On break

I’ll be taking a little time off to recharge my creative batteries, about 10 days or so. I’ll be back May 2, see you then!

Legion! Yay, or something

As everyone probably knows by now, Blizz has officially announced that Legion will go live on August 30. Honestly, I’m not sure what I think about that. I’ve had a lot of thoughts darting through my head since the announcement. Here are a few of them.

First, there is the big fat obvious fact that patch 6.2 celebrates its first birthday on June 23 of this year. Which means it will be just a smidge over 14 months old when Legion goes live. Last June, I wrote this:

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.

Which it did. We had two patches in the first year of WoD — although 6.1 hardly even qualified as a patch — and then zero, zip, nada for 14 months.

WTF, Blizz?

Things have come a long ways — and not in a good way — from this November 2013 quote from Ghostcrawler:

We find that expansions are what bring players back to World of Warcraft…. Really good patches will keep them, but they aren’t as good at bringing players back to the game.

We really want to get to a cadence where we can release expansions more quickly. Once a year I think would be a good rate. I think the best thing we can do for new players is to keep coming out with regular content updates.

Not only no new expansions every year, but no new patches either, much less “really good” ones.

Certainly a new expansion every year, if it is of the immense scope that WoD and Legion are, is extremely optimistic. To achieve that frequency, a company has to devote very significant resources and must be almost flawless in their project planning and execution. Also, they must be willing to ignore the Good Idea Fairy who seems to make a nuisance of herself throughout the expansion development cycle, causing original concepts to become as bloated and overgrown as a Pentagon defense contract.

Blizz has demonstrated that they are just awful at all of this. Thus we get attempts to completely rework nearly every facet of the game for every expansion, the projects grow far beyond their initial scope without increasing the development resources to compensate, deadlines loom, and the projects get rushed out the door with a vague thought that all the known bugs will get fixed in the first patch. (When did Blizz adopt the Microsoft model of project management?) In short, we get WoD. I can only hope this is not the case with Legion, but I will wait to see.

I am neither surprised nor disappointed that Blizz has had to back off of Greg Street’s 2013 comment, but I would appreciate the courtesy of a new statement reflecting their current goals for frequency of expansions and patches.

Second, you have to wonder what kind of marketing duel may be going on between Blizz and Square Enix, which recently announced that Final Fantasy 15 — one of the strong WoW competitors — would be released Sep 30. This is suspiciously close to the previously-assumed release date of Legion, clearly chosen for the competitive value. Now suddenly Blizz one-ups Square Enix and announces an Aug 30 release. One can only hope that this is an actual, reasonable release date, and not one pulled out of the air in the spirit of “Oh yeah? We’ll see your Sep 30 release date and cut it by a month! Hah!”

Third, what does this mean for a beta test? By my calculations, if you allow time for a beta test followed by a PTR, the beta should have started, like — before now? It will be interesting to see how the “alpha” experiment will be spun by Blizz. My hunch is that we will soon see something that will be labeled “beta” but will actually just be a sort of  pre-PTR, with no substantive changes made, no matter what the comments are from the testers. Let’s face it, the alpha was the beta, from now on things other than minor tweaks are set in stone. The PTR — well, it will mainly be there as a pacifier to players not invited to either the alpha or the beta. If Blizz is smart, they will use it as a system stress test, because …

Fourth, what if any technical changes have been put in place to ensure we do not have a disastrous release day and/or week? The experiences for release of Mists and WoD were monuments to incompetence. There is no excuse for Blizz to fail to anticipate these factors for release week:

  • There will be a HUGE surge of players at the release hour. This surge will continue for at least the first week of the expansion. This means that servers must be prepared to take capacity loads, and additional tech servers may be needed.
  • People will be playing during times they ordinarily do not, so standard patterns of peak play times will be meaningless.
  • Some group will almost certainly try to attack Blizz servers and network infrastructure on release day. Get ready for it, and don’t complain that it is an “unforeseen event”. I am foreseeing it right now, so you should, too.
  • Lots of things will go wrong, so start preparing now to bring in extra support personnel, including GMs to quickly address tickets. People will have taken vacation time and made similar arrangements to experience intensive play time at release, so realize that they will be more emotional than usual when they hit a bug that prevents them from playing. You will win a lot of fans if you can address their problems rapidly and successfully.
  • Realize that you will likely have a lot of brand new WoW players for whom this will be their first expansion day, and whatever their experience is will color their entire view of the game.

Last, what does this mean for a pre-expansion event and for the pre-patch? Typically, these are big guessing games, Blizz gives coy little hints and bats its eyes like a middle schooler trying to flirt for the first time, but they never really announce a pre-patch release date. But this time, given the extreme changes every class and spec will undergo, I think Blizz owes it to their player base to cut out the cuteness and tell us at least an approximate time frame for the pre-patch. Those of us still around have proven our loyalty, we have stuck with this game in spite of a terrible and seemingly-endless expansion, and dammit we deserve to know when our classes will change forever.

What provisions are in place for playing a Legion spec in a WoD world? There are a ton of concerns here, not the least of which involve changes for secondary stats, for new global cool down intervals (1.5 seconds, up from 1.0 seconds — subject to haste), for new healing paradigms in an old-paradigm expansion, etc. I suppose we need time to get used to our new rotations and spec play styles before we get dumped into Legion, but honestly I am not looking forward to it, and I would like to have as much advance planning notice as possible.

Everyone fasten your seat belts, securely stow your belongings, and make sure your seats and tray tables are in an upright position. Here we go!

Brain crumbs and drafts folder

***Late breaking news edit: Legion will go live August 30.***

(This broke after I posted today.)

I am having a little trouble engaging my brain this morning, and adding that fact to the veritable vacuum of Warcraft-related things to write about these days, I find myself at a real loss for a topic for today’s post. Thus, you will be subjected to me cleaning out my drafts folder again, along with a few tiny crumbs that have been rolling around in my brain for a while.

Class halls. I admit I am still puzzled over these edifices in Legion. First of all, I fail to see the reason to even have them. No, I am not talking about the horse hockey public claptrap about “Only your class, led by you the Heroic Sole Wielder of The Most Awesome Weapon Ever Devised (well, you along with every other member of your class, not to mention all other classes, but never mind) can save the Warcraft universe from Final Devastation”. No, I am talking about what game design imperative drove creation of class halls as a mechanism in Legion. My bet is that the initial Legion design, almost certainly begun about the time WoD went live if not before, was done using the garrison concept as a carry-forward. By the time  garrisons turned out to be such a colossal lightning rod for WoD hatred, it was too late to scrap the idea for Legion, so modifications were made that resulted in what we are seeing emerge now.

Anyway, we are apparently stuck with them. I have paid only glancing attention to the artwork we have seen on them so far. But my impression of nearly every one of them is — they are largely dark, cavernous, un-cozy looking places that make me want to conduct my required business there and quickly depart. Kind of like going to the DMV. Nothing I have seen for any of them makes me want to spend time there, they look like the inside of monuments or government buildings. Definitely not places you would want to take off your boots, kick back with a beer in a comfy chair by a fire, and swap lies with the other members of your class.

And the last thing is, honestly, Blizz has not even come up with a decent catchy name for them. I guess officially they are Class Order Halls, which sounds to me like something a committee came up with as a compromise. I tend to call them class halls, some others I notice prefer to call them order halls, but sheesh when even the name is murky and confused what are we supposed to think about their real purpose?

Neutral faction hints. Muffinus has recently had a couple of cryptic tweets (and I think maybe a poll a couple of weeks ago) about how people would feel about belonging to a new and neutral — a la Switzerland — faction. The kicker each time is that such a faction would apparently not be able to form or join guilds and would not be able to access the auction house.

So I am trying to figure this out. Apparently Blizz has decided to explore some of the suggestions from players over the years asking for such a faction. I see the comments and blogs from time to time, but my impression is that this is kind of a niche wish, not a massive groundswell, so the first thing I don’t understand about the recent official hints is, why even consider it? Because I think they clearly are considering it, Blizz never drops these little subtle hints unless they are about to actually do something.

The second thing I don’t understand is why would there be restrictions on auction house and guild activity? I mean, honestly, Switzerland is a big player in monetary transactions in the real world, and while the Swiss are not members of factionalized clubs like NATO, they certainly belong to non-factionalized clubs like the United Nations. The only thing I can figure out with Blizz is that the auction house and guild mechanisms are coded such that faction is a major component of them, and that to add another faction is technically complex to do — sort of like the 16-slot backpack problem.

Officially-sanctioned boutique server hint? Less obvious, but still there, is another hint dropped by Muffinus, sort of dipping a toe into the idea of a vanilla or other type of boutique server. This may or may not be related to the recent Nostalrius flap, but it is hard not to connect the two.

Jeremy Feasel – ‏@Muffinus

If you could make your own server, and state ONE rule for it, what would it be? E.g. ‘perma-death’, ‘max ilvl 100’, ‘only gnomes/goblins’.

Now maybe he was just bored and trying to generate some player interaction, but as I said Blizz almost never just casually mentions things just for the hell of it, especially lately and especially since the great curtain of silence has descended on the company regarding almost all official comments. So it is just something that makes you go “hmmmm”.

Delvar Ironfist bodyguard. I only recently noticed that this dude rides his horse by standing on top of his saddle. Which I am thinking, why have a saddle at all if that is how you are going to ride? Strange, but I suppose maybe his legs are too short to even go over a saddle much less use stirrups? Who knows, it just seems a bit weird to me is all.

Fire mages are still cool. Over the weekend I hauled my poor garrison-bound mage out of mothballs, dusted her off a bit, and spent several hours gearing her up and trying to get familiar with a fire spec rotation. She has spent this expansion so far as arcane, but I just have never been happy with that spec as it is. I know it is supposed to be the preferred mage spec for WoD, but I really dislike it. On the other hand, I have always been attracted to the fire spec, so I just decided to switch, damage abilities be damned. Fire seems a lot more complex than arcane to me, and in some ways it is more RNG-dependent (or so my impression is, remember I stink as a mage), but still I really enjoy the spell graphics. And I saw where they will get even more impressive in Legion.

A month or so ago I had decided to prepare my mage for, umm, “going to a nice farm in the country, where she will be able to run and play and be happy”. But when it came down to it, I just couldn’t do it. No matter how much I may not enjoy the mage play style, the fact is I have formed a kind of virtual emotional bond with her. She was, as I recall, the second character I rolled, after my hunter initial character, and, well, we just have history I guess. I have always leveled her to max for every expansion, but then really not paid any attention to her until time to level for the next expansion. But, since we still have months before Legion goes live, I might do a little more mage play to pass the time.

My radical idea for beta. Yeah, I know this will generate hate mail for me, but I am used to it. My idea is this: Blizz claims their selection of alpha testers was based on getting reliable and detailed feedback from their serious players, but at the same time they claim to need a lot of feedback from ordinary players, because they need to get a lot of varied perspective. So what if, for the beta test, Blizz specifically excludes anyone who was part of the alpha test. That way they can be sure to get a whole new set of fresh experiences from players who are not likely to gush over how much improved this or that thing is from the alpha version, and instead will get feedback on what the whole thing is like stepping into it with no prior experience, which is what millions of players will do when it goes live.

Of course, I know this has no chance to happen, because a huge number of alpha testers are professional players and star-producing guilds who would lose tons of money if they were shut out of beta, not to mention their pitiful howls would surely melt the cold hard hearts of the Blizz execs, so oh well. It was just a thought. And let’s be honest, even if some alpha testers are not pros, they all certainly have a sense of special entitlement because of their selection for alpha. I am not saying this as an insult, I am certain that had I been selected (which of course there was never the slightest chance of), I too would feel hurt if Blizz did not continue to recognize me for the special snowflake I am by giving me beta access when alpha ends. It is human nature, I suppose. (And to be fair, there a few — very few — players who are doing an outstanding job analyzing specific subjects and writing about them for the benefit of the rest of us, I am not sure I would want those people to be denied beta access, so clearly this is a flaky idea on my part!)

Still, I think there is something to be said for bringing in a whole new set of testers who have no preconceived notions.

OK, drafts folder is once again empty and brain crumbs have been swept away. Thanks for bearing with my housecleaning.

Mini game creep?

Very short pre-weekend post today, I am pretty slammed for time. But I did just want to mention the creeping trend of WoW Blizz-sanctioned mini games within the main game. I am talking about things like Darkmoon Faire games, Hearthstone tie-ins, Brawlers’ Guild, pet battles, etc. And a day or so ago I saw two references to mini games in professions in Legion.

Professions

  • Hot Swapper Achieve 250000 points in a single jewelcrafting minigame. 10 points.Account Wide.
  • Resourceful (New) Upgrade all star recipes in one primary profession to 2 stars or higher. 10 points.
  • The Shortest Distance Reach level 20 in the Blingtron Circuit Tutorial minigame. 10 points.Account Wide.

Here’s the thing. I have absolutely no problem with these games as long as they remain completely self-contained. If I choose to play them, it should be simply because I enjoy them, there should be no impact on my progress in the larger main game of WoW. Similarly, if I choose not to play them, there should be no impact on my game progress. And most certainly there should be absolutely nothing regarding WoW progress that requires me to engage in any of these mini games. Cosmetic and vanity awards for them — heck, even a few achievement points — are fine, but there should be nothing of game substance attached to them.

This point of view is the reason I was incensed back at 6.2 when the only way to earn one of the new gem recipes was to attain a certain level with the Brawlers’ Guild. To me, this crossed a line that had always existed with these mini games, in that something Blizz had always portrayed as a voluntary diversion suddenly became integral to progress of my JC in the game. It seemed to me to be a breach of promise of some sort.

So when I start to see more and more references to various mini games in Legion, I start to get very nervous. Especially given Blizz’s acquisition of the Candy Crush Saga bunch. As I said, I have no problems with these things being present in WoW, and if people enjoy playing them as a diversion or as a way to get some vanity goodies, then fine, have at it. But the moment they begin to have substantive rewards that assist progress in the main game, then I get very annoyed.

We will see what happens in Legion, but I can’t shake this gnawing little worm at the back of my brain that is quietly sounding an alarm that soon we will be playing Candy Crush or something similar in WoW, and that it will be a gate for something of substance in the game.

Everyone have a great weekend.

 

An end game for the rest of us?

I have a few initial initial thoughts on Blizz’s new end game experience, to be rolled out in Legion.

I am intrigued by the new World Quest approach to end game play. It definitely seems like Blizz took to heart all the player comments about the major shortcoming of WoD, that is, that once you finished leveling the only productive activity available was organized raiding.

World Quests, at least in theory, might be a good answer to this. I like the idea of logging on, seeing what is available by looking at your world map, and planning what you might like to do for the evening. I also am ok with the concept of an Emissary, someone who will give you extra stuff if you focus on World Quests in a certain area. And I like the idea that the World Quests will involve several game activities, such as killing bosses, doing profession-related things, pet battles and world PvP for those so inclined, etc. And I really like the idea that this is structured so that it will provide challenge and reward commensurate with your advancement in the game — that is, Blizz has said that World Quests will continue to provide motivating rewards even for players who are geared up. I definitely like the concept.

Of course, what I am worried about is the actual implementation.

First, the idea of “voluntary”. We are told that no one will be required to do PvP or the like if they don’t want to, that there will be plenty of World Quests to choose from. But what if the Emissary wants you to do quests in an area that has only 4 offered, two of which involve activities you hate (PvP and pet battles for me)? I know nothing forces you to take an Emissary quest (do 4 WQs in their preferred area), but if you have to do 4 and 2 of them involve activities you detest, are they really voluntary or is Blizz funneling you to these activities? It’s a fairly minor concern, but still a concern. I would like to see Blizz provide a true selection of WQs for every Emissary quest, so that players could really have a choice.

Second, the rewards in terms of level. To carry out their intent of making WQs of continuing interest to all players, it seems like the rewards would have to be quite high. For example, if they are remain relevant to hard core raiders halfway into the expansion, they would have to award pretty high levels of gear, high amounts of gold, really cool mounts, and the like. Even early in the expansion, there must be something that will keep players engaged in these WQs — and that is typically gear. (Think about the WoD world bosses — everyone ran them every week until they got that once piece of gear they needed to progress, then they stopped.)

To be honest, I do not see Blizz continuing to offer raid-level gear from WQs throughout the expansion. For one thing, there will be a howl from some sectors that “No FAIRRRRRRR! Everyone should have to do high level raiding to be as cool as I am!” For another, unless there is a way to keep getting ever-increasing gear levels from the quests, people will stop doing them.

Third, the rewards in terms of drop rate. It is one thing to offer as a possible reward cool things like toys and mounts and great gear, it is entirely another thing to hit that sweet spot between “Everyone gets one” and “After a year of Legion, no one on this server has ever gotten such a drop.” Of course, there are a few people who will doggedly keep trying for years to get a certain drop, but most people will give up and consider it practically impossible to do. So I would like to see Blizz do something decent with the RNG for WQ drops.

While I like the innovative potential of WQs, I would like to see Blizz also be innovative with the loot mechanics. The easiest thing would probably be to give some sort of token or currency as quest rewards, then have a vendor where you could buy really cool stuff with the tokens. Barring that, because Blizz has seemed to think that is a terrible idea, the WQ loot system needs to be a smart one.

  • It needs to have a strong bad luck streak component, so that if you get nothing decent after X number of quests, your chances go up measurably for every quest, and this needs to be per character.
  • It needs to have an “already got it” component, so that if your character already has gotten a certain reward, you can no longer get it again (unless it is something like gold). No more Left Sharks, for crying out loud!!!
  • Gear awarded as loot needs to scale with your equipped level. For example, if you have a level 760 helm and you get a helm as loot, it should be greater than 760. If your equipped helm is 780, it needs to be higher than that, and so forth. And by “higher” I also include secondary stat improvements, because one of the most frustrating things about WoD was getting a higher level piece of gear that was less useful to you than your old one because the secondary stats sucked.
  • You should always have a choice in your loot when it drops, for example, a mount, a toy, or gold. Gear, or materials, or gold. Even gear slot choice — helm or shoulders or legs, for example.

I have not even touched on the possible implementation frustrations with profession WQs.

The skeptical side of me knows that Blizz has frequently destroyed good ideas by incompetent or clueless implementation. But the optimistic side sees a lot of excellent potential for World Quests as a way to give players a choice in the end game. I am really hoping Blizz can actually pull this off.

Life’s little surprises

I’ve been reading some of the recent indignant forum outcries over Legion changes and Blizz legal actions, and though I should no longer be surprised at anything I see on the internet, in fact I am.

Side note: I have decided to no longer capitalize “internet”, a practice I always considered strange anyway. But hey, if the Associated Press can announce they will no longer capitalize it, who am I to buck the trend? Now of course I have to convince my spell checker to stop auto-correcting it.

Item: Blizz finally decided to take action against Nostalrius, a rogue Vanilla WoW server operating in France, that claimed it operated in a non-profit mode for the benefit of players unable to accept the game in any form but the one they discovered years ago and cannot bear to move past.

The indignant howls from this perfectly legal action were many and anguished.

Why was I surprised? Well, I guess it is because I usually (wrongly) assume that most adults or near-adults actually understand that there are frequently consequences to their actions, and that they accept such consequences when they engage in risky behavior. That supposedly responsible adults are outraged over actions they should have anticipated from the beginning — and, frankly, were inevitable — is both puzzling and depressing.

I have no dog in this fight. If people want to get together and stick it to the establishment, go for it, power to the people and all that. But the thing is, one of the attributes of “the establishment” is that it has tremendous resources, including not only whole battalions of lawyers but also the legal backing of constituted governments in the form of contract law, intellectual property rights, and the like. If you fight them, you will almost certainly lose. No shame in fighting, no shame in losing, it is just a fact of the way the world works. And who knows, maybe if there are enough of these fights, the establishment — in this case Blizzard — might see an opportunity for profit and decide to sanction (for a fee) some of these small boutique throwback WoW servers. But no one should count on it.

So, for all those who sympathize with the Nostalrius troglodytes, you go! But for crying out loud, quit howling like 4-year-olds about “No FAIRRRRRRRR!” Grow up, accept this tactical defeat, realize you are in it for the long haul, plan your next actions, and move on.

Yeah, I am surprised that people were outraged over this.

Item: Someone recently posted a video showing *gasp* a mission table in a class hall in Legion alpha. The forum denizens went berserk over this, expressing pain and outrage that Blizz would dare to insult them by retaining this apparently highly offensive symbol of the hated WoD garrisons, and by the way, who knew there would be garrison-type missions in Legion??

I was surprised over the outpouring of ire over this, because Blizz has never made any secret of the fact that they intend to carry forward into Legion many of the aspects of WoD garrisons — as a quest hub, as a place to send followers on missions, as a home base, etc. Yes, there will be changes from garrisons, and now they will be termed “class halls” filled with all the people you usually like to avoid in the game, but still they will retain many of the same features as garrisons.

We have known this since the first Legion announcements months and months ago. People may agree or disagree with the design decision to use this vehicle, but no one should be surprised about it. And certainly it is dumbfounding that the thing that caused such a tantrum is a small piece of art left over from WoD. I could understand electronic rage over the whole idea of class halls as new and improved garrisons, over the idea that missions may be more mandatory than voluntary, over any number of class hall features, but a table?? That’s what’s unacceptable?

Yeah, I am surprised that so many people have been oblivious to the worst changes in Legion, but a video of a table makes them suddenly be “… shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” (In the famous words of Captain Renault in Casa Blanca.)

Item: Blizz just announced that Challenge dungeons in Legion will morph into several levels of Mythic, with ever-more-quirky boss quirks the higher you go. If you are interested, here is a summary of the change. I am not interested, I never did challenge mode in WoD, have zero intention of doing the new version in Legion. I get far too many timed challenges in real life in the form of impossible deadlines, thank you very much, to consider a timed dungeon run “fun”. Even though I have no interest in challenge mode, I was surprised to read about what seems to be a huge change to the WoD activity in Legion.

Why was I surprised? Well, because I did not think there was a significant demand to make this activity harder, even more unattainable by casual (that is to say “the majority of”) players.

Of course, if I think about it for even a few seconds, I realize that it was inevitable. What better vehicle for one-on-one esport competitions? With mythic raids becoming  more and more difficult for even professional guilds to field teams for, a series of mythic instances is a great gap-filler. Not to mention a mythic raid can take hours even if it is on farm, but each mythic instance is about 45 minutes in length, the perfect time frame for an hour of viewing, once commercials and celebrity interviews are thrown in.

Yeah, I was surprised — though I should not have been — that Blizz continues to develop this game for the elite pros, not for the masses of its casual players. (And before I get deluged with hate mail, if you are someone who loves challenge mode dungeons and can’t wait to try the new multi-level mythics, good on ya, you go. But know that you are definitely in the top 5% or even less of players, you are most definitely not part of the majority.) I was also surprised — again, I should not have been — that Blizz would feel the need to “improve” something that I thought was working very well as it was. But of course, that is standard procedure for them, take something that is finally working smoothly and “fix” it so that  it once again works badly if at all. (Thinking class reworks here.)

But while I was being surprised over this development, I did have a chance to look at the “affixes” Blizz has come up with so far. “Affix” is the term they use for “progressively annoying and ridiculous boss quirks” in these new challenge dungeons. You can read what they are in the link I gave above, but I think it would be fun to come up with some of our own. Here are my ideas so far:

Proposed additional affixes for the new Mythic mode dungeons in Legion:

Teenage — The boss suddenly disappears into his room and refuses to come out unless you promise to pay for a Spring Break trip. And not make fun of the gigantic zit on his forehead.

Political — The boss refuses to shut up, nattering on incessantly about how he will “Make WoW great again”, promising to build a wall to keep casuals out of the instance, whining about how the system is stacked against him, and announcing the size of his various “appendages”. (Hint: they are all “YUGE”.)

Robo-call — The boss repeatedly breaks in on your team’s voice chat app, each time starting off with the phrase “Hello, Seniors! If your medical costs are too high, you need to know about …..” The team lead can cut off the message before it finishes, but it will always break in again, at ever-increasing fast intervals.

Infomercial — Before you can begin combat, you must listen to the boss extolling the virtues of This Miraculous New Mop, the ShamWoW! (Lots of cheap jokes there, but I won’t go there, you can fill them in yourselves.) Once you start combat, you get approximately 3 1/2 minutes before you have to listen to the infomercial again, but hey if you order now we will double your order, just pay separate shipping and handling!

Annoying Neighbor — Just when you are settling in to a nice organized fight, everything going smoothly, the boss decides to do maintenance on his Harley, subjecting you to a high-decibel, continuous roar drowning out not only your ability to coordinate your team but also any semblance of sanity you had left.

Yes, life is full of surprises, not the least of which are surprises about being surprised.

Crazy release theories

Well, it’s Monday morning, and we are getting down to the real dregs of any semblance of news from Blizz. This at a time when we are at least 5 months away from Legion, and I now believe that to be an optimistic guess. We have sporadic Legion information from the Golden Gamers who have alpha keys, but unless you want to spend hours watching someone make money streaming their experience, this too is very sparse. A couple of bloggers with the key have done a credible job writing about their particular areas of interest (thinking about Delirium, Bendak, Jade over at Jade’s Forest, and Megan O’Neill), but beyond that, about all there is for us in the Great Unwashed is plowing through the Legion class forums, piecing together tiny bits of info about this or that stat being bugged or conflicting with this or that other effect.

No one that I can tell is writing about the overall feel or tone of the Legion experience. Maybe that is because it is still so early in its development that it doesn’t have any kind of feel to it. Which brings me to my first of two crazy theories on release.

(And remember, Blizz, if you were being even the tiniest bit transparent on your Legion development, I would not have to resort to crazy theories.)

Blizz is further behind on Legion than they were on WoD at the same pre-release time point. (And we all know how that turned out for WoD.) How else can you explain that we are, in theory, 5 months from Legion live, and we still do not even have anything Blizz is willing to call beta? I am betting that Blizz has once again bitten off way more than they can chew.

I believe that their original idea of class halls has become much larger and consuming then they first envisioned, that the “fewer followers” they alluded to at Gamescom have become a veritable army with tailored missions and gear, crucial to progressing in the expansion.

I think their inexplicable decision to make artifact weapons unique to every spec has morphed into a nightmare of never-ending separate quest lines, weapon talent trees, skins to assuage every conceivable ego niche (PvP, every level of raid, etc.), and a host of spin-off problems they failed to anticipate. I think their decision to yet again revamp nearly every class and spec, when combined with the crucial talent role of unique artifact weapons, has caused them to be overwhelmed by balance issues.

We also see that professions are getting a complete overhaul, as are some very traditional features such as the glyph system. All these revamps are in addition to creating all the usual new expansion stuff like artwork and zones and raids and dungeons. The result, I am postulating, is a project so vast and complex that there is no way it can be ready by the end of the summer. At least not to Blizz’s pre-WoD release standards. Their options will be to delay release, to release it as a pile of poop like they did WoD, or possibly to do a bit of both and release it slightly later as a slightly smaller pile of poop. (You should prepare for yet another release day server debacle, possibly lasting a week or more, as in WoD and to a somewhat lesser extent Mists. This might mean you should ideally schedule your New Expansion “sick days” from work a week after release, not the day of. Just a suggestion. 😉)

I also think, if they are scrambling as desperately as my theory postulates, that there is other fallout. We are seeing some of this. For example, I think nearly all their WoW resources are working on Legion. They appear to have completely abandoned WoD, except as a stealth test bed for Legion enhancements (like the recent chat changes). We aren’t even getting any quick little fun changes, like the conga line fruit hat from a few months ago or, even, more ridiculous Pepe-like items.

This leads me to a crazy sub-theory that actually Blizz likes it when we are bored with WoW prior to a new expansion. They have said numerous times that the WoW genre is by nature cyclical, that it is to be expected and planned for. What if one of the ways they are “planning for” such cycles now is to embrace the pre-release lull by making sure there is nothing new to engage players, that such boredom will drive a significant number of us to try other Blizz and ATVI games? That WoW ennui is a perfect vehicle for ramping up Heathstone or Overwach participation? Just sayin’.

Another example of the consequences of Blizz being behind the curve on Legion is that they do not have the resources to deal with any kind of player revolt. Which means that they have conveniently not addressed some sensitive issues, such as flying or the promised “accommodations” to artifact weapons for off specs and alts. As far as I can tell, the flying quest line is not in the alpha at all. I take this to mean that Blizz is once again being coquettish on the subject. They said they intended to follow the “WoD model” for flying in Legion, which of course many people took to mean there would be a quest and achievement line for it. But to me, the other part of the WoD model is that it was delayed until the second major patch, and I am 99% certain that is the part of the model most important to Blizz. So I fully expect the flying quest and achievement line will be gated to ensure no one can get it prior to at least the second major patch. I would not even be surprised to see one of the achievements be full completion of the artifact weapon tree. You read it here first.

Disclosure of the flying gate would undoubtedly cause a great deal of public rage (both for and against), and as I said, I do not believe Blizz has the resources to deal with such a reaction now. Much easier to just not say anything and let people believe what they want to based on some early vague pronouncements.

My second crazy release theory is that my worst nightmare will come true, and Blizz will go live with the Legion pre-event as well as with the 7.0 class changes shortly after or even just prior to the movie release. Think about this for a minute. If you are Blizz, and you believe that the movie will bring many new and returning players to the game, heck you are even offering movie tie-in incentives to do so, then the last thing you want is for most of the new players to quit the game after a couple of weeks out of frustration.

The game is obscure enough to a new player — or even to one who has been gone a couple of years — in terms of leveling, questing, professions, raid and dungeon complexities, travel, you name it. To bring them in, have them finally become somewhat comfortable with their new characters after a few weeks, then to completely revamp everything they know about playing their class, is to invite mass quitting. We diehard veteran players put up with such massive changes every couple of years, but I think new players will not. There are just too many other gaming options for them now.

So I think Blizz will want to start new players out on the class and spec play style that will exist in Legion. This means — given what I said about how they are scrambling to need a late September release date — that we will be stuck with Legion class changes in a WoD world for at least three months, maybe more.

Think about that. Remember that Legion specs require the talents from the artifact weapon to realize their full play potential, remember that secondary stats are changing significantly, remember that in theory the Legion raids and dungeons are tuned for this but the WoD ones are not, and you start to realize how very painful this might be. And no matter how much Blizz might vow that they will make “accommodations” in WoD for the class and spec changes, go back to crazy theory number one and ask yourself how many resources they will be willing or even able to devote to something that will likely resolve itself as soon as Legion goes live. If you were Blizz, would you spend the resources on a dead horse (WoD), or would you delude yourself into thinking that by devoting all resources to Legion you can deploy it even earlier than late September?

That’s it for Monday crazy theories. Oh, and please make your comments very quietly, as I am pretty sure that the Worldwide Consortium of Evil is listening through my microwave.