The Tragedy of Ordos

Word of the Waterspeaker’s vision spread across Pandaria, circulating among the wise of the many races. Soon it reached the ears of Ordos, a high shaman of the yaungol, and without delay he sought the counsel of Niuzao, the Black Ox and guardian of the west.

“Great One,” pleaded Ordos, “fire shall rain from the sky! We must rise to face this threat and defeat it!”

The Black Ox was unmoved. “Do not let your fear guide your actions, friend. Stand against that which threatens you, and you will see that from courage comes fortitude, but from desperation comes only despair.”

The high shaman misliked Niuzao’s counsel, however. He consulted the elemental spirits, telling them of his fears: that this wretched fire would come down from the heavens and blacken the steppes that the yaungol called home.

The Spirit of Earth echoed the sentiments of Niuzao: “The mountain does not break before fire, but instead weathers the storm.”

The Spirit of Water cared not for Ordos’ fears: “There is no fire that water cannot extinguish. Let this rain fall! We shall wash it away into steam.”

The Spirit of Air merely laughed: “Let us ride the winds to the far-flung corners of the world! We can rise above this fire and remain free of it for all time!”

At last, when he spoke to the Spirit of Fire, Ordos finally heard agreement: “A rain of fire, you say? What blasphemy is this? Fire is our domain. No one else may wield it save by our will!”

Ordos was overjoyed. “Then you will aid me? Shall we fight this fire with fire, together?”

“We shall,” said the Spirit of Fire, “though there will be a cost. You must give yourself wholly to the flame if you are to be the agent of the Fire Lords. But if you do, you shall be a force unlike any other on this world.”

Ordos agreed, and together with the Spirit of Fire, preparations were made. When the Eternal Brazier was complete, Ordos stood before it and prepared himself, knowing that if he did not embrace this power, his people were surely doomed. Already the rain of green fire had begun to the north.

Then Ordos stepped onto the Eternal Brazier and entered the will of the Fire Lords. He writhed in untold agony, his very being alight with flame, and in his mind the Spirit of Fire exulted: “yes! You are the avatar of the Fire Lords! Bring destruction to these infidel invaders! Let naught but embers remain!”

Ordos fought through the torment, driven by his certainty that without his sacrifice, the yaungol would perish. And as he waded into battle against the invaders, the purity of his flame overcame their depravity. Day after day he burned and yet he could not be overcome, until at last the invaders withdrew from the blackened plain where he stood.

His every breath was pain and fire, but nonetheless Ordos looked back towards the Steppes, and saw the Black Ox standing on a cliff, unshakable. In his mind, he heard the words of Niuzao once again: “You will see that from courage comes fortitude, but from desperation comes only despair.

Strange mists began to coalesce around the Steppes, and Ordos could see that they stretched all over Pandaria. He ran, desperate once again to return to his home, but his battle with the invaders had drawn him too far away.

As the mists closed in, Niuzao stamped a mighty hoof, and a piece of the Steppes broke away from the land and came to rest in the sea. Ordos came to rest on that island as Pandaria faded into the mists, and recognized what he had done: if he had listened to Niuzao and stood with courage and faith, he would be hidden behind the mists, safe with his people.

Instead, Ordos had given in to his fear, and let his desperation drive him to a pact with the Fire Lords, for which he knew he would suffer forever.

Upon that timeless isle he built his temple, waiting for the time when his agony would at last come to an end, and he could return to the land of his ancestors.

Remixing Draenor’s History, Part 1

Similar to how I once manipulated the Zandalari narrative, I wanted to take some cues from Warlords of Draenor to tweak the history of politics on Draenor. Principally, it’s about trying to justify the world we see in WoD with the world we originally saw presented in Rise of the Horde, which was in turn a big iteration on how the world had been characterized during the Warcraft RTS series.

I want to start first with the arrival of the draenei, because that’s where I think the more interesting narratives for Draenor really start. So we’ll cover this section from an in-universe perspective, and then I’ll break into some analysis for why this serves the overarching narrative of Warcraft.


 

The War of the Exiles

 

The draenei didn’t intend to land on the planet they called Draenor. They’d fled their previous planet much more hastily than usual, which left D’ore, K’ure, and K’ara depleted and left the draenei with very few options on places to crash-land the Genedar. Normally they chose planets without sentient races (both out of a desire to prevent the Legion from making more victims/weapons out of collateral damage in their hunt for Velen), but in this case, they landed on a planet with a very old civilization already in place: the Gorian Empire.

At first, Velen sought to approach the ogres diplomatically, informing them of the dangers of the Legion and the inevitable invasion that was sure to catch up with them. However, the Imperator was taken with the magical technology the draenei possessed, and in typical ogre fashion tried to kill Velen in order to subjugate the aliens and take their power for himself. Velen, of course, saw this coming, and the draenei defended themselves.

The ensuing war taxed the Gorians immensely, because their magic simply wasn’t as refined as what the draenei had practiced for millennia. And that magic helped to make up for the difference in brawn and numbers between the draenei and the ogres.

It did not take long for the draenei to discover that the Gorian patricians had built their empire on the backs of a drudge race called orcs. Within the downtrodden orcs and their shamanic traditions, Velen saw an opportunity, and ordered his rangari to help foment rebellion against the ogres. The orcs, having been subjugated for so long that they barely had their own culture anymore, gladly joined the fray once the promise of freedom was on the table.

Between the draenei’s superior abilities and the massive numbers of the orcs, the Gorians were swiftly beaten into submission and surrendered. The draenei, to the surprise of the ogres, didn’t want to conquer them, but instead demanded that the orcs be granted their freedom, and of course that the ogres wouldn’t dare to try attacking the draenei again. The Gorians agreed, under the condition that the orcs would be given the savage northern continent where the draenei had landed as their new home.

When the orcs landed on the southern shores of Nagrand in the juggernaughts granted to them by their former captors, their first act of freedom was to set those ships on fire, ensuring they would never go back to their lives as slaves to the ogres. The draenei, seeing the fierceness of the orcs and their elation at their independence, left them to their own devices, leaving the door open for trade but not wanting to give the impression that the orcs had traded one group of masters for another.

Over the next few centuries, the orcish diaspora throughout the northern continent led to a loose clan structure. Instances of internecine warfare over local resources brought about the institution of the Kosh’harg festival as an opportunity for peace and cultural exchange. And as the clans stayed out of each other’s way and developed their own individual subcultures, that loose connectivity seemed set to continue.

All the while, the draenei kept to their holdings in Talador and Shadowmoon Valley. The rangari kept watch everywhere, but the draenei knew that when the Legion came (and come they would) they were better served to be concentrated together for the sake of safety. And no one went into Arak; the arakkoa were content to let other races have the rest of the continent, but the Spires were sacred, and otherwise impenetrable if you couldn’t fly.


 

Analysis: 

The chief mechanism of this origin is to lend some additional gravity to the events that happen later on. But it needs a bit of additional context first.

On Azeroth, we saw a similar master/slave dynamic between the mogu and the other races of Pandaria, where the mogu subjugated the pandaren and basically beat the culture out of them. The pandaren, after overthrowing the mogu dynasty, had the August Celestials to offer guidance and help them establish a new culture for themselves. On Draenor, the orcs only had themselves, so the culture they created is, to a great extent, a shadow of the culture they knew under the ogres: authority comes from strength, victory and personal honor are highly prized, and it’s more important to die gloriously than live in disgrace.

Consequently, the orcs were always waiting for the other shoe to drop with the draenei. They never trusted the draenei’s altruism, because it was so incredibly alien to them; ogres never do something unless they stand to profit personally, whether it’s through wealth or food or ownership of something. To the orcs, the draenei had to have an ulterior motive. The fact that the draenei were strong enough to beat the ogres but chose not to dominate them never made any sense. And the fact the draenei stayed so aloof from the struggles of the orcs (which the draenei did so the orcs could have agency in their own destiny) was interpreted as arrogance at worst and ignorance at best.

So when Kil’jaeden (through the guise of Rulkan) convinces Ner’zhul that the draenei are surely a threat and the only way the orcs can survive is to destroy the draenei wholesale, Ner’zhul doesn’t have to work too hard to sell that narrative to most of the orcs. “They’re just like the ogres, watching us struggle and die for their own amusement. They let us believe we’re free, but they’re keeping us from realizing our destiny.”

Ultimately, the orcs aren’t inherently evil. The abuse they suffered at the hands of the ogres, however, made them suspicious, and Kil’jaeden was able to play upon that suspicion to make them his cat’s paw. And the part where he was creating a proxy army that would play into Sargeras’ plans for Azeroth was really just icing on the evil Legion cake.

As a corollary to that, Grom’s declaration that the orcs will never be slaves is representative of the orcish racial narrative more than anything else: in WoD, all Garrosh had to do was spell out that Gul’dan was selling them into slavery and that was a more compelling argument. Taking that as an inspiration for orcish culture in the MU, that offers a few important critical notes:

  • Part of the lethargy of the orcs after they were beaten in the Second War stems from the group realization that they had become enslaved to warfare at large, and the Legion in particular. Aside from the physical withdrawal symptoms they suffered, there was the mental anguish that self-reflection brought on. You can see that reflected in Eitrigg and Saurfang and even MU Grom, to a certain extent.
  • It helps to drive home how ogre-like (read: heedlessly evil) the Dragonmaw and Blackrock clans became during the Second War. Keeping slaves for bloodsport (i.e. as the Blackrock/Dragonmaw recruits did with the Theramore refugees in the Siege of Orgrimmar) and the many gross abuses of Alexstrasza and her brood show that while they had a racial narrative that was opposed to slavery, the influence of their circumstances allowed some subcultures to develop that were okay with it.

The final point: Kil’jaeden’s manipulation of the orcs was not just about using a local force to do the Legion’s handiwork, but instead a gross inversion of the draenei’s own kindness and altruism. If Velen and his followers had taken the Legion kool-aid, they would have just subjugated or obliterated the ogres AND the orcs. Choosing the “virtuous” path had just left open an avenue that allowed Kil’jaeden to visit their long-overdue doom upon them.

He’d love the poetry of that.


More remixing the history of Draenor to come. Let me know what you think in the comments. 

 

Re: Artifact Chains & the Broken Isles

Kinda have a few random thoughts I wanted to get down. This is not going to be terribly organized because, without going into too much detail, the next couple days are going to be kinda stressy and hectic. So this is me trying to clear the decks in my head a bit, which means a bit of wordsplatter about the Artifact weapon chains coming in Legion and some miscellany about the Broken Isles within the context of Azeroth as a whole.

Artifact Weapon Chains

Something we can automatically tell about the Artifact chains, at least from what little we’ve been told so far on the class preview blurbs, is that all of them are going to involve going to some old and new locations in order to perform some of the steps necessary to acquire the artifacts themselves.

Without coming up with an exhaustive list, we’ve got what appear to be Legion-inhabited world(s), Icecrown Citadel, Karazhan Catacombs, Dalaran, somewhere under Tirisfal Glades, the Terrace of Endless Spring, and Light’s Hope Chapel, aside from a bunch of new locations in the Broken Isles themselves. We can probably assume that this is going to be a lot of solo scenario-driven questing that uses assets that are otherwise used elsewhere in the game. But it’s pretty interesting to consider that there’s a team of quest designers who sat down to generate 36 unique experiences that are meant to deliver on an epic, personal and meaningful story about an artifact weapon of immense power.

It’s just surprising to me to see that they don’t seem to be trying to find ways to use multiple locations for the same artifacts. From an asset creation standpoint it’d be more profitable to do it that way, and yet if the existing blurbs are any indication, we’re not going to see much duplication if any. Depending on how long these artifact chains are, it’s really a pretty broad amount of content that’s going to be wrapped up in this.

The disadvantage, of course, is that for players who really only focus on a single main character, that means the rest of the questing experience has got to feel full. Players who alt at all run the risk of being overwhelmed, but players who don’t alt are at risk of feeling like the content is once again not thick enough if the artifact chain fails to deliver.

At the same time, I think this is a good experiment for Blizzard to embark upon w/r/t content creation and I really want to see how it turns out when they double-down on it.

The Broken Isles

Okay, so, here’s where I start waxing poetic about the shape of the world of Azeroth.

Part of the immersion problem I’m having with the Broken Isles right from the get-go is the part where they don’t really seem to be a group of broken islands. Thal’dranath and the Broken Shore? Sure. But aside from that, all the rest of the territory in the continent appears to be largely contiguous… y’know, like a continent and not an archipelago. Someone says to me “Broken Isles” and an archipelago of really damage landscapes is what comes to mind, and that’s without considering how the Broken Isles have appeared previously in the game canon.

Now, of course, it’s easy to argue that Blizzard has got every reason to diversify the expansion content, especially when it comes to building on places that only had a bit of representation in the RTS games; not all of Draenor was a dry red wasteland, just as not all of Northrend was an arctic hellscape. So if the Broken Isles are really more than just a cluster of islands that were barely big enough to hold some Stormreaver bases and the Tomb of Sargeras (and some random ruins from Suramar) then quite frankly that’s perfectly fine.

The other problem I run into when it comes to the Broken Isles is the part where we haven’t really got a compelling reason as to why this place hasn’t been on the map until now. We all knew Northrend was in the world when WoW started, but no one went there because the Scourge owned the place. The whole narrative about Pandaria was that a) everyone on Pandaria thought the rest of the world was wiped out in the Sundering and b) anyone who could remember that Pandaria even bloody existed in the first place couldn’t find it because Shaohao’s mists hid it from everyone. So those places had a pretty good reason to be off the map.

The Broken Isles are probably slightly west of the Maelstrom, occupying the space between it and Vashj’ir. It just starts to strain credulity that something the size of the continent we’re seeing in Legion would be completely missed by all of the air and sea traffic headed to and from the Eastern Kingdoms. And we’ve been given no indication that the continent has been concealed as Pandaria was or is as out of the way and outright hostile as Northrend was.

And overall, when we look at the conceit we’re being given for the expansion (find the Pillars of Creation hidden in the Broken Isles in order to seal the Hell Rift that Gul’dan tore open over the Tomb of Sargeras) then the questions just keep coming. Why were the Pillars localized to this particular area of Ancient Kalimdor? Isn’t it convenient that these areas survived the Sundering/Shattering so effectively? How do the Pillars relate to the Halls of Origination in Uldum and bloody HOW can the Titans’ technology be so distributed across the surface of the planet with no discernible connectivity between them?

It’s possible that some of these questions get answered, but it’s also possible that a lot of them won’t be, in lieu of focusing the narrative on the fight with the Legion in the expansion. But with how many links are getting drawn between the Broken Isles and past content, it’s interesting to consider the possibility that we won’t see things like ruins of a Stormreaver base from Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, or anything about why Deathwing didn’t go to his own lair and chose to flee into Deepholm instead.

None of that impacts my excitement for the expansion, which is still pretty high. It does drive home the idea that the method Blizzard has used for worldbuilding in WoW basically requires a certain malleability, and consistency in certain areas takes a backseat if it gets in the way of gameplay. Which is ENTIRELY Blizzard’s prerogative, and I don’t say this to impugn what they’re doing at all. It takes a certain kind of nerd to even notice that something doesn’t add up, because in a lot of cases it has got exactly zero impact on the story being told.

I still believe that aside from all of the other ways that I feel rewarded for being a part of the world of WoW, I’m always going to appreciate the opportunity to watch it evolve and change over time, and really get a sense for what a long-form development looks like from the outside. It’s really remarkable, and it’s hard to articulate why.

That’s likely a whole post unto itself, though.

Re: the LEGION Leveling Paradigm

One of the revelations from the first LEGION panel that really stuck with me is the idea that players will be able to choose how to advance through the leveling zones instead of having a strict order to work with. So once you finish the Broken Shore starting experience, you’ll choose one of four leveling zones to go through, and then continue however you like until you reach max level, when Suramar, the endgame zone, will unlock and provide the gateway into raiding content.

What I love about this paradigm is that it allows for the zone stories to really stand on their own, making them modular adventures in and of themselves. This feeds into the idea that the expansion is really more similar to a sourcebook or campaign setting from the old D&D days, which provides a set of locations and plot hooks to engage your players without specifically saying “you can’t go here until your characters are this tall.” It makes the expansion into more of a true “expansion set” that augments the existing world of the game and gives new landscapes where stories can be told.

Of course, one of the first things I came across after hearing this announced was players commenting that “only four leveling zones demonstrates how little content will be in this expansion.” What that made me think of is wondering what past expansions would have looked like if the same paradigm had been applied, where you had bookend experiences in the form of a starting experience and at least one endgame zone, and everything else was modular and complete-able in any order.

That ends up looking something like this:

Burning Crusade

  1. Introduction: Hellfire Peninsula
  2. Leveling Zones: Zangarmarsh, Terokkar Forest, Nagrand, Blade’s Edge Mountains
  3. Endgame: Netherstorm, Shadowmoon Valley, Isle of Quel’danas

Wrath of the Lich King

  1. Introduction: Borean Tundra or Howling Fjord
  2. Leveling Zones: Dragonblight, Grizzly Hills, Sholazar Basin, Zul’Drak
  3. Endgame: Storm Peaks, Icecrown, Hrothgar’s Landing

Cataclysm

  1. Introduction: Mount Hyjal or Vashj’ir
  2. Leveling Zones: Deepholm, Uldum
  3. Endgame: Twilight Highlands, Mount Hyjal (Molten Front Remix)

Mists of Pandaria

  1. Introduction: Jade Forest
  2. Leveling Zones: Valley of the Four Winds, Krasarang Wilds, Kun-Lai Summit, Townlong Steppes, Dread Wastes
  3. Endgame: Vale of Eternal Blossoms, Isle of Giants, Isle of Thunder, Timeless Isle

Warlords of Draenor

  1. Introduction: Assault the Dark Portal –> Frostfire Ridge or Shadowmoon Valley
  2. Leveling Zones: Gorgrond, Talador, Spires of Arak, Nagrand
  3. Endgame: Tanaan Jungle

Now, clearly there are differences when you compare this directly to the LEGION model.

LEGION

  1. Introduction: The Broken Shore
  2. Leveling Zones: Val’sharah, Stormheim, Azsuna, Highmountain
  3. Endgame: Suramar, Thal’dranath

First off, we know that the Broken Shore is going to be a scenario-like experience, similar to the Assault the Dark Portal experience from WoD. That doesn’t compare 1:1 with a full questing zone like Jade Forest or Vashj’ir, but at the same time, if you compare something like Jade Forest with Vashj’ir, the former has much more content and a more fragmented story rather than the very linear experience of the latter, and that difference is important, since it also shows that not all questing zones are created equal.

Second off, we’ve got situations where you have two complete zones that are used as the entry point into the expansion. Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord are both very thick zones, on par with what Hellfire Peninsula was in BC. The difference between that and the experience in WoD, where Frostfire Ridge and Shadowmoon Valley were faction-exclusive zones, also means that strictly counting up the number of zones isn’t really a fair comparison.

And it’s important to point out that while it appears that Cataclysm really lacked for zone content (PS: it really did) the fact that so much of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor were also altered dramatically means that it just wasn’t brand-new content that was added. That doesn’t forgive the dearth of the content, but it really has to be noted that there’s a reason why it happened.

Now, taking all of that into consideration, and also knowing that Blizzard could conceivably add additional patch content beyond Thal’dranath in LEGION, what can we conclude?

  1. Four leveling zones isn’t exactly unheard of. If you discount the opening zone of the game, then BC, Wrath, MoP, and WoD all had at least four zones dedicated to advancing from the starting level to the level cap.
  2. Having two endgame zones was more common than having one. In BC, both Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley set up the endgame raids, while Wrath did the same thing with Storm Peaks and Icecrown. The Molten Front addition to Mount Hyjal in 4.2 of Cataclysm doesn’t really match up with an entire zone, but as patch content it’s on par with something like the Isle of Quel’danas or the Timeless Isle in terms of intent. In MoP, Dread Wastes feels more like a leveling zone rather than an endgame zone, even though it does set up Heart of Fear rather meaningfully.
  3. Yes, it’s reasonable to argue that LEGION will only ship with five questing zones and doesn’t have the problems of Cataclysm‘s Azeroth revamp to blame for it, but WoD was effectively only five zones if you didn’t choose to play a character of the opposing faction.
  4. However, comparing any of the zones in WoD (and it’s reasonable to assume that Broken Isles zones will be more similar to Draenor zones than to anything prior) to older content isn’t a 1:1 comparison: bonus objectives, rare spawns, and discoverable treasures are all content that simply weren’t used in older zone design paradigms. So while it’s reasonable to say that LEGION might not have as many zones, the fact that the zones will likely be more content heavy per square foot than other zones will likely be true as well. And the statements made by the devs that this gives them greater opportunities to employ the leveling zones as endgame content (without having some area of it cordoned off for endgame, as was done in WoD, sounds pretty compelling in and of itself.
  5. If past expansions had used the LEGION paradigm, it probably wouldn’t have looked that different, but you’d have had lots of content still around to be endgame content. Remember the Venture Bay PVP area in Grizzly Hills? Imagine if that had stayed relevant in Wrath‘s endgame.
  6. And maybe LEGION has less questing content per square foot, but it’s entirely possible that the reason for that is Order Halls, profession quests, and Artifact quests, which unlike Cataclysm‘s issues are actually all relevant endgame content.

I think given the struggles we saw with content saturation in WoD, it’s reasonable to be skeptical of Blizzard’s professed intentions with LEGION. But as always, where I draw the line is when one property of the design (in this case, the number of zones) is removed from the context of the rest of the design and used to bludgeon the devs. Players were convinced that having only five experience levels to advance through in Cataclysm and MoP meant that there was less content than in BC/Wrath, which had ten levels, and yet the experience wasn’t the reason for that. Numbers mean different things once you consider them in context.

I’ll never say no to more content in the game, or to more player choice and agency in the game. But I’m willing to grant the devs some grace when the car looks smaller but I haven’t had more than a glimpse at it.

But y’know, that’s me, acting like the devs are people again. *shrug*

BlizzCon Reactions: Class/Order Halls

I like the delineation about what went into their process for picking locations for the order halls (and yeah I’m going to stick with order halls because it just sounds cooler). The Fray Island example is perfect because for a certain set of warriors, the place has got nostalgic significance, but for the total set of players, it doesn’t really have any visual significance.

What’s interesting about the Dreamgrove is that we didn’t really see enough of it to really get the sense of how it’ll be different from other druid hotspots, like Moonglade specifically, or the Emerald Dragonshrine, in terms of places that are intended to be close to the Dream. It serves as a good model, though, and what Craig communicated about how it’ll be much more centered around accentuating the class feels like it could really pop. We’ll have to see, though.

Class-specific content is a great addition, and it really feels like that’s a guiding force in this expansion. Class-specific content in the order halls, spec-specific artifacts with their own narratives… this expansion appears to be all about putting the focus on the character, and that’s a cool follow-up to the Garrison Commander story we got in Warlords of Draenor that was pretty cool, even if it was generic for all of the players in the game. The isolation that was inherent with that story is completely absent with the order halls, because even if you as a specific class can’t go to another class’ order hall, there’s still a sense that they’re in the world, and it’s really twelve orders of heroes all aligning against the Legion rather than you, a singular commander with fort full of soldiers and followers fighting against all the threats on Draenor.

The Scouting Map, combined with the World Quests system, gateways into a broader discussion of the impact of Diablo III on LEGION‘s changes for endgame content, so I think I’ll get back into that one later, but as an advancement over the quest hooks you got from your garrison in WoD, it feels like a solid way to go.

Every class getting a Death Gate feels like a great addition, if for no other reason than this: it was always something that was AWESOME about Death Knights, Druids, and Monks, and if this expansion delivers on the concept of world-spanning orders for all of the classes, I think it’s a great way to tie into that.

Something that Craig didn’t really delve into was how the order halls will be different from Garrisons, but a lot of that seems to be subtly communicated in other ways. Professions won’t be in play, because they appear to be going back to Dalaran (more on profession stuff later). While we still don’t have a lot of specifics on how class champions will work, Craig is quick to point out that they’re going to be different from followers because they’ll be more prominent characters and act as a gateway to content rather than robots you send out to do content for you. At the same time, it also feels like “Garrisons” has become a dirty word with a lot of negative connotations to it, because it was clearly a huge focal point of WoD and it just didn’t end up gelling with the playerbase. So I think we can expect a LOT of elements in Order Halls to be a different beast from Garrisons if for no other reason than the say “look, we know it didn’t work out, let’s try something else.”

Personally? My dream scenario is having a system like the Garrison that exists throughout the game, but that’s another post entirely. Let’s move on.

BlizzCon Reactions: Artifact System

So I was too busy at BlizzCon to really generate reactions while they were being announced, but I still wanted to get my thoughts written down on how the announced changes are going to play out. Expect me to hit a bunch of different subjects on this, though I don’t know if I’ll get to everything.

First off, the Artifact system: it’s amazing to get a clearer sense of how this system is going to work.

For anyone who didn’t watch the panel, here’s the rundown:

  • Every spec has a specific artifact, complete with a spec-specific questchain associated with acquiring that artifact. And you can preview that artifact on the official site.
  • The artifact has what basically amounts to a talent tree, complete with unlocked active abilities and multiple ranks of passive abilities that augment powers that you already have as that spec, or new passives that grant effectively new mechanics.
  • You advance through the tree by gaining artifact power, which you get by completing content like dungeons, raids, winning battlegrounds, etc.
  • You can also continue pumping artifact power into the weapon after you’ve maxed out the tree in order to increase it’s power.
  • Relics will grant additional ranks in specific passives to allow for further customization, but the artifact has a limited number of relic slots.
  • You’ll have the ability to customize the appearance of the weapon, unlocking variant models and color tints depending on the content you complete.

First impression: to a great extent, this brings back pre-Cataclysm talent trees, but mitigates many of the issues that were inherent to the original talent design.

  • Because the abilities are keyed to the artifact, you can’t dip into another spec’s abilities to complement what your spec can do; that was something the devs struggled with because some versatility within the class was expected, but a lot of builds just weren’t feasible if the player had that wide of a choice matrix to work with.
  • Because talent points were granted by level, it meant that there were a limited number of points, which enforced decision-making on the part of the player. However, the devs noticed that a) some the decisions weren’t really decisions, since spec-defining abilities were always taken, and b) the prevalence of people looking up optimized builds online further automated the choices players were being asked to make. Having artifact power being a virtually unlimited resource that you can generate means that eventually you can unlock the entire weapon, and the only optimization is going to be “what do I pick FIRST.”
  • It also encourages play by locking more player power behind going through content, which the old talent system couldn’t do once you hit max level. This puts a greater emphasis on endgame content, essentially supplying an alternative advancement system, gated by the volume of content you engage in.
  • Part of the rationale behind the abolition of the old talent system was that hitting a level and choosing to make a dot crit 1% more often didn’t feel like a cool reward for leveling up. It’s interesting to see passive talents that modify baseline abilities crop up in the artifact because it feels like it’s a similar trap, but the fact that you’re spending a resource on those ranks rather than getting the rank as a reward for leveling up feels like a subtle distinction. It’s a GOOD distinction from a psychological standpoint.

However, I feel like there are some unanswered questions and potential drawbacks to the system that I’ve got concerns about.

  1. There’s a looming fear that people are going to be expected to fill up the artifact before their character is complete (or, to an extent, before the character is raid-worthy). If the implementation of the system makes it so that it’s a very labor-intensive process, then you’ll see a lot of players burn out under the pressure. However, if the implementation makes the process overly simplistic, it just feels like a hassle, begging the question of why we needed to resurrect talent trees in our weapons rather than just bringing back talent trees.
  2. Because of the emphasis on the quest for the artifact, and the specific relevance of the artifact to the overarching narrative of LEGION, I feel like there’s a risk that when we get to the end of this expansion and start up the next, folks will be wondering “wait, so, am I going to be unlocking a new artifact in 8.0 that’s going to have a whole different spread of abilities?” It’s similar to people wondering if the Garrison was intended to be an expansion-locked system or if it was something we’d have with us later. I can appreciate that Blizzard wants to get the expansion out there first and see what the system does before saying exactly how that’s going to play out, but the bottom line is that Blizzard doubled down on Garrisons in WoD and it didn’t deliver on the promise well enough, so doubling down on artifacts might also potentially blow up in their faces.
  3. I’m not looking forward to coming across a version of the artifact that I love but that requires me to do content that I don’t enjoy. To an extent, this is the same problem as having unique armor sets for stuff like challenge modes and PVP advancement, but with how central the artifact is being made, it feels like it’ll take on even more importance for players because they really don’t get to look at another weapon for the entirety of the expansion.

Overall I’m very excited to get to play with this system and really see it in action, so here’s to hoping I have the opportunity to join the beta test.