Post-Legion, first steps…

The Legion expansion launched today, so I might as well transition to the Legion content with our little project. If you’re new here, click here to read about our little project and what we’re trying to accomplish.

Note, that this article is only looking at Legion from the perspective of our little project. On max level, the changes and additions to the gameplay have a very different effect than they do at our lower levels.

Still getting used to the new and "improved" gameplay...
Still getting used to the new and “improved” gameplay…

Changes, so many changes

Often new expansions are all about the new content and the new abilities and items you get when you level up through the new zones and clear the fresh dungeons and raids. Of course there are always some tweaks and adjustments to existing mechanics, abilities and items, but usually it’s nothing major.

Even bigger changes, like the complete overhaul of the old talent tree system, kept the gameplay of the classes mostly intact and every now and then Blizzard would try to reinvent a class that had gone a bit stale over the years.

Legion is different. Warlords of Draenor already introduced a slight reduction of class abilities and spells, but for the most part, everything stayed similar to Mists of Pandaria. It seems that wasn’t enough and now they took it a couple of steps further. In order to simplify gameplay they radically reduced the number of available abilities across the board. In addition to that, almost every single spec of every class had their gameplay overhauled and simplified in some way. But that’s not all. While abilities were reduced, specs were changed and class identity reinvented, Blizzard also specifically targeted healers and tanks and changed their role to some degree.

Tanking and Healing

Tanks were now supposed to be MORE depending on healers, less self-sustaining through self heals and also more vulnerable by reducing, weakening and increasing the cooldown of all defensive abilities. Buffs etc. are now gone (no more Power Word: Fortitude) and for the most part baked in the class, resulting in increased HP and DPS.

But at least the new transmog feature is nice!
But at least the new transmog feature is nice!

For tanks the result is, that you’re much less in control of what’s going on. Your own survival depends more on the healer, than on your own ability to choose the right skill at the right time. With the impact and usability of many defensive spells gone, your choices also matter much less. Some classes fare better than others, but especially for our little project, the results of the changes are completely changing the way we have to play.

Healers suffer from the same fate. With less flexibility, the job becomes more dull and they as well feel powerless in some situations.

I can’t speak much for the healer side, but especially for my monk, it took quite some time to adjust and I’ve still not gotten used to the new gameplay completely. In my opinion it is imperative for a tank to be in control of the situation and to have a toolkit that provides you with the ability to deal with unexpected events or specific circumstances. If you take that away, along with survivability, you’re essentially left with a shitty DPSer that dies first. That might be a bit harsh, but especially for our project, compared to the WoD gameplay, I feel completely helpless in a lot of ways.

But I’ll get to a detailed explanation of the changes to the Brewmaster in a second post.

The only thing we do is running dungeons and we’ve done it for 100+ hours at low-level, so I’d say we know what we’re doing in our little project. The damage output has increased a lot. I now deal about 200%+ more DPS compared to before. Interestingly enough, that doesn’t change a thing. Dungeons that we cleared before could still be cleared, albeit a bit faster. Dungeons where we didn’t see progress, didn’t change either. Trash died faster, but bosses tore through my (bigger!) HP pool even faster now. That, combined with the inflexibility to cope with any danger, made us feel much less powerful than before.

Purpose?

I’m not actually sure why Blizzard chose to go that route. Tanks were always in low supply, because the skilled tanks are usually in a guild, where their role is appreciated and they don’t have to put up with clueless random groups. The random LFG tanks are few, probably because the role doesn’t feel rewarding and is too difficult for them. The gameplay used to be much more involved and if you didn’t tank well, frustration would ensue.

This guy again...?
This guy again…?

To combat that issue, it seems the developers decided to flatten the learning curve for tanks. You can’t make that many mistakes anymore, because the choice of abilities is much smaller. With the impact of defensive cooldowns reduced, choices don’t matter that much anymore, so there’s much more room for error.

So less skilled players can now perform much closer to more skilled players in the role of a tank. Good for the less skilled ones, bad for good players who feel like their knowledge of the class doesn’t matter that much anymore. If you as a tank are in a situation where a decision should be made, you make the right one by choosing the appropriate ability and then you still die, because your choice doesn’t matter, that’s discouraging.

But it’s also discouraging for Healers as well. If both you and the tank are not in control of the situation anymore and the only choice you have is to continue healing with a faster spell, but the tank still dies, you’re much less likely to enjoy the role.

Right now, a rare situation happens where healers, not tanks, are in low supply when it comes to random groups. It seems people just don’t want to heal the new tanks and I can’t blame them.

If even players like Preacher, who have been successful in the role of a tank for many years, even in world first guilds like Method, are saying they just don’t want to play the role of a tank in Legion anymore, that’s saying a lot.

Fun?

So, how much fun is it still? Well, it’s still fun, but a lot of times it has also become very boring, because there’s nothing to do anymore. I rarely use any of my few remaining few defensive abilities, because they don’t matter anymore. At least in our, admittedly somewhat unique and special, situation there’s no point in using a 7 minute cooldown in a 10+ minute fight where you die after 2 minutes, with or without cooldown.

Not making any progress here either.
Not making any progress here either.

Easy fights are boring as we’re both standing around, hitting our most basic abilities and hard fights are impossible because there’s absolutely no way to beat the encounter. There are rarely any in-between scenarios anymore where we feel like we can surpass a challenging encounter by skill. Because there are quite literally almost no skills left.

Balancing, Gear and Progress

Looking forward isn’t a cause for hope or joy. New active abilities are few and far between, maybe one every 5-10 levels. Of course with the normal leveling speed it doesn’t matter. Below level 60, 10 levels are done in one afternoon. For us, 1 level can last for several days. And seeing the next new ability weeks away and already knowing it’s not even going to change anything is not very motivating.

37? 40? What's the difference...
37? 40? What’s the difference…

There is just zero balance at lower levels. Like I said, for 99,9% of the playerbase it doesn’t matter, because nobody notices it, but we’re struggling right now.

What’s more disheartening is the fact that I don’t feel like I’m getting more powerful anymore. New gear has little to no impact anymore, even when reaching a huge level milestone where a lot of quest and dungeon gear unlocks, I don’t feel any difference in encounters we haven’t beaten yet. Even encounters that were previously killed don’t feel like they’re getting any easier anymore.

Previously we were VERY careful with leveling up because the new gear, level difference and increased stats made a huge difference. A dungeon would go from challenging to trivial in 2-3 levels. Right now we have encounters we’ve been fighting for 3+ levels and basically nothing changes, despite constantly getting new gear and stats. Leveling up several times, while also getting new gear each level and not feeling like you’ve gotten stronger is a little bit sad.

The itemization is also terrible. There are almost no item upgrades to look forward to and in some cases the only upgrades  for my monk, before entering TBC content, is in level 60 raid instances. I’m level 40. That’s due to the item stat squish introduced a few years ago, resulting items that are 15+ item levels higher being almost identical in stats at lower character levels.

More Changes?

I’m not religiously reading the new patch notes anymore so I didn’t know about it and also didn’t notice right away. Not too long ago, after the Legion pre-patch was already in place quite a while, I noticed that some boss HPs were higher than I remembered. Of course I wasn’t exactly sure, but the fights also seemed to last longer. I compared some screenshots and eventually looked up recent hotfixes to come to the conclusion: Yep, there were changes.

59.080? That doesn't seem right...?
59.080? That doesn’t seem right…?

In low-level dungeons, Blizzard has increased the HP of trash and bosses by quite a substantial amount. Bosses now have almost 200% more (!) HP and trash had similar changes. In a few cases, the opposite happened. Dire Maul West bosses used to have about 21K HP with the exception of the optional Prince, who had a whopping 55K HP. Now all bosses are normalized at around 59K HP. Only Dire Maul North trash mobs had their HP slightly reduced. Most of the other dungeons, that were balanced differently, had the trash mob HP increased.

That doesn’t make the fights more difficult, though. Just slapping a bunch more HP onto the mobs doesn’t increase the challenge or fun. And especially in an environment where the gameplay has already become dull and boring, it’s not a good idea to prolong fights with sturdier mobs.

After the pre-patch launched, we stepped back a couple of instances to check which content was still viable and where our new power level was. We had just gotten somewhat comfortable and assessed the situation, we knew which content could be beaten with the new gameplay, and where we had to improve. Now we can already do all of that all over again, because I’m not sure we can beat a boss like Immol’thar with 200% more HP and his enrage anymore.

First Blizzard increases our damage output and then they later increase the mob HP accordingly. What was the whole point of that again?

We’ve been gnawing at Dire Maul and even Stratholme for a long time now and we’d love to see some kind of progress. We actually tried Zul’Farrak, more about that in a later post, but now we’ll do everything again, to see if it’s still doable with the HP increase. Feels weird. The next dungeon doesn’t unlock until level 42.

There’s no new content, current content doesn’t seem to get any easier, my character doesn’t seem to get any stronger, gameplay is simpler and improvements will be slow.

Boring Challenge and the Future

In one of my earlier blog posts about WoW, I said there’s always a challenge, you just have to find it. And I was right. WoW had, for the most part, become exceedingly dull and easy especially when leveling or doing solo or small group content. With the dungeon-duo project I found proof that there can be a fun and challenging way to play the game, which is also much more enjoyable.

Waiting for the boat. For some reason the one in Stormwind didn't come. Where's Captain Placeholder when you need him?
Waiting for the boat. For some reason the one in Stormwind didn’t come. Where’s Captain Placeholder when you need him?

Now, I’m not so sure anymore. The challenge is still there, at least in the sense that there’s content we didn’t and can’t beat yet. But if the way to conquer that challenging content is not fun and enjoyable due to an oversimplification of gameplay, I don’t know if I can stand behind my own previous statement anymore.

But we will continue playing, because it’s still “fun”, just right now it’s much less fun than it used to be. Probably we will see the whole project become more interesting again in higher levels, when the available abilities, talents and items increases once again.

Seeing the Brewmaster ranked as the most fun and flexible Tank in Legion by some people whose opinion I usually value quite highly, doesn’t give me much hope for the next 20 levels.

We’ll see how it goes on. In the next couple of postings we’ll see a detailed overview of the Brewmaster Monk, the Discipline Priest, the updated status of the dungeons and the new progress. Stay tuned!