WoW Factor: Dissecting the drips and drabs from the Shadowlands reveal stream

    
23
WoW Factor: Dissecting the drips and drabs from the Shadowlands reveal stream

All right. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands kicks off its beta next week. I would kind of like to be involved in that! I am not expecting any miracles. So let’s just talk about what happened in this week’s reveal stream in the most coherent fashion possible because while I did do a live blog of the stream as it happened. that’s not the same as nuanced critique.

Yes, sometimes nuanced critique does involve using the same clip from Into the Spider-verse repeatedly if you are, in fact, so tired. It is nuanced.

Anyhow, there wasn’t a whole lot of massive and meaty information in this particular stream, but it was also about 45 minutes long and didn’t feel padded, so there’s still enough to pick over and analyze just the same. So based on what we do now know, I’m going to… well, analyze what’s here as best I can. There’s still a lot of uncertainty, though, as the stream itself was vague on a lot of points – intentionally so, as near as I can tell.

For example, the whole talk about the harvesting of anima and how that feeds into building soulbinds was still… well, intensely vague. There was a sense that there is some sort of weekly cap, that you’ll earn it various ways, and that it won’t be artifact power, but what does that even mean? What are we actually talking about here, and how is this actually going to work?

My guess at this point – and I would stress that it is only a guess – is that the reason for the vagueness is that anima is meant to be more of a currency than a leveling system. Which means that you have a fixed amount you can earn in a given day or week, hence using it for a variety of different things. And that would at least make a certain amount of sense as not requiring an endless grind or dump in that regard; soulbinds have a limit to how much you can spend on them, but you can always have missions or whatever to keep spending the currency on.

At the same time, it would still cause certain issues if you’re being asked to choose between covenant upgrades or getting the next tier of your soulbind. The two aren’t really commensurate there.

ROBOT

That sort of disjunction isn’t exactly new to the game, but it’s the sort of thing that can easily make the game feel worse than it needs to, and it raises the question of what sort of catch-up mechanism you could even put into place. However, I think there is space to make it work; if, for example, your initial soulbind ranks are cheap enough that you can move through them quickly while covenant upgrades take longer, or if the weekly limit will easily let you cap out one soulbind while still making some other improvements, future soulbinds or respecs can be more expensive without hamstringing the player experience.

I also like the idea in broad strokes; it makes for something that’s always viable but doesn’t require escalating values a la Artifact Power, which has never been a great solution.

Beyond that, covenants are… well, the new order halls or mission tables or garrisons. Not terribly invigorating. I do like the concept of making the missions somewhat more engaging, but I also feel like a certain amount of that effort is being pointed at a concept that the same people are just never going to like. If you didn’t like missions at your Garrison, there’s no change to that system that’s going to make you enjoy them.

Then again, this is Blizzard, where “maybe this change to a system you fundamentally don’t like will make you like it” is more or less a guiding principle. I like the energy going in on it, at least. And the upgrading element does seem like a nice touch, although I have to admit I briefly got my hopes up that we were getting some limited form of housing before we learned how the whole individual “special” part of each sanctum worked.

That part I do like, although it seems a bit… at odds with the game, in parts. Like, don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of having Necrolord players craft specialized abominations. But it doesn’t quite seem to mesh with the “power and might” element of the covenant. Some of it might be that they feel a little like Paths in WildStar, which I liked, but they do lack that mechanical clarity.

Of course, a lot of this is going to depend on implementation. This is all still just concepts, and while I do like the concepts that are on display, concepts are only as good as their final execution. “Wait and see next week,” I suppose.

Burnsauce.

In the less enthusiastic category, meanwhile, is basically every element of the discussion about balance. First and foremost, we should really be puncturing this myth that Blizzard is somehow good at this. The studio has never been good at balance. Never ever. I’m sure this has come up several times by now, but it bears repeating; the whole “well, we don’t want to balance until we know the ability is worth keeping around” thing doesn’t really work as a philosophy.

Blessing of Seasons, for example, is one of the things singled out as “well, we thought it was flavorful but now we’re pulling it back.” But that is after tuning attempts, and it didn’t take a whole lot of testing for people to look at the ability and say that it wasn’t very good. People said that on reveal. And that’s the least of the issues going on for Paladins; no one’s really excited about having Holy Power back, for example, and Retribution Aura is still absolutely pointless in what it does.

And this isn’t a product of the current changes to development cadences made necessary by the pandemic. These things are not new. Blizzard has a long, long history of assuming that the studio knows better than players about balance, one that is frequently shown to be incorrect.

I realize this part is just ranting into a void, but honestly at this point I’d prefer if the developers just stopped pretending to care about balance. It’s like giving up on making people who dislike Garrison missions suddenly like Garrison missions: Anyone who still thinks that Blizzard has any superiority when it comes to balance is not really keeping up with current trends. The tuning process currently being used is not working.

Honestly, all of this is still kind of failing at the prospect of “this time it will be different” compared to Battle for Azeroth. That’s the real point that we need to have hammered on, and it’s just not happening. I was really reminded of it when one of the big selling points for the Legendary system was about planning out your upgrades and your gearing… you know, the thing the game had in Wrath of the Lich King, systematically dismantled, and that was specifically called out as a bad thing at last year’s convention.

Why is this not the default now? Why is this still being treated as anything other than a basic good idea? And why is it the more that the expansion shows off what it has, the more it fails to really buoy hopes about this being a sea change from its predecessor?

I don’t want this to sound particularly pessimistic, though, because it’s not meant to be. The concepts on display are, by and large, things I rather like. I just wish that there were more details to hang upon them.

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.

No posts to display

23
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Jokerchyld

I’m not sure why people are expecting Blizzard to change how WoW fundamentally works. You will get an expansion. Dungeons. Raids. Professions. and the expansion-related system. This is the pattern of WoW at least for the last 10 years. You can even say there is a pattern within that pattern of oscillating criticism, with one expansion being recieved as poor but the next are good and then poor again. Shadowlands in on the “good” reception part of the pattern.

I like WoW but only play it as long as it is fun. As a reference I played Legion for 2 years, but played BfA for three months. I’m cautiously optimistic about Shadowlands.

I think Bellular had a more in depth look at the developer update than Eliot gave here. The video, while also not having the specifics, laid out in a more clear fashion of what Blizzard is trying to do. Which I took away as giving more options to the players of what they wanted to do to achieve rewards vs restricting rewards to specific content. An example of this is the assumption that Covenant renown can be gained from running a dungeon as opposed to having to do zone specific world quests. The “open endgame zone” called Maw being available at launch (instead of a patch like Timeless Isle, Tanaan, etc).

In my opinion, Blizzard has learned from BFA, increased listening to player feedback and trying to create more player agency within the expansion. But I also notice they are trying to tie the expansion together with a strong narrative which had been declining since Legion.

I have no expectations that the systems will carry over to 10.0 but do believe what happens in 9.0 will influence it, to the point of major changes to their existing game design (i.e. factions).

Cant wait to get my hands on this.

Alyn
Reader
Alyn

No housing. Nothing truly new. Always and forever messing with our classes.More and more currencies. Gold currency so devalued you have nothing to buy with said currency- same as it ever was.

Reader
jealouspirate

Eliot, I have an idea for a column I think would be interesting. Not sure if you’ve done this before, but I would be interested in reading your “fan expansion” idea. What is your ideal WoW expansion? Talk about the plot, themes, aesthetics, class design, gearing, main expansion features, all of it. Design the expansion that would make you really excited about WoW.

Reader
Rick Mills

As long as Blizzard keeps up the “new every expansion” as Tomturtle mentioned below there will never be a housing option. Sad, because progression is what an RPG is about, but it resets every two years.

xpsync
Reader
xpsync

Housing will only come when the player base has bottomed right out, it’s their ace up the sleeve.

Bereman
Reader
Bereman

I can’t help but be cynical and feel like they think it will be their ace up the sleeve, but will manage to feel like it needs to be implemented in a way that ties into whatever specific current content they have at that time in a way that makes it difficult to continue developing for past the first couple years it’s in.

Games that do have housing treat it as an ongoing feature that gets additional developments – new furniture and decor, tweaks and improvements to how it works, and even new styles/locations.

I have no faith that Blizzard would support housing enough for it to be a worthwhile feature, instead treating it as a one and done thing, yanking a couple things from it to glue on to the next expansion.

Reader
Sorenthaz

Yeah Garrisons are sadly the go-to example of this. Garrisons had some decent customization features and length to expanding them. You even got a music player and had a new collection side-game of grabbing all the music scrolls from different places. I sure as hell made sure to get the Kharazan one. They even had various achievements for getting X amount of scrolls…

…buuut then they were so lazy that they never gave music scrolls a place in any future content. You don’t even get a personal quarter area like XIV’s inns where you could slap on your favorite music scroll. It was just randomly abandoned because the only thing they wanted to carry over from Garrisons was the time gated mobile game mission junk.

Reader
Robert Andle

Didn’t it bottom out years ago? They had 12 million players back in Wrath and can’t have more than 2-3 million now.

xpsync
Reader
xpsync

In the mmorpg world 2-3 million is somehing most of them would kill to have as playerbase number.

Reader
Robert Andle

Yeah, but when you go from 12 down to 2-3 million, there’s no disguising how bad it is.

Reader
Jokerchyld

Its relative. Regardless of how bad you think that is, it is still better than the rest of the market. Other MMOs would kill to have a sustained 2-3 million players respectively.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Yeah. They need to bite the bullet first and swallow their pride before they actually get to work on perpetual systems.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
TomTurtle

Their philosophy is to keep things from being stagnant by focusing highly on the feeling of something being new all as a means to flashily advertise an expansion. They’ve been doing it even if it means throwing away a good system or creating noticeable drawbacks that have been previously solved. As long as they can inject something different, they’ll pursue that. They can come up with all the paper thin excuses they want, but to believe them would be to assume extreme incompetence.

Regarding the Shadowlands systems, I’d be more comfortable with Covenants if they didn’t have that permanence of tying player power to cosmetics. I highly doubt they’ll be able to balance it all well enough to be seen as fairly equal in regards to throughput. This will create your usual min-max situation where players feel forced to join the optimal Covenant over their desired one. Players will always min-max and enforce it upon each other. Blizzard knows better than to ignore this behavior but as per usual, they’ll continue on regardless.

I keenly feel this kind of issue having mained a Shadow Priest and seeing how Blizzard has failed to balance Void Form and refuses to scrap or fundamentally change it. And that’s only a single spec’s problem, nevermind what we see here with several systems that interact with all of the specs in the game.

Reader
Jokerchyld

As you stated, anytime there is a choice, min-max situations will exist. I dont see that as a fault of the game.

PvE balance is a farce. Having all characters (of any game) play “evenly” is boring. Why people care if one class is better than another is lost to me. To me its just more options for challenge. If I want easy mode Ill play death knight. But when that gets boring I run my Warrior as he doesnt have sufficent self heals thus making the game artificially harder.

Reader
styopa

Yay, more currencies.

xpsync
Reader
xpsync

haha i know omg right

Reader
Dug From The Earth

so anima is the new azerite power?

never enjoyed these systems. its not why I play wow.

xpsync
Reader
xpsync

Really enjoyed the corruption (at first), same with azerite, overjoyed with all the random, the new this, new that.

But in the end you stay under your corruption limit, washed most of my items and used up remaining corruption on buyables from mother, settle in on certain essences, and slam all your sockets with the same stat.

At first found horrific visions pleasingly challenging, even stopped at one point altogether when they a started to become too easy, then heard about masks and now 5 masks later, yawn! Cake walk

Been crunching out 120 alts like an assembly line, and keeping a couple mains tuned for shadow.

Over all been enjoying retail, never thought i’d say that but, never say never!

Much of the reason i feel is that i was there at launch, and up until the last year or so all i ever did was largely just trash talk the game and never really played it, outside coming back every expansion for a quick visit.

Overall it’s all new locations, beyond Wrath (forgot i played the shit out of it during that time when EQ2 turned into a joke) i can understand when i read in guild chat peeps hate when they reuse locations, for me it’s all new areas.

The game has moments when it’s challenging, but eventually your toon becomes so broken everything is like killing starter zone rats, which i dunno melting chit is kinda fun at times too.

I guess i’m glad i never played it for the last decade or so as i’m so pumped for shadow, had i rinse repeated the game x expansions later i’d be same as most too.

I already preordered way back, and am largely ignoring everything, figure it all when i get there.

Reader
Dug From The Earth

The “at first” bit probably held true for many people, including myself.

Then I realized that random “Ooooh, I got a cool and unexpected new power/ability!” was only fun because the devs intentionally starve the core build of every class so they can “complete” it with whatever new system is in the current expansion.

Legion and BFA are the worst of this so far… Try legit leveling through legion or bfa without XP boosts, and most classes feel really dull and sometimes even gimpy. Its this way because you need those expanions abilities to round out how your class plays and feels.

This is broken IMO. Classes should feel well rounded and complete without limited time, outside elements. Things like azerite powers should feel like a bonus thing, not a required element for a class feeling complete.

Its why striving to get those powers to “complete” your build was everything but fun, because of the RNG aspect of getting them. You could go for a long time without having your character build feel whole. Not your characters gearing/items. You could have a super high item score, but still feel incomplete because the items may not have the abilities you need.

Just bad design all around, and a cheap way to add artificial necessity for an expansions content.

Reader
Jokerchyld

YOu mean leveling in Legion when the xpac was live or now (when the artifacts are disabled?).

I played Legion live and loved the leveling experience and I have never used an XP boost in the game. I dont have heirlooms.

I will say is for me WoW nails the progression curve vs time. For the limited amount of time I put in the game I can see/feel my character get stronger which stretches my limits.

Reader
Dug From The Earth

Yes… leveling without the artifact abilities feels like your class is just missing way too much to feel complete, even though you get your last level up abilities and talents long before you get to Legion.

When BFA went live, and you suddenly found yourself in BFA without your artifact weapon abilities or any of the new azurite abilities, it also felt really really bad.

Again, I cant stress how much of a bad design direction it is to make the foundation of a class rely on temporary elements in order to feel complete. Complete doesnt mean “You are done” either. It just means you dont feel like you are still drastically lacking something to make your class feel “whole”.