Battle for Azeroth Review Part 2 – The Gameplay

(Editor’s Note: This post is a Proustian diversion into huge longform posting. After an editing pass and little tightening up, it still sits at 9,329 words, including this preamble! While I could try and slice it up, I feel like the post builds to a conclusion based on component pieces, and following across multiple posts is not great, so rather than do that, I’m leaving it long and strong. Just, you know, maybe grab a glass of water and take a bathroom break first!)

In the first of my three-part Battle for Azeroth post-mortem, we talked about the story, and how it ultimately was a set of decent-to-good standalone stories that were made worse by the need to tie them together into a single, cohesive plot that also serves to pull us forward from Legion and push us into Shadowlands.

Today, we get to talk about the thing that really animates me with World of Warcraft: gameplay.

The gameplay of BfA is where I think the expansion really delivered a bit of a gut-punch compared to prior expansions. The game went in a lot of different directions, removing core moment-to-moment complexity through excessive pruning, gameplay overcomplication through layers of systems relating to Azerite, and overabundant grinding via the Heart of Azeroth and just about every other portion of the game. All of this served to take the thing I think WoW does very well – a constant, rewarding sense of progression – and buried it, removing crucial progression paths and a sense of completability.

Let’s start with the most impactful change felt by nearly everyone – moment-to-moment gameplay of classes.

It’s been no secret that Blizzard saw Mists of Pandaria as a point of reckoning in the game’s systems and combat design. Classes had bloated ability lists, even after consolidating talent trees into the 3-choice tiers we’ve had ever since then, and the team was increasingly reaching for abilities in such a way that was near-impossible to balance (see especially in MoP: Void Shift for Priests and Symbiosis for Druids). MoP was, in reality, the breaking point for a lot of the game’s legacy systems and approaches to gear progression, character progression, and rewards. Health and DPS numbers went up substantially, gear progressed to triple-sockets nearly across the board, reforging became an essential way to balance required, cappable secondary stats in a way that maximized player benefit, and the addition of new abilities expansion over expansion resulted in some classes and specs having more spells and items to bind than their hotbar setups could handle.

The solution was to begin pruning – Warlords of Draenor started this off with a very minor prune and coupled this with no new abilities through leveling. Talents granted a couple of new options, and the rewards given through leveling were ability “enhancements” which modified core class/spec abilities every two levels, and were picked at random from a list of 5, so everyone had the enhancements at endgame, but throughout, you could get a different path. WoD also brought the first item squish, a pure scaling exercise which saw the team keep items at the same item level, but flattened the gear curve at lower levels, which suffered from exponential power creep. It basically modified the value of an item level, such that the lower level items got less raw power per item level than an item dropped for a level 100 character. These changes together worked – sort of, but Blizzard was not satisfied. Spec identity in Legion became a way to further prune, moving away from cases like Mages, where each spec had access to all 3 schools of magic and used them in various scenarios, down to each spec having a heavily consolidated spellbook that was flavor-appropriate for them. This created some humorous moves, like Mages having 3 different shield spells that all basically work the same with a twist, instead of just one. New abilities came from talent reworks and the Artifact weapons, done so that at the end of Legion, the artifact would simply be removed and that ability would go away.

Well, BfA didn’t add anything to fill that gap, and it was felt. Artifact abilities were, in theory, replaceable with Azerite traits. That…clearly did not work out as Blizzard intended, which led to Essences in 8.2. While there wasn’t a lot of additional pruning across the board with 8.0, most classes and specs are at their most threadbare points since Classic – and even then, maybe more so. A lot of fun flavor abilities are gone, specs feel like islands apart from their fellow specs that make up classes, and Azerite traits don’t add as much to the core gameplay as we would like, while Essences are very same-y across the board.

Alongside that, Blizzard also decided that this point of limited decision making in moment-to-moment gameplay was the right time to really push the global cooldown back into prominence. For those that don’t play WoW, allow me to paint a picture – the game feels frenetically fast because so many abilities straight-up ignore the GCD. Unlike FFXIV, where off-GCD abilities are (or, well, were) rare, it became sort of a standard course in WoW that most things could be chained together in rapid succession. On my Vengeance Demon Hunter in Legion, I could Infernal Strike to leap into combat, hit Spirit Bomb if I had fragments from a prior pull sitting on the field, and Shear without ever triggering the GCD. It made the class feel like playing Dance Dance Revolution on Expert mode – a constant mash of button-presses faster than a pianist on crack. Most classes had some gameplay loops like this – where you could jab a huge handful of buttons in rapid succession to establish a huge burst of damage to start things off or to burst ahead mid-fight. Coupled with oGCD trinket use effects and Artifact powers, and it was crazy – but, usually, fun.

BfA relocked a ton of things to the GCD with aims of slowing down combat. Blizzard has hated for years how certain gameplay, like PvP, could be measured in GCDs because of how some classes, like Rogues, could simply frontload their abilities into a cycling macro that would execute oGCD abilities in sequence. They tried buffing the value of Stamina repeatedly, tried PvP balancing of abilities, and nothing stuck – so this was the change. Over the course of BfA, the thing that is still felt today was the GCD rebinding, and it sucks. Trinket use effects require a GCD, meaning timing one is a more skillful endeavor but it eliminates that fun, immediate spike of damage. Lots of DPS abilities, DPS-boosting cooldowns, and other utility spells remain GCD-locked in BfA where they previously weren’t. While Blizzard relented on movement abilities like Infernal Strike, they have remained unrelenting on DPS cooldowns, trinket use effects, and the like – where combat is concerned, the pace is slower.

Why is this bad? Well, to start with, it sends a bit of a mixed message about the audience for WoW. WoW has, for over a decade now, been the standard of fast, almost twitch-action hotbar MMO combat. This has driven some players away but also built a core audience that prized the game for exactly this. While PvP could tend towards being a bit quick and anti-climactic, the game had a community built around this gameplay anyways. In something of a theme we’ll revisit throughout the post, Blizzard leaned hard away from the thing that was drawing players to the game in the first place to implement a design more to their design intent, which make overtures to draw players back in without fixing the actual issue they had. Combat in WoW is still fast for a hotbar-based MMO, which keeps the folks who hate the pacing out, while for those of us that did like it, we have to contend with these awkward speed-bumps in our gameplay that haven’t been there before. It aims to please a broader audience but instead did the opposite – I have yet to meet anyone who was drawn to BfA for the GCD change, but have met plenty of folks who were repelled by it.

Was PvP pacing a problem? In some sense, sure – it can be difficult to interpret how to improve when you’re being bopped 18 times in 3 seconds by a very tricksy stabber, but at the same time, I would envision a different fix. Trinket use effects tend to already be exclusive and put a short-term cooldown on similar effects – could we do something similar to DPS cooldowns? Maybe you further increase Stamina value, or implement a blanket damage reduction, or perhaps the solution is in bringing back a system like Resilience. Whatever the case, they fixed a smaller problem and created a much larger one with the GCD change, and my hope is that Shadowlands sees them find a new way around the problem.

From there, it is worth talking about the early expansion experience and world content. WoW’s world content is always some fun – it usually is the place where your power creep from raid and high-end PvP gear shines through, and you get to destroy packs of enemies using your class abilities and skill with them. Legion added world mob item level scaling in patch 7.2, which enabled them to make Broken Shore world content harder, but on a sliding scale that allowed fresh max-level characters to come in and still play, while (theoretically) keeping higher-gear players on their toes. The idea, while controversial (and introduced without a lot of comment during testing), ended up sticking, and once kinks in the scaling formula were worked out, Blizzard kept on – each patch progresses the difficulty of mobs in sync with your gear, with a higher ceiling on each set (capping well below what you can earn in said patch).

BfA was the first WoW expansion with this technology from the beginning, and to say it was an absolute shit show would be an understatement.

The expansion problem WoW always faces is that player gear from prior endgame must be scaled down in value in order to disallow carrying forward with too much power, and Blizzard has had a fairly elegant solution for this since Burning Crusade – ratings. The number of points of Rating in a given secondary stat needed for 1% of said stat increases based on level – scaling so that each full percentage point of Critical Strike, Haste, and the like, decreases level over level until you are drastically lower on the power scale. Indeed, we usually see about 3/4ths of our endgame secondary stats from the prior expansion disappear through leveling and regearing – classes are slower, crit less, less survivable, and overall just weaker. To some level, it works – with less Haste, you have to learn how your rotation weaves together in the new endgame design, and mobs are made to be fairly gentle punching bags, there to test your skill before moving into the dungeons, raids, and PvP laid out before you.

There are two compounding problems with this in BfA – losing Legion Legendaries meant losing an inordinate amount of power, and world mob scaling was fixed to a higher item level “floor” than most players had to start – in fact, it felt higher than LFR Uldir, meaning that until you had raided at Heroic level, world mobs were still a challenge. Now, don’t get it twisted – world mobs being challenging can be a good thing for player engagement and skill, but it is a tightrope to walk. Make mobs too weak, players complain that the world content isn’t engaging. Make them too strong, and players will refuse to engage with them and be less “stuck” to the game.

BfA’s early world mob scaling was absolutely out of whack, and it hurt the World Quest experience drastically. Making world content more interesting isn’t a bad thing, but making it just flat-out scale higher doesn’t inherently make it interesting. What I enjoy about world mobs in WoW is when you get to test your skill with pulls. Can you round up 10 mobs and AoE them before you die? What happens if you pull too aggressively, or against a respawn? Those are fun challenges that you can enjoy and test your limits as a player – teaching you new skills to cope and manage larger and more deadly pulls. The system in BfA strongly discourages this – at each patch point, you’ll rarely reach a power level to where you feel like the unquestioned champion of Azeroth. When my gear hit item level 370 in Uldir, heroic geared all the way, I still had to pull mobs in Kul Tiras and Zandalar very conservatively. In 8.2, kitted in Eternal Palace gear, scaling was slightly better, but still meant engaging one on one or in smaller packs, very careful not to get overwhelmed. I’m already up to item level 444 after our first week of Normal raiding in Ny’alotha on my Demon Hunter, and there are still situations where I feel excessively unsafe in the open world.

However, nothing was quite as bad as the first weeks of the expansion, carefully gearing and preparing your raid main only to face a ton of challenge from every random pack of enemies in the world you faced.

Next, PvE content in BfA. Oh man, I am of two minds here. On the one hand, PvE in BfA has been fairly okay to great, even. The dungeon designs have some fun elements, bosses are cool, and the visuals and landscapes presented are awesome – Underrot is still visually unsettling to me because of the excessively-clean white mold everywhere. The raids similarly are full of great visuals, mostly good boss designs, and some fun new mechanics. Where PvE falls apart for me in BfA is the rough edges designed to up engagement – increases in trash mob density, increased trash mechanics, and a reliance at many points in each raid tier on gear level which makes some bosses whiplash from very hard at starting gear levels to almost trivial at the end of the tier.

Dungeon-wise, the expansion has been fairly good – I like the variety of launch dungeons, granted by using the split continent world design to produce a variety of different biomes and atmospheres represented. Waycrest Manor is a fun concept that WoW doesn’t have much of, Operation: Mechagon is a fun and whimsical take on the mega-dungeon that works exceptionally well by looking much like an actual city would, and that is buffered by a variety of the interior-locked dungeon environments like King’s Rest, Underrot, and Temple of Sethraliss. Similarly for the raids, I have high praise visually – Uldir was stunning and used newer, higher-resolution Titan artwork and assets, Battle of Dazar’Alor made sure we all saw the splendor of the Horde capital, Crucible of Storms has a good Old God look, Eternal Palace is visually stunning, and Ny’alotha is a very cool take on the Black Empire I am glad to see in-game at last.

For dungeons, however, I have a beef with the increasing variety of environmental puzzles in the assortment of them. Sethraliss will forver be on my shitlist for the damn lightning orb puzzles, Operation: Mechagon and the Alarm Bots that require hiding in steam are almost worse, and the myriad of trash skips that every pug in a Heroic wants to use despite executing them poorly gets to the point where I don’t want to tank for strangers in these dungeons. Trash density was a big problem for me with dungeons throughout the expansion – it feels like the designs are made to emphasize time traps for Mythic Plus and the MDI – but raids were largely clear of long halls of superfluous trash until Ny’alotha, which, apparently, is the alternate universe for trash. Ny’alotha is DENSELY packed with trash mobs in the middle sections, requiring upwards of 10 pulls between bosses (although, mercifully, it dumps you right in at the first boss with no trash needed). By comparison, a typical Uldir boss had around 4-6 pulls (save for Zul!) and that would be an even lower average if we could include the 0-2 trash pull bosses like G’huun, Mythrax, and Taloc.

Raid bosses, as I hinted at above, are plagued with lots of mechanics that can be skipped or outright ignored with enough gear. When my guild went back to do Glory of the Uldir Raider in Eternal Palace gear, it was shocking how many raid mechanics could simply be overpowered. Perhaps this has always been the case in WoW, but many of these fights simply aren’t durable. The Jadefire Masters in BoD are my best example. The whole fight revolves around managing their 50% energy transition phase maze, and then managing their 100% energy empowered forms. The maze isn’t really something you can power through, but their static rate of energy accrual means that you can power through the fight to such a point that the empowered phase ends before any management is needed. In Eternal Palace gear, in fact, it is possible to kill them before they even reach that phase (which, for us at least, resulted in them bugging out and not dying!). If you can drop both bosses to 5% health prior to transforming, then that phase presents no challenge, as the difficult mechanics simply don’t happen. In Eternal Palace, the same thing is possible with Azshara – her phases are health-based, so you can simply skip adds or deal with fewer by having more DPS – some of that comes from skill, yes, but enough gear means even a raid of moderate skill (or one dragging a few stragglers over the finish line!) can simply burst her down to a more favorable phase, avoiding multiple DPS splits for add management and keeping damage higher on Azshara.

The nature of the game is such that gear means power and it is a rewarding feeling to get to a point where the fight is mathematically easier – yes. However, there is a balance to meet and I feel like a lot of BfA bosses missed this mark. Lich King was a hard boss fight through almost all of the last year of Wrath of the Lich King because he required that you meet a series of execution checks – proper positioning, targeting, movement, and management of debuffs. He got easier with gear, yes – but those checks, crucially, were still present even when you could race through phases because that was the fight. Jadefire Masters without the execution check of the last phase is just a tank and spank with two movement mechanics and a long transition phase. It looks like the same fight, but it plays fundamentally differently. Likewise, the Loa fight in BoD was just a brutal kick in the balls on Heroic with less than ideal gear, but as your gear improved, you could meet more timers on the fight and overcome them. Execution was important, yes, but most execution in the fight boiled down to doing damage very quickly to the right targets, with a few positional checks.

As for Mythic Plus, I only really did them in Season 1, so I can’t speak to the seasonal affixes outside of the first season of BfA, but generally, I enjoyed them. Pushing keystones is fairly stressful for me, so I prefer to raid, but I do think that the seasonal affix model (along with the reconfiguration of what affixes happen at which levels) is a good one. Having them built on trash-dense dungeons, though, means that weeks with trash buffs and dungeons with particularly strong trash (pulls in places like Atal’Dazar, King’s Rest, and Underrot come to mind) can lead to wasted or withering keystones. Removing the ability to delete your keystone and get a fresh one made the system worse – I get that Blizzard wants people to play every dungeon, but at the same time, some weeks, you’re just going to get less player response to certain dungeon/affix combos, that is a quirk of the system, and it is okay if that happens sometimes. I hope for Shadowlands that they bring back key trashing – I know it’s not a thing they want to encourage, but a player choice there would allow more people to participate, rather than getting a bum key and giving up for the week. Sure, people can (and do) pug for a key they want, but it would be nice to have some degree of agency over that choice!

To be frank, I’ve only done Korrak’s Revenge for PvP this expansion – but from the outside, I can see that the gearing system with fixed progression towards rewards was a blunder away from the standard PvP vendors the game had prior to BfA for…a long time. PvP largely swings with class changes more than systems or maps, but I do know that one common complaint which is completely understandable is this – the Heart of Azeroth, but particularly Essence system, requires a ton of farming of non-PvP content. Likewise, some PvE players who want the PvP essences have the same problem, but there is a relatively small number of PvP essences compared to PvE. This is valid – endgame content can be a series of inter-related systems, but this constant parallelization of them doesn’t make much sense and trying to force players on both sides of the divide to do the other one rarely makes either audience happy. I’m not sure how you balance that short of making Essences a crafted thing where recipes are trained and you gain items to use as materials from content completion, and even that is just a 3:39 PM at work brain idea.

World quests remain one of the bright spots in the game – they hold to the time-honored WoW tradition of being quick to complete, easy to do solo or in groups, and often fun – hampered only by world scaling. The world zones added through patches were good, overall – but also added frustrating progression mechanics rather than focusing on the fun. Nazjatar forcing bodyguards for maximum progression feels kind of bad, and the rewards behind each not being clearer in the selection UI sucks. Mechagon’s extreme focus on daily quests rather than an emissary or world quests feels bad overall, but also allows you to push through the reputation on your way to Pathfinder faster. Nazjatar has a better model of world quests with emissaries, but it did mean that your progress on Pathfinder could be halted by waiting to get the quests needed for the extra rep, instead of being able to take control like you could with Mechagon. Then, we have the assaults of 8.3. They were decent, as a thing you only had to do 3 times a week with minor visions daily, and you could make choices about not doing the dailies, but if you are trying to maximize trips into Horrific Visions for cloak upgrades, doing the dailies now becomes much more necessary – not “required” in the strictest sense, but more needed and valuable. You get less choice on excluding them as that choice is no longer relatively easy. The assaults are cool artistically, and the zones selected for them are great zones, but I do feel like after the Argus implementation in patch 7.3, we’re missing something. If this leads to a faster turnaround on Shadowlands, I’m okay with it, but right now, there’s just not a lot to go off of.

A weak spot for a lot of world quests is that they focused heavily on play outside of your character. Nazjatar has a ton of quests like chest puzzles and the Octopus quest that rely on fixed mechanics rather than class ability, other than the impact a few movement abilities can have on the octopus WQ. The Tortollan quests are all minigames that don’t feature your character at all, and there are a few vehicle quests like sledding in Tiragarde, which is fun, but also gives you fewer chances to actually play and embody your character in the virtual world of Azeroth. The assaults of 8.3 remedy this by being exclusively character play quests, which is great.

World Quest rewards, on the other hand…we’ll talk about that momentarily, as I have a lot to say here!

The harmony (or lack thereof) of these systems creates the overall composition of the expansion’s gameplay. When I look at the whole picture, a lot of considerations that individually are missed come into play – how does the reward structure adhere together? Is there a pursuable goal? Can you reach a point of finality where you feel accomplished? Legion did this by having a clear content tiering – regular quests led to world quests, which led to dungeons, LFR, or unrated PvP, which led to a path of either rated PvP, Mythic Plus dungeons, raiding, or doing some combination of the 3 in parallel. This was accomplished through a smaller amount of AP rewarded for the lower-tier activities, lower item level loot, and generally created a clear path of progression. Eventually, your character could “graduate” from lower tier activities and move up the chain, or you could stay and grind at the current level (and hope for increased rewards from war/titanforging), or you could move on to another task or goal in the game – an alt, old raid farming, transmog hunting, auctioneering, etc.

BfA has created a structure where that content tiering is ill-defined, if even at all, and where the incentive is to keep playing any and all supported content for rewards. AP continues to flow at a similar rate from nearly all activities – sure, raid bosses drop more overall, but the scale is different compared to Legion, especially since it is no longer amplified by Artifact Knowledge in the same way. Loot item levels from the lower-tier content have steadily crept up, to the point where it is possible to reach LFR level without ever raiding and potentially higher with a bit of good luck. For every player, there is an absolute smattering of content one can do to keep up with their guildmates, and it creates this treadmill that shatters a cornerstone illusion of WoW.

In the first of my three-part Battle for Azeroth post-mortem, we talked about the story, and how it ultimately was a set of decent-to-good standalone stories that were made worse by the need to tie them together into a single, cohesive plot that also serves to pull us forward from Legion and push us into Shadowlands.

Today, we get to talk about the thing that really animates me with World of Warcraft: gameplay.

The gameplay of BfA is where I think the expansion really delivered a bit of a gut-punch compared to prior expansions. The game went in a lot of different directions, removing core moment-to-moment complexity through excessive pruning, gameplay overcomplication through layers of systems relating to Azerite, and overabundant grinding via the Heart of Azeroth and just about every other portion of the game. All of this served to take the thing I think WoW does very well – a constant, rewarding sense of progression – and buried it, removing crucial progression paths and a sense of completability.

Let’s start with the most impactful change felt by nearly everyone – moment-to-moment gameplay of classes.

It’s been no secret that Blizzard saw Mists of Pandaria as a point of reckoning in the game’s systems and combat design. Classes had bloated ability lists, even after consolidating talent trees into the 3-choice tiers we’ve had ever since then, and the team was increasingly reaching for abilities in such a way that was near-impossible to balance (see especially in MoP: Void Shift for Priests and Symbiosis for Druids). MoP was, in reality, the breaking point for a lot of the game’s legacy systems and approaches to gear progression, character progression, and rewards. Health and DPS numbers went up substantially, gear progressed to triple-sockets nearly across the board, reforging became an essential way to balance required, cappable secondary stats in a way that maximized player benefit, and the addition of new abilities expansion over expansion resulted in some classes and specs having more spells and items to bind than their hotbar setups could handle.

The solution was to begin pruning – Warlords of Draenor started this off with a very minor prune and coupled this with no new abilities through leveling. Talents granted a couple of new options, and the rewards given through leveling were ability “enhancements” which modified core class/spec abilities every two levels, and were picked at random from a list of 5, so everyone had the enhancements at endgame, but throughout, you could get a different path. WoD also brought the first item squish, a pure scaling exercise which saw the team keep items at the same item level, but flattened the gear curve at lower levels, which suffered from exponential power creep. It basically modified the value of an item level, such that the lower level items got less raw power per item level than an item dropped for a level 100 character. These changes together worked – sort of, but Blizzard was not satisfied. Spec identity in Legion became a way to further prune, moving away from cases like Mages, where each spec had access to all 3 schools of magic and used them in various scenarios, down to each spec having a heavily consolidated spellbook that was flavor-appropriate for them. This created some humorous moves, like Mages having 3 different shield spells that all basically work the same with a twist, instead of just one. New abilities came from talent reworks and the Artifact weapons, done so that at the end of Legion, the artifact would simply be removed and that ability would go away.

Well, BfA didn’t add anything to fill that gap, and it was felt. Artifact abilities were, in theory, replacable with Azerite traits. That…clearly did not work out as Blizzard intended, which led to Essences in 8.2. While there wasn’t a lot of additional pruning across the board with 8.0, most classes and specs are at their most threadbare points since Classic – and even then, maybe more so. A lot of fun flavor abilities are gone, specs feel like islands apart from their fellow specs that make up classes, and Azerite traits don’t add as much to the core gameplay as we would like, while Essences are very same-y across the board.

Alongside that, Blizzard also decided that this point of limited decision making in moment-to-moment gameplay was the right time to really push the global cooldown back into prominence. For those that don’t play WoW, allow me to paint a picture – the game feels frenetically fast because so many abilities straight-up ignore the GCD. Unlike FFXIV, where off-GCD abilities are (or, well, were) rare, it became sort of a standard course in WoW that most things could be chained together in rapid succession. On my Vengeance Demon Hunter in Legion, I could Infernal Strike to leap into combat, hit Spirit Bomb if I had fragments from a prior pull sitting on the field, and Shear without ever triggering the GCD. It made the class feel like playing Dance Dance Revolution on Expert mode – a constant mash of button-presses faster than a pianist on crack. Most classes had some gameplay loops like this – where you could jab a huge handful of buttons in rapid succession to establish a huge burst of damage to start things off or to burst ahead mid-fight. Coupled with oGCD trinket use effects and Artifact powers, and it was crazy – but, usually, fun.

BfA relocked a ton of things to the GCD with aims of slowing down combat. Blizzard has hated for years how certain gameplay, like PvP, could be measured in GCDs because of how some classes, like Rogues, could simply frontload their abilities into a cycling macro that would execute oGCD abilities in sequence. They tried buffing the value of Stamina repeatedly, tried PvP balancing of abilities, and nothing stuck – so this was the change. Over the course of BfA, the thing that is still felt today was the GCD rebinding, and it sucks. Trinket use effects require a GCD, meaning timing one is a more skillful endeavor but it eliminates that fun, immediate spike of damage. Lots of DPS abilities, DPS-boosting cooldowns, and other utility spells remain GCD-locked in BfA where they previously weren’t. While Blizzard relented on movement abilities like Infernal Strike, they have remained unrelenting on DPS cooldowns, trinket use effects, and the like – where combat is concerned, the pace is slower.

Why is this bad? Well, to start with, it sends a bit of a mixed message about the audience for WoW. WoW has, for over a decade now, been the standard of fast, almost twitch-action hotbar MMO combat. This has driven some players away but also built a core audience that prized the game for exactly this. While PvP could tend towards being a bit quick and anti-climactic, the game had a community built around this gameplay anyways. In something of a theme we’ll revisit throughout the post, Blizzard leaned hard away from the thing that was drawing players to the game in the first place to implement a design more to their design intent, which make overtures to draw players back in without fixing the actual issue they had. Combat in WoW is still fast for a hotbar-based MMO, which keeps the folks who hate the pacing out, while for those of us that did like it, we have to contend with these awkward speed-bumps in our gameplay that haven’t been there before. It aims to please a broader audience but instead did the opposite – I have yet to meet anyone who was drawn to BfA for the GCD change, but have met plenty of folks who were repelled by it.

Was PvP pacing a problem? In some sense, sure – it can be difficult to interpret how to improve when you’re being bopped 18 times in 3 seconds by a very tricksy stabber, but at the same time, I would envision a different fix. Trinket use effects tend to already be exclusive and put a short-term cooldown on similar effects – could we do something similar to DPS cooldowns? Maybe you further increase Stamina value, or implement a blanket damage reduction, or perhaps the solution is in bringing back a system like Resilience. Whatever the case, they fixed a smaller problem and created a much larger one with the GCD change, and my hope is that Shadowlands sees them find a new way around the problem.

From there, it is worth talking about the early expansion experience and world content. WoW’s world content is always some fun – it usually is the place where your power creep from raid and high-end PvP gear shines through, and you get to destroy packs of enemies using your class abilities and skill with them. Legion added world mob item level scaling in patch 7.2, which enabled them to make Broken Shore world content harder, but on a sliding scale that allowed fresh max-level characters to come in and still play, while (theoretically) keeping higher-gear players on their toes. The idea, while controversial (and introduced without a lot of comment during testing), ended up sticking, and once kinks in the scaling formula were worked out, Blizzard kept on – each patch progresses the difficulty of mobs in sync with your gear, with a higher ceiling on each set (capping well below what you can earn in said patch).

BfA was the first WoW expansion with this technology from the beginning, and to say it was an absolute shit show would be an understatement.

The expansion problem WoW always faces is that player gear from prior endgame must be scaled down in value in order to disallow carrying forward with too much power, and Blizzard has had a fairly elegant solution for this since Burning Crusade – ratings. The number of points of Rating in a given secondary stat needed for 1% of said stat increases based on level – scaling so that each full percentage point of Critical Strike, Haste, and the like, decreases level over level until you are drastically lower on the power scale. Indeed, we usually see about 3/4ths of our endgame secondary stats from the prior expansion disappear through leveling and regearing – classes are slower, crit less, less survivable, and overall just weaker. To some level, it works – with less Haste, you have to learn how your rotation weaves together in the new endgame design, and mobs are made to be fairly gentle punching bags, there to test your skill before moving into the dungeons, raids, and PvP laid out before you.

There are two compounding problems with this in BfA – losing Legion Legendaries meant losing an inordinate amount of power, and world mob scaling was fixed to a higher item level “floor” than most players had to start – in fact, it felt higher than LFR Uldir, meaning that until you had raided at Heroic level, world mobs were still a challenge. Now, don’t get it twisted – world mobs being challenging can be a good thing for player engagement and skill, but it is a tightrope to walk. Make mobs too weak, players complain that the world content isn’t engaging. Make them too strong, and players will refuse to engage with them and be less “stuck” to the game.

BfA’s early world mob scaling was absolutely out of whack, and it hurt the World Quest experience drastically. Making world content more interesting isn’t a bad thing, but making it just flat-out scale higher doesn’t inherently make it interesting. What I enjoy about world mobs in WoW is when you get to test your skill with pulls. Can you round up 10 mobs and AoE them before you die? What happens if you pull too aggressively, or against a respawn? Those are fun challenges that you can enjoy and test your limits as a player – teaching you new skills to cope and manage larger and more deadly pulls. The system in BfA strongly discourages this – at each patch point, you’ll rarely reach a power level to where you feel like the unquestioned champion of Azeroth. When my gear hit item level 370 in Uldir, heroic geared all the way, I still had to pull mobs in Kul Tiras and Zandalar very conservatively. In 8.2, kitted in Eternal Palace gear, scaling was slightly better, but still meant engaging one on one or in smaller packs, very careful not to get overwhelmed. I’m already up to item level 444 after our first week of Normal raiding in Ny’alotha on my Demon Hunter, and there are still situations where I feel excessively unsafe in the open world.

However, nothing was quite as bad as the first weeks of the expansion, carefully gearing and preparing your raid main only to face a ton of challenge from every random pack of enemies in the world you faced.

Next, PvE content in BfA. Oh man, I am of two minds here. On the one hand, PvE in BfA has been fairly okay to great, even. The dungeon designs have some fun elements, bosses are cool, and the visuals and landscapes presented are awesome – Underrot is still visually unsettling to me because of the excessively-clean white mold everywhere. The raids similarly are full of great visuals, mostly good boss designs, and some fun new mechanics. Where PvE falls apart for me in BfA is the rough edges designed to up engagement – increases in trash mob density, increased trash mechanics, and a reliance at many points in each raid tier on gear level which makes some bosses whiplash from very hard at starting gear levels to almost trivial at the end of the tier.

Dungeon-wise, the expansion has been fairly good – I like the variety of launch dungeons, granted by using the split continent world design to produce a variety of different biomes and atmospheres represented. Waycrest Manor is a fun concept that WoW doesn’t have much of, Operation: Mechagon is a fun and whimsical take on the mega-dungeon that works exceptionally well by looking much like an actual city would, and that is buffered by a variety of the interior-locked dungeon environments like King’s Rest, Underrot, and Temple of Sethraliss. Similarly for the raids, I have high praise visually – Uldir was stunning and used newer, higher-resolution Titan artwork and assets, Battle of Dazar’Alor made sure we all saw the splendor of the Horde capital, Crucible of Storms has a good Old God look, Eternal Palace is visually stunning, and Ny’alotha is a very cool take on the Black Empire I am glad to see in-game at last.

For dungeons, however, I have a beef with the increasing variety of environmental puzzles in the assortment of them. Sethraliss will forver be on my shitlist for the damn lightning orb puzzles, Operation: Mechagon and the Alarm Bots that require hiding in steam are almost worse, and the myriad of trash skips that every pug in a Heroic wants to use despite executing them poorly gets to the point where I don’t want to tank for strangers in these dungeons. Trash density was a big problem for me with dungeons throughout the expansion – it feels like the designs are made to emphasize time traps for Mythic Plus and the MDI – but raids were largely clear of long halls of superfluous trash until Ny’alotha, which, apparently, is the alternate universe for trash. Ny’alotha is DENSELY packed with trash mobs in the middle sections, requiring upwards of 10 pulls between bosses (although, mercifully, it dumps you right in at the first boss with no trash needed). By comparison, a typical Uldir boss had around 4-6 pulls (save for Zul!) and that would be an even lower average if we could include the 0-2 trash pull bosses like G’huun, Mythrax, and Taloc.

Raid bosses, as I hinted at above, are plagued with lots of mechanics that can be skipped or outright ignored with enough gear. When my guild went back to do Glory of the Uldir Raider in Eternal Palace gear, it was shocking how many raid mechanics could simply be overpowered. Perhaps this has always been the case in WoW, but many of these fights simply aren’t durable. The Jadefire Masters in BoD are my best example. The whole fight revolves around managing their 50% energy transition phase maze, and then managing their 100% energy empowered forms. The maze isn’t really something you can power through, but their static rate of energy accrual means that you can power through the fight to such a point that the empowered phase ends before any management is needed. In Eternal Palace gear, in fact, it is possible to kill them before they even reach that phase (which, for us at least, resulted in them bugging out and not dying!). If you can drop both bosses to 5% health prior to transforming, then that phase presents no challenge, as the difficult mechanics simply don’t happen. In Eternal Palace, the same thing is possible with Azshara – her phases are health-based, so you can simply skip adds or deal with fewer by having more DPS – some of that comes from skill, yes, but enough gear means even a raid of moderate skill (or one dragging a few stragglers over the finish line!) can simply burst her down to a more favorable phase, avoiding multiple DPS splits for add management and keeping damage higher on Azshara.

The nature of the game is such that gear means power and it is a rewarding feeling to get to a point where the fight is mathematically easier – yes. However, there is a balance to meet and I feel like a lot of BfA bosses missed this mark. Lich King was a hard boss fight through almost all of the last year of Wrath of the Lich King because he required that you meet a series of execution checks – proper positioning, targeting, movement, and management of debuffs. He got easier with gear, yes – but those checks, crucially, were *still present even when you could race through phases* because that was the fight. Jadefire Masters without the execution check of the last phase is just a tank and spank with two movement mechanics and a long transition phase. It looks like the same fight, but it plays fundamentally differently. Likewise, the Loa fight in BoD was just a brutal kick in the balls on Heroic with less than ideal gear, but as your gear improved, you could meet more timers on the fight and overcome them. Execution was important, yes, but most execution in the fight boiled down to doing damage very quickly to the right targets, with a few positional checks.

As for Mythic Plus, I only really did them in Season 1, so I can’t speak to the seasonal affixes outside of the first season of BfA, but generally, I enjoyed them. Pushing keystones is fairly stressful for me, so I prefer to raid, but I do think that the seasonal affix model (along with the reconfiguration of what affixes happen at which levels) is a good one. Having them built on trash-dense dungeons, though, means that weeks with trash buffs and dungeons with particularly strong trash (pulls in places like Atal’Dazar, King’s Rest, and Underrot come to mind) can lead to wasted or withering keystones. Removing the ability to delete your keystone and get a fresh one made the system worse – I get that Blizzard wants people to play every dungeon, but at the same time, some weeks, you’re just going to get less player response to certain dungeon/affix combos, that is a quirk of the system, and it is okay if that happens sometimes. I hope for Shadowlands that they bring back key trashing – I know it’s not a thing they want to encourage, but a player choice there would allow more people to participate, rather than getting a bum key and giving up for the week. Sure, people can (and do) pug for a key they want, but it would be nice to have some degree of agency over that choice!

To be frank, I’ve only done Korrak’s Revenge for PvP this expansion – but from the outside, I can see that the gearing system with fixed progression towards rewards was a blunder away from the standard PvP vendors the game had prior to BfA for…a long time. PvP largely swings with class changes more than systems or maps, but I do know that one common complaint which is completely understandable is this – the Heart of Azeroth, but particularly Essence system, requires a ton of farming of non-PvP content. Likewise, some PvE players who want the PvP essences have the same problem, but there is a relatively small number of PvP essences compared to PvE. This is valid – endgame content can be a series of inter-related systems, but this constant parallelization of them doesn’t make much sense and trying to force players on both sides of the divide to do the other one rarely makes either audience happy. I’m not sure how you balance that short of making Essences a crafted thing where recipes are trained and you gain items to use as materials from content completion, and even that is just a 3:39 PM at work brain idea.

World quests remain one of the bright spots in the game – they hold to the time-honored WoW tradition of being quick to complete, easy to do solo or in groups, and often fun – hampered only by world scaling. The world zones added through patches were good, overall – but also added frustrating progression mechanics rather than focusing on the fun. Nazjatar forcing bodyguards for maximum progression feels kind of bad, and the rewards behind each not being clearer in the selection UI sucks. Mechagon’s extreme focus on daily quests rather than an emissary or world quests feels bad overall, but also allows you to push through the reputation on your way to Pathfinder faster. Nazjatar has a better model of world quests with emissaries, but it did mean that your progress on Pathfinder could be halted by waiting to get the quests needed for the extra rep, instead of being able to take control like you could with Mechagon. Then, we have the assaults of 8.3. They were decent, as a thing you only had to do 3 times a week with minor visions daily, and you could make choices about not doing the dailies, but if you are trying to maximize trips into Horrific Visions for cloak upgrades, doing the dailies now becomes much more necessary – not “required” in the strictest sense, but more needed and valuable. You get less choice on excluding them as that choice is no longer relatively easy. The assaults are cool artistically, and the zones selected for them are great zones, but I do feel like after the Argus implementation in patch 7.3, we’re missing something. If this leads to a faster turnaround on Shadowlands, I’m okay with it, but right now, there’s just not a lot to go off of.

A weak spot for a lot of world quests is that they focused heavily on play outside of your character. Nazjatar has a ton of quests like chest puzzles and the Octopus quest that rely on fixed mechanics rather than class ability, other than the impact a few movement abilities can have on the octopus WQ. The Tortollan quests are all minigames that don’t feature your character at all, and there are a few vehicle quests like sledding in Tiragarde, which is fun, but also gives you fewer chances to actually play and embody your character in the virtual world of Azeroth. The assaults of 8.3 remedy this by being exclusively character play quests, which is great.

World Quest rewards, on the other hand…we’ll talk about that momentarily, as I have a lot to say here!

That leaves the new formats of PvE gameplay in the expansion – Warfronts and Islands. Islands are fun but the randomness of rewards and map selection is frustrating, and being tied to the Azerite systems makes them feel a little less fun. Warfronts, on the other hand…ugh. I really want to like Warfronts and feel like they offer something to me, but they are a sort of misdirected design. They don’t upgrade gear with seasons, so the rewards are stuck in time and only fit to select parts of the upgrade path, parts of that path which are currently obsolete with the new world quest rewards for season 4. The gameplay of Warfronts is fun the first time, if ill-explained, but there was a huge missed chance with these. Both the normal and Heroic modes are too easy. Once we escape that feeling, it gets worse – the focus is on faction conflict, but there is almost none of that feeling here. Large parts of both warfronts feel like fighting random bosses, and there was a gap by not having some sort of PvP mode. The base-building mechanics feel tacked on in such a way that they are unclear and it took the Darkshore warfront to streamline them to such a degree that they became innately clear. I wish Warfronts had a PvP mode, increased difficulty, scaled rewards to seasons, offered some sort of larger quest, some sort of Essence acquisition, or just anything to tie them back into the gameplay loop in a meaningful way. In short – Islands = good, Warfronts = not so much.

The harmony (or lack thereof) of these systems creates the overall composition of the expansion’s gameplay. When I look at the whole picture, a lot of considerations that individually are missed come into play – how does the reward structure adhere together? Is there a pursuable goal? Can you reach a point of finality where you feel accomplished? Legion did this by having a clear content tiering – regular quests led to world quests, which led to dungeons, LFR, or unrated PvP, which led to a path of either rated PvP, Mythic Plus dungeons, raiding, or doing some combination of the 3 in parallel. This was accomplished through a smaller amount of AP rewarded for the lower-tier activities, lower item level loot, and generally created a clear path of progression. Eventually, your character could “graduate” from lower tier activities and move up the chain, or you could stay and grind at the current level (and hope for increased rewards from war/titanforging), or you could move on to another task or goal in the game – an alt, old raid farming, transmog hunting, auctioneering, etc.

BfA has created a structure where that content tiering is ill-defined, if even at all, and where the incentive is to keep playing any and all supported content for rewards. AP continues to flow at a similar rate from nearly all activities – sure, raid bosses drop more overall, but the scale is different compared to Legion, especially since it is no longer amplified by Artifact Knowledge in the same way. Loot item levels from the lower-tier content have steadily crept up, to the point where it is possible to reach LFR level without ever raiding and potentially higher with a bit of good luck. For every player, there is an absolute smattering of content one can do to keep up with their guildmates, and it creates this treadmill that shatters a cornerstone illusion of WoW. In the Legion model, the closest appropriation to today, there were defined endpoints per season – at a certain point, you could stop doing world quests (short of Legiondary farming, which is its own hornet’s nest), then dungeons, then each tier of raiding right up to Mythic.

On top of this, Azerite, Essences, and Ashjra’Kamas create a series of nearly endless grinds where your best bet to keep up with a guild is to do an inordinate amount of content to reach those goals. One of these systems alone would be passable, maybe, but having 3 layers of systems with these kinds of grind mechanics is unreal and frankly, hugely irritating.

BfA’s biggest problem to me, however, is that you can in-fact farm most forms of content forever and get some degree of reward. Patch 8.3 fixed this with Corruption to a degree – there’s no longer a near infinite pool of power upgrades since Corruption has a practical ceiling, but it still exists as a problem. You never get to feel that graduation – the completion of a tier of content to move forward into the next. This, depending on your brain chemistry, leads you to a couple of places – either you take as much of the buffet as you can until it makes you sick, or you sample only your favorite dishes. By leaving players every path as viable, it leads to immense burnout. Legion had this problem solely through Legiondaries, and eventually solved it in 7.3.5 with Waking Essences.

BfA will largely find resolution of gameplay rewards as 8.3 rolls on, and people start to hit their item level ceilings for their maximum level of content. However, there will be a big legacy of gameplay changes to sort out for the game to have a fulfilling, fun future. The GCD change needs a serious rework if the combat is going to appeal to longer-term fans of the game. The reward structure for the game needs a serious look as well – meaningful content tiers, the ability to move between sets of content as goals are accomplished – those things give the game life and forward momentum, and encourage players organically to stay around and play instead of being forced into grinds. My hope for Shadowlands involves a lot of gameplay changes – largely focused on reward loops and the ways in which the game incentivizes playing.

But for BfA, which we’re here to discuss today, it was a mixed bag. Overall, I’m still subscribed and with 8.3, I’ve played more than I have most of the expansion – but that is largely attributable to the fact that 8.3 is the end of the expansion, and so the gear I acquire now on alts is going to remain good for much longer than it would have otherwise. For the future of the game though, there’s going to need to be a serious refocusing on core gameplay. Can Blizzard do it?

Well, we’ll see.

14 thoughts on “Battle for Azeroth Review Part 2 – The Gameplay

  1. On your gear scaling examples, Legion was even worse offender. EN mythic bosses died in 30-40 seconds to PUGs in NH gear. You didn’t just skip mechanics, you skipped the whole fight.

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    1. Yes, and in BfA I never switched specs merely to survive in new chunk of content. But it was an issue in Suramar. Your fresh 120 did no damage, and every class was a glass peashooter.

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    2. That one is definitely a longer-term problem for encounter design in WoW – a tier upgrade pushes your power so far ahead of the old content that it almost doesn’t matter. What I felt was unique to this expansion was how many times it felt like you could skip mechanics after gearing in the same tier – the Dazar’alor examples for my guild of H Jadefire and H Loa were places where gear from that tier of raiding made such a large difference. Then again, I fully admit that since I haven’t been a fan of BfA, I was more readily able to admit this problem than I would have for Legion or another expansion I enjoyed. To Blizzard’s credit, Eternal Palace forward have felt less like that, so I think it was a weird design quirk of the BoD raid tier bosses more than a consistent theme throughout the expansion.

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  2. You could bring the word count down a bit by not having most of the article pasted into the post twice… šŸ˜‰ Took me a minute to find the point where the repetition ended and the actual content continued!

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  3. 1. I hated the mob scaling in new content, definitely overtuned.
    2. In general I’m ok with a more paced GCD thing, although several utility spells and cooldowns most definitely should be off GCD.
    3. I like that specs are so diverse from each other since Legion – and I don’t want my frost mage to operate with fireblast, arcane blast or whatever Blizzard wants to bring back.
    4. Hated islands for their timers, and it was a hard pass since my third attempt there. No mounts, transmogs or pets could lure me back. Warftonts though had my share of attention and were very fun to do – both scenarios and world quests.
    5. I don’t like my world quest gear to be worth of LFR, true. Raid is the hardest activity, and even its simpler modes should be rewarded accordingly.
    6. Talents on azerite gear have definitely been a failure in every sense – to an extent that Blizzard introduced 2 new systems in latest patches (necklace+cloak) and waved the azerite gear for good.
    7. Mini-games are nice šŸ™‚ Praised this feature in Legion, and more so in BfA. It’s a perfect way to mitigate grind amounts.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! Don’t have much to add, but for these:

      On point 2 – I generally agree, but I’m not 100% sure where the balance lies. I think the bursty moments of damage are a lot of fun! But I can also see the problem that poses in PvP and other modes of gameplay, and with War Mode added in 8.0, it would feel really bad to be 3 GCD’d in the open world. I hope they revisit this more for class design in Shadowlands.

      On point 3 – I also generally agree, but I do think that pruning also removed good flavor abilities that played to a broader class fantasy, which was nice. Like with the GCD change, there is a definite balance to be met.

      On point 7 – minigames are fun – but I dislike the extent to which they take over in some places. On the one hand, some of them are enjoyable – doing the sledding minigame in Tiragarde is a ton of fun! On the other hand, the memory etched into my brain is doing several 5 minute Bejeweled games in Nazjatar so I could fly, so it’s linked to a bit of irritation with flying in general and also the desire to actually play my class against more challenging enemies. I’m not altogether opposed to them – I just think a better spread of them helps keep fatigue with them from setting in.

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  4. Big cut-and-paste issue – search for “Islands and Warfronts go here” and I think everything up to and including that is duplciated after that phrase. (2nd time around does actually get more wordy on the warfronts / islands bit).

    Meta out of the way, interesting summation. In a lot of areas I am in total agreement, in others not entirely onboard. For example, the whole “adding GCD to steady the pace in order to attract xxx type of players back” premise feels weak, I can’t imagine anyone at Blizz would feel that anyone not playing the game would even notice, and if you ARE playing the game you’re not the problem they’re trying to solve – does that make sense?

    I do feel that the pruning was necessary but you do raise an interesting point, in that any sense of progression more or less gets wiped out if you don’t have new abilities and skills as a reward. How is this fixed? I know that this will largely go away with the new level squish in Shadowlands, but maybe it’s time to re-visit spell ranks.

    It’s funny, but I didn’t feel that the world mob scaling was that atrocious. Maybe that comes down to my main being my priest (everything seems bigger than it is), my mage (I die a lot anyway), and my Hunter (ez mode lol). I’ve always just felt it was a challenge, not really frustrating. I can see if you’re playing a DH and used to just … wading through packs of mobs, it could seem that way. But overall I like it, and mainly that is because they can do things like they’ve done in the last two expansions – pick your starting zone. They still lock some content behind xxx mechanic, but you still get 3-4 starting zones to choose from, and that’s a good thing.

    One thing you didn’t mention on WQs that I noticed – before flying, one can get very picky about which WQs one does. Some are just too much trouble to get to (damned world mob scaling!) unless you can fly. Obviously Blizz doesn’t owe me an easy trip, but (a) the quests that are harder to get to should be more rewarding (which is not the case) and (b) there’s another big argument against introducing flying too early in the game. Overall, though, I do like the whole WQ and Emmisary approach to dailies as the rewards (for the latter at least) scale with the rest of the game.

    I hadn’t noticed the big differences between Naz and Mech progression until you pointed it out. That helps me put a finger on why I hate Mechagon Island so much (to the point that once I have maxxed my essences, I will never return), along with the whole concept of Gnomes as rodents living in a scrap pile aesthetic – I feel if you’re a dedicated Gnomie, you would have every right being insulted.

    It’s really amazing to me that Warfronts didn’t scale the rewards. There are two versions of each, of course – the assault, and then the patrol. At least the patrol (in Arathi) is a handy source of 7th Legion WQs when that emmisary is up. Oh, there is also the “Heroic Warfront”, which I found out was more or less just a raid, and I don’t think you can even LFR it. But that was annoying.

    Surprisingly, I haven’t done any Islands until just this week, on my Priest. The only reason I’m doing it is to progress whatever it is that Alleria maintains. I imagine there will be a few more unpleasant things I’ll have to do to max that out. Bit looking forward to it.

    I’m still not sold on assaults. Single-player progression through these is painful – 1% or less per kill, though you can get along faster if you find some bosses with groups going at them. Not always that easy. Not loving it so far, though.

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    1. Thank you for that catch – I suppose it’s what I get for writing all day and editing at 11 PM! That saved some word count!

      Going through in order:

      -The GCD change is definitely me doing some reading of the tea leaves. They expressed a desire to make combat more deliberate and thoughtful with the change, but I think the beta phase through 8.1 of BfA shows that they weren’t quite sure what belonged back on the GCD and what didn’t, and it definitely hurt the early impressions to stick to it for so long. Any effect of attracting new players would have been a sort of unintended good. Sometimes I think Blizzard implements stuff at expansion start as a means to pull people who just play at launch and fade away in – this is more the audience I’m thinking of and my wording on that wasn’t quite communicating that.

      -Pruning: big agree. I think what Classic does for people that the live game hasn’t since Cataclysm is offer that constant progression of player power through new abilites. Sure, getting rank 4 in an existing spell isn’t altogether the most exciting thing, but it feels new and interesting – and that is a good thing to have!

      -WQs without flying are definitely something I hope Blizzard balances along the lines of what you mention here. Hiking up mountains in Tiragarde on the ground for 35 War Resources feels like an insult. What really chaps my hide even today is how often the Wagga Snarltusk WQ in Stormsong will have good rewards I want, but whether I fly in or run in, I have the toughest time navigating the bramble nest to get to him! Pathfinder and flying is a whole other can of worms – generally, I don’t mind the Pathfinder requirement, but I feel like Blizzard has slowly played with how far back they can put it and how many prereqs they can stack on someone flying, which is…not as fun!

      -8.2 zones – we have the exact opposite perception of the 8.2 zones in an interesting way. Mechagon doesn’t feel grand, but I felt as I was grinding Pathfinder out that it was also the zone that was more respectful of my time, in that you could batch dailies and knock through pretty fast. Nazjatar on foot is one of the most frustrating navigational experiences I’ve had in WoW, although it was saved my first time through by being a Demon Hunter main able to glide down from the Ankoan camp to various objectives. Mechagon definitely isn’t a particularly imaginative zone (and I would agree it doesn’t suit the “advanced” version of gnomes that they live in a trash heap), but I enjoyed the zone more from a gameplay and navigational perspective – it annoyed me far less and far less often.

      -Warfronts: No scaling of rewards just ruins them for me – I’ve never had a reason since 8.2 to do them on alts, because I can just pile up Benthic tokens and now WQs give better gear than every one but Heroic Darkshore. I liked the concept of Heroic for these in theory, but in practice, it’s not appreciably harder. My guild has done Heroic Stromgarde a few times and it is a fairly quick run with only a few minor deviations from the normal formula.

      -Islands: I’m sad for islands, because I like them, but until this last weekend trying to grind some Azerite on my monk alt, I hadn’t touched one since 8.0. They’re fun and short bits of content but they just remind me of Azerite grinding and unless I’m very specifically pushing an alt up, it just feels very disappointing and skippable. Alleria’s progression tree is something I totally forgot about, because I did it once and have completely ignored it since! I was gonna say “you just need war resources” but then I remembered that later phases have gameplay requirements to meet. I wish those were more substantial like the Class Hall research in Legion, or gone.

      -Assaults: I generally enjoy them, but mostly because the alts I’ve played through them are relatively easy to push through on. I feel like they seem to be easier over the last week – maybe some stealth nerfs to required progress? – but it might just be that I want to like them more than I actually do and find myself excusing the time spent. As I push new alts into them, I’ve been grinding WQs first for the upgraded gear (my alts are pretty much all in barnacled 385 Benthic pieces) and that increase in power is helping me feel like they are better! Once my main’s cape is at rank 15, I may very well drop from doing them altogether or at least slow my pacing on alts and just try to play when the itch is there. They definitely seem tuned to be made easier via gear and familiarity as time goes on, but I think they got the starting point in that curve wrong and it will cost them in the short term.

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      1. “The GCD change is definitely me doing some reading of the tea leaves” – yeah, it makes more sense that they did this to attract people still in the game, but again I have to peer real hard at the game to see a difference, much less one that makes a difference to all but the most detail-oriented of players – and again, they’re probably not the intended ‘audience’ for this. It’s odd and weird.

        I think what I was thinking of spell ranks wasn’t exactly the Classic version, but just a higher-level version of the same spell that cost the same resources to use, but now gave a higher boom for the buck. I think fussing around with spell ranks to conserve e.g. mana isn’t a good way to spend one’s time – and besides, the last time I had to worry about mana was … well, a long time and many expansions ago. So that’s what I was thinking. We kind of have seen examples of this with essences now. Hmmmm.

        I imagine I’ll be less grumpy about assaults once I get my Hunter into one – for the time being, I’m a squishie and I .. well, go squish. A lot. šŸ™‚

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      2. Well, they do actualy have spell ranks of sorts. For example, a fire mage will get 2 charges of fireblast at 48 instead of one. This is instant, guaranteed critical hit, so it rockets your rotation upstairs, and is a very huge life improvement.

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