Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The World of Diablocraft

Diablo and World of Warcraft have borrowed from each other for quite a while in a sense. For instance, some gear in World of Warcraft can roll affixes, which are tied to a specific set of stats. However, the borrowing has gotten more blatant in a sense, especially since Warlords of Draenor and players seem to have taken notice of it. The question then is: is it bad that WoW is borrowing some features associated with Diablo 3? I think they have potential to be good or bad based on the implementation since WoW is a pretty different beast that requires some adaptation. This article analyzes some of the features that I think bear similarity to something in Diablo 3 (and were probably adopted from it).

The Legendary System

The addition of many legendaries in Legion immediately reminded me, and probably some others, of Diablo 3 in multiple ways. What I quickly noticed was that each WoW legendary had a bonus special effect that arguably breaks the balance of the game while in Diablo 3, gear with such effects is pretty typical. While I already thought that a great disparity of power wouldn't be healthy for the competitive side of WoW, seeing the legendaries in action along with the numerous rebalancing changes made to them have done a lot to confirm my suspicions. It's worth mentioning these special effects in themselves aren't a new concept to WoW and sometimes found its way onto epic gear along with being a staple of nearly every legendary weapon of the past, so we need to go a bit deeper to make decent comparisons.

This is where acquisition comes in and the fact the sources for legendaries in WoW vary from a mundane container to the mightiest of enemies seems to be a clear adoption from Diablo 3. The rate of acquisition is a little different though since WoW legendaries on release seemed to be significantly rarer than even set pieces in Diablo 3. I think this was intentional to counterbalance the power the limited equipment slots allowed for legendary pieces, meaning there was some consideration taken into account when adapting the system to better fit WoW. Despite this, the balancing may not have been done well enough since system had a number of problems that caused much controversy and adjustments. I also made suggestions to make the task of acquiring a legendary feel less bad while maintaining rarity.

At the moment, the legendaries system seems a little better than the release iteration but far from perfect. While there's some clear links to Diablo 3 that could stand to be deviated from like in the case of legendary balancing, other features adopted from Diablo 3 may help to prevent this major aspect of the reward system from being a disaster.

Adventure Mode/World Quests

When I first experienced Adventure Mode in Diablo 3, I immediately thought World of Warcraft's daily quest system could be improved by implementing some of the concepts such as the pool of rotating objectives for variance and increased rewards for doing many objectives. This made a partial appearance in Warlords of Draenor in the form of bonus objective areas along with daily quests to complement some of them. By Tanaan Jungle, there was a modest level of flexibility that allowed players to choose to areas to complete for some extra rewards.

Legion saw this design come to fruition in a huge way to compensate for a rather weak showing of single player-oriented content by implementing World Quests along with the Emissary system. While the amount of quests needed to complete an Emissary was fixed and generally lower than the number of bounties needed to earn bonus loot in Diablo 3's Adventure Mode, this fit the slower pace of WoW's gameplay and quest appearance rates.

World Quests also gave more room for players to choose objectives they liked to do since completing an Emissary required 4 quests to be completed in 3 days. The exception to this is the Legionfall reputation, which is more flexible since players can acquire as many Legionfall War Supplies as Broken Shore World Quests allow for, often resulting in multiple turn-ins of 100 supplies per day. Due to Paragon reputation and rewards that improve over time, World Quests will probably continue to hold relevance.

While I think World Quests are a great form of single-player content and a good adaptation of Adventure Mode, among other concepts, there could stand to be a faster-paced version more like Adventure Mode. In such a scenario, bounties can be done without waiting for more to appear for some lesser rewards so that there's always a single-player content option available but it doesn't feel as compulsory to do. I suggested as much when discussing the addition of Paragon to WoW and a fast-paced bounty system could probably be implemented alongside World Quests without a hitch.

Gambling/Relinquished Gear

Gambling for a chance at some decent gear has been around in Diablo for a while with Kadala, the Diablo 3 incarnation, serving as a sink for Blood Shards gotten from some endgame content. Endgame currency is nothing new for World of Warcraft and since the era of Badges of Justice there's been ways to get hands on some decent pieces of gear as a reward for grinding. Mists of Pandaria began to depart from that model by the end of the expansion in favor of armor caches bought with Timeless Coins. These could produce a piece of gear with randomized secondary stats that could be upgraded, though probably not to a level relevant to a dedicated player. Apexis Crystals in Warlords of Draenor followed up on this, eventually allowing players to purchase gear tokens that also could roll randomized stats and be upgraded.

Only recently in Legion has such a concept returned, but instead of one gear vendor, there are now two for the new Nethershard currency. One sells Dauntless gear tokens which behave more like the previous gear tokens and serves more as a catch-up gearing mechanism. The other, however, seems to be more like Diablo's gambling system and through the Relinquished tokens he sells, Vashreen can help produce some very powerful gear, including legendaries. The tokens also create gear based on existing Legion gear in the game, which means it may have a lot more than a pile of stats.

I can understand why Blizzard took the direction they did with endgame gearing via currencies. I remember the frustration when certain high end gear that could be bought with currency was suboptimal for some specs and while randomized stats and gear can be frustrating, at least there's a chance to get desired pieces. The current system isn't perfect though and I wish there was some consistency through the usage of a unified currency (like Justice Points in the past) instead of having to change currencies every expansion. Also, while a gamble tends to involve randomness, there could stand to be some way to improve the odds for the player like a chance to do a cheap reroll or a way to make even acquiring a useless piece of gear worthwhile to non-Enchanters besides vendoring the item.

I've mentioned Paragon quite a few times to the point of redundancy, but this article would be pretty empty without mentioning how well the system has been implemented into World of Warcraft. When Paragon was initially implemented into Diablo 3, I considered it a way to extend the lifespan of endgame content by giving players a goal to work towards even if they've maxed out in every other way. At the same time, for players who are working through endgame content, they get a little extra for any effort put in that didn't yield fruit in other ways. Paragon 2.0 proceeded to make this system infinite (or very time-consuming to max) and the power gains more transparent by allowing players to choose which attributes are increased.

Artifact weapons were Blizzard's first major foray into adding such a system into WoW. Given points I've made in my article on adding Paragon into the game along with thoughts on the future of artifacts, I think Paragon traits in particular were a flop since they compel players to grind for character power too much. In Diablo 3, this may matter but at the same time the game seems a lot easier to take as a closed-system, single-player experience where competitive play is optional. While one could create such an environment for themselves in WoW, it's a lot harder to escape the bleeding edge of competitive play and the mentality it brings. This can create an atmosphere of min-maxing stress as players try to farm as much Artifact Power as possible to increase performance. Unhealthy as such a mentality might be, I think it's reasonable to respect and design around it, which is why I was careful when brainstorming traits for a WoW iteration of Paragon.

I could probably go on, but I plan to write a more in-depth article on exploring the design of worthwhile, but not "mandatory," Paragon traits. Instead, I'll summarize by saying if Blizzard is trying to add a Paragon-like system to WoW, I think it should be in the interest of extending the endgame while minimizing the compulsion for players to grind just to participate in endgame content. It's not an easy balance, but it seems the Honor system and Paragon reputation are working out okay, though both systems aren't that broad in scope. I don't think Artifact weapons are broad enough either since they have constraints to classes and specs that are great for fleshing them out and probably could be a system all its own without the Paragon aspect. Ultimately, an account-wide Paragon 2.0 system should be considered.

Final Statements

As I mentioned above, this article, aside from revisiting some older topics I've discussed before, only contains some of the features WoW has that have a resemblance with a Diablo counterpart. I know I missed things like the crafting system and especially Greater Rifts, which may have served as an inspiration for a number of features in WoW. There's a chance I may be more inspired to write a followup piece than I did to write this one, but that's going to be quite a while from now since I have a few drafts sitting around and real life to deal with (hence why this article took forever to publish).

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