World of Warcraft: Pre-Legion Thoughts

I haven’t written on World of Warcraft for a while now. Although I occasionally play it from time-to-time and periodically check out new features for the upcoming Legion expansion, for the most part I’ve been uninterested and unmotivated in playing. I do keep up in watching some streams but despite some of the hype, I’m not all that excited for the expansion.

It’s probably unfair of me for this early criticism because I have not been able to get into the beta. My sole experience in playing Legion was at Blizzcon where I had the opportunity to play the Demon Hunter for a few minutes. I didn’t find anything remarkable about the game play and it felt like the same old, same old. Sure, it’s a new class with it’s own mechanics but so what? After balancing the class out, it won’t stand out in the end and just remain unremarkable overall.

The big picture ideas in Legion sound good on paper but I don’t know how they’ll work out in practice. An example is the legendaries being introduced that have a similar mechanism to Diablo 3 legendaries. The high level idea here is allowing new items with cool effects that have limited number of equipped positions (like Fire Walkers as a simple example). This works well in Diablo 3 because you can vanquish large numbers of foes efficiently and the power creep in Diablo 3 is through Greater Rifts. However, the combat system is more expedient as long as you keep a certain level of efficiency.

Also, there’s just a large number of class changes. Why? I get the ability pruning thing. In fact, I’m all for less is more. In addition, I’m all in favor of making each class and spec unique from each other. Yet the way it’s being done seems pretty radical for the most part and pretty much will entail forcing many people to re-learn everything. I suppose my primary criticism in this situation is that the game design goals pretty much conflict with good UX principles; namely, that once you effectively teach people how to be effective on one type of interface, it’s generally a bad idea to switch without a good reason.

Next, I was listening to a video with Mike Preach discussing the way the game is intending to funnel you through a certain type of experience as a way of extending the life of content. It’s similar to how flying was re-introduced in Warlords of Draenor in a very controversial fashion or the way players would earn the legendary cloak in Mist of Pandaria. Mike Preach made a very good point in talking about the preference in style of content for players. Blizzard wants to force players into experiencing each type of content designed as if they want to get the money back in some research experiment. This wholeheartedly is a very poor decision approach to anything.

Let’s return to the previous example of the legendary cloak quest line. The legendary cloak pretty much is something that was a must have for raiders and something nice for everyone else. Yet because the target audience was primarily raiders, the fact that these people were forced to do PVP content with two specific battlegrounds created a huge backlash. A similar issue occurred with Warlords (can’t remember the name of the world PVP instance) where PVPers were made to do PVE-like actions, which again alienated a good section of Blizzard’s audience.

I get that these features take time, resources, effort, etc. for Blizzard to develop. But funneling people in is a poor overall experience. The real overarching solution is that Blizzard needs to identify categories of content that go beyond just PVE and PVP. Each area needs to be further subdivided where they can identify specific things players enjoy the most in how they want to spend their time in the game. Some people just want to make gold. Others will want to focus on instance grinding for leveling and ignore quests. None of these people should be penalized for their methods of progressing in the world the same way they are now.

Let’s look at quests from Mist of Pandaria as a way to level. I know some people attempted to min-max leveling without going through quests by killing groups of monkeys off, even though it was mindless. However, that aspect was nerfed. I feel that the designers for the game put so much effort into the questing experience that they shot themselves in the foot big time. For myself, the questing experience in Mist of Pandaria was plentiful but mind numbing after the 3rd-4th time; there simply were too many quests and most were meaningless.

Warlords of Draener attempted to allow a little more flexibility but in practice you could only alternate between 1-2 spots per zone. Worse yet, what if you hated a certain questing style? What if you hate being in a claustrophobic cave with spiders? Or you dislike dealing with a Fel Reaver style oversized creature trying to smash you? Or maybe you do enjoy puzzles? Sure it might be difficult to design for every single scenario but maybe the bigger thing is to outsource that part of content creation to the community or reduce the number of overall quests to level.

I suppose my main thing about the direction of the game is that it just is stale no matter what. We’ll just see dungeons and raids maybe some questing but the overall focus of the game will be along supporting raids and competitive PVP. I mean for myself, I simply don’t have time to raid hardcore and if there’s tons of barriers to entry for higher end content for god knows what reasons, then I’m better off just watching it on twitch or youtube. I don’t think any amount of new content, raiding, quests, etc. at this point will drastically improve the good nor reinvigorate interest as before. The core game has severe issues with an archaic UI, network over reliance, balancing issues, extreme dependencies upon RNG and artificial barriers for prolonging content. All of these things aren’t going to be fixed over an expansion because the inherent legacy issues. Basically, at this point the game needs to come to an end of life or just be put on perpetual maintenance and have a new core engine created that imports the efforts of players into the new system.

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