Class chaos

In my last post, I mentioned my view that one of the major flaws with Legion is something I call “class chaos”. Today I want to discuss that some more.

“Class chaos” as a term suggests to me that there is no true unifying control within the class development hierarchy. That is, there is no obvious indication that class design in Legion adheres to any identifiable project structure. Now, maybe there is such a structure, but it is so vastly complex that it is impossible to manage. Still, the result is the same.

Let’s take the idea of class fantasy as an example. When Legion was officially announced a couple of years ago, Blizz made a pretty big deal about how important class fantasy was going to be to the radically-redesigned classes. They even wrote and posted new class fantasies for each class.

Although it seems Blizz understood the idea that class fantasy is central to characters in the game, their actions indicated they only understood this centrality in terms of combat mechanics. The reworking of the most radically redesigned classes showed they had zero understanding of the emotional attachment players had to individual ideas of class fantasy. It would not have been difficult to get some idea of this, no expensive player polls or research required, in my opinion. They could have just sat down with some of the prominent players for each class and talked about why these players loved their class. Would this have been a perfect picture? Of course not, but at least it would have yielded some sort of emotional baseline that could have been used as a series of “red lines” not to be crossed during mechanical development. We know from a smattering of blue posts that the class devs may not even play the class they work on for development — they may understand certain mechanics, but without playing it and loving it there is no way they can know the “soul” of the class. Okay, fine, but they could at least consult with some people who do.

Moving on to more general class development, was there any attempt to define a meta-structure of class roles in Legion? How many tank specs should the game have, and what features should they have in common and what features should differentiate them? Same for healers and damage dealers. How many physical damage dealer specs should there be, how many should deal only in magic or nature damage? How does this defined class structure affect dungeon and raid design, PvP areas? There may be such a meta-design diagram somewhere on a dev wall at Blizz, but there is no indication it had any effect on Legion development — I offer as Exhibit A the fact that Legion introduced two new melee classes into an already-crowded melee space. Exhibit B is the effective removal of all utility functions from what had arguably been the prime utility class in the game — hunters.

Was there any realistic assessment of the increased workload necessary to deal with the complications inherent in rebuilding most classes and specs from the ground up while at the same time introducing the complex interactions of artifact traits? It’s pretty clear to me, from the horrible state some classes went live in, that the answer is  no. Blizz underestimated the complexity of this undertaking and, given what seemed to be a sped-up and arbitrary expansion deadline, simply got so overwhelmed that they gave up on some classes, hoping they could fix them later.

What they may only now be realizing is that some of the class/spec problems are so fundamental that patch tweaks cannot come close to fixing them. And that any mechanic changes must be weighed in consideration of player investment in spec artifacts. At least I hope they are realizing that, and that they will fix the fundamentals in the next expansion if they cannot do it in this one. But then, we are told that artifact weapons will not be a feature of the next expansion, and since these weapons are currently integral to the mechanics of each spec, I can only surmise that means yet another ground-up redesign of classes. *sigh*

Returning to the idea of class fantasy, I just want to mention one of my pet peeves, not for the purpose of ranting (although I never pass up an opportunity to rant), but rather to illustrate a last point about class chaos.

Blizz went to the trouble of rewriting class and spec fantasies for Legion. I may not agree with what they came up with for some specs, but the fact remains that they put them out there. To me, this means the implementation of spec mechanics should reflect the published fantasy. I only really know about hunter specs, but I can tell you nothing could be further from reality.

  • We have a “marksman” spec that uses a bow instead of something like a sniper rifle, and whose signature shots are anything but precise in their targeting. In fact MM shots closely resemble the effects of buckshot from my grandfather’s old 12-gauge. Worse, the baseline reliance on RNG means that this “marksman” relies not on skill for targeting, but on blind luck.
  • We have a “master of beasts” who in reality has almost zero control over them, even if the horrible pathing issues were solved, which they are decidedly not. One of these “highly controlled” beasts, Hati, tends to amble slowly to a target, taking his own sweet time, seemingly oblivious to any urgency from his master. Most pets have lost their special attributes, rendering moot any hunter expertise in pet selection based on animal or family traits. The calling of many pets all at once, in the form of the Stampede talent, is a joke because all the hunter can do is unleash them to run in a single direction, not sic them onto a directed target. Target moves, pets are ineffective. Technical glitches abound, such that in some raids and instances (Helya comes to mind), pets just stop attacking or disappear into some invisible path with no warning. Placing a pet on “Assist” may or may not have the intended effect, as sometimes they slip into passive anyway.

At any rate, the point I am trying to illustrate here is that there appears to be no follow-through to implement the very class fantasies Blizz themselves have created. This to me indicates sloppy project management and poor attention to detail. This is disappointing, because in other development areas — zone design, quest lines, artwork, etc. — Blizz is all about attention to detail, all about creating a seamless environment.

Maybe Blizz needs to do to themselves what they have been doing to us now for several expansions and rebuild their class development management and staff structure from the ground up. Selection of class and spec is one of the most personal and far-reaching choices a player makes in this game, and I think we deserve better treatment from Blizz than they have been giving us lately.

Everyone have a good weekend.

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

7 Responses to Class chaos

  1. Marathal says:

    I am not looking forward to Tuesday and the overhaul of Shadow. Maybe it will be a clear choice, but I look at the past few months as just wasted learning, and will have to learn it all over again.

    • Fiannor says:

      Honestly, even though BM is set to get some buffs, I have a similar dread. Having finally figured out a sustainable rotation rhythm, I read about some of the changes being made affecting focus regeneration and Bestial Wrath cooldowns, and I have the uneasy feeling the changes will not complement each other but in fact make the BM rotation even clunkier than it is. Yes, we will get some traps back, but I am not sure at this point that wholesale class changes are really worth the effort to, as you say, relearn our class YET AGAIN.

  2. Bheleu says:

    First – I’m thrilled to see you writing again! Thank you for your time and effort.
    As for Legion – don’t know what else to say. Class fantasy ruined the game IMO.
    1) All my SV hunters – gone.
    2) That’s OK – Class Fantasy preview stated, “And, as a note for those who enjoyed the previous version of Survival gameplay, we have moved certain abilities, such as Black Arrow and Lock and Load, to Marksmanship-specific talents.”, I can still keep my SV gameplay, right? Nope. They did not “move certain abilities”. They made new abilities and named them the same as old abilities.
    3) Fine – I’ve been MM & BM in the past – lets try the legion versions of those. Well – we all know how that turned out.
    4) I’ve given up. I hate to turn my back on a game and toons I’ve worked on for 10 years, but can’t pay to not have fun. I just hope that in the next xpac they figure it out and fix hunters.

    Until then, I’ll be watching sites like yours waiting to hear the good news of a fix, ready to re-sub!

    • Fiannor says:

      Believe me, I share your frustration over what seemed like betrayal after betrayal of the hunter class in Legion (actually, starting with the shameful treatment of SV hunters in WoD). I think if I were not in a guild that helps me maintain a sense of humor, and that still subscribes to the philosophy of bringing the player not the class, that I might have quit the game, too. I don’t know if 7.1.5 (which goes live on Tuesday) will bring much fun back to hunters — especially BM — but we will see.

  3. I think class fantasy was the excuse or declared motivation to make whole-sale changes.

  4. Grumsta says:

    With all the development time that Blizzard had, the wholesale class changes coming in 7.1.5 feel like a kick in the teeth. It’s hard to understand why they got so many classes or specs wrong. Spec-tied Legendaries are a design disaster too, and they make switching specs even harder than the Artefact weapon. All this one week before Nighthold releases. Joy.

    I’ve got my Arcane weapon within 1 point of my Fire weapon just in case my Mage needs to switch specs. My Unholy DK looks like he’ll get some useful buffs and I have a feeling he may become my new main if the loss of Ice Floes hurts my Mage play as much as I think it will.

    Anyway: lovely to see you back, I’ve enjoyed catching up with your posts so far this year 🙂

    • Fiannor says:

      Yes, Blizz is doing exactly the thing Hazzikostas said they would not do — making huge changes to classes and specs AFTER people have selected one based on what that one looked like at rollout, and AFTER they have invested months developing an artifact weapon and chasing “the good” legendaries. Worse, the way they are doing it seems to lean very heavily on big nerfs to specs and legendaries perceived as powerful and very tepid buffs to the lesser ones.

      I know I poke a lot of fun at mages as “teacher’s pet” in this game, but I am as dismayed as you over the 7.1.5 loss of Ice Floes for fire mages. First, Blizz has said in both words and deeds that they believe mages are “in a good place”, and second — and most baffling — is the fact that removing Ice Floes requires a significant relearning of a play style fire mages have refined now for some time. It is, in fact, as significant as removing traps from BM and MM hunters at the start of Legion, requiring us to completely relearn the basic skill of kiting, honed over years of hunter play.

      Class and spec changes at this point should be about tweaking a few numbers and ratios, not rewriting an entire play style. That Blizz is making these kinds of fundamental changes — not just to fire mages but to other specs as well — is strong evidence that they went live in Legion with the entire class structure unfinished. The players whose chosen specs were in the worst state rightfully complained loudly about it, but rather than just buff those, Blizz seems unable to resist making everyone else miserable in the process. We are in a see-saw period of class “balancing”, and I expect it to continue for some time, certainly well into 7.2.

      The other thing you mention, legendaries, is also troubling for Blizz’s response to it. They have publicly admitted the whole idea as implemented was a mistake, but here again their “fix” really only makes matters worse. Some of the most powerful legendaries actually play a fundamental role in that spec’s play style. And Blizz’s response has been to change that in a way that once again forces the player to relearn what they have spent months or weeks learning.

      I am thinking here of the example of the BM legendary belt, which in effect makes focus readily available to the hunter even in intense fights, and which really served to fix one of the baseline flaws in Legion BM hunter play — puny focus regeneration rates that are at the heart of the complaints about “slow” BM rotations. Now, having applied this RNG-based piece of gear as a bandaid fix to the problem — a terrible solution, but it was all we had — they are nerfing the focus benefit of it by a pretty whopping 5%. And they are STILL not fixing the basic BM focus problem.

      From a purely selfish standpoint, I am happy BM is getting some traps back and a bit of much-needed damage buffing, but I am still seeing a chaotic approach to class development that shows a concerning lack of good project management, or indeed of any cohesive organization at all.

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