Tidying up

I’ll be taking a 4-day weekend starting tomorrow, for the U.S. 4th of July celebration. Normally, if we go away for a holiday, I like to tidy up my house so that we return to a neat, welcoming home and not a trashy depressing one. As we are not going away this weekend, I will take the opportunity to tidy up my blog, and dispose of a few scattered topics that have been cluttering up my drafts folder this week.

First, a revisit of Tuesday’s subject on Blizz’s announcement of the way gear will be awarded in terms of upgrades in Legion. Looking back on it, I feel like there were a couple of points I should have made but did not.

One is that I am still in favor of the change, but in analyzing it, I just do not think it is the radical departure I first thought it was. We do not know — nor will we — what the actual probability numbers are for upgrades to be awarded. But my bet is they will not be any higher than the WoD ones. We do not know what those are, either, but we can get a feel for them by the frequency with which we see Warforged items drop now in WoD. Warforged items in Legion are gone, by Watcher’s description, and they will instead just be a +5 or +10 upgrade, which in the new system means that a game-controlled upgrade roll will have succeeded once or twice for the dropped gear. I have no numbers to back this up, but my subjective impression in WoD is that I personally see a Warforged item maybe once in 15-20 items overall. This is not bad, I am not complaining about it, but it tends to back up my assertion Tuesday that the chance of getting any kind of gear upgrade beyond this in Legion is going to be very, very close to zero.

In short, it will almost never be a real upgrade factor for low level activities such as dungeons, once you have geared yourself up. For nearly everyone, upgrades greater than 10-15 gear levels will just not happen. Thus, if you are the kind of person who actually expects to win the lottery when you play, you will be optimistic about this change. If you are the kind of person who understands statistics, you will be pretty much unfazed by the change.

The second thing I wanted to add is that I think the change is a very poor substitute for a currency-type system. (WARNING: Gear rant follows)  Blizz seems hell-bent on not allowing us to feel we can earn some gear by dint of hard work and persistence. They do not want us to feel we have some control over our gear awards, they do not want us to feel any sense of progressing towards a goal. Watcher continues to school us in the correct way to have fun™, insisting we are just dense if we do not realize how exciting it is to have RNG award gear. He, of course, neglects to note how unfun™ it is to repeatedly do the same activity for possibly endless failure. (But I am assuming that never happens on the special dev servers he plays on.)

In this, Blizz seems completely cowed by the elite players who whine that if there is a currency system such as valor, they “have to” grind for it. Boo hoo. This is total bunk, as illogical as the claim that if some people can fly then everyone must. I am not talking about getting top-level gear with currency, I am talking about an alternate way to get the gear that might enable me to get top-level gear. Why not have both upgrade systems, an RNG-based one as well as a currency one? That way, if you have a run of bad luck for a few weeks or months, at least you can feel there is some reward for continuing to do the activity. But on the other hand you might get lucky and get a couple of quick upgrades randomly. No harm, no foul.

The interesting thing is, Blizz actually does understand the attraction of progressing towards a gear goal, they just refuse to admit it. One reason I think this, is that they nearly always couch their probabilities in terms of time spent pursuing a random award. If there is a 1 in 8 chance of getting it, for example, Blizz frequently expresses this in terms of, if you run X dungeon 8 times, on average the outcome is expected to be blah blah blah. This is one way probabilities can be expressed, true, but it is misleading because it is almost always not the case for limited rolls of the dice. And by limited, I mean the time available to players. Yes, possibly if you average out all dungeon runs by all WoW players, you get the expected 1 in 8 result, but that means absolutely nothing to the individual player, unless that player is running said dungeon hundreds or thousands of times.

But Blizz subtly leads players to believe that they can more or less, sort of, possibly, maybe, expect that if they persist in running that dungeon 8 times, they should get upgraded gear. This panders to players who may not have much interest in probability math but who like to think they are making progress towards gear. They are not. If you have a 1 in a zillion chance the first time you run it, you still have a 1 in a zillion chance the zillionth time you run it.

So yeah, Blizz understands the player desire to feel progress, they just refuse to overtly indulge it. Because some elite raiders might feel required to — pardon my language here — grind a bit. Can’t have that.

OK, end of gear rant.

Second, there is a post in one of the Legion forums that claims one of the Leatherworking levels is gated behind winning a rated BG. I have not seen this for myself, but as there has been no disclaimer from a blue on it, I am assuming it is indeed the case. If so, and if it makes it into live, this is nothing short of stupid stupid stupid. It seems Blizz learned nothing from the horrible experience in Mists of requiring non-PvP players to win a number of (non-rated) battlegrounds for the legendary cape. PvE players hated it because many of them just hated PvP. PvP players hated it because they had masses of incompetent, uninterested, non-geared PvE players cluttering up their BGs.

It was a disaster. So think how much more of a disaster it will be if there is a requirement for a profession to win a rated BG. I am not a PvP-er, but as far as I know rated BGs are like the top of the heap for PvP. It would be like gating some PvP rank behind successful completion of PvE Mythic raid. It makes zero sense.

Sometimes I really think they have lost their marbles at Blizz. Or possibly the famous Blizz Screw With the Players Department just want to get their licks in before the summer vacation season kicks in.

Last, on a woo-hoo level positive note, Tuesday night I got my Archie moose. It was not something I even had as a game goal, but I have to admit it was a fun achievement.  To be clear, I don’t condemn the people who are offering carries for the moose mount, nor those who get carried, whether or not there is a great deal of gold changing hands. It is just different paths to game goals. But it seemed wrong for me, something I was not willing to do given the game boundaries I set myself, so I had pretty much accepted that I was not going to get it in this expansion.

Some of you may remember that in January of this year, and after a 9-month hiatus from organized raiding, I joined a new guild. They had just begun to do weekly HFC(N) fun runs for alts after their raid team had completed 13/13H. I have participated every week with my main. It has been terrific fun, and once in a while we have successfully ventured into lower level heroic. This week, though, the guild organized a Heroic Archie run, and since both my gear level and my proficiency had significantly improved over the months, I was invited along. The GM put together an impressive pug fill, gave perfect guidance and reminders throughout the fight, and we downed him on like the third try.

I suppose, since I had never run the boss on heroic, that in a way I was being carried. A couple of the regular raid team switched to their mains instead of the alts they have been running most of the year, so they were certainly doing this for charity. Still, I think I did a decent job with the mechanics and had quite respectable DPS, so I do feel I contributed. And here’s the thing — with this experience, now I feel like I can help carry other guildies if we do another of these runs. For me, this was the best way to get this achievement, and it really makes me want to give back to the guild that gave me and a couple of others this opportunity.

With that, I begin my weekend. Back Tuesday.

Let’s talk gear

In Legion Blizz will introduce what amounts to a seismic shift in the way gear is awarded. The condensed version is that there will no longer be a hard cap on the level of gear you can earn from various game activities. That is, in theory, players can be awarded Mythic level gear from LFR, world drops, dungeons, and so forth. Of course, it is more complicated than this, and if you want to delve into all the details check out this blue post from today’s MMO-C Blue Tracker.

Before I launch into some observations on this development, let me state clearly that this is a very good move on Blizz’s part. I wholeheartedly support it, and I am very pleased that Watcher was so forthcoming about how the system will work and about Blizz’s reasoning for making the change. This can only improve the game, in my opinion.

As with all major changes, however, the end results are not always as clear-cut as the changers might like to think they will be. And in this case, there is one overriding factor that will determine whether this change will succeed or not, namely:

When does “small chance” mean “don’t even bother”? A snowball’s chance in hell is still a chance, in Blizz’s opinion. But for real people, there comes a point where a mathematical probability approaches zero and thus for all practical purposes might as well be zero. Let’s take an example, and those of you who are less math challenged than I am please check me on this.

For the purpose of this example, assume that a realistic chance of dropping a +5 item is a robust 10%. (Watcher, in his Blue post, gave an example using a 50% rate but went to great pains to point out that it is not/not/not the actual rate. Reports from the beta so far show it is probably not even close.) Let us further assume that the activity you are doing awards 825 level gear normally, and that the chances of getting any gear at all are, oh let’s be generous, 20%. So your chances of getting a single upgrade are 10% of 20%, or 2% (1 in 50). The way the upgrade algorithm works is that it keeps iterating the 10% upgrade chance for another 5 levels until it hits a “No” for upgrade. So now take your 2% chance getting a level 830 item and try for a level 835 item. This is 10% of 2%, which is .2%, or a 1 in 500 chance of getting a piece of 835 gear from an activity that awards 825 level gear as a baseline.

You see where this is going. Max level Legion gear at the beginning is 895. Your chances of getting a max level piece of gear from an activity that normally awards 825 level gear is 10% of 1 in 50, taken 13 more times, or 1 chance in 500 trillion. And that is assuming a drop rate more generous than Blizz has historically provided. Even giving Blizz a magical benefit of doubt, even assuming the drop rate is twice or three times that, your chances of a meaningful upgrade from a low-level activity, rounded off to over 10 decimal places, are zero.

In fairness, Watcher admitted as much in his post. He basically said that your chances of getting meaningfully upgraded gear are much better when you run higher and higher level activities. This is as it should be, but that begs the question:

Is this really not much of a change at all, is it actually just a scam to make people think that running lower level activities is rewarding, when in fact the chance of meaningful rewards is hundreds of times less than the chance of winning the Powerball Lottery several weeks in a row?

I understand that Blizz is pulling out all the stops to make people fully explore every bit of content in Legion, and I support that endeavor. Clearly they are worried that players will stop playing long before the next expansion in 2 years (minimum), and they are doing everything they can to stretch out the time before that point is reached. They have already ensured that every main, alt and profession will need to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours chasing talents for artifact weapons, running down quest lines for recipes, and grubbing for Blood of Sargeras. They are holding out the carrot of flying until probably the second major patch, likely a year into the expansion. These measures alone extend the perception of “content”, not to mention that they increase the all-important MAU (Monthly Active User) metric which Activision Blizzard uses as one measure of game success.  So, is it really necessary to trick people into believing that by running heroic dungeons or LFR they can upgrade their Heroic raid level gear?

No, if this change is to “succeed” in the minds of the players, then they must be able to see that it is actually possible to get meaningful upgrades to their current level of gear from doing activities. This means that they must see such items dropping, even if they themselves do not get any for a while.

How do they see items dropping? Well of course one way is when they see guildies or friends getting such items. But another way is if they can see statistics for such drops. And here is where Blizz can restore some of the trust they have lost over the last couple of years. Blizz should take it upon themselves to post a weekly or monthly wrap-up of the numbers of dropped gear upgrades, per server, per activity, per upgrade level. Blizz has claimed it is possible to get such gear, okay then show us the gear. Prove to us that it is possible in practice not just in theory.

Otherwise, just bite the bullet and admit that as players progress there are certain activities no longer worth their time. It’s not a terrible thing. Normal and heroic dungeons, world bosses and weekly world quests, will remain relevant for alts for many, many months, there really is not a compelling reason to inveigle people into continuing to run them on their geared mains under false pretenses. All that accomplishes is to make people more cynical and further erode their trust in the company. (I do not like to think that someone at Blizz has calculated that by making a more or less empty promise of gear upgrades from low-level activities, that enough people will fall for it to significantly increase WoW’s MAU for the quarter ….)

Meanwhile, please excuse me, I think I am going to go buy a Powerball ticket.

Perspective

There is a mini-storm going on in the Legion beta forums right now, regarding a recent and sudden (that is, no warning) change in max camera level permitted in Legion. Essentially, Blizz rather abruptly disallowed players to use the “/console CameraDistanceMaxFactor 4” command that gave a huge boost to camera zoom levels in the game. Instead, they are limiting camera zoom range to the default UI slider, a smaller range than the max CVar hardcap unlocked by the console command.

As might be expected, there is huge wailing and gnashing of teeth over this from some corners of the playerverse. I admit I have for some time had my camera set to allow for zooming out to max, although in practice I rarely used it. I am sure the max zoom was very useful to some players and I take them at their word that the change will adversely affect their play. But overall my impression of this little flap is that in any practical sense it is very small potatoes, people pole vaulting over mouse turds.

I will resist the temptation to make this into an allegory about how Blizz does not think the big picture is important, and since it is not important to them, they wish to forbid the rest of us from seeing it …

Still, the camera discussion is kind of a useful segue into a larger consideration of perspective in the game. Some things that occurred over the weekend gave me pause to try and sort out a reasoned approach to this game going forward for me.

First, I spent some more time on the beta, continuing to level my BM hunter, starting a MM hunter, and getting my resto druid to Broken Isles and through the initial artifact quest line. I was struck by the vast difference in my perception of these two experiences. My overwhelming impression of playing my hunters was one of sadness for the demolition of a class that was once awesome to play but will no longer exist as soon as the pre-patch goes live.

Contrast this to my impression of playing my druid, which was one of pleasant surprise for the improvements made to the leveling abilities. As a disclaimer, I did not try any group healing on this alt, and I am not skilled enough at druid healing anyway to be able to detect any but the most obvious of healing changes. But I found the added damage abilities afforded by the Balance affinity talent to be surprisingly effective, to the point that I believe leveling as resto might be possible. In addition, I felt like the class hall area was in complete harmony with what I believe to be the druid “fantasy”. I actually felt, once I had reached the Dreamgrove, that my druid had come home. It all just fit. This is not at all what I felt when my hunter reached the hunter class hall — it was just another location, a place to transact some business, a place with no real connection to any previous hunter lore in the game, a place invented for Legion because well hunters have to go somewhere and Blizz couldn’t be bothered enough to actually put any thought or design into it when they had already put so much thought into how best to destroy the class.

I know that sounded bitter and it was. It leads me to my second thought-provoking weekend experience. Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast posted his thoughts on the state of BM hunters in Legion — and Blizz’s steadfast refusal to address major shortfalls — and it was a stinging indictment, tinged with wistfulness for what might have been, as well as with an air of resignation and pessimism for the spec. Ever since I discovered hunter blogs, I have looked to Bendak to point out that pony in what I would invariably see as a barn filled with poop. As I have written before, he is a hunter’s hunter, someone who looks to the big picture to help hunters see the positive aspects of expansion changes. When Bendak holds out little hope for the one remaining spec that most closely resembles the class many of us fell in love with years ago, well that pretty much seals it in my opinion. If Blizz refuses to seriously consider the legitimate concerns of this respected hunter, then there is zero chance that anything will improve for hunters in Legion. What you see in the beta and in the PTR is what you will get. Please adjust your camera to limit your field of view.

The last thing that happened over the weekend was that I finally pre-purchased Legion. I know this sounds crazy, given what I have just written, but I tried to apply a “/console CameraDistanceMaxFactor 4” command to my view of my relationship to the game. What I saw when I did this — and it really is no surprise to me — is that some parts of Legion will be fun and engaging, and I am just not ready yet to give it up, despite my rants and criticism of it. (I write those things because I care about the game, if I didn’t care, I would not devote hours to it and writing about it every week.) I will remain disappointed –and yes, furious with Blizz — over what I and many others see as the complete destruction of the hunter class, but I will hold out hope that the next expansion or possibly even a Legion patch will see some improvement. That may not happen, of course, and Blizz’s betrayal of hunters will remain a heavy weight on the “leave the game” side of the scale for me. It’s just that so far, anyway, it has not tipped it.

Blizz continues to make it more and more difficult to control your personal view and perspective on the game, but if you squint a bit you find it is still possible.

Profession changes and cataclysmic changes

This will be a very strange post, I am afraid. On the one hand, I feel more or less bound to comment on yesterday’s dev interview on professions in Legion. But on the other hand, I feel like yesterday’s world-altering changes in Britain simply cannot be ignored. Major changes, whether in a computer game or in the existing world order, are always unsettling, and honestly it is impossible to foresee final outcomes from any of them while they are in progress. It is that uncertainty, I think, that makes such changes so difficult for most of us — nations as well as individuals, games as well as real world.

Let me deal first — and briefly — with the dev interview. As with the first one last week, I found the format to be very good, and I thought the overall tone of the answers Paul Kubit gave was quite positive as well as informative. I do think that the Legion profession changes are generally favorable, and that Blizz is making a good faith effort to reverse the profession slide we saw in WoD.

This does not mean I agree with all the changes. I think Kubit did some very fancy dancing on the whole Blood of Sargeras subject. He first went to some pains to explain that no, of course Blizz does not want to dictate that players “should” have one gathering and one crafting profession on each character. No, no, no. Then he went on to say but of course you should suffer some slight disadvantage if you do not. He outlined several changes being made to make the BoP situation with BoS somewhat more equitable, and in the end it will probably work out. That is a positive thing, because it shows Blizz is listening to the very real concerns of players in this matter, and that continues a trend we have seen pretty much throughout the recent Legion development — a welcome turnaround from WoD.

Still, in the end he did not really have a good answer for why BoA is not an option for Blood of Sargeras. I am willing at this point to just accept that this mechanic will be a continuing pain throughout Legion, and to prepare to deal with it.

A couple of other comments that I noted:

  • It looks like we will not get much of a break from the huge annoyance of RNG-dictated secondary stats. As in WoD, there will be no real way to ensure you get the secondary stats you need on your crafted gear. In fact, the reroll mechanic is going away, and instead you will just have to craft piece after piece until you get your optimal stats. I hated that part of WoD, and I hate that it will continue in Legion. The only possible bright side, if there is one, is that Multistrike is also going away, so I suppose we can hope that there will be fewer possible stat combos to roll the dice on.
  • Mass resurrection is going away. I did not know this. It more or less completes the rollback of guild perks and thus helps to drive another nail in the coffin of robust guilds. About the only thing left is the mail perk, we will see how long that lasts. The engineer-crafted Failure Detection Pylon is the presumed replacement, and while it has a couple of cute features, I think it will turn out to be a poor substitute. For one thing, it will only rez players within 5 yards of it. Kubit opined that the way to use it would be for the raid leader to call for everyone to head to the pylon if it looked like the raid was going to wipe. That was just a stupid comment, in my opinion. Typically, raids wipe incrementally, with players dying off one or two at a time in different places throughout the boss space, so by the time it becomes apparent that a wipe is in the works, it is too late for most of the raid to gather in a small space to die.
  • Kubit was a bit overly coy about the fishing artifact, if indeed there is one. He hinted that Blizz has deliberately put out some misinformation about this — for example, you will not need to complete the coin-fishing achievement in Dalaran as part of the quest line (if there is one, haha). Okay. Very clever, Blizz.

I have to be honest. My heart is not in this today. Changes to a side game within a computer game are less than insignificant in the face of the geopolitical earthquake we have just undergone, and in the face of what will surely be a long period of aftershocks, many of which may be as significant as this first quake.

This blog is a gaming blog. I do not use it as a political platform, nor do I intend to start now. I am not going to venture an opinion on the rightness or wrongness of the Brit vote, it was what it was. But I know for a fact that we are in the midst of a cataclysmic change in the world order, and whether Brexit is the cause of it or just a symptom of a change that has been in the works for some time, remains to be seen. It will be up to future history books to trace the seeds of this change’s actual beginnings and to describe how it finally unfolds.

If you are not someone who usually pays much attention to current events, think about starting to now. It will be important, I think, for you to be able to tell your children and grandchildren what it was like to live through this geopolitical shift, because there will be the big picture but there will also be the small picture that affects you and me and everyone living in the world. Let us hope that the stories you will tell will be about the bad old days, not about a time of relative peace that is unimaginable in the chaotic world of your grandchildren.

Let us hope that this cataclysm is not the worst expansion ever in the real world.

Leveling strategies for Legion?

The past couple of days I’ve been thinking about how best to go about spending my time for the first couple of months in Legion. Clearly, there is no “one size fits all”, but I think I’ve isolated a few factors to consider.

Gear level at the start of the expansion. My first premade character in the beta was a template hunter, which started out with 680 gear. It felt very underpowered and indeed died several times during the quest line to get the baseline artifact weapon. After the artifact it felt a tad more sturdy, but with combined gear level still hovering around 690, attracting more than 2 mobs at once can get dicey.

Once I was able to do a character copy from live, I tried an ilvl 720 hunter, and there was vast difference for the better. So I think I am going to try for a minimum of ilvl 700 for all my alts before bringing them into Broken Isles. That is really not difficult to do — 695 Baleful gear along with some crafted pieces at 715, maybe a Conquest ring or shoulders, and some valor upgrades should easily do it. In fact, spending the time to get the valor upgrades may be superfluous.

Profession leveling. Right now my sense is that it will be just as easy to level professions at the same time as I do each character. It might ever so slightly delay reaching 110, but I do not think it will be enough to notice. With zone scaling, there is really no advantage to waiting until level 110 to go back and pick up profession quests — mobs do not die more quickly, and we still will not have flying so getting around will take the same amount of time. And I think the sooner I can level my critical professions the more it will help in gearing up my characters.

Artifact weapons. Right now I am thinking that I will initially pursue only one artifact weapon per character, which implies I will pick one spec and stick to it for a few months. This is chancy, of course, because Blizz really cannot be trusted to not “balance” your spec into oblivion at the drop of a hat. I have two hunters that I usually level first in any expansion, so if one is BM and the other is MM, that gives me a little insurance. Not much, but a little. And having only one artifact weapon eliminates the problem of dividing your accumulated Artifact Power, of having to decide whether to have two mediocre artifact weapons or one high powered one.

Leveling order for alts. This one is tricky, but I think, once I have picked a main, then the order for alt leveling will depend on their professions. Whichever ones seem to be most valuable for my main will be the ones to get leveled first. My main hunter has LW/skinning and my alt hunter has JC/mining, so those seem to be no-brainers. After that, I’ll just have to see. It may turn out that just getting alts past the baseline artifact weapon quest will be sufficient to get them to useful production for professions with a few quest lines.

Zone plan. Here is where zone scaling is really nice. I get bored rather easily with grinding through the same series of quests more than once or twice, so my plan for zones in which to level is that I don’t have a plan. For some, I will do one or two levels in a zone then move on, for others I may try to exhaust quest lines in a single zone before moving on. Part of the quest line for eventual flying in Legion involves what boils down to completing a large portion of the quests in every zone anyway, so at least one character — probably my main — will start working on that as soon as possible.

Class hall stuff. Yeah, in spite of what Blizz says, these are basically watered down garrisons, with all the annoyances but fewer of the perks. The fact that they are the main quest hub, yet Dalaran is the place where you have to be for things like bank, profession quests, etc., is just bothersome. And not for nothin’, but I absolutely do not feel like I am the Big Dog Main Hero Hunter in the hall, when there are a dozen other hunters running around with the same artifact weapon and the same Hati. The fantasy fails spectacularly for class halls, in my opinion. For that reason, I am not going to spend a lot of time developing class hall quest lines for my alts until relatively deep into the expansion.

LB-Too many Hatis

We are all special…

 

Things to save for later. Eventually I will go back and do some of the things I intend to skip during the first few months. I will probably do an off spec and accompanying artifact weapon on at least my main and a couple of alts. I will max out every profession. I will probably get at least one of my healers raid-ready. I will explore the areas I initially skip. I will tame a few Broken Isles beasts for my BM hunter and maybe my MM as well. At some point I will roll a Demon Hunter just because.

Honestly, if Blizz sticks to their new schedule of an expansion every two years, I suspect there will not be enough time to do all things I want to do in Legion, so as usual I will not be bored or complaining about lack of content.

(And now I realize I may have just talked myself into pre-ordering Legion.)

What about you — any special plans for the first few weeks of Legion?

Just. One. More…..

Last night I spent a few hours playing my rogue, who is at the Tomes part of the legendary ring saga. It is the second week of it for this alt, and I am only at 13/33. Last week I only got 4 tomes for a full run, this week obviously my luck was much better. But it was a chore, I dread doing it for 2-4 more weeks, and honestly I do not consider any part of it fun any more. It is just something to be endured because I have told myself I want the end reward.

As I have written many times before, I cannot remember ever being bored with WoW, even when expansions go on for much longer than many people like. But that does not mean I don’t suffer through periods where I feel like the parts of the game I am pursuing feel like sheer drudgery. That is where I am now with WoD, at least with many aspects of it.

In some ways, this is because of game design (more about that in a minute), but it is mainly due to my poor choices for game goals. There really is no good reason, for example, for me to be pursuing a ring on my rogue. I doubt if I will ever raid with this alt, and I have done the whole legendary ring quest line now on five other characters, so I knew going in that there would be nothing new or exciting for me to experience with the rogue. Also, I made the decision that my one remaining alt — my poor neglected mage, would go into Legion ringless, so I am keenly aware that the rogue’s ring will be the last one I do. And since I know this, my brain has shifted into an impatient let’s-get-it-over-with mode, which contributes to the sense of drudgery.

It is interesting that this sense is so strong that it resembles every other hated chore. Like when you know you have to work on that term paper due in a couple of days, but you find yourself thinking actually it would be kind of fun to do your laundry now, or maybe mow the lawn — things you normally hate doing but that suddenly seem attractive when faced with That One Big Dreaded Thing. Last night I found myself thinking how fun it would be to level up mining as a new gathering profession on my warlock instead of suffering through hours of LFR on my rogue…

MMOs, because of their basic role playing nature, are designed to include drudgery — they require a certain amount of patience and commitment to reach certain goals, whether those be attaining high levels, scoring top-of-the-line gear, achieving titles, making pretend money, whatever. Years ago (2007, which might be thought of as a Paleo era for MMOs), Jeff Woleslagle, writing for Ten Ton Hammer, pointed out that MMOs are a cross between first person shooters and what I like to call gardening games (games like The Sims where all you do is tend things). That is, MMOs offer a lot of frenetically-paced combat in the form of raids and so forth — like FPS games — but it is not constant adrenalin like you have in FPS. They also require a lot of tending and grinding in order to get to the point of being able to successfully complete the combat, and in this way they resemble gardening games.

As MMOs evolve and attract varying types of players, inevitably some players gravitate towards the fast-paced features of the game while others gravitate towards the grinding part. The shoot-em-up types often begrudge grinding, and they want to get it over with as quickly as possible in order to get to what they consider the “real” part of the game. It is hard for them to understand the attraction of grinding and tending. On the other hand, the grinders can come to resent the shoot-em-ups as overbearing weenies who fail to grasp the joy of steadily and patiently working towards a goal.

And of course the majority of players (I think) are somewhere in between. Like me, they enjoy both aspects of the game at different times. They may want to efficiently pursue the ability to succeed in combat early in an expansion, but later they like to slow down and appreciate many parts of the game they rushed through earlier.

Honestly, I am not sure I have a real point in all this, more just thoughts springing from my perceived drudge “job” of completing the legendary ring on my rogue. I do think, though, that Blizz understands and is trying to break away from player perceptions of drudgery as much as they can. Legion seems to offer all types of players the opportunity to be challenged and have fun pursuing whatever aspect of the game that most appeals to them. For example, leveling alts can be a different experience every time due to zone scaling. Dailies and weeklies will offer a lot of variety. Achieving profession goals will be challenging and unique for each profession. I may think that artifact weapons signal the end of meaningful spec switching within a class (and that it is fraught with danger if you are unlucky enough to choose a spec Blizz continually “balances”), but for some this offers the possibility of true specialization, of becoming a real expert in your chosen specialty with the option to constantly improve your gear and talents throughout the expansion.

Meanwhile, “only” 20 more Tomes to go, and then I. Am. Done.

Overly complex, overly simple

I have been dipping my toe into Legion, via the PTR and the beta, now for a little over a week, and so far my strongest impression is one of total confusion. I cannot keep track of all the various “things” I need to be working on, mainly because I have absolutely zero idea of how many things I should be trying to level and how they interact with each other. Take this “explanation” from Ion Hazzikostas supposedly enlightening us all on the details of artifacts weapons, artifact power, artifact knowledge, artifact traits and talents, class hall research and research tomes, and for all I know if you read it backwards and upside down it may reveal where Jimmy Hoffa is buried or summon Satan to claim your soul:

Max-level players in this build may notice an important new Artifact feature. The researcher/scribe NPC in your Class Hall will offer you a quest to retrieve a set of tomes from around the world. Once these are recovered, you can instruct your researcher to work on deciphering these tomes. Each step of research will require some Order Resources (which are primarily obtained through World Quests), and will grant increased “Artifact Knowledge.”

Increasing Artifact Knowledge permanently increases your rate of Artifact Power gains, and this bonus applies to all artifact weapons your character may possess. (And no, Artifact Power items obtained at a lower Knowledge level won’t automatically update, so hoarding items for future use won’t benefit you.) This system is key to the pacing of overall artifact progression, and to making it easier for players to maintain multiple artifacts if they so desire. For example, at Knowledge Level 7, you would be earning Artifact Power at over triple the base rate. Thus, if you wanted to switch to a spec you hadn’t yet tried at that point, you’d find yourself very quickly able to get that artifact up to par with your primary one.

As your scribes progress through their translation and research, you will fill in pages of a great tome in your Class Hall that provides more backstory and information about your artifact (this is not yet fully hooked up for some classes). Finally, in the live game, the speed at which your researchers can work will increase as the expansion progresses, allowing latecomers or alts to catch up on their artifact progress.

Well, that certainly clears that up. And the whole long comment does not even address the idea of Artifact Relics — which are a whole other thing — or the Rube Goldberg talent path you unlock as you gain Artifact Power at your appropriate Artifact Knowledge rate which is gained from tomes that you give your class hall researchers who do research projects that fill in pages in The Big Giant Tome in your class hall.

As if keeping track of this mess for your artifact weapon were not enough, now we learn that you get to do it for a special fishing pole artifact, too. Oh boy! It’s not clear if the  character-wide Artifact Power will also apply to the artifact fishing pole, but if I were betting, I would bet not, so there will be a whole separate set of AP earned just for this separate artifact, thus a second set of things to keep track of. And this will be for every alt that you wish to use fishing to collect the critical crafting mat Blood of Sargeras on.

Turning to other professions, these, too, seem unnecessarily complex. Every profession has a series of quests through which you level up, and these quests continue through your regular character leveling process, taking you to every zone in the Broken Isles. However, once you have learned your profession’s recipes, you are still not really done, as there is a process of “stars” that adds levels of efficiency with which you can create crafted items. In the case of gathering professions, there are also star levels that let you gather more things as you progress.

Then there is Obliterum.

The Obliterum Forge, unlocked with a questline at level 110, will allow players to destroy their crafted gear and obtain Obliterum. Obliterum, in turn, can be used to make crafted gear more powerful.

As far as I can understand — I do not yet have a max level character on the beta so have not reached this stage — the idea is you craft items for the purpose of destroying them so that you can add gear levels to other crafted items. (The max level to which you can upgrade crafted gear this way is not clear at this time, but each Obliterum upgrades the level by 5.) This strikes me as an overly complex way to force us to use up more crafting mats, since you need to use Blood of Sargeras and other mats to craft the items to be destroyed as well as the items you wish to upgrade, then more BoS to actually use the forge and destroy the sacrificial items. It is also not clear how many items will have to be destroyed in order to obtain enough Obliterum Ash to upgrade one item, but most of the comments I have read indicate it is at least three, possibly more.

All of this means that BoS assumes overriding importance for the entire crafting process. Without it, you might as well not have a crafting profession. And, as I wrote about a couple of days ago, it is currently BoP as well as incredibly scarce to gather when compared to the numbers of it you need to do most anything.

It is possible to argue the relative merits of the Legion profession system, and in general, in the small picture, making professions more interesting might be a good thing. But, as is my habit, I like to try and see the bigger picture. And the big picture I see is a game that is growing vastly more complex each expansion, at almost a geometric rate. I am not going to try and figure out if that is a bad or a good thing, but I also see that as usual Blizz is talking out of both sides of its collective mouth on this.

On the one side they are doing all the things I describe to add extreme complexity to the game. But on the other side, they are condemning any semblance of complexity in class mechanics as evil evil evil. Remember at the beginning of WoD when they told us we should not be bothering our little heads with icky math, and we should not have to go to a web site to see what was best for our character, so therefore they were removing reforging from the game? And then they gave us the “solution” of 12-15 different “flavors” of gear with so many permutations and combinations of secondary stats that if you did not have a degree in math to figure out what was best, well then everyone went to a web site to get the answer anyway.

And the biggest hypocrisy: WoD and Legion class “pruning” in the name of simplifying class mechanics. I take BM hunters in Legion as the prime example — it is a mind-numbingly boring spec to play in Legion, there is just no other way to describe it. And honestly, Blizz had already pretty much pruned it to death in WoD, so why they considered it needed even further dumbing down is just puzzling.

(Although, as a side issue, I note that Blizz is perfectly willing to keep fairly sophisticated and engaging play for its favorite classes, which in Legion seem to be Demon Hunter and SV Hunter. It is only the classes the devs have no love for they seem to want to simplify down into oblivion.)

So we should not have to suffer the trauma of engaging complicated class play, but we can easily deal with multiple and incomprehensible talent trees for class, artifact weapon, even freaking fishing poles, and with  levels upon levels of professions, and with a new multiple step process to just upgrade gear, not to mention the ever increasing madness of mechanics stacked upon mechanics stacked upon even more mechanics for raids? Yeah, clearly having those 3-4 extra buttons to push for your class is what was making the game too complex.

Blizz, I don’t mind you making a complex game, but for crying out loud have the backbone to admit that is what it is. Stop trying to tell us you have our best interests at heart by making our spec easy enough for a potato to play, when what you are really doing is trying to simplify your constant problem of class balance. We play our class and spec because we like it, we enjoy figuring out the nuances of spell interactions, we like getting really good at it when it is challenging — so please stop insulting us by saying we are too stupid to figure out a few extra rotation buttons but can easily deal with fantastically complicated mechanics for every other part of the game. And while you are at it, get down on your knees and thank third-party sites like Wowhead and IcyVeins and AskMrRobot and others, because without them your game would be too frustrating to play for all but the most hardcore of your players.