The latest World of Warcraft expansion, Battle for Azeroth, released around 6 weeks ago. The community has been in a bit of an uproar since, with many referring to it as “Beta for Azeroth.” The random passerby who heard all the praise lavished upon the previous expansion, Legion, may be confused as to why the tone has shifted so drastically. The perceived issues are plenty, so let’s break them down into more bite sized pieces.
Class Balance and Design
One of the largest current grievances of the community is class balance and design. Legion artifacts, which contained a skill point system very reminiscent of the classic Wrath of the Lich King talent trees, brought a huge array of new abilities and changes to existing abilities. However, we lost the power of these artifacts, and the wealth of class depth they brought, when 8.0 went live. Many of the abilities granted by artifacts were rolled into the specializations, through talents. The same goes for many of the Legion legendary effects, with Blood Death Knights having a talent replacement for their best in slot legendary, Skullflower’s Haemostasis, and their artifact ability, Consumption. The problem with this is that we previously had it all, in addition to existing talents. We are being forced into choices that don’t really feel very good, by comparison.
Azerite gear has been the “replacement” for a lot of different systems we have now lost. It is filling the large holes left by artifacts, legendaries, and tier armor sets. The system, in its current incarnation, is not exactly balanced, with some traits being so valuable that they may outweigh a 30 item level upgrade. Blizzard is actively working on balancing these traits, but another issue is brought on due to the traits being linked to Artifact Power to be unlocked. This leads to odd situations of an item level upgrade only giving access to one or two rings of traits, versus your old item potentially being fully unlocked. In the extreme cases, it feels very much like one step forward and three steps back. The primary stat gains are going to typically still make it an upgrade, barring trait imbalance, but from purely a “feels” perspective, it feels bad, man.
In the actual Battle for Azeroth beta, Elemental Shamans and Shadow Priests in particular brought up issues with how their class functioned in a post-Legion world. The loss of the Legion artifacts and legendaries particularly impacted these two specializations. One of the most prominent theory crafters and community representatives for DPS Shamans in particular, Slanderman, wrote and published a long explanation as to why he has quit the game. He was particularly vocal in beta and found that his feedback fell upon deaf ears. “A lot of what made Elemental enjoyable in Legion was removed with the artifact, passive prune, and talent tree changes.” The Elemental Shaman community wrote “thousands of words of feedback on the spec, and this feedback went ignored.” This is just one of the 36 specializations in the game, but historically has gone neglected for long periods of time. They were in a great spot near the end of Legion, with very interesting gameplay and solid numbers, and it is certainly disheartening for their specialization to be neglected even after the expansion has launched. Currently, these two specializations have fixes slated for the first major patch of the expansion, 8.1, however, Shadow Priests aren’t feeling very optimistic.
Though Elemental Shamans and Shadow Priests are on the developer radar for more extensive fixes, they are not the only specializations suffering. Many balance changes in response to feedback were addressed on beta, but there are some overall issues leading to people not enjoying their characters the way they used to. In addition, for Mythic raiding, the lowest performing specializations are approximately 15% behind the top performers in terms of raw DPS output, even at a high level of player skill. Certain specializations have always been left out at the highest end of raiding, but this tier especially, class stacking is at an extreme. Many of the world first kills saw 5-6 of the same class within a 20 man raid, with warlocks and rogues in particular standing out.
The Battle for Azeroth pre-expansion patch, 8.0, introduced changes to the Global Cooldown, or GCD, as well as a stat squish, which reduced the numbers we were seeing for character health and statistics but aimed to keep relative power the same. These two changes have resulted in some classes not feeling nearly as nice to play as they did in Legion, partially due to overall stats being lower. Some classes were heavily reliant on haste to make their rotation feel “right,” but due to the squish, they are unable to gain as much haste as they would need to return to their Legion flow. This issue can be expected to be fixed once we progress later into the expansion and stats continue to be gained. GCD changes added many abilities, including DPS cooldowns, to the GCD when previously they were not. This change does have solid logic behind it, and it was never going to feel very good. For each change on its own, the player base may have adapted without too much issue, but each just adds another straw on this already broken camel’s back.
Speaking of broken…
The “Beta” Continues On
This is quite arguably the most buggy state of release in a WoW expansion, since the very early days. We’re not talking small bugs, either. There have been a lot of threads on the WoW subreddit detailing the numerous bugs of the expansion. There was one recently detailing bugs impacting dungeons, specifically impacting Mythic+ to the point that the dungeons can become impossible to complete. We’re all fairly well adapted to dealing with bugs and finding ways around them, but this expansion in particular has widespread bugs across all aspects of the game. We have major dungeon bugs, quests that need abandoned and restarted, mobs that were missed in the initial stat squish that had their pre-squish/not squished enough numbers and annihilated players, and trinkets whose values are all over the place between item tooltip, buff tooltip, and spell tooltip. Weekly events such as Timewalking have ilvl rewards all over the place.
Blizzard originally were huge advocates of launching “when it’s ready” and not any sooner, but this expansion has us feeling like quite the opposite happened. It’s not in a terrible state, but it feels like that last layer of polish got left off for the sake of an ambitious launch date. The community expressed concerns during beta, and while Blizzard has corrected many bugs, there are still a wealth of bugs remaining. They simply did not give themselves enough time to correct these before the launch date. For past expansion launches, Blizzard was heavily criticized for the last raid tier lasting a year or more with no new content. These content droughts should absolutely be avoided if possible, but launching an unpolished product is not what Blizzard is known for.
But Is It Really That Bad?
These two points are the summary of why so many players are not enjoying the game right now. Whether you agree with the complaints or not, the core of the issue is player enjoyment and how the game feels to these players. Even if a spec is objectively the best in the game, if it is not enjoyable to play, that is still a perfectly valid issue. Player enjoyment must always be considered and treated as a valid complaint.
However, there are plenty of people still enjoying the game right now. There are flaws, but I feel as though the community is forgetting just how rough of a start we had with Legion. We now look back at Legion as an overall amazing expansion, but it did not start without a huge wealth of issues. In fact, some of the early Legion systems led to extreme player burnout. Many players found themselves trapped by an incredibly demanding grind for Artifact Power and legendaries to keep up with the competition.
There was major uproar about how RNG legendaries were, and how hard it was to obtain them following your first two. If your first two legendaries were not optimal for your spec, your best option was to literally re-roll another character of the same class and try again. This was a miserable experience for anyone looking to take raiding seriously at all in early Legion, and in fact, many changes to make the spec-agnostic legendaries useful weren’t implemented until 7.2, the second major patch of Legion. This was also when targeting legendaries through Relinquished tokens was added. That still wasn’t a great way to get legendaries, but improvements were made to the legendary “bad luck protection” during this time as well. The legendaries were also horribly imbalanced before this, with many of the utility based ones being nearly useless, compared to their DPS specific counterparts. Artifact Power was incredibly rewarding point by point up to the “cap”, to the point of many players repeatedly running the fastest Mythic+ dungeon, Maw of Souls, over and over to get it as quickly as possible. These two systems also made it incredibly difficult to work on multiple specializations at a time since legendaries and artifacts were per-specialization. Hybrid players, who enjoyed being the person to fill whatever role was needed, were burdened even more by these grinds.
Legion ended up great, but it absolutely did not start out great. I believe Blizzard has a lot more in store for us, but I do admit it is disappointing to see that they have sort of bungled the beginning expansion experience two expansions in a row. They should have likely kept things in beta slightly longer to iron it out better, but at some point, beta just isn’t going to provide the same quantity of data as live servers.
You Do You
No matter the current state of WoW, there will always be those that are unhappy. The community’s current complaints are entirely valid, but they should not diminish the experience for those who are genuinely enjoying the game at this time. Even though we may have some grievances with parts of the current story, Blizzard is driving story through the game directly and allowing us to interact with such amazing lore figures as the Proudmoore family, King Rastakhan, and the famed loa Bwonsamdi. We’re getting to explore beautiful landscapes and see amazing art. The game itself is absolutely stunning in this aspect, and Battle for Azeroth has really stepped up, in terms of eye candy.
There’s a lot of negativity currently, and it’s easy to get caught up in it. Try to remember, WoW is a game that is what you make of it. There’s no shame taking a step back if you’re not currently enjoying it, and there’s no shame in enjoying it even when other people aren’t. Let’s focus on the positive things of the expansion, like our relationship with best loa, Jani.