Now the fuss has officially died down, it is high time we thought at length about what Legion could mean for World of Warcraft going forward. There’s a lot of consequences to these actions, after all, not least the fact that a lot of existing gameplay is going to change: some of this has been asked for and other features have come as something of a surprise. The reported influx of players subsequent to the announcement would suggest that Blizzard pressed the right buttons with the promises made at launch, but many of us know full well that what you’re given at the start of a cycle will often bear little or no resemblance to what exists at the end. So, the question we’re going to ask this morning is simple: how much of what Blizzard promised is likely to actually come to pass?
The biggest single change, ironically, won’t really impact me at all, but is vital for the survival of the game overall.
More details emerged this weekend via an interview conducted with Brian Holinka on what PvP fans can expect to see from their ‘gameplay’ going forward: the changes remain as wide reaching and significant as were initially suggested they would be in the launch announcement. Gear will not matter starting out but will push people to work for it: however, the major change to the mindset comes with the removal of all the standard ‘stats’ associated with current PvP: resilience is gone, as is PvP Power, and tuning is now based on a player’s specialization ‘template’, augmented with their stats and talent trees. This tearing up of the rule book has already been the last straw for some long-term players, but Blizzard are betting that interest from eSports organizations such as MLG will encourage new players to step up and learn the ropes.
There’s no way PvP can realistically remain as is in the current climate: there’s too much wrong with the existing system as it stands. Sure, some of the changes made will remain intact, including (I suspect) the Strongbox reward mechanic, because who doesn’t love a random bonus now and again? However, the lessons learned with Ashran would suggest that there’s a fair way to travel before we see a World PvP objective of the likes of Wintergrasp again. Personally I miss Tol Barad, but I suspect I’m in the minority. However, this set of changes does make me wonder if it’s time to pick up PvP again. I have over 50,000 Honor Kills on my main, and I’ve spent more than my fare share of time in battlegrounds. I gave up when Rated meant the best players stopped playing randoms; maybe this would force me into looking for people to biff with. Time will tell. What this also means for PvP servers generally? Only time will tell.
The next most significant change in my mind is the effective removal of any weapon drops in Legion due to the introduction of Artifact Weapons, and this one also seems to be locked into the development cycle. It’s already causing issue for some classes (looking at dual wielding Death Knights for starters) because the paths to rebellion are already being frowned upon. After all, if you’re a Survival Hunter, there will be no other way than simply a spear going forward: before you might have been able to fiddle with specs to allow a notion of individuality, but not any more. I remember with fondness the Tanking Boomkin in the guild who frankly refused to play any other way, or the Priest who Holy Nova-d his way to a DPS spec. There will be no places for the Special Snowflakes any more, and there will be those who will understandably lament the passing of such possibilities.
However, what the Artifact gives players is significant: if done right, this is a decent purpose, a reason for playing, the ability to feel invested in their journey. This has been missing from Draenor, by Blizzard’s own admission, and stops the process being about simply rolling to 110 and having absolutely no reason to continue when that journey stops. If the company is smart the ‘augmentations’ for the weapon won’t stop at level cap either: each new patch will bring new looks, better options for customization. The sense of association with the weaponry will matter much more too: not just looks and stats, but the ability to make for yourself something totally unique. However, and this is a big question mark, where this leaves those in-game professions whose livelihood for many years has been augmenting weapons is still very much an unanswered question I’d like to see addressed sooner rather than later.
Wrapped up in that change is what the next step up from Garrisons will mean for players: Class Order Halls evolve the concept of Followers but instead of the passive ‘go go do my bidding’ that frustrated so many, we are being offered battles to actively take part in. A lot of what Class Orders is promising isn’t nearly as set in stone as the paths being marked for PvP and Artifact weaponry: in fact, speaking as someone who watched Blizzard build Garrisons from the ground upwards in Draenor, I’m more than a little nervous about what this part of gameplay might deliver for Azerothians. At this point, as far as I can see, these ‘centers’ are little more than places for classes to augment their Artifacts. You’ll get no Bank or Auction House access this time around, so what will motivate these places to matter as yet is unknown. However, I sense already from responses via Twitter that Blizzard know what they are up against in order to make these places work for players. The deliberate shift towards creating Tier Gear with a distinct bias around class ‘themes’ tells me that these guys know what works as base level motivation for the majority of their subscribers. It’s also a wake up call for me personally, that I’m not the target audience for much of what’s being planned in future months, and that I should be mindful of this fact when using my objective gear set to overview Blizzard’s plans.
The biggest question mark for me however in all of this new development? It’s time we talked about lore.
Lore is a big deal for an awful lot of of the ‘static’ Warcraft subscriber base, and it suffered in Draenor. Some might almost say that move was deliberate on Blizzard’s part, but then there are those with the Tin Foil on who’ll tell you that Draenor’s grand plans simply never matched with the abilities of the people designing them, or that the whole expansion was effectively truncated when it became apparent nobody wanted to time-travel to fight more Orcs. What people clearly crave is Lore 24/7, and what we get with Legion is a fast-pass to the bit of Azeroth where frankly it’s all exposition, all of the time. The Broken Isles is the wellspring of many races, the home of the biggest piece of Lore Awesome for some time that most demon lovers will happily accept with open arms, with the added opportunity for the company to high-definition skin an awful lot of traditional mobs for your viewing and killing pleasure. Frankly, there’s just too much to take in for some, myself included.
However, what this experience promises is the pre-expansion event to end all others, because finally Blizzard grasped that actually? People like the idea of a story. That’s what made the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King as exciting as they undoubtedly were, because the plot before the real business kicked off was as important as the expansions themselves. It proves that even if you can’t name every NPC that was involved in all of this? You care that they’re there. It matters that they bring a sense of continuity and continuation to proceedings. Most importantly of all? You’re not reading a book outside the game to get any extra information this time around. If you check the Blizzard launch site you’ll see a video series again this time around but crucially there’s also an audio adventure which makes the fangirl in me do a little dance of joy. Because for someone like me? It’s not about words. Gaming is pictures and sounds, images and effects.
It pleases me greatly that Blizzard finally got the memo on immersion.
How much of this will actually come to pass however is still very much in flux. There’s more concern right now with the delay to the implementation of 6.2.2 (which evolved from 6.2.1 with quiet efficiency) which still remains mired in PTR Hell, and the longer that takes to be placed onto live servers, the more likely players are to find fault with everything and anything Blizzard currently has on the table. From where I sit right now? I think that Legion remains the expansion where Blizzard finally grasped if they want to maintain everyone’s attention and not lose half their subscriber base over the process of the title’s lifespan, they’ve got to stop promising things they can’t deliver, be really clear on what’s being offered and extremely careful what they say in public. All those things are very clearly both noted by devs and being implemented on a daily basis. After that?
Once the Summer is over, I think we’ll start seeing real evidence of what Blizzard intend to bring to the table.Related: Column, Legion, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday