SPOILER ALERT: This post contains a few things about Patch 8.2, so if you are a purist when it comes to knowing about new patches, don’t read. You have been warned.
After a week or so of Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas hyping Patch 8.2, Rise of Azshara, via the interview circuit, yesterday we received the official Blizz report on it from Senior Game Designer Jeremy Feasel. I found it about as exciting as an annual budget report. If you have not watched it, I would say just read the summaries and don’t waste your time on the video unless you have trouble getting to sleep at night, in which case of course it is just the ticket.
I think there will be some interesting and fun things in the patch, and I am looking forward to trying it out on the PTR. But wild anticipation? Not so much. It strikes me that Blizz is trying to recreate Legion on top of the rubbish heap that is BFA. Yes, they may possibly succeed in temporarily covering the smell of this expansion, but garbage is garbage and pretty soon even the most powerful room deodorizer dissipates.
By far, the most obvious example of this is the “new” azerite gear system. Cynic that I am, I thought I was past the point where anything Blizz does to double down on bad ideas would surprise me. How wrong I was. The planned azerite gear rework will turn out to be, I think, a textbook case of how not to fix a bad system.
The current rubbish heap
Anyone who has read this blog for more than a couple days knows that I think Blizz has already gone over the edge on making the entire gear system both complex and frustrating. I do not think I am alone in that assessment. Sure, I know there are some minmaxers in the player base who love tweaking this or that stat to theoretically eke out a couple hundred dps or healing throughputs, and those people like the literally hundreds of choices for gear combinations.
But for most of us, I contend, the current gear system is bewildering to the point of seeming impossibly chaotic. And to the point where many casual and semi-casual players have just given up on even trying to get gear with the “right” stats, level, gem slots, traits. Getting a new piece of gear used to be one of the most fun things in the game, now for many of us all it does is set up a round of angst and shoulder shrugging. If we do any gear analysis, we have to do it using sophisticated simulation algorithms and powerful cloud computers, a process that may be reassuring but is ultimately suspect in its conclusions.
The initial problems with BFA’s azerite gear are well known. People resisted the idea of eliminating tier gear in favor of it, they hated getting a new piece of azerite gear and having to start “leveling” the traits all over again, and the traits were uneven and difficult if not impossible to compare. Blizz of course has thus far tried to “fix” this by ignoring the first two parts of the problem and addressing the last part by adding more traits and complexity to the gear.
Oh, and one more thing. Claiming they understood player frustration in Legion with the ever-moving carrot that was artifact power, they told us that in BFA, while azerite power could increase, we were not to chase it or grind for it, we should just play the game and not worry about it, as the power increases were minor.
So now, to further “fix” the azerite mess, Blizz is going to spray it with essence of Legion artifact. They realize that players generally liked the artifact weapon system, despite the grindiness complaints. Players identified with the weapon in a way that they do not even come close to with the BFA neck piece. As far as most of us think, it is just some kind of “boss” gear that somehow controls the azerite gear we are not all that fond of anyway. More to the point for Blizz, the neck piece is gear we care little about and certainly are not all that interested in logging in just to improve.
Thus, an idea Blizz probably thinks is brilliant — apply the artifact weapon mechanism to the neck piece! That will fix everything! Players will identify now with the Heart of Azeroth, and they will all start logging in again to increase its power, and they will suddenly sing the praises of this wonderful expansion, and it will be happiness and light once again in the halls of Blizzard!
This is simply another example of Blizz confusing mechanics with motivation. Players felt a personal connection with their artifact weapons, and for that reason they were willing to put up with the ever-moving goal posts Blizz set up. They did not love the endless grind, but they did love their artifact weapons and took pride in improving them.
Nobody loves a neck piece.
You can read the details of the new
artifact weapon Heart of Azeroth structure here. Basically, it will have an artifact weapon type progressive trait table that will take months to complete. (Remember when Blizz told us not to worry about leveling the neck piece in BFA? Now the level will become important, so you should have been trying to max it all these months. Gotcha!)
In addition to completing the trait table, each achieved trait will be imbued with one of several available “essences” (abilities). How do you get these essences? You grind for them, of course! Want a particular one? Better be willing to PvP for it or start raiding if you don’t already or run high keys even if you hate them. Some will be contingent on achieving high rep with new factions (heaven forbid all the faction rep we already have would be useful).
Now, as if adding this entire new set of factors to the existing gear mess is not enough, Blizz is adding yet another ingredient into the witch’s brew. Check out the loot tables for
Trial of Valor Crucible of Storms — every piece of loot in there has a special equip or on-use ability. I am not just talking trinkets, I am talking weapons, gloves, boots, legs, belt.
(Though I hesitate to be so indelicate as to mention it, remember when Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas lectured us on how confusing all those action bar buttons were for us, and how
removing “pruning” them would make the game much easier for our poor dimwitted little brains to manage? Well, I remember. He was very solicitous of our perceived inability to manage more than 3-4 buttons! Now what — by next expansion, an action bar button for every damn piece of gear?)
No player in this game, receiving a piece of loot the same or +5/+10/+15 ilevel, can look at it and have any idea if it is indeed an upgrade for them. Worse, of course, they can’t look at a piece offered up for roll and determine with any certainty if it will be an upgrade for them — they may well roll on a +15 piece and find out it is trash for them, while someone else rolling on it may have truly benefited from it. The gear piece level — unless it is 20 or more levels higher than what you have — is possibly the most useless stat in the game for determining gear utility. Yet, of course, that is the sole criteria Blizz uses in its deeply flawed personal loot algorithm.
Blizz cannot even adequately deal with the gear complexity they have already introduced into the game, yet they are adding more traits to azerite gear, an additional multi-layered leveling system to the neck piece, and now special abilities for every other gear slot.
BLIZZ, WHAT THE HELL? Has the cheese slipped completely off your cracker? Have you actually played your own game recently? Do you all own stock in Raidbots? What in Elune’s name are you thinking? The current gear system stinks, yet you keep piling more poop on top of it!
And on that ranting note, I am off for the weekend. See you on the other side.