Blizzcon: Thoughts on the annual WoW pass and challenge dungeons

mmo-champion has a roundup of the various panels and announcements from the first day of Blizzcon. Highlights include

  • some new units for SC2 (can’t really comment on that since I don’t play it)
  • a new trailer for Diablo 3 (in which the protagonist looks very Final Fantasy – I think it’s the hair)
  • announcement of the next WoW expansion which will indeed be the ‘oriental’ themed Mists of Pandaria
  • New expansion will include pokemon style pet fighting, and a high score table for speed of completion of the new ‘challenge’ dungeons (which are actually regular 5 man instances)
  • a new incentive to pay for a year of WoW.

(Apparently the female mage in the Diablo 3 trailer is Decard Cain’s niece. Poor girl.)

After the flailing around of Cataclysm, it sounds as though the WoW team have come up with genuine direction for the next expansion and decided who they want to try to appease. I think there’s plenty of evidence that many players enjoy collecting pets and loads more enjoy dungeon speed runs so there’s good logic behind designing extra mechanics around both of those playstyles.

The new annual pass

The way I /think/ this works is that you sign up for the pass and continue paying your sub as usual. You get some bennies for being signed up, including a shiny flying mount, entry to the beta of the next expansion, and a free copy of Diablo 3. If your sub terminates at any point before the year is up, you lose access to all of those things. But if it doesn’t (ie. you pay for 12 months worth of subscriptions) then they become yours to keep.

Or maybe if your sub terminates before the end of the year, they bill your card anyway. I’m honestly not sure.

In many ways this is sheer genius. Anyone who was vaguely planning to play WoW for the majority of the year anyway is now getting some extra stuff to play during the slow periods (ie. Diablo 3 and the expansion beta, whenever that may be). And that extra stuff is of course Blizzard based and may discourage people from straying to other games – after all, they’ve already committed to paying for the whole year anyway so might as well get their money’s worth.

If you were considering dipping back into WoW occasionally, but definitely planned to buy Diablo 3, this might be worth a look too. Just for comparison, D3 is likely to cost the rough equivalent of 4 months subs if you buy it from battle.net.

If you’re meh on WoW, think there is likely to be a stretch of time longer than 4 months next year with no new content, or had sourced a cheaper version of D3, then it’s a wash.

The other reason this is genius is that unless there are plans to release the new expansion unusually early, it’s practically guaranteed that there will be a long stretch of time with no new content after 4.3 drops. This annual pass locks players in now to paying for that long break.

I think it’s likely that the expansion won’t turn up before Q4; they wouldn’t release against D3 even if they could, there will need to be a decent length of beta testing, and I don’t think they’d want to release in the Summer as it’s traditionally the MMO low season.

You pays your money and you takes your choice. I already have D3 on pre-order and I’m not currently seeing anything that would draw me back to WoW. I imagine I’ll check out the new expansion when it goes live because I enjoy their levelling content, but that could be a long way away.

Challenge Dungeons

I’m not that fond of speed runs, but I think having a high score table for dungeon speed runs is likely to be a popular move. Especially with repositioning Pandaria heroics to be more similar to Wrath ones, which were emminently speedrunnable.

A red flag for me though with my tanking hat on is how much timed speed runs can favour tanking and healing specs which produce more damage whilst they tank/ heal. The difference between the amount of damage that a tanking death knight puts out and a tanking warrior puts out in Cataclysm, for example, can be quite significant. In 5 mans where speed is of the essence, that will be more noticeable. Also expect the bloodlust classes (shamans and mages) to be in high demand for speedruns, especially mages.

I’d expect the new monk class to be well designed for this type of environment, and imagine both tanking and healing specs will involve a fair amount of damage on the side.

This could leave traditionally low dps specs like protection warriors and resto druids feeling sidelined. (Yes you can gear and spec your prot warrior for dps but that’s never really felt satisfying to me, YMMV.)

I predict this is going to have a huge impact on balance if it takes off.  But who knows, maybe the new redesigned talent system will even things out.