Posted on September 12th, 2016 by | 9 Replies

We’re now well into the second week of World of Warcraft: Legion, and while the “new expansion smell” is still in full effect, people are beginning to settle in. I’m very much the sort of person who likes to stop and smell the roses, so I’m not as progressed as some people, but I think I’m starting to get a feel for what sort of an expansion Legion is.

The Broken Shore scenario in World of Warcraft: Legion

So far, Legion is looking good. I’ve certainly been enjoying myself so far, and while there have been complaints here and there, the feedback from the community seems mostly positive so far. If nothing else I think we can say with certainty this will be a better expansion than the universally reviled Warlords of Draenor — not really a high bar to clear.

Yet the bitterness from WoD does not die easily, and I can’t banish my worries about World of Warcraft’s future entirely. What if Legion isn’t so much a change of direction for the positive as it is a stroke of luck by a development team that’s still chasing its own tail?

Off to a good start:

Firstly, it does need to be said that so far Legion has been a pretty good ride. There have been some stumbles — Blizzard’s attempts at making professions more interesting, for instance, have succeeded only in making them even more tedious and unrewarding than before — but the good is definitely outweighing the bad right now.

The new artifact system, which gives every specialization a mighty weapon with its own unique powers and storyline, may well be the best thing to happen to the game in years.

Artifact quests themselves are awesome. Their story-telling is as good as anything WoW has done, and they offer a healthy level of challenge — not brutal, but enough to force you to fully explore the toolkit of your class. Each one takes a little under an hour, which is long enough to feel substantive but not taxing. They’re a great way to encourage playing alts, and they’re just fun.

Artifacts themselves are also pretty enjoyable. Unlocking traits makes leveling feel more satisfying, but since you can eventually unlock every trait, there’s no worry of painting yourself into a corner with a bad build.

Claiming the Ashbringer artifact in World of Warcraft: Legion

They can make playing alternate specs a bit more challenging, and unlocking traits is perhaps a little more of a grind than it needs to be, but there are catch-up mechanics in place to keep either of those issues from becoming too severe, and likely more will be added as the expansion progresses.

Similarly, the new class stories have proved very exciting so far. Each has a unique flavor appropriate to the class and is of an incredibly high quality for something only one twelfth of players will ever see. They are a little overly time-gated, and the physical order halls don’t seem to serve much purpose, but again, the good outweighs the bad.

The more traditional content seems pretty good so far, too. The dungeons and leveling zones aren’t the best WoW has done by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re still pretty good, and certainly better than anything Warlords of Draenor offered.

Taken all in all, Legion is shaping up pretty well right now.

So why is there still this nagging worry in the back of my mind?

Fears for the future:

The trouble is that Warlords of Draenor didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of some deep-seated cultural and philosophical issues within Blizzard.

Right now, I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that those issues have been addressed. I personally would have been very comforted if Blizzard had come right and said that they messed up with WoD, that they were going to do better, but we haven’t seen much of that, and there’s already some evidence of them repeating their mistakes.

A demon hunter character in World of Warcraft: Legion

Let’s look at the issue of flying mounts, one of the biggest debacles of WoD. Blizzard disabled their use in current content and said they would be re-enabled at a later date, but refused to give a straight answer on how or when for months. Eventually they declared that flying mounts — the number one prestige reward in World of Warcraft and a staple of its cash shop — would be permanently disabled in all new content going forward.

This caused a massive fan backlash and no end of poor publicity for Blizzard. Eventually, they caved to pressure and decided to bring flight back… but only after a pretty intense grind.

You’d think they might have learned something from how much resentment that mess engendered, but they clearly haven’t, because they’re doing it all over again. Flying mounts are currently disabled in Legion content, and Blizzard refuses to give a clear answer on when that will change.

Part one of the achievement required to unlock flight is already in the game, so that at least lowers the chance of them reneging on their promise this time, but I still wouldn’t rule it out. And then there’s the issue that the current achievement is at least as big a grind as WoD’s, and it’s only part one. All this just to be able to use mounts we’ve already spent dozens of hours or in some cases real world cash to earn.

If you ever doubt that Blizzard’s decision restrict flying is anything but an attempt to artificially pad the length of content by shoe-horning in another lengthy grind, look no further than the Flight Master’s Whistle. This an easily obtainable item that instantly teleports you to the nearest flight point, with only a five-minute cooldown.

It’s about the most immersion-breaking, content-skipping thing possible — everything they claim to dislike about flying mounts, except worse, because on a mount you’re still traversing the world and can stop if you find something interesting.

A netherdrake flying mount in World of Warcraft

But it still doesn’t offer quite the same convenience of unlimited player flight, nor does it let us use all those fancy mounts we’ve worked so hard to obtain, so it keeps the Pathfinder achievement a valuable carrot to chase.

One could also point to the oft-lamented “raid or die” mentality that has tended to define so much of WoW’s history, and especially Warlords of Draenor. For Legion, Blizzard has set out to make five-man dungeons a more viable alternative. That sounds great until you realize how they’re doing it.

Many of the new dungeons in Legion are limited to mythic difficulty only, meaning they can’t be accessed via the dungeon finder, and the meaningful rewards for all dungeons are from increasingly difficult mythic + modes. So if you want to actually progress via five-man content, you’ll need an established group of skilled players.

The upcoming five-man revamp of Karazhan in patch 7.1 will feature a whopping nine bosses and is intended to take potentially a few days to complete a single run.

The appeal of five man content for many people was that it didn’t take days, that it didn’t require you to plan your schedule around it, that it didn’t require an established group of players, yet now it will require all of those things. Blizzard isn’t so much making dungeons an alternative to raids as it is making dungeons into raids, with all the unpleasant baggage associated.

So really, it’s still raid or die. The only difference is that now you can raid with a smaller group. That might help some people, but it’s not doing much to address the core problem. More casual players are still being tossed to the curb, and those who already enjoyed five-man content are in some ways losing access to it.

The Azsuna zone in World of Warcraft: Legion

Another major mistake of recent expansions has been temporary content. Entire epic quest chains — in some cases crucial to understanding the story — have been deleted entirely from Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor, and WoD’s massive garrison system was completely abandoned.

Now they’re planning to do it again with artifacts, which have already been confirmed to be going away after Legion. One can only imagine how much work it will be to re-balance every class without their artifacts, or how much it will suck to be the player replacing the Ashbringer or the Doomammer with a random Pointed Stick of the Bear come 8.0.

This is one of those times I think Blizzard’s massive success has almost become a detriment. Most developers can’t afford to burn money on temporary content like this. It’s the game development equivalent of washing your car with Dom Pérignon.

There’s more examples I could give, but I think the point has been made.

Warlords of Draenor was the result of extreme favoritism by Blizzard toward a very narrow band of players, a belief that players will like whatever Blizzard says they like, and a willingness to take their fans for granted. All of that still seems to be true in Legion.

I don’t think Legion will be another WoD, but I do think another WoD is inevitable unless Blizzard gains some humility and takes a good, hard look at themselves and their attitudes towards the game.

In the meantime, I think the best advice is to enjoy the good parts of Legion while it lasts. It’s a long way from perfect, but it’s still a breath of fresh air compared to WoD… and perhaps whatever will follow, too.


9 thoughts on “Legion Is off to a Strong Start, but I’m Still Worried

  1. Sean

    If you’re comparing Legion to WoD, then you need to compare with WoD two weeks after launch, not the WoD you now see. And if you check old WoW blogs, you’ll find that two weeks after launch, people were loving WoD – after the then-reviled MoP – for the pet battles and the garrisons. It was only after the initial shock of the new wore off that players saw the faults in WoD. Which is another way of saying – you are right to be worried about Legion, and really, you’re not worried enough.

    On the question of flying mounts – the message from Blizzard you are looking for is a statement that flying mounts were their biggest single design flaw, and their greatest regret. However, like Wargaming and their unnerfable premium tanks, or BDO and the ghillie suit that Kakao had to offer all buyers a refund on when it was changes, Blizzard can’t remove flying mounts without offering every purchaser a refund. What they can do – and consistently do – is remove flying from new content, as there was no promise when mounts were purchased that they’d be forever usable going forward, just that you could fly *now*. Flying mounts are a: extremely popular with the playerbase; and b: a complete disaster from the point of view of game design.

    If this were Gevlon’s blog, he’d blame suits and their desire to make short term profit for ruining the game – and he’d not be wrong in the case of flying mounts. If Blizzard were honest they’re remove them – but as that honesty would only be rewarded with a massive class action lawsuit, they choose only to say ‘it will be very difficult going forward to fly’.

    Reply
    1. Tyler Bro Post author

      While it is true WoD had a fair bit of good initial feedback, I don’t think it was quite as widespread as Legion’s has been, and for what it’s worth I personally thought WoD sucked from day one.

      Reply
  2. Talarian

    To add to what Sean said, specifically flying mounts allow you to circumvent navigation hazards: mobs, mountains, mrivers. Okay, I didn’t have anything for the alliteration, but rivers and lava too.

    Being able to fly from node to node and ignore everything in-between isn’t gameplay anymore. Heck, Suramar city as a questing zone couldn’t exist in a world with flying: grappling from building to building, finding the best path around guards who will see you, searching for hidden treasures, etc. If you had flight you’d simply bypass all that.

    Whereas the Flight Master’s Whistle allows you at any time outside of caves to get back to a flight point. As you mentioned, the convenience of flying to a lesser extent, without the quest-breaking aspects. Plus I’m confident we’ll get flight back in a couple patches. They’ve already incurred the playerbase wrath once on this issue and found a decent compromise, I doubt they’d do it again this soon (ask again in a couple more expansions though…).

    As far as rebalancing without the artifacts, the answer is simple: make artifact traits baseline when the next expac drops. Done. Think of artifacts as an extension of the leveling system, a method of longer-term advancement, and that route makes sense. If you think of them tied to the artifact (as they literally are right now), then yeah, losing the artifact makes no sense in the long term, and in fact would likely be more powerful than any regular weapon down the line. So traits become baseline, no balancing required, and automatically obsoletes the artifact for the next expansion.

    Reply
    1. Tyler Bro Post author

      The “flying breaks quest design” argument completely breaks down for two reasons:

      1: Open world mobs in WoW have never been a threat to anyone with the vaguest idea what they’re doing. Flight can’t make the world less dangerous because it was never dangerous to begin with.

      2: If that was really Blizzard’s concern, they could just give mobs the ability to shoot up. The technology already exists. Burning Crusade and MoP both had settlements with anti-air defenses, and there’s no reason that couldn’t become the norm. I’d support that because it actually would make the world feel more dangerous. But restricting flight was never about good game design; it’s about getting more subscription dollars by making things take longer.

      Reply
      1. Eph

        By that logic, the pinnacle of WoW game design was in WoD. If we assume that a good designer has an obligation to provide the player with the most convenient way of bypassing non-lethal (read: non-raid) content, then pushing a couple of buttons at the mission table and clicking on a few doodads in one’s garrison is even better for that purpose than allowing flying mounts!

        I would contend that open world interaction in a MMORPG does not have to involve the threat of death in order to be meaningful. Even if the result – mob dying and player triumphant – is known in advance (and that is not always the case, especially when the content is new and players are still learning abilities and patrol patterns), the journey towards it can significantly change depending on the character’s power and class.

        If a quest mob takes me a minute to kill at the start of the expansion and 15 seconds once I’m geared up, I get a feeling of progression. Likewise, if a quest mob takes me 15 seconds to kill as a mage and a minute to kill as a warrior, but the latter can safely pull five mobs at a time, I get a feeling of a difference in playstyle. Bypasses, on other hand, give neither of these feelings. It takes the same time to fly over mobs and grab the quest McGuffin while naked as it does when one is bedecked in raid gear. Likewise, it takes the same time and lack of effort to push a garrison button regardless of whether you’re a hunter or a warlock.

        Reply
        1. bhagpuss

          These arguments against flying miss a simple factor: for many players flying is fun. Pure fun. Entertainment. The thing they pay a subscription for. It’s all very well to take a roleplayer’s purist position on immersion or a developer’s viewpoint on hard work going down the drain but a lot of people like flying just because they LIKE FLYING.

          Of course it’s convenient, too. No-one’s going to dispute that. And why is it convenient? Because, by definition, the alternative is inconvenient. In removing flying Blizzard is saying “we want to inconvenience you”. Is that a viable marketing strategy?

          Removing both entertainment and utility in one move is unlikely to add value to the product, I’d say.

          Reply
  3. Athie

    The flying debate in WoW is astonishing to me. From a commercial, critical, and popularity standpoint, it is unambiguous that WoW’s peak years had flying mounts. What is with this suddenly becoming an issue?

    For that matter, why is flying controversial but skipping trash mobs in dungeons is fine? Why not demand that boss fights be locked off until every trash mob has been killed? Or to “encourage” full consumption of the content, create complex meta achievement attunements to even qualify to fight the final boss in each dungeon or raid? The answer must be something-something-filthy-casuals, which tells us everything we need to know.

    The artifact system is fun but flawed. Specifically, it’s fun at first when traits are cheap. But later the cost goes nonlinear for traits that you didn’t prioritize and ultimately it’s a huge grind for a raw 1% damage boost.

    Reply
    1. Tyler Bro Post author

      Honestly I think skipping trash mobs in dungeons should be viewed as much more of an issue if we’re to talk about immersion or danger. Dungeon mobs present some kind of threat (until you totally outgear them anyway) and at least theoretically should require some teamwork to defeat. Aesthetically, there’s also something to be said for tearing your way through the bad guy’s minions before confronting him.

      There’s less to be said for getting dazed off your mounts by random foxes every ten feet.

      Reply

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