8 Sep 2016

The Legion Dungeon Love-Affair

‘Thank you for fetching my tools, Wilkins. But, before I can teach you the secrets of Mid-Legion Tailoring, you must carry out one more task’

‘Yes, Master?’ The scruffy young apprentice looked up, hope welling in his big eyes.

‘Indeed. You see, we have run out of Milk. I’ve heard tales of the Naga breeding incredible cows, and I long to sample their produce within my precious Sin’dorei tea. You must travel into the Eye of Azshara, defeat the Naga, milk one of these cows and bring a pitcher back to me. Only then, will I feel refreshed enough to share such intricate work with you.’

The elderly figure, a stick draped in expensive robes, shared a wide, almost predatory smile.

‘But… but that’s Hero work!’

‘No buts, Wilkins. Now go, and don’t return without my Milk!’

By now, most of us have been chewing through Warcraft: Legion for a few weeks. On the whole, it represents a fantastic return to form for the ageing MMO, with a renewed focus on telling an immersive story and shrouding characters in a rich fantasy. It’s a formula that seems to have worked, with over 3.3 million copies sold and more players returning than ever before.

But, while most design updates have been enthusiastically received, one particular facet has come under increased scrutiny – the abundance of dungeon quests to gate content. If you want to complete your Order Hall missions, or even max out your Professions, expect to spend some intense combat time with four other people.

Traditionally, Warcraft followed a similar path to other MMOs, offering three branches of content:

  • Dungeons (including hard-modes), leading on to Raids (also with hard-modes)
  • Battlegrounds, Arenas and PvP zones
  • Crafting, Hobbies and other social activities

There’s a rough personality split across them, with certain players favouring certain types of content. The idea is that by providing content for all personality types, you increase the number of players the game appeals to.

Crucially, though, you didn’t need to take part in one area in order to enjoy the other. Yes, raids and dungeons offered an easy way to get materials and some hard-to-obtain recipes, but they weren’t essential.

With Legion, however, much of that has changed. Both Professions and Order Halls have quests wrapped around them, making them much more immersive and engaging. But, in order to progress any crafting profession beyond the starting point, or advance your Order Hall story, you need to set foot in dungeons and complete quests.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. I’m in a large guild full of hardcore raiders who’ll speed run through three heroics before a breakfast of Monster Energy and Krispy Kreme. I’ve been playing alongside most of these folks for years, even before the whole ‘adult with day job’.

But I’m also acutely aware of how lucky I am to be in that position. Not everyone is lucky enough to have dungeon groups on tap. Even more crucially, not everyone actually likes dungeons. I know people who subscribe to Warcraft purely to role-play and hang out with other people, or explore the Lore, or dabble in the Auction House. At best, they don’t care about dungeons. At worst, they suffer crippling anxiety or have disabilities that prevent them from participating in more frenetic gameplay.

By placing a dungeon quest gate on content, these people are either disincentivised or excluded from participating in it. There are some cases where that’s reasonable, such as using dungeons as a gateway to raiding. In Legion, however, previously open content now has gates placed on it.

I’ve seen a few arguments for the change – that it makes professions more interesting, that it rewards effort, and that it’s content that the majority complete anyway. But the non-dungeon quests are arguably more interesting, as they have players exploring the open world, instead of killing the same bosses with the same anonymous faces around them. And isn’t the effort in collecting the reagents (including the Blood of Sargeras) and crafting the item, rather than skilling up?

And on that question around the majority, does every single player run dungeons while they’re current? How much analysis of the player base was done before making the decision to embed dungeon content so deeply?

Putting all this aside, there’s one final element, and that’s player expectation. Even though Order Halls are an evolution of Garrisons, they’re still a malleable concept as far as content goes. Professions, on the other hand, have been a part of Warcraft since inception, and have only been dungeon gated six expansions later. While the quests themselves might be a welcome addition, the whole ball of wax is likely to invoke mixed feelings.

Should Warcraft have some content locked behind dungeons? Absolutely. But the heavy reliance on dungeon quests as a gating mechanic risk alienating players at best, and eliminating them at worst. While some might feel this is an acceptable risk-reward loss, that’s little comfort to those who’ve been on the long journey from Vanilla to Legion.

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