WoW Factor: Why people are mad at Battle for Azeroth, part one: Combat

    
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Looking closer.

One of the complicated challenges of writing about World of Warcraft is sorting out the stuff that’s happening now from the stuff that’s been happening the whole time. To use an obvious example, while the game’s aversion to any sort of planned upgrades is a problem, it’s been a problem since Cataclysm; it’s been getting worse, but if you’re angry about it in Battle for Azeroth but not before, that just means you didn’t notice it before now. And yet there are actual new things that weren’t problems before now that have, subsequently, become problems in the present expansion.

So today, I’m kicking off a series of articles talking about why WoW fans are generally saying vociferously negative things about the present expansion. It’s not meant to talk about issues that may have already existed without being noticed or the equivalent; rather, it’s stuff that is distinct and specific to this particular expansion with an eye toward how we wound up here.

Let’s start in with one of the major issues of the expansion – namely, the feel of individual classes and specs in response to the loss of Artifacts.

This is the way we won't.Of course, to understand this we have to go back and understand what Artifacts were actually doing, which was not so much providing a talent tee as a means of empowering your character. When Legion released, every single spec had a web of unlocked abilities in addition to its own set of talent choices, and every single spec was designed with the intent of working alongside these artifact weapons.

Some of these improvements were not really all that interesting; artifact picks that just improved the damage of an ability by 10% over three ranks, for example. But a lot of them did unusual things, like adding healing to an ability you used regularly, or letting you summon ghostly copies of yourself to mirror an ability, or getting a cooldown reduction upon using other abilities. And every single Artifact included a marquee ability, something that was a basic element of the artifact and of the spec it was designed for.

When Battle for Azeroth was still in the early stages, people wondered how these elements would be preserved. And really, it’s not hard to see how it could have worked; for example, Blizzard could’ve added passive abilities along the many empty levels the game currently has, so that by 110 you still had the same basic lineup of passive abilities and the same core numbers.

Instead, what the designers actually did was simply remove artifacts and add some artifact abilities in as talent choices, thereby addressing the issue by more or less taking a sledgehammer to how every single spec played.

Here’s a fine example, courtesy of Enhancement Shaman. One of the fun tricks Enhancement had from its artifact involved summoning little elemental fragments to smack into opponent when using certain abilities. From a strictly numerical standpoint, yes, this was an ability where you could cut out the effect and just adjust overall Enhancement numbers so nothing was lost.

Except that the real value of that particular ability was not fixing a DPS issue; it was in giving Enhancement a fun ability that worked in the background and felt satisfying when it went off. It wasn’t constant, but it contributed to the sense of being the rolling, walking storm that’s supposed to be core to Enhancement’s identity.

What feels worse about these various specs isn’t that their numbers are wrong. It’s that the specs were designed to work without artifacts at level 100, and so this expansion just set everyone back to those workable numbers, with no thought to the fact that playing the game at 100 wasn’t actually all that fun. Sure, it was functional, but the specs were designed through and through to be used with the various artifact abilities.

Do you ever feel like we, as a group, are collectively trying too hard?

The result is a series of specs that feels just subtly wrong – they’re functional and playable but without the spice that made them fun. It also revivified the same problem that the game had moving into Legion, whereby a large number of specs seemed to be balanced around “what works from a numerical perspective” rather than “what is actually fun to play and provides enough interesting things to do.”

You can see similar problems with the ongoing debate about cooldowns. A number of abilities that had previously been off of the global cooldown were moved to be on the global cooldown, supposedly for balance reasons. But the net effect, no matter what, is that it takes you longer to do fewer things than you were doing before.

The problem is highlighted as well by the nature of the big new banner feature of allied races. I like allied races a lot, as I’ve mentioned before, and I’ve got no problem with the requirements to unlock them… but one thing that they’ll inevitably do is start players focusing in hard on any rotational deficiencies. In Legion, the only reason you would notice that the rebalanced specs snag only with artifacts is if you chose to level something up. In Battle for Azeroth you’re encouraged to go back and level something new with your anemic ability selection, and you can’t help but notice that you’ll be suddenly getting your entire rotation in hand by the mid-80s or so – followed by a very long stretch of levels in which nothing actually changes.

It feels bad to punch things. This shouldn't be a case.The problem here is not the viability of one spec or another. These are problems, don’t get me wrong; if Shaman doesn’t feel good to play on literally any spec, that isn’t good, and if you can’t really enjoy a given spec, that’s also going to cause issues. But those are individual issues, and this is a systemic one. This is something that crosses every single spec in the game and then some.

A bunch of specs in Legion had significant issues, too. There were real problems with the complexity involved in Survival Hunter and how much you were supposed to be doing at the same time, for example, and that’s not counting the specs like Demonology and (ironically) Survival that had changed radically from what they had been. But there were plenty of other specs that were working well and that people found fun, often with good utility or fun tricks.

Now, though, none of the specs feels quite right. Some of them are better balanced than others, and some of them are more playable than others, but all of them feel the loss of the artifact weapons and their assorted powers. And it’s not just about the drop in power levels; sure, that could have been managed at the time, but let’s go ahead and just assume that artifacts pushed power levels too high to be effectively reined in.

A lot of the utility and survival skills that Blizzard nixed could be in the ability lineup with some numerical tweaks. But instead of being tweaked, the abilities were just removed. And so when people complain that the game’s combat no longer feels bad, it’s because we’re living in a post-artifact era when the design of the game has not actually accounted for that loss. We had specs designed around a feature that was removed and replaced with nothing.

Of course, technically it was replaced with something, which was the Heart of Azeroth. It has its own issues, and we’ll be talking about that next week. For now, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com; rest assured that there’s more to come in this particular series.

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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Eban Smith

One of my biggest problems with WOW is the combat.
It becomes boring real fast when you’re using the same handful of abilities over and over, level after level.
I know people don’t like clogged action bars but for me the more abilities in a rotation the better or even the more variation the better especially when leveling or just plain questing.
Also I don’t like the 2/3 min cooldown abilities, when you’re running around doing quests your barely use them.
These are primary for raiding/dungeons.

When they go here’s a new cool action you can do but it has a 90 sec cooldown I’m thinking ‘meh’.
Fun rotations and variation in skill trees should be the core of a MMORPG with the amount of content WOW has.
It’ll keep people playing longer before getting bored and unsubbing.

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Chosenxeno .

I haven’t played WoW in Years but this sounds a lot like when they did the Healing change nonsense. They decided Healers weren’t going to be allowed to carry groups anymore. Which, was stupid because every role should feel powerful. That was one of the few reasons I left. I went to Rift(Cata was terrible anyway so I was half out. Quit midway through Pandaria) where I was allowed to be a god again(then drama ensued and the Guild broke and I haven’t had a MMORPG to keep me more than a few months since. That was like 5 or 6 years ago… looking back).

Why I’m saying it’s the same as with the Healers change is because, I had seen just how powerful my Resto Druid could be(Especially during Wrath). When they started to limit that power it just sucked the fun out.

oldandgrumpy
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Kickstarter Donor
oldandgrumpy

It wasn’t fun so I voted with my feet.

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Kevin Smith

I will be honest I am one of the people that didn’t like artifacts. Once people got them pretty much maxed out they were just about unkillable. I mean you had mages running through stuff like tanks as an example. This is what made people upset in reality I believe. They got so used to the easy way when they tried to go back to making people slow down and think before jumping in it created a mass of backlash. That feeling of I am the most powerful disappeared and many didn’t like it.

They tried to get away from the massive bore that was instance running where the tank just hit the first mob pull the entire instance to a boss for an AoE party. I remember fondly when the game first came out even the trash mobs wiped groups that didn’t work together and cc them. You accidentally pulled that 6 mob now the group panics an barely survives or wipes because of one trash mob. The players today do not seem to want to have to spend time doing anything like that, they want to rush, rush, rush. Could you imagine them trying to do a full BRD run that took anywhere from an hour to two hours to complete, or the old AV’s that could take a full day.

I didn’t mind the changes myself as it felt like you actually had to pay attention and not just play on auto while watching netflix’s on another screen. Overall it is just personal preference either you like it or you don’t. I loved the story of legion but I hated the game play because of the artifacts. Again to each their own.

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Ben Willows

The WoW devs have a bad habit of creating a new and awesome system for an expansion, implementing it, improving it during the expansion, and dumping it for a streamlined cousin of the same system.

On the one hand I can understand the annoyance of having to balance classes around weapons, and inventing new ways to power up the artifact weapon in every following expansion. On the other hand the artifact weapons offer a great avenue of class and spec specific reactions in the world, class order hall dynamics to the overall story arc, and provide something that really defines the player, rather than just being called “Champion, Hero, or Emissary” all the time.

Despite the clunky grind for the artifact weapons, I loved them. I was very motivated to get as many skins for my weapons across as many classes as I could. The tower challenges were great, and it would have been awesome to see a similar system in BFA.

Order halls divided by a war between the two powers, and the rise of new sub orders would have been a great story subplot to examine during conflict between the two factions. Imagine not only recruiting new races to help with the war effort, but race / class combinations resulting in new orders to be recruited to your faction. More things to do, or race change to.

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Utakata

There must be something in the developers’ water that makes them think they can get away with making your characters powerful one expansion, then neutering and spading them in the next. Normally, that’s a formula for encouraging players to leave the game…

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kelathos .

Both my main classes felt better to play in Legion. And the weapon slot was nicely handled for upgrades. Now a lot of drops are only half a weapon, and that never feels good.

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PanagiotisLial1

I think their whole plan was to slow down the game so people dont get done too early before next expansion comes and, of course, it backfired

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Akagi

The game has been going to shit since Cataclysm. By MOP, the Hunter’s minimal range was gone and the game officially became braindead.

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Bruno Brito

Considering that one of the best raids Blizzard has ever done was in MoP, yeah kinda but not really.

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Carebear

Classes were fun in TBC and WotLK… then in Cataclysm blizzard destroyed talent trees, so they can remove them in MoP with the excuse that they suck (they didnt suck in Vanilla, TBC, WotLK, only when you destroyed them in Cataclysm).

But despite the destroyed talent trees, classes were still Fun in Cataclysm and MoP! So as far as combat goes, I think the problem started after MoP (though I prefer the TBC classes the most).

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Chosenxeno .

PvP is the real culprit. Back when I was playing WoW EVERY Resto Druid change was made because of PVP. They just couldn’t be bothered to Balance them separately even though they have more resources than everyone else. Dungeon Fighter Online has tool tips that state that skills will function differently in PVP and they have 61 CLASSES! 61!

SirUrza
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SirUrza

I don’t miss talent trees, not in WoW or in SWTOR (and I prefer WoW’s talents over SWTOR.) I think getting rid of the trees was a great idea, what I don’t like is how we seem to be stagnating on abilities. I don’t want ability bloat, I understand why it’s bad, but new toys would be nice… especially when there are so many NPCs (especially generic mobs!) from Wrath to BFA that have abilities you can easily say x-class should have.

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Fenrir Wolf

I swear, so many MMOs could use a rule of fun design oversight employee. Someone to take prototypes to the people who play these games, and have them give ’em a go. The thing with numbers is that that’s never a satisfying game, and unless they absolutely nail it, it means that “balance” feels more like someone used a random number generator on an SQL database.

That’s exactly what ESO balancing felt like on many occasions, the patch would be so clumsily, awkwardly, even unprofessionally handled that it felt like it was just for the sake of changing the game to change the game. Which would just alienate people who didn’t spend their life grinding, were also often the casuals with all the money.

That’s something that many MMO developers don’t realise. The people who life an MMO will see it as their job, they’ll pay their subscription but — beyond that — the majority of them won’t pay a penny more. Heart of Thorns was a mountain of evidence in support of that position. It’s the casuals who’ve got disposable income who’ll pay.

With freemium now (finally) on the decline, casuals won’t pay for a way out of grind, either. So the only option?

Make a Fun game that’s actually Fun to play.

With the operative word being Fun.

I bounced off of ESO. I was initially giving them almost a thousand a month, even more if I take my partner into account as well. At the end of the day, though, it wasn’t worth my time or money. It didn’t feel like ZOS respected me or my money.

A lot of people felt that way with Heart of Thorns. That’s why the open world is easy now because it allows people to just doop around with concept builds without being obliterated the moment they show their face.

An obsession with numbers doesn’t create fun gameplay. Changing numbers to just change the game for the sake of nothing more than changing the game isn’t fun. What’s fun is something that feels nice to play.

This is why I’ve been a long term advocate of difficulty settings and scaling in MMOs. I feel that the open world, dungeons, and raids alike should all have difficulty settings. They shouldn’t change the rewards (we don’t need a class hierarchy in a video game), but it should offer challenge for those who want it.

Similarly I believe that all content should scale to the amount of people playing it. Of course, GW2 is a masterclass with its events but it’d be lovely if all content could be played with 1, 10, or even a hundred people.

What the MMO doesn’t do, what the MMO must do to stay relevant, is cater to the moods of its players.

Sometimes you want to just have a laugh and not feel stressed or anxious, other times you want to test yourself and see how you do in more difficult scenarios. This also gives new players the chance to learn the game and build up their confidence before tackling more difficult content.

Instead of something as atrociously, disgustingly sensible as that, though? We’ve got numbers. Nnnnnumbers!

Sigh.

hurbster
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hurbster

I’ve had fun in ESO since I started playing.