Class identity is lost?

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Recently Ion mused that class identity is being lost due to spec identity being more overwhelmingly prioritised and that’s something they want to pull back from.
While Ion’s take on class identity is apparently something completely different to what is rumbling on the forums it might we worth a look into what he actual said, what it might actually mean when applied to the game and how it conflicts with what the actual issues are.

Here’s the transcript of what he said in particular regarding the class/spec identity issue.

Speaking of identity, I think we’ve talked a lot about class identity in the forgoing years but reflecting on those efforts, there are ways in which we’ve probably actually furthered spec identity at the expense of class identity, in some cases.

As we moved abilities from, you know, class wide to being spec specific in a number of cases, um, we’ve perhaps gone a bit too far away from that core choice that players make when they’re looking at character creation, looking at character select and they decide if they want to be; a mage, or a hunter, or a shaman, or a rogue.
And then, ideally specialisation should truly be just that. It should be taking a class and picking a facet of it that excites you the most, with which you identify the most and doubling down on that, and becoming a master of that.

Instead for many classes, or some specs, that choice entails almost turning into an all new class with entirely different abilities and only a little bit of overlap. And that’s an area we would actually like to also pull back from.
So, as we think to the future, we want to find ways of re-establishing class as a foundation. Whether that’s taking some abilities that are now spec specific and spreading them back out so that the entire class has access to them even if they are kinda off role for you, there is a value in that hybridity and that utility.
But also looking to all new systems that we introduce down the line and trying to angle them at the level of class, rather than spec, because again, class identity means class identity not spec identity.

And, with regard to that, I, we want to underscore the importance of class identity and class design to World of Warcraft. I think a point that players have made on many occasions is that, to many, the way your class plays and feels is essential, is one of the most important things in World of Warcraft, period. Your class is the lens through which you view the world. It’s how you interact with the world, it’s how you engage with all of your enemies and your allies. And if you’re playing a class that you don’t feel is satisfying, a class whose fantasy doesn’t resonate with you, that’s absolutely going to hinder your enjoyment of all the rest of the world. And so, it truly is a top priority for us and I wanna thank everyone, continue to thank you for your ongoing feedback, and yes, your criticism where appropriate. I think it’s helped us to sharpen and focus our discussions around this topic. And it really is a powerful guide to us as we look to the future of World of Warcraft and class design in particular.

Personally, listening to what he said, I’m not sure why that’s an issue? Surely the whole point of having different specs is to be different?

Now, this is where it gets interesting.
There is an issue being brought up here that its is playstyle that is too different between the specs, not their actual identity. Yet the forums and the feedback Blizz are supposed to be listening to are aflame with the issue that to change spec is so restrictive that they feel locked into one spec.
It seems that Ion and the developers are working on the past feedback that some specs are ‘boring’ and some are a button mashing hellscape, some specs are under performing and some are over performing. Yet they have slotted that issue not into class design (which he talked about previously) but class identity and tied that up with a bow and gift tag addressed to class fantasy.

There are several things to unpack here but lets try and get thought it by going point by point.

Speaking of identity, I think we’ve talked a lot about class identity in the forgoing years but reflecting on those efforts, there are ways in which we’ve probably actually furthered spec identity at the expense of class identity, in some cases.

Some cases. This is kinda important for later on but from this paragraph alone, how a class feels in most cases is fine, it’s just some that have the individual specs providing the driving force behind how the class feels.

Why did I pick this out?
Well, you have classes where the individual specs are supposed to be the driving force behind how the class feels. Paladins and Druids for example. Druids are probably the greatest example out there. Yeah you’re a Druid but you are defined by your spec. Fearsome bear who places their fat ass in the way or the life giving hippy tree? Scratchy cat or the flappy owl? If you’re a healer, you’re a healer. You’re not a healing tank… you have a job, one that you have chosen to pursue.
Then you have classes that just have one job to do. Mages, Hunters Rogues, Warlocks… Their specs all do one thing, damage. So surely their spec identity should be the driving force behind how they feel?

So are we looking at classes where the specs are all different and therefore the identity driver is the spec…
or are we looking at the classes where all the specs do the same thing yet it is the individual specs that are providing the identity when it should be class?

Muddle this in with the apparent issues with spells (so playstyle) and then the later talk of class fantasy and you can see this is going to be a clusterfuck.

As we moved abilities from, you know, class wide to being spec specific in a number of cases, um, we’ve perhaps gone a bit too far away from that core choice that players make when they’re looking at character creation, looking at character select and they decide if they want to be; a mage, or a hunter, or a shaman, or a rogue.

Replace Shaman with Warlock and you’ve got most of Captain planet right there.

That aside, the issue being raised here is playstyle. The previous bit of the recording talked about the good work done from stopping classes being homogeneous by pruning abilities completely from classes or just giving them to one spec in a class.
However, this statement involving character creation can tell us two things…
1- The core choice is if you want to be a particular class (unless race is your main concern lol). How that class plays or feels once you can specialise should have no impact on if you just fancy playing it. All specs should be able to cover most of the bases leaving you to just to enjoy Shaman for example.
2- If the spells are making someone not want to pick a Mage in the first place (for example), then there is something wrong with the playstyle itself, not if Arcane has this but Frost doesn’t.

Now I fucking hate Survival after they turned it back into melee. Does that mean I won’t touch Hunter? No, I just hate the spec. However, if Blizz have done some hocus pocus with the Hunter abilities that meant that Survival had something amazing, would I play it then? No, I just hate the spec. If the shitty aspect of something was over all specs would I play Survival? No, I just wouldn’t play a Hunter.

The issue here is that you don’t know about the specs if its a pure dps class until you can actually specialise. So if it is the knowledge of the spells that is putting people off a class waaaaaay before they even get to the spec time, that’s on the pruning and playstyle. No on the identity of the specs.
If someone is put off healing then they pick a different spec, if they don’t want to play a Priest, that’s the class that’s an issue. Not the spec.
Don’t amalgamate the specs to make them feel like a slight variation on the ‘class’ as that just limits choice. Just like I don’t want to play Rogue or Druid. I like healing and I have a melee. I just don’t like those classes. There is a big difference. 

And then, ideally specialisation should truly be just that. It should be taking a class and picking a facet of it that excites you the most, with which you identify the most and doubling down on that, and becoming a master of that.

Ok, so here we seem to start straying into class fantasy territory and more importantly spec fantasy. Which lets remember, was an issue at the beginning but is all fine and should be embraced now.
Say I took a class, Hunter, and I was excited by the Beast Mastery side, I identified with that. I am picking the identity of the spec over the other two.
Blizzard clearly encourages this. They want the spec to be a defining feature.

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Lets break this down a bit further, seeing as were currently at war over some sparkly blood, lets take an army as an example.

The alliance is the army, it is made up of platoons consisting of the classes…
My platoon is “Hunter”…
Each platoon has three or four sections in it. My section is “Beast Mastery”…

My “section” is the bit I am excited about, that is who I identify with. I identify with the spec, which, according to this part of the paragraph should be the bit that entices me the most.

 Instead for many classes, or some specs, that choice entails almost turning into an all new class with entirely different abilities and only a little bit of overlap. And that’s an area we would actually like to also pull back from.

I’m confused with this. The only people who would suddenly have to deal with a load of new spells they’re not used to are either people who have only dabbled in two specs since forever (hello dual specialisation) and never used the just pick what you want style that’s currently in place…
Or…
It’s a boosted character.

If you level, you gain spells intermittently and you can switch specs as an when you please. As I was levelling my Pally I went through all three, carrying around all the gear for them all etc…

What this seems to be implying is that if you are used to one spec, you should be able to swap into another one with cookie cutter abilities just in a different colour. Mage Frostbolt should be renamed and re-skinned for each spec so that it feels the same to play? Basic starter abilities should be the same name/colour across the specs but recolours done of all the others?
How this would work with radically different specs is anyone’s guess as it is those differences that are inherent to the class.
To backtrack slightly, Ion said in the previous part that your spec should be you “picking a facet of it that excites you the most, with which you identify the most and doubling down on that, and becoming a master of that.”
If all the specs are similar in their execution to not feel like an “all new class with entirely different abilities” how are you supposed to pick the one you identify with and master it?

I told you it was going to be a clusterfuck…. And it’s not over yet!

So, as we think to the future, we want to find ways of re-establishing class as a foundation. Whether that’s taking some abilities that are now spec specific and spreading them back out so that the entire class has access to them even if they are kinda off role for you, there is a value in that hybridity and that utility.

This is the worrying part.
Homogenising the specs within a class.
If they are off role to you implies that if you’re a Tank, you are going to get healing or pure dps spells. If you’re a healer, you could end up with tanking ones etc… which itself destroys the point of mastering your spec.

As a BM Hunter, I could have spells from Survival (you know, the poison/trap one) and spells from MM (you know, the snipey one) which would lessen the identity I have with a spec and give me less reason to master it. Two of the things that Ion said were crucial.

But also looking to all new systems that we introduce down the line and trying to angle them at the level of class, rather than spec, because again, class identity means class identity not spec identity.

One can only hope that they have realised the travesty that was the Legion artifact weapon skins being locked to spec.
But this is more along the lines of playstyle as that was what was mentioned before. Anything new is going to be for the class as a whole rather than dabbling in certain things for each individual spec. You’ll all get something because it is for a Hunter not, BM Hunters get this, MM Hunters get that and so on.
Which might mean that the next expansion has new spells or a spell overhaul that are for the most part base for a class and a few are spec specific… .

But were still giving a conflicting message about spec/class. One moment hyping spec up and the next saying that it pales in comparison to class.

And, with regard to that, I, we want to underscore the importance of class identity and class design to World of Warcraft. I think a point that players have made on many occasions is that, to many, the way your class plays and feels is essential, is one of the most important things in World of Warcraft, period.

This is where the whole class fantasy and playstyle seems to have been mixed up.
They are not interchangeable. The identity of my spec does not equal its design. You can have the shittiest playstyle ever but the most amazing identity for a spec. You can have the most amazing playstyle ever but the shittiest identity. They are separate things.

Take this for example.

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Mages can identify with ‘Mage’ as a class but the spec identity is what gives them life, even if their playstyle is lacking.
Fire mages in Emerald Nightmare (above) had it going on. They had great playstyle. In comparison the Frost mages were dogshit, yet their identity is legendary.

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I can’t stop watching this gif… YAAASSSSSSS JAINA!

Now if your class feels horrendous to play then there’s something deeply wrong with it. A spec being bad, we’re all used to that but with the prominence here that your class as a whole should be good adds more weight to the potential of homogenising the specs abilities (leaving only lore to separate them) across each class which could even lead the the removal of them altogether later on down the line.
A Rogue is what you want to play, a Rogue it is, single spec. etc…

Your class is the lens through which you view the world. It’s how you interact with the world, it’s how you engage with all of your enemies and your allies.

I wanted to pull this out from the bulk as I think this is an important point. Because it’s wrong.
This only stands as correct if either all specs are identical but just different colours or there is just class.
For example, I am a Hunter. How I view the world may be dependent on the fact I am a Hunter but how I interact with it depends on my spec.

If I’m survival, I’m going to be sneaking around, putting blow darts in people.
If I’m Marksman, I’m going to be picking you off from a hill somewhere.
If I’m Beast Mastery, I’m going to be running around you in a circle, shooting arrows at you just out of arms reach and making my pet constantly bite your arse.

My allies are going to view me differently as well.
Survival – Fuck off, we don’t want another melee
Marksman – Come on then…
Beast Mastery – Fucking Huntard with growl on! Every Time!

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Shit. Maybe I should have put a trigger warning for my fellow Hunters with that last one… 

Needless to say, the point that was made is wrong unless there is a drastic change to brute force it into being correct.

And if you’re playing a class that you don’t feel is satisfying, a class whose fantasy doesn’t resonate with you, that’s absolutely going to hinder your enjoyment of all the rest of the world

Ah class fantasy, the topic that has been hinted at and flirted with throughout this whole snippet yet never actually mentioned.
Again, we have the issue that playstyle inadequacies are being lumped together with class fantasy inadequacies.

And again, this can only be fixed if the class is the only thing you pick when making “that core choice that players make when they’re looking at character creation”. If the Blizzard idea of a Warlock class fantasy is one that dabbles in all three specialities all the time then the specs need to go and just have a reduced ‘best of’ spellbook. If Mage should be a jack of all trades, then Bye Jaina, the Sunstriders and Khadgar, hello Kahina Sunmoore.

But… If you’re playing a class you don’t feel satisfying, either you ditch it wherever the hell it is (at least you don’t need to strip them anymore for the heirlooms) and roll something else or you’re max level and the balancing has been fucked over. But here we get to the issue of playstyle again. You can argue that you should just switch specs but the counter argument coming from Ion, the Dev team and some players is that the specs are too different from each other.
To come full circle, Ion suggests that you should master the specs and controversially, unless you have only played one spec from 1 to 120 the others will be familiar enough to you to you to be able to master them quickly. If you played Legion and got all your Mage Tower artifact skins, you play all specs pretty fucking well anyway…
Herein lies the problem. The only time a class feels like it’s not satisfying is if it’s under performing. That under performance wont affect you in the world, it will affect you in HC+ instances. It’s at that point that people get pissed off with specs, it’s not the ones at the top who are complaining that they don’t like playing x,y or z. It’s the ones where the attempt to balance the classes has completely fucked over some of the specs within them.

That is not an issue of spec identity, or  fantasy. That’s an issue where someone put the numbers in wrong.

And so, it truly is a top priority for us and I wanna thank everyone, continue to thank you for your ongoing feedback, and yes, your criticism where appropriate. I think it’s helped us to sharpen and focus our discussions around this topic. And it really is a powerful guide to us as we look to the future of World of Warcraft and class design in particular.

And now we’re back to class design again.

With the basic issues of identity and playstyle being so haphazardly interchanged when they are nothing alike it worries me with what’s going to happen with WoW and how the identity that they are supposed to find within the specs will end up.
I am clinging onto hope that this was just shit he thought up on the spot but watching his eyes trail to what I can only assume was an autocue, I fear that this was something that he has spent time thinking about. Which means that these were his carefully chosen words to try and address recent complaints about the state of balancing and gear in Battle for Azeroth.

Looking at how much complaining there has been about imbalances and such forth, this seems to have got traction in the dev department yet they’re fixing the handbrake instead of replacing the tyres.

The actual issues are gear being locked to specs unless you pay though the nose and if you don’t pay, you have to pray you have the time to grind for duplicate sets and hope that RNJesus smiles on you to get them.
It’s the point that if you don’t have multiple sets and you can’t keep paying to respec it, then your gear and you are bound to a spec that is completely unbalanced, you are then dissatisfied playing.
It doesn’t seem to be the spell issue that Ion and the Dev team are making it out to be and it certainly isn’t anything to do with class/spec fantasy that has been thrown in to the mix for good measure. It is boiling down to the fact that the restrictions on the ability to switch specs is a pain in the fucking arse.


 

As a side note, with Ion throwing in the term “class fantasy” as the perceived wounded soldier due to the current issues with the specs it’s worth noting that Blizzard actively promoted that spec identity is based in lore and should be different.

When selecting a 110 trial char to play, they inform you of the identity of the specs you can play as that class. While you can’t try all of them, they do let you know what each spec is about. The lore behind it and what ‘flavour’ of that class you will be.

They even went as far as enforcing that difference in later expansions though the evil pit viper that is the Legion artifact skins and not being able to use the skins of a now defunct weapon (and for all intents and purposes, dead weapon) from one spec while in a different one.
They told us it would damage spec fantasy… spec fantasy that it in Ions mind somehow tied up with abilities.

Yet it isn’t spells that is preventing Sword and Board Holy Pallys from using ‘Truthguard’ from Legion Prot spec and why Ashbringer can’t be used by any version of Pally that isn’t Ret.
The identity of your spec and the lore around it is vital but it is not defined by being able to use a portion of spells from other specs.

Even if we dare to go down the ‘Ion’ route that spec isn’t and shouldn’t be the reason for picking a class, at this late point in the game the lore is so ingrained that if you have been playing for a while you cannot simply ignore the identity behind each spec. And if you haven’t been playing long, the storyline, cinematics and cut scenes soon make you aware of what it means to be part of each spec in a class.

Looking at Mages again, Jaina is a Frost Mage. Her identity is built on Frost Mage. She might use some Arcane spells and what-not but shes not Fire and she’s not Arcane.
Same can be said for Khadgar. He’s a Mage but he doesn’t have the same identity as Jaina as he prefers Arcane.
You can’t simply muddle up the specs to push the identity of Mage over the identity of Frost/Arcane/Fire.
Just as Marksman Hunters have the Windrunner sisters to look up to they don’t share that same identity with Beast Mastery or Survival… the list goes on.
Blizzard has done its hardest to give us heroes that have spec identities that out do the class identity. Yet out of left field, they have now decided that class is the priority, not what you specialise in.

The actual issues are gear being locked to specs unless you pay though the nose. Which if it is then bound to a spec that is completely unbalanced, you are dissatisfied as its not easy to change spec without pots of gold or you re-farm and hope that RNJesus smiles on you. You suffer as a player because of the other influences inhibiting you from enjoying the class, not because the spec is more important than the class, not because the abilities are vastly different and certainly not because of fantasy. 

Either way, Blizz wanted you to feel that your spec was important to your class, if not more important. And now, when people are complaining that it is Blizz mechanics surrounding their implementation of gear that is fucking over their class by tying them down to a spec, they decide that rather than address that, it would be better to just spread the spells around so that people can do a half arsed job of another spec while staying in a spec not suited to it.

We’ve worked out this already, it’s only good for the basic proving grounds. Where you’re only using your time and not other peoples…

yourdoing tiwrong

 

 

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