WoW Factor: Assessing WoW after two weeks of Legion

    
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The ice is thin, come on, dive in.

All right, so it’s actually closer to a week and a half. I’m torn between an eye-rolling “it’s only been a week and a half” and a sort of disbelieving “it’s only been a week and a half?” on this expansion; I’d say I can’t recall the last time I was this invested in an expansion for this game, but I can, and it was a long time ago. It certainly hasn’t happened recently; that’s the important takeaway.

So World of Warcraft: Legion is here. It’s out right now, and if you read this column you’ve probably either been knee-deep in it or you’re wondering if this is the time to finally break your Cal Ripken-like streak of not caring about WoW. (Yes, it is.) I’ve hit the level cap, I’m well on my way with my second character, I’ve been doing world quests, I don’t have a fox yet. So let’s talk about the expansion a bit now that it’s live and shaking down.

Dungeon problems

Ah, well, what can you do?In my first impressions, I noted the dungeons almost offhandedly. Having had some more time to play with them and being well into the heroic hops for them… yeah, they haven’t gotten a lot better. They’re intensely simple, and while they’re not horrible, I feel like they’ve been severely underserved more or less to make them work better with Mythic dungeons and keystones. Which is pretty bad design, all around; if you’re making your mechanics simpler to cope with scaling up other random bumps to health or environmental damage, you haven’t actually developed a great core experience to the dungeon that’s going to be what most people see.

Much like raiding, dungeons are suffering from having too many difficulty levels. The scaling tech in the dungeons works nicely, and it really sets the dungeons up as only needing two difficulties at most. My preferred way of structuring it would be to have a single dungeon difficulty for queueing (with scaling rewards based on your extant item level) and a separate option for grouping up with keystones; it’d remove the difficulty glut and allow more of the interesting mechanics to be seen right from the start, as opposed to ham-fisted removal of certain mechanics and the need for constant upscaling in new tiers of difficulty.

Some of the design comes down to a matter of the designers having spent years telling people that dungeons don’t matter and only belatedly deciding they should matter; if you train everyone that normal dungeons mean “mechanics don’t matter” by having them not matter, then no, no one’s going to pay attention to mechanics. Normal dungeons are basically designed to be completed no matter what you do, and that becomes the expected default simply because players have been told to expect that. (By contrast, you’re not finishing out story segments in Final Fantasy XIV without several dungeons that can and will wipe inattentive groups; the game communicates very effectively that there’s a need to pay attention.)

I haven’t yet headed through the Mythic-only Suramar dungeons (I’ve been cleaning up other objectives before diving into the story there), but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be better served with fewer difficulties and more queue options. There’s a lot to unpack here, more than can probably be discussed in a section of a single column, but the dungeons remain weak, and saying “oh, they’re more involved on Mythic” is the opposite of good.

Oh, those world quests

It's not my fault that my Death Knight insists on looking good in screenshots.The dungeons in Legion remain the weakest part of the expansion. In this case, that’s a good weakness to have; when the worst parts are your expansion are too easy and kind of boring, things are going well overall. World quests, meanwhile, might be the best thing the expansion has done yet, and I absolutely love them on every level. They’re everything dailies have wanted to be, but more besides.

Part of what I like about the world quest system as it exists now is that it has so much space for expansion in multiple directions. There are world quests that are basically just a matter of re-doing old quests, thus sorting out the persistent problem of why areas remain just as dangerous after you’ve cleared them but you can ignore them forever. Then there are oddballs like the Kirin Tor world quests, which are really just fun mini-events that you run for a bit, or the targeted killing of Warden quests. Or the various resource quests. Or the gathering quests. The list goes on.

I have mixed feelings about the Withered Training scenario from a mechanical standpoint, but it really does work fairly well in this format.

The whole emissary system is also a positive, since it manages to both give you a reason to log on to your max-level characters and – I think this is crucial – a reason to ignore them. Just plowing through the emissary world quests on a given day is not terribly time-consuming, but you also have the opportunity to say “not today” at any given stretch and let them accumulate. There will be more tomorrow. I appreciate that immensely, since it lets you give some characters a break without feeling that you’re “missing” anything on that character. As someone who has no shortage of alts, too, it gives me more space to play around with whom I want to run at any given time.

I also really do enjoy the momentary flashes that you get with various dungeons having associated world quests. I don’t think as much is being done with that particular mechanic as it could be, but it gives a feel to individual dungeons beyond the ancient daily heroic quests from Wrath of the Lich King. It helps that like every other world quest, they’re not constant; you don’t always have a miniboss lurking within a dungeon, just sometimes.

We fall, but we also rise.

Time

As I write this, I’ve kicked off my fourth-tier upgrade for my main’s class hall. That’s going to take a long while to research. And the fact is, I also kind of like that. No matter how fast you rush up to the cap, there’s stuff that just plain takes a while. You always have plenty more to do, but by keeping several objectives further in the future, it encourages thinking of these as long-term goals rather than immediate ones. Even if you get insanely lucky on your first character and wind up with two Legendaries very early, you’re not going to be wearing more than one for a good long while. You just can’t.

In many ways, this expansion generally feels less rushed than others, even while putting a whole lot of stuff front and center. You certainly can aggressively push to the level cap and work hard on getting more points in your relic, but you only get to research Artifact Knowledge at a certain rate, and past your early rush of traits the power requirements are going to need some time. You’re not rewarded for not playing, but you are rewarded for recognizing that things will slow down for a bit, that you should take them as they come.

I think that may be what I like most about the expansion thus far. I can do things a bit more slowly, take my time, and not feel like I’m missing out or that I’m in any sort of race. I made my way to the level cap at a certain pace not because I had to, but because I just wanted to keep playing. And it happened more or less quickly on its own.

Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. I’ve also been quite a bit more active on my in-character Twitter account @TruceSMV, if you want to see my random in-character tweets whilst playing. Next time around, I’ll either want to go more into the problems that the game has with dungeon difficulties, challenge levels, and its self-hating queue mechanics… or I’ll just start examining the Broken Isles zones. I’ll decide when I get there.

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.