Why can’t World of Warcraft ever settle down on class design?

The only thing that’s constant about Blizzard is how inconstant it is toward World of Warcraft class design. The tides go in, the tides go out, seasons change, and the second a new expansion arrives on the scene, the developers suddenly have a new vision for how they want to do classes and retool everything. Maybe this time, the eighth time around, they’ll get it right. This time will crack the code. Maybe.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Listen, I’m not completely inflexible on this subject. MMOs feature change and adjustments over time, and I’ve yet to meet one that gets all of its classes exactly right out of the gate. Devs will get in there and monkey with things to make them better, with the expectation that if it gets good enough, they’ll leave well enough alone and offer careful, incremental improvements after that.

This is not Blizzard’s approach.

Blizzard’s approach is the interior designer who is never, ever satisfied with the layout of a given room and will forever be rearranging the furniture and decorations even if the last dozen or so iterations looked fine. Millions of players are spreading out their arms, yelling, “Stop, please stop, stop doing this all the time!” and it goes on anyway.

Oh, Blizz always has a reason. They’ll always show up on a Q&A stream or at BlizzCon and claim that they’re responding to feedback and performance and that one guy on the forums who had a really well-written post that one time. It’s always for a Good Reason and never because of raging insecurity and a lack of a cohesive, persistent vision for these classes.

The studio can’t even take a hint from the popularity of legacy servers in this regard. You know why players take a shine to these, Blizzard? It’s because it rolls back all of the last six rounds of changes you made to the classes they used to know intimately and liked. It returns the players to what used to be without the ever-present threat of an expansion class revamp.

So the revamp is coming, yet again, with Shadowlands. I can’t really tell if it’s bad or not, although the theme this time around is “unpruning” and giving players back abilities Blizzard took from them. The studio is presenting this to the community as if thanks is to be expected for slightly unmessing up a mess it made, but I don’t think it’s going to go over that great. We’re just tired of this antsy, jittery approach to class design that fosters not one whit of stability and security.

Seriously, Blizzard, what’s wrong with you? Can’t you just settle down already, pick a direction and go with it without second-guessing yourself every two years?

6 thoughts on “Why can’t World of Warcraft ever settle down on class design?

  1. Tyler F.M. Edwards April 8, 2020 / 3:48 pm

    It’s getting ridiculous. I do think a lot of the changes over the years have been for the better, and I personally much prefer current class design (or at least Legion class design, which is the last version I played) is much better than it was in the game’s early days, but they do really need to start establishing some kind of stability for the game. The “holy power shuffle” of adding the resource to paladins, taking it away, and now giving it back again is just lapsing into the realm of self-parody.

  2. NoGuff April 8, 2020 / 9:55 pm

    Ask yourself this: Did we really need Deathknights, Pandarens, Worgen, Demon Hunters, Monks, Draenei, Vulpera, Nightborne, Void Elves, Dark Iron Dwarves, Kul Tirans, Light Forged Draenei, Mechagnomes, Blood Elves, Goblins, Zandalari Trolls…etc… added to the game over the course of its lifespan just to keep the masses satiated? Would the game have survived this long without them and the required talent changes and re-balancing attempts as they were introduced?

  3. kiantremayne April 9, 2020 / 9:05 am

    I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that WoW is the Doctor Who of game design – every couple of years it regenerates into a new form with a startlingly different appearance but with certain themes and concepts at the core remaining pretty much the same. To be honest though, whatever a game’s developers do people won’t be happy. They don’t like the constant change of WoW. If they keep adding stuff without pruning then over the years it becomes a nightmare agglomeration that drives new players away screaming (EQ2 anyone?) If they didn’t do anything I can absolutely guarantee that players would bitch about not get anything for their subs or money spent, and the words “maintenance mode” and “dead game” would be flung around.

    Probably the best outcome is for WoW to keep developing as it has, and also rolling out the classic servers. Then everyone can play their favourite version of the game – the same way I can watch classic Tom Baker Doctor Who instead of the deeply disappointing most recent season 🙂

  4. Redbeard April 10, 2020 / 9:15 am

    About a month or two into Classic, I got into a discussion with another player while waiting for a boat (I think the one for Feralas, but I’m not sure). He was talking about how much fun it was to get his old abilities back as a Warrior, because he missed the Vanilla implementation of Warriors. Truthfully, I hadn’t given it much thought since I’d not played Retail since Mists, but I do have to admit one of the things that led me toward giving up the Paladin in WoW were the constant major changes to the class. By comparison, a Rogue has stood still over the same time period.

    And that stability might be up there on the reasons why people prefer Classic over Retail: they know that Blizz isn’t going to change the class over the weeks and months, and then drop a new expac that just blows up that build to smithereens.

  5. Seraphgrim April 15, 2020 / 2:22 am

    There are a great many things that drove me away from WoW (and Blizzard at large), but I think the biggest one is the absolutely abhorrent community and the way the developers indulge that community. Maybe I’m unaware of this because WoW was my first MMO, but I feel like WoW is the precursor for the way we see developers interact and indulge with the cancerous communities they serve. As with many things WoW has done, that paradigm has spread. The rampant lobbying and subsequent development by appeal from these campaigns (a bizarre parody of how our government works) drives me nuts because it so obviously amounts to pissing in the wind. People weren’t competitive in one expac because they didn’t bring the right buff or functionality. So they campaign to get that “balance”. Then they complain because it’s too same-y and they’re not special anymore. So they campaign to be special again and Blizz bows to the loudest idiots in the crowd and reintroduces the class fantasy. And repeat, over and over again.

    The entire business of letting the loudest and often most contemptible parts of your community govern development of your game seems completely bizarre to me and I hate it. I much preferred how it worked when you had a vision of what the game would be from someone (or a group of someone’s) and that was that and here’s the game. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, the other studio down the street has something different and you’re welcome to buy their game.

    Designing for everyone (not in an accessibility sense, but in schizophrenic and indecisive sense) only ends up being designing for no one. And it’s a trend that I think hurts the game industry as a whole.

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