Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Some Brief Thoughts on Legendary Upgrades... Again

A new tier of raids brings with it new gear, raising the item level ceiling to further extend the grind while featuring new encounters to entertain players until the next big content release. With the increase in maximum item level, legendaries have also received another relatively minor maintenance requirement in the form a new upgrade quest. Much like the last time, the quest has been criticized but this time, the reason seems to be slightly different and involves concerns about the fact players generally have many more legendaries than before to upgrade. In addition, after discussion with other players, I was hoping for some improvements to the quest's immersion in addition to some other brief suggestions. Times have changed though, so I think it's worth briefly reviewing whether this upgrade system got an upgrade and whether it needs more of one for the next tier.

Why The Upgrade Exists

Before discussing the upgrade system itself, but since some continue to question the fact the upgrade system exists at all, I think it's important to explain the purpose of the system. I find the need for an upgrade system necessary for a number of reasons. For instance, legendary gear is generally powerful, sporting the highest item level possible when fully upgraded in addition to an effect that may substantially enhance character performance. The investment to acquire a legendary is unclear since while there is a bit of grinding involved, it also involves a significant amount of luck - a point many including myself have criticized. Finally, traditional forms of gearing, especially up to very high item levels, involves a substantial amount of time, skill, and luck.

With the above points considered, having to acquire currency largely accrued through normal endgame play to increase the statistical power of a piece of gear in a relatively consistent manner is a small price to pay. It is also a good example of a soft time gate since it doesn't have much impact on gameplay when considered from a broad perspective.

The Impact of the Upgrade

While the impact on gameplay in general isn't that significant, that doesn't mean upgrading a legendary by 30 item levels doesn't have its benefits. This is especially the case when considering legendaries with a high amount of raw stats, which many utility legendaries now have. I think this'll matter the most in Mythic difficulty, where having the upgrade on many legendaries can help to meet certain checks that encounters require. In lower difficulties, these checks are more lax to the point that missing 30 item levels on up to two slots can be made up in other ways such as by obtaining equipment for other slots or developing greater insight into an encounter's mechanics. Ultimately, the impact will matter the most to a few.

Acquiring the Upgrade

Much like the last iteration of the quest, the sources for upgrade currency are about the same with them dropping in the current tier's raid, emissary caches, rated PvP, and the Mythic+ chest. However, many of these sources drop more currency overall, with the minimum drop increasing by at least 2. For example, emissary caches used to drop at least 2 Essence of Aman'thul, but can now drop at least 4 Writhing Essences. In addition, a hotfix was implemented to allow Writhing Essences to be awarded from doing the daily Heroic. This change greatly increases the minimum amount a player can acquire from farming the currency to allow them to comfortably upgrade two legendaries per week and potentially upgrade three or more. All of these adjustments contribute towards reducing the frustration of having to earn upgrades, especially for those who may find such upgrades mandatory.

Final Statements - Improving the System

While Blizzard made some attempts to account for past and present criticism to improve the upgrade system, the system is far from perfect and still serves as a source of grief despite the fact that there is some necessity in having it around. In the last article, I offered several simple suggestions to improve the system but this time, I have two different, more complex suggestions that I think could serve well as the legendary upgrade system for the next tier.

In the case of the first suggestion, I think a more immersive upgrade system could be implemented through the usage of hard time gating. This would involve adding a (well-written) quest chain that takes place over a few weeks. During this time, all legendaries will drop in an un-upgraded form and players would compete in progression for that tier at the same legendary item level for at least part of the Mythic race. After the quest chain becomes fully available, all legendaries that drop after would drop in an upgraded form. The quest chain itself could or could not involve the raid in some form and would award an item that upgrades all legendaries the character owns. This method is more sensible if Blizzard wants to facilitate a lower power race through Mythic raiding by turning it around lower powered character. The benefit to this would be a more palpable difference when progressing and farming the raid at that difficulty which was said to be not present in Mythic Nighthold.

The second suggestion would retain the same soft time gated upgrading that is in place but with many adjustments, such as:
  • When a Mythic+ dungeon is completed, players earn currency equal to the level of the Mythic+ up to a maximum. When looting the Mythic+ chest next week, players earn currency equal to the maximum minus the amount earned from completing Mythic+ dungeons over that past week. This would not change the amount players can earn from doing Mythic+ in general but instead provide players with an option to farm the currency instead of waiting until next week.
    • For instance, if the change were implemented now, players can earn 5 Writhing Essence from a +5 Mythic. If that's the only Mythic+ they run, they get 15 Writhing Essence that week.
  • Allow players to earn the currency gradually as they participate in ranked PvP instead of awarding a lump sum after reaching a certain point. The end result is the same if players earn the maximum amount but partial completion now gives a partial reward instead of none.
  • Add a daily random battleground reward (or something similar) that awards the currency. This reward can be made mutually exclusive with the daily Heroic to provide players with an option if being able to earn currency from doing both is too high.
  • Set a number of legendaries players are expected to upgrade each week and balance currency gain around that. I would recommend consulting with the minority of players strongly affected by a lack of legendary upgrades as to what the appropriate number should be, but I think having the currency to consistently upgrade five per week is reasonable.
To close, I hope Blizzard has the foresight to implement further improvements to the legendary upgrade system. Whether players like it or not, until traditional gearing changes radically or the current legendary system is dumped, which in itself is an interesting topic of discussion, the legendary upgrade system is going to have to be around to ensure there's some level of effort to ensure gear that's likely best in slot to remain best in slot.

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