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doing world quests on my main for the last few weeks is for a chance at legendaries and for AP, but those rewards are no longer applicable.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!

Being Boomkin

One of the nicer consequences of finally being able to fly in Legion is the gift of time. My very unscientific personal experience so far is that I can do approximately twice as much now in the same amount of time than I could do without flying. I am talking about activities like world quests, profession leveling and mat gathering, and of course the 7.2 Broken Shore dailies.

I have taken advantage of the extra time to pay some real attention to my druid. Back about a year ago, when it seemed possible that I would actually give up my beloved hunter in the face of what I perceived to be the total Blizz sellout of the hunter class, my first choice for a new main was my druid. I have always been fascinated by this class — the only one to offer every role in the game including both melee and ranged DPS — but I have never really gone beyond dipping a toe into it. When I first rolled my druid — years ago, as my second alt in the game — I did it as Resto. I got kicked from my first dungeon for being terribad and was so put off by the whole thing that it was years before I ventured into another instance with my druid. Mind you, the group was completely justified in kicking me. I had not grasped the whole steady-stream HoT method of healing and was trying to just react to health hits. The disaster was predictable, and one further consequence was that I came to think of druid Resto healing as very difficult.

Thus, when I leveled my druid in Mists I switched to Balance, mainly because I have always been most comfortable with ranged damage dealing. I had Resto as my secondary spec but really did not do much with it. I enjoyed Balance in Mists, and I came to really value the sheer versatility of the druid class, especially its wide array of defensive spells. I did level my druid in WoD, but I hated the Balance play style in that expansion — to say it was slow is a real understatement, especially given what at the time was a fantastically flexible and fast-paced SV hunter style that I had as my main. Still, I remained intrigued by the class, and I even ran a few alt run raids as Resto.

With my background of dithering between Balance and Resto on my druid, I was intrigued when Legion came along and introduced the attunement talent. As I am not really by nature a melee damage dealer, and I have never tanked, I was of course drawn to the Balance-Resto attunements. I got both artifact weapons and intended to  play as Resto, but I found the damage options — even with Balance attunement — to be far too puny for realistic soloing (world quests, etc.), at least for my taste. So I reversed and opted for Balance with Resto attunement.

After I first hit 110, I considered just dropping the whole idea, because my boomie seemed very squishy and almost as slow as in WoD. It was frustrating to play. But as I have geared up and gotten into my 7.2 artifact traits, I am finding it more palatable. It also doesn’t hurt that I have actually done some study of How to Boomkin (finally understand that whole solar-lunar power thing) and spent considerable time with target dummies and live target dummies (aka LFR). I am still not what I would call well geared at 880 ilevel, and of my two equipped legendaries, one is the mostly useless crafted one — good really only as a stat stick with 3 gem slots — but I can see the potential if I can manage to get to maybe somewhere around ilevel 900 or so. (This may depend on the good will of my guildies in carrying me on some Mythics.)

I am a bit slow on getting artifact traits because I am trying to keep my Resto artifact within 2-3 traits of my main spec Balance one. And most of the time I have to play my druid comes on the weekend, so it is not exactly a fast process even now with flying. (This is not good for LFR runs, though, as of course the weekend ones tend to be worse than the Tuesday or Wednesday ones.) My goal is to be a useful ranged DPS for our alt raids when we start them up, and to be a reliable fallback healer if needed. Also, I am hedging my bets for the next expansion — if Blizz once again really screws hunters, I want to be positioned to go with another main if necessary.

Probably the most tedious and annoying aspect of gearing up my druid is the whole class hall and profession chase. (It took me weeks to even find my way around the druid class hall, although now that I am comfortable with it I find it to be vastly superior to the hunter one.) I still am confused by what seems to be an endless number of quest lines and achievements necessary to get your champions, your third relic slot, your artifact research 7.2 addon, your class hall research, and so forth. I think I have gotten most of the important ones now on my druid, but I have not even begun to think about artifact appearance quests. (This is a holdover from my BM hunter, where I pay almost no attention to them because they are pretty bad and don’t even affect Hati.)

I have finally gotten level 2 on all my alchemy flasks, but I am not sure I will get the level 3’s just because of the hundreds of flasks you have to craft in order to get the rare RNG drop of the next level for each. And I am still working on my last herbalism level 2 — just can’t seem to get that dreamleaf quest to drop for me.

But overall, I feel like I am on my way to being able to play a decent Boomkin, and to be able to make myself useful as a healer as well. Balance seems solidly in the middle of the pack in terms of DPS charts, I doubt if there is any chance it will be a sought-after spec for top raiders in Legion, but I am fine with that. I only intend to do alt raiding with it anyway. And really, I am having fun with it, which of course I tend to forget is the point of this whole game.

When you think about it, what could be more fun than turning into a tree and healing your friends, and then turn around and start killing monsters as a giant chicken? And in between, turn yourself into a cat for quick getaways or a bear for maximum protection or a raven for soaring? It just doesn’t get much better than this!

What a difference

After a week of flying, I am astounded at what a difference it has made in my approach to Legion. It’s like it’s not even the same game I have been slogging through for the past 8 months. I am actually having fun again, for the first time since maybe the second month of the expansion. I am not sure why this one ability should make such a huge difference in my outlook, but I think I can identify a couple of factors.

Time. This is certainly the biggest factor. It now takes me what I consider to be a reasonable amount of time to crank out world quests and daily Broken Shore quests. Just as an example, prior to flying I was spending close to an hour just doing the usual 4-5 BS quests, and now I spend 30 minutes or less. I don’t see such a dramatic change in the time it takes for WQs — probably because I am not especially efficient at planning out my quest routes — but it is still significant.

I don’t do my own flying everywhere. If I am going a long distance I usually still use the flight points. It’s just easier, and it gives me a chance to stretch, take a bio break, get a drink, put in a load of laundry, whatever. (But it is awesome to have the choice!)

The other aspect of the time factor is finally I am freed from the need to fight or outrun every little nuisance mob along the road. This alone saves a huge amount of time. And while I am at it, as a side rant, when did Blizz decide that sticking to roads was no longer a safe option? Now not only do mobs encroach on the roads, but they even block them, so that you cannot avoid fighting them or at the very least running like hell to get past them. (Thank you, Stonehide Leather Barding, possibly the single greatest craftable item from leather workers.) For years, Blizz has promised us that if we stick to the roads we will almost always be safe from hostile mobs. Now that they are delaying flying longer and longer in new expansions and forcing us to be roadbound, suddenly that rule no longer applies?

I spend almost no time now trying to figure out how to get past the many invisible walls Blizz has incorporated into the Legion terrain, especially in Stormheim, Suramar, Broken Shore, and Highmountain. I just fly over the area. It is glorious.

And Suramar City? It is absolutely great to be able to fly over those gangs of blue-circled thugs that account for so many deaths. Flying over them now, I often flip them the bird and cackle to myself. I no longer avoid WQs in Suramar City for that reason alone.

Alts. Mainly because of the time factor, I now feel I can spend some time several times a week on my alts, getting them to Broken Shore, doing world quests to gear up, and even venturing into LFR with them once in a while for the gear and the rotation practice. I still think Legion is the most alt-hostile expansion yet, but flying certainly helps a lot.

My alts tend to be a lot squishier than my main, of course — worse gear, plus I am not even close to proficient on them — so being able to avoid trash mobs helps me to focus on the quests more. Far from Blizz’s oft-expressed disdain for “avoiding” their annoying obstacles, flying actually encourages me to spend more time on my alts and thus playing the game.

Getting out of Dodge. I find many of the BS quests extremely unpleasant, not because of the quests themselves, but because of another ugly turn in game mechanics: Mobs that spawn as fast as, or even faster than, you can kill them, making it nearly impossible to leave the area even once you have finished the quest.

My main is a hunter, so there are very few things I cannot deal with solo, and these continually-spawning mobs are no exception. I can get to a safe spot then feign death, for example. Or I can just kill group after group after group after group until eventually there is a break long enough for me to escape. But it is annoying. Especially since Blizz still has not fixed the clunky problems with pet pathing and pet placement — these continuous mobs often mean I cannot loot at all since looting usually requires a kind of dance to get around my pet blocking the corpse, and spending the second or two doing this in these areas means another group has spawned and is attacking. And forget it if there are skins to be taken — not going to happen. No, it’s not a big deal, but it is terribly frustrating and annoying.

So having flying helps in escaping these areas, because if you can get the time to summon your flying mount (not always a given), at least you can be gone without having to run through dozens more of spawned mobs.

Gathering. On my gathering characters, I often fly from point to point, even great distances, just so that I can gather some mats along the way, even if it would be faster to use flight points for the actual trip. I don’t gather for sale, just to use the mats myself, but it still helps. (I think even flying does not help that much if you are a mat seller, unless you have level 3 gather for the mat it still takes a lot of time to get enough to sell in any decent quantity. This may account for why we have seen very little in the way of downward price movement for gathered items in our auction house.)

Fun. I sill get a real kick out of just hopping on a flying mount and swooping and soaring over an area. I love it when I see some little spot I have never before seen and can just set down and enjoy it. I like seeing the zones from a different perspective. I enjoy the art work far more, I think, when I can see it this way than when I am forced to slog along on the ground. I guess I just love being able to see the forests, and if I want to examine the individual trees I can do so on my own terms.

Freedom. This to me is second only to time as a factor in having flying. I feel like being able to fly restores some options to me as a player, some measure of play style freedom that Blizz has steadily eroded over the past couple of expansions. I have mentioned before that Legion more than any other expansion has put players into a virtual cattle chute for end game play, profession development, alt progression, and gear acquisition. There are just no options other than the Blizz-approved path to reach these goals. I have found this philosophy to be stifling.

Flying, by virtue of the fact that it gives us a third dimension for movement, seems to offer a metaphorical third dimension for some aspects of game play. It may be just an illusion that I feel freer to explore the game on more of my own terms, but if so it is a powerful illusion. I will take it.

And on that thought of freedom, it is time to begin the freedom that is the weekend.

Mists of memory

What was your favorite expansion in WoW? Mine — and I know lots of people will disagree with me on this — was Mists of Pandaria. Looking back, it was the expansion where everything seemed to mesh in a seamless game experience.

Start with the story line. I am someone who is generally completely uninterested in the lore of this game, but I was intrigued by the whole Pandaren story, and honestly the pop culture pseudo-Eastern philosophy touches enhanced the experience for me. I rolled a panda monk, and I remember being delighted when the initial quest line revealed the nature of the starting island. I am an Alliance player through and through, but I liked the idea that Pandaren could choose their faction path upon leaving the island. I became very intrigued with the whole Wrathion enigma, and I am sorry we have not seen him since — I found him to be a compelling character.

I enjoyed — and still do — the racial “personality” of the Pandaren. It seems that Blizz really put a lot of effort into giving them a depth and complexity beyond anything I had experienced with other races in the game. Many of my characters are Night Elves, but honestly I never really gave much thought to them as a distinct people in Azeroth, for some reason they just have never made much of an impression on me beyond having a certain cosmetic look that I like.  But Pandaren are wonderful — individuals can be good or treacherous, fiercely loyal or despicably traitorous, wise or vapid. They are fierce fighters and make great soldiers, but they also love the hearth and make equally great innkeepers. They like good food and good beer and sharing it with any weary traveler.

I thought the monk class introduced in Mists was one of the most innovative Blizz has ever come up with. Each of the specs had unique and intriguing mechanics that were not just variations of every other class. My Panda monk was a mistweaver, and I really enjoyed the healing play style that was completely different from any other in the game at the time. She was also powerful enough in her damage dealing that I leveled as a MW and never had a problem. Legion’s Demon Hunters and the hunter Survival spec, in my opinion, pale in comparison to the creativity we saw with the monk class.

Starting the expansion, I remember being just blown away by the graphics. I found Pandaria to be breathtakingly beautiful. Every zone had one or more areas of surpassing wonder, and I still visit them when I need a break from the grind that has been WoD and Legion. I still enjoy swooping and soaring over the amazing beaches of Krasarang Wilds, and the windswept vistas of Kun-Lai Summit are balm to my soul. I have a particular fondness for Zouchin Village — something about the colors, the setting, the ambient sounds always makes me think of one of those glorious days in early spring, when you can smell the earth as it warms and see the first signs of new growth even though the air still has a slight taste of winter chill in it. If I ever quit this game, I will take each of my characters to Zouchin Village and let them end their existence there.

Certainly there were down sides to Mists, but in retrospect they were pretty tame. I thought the quest lines were coherent and connected with each other nicely. With the exception of Heart of Fear (I called it “Bugistan”), I liked the raids. I enjoyed scenarios. I loved that you could actually earn gear, not just roll the dice for it. I did not especially like the long rep grind that served as a gate to other aspects of the game, but in retrospect that was a piece of cake compared to Legion’s approach of making every character have to raid or run Mythic instances in order to advance any aspect of their end game play. I even kind of enjoyed the chase after the legendary cloak (except fo the PvP requirements), so much so that I got it on all but one of my alts.

Speaking of alts, I thought Mists was perfect for alt play. There was incentive to level them, because that is when you got flying for each, and I thought that was a fun reward for reaching level 90. There was also ample opportunity to actually play your alts, without the pressure of having to run instances or raids in order to do so. There were dailies, scenarios, and eventually there was Timeless Isle, where you could run dailies in 30 minutes or so — enough time to get some proficiency with your alts, but not so onerous as to feel like a grind (except for the frog killing zone, that is). You could max out alt professions with a single grind for faction rep, and then you could actually *gasp!* get some good out of your professions by crafting items or gathering mats for decent profit in the auction house. And you did not have to gear them all up to raid level gear in order to enjoy them.

I liked a lot of other miscellaneous things about Mists. I thought the Noodle Cart was fun and different, and I really liked being able to provide my raid group with noodles. (I think we could have predicted problems with Nomi, given what a little smart ass he was in Mists: “Who are you supposed to be?”) I actually liked getting individual rep with the Tillers in Valley of the Four Winds, and all of my alts became Besties with every Tiller, spending hours zooming around looking for dirt piles containing the treasures so dear to each of their hearts. I think much of this particular attraction for me was the reward of adding enhancements to Sunsong Ranch, a place I still like to spend a night in once in a while. It is the closest we have ever come — or sadly are likely to — to player housing in this game.

Mists was when I really came into my own as a Survival hunter. I spent hours practicing in front of the target dummies, I played with lots of rotations and talent builds. I learned how to configure and use Weakauras. I finally mastered the iconic hunter “turn around jump shot” by repeatedly running along the front of the Shrine, first practicing the “reverse disengage” mechanic — run, turn around and jump and DE and turn around again before landing — then adding in a Concussive Shot after the jump but before the disengage. I regret that this skill has deteriorated since then, but for a while I was pretty damn good at it. Survival was fantastic fun to play back then, possibly the zenith of hunter play in WoW. It makes me sad to compare it to BM play now in Legion.

So, yeah, I think Mists is the best expansion Blizz has given us. Unlike WoD and Legion, it seemed “finished”, like a well-designed final product, not like a drawing-board concept constantly being adjusted. I know a lot of people were frustrated that it dragged on for so long, but I was never bored with it, not even in the waning months. It was an expansion where I felt like all my goals were attainable, where I felt like I could set my own play parameters and have fun, whether it was in advancing my main or practicing with an alt or making some gold or just admiring the artwork. It seemed like an individual game back then, not like an assembly line.

Enough reminiscence. Time for a holiday weekend, with Zouchin Village spring weather.

Legion’s way or the highway

Usually over the weekend I play quite a lot of WoW, and in Legion it has become the most fun time I have in the game, since I feel like I can actually putz around and do what I want — play a couple alts, gather some mats, pick up an achievement or two, run some old instances for that recipe or mount I covet, explore some areas I might have neglected when they were current, etc. However, this past weekend I was unable to play very much because of some family commitments (not the good kind, the entertaining-your-idiot-in-laws kind), and when I was a finally able to log on Sunday evening, of course I had a full array of emissaries to catch up on, and I actually saw someone flying around and realized that omg I had missed out on almost 3 days of Armies of the Legionfall rep and it would still be weeks before I could fly at this rate, not to mention I still had 4 more timewalking dungeons to do if I wanted a shot at the reward. It was not fun “catching up”.

And it dawned on me: Legion is WoW’s most restrictive, grindy, bossy expansion yet. Even WoD was preferable, I am starting to believe.

See, to my way of thinking, when I play this game a couple hours every night, I should not have to wait until a weekend to have actual fun doing it. Sure, I know I could technically drop out, ignoring raids and instances and gear and AP and flying achieves and professions and class halls and champion missions and emissaries and…

Oh wait, that’s pretty much this entire expansion.

There really is no “dropping out” if you want to play the current zones, you MUST grind endlessly. I am not at the point where I want to quit the game, but there is no denying it has become more of an irritation than a source of joy and whimsy. I am at a strange point where I enjoy the game in the abstract, but the daily activities are constant annoyances. In fact, Legion has taken pretty much every bad part of recent expansions and doubled down on them, all while Blizz explains to us how new and innovative it is, how they really learned lessons from player reactions to past expansions.

I am sick of being told when to log on. I am sick of feeling like I will miss the puny few hundred rep needed for flying if I fail to log on and do the BS dailies. I am already sick of trying to track random but extensive invasions, most of which occur in the middle of the freaking night or when normal people are at work or school, all because Blizz could not be troubled to configure them to servers, took the lazy way out technically just so they could brag about adding “content”. Hell, if they were going to be lazy about it, why not just resurrect the invasions from the pre-expansion? Those were fun, quick, and rewarding, and if you missed a couple it was no big deal because there were always some popping up. I guess players liked them too much, can’t have that.

I am sick of the ever-dangled carrot of flying. I am sick of the “just one more thing” never ending string of requirements. I am sick of the stupid little games Blizz plays to make sure you know they strongly disapprove of flying — which they themselves introduced years ago — but if you must have it, then you will sure as hell have to suffer to get it. I am sick of the rep game they are playing with Armies of the Legionfall — awarding minuscule amounts for daily quests; no emissaries to give additional bonus rep; daily quests do not hold over so if you miss a day you are out of lucK. And strangely, there have been no Kirin Tor emissaries — which apparently would award a 750 rep token — since 7.2 went live even though they seemed to have been every other day before 7.2. I am unamused by “secret” achievement and quest requirements that will award more rep (like the running of the maze without being detected).

I am sick of class halls, which are nothing more than garrisons with all the perks removed. I am especially sick of the hunter class hall, to which almost no creative effort was devoted in its development. It is bereft of any imagination. There is still no place to sit in the entire hall, the bartender sells only mana drinks, there is no mailbox, not even any real connection to classic hunter lore. It was clearly designed by someone coming up on a deadline, who did not give a bucket of warm spit about any result save meeting that deadline.

I am sick of being required to run dungeons and raids — including mythics — in order to pursue almost any other game path, for example professions.

I am sick of being told that currency for gear is a bad thing, then being forced to deal with currency for everything else — order hall resources, Legionfall war supplies, Timewarped badges, artifact power, nethershards, seals of Broken Fate…

I am sick of being told how I must play my alts, sick of that depressing sinking feeling of eternal grind I get when I consider leveling up one of them only to realize how complex and dragged out it will be: artifact quest, order hall campaign, all the grinds of the various gated class hall actions, profession requirements of quest lines and rep and dungeons and raids and lucky drops, the eternal disappointment of legendary drops, and of course the addition of one more endless AP grind for the new alt.

I am sick of my spec options being severely limited, sick of Blizz bragging about how they have removed all obstacles from being able to switch to any spec in your class, then placing huge boulders in your path like “good legendaries”, artifacts, AP, different crucial secondary stats and therefore different gear, etc. I am especially sick of Blizz imposing hybrid problems on pure dps classes, but refusing to give them any commensurate perks such as role options.

I am sick of getting higher level gear that is actually a step down for your power, sick of having to run simulations or consult a web site just to figure out if a piece of gear is an upgrade. This is especially galling when we recall Blizz’s lecture to us on the evils of having to do “math” for reforging.

I am sick of empty promises to fix the near-total destruction of hunters as a class in Legion, sick of half-assed tweaks that do nothing to repair the fundamental problems Blizz engineered for the class. And I am sick of class overhauls every expansion, from a team that clearly is incapable of balancing their changes until the end of an expansion, at which time they stupidly decide it is time to repeat the process.

I am heartily, absolutely, positively, without a question, sick of RNG being applied to every aspect of the game. And I am enraged every time Ion Hazzikostas lectures us about how “fun” it is.

Look, here’s my point (at last): Everyone sets their own goals in this game, and pursuit of them is supposed to be fun and ultimately rewarding. Until Legion, players have been largely free to find their own path to those goals. But Legion effectively removed all side roads in favor of one super highway. And if you find an obstacle along that highway, too freaking bad for you, there are no detours. Your only choice is to remove it in the approved manner or stop all forward progress. Blizz has argued that Legion gives players a wide range of options, but that is not true — what it gives players is a wide range of requirements, all of which must be participated in to achieve virtually any game goal. Players are left with the “options” of sticking to the approved path or adjusting their goals downward. 

This is not player choice, this is nanny state game play.