Among all of the different World of Warcraft expansions, Warlords of Draenor might be the most instance-centric expansion we’ve ever seen. Raids were brought to the forefront like never before due to the fact that there simply wasn’t much to do in the wilds of Draenor at endgame until Tanaan was introduced. And even then, once flying was achieved and any reputation climbs were completed, the draw of Apexis Crystals just wasn’t enough. This savage place that was supposed to be Draenor felt like a tram tour with random gift shops on the side and one main attraction—that big raid up ahead.
Despite the fact that WoD’s raids were rather well-made and included a handful of super fun fights (Hans & Franz and Thorgar probably being the most notable), the loss of world content that remained relevant after players hit level cap was a tough hurdle to get over. Subscription numbers don’t lie. An MMORPG needs strong world content to remain relevant as an expansion ages. Without strong world content, players quickly stop seeing the need to log in unless they enjoy raiding or hardcore dungeon farming.
World content ensures one very vital requirement is being met in an MMORPG: immersion. Garrisons don’t provide immersion because they don’t quite mimic the wilds of Draenor. They never change and can essentially be maintained from a smartphone app if the possibility existed. They’re also instanced, of course, which takes away all of the supposed “danger” the wilds of Draenor were advertised as having.
When players run around and take part in world content like Apexis Crystal objectives or rare mob fights, they’re immersed in the world around them, the danger (or lack thereof once gear is obtained) of the world, and the fact that they’re playing an MMORPG and not just a single player RPG. Will random folks help or won’t they? Will PvP happen? Will someone aggro the entire camp of orcs while running over? When you take out all of the random possibilities that exist when that “MMO” aspect comes into play, you’re left with a game that isn’t very massively multiplayer at all.
The trouble with WoD’s Apexis Crystal/bonus objective area system is that the objectives become extremely monotonous after you do them a couple times. The system mimics Guild Wars 2’s “heart” objective system entirely, but Blizzard missed one crucial detail—in GW2, those objectives are a one-time deal that essentially take the place of side quests. While some bonus objective areas have small questlines attached to them, they’re not nearly as interesting as most daily hub questlines are. “Why are we killing all these demon things? Who knows, but let’s kill them again tomorrow!” isn’t very interesting, nor conducive to immersion.
World content in Warlords of Draenor can essentially be summed up in one sentence: Do it until you get what you need, then leave it in the dust. There’s very little replay factor in Tanaan or in any zone right now. But, enough about the present. What changes could the game’s next expansion, Legion, bring that would change world content in World of Warcraft for the better?
Improved Daily Quest/Endgame Objective System
First of all, Legion needs to have a better daily quest/endgame objective system. Daily quests could easily be replaced with a more original type of repeatable system (large weekly sets of objectives that would give players more time to complete them, perhaps?), but how they are implemented might be more important than their exact details at this point in time. I firmly believe that if Blizzard started paying equal attention to both endgame world content and leveling content, a much better balance could be found.
Right now, the balance is still skewed far too much towards the leveling experience. WoD had one of the best leveling experiences WoW has had in a long time, but without a strong endgame, any type of leveling system simply falls flat. More emphasis needs to be placed on the replayable, endgame-relevant world content layers of WoW. This is one reason why The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King were both such strong expansions. Players had oodles of group quests, normal quests, and dailies to partake in after hitting level cap.
Legion should feature at least one fully-realized endgame zone at launch. This was mistake number one with WoD. Tanaan should have been included in the expansion’s launch. Two endgame zones would be ideal since it would split up the population a bit. These zones need to feature story content and repeatable, daily-like content that encourages players to become immersed in an entire zone and not just a tiny part of it. Zone-wide dailies might be a good place to start. Dailies that shift and create story as they unfold would be ideal.
As with WotLK, these dailies also need to be tied into the endgame story, endgame dungeons, and raids in some way. WotLK balanced all three elements fantastically. Players should want to dive into the raid based on the quests they have done. The dailies should also reward some type of currency that can be used for gear that isn’t poorly itemized and poorly priced (yes, Apexis Crystal gear, you were that bad). This currency should be relatable to dungeons or raids in some fashion as to ensure that all players have some sort of reason to do those dailies.
The whole debacle over flying in Warlords of Draenor did far more harm than good. Blizzard’s intentions were in a good place—they simply wanted players to spend more time exploring and less time zipping around to objectives immediately. They went about the whole thing in entirely the wrong way, however, and spent far too much time dilly-dallying around the matter. It was also frustrating not being able to enjoy Draenor from above after a certain points. Flying innately helps content stay relevant longer by making traveling less of a chore.
Legion needs to avoid this entire mess completely. The developers have two choices here: They can let players access flying immediately upon hitting level cap, similar to how it was handled in previous expansions, or they can make very concrete and well-announced plans to add flying mechanics during an early patch (and then actually stick to those plans). Frankly, I’d prefer the first option.
The arguments against obtaining flying right away largely have to do with immersion, interestingly enough, which is something I’m a huge fan of. Here’s the thing though—flying doesn’t have to take away immersion. World areas just need to be created to better support immersion when access to flying is granted.
Blizzard could achieve this in a myriad of ways. Quest objectives could be more complex and require more than “land and loot” tactics. Mob drops, kill requirements, or even exploration requirements (reaching certain checkpoints) could all help. Jumping puzzles or tricky treasures could be indoors, inside caves, or in instances where flying isn’t allowed. Areas with these types of objectives could even force flying mounts to land, similar to how Timeless Isle was handled. If treasure/exploration areas do end up getting access to flying later, Blizzard could even add in achievements that give players a bit of recognition for discovering stuff “the hard way.”
“Dynamic” Content That’s Actually Dynamic
It feels like Blizzard’s been trying to add decent dynamic content to WoW for a while now without a whole lot of success. True dynamic content is actually unpredictable and may happen at any time. WoW’s rare spawns are far too predictable, and the few event-like spawns are just as predictable and usually either mind-numbingly simple or not worth bothering with (hi, Blood Moon event). Even the non-repeatable treasure system in WoW is best abused with a handy add-on.
True dynamic content would be extremely welcome in WoW, and would help give endgame players a reason to stick around. RIFT and Guild Wars 2 both have decent dynamic content systems in place. Most events can’t be 100% predicted, and in the case of RIFT, the locations of many events are completely random. Events or rare spawns with randomized locations help encourage exploration instead of add-ons and camp farming. Announcing events gets players talking. Running events gets players communicating.
With some creativity and a few events that actually require coordination and groups of players, Blizzard could help Legion’s endgame maps feel dangerous. Danger helps build immersion and gives us a reason to form parties and seek out aid when that big baddie spawns. Sure, exploring a map with true dynamic content is risky, but that’s half the fun. World content in WoW could use a risk or two. Risks bring players together. Risky world content is also something that benefits all types of players—not just the raiding crew or the solo-ers.
Endgame world content is the one part of the game that all players spend a decent chunk of time playing. It’s the prime location for new game features, difficult, group-based objectives, and rare mobs that are actually rare and require more than a sneeze to take down. With fantastic world content, raiders, PvPers, and solo-ers alike all have reasons to explore, become immersed, and band together to take on nasty foes. Everyone wins. Well, except that ugly-looking bad guy.
Laura Hardgrave is a staff writer.