WoW Factor: Why people are mad at Battle for Azeroth, part 5: Conclusions and peeling the mask

    
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Today, in Bad Forward Planning Theater.

This week, after some 7000 words on this particular topic, I’m starting off by acknowledging what should be a rather obvious fact: My series does not cover all of the issues World of Warcraft is suffering from. In fact, there are some pretty massive problems the game has that this column has, at best, brushed against. And that’s by design.

One of the points of this exercise was to outline the reasons why players are upset with Battle for Azeroth in the specific. That is not to say that Legion was without its issues; indeed, its issues kept me off the game for a while during that expansion! But I didn’t want to cover issues that weren’t really distinct to this one expansion, and it’s because the real reason these problems are being commented on now has nothing to do with those problems being new.

No, this all comes down to the problem wherein these issues are now notable because you no longer have anything distracting you from the problems.

One of the things that I touched upon when I talked about why Activision is not the “villain behind Blizzard” is the idea that a lot of the problems the game has now are not novel things. They’re the continuations of bad ideas that Blizzard invested in a long time ago, a sequence of poor choices that have been shot through the game even longer than they’ve been absent. There are a lot of things we notice as problems now because we have tastes of something better and a sense that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Many of the things that people are upset about in BfA, similarly, are things that were already problems with the game. I’ve seen lots of people complaining about the fact that normal dungeons are pointless, for example, and while I don’t disagree, this isn’t actually something new to the game with this particular expansion. This has been the case for a while now, only intensifying over time.

So why are people noticing it now? Because there’s not enough stuff distracting you.

Bart, stop creating a diversion!

People will put up with a lot of garbage so long as they’re having fun. You can see it in action right now, and I count myself in that crowd; I’m willing to ultimately forgive an awful lot of issues in games where I’m having fun. And make no mistake, Legion did have issues running through it from top to bottom, but at the end of the day it was still fun because the good stuff overwhelmed it.

If BfA had continued on to basically just be Legion but More, I don’t think people would be as bothered. Some of the features that were supposed to serve as an underpinning for the expansion, like worldwide scaling, were actually welcomed when they arrived. It’s telling that people are now unhappy with level scaling when the idea of it had several people (including myself) pretty psyched about the possibility.

Ultimately, though, we can’t talk about the game we wish we had, just the one we have. And what do we have? A title that has, almost systematically, removed the things that keep people from paying attention to bad design decisions that could get a pass in an expansion like, say, Legion.

The Heart of Azeroth, as a system, barely merits being called a system. Far from being the idea that was originally floated of allowing you to turn items into self-determined types of Legendary items, it combines the worst aspects of both Legion Legendaries and Artifact Weapons into one tedious slog while simultaneously removing the parts that made those systems fun. It also exacerbates a serious and existing problem with the game’s loot systems and itemization.

Combat, which had been balanced into a good foundational space in Legion, has once again been hacked at in a bid to make things simpler without a thought to the fun people were having. As a result, not only does it spend an extended period of time feeling like the exact same rotation for most of your leveling experience (which is compounded by the level sync ensuring that it’s rare for a level to feel like a reward), it also completely excises elements that people found enjoyable in favor of a half-baked gameplay concept.

Leveling feels tedious and irrelevant due to a complete lack of anything being done during most of the level bands aside from just more quests, often the same sort you’ve seen for ages. You can get the entirety of zone stories without outleveling them now, which is good, but you get no sense of the larger stories tying the zones together and no real sense of continuity, path, or scope.

Please cite one thing that you thought about Baine before this expansion. Go ahead. I'll wait.

And the actual story itself is a mishmash of incoherent character motivations and plot beats that simply mirror earlier events without the emotional weight of their buildup. Any major story feels about half as impactful each time you do it even without those limitations, and the second go-round of “the Horde has a Bad Leader who needs to be killed” would be tedious even if it didn’t involve massively derailing the characters involved. It doesn’t even have the narrative throughline that kept Warlords of Draenor from being a complete waste of time.

It later made Warlords of Draenor a complete waste of time, of course. You know, just as an incidental.

Normally I like to look to the future and be optimistic, but at this point it’s hard to really see how. Not in the sense that there’s no way to fix this, of course. It’s entirely possible to bring the game back to a state wherein people are willing to play it and enjoy it, something to slip away from the whole frenzy of negativity surrounding it right now.

Unfortunately, doing so would require an entirely new team behind the game, I suspect. It would need people willing to acknowledge how badly this had been flubbed and taking a look at the groundwork of the game, re-examining what made people connect with the title in the first place. This is no small feat, and I suspect that it’s unlikely in the extreme that we’d go that route. You can even now see people misreading the problem, like saying that the problem is that the cutscenes are so much better than the gameplay (true from a technical standpoint, but hardly the reason people have distaste for the story).

In short, there are two problems here. The first is, well, all of the problems that I’ve mentioned over the past several weeks. The second is that with all of these problems erasing the strength of the previous expansion, people are no longer overlooking more foundational problems that WoW has allowed to fester for years. So the things that could be overlooked on account of still basically having fun are no longer being overlooked because people aren’t having fun.

Actually, “people aren’t having fun” could have just been the entire article, but that’s a little more vague than six columns on the matter, isn’t it?

All of the posts in this 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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Tenthyr Adi

I distinctly remember there being an interview where they directly said that all the story was written basically to fit against whatever gameplay was already being created.

The fact that the actual writers weren’t directly influencing stuff from the very outset in a ding-dang RPG was kind of a huge red flag to me.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Frankly it’s kind of presumptuous to assume that the vast majority of people that quit WoW have all these grievances with one expansion. You do make some good points, but still this series just feels like you took every single WoW grievance ever uttered, stuck it in a blender with out the top on, and let that thing rip to see what ever stuck to the walls.

If I didn’t make it clear yet I have not logged in to WoW since October, I really don’t have any bias towards a game I no longer have an active interest in.

((Edited by mod to remove the personal attacks. Please review the commenting code.))

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Tenthyr Adi

I… Okay? Your complaint here seems to be that theres some arbitrary maximum of issues someone can have for a piece of media, I guess?

Like, seeing Eliot’s WoW articles for long enough, it’s pretty obvious to me he’s in the same boat I am: He loves the game enough to criticize it’s issues. Eliot’s problem now is that the game’s stripped away the bits he actually loved enough that it’s not really possible to forgive said issues. I’m on that boat, as well.

It’s okay that you don’t agree with that! Criticism is subjective and anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense. But, it’s not really okay to say that this is somehow manufactured: the writer took the time to fully and succinctly articulate his problems with the game in a fully understandable way. He’s not saying that every single person has every single one of these grievences. He’s summarizing what a lot of people have SAID, in one place, clearly.

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cursedseishi

Don’t bother feeding the troll. There’s always one of ’em in these articles, and they’re easy to spot considering Mordy hasn’t ever posted in the positive articles Eliot’s wrote.

Just report and move on.

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Cry0

I quit legion around half way through because I ran out of free time to play – I enjoyed it while I played.

I picked WoW back up with the free weekend; spent some gold on tokens, bought BFA and a 30 day sub. Leveled to 120, dabbled in everything there is.

To me the expansion comes down to a few things.

1) First off, the stat squish sucks. I left legion able to push 1 million dps, putting huge numbers up when cleaving multiple targets. I come back and feel like a wet noodle gearing up to do 10-12k dps. I understand why they happen – but it makes coming back to the game feel wonky when you now do 1% of the damage you did before.

2) There are too many completely disjointed things to do.
– Why are there 2 continents with 3 zones each? Why is it not just one continent that we fight over?
– Why are the war fronts fighting over southshore and arathi basin? Why aren’t they using these new continents for this.
– What the heck is the purpose of the island adventures? Again, why isn’t this part of the new continents?

It feels like a bunch of people had a bunch of ideas and they just jammed them all in.

The island adventures seem utterly pointless when I get Azerite through plenty of other activities just like I got AP in Legion through dungeons, WQs, etc. It seems like it was added just for the sake of adding something new to the AP grind of legion — but it isn’t meaningful new its just an odd ball distraction that I feel compelled to do because I need the reward, not because it is remotely fun in any capacity. It is an utterly anti-social experience joining with 3 completely random people to kill some random junk mobs and loot treasure chests for 15 minutes.

3) Azerite armor/Heart of Azeroth. I agree with the writer here. The necklace is just annoying. I’m forced to level it up so I can use the abilities on my gear. But the abilities on my gear are generally nothing that cool.. so I don’t necessarily care about them outside of the fact that I know I need them to min/max.

The gear in general is lackluster. I remember when I was quitting the devs were talking about how they wished they didn’t have so many spec defining must-have items. Legendaries and trinkets primarily. Well now its all just bleh. Nothing is exciting – my “best” trinket doesn’t change how I play in any way. It is just a stat stick with an on hit effect that adds more stats. My necklace is just a stat stick that I have to level up so I can unlock some extra run speed or a random sheild effect on my shoulders/head/chest.

It isn’t exciting.

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Joey

I never got the hype with Legion. I feel like a lot of the gripes people have with modern WoW are in full blast in Legion in my opinion. All the content people raved about still was hampered by some of the most boring class design, no character customization, lame story, boring gearing and a host of other issues that just turn me off to modern WoW.

I actually enjoyed WoD a lot more than both Legion and BFA. At least that version of the game felt like WoW still. The classes in the expansion were still some what fun to play despite the mild prune they went through.

I feel like WoW anymore is being completely designed by non-gamers anymore. Everything about it just reeks of corporate influence. The game doesn’t have any soul anymore, it just feels generic. It does look pretty some what but that isn’t enough for me.

I’m glad WoW sucks now, it gave me a chance to play other games finally and I’m so glad for that.

Also, ESO has been a nice go to MMO to scratch that MMO itch in the mean time while we wait for one of these indie MMOs to finally come out.

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Utakata

“Unfortunately, doing so would require an entirely new team behind the game, I suspect. It would need people willing to acknowledge how badly this had been flubbed and taking a look at the groundwork of the game, re-examining what made people connect with the title in the first place.”

Let’s start with one that thinks outside the box and their hubris.

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IronSalamander8 .

WoW has indeed had these underlying issues for a long time but BfA magnifies it all with the way it feels like Legion with all the fun sucked out of it, but while Legion wasn’t perfect, I at least found ways to enjoy it.

I’ve never been a huge WoW fan anyway, but BfA was a major letdown after first loving the changes to demonolgy Warlocks.

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Bruno Brito

You scroll down to see people complaining about WoW. Yet, LOLeg will find a way to spin this as just Eliot’s, and MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE HAVING FUN WITH WOW AND THE GAME IS THE BEST IT HAS EVER BEEN.

Because it seems like we can’t just like stuff, knowing their pros and cons. We need to fool ourselves into blind zealotry now.

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Sally Bowls

I agree. But it is not just here or WoW – I don’t find much reasoned analysis on abortion, Trump, Brexit, SJW, etc. either. There is usually a clear consensus in each community; it’s that the consensus depends upon the community

The typical youtuber makes far more money ranting about the Cause of the Day than reasoned analysis or “most games are average. most gamers are average. you do know what average means?” It works on both extremes; excessive support finds its filter bubble as easily as well as excessive criticism, it’s just there is next to no overlap amongst audiences. Let me explicitly say that I am not accusing anyone of anything, but I suspect Bree makes more money off of articles criticizing WoW than praising WoW. Nothing sinister; if you like football or mobile or WoW, there are other sites for you. I question whether the majority of commenters [currently] like MMOs; I have few doubts about the majorities feelings about WoW. Neither good nor bad, just that there are other sites for different people to go to. Again, the post-Jef staff do like MMOs despite their reservations about trends.

Ergo, I doubt whether the next WoW expansion is “better” or “worse” than this one will have all that big an impact on the number of complaints about WoW in the complain-about-WoW corners of the internet. Same for the pro-sites. tl;dr; Gaming social media and sites are not Consumer Reports.

P.S.: why warm up if you are not going to pitch? Rather than the “MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE HAVING FUN WITH WOW” a more Reddit-style comment would be “if WoW is this bad, just how truly awful must your MMO be that so many more people choose WoW every month?”

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Bruno Brito

I don’t disagree with you in any way, shape or form. I’m just baffled at the mental gymnastics that some people require.

Why the hell can’t i like something DESPITE it’s shortcomings? Am i that desperate for the thing i like to be good?

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Armsbend

The pendulum has likely always swung this way. It did in 1933 Germany. I’m sure it did with the nationalism of Europe in 1910 – allowing WW1 to happen. Napoleon couldn’t have been him without zealotry. Certainly not Rome. And imagine fighting alongside God-King Alexander against the almighty Persians – zealot wouldn’t have been a strong enough term.

tl;dr this time is no different than any other time. We are just gearing up for the inevitable.

edit – probably more in response to Sally than BB

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Bruno Brito

Nah, it always has, for sure. But it’s not like we can’t be better than our predecessors. We should at least aim to.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Two hours into the BfA beta and I knew I wasn’t going to bother with this expansion. What finally sealed the disinterest was where they put the Alliance mission board. Not out where it was easily accessible, but in the dark hold of a ship, with barely enough room for the NPCs, which you got to by taking a circuitous route. In other words, a complete pain in the butkus.

And as I considered the message the developers were sending with this design decision and others, I came to a realization. Here’s a little story to illustrate.

What if you were invited to spend the night at a friend’s house, somebody you’d been friends with for years, had spent untold hours with and had what you thought were great times. You arrive and the house is messy and unclean. Okay, so you’ve known each other long enough to let that pass because you’re friends, but it does give you a little uncomfortable feeling, almost as if it didn’t matter that you were coming.

Dinner is a concoction of frozen meals, with heaps of toppings to hide how completely tasteless it is. Again, long-time friends, you didn’t expect anything special, but you see that little effort was put into making sure you enjoyed yourself.

Finally, bedtime. Turns out your bed is an inflatable mattress thrown on the floor in the basement with a faded sheet, a flattened pillow, and a worn-out blanket.

That’s when you realize that your great, good friend doesn’t understand you and actually doesn’t like you. And it shows in every decision they made.

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Rodney Perry

This was perfect!!

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Zora

Blizzard has its ambitions firmly elsewhere so I really don’t expect any turning around… when you need to appoint a new director and you can’t find anyone more qualified than Hazzikostas in your entire roster nor hire someone else skilled from outside (as they did with Greg Street back then) that tells you they don’t really care to invest for the long term.

The game just exists and they are fine cruising it, but it does not appear part of their larger strategies any longer.

Where their ambitions actually lie is to be debated because they don’t seem to know themselves at the moment and with the mess that must be their pipeline they definitely have more pressing issues than devoting effort to something they gave up onto a while ago.

If they have anyone skilled in the company still, they certainly are not putting them to work on wow, that’s for sure.

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Danny Smith

“People aren’t having fun” + “THIS CHARGES MONEY PER MONTH TO PLAY” is a pretty neat little package to sum up the mass exodus i’ve seen from former wow players who uninstalled it with this expansion. There are free to play games which dont get away with mechanics half as annoying as the mobile game style ones BfA adopted.