So much information to process

Well. Blizzcon is over, and we finally have a lot of information about Legion. A lot. Certainly too much for one person to process immediately. The specialists out there have already started to zero in on their areas of expertise, and in the coming weeks and months we can expect to see every aspect of the new expansion dissected. Excellent.

Today I want to focus on some big-picture impressions I have gleaned over the past few days, both from what I could observe from my limited (non-attendance, non-virtual ticket) vantage of Blizzcon, and from what I have read subsequently. There will be plenty of time later for detailed discussions of class changes, professions, end game, and every other aspect of the game.

My big impressions can be boiled down to 4 main observations:

Blizz seems to have really heard  many of the main player complaints from WoD. 

This was the most hopeful sign from all the Legion hype. Blizz has clearly heard and reacted to player dissatisfaction with the transmog system, lack of repeatable content, funneling players into a single prescribed play style, short useful life span of dungeons, complete reliance on raiding as the only end game activity, and lack of in-depth dev communication with players. Blizz appears to have made major changes designed to address every one of these player concerns. This is huge, and while I can’t discuss all of these changes today, I will touch on a couple.

Transmog changes. I can’t wait for them, they sound almost too good to be true — every item you have ever earned, or even could have earned but did not select, being available, moving to an heirloom type system that means you no longer have to store the actual item, and making all items account wide — wow, just wow.

We will be able to hide shoulders in Legion? Short break while I do my happy dance. (As you know, I have previously ranted on this subject.)

Scaled zones. I think I like this idea, and I predict it will be a success, IF Blizz can make it work without weeks of technical problems after it goes live. I am attracted to the idea of picking your own path to level, of staying in a zone you like until you feel you are finished with it. I like the potential of no mass crashes because of population overload in a required starting zone. I am encouraged that this feature might indicate that Blizz is moving away from the cattle chute approach to the game and realizes that people really do like choice in how they play. (There are a few downsides,  but all in all they seem minor. For example, zone scaling probably means there will no longer be any “easy” zones you can visit once you have leveled if you want some painless mat farming.)

Communication with players. At Blizzcon, the devs promised a series of class design blogs, and they are already making good on that promise, starting with hunter design today. We have also seen a fairly deep interview at Blizzcon with Ion Hazzikostas, and a class design dev chiming in on a Reddit forum. I applaud this approach, and I hope it continues. I may not agree with class design decisions (in fact, I vehemently disagree with the hunger changes), but I am extremely pleased to see deep background explanations for them. This kind of openness can only be good for the game.

Blizz continues to learn the wrong lessons from some of their previous (bad) decisions.

The most obvious example of this is flying. Every time the subject came up at Blizzcon or in subsequent dev communications/interviews, I saw only equivocating and evasion. All we know about flying in Legion is that it will be available after completion of a quest line, and that it will not be available in 7.0 or at launch. The most definitive time frame came from that bastion of stubborn hatred of flying, Watcher Hazzikostas, when he said that it will not be available in 7.0, but that the quest line will start then, in preparation for the “eventuality” of flying “later in the expansion.” The lesson Blizz learned from the WoD debacle is that, as long as they keep dangling that carrot in front of us we will keep chasing it. As I have predicted from the start, we will not see flying until the last patch of Legion. Blizz will give us a long, annoying, grinding quest line that spans at least the initial and first patch, making it possible to gain flying only in the final patch.

Another example of learning the wrong lesson comes from MM hunters in WoD. Blizz has said the reason they are removing pets from MM in Legion is because they found the vast majority of MM hunters in WoD selected Lone Wolf. Well, duh! The class balance was tuned such that MM with LW was completely OP, and if you were raiding it would have been irresponsible to select anything else. Of course MM hunters were going to select LW. It did not mean that MM hunters cared nothing for all those pets they had spent years collecting. Blizz deliberately skewed the numbers for MM to vastly favor LW, and now they claim to have proven that MM hunters don’t want to have a pet. (If these people ever decide to leave the field of game design, they have a rosy future in government budget planning.)

Some Legion changes have the potential for disaster.

Artifact weapons. The more I learn about these, the more convinced I am that they will become the garrisons-type mistake of Legion. Like garrisons, I believe the original concept was sound, but it seems Blizz is intent on making them the central feature of this expansion, and they continue to connect more and more game activity to them.

There will be fallouts that affect major game experiences. For example, even though there has been mention that characters may tri-spec in Legion, the artifact weapon mechanism will make this mostly unattainable. And Blizz studiously refrained from addressing any possible artifact shortcuts for off specs. Similarly, the long and arduous chase for artifact upgrades and accoutrements will pretty much shut down meaningful alt play for most players.

As an aside, honestly most of the weapons don’t look or seem very epic. Their back stories seem extremely contrived, I really don’t get much sense of lore history from most of them, more like “Bla-bla-bla, made up legends and lore crap, ancient something or other, imbued with special something hocus pocus magic, etc.” Some of them look just plain ridiculous — I can’t look at the Balance Druid one without thinking “dead pelican” or the Resto Druid one without thinking “dead reindeer”. Luckily, you will still be able to transmog them somewhat, so for example I will not be forced to have my BM Night Elf hunter carry that hideous looking gun since I will still be able to transmog it to a bow from my huge collection.

Hunters and other class changes. I will write much more on this later, but I remain convinced that the hunter class is being effectively destroyed in Legion. I think warlocks will suffer greatly from the introduction of the new Demon Hunter class, that they will be largely marginalized at least in the demonology spec. And I think the push to have “something unique” for each class and spec will have negative consequences for raid team selection.

Moreover, Blizz has a pretty dismal track record for being able to adequately balance individual specs as well as balancing within the entire class structure. I am not at all hopeful that the major class redesign in Legion will be successful. I think there will be months and months of imbalances so severe that players will frequently be forced out of classes and specs they love to play and may have played for years. And moving to a different spec will be a major change for many players, not only because of the artifact weapon impediment, but also because switching — even for pure damage classes — may entail a completely different play style, for example between ranged and melee.

Professions. Moving to the “earn every recipe you need” approach will very likely put almost the last nail in the coffin of alt play as a way to support your main. Most people simply will not have the time to screw around running time-intensive quest lines and hoping for mob drops to max out their profession alts. Blizz might save this one if they make every profession recipe account-wide, but I am not holding my breath. Time will tell, I am not overly optimistic.

Class halls. I am saying it now, these will bomb. They will do nothing to promote “class camaraderie” or whatever it is Blizz hopes for. They will become nothing more than an annoying quest hub. By implementing these, Blizz missed a huge opportunity to restore guilds as a social structure. We could have had guild halls with pretty much the same features as class halls, plus opportunities to participate in guild daily and weekly quests, chance to build guild loyalty and identity, etc. But instead we get these ridiculous contrived class groupings that further erode a player’s connection to and identity with a guild.

Blizz still must prove they can deliver on grand words and pretty pictures. 

Any major company can stage a boffo dog-and-pony show, can bring the hype for a new product, can whip up optimistic hysteria for future products. But follow-through actions are critical. Over the last year or so, Blizz has shown they frequently cannot follow through on rosy promises, they have treated their customers with disdain, they have dissembled and engaged in cover-ups of incompetence. In short, they have squandered what had been a considerable stockpile of trust and good will. So even though I loved many of the revelations about Legion, I will only be convinced if I see action to bring it about as advertised.

I want to see a beta very soon, and I want to see open feedback and evidence that Blizz is actually responding to legitimate beta player concerns.

I want to see a steady stream of sensible, relevant communication with players. Not a few good intentions for a week or two after Blizzcon, and then another communication blackout.

I do not want Blizz to rush this expansion out the door in as half-assed a fashion as they did for WoD. I want it to be up to traditional Blizzard standards of excellence in every aspect. If that means we don’t get it until September 2016, so be it. Judging from some of the slides and dev hand-waving, there is a very long way to go before the expansion is even close to release-ready.

So yes, I loved the Legion cinematic, and I loved finally getting hard data on the expansion. But now I want results. No pre-purchase for me until I see some.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

4 Responses to So much information to process

  1. Really good post!
    I totally agree. I gave up my pet for MM because I got a huge 30% buff to my shots, not because I liked the flavor of losing my pet.
    How about your tri-spec all into Beast Mastery? You could have a spec for questing, raiding and pvp — swap specs and all of your talents and buttons fall into place. I don’t know enough about the artifact weapon yet to know if it can handle three different game styles.
    I am very very worried about professions. I so very agree with you about the long quest lines for recipes and that they are ranked and really …. to what end? Why make me so upset instead of excited?
    Yep! There is a lot to read about still and all that while … I’ll still be in Draenor!

    • Fiannor says:

      My suspicion is that SV will be the go-to hunter spec for pvp. I don’t do pvp, so take my opinion with a huge grain of salt, but from what we know so far, SV seems to have the biggest array of cc/trap, interrupt, and specialized movement tools of all the hunter specs. Previous experience indicates most raid bosses will be immune to many of these tools, so pvp seems the answer. Of course, so far at least it also seems SV will be seriously OP in pvp unless it is hugely nerfed, so I guess we will see.

      I think we hunters should mount a serious write-in campaign to Blizz, expressing our disappointment that MM will be petless. Many of us have spent years assembling our pet stables and are very attached to pet style play. After all this time, it just seems wrong to forbid a pet to any hunter.

  2. S says:

    This is a brilliant post – thank you!

    What I don’t understand is why Blizz attempts to make it ‘look’ like they’re listening to players and then go and do something that says, ‘we’re actually bloody-minded idiots and we’ll do things our way, so deal with it’.

    It’s as though it absolutely irks their egos to listen to players and then actually do what they ask for. How many times have we seen them give something with one hand, and then take it away with the other?

    Class halls is a joke, as you pointed out. They’re still not listening – and if they are, they’re only vaguely hearing ‘background noise’ because they’re certainly not taking anything in.

    Why can’t they actually ASK for player approval BEFORE pushing to implement the very things players have been saying they don’t want? They’re so busy focusing on appeasing greedy shareholders (and their own egos) that they’re forgetting who’s giving them their bacon – the players. No players = no bacon for greedy shareholders! Simple math.

    I predict the professions changes will see an even greater number of subs fall away (there’s already less than 5 million now and Blizz are refusing to release numbers anymore – gee, wonder why?).

    Again, they’re not listening, they’re not paying attention – and they’re out of touch with their player base. But hey, they don’t seem to care.

    As for the ridiculous quest line demands for flying at some time in the vaguely distant future – again, they’re being deliberately bloody-minded and I’d like to know what changed (or who took over making such decisions) since just pre-MoP?

    If it’s that Hazziwhatsits dude, then he needs to find another job. Frankly, I think he’s an idiot.

    What’s next? Stripping the last vestiges of anything good about the whole game and then turning it into f2p? Because it seems to me that’s the way it’s slowly been heading since Cata – and now that it’s on the downhill slope, it seems to be picking up momentum.

    Let’s be honest, so much has already been stripped away, so much has been homogenized – and don’t even get me started on the hatchet job they did on the talent system – it’s as if they’ve decided that players shouldn’t be treated like adults who are allowed to have choices and make their own decisions, but like ‘the enemy’ – irresponsible ‘enemies’ at that. Everyone must be the same. There will be no uniqueness. “Jawohl, Herr Kommandant!”

    I want to see things change for the better, but as long as whoever it is keeps making these idiotic decisions, all I can see is them destroying their own game. They’re doing things on the cheap and expecting players to pay more for less. Nuh-uh. Something’s gotta give – and it will.

    • Fiannor says:

      It does seem like they often give with one hand and take away with the other, as you say. I think we all understand that, no matter what they change or don’t change about the game, some group is going to be angry about it. My thing is, I don’t have to agree with everything they do, but I would like to know why they feel they need to do it, and be confident they have considered the long term effects and are prepared to deal with them.