Break’s over

Yay, last night we all got to dip a toe into Tomb of Sargeras, and it felt good to be back into a weekly raid schedule after the last few weeks of “What are we going to do tonight” and “cancelled” raid nights. Our approach is usually to run a couple nights of normal for a new raid tier, then start in on heroic progression. So last night we charged into normal ToS.

Stipulating that we are probably overgeared for it, and that we have excellent tanks and healers, I still expected it to be more challenging than it was. Most of us had read one or two summaries of each boss, maybe a couple people had watched a PTR video or two, and before each pull our RL gave us about a 1-minute rundown on the basic mechanics. (We had 16? 17? people.) Strategies were minimal, limited to those bosses that absolutely required splitting the team in two or something obvious. We wiped a couple of times but were 8/9 by the time we reached our raid end time. Some decent tier gear and trinkets dropped for quite a few people, although no one got a new legendary. All in all, it was a fun night.

Some initial observations:

  • The raid is, in my opinion, crazy complicated to navigate — doors, spiral staircases leading to dead end rooms, holes to jump down into, etc. We spent a significant amount of time just running around the place looking for the next boss, often circumnavigating the whole tomb in the process.
  • There are some excessively long runbacks after wipes/deaths. We were saved by having a couple warlocks, and we ended up just summoning people who rezzed and got hopelessly lost — A LOT. Blizz really needs to put in a few portals for getting back to bosses.
  • It is an inside raid, which means there is no opportunity to use (possible exception is the last boss) repair mounts. You engineers out there, start producing auto-hammers, because they are going to be in great demand while this tier is current. (Whatever happened to the practice of stationing repair NPCs just inside raids?)
  • There is heavy use of light/dark motifs throughout the raid. Several bosses require you to be aware of what “color” you are (magic, not race) and react accordingly. Example: there is even one passageway with different colored orbs you have to dodge, except you can hit any of the ones of the same color you originally ran into without damage. (I usually just ended up hitting Aspect of the Turtle and plowing through — too annoying to deal with.)
  • We first thought there was not a lot of trash to deal with — a nice break from Blizz’s recent fixation on mega-trash. However, it turns out this is only the case in the first wing. After that, there is tons of trash, and much of it hits really hard.
  • If you read up on each boss’s mechanics, you will shake your head in despair, because it seems almost impossible to deal with all of them. Don’t worry. When it comes down to it, at least in normal mode, they are actually much easier to deal with than you would think just by reading about them. More complicated to describe than to execute.

No clue how much trouble we will have with the final boss on Thursday, and I am relatively certain it will take us at least a couple of weeks to clear heroic once we start. Still, I suspect this raid tier will get to farm status relatively quickly, and very shortly we will be in the kill-time-before-7.3 mode.


Speaking of killing time, I am going to go on a small rant here and complain, once again, about the whole ridiculous Legion legendary gear adventure. The latest stupid move is to make us work our tails off to upgrade the legendaries we have, just to get them to the same level as the ones currently dropping. And before I get tons of snarky you-just-want-everything-given-to-you mail, let me say, no, that is not the case. I don’t mind long quest lines or difficult challenges that lead to whatever achievement I am seeking — rather like them, in fact. And I do not think gear should be given out freely like candy. If you are someone doing high level content then you should get higher level gear than someone not doing that content. That seems obvious to me. (But I think you should actually get it, not merely be given the chance to roll the dice for it, but that is another topic.)

But people who have multiple legendaries — useful ones at that — by this time in the game will now have to spend weeks upgrading them to the same level as will fall in 7.2.5. I don’t have a feel for how fast the upgrade currency will fall, but I think an active end game player will probably be able to upgrade maybe one or one and a half per week. Some people (not me) have as many as 15 legendaries or more. To have to grind out the currency to upgrade these just seems petty and stupid. (Not even going to guess at how long it might take a non-raiding non-mythics alt to get an upgrade.)

And as for the inevitable argument of “Well, you can only wear 2 at a time, so in 2 weeks you could upgrade all you need”, no that is actually not the case. Blizz has spent a lot of time blizzsplaining to us that they want us to switch out our legendaries to fit different situations — that, they say, is the whole point of having so many different ones, to give us “choices” and “options”.

Why not, instead of grinding currency (a practice, btw, roundly and often condemned by Ion Hazzikostas), have us do a one-time quest line to get some kind of magic upgrade stone for all our legendaries? That would still have the intended gating effect, but it would reduce, in my opinion, the sheer annoyance of once again having to grind out game time for the “gift” of making your legendaries — which many of us have chased for months — current with the current game level. (In WoD, as I recall, the legendary ring automatically upgraded when there were significant gear upgrades.)

Making us “earn” a current level legendary was not onerous the last time it happened in Legion, because back then most people had only one or two legendaries, and they probably had them only on their main. True, a few had more, but they were the exception. But now, I suspect most active end game players have a lot of them. Blizz clearly took the lazy way out on this, re-using the previous mechanic and not considering how the situation has changed. It is, I feel, yet another cheap easy attempt to inveigle us to spend more time playing the game than we would normally spend, and call it “content”.

Okay, maybe that was not such a small rant. Sorry.


Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I found ToS interesting, and getting back to raiding was a lot of fun. I don’t think the raid will age particularly well, but it is something interesting to spend a few weeks doing this summer. 

Gear and math

It’s been a nice relaxing couple of weeks in my WoW world. In my guild, we all took a break from what was becoming a very dull Nighthold raid circuit, and I seized the opportunity to work on a couple of alts — my balance druid and my destruction warlock. I find I enjoy playing them both, but the lock possibly a tad bit more than the druid. I still find the boomkin tedious for its long casts, but it gets better with better gear stacked for haste.

Both alts are hovering very close to ilvl 900 or a bit under, and the one thing that amazes me is how much better they are simply by virtue of having better gear. Trust me, in the last two weeks I have not suddenly become vastly more proficient on either one, but the difference in damage for both is pretty astounding. The only change has been upgraded gear. In some ways this is fun, because gear is relatively easy to get, even without subjecting yourself to LFR or mythic dungeons. But in other ways is seems kind of cheesy and not quite right. I guess it is an inevitable result of Blizz stepping away from the “bring the player not the class” philosophy — class/spec mechanics and gear seem to count for more and more these days. Nobody likes to blame gear for poor performance (well, okay, maybe some people like to), but that excuse is actually becoming more and more reasonable as Legion goes on.

I was thinking about this as I started last night to prepare my main hunter for resumption of raiding Tuesday when Tomb of Sargeras opens. Patch 7.2.5 brought some changes to BM hunters, and in spite of giving us a baseline 2-charge Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, it is looking like overall we are in a worse place damage-wise than we were for Nighthold. Seems like Blizz just could not stand to have BM hunters close to the top, had to take away more than they gave. There will still be some class tweaks coming along in hotfixes, but honestly I am not holding my breath that any of them will include buffs for BM hunters.

At least two sites I read regularly have openly stated that MM is clearly — and by quite a ways — top of the hunter heap. From the IcyVeins BM hunter guide:

Now that 7.2.5 has released, we can say with reasonable confidence and assuming no major changes, that Marksmanship will be the optimal raiding spec going into Tomb of Sargeras, mostly due to the potency of its new set bonuses.

Beast Mastery remains a solid choice, though rather than being very competitive and sometimes even better at single-target than Marksmanship in ideal situations, it is now fair to say that its potential output is less than Marksmanship in nearly all situations.

And even the redoubtable Bendak, in his most recent BM post about Patch 7.2.5, is brutally realistic about BM, stating it will likely fall out not only in the middle of the damage pack, but likely in the lower middle at that.

Whatever. I am a hunter in WoW, that is who I am. And since Blizz has seen fit to destroy the essence of my vision of “hunterness” in MM and SV specs, I really have no choice but to continue playing BM. Numbers have never meant that much to me anyway, so what seems to be a sudden plunge from lower-top to lower-middle position is not a calamity. Some class/spec has to be in that position, it is the nature of rankings. Still, I will be interested to see what the actual numbers spread is when the ToS results start to become available. If the spread between top and bottom is large, then Blizz will have once again failed in its never-ending attempt to “balance” the class/spec mess they themselves caused.

My alt gear-centric push over the last couple of weeks also served to reinforce to me the utter insanity of Legion’s gear complexity. On my alts the calculus was relatively easy, since I never intend to actually raid with them: higher ilevel = good, secondary stats pretty much be damned. But when I started to weigh gear and talent combos on my main in preparation for ToS, I found myself once again despairing over the sheer mathematical enormity of the task.

It has gotten so bad that AskMrRobot is now implementing a SETI-like mass computer sharing approach to solving the gear problem for players. Mind you, modern computers already have pretty massive computing power. Certainly enough that even a middle-level server could perform general arithmetical comparisons, even for thousands of users at a time. But Blizz’s insane interdependencies of gear stats, talents, different types of raid bosses, RNG-dependent proc rates, and specialized legendary and set bonuses have gone exponentially past arithmetic calculations. To properly assess the relative value of gear, only massive computer simulations approach accuracy. One or two simulations at a time are handled (though slowly) on a home desktop computer, but if you are trying to do it for large numbers of players, you need vast computational resources, and the cheapest way to get them is to set up a distributed grid of community computers. (I applaud AMR’s ingenuity here, but honestly I would like to see a bit more detail on their app’s security setup before I open my computer to it.)

The point is, you need the power of modern computers to decide if a piece of WoW gear is actually an upgrade for you, or to decide which legendary works best with which set of talents. 

But Reforging was “too much math” for us.


See you after the release of ToS.

The crafted gear dance

One or two of you who regularly follow this blog may have noticed I did not post anything on Wednesday, thus departing from my usual M-W-F pattern. The truth is, I had a wonderful rant all written, full of my usual over-the-top indignant comments, along with some really creative metaphors. As I was about to publish, I saw the June 14 hotfix notes, and they effectively negated most of what I had just written. That, combined with a real life schedule for the day that did not allow for a rewrite, made me just trash the post and plan for another day.

So what was the topic that the hotfix notes ruined? Blood of Sargeras. Specifically, the fact that Blizz has stubbornly persisted in holding this mat as the main stumbling block for many profession- and gear-related activities in the game. They have done so by maintaining its soulbound quality, thus putting many players in the position of having a main with several hundred Bloods they cannot possibly use up, while alts that could use them cannot manage to scrabble enough of them.

The thing that gave rise to my renewed ire on the subject was that I have one alt with a lot of crafted gear equipped, but it has taken me weeks to get enough BoS to upgrade the six equipped items to max crafted level (875, prior to 7.2.5). The idea that it takes 2 BoS to use one obliterum effectively limits max level gear — in any quantity — to characters who have the profession levels to gather a lot of the mat, and thus probably do not need to use crafted gear. The alts that do need the gear almost never have the wherewithal to gather more than a few per week.

(This is yet another example of Blizz deliberately misleading us back when they announced Legion — “You can equip as many crafted items as you want, no more 3-item limit!” Same as the “No more limits on how many specs you can have!” All true in lawyer language, but complete falsehoods in reality. But that is a post for another time.)

At any rate, the Wednesday hotfix announcement that caught my eye was this:

(Hotfix in testing) Blood of Sargeras can now be obtained from Class Hall vendors at a price of 5 Blood of Sargeras for 5,000 Order Resources.

WOOHOO! Of course, the caveat “Hotfix in testing” could mean we will never see the change as it was announced, but still, it at least tells me Blizz seems to be aware of the problem the current method poses for alts and is working on a typically obscure way of remedying it.

As I wrote above, the main use of BoS I am concerned with is its connection to gear, more specifically its connection to the use of obliterum. Obliterum is, I think, another Legion mechanic that simply has not worked well. It is tedious to create and consequently expensive to buy in the auction house. Even if you can create or buy enough of it to upgrade an alt’s gear, it is doubtful the alt will have sufficient BoS to use it, unless the alt has a fairly well advanced gathering profession. The obliterum mechanic was slightly improved when Blizz got rid of that ridiculous and expensive quest line to unlock the forge, but that was at best a minor improvement.

The other really awful aspect of the whole obliterum mechanic is that it can only be applied to soulbound gear. This has a very detrimental effect on the entire crafted armor part of the game. Not only can you not craft and upgrade a piece of gear for one of your alts, but you are also limited to selling low level gear in the auction house. With the economic inflation introduced in the game by WoD garrisons and by the now-official gold selling, there are undoubtedly many players who would gladly pay good prices to buy max-level crafted gear from the auction house rather than go through the dance of buying low level gear, creating or buying obliterum, and then scrabbling for the BoS to be able to use their purchases. I am, honestly, mystified by the whole thing.

But the June 14 hotfix note, if actually implemented, would fix the problem, at least within an account. (Not for selling items.) It would mean you could transfer BoS from one character to another, though you would have to do a shuffle to do so. Since an alt with few opportunities to gather BoS likely also does not have order hall resources to spare, the method would be to buy order hall resources on your BoS-rich character, send them to your BoS-starved one, then have that character buy BoS with the order hall resources. Leave it to Blizz to do something like this rather than the easier, more straightforward fix which would be to make BoS account bound. Still, clunky and cumbersome though it is, it would work.

The other obliterum/crafted gear observation I have is how clumsily Blizz handled the 7.2.5 change to crafted gear upgrade level. Originally the announcement was that crafted gear would be upgradable to ilevel 885, two obliterum levels above the 7.2 ilevel. Thus it would take 10 instead of 8 obliterums (oblitera? maybe just obliterum in singular and plural) to max out the gear. So if you had currently maxed gear, you would need two obliterum and four BoS to do the new max. But when the patch went live, there was a stealth buff to crafted gear that maxed it at ilevel 900 instead of 885. But the total obliterum necessary to reach max level stayed at 10.

Stay with me here. What that meant was that everyone who had already spent 8 obliterum and 16 BoS to reach pre-7.2 max level suddenly had that retroactively changed to 5 (no refunds, of course, just a sort of historical rewrite of what you had done), and to reach the new max level they would be required to spend, not 2 obliterum and 4 BoS, but rather 5 obliterum and 10 BoS.

I am not complaining about crafted gear being upgradable to ilevel 900, but the implementation of this was a pretty dirty trick on players. Even those of us organized enough to anticipate the changes in 7.2.5 were caught unawares. I had in fact built up enough obliterum and BoS on my crafted-gear-heavy alt to upgrade all equipped pieces to new max as it had been announced prior to the stealth change. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was not nearly enough. My stash of 12 obliterum and 24 BoS were no longer enough to upgrade all six equipped pieces, instead it was enough for only two. And by the way, the sudden change caused obliterum prices in the AH to skyrocket, more than 3 times their pre-7.2.5 prices on my server.

Overall, this is typical Blizz good-news-bad-news methodology. They give something with one hand, then take it away or make it less useful with the other. In the big picture, the crafted gear upgrades and possible vendor availability of BoS are positive developments. In the more immediate picture, the methods for doing those things are annoying.

And with that, since I have already screwed up my normal posting schedule for the week, I am going to take Friday off and start my weekend today. See you back here Monday.

Alt reality

As I have written over the last few posts, I am starting to develop some of my alts in Legion. What I should say is I am trying to do so, but it is a long, frustrating road. This was driven home to me last night as I was working on my little gnome destro warlock, who has herbalism and tailoring as professions. It seems like everywhere I turn, every part of progression for this alt runs smack dab up against huge roadblocks, usually in the form of dungeon or raid requirements but also in the form of very specific zone progressions, for even the most basic accomplishments.

All I wanted was a few upper level tailoring patterns and to complete the Champions of Legionfall achievement so I could finish up my last two class hall order advancement ranks.

What a journey through frustration it has been. And no, I have not reached either goal yet.

Start with the tailoring. I had only gotten as far as getting the blue tailoring items. So I dutifully took up the quest line again. Just the basic quest line (38 quests, some of which are time gated) requires the running of 3 separate dungeons. This gets you two upper level (“imbued silkweave”) items. However, to even get there, you must complete enough of the Suramar quest line to get the Suramar City mask, as all your upper level items must be crafted in a certain Suramar building. If you want to craft useful bags, you must run two mythics — upper and lower Kara. Additional upper level items — beyond the chest and bracers you get from the basic quest line — require achieving exalted with multiple (four, I think) factions and completing one or two additional quests. After you do all this, you will be at skill level 1 for your patterns. I am assuming the remaining skill levels are parsed out by the RNG gods at some rate similar to Nomi’s recipes, which is to say one or two every few months, assuming you pursue them every day.

Late edit: You can, in fact, buy several of the imbued silkweave patterns, level 1, from vendors scattered about, and they do not all require exalted rep or extra quests.

Champions of Legionfall achievement. The kicker for this one is, it requires completion of the entire previous class hall campaign, which is a 47-quest project that includes two required dungeons, Black Rook Hold and Vault of the Wardens for warlocks. I got to step 36, which is Vault, and was stymied because I could not find a group to do it. Frustrating does not really begin to describe it.

Here’s the thing. Most of us did these quest lines on our mains — Yes, they were annoying because Blizz designs quest lines not for the fun and enjoyment of the players but rather for how long they can drag them out and thus improve their MAU metric for the stockholders. But we and our friends were doing similar ones at the same time, and we usually had some help with the dungeons and even the raids later on for higher skill level patterns and recipes. But when you are leveling an alt, it is unlikely anyone else in your guild is at the same spot in their alt progression. Even if you are in an active and helpful guild, it is a real imposition on guildies to ask them to run a specific normal or heroic dungeon just so you can get that one recipe or that one warlock class hall campaign quest completed.

Yes, I know there is the auto group finder and the custom group finder. They are useless, especially if you are a dps. Over the weekend, I waited a total of 3 hours to get into a Vault group, and was unsuccessful. There were a total of zero custom groups forming for that dungeon, which is a crap shoot anyhow since my lock hovers around 870 ilevel, and of course that is garbage if you are looking to join a group for anything. I tried forming my own group Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and the most interest I got — during prime evening play time — was 2 additional dps.

Basically, I have hit a wall on my lock for advancing either my profession or my order hall campaign — and thus, of course, also my gear progression since I cannot so far unlock my third relic slot and thus my artifact weapon level seems stuck. Could I prevail on one of our guild tanks or healers to help me run Vault or the Karas? Yes, but honestly I have already done that for the previous dungeons I needed, and I am someone who hates to beg for help especially if it will inconvenience others. My other option is to beg to be included in some of the mythics and M+ runs they do several times a week, but that, too, would be pure charity as I would have to be carried in order to complete them.

And the requirements for dungeons and raids to progress are not even the worst requirements of the game. Some professions require running rated battlegrounds to progress. Rated battlegrounds! Not just random ones, but rated, where if you are not a dedicated pvp player already in a regular group, you must ask a group to carry you, and in doing so they likely will diminish their own rating just to help you out.

These kinds of dead ends are the most demoralizing parts of Legion, in my opinion. There are no alternate paths, no player options. If you don’t want to give up (which is apparently fine with Blizz, they seem to be in dream-smashing mode these days), there really is no way to get past them other than to hope for some good luck.

Which, in a way I guess, kind of summarizes the state of the game these days: hope for good luck. Skill and perseverance are becoming less and less important, unless you are talking about persevering in rolling the dice.

Blizz has done a few superficial things in Legion to “help” alts — speeded up some of the champion mission times, added the catchup mechanism for artifact research, made flying account-wide. I am not knocking those things. But they have, as usual, failed to acknowledge a basic flaw in their design, much less do anything about it. Or worse, they know it is annoying and frustrating for players — that it limits the potential for advancement for many — and they do not give a damn. I do not mind running long quest chains to achieve my alt goals, and I grumble but do not really mind grinding things like reputation to advance my alts. But when I get to the point — multiple times for almost every progression goal — where there is nothing I can do on my own to advance, when I must either beg or hope for assistance from others, then I feel stymied and angry. And that is NOT fun.

Crossing the line in Legion

Blizz’s announcement yesterday that they are effectively making full artifact trait progression not only pointless but impossible got me to thinking. In every expansion I reach a point where I put my main into a “maintenance” mode and move my game into end-of-expansion pursuits — going after achievements I want, playing around with my alts, finding isolated spots and just chilling, spending a lot of time gathering mats while listening to music. At such a point in an expansion, I still do some raiding and gear improvement on my main, but that no longer is the focus of my game.

Last night I realized I have hit that point in Legion. I reached Concordance on my main, and there is no cost benefit to further pursuit of artifact power. As I have no intention of playing any hunter spec except BM, I am not interested in developing any other hunter artifact weapons.

The only reason I have been doing world quests on my main for the last few weeks is for a chance at legendaries and for AP, but those rewards are no longer applicable. I have more legendaries than I can use, so the prospect of getting another no longer motivates me. Blizz’s coy little tricks with artifact traits have rendered AP valueless to me now. I am exalted with all factions, and the rewards for extended rep stink, so rep is not useful to me. I have about 200k order hall resources, over 300 Bloods of Sargeras, close to 3k leather, and way more gold than I can ever spend. Gear rewards from WQs have long since ceased to be of interest to me — I am relatively well geared at ilvl 908 (904 equipped, because of Blizz’s bizarre secondary stat mechanism that makes my 860 and 880 trinkets more useful than the 900+ ones I have). In short, I am done with world quests on my main, other than the odd one here or there. Even emissary quests hold no value for me now.

I will likely continue to pursue the hunter class mount, and I will raid with my team when the next raid tier comes along, likely getting some better gear in the process, but other than that, I am done with this expansion on my main. In a normal environment, I would try to max out my main’s professions, but Blizz has made that close to impossible with their dice-roll approach and their introduction of the tiered crafting system — the minimal additional benefit from level 3 recipes is not worth the time required to get lucky enough to get them. In any other expansion, this would be the point at which I start crafting high level items to sell on the auction house, but again Blizz has made that too painful to be a meaningful pursuit — the crafted legendaries, which are useless anyway except as stat sticks, require completion of an entire quest line, including certain mythic dungeons, for every legendary you wish to craft. Something in me rebels at that kind of blatant manipulation, and I just refuse to do it.

Even when we get 7.3, I do not anticipate significant changes in my feeling of being done with Legion. Yes, there will be some new quest lines and possibly some spacey stuff people will oooh and aah about, but I do not see the new planet zone in 7.3 as being significantly different from Broken Shore. In fact, my prediction is that it will be Broken Shore remastered — same daily grind, some temporary world bosses, some kind of new currency to grind for, some sort of random space ship bombardment, possibly a new dungeon and raid in the area, etc. I give Blizz credit that they do often come up with creative ideas, but unfortunately once they do, they drive them into the ground, using and reusing them for months or years regardless of how players receive them. Garrisons is a perfect example — players hated them, yet Blizz doubled down on them with patch after patch in WoD and even recycled them as class halls in Legion.

7.3 will be Broken Shore with a different artistic rendering. If I am wrong, I will happily eat my words. But I am not wrong.

The thought that strikes me about reaching my “the expansion is basically over” point is that we are still only 9 months into Legion, earlier by some months than I have reached that point in any other expansion. This seems ridiculous in an expansion widely touted as the “more content than you can handle” expansion, the one Blizz presented as “we heard you loud and clear in WoD and believe us we are not making that mistake again!”

But here’s the thing: I am done with Legion because there is no chance of achieving the normal game goals I set for my main each expansion. No, let me amend that statement: there is no point in pursuing my normal expansion goals any further because their completion relies on a lottery system, and in the case of my weapon, completion is simply not possible. There is almost nothing I can do to work towards those goals in a meaningful way.

Legion, for all its touted “content” and innovation, has revealed its dark side — players may only aspire to the goals Blizz sets for them, and they must pursue those goals in a strictly prescribed manner. Any deviation will almost certainly delay, if not prevent, their attainment. Anyone who does not like this is free to set their goals lower or abandon them altogether. Blizz seems to think quantifiable content is all that is needed to make a game great, and they have sacrificed player options in favor of it. They have lost sight of the fun players have when they can set a goal, work towards it in the way they find challenging or exhilarating, and achieve it. Content is fine, but from my worm’s eye view, being able to chase a dream is better.

As demoralizing as this is, it does not mean I am about to abandon the game. (Yeah, I know, that is sad.) As I have said before, I am someone who actually likes the latter part of expansions, because it is then that I permit myself to just be free to do whatever the heck I want to do, with no thought that I am letting others down because of failure to gear up a main or something. Normally, of course, I go into this end stage of an expansion feeling good because I have met my goals for my main and can now move on. In Legion, the feeling is more acceptance that such achievement is not possible, but move on anyway. Still, the end result is pretty much the same.

Like all metaphorical lines in life, you are usually not aware of the exact moment you step over them. But sooner or later you know for sure that you have crossed them. I have crossed my Legion line.

Alt weekend

I had a busy weekend in WoW. Nothing spectacular, just found myself with some windfall time on my hands and decided to spend it playing. As there is nothing much left for me to do with my main except grind out AP, I turned to my two most developed alts — balance druid and destro warlock. It was an interesting study in comparisons and contrasts.

Both are ranged dps, which is my solid role preference in WoW. I do have a couple of melee dps and healer alts, and they provide a nice break sometimes, but I always come back to ranged dps as my niche play style. Having said that, there are further distinctions among ranged dps, but the one that makes the greatest difference to me is mobility. Hunters used to be the most mobile of all ranged classes, and even after huge mobility nerfs to them in Legion at least BM hunters probably retain that distinction. So I am coming from that background as my baseline for determining “mobility”.

As I wrote last week, I have spent quite a bit of time lately developing my balance druid, and I am enjoying it. Her ilvl is around 890, but in all honesty she still has pretty crummy gear. Two legendaries, but one is just the crafted stat stick, worthless except as an ilvl booster, in my opinion. No tier gear, no BiS trinkets.

I was invited to a couple of mythics and mythic+ runs on her over the weekend. Pity runs, if I am truthful, but my guild is pretty good that way. Also, several of my guildies are building up alts now, too, so we end up taking turns running mains in order to carry some alts every now and then. My boomie dps was dismal, of course, but I was encouraged that it was not always bottom of the dps pile — there were moments of decent play.

The one thing that still dogs me with balance druid play is the extreme slowness of it.  Cast times just seem excruciating to me, like I could start the cast, go make a sandwich and get back just as it was finishing. I suppose this is an indirect reflection of my crummy gear — I have not even come close to really stacking the haste I need. The Icy Veins class guide goes so far as to rank haste and mastery above the primary stat of int (!) One of the consequences of this horrible slow play style is that I tend to overuse my instant casts — kill pace while soloing and even in mythic dungeons is such that there often is not enough time to get off a casted spell before the mobs die. So instant casts are frequently the only viable ones. Also, my muscle memory is hunter-honed, so I have a twitchy tendency to just interrupt a long cast in favor of an instant one. A lot. I am hoping I can get over this as my gear improves and I slap myself upside of my head often enough.

My lock also has crummy gear — even worse than my druid — right now hanging around 830 ilvl. Zero legendaries, not even a crafted one yet. But here’s the strange thing: even at a 60-ilvl difference, the lock feels much more powerful than the druid. I am relatively fearless at engaging mobs and elites with my lock, whereas with my druid I am super-cautious, almost always waiting for other players to show up before engaging anything higher than around 5 million health.

Some of that, I think, is because when I solo with my lock I run with a tank pet. Not only does this give me some breathing room when casting, but it is also the play style I have learned with my hunter since my earliest days of playing. So I am used to it.

But beyond the familiarity of using a pet, the lock play style — even though it is primarily a casted class — seems much more lively and engaging to me than balance druid. It seems mobile, whereas my druid does not. I am not sure why. Both balance druid and destro lock have casted spells as their primary power and some instant casts for setup or dots. Both require a certain rotational sequence to achieve high damage, and if that sequence is interrupted by the need to move, it suffers a bit. (Less so if you are skilled, more so if you play like I do.) Yet I find destro lock play not only more enjoyable than balance druid play but also more effective. Yes, destro lock has big casted spells, but the cast times seem reasonable, not M-A-D-D-E-N-I-N-G-L-Y S-L-O-O-O-O-O-W-W-W-W like for boomies.

The difference reminds me of the difference between BM hunters pre- and post-Legion. There is some major shift in play style, in class/spec philosophy. Prior to WoD, hunter development was guided by someone who understood the whole hunter “feel”. Starting in WoD, this was no longer the case, and hunter development seemed to be only about numbers no matter how awful the feel. It seems, from my very parochial view, that there is a similar lack of feel for balance druid play style, whereas those developers working on locks still retain it. Even though balance druid and destro lock have the same basic damage mechanics, one is horribly clunky in its implementation and one is lively and fun.

This, to me, perfectly describes Blizz’s problems with class development — they just do not get it for several classes, nor apparently do they care to, but for the ones they do get, it works out nicely. 

Last week I thought that my balance druid would become my primary alt as Legion progresses, but now I am not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I am still having fun with it, but a weekend with my lock is starting to change my mind. (Yes, I am fickle. Sue me.) The one thing that has thus far soured me on my lock in Legion is — and I know this sounds stupid — the class hall. I have never been a fan of the dark, fire-and-brimstone-with-overtones-of-torture-and-anguish environments Blizz seems to love, and this dismal environment is only compounded by what I think is a horrible layout for the class hall. I am getting more familiar with it now, but I still wander around a lot looking for stuff. Honestly, a big reason I have not played my lock much so far in Legion is because I dreaded having to do business in that class hall.

At any rate, it was a fun and relaxing weekend. And my little kick-ass gnome warlock is back!

Gadgeteers and purists

Last night as I launched a new sim on my Balance druid, it occurred to me that I rely a lot on third party sites and addons to play this game. I mean, really, a lot. Here is a sample, off the top of my head:

  • Over 20 addons — DBM, GTFO, ArkInventory, Weakauras, Bartender4, Healbot for my healers, Shadowed Unit Frames, Pawn, Tradeskill Master, Skada, World Quest Tracker, TomTom, Paste — to name a few.
  • Wowhead — my go-to site for guidance on where to find patterns and recipes, mats needed for crafting, various Legion guides, gear info, transmog ideas, and quest info. The latter is especially important to me. If I run into a problem with a quest, I immediately turn to Wowhead for solutions to whatever is stopping me. I am not worried about “spoilers”, I am just interested in finishing the quest and moving on, and I derive no satisfaction from figuring it out on my own after beating my head on a rock for hours or days. Thank goodness for the Wowhead users who unselfishly post their insights into quests as soon as they get them figured out.
  • Icy-Veins — I use this for class/spec info as well as for quick and dirty raid guidance. When I am coming back to an alt I have not played in a while, it is always my first stop to brush up on rotations, talent builds, and the order of stat importance. In Legion, I use this site to make my way through artifact traits and to get their list of BiS legendaries. The class/spec guides are always up to date and are written by world class players. I can’t imagine trying to figure out a rotation on my own for every alt by evaluating the various spell and talent and artifact interactions.
  • Sims. I use SimC on my own computer, and I also use web sites like Beotorch and recently Raidbots to run quick sims for importing into my Pawn addon. I know sims are only partially useful, but honestly I do not know of a better way to evaluate the complex factors in gear these days. (It would be interesting, I think, to compare the results for a player using all these complicated methods to select gear and talents versus selecting solely on the basis of ilevel increases and gut feeling for talents. I wonder if there would actually be much difference?)
  • Quest guides. I confess I use a quest guide to speed my way through leveling and also through dailies, profession quest lines, class hall quests, artifact quests, and even long achievement chains. (I am not going to say the one I use because it is a paid service and I do not want to plug a commercial product.)

There are probably a few more outside resources I use, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. As I said, it’s a lot.

I know there are purists out there who are horrified by a list like this. I respect that point of view. Intellectually, I am even drawn to it, but realistically I am far too impatient to actually try to deal with a Blizz-only interface.

The native game UI itself, to me, is clunky, un-intuitive, and not responsive to player preferences. This opinion is reinforced every time I log in to the PTR and have to set up the Blizz-only interface. It just does not work for me, from the lack of raid frame options to the multiple-bar action bar setup and separate keybind interface, to the horrible bag space viewer, to the inability to set up reasonably-located spell cues and proc notices.

Additionally, the game flow — especially in Legion — seems confusing to me, possibly even deliberately vague. Blizz sometimes thinks they are running a puzzle game, not an adventure MMO, and they love to obfuscate in the name of “challenge”. Sometimes, for example, quests follow logically from one to the next, but equally as often you have to search for the next series without knowing whether or not it is a line you are interested in or where it might lead. And the “secret” quests — they are not my cup of tea. If I wanted to figure out puzzles, I would be playing a different game than WoW. I honestly cannot imagine a new player figuring all this out for themselves with zero outside help.

So I tend to go a bit overboard in third party assistance. I know this. I wish it were not necessary for my enjoyment of the game, but it is. In an ideal world, Blizz would provide a wide range of player options, permitting an approach like mine as well as the purist one. But even I know that is not really possible — they seem to have all they can do to keep the game from imploding without adding in a lot of complicating player-option code.

To be fair, periodically they co-opt some third party ideas and try to bring them into the native interface, but to my eye they usually do it badly. For example, there is the in-game Dungeon Journal now, a Blizz version of third party raid and instance explanations. It’s okay, but it falls short of most outside ones, in my opinion. The bag-sorting algorithm introduced in WoD is a slight improvement over what we had before, but it does not come close to the categorizing and display options in an addon like ArkInventory. I could give a lot more examples, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I do not think I would continue to play this game if I could not use third party resources to the extent I do. I like gadgets and gizmos and convenience and efficiency too much to give them up. Those of you who are purists, I salute you — try not to judge me, I am weak!