Building valuable gameplay additions and writing out an expansion isn’t an easy endeavor when it comes to MMO games — namely due to the sheer size of the titles. MMOs are designed from the ground up to be persistent, living worlds that evolve alongside players as events play out, and when a new expansion drops, it’s literally game-changing. Maybe letting players in on all that stuff a little early isn’t such a bad thing.
That’s currently what’s happening with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. In an effort to get prepared for the launch of their newest expansion, Legion, Blizzard has been working to release patches and small additions to the game leading up to release. Demon Hunters have been released to players who pre-ordered their copy of the game, while demonic invasions are starting to take place all over Azeroth leading up to the events that’ll play out in Legion. It builds the hype by starting the evolution of the in-game world beforehand, which is something very few other studios seem to be doing particularly well.
Take Destiny for example, the popular console MMO created by Bungie. Last year saw the release of the game’s first massive expansion, The Taken King, which presented the massive threat of Oryx and his plot for revenge after players killed his son in the game’s first DLC pack. The expansion was a massive success that introduced players to a new campaign, raid, and series of changes that were met with a positive response from the community. But those changes just showed up all of the sudden on the day the expansion pre-patch released. We didn’t see Oryx and his minions take over — they just appeared one day and we were told to kill them.
What’s great about World of Warcraft’s Legion expansion is the way they’ve eased players into the release. Just last week, Blizzard released the Broken Shore event, which pits players against some of the initial invasion forces of the Burning Legion. Many of the game’s popular heroes die, power changes hands as a result, and new implications are made leading up to the release of the expansion. But even then, you get a shot to participate in the demonic invasions (even if you don’t plan on purchasing Legion) that are now happening all over the game’s world. Essentially, you’re actively participating in the evolution of the game.
Unfortunately, this level of participation is consistently lacking in major console MMOs like Destiny and The Division. Both titles opt to include their evolution events within the actual DLC release instead of releasing something to players ahead of time to gradually ease them into the new state of the world, but too often it leaves missed opportunities.
Look at Rise of Iron, Destiny’s next major expansion: The base premise behind Rise of Iron is the return of a self-assembling, self-replicating nanotechnology called SIVA. During the Golden Age, the Iron Lords were forced to lock it away deep within the Cosmodrome when it turned against humanity. Now, the Fallen House of Devils have broken into this area and freed the virus which players as guardians are going to have to stop.
We first learn of this threat when SIVA and the modified Fallen punch directly through the giant wall protecting the southern border of the Cosmodrome, opening a path to the Plaguelands. We as players probably won’t get a chance to see this event actually happen in Destiny leading up to the expansion’s release this September though. Why? Well, it’s probably going to be one of the campaign missions in the game.
By bringing these kind of missions forward ahead of release though, Destiny (and other titles) could really help to build up the hype for their upcoming expansions a few weeks in advance. The idea here is to take the same level of world-building that Blizzard has placed in Legion’s pre-release events and transplant it into the world of Destiny or The Division. Imagine actually being at the wall with Lord Saladin and his wolves fending off hordes of Fallen as they smash through the wall — it’d be a moment to remember, one in a persistent world that really feels like the world is living around you instead of just being a talking set of figureheads.
While we’ve yet to hear from Bungie about Rise of Iron’s pre-patch plans, it’s safe to assume that we won’t witness too large of an event leading up to the expansion’s release given the game’s history. But maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to play through a few of the story events instead of just watching them on YouTube.