Emerald Nightmare part two

Last night my guild finished up the last three bosses in Emerald Nightmare (Normal). This week was basically a warmup for progression, which we will start next week with Heroic. I can’t claim great expertise with EN yet, but I do have some general observations to add to my earlier comments.

Fight length. The one overwhelming impression I had after finishing up last night is that most of these fights are very, very, very long. I think this is true for nearly all the EN bosses, but especially so for the last three. The fights just seemed to go on for-freaking-ever, reminding me a bit of how I usually felt in the Immerseus fight back in Siege of Orgrimmar.

This is almost certainly due to a combination of it being early in the expansion — thus most players are not at the peak of their damage powers — and the fact that these bosses have hundreds of millions (in some cases over a billion) health. I have to wonder if Blizz merely substituted the add-crazy approach of WoD with a length-crazy approach for Legion. After a certain amount of time, very long fights get challenging just because eventually people get bored or fatigued enough to start to make mistakes, so the challenge really is not the fight itself but rather one of maintaining focus. And, of course, longer fights are usually a bigger challenge to healers not only because of mana issues, but also because of the fatigue tendency for other players to stand in more bad stuff the longer the fight goes on.

Tuning. I have seen some of the usual forum-dweller complaints about EN being “a joke” or “too easy”, and some data mining indicates Blizz may be considering a combo of “class tuning adjustments” along with significantly buffing many dungeon and raid bosses in 7.1. Thus, I take this opportunity to reiterate my opinion that normal mode raids should not be weeks-long slogs for non-progression casual raid teams. Blizz itself has told us repeatedly that normal mode is supposed to be the “friends and family” mode. This does not mean it should be a stroll in the park, but it also should not take a casual team weeks of progression-type raiding to finish, and it should be tolerant of a true flex setup, rotating people in and out as their schedules permit.

When Blizz set up flex mode in 5.4 (I think that is about when they did it), it was designed to be a difficulty level between LFR and what was then Normal mode. When they made the flex concept permanent, they announced that their intent was for Normal to be the same as the new “flex” mode, and for Heroic to be the same difficulty as the old Normal mode. Thus, Normal would be the “friends and family” level, and Heroic would be the level for progression teams. In WoD, this was absolutely not the case — Normal mode required a progression setup and schedule for most casual teams, and even for many semi-casual teams. This in my opinion is one reason why many teams disintegrated about the time that Black Rock Foundry came out — they simply were not the kinds of guilds that could field solid progression teams.

Thus, it seems to me that any cries of “too easy” for EN are unfounded. We are simply seeing what I hope is a return to the original intent of Normal mode raid tiers. I really hope Blizz does not cave in to either the devs or the forum denizens who believe that raids at any level are strictly for hardcore 40-hour+ a week players.

Cost of raiding. Simply put, this is astronomical. Basic flasks, enchants, gems, talent switching tomes, and food on my server — and I suspect on many servers — are going for well upwards of a thousand gold each, with enchants and gems easily fetching 20k+ each. Even the mats go for huge sums. These numbers will come down a bit as the expansion wears on, but for now they are effectively a bar to raiding for many players, as most raid teams expect a certain amount of preparedness from each of their members. Players who went through the gold giveaway of WoD may have enough to get through at least a couple of months of this high cost, but new players really don’t have a chance.

Also, I do not expect the costs to go down significantly for many months, due to Blizz’s treatment of professions in Legion. It is a prohibitive time and skill sink for most people to learn — much less produce — the major products of their professions unless the character is a main. The mechanics of profession progression in Legion require main-level commitment to leveling and to doing dungeons (Mythic as well as Heroic) and world quests. What this means is that far fewer players than in the past will be able to produce their own raid supplies, resulting in these items remaining very high cost. Basically, if you were not lucky enough to have selected the “right” mix of professions for your main, you are going to be spending a LOT of gold just to be able to effectively raid every week, for many months to come.

The whole subject of professions in Legion is certainly a topic for an entire post (or series of posts), but I think as Legion wears on we will find that Blizz may have finally broken the profession system in WoW. It is one thing to have to work a bit to max out a profession, it is quite another to structure the process such that only a character with main-level proficiency and time commitment can achieve a max profession.

BM hunters seem to stink. I grant you that my experience raiding thus far in Legion is extremely limited, but from my worm’s-eye view it may soon be almost irresponsible to try and raid with any hunter spec except MM. This week our 28-30 member raid team ran with four hunters: one MM and three BM. Of this group, the MM hunter and one BM hunter are highly skilled raiders as well as being players that routinely squeeze every bit of damage they can from their spec. (And nope, I am not that BM hunter.) On every boss and in every trash fight, the MM hunter out-damaged the BM hunter by usually several thousand points both in DPS and in total damage, and often the difference was in excess of 10k-20k. Additionally, the MM hunter was frequently at the top of our damage charts overall.

Checking the initial raid charts from some of the third party log sites, I see that there are a few MM hunters at the top, but there are zero BM hunters. (Also zero SV hunters, but honestly I don’t consider that spec to be a true hunter.) Yes, the self-fulfilling prophecy effect enters in here — the top players perceive that MM is the best, thus none of them raid with BM, thus the top ranks only show MM, thus it becomes the defacto “raiding spec” — but I think we are seeing an imbalance similar to what we saw with SV hunters at the start of WoD. The difference is enough that selecting any hunter spec other than MM seems to deny your team a significant amount of damage power. (And no, good solid raid teams worth their salt will not kick someone just because of their spec, but there comes a point at which a conscientious player feels like they are not pulling their weight.)

This is troublesome, because Blizz has several times stated that they feel class balance is critical in Legion, mainly because of the huge investment in artifact power and progress. I think we are perilously close to the point where serious hunters who chose BM as their Legion spec will feel compelled to switch specs just to remain competitive.   This is exactly the situation Blizz said they are going to great lengths to avoid. This is a balance issue that must be addressed very soon, and yet every indication we have had from Blizz is that they have already abandoned the hunter class for the remainder of this expansion. None of the class balancing changes announced thus far for 7.1 even begin to address some of the fundamental problems with BM hunters — or any hunter spec for that matter.

I end this post with what has become a plaintive and lonely cry in the wilderness: Blizz, for crying out loud, do something to acknowledge the concerns of Legion hunters. At least give us a sign that you know we are unhappy, even if that sign is just a big Blizz middle finger and an announcement that yes, you intend to destroy the hunter class, BWAAAAAHAHA! Why do you pay attention to every other class and continue to ignore hunters? 

With that, I am off to start my weekend. You enjoy yours.

First look at Emerald Nightmare

Last night my guild ventured into Emerald Nightmare (Normal) to kick off our Legion raiding effort. We had a full complement of 30, with a couple of standbys who will get a chance when we run again next week. All in all, it was a decent first attempt. We cleared the first four bosses, though one or two were just by the hairs of our chinny chin chins. Still, a kill is a kill, and kudos to our tanks and healers who kept things going even when we DPS did some stupid things. The main annoyance for me personally was that apparently my provider was one of the ones targeted by yesterday’s DDoS attack — it did not affect my latency, but it did cause me to dc 4-5 times, though I was always able to log right back in.

There are a number of third party sites that will give you details, lore, recommended strategies, etc. for each fight. I have linked the IcyVeins summaries. What follows are just my overall impressions.

We started out with Nythendra, a big old classic dragon fight with fairly uncomplicated but pesky mechanics. Of course, the standard dragon moves apply — don’t stand in front of or behind. The addition of the various kinds of rot targeting random players in Phase 1 was a bit different, but it just meant you had to run out of the raid and drop the junk in a more or less organized pattern. We wiped a few times due to the mechanics and visuals in Phase 2, where the rot spots move towards Nythendra and will kill you if you stand in their path, and where the room fills with big old grubs and bugs, some of which swell up and do a 3-pulse AoE burst. I had a hard time seeing the bursting critters and am ashamed to admit I never once made it through that phase. We ultimately Downed the boss on the strength of our heals, and by organizing a rotation of raid healing cooldowns.

This fight seems intended as a raid attention-getter, a way for a team to focus and brush away some of the cobwebs before tackling more challenging mechanics. It certainly did that for us. I am sure in a couple of weeks we will be breezing right through it.

Next up was Ursoc, whom we one-shotted. This definitely reminded me of Butcher in Highmaul, in that it was primarily a DPS check, and the mechanics included a boss charge that required breaking the team up into two groups to alternate soaking the damage. Once you get yourselves organized, it is a pretty easy pew-pew type fight.

For our third boss, we selected Il’gynoth, a creature that parks his eye outside a giant tree, then when you kill the eye you get to go inside the tree for 50 seconds and beat up on Il’gynoth himself. The way you kill the eye is to kill little amoeba type adds right in front of it. And there are also tendrils that spring up all over the place that you have to deal with quickly, along with a big old mist creature add. I liked this fight best of all four we did, found the mechanics interesting but not overwhelming. Of course, since you tend to be fighting a lot of spread-out adds, it is not the best kind of fight for a BM hunter because you lose DPS by making your pets charge from spot to another (and in the case of Hati, “leisurely amble” from one spot to another…), but I still liked it.

The last boss we tackled was Elerethe Renferal, and this dude gave us the most trouble. It certainly gave me personally the most trouble, as I am positively paranoid about tornado-type mechanics. (I never once made it through any version of the tornado-dodging back in Mists in ?Heart of Fear? or as I referred to it, Bugistan.) I do think the visuals could be improved in this fight. It really is not obvious, for example, where web bridges are solid and where they have holes that will let you fall to your death. Also, the change to camera distance made it quite a bit harder, in my opinion, to even know which platform the boss had fled to.

The actual mechanics of this fight are not especially difficult, they are just annoyingly vague visually, and we lost a lot of people trying to follow the boss as she moved from one platform to another. It seemed like for this fight Blizz just incorporated the most pesky mechanics from Ji-Kun, Madness of Deathwing, Beth’tilac, and Blade Lord Ta’yak.

In fact, my observation was that all the fights we did seemed to be mostly rehashes of old mechanics. This is not a complaint necessarily, but it kind of seems like the dev team was “creating” by remixing old stuff off the shelf rather than by actually coming up with imaginative new mechanics for at least the first wing of this raid.

So, pluses and minuses of Emerald Nightmare so far:

Plus:

  • Beautiful artwork for the scenery and environment.
  • Fights seemed tuned well, at least for our 30-size group with decent but not maxed gear. It was normal mode, so in a few weeks we will check out heroic and see if there is a huge difference.
  • Run-ins after wipes are not excessive.
  • There did not seem to be any mechanics where one mistake by one player would result in a wipe, which is a nice change from WoD. Also, wipe points did not seem to be exclusively at the end of a long and tedious fight, another nice change from WoD.
  • At least from the part I have seen, there are no real constant-movement fights that effectively render casters and most healers ineffective.

Minus:

  • Not a lot of innovation or creativity with the fights, all seemed to be reruns of pieces of previous fights.
  • Loot seemed a tad stingy. Also, I don’t think any of the people who got loot (we had it on Personal) got any kind of upgrade. As a side note, it was hard to tell whether or not the ability to trade on PL helped, since the loot people got was in every instance an upgrade for them, so they could not trade.
  • The portal mechanics within the raid are a little off-putting. You basically just approach the portal, you don’t click on it, and eventually you just kind of meld into the destination, no obvious sound or visual cues. Quite a few of us commented that we weren’t sure if we had engaged it or not.
  • Some visuals need to be tweaked to make them more obvious — things like the web bridges in Elerethe and the bugs in Nythendra. There may be others.

Side comment: Blizz’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that as of Patch 7.1 they will no longer allow addons to access player locational data will, I think, have a significant negative impact on most raid teams. Much of the utility of DBM, for example, will disappear, as will some useful heal addon features. Similarly, the very helpful “playback” features of some log sites will be gone, removing an excellent analytical tool for players as well as for raid leaders.

As I said before, the professional raid teams will not suffer from this, but the vast majority of “semi-casual” teams will take a big hit. Having now seen a piece of Legion raids, I have to wonder if Blizz realized they were just going to rehash old mechanics and thus needed to artificially increase the difficulty for most players by taking away addon features. Just seems Like a lazy approach to me.

In summary, I think my overall impression of Emerald Nightmare so far is kind of a big “meh”. It was a great improvement over some of the worst parts of WoD raid tiers, and the artwork is quite compelling, but the mechanics are a bit worn and uninspired.

Housecleaning before vacation

I am going to take a short break from posting in this blog — maybe a week or so. Several reasons, actually. There are some real world work things I need to get to in my studio. I need to spend much of my game time between now and next Tuesday preparing my main for our guild raiding season. And — although things are settling down in the game for me — honestly, Legion still seems too chaotic for me to focus on something long enough to write about it.

Thus, before I take off, a bit of housecleaning so I can return to a nice tidy blog and drafts folder.

Ghostcrawler confirms what we have all suspected. In a recent series of tweets quoted and collected on MMO-C, Ghostcrawler finally came clean on one of the factors driving class changes in WoW, at least while he was at Blizz (emphasis in the quote is mine):

You’ve explained before that back in the days in WoW you wanted to nerf frost mages. How come frost mages were pretty much left untouched for such a long long time? What’s the process behind getting something nerfed/buffed like and who has the final word when something gets nerfed/buffed (at Blizzard and Riot Games)?

The less diplomatic answer is that there were a lot of WoW devs who played Frost mages, even though I wasn’t one of them, so there were always a lot of people to point out your potential mistakes when you try to make a change.

But above and beyond that, it was a tricky design space, because Frost mages were supposed to be good at both tankiness (emergency buttons that cover you in ice) and burst (ice lance combos). When you are good at defense and offense (especially burst), you are walking a razor’s edge all the time.

Who among the Blizz devs plays a hunter? Who speaks for hunters in the design process? Who is there to “point out your potential mistakes when you try to make a change” to hunters?

Answer, clearly, is: No one. And I have to wonder, why is that? If nothing else, why does Blizz not designate someone to be the advocate for each and every class and spec? Someone whose job it is to understand the heart and soul of a class and spec, someone who engages with that community regularly, someone who plays that spec regularly in every game venue, who understands at a gut level the synergy and play style of the spec.

No. No one at Blizz speaks for hunters. They don’t understand the class, they don’t play the class, and worse, they don’t care. This explains a lot. This is irresponsible for a game developer.

Secrets and surprises are overrated. This occurred to me as I — finally — finished my hunter class hall campaign last night and unlocked my third relic slot. Yes, I was happy about getting the achievement, and much of the quest line in retrospect seemed relevant and engaging. But not knowing where I was in the process for the last couple of weeks has been beyond annoying. My impression was that it was an endless series of more quests, and all I could do was slog along miserably ignorant of when it might be over.

Some people do not like to know the big picture, they consider any knowledge of where they are in a process to be “spoilers”. Not me. I am goal-driven, and I like to know exactly how many more hoops I need to jump through before I get to a goal. Contrary to spoiling the process for me, it enhances it, makes me more eager to finish, allows me to gauge when I might expect to be rewarded.

It is the same with Legion professions. Blizz deliberately keeps the profession leveling process murky, telling us repeatedly how much fun™ it is to not know when or where you might find a clue to leveling up! No, no, and just hell no! I want to know what the process is, even if it is a long and complicated one. I like knowing what I will have to do to achieve a goal. I do not like the juvenile game of I-know-something-you-don’t-know.

There are some third party sites that are starting to list things like all the quests in class hall campaigns, and how to level your professions in Legion. I use them, and I am grateful for them. But Blizz should do this for players in a centralized game guide location — no need to look at it if you don’t want to, but there for those of us who want to know how or if we are progressing.

RNG versus the Powerball Lottery. I am in a fairly large and active guild, we have had probably 30-40 people active almost every night since Legion launched. And so far, I do not know of a single person to get a legendary drop. It may have happened, I just have not seen it in any of the many hours I have been playing. Additionally, thus far to my knowledge no skinners have managed to get a drop of fel hide except for the world quest that awards it. The drop rates for these items is so low as to be virtually zero.

This practice, in my opinion, is not in any way related to the concept of “random drops”. It is much closer to the concept of a multi-million dollar lottery. Sure, it is mathematically possible, but realistically the chances are about as close to zero as you can get. These kinds of fairy-tale “drop rates” have no place in a game. Either make it so players have a reasonable expectation of getting them — infrequently, sure, but getting them once in a while nonetheless — or remove them from the game. This is bait-and-switch.

In fact, Blizz, why not publish once a week or once a month the actual number of drops — and the rate per active player — of some of these uber-rare items? If you think they are reasonable for drop rates, put your money where your mouth is and tell us how many are actually dropping.

In spite of everything Ion Hazzikostas says, it is not/not/not fun to be told “there is a chance” to get these items and then never get them. No, Ion, just no.

Plusses and minuses to zone scaling. I like the idea of being able to level anywhere and  still be challenged as well as get appropriate level XP and loot. That is the good side of scaling. However, the bad side of it is that every minor mob along your path becomes a significant threat. Of course, as you gear up they become less of a threat, but I am thinking now of my squishier alts, who likely will not get a lot of gearing up, and how much of a real pain in the patoot that is going to be.

Again, it is not fun™ or immersive™ to have to stop, dismount, and fight your way through that same bunch of mobs every time you are on your way to a world quest location. Every. Single. Time. Nope, nope, and nope.

At this point, most of my alt leveling will be done after flying, I am thinking. And it better be in 7.2 at the latest. Speaking of which, I think it is time for Blizz to actually stop being coy and announce when flying will be available. (Another example of me hating Blizz’s stupid ideas of “secret” and how much fun that is! Whee!)

OK, that’s it from me for a few days. I expect to be back here writing again next Wednesday — caught up, rested, and ready to go.

Tantrum tactics

Over the weekend I debated with myself over whether or not I should post this, and in the end I decided to just put it out there and let the chips fall where they may. The subject, of course, is Ion Hazzikostas’s Dev Interview from Friday, which you can see in text summary and in video here on MMO-C. There were quite a few topics covered in the interview, and honestly most of them were real yawners in my opinion, but judging by the verbiage before, during, and after the interview, there was only one item of any consequence: Warlocks.

I am going to say some uncomplimentary things about the Warlock community, but before I do, and just so those of you who even now are limbering up your fingers to generate the hate mail can have your facts straight, I play a Warlock as one of my primary alts. I have enjoyed playing it ever since Mists, I did the Green Fire quest when it first came out, I did a bit of raiding with her in WoD, and in general I have a soft spot in my heart for my little kick-ass gnome Warlock. I play with some excellent Locks, some of the most skilled players I know. And for the record, I totally agree with the meat of Warlock complaints about the class in Legion — the mechanics are horrible.

But for the last few weeks the Warlock community has been acting like a spoiled child, kicking and screaming and pounding its fists and threatening to hold its breath until it turns blue. Or maybe green, whatever. What is almost certainly a small gang of mouth-breathing bullies has commandeered Warlock forums and has taken every opportunity to run roughshod over the Blizz devs and whoever else they decide to vomit out their hatred upon. They have had massive downvote and flame campaigns in the forums — not just the Warlock forums but also the general Q&A forum. They spammed the Q&A forum with their rage-filled screeds, and they organized a tedious spam of Twitch chat during the live video of the Friday interview, with the obvious goal of shutting down all voices but their toddler-like wailing. Their tactics drew a comment from Hazzikostas — basically a very gentle reminder that such behavior is not optimal for getting Blizz’s attention.

Except that all evidence is that such tactics are exactly what do get Blizz’s attention, not to mention action. Not only did Hazzikostas spend several minutes detailing what the devs think is inadequate about Warlock design in Legion, but he promised some quick fixes immediately and at least consideration of other changes in 7.1. Even more, after the same Warlock thugs loudly expressed their indignation that he would dare to suggest they might be *gasp* slightly rude, he apologized to them in their forum. And this was followed by what appears to be a series of actual blue feedback.

!!!!!!

Now, as I said, I think the asshats doing this are a very tiny minority of the Warlock community. To the extent that I identify myself as part of that community, I have to hold myself partly accountable for their actions, as should all decent players who love playing their Locks. We let these bullies get away with their tactics, we let them mercilessly flame everyone who dared to disagree with them or who even tentatively mentioned that they were giving all of us a black mark, we let them shut down any semblance of civil discourse. We let them speak for us.

We were cowards, there is no other way to put it. Shame on us.

But shame on Blizz, too, and yes, shame on Ion Hazzikostas, for proving that the only way to get any attention from Blizz is to pitch a screaming, raging fit.

Like Warlocks, the Hunter community has had very serious and legitimate concerns about our class design, beginning in the early days of alpha and continuing to today.  Like Warlocks, we have filled our own forums with thousands upon thousands of posts detailing every aspect of those concerns. Like Warlocks, very respected and skilled members of the community have begged Blizz to reconsider, to at least think about restoring some of the essence of the class. Like Warlocks, we feel let down and ignored by Blizz.

But unlike Warlocks, we as a community have not resorted to scorched earth tactics. Yes, there have been a few individual Hunter posts — mostly in forums — that have a rude edge to them, but they are the exception, and we certainly have not organized the kind of mass tantrum that the Warlock knuckle-draggers have. Nor should we. But it is difficult to keep to the high road when you see it’s the low road that gets results.

It will be the bitterest of ironies if Blizz makes substantive changes to improve Warlock play and continues to ignore Hunters.

Blizz, one more time, I implore you to give Hunters — who as a community have played by your rules — at least the same consideration and attention you have chosen to bestow upon the Warlock class in response to their tantrum tactics.

Nine days of Legion

We are now about a week and a half into Legion, and a few things about the expansion are starting to become clear. Hunter class rage aside, I have been having fun so far, and I think at least for the initial experience the balance scales come down on the positive side for Legion. I am not wild about it, mind you, but it is certainly an improvement over WoD, and there are undeniably awesome pieces to it. And of course the first raid tier opens up in just under two weeks, so that might change things one way or another.

That said, I think my most dominant impression of Legion is a combination of total confusion leavened with a fair amount of frustration. Make no mistake, Legion is “not your father’s WoW”. Blizz has made a sharp turn with the direction and philosophy of the game, strengthening their hold on forcing “approved” play styles, and in the process promoting some players as clear winners and some — if not exactly losers — as at least non-winners. What do I mean?

First, while Blizz has made it relatively easy and fast to level up to 110, the leveling process is really the only straightforward and easily accessible part of the game. Everything else — professions, gear, reputation — is both confusing and complex, and requires significant time commitment, on the order of many hours or days or weeks, to make progress in. I am not passing judgement now on whether this is good or bad, merely noting what is a sea change in the game, one that many players, myself included, are having a hard time adjusting to.

One result of this development is that it really ups the ante for casual players, who form the majority of the player base. Both the time commitment and the exceptionally high learning curve will, I think, serve to frustrate the most casual players to the extent that they will just stop trying to figure it all out. Blizz yesterday reported that they sold 3.3 million copies of Legion, which I interpret as a triumph of optimism over experience on the part of the purchasers. I don’t know how many of those customers were hard core fans like me and how many were disgruntled WoD players deciding to give it one more chance, but my bet is for many of them Legion is the last shot at remaining with the game. (Admin note: I edited the number sold to reflect the actual report, not the 10 million number I for some reason misremembered and first quoted.)

This is all pure speculation, of course, but if someone like me — who has read everything I could about Legion, who makes frequent use of the third party sites, who played a little beta towards the end of the testing, who belongs to a guild with helpful and knowledgeable people, who plays about 20 hours a week and has probably at least doubled that in the first week of Legion — if someone like me is frustrated and confused, what must be the reaction of the players who do not have that kind of extensive support and commitment? I will tell you — they will try Legion, they may get one or two characters to 110, and then they will hit a wall and quit.

Another possible result of this might be that, except for hardcore raiding guilds, the raid experience will be exceptionally difficult. For one thing, “the good stuff” derived from professions will be much more difficult to come by for several weeks at least. I am talking about things like reasonably-leveled crafted gear, enchants, flasks and pots, gems, etc. Large guilds will undoubtedly have a few crafters who can make raid items, but this is likely not the case with smaller guilds. The stereotyped “friends and family” raid teams will just not be raid-ready for a very long time, and if they try to force it, they will fall prey to a lot of frustration from a lack of progress.

So I think that Legion has opened the possibility of a wide gulf in the player base. On the one hand, there is a lot to engage the “player butterflies”, the players who log on once or twice a week for a couple of hours just to pass some time. They can leisurely level, they can gather some mats, explore, do a profession quest here and there, maybe eventually do some wold quests. On the other hand, there are many paths to end game competition for more driven players, the ones who raid with pro or semi-pro raid teams, the ones who typically play 40 or more hours a week. They can go hard core into crafting for raiding or for personal gear, they can max out gear early through grouping for normal then heroic then mythic instances, they can pursue nearly every world quest, rapidly gain rep and thus access to more gear, etc.

But for many players in between these two extremes, Legion is very challenging and frustrating right now. I am talking about the players who do not have huge amounts of time to devote to the game but who nevertheless in the past have managed to maximize their potential or just achieve their game goals within a reasonable amount of time after a new expansion. For these players, Blizz has moved the goal posts a significant distance further away. They now have to reassess their years-long definition of “reasonable amount of time after a new expansion”. Because what used to be a couple of weeks or a month is now at least several weeks or even months.

Again, I am not saying this change is either good or bad, just that for most players it is a huge change in the tempo of the game. I think Legion is an unmitigated success for the fringe players — the butterflies and the hard core types — but it is a drastic change for those of us in the middle, and it is very hard to get used to.

Second, Blizz has finally forced us all into their restrictive alt play definition. They started this process in earnest in WoD, and in Legion they have completed it. That is, the only legitimate purpose of alts, in the approved rules, is to play them as mini-mains. They are not/not/not under any circumstances to be used to further the ends of a main or simply as gold makers. No, no, no. By forcing all professions to not only be leveled (nothing new here) but to also be geared enough and skilled enough in the class to compete in the world with mains in order to get mats or even to learn their professions. In Legion, alts must be able to do PvP, dungeons and raids, spend long hours gaining rep with nearly all factions, and defeat relatively difficult enemies, just to be able to craft items.

This logic totally escapes me. Honestly, Blizz, why the fuck do you care what my reasons are for having alts? This is the game developer equivalent of the nanny state — sticking its big fat nose into areas it has no business in.

And before I get hate mail, let me say I am not against having to work a bit for one’s professions. What I am against is forcing every alt to be played with the same intensity and time commitment as a main, to be proficient in every aspect of the game, just to be able to pursue a profession.

Blizz, if you want every profession to compete at a high level in the end game, in order to achieve profession competency, then allow us to pursue every profession on our mains, like some other games do. If you did that, then the only reason to have alts would be your approved one: just to experience another play style. Everybody wins.

Third — and last — we have still heard a big fat zip/zero/nada from Blizz on any recognition of hunter class deficiencies. (You didn’t think I would let a post go by without mentioning this, did you?) The most we have gotten is a patronizing blue post aimed at protecting raids from idiot hunters who insist on using Barrage indiscriminately in the decidedly Barrage-unfriendly Legion dungeons:

Barrage now fires in a tighter cone, and its visual has been improved to better show its area of effect.
Developers’ Notes– Barrage fulfills a fantasy of a wild spray of shots in a large area. Of course, that can be dangerous, and often Hunters accidentally pull additional enemies with Barrage, especially in Legion dungeons. We saw this as a failure on our part to convey what it actually does. This hotfix should allow Hunters to get a feel for the shape and size of it and build a reliable expectation of what will happen when they cast Barrage. No change was made to Barrage’s damage. We hope that this helps Hunters and their groupmates to have a more pleasant dungeon experience.

Yeah. (This sounds like one of those horrible breakup lines: “No, no, it’s not you, it’s me.”) Note that this was done not to improve the hunter experience, but to improve the experience of everyone in a group with a hunter. It’s nice they are so solicitous of every class in the game except hunters. Hey Blizz, what about the horrible pet control that often sends them off to pull mobs in dungeons even with no input from the hunter? What about the fact that even the existing pet controls of Assist, Defensive, and Passive are completely unreliable? What about the fact that hunters have less than zero control over Hati? What about the random disappearance of our pets in combat? What about the fact that hunters have so few shots that we automatically spam whichever ones we do have? What about…

Oh, forget it.

I will be listening intently to that oracle of all things WoW, Ion Hazzikosatas, in his next Dev Interview tomorrow. If he fails to even acknowledge the existence of valid and documented hunter concerns, or if he dares to insult us again by claiming “BM hunters are in a good place”, then I think it is clear that hunters are once again to be abandoned as a class in Legion.

Garrison Crush Saga

We all knew this was coming, of course — no one spends $5.9 billion to buy up a company like King and then not squeeze everything they can out of it as soon as possible. Blizz has been telling us now for a couple of years that they think the future of gaming is in mobile apps, so no one should be surprised when they move to not only develop separate mobile app games but also incorporate mobile play into every game franchise they own.

The latest news about the imminent launch — for iOS and Android — of a WoW Companion App, designed to let you fiddle with your class hall missions and check out current world quests, will be welcomed by some and decried by others. (As of this morning, I was unable to find it yet in the App Store, so my guess is we are a couple of days out from it still.)

In my last post, I wrote that the whole class hall piece in Legion seemed contrived and sort of out of place to me, and I have truly never understood why Blizz would want to shove more garrison-like activity down our throats after the really bad reception the whole mechanic got in WoD.

All is now clear. I think that from the start Blizz planned Legion garrison class hall missions expressly for the King treatment. It explains a lot about why they retained much of the garrison structure and mini-game aspect — the code was already there to use for mobile app development and testing, no need to start from scratch. It also explains why the integration of class halls into the Legion story seems relatively clumsy and more like an afterthought. It was not an afterthought, it was planned ever since the acquisition of King, As an actual mini-game with main game tie-ins. It is the logical evolution of the early and relatively tenuous tie-ins Blizz did with Hearthstone. The Hearthstone connections had no real influence on anyone’s game, but the class hall mission ones do.

I should, at this point, tell you that I am by no means a technophobe. Quite the opposite. I have several mobile devices, and I love using them. (As a matter of fact, I usually write this blog on a tablet.) I have, and use, multiple accounts on a variety of social apps (though I acknowledge the concept that social app users are not truly customers but rather the product). I am someone who dearly loves the newest, shiniest gizmos, someone who enjoys being connected to the world and being able to interact with it at will.

But I have to say I am a tad bit uneasy with what I see as the Facebookification of WoW. From the ability to integrate the game with one’s Twitter account, to the actual Facebook tie-in and use of live streaming from that app, to now this new mobile app — it all gives me a kind of itchy feeling between my shoulder blades. I don’t know exactly why, either. My best guess is that these changes seem to make the game less of a respite from daily life and more an actual part of it. It is incrementally blurring the line between escape/relaxation time and the demands of being an adult.

There is no doubt, from Blizzard’s point of view, that this is a very good thing. Their previous attempts to integrate social apps into the game had mixed results (people really do seem to be kind of averse to using their FB account to log in to the game, for example), but I am betting this new app will be a net win for Blizz. For one thing, it will very significantly increase the all-important franchise performance metric of “Monthly Active Users” — that is, the number of hours active subscribers spend logged in to the game. Think of all the time you spend just quickly checking the various alerts and tracking apps on your phone. Now you can do a quick check of your class hall missions, too, and maybe see what new world quests are available for your evening play time. Those minutes, multiplied by at least tens of thousands of players, become huge for the Activision Blizzard Quarterly Reports.

It will not stop with class hall missions, either. Depending on how well this app is received — and I am betting it will go over very well — expect to see it expand into other areas. Right now I think the most likely candidate for expansion is work orders for cooking and any other professions that use them, and I am sure there are other areas I am just not thinking of. But when we start to learn more about Patch 7.1, keep your eyes open for mechanics that will be the next thing to be incorporated into the WoW mobile app.

I don’t know if I will make use of the new app or not. I am sure plenty of people will love it, plenty will think of it as a way to maximize their actual game time, and that is perfectly legitimate. In a way, it’s almost too enticing not to use, but then so was Facebook when it started, and people did not notice that the creature beckoning them into the gingerbread-and-candy house was actually a wicked witch who would eat them ….

Just a couple things…

It is now Day 4 of Legion live, and I have some random thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly thus far.

For reference, you should know that my experience has been limited to my BM hunter main. She has gotten the artifact for MM but done nothing other than obtain it, she is now level 110 as of mid-morning yesterday, and has leatherworking and skinning as professions, along with all the secondary ones except archaeology. I do not do pet battling or PvP on any of my characters, and generally do not actively chase special mounts or toys. I usually play about 20 hours a week, but have spent considerably more time than that on the first few days of Legion.

The Good

  • Zone design and rendering — really not enough superlatives for this.
  • Questing — another huge success. It outshines even the excellent questing experience of WoD. The introduction of scaled zones has worked extremely well. The quest lines are interesting even to someone like me who cares very little for lore (I think it is added in and amended to justify mechanics, not the other way around). The one criticism I have is that the dialogues can get tedious, and there is usually no way to skip them like you can cutscenes — I think this will wear very thin by my third or fourth alt.
  • Travel portals — the addition of portals to the ones Dalaran already had is a good idea, as is the portal to Dal in faction capitols. I also like that we have a special Dalaran hearthstone, so that we can keep a handy locational hearth in an area we are questing in, a faction city, a tranquil little inn we just like, etc. Retaining our garrison hearthstones is similarly useful, since we may need to duck into them later from time to time for a quick bank trip, to DE some low level gear, as an alternate  (albeit circuitous) route to other places, whatever.
  • Dungeons — I have only done a couple of these, normal because my gear is still fairly low level, but the ones I have done seem adequate. Not too long, not too short, with some varied mechanics per boss.

So I guess so far Blizz has gotten most of the major expansion things right. Of course, we have not seen the live version of raids yet, and most of us have not gotten heavily involved in world quests or other end game activities, so I will reserve judgement on that part. And this is a 3-day weekend in the U.S., so there will certainly be a significant increase in the number of people playing, and we may yet experience some technical problems due to volume. But a thumbs up on the general experience so far.

The Bad

  • Class halls — so far, this whole idea is just not working for me.
    • I can’t buy into the “everyone is the heroic leader of their class” fantasy, that is just moronic in my opinion.
    • I rarely see a whole gaggle of hunters hanging out there, so it is not exactly a social gathering place. As a matter of fact, in the hunter class hall there is not even any place to sit in the bar/food area. Now that I think of it, I am not sure there is any place in the entire structure to sit down except the floor.
    • I find the follower missions annoying and puzzling and far too reminiscent of the bad parts of WoD garrison missions, except there seems to be far less reward for the new ones.
    • I see no point in the class-specific quest lines, and I think the ones that require a class-pure group to do will become harder and harder to find a group for.
    • The only purpose I can see to the class hall is to manage your artifact weapon, and there really is no reason that could not have been done in Dalaran.
    • The whole mechanic just seems contrived and strained, as if someone decided there would be more garrisons in Legion, then had to do some dramatic changing because of the horrible reaction to them in WoD. Blizz should have just trashed the whole notion instead of trying to convince us that chicken poo is really chicken salad.
  • Professions — maybe these will sort themselves out in a couple of weeks, but leveling a profession is now a quantum leap in complexity from anything we have seen before. I confess I still cannot figure out what the hell I am supposed to be doing in order to just to craft some basic mail gear for myself.
    • There are long, long, long quest lines just to get a few recipes.
    • There is an annoying bug in which every time I enter the LW shop in Dal, I auto-learn the exact same recipes over and over again.
    • Getting to one of the key parts of professions — obliterum — is a ludicrous and currently prohibitively expensive process. I cannot for the life of me understand why everyone should be required to obtain a crafted item from four crafting professions just to be able to further craft their own stuff. On my server, to get the required items now (even assuming you can craft one of them yourself) is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90,000g. Blizz airily claims the prices will come down in the coming weeks, but I am not so sure, given normal greed in combination with the gold inflation of WoD.
    • I have collected over 2000 skins, am at 815 (Worgen racial) skinning level, and I have yet to collect even one Blood of Sargeras. Is this bad luck, a Blizz joke, or is it yet another part of the incomprehensible profession changes?
  • Overall game complexity — there is a difference between a game’s depth and its complexity, and I think Blizz has conflated the two, adding layer upon layer of complexity as a cheap way to give the impression of depth and skill challenge, or possibly as a way to easily add “content” that will keep people busy for a few months.
    • I am not exactly a novice at this game, and I confess I have no idea what the hell I am doing right now. I cannot juggle all the separate pieces of professions, leveling quests, class hall stuff, artifact talent and relic progressions, unlocking a seemingly endless string of required things and processes — even for just one character.
    • I suspect that in a few weeks I will have it more or less figured out, but I absolutely cannot imagine many new players will have the patience to deal with this. Has Blizz abandoned the goal of bringing in masses of new players to this game? Because at this point the investment of time to even understand how you want to approach the game seems too high for a new casual player.
    • Blizz has told us for quite some time that complexity is bad, we cannot be expected to bother our little heads about more than a few action buttons or to undergo the math trauma of figuring out how to reforge gear, and then they give us the chaos that is the Legion experience?
  • Some quality of life things — these are unnecessary annoyances Blizz really should take the time to fix very soon.
    • Auction house in Dal — there is no reason not to have one each for horde and alliance here. I read one blue post where Blizz is considering putting in an engineer AH like we had in Mists, but that is unacceptable and merely annoys non-engineers further. I urge them to discard this idea and just do it right, give us a regular AH in Dal, end of story. (Late Edit: Acutally, I just found the blue post and re-read it. The idea is to put in an engineer AH like in Wrath — not like in Mists. So if that is basically the barrel with an auctioneer on it, available to all, that would work for me.)
    • Quest log — given the large number of quest lines Blizz is more or less forcing us to carry at one time in Legion, the limit of 25 quests in your log is very difficult to deal with. (I hope this limit of 25 is not another piece of unchangeable legacy code like the knapsack limit.) This is another example of Blizz making sweeping changes to the game and failing to follow through  with their implications — make the game vastly more complex, add dozens and dozens of quests for every profession (even secondary ones), make them long and involved enough that one cannot just do them and move on, add even more quests for world content and class hall campaigns and special perks like the taxi whistle — yet fail to see that a limit of 25 quests needs to be changed, too.
    • Transport to hunter class hall — make this a thing you can carry around, don’t force us to go back to Dal, then take an eagle from there. Yes, I know it doesn’t take long, but it is an annoying and unnecessary step that some other classes don’t have to deal with.

The Ugly

  • Hunters. I am not going to stop harping on this. Blizz has, either because of incompetence or indifference, broken this class, and they must fix it. Yet we still have no acknowledgement from them that there even is a problem. Stunning. And ugly.