World of Warcraft: The Pointlessness in Class (Re-)Design

Since being a player of World of Warcraft from Wrath of the Lich King, I became accustomed to the idea of how Blizzard will revamp classes each expansion. It’s natural in any RPG where as characters increase in power, so do the way they behave. In an expansion, that would mean adding abilities to show that growth. However, the way Blizzard has handled class changes is absolutely befuddling and extremely frustrating to the point where you really have to wonder where people’s heads are in making these decisions.

I touched briefly on a few high level examples in my previous blog on World of Warcraft of where I felt frustration. But I suppose my main frustration right now is just trying to understand why the developers insist on making such radical changes at this stage of the game. It seems like custom for Blizzard to make drastic class changes each expansion and even severe changes between patches. I understand the need to balance the game out but the difference between a Warlords of Draenor and Legion are pretty drastic.

Legion looks to go back to the drafting board and re-examine the fantasy aspect of each class in trying to make each class and specialization distinct. On paper, this looks very appealing because you had classes and specializations that didn’t really differ from one another. Take a marksman hunter vs a survival hunter as an example. The chief difference in play style is just when you press a button. For marksman hunters in Warlords of Draenor, you had some distinctiveness if you took Lone Wolf while a survival hunter still used a pet and dots. But ultimately, you were competing ranged without a true sense of identity.

Legion’s answer to this is to return to the original design of the survival hunter by making them about traps and melee weapons. Here, you get the image of the rugged outdoors man with the Legolas dual wielding finesse, which sounds great. Yet I kinda don’t get it either. Why should a melee class use traps if they’re going to get up close and personal to the enemy? Why continue using a pet in this situation too? Wouldn’t the trap option seem more appropriate to a marksman/sniper type who needs to catch their prey and shoot them from afar?

So the fantasy already is a little borked without getting into the actual game play. The game play from what I’ve heard is horrid to say the least. But somethings just never made any sense to me whatsoever. Like switching out abilities for a new ability or bringing back an old ability to replace a current ability. What’s the point? How does this help the game except make things even more confusing?

But that’s how these “tweaks” feel at the end of the day. It feels like a shell shuffling game that never ends. We’re told this is “content” when it’s just this mess of a system with endless, visionless changes that don’t really make the game that much better overall. Even with the ability pruning (which I agree with), the game play still is going to feel dull because you’re locked into some boring rotation, either spamming an ability, waiting for an ability to finish or waiting for another ability to come back in a certain order. So you can call the class whatever you want but in truth there’s not much difference between specializations and classes except at the role level.

The problem here is a massive conflict in design principals where RPG and the desire for more intense action simply do not work well together. The RPG design makes people want a plethora of abilities that a person can use at a specific point in time. This works well in a thinking man’s game because you have ample time to react to a situation.

The desire to increase the difficulty of encounters though means less time to think and a requirement for higher reaction time. With tons of buttons and abilities to deal with along with buffs, cooldowns, and windows of opportunity, you get a very schizophrenic and unsatisfying experience. First, you cannot truly appreciate the ability you’re using because you just inherently know it’s part of your rotation. So any effects, etc. lose meaning and efficacy as it’s just another thing you do for the lifespan of your max level cap. It would be cool in an encounter if everything was stationary so you can see what you’re doing and how the thing you’re using is effective.

Games like Diablo 3, Neverwinter Nights (to name a few), reduce the choices but the result is a more satisfying playing experience because you’re focused on the few abilities you can use. Instead, the game play is all about the action and environment and how you, with those few choices, can react to it. If you want a meaningful choice, you can switch (in the case of Diablo 3, you’ll need the supporting gear as well, but the fact remains that you will have more real choices even if the end game meta doesn’t dictate it).

In reality, that’s all you really need. Your main attack, a big boom style specialized attack, something to CC your enemy, a heal/defensive ability and movement. What’s funny is how the game attempts to create deltas of those ideas with a cute name and some sort of cost to achieve the exotic idea of a fantasy. Yet I get tired of hearing the word “fantasy” being tossed around by Blizzard so frivolously. I get what they’re trying to achieve but the execution is severely lacking since the equation ends of becoming the endless permutation/balance game.

Whenever I look at this game I feel that the end goal keeps switching all the time with so many competing forces taking into oddball directions. Does it want to be an esports game? Does it want to pander to casuals? Are only the hardcores aimed at to remain as the supporters? Are these decisions occurring because someone quit and someone else got promoted with a different agenda?

At any rate, I’ve never seen a game that’s considered an expansion where you get less abilities going forward. This game feels like a constant de-evolution and progressively worse over time because the features people want are ignored in favor of this middle section that makes no sense and wastes everyone’s time.

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