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World of Warcraft patch 5.4 has a number of very interesting features and changes being added to the game, however one really grabs my attention.  That one is the idea of adding virtual realms to the game after all these years. 

Before getting into the pros and cons of implementing virtual realms though, let’s make sure everyone knows what this is really all about.

Blizzard Entertainment - Patch 5.4 PTR Notes - Virtual Realms

New Feature: Virtual Realms
  • Virtual Realms are sets of realms that are fused together, and will behave exactly as if they were one cohesive realm. Players on the same Virtual Realm will be able to join guilds, access a single Auction House, join arena teams and raids, as well run dungeons or group up to complete quests.
  • Players belonging to the same Virtual Realm will have a (#) symbol next to their name.

What’s Good About Virtual Realms?

There are several great things I can see that would come about due to virtual realms, I am sure there are more, but these are what pop into mind first.

One of the biggest advantages I see is that this system will allows players across multiple lower population servers to actually have opportunities to raid or group in reasonable timeframes.  Right now on low population servers many times you are forced to use the LFR or LFG system only as there are fewer raiding guilds.  By opening up and allowing virtual realms you will have access to join a guild that was on a different server before, and therefore have more options to find one that fits your play-style and play times.

A second very big advantage is that players will have access to more choices on the auction houses at more reasonable prices.  Having jumped onto a low population server recently to play with a friend, I was amazed at how high pricing was on the auction house there compared to my normal high population server.  It was just crazy as many common crafting items were between 3 and 5 times the cost!  The merger of auction houses and the overall lowering of prices is a huge benefit to players.  I am not really sure how players cope with the insane pricing on some low population servers. I know that when they sell something they make more gold and can therefore afford to pay more, but it would be nice if the economy was a little more accepting of newer players, as they are caught out on those high price realms.

A third advantage of virtualizing realms is that it allows more players to play together more often.  On many of the low population realms it can become very lonely out there.  Maybe just the fact that I remember starting out years ago and all of the zones being flooded with players, and people being more interactive with each other, but I miss that.  On many low population servers now days, you may never even see another player in the wild for multiple zones.  For an MMO where it should be about “Massively Multi-Player” it would at least be nice to see a few people in the same zone as you are once in a while.  This opens up more social aspects of the game as well as more PVP opportunities on the PVP realms.

What’s Bad About Virtual Realms?

As much as there are positives to the whole virtual realm idea, there are also negatives. Here are just a few.

Character and guild names will likely be an issue for many players right off the bat.  How this is going to be resolved is still in the air, but a likely solution is to gain your server name as a new surname for your character or guild.  If that is the final resolution then it’s no big deal, but what happens if there are new names required?  If you are one of the 8 “Terminators” out there on the 8 different realms being virtualized which one gets to keep their name?  What happens when you change yours but one still exists on the server, will all your friends end up messaging the wrong one?  The same goes for guild names, it could be a mess.

Players that are used to the low population servers and like them could be scared off by the “virtual” mass influx of players.  They could be put off by the sudden mass amount of players in PVP areas, or by the sudden loss of income on high ticket items on the auction house.  Just as some people will love the addition of more people, just as many will hate it.

Lastly, is this just the beginning of the end?  We all know that WoW has lost subscribers over the years and is set to lose more as time goes on (it is a very old game at this point), but is this just the precursor to mass server mergers and the end times?  It is likely that some players will view this as “the sign” and run fleeing from the endtimes.

The Word of the Messiah

Overall what do I think of the whole Virtual Realm idea?  I have to say that I really like the idea, and kind of wonder why it wasn’t done sooner.  I like packed areas with competition for resources and kills.  I like joining up into groups with other players and working together for goals.  Maybe I am just old fashioned?

I like the idea as well, because I believe it will allow Blizzard to manage server loads better over time as populations decline as the game ages even more.  I would far prefer to have my server join a virtual realm than to just fold up and close and be sent someplace else.  Server merges in any MMO are a hard thing to deal with, this new feature accomplishes many of the same goals with much less of the negative connotation that comes along with a merger.  Really, it’s the same thing, but by language and semantics it isn’t, which makes it easier for players to deal with.

I think that given time players will get used to the whole idea and come to like the idea of more people playing together.  I know that I will sure like being able to afford something on some of the low population realms where I have alts to play with friends.  I will also like being able to find and play with more people than just the 20 that are logged onto that realm to play as Horde in the evening.

What is your take on the Virtual Realm feature?  Make your thoughts and concerns known in the comment section below.

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.