Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Some Brief Thoughts on Legendary Upgrading

The opening of Nighthold has brought new gear and with it, a new item level cap and higher item level legendaries.While new legendaries dropped after Nighthold's release will be at item level 940, existing ones will require a little bit of work to upgrade them in the form of farming Essence of Aman'thul. This system has been criticized for a number of reasons, though some of the early criticism may be overblown due to a lack of information. Since I reviewed legendaries in my last article, I thought it would be appropriate to publish a brief follow-up regarding my thoughts on this particular system in its current iteration.

Essence of Aman'thul appears to be very quick to acquire since every source guarantees at least one, making that seemingly daunting 50 to upgrade a single legendary a lot less so, especially when considering past legendary questline drops. This to me is a breath of fresh air compared to the seemingly high amount of randomness associated with acquiring a legendary, which is largely due to a lack of a palpable sense of progression. In addition to this consistency, legendary upgrades appear to be pretty quick. Based on this information, which appears to be nearly accurate, players can upgrade their legendaries within the better part of a week if they are willing to participate in multiple forms of content. A narrower focus (such as by ignoring PvP or PvE) still allows players to upgrade their legendaries within a few weeks.

When it comes to whether upgrading legendaries is necessary to begin with, I think it is for a couple of reasons. The first reason that comes to mind is that if legendaries were to upgrade immediately upon the release of a raid, geared players would be able to tear through the content at a greater pace than before, which could lead to issues of design philosophy like whether to compromise approachability to balance raids around having such powerful gear.  The fact that the methods for gathering Essence are all time-gated supports this theory.

Even if legendaries were to upgrade automatically later like they're probably supposed to, players would be able to acquire best in slot gear that lasts the entire expansion and requires no maintenance. This would undermine a major purpose of progression: to gear up one's character and make them stronger.

With that said, the system seems far from perfect. I don't think two legendaries should be able to be upgraded within the release week of the raid. In addition, the quest isn't as immersive as the past two expansion's legendary quests, continuing to set the par for how "throwaway" the Legion legendaries feel from a lore perspective and making the task of gathering Essence of Aman'thul feel like annoying busy work. Based on my thoughts above, I also don't think that legendaries should drop at the upgrade item level immediately after raid content becomes available since it allows lucky or clever players abuse the legendary system to clear content more optimally than the developers potentially intended. For the sake of catching up, legendaries could drop in an upgraded form shortly before the release of the next raid.

To close, while the upgrade system is functional and not incredibly burdensome, I think it needs improvements for future iterations. If legendary upgrades continue to feature in future raids, which I think will be the case, the following changes could be made to improve it:
  • Increase the general acquisition of currency from raids relative to other content. It can award as few as 10 Essences at the moment, which is 2/3rds of the weekly gains from doing Mythic+ and PvP.
  • Allow players to acquire more currency to upgrade legendaries, but initially gate how many upgraded legendaries a player can have to better even out the competitive playing field and reduce the amount of "busy work" needed to upgrade legendaries over time. This should cause more gradual progression. This gating should be removed a few weeks after a raid's release when the most competitive aspects of the race are over.
  • Have all legendaries drop in the un-upgraded form for the first month or so to prevent luck-sacking and to prevent players from feeling punished about acquiring a legendary on the eve of a new raid's release. Alternatively, have all legendaries always drop in an un-upgraded form but increase the acquisition rate of the upgrade currency massively over time. The latter may be more practical because...
  • Make each legendary upgrade a short quest chain with some immersive aspect to it. For example, the process of upgrading the legendary may involve the player killing a mini-boss associated with the lore of the legendary to acquire a supplementary item.

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