On world quests and rewards

In a recent post in his game design blog, Greg Street (aka Ghostcrawler) wrote a few words on the art and science of game rewards. It started me thinking about how Blizz has structured rewards in Legion. Overall, I would give Blizz a C+ on this aspect of the expansion. They have done some really innovative things, but on the other hand they have made much of the reward process needlessly frustrating and/or manipulative. I am not talking about difficult — I don’t mind working to achieve something I want in the game — I am talking about things that just seem to operate on the “gotcha” principle for no good reason, or mechanics Blizz thinly disguises as “content” but are in reality vehicles for forcing certain kinds of game play.

Today I want to focus on one part of the Legion reward system: world quests.

I liked the idea of world quests early in Legion, and I am still basically a fan, especially with the emissary twist. My main hunter does not need any of the gear or gold or class hall resources they offer, but I still usually crank out some of them for mats or AP (anything above 300k, more about this below). But I run as many as I can of them when I am focusing on one of my alts. Most of them are fairly quick (especially now that I can almost run them in my sleep), and frequently the rewards are useful to my alts.

I think the tying of faction rep to these quests was a good idea, and I don’t mind that vendor-purchase items are in turn tied to achieving faction rep. If I am interested in being able to buy things from a particular vendor, I am fine with working a bit to be allowed that privilege.

I make sure to run all the offered emissary quests on whichever alts I am working on  — if I can find the time — mainly for the chance of getting a legendary, but I am kind of conflicted about this aspect. It is a fact that you cannot play a character in Legion to any reasonable level of competency without two of the “good” legendaries — whatever they may be for that spec. So I chase them on my focused alts, mainly via emissary quests and LFR, but it makes me feel manipulated. It seems bad enough that every character must have a certain weapon and only that weapon for the entire expansion, without requiring certain other additional gear as well.

But the main reason I still run world quests is part of the minus side of them: artifact power. Blizz has had a stunning turnaround on the whole idea of AP.

Prior to 7.3, Ion Hazzikostas several times reminded us that once a player reached Convergence on their artifact weapon, the amount of AP required to advance it further was, BY DESIGN, ridiculously high in an almost logarithmic progression. This was because — so he told us — Blizz did not want players to feel like they had to continually grind AP, that the idea was that it would just be a somewhat small additional reward for doing normal game activities like emissary quests, random instances, mythic dungeons, etc. Additionally, so he said, the design was that players who played many hours each day would not have a significant artifact level advantage over players who might play only a few hours a week.

In other words, the whole artifact trait mechanism was designed to become less and less important once the 7.2 Convergence point was reached.

Then, in what seems to have been a sudden reversal of design policy, in 7.3 Blizz introduced a whole new artifact weapon leveling system in the form of relic traits and the crucible. They tied it to AP and Convergence levels, and to make the new levels possible to attain they re-introduced a form of artifact knowledge, except they removed player control of AK progression and just time-gated it with weekly increases. The net result was to make AP once again important to players and to make grinding it a productive activity again.

And a true grind it is. There are several reddit threads in which mathematically-inclined people have analyzed ratios of AK to AP and estimated time required to get to certain points. But the thing I have noticed for my hunter is this: In spite of both AK increasing every week and AP increasing with each new level, it still takes me about a week to gain a level. This will change after I reach level 75 and after AK rates stop increasing, but it strikes me that this a whole new way to gate character power. Blizz for some reason has opted for an incredibly complex method to do this — why didn’t they just set a limit on how much AP you can earn in a week, or how many levels you could increase your artifact level?

Even more interesting, why was there this complete 180 on AP design? Why did we go from the official “We don’t want you to chase AP” to “Here is a whole new reason to chase AP — ready, set, GO!” ?

One obvious reason: MAU. My guess is that they saw their MAU levels falling as the AP rewards from game activities became less and less relevant for main characters. Players just stopped doing the daily stuff that was offering what had become insignificant rewards. So the magic metrics fell, causing this part of the Blizz world to start to look shaky in corporate eyes. Swinging into action — and without any apparent trace of embarrassment — they reversed themselves on the AP design philosophy, because chasing AP is the one thing that would bring raiders back to daily hours in the game. And raiders are the group Blizz values these days — basically anyone who runs regular or above raid tiers and Mythic+ dungeons.

It is nice that I can increase my alt artifact weapon traits by 10-15 or even more levels a day just by running a few world quests, but it is demoralizing that I have to continue to run them on my main just to feel like I will not be letting my fellow raiders down. Especially after all the assurances from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that after reaching Convergence, size artifact power doesn’t really matter.

If the all-important MAU numbers were falling, why could Blizz not have taken a different approach? For example, they could have significantly increased the non-AP rewards for emissary and world quests, and for early world bosses, or they could have added more cool mounts or pets as rewards for the non-Argus quests. They could have implemented some sort of catchup gear currency to be earned outside of Argus. They could have instituted a mechanism for alts whereby for the first two legendaries you win you get to pick which ones you want. They could have made Blood of Sargeras account bound, giving mains a reason to go out and get it, and giving alts reasonable-level gear with which to go and run their profession instances or to join regular raid groups or even just to compete on Argus without serial dying.

All of these things likely would have kept the MAU numbers up a bit. But Blizz does not design for players like this, they design for raiders, so the only idea they had was to re-institute the AP grind. Not the kind of creativity we are used to from Blizz.

So yeah — Legion reward system has some real A+ moments. Unfortunately it also has a lot of fail moments. Overall grade C+.

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!

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.

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.

Blood(s), sweat and tears

Today’s rant — yes, I regret to say that’s what it is — is about the most pernicious thing Blizz did to players in Legion: Blood of Sargeras. It is the mat that is the alt-killer and the profession-killer. It is, in fact, designed both to hold players back and to dictate which professions they must choose. It is possibly the most player-unfriendly mechanic ever devised by Blizz, far worse even than the hated Spirit of Harmony in Mists of Pandaria.

Let us review the “features” of Blood of Sargeras:

  • It is soulbound, Bind on Pickup.
  • You cannot collect it until you reach level 110.
  • It was designed to favor gathering professions, some way more than others.
  • You cannot even get it from gathering professions until you reach proficiency level 2 in them, and reaching this level is entirely RNG-dependent.
  • It is a required mat for many upper level crafted items as well as for the application of obliterum to raise the item level of crafted gear.
  • It is awarded, sporadically, in tiny puny numbers, from some world quests and loot chests.

The bottom line here is, any player wishing to craft items (gems, for example) for sale or even for donating to guildies, must have a significant stash of Bloods. Any character such as an alt using crafted gear as a way to gear up must have a freaking enormous stash of Bloods.

Yesterday I did a little experiment on two of my alts. One is a miner/JC and the other is an enchanter/engineer. Both are level 110 and both have the required proficiencies. In theory, according to the supercilious let-them-eat-cake Game Director and crafting devs, both mining and enchanting should yield Bloods.

Uh-huh. I spent 4 hours running mining routes on my miner, ending up with about 2-3 full stacks each of felslate and leystone ore. And four Bloods of Sargeras. Four. That’s right, about one per hour of nonstop mining. On my enchanter, I spent a similar amount of time running world quests for items to DE, and I also spent a tiny bit of time on my main crafting 30 items to send to my enchanter for DE. In all, I probably DE’ed something close to 60 items, for which I received a grand total of two Bloods.

I have no idea what the official Blood drop rate is for the various gathering professions and for DE, but my anecdotal evidence is that it seems all to be pretty much equal for all of them. Wowhead, which basically aggregates anecdotal drop rates for items and is thus not especially scientific, puts all the gathering professions (except fishing, which is abominable at like 0.2 percent) at single-digit Blood drop rates, generally between 2 and 7 percent. So on average, in theory, you should expect one Blood every 20 gathered items. My experience has been closer to 1 every 50, or 2 percent drop rate. But here’s the thing — my skinner can gather a buttload more leather in 10 minutes than my miner or herbalist can gather their items in hours. And my poor enchanter is even worse off.

Now let’s put this into perspective. If I wish to outfit one of these alts with semi-decent gear, the only real way to do it short of turning them into a main and running actual mythic dungeons and normal or higher raids, is to get them crafted armor and use obliterum to upgrade it to ilevel 900. Let’s say, just as a wild assumption, that in fact the alt has been amazingly lucky and gotten two legendaries and maybe a couple of 895-900 level titanforged pieces of loot from an emissary or world quest. That still leaves something like 6-8 pieces of crafted gear to upgrade. Let’s go the low end and say 6, and let’s say I have a main or other alts that could actually craft the gear and send it to them.

Upgrading 6 pieces of crafted gear requires 60 obliterum and 120 Bloods of Sargeras. My rich banker could theoretically buy the obliterum on the auction house, at a staggering cost of between 150,00-200,000 gold, given the current going rate on my server. But with the cost of gear nowadays, that is a real bargain for 6 pieces of gear.

Except an alt who actually needs crafted gear almost never has any possibility of accumulating 120 Bloods in anything resembling reasonable time. It would take months. On an alt that may be played a few hours a week, because hey it is an alt. By the time you spend enough time on an alt to accumulate 120 Bloods, you don’t need the crafted gear any more.

This angers me, mainly because Blizz played coyly cute with the whole crafted gear thing back when they announced Legion. They deliberately misled us by touting the fact that, unlike in WoD, in Legion we would be able to equip as many crafted armor items as we wished. Sorry, Blizz, this was a deliberate lie of omission, and it stinks.

And honestly, it would not be such a big thing to gear up an alt if Blizz had not designed Legion to ensure that gear is everything. You simply cannot play an alt to anything even close to its class potential unless it has high level gear.

Well, you may say, didn’t Blizz make Blood of Sargeras a vendor item in 7.2? Yeah, pretty much in the same way they bragged about equipping crafted gear. That is, they made the exchange rate between garrison resources and Bloods so high that by the time an alt can accumulate the needed number of resources, once again, they will be at the point where they probably do not need crafted gear any more. At 1000 resources per Blood (although you have to buy them 5 at a time), it takes 120,000 garrison resources on an alt to get enough Bloods to upgrade 6 pieces of gear. Not an insurmountable number, but also not something you can even approach for months on an alt.

And it is possible to transfer garrison resources from a main to an alt. But the cost, in my opinion, is prohibitive, in that it ends up being an 80% “tax” on Blood of Sargeras.  That is, you can use Bloods to buy garrison resources to send to an alt, who can in turn use the resources to buy Blood of Sargeras. But for example it would cost your main 100 Bloods to buy enough resources to enable your alt to buy 20 Bloods.

There are also little gizmos in the game that increase a character’s ability to gather Bloods. By far the easiest to get is the shoulder enchant from Wardens that once in a while will grant you 1-5 Bloods just from looting a mob. When I say once in a while, my experience has been that you might get this bundle once every 50-75 mobs. Of course, there are a couple of catches to getting this shoulder enchant. One is that you must be exalted with Wardens to be allowed to purchase it. The other is that the enchant may only be applied to soulbound shoulder gear. Which of course means your alt must be exalted with Wardens in order to get the enchant, you cannot buy the enchant on a main and apply it to shoulders before sending them to the alt. And Wardens rep may only be obtained through world quests or the odd champion mission, it’s not like you can start building rep with them while you are leveling like you can with other faction rep.

So here we are again — Legion has been designed to require players to spend vastly more time at the game than they have spent regularly over past years. It has been designed to be an endless grind for ever-moving goals. Most people complain mainly about AP in this role, but I submit that Blood of Sargeras is even worse. It is the primary mechanism for discouraging alt play and profession play. It is the mechanism Blizz used just prior to Legion to force people to drop dual crafting professions, because suddenly someone thought that should no longer be allowed. It is a deliberate move to force players into Ion Hazzikostas’s prescribed play style, which is that no one should be allowed to “dabble” in alts or professions, that everyone should have one crafting and one gathering profession, that only characters played in exactly the same way as a main should be allowed. He cannot (yet) stop players from creating alts just for fun, but he sure as hell can keep us from actually having fun with them unless they are played with the same intensity and play style as a main. And of course with the prescribed profession mix.

After all, Blizz cannot just permit people to have play style choices, for crying out loud. It offends the Game Director.

It’s past time to release the choke hold on Blood of Sargeras, to permit alt gear catchup, and to make this mat — at a minimum — Bind on Account. 

An hour of nothingness and delusion

Today’s post is about all the juicy tidbits Ion Hazzikostas dropped for us in yesterday’s Q&A — some of them make me righteously indignant, I am excited about others, and still others have given us startling insight into not only 7.3 but also the direction the game is going for the next expansion.

HAHAHAHAHA! Just kidding. It was a real yawner, so much so it looked like even Josh Allen aka Lore got bored enough to semi-surreptitiously start checking out his phone texts about halfway through the session. A coincidence of irl scheduling allowed me to watch it live, and what a mistake that was — truly an hour of my life completely wasted. Unless you really have nothing else to do, do not waste your own time listening to it — if you are interested, read the MMO-C summary notes.

Nevertheless, herewith a couple of comments:

Who selects the “questions” for these things?

Okay, I get that not everyone has the same game interests I do, and that there will be subjects that cause me to roll my eyes but that are totally absorbing to someone else. Story lines would be an example — some people are real nerds (meant in the nicest possible way) about the game’s lore and can’t get enough of it, while I on the other hand…

Lore nerd: OMG!!! Did you hear that in the next expansion we might finally find out why G’Thun’De’Fxxxgrlk treacherously sold out the Squeakyoldfart Creators of Every Aspect of the Universe, causing the rise of the orcs and the demise of the Curlytoed Elves? And that he will finally be reunited with his centuries-long love Mp’K’Qrj’kunda? And that we will get to fight the Fel Caterpillar of Fuzzy Doom in the Temple of Gassygreenvapors? Sorry about the spoilers, but I’m so excited!!

Me: Zzzzzzz

But I digress. Luckily for me there were no story line comments yesterday (if there were, I blocked them out). There were, however, long minutes during which Hazzikostas droned on (and on and on and on) about a burning question of great interest to at least .001% of the player base — what is an acceptable amount of time for a world first guild to complete a new mythic raid tier?

Really? You have a total of one hour to address questions from actual players, about a ton of topics that truly impact their game experience, and this is what you choose to spend a huge chunk of time on? I really would like to know who chooses these “questions” and where they actually come from, because this sounded a lot like it might actually have been submitted by player “Rehctaw” in a special forum limited to  maybe the Game Director.

Patch 7.3 and artifacts, artifacts, artifacts

We learned it will take 3 weeks to unlock all parts of the patch, and that the whole point of unlocking it all is to be able to — hold onto your hats here — grind out more shit for your artifact weapon!

There were a lot — a lot — of questions related to artifact weapons, at least three asking about their appearance and transmog. (Again, what moron chooses these questions? I could see one question on this subject but three?) Of course, being a BM hunter, artifact appearances mean almost nothing , since Blizz has decided in their infinite wisdom that even though Hati is the main part of our artifact weapon, there will be no appearance changes. They gave us the Essence Swapper, we should just shut up and be grateful. This is in line with their refusal to allow hunters to use any cosmetic weapon enchants. It’s all, well, too hard, and what the hell it’s only hunters and why should we waste any dev resources on them? Not that I’m bitter or anything….

Sorry, I digress again.

I have said it before and I say it again: artifact weapons are the garrisons of Legion. They have shaped the expansion in a way that in my opinion completely distorts the entire game, and Blizz just keeps shoving them down our throats in new ways with every patch. The fact that something close to a third of the Q&A time was spent on discussing them demonstrates that in fact artifacts are Legion and Legion is artifacts, in the same way garrisons were WoD and WoD was garrisons.

Alts

One bit of bright news revealed about Patch 7.3 is that there will be some decent catch-up mechanisms for alts. I still think Legion is alt-hostile, but there will be at least a couple of concessions to help players. For example, the time necessary to grind out gear for your champions will be greatly reduced, quite a few of the Argus unlocks will be account wide, and there will be more shortcuts to milestones for your artifact weapon.

Reforging

This was one of the weirdest excursions into the mind of Ion Hazzikostas I can remember. The question was basically, is there any chance we might see the return of reforging — possibly the best question in the whole Q&A, and it was also the most out-of touch answer I have ever heard from any Blizz dev. Here are the MMO-C notes  summarizing Ion’s response:

  • Reforging had lots of downsides, such as trying to perfectly get the hit or expertise cap and reforging all of your items every time you got a new item.
  • Every item that doesn’t have your best two stats you would reforge to have your best stat. This didn’t really make for interesting choices.
  • This also narrowed the distinction between items, making them feel more similar.
  • It also made it harder to evaluate upgrades, as you had to look at the item in its current state as well as how you could reforge it.
  • There were some good parts, such as giving players choices to make.

Not included in the summarized notes is this astonishing quote regarding the current state of gear in Legion without reforging:

“A new helm drops for you, just put it on.”

Yes, folks, he actually said that. Just like he actually said one of the evil things about reforging was that it “made it harder to evaluate upgrades.”

One wonders just exactly what game it is that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas spends his time playing, because it most certainly is not World of Warcraft Legion. My mind is too boggled over this whole Twilight Zone answer to even rant about it, all I can do is shake my head in astonishment and disbelief.

And maybe drink a beer. It is, after all, the weekend. See you on the other side.

Settling into a pattern, and Blizz is still alt-hostile

A month short of a year into Legion, and I realized over the weekend that I have finally settled into a weekly routine in the game.

Tuesday (reset day): Collect weekly things on my main — seals, Mythic+ chest, weekly bonus quest. I don’t run every weekly on my main — usually only the timewalkers and the mythics, the rest I either have no interest in (PvP and pets) or the reward is not worth the time. The rest of Tuesday is spent on raid 7-11 PM server time.

Wednesday: World quests and Broken Shore quests on main, decide which alts will receive emphasis for the week and run LFR, profession, or quests on it. Check the alts’ gear and decide how best to upgrade it for the week. I usually pick 2 alts to concentrate on — I find it is not feasible to work on more than that in a week, there is just not time.

Thursday: Replenish main’s potions/flasks/food, then raid 7-11 server time.

Friday: Run one Mythic +15 for the week on main with the incredibly generous guild group that tries to ensure every raider gets at least one in for the weekly chest. Run emissaries and BS quests on main and on one or both chosen alts. If I am doing it, run the weekly on main.

Saturday: Usually a day off, no game time.

Sunday: Pretty much alt day. Do class hall maintenance activities on maxed alts, also emissaries and BS quests on selected alts. If time, work on order hall or profession quest lines on an alt. If even more time, work on leveling a non-maxed alt.

Monday: Finish up odds and ends on main. Spend a couple of hours running sims on main for next week’s gear/talent best build. Study fine points of the coming week’s progression bosses.

I am at a point on my main where the only reason I run emissary quests and BS dailies is for the reward chests. Nothing given as individual loot for the quests is worth anything to my main — the gear is way too low, the gold amounts are paltry, and the AP is so low compared to what I need for an extra concordance point as to be downright insulting. Certainly not worth even the few minutes needed to do the AP quest.

The emissary and BS chests, it turns out, are the new gear currency. That is, there is apparently a magic secret number of them you have to open before you get a legendary. The difference between this system and previous currency systems is that we used to know how many seals/coins/etc we had to collect to get a desired piece of gear, plus we could actually choose the piece we wanted. But now only Blizz knows the number, and they not us get to choose which piece we get. But it is still a currency system, make no mistake.

So I still run these daily activities on my main. Luckily, it doesn’t take long, what with flying and also having pretty decent gear. Once in a while, if I need leather, I will spend extra time in one of the quest areas where skinnable critters are being killed.

On relatively new alts, the world quests are still useful in and of themselves. The gear can be an upgrade, and my new alts almost always are in desperate need of Blood of Sargeras in order to upgrade the crafted items I usually outfit them with, so they run the ones giving that as a reward whether or not they are part of an emissary chain. I also make sure my active alts run the world bosses each week.

I still believe making BoS soulbound is one of the worst ideas Blizz had in Legion. Of course, they stick with it because it forces more game play and thus increases bonuses for their executives, but it is an enormously frustrating mechanic. The effect of it is that by the time you have an alt able to gather BoS in reasonable quantities, they usually do not need it any more, unless they have a profession that goes through a lot of it. This is yet another instance of Blizz deliberately misleading us — “In Legion you can equip any number of crafted items, no more 3-piece limit!” Sure you can — except of course the crafted gear will be too low level to do you any good. At 20 BoS per crafted gear max upgrade, this can easily cost up to 200 or more BoS to fully outfit an alt.

In a grand gesture of generosity, Blizz recently allowed us to use order resources to buy BoS, at the rate of 1000 OR for 1 BoS, except you have to buy them in batches of 5. Generally, in keeping with the Blizz philosophy of being hostile to alt development, at the time when an alt most needs BoS they do not have 20,000 extra order resources available to upgrade one piece of crafted gear.

Not to worry, Blizz went overboard in their generosity here, allowing a shuffle mechanism to transfer BoS from one character to another within an account. You can buy order resources with BoS, transfer them to an alt, then have the alt use the extra order resources to buy the BoS they need. Sounds great, eh? Just one small thing: the exchange rates are exorbitant. You lose 80% of your BoS in the process. For example, it costs you 100 BoS to buy the order resources that would allow an alt to buy 20 BoS.

In everything, from profession quest lines to order hall chains to artifact progression to the nutty legendary system to crafted gear, Blizz remains extremely alt-hostile. Yes, they will claim they have gone to great lengths to permit alt catch-up, and there are some decent mechanisms. But in general Legion is still the most alt-unfriendly expansion ever.

Still, even given the hoops to jump through for alts, I have managed to get myself into a nice comfortable routine in Legion. Some people might think of this as a bad thing, but honestly I kind of look forward to getting to this point in an expansion. There is a lot to be said for the mental ease of familiarity.