WoW Factor: A quick first impression of Shadowlands class changes

    
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WoW Factor: A quick first impression of Shadowlands class changes

Every so often, we wind up in a lull of information or exhaustion with World of Warcraft that leads readers to speculating in the comments about what in the world I’m going to write about for the next several weeks. To those commenters, I would like to say… well, several things, but first of all I appreciate the consideration and care about how I will do my job in light of the fact that the game I’m covering is not offering much to cover. Seriously, I appreciate that much thought for my well-being.

However, I also would hasten to point out that not only do I always come up with an answer for how to fill my usual article count for the week, but sometimes I come up with an answer and it turns out that I have to rearrange things because, say, Blizzard posts a preview of the coming class changes for Shadowlands. And since I didn’t want to bump our wrap-up of the expansion tour, well, now we’re going to need to do this as an extra this week. Something else gets bumped instead. So let’s talk first impressions of this lineup, yes?

This. Is. Exhausting.

The bowl of petunias thought “oh no, not again”

All right, we’ve got to get this out of our systems, and I’m getting it out of my system now, so let’s just take a deep breath and do so. Ready? Go.

I am so tired of learning to play every single class again.

We’re cutting Maelstrom from DPS Shaman lines again! Every version of Paladin has Holy Power again! Better start applying Hunter’s Mark again over and over, Hunters! I hope all of you enjoyed dropping Searing Totem for every fight and you’d better get used to Whirlwind again in your AoE rotation, Warriors!

Yes, obviously, this is a situation in which the actual volume of changes varies wildly between classes. It’s not the actual changes or the merits thereof that I’m exhausted by in this particular scenario, it’s the fact that the changes just keep coming and they always seem aimed not just at the details but the basic playstyle. I could feel the stress migraine starting just at “we’re removing Maelstrom” bit in the Shaman entry.

The worst part about this, though, is that it’s coming two expansions after the designers went through every spec and pruned it up and gave it an identity, playstyle, and balance. Bringing things back to how classes felt at the end of Legion would have been a commendable goal, but instead it feels like yet another redesign for a wholly separate paradigm, and so it’s hard not to be exhausted. Or feel like we’ve set up a new rotating pattern of behavior wherein we’ll get an expansion with a huge combat redesign, then one that screws it all up, then everything gets redesigned again…

And I don’t see much of anything being done to mitigate this particular exhaustion, even on the preview level. Regardless of what you think of the actual changes, there’s a sense of existing tedium at the thought that once again, we’re getting thrown into a wildly different gameplay situation and you’re going to need to learn how to play again. How large that hump will be remains to be seen, but the fatigue is present just the same.

I blame absolutely no one who is stuck on that irritation, even as it’s one I share. Even if several of these changes do look good and functional, the irritation at having to weather another round of learning how to play is substantial. I am so tired.

We’ve got it out of our system. Let’s move on.

We all float down here.

So what’s the philosophy look like?

As a whole, most of the big changes don’t appear to be ones that are going to massively change the rotations that various classes and specs utilize. Indeed, I imagine some of the fatigue already mentioned is that while the at-a-glance changes are substantial, they’re still not exactly new abilities or anything. No, they’re chiefly older abilities that either have situational usage or alter your passive state of being on the regular.

Case in point: Arcane Explosion for Mages. This is a longstanding and familiar ability for Mages, and so its return as a universal ability feels significant. But in practical terms, Frost and Fire both have other ways to deal AoE damage that they will be engaging in more often than not; instead, Arcane Explosion mostly serves to mean that Mages can once again blast down groups of tiny little ankle-biters regardless of spec. It’s not going to have a huge impact on the moment-to-moment gameplay.

Class resources, notably, have been consolidated across the board, with classes using multiple resource systems seeing them either reduced or made universal. This is at the root of Holy Power returning to all Paladin specs, Maelstrom being removed from Shaman, and Fury becoming the baseline for Demon Hunters. In all seriousness, this tends to not make a huge impact, as most of the resources only some specs used were… well, pretty boring on a whole. Like, theoretically they’d serve to differentiate the specs and how they played, but in practice they just sort of sat there as existing resources with different names.

A lot of other returning abilities are either passive or not terribly interesting in terms of moment-to-moment gameplay. Auras, for example, don’t change your rotation but offer your choice of a utility buff based on the scenario. (One of which… feels pretty much useless, but we’ll cover that when we cover the individual changes.) Totems are just things you drop as you go. Eyes of the Beast has never been tremendously useful, but it’s a toy you get back if you want it. Poisons can be applied again for that added little edge.

This isn’t to inherently complain about these things; on a whole, I feel like these changes are not just understandable but positive changes, even if you’re not going to be interacting with them on a regular basis. Sure, a lot of Priests aren’t going to be using Shadow Word: Death, but the fact that they all have it is a substantial difference from other healers. (Although why do Shadow Priests keep Insanity, exactly?) Even if you don’t need to use Arcane Explosion a lot, it’s there when you do. And so on.

There’s definitely hints of a more defined class flavor creeping back in with these changes. While the individual changes are still early and the proof is going to be how everything plays, it does feel like work is being done to at least address some of the persistent issues in current design. Not all of the issues, but enough that it feels slightly less irritating.

And hey, let’s be real, we’ll see how these actually work out and have time to really be either pleased or frustrated during the duration of the alpha. It may have even started by the time you’re reading this. Stay tuned for more specific analysis of the individual classes in the coming weeks; as mentioned, though, I didn’t want to let the unveiling pass without comment until next week.

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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Alyn
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Alyn

For my observation after 15 years, is that they can’t help themselves and must “tinker” with skills to suit a particular play style at large. I feel they have designed themselves into a corner. I leave you with this;

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” – Ellen Glasgow

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Grimmtooth

“So what’s the philosophy look like?”

It looks like regret.

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Rick Mills

One observation – people are passionate about Wow – they are upset, ,thrilled, angry and can’t let a comment go by they disagree with.
Either that or wow players are incredibly high-strung :)

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Utakata

They are mostly like that with every game. You should swing by the Start Citizen articles sometime. /popcorn o.O

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Rick Mills

Yeh… drama has it’s draw, but it can be a little… much (said in a Captain Kirk voice)

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Hurbster

I could get invested in retail again, but the story will probably be either ‘Sylvanus wins – lol’ or even worse a redemption story.

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rosieposie

I have never stopped playing WoW because of the actual class gameplay, so for me this redesign literally every expansion is extremely frustrating. It’s like they are trying to solve a problem that’s not really a problem, not when most people are far more fed up with the awful game systems, confused narrative and lack of any meaningful player choices.

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Loopy

I’m gonna shamelessly copy my response from the other WoW article, because i think it’s applicable to the discussion:

I hate hate hate the build->spend system that majority of classes use nowadays. It makes sense for certain classes (like rogues and warriors) but nowadays every spec seems to have a variation thereof. What i dislike the most is that instead of finally getting rid of Holy Power mechanic for paladins, they decided to instead give it to all specs. It’s great that they’re bringing auras back, and i’m digging the Ret Aura redesign (at least on paper), but what i wished for the most was them bringing back the seals and old blessings, and it just doesn’t sound like they’re coming back..

This is a huge bummer for me and unfortunately one that may be a deal breaker for the new expansion.

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Carebear

indeed as said in other article too. Every class is Build reource -> Spent or pool resource -> hit damage buff/debuff -> spend

All spec are playing the same, regardless of different names of spells and resources…

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Anthony Clark

I take it as a sign of lazy developers. Instead of trying to balance different concepts, they just make them all the same.

I also blame pvp balance effecting pve gameplay mechanics.

Boo on the homogenization of classes. Makes this old game feel even more boring.

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TomTurtle

I’m baaack. For better. Or for worse. :P

I made the mistake of leaving my spec, Shadow Priest, for last when reading the class changes. My stomach sank when I read the flavor bit about the void and quickly confirmed soon thereafter, oh no, void form and insanity are still a thing.

I get Blizzard likes raiding and all, but you know, maybe they could make the spec more fun in places that aren’t just raiding. I distinctly remember struggling through leveling content as shadow in BfA only to hit max level, unlock world quests and hit a brick wall. I could pop all my cooldowns to try to finish a soloable world quest and still die, repeatedly. Mobs were even respawning with how much time I spent trying. I immediately specced into discipline just to do world quests and had a much smoother time.

Meanwhile I saw other classes zip on by blowing things up left and right leaving me feeling like a chump for playing my shadow priest. Even later into the expansion with some better gear for scaling, I still felt like I was left behind. I remember feeling a bit of this at the end of Legion too and that was when your character was the strongest for open world content.

Many players have tried to beseech Blizzard about the fundamental balance and gameplay issues surrounding the void form system since its inception, and it seems they only continue to fall on deaf ears. Ramp up on top of ramp up on top of ramp up.

I’m no stranger to this kind of issue as I remember how much trouble I had in Burning Crusade on my shadow priest. It’s a shame I missed out on whatever the spec had going for it during Cata through WoD as many players seem to want a return to various designs throughout that time period.

I’m genuinely happy for the other classes and specs that have gotten what they wanted, but man does it feel terrible not being part of that so much. At least they’re giving us baseline Shadow Word: Death back, which shouldn’t have been changed like that in the first place mind you.

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Bruno Brito

I get Blizzard likes raiding and all, but you know, maybe they could make the spec more fun in places that aren’t just raiding. I distinctly remember struggling through leveling content as shadow in BfA only to hit max level, unlock world quests and hit a brick wall. I could pop all my cooldowns to try to finish a soloable world quest and still die, repeatedly. Mobs were even respawning with how much time I spent trying. I immediately specced into discipline just to do world quests and had a much smoother time.

I think they forgot they have a MMORPG in their hands. Ion was a hardcore raider, and he clearly cares more about raiding than anything. All of WoW’s efforts are in raiding, and it shows, because raiding is the ONLY facet of the game that only improved with time. Their raiding is ungodly awesome.

The rest of the game is mediocre as mediocre can get, and several of these specs and changes are overall counter-intuitive to the MMORPG aspect.

And Shadowlands will have the same problem that all games without sandboxy systems like Housing have: What do you do after you finish consuming the themepark content?

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Carebear

Their raiding is ungodly awesome

compared to ffxiv, wow raiding feel like a mechanic from precious century.. The mechanics and visual presentation of them in FFXIV is tons better and more advanced. What wow had as advantage over FFXIV was the open world and it seems they dont even care about that.

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Bruno Brito

Honestly, i see exactly the opposite: I’ve saw people complain ad nauseum about FF14 raids being pure tedium ( while the rest of the game being complete awesomesauce ) compared to WoW.

Apparently, raiding is the only face of WoW where the team actually innovates and sometimes outdo themselves.

Of course, i don’t play either, so it’s more anedoctal evidence than anything, take it with a grain of salt.

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Paragon Lost

So so very tired of relearning to play all the classes and specs every freaking new expansion. Frustrating, overwhelming and stressful. I played 10 of the 12 classes to cap and decently geared. My DK and DH lagged behind on the low 100’s. My main is mostly my druid in which I consistently play three of the four specs and have gear for. My hunter, warrior and mage being my other three sub mains.

The changes of bringing back how balance druid works is a big turn off, I don’t think I’ll be back honestly. I’ve not pre ordered the new upcoming expansion and really don’t think I will later on. Too bad I just can’t stand ESO’s mouse/UI controls and setup because I’d love to be able to swap to ESO and stay there.

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Jokerchyld

This definitely a move in the right direction. Blizzard is finally learning that class fantasy is more important than game mechanics in an MMORPG. I dont think they will go as far as they should (and make the world more open, add housing, etc) but this is a good step.

Waiting to get feedback on the Warrior changes because they mention all specs get Ignore pain. And that would be a fun, awesome addition to my Arms warrior especially if I can use it without equipping a shield.

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Khrome

TBH, i don’t think Blizzard will ever move in the right direction until they learn that the game needs to be *expanded*, not *replaced* as they have been doing up to now.

The class fantasy is just one part of it. Personally i’m not interested in Shadowlands for the most part since once again it seeks to completely replace and supplant any and all other content which came before it, making the game feel incredibly tiny as a result despite the masses of content already available. Even entirely new players get hurried to the latest expansion content in some way or another, ‘will you please ignore anything and everything before level max-10’.

What i’m reading about the alpha right now just seems like it’s the same thing all over again, just with another flavour to it.

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TomTurtle

They’ve made some very minor pushes to making more content relevant and replayable, such as timewalking dungeons or group syncing, but it’s been done at a glacial pace.

I still believe they repeatedly make big class, and other system, changes every expansion in order to try to keep things fresh with little regard for anything else. They’ve hit their designated wall when it comes to the amount of new skills and such, which is why they’ve turned to more temporary systems that last for an expansion alone.

I agree that they seem to be continuing on with this in Shadowlands, which is a shame and only seems to confirm their continued resistance to solving this design issue. It’s also been such a longstanding ethos of theirs that I completely understand, and share, the exhaustion mentioned in this article and elsewhere.

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Jokerchyld

This is valid but an old argument. Since the first expansion they always changed the game each iteration throwing away what came before it. Why expect them to change now? While not a strategy that works for you it does work given their numbers. The most recent problem stems from how horrible there last iteration was. What they are mentioning now is way better than what is there now and can see it attracting back its playerbase (i.e. those who like this type of content)

They are never going to expand because it doesnt make economical sense to do so. They can make millions on each new iteration as long as the iteration itself is quality.

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Bruno Brito

To be fair, those changes weren’t mechanical in their nature, but just zone/raid-wise. From Vanilla to Wrath, the specs were only improved in how they functioned.

The “relearn your class” bullshit came after the Cata revamp.

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Khrome

Back then it was still fresh for most people, but this sentiment started – for me at least – during TBC already. I was wondering why the Belf and Draenei starter zones were in the TBC world instance, and not added to the old world. I was wondering why all the old raids and dungeons suddenly became completely pointless. I was very fresh to raiding not very long before TBC hit, only just managing to fully gear out in MC/ZG/ZA20 gear, and i was terribly annoyed at the very first green i got in Hellfire to be at least twice as good as the epic i had in the slot at the time.

I did go along with it since TBC, and WotLK after, were a lot of fun, but there was always this constant, nagging feeling of the old content just being left behind, that the world felt incredibly small as a result.

Cata was promising to be the expansion that changed that, being a true expansion – But sadly, it did exactly the same thing as before, but even worse as it really dates *all* the vanilla world content to a single expansion now.

Ever since i’ve only dropped back in occasionally, but the hammer didn’t really drop until the BfA prepatch. I’d skipped Legion entirely, but was getting the itch again to try the game and ‘for once’ be at max level within a week of launch (i’d usually really ‘casual’d’ it to a few months).

I *thoroughly* enjoyed all the legion content. But, two weeks later, it was completely wiped out. It became pointless and irrelevant so quickly after i engaged with it. I can’t help but wonder what the game feels like to people who *didnt* start out during the first 3 expansions, and it suddenly made sense why WoW has been on a slow decline ever since Cata.

The problem isn’t that they’re changing the classes around, that’s fine. The problem is – to me – that they are doing this in a way which disregards everything that came before it. There is no point to ever having played the game before the current expansion, as nothing carries over except meaningless achievements and extremely dated and increasingly pixelated cosmetics. I don’t feel engaged to the game anymore since it doesn’t respect any of the time i already put in it, it doesn’t honor where it came from.

It just doesn’t feel like a *world* of warcraft when you never go beyond the 5 zones of the expansion, and even if you try it feels so dead and pointless.

The game went too much in the direction of ‘a game’ IMHO, which others have pointed out in the comments: Ion being a raider first and foremost and seeing it as a numbers game, not as a living, breathing world.

Sorry, this is probably more a stream of consciousness than an actual argument >_<

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Bruno Brito

Blizzard is finally learning that class fantasy is more important than game mechanics in an MMORPG.

Comes as a detriment when we’re having to relearn the classes for the umpteenth time. And the fact that class fantasy is good and all, but these changes are not enough, and WoW needs a LOT more than mere class fantasy to work again as a mmoRPG.

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agemyth 😩

On paper, I like or am neutral to all the changes for the classes I’m interested in.

I am so tired of learning to play every single class again.

Honestly, I think you are (understandably) tired of WoW/Blizzard but you are stuck with this column because someone has to write about a game this big. You seem to arrive at the conclusion that none of these changes are drastic enough to “relearn” your classes.

Your apathy toward playing the game and exhaustion with the direction Blizzard takes it pretty much dominates every entry to this column. There was a nice reprieve when you seemed inspired to do your WoW Classic RP posts. In general this column is just unpleasant to read as someone who plays the game a couple times a year and mostly enjoys it for what it is.

I disagree with you sometimes Eliott, but I mean no disrespect. I get jealous of the other dedicated game columns sometimes (like your FF14 column) because the people writing about those games still seem to be fans even if they have to dump on some bad decisions developers make.

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agemyth 😩

I meant to say that I get there is also a perfectly legitimate argument to be made in favor of a column that continues to express the discontent of a longtime WoW fan. Plenty of people chime in to commiserate with you and that is fine.

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Bruno Brito

Your apathy toward playing the game

Where is apathy here? Exhaustion sure, but where was Eliot apathic?

If anything, it’s because he’s passionate about this game and it’s mediocre company that he writes these.

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Carebear

there is a very thin line that separates love and hate. We loved wow.. we still care for it. We hate Ion and what become of wow after MoP. We make negative comments yes, because we feel bad that our beautiful game slowly dies from monkey devs.

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Bruno Brito

Whoa. I don’t hate Ion, let me just make this clear: I think he’s a detached elitist moron but i don’t hate the guy. He just isn’t director material.

Ever since i heard the guy’s story, i knew he was the typical hardcore raidleader: He didn’t care for the RPG systems of the game, and everything for him was a fucking spreadsheet. It was clear that his rise would cement WoW as a “raidonly-worthy” game, but let’s not make any mistakes here: WoW was declining long before he was on it’s head.

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Taran Wonderer

Is “OK boomer” allowed on here?
Honestly. If you’ve been complaining since WOD, you just enjoy complaining.