I’ve made the pitch before (several times) that Looking For Raid should be removed from the game. Blizzard coined the term ‘tourist mode’ to describe LFR’s raison d’être, it allows everyone to access the lore and content of Warcraft. As I’ve often said the only problem is it’s negative effect on other aspects of the game. However, LFR is an easy source of symbolic in game value: gear. Often only suggesting there is something detrimental about LFR provokes a rabid response. “How dare anyone suggest taking our source of gear, elitist…Guilds are toxic, bullying environments full of gaming nerds…I have a limited time to play…I should get epic gear and…er…oh yeah, I want to see all the content or something.” Yeah whatever.

Please, I’m not an elitist, I don’t want to exclude anyone from content or gear. Any argument about the democratisation of Legendary gear, for example, is simply absurd, Legendaries are everywhere, everyone has at least one and that’s fine. My only objection to Legendaries has been making them random drops. If you need raid gear you’re raiding, if you’re not raiding you do not need raid gear. If you want raid gear go raiding. With dumbed down boss mechanics and little or no need to follow any tactics there is no need for the extra gear or tier of LFR. Especially 4 piece tier sets! Gear exists not for it’s own sake, gearing up is a pathway to access more challenging content, not an end in iteself.

Flexible sized and scaling, ‘normal’ raids can service the same audience as LFR without dumbing down raid bosses so much that people simply cannot transition into raids of higher difficulty. You can experience the lore and see all the content. It’s easy to organise on the fly and people do, they’re listed in the group finder all day. People dip in when they like and certainly dip out when they’ve had enough. If you have time to queue for LFR and clear a wing you have time to do a few bosses with a pug group. Time constraints are no a real issue. In fact if Blizzard were to remove LFR the should divide normal raids into four wings. Why not? This would make it even easier for LFRers to simply move to normal raids. The increase in difficulty is minimal, but normal raids do actually introduce mechanics and tactics. Normal has a very rudimentary level of mechanics with requisite tactics: a perfect entry level to raiding and even a stepping stone into heroic and even mythic level raiding.

Guilds were frequently toxic edged, particular around 40 man raiding in vanilla and 25 man in TBC, elitism was the norm. However, times have changed and if your guild is in any way toxic shame on you for staying in it. Quit and find a friendlier one, there are plenty of guilds out there and many, many friendly ones. If you don’t want to interact with a community on any level perhaps an MMO isn’t really for you? World of Warcraft is a massive online, social community. If your only contribution is log on and play solo are you really getting the most out of the game, should the game be tailored to your needs. I’m not arguing that you should be sidelined or left out of consideration, only that the game should be designed around those who are fully invested in all the aspects of the MMO – including participation in vast online community.

We currently have four raid difficulties with corresponding item level gear: LFR; Normal; Heroic: Mythic. Spreading the raider player base thinner, that’s not good for the game. Losing the lowest level would naturally encourage people into Normal, flexible raid groups. What is new in Legion is World Quests and Mythic+, especially with no or very low level (1 – 4) keys, which actually drop better gear than LFR now. World Quests and Mythic+ 5 mans completely address any want in the player base for gear. Normal raid level custom groups completely address the need of all LFR content consumers to access all the lore and content, without damaging the wider game.

Will Blizzard Remove Looking For Raid, I can’t see it. There would be a massive casual backlash. I didn’t raid much in WoD or Legion and I do a lot of pet battling, if you feel insulted by being called a casual ask yourself how I class myself these days?

Filthy, pet battling casuals…

Some of you will have read elsewhere whether or not this expansion contains a new continent or not. In retrospect many of the changes introduced in Cataclysm were very impressive and I loved the Twilight Highlands. It didn’t matter to me that the new zones were cheek by jowl with old zones, however it did feel fragmented and scattered across the map, but is that really a major problem? Look at Scholazar Basin, just one example of a zone that looks odd next it’s neighbours: Icecrown; Wintergrasp; and Borean Tundra. Perhaps being able to scatter zones across the map actually promotes variety of design. Unfortunately. if you take a look at the map of Azeroth and you’ll see we have no expansion room. If we want 7 or 8 new zones we will need a new continent. Blizzard will need to be very clever about reusing old zones, but if the Horde do try to smash Stormwind City and, perhaps, destroyed the front keep and the Alliance destroy their own main bridge into the city to deny us entry that would be something to see. You can see the scope for completely phasing Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms and having max level players lead vanguards of troops into zones, taking the other faction’s outposts and establishing new ones of their own. This is just the kind of design shake up Warcraft needs. Let’s get radical.

The Burning Crusade fixed the faction disparity and we got Alliance Shamen and Horde Paladins. The factions were expanded, Alliance with Draenai and the Horde was strengthened by Blood Elves. Wrath of the Lich King gave us the a whole new character class: the Death Knight. In Cataclysm we were gifted two more new races Goblin and (don’t laugh) Worgen. Mists of Panderia delivered a new cross faction race for the first time: Pandarens and a new class: the Monk. Not surprisingly in retrospect Warlords of Draenor gave us nothing in this respect. In Legion were were back on track with another class choice when the Demon Hunter was added. We’re not getting new races as such, but Battle for Azeroth is introducing Allied Races. Current race re-skins, but if we get new lore and starter areas I don’t see a problem, it’s like getting a new race. If Blizzard put their efforts into new starter areas and appropriate lore-rich quest lines that add flavour and character to the new Allied Races then that will be very good. If this is just a lazy short cut to delivering more recycled content then the warnings of Legion will cast a long shadow over this expansion.

Being based in Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms may present some design problems for the questing and levelling, but my real fear is for raid design. Legion looked like a very tired cut and paste of instance textures. The Tomb of Sargeras and Antorus, the Burning Throne were indistinguishable from Hellfire Citadel, with a few design elements from Ulduar tossed in. The Emerald Nightmare was a lazy portal hub with zones ripped from old Azeroth then warped around a little. The Nighthold was the only raid tier in Legion where Blizzard seemed to make an effort. Suramar City and the architecture of that zone most definitely needs to be utilised further. Post Legion I think there is mileage in telling the story of the rebuilding of the Nightbourne‘s home. I also don’t think it’s too much to ask that the devs try to design some new raid interiors and stop the heavy reuse of the same mechanics across the expansion. Warcraft has a long and proud history, I’m not suggesting there should be no reuse of boss mechanics, just make it more subtle and vary it some.

Pet Battles are the ultimate in casual content. Get involved, don’t get involved it has absolutely no bearing on lore, narrative, player power or indeed any other aspect of the game. If you are not interested in PBs, whatever I was to put on my wish list, even if Blizzard delivered it all, it would make no impact on your game whatsoever. I’ve given up on anything that can rival the Celestial Tournament we were given in the Timeless Isle patch of Mists of Pandaria. So why not recycle it Blizzard? Swap in some new Pet Masters, with new pets and make sure you maintain the same level of difficulty. You could actually introduce new Pet Masters with every patch, that’s three or four new groups across the expansion. Can’t beat the Celestial Tournament centent? Then just do what you’ve done with everything else: recycle it and update it. Just don’t nerf the difficulty and we’ll be golden. As it’s instanced you can add four new Tamers with every patch, but maintain all the old groups. Easy to do and fun play.

Questing and levelling processes have already had a major, and post 7.3.5, a worldwide overhaul. The dynamic scaling technology has made every zone, every activity relevant in terms of levelling experience. This means Blizzard get’s concrete feedback about the success or failure of individual quest lines, hub and zones. If any quest line is particularly bad, tedious or onerous people will now vote with their feet, skipping the content completely. There is not feeling of being locked into level specific zone or quest line, you can go anywhere and do anything within the zone of your current expansion bracket. I hear a lot of dislike expressed for Dread Wastes, Spires of Arrak and latterly Suramar (three zones that, perversely perhaps, I really enjoyed, I absolutely loved Spires of Arrak). If everyone really dislikes those zones only a few of us will stay and play there. Perhaps Blizzard will even be able to patch new questing content into those zones during an expansion life-cycle, but they will certainly know what people like, what is working and what isn’t and the design direction they should take going forward.

 This will be good if they keep taking risks, trying new things, keeping what we like, refining and recasting what we don’t. Pretty much everyone reacted negatively to the garrison, Order halls and mission table tech are pretty much the same as in Garrisions, just rebalanced. Most agreed that Order Halls are much stronger and champion missions less intrusive. If Blizzard keep refining this game mechanic it can get better and really blossom. They will get the feedback they need to keep Warcraft relevant for some time to come.

Player housing is back on the community agenda and perhaps it’s time this was incorporated into the game. All the phasing tech now exists, if it’s structured in a manner similar to Order Halls, or even Guild Halls, rather that the solo player, facebook game of garrison farming then this could be a valuable introduction. At it’s core all of these activities need to be strictly optional. The best thing about Pet Battles are they are potential limitless you can add new content constantly, new pets, new battle, now tournaments and fundamentally the sub-game has no effect and any other aspect of the game. Raiders are not complaining that Pet Battles are content they don’t want to do to be able to raid, equally people doing pet battles has no detrimental effect on raiding.

Housing falls into that category, it extends the number of things to do in game, it is potentially limitless in it’s where it can go, it does not need (and should not be) linked to any other game play system. It could be linked to guilds and finally give back something personalised and a means of creating cohesion and providing group goals to work towards. Banking, auction house and profession trainers should be kept well away from this player housing so players have compelling reasons to leave. However, it might even be possible to provide individuated, phased rooms within a Guild Hall for players to personalise with invite mechanic (à la garrisons) to show them off to guildies. Pet Battles or other mini-games could be built into player housing to incentivise them without detracting from other core gameplay activities.

Fundamentally, Battle for Azeroth needs to do something Blizzard have failed at recently. It needs to utilise their excellent tech systems, like dynamic scaling, to create compelling and interesting content. Scaling has already had a marvelous effect on Timewalking, making those old dungeons not only reward relevent, but content relevent as they still present some of the challenge, therefore fun, we had when they were current. Indeed, I needed to try to remember tactics and work them the last Timewalking I did. Which is in sharp contrast to the abject faceroll they were before.

With just a little imagination and some fresh thinking about old ideas Battle for Azeroth could be a game changing expansion. We need that change.