WoW Factor: What the flight changes portend for WoW’s future

Did anyone else get flashbacks to the Xbox One launch with World of Warcraft‘s flying announcement? I pictured a lot of arm-folding and sulking as it was being delivered. “All right, I guess we’ll do what you guys say you want, but we were still totally right to say you didn’t want it.” Maybe it’s just me. The point is that players have finally sort of been listened to about an issue that’s been getting serious blowback since the expansion launch.

Pretty much everyone expects that this year’s BlizzCon will feature another expansion announcement for the game, of course, which makes the development team’s attitude particularly relevant. I can tell a convincing story in which this year’s expansion is an actual return to form; I can also tell a story in which it’s a pretty major misstep again. So let’s look at what could come next for the game, from the really good to the really, really bad.

The good: A new direction with extra humility

Failure can be a good thing. Trying to do something and finding that it genuinely doesn’t work can be a simultaneous wake-up call and a chance to step back and re-examine what you’re doing. And it’s very possible that the development team has been listening to all of the feedback about this expansion and is making a big sea change for the next. While I’m not exactly a fan of how every new expansion is treated as a way to wipe the slate clean from the immediately preceding expansion, it does have the advantage of leaving the bad behind.

More to the point, if the next expansion does go in a new direction, it could explain the reticence of the development team; this is the ultimate expression of what the game used to be, and now the developers are going elsewhere. Rather than climbing to ever-greater heights, the new expansion could offer a more horizontal path, a revitalization of elements that have been in the game for some time. Imagine an expansion that touched upon and expanded all of the extant parts of the game world, not just a new continent and not the sweeping overhaul that Cataclysm provided: a new form of progression not tied to climbing up a level ladder once more, and gear changes that didn’t just mean a new tier that invalidated everything you’ve had before.

I think the odds are low, but boy, wouldn’t it be wonderful?
And while I'm at it, I want a puppy.

The decent: More of the same, with better focus

Realistically, I think that the next expansion will bump us up another 10 levels and introduce another new continent to conquer. I do not have much hope that will change. I do, however, have hope that the feedback about this expansion will actually be taken into account when designing the next expansion.

I mentioned a lot of issues in the last installment of this column, and literally every single one is something you can find elsewhere. As it stands, the developers have created an environment that feels more closed-off and less flush with options than ever before, even though that’s not objectively the case. I’m not going to spend another column explaining that in depth; the point is that it’s not something that has to be the state of the game going forward.

While it’s not my dream scenario, I would be happy with an expansion that backs off of the developer’s current fascination with cramming people into content they don’t want to do. It’s something that will need to be done in an iterative fashion, yes; as many of you have probably noticed, I don’t belong to the school of thought that says you can just roll back bad changes as if they never happened. The mess that is bonus rolls over points needs to be addressed. Lack of small-group content and dailies needs to be addressed (and is, in part, in 6.2). All of this stuff needs to be changed, and if the next expansion just says “surprise, we’re remaking the endgame from the end of Wrath of the Lich King‘s life cycle,” I won’t consider that a positive move. But I do see the possibility that after years of players waxing nostalgic for that time in the game’s life, we might actually start moving back in that direction.

Why did we never hear of this lady before we had to kill her? She is awesome.The bad: More of the same with only slight improvement

I sort of have nightmares about this. I mean, the bulk of the nightmare is usually about fighting off hordes of cyborg insects while all of my teeth fall out, but in the background there’s something about how the next expansion is basically the same as this one, only with flying in from launch and yet another unrewarding difficulty level for dungeons.

This is what I would consider an outright bad version of the game’s future. What the game needs is a pretty significant set of changes; it’s all too easy to get what amounts to the same philosophy with only minor elements addressed. That’s also why I’m particularly worried that the developers might not have understood the whole flying discussion, which wasn’t simply about flying as a mechanic but had a lot to do with flying as something which players enjoyed that got removed more or less for arbitrary reasons. A major element of gameplay was yanked because the designers didn’t like how it played, chiefly due to the fact that only one-and-a-half expansions have ever designed around its existence.

It’s here that stuff like looking at a three million subscriber drop and saying “well, that’s to be expected” really worries me because it’s not to be expected. Instead of ascribing motivation to independent events, that’s implying that human beings behave as predictable natural phenomena. Assuming that players will arrive or depart completely independent of your design decisions is not a good place to be.

The ugly: Thinking this was success

What really freaks me out is the undercurrent that runs through interviews and developer statements every so often, that the powers that be are looking at numbers and seeing weird results. That they look at the numbers and see “more people are taking part in non-LFR raiding than ever before” rather than seeing that the number is as high as it is because no real alternatives are presented.

Oh, sure, there’s no way that a developer can come out and say “we screwed up majorly,” although it would be heartening to see. But it’s hard to tell the difference between someone spinning something negative in a positive fashion and someone who genuinely believes that Warlords of Draenor has been a successful expansion.

Yes, I still love the game. But as I’ve said elsewhere, at this point it sometimes feel as if I love the game in spite of itself, and it does its level best to erode my affection with each update. Among the most positive die-hard Blizzard fans I know, the attitude is one of caution and resignation. There’s a serious sense that all is not well in the game, and this expansion has managed to demolish much of what kept people playing. If you’re not interested in organized raiding or serious PvP, the game is sending the message that it doesn’t want you around.

That’s the real fear, I think: that anyone at Blizzard could look at an expansion that effectively destroyed Heroic dungeons, crafting, dailies, and much of the socialization of the game, and call it a win.

Feedback, as always, is welcome down below or by mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. You can feel free to leave your own speculation down below, as well. Next time around, unless we have another explosion of news, I want to chat about what horizontal progress could even look like in WoW.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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140 Comments on "WoW Factor: What the flight changes portend for WoW’s future"

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Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Outland back in TBC had an area with flying dragons that would attack you and make you fall to your death, and land based anti-aircraft cannons. And you know what? The first time my character got shot out of the sky I /giggled/.
Pity these ideas didn’t leak into the rest of the game design.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Agreed. Blizzard should have just made Garrisons a separate mobile game on Android, iOS and Windows phone. They would have made a killing too.
I shuddered when I heard about Garrisons, it’s a distillation of just the sorts of things I *don’t* want in MMOs!

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

I quit because of the talent changes back in the cataclysm precursor patch removed user agency and the ability to make creative builds in one swift stroke. Had things remained ‘more of the same, but better’ moving forward from Wrath, I’d probably still be playing, and my IRL friends would be as well.
While that’s all water under the bridge at this point, I still enjoy learning about game development, and blizzard is still relevant to this.

Gas Chamber Gerhan
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Gas Chamber Gerhan

Ya, not being able to fly in draenor wasn’t even a blip on my radar for reasons I stopped playing…. again.

The_Lightbringr
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The_Lightbringr

I must be the only WoW player who doesn’t find flight either way to be that game breaking for me.  Well, former WoW player anyways.  The reasons I quit were plentiful, but not being able to fly in Draenor was certainly not one of them

MaxSand
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MaxSand

muneravenmn MaxSand I guess, but I see a lot of them that still stay, still grinding rep, still leveling alts, still fishing. I also think they are the majority of subs. I agree, as i said in the OP, there is no WoD content for them outside of apexis crystal dailies which I am fairly sure everyone hates, but I see lots of people doing that same old “other” stuff.

rottenrotny
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rottenrotny

Agreed with most of what the OP said.
I liked WoD at first, the leveling was nice despite how much I hate phasing and instancing and how common it was.

But garrisons… omg. In my WoW career I’ve never once thought “Oh man I can’t wait for a new xpac cause I hate Org/Shatt/Dalaran.” But I can’t WAIT for garrisons to become outdated and no longer relevant content.
Garrisons alone sucked the life out of the game for me.
The destruction of dailies, the obliteration of crafting and walling off everyone in their own personal instance was T H E  W O R S T  I D E A  E V E R.
Bring on a new expansion, because I’m done with WoD.

Celestia
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Celestia

This was a great and thoughtful piece. Thanks.

imolnar
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imolnar

strangesands That would be brilliant. Sadly, I would not be surprised if we ended up with a new continent xpac like ‘the southseas’ focused on Azshara and the Naga or something.

strangesands
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strangesands

I would love to see Azeroth introduced again with all-new content targeted at high level characters.  Return to Azeroth from Draenor and find it similar but new problems arising in the old zones.  Basically give us back the entire world, but overlay it with completely new quests, dungeons and content.  It would fulfill both our nostalgia, give us reasons to go back to old places, but also provide subtly new experience.  Overlay Azeroth with a post-100 map.  I’m not saying shift the world ala Cataclysm, but use instancing to provide quest paths into the corners of the world we have not seen in awhile.  Timewalking becomes a shift between pre-100 and post-100.

muneravenmn
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muneravenmn

MaxSand Actually the “other” category were among the earliest to quit.  They are not happy with whatever and have said so by leaving the game.  WoD is made for raiders only, and even many raiders admit this.

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

mourasaint They already did.  It’s called the group finder.

chosenxeno
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chosenxeno

Glad I got out in 2012. The whole Flying thing is ridiculous. They are going to borderline enslave their playerbase from here on out with Flight. Why lock such a trivial feature behind a gate after 5 or 6 years? Blizzard wants to just coast on fumes now. Now they are bringing back Arcatraz.  They are just recycling content and lessening the need for them to do actual work. Garrisons centralize you. That way they don’t have to have actual world content. Then they took away Flight so you level or quest grind slower. It’s easier to do that than to come up with an innovative system that gets people out in the world.

Blizzard is going to shoot themselves in the foot with this flight thing. There’s a lot of people discovering that WoW might not be the kingfish that thought it was after experiencing some of the other games out there.

SuppliesATK
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SuppliesATK

Zuji I remember reading shortly before he left, he said something to the effect of having regretted the addition of dual-spec. It effectively took away one aspect of a player’s in-game identity. I kinda liked that comment.

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

Styopa 
There’s a daily in Northrend that simulates just that. So if you want to get your rocks off that way, you get a shot at it once a day. Good luck!

SuppliesATK
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SuppliesATK

muneravenmn Tridus Well, I figure I’ll have at least a year to work on it after 6.2 drops, right?

SuppliesATK
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SuppliesATK

Sutter Cane BrotherMaynard I heard Destiny was getting a planet called “Karabor”!

SuppliesATK
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SuppliesATK

EO_Lonegun Given Blizz’s propensity for over-correction with each xpac, this might not be too far-fetched! Haha

SuppliesATK
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SuppliesATK

Cyroselle SoMuchMass Speaking of Dalaran, I really do miss neutral cities. The world felt a lot more populated when both factions were housed in the same place.

SuppliesATK
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SuppliesATK

Tridus Greaterdivinity But then didn’t they go and sic the guy responsible for the RMAH (Jay Wilson?) on poor unsuspecting WoW? Wonder if all the negativity surrounding the latest xpac is related somehow. I mean, next thing we know, everybody is swimming in garrison-made gold and there’s “Tokens”…

Dreema
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Dreema

schmidtcapela Cyroselle kalex716 I’d be perfectly happy without raids at all and have wished for years that Blizzard would move away from raiding as the main end game activity. Even with all they’ve done to force people to raid – LFR, multiple difficulties of raiding, tying the legendary quests with endless runs through raids – I still get the feeling that not many people raid on a regular basis.

You look at what I think of as “proper raiding” – the hardcore stuff where the content is really hard – and never see more than a few percent of people ever clear it while it’s relevant content.

We’ve had two big raids so far in WoD, yet still the majority of the player base complain they’re bored and have nothing to do. Why? Simple: the majority of the player base don’t raid full stop so once they hit 100 they literally have nothing to do all day than sit in their garrison and click buttons.

Removing raiding and replacing it with something that appealed to a wider audience would go a long way towards restoring my faith in Blizzard.

Sutter Cane
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Sutter Cane

Cyroselle Sutter Cane I would come back to game and join her side. Would back her up on both sides being scumbags.

Tridus
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Tridus

G3henna Esoteric Coyote FFXIV will level sync high level people down to something appropriate when they get put into a low level dungeon (and reward them for being there), and can also level sync item levels down on your gear if you’re into an earlier tier endgame level (and reward them for being there).

It’s still easier than if you are actually at level appropriate gear, but it dramatically reduces the amount of power creep and gives people a reason to keep those dungeons populated (which helps new players who are trying to get groups for them).

It’s quite a clever little system.

imolnar
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imolnar

A very positive (and constructive) response to this post on the WoW forums: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/17999968148?page=1 that’s like a unicorn.

schmidtcapela
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schmidtcapela

Cyroselle kalex716 

Actually, I believe releasing an expansion without raiding would bring less complaints as a whole, just from a more vocal part of the player base, than the lack of flight.

Raiding is an activity for few, and many players that do raid do it for the rewards without actually enjoying it. I count myself among the ones that would prefer the game without raiding, and I say that as someone that previously tanked hard mode raids. Whereas flight, or the lack of, touches nearly every player.

kalex716
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kalex716

Cyroselle kalex716 Excellent point.

You can also rest assure, that this point would have definitely been brought up in planning/scoping meetings with a small team looking for creative solutions to using the environment art resources as effectively/efficiently as possible.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

kalex716 Cyroselle Well, to be fair, the static mesh designs and many of the textures in dungeon-based raid encounters represents content that the ‘large swaths of the world players will never see’. But I guess in raiding’s case, releasing a WoW expansion in 2014 (or was it 2015? Gosh I’m totally out of whack) with zero raid content would cause an even larger stink than no flying did.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Tridus Zuji You can customize your lobby…. like everyone else? Exactly like everyone else… ugh. Yeah.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

steamedbeav Dalaran, that floating mage city back in the day… subverted by the quest that air-taxied you there… it could have been soooo much cooler if you had to fly there, and if it was only discoverable via air, otherwise wreathed in cloud and fog-of-war’d on the map.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Sutter Cane Sylvanas: 3rd Player Faction War-Leader. Make it so.
Also I second you on the lifeless classes.

Styopa
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Styopa

What I’d love is if – when they implemented flight in WoD – they *really* implemented flight, ie (for all places where flying is possible):
– you have to pay constant attention or fall off
– mounts get tired
– the sky is full of aggressive, strong predators

i.e. “there you go, now you can have flying”

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Rulalin TheUltimate3 Some of these ideas were already done in TBC (antiair cannon, flying dragons that aggro and attack, albeit not eat you), but I still would love that, it would almost bring me back to the game if they were implemented.

kalex716
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kalex716

Cyroselle Kind of…
It was likely an environment art team budget issue to begin with. If you had a smaller environment art team than usual, you would need a cheaper solution to accomplish goals of getting “x completed zones” done. If you plan/design the world in a way that you don’t have to model and texture large swathes of the world players will never see, it gets much cheaper for your environment art guys to crank through it. Thats probably why they tried to wrap the expansion up as a “no flying allowed” world, its a smart way to use a smaller team in a pinch…. It obviously backfired though.

The backlash might have been substantial enough however, that it was easy for the dev team to renegotiate the environment team budget to be bigger, so they could have more resources deliver the same number of zones/content using the more expensive “flight supporting” sizes. 
Nothing makes a bigger argument to the supervisors, and executives than a big ole’ community kerfuffle! I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a bunch of contract environment art positions open up over on the blizz hiring boards in order to accommodate.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Krem I’m in the unfortunate position of disliking both the gating and story in FFXIV, but I simply don’t play, problem solved. I do miss my Miqote though. I’m a bit sad about losing her.

RicharddeLeonIII
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RicharddeLeonIII

I would rather everything be solo on my end, raids included. Have something like diablo 3 where loot is boosted when grouped to incentivize grouping but nit require it.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

SoMuchMass TBC actually did have mobs in the sky, dragons that would aggro, toss fireballs in your direction and cause you to fall to your death. This happened to me a lot, enough that I had to find that sweet spot between flying dragon aggro and felcannon aggro down below.
And that was in TBC which came out when… back in 2007? So I know it’s clearly not impossible.
Wrath and Cata both had cities in the sky. Granted people’s memories are short, but they can’t be that short, right?

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Tridus Greaterdivinity “you have to believe you made a mistake”
– agreed, this is indeed the crux of the matter.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

Eliot_Lefebvre RicharddeLeonIII I would expect a blast wave and mushroom cloud at that point.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

mourasaint JaggedOne Or it might have just been a bandaid placed over other bandaids.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

MaxSand This. I  loooooved my long-ass, slow as hell chain quests, epic skill quests and challenging gear grinds. I HATED rep. I still hate rep… tabards made that better, but still hated that mechanic. But give me badges of justice/honor/whatchamacallit grinds any day of the week, I’m happy to earn and spend, it gave me choice on what to prioritze for, or if I simply liked the way a certain piece of gear looked, and wanted to wear it around town as my RP gear, that gave me a lot of well-needed player agency in the game. RIP TBC & Wrath.

Cyroselle
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Cyroselle

My running theory was that flying wasn’t pulled because of mechanics or gameplay, but rather that the WOD expansion was unfinished and there might have (this is coming from a wow vet that stopped playing at Cata, so grains of salt need to be weighed) been missing geometry and collision boxes… and the Blizzard devs simply needed extra time to knit those spots up before they re-released flight to the masses… with much feigned begrudgery, of course.

/tinfoil hat

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

Ceder +1 for accurate and astute use of “epistemic.”  And yes.

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

RicharddeLeonIII Yeah, removing group finder functionality would fall under “the ugly” with an intensity and drive not usually seen.

Ket_Viliano
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Ket_Viliano

mourasaint Ceder  Greek, it’s a thing. There is a whole country that still speaks it.

G3henna
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G3henna

Esoteric Coyote G3henna 
Now, there’s the rub.  Power creep via gear trivializes content far more than flying ever did, even when it was available prior to level cap as in Cataclysm. Blizzard has always seen increased efficiency in world content as a perk of raid gear, but that creates a real design problem.  How do you set the difficulty of that content?  If you make it a challenge for new players or dungeon heroes you make it a snooze for raiders.  I’ve always thought some kind of scale down mechanism for raid gear when used in non-instanced content would have been a better idea.  It wouldn’t be accepted now nor do I think such a sweeping change should be made when this has been the status quo since the beginning.

Gavin_Lafferty
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Gavin_Lafferty

mourasaint RicharddeLeonIII I used to support group finder, I really did. My point of view was that everyone deserves to see the story and enjoy the zone.

But as time has wound on I find that LFR just isn’t good enough. It’s not a raid, it’s not challenging.or fun. It’s twenty five people mindlessly running through a raid screaming obscenities at each other.

What purpose does LFR serve?

Seeing the story is one, and as a catch up mechanism is the other.

Blizzard is moving away from LFR being a catch up mechanism, with timewalking and mythic five mans offering superior loot.

Seeing the story is the important bit. Everyone deserves the chance to kill Blackhand or Archimonde or what not.

So what do I think?

I think LFR isn’t fun.

I think the long neglected five man dungeon, combined with timewalking, is a superior catch up mechanism.

I think with normal raiding and the new group finder tool, anyone who wants to raid should be able to raid.

However, I don’t want to deny those people the story.

Why not borrow a leaf from Rift…replace LFR with a single player solo zone.

Give some gold or valor or whatever as a reward for doing it

RicharddeLeonIII
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RicharddeLeonIII

As long as its automated and doesnt require actually conversing with anyone prior to the group forming. I would love something like rifts instant adventures.

Esoteric Coyote
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Esoteric Coyote

chriskovo I only liked the treasures because I could shred them for easy enchanting mats. Which at the start of the expansion was important.

MaxSand
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MaxSand

So, I get the author’s perspective. They want a more GW2 style progression system, less gear grind. Thing is, at it’s height, and when a good number of former players talk fondly of WoW, it was all about end game progression, and it nothing was more tiered and gear grindy than Wrath. At least, Wrath had options. 
WoD currently has 2 raids, and while some of the boss encounters are really fun and unique, there is no equivalent of EoE or VoA, where you could do an entire raid in a short time. One boss or a handful. Or, you might do Naxx80, Ulduar or ICC, and really spend a few hours in an instance. Somewhere in the middle was ToTC. Or the tons of heroic dungeons, or Wintersgrasp. It was, for sure, a gear treadmill BUT one that had a wealth of content to choose from. Even Pandaria had more options.
The WoW playerbase comes in a few strains. The End game raiders, the PVP crowd and the “other”. The ones who level alts all day, grind rep, fish, or run old content. The latter are happy with whatever. The former 2 are not happy with WoD, mostly. PVP content is entirely Ashran, which is a glorified PVE zone. PVE is entirely raids, which admittedly have a lot of bosses(17 total with 13 coming in 6.2) but instead of adding new ones, they are content for us to run these on 4 difficulties. 

The answer is more choice of content, but that does not exclude the treadmill formula WoW is known for, it just means more options. Shorter raids would be fine, with the same number of encounters. PVP…..they need more. More Arenas, more BGs, Maybe new modes like a team deathmatch, or a survival mode or something. Give players options and they won’t burn out on the content nearly as fast. I am not going to be shocked, however, if all of this falls on deaf ears at Blizz.

bakkahentai2600
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bakkahentai2600

DPandaren bakkahentai2600 Greaterdivinity  It was probably 1.23

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