Wait, what?

On Monday I wrote about Blizz’s surprising announcement of planned baseline improvements to BM hunters. Basically, I was encouraged because the changes addressed two of the most fundamental problems with BM mechanics — problems that had been identified and quantified as early as the alpha testing phase, and problems Blizz had stubbornly ignored for all of Legion. However, I cautioned that the changes were so significant that there would almost certainly be some power nerfs to the spec, and we would have to see what those turned out to be.

Lo and behold, within hours of that post, Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast broke the news detailing the first round of “tuning changes” designed to compensate for the new baseline abilities. You can read Bendak’s post for the details, but they are pretty brutal. As Bendak points out, and I completely agree, it is somewhat early in the process, and this is a first cut at balancing the new BM power structure, so no need to panic just yet.

Nevertheless, what we have seen time and again with Blizz in Legion development is that their final cut is frequently only slightly different than their first cut. They suffer from a strong anchoring bias, rendering them incapable of significant change once embarked on a course of action, even if that course of action is determined early in a testing phase. Too often for Blizz, FD=FD (first draft equals final draft). I do not know if this is due to constraints of resources or of mental agility, but the end result is that terrible ideas — even if beta or PTR testers point them out — often make it into live versions. Thus, while I am not yet in panic mode over the BM tuning adjustments, I am definitely starting to worry.

Two aspects of these changes puzzle me. One is the nerf to tier gear. As it currently stands, Bendak points out that the T20 gear will be worse than the T19 gear, and in fact the best way to incorporate it will be to equip basically 6 pieces of tier gear — some mix of T19 and T20. This is insane, in my opinion.

Such a move is a continuation of Blizz’s abysmal morass of gear in Legion, where it is frequently impossible to know if a piece of higher level gear is an upgrade or not without consulting web sites and running complex simulations. How in the hell did we get into this situation anyway? Remember when Blizz was so solicitous of our tiny brains that they removed reforging because it was too mathy? They didn’t want gear to be “complicated”.

HAHAHAHA! Good one, Blizz, we totally fell for that.

And now we are at the point where an actual piece of legendary gear may or may not be an upgrade, where ilevel is often meaningless, where in some cases secondary stats are more important than primary ones, and apparently soon where new tier gear is actually worse than the older stuff. And the mechanisms for weighing the relative values of gear are so complex that it takes sophisticated computer programs to decide.

Here’s an idea, Blizz: If it’s higher level gear, it should be an upgrade. Period. 

In complex systems, components are intricately interrelated, often beyond what a human brain can comprehend in any detail. WoW is an enormously complex system. The pattern I see in Blizz development is that their systems engineers and coders almost certainly understand this, but their class designers are only dimly aware of it. Thus, they happily redesign class structures nearly every expansion, then seem genuinely puzzled and surprised when it causes huge problems reflected in gear and in overall power balance in game activities ranging from PvP to raids to nearly every other activity. To compensate, they spend most of every expansion tweaking (sometimes mega-tweaking) numbers and adding bandaid gear fixes, until the whole system comes to some state of very delicate balance — usually by the end of the expansion. Sometimes they find they have painted themselves into a corner, and they write big problems off as unfixable, regardless of the effect such action may have on players. (Thinking SV hunters in WoD here.) Then, having learned nothing, they start the entire process again for a new expansion.

I think this partially explains why we are in such a terrible place with gear in Legion. Adding new gear, or tinkering with stats in sought after pieces like legendaries or tier, has to be easier than reworking fundamental class/spec mechanics once an expansion goes live. Certainly for hunters we have seen Blizz use gear to try and fix baseline problems. Remember the 4-piece tier for MM hunters in WoD — it was what made the spec at least playable though still not really enjoyable. Similarly, the legendary shoulders were introduced in Legion to try and fix the clunky unresponsive BM play style. These were problems players identified early on in test phases, but Blizz refused to address them at that point, apparently being too anchored to them to even consider moving away from them. Then, when live versions proved players right, Blizz seemed surprised and tried all sorts of complicated bandaids to fix what could have been more elegantly addressed in test phases.

So here we are yet again — devs deciding that BM hunters were actually right way back in alpha testing, that something like two charges to Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy is absolutely needed to breathe some fun into the spec. They tried to fix it with a piece of gear, but then they made that gear an extremely rare drop, thereby punishing every hunter unlucky enough to not get it. Having decided that all BM hunters should have this ability, they then announced that it would be baseline in 7.2.5. So far, so good.

But I said, there are two puzzling aspects to Blizz’s brutal nerf to BM hunters, and the second is this:

If Blizz was fine with some hunters having the legendary shoulders and therefore getting the perk of 2 charges for DB/DF, why are they now distraught at the prospect of every BM hunter having the perk, so much so that they must apply draconian nerfs to the entire spec? The power increase with two charges is significant, no argument there, but why was it okay for some lucky hunters to have that additional power but it is unacceptable for all to have it?

We all expected Blizz to extract payment from hunters for “giving” us something we should have had all along. It is what they do. (Remember the great flying crisis in WoD.) Still, these particular types of payments make no sense to me whatsoever.

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.

6 Responses to Wait, what?

  1. Marathal says:

    The biggest hurdle(s) with tier sets is first, not everyone will have a 2/4 piece set. Even adding them back in to LFR is only slapping a bandage on the issue. The set bonus for my current and the T20 is such a joke to not even be worrying about getting a set. I often thought that perhaps Tier should just be good gear, but awesome cosmetic look to it.

    They need to either bring back reforging, and have an in game version of reforgelite, with a simple choice, doing Normal/Heroic/Mythic. Or stop this insanity of coming up with fancy new stats that take a mathematician to determine their worth. Dump Versatility. Avoidance, and all the other new ones. All they are doing is trying to bring back dodge and parry with new names.

    • Fiannor says:

      Amen to that. Especially the part about the secondary stats. I understand why Blizz turned to them — they are usually far easier to tweak when making balance adjustments than primary ones. But as usual they have gone way too far with them. Most maddening to me is when you spend weeks or months assembling gear with your “best” secondary stats, then along comes a patch and suddenly instead of all that mastery you have, what you really need is haste or crit. So of course without reforging you get to start chasing gear all over again — it is hard not to think this is by design, a manipulation that results in maintaining the all-important monthly hours metric.

      • Marathal says:

        I think a great deal comes from misinterpretation of PTR data by them, and outside Theory Crafters. The theory people get in and start crunching numbers based on changes, quickly create BiS lists and stat values, Blizzard may be looking at them too. Not really sure. See that some conditions will exist to make a class OP and broken, quickly change numbers. Eventually they hit a drop dead release date, I think the when it’s ready ship has long since sailed, and we see the nightmares we have now. On top of that, they are balancing average players happy to be able to live through and LFR fight, against bleeding edge Mythic raiders farming content 3 weeks after release. And they are only making it worse by allowing a third Legendary and we can bump them to 970. Has anyone realized next expansion quest gear will be over 1000?

  2. Grumsta says:

    >>If Blizz was fine with some hunters having the legendary shoulders and therefore getting the perk of 2 charges for DB/DF, why are they now distraught at the prospect of every BM hunter having the perk, so much so that they must apply draconian nerfs to the entire spec?<<

    Are the nerfs in response solely to two Dire Beast charges? I'd have thought the extra range and the fact that Hati is now fully involved would be the main issue they're balancing to.

    • Fiannor says:

      You are right that those changes also factor in. Without doing some simming, though, I don’t know how much the extra range translates into damage. Certainly the extra Kill Commands for longer range targets will help, eliminating the “nothing happens” response when you hit (your macro’ed) KC and your pet has not yet gotten within range of the new target. I just don’t have a feel for how much difference it will make. The new Hati movement will indeed have some noticeable effect on damage numbers, especially over long fights that involve sustained target switching (Il’gynoth comes to mind), though it is worth remembering that Hati apparently will still not charge in response to Dire Beast (at least according to Bendak’s PTR trials).

      In general, I think the pet changes will have significant effect in certain kinds of fights only — as I said, mainly ones that require spread-out target switching throughout the fight. Il’gynoth certainly, and similar ones such as Odyn. On fights like Trilliax or Krosus — hardly any. Which is why the huge nerfs seem at first glance to be excessive. I would feel better about them if I had confidence that Blizz usually knows what they are doing with hunter mechanics, but recent history has proven this to be false.

      I am going to try and make some time tonight for the PTR, and I think that will give me a better feel for the changes. We are still some weeks away from 7.2.5, and honestly my hope is that BM hunters do not lose their current level of damage because of the changes, that we stay pretty much the same, but with the added fun of the new mechanics. It may be that the announced nerfs look far worse than they actually are.

    • Bheleu says:

      this is from a while back, but the nerfs must be so that we don’t have “Auto-Win” in fights. Can’t have Hati working right without some penalty….