Monday, June 24, 2019

I Probably Won't Be Playing Classic WoW

Classic WoW is coming soon and there's a fair amount of hype going into it. Those eager to play may be doing so out of nostalgia, curiosity, community, because they believe the overall experience to be superior to live WoW, and so on. Among those looking forward to Classic WoW are a few of my friends who have also asked me if I was going to play. While I was tentative at first, I have thought more about why I would want to play Classic WoW by taking external factors and information regarding the release into account. This has led me to a more definitive answer in line with this article's title: It is highly unlikely I will play.

This doesn't necessarily I will never play Classic WoW ever, but I have come up with many reasons as to why I'm not that interested. If the game, by some slim chance, were to change like Old School Runescape has over the years, then my opinion may also change. At the same time, I may also question why such theoretical changes weren't applied to the live version of WoW since I stand by my stance that all versions of WoW are surprisingly similar to each other and, at the very least, not horrendously blemished by fundamental gameplay overhauls or detrimental pay-to-win microtransactions.

In any case, this article will at least serve as a way to respond to my friends looking to get me into Classic WoW by explaining why I personally won't find the game all that enjoyable. This article is not meant to drive other players away from Classic WoW.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

My Thoughts on Island Expeditions

Island Expeditions were one of the features added in Battle for Azeroth that I thought had great potential. After years of the game being free of group scenarios after the Mists of Pandaria expansion, Blizzard saw fit to experiment with the idea again in the form of exploring to gather more Azerite than an opposing force. It also appeared to feature some form of procedural generation since NPC and object spawns were said to be different every time the player entered the scenario. While I was concerned about the strong ties the content had to gathering Azerite, which I anticipated would end up lasting for only the Battle for Azeroth expansion much like Artifacts did in Legion, I at least had hope Island Expeditions may inspire some similar interesting content in the future.

However, one quick Google search shows that there are some fairly negative opinions among players who take the time to post on a forum regarding Island Expeditions. While I can understand where these opinions are coming from, I personally think Island Expeditions are much better than players give it credit for, especially considering it delivered fairly well on how it was described in the Developer Insights video. There were also some unexpected details that give me some hope for the future of group scenarios, which I have believed for a while should be utilized more.

In this article I will briefly summarize my personal experience with Island Expeditions on release and after the 8.1 patch series changes, then offer my own thoughts on the release, current, and possible future iterations of this content.

Content Summary

Island Expeditions require level 116 on one character to unlock. This is because one has to complete at least two foothold quests, after which the tutorial quest for Island Expeditions becomes available. Once unlocked, it can be done on any character of level 110 or below on the account.

As mentioned before, Island Expeditions are a scenario, meaning there are no specific role requirements needed to fill the groups of three needed to run the content. As the name suggests, players explore an island, defeating enemies and gathering items that have been placed somewhat randomly primarily to earn Azerite. Players race against a team from the opposing faction to acquire enough Azerite after which the scenario is completed is players earn a reward. There are multiple difficulty levels that dictate how much Azerite need to be collected along with a PvP mode where players of opposing factions race against each other instead of teams of NPCs.

When it comes to rewards, Azerite and experience serve as the primary rewards, making it an option for leveling up to 120 while providing an option for Azerite farming at level cap. There is also a large weekly Azerite reward if a player earns enough Azerite during Island Expeditions during that week. Players can also earn various cosmetics such as uncommon BoE gear that supposedly sells well to other players, pets, and mounts. Finally, Seafarer's Dubloons are a currency exclusive to Island Expeditions that at the time of release was primarily used to buy consumable items that can only be used on Island Expeditions.

In 8.1, Island Expeditions were updated to be more procedural through the addition of more enemy types, static event spawns, and random invasions from one of many hostile factions. Vendors that primarily sell cosmetics in exchange for the Seafarer's Dubloon currency were also added. An additional reward was also added in the form of a treasure map that unlocks a lucrative mission for followers to be sent on. Finally, various quality of life changes were made to improve the playability of the content such as an adjustment of the Azerite needed for the weekly reward, an adjustment of how additional rewards are awarded, and mob placement.

8.1.5 didn't add much to Island Expeditions themselves, but it improved upon its reward system once more by adding uncommon quality Account-bound gear that can be purchased with Seafarer's Dubloons. Personally, I think this helps to account for a distinct weakness relating to Island Expeditions in that they lack gear rewards. These gear rewards are not that strong since they top out at item level 282 at level 120 (though they can randomly upgrade further), but arguably suffice as leveling gear and starting gear for fresh level 120 characters.

Thoughts on the Present Iteration

I personally think of Island Expeditions to be side content for players to do at level cap, though it isn't without rewards to grind for. It's also a decent way to level from 110 to 120 on alts because of the fast queue times and fairly good experience rates from the mobs and completing a run. I personally appreciate that the developers tried very hard to dampen the monotony of doing the same objectives repeatedly without resorting to lockouts but instead by trying to vary the experience with many different islands to explore, each of which will be a bit different every visit. Furthermore, the enemies players face during an Island Expedition feature a variety of mechanics of varying strengths depending on the power level of the mobs compared to most other leveling content, providing an opportunity for players to hone their skills.

With that said, I think the objective of Island Expeditions is one of its biggest issues because of how exclusive to the expansion's theme it is, not to mention it gives little room for players to immerse themselves by exploring the entire island. I believe this detracts from the Island Expedition experience and encourages players to rush and otherwise try to optimize their play instead of finding other ways to have fun. These are detriments I was hoping to escape when it comes to WoW's group content.

The reward system for Island Expeditions is not too bad, especially for leveling players who benefit from the experience reward. The Azerite reward may either lead players to grind the content or ignore the content if they are interested in increasing the power of their Heart of Azeroth depending on how much is awarded. Seafarer's Dubloons in their current state are a decent reward currency for players who are interested in the cosmetic rewards or need to fill gear slots that heirlooms won't on their alts. However, I think Seafarer's Dubloons need to be more consistently awarded from completing an Island Expedition.

The additional cosmetic rewards all add a bit more reason to do Island Expeditions, though they are a bit rare to get and if one desires a specific randomly earned reward, they're probably going to have a bad time. For players who aren't as interested in them, some of the cosmetics can to other players for money, which makes Island Expeditions somewhat profitable, though not a great way to earn gold from my experience especially if you're on a quiet realm. Finally, I have mixed feelings about the Treasure Maps. I think they're a great way to do mission content since players have to actively play the game before doing a highly rewarding mission, not to mention such lucrative rewards can only be earned once a week per character. However, I am also a little disappointed since I was hoping the player would be doing the treasure hunt in a manner similar to Runescape's clue scrolls, even if such an idea is unreasonable to ask for so soon.

Overall, while Island Expeditions may lack in appeal, I think it's a decent enough addition to the game that at least doesn't particularly hurt the state of the game and at best provides yet another activity for players to do while waiting for lockouts to expire. Also, changes related to it helped to improve the experience along with the reward system.

Thoughts On Future Iterations

In the short term, I think Island Expeditions need additional consistent rewards to make it worthwhile content beyond farming experience and Azerite, both of which become much less meaningful as players progress further. To that end, as I mentioned before, Seafarer's Dubloons should always be awarded upon completing an Island Expedition and it should be made clear this is the case, with at least one awarded at Normal difficulty and scaling up from that. I also think War Resources should be always awarded in small amounts for completing an Island Expedition, though this has more to do with the fact War Resources can only be acquired in a few ways much like Order Resources were and I would like to see that issue addressed this time around, even if missions, the primary War Resource sink, are less impactful this expansion.

While there are plans for Island Expeditions in the upcoming patch and there will probably be further additions throughout the expansion, I have doubts about the long-term health of Island Expeditions. Much like Artifacts before it, I don't see the Azerite system lasting all that long in its current state and, more importantly, it seems like the game's story will move on from its emphasis on how impactful Azerite is as a resource.

Personally, as someone who supports a more robust leveling experience with a variety of content to make the adventure of progressing more enjoyable, the seemingly inevitable loss of Island Expeditions would be tragic without some sort of equivalent to replace it. I also think it would be nice to expand upon ideas introduced by Island Expeditions anyways since I believe it would improve how enjoyable the game is especially when leveling. To that end, I think it's a good idea to retain the concept of Island Expeditions primarily in the form of leveling content. Specifically, I think Island Expeditions bring three ideas to the table in regards to leveling content:
  • Firstly, There could be more group scenarios available while leveling. This would provide more accessible content especially for players of the damage dealing role and, with the right objectives, may even provide a less competitive, toxic environment.
    • For example, I think it would be better to implement more scenarios with objectives that don't come at the expense of immersion or a player's ability to pace themselves, such as racing to earn enough points like one currently has to do in Island Expeditions.
  • Secondly, there could be more content that has significant variance to improve upon its replayability such as by altering mob spawns and the types of events that can occur. This would help address how repetitive leveling can feel especially for players who create many characters. The idea can also be applied to level cap content for the purpose of reducing the tedium of repetition.
  • Thirdly, there could be more content that provides a wide variety of mechanical challenge that is suitable for players of a large range of skill levels. Needless to say, having content that both tutors and challenges players, such as my Proving Grounds rejuvenation suggestion, at the same time is something I strongly approve of and this especially is needed for leveling players.
I hope that group scenarios will at least be kept around in some form. It's one of the features that was abandoned after Mists of Pandaria and in my opinion, doing so detracted from the game's content design. It's good to see group scenarios back and being expound upon in ways that make the Mists of Pandaria scenarios look simplistic by comparison. Now I have to hope that the negative remarks made about the feature(s) in question and the expansion it's a part of don't lead to another bout of reckless abandonment of features as shown by the transition from Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

How to Not Screw Up Diablo Immortal (and Future Mobile Titles)

Update (3/9/19): Because I am very behind on the times, it has come to my attention that Nintendo ended their Creators Program, which is a large part of why I disliked them as a company even though that program didn't personally affect me. I have revised one of the closing paragraphs to reflect this. Also, I added a cut because I forgot. Oops.

With reactions to Diablo Immortal dying down, along with my desire to condemn the vocal minority of the gaming community, I think it is fair to say that while the outcry was extreme, there is some wisdom to be gleaned from it. Specifically, mobile gaming has a negative reputation and considering some of the awful games I discover through TapJoy, some of which seem to gross very well, that reputation is entirely justified. At the same time, I can understand why Blizzard would want to get into the mobile market due to the high amount of potential customers and revenue so therefore I'm not surprised they're planning more mobile games beyond Diablo Immortal.

However, instead of getting angry about it, and also because Diablo Immortal has yet to be released, I find this to be a good time to offer some meaningful suggestions regarding what can be done when it comes to Blizzard releasing mobile games that don't end up angering their fans, as well as the gaming community, even further. This is something I already briefly mentioned in the previous article, but I think it's important to go in-depth on the off chance a Blizzard employee discovers this article and forwards its contents to their superiors or the article somehow gains widespread visibility.

I would go as far as to say if these suggestions are followed, that it would redeem Blizzard's error of announcing Diablo Immortal at Blizzcon and make people a little more comfortable about the idea of Blizzard releasing mobile games. Note that these suggestions are intended to improve reputation and fandom security and won't necessarily result in a financial success. This also won't fix Blizzard's reputation in regards to other issues, whether they are erroneous or not.

I want to stress this advice applies to all future mobile releases by Blizzard even though I will often be referring specifically to Diablo Immortal. I wouldn't mind if other developers considered these suggestions too if for some reason they happen to come across this article because I would like more options for good gaming experiences.

Monday, November 5, 2018

My Thoughts on Diablo Immortal (and the Reactions to it)

The Diablo Immortal announcement at Blizzcon has caused a significant stir, mostly of ire, within the gaming community. Controversy of this magnitude compares to the ongoing discussion regarding loot boxes, which I weighed in on a while ago. After seeing what others have to say on the game's announcement and what came after, I thought I might weigh in a bit sooner this time especially since I would like to think I've learned a bit about mobile gaming since I last wrote articles regarding that medium in particular.