Legendary follies continue

There are times when you almost have to admire Blizzard’s steadfast commitment to major blunders. Even when they publicly admit certain designs were mistakes, their response is usually to not only keep the bad design but also double down on it. (Think of WoD’s garrisons as a perfect example.)

It’s like there is a corporate attitude, when faced with the consequences of an obvious design mistake, of going big or going home. They seem incapable of any semblance of organized retreat, all they can do is cram the mistake down our throats.

Which brings me, of course, to the subject of Legion legendary gear. As I have written before (here and here for example), I consider the Legion legendary design to be one of the worst Blizz has ever done. Even Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas has, on more than one occasion, begrudgingly mumbled something about maybe they could have done a better job implementing the idea.

My main complaint about Legion legendaries is that Blizz tried to do too much with them in terms of their gear effects, and in the process they created a number of “must-have” pieces for a lot of specs. Sometimes these “good” legendaries were just bandaids to cover over bad spec design, sometimes they had effects that eventually turned out to be super powers for the spec. Bad enough, but then add in the whole RNG aspect of them, and Blizz created a world of player winners and losers based almost solely on luck. Eventually, even the RNGeniuses at Blizz realized this and made some tweaks designed to even out the relative values of legendaries. They were not entirely successful — there are still some “must-haves” for a couple of specs — but the endeavor met the new Blizz corporate standard of Good Enough.

Another fallout of Legion legendaries is that they made it difficult to easily swap to off specs, or to develop alts to the point where they were geared sufficiently to be fun to play. (And yes, I know I will get responses from some of you out there claiming you had no problem getting 6 legendaries each on all your druid off specs as well as on all 10 of your alts, and you did it in a weekend. Shut up. You’re lying.) Worse for unlucky players waiting weeks to get off spec or alt legendaries, Blizz’s claimed “bad luck insurance” algorithm apparently only goes so far as to increase the odds of a legendary dropping, it does nothing to help an unlucky player actually get a useful one once it finally does drop. (Yeah, Ion, nothing more fun™ than an RNG drop of a useless legendary and knowing it will be weeks before you get another chance at the lotto.)

For those few players who managed to get every legendary for every spec in their class, Blizz dipped once more into their Suggestion Box For Ways to Screw With the Players and came up with this: if a character has all possible legendaries for all specs in their class, the next time you win the RNG lottery, you will get — hold onto your hats —

A totally random legendary for a totally random class and spec you may not even have as an alt!!! What fun™!!

I am not even going to go into the doubling down actions Blizz took when they added a special raid-only set of non-legendary legendaries to the current raid tier. Or the fact that Blizz cheesed out and refused to upgrade our old ones (as they did in WoD) when the new ones rose in ilevel, instead opting to make us grind for weeks to get the stuff to upgrade each one individually. As if the mess they had made thus far was not enough.

And now comes Patch 7.3.5, and Blizz’s next installation of making the whole legendary mess worse and then shoving it in our faces.

On January 6, CM Lore grandly announced that Patch 7.3.5 would give us an additional way to obtain legendaries: we could use the same stuff (Wakening Essences) we now collect in order to upgrade our old legendaries. For the price of 175 of these things, we could get a token that would award a legendary appropriate to the class/spec of the character earning the essences.

OK, might be kind of cool, we all could see some possibilities there.

However, in typical fashion, this idea arrived half-baked. Some players immediately began to try to get 175 essences on as many characters as they could. They discovered that, if they had been diligent and already upgraded all of their legendaries, they could not obtain the quest to collect essences, thus they could not work on their 175. On the other hand, characters that had not rushed to upgrade legendaries still had the quest and could keep renewing it as long as they kept at least one legendary at 970 level.

This seemed like a bug, so a few players complained to Blizz.

Blizz did a double-take, because apparently it had not occurred to them that we sneaky players would actually try to collect essences before 7.3.5 went live. I mean, the very idea gave them the vapors! So they went into emergency session, and on January 8, CM Lore announced this:

A few additional details on the new Legendary token:

  • We’ve just pushed a hotfix live that makes Wakening Essences drop for everyone, regardless of whether you’re on the quest or not.
  • We’ll also be dramatically increasing both the number of Essences required to purchase tokens and the rate at which you gain them in Patch 7.3.5. The overall time investment needed to purchase a token will stay roughly the same, but this will minimize the benefits of stockpiling Essences ahead of time.
    • Note: Emissary bags earned prior to the release of 7.3.5 will still give pre-7.3.5 numbers of Essences. There is no benefit to saving Emissary bags until afer the patch.
  • We also plan to add Wakening Essences to your first Battleground win of the day in 7.3.5.
  • The tokens are bind-on-pickup, because we don’t want to overly encourage players to farm Essences on alt characters in order to feed Legendary items to their mains. However, if you purchase and use a token on a character that already has all of the available legendaries for their class, you will be given a random BoA token for another class.

Really, Blizz? Really? After all the legendary angst you’ve inflicted on us for more than a year because of your slipshod design and half-assed implementation, you have the balls to begrudge us the tiniest semblance of control? And pardon me, Mr. alt-phobic Hazzikostas, but could you kindly keep the voices in your head from leaking out? What the hell do you care if I or anyone else wants to have alts that send gear or mats or gold or enchants or gems or whatever to my main, or indeed vice-versa? It has no appreciable effect on the game as a whole, and frankly it is none of your goddamn business how I choose to use my alts. (And not for nothin’, but I suspect most players who care at all about legendaries would likely use their main to supply this gear to their alts, not the other way around.)

The vast majority of players are not in a position to “take advantage” of the first-announced 7.3.5 change in any meaningful way — they do not have the time, or they do not have sufficiently equipped alts, or they simply do not care about their gear level or their legendaries any more because it is the end of the expansion. So the latest move to stop what Blizz believes would be a heinous gaming of the system is in fact aimed at what we now must admit is Blizz’s only important customer base: the less than 1% of top tier players who aspire to competitive fame.

Blizz, do you really think the game would disintegrate if, this late in the expansion, you gave us BoA legendary tokens (both from the essence trade-in and as a result of getting one after you have all the ones in your class), ones any character could turn in and get a relevant legendary? In fact, what would it hurt if indeed these tokens allowed us to actually — better sit down for this one — choose our desired legendary?

WoW used to be a game for the masses, but now it is designed for the elite. It used to allow millions of players to shape their own play style and enjoy the game in their own way, but now the Blizz Central Committee dictates a smaller and smaller range of permitted play styles and personal objectives. What a shame it has come to this.

More Antorus

We have had another week of the new raid tier, Antorus the Burning Throne. On Tuesday, Mythic and the first wing of LFR opened. I still have not seen anything to change my initial opinion of it: Great artwork, a few interesting boss mechanics, but not a tier that will wear well enough to last almost a year until the next expansion.

This is an observation, not a complaint: the raid is easier than either Tomb of Sargeras or Nighthold. I say that even though our raid team has only done 4/11 Heroic bosses. Of course, the remaining ones could be impossibly hard on Heroic, but judging by the progress of guilds on my server — which is decidedly not a raiding server — within a couple of weeks there will likely be several guilds that are 11/11 (H). I would venture to say that within a month the top 10-15 guilds on the server will have heroic on farm. Whether they decide to farm it for the raid trinket system or the somewhat puny tier gear is an open question.

My initial concern that the sheer size of the raid would hinder farming seems to have been unfounded. We have some Thursday scheduling problems, so last night instead of continuing with progression on heroic, we did normal with about 20 people. We had no problems completing a full clear in less than our normal 4-hour raid time.

We had fun last night, and it is good to be back into some actual problem-solving raiding again, but I still don’t see this raid holding my interest once we have heroic on farm. For one thing, of course, we are at the end of the expansion, and there is a certain amount of burnout that inevitably takes place. For another, the gear from this raid does not excite me much. Honestly, what is the point of grubbing out every piece of gear you can get when this is the last raid of the expansion?

Blizz buffed a couple of specs’ t21 bonuses this past week, but most of them are still uninspiring. And the special trinket system seems like a self-licking ice cream cone to me: you get it by raiding so that you can be more efficient at raiding. The only reason I can see to keep running this raid is to eventually upgrade the “regular” special trinkets as a back door to being able to equip three legendaries. (Assuming you do not get the one legendary trinket drop from Argus, which I am absolutely certain I will not.) Even that seems a stretch, given that there is not another raid tier to prepare for.

I wonder if, after a few guilds have this raid on farm, that the group emphasis in Legion will shift in a big way to M+. If that is really the only challenge left after Antorus, it seems likely. (And would force some continuing gear farming from the raid, since gear is an important factor for high level M+ runs.) This, of course, creates a bigger esports audience for the next M+ tournament, which in turn fuels Blizz’s emerging game focus. We have a few people in our guild who are hooked on M+, but it is not really my thing. I run one or two a week, mainly to get the weekly chest, but I do not generally enjoy timed activities.

Back to the Antorus raid. I still think the last three bosses are the most fun and engaging. (And I still think the tower defense Eonar is annoying to the max.) Argus especially, with the planned wipe and the smart use of death as a raid weapon, seems to be one of the most innovative bosses Blizz has given us in a while. Even after Blizz up-tuned it earlier this week, it was a fun fight on Normal last night. It definitely requires some raid planning and some decent team coordination, and when that comes together it really is quite satisfying.

Short post today and one with no profound thoughts, but there is lots going on in my real world schedule. See you all on the other side of the weekend.

Friday scattered thoughts

It’s Friday, it’s been an especially long week, and my brain does not seem particularly focused, so today’s post is just some scattered thoughts on this and that.

Antorus the Burning Throne. Last night our raid team finished up the Normal raid. We had done 7 bosses on Tuesday, and the last 4 we downed certainly did not disappoint, in my opinion. I found the last 2 (Aggramar and of course Argus) to be great fun, they just seemed to be well designed and had some interesting mechanics. And the artwork, especially for Argus, is simply spectacular. Whatever other shortcomings we may eventually complain about for this raid, the visual design will remain, in my opinion, one of the best Blizz has ever done. Do yourselves a huge favor when you first get into the Argus area, and look behind you up into the skybox. It is not only beautiful, but it gives you a sense of the entire story of Legion — even me, who generally has no interest in lore.

And, without revealing any spoilers, the cinematic after you kill Argus is excellent. It rivals, in my opinion, the Battle for Azeroth cinematic we saw at Blizzcon.

We had enough trouble (something like 4-5 wipes) with both Aggramar and Argus that I think they will be quite tough for us on Heroic. As with many of the fights in the raid, there is a definite team learning curve

Overall, from a very limited point of view, it seems to me that very few of this raid’s bosses are even close to friendly to BM hunters. They seem either to involve single-target pew-pewing or a lot of very scattered adds. Several of the fights involve phases with high-priority adds placed all around a room or platform, and I really noticed a drop in my DPS just due to my melee-bound pets taking their time getting to the next target. Even switching to Blink Strikes as a talent did not seem to help much, partly due to the cooldown on that ability, and also to the ambling nature of Hati. Classes with robust DoT abilities and wide cleaves will shine in many fights in this raid.

As to the vaunted Argus trinkets from the final boss, our raid of 20 got 4 drops (not me, I got the useless quest legendary ring along with gold and AP), and none were Aman’Thul’s Vision (The One Trinket That Binds Them All).

Patch 7.3.5. This is up on the PTR for anyone that wants to try it out. I am somewhat disappointed that — at least as far as we know so far — it will not involve any significant class balance fixes, in spite of Blizz’s pronouncement early in Legion that the “dot five” patches would be mainly targeted at class balance changes. Some of the recently-announced changes include:

Patch/Expansion confusion. Honestly, I am kind of losing the bubble on what is happening in Patch 7.3.5 and what is just development for the next expansion. Blizz could probably be a little bit clearer on this. So the following comments may apply to changes coming in the next xpac, or to changes coming in the next patch. Who knows?

Changes to the early leveling experience. Zone scaling is implemented in Azeroth leveling zones, and XP to level is being increased for levels 10-59. I know this is a popular change, but I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I like the idea of being able to keep questing in a zone I enjoy, and still continue to advance. On the other hand, I find I generally like pretty much roflstomping through a zone at low levels. I have done these quests so often that they no longer hold much interest for me, and the only really fun is becoming familiar with my alt’s abilities. (And remember, Blizz has taken away a great many class abilities at lower levels, so that many specs go through a lot of levels with only 2-3 major abilities.) I don’t know that having every mob fight take longer is really an improvement.

I also get a kick out of leveling quickly, and I am not sure why Blizz thinks stretching that process out is desirable.

It almost seems like Blizz is enforcing a small part of the “Classic” experience on all of us now.

More backpack space. Okay, this is minor, but remember when Ion Hazzikostas promised us we would be seeing more space in our grubby old original backpacks? Yeah. Turns out, it appears, that the extra space will be tied to having an authentication attached to your account. In principle, I think this is a pretty good idea. Blizz wants to do as much as they can to stop account theft, which in turn makes life harder for illegal botters, gold sellers, and the like. So it’s not a bad idea to offer a little perk to people willing to add this bit of security to their account. (I have had the phone authenticator for years, and it in no way hinders my access to the game or my enjoyment of it. It is not an absolute guarantee that my account cannot be hijacked, but it greatly complicates the process for any hackers. Which means, I think, they would be more likely to go after someone who does not have an authenticator. So please, if you think an authenticator is a bad idea, for my sake continue to have an unprotected account …)

The quibble I have with this is that Blizz is really chintzing out on the offer. Their miserly “gift” is a whopping — get ready for this — FOUR extra bag spaces!

Sheesh.

Upgrading 970 legendaries. This is nothing more than a big Blizz gotcha joke, in my opinion. In the few comments Blizz has made about this annoying and tedious process (it will take many people literally months to upgrade all theirs, even assuming they max out Wakening Essences every day), they have rather smarmily intimated that maybe we should just pick a few legendaries to upgrade and forget about the rest.

Really?

After you handed them out like candy, after you refused to back off the RNG aspect of which ones we could get, after you nerfed the “good” ones so that they are all more or less equal in certain circumstances? After all you have done to encourage us to use all of them depending on the fight and our individual gearing and talents, NOW you say we should just pick a couple and stick with them?

If Blizz is going to stick with the system they have on this, the least they could do is make the Wakening Essences more plentiful. They could ensure we get at least 10 in the emissary chests. They could award them for every world quest we do instead of just emissary ones, or alternately they could award several as the actual WQ reward, like they do with gold or Blood of Sargeras or class hall resources. They could give us a shoulder enchant that awards a few bonus ones periodically as loot.

Even better, Blizz, quit nickel and diming us on this stuff and do like you did in other expansions — when the new numbers hit, auto-upgrade the ones we have. What the hell would it hurt to do that? If you really do want us to switch out these items as situations dictate, then you should upgrade them all so we will actually do that, not encourage us to just stick to the two or three we have managed to grind out upgrades for. Put your money where your mealy mouth is.

And on that note of cranky annoyance, I am off to start my weekend. Enjoy yours.

Antorus – Not with a bang, but a whimper

Late Edit: After I published this piece, I realized I used the exact same poetic metaphor Bendak did in his post on hunter tier and trinkets in Antorus. This was entirely coincidental, but it looks cheesy, and I apologize to both Bendak and my readers for any appearances of literary sleaziness. 

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

Tomorrow in the U.S. we will get the new raid, Antorus the Burning Throne. It is the last major raid tier in Legion and as such marks the beginning of the end of this expansion. As I am heartily sick of Tomb of Sargeras, I will be very glad to get into a new raid, and as usual I am looking forward to what I hope will be a lot of “tie up loose ends” time as soon as our raid team has completed heroic Antorus.

I did quite a lot of study and prep for the new raid over the weekend. (I did not try it out on the PTR.) From what I can see, it looks to have some interesting bosses, as well as some that I will undoubtedly hate. In particular, I am sure that I will suck at the mechanics of Eonar — the fight where you continually chase huge groups of adds around multi-level platforms and jump and fly between them. I am terrible at three-dimensional fights. It is a raid team joke about how often I fell to my death on the spider boss Elerethe Renferal in Emerald Nightmare. I never did master any of the older ones where you had to fly for a large portion of any fight — I am basically not able to translate a 2D screen into a 3D mindset, I guess.

The thing is, the Eonar fight seems tailor made for BM hunters — we have some adequate cc (now, though nothing like we had prior to Legion), and of course “unlimited mobility”. Though of course it is not in fact unlimited mobility, as we have a strictly limited number of ranged damage shots and the majority of our damage is bound to essentially a slow moving melee pet or pack of pets. And Blizz has greatly nerfed BM AoE damage over the course of Legion, to the point that if the mobs are not very tightly packed, forget it. We will see how this particular fight turns out, but I am not optimistic.

Still, as I said, I am looking forward to a new raid. From what I could see from my study, it looks like most Antorus bosses will require quite a lot of team coordination — more than other Legion raids. I like this, as it is very rewarding when a team finally syncs and downs a boss because everyone suddenly “got it”.

On the other hand, a team-centered set of mechanics makes it very difficult to switch out players or have raid drop-ins, because inevitably the drop-in players will cause a few wipes before they learn the team movement rhythm. If this happens during the progression phase, it can greatly extend the time required to complete the raid bosses. And sometimes it can be doubly frustrating when the team has the raid on farm, because it makes it seem like you are actually regressing because of multiple and constant wipes.

Anyway, I digress. The main point is, I am looking forward to the new raid, though not for the gear. For many classes — especially BM hunters — you can almost forget about shiny new tier gear that makes you more powerful. I am not going to go into details on this (check out Bendak’s rather dismal assessment of BM tier and trinkets in his latest post here), but suffice It to say I am not excited about the gear possibilities. I hope Blizz is at least embarrassed by their complete failure on the whole notion of tier gear in Legion — it seems incredible to me that, for several specs, gear from two tiers ago is still more powerful than the newest stuff. This situation more than any other speaks to the utter mess Blizz made with the whole complex gear/talent/bonus jumble they created and then were incapable of controlling.

In the coming months, there will be a lot of Legion retrospectives. I think in general the expansion will get a thumbs up from most people. As it should, though possibly it looks much better only because WoD was so awful. But on balance I think it will be judged to have been a good expansion, with a lot of very decent game advancements, including but not limited to Mythic+ instances, zone scaling, improved transportation methods (taxi whistle, shorter commercial flying routes, in-game portals), emissary quests and world quests, and a fast content pace.

The single greatest drawback, though, for me has been the endless grinding — for gear (including the horrible Legion legendaries), for artifact upgrades, for professions. Antorus — with its puny tier gear and introduction of yet another grind (in the form of the Antorus trinkets) is not really a grand finale to Legion, rather it is more a stretching out of an expansion feature that had already far outlived its novelty.

After this week we will likely have seen all there is to see in Legion. It seems like there will be no great final cosmic event like the explosion of Antorus the planet in the Azerothian sky, no victory parade for defeating the Legion, no medals or unit citations handed out, no welcome-home-to-the-heroes celebrations. Just grinding away until the expansion sputters out.

Though I have hated it on my main, grinding away on alts I have had precious little time for is at least a satisfying pastime, and one I will happily spend a few months doing. But it is not very spectacular. With apologies to T.S. Eliot, I would have preferred Legion to end “Not with a whimper but a bang”.

Chasing the carrot

I am not what anyone would call an achievement hog (or the other terminology where you leave off the “g”). I do not really go out of my way to check off unfinished tasks in my WoW log. Most of my achievements are there as a by-product of my normal play style, and in any guild ranking by achievement points I am pretty far down the list. I am happy to participate in guild achievement nights, and I am always ready to help others get special achievements, but left to my own devices I generally do not directly pursue them unless they lead to something else I really want. (Achievements to unlock flying would be an example.)

But that does not mean I am not goal-driven. It’s just that I prefer to set my own goals rather than have Blizz list them out for me. As I have explained before in this blog, I set pretty much the same goals for myself at the start of every expansion, roughly:

  • Progress through every raid tier at whatever level of play my raid team is doing.
  • Gear my main to approximately whatever the “max” level is for the level of raids I run.
  • Max out all my professions on all my characters.
  • Level all my alts, at least to LFR minimums.
  • Spend enough play time with my alts to be minimally proficient with them.
  • Develop one or two alts to be able to do normal raid mode.

I get a real feeling of satisfaction when I judge that I have reached these goals.

My frustration with Legion is that, for many of these goals, Blizz has either vastly increased the time necessary to do them, or they keep moving the line to where I can never really feel I have completed them. Both factors tend to make most of these personal goals unattainable. I only have so much play time available, for example, and if gearing up an alt (mainly artifact AP) takes twice as long as in a previous expansion, then I will only be able to gear up half as many alts. (That’s not the actual ratio, but you get the idea.)

But the most frustrating part of all this has been that it is not possible to “finish” my main’s artifact (and thus gear) leveling because Blizz keeps introducing more and more levels of power to it. Consider:

  • They initially told us once we got all the basic traits done and got to the final gold trait, anything beyond that would be minimal and we should not feel we had to diligently pursue it.
  • Then along came a patch and lo and behold they added a whole new set of traits we had to build until we got to “Convergence” on our weapons.
  • But after that, said Blizz, no worries, anything beyond that would be minimal and we should not feel we had to diligently pursue it.
  • Then of course along came patch 7.3, and Blizz once again yanked the football away and pushed us to chase billions and billions of AP every week to fill in — yes, you guessed it — another trait table, this one based on relic slots!

As usual, now they are reassuring us that once we get all relic levels unlocked, any further increases to artifact power are minimal and we should not feel we have to bust our sweet little asses pursuing AP after that.

Mmmmmmm-hmmm. Sure.

This is all old news, of course. We should no longer be surprised when Blizz lies to us time after time. (Remember their progressive lies about the role of garrisons in WoD.) “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” We have all rightly complained a lot about the endless AP grind in Legion, and even Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas seemed to realize it in a couple of oblique comments in yesterday’s dev Q&A.

The thing is, this will not change in Battle for Azeroth. We will not have an artifact weapon, but instead we will have at least 4 pieces of artifact-type gear. The mechanics will be different, but these things will not:

  • We will be required to have one certain piece of gear (the neck piece) in order to even function in the expansion. This is like our being required to have an artifact weapon in Legion. It is not possible to participate in the expansion without it.
  • The neck piece will in effect control the trait tables for at least 3 other pieces of gear. We will have to “progress” the neck piece in order to unlock various traits capabilities for other gear slots. Sound familiar?
  • Our artifact weapon special gear will gain power by our accumulation of massive amounts of artifact power azerite. We will get this by participating in the MAU-enhancing activities Blizz designates. For the entire expansion.

No matter what Blizz says about powering up the new gear, you can take it to the bank that the enhancement process will be never-ending. For anyone wishing to raid or even to do Mythic+ (Blizz’s new stealth raiding activity), there will be no logical stopping points. As soon as there starts to be a slight dip in MAU, Blizz will introduce an entirely new set of powers to be unlocked by diligently chasing more azerite. Count on it.

And so, finally, here is my point: I do not know how much longer I can continue chasing something I can never catch in this game. I am not sure I can reset my brain to give up a set of personal goals that have served me well ever since I began playing WoW. There is a slow burning anger in me that Blizz so cavalierly devalues my goals and my play style, and a growing nugget of rage that not only do they tell me what my goals will be but that they keep moving those goals further down the field. 

No, I am not going to rage quit. I will wait and see what BfA brings. In the big picture, when I engage my logic rather than my emotions, I know it is still an amazing game. I must certainly be having fun with it, because otherwise I would have quit long ago.

But I cannot shake the feeling that each time I log on I am being backed into a smaller and smaller corner, being forced into a play style and set of game activities set not by me but by Blizz. If I may shift metaphors here, I am sick of having a carrot tied to my head so that no matter how fast I run I can never catch it, and I am sick of Blizz telling me a continuous stream of lies about my chances of doing it.

I want the damn carrot, Blizz!

Next week is American Thanksgiving week, and I will be taking a blog vacation during that time to tend to relatives and cooking and football. Look for me back here on November 27th. For those of you who celebrate turkey day, enjoy!

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+.

The problem with designing for the squeaky wheels

This blog is not exceptionally popular. On any given day I probably have less than 200 readers, small potatoes in the blogosphere. Of those, maybe less than 10% ever post comments, but I am nearly always impressed with how thoughtful and well-expressed those comments are, even when someone takes great issue with something I have written. I have rarely had to deal with trolls or rage-filled screeds. So I feel a tiny bit of pride that I seem to have attracted something akin to the top echelon of WoW blog readers.

I don’t reply to every comment, but I read every one of them, and even when I do not reply, I do think about every point made in them or sometimes just appreciate the humor of a well-expressed smartass retort. Every once in a while, though, a reader makes a comment that puts my brain into overdrive. This happened with a comment on my last post, from Marathal, a fellow blogger.

You can go back and check it out for yourself, but basically Marathal made the point that Blizz adjusts their game at least in part to remedy shortcomings expressed by players who have left the game, rather than by trying to figure out why people who have not left are still playing. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but the more I thought about it, the more profound I thought it was.

WoW has millions of customers, and with that many there will always be a pretty significant turnover — people leave the game, new people take it up. But Blizz sits up and take notice if many more are leaving than are joining. We do not know if this is happening lately, because they stopped publishing subscription numbers after the great exodus during the first few months of Warlords of Draenor. But we are still feeling the effects of game design changes Blizz made in response to that exodus.

The big public complaint about WoD was that there was a lack of “content”. People left the game, so Blizz tells us, because they felt that once they had leveled up their characters, there was nothing to do. Thus, in Legion, Blizz went berserk overcompensating for this perceived shortfall. We have world quests (basically just a lot of dailies, renamed), an artifact weapon designed to be endlessly upgraded, flying  gated both by time and long-grind achievements, lottery-drop super gear in the form of RNG legendaries (lots of them, so once you get one you do not quit trying), a renamed WoD garrison with continuing quest lines, professions that can only be maxed out by participating in activities that require high level gear and good luck, quality of life items gated behind tedious rep grinds, Mythic+ dungeons designed to keep players running the same instances over and over indefinitely, classes/specs that only perform adequately with certain levels of gear with certain secondary stats— well, you get the idea.

Basically, Legion is a response to all the players who quit in WoD. It is Blizz saying, “You want content? I got yer content right here, whiners!”

Did it work to bring these players back? We don’t know for sure, absent subscription numbers, but certainly it brought some back. There is anecdotal evidence that many of the same players who left in WoD and came back for Legion, though, continue to take significant breaks from the game as soon as they have plowed through whatever the current patch is, waiting for another flurry of game activity with the next patch, then leaving again, etc. I would love to see the weekly-fluctuating MAU numbers over the course of an entire Legion patch.

Meanwhile, what about the players who did not leave during WoD? Why did they stay, in the face of the gigantic “No content!” outcry? Clearly, this was not a good enough reason for them to quit the game. I can only speak for myself, but I stayed because I think the game is big enough for me to always find my own content, and for something more complex: I like the feeling of maxing out my character for the expansion and then having total freedom to do whatever the hell I want to when I log on. It is my favorite part of every expansion. I usually set some loose game goals at the start — max out professions, be a contributing member of a heroic-level raid team, enjoy most of the expansion’s perks, have the leisure to develop all my alts, etc. — and when I reach that point I feel a real sense of accomplishment.

I feel like Legion has taken that away from me. In their zeal to appease the players who demand to have their game goals set for them, Blizz has designed an expansion that never lets me achieve mine.

One quick example: Our raid leader — a terrific generally laid-back guy — recently said that he expects all raiders for the next tier (due in about 3 weeks) to have achieved level 75 on their main artifact. Given that I am currently only at level 69 and that each new level requires billions and billions of AP, my life for the next 3 weeks will pretty much consist of me grinding out every AP-reward world quest every day, because I want to keep raiding in the next tier. It will also require me to run some M+ dungeons (which I am not a fan of) to get the huge weekly AP bonus from running a +10 or higher. In short, a year into Legion, my game time will not really be my own.

Sure, I brought this on myself by wanting to be part of a raid team. But my point is, Blizz designed our main piece of Legion gear to be not only indispensable, but also a never-ending grind. Our RL is merely doing his job requiring us to keep up with the grind, because that will actually make a difference in our next-tier progression rate. This may be the first time in WoW history when merely having the previous tier’s gear will probably be insufficient to tackle the next raid tier — we will need to have a separate progression on our weapon, one not connected directly with tier.

Blizz designed the artifact weapon — and nearly all of Legion — to appease the short-attention-span people who left the game in WoD, not to appeal to the people who did not leave.

There is an obvious danger in this design approach. Blizz runs the risk of not being able to keep up with the demands of the easily-bored, and in the process of trying, of making the game ultimately abhorrent to the steady, patient, loyal group of players that are still the game’s core, no matter how much Blizz may wish to deny it. Each of us has our own point of no return, our own final straw. We may not be able to articulate what that is, but we will recognize it when it happens. For me personally, I feel a loss every time Blizz removes game play options, every time they force me into a certain track in order to achieve one of my goals. With Legion, I have seen that trend accelerating. What happens in the next expansion may well determine how much longer I stay in the game.

I wish Blizz would see what they are doing to their most loyal players, and I wish they would realize that they cannot sustain a game entirely with the hard-core pros. (It’s not the elite top 10% who pay the bulk of the monthly subscriptions, after all.) WoW won its preeminent place in the gaming world because it was available to nearly everyone, because it offered as much to the casual player as it did to the hard core types. It really was a game for the masses, and I am saddened that apparently Blizz believes that was a bad thing. For it now to become accessible almost exclusively to the pros, to those who have the desire and luxury of devoting hours to it every day, is in my opinion a betrayal of the very roots of the game.

So, yeah, a shout out to Marathal for really making me think. And thanks to my few but loyal readers — you are tops in my book.

Thinking is thirsty work, though, and and thus it is time for me to grab a beer and start a weekend. 😉 You all enjoy yours, too.