Legion worked primarily because it was a fresh breath of air on the WoD structure. It had a big focus on the world and story, added new life to dungeons (with keys), and had a pile of horizontal stuff along the way. The main gaps were around the abundance of RNG on game-changing items (good vs. bad legendaries). There were challenges when it came to alts, and even larger challenges when it came to different specs.
BfA rubbed the wrong way because rather than build on that model, it opted to add multiple levels of RNG to pretty much every system. Instead of targeting vertical progression, a wide swath of activities actually had a negative progress curve. The balance from launch improved the RNG, dramatically. Multiple activities provide progress towards goals, which is mechanically solid. What remains is Blizz’s frankly bonkers approach to balancing those options. Multi-spec characters really took a beating here, since skills were locked into gear. Felt like time travel.
Which brings me to Shadowlands.
There are multiple systems here that appear solid at the conceptual level. It appears to be the merger of factions and talents, which seems a somewhat logical point in 2020. It appears to provide rewards outside the gear, also good. It has a visible progress line, compared to a roll of the die for the next upgrade, great.
Where the gap is for me, and from various blogs I appear to not be alone, is in the Blizz approach to balancing these choices. Sure, there’s the meta, and there will always be a meta. It’s 2020 for crying out loud. No, what I’m getting at is that the illusion of choice due to poor balancing. If your job is healing, then there are no choices but those that increase healing. If you need movement for 1 fight out of 10, but it takes you a week to get access to that skill… well then you don’t take that skill.
I keep using the word balance, but we only ever think of one side of that scale – the one we are evaluating. The measure on the opposite end is even more important. If I am balancing a skill, we all have to agree on what’s the counterweight, the baseline. Blizz has a habit of making that weight equal to 100% optimal use in mythic difficulty. They will eventually reduce that, but it takes time. The amount of time that takes, and the level, directly impacts the importance of the meta.
Further, the internal testing/beta process is clearly broken. The massive nerfs applied to corruption effects once live show that clearly. Everyone was given a choice between a tactical nuke, and a rake. I get that nothing is perfect, I more than get that. That’s my everyday life, ugh. You need to iterate, that’s normal. But BfA didn’t have a single system that launched in an “acceptable” state, everything felt rushed. I will be the first to admit that nearly every system improved over time, but that level of improvement is typicall in the beta process… not live.
My newsfeed has a ton of Shadowlands stuff. Beta is live. Core systems (like conduits) are already going back to the drawing board. The speed of that change means that Blizz didn’t really think it was going to fly anyhow. The selling features of this expansion are really twofold. That this covenant system works (and is therefore balanced) and that the Maw has some sort of attraction to do on a regular basis. As of now, in beta, where the excitement should be high, it’s instead very muted. It’s very reminiscent of the BfA beta vibe.
Maybe we do end up with the A/B cycle of good/bad expansions. I hope so more for Blizzard’s sake than my own. There are a lot of eyes on this expansion, and if the cash cow that is WoW no longer produces, we are all aware that Mr. Kotick is more than willing to take action to solve it. Way too many people lose in that event.