It’s easy to just think of this year’s BlizzCon as having dumb stuff on display for Diablo, but let’s be real here – there were enough missteps to go around, right down to having a nice helping of bad choices on display for World of Warcraft.
Lest you think I’m claiming that WoW was as badly mismanaged as the Diablo: Immortal reveal, let me just say right here that is obviously not the case. There were a lot of things that were done with WoW that were well-received, and the overall attitude was one that I’d describe as generally positive… from the people who spent a lot of money to visit the convention and attend the panels. But there were still some things that landed like lead balloons even among that crowd, and that’s among the most devoted of devoted fans.
And the clunks that happened? They were dumb. It was a series of dumb mistakes that didn’t need to happen at any point, from bad creative decisions that a lot of people saw coming and had already critiqued to some design decisions with obvious bad ideas baked right in. So now that we’re on the other size of BlizzCon, let’s talk a little bit about that.
Yes, there’s dumb storytelling
Before, whenever people would point out that Sylvanas was being set up as Garrosh 2.0, this entire BlizzCon was filled with knowing winks and what someone most have thought was sly hinting about the fact that this is exactly what’s happening. It’s not even subtle. It’s right there, down to Anduin and Saurfang, all of the post-con talk about choosing, so on and so forth.
This isn’t new. It was set up back in the prequel novel when Calia Menethil was basically moved around as a figurehead. And now we’re here, and we all know that yes, this is going the same way Garrosh did. In fact, it’s literally one of the things I proposed as where the story can go from here, and it’s boring, and it’s dumb, and it does not actually add anything to the game.
If anything, it subtracts something important, and that’s the sense of any shades of grey. Even when Saurfang gets the Warchief seat (this isn’t really being hinted at any longer).
Let’s assume that yes, Sylvanas enlists the power of the Old Gods, and yes, she has to be put down. And let’s go a notch further and even assume that yes, the ultimate endgame as sort of vaguely hinted at is that this is the end of the faction conflicts, that the two sides come closer together in a formal sense. Is that payoff?
Not really because at this point the Horde is literally producing world-ending threats on the regular. Ending this with a “more honorable” Horde and the Alliance working together just means that the Alliance has chosen to be intensely dumb yet again, deciding that they promised to be good this time so it’s all fine. You don’t feel like it’s a real conflict; you feel like the Alliance is running to a fair distance again because the Horde promised not to pull the football away.
And that’s all suspecting that this is actually a change to the status quo in a big way, one that could have been countenanced in dozens or even hundreds of different ways but involved another expansion of the Horde being even more cartoonishly evil. (Imagine if the expansion had started with both sides coming together and making Greymane the big bad!)
It’s dumb storytelling, Charlie Brown. And it feels like the only reason why the general reaction wasn’t eye-rolling exhaustion was because of Chris Metzen showing up for a note of surprise. That was fun.
Dumb answers, too
I’ve said this before, but when Ion Hazzikostas explained that “you could plot out your upgrades on a calendar” as his reason for not using currency and explains that the team has been straddling a line between random and predictable rewards, my first reaction was to facepalm. It was like something breaking in me. “Oh God,” I thought, “he thinks they nailed this. He thinks that this is a case where he almost got it right and the team just needs to adjust the details.”
He’s wrong, of course. Currency and predictable upgrades are a good system. But I didn’t want to stop there this time, so while walking around for half an hour I came up with three other reward systems designed entirely to adhere to the stated design goals. None of them provide a strict schedule for your upgrades, all of them have reasons for you to be excited for random drops, and all of them also give you a reliable and predictable path.
The Mysterious system: Whenever you clear a dungeon, complete a certain number of Emissary quests, or clear a raid wing, you get a Mysterious Garment. A Mysterious Garment can be used for one of three things. You can turn it into a specific piece of armor at the lowest applicable reward tier for your item level, upgrade an existing piece of armor by a chunk of levels, or reforge and add secondary stats.
This ensures that random drops are still valuable (you won’t need to turn a Garment into a shoulder piece if you get one to drop for you) while giving you a path to upgrades no matter what; it also means that getting valuable secondaries, bonuses, or Titanforges are still lucky because they save you effort.
The Reroll system: A joint effort of the Bronze Dragonflight, the gnomes, and the goblins, the Fate Reroller allows you to feed a piece of equipment you’ve gotten back into the streams of fate. You can trade it in for any other piece available from the same pool of items, upgrade it to a higher tier of item, or add/change secondary stats and other bonuses. Unfortunately, fate doesn’t like to be changed; you acquire charges at a set rate and can only store a set amount, meaning that you only get so many chances for improvement.
This one still allows you to control what you get so long as you get something in the first place; you could easily lock it to the “tier” of equipment you’ve cleared, so you can only get Heroic raid equipment if you’ve cleared the current Heroic raid. It’d also be helpful to tie some changes to random chance, so that you have a shot at getting a higher Titanforge, but no certainty about it.
The Craft system: Instead of currency, bosses will definitely drop some specialized crafting reagents if they don’t award you a piece of armor. These reagents can be assembled by crafters or used by NPC crafters (at a worse exchange rate) to assemble corresponding pieces of armor, along with other common crafting reagents. Every profession gets in on it, too; Jewelcrafters can craft on sockets, Scribes can add specialized additional stats, and so forth. No matter what your profession, you can either craft your armor directly or add something special to crafted armor.
Again, drops are strictly speaking better, because you get them right away and don’t cost gold or any other legwork. But this also gives crafters a role in the long-term of the game, and would drive player engagement with one another.
I don’t mean to imply that any of these systems is flawless or doesn’t need tuning. This isn’t evidence I’m smarter than the people at Blizzard; quite the opposite. I cannot imagine that Blizzard’s staff isn’t capable of thinking of these ideas and refining them into a much better form.
But therein lies the problem. If I could come up with three systems to accomplish the stated goals while just idly contemplating, that leaves us with one of three options. Either the designers never bothered thinking about these things, they tried them but none of them worked (unlikely, since we probably would hear about it in some capacity), or the stated goals are not actually true and the reasons why we’re stuck with this random hellscape has nothing to do with it.
And dumb kneecapping
Another thing that I’ve said before is that it’s astonishing how quickly the air went out of the room when it was announced that the culminating dungeon of Mechagon would be an eight-boss Mythic-only dungeon. This was something people were excited about right up until that point, and it highlights a problem with a portion of the playerbase and the way that the game is laser-focused on ensuring that the dungeon finder is pointless without actually removing anything.
Heroic dungeons, at this point, are pointless. They don’t do anything. So an awful lot of people do them once for quest clears and then just… stop. There’s no reason to go back. Nothing is added at this point by having normal, Heroic, Mythic, and Mythic+ keystones… except for the fact that they ensure you’re not using the dungeon finder.
As with many poor decisions, this seems to be based on the assumption that it’ll push people toward higher difficulties and more fixed-group activities. But that sudden silence didn’t sound like people excited to try something harder; it sounded like people stunned that a fun new romp promising lots of open-world content suddenly will end in an exceedingly long dungeon many DPS will probably swiftly give up on ever seeing even if they might otherwise want to.
This is the developers kneecapping themselves. They’re trying to push a specific playstyle and succeeding mostly at pushing players away from the content that most of them assume they’ll just never get to see, which is something less than a victory for design. Announcing the “megadungeon” as a series of new winged instances at normal and up would probably have been met with the same cheers everything else about Mechagon had gotten up until that point.
And therein lies the problem; the foundation was there. It wasn’t a Diablo Immortal scenario wherein they had the wrong reveal for the wrong audience. The audience was eager and ready, but the reveal was tailored for no one.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I’m going to take on the flip side and highlight the smart things that Blizzard managed for WoW at BlizzCon. It’s actually a sizable list!