Blizzard's World of Warcraft patch 2.4? What's changed? What's been improved, and what's been fixed? More importantly, have the patch changes given lapsed players a reason to come back, and non-players a reason to try the game? While I'd love to have one of our WoW specialists answering those questions for you, most of them have shut off their mobile phones and pagers, with mumbled threats involving spleens, sporks, and being tossed "hogtied, naked, and alone into Naxxramas" if I disturbed them while they were experiencing what the patch has to offer.
Of course, the full patch notes are available on Blizzard's site, and our own Michael Zenke did a wonderful job collating the material our sister site -- WoW Insider -- covered on the day the patch released. So far, though, all of the reviews I've seen have come from individuals familiar with the game. Each person who plays or develops a particular game will obviously bring to the table their own views on how a certain class or race should be statted, how crafting should work, what the best gear truly is, and whether or not a particular patch nerfs or improves the game for them. For casual players, though, and for those either starting out with or simply curious about the game, we have to ask why this patch in particular should matter.
Coming from the world of CoX, I know how important new content is to keep the game fresh and alive, and I understand controversy over powerset changes. Looking into the patch from an outsider's perspective, though, I begin to see how this game has managed to keep its hooks into its players for so long. The patch notes alone contain a rich backstory for the Fury of the Sunwell that intrigues me. Reminiscent of some of the better adventure hooks that used to occur in pen and paper RPGs, it incorporates the return of an elven prince, a corrupted font of near-limitless power, and the risk of the realm going 'splodey when the font is reactivated. What's not to like? Then again, I suppose it's only proper that the adventure hook should remind me of RPG hooks: Blizzard dedicated the patch to the memory of Gary Gygax, one of the Founding Fathers of multiplayer gaming.
Speaking of the Sunwell, I'm pleased to read that Sunwell Isle offers both 5 and 25-player instances. One of the things that initially turned me off about WoW was hearing all of my friends rave about the thirty, forty, and elventy-seven person raids they went on. I got confused with Hamidon raids in CoX, and those were discrete teams of eight working in tandem with other groups. I don't even like to think of the coordination that goes into a single team of forty people gathering to take out giant dragons and the like. Seeing this patch point out that smaller groupings are not only allowed but are encouraged makes WoW quite a bit more intriguing to me.
On the subject of cooperative gaming, I need to mention one thing: I'm apparently a heathen for admitting this, but I don't necessarily like PvP zones and PvP servers. Oh, I'll visit them if it's required, but I don't like them that much. What I don't mind, though, are PvP events and arena matches, and the patch notes indicate that a number of balancing effects have been applied to arena combat. Yummy. Then, too, considering how impatient most gamers can be, it's nice to see that you don't have to wait interminably to get into the arena: according to the patch notes, queue times for arena matches have been reduced.
One element of WoW that my friends have raved about is Professions, and I have to admit that the thought of drinking virtual beer whilst virtually fishing is a delightful concept. After reviewing the patch notes for the most recent changes, it's easy to see why they're excited about this feature. I hadn't realized it before, but rather than being an tangential element to the game -- useful for eating up time, and not much else -- Blizzard has interwoven Professions into the fabric of the game itself. Reading the patch notes led to reading WoW Insider's coverage of Professions, which led to me wondering whether I should try a Cooking/Herbalism combo, Skinning and Leatherworking, or -- more likely for me, I know -- Fishing and First Aid. Adventure hooks through the brain, good: fish hooks through the hand, ow.
I admit to being impressed by the list of UI improvements. It looks as though it's going to be a lot easier to understand your equipment lists, your combat log, and your Profession searches. As well, you can now see just how much space you have left in your inventory, even if you're dealing with a lot of baggage. Er, I mean to say, if you have a lot of bags. To address the issue of dealing with a lot of baggage, though, I've heard horror stories about how some people feel that they've been negatively impacted by the way looting is addressed in WoW. Aside from cash drops for a number of bosses being increased, "Players can now opt out of looting for group loot, round robin and need before greed looting styles." I like that idea a lot: if you have a problem with (x) style, choose (y).
There's a ginormous list of changes to classes listed, some of which make me want to create characters just to see what they do. "When a Druid in cat form casts Pounce it will now properly animate." That would be freakin' awesome to see. "Here, kitty, kitty, ki ... OHGOD!" I also think it's cool that Rogues can Sap more humanoids ... then again, so many humanoids are saps, already. That being said, Buffs and Debuffs no longer persist if the character they're cast upon leaves the instance/arena/world, and Tracking and Sensing spells continue to run after character death. One other nice touch: characters whose attacks have AoE effects no longer have to risk breaking crowd-control spells: their spells and abilities will not hit secondaries under those spells or effects. Considering how often my alts draw aggro -- yes, I do have one in CoX whose name is "Death Magnet" -- this is a huge selling point for me.
The Gods know, your mileage may vary, but speaking from an outsider's standpoint, I'm not seeing too many downsides to this patch, and I'm seeing a whole heck of a lot of benefits. Maybe it's time to consider getting an account of my own: this patch certainly seems to make it worthwhile. Here kitty, kitty, kitty ...