WoW Factor: The view from outside the Legion alpha test

Would you like to see something unsettling?

I’ve been paying rapt attention to the ongoing-though-paused World of Warcraft Legion alpha tests  because said tests are looking good. That’s a positive. Whilst the actual decisions being made about testing and the state of the live game don’t earn a lot of praise from me, what we’ve seen of the expansion that Legion is becoming makes me feel very positive. There’s only a thin slice available, but it’s enough to make things interesting.

Let’s talk about that today, starting with the obvious bit of the Artifact weapons.

I refuse to talk too much about Demon Hunters until I'm not just looking at them through the glass.While there are several artifacts that still don’t make a tremendous amount of sense (Restoration and Enhancement Shaman weapons spring to mind, for example), looking past the lore and to the weapons proper reveal a set of abilities that manage to accomplish several really nifty goals. For one thing, the artifact traits and the relics equipped therein manage to feel like weapons in all of the most positive ways; the fact that most grant a bonus to one talent or another evokes some of the cool and unique procs of older weapons while also being distinct.

Beyond even that, the actual abilities contained therein are generally nifty. Obviously, not everything is finished on that front, but stuff like the Retribution Artifact line just sounds cool, with blades of light besieging your enemies. I’m also fond of some of the odd abilities, like the Fury Warrior ability that causes Bloodthirst to heal for more when your health is lower. It’s a clever bit of balance, improving your ability to keep yourself going when things are getting rough anyhow.

The one major problem that I see is that there are clearly going to be some tough choices along the leveling path, which is doubtlessly by design but might lead to people feeling like they want trait A but have to pick trait B to get access to coveted DPS spots. Then again, when has that not been the case in this game?

Gaining a picture of the actual specs is a bit more difficult, not because they’re massively more complex but because we only have one spec available per class and no specs available for Shaman. There’s datamining, again, but even that provides snippets that may be altered rather than the full picture.

At a glance, though, this really is a fundamental rewrite of many if not all specs — not just in the sense of talents, although that is definitely part of it, but also in the sense that the classes now work differently than before. Gone, it seems, are days of reliable self-healing by many hybrid classes; the DPS specs are more DPS-focused than ever. That’s a bit of a blow for specs that have traditionally been able to keep themselves going quite reliably, like Retribution and Enhancement; time will tell how much of that is carrying through.

Much is forgiven when I look at the talent trees, though. I like these. I’m sure that theorycrafting will produce which talents have the edge, and there are some places that already seem pretty heavily weighted in one direction or another. And I find I still don’t care all that much, because the stuff that’s there is cool. Some bits are shared, but so many pieces are unique to a given spec, and several of the shared bits wind up still generating unique feels.

Druids can really bleed lines between specs with their affinities, although I wonder how useful the various affinities will be in the long run; I have a sneaking suspicion, for example, that Restoration Affinity will just be too good for most endgame Guardian and Balance Druids. But they’re still a neat idea, and as I’ve mentioned before I like that Druids do get to take back some of that jack-of-all-trades flavor that’s been left aside for a long while.

Lol, elf.

I like that the talents often seem to suggest a potential playstyle and how they may work together without drifting explicitly into sub-spec territory a la Gladiator Stance/Lone Wolf from the current expansion. Moreover, several of the talents are set up in the sense that you can very much focus heavily on one aspect of your spec or you can take a general sampling without one talent locking you in to future choices. Aspect of the Beast and Animal Instincts, for example, both emphasize the role of the pet with the Survival Hunter, but you don’t need to take one if you take the other. You can take both if you want a bigger pet focus; you can also take just one or neither if you want to downplay your pet.

So all of the abilities look good, or at least not bad enough to trigger my rant gene. But when it comes to actual play, I have to rely on secondhand information. And that secondhand information is… encouraging.

For example, one thing that I’ve heard on multiple occasions is that the new dungeons feel good to run, which is something that makes me happy. Final Fantasy XIV has been banking heavily on those small-group dungeons for a while now, reasoning correctly that part of the fun of the game is being able to just pop in, run through a dungeon in 30-ish minutes, and then move on if you’d rather do other things for the night. Unfortunately, WoW‘s dungeons have erred a bit on the side of tedium for a while and haven’t offered solid rewards. The idea that the dungeons are back to being just plain fun to pick up and play is encouraging.

Similarly encouraging is the fact that even with the world scaling, the game doesn’t have the Final Fantasy VIII/Oblivion problem, where you actively want to avoid leveling because that makes the game less fun. Players are reporting that leveling up still feels like a level boost, but your enemies just don’t feel like they’re getting steamrolled. It’s an odd approach compared to the more common level-locking found in games like the aforementioned Final Fantasy XIV or Guild Wars 2, but perhaps there are technical reasons preventing that.

Whatever the case, what I’m seeing and hearing is encouraging. It doesn’t ameliorate the fact that this expansion is coming far too slowly without nearly enough news, but it does seem to indicate that it will at least be pretty grand when we actually get to play it.

As always, feedback may be left down below or sent to Next time around, let’s talk a bit more about class fantasies, why they haven’t even been well-defined for most classes, and why they kind of need to be for the future health of the game.

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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