Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Legion Surprises Might Be In Store At Blizzcon

If you had asked me a year ago what big WoW news I'd be anticipating at this year's Blizzcon, I'd first say "whoa man, Warlords is about to come out, and we haven't even had this year's Blizzcon! Calm down!" But if my hypothetical self were to answer that question despite these objections, I would have guessed we'd be waiting to find out what expansion six was going to be all about.

However, we actually know that already. Legion looks like it'll be a really cool expansion, and Blizzard seems to be orienting itself in such a way to address many fan concerns that have cropped up over the last couple expansions.

We got some very big details about Legion - the introduction of a Demon Hunter hero class, the setting of the Broken Isles, the threat of the Burning Legion, the Artifact Weapon system, and the names of the expansion's launch dungeons and first raid tier.

But not only is there a good chance that some big details remain to be announced, we also might see changes to things that were announced at Gamescom.

So this will be a list of predictions and a guess at their likelihood of coming true. Take these with a grain of salt. A "High" likelihood is not to say that it's guaranteed. It's more to say that there's nothing really preventing Blizzard from releasing such a feature other than the effort to implement it.

1. More Demon Hunter Races

People have been wanting Demon Hunters pretty much since Death Knights showed that Blizzard was willing to add new classes. Many were disappointed, even if only mildly, that as announced, all Demon Hunters will have to be elves - Night Elves for the Alliance and Blood Elves for the Horde. Lorewise, this does make sense, given that we only ever saw Illidan train Night Elf or Blood Elf disciples, but it would be easy to stretch this, given that we got Death Knights for all existing races (and even the Cataclysm races, which required some clever lore gymnastics to justify) when previous it had been established, or at least widely held, that Death Knights were only of races that could also be Paladins.

Likelihood: Low

The reason is less about lore (though that's a major factor, especially because expanding it to other races would mean they'd have to change whatever starting experience they had been working on) but more about models and logistics. Metamorphosis will be a thing for both specs, and unlike the current Demonology, this is not a one-size-fits-all demon model. Making the class available to more races would require making demon models for those races as well. Notice how they were really hesitant to add new Druid races? It's like that.

2. Third Demon Hunter Spec - Ranged

Demon Hunters are set to be the only class with only two specs - one for tanking and one for DPS. The reason they gave was that they didn't want to dilute the Demon Hunter fantasy between two dps specs, taking away cool things from one so that the other can have something of its own. Still, a ranged spec would easily have a distinct personality and feel from Havoc, the melee spec.

Likelihood: Moderate-Low

There's no established lore for ranged demon hunters, and a caster demon hunter would basically be a Warlock. A DH using ranged weapons isn't really precedented unless you go outside WoW and to Diablo. Diablo III's Demon Hunter is absolutely a ranged class, but despite sharing a name, the two classes have pretty different feels. Still, it would not be unprecedented for WoW to borrow ideas from Diablo III, and it would be cool to get a new ranged dps spec - something that has not happened since the game first began 11 years ago.

3. Dungeon "Tier" Sets

In Vanilla and BC, there were sets fairly similar to the class sets gotten in raids that you could acquire by doing max-level dungeons. Everyone loves getting class-specific things, and especially given the focus on class identity in Legion, it seems pretty straightforward that class sets could make a comeback.

Likelihood: High

I can't really think of a good reason not to have these other than just the effort to design set bonuses and potentially unique art.

4. Valor Gear Returns

6.2.2 will be bringing Valor back, but for item upgrades. The problem with item upgrades, though, is that they didn't really help with what Valor and its predecessors were meant to do, which is to provide a predictable manner of gear acquisition to supplement the traditional random drops. Valor gear was a good system, and Blizzard was wrong to get rid of it.

Likelihood: Moderate-High

Valor's return makes this far more likely than I would have said before 6.2.2 was announced, but we need Blizzard to make a full commitment to taking some of the RNG out of gearing. Blizzard has traditionally liked random drops better than currency-bought gear, as there's more excitement to getting a big drop, but I think that most players see it more in a "glass-half-empty" manner, which is that you're less excited to get your gear than you are frustrated by not getting it.

5. An End to LFR

Hoo boy. Here's the thing. I actually like that I can run LFR. I've been able to see the entirety of raids that, even if my guild were back to its peak raiding health, I'd never really finish (in Wrath, which was that peak, we cleared Naxx and I think Trial of the Crusader, but we never got Vezax or Yogg-Saron down until long after we were at level 85, and we didn't get the Lich King down until a few days into Cataclysm, when many of us were level 83 or 84.)

But LFR has been a problem. Less for players, and more for designers. LFR has allowed Blizzard to make max-level gameplay all about weekly raiding. Dungeons, once the backbone of the game, have suffered tremendously as a result. Few really like LFR, and instead accept it as an easier alternative to ordinary raiding that you don't have to schedule around.

Likelihood: Moderate-Low

On one hand, this might be the radical move they need to really juice up the game. Indeed, removing LFR would probably get more people running ordinary raids, as it would add mystique to the raid instances again. But LFR has also been around long enough, and it's been pushed hard enough that for a lot of people, it's a pretty core part of the whole game. This would be a hell of a gamble, and I can't say with any certainty that it would pay off.

6. New Race/Class Combos

Cataclysm not only added two races, but also gave us new classes to existing races. There's really no downside in gameplay to a move like this - everything there already exists. Giving more freedom to conceive your character as you like is pretty cool. You do risk diluting racial identities, but those identities don't necessarily have to be tied to classes.

Likelihood: Moderate

The main point against this is that Cataclysm covered the most obvious stuff. Not only did we get the obvious ones like Human Hunters and Blood Elf Warriors, but we also got some new lore to justify things like Tauren Paladins and Night Elf Mages. At this point, Warriors can be any race, and Death Knights, Mages, Priests, and Hunters each only have one race that they can't be, and with each faction having at least two choices for every class (except for the new Demon Hunters.) A few new race/class combos could certainly happen, but it wouldn't be as wide a sweep as Cataclysm. In Cata, Mages jumped from being available to six races to being available to eleven. So what's really left? Gnome Hunters, sure (odd that the race with an engineering boost is the one race that can't use guns.) Undead Paladins? You could come up with some super-cool lore to justify it, but this would be bigger even than Night Elf Mages. Draenei Warlocks? See: Undead Paladins above.

7: Timewalking Zones/Adventure Mode

We don't tend to do things in the old zones much anymore. Sure, that might be silly to say after the previous expansion ended with a massive siege of one of the most important faction cities in the game, but by its nature, WoW always has us going to new lands rather than dealing with ongoing plots at home. It would be really cool if players could go back and experience zones from ages past once again without having to roll and level up a new character to do so.

Likelihood: High

Two challenges present themselves here. The first is a UI function of how to switch, though that's not a terrible hurdle. The second is what one should get for doing this. Scaled up quest rewards? Special currencies? Still, being able to go through old zones - either that we missed because we leveled up in other ones, or simply going back to those we liked - would be a lot of fun. Also, given how quickly one blazes past things these days, it would be nice to go back and finish quest lines that we dropped so we could move on.

8: Legion Beta Launch Announcement

With Legion announced early, and Warlords only having two raid tiers, Blizzard is more or less obligated to get Legion out faster than previous expansion have in the old two-year cycle. With expansion Betas going about four or five months, they've really got to turn the ignition and put their foot on the gas to make it worth having truncated Warlords. Announcing the imminent (like, Tuesday after Blizzcon) launch of the expansion's Beta would be a great way to show that things are truly moving faster at Blizzard these days.

Likelihood: High

Maybe I'm a hopeless optimist, but I think the reality is that Blizzard's brand will suffer a lot if they don't get Legion into Beta as soon as possible, and that Blizzard knows this and is actively working to correct their trajectory.

9: Revamped Worgen/Goblin Models

Perhaps the biggest legacy of Warlords of Draenor will be the update to the vanilla and BC races. My human Paladin looks way, way better than he used to. One of the biggest things added was the facial rigging system they came up with for the Pandaren that allows characters to have real emotional expressions. The Cataclysm races looked a hell of a lot better than the Vanilla/BC ones, but they were too early for this tech to be implemented, and as such, they can only really flap their jaws. It would be fantastic to see these races given a little touch up to bring them in line with the other races, as they've suddenly gone way to the bottom of model quality.

Likelihood: Moderate-Low

There are no new races in Legion, which would make this a prime opportunity to give these guys some love, and Genn's purported importance in the expansion would make it good to improve his peoples' looks. The thing is, the Cataclysm races still look a hell of a lot better than the original vanilla/BC models did, and they might not want to commit the resources to that. Still, this is only a fifth the project that the Warlords revamps were, and the changes would probably be far less dramatic, given the high-quality textures and fidelity of the Cata races. Basically, I really want this to happen, but I would not say that I expect it.

Convening the Blizzard:

Blizzcon is actually coming pretty soon - roughly two and a half weeks from now. It's been months since we first found out about Legion, and things are hopefully a lot farther along by now. Still, we really won't know until Blizzcon, and even things that get announced there might wind up getting axed in the beta. But I know that I'm certainly looking forward to a kind of progress report on how Legion is coming along, and I'm sure that we'll get that at least.

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