Ever since Warlords of Draenor, a weird side effect of the Pathfinder acheivement is that the following expansion’s .2 patch, regardless of any good content in them, is maligned.
Why is that?
Well, I’d like to talk about what I’ve taken to calling the “ChoreCraft” effect – the point where playing the game distills down to a set of chores you have to do in order to enjoy the game.
I’m sure some troll out there has already beaten me to this term, so I won’t claim it is an original, but it has come to perfectly encapsulate how I feel about the x.2 patches since Warlords of Draenor.
The x.2 patch has historically been hit or miss for many points in the game’s lifespan, but prior to WoD, the hit rate is much higher. 3.2 brought us the Trial of the Crusader content, some of which (the raid, mostly) was a bit meh, but a lot of the daily quest content was pretty fun. 4.2 was the excellent Firelands raid and accompanying content, growing out the Hyjal Excursion’s base in the Firelands and restoring order to the flame-ravaged area. 5.2 was Isle of Thunder – one of the best received overall patches in WoW’s history, with the excellent Isle of Thunder questing, the introduction of Zandalari rares all over Pandaria, and the fantastic Throne of Thunder raid.
And then we hit Pathfinder territory. 6.2, for what it’s worth, didn’t even introduce pathfinder for WoD – it wasn’t until 6.2.2 that the acheivement became available. However, there is a sort of one-two punch that all of these areas have that leads to the game feeling sort of grindy.
6.2 had the Apexis armor and weapon tokens, and the interlinked upgrade system, which, when coupled with Pathfinder in 6.2.2, lead to a lot of time spent in Tanaan Jungle. 7.2 had the armor tokens for Nethershards, coupled with the Broken Shore campaign grind for Broken Isles Pathfinder Part 2, and that assumes you already finished Part 1 with the base reputations prior to the patch! Now, we have patch 8.2, with BfA Pathfinder Part 2, which again also assumes that you have already completed Part 1, and along with it brings the armor upgrade mechanics of Benthic armor in Nazjatar and the ring upgrades/punchcard trinket from Mechagon.
No matter how well designed these zones are, how engaging the core quest and PvE content, they will be lost for many players in a haze of empty, unfulfilling grinding. My core issue this time around, a similar one to Legion actually, is that the flying grind involves a lot of time spent not playing the core game of WoW. It has the skin of it – you do world quests in Nazjatar and the one daily world quest in Mechagon, and it has the same reputation increases that accompany a lot of WoW’s gameplay. However, many of these quests don’t focus on actually playing your character, and instead focus on minigames and other things – some of which are amusing, but many of which are not, and none of which are as fulfilling as playing your character in fresh world content.
Nazjatar is the worst offender here. Navigating it on foot is awful, and once you can fly, it is easy to see why – the zone looks like ruined Suramar on one side (which is okay!) and the other side looks like an octopus orgy – paths intersecting and winding tightly, with multiple layers of terrain making map-based navigation fail you quite often. Mechagon is actually quite a nice zone, but the problem I find is that it will always have the lingering stink of feeling like I must do its content to unlock flying, rather than being allowed to explore at my own pace. The zone has better objectives than Nazjatar, and allows a lot more actual WoW gameplay – combat with decision points, multiple ways to navigate, and the construction projects and available daily quests offering a fun change to the zone on a daily basis. In a world where I wasn’t feeling burned out on doing my flying chores here, I would probably love Mechagon, but it will always have that bit of lingering resentment on it.
Reaching revered isn’t actually that bad of a grind either, but I spent a lot of it playing Bejeweled, untangling minigames, and not actually being an awesome badass hero of Azeroth, and that is what sucks about it to me. Nothing about pathfinder this time even pretends to have a lore tie-in. Draenor at least it could be argued that we pushed the Fel Horde back into Hellfire Citadel, opening the skies. Legion Pathfinder we could argue that completing Legionfall’s campaign freed the skies from the flying terrors of the Burning Legion. BfA currently…has no such central threat, and so it’s hard to even invent a good reason in lore why we don’t just fly in the first place. The end result of all of this is that it just feels like busywork – a reason to log in for 90 minutes a day to slowly increase the stupid bars until they hit the right level of fullness, at which point my winged undead horse suddenly remembers how to use his wings (zombies are dumb, right?) and then takes off. Even if I wasn’t still buzzing off a Shadowbringers high from FFXIV, I would feel incredibly unfulfilled in this patch’s world content.
That is all without touching on the gear upgrade mechanics I called out as part of the problem earlier. Don’t get me wrong – I really believe in these systems and feel like having them is better than not, but I think they get lost in the noise in a bad way, especially since, following the Legion model, it is easy to predict right now that in 8.3, we’re just going to replace that Benthic gear. Look at Legion – if you ground yourself to dust farming Nethershards for gear tokens on alts, guess what you did in 7.3 on Argus? Ground yourself to dust getting Veiled Argunite to buy better gear, even the lowest level of which completely eclipsed the Broken Shore tokens. Seasons do help this slightly – the actually effective path forward is to run dungeons, since Mythics now give item level 400 and Operation: Mechagon gives 415 pieces, you can farm up to a high level much faster, with world quest rewards also similarly upgrading.
Even still, however, a mid-expansion catchup like Benthic armor demands time, and the fruits of that labor are likely to be rendered old and less valuable the second 8.3 hits – and more so than in the past, where the new gear at least existed in a similar power level to your prior patch gear. Granted, you can farm the base tokens on your main, suiting an alt fully in 385 gear before that character ever even sees Nazjatar, leaving the alt to solely farm pearls to spend on item level increases – and this is a good improvement. It is also at least somewhat likely that if you manage to get an alt in maxed out Benthic gear, that this gear will last a little bit into 8.3 – if they follow the Benthic model of the catchup gear being two-tier old Mythic raid item level to start, a theoretical 8.3 catchup will be 415 to match Dazar’Alor. However, the work needed to get a full Benthic set to even 415, much less the top end 425, is quite high, and unless you have a single alt who receives all of your playtime, the smart play is to simply grind pathfinder on your main, use the pearls on that character to buy tokens for alts, and then just farm world quests on the alts or wait patiently for that end of expansion free time to kit them out as best you can.
Even that comes with a downside, which is that Benthic gear can, in many cases, be best in slot for raiding, meaning that your raid main may very well need to hold an ungodly amount of manapearls for themselves, ruining the ability to buy for alts. Sure, you can simply rerun the full quest chain on alts for as many pearls as you can get your hands on, which is great – but that first alt may suffer with ineffective stats at first, making clearing the mobs a total grind.
All of this is compounded, both in 7.2 and now in 8.2, with scaling. 7.2 infamously introduced gear level scaling to world mobs, which was an unannounced change that led to a lot of player outcry. 8.2 zones have mobs whose item level floor is much higher, meaning that if you just got over the hump where 8.0 world content feels great, congratulations! – everything in Nazjatar and Mechagon is harder, and you better roll tank/healer or pull small until you get that item level north of 415. Not to mention the fact that mob density in both zones is stupidly high, meaning you can almost never just pull one thing – it has to be 2, 3, 4, or 5 at a time, and a good number of the world mobs now have mechanics, forcing you to move out of AoE effects, avoid or mitigate heavier attacks, or interrupt certain spell casts. If you’re already calling the reputation gain towards flying a chore, it definitely enhances the chore-iness when even the fun part is made to further stomp on you.
This, to me, is the curse of the x.2 patch. Since Pathfinder was introduced, no matter how good the underlying content is – no matter how artful the zones, beautiful the music, fun the raid and/or dungeon – it always will have the stink of being the place you go to do the chores. Few people look back on Broken Shore with misty-eyed nostalgia now, and it is my prediction that few will look back on Nazjatar or Mechagon fondly. Not because Blizzard made bad zones, because short of some unnecessary navigational difficulty, I like both zones – but because the gameplay they chose to fill them with is some of the more tedious and mindnumbing stuff they’ve done. To be frank – if I wanted to play Bejeweled, I’d just play it – it still exists. Doing so to unlock flying feels kind of crummy, to be quite honest. I don’t feel like an awesome hero of Azeroth doing these quests, I feel like an idiot errand boy who is playing mobile games in-between tasks.
Especially for Nazjatar, that is a shame.