I played World of Warcraft consistently from late Burning Crusade, all the way until about the midpoint of Warlords of Draenor, which is when I took my first extended break. I came back mid-Legion and stuck around through the second major patch in Battle for Azeroth. This latest break ended about one month before the launch of Shadowlands, and despite there being some pretty major flaws in this expansion as well, I personally am enjoying myself in a way I haven’t really since Mists of Pandaria (which was one of my favorite expansions).
However, since late Wrath of the Lich King, there’s been one constant in my World of Warcraft play – my guild. Stands in Bad was founded in 2010 after a bunch of us left our previous raiding guild due to some differences in opinion about guild culture. Although members have come and gone, we have to be doing something right, because there’s more than a handful of us that have been together for the entirety of that ten year period, keeping in touch via Twitter and eventually Discord, even when we weren’t actively playing the game. Stands in Bad has itty bitty spin off guilds in just about every major MMO, because it seems like no matter what we’re playing, we want to be playing it together.
All that was a super long introduction to a conversation that we were having in our Discord the other day about what our individual “end game” goals are in WoW. Although the majority of our guild is populated by people who play somewhat casually, what casual means is very different across the board. Some people have busy lives which leave them very limited play time. Some folks have health issues that limit their ability to play the game at the highest levels. Some folks just don’t want their leisure time consumed by something that feels more like a second job than a game. Our guild works because we’ve all tempered our expectations to match our personal realities, so our progression raid happens for two and a half hours every other week, and we don’t mandate participation in any content that our members don’t enjoy. Our raid requirements don’t actually require a whole lot of effort outside of those 2.5 hours.
I consider myself casual, despite play times that might indicate otherwise, because I don’t feel driven to pursue the most difficult content available. I like to raid, but I don’t like to raid enough to participate in meta-chasing, and I’m content to see the content at a fairly low difficulty to progress through it slowly and with people whose company I am glad to be in.
Early on in the expansion, I found myself joining in to the criticisms on the pace of gear acquisition in Shadowlands. The first month or so, it felt so very painfully slow. Now, I’m not the type to get overly caught up in item level, but when pulling a second overland mob had a 50/50 chance of resulting in my death, I wanted to gear to ameliorate some of that feeing of being painfully underpowered.
However, as I closed in on the end of my covenant campaign, the situation started to feel more manageable. Sure, I’d picked up a handful of upgrades elsewhere, but fully upgraded covenant gear is more than adequate for the needs of most players who do a lot of overland solo content.
After our most recent raid night, my main character is sitting at an item level of 198, but once I found myself in the mid-190s, gear stopped being a high priority for me. Getting gear past what I need to complete the content I’m interested in has never held a lot of allure for me. However, I realize that for a lot of people, increasing their item level, and hunting gear with better stats is their end game.
Quite frankly, I can understand why those people are supremely frustrated with the systems put in place for Shadowlands. The reduction of gear drops in max level content means that people for whom gear is the goal need to put in more hours for less reward, and I can’t imagine that’s a great feeling. Although runeforging and titanforging had their own issues, and I think most people are more relieved than disappointed to be rid of that one infinitely upgradeable item that you wont’ replace all expansion, it’s possible that, for a sizeable segment of WoW-players, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.
But for me, it’s a relief. I likely won’t return to LFR this tier on my main, because she has nothing to gain in there. The experience doesn’t translate well to an organized raid, and none of the drops (or associated Great Vault options) are going to be a significant upgrade. I’ll probably continue to run the occasional low-key (in both senses of the term) Mythic plus with my guildmates because I enjoy their company, but not the pressure of pushing keys. I’ll do the world bosses once a week, but more for the anima reward than any potential gear reward. It feels good to be geared enough to complete any content I am interested in for this tier so early on. If upgrades come, I won’t turn them away, but I’m not actively hunting for them anymore, which allows me to focus on the aspects of the game I really enjoy.
Until 9.1, I feel free to pursue the epic chase for achievement points, to farm anima (or not) to continue upgrading my covenant sanctums and play around with the minigames. I can pet battle, and play the auction house, and not feel like I am holding my friends back. I have enough, and now I feel like the real fun can start.