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WoWApr 30, 2021 4:00 pm CT

Will we see Borrowed Power in future WoW expansions? Maybe not, according to Ion Hazzikostas

Leveling in World of Warcraft changed with the introduction of Artifacts in Legion, which were a self-contained system of power acquisition that was confined entirely to that expansion. You got your Artifacts at level 100 and then used them all the way through max level. Artifacts not only became stronger as you leveled, but then at 110 grew stronger still as you acquired Artifact Power and unlocked new abilities unique to your Artifacts.

It was a system that worked for a variety of reasons. The cool nature of the Artifacts themselves — weapons of unmatched power and legacy — had a great deal to do with it, as did the novelty of the whole thing. A Paladin getting to use the Ashbringer or a Shaman using the Doomhammer was holding a weapon known throughout the world of Azeroth. It was akin to finding Excalibur or Mjolnir.

But now we’re two expansions later, in Shadowlands, and everyone is starting to recognize the limitations of this kind of power acquisition. Yes, we got cool new stuff — but at the end of the expansion, or the start of the next one, we lost our cool new powers.

The death of Artifacts, Azerite, and more

At the end of Legion, we had to sacrifice the Artifact we’d carried through the whole expansion, drawing the power of Sargeras’ sword into it and saving Azeroth in the process — but burning out our Artifacts. Then, in Battle for Azeroth, we encountered both Azerite Armor and Corrupted gear, two such systems, and we lost both of them by the time we started on Shadowlands. Now, in Shadowlands we have our crafted Legendaries and our Covenant with all of its various benefits… and those, too, are tied to the Shadowlands themselves and are not likely to follow us.

In essence, for three expansions now, we’ve been leveling with systems that provide us a separate progression track, and it’s one we won’t see any benefit from once we leave this content. It feels like you end every expansion by losing a lot of your power because these expansion-specific progression systems are gone.

But it’s possible that this style of progression system is about to change. In this recent interview with Preach Gaming, Game Director Ion Hazzikostas talked about this cycle, how it feels, how it came to be, and how they’re looking at dealing with it in the future.

Treadmills within the leveling treadmill feel bad when you have to get off

In essence, all MMO style games are an endless treadmill. You level up, you get stronger, you hit max level and do the content there until the next expansion. You level up again, get even stronger, and eventually leave behind your gear. Ion points out that around Warlords of Draenor the development team really began to notice that the game couldn’t just keep adding new powers and abilities with every expansion. It wasn’t sustainable in the long term — you’d end up with all of these abilities that were added entirely because it was a new expansion and you had to get new stuff, not because they were beneficial to the game or felt natural. So they created the Artifact system, which allowed your character to get new powers and abilities over the course of the expansion without worrying about permanently cluttering up the game, and it worked pretty well.

The problem is, you can pull that trick once and it feels cool and epic. Doing it again, players start to notice that they keep losing their cool powers and abilities they spent all expansion getting. This “borrowed power” to, ahem, borrow the term Preach used in the interview, ends up feeling less than great because you get it knowing you won’t get to keep it — it takes away the feeling of progression so central to the RPG genre. Anyone who’s ever played D&D or any other RPG knows the basic feeling — you play the game, you gain experience, it translates into powerful new abilities or spells. With the “borrowed power” systems in play, the powerful new abilities aren’t really yours — you spend all expansion getting them, leveling them up, making them stronger and then at the end you have to essentially give them back and start where you basically were at the beginning of the expansion.

The future of Character Progression is heading away from borrowing

Ion says that they’re aware that this isn’t ideal, and it’s something they want to address. To use the example he used, if you’re playing a Mage who went to the Shadowlands and did cool things there, you should come back a better Mage, not simply one who did a lot of things and then left everything they learned over there. Experiences in RPGs are supposed to make you stronger, give you a sense of character progression, and the sideways systems like Artifacts and Azerite Armor leave you feeling almost like you didn’t get anything for all your time spent saving the world.

He also pointed out this isn’t a mid-expansion problem, and so, there’s not likely going to be any major changes during Shadowlands to address it — it’s something the dev team is keeping in mind to work on for the next expansion, because they agree that it’s weird to constantly hop on a new treadmill for each new expansion and then hop off when the next one is on its way, all your expansion’s worth of progression wiped out in the process. They can’t keep adding on new abilities the way they did before Warlords of Draenor, but it’s also the case that “borrowed power” has ended up being unsatisfying as a replacement, since it basically just adds powers and then yoinks them away.

Of course, this leaves us all wondering — if we’re not going to use a borrowed power system in the next expansion, how are they going to address these problems? How do you let players feel like their progression mattered without setting the game back on the same track as before Warlords, where each new expansion simply added more and more powers to balance and deal with? I mean, we haven’t gotten a new talent tier in a while now, for just one example. I’m not a game dev, but at least for the next expansion, I’d consider letting each class gain one new power — look over WoW history and see one thing each class once had that they’d love to get back, like Gladiator Stance for Warriors who want to DPS with a 1h weapon and shield. Whatever it is, it seems fairly certain that it can’t be borrowed power.

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