WoW Factor: What we really learned from the World of Warcraft Hazzikostas interview

    
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A journey already taken.

The problem with writing about World of Warcraft right now is that there’s actually less to write about than you might think. Sure, we’ve got the ongoing testing of The Burning Crusade, but frankly the most interesting thing going on there has more to do with the character boost stuff, and I’ve already broken that down as far as it’s going to go. (Well, unless I wanted to convince people it was a good thing… which I don’t think it is. So here we are.) And on the retail side, we’ve got… nothing.

Sure, we have patch 9.1 in early testing, but not only does it seem to be pretty early in the testing process, it’s not moving very quickly, something that director Ion Hazzikostas outright admitted to in a recent interview, which provides at least something to talk about in the overall context of the game. So let’s talk a little bit about all of that because it’s there and provides some insight into the state of the game as it is right now.

What initially stuck out to me about this interview were two things. The first is the admission that patch 9.1 is not going to be out in “a few weeks,” which strictly speaking is an ambiguous timescale but practically implies that late June/early July is a more likely release window than mid-June. This isn’t surprising, but it does reinforce the idea that this patch is not right around the corner, leading to the sense of a content gap that’s happening at the start of the expansion instead of just the end.

But of more significant note is what seems like a kind of odd statement: that there will definitely be a 9.2 and this expansion will not be like Warlords of Draenor. That’s a reassurance that actually isn’t; those two things are not wholly related clauses.

This is not ambiguous. It actually seems pretty straightforward.

First and foremost, the obvious rejoinder is that the aforementioned expansion did have a patch 6.2, which means that getting there doesn’t in and of itself mean the two expansions are going to be all that different. However, it’s also important to note that patch 6.1 was pretty content-light, more akin to patch 9.0.5 than what’s actually on deck for patch 9.1.

In other words, there are two potential readings of that comment, and I’m inclined to take the meaning more or less at face value: specifically, that this expansion will not be like Warlords of Draenor insofar as it will feature more than a single content patch. That’s seems to be the intended meaning, even if it’s kind of not what was actually said. But it’s still interesting insofar as what it doesn’t say is still there as well. Assuring people there will be a 9.2 does not equal assuring people there will be a 9.3.

To me, at least, the assurance that there will be more than one major content patch is a tacit implication there won’t be more than two. It strongly implies, at least to me, that the plans for anything beyond that 9.2 have been either truncated or wadded together with the plans for 9.2. And it definitely implies this is going to be a shorter than usual expansion, which is… probably less than heartening when this expansion had previously been heralded as the hope for the game in the wake of Battle for Azeroth.

There really does seem to be something rotten in the state of Shadowlands development, above and beyond work-from-home issues. I’ve said it before, but every additional piece of information just seems to reinforce that image.

One wonders if that doesn’t have something to do with one of the other major focuses in this particular interview talking about borrowed power and systems for same. Hazzikostas mentioned specifically that there’s a need to find a balance between borrowed power and letting things make a long-term impact, which…

…all right, there’s really no need to do so because players do not want these borrowed power systems. Seriously, even the hardcore Shadowlands stans don’t like borrowed power, and those guys are still trying to convince everyone that this expansion is great and y’all just don’t get it. There’s no need for “balance” here; there’s a need to stop putting borrowed power in as a major mechanic because that…

Sorry, I got sucked down a rabbit hole there. What I meant to say is that it implies that up until now the development team has been striking that balance. Which… well, no.

Let me actually just get stronger.

I’ve talked at length, multiple times, about how the current state of the game creates an environment wherein the borrowed power absolutely demolishes any long-term sense of genuine forward movement by ensuring that each expansion contains nothing more than stuff layered on top of your existing mechanics. The lackluster attempts to re-integrate fragments of these systems has not successfully struck a balance between making long-term effects stick and just layering more borrowed power on top of things.

Part of me still wants to be hopeful about this part, though. For whatever reason the team still thinks that borrowed power is the way to go, but at least talk about striking a balance vaguely implies that we’re moving past that as a core element of every single expansion design. It makes me hopeful that we’ll go back to at least having something new to look forward to as a permanent, important change to how a class and spec functions.

But that’s also a function of the statement being so vague as to be easy to layer on any desired meaning. Even saying “a balance needs to be struck” could mean that changes need to be made or a patronizing explanation trying to show that all of the borrowed power systems need to be in place, you just don’t understand, let us explain this to you because when you said you didn’t care for how the game was designed it must have been from a place of ignorance.

At the end of the day, that’s a lot of the interview: vague answers that are easy to take however you ultimately want to take them. And it strikes me as kind of a bad sign, even though this has long been the de facto mode of operation for the game’s development team.

You don’t get the sense of there being cool stuff that just isn’t quite ready for prime time or discussion yet or the sense that the team is working hard to react to criticisms and pain points. It honestly feels more like damage control and the promise of very moderate concessions around the borders. Here, we’ll bring back tier sets for you; if we do that, do you promise to stop asking about the borrowed power stuff we don’t want to change?

I don’t know. Obviously, I don’t have access to all of the metrics that Blizzard itself does. But I’m very curious to see what the MAU stats look like with the next investor call, even though that stat is already an obfuscation. It feels like this comes from a not spectacular place, and while some of that is down to pandemic delays, some of that is just a sense that maybe this development style isn’t working any longer.

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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Turing fail
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Turing fail

A sadness prison for addicts…

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Dug From The Earth

The fact that they are ALREADY reverting to saying, “wait for 9.2” when 9.1 isnt even out yet, means that 9.1 just isnt going to live up to what people hoped for, or what blizzard hyped.

For me, WoW is only worth playing during a X.0 version (ie: expansion launch), and then again several months after a x.3 patch (ie: a few months before a new expansion). The months leading up to x.1, x.2 and x.3 are just absolute garbage. Has been this way for multiple expansions.

WrathOfMogg
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WrathOfMogg

If other long-running MMOs can find elegant solutions that aren’t silly borrowed power systems every single expansion, why can’t the WoW dev team figure it out? It’s like the U.S. and healthcare. When there’s lots of examples for how to do it right that work perfectly fine, it comes down to just pure stubbornness.

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Lucky Jinx

TL;DR That he’s pretty clueless.

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Danny Smith

Its fascinating to watch him lawyer speak in such a way it instantly placates the down with the ship fanboys. It really is. He goes “we don’t want another WoD” and to a dozen people thats a dozen answers all saying X they didn’t like won’t happen when that could just meant “there won’t be a selfie patch” and the expansion could still end at 9.2 with a 18 month content drought after and he wouldn’t be lying. He just said something technically accurate and allowed people to infer what they wanted to so it fit their own narrative.

Honestly you gotta respect that PT Barnum level of hustle. Don’t forget your 6 month sub for the limited edition Egress that comes with it!

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DJ Meowth

There’s this saying that goes something like…

“Given enough time, players will optimize the fun out of any game.”

Since Warlords of Draenor, I also feel like Blizzard themselves have been optimizing the fun out of WoW, which dramatically compounds the problem. Thanks to things like Mission Tables/Follower Missions and heavily time-gated progression combined with endless grinds like Artifact Power and Heart of Azeroth, it seems like Blizzard is obsessed with optimizing daily player engagement, with actual *fun* being a secondary (or tertiary, or quaternary…) priority.

They’ve spent years now trying to ‘perfect’ the long but carefully portioned-out expansion grind – they want you to log in every single day, grind through some repeat content you’ve already done many times before, and bump your numbers up a little further. But not too far – there are caps in place that prevent that. The grind must continue until the very minute the next expansion goes live, and Blizzard will carefully manage things in order to achieve that.

It just feels too cold, too calculated, too inorganic. It was tolerable in Legion because it was balanced out by the brilliant Order Halls and class-specific storylines, and the overall high production quality of that expansion. Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands don’t have any of that to balance things out. Blizzard used to be very good at creating very beautiful and intricate curtains to hide the ugly internal machinery of their endgame gameplay loop, but not so much anymore.

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Danny Smith

Theres lots of different conspiracies people put about for WoW’s slow but steady decline. From “the devs only play mobile games and think thats what rpgs are” to “the game is a skeleton crew training new employees for other projects down the line” but i honestly think the WoW teams biggest failing is simply saying “They WILL like it.” rather than “WILL they like it?”.
They want to be babe ruth and point before hitting the home run. Predicting their guaranteed success because they have an assumption the majority playerbase will react one certain way and its garaunteed. Its a blend of ‘too big to fail’, ‘no negativity in the dojo’ and ‘if we build it they will come’ and they never have any planned redundancies and counterpoints if things don’t go that way. They dig their heels and double down until numbers reach such catastrophic levels they abandon it for a new darling and its going to be different this time. This time they WILL like it.

and thats been the cycle for over a decade.

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Ben Stone

WoW should have handled borrowed power like Everquest 2 did, where you could absorb the powers of your weapon once you out-levelled it into an innate ability. They pruned all the classes at the start of Legion and baked the power into the weapons, and then took that away. It was just awful design for so many classes to lose those passives that made the class feel complete and fun to play.

Now it feels like we are getting those back as tiny breadcrumbs, which is super frustrating. Some classes are bursting with essential utility and were handed even more while others never got theirs back for … reasons?

If they are so incompetent that they cant offer every spec unique desirable utility after 16 years, then just offer mirrored utility with different skins. Why on earth are there 4 essential classes for significant buffs/debuffs when other classes have basically nothing to offer a group/raid?

I just don’t understand how they can be so oblivious to these super obvious issues that minor number tweaks aren’t going to fix.

For my favorite classes in WoW, they haven’t felt complete since Legion. They feel weaker and less fun to play. I would rather they just went back to that as a baseline with all those passives and skills returned.

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Utakata

At some point, I would like to be a discussion on whether content drought are really a bad thing.

As for some of us, perhaps a minority of us, it gives us time to smell the roses and take in the scenery. One thing I’ve dreaded with Legion and BfA is the whirlwind of content patches that seem to upend everything my army of toons was trying to settle into. And this is the point, content droughts seem far more altoholic friendly, IMO…

…though reading the comments, I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to sit well with many here. :(

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Ben Stone

It would be OK if the current content felt meaningful or worth doing. Shadowlands feels annoyingly tedious so that I have no interest in working on alts until all the speed up mechanics are put in at the end of the expansion. At the moment I just log in to hang out with guildies at raid then log out.

Legion in comparison had me actively playing doing world quests, M+ and PvP outside of raiding because it was actually fun. The one fun part of Shadowlands is Torghast, and there is zero reward or incentive for doing it once you have the legendaries you want and the twisted corridors mount.

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Utakata

I can’t help folks with their subjective take on it. Instead, I’m taking the view that I am more comfortable with the slower pace. But I agree, I’m not everyone else here.

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Dug From The Earth

There is only so slow you can go through content, unless you are refering to ALL WoW’s content, dating back through all expansions and the main game… for which there is a boat load. Enough to keep someone occupied for ages.

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Bruno Brito

Loremaster doesn’t take more than three months. Six if you’re playing really casually. It’s a lot of content, but it’s not Everquest 2 levels. It’s doable and not “ages”.

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Utakata

I’m not seeing the point of this argument. /shrug

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Bruno Brito

The point is that when you make your core design being devouring content, and the smelling of roses is repetitive tasks you did for the best part of 16 years, the droughts are felt harder.

You do have a point that games shouldn’t be that accelerated, and i agree. The problem, as i said before, is that WoW lacks lateral systems enough that everything you do outside of raiding, is lacking. You can quest, you can explore, you can farm transmogs, you can level professions. None of these actively benefit your gaming experience towards raiding and all of those are limited in nature, considering how they have been funneling resources into raiding.

The more perpetual systems you have in a game, the easier it is to stay in it while you go through droughts. We played Wildstar. That game got to a point where new content would never come, but the core game was so good that we could just keep doing Housing, Crafting, fashion collecting felt good, etc etc.

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Dug From The Earth

Housing is the only thing I agree with when it comes to Wildstar.

If WoW had a housing system like Wildstars, there would be a lot more to do during droughts.

none of these actively benefit your gaming experience towards raiding and all of those are limited in nature

Do they need to though? Does transmog hunting, or story questing, or exploration need to do this?

The other thing to consider… many of us have played WoW for years. We know the best ways to do things efficiently, be it questing, traveling, grinding, etc. You mentioned how loremaster could be done in 3-6 months. By vets, sure. Not by new players. Not by someone who is pretty new to the game, who isnt just trying to slam through quests to get the achievement. Not by someone who hasnt read the quest text, explored the zones they are questing in before, or knows the game world like the back of their hand.

But, im not arguing your main point here, in that WoW needs core, non-raid, gameplay loops that people can take part in, especially during content droughts. Housing would help. A better “fashion” system could help. One involving the ability to hunt dyes for transmogs and weapons. A better pet battle system that didnt feel like it was shooting yourself in the foot ever time you did a couple of battles could help. A trophy system for housing, where you could collect items, heads, artifacts, etc to decorate your house (if they had housing) would go a long way to helping too.

Another area I feel they failed on, was not having some sort of mastery system that wasnt based on borrowed power. A way to “Advance” without gaining more character levels. A way to advance that would help make Your Prot Warrior slightly different from everyone elses Prot Warrior. I think blizzard is so intent on borrowed power largely after 2 decisions the company made.

1. No World of Warcraft 2
2. Titan being canceled.

I, and possibly many other players, enjoy the aspect of a “new mmorpg”. That pleasant “getting lost in a new game” feeling. I think blizzard is intent on trying to give people that in each expansion (rather than a sequel) by adding new elements unique to that expansion alone. Its a novel concept, except that it fails pretty bad. The “new stuff” isnt big enough, and when its over, leaves that feeling of things being taken away from you. Neither of which would happen if it were just an actual new game/sequel.

Despite all of this, the few points we see semi eye to eye on, and those we do not… Blizzard isnt likely to make more than tweaks to their system. Why? Because despite the player base dropping, people KEEP coming back and paying them money. To buy the expansions, to subscribe each month. They cry and moan, but keep paying!!!

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jealouspirate

I agree with you on this one. When a new patch/expansions launches, I usually play it quite a bit. When I’m “done” with it I enjoy there being a gap between new content, because it allows me to step back from WoW and do other things/play other games. Then I come back refreshed for the new content. If I couldn’t do this I’d probably completely burn out on WoW.

However, even as someone who generally doesn’t mind these gaps I think 9.1 is arriving later than it should.

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Bruno Brito

I wouldn’t mind content droughts if you had more things to do with your character that were not xpac-dependent besides making alts. The main issue with WoW is the lack of lateral systems that are beyond xpac-lives.

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Utakata

Well…yeah, there’s lots of things Blizz could do in WoW much better. So you won’t getting any argument from me about this.

John Artemus
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John Artemus

“I’ve talked at length, multiple times, about how the current state of the game creates an environment wherein the borrowed power absolutely demolishes any long-term sense of genuine forward movement by ensuring that each expansion contains nothing more than stuff layered on top of your existing mechanics. The lackluster attempts to re-integrate fragments of these systems has not successfully struck a balance between making long-term effects stick and just layering more borrowed power on top of things.”

This is what happens when a game doesn’t really have a story to keep people coming back. Just gimmicks. Games like FFXIV, ESO and SWTOR all have linear story progression. Particularly FFXIV and SWTOR.

And there are many players that stick with FFXIV specifically for the story. And the devs actually put in a story reason why players will continuously grow stronger in each expansion. Without spoiling it, you are someone INCREDIBLY powerful and ancient. This may sound cliche, and in some ways it is, but the writing makes it work.

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Bruno Brito

This is what happens when a game doesn’t really have a story to keep people coming back.

?? wat

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DJ Meowth

Yeah, this is a weird post. Is this person unaware that WoW has a story?

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jealouspirate

Re: Borrowed Power.

I get why they’re doing it. Ion was explaining their philosophy on this in his interview with Preach. WoW is a game based on vertical progression – it always has been, and people like it. There is an expectation that you’re constantly getting stronger and every 2 years there’s an expansion and your character gets new abilities/powers/things to do.

As Ion said, you cannot do that forever without the whole system collapsing. WoW is 16 years old – very few games ever have to deal with this sort of reckoning. You can’t keep adding new abilities forever. As he said, they would get a point where classes didn’t actually need any new abilities but they were creating new ones because they needed something new. What do you do with that? It’s a real problem, and not enough people are willing to seriously engage with it when having this discussion.

Borrowed power and refreshing systems also offers Blizzard the freedom to experiment. They can try something new and not have to worry about supporting it 100% for decades if it doesn’t work out. It helps keep the game fresh without having to constantly support an endlessly growing number of systems forever. We’ve seen how this can go wrong with other studios, where systems or areas of content languish in terrible states of “undeath” for years – still technically here, but barely supported as devs are stretched too thin.

I also don’t really buy the idea that Borrowed Power systems are somehow less meaningful because they go away, or that somehow your accomplishments are invalidated when they go away. If you played Classic at launch and your got BiS in every slot from Ony/MC, that gear is worthless now all the other raid tiers out. That’s just in Vanilla alone. WoW has always been about moving on to the next thing.

So… I’m not opposed to Borrowed Power, in principle. I get why they’re doing it, and NOT doing it has a lot of downsides. However, even as a major fan of WoW, I will admit that they’re not quite landing the execution. I don’t necessarily mind temporary powers – I’m here for the journey, not the destination. But I think the ratio of Borrowed Power to permanent power is out of whack. Have Borrowed Power, but have less. And specifically, have fewer systems. WoW is too complicated and burdened with too many temporary systems. You could outright remove Soulbinds/Conduits from Shadowlands tomorrow and it would be a better game.

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Ben Stone

Except that with the big prune of classes for Legion, classes were designed to feel incomplete without the weapons powers. Pre-patch for Legion had some classes as bare bones. They had all been balanced around having those legendary weapon powers. Some got those powers given to them innately in BFA, others didn’t and have just felt bad ever since, pretty much back to Legion pre-patch stage.

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Bruno Brito

I’ll retry this with a better footing this time, and i’ll try to be less snarky. Let’s go.

I get why they’re doing it. Ion was explaining their philosophy on this in his interview with Preach. WoW is a game based on vertical progression – it always has been, and people like it. There is an expectation that you’re constantly getting stronger and every 2 years there’s an expansion and your character gets new abilities/powers/things to do.

I highly disagree with this. Everytime Blizzard did borrowed power, they removed power before readding systems to make you powerful again. With Cata, we lost older talent trees and the capability to hybridize, and we got status bloat as power. In MOP we lost complete talent trees and got these weird voids between levels, and we got more status bloat, with some cool spells on last tier talents but thats all.

I didn’t play WOD. Legion got us legendaries, and our specs were tailored to function with these legendaries. We got new power from these legendaries which were basically readditions of the old talent trees, and some new spells. Cool.

We lost that in BfA, and some classes didn’t had the make up to be complete after the lost in said Legendaries. Enhancement Shaman comes to mind.

I’m not playing Shadowlands, but the idea of getting covenants to then lose said covenants do not appease to me, and i would say it’s not appeasing to many people. Ask Preach, Bellular or Asmongold how much they like borrowed power.

As Ion said, you cannot do that forever without the whole system collapsing. WoW is 16 years old – very few games ever have to deal with this sort of reckoning. You can’t keep adding new abilities forever. As he said, they would get a point where classes didn’t actually need any new abilities but they were creating new ones because they needed something new. What do you do with that? It’s a real problem, and not enough people are willing to seriously engage with it when having this discussion.

I rarely take anything that Ion says seriously, because he already proved himself incompetent to me. He’s always loathing open world content, he only cares about raiding, as his background suggests, he clearly has issues with balancing that aspect of the game with everything else.

For instance: It’s a false point that players NEED and WANT new skills above everything else. What we want is to not lose skills that complement our class core design every year. Ion is confusing the hatred of borrowed power with hatred towards any kind of renovating.

Blizzard normally has to compensate those abilities with something else, and then you end up with terrible balance issues, like Retri Paladins and Rogues one-shotting people in one global because Blizzard removed all utility from them and compesated with damage.

And i disagree entirely with the assessment that people aren’t willing to engage seriously. I am here right now doing so. Asmon does it all the time on his channel. So does Bellular, so does Preach. Preach literally had an interview with Ion. Don’t confuse Ion not wanting to address said questions with us not asking the questions. We are. He’s ignoring us, and has done so for a long time.

Borrowed power and refreshing systems also offers Blizzard the freedom to experiment. They can try something new and not have to worry about supporting it 100% for decades if it doesn’t work out. It helps keep the game fresh without having to constantly support an endlessly growing number of systems forever. We’ve seen how this can go wrong with other studios, where systems or areas of content languish in terrible states of “undeath” for years – still technically here, but barely supported as devs are stretched too thin.

Again, i hard disagree. First, you speak like Blizzard has been trying new things for a while now, and i don’t see it. What i saw it was them rehashing old features in bad ways. Legendaries and the new covenant stuff is just a rehash of the old talent system on top of your talent system. Titanforging was around several xpacs with different names. Garrisons were just glorified daily quest hubs with mission tables without you needing to travel. Even the new WoW talent system with 3 talents per tier is just a rehash of GW2’s system. Everytime Blizzard tried to look sideways for ideas, they got it wrong. Their scaling is dog, and affected the game weirdly.

You also come from this position where WoW doesn’t suffer from areas of content languishing. WoW doesn’t develop Wrath zones, Cata zones, TBC zones, WoD zones anymore. WoW has the same problems where older content is under development limbo.

Actually WoW is worse on this, because for ESO specifically, older content is relevant because of sets, and WoW open world goes irrelevant after certain item tiers, since the game devolves itself into raiding. GW2 is entirely open world and rewards scale to 80, ESO gives you item sets that are good, and most of the good sets are base game. WoW…doesn’t. You level to 50, you never go out of Shadowlands again, and after a item level threshhold you raidlog/make alts.

I also don’t really buy the idea that Borrowed Power systems are somehow less meaningful because they go away, or that somehow your accomplishments are invalidated when they go away. If you played Classic at launch and your got BiS in every slot from Ony/MC, that gear is worthless now all the other raid tiers out. That’s just in Vanilla alone. WoW has always been about moving on to the next thing.

Borrowed Power is meaningless when it’s done in a way that you lose everything you conquered. Which is WoW main flaw. You don’t NEED to fear borrowed power, but don’t abuse it.

Also, you saying that Blizzard can experiment, and then saying that WoW was always about moving to the next thing is a contradiction. Either they’re changing the game, or they’re not.

So… I’m not opposed to Borrowed Power, in principle. I get why they’re doing it, and NOT doing it has a lot of downsides. However, even as a major fan of WoW, I will admit that they’re not quite landing the execution. I don’t necessarily mind temporary powers – I’m here for the journey, not the destination. But I think the ratio of Borrowed Power to permanent power is out of whack. Have Borrowed Power, but have less. And specifically, have fewer systems. WoW is too complicated and burdened with too many temporary systems. You could outright remove Soulbinds/Conduits from Shadowlands tomorrow and it would be a better game.

I’m entirely opposed to Borrowed Power as a principle of game design, because anyone who played a RPG PnP before knows that taking a hard-earned thing from a player without a great reasoning and a way for them to reap better rewards is a recipe for frustration.

Do i think Borrowed Power has a place? Sure! I love temporary buffs inside dungeons, i love class interdependency that creates combos ( GW2 and ESO both have this ), and i think it’s good to have some content designed around it.

What i am COMPLETELY against, is to develop and ENTIRE DESIGN PHILOSOPHY around borrowing power and losing power and then getting to the same ammount of power you have before to lose it again while just pretending the blue carrot is different than the yellow carrot. The game doesn’t change nearly enough for us to pretend we are playing a different game. It’s the same raiding with different mechanics, same loot system, same graphics, same leveling, same sound design, and this is proven by how many players WoW has lost over the years since they adopted this design.

Again: Make Blizzard create systems that are beyond xpac-life expectancy and you’ll have a better game.

And get a better lead dev already.