Closet cleaning time

Once again, time for me to clean out my drafts closet — those bits and pieces of ideas for posts that never really got fully developed. No logic, no order, just my virtual version of 1-800-GOTJUNK.

Watcher Hazzikostas. He’s still no Ghostcrawler, but I have to give him begrudging credit for — finally — understanding the value of discourse and for recently putting himself out there for interviews, Q&A, Q&A follow ups, and some detailed and thoughtful blue posts. I still disagree with much of what he says, he relies way too much on sly  corporate lawyer weasel-wording for my taste, and I never get the sense that he is passionate about any aspect of this game beyond the corporate earnings bottom line. Nevertheless, he does seem to have figured out that there is value in more frequent, more detailed, non-snarky communication with the player base. So, with that extreme back-handed compliment, I encourage him to continue on his journey of enlightenment. I would, however, like to see him grant a few interviews where he had to field some questions that were not huge softballs scripted in advance.

Guilds. I’ve been wondering lately if there is such a thing as a perfect guild. Maybe perfect is the wrong word, but what I mean is, are there any current guilds out there able to offer robust activity in many areas? Are there viable guilds that offer value for the PvP-er, the raider, the leveler, the social butterfly, the achievement hound, etc.? And if such guilds do exist, how are they coping with the guild-killing aspects of WoD?

I started thinking about this while I was making the difficult decision to leave the social guild I had been with for close to five years. Eventually, I abandoned it on its deathbed, which I am not especially proud of, but in truth there was no hope for it, and even now it is defunct in all but name and one or two players logging on sporadically out of habit.

That guild in its heyday was a social guild with a fairly strong raiding arm, a fledgling but feisty PvP arm, and lots of both ad hoc and planned guild activities. It was a great guild brought low by two things: WoD and the continuing and simultaneous absence of both the GM and the Raid Leader.

I thought for awhile that WoD was the main culprit for this guild’s demise but now I am not so sure. I am beginning to think that a strong leadership presence plays a much greater role in guild viability than I had thought. And that leadership presence really has to be the GM or someone with equal stature, not just a few officers. I say this because I am starting to see a noticeable decline in the raiding guild I now belong to. It, too, is a great guild with excellent people and an environment I find very comfortable. It is not a hard-core raiding guild, but it was established for the purpose of raiding, and the core raid team takes its raiding — but not themselves — seriously. It is a fun team, and the GM/RL is one of the best I have seen. But he has had some IRL schedule changes that prevent him from logging on except at odd hours. Also, we have lost some key people from the team, notably a couple of healers and our top DPS. Consequently, we have not started raiding the new tier, and we really have no clear plans for how/when we will start up again. Guild participation is suffering as a result. Whether it is the start of a death spiral for the guild, or just a temporary lull, is yet to be seen. But it has been going on since the end of March, and the longer it continues, the harder it will be to pull out of it.

I wish I had some wise insights about this, but I don’t. I just know that I have been in four guilds since I started playing this game, that every time I switched guilds it was because the guild was dying, and that the common denominator in every case was prolonged absence of the GM.

Hunters in 6.2. I can’t seem to get over Blizz’s deliberate dismantling of Survival as a viable hunter spec. It really is the spec I love best, and if it were even close to viable I would play it anyway. But it is not. It is now so broken that even a die-hard survivalist like me has had to abandon it. Bad enough that 6.0 removed all burst damage capability from it, and that single target damage was made mediocre, but now combined with the gigantic AoE nerf from 6.2, it hardly even qualifies as a damage spec any more. This makes it useless for soloing/leveling, and downright irresponsible as a raid choice.

But I miss it a lot. This was driven home to me last night as I blasted my way through some rares, both solo and in quick teams. Out of desperation, I have been playing Beastmastery now for a month or so. It is not a bad spec, can be quite powerful when you get your Focus Fire timing down. But if the RNG gods do not smile on you by providing the appropriate number of pet frenzy stacks at the right time, Focus Fire loses much of its effectiveness. If your pet dies you are hosed, and you MUST stop DPS and rez it (instantly if Phoenix is up, otherwise it takes a few seconds). You lose a lot of DPS in fights where there is rapid target switching. And honestly — and this is what I realized last night — it is boring. Boring and annoying. Once you get the whole Focus Fire thing down, you end up spamming filler shots while you wait for RNG to grant you some frenzy stacks so that you can augment your filler shots with a real rotation.

I keep trying Marksman, but I just can’t like it. To me it seems like it reduces my mobility beyond what I am comfortable with, making my hunter seem like a physical damage dealing mage. I leveled my hunter as MM, and years ago it was THE hunter spec both for damage and for depth of play. In 6.2 it is probably once again the spec for hunter damage, but it feels too un-huntery to me.

I want my Survival back!!!!!!!!

Jewelcrafting. Not a big fan of the profession “experiment” they are trying with it in 6.2. Brawlers Guild rep in order to get a key recipe? Raiding requirement to get another of the key recipes? Nope and nope. Hell, if Blizz is going to require raiding in order to craft, why don’t they also require crafting to raid? “Sorry, but in order to get into HFC, you must have completed crafting at least 3 epics on a crafting profession. Why? Oh, because we are conducting an ‘experiment.'”

Let JC’s learn their own recipes? No no no no no, we can’t have that! Let’s make them jump through their butts to get recipes FOR A ROBOT WAY THE HELL UP IN NORTHERN TANAAN, and then make them go all the way up there to have the robot craft their gems for them. Heeheeheehee, we have so much fun when we pick on JC’s!

And while we are at it, let’s make each gem require an insane amount of the scarcest resource we have. HAHAHAHA, let’s see them make any gold off gems now!

Once again, Blizz is attempting to fix something they themselves have broken by breaking it even worse.

OK, that’s it, drafts closet once again is all neat and tidy.

6.2 after a week

Last week, after my initial look at 6.2, I assessed it to be mediocre at best. Well, now that I have had a chance to play it for almost a week, I have to say that I have seen nothing to change that opinion. If anything, “mediocre” is being a tad generous.

First, let me point out that I do not yet have the entire patch picture. I have only taken my hunters to Tanaan, not my squishier and lesser-geared alts. I have not stepped foot in the new raid tier (we are having some personnel and scheduling problems on my raid team) and have not so far tried the Timewalker event. (Timewalker events may be the only real alt gearing catch-up mechanism in this patch.) But I do not think either of those will be so terrific as to make me holler “Whee! This is AWESOME! What a fantastic patch!” What I have done is: quest, farm for felblight, daily and weekly rep runs, shipyard, one disastrous attempt at Mythic Skyreach, and a tiny bit of crafting.

My original plan had been to get all my alts with a level 3 garrison into T2 as quickly as possible. But I abandoned that idea when I realized the huge time sink required to prioritize the rep grind on my main, so as to be able to complete the Pathfinder achievement in a timely fashion. It has occupied literally hours every day for me to just do the minimum on one hunter, to say nothing of my other hunter and certainly not any other alt.

Reputation. I think the rep grind should ease up a bit by tonight, as that is when I will hit exalted with the Saberstalker faction. If any of you have not started this yet, it involves just going to Fang’rilla and blasting everything in sight. There is a weekly quest that has you killing some mini-bosses in an arena. There are a few rares you can kill as often as they spawn for 600 rep, but mainly you get 30 rep for every kill. All mobs are elites, and while it is possible for some classes (like hunters) to solo, it is not practical to do so because it would take forever. Group size is limited to 5, and for once, I have been extremely lucky in the pugs I have joined. A standard group works well, but 5 DPS also works, especially if they are careful about their own health. The best groups, though, have a good tank to round up lots of mobs and let everyone AoE their little hearts out. As an aside, I think I have used Misdirection more this last week than I have in the last year, and I have also gotten in a lot of kiting practice, so that part of the grind has been fun.

So Saberstalker rep is not complicated, and parts of it can be a lot of fun, but after a couple hours of just blasting away it does get a bit boring. Also, since it is such an easy rep grind, I am puzzled as to why it has a weekly event. It seems doubtful that anyone chasing rep would take more than a week to reach exalted, and I am sure some eager beavers had it in a couple of days. A weekly would seem to make much more sense for the other two rep grinds, as they are much slower to get.

I don’t have a lot to say about the other two rep chases. They are metered, you can only advance them via dailies. This is Blizz’s way of giving themselves more time to delay the demand for flying, and of stretching out what we will see as “content” in the patch.

Quests. There are almost none that I could find, honestly. Maybe I missed one key one that would open up lots of new ones, but I don’t think so. So I guess this is the Timeless Isle pattern. At least one quest, though, Setting the Signal, seems out of whack. If you are a class with a stealth capability, it can be solo’ed but it is tedious to do so. And not many players can solo it by killing mobs to get to the quest items, at least not without dying A LOT. Otherwise it requires a pretty robust group, and the further we get into this patch, the fewer groups seem to be available for it.

Mythic Skyreach. The less said about this, the better. I only went in there to try and get one of the gem recipes for my JC (well, actually for the robot, but …), and the group I was with just couldn’t finish the instance. It was a combination of the tank not realizing he couldn’t pull everything in sight, DPS being stupid about standing in crap and breaking CC, and a healer who couldn’t keep up (although I doubt if any healer could have kept up with all the stupid things being done). I will probably wait for a guild group to try this again, or until most people outgear it. I am annoyed that it contains a crucial gem recipe, but I have the mastery one which is the most important for me anyway, and maybe if I can craft enough of them the others will drop for me.

Felblight farming. My luck remains unbelievably bad for this, and it is really starting to annoy me. Over the past week, I averaged approximately one Felblight per 75 skins/ fish. This is nowhere near the advertised 10% drop rate, and it is especially galling when others seem to get massive amounts of it. Worse, although there is a large amount of it available in our AH, the price remains around 500-700 gold apiece for it. So, by my calculation, in order to upgrade even one piece of crafted gear to level 6, that would require between 45,000 and 63,000 gold or 6750 skins. Even for my JC to craft one gem, the Felblight cost to me is at least 7500 gold or 1000 skins.

This is just wrong.

Shipyard. In my opinion, this is another garrison disaster. It does not require the kind of time that follower missions did, but that is about the only positive thing I can say about it. And actually I never found follower missions all that onerous for time. Yes, you could feel like you had to log in every couple of hours to manage them, but I never did them more than once a day, and they were quick, rewarding, and sort of fun. Blizz seems to have removed the quick, rewarding, and fun parts of follower missions and made them into naval missions.

You really cannot reliably complete shipyard missions without all epic ships. This is because without epics you cannot have ships with the required equipment for a given mission, which means it will likely fail, which means you will probably lose one or more of your epic ships and have to start over. To raise a green ship to purple takes something like 45,000 XP. All of the green-doable missions I have seen so far award 500 XP, and they take anywhere from 4 hours to 2 days to complete. So usually this is not a good option for getting epics. The other way to get them is by RNG when you build them.

Yeah, that’s right. The same RNG that has meant no 4-piece tier gear for me for two expansions, the same RNG that awards me one Felblight for 75 skins. Last night, having accumulated 12 rush work orders for my shipyard, I tried to build a purple — or even blue — battleship. Yep, you guessed it, 12 green battleships.

Nearly every shipyard mission offered for me requires equipment I do not have on any of my ships, thus there is usually only one insignificant mission per day I can reasonably do. I have twice lost blue ships to 94% missions. I have received zero decent rewards. And the fact that it can take 2 days to complete a mission is not a plus. It means that a failed mission is vastly more disastrous than a failed follower mission.

I will be doing shipyard missions just enough to advance my legendary on my two hunters, then I will stop doing them. They stink. Once again, Blizz has totally failed to grasp the roots of a problem, and has “fixed” the fun and rewarding parts of follower missions in order to give us these horrible shipyard missions.

Final comments. Patch 6.2 certainly has more content than did 6.1, and I am happy to once again see some reasons to get out into the world even if it is only to grind. But there are so many other problems with the patch that I cannot call it a success. It is probably one of the better parts of this expansion, but that is not saying much, kind of like saying the newest mess my neighbor’s dog made in my yard is not as disgusting as the earlier ones.

6.2 seems to have put the final nail in the coffin of alt play, since it is unlikely that an undergeared alt can easily succeed on T2. Blizz touted it as a catch-up mechanism for alt gearing, but their implementation of it — except for Timewalker events — in no way supports that goal. Crafting has become almost undoable because of the horrible Felblight gating. Shipyards are nothing more than follower missions without the fun and rewards.

I do not see me spending much time in Tanaan after my rep is done. Once I get flying on my account, I may spend some time farming Felblight a few times a week, but that is about it.

Mainly I will be marking time waiting for the next expansion.

Wanted: Class balance dev team

UPDATE EDIT: The June 25 hotfix announced several hours after I posted this indicates that the Improved Focus Fire bug will be fixed. It is listed as a “Hotfix in testing,” which is Blizz’s way of saying “Okay, okay, we’re working on it.” This in my opinion qualifies as improved player communication on their part, which is good. But that doesn’t change my opinion of the class balance development process.

What started me thinking about today’s subject is a post over at The Thrill of the Wild. In his usual meticulous method, Del irium has documented a HUGE bug in the way Focus Fire works — or more precisely doesn’t work — for Beastmastery hunters. You can read the post yourself for the particulars, but the bottom line is that the essential damage producing mechanic for BM, the part that allows skilled players to be rewarded for good execution, might as well not even exist. It is like that dummy thermostat in the office that allows employees to think they are controlling the temperature but in fact it is not even hooked up.

Let’s assume this is indeed a bug and sooner or later will be fixed. (Although honestly I think it is about 50-50 that it will be fixed any time soon.) Think about it. How in hell did such a gigantic bug make it through development, through in-house testing, through the PTR, and into live, AND NO ONE AT BLIZZ NOTICED? So much for their claim that they carefully scrutinize all the numbers and results from the PTR. Is there zero quality control anywhere in their dev process? Who is the person in charge of final approval for hunter class mechanics, and how did he let something like this slip through?

(Edit: See above edit regarding this.) And while we’re at it, how is it that they are not jumping through their butts now to get it fixed? Check out the patch and hotfix notes. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I feel like I am at a party and everyone is pointing and gasping at the fecal matter floating in the punchbowl, and the hosts are smiling vaguely, and saying “Hmmm? What? Yes, it’s fruit punch, we made it ourselves. Might need more ice, though.”

This huge blunder follows hard on the heels of the apparently intended gutting of SV as a viable hunter spec, and if the BM bug is not fixed, it means that MM is now the only playable spec for any hunter wishing to raid. And I am not talking just about top tier raid teams, I mean any raid team. SV was nerfed greatly at the start of WoD, but I stuck with it then because I was raiding with a “semi-casual” raid team, and I could make the spec work by improving my execution and diligently gearing for multistrike. But this is different. No amount of skill or practice or gearing can make SV a responsible choice for any raid team in 6.2. And now, apparently the same for BM.

Anyway, as much as I would love to continue to rant about the sad state of hunters in this patch, that is not really the point of this post. (Don’t think I don’t hear you all saying “Well get to the point, then, Fi.”) Here it is:

Something is very wrong with Blizz’s whole class balance development system. For this entire expansion, it has just felt like it’s being done by Congressional committee, not by what is supposed to be a world-class game development team.

Nearly every class in this expansion has legitimate, serious structural problems with it. I don’t play every class, so I can’t tell you what the problems are, but I read notes and various class blogs and I know that most have them. I am not talking about the inevitable glitches and annoyances and oopsies that crop up in any system this complex, I am talking about baseline design problems.

More ominously, some designs work for a single class, but they undermine the meta-class balance system, such that team performance suffers.The whole absorb mechanism for disc priests is an excellent example of this.

I am not claiming it is easy to achieve class balance for individual specs and classes, plus for team integration, plus for both PvE and PvP, plus add in a requirement to maintain a unique class and spec “feel.”Far from it. It is vastly complex. But that is Blizz’s job. They are supposedly experts at it. Lately, though, they are doing no better than a couple guys at a bar drawing out systems on a napkin.

The hunter BM bug highlights this. There is simply no way an error of this magnitude should have ever made it out of alpha testing, much less to live deployment. Add this to Watcher’s admission that they can’t fix either the disc priest problem or the demo lock problem, and it basically tells me that the class balance dev team is dysfunctional if not completely unfunctional. Obviously, an outsider cannot diagnose the roots of this problem, but it is a serious one. Maybe the problem is a project management one, maybe it is a low-level dev skill problem, maybe it is an overall lack of class passion and vision, maybe Blizz is as bad at internal communication as they are at external, but whatever it is, it needs to be diagnosed and fixed.

Of all the many parts that make up a game like WoW, possibly the most fundamental one is the set of actions that govern a player’s interaction with the virtual world. It is what draws players to a game, what makes them passionate about a certain class, what challenges them to get better at their execution, what provides the intellectual reward for playing well, what gives them that lizard-brain YEEHAW! moment when they have done everything perfectly. As important as content and artwork and raid tiers are, they mean nothing to players without the framework of the class they play. I submit to you that that is the very foundation of fun in the game.

How sad that Blizzard, a world leader — possible THE world leader — in MMO development, has lost the bubble on this.

6.2 — Scattered thoughts

How did your first day go with 6.2? I can best sum mine up with a hearty “meh…” Some things were fun, some were almost unbelievably frustrating, but one thing I know for sure is that this patch will get very old very fast.

So far I have only taken my two hunters there, so the grinding was as easy as it will get. Neither is fantastically geared, but they are not bad either at 684 and 673. Killing mobs and soloing rares and elites was not a problem.

On my main, I managed to hit Friendly with the three new factions, so that gave me some hope that the rep grind will be bearable, if slightly boring. I can imagine that some people will have their Pathfinder achievement within a few days, which will increase the pressure on Blizz to get 6.2.x out quickly for flying. However, since Blizz publicly estimated that achieving the rep part would take approximately three weeks for most players, I do not expect 6.2.x for at least three weeks, more likely a month at the earliest. Prepare your forum comments now….

As I muddled about in T2 yesterday, I was struck by the differences between it and Timeless Isle. I admit that TI got to be boring after a bit, but I think already that T2 does not compare favorably with it. For example, it is touted as a gear catch-up mechanism for alts, but the Baleful gear is all BoP. On TI, the gear was BoA, which meant that you could take your main there, pick up some pieces for your alts and get them quickly to the point where they could fend for themselves on the island, questing and treasure hunting and whatnot. That is not the case with T2, and honestly I think bringing my healer and my poor squishy mage there will largely be an exercise in frustration.

Speaking of which, and only slightly off topic, Blizz needs to start thinking harder about how their game design adversely affects healers. (And probably tanks, too, although I can’t speak firsthand about that.) There is just no way, for example, that a healer without a damage off spec (a real one, not like a shadow priest) can successfully deal with T2 rares or even the elites you need to kill boatloads of for the Saberon rep. Blizz has designed their game such that healers have no choice but to group up for a big majority of the game’s activities. Others may not even be attainable — how does a healer do Brawlers Guild? Even leveling a healer seems to have gotten harder with WoD. My healer is a mistweaver, so I have a fairly robust damage ability, but I definitely noticed that leveling her to 100 seemed much more difficult, relatively, than leveling to 90.

Anyway, back to my impressions from yesterday. I knocked out the quest line for JC pretty quickly, it is trivial. And since I begrudgingly and sullenly had gotten to the required Brawlers Guild rank of 6 a couple of nights ago (I still think this is a ridiculous requirement), I was able to get the mastery gem module. However, the whole JC mechanism in 6.2 puzzles me. Basically, unlike every other patch in WoW and unlike every other profession, now JC’s don’t actually LEARN the new gem recipes. They get access to a gem cutter robot in the northern part of T2, and they can find/buy/loot modules (from rep, running Mythic Skyreach, etc.) that teach the robot how to cut the secondary stat gems. Thus, to craft a gem, the JC has to assemble the mats and then travel to the robot and have the gem cut. There is apparently a small chance that the JC can learn a recipe each time the robot cuts a gem for them, but the bottom line is that JCs have a completely different crafting mechanism now than all other professions.

I don’t understand this, but my tinfoil hat is channeling a theory to me. Back before WoD, when Blizz was hyping it, one of the devs — I don’t remember which one and now I can’t find the citation — made an interesting statement about JCs. There had been a player question about the lack of gem slots in the new gear, and the dev explained that it fit in with the desire to allow players to immediately equip and use loot drops, but he added a slightly snarky comment along the lines of honestly he could not feel too bad that JCs would no longer be able to “print gold.” Which was surprising to me, because back then the gem market was much like the glyph market — you really had to work at it to make any reasonable gold by making large quantities of pretty much every gem type and spend a huge amount of time on the AH adjusting quantities and prices every few hours. But the dev comment indicates there is at least one person at Blizz who wants to make it difficult for JCs to craft their gems, and I think the 6.2 gem dance is the result.

Let’s see, what else? It seemed to me that the T2 art and graphics overall are kind of dark, gloomy, and depressing. Again, it compares unfavorably to TI. I have explained before that I am not a fan of the dark and spooky game genre, I like bright engaging artwork and graphics. For me, it makes a big difference in how ready I am to quest in a given area. If it is dark and murky, I will stay away from it if I possibly can.

Shipyards? I got mine up and running on my hunters. I know Blizz has said they will be less onerous to manage than the follower missions. But my initial thought was that now I have even more to do in every garrison when I log in. As I don’t have an herbalist in T2 yet, I will still have to tend to my herb gardens. Mining nodes in T2 seems much less productive for the actual ore than does the garrison mine, so I will need to keep that up at least on a couple of alts in order to maintain my flow of mats. Same with crafting cooldowns. So I actually see my garrison drudgery increasing as a result of adding shipyards. And BTW Blizz, what the hell were you thinking with the whole requirement to run down to the shipyard? Have any of you actually done this 30 or 40 times? In case you haven’t, let me tell you now that it stinks.

Felblight? Not sure I even want to go there. I had what may be world record bad luck with it yesterday. I tried skinning for it, mining ore nodes for it, fishing for it, and killing mobs and rares for it. After two hours of killing elites, and after getting 196 ore, 43 fish, and 96 skins, I finally got my first Felblight. All told, I spent probably 10 hours in T2 yesterday, and I ended up with a grand total of 3 Felblight. This was scream-level frustrating for me, even more so since it seemed like the stuff was falling out of the sky for everyone else. If my bad luck continues, I will be forced to buy the stuff, but my server still has it pretty high, around 1000 gold each. It is annoying that I have easily a couple of thousand profession mats on all my professions, but they are completely useless without the Felblight.


Anyway, I have nattered on too long, time to wrap this up. In summary:

  1. T2 will wear pretty thin pretty fast, I think.
  2. Gaining rep might go faster than Blizz predicted, so they better get the flying mods completed quick.
  3. Baleful gear needs to be BoA, on the model of the Timesless Isle gear.
  4. Blizz needs to start paying more attention to the leveling and world activity experience for healers and tanks.
  5. Jewelcrafting sucks even more than it did before this patch.
  6. T2 needs to be less depressing in its graphics.
  7. Shipyards only add to the garrison workload.
  8. Running between garrison and shipyard is stupid and annoying.
  9. Drop rate algorithm for Felblight needs to change — seriously, make it a hard one in ten drop, not this ridiculous 10% “average” drop rate.


Enough is effing enough!

Okay, Blizz, if I bow down to you and admit you are “BLIZZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL!” and if I stop pulling the curtain back and showing people the mousey little guy behind there, can you please stop forcing me into your “optional” content?

Here is some feedback for you: If I did not like optional content when it was first introduced, I am not going to suddenly love it when I am forced to do it in order to get at the content I actually enjoy.

When I was a child, I tried jello when it was first given to me, and I did not like it. My mother explained to me that it was yummy, that all the other children loved it, and that if I just kept trying it I would see how delicious it was. She forced me to eat jello for years, sometimes sending me to timeout, sometimes withholding privileges unless I ate it. But I never learned to even like it, much less love it. The more she forced it on me, the more stubborn and sullen I got. To this day I cannot stand jello.

Clearly, Blizz is trying to do what my mother could not.

Hang on, let me breathe and explain what I am talking about. I was just checking out Wowhead for some of the profession changes in 6.2, especially the JC changes, and it turns out that in order to get the recipe for the epic mastery gem, you must be level 6 with the Brawlers Guild.

Let me say that again. You must be level 6 with the Brawlers Guild to learn an important gem recipe, possibly the most important gem in the current game for a BM or SV hunter or for a lock or a mage. What possible sense does this make? Does Blizz need to crank up player participation numbers for the Brawlers Guild, so that they can prove there will be support for some new crackpot game they are creating? When Mists first came out, I tried the Brawlers Guild, found that I disliked it, and never went back. After all, as Blizz explained, it was optional game play, something new and fun for those who liked it. Some people liked it, good for them, I didn’t so I opted out of it, no harm no foul.

And now suddenly you have to participate in it just to get a profession recipe? Why? What possible story line connection could there be for this? Seriously, I think the cheese has slipped off Blizz’s cracker, this is nuts.

But it is in line with other lies Blizz keeps telling us about “optional” content. Remember “optional” pet battling? Not so optional if you ever want to complete your garrison, with its non-optional pet menagerie. For that matter, remember all of Blizz’s assurances that garrisons were “optional” play? Uh-huh, optional unless you wanted to see any new content, that is. How about PvP, also “optional” unless you wanted to get the Mists legendary cloak.

As bad as WoD initially was for professions, Patches 6.1 and 6.2 drive them further into the ground. Even the way they are doing new recipes from your garrison vendor is nuts. Why in hell should you have to go through the annoyance of finding the vendor you need, on the random day they are available, possibly in someone else’s garrison? What “vision” of the game is served by that mechanic? It’s not hard, but it is stupid and annoying, and there is no legitimate reason for it. Obviously, another award-winning idea from Blizz’s Screw With the Players Department. And they have really outdone themselves with this Brawlers Guild gem recipe requirement.

Yes, I know it is Monday and I probably am cranky and out of sorts, but give it up Blizz! Enough is effing enough. Go get a damn dictionary and look up the meaning of “optional.” No matter how much you try to force me into it, I do not enjoy PvP, or pet battling, or Brawlers Guild, or Hearthstone (if I wanted to play cards, I would play a real card game, like poker), or waddling my flying mount along on the ground, or spending hours trying to slam a mouse button at just exactly the right millisecond in order to jump up for a treasure, or galloping around for more hours to get a better selection of elevator music. (I am just waiting for the announcement of the next expansion, and the requirement for all the jukebox achievements to be completed before you can ding 101.)

I. Do. Not. Like. Jello.

It’s 95 degrees F here today already, with about 90% humidity, and honestly I feel like I need to go outside and cool off. Brawlers Guild, my ass!

Oh. Have a nice day. (It’s “optional” but not for long.)

Legendary ring — not feeling it

We just got the rundown on the final series of quests for this expansion’s legendary — the ring. I really want to be excited about this, but I just can’t work up any interest, much less enthusiasm, over it. Oh, I will get it for my hunters because I suspect it will be one of those “hafta’s” for raiding. But I doubt if I will pursue it on any of my alts, because — meh.

Now, all of this is conjecture because no one has been able to test the legendary on the PTR, but here is what I see from this latest post.

There will be five versions of the final ring: one tank, one heals, and three DPS. (The blue post makes it look like six, but I think that is because they duped the tank tooltip graphic. Yeah, Blizz is also so excited about this that they could not be troubled to proofread their big announcement…)

How does it work? Whenever one person pops the cooldown on it, it pops for everyone else who has the ring and the same role as the popper. That is, when a tank pops it, both tanks get the effect. When a DPS pops it, all DPS with the ring (no matter which DPS version they have) get the effect, along of course with the two-minute cooldown.

The DPS versions are one each for strength, intellect, and agility. The agi version has absolutely stinko  secondary stats for hunters — crit and versatility. (Yet another hunter slap in the face, courtesy of Blizz. But I digress.)

Feeling the buzz yet? Nope, me either. But wait, there’s more. What exactly happens when someone pops it? Well, clearly that depends on which role you are, but let’s take DPS as an example. It does two things for all DPS ring-wearers:

1.  Increases damage dealt by 25% for 15 seconds.

2.  At the end of the 15 seconds there is a gigantic burst cleave that deals 25% of all ring-bearers’ damage dealt within the 15 seconds. The cleave affects all enemies within 20 yards of the player who first popped the ring. At least I think that is what happens, the tooltip lacks a bit of clarity in my opinion.

Ideally, of course, all damage dealers want to be at the optimal place in their rotations when the ring is popped, and the raid almost certainly will want to simultaneously hit Hero/Time Warp/whatever and have everyone chug their potions. For many encounters — but not all — you will want the tank and heals rings to be popped at the same time. Oh, and also, you will always want your melee to pop the DPS ring to take greatest advantage of the cleave. (So much for my hunters ever controlling their own hard-earned rings….)

Except by sheer luck of course (O, RNG, we implore thee), all these things will never ever happen. The  damage increase will almost always be suboptimal, sometimes greatly so. People may hold back on their minor cooldowns prior to The Big Ring Pop so as to be sure to max the ring effect when it occurs, but this will result in lower DPS prior to the ring pop. There is just no way to synchronize rotational optimization, so some DPS will inevitably fare way better than others with the ring usage. Unfortunately for the raid, there is no guarantee that the highest damage dealers will be the ones at the top of their rotations, especially if their highest DPS are ranged. And of course, as if a Raid Leader didn’t already have enough to keep track of, now there has to be some very detailed planning and precise execution to take full advantage of the rings. Honestly, 95% of raid teams will never be able to pull it off except in a half-assed way.

Now are you feeling the buzz? Nope, me either.

In Mists I got the legendary cape on both my hunters as well as on my mistweaver, my warlock, and even my mage. Yes, it got pretty grindy, but I thought the story line was intriguing, and the actual legendary proc was pretty awesome. Not to mention for the first ten minutes of wearing it on each character, I did kind of like strutting around admiring myself with its visual. (Of course I got to the point where I wanted to be able to turn off the visual, but still it was pretty cool.)

But I haven’t been able to get interested in the story line for the ring. Khadgar seems way less interesting to me than the Black Prince was. I never even listen to Khadgar’s speeches, whereas I was fascinated by Wrathion and listened to his speeches at every point in the quest line, on every character.

Since I am uninterested in the story line, and since the final reward seems hardly worth the effort, I will not be getting the ring on my alts. Unfortunately, this means I will probably never be able to pug with them, since legendary ring will quickly become a “gotta have” for all pugs. Even though its complex mechanic means it will be of minimal value to a non-elite raid team. Yet another way that Blizz is making it hard for anyone to have fun with their alts.

How about now, feeling it yet? Nope, me either, and I am pretty sure I am not going to.

Another step in the right direction

A few days ago, writing about my reaction to the June 13 Q&A, I said that reinstating flying was a step in the right direction for Blizz, but that they have a lot of ground to cover to build back the trust they have lost over the past year. Much of that broken trust occurred because of their pathological aversion to meaningful communication with the player base. I said I would like to see a lot more Q&A type sessions as we go forward, on a regular basis.

Yesterday I saw a very positive step in communication. Ion Hazzikostas did a written follow-up to the Q&A, addressing some questions that were not covered in the original session and clearing up some of the answers he already gave. I urge you to take a few minutes and read it if you have not already done so.

You may not agree with everything he said — I certainly didn’t — but here’s the thing: It was the first time I can remember when he has treated players like interested, thinking humans. He actually explained the reasons behind some recent dev decisions, and he explained them thoroughly and, I thought, honestly. No condescension, no snark, no lawyer mumbo-jumbo. As some of you may have noticed, I am a pretty harsh critic of Blizz, and I have lately been especially critical of Hazzikostas, but I like to think I can also give praise when it is due. In this case, it is due.

Nice job, Ion. Really.

Here’s what I mean. In the original Q&A, he made what some people thought was a dismissive statement about demonology warlocks, basically that they were being nerfed because it is time they are on the bottom of the damage charts. That is not a direct quote, but it is pretty close. A lot of people who are passionate about their demo locks were upset by this. So in yesterday’s blue post, he went into some very great detail about that comment, not retracting it or retroactively weasel-wording it, but explaining why demo locks are being so drastically nerfed. The explanation boiled down to there being some fundamental problems with demo lock mechanics that are just too complicated to fix right now. So Blizz’s temporary solution was to avoid forcing locks into the demo spec by, let’s face it, making it as lousy or even lousier to play than the other specs. As I said, you or I may not agree with this decision, but I am satisfied that we got an honest answer. This is a huge step in the right direction, in my opinion.

There was a similar explanation of the comment he had made about disc priests. Recall that he had originally said something to the effect that raid teams that don’t have a disc priest are “probably doing it wrong.” He got a lot of feedback on this, basically accusing him of a double standard because he was willing to nerf demo locks to keep them from being required in raids, but he was not doing anything about disc priests. Again, he gave what I thought was a very honest answer: absorbs right now are so basic to the entire disc spell set that it will require a complete rework of the spec, and unfortunately in this case just nerfing some numbers will not work as a temporary fix. So the reality is, until Blizz can fix the absorb calculus, disc priests will remain a raid “must-have.” It is not a good solution, but it is the best of several bad ones for the time being.

I am not going to rehash all of the blue post, but I will mention one other point he made. There was a question about the upcoming removal of hunter and mage raid utilities (Aspect of the Fox and Amplify Magic). He gave what I think is clear and sound logic behind this decision, and it convinced me –finally — that it was not arrived at capriciously. I saw that the devs are in fact taking into account the big picture of their vision for raid mechanics, in this case the relative roles of melee versus ranged dps. Again, I am not sure I agree with the decision, but I see why they made it, and I accept it.

Even more importantly, this part of the explanation was refreshingly enlightening:

Even without Fox, Hunters are unique in that they are the only ranged DPS that can do nearly everything while on the move, which naturally makes them well-suited to specialized roles on a number of encounters, aside from naturally thriving in high-movement environments. On top of that, Deterrence, Feign Death, Misdirection, and Disengage all allow them to assist with handling mechanics in ways that many other classes cannot.

This told me that, at least for now, hunter mobility — what I consider to be the very essence of hunter play — is not in danger. This was a real revelation to me, because I had come to suspect that no one there any longer understood or cared about the central “feel” of playing a hunter. It gives me great pleasure to say I might have been wrong.

This is what happens when Blizz takes the time to communicate meaningfully and honestly with players. We come to see the bigger picture and hopefully focus on what individual decisions mean for our enjoyment of the whole game, not just one little corner of it. Whether Hazzikostas meant to or not, his blue post revealed a lot about the “vision” he has referred to so vaguely the last few weeks. And it was good.

I hope we can expect to see a lot more of these posts. I see no reason why Blizz can’t keep a Q&A forum open so people can submit questions continuously, and no reason why Watcher can’t select and answer a few of the more important questions regularly in a blue post. He doesn’t have to write the answers himself — certainly he has subject matter experts and minions for that — but it’s important that he put his name on the responses, because for better or for worse, he is the face of WoW development. I know he is extremely busy, but I hope he is beginning to understand that honest and forthright player communication is one of the most important things he can do.

It is still too early to call, but I am starting to think maybe Blizz is turning over a new leaf, that maybe they actually did learn from their spectacular failures over the last year. Fingers crossed.