WoW Factor: Levels and legends in the Legion alpha

    
14
Aw yus.

The alpha testing for World of Warcraft‘s next expansion rolls on, with the vague hope that we might actually have a beta tag by the end of March. I mean, we almost have all of the specs in the testing now, and so all that remains is for the follower system that isn’t like Garrisons all over again we swear to actually be implemented before we have a test that is functionally feature-mostly-complete. That would theoretically mean beta, although we haven’t been given any actual roadmap beyond “by September.”

Scheduling and relevant terminology discussion notwithstanding, there’s more stuff to talk about with the alpha, and in a way having an extra couple of weeks provides more interesting information to chew on. As the live game sits in the midst of yet another content lull, let’s examine the testing, the philosophies that we know to be in place, and what all of this means for the longer-term health and design of the game.

Legendary items and Synnibar syndrome

Not that kind of transformation, but close.For some members of the audience, I don’t think I need to explain The World of Synnibar. For most of you, I probably do, and with good cause. The quick version is that it’s a horrible tabletop system that manages to wind up in so-bad-it’s-good territory due to the sheer insanity of its rules and setting; it’s the sort of thing that you’d enjoy if you love the tabletop gaming equivalent of films like The Room and Snakes on a Plane.

One of the dumber aspects of the game (in a game filled with dumb aspects) is that the game fundamentally turns classes around in the worst way. In most games, playing some crazy powerful class comes with a long list of weaknesses. Dungeons & Dragons, for example, gives Wizards phenomenal powers… but those powers can only be used a certain number of times in any given encounter, they have to be prepared ahead of time, and the class can frequently be slain by a stiff breeze. Massive power is balanced by drawbacks.

By contrast, Synnibar does the exact opposite. In order to have one of the really powerful classes, you have to have insanely high attribute rolls, and… that’s it. So the better classes are better in every way than the other classes, and playing them requires nothing more than luck instead of the ability to deal with drawbacks.

What does this lengthy diversion have to do with WoW? Legendary artifacts and “transformative” abilities.

Here’s the thing: I’m 100% in favor of putting massive, powerful, transformative abilities in the game. I’ve raved before about changes to talent trees that allow you to shift the entire playstyle of your spec between multiple different “modes,” and I’m always going to be in favor of elements like that. So I have no issue with the idea that Legion includes items with crazy powers that can have a huge effect upon your playstyle.

My issues entirely come back to the idea that these items are totally random. These are not powers or items you equip as part of a trade. It’s not “you move faster but take more damage,” it’s “you got really lucky so now you move faster.”

Random drops are exactly the place to include power increases, because having boots that randomly have a 10% power boost is fair. It’s still luck, but it’s luck that doesn’t change your whole playstyle. But the current state of random legendary rewards in the game is more akin to the items you find in roguelike games, where the whole point is starting, assembling a build from random rewards, and then refining what you’re doing over time based on those random rewards. I love this style of gameplay in, say, 20XX, which offers me an hour or so of play with a random slate that I get to shape over time. I’m not happy when we’re talking about characters I plan to play over the long term.

This is the same issue that already crops up with set bonuses, which more or less cause you to rewrite how your spec plays if you have enough people getting together on a regular basis to get shots at being lucky enough to get the set pieces. (There’s that luck again.) Transformative abilities are fine; gating them behind random chance in a persistent game is less fine.

Give me more transformative options if you want. Let me slot in gems or enchantments that have major effects on playstyle. But gate them via weaknesses, drawbacks, and then need to play around these elements. Don’t just gate them by whether or not I’m lucky enough to randomly encounter one. Dropping an item that’s massively more powerful in straight numbers is more than enough to make me feel immensely lucky; you don’t need to give me a huge mechanical boost on top of that.

Everything has changed, but absolutely nothing's changed.

Level whatever

I’m honestly not entirely sure how I feel about the way that the Demon Hunter talent trees are structured. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense for the seventh tier not to unlock until level 110; unlocking everything when you’ve barely had five minutes to play the class feels a bit hollow. On the other hand, the fact that talent trees suddenly work differently just for Demon Hunters creates a feeling of disconnect. Then again, at least they get something for hitting the upper levels.

I had mentioned before that the leveling feels a bit slow, but upon further reflection, I think the real reason for that is less because it’s the slowest thing ever and more because levels are functionally irrelevant except for stats. There are no abilities waiting, and there’s no big reward at the end; it’s just a number you make go higher, and your stats increase but your character is pretty much only changed via the artifact. I mentioned just last week that I would have more faith in the game’s mechanical changes sticking around if the level cap had remained the same but the artifact leveling were in place; the designers appear to have done this in practical terms while still retaining the levels, the worst of both worlds.

As a result, play feels a bit same-y as you progress through the levels. It helps that the core rotations and setups for the various specs are very satisfying, but I can only imagine it’s going to be more pronounced for new characters chewing through the levels. One level fades into another pretty easily, and without even mandatory zone changes the climb to 110 feels largely vestigial.

One thing I am fond of is how the game is handling its storytelling this time around. Warlords of Draenor had a particular investment in making you out to be the hero of the ages, which made a certain amount of sense but could still be a bit annoying. Even with the whole class order thing in this expansion, my feeling through most of the zones has generally been that you’re important without being overwhelmingly so; there are things in motion that don’t involve you, factional moves and trials that you are only peripherally involved with.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next time around, I want to talk about Garrisons and how they’re not half as bad as people think – but they’re also very much a product of their environment.

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.
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
hilliard
Guest
hilliard

Karl_Hungus SallyBowls1 Greaterdivinity
Except HBO offers a great deal more than new episodes of a single show.  
Imagine the HBO schedule as it exists now — right now, in March 2016 — again in April.  
Same shows, same times, exact same schedule.
Now imagine the same schedule is offered in May.  Nothing different.  
And again in June.  And in July.  What is on your schedule tonight will be again on your schedule on June 11, July 11 . . .
Exactly how many of those months are you going to continue paying for?

Karl_Hungus
Guest
Karl_Hungus

SallyBowls1 Karl_Hungus Greaterdivinity 
I pay for HBO even though Game of Thrones doesn’t have a new episode on every day year round. If HBO were to start selling a lockbox that may or may not contain a new episode of GoT, then we’d be having a different conversation.

Eliot_Lefebvre
Guest
Eliot_Lefebvre

DanielReasor Can you ever count time spent with Vrykul as “wasted?” I say no.

DanielReasor
Guest
DanielReasor

Have any actual demons turned up in the alpha’s playable content, or does it still look like the war against the Legion will be fought by Class Garrison NPC’s while the players spend the expansion wasting their time fighting Vrykul?

Omedon
Guest
Omedon

This 100%
“Good enough is good enough” has been my MMORPG mantra since I tried and loved RIFT. Unless you’re going all bleeding edge (not me), good enough HAS to be good enough or you’re telling your customers that they’re “fail by default,” and WoW is too big to do that.
As for transformative abilities in random access, again, a character without them, just like a character who specs all into passive (*raises hand*) must also be logistically good enough for anything solo or randomly assembled (since we can’t screen our group) so I’m fine with it! On paper, the guy with the passive spec and no legendary luck must be good enough, and I’m a good enough player to pull my weight as such, so bring it! If that’s not good enough, that’s blizzard’s problem, not mine, and I’ll see y’all in game! :)

Omedon
Guest
Omedon

I’ll take same-y levels all day every day if it means level gaps (from 100-110) don’t prevent my level diverse friends and I from playing together! If that bridging effect is in play, I’m so tremendously happy if that promise was delivered upon!
Was it? I can’t get any alpha players to confirm this for me! I seem to recall overworld and normal dungeons being advertised as essentially level-agnostic from 100-110, allowing the level 102 to group with his 110 buddies and both to advance logistically. Is this in play?

tylercles
Guest
tylercles

Greaterdivinity Uh, “kiss/curse” talents and glyphs are getting more common, not less. Pretty much every class has a few now. Pointless trap choices are being phased out, but those were never good for anyone but elitists who wanted an easy way to look down their nose at people who didn’t know any better, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what Eliot means anyhow.

tylercles
Guest
tylercles

Personally, I’m all for the new legendary system and the random bonus stats and such. I can see how it might be problematic for min/maxers or competitively minded players, but from the perspective of some Joe Schlub who never bothers with anything more strenuous than LFR, it’s great. Having a loot-based game where the loot is boring is never a good thing, and for the last few expansions, gear has been nothing but a matter of, “Is it a higher ilevel than what I have? If yes, equip it. The end.” Gear is actually turning into something exciting again.
I mean, I still just end up equipping whatever has the highest ilevel, but at least I look at it to see what bonuses (if any) it has, instead of completely ignoring everything but the ilevel. There’s sort of an “opening presents” feeling there.

Plus it saves me having to burn out on an expansion-long questline that I can’t skip if I want the whole story.

Eliot_Lefebvre
Guest
Eliot_Lefebvre

SallyBowls1 Drawbacks built into the powerful effects, have them as currency-based unlocks or leveling equipment, allow a small number of them to be active at any one time, possibly as a slotted thing into a new sort of equipment slot.

THERE WE’RE DONE GOODNIGHT.
(Yes, Guild Wars did something similar with its rune system. And it worked wonderfully!)

SallyBowls1
Guest
SallyBowls1

Eliot_Lefebvre Greaterdivinity
I totally get and share your dislike for RNG. Sic ’em Elliot!  But on reflection, I am left with my “just because something is a bad idea, does not mean it is not the best idea.”   Bliz can’t sell them in the cash shop; that would be far worse and people would freak. This isn’t a sandbox and so crafting is out. If these were not going to drop randomly, then, IMO, any alternative Bliz would do would be worse. I would have expected these things to drop in non-LFR raids, hard challenge modes, and arenas. IMO, this is better than that.