How World of Warcraft: Legion is going to unbalance the game, and why that's a good thing
Damage per second, class rotations, and best in slot gear: World of Warcraft has become a game of optimization and number crunching. As the years have passed, people have figured out the math behind the world's most popular MMO, and the game has become all the poorer for it.
World of Warcraft has been solved, and with the science behind it being so publicly available, players expect everyone else to keep up, establishing an elitism that has harmed the game.
But that's all about to change.
World of Warcraft: Legion is doing everything in its power to make the game impossible to balance, and that's great news.
Some might be horrified by the idea. Those who cling to the competitive mentality of wanting to outdamage every party member and accrue every objectively best-in-slot item before the next patch's release will be very unhappy.
But for players who want their characters to feel like individuals who are steadily gaining power throughout the expansion, and don't want to have to obey a class guide to do "acceptable" damage, Legion is shaping up to be Warcraft's savior.
Enter "legendary" drops
Pictured above are some of the many legendary items that will be accessible to players in the Legion expansion. You can see a list of other legendary items here, though there are clearly going to be more as the alpha progresses.
These rare world drop items have been given an unprecedented amount of power. It isn't the rarity that matters here, though, it's the fact that each legendary item has a unique ability.
Some legendary items will modify class spells while others will provide damaging auras or give passive boosts that can change up the way you approach combat.
But what's most interesting about legendary drops is the fact that you could, in theory, accumulate an entire armory of legendary gear. Now your items won't just give you stats, rather, each piece of gear will fundamentally change your character in some way.
But what does this mean?
There are more things for Blizzard to balance.
Too many, in fact.
Blizzard has struggled to stay afloat in the class balance department. No matter what they do, players remain unhappy. Cries of this class and that spell being overpowered emerge on the official forums daily. The system doesn't work, because Blizzard's numbers are too tight.
Legendary items will destroy the idea of DPS ranking. With the addition of items like these, characters are going to be all over the place in terms of damage and healing. The numbers will be so loose, objective number crunching will become impossible.
This is especially true when we consider one of the main pulls of the expansion:
If the sheer mechanical overload that legendary equipment will bring isn't enough, artifacts and their progression trees will do the rest.
While players will inevitably fill out these weapons, the sheer amount of modifiers each of the classes and specializations will gain would make this a developer's nightmare to balance. Check out the datamined calculator and you'll see all of the bonuses, major and minor, that await each class.
Items aren't the only thing getting overhauled, however. Legion is intent on shaking everything up, including character classes.
Blizzard seems to have reneged on one of their more frustrating policies in World of Warcraft, which was: bring the player, not the class. This philosophy was an active attempt by Blizzard to homogenize character classes.
Luckily, one of the most important aspects of Legion for Blizzard is not just getting classes right, but individualizing them. Blizzard's "guiding purpose is to strengthen the identity of our 12 classes and their specializations."
Artifacts and legendary items will dilute numbers and chip away at the rigid balance that has plagued the game for so long. Class diversity, on the other hand, is going to make it so damage and healing meter performances aren't the only factors that make a class matter.
Class diversity means added utility, and the definitive value of a class might be in its provision of a debuff, a buff, damage and healing simultaneously, or any number of mechanics that other classes just can't bring to the table.
By having classes contribute to the party in different ways, a new form of balance comes into play, one that makes each class worthwhile, rather than making the numbers attached to a particular character the only attractive thing.
Blizzard is adding in so many factors that the idea of balance in the game will be re-conceptualized.
The more mechanics and piddly bonuses you give to characters, the more the sum of those parts is likely to be different from another character. Something as simple as a world drop, which now comes in legendary form, can now provide players with significant bonuses compared to their peers. While some might consider this unfair, I think it's necessary.
World of Warcraft wasn't made into a great game through number crunching and character optimization. It was made great by having it feel like an adventure where your character would grow in strength. Blizzard isn't going to just give you the capacity to optimize and pull the perfect numbers simply because you can cast your spells in the right order.
In a world where games grow increasingly streamlined in response to player concern, World of Warcraft: Legion is shaping up to be a rebellious change of pace.