretch far into the horizon for progression, instead there needs to be a greater focus on many smaller things that contribute to player power.

Agency is the keyword that many personalities and writers have tossed about when discussing Shadowlands. Player agency and choice, the ability for players to have control over their gameplay destiny, is going to be fundamentally important. The Covenant Halls, the foundational bases for our adventures throughout the realms of the dead, seem to roll all of the best parts from Legion and the concepts of Warlords together into that balance of depth and breadth. While, as we have seen with the Azerite Gear system, it is intrinsically dangerous to put all of one’s game-design eggs in a singular basket, this may be the expansion’s best, and perhaps only hope. We have, truthfully, seen very little of substance when it comes to the land of the dead.

And that hardly inspires a hope for the future.

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WoW Wednesday: Reviewing the World of Warcraft

After 15 long years, the World of Warcraft still marches ever onward. Despite no less than four “WoW Killers” launching and failing, the original Massively Multiplayer Online Titan doesn’t just dominate pop culture. It dominates its own section of the fantasy genre, inspiring legions of fan works, devotees, and enough loyal subscribers to make up its own pseudo-nation. After eight entire expansions, a major motion picture, over 20 novels and a legion of popular propaganda, its time to give this game the review it deserves. After 15 years its time once more to criticize the wide world of Warcraft.

We here at have reviewed the entirety of Azeroth previously. In this coverage, shortly after the massive graphical revamp and it’s 10th anniversary, we gave World of Warcraft a solid 8/10; “It is grand and splendid enough to be worth a player’s time and money.” This is a sentiment echoed throughout the industry, with similar reviews passing along the desks of and PC Gamer. Last year we reviewed it’s 8th expansion, Battle For Azeroth slightly less favorably with a 7/10. Still passable and a fun experience, but with serious critical flaws incumbent to its systems.

In this review we’ll be peeling apart all of Warcraft’s systems from cradle to grave. From level one to 120, I dove into the wide world of Azeroth as a very much familiar Veteran. I’ve played the game for over twelve years, raided until shortly before Warlords of Draenor, kept up in the Rated PvP scene and written more about it than I would probably like to admit. While it is no small feat, I will be endeavoring to give you the most in-depth and pinpoint review. In an attempt to keep information relevant while we will be covering things from our Battle for Azeroth review, we will be more focusing on the systems present in Patch 8.2, “The Rise of Azshara.” While promises to fix many issues are incumbent with its 9th expansion, Shadowlands, we will be focusing on the game as is in its present state.

It’s time to see if after 15 years, World of Warcraft is worth more than your money. Is this MMORPG still worth your time?

Enter Azeroth

World of Warcraft is, at its core, a world at war. The land of Azeroth is host to dozens of races both native and alien. Originally set off its axis due to the invasion of the demonic Orcish Horde, the world has trembled under its two new national superpowers. Compromised of Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes, Night Elves and all noble creatures of Azeroth, the Alliance seeks to strive to do good like the knights of old. Banding together in the face of adversity, they seek the righteous way of the land and to do right by its denizens. Whether they follow the Holy Light, Elune, or the legacy of their original creators, they hope for a prosperous future for the entire land. Led by High King Anduin Wrynn, the young ruler endeavors to forge a world of true peace for his people.

Built on the bones of a dark legacy, the Horde has expanded to find its place at redemption. Composed of the once noble Orcs, the mysterious Darkspear trolls, the proud Tauren tribes and the cunning Forsaken Undead, this new Horde seeks to eke out an existence in a world that never wanted them. Drawing all kinds to its banner, the Horde promises unity and Honor no matter the cost. Recently in a political upheaval by the betrayal of its Warchief, Sylvanas Windrunner, the Horde now stands at a dangerous crossroads. While rumors of a council, a Coalition of Leadership, have begun to rattle through the ranks the future is uncertain for the Horde.

This will be your first major decision in World of Warcraft. Unlike other MMORPGs with cross faction play, tensions in Azeroth still run high. Its very unlikely that a Draenei from the Alliance would ever want to see a Blood Elf from the Horde, let alone work with them again. Races are restricted to certain factions, and who you will interact with will be. Certain cosmetic effects such as titles, mounts and more. Certain locations, major questlines and the world itself may change depending on which faction you select.

Once you’ve made your selection on the character creation screen, you’ll have 7 races to choose through (up to 11 for veteran players). Each race has its own unique storyline, racial abilities, customizations and can pick particular classes. Some, like the Trolls, are jacks of all trades but cannot pick certain heavy plate classes. Others, like the Gnomes, are limited by their diminutive size but can access every intellect-based class. Largely, based on what you want to do, your class will largely decide your race but your race will decide your faction overall. All have a slew of customization options throughout, though the interface is notably dated.

World of Warcraft is a fifteen year old game, built on an engine that is nearly 20 years old. As such, its rather amazing what can be done on it when it comes to newer content. When it comes to character customizations, however, you may find yourself completely screwed. On the large, older races like the Orcs have a wide plethora of options and selections, however these are worked through at most 15 or so static changes. While there are, realistically, hundreds of possible permutations for your character’s appearance some are better than others and are far more popular. That is, if you’re fortunate enough to have more than one favorable option; some newer races like the Nightborne or the Lightforged Draenei introduced in Legion are impossibly sparse on customizations; the Nightborne functionally only have one gender due to how ugly the male models and their faces are.

Once you’ve built up your avatar you can decide on your class. Warcraft being an older game, still works on the static Holy Trinity model of class design. Most classes are built to do one of three things: either soak punishment and deal area damage as a Tank, unleash powerful destructive fury as a Damage Dealer (or DPS), or keep their allies alive as a Healer. While most classes are tooled to perform only one role very well, such as the Mage or Hunter, just about every class can do one or the other. Some classes, like the Paladin, Monk or Druid, are Hybrid classes and can perform all three roles seamlessly.

Each class does play remarkably different, even between its three specializations. Some, like the Warrior, are exactly as its archetypical theme describes. They wade into the heat of melee combat and deliver punishment with one, sometimes two, massive weapons. Others, like the Warlock, use dark curses and stay at range while their minions deal with the enemy. Its hard to recommend a new class to newer players, simply due to the depth and volume of playstyles. This choice widens when players unlock Death Knights and Demon Hunters, Warcraft’s hero classes. These veteran-player classes are only unlocked after you’ve achieved a certain level on your first character, and as such start at a higher level in their respective expansion.

The best advice I can give you? Take your time and experiment with different player classes. Since its inception, my main has changed dramatically over time, from a Shaman to a Warrior to a Death Knight, Shaman, Warlock, Priest, Hunter and now a Warrior again. Even between them, each has up to three specializations that further customize your gameplay and feel like individual classes on their own. This is an expansive game, with plenty to do and explore.

We’re Going On an Adventure!

Once you’ve sorted out your character, and decided your class, you’re ready to get onto exploring the wide world of Azeroth. With recent graphical overhauls and a massive leveling change in it’s 4th expansion, Cataclysm, the world has never been more beautiful. From sunny high mesas in Mulgore to the steamy jungles of Stranglethorn, the world is utterly and absolutely breath-taking to explore. Even in the game’s older content through Northrend and Outland, there is not one zone I could complain about in its design, theming, or music.

Azeroth, however, is a dangerous place and even the heartiest diplomats will need to engage in combat. Being an older MMORPG, Warcraft’s systems are largely static in combat. Unlike entries such as the defunct Wildstar, heroes will often have a host of abilities to attack enemies in a somewhat standard, non-movement oriented combat style. While some classes subvert this by being based on movement, such as the Demon Hunter, others like the Mage and Warrior remain largely stagnant in order to deal damage. Instead, the complexity comes from intrinsic combat systems in order to maximize damage; buffs and debuffs to manage detrimental effects on your enemies.

You will be exploring them all as you adventure and progress your character. Starting at level 1, you’ll be working through several older RPG tropes and tools to level up. Starting with Quests, you’ll gain experience to level up and advance your character. After gaining so much experience your avatar will “ding” (gratz!) and you’ll get a little bit more powerful through new spells or advanced ranks of older ones. At major milestones your characters will unlock massive features such as mounts, class specializations, battlegrounds or new expansions worth of content.

In saying such, however, there’s a lot both good and bad in this progression system. You have 120 levels to advance through in Azeroth, and sadly there just aren’t enough rewards to make it feel worthwhile. While the journey is fun in this MMO, the RPG elements are incredibly lacking and are noticeable after your first five hours with the character. After reaching level sixty you’ll have most of your major class abilities unlocked and will be progressing onto your first expansion of content. Its unlikely, however, that you’ll see a new ability or intrinsic reward for your character’s power until another 7 to 15 levels away.

A lot of this power instead will come from your gear that you will obtain as you progress. Gear comes in a wide variety of colors, starting with White (Common) and Grey (Trash), you’ll gain Uncommon (Green) and Rare (Blue) items from questing or doing 5-man dungeons when you unlock them. Epic (Purple) quality items will drop from incredibly difficult challenges in your journey, or are otherwise incredibly rare. Legendary (Orange) are utterly unique items. Only a handful of them exist in the world and each will significantly change how you play your character. Most are incredibly difficult, if not impossible to get, but everyone knows their names. As you unlock them, you’ll save your gear appearances in your collectibles tab, alongside mounts, toys and cosmetic pets, and can transmogrify them over your gear to adjust your appearance.

Additionally you’ll unlock Talents. This interchangeable selection system unlocks tiers of abilities every 15 levels, usually themed around one type. While limited compared to previous iterations, this system allows you to change your playstyle for your class and specialization in between adventures, and offers a wide variety of utility. While most players will stick with the optimal or their favorite choice, staying flexible with your talents is rewarded in high tiers of gameplay and can massively alter what role you fill.

World of Warcraft
On paper this all sounds like a marvelous system, despite a few drawbacks, but the new player experience is painful, to say the least. There is a very good reason why Blizzard-Activision have been pushing their Character Level Boosting Service; leveling is painful, long and dull. Due to the rapid scaling of your character’s power in the early game in order to meet the end-game’s stats, enemies are never any major challenge. Instead they sit as more of a nuisance in between you and your objective, whether that involves collecting 4 zherva hooves or just trying to open a book.

In working on this review, I logged roughly additional an additional 30 hours between a Highmountain Tauren Shaman, a Night Elf Druid and a Nightborne Warrior. I can tell you, wholeheartedly, that the leveling experience is incredibly brutal. The only character I managed to max out was my Warrior, and that was simply because they’re my new main. Leveling is a tedious, repetitive venture to work through and a lot of its meaning is lost as you progress to the endgame; what many people rightfully cite as the ‘true’ game in Warcraft.

While we have covered it extensively in past entries of our WoW Wednesday Column, I’ll reiterate it once more here. There are not enough rewards to encourage players to naturally level and progress their character. The bloating of levels up to 120 is simply too vast a distance with the game’s current playstyle philosophy to reward players with spells or abilities every level. There aren’t enough talents or unlockables to go around, and this results in one of the most painful moments of any leveling experience.

World of Warcraft
The only moment that particularly stands out in a bad way, among hundreds if not thousands of quest texts, is Outland and Northrend. At level 60, you’ll begin to unlock additional expansions of content to play through, each with its own choice. From 60-70 you’ll be allowed to choose with either The Burning Crusade or The Wrath of the Lich King and their respective continents. Its also about this time that new abilities just stop coming all together while you adventure through some of the oldest, most difficult and outright obtuse questing content in the entire game.

While it is only for this small band, these two continents can kill nearly all of your momentum. Add in the issue of sharp increase in experience point requirements and it suddenly feels like a monumental mountain in your progression. There’s a reason that, at this point, nearly halfway to level 120 people either stop outright or start looking for ways to increase their experience gains monumentally. For veteran players, this is an easy hurdle to pass with a slew of experience boosting buffs that increase gains by over 200%. Other subversive options become the norm, such as grinding dungeons in an attempt to escape monotonous and awful questing. For newer, unguided players these options are more than likely not available or unknown.

Defender of Azeroth!

But you’ve finally done it, you’ve made it to level 120 despite all the hurdles and challenges. What awaits you is a wide plethora of content to explore and adventure through. Massive raids open up to challenge with up to 20 players. Rated Player versus Player combat and the cosmetic Honor system are ladders for you to climb in slaughtering your enemies. Pet Battles, cosmetic collections and more are at your fingertips. There is, quite literally, an infinite amount of things to do in Azeroth and with every expansion’s content unlocked at max level, you can do whatever you’d like.

The gateway to your personal progression, however, is now tied to Artifacts. Introduced in Legion and revamped for Battle for Azeroth, Artifacts now tool how your character plays more than your own end-game gear. The newest form of this, the Heart of Azeroth, unlocks class changing traits on your armor called “Azerite Traits.” While initially unique and could redefine your class in totality, most have now been reworked so that there are only one or two viable traits depending on your field of gameplay. While new, socketable essences have been introduced which act as additional spells or abilities, these are locked behind a leveling wall.

Your experience for the Heart of Azeroth? Azerite Power. This resource is rewarded from almost every single activity in World of Warcraft and can be infinitely grinded through certain gameplay elements like Island Expeditions or other instanced content. Due to this, however, there is a form of soft “scaling cap” each week. While you’ll unlock all of the passive and active slots on your Heart by level 67, it will also increase in power up to level 70 with certain Essences being locked behind that level cap. Essences themselves come from a wide variety of gameplay elements and hitting certain milestones will reward them.

World of Warcraft
There are a host of incumbent problems in this system, but the largest one is its effect on gear. While leveling, your gear will be rotated out roughly every zone or so. It goes through an upgrading process, but due to the limited number of customizations you’ll often be prone to keep it as is or hunt for smaller, rarer items to complete your look. As you reach maximum level, and are able to customize and change the appearance of ANY gear item, instead it falls to the name and what it’s worth to set it apart as an enviable object.

As Azerite and Gear can come from ANY source in Battle for Azeroth, most of it being Epic, it all really begins to blend together. Instead you’ll be hunting for gear with specific stats and Azerite traits in a constant form of upgrading to maximize what you can do in your class. In reality once you hit 120 you’ll be hitting a massive statistics crunch and will begin measuring your gear based on numbers instead of looks and rewards.

That’s not to say the content to get it isn’t fun. Raiding and Rated PvP are at their pinnacle in Azeroth. PvE encounters have only gotten more complex and varied throughout the years, and conquering a major villain with 19 of your friends can be incredibly rewarding. Even moreso, conquering other players and reaping Elite rewards isn’t just a challenge but a massive learning experience into the complexities of Warcraft. Playing through the fantasy of living in Azeroth is fun to do, even if you’re adventuring to cap off a few achievements or just to roleplay in a darkened tavern.

Gameplay: 5/10

World of Warcraft is an OLD game. Older than, frankly, quite a few people playing it. However, despite its stumbling and falling in leveling and rewarding characters, it is still IMMENSELY fun to play especially in the endgame. These flaws, like the infinite treadmill of endgame content and the crippling painful nature of leveling tar the whole process. There’s a lot here, and quite a bit of it is VERY good, but the struggle to get into that content and mean something as a whole dampen the entire project.

World of Warcraft

Innovation: 5/10

Once upon a time, Warcraft defined the genre in what it could do. These days the game and its team are struggling to keep up in similar showings from competitors. Desperately trying to keep a 15 year old engine alive, Warcraft’s developers seem to constantly struggle in adding things in such as ‘color tints’ for equipment. Addressing the inherit systemic issues caused throughout the game is a struggle for them, including admitting to their own mistakes for the worse. While they occasionally make a breakthrough concept for the game, it struggles to keep pace with others in the industry.

Multiplayer: 7/10

World of Warcraft is the Notorious B.I.G., the progenitor of the modern MMO. Community is everything to any worthwhile progression in Azeroth. While wolves and the rabble of the world won’t trouble your character, you will NEED friends in order to adventure into dark dungeons, heart-pounding raids, or merely to keep your sanity during leveling. While most basic endgame content is queue-able as a single player, generating you into a larger group, truly challenging content requires friends. If you’re invested in finding such and taking on the hardest challenges the community, on the whole, is largely receptive to new players and still thrives strongly to this day.

Graphics / Sound: 8/10

Despite being built on an older engine, Azeroth is beautiful to adventure through. Thanks to large-scale graphical improvements in Cataclysm, the world has never looked better for the adventuring player though more modern innovations such as Light Rays make it seem somewhat flat in color. Together, with a wonderfully orchestrated OST, Warcraft oozes environmental theme and beautiful artistic design. Whether it’s the pounding of the drums of war in battlegrounds or the eerie strings plaguing you in Azshara’s Eternal Palace, the hills of Pandaria and the dark dungeons have never looked and felt more beautiful.

World of Warcraft

Value for Money: 8/10

I cannot understate this: Warcraft has no end to its content. If you have the want to explore its vast breadth and depth from faction reputations to achievements to PvP to raiding to battling PETS there is legitimately no end. Even with a subscription model still attached to the game, my $15 USD per month is STILL well spent in Azeroth. There is enough to do legitimately every day of the week between its eight expansions and the base game, and still not get everything done that you’d like. While there are concerns on the depth of the content, there is enough breadth to make up for it.

Overall: 6.5/10

There are a lot of problems with Warcraft. I don’t think there’s a 15 year old on the planet that doesn’t have its slew of problems, but beneath all of them is a gemstone. While there are problems in a host of Warcraft’s systems, it feels exciting to go on that next adventure through Azeroth whether as the lone Champion or among a host of friends. Whether you fight for the Horde or the Alliance, this is a game that still lives and breathes fun and entertainment. While it can be a slog, sometimes more than even the developers would like to admit, charting the world of Azeroth is an adventure in and of itself in every sense.

With promises on the horizon to fix so many of its problems, I can only hope that we’ll still be adventuring throughout the worlds of Warcraft for many more years to come.


– Easy, simple pick up and play MMORPG
– Varied Systems of Progression
– Tons of Gameplay systems and Endgame Content
– Potentially Endless Content to Play


– Painful Leveling and Level Bloat
– Little Reward for New Players
– Meaningless Gear/Character Progression Outside of Artifact Systems
– Limited Avatar Customization and Cosmetic Personalization Outside of Armor

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WoW Wednesday: The Eternal Grind

It is a very rare occasion to have one singular quest in World of Warcraft ever piss me off. Not agitate me, per se, but fill me with such an intense blinding rage and confusion as to make me question its very existence. That isn’t to say that such quests aren’t, at times, warranted. Infamous ones such as Wrathion’s Valor Gating for the Mists of Pandaria legendary cloak have been used in the past to regulate the acceleration for top-end players. Others, like infamous Vanilla ‘Alliance Tower Escort’ were terrible not due to their design but the implications of performing it in such a massive world with interfering elements and players. None of them, however, quite stack up like ‘The Eternal Traveler.’

The Eternal Traveler is an oddly unique quest which put a bad taste in my mouth before it began. For those of you not in the know, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has, like its predecessors, a Digital Collector’s edition for pre-order. For the new expansion, however, Blizzard-Activision has their editions broken down into multiple fields. The base copy, as always, comes with the expansion and early-access to Death Knights for all races much like Battle for Azeroth unlocked Allied Races in Patch 7.3. Then there are TWO different Collector’s Editions.

The Heroic Edition includes some of the standard fair. While it includes a Level 120 Character Boost to use instantly, it also includes the Ensorcelled Everwyrm Mount (unique to the Collector’s Editions) as well as a brand-new Cosmetic Transmog Set. The Epic Edition, which is an additional $20 USD, includes a cosmetic Weapon Enchant, a Pet (which usually comes with the regular Collector’s Edition), and a new Hearthstone toy in line with other Holiday Toys.

Those who follow my previous work know I have little issues with pre-orders or Collector’s Editions, but I do have an issue with multiple versions. The practice, made famous by Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs series, has resulted in multiple companies creating multiple types of ‘Collector’s’ products with varying objects between them. While, thankfully, Shadowlands’ editions at their apex contain everything you might be looking for if you’re purchasing at previous expansion’s full price, it still sets a very worrying standard.

With that in mind, you collect your initial rewards from either edition. Unpacking the Enscorcelled Everwyrm for a test-ride you’ll be able to click on an interactable object just behind the saddle. This will summon the newest object of your frustrations, Xolaritos, which begins the promised questline for your transmog appearance. Belonging to the Eternal Travelers, they have moved between the veil of worlds for untold millennia. Calling Oribos their home in the Shadowlands, they’ve now come to Azeroth in sensing the rising presence of Death. You can strike a bargain with them, for the right price.

Xolaritos wants Echoes of Mortality. When the living die, they leave behind fragments of their life force behind. The strongest of Azeroth’s denizens leave behind resonant pieces; portions that tremble with the life they used to have. Collect 40 of these and not only will you become an ally of the Eternal Travelers, but you’ll receive their unique transmog appearance. All of the textures and animations are unique (so far) and haven’t been seen in-game. The set, overall, is REALLY cool and looks fantastic.

This, at the outset, is an excellent opportunity and idea. Even in just giving you those bare details, it sounds like an EXCELLENT start to an intriguing quest; perhaps a lead-in to the ideas about what the growing influence of death means. While there is the trepidation of perhaps locking ‘content’ behind an exclusive paywall, you can do quite a lot with just a little. Recent goers of the War Campaign’s finale can find such a concept littered with Lor’themar Theron. After witnessing Sylvanas Windrunner utterly destroy Saurfang in their Mak’gora, he among several characters remarked about her using magic they had never seen before. That is VERY interesting and opens up quite a bit of possibility for exploring that in Shadowlands.

The Eternal Traveler decides to forgo that by instead creating the most obfuscating and infuriating questline ever.

In reality, killing any creature in your level bracket will feasibly drop Echoes of Mortality. Within your first few kills per day you will earn anywhere between 4 to 6 Echoes. Initially starting the quest you’ll get the impression that you can quickly complete the quest for your transmog. This is not to be.

After your initial gain the drop chances reduce to a pitiful number. The highest numbers reported by WoWhead, that do not come from raid enemies or PvP-tagged targets, are a little over 1%. Most are far below that threshold, dwindling into a 0.5% range, making individual drops as difficult to obtain as Invincible’s Reins from Icecrown Citadel. This resets after the daily lockouts clock over for your server, meaning that at 8am server time, you’ll once more be able to gain 4-6 Echoes from one mob.

This is content gating at its finest. Those purchasing any collector’s edition are now essentially paying for one quest which requires hours upon hours of grinding for a cosmetic appearance with no additional lore or incumbent excitement.

This results in this very real scenario: in an effort to quickly grind through this incredibly arduous and needlessly time-gated quest, players are using the group finder. There, they are gathered together to kill as many densely packed mobs as humanly possible in the shortest amount of time to maximize their chances at getting even one Echo to drop. The two well known hotspots are the Blood Gate in Zuldazar, and the Dabrie Farmstead in Arathi Highlands. I once spent a little over 2 hours grinding through over 400 mobs for a measly 5 Echoes.

The reality is that this is all based off of luck. If you’re willing to put in the time, and you’re incredibly lucky, you’ll be able to soar through the needed Echoes with little difficulty. However, a grind that players are essentially buying into should not be faced with the same amount of time-sinking that Insane in the Membrane or Rated PvP requires. It is, by and large, no less than a slap in the face to adopters of the new Collector’s Editions. Forced arbitrary grinding for the impatient, and a needless time gating for those willing to wait. Add that to your collection tab.

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Shadowlands – World of Warcraft’s Next Expansion

Blizzcon 2019 has finally come and gone to uproars of applause. After the tepid convention that was last year’s Blizzard-Activision trade show with the heavily controversial release and management if Diablo Immortal, the company desperately needed to make this convention a landmark release experience. As you’ll see throughout all our coverage this week, they certainly nailed it out of the park. For many, first and foremost it began with World of Warcraft’s newest expansion: Shadowlands.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is the recently announced 8th expansion to the 15 year old MMORPG. Taking place right on the heels of Battle for Azeroth, disgraced warchief Sylvanas Windrunner pursues her quest to command death itself. Advancing on Icecrown Citadel, the seat of the undead Lich King, she endeavors to take his crown by force or otherwise. Laying waste to his forces and even chaining the Jailer of the Damned, she took up the unholy crown, the Helm of Domination, for her own.

Declaring that the world itself was a prison she took the Helm, the key to keeping the endless undead Scourge from destroying Azeroth, and tore it in half. In doing so, Sylvanas ripped the Eternal Veil asunder; the barrier between the world of the living and those of the dead. Throwing the Shadowlands, Warcraft’s afterlife, into chaos, she escaped to the dark recesses of its eternal prison. Uniting with her partner in the Maw, the mysterious Jailer has begun to draw souls and Anima, the essence of life, in earnest from the Shadowlands. If he is allowed to continue uninhibited, and the Shadowlands are left unclosed, all of Azeroth if not the universe will be fed to the Jailer’s unending hunger.

Heroes of Azeroth will be venturing through the inescapable Maw, a prison for the worst souls in existence, into the Shadowlands themselves. While there players will be exploring four new zones and the Covenants who rule over them. The Kyrians rule over Bastion, one of the first zones players will encounter. Angelic beings who revel in truth, duty and accept only the most virtuous souls, they assist the mysterious Arbiter in ferrying souls to the afterlife and sorting them after their judgement. With the drain upon the Shadowlands, those attempting to gain their wings through their trials have suddenly been unable to progress. With numbers of Kyrians dwindling, the Shadowlands are becoming more and more deprived of souls.

The Ardenweald is a place of nature and rebirth; a dark mirror to the Emerald Dream. Here, those souls connected innately to nature come to rest and find peace before being reborn into the cycle. Ruled over by the Winter Queen and her Night Fae, this place of nature is being hit the hardest of all. With both souls and their inherit living energy, Anima, being drained into the Maw, the Ardenweald is withering day by day. Soon the Winter Queen will need to decide how she rations the precious resource of the dead, and who may rest in the cold forever.


“Bastion, the realm of the Kyrians. They accept only the most virtuous souls into their ranks.”

Maldraxxus is the dark domain of the Necrolords, masters of the Shadowlands’ standing army. Here in their soul forges do they forge their forces into engines of destruction. It is not cruelty or evil that rules this land, but strength and power. Used in part to defend the Frozen Throne and the gateway to the realm of the dead, now this army has fallen into dissaray and chaos. While its soldiers stand ready to defend the souls of millions, its leader has mysteriously vanished. Now the five most notable Necrolords are vying for the position, and the responsibility for bringing death across the cosmos. In an effort to combat the other, each is building an army that will soon outgrow the normal standing forces of Maldraxxus. Soon, all out war will be unleashed…

Revendreath is the purgatorial realm of the Shadowlands and the domain of the Venthyr. At the dawn of creation they were charged with purging those sent to them of sin, draining it from their souls a drop at a time. Having gorged themselves on Anima for millenia, the Venthyr have become slovenly and gluttonous, much like those they are charged over. Content to whittle away their existence, rumours have begun to arise of the unfitness of the realm’s master. If he were to be replaced, perhaps Revendreath may find itself changing course to a better future…

These four Covenants will be the main drawing point of Shadowlands. Players will progress through each zone in a linear fashion, working cooperatively with each ruling body to reunify their disparate forces. As they do so, you’ll be able to unlock two abilities for aligning with that faction, both of which will change if you change your Covenant. One is a movement related ability for outdoor use, while the other is a class-specific combat ability much like Legion’s artifact powers. Each faction will have unique cosmetic rewards and armor tied to each, from winged cloak replacements to upgradable mounts.


Plate Covenant Armor Rewards, From Left to Right: Necrolords, Venthyr, Kyrians, Night Fae

Each Covenant will also have a Sanctum which game director Ion Hazzikostas described as a melding of Legion’s Class Halls and progression that players participated in with Suramar’s Shal’aran. As players work to return their Covenant to its former glory, they’ll recruit allies, establish portals, and develop their new domain into a symbol of hope for the Shadowlands. Tied into the allies you will recruit is the new Soulbind system.

Choosing one of your newer allies, players may bind their soul to them to gain new perks and abilities much like passive talent trees. These will be empowered, as well as several other Covenant tools, by Anima. Collected throughout a player’s adventure in the Shadowlands, this Anima will be used to progress through the talent tree and unlock relic-like slots for players to input passive effects into. On stage Hazzikostas confirmed, much to the roaring applause of the crowd, that Anima would not be an infinitely grindable treadmill such as what players experienced with Artifact and Azerite power in Legion and Battle for Azeroth.

All of this will lead up to players returning to the Maw, the infernal domain of the Jailer once more. Intended to be an endgame experience for max-level players, the Maw is an inhospitable and unfriendly wasteland; there are no innkeepers. There is NO safety. It is only yourself, those you take in with you, and the unnerring gaze of the Jailer and his forces. The rewards of venturing in can be risky and great, though anything you do can earn the gaze of the realm’s dark guardian. Should the Jailer notice you, he may send kill squads to engage you, rain fire from his tower, or more.


An in-game rendering of Torghast, the prison for the worst Souls in existence.

In the center of the Maw stands Torghast, the Tower of the Damned. An infinitely generated experience, this 1-5 player scaling pseudo-dungeon is based off of elements from roguelike games such as The Binding of Isaac. Each time you enter the halls of the ever-changing complex, it will be different in both it’s layout and what enemies are generated. The deeper you progress into the Jailer’s domain, the harder it will become, but the rewards will be great if you can make it out alive.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has an open release date of 2020, putting it a little over a year away at most. Players can pre-order the expansion now for exclusive rewards, including the ability to make a Death Knight of ANY race with the launch of Patch 8.3.

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Breaking up with Blizzard? Here are 36 Games to Replace your Library

Blizzard means something different to everyone. For some it could mean a war between orcs and humans carried out from a bird’s eye view, and for others it could be an intergalactic battle between the humans and the Zerg. Still for other players it might be the magical adventures of sword and sorcery curated by the World of Warcraft team. Maybe you recently got into Blizzard games and found them appealing, or maybe they’ve been a constant for the entirety of your life.

I remember my first foray into one of Blizzard’s universes; it was a CDROM version of Starcraft that I purchased at Best Buy and installed on a junk PowerMac that I dug out of the wreckage of an abandoned school. No, I’m not joking, my childhood was weird. Those were some great memories but I have to admit, things have soured over the years. Apart from subpar expansions to World of Warcraft, Blizzard has rocked the political stage and alienated many players by banning player Blitzchung from Hearthstone and revoking thousands of dollars in prize money over his pro-Hong Kong statements.

Where there are some who fall on the other side of the issue, many agree that this is a threat to free speech and a condemnation of Hong Kong’s people by Blizzard. Whether or not Blizzard meant it that way, it chose money over people, and chose to quash free speech. I’m not sure if an apology will even dig them out of the hole they’ve dug themselves but that does leave an interesting question: where are players going to go if they leave Blizzard and behind? How are they going to get their hack and slash fix? What world will they move on to after Azeroth? Here’s some great news: we’re not living in 1996 anymore; we have access to a massive library of games, many of which are just as good or even better than the digital buffet that Blizzard has served up over the years. In this article we take a look at some of the options and explore just where you might go on your next digital adventure.


1996 was a decent year for video gaming, especially given everyone’s favorite Hack N’ Slash, Diablo hit PC’s, Macs, and eventually the Playstation. It featured a beautiful dungeon crawling experience that allowed you to play through many of the same elements that you’d encounter in D&D without forcing you to move along at a crawl in order to gain the most miniscule amount of experience. Quite frankly, it’s a great game to come home to after work. The years were pretty good to Diablo; while the first installment featured only a multi-level dungeon and town, the second included more of an overworld, with the third finally bringing us an expansive world to explore and multiple dungeons combined with an epic storyline. Most importantly, like all Blizzard games, it features multiplayer whether you want to travel through the dungeons with a friend or go head to head in multiplayer. Diablo is a great series, but if you’re looking to ditch Blizzard for good, there are some decent alternatives out there that will scratch the itch.


For a game released by Wild Tangent in 2005, it certainly has picked up some steam. With three sequels and randomly generated dungeons, Fate is much closer to the original Diablo concept than some of the others on this list. There are some off-putting elements, the first being that the game is a bit cartoony. If you can get past that however, you have a great Diablo clone that allows you to descend infinite floors, at least until you get bored of it. Fate differs from Diablo in a few ways, the most important being that you now have a pet that will fight alongside you, and will carry items back to town for sale.



Multiplayer: No
Buy It:


This game is very similar to Fate, though the first multi-level dungeon in the game is not randomly generated. There is a campaign with a decent but highly predictable storyline and only 30’ish main dungeon floors. Once you beat the game you will be able to unlock a randomly generated dungeon, giving you the ability to play and replay as much as you like. Just as with Fate, Torchlight features a pet system with the same functionality. i.e., sending the pet back to town for item sales, and fish that will transform it into different types of monsters. Torchlight II changes it up to create a game more dependent upon the overworld and plays more like an isometric World of Warcraft with the quests visible on the right pane rather than in a Quest Journal that you need to pull up every single time. The interface for Torchlight 2 is more streamlined and will remind you a bit more of Diablo III rather than the previous installments in Blizzard’s series. In addition to having a more expansive world, Torchlight II improves on the inventory systems by giving you more slots and storing consumables in a different tab.


Multiplayer: Torchlight 2, LAN, Internet
Buy It:

Titan Quest

If the open world Hack and Slash model calls to you, then Titan Quest is probably what you’re looking for. Released in 2006 it’s a little older, but it does feature a vast world that is based upon Greek mythology. While it is old, it has been re-released as Titan Quest Anniversary on Steam with new expansions currently being released. For mobile users, a mere $7.99 can get you a version for your tablet, phone, or even your Chromebook.

Mutiplayer: Yes
Buy It:


The original Sacred is a 2D open world Hack and Slash RPG with brings it closer to Diablo III, but really makes it a hybrid of Diablo and Diablo III. It takes place in the world of Ancaria and features multiple questlines. The start of the game will depend on the character class you choose, for example the Gladiator begins in an arena and is forced to fight for his freedom while other classes may simply start in town. Like Diablo, Sacred features hordes of monsters and tons of abilities to help you explore Ancaria in the most violent way possible. Sacred 2 continues the tradition and Sacred 3 takes it into an unexpected nosedive from which the franchise will never recover.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:

Grim Dawn

Like Diablo III, Grim Dawn is a dark fantasy Hack and Slash game with fast paced action and a crafting system much like in the original DOTA mod. The story takes place in the world of Cairn where humanity is on the brink of extinction and the story itself is much more involved than Torchlight. It is often compared to Titan Quest but it improves on it in many ways with better physics and even a dismemberment system, allowing you to specify just how you want your enemies to die. Grim Dawn does feature factions, meaning you’ll have far more to worry about than hacking through thousands of monsters, though that’s always going to be a defining part of these games.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:


Path of Exile

Released around the same time as Diablo III in 2013, Path of Exile strives to recreate the general awesomeness of hack and slash games while rejecting some of the poorer decisions made by the Diablo III developers. A full featured online game, it is completely free and allows you to team up with your friends to discover the secrets of Wraeclast. The story for the game is intriguing in that you are an exile sent to live out your days on the continent of Wraeclast where the entirety of the game takes place. The game spans three platforms, PC, XBOX One, and Playstation 4, making it a great experience no matter which side of the console war you come down on.

Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:



Okay, admittedly it’s odd to include a browser game on here, but why not? Kingsroad was released in 2013 and it’s very much a Diablo style game. I played it on Facebook initially but these days it plays on an external site and it can even be downloaded for mobile. Most importantly, it includes multiplayer and even a clan system, making for a more dynamic experience than most browser games. If you have an itch to scratch and need a low spec multiplayer experience, Kingsroad is the way to go.


Multiplayer: Yes
Play It:


Real Time Strategy games were nothing new in 1998, but with Starcraft Blizzard really managed to redefine the genre. The game was released for PC, Mac, and even Nintendo 64, making it one of the only console RTS games available. Alongside Command and Conquer 64, it really was a giant in its day. Unlike C&C however, Starcraft was still a 2D game. On the surface it appears to be extremely simple, but it is complex enough to have lasted through several decades and has been used as the foundation for countless video game tournaments. As one of the most popular games in South Korea and the world over, it is no surprise that it received a sequel that easily rode upon the success of the original. But, even if you have enjoyed the game over the years, where do you go next?

Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War

Released in 2004 and based on the Games Workshop tabletop universe, this game featured multiple expansions and in the beginning, Starcraft itself was slated to be a Warhammer game anyway. Set in a dark future, you can choose from multiple factions including the technologically advanced Eldar, the deeply religious space marines, the forces of Chaos, or even the near-invincible orcs. All the entries in this franchise feature the unit building that you came to love in Starcraft, but it also features a morale system and a terrain system that can completely change the outcome of a match if they are not properly taken advantage of. Dawn of War and its expansions mirror Starcraft in many ways, but Dawn of War II tends to take the path of a MOBA with limited building construction options and a focus on smaller squad incursions.


Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:


Supreme Commander

This is considered the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation and TA: Kingdoms, featuring a larger scale battlefield and the ability to deploy thousands of units. The combat is faster, the strategy more complex, and the multiplayer amazing. It throws out the resource rules of other real time strategy games by limiting you to two: Power and Mass. Mass is extracted from the ground while power is generated from a number of different sources. Typical power plants serve as a good start but you will move on to geothermal plants and other options that will serve to help you expand your base. The centers around the ‘Commander’ who serves as a mobile base, capable of creating basic structures. From there you will create more advanced structures and units, eventually moving forward to attack your opponent. The nature of the resource system forces you to keep a careful balance between Power and Mass, forcing you to think ahead and carefully consider the placement of each building. It’s a thinking person’s game but deeply rewarding.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:

Planetary Annihilation

If this game looks similar to Supreme Commander and TA, you aren’t imagining things. It was designed by some of the same team members who worked on both and it completely expands the gameplay presented by Supreme Commander. Rather than focusing on a single battlefield, the game allows you to develop multiple plants and engage in interplanetary warfare. You can even destroy the celestial bodies that your enemies inhabit if you don’t want to fight them on the ground. It’s a far more advanced version of Supreme Commander and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:


Act of Aggression

Real Time Strategy games have grown more and more complex over the years and one of the reasons players loved Starcraft 2 was its ability to be fresh while staying true to its roots. Granted, games like RUSE and Wargame are fun, but sometimes it’s good to return to the source. Act of Aggression is considered to be the spiritual successor to Act of War and combines classic RTS gameplay with modern graphics and multiplayer functionality. If you’re pining for the good old days but want a veritable feast for the senses, you have to pick up Act of Aggression.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:

Command and Conquer

The original C&C was released in 1995, long before Westwood Studios made complete fools of themselves and were subjected to an EA takeover. The first installment, later to be known as C&C Gold was a monumental success following Dune and Dune 2. It featured simplistic gameplay that was revolutionary for the time and found itself leaping onto several consoles. Most notably, it was ported to the Nintendo 64 where it became the very first 3D iteration of Command and Conquer, even preceding Generals itself. There have been multiple sequels spanning three different universes, but today you may want to check out either C&C 3 or C&C 4. In my opinion, 3 is one of the better options if you want to relive the glory days and get as close to Starcraft as possible. C&C 4 features a mobile base and works okay if you just pretend it’s not a C&C game.

Multiplayer: LAN

Buy It:


Company of Heroes

If you like your RTS to have a World War II theme, then this might just be right up your alley. The game runs on the same engine as Dawn of War and uses many of the same resource gathering techniques. Fuel, for example, can be harvested from what would otherwise be requisition points. Thanks to the physics of the DOW engine, you can expect to see an extremely gritty representation of World War II combat including advanced vehicle destruction, terrain usage, and much more. Company of Heroes 2 is a bit different in its base construction but still fun if you want to check it out.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:

Halo Wars

First released in 2009, Halo Wars has finally made the long journey from the XBOX 360 in the form of Halo Wars: Definitive Edition. Halo Wars serves as a prequel to the original FPS series and allows you to duke it out with the covenant from a bird’s eye view. The base building is tight, but the ground combat is a lot of fun and kind of has the Starcraft vibe you might be looking for. If you want to take it even further then you might have a look at Halo Wars 2 which is available on the Microsoft Store right now.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:
Microsoft Store:
Microsoft Store:

8 Bit Armies/8-Bit Hordes

Following the success of Star Wars: Empire at War and the absolute flop of Universe at War, Petroglyph, formed from the ashes of Westwood Studios released 8-Bit Armies which has a sort of ‘Lego’ feel to it. It’s a very basic RTS but it has one very important thing going for it: it brings back the feel of the classic Command and Conquer without the burden of a story. This game exists for skirmish and multiplayer, and if you want, you can also purchase 8-Bit Hordes to add a bit of sorcery to your military RTS. If you want to be spoon fed a raw RTS experience that will awaken the nostalgia centers of your brain, then here you are.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:


in 1994 Blizzard threw its hat into the RTS arena bringing us a game that would define many lives over the years. Eventually, the franchise morphed into the 3D: Reign of Chaos, and of course the famous World of Warcraft, but that’s another story. What’s important here is that you find something to give you that Warcraft fix. We have five great games here that will whet the appetite and give you that medieval experience.

Age of Empires

The original Age of Empires came out in 1997 alongside many other amazing RTS games and it was quickly followed by Age of Empires 2 which improved on it in every way possible. Tech upgrades in Age of Empires 1, 2, and 3 are dependent upon you progressing through ‘ages’. To simplify this, in AOE 2 you start in the Dark Ages, progress to the Feudal Age, and eventually the Imperial Age. Each age brings new technologies and new building designs which can give you a significant advantage over your opponent. While Age of Empires III does feature great online connectivity, AOE 1 and 2 have recently been remastered on the Microsoft Store and Steam. If you want to go back in time at optimal resolution, now would be the time.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:
Microsoft Store:
Microsoft Store:


Firefly Studios brought us Stronghold in 1997 and along with its sequels, it brings us far more than an RTS. The game gives you the classic birds eye view of combat, but there are also many castle building elements. If you have ever wanted to design your own kingdom, this definitely gives you the chance but there are many other resources that you will need to manage. The building of troops for example requires blacksmithing and leatherworking. Fletching is also required if you want to build archers. Stronghold Crusader 2 takes the burden off of you to an extent by allowing you to recruit mercenaries rather than making you harvest the raw materials yourself. Each of these games features a robust single player campaign, among which Stronghold 2 was my favorite.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:

Empire Earth

From 2001 to 2007 the Empire Earth franchise has provided us sufficient carnage and empire building in the medieval era. It is similar to many medieval RTS games of the era but it has two hooks:

-Advancement from the Dark Ages to the Nanotech Age
-Space Battles

Another thing I absolutely love about Empire Earth is the use of Priests which are similar to the monks from Age of Empires. The difference between them is that priests are always extremists of a sort and capable of literally bringing down plagues or volcanos upon the enemy. As you progress through the ages the priest takes on different forms, eventually becoming a homeless fanatic wearing a cardboard sign stating: ‘The End is Near’. Empire Earth is a unique take on a tried and true genre and one you want in your library.

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:


The first entry to the Spellforce series came in 2003 and the latest in 2017. Under the guidance of JoWood and THQ Nordic, Spellforce has brought us an experience more like Warcraft 3 than anything else. The game centers around heroes that you directly control, though you can use WSAD and zoom all the way to ground level if you wish. Once you finish character centric quests you return to a birds eye view and the game turns into a standard RTS. The direct control element makes it unique and you can continue to take control of those characters during the RTS portions. There is nothing quite like being able to explore the town you build on foot, and it’s something you would never find in Warcraft.

Multiplayer: Yes

Buy It:





For FPS players the world over, Overwatch has been the center of attention for several years and with good reason. Like a few other games in the genre it breaks the typical shooter mold by introducing classes, each of which have their own unique purpose on the battlefield. The thirty characters in the roster all featured their own backstories, some of which have drawn controversy over the years. Overwatch set itself apart from other shooters by requiring teamwork and forging friendships. Competitive and casual gamers alike have been enjoying the game, but now that many are stepping away from Blizzard, there are still a few other class based shooters to turn to.


Paladins is a free to play team-based shooter from 2018 that brings some serious magic to the table. Overall, the game is skill based but your characters can be augmented with cards and other upgrades that change the way they traverse the battlefield and perform. If I had to describe it, I would call it a steampunk fantasy game. The game can be downloaded for free via Steam or Discord as well as other platforms including the PS3, Switch, and XBOX One. With frequent updates, it’s going to keep you interested for years. Plus, as a free game, it requires zero commitment on your part.

Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:

Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress started out in 1996 as a mods for Quake, but in 1999 it was released as a standalone product titled ‘Team Fortress Classic’. Finally, Team Fortress 2 was released and while it was once a buy to play game, it is now entirely free and brings a lot to the table. Like Overwatch it features several character classes including a sniper, the Heavy, Medic, and Spy. The game appears simple on the surface but each character brings different abilities that will hinder the enemy in varying ways. Getting to know the functions of each class will be vital to procuring victory for your team, but don’t expect to be an expert right out of the gate. The game is available via Steam, as would be expected from Valve.


Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:

Dirty Bomb

You may remember this game as ‘Extraction’. Renamed to ‘Dirty Bomb’, this game is a free to play multiplayer shooter set against the backdrop of London following a radiological attack. Of all the shooters I mention, this is the most modern looking and probably one of the prettiest. It has more of a modern vibe and 23 different classes to choose from once you unlock them. No matter which you have unlocked, they will fall into a specific category which will include: Objective Specialist, Fire Support, Medic, Assault, or Recon.

Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:


Heroes of the Storm

Everyone like HoTS because it took the best characters and settings from the Blizzard game franchise and turned them into an online arena. If you’re not too overly attached to Blizzard at this point however, then you probably won’t mind playing with some other heroes. There are three great MOBAS listed here that you can use to easily replace your HoTS addiction, starting with the tried and true League of Legends.

League of Legends

This 2009 game wasn’t the first MOBA by far; it followed Demigod and DOTA but somehow launched the genre to even greater heights. League of Legends has long stood beside DOTA and DOTA 2 as a competitive title for tournaments and more. If features a slew of heroes including many free ones, which allows free players to fully enjoy the game. If you have the extra cash to burn you can invest in different heroes and skins, making it a more customized experience. The game itself has been considered toxic, especially as far as chat is concerned, but players above a certain level are allowed to participate in a tribunal which gives it some self-policing.

Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:


This is a bit of a different take on the MOBA franchise in that it is not presented in an isometric view. Instead, 2014’s ‘Smite’ brings you the action from a third person perspective while allowing oyu to select among a roster of 106 characters. Each character will belong to one of the fourteen pantheons including: Arthurian, Celtic, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, Japanese, Mayan, Norse, Polynesian, Roman, Slavic, Voodoo, and Yoruba. While the goal of the game is certainly to eliminate the enemy team, you will need to traverse the ‘jungle’ in between which is teeming with computer controlled monsters. Cyclops and Furies will make their play on you and keep you from progressing if you do not work as a team. Killing these monsters brings a substantial reward in the form of buffs that can be picked up by the player and used against the opposing team. The third person perspective of the game changes it as a MOBA entirely as fighting from ground level is an entirely different situation. Try something different; you might just like it.

Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:



Competitive online card games have always been a thing. This trend even started offline with the likes of Pokemon and Magic the Gathering. In the online world, one of the original collectable trading card games happened to be Legends of Norrath which was an intrinsic part of both Everquest and Everquest 2. Hearthstone was much the same, originally titled ‘Heroes of Warcraft’. Today it is both a highly popular CCG and an enemy of democracy, so where do you turn when you want to get competitive online?

Elder Scrolls Legends

If you like The Elder Scrolls then you’re in luck: Legends is a competitive card game set entirely in-universe. You have the opportunity to build a deck comprised of allies from all over the continent and you will get to embark on extensive campaign, all teeming with lore. You do, of course, get to take on other players which makes it even more fun. As a multiplatform game it can be enjoyed on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Macintosh operating systems.

Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:
Play Store:
Apple App Store:

Magic the Gathering: Arena

Do you remember Magic the Gathering from your days in elementary school? You may have been one of those kids who had a massive portfolio of cards that you played with at recess. Then again, you might have been one of those kids all ticked off that your parents wouldn’t let you buy a deck. Don’t worry: you can play now. Arena is probably the third online iteration of the game and while it’s not available on mobile as of yet, you can play it on Mac OS and Windows.

Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:
Home Page:


If you want to jump into some new territory and play it on your mobile, then why not give Shadowverse a try? This is an anime themed CCG published by Gygames, and it is undoubtedly one of the most popular in Japan. In 2017 the game made its way to the United States and we’ve seen it released on multiple platforms including Windows PC. If you played the developer’s previous game, Rage of Bahamut then you might recognize some of the assets but that doesn’t take away from the fun in the least. As someone looking to split with Blizzard, a fresh start is always welcome, and Shadowverse may be a game unconnected to any franchises you currently know.

Multiplayer: Yes
Get It:


World of Warcraft

We’re finally approaching the elephant in the room; the one that nearly everyone has at least dabbled in during the course of their lives. WoW has had an insurmountable impact on the gaming world, insomuch that even if you aren’t a gamer, you’ve heard of it. Celebrities and mortals alike have entered the world of Azeroth and fought against the Murlocks, cleared out the infested gold mines, and walked through the Dark Portal. The memories that have been forged in the town of Goldshire and the Horde lands beyond can never be replaced whether they are fresh in your mind from the last few years, or an intrinsic part of your childhood, but if it’s time to leave, then you have a few places you can land. There are plenty of MMORPG’s out there but we’ve handpicked a few that you might want to look at.

Final Fantasy XIV

Many who flee from the world of Azeroth often find themselves on the shores of Eozrea and it’s not a bad alternative if you can handle an MMO on rails. The game itself is amazing but one of the problems I’ve always had with it is that the content is locked behind story. In WoW you can travel wherever you please as long as you can handle the mobs, but in FFXIV you need to finish the main quest to progress through the world. That’s a little irritating for those who want to run around in a pseudo sandbox but it doesn’t take away from what the game is meant to be. It’s designed to be an engaging story with the ability to bring your friends along, and that’s exactly what it is. Though it’s from 2010 the game is beautiful, plays well, has multiple expansions, and dungeons that are second to none. To top all that off, it’s cross platform. Now, the problem with the cross platform play is that everything is platform specific, so if you purchase the game or an expansion on one platform you have to buy it on another. This also applies to the Steam and PC versions – if you buy an expansion as a standalone, not on Steam, then you cannot use the key on steam. Try not to make mistakes with purchases, but do enjoy the game!

Multiplayer: Yes
Buy It:
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Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 takes us pretty far away from the original and into a world where the Charr have overtaken Ascalon and the majority of humans live in Divinity’s reach and the outlying settlements. The world is expansive and there are many beautiful environments to traverse as you progress through the main storyline. One of the most interesting features is the exclusion of a traditional quest system; the only thing even roughly similar to it is the personal story that carries you through a winding campaign, first culminating in the death of the elder dragon, Zhaitan, and then moving into a jungle based expansion. The game is action heavy and features an extensive crafting system that will satisfy every player looking to take a break from the combat. The game is more action heavy than WoW and it is driven by world events that include boss monsters and NPC driven gathering quests that will keep you busy for some time. With new content coming out regularly, it’s unlikely that the game will wind down anytime soon.

Guild Wars 2 - Ley line anomalies

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In 2011 Rift was created to compete with World of Warcraft and while it fell flat on many fronts there is still quite a bit to like about it. Particularly, if you are a WoW player looking for a similar experience then Rift is extremely alike in controls and combat. The class system is also a little more complicated and gives you far more to play with than WoW ever did, so get ready to create a custom character. My biggest complaint about Rift is that the world itself isn’t very convincing; many of the major cities are simply buildings or platforms with NPC’s standing around offering services; it is in no way as immersive as WoW, so keep that in mind going in. As a free game today, much of it seems to be locked behind a paywall unless you want to pay the monthly fee, but it kind of looks like a used car lot if you don’t want to fork any money over.

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Elder Scrolls Online

Set a thousand years before the Elder Scrolls universe as we know it, TESO shows us a Tamriel where Vivec City is still under construction and one where we can finally see the entire continent in all its glory. Do you want to cross the border from Morrowind into Vvardenfell? Actually, do you want to see mainland Morrowind for the first time? Activision finally made it possible and the game is worth checking out. The housing options are superb and some of the storylines are extremely deep. If you aren’t familiar with the TES style of storytelling then you might be in for a bit of a shock as you realize just how much darker this MMO is from WoW, Guild Wars 2, or pretty much any other out there. Still, it’s well worth the price of entry and there is plenty of more content to come.

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This 2014 title from Trion brings with it many of the elements that made up classic MMORPGs including the action bar system but it also turns the entire thing into a sandbox. The premise of archeage is to create a world where every single person matters, with their contributions to the world being more than significant. A blacksmith for example could forge the swords used by the largest guilds in the game to defeat the latest raid boss, but you could also become a real estate mogul if you’re into that sort of thing. The game came out a while ago but if you want to start fresh then you might want to have a look at Archeage unchained, the new Buy to Play version of the game that forces everyone to start fresh and removes the pay wall that had previously inhibited many players. Starting at just $25, Archage Unchained is a great gateway into the remastered version of the game, especially as a new player. Still, if you want to try it out for free, you can always try the F2P version before you make a commitment.

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Admittedly, this one is a bit older but it’s still active and it’s still very fun. A very standard, action bar based MMO, this one adds flight mechanics and beautiful graphics. In addition to that there are massive raids that go far beyond the 25 players events we saw in WoW. The game is free to play now, giving you good enough reason to jump in and give it a try. As I said, it’s a bit older but if you’re looking for some mid-2000’s nostalgia to remedy the hole WoW left in your heart then you might as well give it a try.


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For many of us, Blizzard has been a part of our lives for as long as we can remember whether we fought the Zerg under the guidance of Jim Raynor, or descended deep into the dungeons below New Tristram to defeat evil itself. Then there are those who lost many years of their lives building a new one in the lands of Azeroth. If you have decided that it’s time to move on, then the memories will always be there, but you will find that there are greener pastures elsewhere. If you still feel the need to play, however, I would go so far as to say that enjoying their older titles won’t net Blizzard any revenue. You’ve already paied for Diablo and Starcraft, and even Warcraft, so continuing to have a blast with them really isn’t going to hurt anyone. At the end of the day it’s your decision, but I hope that this list has given you some ideas and can help you to continue to get your fix whether you are ready to move on, or want to linger a little while longer in the worlds that defined your childhood and your early gaming career. Perhaps it’s time to make some new memories and explore a new generation of games.

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WoW Wednesday: Blitzchung and the Grandmaster’s Debacle

While we have covered some of the emerging news around this week’s topic here on MMOGames, this particular issue is one that requires some further discussion. To call the fallout from Blitzchung’s ban, “intense,” might be a relatively mild understatement. After the removal of the Hearthstone Grandmaster over his political statement during the tournament, the internet erupted (as it does) into a fire of righteous fury and rage. While perhaps outside the scope of what this column could, or should, cover I would be remiss to avoid talking about Blizzard’s latest sociopolitical misstep. This week, let’s discuss Hong Kong, Blitzchung, Hearthstone, Blizzard, and the idea of ‘freedom,’ when it comes to the ‘free market.’

If, much like me, you exist solely on the internet memespace without understanding, “how the world works,” you may have missed an ongoing issue in the eastern world. For the last several months, the pseudo-nation-city of Hong Kong has been in a large-scale uproar. To understand the entirety of this situation and the severity of everyone’s actions we first need to understand the Hong King protests.

To make a VERY long and complicated political story short, Hong Kong is what is referred to as a, ‘special administrative region,’ of the People’s Republic of China. After being ceded to the British Empire during the First Opium War in 1842, the island-city-state has been largely self-governing.  Even after its return to Chinese rule in 1997 it has largely remained under its own political control simply due to its distance from the mainland. In a manner somewhat similar to Canada or America before their cession from Great Britain, they operate under a “one country, two systems,” policy. Ideally, in a perfect scenario, while Hong Kong economically and nationally supports the Chinese Government, it manages its own affairs.

This is not, however, simply due to sheer distance. A large part of this independence is due to it’s two, ‘parent,’ nations. After previously (and quite famously if you’ve ever watched a modern martial arts movie) suffering in many aspects under British Rule, Hong Kong has notoriously stood independently. Featuring one of the firsts modern universities in the territory, a major airport ten years later, avoiding economic depression and generally becoming a neutral zone and political safe-haven, Hong Kong still stands. It stands far and alone above its peers even in Mainland China.

Some of that, many would argue, is for the best. With the Chinese Government’s increasingly authoritarian moves over the last decade, Hong Kong has become that safe haven once again. After the dissolution of presidential terms by now Chinese-President-For-Life Xi Jingping, the Chinese government began to turn its gaze onto other matters of securing it’s hold on the Eastern World. Some of that involves President Xi’s ambitious Silk-Road-esque project to remap world trade routes through China, others involve enforcing some of the nation’s firm rules and introducing new ones such as the Social Credit System. Performing poorly in society (such as homelessness, poor behavior, poor social intercourse) can tank your Chinese ‘Social Credit Score’ and restrict you from several high-end lifestyle services such as High-Speed Internet. There are even concerns that the Chinese Government has interfered in the succession of the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader of the Tibetan Religion.

Hong Kong famously, and not just recently, has been an object of resistance in the face of the Chinese Government for years. After a mass emigration of Hong Kong’s residents when the British Empire relinquished its control, fearing the dissolution of civil rights and their quality of life, China has continued to try and enforce regulation. From unsuccessfully attempting to enact their National Security Bill of 2003 to circumvent Hong Kong laws and maintenance on many things including treason, property rights, prosecution time limits and trials by jury (just to name a few), things have only gotten worse.

Recently, Hong Kong attempted to put forward an Extradition Bill in regards to the case of Chan Tong-Kai. After killing his girlfriend in Taiwan in early 2018, he returned to his Hong Kong address and informed the police of his crime. However, as no extradition programs were in place between Hong Kong and China, he could not be returned to the mainland to face for his crimes, nor be charged. Thus it was proposed that a, ‘mechanism,’ could be established on a case-by-case basis to transfer such criminals to any jurisdiction that Hong Kong didn’t possess one with. While this sounds like an excellent solution, there was one large problem.

In the creation, facilitation, and implementation of this law in Hong Kong’s government, Beijing and the Chinese Government had a very heavy hand in creating it.

Understandably, given Hong Kong’s and China’s warring history of enforcement and civil liberty, the heavy-handed influence of Xi Jinping’s did not fly well with the city’s inhabitants. Starting as early March of 2019, the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill protests began with turnouts as large 500’000 people. While these protests were largely peaceful, vandalism began to occur during early July and violence erupted between local criminal triads and protesters as the month continued. On October 1st, after most of the protests had died with the collapse of the bill, a student protester was shot by police during a demonstration after reportedly attempting to strike the officer with an improvised weapon. Things have only since intensified, with improvised explosive devices being discharged near police stations and children being shot by police forces.

Throughout this situation, the Chinese government have attempted to paint the protesters, who’s groups have risen to the multi-millions during active events, as a small grass-roots movement. In an effort to paint the situation in a better light, the government of the People’s Republic of China has painted the effort as homegrown terrorism and riots driven by separatists. In an effort to curb the western world’s reporting and politics on the matter, the Chinese Government has cut off several personal and public personas from broadcasting in the country. Most famously, China stopped broadcasting National Basketball Association matches following a pro-Hong Kong tweet by one of the team’s managers. Later, they banned the irreverent adult comedy South Park from broadcasting after the release of their episode, “Band in China.” According to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms would later investigate and ban several pro-China ads which had ties to Chinese Governmental offices. These ads painted images and coverage of the protests as, “conspiracy theories about Western involvement in the protests.”

With all of that in mind, let’s now finally discuss Blitzchung and Blizzard.

This year, during the Asia-Pacific branch of the Hearthstone Grandmaster’s league tournament, pro player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai came out on top. Taking the tournament win, he later appeared on the official Taiwanese Hearthstone stream for a traditional post-game interview. Unlike past winners, however, he appeared on camera wearing a gas mask. Lifting it upward, he shouted in Chinese, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” – a familiar rallying cry to the protesters in Hong Kong. While the interview did continue afterward, it did not go unnoticed by Activision-Blizzard, who facilitates and funds the worldwide tournaments.

As of Tuesday, October 8th, Blizzard decided to ban Blitzchung for this moment in his interview. Citing the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules, specifically page 12 and section 6.1:

“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard(s) image will result in removal from the Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.”

Pursuant to this rule, Blitzchung had his prize money taken away and was given a full year suspension from the league. After looking through the Official Competition Rules, I can personally attest that this rule isn’t an anomaly; other rules can have players banned for FAR less.

This is where the main crux of the issue began. While section 6.1 cites issues that an action which, “brings [a competitor] into public disrepute,” the entire rule is incredibly flexible. As with any major sports star (aside from OJ, Kobe, etc.), Activision-Blizzard ideally wants their winners to be as non-controversial as possible. This happens with a number of free-market companies and e-sports competitors and has emerged to a sociopolitical high point over the years. Some proponents of rules such as this point to cancel culture and the impact of public backlash, others hint towards some current cases such as Gearbox’s CEO Randy Pitchford as the ideal situation to avoid.

In a bubble, this decision makes sense in pursuant to the rules. What did not make sense was immediately firing the two casters who interviewed Blitzchung. “Blitzchung is ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months,” the official statement reported, adding additionally that, “[Blizzard] will also immediately cease working with both casters,” who interviewed Blitzchung during his interview. This raised the concern over the interfering influence of the Chinese Government and Free Market with 5% of the company being owned by Chinese super-conglomerate Tencent. This fear was later backed up and stoked by Blizzard’s Official China presence.

Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website, is one of the largest social media platforms in China. As such, it makes sense for companies such as Activision-Blizzard to use the website to make official statements in the region, using their partner Netease to manage it. Lined up with their announcement of Blitzchung’s ban, the Weibo page eviscerated his conduct in a vicious tone previously used on the NBA’s Weibo apology. Originally reported by Rod Breslau on Twitter, “We are very angered and disappointed at what happened at the event and do not condone it in any way,” the page read. “We also highly object the spreading of personal political beliefs in this manner. Effective immediately we’ve banned the contestant from events and terminated work with the broadcasters. We will always respect and defend the pride of our country.”

Almost immediately the internet burst into flame. Rallying around the social media hashtag, ‘#BoycottBlizzard,’ fans and critics alike put the company’s feet to the fire. Just a cursory glance of the hashtag’s users show players unsubscribing from Blizzard Games en-masse including Mark Kern, one of World of Warcraft’s original game designers. Fellow Grandmasters players such as Brian Kibler stood out in solidarity with Blitzchung, quitting the league and cutting ties from the company to show their support. Blizzard employees staged mass-walkouts from work throughout last week, covering up several sites and company locations in protest. One of the more famous images features a group of Blizzard employees gathered at the famous statue out front. Holding umbrellas, the symbol of the protests in Hong Kong, the employees stand around a taped off portion of the Warcraft statue. Covered by a piece of lined paper, this section used to describe several of the company’s core values including, “Think Globally,” and “Every Voice Matters.”

Most entertainingly, or horrifically depending on if your profession is involved in marketing art, #BoycottBlizzard activists turned their gaze on Blizzard’s one Chinese character. Taking Overwatch’s Chinese climate-scientist, Mei, they’ve begun to create a legion of artwork of and about her. Citing her desire to make the world a better place for everyone, they’ve begun to draw and illustrate her as a symbol of resistance and defiance for the Hong Kong protests. Clearly, the motivation has been to have the character, if not the entire game, banned in China with artists claiming such in their work. Some, such as what we’ve featured below previously on the website, is far more tame than others on the internet.

Things reached a vital fever pitch during the Collegiate Hearthstone Championship. American University’s team during a telecasted match held up a rather familiar sign. Emblazoned with the words, “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizzard,” the clip was only on screen for little more than six seconds before Activision-Blizzard cut away from the footage. In a contrary decision to Blitzchung’s ban (though the rules for the collegiate tournament were not available for confirmation), the AU team was not penalized for the move and had their next match scheduled for the season. Choosing to stand with the protests, and to highlight the inequality of the rule-system, AU forfeited their match and departed the season, citing Blizzard’s hypocrisy over the issue.

Boycotts and protests continued throughout the week, even as Activision-Blizzard stated that they were assessing the ongoing situation. It is at this point I have to comment my own opinion. Whether or not you may share my pro-freedom opinion on the protests in Hong Kong, Blitzchung’s ban does fall within the rules. I share Brian Kibler’s notion that he overstepped his platform in the post-win interview, and that while the ban was justified the firing of the two casters was not. This decision, whether or not it was a mistake or an oversight, solidified it as one made by influences outside of the rule books. That is what spiraled this political dissonance with the event’s rules to a greater issue wholesale and is not condonable.

However, returning to the facts of the matter, Activision-Blizzard finally made a statement on the company’s website last Saturday. In the article, President J. Allen Brack discussed the company’s perspective on their ban, citing that their, “relationships in China had no influence on [their] decision.” The company, “now believe(s) [Blitzchung] should receive his prizing,” and re-awarded the $500’000 in cash rewards to the pro-player. However, the article was so rushed and poorly written that it failed to answer several vital questions; it took a Blizzard employee’s discord presence to confirm that Blitzchung was NOT removed from the Grandmaster’s league and would have the option to compete in the 2020 season.

This is one of those situations where both newspaper editorial pictures and internet memes seem to collide in a strange unification. While normally diametrically opposed, just about every single person hated everything about this politically charged situation. It exposes a large-scale issue with, even if Chinese money had no hand in the situation, the perception that it does. With several political discourses from the eastern world leaking into our own news systems, it is becoming very abundantly clear that the Economic and Political West DOES NOT want China’s involvement in their content. Problems arise however when we look at the world stage.

China since the early 2000’s has been making increased efforts to control the world’s political and entertainment stage. Possessing one of the largest populations world-wide, they are a major political and economic force. Political concerns have arisen during the Trump, Trudeau and May administrations in America, Canada and the UK respectively, where western diplomats are often being outnumbered in the dozens by politicians from Beijing. Continuing their entertainment subsidies from the turn of the century, China prioritizes homegrown Video Game, Art, and Movie companies for its economy. These government grants award land, buildings, infrastructure and money to native entertainment startups such as the infamously abusive Chengdu Ai-Shan Technology (which later rebranded as Blue Sky in 2014, SakuraGame in 2015, Paradise Project after a wave of public backlash in 2018, and has now returned to SakuraGame in 2019). Other foreign companies receive similar grants for their business and work in the country, which many are eager to jump on.

Highlighted recently by YouTube philosophy channel Wisecrack in their video entitled, “South Park on Freedom,” the ‘free market’ is not so free. China’s influence creates massive waves of change throughout the world’s economy, creating situations we are not aware of specifically to appease the foreign power. While jokingly referred to as the ‘Chinese Expansion,’ during its Mists of Pandaria era, World of Warcraft has begun to lean FAR more heavily into those markets with in-game stores, mobile-phone styled mini-games and increased random-number-generation rewards. Potentially, this change has been spurred on by Tencent’s ownership and Netease’s partnership, but such examples can be far more readily found in the works of Disney’s foreign films such as Iron Man 3. In this movie, an entire scene was concocted that cannot be found in any non-Chinese version of the film, where Tony Stark instead travels to China to have the arc-reactor magnet removed from his heart.

In an effort to appease the market, inevitably we will be either continuing to delude ourselves and them or suffer the consequences. Such is the problem with free speech in a free market. While notoriously more of an American concept, freedom of speech has been a hotly debated issue around the current political mine-field. As my neighbors to the south can tell you, the freedom to say WHAT you want to say, HOW you want to say it (provided it doesn’t infringe upon another’s rights) is a bedrock of democracy. It is not, however, a bedrock of economy. As we continue to see time and time again, we cannot say what we want to say (or what SHOULD be said) if we want to make money. While this has reached a fever-pitch in sociopolitical phenomena like cancel culture, China will and has taken firm-line stances on it. Weaponizing their impressive population to great effect, they effectively tanked the NBA’s earnings by refusing to air certain shows. Cutting off a demographic of that size can and will invariably damage company profits and forces the ‘free market’ to not-so-freely toe the line.

Inevitably, this situation became political revolving around China. However, like Trey Parker and Matt Stone, it is up to you if Activision-Blizzard is truly to blame in this case. Much like South Park’s non-apology, perhaps their Chinese influences too make them think that, “We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”

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WoW Wednesday: Classic’s Systemic Success

With a little over a month since the release of Classic, I can certainly tell you it’s been a wild ride this month for the wider World of Warcraft. This week, however, it’s certainly more than past due for us to discuss what’s really more important than its development process or controversies surrounding its main gameplay. Instead it’s more appropriate to discuss what matters to us experiencing the game either for the first time or all over again. This week we’ll discuss the first few hours of Warcraft Classic and how it feels to journey back to Azeroth’s beginnings.

To say that Classic feels nostalgic is a mild understatement. Even down to the most minor aspects of item scaling, everything feels akin to, if not exactly like, the original Vanilla release, even including the unstable servers and massive queue times.

Thankfully, I had taken a minor trip during the week of Classic’s release and got to miss the queue times exceeding several hours. Infamously, in a screenshot we’ve used many times on this website, Azeroth players were forming queues to kill quests mobs in an organized manner. Server instability akin to Vanilla’s initial release stopped a large majority of players from actually engaging and creating a newer character. Even now, nearly a month after the game’s release, queue times have been notoriously long due in part to popular demand. Blizzard continues to make efforts to improve server quality and load, and the experience has by and large leveled out.

Stepping into Classic, I decided to pick up the class I mained during the end of the game’s life cycle: the Warrior. Notoriously seen as both one of the most brutal classes to level due to their high damage reception, Warriors are a classic fantasy staple and a vital part of any raid team in Classic. They are also one of the most painful things I’ve ever played in my life.

There are multiple reasons for this. Due to Classic’s reduced creature and character stats, all classes are inherently disadvantaged in comparison to the live game. Due to this scaling, as well as armor rating’s effectiveness reduction, players both receive more damage and deliver far less. This inherently makes every encounter in the world both far longer and far more dangerous. Certainly, as a character with higher armor rating, you’d potentially survive an encounter with one or two creatures. Not, however, without a great deal of damage.

In playing a Warrior, this phenomenon reaches a terrifying apex. Not only must you directly engage these enemies in melee combat, but your damage and mitigation are based almost entirely off of the stats of your equipment. This means that not only do you require the best armor you can find, but in order to be even remotely effective you also need the best WEAPON you can find. Of course, if you don’t have the appropriate weapon skill leveled, which can only be increased by enemies of your level, you’ll never hit an opponent with it.

Consequentially, you’ll be taking more and more damage in combat than you’d like no matter what your class is. Without abilities like Exhilaration of Victory Rush now baked into most Live classes, taking secondary professions such as First Aid or Cooking is mandatory to decrease your downtime during leveling. Even then, your class doesn’t really feel like it’s entirely complete until you reach level thirty-five and up, gaining several damage boosting or resource generation abilities that rework how you engage encounters. The entire leveling process is obtuse, backwards, long, over-burdened and often terrifying…

…And that is why Classic is becoming so well beloved.

Compare it, for a moment, to the modern Live version of World of Warcraft. While we have covered it extensively already, Live’s issues stem from a less than dynamic form of engagement. Due to stat tuning being geared more towards end-game encounters and the prevalence of stat heavy items early on, world-encounters are not a difficult endeavor. Instead of a challenging obstacle that must be surmounted to continue, it is instead another thing to waste time on until you get your next level. Whereas there are potentially new rewards at every level in Classic either in the form of new talent points or other abilities to learn; those can be as far apart as fifteen levels at a time in Live.

Even in pushing through past level twenty in Classic, there are certain abilities you DO NOT NEED TO LEARN. Warriors, aside from their first rank of it, have no need to learn further ranks of Sunder Armor, Shield Block, Mocking Blow, or Demoralizing Shout until they start tanking full-time towards the endgame. This is based on the concept of learning your abilities from class trainers, skillsmasters who will educate your character for a price. In Live, that’s a concept so alien as to be ludicrous; abilities are gained and scale their output automatically as you progress in level.

Classic is many, many things. It’s frustrating, poorly optimized, obtuse, difficult, non-impactful and, at many times, incredibly ludicrous. In saying all of that, observing all of those traditionally awful things, it’s not hard to see why this version of Warcraft is so wonderful.

Engaging enemies is frustrating because it forces you to think; should I charge into the pack of Quillboar or is it wiser to body-pull them one at a time? While the game is poorly optimized in its encounters, it forces you to be more social with players. Together you can defeat that enemy you’re both struggling against. It’s obtuse and difficult in order to force you to engage in as much of it as possible. Surely, you’re unequipped to take on the next part of your quest but if you picked up Leatherworking your Druid might be better suited to the task. Surely, it’s non-impactful because every little talent point only increase your critical strike by 1%, but getting that new point each level encourages you to invest spending it in the wisest possible way. Yes, it’s indeed ludicrous because some of these enemy respawns that are five seconds apart in a crowded space are BROKEN AND DUMB.

However, when you pull all of that together, it creates a fundamentally wonderful experience. I can remember every quest I’ve completed so far with clear vividness. If you want to take time aside to work on professions or train your skills you are intrinsically rewarded with things that directly tie back into your current level of performance. In my first ten hours of Classic I spent entirely too much time focused on crafting a Heavy Copper Axe simply because it offered me one additional point of stamina. With the game’s increased weight on smaller numbers, however, that one point of stamina allowed me to partially take an additional hit from enemies I might not have been able to.

Even doing dungeons, while difficult for a number of reasons, is far more rewarding than just gaining additional levels and experience. When my current Live guildmaster was interested in tanking Ragefire Chasm, we worked on stirring up a group of three warriors, a priest and a hunter to dive into the instance. Between the five of us, we tracked down every single quest available for the instance, from Undercity to Thunder Bluff. Not only did several of us gain two or three additional levels, we learned more about how to manage our classes in that setting; while our Hunter didn’t leave growl on, our warriors certainly learned how to spend their rage more wisely. Even though we didn’t get a host of rare-quality items, every single person left with enough uncommons to make any Quillboar tremble in fear.

Likewise, I was hunting Fizzle Darkstorm in Durotar. As a level 12 leader in the burning Blade, he was surrounded by his acolytes who would very quickly respawn. After an hour of trying to clear them out so I could face Fizzle, a Warlock stumbled across us and threw a gyrospanner into my plans. In moments after a fatal pull that killed us both, his students respawned. We teamed up together to take him down, using her Voidwalker to slap Fizzle into the ground while I pulled creatures off of her with my Defensive Stance abilities. I had a similar situation on the Echo Isles, where a fellow Warrior and I stood back to back against a horde of mind-controlled trolls!

Systems like these, as perhaps as outdated as they are in the modern games industry, work at creating vibrant and sustainable enjoyment in a game. Its why games such as Dark Souls are remembered so fondly, especially when we are forced to participate in some jolly co-operation. Certainly, it’s a dumb, stupid, anger-inducing and difficult game. However, it is so well constructed that, in order to utilize it to its fullest, you need to get into every aspect of it and enjoy taking your time. It forces you to slow down your pace and enjoy breezier aspects of the world, giving you a slow and incremental increase in power that over time reflects the progress you have made. Now that I have the equipment and levels, I could certainly turn around and stomp Fizzle’s stupid face into the dust!

All of this is why Classic’s gameplay is so quickly becoming beloved. Something that the Live Development Team very quickly needs to take notice of.

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WoW Wednesday: Recruit-A-Failure

Blizzard has had several large paradigm shifts in its business revenue schemes over the last few years. While some players attribute this to their buyout by Activision, Inc., and the subsequent change to Activision-Blizzard, Inc., others see it more as a change in this particular genre of our Video Game Industry. It’s hard to find an MMORPG that, whether or not it is a free-to-play MMO, has incorporated some level of what we now refer to as Microtransactions; costs outside of the base-game or expansion sets that players pay to unlock further content. Sometimes it’s as simple as a cosmetic mount, or skin. Other times it is indeed quite a large chunk of content.

The origins of Microtransactions in the Games Industry are hard to pin point. Some historians claim the idea bled off of Expansion Sets, extra developed content that now several games such as Warframe include in free updates. Others believe that, like the Free-To-Play game formula, were generated by the Mobile and Indie market to offer alternative revenue streams. Since its popularization, major game development studios and publishing branches, such as Gearbox Publishing and Gearbox Entertainment, have focused on targeting these microtransactions on the low percentile of its audience. Namely, customers with a high amount of capital, willing to invest more money into their favorite games. The popular term among industry executives for these individuals is the term, ‘Whales.’

Activision-Blizzard and Blizzard Entertainment have both experimented in this field several times before. Beginning with character services, such as recustomization or server transfers, it was relatively benign. Most (in)famously these days, the in-game shop which originated in Cataclysm is seen as the most egregious sin. While originally it contained pets and some mounts based on tested skeletons, these days the store updates itself with skins and creatures that are not obtainable by any means in game. Even if they use a previously released skeleton or model-rigging. The two most popular references to this are the newly released Sylvarian Dreamer mount and the Swift Windsteed mount introduced in Mists of Pandaria.

“[She] fell asleep on her brush, and dreamed of painting a beautiful feathered dragon. Her artwork lept from the page, and when she awoke, she found it sleeping gently beside her.” – Sylvarian Dreamer Mount Journal Entry

Unsurprisingly, microtransactions have become the main source of revenue for much of the Games Industry. Activision-Blizzard is no exception to this rule, as several insiders reported to multiple YouTuber Reporters such as Bellular and Taelisan and Evital that microtransactions are the company’s main revenue stream. Subscriptions overall have gone down over the years, even with the release of WoW Classic which has broken several records both in terms of subscriptions and internet interest. With the overall unsuccessful post-launch of Battle for Azeroth and multiple leaks in the Warcraft community about a future expansion, the hype is real for the next step in the story of Azeroth. It makes sense to want to increase subscriber numbers prior to the announcement of a new expansion, which could happen as early as Blizzcon 2019 in hopes of retaining those players with the promise of new things on the horizon.

Enter the Recruit-a-Friend program. World of Warcraft veterans will remember this program’s inception during Wrath of the Lich King as Blizzard’s response to dwindling subscription numbers. Designed to incentivize players to bring their friends into Azeroth, the RaF and Scroll of Resurrection programs gave players a referable link to send to their friends. Journeying together, players initially had the ability to summon their friends to their location, grant each other levels between 1 and 60, as well as have a 200% experience bonus. After their recruited friend had purchased three months of game time, the recruiting player could then choose one of several cosmetic rewards, either a mount or a pet. Over the years this collection grew further and further, and each time the RaF program dwindled in interest, Blizzard reworked it and relaunched.

This, all in all, was a good idea even after some well needed nerfs to the experience boost. I myself have coerced several of my friends to tour Azeroth with me when I was younger and reaped the rewards from it. The freedom to pick and choose what rewards you would like, such as the Emerald Hippogryph or the Cindermane Charger, gave the program something that felt optional and fun. These days I’ve also participated in the RaF program for convenience sake; having had to make my main account on the EU servers for personal reasons, I cannot purchase WoW tokens or engage in some character services with my Physical Canadian Address. As such, I can ‘recruit’ a new account, do as I wish, and reap the rewards afterwards. Other people I’ve recruited, such as younger friends, don’t feel indebted to stay for my rewards if they don’t get attached to the game after hitting max level and experiencing the content.

You can’t get much higher than the Cindermane Charger…

On June 11, 2019, Activision-Blizzard announced that the current incarnation of the Recruit-a-Friend program would come to an end. It’s hard to imagine why; after all, have you really even thought of this system before reading the headline of this article?

Yesterday, Blizzard announced its return. It was, if you look outside of the WoWhead forums, not received very well.

“I just hate how WoW is the only MMORPG that doesn’t seem to give a c*** about their veteran players.” – Nox-Executus(US)

Reintroducing several old systems, such as the experience increase of 50% when in a group and the Friend-to-Friend Summoning, this new system allows you to link your account with up to 10 friends. It also reintroduced aspects of the Scroll of Resurrection system, allowing you to recruit veteran players who haven’t had game time on their account for two years. This, on the surface, is an excellent idea when you couple it with World of Warcraft’s upcoming Party Sync feature. Using party sync, everyone becomes aligned to the same quest state, phase and level. Maximum level players who are down-leveled can earn rewards that scale up to their current level while playing with their newer friends.

I don’t think I really need to capitulate on how good of an idea this is on the surface. Say, as a veteran player, I recruit a friend who has never been through Azeroth. I, however, don’t feel like making a level one character to grind to maximum level, but with the new Heritage Armor system introduced with Allied Races, I could make a Highmountain Tauren Druid, Party Sync to my friend’s level and location, and play with them until we both reach maximum level. They get to experience Azeroth, I get to earn my own extra rewards and there is incentivized participation for everybody.

Then we come to the crux of the problem with this new Recruit-a-Friend system. As before, there are rewards to be had for bringing players into Azeroth. As a bonus, these rewards are cumulative, meaning that the more players I bring in, the more their overall game-time counts towards them. If Friend One only purchases one month before giving up, Friend Two may buy two more and get me that reward I want. The problem however, much like the current endgame, falls ultimately to a lack of player choice.

All of the rewards you see through the program’s new media presentation are attainable. However, they are only obtainable in a linear fashion, much like the current Player vs. Player Honor System.

Say Friend One buys a month of game time every month. Here’s what the breakdown looks like.

“The more friends you invite, the faster you’ll earn the rewards…” – Official Post

You are not misreading that. Every month or so you get a new reward, but it might most certainly not be the reward you want. Whereas in the previous system players got a free month of game time after Friend One purchased his first month, we don’t even get that much now. If we wanted a particular mount or pet, we also don’t get that now. While there are two mounts to get, you’ll be waiting three and six months for your two-person ground mount and two person flying mount respectively. If you wanted the cosmetic rewards for your character’s transmog you’ll be visiting the Ethereal Transmogrifiers at six, seven, ten and twelve months respectively. Even the system’s new title, and perhaps least appealing thing in the whole partition, is a four-month waiting period.

Now, to be fair, this is a cumulative system. You could either retain one friend for twelve months to unlock everything (including four free months of game time), or you could invite twelve friends who only have to pay for one month each. Each three months after the initial twelve your friends pay for you also get an additional month of free game time. The rewards just keep on giving!

If you are a veteran of Warcraft, or even just an adult player, you may have noticed a fundamental problem here. Most of us have either already recruited all of our real-life friends, or our friends simply do not have the time for Warcraft. I myself have fallen into a hole in that regard; even writing this weekly column takes up more of my time than I’d like! Working a job, pursuing other needs, or even just enjoying other hobbies stops us from getting more people into Azeroth. That’s simply a fundamental fact of life.

Now, what if, perhaps we wanted to look at doing what we did with the old RAF system? As I said above, on top of purchasing microtranscations from Activision-Blizzard in the past, I’ve also self-purchased the RaF program for other uses. Plenty of people multi-box their retail copies, others like to have two windows for multiple characters. If we calculate the total cost at the cheapest subscription rates that’s approximately $156 USD. Now, of course, in saying that, that isn’t all up front either; you can no longer purchase year-long subscriptions and instead can only buy 6-month recurring subscriptions. That means that even if you had the money up front, you’d still need to wait six months to claim ALL of your rewards if you only wanted to use ONE alt account.

The new RAF UI to manage your friends, invites and rewards.

What about using WoW Tokens? Now with the WoW Tokens, players can simply purchase their game-time by spending gold on the Auction House. Weighing out the prices on this aren’t too much better either; players who want to skip the time will be paying anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 per month for game time. The average cost for a whole year through this system is 1.7 million gold, and that’s a conservative estimate. EU Players on average would need to spend 2.2 million to make the difference for their higher server economies.

For obvious reasons, this isn’t an overall positive system if you were recruiting friends or self-purchasing. Even if we wanted to skirt the obvious terrible additions (I’m looking at you, monkey), and touch the first tangible and ‘new’ reward, a reward not based on any other rigging in-game, the Stinging Sands will take you six months. And THAT is not even assured to be an entirely new effect as several of Battle for Azeroth’s effects have used assets from as early as Cataclysm. Even if we don’t account for that, it means you’ll be waiting ten months for a BACKPACK.

‘Why’ is perhaps the easiest question to ask when it comes to this new system. With its heavy lean to the Archaeology and Exploring themes among the various rewards, why weren’t some of these ideas incumbent to Warcraft’s most under-utilized profession, Archaeology? Ever since initial high-level rewards were attached to powerful end-game items in Cataclysm, interest in the profession has been dreadfully low. Why not introduce these rewards into a massive time-sink system, and come up with new rewards?

“Look the part of a grizzled outdoorsperson with this rugged appearance.” – Renowned Explorer’s Attire Description

In a segue to that notion, why not attack the Recruit-a-Friend system to the In-Game Store? Each month you can simply choose a reward from the in-game store. This incentivizes both those who want to recruit friends as well as those who use RaF for personal use; a subscription is certainly far less than a store mount. While the store is negatively perceived overall throughout the community, it would have encouraged some of the rewards through the storefront while allowing those who selectively wanted to purchase them another method of getting them. It wouldn’t even be the first time in recent memory they’ve done such a thing, including their 15th anniversary Collector’s-Only mounts, the Alabaster Thunderwing and Stormtalon.

Consequently, why not a cross-over promotion with one of Blizzard’s other titles? It’s occurred several times before with the launch of Hearthstone, the release of Diablo III, and a still-ongoing promotion with Heroes of the Storm rewarding a battle-pet for reaching level 25 in the company’s slowly suiciding MOBA. With the largely ignored launch of its card-game’s newest expansion Saviors of Uldum, an adventure featuring several tomb-delving members of the Explorer’s League, this was a prime opportunity to include some of these items in an event to generate interest.

The real question we should be asking, is who does this hurt? Clearly, on a surface level, reintroducing such an unfriendly version of the Recruit-a-Friend system doesn’t really injure anyone currently playing. At least anyone who hasn’t been playing for a serious amount of time. Directly, this impacts anyone who joined from June 11th, until whenever the new system is introduced. While there are small outliers who will feel the effects, such as spouses and siblings, this will disproportionally affect players returning for Classic.

With the intent of a subscription carrying both the ability to play the Live and Classic versions of World of Warcraft, every single player who resubbed to play the Vanilla callback can no longer participate in the program. As veteran accounts can only be recruited if they are dormant for two years, every current Classic player who rejoined to experiment with their friends is, quite frankly, dang out of luck. Even if five percent of total viewers on Twitch’s record-breaking release were already subscribed or resubscribed to play, that’s 305,000 players disqualified from the program.

Imagine being a player in this line and still getting screwed by not waiting long enough.

This also negatively effects Blizzard’s own internal design teams and concepts. While this has been a point long argued about the storefront’s premium models, this now transcends to older design concepts that were scrapped. In the press-release for Warlords of Draenor, it was teased that players would receive class-specific appearance items. These would be equippable like the Relics from Vanilla of yore, minus the additional stats. This system was quietly shuffled away and thought to be cancelled, which as the new Renowned Explorer’s Rucksack shows, is confirmed. After all, if it’s just a transmog for your cloak, why would we need a new cosmetic system?

Ironically, or not so ironically, we now have to also talk about another group that most main-game players do not often think about. This system’s rewards also negatively effect Roleplayers, who have popularly asked for several of these items for a number of years. Despite how often this community is overlooked and how often several systems, including sharding and War Mode, have divided and split them apart again and again, they did get one small win with the last expansion. The Wardrobe and Ensemble features carried over from popular addons such as MogIt, centralized transmogrification appearances and introduced new equipment sets for players to achieve with another gameplay outside the main endgame. While this was universally lauded, the roleplay community, who often rely on props and cosmetic tools for their enjoyment, took to it like a swarm. Gating cosmetic content, even if it’s purely cosmetic, restricts their ability to enjoy their specific edge of the gameplay.

It’s clear that the timing on the new Recruit-a-Friend is targeted. Avoiding the game’s major uptick with the release of Classic by such a wide margin of time, nearly a month, is a clear deliberate tactic. In their attempt to maximize sales figures and revenue, Activision-Blizzard has continued to inconvenience a wider portion of their player base. At this point, its hard to be surprised with the company. From Overwatch’s lootboxes, to Heroes of the Storm’s cancelled e-sport circuit, to even the horrible treadmill of Warcraft’s current end game and entire expansion, the writing’s been on the wall for months.

If there’s a cheap and easy way to make extra money, even if it challenges the loyalty of their player base, Activision-Blizzard will take it. Perhaps we need to start Recruiting-a-Friend to look at other, greener pastures in the industry.

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WoW Wednesday: How Long Can Classic Last?

After an incredibly too long gestation period, Classic has finally arrived. Launching just a little over two weeks ago, Classic has gone on to already break several large-scale records across the internet. From crushing Twitch’s all-time release day viewership to an intense spike in current World of Warcraft subscription, Classic has more than well received its wings as Blizzard’s new gem. One that perhaps shouldn’t have been handled with, “You think you do, but you don’t.”

This week I had intended to take a critical look at the experience of starting off in Classic as a life-long fan of Warcraft’s evolution. Despite my long, storied disinterest in this column about returning to my Vanilla days and the problems there-in, I have indeed jumped back into the Vanilla I used to know. With both feet I’ve plunged right into the deep end, playing it in my off hours when I’m not preparing other content or working on my main character. There is an incredible number of things I like and a substantial amount of things I don’t. However, something occurred this week that unsettled that topic. It was something that I really hadn’t anticipated, planned for, or really even thought possible.

Less than two weeks after its release, someone has already reached max level in Classic.

Thrash Bloodedge, my own little step into Classic.

Earlier this week Twitch streamer Jokerd was the first player to reach level 60, using a technique that really wasn’t possible with Vanilla’s original launch. Grouping as many creatures together as possible, Jokerd used Classic’s improved server structure to kill them en-masse and quickly gain a ludicrous number of levels. In 2004, servers simply couldn’t manage to handle this particularly ingenious move. Two more popular instances of note such as this were documented with the launch of The Gates of Ahn’qiraj, where the world event occurring in Silithus was so well attended it crash almost all of Blizzard’s servers. The second occurred, ironically enough, at World of Warcraft’s initial launch, where the sheer volume of players flooded servers and forced shutdowns en-masse.

Classic, to its credit, still featured some of the same issues. As the world simply wasn’t built for such a high volume of players, queue times have popularly returned to the log-in screen. I’ve personally seen my queue count rise into the tens of thousands. I was fortunate, however, to be so occupied in my real life that I missed most of these launch-related issues. Classic, since the shut-down of Nostalrius and other major Vanilla private servers, has been an intensely popular idea. Compounded by current, and well-popularized issues, with the current development lead, team and Live game, Classic is an attractive method to get into the wide world of Azeroth.

However, Jokerd’s feat has brought a very pointed issue to the forefront. Longevity, enjoyability, and most importantly our personal evolutions over the years. The question raised is simple: How long can Classic last?

I’ve said it many times at this point; Classic is incessantly obtuse. In 2004, World of Warcraft was very much a capsule of game design elements at the time. As covered by one of the original designers, John Staats, in his incredibly comprehensive book, ‘The WoW Diary,’ development of WoW was very much a blind effort. Some of it, as is the consequence of modern art and game development, was undoubtedly based on other games of the time such as Star Wars Galaxies and Everquest. All these games were not intended to be played as we play modern MMOs such as Warframe, Guild Wars 2, or even Final Fantasy XIV.

Warcraft at its inception was designed based entirely on feel. Some concepts, such as Tauren Plainsrunning, were based on the sheer fantasy and ‘cool factor’ despite the fact that they were fundamentally unbalanced. Questing, as illustrated to this day in The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King quest hubs, was non-linear and broken up. Exploration was a forced aspect of Azeroth’s experience so that you could finish quests and discover new ones. Mob grinding was a requirement when you ran out of quests because of those inspirations from other games. In some aspects, Blizzard’s MMO darling was softer than games such as Everquest, penalizing players less for dying.

Progression, however, was still a brutal experience. Due to technological limitations, methods such as Jokerd’s wouldn’t only have wide-spread effects on your server but on your personal PC. Low frame-rates were not a rare issue, with the best top of the line CPU of the year being AMD’s Athlon 64 3500+. While the average computer in 2019 usually has between eight and sixteen cores the Athlon, the absolute peak of PC gaming, had four processors. Not four cores, four processors.

This, on a level, fundamentally breaks what Vanilla was and what Classic is. Unless you’re playing on a period piece PC, you cannot really encapsulate that experience. Even then, with Blizzard’s improved server architecture, that original terror of pulling more than three mobs because your computer can’t take it is not reincapsulable. Does that directly impact the enjoyability of Classic? Not in the slightest, but it does allow one to do more than the game was originally designed for.

Take, for example, the end-game raids. Now infamous for their intense difficulty, Onyxia’s Lair, Molten Core, Blackwing Lair and The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj were massive instances requiring 40 players. Not only were these the pinnacle of the endgame, often requiring extensive periods of gearing for raids, but they required a multi-tiered system of leadership to perform. Due to the organizational hurdle, most guilds not only had a Raid Officer and a Loot Officer overseeing fundamental aspects of the raid team, they also had Class Officers or Class Heads to oversee individual roles.

Because of that type of foresight, as well as the technological limitations of the time, raids were not tuned as they are today. There was not a specific equation to tune specific boss damage. Mechanics were not a heavy aspect of raiding outside of decursing, threat (which was inordinately complex), and some cleaving melee or raid-wide abilities. To put it in perspective both Razorgore the Untamed and Vaelstrasz the Corrupt were fundamentally earth-shaking in their design at the time. Some encounters required two tanks, others needed six; most raids didn’t have a clear-cut set comprehension unless they were cutting edge.

WoDFlex 5
However, keeping all of this in mind, raids were not tuned for 40 players to complete. Between technological limitations, high organizational requirements and very specific gearing requirements, it was unthinkable for 40 people to come together to succeed. Instead, raids were tuned for 25 competent players to manage. This has been espoused by both Vanilla Veterans, such as Youtuber Preach, and some members of the original development team. This, in part, is one of the fundamental reasons why Naxxramas was such an elite thing during Vanilla’s life cycle.

Raid attunement and gearing was incredibly linear in Classic. One did not progress to Ahn’Qiraj without having your full tier set from Blackwing Lair, which you didn’t enter until you had your full tier set from Molten Core. Of course, you didn’t enter Molten Core until you had your best-in-slot fire resistance gear from across Azeroth’s endgame dungeons. All of this culminated in Naxxramas, featuring one of Warcraft’s most infamous enemies, in a battle for the very fate of not just Lordaeron but potentially the world.

Both of these phenomena created what today we refer to as ‘The Naxxramas Effect.’ It was the first raid that not only required specific classes in specific situations above other classes, but also required all 40 players to work in tandem. They had to engage in new and complex raid mechanics that weren’t simply decursing creatures; players had to move and cohesively engage new targets or halt attacks entirely. Damage avoidance suddenly became paramount, wide-spread planning became a vital aspect. A team of community members suddenly had to work with military efficiency in the face of more difficult to grasp mechanics.

This did not just simply fracture raid teams but shattered entire guilds. Even the world first guild, Nihilim, took 90 days to down Kel’thuzad. While on the lower end of other World First raid kills, the highest being Ragnaros at 154 days, only 131 confirmed guilds ever managed to complete Naxxramas world-wide. It’s believed that only five copies of Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian were completed world-wide prior to the launch of The Burning Crusade.

Two days ago, ASPE, an EU raiding guild, killed Ragnaros. Afterwards they killed Onyxia, a boss DESIGNED to be done prior to the Firelord’s entire raid as a stepping-stone for gearing. So what has changed? Classic certainly isn’t any easier than what Vanilla used to be, so why are guilds managing to kill Ragnaros? A boss that took 154 days when it was live has just been downed by a raiding team that bypassed a vital part of gearing. Technology has a major impact in it, surely, but what else has changed?

We have changed. It’s hard to imagine a time without WoWhead, Thottbot, r/WoW, Addons, people in the know, experienced raiders and raid leaders, but that’s what Vanilla was. While today Progression Style raiding guilds, teams who like to go in blind and pull apart encounters, are more of a commodity than a real method to progress that’s how all of Vanilla was. There really was no centralized system of information and guides could often be rife with misinformation through malice or straight confusion.

Experienced raiders didn’t often return to ‘old content’ except to put an instance on farm. Unless you were in a large guild and a particularly unfortunate officer (like me), you weren’t raiding Molten Core in and out every week. You put a raid on farm until your team was done, and then get ready for the next one. Nights were full of a slew of trial and error failure, testing new techniques that your Rogue’s brother’s cousin’s friend heard. You had to deal with waiting when five people forgot their resist gear because it wasn’t their normal gearset. Bugs were rife throughout encounters, some for better and for worse.

Such is the problem with returning to older content. Now that we have all this information and technological infrastructure, the point rather becomes moot. There’s no need to explore without new incentives simply because we know what’s around the next corner. What need is there to push into raiding, unless you’ve never seen it before? What challenge can there be in the mighty Ragnaros if now we can skip an entire gearing raid and dive into its depths?

The epitome of this fallacy falls under Method’s new initiative. They’re currently involved in the World First races with their off team, in partnership with the World Showdown of Esports. It leeches the idea of experiencing the wide world of Azeroth into a race. Instead of looking at the emphasis on the journey, we’re now more focused than ever on the far, far end of the path. Maximum level and the real endgame are the goal, because there’s clearly nothing worthwhile in the levels before.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Despite the increased difficulty, despite the slower pace of gameplay, we’re still approaching Classic in the exact manner in which we approach Live. While current Warcraft has arguably far less substance than the original game, there is now an emphasis on both versions to press to the end. Whereas Live has that infinite treadmill of content, an aspect that is arguably without substance, Classic never possessed it. While the Honor System could be seen in such a view, it requires such a steep investment of time that even those who play multiple hours per night cannot easily rely on it to be a recurring time investment in the long term.

So that brings us back to the question I posed in the beginning. How long can Classic last with how we are approaching it? The answer is simply not long enough, and that’s not due in any part to Blizzard’s intent of design. Classic is a true and realistic adaptation of the original with some mild updates such as the mini-map clock for quality of life. It is unlikely that for Blackwing Lair, the dev team will alter numbers to increase overall difficulty for the sake of authenticity.

Where do we go from here then? Ultimately, as more and more guilds clear the first raid tier and put it on farm, the demand for the next release of the Classic roadmap will emerge. As Blizzard has demonstrated in the past, they will push content out quicker if the demand is high enough as seen in aspects of Legion and Mists. Quite possibly, we could see Naxxramas launch as early as six months from now.

Then whathat is left for us to explore in Azeroth?

When we pull apart every aspect of the world, ignoring the journey for the destination and glorifying those that do, what’s left for us to really call Classic anymore?

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WoW Wednesday: How To Start Preparing for Classic!

Prepare your Chronometers, Azerothians. With World of Warcraft’s legacy Classic servers due in little less than a week, it will be time to jump into a brand(ish) new Azeroth. This week, in preparation of the launch, let’s discuss some things you need to do to put your best foot forward in ye olden Azeroth!


Reserve Your Name NOW!

Classic is SIGNIFICANTLY outperforming many people’s expectations for player counts, including my own! Coupling your Classic access into your current World of Warcraft subscription, Blizzard is now allowing all players to pre-make their characters prior to its release on Monday. While you don’t need to make any major decisions on your races or classes right this moment, if you have a certain name you’d like to reserve now is the time to get it done!

Start Doing Your Research…

Classes are definitely not as they are now in the Live version of WoW. Leveling is a very slow and painful process to manage, especially for classes like the Warrior who are ALWAYS in combat with no ability to heal. Before you jump in with both feet into what your current Live main is, do a little bit of research first.

Take the Druid for example. These days, Druids are masters of just about everything, minus some utility, depending on their role. In Classic, even a Hybrid class will have certain limitations. Their roles are FAR more reduced and their item optimization will require you to grind to exalted with multiple Battleground factions. You won’t ever be your raid’s main tank or top healer, but you’ll be a masterful off-tank and decurser! Every class has their niche to fill in both PvE and PvP, but its up to you to figure out what niche you want to fill.

Additionally, every race is unique. While each race in Live has its own abilities as well, the nature of Classic’s smaller stat-base makes each additional stat increase and ability from your race incredibly more tangible. Three classes feel this more than most, that being the Priest, Paladin and Shaman. Priests will get two unique spells depending on their class, some being far more impactful than those from other races! Paladins and Shaman are both faction restricted classes in Classic; only Alliance players can fight for the Silver Hand, while the Horde are restricted to wielding the fury of the elements.

Party Up!

Classic is much more difficult than the current Live version. Questing and leveling solo will be a chore, taking hours at a time to even push through one level. As such, get a few friends who are interested in Classic and start forming your leveling group now. This will also help you make some decisions based on your faction, class, and potential race to help fill what your party needs to succeed.

Maybe convince one to be a Mage. Free food is good food!

Skills to Pay The Bills

Get. Your. Professions. Early.

Learning anything in Classic Warcraft will cost you money. Learning upgraded versions of your own spells will cost you more money than you’d like! As such, you’ll want to pick up your professions as soon as you can. Most players will pick up mining and skinning to start their journey, both being used by multiple professions for armor-crafting. Ores and Leather are guaranteed to sell quickly on the auction house, and the latter you’ll find on the MANY creatures you’ll be grinding.

Its also advisable to pick up First Aid and Cooking. Simply leveling your character from 1-40 could cost you nearly 15 gold in purchasing food, gold that could better be spent on your basic mount. Melee classes, such as Warriors, Rogues or Feral Druids will take significantly more damage than most, with less healing abilities than other classes. As such, First Aid and Cooking can reduce your recovery time between quest mobs. That means you can spend more time grinding experience than wasting played time!

Become Self-Sufficient

The reality of Classic is everything is harder and more expensive than what you’re used to. Everything you will want to achieve is incredibly difficult. Everything will cost far more money than you’re used to, and acquiring gold is far more difficult than you might think. While teaming up is a necessary part to adventuring through Azeroth, you’re going to need to help pull your weight!

After getting to a comfortable point in your leveling, consider getting a crafting profession relevant to your class to optimize your armor. High-level crafting professions will take an incredible effort to make, but are more than well-worth their payoff. On top of making yourself more powerful with rare and epic quality items, other players may come to you seeking the tools of your trade.

As you begin leveling up, your first major goal should be to get your racial mount and learning riding. Its an incredibly difficult feat, but your raid team will appreciate not waiting for you as long when you forget your Fire Resist gear during Molten Core AGAIN.

Just… Lower Your Expectations.

Classic is not as impressive as you might think.

Aside from the absolutely horror-movie worthy character models, Classic is built on some of the game industry’s oldest game design philosophies. As such, its going to be a painful experience on more than one occasion. Do you want to quest in Arathi Highlands? Get used to running back and forth for 10 minutes every time you want to complete one quest. Get a brand new mace but your Two-Handed Mace skill isn’t maxed out? Get ready to start retraining it. From zero.

You can’t take Classic as seriously as one would take Live’s playstyle. Class Balance simply does not exist, period. Spell Batching is going to straight up make your life hell if all you know is Live’s version of how PvP works. Everything, to put it bluntly, is a serious case of janky.

That is the beauty of Classic though. It’s a game that is really hard to take seriously, and it forces you to have fun or you’ll just develop an aneurysm. Everything is a long-term investment in this iteration of Azeroth, from raid progression to merely getting to your next class quest. Classic is about the journey, not the destination. So sit back, get some friends, and have fun re-exploring Azeroth!

And just roll a Dwarf if you’re making a Priest. You’ll thank me later when you get into healing dungeons.

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