WoW Should Face Existential Crises More Often
(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.
Azerite Armor as Regression
As evidenced by the latest Q&A – and the Reddit response threads – Azerite Armor is still a big issue within the WoW community. I would say “contentious issue,” but I’m pretty sure it’s only Ion and Rohan who like it.
That said, it finally struck me why I hate the system, and why Blizzard doesn’t care: Blizzard is trying to regress gearing back to the TBC days. In a recent LiveStream interview, Ion says:
(paraphrase) If you look at how most items work, if you want to play another spec, you want another item for that slot.
Ion goes on to say that Azerite gear is more flexible than that, in that you can technically respec (for a price!) the traits if you change roles. Which is fine… if not for the fact that Legion just had tier gear that automatically changed to match your spec. And the expansion before that (WoD) introduced dynamic primary stats, such that a Retribution paladin switching to Holy will see most his Strength gear turn into Intelligence. It felt like we were progressing to a point at which we simply had one major set of gear and were done.
I feel like players’ confusion and anger as to this sudden design reversal is justified.
Now, all this is probably a bit unfair to Blizzard. Weapons and trinkets were largely spec-specific even in Legion days, to say nothing about how Legendaries forced you to commit to specs to a ridiculous degree. On top of that, everyone knew that even if primary stats swapped around, different specs valued secondary stats differently, even after the super-specific ones like Dodge (etc) were removed. If you were a paladin tank and switched to Retribution, you knew that your tank gear would deal less DPS than something focused on the stats that Retribution favored (without even getting into Artifact Power differences).
And yet… Azerite still feels bad. Because its a regression back to a time that was inherently more frustrating for people with multiple specs. A split baby option of reforging doesn’t make anything better, nor the opportunity to split another baby by choosing generic Azerite traits (actual suggestion from Ion) rather than spec-specific ones in an effort to save gold. And Blizzard’s big “solution” to fix things in 8.1? They’re adding another ring with only spec-specific traits. Which means the power delta between each piece of Azerite gear is actively getting worse for your other spec(s).
This sort of thing is not an accident. Ion wants the game to return to the point at which players need a full set of different gear for each spec. That used to be okay. Hell, it used to be you needed a PvP set of gear on top of everything else you needed for PvE. But it is a regression from what we had before.
That’s the problem with Azerite.
The concerns people have about not being able to get 370+ Azerite pieces from content? Not actually an issue from the old design rubric – you only had 1-2 shots at a piece of tier gear from a raid boss each week anyway (the glory days of Justice/Valor Point vendors notwithstanding). Traits needing to be simmed, or some being wildly more powerful than others? There were many times in expansions past where two different two-set tier bonuses were better than the four-set tier bonus. Traits being boring? Again, welcome to many tier sets in WoW’s past.
On a final note though, I do believe that Azerite Armor will likely go down as one of the worst experiments in WoW history. Leveraging it as a means to regress gearing philosophy is one thing. But I also blame it for the fact that we got no new skills or abilities or talents to look forward to in this expansion. Why add a new talent row or button to push when you can just slap a random assortment of buffs on a piece of gear that will naturally cycle itself out come next expansion? In a single design, they seemed to have “solved” ability creep, added a substitute to Legendary items, and gave everyone a grind outlet via AP.
All they had to give up was… fun.
Beta for Azeroth
The expansion honeymoon phase is over for the WoW playerbase, and the rabble is’a rousing. To which I say, “about goddamn time.” The latest fuel on the fire? Ion Hazzikostas himself went into a Reddit AMA and basically said shit is broken on purpose. Which then led to this amusing exchange:
In case something happens to the picture, the specific line from Ion was:
We’re crafting systems with an eye towards the grand scheme of the game as it unfolds over the course of many months […]
While it might not have quite the meme potential of EA’s “sense of pride and accomplishment” disaster, it remains one of those insidious bits of accidental truth that rusts out the suspension of disbelief. And lest you extend any sort of doubting benefits to Ion, just read his response to a question about the sad state of Resto Shaman thus far:
We knew Restoration were coming up on the low end in the initial weeks of BfA, and applied some measured buffs to their AoE healing in particular, but we expected the value of their Mastery to rise significantly once higher-end raiding and M+ became more of a competitive focus, and we wanted to make sure not to overbuff them.
In other words, the design team knew that the spec was weak at launch, but felt like gear would fix the problem later, so they decided to do nothing. Did they end up buffing Shaman? Yes… “measurely,” with trepidation. But why wait for a hotfix if you already knew the interim was going to be bad? And more importantly: why make your players wait for the game to fix itself?
Look, I understand the delicate balance the devs are trying to make here. If Blizzard made Resto Shaman competitive in PvE from the beginning, they would have to nerf them in the future to ensure that the Mastery scaling (or whatever) didn’t make them clearly better than any of the other healers. Nerfing always feels bad. But do you know what else feels bad? Being gimped on purpose because there’s some master plan in which you become adequate later.
This perverse philosophy really explains everything that we have been seeing in Battle for Azeroth thus far. The wonky Warfront timing, for example, will “fix itself” later on when there are 3-4 of them running consecutively. Some Professions not having any use for some dungeon/raid crafting materials, is another exa…
This is something we’ve been discussing a bunch. On the one hand, we’d like to add a way to get at least Hydrocores through doing non-Mythic dungeons, so that the professions that DO have a use for them don’t feel like they hit a brick wall in their crafting if they only do matchmade content.
On the other hand, it’s awkward to be swimming in Sanguicells with no use for them as an Alchemist or Enchanter. I don’t have a specific fix to announce right now, but we’re discussing plans to address that problem. (source)
Just kidding, none of the devs put any thought into Professions at all.
Or maybe they did, and they are just waiting to introduce the Expulsom Trader, ala the Blood of Sargeras Trader, into patch 8.1. That would certainly maintain the consistency of “reuse every aspect of the game’s design” method, which more and more seems like it’s done out fear of fucking up the formula than intentional design. But again, why wait? You know the solution, so just do it. Or be bold and make Expulsom/Sanguicell Bound-on-Account.
This entire fiasco reminds me of the advice I gave new bloggers six years ago: don’t “save” your best stuff. In the most charitable, optimistic scenario Blizzard is planning for the final months of the expansion to be fantastic. By then, everyone will have the appropriate Azerite Levels to use the outer rings of any gear drops right away, and there will be hundreds of new Azerite traits, and so on. It even jives with the way Blizzard has handled PvP gear looks for a long time – the first tier looks pretty generic, but by the end you are a proper badass.
The problem is… why should someone play during the broken part? I already used a WoW Token a few days ago, so I feel kinda stuck already, but if I had read this AMA before renewing, then I wouldn’t have. Everything that people praise about the expansion – the music, the questing, the general environment – is still going to be there after 8.1, or six months later, or whenever. I’m not suggesting that you go full Gevlon and essentially wait for the next expansion – which at this point, may end up having the same exact issues again – but waiting for 8.1 or 8.2 seems pretty ideal.
If you ever wondered what the deal was with people complaining about Destiny versus Destiny 2, this was precisely it. Or the Complete Edition of Civilization 5 versus Civilization 6 without expansions. Designers make mistakes, and that is okay. It means they are trying something new. What is not okay are designers who make mistakes, fix those mistakes, and then come out with a new product with the old mistakes baked in so they can sell you the solution all over again.
AH Improvements In the Pipeline
Amidst the summary of Ion Hazzikostas’ recent interview, the section that piqued my interest the most were the comment about improvements to the AH. Here are the MMO-Champ bullet points:
- The Auction House UI is pretty unacceptable at this point and past due for a revamp.
- Fixing this is a longer term project, but addons can help in the meantime.
- In Patch 7.1 there may be some logic changes to how items are sorted on the auction house.
- Right now stacks are sorted by total cost rather than cost per unit.
- Hopefully in Patch 7.1 the auction house will be able to sort by unit price instead, allowing you to see the cheapest items first.
AH updates continue to be throttled on Sargares as of today. This throttling is not from addons, for the record – it exists even using the default AH interface. If you search for Felslate, for example, there is still a 5 second delay to even be able to click the Sort by Bid tab. Meanwhile, when I checked on my home realm of Auchindoun-US, multiple pages were scanned nearly instantly via Auctionator like they have been for the past four expansions. It has to have something to do with either AH size or realm population or both.
I have been making due with the default AH interface, and every day it reminds me of how abysmal it is. For example, one of the “tricks” of AH goblins is something call a “wall.” That is where you post 200+ auctions of a single item (e.g. ore), in the hopes that anyone else trying to see what the going price is for said item will undercut you… because they cannot be bothered with clicking through 4+ pages of AH results. Trying to sort by lowest price will not get yourself past the wall, even if there are stacks of items at a lower individual price because, as Ion points out, the default interface treats a single item at 20g to be less expensive than a stack of 20 of the same item for 21g.
None of the above is at all an issue for anyone with Auctionator or any other AH addon, of course. Auctionator will condense the 200+ auctions into a single line item on the results screen. Or at least, it would, if not for this asinine throttle that makes it impossible to use addons in any constructive way for Trade Goods. Sigh.
In the meantime, I have made somewhere around ~45,000g since starting at 150g on Sargeras. My friend has given me some of the Hexweave Bags, but otherwise that all comes from selling herbs and ore. I definitely missed the gold mine that was early bracer crafting and/or Obliterum mass production though. I’m kinda sad about that… but another part is not.
With the AH in such a sorry state as it remains, two weeks from launch, I am beginning to feel like all those halcyon AH goblin days of mine are far behind me. And it is almost as though Blizzard is doing me a favor for being so terribly shitty at something so fundamental to their goddamn game. Not having the AH to keep my interest is one less hook keeping my nose the screen and thoughts revolving around WoW.
WoW Content Comparison
One of the relatively common criticisms of Warlords overall has been the lack of content in comparison to prior expansions. With 6.2 being confirmed as the last raiding tier and Blizzard rather adamantly opposed to creating new 5-man dungeons – despite them being “one of the greatest strengths of the genre” – I find it increasingly unlikely that a hypothetical 6.3 patch would include either. So what better time than now to offer some data to back up the claim?
For this part, I am taking all info from Blizzard’s own webpage:
|Raids (Boss)||Dungeons||BGs (Arena)||Other|
|Warlords of Draenor||3 (30)||8||0 (0)||Garrisons?|
|Mists of Pandaria||5 (43)||9||3 (2)||18 Scenarios
1 Race/1 Class
|Cataclysm||6 (31)||14||2 (0)||2 Races
|Wrath of the Lich King||9 (54)||16||2 (2)||1 Class|
|The Burning Crusade||8 (44)||16||1 (3)||2 Races|
If you found that I made a mistake somewhere in the calculations, let me know.
Otherwise… well, the results kind of speak for themselves, yeah? Cataclysm, hitherto the worst expansion in the game, was the closest to Warlords in terms of raid bosses. And yet it had six more dungeons, introduced two new Battlegrounds, two new races with entirely novel starting areas, and a complete revamp of the entire world. Perhaps not everyone necessarily wanted the old world revamp, but that still represented a rather insane amount of designer attention. The same sort of attention that has seemingly clocked out starting from Day 2 in Warlords.
Indeed, when you start thinking about it a bit deeper, the Warlords situation is even worse than first glance. The devs might have built eight dungeons, for example, but the dungeons were designed for no one to actually use them. I invite you to watch that mea culpa video from Ion Hazzicostas again, or perhaps for the first time. The TL;DR version is this reckoning:
Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.
I wanted to bring the above up again, just to point out that even if Warlords had a comparable amount of content to other expansions (it doesn’t), the base structure of the game denigrates the content that does exist. For example, suppose you want to include the ten Timerwalker Dungeons into the Warlords count for whatever reason, even though they are only actually available for a limited timeframe and aren’t even revamps of the originals. In that situation, I would argue that Warlords only has ten dungeons overall, since those ten Timewalker Dungeons are the only ones still relevant to anyone in the game (by dropping high-level gear). In contrast, even when you were progressing through ICC in Wrath, running Gundrak was useful in getting you Frost Badges and that much closer to a tier piece.
In a bizarre sense, Warlords is the result of Blizzard’s design working as intended. The devs have said for years that they wanted to get to a place where they could pump out faster expansions. And as players, we all agreed… but not to this. By “faster expansions,” we meant not waiting 12-14 months with zero content. Which, by the way, is still a very real possibility with Warlords.
While I missed it Live, I managed to watch that Warlords Q&A over the weekend. You can watch it yourself on Youtube, and I recommend doing so. It was simultaneously the most raw, unfiltered interview I’ve ever seen, and the most baffling and ultimately a little demoralizing.
Before I get into the details though, here’s how I did on the BINGO front:
If you can’t bring yourself to watch the full hour of video, MMO-Champion has an extremely abbreviated synopsis and Wowhead has an interpretative transcript. What neither of them really gets across is the otherwise unbelievable number of times that Ion Hazzikostas comes right out and says “We screwed up” on a large number of topics. Like, I started getting a little embarrassed watching it, even though I felt Blizzard needed called on all of them.
Let’s start this in order though.
Although Ion stated that he “didn’t like speaking for the group,” by the time the Polygon interview went out stating flying was no more, that decision did represent a majority of the design team at the time. I have talked about this enough so I won’t belabor the point, other than to say how incredibly disheartening it is to hear that more than half of the design team are
insane coming from such a bizarre different worldview. I mean, I would feel a little bit better if the argument was “flying takes too many resources” or something. In the absence of any explanation though, I must accept a reality in which the design team is either incompetent or are aligned with a completely different entertainment paradigm than myself. If they do not know how or why this game is fun to me, how can I expect them to continue delivering a fun game in the future? Or me to expect one to be delivered?
I’m glad that the majority of the design team ended up finding a compromise palatable to their alien sensibilities. But it’s getting pretty clear that any entertainment derived from this MMO will be in spite of the design instead of because of it.
“I’m really not going to defend [the 6.0 reputations] and say that they’re awesome and fun and engaging. They are completely mob grinds.” No, really, Ion said exactly that. The explanation is that Blizzard wasn’t going to do reputations at all this expansion, but decided to throw some shit together at the last minute because of the Trading Post and “other hooks.”
“Clear failure on our part.” Ion mentioned that Blizzard did the whole “thing Blizzard routinely does” in lurching from one extreme to another, in this case a reaction to the “World of Dailycraft” theme of Mists of Pandaria. The idea was that instead of doing 5 different quests in an area, you can do the equivalent of five different quests worth of miscellaneous stuff in that same area. Only this time, the rewards were shit and the lack of narrative makes the entire enterprise more nakedly grindy. That’s not even commentary on my part, that is what Ion basically said.
Lack of Endgame World Content
The design team was so caught up in making sure Garrisons as a system was worth doing, a lot of the activities you would normally do outside are instead done in your own little instance.
See above. Don’t worry though, Felblight will fix it.™
Alt Burnout due to Garrisons
Blizzard will nerf gold gains (Account-wide diminishing returns) to save you from yourself. In fact, they don’t like alts serving to enhance a single main character either. Which is another one of those “do you even play your own game?!” moments to me.
Dungeons Being Pointless
“That’s another one of our regrets.” Ion believes that Mythic dungeons will “salvage” the situation a little bit, before launching back into his whole “doing dungeons for Valor doesn’t make sense” tirade. Which is itself utterly bizarre given the fact that A) new reputation factions do this all the time, and B) Tanaan Jungle will be raining ilevel 650+ gear from the sky. Like literally what the fuck? Unless you are trying to actively “discourage the use” of the LFD tool – which I would not put it past them at this point – I don’t understand why else he or anyone would discourage group content in this way. Even if the dungeons are faceroll, it is at least social facerolling.
Why Are Demo Locks Being Nerfed?
“Because we’d rather you not play demonology.” That is a direct quote – look at Lore’s eyes when Ion says it. Hilarious. Less hilarious is the elaboration, which essentially boils down to Blizzard not liking how the spec plays out mechanically, but don’t want to actually fix it within an expansion, so they’d rather not have people playing the spec in the meantime. Which is… well, one way of doing it, I guess.
“We’re not trying to design rotations that feel engaging fighting a target dummy.” Again, direct quote. On the one hand, I can understand where they are coming from. If you are able to stand still and belt out your rotation with no downtime, chances are that the raid encounter itself is boring, e.g. you are not needing to move out of the fire, click the box, collapse for a meteor effect, etc. On the other hand… what? If your rotation isn’t engaging under perfect circumstances, when is it ever going to be engaging? So for all those hundreds of hours of clunky Retribution gameplay where you are desperately waiting for auto-attack procs to play your class, it was intended? Never going to be fixed?
Flabbergasted is the only way I can describe my reaction.
Absorbs Dominating the Healing Game
It’s better than it was in Mists, but every raid should have a Disc Priest, yes. Sorry.
Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.
Guys, I don’t even know any more. Maybe the developers have always been this way behind the scenes, and we just never saw them like this. Maybe the huge influx of interns have diluted the talent pool. Or perhaps we are just all trapped in an incomprehensible universe, devoid of meaning but otherwise working as intended.
I just… I dunno. I’m just going to play some videogames instead of thinking about this anymore.
I have low expectations for the upcoming “Live QA” Blizzard is hosting a good two weeks after Flightgate
took off walked up to the cave on a hill (?). Maybe not as low as Grumpy Elf, but I share the sentiment that Ion “Watch the world burn” Hazzikostas is likely set to field a lot of softballs this June 6th. While I appreciate Grumpy Elf’s… enthusiasm in the questions to be answered, I wanted to offer a few that have a slightly larger (if still remote) chance of being asked and answered.
…and then the announcement post was released yesterday, which indicates questions need to either be 140-character Tweets or 40-word forum posts. So they “can get to as many questions as possible.” Because quantity of answers is exactly what everyone is looking forward to.
But, whatever. Sisyphus is a personal hero of mine, so let me remove all context and edit all my questions down to the raw nubs. Note: these questions are less than 140 characters even with #WarlordsQA (and a space) included in the Tweet. Feel free to appropriate them yourself.
1) WTF are you smoking?
1) How do you feel that more non-interactive flight paths, during which players Alt-Tab out of the game, increases immersion?
2) How is Draenor more dangerous sans flying, when players are immune to being dazed off their ground mount with garrison stables?
3) Why the push for exploration by level-capped characters when majority of exploration rewards targeted at leveling players?
4) Do you feel your treatment of professions this expansion have met your design goals? And what were those goals, exactly?
5) Ion said “group dungeons are one of the greatest strengths in the MMO genre.” And yet smallest amount of dungeons ever. Why?
6) Why remove Justice/Valor points when you just add back in currency like Apexis Crystals?
7) Why does Season 11 PvP gear still cost Honor? And not just a little Honor, but equal to current gear amounts?
8) Was there ever a thought about designing the Garrison to be Account-wide? If not, why?
9) Will the Water Stider mounts continue to be the de facto mounts everyone should use in this, and all future expansions?
10) Are there any other fun parts of the game we can look forward to you removing on a whim in the future?
…well, I tried.
In case you get a chance to watch the Q&A Live, someone has helpfully printed out some Bingo cards you can use to play along at home. My favorite part is that “Immersion” is the Free Space.
I’m picking Card # 2.
Borrowed Power, Borrowed Time
Posted by Azuriel
The Blizzard devs have been on a bit of a interview circuit since the reveal of the next WoW expansion. Some of the tidbits have been interesting, like this particular summary (emphasis mine):
In other words, Blizzard recognized the failings of the “borrowed power” system – after three expansions! – and decided to bring back talent trees as a replacement. All while acknowledging the reasons why talent trees failed in the first place… and simply saying the equivalent of “we’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.”
You know, I’m actually going to transcript that part from Ion Hazzikostas for posterity:
I don’t technically disagree. When you have a MMORPG with character progression and abilities that accumulate over time… at some point it becomes very unwieldy to maintain every system introduced. Not impossible, just unwieldy. It reminds me of when CCGs like Hearthstone or Magic: the Gathering start segmenting older card sets away from “Standard” and into “Legacy” sets. Want to play with the most broken cards from every set ever released? Sure, go have fun over there in that box. Everyone else can have fun with a smaller set of more (potentially) balanced cards over here.
Having said that… is it really an insurmountable design problem?
My first instinct was to look at Guild Wars 2, which recently released its third expansion. The game is a bit of an outlier from the get-go considering that there is no gear progression at the level cap – if you have Ascended/Legendary Berserker gear from 10+ years ago, it is still Best-in-Slot today (assuming your class/spec wasn’t nerfed). That horizontal progression philosophy bleeds over into character skills and talent-equivalents too: whatever spec you are playing, you are limited to 5 combat skills based on your weapon(s) and 5 utility skills picked from a list. You pick three talent trees, but those trees don’t “expand” or get additional nodes. The only power accumulation in GW2 is in the Mastery system… which is largely borrowed-power-esque, now that I think about it.
So GW2 is doing well in the ability/feature creep department. For now. Because that’s the rub: ArenaNet is on expansion #3. WoW is on expansion #9. Are we prepared for six more Elite Specs per class? Outside of it being a balance nightmare – which is hardly ever ArenaNet’s apparent concern – I could easily see more Elite Specs being slapped onto the UI and nothing else of note changing. So the problem is “solved” by never granting meaningfully new abilities to older specs.
And… that’s basically the extent of my knowledge of non-WoW MMOs. Surely EverQuest 1 & 2 have encountered this same issue, for example. What did they do? I think FF14 is accumulating character abilities but not yet hitting the limit of reasonableness. EVE is EVE. What else is out there that has been around long enough to run into this? Runescape?
Regardless, it’s an interesting conundrum whereby the choices appear to be A) not grant new abilities with each expansion, B) have Borrowed Power systems, or C) periodically “reset” and prune character abilities before reintroducing them.
Posted in Commentary, Philosophy
Tags: Borrowed Power, Expansion, Future Me Problem, Game Design, Ion Hazzikostas, Progression