World of Warcraft | How to fix archaeology
Alternative Chat weighed in recently on the Archaeology profession in WoW and how its really not working. And she's right. After all, do you know anyone who says 'oooh I love Archaeology?'. About the best even the most avid completionist can muster is likely a 'meh' or maybe a 'I do it while [doing some other activity that actually engages the brain because archaeology alone is about as exciting as watching paint dry]'. So what went wrong? And how can we learn from other MMOs how to fix archaeology?
Once upon a time ...
There was an announcement about a profession that was based on the lore of Azeroth. This is a great idea. Its another way to bring the lore and the story to the players. Missed out on the previous Warcraft games? You can learn the history another way.
I don't know what I envisaged here, but what we got was not it. At the very least I think I expected mini quest chains. Want to know about the Well of Eternity and the fall of the Highborn? Follow a quest, go grind some things, put them together to get your lore. What we got was ... grind fragments for rubbish. More rubbish. Oooh a shiny. More rubbish. Lose will to live.
There are some things you can get from Archaeology. Otherwise no one would ever do it. There are some pets and some mounts. There are loads of toys. So rewards are covered. The incentive is there. And yet ... it still feels like its barely worth it.
Problem the first: RNG + grind = boredom unless reward = O.M.G.
Archaeology in WoW uses both RNG and grind. You collect 50 fragments and then roll a die 1000. On one face is the thing you want. On the others are combinations of dig sites and items that are simply meaningless. So most of the time you are just grinding for a chance to roll the dice. The RNG here is not an alternative to the grind. You have to grind just to be able to access the RNG at all. And every single item in archaeology works this way.
The achievements just compound the problem. Rather than only the fun items being worth it, the player now needs to hope they will get certain junk items too. And then more of said junk item. This is not fun.
Problem the second: I seem to have lost the lore
That was meant to be the selling point. But really, all you get is little bits of novelty lore. Heres a thingamy once owned by Whats-his-face when he was a child. Thats not lore! The pieces don't form together to tell you a story. You learn nothing.
Solution the first: Guild Wars 2 and the Legendary fix
Now Blizzard is not alone in making a massive grind with a big fat dose of RNG. ArenaNet's Guild Wars 2 has the legendary weapon. This is the grind to end all grinds. Firstly, you grind for lots of items to make bits and pieces. This grind is epic. Theres no nice neat places to grind. The reality is your best bet is to grind gold and buy the items because grinding enough tier 6 materials from the very very bad grinding places makes Archaology look positively fast.
Then, to cap this off, once you get all those items, you also need a precursor weapon. If you are very, very lucky, one might drop from world bosses. But mostly your only route to this will be the Mystic Toilet (technically its the Mystic Forge, but since all you do is flush away everything you've earned ...). Find four decent weapons and put them in there and get back one decent weapon (most often), one slightly better weapon (small chance) or a precursor (very, very small chance).
The main difference here is that the reward is a little more suitable to the scale of the grind. For your pains you will get the very best weapon of its type in the game. And because Guild Wars 2 does not add levels with expansions, it will remain so for the life of the game. Now thats how to reward grind + RNG. The effort is huge but there is a bow that shoots rainbow unicorns and who wouldn't be willing to undergo almost anything for that?
But even so, it was a bit much. Which is why they've added an alternative route to precursor weapons for Heart of Thorns. You will need mats and to do some 'treasure hunt' like collections where you collect rewards for doing different things in game.
Solution the second: Star Wars: The Old Republic tells you the whole story
In SWTOR you get a part of your log called the Codex. This holds lots and lots of detailed lore information. Put it all together and you do have the entire back story for the game. You get this lore through lore items that you click on, quests that happen to include some story and hunting for datacrons, which are hidden all over the many planets. The system is simple and actually connects you to the lore. The datacrons award various stat boosts and those, combined with the achievements, make the grind to reward ratio acceptable.
It may not be perfect (theres a lot of reading and the information isn't always in order), but I still prefer it to archaeology. Its also nice to be able to go back to the lore. If I go back to a planet, or something gets referenced, I can look it up in the game.
Solution the third: the solution already in the game
There are two systems that are a lot better than archaeology already in WoW.
The Lorewalkers reputation is gained by going out and about and visiting various items. When you get an achievement, you go back to Lorewalker Cho and he tells you the story, accompanied by a vision of the tale. You learn the lore and you gain faction reputation, letting you buy a few cool items. This is a simple system. If you combined this with collection of fragments from dig sites, it would instantly improve the system. Perhaps make each race a track? Collect enough pieces and you get the next part of the story and/or an item. Remove the RNG, but keep the grind.
The Legendary Quest
Another system that would work well is the legendary quest system. Get a quest to collect fragments. Turn them in for the next step of the quest. Very similar to the above, but with quests rather than a track. You could make this seem more natural than the Lorewalkers option. For each race, you could start with someone asking you to track down some piece of history and you could visit the various significant people in the race for your steps in the quest. You might even want to change/abandon the dig sites for this. Farming mobs in a given area would work just as well.
There's even room for some RNG here still. But the RNG should shorten the grind, not extend it or create it. Perhaps whatever the system, there is some kind of random chance to get items quicker. It can be very slim, but its motivating knowing that though you might need another 250 thingys, the next drop could give you the entire item instead.
Overall, the profession needs to be rebalanced so that the effort is more equal to the reward. The rewards are okay, but the effort is too high for them right now. Either the rewards need to be upped, as in Guild Wars 2, to where the grind is worth it, or some element of the grind needs to be reduced. The logical part of me says to go for grind reduction - WoW players don't like grind. But the evil voice in the back of my mind wants to swim in the tears of entitled gamers made to grind. As long as you don't put items aimed another type of gameplay behind the grind, it should be perfectly acceptable! And the lore should be injected very firmly back into the solution. Legion is an expansion full of history and lore - its the perfect chance to fix archaeology once and for all.