Tides of Vengeance – Patch 8.1 and the Quest to Reclaim Player Interest

Yesterday was the day we’ve been waiting for since the launch of Battle for Azeroth – especially since hitting 120 – a patch announcement.

The format was new and odd – Ion, standing alone in the Q&A room, as if onstage at a virtual Blizzcon, no one else visible and a virtual audience of thousands as he delivered news of what awaited us in patch 8.1, all the while never calling it patch 8.1.

“Tides of Vengeance” was the name given to the patch that we are about to see on PTR, and in terms of addressing the impactful gaps in gameplay, there is definitely something there. While light on big details, with a simple, utilitarian slideshow serving to deliver the news alongside Ion’s narration, the morsels we did get from this stream are promising.

Raiders: Get Yourselves Ready
In a break from the patch model in Legion (although it does somewhat fit with the overall structure), 8.1 will have two raids. Filling in the Trial of Valor spot is a raid set in the depths of Stormsong, with two bosses and story content serving to address the Naga threat and bridging us into our Azshara-ruled future. Since Horde players get literally a small handful of Naga-based quests (none of which address the presence of Queen Azshara that Alliance players get), the content promises to have lead-up story quests to serve to deliver Horde players to the raid while continuining the Stormsong Valley quest stories the Alliance got.

However, the bigger raid announcement is the tentatively-titled Siege of Zuldazar. The centerpiece raid of the patch, this raid has nine total bosses. What makes it unique, however, is that rather than having both factions do an identical experience where the only thing that changes is NPC presence and the names and models of certain bosses, each faction will get a unique experience with 6 bosses each! The Horde sweeps in from the northern jungles of Zuldazar into Dazar’Alor, trying to fend off the Alliance and chasing them from the Great Seal down to the docks and onto the sea, culminating with a fight that includes Jaina. The Alliance takes an opposite path, pushing from the docks up through the Grand Seal and concluding with a fight against King Rastakhan.

So, that all sounds well and good up front, but raises a question…how do you balance two different raids? Blizzard’s new, unique answer to this is simple – you don’t! Rather than building two completely separate experiences and then trying to keep loot parity and difficulty parity between the raids, both factions get to do all 9 bosses, by doing their 6 bosses first, and then being offered a “tell me what happened to the other faction” option that allows them to play the unique fights to the other faction. This does raise some additional questions, such as the impact the differing boss order will have on the world-first Mythic race, if all of this will be managed solely within the instance, how much overlap there will be (speculation is 3 unique fights per faction and 3 that are the same between both), and what impact will result if really good loot drops belong to one faction or the other, forcing the enemy faction to clear their 6 bosses first to get them. But, I am tentatively hyped for this raid. It shows a willingness to try a new, different thing, and I don’t doubt that this is going to prove to be a difficult endeavor for the team. All bosses being playable by both means that taking the easy road of making the faction unique fights mirror one another will be apparent and will detract from the experience, so I am very curious to see how this works.

Questers – Prepare to Have…Slightly More To Do?
Questing was outlined as a playstyle that will be receiving more content, with story content connecting both new raids, additional War Campaign quests, and character focus for Saurfang, Tyrande, and Malfurion, bringing the War of the Thorns events back into focus. Ion acknowledged during the stream that the Alliance definitely suffered the greatest losses in the pre-patch, and the result of that is that the patch story in 8.1 will showcase an aggressive Alliance, pushing to pin down and dominate the Horde on every available front. Meanwhile, the Naga stories connecting to the second new raid will bring Horde players up to speed with what the Naga have been doing and give Alliance players the impetus to dive deep into the Shrine of the Storms – deeper than we already do after Lord Stormsong.

To bring the war story to the forefront, a new feature was promised. Called Incursions, the idea is that a hostile zone takeover can happen similar to the Legion Invasions of patch 7.2 in Legion. The Horde might get hyper-aggressive in Tiragarde Sound, removing all the normal world quests and replacing them with conflict-themed quests instead. Many details remain unannounced (are there two incursions active at once, with one on each continent, or if an Alliance Incursion is up, can I help my faction incur upon the Horde? Will these offer a scenario finale like Invasions or no? Will they contribute to Emissaries?) but I like the idea. The Invasion tech seems well suited for this, and while it continues a common theme of borrowing an already-finished piece of Legion technology with a fresh coat of paint, Invasions were fun. Plus, similar to invasions, you’ll be able to level through these on non-120s, although it sounded like you will need to have at least one character with World Quests unlocked first to allow that.

Warfronts – A New One
Not much to say here, other than that Battle for Darkshore was announced, a Night Elf vs. Forsaken warfront that will launch with the Horde in control and the Alliance pushing to take the zone. It will feature updates to the world zone for Darkshore, new architecture and styling for the warring factions, and story tied to it. It remains to be seen if this will also offer rare mobs similar to Arathi, or a world boss, but it sounds like the idea is that there will be rotations of control going on both Warfronts – so Arathi and Darkshore should trade control at similar times, offering both factions a full suite of Warfront content to do, with one zone in contributions/building mode and the other in control mode, which may go a long way towards alleviating some of the frustration with the current setup that exists with just Arathi and the long cycle times.

Islands – Making Them Fun, Hopefully
Island Expeditions are an often-mentioned sore spot in the expansion – a purely additive system that offers little other than a chore by which you can farm Azerite. The Reddit AMA featured a lot of feedback on the system, and 8.1 promises the first major tweaks to the system, tweaks that, to me, sound promising.

First up is a drastic reshuffle to spawn patterns on the islands. Today, mobs are everywhere, making navigation, exploration, and gameplay difficult as you can only seldom breathe without encountering an enemy of some sort. The change will be to bring Islands more in line with standard WoW spawning patterns like dungeons and raids, with open connectors leading between larger, more dense packs of enemies. They’re also adding mini-events that players can initiate to add new elements of gameplay, like Azerite Extractors that can be placed for passive Azerite income and then defended, but can also be captured by the enemy faction. It remains to be seen how the AI handles that, but it should create a mechanism by which the PvP versions of Islands should be more supportive of player conflict.

Lastly and most simply, we also get two new islands – a Vrykul themed one and more exciting to me, a Gilnean-themed island that is an abandoned city, which will create some interesting possibilities.

Systems Changes – A Lot of Welcome, Good News
Reputation has been brought to the forefront as a sour, awful part of the WoW experience – which it has been for a while, to be fair, but the BfA systems have amplified this.

Firstly, the big exciting news for gameplay – the item level enhancements to the Heart of Azeroth that unlock with Champions of Azeroth reputation will be account-wide unlocks. If your main has, as mine has, unlocked the full 45 item level boost from Magni, when patch 8.1 hits, you’ll be able to hop on an alt and go do the quests with Magni for the boosts.

Reputation requirements for transmogs are being removed – if you earned it once, you can use it. It remains to be seen if this is a 100% blanket rule or not, but so far the general impression is that it will be. The example given was a Highmountain Tauren character not being able to use the Highmountain tabard because the HT character is not Exalted with the Highmountain. It makes a lot of sense to remove these limiters, and I am in full support.

They are also consolidating the “x Exalted Reputations” acheivements to account-wide progress, meaning that for the 100 acheivement, if you have 70 unique reps Exalted on Character A and 30 different unique reps at Exalted on Character B, the combined result of 100 total Exalted reps satisfies the requirement.

While this does not directly address the inherent grindiness of Reputation in WoW, it certainly addressses the immediate, pressing concerns, and is a step in the right direction, which I applaud.

Azerite traits were only briefly touched upon, but as promised in the AMA on Reddit, the intention is to introduce new sets of traits for Zuldazar and Stormsong raids, while also retiring the worst traits from the launch tier and introducing newly designed, rebalanced traits to bring the system to a better place. While this is perilously light on details, the other aspect touched upon suggests that the 8.0 Azerite traits are a “floor” – meaning that the future traits should add interactivity and more interesting gameplay dynamics, which would be welcome changes.

Lastly, Allied Races and Heritage Armor were touched upon with good news. Kul Tirans and Zandalari Trolls will be united with our factions through the events of Siege of Zuldazar, and will, best of all, not require new reputation grinds to obtain. You’ll need to be Exalted with Proudmoore Admiralty/Zandalari Empire, and complete the 8.0 story quests through the respective continents, at which point, upon completion of the new raid, we should be able to play them. It remains to be seen if this means in patch 8.1, or what follow-up quests we’ll need to complete, but the biggest promise is no new rep grind, and that is great news. It also means you can begin working towards those goals now, as both factions needed are in game today!

dwarf heritage

As for Heritage Armor, we got confirmation of something that was discussed ocassionally during the lead-up to BfA – our current races will also be getting Heritage Armor sets, although it will be starting slow, with 8.1 introducing Dwarf and Blood Elf sets, of which only concept art of the Dwarf set was shown. The requirements are thankfully quite simple – be Exalted with the home reputation on a character of the race in question (easy to accomplish as all racial factions have tabards that can be used for reputation gains in any dungeon up to Cataclysm), and you’ll then receive a quest chain that has some fun racial flavor and culminates in you being able to transmog to these fresh, new sets. The Dwarf set, rather than being similar to the Ironforge guard sets, is a great, plate-looking set that is reminiscient of the Mountain King units from Warcraft III.

All told, I am rather optimistic of what this patch promises and am eagerly waiting for the PTR to go live. Now that I have a Horde character at max level as well as my current stable of 3 Alliance 120s, I am especially excited for the HoA improvements and the new raid content.

It remains to be seen if this is the silver bullet to put down the negative sentiment towards many pieces of the expansion, but it is a promising start!

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