The last few days I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out why I'm not particularly enjoying Patch 3.1 when I'm doing something besides raiding Ulduar. I should be enjoying it! When I first checked it out on the PTR, I was extremely excited about it. The Argent Tournament especially. The whole jousting deal, the Arthurian themes, the potential for story progression, the whole thing. It looked great! Unfortunately... I'm finding it pretty boring.
The Argent Tournament feels lifeless. Completely and utterly lifeless. I say it all of the time, but patch 2.4 was my favorite patch of World of Warcraft thus far, no contest. Patch 2.4 brought me more joy than even the Wrath launch. Not only did it have content for absolutely every aspect of the game, but it also actually changed the world. Storylines progressed in an in-your-face way. Sure, patch 3.1 moved the Ulduar and Yogg-Saron story forward, but would you know it if you didn't read fansites or watch the patch 3.1 cinematic? What's different? What indicator is there that something new is happening in the Storm Peaks?
When the Sunwell Plateau war effort began, Shattrath very significantly changed. You arrived in the city and you knew something was going on. There was a crisis, and some of the prime forces of the world (at the time) had to come together to stop it. Sure, patch 2.4 and patch 3.1 came at different points in their respective expansions' development cycles, and that allows patch 2.4 to do more with the world than patch 3.1 would, but that doesn't excuse the lack of life in 3.1 at all.
The Horde and the Alliance have decided against joining the Ulduar war effort in any official capacity, but that certainly doesn't mean that nobody at all knows what's happening in Ulduar. The Kirin Tor is definitely interested in what's happening, yet Dalaran remains stagnant. Jaina Proudmoore has apparently taken a personal interest in the crisis, but you don't see her in Northrend. Once you enter Ulduar it's made very obvious that there are parties that care and they're pooling their resources to pull off the impossible, but there aren't even hints that anything is happening out in the world.
The Argent Tournament is a little better, but not much. You get a letter in the mail letting you know the event has started, but there's still very little happening outside of the daily quests. There are no event promoters, no recruiters, nobody really talking about what's going on. When you go to the Tournament, you get a distinct impression that there's some sort of festival going on, some celebration. There are banners and flags and all of the races are flying their colors in elaborate tents. It's exhilarating!
Then your mount touches down on the ground and you slowly realize that there's nothing happening here. There are NPCs on mounts idling by their flags and nothing else is going on. The only notable flavor text in the entire place is a goblin trying to sell you the medieval equivalent of a t-shirt. You can say, "But Alex, the coliseum is still being built!" Yep. You sure can say that. I would tell you that's no excuse for a part of the world being lifeless. Have you ever walked/driven past a construction site before? Unless they've been abandoned, they're absolutely full of activity. This should be much the same.
So this is a whole lot of complaining about brand new content without a lot of constructive suggestions, isn't it. Good news! I have some suggestions, too!
Like I said, the Ulduar war effort would be a pretty big deal, even if the Horde and the Alliance haven't officially thrown their lot in with Dalaran here. At the end of the day, just about every adventurer in Northrend retreats to Dalaran for some rest and would hear about something happening. The Horde and Alliance may not be interested in Ulduar, but the Kirin Tor definitely is. Problem is, Dalaran doesn't display that. You wouldn't know something is going on in Ulduar. So what would I do?
- The most obvious thing to do is use the Dalaran Magi that act as city guards to fill the role of the Commoners that crop up in capital cities such as Stormwind and Orgrimmar during world events. The Mages must talk about something, they're all standing in pairs! What are they talking about? Did someone's family member go into Ulduar? Are they getting ready to go to Ulduar?
- When you enter Ulduar itself, you see that they've pulled in a number of mercenary groups to bulk up their forces. Bring some of those mercenaries into Dalaran. Are they working out their contract with Kirin Tor officials? Are they being noisy, disruptive jerks in the various inns and bars?
- Put more activity directly outside of Ulduar. The righteous (and not so righteous) forces of Azeroth are mobilizing to stop Yogg-Saron. Set up some of the activity going on inside of the raid zone... outside. Battle-Mages rushing about, engineers repairing vehicles. Nothing of supreme importance, but Ulduar should not look pristine when there's a war going on. Anything to indicate that all Hell is about to break loose inside of that building would be good.
- Put Jaina in the Violet Citadel temporarily with relevant flavor text. Technically she's a part of the Alliance, but when has that stopped Jaina from doing what she thinks is right?
Lowering the number of generic Mage NPCs and replacing them with mercenaries waiting to have their contracts finalized would make a fair amount of sense, actually. Those missing Mages are off to war, and those mercs are waiting for Rhonin's pen to hit paper.
Warhammer, at launch, was definitely on the too much freaking dialogue end of the activity spectrum. Let me tell ya, The Inevitable City is one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring cities I've ever seen in an MMO, but when a group of NPCs go through their conversation eight times in five minutes, it's too much, too frequently. I got sick of the city pretty quick exclusively because of that. Yeah, you want players to be able to catch that dialogue, but if it happens too often it's just an annoyance. There's a middleground there somewhere, and I think both WoW and WAR are missing it.
The Argent Tournament
Again, as mentioned earlier, the Argent Tournament may not be in full swing yet since the coliseum is still under construction, but that doesn't mean nothing should be happening there. That's just silly. So what would I do?
- Recruiters! The Argent Crusade wants to bring capable warriors from far and wide to compete at the Tournament and help them against the Scourge. They really oughta send out some feelers. A mass-mailing is such a copout! I'd love to see some Argent Tourney promoters out in the non-Dalaran capital cities. Obviously Dalaran knows it's happening, those guys are already in Northrend. Send a few guys to Stormwind, or Undercity, or Orgrimmar. For extra drama, send some Human Crusaders to Orgrimmar and some Forsaken or Orc Crusaders to Stormwind. Sweet, sweet animosity.
- This is the quietest construction site I've ever seen. Where are the explosions? The angry foreman? The random stone blocks falling off of scaffolding followed by a comedic 'oops'? So much wasted potential.
- The event needs star power. Are there any big names planning to take part in the tournament? There's a ton of opportunity here to pit some lore figures up against each other in a friendly (yet competitive) way. Tirion Fordring vs. Darion Mograine on horseback, anyone? Make these star power duels only happen every few hours, and you can even make a big show of it. NPCs would run to watch, and guess what? Players would, too. If this only happens a few times a day, people would go out of their way to watch, and they wouldn't mind their dailies being interrupted for a few minutes for it.
Patch 3.1 has lots of cool content, but it is utterly lifeless. In my opinion, Blizzard has set the bar for the story progressing within the game itself so high starting with patch 2.4 and through Wrath of the Lich King's initial release that they can't really afford to slip back into the days where the world was utterly stagnant. The game world needs to continue reflecting current events, and those current events need character. Without character, what is the Argent Tournament? Just another generic quest hub with yet more daily quests. Oh boy.
It's certainly a possibility that Blizzard had these ideas in mind and simply didn't have the time to implement them given the fact that patch 3.1 had already taken so long to produce, but it's still sad to see something with such potential fall so short (in my mind, at least.) I also understand that the teams working on this event were probably the same people working on updating things like Noblegarden, and there's only so much a team can do in a day (or even many days) so there's that to consider. Still, I can't help but feel a little love and care would have made this patch's new content incredibly immersing instead of just ho-hum.