This is an article in our fictitious series where we imagined a world in which we designed WoW 10.0. Read other articles in this series.
In the story for 10.0, we have alluded to our champions being fundamentally changed after their experiences in the Shadowlands. This has given us a chance to completely re-boot the character progression system for 10.0 and give players a fresh take on their classes.
- Level caps remain unchanged
- The specialization system has been redesigned
- Players no longer choose a specialization explicitly
- The talent system has been redesigned
- Talents are earned by gaining experience and/or completing specific objectives
- Each talent enhances specific character skills or spells, or adds new abilities
- Talents exist to allow players to specialize in the use of particular parts of their class’s toolkit
- Gear itemization has been changed significantly
What is the problem we are trying to fix?
In WoW 9.x, you choose a class, specialization, covenant, and set of talents. Those choices determine what abilities are available to you, and your “rotation” that you execute during encounters. There is nothing you get in the game that changes that rotation substantially. Some legendary items or set bonuses can have an impact on the optimal use of your spells, but those changes are small. You play your main character the same way for years! This leads to burn-out and boredom. Some players choose to change specs or roll alts, but those are both time-consuming options. We want to lean back into the RPG aspect of the MMORPG and provide a path to unlock and experiment freely with many different play styles and builds within each class.
The rotations are very tightly designed in the current iteration of WoW and they incorporate all relevant spells for a spec. Adding in new abilities or substantially altering the balance of existing abilities is incredibly difficult. Even playing with one or two on-use items, like trinkets, can feel like more of a chore than a boon in the current design. This update to the classes will see the number of spells involved in optimal gameplay greatly reduced.
Builds will focus around empowering certain parts of a class’s abilities. For example, a warlock could choose to pursue and unlock talents that enhance shadow bolt in various ways, making it a very satisfying spell to use. Only spells that interact with shadow bolt would make sense to use in such a build. The rotations will still be engaging, with effects to react to or powerful cooldowns and synergies to leverage, but the total number of abilities (and buttons to press) for any one build will be reduced. We want players to spend more time during encounters with their eyes on the actual encounter, instead of watching their spell icons or addons all the time. This will open up more possibilities in encounter design.
What sets apart skilled players?
The concern brought up about this direction is that the rotations will become too simple for skilled players to remain engaged. The term often seen in the community when gear leads to a reduced set of abilities being optimal for a spec is that it is a “degenerate” play style.
We asked ourselves what it is that sets apart highly skilled players from less skilled players. Is it the ability to manage a complex rotation that involves many different abilities? In most cases, that is not the main difference. Skilled players expertly manage their cooldowns with relation to the timing of encounters and maintain maximum active time while dealing with fight mechanics. The sequence of buttons pressed becomes second nature, and is often managed via addons.
Skilled players want the ability to set up exciting moments during encounters. For example, a demonology warlock might get satisfaction from setting up a particularly beefy demonic tyrant, or a fire mage might perfectly execute a combust that blows up an entire mythic+ pull. These moments are not necessarily dependent on complexity. Timing and familiarity with encounters matters the most.
Skilled players in high end content are often avoiding specs that require too much effort to get comparable output, and/or they are using rotation helper addons and weak auras to free up their awareness for other parts of the encounter. There is room to pull back on the number of buttons without ruining the enjoyment of the classes. This also lets the design team out of the corner we’ve been backed into with the complexity creep over the last few expansions.
There is not going to be a limit or cap to the talent branches that can be obtained. There will be a limit to the number of talents that can be active at one time, but they are free to swap anytime, anywhere. You can change builds between fights in raids, or between matches in PvP. A time investment is involved, but once you unlock something, it is unlocked forever and remains relevant through the entire expansion and into the next expansions! New talent trees and branches can be added over time to continue to vary gameplay, but old builds and styles will not be phased out of relevance – instead they will be continuously built upon.
Special items obtainable through class-specific quest lines will be able to further augment talent trees and teach powerful new abilities to players. As a stretch goal, we would like to see the spell graphics upgrade along with the spells as players unlock more and more power.
Gear Itemization Problems
Starting around Legion, we began to add a lot of “special effects” to gear that included direct damage. In Legion, that damage was affected by class-specific buffs, such as frost damage procs being buffed by Frost DK mastery. This made the power of specific items swing wildly, resulting in balancing issues. In BfA, everything was changed such that damage effects from non-class abilities had no interaction with class specific buffs like mastery. This made the effects rather invisible in almost all cases. Shadowlands has less of these effects, but they persisted largely through the soulbind trees. These types of effects are not compelling or particularly desirable – and are generally less interesting than a simple item with more stats.
Small stat procs fall into the same category of largely invisible gear design. The randomness of these types of effects serves mainly as a way to make it difficult for players to gauge how good an item is at a glance. Very few of these effects provide stats in chunks big enough to alter gameplay. Some items, like items that spawn a zone you have to stand in for a buff, end up actively irritating players instead of being a sought-after piece of powerful gear.
It is time to remove all such effects from the game and focus design time on gear players will want for their classes.
How will this change gear?
Gear in WoW provides power through primary stats, secondary stats, and various special effects. The new character progression system will go hand in hand with a large change to how gear is itemized:
- Mastery will be removed from the game
- Primary stats will be determined by your overall item level, they will not be explicitly granted by each item
- Critical Strike, Haste, and Versatility will randomly roll on items, within a budget based on item level
- Most Items will now have class-specific powers that randomly roll on them
- Generic direct damage effects such as “chance to do X damage” will be removed from the game
- Small effects with random chances to occur will be removed from the game
- Almost all “special effects” available in the game will be in the form of class-specific powers
Class-Specific Gear Powers
The special effects on gear will now be class-specific powers that affect different abilities and talents. These can range in power and complexity depending on the base item level and source of the items. It could be as simple as increasing shadow bolt damage by 5%. Or, it could be a powerful, more complex effect that transforms the power and style of an ability. An example could be shadow bolt firing extra, secondary bolts at each enemy with corruption. This would open up an AoE build based on shadow bolt and incentivize upgrading corruption or seed of corruption in some way. Design resources will not be spent on “generic” effects meant to work across classes. We will focus entirely on class-specific development to enrich the RPG experience.
Obtaining random powers for abilities that are not a part of the build a player currently has leveled up is meant to act as an incentive for players to experiment with those other styles and level them up as well. There will be a system which allows you to consume a higher ilvl item of the appropriate slot to boost the item level of old items, so that you can bring your favored powers forward into the latest tiers of content, as desired.
What about unlucky streaks where you keep getting gears with powers you aren’t interested in? Check out our post on the reward loop in 10.0. The short answer is that we will provide a system to target specific powers (at a slower rate of acquisition). One of the hallmarks of RPGs (and many other types of game) is making due with the cards you are dealt – so we don’t want to entirely allow targeting right out the gate.
By focusing on class-specific gear powers that continue to grow over time, we will not need extra gear “systems” to vary the game. The gear system becomes simple while the potential for customization becomes more complex and engaging.
Your class identity affects the game
There will be quests and objectives in-game which specifically require certain play styles to achieve. For example, a warlock may be asked to kill a certain number of enemies using shadow bolts to unlock a shadow bolt talent. Or, you may have to enslave a certain number of imps out in the world to unlock a new upgrade to your wild imps. These challenges will range in difficulty and eventually become long-term goals in certain cases to unlock extremely powerful upgrades.
We are all a little bored of the same old kill x of this and gather y of that type quests. The new character progression system allows us to create new types of quests and objectives players can work towards in both solo and group play. The rewards for these activities will be iconic and impactful. WoW 10.0 is going to be heavily focused on you, the player, building up a customized, powerful toolkit of abilities that you will retain well into the next expansion.
Historically, there have been ways to grow the power of players throughout the course of an expansion, but that growth is largely numeric. We want to see players grow the style of their play all the way up to the last raid boss of this coming expansion. The combination of potentially good builds will be enormous, fueling lively discussion and debate in the community. Most importantly, different builds will *feel* different for players, offering fun gameplay alternatives, regardless of the perceived difference in absolute power. Tying different play styles to quests, objectives, and achievements will build in a structural incentive for experimentation.