Normally I’m one to give game developers the benefit of the doubt. They’re usually busy with a lot of things, already have hordes of whiny players that they need to cater to, and very short schedules to do it all in. Even the companies I'm most critical of, I can usually find a logical explanation for some of their decisions.
However, when it comes to the recent 4.3 patch for World of Warcraft, the title of this article pretty much explains everything that it has, and no real explanation as to why the team went the direction they did.
This patch, which is presumably the final one for the Cataclysm storyline before Blizzard rolls out Mists of Pandaria, is designed to portray the final moments of Deathwing, the primary antagonist for the entire expansion. Blizzard has done this set up with the final encounters for Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King, both of which were done to dramatic flair, included expansive setups that either got the entire server involved to open up the relative encounters, or were opened on a semi-regular schedule. They also provided extra things for players to do, to keep them busy when not taking part in these final encounters, whether it’s challenging 5-mans, or another faction to build rep with.
However, this time around, something seemed very amiss. There was no great fanfare announcing the final battle. No quest NPCs perked up saying “Hey! Get your ass over here to help us out!” Hardly anything changed in the game world. This was pretty much the first indicator I took notice of that things weren’t going to be a dramatic as before.
For starters, they added three new 5-man encounters, accessible on Heroic mode only, End Time, Well of Eternity, and Hour of Twilight. The problem is, there’s no indicator of where you start up these instances, instead relegating it to the Dungeon Finder system. And while that system works very well with setting groups up, it would have also been helpful to let players know of the physical locations of these instances (they’re located in the Caverns of Time, by the way). Instead of actually going to these locations to pick up any related quests, players need to get them from an NPC located near the city leaders of Stormwind and Orgrimmar, who then offers to teleport them inside the instance instead. While this does save on travel expenses, couldn’t they at least send them to the entrances themselves rather than directly inside of them? At least then players can tell that the entrances actually exist.
Of course, it shouldn’t really even be fair to call these dungeons excursions instances. They are more like guided tours, as you’re essentially led on each of these runs by an NPC, who is usually more than capable of defending themselves in combat without your assistance. Meanwhile, each of the encounters you meet up with are pretty much cakewalks, compared to the stuff that popped up in the remakes of Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub. Where those encounters required some form of coordination and communication, these new 5-mans only require that you know how to smash your face against the keyboard. Quite literally, the only times any PUGs I’ve been in have wiped was on Echo of Sylvannas, because no one new which zombie to kill on the appropriate phase. Outside of that, almost every encounter in these is pretty much a tank and spank with some form of scripted element, which gets old real fast.
The final raid of Cataclysm, Dragon Soul is also something that’s leaving much to be desired. As mentioned before, there was very little change in the game world itself when this patch dropped. The only thing added to the major cities pertaining to it was a couple NPCs standing near a piece of Deathwing’s chin (which allows players to watch the final cinematic). The raid itself is supposed to take place in Dragonblight, but rather than setting up a phased version of Wyrmrest Temple to serve as an entrance to the encounter, players instead enter it, once again, via the Caverns of Time. For having been using it so much these past couple expansions, why they would skip an opportunity to use it again here is mind-boggling.
Now, while I can’t exactly vouch for the difficulty of the raid encounter itself yet, it also doesn’t help things when you keep hearing reports of people beating it on normal mode the same day it was released. Videos that have popped up of the encounter also reveal that it’s nowhere near the scale of drama as previous final encounters, particularly Arthas, who actually wipes the entire raid before the final stage of his fight. In fact, Deathwing's final battle seems to be just your group doing the same thing repeatedly. Not only does it show that the developers didn’t put enough time into making the content challenging, but it also shows that they didn’t even bother with time locks as they did before. At least with that method it was possible to spread out the timeframe of the encounter to keep people from beating it too quickly.
There are also a lot of things missing that would have made both the 5-mans and raid much more enticing, other than improved difficulty. For example, in the Well of Eternity instance, Neltharion uses his Deathwing model, rather than his old form from before he became completely corrupted. Again, this shows a lack of commitment on the team’s part, even when they had so long before 4.3 to get a pre-corruption model ready. The fact that you don’t even get to fight against Deathwing’s human form at any point also shows they didn’t put enough thought into how they wanted to shape the encounters. Having either of those present would have been treats, not just for lore fans, but on a gameplay aspect as well.
Let’s also not forget how silly the ending cinematic is (watch it here to see what I mean, but be wary of spoilers). At least “There must always be a Lich King” makes some sort of sense, and the encounter with Arthas itself ends in a dramatic fashion. Here, all I can think of is whether they just wanted to get through this expansion as quickly as possible, or if they seriously didn’t bother putting any real effort into the planning stages. It all just seems anti-climactic.
Though all of this isn’t to say that the patch was a total loss. Transmogrification, the process that allows players to change the appearance of their gear, is probably the best addition they’ve made in years. It allows players to create their own stylish armor setups, without having to worry about losing any important stats. It’s a step in the right direction for Blizzard’s intentions on giving players more customization options, though at the same time, I’m a bit disappointed that I can’t transmogrify my Red Defias Mask onto my rogue’s headpiece. Then again, having a chance to get my own set of legendary daggers makes up for that.
The Darkmoon Faire also makes a return here, which looks pretty snazzy. Not only do they provide quick games to serve as distractions, as well as additional quests to help boost your professions, the Lvl90ETC make regular appearances on a specially designed stage, and you can earn some replica armor pieces from early on in WoW’s lifetime that you can use for transmogrification.
Unfortunately the actual place that the faire takes part in is very limited, taking up a small portion of a huge island, with the only other thing being present in the outskirts being some stray wolf mobs, and a Forsaken NPC that sells questionable food items. The prizes you work for, meanwhile, are on the expensive side, particularly the mounts and heirlooms, and while there are various methods of getting the required tickets, you’re best bet is to grind the mini-game dailies to get the required numbers (you get one ticket for each daily you complete). Of course, the damn place isn’t even finished yet, with several pavilions being closed off from access (sneaking in these places reveals a completely barren inside). One can only hope that they have future plans to expand on the fairground activities.
If there is any proof that the game is being handled by Blizzard’s B-team, 4.3 is pretty much it. A supreme lack of effort on most areas of the patch, lack of anything else to do when you’re waiting for lockouts outside of more grinding of dailies, and an anti-climactic conclusion to a storyline where Azeroth itself faced complete and total decimation. It’s really hard to imagine how this happened exactly, as the developers clearly had the time to get everything together. Was it lack of resources, because of development of Diablo III and Project Titan? Did something come up in the team that limited what they could do? Were all their efforts put into transmogrification? Or were they just simply lazy with the whole thing?
Whatever the case may be, if this is the best that they can deliver for a proper sendoff for Cataclysm, then the fate of Mists of Pandaria is looking to be pretty shaky already. One can only hope that decide to pull something spectacular for the next chapter if they hope to keep the train going.