WoW Factor: The Legion prepatch brings the storm front

Herp to the derp.

On some level, it honestly feels weird to be excited by this patch in World of Warcraft. There’s no new stuff to actually do, and I’m running up against that a fair bit myself. It’s still Warlords of Draenor, and that means it’s still kind of the same old mess with the same old issues. All that’s really new is our abilities and our wardrobe. That’s not all that much.

On the other level… it means something. Not just that this is a thing that is actually happening now, but that this is something happening soon, that we’re going to be into the next expansion in the near future, and the game now has more motivations for players to go out and take care of various bits of content. And all of those ability changes are pretty cool on their own, to boot. We’re into the almost-Legion period of the game, and even though the pre-launch events haven’t started yet, it feels like the clouds have gathered.

Of course, there are these guys, but you can't play one yet.Our new specs

Most of the specs in the game feel different now. I consider that a good thing in just about every area; the closest thing to a loser is Demonology. You can make a convincing Warlords-era Survival imitation in Marksmanship, and Survival melee is a blast, but you can’t really play anything that feels like Metamorphosis-focused Warlock. And I do mean anything; as much as I like Demon Hunters and agree with most of what my buddy Matt had to say on the class in his impressions piece yesterday, they play nothing like Demonology.

The thing is, I actually feel this is closer to what was being done with the previous expansion’s ability purge. The problem was that it tried to gently tug off a bandage instead of just ripping the dang thing off in one smooth motion; as a result, we were stuck in a limbo state for an expansion in which we lost stuff, but the full-scale shifts hadn’t happened. I’ve talked before about how Enhancement felt like a spec of leftovers, full of tools that no longer made much sense but just hadn’t gone away yet.

This full push makes that awkward situation so much better. There’s a definite set of mechanical themes running throughout, like how most melee DPS specs have a decided “build-and-spend” rotation, but the specs also feel less unified. I can feel the difference between my Paladin and my Shaman and my Warrior, despite the fact that all three have specs that boil down to “smack the thing with a weapon.”

However, the real question is how these specs feel in content that wasn’t designed around them, and the answer is… mildly overtuned. I’m definitely feeling as if content is easier now than it was before, and I suspect some of that is down to the matter of talents. There are so many spec-specific talents now that very few tiers are useless or functionally invisible in play; my Shaman has gone from having two or three meaningful choices for actual output to having one on every single tier.

So yes, there’s no actual new content, but it feels a fair bit more fun to actually play through the existing content. I’m going to call that a win; it’s just a shame that it comes after the existing content is so close to being irrelevant.

Looking familiar.

Costuming madness

You can tell me that the new transmog system is more or less directly ported over from Diablo III and/or several other games with similar systems, and you’d be right to say that. I also do not care. This is, I think, one of the last steps that the game needs to take to be truly account-wide, to make achievements something that you can take with you as you go through everything. No longer do you have to scrape and pray for a drop on every character who might ever want it; go in, get armor, and now it’s yours. Forever. Everywhere.

This feels like a boon on several levels, not the least because it means that running old dungeons for armor feels more productive. Sure, you can’t unlock cloth appearances on your Death Knight, but you can still get plenty of stuff that will be useful on multiple classes, not just one or two. Warriors in particular can unlock just about every weapon you can think of, and I’m hard at work enchanting my way through as many weapon glows as I can.

If there’s a failing to the system, it’s the simple reality that the system has now outgrown the transmog NPCs stationed in the various cities. Just as talent selections are now more flexible, it needs to be much easier to just swap over between your various costumes. Yes, you can get an expedition yak to facilitate that, but considering that we’re already being asked to drop a fair amount of gold on the costume costs, it seems like a weak “solution” to the problem — especially when it could even just be fixed with more transmog NPCs through the world if the developers really don’t want to let us change wherever.

That’s a minor quibble, though, and it’s mixed amidst a whole lot of affection for the diversity of appearances available. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to replicate work and/or luck on multiple characters if I find a coincidental appearance that looks good for a different character. I still feel like there are millions of things to unlock, but it feels doable, at least, and for something.

Oh no, son.

But where’s the beef?

It seems a little odd that we didn’t get the pre-patch events going yet. Not unbelievably odd, no, but a little odd. We’ve got new specs to play with, sure, but we still don’t actually have new content to make us use them, and while I’m happy about the changes to the game’s transmog systems, we all know full well that farming for appearances isn’t even in the same ballpark as new content. And it’s going to be hard to “get used” to the new specs without having much to do in the interim.

Part of this, I suspect, is intentional. This allows more excitement to be drummed up and forces players into a more contained space, thus ensuring that everyone’s eyes are on the game and more people are playing the game when things start really going down. At the same time, though, I think some of it is an unhappy accident, a consequence of Blizzard’s rollout plan not necessarily playing out well in practice.

In some ways, this drop is akin to patch 6.1: It’s a bunch of quality-of-life fixes that do not actually provide much to do. We’ll have to see how the pre-patch events shape up, and I’m hopeful, but I also know that this could easily turn into an unpleasantly reductive grind before the expansion launch. That would feel like a fitting coda to Warlords, let’s be fair.

As always, feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to Next time around, let’s hope we actually do have that event to experience, yes?

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.