Every week, in Final Fantasy XI, the three main player nations are competing in a form of passive PvP known as conquest. The nation with the most influence in a given region (achieved primarily by killing stuff within that region) gains control of it; the nation with influence in the largest number of regions gets the first-place slot in the weekly conquest tally. Guards will have different lines to you depending on the nation’s standing, and if your nation is third, before you head out to make with the killing, the guard will tell you, “We’re hoping you can help us out of this hole we’ve dug ourselves into.”
Why am I bringing this up? Because that’s how I feel when I look at Legion at this point. World of Warcraft has dug itself into a hole, and at the end of the day that hole isn’t just about inexcusable content gaps or lore mangling or whatever. Those are symptoms of a larger problem, and I get the sense that Legion is trying to address that, even if it’s doing so in a roundabout way. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to work, but it does mean that at least there’s the glimmer of comprehension in place just the same.
So what is WoW‘s problem at the moment? Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, essentially. It created a very different environment than the one that had come before, and it hasn’t been sure of what to do in that environment ever since.
Garrisons, those most-maligned of all systems, speak a bit to that problem. Garrisons are housing designed by people who don’t want housing in a game, focused almost entirely upon game benefits to the exclusion of all else, failing in customization and in making useful gameplay in one fell swoop. They’re too time-consuming to be a lightweight benefit to people who don’t care about housing, they contain none of the benefits that people who actually wanted housing wanted it for, and they’re knee-deep in an expansion that sacrificed everything else for Garrisons and raids.
What are Garrisons actually supposed to be? I’m not certain that even the designers know. They’re housing that isn’t and raid support that doesn’t. So much of Warlords of Draenor feels like accretion, the result of years of design sloughing into an endpoint that no one is happy with even as no one completely agrees about how we got there. And so we get Legion, which isn’t concerned about how we got there; it’s concerned about how we get out.
This is why, for example, specs are being redesigned from the top down in this expansion. The point isn’t to unseat the character you’ve been playing for years; it’s an attempt to set the clock back and start from ground zero. Instead of hanging on to a decade of baggage, the goal seems to be looking at what these specs actually do and how they can stand apart from their contemporaries.
Having played with the specs on beta, I think the only case where I would say that you literally cannot replicate what you have now is with Demonology, as even Demon Hunters don’t really match up with that particular playstyle. There are enough talents in place that you can mimic Survival’s current feel with Marksmanship or Beast Mastery, which means that the loss is less keenly felt, especially since the melee-with-pet style that Survival picked up is pretty fun.
That’s the other major shift that I’ve noticed; the specs feel more fun. They feel more like the specs from The Burning Crusade, with the only difference being that you no longer have access to a wide range of tools with only a few being used by your spec. You now have access to the tools of your spec and a few others based on class, but the fundamental mechanics are better anchored. Sure, Enhancement looks like it’s lost a lot, but actually playing it feels less like “where are my Shaman abilities” and more like “oh, now I have an actual rotation and pattern.” I haven’t played a spec that doesn’t feel better than it does on live.
We’ve got Titanforged rolls to address the issue of gear in content becoming outdated. We’ve got class-specific sets being sold right in our Order Halls to make sure that there’s some sense of unified aesthetics and rewards for players who explore the expansion, meaning that you can even have a solid baseline of gear with some work. We’ve got world quests to give us more reasons to go out in the world. In every way, Legion feels as if it’s pulling together a decade of the game and trying to re-ground it, to re-establish what made it work in the past.
Is it perfect? Heck no. The whole exploding Titanforged rolls themselves are an extra layer of RNG over an existing random festival to solve a problem that WoW already solved by the end of Wrath of the Lich King. Some of the top-down redesigns are themselves rolling back changes made in previous expansions to fix, well, exactly this problem (the whole reason Survival got moved out of any melee abilities is that Hunters were meant to be the ranged weapon class). A lot of these changes are part of an escalating series of fixes to existing fixes.
But – and here’s what’s important – the goal here is a combination of moving forward and re-establishing the baseline. And that’s what makes me hopeful. That’s why I still have a hope for the game’s future.
As much as I might point out that WoW has already solved certain problems, I can understand not just going backward because you don’t move forward by regressing into the past. Yes, WotLK had a system in place that would address content relevancy, but the game already got rid of that system. Should it have been removed? No. Does that change the fact that it was? Also no. Instead, we’re trying something new, a different system that can be refined in the future.
This is also borne out by the fact that the designers are finally admitting that this “expansion every year” business is never happening. That could mean that we’re actually going to get a slower roll of content, a support plan that extends out to the next expansion, not staff shuffling desperately onto the expansion to try to push it out faster and resulting in a scenario where there’s no one working on Live with no content for a year. I can’t say that’s what will happen, but it at least seems to be the goal for the future.
I don’t have a lot of faith that this is what’s going to be true for the remainder of the game’s lifespan. But it’s a hope. Frustrations aside, I’m hopeful about this expansion. I want to see what it has to offer. I’m looking forward to playing it, despite the parts that I don’t like, and I want to see this paradigm improve on what’s been done wrong in the past.
Or I’ll be altogether disappointed. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time around, let’s talk further development of the Titanforged mechanics that would really help the whole system shine, along with a side dose of Artifact discussion.