My night job

Yesterday, it being a lazy Sunday, I decided it would be a good time to bring a couple of my alts into Argus, mainly to update their professions but also to be able to get some of the gear and AP benefits of the place. I played for about six hours, and here is what I was able to do:

1. Catch up my 3 waiting emissary quests on my main and knock out the few Argus and non-emissary quests that awarded AP.

2. Do 3 emissary quests on my JC alt. (I need the whatchamacallit tokens still to upgrade my lousy crafted legendary, and I need to open as many boxes as possible in order to accumulate the required secret Blizz currency that eventually awards another legendary. I need the stats from a second legendary just to be able to efficiently mine ore on Argus, so that I can prospect to get the gems.)

3. Catch up my 3 emissary quests on my alt druid and do the Week 3 Argus quest line. (No time for any Argus world quests.)

That’s it. Six hours for that.

And here’s the thing: All the characters I worked on yesterday had already done at least the first two weeks of Argus unlocks. It took me six hours just to do “maintenance” quests on them, leaving exactly zero time to advance any other alts. I admit I may have done more of the week 3 quest line than necessary on my druid, because I had already unlocked the crucible on my main, but how the hell do you know which quests in that long chain are for the crucible and which ones are just to unlock Mac’Aree and the specified new world quest areas?

It almost seems like Blizz is throwing a little tantrum over our reaction to WoD’s lack of content, saying in effect, “You wanted content? I got yer content right here, so much that we are gonna make you beg for less! We dare you to bitch about lack of content again!”

I have written several times before about the whole idea of “content” and whether or not recycling quests and zones and forcing AP grind really qualifies as that. I think where I come down on the question is that for me content is a range of options for players. That is, when you log in on a character, true content means that you can decide for yourself what you want to do for the session, especially in the end game. But in Legion Blizz has drastically constrained end game activity. In order to participate in any end game activity, you must have a certain level of gear, you must unlock certain areas, etc. And to gear up or unlock areas there is pretty much one and only one path permitted.

You cannot, for example, elect to level up an alt’s profession unless you run dungeons up to and including mythic level. In some cases you must actually raid, even if it is only LFR. And to do these things, you must have a certain level of gear, even if you are at max level on your character. You cannot even gather current materials unless you are geared enough to survive and unlock the various areas of Argus.

To get the gear, you are pretty much forced into grinding out world quests nearly every day, so as to improve your artifact weapon, get some higher level gear, and accumulate the secret currency to get at least a couple of legendaries.

If you are a raider, even a semi-casual one like I am, Patch 7.3 once again forces you into the AP grind, just to not fall behind — and thus let down — your teammates. In the same way that a responsible raider does not show up with unenchanted or ungemmed gear, that same raider needs to show a certain amount of progress now towards unlocking the various relic traits. Early in Legion, we all had to chase AP to maximize our artifact weapon, and it was a grind then. In 7.2, possibly recognizing the burden it placed on raiders, Blizz did everything they could to diminish the importance of AP, even going so far as to say it is not worth going after in any way but incidentally to daily activity. Then in 7.3, probably as a result of falling MAU metrics, they re-instituted the AP grind in a big way, whiplashing raiders once again back into doing world quests every day just to keep current.

And here — finally — is my central point: I like world quests, I think the basic idea is good, but I hate them when Blizz crams them down my throat as the only way to achieve any other endgame goal I may have. It turns them into a chore, almost a second job. Blizz has taken a great idea and managed to suck all the joy and fun out of it. 

This is why the entire relic redesign was, for players, possibly the worst design change Blizz has had for Legion. We had just gotten to the point where WQs were actually optional — especially for a main — and we could pick out the ones we wanted to do and ignore the others. Or skip a few days entirely. We could take a little vacation on our mains and play with some of our alts, or even not play at all a couple of nights a week. Even emissary quests became optional for our mains because chances are we already had all the legendaries we wanted, and any other emissary rewards were of little value to us.

I really think Blizz started to notice MAU numbers slipping because of the 7.2 decision they made to discourage AP grinding, and they had to do something to get those numbers back up. In what has sadly become their standard procedure, they simply re-purposed an existing structure. Instead of coming up with some creative new ideas, they just brought back the same old tired AP chase for weapon enhancement. They could have, for example, made a few world quests actually attractive to a highly-geared player to entice us back into doing them regularly — maybe award a way to gem an existing piece of gear, or increase the actual gear level of awards, or allow us to give awarded gear to an alt, or bring back valor as an end-of-expansion currency, or provide a way to trade legendaries we have for ones we actually can use, or award actual new profession recipes, or give a significant number of soulbound mats, or —

Well, the idea is that there are a lot of ways to bring players back to world quests that would make us feel like we had some fun options and decent rewards for doing them. Grinding AP — especially  when we thought we had finally progressed, yes progressed, beyond that, only to have to push that boulder back up the hill again — is not fun.

Abandoning the moral high ground

Last night I ditched what was left of my principles and bought a virtual ticket for Blizzcon 2017.

Yeah, I know. I’m not proud of it. For years I have haughtily disdained the groupie-like behavior I stereotyped Blizzcon-goers as. It was a kind of badge of honor for me that I could wait, like an adult, and see what announcements were made and consider their implications patiently and soberly. I am not a Big-Bang Theory kind of Blizzcon nerd, I told myself. I am a grownup.

But then…….

The thing that tipped the scales for me was the mount. Not so much the horde version, since I do not have a horde character, but something about that Stormwind Skychaser caused great lust to arise in my heart. At raid last night, a couple of our guildies had them and as soon as I saw them my only thought was, “I have got to get me one of these!” IMG_0279

So after raid, head hanging, looking around furtively as if I were buying porn, I plunked down my money and bought the ticket.

I have mentioned several times in this blog that I am not a mount collector, that I look at mounts as transportation, nothing more. I think that is generally true. Still, once in a while one comes along that I just have to have. The headless horseman mount was one such — I luckily got it the very first time I ever ran the holiday event many years ago, and it is still my go-to mount for every character. The engineer-crafted chopper was another, and I actually changed a profession on one of my alts from alchemist to engineer specifically so that I could craft this mount. There are one or two others, but those stand out in my mind.

And now the Stormwind Chaser.

Beyond this, though, I suppose now that I have a virtual ticket I will probably (virtually) drop into some of the Blizzcon 2017 activities. There are many of them that I am just not interested in — anything not related to WoW, any of the esports stuff, or the cosplay, for example. But I confess I am curious about what if any “big announcements” we may get about WoW.

I honestly do not know what to expect in that area. There are a great many players expecting The Big Announcement About The Next Expansion, and of course that may happen. But it also may not. Especially with the addition of Argus, Blizz has structured Legion to be almost infinitely expandable on its own. Relieved of the need to make the WoW world contiguous, new Legion content is mostly a matter of adding limited-terrain scenario-type instances one gets to via portals. Though I would not be in favor of it, there is really nothing stopping Blizz from using this mechanic for the next year or even two to extend Legion.

I stumbled across an interesting post from about a year ago by Nathan Grayson on Kotaku. It contained some quotes from Ion Hazzikostas at last year’s Blizzcon. It’s a short piece and you can read it for yourself, but one part in particular struck me:

“We’re working on a new expansion,” Hazzikostas told me. “It’s gonna be great. But we’re setting ourselves up to be much more flexible in the amount of patch content we create. We’re making sure that we’re always gonna be working on the next step, the next link in the chain. To keep our players engaged, to make sure there’s always something new to do in Azeroth. The expansion will be done when it’s done.”

“I don’t think [this will impact how much content is in the next expansion],” he said. “Obviously, the expansion will come out later than if we decided to make less patch content and focus on the expansion. But there’s always a process of iteration that goes into making our expansions. That’s gonna happen regardless. I think it’s more about making sure we have a contingency plan in place so that when it’s done, there hasn’t been a gap.”

I may be way off base here, but to me this hints strongly at Legion being close to a 3-year expansion, giving us two more years of it, not one more like many people think.

And what that may mean for Blizzcon 2017 is that instead of a detailed announcement of a new expansion, we will get more of a schedule. Something like approximate release dates for 7.3.5 and at least 7.4, along with some details of what those will contain. Any mention of the next expansion will be very sketchy, possibly limited to typical coy hints. Because what the Legion “content” approach has given Blizz is the luxury to not rush a new expansion. This is good and bad — we all saw what a disaster a rushed expansion could be with WoD (even though it seemed to take forever to go live it seemed undeniably to have been hastily slapped together and ill-conceived). On the other hand, Blizz is acutely aware of player impatience once an expansion hits about the 15-month time — no matter how much “content” is introduced, players think of it as the “old” expansion and start to look for other things to do, often moving to other games. (Blizz may hope these other games are Blizzard franchises, but they cannot be sure they will be.)

So, yeah, I bought the virtual ticket. Mainly because of the awesome mount. But I will be interested in some of the live streams, too.

Meanwhile, let the weekend commence. I got some air cruisin’ to do.

Cranky about the crucible

Yesterday we “finished” our grand entry into Argus, with the quest line unlocking the Netherlight Crucible. And while I suppose I am in favor of more power for our gear — in this case weapon — can I just say,

Blizz, have you completely lost your marbles?

This latest “addition” to Legion gear calculations — based on a new relic structure for the already-flawed artifact weapon concept — is almost a bridge too far for me. A few of my objections:

Blizz has spent all of Legion until 7.3 telling us not to worry about AP, that it will accumulate at an adequate pace just by our doing things in the game. They deliberately structured it to give significantly diminishing returns, because, they said, the last thing they would ever want to do is introduce a mandatory grind. So don’t sweat it, they said, don’t go out of your way to chase AP, they said, it’s no big deal, they said.

Then, suddenly, in 7.3, they introduce the Netherlight Crucible and ramp up the rate at which we accumulate AP, and guess what? OMG, YOU GOTTA INCREASE YOUR WEAPON LEVEL SO YOU CAN UNLOCK MORE SHIT ON IT! And all those over achievers that Blizz kept trying to discourage from chasing AP before — well they are now top of the heap by a significant amount, and everyone else who actually believed Blizz and did not chase AP — yup, that’s right, we are all playing catchup.

So problem number one I have with the crucible is — headline news here — Blizz lied to us. Again. They led us down a garden path from the beginning of Legion, and then suddenly pulled the rug out from under us, if I may mix my metaphors.

If this was a design reversal planned all along for Legion, it strikes me as sleazy not to have given us some warning from the start of the expansion. They could certainly have said that AP/weapon level would be slow and minor for the first half of the expansion but would become more important in the second half — that way we could have decided whether or not we wanted to try and max it out even though we would not see the benefits for a while. But at least we would have been able to make an informed choice based on our game goals.

If this was not planned from the beginning, then it seems like a dirty trick to suddenly and capriciously change the weapon structure to reward AP grinding after telling us not to worry about it. It makes me think Blizz is getting desperate, that they way over-promised content and timing for Legion, and now they are scrambling for anything to keep their Monthly Active User numbers high. The fact that it is a reversal of a design approach they lectured us about for a year means nothing to them in comparison to the need to maintain the metrics.

Problem number two I have with the crucible is that it is exceptionally poorly implemented for BM hunters. When Blizz embarked on the whole artifact weapon idea they really never came to grips with how vastly more complicated class balancing would be, and in truth they have still not figured out how to do it. (And while my comments pertain to BM hunters, there are several specs that Blizz arbitrarily buffed because frankly they could not figure out how to make the new relic structure work well with the very artifacts they themselves designed.)

In particular they seem to be totally clueless about how to implement beastmaster hunter artifact power. They created the spec as almost completely dependent on the power of pets versus direct player power, and they compounded this by making the BM artifact (a gun) mostly a fashion accessory while Hati is the true BM artifact. Curiously, though, having created this setup for BM hunters, Blizz is strangely resistant to the idea of giving hunter pets more power. They have no qualms about adding power to almost any other dps weapon, but they only grudgingly add it to hunter pets, and when they finally do, they do so very reluctantly, as if their mom is making them do it but they-don’t-wanna-they-don’t-wanna. Hati still does less damage than the regular hunter pet, is slower to attack a target, and will disappear for 30 seconds if the hunter’s pet dies and is rezzed in combat. No other class loses their artifact weapon in the middle of a fight, much less for 30 seconds.

And this mess is all before the new artifact weapon enhancements we get through the Netherlight Crucible. Blizz’s inability to balance the BM hunter’s weapon system (intertwining of personal weapon, pet, and Hati) has resulted in a situation where standard increases in the calculus of artifact weapons has ever-decreasing effect for the BM hunter, because Blizz simply refuses to give the appropriate power to pets even though they purposely designed the spec to be almost completely reliant on them for damage.

The upshot of all this is that BM hunter relics have always been far more dependent on specific traits being enhanced than on relic level, and this factor has even greater effect on BM hunters with the introduction of the Netherlight Crucible. It is so complex that Blizz has apparently thrown up their hands in surrender and out of desperation are giving BM hunters an across-the board buff to keep us from sinking even lower in the charts than we are now. If you want specifics about the Netherlight Crucible for BM hunters, check out Bendak’s piece on it.

Let me reiterate: the BM buff is being done as a desperate move to let us keep our heads above water. Blizz created the spec as it is in Legion, they created the complicated interaction of pets and Hati and Dire Beast and a gun and tier bonuses and legendaries, yet they are too damn lazy to deal with their mess in a “class fantasy” way. It is too hard, so they are giving the spec a generic buff because hell who cares about hunters anyway? Once again they are demonstrating we are the throwaway class, not worthy of spending any significant dev resources on.

Problem number three I have with the crucible is that it adds an entire new layer of complexity to what is already a vastly over-complicated gear system. Without the crucible we were already dealing with gear factors that include:

  • primary stats
  • secondary stats
  • gear ilevel
  • tier bonuses (from several tiers)
  • legendary special effects
  • specialized effects of trinkets and necks
  • artifact power level
  • artifact traits
  • relics

And now we have added three levels of additional bonuses and enhancements with the crucible. (Think it’s not complicated? Just try reading about the crucible and the new relic structure on Wowhead or someplace and tell me if you understand it. Even if you understand the basic premise, tell me you are confident that you will be able to select the best relic setup for your spec.)

Change any one of these factors, and it has a significant ripple effect on nearly every other factor. For example, changing either a talent or a legendary can change the order of importance of secondary stats. All that mastery, say, you have been stacking on your gear has become pretty mediocre because crit is now the top stat. In turn, that same ilevel 920 neck with all the mastery now becomes worse for you than the crit-heavy one you have in your bank. Your gems and enchants pegged to mastery become mediocre compared to crit. And so forth.

We are already at the point where it takes a bank of high-powered computers to determine which gear is best for us to equip, and I submit that we have actually gone past the point where even such computers are useful. For example, I love and use the Raidbots site. But the number of permutations I have to run just to select my best gearing strategy strains even that site. Running permutations in manageable chunks — say just trying to find the optimal trinkets for a certain Tomb fight — risks not taking into effect the cascading gear selection effect I described above. I might end up with a good recommendation for the best trinkets to go with the rest of my gear setup, but it’s very possible that the rest of the gear setup actually stinks for that fight and would need a different legendary, say, or a talent tweak. Which in turn would require a different set of coordinating gear. And as of yesterday, we get to add a complex set of new relic traits to this mix! My head hurts.

Now, to be fair, the damage differences we are talking about are frequently (but not always) fairly minor — a few thousand dps and that’s IF you can actually perform as perfectly as a sim bot. (Spoiler: almost no one can.) If you don’t need to eke out every possible damage point, and if you are willing to crank out 900k dps instead of a potential 1.1 million, for example, then it is far easier just to go with your gut, using a couple of generic rules like stack mastery or whatever. And the new relic system? Meh, just select a couple of traits at random and go with what feels right. There are a lot of circumstances where this strategy works just fine.

But you don’t have to be a hardcore Mythic raider to be in situations where a few thousand dps actually does make a difference (say, heroic Kil’jaeden or even just a personal desire to optimize your play potential), but Blizz has made the calculations for achieving these extra points complex beyond the ability of most humans to deal with. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me why, given the already borderline chaos-theory gear and talent structure, Blizz decided to add the additional complicating factor of a new relic structure.

Yeah, this is why I am cranky about the Netherlight Crucible.

Argus – second week

I am going to reserve my final opinion on Patch 7.3 and the whole Argus zone until after next week, which will give us nearly all we are going to see with it, but I have to say so far I am pretty underwhelmed. Absent some hugely fun new thing next week, I cannot see myself spending much time there once my main has gotten the rep to be allowed to buy some of the quality of life gizmos which in my opinion we should have had from the start of the patch. I am mainly talking about:

  • Whistle. Blizz, in its most patronizing and stingy fashion, is allowing us to spend 500 gold to “upgrade” our Legion whistle so that it will work on Argus, but only after we have ground out revered with the Argussian Reach. And just to make sure we get a sufficient amount of misery, they have apparently gone to some pains to ensure it will take several weeks to gather that rep.

I am not at all trying to start another huge emotional player fight about flying versus no flying, but here’s the thing: It is hard to not get the impression that Blizz is doing everything they possibly can to stubbornly dig in their heels and force players into slogging about on the ground for as long as they can in as many places they can, through as many obstacles and mobs as they can manage.

It is as if, having let the flying toothpaste out of the tube years ago, they spend every resource possible trying to cram it back in. They clearly hate that players can fly in the game, and since their attempt to remove it from all future expansions died a horrible death back in WoD, they are in sullen teenager mode over it, kicking dirt and muttering and pouting every step of the way.

The fact of the matter is — no matter how Blizz may protest it is not the case — that designing zones for flying takes significantly more resources than designing them for ground travel. The WoW franchise is becoming less and less of a moneymaker for Blizz as well as for the larger corporate structure of Activision-Blizzard, and they are cutting more and more resources from it with every patch and expansion. I would honestly have more respect for them if they would just come out and admit this, rather than patronize us with the whole “immersion” excuse or the “we never have flying on an island” one.

I could possibly buy into the “We never allow flying in a patch zone expansion, look at Timeless Isle for example” argument, but the fact is that ever since Mists, Blizz has made us jump through more and longer hoops to get flying for every expansion. (In Mists, as soon as you hit max level you got flying capability.) Part of that strategy is coming home to roost with them on Argus, since completion of the Legion flying quest line for many players came very close to coinciding with the release of 7.3, giving these players the impression that they just got flying only to have Blizz yank it away from them immediately, and causing them — with some justification — to howl in the forums.

Blizz was not required to implement flying in the game in the first place, but they did so in order to increase their player base and ultimately their bottom line. It was a business decision that they thought was appropriate at the time. Fine. But I recall that some devs, like Greg Street, warned there would be no going back once it was done, and that is absolutely the case. They are stuck with it, try though they might to throw a continuous tantrum over it and push its implementation further and further away with every expansion.

Argus is not Timeless Isle, nor is it Quel’Danas. (And for the record, the late patch zone in WoD, Tanaan, allowed flying, just sayin’.) In my opinion, Blizz should have designed it with some relatively short path to flying, if for no other reason than they were such dicks about the quest line for Legion flying. But they didn’t, and it will not happen now. But for crying out loud, do they have to also be mega-dicks about the lousy whistle?

  • Permanent augment rune. As was done in Tanaan, there is a permanent augment rune available for purchase once you become exalted with Army of the Light. The good news is, it is a lot easier to get rep with this faction than with the Argussian Reach. The bad news is, even after you become exalted, the damned rune costs 45,000 gold.

Yeah, I know there has been huge inflation in the game. (I won’t indelicately point out Blizz caused this themselves when they had to resort to massive gold giveaways in WoD just to bribe people into playing. Okay, I will. Yet another bad decision they cannot now undo and so are making players suffer as a result.)

But 45,000 gold for a rune? The current Defiled Augment Rune goes for about 150 gold on my server, and I suspect as more people shell out for the permanent rune the temp one will take a real nosedive in value. You can buy literally hundreds of temp runes for 45,000 gold. (300 at 150g, 450 at 100g, 900 if it goes down to 50g which is I think likely.) And as far as I know, LFR will keep awarding them, so I do not anticipate a shortage.

I have plenty of gold, but something in me balks at spending 45k for a damn rune that I will use only for raids. It just smacks of price gouging, and I do not like it, nor do I see why Blizz has priced it that way PLUS gated it behind rep. It is a mean-spirited “gotcha” that feels like someone is going “BWAAHAHA! Let’s make the little boogers work their asses off for it! My bonus goes up the higher we can force our MAU!”

Let’s see, what else am I underwhelmed about on Argus so far? Oh yeah, invasions. I honestly do not see myself doing very many of these. So far, the loot has been non-existent for me, and to be honest they are not really that fun. I really enjoyed the ones at the end of WoD, loved flying off to a place in old Azeroth to join in with dozens of other players, liked that even low level alts could do them and get really decent gear, liked that they had a set pattern of beginning, middle and end phases. I think a lot of people really enjoyed them.

So why, given a winning design, did Blizz feel compelled to “improve” on them, pretty much destroying much of the fun in the process?

The Argus invasions feel like just another daily or weekly quest, with worse loot potential. And getting an alt attuned to even get to Argus is no quick or easy thing. I put a new alt into the zone over the weekend — it had already been on Broken Shore, so I was not starting from zero. Even so, it took me well over 2 hours (closer to 3) to jump through all the Argus hoops to get to invasions, not to mention opening up Mac’Aree. And this process, I assume, will get even longer once the Week 3 requirements kick in. With WoD invasions, I could just hop on a (flying!) mount and jump into the fray with an alt. And once in the invasion scenario, I could fly madly from point to point, taking part in areas of the scenario I thought I could be most useful in. It was great fun. Argus is just not.

And I am not even talking about the Greater Invasions. I have done several of the Greater ones, either for myself or to help out guildies, and they are insipid and boring (the Greater invasions, not the guildies…). They have less complex phase structure than the WoD ones, they are not fun to gallivant around in, the bosses are only tedious not interesting, and the loot really stinks. On top of that, you have to participate in smaller ones every week just to be able to do them, and more often than not fight your way through mobs just to get to the portal.

Nope. I’ll do a few initially, I am sure, but there is absolutely nothing in these that makes me want to spend more time on Argus. I thought the demon invasions in Legion were a poor shadow of the fun of the WoD invasions, and I think the Argus ones are even worse.

So I am waiting until the reset Tuesday, hoping there will finally be something that makes Argus a desirable location for me. But I have not seen anything so far, and honestly I am not especially optimistic.

Scattered bits

Nothing really big seems to be happening in WoW for me these days, so today’s post is just a collection of odd thoughts and observations.

Patch days. A couple of years ago, patch days almost certainly meant hours of frustration. Servers would go up and down every few minutes, your addons would render the game unplayable, people would be removed from LFR and groups at random or be locked out of instances, there would be huge server lags, the new stuff would have massive bugs — well, you get the idea.

That’s not really the case any more. Oh, sure, once in a while there are a couple of pretty obvious bugs that make you wonder if Blizz has hired Bozo the Clown as head of Quality Control, but in general patch days are very smooth. It seems like Blizz has figured it out. So I give them a shout out for that. And while I am at it, I will also give a shout out to the addon writers. At least for the addons I use — and I use quite a few — the authors seem to really be on top of patch changes. They might lag a day or two behind a new patch in terms of updates, but they catch up quickly. It has been over a year since I have had to go through the old “half and half” approach to finding a troublesome addon. (Turn off half of them, if the problem is still there, turn off half of the ones that are still on, etc., until you isolate the one that is the problem.)

Movement in Argus. Patch 7.3 is only a week old, and already I am fed up with movement on Argus. Every facet of it. I am annoyed at the setup of the Vindicaar and   how whatever you need to do on it is invariably at the other end of the ship, on a different level. At the very least, Blizz needs to give us an auto speed buff while on board — like they did for the Shrine in Mists — to help us get around faster.

And last night I kind of hit the wall with fighting through endless mobs just to get to or from a quest location. At one point, the mobs I was just trying to get past respawned almost simultaneously with me killing them. It was beyond frustrating. And I still want to know when Blizz changed their policy from roads being a safe place to roads being a terrific way to force feed everyone into more and more mobs….

This frustration is compounded by the fact that it probably will never get much better. We will never be able to fly on Argus, and the damn whistle equivalent Blizz has dangled in front of us depends on grinding for months to get the appropriate rep.

The movement frustration alone makes me want to spend as little time as possible on Argus.

Mac’Aree. Having unlocked this zone yesterday, I was pleased to see it was not another hellfire and brimstone kind of place. I haven’t done a lot of exploration there yet, but it struck me as very similar to Suramar. In spite of the yellow and orange grass and trees, it seems much more welcoming than the other two zones. I hope Blizz does not decide to make it scorched-earth ugly like they did for the Vale in Mists…

Still, the place has a closed-in feel to it, unlike the spaces in Azeroth, where you know you can keep going and eventually get to an ocean or another zone or some place of interest. You cannot do that on Argus — every zone is a small self-contained scenario-like composition. It just makes the game feel smaller to me.

Argus Invasions. I unlocked these yesterday and did one small one and one large one. It’s a little early to tell, but the small ones seem kind of like the invasions Blizz gave us at the end of WoD. That is, you go to the area and probably there will be other players already involved in them. I did not notice much of a progression to them, however, certainly not the structure we had in WoD. Also, the loot pretty much stinks.

I also did one “large” invasion. These are actual portals/scenarios you enter, and they do have more structure. You cannot really just wander into them on your own unless you want to die quickly, or unless you hope someone will see you and invite you to their group. I was in a group of 5, including a tank and a healer, and once we got to the final boss, it took us maybe 10 minutes to kill it. Not really sophisticated mechanics, mostly just pretty boring steady pew-pewing along with dodging one boss mechanic. I was unimpressed with the loot, not really sure why you would go out of your way to do one every week.

And not for nothin’, but it was again a pain in the ass to get to the portal location, you had to fight your way through mobs — of course — to get there.

Week 2 quest lines. I found these mildly interesting. They were not especially challenging, but then I don’t think they are meant to be. I was a little impatient with them, but that was because I was trying to do them all before raid time. I missed one chain initially because I did not see the starter quest in the middle of a field in Krokuun, but once I got it, I thought it was the most fun one. I will not spoil it if you have not done it, but suffice it to say that the place they take you for the final part is pretty cool.

Nice surprise. Using my stash of veiled argunite to buy a couple pieces of the 910 gear from the vendor on the Vindicaar, I got a 910 version of Bloodthirsty Instinct, the coveted trinket from Ursoc in Emerald Nightmare. This was kind of sweet for me, as the trinket was BiS for quite a while for hunters. Our raid team generously ran Ursoc H and M for several weeks until all our hunters but me got the thing, but then they lost interest, so I pretty much just lost out. The Mythic version was ilevel 880, though (unless you got some fantastic luck with titanforging), so finally getting a 910 version was definitely nice. It still sims as the best trinket for me (at 910).

Now if I could just get a 910+ version of Unstable Arcanocrystal

That’s it for this Wednesday. Any of you in the path of Hurricane Irma, please stay safe, and listen to your local authorities. I need all the readers I can get! 😉

 

Patch 7.3 first week impressions

We have had close to a week to explore Patch 7.3, and I am still pretty neutral about it. On the one hand there are some interesting and fun things to experience, and on the other the never-ending grind on the same-old same-old is really wearing very thin. Let me get to some specifics.

Timed content release. In general, I am not a fan of this Blizz policy, because I think it is basically one of in loco parentis — they are saving us from ourselves because we are apparently too dim-witted to pace our game play. If they release an entire patch at once, so the Blizz reasoning goes, some of us might play it all through in the first week and then begin to whimper and whine about there being nothing to dooooooo! in the game. Can’t have that, so — like mom doling out Halloween candy a piece at a time — they feed us the patch content in small pieces.

That is my thought in the abstract. In the concrete reality, though, I find I do not mind it. I would probably play the same amount of time whether or not the entire patch was immediately available, but I find nothing in the stretched out release that hinders the way I play. In fact, it encourages me to get a couple of my alts into Argus this first week, since really all there is to do on my main is try and grab as much rep as possible with the new factions and gather some of the currency — all of which can be done just by cranking out the Argus dailies.

The quests. I have found them interesting so far, but I think that is just because they are not the exact same ones we have all been doing for almost a year now. And of course they occur in new territory, so some of the interest is in finding just how in hell to get to this or that world boss or quest area. That said, I haven’t yet found any really new or innovative quests, just the same old gather-20-of-this or kill-10-of-these patterns.

Some of them, in fact, are pretty blatantly just dressed-up versions of the same ones we have been doing in Broken Shore for months now. For example, you know the one in BS along the shore where you have to point your camera up to scan the skies for big menacing birds to shoot down using a special gizmo, all the while dodging mobs on the ground and picking up supply chests? Well, leave out the supply chests and substitute spacey looking fighter craft for the birds, a different icon for the shooting gizmo, and you got one of the world quests on Argus. Exactly. It’s not just the same idea, it actually seems like the same code with a few cosmetic changes.

Zone art. This, too, so far seems like a repurposing of the zone art used in Broken Shore. The two Argus areas we have access to thus far are, like BS, nothing but stretches of rock strata punctuated by green goopy fel rivers and pools, with a cave or cave-like building thrown in once in a while as a place to park an elite or a treasure chest.

Unlike BS, however, the venue of another planet allows Blizz to dispense with some of the more pleasing and/or “normal” geography we found in Azeroth — even on BS — like a few sparse bushes or blades of grass once in a while, or a shoreline with actual ocean and maybe a few islands. And this dispensation is made even more acute by the fact that we cannot even travel between zones ourselves, we can only transport to them, thus Blizz has eliminated the need for transition zones. Argus so far is just a collection of disconnected venues for killing stuff. Which brings me to my next point,

Flying. More specifically, NO flying. Blizz has told us Argus is essentially Timeless Isle, and there will be no flying on it ever. So those cool flying mounts you worked so hard to be able to use in Legion? Forget about them, they will be consigned to waddle about through rock canyons and abutments. Those nifty class mounts Blizz so generously allowed us to earn? Same thing, unless of course you are a druid, in which case you cannot even use your class mount on Argus, since Blizz has decided druids are too stupid to choose their travel form for themselves, and there will be no flying druid forms in no-fly zones.

In the past, Blizz has given us two condescending reasons for not allowing flying. One is that certain zones are too small for it. The other — and their preferred excuse — is that flying precludes “immersion” in the game. (The real reason, I am fairly certain, is that disallowing flying makes the zone design simpler/cheaper and also serves to stretch out a player’s time.)

See, the “immersion” excuse actually makes a little sense to me, especially in the beginning of a new patch when you want to get a sense of the detailed art in the game, or you just want to do some exploring to find hidden pathways or little gems of idyllic beauty off the beaten track. But Argus has no real beauty spots, and the art is the same version of designer hell we have seen for months in BS.

All “immersion” means in 7.3 is that you get to fight your way through mobs every time you travel, every step of the way to and from quests. And Blizz has saved even more on overhead by pretty much making roads the only way you can travel — the place is chock full of invisible walls everywhere you try to go. And while I am at it, whatever happened to the old “You are much less likely to meet monsters if you stick to roads”? The reason Blizz has roads now is to funnel everyone into mob after mob after mob. Not much fun, but it sure as hell racks up the Monthly Active User stats…

Class hall and champion missions. Blizz is still cramming these down our throats. Did you breathe a sigh of relief, feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally got all your champions to gear level 900? HAHAHAHA! Well guess what, now you get to grind them up to 950! For the classes lucky enough to be granted the class hall research permitting work orders for champion gear, this is annoying but doable. For the classes that have to rely on missions only to bring back RNG-determined gear, this new requirement is disheartening in the extreme.

Make no mistake about it, this is nothing more than a naked attempt to boost the use of the WoW mobile app.

Artifact Power and artifact relics. Sigh…. Prior to the release of 7.2, Ion Hazzikostas made a big fat deal out of lecturing us on the proper approach towards collecting AP: It was supposed to be just something that just gradually happened, not meant to be chased after, not meant to overly reward those who played many hours every day, and therefore Blizz was making the AP requirements for additional concordance levels go from ridiculous to impossible. Cool it, he said to us, just play the game and don’t worry about grinding AP. (“If you play it, it will come.”)

Well. What a difference one patch makes. Now, it turns out, in order to maximize your weapon relics, you have to achieve certain (quite high) concordance levels. And to encourage you to do this (in fact, just to make it possible for you to do this) we are going back to ever-increasing levels of weapon reasearch that permit ever-higher AP rewards! Grind your little asses off, maggots! Bwaaaahaha!

Bottom line. I am happy to get some new stuff to do with 7.3, and I kind of like the idea of taking the battle to another planet. And even if the new world quests are just reruns of the Broken Shore ones, at least they are a somewhat new variation. But I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz is funneling us down a narrower and narrower chute in terms of game play — no flying, no esthetic exploring, keep up your champion missions, grind your butt off for AP again. I feel like they are sacrificing their enormous capacity for creativity all in the name of cranking out “content” at a blistering pace. And that they have begun to view players as nothing more than Monthly Active User statistics to be manipulated for the bottom line, not as customers who play their game just because they take pure delight in it.

Personal note: Thanks to the well-wishers for my family in Houston last week. It was a week of little sleep for me, along with a lot of phone calls and micro-organizing, but it ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome. And not for nothin’, but I come from good stock — my 80-year old great-aunt and uncle weathered hardship that would defeat many, much younger, people. Uncle Bertie and Aunt Ellen — you guys rock!

Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.