WoW: On Change and Impermanence

World of Warcraft is famous, or perhaps infamous, for change, for constantly reinventing itself. Classes change, often radically, with each new expansion, and the game’s systems and content are in a constant state of flux.

The climax of the Shadowmoon Valley storyline in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorThere was a time when I tolerated, even welcomed, this level of change. I enjoy the idea of an ever-evolving virtual world, and I respect Blizzard’s desire to be constantly tweaking, constantly looking for a better way.

Indeed, change is a necessary part of any online game. Change too little, and the experience becomes stale. Minor annoyances become intolerable over the course of years. I’ve spent a long time complaining about the lack of change given to the rogue class, and I’m overjoyed we’re finally getting an overhaul in Legion.

Still, I am now reaching a point where I believe World of Warcraft is changing too much. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s not offering enough permanence.

I fully grant that this is not a black and white issue; the line between too much and too little change in an MMO is incredibly blurry and probably different for every individual player. But I’m still going to attempt to make the argument that WoW is now in too much flux.

Class war(craft):

I really don’t want this to be a post about my own personal gripes with current class design, but I must bring them up at least a bit just to give an example of what I’m talking about.

A sad. I has oneAlthough my main is a rogue (in so much as the term “main” has any meaning for an altoholic like me), I also play a warlock quite a bit. Now, for the second time just since I started playing one, warlocks are being rebooted as a radically different class. I rather liked the first reboot, but this coming one is tickling my fancy much less, to put it mildly.

I find myself with little enthusiasm to muster about the warlock class as it will exist in Legion. For that matter, I’m also none to keen on the changes planned for monks — windwalker spec aside.

This has me wondering if checking out some new classes might be worth it. Demon hunter is obviously tempting, but with the current state of alpha, it’s hard to say how much I’ll enjoy it.

Hunter, on the other hand, is intriguing. Hunter class mechanics never quite clicked for me, but I love archer classes as a rule, and their changes in Legion look very appealing.

In particular, the dark ranger talent has perked my ears up. I’ve wanted to play as a dark ranger for years, archery and shadow magic being two things I love. It’s the chocolate and peanut butter of class design.

My hunter in the Arathi HighlandsYet I have to wonder: Is it worth getting invested in a new class when all these new toys that excite me might be thrown out later? Perhaps Blizzard will later decide to add an actual dark ranger class and remove those abilities from the hunter — they’ve already proven themselves willing to gut existing classes to build new ones.

That would make all the time I spent leveling, gearing, and growing to love a hunter a waste.

Constantly trying new classes used to be one of the main things that kept me playing WoW, but now I struggle to find the motivation. Class design now seems so mutable that there’s not even any point in getting invested in something new and exciting.

And yes, I’m looking forward to the upcoming rogue overhaul, but I imagine there are more than a few who are upset by how much their class is changing — almost into something unrecognizable — and I can’t say I blame them. While these particular changes appeal to my tastes, the truth is we probably didn’t need change on this scale. All we rogues ever really wanted were some quality of life tweaks, better animations, and one or two cool new abilities.

Plus, I do wonder if it’s even worth getting excited about the new rogues when there’s a good chance all the things I like are going to be thrown out and replaced in an expansion or two anyway.

A shaman's cave in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorAgain, I don’t want this post to be about my personal gripes. You might not agree with my complaints about Legion’s class design. But I wager most people who’ve played WoW for any length of time can think of at least one example of a class they loved changing into something unrecognizable that they no longer enjoy.

Fleeting features:

Ever-changing class design isn’t the only issue, though. I’m also growing increasingly distressed by Blizzard’s new policy of adding features that are only used for one expansion, such as scenarios, garrisons, and now artifact weapons.

This, to me, just seems asinine on so many levels. I’ve always felt that the point of an expansion — what justifies the price tag and separates it from a content patch — is that it expands the game. It adds new features and avenues of play that we’ll continue to enjoy for years to come.

I still miss scenarios. A lot. They were fantastic story-telling tools, they were a lot of fun, and they fit perfectly into the ecosystem of WoW’s endgame. I loved how I could queue for a scenario, a dungeon, and a raid, and have each pop as I finished the previous, with no wait times.

Garrisons got a lot of hate, some of it deserved and some of it not, but I still believe they were a feature with incredible potential. To see them abandoned is a great disappointment. Here’s a case where Blizzard’s endless tweaking would have been most welcome. We were so close to a compelling player housing system that would have fit well with the personality of Warcraft, but now it seems WoW’s hopes for true player housing have been dashed forever.

My rogue's garrison in World of Warcraft: Warlords of DraenorI’m excited for artifact weapons in Legion — they fit very well with my own ideals for how RPG progression should work — but we already know they’re not going to be sticking around after Legion.

Just think about that for a minute. Imagine how much it’s going to suck to take the bloody Ashbringer and stick it in your bank, where it will gather dust and never be seen or used again.

So, again, I struggle to find motivation going forward. Why should I bust my hump to upgrade and max out an artifact that I’m just going to replace with a quest green three days into World of Warcraft: Still Not an Azshara Expansion Because Screw You That’s Why? I can tell you knowing garrisons aren’t being supported going forward killed a lot of my motivation for alt play in WoD, since garrison and character progression are so strongly linked.

It’s supremely hypocritical on Blizzard’s part, too. We’re constantly being told that we can’t have X feature or Y improvement because of limited resources (the “cost us a raid tier” meme), but yet they can find the resources to design massive, intricate features that are simply thrown away after one expansion? That’s mind-bogglingly wasteful.

I can see pitfalls for the idea of carrying things like garrisons and artifacts forward — for example, some people might not like being stuck with a single weapon forever more (though I’d be fine with it) — but I certainly don’t think these are problems that can’t be solved. To use the artifact example, Blizzard could add more artifacts to compete with the old ones, or create a system where artifacts and drops are both valid choices.

A preview of the outlaw artifact skins for World of Warcraft: LegionThis can even tie-in to my favourite ranting topic: Blizzard’s attempt to remove flight in content going forward. Though they eventually backed down (partially), they had no problem invalidating mounts that players had spent months or years grinding for.

Why should I pursue any goal in this game when Blizzard has so little regard for the effort I’ve expended? I like collecting transmog gear, but should I even bother? Who’s to say Blizzard won’t try to remove or severely limit transmog at some point? Makes as much sense as their attack on flight.

* * *

Here’s what it boils down to: I can live with the current changes, even if I dislike some of them, but I have so little faith left in the game’s stability going forward that it’s hard to become invested in anything where WoW is concerned. It’s not the current round of overhauls that bothers me so much is it is the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Change is a key part of an MMO, but so are investment and permanence. Change is only good so long as it doesn’t overly threaten one’s desire to build and develop a character over months and years.

After all, why build a house on sand?

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5 thoughts on “WoW: On Change and Impermanence

  1. I definitely feel this and agree with the points made in this post. Blizzard do seem to have lost their focus somewhat. The scale and frequency of class revamps is too much. My personal loss was my Boomkin main, since Cataclysm I’ve totally lost interest in the spec. Also proper Shaman totems, give them back please!!!

    As for the one-expansion only features, I really cannot see why they’re being so wasteful with these massive systems. I’m excited about the class stories at least in principal but the artifact weapons are a bit meh to me. I wonder if they followed the Legendary Item saga over at LOTRO? LIs were too disposable, which with the latest content Turbine have finally given a proper upgrade path to keep older weapons relevant in new content. Blizzard could take a similar approach for a future expansion, to build on the artifact weapons but then that raises the boredom factor – do we want our characters stuck with just the one weapon from now on? It’s bad enough if you’re not happy with the weapon assigned by Blizz to your class/spec, but if they force you to keep it longer term that’d be another reason for people to abandon long-played classes…

    • Again, I think there are ways around that. They could introduce new artifacts over time for variety, or make artifacts and drops both be valid choices. There’s a system like this in Blade and Soul, where you can either equip the new weapons you find or use them to upgrade older weapons and keep them relevant.

  2. Great post, couldn’t agree more! Major changes in WoD that drove me out of WoW altogether was the overhaul/ gutting of the crafting system and the ability pruning. I tried them out in that patch before WoD came out, and said “Nope.” Never bought the expansion, not sure if I will ever play WoW again.

    • I’m torn on ability pruning. On the one hand, I hate button bloat. WoW has way too many buttons; it’s just ridiculous. But at the same time I’m not fond of removing things outright, and it is true that every ability is someone’s favourite. My monk has never felt the same since losing clash.

      I like the goal, but not how it was executed. They should have just expanded the talent system so that you pick and choose what abilities you want to have at a given time. Like, you get one mobility skill from a choice of several. Less crowding on action bars, and nobody really loses anything.

  3. Yeah that sums up one of the main reason I no longer have any friends playing WoW anymore – a lot of us were invested in our classes and the way they played – after playing my warlock thru cata I was looking forward somewhat to changes in mist but then more changes in WoD, more changes incoming … it feels like a never ending treadmill that you can never find your firm fleeting in and invest deep roots into.

    The button bloat exists in Everquest2 yet its seen as a benefit to the game, having the choice of 3 heals for direct target is seen as a great thing – Idk why wow couldn’t have looked at the classes and given them more reasons to have the abilities rather than look at ways not to have them.

    Currently leveling a new character in wow with its 1 ability every x levels was the most dull non-engaging system that gives you no feel for the class. Its compounded by all the stages of abandonment you meet on your journey, nothing builds on itsself, each expansion lives in its own disjointed bubble of lore and time line – in comparison to games like Lotro, Everquest2, Rift etc which build upon their existing lore give you a sense of world progression, belonging to the story and a more stable environment to grow attached to your characters through a shared story that covers characters from 1-max level.

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