The Blind Grind – The Real (I Think) Issue With Legion

There is definitely a problem in Legion. What it is, though, may surprise you.

There have been conversations at length about the strengths and opportunities of Legion, as we move forward and are about to (likely) be talking about a new expansion in about…8 days.

I am going to start with a controversial statement about the biggest opportunity of Legion, and hopefully explain it well enough to bring you over to my side by the end of this post. Sound good? I think I’m up to the challenge. 🙂

So, here goes:

The biggest problem with Legion is NOT randomness.

Okay, your eyes might be bloodshot with rage or surprise, but are you with me still? Let’s talk about why I believe this.

There are multiple systems that intersect with randomness in Legion – loot, Artifact Power, Legiondaries, and War/Titanforging. These systems are all pointed at, somewhat hand-wavily, when someone wants to illustrate where many people feel Legion has not shone very well. And they’re right! These systems, such as they exist, are part of a big problem for the game.

However, the problem in these systems is not randomness, more so than it has existed before. It is something I have come to term the “blind grind.”

To illustrate what I think the problem truly is, let’s focus on one specific system and go deep – Titanforging. I know, yes, Legendaries hurt more, etc – but Titanforging is, I think, one that will come to better exemplify what I mean with blind grind.

To start with – Titanforging is a system that is about 50/50 in the community perception. It’s a welcome surprise on World Quest rewards, random Heroic dungeon gear, and the occassional source of a mindshattering raid upgrade, like my tier cape drop from Normal Tomb of Sargeras that just leapfrogged right up to Mythic base item level. It is also, however, increasingly a problem when you look at min-maxing. In some cases, certain specs really love their Tier 19 set bonus, so much so that those people are willing to farm LFR, Normal, Heroic, and perhaps even Mythic Nighthold, even still, desperately hoping for their Tier gear to drop and be Titanforged to a high-enough item level to make accepting that set bonus a little less painful.

Now, using old gear is not inherently new. Particularly with Trinkets, the game has had a storied past of really good early tier gear still being used late in the expansion because it is just that damn good. But the new twist is Titanforging – yeah, sure, maybe I got my base Mythic Tier 19 at item level 905, but what I really want is for it to Titanforge up to 915, or hopefully even 930. Wouldn’t that be great? So I run those old raids, over, and over, and over again – hoping that on the 12th time I loot that tier token, it’s gonna be the one that gives me what I want!

And sure, this innately isn’t a problem. That person wants to min-max, and is okay and finding willing groups to go right back into that old content and farm it for that drop. But this burns someone out. It’s not even just a matter of being able to farm the specific boss for that drop, since I can use all the fun shortcuts in Nighthold to really specifically target the loot. I am also farming Veiled Argunite en masse, doing the best I can to get that ideal drop.

What hurts here is this – I don’t know that it will Titanforge, or if it will do so to a high-enough standard for me to stop the grind. Even so, I don’t know when it will hit that right level of roll, or if the system will allow that to happen this week. Do I run Nighthold first, to offer the best opportunity, or does that not matter? I don’t know! It is…a blind grind.

See, grinding in and of itself is not unwelcome in an MMO. Most of us here know exactly what we signed up for with this genre. I know that I am going to have to put in the time, working towards my goals, whether it is the level grind, gear grind, PvP rating grind, or reputation – I am going to do something in this damn game, probably a lot of somethings, that is designed solely to be a time sponge. Not only do I know this, but I accept this. Titanforging as a system is cool for the most part – sometimes, something is gonna drop that will get me excited, and that can happen in ANY content. However, I don’t actually KNOW how it works.

Blizzard has done this with many things in Legion – despite the robust information economy that exists around World of Warcraft, I have only the most basic idea of how Titanforging actually works. Basically, it’s a series of dice rolls, where it can get an upgrade, and if it rolls an upgrade, it rolls again and again until it craps out. Those upgrades can be item level in increments of 5, a prismatic socket (limit 1), or a tertiary stat (limit 1). Okay, but do we know if some activity or sources can do so more frequently? No. Do we know if there is a cap on upgrades you can get overall in a reset, day, week, month, lifetime? Nope. Is it more likely to happen early in the week, or later on? I dunno, possibly?

That’s why, I think, that the discussions around actual solutions to the Titanforging “problem” end up toothless and uneventful. Could you just cap it at a lower item level by activity? Sure, but does that really, actually solve anything? Probably not. It just makes it less rewarding for more casual players and hardcore players, to eliminate a perceived “problem” of lower tier raiders getting Mythic level drops (which is, in and of itself, a low probability event). We can’t propose a strong, meaningful fix to the system, because we don’t know the full bounds of the system. All we know is this – we don’t know enough to be sure that we can or can’t get that Tier 19 set to a high item level, so we keep running to try, whether or not it does much. This process causes burn-out, frustration, and wasted time – not because of the system as we know it, but because of the system constraints and mechanisms we do not know or understand fully.

When I think about an ideal in my head, imagine knowing that you were capped per character at 20 upgrade success rolls a week. Okay, so I get a Heroic ToS piece that somehow rolls 930 item level instead of 915 and has both a prismatic socket and a tertiary stat. That is 5 upgrade rolls out of my 20, so now I have 15 left. By shining a light on the process, I can pick and choose when I do content or if I do content, understanding the possibility space for rewards that exists. It can still be a cool thing that gives an LFR raider a Mythic item level piece – I’d argue that actually isn’t the thing people care about, but rather the other direction is the problem – a high-level player wanting the lower tier drop to give something good and grinding that content into dust. If I am a Mythic raider still farming that ideal Tier 19 drop, then I know that I’d need a Mythic piece to roll at least 5 upgrades to match Mythic ToS, so if I only have 4 upgrade success rolls still open this week, then I won’t run Nighthold. I save my sanity, time, and effort and can direct my farming in the directions that will pay off for me. I don’t propose this as a fully baked system, as it has some holes (would the Mythic raider do a single World Quest with a gear reward before at least trying their normal content for the week?) but the point is this – the system itself is not the issue – the blindness is.

So let’s bring it home to Legiondaries, then. This is where the blindness is at its peak. For what we don’t know about Titanforging, at least those particulars don’t seem to affect too much of that process. But Legiondaries are a giant abyss of question marks, none of which is ever really well answered. I can maybe get one doing damn near anything current expansion – dungeons on all difficulties, emissary caches, raids on all difficulties, World Bosses, Invasion Rifts, and Mythic Plus chests both end of dungeon and weekly. Okay, cool. However, I have no way inside the game to understand or know if I am getting close. Blizzard will argue that this is necessary to ensure people don’t push too hard on farming them, but look around at what is happening now. People ARE absolutely farming all viable means of content, and then, after hours of play, getting something maybe useful, or maybe not! It sucks, frankly, because it is blind.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the WoD Legendary Ring quest, but at least I knew where I was on it. I could look at each step of the quest, and the RNG involved, and still math out that I would be done at my current pace in approximately X number of resets. Maybe I got lucky on drops one week or another, but at least I could see my progress and know that I was within X% of the finish line. I could decide in that system that maybe I wanted to push a bit harder on getting over the finish line – maybe I could do LFR on a week my guild took off, or do the Tanaan Jungle catch-up quests once or twice. I don’t think the randomness of the items would suck so bad if you at least knew and had agency on farming. If I knew I was 18 Legiondary Points away from a free orange item, then I could decide for myself to grind out some Heroic dungeons – I average 3 Legiondary points per dungeon, so maybe I run 6 of them to push out the item drop. Sure, then it could be a shitty item and I could be slightly disappointed, but at least then I would KNOW that it was going to happen.

Right now, it’s completely a faith-based venture – do all the content and you’ll get the items of your dreams. It pushes us as a playerbase into two camps – I will farm all the things, or “you know what, if it happens it happens, but I’m tuned out of this now.” Basically, it either forces you to be a no-lifer or makes you not care about farming them. There’s not really a lot of gray area here, although there are some people who I’d say have a casual level of interest and investment in that system.

The systems that I think grind the community the wrong way in Legion do so not because they are random, but because the terms on which they happen are enclosed in shadow, and we don’t get to know or understand. Just keep playing, they say, someday you’ll get that item. Well, maybe at a certain point, I don’t want this shadow-cloaked figure to keep promising me a damn Titanforge or Legendary, and I stop caring about it enough to not really feel a desire to push on that outcome. If I trip on a Kil’Jaeden’s Burning Wish, great, but if not, well, I can still play on my terms rather than listening to the master of the darkened path (which also sounds like a badass Warlock/Death Knight/Demon Hunter crossover faction).

Blizzard, my plea here – I get what you think you’re doing. Cool mystery, interesting systems, people murmuring amongst themselves when a guildy gets a +30 Titanforge or a Legendary. At a certain point though, in this game, not being allowed to know something in order to increase my played time becomes transparently sad. I may not know how Legendaries work, but I do know that for you, they work on those logged-in hours, and it does hurt my perception of the game and team ever so slightly to see something blatantly designed and shrouded to keep me on the hamster wheel. I will gladly run on that wheel if you let me see the carrot on a stick, but the promise of a carrot doesn’t do it alone.

You can keep a myriad of Legendaries and huge Titanforges in the game, but for the love of god, cast some light on the path. Let me see the way forward, and I will gladly walk it.

Randomness, indeed, is not the problem. Stumbling through the dark with the hope of finding stairs up, but more often finding nothing – is the problem. The blind grind is what pushes us away.

4 thoughts on “The Blind Grind – The Real (I Think) Issue With Legion

  1. Good thoughts, and believe me, I do agree. But I am afraid that such systems are here to stay. It keeps the players with 24 hours to play busy. And makes them continue to play constantly without cancelling their subscription. And THAT is the reason Legion is at it is, I believe.

    Somewhere in a corner of their headquarters sits the psychiatrists that Blizzard hire to figure out how to do exactly that; keep players hooked. And their biggest concern are the players that have all day to play.

    They will never come out and say this in such a way, but I am confident that series this is the reason.

    And Blizzard are quite satisfied with how Legion turned out. It keeps the “no lifers”, as you call them, busy.

    Me as a casual with about an hour or two to play a day? They can produce content for me in a speed that means, I won’t run out of it until the next patch. But how to keep those with all day to play active, that is the challenge for them.

    Those players are the reason, that patches have the fixed 77 days between them, no matter the quality, the patch arrives, gets time gated content and what not.

    Maybe it’s just me. But I see a pattern here with a target player audience clearly cut out.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I do feel like the current emphasis on hours played is bothersome, as it reminds me of the emphasis in other corners of gaming on loot boxes vs. in-game currency earned via grinding. If this becomes a bridge to a real-money loot box option in WoW, I am going to be highly irritated and disappointed. I don’t know that they will go that way, but the thought occurred to me the other day that I could see a Shop option next to, say, the Emissaries on your world map, which you would pay and just get the box…I don’t want that at all, but I could see it, which scares me!

      I play a lot, though, and so while I don’t place great importance on grinding for things, I get a decent amount of both titanforges and legendaries. I enjoy the systems and the volume of content, but I hope this doesn’t push in a more nefarious direction.

      Agreed on targetting though – Blizzard is obviously gambling that players like you or I will keep playing, it’ll increase investment for more grind-enjoying players, and that only a minimal number of people will burn out and drop. It’s hard to say online – a lot of people voice discontent (myself included in this case!) but also keep playing and overall enjoy it! I know I like these systems in some aspects, but I think the intersections they have with the idea of time played as a metric of business health is sticking out sorely to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Totally interesting article. Partially it makes me think of currency: as in with the internet we have the ‘click’ as the currency which leads to bait over content succeeding. And then I think of ‘time spent’ as Blizzard’s currency and their variable rewards system urging us to keep mashing the button for the prize — in both cases, I think in a hand-wavily way, that the content itself suffers because the goal was to earn the currency and not to entertain, educate, or any of the loftier goals that we would like to use our personal currency on. That variable reward system is what kept me playing online Solitaire over and over and over again — scary amazing 50 games later in one night.
    The Blind Grind could be stopped — they could set each piece in a limitless Valor Point system (instead of 2/2) and we could pour our time-effort into upgrading pieces or even one piece to an absurd maximum — that awesome 740 trinket you got is now 980 from millions of valor points invested.
    I think, in part, that we have a hold-over mentality from our past when min/max absolutely made a big difference and it was very worthwhile to invest in best-in-slot and hitting haste caps etc. while I think that, today, the view is very blurred almost to the point of being …. blind.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I totally agree – I feel like currency systems worked better in that sure, they could be grindy, but you knew where that grind was going and what the value was. Even if they only semi-unveiled how Legendaries really work, giving you an indication that you’re “close” to one as a way to incentivize play, I’d probably be a bit happier with the system. I do overall like it, but that required me resigning to the idea that I’m never going to get every Legendary or even every one I want, and accepting that.

      I miss the Cataclysm model – 7 times a week you get Valor from a random heroic, bosses drop it, you know what items you can buy with it and how it works, and can really make an informed choice about your gameplay. I hope that 8.0 angles more towards that, even if it happens in a new and different way.

      Liked by 2 people

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