7 Reservations I Have About The War Within

I made it clear a few weeks ago that I think Dragonflight has been a great expansion. However, with the War Within alpha up and running, all eyes are increasingly turning towards the next expansion, and I'm afraid to say that I still view it with a degree of scepticism at this point.

There are good things about it for sure - I'm very much looking forward to more mounts being upgraded to Dragonriding dynamic flight for example, as well as the introduction of more account-wide features - though as far as the latter goes, Blizzard is so incredibly late to the party compared to the competition that I also find it hard to give them bigger praise than "fucking finally".

However, there are also quite a few points that I currently look at that still make me shake my head and go "I don't know". I want The War Within to be good, and I wasn't immediately in love with Dragonflight based on the early announcements either, so there is definitely room to win me over. I'm just kind of... concerned right now. From biggest to smallest, here are my current worries in regards to The War Within:

1. Pay a Lot to Early Acess

I'm actually not opposed to early access being used as an incentive for new MMO releases in principle - but the way Blizzard are giving people three days of it only if you buy the most expensive super ultra mega deluxe edition of the expansion doesn't sit right with me at all. I know they've tried to reassure everyone that early access players won't gain any significant gameplay advantages during that time, but that's not really the point for me.

The WoW community is one that is always in a rush, and when it comes to people whose brains seem to be permanently on speed, three days are an absolute eternity. Unless we opt to completely stay off the internet, those of us who refuse to shell out this kind of money will be met with an absolute deluge of spoilers about stuff we can't play yet, everyone else who's still locked out will grumble, and I generally expect the community to be in an unpleasant state of tension between the haves and have-nots. I'm pretty sure one or two people in our little friend group will go for the early access too, and it will be super awkward to see them level up ahead of the rest of us.

I mean, I can hope that it will all blow over relatively quickly, because at the end of the day it is "only" three days and any outrage and annoyance may end up just being a storm in a tea cup. On the other hand though, a really bad launch experience can colour people's impressions of an expansion for a long time.

2. Story Regression

Dragonflight's story got a lot of flak but I honestly feel like a lot of that has been overblown because there simply wasn't anything else to complain about. While I'd never claim that it was without flaws, I appreciated that it seemed to try out a fresh new direction in many ways, especially in how it approached themes of familial conflict and death, in a game where a lot of plot points in the past have basically boiled down to "guy gets angry and runs away/goes on a vengeful killing spree". It made me hopeful for the game's future.

And then Chris Metzen came back and they laid off a bunch of the people who've defined WoW's story direction for the past couple of years. My initial reaction was mostly one of confusion, since I didn't have any particular feelings about Metzen and couldn't at all relate to those who seemed to think that his return heralded some sort of return to glory for WoW's storytelling.

However, as more time has passed, I've found myself with a slowly increasing feeling of dread instead - dread that him being back will mean narrative regression for WoW, and that the game's story will simply fall back onto all its old tropes. I'm not a fan of Anduin seemingly turning into a grizzled old war veteran/Varian 2.0 for example (as I never liked Varian much to begin with). And then I came across a massive spoiler for the start of War Within in a YouTube thumbnail of all things - if you want to skip discussion of that, just go ahead to the next point on the list.

If you already know or don't care to be spoiled, I am of course talking about the destruction of Dalaran. And yes, the devs have also already been out there trying to do damage control, telling everyone that they think it's the right thing to do for the story and so on and so forth - but they also thought that when they came up with the Cataclysm, when they blew up Theramore and burned Teldrassil, and yet those decisions still ended up being hated by players for years after the fact. I think "we need to blow shit up or nobody will care" is definitely a step backwards and really dampened my enthusiasm for the expansion already, and I'm not even particularly attached to Dalaran.

3. No Sky All Expansion

This seems to be one of these things that people either relate to immediately or don't understand at all, with apparently no in-between. Simply put, WoW is at its best when it lets you explore wide open and beautiful spaces. Caves and "evil" zones exist as places of danger to venture forth into, but are not enjoyable as somewhere to hang out in all the time.

With that in mind, I'm very concerned about the entirety of The War Within basically being set underground. Sure, they can do things to alleviate the oppressiveness of that theme - one of the zones has something like a "fake sun" in the sky I believe - but I'm not sure that's going to be enough considering that there's never been an underground zone that I loved. Zaralek Cavern in Dragonflight was probably the best zone of this kind they've ever done, and it was still undoubtedly the expansion's weakest spot. Building a whole expansion on that premise is... a choice.

4. Delves

When delves were first announced as a new progression path for open world/solo players, I thought "neat", but the more I've learned about them from reporting from the alpha, the less interested I've become. They're not so much open world content as just another form of instance that can also be soloed instead of done in a group and that... just doesn't sound that exciting? I'm kind of reminded of Mists of Pandaria's scenarios, which I thought were pretty lame.

They're probably not going to be the worst thing in the world, but as the key new expansion feature that's supposed to change the game for years to come the way Dragonriding did, delves currently don't look promising to me at all.

5. Talent Complications

In my Dragonflight review I put the talent revamp down as a positive overall, but the system is quite complex. In my opinion the best way of letting players come to grips with it would be to not change it too dramatically for the next couple of years, just apply some tweaks and refinements maybe.

So what does Blizzard decide to do in War Within? Add a third "mini tree" to the whole thing and it just made me sigh the moment I learned about it. I remember hearing some discussion about the earliest version of the priest "hero talents", and while that obviously wasn't final, it sounded so complicated that just listening to people talk about them made my head hurt. As someone who thinks that retail WoW's combat still suffers from a lot of unnecessary complexity, I find it hard to see how these new talents could be anything other than a way of accelerating us down the road of "it's all too much of a mess" again and having yet another complete talent revamp incoming.

6. Xal'atath

I was rather befuddled when Holly Longdale announced this character as the main villain of the expansion (or at least the start of it) seemingly with an expectation of generating excitment, since I knew so little about her. PlaniumWoW's lore video about the character was very helpful in that regard, and I definitely related to the opening skit that has Holly's announcement ending with someone from the crowd yelling "Who the fuck is that?".

Unfortunately knowing more about Xal'atath hasn't really made me like her more. Her "master manipulations" honestly remind me more of the worst traits of the Jailer - possibly the most hated villain in WoW history - and it feels like people are just more willing to give her a pass because she's an undead elf with a sexy voice. Clearly this was a position that needed filling with Sylvanas out of the picture... Maybe she'll actually turn out to be cool and I'll change my mind, but for now I'm not optimistic that she'll turn out to be anything but an attempt to appal to a certain... demographic.

7. Just... Rock Dwarves?

I'm not saying the success of any given WoW expansion is tied to its new races and classes, but it's worth noting that the only two expansions that added neither of these were Warlords of Draenor and Shadowlands. Giving us an allied race of slightly differently skinned dwarves isn't much of a step up from not giving us anything at all in my opinion. And look, I'm not being anti-dwarf here, I'd also be disappointed if it was just one allied race (as in, one using an existing race's skeleton and animations) of a different type. I don't think this is a huge deal (which is why it's at the bottom of this list) but it's just another way in which War Within seems to want to underwhelm right from the start when compared to many of its predecessors.


  1. "Come play Cataclysm Classic, where Dalaran is still around!!"

  2. Underground expansions come in just above underwater expansions as far as I can tell. I actually quite like underwater content in most MMORPGs, though, and I'd prefer it to underground.

    I've played a lot of subterranean expansions now I come to think of it, almost all of them in EverQuest, where I think there have been at least five, all of which came fairly close together. A couple of those I really liked, the rest I can't remember very clearly.
    EQ2, I think, only had Terrors of Thalumbra, which came at one of the lowest points in development resources, but it was very atmospheric and i remember a lot of it fondly.

    I guess the best-known underground expansion would be LotRO's Moria, which I have't played. From what I've read that's very much a binary choice - people either absolutely love it or loathe it unreservedly. It is certainly a risk, asking people to spend 18 months in a cave but in the end it depends on how well-decorated that cave is and how much entertainment is inside it, I guess.

    1. I thought of the underwater zone comparison as well, but those usually change up the gameplay a lot too, while being underground tends to be limited to visual changes.

    2. Underground sounds awful :D
      I liked Vash'jr a lot but Moria omg.....

  3. While I am eligible for early access, I ha e no real intent of using it. I'd probably just use "access day" as an opportunity to log in, see if anything needs doing for skills etc. that wasn't already accessible via the pre-patch, and that's that. No point in being three days ahead of everyone else as that's not particularly fair.

    The Dalaran situation very much reminds me of things like the Legion pre-patch intro scenario and KotFE chapter I, where dramatic things just 'happen' for the sake of establishing dramatic tension and not much else. From what I understand, Legion killing off certain characters isn't popular even to this day, so curious to see how this goes - particularly if Dalaran isn't where "shock value" ends...

    Xal'atath doesn't particularly interest me as a villain. Raszageth was loud and boisterous, but she was also fun as a villain and ultimately her 'grand plan' was very straightforward and got over with very quickly. Somehow I don't think Xal will be this expansion's first final raid boss...

    The whole three-expansion story thread thing in general gives me strong Fallen Empire vibes in terms of the writers having a grand plan from the outset, which isn't filling me with enthusiasm. Plans are one thing , but as BioWare found to their cost - what if they have to be changed?

  4. I'm one of the ones with early access. That said, early access should have been a perk for all pre-orders, not just the most expensive edition. If they wanted to give each edition a different early access perk they could have differed the days similar to how Swtor's launch went where you started on a different day of pre-launch depending on when you pre-ordered. I'm not fussed about getting to max level in those days, but if I can get decently ahead of the bulk of the leveling curve I'll be happy.

    Dalaran feels like the typical 'dumb Blizzard story idea' that they pull to amp up the (supposed) story tension. It will be important for about 5 - 10 quests and then forgotten until an end of expansion NPC comment and won't have more said about it until a minor patch several expansions from now...

    I can understand the need for underground zones since we're dealing with a World Soul. I'll just roll with it and see how I feel about it when the expansion is over. At least we know the next expansion is a return to outdoors. (Plus I suspect some of the patches will put us back outdoors.) Thinking about it, I don't mind underground as much as I do the Legion ravaged areas, such as Hellfire Peninsula, Netherstorm, and Shadowmoon Valley in TBC. The same dead area only differing by color and skybox were stullifying over time.

    Delves aren't surprising given (I think) Blizzard developers tend to view everything through instanced group content. A dungeon-lite setup seems natural for them. Not exciting or new, but a safe creation in a manner they are comfortable with. Hopefully over time they will move beyond depending on this model.

    As someone who did the Shadow Priest weapon in Legion, Xal'atath is a boring NPC. She's just another run-of-the-mill NPC who acts as if she has special knowledge and gets her jollies manipulating us. Thinking of her as Jailer 2.0 is spot on for her character. I'll be glad when she's dead as she adds no value to the game, especially since they felt the need to have her cameo in Season of Discovery. :sigh:

    On a side note, having Iridikron be the expansion bridging character is a trope Blizzard needs to drop. It was fine to do that with AU Gul'dan, but it needs to stop being something you see every expansion.

    I think the new dwarves are ok, but only because they seem to be making the effort to add lots of customization options to them. If more options can slowly -- slowly because, you know Blizzard ^_^ -- become available to the other races I'll be fine with it. Otherwise this will be just another allied race I'll ignore. Too Many Alts Already(tm).

    1. Oops, forgot this comment to my already way too long comment above. :)

      Yeah, the complexity of the current combat system is way out of whack. They could prune 80% of the existing systems and have better gameplay. As it is, I feel like I'm trying to learn how to be a concert pianist given all the abilities.

    2. I don't mind underground as much as I do the Legion ravaged areas

      Yeah, that's what I was kind of thinking of when I also took note of "evil" zones. I think I mentioned in the past that I'm not sure I would've originally stuck with WoW if TBC hadn't come out when it did, as I found it kind of off-putting how many of the original level 50+ areas were kind of corrupted or ruined - it felt pretty depressing to have to spend so much time there.

      It's actually been noteworthy to me how Dragonflight managed to dodge that trope by having various threats active everywhere while still allowing (almost) all the zones to stay beautiful.

  5. Glad I am not the only one who immediately went delve=scenario. They were sort of fun but I dont think I did a single one, once I had the achievement for doing them all.

    While there are some spectacular outdoor zones. I dont think iron forge felt any different then stormwind. I had characters sitting in iron forge for over a decade without feeling the need to take them outside.