World of Warcraft: How Legion Can Fix the Homogenization Problem

Class homogenization has been an issue in the latest World of Warcraft expansions. Can Legion fix the problem?

Last month, we learned about Legion, the next World of Warcraft expansion. Evidently, Blizzard is attempting to release expansions at a faster pace (Warlords of Draenor isn’t even a year old), and that’s both good and bad news. 

A new expansion undeniably provides an opportunity for major changes to the game. In the past, Blizzard has even admitted to the fact that it’s almost impossible for them to change major game features or add new features mid-expansion. Instead, we have to wait until a new expansion hits. Warlords of Draenor brought many faults with it, including lack of content, and Legion is a good chance to fix all that. 

One of the new planned features for Legion is the artifact weapon system. Players will be able to embark on an expansive quest line that will last for the entire expansion, enabling them to obtain a powerful, customizable weapon that’s iconic to their particular class and spec. The unholy death knight weapon, for example, will differ completely from the blood and frost death knight weapons. These weapons will become better through time and can be customized appearance-wise and via a talent tree-like progression system as the expansion continues.

A system like this changes WoW majorly by giving players more options to customize their gameplay. Weapons are a huge part of the gearing process. They majorly affect the DPS (damage per second) potentials of most specs, and they’re often among the coolest looking drops of any raid. Players tend to identify with their weapons more than any other type of equipment. Having weapons that are uniquely customizable help players feel pride in their chosen specs.

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Giving players a unique way to customize and progress their characters also harkens back to a more classic time of World of Warcraft’s history when players customized their characters as they leveled with the help of an expansive talent tree setup. Players were able to pick and choose between three trees that allowed them to specialize in certain areas such as survivability, maximum DPS, raid utility, or become a “jack of all trades” if they so wished. Certain builds were more popular, naturally, but the possibility of customization allowed players who wished to explore interesting spec combinations do so.

Since Blizzard’s major revamp of the talent trees, WoW has seen a lot more homogenization between all of the classes and specs. The new talent tree system gives players a few opportunities to choose between various self-healing abilities, crowd control abilities, and damage talents, but the degree of customization isn’t what it used to be since players are locked in to a certain degree upon choosing a spec. With the old system, a protection paladin could place more points in retribution, allowing them to do more DPS and lose a bit of survivability. This was sometimes ideal for off-tanking and solo situations. With the new system, tanks have very few opportunities to do something similar. This limits some specs significantly.

We’ve also seen a great deal of homogenization between class abilities. Some iconic, class-themed abilities like Divine Intervention, Hunter’s Mark, Innervate, and the hunter pet customization system were removed. All classes were given multiple stuns, crowd control abilities, and interrupts which has forced the PvP balance team to think a little creatively about how to rebalance PvP. All tanks now play around active mitigation and instant threat-gaining abilities instead of having various mitigation and threat/DPS-based strengths. Most raid-wide class buffs were either taken away or made baseline for multiple classes/specs.

While the above changes make it far easier to get 10-30 random players together for raiding, it also makes players feel as though no class has much of an identity anymore. Wrath of the Lich King struck a solid balance where almost all classes were worthwhile to bring to a raid, but most also had unique buffs as well as unique identities.

When the pruning happened, some specs also started playing extremely similar to others. Hunters may be the best example. Instead of playing whatever spec they enjoy currently, most raiding hunters feel pressured to play whichever spec does the most DPS. The specs just aren’t different enough from each other to warrant getting attached to any of them. Other specs, like DPS warriors, had so many abilities pruned away that many players get the sense that Blizzard went a bit out of control. 

While there are players on both sides of the “Did Blizzard go too far?” debate, there has been a great deal of evidence that Blizzard has finally listened to fan feedback. The Legion reveals point toward more class and spec individuality and less homogenization. The artifact weapon system and its talent tree seem like an attempt to bring secondary customization back to WoW. Players may be able to slot certain passives that let them do more burst damage, for example, as opposed to steady damage. PvP players will be able to pick talents that fit PvP more as opposed to PvE.

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While it’s unlikely we’ll ever see as much customization in the weapon trees as we did in the early WoW talent trees, more gameplay customization is most certainly a step in the right direction. The unique class quests that will be a part of each of the artifact weapons will also help players identify with their classes, specs, and the individual lore surrounding each. Writers and developers will be able to expand on classes that are currently a little light lore-wise, such as monks and the new race/class combinations that haven’t received a lot of explanation (tauren paladins/priests, anyone?).

There are two major spec changes coming with Legion. Survival hunters will be turned into a melee DPS spec while discipline priests will be turned into a fully-fledged DPS/heal hybrid spec. These two changes will let players diversify their gameplay further, allowing them to have an easier time becoming attached to their favorite specs. It’s possible that other classes will have similar adjustments made.

One of WoW’s major strengths when compared to the huge array of MMORPGs that players can choose from is the fact that even after 10+ years, the classes in WoW, despite homogenization, still feel different from one another at their core. It’s hard for players to feel attached to classes in games like RIFT and Guild Wars 2 where every class can perform literally every combat role in the game.

This is one of the reasons that the WoW development team has most likely been reluctant to give classes more than three specs. Would a mage tank be cool? Probably. But it would also significantly change the way players and developers perceive (and balance) the mage class as a whole. When every class can do everything, there’s not much of a reason to identify with a specific one.

When we delve into a game like WoW, we can’t help but become attached to our characters whether we roleplay or not. We feel pride in our roles and how well we can effectively tank, DPS, or heal. We feel pride in our class abilities and how well we control them. At least on some basic level, we can’t help but identify as a fearsome fury warrior, invincible blood DK, sneaky rogue, or holier-than-thou holy priest.

That’s why features like the transmogrification system are so important. A unique outfit and appearance helps me feel like me and not some other dude or dudette. Even when I’m leveling a new alt, I still identify as a goofy looking bear with a neon mohawk that changes color sometimes.

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Class identity should be embraced. Unique class features, individual talent options, and customization options help us identify with our classes more. With the evidence we’ve seen so far, it seems like Blizzard is finally realizing that fact and will be helping us find a reason to embrace our hero sides even more in Legion.

Laura Hardgrave is a staff writer.