World of Warcraft

The whole discussion about Covenant abilities shows that the system, as it is envisioned by the devs currently, is problematic

wow2 - The whole discussion about Covenant abilities shows that the system, as it is envisioned by the devs currently, is problematic
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disclaimer: I am fully aware about the irony of a meta discussion about a discussion concerning ingame features

In the recent Allcraft (podcast between Asmongold, Rich and a guest) Preach was present and naturally the discussion shifted to Shadowlands features eventually. This is the discussion post made by u/tiphess about it, highlighting the points made by Preach about the system as it was shown by the devs and how it is on Alpha right now. While I am part of the "just make covenants purely cosmetic and unique storyline based" with abilities being independent, I want to talk about the fact that the whole discussion wouldn't even exist if the abilities themselves didn't exist themselves.

Here is the Shadowlands features overview from Blizzcon 2019.. The covenants are presented as factions that will net you a unique look (customization being a big feature) as well as being tied heavily into the storyline and apparently a meaningful choice. I was in discord with friends that evening (CET) and we were all talking about which one to choose just based on looks alone. We had raided for 2 years together in a top 500 guild before BFA killed the guild and now we just occasionally hang out on discord and play some games. Abilities aren't even mentioned until the later panels. It wasn't until the panel (deep dive iirc?) where it was mentioned, that each covenant had specific abilities and those soulbinds tied to them and we all immediately thought pretty the same thing: "Shit. Guess I can't choose based on looks alone anymore with a clean conscience". Now, a feature we were looking forward to had become tainted for us by the thing we enjoy: playing to the best level we could. That's called a dilemma.

There are lots of people who love having a meaningful choice in the game and I agree. I'm going on a bit of a tangent now: mission tables aside, how did you like the class campaign in Legion all up until the class mount questline in 7.2? They were all received to varying degrees ranging from disappointing (Hunter, priest for example) to amazing (Rogues saving the day, DKs storming the paladin class hall) in the community. RP reasons aside, imagine if you would've had the ability to choose a class campaign and all the associated rewards no matter what your own class is. It would still have felt meaningful because that choice would have been permanent. Player power wasn't even tied to the campaigns themselves at all.

Let's apply the same to covenants. Your choice would be permanent for that characters, so no way to back out. Yet, it wouldn't impact the actual player power of your character. You'd get a cool storyline, the looks you want to potentially more customization. What if the devs decide to give players unique hairstyles depending on the covenant they chose? Customization has pretty much the biggest thing about the expansion so far, as much as I personally hate to admit it. Each time changes to character creation happen there will be hundreds if not a few thousand upvotes for those posts, while discussions about gameplay, as always, remain low. Yet, the biggest core feature that was presented with unique looks is also tied to player power.

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I hope you guys see what I am getting at. Now, the discussions so far have been a back and forth of arguments with one camp being "yeah you are the minority and we like that player power is the meaningful choice" and the other being "we just want to have the possibility to play to the best level that our class/spec allows for at all times". There's a clash of interest and I think a badly interpreted perception of the first camp. Neither party is correct and both are (vocal) minorities. The majority of players are happy to just be able to pick a cool transmog or story or just base it completely on how the respective ability feels. Even when WoW was in its most RPG-like state during Vanilla there was no permanent choice other than race and class. Even talents weren't a problem unless you were permanently broke. If the lack "meaningful choices" had been a huge problem in WoW then the game wouldn't have gotten as big as it got and lasted as long as it has so far. A "meaningful choice" always means you are gonna miss out on something as a consequence. Dialogue choices in single player RPGs are a prime example, where you get access to other information that may allow you to do another storyline, handle a quest differently or net you a neat item. On the other hand they may lock you out of a questline, may cause you to lose reputation or similar consequences. Ever since the transmog system existed Blizzard had the choice to introduce such quests that reward unique, character specific transmog gear and so far they never did anything like that.

Another problem is also how binary the discussions are. "Oh you want to have the best ability? Filthy min-maxer", yet most people who ask for "what's best" or look up a guide for a heads up are usually people who return to the game or start fresh and just want to have an easier life in the open world and in dungeons. What about the people who like the feel of an ability but dislike the looks and/or the story of the covenant that ability is associated with? Tying gameplay and customization together past the character creation makes things so much harder even for those who are generally content with the feature. Then there are those who will just play several characters just to get through the story lines. They don't care about "min-maxing" or "meaningful choices" either.

So far the whole discussion about covenants has seen just as much frustration coming from the vocal minorities who claim they are content just because of the "we vs them" mentality. Even "faction pride" during the time heading up to BFA wasn't that bad. Another thing about the discussion: why do all the people Blizzard respects enough and know that they will give proper feedback (unlike most of the people here) have interview with core devs of the game in front of thousands of people with, yet they pretty much all share the same sentiment regarding player power being tied to the covenants?

I just wish the devs would have never come up with the idea of the abilities being tied to a semi-permanent choice. A feature pretty much everyone was looking forward to at the very beginning has become the breaking point for so many within just a few hours after announcement and even more in the months since then. It's just sad.

TL;DR: the discussion wouldn't exist if the abilities weren't tied to the covenants and hadn't been sold to the playerbase like that

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