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Someone I massively respect on Social media made a comment this morning about what might be expected from the ‘exciting new’ Soulbind feature in Shadowlands. As it has nothing to do with lore or story, and everything to do with game-play, I thought it was worth some discussion here. Look away now however if you wish to remain totally spoiler-free.

Instead of an (almost-infinite) grind to increase the power of a piece of armour (as has been the case in Legion and BfA) we will instead be offered a currency (Anima) and the ability to spend this as we wish, on a selection of Soulbinds. Assuming I understand what’s been said in interviews, choosing a Hogwarts House particular Covenant grants specific and unique Soulbind abilities.

The name of the game in Shadowlands, we know, is player agency.

Now, it is VERY early days for the Expansion: one assumes however that a Technical Alpha must exist in-house. One also assumes this mechanic assessment is made from someone playing the show-floor demo as a result, or from already-available information via Blizzard themselves. If what is stated here is a fair and accurate view of the mechanic, then IMO we’ve arrived at a very interesting state of play.

The biggest single problem that has ever existed in Warcraft since Original Vanilla is class balance. All that shit I used to pedal as a GM about ‘play what you enjoy, not what does the most damage’ is just that, a massive lie. If you wanted to beat End Game, successfully and continually, you’d pick the character that was most powerful. It’s why there’s so much emphasis now of making everything account wide and getting flying as soon as you possibly can.

Player agency is, like it or not, means to an end. All that really matters with my cynic’s hat on is a) to keep buying Expansions and b) keep paying the wages of the people making the games (or the shareholders, depending on your view of the world.) Therefore, granting a cosmetic illusion of power without actually disadvantaging anybody else becomes the key to retaining interest.

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I have no idea of what to expect from the Expansion until I play it, and all this thrashing around and being critical of a game until it is in my hands is largely pointless. However, if a cosmetic sense of choice makes me happy, and I really don’t give a fuck about anything other than just doing what I’ve always done, why should it matter what I’m presented with as ‘powerful’ in the first place?

It won’t, and never has done. Ever since Vanilla, other people have decided what is most powerful anyway. First it was Thottbot, then MMO Champion, then Wowhead or Icy Veins. Player agency remains dictated by a group of people whose job it has now become to do all the hard work for you, so all that happens is you pick up a Guide before clicking the buttons you’re told to.

If you don’t have the right gear, you’ll never make it through the Raid on Heroic to unlock Mythic. If you don’t learn the strats someone else got paid to write, it’ll take you longer. If you don’t have the right addons, it’ll be more complicated to explain what needs to be done in a way that’s easily understandable… and the list goes on. If you want true, honest player agency?

Don’t grant anybody datamining access before you release it.

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No, of course it won’t. Let people be happy, therefore, with the illusion of choice that is presented to them, and allow them to appreciate (or otherwise) a concept that will either work, or it won’t… but as long as enough people keep subbed and buy the game, this entire argument is a complete and utter waste of time. These arguments have been largely pointless for at least 15 years, all told.

This is a game that sold people cute birds as hats and everybody either loved it or hated it. The key is not any number of cosmetic accompaniments, or who is most powerful at any point in proceedings: if you buy into an idea, then you take what you’re given. Yes, of course you can attempt to change things, or alter the course of development, but in the end your opinion will always remain largely irrelevant.

Only if enough people shout that the Emperor is naked will any kind of fundamental shift in direction ever take place. Until then, there’s just one choice to be made. Either play, or don’t. That’s one decision you don’t need a guide for, or the opinions of friends. If you’re already unhappy at the direction a game’s taking and it’s potentially not out until nearly a year from now…?

Life is too short for such things to concern anyone.

2 thoughts on “The Name of the Game

  1. I made my choice, but for entirely different reasons. On the other hand it is likely they’d address issues of interactive gameplay and story well before they’d address the issue that finally made me leave.

    And wondering how people could enjoy fighting bosses in – without exception – big, empty rooms never stopped me from either playing the game or raiding. Instead these rooms kept the esports community happy, which themselves seem not to be at Blizzard’s heart at the moment.

  2. Pingback: Accidents Will Happen | Reload Save Game

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