A Beast Mastery hunter’s first day in Legion

As planned, I got up around 2AM yesterday for our Eastern Time 3AM Legion launch. By 2:20 I had brewed coffee, toasted an English muffin, and logged in to find a whole lot of guildies already chatting away and having a great time. I was glad I had allowed myself a little leeway, because about ten minutes to 3, just as my caffeine was kicking in, people began to report they were suddenly showing an XP bar for their maxed characters, and — a few at a time — were getting the final Dalaran quest popping up on their screens. In what seemed like very short order people were woo-hooing over their new artifact weapons.

I give Blizz gigantic kudos for what seemed, from my perspective, to be a flawless launch. I did not experience a single hiccup. There were no login queues, no video problems, no crashes or disconnects. If there were any attempts at malicious hacking in the form of denial of service attacks, Blizz thwarted them in a way that was completely transparent to players. A few guildies reported a slight hitch in one of the intro scenarios with Genn Greymane, but I did not experience it.

Since I was predicting a doom and gloom experience for Legion launch, I now hereby eat my words, and I am officially impressed with the technical expertise and hard work Blizz clearly put into the launch mechanics.

Well done, Blizz.

After collecting my Hati gun, I opted to start questing in Stormheim, mainly because I thought that might give me more opportunities to skin creatures as I quested, my main being a skinner/leatherworker. I found I was easily able — with no extra effort at all, to collect close to 700 skins by the time I completed the zone.

I liked Stormheim, I did all the quest lines there and was close to level 104 before I decided — again on the basis of facilitating my professions — to move to Val’sharah. I  had taken my usual 1-2 hour breaks throughout the day, so by the time I got to the new zone, it was evening and I was tired, so I stopped about three-quarters of the way to 105.

I have been delighted so far with the questing and leveling experience, in every aspect. The zones are beautifully rendered, movement/pathing is smooth, and the quests are both interesting and relevant to the Legion story line. Of course, many quests take the form of “kill X number of Y things”, but I did not feel like any of these crossed over into the “grindy” category. One of the most pleasing new mechanics, in my opinion, is the grappling hook, which seems to be one of the main methods for getting to treasure chests; it just beats the hell out of the frustrating jumping puzzles of WoD.

I had expected to feel very underpowered as a BM hunter, given the state of that spec, but I did not die once. I opted to level with a Tenacity-specc’ed turtle pet, and I found I had to weave Mend Pet into my rotation. The combo of turtle on Growl and Hati had very little problem holding aggro, once it was established (more about this below). I was also able to pull quite a few mobs at once and still easily down them. So that part was a pleasant surprise.

But the BM mechanics still are terrible. Setting aside the obvious observation that it is just mind-numbingly boring to play, fundamental flaws remain. The removal of the mechanic formerly provided by the pet Misdirection glyph, the stripping away of traps, the lack of camouflage, and the now-useless Aspect of the Cheetah, all contribute to a spec that no longer feels like a hunter and in fact forces every hunter to relearn baseline skills they have honed for years. Things like kiting, like bouncing aggro back and forth between pet and hunter, even escape if you have overextended yourself — all these skills have to be relearned now, and honestly there are not a lot of tools you can use to relearn them. Some of them will just be lost abilities.

I think lack of pet control, along with the huge imbalance between hunter-generated damage and pet-generated damage, is at the heart of the problems with Legion BM mechanics. I noticed some of this while questing, but it really became obvious when I ran a couple of random dungeons with guildies.

What do I mean? I am not a theory person, and I will leave it to the numbers people to explain it better, but this is what I experienced. Start with a lack of true synergy between hunter and pets. Prior to 7.0, there was what seemed to be a partnership between hunter and pet — pet did its damage, and hunter did his damage, with the hunter doing more than the pet. But in Legion, the hunter alone can do almost no significant damage — only Cobra Shot and Multishot are baseline, and they are designed mainly to be focus dumps and thus cannot be sustained as damage dealers. Whereas before, the hunter was a strong damage dealer with some assistance from a pet, now we are ineffective damage dealers who serve mainly to drop the leashes on a pack of pets. Among other bad effects, this means there is very little a hunter can now do to take aggro away from a pet-Hati combo that has established it, certainly not in a solo questing mode.

(And now that I am bringing this up, it occurs to me that there is a lot I don’t know about Hati’s mechanics — does he retain any aggro if my pet dies, or is he treated as part of my gun? He does not in fact show up at your side unless you have a pet summoned, but does that mean he will still make an appearance when you start to shoot, or that even if he does not appear will you still get his damage effects? I need to do some more looking into this for sure.)

Shifting nearly all damage to pets might be an acceptable change to BM hunters if the pets could actually be controlled, but this is far from the case. For example, the functions of putting a pet on passive, defensive, or assist seem no longer to reliably work as they used to. As an example, there are far too many times still when a pet supposedly on assist just sits at your side doing nothing. This is especially noticeable with Multishot — once the original target of your Multishot is dead, your pet often returns to you and sits on his ass unless you actually target another mob, and he continues to do this. Even if you retarget rapidly, he starts to return to you for that split second you are retargeting, wasting a lot of damage in the process. I think I even saw Hati come back during those times, but I will have to look at this again — if some of you have noticed what happens with Hati in Multishot situations, please comment.

Prior to Legion, I was able to circumvent the loss of BM damage in boss fights where there were a lot of spread out adds (for example, Kilrogg) by having my pet attack the boss, then setting him on defensive so he would stay on the boss while I switched targets and downed the adds myself.  This is no longer possible, mainly because of course hunters without a pet have almost no damage ability on their own, along with the fact that where your gun goes, Hati goes, thus there is still the long down time while Hati leisurely strolls to the next target. I did not actually do any study of this technique last night, it was just something I noticed that it seemed whenever Hati moved, so did my pet no matter what his setting, but I cannot confirm it.

There is also a huge problem with over-targeting. I got into a lot of trouble yesterday while questing simply by virtue of the fact that auto shot often kicks in even if you just switch targets but do not actively initiate any abilities. For some reason, both Hati and my pet are intimately tied to auto shot (even though my pet seems to care nothing about sticking with Multishot targets). Thus, I was often in a situation with multiple targets where I was madly tab-targeting in an attempt to keep my pet from quitting, and I would get the immediate group dead but my next tab target was the first one in a group quite a bit further away — causing my dynamic duo of a pet team to go charging over there and pulling them before I could manually apply my stop-attack macro. This was bad enough while I was questing solo, but it was catastrophic in dungeons. I did not notice this problem with auto-shot controlling my pet prior to Legion, so I can only surmise there is some synergy with Hati that is causing it. Whatever, it is a horrible effect that could really make BM hunters unwelcome in groups.

I am sure I will be writing more about this, but suffice it to say that yesterday showed me beyond a doubt that the problems with BM hunters are deep and fundamental, going far beyond the usual complaint of over-pruning. There are serious flaws with the entire spec design, and a few superficial tweaks will not begin to address them. My fellow blogger The Grumpy Elf a few days ago explained that for the first time in the game he would not be maining a hunter in Legion because he considers the class to be unplayable. When I first read it, I thought this was a bit of hyperbole, but now that I have experienced at least one of the specs with its artifact complement, I see that he was absolutely correct.

I belong to a very tolerant guild in terms of raid composition — we are encouraged to play the spec we love, even if that means the team will have an abundance of one spec over the others — but right now I am not optimistic that bringing a BM hunter to raid will help in any way. Not only have we lost much of the raid utility we used to bring in the form of traps, Tranq and Distracting shot, the ability to pet tank on the fly, and our own speed and mobility, but we now also bring the negative mechanics of accidental pulling in a way potentially surpassing even the worst Barrage offenders from WoD. Worse, to insure against such accidental pulling requires a targeting approach so conservative as to significantly reduce what is already mediocre damage.

I have said it before, and I will continue to say it: A spec with the supposed “fantasy” of Master of Beasts that has no control over any of them is a failed spec.

tl;dr — Legion so far is great fun, but don’t play a BM hunter. 

Aaaaand — we’re off!

Well. We are here at last, Legion will launch in the U.S. in a matter of hours. At this point there really is nothing left to do but wait. For me, I have been pretty much in pure wait mode since Friday. Over the weekend I found myself a little adrift in the game, no real last-minute goals — just busywork to fill a couple of hours. I did a final reorg and cleaning of my bags and banks, consolidated soon-to-be legacy WoD mats with my banker, helped out a few guildies running some old dungeons for mounts and the like. We did our final guild moose run last night, got a moose for some folks who had recently come back to the game, and it was fun to see how excited they were to get it.

I was actually so bored that I rolled another mage. Yes, I know, those of you who follow this blog are right now doing /facepalm and if you could talk to me you would point out that I only recently deleted my level 100 mage I had struggled with for years. I understand that I am perilously close to the definition of insanity here, but this time I really expect a different outcome from the same actions. Really!  OK, maybe not, but as I have said before, I think mages have the most awesome visuals in the game, and fire mages more so than the other specs, especially now with the Legion changes to them. Not to mention, I had a spare level 100 boost just lying around, and invasions give me the opportunity to painlessly get a gear level up to 700 or above. So, what the hell, a fire mage seemed like a good idea at the time….

I honestly think it will be difficult to max level all my alts in Legion, not that I have a ton of them compared to some people, but still the task seems like it might be daunting. I think I have settled on a leveling order, more or less.  After my main BM hunter (who has leather working and skinning as professions), my leveling order is primarily based on professions. I will go with an alchemist, JC, enchanter, and inscriptionist as top priority, then later do the professions of less immediate importance to me: tailor, engineer, blacksmith, and a couple of duplicate professions. Key, I think, is that with the exception of my enchanter, all my top priority crafting professions are paired with a gathering one so as to facilitate getting the rare BoP (!!! still a stupid decision) mat Blood of Sargeras.

In spite of all my whining and complaining over the last few weeks, I am looking forward to Legion, if for no other reason than to just get to it. I do think there will be a lot of very fun aspects to it, and no matter what, it is always great to have a new continent and a ton of new content to explore. What I saw from my short stint in beta was that the zones are very well-rendered, and the artwork is terrific. (I am not sure any expansion will equal the breathtaking scenery I found in Mists of Pandaria, but Legion might come close.)

I think the leveling process will be as good as, or even better than, the one in WoD, mainly because of zone scaling, multi-tagging of mobs and resources, well-developed quest lines that advance the lore story, and yes even sharding. I am not typically a power leveler, but I usually try to level my main as quickly as possible so as to have a sufficient amount of time to get raid-ready in a couple of weeks. In Legion, I think I may also try to do relatively fast leveling of my major profession alts, because that, too, allows me to prepare for our first raid. I have plenty of gold to buy things like enchants and flasks and gems for my main early in an expansion, but something in me just rebels at paying the exorbitant prices people charge for them. Yeah, yeah, I took Econ 101 and understand the concept of supply and demand, but price gouging just really annoys me.

At any rate, I will go to bed early tonight and try to get a few hours sleep before I get up around 2 AM for the 3 AM launch. I’ll brew some coffee, log in, and join the guild Mumble channel where most likely people will be both sleepy and excited — like kids awakened in the middle of the night to start the trip to Disney World. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that there will not be server-crashing technical issues and that I will be able to get in a few hours of fun to start off the expansion.

I am not someone who can play for hours at a time, so even at the start of an expansion I play for a couple hours, take a couple hours break, then repeat the process. I have arranged my schedule such that I can take a few days and play more than I usually do, but if there are massive technical problems I can also do normal work until they are fixed. Whatever happens, I am giving myself a week’s vacation starting next week, as it has been close to a year since I have taken one. (This is the best part of working for yourself — no vacation schedules to have to juggle!)

I doubt if I will be posting for most of the rest of this week, unless there are some massive server failures that prevent me from playing, so I will see all of you on the other side in a few days. Enjoy the launch, and let’s hope Legion is the expansion we all desperately want it to be.

 

Help build a hunter community response

Late edit: The first hunter forum thread hit max less than 24 hours after it appeared, so the current active thread is here. Also be aware there appears to be a posting bug that results in your first attempt at a reply just sending it into the ether, although a second attempt will succeed. I recommend you copy your entire forum reply before trying to post it, so if it disappears you can just paste and try again.

A couple of days ago I published a piece about Blizzard’s months-long practice of completely ignoring valid hunter concerns about class changes in Legion. Lo and behold, last night Ornyx, a Blizzard Community Manager, started a thread asking for input on hunter concerns. (No, I am sure my post had nothing to do with it, but if it did I solemnly vow to use this power only for good …. 😉)

First things first. Any of you who play a hunter, whether main or alt, please take a moment and go to the new thread and make your feelings known, in a calm and professional tone. (Emotion about the subject is fine, spittle-flecked invective and hateful language is not.) If you do not have the time to post, at least peruse some of the comments and give some feedback in the form of a Like or even a Dislike. It seems that sudden and massive response is the best way to get Blizz’s attention these days.

I have to admit, I was excited by the fact that there was finally a Blue post acknowledging the existence of hunters, and even soliciting feedback on the massive changes to the class. This of course is a sad commentary, because there have been literally thousands of pleas over the last 8-9 months begging Blizz to respond to serious and legitimate concerns about the current state of the hunter class, all stubbornly ignored. So it feels a little bit shameful that when we finally get one small acknowledgement that there might be some problems, my response is to wiggle like a happy puppy.

I commend Ornyx for starting the forum thread — nothing bad on him over this — but we simply cannot ignore the big turd in the punch bowl here:

Why now? And why a brand new thread, when there is a massive amount of forum input from hunter class forums as well as from Legion test forums?

With 5 days to go until Legion launch, the timing certainly seems strange. I have more questions than answers at this point.

  • Is Ornyx’s thread something he is doing on his own initiative, or is it part of a larger Blizz plan to lay the foundation for significant class changes in 7.1?
  • Why is it necessary to restate points already stated multiple times in other forums — in fact, in the very forums Blizz told us to provide feedback in? Do they not read those forums? Are they trying to see if hunters still really really feel the same way?
  • What is the point of this exercise? Are there actual plans to address the deep flaws in every hunter spec, or is this just a mechanism to allow hunters to release a little steam? Worse, is the move designed to give false hope, just to shut hunters up for a while? (The disconnected office thermostat ploy.)
  • Will we ever get the results of Ornyx’s initiative — that is, will we get an official response to the concerns, beyond “We hear you and we are thinking about it. There, there.” He stated in his original post that he intends to take the compiled responses “to the devs”, but what that means is a little unclear.
  • If in fact the initiative is the basis for 7.1 changes, is there any hope that they will be anything but superficial? The small responses to date indicate Blizz fails to understand — or is unwilling to deal with — fundamental flaws in spec design.
  • Slightly off topic, but not really: Ornyx admitted he does not play a hunter, which makes me wonder if any of the devs making drastic changes play a hunter seriously, beyond as a fun leveling and soloing alt (which btw is not really so fun any more). No one who has played a hunter for a long time, who has loved the hunter class, could possibly have made the class-altering changes we have seen. Come on, Blizz, come clean — Do any of you actually main a hunter?

Short post today, but I wanted to get this out there to help build the response. I choose to take Ornyx’s initiative as a positive sign of Blizz’s commitment to not abandon the hunter class. I hope I am not proven wrong.

Class balance revelations

Late breaking edit: Hell has frozen over. Blizz CM Ornyx has opened a forum thread soliciting comments on hunter changes. (Also one on Warlock changes, I think.) Head over there and make your opinions known. I am not going to go into why Blizz has ignored hunter pleas for months, and now wants to hear them again, as if this is news to them…. It may all come to nothing, but we should still give it a try.

During the recent Gamescom 2016, WoW Assistant Game Director Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas granted some in-depth interviews, covering most aspects of Legion. MMO-C has posted videos and text summaries of them:

I’ve written some of my impressions from these so far, and today I’d like to take up the subject of class balance. Watcher gave us what is, I think, the most insight we have yet had on the tumultuous upheavals for many classes in Legion. This is not to say he went so far as to be actually forthcoming on the subject, but he at least dropped a couple of tidbits that help us to put the changes into some context.

Pruning. That dreaded word. After spending a couple of expansions focusing on (mostly) adding to class abilities, Blizz reversed course in WoD and Legion and embarked on a program of cutting the very abilities they had added, plus a few more. In some cases, they pruned a class spec but then added in some features that resulted in a more complex and thus interesting play style — combat/outlaw rogue is an example (just my opinion, those of you who main a rogue may disagree). In other cases, they pruned a spec and did not add in anything else, resulting in something an above-average carrot could easily play — of course the prime example of this is BM hunter. Then, of course, there were some classes and specs that, while not escaping all change, were pretty much left alone, at least in Legion — mages, of course, because they are untouchable, and druids come to mind.

In the Fatboss interview, Watcher discussed the Great Pruning Massacres of WoD and Legion at some length, and I found his comments to be somewhat of a mixed message, but ultimately unsettling. On the one hand he said that adding abilities to classes, as happened prior to WoD, was a bad thing because it resulted in “homogeneous” classes, such that the only thing a group leader would need to look for would be, for example, a “ranged DPS”. On the other hand, he said that one reason to prune anything, like a plant in your garden, is to give it room to grow, implying that eventually Blizz will return to adding new abilities back in to classes.

The best interpretation I can come up with for this is that Blizz has abandoned the concept of “Bring the player, not the class”. Watcher’s comments seem to point to a goal of making every class — no, make that “every spec” — fit a specific niche, and any eventual “un-pruning” will add in certain niche abilities. He said that a desirable goal is for a raid leader to seek out “a good hunter” rather than a good ranged DPS. (He ignored the fact that hunters are now for all practical purposes 3 different classes, and it makes a pretty big difference which spec is included in a raid. But then, as I have said before, no one at Blizz pays much attention to hunters any more except as a convenient stereotype.)

Well. Talk about your complete philosophical turnarounds. As it is a virtual certainty that Blizz will design raid bosses and wings with heavy emphasis on specific types of mechanics, it would seem we are destined to return to the days of selecting raid members on the basis of spec first, skill second.

The good news is that this will not significantly impact most guild raiding, because Normal and Heroic raids are flex, so it is relatively easy to accommodate one or two less-than-optimal specs for any given boss. Also, most casual or semi-casual guilds worth their salt do not bench competent players in order to stack a raid with “the best” specs for the fight.

The bad news is that this will probably have the biggest negative impact on damage dealers who rely on the Premade Group Finder for their raiding, especially those specs that are perceived as low-performing or as not bringing anything of value to the group. (Looking at you, all you BM hunters out there.) Now, in addition to having to meet often-ridiculous gear level requirements, a potential pug DPS will also have to be an approved spec to qualify. This is not encouraging for anyone whose spec appears at the bottom of some of the sim lists.

Side rant on spec “uniqueness”: I realize that hybrid classes have had to deal with group role pickiness for quite some time, which is somewhat akin to the upcoming spec preferences for DPS. But for the most part this has worked in favor of hybrid classes. For one thing, they have the option of queuing for roles in demand, such as healer or tank, which usually grants them expedited acceptance if they meet the other group requirements. And they have the added beneficial option of setting their loot spec to whichever spec they want to gear up. So, for example, if a balance/resto druid is trying to gear up their moonkin, they can still get into a pug as a healer and get moonkin gear. That is not true for the so-called “pure” DPS classes. Yes, they can “select” a loot spec but it makes absolutely zero difference in the gear they get, since primary stat and gear type is all that is considered. (Not even sure why loot spec is an option for pure DPS players, it seems kind of like the faux thermostat in offices that give workers the illusion of temperature control but in reality the thing is not even hooked up.)

I predict what we will see for the Premade Group Finder is this situation: eventually Blizz will change the queue filters to reflect a player’s spec as well as class when they apply, thereby relieving the group leader of having to ask which spec potential damage dealers are, since specs are now so differentiated. I can’t imagine most group leaders, for example, just blindly accepting a hunter — even with high gear level — without knowing at least if he is melee or ranged. So it is almost inevitable that the Group Finder will sooner or later start to reflect a player’s spec (not just role selection). For pure damage dealers, this further handicaps them, because they will then have the disadvantages of a hybrid class (sorry, we need a different spec) without the compensation of being able to queue and play with the “desired” spec and still get gear for their main spec — because Blizz considers all pure DPS gear to be equal across a class.

It is high time that Blizz consider secondary stats the same as they consider primary ones (like agility, strength, etc.), and allow pure DPS players to select a loot spec that actually gives them a reasonable chance at some optimal gear. If Blizz insists on making every spec “unique” and conforming to a “spec fantasy”, then by golly they need to hold up their end, too, and configure gear tables to conform to all these unique specs. We have heard the party line now for some time that secondary stats really are not all that important, not to worry our poor little heads about it, but that is just not true. Secondary stats have a very noticeable impact on player performance, and the inability to reliably loot gear appropriate to one’s spec is just sloppy design.

What about current class imbalances? Hazzikostas as much as admitted that classes and specs are not well balanced, that there are some clear winners and losers. But he also said that, due to the overwhelming importance of artifact weapons and the time that needs to be invested in them, Blizz will not be correcting these known imbalances any time soon. When or if they decide to do a better job of balancing, he indicated it would be done via extensions to artifact abilities. In other words, if you were a lottery winner and your spec currently rules, you can expect it to continue to do so, possibly ruling a tad bit less but ruling nevertheless. On the other hand, if your spec currently stinks, you can rely on it continuing to stink for the foreseeable future. Sucks to be you…

This is disappointing, and yet another example of Blizz’s new Commitment to Exellence Good Enough. The major redesign they opted to do for classes in Legion was a complex, tedious undertaking, with predicably major problems of balance both within each class and across all classes. It’s not like they haven’t done this before, not like they don’t have experience with it. But they went ahead with it anyway, failed to devote sufficient resources to follow it through, suddenly “realized” they could not continue to adjust the imbalances because of their other decision to make every spec dependent on a single piece of gear, ran out of time before the launch, and so threw up their hands and called it done.

Some final thoughts.  Based on the information we got from the Gamescom interviews, combined with the class and spec changes we have seen, I am beginning to think it is time for Blizz to admit that the designation of class is less important than the designation of spec, and to start supporting players on that basis. That means redesigning loot tables as well as player designation filters for mechanisms such as Group Finder. It also means much more balancing effort at the spec level, and much more attention to the interplay of gear, talents, and abilities for every spec.

Is this vastly more complex than designing and balancing for class? Yes, but it is a complexity problem of Blizz’s own making. As far as I know, players were not clamoring to make every spec unique and do yet another complete redesign, were not petitioning to get rid of the “Bring the player, not the spec” philosophy. Players were not demanding a different, unique, high-maintenance, play-determining weapon for every spec in the game. Those were internal Blizz decisions, made for who knows what reasons. But having embarked upon this course, it seems like the approach should be to embrace it completely, not half-assed. You want to get rid of homogeneity? Fine, but have the professionalism to see it through, don’t get three-quarters of the way there then call it “too hard” and abandon it.

Bye-bye range finder

Leave it to me to complain about a lack of communication from Blizzard Friday, only for us to be almost buried with information coming out of Gamescom a few hours later. Specifically, Ion Hazzikostas spent literally hours in interviews, answering questions about nearly every facet of Legion. The two I actually watched were the Fatboss interview and the Slootbag one. You can check them out for yourselves, both the raw video and the text summaries, on MMO-C in the links I just provided, but if you opt to watch the videos, be prepared to spend a lot of time at it.

Obviously, today’s post is not going to comment on everything covered in the interviews, but over the next few days I do want to pick up on a couple of things that especially got my attention. Today’s topic is addons.

The big news dropped by Hazzikostas in the Slootbag session was that, beginning in Patch 7.1, the game will no longer allow addon access to unit positions in dungeons, raids, or any competitive area (presumably such as PvP arenas and BGs). (If you want to hear the actual discussion on this, fast forward to about the last 10 minutes of the video.) Hazzikostas tried to downplay the announcement a bit, claiming it does not rise to the importance of, say, flying or camera distance, but trust me, this is potentially huge. He also said that the change will not affect positioning addons out in the world, such as Gather and presumably addons that alert you to the nearby presence of a significant NPC.

I am not a LUA programmer, so it’s a little hard for me to grasp the full range of ramifications of the change, but as I understand it, any addon that gives you, for example, an arrow or a mini-picture of boss or raid member positions, will no longer be available. Off the top of my head, the things I am familiar with that do this include many DBM functions (see the initial list here) but most especially /range and some of the useful “nearby” warnings (like if a player next to you has a Bad Thing). Useful healing addons like Healbot will almost certainly lose their GPS arrows indicating the direction of an out-of-range player, and I don’t know if they will lose their entire ability to show out of range players differently than healable ones.

I don’t know what effect this change will have on raiding. I suspect it will have little or no effect on top end raid teams, where every member of the team has close to godlike raid awareness and reaction synapses, as well as access to in-house written guild-specific macros, ElvUI configs, and LUA scripts. But I think it could have potentially terrible consequences for the majority of casual and semi-casual raid teams, and indeed for many pugs.

As an example, think about Iskar and how it would change without Iskar Assist. Yes, yes, I know many raiders did not use it, but not using it almost always required a  mouseover macro that hot keyed the Extra Action button, along with fairly customized raid frames that clearly indicated when each and every player had the wind debuff. (Just to use the simplest example.) Without such “automation”, most people just took too long to toss the thing to the player needing it, leading most times to a wipe. And I know that many of my readers do not consider macros to be challenging at all, but trust me they are beyond the reach of the majority of players. Addons just make the process easier.

Just selfishly, I know I will be at a loss without the range finder function. For some reason, I absolutely stink at estimating distances in game. I am decent at it in the real world, but I have never been able to grasp the wild proportions of WoW, thus I am robbed of perspective as a range estimation tool. And the graphics, for as good as they are in most things, do not in my opinion render distant objects — even middle distance objects — reliably.

The addon functions that will be disabled in 7.1 will not kill the game, but I think their removal will make it much more frustrating for many players, especially the raiders who never go beyond Normal raids, who tend to run each week with a small core group of raiders but have to supplement each week with either some guild or outside pugs. Even with the addons you can end up with one or more of That Guy who just doesn’t grasp certain mechanics, but at least until 7.1 you could ensure they had, for example, the range finder to show them when they were too close to someone else in a given phase. Or tell them to go download GTFO so they won’t stand in fire all the time. I don’t think GTFO will be affected by the 7.1 change, but it is just an example of an addon some players would look down their noses at, but which makes raiding attainable for many teams who do not have the luxury of picking and choosing top level players.

Turning to the possible fallout for healers, in my opinion it is unreasonable to require visual recognition of individual players by name just to be able, for example, to find them and heal them. If Dumbottom the gnome hunter has gotten out of range of healing in a 15 or 20 man raid team, the healer should not be expected to scan the pixels on his screen to visually locate the player, especially if Dumbottom is someone the healer never runs with and does not automatically recognize by transmog. And no, nameplates are not the answer, they become way too cluttering in large groups to be used reliably. Finally, for players who are visually challenged, the “arrow” addons of the past few years have been what have enabled these players to perform well in raids, when they never could before because of disability.

I hope Blizz takes on a certain amount of responsibility with this move, and gives us raids with reasonable movement mechanics and visual cues, the kind that do not require average players to resort to automation just to make it through a boss on Normal. Save the full range of ridiculously-complex mechanics for Mythic raids, put a few into Heroic, and leave them out of Normal. Blizz has recently reiterated their fairy tale that Normal is for “friends and family”, Heroic is for progression teams, and Mythic is for the pros, so I am asking them to put their money where their mouth is on that.

And while they are at it, Blizz needs to take care that there are no more Normal raids where one screw-up by one person wipes the raid. Human nature is such that regular players will from time to time make mistakes. Maybe the same player will not make the mistake every time, but it is almost a certainty that with a group of average players, at least one of them will make a mistake in the course of a boss kill. If Blizz is going to remove some of the aids Normal players use to help remind them of the times to be especially cautious, then I think it is incumbent upon the game designers to either provide the addon function within the game, or to make encounters that are tolerant of normal human error.

Next up tomorrow or Wednesday: What we learned about class balance in Legion.

 

Timing and content

I read an item in MMO-C a couple of days ago, basically a short summary of a conversation someone had with Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas at Gamescom. The original had been a Twitch live stream, and I couldn’t find anywhere that it had been preserved in its original form, so all I have to go on is the MMO-C summary reporting of Hazzikostas’s comments:

Game Development

  • There was a period where the team focused on faster expansions, sacrificing things that they shouldn’t have. This made the experience worse.
  • The focus going forward is a steady stream of content.
  • Priority #1 is making sure that you don’t run out of things to do.
  • The team is never going to rush an expansion, they will be released when they are done.
  • Ensuring there is always content in the live game while working on the expansions is important.
  • Raid tiers should last around 4 to 5 months.
  • This time around there won’t be a content drought – “Don’t worry, we got you!”

As Blizzard has stopped — whether for good or temporarily is unknown — its “weekly” developer Q&A sessions, and as we rarely get any meaningful communication from them in any other format, we are back to having to carefully dissect and parse the words of a lawyer, always a chancy endeavor. Still, there were a couple of things to be gleaned from Watcher’s comments.

Timing. We now have a Blizzard policy on raid tiers — they should “last around 4 to 5 months”. Personally, I do not worry overmuch about timing of new raid tier releases. I raid with a semi-casual raid team, we do not speed through new raids, and usually by the time we get through a Heroic level tier, we are ready for a break anyway before tackling the next one. If anything, 4 to 5 months seems a little short for most raid teams to get through both normal and heroic for a tier. Still, I take Hazzikostas at his word — he is, after all, Assistant Game Director and presumably not only knows but has a role in setting game development goals and policies. So 5-month tiers it is.

But there is a timing inconsistency here: assuming a 5-month raid tier release cycle, that means over the course of a 2-year expansion (Blizz’s other stated goal) there should be at least 4 tiers. Thus far, Blizz has announced only 3 for Legion (although I think the first tier includes two raids).

“The team is never going to rush an expansion, they will be released when they are done.” As I have said before, despite Blizz’s 2-year expansion goal, I am fully expecting to see Legion stretch out for 3 years, and this statement seems designed to lay the foundation for a longer-than 2 year expansion. Should this be the case, it will be interesting to see if in fact Blizz sticks with the “4 to 5 months” policy for raid tiers, because a three-year expansion would mean at least 7 (!!) raid tiers in Legion. Even if the follow on to Legion is delayed by a mere six months, that would imply — if Watcher is to be believed — 6 raid tiers. Mmmmmmm-hmmmm.

Content. Every time I read about content in WoW, I feel like everyone defines the term differently. I think what most people mean by new “content” is a new raid tier, new PvP season, new zone, or new group mechanic (like scenarios in Mists), or some combination of these. Judging by forum comments, though, it does seem like some players have a very strict personal definition of content in WoW, and if that specific definition is not met, then they will immediately charge Blizz with failing to provide any new content.

My own definition of content is much looser, more along the lines of “stuff to do”. If I can develop professions, or go back and run old dungeons for  a few achievements/mounts/pets/transmog gear, or level and gear up an alt, or just farm for mats and sell stuff on the AH, I consider that to be content as much as new raids or world quests or zones. Basically, anything I can do that will provide me with some kind of tangible, meaningful reward — or even something that is just pure unadulterated fun — is fine with me. Still, I know that my personal definition is not what the majority of players have in mind when they talk about content.

I would actually be interested to know what Blizz means by “content”. (Even though I know if they attempted to define the term, they would be accused of taking control away from players…) It would be instructive to know what categories to expect when devs like Hazzikostas say things like, “The focus going forward is a steady stream of content.”

No doubt there will be a lot of discussion, as we go forward, about Legion’s content. Thus, for my own purposes of clarity, and to reflect what I think most people mean when they talk about content, I will consider the following to be included in the term:

  • Any game feature that offers new opportunities for exploration and questing. Example: A new zone or pseudo-zone such as Timeless Isle.
  • Any game feature that is repeatable for realistic and worthwhile rewards for players at all gear levels. Example: World bosses that dynamically award gear above what the player currently has, or that have a reasonable chance to drop mounts, significant gold, large number of rare mats, valuable currency such as valor, etc.
  • Any new group activity. Examples: New raid tier, new instance, new variations on old tiers or instances, new world bosses, new world group activity such as the Northern Barrens scenario prior to Patch 5.4, etc.
  • Minor content only: Whimsical items or activities, or new quest lines in current zones. Examples: Pepe (ok, I hated Pepe, but it was a tiny bit of new content), jukeboxes and music, a new faction offering new quests in an existing zone, and so forth.

I would expect any major patch to include at least three of these four types of new content, and I would expect minor patches to include at least one of them (two if one of them falls into my definition of “minor content”). Moreover, I expect the new content to retain its challenge or fun for the duration of the patch. If it is something players can knock out in a day or a week, it does not in my opinion count as content, if that is all there is.

We will see if Blizz can deliver on Hazzikostas’s promise of an expansion packed with content. They have shown that they can talk the talk, let us see if they can also walk the walk.

And now it is time for me to explore the content of my weekend.

Blizzard: /ignore hunters

Ever so slowly, I am coming to terms with the Legion gutting of hunters as a class. This does not mean I like it even the tiniest bit, but I have pretty much accepted that I can either tolerate it and keep playing a hunter — a class I have loved unreservedly since I first set foot in Azeroth — or remain seethingly angry and move on to another class. I can still find my own fantasy in playing a hunter, but please don’t tell Blizz this, as finding your own fantasy is one of the WoW deadly sins, if you believe Ion Hazzikostas. I have a good enough imagination that I can pretend that BM is not a brain-dead spec, and I am optimistic or naive enough to believe that eventually MM will stop feeling like you are dragging yourself out of quicksand just to get off a single shot.

But it is becoming more and more evident to me that Blizz has decided to simply ignore hunters for Legion. Oh, yes, they do the minimum — make sure there is a hunter class hall (which by the way has zero connection to any historic hunter location or even class history), they will provide an artifact weapon apparatus, and of course they made sure to take a sledge-hammer approach to the obligatory “pruning” process. Beyond that, though, they have simply put the hunter community on /ignore. This is most true for BM hunters, but also for MM and to a lesser extent for SV (probably because SV is one of the new favored specs that Blizz is pushing).

Since the new BM hunter spec forum for beta was updated on May 12, there have been a grand total of zero blue posts in response to any BM hunter comments. Zero. This comes after months of ignoring valid comments about BM hunter play — with numbers to back them up, and with excellent suggestions for improvement — from some of the most respected hunters in the community. We rarely see such comments from them any more, as most of them have given up on ever getting through to Blizz.

The same can be said of MM hunters, the beta spec forum for them also contains — you guessed it — zero blue posts in response to the many comments and suggestions and number-based critiques of the spec.

Moving on to the normal Hunter class forum on Battle.net, which is full of very similar comments about the sorry state of hunters now, I went back as far as March, and you will no doubt be astounded to know that I found a whopping — get ready for it — zero blue posts addressing these concerns. I did actually find a couple of green posts, but, as in this example, they were expressing the exact same sentiments as most of the forum comments.

Now, I get that for the most part Blizz dislikes engaging with players in the forums — they are virtually one-way communications that Blizz claims they take very seriously but are way too busy to spend time actually, you know, replying to them. (Not all of them, any of them.) So in general there are not a lot of blue posts in any forums, although most of the class forums have at least a couple blue post responses. But take a look at another way Blizz can respond to player concerns: by making changes, as announced in patch notes and hotfixes, or at least explaining why they will not be making any changes. In this area, too, we have seen virtually no BM hunter changes or no-change explanations since the early days of the closed alpha test. There have been a few more MM changes, but not a lot. Now take a look at the massive number of lines describing changes and construction philosophy for nearly every other spec, week after week (DKs come to mind).

Tell me hunters are not being ignored. The last time we saw this kind of indifference to valid concerns, it was SV hunters in WoD, and we soon learned the reason for that was that Blizz had decided to abandon the spec completely until the next expansion. Is that what is now going on with MM and BM hunters?

And even the changes that have been made do not address any of the serious, fundamental problems with the specs, they have been mostly superficial. For example, after a huge outcry over MM hunters not being allowed any pets, Blizz relented and went back to the Lone Wolf talent as an option rather than a baseline attribute. But this was a bandaid designed to shut up hunters, not a real change, since the spec remains clearly tuned for Lone Wolf. They made no changes to the interdependence of talents and shots that would make selecting a pet a true viable option for maximizing MM play. Too hard to do for what appears to be Blizz’s throwaway class.

Similarly, a week or so ago, Blizz responded to hunter (and other) complaints about the nerve-wracking constant whistle accompanying every Dire Beast call. (Why anyone ever thought that this would be a good idea in the first place defies explanation.) They basically just removed the sound from the audio file, problem solved. Now, I was one of the people who wanted this, and I am glad they did it, but there is no denying that it was done because it was a quick and easy fix, unlike any fixes to basic BM play that the community has been requesting for months now.

Nothing illustrates Blizz’s indifference to hunters more than this example: The entire BM “fantasy” has been set up to rely on a hunter’s pets for nearly all significant damage. It is the foundation of BM hunter play. And yet, pets are still massively bugged and too delicate to survive even moderate encounters. The least little change to the game almost always means that pet mechanics will fail, as if the code for them is so complex and delicate that it cannot stand even minor external changes. This boggles the mind — if you design a spec to be almost completely dependent on a pet in order to carry out basic damage functions, then it would stand to reason that the one thing you make sure is robust and solid is the code for pet mechanics.

Nope. Last night as I went through the new Dalaran quest line, I found that every time I took the portal to Dal my pet disappeared. In fact, it happened even if I flew to Dal above Karazhan. Not only that, but the action bar version of Call Pet was totally unresponsive. Even more, when I attempted to open my spell book and use the Call Pet spell from there, I found that the pets were shown only by one generic icon and named helpful things like “Call Pet 1,” Call Pet 2,” and so on. Even after I was able to summon a pet, if I mounted, it failed to reappear when I dismounted, and I was forced to go through the whole sequence again. Neither reloading nor relogging helped, nor did quitting and restarting the game unless I logged in to a different character first.

Going through any portal or entering any instance, it is a toss-up as to whether my pet will make the transition with me. Even if he does make it, often after such transitions he just stands there, not attacking, not moving, not even following me unless I dismiss and resummon him.

And BM pets are still weak creatures. Again last night, running a couple of Mythic dungeons, my spirit beast died repeatedly — 3 times in Auchindoun — in spite of the fact that I was weaving Mend Pet into my basic rotation as a matter of course. No, he was not on Growl, and yes, he is specc’ed into Ferocity. But there is something very wrong with a pet mechanic if even in groups where there is a tank you have to have all your pets specc’ed into Tenacity.

So, to summarize Blizz’s BM hunter design:

  • Part 1 — Make the hunter’s damage totally dependent on pets.
  • Part 2 — Write a pet subroutine that results in pets being unreliable, uncontrollable, and weak.

Apparently it is too hard to reconcile these two factors, and so of course Blizz prefers to ignore the problem.

The last thing I want to say about Blizz’s policy of ignoring hunters is that it is also manifested by a lack of imagination and whimsy in any part of hunter design. This occurred to me as I was trying to build up my weapon illusions a couple nights ago. Of course, there are no illusions that can be applied to hunter weapons, the idea being that hunters use scopes to enhance their weapons, not magic spells. Well, sure, I kind of get that, but that should not mean there is no fun to be had with them. Remember Flintlocke’s Woodchucker? That was some terrific fun, it showed some real imagination and creativity on Blizz’s part. There is absolutely no reason — beyond laziness and lack of interest in anything to do with hunters — that it could not now be a transmog weapon illusion for hunters. And I am sure that someone who actually likes hunters and wants them to have fun could design similar weapon scope effects.

When is the last time any hunter pet could do a trick on command? (Except Fetch and Play Dead, and those are generic, not specific to pet types.) It’s been years. Even the fun of great pet visuals for tailored damage is gone, because now all pets do exactly the same things, have exactly the same abilities. No one at Blizz designs these fun things any more because no one cares.

As I said at the beginning, I have come to terms with the fact that the hunter class is fairly well screwed for all of Legion. But I will continue to play it because I am a hunter in WoW, I am not a warlock or monk or anything else I might play from time to time. My enjoyment of the game is based on my own personal hunter fantasy, which I will maintain until Blizz makes it impossible to do so. And just because I recognize the realities of the class as Blizz has eroded it does not mean I will stop pointing out the inconsistencies and the downward trends, at least not until we — the hunter community — get an honest explanation of why Blizz is making these terrible design decisions.

In other words, Blizz, take hunters off /ignore.