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.