With the announcement of the new World of Warcraft expansion at Gamescom 2015, Blizzard Activision tacitly acknowledged that there would be no new content released for Warlords of Draenor.  It also appears to me that they’ve acknowledged the fact that WoD did not live up to the expectations of much of the player base.  The developers, during the launch event, did agree that they had fallen short in some crucial areas for WoD, and are moving towards improving and/or fixing those shortcomings in Legion.  There are five in particular I’d like to pay particular attention to.

  1. Garrisons vs. Order Halls
  2. Followers vs. Champions
  3. Endgame Content
  4. Professions
  5. Hubs & Faction Capitals

Garrison

Garrisons vs. Order Halls

When Warlords of Draenor was first announced, the garrison as a central part of the gameplay in Draenor sounded like a nice new addition to the Warcraft lore.  A base that you build to combat the Iron Horde to serve as headquarters of the army that you have to recruit to counter the armies of orcs you would be facing. As the expansion continued, it became too central to gameplay.  There would be days I would log on, do my garrison missions, collect my resources, and that would be it.  This was exacerbated by the fact that until 6.2 there wasn’t a lot to do in the world outside of raiding after level 100.

The garrison was your base and yours alone.  Many people I’ve talked to missed the faction hubs of previous expansions, or even the cross faction hubs of Burning Crusade-era Shattrath City or Wrath-era Dalaran.  We had the Ashran faction bases, but those felt tacked-on at best.  The devs had data that a lot of characters wouldn’t leave the garrison for long periods of time.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the new Class Order halls that were announced for Legion.  With these, you get some of the ‘personal base’ feel that the garrisons tried to create without isolating individuals from the general player base.  The Order Hall will be where you upgrade your artifact weapon, get new missions, and keep updated on the progress of the fight against the Legion.  It will also be where you will meet and send out the new version of garrison followers, Champions.

Followers

Followers vs. Champions

While leveling, it was always a great feeling to recruit a new follower.  I feel that the devs did a good job giving players a wide range of followers that were available to recruit, both from the world and from the Headhunter in the Inn.  Once you collected your requisite 20 followers (or 25 with the Barracks) and got them upgraded, it became just another UI feature to do.  You could send your followers to Highmaul to bring you back loot, you could send them to hunt down world raid bosses, and later you could even send them after Blackhand.  Very cool, but it wasn’t you and your character taking on these challenges.

With the advent of add-ons like MasterPlan, it became even more just another checkbox on your daily Garrison tasks.  Your followers got to ‘see and experience’ all the new endgame content, but for casuals and non-raiders, your characters didn’t.  It became more about finding followers that had that extra ability you needed and less about the ‘fantasy’ of building an army.

Champions look to change that.  These are heroes of your class (they used Lady Liadrin as a paladin example during the launch event) who you can send on missions that will assist you. There were two examples in particular that I felt were a nice compromise between the follower model and the previous version of no followers.  First, they can ‘scout’ a particular area before you arrive there, giving you a zone-wide buff for ‘prior knowledge of the area’.  Second, they can discover a hidden cave or forgotten ruin, but instead of them doing the work, they come back and tell you where to find it so you can do the exploring yourself.

Varian Wrynn

Endgame Content

Warlords at release was light on endgame content.  With the plethora of dailies to do, along with multiple raids released at launch, Mists of Pandaria had plenty to do at level 90.  I believe that the Warcraft devs overreacted to the player complaints of too many dailies and went the other way.  At max level you could run heroic dungeons, do a single daily quest for Apexis crystals (not BC Apexis, but almost), raid Highmaul or grind rep by killing mobs or collecting a few specific drops.

Unlike in Mists of Pandaria, the rep rewards weren’t anything special and not worth the time it would take to get to Exalted with the particular faction.  Heroic dungeons were somewhat of a letdown. Once you had collected enough of the 630 iLvl gear to start raiding Highmaul, there was no further incentive to run the heroics besides the Inn quests given in the Inn.  Unlike MoP or earlier expansions, where running heroic dungeons would give you currency to either purchase new higher level gear or upgrade your existing gear, if your objective was to gear for raiding there was no further use for heroics.

Lead game designer Ion Hazzikostas admitted that they dropped the ball on heroic dungeons at the launch event for Legion, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do to make those worthwhile again. If you were a raider, you got Highmaul for a couple of months, and then Blackrock Foundry.  Unlike some previous raids, which tied into the story well (see ICC, Firelands, Siege of Orgrimmar) Highmaul felt tacked on.  Yes, we fought Kargath Bladefist as the first boss, but after that there never seemed to be a driving reason why we were wading through ogres in the first place.  Blackrock was better in that regard; we heroes had to destroy the Iron Horde’s ability to wage war by striking at their primary supply center.

Blizzard recognized the lack of content, and tried to fix it in the release of 6.2 with Tanaan Jungle and Hellfire Citadel, and I feel they succeeded, but it was too late.  Too many people had written off WoD already.  Tanaan feels more like a max level daily zone from previous expansions, and there is plenty to do.  They took what worked from Timeless Isle in MoP and removed the mindless grinding for rep and added in semi-structured dailies.  Instead of specific quests it’s “go kill enough things in this area to fill your bar”.

With the occasional rare and treasures scattered around it is much more enjoyable than sitting in your garrison debating if you should replace a building to get that extra ability.  With the release of 6.2 I feel that Blizzard knows they dropped the ball in WoD and will reevaluate their direction for endgame content outside of raiding for Legion.

Professions

Professions

Professions in WoD were all about the Garrisons.  To get the recipes you needed to make the top level gear you HAD to have the corresponding garrison profession building.  If you didn’t have it, tough.  And, if you wanted to craft anything but the most basic epic gear, you had to have another garrison building which was the only easy way to collect the mats you needed to upgrade your gear.

Without working hard at the garrison profession buildings, you weren’t making anything beyond the first tier of epic gear.  It didn’t feel like you were doing much of anything.  You’d give your mats to the work order at the garrison building and they’d kick out the material you needed to do your epic crafting.  It was another part of the fantasy of you doing your part that fell flat, just like the Garrison followers.

As part of the launch announcement, Hazzikostas admitted that they had fallen short on professions and promised a complete rework.  There hasn’t been much information beyond that, but I look forward to seeing what comes out.

Stormwind

Hubs & Faction Capitals

In every expansion prior to WoD there was either a faction or cross-faction hub where a majority of players would log in and out at and bind their hearthstones to.  For Vanilla & Cataclysm, it was either Stormwind or Orgrimmar depending on your faction.  Burning Crusade had Shattrath City, Wrath had Dalaran and Mists of Pandaria had the two Shrines in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms.  WoD had two generic faction outposts in Ashran, the PvP only island off the east coast of the continent.  Whenever I would visit either of them, Alliance or Horde, I rarely saw other players.  The towns themselves looked thrown together; with several of the buildings just being copies of the Garrison structures, but at least the architecture style varied.

The world had two great lore options for faction capitals: Bladespire Citadel in Frostfire Ridge for the Horde, and Karabor in Shadowmoon Valley for the Alliance.  These would have provided the same purpose as the Shrines in Pandaria, with the added bonus of being great lore-centric locations.  There was some indication that the devs were thinking about making Bladespire and Karabor into faction capitals, and scrapped it.  It is possible this was due to schedule pressure from on high to get the expansion out and done, which would be a departure from previous Blizzard scheduling which was always “We’ll release it when we’re ready to and not before, so stop bugging us for a release date”.

The Shrines in Pandaria are still well populated, due to the bank access and the portals.  While most of this exists in different places on Ashran, there was never much of an incentive to change from Pandaria.  If you had a holiday quest to throw petals on all of these race-class combinations, you didn’t go to Ashran, you went to the Shrine or Dalaran.  I’m hopeful that the new Dalaran in the skies over the Broken Isles will give us that common ground again, where you can go to see 50-200 players at any given time working on professions, selling things on the auction house, or looking for a group to do some encounter somewhere in the zone.

Conclusion

With all of the further announcements and reveals at Blizzcon 2015 pertaining to Legion, I am even more excited than I was after the announcement and Gamescon.  10 dungeons (5 for leveling, 5 more at max) and 2 raids at launch including the Emerald Dream (!) seems to fulfill the need for endgame content soon after launch.  Professions promise to be both harder and more fulfilling.

The myriad class changes that they have announced so far continue along the path of differentiating between the specializations of a class.  Artifact weapons will be a much more fulfilling reward than the Legendary ring.  I’m very optimistic about Legion.  That being said, I get the feeling that Legion is a make or break for the World of Warcraft.  Warlords was a disappointment, and with the continual player drain during the life of the expansion I am not confident that WoW could survive another flop.

I don’t think that will happen.  I think the new challenges that await us in Legion will revitalize the game and drive active players in WoW to levels not seen since Wrath of the Lich King.

 


 

As a side note I wanted to mention something that has been debuted for Legion.  Every previous expansion, a character had a specific zone or zones to quest in for their level range.  Legion will not have that.

After the initial experience at the Broken Shore, players will have the options of choosing any of the Broken Isle zones to level in, and the difficulty of the enemies will adjust for your level.  This is what Blizzard has been doing in Diablo III for a long time, but this is the first time it has been applied to the World of Warcraft.  I believe this has the capacity to be a redefining moment in WoW, and perhaps recapture some of the momentum that has been lost by Warlords.

Colin Brown
Guest columnist for The Save State. I'm an Aerospace Engineer for Textron Aviation. In my spare time I like gaming (shocking, I know). I primarily play World of Warcraft and I'll spend time in SC2 or a few older RTS games when I need a break. Some of my favorite games ever are the Mass Effect series and Knights of the Old Republic. I love Star Wars and Star Trek, and I'm excited about all the new movies coming out in the next years.

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