Simple things

I spent my game play time over the weekend leveling my rogue. He is a notable alt for me because first of all he is a he, and second of all he is a melee damage dealer. I like him, he is kind of a happy-go-lucky type who doesn’t really stress about anything. In WoD, he was a combat rogue, and I opted to go with that spec’s morph — outlaw — in Legion. I have zero idea whether or not outlaw is one of the “respected” specs, honestly don’t care. Also, I am not especially skilled at dealing with the Roll the Bones mechanic, but I copied a weak aura from one of my in game friends, and that more or less provides me with light-up idiot buttons telling me whether to roll again or not. Basically, though, I just faceroll keys, and it seems to work out. I think I only died twice during the 100-110 leveling process.

I know all you really good rogues out there are now shaking your heads over my description of my rogue play. Sorry, I really do understand there is a lot more to playing a rogue than I just described, it’s just that this is my fun alt. I play him when I need that unexpected-day-off-from-work feeling. You know the one — that sheer delight when you find out you have an entirely free day to spend as you please, you are permitted to forget all your normal grown-up chores. I think lots of players have such an alt. In fact often it is a hunter, because they certainly are fun to play, even now, for things like leveling or world quests.

Anyway, leveling my rogue th last couple of days clarified a couple of thoughts about Legion. In no particular order:

  • Especially in the leveling process, Legion is a fun expansion. Zone scaling is one of the best design innovations the game has ever had. It allows you to customize your leveling experience and eliminates much of the boredom from leveling your third or fourth or fifth alt.
    • My only gripe — and this is all because of me being lazy — is that I can level from 100 to 110 in about 3.5 zone completions. I always tell myself I will go back and finish off that last partial zone and do the full one I missed, but so far I have not done so, except of course on my main. This tends to limit my world quest options for the alt, at least until I pick up some of the many flight paths I need.
    • I still don’t like the Suramar experience much, and it annoys me that, even though I get the whistle automatically at 110, I still have to go through that whole tedious Suramar intro set of quests, at least up through getting the mask disguise.
  • The profession slog is terrible, and each time I level an alt I resent it more and more. I don’t dislike the idea of having a profession quest line, but I do hate being pushed into specific end game content, such as dungeons, that I have no intent on pursuing with an alt. The “levels within levels” design stinks, too, and it makes me feel manipulated — “Spend more hours playing this game or you will never finish leveling your profession, BWAAAAHAHA!” And I really detest the whole RNG mechanism for advancing your profession. You should not have to be a raider or a mythic instance runner to have a well-developed profession. Blizz broke professions in Legion.
  • No matter how Ion Hazzikostas tries to spin the whole AP mess, it amounts to one gigantic expansion-long grind. And no matter how much he lectures us on how we shouldn’t bother our silly little heads with chasing after it, it remains a psychological dead weight, a virtual treadmill ever present in the game, taunting you no matter how many clothes you hang on it to try to ignore it.
    • I realized this when I figured out one of the reasons I was having such a good time leveling my rogue was that I didn’t care how much — if any — AP I was collecting for a weapon I would never be raiding with.
    • The AP catch-up mechanism for alts is decent, and I am glad Blizz implemented it. But it is also pernicious, in that it subtly sucks you into joining the AP grind for your alts.
    • It is tempting to say I should just not care about how much AP I gather for advancing my main’s weapon, too, but the fact remains that if you wish to raid with a regular team in Legion, you have to care about it. Even in guilds that do not push for certain gear levels or certain minimum damage numbers, the average of the team will inevitably increase as the expansion goes on, and if you write off AP grinding you will sooner or later begin to hold the team back. If you wish to raid in Legion, you must grind AP ceaselessly. 

Side note: I am having a hard time understanding the whole Watchersplaining about plans for AP in 7.2. I believe it goes something like this: “We know AP has become a grind for some players, so in 7.2 we are going to fix that by vastly increasing the amount needed for each additional trait beyond 34, as well as by making the weapon power increases less important. Also, we are going to cut the amount of AP earned for the quick group instances, but increase it for the long ones.”

I am at a loss as to how that does anything positive, I would think if anything it makes it more of a grind with less of a chance for ever getting anything useful out of it. I guarantee that the people who feel the need to grind AP now will not feel less of a need when it takes tens millions or even billions for each trait increase. Similarly, the people who are not currently driven to chase AP will feel even less of a need to do so in 7.2.

This may be a theoretical “improvement” because it lessens some gap between the people who have a lot of time to play and those who don’t, but it in no way gets at the base problem with AP, which is that it is a never-ending grind that weighs down the game. This is true, no matter how often or how emphatically Ion Hazzikostas tells us it is not so. We have come face-to-face with a Blizz “alternative fact”.

  • Class hall quest lines are tedious, over-long, and yield very little of value for an alt. If it is convenient to do parts of it for my rogue, I am doing it, but I am not going out of my way to finish it. I really do not care if I ever get that third relic slot.
  • Highmountain is my favorite zone. Stormheim is second. I definitely prefer more “natural” looking zones, not big on pink trees and green goopy rivers and hostile plant life and such.
  • The legendary mess is still a mess. I have almost zero hope of ever getting even one on an alt, mainly due to the exorbitant amount of time needed on each before the mythical “bad luck insurance” kicks in. But honestly, I find I do not care.

All in all, I think the reason I had so much fun leveling my rogue this weekend is that it was simple, and I tried to make sure it stayed that way. There was no pressure to do anything but gather quests, do them, and turn them in. And if I found I did not enjoy the quest, I abandoned it without a second thought. I refused to permit myself to feel pressure to develop a garrison class hall, or large amounts of AP for a weapon, or to gear up beyond what I could get as quest loot, or to quest in certain zones because they would pay off the most for professions, or to run instances as soon as I could. I just bopped around, doing what looked interesting to me and enjoying the best parts of Legion.

It was exhilarating. It was eye-opening. I learned some things about myself, about the value of not pursuing goals if they seem to be a burden. And I am going to try and apply some of this approach to my main, in an attempt to get back to the sheer fun and genius of this game.

Q&A — meh

Short post today, lots going on IRL. I did take the time to listen to the Q&A yesterday, and I am sorry I wasted an hour. I suppose there were a couple of interesting revelations about legendaries, but all in all it was pretty bland. Hazzikostas spent about 90% of the time talking about, yes you guessed it, gear — artifact appearances, artifact power, artifact relics, tier gear, trinkets, and legendaries legendaries legendaries. I hoped a question about secondary stats might lead to one on class balance, but no, secondary stats were discussed only insofar as they affect gear not as they affect class play styles.

As I said in my last post, Legion — and dev focus — has morphed into something  that certainly seems more gear-centric than I can remember in the game. I would really have liked to hear some discussion on class balance, maybe even one tiny mention of the long-promised help for the hunter play style, but no, just mainly gear gear gear.

Side note: Sorry, but the “fixes” Blizz has made thus far to hunters have done absolutely nothing to improve a clumsy and awkward rotation, have given BM players zero burst capability, have not significantly improved the deplorable pet pathing or Hati problem, have done precious little to restore the mobility Legion removed. We finally got some traps back, which was nice, but other than that all we have gotten are some shut-them-up number tweaks. It has never been about the numbers. I would have thought Hazzikostas might have at least mentioned the going forward plan for some of the worst classes, but nope, not a peep, as if that is now no longer a problem or at least not one they want to talk about any more.

Maybe the whole question of fixing classes is in the “too hard” category, and it is easier to focus on gear… I do find it amusing to watch Blizz scramble to apply bandaid after bandaid to the whole legendary process — there was even an expanded explanatory blue post later yesterday (collected here by MMO-C) — in an attempt to “fix” something that was poorly conceived and implemented, and which has had cascading major effects on nearly all class play. I am willing to bet more than one dev heartily wishes these legendaries would just disappear from the game.

I am betting one of the non-gear subjects discussed — the demise of some world competitive mythic guilds — will get a lot of attention in the blogosphere in the next couple of days. Towards the end, Hazzikostas very delicately took some of those guilds to task for promoting polices almost guaranteed to quickly burn people out. I thought he had some excellent points, but more than anything I was heartened to hear him say Blizz recognizes that many players perceive Legion to be overly — and endlessly — grindy. He said 7.2 will alleviate much of that feeling. I hope it does, although I think the solutions he has offered so far will fall short. Still, it is hopeful that they at least recognize the problem.

The only other item of mild interest was the short discussion of group buffing abilities. Apparently these are just an experiment (?), which is why only a few classes have them. I thought it was pretty naive of him to go on and say he does not expect that raid teams will stack them or select certain class/specs purely to take advantage of them. Really? What planet has he actually been living on for the last couple of years? He scolded some of the top guilds for going overboard on competing for world first, and he doesn’t think they will stack raid buffs?

So, as Q&A sessions go, the one yesterday was not awful, but it was also relatively uninformative. Just my two cents. Gotta get to my chores for the day, everyone have a nice weekend.

The ascendancy of gear in Legion

Last night was our regular normal raid night, and it was a good session all the way around — we cleared normal Nighthold, did 3 early bosses in heroic so as to give us a head start Thursday for our heroic progression, and still quit 45 minutes early. Quite a few people got tier gear (not me, of course) and there was even one legendary drop, and in general we just had a pretty good time. But about halfway through, I had one of those sudden realizations, the kind you get when you know a certain situation exists but its full impact has not yet dawned on you:

Legion gear is a complete and total mess.

I have ranted a few times about various aspects of Legion gear, but last night it all came together like one giant poop snowball rolling down the hill at you faster and faster. What made it dawn on me is when I realized that I really can no longer tell if a piece of gear is an upgrade for me or not. This is not for lack of trying. Here are the steps I go through to try to determine whether or not a piece really is an upgrade:

  • Before raid, I run a series of sims (I use Beotorch, but there are other sites that will do this for you, or you can download something like SimulationCraft and run them yourself).
    • I take into account that I use a standard “AoE” talent build most of the time, but I also have a single-target talent build that I use for some bosses with no, or very few, adds. This means at least two sims need to be run, because the results are very different with different talent builds.
    • Then I need to pick a fight scenario. Because it is too complicated to pick more than one for each talent build, I usually pick a single boss stand-in-place one (Patchwerk, Ultraxion) for my single target build, and a single boss with quite a few adds and light movement for my AoE build.
  • Once the sims are done, I load them into Pawn (again, this is what I use, there are other similar addons out there). This in theory gives me a quick tooltip reading on any given piece of gear, whether it is an upgrade or not, and an estimate of how much of an upgrade it is.
  • When raid time comes around, the first thing I look for in a piece of gear that I have won or am being offered in trade from someone else who can’t use it, is the Pawn number in the tooltip.
  • In some cases, I will disregard Pawn and go with my gut — as for example if my current piece is level 870 and the new piece is 885, I will call it an upgrade even if Pawn does not. This, of course, assumes that the primary and secondary stats look decent, although for example in the case of necks there are no primary stats so you have to look at other things like bonus effects, gem slots, etc.

For several months, I used a BM Pawn build by Azortharion and linked in IcyVeins. It was a decent way to start, but the thing is, it is based on an assumed ilevel and an assumed baseline set of gear. If you don’t have this set, you will get skewed results — my experience was the higher ilevel I attained, the more skewed were my results.

The way that secondary stats interact in Legion, it is not always the case that the piece of gear with your preferred secondary stat is the best, since there are complex interactions among them, and the main factor really is the ratio of secondary stats, not just loading up on your “primary” secondary stat. (I am giving myself a headache here…) The bottom line is, your best upgrade gear varies according to the particular set of gear you have equipped, and it frequently has absolutely nothing to do with ilevel.  It doesn’t vary a lot If you get one new piece, but if that piece is enchantable and/or has a gem slot, it can change your stat ratio enough that you might want to rebalance things. And often we are talking about a few thousand additional damage points, not just a few hundred.

But here’s the thing: Even if Pawn or your gut tells you a piece of gear is an upgrade, it is still a crap shoot. All sims are based on a set of specific assumptions, and if those assumptions were flawed, then the outcome/recommendation will also be flawed. As to going on gut — on more than one occasion I have equipped what to my gut looks like a decent upgrade, only to unequip it and go back to my other piece when I realize it is not actually helping me.

Remember back in the WoD pre-patch (6.0.2), when they completely reworked secondary stats and got rid of reforging? Here is what the official patch notes (expanded) said about that:

The original intent behind Reforging was to offer a way for players to customize their gear, but in practice it offered little in the way of true choice. Players attempting to optimize every piece of gear were well advised to look up how they were supposed to reforge an item in an online guide or tool that had already determined the optimal choice. It added yet another step to the list of things that must be done to a new item before it was ready to be equipped, reducing the joy of getting an upgrade into a chore.

If an upgrade drops, we want you to be able to equip it with a minimum of fuss. It is for those reasons that we’re removing Reforging from the game.
The Reforging system and associated NPCs have been removed from the game.

HAHAHAHAHA! Oh, Blizz, you crack me up. At the time I did not appreciate what a great joke you were playing on us, but now that I see it, I have to say it was well done! You definitely got me on that one! Yeah, reforging was too complicated, so instead you gave us this Byzantine maze of obfuscated simulation math, probabilities, and contorted stats. Good one!

In fact, the whole Legion gear picture resembles a Hieronymus Bosch painting, with your piece of upgrade gear somewhere in the middle of all that clutter and confusion. In addition to the guess-if-it-is-an-upgrade factor, we have:

  • The mess with crafted and order hall gear that I talked about yesterday.
  • Artifact weapons making a single piece of gear central to most end game play — not only as far as chasing AP, but as being inextricably intertwined with spec power, spells, and play style.
  • The big mess with legendaries — everything from drop rate, to “good ones” versus “trash ones’,  to the fact that their lack often hinders effective spec changing within a class. (Another good joke from Blizz — yeah, you can freely change to any spec in your class, nor more restrictions! Except, of course, artifact weapon grinding, different gear sets because of stats, and “required” legendaries…)
  • Secondary stats. Honestly, no actual non-professional player can understand their complex interactions sufficiently to make any kind of reasonable judgment about a piece of gear’s utility to them.
  • RNG. Once again, the people on the good end of the probability curve make out like bandits, while the chronically unlucky are left to muddle along. This affects not only tier gear and weapon upgrades (relics), but also legendaries and possibly even more importantly secondary stats. I have said it before and I will continue to say it: Ion Hazzikostas, RNG is NOT fun! Speaking as someone always on the butt end of the curve, I can tell you not only is it not fun, it is soul-crushingly depressing.

Gear in Legion seems more important than I can remember, and I think it has reached a point where player skill, while still a factor, is much less a factor than in the past. This growing centrality of gear in Legion, combined with the pruning of raid buffs and utilities for all but a couple of classes, points to a sea change in Blizz’s philosophy, one that puts us far along the road to “Bring the class, not the player.”

I think when I look back on Legion, I will see gear as one of the biggest failures of the expansion, right up there alongside the betrayal of the hunter class. Methods for Legion gear enhancements and accumulation — like the current hunter play style — have become part of the game that I play in spite of, not because of.

A change of pace

Over the weekend I spent some time on my alts, mainly my alt hunter and my druid. It was a nice change for me. I spent time on my alt hunter mainly to finish her jewelcrafting quest chain and to gather a lot of ore, because I have other alts that would benefit from rings and necks and gems and such. (Shhhhhh, don’t tell Ion Hazzikostas … be vewy vewy quiet!).

I did finish the JC line, although of course that means very little — most of my recipes are level 1, and the mats seem to be quite rare. Also, the mining RNG quests seem to have a rather low probability of dropping, so of course I have not yet gotten them, which means (I think) I cannot yet get any Blood of Sargeras from this gathering profession. Without Bloods, I can’t craft high end items, nor can I even gear up enough to get into LFR.

Not making Bloods BoA is one of the worst decisions in Legion, in my opinion. I have over 200 on my main, for the most part worthless, and my alts are crying for them. This critical mat is what I call a “domino mat” — it has game repercussions far beyond what a single material should have. If you are a crafter, you cannot craft many high end items without it. Even if you have enough to craft the items, you can only craft them at a relatively low levels, because anyone wishing to upgrade a crafted picee of armor must do it on their own, using their own Bloods (20 or more just to get a single item upon to mediocre level). Thus, players wishing to use crafted gear to get up to, oh, say ilvl 850 or so — not exactly a high level in Legion — must have a buttload of Bloods in order to do it. That is assuming you have a character — probably a main — who can crank out obliterum at a high level. (Yes, Ion, guess what, we are now at the point of having a main exist to support  alts. Happy?)

Thus, the soulbound nature of Bloods, along with the requirement that gear must be SB to be upgraded, means crafters cannot make and sell  gear above level 815, and players wishing to upgrade this low level gear must be advanced enough to be able to gather the Bloods to do it — which generally means by the time you are able to upgrade your gear you have long ago stopped needing it. (Similar to that ridiculous class hall gear that requires you to have jumped through enough hoops in order to buy 810-830 level gear — or even to buy the final upgrade to get it to level 840 — that by the time you have grubbed enough to get there you no longer need it.)

Great job, Blizz, really excellent planning. This is like a toy manufacturer making a toddler pull toy, but requiring any child using it to earn their own money to pay for it — by the time they can do that, the pull toy is kind of moot.

Thus, when I decided to gear up and play my druid more, it turned out to be a much longer and more tedious process than it should be at this stage of an expansion. Not only for the reasons cited above, but also because suddenly nearly all the gear-rewarding world quests disappeared. Seriously, I thought well if I can’t upgrade my crafted gear on my druid because of lack of Bloods, at least I can run a bunch of world quests and get some decent gear from them. Nope. Whether by recent stealth nerf design or simply because of bad RNG in the WQ selection engine, there were almost no WQs that awarded gear this weekend. It took me literally until Sunday night, after 3 days of grinding, to get enough gear to qualify for LFR. LFR!!!! This is sad.

However, once I did finally get geared up, I had a lot of fun with my druid. I had leveled her as a boomkin, because I have always kind of liked that somewhat quirky play style, but also because honestly Blizz still has not made the leveling process very healer-friendly. (I am always impressed with people who level their healers as healers.) Anyway, having leveled her up a couple of months ago, I decided to switch main spec to resto.

First I had to get the resto artifact weapon, and I have to say I found this quest line to be pretty engaging. I definitely liked that it was heals-centric and required healing to complete. It was not overly long, but for a non-healer like me it was somewhat challenging. (I let my group die once before I succeeded … oops.) I had enough AP saved up to get my heals artifact up to level 24 in one fell swoop, so that was kind of nice.

Armed with my new artifact and a whopping 826 ilevel, I queued for Emerald Nightmare LFR. It was the first LFR I have done in Legion, and especially considering it was late in the game week, it went quite smoothly. As usual, I was stressed healing, but after it was over I realized I had a lot of fun. I got two pieces of gear that pushed me up to qualify for Trial of Valor, but I didn’t queue for it as it was pretty late. I’ll do it tonight (yeah, I know, Monday night LFR is a bad idea).

Side rant: What is it with Blizz and their apparent need to make support functions as annoying as possible for players? Last night I wanted to try out a few heal rotations, and since I knew there were no target dummies in Dal (!!!), I traveled to the druid class hall, thinking of course there are target dummies there — they have them in every other class hall I have an alt for. Nope. No target dummies in the Dream Grove. This of course is along with the Blizz design “feature” of no mailboxes in class halls, no auction house in Dal (don’t start with me on this, engineers!), and of course as I said no target dummies in Dal. Seriously, Blizz, what is the reason behind these annoyances? And don’t give me some bull hockey mumbo-jumbo pseudo-lore crap. I want to know the real reason! Malevolence? Twisted dev humor? Technical limitations? Laziness? Incompetence?

Late edit: See Sar’s comment below. Apparently the druid class hall has both a mailbox and target dummies! Whoops, well now this is awkward, what can I find to rant about?? Maybe clueless players who can’t find stuff in class halls?

I did a small amount of druid healing in LFR and a few random instances in WoD, but it was nothing to write home about. Before I queued last night, I got some quick pointers from one of our guild’s top druid healers, and that was very helpful. As it turned out, no one died — well except for a couple who died from trash because they stupidly outran the raid. I was pretty low on the healing charts, but I was always in with the actual healing group not the also-healers like Spriests and Pallies, and anyway I don’t give healing numbers much notice. I did do a lot of overhealing, but our raid healer explained that is pretty much unavoidable with druids, and he gets a lot of good natured grief over it in our raids.

It seems like Blizz pretty much left resto druids alone as they worked over many of the other classes. I suppose those of you out there who main a resto druid might disagree, but from my untrained perspective I did not notice a huge difference between what I did in WoD and what I did last night in Legion. I think I like the druid healing style because it reminds me of what all hunters used to be — highly mobile, with quite a few extra tricks in their bag. Also, I find it refreshing once in a while to get away from the kill-kill-kill mentality of damage dealers. There is a certain satisfaction in helping out your group members in such a direct way. (But I still find it stressful while doing it.)

Anyway, I enjoyed my sojourn into druid healyland over the weekend. I expect I will be spending more time pursuing this as Legion wears on.

Never-ending grinds

Tier 20 Set Bonuses
The latest PTR build added Tier 20 set bonuses. Keep in mind that these haven’t been tuned, some are missing, and some have already been changed.

When I saw this little blurb in MMO-C, I pretty much just wanted to give up. Seriously? T20 is on its way? While unlucky sods like myself are still grubbing for their 3rd and 4th pieces of T19? Why am I bothering? Because, if history holds, I will get my 4th piece of T19 the day before 7.2 goes live. If I get it at all.

And to be honest, I am still irate that Blizz — once again — pulled a fast one on hunters for the T19. For the entire time that 7.1.5 was on the PTR — and in fact from the time we first got any inkling of the T19 sets — all the gear tooltips said this:

(2) Set (Beast Mastery): Dire Beast reduces the cooldown of Bestial Wrath by an additional 8 sec.
(4) Set (Beast Mastery): When you use Bestial Wrath, all of your currently summoned Dire Beasts gain 50% increased damage for 15 sec.

Finally, I thought, there is a reason to actually seek and equip a 2pc tier set. I might have a chance at last to derive some actual bonus from the 2pc set I almost always end up with, try though I may to get the 4pc set. I was optimistic. In fact, I was over the top when, on the first night of the patch going live, I got my first piece of tier! WOOHOO, I am on my way, I thought! Though I had not done any of the math, I felt certain that the additional 8-second cooldown of Bestial Wrath was a much more effective bonus than the contorted situation you would have to be in for the 4pc bonus to make a noticeable difference — that is, have multiple Dire Beasts up (RNG-dependent situation) with most of their active time still remaining, at exactly the same time BW comes off cooldown.

HAHAHAHAHA! Stupid gullible me. When I got that first piece and made some comment in raid chat about the nice 2pc bonus, another hunter said he was not that impressed with it, that the 4pc looked much more powerful. Sure enough, I double checked, and Blizz had apparently and sneakily reversed the bonus effects of the 2pc and 4pc sets, between the time the PTR came down and the patch went live. Even worse, they never announced the change — it was one of their famous stealth nerfs. 

See, this is just mean, there is no other way to put it. It may have been a result of sheer staggering incompetence rather than diabolical intent (recall they did not even have their stuff together enough to get patch notes out until a couple of hours before the patch went live), but no matter what the reason, I perceived it to be yet another example of Blizz selling out hunters. They just do not give a damn, because hell it’s only hunters, we can screw them over whenever we want.

Anyway, I got 2 pieces of tier in 2 nights of raiding, and of course I have seen no more pieces — other than duplicates — since then.

And now we know there will be yet another tier set in 7.2. A first look at the bonuses for it seem to indicate that once again the 2pc is a yawner and the 4pc is significant, but history tells us there is no way to know what they will be until the patch actually goes live, so it is futile to test it out at this point. Blizz can capriciously change it on a whim.

In the bigger picture,  the sinking, gut-punch feeling I had when I read about a new tier set in 7.2 really kind of sums up the worst aspect of Legion for me: it is a soul-sucking endless chase. It is one thing, I think, to provide “content” — things like world quests, weekly bonus events, additional zones, repeatable dungeons in the form of Mythic+, and additional quest lines like the Suramar ones. It is quite another to introduce mechanics that, by design, can never be “finished”.

I am not an obsessive achievement hound or completionist, I am not bothered by having unfinished achievements lying around. But there is something that just wears me down about the infinite pursuit of AP for never-ending weapon traits, something completely demoralizing about the lottery-ticket approach to getting items like profession recipes and what have become critical legendary gear. These things are not “content” — they are ass-kicking grinds, the very thing Ion Hazzikostas professes to despise. Except these grinds, unlike others in the game, have absolutely zero guarantee of success — you could theoretically keep at them 24/7 and still not achieve your goal. They are designed to manipulate, like dangling the never-to-be-obtained carrot in front of the horse to make him run faster.

As I was writing this, we got a lengthy Blue Post from Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas in one of the forums. Let me say up front that this is exactly the kind of post I love getting. It is detailed and thoughtful, and it really helps players understand a crucial aspect of the game — in this case, Blizz’s thinking on the whole Legion AP grind. I happen to not totally agree with the implications of some of the new AP design Watcher lays out, but that is just a difference of opinion. Reasonable people can respectfully disagree on many points, and of course it is Blizz’s game not mine, and they can design it any way they please. I am encouraged, though, when they have enough respect for the player base to explain why certain mechanics are as they are, and to lay out remedy plans when the mechanics do not work out as intended.

Anyway, I am not going to repeat the whole Blue Post here, I encourage you to read it. But the main point is that Blizz has identified some problems with the AP mechanic, and they are making some major changes to it in 7.2. Specifically, Blizz intends to address two problems:

  • The fact that the last 20 points of artifact traits require more or less the same amount of AP each (slight arithmetic progression), whereas the first 34 require exponentially-increasing amounts of AP.
    • The unintended result of this is that, for the last 20 artifact traits, players putting in 40 hours a week can in fact get twice the artifact power in a week than can players putting in 20 hours a week.
    • This is exactly the situation Blizz was trying to avoid, and which they did avoid with the first 34 traits. That is, they wanted to lessen the power gap between players who play a lot of hours and those with less available time but maybe the same degree of interest.
  • Some activities currently reward inappropriate amounts of AP, when weighed against time spent and level played. For example, short “Maw runs” have emerged as the best and fastest way to earn max AP each week. These normal Mythic runs award more than, say, hours spent in Nighthold, or running more difficult Mythic+ instances, or cranking out lots of World Quests.

Watcher explains all this by way of more or less preparing us for some major changes to AP in 7.2.

  • First, we can expect what seem to be insane amounts of AP for each new 7.2 artifact trait, so as to narrow the gap in weapon power between the top end and the middle-of-the road players.
  • Second, there will be some adjustments to the amounts of AP earned by various activities — specifically, it will no longer be possible to chain run regular Mythics as the fastest way to get large amounts of AP;  other more advanced activities will award proportionately more AP per time unit spent; and “harder” Mythic instances will also award more AP than, say, a quick Maw run.

I understand why these changes are being made, and it seems like they may well be a partial solution to the problems Watcher laid out in his post. I am skeptical, however, that they will accomplish the lofty ideal he laid out as his conclusion:

All of the above changes are aimed at allowing players the freedom and flexibility to decide how they want to spend their time, and which goals they wish to pursue, while limiting the difference in power between players who arrive at different answers to those questions.

I don’t actually know if these changes will improve the game for me or not. I think they may well exacerbate the problem with leveling and gearing alts, for example. And I am not certain that they will, as Watcher claims in the body of his post, make it easier to develop off specs for one’s main.

Last, I think they will magnify my main complaint about the whole artifact and AP thing: it is one of the main factors contributing to the part of Legion I perceive as an endless, Sisyphean, soul-crushing grind. I know this is not a Blizz concern, it certainly plays no part in the announced changes to AP. But it still is important to me.

And on that note, let the weekend begin!

One of those days

Something about the best-laid plans… My plan this morning had been to bring my car in to the dealer for service and write my post while waiting for it. After all, they have free wifi and a decent waiting room, free coffee and muffins, and all that.

HAHAHAHAHAHA. Silly me.

First, it turns out nearly every site I use for material is on some sort of black list for the dealer’s network. When I asked, I got some sort of half-assed vague response about “no computer gaming” allowed. Unfortunately whoever manages the dealer’s network is apparently very ham-handed, so any site with certain key words in it are blocked. This means I have no access to WoW forums, certain reddit groups, Wowhead, not even to MMO-C nor to a couple of independent blog sites.

*grrrr*

Second, I guess I did not realize that today is bring-your-brats-to-the-dealer day. There is a woman in here waiting for a vehicle, and she brought along two of the worst-behaved children I have ever seen. I am used to pre-school kids running and squealing and generally just being kids, but these two are pulling all the magazines off the racks, throwing the provided toys at each other and the rest of the customers, running and screeching at the tops of their lungs, pushing the chairs around incessantly, using the coffee cups to build towers on the floor, and just generally being uncivilized little sh*theads. All while their mother ignores them, along with the multitude of dirty looks the rest of us are directing at her.

*sigh*

Where I am going with this cranky rant is, there will not be much of a post today. I can recommend a couple of interesting ones from some fellow bloggers, however. One is from one of my favorites, Delirium over at The Thrill of the Wild. He has some non-obvious observations about effects of legendaries in the current game and in 7.2 going forward. As usual, he has done the math heavy lifting for us and gives us the bottom line in language even the math-challenged like me understand.

Legendaries as they were implemented in Legion were a huge mistake. Even Blizz admits that. Unfortunately, rather than do something drastic to cut their losses and move on, they have insisted on tweaking them, and the result is they still are a huge “un-balancer” for nearly every class and spec. In my opinion, what they should have done when they discovered how badly they had messed up is this:

  • Remove all spec-specific armor legendaries from the game. For those who already had them, replace them with a standard piece of armor at say, 890 level. Would people have howled? Of course, but hey welcome to a world where Blizz can pull the rug out from under you in a heartbeat, not that I am bitter about Legion hunters or anything. Deal with it.
  • Limit the remaining jewelry type legendaries to maybe a ring, a neck, and a trinket flavor, each one configured like Chipped Soul Prism from Kazzak in WoD — primary stat that varies according to your class/spec, along with some of every  secondary stat. If you had gotten anything else, it would be auto-changed into one of these.

Anyway, read Delirium’s post — if you thought legendaries don’t make a huge difference, this will make you think again. In Legion, they have reduced one aspect of the game to lucky lottery winners and unlucky losers.

In the “would you please just shut up and not get people riled up about this again” category, take a look at a Blizzard Watch post on — yes, you guessed it — the subject of flying …. I am absolutely not going there again, and I hope none of you are either, but I guess some people just love trolling. If you feel compelled to vent your spleen on the subject, please reply to Blizzard Watch, not here.

Last, if you have a couple of minutes, take a gander at Marathal’s short post with some thoughts on Midwinter’s recent announcement that they are stepping down from world-first raiding competition. He doesn’t reach any grand conclusions, but he offers some good jumping-off points for further cogitation.

I take that back — this is actually the last: I miss The Grumpy Elf. I am frankly tired of being the only grumpy person writing about this game, and I don’t do it nearly as well as he did. Grumpy, if you are still reading about the game, please consider coming back to write about it, too.

Shane! Grumpy! Come back, Shane Grumpy!

Unofficial and pertinent views

Admin note: We are having a terrific 2-day windstorm in my neck of the woods, and our power keeps going out, so today’s post may end up being a bit choppy.

Ghostcrawler has a piece on his Tumblr page that really caught my eye. If you have a couple of minutes, I encourage you to read it.

I was never a particular GC fan when he was with Blizzard and was the most visible dev interfacing with players, but in retrospect I wish we had someone doing that thorough a job now. Yes, he was often reviled — he took an incredible amount of player abuse — but say what you will, he was always out there explaining and debating design issues. Even when I disagreed with the path of the game, I always felt like GC was being honest — sometimes brutally so — with us, and more importantly that he respected the player base. Those feelings evaporated as soon as Ion Hazzikostas took GC’s job and began to put out piles of snarky, disingenuous doublespeak to a player base he seemed to disdain. That he has backed off this approach over the last year or two does not erase that first awful impression. Since Hazzikostas has gotten away from everything other than canned Q&A sessions, there is no one who has been able to fill the void and create a regular, trusted, respectful — if often contentious — dialogue with players.

All this is by way of saying that I think GC still has insightful things to say about WoW, even though he is no longer with Blizz. I like the fact that he still responds to questions about the game, and I take his comments for what they are — general views of how things developed years ago in WoW, and insights into much of the messy process of designing and maintaining the complex enterprise that is an MMO. Does he know anything about current Blizz design problems and plans? No, but he is still the only one out there willing to address valid player concerns in any meaningful way. He fills a void, even if imperfectly and unofficially, in Blizz’s customer interaction.

So the cited piece on Tumblr caught my eye. There are actually two discussions there, the main one answering a question about why players unsub, and a second one below that about why WoW players keep playing.

One part that got my attention in the unsub piece was that in the big picture, when you have millions of players, the vast majority who unsub do it for personal reasons of not having enough time, or their friends stopped playing or the like. It is rare indeed when there are significant numbers of people who quit out of protest for a certain game design or trend, and even then generally that group still ranks below, in terms of numbers, those quitting for personal reasons. (Translation: rage quitting WoW likely gets zero attention from any part of the dev team…)

Another interesting observation, I thought, was that games — like nearly every human enterprise — have life spans with long-term ups and downs in numbers of players. Unstated, but what I presume, is that sometimes there are identifiable causes for these fluctuations, and sometimes probably not. GC says there is usually a predictable dev set of responses to this:

When you see a lot of players leave over the course of say half a year, it usually spurs two diametrically opposed views on the development team. You will get one faction of “Players are getting bored – we must be bold and innovate!” You get another faction of “We are changing the game so much that we’re losing our soul! We need to get back to basics!”

I think we have really seen this scenario play out in Legion. A lot of players did in fact unsub in WoD — recall the famous 3-million player loss in the first quarter of 2015 — and there was much criticism of the expansion throughout its existence, most of which centered on some version of “There’s nothing to do” with sprinklings of “It doesn’t fit with the lore, this whole time machine idea stinks”.

So what did we get in Legion? I think we saw the “bold and innovative” group dominate, but there was a nod to the “back to basics” group in terms of the main story and lore. The dominant group led to many of the mechanics in Legion — complete class rewrites, the idea that specs become what amounts to their own class, artifact weapons and the eternal AP chase, the complete repudiation of the WoD profession model, severe curtailment of alt play, Mythic+ dungeons, world quests, zone scaling, etc.

But the kicker point made by GC is this:

My perception has been that the players and developers in the “We’ve changed too much!” camp tend to be those who are less engaged with the game than they once were. Losing track of change usually happens to players who once played every day and are now playing once a week or once a month. They remember being super engaged with the game and knowing everything that was going on, and so the dissonance of that no longer being the case for them is really striking, perhaps even alienating. On the other hand, players who are still really engaged are the ones most likely to need something fresh and new so that they don’t run out of stuff to do.

What this comes down to is a game company knowing who its intended audience is, understanding what kind of a player base they are courting. Do they want lots of new players, or are they content to design for what will almost certainly be a gradually-dwindling group of dedicated players? I think Blizz has still not figured out the answer to this.

Legion seems to be favoring the latter group, the dedicated player base. As I count myself in this group, I am not totally unhappy with that trend. But I can’t help but wonder if it is ultimately a strategy designed to gradually — and hopefully gracefully — ease the game’s final demise. I had hoped that Legion, maybe in conjunction with the Warcraft movie, would bring in a rush of new players who would soon love the game as much as I do. Sadly, that turned out to not be the case. The movie, let’s be honest, was a stinker for anyone not already involved in the game (and even for some of us predisposed to liking it, it bombed), and Legion added an incredible leap in complexity for what was already a complex game. The buy-in for new or even returning players, especially if they do not have someone to help them along, seems almost insurmountable.

We will see what happens in the next expansion, but it is looking to me like WoW is moving towards catering to a small group of dedicated players, and Blizz is not especially interested in significantly increasing its player base. Whether that vector is ultimately beneficial or destructive remains to be seen.