Despite all the warnings I could give the social, online Friday Mythics Night I had enjoyed has imploded. Drunken snappiness, not understanding or listening, revelling in wiping, cackling “Balls of evil! Balls of evil!”  and sheer, bash head against wall, frustration has finished off an event people were already drifting away from. Who has come off worse from this failure? Well, what a shocker. Me again. Too many people have left Warcraft from my little circle recently. So I wasn’t sufficiently backed up to deal with this stupid drama. My old GM is also quitting the game, she’s fed up with whispers, drama and arse aching (not mine for change). So Legion splutters to a uninspiring end with me seriously looking for even a half decent guild again.

My guild status is a fitting metaphor for Legion in all honestly. Some things have been really good. The zone design and levelling experience has been, the usual, first class. However, the raid offerings in Legion have been…derivative and familiar. The frequency with which we’ve been treated to reused textures, fight mechanics and a general dearth of new or innovative ideas has been staggering. We know Warcraft is thirteen years old and the dev team is shrinking, but never has new blood more obviously been required.

This doesn’t help…withdrawing support for DX9 and no bug fixing.

Textures were lifted straight out of Ulduar and Hellfire Citadel, and particularly badly cobbled together in the case of the Emerald Nightmare (EN). Kicking off the expansion, EN was one boss fight leading up to a portal hub with four zones pulled lazily from around Azeroth without one remarkable or noteworthy boss fight. My overriding memory of EN is ugly, disjointed, cut and shut, ordinary. The Nighthold was much better, however when you set the bar so low…I like the idea of introducing an interesting boss mechanic with the trash leading up to a boss. Why shouldn’t the associated trash demonstrate less powerful facets of the bosses in each wing…it adds flavour and immersion while training the raid how to deal with a boss on the way to them. However, it’s becoming normal to describe every boss in terms of it’s recycled, ad nauseum, core mechanic. Like The Coven of Shivarra, (Tomb of Sargeras) described as new the Elisande (Nighthold): same noose tightening mechanic; balls slow in one section; get through incoming wave to outside. Or Garothi Worldbreaker’s (Burning Throne) Eradication is the new Fallen Avatar‘s (Tomb of Sergeras) Rupture Realities (different name same hokey cokey in, out, in, out). Every encounter has an element of deja vu. Not convinced? Then think about the number of fights in Antorus, the Burning Throne alone where you had move out of lines, green or red? Or what about an ‘area cast’ on the floor that you were drawn to, but had to avoid, before another ‘big cast’ came and you had to rush into the previous ‘area cast’ to avoid said ‘big cast’? Describes several fights? Red or green circles (spiked in the centre) that players needed to soak?

The less said about the Eonar the Life-Binder Event the better…shades of the Hellfire Assault Event, but incredibly, and well done Blizzard for pulling off the apparently impossible, worse.

Legendaries failed to engage again. This time around the items themselves were great, you got one or two and you were very happy, so 100% better than the Ring (that a lot people just could not be arsed with at all), it was the mechanism of acquiring them that sucked. The Legendary Cloak quest chain in Pandaria was long but rather epic and as you completed chapters it became empowered. That worked really well for my money, but someone will always bitch it took too long. Mostly it took time because the content was gated at each patch, increasing the efficacy of the cloak was linked to the progress of the campaign in Pandaria. From a story-telling, fantasy perspective that works just fine, some kids will always want it yesterday. We all got one…I got…a lot. At least four chars had one. Fleety had two: tank and DPS, Sakkara had two: DPS and healing, that’s at least six. Did I lose count? The catchup was great so alts weren’t excluded and it was possible to switch ‘mains’ mid expansion and still progress an appropriate legendary.

Where Legion failed so spectacularly was in making them a random drop. OK everyone got at least one, but many people, who were able to play for many more hours a day, quickly got all of the legendaries available to multiple characters. I have 5 on my main and none of them are BiS. I don’t object to the democratisation, that horse has long bolted, it’s the inability to work for a really, really good item. You should not have three legendary items in the bank unused (!) because the two you have equipped are better. Redundant legendaries?

And grinding won. Those who could quest, dungeon and raid more got more legendaries, sooner or later the current BiS would drop for them, it was just a matter of time. It took until 7.3 and the end of the expansion for Blizzard to decide that Legendaries would be immaterial in a few months (post-Legion) so they could start selling them for easily grindable items. I was very pleased with this change and it would’ve been welcome from launch. Just as I celebrating I read the small print and discovered that you could grind a token that would generate a legendary. The legendary you got was still a random drop. You might never get your BiS in this expansion.

Transmog is awesome!

This is officially the expansion I stopped caring about gear. I loved early expansions where you could get a really good item from a specific place, so you went there and tried to get it. OK, having to run Shadow Labyrinth 41 times (after I started counting) was silly and Platinum Shield of the Valorous was a pretty good blue…that I replaced with the token shield a couple of days laters…but gear lists were a thing and we all loved to work our way up them trying to hit stat targets (usually Hit to be honest). Now I don’t care…I don’t even care what the gear looks like. If I get new gear I pop to the Transmog in Dalaran and reapply my favourite appearances. I only care about one thing gear related: item level.

Blizzard have almost completely recreated the idea of Gear Score now.  Higher ilvl means more of any of the stats and more is more right? Right. OK, itemisation of lower ilvl items might make it deliver more DPS, but not significantly in most circumstances. As a rule of thumb higher ilvl is better is pretty solid. Even using our old friend Mr Robot I rarely encounter a situation when the lower level item is so much better optimised as to be worth opting for. Stat weights? No one cares. Not really. Sometimes you still hear some moron opine that Versatility is just crap and of no value to them and Haste, for example, is their best stat.

Let me help you. No stats decrease DPS output (unless you’ve equipped a tanking or healing piece while DPS-ing). All (DPS) stats increase DPS…it is only the degree to which they increase DPS. Versatility is a flat out DPS increase (incoming damage decrease) stat. More Vers. is more DPS. Haste, for example with warlocks, will speed up shard generation for casting more Unstable Affliction (our big meaty cast). “The amount of Shard generation per Haste rating is less efficient than the flat damage received from Mastery. The value of Mastery is even higher on multi target, making it…” our “best” stat (Icy Viens). However, by how much? Well, one point of intellect will equate to 1.0 point of damage. Mastery: one point will equate to about one and half points of damage, atually 1.55 to be precise. For an Affliction Warlock Haste and Crit. are pretty similar at 1.49 and 1.35 receptively. Versatility is worth about 1.06 damage per point. Valueless? Clearly not. 33% less valuable than Mastery? Well about that. 5 ilvls higher with Vers instead of Mastery? How much more? 33%-ish more points of Vers. than the lower ilvl item’s Mastery? Then the higher ilvl item will deliver more DPS(-ish).

The margins are tiny. Every point of Crit. is worth 1.35 damage (approx.) every point of Mastery is worth 0.2 damage more

Gear? Legendaries? Raids? Meh.

So what has been good in Legion? Questing, levelling, the new zones were all top quality and scaling has made the game so much more accessible. We’ve all wondered where to go and slightly dreaded moving to a new area: mob levels go up and with it the difficulty of questing and our ability to cope with unfortunate multi-mob pulls goes down.

Friends at different character and item levels are naturally reluctant to play with us, for two reasons. Most don’t really want carrying through this game, I, for one, have always wanted to play. I have always hated being dragged through a 5 man with an overgeared tank boasting a friend. I can barely get a DoT on a mob before the tank has moved on and I am left behind. You just have to run to keep up and accept your XP for doing nothing. Nah, mate, no thanks. Secondly, in the case of this higher level, over-geared tank, there’s nothing in it for them. The XP is negligible, if anything, the gear useless.

Scaling addresses just this and lets friends who want play together do that, whatever their item levels are. The experience gained and difficulty of the mobs scale so everyone’s participation is required and the value gained is equal. Plus pick a zone, any zone, and start questing there. After patch 7.3.5 that applies to all Azerothian zones. All ‘vanilla’ zones are now scaled 1 – 60. All Wrath zones are 70 – 80 zones, you can quest in Howling Fjord at level 70 or leave it until you’re 79 and still receive good XP levelling there and the mobs and gear will be appropriate to your level! Or go other places and come back later, in every zone, at whatever stage in your levelling process, completing quests yields about the same experience and the gear that drops is appropriate to you at your level / ilvl. Dynamic scaling is pukka.

After the snore-fest that challenge modes were in Pandaria I wasn’t hopeful about Mythic+. Challenge modes did up the difficulty in 5 mans, extending their longevity across an expansion. However, no one was doing them. They were just everything that was bad about 5 mans, condensed to it’s very essence: a speed tanking, drag-fest; kill everything; ASAP. Not working? Get more DPS.

Mythic+ offered a slightly different approach. OK there were timers, but even if you failed to beat the clock there was a (smaller) reward at the end of the dungeon. 5 mans continued to be a viable source of gear to the end of Legion. While in previous expansions the 5 mans became less challenging as the collective ilvl of groups over-geared the instances, Mythic+ keys upped the difficulty and added new, tricky mechanics and provided higher rewards. As your group’s ilvl (and skill) increased you could take on more and more difficult keys. The rewards scale with the keys genuinely extending the life cycle of 5 man content, making them both relevant and, just as importantly, fun. I’ve loved 5 man instances since vanilla, some of my best, most epic experiences were in Stratholme, Scholomance and Shadow Labs. I actually remember those dungeons more fondly than any raid (except Karazhan, of course). My overriding memories of Legion will be Mythic+ 5 man runs.

All in all Legion has been pretty hit and miss. I think I’ll remember the hits more than misses in retrospect, however as an expansion it has been far from perfect. I’d argue that in places the design has been tired, cut and paste, and lacking in real innovation. It’s easy to say that World of Warcraft is thirteen years old and there’s only so many way you can design boss encounters, but I would counter that a lot of really great pop music has been made with just three chords. If I do engage with all the content already available about the new and upcoming Battle for Azeroth Expansion content, I thought I would complete my reflections on Legion with a manifesto of things I would like to see in the next expansion. My next post will consider what could lift a good, but not great, expansion like Legion to the heights of Mists of Pandaria or even Wrath of the Lich King.