Class design, borrowed power, balancing and why patches shouldn't feel like they're expansions

The WoW Team in the last 6 years has gained an unhealthy obsession with adding in more external systems to your gameplay. Now, there is nothing wrong with an expansion feature in itself (discard thoughts of a well-thought out progression loop, fun design and all that jazz for now), however, the most important thing when it comes to designing these systems is if you balance classes around those systems.

Lets take an example from the old days. We always had set bonuses in the game, they were a fantastic way of adding a little bit extra borrowed power while also showcasing class uniqueness, however, set bonuses (until a certain point, I believe Mists?) were never extreme gamechangers (of course there are a couple outliers, such as T10 Ret pala bonus for DS cooldown reset or T13 tank AoE Shieldwalls). Some set bonuses were really just as simple as giving you a bunch of extra resillience, increasing the dmg on a skill or two, extending the duration of a bleed effect, simple effects that made your class play better but are not over the top, you could easily live without them.

However, since Legion, an obsession developed with super lenghty borrowed power grinds that are a nightmare to progress through (daily 6 hours in Maw of Souls or Island Expeditions) and increase the potency of your class / spec in ways that are simply too powerful to give up. These increases are also staggered over time, so each day or week, there is a new bonus that is in the game.

Because the gains are staggered over time, it becomes impossible to balance. Lets say Ret Pala is doing a bit too much damage than intended in PvP, so lets nerf Templar’s damage by 10% and Wake of Ashes by 5%. But oh, look! Next week, everyone gets a 4% stamina bonus and 3% versatility. Suddenly, Ret now does nowhere near enough damage to justify playing it, because not only did they get hit by a dmg nerf bat, everyone else also got tankier, while they still need to wait 4 weeks for their insane Flash of Light bonus to activate, so they are not even worth picking for side-healing. So let’s fix it then, let’s add a bit more dmg to Ret again!

But, oh wait, next week is coming! New big strength proc ends up scaling too well on Ret pala, so the buff we introduced to offset the tankiness everyone else got is now totally redundant and made Ret too overpowered again, so we have to nerf again.

The game is LITTERED with issues like this since Legion. It’s an absolute nightmare to balance. Rogue Mage in 2s was totally useless in the first few weeks S1 of SL because mages did not yet have the slow effect on their incap and disorient effects from Night Fae (I know they were never bad, I just play a Paladin so RM is easy to beat. Also the slow is still bugged, Freedom or Bubble even doesn’t completely remove the slow…). Suddenly, they get the slow, and their performance skyrockets. So lets nerf Triune Ward. Doesn’t matter too much when people cant hit you though, does it? Triune Ward stays just as obnoxious as before.

BfA. Let’s start giganerfing all the good Azerite traits, and launch 8.2 with Vision of Perfection being a thing. Suddenly, an Azerite trait (Light’s Decree) that wasn’t touched prior to this because people only used 1 stack of it to extend Wings duration is now gigaop and has to be nerfed. Ends up being nerfed. But who cares now that 8.3 is coming and we got a bunch of corruptions that scale out of this world ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Oh, also because of all the haste corruptions, you have to nerf Death Strike healing, but forget to revert the nerf till 9.1 lands, essentially leaving DK selfhealing in the dust for the duration.

STOP. Create the class for the expansion, and just keep tuning it until a new expansion is coming out. If you want to do borrowed power, do something small like set bonuses or glyphs back in the day, offering small minimal modifiers that make you slightly stronger or make the class play slightly better. You are wasting too many resources by reinventing the wheel instead of fixing the wheel. Every patch and every week while we’re still advancing in the borrowed power grind loop, it feels like classes play totally different, and they’re impossible to balance properly.

The reason why this is so bad is not only are the grinds and systems you come up with have been mostly poorly received from both casual and hardcore players, you keep wasting energy on something that is gone by either the next patch or the next expansion. Where is my Heart of Azeroth (Vision of Perfection in particular)? Where is my Corrupted gear? Where is my Ashbringer? Where is my Soul of the Highlord? Where is my 330% Ret Mastery build from BfA? Where is my Azerite gear? You see what I mean? These are all things that took insane amounts of time to develop, and are discarded without a second thought! It’s infuriating to see this. And next expansion I’m already guaranteeing that you guys are thinking of discarding Covenants, SL leggos, Shards of Dom, conduits, soulbinds, everything that you spent so much time working on in favor of something “”""“new”"""".

My point is: if you design a class, design the class and not an elaborate system that is only good for wasting your own time and money. If you want to have external systems, have them be super small. If you’re a level60 paladin, you should play like you are a lvl60 paladin, instead of playing like you’re 4 expansions ahead if you did the grind.

The philosophy of creating something that is easy to maintain also covers old content. There is no point in going back to do old raids at the most challenging difficulty other than cosmetics, and those old raids just turn into a “lets blindly run through the entire thing” instead of something challenging and as a conduit to experience old lore. Although you are experiencing the issue of having an expansion feature appear 2 expansions later with Mage Tower being a thing right now…

Imagine if you could fight Heroic Ragnaros again without having to specifically create a level appropriate character. Imagine if fighting Ragnaros that way would give more loot than clearing it as we do right now. Imagine all the content that people could experience. The completionism grind.

I did go a bit off track, so as a tl;dr: make things simple for yourselves. Don’t waste time, money and energy on something that won’t live past the next week, let alone the next patch or expansion.

355 Likes

I think the most insane part of all the systems developed, adopted, loved and discarded in wow is the sheer number of bad ones that stay in. They need to add stuff and improve upon not abandon.

115 Likes

Big time. There is a lot of “too little too late” stuff going on in Shadowlands alone.

  • Torghast Changes
  • Conduit Energy
  • Covenant Swapping

The list goes on. Bad systems that are identified as bad in PTR stay in the game for whatever reason, only getting fixed when its already perceived to be too late.

99 Likes

Ye. Especially those two points have been a matter of discussion ever since they were revealed (and partly already after the covenant system was hinted at). The way it is now is how it should have been at launch.

29 Likes

I have more understanding of the Covenant Swapping not being in full affect right away, for lore reasons only. But Conduit energy never should have been in the game.

9 Likes

Then tie it to some neat quest chain at release. That way people that participate mostly (or only) in world content also would have had more stuff to do although we were already regarded as the hero of the shadowlands during the leveling (maldraxxus in particular).

But in the very latest at 9.1 release they should have scrapped the covenant stuff since at that point we are more than just a hero of the shadowlands given we dealt with Denathrius.

Correct.

3 Likes

Maybe the correct answer was once you’re 40 renown then you can freely swap back to that covenant?

3 Likes

Or that ye. Since at 40 renown youre were already regarded as a major hero of the covenant so why would they disrespect your decision to use another covenants power that you use to safe the shadowlands? Saddened ye sure. But refusing you? That doesnt make sense. Especially with the Shadowlands being on the brink of destruction.

11 Likes

I completely agree with this, it’s really noticable when you’re leveling up a new alt and you hit 60, and you feel like you’re playing half your class because you need to grind all the systems (even if there’s catchup to them, it’s still a lot of work).

Maybe for 10.0 we can instead have a redesign of the talent system to allow more depth within that, and simply add tier bonuses and the occasional legendary (without the grind and RNG) for external power systems? And heck, this doesn’t even mean we can’t have external progression grinds, as long as they’re taking the Zereth Mortis line and only affect that particular zone.

52 Likes

Honestly, I’d rather see more old-style legendaries - just straight up great items. It’s not terribly difficult to see why class-legendaries are not worth spending time on: you have to balance the classes around 20 separate legendaries, and then those legendaries are going to the trash can because their effects need to be disabled in favor of the next expansion. Meanwhile my Thunderfury is still useful in Timewalking content because of it’s slow proc.

MFW an item made 16 years ago has more relevance than my Soul of the Highlord. RIP

41 Likes

Yes, that’s mostly what I had in mind. Legendaries as they exist in SL are really just talents on a gear slot.

30 Likes

An other big problem imo is that after an expansion ends, a bunch of borrowed power gets put in the talent trees of classes while replacing current talents without adding anything new.

Suddenly you’re now dealing with an already working build conflicting with other also really good talents and you end up with a really scuffed and unfun to play spec like early bfa basically almost every class. Even now quite a few classes got old azerite traits placed in trees where they conflict with old talents AND because of the current systems in place they’re either bis or just unusable.

I think a better solution would be to build onto the talent tree by adding a row or two or just straightup baking these borrowed powers into the classes after an expansion ends.

edit: I also think it’s worth mentioning that some of these talents aren’t even necessarily bad, it’s just the rows they’re in they have to compete vs something that is very integral to the specs sometimes. There’s some really nice talents that get left unused because of that :frowning:

41 Likes

This can also cause issues if done incorrectly.

Assa rogue is a prime example here. Shiv is now working as the soothe for Rogues, which is fine in itself, however for Assa rogues it also behaves as their Legion Toxic Blade aka one of their main dmg cooldowns that is now shared with an sometimes very important dispell. That just feels incredibly clunky and (as a dps) very punishing on a spec that is already very underrepresented in a certain environment.

4 Likes

They sort of used to do this back in the day, adding a new talent tier every new expansion for the new stuff without having to replace the old talents - but it quickly lead to a lot of bloat. I think a redesign of how the talent tree functions would open up for letting us keep new talents without necessarily displacing old ones.

7 Likes

Adding new rows of talents, isn’t it supposed to happen anyway with each new addon? I somewhat dislike the way of talents are going to be picked. Back in the days we had 3 trees and could build our “own tree”, more or less, at a specific point of playing, everyone played more likely the same talents. The talent tree has been introduced. I saw recently the pick ratio of talents in pvp, might work for pve as well, most were at 98%, the others are primarly dead talents. Weapons from Legion, Azerite neck from BfA and the Cov trees from SL are working the same, you can choose other options, but they won’t give you a plus, if you don’t play mainstream choices, they punish you either in min/max DPS/Heal w/e or you get blamed at the worst point for picking this talent/row or picking another soulbind. And I don’t see any better chances to balance it for 9.2. Adding an extra Leggo for some classes are even currently way too busted or feel like in comparison to other classes… meh.

So what would be the best way to deal with “borrowed powers” and not just changing the talent tree options? Imho there has to be a huge change at the system itself. The addition of “pvp talents” was a good first step into a direction I am welcoming. Break the trees into more brackets and listen to that, what people are blaming during PTR. Most changes had to happen earlier. If you choose from those brackets, you get a reward/bonus. Most systems are working like this nowadays, or stop thinking in trees and make it like a line, where you unlock specific talents and others get added. A mixture of talents you choose anyway (the above called 98%) and others, which are optional and fine for the own playstyle, as you can do it at the moment with the cov-trees, or as they should working.

6 Likes

I think alot of that bloat you see in certain classes comes from when we are forced to add another thing to our bars because it was a key feature in an expansion turned into a new skill or talent when most people just want it to be gone

6 Likes