Yesterday, I was home off-work for the day and so when news of the PTR broke, I did the sensible thing and immediately downloaded it and put in around 8 hours of play.
Based on this, I can share a fair amount of detail about what I saw, so it is worth calling out that there will be spoilers in this post. Also, from the gameplay perspective, all of this content is still in-development and subject to change. I’ll make an effort to call out where something is clearly placeholder, balanced badly to allow testing, or obviously set for future iterations based on PTR.
First things first – it’s worth pointing out that this patch feels really far along. Most of the content felt polished from an art and presentation standpoint, and the world content felt pretty complete as well. I would wager there are some missing quests (there are two factions for the invaded zones that are unique to 8.3 and have no introduction whatsoever) but what is there feels complete and ready for balancing passes and quick checks rather than being rough draft content in need of serious overhauls. Raid loot is complete, with itemized and named trinkets and itemized armor and weapons, and all of the art assets appear fully implemented. About the only things missing were boss portraits in the Dungeon Journal and the loading screen art.
The world content is well-built, and at least in Uldum, the invasion of the Black Empire feels well-made – it is apparent with tons of new props and doodads all over the zone. All of this is fitting, as the raid portal for Ny’alotha is in Uldum (?!) and so the zone has a lot of features of that invasion. Vale of Eternal Blossoms is less clearly invaded – it appears to be a Mogu invasion rather than the Black Empire, but given that an uncorrupted Ra’den is hanging out with the Rajani (our new faction there for the patch content), I suspect the invading Mogu are in-league with N’Zoth. The content uses new map indicators to guide you to the invasions, showing the corrupted areas of both zones (so far on PTR it was the central river delta of Uldum, which also turns off the Lost City of the Tol’vir portal, and the western half of the restored Vale of Eternal Blossoms), and uses N’Zoth eyes and obelisk icons as objective markers. The eyes mark standard objectives you can do – usually areas of concentrated enemies for a “fill the bar” styled quest, and then it moves to show an endboss for the quest.
The obelisk markers give you a Vision of N’Zoth, moving you to a phased version of one of the two invaded zones that is generally more dangerous. It is packed denser with mobs and you have a Sanity meter that slowly drains, along with the enemy attacks being able to also drain your sanity. Completing a fill the bar quest objective in these visions gives you an additional reward and these seem like a means to farm the new catchup gear, as they give an Essence item that is used in batches of 100 to purchase new gear, alongside other tokens we’ll discuss later. My clear of a Vision gave me 150 of these. Also, not that these Visions, while mechanically similar to the 1-5 player challenges we’ll get to later, are not the same. Visions are the lesser version and Horrific Visions are the challenging 1-5 player stuff!
Lastly, it appears the invasions will be on a timer of some sort, but on PTR, the timer started around 3 days – unclear if this is the actual plan or for testing only. I hope the zones are available daily, but they give a cache reward, so I expect that they will rotate in a similar fashion to emissaries, and rather than taking an emissary slot, the reward is tied to completing the Assault quests, so it appears that you would be able to do a current-day emissary plus an Assault. I’d fully expect them to be staggered so only one is up at a time but that they can rotate so one is always up. The factions also offer daily quests – it is unclear if these require the assaults, as both assaults are up on PTR, but they offer additional objectives you can knock out together with the main assault.
Overall, I’m of a mixed opinion on the world content. I really like what they did to Uldum for this and I hope that the Vale of Eternal Blossoms sees a similar revamp – the patch preview seemed to feature a vastly different zone, so I imagine it is just a PTR thing that it seems missing for now, or maybe the assaults vary in type. I liked the gameplay for the most part, but it is bog-standard world quest content so I’d expect the sheen to wear off quickly. Where I get slightly bothered is that these seem to be our new zones for the patch – aka, no new zones. I am an advocate for reusing the world and bringing it in as a character throughout the content, but at the same time, man, I wish we had a world zone for Ny’alotha. The changes in Uldum add a lot of character to the zone and have a ton of flair, so provided that the Vale gets similar treatment, I’ll be happy.
One last note on world content – the Vale “restoration” is just a reversion to patch 5.3, so it looks great, but it also has no changes to show the passage of time in the zone. Also, that means the Siege of Orgrimmar portal, while labeled on the map, is MIA. Still, Vale remains one of my all-time favorite zones visually, so I am glad to see it return!
As for the other piece of testable content, I spent a pretty significant amount of time in the Horrific Visions last night. I’ve documented pretty well in a lot of posts that I was something of a Mage Tower addict, so “challenging solo content” is extremely in my lane and when I saw I could test it right away – obviously I had to do it.
For testing purposes, you can buy the legendary cloak and the Corruption Essences off a vendor right by the portals to the Horrific Visions – they’re both in the Heart chamber. The HV system has two unique progression elements that are, currently, exclusively tied to it. The Legendary cloak’s effect helps you get more time in the instance (more on that momentarily) rather than being a cool effect or proc, and there is also a talent-tree-like progression path that allows you to spend Corruption Essences to gain buffs exclusively for these instances. The cloak also has an upgrade system, increasing its item level (in theory, since on PTR currently the upgrades actually reduce the item level of the cape!) but also the amount of Sanity protection it offers.
The interactions of these two systems make the challenge much easier. The core mechanic isn’t mechanical complexity inside the challenge, but rather sanity drain. Every second you are losing a fixed amount of sanity per subzone of the challenge, with easier areas taking less of a toll and the harder areas ramping the drain to nearly double. On top of this, enemies have attacks that can cause damage and also drain sanity. Your goal is to complete the objectives without falling to the whispers of N’Zoth – once your health or sanity reaches zero, the challenge is over (solo, at least, as a whole group needs to die if you go in grouped up for it to end, and there are means to raise fallen players even if you don’t have a resser in the group.) Each of the two visions (Stormwind and Orgrimmar) are split into 5 sections based on the districts of the town. The divisions are clear as you have to open a barrier into a different district to get the objective information and the unused parts of both towns are walled off with debris and scary impassable void walls. The enemies are all fairly simple, and the bosses individually are as well, but the harder bosses do introduce mechanics that make them difficult (Matthias Shaw frequently vanishes and shadowsteps around the area while summoning unkillable eye adds that sap your sanity, Magister Umbric teleports back and forth across the portal room of Stormwind, Rexxar lays down a ton of stun traps and has 4 difficult void boars with fun names that have mechanics that can bounce you around, and the boss that Garona helps with has a stun and sanity drain I still don’t full understand and an ability that must be interrupted that requires doing enough damage to pop a shield, which then auto-interrupts).
Then there are the main bosses – Thrall and Alleria. Both are in the first areas of their respective HVs, and are actually relatively simple on their own. The first time you go in, the game is going to encourage you to simply kill them, which will end the scenario. They have their own abilities, but the fights are straightforward – at first. With every boss you kill elsewhere, the end boss gains an ability from that boss, making their fights end up at a high level of mechanical complexity. Thrall has a simple circle void zone that goes inside <-> outside in sequence, but if you kill Rexxar, he has two Void Boars that will charge you, which can knock you into the void zones. Alleria has a void nova that requires you line of sight her around the pillars of the Stormwind Cathedral, but the Dwarven District boss gives her his dynamite throw, which leaves fire patches, meaning poor timing can block off a pillar or force a long run with a short amount of time to LOS the nova, not to mention that if you are melee, you may need to use LOS to bait her out of the fires since she is content to stand in them and shoot you at range. These little twists are great and they do make the fights scarier, but they aren’t nearly as challenging as the Mage Tower, I am sad to say. In fact, the whole experience isn’t really challenging at all. While I did do them with the full talent progression and a fully ranked cape (reducing all sanity loss by 75%), I was never in any serious danger of failing for sanity. My few failures were due to boss learning (Matthias Shaw and Rexxar both got me the first time) but in 3 attempts each, I had 5-chested both scenarios. Now, without the fully-ranked cape, the Sanity will be a bigger threat, and it is in fact designed to be the primary one, it seems. Nothing in either challenge is as big of a threat as the steady drain of Sanity is, and it seems like your early attempts will be a race against the clock to kill at least a single boss prior to losing your mind.
Every kill rewards a big handful of Corruption Essence (my full 5-boss runs rewarded around 3,500 from kills alone) and then additional essences from the chests at the end. Further, each boss kill nets you an Orb item from the chests at the end, which have 3 rarities – green, blue, and purple – and these are used alongside the Assault essence items to purchase gear from Wrathion’s crew. Currently on PTR, they only sell Boots/Gloves/Pants/Belt, and the item costs seem off – between an assault and a decent 2-boss run at the HV, you could probably buy one of the base pieces. The epic orbs don’t appear to be in yet, or at least, if they are, I haven’t found a drop for them yet. There is also something interesting in the scenarios – as you enter, you speak to a projection of Wrathion, and the room is filled with altars indicating there are masks in the scenario with little hints about how to find them (“this mask is in void”), but I couldn’t find any in my session last night, so I can’t say what they would do or what the reward is in it (maybe extra challenges, maybe the epic Orbs are tied to them?), but it seems like a good way to extend the longevity of these, as the base challenge at current tuning isn’t particularly high.
I’ll likely need to re-transfer my DH and try these without the perks, because with them, they are trivially easy even at a 430 item level average, and imagining that players could be doing these at 475 average is crazy – the whole place would melt. Right now, they are more akin to the Suramar Withered Training Scenario than the Mage Tower – they’re fun little bits of content that can be tricky to master, but the challenge is mostly contained to racing against the Sanity meter and mastering the routes through both scenarios to maximize time spent. The masks seem like they’ll add something more to it, but without a serious tuning pass, these are no Mage Tower scenarios and unless there are fantastic cosmetic rewards or some other limited-time reward tied to them, I can’t imagine these will hold my interest past 5-chesting and full-masking both on my main character.
The other thing worth noting about these is that entering them requires an item, which is gathered by getting some other type of essence (I totally forget what it is called, my apologies) and then using them to make a bottle of essence, which is consumed to queue for the scenario. The bottles take exponentially more essence to craft each time, going drastically up (I made 10 on PTR and it cost around 200,000 essences) and my playtime on PTR earned me…36 or so? If that remains the case, it looks like the challenge is going to be getting enough currency to run them, which is a bit of a shitty way to manage it in my opinion. It would make it slightly harder to learn the mechanics, though, since you would only be able to enter the HV a small number of times and you won’t be able to take a throwaway attempt to learn a new boss – you’ll have to make sure it counts.
Now, this is where I definitely want to interject with a “balancing can change this drastically” because if the item drop rates are great to get into the instance, it’s better, if the challenge is dialed up on the actual enemies, it’s better, and if the rewards are better than catchup gear and talents specific to the HV, it’s better. Right now, it is this whole system off to the side – unclear in lore why we’re doing it, unclear from gameplay what the true challenge is, and a bit too on the simple side to hold any lasting appeal. That being said, I did really enjoy my time in them yesterday, and with some tuning upwards and good rewards, this could be very much my jam.
Lastly, the story quests and content are solid and enjoyable. Removing the war focus actually makes them really great, and there is a solid hour or two of pure solo questing in the opening of the patch, which has some interesting implications for lore that I will dive into in a separate post!
Overall, I think the patch is mixed but trending positive. I have some disappointments (no truly new zones, low difficulty of the Horrific Visions, confusing currency and progression systems – seriously Blizzard type “essence” into an online thesaurus and let’s make some changes, and a lack of clarity around the core gameplay loops of the new content) but I also have to say that for an early PTR build, what is in is polished and feels mostly complete, my concerns could in many cases be tuned and adjusted for, and the visual kit and content theme is extremely my type of stuff. Put more polish on it, bring up the difficulty and give me strong repeatable content, and I could be actually happy with this patch!