WoW Factor: Why Legion 2 wouldn’t win back the World of Warcraft crowd

    
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Sit back and enjoy the show.

Let’s talk about fan expectations and naked fanservice for a bit. In fact, let’s start with the Power Nine from Magic: the Gathering, and perhaps the greatest of the batch, the infamous Black Lotus.

The Power Nine is a group of nine cards considered wildly overpowered. The five Moxen, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Timetwister, and Black Lotus are all far more powerful than they have any right being, and they are also some of the most requested cards for reprints in the game. Yet the closest we’ve ever gotten was an online-only reprint for the online version of the card game, wherein they were otherwise unavailable. So why doesn’t Wizards of the Coast just reprint them?

The answer, aside from power level, is simple: Because once they’re reprinted, that’s it. Printing out another set of these widely demanded cards is something you can only do once, and every subsequent time is much less impactful. Each time you try to win back the crowd with your greatest hits, the less relevant it is to finally see this stuff again. 

At this point, World of Warcraft already had its big fanservice expansion. Legion didn’t just consist of bringing back all of the big hits of prior expansions (complete with memorable class NPCs and even a Gilnean town tossed into Val’sharah with the weirdness remarked upon in-universe); it also consisted of all those bizarre pie-in-the-sky things you didn’t think would ever happen like, well, going to Argus. It was honestly impressive how completely the expansion managed to deliver basically everything from fan wish lists.

And honestly, yes, that was a good time for it. Player confidence was low after the collapse of Warlords of Draenor. There was a lot of anxiety and consternation. A good fan-favoring expansion was a great way to win back the crowd, something Legion did pretty well. That’s not to say it was without issues, several of which I remarked on at the time, but it was at least a good place to start convincing people to come back.

But you see the problem. You can’t win back the crowd by just doing that again.

This was probably supposed to be fanservice. It doesn't work at all, but it was probably supposed to be.

For one thing, while memories of the Gilnean stories from Cataclysm had time to fade into fuzzy appreciation, Legion was not that long ago. Seriously, Battle for Azeroth is less than a year old; it just feels like it’s been clogging up the game for ages. Our trip to the fanservice factory is not such a distant point in time, and the stuff that it drew upon had already started to wear out its welcome by the end of the expansion.

Really, was anyone excited to keep farting around with the Valarjar or the Dreamweavers by the end of the expansion? We were ready for something new. Two years was enough time for everyone to get a bit worn out on all of the familiar elements in the expansion, often recycled without much more development beyond “Do you remember this thing? It’s back!”

The stuff that sticks with you after you get past the fanservice was more about what was actually being added to the game. That winds up being a much smaller category of stuff, because when your expansion is first and foremost a celebration of the past, there’s just less space for the new. We definitely got some new stuff, ranging from the Highmountain Tauren to Suramar, but even a lot of the new stuff was itself fanservice-laden. Yes, Argus was neat; do you remember it past it being a thematic homage to Outland all over again? Does it stick in the memory the same way?

But that’s the other thing. Legion didn’t sell itself on being an expansion filled with fanservice. It clearly was one, but its marketing was all about bookending old story beats and closing the book on things. What people liked about it was basically top-to-bottom stuff that drew on the best parts of the old and added something new or useful on top of that.

See, if the Broken Isles had just been laden with fan favorites, it wouldn’t have provided good feelings beyond the early exploration. Instead, they went hand-in-hand with tuned combat balanced around Artifacts, the balanced system for class halls, the diversity available with world quests, and so forth. The mechanics of the expansion actually worked, and it didn’t have the perpetual half-baked blandness of more or less everything in Battle for Azeroth.

Just popping out a new expansion with your favorites feels like it’s papering over the issues people actually have with the game. And make no mistake, Legion did paper over a lot of issues, but it also had a lot of positive aspects. I even wrote a whole series of columns talking about why people are pissed about BfA that solely focuses on problems not present in the prior expansion.

Ship of foolishness.

And that’s the biggest reason why a fanservice explosion won’t fix the issues with the game: The people who are playing (or more probably, watching with abstract awareness) will know exactly what’s going on unless some major changes are announced alongside it.

To some extent, yes, the two can go hand-in-hand. I certainly would be more excited if the developers announced at BlizzCon that the next expansion brings back talent trees, and Artifacts in multiple forms, and the badge system from Wrath of the Lich King. But those are bits of fan service relating to playing the game, not the lore. If the announcement is for the game to play just like now but you can play as Vrykul and Eredar and please resubscribe, my reaction is a slow stare and a shake of my head.

There are a lot of rumblings at this point that the game’s narrative is basically secondary to what the developers want to do, that the team comes up with mechanics and then the narrative team has to make it work somehow. To a certain extent, that sounds dubious to me; after all, there are too many places where the same goal could be accomplished with less awful writing. But that should also illustrate part of the issue with trying to fix legitimate issues with mechanics by promising you all the lore you want just the way you want it.

That’s not to say that I don’t expect the next expansion to roll big for some long-time fan asks. Some of the mechanical changes I mentioned in my last column even skew that way; things like bringing back talent trees have been asked for pretty much since they were removed. It’s just that you can’t roll out the same asks as Legion and expect all to be forgiven. No one is going to be happy if the next expansion is All Our Greatest Hits Volume 2.

All right, some people are going to be happy, but they’re happy with the state of the game now. They’re going to be happy with anything that doesn’t set their hard drives on fire. That’s not a robust fitness test.

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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Ald

I honestly believe it’s too late. They could release the greatest expansion ever and it wouldn’t matter. I think they know that too. The ship has sailed.

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Christmas Dog

I have been reading this in trade chat since Cataclysm.

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Ben Stone

Blizzard are just tone deaf. They only hear part of the conversation. When people were complaining about artefact weapons, it was because the never-ending grind was boring, and they couldn’t Xmog or get other types of weapons. So the solution was bringing in the neck, which had all the grind, and none of the fun stuff?

Now we have a new version, which still has the grind, and the fun stuff doesn’t go far enough.

Not to mention how broken class balance is. Look at the class composition in high raids and Mythic+. It’s just sad.

SirUrza
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SirUrza

“Legion 2” won’t win back the crowd because BFA is Legion 2.

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Carebear

And we believed Ghostcrawler was wow problem… Until Ion came to prove that there is no bottom to the barrel…

When the devs stop playing gods, trying to manipulate every game session we have, then maybe MMOs will be good again..

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Bango on Laurelin

I liked Legion, but I did love Mists of Pandaria – the last expac where everything was about our characters and not some artificial progression of a thing (garrisons, artefacts, heart)…

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Joey

I think WoW has been bad since WoD. The introduction of the Diablo 3 developers have really changed WoW into almost a AARPG lite version of WoW.

I don’t even think of it as an MMO these days, since so much of the RPG has been streamlined out in favor of the Action RPG. The only thing I would say is left in the game that reminds me of older WoW is the heroic and mythic raiding. The rest of the game just feels like Diablo lite.

Also, their insistence of pushing WoW into the e-sports scene has just been bad for the game in my opinion. The amount of people interested in speed running dungeons is rather small and the fact they are designing classes around this type of content just makes me sad.

People praised Legion a lot and while it had a ton of content, I feel like it shares a lot of the DNA of the negative aspects of BFA.

Legion to me felt like World of Diablocraft same as BFA.

I’m glad people are still enjoying it, but I won’t spend another dime on retail as long as they keep these design ethos.

I honestly think the current team is completely out of touch as to how to make a fun MMO.

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Utakata

…or did Legion feel fanservice’y because BFA lead us to a pointless faction war that seemed more anti-climatic to Legion than anything? I mean, I’m not sure what you mean by “fan service” here. For me, Legion was exciting. BfA is just dull for the most part.

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Kickstarter Donor
mysecretid

I’m with Uta on this one.

I mentioned before that, prior to picking up Legion, I’d played World of Warcraft for approximately two months, total. One month at launch, and one month shortly thereafter because a friend wanted to play together.

I absolutely loved Legion, because (for me, anyway) it was fun, and engaging, and full of interesting story bits.

I quit the game with Battle for Azeroth because I found that expansion dull, player-manipulative, mechanistic, and focused on a conflict (the renewed player-versus-player faction war) that I didn’t care about, and which made almost zero plausible sense from an in-universe story perspective.

I think I see the point Eliot is trying to make here about the limitations of so-called fan-service in games, but for me as an effectively “new” WoW player, the main issue was (and remains) much simpler: Battle for Azeroth simply isn’t fun to play.

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tiltowait

The faction war bugs me now that you point it out. They put so much effort into making orcs/humans/dwarves/etc seem like basically good people with a couple bad seeds, everyone gets along so well and is so nice, and then all of a sudden hatred/genocide. Then lovey friends working together to stop it. It’s like they can’t decide if they want carebears or game of thrones, so they decided to do both.

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NecrococoPlays

I think that’s because they have the idea that “serious” WoW players (from Vanilla I guess?) miss that conflict.. it just doesn’t make sense narratively at this point. I’d wager that most of the current player base came in after BC (at the earliest) and as such, a minority of players are desperate for faction conflict.

I started playing right before Cata and left right after MoP. I never really invested into the “war” between factions – a rivalry is fine, but it seems like the story has moved so far beyond outright war at this point, and it’s stupid for a universe in which the two dominant factions have next to diplomacy skill.

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tiltowait

It was fun back in the day, I played on a pvp server, there were open world areas where the faction would fight. It was a combination of design and boredom though, and they proceeded to kill it on purpose (increasing difficulty to pvp in the world, adding battlegrounds, etc. The attraction was never that it was faction warfare, it was that when you were hanging outside UBRS/LBRS waiting for your party, and there was the horde, doing the same, pvp happened.

The reasons why it was fun, and why the current version (which I’ve not even tried, so no clue) is not fun is a major subject. If you ask me, I’ve not seen it done right until Archeage/Eve, or since.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Why wouldn’t we want another blatant fan service expansion, as a fan I’d dare say that ever expansion for every game I play would be awesome if it were made with fan servicing in mind since it’s the fans that pay the bills; and do you know what fans like better than innovation (especially coming from a company that couldn’t innovate their way out of a paper bag) would be getting fan serviced all the time because at least we’d know we were being listened to.

If this seems like stream of consciousness writing it’s because I just woke up.

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NecrococoPlays

Because fanservice is lazy, it doesn’t surpass expectations, it doesn’t surprise, it doesn’t challenge the IP to grow, etc. Fan service delivers on things the fans want, sure, but those wants are usually conventional, lack depth, and don’t really go far enough. They’re often established on WHAT IS as opposed to WHAT COULD BE. And sometimes, your game will still die even if you deliver those things. Because sometimes when people get what they want they realize it wasn’t what they needed.

You can give people the things they want based on what you’ve given them in the past, or you can challenge yourself to surpass that and do something even better – something that maybe the players don’t even know they want yet. You can still take feedback into account (i.e., talent trees) and pay attention to the things people engage with most, but you have to go further than fan service. There is no innovation or progression or creativity in it. What’s worse is you run the risk of the “fans” not being satisfied with getting what they (thought) they wanted. There are so many variables at play that prevents it from ever being as easy (and successful) as you suggest.

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Kickstarter Donor
Richard de Leon III

They need a major class revamp imho. Im so bored with the way the classes work. There is little variation between 2 of the same class/spec. I want a convoluted talent/spell/attribute system to put 3rd edition DND to shame or at least something along that direction. My most fun time in WoW was when frostfire spec was a thing for mages.

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NecrococoPlays

My favorite was arcane blast spam. ha

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Christmas Dog

Then you’d love BfA, because that is literally all Arcane is now.

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Kickstarter Donor
Pandalulz

As somebody who only dabbles in WoW expansions anymore and has pretty much lost interest by now. The expansion with the, “oh yay I have the exact same weapon as everybody else that I have to play a mobile timer game to level up” wasn’t really a draw for me at all. I know there was more to it than that, but that was the big gimmick that was in your face all the time, and well… fuck a bunch of that!

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Joey

I think Legion was popular because they catered pretty well to the demographic that is left playing the game. They threw a bunch content at people along with tons of mounts and cosmetics, things that a lot of the current ultra casual player base loves.

Legion reminded me in a lot of ways of other popular games out right now that just use cosmetics as a draw to their games.

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Carebear

I think the word casual has been used so much wrong over the years… Casual =/= cosmetics. There are casuals who dont care about cosmetics and there are hardcore who care for cosmetics.

No game that focus on Endgame with loot treadmill is aiming at casuals. We are in mostly for the “early-middle game”.

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NecrococoPlays

That’s a great point, Carebear. I used to do a lot of progression raiding so I could see my gs climb, and so I could show off my raid gear. It was an aesthetic/cosmetic reflection of my achievement.

The thing I miss, after playing nearly every AAA title over the last decade or so, is the process of leveling and getting to know the game, the lore, etc. There have been so many weird, atmospheric touchstones that I still remember and cherish long after I’ve abandoned a title. And it’s those moments I remember – not the raiding (except for server firsts or new releases w/ no strats).