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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Has anyone else felt like Battle for Azeroth is a bit… familiar? Like Legion 2.0?

The situation didn’t really strike me until last night. I do not have a character at max level – I have been just gathering and crafting pretty much nonstop – but I have progressed enough to unlock the Garrison. Or War Table. Or whatever the hell it’s called now. It’s pretty much exactly the same interface as the one in Legion, up to an including the same art assets. The same chance for bonus loot. The same method of collecting resources. World Quests are the same. Emissaries are the same… I think. Rare mobs and treasure chests peppering the map are the same.

On the one hand, this is great. These systems work. Remember Daily Quests? We had those since TBC and everyone was sick of them. World Quests on the other hand, feel materially different despite providing the same function. Artifact Power got a bit goofy near the end of Legion, but overall design structure of having steady progression over the life of an expansion without incentivizing mindless grinding worked (crazy mythic raiders excluded). So we have Azerite replacing AP without even needing to replace the term “AP.” Double efficiency!

On the other hand… I dunno.

There is a lot to be said about the penchant of Blizzard devs to throw out the baby, bathwater, and kitchen sink simultaneously, between releases. How many times have warlocks been overhauled, even mid-expansion? At the same time, I feel like the devs have perhaps hewn a bit too close to what came before with BfA. Where are the “Aha!” moments? Where are the game-changers? Where are the elements that justify an 8.0 instead of a 7.4? Is a bunch of new maps enough?

The launch of BfA was so smooth because there was no demarcation between it and Legion.

I suppose we should be happy, yeah? Less absurd content droughts, more design systems that clearly work instead of wild experiments. Any yet, my brow is furrowed. What is Blizzard doing with all that time they saved? No new talents, no new classes, no new races (Allied Races are reskins, IMO), no new systems. Maybe the island battles with the “advanced AI” will change things? Am I missing something else?

I remember when Farms were introduced in MoP, and it blew my mind. Or the rare elite mobs that dropped cool (and functional!) toys to use. Then Garrisons in WoD. Of course, the Garrison wasn’t necessarily good design insofar as they kept people locked in a personal instance all the time, but from a player perspective they were really compelling (and rewarding). To this day, I still have several characters doing chores around the Garrison, crafting bags and such.

Then there were the Artifacts in Legion. To this day, it blows my mind how much content Blizzard packed in there. Like, do you guys understand how much class-specific content was added in one expansion? There was some recycling when it came to unlocking some of the spec-specific weapons – I groaned every time I got sent back to Karazhan on alts – but everything was basically brand new per class. It’s a real shame alts were actively punished so much during Legion, but I may end up going back at some point to finish the class campaigns just for the lore. My jaw hit the floor when my Death Knight started taking orders from the Lich King, for example.

Now, in Battle for Azeroth we can be excited for… uh… hmm.

I’m not looking to be buried under 2+ full skill bars, or DPS rotations that require an addon to perform. I don’t necessarily even want something that will compel me to spend 10 minutes maintaining it every day, three expansions later. But I do very much enjoy a new puzzle to wrap my mind around and optimize. And I’m not seeing anything remotely like that in Battle for Azeroth thus far. Just a lot of reused, recycled systems with new numbers to the right of the plus sign.

That is what character progression MMOs are about, of course. Usually, there’s more spice though.

OT: Four Point What

Patch 4.1 is hitting the PTR Soon™ and in the midst of flurry of blog posts about it, let me be the first to say: ZA & ZG what?

We had gotten hints at the beginning of Cataclysm that ZG/ZA might have merely been a setback with all the chatter about the Tome of Polymorph: Turtle and the vague gesticulations concerning the ZG mounts. The literal revelation that these are coming back though leaves me a bit floored. To a certian extent you expect a bit of redundancy within MMOs, for several reasons. For example, can you imagine 120 different Fire Elemental models? It would be absurd, a huge drain not only on development time but also taxing on players’ mental bandwidth. The other reason why you should expect redundancy within an MMO is simply because of player churn. For however X number of players remember going through ZG and ZA back in the day, there are Y players who never did… making the content new to them. If recycling content gives the designers space to make all-new content, that is an acceptable trade-off.

That said, it remains to be seen whether we will be, in fact, getting gameplay returns for developer recycling or if Blizzard is simply repackaging our shampoo into a “new and improved” 9 oz bottle (down from 12 oz) while charging the same $15. Revamped Onyxia was better than no Onyxia in Tier 9 content, unless we could have had Completely New Boss X instead. Blizzard promised Throne of Tides – Abyssal Maw in 4.1 though, so unless that makes it Live in addition to the other two, it is conceviable Blizzard is peddling some Adjustable Rate Mortgages our way.

Ultimately, the above kind of gut reactions miss the PVSAH mark. The only relevant aspect is: are these heroics/boss fights fun? If Blizzard makes them fun, what does it matter if in patch 4.2 we see 5-man Karazhan (hopefully with Chess Event and the legions Malchezaar commands intact) or even the ultimate slap-in-the-face Magister’s Terrace revamp? Fun is fun. And while that may seem like a tautological cop-out, at the end of the day it is the only thing that really matters.

Edit: I wrote the above a few days ago when the changes had just been revealed. Since then, my feelings have shifted more towards Acceptance. The Deadmines revamp was essentially an entirely new, innovative instance wrapped in nostalgia packaging. The same could sortabe said about Shadowfang Keep, but I hate the place honestly. I don’t like running Deadmines either – both still take even a guild group close to an hour to finish – but if the ZA & ZG heroics turn out like Deadmines from an innovation standpoint, it’s win-win for everyone.