Relearning your spec every expansion

A few days ago, Blizz dev Celestalon wrote a blue post in one of the Legion feedback forums, basically a primer on how to play a Brewmaster monk in Legion. The post was a response to what has been a ton of negative comments in the forum about the Legion rework of BM monks. Only people with alpha access can post in the forum, so — based on Blizz’s own statements about alpha selection — the people making the comments are presumably among the best players in the game. Celestalon’s response was long and detailed, and honestly I kind of glossed over it because I do not play a Brewmaster monk and have no intention of doing so.

But it got me thinking: Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong when the top 5% or even less of players cannot figure out how to play a spec without detailed guidance from a developer? Monks as a class have been around for two expansions now, it’s not like they are a new class no one has any experience with. So what does it say when the best players in the game have to be schooled anew just to be able to adequately play a spec some of them have expertly played for years?  I am not talking about explaining a few new tweaks or nuances, I am talking about teaching a whole new play style, a complete turnaround to the way these players have understood and played their spec.

And of course, BM monks are not the only spec experiencing this. I have not done any calculations or extensive research, but my scientific wild ass guess is somewhere around 70-80% of the specs in the game will undergo major play-style-changing reworks in Legion. (I will refrain from yet another rant on the gutting of all hunter specs. You’re welcome.) For some specs, this is rather a new experience, but for several others (*cough*hunters*cough*) it happens every time there is a new expansion.

The fallout from this is quite significant. Of course, individual players are greatly affected. We must learn entirely new rotations, cooldown use, movement techniques, even basic combat actions such as crowd control and kiting and self defense. Often these are skills we have spent a lot of time honing and refining, only to have the whole effort be for naught come a new expansion. If it happened every couple of expansions it might be tolerable, but when it happens Every. Single. Expansion. it just makes many of us crabby and cynical.

But the more significant fallout comes in the form of game balance, in the inevitable chaos that results when many, many specs are drastically changed. I believe most of the class/stat/raid balance problems of the past couple of years are the result of Blizz’s inability to adequately compensate for major spec changes. One simple example that comes to mind is the heavy reliance by SV hunters on multistrike, a change implemented for WoD that became a damage monster when gear levels allowed for multistrike stacking, and a consequence that in no small part led Blizz to obliterate SV as a viable hunter spec for basically the entire expansion.

The game is almost unimaginably complex in its interactions, and even small pushes on one end of the class mechanic system can result in catastrophic changes that cascade through the entire game, usually in unpredictable ways. Some specs get way overpowered, others become ineffective, some specs become an absolute requirement for certain raids while others have almost no place in any raid, some raids employ a mechanic no spec can deal with, leveling some specs becomes a nightmare, etc. I know this, most of you know this, and Blizz  certainly has to know this. So why would you deliberately change nearly every part of class mechanics every expansion? The result every time seems to be chaos, chaos that gets sorted out only near the end of the expansion, by which time the class devs at Blizz are rubbing their hands gleefully in anticipation of starting it all over again.

The only thing I can figure out is that there is a significant personnel turnover at Blizz for each expansion, and the way to make your name in the job is to pad your resume with “major redesign” accomplishments. There appears to be no one at Blizz looking at the full system picture of the game, at its overall equilibrium as a state machine. I could be wrong, but of course it is hard to say because we seldom if ever see any communications from Blizz on overall game design concepts, beyond tutoring us on what is and is not fun.

A Vietnam veteran I know once told me that the personnel rotation scheme for that conflict was a significant contributor to the U.S. loss there. Troops would rotate in for a year then go home, to be replaced by others who would in turn also go home in a year. Officers wishing to advance their careers had only a short time frame in which to do it, and the attractive shortcut was to “innovate”, to change tactics and procedures — often trying methods others had failed with multiple times, just for the sake of changing something. The result, according to my friend, was that “We did not have 20 years’ experience in Vietnam, we had one year’s experience 20 times.”

Maybe Blizzard has not done 6  expansions as of Legion, maybe they have done one expansion 6 times ….

At any rate, I for one am sick of having to completely relearn my spec every expansion, often only to be forced to switch again mid-expansion and relearn another spec because Blizz is incapable of managing the multitude of changes they insist on making.

With that, I am going to start my weekend.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

3 Responses to Relearning your spec every expansion

  1. “scientific wild ass guess” — heh, let me pause to catch my breath: good one.
    I am on the other side of the spectrum — the thing I look forward to is the re-setting of classes each expansion. I like the pre-expansion period to explore the new spell book while we are comfortably over-powered. For me, it is like getting a whole new game set in a familiar environment.

    • Fiannor says:

      Yes, I can see that point of view. Just seems to me that there are reasonable limits, and maybe you tinker a bit with a few spells one expansion, reserve bigger changes for maybe every other expansion. And — again just my opinion — but you do NOT arbitrarily just suddenly make a ranged spec into a melee spec for the hell of it!

      I am not so sure that the new specs will be temporarily OP in the pre-expansion this time around. We will have all the new talents and spells EXCEPT for the artifact weapon, which as you previously pointed out is the key to the entire spec in Legion. Maybe there will be some temp compensator, we will have to wait and see. Also, secondary stats in Legion will undergo a significant change, and I am not confident Blizz can gloss over those in the pre-expansion period.

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