It’s a big day for World of Warcraft as the long-running MMORPG upgrades to version 8.2 with the massive Rise of Azshara update. Players can now explore two new zones, earn gnome and tauren heritage armor, learn to fly in the Battle for Azeroth zones and gain the ability to hide all of their armor but their pants. Truly, it is the dawn of a new Azerothian age.
Internally, and by that I mean inside my head, I’ve been referring to Rise of Azshara as the gnome update. One of the two new zones introduced, the mechanical city of Mechagon, is a gnomish paradise, and I hope my smaller World of Warcraft characters can spend most of their lives living there. The Mechagon Island zone is sort of an extension of my favorite spot in the expansion, and I can’t wait to explore its junk-covered hills, meeting and making all sorts of mechanical toys, minions and equipment using the new junkyard tinkering feature.
Mechagon Island leads to Operation: Mechagon, a new eight-boss mega-dungeon that’s only available in the advanced, Mythic difficulty.
Meanwhile, in non-gnomish content, Horde and Alliance players will be plunged into the Nazjatar zone, home of Queen Azshara and her naga armies. I don’t know why she gets top billing, but her zone, which is a vast kingdom beneath the surface of Azeroth’s ocean, looks mighty impressive so far.
In Nazjatar, players can collect something called Prismatic Manapears, which can be exchanged for special upgradeable Benthic gear. This unique armor, intended for use in the Nazjatar zone and the upcoming Azshara’s Eternal Palace raid, will grant the owner special benefits, such as increased damage, increased mount speed, enemy debuffs and such.
This is one of those World of Warcraft expansions where I log in and have no idea what to go after first. Do I work towards earning exalted with Gnomeregan so I can get the new gnome heritage armor?
Do I level an alt so I can get the tauren heritage armor, which replaces cloaks with a huge, wooden totem?
There are also new quests to complete. The war campaign continues, advancing the Horde versus Alliance battle at the center of the Battle for Azeroth expansion. There are new island expeditions and a vast new PVP battleground to get wrecked in. Hell, I haven’t even completed the first half of the flying in Battle for Azeroth achievement, and now the second half is live in the game. Should I complete that and get the mechanical parrot mount? I just don’t know.
Oh wait, let me just look through these update notes one more time. Of course, it was staring me in the face this whole time. One moment.
Did I mention players can now turn all of their armor invisible except for their pants? It’s pants party time, people. PANTS PARTY.
Check out Blizzard’s hand Rise of Azshara survival guide video for a list of things to do if pants parties aren’t your thing.
Next week’s World of Warcraft 8.1.5 update gives both the Alliance and Horde factions centralized portal hubs, which is good. At the same time, Blizzard is removing a bunch of existing portals, making it harder to get around the game. It’s an odd change that has players asking Blizzard why, and they’re not satisfied with the answer.
Reported last week by the fine folks at Wowhead, centralized portal hubs are a common request from World of Warcraft players. Rather than catching boats and zeppelins, taking overly long gryphon trips, or hunting down existing portals scattered about the cities, a central location with portals connecting to most commonly traveled locations would be a boon to travel-weary adventurers. That’s what players had in mind. It turns out Blizzard had other ideas.
The new portal hubs are currently featured on the public test server and are going live next week. Located in the Stormwind mage tower and inside the gates of Orgrimmar, each hub features portals to seven locations:
The Burning Crusade expansion’s Shattrath
Wrath of the Lich King’s Dalaran
Mist of Pandaria’s Jade Forest
Faction-specific cities for Warlords of Draenor and Battle for Azeroth
Blood elf or draenei starting areas from The Burning Crusade
These hubs also feature a non-player character that will teleport players to the Blasted Lands, where the Dark Portal stands.
That’s not a bad selection, though there are some glaring omissions. There’s still no quick way to get from Orgrimmar to the Tauren hometown of Thunder Bluff. Alliance characters looking to get from Stormwind to Ironforge still have to take the tram. Portals to every major faction city can be found in the current expansion’s hub towns of Boralus and Dazar’alor, but lower-level characters still have to hoof it. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get to Karazhan and the Caverns of Time anymore. Worst of all, the Legion version of the floating city of Dalaran, still used by many as a teleportation hub, is being purged of portals, a move that will likely leave the city a shadow of its former self.
“I understand that changes can throw people off a bit at first, but I also think they help keep the world of Azeroth feeling alive. When there are fewer portals, does the world feel a bit bigger to you? Do you like that? How difficult is it to get to the locations you mentioned without a direct portal?”
Bornakk’s comment alone drew nearly 500 direct replies, including this one from player Orctang:
“Nope, just feels like travel is being time gated. If you want the world to feel bigger make bigger zones that are more alive.”
“You opened numerous pandora’s boxes of convenience throughout various portions of the game and have built a community that relies on that convenience. Taking it away now is akin to shooting your own foot.
Build on what you’ve built… don’t tear out the base and expect the rest of the building to just… figure out how to stand up on it’s own. It’ll fall. As will your community.”
In response to the overwhelming negative player feedback, Blizzard community manager Kaivax posted an extensive explanation of the developer’s decision. In his post, Kaivax talks about attempting to balance conflicting design considerations. On one hand, the team doesn’t want to make the game too portal reliant. “Too many eliminations of the distances between places can diminish a sense of the world having a meaningful size,” Kaivax said. At the same time, Kaivax explained they don’t want to make travel to any location too inconvenient. He also points out that removing portals is something that’s happened with the release of every expansion; it just never happened with Legion or Mists of Pandaria, and now the devs are playing catch-up.
“With new expansions, we’ve made a tradition of removing some of the portals from the previous expansion’s cities. The goal with that is to encourage transportation flow through newer places where players are more likely to interact with other players. We neglected to do that initially following Legion (and we never did that following Mists of Pandaria for various reasons), but we feel that we should have. We’re correcting that now.”
Kaivax ends his post by saying that the new changes are the direct result of feedback from players, and that “We believe that the numerous remaining means of quick access in the game make most locations quite reachable.” The post already has more than 3,700 responses, many of them negative.
My favorite reactions to the portal controversy comes by way of the World of Warcraft Reddit page, where user winner_in_patching is compiling a list of predictions for the “next unnecessary random change in WoW.” Here are a few.
After tirelessly listening to feedback on how the Open World is not dangerous, we have removed out of combat health regeneration. Fear not. Spending 8 hours at an inn will get you back on the sunny fields in Azeroth. (by CardinalM1)
Armor Rating now converted to Movement Speed Rating. Your movement speed is affected by how many armor pieces you wear. Your movement speed can be reduced to a maximum of 1% and a minimum of 70%. Cloth Armor users will have a combined Durability of 2 for all their pieces. Naked Players will gain a boost to their movement speed and also be entered in the monthly Transmog competition. (by sleepysnipersloth)
Flying mounts now get an exhaustion bar, rarity and levels. This is to ensure people enjoy the landscape instead of flying. (by Kremdes)
Trading now only works in major cities. With these changes we hope to make the world seem bigger, bringing players together and discourage giving others your righfully earned loot. (by runnyyyy)
Fortunately, none of these player-suggested changes will be in update 8.1.5, which goes live on Tuesday, March 12.