The Battle for Azeroth is over, and now the heroes of Azeroth are turning our eyes towards the Shadowlands. Before that though, Battle for Azeroth has one last skirmish—one from the darkest edge of reality. World of Warcraft's latest patch is Visions of N'Zoth, pitting the combined might of both factions against the rising Old God N'Zoth.
The patch is full of new additions to World of Warcraft. On the gear side of things, there's a new, upgradeable legendary cloak and the all-new Corrupted Gear system. Not only does the Corrupted Gear sport a keen cosmic horror aesthetic, it also offers additional bonuses for your skills. Take the first bit of the new gear I received, which offered the Void Ritual: an effect that gives my skills a chance to increase my secondary stats for 20 seconds. That's a nice little bonus, but the drawback is every piece of Corrupted Gear increases my overall Corruption Rate.
At low levels of Corruption, the risks are mostly annoyances, like a brief decrease in movement speed; but at higher levels the drawbacks begin to stack up, like N'Zoth's minions spawning out of nowhere to attack you. You can mitigate the Corruption with items like the legendary cloak or a new set of Essences You can also cleanse the gear at the cost of removing the beneficial effect.
Overall, managing and surviving the effect of the Old God's creeping influence is the general theme of Visions of N'Zoth. This factors into the Visions, which are instanced encounters showing a world tainted by N'Zoth. Entering a Vision, or the larger Horrific Visions, causes a Sanity meter to appear onscreen. This meter bleeds over time, or drops when you take certain attacks from enemies, making it a timer predicated on your gear and overall skill. It's about getting the most done in the time allotted to you, with rewards allowing you to improve and stay within the Visions much longer. This is the loop of the patch: complete dailies and Visions to make it easier to push further into the Horrific Visions, and ultimately into the new raid: Ny’alotha, the Waking City.
When I booted up WoW post-patch, I expected that there would be a rather short preamble before I was stuck with the more repeatable content. Instead, there were around three hours worth of quests to complete, taking you from your faction's primary city, to the Chamber of Heart, Blackwing Descent, and more. A lot of your time will be spent in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms and Uldum, older zones from Mists of Pandaria and Cataclysm respectively.
Vale of Eternal Blossoms and Uldum are Assault zones, similar to the Invasions in Legion, but more persistent. These areas house Titan facilities, and remain under attack by N'Zoth's forces. Uldum gets a few quests and the occasional enemy, but the Vale gets an entirely new coat of paint, with burning eyeballs, twisting tentacles, and Cthulhu-esque horrors to fight. It's interesting to see these zones repurposed, as World of Warcraft's older regions always tend to be ghost towns outside of alt leveling. Final Fantasy 14 is a little better about pushing endgame players back to older content, and it's actually kind of nice to see World of Warcraft starting to find the value in what's come before. I'd actually like an expansion of this idea in the future.
The three hours worth of quests is mostly a primer on what you're supposed to do in each zone, and most of that time is spent finishing the first round of dailies. By time you finally finish, you'll have settled into the overall ebb and flow of the patch. It's another gear and reputation grind with actual new reputations like the Rjani and Uldum Accord, and the Corrupted Gear system. If you've been playing World of Warcraft during Battle for Azeroth, you know what to expect.
I admit, I'm tiring a bit of the world quest and emissary system for grinding reputation. The thing that sticks in my craw is probably the time gating, in that there are only so many World Quests per faction and one set of emissary quests per day. If you're focused on a single faction, like trying to get Exalted with the Vulpera and Mechagnomes to unlock those Allied Races, you have to hope for an emissary or pick up a contract on the Auction House. There's too much of a waiting game involved. I'd personally augment this system with the return of tabards, which allowed you to pick up reputation by wearing that faction's symbol on your chest. The issue here is one of player control, something Blizzard Entertainment has shifted towards over the development of Battle for Azeroth.
But Will It Be Enough?
My larger issue is I wonder if Visions of N'Zoth will be able to keep players satisfied until the launch of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. Judging by past expansions, the earliest we're likely seeing Shadowlands is in August of this year, and Blizzard Entertainment has already confirmed that this is the last major patch for Battle for Azeroth. There might be a smaller pre-patch, but this is what we have to play until then.
"First of all, just to get it out of the way, we currently don’t have any 8.3.5 plans — there may be some small systems tweaks or updates for stability between now and Shadowlands, but Visions of N’Zoth is really the concluding chapter of Battle for Azeroth, and we’re excited to focus our attention on Shadowlands and the upcoming beta for Shadowlands that’ll be opening up over the course of the year," World of Warcraft game director Ion Hazzikostas told Millenium.
That's seven months without any major additions. That's certainly not the longest in the history of World of Warcraft—from Warlords of Draenor's end to Legion was 14 months—but the competition is on a much stronger and consistent release schedule. Final Fantasy 14 is on a pretty rock solid release of major patches every 16 weeks, with minor patches tending to come 6 weeks after a major patch. There's some give and take in there, but even the maximum has stretch to 25 weeks, which is nearly 6 months. Part of keeping the community happy is some degree of consistency.
Right now though, all we have to look forward to is world quest and reputation grinds on two existing zones, in addition to the existing Allied Race reputation grinds you choose to undertake. I can't help but feel like there should be a little more in the hopper to keep players engaged. Perhaps this transition will be like the one between Draenor and Legion, where Blizzard Entertainment kept its head down and workeding towards making thethe excellent upcoming expansion as good as it could be. If Shadowlands knocks it out of the park, then all is forgiven. But currently, I'm not entirely sure how engaged I'll remain long-time with Patch 8.3, at least not without some small additions.