Respite

For all intents and purposes, we have begun Battle for Azeroth. At least I have. I spent last night doing the Silithus artifact retirement quests on all nine of my characters. Only my main had done the previous Silithus quest line, so I had to go through the annoyingly tedious criss-crossing of the zone multiple times to crank out the maybe half dozen easy quests to get to the final artifact change on most of my characters. Seriously, if I have to fly around that big ass sword again any time soon, I will scream.

I am slightly peeved at myself for not realizing sooner that the artifact retirement process would include maxing out your artifact weapon, to level 127 (!), a level that very few insane players ever actually reached. The reason I am peeved about it is that I have spent the last 3 weeks furiously chasing AP to get some of my alt artifact weapons up to level 75. 😒 We will chalk that one up to sheer stupidity.

But what a sense of freedom it is to be totally free from the tyranny of AP! It was exhilarating to realize that doing the Silithus final quest meant I no longer had to have even a passing interest in racking up AP. No longer was there any need to log in on an alt, check the available emissary quests and AP-producing world quests and see how I could maximize my AP for the time I had available to play. I could now just log in and — hold onto your hats here — just have fun.

About half way through Legion, many of us really began to feel the burden of chasing that never-ending AP. Some who felt this way just stopped doing it and pursued other goals in the game, some stopped playing the game altogether, and some like me just gave in, put our heads down, and doggedly ground it out day after day. I truly didn’t realize how burdensome that had become until last night when I was suddenly freed from it.

Sadly, this bit of respite will be short-lived. When BfA goes live in August we will back to chasing AP again, only this time it will be for several pieces of gear, not just one. There will be a few changes in the mechanics of collection, but the basic grind will remain. It is, in my opinion, the worst legacy of Legion and the most soul-sucking design in recent WoW history. It has completely changed the end game for many of us by introducing another tier of leveling that starts once you have leveled your character to the expansion — 120 in BfA. Most of what we used to consider end game goals cannot be started until we make significant progress on this new leveling tier, and even worse, Blizz believes that there should never be an end to this end-game leveling. This is a large part of what they call “content”.

It’s telling, I think, that once I realized AP was no longer relevant, I considered Legion to be over.

I think the betting is that the pre-expansion patch will go live a week from Tuesday. It’s on the download now and probably could go live this next week, but Wednesday is the big Independence Day holiday in the US, so it seems doubtful Blizz would want to bring in lots of their employees to troubleshoot the inevitable glitches in a major patch and screw up their holiday.

I will be spending my game time until 8.0 tidying up — vendoring stuff, figuring out what to do with all the soon-to-be useless legendaries that we currently cannot get rid of (I guess Void Storage will be the answer), getting rid of some legacy mats my banker is hanging onto in order to make room for some of the Legion mats I want to keep, and so forth. I really do hope Blizz will allow us to vendor or disenchant our excess legendaries at some point, but I have not read or heard anything like that being in the works. Their special effects will remain until level 115, and after that I understand even their stats will diminish with each level. They may remain useful for Timewalking, but honestly I don’t know anyone who re-equips just to do TW dungeons any more.

There really are not any outstanding Legion achievements I am keen to do during our summer break. I am not an achievement hog anyway, and I have pretty much done the ones I am interested in. I would like to have finished Glory of the Argus Raider, but our guild was unable to field a team large enough to finish the last boss achievement. We did all except that one, but it requires a relatively large team to die and properly soak up the spirit orbs while still maintaining enough dps to kill the boss. Some of our guildies finally completed it using OpenRaid, but I am not interested enough in it to do it with a non-guild team.

Similarly, I have not done any of the mage tower challenges and do not intend to. The hunter artifact appearances were completely underwhelming — not worth my time — and I am nowhere near proficient, or interested, enough to beat my head against them on an alt. However, our amazing guild GM last night completed 35 of the 36 available, and I have no doubt but what she will finish the last one tonight or this weekend (if she hasn’t already). I am in awe.

As soon as 8.0 goes live, I will spend my time until expansion release just getting used to the new talents and rotations, deciding which specs will be most fun/effective for leveling in BfA and which ones will be viable raiding specs. I still expect to have a BM hunter as my main, all my recent angst notwithstanding. But I think I will work at getting an “alt main” in BfA, too, and 8.0 will help me select what that will be.

Lots to do, lots to look forward to. Plus it is summer, and both a weekend and a fun holiday coming up. I will be taking the next two weeks off from this blog to allow my creative side to recharge a bit. Look for me to be back on July 16. See you then.

Legion – the good stuff

In my last post, I said I would eventually publish something about the good aspects of Legion. As I am at a loss for anything else to write about today, and as things seem to be moving rather quickly with the pre-expansion patch now on the downloader, I suppose today is as good a day as any. So here goes.

New content rollouts. I think Blizz did a commendable job with the pace at which they rolled out new content in Legion. I may think some of the content stunk (Argus, for example, and the class patches that consistently failed to address significant problems for some specs/classes), but I can’t fault them on their almost-lockstep timing on rolling it out. At times, I felt almost overwhelmed by the pace, but they really did set a schedule and stick with it.  Except for the last patch, 7.3.5, major patches (I include the “dot 5’s” in this) came out almost exactly every 11 weeks. This may be a reflection of how badly Blizz was burned by the charge of “no content” in WoD, and thus they set content release as their primary objective for Legion — but whatever the reason, Legion gave us a lot of new content on a regular basis.

Emissary quests. In Legion, Blizz bundled up a bunch of dailies world quests in a zone, and gave out a bonus for doing 4 of them (3 for Kirin Tor, but the less said about those the better). I did like this mechanism, probably because it gave the illusion of being able to log in every 3 days if you wanted, and still not feel like you were getting behind. In that sense, it was Blizz giving a tiny bit of notice to the fact that most of their players are casual and do not have the time to play the game every day.

That said, there were plenty of flaws. For one thing, emissary quests really did nothing to help players still grinding AP — if you wanted AP you were pretty much required to crank out every world quest that offered AP every day, as well as do some raids and dungeons for it. Also, rewards from the emissary quests — except for holding out the ever-dangling carrot of a legendary drop — were pretty yawn-inspiring most of the time. It says something, I think, that Blizz used them as the vehicle for accumulating the tokens for upgrading legendaries — likely it was about the only way to keep players even mildly interested in doing them.

Still, overall I think emissary quests were a decent innovation.

Zone scaling. This was not new in Legion — it was introduced in WoD — but I was glad to see it reappear, signaling that it is now almost certainly a constant feature of the game. During the leveling process, it is nice to be able to vary your path, especially if you are leveling some number of alts. The process does eventually still get pretty boring and stale, but zone scaling helps a little. Also, I do give Blizz props for realizing that players want to feel they are getting more powerful as their gear increases, and for scaling back the scaling so that at some point mobs all become quite trivial.

I was not, however, a fan of the 7.3.5 spread of zone scaling (along with the big xp nerf) to every area in Azeroth. To me, this was Blizz once again taking a good thing and jamming it down your throat, taking something you kind of liked and rubbing your nose in it enough to make you hate it. I leveled a void elf from 20-110 under this new system, and it was one of the most miserable experiences I have had in the game.

Mythic+ dungeons. As a matter of personal taste, I do not like these and tended to run them only enough to get the max weekly chest for them each week. But I still think they were a creative and positive mechanism for the game. There is no denying that they kept some players active in the game far longer than they would have otherwise been. More importantly for Blizz, M+ competitions almost certainly increased player interest in WoW-related esports. They have clearly been a winner for Blizz. Let us hope Blizz will leave well enough alone and not take their usual path of overdoing a good thing and forcing them upon us.

Class mounts. I thought the ones I did the quests for were fun little diversions. They were not especially tedious to do, and each of the final scenarios did seem designed to fit the individual class. Of course, some of the mounts were, well, “hideous” comes to mind, and druids really did get a bit screwed over (not to mention the unfortunate Wilford Brimley resemblance). But still, I liked the idea of class mounts and had some fun with the ones I did. And I love my mage platform, especially the fire mage version!

The whistle. Genius quality of life improvement. ‘Nuff said.

Raid tiers. In general, I think Blizz did a decent job hitting the sweet spot with each tier. One or two bosses (Kil’Jaeden and Mistress Sassz’Ine are examples) were a bit overtuned at the Heroic level in my opinion, but they were not insurmountable. (Yes, I know a couple were almost impossible for a while on Mythic, but I don’t raid at that level.)

And in hindsight, raid tiers were released at about the right points in the expansion. I did feel like sometimes I was burned out on one before the new one came out, but that really is a personal situation, and honestly it gave me an excuse to take a raid break every few weeks. I also remember feeling Antorus was a little rushed, but it was the last tier and we have had a ton of time to finish it and get bored with it. All in all, the release pace has seemed decent.

Extra hearth stones. Again, this idea was not new with Legion, but I was glad to see Blizz carry it through. Giving us the extra Dal hearth stone was a good idea, and I hope we will see more of these special stones in future expansions. The thing I did not like, though, was that certain classes also got a class hall hearth stone of sorts, while other classes did not. And since every class hall has a portal back to Dal (and some even to other locations), this meant that some classes were favored with two special hearth stones, while other classes were in effect made to pound sand. If Blizz is no longer going to keep mages as the only class with instant portal ability, then they need to give all classes equal abilities for travel.

Okay, that is pretty much it. I suppose if I really wracked my brain I could come up with one or two more positive thoughts on legion, but the ones I listed are the main ones. On balance, I think for me Legion had about an equal number of significantly good and significantly bad design features. I am still too close to it to be completely objective or to have a decent perspective, but I am willing to give this expansion something like a B-minus final grade. There is no question but what it has been better than WoD, but in my opinion it does not come close to the high level set by Mists of Pandaria. Legion, though, has started some major design threads that seem to be taking the game in a new direction. I like some of these and hate some. We will see how they develop in Battle for Azeroth.

 

Frost mages and the vector of Legion

A vector is an object that has both a magnitude and a direction. Geometrically, we can picture a vector as a directed line segment, whose length is the magnitude of the vector and with an arrow indicating the direction. The direction of the vector is from its tail to its head.

A vector

Courtesy of mathinsight.org

For humans, time is an ephemeral vector. We are tied to its direction — always forward, never backward or stationary. And if time itself has an unimaginably immense magnitude, our own human magnitudes are infinitesimally small in comparison — occupying less space along the vector than a grain of sand along a million-mile journey. One of the consequences of this state is that we have a beginning and an end, and the space between those two points is what we experience as change.

This cosmic insight applies not only to we humans, but also to everything we create — civilizations and empires and governments and automobiles and socks and computer games. Even though humans are bound to the vector of time, we have the ability to stand outside it in a sense, to look down on a piece of it, study our creations, and see where they began and how they changed and ultimately how they ended, because we have memory and we have developed the ability to chronicle and thus preserve aggregated memories.

Which — finally! — brings me to the subject of today’s post. It certainly is not news to any of my readers that we are at the end of the Legion expansion, and something that happened over the weekend caused me to contemplate the magnitude of its vector within the game.

First, the event(s). As there is not much more that interests me about my main hunter just now, I have been dabbling with my alts, concentrating on one or another of them for several days at a time, then moving on to a different one. This weekend I was focusing on my mage. I initially leveled her (a void elf) as Arcane (a mistake, btw) and that was the first spec for which I obtained an artifact and got it to level 75. Then I did the same for Fire, because I really think that is a fun spec. Unfortunately, in Legion Fire is not especially powerful, so — just to round things out — I started the same process for Frost. Currently my artifact level is 72 on that spec, so I have a small ways to go to get to what I consider max level for any alt artifact.

Before I go on, let me point out that while I have become minimally proficient as a mage, I am nowhere close to being good, or even above average. Prior to this weekend, the best I could eke out in front of a target dummy as a Frost mage — no movement and no food or other consumable buffs — was about 700-800k sustained dps. All you excellent mages out there are free to laugh your butts off over this, especially when I tell you my ilevel was around 930. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Anyway, the point is, I am pretty bad as a Frost mage.

But over the course of this weekend I finally got 4 pieces of t21 normal gear (I do not have any t20), along with two of the top three legendaries for Frost mages (Shard of the Exodar ring and Shattered Fragments of Sindragosa helm). Once I made a talent change to accommodate the helm, there was an instantaneous sea change in my damage numbers. Simply by adding these 6 pieces of gear (which only changed my overall ilevel by about 3 levels) my sustained target dummy dps doubled — well over 1.5m dps for  several 8-minute sessions. (I did a few to mitigate any possible fantastic good luck with the heavy proc-fishing one has to do with Frost mages.)

Did I suddenly become twice as proficient? In my dreams! No, it was just gear.

To me, this experience pretty well encapsulates some of the worst aspects of Legion, design changes that I fear we have not seen the last of:

  • Using gear (trinkets, tier, and legendaries) to correct class/spec play style and potency design flaws, instead of correcting basic balance problems.
  • Using RNG as the sole determiner of which players will be awarded these crucial gap-fillers for their spec.
    • Taunting players with the idea that there is “bad luck” insurance that kicks in if you just keep grinding raids and dungeons and emissary quests for enough weeks. But this does NOT have anything to do with getting the “good” legendaries and such, only with getting one — which may in fact suck, causing you and your bad luck to start all over again in hopes of getting the one that fixes your lousy rotation.
  • The extreme reliance on secondary stats to bring a spec’s abilities to anything close to their potential, and the twin crime of making those stats completely random for loot drops.

These design decisions, more than any other factors in my opinion, are what created the “never-ending grind” many felt in Legion. The overriding importance of gear — including the artifact weapon — combined with the RNG aspect and geometric increases in AP for the artifact — made much of Legion an exercise in soul-sucking drudgery.  Players looking to meet their regular end game goals — especially if those goals included becoming a contributing member of a raid team — found that Blizz had suddenly moved the goal posts and in fact kept moving them as the expansion progressed.

In effect, Blizz was altering the normal change vector by moving the magnitude with the expansion rather than letting the player move along a fixed magnitude and thus see what they had come to expect as “progress”.

Blizz seems unable or unwilling to learn the meta-lessons from their mistakes, preferring to learn only the specific ones. If players complained about artifacts being too grindy in Legion, for example, Blizz eliminates artifacts in BfA but simply breaks their effect up among several small artifact-like pieces. The never-ending grind is still there. If players objected to class-fixing legendary bonuses, Blizz eliminated those kinds of legendaries in BfA but moved the class bandaids to bonus traits in Azerite armor. When players complained about having to run dailies and weeklies in Mists of Pandaria in order to not feel as if they were falling behind, Blizz changed the name to world quests in Legion and kept them as a requirement for earning AP and gear in order to be eligible for other group activities. When players complained bitterly about garrisons in WoD, Blizz changed the name to class halls in Legion.

Before I get deluged with hate mail, all of this is not to say there were not some excellent innovations in Legion — and I will likely have a post on what I think those were before BfA goes live. In general I think Legion was a decent expansion. But I am troubled by what I see as Blizz’s move to a design philosophy that seems to deliberately create winner and loser classes and specs, along with a system that rewards luck more than any other factor for player potential. And I continue to be disappointed in Blizz’s seeming inability to truly move on from what even they admit were mistakes — they seem anchored to the design concepts and more eager to camouflage them than to correct them.

Placeholder

No power in our neighborhood today for some reason. Don’t feel like going to Panera’s to write, and not going to send out more than this using my cell phone (!!), so I am just going to start my weekend early. Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you. ☹️

Entering the final stretch

In a sense I have been preparing for Battle for Azeroth now for the last month or so, but I feel like as of maybe yesterday I am starting the final sprint. In my part of the country, the expansion will launch at 6 PM on Monday August 13, part of Blizz’s planet-wide simultaneous launch. That probably means we are only about a month away from Patch 8.0, the pre-launch patch. (One wonders if Blizz will give their live launch plan a dry run by also doing a simultaneous launch of 8.0.)

I was reminded of this ever-shortening timeline by a guild Discord discussion a couple days ago. Though it pains me to say it, a couple of our guildies are actually far more diligent and meticulous organizers than I am. And if you are a regular reader, you know that is going some. Anyway, these guildies posted their very extensive spreadsheets as an example of how they keep track of achievements, alt progress, addons, and so forth. Let me tell you, I was not only impressed but ashamed at the realization that I am a slacker! I have gotten lazy in this expansion, clearly.

Well, no more. Today I will get serious about what I now realize is the final sprint towards BfA. In fact, in the past I have felt a flat spreadsheet does not give me the kind of data I need at my fingertips, so I have put together relational databases to better serve my needs. I will probably do that this time, too. Yeah, that’s right, I’m bad! I will see your puny spreadsheets, Smugly Organized Guildies, and I will raise you a relational database! *drops mic*

(Okay, enough of the nerd trash talk. For now. 🤓)

As part of preparation for BfA, I am still wrestling with the idea of changing my main. I remain doubtful that I actually will follow through on the idea, but I have really been exploring a couple of alternatives, mainly by playing different classes/specs at a level beyond casual key-mashing. Specifically, I am seriously considering resto/balance druid, some flavor of mage, and mistweaver/windwalker monk. Less seriously, demonology warlock, though I have not done any Legion prep for this possibility.

My dilemma is somewhat complicated by the fact that currently — and likely for the foreseeable future — our guild raid team has a lot of healers and melee dps, making it harder to fit in another of those roles. The guild is very good about adapting to the classes of the players that are on the team, but eventually there are limits. Whereas if there are a lot of melee damage dealers the raid leader might be able to devise boss tactics to compensate for that, there is nothing that can be done if there are 6 healers for a raid of 20-25 — someone will have to switch specs. So that is a consideration for me, too, since I want to continue raiding with this team. This could end up self-limiting my options to hunter, balance druid with resto off spec, or mage. Gotta think about it some more.

Last night, though, I got a nice bonus result from prepping one of my alts. I have lately been working on my monk, because I find I really like the MW healing play style. Trying to gear my monk up a bit more as well as get more proficient at healing, I have been running some of our alt raids and also some LFR. However, I have stayed away from instance healing, mainly because I have absolutely no confidence in my ability to be the sole healer for a group and a tank.

But last night I swallowed my fear and ran 5 Timewalker dungeons as a MW monk. It was both exhilarating and liberating, not to mention I learned some cool emergency tricks for snatching an almost-dead player from the jaws of death. I came away from the experience with a ton more confidence that I had going in, and I may have actually finally overcome my phobia about instance healing. Woohoo!

Of course, no night of running with random groups would be complete without a head-slapping story. In the third TW I ran, Vortex Pinnacle, I was having an exceptionally hard time keeping the tank healed up. He looked like he was adequately equipped and specc’ed, and he seemed to be doing the right things, but as soon as we got into combat of any length his health took a big dip and kept going down unless I pretty much healed him alone and took care of the rest of the party with just AoE. Finally I said in chat, “Tank, idk why ur health keeps taking such big hits.” His reply, “I usually take my shield off in extended combat.” And sure enough, when I inspected him during the next round of combat, no shield. 🤯 (As one guildie noted when I told the story in guild chat, “Yeah, the shield is just for aggro. Healer aggro!”)

The announcement yesterday that the new PTR build will allow character transfers was a very welcome one for me. It means I will be able to further refine my alt/main options in a realistic environment. (It would be more helpful if we could have addons, but I guess we should not expect too much.)

And now, on to database creation!

Crumbs

Today is one of those days when my brain refuses to focus. Thus, here a couple of thought crumbs that probably need to swept away to tidy things up.

Lightning PawLightning Paw. This spirit beast fox, found in Duskwood, is finally mine as of last night. I have been chasing him, on and off, for a little over a year now. He is found in clumps of bushes around the Raven Hill Cemetery. The clumps he can be found in (you can find coordinates and maps at a number of online guide sites) all have a set of glowy eyes in them.

I don’t have the patience to camp these rare hunter pets, nor to mount a full server-hopping expedition for them. My technique is just to make a few circuits of their areas once a week or so at random times until I get lucky enough to stumble upon them. Sometimes this works well, other times — let’s just say it took me several years to get Skoll and Arcturus. I don’t mind, I am not really an avid hunter pet collector. I generally only implement my check-every-week regimen for a pet that resonates with me for some reason. Usually these are spirit beasts, but sometimes they are just rares (like Terrorpene from Cata).

Anyway, last night I was taking a regular turn around the cemetery in Duskwood, seeing only glowy eyes in all the bush clumps, but when I came to the last clump on my list, there was also a glowy outline hiding there! I had written a simple macro to quickly target and tame him, and within a second two he was mine. Yay!!!

Skinning as a profession. Also last night, while doing one of the kill-a-ton-of-birds world quests on my main (LW and Skinner), once again I realized what a crappy job Blizz has done with the skinning profession. Some asshat was in the same area I was, and they were not skinning the corpses they killed, so I asked if it was ok to skin them. They said sure, then proceeded to refuse to loot any more of them, thereby effectively preventing me from skinning them. 😡

This is only one of the problems with skinning, a gathering profession Blizz just refuses to improve in the same way they did herbalism and mining. I can’t tell you how many times I have killed a mob or a mini-boss that was skinnable, and someone is waiting in the wings to swoop in after I have done all the work and skin the creature before I can click it after looting. Not to mention, in high-skinnable areas like most of the bird flocks in Legion, in the time it takes to skin each mob in a large group, another group spawns, effectively tethering you to that spot.

It really is past time for Blizz to give some attention to skinning as a profession. In particular, they need to configure AoE skinning, multiple-tagging skinning, and the ability to skin even if the corpse has not been looted. As a balance, since currently every animal mob that is killed yields leather, Blizz could lower the rate at which leather can be gathered.

But as it stands, skinning is a bit of an annoying profession to have. Towards the end of an expansion, when leather is plentiful and cheap, it is less of a problem than it is earlier in an expansion when you are trying to level skinning and also gather enough leather to supply your LW or get a bit of gold for other purchases.

Class halls in Legion. Over the weekend I spent some time just doing some world quests and finishing up some odds and ends on my main hunter (like getting Lightning Paw). I had not really played her for several weeks, not even to do class hall missions. Instead, I had been spending my time on alts — primarily druid, mage, and monk. When I went back to my hunter and visited the class hall, I was strongly reminded just how shitty a job Blizz did on this location, and in general just how shitty was the class-specific class hall design.

Once again, class halls were a mechanism whereby Blizz imperiously designated winner and loser classes. If you play a class that has the option for immediate completion of a world quest each day, you are a winner class. You are also a winner class if your class hall has a portal (thus giving you and extra hearthstone) or even a lousy mailbox.

The hunter class hall has none of these amenities. Like other class hall loser classes (rogues, demon hunters to name just two), you must spend your Dal hearth cooldown if you want to visit your class hall and are away from Dal. To add insult to injury — and just to reinforce just how little Blizz thinks of hunters — the hunter class hall serves only mana drinks at th bar, and there are still zero places to even sit. Even though there are benches and chairs scattered about, Blizz threw the design together in such a hurried slipshod way that they neglected to add the option actually sit on these items. I grant you, these are minor and petty complaints on my part, but it all points to a real we-don’t-give-a-shit approach to this design.

At least in BfA, the class hall follow-on (Blizz apparently now requires such a mechanism in all expansions so as to justify the mobile app) seems to be a one size fits all approach, where every class gets the same treatment.

Kind of a short, disconnected post for today. Back Wednesday.

The real Q&A

Despite my snarkiness in my last post, I thought the Q&A yesterday was relatively informative. There was surprisingly quite a lot of what I think of as “real” information as opposed to the kind of blather that is nothing more than an infomercial. If you have an hour with nothing else to do, check out the video yourself either directly on Twitch or via MMO-C here. With that, let me get started on my observations.

PTR is now live. The first announcement was a bit of great news — the PTR is now live for Patch 8.0. That is, now anyone can go up on the PTR and experience the pre-expansion patch, which as usual will contain everything new in BfA (stat squish, new profession system, War Mode, class changes, pre-expansion event scenario, etc.) except for the new zones and content-specific quests. I did not get a chance to check out the PTR yesterday after the Q&A, so I don’t have any firsthand information on it yet, but if you have specific questions I recommend you step in and give it a spin.

When 8.0 does go live (I am guessing in about a month), there will be a few things that have to be adjustment for you. For example, the tier and legendary bonuses will still work, but not the artifact actives. So if you are, say, a BM hunter, and have gotten used to working Titan’s Thunder into your rotation, that will be gone. Same with all the active artifact spells such as Sheilun’s Gift for mistweaver monks and the totally awesome New Moon for balance druids. (Seriously, what is cooler than dropping a moon on the head of your enemy?) Some of these have gone baseline for a few specs, but generally they are compensated for in other, mostly passive, ways.

Flying in BfA. Look for the BfA Pathfinder requirements to be pretty much the same as they were for Legion. Translation: No chance of getting flying until probably sometime around March 2019 at the earliest. Blizz will again gate the requirements behind faction rep, doing a certain number of world quests, and exploration of every nook and cranny of all the new zones, as well as withhold the final Pathfinder parts until a certain patch (8.2??).

Recall that Blizz started the whole Pathfinder mechanism back in WoD, when they were forced to back off their disastrous announcement that there would henceforward never be flying in any new zones. There was such a backlash over that, that they had to hurriedly come up with some way to put off WoD flying while they scrambled to make the zones flyable. So they invented the Pathfinder quest line, along with gates designed to ensure no one would get the ability before Blizz wanted them to.

I don’t actually mind the Pathfinder questlines, by the way, but my point here is that if you are leveling a new character that is not part of an account where one character has already unlocked flying, you must still do the Pathfinder quests for every zone they exist in. That means, in theory, that 5 years from now you will still have to unlock all the rep, exploration, and so forth in Draenor, in Broken Isles, in Battle for Azeroth, and in all expansions up to whichever one is current if you want to be able to fly in those zones.

Thus, an interesting question in the Q&A was, will Blizz stop requiring Pathfinder for older expansion zones such as WoD? Ion, as is his wont, punted on the answer, giving his usual not-at-this-time-but-maybe-sometime-in-the-future-soon™-we-might-start-to-think-about-it. Just my opinion, but I suspect by the expansion after BfA we will start to see Pathfinder going away in the earlier zones like WoD and Legion.

There was, however, a good bit of dissembling going on with Ion’s answer. He bleated on and on about not wanting to “devalue the effort” of completing Pathfinder in every expansion, and that “Draenor was designed for ground-based leveling so you don;t need flying to level there”. Well, yeah. But come on Ion, why not admit that the real answer is that for some reason you have decided that leveling should take a lot longer than it used to (do I smell MAU metrics here?), and allowing flying in a shorter time would not serve that goal.

Class Balance. Bottom line is, what you see on the PTR is largely what you will get for your class and spec. There are very few large changes planned at this point. Blizz is aware of some problems but will address them either by numbers tweaks between now and August 14 or leave those changes for 8.1.

After listening to Ion on this, I remain concerned that Blizz is rather deliberately making winner and loser classes, especially when it comes to raid and group utility. They keep blathering on about how they want each class to “feel special”, yet only a few classes are “special” enough to always be sought out for groups. That is, only a few classes have truly unique utilities — such as battle rez or innervate — and many other classes either have nothing or some lesser version of the sought-after utilities. When this trend is combined with Ion’s fixation on the idea that some classes should be sought after for certain fights (bring the class not the player), it does not bode well for the also-ran classes. Unfortunately for me, I think hunters are one of those. Ion can say all he wants about fitting your strategy to your team, but the reality is that, once there has been a “school solution” to certain fights, it will be well-nigh impossible for classes who are not part of that solution to find pugs willing to take them.

What this means, I think, is choose your main class and spec with care for BfA. If you love playing a certain one and don’t care that it may not be one of the favored ones, go for it. On the other hand, if high numbers, lively play style, and being able to easily get into groups are important factors for you, then spend some time figuring out which classes/specs will do that for you in BfA — it may not end up being your current main.

On the plus side, I was heartened to hear that Blizz understands they went too far with spec identity in Legion, and they want to return to overall class identity. Whether they will achieve this goal or not remains to be seen.

War mode. This new world PvP system is part of patch 8.0. The basics are that there will be no more PvP or PvE servers, there will only be Normal and RP ones. On all servers, you can toggle PvP mode on while in your faction capital city. When you do so, you will be transferred to a shard where everyone has also toggled PvP mode, thus making your location a PvP sever. The difference between RP and PvE servers is that currently RP servers do not involuntarily transfer players to other shards (except in extreme overload situations), so as to keep group integrity better for RP purposes. In 8.0, if you toggle War Mode on an RP server, you will stay on your own shard from your RP server. If you join a group, the group will join your shard, you will not be involuntarily transferred to a different one.

I was pleased to hear Ion explain a bit more about the perks awarded for doing War Mode in patch 8.0. Basically, players in War Mode will earn slightly more gold from world quests, and if they are leveling they will get fast xp than in PvE mode. Ion commented that the reason for this is that PvP players often get forcibly diverted from questing, and the extra gold and xp is a way to compensate for that. Ion said the team is paying a lot of attention to balancing this — they want to make sure PvP is not unduly punishing players who choose it, while at the same time they absolutely do not want the bonuses to be so lucrative as to make PvE players feel pushed into PvP.

Mythic Raiding. Who cares, really. BfA will implement some world ranking system that should result in cross-realm mythic raiding being unlocked sooner. Whoopee. 🙄

Mythic+ Dungeons. For me, another who-cares item. Players will not be able to switch out gear in BfA M+ dungeons, what they start with is what they will use for each. But the interesting takeaway for me from this whole M+ Q&A discussion is the sheer number of changes and “anti-exploit” measures being put into place in BfA for M+. This only means that these are going to be a major esports venue for WoW as we go forward, since nearly all the changes are targeted towards high-end min-maxxers.

Catch-up AP in BfA. There will be one, just as there was one for AP in Legion. Interestingly, in BfA Blizz is reversing the approach. In Legion, the amount of AP required to buy more artifact upgrades increased exponentially, and the catch-up mechanism was that you could earn geometrically-increasing amounts in order to get that AP. In BfA, you will earn Azerite at a constant rate, but the cost of the gear traits will go down periodically. Both systems work for catch-up, but the BfA method means we will not be faced with ridiculously high numbers for traits (over a trillion AP for some people with high artifact levels.)

Anyway, that was it for the Q&A. (There was some more PvP stuff but I pretty much tuned that out.) I think in general it was a decent hour. One of the most positive big takeaways for me is that I am beginning to believe Blizz is sensitive to the grindiness and tedium many of us disliked in Legion, and they do seem to be taking some steps to make that less of an issue.

And with that long, wordy post, let the weekend begin. See you on the other side.