Of classes and sea changes

I have lately been doing some survey reading on principles of MMO game development, and I ran across an item that really struck a chord with me. It was from a blog called Tough Love Critic, in a piece on principles for MMO balance:

STEADY CHANGE IS OKAY, SEA CHANGES AREN’T
Metas get stale, especially if they’re bad metas that take excitement, flexibility, agency, or all of the above from players. But that doesn’t mean that when a meta needs to change the patch notes should rival a doctoral dissertation each and every time.

Huge changes might drastically change the meta, but just as easily it can invalidate a player’s favorite build, expensive gear, or in worse cases their entire class. If the only balance patches that happen change everything, then players dread changes rather than look forward to them.

Steady, consistent changes, tweaking here and there, work much better over time. The meta steadily shifts away from its previous moorings, allowing for a hybrid lake where new builds and old builds vie for dominance.

Caveat: Sometimes large changes are necessary because a lot of other aspects of a game are changing as well, but they should never be a constant.

Now, before I talk a little bit more about this quote, let me point out that in almost anything you read about MMO design, World of Warcraft jumps out as a textbook example for proper application of gaming principles. In fact, in some instances, the principles were actually deduced from analysis of WoW. The game, even today, remains the gold standard for nearly every aspect of MMOs.

But the reason I was so taken with the quote above is that I think this is where Blizz has made a big mistake. Over the past couple of expansions they have been pushing the pendulum of change into ever-widening arcs, particularly in areas most sensitive to players, and they are either unwilling or unable to slow it back to a nice steady tick. Many of the most controversial changes over the two years have in fact been controversial simply because they were so drastic and so sudden, whereas had they been implemented more slowly they would have been more easily accepted.

Sometimes, as in the example of Survival hunters, there has been a series of these sea changes coming one on the heels of the other. At the start of WoD, the spec was terrible, then in patch 6.1 it became pretty much overpowered, then in patch 6.2 it became unplayable, then in patch 7.0.3 it became a completely different spec as melee. That, my friends, is change that is too drastic too often. And indeed the resulting perception for many SV players was exactly as described in the quote.

As a side note, I think Blizz may actually have learned their lesson on drastic change in one area: flying. They saw what happened when they wanted to suddenly remove it from the game for all new areas, so they backed off. Backed off, but I still think that is their end goal. In Legion, it will be delayed for months, almost certainly for a year or more. My bet is that in the next expansion it will be delayed even longer, possibly until the last patch. After that, if there is an “after that”, I think it is a better than even chance that it will be effectively removed from the game for all new areas. Incremental change, not drastic change. It is the frog in the pot of water being gradually brought to a boil.

New expansions and new patches bring changes, that is a given. It is how MMOs evolve and grow. Changes in a game should be fun and exciting and challenging. There are parts of the game where people welcome change, and there are parts of the game where players are much more resistant to change. People enjoy content changes, quality of life changes, environmental/art changes. But people are much more conservative when it comes to areas of the game they have an emotional investment in, for example the essence of their game persona — class and spec.

And this is where I think Blizz has erred. They have insisted on making changes that are not only drastic but continual to classes and specs, to the very core of players’ self-identification. Rather than have a class evolve over the course of a couple of expansions, they have opted to swing them from one extreme to the other. They have failed to realize that these changes really, really matter to players, they are not just another game mechanic. (It makes me wonder if the real reason for such changes is that it helps to flesh out dev resumes — “Conceived of and implemented major changes to three character classes in World of Warcraft, resulting in …. bla bla bla … increased corporate revenue…bla bla bla…certificate of achievement…bla bla bla”)

For all the protestations that the devs are passionate about the game, I see no indication whatsoever that they are passionate about any class or spec. Yes, one dev may appreciate one set of mechanics over another, but do any of them truly love being, say, a hunter or a priest or a warlock? I don’t know, but I do know that if they had the same kind of persona investment in a class/spec that many players have, they would not treat them as they have for last couple of years. They would be more respectful of player-evolved fantasies for their spec and less eager to impose a Blizz-approved fantasy du jour.

The weekend beckons.

Legion – let’s just get it over with

We are now 34 days, give or take a few hours, away from the Legion launch. I am doing my best to work up some enthusiasm over it, but that is turning out to be a harder task than it should be.

I should explain that I am somewhat of a launch junkie. I am predisposed to love the anticipation before each new expansion. A couple of months out, I make preparatory spreadsheets and to-do lists (hey, that’s how I do “excited”, don’t judge), I enjoy all the usual bank and bag cleaning, I like evaluating my alts to see which ones I will level first. I even usually take a farewell tour of the outgoing expansion on my main, flying through the zones, snapping a few screen shots, stopping at out of the way places to take in the scenery.  On launch day I get up in the middle of the night an hour or so before scheduled launch, brew coffee, and log in — in my jammies, coffee and cereal in hand. Usually there are guildies doing the same, and we chat and giggle together in Vent. It’s great fun, even if later the expansion turns out to be not so great.

But this time is different. I suppose it is possible that I am just too cynical, that the novelty has finally worn off. After all, Legion will be the 5th expansion I have experienced. (Although probably Wrath shouldn’t count as I had only been playing the game for about a month before it arrived.) But I really don’t think that’s the reason. I think the long dry spell of WoD, combined with a year-long “beta” and with Blizz’s failure to roll out sweeping game changes in any sort of cohesive manner, have dampened my enthusiasm for Legion. And this is not even considering the almost-certain gigantic technical snafu that will make Legion unplayable for the first few days.

WoD, by most accounts, will go down as one of the worst expansions in the game. OK, fine. But Blizz made the whole experience even worse by basically abandoning it immediately after launch, at the same time embarking on a policy of contempt for their players and engagement in a kind of dismissive snarkiness seldom if ever seen in customer relations in large companies. (Even Comcast at least pretends to be more respectful of its customers than Blizz was during the first year of WoD.)  In the end, it was, for all practical purposes, a one-patch expansion (I don’t count 6.1 as a real patch).

Even though in the last year Blizz has  undergone a major change in attitude — for the better — they still did not back off of the policy of washing their hands of WoD. They could have at least given us a series of minor patches over the last 13 months, some little sop to generate some whimsy or fun into WoD while we waited for Legion, but it is as if the whole episode has been too painful to even think about. If nothing else, they could have given us some new jukebox tunes or Son of Pepe or a few more garrison decorations. But they left WoD out on the curb sometime around March of 2015, and we have been on our own. You would think, in the face of this, I would be ecstatic at the prospect of Legion. But really I feel just kind of weary at the possibility, even if remote, that we could be in for another WoD. What if they decide to write off Legion, too, as a bad job? I hope it is a stunning success, but if it isn’t? We will be stuck in WoD-style abandonment for likely at least 3 years. “Once burned…”

Then there are the Legion changes. I am still overwhelmed by them, they are really too complex to deal with all at once, and they are certainly too complex to even attempt to plan for in the way I like to. Consequently, I am doing virtually no planning for Legion, and this effectively robs me of my style of anticipation. My fault, I know, but there it is.

The pre-patch has brought us some of the biggest changes, but it is the worst of both worlds now and will be for another month. We have characters that are for the most part wimpier than at any time in WoD, and they are incomplete, since they were designed for an artifact weapon we do not yet have access to. So we are trying to operate in an end-game status using early-leveling powers. It is frustrating and seems to continue the string of WoD bad decisions. At a time when we should be experiencing the full power of our leveled characters just before being plunged into a whole new continent, we are instead struggling to deal with content we thought we had mastered months ago.

This could have been done better, with less pain. Blizz could have taken some steps to truly compensate for the changes in secondary stat mechanics and for the lack of an artifact weapon, but they chose not to. They could have done a better job of tweaking Timewarped instances to match the new reality of class changes. But it was apparently too much work, and their new mantra of “If the minimum were not good enough it wouldn’t be the minimum” has taken over. If we players feel weak and ineffectual when we should feel we are at the top of our game, too effing bad. We will get over it, at most there will be a small blip in subscriptions, but that will be eclipsed by the usual surge for a new expansion. Besides, Blizz doesn’t publish subscription rates any more, so who is to know? Certainly not the stockholders.

Then there is the new way Blizz chose to do Legion testing. They decided that the best early, development-shaping input they could get would be from professional players and from those who would derive an actual monetary benefit from being in on the new systems. They did not solicit opinions from the normal casual player, from the kind of player that makes up most of their base, and by the time they gave such people access it was far too late to make any significant changes. Thus Legion will be an expansion of, by, and for professional players, the elite guilds, the streamers, the eSport wannabes. The rest of us will have to just live with it.

People get excited about things they are invested in, things they feel they have a say in  and have helped to create — even if that is only a facade. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I have zero investment in Legion, it is something being foisted upon me, not a shared endeavor. Any input I, and others like me, expressed to Blizz has been ignored, not even the courtesy of a “here’s why we are not going to change it” response. We are not big wheels in the game, we bring no revenue beyond our subscriptions, we are nothing in the big picture, so there is no reason to give us even the perception of investment in the game.

So that’s it. Legion will go live in 34 days, and the only way I am looking forward to it is to get it over with. After two years with a horrible expansion even Blizz apparently hated, after a year of elite players shaping the new expansion and Blizz ignoring all comments that were not strictly numbers, after giving up on being able to really grasp the new interactions of spec mechanics and artifact weapons, after a pre-patch that has only made me feel as if playing my hunter for all these years counts for nothing — after all this, no I am not excited about Legion.

Yes, I will probably do my coffe-and-jammies thing on launch day, but it will be with more of a feeling of “Thank god, at last” than “Wheeeee!” Right now my sense of anticipation can be summed up as, “Let’s just get it over with.” 

Blizz’s new standard: Good enough

We have had a week now with the Legion pre-expansion patch, and people are either beginning to come to grips with what life will be like for their specs come Legion, or they have decided to move on to another spec or another class or another game. As to technical issues, I have said that the initial rollout of the patch seemed less chaotic than previous ones, but after a week I continue to experience random and sudden disconnects  on the order of every 20-30 minutes on average. It is extremely annoying, and it effectively precludes any sort of group participation. In this, the patch seems even less stable than the beta did when I first started playing it a couple of months ago. Why can’t they fix this? Why do they seem to not even be trying?

Thus, I return today to one of my recurring topics: Has Blizz failed to grow its development resources to meet the demands of the game’s exploding complexity?

Consider a few scattered observations from Legion development comments and actions.

Item: Armor clipping. Now, this is a very minor thing in my view, but I was fascinated by a Blue response to some reported “bugs” on the subject. The CM responding said definitely they were looking into the reports and they were working on fixing the major ones. But then the CM concluded with this:

Things that aren’t bugs:
– A tiny bit of clipping may be necessary on some race/class combinations; try to limit your reports to things that are obviously bad.
– Some waist items with 3D buckles will turn off tabard bottoms
– The size of your head may grow or shrink slightly with certain helms to ensure a better fit.

(Honestly, the first thing that occurred to me was that I wished the real world would work like this — jeans don’t fit? No worries, your hips will shrink “to ensure a better fit”.) But back to WoW — doesn’t this strike you as Blizz just kind of giving up on excellence? Basically, if it’s not “obviously bad” — however that is defined — Blizz cannot be bothered with it. And, it’s just too hard to make all the armor fit all classes races/genders, it’s apparently easier to make the character fit the armor rather than the other way around. Who cares if it makes your character look like a bobble-head, it’s a quick and easy fix.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is a half-assed solution. Now, as I said, this is an extremely minor problem, but you see it’s not about the armor bugs, it’s about the attitude.  Too hard to do? Slap a bandaid on it and move on, screw it, it’ll have to do.

See, this is the kind of attitude we all have when we are trying to accomplish far too many things on far too short a deadline.

Item: Warcraft Movie in-game items. Another insignificant action in the big picture, but recall that Blizz generously gave everyone some in-game cosmetic items for being in the game at the time the movie was released. The items, at least for Alliance, were a sword and a shield with some movie design tie-in. I can’t use them on any of my characters, at most maybe just the sword on one or two. They are completely useless to my hunters, of course. Still, as I said at the time, what the hell they are free and you should always express gratitude for a gift even if it is not something you want or can use.

But here is the thing. This, like the response to the armor clipping bugs, smacked of a hurry-up-just-get-it-done attitude. To design cool cosmetic weapons appropriate to each class would clearly have involved a significant chunk of time and development resources. Which apparently Blizz did not have.

Item: Flying in Legion. We now know that this is at least a year out, that — according to Ion Hazzikostas — it will not be available until vaguely around the middle of the expansion. As the shortest this expansion will be is two years, that puts it at minimum a year out. I am betting we will not see it until sometime around the end of 2017, because I am convinced Legion will be at least a 3-year expansion.

But no matter. My point here is that developing zones for flying requires a lot more resources than does developing for ground-bound travel and taxi service. We saw this in WoD when, in spite of assurances that the expansion was designed from the start for flying, once Blizz bowed to the player revolt over the decision to not allow it, it took months to make it feasible.

What the perfectly-parsed words from Hazzikostas say to me about flying in Legion is that they really do not have the resources to even consider doing it at the start, or indeed at any time until they have nothing else left to do for the expansion. They will devote the resources to it only when it becomes “a thing” and a way to retain players who might otherwise leave. I think the dirty little secret is that they just do not have the development staff to take it on before then.

Item: Ill-advised CRZ changes. With the pre-patch, Blizz expanded CRZ to include faction capital cities. This caused the RP community to howl, because it was done so ham-fistedly that basically people wanting to RP could no longer count on their regular group — whether it was a server group or a guild — being on the same sever at the same time. Thus, no RP between them.

I don’t do RP, and I do not even pretend to understand the technical reasons that Blizz is compelled to increase CRZ in spite of it being pretty widely disliked by players, but here is the point: Shouldn’t a company anticipate major problems like this before they go ahead and make the changes? Maybe we should be just a tad bit worried when we find out that Blizz’s response to this has been “Oops, hehe, we didn’t think of that.”

Item: Camera changes. This is currently a huge flap in the community. Alternative Chat has even weighed in on it today, making the point that for months now Blizz has had a significant number of player reports that camera and other visual changes — exacerbated by the inexplicable decision to make max camera distance no longer available — actually make some players ill. Blizz’s words on this  have been rather unctuously faux-sympathetic, but their actions have done nothing to help.

Again, should we not be a teensy bit concerned that Blizz apparently revamped the entire visual and camera technology for the game, failed to fully explore its effects, and further failed to have a “revert” plan in case it turned out badly? This is not how professional software developers do business. This is how a couple guys in a garage do it. This is how you carry out a project when you know you are under the gun, when you know you don’t have the resources to meet an unrealistic deadline — you cut corners, you skimp on the tech testing, you throw Hail Mary passes on major changes and hope in doing so you don’t screw something else up because you will not have time to fix it and rework the change.

Item: BM Hunter status. I’ve written on this a lot and am not going to rehash everything today. But it occurred to me that lack of resources is the easiest explanation for Blizz’s stubborn and rather puzzling refusal to address the consistent concerns of well-respected hunters that BM is in a bad place in terms of hunter play style, that it is not anywhere near what a hunter experience should be in this game.

If you are short on time and long on to-do’s, you prioritize. In this case, BM hunters are mechanically fine in Blizz’s view. Unlike some other specs, eveything works, nothing is obviously broken, so who has time to give a rat’s ass about “the feel”? Suck it up, hunters, there are DK issues to deal with!

I had a few more examples, but I am sure you get the idea. I am not bashing the WoW devs at Blizz, I really think they are doing everything they can to make an acceptable product within the constraints of their staff strengths and the August 30 deadline. I would not want their job right now. But I have serious reservations about corporate managers who have clearly failed to grasp the almost-incomprehensible complexity of the game as it has evolved, have failed to provide resource increases on the scale such complexity calls for, and who seem to have imposed a fantasy deadline for Legion. They are trying to squeeze every bit of cash they can from WoW, and they want to do it on the cheap. In their view, they are in the era of diminishing returns from the game. There is no benefit for them to make it excellent, their standard now is “good enough”.

“Try to limit your reports to things that are obviously bad.” Words to live by these days at Blizz.

Dare we hope?

Short post today, summer lazies have overtaken me. Also, about the only thing going on for me in the game now is clearing out banks, selling gear, rounding up some glyphs from vendors, and the ever-popular RECONFIGURE YOUR ENTIRE HOTBAR SCHEME AND UI FOR EVERY FLIPPIN’ ALT. Not that I’m annoyed….

Anyway, that’s not what today’s topic is. Today’s topic is manners. Hold onto your hats and take a deep breath, because I have noticed that

Trade chat, LFR, and the general tone of the game has noticeably improved.

image

At least on my server. I have no idea how long this will last, but I am loving it. I am not a big believer in coincidences, so I have to think that Blizz’s new Cone of Silence rule has had some effect, if only temporarily. Fingers crossed.

Trade chat has become bearable again. No, it’s not where you go for intellectual discussion, but it is no longer toxic, and the bile-spewing hatemongers have either become almost civil, or they have disappeared. The usual summer influx of bored children showing off all the dirty words they know has not happened. People returning to the game after long absences ask questions, and others actually answer them without heaping flames of shame upon them.

Speaking of which (returning players), I have noticed quite a few of them since the patch. I did not notice any influx of new players as a result of the Warcraft movie, but the patch does seem to have enticed quite a number of players back. I don’t know how long it will last, but it is refreshing to see them (not to mention a tad amusing to witness their befuddlement with all the changes). Stormwind has become populated once more, and it seems like the long garrison exile is over.

My guild, too, has become more active, with probably double the number of players active every night now compared to the number we saw before the patch. I am hoping some of these returning players will need gear, pots, gems, and enchants, because it would be nice to put all those crafting cooldown mats to good use before Legion.

In short, I am seeing a tentative return to a sense of community, and I like it. I really hope it is the start of a rising trend, not just a temporary upward blip in what has been a descending spiral.

Tonight we are going to try a guild fun run through HFC. It should be a real circus, as we are all still learning our new class and spec changes. I am expecting a lot of really spectacular fails, with accompanying choruses of laughter.

Blog admin note: I will be taking some days off periodically until Legion goes live, cutting my posting back to 2-3 times a week. I feel like I need to get a short break in before the mad whirl of a new expansion is upon us. Plus, it’s summer, and summer is made for relaxing. Hammocks and sprinklers and beaches and barbecues await!

Well, whaddya think?

Whew! Patch 7.0.3 rolled out yesterday, with surprisingly few glitches, and honestly my main impression so far is: this is a helluva lot of work! Yes, work. I am sure I have never before labored so hard as I have done for the past two days, just to make a game playable. And my most optimistic estimate is that this will go on for at least another three or four days. Maybe longer.

The drudgery started Monday night, when I realized that all those garrison resources I had capped out on for most of my characters would be virtually worthless come the patch. Even using a couple of macros, it took me over two hours just to trade in all my resources for sacks of gold. True, I cleared close to 30k gold doing it, but it was tedious. And not exactly wild fun.

Then I tackled all the salvage crates I had saved up for the past month or so. I think I only had about 500 or so total in my account — not nearly as many as some of my guildies had — but that was just painful. Open them up, sell the follower gear and gray items, bank the mats, and sort out where to send which type of gear, using mailboxes as a temporary banking system. Ugh. The only saving grace for me was that I had pretty much been doing this for the last year. I would open crates maybe once a week for everyone, then check each item to see if it was most suitable for transmog for someone, or for AH sales, for DE, or for vendoring. Then about a month ago my banks began to fill up with transmog gear that would not fit in void storage, so I just kept the crates because they at least stacked.

The other thing I am glad I did was that whenever I would send some transmog gear to a character over the past year, I made sure to equip it and make it soulbound. I became very thankful for this foresight last night as I was busily equipping all the BoE gear I had sent around Monday night, so that I could sell it after making sure the appearance made it into my transmog tab. Still, it was tedious even with the relatively few BoE pieces I had to deal with. I got my two hunters sorted out for transmogs and cleaned out all the accumulated gear in their banks and void storage areas. It took several hours, and the process was made more complex by the fact that the main storage addon I use, Ark Inventory, had some major glitches. They eventually got more or less fixed, kind of, but it was a real mess.

While I am on the subject, though, I have to give some major kudos to all the addon authors. At least for the major addons I use, these folks were on top of the situation. They had done the prior work to make their addons mostly 7.0.3 ready, and most of them were issuing updates every few minutes yesterday as bug reports came in. Sure, I know they have had a long time to do this while they were in the alpha and beta tests, but most of them do this for no direct money, and I am pretty sure even what revenue they may derive from forum and blog sites and whatnot is not exactly vast riches (the addons themselves are free, and they may not ask for donations or anything on compendium sites like Curse).

Next I tackled changes with my main hunter. I have been MM since patch 6.2 — 13 months — and decided that I would at least start Legion as BM. Honestly, it is kind of a Hobson’s choice. Some of the very early comparisons seem to point to MM/LW being “THE” raiding spec for Legion — as it has been for most of WoD — but it really is too early to know for sure. But I have never been comfortable with MM in WoD, never really liked the limits on movement, never got used to not having a pet by my side. My current plan is to make my main hunter BM and my almost-main hunter MM to start Legion. This is a pretty stupid decision on my part, because right now they are the opposite, which means I will have to switch both of them. But my “main” main has a lot more cooler pets … It just seems right to make her the BM hunter.

Setting up new action bars and keybinds is not a trivial chore. Not to mention, I rely on Weakauras as the major part of my UI, and all of my auras had to be redone, many deleted, new ones added, and so forth. As to gear, I made some minor changes in light of Multistrike going away, Crit becoming pretty “meh” for BM, and trinkets getting nerfed, but for the most part I am not going to get overly concerned about secondary stats for the remaining few weeks of WoD. I will change out some gems on my BM hunter to stack some haste, but if I have a lot of Mastery instead of the slightly-better Versatility, I am not going to worry about it. Secondary stats are pretty meaningless anyway, as they will shortly be overshadowed by artifact weapons. And Blizz is still tinkering with them for many specs. Bottom line for my BM hunter — keep most of my gear, change out a trinket, stack Haste when convenient, move on.

Side comment: In their official Pre-Patch Notes from two days ago, Blizz claimed that this patch would allow us to equip more than 3 crafted items, but I was not able to do so last night. ??? And in searching just now for the actual quote, I find that in fact the notes have been changed since that particular tidbit was put out. They said it, they announced it, then they unsaid it. No explanations, no apologies, just a selective edit and memory erasure. What, hmmmm? No, we never claimed that….. Poor dear *pat pat* you must be working too hard….

Anyway, back to my hunter. After I finally got things more or less squared away last night, I stepped into a couple of LFRs with her. Grim. Of course, no one ever does any cc in LFR, but I felt completely useless in that area. No traps is a huge deal, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And no, Wyvern Sting is in no way even close as a substitute. I also really felt the loss of specialty shots like Tranq and Distracting Shot. True, I never used them all that often, but I liked knowing they were there if the situation called for them. The new Aspect of the Cheetah, with its timer and cooldown just really sucks. This just seems to be a mean-spirited change, driven only by some sort of hunter envy. And no camouflage will hurt a lot when it comes time to level, I am sure.

I am probably one of the few hunters who actually enjoyed doing lots of little extra raid chores. Now, we have almost no utility for those things. We are just another damage dealer in a crowd. As for actual damage numbers, it is a bit hard to tell. No one was doing anywhere close to what we were seeing before the patch, but whether that is mainly due to spec changes or to everyone having to relearn rotations is not clear. BM will always stink at rapid target switching, and much of HFC involves that. I had not selected an AoE-heavy talent build, but I still did respectable damage with lots of targets if they were all bunched up. Volley is a pretty cool talent, very similar to the rogue’s Blade Flurry. Stampede just blows, at least in any situation where the tank keeps moving adds or the boss — it is completely dependent on your own directional orientation, has absolutely nothing to do with targets.

I will point out that Blizz needs to cut back on some of the audio effects for hunters, though. The constant Dire Beast whistle gets very annoying very fast, and the Bestial Wrath scream is just nerve-grating.

The thing with BM is that most of your damage is based on your pets, and you lose a ton of damage if you miss even one Kill Command or Dire Beast when they either proc because of spell interactions or just come off their rather short cooldowns. I had also taken Chimaera Shot as a talent, and that, too, requires very close monitoring. What I found myself doing was tunnel visioning my hot bars (or my Weakauras), and I lost a lot of raid awareness as a result. Since there are a lot of dynamic cooldown and focus regen changes, it does not seem possible to get into a second-sense rhythm of when things are about to become available. I am somewhat dubious that it will ever be possible to do so. Of course, it was my first real group effort with the new BM, so it is still early in the process.

Anyway, I have gone on far longer than I intended to for this post. Bottom line is that so far I have found the pre-patch to be a lot of drudgery, I think the new transmog system is a welcome improvement, and BM hunters still stink.

I would be very interested in your early impressions.

The patch is upon us

Well. At last we are truly into it. As you know unless you have been spending the last few weeks in a cave somewhere, the Legion pre-patch goes live with the reset this week, which means Tuesday in the wee hours of the morning in the U.S. I have to admit, I am more than ready for a change. Even if I am not happy about all the details of the change, sometimes you just need to do something different. It has been 13 months since we last had a major patch. Too long.

I spent the weekend squeezing out the last few bits of gold from my garrison and shipyard missions, leveling up my rogue’s new gathering profession of herbalism to 700, and just having some fun with my main hunter doing some instances and fun runs with my guild.

While gathering herbs in Pandaria, I stumbled upon Gumi, one of the spirit beasts from that patch. I quickly logged off my rogue and on to my hunter, got myself to the area and tamed this quirky porcupine pet. It is one of three spirit porcupines from Mists, the other two being Hutia and Dengu. In truth, they are not that hard to camp, as they spawn quite frequently,  and usually (maybe always?) at the same time, so I traveled around and got all three of them in the space of about 15 minutes. With my taming of Skoll and Arcturis a couple of months ago, along with a few other spirit and rare beasts I have tamed over the years, I am collecting a fair stable of spirit beasts. Nothing like some of the really dedicated hunters have, but possibly approaching respectable. I am thinking I will level with Arcturis in Legion, although it is very tempting to go with Terrorpene. I think the visuals make for nice symmetry questing with a turtle when hunters have the new Aspect of the Turtle that replaces Deterrence. And honestly, the pet nerfs for 7.0 are so severe that the only real factor in selecting a hunter pet now is the cosmetic effect, I am very sad to say.

This evening I will do my last few garrison missions, give my followers their pink slips, and start to make a couple of changes to my hunter gear to account for changing from Marksman to Beastmastery. Mainly this will mean unloading as much Crit and Multistrike as I can and loading up on Haste and Mastery. I am not going to do a huge gear change, because it is just not worth it when we will all get new gear as we level in Legion. But I will change out my trinkets, as some of the major ones from HFC will not be all that useful any more. (I will not be sad to get rid of my Mirror of the Blademaster — while it has been very effective, I really am not a fan of the visual for it.) And I will reroll the secondary stats on my three pieces of crafted gear.

Some of our community’s best hunters have published a couple of terrific getting started guides for your hunter in Patch 7. Check out Azortharion’s guide here on Icy Veins class columns (for the hunter spec you are interested in), and Bendak’s guides on his blog and on the column he writes for Blizzard Watch. There is a wealth of information in them that should help you if you are unsure of how to start getting familiar with all the hunter changes. These two hunters have really done the community a great service by getting these guides out in time for the pre-expansion patch.

I expect tomorrow most of my game time will be spent clearing out all the gear clogging up my bank and void storage slots, and if there is more time available to me I will get my new hunter action bars set up. Not sure if the addons I use — like Weakauras and Shadowed Unit Frames — will be ready to go or not, but if so, then there will be some reconfig necessary there also. I definitely want my hunter ready to go when the first Demon invasion hits.

I’ll reconfigure my alts over the course of the next week or so as time permits. And I feel like I will have significantly more time available, because I will stop doing all my garrison duties effective tomorrow. I’ll probably just not collect my mine and herb garden work orders and leave them where they are, just in case at some point in the future I need to quickly grab a couple of WoD mats. For now, I have plenty stockpiled, and I have already sold off the excess, so I think I am in good shape there.

Here’s hoping the pre-patch rollout goes smoothly. I probably will not write tomorrow, so see you on the other side!

A farewell to hunters

Yesterday another hunter I respect, Delirium over at The Thrill of the Wild, threw in the towel on hunters as a class in Legion. He joins a number of excellent hunters who, after months of frustration trying to get Blizz to understand their very real and legitimate concerns about overall hunter play style in Legion, have finally given up and will just try to make the best of it. That is, if they play a hunter at all in Legion or indeed if they play the game at all. Some, like Delirium, hold out a very slim hope that it will turn out all right once Legion goes live, but really no one believes it will.

Even though you can read Del’s piece for yourselves, I am going to do a lengthy quote here, because I think he really captured the feeling of many true hunters. He certainly captured mine.

So, here we are; the Legion pre-patch likely less than a week away, and hunters are still in a fairly terrible place, from my perspective. All three specs received complete overhauls (now having only the names in common with the previous three hunter specs), and all three ended up significantly less fun than they have been for the last two expansions.

. . .

While I’d like to think that in general I’m appreciative of the developers trying new things, experimenting and trying to make the game better. In the case of all three hunter specs, they’ve ended up with results that are significantly worse than what they had when they started. And really, that wouldn’t be a problem either, except, as far as I can tell, the developers who are in charge seem to legitimately think that they’ve made a good class, despite months and months and months of feedback from hundreds of different hunters in the beta expressing dissatisfaction with every single hunter spec.

And that is the essence of it. Hunters may in fact turn out to compete well on the damage charts in Legion, but that is not the point. Blizz has succeeded in draining every bit of fun out of the spec, they have gutted its soul, they have removed every vestige of joy from it. The hunter class in Legion will remain, but in name only. The hunter class we have loved to play since the beginning of WoW will be gone.

Blizz has steadfastly refused to tell us why they have done this, beyond blithering idiocy about “class fantasies”. I can only conclude their actions are the result of one of two reasons: 1) They have no one on their staff who has ever understood and loved the hunter class, or 2) They made a deliberate decision to destroy the class, because it was too popular or because non-hunters hate it a lot, or whatever. No matter the reason, WoD and Legion have made it clear that hunters are the throwaway class in Blizz’s mind, the class they can screw with however much they want whenever they want.

This is bad enough, but it is compounded by the fact that Blizz has so little respect for hunters that they have not even bothered to have a real discussion over the changes and why they decided to make them, why they have stubbornly ignored the concerns of the best, most conscientious hunters in the game.

I will play a Beastmastery hunter in Legion, but I am not excited by the prospect. I look at it as something to endure, not something to look forward to. Though it retains the most flavor of traditional hunters, it, too has been stripped of its essential fun. It does not even come close to Blizz’s own ridiculous “spec fantasy”. How can you have a hunter with no skill whatsoever in camouflage or traps? How can someone be a “Master of Beasts” with many of them at his beck and call but with actual control over only one of them? (And in truth not a lot of control over even that one, as there are still serious pathing issues as well as issues with your pet failing to attack when it is on Assist.) The poverty of this shallow “fantasy” is exposed in the actual spec implementation.

The destruction of the hunter class puts a shadow over all of Legion for me. I know there will be many fun innovations, and I think there will be a lot of engaging content. But I will be reminded of Blizz’s hunter sellout every time I play. Every. Single. Time.

I know Blizz does not dwell in the real player world, so they will believe their own hype over Legion. But they should be sobered by the idea that there is a sizable group of players like myself who are not hyped by it, who are instead grimly resolved to get through it. For a game, that is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

I will spend my weekend playing my hunter, eking out every last ounce of joy I can while it is still fun to play. Soon it will just be a memory.

Blizz, why are you doing this?