Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Legion Invasions Are Pretty Good

When the Legion Invasions became available on the 9th as part of the pre-patch content for WoW, it turned out to be about what I expected in terms of content. It helped that there was plenty of information available beforehand, though I largely avoided researching them so that I could be at least somewhat surprised. While I had a lot to criticize about invasions initially, I also saw the potential it had as content. Hotfixes over the weeks improved the content to be an excellent method for active leveling along with the gearing aspects the content initially shipped with. With the last week of nearly constant invasions in full force, I find myself wishing this content was here to stay to some degree, but I'll mention more on that later.

Stuff I Liked

There were quite a few things I liked about the invasion, but I considered it best to divide the points into three parts:

The first thing I liked by far was the dynamic and scale of the invasions over each of the six zones. While some zones were better than others at accomplishing the sense of scale and dynamic, there's so many objectives during the third stage of the invasion in particular that a player could do objectives in the same zone in a different way many times. There's also some sense of randomness between the stage four boss which is drawn from a pool of bosses and other variance in enemy spawns. Ultimately the Legion Invasion strongly lived up to its thematic of being overwhelmed by demonic forces to the point punishing mechanics probably weren't necessary (more on this in the next section).

The second thing I enjoyed was the implementation of the scaling mechanic that allows players as low as level 10 to participate in the invasions. Since enemy stat displays are based on the player attacking, a lower level can contribute significantly to defeating the invasion. In fact, the invasion is likely more rewarding to lower levels because of the large amount of experience one can gain by running around killing mobs thanks to hotfixes. Such a feature builds upon Timewalking in a huge way and ultimately the idea of players being able to partake in the same content almost regardless of their level allows for great development potential in the future.

Due to the previous two points and features such as CRZ, there's often mass player participation and the degree of social gathering that results is staggering. It's also advantageous to fight alongside other players since mobs tend to die faster, which results in faster rewards. It's also nice to see NPC participation and various vehicles that players can drive to further improve the scale of allied participation, further reducing how isolated a player may feel when standing against the Legion. Such an outcome compared to the previous isolation resulting from staying in the Garrison is staggering to say the least and the Legion Invasion shows that healthy player interactions can exist.

Issues to Consider

Most content isn't perfect and even after all the hotfixes, the Legion Invasions could be improved upon in some ways. For example, the following consists of criticism I have:

There's a few mechanics that are too punishing. While I understand that the general idea of the Legion Invasions (from what I can tell) is that the enemy is intended to be overwhelmingly powerful, there's ways to retain that feel without defanging enemies. For instance, curses and other debuffs that are effectively certain death aren't that fair, but mechanics that create a very painful hazard at least allow for a degree of counterplay that any class can utilize. Aside from hazards, there's plenty of design space between harmless and punishing that can be considered challenging. Compared to leveling, the Legion Invasion is already fairly challenging when not accounting for the punishing mechanics, so it wouldn't hurt to dial down some of the arguably overtuned ones in the future.

While this is largely related to the previous point, not getting experience while dead makes lower level players less inclined to participate in the event, especially on bosses with the aforementioned punishing mechanics. Some players have been utilizing hit-and-run tactics as a result, allowing them to earn the full (massive) experience in a safe manner. This point holds true even after scaling hotfixes.

Finally, the Legion Invasions are a little too rewarding for level capped players if they AFK. This is because they don't really need to go out and kill the mobs. They'll get enough Nethershards from the stage completion rewards and chests (which are also stage completion rewards) to buy the gear they need from vendors and the chests themselves contain the remaining gear. On a related note, nerfing the experience rewards for each completed stage of the Legion invasion to cut down on AFKing for lower levels was a good change.

Suggestion for Retention

While I've already expressed some critical points worth considering for future content, some wishful thinking remains when it comes to the Legion Invasions themselves. As this article's title states, I think it could be great content that could last for at least the duration of the Legion expansion itself and removing it is a disservice that I may cover on a broader scale in the future, though I have criticized Blizzard's decisions on content removal before (poorly). On the theoretical off chance Blizzard wants to break with their tradition and keep this pre-patch content, the following could make Legion Invasions an enjoyable side activity that could serve as content nearly everyone is capable of participating in:

The event would need to be downscaled a bit since two of the zones are for rather low-leveled players and having the invasions happening all the time disrupts a player's ability to do questing content in the zone. Thus, I'd consider removing at least Dun Morogh from the invasion zone pool. Other zones such as Crossroads and Westfall may need to be pruned from the pool as well, though having a non-starting zone that's relatively easy to travel to allows for more low-level participation. Regardless of what happens to the zone pool, the Legion Invasions would happen a lot less frequently. Personally, I think one invasion in a single zone per day is a good balance though in this theoretical situation there may be better ideas for invasion frequency.

As for rewards, the rewards would need to be revamped somewhat since it's almost certain that some items from the pre-patch were intended to be exclusive. Such items can be removed from the Nethershard vendors and the like if needed, but Nethershard rewards should stay. To fall in line with the previous section, emphasizing Nethershard rewards from Invasions would be best, with reward chests being shifted to the vendors for purchase. Since many of the Nethershards earned from Legion Invasions are earned from killing bosses and otherwise participating in the objectives, this would greatly incentivize active play during the invasions were they to stick around. Experience gains may need to be retuned somewhat, especially for level 100 onward to make leveling on the Broken Isles far more preferable. The strength of gear earned from the invasions after level 100 would also need to be weakened to ensure other Legion endgame content isn't rendered obsolete. Based on this chart, item level 795-800 would at level 110 might work.

Ultimately I think it would be a shame to just remove this content, though I imagine there's story reasons why.

Final Statements

I would like to think the Legion Invasions are a preview of what Legion's content is like. Some aspects of it seem to share potential commonalities with World Quests, such as having to travel about doing objectives over a large area with some sense of dynamic that differentiates the experience regularly. During these travels there would also be a lot of social opportunities due to meeting other players doing the same activity. In addition, the expected time-gating related to Legion Invasions seems to be potentially similar to the restrictions World Questing will have. This may all be a projection of expectations on my part though, and we'll find out what the live version of World Questing is like soon enough.

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