WoW Factor: Why is Dragonflight’s crafting not going over well?

This plan sure worked!

For a long time, World of Warcraft has suffered in the crafting department. Basically every single expansion for the game has promised overhauls and restorations of crafting to a position of utility and prominence, and none of them has gone over (with crafters) well. And you can tell with Dragonflight that the designers sat down and really wanted to work on this system. The crafting revisions that have been made for crafting in this expansion are extensive and large, clearly took a great deal of programming, and were made with the hopes of creating an in-depth system for crafters to use.

And it has been a gigantic failure.

The crafting order system seems to sit wholly unused. Guides are written explaining the systems and struggling to parse all of the different mechanics. Attempts at specializing are met with befuddled stares. Even green crafted items are exorbitantly expensive, because, well… no one’s crafting them, much less selling them. So why did this clearly well-intentioned and genuine effort to improve an area of weakness with the game go over so poorly?

First and foremost, I want to stress what I said above: This is, by all accounts, a very well-intentioned and genuine effort to make the game’s crafting significantly better than it has been in the past. This was obviously something that was neither easy to accomplish nor cheap in terms of development time. I look at this as the work of people who were trying to make crafting better, and on paper, it even makes sense how it would look like a good idea!

Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. starting first and foremost with the problem that this crafting revision makes the same mistake a lot of designers made when WoW first launched by assuming that problem X is best addressed by making the system more like it is in game Y.

What are the actual problems that WoW’s crafting had and still has? Well, crafting was pointless because the entirety of actual gear advancement came through raiding, and this rendered any dedicated crafters completely unable to keep up. You couldn’t craft stuff to sell to raiders unless you were raiding, so dedicated crafters just left and went elsewhere, and crafters-who-raid were subject to the churn the game had introduced into that system. This provokes a vicious cycle of de-emphasizing crafting.

It also has a serious problem in terms of leveling crafting becoming increasingly onerous as time goes by, which Legion tried to fix, but it did so in the least subtle and successful way possible and caused more problems. Moreover, the actual identity of the crafting professions was and has always been incredibly difficult to pin down, with Jewelcrafting, Inscription, and Enchanting increasingly moving away from their stated systems as Blizzard realized they held outsized importance and/or disliked maintaining their systems.

And let’s not forget that it’s boring. You click a button and watch a bar fill up. Nothing else to it.

So here's your problem.

Dragonflight addresses… none of these problems. But it does add in gear and stats and a lot more complexity to crafting! If you didn’t like having your crafting having no impact on your character, now what you craft does have an impact! You have appearances based on your crafting gear when you craft! That fixed it, right? Right?!

Again, I do genuinely believe this was done with the best of intentions. But let’s look back up there. Of the game’s primary crafting professions, three of them are basically still in the game as legacy elements. Inscription has gone from being a craft about making glyphs of various types and special shoulder enhancements to making… staves and dragon appearance scrolls. Jewelcrafting at least had a niche to fill with accessories, but nothing has sockets any more. Enchanting I don’t even know how to explain at this point.

There is, yes, an effort to give these professions and all of the others an equal share of the overall crafting pie. But it doesn’t help that the range of things you can actually make in WoW is intensely narrow anyway. You can’t make housing items, and they don’t want you to make too many reagents players need on a regular basis, so everything becomes an exercise in one-off items that most players won’t want enough to invest in.

We still have the same basic problem in which your crafting gear options are basically irrelevant in the wake of even weekly raid finder clears. They’re obsolete on arrival. That just leaves crafting gear made for crafters, by crafters, and that’s… a closed circle of an economic loop. Nobody is going to invest in that. Why would you? It’s completely pointless.

And for all of the extra stats that this revision layers on top of existing crafting, the process is still the same as it’s ever been. Click a button and wait for the bar to fill. Sure, you can add an optional reagent in there on some crafts, very spicy, but those optional reagents aren’t unique or interesting, and it’s in the service of crafting things people don’t want in the first place, so why are you bothering? Why engage? What does this offer you that you can’t get just from other content?

You want to make a what?

On top of not solving all these existing problems, the system also introduces new problems. The addition of new stats creates a learning curve for players to figure out how this stuff is supposed to work, except the in-game tutorials are pretty terrible and the display does an awful job of explaining what’s going on at any given moment. So you have stats to worry about where you previously had none, and it’s easy to just say, “Y’know what, no.”

That’s not including weird edge cases like adding in this profession-specific equipment that can alter your appearance… but only sometimes. You can’t use it outside of times when you were just crafting. Sure, maybe there are some technical reasons that make it hard to implement, but despite the obvious and positive idea of “you can make your Tailor look like a Tailor,” it’s actually really hard to make your Tailor look like a Tailor on a regular basis.

And the whole knowledge/talent tree equivalent is like a nexus for all the terrible design choices: You allocate points you aren’t clear about to influence stats you don’t understand for an end goal that isn’t explained and crafts nobody wants. Oh, and you can’t respec, so that’s another great element.

The more time I have with this expansion’s crafting system, the less I like it. I respect the people who made it, I believe they were trying hard, and I definitely think this was a task undertaken with love and intent by the crafting team. But it not only fails to work but introduces new problems into a system that already had problems that themselves weren’t fixed and couldn’t possibly be fixed by the crafting system alone anyway, and the result is a system that players seem to have bounced off of hard.

It’s a shame because there are genuinely good ideas in the revamp. The stats aren’t pointless when you understand them, the mechanics have some likable aspects, and I like the idea of letting you specialize your crafting even further. It’s just badly explained and badly assembled in a game with too many other fundamental issues. A for effort, but significantly lower for results.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with almost two decades 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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