WoW has been dying for 12 years, but now Blizzard is doing (almost) everything right again
World of Warcraft has had some difficult years. Even hardcore fans have at least temporarily turned away from the MMORPG top dog. But now the turning point is coming, claims MeinMMO editor Benedict Grothaus. Because the new expansion Dragonflight and even the 14-year-old Wrath of the Lich King provide an impetus that WoW urgently needs.
I’m enjoying World of Warcraft again. In all honesty, and with the childlike joy I felt when I first explored Azeroth and Outland. At the moment WoW is undoubtedly one of my favorite games again and I would like to have more time to play different classes extensively.
I’m really looking forward to Dragonflight. I enjoy the Rufer so much that I switch classes in the next addon and play a caster for the first time in 12 years. Wrath of the Lich King Classic is just as awesome as it was 14 years ago. I am happy.
In recent years I would not have expected to be able to write such an introduction again. Because lately it didn’t look like Blizzard knew why millions of fans actually love World of Warcraft. Before I can explain why I love WoW again, I want to explain why this is such a big deal in the first place.
Blizzard is also making a lot of desire for Dragonflight with a series of short films. Here is part 1 of Legacies:
2021 and 2022 were not good years for the MMORPG, even apart from the big sexism scandal. Shadowlands has disappointed many fans. Thousands migrated to Final Fantasy’s Japanese competition, including even Twitch streamer Asmongold, who has a deep love-hate relationship with WoW.
I said then that World of Warcraft is dying – but too slowly. MyMMO demon Cortyn also said Shadowlands lost, no matter what Blizzard is doing. But the decline started much, much earlier.
Since Mists of Pandaria at the latest, WoW has been dying
Many see Cataclysm as the beginning of the end for World of Warcraft. The whole idea of a rework of the entire world was received rather negatively. And indeed, that was also reflected in the player numbers.
Almost 12 years ago, Wrath of the Lich King had more players than ever before with over 12 million subscribers and also as never since. At least not according to official figures, which eventually stopped appearing. And since Cataclysm, the numbers have been going down. That was certainly due to the fact that with the death of the Lich King Warcraft 3 was told to the end. But not only, because the MMOPRG factor also became less and less.
For me, Mists of Pandaria is where WoW started to die. Specifically: the curtailment of talent in a much simpler system. That was the first step in removing the feeling of an RPG from the MMORPG.
The MMO aspect was greatly reduced by the Raid Finder (“LFR”). The LFR was introduced at the end of Cataclysm – so in MoP it was one of the features that ran through the whole addon.
Guilds became less and less important for casuals, at the same time many classes lost their depth. You no longer had to deal with the game to still be able to see everything.
Sure, for “WoW tourists” that was great. Gambling with each patch for 2-3 weeks and then disappearing again worked perfectly. But these players are not keeping the game alive. WoW started dying for me from that point on. And I am generously ignoring Warlords of Draenor, like most WoW players…
BfA and Shadowlands were “meh” at best
When Legion came out in 2016, something of what truly makes WoW an MMORPG returned. Artifact Weapons and Legendaries again brought depth and engagement with your classes—even if that just meant looking at the hundreds of traits to grind with Artifact Power. It looked like WoW was on the mend after a drought.
But then came Battle for Azeroth (2018) and Shadowlands (2020).
BfA took Legion’s worst system and made it even worse. More grind for even less choice, no more tier sets and still 4 gear slots were blocked by Azerit Gear and Heart of Azeroth.
WoW has never offered fewer opportunities for players to express themselves. I played 5 different classes in BfA and they all felt the same. So much so, that once I set up my interface, I was able to map skills to the same buttons that always performed the same function.
Shadowlands was a bright spot. Torghast sounded promising, the covenants as a big feature sounded like a new opportunity for customization. In the end, though, it all involved so much grind that you stuck with the one pact you chose to just bite through the story that was being dismembered by timegating.
Dragonflight learns from past mistakes
Both Shadowlands and BfA at least did the right thing, adapting the features over the course of the expansions so that you could end up with a good grade. Shadowlands Season 4 in particular was so good that even the biggest critics praised it:
Analyst has been tearing up WoW for years, now praising the end of Shadowlands, has to grin with joy
And it looks like Blizzard has learned from the mistakes of the last 4 years. Because many of the systems and choices that just didn’t go over well are missing entirely or have been rethought in the upcoming expansion.
Two prominent examples are particularly striking here. The first is the new talent trees for all classes. So much work has gone into balancing the classes in recent years that some of them have almost completely lost their identity. Everyone could somehow do everything and only the color of the spells differed. With Dragonflight, I can finally play my class the way I want again – even if it means changing just one talent point and being maybe 2% worse mathematically. But it’s MY character that I’m playing MY way.
Incidentally, the developers recently told me that the talents are something like the “Best Of since Legion”.
The second example is the animal sets that will be in the game from the start. Admittedly, the effects are pretty lame compared to before. But getting rid of sets was the dumbest idea Blizzard ever had. These special items have always been the biggest incentive for me and many others to gamble. Performance leaps are simply fun and the LFR makes it easy enough to get to the important effects even as a casual.
What I’m not sure about yet is the reputation system. The constant grind of fame with the Shadowlands covenants was annoying. I sincerely hope that progression in Dragonflight doesn’t get throttled that much, but we’ll see about that.
I have to say here that I had a similar feeling with Shadowlands as I do now with Dragonflight. At that time Blizzard removed many features like the endless Torghast shortly before release, even though they were in beta. I hope Blizzard doesn’t make that mistake again.
Dragonflight has what WoW has been missing for years
What talents and sets bring to Dragonflight is what has made World of Warcraft great for nearly 20 years: the feel of the game. When I played the Alpha and Beta of Dragonflight, WoW felt like an MMO again and more like an RPG.
What’s more, the idea of ”back to the roots” runs throughout the expansion. I’ve noticed Blizzard’s quirky humor in every corner of the Dragon Isles. I was reminded again why I actually love World of Warcraft. Shadowlands had its own brand of humor, but literally roaming about in the realms of the dead and socializing with dead-serious Kyrians, humorless necrolords, or smug Venthyr was hardly an invitation to laughter.
Another reason why I enjoy Dragonflight so much is actually much more obvious and obvious: There’s another new class and race.
The Caller throws the balance of the classes completely upside down. Everyone has to rediscover themselves, rediscover their niche and, what makes the Rufer so special, acquire a new way of playing. Because callers are limited to a range of 30 meters, but are extremely mobile, which will make it exciting, especially in raids, to see how the group dynamics will develop.
Here’s a bit of gameplay we’ve cut together from the Caller from the Alpha:
I understand that a new class always means a lot of work so that all players still feel treated fairly. But think about it… each of WoW’s “good addons” always introduced a new class, didn’t they?
In addition, the new race is more adaptable than any other race before. This gives hope for more opportunities to create your own character and make your vision come true.
Wrath of the Lich King couldn’t have come at a better time
To take up the initial statement again, why I’m having so much fun with World of Warcraft again, I have to mention WoW Classic here. As of September 27th, Wrath of the Lich King Classic is the current expansion of the Classic version.
This puts WotLK right between Season 4 of Shadowlands and the release of Dragonflight. Unless you’re one of those crazy people who just race through the expansion, the level phase alone takes many hours, days or even weeks.
One of Wrath of the Lich King’s greatest strengths is the continent of Northrend. There are so many stories hidden there, there is so much nostalgia and attention to detail that every visit is simply amazing. See again where Arthas picks up the cursed blade Frostmourne, see again Sindragosa awakening, spot the frost dwarves again. Beautiful experiences that everyone should have at least once.
For me, Classic has always been the “feel good” version of WoW. Retail is fast, it’s all about performance. WoW Classic decelerates. I’ve already devoured Burning Crusade as my favorite addon, but in WotLK I like to just be casual and play at my own pace.
I’m taking my time with WotLK, but was on the very first ship ever to Northrend back then. Along with hundreds of other players, a crazy feeling:
I don’t know if I “maxed” my character before Dragonflight came out. Probably not, but I don’t care either. If I ever hit a limit in Dragonflight that I just don’t feel like going to anymore, I’ll unpack my classic paladin and fly around Northrend, draw my death knight, or farm something. Just seeing the world is enough for me.
Dragonflight and WotLK together is the best combination that WoW can have at the moment. The two games complement each other perfectly and are so perfect for me that I hardly need anything else for my free time right now.
By the way, Dragonflight doesn’t just convince me:
Twitch streamer Preach re-engages with WoW, MMO boss asks ‘Hadn’t you quit?’