Oh man, Guild Wars 2. If ever I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with an MMO, this would be it. My first reloaded post was in January of 2016, and the time before that was back in 2012. It’s now January of 2018, so about as good a time as any to get started again.
Once I purchased Heart of Thorns for $15, I was immediately faced with a dilemma. My dilemma was thus: I had an Elementalist at level 80 and an Necromancer at level ~45. The Elementalist had been my “main” back in 2012, but I became increasingly annoyed with its mechanics and penchant for immediately dying at every available opportunity. At the same time, all my alts were dozens of levels behind, and I had little desire to grind my way through the same zones, so I stuck with a class I didn’t like. Eventually, I said Screw This and leveled the Elementalist the rest of the way to 80 via crafting professions and called it a day.
Now that I was back, it made much more sense to actually play a class I enjoy (for now), e.g. the Necromancer. However, that presents its own challenges. I technically had enough Tomes of Knowledge (+1 free level) to instantly get the Necro close to the cap, and enough gold to get the rest of the way via crafting. But was that what I really wanted to do? Immediately get to the zero-progression endgame? It would seem to make more sense to just level the Necro normally and derive what enjoyment I could from the everyday GW2 experience.
Which is what I did, for a while. I gained about 2-3 three levels from Events and Story quests.
The problem is three-fold. First, at some point ArenaNet changed Daily Quests to all but force you to complete expansion content to complete them. Before, you could slum around starter zones, blow through a few Events, gather some nodes, and then you were done. That may or may not have been before they started giving you straight-up 2 gold for finishing the Daily, I don’t know. But if I wanted to get a free 2g, I needed to have access to the endgame stuff ASAP. Or rely on WvW/PvP stuff, which I wasn’t going to do. So I needed my level 80 available.
The second problem was Gliders. I had the expansion, and unlocking it on one character unlocks it for everyone. Again, you need to be level 80 for that. So… why not just unlock that and be done? Seems reasonable.
The third problem was the kicker though: mounts. Every time I saw someone running around on a mount, it reminded me of how slow my character moves and how many crappy talents/abilities I have to equip in order to slum around at a bonus 33% speed. It got to the point where I no longer wanted to play the Necro at all because, in my mind, the worst case scenario was the expansion not going on sale by the time I hit the endgame, thus ensuring I had a lame experience for months and still bought the “full” price expansion later.
So… I went ahead and bought Path of Fire, and immediately unlocked the Raptor mount.
I say “immediately” but that certainly did not feel the case. I died about half a dozen times on “normal” mobs in the initial story quest, and at least half a dozen more on the “bosses” at the conclusion. If the Veteran Flame Dogs’ health actually reset after each death, it’s entirely possible I would have never completed the scenario. I know that I was a bit rusty on the Elementalist, and I did not have full Exotics in every slot, but I was at level 80 and had level 80 gear everywhere, and knew how to avoid the red circles, and goddamn who were these mobs designed for?
As it turns out, this was just the beginning.
…I mean, yeah. Figuratively too. More later.
Almost exactly one year ago, I tried out Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). My conclusions this time around did not change: it’s not the game for me.
In several ways, the game actually felt worse this time around. While I have not kept abreast of all the changes to the general structure, I was aware of the “One Tamriel” had opened up a lot of the game. Apparently you were no longer limited faction-wise, and now all mobs scaled with your level. Which is nice on an explorer level – you can just strike out in a random direction and not have to worry about getting one-shot by mobs – but really hearkens back to my distaste of Oblivion more than anything else, e.g. being punished for actually gaining levels.
WoW’s Legion expansion features scaling mobs, of course. I can’t say I particularly like them in there either, but at least with WoW you still have several avenues of character progression. Hell, WoW really hasn’t been about leveling this expansion anyway, given how most of your power comes from gaining Artifact Power and similar parallels.
Playing ESO again, I just could not help but realize that it’s a bad single-player game. My inventory quickly filled with vegetable debris and other crafting components, but I could not really utilize any of them. Where were the recipes to craft things? In a more traditional MMO, I would pop on down to the AH to see if any were available, but there is no AH in ESO. Which, let me tell you, really kills any motivation to collect much of anything in terms of resources out in the world. Why mine Iron ore unless you specifically need ore for a specific purpose?
Once you go down that rabbit hole of not caring about in-game objects with intrinsic value, the entire gameplay loop edifice starts to collapse. If you aren’t looting everything, you begin to realize how much time you are wasting searching every container out in the world. If you stop searching containers, you stop being excited about seeing containers and other interactable objects in the environment. If you stop being excited about environmental objects, you start to care less about the environment generally. Without the environment, you are left with just the mobs, who are both trivial and drop little loot of consequence (because, hey, most items are meaningless).
Now, you can “subscribe” to ESO and suddenly open up a Crafting Bank tab ala GW2 where all this random crap magically gets ported to. But, to me, that’s just another indication of how ESO is a bad single-player game. I expect that sort of paid-for addon stuff in an MMO. And if we’re judging ESO as an MMO, well, it plays out even worse.
I dunno. Presumably there are a bunch of people out there that like ESO just the way it is. After trying the game a second time in as many years, I am reaffirming that I am not one of them.
As Shintar pointed out in the comments last time around, almost all of my coverage of Legion thus far has been either AH or complaint-related. And that’s fair – it has. I suppose we all just sort of take it for granted that WoW’s general gameplay is genre-defining and spectacular in most every way. Indeed, that engaging gameplay is precisely why we complain: if only X or Y could be fixed, we’d feel better about getting lost in the oblivion of killing mobs for hours.
Well, for this post, I won’t take it for granted. Legion is vastly improved in almost every way.
For one thing, all mobs everywhere are multi-tap capable. You know, that thing that Guild Wars 2 (and presumably others) have been doing for 4+ years already? Between the multi-tap mobs and the multi-tap resources nodes, the very fabric of open-world social dynamics has changed in Legion. Members of my own faction are no longer competition. Demon Hunter zipping around and collecting all the quest mobs in the area? Cool, let me just toss a Sunfire into that pack and get credit and looting rights to everything.
Granted, I might be more miffed if I were a spec without easy AoE.
There have been a lot of concern over the Great Ability Prune this expansion, but I have largely enjoyed having action bars back. More conditional and/or specialized buttons raises the skill cap, sure. At the same time, what is actually important is the feeling one gets pressing what buttons one has. If you only enjoy pressing 1-2 buttons of your 12 button rotation, what good is that?
In this regard, Legion is a massive, massive leap forward in most of the specs I have played. I smile every time I cast Full Moon on the Balance druid. Grappling Hook on the Outlaw rogue is fucking magical. You never quite realize how beaten down you have gotten over the years in regards to terrain until you gain the freedom to actually “teleport” up a hill you would otherwise have to traverse around. And speaking of Outlook rogues, Pistol Shot as an ability just feels so good. The sound, the action, the proc, the utility of having a ranged, technically spammable attack is perfect.
I have not spent much, non-Invasion time with the other alts, for reasons I kinda already got into with my complaint posts. What I will say though, is that the simple existence of class-specific content is an extremely good motivating factor in getting said classes leveled up and/or at least played some to see it. I didn’t like Unholy DK gameplay during Invasions, for example, but when I heard that the Lich King is involved in the artifact quests? Sign me up. It might only be an hour or two of specific content (and some locations are shared), but it is more than has existed for quite some time.
Leveling zones have been spectacular this expansion as well. It normally goes without saying, but I really do appreciate how much care Blizzard takes in not being as predictable in the art design department. Remember Wrath of the Lich King and the Northrend continent? Everyone expected every zone to just be all snow and zombies all the time. And while there was a lot of snow and zombies, you also had Grizzly Hills and Sholazar Basin and so on. In a similar vein, there is kind of a expectation in Legion for… well, Legion everywhere. Demons and green fire and Chronicles of Riddick-esque architecture. Not so much, actually. I started out leveling in Highmountain, and things have pretty much been up (har har) from there.
While I have not hit level cap just quite yet, I have high praise for the scaling leveling tech. There is more content than necessary for reaching 110 – which is good – but would typically present an issue within the zones themselves once you outlevel them. “Do I see the conclusion of this quest chain now, or come back later when it’s trivial?” I remember that being a major issue in Wrath in Grizzly Hills, as that was a zone I wanted to spend more time in, but outpaced the content available. Between the scaling mobs and scaling rewards, this is not an issue anymore.
I will admit though that there feels like a bit of a loss in the tangible feeling of level progression department, insofar as mobs are almost always the same level of difficulty. Sometimes it feels liberating coming back to older zones and having the run of the place, you know?
Quest-wise… this is WoW. People often complain about having to kill 10 whatevers in MMO quests, but that’s kind of why we’re playing a game with 10 million hostile whatevers, right? Besides, those sort of quests are filler and/or padding for the actual story/plot quests, which have been fantastically meaty from a lore standpoint. So much so, in fact, that I suspect the quest writers have been reading a bit too much Game of Thrones. Gods, demigods, Aspects… no one is safe. I legitimately wonder what Blizzard is going to follow this expansion up with – the old (figurative and literal) pantheon seems to have swept away, so they’re either wrapping things up or making room for new guys.
In any case, there it is. Legion is a lot of fun. I have complaints for days and days about all manners of things, but it comes from a place of frustration with wasted potential. That AH business, for example, would easily keep me entertained for 3 months if they fixed the throttling.
Alas, it is what it is. Which is 90% good, even if the 10% gets all the attention.
Legion is weird.
After all the dilemmas of two weeks ago, I bit the bullet and created a druid on Sargeras-US using my level 90 boost. With the help of some donated +300% potions during the Invasions, I hit 100 well ahead of the Legion launch. The plan? Level as Balance with Restoration as a 5-man backup.
My first impression is that druids might well have won this expansion, at least on paper. Mages might have portals baseline, but the Dreamway can take you damn near anywhere (old world, Wrath, etc), and it’s a pretty place to boot. Plus, any misgivings I might have had with Balance gameplay-wise was erased with the artifact ability. I smile every time I get to cast Full Moon and watch a goddamn moon crash into a bunch of mobs, usually hitting them for 50-90% of their HP with one spell.
Outside of the questing experience though – which is just as good as before – everything feels weird.
As Syp notes, the class order halls feel like a waste of space. Or, perhaps more accurately, a waste of time – just another set of loading screens on my way back to questing. Seriously, my recent routine is Dreamway –> Order Hall for missions –> Dalaran for any profession quests –> Stormwind to AH herbs/ore –> Dreamway –> Order Hall for Flight Point back to questing zone. I suppose there might be a more efficient route in there somewhere, but the point remains that we now have three entirely different hubs with Important Things in them.
Remind me again how this is better than people being stuck in their Garrisons?
Indeed, the whole Order Hall business as Garrison 2.0 is making me scratch my head. I get the fiction of Order Halls. And I even agree that it fits thematically with us being commanders, wielding the artifact weapons of our people. But… why? Why this Garrison business again? The system is a lot more streamlined than before, with only ~5 followers or whatever, and that’s good. But the “gameplay” of three clicks every 2/4/8 hours is a road to nowhere. So much so that Blizzard recently released a companion app that lets you make those three clicks while not even playing the game.
Don’t get me started on Professions. Catch-up mechanisms really needed to exist, lest new players be forever stuck behind old-world material walls. This new paradigm of only needing level 100 skill though (and even then only for World Quests)? Jesus, what’s the point? Skill level is immaterial, old-world recipes are immaterial (outside maybe transmog), old-world mats are immaterial… oh, but the entire design in predicated on being max-level and hitting high reputation levels with endgame factions, rendering crafting alts as functionally useless. Which might well have been the design. But it’s a dumb design, a design that explicitly punishes the very things that Blizzard has been adding to the game for more than half of it’s existence.
So… I dunno. Blizzard probably got a good year of subscription money from me back in Wrath by actually making alt characters useful and engaging. We have now reached the point at which we have the opposite philosophy from the last four expansions. Between that, the fact that Sargeras had 30-40 minutes queues on Tuesday, and that the AH continues to be throttled (presumably due to realm size), I am beginning to question why I spend time playing this game over, say, anything else.
After around 20 hours of Dragon Age Inquisition, I am more convinced than ever that this is all an elaborate beta testing of the inevitable MMO sequel. Seeing other Heralds running around and closing rifts would not at all have seemed out of place. Hell, there are already dungeons, bosses, grouping, abilities with cooldowns, action combat, mining and herb gathering every 5 feet, crafting, gear upgrades, something approximating reputation meters, companions, mounts, talent trees, and repeatable/grindy quests.
After 20 hours, I am also convinced I am playing this game all wrong. Witness:
Basically, I have 4 Inquisition perks, 67 “Power,” and hit level 10… all before recruiting another party member beyond the default ones. No, I did not stay entirely within the Hinterlands; I simply did most of everything aside from the Main Plot that naturally unlocked as I leveled up. If they didn’t want me completing the swamp zone until after the first major encounter with the Chantry, perhaps they should have made the enemies stronger.
Or… maybe they did, and I didn’t notice because I’m goddamn level 10. Oops.
Although I have clearly screwed the game up for myself this way, I am not entirely convinced it is my fault. The genre in general – and Dragon Age in particular – is fond of having plot progression tied to permanently closing areas and eliminating quests. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in of itself, but if I am always paranoid that this particular foray into Zone X might be the last chance I have to acquire Something Something Y, you can bet I am going to do all the things.
It is one of those unfortunate Design Catch-22s wherein you give the player a variety of activities to complete (in case they don’t like a particular kind) and then the player ends up doing everything. What’s the real alternative though? Only having a very limited selection of quests? Relying on a player’s self-control to move on from an area simply because one has become a god amongst men?
Hah! We’re MMO players: we pay by the month for the privilege of performing pointless activities.
In any case, an hour or two after I took that screenshot I advanced the plot by one degree and suddenly recruited four new party members. I am guessing that there is still one more out there somewhere, if only because my total party is otherwise mirror images of each other: male/female shield warrior, male/female mage, male/female ranged rogue, and then just male 2H warrior. Perhaps it will be a melee rogue, just to shake up the symmetry.
I’ll find out eventually, I suspect. Just as soon as I feel like advancing the plot one more degree. In the meantime, I got some more shards to find.
I am likely playing Wildstar all wrong.
Basically, none of my characters are above level 8. I started off playing a Medic, which has been pretty fun. Once I hit a certain point in leveling though, I started asking questions in the /Advice channel – pretty brilliant of Carbine to include that by default, by the way – and realized that I should probably come to some sort of decision on a Main. Would it be Medic? What about all the other classes I hadn’t tried out?
Let me state for the record that stopping your progress in newbie zones to reroll five other classes through the same sort of newbie zones is both very logical and a very dumb way to play. But since I did, I may as well go over how I felt about things.
Medic seems pretty powerful. Unlike most classes, they start with their resource system at full power, which lets you front-load a lot of damage into mobs. Also unlike a lot of classes, their “finisher” has no cooldown, so if you 1-2 shot the mob you attack, you can almost instantly transition into the next mob in the same fashion (the resource bar regenerates quickly outside of combat). Also, Science.
In comparison, playing a Warrior felt terrible. The filler attack was weak, and their multi-tap finisher has an 8-second cooldown. So while most classes press 1-1-2-2 to kill mobs at this level, the Warrior enforces an 8-second cooldown between mobs. None of the abilities that come later seemed all that exciting, which is a problem considering that you’re stuck using the early abilities for most (if not all) of your gameplay to cap.
I’m pretty sure the Engineer is broke, or at least was in the area that I was leveling. In principal, having bots out is cool. Not getting any feeling that the bots are contributing damage is less cool. Pets in MMOs generally fall into either Overpowered or Useless categories depending on their AI and pathing, and my impression is that Engineer pets are the latter. Considering that the Bruiser Bot and Missile Bot count as Abilities, having two of your early abilities feel useless is not encouraging.
Esper was somewhat of a surprise to me, in that I anticipated it being unfun when the opposite is true. In a game of constant mobility, what sense does it make to have your #1 filler attack require standing still? Then look at the level 4 ability, which is instant-cast but does nothing until 4.4 seconds later. Nevertheless, it feels kinda fun to be able to set up a lot of damage on mobs that lands all at once. I’ll likely have less fun in PvP and in situations where I can’t wind-up attacks though.
The Stalker is toned down from the closed beta, but in principal and effect still feels a tad overpowered. Stealth has no cooldown outside of combat, your #2 attack is basically Ambush, Energy regens quickly outside of combat, so you can start every encounter with a huge burst of damage like the Medic. Plus, Stealth is always fun for bypassing mobs/players. If you go the Stalker route though, be sure to check out each race’s Stealth animation. The female Mordesh animation, for example, is grandma power-walking; meanwhile, the female Aurin is Naruto/ninja running.
Finally, the Spellslinger shot up in fun-levels once I figured out “the trick.” Basically, your “cooldown” ability is Spell Surge, which gives your abilities extra power for as long as you have Focus (or whatever). However, Spell Surge is actually a buff that lasts until you completely empty your Focus bar, and Focus regens (somewhat slowly) outside of combat. So, under normal circumstances, fighting mobs goes: 2, wait 5 seconds to charge, fire, 1-1-1-1. With Spell Surge up though, your 2 ability charges in 1.4 seconds and one-shots mobs if it crits. Even when it doesn’t, most encounters end with 2, wait 1.4 seconds, 1-maybe 1 again. Mobs die so fast that it starts getting annoying waiting for 2 to come off cooldown (10 seconds) before one-shotting the next, but I just unlocked another cooldown button that essentially one-shots mobs too, allowing me to alternate.
Now, obviously, these impressions of the classes could not be representative of their final forms, so to speak. If someone was describing the level 8 paladin experience in WoW as indicative of endgame, I would… hmm, bad example. Level 8 Elemental shaman… err. You get what I mean. Some classes don’t “click” until a key ability is unlocked, and other classes that start out as overpowered can fall out of favor once mob Time-To-Kill increases past a certain threshold. Medic, for example, will likely get annoying if two front-loaded #2 abilities aren’t enough to burst something down. Or maybe it won’t, because Science.
I would be interested in hearing the experience other people had with the Warrior. Was there a level or ability where it became fun? Maybe I was missing something like with the Spellslinger.
I want to take a minute to talk about the Paths. Thus far, I have a hard time justifying anything other than Scientist. I mean, the Settler buff stations are really good – 50% run speed outside of combat is tough to beat – but I’m not sure how you compete with the endgame utility to summon group members or summon portals to capitals. Explorer abilities are almost a joke, and Soldier will entirely depend on what exactly a “Weapon Locker” does and/or what “Bail Out!” even means.
Of course, you can pick a Path depending on the type of side-quests you enjoy too. If you don’t particularly care though, I have found Scientist to be the best: not only do you get easy tasks, you unlock special areas that no other Path has access to, e.g. bypass doors, unlock jumping buffs to reach secret stashes, etc. Sure, Explorer gets exclusive jumping puzzles, but those are less obvious than the locked Scientist doors in the course of normal gameplay.
I was asked by another ex-WoW friend if Wildstar was worth purchasing. Not at full MSRP… but $48 at GMG? Probably. I am having enough fun at these low levels that I’m certain I’ll play and hit the cap even if my other friends abandon the game tomorrow. Will I enjoy the hardcore dungeons and hardcore raids? Unlikely. The concept of Challenges in busy zones is a huge design oversight that doesn’t exactly engender faith in social aspect of the game; you need to make friends to do endgame stuff, but the rest of the game causes you to hate other people. I do not anticipate 40m raiding to survive the year.
Overall though? Not bad. I’ll be interested in seeing if I can pay for my next month via CREDD.
Patch 5.2 should be out today. It is always a bit overwhelming looking at the huge, collated MMO-Champion post, but one thing should not be missed: 5.2 changes Mists from the most alt-unfriendly expansion ever to perhaps the friendliest one yet. Here are some of the changes I had been keeping an eye on:
New ways of gaining Reputation
Daily quests are fine the first time around, but grinding them multiple times is simply cruel. Commendations came out in 5.1, but you still had to do the dailies, albeit half as many. Now, as long as you fully unlock the Farm, you can do two work orders a day for 400 reputation apiece. Additionally, the first heroic dungeon and first Scenario of the day gives you 750 and 325 rep respectively. On top of that, the 5-person rare spawns on the new island have a chance of dropping BoA tokens that can be consumed for 1000 reputation with a particular faction. I am unsure if the 1-2 man rare spawns drop smaller versions of the same token.
While it may be still worth doing the actual dailies to compliment the bonus reputation, the point is we now have a choice again.
Accelerated Catch-Up Gear Acquisition
I am not sure what the official percent increase is, but the drop rate for the 5.0 LFR bosses and Elder Charm rolls will be greatly increased. The prices of Valor items from the vendors have been decreased by 50% and 25% for the 5.0 and 5.1 items, respectively. Season 12 PvP gear is now on the Honor vendor, as usual, but now you can buy the ilevel 476 weapons for Honor. Additionally, the new Conquest weapons will not have a rating requirement. Blacksmiths can make BoE versions of the Burning Crusade Blacksmith weapons, at either 463 blues or 476 epics.
Tangentially, if you have a tanking spec, you might actually be able to farm more Honor by running heroic dungeons than doing random BGs. One of the changes in 5.2 is that you get 100 Justice Points for each heroic boss kill. That means for every 8 bosses you kill, you can turn in 750 of the 800 otherwise useless Justice Points into 500 Honor (or 375 JP –> 250 HP). Even if there is a more efficient way of farming Honor – and assuming you’re not killing more than 4 bosses every 30 minutes – the fact remains that you can gain that Honor while also gaining +725 reputation of your choice plus Valor points.
This is actually starting to feel a lot like Wrath again, when I would tank the daily heroic on 3-4 toons a day.
On a complete different note, I spent nearly four hours yesterday attempting to get the last 24 Motes of Harmony necessary for my Scribe to craft one of the 476 BoA staves. The idea was to craft one of the staves, mail it to my main to upgrade twice, and then bank it for one of my other alts before the upgrade vendor is removed with the patch. I had (obviously) waffled quite a bit over whether this was worth my time, and just decided this weekend that it was. Unfortunately, between all the time spent leveling this weekend (my DK Scribe was level 85) and the mad dash last night, I damn near came away snuffing the small flame of my interest in WoW entirely out.
I ended up with 3.4 Spirits of Harmony, a gain of 8 Motes across levels 87-88.5. For a minute there, I honestly considering spending 4000 Honor at the vendor to get 10 Motes (400 H for a Mote is goddamn robbery), but I was hating life pretty hard at the end and I would still be short a few besides. I washed the taste out of my mouth with a little PlanetSide 2, but I am definitely not going to be doing something as crazy again. Those days are long over for me.
Okay, so maybe things aren’t looking all that grim after all.
Just like with FTL, and just like with PlanetSide 2, I have gotten over the WoW “dissatisfaction hump” to emerge on the other side. I am still annoyed with the pitiful AH situation and Blizzard’s related policy of indefinite realm life-support, but I am (finally) having some – dare I say it? – fun. It was a close thing, though. In fact, I feel somewhat guilty for rewarding game design that contains dissatisfaction humps at all.
As mentioned before, I started out playing my namesake paladin in Ret leveling mode. The rotation seemed unbearably clunky, and I wasn’t having fun. Indeed, it was not until yesterday that I started feeling comfortable hitting Exorcism on cooldown, instead of the much more elegant proc-rotation that Exorcism was tied to back in the day.
With that feeling “off,” I tried to transition to my Elemental shaman, mainly because she is my resource toon (Herbalism + Mining). The Elemental rotation hasn’t changed much, but Blizzard increased the missile speed of Lightning Bolt and somehow that was throwing me off all goddamn day. Well, that, and the fact that mobs were no longer dying in a single LBx2-FS-LvB rotation, meaning that I ended up having to hardcast several Lightning Bolts into mobs’ faces.
In a fit of desperation, I settled for my warrior, as she was the Blacksmith and thus the only toon capable of making some blue weapons.
Oh. My. God. Was this where Blizzard was hiding all the fun?
Simply put, the warrior was amazingly fun. Every 90 seconds I was rounding up 5+ mobs and Brostorming (ah, memories) them all to death. Even when I didn’t have the cooldowns up, I would frequently round up at least three mobs at a time because why not? Impending Victory, just like Victory Rush before it, turns the Hybrid Tax on its head with a cheap, 20% HP heal every mob death leading to an unending chain of corpses that ceases only when the zone is depopulated. Nevermind Charging every 12 seconds. Or how the stance redesign means you don’t have to worry about weaving stance requirements into all these cool buttons.
Hrgh. I kinda want to start playing right now…
At the moment, I am back on the paladin simply because that character is my historical main. And, you know, I was informed about all these new BoA heirloom weapons and Az is the only toon with 500+ Archaeology. In fact, that is sort of where I am right now: spending probably 3 minutes reading about WoW for every minute playing. Which, of course, is exactly how I played the game for 4+ years.
Ghostcrawler made another community blog post about the Great Item Squish (or Not) of Pandaria. I read it, went “Yep, tis a pickle,” and moved on. Motstandet of That’s a Terrible Idea instead went on a bizarre rant:
Unquestioning and steadfast in their decisions, the WoW designers make seemingly contradictory choices. Why doesn’t GC want level 85’s to do higher level content? I could only assume it’s so players do the leveling “content” first. Yet they constantly assault the leveling game, […]
The article goes on, discussing various methods which could bandage WoW’s broken attribute system, and then he unloads this gem: “If your answer is that stat budgets don’t have to grow so much in order for players to still want the gear, our experience says otherwise.” Silly plebes with your naive remedies; I have data to dismiss your predictable suggestions!
Ignoring the arrogance, what metrics could they possibly have to discredit this simple solution?
I answered the post over there, but I think it is useful to talk about some of the underlying design issues of expansion-based themepark MMOs.
Design Issue 1: The “assault” on the leveling game.
The matter of pacing is of huge concern in videogame design. Even in single-player RPGs (or really any game), you still see the steady metering of items and abilities as the game progresses; going from Stone Sword –> Iron Sword –> Steel Sword and so on. I do not think I played even a FPS where I had access to all the guns in the game right off the bat. By handing out new guns or powers or abilities in a measured way, the player has time to focus on useful applications of said gun/power/ability before deciding which one(s) they want to use.
So given that, why does Blizzard continually assault the leveling game with patch notes such as “The amount of experience needed to gain levels 71 through 80 has been reduced by approximately 33%?” The issue is twofold.
First, look at the experience from a brand new player or even potential player perspective. The designers may have crafted the original WoW leveling experience to take an average of 300 hours to go from 1-60. In other words, the designers felt that 300 hours was a long enough journey to get to the endgame. When expansions are released though, an additional 50 hours is added to the leveling experience and the endgame moves farther along the timeline. Assuming that each expansion adds another 50 hours and no other changes were made, someone picking up all the WoW boxes would be staring at a 500 hour leveling wall come Mists of Pandaria.
So, assuming that 300 hours is a sweet-spot of sorts, it makes sense to truncate the leveling experience so that it always takes 300 hours to get to the endgame. The alternative of doing nothing means that all the commercial and word-of-mouth advertising would be concerning (endgame) content a new player would have to spend weeks and weeks getting to.
This is not to suggest there are not side-effects to XP reduction, such as out-leveling a zone before all the quests are complete. Then again, as long as the quests are sufficiently non-linear, why should anyone care? After all, skipped content adds to replayability. It is not entirely different from RPGs today with optional side-quests and how you can beat the game without being max level.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, one has to look at the experience from a veteran player perspective. I say “more importantly” because there are more ex-WoW players than WoW players, and thus more people who have already experienced the leveling content at least once. If I want to experience the endgame as a different class, each expansion makes the decision to roll an alt even more difficult – every hour I spend leveling an alt is an hour I potentially fall behind in progression (which is, incidentally, why it is useful to have diminishing returns and plateaus). While it is important to pace the game for new players, it makes less sense to do so for players who already learned all the lessons a slow pace was designed to encourage. I may not have ever played a druid, but I played a rogue, a warrior, and a shaman, so pacing things like I have no idea how to move around simply makes me bored and impatient.
So why doesn’t Blizzard simply make a Death Knight option (starting at level 55) for all classes? Good question. I wish they would. Heirlooms were a rather brilliant “solution” insofar as they took something they were going to do anyway – reducing XP required – and then made you spend time buying them, rather than getting them for free. That being said, from a business standpoint there is still probably value for them to have me spend 20+ hours leveling up as that is time spent in-game in those leveling ranges, making things there a little less of a ghost town.
Design Issue 2: Why not just have flatter progression?
Well, if you noticed, Blizzard is kinda doing this already. The standard ilevel upgrade between tiers used to be 13 ilevels, but now it is closer to 7 ilevels. Moreover, Blizzard combined 25m and 10m gear, so that instead of four tiers between raids, there are only two.
The problem with flatter progression is that it, in effect, removes “content.” To understand this point, let us all acknowledge what really is going on under a random loot system: the loot is random so as to give you a reason to beat a boss more than once. If the boss had “smart loot” that only dropped items tailored to the raid who defeated it, that raid would have less reasons to kill that boss week after week. As long as you continue to care about the loot a boss has, that boss remains legitimate “content” to you. I keep putting air quotes around the word “content,” because let’s face it, in every other scenario the only reason you would want to kill the same boss again is if it was fun to do so.
Another issue is when there simply is not enough of difference between gear to matter… or when older items are better. Spending weeks on a boss to gain +2 Strength is not my idea of a productive use of my free time, even if objectively there is no difference between that and +20 Strength. The way something feels is as important (if not more so) than the objective measure. There is a good reason why things are priced at $9.99 instead of $10, after all.
Flatter progression though also leads to those scenarios in which older items were strictly better than newer ones. Before relics were changed to be stat sticks, the Holy paladin Libram of Renewal reduced the mana cost of Holy Light by 113. That relic was available from the beginning vendors in T7 content and ended up being Best-in-Slot for (nearly?) the entire expansion. And yet Blizzard designed and itemized Holy paladin librams for T8, T9, and T10. If you used those, you were actually doing it wrong. And while new paladins could always just buy the T7 libram, there were situations in WoW’s past where an older item remained BiS (Dragonspine Trophy) and basically led to people farming obsolete content for years. That is not my particular idea of a good time, especially when you were basically farming an item for just a handful of people.
The Design Solution: Business (Mostly) As Usual
To be honest, I don’t think there is much different that Blizzard should have done. There were missteps for sure, such as when they introduced hardmode raiding in the middle of Wrath and had itemization quickly spiral out of control. But from a player experience, I was very grateful that my having Lich King loot did not trivialize Cataclysm leveling content the same way my having TBC gear left me slogging through hundreds of Northrend quests with zero upgrades. I can empathize with people who have all their hard work rendered moot each expansion/tier, but I also believe that the alternative is worse.
If Sisyphus had to look at the entire mountain each time instead of just focusing on pushing the boulder, I don’t think he’d ever make it to the top.
That being said, there shouldn’t be an issue with Blizzard introducing an option to slow down leveling much like they have an option to currently turn off XP gain entirely. And I would also like to see a Hero Class solution for veterans, possibly via the Cash Shop.