Yesterday, Blizzard Entertainment released patch 8.0 for World of Warcraft, known within the community as the pre-patch for the upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion. This pre-patch offered up drastic changes to the game, with significant class changes, the breaking of Legion's Artifact Weapons, a general constriction of character statistics, and a change in World Player-vs-playeP (PVP) combat. While Blizzard was able to test some of these changes in the Public Test Realms (PTR) and Battle for Azeroth beta, there's no real substitute for live release.
The pre-patch launch yesterday was less than successful. World of Warcraft players faced significant connection problems for most of the day. After Blizzard restarted the servers one of the planned patch features, the cross-server Communities option, was disabled completely. Following the restart, the servers have been stable, giving players a chance to test out many of the changes.
I spent a good amount of time in World of Warcraft last night and earlier today, so here's my own experiences with the patch and some of the community's reactions to the changes.
An Unleveled Playing Field
World of Warcraft has a leveling problem. This isn't a new issue, it's a legacy of how the game was designed. Each expansion—Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, and Legion—was designed in a specific era. It was designed for a certain mix of classes with a certain mix of abilities and statistics. World of Warcraft itself has changed as a game; the vanilla version of the game has different aims from Legion, despite sharing the same core.
The problem is every change to the leveling experience has to be applied wholesale, to all the existing content at once. Since everything was designed for different needs, there is no real 'one size fits all' solution, just a 'one size fits most' one.
Blizzard introduced a series of leveling changes in patch 7.3.5. These changes did two things. First, it brought Legion's level-scaling system to all pre-Legion content. No matter where you quested in Legion, the enemies would match your level. With Patch 7.3.5, this change came in the form of new leveling zones: Classic WoW scales from 1-60, Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King scale from 60-80, Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria scale from 80-90, while Warlords and Legion retain their existing level ranges.
This change gave players options for where they wanted to quest, but there were issues. In my own leveling experience during 7.3.5, I found the first few levels of Warlords of Draenor were off. Enemies were hitting way too hard in comparison to previous content instead of offering a smooth transition from one expansion to the next. This issue went away as I gained more Warlords leveling gear, but it was a solid speedbump.
The problem with patch 8.0 is it carries that issue forward and adds in a new wrinkle, the stat squish. Basically, Blizzard felt the numbers for character statistics and damage were skewing too high, a problem called mudflation. So, the stat squish tries to lower those numbers across the board for enemies and players, while still keeping power levels roughly the same. It doesn't always work though.
That's why players are reporting that some low-level content isn't scaling quite right anymore. Enemies either hit too hard, abilities are too strong, or players themselves can't do enough damage. Some players have noted having trouble in the 40-60 level range, especially in certain dungeons like Dire Maul or Scarlet Monastery. Basically, leveling a brand-new character is feeling more like a chore than it was prior to Patch 8.0.
Blizzard needs to go in and tune specific enemies and instances for the new squished power levels, but that takes time. Time that could be used on implementing new content in the game and polishing the high-level experience. Fixing the current leveling situation is probably not high on the priority list, especially since level boost tokens are available on the WoW Store. Players who want to level a number of alts—additional characters outside of your primary progression character—might have a more difficult time while we're waiting for hotfixes.
Old Content: One Shot Might Become Three Shots
I admit, one of my joys in World of Warcraft is going back to previous expansions and doing dungeon and raid content alone. I play a Protection Paladin, one of the game's tank classes, and I find it fun to stomp through old raids that used to require 10 or 25 players. As an added benefit, the Transmogrification system means I can pick up new armor and weapon appearances that didn't drop for me the first time around.
Blizzard Entertainment has acknowledged there's a strong part of the community that runs old content every week for old gear and other items like mounts. One change for Patch 8.0 was the new Legacy Loot system. With patch 7.3.5, dungeons and raids were switched to Personal Loot, meaning bosses would only allow you loot items made for your current Class and Specialization. This meant you would occasionally run a boss only to find it dropped nothing. Behind the scenes, it had actually dropped loot, but none of it was for your current Specialization, so you never saw it.
With Legacy Loot, players can loot everything a boss drops, even if it's not for their current Spec. As an added bonus, Legacy Loot means that boss loot drops are created with the assumption that the maximum amount of players are available for that raid. If you run Molten Core, which was built for 40 players, by yourself the bosses will drop 40 players worth of loot. So, more loot, less runs.
Players are reporting two issues though. The first is that Legacy Loot rules were previously set at players being ten levels above the content in question. The change went live with "11 levels of more above the maximum level of the content" though. This means that Warlords of Draenor raids and dungeons aren't subject to Legacy Loot rules, because the maximum player level is currently 110 and that content is meant for level 100 maximum. You need to be level 111 for Legacy Loot to apply.
The second is that the stat squish and leveling change means certain ranges of content aren't tuned correctly anymore. Currently, part of the issue seems focused on the Mists of Pandaria raids, including the 10 or 25-man raid Throne of Thunder, but there are other instances like Highmaul and any raid mechanic involving vehicles not scaling at all.
The latter issue has actually happened before in previous pre-patches. Blizzard will likely step in with a series of hotfixes to make these legacy encounters work as intended, like the leveling problems above. It just means for a time, certain encounters won't be complete cakewalks that only take seconds. It's a bit annoying, but nothing to lose your mind over. And the issue with the Legacy Loot rules will cease to be a problem when Battle for Azeroth launches in August, as players can level up to 120. (Though it will exist for Legion raids and dungeons at that point.) C'est la vie.
On the bright side, old items like the Chromatic Sword are once again dropping in patch 8.0!
Free From World PVP!
Long ago, I joined a PVP server with my friends. It wasn't my choice as I dislike PVP, but I went where my friends went. They're all gone now, but my main character in WoW still exists on this PVP server. The side effect of this unfortunate decision is when player counts are high, I have to engage in world PVP again. Some of this is on accident, as Protection Paladin abilities tend to lean on area-of-effect damage. Some of it is as intended, because some folks just love world PVP.
Patch 8.0 adds War Mode, a brand-new option. Basically, there is no delineation between normal and PVP servers anymore. Instead, players can toggle War Mode while they're in any of the game's capital cities. With War Mode on, you can engage in world PVP, access the new PVP talents, and gain increased experience for leveling. With War Mode off, you don't have to worry about world PVP at all.
This is a glorious change for folks like myself, who simply wanted to go questing and gather resources. Now I can go through the world unmolested, free to just enjoy the content ahead of me; I don't have to worry about accidentally tagging a player of the opposite faction and starting something. Yes, Battle for Azeroth is about the old Horde/Alliance conflict, but I prefer that in stort scenarios or PVP Battlegrounds, not in general regions. This is one of the changes that's simply working for me.
Old and Busted Graphics
Many long-time players logged in yesterday only to find that their graphics settings changed in a few ways. Back during the launch of Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard introduced the first of the new character models for the original races, bringing them in line with the more complex Goblin, Worgen, and Pandaren models. Some players preferred the original models though and Blizzard offered a toggle, letting you choose between old and new models.
That toggle is gone as of patch 8.0. Multiple threads have been started on the World of Warcraft forums about the removal, especially since many didn't know it was happening. If you were a fan of the old models, at least Blizzard Entertainment is working hard on World of Warcraft Classic!
The other change is something that Blizzard Entertainment might not be able to fix. With the latest patch, World of Warcraft is switching over to Direct X12. A side effect of this shift is that the old Fullscreen resolution option is gone, leaving players only with Windowed Fullscreen for a similar effect. There is a lengthy thread with some angry players on the official World of Warcraft forums about the problem. Some talks about performance issues, while others just miss the seamless nature of the traditional Fullscreen option. It's not a personal problem, but it is something to keep in mind.
The Best (and Worst) of the Rest
There are a host of other benefits and problems to patch 8.0. Many Orc players are excited to finally get the option to have their characters stand up straight, instead of the hunch that has categorized the race since launch. Of course, this has led to a few glitches. Likewise, Blood Elves now have the option to have glowing golden eyes.
There are a number of sometimes-funny animation glitches due to a new artificial intelligence (AI) system being added to the game for Battle for Azeroth's new Island Expeditions. Players have noticed that draw distance in the game was dramatically reduced, though many believe this is a bug. World Quests requires significantly more effort because players can no longer make groups for non-Elite World Quests; if you're still trying to hit Exalted on certain factions for Allied Races, I'm sorry.
Basically, World of Warcraft Patch 8.0 might be a thematic start for the next step of the long-running massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game, but it's a shaky first step. Players are still feeling out class balance and many of the systems that they took for granted have been changed or broken with the patch. With my playtime, I know I'm probably going to pull back on leveling some of my alts and it's unlikely that I'll put significant effort towards doing World Quests anymore.
Right now might not be the right time for returning or new players to visit the World of Warcraft. Blizzard is still working out the kinks and has already rolled out its first hotfix for the patch. In a week or two, or by time Battle for Azeroth rolls around, things might be in better shape. Right now though, there's a lot that's still up in the air and some more that needs to be fixed. Hopefully everything is ship shape when World or Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth rolls around on August 14, 2018.