When patch 9.2 was announced, a surefire win was two Legendaries. Players have been waiting for a while to be able to finally equip two, after Legion allowed it early on with Order Hall advancement at launch.
So 9.2 is announced, and a machine-translated Chinese dev team interview comes out with the text “double-orange.” Awesome, two legendaries, let’s fucking go!
Oh wait, it’s two legendaries, but one has to be the Covenant one. Okay, less exciting for some specs, but two leggos is two leggos.
Then yesterday comes, and we get the news that at present, it’s 1 legendary plus a new legendary memory only, and that new memory is just…the Covenant one, but on a power that auto-switches between Covenant legendaries when you switch Covenants. If the blog post from Blizzard is read literally, it means that you cannot be ahead of the curve now by pre-making a Rank 6 Covenant legendary, because the post they wrote specifies the new power that auto-swaps is the only one you can have for that second legendary slot.
And it’s just like, why? Why is there a need to fixate on such a specific and small set of details from Blizzard here?
You might read this and think it an overreaction, and I’ll concede that it is too early in the 9.2 cycle to be up in arms over details yet, but at the same time, I think this trend is indicative of something larger we can discuss, both in terms of the specifics of this item and how it upends a lot of the benefits of 9.1.5, but also in a larger sense how Blizzard constantly needles at things players like to make them less attractive and less exciting.
Covenant Theorycraft Gets More Complicated
Right now, in 9.1.5, the Covenant you pick for a given mode of content is fairly complicated to theorycraft, but it can be distilled down fairly easily. You have to analyze a Covenant ability, yes, but also the Soulbind trees, the individual Soulbind traits, and then how Conduits and those bonuses all intertwine to deliver player power increases to you. You can analyze individual elements fairly easily, like saying that if you have 100% utilization of a Covenant ability it would break down to X DPS/HPS value, or that a given Soulbind trait can add X DPS assuming certain variables. Of course, theorycrafting tends to deal in the realm of perfect play, so you might then modify that value by accounting for the fact that no one plays 100% perfectly with abilities hit on immediate availability, and then you also have to account for things like how Haste interacts with a full rotation and how priorities might mean holding an ability for a given point in a rotation after higher-power spells, but these things have been studied for 17 years and growing and simming is a generally-accepted art.
In 9.2, this math gets much more complicated because the Covenant legendary becomes a part of the gameplay and instead of simming the legendary power on its own against the other options, it now modifies how the Covenant plays at a base level. Simming and theorycrafting Covenant choice now means factoring the legendary in, and in some cases, that may make choices better or worse and it will likely shuffle Covenants up and down the rankings. Currently, Venthyr Balance Druids really like their Covenant legendary and that seems unlikely to change in 9.2, so they get a straight bonus in being able to add any other Legendary to the mix. Great! However, this is not nearly the universal experience, and without tuning, there will be some specs elated by this news and others still that are disappointed.
Ultimately, the biggest problem is that in many ways, locking you to a Covenant legendary, even one that auto-swaps powers, means that Covenant choice remains a thorn in our side, after that thorn was largely removed in 9.1.5. However, that isn’t my chief concern here.
Why Limit The Choice In The First Place?
Now we get to the meat of my actual concern. Two legendaries is cool and it should be a moment of uncontested jubilation for players. However, this limiter of one non-Covenant legendary and one Covenant legendary means that players are unnecessarily constrained, and without an explanation from Blizzard, we can only guess why that is. Is this a tacit admission that the Covenant legendaries are kind of not great and thus safe to open access for? Is it a limit made to force players to better-optimize their Covenant choices? We don’t know, because Blizzard hasn’t made this restriction make sense or even deigned to explain it, short of telling us what we can and cannot wear. Why does it have to be the new Runecarving power that auto-switches instead of the existing Covenant legendary that some players have?
Two legendaries would be a good moment for players to min-max to their playstyle and preferred content, to be able to take a strong AoE loadout for Mythic Plus or a strong single-target one for raiding, or even a mix for the fact that both modes of content have a mix of encounters. Sure, you can argue most players will just take the top 2 off a theorycrafting guide or a sim chart, and I don’t even disagree, but there are always layers to those decisions and interplay that could be interesting. Instead, Blizzard has limited the scope, and we don’t know why. By choosing to explain the limitation itself but not the design logic or ideal they accomplish with it, I’m just left scratching my head in irritation.
It opens a lot of new questions that don’t have great answers – do I need to hit Renown 48 on every Covenant to get the new power, or does this new power completely invalidate the use of the Covenant legendary memory as a reward at that Renown level? How will we craft and rank up new legendaries in 9.2 since we know Torghast isn’t being pulled along for the ride? All the way down, it also creates this challenge of why the legendary system in Shadowlands is the way it is in the first place – slot restrictions for powers were fine enough up front, but then we had Shards of Domination and now we have Progenitor tier sets and all of that locks up certain slots and which slots are locked is inconsistent between raiding seasons and armor types, and some powers but not all were expanded to additional slots as a means of countering this, but then I wonder why we couldn’t just have any slot open for powers and why Season 1 of Shadowlands couldn’t have had a similar gearing system to Shards or Tier sets with certain slots offering some kind of awesome bonus that we try to integrate into our gearing, and then it becomes clear that the design of the game is a slapdash thought exercise that only offers introspection when players reject the design, and I’m just left wondering how things got this bad?
I might not necessarily agree with Blizzard on their rationale for these decisions, but at the same time, if I knew why they thought this was all gravy, then at least I could form a coherent argument for or against it. As it stands now, though, it’s just baffling. It is unnecessarily antagonistic to players that wanted two non-Covenant legendaries, it’s antagonistic to players that currently have a Covenant legendary equipped and are now being told that item is trash next patch, and I can’t see a logical reason as to why that restriction matters so much to Blizzard – unless the logic is that the Covenant legendaries aren’t quite as powerful, and if that’s the case, then why the fuck are they that way today when choosing one means no other legendary can be equipped?!
Armchair Design Time
In my head, a part of why I dislike this so much is that the logical and friendly-enough reasons I can think of for such an asinine restriction could be done better in other ways. If you don’t want players making a Covenant legendary they won’t wear today and then quickly upgrading it post-patch, that’s fine – you can use other gameplay mechanisms to restrict that, like requiring a given amount of gameplay, instituting a time gate of some sort (don’t like that restriction but it is almost better!), or requiring that the Covenant legendary be upgraded to a new rank in order to equip it. Better yet, why restrict it at all? Why can’t a player choose to wear two non-Covenant legendaries, or two plus the Covenant item, or why can’t we be given an artifact-quality Covenant power belt after our Zereth Mortis questing in 9.2 as a reward that marks the culmination of our efforts (even if it means still being locked to a single legendary)?
From my perspective as a player and wannabe designer, it just boggles my mind, because two legendaries should be a slam-dunk of player choice. There are around 20 powers available per spec in the game, and having to whittle that down to your top two is still a huge and interesting player choice that gives each of us the chance to tailor our gear loadout to better suit our gameplay. We still get a little taste of that with a single legendary, but it could be so much more interesting when the possibility space for choice 1 is 20 powers and the second choice still has 19 viable options. Instead, we have one slot with 20ish choices and 1 slot where we’re pushed to a choice involuntarily, one that some would make willingly and yet others would not.
Again, I get that the core issue in WoW is that simming and theorycrafting are prevalent and a lot of players aren’t so much making a choice as picking the mathematically best one, but I’ve maintained for a long time now that players being able to make “wrong” choices in an RPG strengthens their bond with their characters and the gameplay. Some people like being able to make suboptimal or even bad choices and then make it work anyways. Some people want to be able to synergize for their preferred gameplay, whatever journey that takes them on in terms of gear and talents. I even say this knowing that the Covenant legendary for Havoc DH isn’t half bad and I’ll likely enjoy being able to finally use it alongside the better choices for legendary!
If the concern is balance, there are better ways to approach that. If the concern is player choice, why constrain it? If the concern is player power, come on, it’s the end of the expansion, where everything is vastly inflated and players get to feel real power.
Blizzard has a history of making bizarre, off-putting design decisions in World of Warcraft that stand to benefit no one over some obtuse and ill-advised interpretation of what the game can or should be in their eyes. Corruption purchases in BfA were on a rotation for no good reason and the only conclusion we could draw was that it was a time-gate designed to retain player subscriptions. Legion Legendaries were a random system right until the very end for no good reason short of business metrics and it marred what was otherwise a pretty great expansion. The biggest problem I have with this latest in a line of oddball decision-making is that I don’t even know what purpose this serves, and I have wracked my brain trying to think of what intent this has that just letting us have two legendaries with no asterisk riding on it would fulfill. It just feels like an odd, forcefully-placed artificial wall – play the game this way, not that way, not any other way, because that is what we think is best. And sure, again, I’m well aware that this is a small limiter and one that some specs are well-served by as-is, and that’s fine! What causes me this level of confusion is that it just doesn’t make sense – I can’t begin to even parse what Blizzard is accomplishing with this limit or why they insist upon it.
At least in the past, I knew why they might make limiting decisions on player choice, but this one? It just doesn’t make sense, and while I bet the answer is something stupidly mundane (it’ll take a month of questing in Zereth Mortis after the patch to unlock this new power, extending subscriptions), the fact that it isn’t immediately clear, even somewhat, is just bizarre.