Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Legion Post-Mortem (Part Four)

The next expansion, Battle For Azeroth, will be out on or before the end of September this year. That means that we are now into the public testing phase, and right now that means selected influencers get granted access with the expectation that they can and will stream their test play or make videos about it. They are, and stuff like this is often in my YouTube Feed these days.

But have the devs learned their lessons yet?

Not really. There remains a stubborn resistance to acknowledge the reality of their medium: video-gaming IS Mech Piloting. They are also stubborn about acknowledging the reality of their business: people work off the paradigm of "Best Or Benched", especially when it is team-oriented or cutting-edge in difficulty. Make it both? Optimization is inevitable out of necessity to succeed. If something is not relevant to defeating the obstacle, then it's ignored until the problem gets solved and the obstacle rendered moot.

(This is why the lore of the game gets ignored so often; it is not, nor has it ever been, relevant to beating the boss or solving the quest. Make knowing the lore mission-critical, and you'll make most players into rivals for Nobbel the Noble's Loremaster status overnight. This is why I make lore knowledge mission-critical in my tabletop RPG campaigns.)

The developers deliberately chose to reverse their "Bring the Player, Not the Class" policy. They did this by returning utility to specific classes previously removed, but what this really means is that you get the same effect as Affirmative Action; you end up with a set-aside system of slots to fill or you get fucked by the system. Only this class gets that ability, which you need to have to pass this boss fight or that raid mechanic, so you have to have at least one of that class in your group. That's known to breed resentment, especially as suck players move to that class to chase guaranteed raid spots (and with it, the power and prestige raiding brings in this game).

This also means that class-specific buffs also return--Mark of the Wild, Battle Shout, etc.--and this returns another solved issue to the game: Buffs Are Baseline. The problem with buffs, be they consumed or castable, is that they cease to be bonuses and become the new normal. Lacking the buffs is no longer merely missing a bonus; it becomes coping with a handicap, one that can cripple you when it comes to group content.

Under "Best Or Benched", entire group compositions get tossed into the trash because they lack the buffs that the community comes to expect as the baseline for performance. When truly degenerate, whole swaths of classes get benched and players shut out of content accordingly. (e.g. Shattered Halls in The Burning Crusade, where "LFM 3 Mages" was the norm due to the power of their utility and buffs vs. other options; if you had no Crowd Control, you didn't go--and thus not get attuned for higher content, gatekeeping you from it--until it was not relevant anymore unless you had something to trade or a guild willing to carry you.)

The smart thing to do is to revert this stupid design decision. Remove the buffs; adjust performance expectations accordingly. Kill the class-specific utilities; you have superior options to deal with the underlying complaint of blandness and homogeneity. (Which, by the way, is really a sign of useless redundancy in your playable character options; you need to cull that shit, not justify it.) The devs' refusal to see that they're really Mech Designers doing battle sim work will continue to bite them in the ass until they bend the knee to reality and do what needs to be done: cull the dead weight from the game.

But it's not all bad news. Next post: the good things to come.

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