World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is struggling after stellar sales and glowing early reports about the story and the beauty of the expansion design. However, success for an expansion means more than the number of "day one" sales and more than the first two weeks of excitement over new content. Success is measured in the longevity of the expansion and in how players remain involved and interested over the long haul. So, what does BfA need to become a success? We have a few ideas.
World of Warcraft has grown by seven expansions since it launched, each having met with varying degrees of success. 2014’s Warlords of Draenor has, at least up to now, been considered “the worst” of the lot. The Warlords expansion was roundly castigated for long droughts between content updates, something that was corrected in Legion. Battle for Azeroth has not been around quite long enough to call it “best or worst”, but it’s off to a rocky start. The official forums, fan sites, Reddit and just about everywhere imaginable is filled with critical posts calling out BfA across a wide array of features that players feel need attention...or to be scrapped altogether.
Let’s take a look at some things we believe are the biggest problems with BfA and that need to be addressed in order to save Battle for Azeroth from becoming the basement dwelling “worst of” expansion in WoW’s history.
Class Design & GCD
Whether you’re thinking back longingly about Wrath of the Lich King or Mists of Pandaria, one thing is certain: post-MoP, class design has undergone a massive transformation and is now pulling Battle for Azeroth down fast. Warlords of Draenor had seen a massive culling of abilities that continued with the Legion prune in the name of “class fantasy”. Now BfA feels like the culmination of a campaign against player agency and the ability to create and play the character that best suits them.
The classes and specializations feel like they have been stripped to the bare minimum to match the developers’ vision for how each is “supposed” to be played. After years of great customization, Battle for Azeroth feels bad due to the ever-dwindling number of ways to play as an individual.
Some things that have been removed from World of Warcraft that have reduced the player freedom to near zero:
- Profession bonuses (belt buckles, leatherworker-only enchants, specific upgrades, etc.)
- Enchants for most of the gear
- Secondary stats
- Glyphs that changed how abilities work (cosmetic glyphs still remain)
- Tier sets & PvP vendors
Class Design is a tremendous issue for Battle for Azeroth and it leaks into every aspect of the game, be it dungeons, raids or PvP.
The Global Cooldown (GCD) is another widely-hated feature introduced in Battle for Azeroth. A great many players on the official forums, in the game, on fan-sites and more have stated that the GCD makes classes feel sluggish and slow regardless of the amount of Haste one can achieve.
The developers have been tinkering around with GCD since the BfA beta testing period. Post-launch and with players understanding the impact of GCD, developers first removed many abilities from the global cooldown and reduced the cooldown time on others before ultimately taking the on-use trinkets out of it altogether.
Maybe it is time to see that this feature makes the community unhappy and is a major contributor to the overall bad class design in BfA. Why not get rid of it with the exception of large DPS / protective cooldowns to prevent players from macro-ing these abilities together (which was the original goal)?
Azerite Armor, the Heart of Azeroth & Power "Rental"
The Heart of Azeroth is one of the baseline “new” features of Battle for Azeroth. The necklace levels as players attain certain amounts of Azerite Power and as it levels, it opens up new mostly-passive abilities in a player’s Azerite gear. But beyond the collection of Azerite Power, there is zero player agency in the necklace, hence little to no interest in it on the part of many players. In fact, often times the neck will “level up” to unlock new traits on gear but players won’t notice -- there’s no “DING” on achieving this new level, merely a tooltip mention on the player’s paper doll. Honestly, that’s about all that can be said about the Heart. It’s such a dull feature that it’s pretty forgettable most of the time. Players have written that there simply isn’t any “connection” to the necklace in the same way that there was for Arifacts in Legion.
There are many problems with the Azerite Armor as well -- the passive abilities, the varying neck requirements for the same piece of gear, the general lack of the armor pieces (to be addressed in 8.1 via vendors for Mythic+), spec-specific traits and the crazy cost of reforging forcing players to carry multiple sets for off-specs (sorry, druids).
But there is a greater problem that is going on since Warlords of Draenor: the Draenor perks that introduced spec-specific passives improving existing abilities between levels 92 and 100 evolved and were replaced by the Legion Artifacts and then mutated into the Heart of Azeroth. WoD’s perks stopped working once the Legion came. Legion’s Artifacts became obsolete with the release of Battle for Azeroth and we know for sure that Heart Of Azeroth will stop working one way or another and all the Azerite Traits will be lost once it is the time for a new expansion to roll in, with its own “rental” system.
The problem with this ever-changing litany of systems is that it’s symptomatic of Blizzard’s general philosophy of “renting power-ups”. Players spend an entire expansion working to unlock mostly passive abilities and at a point where their class finally feels “good” and “complete”, Blizzard wipes the slate clean and the process starts over again with the next expansion’s system with no carryover.
These “rented” abilities leak into everything too. It affects class design, the treadmill effect (what’s the point if it will be gone soon?), RNG (most of those “rented” powers are passives with a chance of proc) and so forth.
Blizzard seems committed to this type of “class design” where the “rented” expansion-tied system fills the holes in the basic version of each class (i.e. how a class and spec truly is if you remove the “rented” item) instead of rethinking its core and finding new ways to play it. This makes each class feel weaker in the following expansion rather than stronger as players are not receiving anything baseline and leaving all their “toys” behind.