After all the speculation I’ve been doing, I want to take a step back from lore, thematics, and the like to talk about what I want to see in an expansion in terms of gameplay.
Here’s the thing – if you have the coolest themed expansion ever, but there’s nothing to do – well, what good is it.
We are exactly 5 weeks from Blizzcon right now, and for all the things we do know, or assume are almost certain, what we don’t know is this – what kind of gameplay will be doing in the South Seas/Kul’Tiras/Azeroth Re-Revamp/Void and Tentacle Land that we all “know” we’re getting?
Let’s take a look back first, because I think it’s worth calling this next point out:
Legion Changed The Game, Completely
Think back to Warlords of Draenor (I know, it makes me sad too, but come on). What was the bulk of your gameplay? You quested to level 100, and then the game gave you a choice of daily quests every day, at least at launch. Your goal was to do your one big daily, your weekly Garrison quest, maybe a random dungeon until you had the gear you wanted, and then raid. There wasn’t a whole lot to it, really – which is a thing that can be applied to the entirety of Warlords, but hey. 6.2 added Tanaan Jungle, which added the wrinkle of the weekly big Apexis quests, and the random rotation of dailies that intermingled with the Assault Point idea that carried over from the 6.0 daily Garrison quests. Then there were the added Mythic Dungeons in 6.2, and the Timewalking and other weekly events in the minor patches that followed. But that was it. Gearing happened largely in dungeons and raids, with the exception of the launch Apexis vendor gear, and the 6.2 tokens with upgrade items, but for the most part, the game only gave you about an hour or two of content daily. This could, depending on your perspective, be a good or a bad thing. If you wanted to manage alts, great, rotate them on through, keep it moving. If you had one main, it was easy to keep up on stuff, and then you could log out and do something else, like play Overwatch (business strategy!) or watch TV, or become one with nature and ascend to a new plane of spiritual existence, attuned to Apexis Crystals.
(that last one probably never happened)
But Legion, oh no, Legion has never been content to just give you 1 hour worth of stuff. Sure, in theory, you could just knock out 1 emissary cache at a time, doing your four world quests, maybe a random dungeon, and then moving on. You could save emissaries, three at a time, to do all at once, knocking out 8-12 world quests depending on the reps involved and get all three caches, then do something else. What Legion offers is this – when you log in for the day, you have about 50 different world quest options, at least 1 emissary, random dungeon reward queues, class hall missions, raids, Mythic dungeons, Mythic Plus runs, PvP, and whatever else you might want to do. Add on top of that the story quest roll outs in zones you haven’t completed – Suramar launch plus Insurrection, Broken Shore’s “story”, and now the three weeks of Shadows of Argus – and there is a boatload of things you can still do. Even once you do all the one time stuff, there is still a pile of things.
And these things are more empowering than ever. Sure, you can have an interesting, nuanced argument about the relative value of Artifact Power and if it is truly the carrot on a stick that Blizzard sees it as – but more so than nearly any time in the game’s history, the core philosophy of its design remains true – you can log in for a small window of time and come away with something. It may not always be a great something, but the content in-game exists and has a greater breadth and amount of reward tied to it than it ever has.
Even for a character like my Demon Hunter, who has served as my main throughout Legion, there are Emissary caches, the Paragon rep rewards, just grinding AP, and there are still things I should do that I haven’t yet (Aviana quests, acquisition of the Underlight Angler, PvP, Deaths of Chromie, etc).
This is the template upon which 8.0 will almost certainly build. Blizzard likes that you are spoiled for choice upon login, and it is easier than ever to pick and choose the things that will yield the most enjoyment for your time investment. Instead of rotating quest models like Mists of Pandaria or Warlords had, where you had to go to the quest-giver to see your options, in Legion, you just smash the M key, stare at the emissary graphic, then maybe zoom in on the corresponding zone and see what you have available. Fishing quest? Skip that one. Leather turn-in? Well, I do have a stack of Stonehide in my bag, and well, I just want to get my AP token for the day.
That being said, there are some improvements that I would like to see.
World Quests – Sorta-Dynamic, but Not Really
I love world quests. I know that, on a cynical level, they’re lazy re-appropriation of leveling quests and bonus objectives, interspersed with some changes, but hey – dailies were that and were more annoying. They give me the option to log in, do about 20 minutes worth of stuff, and get a handful of rewards. I can pick the quests by reward, by ease of completion, or I can just treat it like a Friday night buffet at a casino near me, grabbing everything because fuck it, I paid for it, right?
Here is what I don’t like – they don’t feel dynamic or special. They should, to me at least, feel like the spot I’m headed to is being changed or invaded. There is a contrast between, say, the Legion Invasions added back in 7.2, and the 7.0 launch world quests. In 7.0, I’d go to the Court of Farondis area, and hey, look, the same damn Naga are still attacking, but now I can kill them for a reward again, with the twist of also having to hit an extra action button to cheer at these lazy, no-good night elf ghosts so they do something about this Naga invasion that has been here for over a year now. But with a Legion Invasion, oh it’s different. The zone is taken over, and it feels dramatic and interesting. There are zone-wide NPC shouts, a new skybox, and the world quests stop just popping magically into my character’s view when I get close enough – the demons are ALREADY HERE so get them already, champion! It feels different and unique. Sure, at the end of the day, they’re just slightly fancier world quests, but they use the same systems and they feel authentic, like an actual invasion, not that lame Naga BS that the Court of Farondis NPCs can’t seem to understand.
If all World Quests behave like the 7.2 invasion quests when we get to 8.0 content, I’ll be happy. Everything else about the system is great for me – I like the large number of them, the timer system that keeps them cycling and fresh, and even the reward structure. I feel like, in terms of repeatable content, this was a home run – and for the first time in an expansion, it seems worthwhile to do even the old zones’ world quests, because the AP reward and possible legendary drop is always worth it.
Current Dungeon Systems
Legion’s crown jewel acheivement in endgame content was in dungeons, though. Where MoP and WoD de-emphasized dungeons to the point where almost no one did them at all past a certain gear breakpoint, Legion has brought them roaring back. I like level scaling normal modes, I enjoy the split of Normal/Heroic/Mythic, and I especially enjoy the Mythic Plus system, even if I rarely do many of them. They’ve done something I wasn’t expecting – made dungeons an integral part of the endgame consistently, without tying Valor Points or a similar system to them. Sure, AP could maybe be viewed in a similar light, as could the ever-present chance for better gear through war/titanforging, but I think overall the dungeon game is a success.
I’d love to see a couple of things – if we do in fact get an old world re-revamp, I’d love level-scaling Normal modes for them, alongside Mythic and Mythic Plus at 120 for them. Couple that with a similar number of new dungeons to what we got in Legion, and patch dungeons being added consistently, and I think this mode of gameplay is going to continue to remain a success.
Flex raiding is fantastic and continues to be one of the best things added to WoW since Mists of Pandaria. That being said, I feel like Artifacts ironically put things on a weird footing. Emerald Nightmare was a great raid, that on Mythic was cleared through very quickly. Trial of Valor was the sweet spot – a tight progression race that felt just right. Nighthold was enjoyable, but at the top end, the need for a fully powered artifact, coupled with the problems in tank balance as pertaining to magic damage, made the complete opening tier feel a little weird.
Tomb of Sargeras has had far too much repetition of mechanics – soak puddles, group damage split laser beams, etc. Antorus looks to be a step forward and out of that mess, but I have to confess that at this point in time, I don’t really have any fondness for Tomb of Sargeras, which is disappointing. Visually it’s amazing, but it feels like the encounter design was lacking here, and like each fight was designed by a different person with no communication between them.
While the 4-difficulty system must be a bear to maintain, I hope it continues – LFR, despite community hangups, is still a vital addition for casual content experience, and if they balance it a bit better to engage players, I think it can be salvaged. Normal/Heroic/Mythic is great, in that you get a good mix of flex raids coupled with the benchmark status of Mythic play. I hope for more raids overall, even if the number of encounters stays the same. Having Emerald Nightmare plus Trial of Valor was a great surprise and added a lot to that early tier. Sure, ToV was 3 bosses, but it was a completely different visual kit with fun challenges that tied-in to questing we did early on and concluded some stories. I’d love to see more split-tiering like this, particularly later on – I think I could deal more with the burnout I feel in ToS if there was also a little mini-raid in like, I dunno – Azsuna or something. Maybe a drogbar raid in Highmountain? The concept of your big, main story raid alongside a bite-sized bit of content that tells an interesting side-story and gives you a bit of encounter diversity is one I think strengthens the game.
Going into an expansion which many of us suspect will have multiple themes could allow more of this. Old God raids, alongside seafaring and Naga raids, topped off with Void raids – each tier could push us in multiple, distinct directions, which I would welcome.
Also, for fuck’s sake – no more soaking. The only thing I want to soak for the rest of my life is dishes.
And even when they soak, they aren’t fun either.
I’m not much of a PvPer, I’ll admit. Still, I appreciate what happened in Legion – the move towards a fixed stat template, coupled with retooling abilities specifically for PvP, and moving to Honor 3.0 with the new talents and prestige rewards was, overall, a good idea. Taking the initial gear investment out of PvP makes it easier than ever to enter. On the other hand, if you only play PvP, gear acquisition is more painful than ever, since you have to keep getting and opening strongboxes, hoping for that right piece. Now, you can at least use the Obliterum forge to swap some things out, but I would like to see some improvements made to gearing.
It actually restores an old Vanilla WoW PvP problem, in some way – PvE players will almost always have a better baseline of gear. With the small, fractional increases in power for item level over 800, that difference is no longer huge, but still – I feel like it forces PvP players into more PvE content than they’d probably like in order to gear up faster.
I’d like to see a few changes – a clearer gear path, in-game tutorials and explanations for how to properly play on the battlegrounds we do have, and some new maps. New Arena maps, and maybe, for a battleground, a giant Battle Royale style map, to capture some of the interesting gameplay in games like PUBG.
Further, the prestige system is great and should continue on, alongside Honor Talents and stat templates – they put much more emphasis on the gameplay. That being said, I would be interested to see if we can have options to modify our stat template – moving secondary stats around to better suit our playstyle and talent builds.
While seeing the world is a cornerstone of WoW gameplay, and once upon a time, was one of the chief reasons to hit level cap, I feel like some element of that is gone. I don’t know that I can trace it to a specific reason – I disagree with the caps lock commandos I see on forums loudly whining that Blizzard adding verticality to zones was a bad idea. I enjoy the navigation in the game today, in that it makes the world feel more real. That being said, I don’t think every nook and cranny needs a double-back, and in some places, like Antoran Wastes, that has gone perhaps too far.
I’d like to see a few changes here – a world map and minimap that better express the topography of the zone, with clearer paths and a better defined way forward.
Flying is fine under the Pathfinder system – outline from the beginning like in Legion and allow us to start working towards it day 1.
I’d like to see the addition of an Exploration Log of some sort. Final Fantasy XIV has this feature, to not just “uncover the map” but to go to certain points in the world for a small reward. I’d love to see this in a riddle, added to WoW. Maybe even an Explorer event that would happen ocassionally to encourage people to do this in groups. Alongside the continuation of puzzles like the Lucid Nightmare, this could make game world exploration a central part of the content once more.
I have some other ideas that I will expand upon in future posts (endless dungeons, random dungeons, the return of queuable scenarios, etc).
Let me be real for a moment – the endgame content and actual gameplay is what matters the most to me. If you gave me vanilla-era graphics with a well conceived endgame, I’d buy that, but if you give me modern-era graphics and world design with nothing to do, I’m going to tune out. I think Blizzard has built a very solid foundation for their endgame with Legion, one that is fundamentally different from the game’s past – in a better way.
Upon that, who knows what they could build?
Well, we’ll see in 5 weeks!