Friday, January 15, 2016


What does Legendary mean? Or better yet, what should Legendary mean?

I've chatted with guildies, a few folks over social media, and even lurked on some discussions about what Legendary means in World of Warcraft. While there are surely more than two camps (as I'll hopefully demonstrate by this post's end), there are clearly two large camps: players who feel Legendary items should be more exclusive, obtainable via group effort in raid content outside of LFR, and those who feel the path to Legendary items should be available to all players, regardless of the time or ability they have to engage with the game's content.

A History of Legendaries

Vanilla saw the first Legendary weapons introduced to the game: Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros; Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker; Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian. These weapons could only be obtained by collecting quest items found in high-end raid content, and each was restricted to certain classes. Generally, raiding groups would designate a single player to be the first recipient of the weapon, since the items needed to forge them were extremely difficult to come by. There was almost zero prospect that a non-raiding solo player would obtain these items during their relevancy. 

We saw the addition of two more Legendary weapons in the Burning Crusade: the Warglaives of Azzinoth and Thori'dal, Stars' Fury. While class restrictions remained, the method by which they were obtained signaled a departure from the Vanilla model: these items simply had a small chance to drop off a corresponding end-boss. With this, the prospect for a solo player to obtain either of these items increased slightly. Technically, boss kills and loot tables are for sale, so a player with the right amount of gold in their coffers could potentially see the drop. Quite different from the Vanilla model, which required months of regular raiding to complete. 

Wrath of the Lich King returned to the Vanilla model with two new legendary weapons, Shadowmourne and Val'anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings, the former having a lower-quality epic version that got enhanced throughout a questline. While raid sizes now included both 10- and 25-player versions, progress on the questline was largely restricted to 25-player mode. Since the weapons required numerous items that dropped from raid bosses, they were more difficult for the solo player to earn. Once again, guild raids often prioritized who would earn the weapon first, and funneled all of the requisite items in that direction, as it took several months of regular boss kills---and eventually a full clear---in order to craft a single weapon. 

Cataclysm brought us two new legendary weapons: Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's Rest and the Fangs of the Father. Earning these weapons was similar to how the weapons were earned in Vanilla and Wrath. During the questline players would earn a lower-quality epic version of the item, and throughout the course of the questline the item would be upgraded until finally reaching its Legendary form. Fangs of the Father is a bit of a curious one, as its use was restricted to a single class: rogues. They were earned partly through raiding the Dragon Soul; however, even though we saw the introduction of LFR with the Dragon Soul raid, the bulk of the quest progress for the pair of daggers required a minimum of Normal difficulty, with a higher amount of quest item drops on 25-player mode. 

With Mists of Pandaria, we saw the largest departure from how Legendary item acquisition worked in the past on several fronts. Firstly, the item we saw wasn't a weapon, but rather a cloak. Secondly, the questline to earn the cloak was available to all players once they reached max level. Like the Cataclysm Legendaries, these items started out as less-powerful epic versions. The departure here is that these items would be upgraded throughout the entire expansion via "Chapters", with the final Legendary version becoming available at the release of the expansion's final patch. Lastly, progress towards the Legendary questline could be completed in the LFR environment. Essentially, this signaled the ability for the Legendary cloak to be earned by any player who desired one. This was also the first time players could not earn the Legendary in stride, i.e. players would complete a Chapter in the chain and have to wait until the next Chapter was released in an upcoming patch. 

Warlords of Draenor brought us a continuation of the MoP model with a strange twist: the Legendary, which this time is a ring, is an on-use item whose use also triggers the proc on the rings other players who shared the same role. The chain was once again spread out over Chapters, and quest progress could once again be completed in LFR, allowing any player who desired a ring to earn one in time. However, as a carrot to encourage organized raiding, upgrading the ring to its full power potential required Archimonde kills on at least Normal difficulty.

Flaws in the Old and the New

Now, ignoring grey areas and middle ground for a moment, we have one group of players who'd like the sort of format seen in Vanilla through Cataclsym where the earning of Legendary items requires some form of organized raiding. I'll call that the Old Model. The other group of players support the the New Model, where every max-level character has the opportunity to earn the Legendary item whether or not they can regularly dedicate time to an organized raid.*

So what are the perceived problems with each model?

As you know, the Old Model requires a player to regularly dedicate a certain amount of time to organized raiding. Not just that, but the Old Model all but required a player to be part of a guild raid group. Even further, if a player was part of a regular raid group, they weren't guaranteed the Legendary, as their class had to be eligible to use the item. Oftentimes, as I mentioned before, the raid would know which player would be receiving the Legendary first.

With the Old Model, the exclusivity of the items themselves could cause problems. There was always the potential for harbored resentment when one player was chosen to receive the legendary ahead of the other eligible players in the group. Even more, we've all likely heard stories of the raider who was given first dibs on the legendary, only to stop raiding/fallout with the guild/quit Warcraft a few weeks after receiving it. That meant several months of a group-wide effort was utterly wasted, something that can have devastating ripple effects throughout the group.

The New Model, on the other hand, serves as a dangling carrot for every player who reaches max-level, an objective that lands smack dab in the middle of everyone's map. As the most powerful item in the game, it becomes difficult to resist the allure of earning it. When Legendaries are open to all players and classes, do they cease to feel Legendary? I think so. Mimiron's Head, for example, would fail to impress if everyone had one.

The New Model, which allows anyone who desires a legendary to earn one, has the potential to weaken the bonds of guilds and organized raid groups in that players no longer need that sort of structure in order to earn a Legendary item. Consequently, organized raiders are expected---often required---to be at the forefront when it comes to Legendary quest progress since it's something that can be achieved on their own time without the assistance of their raid group. This can translate to a considerably larger amount of required playtime outside of their regularly scheduled hours.

The New Model doesn't require the sort of coordination and skill previously required from raiding groups, which isn't by default a bad thing. That said, under the New Model it takes a player much, much longer to earn the Legendary item---bringing it from its initial form to its fully upgraded from---compared to the Old Model. As with MoP, WoD's ring progress will play out throughout the entire expansion's life-cycle.

There is a theme here, I think. The Old Model, simply put, emphasizes exclusivity and requires regular, scheduled dedication to the game. The New Model emphasizes participation and requires a base amount of time independent of schedule. Which one's better or worse is entirely up to the individual. Under the New Model, supporters of the Old Model tend to see the Legendary cloak and ring as anything but; more of a chore they must complete in order to be considered for serious raiding. Supporters of the New Model may see the exclusivity of the Old Model as a penalization of players who don't have enough time to play or are uninterested in organized raiding as rather unfair.

Both are right, depending on how one defines Legendary in this context. What is clear is there is a large portion of players who refuse to accept Blizzard's notion that the New Model features true Legendary items. That shift happened with the introduction of the Mists of Pandaria format. With the same format continued in Warlords of Draenor, a return to the Old Model could be perceived as Blizzard taking away access to something the majority of the playerbase previously had access to. Like they did with flight, and we all saw how well that was received.

Perhaps there's a better solution.

*I realize I'm passing a rather harsh judgement on the difference between LFR and Normal+ raiding, but I also feel it's totally warranted. LFR is not organized raiding.

Marriage of the Old and the New

I really enjoyed the introduction of the Legendary cloak in Mists of Pandaria. I completed the quest chain within a few days of it becoming available with Patch 5.4. It was the first legendary I'd ever possessed while it was still relevant. Hell, it was only the second time anyone in my guild raid group had the legendary in current content, and that included a four-year span of raiding. Yet, when Warlords of Draenor arrived and the Legendary ring was announced, I failed to get excited. I was disappointed to see that it seemed like they were simply rehashing the Mists of Pandaria model, even if it might serve as a decent storytelling mechanism. 

I do feel there should be greater rewards for organized (non-LFR) raiding. At the same time, I don't think players should be prevented from earning Legendary items if they can't join organized raids for whatever reason. What I'd like to see is a little bit of the old, and a little bit of the new.

Legendary Boss Drops in Organized Raids

I'd like to see the Burning Crusade format return where a particular boss has a minuscule chance to drop a Legendary item in non-LFR raids. I'd like to see it as a weapon usable by certain classes, or a series of weapons throughout the expansion's life that will cover all classes. This would provide a greater reward for organized raiding and group play, something I feel is vital to the long-term health of the game.

Tiered Legendary Questline

I think the New Model of earning Legendaries is here to stay, and I'm fine with that. I think a system that separates the power of the Legendary item based on the content the player is engaged in could be valuable. For instance, a player can currently complete the questline through solo play and LFR. That doesn't have to change. Like I said before, the questline can be an excellent storytelling mechanism that no one should have to miss out on.

However, I think if a player is raiding Normal, Heroic, or Mythic difficulty, they should have access to a more powerful Legendary as a testament to their dedication and skill, the same way it currently works with gear item levels: the higher the difficulty, the better the item level. This would allow all players to earn a Legendary item, but would offer an additional reward to players completing content at a higher difficulty level.

The Legion Model

Full disclosure: everything prior to this section was written during the summer of 2015, prior to us having much information about how the artifact system will work. I'd simply forgotten to publish this piece, and only recently stumbled across it. It appears that with Legion, we're seeing yet another iteration on how Blizzard treats Legendary items.

For starters, we'll finally get to see the fabled item class known as artifacts. One of the first things players will do in Legion is earn an artifact weapon specific to their spec. These weapons, no doubt, are among the most legendary of items seen in lore. Just take enhancement's artifact, Doomhammer, as proof. Shoving aside what this might mean for the Doomhammer's former owner, I wonder if the Doomhammer's status gets diminished if every enhancement shaman in your guild wields one from level 100 on? 

It isn't clear to me how this will play out just yet, but the landscape seems ripe to me for artifact weapons of varying power based on the difficulty of the content completed: WoD's legendary chain reward provides players with an ilvl 735 ring; that ring can be further upgraded 3 ilvls at a time with an item obtained from an Archimonde kill on Normal or greater difficulty, up to ilvl 795. I'd like to see this expanded upon further in Legion, with varying rewards based on the difficulty of the mastered content, such as having certain artifact upgrade items drop in Normal, Heroic, or Mythic difficulties exclusively. 

Secondly, it would appeared from datamined info that we'll once again be seeing legendary items as drops. Wowhead's page indicates most will be class-specific world drops, and that makes me wonder about the frequency with which players will actually come across them. Will this approach, similar to the Burning Crusade model mentioned above, re-inject some randomness and exclusivity into the concept of legendary, or will every death knight from here to the Frozen Throne be wearing these by Legion's end? 

Only time will tell. What I'm wondering most is, has the definition of legendary changed over the years, as should it have? Or does the definition simply no longer apply?

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