Warlords of Draenor
The WoD pre-patch brought with it a ton of changes to systems and, in some ways, similar to what happened to the game world when Cata hit. The first major change was we saw our first stat squish ever. By the time the end of Mists rolled around the numbers side of everything had gotten utterly ridiculous. Everything from player health to damage and healing numbers had grown exponentially every expansion to the point we were talking about numbers in the millions. To prevent these numbers from reaching completely absurd levels, everyone was squished down. There were, of course, some kinks to work out, but overall, this squish worked well. Unfortunately, our stats didn’t stay squished for very long as ilvl and power level both increased rather quickly throughout WoD.
The raiding difficulty structure was overhauled to what it is currently: LFR, Normal (Flex), Heroic (Flex), and Mythic (20). Before this change, the difficulty structure was: LFR, Flexible (10-25), Normal 10/Normal 25, and Heroic 10/20. This was mostly a good change for high-level progression raiding guilds. One of the downsides of flex raids is there are always breakpoints on fights where a specific number of people would make a fight either substantially easier or more difficult. World-first guilds were, of course, gaming the system a bit to get any advantage they could. By changing the highest difficulty to a set number, it made tuning for the progression race a bit easier.
Along with the raid difficulty changes, Blizzard also made some changes to the loot which dropped in raids. One problem raids would run into was gear dropping, which no one in the raid could use. For example, Int leather in a raid with no Boomkin. To combat this Plate armor would always have both Str & Int, and Mail & Leather gear would always have Agility & Int on it. This was also when hit, expertise, dodge, and parry were also removed. Although it was always a happy moment when I finally reached one of these caps and knew I was ready for raiding, it could also be frustrating. Especially when some awesome new item would drop and it was an upgrade, but using it would have dropped me too far below the hit cap. Dodge and parry were removed because Blizzard was moving more towards active mitigation for tanks rather than passive mitigation.
In the realm of big quality of life changes, the WoD pre-patch is when they finally added the Reagent Bank. The reagent bank was a separate tab in the bank where crafting materials could be deposited. Players could then craft things out in the world even if all their mats were in the reagent bank. I firmly believe this system was influenced by games like Guild Wars 2, which had launched two years before the 6.0.2 patch, and has material storage which works the same way. Except, in GW2 players can expand how much their material storage holds and there is by default a lot more space in there than there is in the reagent bank.
Garrisons were one of the prominent features of WoD, and they were cool and fun at first. I enjoyed the whole process of setting up my garrison, building and upgrading my buildings. Finding and recruiting my followers was also a ton of fun… the first time around. Unfortunately, garrisons lost all their luster for me as soon as I tried to level an alt. Going through the entire process again just wasn’t fun or exciting. In fact, I’ve never successfully leveled an alt through WoD; I always quit there. The other downside was garrisons were sort of lonely. Sure, I could invite friends there and hangout, but the instancing didn’t always work correctly at first and could be annoying. Plus, one of the things I love about MMOs is having other players running around doing things. Even if I never talk to them, just seeing them go about daily business, helps to make the game feel alive.
This was also when we had our first experience with getting to fly through completing Pathfinder achievements. I’m on the side of things where I agree flying causes the world to feel smaller and less dangerous, but it’s also super convenient. I wouldn’t want it to be removed entirely and the pathfinder achievements do feel like an accomplishment when they are completed. However, the first time around in WoD was frustrating for me mostly because I didn’t like Taanan Jungle and I only really wanted to be there to get to the raid. I’ve never even gotten flying in WoD (probably another reason why I’ve never managed to level an alt through this xpac). However, the successive pathfinders have struck a much better balance and include things most players can accomplish without putting in too much extra effort.
Another interesting observation from WoD is in November 2014 (right after the launch of the expansion), subs had soared back up to 10 million. However, by August 2015, they had fallen to a record low of 5.6 million. As much crap as Mists got when it was out (tons of crying on forums about silly pandas being added to serious WoW) subs never fell anywhere near to that; same thing goes for Cata. There’s probably a multitude of reasons for this, one being in 2015, there were a bunch of high profile decent MMOs to choose from including GW2, FFXIV, SWTOR, Wildstar, and Rift. Another aspect is also, while there were a lot of good ideas in WoD, the way they were implemented/played out was underwhelming.
Launching on August 30th, 2016, Legion was a welcome break away from WoD and sought to fix a lot of the missteps in that expansion. One of the first improvements which came with Legion was all leveling zones and dungeons for the expansion had scaling. This meant not only could players progress through the zones in whatever order they wanted to but they could also group up for dungeons without worrying about people’s levels being too far apart. Making everything scale to each player was one of the best things about Legion and the fact it’s been carried forward and spread throughout the rest of the game world is incredible.
Class Halls were an iteration on garrisons in the best way possible. They had their own distinct questlines for each class which after having missed class quests for so long, was a welcome addition. I felt drawn to level alts for once because I wanted to see each class’ storyline. Plus, since these weren’t personal spaces, there were plenty of other people running around and it was also great to have both Horde and Alliance sharing the space. Class Halls were also well-tailored in their look and feel to each class. I wish they had been carried forward into BfA.
The other major feature of Legion was the Artifact weapons, which were a total mixed bag. I loved the designs for them, and all the alternate looks. I LOVED the fact Guardians and Ferals got unique bear and cat appearances. The questlines to obtain each one were fun and interesting. I was a little let down by the traits on them though. I mean, for the most part, they were interesting, but although there was a choice in which were obtained first, it didn’t matter too much because eventually everything was unlocked anyway. Also, throughout the expansion, I felt pressure to grind out as much AP as fast as possible which deterred me from leveling the alts I wanted to play so I could experience the Class Hall stories.
Mythic+ dungeons were also implemented in Legion, and overall, I like them. It’s fun to try and push further into them and getting useful gear from them is also a nice bonus. Especially in Legion, I had a ton of fun pushing to get a +15 done to unlock the unique artifact weapon skin. Mythic+ has started to feel less fun in BfA though. I like it for supplemental gear, but at one point in the last tier, I out geared everything in the raid because nearly all my gear was from Mythic+, which made raid slightly less fun. Plus, continually grinding out higher and higher ilvls of the same equipment throughout the expansion is not exciting or fun. Overall, Mythic+ is a great system and I like what they have been doing with them. Just more balance between them and raids might be good.
I can’t leave off Legion without talking about both Varian and Vol’jin. I understand and get Varian’s death, it was honestly a good death and helped move Anduin through a lot of things he genuinely had to deal with. I was also surprised about how sad I was over Varian’s death because I never liked him much. He did grow a lot over the years though, but I suspect most of my feeling terrible had to do with feeling bad for Anduin.
However, Vol’jin is another story. First off, I’m still mad he died after doing who knows what all through WoD. He should have played some part in all of that. He could have been a great warchief, but instead, he randomly gets stabbed and is like, “oh yeah, so I know none of you like Sylvanas but she’s in charge now.” Sure, his storyline in BfA is interesting and did act as a lead into Shadowlands, but couldn’t we have had something like Sylvanas breaking off and forming her own faction and starting a war with both factions and getting all the death that way? I want Vol’jin back in charge.
Battle for Azeroth
We’re still in BfA, and mixed bag feels like an understatement here, about everything BfA. I had hope when Sylvanas took over that maybe she’d grow and manage not to be selfish. Perhaps she’d be a good warchief, but nope none of that happened. I know some people didn’t care about the burning of Teldrassil, but for me, that hit right where it hurts. My original main was a Nelf and I have always had a soft spot for them. Yes, a lot of what happened in BfA storywise was well executed, I didn’t like what was happening though. One of the best things about the 8.2 and 8.2.5 storylines was that we could finally move past the war I never wanted in the first place to focus on what matters.
I do have to say though both the Horde and Alliance leveling zones were well done, and I enjoyed those stories a ton. Especially Jaina’s storyline. It was really touching and quite satisfying to see how things played out. As someone who was always the blacksheep in my family and I always felt like I didn’t really fit, watching her navigate similar issues was a big deal and I love that it was included.
There’s so much I could say regarding systems in BfA, but I think it’s best to sum up this: all of the azurite fixes and essences should have been in before BfA launched, not a year into the expansion. 8.2 felt very much like a patch that addressed feedback which was given during alpha and beta and that’s hugely frustrating. What’s worse is I feel like we are on the same schedule going into Shadowlands. I worry that the Alpha & Beta will be rushed again because they won’t push back the launch of Shadowlands to consider the feedback they get. I mean, I could be wrong and everything in Alpha & Beta might be perfect from the get-go. I mean, I’m not saying all player feedback should be listened to, but it seems like there wasn’t the option to listen or not.
Heading into the Next Decade
After having walked back through the paths of the last ten years, I can say there have been some real highs, but there have also been some lows. Overall, I think the good things have outweighed the bad though. Although the 8.3 patch looks like it is repeating some of the same mistakes of the past, seriously, you have to do the questline to unlock the cloak on every character?? For the most part, I am looking forward to getting to deal with the real bad guy of this expansion.
Looking ahead to Shadowlands, it seems very interesting and I am hopeful. Maybe the AP system will be scrapped though? I’m kind of done with wanting to mess with AP at this point. Possibly Class Halls could be used in some fashion again? Yea sure they are probably not convenient to the Shadowlands at all, but they were seriously awesome. Also, who the hey is the Jailer?!