Category Archives: WoW
The real irony here is that Retail sees far less use of the Dungeon Finder than Classic would. Mythic and Mythic Keystone dungeons don’t use the Dungeon Finder and automatic group creation, they use the Premade Group Finder. So really, the only people using the Dungeon Finder are people levelling, people doing dungeons to finish quests, or people gearing up a little at the very start of an expansion. Otherwise everyone is doing dungeons the old-fashioned way, even having to travel to the instance entrance in the world.
I think it would be difficult for even the more ardent Classic purist to be upset over a Premade Group Finder compromise. It allows you to advertise a PUG to your local server community without needing to spam Trade chat. What would the counter-argument possibly be? Yeah, it didn’t exist during Wrath, but LFD did so… are you an originalist or no?
To be honest, I completely forgot about the Premade Group Finder because A) I’m not playing WoW and B) I had less than zero interest in Mythic dungeons when I was playing. I would still prefer an LFD system overall for less serious content though, especially for those on smaller servers. Sometimes you just want to press a button and get group content. If it’s good enough for PvP, why not PvE?
I kind of glossed over it amongst all the other WoW news, but let’s talk about Dungeon Finder, aka LFD.
Wrath of the Lich King Classic is coming. What is being intentionally left out is the Dungeon Finder, a feature that debuted at the tail-end of the expansion. According to Brian Birmingham, this was done for reasons:
“We know that the Classic audience is more interested in long-term social engagement, that feeling that comes from reaching out to people, talking to them about how you’re going to group, trying to coordinate, who’s going to do what role walking to the dungeon together, trying to figure out how you’re going to get to the dungeon, who’s going to summon, maybe run into a PVP fight on the way,” Birmingham says. “And then you finally get in there and you have friends that stick together with you.”
Did anyone read that paragraph and actually go “Yeah, that’s exactly what was missing in my life”?
I do not necessarily want to get into the semantic fight of what is Classic and what is not – Blizzard has tinkered with the formula of what is “classic” from the very beginning, and it’s a fool’s errand besides. But I do feel like this decision and the reasoning behind it is firmly in the “tail wagging the dog” territory. Which is funny, considering the lengths the retail WoW devs go to to specifically ignore player feedback on their many disastrous designs. Perhaps the Classic devs are more acutely aware of the temporary nature of their work if that playerbase evaporates.
That said, Dungeon Finder is indeed a conundrum. As Wilhelm succinctly puts it:
I have been down the “where does classic end?” path before, but I think you could make a very strong argument that Dungeon Finder is the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” World of Warcraft. Yes, Cataclysm changed the world, making Azeroth a different place, but Dungeon Finder changed how we played.
I will agree that Dungeon Finder is the bright red line between when classical WoW turned into retail.
Or to put it a different way: Dungeon Finder represented the democratization of WoW.
I did not start playing in vanilla, but I experienced the full depths of despair that was pugging in TBC and early Wrath. What is missing from the Brian Birmingham quote above is the 40+ minutes you spent in Trade Chat forming a group, the next 15 getting everyone through the door (“I was waiting for a summon” “Oops, I left my reagents back in the bank”), and finally having the entire run ended abruptly when someone left or got fed up. Back in 2008 burning two hours to maybe finish one heroic dungeon was okay. It certainly wasn’t going to continue being fine for long either way though.
Maybe that wasn’t your experience. Maybe you were privileged enough to have joined the game with IRL friends, or got a guild invite at the right time and place to meet people willing to routinely run dungeons with you. In which case… the Dungeon Finder should not have negatively impacted you at all. The only people it would have “hit” would have been GearScore tryhards lording over Trade Chat, or perhaps extroverts looking to hook up with randos. Thing is, both of those types would be just at home in a guild anyway. So again, no loss.
Dungeon Finder opened up the game to solo players. WoW has always had a reputation as being solo-friendly compared to its peers, but within the game itself there was a rather abrupt progression stopping point at the level cap. You could grind reputation dailies for blue gear and… that’s it. It’s fine to say that MMOs are better with friends, and to encourage the fostering of friendships within the game, but this was all stick. It also made for some questionable design considerations when 80% of the design effort went into content that only 20% of the playerbase ever saw.
Did Dungeon Finder affect WoW culture? Sure… in a roundabout way. You cannot exactly type “GOGOGO” in a hand-picked TBC pug nor can operate in radio silence the entire time. And it is certainly true success rates of Dungeon Finder groups is dependent on the difficulty of the content in question, thereby putting downward pressure on (default) dungeon difficulty. See: the Cataclysm LFD Disaster. But as the esteemed Rob Pardo said back when Dungeon Finder was released:
The other piece is that the WoW playerbase is becoming more casual over time. People who were hardcore into MMOs, they joined us first, but the people we’re acquiring over the years are casual. They heard about the game from a friend of a friend, and maybe it’s their first MMO – maybe it’s their first game. The game has to evolve to match the current player.
This was from the lead designer of vanilla and TBC, not some random intern or junior B Team dev. And this was from when Dungeon Finder was first released, so it wasn’t that it caused the playerbase to become more casual over time. Rob Pardo actually went on to say: “To be completely honest, [the Looking For Group tool] is a feature I wanted in the game when we launched the game.” Dungeon Finder was not an accident, it was not a concession to some casual boogieman. It was intentional! Which makes its removal from Wrath Classic such a contortion. What is trying to be preserved technically never existed. This is a do-over attempt with a self-selected group of purists. Which is cute – I hope Blizzard eventually releases dungeon completion rates.
Perhaps the devs did come to regret the Dungeon Finder inclusion and/or unintentional consequences over time. Certainly they felt that way about flying as the years went on. But warts and all, the Dungeon Finder saved WoW for me and presumably millions of others. What was “lost” was never really desired by me in the first place, e.g. ingratiating oneself to strangers to complete a 20-minute dungeon for badge loot. If you want a static group and a sense of accomplishment, join a guild and raid something. Opposition to Dungeon Finder is even less rational these days as the devs have included scaling Mythic difficulty to dungeons for several expansions. Hard group content never went away.
The only thing that did disappear is the dependency on social networking skills… for low-tier group content. If your guild/friend group fell apart because everyone could now get their dungeon needs met with anonymous strangers, chances are that the “bonds” were not quite as strong as you perceived. Sorry, champ: if they really wanted to play with you, they would be playing with you.
Ultimately, I suppose we will just have to see how this all plays out. Maybe the Classic community will love spamming LFG and/or Trade chat to fill the Pit of Saron group for the 50th time. My guess is that Blizzard will end up putting in Dungeon Finder by the time ICC is released, or else they are really going to need to tinker with the badge and loot economy.
World of Warcraft’s next expansion was revealed today, and its theme is… Guild Wars 2.
Sorry. It’s called Dragonflight, deals with helping dragons reclaim their legacy, will “provide a more in-depth open world experience going forward,” and features new dragonriding skill that lets you “defy gravity while using your momentum and skills.” Here is a video of it in motion:
I get that the entire history of WoW is copying other peoples’ homework and all, but something about this is… a bit too on the nose.
Anyway. There were some other items that popped out at me.
Cross-Faction Coming Soon. Technically old news (first revealed in January), it was nevertheless interesting to hear cross-faction grouping being brought up again. While Blizzard is still being ultra-conservative with it – not being able to join guilds is probably going to make organized raiding problematic – cross-faction play of some kind is one of those things that never really made sense not to have in WoW during its heyday. I have had real, non-theoretical conversations with coworkers in the past wherein we (briefly) got excited to learn the other played WoW, only to face the double disappointment of being A) on the wrong server, or B) the wrong faction, or C) both.
If only we knew why it took so long…
Talent Trees Return. Overrated. It’s mildly interesting that they have a class tree and a spec tree separately, but that is just lampshading the “lack” of a borrowed power system in the expansion.
WotLK Classic. Expected, but nevertheless still hit me in the feels. Everyone has a WoW entry point they feel nostalgic for, and for me it is WotLK… despite my actually starting to play in Burning Crusade. Epic scope, epic music, ground-breaking raiding (in 10m flavors!), and some great guild members relationships. Devs mentioned intentionally leaving out the Dungeon Finder for “social fabric” reasons which, okay, whatever. It will be interesting to see what happens to said fabric when everyone is trying to farm badges for gear.
UI Improvements. This sort of thing might seem minor at first, but not being able to get my screen looking like it did the last time I played WoW ends up being a rather large, subconscious barrier to reentry. Addon Managers can remove some of the tedium, but having a lot of the same functionality within the base UI is more ideal.
Cosmic Plot Intermission. Coming out of the narrative disaster that is Shadowlands, it’s refreshing to see Blizzard basically hitting the pause button. Nothing in the trailer hinted at some kind of Big Bad Guy to face, or that the fate of the world was once again at stake. It’s always possible that that comes later, but the tone is being set early on. Reminds me a bit of Mists of Pandaria minus the faction war.
Everything Else. K.
This is the part of the post where I talk about how I’m intrigued by what Blizzard is doing and will probably resub to see the new content. Probably not this time around.
A pause in the power escalation is necessary, but… I don’t like dragons. Not quite on the level of hate Syp has for elves, but dragons are a solid third place above “It was all a dream” and Time Travel in terms of ire. What possibly interesting story could ever be made concerning dragons? I don’t just mean in Dragonflight, I mean in any fiction. Yes, I watched The Hobbit, played Skyrim and Dragon Age, etc etc. In all cases, dragons could be replaced with an infinitely more interesting colossal beast with no impact to the storytelling. Dragons are flying, hoarding tropes. Vampires? A lot of directions you could take a story. Dragons? Replace it with an eldritch horror of some kind and get a much more engaging tale.
So, yeah. Good luck, have fun.
The slow-motion train wreck that is Blizzard right now has entered into a new, greasy-diesel fire phase.
Since the lawsuit and frat-boy/Bill Cosby culture was exposed, it appears that WoW has gone under the politically correct microscope. Which… seems a bit overkill – you could see its puerile humor from space with your
naked fully-clothed eye. Paintings of scantily-clad women are being replaced with fruit, NPCs like Master Baiter are getting renamed, along with some Achievements:
In the upcoming Patch 9.1.5, we’ll see:
- ‘My Sack is Gigantique’ renamed to ‘My Storage is Gigantique.’
- ‘Bros. Before Ho Ho Hos’ renamed to ‘Holiday Bromance.’
Next on the chopping/editing block were emotes which “seem[ed] to have harmless intentions at a glance, but when used while targeting another player, their intentions can turn unexpectedly suggestive or intrusive,” per a developer’s note. /Pounce no longer says “Azuriel pounces on top of you” but rather “Azuriel pounces towards you.” Because of the implication.
Speaking of which, the latest news is that several in-game joke/flirt lines are getting the axe. A full spreadsheet can be found here, but some highlights:
- [Blood Elf female Flirt] Is that a mana wyrm in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
- [Blood Elf female Flirt] Normally, I only ride on epic mounts… But, let’s talk.
- [Draenei Female Flirt] I want you to *lick and splat* my *gurgling noises* *slurping noises*
- [Pandaren Female Flirt] Oh, I’ve never done THAT before.. Uh… You’re not doing it right…
- [Pandaren Female Flirt] Let me show you my kung fu grip.
- [Blood Elf Male Joke] Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?
- [Pandaren Male Flirt] Hey, hot stuff. Want to try breeding in captivity?
- [Pandaren Male Flirt] Nice pants. What’s the drop rate?
- [Goblin Female Joke] I’m a modern goblin woman. Independent? I still let men do nice things to me. But I stopped giving them any credit.
- [Goblin Female Flirt] So then, he asked me to go up on him!
- [Goblin Male Flirt] I like my women the way I like my fuses: Short, fast and ready to blow.
- [Goblin Male Flirt] I got what you need. *sound of zipper*
- [Orc Male Flirt] That armor looks good on you. It would look even better on my floor.
- [Tauren Female Flirt] I’ve got big, soulful eyes, long eyelashes and a wet tongue. What more could a guy want?
- [Tauren Male Joke] Homogenized? No way, I like the ladies.
- [Night Elf Female Joke] Oh, look, I’m dancing again! (Darkly) I hope all your friends are enjoying the show…
- [Highmountain Tauren Female Flirt] You don’t need to be from the Skyhorn tribe to join the mile high club.
- [Dark Iron Dwarf Male Flirt] Interested in joining the mile deep club?
- [Lightforged Female Flirt] Let’s go back to my ship and twist our nethers.
- [Lightforged Female Flirt] I admire a soldier who can… remain… at attention.
I planned to stop after just a few, but then I pulled a Blizzard and kept on going.
It’s actually kind of amazing, right? I haven’t played Amazon’s New World, but I cannot imagine it having flirt/joke lines like the above. Or, really, any other commercial MMOs. Not even TERA, if you can believe that. Which I guess may be why so many people are up in arms over the potential removal of said emotes. If you want sexualized prepubescent catgirls, there are plenty of options, but if you want T for Teen jokes, WoW may have been the last call.
Amusingly, the Reddit thread I linked a moment ago has several people smugly pointing out that while WoW is getting censored, FF14 has:
FFXIV literally has a quest about 2 catgirls fighting over who gives better handjobs to a guy named Captain Longhaft.
It’s crazy that even just a thought that can lead to another thought that can eventually lead to a though about sex is too much for a Blizzard dev. Just imagine if they ever saw this quest, they’d pop a blood vessel.
They posted that, unironically, as though that quest was something to be proud of.
Go ahead and watch that video, by the way, because it’s actually worse than it sounds. The captain in question rescued the two catgirls from child prostitution, when they were still too young to join his crew, then accepted them once they got older. I was half-expecting there to be a final gotcha! wink about the innuendo being just that, but… nope.
When they returned to me years later as women grown – strong and beautiful – I swore that I would have them! In my regiment, that is… That they know how to properly sheathe my blade is an extra benefit – albeit a most welcome one. And with that, I must return to my post.
I routinely read manga, so I am used to the cognitive dissonance that comes with Japanese media having compelling narratives and then an 8-year old girl in a micro-bikini masquerading as an ancient dragon/vampire in the same story. Which adds absolutely nothing of value to the narrative, by the way. It’s beyond a trope – it’s a badge of shame that’s beyond my ability to even rationally consider “cultural differences.” And this is how you know how gross it is: who is it for? Seriously. Who? Who gets mad enough to not buy something without softcore loli porn in it?
It would not surprise me then that the Venn diagram between those people and others quitting WoW over joke/flirt removal is just a circle.
In truth, I do understand some of their points. The devs can go through a decade of crusty socks in WoW’s closet all they want – and they probably should! – but the endeavor rings a bit hollow when the present plot revolves around genocide and other ultra-violence. That’s a decidedly American trope: sex bad, violence good.
Buuuuuuuuuuuut… it’s not really sex that’s getting censored, is it? Maybe more like the frat-boy jokes that were funny 15 years ago, back when I was an actual frat boy playing WoW for the first time. Maybe nothing of actual value is being lost here, and WoW will continue being shit because of shit narrative and shit gameplay decisions, not “political correctness run amok.” It seems like a lot because there is actually a lot that has accumulated over the years, and if Blizzard wants to change their company culture, they will have to do it one dick joke at a time.
In the comments to my last post, I got some pushback from stating Covenants in WoW “were choices in the same way stacking Crit vs Versatility is a choice: namely, choosing to be objectively correct or gimp your character in X or Y (or all) content.” Indeed, I believe that the proposed 9.1.5 patch changes that remove the Covenant-switching restrictions is something that should have existed from the beginning. Which, since some people forgot, it kinda did since you could freely change Covenants without friction outside of going back to one you previously “betrayed.” In that one scenario, you were limited to a once-a-week quest.
But let me go a bit further: I do not believe that “meaningful choices” can or ought to exist in MMOs.
What someone means by “meaningful choice” is critically important, of course. There is no one answer. For example, is a mutually exclusive choice always meaningful? Does a choice have to be permanent to be meaningful? Does a choice have to have lasting consequences (which is different than just being permanent) to be meaningful? Does a choice have to feel difficult to make to be meaningful?
I bring up these different dimensions of “meaning” because I sometimes feel that people fetishize Permanence in terms of choices. That if you can change something later, it must mean that the original choice itself didn’t matter. To them I say: Every Moment is a One-Time Event. Specs in WoW have been imminently changeable at the drop of a hat for many years. If you choose to not tank for a raid, that choice lasts only for as long as you want it to. But here’s the thing: the choice you made to not tank yesterday is permanent. You can’t go back in time and make a different choice for the Tuesday raid time. So… was the original decision a meaningful choice? If you were good at tanking, it certain was for everyone there.
Let’s bring this back specifically to WoW Covenants in Shadowlands. For those not playing along at home this expansion, there are four Covenants (i.e. factions) the player could choose to ally with at max level. During the leveling process, you got to do quests for each one and also play around with the unique Covenant abilities that each one offers – some are general abilities, and others are class-specific. Eventually, you have to choose a specific Covenant to champion and otherwise experience the rest of the expansion with.
Is picking a Covenant a meaningful choice?
As I wrote before, I would say No. Was it mutually exclusive? Yes, you can’t have more than one Covenant at a time. Were there consequences? Yes. Sort of. Covenants were swappable even before 9.1.5 but let’s not pretend there isn’t a significant time cost to essentially starting over with rebuilding a Sanctum, grinding Anima, and all the sort of nonsense daily quests one has to do. Plus, you lost access to any Transmog from the original Covenant. Was it permanent? Obviously not, but that would not have been the secret sauce if it was – instead of meaning, such a decision would have brought in frustration and betrayal.
Why? The Covenant abilities themselves are an extremely mixed bag. Sometimes they don’t matter, and other times they matter a whole hell of a lot. For example, if you are a PvP Priest, you want to be Venthyr for the Mindgames ability. Mindgames is one of the most unique CCs ever introduced to WoW, and I guarantee you that it will be brought forward into the next expansion as a Talent or even baseline ability. If you don’t PvP on your Priest character, then sure, your Covenant choice is more wide open. But if you ever thought you would, not picking Venthyr would be playing with a handicap.
On the PvE side, Night Fae is an attractive choice for Death Knights given it increases their mobility, which is otherwise the classical weakness of the class. However, Night Fae is extremely terrible for both Unholy DPS and Blood tanking. So your “choice” is between the optimal DPS/Tanking or improved quality of life. Explain to me again why it’s a good thing that we have to pick between the two.
Notice how none of the above considerations touch on the Covenants themselves: their theme, their plot, their aesthetics, their characters, or anything that actually makes them meaningful from a narrative standpoint. There are certainly players out there for whom Covenant theme is the number one consideration. Helistar said in the comments yesterday: “When I started Shadowlands it was obvious that my druid would be Night Fae, optimal choice or not.” That’s totally fine! Although… I have to ask the follow-up question: if it was so obvious from the start you were picking Night Fae, was the choice really meaningful to begin with?
If it seems as though I’m playing both side of the argument… I kinda am.
The real crux of my argument is this: the designers should not be going out of their way to “enforce” meaningful choices. In Diablo 2, you could not respec your character; in Diablo 3, you could swap your abilities around at almost any time. Was picking talents in Diablo 2 more meaningful? No! All it did was make me feel bad every time I leveled up, knowing I was always going to be 2-3 levels late to the actual good talents due to the dumb, blind decisions I made hours ago. That doesn’t feel meaningful.
Imagine if Blizzard designed Covenants such that Covenant abilities were interchangeable (and probably Soulbinds), but the Covenants themselves were not. Priests could have Mindgames but fight with the Kyrians. That sort of thing. Would that detract from the meaningfulness of the Covenant decision? Or would it… enhance it? I would unequivocally say the latter. Because WoW is an MMO where you could be spending 40 hours a week playing your character and not spend a second progressing whatever story exists. So for me, gameplay decisions and projected viability and optimization are my top priorities. And those things are largely math problems with clear, non-ambiguous answers.
In a hypothetical Shadowlands where Covenants had no particular gameplay impacts, suddenly that decision becomes meaningful. The choice more reflects who I choose to identify with, who I am as a person, who best reflects my values, and that’s a hell of a lot more meaningful than 2% DPS. It would certainly be closer to what I feel were the meaningful choices in, say, the Mass Effect series:
What the exchange highlighted to me though, was how squishy the venerable Sid Meier quote actually is.¹ To me, the choice between curing the Krogan genophage or deciding not to was interesting. In fact, I spent ten minutes or so agonizing over it when the dialog wheel was presented. Was it fair of us to cripple an entire species because we feared their hardiness and breeding speed? At first, I was worried about that hypothetical. Once the Reapers were gone, who is to say that the Krogans don’t simply out-breed and out-muscle the rest of us out of the universe? Then I thought: wait a minute, is this not the same sort of argument used against inter-racial marriages in the past, and even concerns about Islam today?
The genophage choice is definitely one that I felt was meaningful. It can say a lot about you as a person. Maybe the fact that Covenants primarily boil down to a numbers game to me still says something about my values, but I don’t think you can read much more into it other than sometimes 2% DPS actually matters. Rather, I would say that the meaningfulness of a choice in an MMO is directly disproportional to its gameplay effect. If you care about the numbers, then it really isn’t a choice; if you don’t care about the numbers, what are they doing there in the first place? Just remove the numbers.
Finally, for those still stubbornly sticking to their guns regarding “permanent choices are meaningful choices,” I say to you one word: alts. Nothing is permanent if you can have alts. So really it’s just a question of how many hours of hazing you want to require someone to go through to experience the other choice. Or just to potentially be viable in another subset of content.
(More Blizzard than WoW, specifically, but I’m doing a call-back to this post from 2012)
Blizzard’s next patch for WoW is 9.1.5 and it contains… well, the words speak for themselves:
Over the past few weeks since we shared an update, the WoW team has been focused on the immediate future—both for our people and workplace, and what’s next for players too. As a part of that, the entire team came together to ask: What are the biggest things we’re hearing are getting in the way of your fun, and what are the most impactful changes we could make to WoW today to fix that?
Shadowlands Update 9.1.5 will be going on the PTR next week, and a lot of what you’ll find in it is the direct result of your collective feedback. It includes long-asked-for changes to make it easier to swap covenants and conduits, updates to make it so you don’t need to repeat covenant campaigns on alts, new character customization options for some races that were lacking them, and many more changes to help you play the way you want.https://www.wowhead.com/news/shadowlands-developer-update-9-1-5-ptr-next-week-323931
Just in case you’ve missed the context here, Blizzard is getting sued by California for rampant sexual discrimination, some egregious harassment, and general nefariousness. Oh, and more recently, allegedly shredding documents concerning all that. Some executives have been fired, some worker walk-outs have occurred, and all of this has come AFTER the mass-migration of WoW players that has been a result of poor game and story design leading into/throughout the Shadowlands expansion.
I cannot quite tell what it is exactly, but the whole thing feels nauseatingly patronizing.
Like it took throwing two decades of reputation in the garbage and an existential crisis for these designers to finally go “Huh, ain’t got shit to do today cuz the bosses are either sacked or hiding in the Cosby room… maybe I’ll give this whole ‘make fun games’ thing a try.” No, really, they basically said that:
While we hope many players will be pleased at the increased accessibility and freedom for experimentation these changes will permit, we know that you might be wondering why we didn’t make adjustments like these sooner. After all, a large portion of the community has been vocal about wanting to see changes along these lines since mid-2020, when Shadowlands was still in Beta.
When it comes to the limitations on Covenant-switching, millions of players experienced Shadowlands for the first time through the lens of their Covenant of choice, and that would have not been possible had the choice carried less weight from the outset. Nevertheless, after the conclusion of the Chains of Domination campaign, the Covenants are united against the Jailer, and revisiting player feedback in that context has led us to re-evaluate our approach.
“Covenant of choice.” Tell me how much choice a PvP Priest has in regards to Covenants again. Or Warlocks. Or basically any class/spec across the entire game? Covenants were choices in the same way stacking Crit vs Versatility is a choice: namely, choosing to be objectively correct or gimp your character in X or Y (or all) content. But now that Blizzard’s stated goal of forcing you to experience the game in a specific way has been achieved, the devs will now, in their extreme beneficence, sell you the solution to the problem they created.
This is not a new tactic for the WoW devs, of course. Each expansion launches with an obviously asinine timesink that the devs conveniently “fix” a year later after it successfully sunk millions of player dollars in subscriptions. In any other year, these Shadowlands changes would be par for the course. The fact that these changes are cloaked in this “we’re reexamining everything in the company” is just gross. It’s like, no you aren’t, and stop pretending you are doing anyone any favors here. Shit should have been changed a year ago, when everyone told you it was a terrible idea.
It’s gotten to the point where I just dread hearing anything about WoW. You know those shows out there which just sort of revel in awkwardness, scripted or not? I can’t stand them. There’s something about them that is physically painful to watch for me. And that’s what WoW news is to me now.
I watched that Sylvanas cinematic and I just couldn’t anymore. How many years have they been building to this moment, and some committee of writers thought “I will never serve” fit in with anything that was going on? What did she think she was doing up to this point? There is zero way to write themselves out of the hole they wrote themselves into. So now we’re all just sitting around and waiting to see how painfully awkward the conclusion is going to be.
To some extent, we expect Xanatos Gambits from evil masterminds. Heroes doing things that end up playing right into the villain’s hands. The key is that the heroes’ actions are usually, at worst, dumb in retrospect. Other times, they just had no way of knowing the extent of scheming that took place; can’t blame them in those scenarios. But there is no coming back from this for Sylvanas as a character. She wasn’t looking for an opportunity to snatch the One Ring at the right moment. She’s just dumb and got bamboozled by someone called the Jailer. Sylvanas never took a moment to look around the Maw? Maybe notice all the chains, all the dominated souls bent to serve? In her mind, the Jailer was just going to be like “everyone’s free now” and then put down the McGuffin of ultimate power?
It’s all so dumb.
Everyone has predicted for a decade or longer that the true WoW-killer was going to be WoW itself. But I couldn’t even imagine it playing out this way. Shit design, shit corporate culture, shit story. That’s the trifecta right there. They are working on it though! They sat down and brainstormed and talked about their feelings and remembered that all the problems were correctly identified in beta (again) so they could continue to put in minimum effort into what once was a billion dollar franchise.
The one hope that WoW has is that corporate spreadsheet dweebs like Ion Hazzikostas have an outsized effect on game design direction. So that, you know, when they are fired or quit, the ship can be turned around. If things really are built by committee though, WoW is straight fucked and the ship is going down. Or arguably already has, and the remaining population is clinging to dressers and doors while everyone else is paddling the life boats away. But hey, at least the knobs were fixed in a patch.
It is difficult to say with any sort of conviction, but I’m strongly leaning towards the Shadowlands alt leveling experience being the worse it’s ever been in any expansion.
The normal leveling experience in Shadowlands is certainly the most on-rails I can recall, perhaps in the history of WoW. You go through the Maw tutorial and head into Kyrianland, which just happens to be the least interesting of the afterlives. And the actual quest content and layout in Bastion is horrible. There are long stretches of time in which you are far from an Inn or mailbox or flightpath. Want to take a break after 30 minutes? Better hearth back to wherever and then plan on spending 5 minutes riding back to whatever quest you were on. Or just buckling down and spending the extra 15 minutes to finish the quest chain in that area.
For as bad as Hellfire Peninsula was back in TBC, you at least had the ability to skip certain hubs and go to others. Once I figured out that hitting level 62 opened up the questing Christmas trees in Zangarmarsh, you bet your ass I was hoofing it out of Hellfire. No such skipping in Shadowlands. Do every quest in order, every time. Oh, and if you’re not level 53 by the time you get to Elysian Hold, go do some sidequests or pick some herbs until you are.
And can I just say something that I don’t feel enough people have complained about yet? The gearing situation is shit while leveling. Every single expansion I can remember had you immediately kitting out in expansion-reasonable questing gear within the first 30 minutes. That leads to casual raider tears when yesterday’s epics were replaced with greens, but it’s a necessary evil. Because it’s an incredibly dumb, unnecessary evil for my toons to still be rocking ilevel 58 shoulders throughout the entire fucking zone when 87-100 is the baseline.
What could be worse than all that? Threads of Fate.
On its face, Threads of Fate sounds like an incredible innovation. NPC meets your alt immediately outside of the Maw tutorial, and you unlock all the zones to complete in any order. What they neglect to mention is that “complete” means “grinding mobs like in a 1990s MMO.” Some of the Bonus Objective areas literally give you 1% completion per mob kill. “Just don’t do those.” Sure, let me just ride around this entire zone with only three flightpaths unlocked while trying to complete the same World Quests I’ll be grinding at endgame for the next two years. Oh, and they give 12k XP, same as each of the dozen story quests you could do in the same amount of time.
In many ways, Legion was considered the worst expansion for alts due to the way Artifacts (and AP) were spec-specific on top of the RNG of Legendaries. What is mentioned less in that calculus is how all the zones were available from the start and each class had engaging class-specific story content on the way up. With Shadowlands, everybody has the exact same story and quests in the same order until endgame, and then everybody is grinding Torghast for their Legendary, on every character.
There’s some Kyrian NPC who mentions that the Path is grinding Aspirants into dust. You’d think I’d remember his name after seeing it ten times but whatever. That’s what leveling feels like: being ground into dust. My character roster is 60, 60, 57, 54, 53, 52, 52, 52, 51, 51. I kept thinking maybe a different class would make leveling more enjoyable. But that’s when I realized that it wasn’t the class that was the problem, it was the rote, banal, awful design of Bastion through which all characters must pass. Well, that, or level 4x slower by chain-killing mobs inside a yellow shape on your mini-map. Engaging!
No escape in BGs either. Winning a 15-min match gives you… 12k XP. Once per day. Then it’s half that every other time, for a win. Not particularly reliable when you queue as Alliance.
I have never been more discouraged trying to level alts in an expansion than Shadowlands.
What would fix it? There is no fixing of the on-rails story portion, which wasn’t that bad the first time. It really comes down to Threads of Fate and fixing the jank there. Take the only page out of the Jay Wilson handbook and just double everything. World Quests give 24k XP, Bonus Objectives complete twice as fast for 16k XP, and the overall zone meter gives 1.5 levels. I am not even sure that this doubling would result in things being faster than mindlessly grinding the story quests, but at least it would be closer. And what exactly would the point of Threads of Fate be if it was slower than just doing the story again? I think you get a whole 4 extra Renown that you wouldn’t have, for all the good that does an alt facing down the barrel of 10-20 hours of Torghast and Maw busywork.
I forgive you for wondering whether I just don’t like leveling anymore. Thing is, I would take all my characters through Maldraxxus again in a heartbeat. I want to start over there. The Theater of Pain is where the actual Shadowlands experience begins, IMO. But you have to drag your face through four levels of Bastion broken glass to get there. Every. Single. Time.
I hope that this leveling setup is an experiment that Blizzard never tries again.
I have spent about 15 hours total in Torghast thus far, and I can’t quite tell if I’m having fun. Which probably means I’m not.
The design of this endgame activity is weird, which may be a result of Blizzard’s whiplash direction. It was originally very challenging for a solo player, then it was made to be harder presumably to not surprise players at reaching an unkillable (to them) final boss, and then made much easier across the board. Which is fine, because this is the primary source of Soul Ash, which is necessary to craft Legendary armor this expansion. And everyone is absolutely expected to have one. The recently-released Twisting Corridors with its cosmetic rewards is a better place for challenge.
But even that aside, it doesn’t feel great. Each run takes me 40-60 minutes and it is a commitment. If you don’t kill the last boss, you get nothing. If your gameplay gets interrupted by something, you get nothing. If you die too many times to random things even before the last boss, you get nothing. So, given the risk, you are highly incentivized to kill every mob pack and scour every crevice for Anima Cells to gain more power. If you skip things on the early floors to try and finish more quickly, but end up not having enough juice to kill the boss, well, you get nothing.
Oh, and don’t forget that the elites and bosses all get a rapidly-stacking 10% damage buff every dozen seconds or so. Berserk timers would have been one thing, but really? Why is that necessary at all?
When you first unlock Torghast, you just have access to Layer 1. Beating a Layer gives you Soul Ash and unlocks the next Layer. Each Layer gives you a decreasing amount of Soul Ash – it goes 120, 100, 85, 70, 60, and so on. The good news is that Layers stay unlocked, so that next week you can instantly go to Layer 5, beat it, and gain all the Soul Ash from that and the lower Layers automatically (435 total in this case). Plus, by virtue of having beaten Layer 5, you can do Layer 6 next week. Or this week, if you want to put in another hour or so for 50 Soul Ash.
The bad news is that unlocking 5-6 Layers right away on a toon is exhausting and will burn you out quickly. All of your alts start at Layer 1 just like your main, and Legendaries are gated behind Torghast, so it is not as though you can readily ignore it, even if you only PvP. You could “take it easy” and only run one Layer at a time, but that’s going to delay your Legendary by weeks.
Finally, the Anima Powers you have available are really hit or miss. There are sometimes fun combos to unlock, like when my Guardian Druid got to auto-cast Roots on enemies that stuck me when Barkskin is up, and when Roots breaks it deals 4000 damage to nearby enemies. Oh, and Barkskin was all but permanent with duration boosts. That combo let me charge into multiple mob packs, do a few Swipes, and then the Roots breaking for 6+ mobs simultaneously dealt 24k damage to everything.
When you roll in with an Affliction Warlock though, you get runs where your Seed of Corruption gets buffed five times. Which is fine for trash, but doesn’t do anything for the boss.
Torghast is probably one of the most interesting design decisions Blizzard has implemented since Scenarios. Reminds me of Dungeon Runs in Hearthstone. But is it fun? Eh, it can be. Sometimes. It’s also exhausting, kinda formulaic, and also required. If Blizzard leaned more into the overpowered abilities angle, or if each floor guardian gave a little Soul Ash, then I could see it being better.
Things have been interesting these past two months.
My druid was the first to hit level 60 in Shadowlands and the one I got furthest on in terms of Renown and Torghast. I have been Guardian the entire time, as I have not liked Balance while leveling and Feral is just annoying having to heal up after every encounter.
I sorta came to a hard stopping point with the Druid after a few weeks when I realized what the endgame means. For one thing, I’m trapped. I don’t want to tank dungeons but all of my gear is Agility-based. World Quests are giving me straight garbage Agility pieces even though I switched my loot specialization to Resto. I am interested in doing Raid Finder, but you need a 170 gearscore to even queue, and I’m barely pushing 155. If I want to PvP, it’s going to be as Boomkin or Resto, which again, I don’t have gear for.
Technically I could spend a few grand on the AH buying crafted gear or something, and then muddling through PvP to get Honor gear and hoping that crafting a Legendary will get me over the gearscore hump. But as always, the first hump is unnecessarily difficult, IMO. I remember early BFA where it was a challenge to get past the War Front gearscore wall, but once you were in, epics rained from the sky for zero effort and thereafter you had no issue qualifying for the rest of the expansion.
I have chosen the Kyrian Covenant because that was supposed to be the best for Druids, but it’s boring. Boring ability, boring quests thus far, and a boring, broken Mission Table experience.
Seriously, the fact that it has been this long without a fix to the Mission table experience with Kyrians (and Venthyr, so I’ve heard) is just embarrassing. Basically, the champions and normal troops are just garbage who cannot defeat the level 20 elite Soul Ash mission even when they are level 25. Meanwhile, Maldraxxus and Night Fae have basic troops that can defeat 10+ levels above themselves, no champion required.
I get that Mission Tables are less of a focus of the endgame experience this time around, but… really? The WoW Companion app revolves entirely around the Mission Table, and it sucks that I lose out on potential bonuses because Blizzard is bad at balance and worse at fixing their mistakes.
I hit 60 on my Warlock a few weeks ago. This toon’s purpose was primarily to PvP in battlegrounds for fun, but the results have been… uneven. I played BGs pretty much nonstop from levels 55-58, but stopped when I was capping out on Honor. I’m not sure why Blizzard made it impossible to pre-purchase level 60 PvP gear, but it forced me into Threads of Fate and back to questing.
Hitting 60 and immediately getting full gear in every slot was rather refreshing. I even had several thousand Honor left over. The design appears to be for the base-level gear to be cheap, and then you upgrade individual pieces up a few ilevels at a time via ever-increasing Honor costs. It also appears you need to hit certain Renown levels with your Covenant to unlock the higher ilevel caps.
But like I said earlier, the Warlock isn’t all that fun to play even with decent gear. The missing piece of the puzzle may be the Legendary, which requires Torghast runs. For Affliction Warlocks, one Legendary has Corruption deal more damage and adds a 50% snare on top. With the Absolute Corruption talent, that means you can toss out Corruptions that last 24 seconds on players and snare them the whole time. That may be worth the fun even if I get blown up with zero recourse once melee closes the gap.
Night Fae Covenant
I chose Night Fae for the Warlock because it was the best-ranked, and plus it was different from the other I had picked. The Covenant story was unexpectedly poignant so far. I definitely recommend people to at least roll an alt through the Night Fae so they can see the mock play scenario where a history of Azeroth is run through. The crowd’s reaction is hilarious, and [redacted]’s shock at the events throughout is a little sad considering you know the news is about to get worse.
Alts and Boosts
I had two character boosts in my back-pocket for a few years now, one from BFA and another from… maybe Legion? They had been converted by the level squish into an instant level 48 toon. I have been holding onto them for a while for if I ever got sucked into a social situation in which I wanted to play on a different server. Then the thinking was that I would use it on the Horde side eventually.
Well, I spent both of them to create a Mage and Shaman. Despite having a decently high-ish level Mage & Shaman on my original Auchindoun-US server.
The Mage was almost an instant-regret situation. I did play with my old Mage for a few hours through WoD (the go-to fastest leveling place post-squish) and it was a blast as Fire. Mobs falling left and right. Level 48 Fire Mage forced into Shadowlands content right away? Not so much. Hit level 52 and was generous with some crafted gear and it still felt bad. Tried Frost and Arcane, and the latter was the closest to fun I could get.
I thought about BGing with the Mage like I did with the Warlock, but it was around this time that I realized that level-scaling in BGs was actually removed in Shadowlands. When you join a match, your level will say something like 52 (59) and everyone else shows 59 around you, so I had been like “cool, let’s level via BGs.” It’s just a lie to cover for lowbies not being targeted/called out. You really are level 52 with crap gear being matched against actual level 59s with higher gear and possibly people with Covenant abilities (via Threads of Fate). This suddenly explained why my Shadow Priest was struggling to affect any team fight whatsoever in BGs despite DoTing up the entire team. Or possibly Shadow Priests just suck in BGs like Affliction Warlocks.
The Shaman boost was on purpose though, and I’m enjoying it. I have a fondness for Shaman considering it was my first serious alt after my namesake Paladin, and Shaman in general have come a long way since TBC. Elemental is decent even if it hasn’t really changed all that much from Lava Burst and Lightning Bolt spam. Based on some BG videos, I’m excited to try Elemental in PvP and then fall back on Resto if it comes to that.
The only two classes I don’t have at this point are Warrior or Hunter. I have one apiece back on Auchindoun-US, but it’s tough to justify spending time leveling them on a server with considerably less resources (including crafter alts to gear them). I suppose server transfers are cheaper than level boosts, but at some point I have to recognize the fact that my WoW days (in this expansion) are numbered.
One of my stated goals in Shadowlands was to level up a Warlock alt and do some PvP. In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure WHY I had thought that was a good idea. Perhaps memories of ages past in which Warlocks were Battleground gods. That is, unfortunately, no longer the case.
Or maybe it still is, and I just suck.
Once I hit level 55 I was terribly tempted to use the Threads of Fate feature and otherwise abandon a rehash of the same storyline I had just completed a few weeks ago. What was stopping me was just the idea that perhaps slogging through the story again was going to be the fastest way to level, and thus using Threads would be a mistake. While waffling, I realized that there was the 50% bonus Honor buff active for only the next few days (at the time), so why not just head into BGs and see how it goes.
At the time of this writing, I have gone through roughly 50 BGs on the Warlock and hit the level cap, the majority of that being Affliction. And what I have come to realize is how many other classes/specs seem tailor-made to counter all of my shit. Kicks, stuns, magic immunity. Rogues are BG gods again, because of course they are, but it’s not just them. Monks have Diffuse Magic to send all my DoTs back to me, Touch of Karma for basically a 10 second immunity which also, hey, sends my damage back to me, mobility out the ass to counter my portal shenanigans, along with the usual stuns and interrupts. DKs are hard counters, but I guess that is what they are designed to be, so whatever. Retribution is Retribution. Warrior is Warrior.
So, yeah. The general sense I get is that if any melee actually gets in melee range, I am just stuck refreshing Agony and Corruption until I die. Even if I juke an interrupt and have already survived their stun and am not facing what appears to be a direct Warlock counter, the damage I deal is mostly garbage within the timeframe of my remaining health.
Can I deal a lot of damage when left alone and DoTing the whole team from the bushes? Yeah, sure. It’s fun throwing everything out there and then Malefic Rapturing everyone without actually giving away your position. But what caster CAN’T deal a lot of damage when left alone to freecast at the enemy team from the bushes? And what’s more, my overall damage pressure really isn’t enough to change the direction of a team fight at the time.
Compare Affliction to Destruction, for example. If I’m able to turret from the bushes, I can pretty much delete people with Chaos Bolt – that has a much more immediate impact to the current fight than everyone being at 50% HP thirty seconds from now. Getting trained by melee is still a bad time, but I’m a little less concerned about eating a kick when I actually have more than one spell school. Also, you can use Infernal as another emergency CC to try and get space for when Mortal Coil is on cooldown.
Why not just play BGs as Destruction then? Well… why not just play Mage instead? Or Boomkin, for that matter? There is something very satisfying about absurdly slow-moving Chaos Bolts hitting for 4700+ but I have all the same issues with melee as Affliction.
What I keep coming back to with both specs is this: what is the Warlock niche? What do Warlocks counter? With the ascendance of Shadow Priests, it’s not as though Warlocks are “the DoT class.” Destruction hits hard, but so do any freecasting caster. It’s not as though Warlocks possess an abundance of CC, especially when Fear takes 1.6 seconds to cast at a short range (well, shorter than normal spell range) and a single interrupt locks you out of everything for 3+ seconds.
Way back in the day, I remember Warlocks basically having all the same issues but they were at least extremely difficult to kill. Am I remembering wrong? Has it just been a general ability creep over the years that made melee so potent a counter? Or perhaps I am just doing everything wrong.
All I know is that I’m not having the best time as Warlock. I will stick with it a bit longer, focusing on Destruction. Having Covenant abilities might improve the experience, along with the Affliction legendary that basically makes Corruption a 50% snare for 24 seconds. Perhaps that will cause enough annoyance/disruption to the other team to make my presence on the field worth the pain.