Legendaries: The ‘Special Snowflake’ Paradigm and MoP

Apologies for the gap in between posts, but I’ve been quite busy working on a number of projects (only some of which are WoW related!) over the past few days. In a fortuitous (and sure to be temporary) turn of events however, I find myself with some spare time this evening!

The topic of legendary items has been at the back of my mind for quite some time, especially given the way in which the legendary experience has turned out in Mists of Pandaria.
Let’s start at the very beginning: What is a legendary item in World of Warcraft? The simplest definition comes from Wowpedia: “Legendary quality is currently the highest level of item available to players, above Epic“. While an even higher quality of items known as “Artifacts” does exist, these items are inaccessible to the playerbase and generally seem to be tailored towards GM-testing purposes, more than anything else.

Unsurprisingly, Legendary items have occupied a unique niche in the mindset of the playerbase. Up until this expansion, the process of acquiring a legendary usually meant at least one of several things:

-You were extremely lucky.
-You belonged to a guild that raided the type of content where the legendary item could be acquired.
-You were among a handful of players, if not the only one working on the legendary.
-Assuming even semi-competent play, the legendary usually meant an extreme performance boost for your role; whether it were damage dealing, healing or, when it was still relevant, threat generation.

Mists of Pandaria presented a pretty big departure from all but the final point that I made above. Below, I go over two of the major themes that accompanied the MoP legendary questline, along with a personal analysis of their positives and negatives:

-Rather than a single tier of content, the questline spanned the entire expansion.

Positives:

*Spanning the entire expansion meant that the MoP legendary became a solid time investment, rather than a simple matter of drop luck. Playing consistently through every content patch meant the guarantee of a reward eventually.

*Because the actual legendary reward was split into components, there was a “reward” element present in every content patch. We progressed from Sha-Touched Gems, to extra weapon sockets, then to legendary meta gems, on to powerful epic cloaks, and finally to the legendary versions of these cloaks.
While it is certainly a legitimate criticism to state that having some of these “early components” become outdated felt as if it ran contrary to the spirit of what legendary items are supposed to be, I would also remind readers that this would have meant having that much more gear customisation to take care of every time we received an upgrade.

*While drop RNG still played a somewhat annoying role this expansion (most notably in the form of Secrets of the Empire, and the even rare Titan Runestones), it was nowhere near as extreme as previous questlines where a single drop determined whether a player could even begin their legendary questline.

Negatives:

*The questline is a terrible experience for any alt attempting to acquire a legendary cloak this patch. While it may have felt well-paced and appropriately measured over the course of 12 months, compressing that into a few week’s worth of play sours that experience. If anything, it emphasises the frustrating, RNG-dependent elements of the questline more than ever.
Even with the implementation of “catch-up” mechanics (i.e. more bosses now drop required items, certain quest requirements become considerably easier), there is a definite grind that forces a player to run through all of Tier 14 and 15 content in some form, often for weeks on end. It would also be silly to try and argue that the cloaks or meta-gem are optional: The delta of performance difference between characters with either component versus characters without them is too large to ignore for any alt desiring to raid Siege of Orgrimmar.
While I do concede the point that a legendary questline should feel legendary in terms of commitment, there are definite improvements that could have been made towards making the experience less painful for alts- not the least of which was removing the “Exalted with Black Prince” reputation requirement once earned on a single toon.

-Everybody got one.

Positives:

*The entire playerbase receiving legendaries meant that there were no longer extreme spikes in performance of a particular class or role, which later required some form of rebalancing in tiers to come. We saw the latter happen with Dragonwrath in Patch 4.3, while the former has consistently happened since Shadowmourne’s introduction in ICC (i.e. a legendary which has proliferated enough to become a standard among raiding circles).
There is definitely truth in saying that the delta in performance still existed between mains and alts, but at the very least it did not affect main raid groups too badly.

*Drama over legendaries was nonexistent this expansion, unless someone was deliberately negligent of their own progression towards attaining there cloak. As someone who has been a first-hand witness to how legendary items and their method of distribution have caused entire guilds to split apart, I’ve been especially grateful for this.
While it is probably accurate to say that any sort of guild capable of splitting up over a piece of loot is doomed to fail eventually, it’s still heartening that Blizzard simply eliminated legendary items as a potential avenue of greed over this expansion.

Negatives:

*Nobody got to be a special snowflake. Yes, you’re reading that correctly: The inherent “unfairness” associated with legendaries in the past (i.e. the difficulty in acquiring them, their relative power boost, their overall rarity) is also part of what made them so appealing as well. In a game centred around cooperative play and an immersive social experience, the ability to distinguish oneself and have “something” that set you apart from most other players is naturally appealing to many.
Don’t misunderstand: I feel that the positives associated with removing “feeling special” for a handful of people  far outweigh any negatives that might accompany this model. That being said, there was definitely something lost from the “prestige” angle of what constitutes a legendary item and while this might be an acceptable loss in regard to legendaries specifically, it might also have room to emerge in another aspect of the game.

*Not directly related, but legendary items were useless for any form of scaled content, such as Challenge Modes and Proving Grounds. This is understandable, of course- even a scaled down version of a legendary item would probably outperform a similar epic or blue item by virtue of its powerful proc, which in turn would go against the “Everyone attempts this content at a relatively equal gear level” philosophy of scaled content.
Unfortunately, it also necessitated carrying around secondary helms with “normal” meta-gems, which had the potential to become a bigger issue when considering Hit/Expertise caps (i.e swapping helmets could interfere with those) and the inevitable reforging cascade that would follow. Min-maxxing players also probably recall that the Eye of the Black Price item is useable in scaled content, since the extra gem socket it granted could be affixed to any attainable weapon up till Throne of Thunder. With a base cost of 2500 gold (reduced by reputation, of course), this make a pretty hefty investment for many players.

I look forward to hearing more about plans for legendary items in Warlords of Draenor, particularly considering the fact that the MoP model seems likely to become a template for things to come. For now though, please excuse me- I must resume attempting to complete my fourth cloak on an alt!

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One thought on “Legendaries: The ‘Special Snowflake’ Paradigm and MoP

  1. Pingback: Where ‘Unfair’ becomes ‘Fun': The Special Snowflake Paradigm, Round II | Magdalena's Musings

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