Gamer, nerd, and closet weeb.
World of Warcraft, oh World of Warcraft, I miss the times you would keep me up all night; never wanting to let you go till the grasp of slumber dragged me away from you. How when I was forced to go to school I spent the time in class thinking about what I was going to go do with you next. Alright, a tad bit dramatic and romanticised but somewhat true. I spent most of my ‘teenage-hood’ trying to evade my parent’s wrath playing vanilla WoW till five in the morning, almost every waking moment was spent thinking about the game, quite the unhealthy obsession now that I think about it. I even got a group of friends to play and create a guild with me; printing off raid boss strategy guides and discussing it during our lunch break. Good times, but as Garrosh* said in the Warlord’s of Draenor cinematic “Times change”.
World of Warcraft is a very different game from when we first started, for better and for worse. The outcry and demand for ‘classic’ WoW is very real and to the joy of many it’s becoming a reality very soon. I could go on about the changes made to my WoW, alas, that’s for another article for another time. This piece looks to talk about the newest expansion on the block – Battle for Azeroth. In Battle for Azeroth, the engines of war are revved up again as sparks fly between the Horde and Alliance - Igniting a war and a tree that will change the face of Azeroth forever, or so they say. The expansion introduced a myriad of new gameplay systems, the Azerite pieces/trait system, Island Expeditions, Warfronts and more.
However. before we delve into the nitty gritty of the topics, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that there are many ways to enjoy World of Warcraft and power to you if you like doing what you do! I can only talk about the things I experience or spend time on, so it will mainly be about organised PVE content and the systems that surround it. Thus, I will not be talking about story, lore and PvP. Someone else much better experienced with those can talk to you about that.
Let’s get going.
Global cooldown, artifact abilities, legendaries.
World of Warcraft since the Warlords of Draenor pre-patch has pruned abilities every expansion and BFA was not spared from this. Pruning abilities are basically the removal of abilities from the class or specialisation. Abilities such as displacer beast were removed from Restoration Druids to much dismay of a good friend who cancelled his subscription for a day as protest before his addiction made him resub before his month ended. Along with the ability prune, came the GCD changes (GCD or global cooldown is the built-in cooldown for when you cast an ability or spell in the game). With many abilities added to the GCD. The developers have stated that the GCD change was done for the health of the game.
I think fundamentally, the GCD changes were not world ending like some people were saying it was, but it was noticeable and removed from the silky-smooth combat I knew and loved. Some classes really suffered more than others, for example my Retribution Paladin. In a general opening rotation for RPs you cast two holy power builders into inquisition then you cast Avenging wrath into two builders again before you can cast your first spender. That’s quite a bit of build-up, and you notice if it’s not a blood-lust/heroism at the start type boss encounter. 8.1 Tides of Vengeance seeks to remove several movement abilities from the GCD which is a welcomed improvement to the ‘clunkiness’ issue faced by many people when target swapping. These includes movement spells such as charge for warriors.
Yet, I have to ask why make sweeping changes for the ‘health’ of the game instead of just targeting troublesome abilities? Why take the risk of making such drastic changes? Wouldn’t it have been better to add a small number of abilities that seemed to be an issue like the Holy Paladin Sacrifice Combo* in Legion to the GCD? Not only did they gut the combo in the pre-patch by changing the way Sacrifice works, they also added all the abilities on GCD so you couldn’t cast it all at once, double whammy! I feel that Blizzard in this case should have been more cautious with the changes, instead of compromising every class with their mechanical smoothness, they should have targeted combo’s or abilities which they felt were detrimental to the health of the game. I would have preferred adding spells slowly to the GCD rather than adding a ton of them at the start, this GCD change along with the loss of Artifact abilities / traits and spec-specific legendaries compounded into pacing issues that many classes faced.
* The combo of abilities used by a holy paladin a big healing cooldown, where one would combine multiple abilities to heal a 20-man raid by tremendous amounts using a macro. Users in World of Warcraft are allowed to create macros that lets them use multiple abilities or skills with a press of a button.
The removal of artifact traits and abilities without an overhaul of class mechanics just made things infinitely worse. Some specialisations were changed based on the removal of artifact abilities such as Marksmen hunters, while others remained unchanged without the traits or artifact abilities that made their classes feel complete - Shadow Priest for example. Now you have specialisations that relied on these artifact abilities that filled holes in their rotation - to smooth them out, feel incomplete. Many of these abilities allowed you to overcome a drought of procs, or simply allowed you to fill in times when you were unlucky. Now you were left to fend for yourself against the nature of RNG in many cases, thus making rotations significantly ‘more swingy’ in nature and in my opinion unfun. Surely a whole redesign for classes were needed as the way the classes were made in legion had to have the artifact abilities and traits in mind. The removal of this either should have been handled by remaking the specialisations entirely or making all the artifact abilities baseline. Why couldn’t we absorb, after two years of fighting alongside it (the artifacts) to have their powers become part of us? These traits were fundamental to how we played and should have been handled far better than it was.
Finally, the last piece of exodia – the removal of legendaries. Legendaries in legion varied in quality, some being absolute garbage but a few changing the way you played or made your specialisation play better. They allowed you to compensate for what your class lacked or improved your niche significantly. Beast Mastery hunters for example, had a legendary that allowed you to have to charges of dire beasts instead of just one, allowing you to not be punished if you procced an extra dire beast cast while it was one second off being on cooldown. This smoothness of gameplay that came with legendaries affected other specialisations as well, some of their traits even making it to talent rows because of how important they were. It wasn’t the best system, but it helped classes play better and you had something to do in the game to grind for. It’s removal from the game was instantly felt when you hit level 116 (The level in which legendaries stopped working). Suddenly you were weaker just by levelling up, quite the opposite of what you should feel when you level up in an RPG. Yet, weirdly enough it’s something you would expect from WoW’s latest expansion – a sad fact for us that remain hopeful for improvements to the game we all love.
So let’s do a quick recap, the three pronged assault on class design this expansion: the GCD changes, the removal of artifact traits/abilities and the removal of legendaries has created such a distinct playstyle shift that made me personally feel I was playing a half complete specialisation that lacked any thought or care. Blizzard’s attempt to solve this issue came in the form of the new gear system Azerite armour pieces. This of course costed us the 14-year-old tried and tested Tier piece system. So how does it hold up compared to what we have had before?
Azerite pieces – an answer to our problems?
Azerite armour pieces come with traits that are unlocked through levelling up your Heart of Azeroth neck piece. This replaces our artifact weapon and uses the same grinding system where you can earn artifact Power through in-game activities such as raiding, dungeons, world quests and Island Expeditions. There are a large number of traits available to each class specialisation, however many of these traits are uninspired, majority of them being passive stack sticks and rarely any rotational altering traits. 8.1 is the step in the right direction, with some interesting traits being introduced – like the Death Knight Helchains trait where it creates a link between you and your pet making enemies take damage between you and your pet. Finally, something that is interesting! After all, we lost tier set bonuses for this and Azerite traits should be a worthy successor to the system to we've grown accustomed to.
I hope that the trend continues, with the introduction of interesting spec altering traits that tier sets sometimes did with classes. I am not opposed to the system, I believe with interesting traits that the system can be great, giving the player a choice to choose effectively what they want their tier bonuses to be. This could be a great system, yet everything we have right now feels so uninspired and boring. The system itself has potential but it is limited by the choices in which Blizzard have been introducing with regards to how to obtain the traits you truly desire.
The only way to obtain Azerite pieces are through either a weekly cache (Which had a chance of not dropping an Azerite piece at all) or through raid drops and the only way to get the highest item level piece of gear comes from one boss a week in Mythic difficulty raids. As a fundamental way to give the player agency on what traits to take, they instead gave you very little options to obtain these pieces and inevitably pigeonholed you to just pick the best one out of the handful of traits you have. This of course is compounded by the fact that there is no reliable way to farm Azerite traits outside of hoping for your cache. In 8.1 Tides of Vengeance they have introduced a vendor that sells items for a new currency that you gain by scrapping Epic Azerite pieces, thus finally after four months of the game you can target the traits you want. Another step in the right direction, which hopefully continues as a trend as more content patches are introduced throughout the lifespan of Battle for Azeroth.
Titanforging the game changer.
I think the frustrating thing from this whole idea of being unable to target what you would like to get from the game has become endemic in WoW. Ever since the introduction of Titanforging*, the systems in which we obtain gear have swung heavily to the side of RNG. I have never liked titanforging but would be perfectly fine with it if there were ways to increase the ilvl of current gear to the levels of titanforging, so that in a sense you can protect yourself from bad luck through hardwork and perseverance. Something akin to valour upgrades in WoD would be a great addition to the game, where you could grind for the currency to upgrade 5 ilvls of a piece of gear you want to be upgraded. It also encourages the running of old content that you otherwise wouldn't do. No one I have talked to wants to run these extra dungeons and raids for a small chance of an upgrade reliant on RNG, while I firmly believe that if people were given a 100% chance to obtain a currency to work towards an upgrade people would be more willing. Blizzard should give player's greater agency in their ability to gear their characters, give us the ability to earn our gear instead of leaving it entirely to the RNGods.
*Titanforging is the ability for an item to increase to the maximum item level cap of the current patch.
8.1 Tides of Vengeance are steps in the right direction, and it shows that steps can be taken to alleviate the frustrations that are being faced by everyday WoW players of all spectrums from the casual pet battle lover (who by the way are getting a pet battle dungeon in 8.1) as well as the hardcore world first players. There is always something to love in World of Warcraft and I hope future content patches makes it easier to love the game.
World of Warcraft has always been a game I loved, even now with all its faults. Nothing in the gaming world will ever come close to evoking the emotions I have felt in this game. To all the friends that this game has brought into my life, to the epic scenarios you get in raiding, nothing will ever come close. People are angry, not because they want to hate the game but because they want to love it. I hope blizzard continues to take strides in the right direction as seen from the changes introduced in 8.1 Tides of Vengeance.
Garrosh was right that time's change and even with less free time and no longer being that teenager wanting to login to get his benediction. I still login for raid every week. I just hope that this feeling never dies and continues long into my adulthood.