World of Warcraft’s next patch tackles Battle for Azeroth’s biggest flaws

Blizzard Entertainment

The latest expansion from World of Warcraft has been nailing the high points players expect from the MMO: The raids are excellent, the cinematics and cutscenes are stunning, and the visuals and music set the scene perfectly. The problems players have with Battle for Azeroth are with the connective tissue of the game: character motivations, endgame rewards, content at level 120, the Azerite system, and technical issues.

In 2019, World of Warcraft is attempting the careful balancing act of maintaining a social space for players, single-player campaign content, dungeons and raids, and daily activities and progression. All of these activities tie into advancing the player’s character, growing stronger and unlocking new abilities. Patch 8.2, aka Rise of Azshara, is the largest content patch in World of Warcraft yet, and it’s meant to shore up the weaknesses of Battle for Azeroth.

Rise of Azshara will bring the player to Nazjatar and Mechagon, two new locations stuffed with fresh content. But many of the answers to the problems plaguing World of Warcraft don’t lie in the places players go, but the characters they use to go there.

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The heart of the expansion

When I ask World of Warcraft game director Ion Hazzikostas what he thinks the team will be most excited to show off in 8.2, he laughs. “Everything is the obvious answer,” he says. He eventually focuses on the Heart of Azeroth, the crystalline soul of the planet players have been carrying around throughout Battle for Azeroth. That’s been the primary way for endgame players to advance their character, beyond just grinding and equipping new gear, and it’s fallen short so far. Patch 8.2 will have a revamp and improvements to the Heart of Azeroth experience.

For one, Azerite traits and armors are no longer linked to the level of your Heart of Azeroth, so players can just focus on picking traits. There will be Legion-style artifact progression and upgrade systems. There will be active powers, like shields and buffs, that players activate from their Heart.

But one of the largest failures of the Heart of Azeroth so far is that players don’t care much about the special neck item.

“That’s one of the ways, in terms of comparing to Legion and how we’ve seen the expansion unfold, that we’ve fallen short,” says Hazzikostas. The team has looked back to the Legion artifacts, and how they figured into the player’s story start to finish.

With 8.2, what Hazzikostas calls the “B-plot” of Magni, Azeroth, and the dying Titan comes into the forefront. The Battle over Azeroth becomes a Battle for Azeroth, and the key item of the expansion is getting gameplay reworks to match this emotional importance in the story.

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Character growth and talents

Mechagon and Nazjatar will both be endgame experiences that draw on the best elements of previous endgame grinds: the Timeless Isle, Argus, Tanaan Jungle, and the Broken Shore. Azshara’s domain of Nazjatar will be a little more typical, while Mechagon will be “what you might expect from a gnomish paradise,” says Hazzikostas. He describes it as more sandbox-y, unpredictable, and akin to a playground. Both zones will have flying enabled.

The problem with Battle for Azeroth’s endgame is that a culling of abilities, the loss of Legion’s legendaries, and a lack of endgame talents means that hitting the max level doesn’t necessarily make your character more fun to play. Your character is a vehicle to explore new content, and it doesn’t matter how stunning the vista is if the core gameplay loop you’ll execute a few thousand times just isn’t fun.

“For the rest of Battle for Azeroth, we’ll be looking at talents from a tuning perspective and a diversity perspective,” says Hazzikostas. “Things that no one is picking may be designed and improved, but changes to talents as a whole will be something for a whole other expansion.”

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Hazzikostas notes that in the ever-changing Ship of Theseus that is World of Warcraft, talents and level progression have been approached from many different angles. Talent points that allowed you to progressively add 1 percent to your Shadowbolt felt like filler, or certain talents were mandatory for a class to function. There were a couple of interesting choices — do I take the 21 point talent in Protection, or go for the 31 point talent in Holy?

“It wasn’t infinitely extensible,” says Hazzikostas of the talent point system. “We went down the road, adding what were then 61 point talents, where everyone had 80 talents to spend, and those trees were unwieldy, difficult to parse, and difficult to make decisions within.”

As for Battle for Azeroth’s lack of new 120 talents, Hazzikostas explains it as a tough scenario. If the designers come up with three new abilities for rogue or death knights, those classes may not necessarily need three new abilities. Those abilities may be filler, or they may shore up a weakness in the class design and remove counterplay. That being said, Hazzikostas does agree that “it’s possible we’ve gone too far.”

The team is looking at ways for characters to improve meaningfully and permanently at the endgame, and Nazjatar and Mechagon will be two new arenas for the team to try rewards that aren’t tied to core gameplay loops for each class.

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What role does the player ... play?

The story up until 8.2 has been focused nearly entirely on red versus blue — the battle between the Horde and Alliance. “There’s been a lot of strong opinions,” says Hazzikostas, “because there are a lot of strong connections to these characters, especially on the Horde side.” Saurfang and Sylvanas, the Battle of Dazar’Alor, and Jaina’s narrative arc are all stories that the team consider successful.

While the big NPCs of Battle for Azeroth have had plenty to do, the role of the player in the narrative is odder than ever. In the vanilla game, adventurers were faceless members of a larger army. We participated in great battles, but we were mostly there to shoot and loot. Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King elevated the player, having NPCs marvel at us and thank us for our service. Later, in Legion, I became the Highlord of the Silver Hand and worked side by side with the biggest characters in Warcraft lore. I’ve run a garrison, saved the world, and I now hang out with the High King of the Alliance constantly.

Battle for Azeroth has struggled to find a similar role for the player character. The Alliance has largely served as a foil for the Horde. The Horde, on the other hand, are dealing with a deep division. Horde players who do not agree with Sylvanas were given the option to choose a route of defying her ... but this comes after they were made complicit in genocide. It’s not the burning of Darnassus that motivated them, but the follow-up decisions by Sylvanas.

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When I ask Hazzikostas about the developer’s intent on putting this on Horde players, and if they think it can go too far, he briefly hesitates.

“It’s a heavy responsibility, and it’s not one that anyone on the team takes lightly,” he says. “Our aim in storytelling is always to evoke emotion. If that goes too far, it can feel exploitative, it can feel like players are caught in a situation they don’t want to be in. We want people to stick around, to play with their friends, and to see the end of the story we’re telling.”

For players, they’ve spent months dealing with the burden of Darnassus. For characters like Tauren druids, or Blood Elf paladins, this can feel like an overwhelming loss of agency. Many Horde players are also concerned because a similar tale played out two expansions ago in Mists of Pandaria, with Garrosh Hellscream. For these players, the second corrupt Warchief in under five years might suggest that the Horde they have been playing under for a decade or more is broken, and not worth defending.

Hazzikostas is aware of the parallels to Garrosh’s story, and he says that the Horde is too.

“There are a couple of references here and there,” he says. “There are more coming. Members of the Horde leadership will remember going down dark paths before.”

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He also notes that Garrosh’s motives were different; they were an attempt to restore a lost vision of the Horde at the expense of everything else. Sylvanas’ goals are still unclear, but Hazzikostas notes, “There will not be a trial where she is in chains. Sylvanas is not a character who would find herself in that situation ... ever.”

As for player choice, more decisions will come in the future. “It won’t be something we do lightly,” he says. “We do it when the story makes sense, and we do it when there are real consequences and real follow through.”

The team intends to avoid “false” choices, or the illusion of a branching narrative. Hazzikostas also hints at an interesting possibility for the Alliance’s future narrative: “In this case, it felt right for the Horde. Alliance don’t have that same division in their ranks just yet, and there isn’t that same natural point of choice.”

We’ll be receiving more details on Patch 8.2, Rise of Azshara, once it hits the public test realm. The core issue that Blizzard will need to solve is restoring a sense of player agency. While the new patch seems chock full of endgame content and systems, it remains to be seen whether those help make players feel more powerful and in control. Azshara is one of the most intimidating villains remaining in World of Warcraft, and she may be able to restore a sense of agency and urgency to players as they prepare to raid her eternal palace.

Comments

I appreciate this write up acknowledging the narrative downgrade the player character took from Legion to BFA. Its interesting, some of the classes ended up getting the short of end the stick and losing abilities, to then follow that up by having the story basically delete your player character’s significance to the world? It creates a friction that is hard to ignore, even if you are the type that isn’t concerned about the lore.

Heh, depends on which side you play. In the Alliance side, sure, it took a downgrade. But my Orc Warrior? He’s the Speaker of the Horde, the one who has to represent the Horde to the people of Zandalar island which in addition to Zandalari also encompasses Tortollans, Vulpera and Sethrak, each of whom you aid and earn their respect and trust, making quite a few friends among those people who are useful connections to the Horde through your character.

Oh, yeah, good point, really. In Legion, my main was a Draenei Enhancement Shaman, and the end of Legion provided a lot of great Fantasy for that character (returning to her homeworld to settle the score, etc). BFA really pulled the rug out from under her in a lot of ways, lol, so that is probably the lens I tend to view this through.

Ok maybe im dumb here, but if you are the speaker, what is everyone else? or is everyone else ALSO the speaker? How does that feel? Isn’t it meant to be an MMO … are things now more like, everyone is playing a single player RPG at the same time and pretending everyone else isnt getting the exact same ‘special narrative treatment’?

I can’t speak to everyone on this, but I always assumed ‘canon’ story in World of Warcraft is non-diegetic? That there is the game, world of Warcraft, and story happens in it, and the ‘shape’ of that story usually turns out to be true, but usually the precise details are different when it comes to ‘canon’ (Almost no raid bosses who have been in the game have been defeated in the plot by 25-40 weirdos who punched the loot out of them, per the story- C’thun is one of the only ones, as memory serves.)

The only problem with that is that it’s not just your character that does that. It’s every Horde player that’s level 120 who bothered to play.

That’s not really a problem. Those other characters aren’t part of my questing experience, and don’t make my story experience less singular, just as Joey from down the street playing Final Fantasy VII at the same time as me didn’t mean that my Cloud was just one of many and therefore less special.

See, I was never really an endgame player, and I came into WoW because I loved the story from War3. I always hated when the Player Character was made out to be a singularly pivotal individual because it complicates the lore, long term. I always knew I was weird for that.

This still sounds like a mess and none of the concrete plans (as opposed to the mountain of vague assurances) sound like it’ll change that.

That could be because they haven’t announced the vast majority of the concrete features of 8.2 yet and are waiting until the PTR hits (probably next week) to go into detail about the systems overhaul.

Or we could whine because we didn’t get a pony. Your choice.

Let’s break the PR from the facts here: BfA has failed to gain player love for many factors, but one of the main reasons is this — Blizzard tailored the Azerite traits around raids.

Going forward, we’re going to keep making new Azerite traits that are unique to Azshara’s raid or to Mechagon that complement the existing pool of traits, but armor will just have those traits fully unlocked and players can choose what they want most for their playstyle.

https://www.pcgamer.com/blizzard-there-are-things-to-learn-from-the-mistakes-of-battle-for-azeroth/

Only 10% of the player base raids. Most quest and at most do the mythic dungeons or what’s left of PvP.

I stopped playing BfA within 3 weeks as the traits for my main spec (Holy Paladin) were only for group content. Not solo survival TO do the endless dailies (which we have to do for reputations) with their overtuned MOBS.

Worse, gear STILL only drops for the spec used. Can’t do what Legion allowed, pick a loot spec to work for gear. So that meant if I was playing Prot, only Prot gear would be available. I still only have a ilvl 315 mace for my healer, because of the dismal drops even in dungeons (as who does them when they’re doing Mythics anyway?).

And getting that shiny ilvl 370 weapon 7 months later, it’s a slap in the face.

Blizzard wants to pigeonhole players into playing specific specs for their convienance, when WoW is a fantasy RPG. I play a Holy Paladin for that fantasy RPGness. When I can’t play my character as the GENRE IS DESIGNED, I stopped playing. I don’t play Ret because that’s not my fantasy for a main (another copy and paste generic commercial styled toon).

WoW allows many alts, but if you have a main, the main is geared and loved first. When neither can be fulfilled with even starting gear to do the dailies, yeah, it’s time to play other games.

I came back last week to check out the changes. Progression is faster, but the same loot woes remain. I should be able to play Prot and select Holy for gear drops (because of the zillions of mobs everywhere making it impossible to play Holy itself for gear — and the dungeons sure not dropping the weapons NEEDED to heal even in LFR).

Blizzard overtuned and improperly tuned per spec, and threw out player agency of choice. The big factor in playing RPGs is the roleplay. I’m an old AD&D 1978 RPGer. Long-term character progression with a backstory. My main isn’t "another flavor" he’s picked for roleplaying. Not for the best HPS or DPS or whatever tomfoolery goes for BiS madness. It’s about the theme and adventure, not hacking Mythic 15 dungeons aka Diablo style play.

Blizzard has to learn that RPGs aren’t JUST ARPGs. Already have Diablo. WoW was never Diablo. Diablo should’ve been their MOBA alternative for their "eSports". WoW is the social RPG game.

Diablo is for the current talent system. Diablo is for the Mythic dungeon crawling. WoW is about the full fantasy RPGness of long-term character progression. Be it adventuring. Be it dungeoneering. Be it raids.

Players are playing WoW as the genre is designed. Blizzard isn’t designing WoW according to the genre, though. That’s where the "beef" is with player dissatisfaction. We want to play our toon(s) with the feel of a RPG game, not a Diablo/CoD knockoff game prostituting itself for Twitch views.

I AM A HOLY PALADIN not a prot or ret paladin due to how BfA was designed!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmATs7KazMQ

Worse, gear STILL only drops for the spec used. Can’t do what Legion allowed, pick a loot spec to work for gear.

It works exactly how Legion’s loot worked. Right click your character frame, mouse over "Loot Specialization," and select the one that you want. If you’re saying that World Quests and Emmisaries don’t change based on spec… yes. That’s also how it worked in Legion. They changed absolutely nothing about the loot drop system between the two expansions.

And WoW has been balanced around endgame group content and a loot grind since literally the day the game launched. To complain because it isn’t some sandbox RP-fest is literally to misunderstand the entire design of a game almost a decade and a half old. That’s on you, not Blizzard.

No it doesn’t.

When I do the dailies (the "armor cache" stuff) even when I specify "Holy", I get tank loot.

Haste/Versality are not "Holy" spec gear. That’s tanking gear.

See my armory? See all of the tank loot?
https://worldofwarcraft.com/en-us/character/us/shandris/kevyne

Zip intellect weapons drop in dungeons Or world, too.

World drops? ALL tank/DPS gear, despite loot specialization for "Holy".

I don’t know what you’re even talking about. My armory says enough.

Loot spec has never controlled the secondary stats on an item. Not in Legion, not in BfA, never. The fact that you’re getting loot with less than ideal secondary stats is sad, sure, but it’s not something that the loot system has ever controlled for. Loot spec merely allows you to select the specific table that you’re pulling from in instances so that you’re not getting trinkets or weapons for a different spec from boss drops.

And getting a "tanking weapon" from your armor cache and world quests is again exactly the same as the way it operated in Legion. It sucks that you’re not getting the weapon you want on your WQ’s, but there are other ways to get weapons (you can buy a 340 crafted one on the AH pretty cheap, run LFR and use your coins, etc.). Again, feature of the system and has been exactly the same since the game launched, not those evil BfA devs trying to keep you down.

"Sad"?

YOU play a Holy Paladin with less than 10% crit and see "Sad".

What you think is "proper" is not how the game is designed to be played. Holy Paladin is a crit spec. Any gear without Crit/Mastery is junk gear. Crit/Haste gear is for Rets, as Haste is the worst stat for Holy.

Point Blank.

It’s been that way since I remember Holy since 2009.

What you are NOT mentioning is what Blizzard did absolutely wrong in gear itemization: they want "loot competition", but when there is only 1 class that uses intellect plate, WHAT do they do? Make their drops "Extremely Rare".

I remember a dev who came on my thread about Holy Paladin shield drops in ICC. He was justifying the crappy drop rates then because he couldn’t get his tanking shield in TBC. There were PLENTY of tanking shields in TBC, but he was seeking that perfect stat shield. I had to wait 17 freaking weeks for a Holy Paladin/Shaman shield to even drop. I spent 17 weeks with a heroic dungeon shield. Why? All because Blizzard made Holy Paladin intellect plate gear and accessories EXTREMELY RARE.

They returned to that BS since WoD, again. Melee heavy gear drops like flies. Intellect plate gear with it’s appropriate states, waiting 17+ weeks to even SEE it drop to roll on.

Yeah, you don’t understand THE problem.

I’ve been playing a Holy Paladin since launch day of vanilla, kid. Don’t lecture me on how the class plays.

All Plate is Intellect Plate. The primary stat switches with spec. Again, having less than ideal secondary stats isn’t the greatest situation, but they aren’t worthless just because they’re not exactly the piece of gear you want. Secondary stats for most specs in the game (Holy included) are close enough in value that it won’t make a massive difference either way. Competence is far more important than gear.

And most importantly, your first rant was that BfA had changed loot systems to screw you over, which it didn’t. The loot system has been exactly the same since Legion launched. You were wrong.

Incidentally, you should probably read up on your theorycrafting. Heavy haste builds using Glimmer of Light are the highest throughput Holy spec right now, not crit builds.

Son, if you were playing Holy since vanilla you’d know a Holy with 10% crit = a Holy that won’t crit for the big heals and we depend on crits for our heals.

You NEED 20+% crit (before the end of an expansion we’re over 40%. That’s our prime secodary stat). Been like that from when I started in WotLK.

All of this is worthless when your primary tanking stats don’t match the other spec stats. Prot Paladin it’s Haste/Versality with some Mastery.

Now heal with those stats. Won’t be pretty at all. Might as well just heal as tank spec.

The newer stats never existed in Vanilla to MoP, either. Until WoD Holy stacked intellect+crit and tried to get as much spirit (or MP5) as possible.

Blizzard broke that.

In BfA 3 pieces of that ALL plate is NOT interchangeable. Head/Shoulders/Chest, because of the traits. The traits don’t switch unless you pay to change them (and only IF there’s traits worth changing to — THE complaint in BfA from the beginning).

The 10% stat is probably very wrong. Raider.io lists about 40,000 guilds who’ve killed a raid boss this expansion. With raid sizes up to 30, some guilds having multiple teams, different people cycling in, and some players only raiding using the group finder tool, it’s likely a significant amount of people raiding. When Method streamed their world first kill of G’huun, 448,395 unique viewers watched their channel that day. It was the top game on Twitch that day. Raiding is popular. How popular, we can only guess, since we don’t have sub numbers…but the number has to be close to a million people. Players heavily invested in raiding are also likely the ones spending the most money on the game.

I think it would be cool if for major story decisions they did a prepatch where the players got to make a choice via quest and blizzard was able to see how many people chose one thing over the other and changed the story appropriately. Kinda like a D&D campaign. Of course they would have to make it so only your first decision would count so if you wanted to try the other option on an alt it wouldn’t affect the outcome, and they’d have to let you know.

It would be a little more work than what they try to do, but less work than having to go back and add a whole bunch of stuff to fix screwing up.

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