My new Panda priest

My last post awakened some nostalgia in me, so the night I wrote it I rolled a brand new character, a Panda priest. No real reason for that particular combination, except I don’t have a priest (other than a bank alt which does not count) and I like Pandas. Generally I think of clothies as difficult to level up, but honestly nothing is difficult to level up to at least 90 or 100 these days. I took my time and last night hit level 25 on the new alt. I have opted thus far for Disc as a spec, but I have zero idea if that is a wise choice or not, or even if it makes any difference at low levels.

It has been a while since I leveled a brand new character, and my overwhelming impression thus far is how rapid the process is. I am not really a purist when it comes to leveling, so I outfitted my alt in as much heirloom gear as I have, sent her some decent size bags from my tailor, and started her out with 1000 gold. Oh, and can I just say that the chauffeured chopper is one of the coolest things in the game!

I have always liked the Panda starting area, and I think the whole choose-your-own-path approach to factions was a great idea. However, having started something like 4 or 5 Pandas by now, the process is starting to seem a little tedious. On my priest, I found myself just rushing through the initial quest line in order to get to the end of it and select Alliance as my faction. (Also, annoyingly, I could not use the chauffeured chopper until I selected my faction.) I did not initially equip heirlooms, so I was close to level 11 or 12 by the time I escaped the big turtle island.

One of the big decisions I had to make was whether or not to identify my new alt to my guild and seek an invite. On the one hand, it is kind of nice to just have some alone time in the game, when you can lose yourself in questing and exploring and leveling, with no need to follow guild chat or respond to requests for “one more dps for timewalking” or “need healer and dps for M+12”, etc. On the other hand, such anonymity is hard to achieve these days even if you opt out of guild matters, since apps like Battle.net and Discord can make you available to others even if your character is not part of the guild. Yes, I know no one forces me to use these and there a couple of settings that will camouflage me a bit, but they are so damn handy that I am loathe to attempt to deliberately drop off the grid. (This, I suppose, is the seduction of social media and locational apps in general. They are just too nifty to actively avoid. We know advertisers and others feed off our addiction to them, but we can’t seem to help ourselves.) So in the end, somewhere around level 20, I opted to whisper an officer for an invite on my baby priest. I have no willpower.

Anyway, back to my leveling experience. In addition to the astonishing rate at which I accumulate XP, the quests seem completely trivial. Mobs die almost instantly, even for a clothie with only 2-3 offensive spells. The only real reason to try and avoid them is for efficiency — it takes longer to get to where you are going if you stop and kill things even if they die quickly. I remember doing these same quests on my early characters, and they were challenging, making me map out safe routes and strategically plan which mobs to kill and which to go around. Some of the easiness of it now is due to me being smarter about how to play the game, but clearly Blizz has greatly nerfed the difficulty also.

In some ways I regret this easing of the process, but for the most part I don’t mind it. If the leveling process took as long as it did in vanilla or in any of the then-current expansions, it would take months level up a new alt, and most people would not bother doing it. As it is, if I want to take a long time leveling, I can, just by doing all the quests in a particular zone before moving on to a new one. (There is no real reason to use heirlooms, for example, except to crank up your XP and eliminate the need to gear swap when you get an upgrade.) I can take my time — if I want — developing the classic parts of professions. I can try to max out rep for the classic factions. The point is, if I want to take a long time developing a new alt, I can, but if I want to make the process faster I can do that, too. So I like what Blizz has done with the classic parts of the game in terms of leveling.

I don’t know if I will keep this Panda priest or not. I have a long history of rolling new alts only to abandon them somewhere around level 50 or 60. Mainly I tend to lose interest in them, since I have never really found a class I love as much as hunters. And now, to be honest, getting an alt to level 110 only means that the grind begins. Maybe what I really like is the feeling of newness, of potential, with a brand new alt.

Currently I have six characters (main and 5 alts) at level 110, and two sitting at 100 (but one of those is 100 only because I used my boost on her). But I have found that once most of them got to 110, I lost motivation for playing them since doing so requires so damn much time in Legion. In Mists, I played all of them enthusiastically, taking them all to Timeless Isle for dailies and weeklies. (I even did the quest line to get the legendary cloak on 7 characters.) But getting to Timeless Isle did not require long quest lines to unlock the place, and there were areas that were not lethal even to undergeared alts. That is not true of either Broken Shore or Argus. Just getting to those places is tedious for an alt.

So, yeah, I am having fun going back to classic zones in Azeroth with a new alt. I am going to try and stretch that fun out a bit, and I am going to use the priest as a pressure valve — a way to take a little vacation in the game when I am frustrated with Legion’s grind dujour.

And speaking of relaxing, it is time for a weekend. Yay!

Childhood and journey

I remember when I rolled my very first WoW character and lost myself in the game. It was my night elf hunter, back when hunters didn’t get their first pet until level 10, and by the way level 10 took a lot longer than the twenty minutes it now does. I remember those early quests in Teldrassil, figuring out how to move around, getting the concept of “targeting” something, coordinating that with a standard key bind to “shoot” the mob. I remember the surprise I got when eventually the target mobs actually attacked me if I got too close, rather than stand passively and wait for me to kill them. I remember getting almost hopelessly lost in my first cave quest, and to be honest I have disliked caves ever since.

When I made my way to Darkshore as a level 7, I got in a bit over my head and learned the tried and true technique of dying, getting back to my corpse, resurrecting at the absolute edge of where it was possible, and running like hell for about 5 seconds before dying again, then repeating the process until I made it to a safe area. It was harrowing.

I had been blow away when I discovered Darnassas — surely it was the game’s largest, most beautiful city? (I remember those ?level 60? NPCs majestically patrolling the road to the city on their gorgeous white tiger mounts, and I was in awe of such a high level. I could never aspire to that!) But then I accidentally got on a ship that took me to Stormwind, and an entirely new continent, and that was my first glimmer that the game was vastly larger and more complex than I had ever imagined.

Still, I was not intimidated by it. I loved that it was virtually infinite, that there was always something new to discover, something new to learn about the game, another level you could progress to.

I remember when I learned about groups. There was a Looking-for-Group chat channel, as I recall — some sort of very primitive precursor to the LFG mechanism we have now. I subscribed to it for weeks before I got up enough nerve to actually join a group for an instance. I think I was about level 20, but I am not sure — it was such a horrible experience that I have blotted it from my memory. I had no concept of group roles, so I immediately shot at anything that moved until some kind soul said something in chat like, “Hunter making it tough for the tank,” a hint that I was — thankfully — smart enough to take.

About halfway through (I think the instance was Gnomeregen, but as I said I have tried to block it all out) I ran out of arrows and was reduced to melee weapon and fists. Yeah, that was when hunters had to carry arrows in their bag in order to use their bow. If you ran out, shame on you. That was also when you could actually level your fists as weapons — you did this by unequipping all your weapons (hunters had both ranged and melee back then) and killing mobs until your fist proficiency level matched your character level.

Back to the group, there was some sort of mechanism where we had to jump from a machine to a specific spot, and of course I missed and died. I was told to run back, and I got so lost that I never did find the group again. I just ran around periodically aggroing mobs and dying and running back again. And again. And again. Sometimes it took me forever just to find my corpse. Eventually they kicked me, I guess, because I was no longer part of the group. I am surprised they had such patience, really. Not one of my best moments in the game…

It was even later when I learned about gear. By this time I had joined a guild, and I was invited to quest with some of the guildies. One of them noticed that I was wearing very low level vendor gear and was horrified. He opened trade and gave me a bunch of green gear closer to my character level. I honestly had never even considered that gear made a difference. I was perfectly happy with buying a bow or whatever from a vendor. I had no clue there was a difference between the stuff labeled in gray and the stuff labeled in white or green. (I had never seen anything blue or higher, so that was not even a question for me.) The notion that green gear could help you kill stuff faster was truly a revelation to me.

I won’t even discuss my epiphany when I realized that cloth or leather gear was worse for a hunter than mail. Or that eventually you had to repair gear or you couldn’t use it. Yes, I really was that clueless.

I am not sure I have much of a point here, but it strikes me that that kind of innocent discovery and leisurely exploration are really no longer part of the game. The days of it being all about the journey, not the goal, seem over. As vast and complex as I thought the game was then, it is immeasurably more vast and complex now. It is also more fast paced, players as a group seem to have little tolerance for anyone who exhibits ignorance of the game’s traditions and mechanics, and Blizz seems to design now mainly for the end game, not for the process of discovery.

Think about it, when is the last time you saw a guild advertising itself as a “leveling guild”? For that matter, when is the last time you actually ran across a low level player who was experiencing the game for the first time, without a RL friend to help and guide them?

Like Thomas Wolfe said, you really can’t go home again — the bygone days of youth, whether real or virtual, are — well — gone by. I know I can’t recapture the innocent wonder and joy of my early days in WoW, I know too much about end games and Wowhead and how to develop professions and how to use heirlooms and what to expect at every level of a character. I have chosen to raid on my main, and so I am now completely steeped in the endgame gear chase, in getting to the next gear goal as fast as possible. I no longer take the time to discover, I just look it up on Wowhead or some place and get it done, then move on to the next thing.

So yeah, I have done this to myself, I admit it. But I also think Blizz has encouraged me, along with a lot of other players, in this mindset. They are fixated on the end game, on an endlessly-expanding artifact weapon, on accumulating legendaries and tier gear and battle pets and mounts. They seem to promote a sense that leveling a character is only a means to the end game, and they — and we — have lost the joy of the journey itself. I can’t shake the feeling that WoW, while never a “sandbox” game, was once a game of process and discovery, but that it has morphed into a Type A personality kind of game, where getting to the end is the sole definition of “winning”.

To quote that noted American philosopher, Louis L’Amour, “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.”

And try to remember to stock up on arrows before you go.

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.

Ding dong, Kil’jaeden is dead!

IMG_0278Yup, we finally did it last night — downed Kil’jaeden on heroic. It was by the skin of our teeth, but we did it, and that Ahead of the Curve achievement was sweet. We had pretty much sailed through all the other bosses — our first H kill of Fallen Avatar was over a month ago — but KJ gave us trouble. I didn’t check the exact number of wipes, but it was somewhere between 90 and 100. It was no 600+ like Method’s Mythic kill, but it still was a pretty long slog for us. I suspect some of you out there killed him long ago on heroic, but trust me, for us there was definitely some hooting and hollering when he died.

I don’t play on a “raiding-heavy” server — it is technically an RP one — so we don’t have a lot of raiding heavy hitters to compete with, but I was still surprised to see we are only the 7th guild on the server to go 9/9 (H). We are not actually that far away from the next raid tier, maybe a couple of months. I honestly expected Blizz to nerf KJ on both normal and heroic by now, but they have not. Even for a final boss, he remains very challenging. We run normal Tomb once a week for alts and to help gear up non-raiders, and even on normal, KJ is tough for us unless some of us switch to our mains for that fight.

It is a difficult fight for a lot of reasons. For one, he has a hard enrage that serves as a dps check. For another, there are a lot of mechanics and at least in heroic they often come at you all at once. There is also a heavy RNG factor — you can wipe just because of how the mechanics randomly hit. And last but not least, it is what I think of as a “personal perfection” fight. That is, one small mistake on the part of an individual — healer, tank or damage dealer — can easily wipe the raid. There is no forgiveness for missteps, and generally speaking if you have 20-25 people, it is a virtual certainty that at least one of them will make a small error on any given attempt.

That last factor is probably the most challenging. Our raid team does not have a formal roster as such, we have a core group that almost always shows up, plus some others who are geared and proficient enough to raid with us regularly but who miss raids now and again. It is enough that we almost never have exactly the same team on any given night. KJ, certainly on heroic, does not really tolerate this kind of setup. To finally kill him, our RL had to formally limit the team to a smaller number (fewer people to make boo-boos) and to a more central core (more familiarity with how your teammates react). I don’t know if this was the key or not, but it was the setup we had when we finally killed him.

We have a fairly decent gear level as a team — somewhere around 930 or a bit under — but to kill KJ we also of course required flasks and pots, and we supplied feasts and Defiled Augment Runes for every attempt, and also handed out ToS vantus runes to everyone to attune them to KJ. We definitely pulled out all the stops.

In the end the kill included some pretty selfless sacrifices from some team members — for example our mage who kited the second flame ball by blinking into the rift, knowing he was already at low health and would die. Or people who selflessly racked up a couple or more debuffs from soaking meteors — because they knew letting one go spelled disaster for the team — even if it meant they would go into the dark phase at seriously low health. And our healers — well, they were magnificent. Tanks as usual were at the top of their game, something I have come to take for granted, but they really are continuously excellent.

For me, KJ remains one of the toughest final bosses. I did not raid in BC, so I can’t speak to those raids, but until this fight the hardest two bosses for raid teams I was on at the time were Ragnaros and Archimonde. I am pretty sure Kil’jaeden tops those, claiming the number one spot as my all time toughest challenge.

Anyway, short post today, going to give myself a little time to savor the euphoria!

If you are not in the path of Hurricane Irma, maybe send some positive thoughts in the direction of those who are. If you are in the path, please please please stay safe. See you all on the other side of the weekend.