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WoW Wednesday: Legion’s Casual Approach to MMO Gameplay

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It’s Blizzcon week, and this old woman’s watching the stream of people on their way to Irvine, California with more than a hint of jealousy. Next Wednesday I shouldn’t struggle for subject matter for this column but tonight I was at a loss. It’s odd, with so much to do in-game that I find myself struggling as to what I should cover… until I arrive in Azeroth itself for inspiration. As has become normal in recent weeks, the first thing I do of an evening after logging in is to go with my husband (Paladin tank) and complete World Quests. As we travel across the Broken Isles, the true genius of this expansion becomes apparent. Both of us used to be committed raiders, and yet now are both more than happy with the couple of hours distraction Legion presents us with each night.

This expansion really has managed to get the casual side of game-play spot on.

It starts with the simple things: flying is not required to expedite our time correctly. Every location we need to be at has a flight point close by, and after a while, traveling becomes simply an exercise in follow the leader. Usefully, many mobs will happily ignore you as zones are traversed, because they’re too busy fighting each other. Once you get the hang of the quest ‘requirements’ in each zone, it isn’t either chore or repetition to get your four ‘dailies’ complete. The balance of content and quests makes this an enjoyable distraction for the two of us, and I cannot yet recall either of us uttering ‘oh no, not THAT thing again.’ What could have ended up as yet another sad and depressing grind is not, and has become the best way I’ve ever leveled reputation, including during Vanilla.

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Then there are the ‘group’ tags (normally Wardens quest targets which take the normal Rares and beef up both health and ability) that are strangely compelling when you’re doing them as a group. It’s the use of scaling tech that so many people hoped would be utilized in the real world that really shines in these circumstances, and having a pocket tank to hold their attention whilst I pump DPS into them makes the larger health pool only a minor inconvenience. I do realize how lucky I am to be married to a Paladin, and people keep telling me how much of a struggle it is as a solo player when everything is 110 and there’s no escape once mobs are tagged. The fact remains that if you concentrate on the daily zones, it should not take long to complete the required four encounters.

Where these quests have really shown their strength is inside Mythics, which I finally got a chance to experience this weekend. Having been told how complex these were and how much effort would be required to complete one, I (of course) came prepared. That meant spending 10k gold on flasks and my own food buff, as best as could be managed from Nomi’s attempts with the cookery raw materials. With a precious few runes won in LFR I was ready for the Halls of Valor, and my first surprise was that rewards weren’t any better than the stuff I’d won in the world. I’d grown used to the system where your quest gear was always inferior to the stuff that bosses would drop, and to have it on a level par was, I’ll admit, a bit of a surprise.

That was nothing however in comparison to the difficulty of bosses. Having done both Normal and Heroic HoV, the Mythic set up wasn’t a surprise. It was how these encounters have now been programmed, making each one reminiscent in the complexity of raid bosses. From a simple one or two ‘specials’ in Heroic, Mythic then asks an awful lot of players for whom normal dungeon play might well involve gathering everything and nuking, or standing in bad stuff in the hope you’ll simply be healed through. These places are particularly unforgiving if you don’t CC, and often the answer to a problem is to have your tank die so they can take a resurrection and return with no debuffs. I know how stressful this will have been to heal, because they were bloody hard work to DPS, even at range.

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Once the Halls of Valor were done, I grasped how much dungeon content now mirrors current raid mentality and requirements. The expectation, quite obviously, is to use the five-man setup as yet another means of training players to be ready for larger group content, whilst allowing people like us who don’t have either time or inclination to raid to experience something comparable in a smaller dynamic. It works, and in spades, allowing someone like me who’s done a lot of raiding to feel as if there’s an achievement in completion. The only problem I’d argue is that the rewards in standard Mythic aren’t enough to encourage their repeated play and that to engage in Mythic Plus is currently beyond my capacity of both time and inclination.

I understand the idea of making the places repeat with Diablo-style abilities to deal with, but that’s really a gimmick too far, in my opinion. Mythic right now is the limit of my ability if these dungeons continue to scale with iLevel, like it or not. If the gear that drops within them remains comparable with World Quest rewards, I’ll just keep on doing World Quests. You see, I’m well aware of how the end game works, and I’m not here to see how high I can get my gear level. That used to be the Warcraft game I played, but it isn’t anymore, and I’m far more interested in the storylines being played out across the Broken Isles.

It doesn’t bother me that I won’t see certain parts of that except in LFR, or even after this expansion is complete. I also don’t think that Blizzard’s being unfair with the way it is pushing players to take part in organized raiding. I understand only too well that to maintain the momentum required to keep this game moving forward, it isn’t casual players who define the changes. It has always been the trailblazers, ultra committed individuals who have defined and driven development going forward. They’re the ones prepared to go the extra mile, to grind another hour or stay late to kill a boss, and it is for them that these games are anything but casual concerns.

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For the rest of us, you find your level dependent on any number of factors: time, commitment, interest, roleplay possibilities… the list is virtually endless. For those who have never really cared about content to begin with, who’ll Iron Man their way through 110 levels wearing simply white items? There is no need to concern yourself with the details. This has never been about anything other than enjoying the game in a very particular fashion. It doesn’t matter how many World Quests you’ve done or whether you unlocked that secret artifact appearance, it’s just about not dying and making it to the end.

Having become a true casual in the last couple of years, I watch my mates who still raid only occasionally with jealousy. Once upon a time it hurt that I wasn’t running instanced content at level, and I’d fool myself that I could just go back and do one night a week and nothing would change. Except, however casual you may think you are, raiding irrevocably alters the entire way you perceive and consume this game, especially in the early months of an Expansion. Not having those worries and concerns has been an enormous weight lifted from me, and I am simply loving the freedom this now affords. I’m also watching other players already complain that the changes are too much, that this new approach to ‘casual’ gameplay is destroying their approach to Azeroth going forward.

I understand those of you who suffer from social anxieties only too well. I grasp the difficulties that organized content presents a certain subset of players, and I’m really sorry, but this is the best way for everybody going forward. I know that means many of you now cannot truly participate as players, but there is an argument that suggests that was a problem previously, and hasn’t been caused by the changes. What Blizzard now asks of you is to do things in a very particular way, in the hope that you might finally decide to consume all of the content offered to you, and not simply the ‘edited highlights’ that excluded other players from the equation.

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For many, this has been a casual ask too far. Those who have already left aren’t simply the hardcore who feel their classes have been reduced to shadows of their former selves. There’s a lot of ultra casuals too who know the future requires to you take part as a team player and refuse to take this bait, because that’s what it is. What that leaves is an awful lot of average gamers who have the opportunity to use this casual framework as a springboard to access all the content on offer and not just a part. By training individuals at dungeon level, you’re giving potentially hundreds of thousands of players the opportunity to take their first steps into a considerably larger Universe. For me, however, those days have passed and if you want me, I’ll be over in Codgers Corner enjoying the view and taking things very slowly indeed.

That’s the real joy in this expansion I’m only now beginning to truly appreciate.

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