This past Tuesday, World of Warcraft released its penultimate major content patch for this expansion, entitled Call of the Crusade.
The patch features what sounds like, on paper, a really interesting set of new features, including a new raid, a new 5-person instance, loads of new gear, benefits to leveling characters, and so on. The call of this Crusade sounds enticing but is really more than just a dim sounding of the horns of war. It’s rich in lore, but light in content. The new raids are single-room, single-fight affairs. All five raid bosses in the new raid instance will appear one per week for the first five weeks, until the full instance is unlocked. That’s over a month of waiting to see the end of the new raid. A new battleground was added, but no new interesting concepts created therein.
Honestly, it seems as though Blizzard intended to give the endgame community (which now includes more than just 25-man hardcore raiding guilds) a chance to gear up two or three characters per player in preparation for the “ultimate” experiencing of the Icecrown raids and the eventual battle against Arthas.
Love or hate the class changes, but they represent the hardest aspects of this content patch. Most of the changes are geared towards getting players geared and into ever-higher levels of content, of improving the experience of leveling players to get them to high-level content more quickly, and to providing interesting “niche” playstyles for people like twinks, or player-versus-player characters that leave their toons at deliberately low-levels with outstanding gear to compete in restricted brackets of PVP action.
The biggest (and best) changes to the game in patch 3.2 are the ones relating to leveling and gearing. In The Burning Crusade, the prospect of taking a second character from 1-70 and then going through the arduous prospect of long normal instances to get passable gear for Heroics and Karazahn was punishing. Very few guilds got to see all the hard work the developers put in for Black Temple, Mount Hyjal and the Sunwell raids.
Part of the new design philosophy of World of Warcraft is to allow a greater access to the endgame while still preserving some of the “prestige” that is associated with top-level players burning through content. This is a good thing: it allows smaller (10-man) guilds to compete with larger, 25-man outfits while still providing better gear to people taking the time to run the larger raids. But in order to keep slower-moving guilds at the same level of progression as more dedicated groups, there need to be shortcuts to good gear so that entry-level requirements of the new raids can be met.
Enter the new emblem system, where running the same old Heroic dungeons that have been around since launch will provide players with the ability to buy gear almost on par with the normal-mode Trial of the Crusader raids. Coupled with experience-boosting items that can be mailed to lower-level characters, the ability to purchase mounts at drastically lower levels than previously, and the ability of guilds to make quick work of easy raids like Obsidian Sanctum, Vault of Archavon and Naxxramas, and Blizzard has provided guilds a quick and easy way to get alternate characters, new members and the like up to speed in a hurry to run through a quick, arena-style dungeon in order to get decked out in the gear necessary to join in the assault on Icecrown Citadel and the Lich King.
More casual guilds probably won’t have a full clear of Ulduar, let alone complete its hard modes and defeat Algalon the Observer. But this is OK: the new raid, coupled with the possibility of other short raids (more Wyrmrest Temple raids, for example, or another Caverns of Time instance), will provide players with the ability to circumvent the need for a full clear of Ulduar before beginning Icecrown.
The end of this expansion is in sight for all players, and this can only be a good thing. It’s how Blizzard will keep an aging game growing strong for half a decade or more. Between Heirloom items, recruit-a-friend, and battleground/PVP-based leveling, the entire focus of WoW is to get a player in as best of gear as she can, get her to the main action, and give everyone, from the ultracasuals to those chained to their toilet/IV drip/computer chair workstations, a chance to meet Arthas in battle.