Sunday, July 16, 2017

Legion's Gameplay Loop: The Deaths of Chromie

Click here to go back to the intro article on Legion's Gameplay Loop to view other topics.

To complement the 7.2 patch series, patch 7.2.5 featured a slew of balance changes in preparation of the release of the Tomb of Sargeras raid which was available soon after. In addition, supplementary content was released such as the currently available Timewalking Raid, Black Temple, as well as a solo scenario known as The Deaths of Chromie. After completing it on several characters to earn all the one-time rewards that content has to offer which involved running through it many times, I think I've gathered enough information about the scenario. What follows is an analysis of that information to determine the purpose of this scenario as a form of solo content.

The Gameplay of The Deaths of Chromie

The scenario gives players 15 minutes to complete all of the objectives to save Chromie, which involves exploring a variety of settings to defeat many enemies and help NPCs. Players are scaled (upwards, for now) to level 112 with an item level of 1000, meaning that gear has less bearing on a player's ability to complete the scenario. Chromie herself assists in combat and can be upgraded through a talent tree that can enhance her power and provide passive benefits while in the scenario. The first two tiers of talents can be unlocked by farming some reputation, which is earned by doing the scenario. The other five tiers require both a certain amount of reputation and some time to research the talent tier (once a tier is researched one can switch its talents at will). However, it's possible to complete the scenario with only the first two talent tiers since players can repeat the scenario as many times as they like, though it will require some luck.

The luck in question lies in the scenario-exclusive item that drops from many sources within known as the Sands of Time. This serves as both a method to make the scenario easier as well as the reward system. The benefits from this item range from allowing players to earn bonus reputation with Chromie to instantly completing a major objective or making a major objective easier to complete. All benefits earned from the Sands of Time outside of rewards are temporary and last for only that run.

The Scenario's Rewards

The biggest reward comes from completing the scenario. Doing so awards a cosmetic appearance set based on the character's armor class, which means one has to finish the scenario successfully at least four times to earn all of these rewards. Another major reward is earned by acquiring maximum reputation with Chromie, which awards the Timelord title. In addition, Time-Lost Wallets and Timewarped Badges can be earned from using Sands of Time. The former contains some gold and possibly a pet. There are no rewards for subsequent completions of the scenario and there's no rewards for completing the bonus objective, which is to complete all the main objectives within 15 minutes since players can often extend the duration of the scenario with Stolen Time.

Analyzing the Information Further

From a gameplay standpoint, the scenario has elements that make it very much like a rogue-lite like Withered Army Training. However, there have been some drastic improvements since then since there is no longer a timed lockout, which allows players to participate in the content to their heart's desire. On the front of making subsequent runs easier, there are routes that earn a consistent amount of Sands of Time that sees minor variance since travel by flight allows one to check the location of enemy and chest spawns in little time, which is an improvement over the randomness of finding Withered troops to recruit.

Research is also less necessary compared to upgrade system in Withered Army Training since the time-gated researches are intended to make future runs faster but the first two tiers are almost immediately available and provide a huge amount of baseline power. Based on this information, I quickly concluded that the research system for this scenario is a soft time gate that serves to modulate the scenario's difficulty. It also helps that reputation can be farmed pretty quickly to unlock the ability to perform research to begin with. The research system is a clear improvement over the borderline mandatory benefits or quality of life fixes for Withered allies that need to be earned by interacting with the right objects.

Ultimately, the gameplay of the scenario doesn't have seem to have as many faults as the previous iteration. It's clearly a lot more accessible due to its scaling mechanics and approachable research system that gives all roles a reasonably fair chance of progressing through the scenario (healing in this scenario is especially satisfying for me). I guess if I had to criticize one aspect it's that there's a slight lack of mechanical variety since one will end up fighting the same bosses and major enemies with the same mechanics many times, which can get boring pretty fast.

The issue of replay value worsens when considering the reward system for The Deaths of Chromie since as I mentioned above, there's no reward for completing the scenario aside from a one-time quest that awards appearances. I was expecting there to at least be a reward for completing the bonus objective and I ended up being disappointed instead, which makes me question why that bonus objective is shown to begin with. This leaves the Sands of Time rewards, which add some value to subsequent runs especially with the Fortuitous research.

However, the gold rewards are hardly worthwhile compared to other activities, which leaves the fact that the scenario is a unique source of Timewarped Badges. While these are apparently only supposed to drop during Timewalking weeks, I did get an option to earn them when Timewalking wasn't available. At the least this makes this scenario a good solo source of Timewarped Badges during Timewalking weeks, but it may also be unique in the sense that it allows players to farm Timewarped Badges when Timewalking is not available, which could be useful if players want to earn them between events. Earning Timewarped Badges is far from consistent however and personally I've had dry runs where despite the fact I looted many Sands of Time, I never had an option to loot Timewarped Badges.

Ultimately, I think that the reward system does little to improve the replayability of the scenario and was undershot a bit. While it can be useful as a sandbox that allows characters to be played at a relatively high power level that could arguably be a reward in itself, there's not much of a tangible reason to do the scenario once a player is exalted and earned the cosmetic rewards except maybe to farm Timewarped Badges. Even then, I don't think the scenario is a reliable source based on the observations I made above.

Improving the Scenario - Some Closing Thoughts

While The Deaths of Chromie is a big improvement over Withered Army Training as a form of rogue-lite solo content, it hasn't quite reached its potential. Based on the Q&A related to this topic, it appears the design of the scenario was intended to be evergreen in the sense it'll be roughly as challenging later as it is now due to the scaling mechanic, which might allow for similar content in the future. However, when I think of evergreen content I think of content that has replay value which makes it worthwhile to do regardless of when it was implemented. Making the gameplay compelling and offering a major one-time reward is only a part of accomplishing that goal in my eyes, which is why I propose the following to make the scenario consistently worthwhile to do after the major rewards are earned:
Award a player with a cache containing some Timewarped Badges (around 20) and other rewards such as Artifact Power when they complete the scenario successfully.
This would provide a reward for repeat runs of the scenario that embraces the idea of making it a source of Timewarped Badges that a player can farm through solo play. The rewards as a general rule shouldn't be too competitive with other sources that award them such as World Quests, Timewalking Dungeons, etc. This would solidify the scenario's purpose as an alternate source instead of a superior source.
Award a player with some Timewarped Badges (around 10) for completing the bonus objective of the scenario.
Since the bonus objective currently lacks a reward, it seems reasonable to add one and a small amount of Timewarped Badges should suffice.
Add a Paragon reputation reward for Chromie. This can consist of rewards similar to that of other Paragon reputation rewards which can include gold, Order Resources, pets, and in this case, maybe Timewarped Badges.
This suggestion is intended to make reputation farming worthwhile in the scenario, which means players should almost always have a reward-oriented choice when using Sands of Time. Technically, the other two suggestions could be reworked to provide a reputation reward upon completion but I think that the interval of the rewards would be too long, which may be demotivating to some players.

I'm not sure if Blizzard will make any attempt to change the scenario at this point or work on their next big thing. I am hopeful that there will be a next big thing since Blizzard seems more interested in developing and highlighting solo content while continuing to produce quality multiplayer content. As someone who thinks solo content is highly underrated to the point I may need to write an article about its importance soon, it's nice to see this recognition that doesn't seem to be at anyone's expense.

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