Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Legion's Gameplay Loop: Withered Army Training

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In the Burning Crusade, there was an event that was occasionally made accessible that allowed players to fight through a solo challenge with an increasingly difficult learning curve and earn rewards based on their progress with a worthwhile reward at the end. This event was known as the Shartuul's Transporter event among other names and may have served as a precursor to the vehicle system, which was another feature that was and is used in much solo content. While there were many solo challenges added to the game since, few stuck out to me as being similar to the aforementioned event due to differences in the design (though there were some like Troves of the Thunder King).

Blizzard has since added a scenario tied to the Nightfallen reputation that serves as something of a solo challenge called Withered Army Training that I think is somewhat comparable to the long since removed event. After realizing this comparison, I sought to do the event many times to see how well it compared to an event I fondly remember farming even after being exalted with Ogri'la many times over. This article analyzes the information I gathered.

What is Withered Army Training?

For more info, check out one of the many guides. This section provides a summary of what to expect from the scenario.

Withered Army Training is unlocked after doing a few quest chains for the Nightfallen and requires a high amount of Ancient Mana currency to start, making the scenario serve as a primary sink for the currency. It can be done every three days to time gate the rewards it provides. The objective of the scenario is to convert as many Withered to your side as possible and leading them to kill hostile enemies to gain points. In addition, players can find treasure that may require them to "spend" Withered to send back, increasing the rewards gained at the end of the scenario. Upon dying, losing all the Withered allies, or reaching the end of the scenario, the player is then given an opportunity to loot their rewards.

Rewards from Withered Army Training consist of Nightfallen reputation, Artifact Power, equipment, toys, permanent scenario benefits, and other items. Rewards from the main chest scale with points acquired up to a cap of about 400, which is about 60% of the points a player can earn by fully clearing the scenario. Chests that are sent back contain fixed loot and do not appear in subsequent runs through the scenario, making them one-time sources of loot. There are also small chests throughout the scenario that have minor rewards in the form of gold, Ancient Mana, and sometimes Blood of Sargeras that have random spawns.

Thoughts on the Scenario

This scenario has been criticized quite a bit because of problems such as issues related to disconnections and differences in difficulty based on role. While I think these are major issues that should be addressed in some way (they probably should've been better addressed before launch), I think the scenario itself has some major flaws in more fundamental aspects that hold it back from being worthwhile content and a lot of it has to do with the reward system.

The reward system for Withered Army Training in its current state reaches a point where once players loot all the large chests inside of the scenario that Withered can send back, they are only obligated to farm a certain number of points then end the scenario prematurely to earn the maximum possible rewards. This may be what Blizzard intended and while the scenario gets far less challenging once all the items that buff the Withered are found, it seems like a missed opportunity to provide better replayability by giving players more of an incentive to go on a power trip with fully upgraded Withered and potentially have fun.

Speaking of replayability, even without having some randomly spawning chests with worthwhile rewards (like randomly spawning 5-Withered chests that reward Artifact Power or gear), once a player reaches Exalted with the Nightfallen (and obtains other rare rewards like hidden appearances), the base rewards of the scenario are hardly worthwhile and it seems a lot more rewarding to do other content such as dungeons and (other) world quests instead of spending the time to farm some Ancient Mana and do content that is available once every three days. Aside from the fact there's existing content with lockouts that is worthwhile like raids, Shartuul's Transporter was also time gated in a sense (possible to do every five days at least) yet was also highly worthwhile to do even after finishing the Ogri'la reputation because it could potentially be a great money maker due to rewards such as Depleted Badge.

Final Statements

I'm dissatisfied that Withered Army Training didn't live up to my personal expectations of a form of solo content that is truly "evergreen." While some players may be doing the scenario every time it's up, there's clearly evidence that shows it's not that worthwhile to do which is made worse by the fact the content is heavily limited by a timed lockout, which means it won't occupy much of a player's time if considered by itself. To close, I hope if Blizzard tries to develop content like this again that they consider the issues that kept Withered Army Training from being evergreen content such as its lockout, reward system, and balance.

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