Going through the leveling process a few times now on alts is certainly putting the various expansions basic content in focus. Where it doesn’t do a great job is at the max level content, since it’s not really relevant today.
Leveling content, for a dozen reasons, is not a focus. That there’s any quality at all is impressive given that 99% of the content is seen once per leveling stream. The older hub/spoke model has turned into a storyline 3-5 quest node system instead. You discover a zone, get some basic Qs, then branch out. When you don’t spend half your time travelling. The content from Legion is pretty much the same in BfA, even in terms of how much of that content is expected to be completed.
As the clock is turned back, WoD really was the kickstart for this model. The hubs were larger/denser, but the bits were there. Area bonus quests, hidden chests, rares, quest chains that culminate in a big showdown. Pandaria had big hubs, but also a kick at a better integrated storyline to explore the world. Cataclysm, WotLK, TBC are just… well they are just not good. You pick up 5-10 quests, head out around the map, then come back for another wave of quests.
Now, once you’re at max level, things start opening up. Dailies have been around for a very long time, but really took off in WotLK. Pandaria brought in rep/rewards to a larger level. WoD had the Apexis stuff, with rotations. Legion brought World Quests and BfA just cut & pasted it forward.
Dungeons have been all over the map. They were only ever relevant up to WotLK. Pandaria had some at launch, but never tweaked them past that. WoD’s were completely ignored as garrison rewards were better. Legion tied a bunch of quests to them, and implemented Mythic mode for better rewards. BfA has next to no reason to do normal/heroic dungeons – everything is mythic.
The system around Mythics is essentially a 5 person raid. It’s honestly a good system, allowing for difficult content in smaller chunks. Long gone are the days of 40 person raids. Now we have mythic raids and flex raiding. These two systems really do focus on the core gameplay loop for WoW in the past few expansions – competitive PvE. It builds a tiered community, and one that is always circling the drain. Some bad flashbacks on the whole TBC keying mess. If the carrot is a stat stick with slightly better stats, then eventually that horse stops running. Those types of horses aren’t exactly common, so you end up with poaching/mergers of groups and the conflict that follows. It’s not a sustainable model.
I’ve gone back with my mage to get their class mount in Legion. The class hall has no comparison in any other expansion. The quest line, the exploration, the quests the characters… all of it. The downside here is that characters only get to see it once, and it’s gated with table quests. But it’s there! Suramar as a zone had a pile going for it… and the daily zombie quest is much better than the Horrific Visions grind. The Mage Tower was neat as it wasn’t power bases, but cosmetics. There was depth and breadth in pretty much all the content. The major gaps were around the proliferation of RNG.
The kicker for me is what is deemed worthy of “making the cut” from one expansion to another. Some bits are so well used they can’t really be removed once added. LFG is one. LFR is another, stemming entirely from atrocious raid completion numbers in Cataclysm. Transmogs aren’t going anywhere, and Pet Battles are a system that is screaming for the spotlight. Mythics are now the content du-jour.
The concepts of invasions started in MoP, but really took hold in Legion. The 8.3 version works for the most part (minus the bug variant in Uldum). It’s somethign to do, every other day or so. And provides another catch up mechanic.
But there remains a larger gap in the middle tier, the training wheels if you will to the Mythic world. I’m calling back to the badge model of WotLK here, one where FF14 has done a tremendously solid job of making basic group content relevant. Daily badge limits, and buy-ins to +10ivl upgrades is a start. Piles of cosmetics. Have pets drop. Have mounts as a random reward for filling a specific role. Make it a horizontal progress system. I don’t see Blizz having the willpower to implement something like this. I mean, technically it’s only a tweak to the timewalking system. Pretty sure there are over 100 different dungeons WoW could re-use.
You’ll notice I haven’t even touched on professions. The less said about them the better. I am surprised that the fishing/cooking combo is still as valid today as it was in WotLK.
It will be interesting to look at BfA a month after Shadowlands has launched. The paint is still relatively fresh on 8.3, and it’s already a massive improvement on 8.0/8.1. Yet, taking some time to take a solid detour in the Legion content really puts the variety and quality of content to the forefront. Would be super cool to have a solid experience again.