Nighthold, tier tears, and hotfixes

Today’s post is a few bits and pieces on Nighthold, tier gear, and the most recent hotfixes.

Nighthold. Last night our raid team ventured into Nighthold (N). We had a good time and downed 6 bosses — Skorpyron, Chronomatic Anomaly, Trilliax, Spellblade Aluriel,  Krosus, and High Botanist Tel’arn.

Mini-rant: What is it with Blizz and their seemingly random use of apostrophes in names? As far as I can tell, there is no solid linguistic foundation for it, none of the Azerothian or ancient WoW languages has any real basis in descriptive or structural analysis. Do the apostrophes connote contractions? Possessive case? Glottal stops or whistles or some other phoneme difficult to render in a Roman alphabet? Or, like raising one’s pinky in an elaborate show of faux politesse, are they a pretention? My money is on the latter.

Anyway, back to last night’s raid. We one-shotted all the bosses except for Botanist, who did give us some trouble. (However, we wiped a couple of times on trash, go figure.) There was some muttering about Nighthold being “undertuned”, but I don’t agree. We are pretty much overgeared for Normal, which as some of you may recall was originally (in Patch 5.4 I think) structured to be the “friends and family” mode, with Heroic being the progression mode. Had it been a true cakewalk, we should have cleared it, but Botanist’s mechanics did in fact kick our butts — the individual mechanics are not complicated, but dealing with all of them in the last phase was pretty chaotic. I haven’t yet studied the 4 bosses we did not do, but I suspect they will give us a challenge also.

My previous guild’s raid team was actually a “friends and family” type organization, and I can tell you there is no way that team would have been able to down even Skorpyron the first time we ventured in. So my initial impression is that Nighthold is tuned about right. Most of us last night had glanced at a couple videos and explanations for the first 2-3 bosses, but after that we just pretty much played it by ear, relying on the in-game raid notes, normal raid awareness, and above-average healing and tanking.

The raid’s physical structure is visually appealing, kind of a mix of both Arcway and Court of Stars, with both indoor and outdoor areas. (Whatever else such a structure provides, it is nice to be able to repair periodically without having to zone out or have a well-prepared engineer in the group — I hope this is Blizz’s standard practice from now on.)

We’ll go back Thursday and hopefully finish the last four bosses. We got some decent loot drops last night (not me, of course, don’t be silly) with one random legendary and a few pieces of tier gear. (Well, I did get a non-tier helm from someone who offered it up because they didn’t need it. I gratefully accepted it, I am not proud.)

Hunter tier gear. This, too, is a mini-rant (okay, maybe a full-fledged rant). I don’t know how useful the tier bonuses are for other classes, but for BM hunters, of the 2-pc and 4-pc bonuses, one is pretty good and one is crap. Here’s the thing — prior to last night, the Blizz tooltips had this description (quoted in MMO-C and IcyVeins and a couple of other places) (emphasis mine):

(2) Set (Beast Mastery): Dire Beast reduces the cooldown of Bestial Wrath by an additional 8 sec.
(2) Set (Marksmanship): Every 35 Focus you spend reduces the cooldown of Trueshot by 1 sec.
(2) Set (Survival): Flanking Strike now has 3 times the normal chance to trigger Hunting Companion.
(4) Set (Beast Mastery): When you use Bestial Wrath, all of your currently summoned Dire Beasts gain 50% increased damage for 15 sec.
(4) Set (Marksmanship): Trueshot also reduces the cost of all your Focus spenders by 15%.
(4) Set (Survival): When Mongoose Fury reaches 6 applications, you gain 20% increased damage to all abilities for 10 sec.

 

Well, I thought when I first began reading about hunter tier gear, at least they gave us the good bonus with 2 pieces, and the 4-piece set — which I almost never am able to get — is blah. The number of Dire Beasts beyond one that you have summoned at any point is completely RNG-dependent, so the 4-piece bonus is pretty hit and miss, not really something you can depend on for burst damage. Par for the course, but the 2-piece Bestial Wrath cooldown is pretty powerful. Woohoo, I thought.

Silly me, haven’t I learned by now?

Imagine my surprise last night when suddenly, out of the blue, the tier set descriptions were magically reversed. Now the crap bonus with Dire Beast damage is the 2-piece, and the BW cooldown bonus is the 4-piece. Chances of me getting this? Close to zero.

Blizz,seriously, do you just enjoy screwing with hunters, or what? Do you derive amusement from telling us one thing for months and then pulling the rug out from under us? Was this mixup just a stupid error in not checking tooltips, or did you in fact arbitrarily switch it in the hours before the patch went live, not giving a flying flap how it affected your players?

The sad thing is, this might still be a mixup. I have no idea what the hunter tier bonuses are, which is the 4-piece and which is the 2-piece. Blizz is that incompetent.

Recent hotfixes. January 17 saw some fairly significant hotfixes. The ones I though were the most interesting:

  • Mythic Emerald Nightmare is now cross-realm. This is something the Mythic raiders have been asking for now for some time. My raid team is not actually a Mythic team, but one of the reasons we did not go beyond 2/6 in EN (M) is that we frequently had 18 or 19 raiders but could not find that last one or two on our server. People had friends who would have happily joined us, but they were on another server. So I applaud this move by Blizz.
  • Crafting costs for the talent-swapping tomes have been “significantly reduced”. Good, I suppose, although as I have written before this is in my opinion nothing more than trying to polish a turd …
  • Some significant buffs were made to hunters, especially to BM hunters. Again, this to me is a good news/bad news situation — the good news is that we got some buffs, the bad news is that Blizz is still flailing wildly trying to “balance” classes and to slap some gigantic band-aids on the gaping wound that is hunter mechanics. It just seems worrisome to me that at this stage in an expansion, Blizz is still making “adjustments” of this magnitude.

Beast Mastery
Cobra Shot damage increased by 46%.
Chimaera Shot damage increased by 10%.
Barrage damage increased by 10%.
Kill Command damage increased by 10%.

Tl;dr: Nighthold is fun, Blizz has no idea what they are doing with hunter tier gear or class “balancing”. 

It’s the little things

A couple of weeks ago in a tongue-in-cheek comment reply to a reader, I wrote that I had reached the “acceptance” phase in my grief over what I still consider to be Blizz’s destruction of the hunter class in WoW. I still bristle over the betrayal, but I finally realized they are not going to change it significantly, and I can either keep playing or quit. As I still enjoy the game itself, and as I am not willing to play a different class as a main character, that pretty much means I need to get on with virtual life. Doesn’t mean I won’t have some choice words for Blizz about it once in a while, just that it is not usually my main focus.

However, just like when you have a massive headache and consequently all of life’s normal little annoyances really really bother you, so too have I begun to notice a lot of annoying minor aspects of Legion. If I were not already cranky over the hunter thing, I probably would just take them in stride as part of a massive and therefore imperfect game. But the fact is, I am cranky and out of sorts over hunters, so these little annoyances grow in proportion.

Blizz cannot possibly repair the damage they have done to hunters, but here are some quality of life things that I think they can — and should — fix, if for no other reason than to make amends for the big things they screwed up in Legion.

Blood of Sargeras. This needs to be BoA. The fact that it is BoP means that it is yet another reminder of many of the major problems with Legion.

  • The huge time requirement levied on each character in Legion means that your main probably ends up with far more than can be used, while alts are starving for it. Yes, you can now trade it for mats — on my server that translates into something like 100-250 gold per Blood if you do a mat shuffle. This is not insignificant — although I would argue it is fairly low given the massive inflation in WoW economy in Legion — but the fact is, your alts do not need gold, they need Blood of Sargeras.
  • Blizz chose to make some professions winners and some losers in Legion. For example, if you have a skinner, you pretty much clean up on Blood of Sargeras. Blizz may claim that the drop rate is the same for skinning as for herb gathering or mining, and it may be, but the fact remains that you can do what amounts to mass skinning in a few minutes, whereas it takes hours to exploit the same number of herb or mining nodes. My main is in fact a skinner, and without even trying I have over 200 Bloods in the bank even after using a bunch early on for obliterum upgrades. Meanwhile, my poor engineer/enchanter can’t get enough for even one max crafted gear upgrade, and the same is true of most of my other alts.
  • This mat is an absolute requirement for upgrading crafted gear, both to make obliterum and to use it. It takes 2 Bloods just to use one obliterum. Almost always what that means for me is that my alts cannot gather sufficient Bloods for upgrades until they are well past the point when the upgraded gear is useful. This just serves to highlight the total failure of crafted gear in Legion, as far as I am concerned.

Obliterum. At a bare minimum, Blizz needs to allow this to be used on non-soulbound gear. Because as it stands now, it is almost useless as an upgrade mechanic. And while I am on the subject, let me just say I think the whole mechanic is one of the stupidest ideas Blizz has ever come up with, and honestly that’s a pretty high bar.

  • You can only apply it to soulbound gear. This means you cannot craft higher level gear and send it to an alt, nor can you sell it for decent gold. Effectively, armor crafters are nearly useless in Legion.
  • It requires Blood of Sargeras, both to make it and to use it. As I pointed out above, this effectively severely limits any alts getting significant crafted gear upgrades, until such time as the upgraded gear is useless to them. (Another example of Blizz being deliberately disingenuous to us. Remember their braying about “You can freely change to any spec in your class, no more 2-spec restrictions”? Yeah, right. And crafted gear — “You can equip as many pieces as you want”. Uh-huh.)
  • The quest line to unlock the forge is ridiculously expensive and annoying. I realize I may be an outlier, but I am so bad at pvp and I hate it so much, that I died on my main hunter 31 times just to finish the sewer part of that quest line. I suspect I am not unique in this. How is this fun? Because even when I finally did unlock the forge, I realized that it had almost no value to me going forward.
  • Obliterum can be bought and sold. However, the fact that you cannot use it without a stash of Blood of Sargeras means that it is of limited use to players looking for gear upgrades. Additionally, on my server it still goes for 3000-3500 gold each. Thus, even if you have the Bloods to do a full 10 upgrade to a single piece of gear, it will cost you upwards of 30,000 gold for just that single piece. Absolutely not worth it, especially since world quests award similar level gear for a LOT less effort and zero cost.

Weekly quests. This idea occurred to me last night, as I was trying to crank out another 20 world quests for one of my alts. Since Legion requires significantly more time on each character just to get to the same point most people are used to getting to, why not do a bit of pro-rating for the weekly quests? So, for example, if you don’t have the time to run 20 world quests on every max level character, why not award half the loot for running 10? Same for the Mythic and TW quests. I think this would actually encourage people to run these on more characters — and thus spend more time playing — because it would not seem like such an endless grind.

Talent swapping. OK, I probably should not get started on this, but here is another world-class stupid idea from Blizz. This kind of hit home to me last week on one of our raid nights. We had just finished Mythic Nythendra and had decided to try our luck at Ursoc. Knowing there was a ton of trash to be dealt with before moving to Ursoc, I spent a Tome of the Tranquil Mind to swap from Murder of Crows to Volley.

Only I did not get to use it, because we were immediately in combat. I had neglected to announce to the other 19 people that everyone needed to stop what they were doing so I could make a talent swap. I did say something, and the RL said they would stop after this bunch of mobs. We paused, I hit another Tome, and lo and behold a mob wandered near one of our players and I lost yet another Tome and still was unable to swap talents. At over 500g a pop this gets mighty annoying might fast.

Here’s the thing: I understand we have never been able to swap talents while in combat, no big deal. But this ridiculous doubling of  steps necessary to do it — open the talent table, find the tome, click the tome, click the talent — means we are now doubly penalized for swapping talents. And those extra steps can obviously preclude talent swapping in a group just when it is needed most, as my experience shows.

This comes at a time when Blizz is deliberately making us choose significant differences in talent lines for AoE or single target, and when they are mixing up these kinds of fights to extreme degrees. (Not even going to address the raid time lost when players without the expensive Tomes need to hearth to Dal, then get resummoned just so they can swap a talent.) Honestly, hunters aren’t even the worst affected by this — poor warlocks are way worse off.

Blizz has said they made a mistake in setting the price of the Tomes too high and they intend to try and fix it soon, but for me that does not answer the basic question: Why the hell did anyone think this was a good idea to begin with? What possible benefit to game play does this provide? And don’t tell me it was so that Inscriptionists could make money — Blizz had no compunctions about letting many professions become useless in Legion, why should Inscription be anything special?

I really need someone to explain this to me.

That stupid hunter eagle “perk”. As some of you may know, hunters can get access to a special set of flight points presumably serviced by the same eagle line that transports us to our class hall. As it turns out, this is less a perk than yet another punishment inflicted on hunters. These flight points are all located on extremely remote, high mountain peaks. And, while they are not tied in to the regular flight points, for some reason they are tied in when it comes to using your whistle. Thus, hunters often use the flight whistle only to be whisked off to a remote location of no use whatsoever, and are then forced to use a hearth of some sort or perform a fairly long and complex glide just to get back into the flight system.

Blizz, please do hunters the favor of pulling your head out of your ass and  fully integrate the eagle flight system into the regular one, or if that offends you too much, at least make it unresponsive to the whistle.

Hearthstone type access to class halls. A couple of classes — druids and monks come to mind, there may be some others — have the luxury of being able to transport themselves directly to their class hall no matter where they are. Less favored classes — for example warlocks and rogues — must first get themselves back to Dal, then wend their way to a sewer access and through some corridors and maybe even then through a portal — to get to their class halls.

This may be “immersive” or “fun” at first, but after a few times it is merely tedious and annoying. Blizz, we get it: there is a great story behind each and every class hall, but for crying out loud give all classes a garrison-type hearthstone to get there.

As I said at the start, none of these things is a show-stopper, they are all minor annoyances. But taken together and along with some of the really major Legion problems, they become constant irritations that detract significantly from the game. Seems like Blizz could fix them for us, and no, doing so will not “cost a tier”.

Anyone else have any quality of life annoyances in Legion?

Patches 7.1.5 and 7.2

Today’s post may be a bit disjointed, I am still juggling repairs for our flooded basement and hot water heater replacement, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about some of the recent changes in the game.

Patch 7.1.5 rolled out Tuesday, and from my point of view it was pretty smooth, with the exception of the patch notes goat rope. The class changes took a little getting used to for some specs, and our Tuesday night raid was kind of off as a result, but there are some nice features in the patch.

I am fine with the BM hunter changes, and the MM hunters in our guild — one of whom admits he is a real dps whore — are good with their changes, also. MM lost a little AoE capability but it seems not too significant. BM got some very decent buffs, making the spec pretty crazy with massive AoE. And traps are back, which is awesome.

I think Blizz made incremental progress in giving a few more actual choices in talent tiers, but there are still too many where there is one clear required talent and/or one clearly useless talent. Barrage, in spite of getting a buff for BM, is still the worst choice by far in that tier, but on the other hand Volley now has some utility in certain situations.

The one change I did notice that makes a noticeable difference, though, is the nerf to the BM legendary belt, Roar of the Seven Lions. In my opinion, the previous stats on it were the one thing that seemed to correct the abysmally slow BM rotation, the saving change that brought back some fun to the spec. Now that the belt’s focus cost reduction has been nerfed by 25%, we are back to a very clunky rotation.

And the BM changes have still done nothing to give the spec any semblance of burst capability, no cooldowns unless you count Stampede which few hunters do since it stinks so bad as a talent. It is frustrating to be at a crucial point in downing a boss, and when the RL says to give it everything you’ve got, all you can do is maybe punch your keyboard harder (at the same slow pace) and set your mouth in a determined manner.

Also, I  can’t really tell any difference in Hati’s relative speed (or lack thereof) in ambling towards a target.

I am not a fan of Brawler’s Guild, but the people in my guild that enjoy it seemed pleased with its return and the new bosses. Me, I had some fun with the new books you can buy and send to your alts that bump up your artifact knowledge to level 20 (if you have completed level 25 on the character you buy it on). It was kind of a kick to use the book, then do a couple of World Quests and advance your artifact traits by 10 or more all at once.

Other than these things, I have not had a lot of time to explore the 7.1.5 changes (spent a lot of time the past couple of days with plumbers and contractors), but it seems to be a decent patch for a “minor” patch. Hopefully maybe next week we can get a look at the Mists timewalking dungeons, and I will have some time to check out a few more of the quality of life improvements in the group finder, and explore the new world quests. I don’t have a leveled engineer or enchanter, so those changes aren’t of much interest to me, and my JC is still stuck in the ridiculous dungeon requirements so probably not too interested in the JC changes.

Our guild has both EN and ToV heroic on farm,  and we have even downed a couple of EN mythic bosses, so the release of Nighthold next week will be fun. When it was first announced, I thought it might be a little soon, but honestly we are pretty bored with the current tier. And it will be nice to complain about not getting tier gear instead of complaining about not getting regular gear 😉

Now people’s attention will turn to Patch 7.2, which we are told will soon be up on the PTR. Of course the main thing I am looking forward to is flying — we will see how many more requirements Blizz piles on before they let us have it.

The other two things we have been promised in 7.2 — from Thursday’s dev Q&A — are more class changes, specifically more hunter changes (unspecified), and some more profession changes. Not to get too deeply into the whole professions thing, but it seems like Blizz kind of knows they screwed them up in Legion, even though in the Q&A Kubit explained to us how much of a success things like obliterum, and quickly obsolete crafted gear, and expensive mats are.

I was kind of amazed that Kubit seemed to think the whole reason mats are more expensive in Legion is because they cannot be farmed in a garrison like they were in WoD. No mention of the great gold giveaway that led to pretty significant inflation for all items.

I was also amused that both he and Lore are under the impression that time required to craft an item (as well as to gather mats) translates to a higher price. My experience has been that long crafting times (such as the ones we had in WoD due to cooldowns) or scattered nodes mean absolutely nothing for prices after about the first month. There are always people willing to sell them for a few gold over mat cost, with no regard for the amount of time invested in crafting the item or gathering the mats. Most people place no value on their time in a computer game, maybe since their purpose usually is to waste time anyway.

7.1.5 seems a relative success, but 7.2 really is the patch I hold out the most hope for.

Sorry for the scattershot approach in this post. Hopefully by Monday I will have my thoughts better organized. Everyone have a great weekend.

Catastrophe at home

No post today, basement flooded, water heater gone, etc etc etc. Joys of homeownership! Hope to be back Friday.

Ummmm, patch notes?

Patch 7.1.5, a “semi-major” patch, goes live in a few hours, and rather than looking forward to it, I feel a certain sense of dread. True, in theory BM hunters are getting some buffs, including the return of traps, but still I can’t shake the feeling that this patch will do nothing to fix the chaotic state of Legion classes, just move the annoyances around a little.

I did not play much on the PTR, on purpose. The Legion alpha and beta test cycles completely destroyed any illusions I might have had about conscientious players being able to influence development in any meaningful way. If good hunters and good warlocks, and other top players in their classes could not staunch the class chaos that ended up being Legion, then there is no chance that any PTR comments will have any meaningful effect. The PTR is just like the dummy thermostat in some offices — there to make the employees think they have some control over their environment.

As I write this, at about noon Eastern Time, we still have no official Patch notes. They may be out by the time this is published, but that does not change the troubling nature of what we are seeing. Whatever term Blizz may give the patch, it is in fact a major one. It includes, according to everything I have read, major changes to classes/specs and to the legendaries players have come to rely on to overcome the initial shortcomings of their main characters. It introduces significant new content in the form of the micro-holidays and Pandaria timewalking dungeons. There will be a new season of the Brawler’s Guild.

It is a maxim in many endeavors that “The job’s not over until the paperwork is done.” In any project, failure to allocate time and other resources to final documentation is judged to be just that: failure. It often means that for whatever reason, the project manager was cutting corners, maybe to meet a looming deadline. When corners are cut in documentation, it is always advisable to look for what other corners may have been cut. If there was insufficient time for producing a user manual, for example, maybe there was also insufficient time for thorough testing of the product.

It is maybe a tad early to say, but I get the feeling Blizz has painted themselves into a corner with their Legion promises. Yes, it is good they recognized the major shortfalls of WoD and are trying to make up for them, but I wonder if their commitment actually made it all the way up the management chain so that appropriate additional resources were allocated in order to fulfill those promises. I always felt that Legion release was rushed by some number of weeks — witness the scrambling Blizz has been doing for the last couple of months to fix the legendary and class balance problems. And I feel like 7.1.5 is being similarly rushed — either Blizz recently promised more than they can deliver in the patch, or they are holding themselves hostage to an arbitrary promise of new raid tiers — and thus major patches — every “4 to 5 months” (per Ion Hazzikostas).

Nighthold will be released next week, and that is right on schedule. Good for Blizz. But I have to wonder: Have we moved away from the meme of “that will cost a raid tier” to a new one of “that raid tier will cost your class satisfaction”?

Just a thought. Here’s hoping for a smooth patch day tomorrow. Oh, and Blizz, not trying to be pushy or anything, but

COULD YOU FOR CRYING OUT LOUD GET OFF YOUR DUFFS AND GIVE US SOME PATCH NOTES BEFORE THE PATCH GOES LIVE?

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Class chaos

In my last post, I mentioned my view that one of the major flaws with Legion is something I call “class chaos”. Today I want to discuss that some more.

“Class chaos” as a term suggests to me that there is no true unifying control within the class development hierarchy. That is, there is no obvious indication that class design in Legion adheres to any identifiable project structure. Now, maybe there is such a structure, but it is so vastly complex that it is impossible to manage. Still, the result is the same.

Let’s take the idea of class fantasy as an example. When Legion was officially announced a couple of years ago, Blizz made a pretty big deal about how important class fantasy was going to be to the radically-redesigned classes. They even wrote and posted new class fantasies for each class.

Although it seems Blizz understood the idea that class fantasy is central to characters in the game, their actions indicated they only understood this centrality in terms of combat mechanics. The reworking of the most radically redesigned classes showed they had zero understanding of the emotional attachment players had to individual ideas of class fantasy. It would not have been difficult to get some idea of this, no expensive player polls or research required, in my opinion. They could have just sat down with some of the prominent players for each class and talked about why these players loved their class. Would this have been a perfect picture? Of course not, but at least it would have yielded some sort of emotional baseline that could have been used as a series of “red lines” not to be crossed during mechanical development. We know from a smattering of blue posts that the class devs may not even play the class they work on for development — they may understand certain mechanics, but without playing it and loving it there is no way they can know the “soul” of the class. Okay, fine, but they could at least consult with some people who do.

Moving on to more general class development, was there any attempt to define a meta-structure of class roles in Legion? How many tank specs should the game have, and what features should they have in common and what features should differentiate them? Same for healers and damage dealers. How many physical damage dealer specs should there be, how many should deal only in magic or nature damage? How does this defined class structure affect dungeon and raid design, PvP areas? There may be such a meta-design diagram somewhere on a dev wall at Blizz, but there is no indication it had any effect on Legion development — I offer as Exhibit A the fact that Legion introduced two new melee classes into an already-crowded melee space. Exhibit B is the effective removal of all utility functions from what had arguably been the prime utility class in the game — hunters.

Was there any realistic assessment of the increased workload necessary to deal with the complications inherent in rebuilding most classes and specs from the ground up while at the same time introducing the complex interactions of artifact traits? It’s pretty clear to me, from the horrible state some classes went live in, that the answer is  no. Blizz underestimated the complexity of this undertaking and, given what seemed to be a sped-up and arbitrary expansion deadline, simply got so overwhelmed that they gave up on some classes, hoping they could fix them later.

What they may only now be realizing is that some of the class/spec problems are so fundamental that patch tweaks cannot come close to fixing them. And that any mechanic changes must be weighed in consideration of player investment in spec artifacts. At least I hope they are realizing that, and that they will fix the fundamentals in the next expansion if they cannot do it in this one. But then, we are told that artifact weapons will not be a feature of the next expansion, and since these weapons are currently integral to the mechanics of each spec, I can only surmise that means yet another ground-up redesign of classes. *sigh*

Returning to the idea of class fantasy, I just want to mention one of my pet peeves, not for the purpose of ranting (although I never pass up an opportunity to rant), but rather to illustrate a last point about class chaos.

Blizz went to the trouble of rewriting class and spec fantasies for Legion. I may not agree with what they came up with for some specs, but the fact remains that they put them out there. To me, this means the implementation of spec mechanics should reflect the published fantasy. I only really know about hunter specs, but I can tell you nothing could be further from reality.

  • We have a “marksman” spec that uses a bow instead of something like a sniper rifle, and whose signature shots are anything but precise in their targeting. In fact MM shots closely resemble the effects of buckshot from my grandfather’s old 12-gauge. Worse, the baseline reliance on RNG means that this “marksman” relies not on skill for targeting, but on blind luck.
  • We have a “master of beasts” who in reality has almost zero control over them, even if the horrible pathing issues were solved, which they are decidedly not. One of these “highly controlled” beasts, Hati, tends to amble slowly to a target, taking his own sweet time, seemingly oblivious to any urgency from his master. Most pets have lost their special attributes, rendering moot any hunter expertise in pet selection based on animal or family traits. The calling of many pets all at once, in the form of the Stampede talent, is a joke because all the hunter can do is unleash them to run in a single direction, not sic them onto a directed target. Target moves, pets are ineffective. Technical glitches abound, such that in some raids and instances (Helya comes to mind), pets just stop attacking or disappear into some invisible path with no warning. Placing a pet on “Assist” may or may not have the intended effect, as sometimes they slip into passive anyway.

At any rate, the point I am trying to illustrate here is that there appears to be no follow-through to implement the very class fantasies Blizz themselves have created. This to me indicates sloppy project management and poor attention to detail. This is disappointing, because in other development areas — zone design, quest lines, artwork, etc. — Blizz is all about attention to detail, all about creating a seamless environment.

Maybe Blizz needs to do to themselves what they have been doing to us now for several expansions and rebuild their class development management and staff structure from the ground up. Selection of class and spec is one of the most personal and far-reaching choices a player makes in this game, and I think we deserve better treatment from Blizz than they have been giving us lately.

Everyone have a good weekend.

What Blizz got wrong in Legion

My last post laid out what I think Blizz got right about Legion. It was a long post, because I think on balance Legion is a decent expansion — certainly leagues better than WoD. As I said in the post, I give Legion a “solid B”. The reasons it does not make the cut for an “A” is the subject of this post.

All expansions have good and bad points. And of course what is one person’s “good” is another’s “bad”. Something I hate about the game may be the one thing that keeps you coming back to it. In weighing what I was going to include in this post, I tried to evaluate the big picture of things in Legion that make me grimly grit my teeth and slog through, knowing for me they detract significantly from the fun of the game, but they must be endured if I wish to get to the fun parts.

As I began to outline what I was going to include in this post, I noticed there were there design approaches that seemed to play a major role — singly or together —  in every area I find troubling about this expansion: RNG, the drive to increase the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric, and what I think of as “class chaos”. These seem to me to be meta-mistakes in Legion, fundamentally flawed design philosophies that give rise to a host of unpopular and/or fun-killing aspects of the game.

RNG (random number generator, or more properly, pseudo-random number generator) is at the heart of nearly every computer game — I don’t know of a way to code complex combat simulations without it. The extent to which randomness is used, however, is where people begin to get uncomfortable with it. For example, if every time you cast a spell in WoW, it was like spinning a huge wheel of fortune, and you got truly random outcomes anywhere in a range of one to ten million hit points, most people — Blizz devs included — would consider that bad design. Similarly, if absolutely every aspect of the game — even things like where you end up when you interact with a flight master, or how many health points you get when you down a health potion — were RNG-controlled, again almost everyone would consider that to be unacceptable game design.

But there is a vast area between minimal combat-outcome RNG and the extremes I just cited. And it is in this area where reasonable people differ in their opinions of “how much is too much”. I would argue that Blizz has a years-long history of RNG creep, in the sense of expanding its use to more and more areas of the game. Some form of RNG seems to be their preferred design approach for as many aspects of the game as they can apply it to, and we have seen it noticeably expanded in Legion, to the extent that for me it has crossed the line into “too much” territory.

This trend to making everything RNG is closely tied with the MAU motive: if you want certain gear — including legendaries — or certain profession recipes, there is absolutely no way to get them other than to keep playing until they magically appear for you. If you are exceptionally lucky, this will not take long. But if you have normal or bad luck, this means that the only thing you can do to “increase” your chances to get this stuff is to play more hours. If you are someone who is limited in your daily play time, this means it could take months — or never — before you get whatever it is you are seeking. We have all read the stories of how the world-first mythic guild members ran literally hundreds of instances in the first couple of weeks of Legion just to get their legendaries, or to advance their artifacts.

This is a demoralizing effect — no matter how skilled you are, no matter how diligently you work at a goal, you have zero control over obtaining items you are seeking. It is a lottery, and the only way to succeed is to keep buying more and more tickets, but even then there is no guarantee of a prize.

The concept of “class chaos” is this: Blizz had reasonably well-balanced classes and specs at the end of WoD. There were exceptions, of course (priests — both shadow disc, for different reasons — come immediately to mind, as do of course survival hunters), but overall most of the classes had reached a decent equilibrium. This was no small feat, as it had taken most of WoD to achieve this somewhat wobbly balance in what is undeniably a vastly complex system.

So what did Blizz decide to do? Rework nearly every class and spec (except for some unfathomable reason mages and druids), almost from the ground up, add in the huge complicating factor of artifact weapons, and create a new class. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we have seen. Patch 7.1.5 promises some improvement to the horrible unbalanced mess Blizz has made, but I believe the problems with many classes are so fundamental that they cannot be resolved in Legion. They can possibly be resolved in the next expansion, but only if Blizz exercises some discipline and refrains from yet another total rebuilding of every class.

These three basic design mistakes — expansion of RNG, drive to increase MAU, and class chaos — are the primary factors that result in what for me are fun-killing aspects of Legion:

Gear

Artifact weapon. I was leery of this idea to begin with, and four months have only served to confirm for me that it is a design I endure rather than embrace. It seems to me to have been created solely for increasing the MAU metric for the game. Some of my pet peeves about it:

  • It permeates most aspects of the game — nearly all activities are centered around this single piece of uber-gear. Want to switch specs within your class? Got to consider how to handle a new artifact weapon. Want to level an alt? Got to pretty much pick a spec and stick with it for many levels, as there is that artifact to consider. Want to run just a couple world quests? Better weigh the relative trade-offs between the ones that award AP or relics and any others you may actually prefer to do. Not a big fan of dungeons? Too bad, you better run them so you can get the gobs of AP they award.
  • There is no feeling of achievement or accomplishment with it, as the trait table is for all practical purposes endless. Once you get the last gold trait at level 34, you get to chase tiny power increments for 20 more levels at ever-increasing AP costs well into the millions for each. And new patches bring even more traits and levels. There is no goal to work towards, just an endless slog grubbing for artifact stuff.
  • While some classes and specs got artifacts with real lore and game history behind them, many others got made-up lore with absolutely zero history. I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz first made the decision that there would be 36 separate artifacts, then looked around and said “Holy shit, that’s a lot of design work, well just get something out there, bring in the interns to help!”
  • Which leads me to one of the worst artifact decisions Blizz made — having spec weapons instead of class weapons. I understand there are some technical problems with having the same weapon for hybrid classes, but I cannot imagine those would be worse than the current state of affairs. I suppose the corporate suits are happy that players must grub out more game hours to make off spec weapons viable, but it is a real joy-killer for me.
  • Last, the decision to make artifact weapons mandatory for all players. Again, forcing players down a specific game style path. Why could there not have been a choice — artifact weapon for any character that wishes to raid, normal weapon for others?

Legendaries. I think even Blizz is starting to realize this was a terrible design decision, but of course now they cannot back out of it, they are stuck trying to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t. (Another RNG-based MAU-driven decision.)

  • The fact that getting them is based completely on luck just does not seem very “legendary” to me. It’s kind of like getting a Pulitzer Prize in a box of cereal. Yeah, it was a nice surprise, but you did not work for it, you did nothing to deserve it, it was just pure luck.
  • Worse, if you do not get such a prize, you feel deficient because all your friends got one and you have munched your way through about 100 boxes of Lucky Charms and still have nothing but a sugar high to show for it.
  • Still worse, some of the Pulitzers come with actual monetary awards, and some are just gimmicky little jokes. You of course, want the “really good” Pulitzer, but even when you finally get one in your 101st box of Lucky Charms, it turns out to be just a piece of fancy paper folded up into an origami bird. Whoopty doo.

Other gear. I’ll cover this in my next post, where I’ll talk about things I think Blizz can still reasonably fix in Legion. But some of the gear decisions that do not work for me are:

  • Crafted gear. It is prohibitively expensive to upgrade, and even when you do, you have what is at best mediocre gear. Worse, you can only upgrade soulbound gear, meaning you cannot sell upgraded gear or even craft it for an alt.
  • World quest gear does not mesh well with the gear levels most people have by the time they are regularly running WQs. Except for the odd piece here and there, the WQ gear rewards are seldom worth pursuing, unless you are the lucky type that can reasonably hope for a random upgrade.
  • Order hall gear. Again, by the time a character has done everything necessary to qualify for most of this gear, it is not an upgrade, even with the upgrade tokens.

Professions

In general, I think Blizz has pretty much destroyed any satisfaction I ever enjoyed from professions. This is another design that seems completely RNG/MAU driven.

I think one of the reasons they have done this is because they have undergone one of their signature pendulum swings from a previous expansion. In WoD, pretty much anyone could enjoy the benefits of most professions; in Legion, almost no one can enjoy the benefits of any profession other than the ones they have on their main.

I think the other reason they have done this is as part of a conscious effort to implement Ion Hazzikostas’s pet theory that no one should be able to have a stable of alts that in any way benefits their main.

I am not against doing quest lines in order to level professions, but I think it is going overboard to require a certain play style to do so. In Legion, you cannot level a profession — especially a crafting profession — unless you not only complete a long quest line, but also run dailies and instances and in some cases raids, and get lucky enough for the RNG gods to award you with recipes. And of course, in order to do this, you must be properly geared which means if you do not have something close to main-character time commitment, you will not max out your profession.

  • One especially galling change in profession quests is that when you gather/craft something to fulfill a quest requirement, you have to give it up. This is unlike most pre-Legion profession quests, where when you gathered or made something, the quest was completed by the act of doing that activity, and you got to use/sell the proceeds of your quest.
  • The whole recipe level concept does not work for me. For one thing, it is hard to keep track of. For another, it is just a way to extend the amount of time required to reach a goal. Some recipe levels are only available from faction vendors, requiring long weeks of rep to qualify for. Some recipes and levels require relatively large amounts of expensive/rare non-related mats. Again, by the time one is able to amass these items, it is seldom worth it to craft them any more, with the possible exception of flasks and food.
  • There was — and still is — a design bias that vastly favors herbalism and alchemy in Legion, and to a lesser degree jewel crafting and enchanting. Nearly all other professions are close to worthless, both for gold making and for assisting other characters in your account.
  • Nomi. ‘Nuff said.

Alts

The points I have made above converge to have an extremely negative effect on alt play. And yes, I know there are people out there who will claim “I only play two hours a day, and I have leveled up 11 alts and maxed out their professions and still raid at the Heroic level with my main” — to which I will cry horse hockey! Anyone who wants to merely level up alts can do so easily. But to gear them even minimally for heroic instances, or to a level for LFR — much less for normal raiding or Mythic dungeons — takes main-level time commitments.

My preferred play style for years — and I suspect it is a fairly common play style — has been to gear up, progress on, and raid with a main, meanwhile leveling and minimally gearing up 6-7 alts for instances, guild alt raids, and professions. That play style is just not tenable in Legion unless I am willing/able to vastly increase my play time.

Ion Hazzikostas has finally put the mechanisms in place to force everyone to play every character in the approved play style, and any attempt at deviating from this approved style comes at tremendous cost to the player in terms of time.

Summary

I have titled this post “What Blizz got wrong in Legion”, but from Blizz’s point of view I suspect it is considered to be brilliant design. One of their main metrics — MAU — is almost certainly way up. The never-ending story of artefacts and world quests, along with drawn-out quest lines and random awards for professions and legendaries, means quashing the “I’m BOOOOORRRRED!” whines of a certain segment of the player population, even if it is at the expense of players like myself.

As I have said before, Legion is a fantastic expansion for high-end hardcore players and for super-casuals, but it is seriously flawed for those of us in the middle of those two extremes. Like I pointed out in my last post, this does not mean it is a bad expansion, but it does have significant failures that detract from my enjoyment of it. And I bet I am not alone.

My two cents.