It’s been a while, and for good reason. But now that we’re nearly three months into Battle for Azeroth, the World of Warcraft community as a whole has had some time to lose that “we finally have a new expansion” luster, and the reaction as a community is turning to varying flavors of exhaustion. Where are the weapon drops, what the heck is so boring, why is nothing working right, why aren’t I having fun?
If it were just a few people saying it – or, for that matter, just me – that’d be a pretty simple question to answer. But it’s more complicated than all of that. And let’s start by talking about that video of a broken watch telling the right time twice per day, which is basically where I consider the Asmongold video we posted earlier this week to fall.
I think there’s at least one very important takeaway from the video that is not covered in the video itself: It’s being made by the target audience for Blizzard’s current design philosophy.
Let’s not mince words: This entire video is shot through with the philosophy that everything below mythic raiding is, in fact, the training wheels for the Real Game. You can’t escape that fact. It’s even stated at a few points that it’d be great to see what the personal Armory pages for developers would look like, just to know if they’re even playing the game they’re developing.
But let’s also not mince words when we say that the game, ever since Wrath of the Lich King, has been rolling hard on the “raid at the hardest difficulty or get out” train. We saw cracks in that when WOTLK finally made badge currency into the way you just buy tier armor; you could upgrade it by earning specific drops from higher difficulties, but if you just wanted the tier sets, you could run heroics until you earned the currency to buy them.
That got rolled back pretty quickly and kept getting rolled back more firmly over time, but Warlords of Draenor was when it became really explicit: no more tier gear even in Raid Finder difficulty, a new Mythic raiding difficulty, and get your group together on a regular basis or you might as well not even consider getting decent gear.
Legion rolled some of that back a little, but only halfway. It also leaned hard on the idea that dungeons should also run like that branch of raiding, that Mythic+ dungeons are the real expression of dungeon content and everything below that is mediocre whatever at best.
None of these is a good decision, but today I’m not interested in picking apart why that’s the case. Instead, what is interesting to me is how at this point even the people who are deep in this philosophy are now fed up with the system. Submitting to constant RNG for every single reward is starting to just become exhausting, especially with the sheer volume of stuff you need to have happen (get the drop, get good secondaries, get a decent Titanforge, and so forth).
And… yeah, that’s where we get into a very important point, where the game has really leaned in hard on the idea of excitement over accomplishment. This is something that the game has doubled down on over the years, and the removal of badges for upgrading items and the introduction of Titanforging masked the fact that it’s slowly and subtly getting even worse.
I think I see where it comes from, too, because in many ways this is something that happens a lot in Diablo III. Diablo III loves its crazy randomized loot dropping everywhere, and that’s part of what makes the game fun. But Diablo III is also a different game, and I don’t simply mean in the sense that it’s at least nominally a single-player game (or can be played that way). Its entire philosophy of gearing is different.
For one thing, Diablo III doesn’t feature players sharing loot; loot drops everywhere. It’s constantly exploding all over. For another, the loot you don’t want or need can be converted into materials meant to create other things. The game also lets you alter the randomized stats (again, for a resource cost), and it’s balanced around letting you forever refine and improve both your build and your gear. Blizzard kept the part where you get randomized loot without the many, many elements of the game designed to rectify that randomness.
Yes, there’s a moment of excitement when you get something new, or at least there was. But at this point it feels more like a chore. The sense of excitement is tempered because you have no control over whether or not what you got is remotely useful for you; instead, what you feel is relief when the item is actually worthwhile instead of vendor trash.
This change is visible all through the game, and it informs a big chunk of why stuff, well, isn’t as fun as it used to be. There’s a moment of excitement when you get a new level and no worry about figuring out what you’re putting a specialization point into… but it vanishes as soon as you realize that the new level didn’t change anything. The game has managed to combine the worst part of level scaling (your power doesn’t go up just via leveling up) with the worst part of non-scaling games (you have levels where the only increases are to stats). The excitement fades away pretty quickly, replaced with lethargy.
All of this stuff compounds, too. People have loudly complained that actually getting weapons in the game is agonizing, and on the rare instances you actually get a weapon you tend to get the wrong kind of weapon, which I’m pretty sure is listed somewhere in the litany of deific punishments for a sinful world. There’s no incentive to run most dungeon modes simply because, well, there aren’t any rewards to be had there; even Mythic+ caches are a crapshoot and a half.
The worst part is that I’m pretty sure I know exactly why all of these changes were made, simply because someone decided that the most dreadful possible outcome the game could face is one where people who “haven’t earned it” have decent gear. It’s like an almost pathological fear, that if we still had badges and only two difficulties for raiding then it would be possible for someone to just run Heroic dungeons and get good gear. Horrors.
And that’s where that video really falls apart; it talks about how there’s no way to prove that the character with good gear was any good instead of just lucky. He’s right about the fact that good gear doesn’t prove anything, but it’s wrapped up in that continued sense of needing to Be The Elite. You have to make sure that no one gets these rewards who doesn’t “deserve” it.
And I think Blizzard knows this. I think, for that matter, it’s designed a game where excitement and drops are the rule of the land because then you’re never actually done; something better might drop. Instead of having a game wherein you can accomplish something over time, you have a game wherein you need to just continually be grinding away, where your upgrades won’t be obsoleted with the next major update but when random chance drops the exact same weapon but now with better secondary stats forcing you to fight with someone who has gotten no weapons in your raid group.
Whether or not one of them has +10 to rolling boulders uphill forever is a question for another time.
But it gets worse. Feedback is welcome down below or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, but please, do join me next week when I talk about how Lore’s already tone-deaf statements are completely wrong and we’re still farming for Nature Resistance gear. Really.