It’s still all about the gear

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving holiday. I know I did. Of course, it’s like all good things — eventually enough is enough, and it feels good to get back to your normal routine. Honestly by Saturday I was ready for it to be over. Which meant I did play some amount of WoW, just to escape the hungry hordes in my living room. (“Sorry, guys, gotta do some web site maintenance and bookkeeping. You know how it is with a small struggling business.”)

Which brings me to the already-had-enough-of-a-good-thing subject of valor.

Most of my time in the game over the weekend was spent chasing valor on my two hunters. This meant running all of LFR HFC, plus the weekly bonus event, plus a couple of randoms. After that, I think the valor return gets a bit thin for the effort expended, not to mention I am not really in that much of a hurry to upgrade their gear. As I have pretty much stopped raiding for the remainder of this expansion, the only reason to raise gear levels is to prep for the next round of leveling in Legion.

The return of valor has certainly worked to get players re-engaged in LFR and dungeons, I think, but I still wonder how long it will last. I know for me, once I upgrade the few pieces of decent gear I have on my hunters, I will be done. I am not going to upgrade their crappy Baleful gear with terrible secondary stats, nor am I going to upgrade those lousy pseudo-tier pieces from LFR. And since Blizz has made it almost impossibly difficult for me to get decent upgradable gear for my lesser alts, I will not be chasing valor on any of them because what’s the point. So I will be done with valor in another week or so, and I suspect I am not alone in this.

This, of course, is where Blizz’s horrible decisions on gear for this entire expansion are catching up with them. Making it completely dependent on random rolls — whether that be for secondary stats or for the actual gear itself — means that eventually people just give up on it. The time — and pain, if you are not in a raiding guild — required to get the gear is simply not worth the reward. Oh, you might stick with it for your main, but very few people will do it for their alts. And make no mistake about it, Blizz has designed the end game such that gear is THE motivator for participation. Almost the only motivator.

I don’t want to get into the whole welfare-gear  debate, my point is not about that. My point is that, when you design a game whose main goal centers on gear, you have to make that gear — or the means to get it — reasonably attainable for the majority of players who make it to the end game. I do not mean give it to them, but I do mean give them multiple paths to it. I contend that Blizz has failed on this.

Right now even normal level gear appropriate to their spec is beyond my reach for alts, and even to some extent for my main (thinking hunter tier gear here). This is because:

  • Garrison missions now only award gear at the level the character has already raided at (not one level higher, as was the case at the beginning of WoD), so if you have not done some normal runs you will not get any gear at that level.
  • If you are not already fairly well geared, farming baleful gear in Tanaan is extremely time consuming — to the point of absurdity — for some classes and specs.
  • Even if you get baleful gear, the chances of getting the best secondary specs for your class are dismally small. This is, astonishingly, true even if you spend a pile of Apexis crystals to actually buy it.
  • If you are willing to grind for the mats to craft gear for your character, you cannot equip more than three pieces.
  • You simply cannot get accepted into a pug — even for normal level raids — unless you pretty much already outgear it. Thus, anyone who is not in a raiding guild is severely penalized in terms of getting gear. And Blizz’s policies for the last two expansions have been to gradually remove most incentives for guild membership, thereby decreasing the number of active guilds (no numbers to back this up, just anecdotal observation), thereby also decreasing the number of raiding guilds.
  • Even if you do get into a pug after hours of rejections, chances of getting gear are not great, given RNG along with the typical “tier gear res 4 guild, some [whatever class/spec you play] pcs on res” restrictions.

So unless Blizz makes some changes to gear acquisition in the next mini-patch — if there is one — I am pretty much done with my newly-discovered re-engagement with Draenor. Off the top of my head, here is what I would like to see:

  • Make some normal to heroic level gear pieces available for purchase with valor.
  • Establish a mechanism to reconfigure secondary stats on gear to actually fit your spec.
  • Lift the 3-piece restriction on crafted gear.
  • Make all Baleful gear BoA, not just the pieces from shipyard missions.
  • Make the random Baleful drops completely generic (no armor type) until they are used. (The Timeless Isle model.)
  • Change it so that if you buy Baleful gear with Apexis crystals, you can specify what secondary stats you get on the gear.
  • Expand valor so that it is awarded — even if in small quantities — for every activity in Tanaan. In other words, go back to the Mists valor model.

Changes like these would send me to Tanaan and to LFR/randoms regularly, probably for at least a couple of months.  It would allow me to gear up my alts decently, but not excessively. And it would restore my faith that Blizz is not trying to make gear — even moderate gear — more and more of an exclusive club for their favored 5%.




Thanksgiving break

I’ll be taking a short Thanksgiving break to spend a few days cooking for a big group of friends and family, arguing politics and sports with everyone, watching football and old movies, telling everyone to pick up their dirty socks, playing endless games of Monopoly, and doing some winter preps in my garden to escape said friends and family periodically!

I’ll be back next Monday, November 30. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a good day and I hope you can be surrounded by those you love. If you don’t celebrate the day, have a great weekend! (And I still hope you can be surrounded by those you love.)

Beta Blues

A few days ago a very early form of Legion beta appeared on, and some few streamers and pros and favored sons were given access. This is apparently not the actual Beta, more of an “alpha beta”, if there is such a thing. From what I have read, it is extremely limited play, basically just the Demon Hunter starting experience, with lots of the bells and whistles  — such as the transmog UI — not yet implemented.

(There are some supposed “shocking” story line spoilers, which I understand many people are furious about. Not sure I understand that, I mean I am not a lore person and even I could have guessed the track of the Legion story line from the Blizzcon cinematic. My suggestion to those sensitive souls annoyed about having the “shockers” revealed is to stick your fingers in your ears and shout LALALALA for the next several months.)

Anyway, I digress. Back to the beta, or the alpha of the beta, or whatever it is. As I said, currently it is available only to a few handpicked players, mostly streamers and Blizz-friendly bloggers, with a few of the devs’ BFFs thrown in, I believe. I suppose this is a good idea, as it might ensure the widest dissemination of the experience with minimal server overload and whining from people who have no clue what a beta is. I am certain that as we get further into it, the base of testers will increase.

Some years ago, in my Army days, I worked for a commander who always did his best to try and retain obvious misfits, even though they were constant troublemakers. I asked him why he always went to so much trouble for people clearly not meant for Army service, why not just chapter them out and be rid of them. He said one of the reasons institutions become inbred and stale is that early on they weed out those who do not “fit”, and he felt there should be some way to promote some of these misfits to the highest policy-making ranks without making them conform and therefore be beholden to the system. He wasn’t sure it was possible, but giving the troublemakers a few extra chances was his way of at least trying to keep the institution fresh and creative.

I tell you this, obviously, because I have a suspicion that Blizz had a problem with the way they picked people for the WoD beta, and I hope they realize that and do a better job for the Legion beta. I think for WoD they tended to pick mostly those who conformed to dev ideas of hardcore end game players, and to pay attention to their comments, while discounting or ignoring the comments of the “misfits” selected at random. We see where this policy got us.

To be fair, selecting effective beta testers is very difficult. You want someone who will spend time test driving all the various aspects of the game, who is observant, who will go to the trouble of recording their observations and back them up with numbers where possible, who is patient when things break, and who can articulate their observations clearly enough to be of use to the devs. This is a tall order, and I am sure there is a great temptation to pick known players who have the same game vision as the devs do. Picking large numbers of players randomly is a real crap shoot, as most of them will not have the skills necessary to be effective testers, resulting in little feedback of value for Blizz.

However, this in my opinion is what they need to do in the next and subsequent iterations of Legion beta. They need to de-emphasize (note I did not say eliminate) participation from high performing semi-professional players and bring in a large segment of the “normal” player base — the questing crowd, the LFR crowd, the log-on-a-couple-times-a-week-and-just-bop-around crowd.

They will get low rates of participation and feedback from this approach, true. But they will get a better assessment of the expansion design from it. If necessary, they can track logins on the beta and remove testers who have not logged in, say, in two weeks, making room for others. I am not implying this is easy, or that it is not resource-intensive, but I am saying if they are serious about making the beta useful, they need to do it.

The other thing Blizz needs to do on the beta is make it completely transparent to everyone. Publish all the comments somewhere accessible, and indicate which comments they intend to address and which ones they do not. The popular notion after WoD is that some of its worst features were commented on in the beta and ignored.

Another part of transparency is for Blizz to make public the composition and numbers of beta testers — how many “friends and family”, how many semi-pro bloggers and streamers, how many random from each region, etc. And what is the basic method of selecting “random” players (because honestly I am not believing it is strictly a function of turning on the beta test request in your account.)

I want this beta to work. I want it to result in a remarkable new expansion, one that returns to the model of making the game accessible and fun to a diverse player base, not a game of, by, and for hardcore gamers only.

And now to the real point of this post: I have never been selected as a beta tester. I fit none of the semi-pro or friends and family categories, plus I am notoriously unlucky so will never be selected in any kind of “random” invite. I think that is too bad, as I believe I would be a responsible beta tester and would give good feedback. So come on, Blizz, give this misfit a chance!

Hey, even a long shot is still a shot, right?

A disturbing incident

I spent the first few days of last week with newly rekindled interest in WoW, what with some of the 6.2.3 changes and the chance at some alt gear with the Timewalking bonus event. I was not the only one, we had a lot of returned faces amongst my guildies.

But for some reason, all that new energy was gone by Thursday. Guild actives were back down to 4-5 at a time, and even though I still liked the TW event idea and to some extent the valor concept, I was overcome by a wave of indifference to the game. I did not expect the buzz from 6.2.3 to last until Legion, but two days?? I did not even bother to log on all weekend.

Now clearly this is one person’s anecdotal experience, so perhaps yours is much different. I hope so. Compounding everything for me were some time-consuming real life issues with my stupid car. But I also had an in-game incident Wednesday night that for some reason really affected my whole outlook on the game.

I was running HFC LFR on one of my alt hunters, chasing valor for some gear upgrades. I got into a fresh Wing 3 run, and apparently both tanks and a few of the DPS were from the same guild, maybe they had joined as a group, I don’t know. Before the raid group had even completely formed, the tanks took off running straight through the trash, pulling everything that stuck with them into Iskar’s room. They dashed about killing the in-room trash and then immediately pulled the boss.

Some number of trash were still running around in the room, some raid members were stuck outside getting killed from external trash ignored by the tanks. I began madly misdirecting trash in the room to the tanks, and when that was on cooldown, distracting the trash to my pet then putting the pet on passive or even Play Dead so that the tanks in the area would pick up aggro. For my efforts, I earned a stream of vile invective from one of the tanks, who informed me, after first calling me a lot of really nasty names, that the tanks were busy with the boss and adds, and that it was up to DPS to quickly dispatch any leftover trash without bothering the tanks.

We downed the boss, and I expected there to be a short recoup pause to allow the locked out and dead raid members to catch up. Nope. The tanks and their DPS cronies turned on their speed bursts, zipped out the door and immediately engaged more trash as they ran towards the next boss. By this time, we had some players who had released and were running back, some engaged with trash that had been skipped, some dying repeatedly to the skipped trash, and a small group still in Iskar’s room trying unsuccessfully to get their loot which they could not because the raid was engaged in combat.

At this point I probably should have just dropped group, but instead I made what was apparently an unforgivable error and asked in raid chat for the tanks to finish their current combat and pause for regrouping and looting. I was ignored, so I whispered the same request to one of the tanks. No response. I made one more attempt in raid chat, and this time I admit I used caps out of frustration  and actually addressed the tanks as “buttholes”, as in “HEY BUTTHOLES, SLOW DOWN FOR A MINUTE WILL YA”. Not cool, I admit, and I regret losing my composure over something so stupid. However, this at least finally got their attention — and apparently enraged them — causing the tank and a couple of his guildies to respond in raid chat with what I can only describe as some of the vilest, most hate-filled, sexually-oriented, violent-toned language I have ever witnessed in WoW. And then I was kicked from the group, and a couple of them followed up with similarly vile whispers to me before I could put them on ignore.

Now, normally I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to LFR. I have not been kicked often, but it has happened, usually on an alt doing exceptionally poor DPS or maybe a new healer alt I was still figuring out. With millions of people playing you can’t always count on fitting with a given group. No big deal.

But this seemed different. This was a gang, a small group that hijacked LFR, apparently highly insulted that they were “required” to lower themselves to such a level in order to get valor points. They had only disdain for everyone but themselves. Everyone else was there to serve them. Those that failed to give the correct level of awed obeisance were to be given the worst treatment possible.

I was shaken, even though I knew it was illogical to be so. So shaken that I logged off. I logged back on the following night, but there was such a bad taste still in my mouth that I only stayed for a few minutes and did not even attempt to go back until last night.

I am trying to not give this much importance, because my thinking brain tells me it was a just a mini-blip, not worth giving a second thought to. I have played this game for years, and I realize there are some nasty sub-human predators who play it only to bully others. But I can’t deny that this LFR incident caused me to pretty much abandon the game for several days. And my response makes me wonder if maybe similar experiences are one of the reasons WoW is not attracting significant numbers of new players. Think about it, if you are new to a game and within a couple of days of joining you are treated to name-calling and ridicule, are you going to keep playing? If you are considering playing and one of your friends recounts their experience with rude players, are you likely to start?

As I have written before, I have noticed a coarsening of the game over the years, a move away from shared fun and socializing and towards polarization and incomprehensible arrogance over one’s ability to press buttons. It puzzles me. I just hope one of the unintended consequences of the return to valor points is not to further entrench that tendency. But honestly, after a couple of recent experiences, I am starting to think that is exactly what is happening.

Timewalking — still fun

Last night when I logged on I was astounded to see a double-digit number of guildies on, after months of maybe 3-4 at any given time. And people were actually engaged in the game, not just logging on to check some garrison work orders or run a quick weekly ring quest. There was chatter, questions and observations about various aspects of the patch, and just general socializing.

We put together a couple of guild groups running Timewalking dungeons. I always liked the Cata dungeons (most of them), so I was predisposed to like this TW event, and I was not disappointed. I ran it on my main for the valor, so none of the gear was useful, but I still enjoyed it. (No one got the mount.) And the 500 valor quest reward allowed me to fully upgrade a third piece of gear.

I didn’t do much gear switching before we started, but I did haul my legendary cape out of mothballs and donned it. I always thought the blue wing effect for it was kind of hokey — and I still thought so last night — but I had forgotten how much fun the actual damage proc visual was for hunters. It made you feel like you were actually doing some special damage, like you were really getting a decent benefit from completing that long quest line. Even though the proc was passive and thus not something you controlled, it still felt like you were personally contributing something special to the group. Not like this crappy ring, almost always controlled by someone else, and with close to zero visual effect except for a tiny flash of light at the end, which is usually obscured by all the other fight visuals.

I ran the Cata dungeons so often when they were current that I thought I would remember every detail of them for years, but I was surprised last night when I found I had forgotten some crucial mechanics for a couple of bosses. I actually died in the final boss in Vortex Pinnacle, because while I remembered to jump during static cling, I completely forgot about getting into the lightning triangle when he casts his big AoE. I was a bit embarrassed.

Not as embarrassed as I was, though, when I stupidly caused a wipe in Lost City of the Tol’vir by pulling every mob in sight when I failed to properly calculate my firing angle for Barrage. A split second into it I realized my mistake and stopped the channel, but it was too late. Noob hunter mistake, I am ashamed to admit. I apologized to the group, and since it was a guild group they laughed at me and made fun of me instead of kicking me. So nice to be among friends!

I was hoping to run End Time, but we didn’t draw it, nor did we get Grim Batol. Instead we got the other three plus Vortex Pinnacle twice. No worries, I’m sure I’ll get a chance at those two sooner or later this week as I run the TW quest on some alts.

All in all, I still think Blizz has a hit with the whole Timewalking concept. Sometimes I think it would be better if they were available all the time instead of just every few weeks, but then I suspect they would lose their fun and become just another grind. I do think it might be cool, though, if you could select which set of TW dungeons you want to run when TW comes up in the bonus event rotation. Not a big deal, but it might be kind of a fun tweak at some point in the future.

Anyway, last night was fun. It was terrific to be playing the game again within the social structure that drew me to it in the first place. It was a warm and welcomely familiar experience, like coming home after a long trip and getting hugged. I don’t know how long it will last, but it sure was a good feeling.



Doubling down on LFR

I spent my first couple of hours with 6.2.3 last night, and here is my main impression:

If you hate LFR, you are not going to like this patch.

Now granted we did not have the new Timewalking dungeons last night, and I am looking forward to trying them tonight, but last night for the first time in a couple of months I ran chained LFRs on my main. Why? Because I wanted to get a good start on my valor for upgrading, and the queues for LFR were short even for DPS, whereas the queues for dungeons were very long. Also, valor is awarded at the max amount (150 for HFC, somewhat less for the other two tiers) for every wing once a week. This means that last night, even just running LFR, I was able to easily fully upgrade two pieces of gear — my weapon and a trinket. (Of course, most of what I did not upgrade is crap gear that I have little chance of improving, but that is a different subject.)

I did not attempt any Mythics, either, not because I don’t like them but because the Group Finder experience is so frustrating and time-consuming. Maybe I am too picky, because I avoid the ones where the group leader has specified a long list of “requirements” accompanied by a complex list of set-asides for gear, and the ones where the comments are along the lines of “Don’t be a dick,” because I figure it takes one to know one. But even when I do spend the time to apply for groups I seem to have all the stated qualifications for, it is often rejection after rejection for an hour or more. No thank you. Too tedious not to mention too demoralizing.

I don’t know how long it will last, but my server and my guild had more people on last night than I have seen in weeks. And people seemed to be energized, with renewed interest in the game. I am sure this will only last a couple of weeks, but it is nice for now. We may even be able to get some valor farming groups together in my guild, which would be awesome.

Anyway, back to LFR. Certainly at least last night the valor incentive seemed to bring back masses of people who really knew the fights and had them overgeared to boot. This was good and bad. It was good because as I mentioned it made the queues very short, raid time was minimal because of the speed with which bosses and trash were dispatched, and having a couple incompetent and/or afk people was of no consequence. But it was bad because raid mechanics — even the ones requiring LFR attention — were almost universally ignored (reinforcing bad habits among less experienced players), and because people were frequently left behind even when starting boss fights.

I was in one run of Wing 2 of HFC where the tank ran, literally, straight through all trash to every boss, stopping just before the boss fight to dispatch what were dozens of mobs, and leaving trash mobs scattered throughout so that anyone who died and had to run back could not do so because they kept running into leftover trash all along the route. A couple people asked, politely, for the tank to slow down a bit, only to be treated to rude comments about their “incompetence” from the tank and some of the self-appointed “elites” in the group, arrogantly letting everyone know how much LFR was beneath them but they needed the valor. It was ugly.

A couple of weeks ago there was a rash of online speculation about the future of LFR in the game. Patch 6.2.3 tells me  that Blizz, far from considering its elimination, is doubling down on it, pulling out all the stops to repopulate it with a wide range of players. Now, they may be doing this as an experiment to see what happens, or they may see it as one of the few mechanisms they have in WoD to re-engage players, but at least for the present, and for better or for worse, LFR has been re-energized.

It remains to be seen how much — if any — staying power this patch has, but it is difficult to imagine it filling the void until Legion.

6.2.3 and my car is dying

I am writing this at my car dealership, using their iffy wi-fi while I wait to see how many things they can find wrong with my car. I have had it for 8 years, and I love driving it, but it is getting to the point where I really need to get rid of it — it is costing me more annually than a new one would. I don’t like the idea of a car payment again, but then I am not much in favor of paying out continually for a dying car either. Trouble is, I am not really in a position to buy a new car just now, so I will likely sell this one and drive my beat up old truck — which is still going strong at 200,000 miles — until I can afford something newer and hopefully better.

Which brings me to 6.2.3, the presumed final patch to WoD, going live today. I think it will have some interesting features, but I am not all that excited about it. I am thinking about it like I am thinking about my car — it’s a maintenance fix to an expansion that is on its last legs. Trouble is, we are not in a position to move to a new expansion yet, so we are stuck playing a beat up old expansion for a while.

I have already written about 6.2.3, and until I play it a little I don’t have much more to add. I still think the return to valor is flawed, since all you can do is upgrade gear, not buy it. For those of us no longer raiding with a regular team, or those who have really crappy luck with gear drops, what this means is that you can only upgrade your already crappy gear, kind of like putting lipstick on a pig. The patch does nothing to really improve gear (other than to give it a higher arbitrary number), or to give people an opportunity to get some pre-Legion gear for their alts.

And the moose? As I have already said, in my opinion, this is pretty much designed as a cash machine and gold transfer — take gold out of the hands of casual players and give it to raiding guilds selling heroic Archie carries. In the process, possibly get said casual players to hand over real cash to Blizz to buy tokens and sell for enough gold to buy a carry.

I am not really against this patch, I just think we are paying for an old clunker of a car, trying to stretch out the time until we can afford a new one. There will undoubtedly be some fun driving moments — the new Timewalker dungeons, maybe some decent Mythic gear — but overall we are sinking resources into something destined for the junk yard.

Short post today, my “service rep” is approaching, his shoes making little “ka-ching” sounds with every step he takes, so I will wrap this up in order to pay close attention to the bad news, and hopefully have a few nice things to say tomorrow after playing 6.2.3 tonight.