WoW Factor: Things that actually worry me about Battle for Azeroth

    
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Don't call it a comeback.

The Battle for Azeroth beta is here, at long last, and it feels like it might have come a little early in the process. Usually beta testing is mostly for when you have all of the core stuff in place, but this feels like it’s just officially being called a beta when some of the pieces are still being moved into the right direction. That might be more nitpicky than anything, so I’m not going to spend too much time on it; World of Warcraft has had a tricky relationship with “alpha” and “beta” terminology, but it’s still not even in the list of the worst offenders.

I got my beta invite (at the same time the official changeover happened, even), but I haven’t yet gotten a chance to actually play around in it. However, I think now is as good a time as any to talk about the things that I am actually nervous about when it comes to Battle for Azeroth. Yes, I’ve been a pretty big advocate for the expansion and what we’re hearing so far, but there are things about the expansion that still make me nervous now that we’re moving into the beta phase. So let’s talk about that.

Azerite and the Heart aren’t Artifacts

That's not to say I'll miss the Artifacts which were always bad choices.There was a lot of dislike about Artifacts, and a lot to like about them as well. Sure, the system was kind of unnecessarily messy, especially since it was designed to be a one-expansion system that’s now just another bit of design cruft, and it didn’t have to be that way. But at the end of the day, for all its faults and issues? The system did what it was supposed to do. It gave you a leveling mechanism with new stuff and felt exciting.

Sure, the top end was ridiculous for no good reason. But you really felt like this was a big crackling source of power that gave you the option of making some neat choices. It felt satisfying.

The Heart of Azeroth has always had issues on a conceptual level, to the point that I devoted an entire column explaining how it was supposed to work. But at its core, the idea was sort of like a meta-artifact. Unlock powers on your various bits of armor! This time there are actual choices, that’s good! And we won’t have Artifact Knowledge, which was messy! It’s all the fun of Artifacts, without the down sides!

Except looking at what we have right now… I’m not seeing it. In fact, I’m seeing all of the worst parts of Artifacts with none of the positives.

One of the problems with Artifact design was always that players had no choice involved. Given time, you were going to max out all of your traits; it’s only when you get down to the Netherlight Crucible that some actual choice was involved. Azerite armor currently seems to be much the same way; the choices are so segmented and so obvious that you’re pretty much always going to be making the same ones. More abilities would/will help a lot here.

More to the point, the Artifacts felt like a source of power, having big effects and really changing the way things worked. Sure, a lot of those effects came down to passive damage boosts, but then you got to the neat things that weren’t quite abilities but still felt special. At this point, the Azerite powers just don’t have that feeling of being big sources of power; they feel like the blandest of passive boosts.

In short, they just feel like additional talent bars that open up eventually. Not exciting. And if the system just works without being exciting, that’s going to feel like a collapse right after we had Artifacts to sling around. We’re already having all of our abilities pared down by one button; reducing it further isn’t really exciting.

One would assume some actual battling has to take place, and since battling in the zones isn't really a thing...

We’re still unclear on Warfronts

I honestly think that this is the biggest reason we’ve got a beta going on. Warfronts request and demand a nice pile of players to test them, and you can only invite so many people to an alpha before it starts feeling ridiculous. But this is the most ambitious thing from a design standpoint going into the expansion, and at this point we still know little to nothing about it. It’s just there, and it’s going to be tested.

What else should we know? Well, anything. How it’ll play. What the rewards will look like. How often players can participate. What sort of things will be emphasized. What the battleground actually looks like. You know, dozens of different elements that all have a big impact on the way that this content is played.

For something that’s really vital to the expansion as a whole, there’s little to no information on this, and it feels like it keeps getting scaled back or pushed aside in discussions. That’s not to say that there isn’t time for it to be fixed up and improved, of course; there’s lots of time for that over the next few months. It’s just that with this much not nailed down, there’s a lot more space for things to rattle. Badly.

The early promotions for the expansion suggested that Warfronts were something really new and different, but increasingly they’re looking like a footnote we can ignore once we move on to the next phase of the expansion. Considering the weaknesses of the game’s existing raid and dungeon design, this is not a good thing; even the island explorations aren’t enough to be an anchoring feature on their own. (They’re just Scenarios with more random widgets, which is nice, but we already had Scenarios and enjoyed them then.)

Maybe it’s just a matter of numbers and time. I hope so.

Leveling is still pointless

Aside from better outfits, yes.One of my biggest complaints about the leveling process in the Broken Isles is that it’s pointless. You gain absolutely nothing of note for 10 levels. It wound up mostly all right, simply because you were gaining Artifact Power at a decent clip and that served as your “real” level, but as I already mentioned that’s not quite making the jump so far for the Heart of Azeroth.

The problem we’re running into here is that for most classes and specs, you get all of your “interesting” tricks by the time you’re hitting 60. Talents flesh things out a bit, but for all intents and purposes you’re not looking forward to new skills or new options past that… and if you are, they’re a long way off. Considering that this is already a game where most classes have regular rotations of 5-7 buttons, it makes the process of leveling feel like more of a chore.

Adding another 10 levels doesn’t help matters, and as far as we’ve seen there’s nothing new coming in that level band. We won’t get another big ability or two, and that means that a new level is going to feel less like a nice surprise and more like “oh, I guess that milestone is taken care of, we’re that much closer to getting gold for quests.”

Seriously, we might as well just stop the leveling altogether if all we’re going to be doing is rearranging the deck chairs again. The only functional change is getting better armor to obsolete the stuff you already have, and that seems like more work than it needs to be.

It gets especially bad when dealing with the allied races; we’re getting another quartet in the expansion, after all, and those middle level can still be a chore. I’m glad that none of the specs we’ve seen thus far are getting radical overhauls so much as tweaks; even the big changes, like the removal of Retribution’s Judgement cycle, mostly feel like tweaks to make the spec play more comfortably. But it seems like we’re still stuck in a problematic setup here, a constant dance of patching things up with “good enough for now” instead of “actually update and re-examine.”

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Now, let’s see if I can’t set aside some time to actually sink into that beta. That’ll be fun.

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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Jokerchyld

Its the same problem I’ve been talking about for the past five years when I started WoW.

They waste their greatest resource which is the entire world of Azeroth. They put you a narrow bread crumbed trail that leads you through the zones until the end, but then never put any systems back into the older zones rendering effectively useless. I’ve learned that Blizzard doesnt want you hanging out in the world. They want you playing the laser focused content they create and seem to be OK with you leaving and coming back when new content is around. I will never understand that.

ESO, regardless if you like the game or not, has the proper approach. Zenimax leverages the entire world. Everything is relevant the entire time you level. You have options to level how you want to. So even when Sumerset comes out this summer, there will STILL be a reason for me to go back to Auridon even if its me just helping out a low level. The game has its problems, but all games do.

If WoW turned more open world I feel it will be better off. I will admit Legion and what I’ve heard from BfA is getting closer to that realization.

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Weilan

Leveling … pointless?

I remember when I was playing Vanilla through WoTLK and leveling was about the story of the quests, the adventure. Am I to assume that people nowadays need to be showered with reward for every time they inhale and exhale? That’s just sad.

While I feel that the story in Warcraft after WoW’s WoTLK expansion is cheap crap they came up just to keep spewing expansions and making money, I still think that leveling isn’t pointless, because it gets you through the story… that’s like the friendliest possible way to experience new story.

I’m currently playing ESO and I got a friend to try it and he got hooked and bought it and when he comes over to play is always rambling about getting to a higher level and stuff, doing quests without even listening to the story… of a fully voice acted game… like, wtf. And I always tell him that I’m in no hurry to level up but experience every bit of the story as fully as possible.

I really don’t get people nowadays, they just want to be high levels, see big numbers and be showered in rewards. What happened to slow starts and humble beginnings?

Anyone played the Diablo II mod Kingdom of Tenai where you start off on Normal difficulty, go out of the Rouge Encampment into the Blood Moor and a single Fallen takes 90% of your health in a single hit, and you have to hit-and-run until you reach about level 10 before you can actually start to feel more on par with monsters…

I still find this way more appealing to play than a game like current WoW where you plow through mobs like they are nothing, back in Vanilla you had to plan your pulls, because if more than 4 mobs jumped you it could very well spell trouble, especially on early levels.

It’s so sad what games and gamers nowadays have turned into.

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Randy Savage

Yeah a lot of people seem to forget the “RPG” in “MMORPG”. And currently in WoW, things have gotten a bit harder. With the level scaling they’ve applied to the classic dungeons, those boss fights once again have mechanics that you can’t just power through. It’s still easy compared to max level content, but it’s still challenging enough that you can’t just hit the snooze button for the whole run. My group and I actually wiped in Sunken Temple the other day. First time that’s happened to me in probably a decade.

I would even argue that questing out in the world has gotten much more challenging than it was in vanilla. In vanilla, there were a ton of elite mobs everywhere so they had more health and did more damage, but mechanically speaking they were not very complicated at all. They didn’t have telegraphed attacks you had to move out of. Nowadays, there’s a lot of telegraphed mechanics and whatnot that gradually ramps up from Cataclysm on up so you can’t just go on autopilot questing while you watch TV or something. Some mobs will humble you if you’re not paying attention.

Plus WoW’s questing content is still very story-driven and the story has only gotten better and better executed. Of course this would require people reading quest text to notice and in today’s ADHD generation, that seems like a lot to ask. As you pointed out, folks rush through even fully voiced games. In SWTOR, I’ve had kids screaming “SPACEBAR!” at me in party chat because I had the audacity of wanting to partake in the story.. on storymode, ironically enough.

On a side note, if you’re still playing WoW, get yourself this addon called Immersion. It is really awesome.

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thalendor

You remember leveling being about the story in earlier days of WoW because that’s what it was about for you. It was not about that for everyone.

Maybe you couldn’t get there as fast since leveling just took longer, but there was still a portion of the population that was rushing to max level as fast as they could to be the first, to get ahead of the curve to have less competition for spawns while leveling, to have a leg up for starting raiding, or whatever. This isn’t a new phenomenon at all — it happened in vanilla WOW; it happened in even earlier games, such as EverQuest. And honestly, I find that just as valid a way to play the game as stopping to smell the roses.

(Full disclusure: yes, I was, and still am to a lesser extent, one of those people who rushes through the leveling in order to get to the “real” game, as I see it.)

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Blizzard, in its wisdom, sent me a beta invite.

So I’ve played through getting my first Heart upgrade and it was underwhelming.

Playing a Protection Paladin, though, has to be the slowest way to level, made glacial with GCD. I literally can go play another game while I’m waiting for my skills to come off cool down. Great use of my wide split screen.

Even if you aren’t playing a masochistic paladin, GCD is clearly intended to slow down leveling. Not that it matters, since, as Eliot points out, there’s nothing to be gained from leveling.

But I’m not worried. There is literally nothing new here. You have the same opening adventure cinematic as Legion, wherein you are carried along from one cutscene to the next occasionally required to do a little something to progress before arriving in the new expansion.

Then you choose the region you want to start in from a board, just like in Legion. You meet the spunky NPC whose narrative you are going to follow. Then you follow it. There are treasure chests, boss mobs and quests exactly like in Legion.

Did I mention that by this time I’m ready to pop off to Path of Exile and kill something?

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Loopy

Have you checked out Retribution yet? It has been my on-again-off-again main class since Vanilla, so i’m curious as to how the judgement window change feels like. I personally hated having to track judgement in order to maximize my DPS, and it was probably one of the main reasons why i’ve decided not to gear my ret as a primary class.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Not yet. Definitely going to give that a try because Protection is just sad face.

Loyheta
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Loyheta

Wonder when they are going to make purples rare again… I miss getting excited when you see that epic pop up in your loot.

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thalendor

About the time WoW Classic comes out, I recon… :-P

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Sorenthaz

The Heart of Azeroth sounds a lot like what they did to Legendaries in MoP/WoD – instead of each class/spec getting a unique artifact and such, everyone just gets similar stuff that they then kind of get some differences with.

I think part of it though has to do with the fact that they definitely made us overpowered as hell in Legion. Power scaling went through the roof for the sake of making us feel awesome, so they have to dial it down majorly. Heart of Azeroth is an attempt to keep that secondary progression layer on top of iLvl/player level.

Also I imagine it’s going to be problematic for them figuring out how to handle artifacts post-Legion; it could cause players to hang there for awhile as they try to unlock stuff if they’re unable to go back to it upon heading into BfA content. And if they do something stupid like alter it so you can’t get an artifact in the Legion content, then that kills part of the fun of going through that content on alts, and players are stuck losing out on some cool storylines.

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Alyn

Nice article Eliot. World of Warcraft is BIG. It remains the “go-to” mmo, seemingly. It can still generate huge revenue for Blizzard. There are still, after nearly 14 years over 2 million active players world-wide. It is a phenomenon that arguably changed the way we game. However, I wonder if they have designed/engineered/developed the game into some kind of corner creatively? As Eliot observed;

“The problem we’re running into here is that for most classes and specs, you get all of your “interesting” tricks by the time you’re hitting 60. Talents flesh things out a bit, but for all intents and purposes you’re not looking forward to new skills or new options past that… and if you are, they’re a long way off. Considering that this is already a game where most classes have regular rotations of 5-7 buttons, it makes the process of leveling feel like more of a chore.”

This makes for a long haul to the next end-game at 120! Additionally you will find quite a few folks out there that are in current testing and have observed yet another contreversial move by the devs; the global cooldowns have been tampered with, apparently to slow down the fighting mechanics. Here are some reports you can review for yourselves; Kelani, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMTOr6uou-I
Bellular; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFPQFpxcGgo
and SoulBreezy; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAXeduEj6R8

Now, I know these videos will overlap, but I wanted to emphasis that what is happening here may NOT be an overall good thing going forward for the game. However, I say get out there and test it for yourselves.

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Randy Savage

I don’t know why people keep expecting to be anywhere near as powerful as they were when they had artifact weapons. The entire point of it was that we were supposed to be merely borrowing these super strong weapons to defeat the Legion. Mission accomplished. Time to go back to being regular heroes like before. If your character feels less interesting without Ashbringer or Doomhammer, then it’s working as intended. Maybe Blizz shouldn’t have painted themselves in a corner by making artifact weapons as strong as they were, both in function and in story. But what’s done is done. Better get used to going back to normal now.

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Cosmic Cleric

Better get used to going back to normal now.

Kind of hard for a company to tell it’s customers to keep paying the same amount each month now for less than before.

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Randy Savage

Except there’s now even more content than what Legion introduced, and Legion introduced a lot. And going off what they said during the Q&A yesterday, Azerite will help fill the void left by artifact weapons. It just won’t be as extreme as artifact weapons.

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Cosmic Cleric

I was speaking more towards your original comment …

I don’t know why people keep expecting to be anywhere near as powerful as they were when they had artifact weapons

… , about losing that power, but I do agree with you that, if done right, the Azerite mechanic will keep the player feeling powerful.

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Randy Savage

I mainly meant that from a story perspective. Artifact weapons are some of the most iconic weapons in all of Warcraft lore. Ashbringer, Doomhammer, the shard of Frostmourne, etc. There’s just no way we were going to retain most of that power.

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Carebear

The biggest problem with leveling is that old content is useless.. there is no good game economy to begin with… nothing of what you loot while leveling matters (most people dont even loot anynore)..

Everything is useless… leveling a character used to be a way to also make money.. gold from quests, disenchant quest items, crafting materials you get while leveling… maybe some rare/epic leveling gear drops (that now also dont matter…).

You just waste time until you reach the current patch stuff that matter…

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abelard

This is the main reason I no longer play WoW. Bliz seems unable to build systems that don’t get junked and replaced every time a new expansion comes out. I understand they might want to reset progress so new players can catch up. But I don’t understand why they can’t try to keep things they’ve developed relevant. Why can’t old content give usable rewards in new expansions? It must feel weird as a new player to find out that nobody plays 80% of the content anymore.

Another thing is they seem to go back and forth with design decisions. In MoP the big thing was getting you “out in the world” again, not just instances. Then in WoD you sat in your garrison. Then in Legion you’re back out in the world with world quests. Same with scenarios, they introduced them in MoP, forgot about them, and are now bringing them back with islands. They have made some effort with Timewalking, but that seems like a tacked-on afterthought with no real in-game meaning. (There is no believable lore explanation for its existence.)

It just doesn’t seem like they have a long-term view of how to develop the game.

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Cosmic Cleric

It just doesn’t seem like they have a long-term view of how to develop the game.

Different crews of devs over time, with changing mandates from changing executives, over time.

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Loopy

This was the primary comment i received from my friends who have given WoW a try for the first time. Nothing matters until you reach current content, which is a massive turn off for people who are expecting to be “useful” while leveling. It simply doesn’t feel fun to be a nuisance for 99% of your time in the game until you finally reach endgame.

New players don’t know what that carrot tastes like, so why should they chase it?

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Carebear

in BfA I heard that crafting professions are separate by each expansion and you level them separate too. So for example if you want to craft something from Lich King you need to level the WotLK skill line with WotlK materials…

It is a small, very small change to the right direction.. now the leveling materials will not be useless at least… you may put them to use. Imagine if someone wants to craft some outfits or some mounts etc.

The sad thing is, that now with the 7.3.5 and the change to leveling they had a golden chance to make leveling right… to remove heirlooms.. heirlooms does great damage to leveling experience.. crafting gear does not matter, quest rewards, dungeons drops, boe drops dont matter… they just make whole leveling loot useless :(

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Jokerchyld

” leveling a character used to be a way to also make money.. gold from quests, disenchant quest items, crafting materials you get while leveling… maybe some rare/epic leveling gear drops”

Oh.. you mean like in ESO. Do that every night.

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Dug From The Earth

leveling in WoW in the later levels only seems to serve the purpose of expansion content separation for the sake of difficulty. IE: At 120 in BFA, you can go back to Legion and do any content solo. (which is capped at 110).

Its a bad system, that could have been designed a lot better…. I just think Blizzard feels that there game has always been about levels, and changing that, would be too big of a change at this point in the game.

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thalendor

Yeah, it seems at this point there’s no point to leveling with each new expansion except to make sure you complete (most of) the initial story before you start things like Heroic/Mythic dungeons and raiding.

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Darkthunder

They previously squished the numbers, and are again squishing them with Battle for Azeroth. Including squishing the “item level”.

Maybe next revamp should be squishing the “level cap” from what will then be 120 maximum, down to maybe 60? Make 60 levels of more meaningful level ups, with skills, passives or talents all the way until cap.

Seems to me they really don’t know what to do after Level 100, since there are no skills, talents or passives to unlock. So what’s the point?

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Simon

Or you know, they could just increase xp gain for lower levels through improved heirlooms or whatever. Still takes a fairly long time to get to max level even with gear prepared all the way from level 1.

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Sorenthaz

Yeah I think a level squish is in order. Cutting it in half wouldn’t be a bad thing, and would actually be better in a lot of cases. 1-30 would be Catanilla, 30-40 would be Outland/Northrend, 40-50 would be Cata/Pandaria/Draenor, 50-60 could be Legion/BfA.

Though maybe that’ll be a thing they do next expansion, idk. They could make the exp required a bit higher and whatnot between levels to compensate but making it overall faster would be nice.