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Why people are mad at Battle for Azeroth

One of the complicated challenges of writing about World of Warcraft is sorting out the stuff that’s happening now from the stuff that’s been happening the whole time. To use an obvious example, while the game’s aversion to any sort of planned upgrades is a problem, it’s been a problem since Cataclysm; it’s been getting worse, but if you’re angry about it in Battle for Azeroth but not before, that just means you didn’t notice it before now. And yet there are actual new things that weren’t problems before now that have, subsequently, become problems in the present expansion.
So today, I’m kicking off a series of articles talking about why WoW fans are generally saying vociferously negative things about the present expansion. It’s not meant to talk about issues that may have already existed without being noticed or the equivalent; rather, it’s stuff that is distinct and specific to this particular expansion with an eye toward how we wound up here.
Of course, to understand this we have to go back and understand what Artifacts were actually doing, which was not so much providing a talent tee as a means of empowering your character. When Legion released, every single spec had a web of unlocked abilities in addition to its own set of talent choices, and every single spec was designed with the intent of working alongside these artifact weapons.
Some of these improvements were not really all that interesting; artifact picks that just improved the damage of an ability by 10% over three ranks, for example. But a lot of them did unusual things, like adding healing to an ability you used regularly, or letting you summon ghostly copies of yourself to mirror an ability, or getting a cooldown reduction upon using other abilities. And every single Artifact included a marquee ability, something that was a basic element of the artifact and of the spec it was designed for.
When Battle for Azeroth was still in the early stages, people wondered how these elements would be preserved. And really, it’s not hard to see how it could have worked; for example, Blizzard could’ve added passive abilities along the many empty levels the game currently has, so that by 110 you still had the same basic lineup of passive abilities and the same core numbers.
Instead, what the designers actually did was simply remove artifacts and add some artifact abilities in as talent choices, thereby addressing the issue by more or less taking a sledgehammer to how every single spec played.
You can see similar problems with the ongoing debate about cooldowns. A number of abilities that had previously been off of the global cooldown were moved to be on the global cooldown, supposedly for balance reasons. But the net effect, no matter what, is that it takes you longer to do fewer things than you were doing before.
The problem is highlighted as well by the nature of the big new banner feature of allied races. I like allied races a lot, as I’ve mentioned before, and I’ve got no problem with the requirements to unlock them… but one thing that they’ll inevitably do is start players focusing in hard on any rotational deficiencies. In Legion, the only reason you would notice that the rebalanced specs snag only with artifacts is if you chose to level something up. In Battle for Azeroth you’re encouraged to go back and level something new with your anemic ability selection, and you can’t help but notice that you’ll be suddenly getting your entire rotation in hand by the mid-80s or so – followed by a very long stretch of levels in which nothing actually changes.
It feels bad to punch things. This shouldn't be a case.The problem here is not the viability of one spec or another. These are problems, don’t get me wrong; if Shaman doesn’t feel good to play on literally any spec, that isn’t good, and if you can’t really enjoy a given spec, that’s also going to cause issues. But those are individual issues, and this is a systemic one. This is something that crosses every single spec in the game and then some.
A bunch of specs in Legion had significant issues, too. There were real problems with the complexity involved in Survival Hunter and how much you were supposed to be doing at the same time, for example, and that’s not counting the specs like Demonology and (ironically) Survival that had changed radically from what they had been. But there were plenty of other specs that were working well and that people found fun, often with good utility or fun tricks.