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.

Non-legendary legendaries

Over the weekend I was reading up a bit on the 7.3.x upcoming changes — I opted not to dabble on the PTR this time — and I came away feeling pretty cranky about the whole legendary mechanic for Legion.

What got me going, of course, is the description we have so far for the one of the new pseudo-legendaries, Aman’Thul’s Vision. (Set aside for the moment that I was predisposed to hate it if because the name contains one of Blizz’s pretentious, senseless, and unfortunately ubiquitous apostrophes.) From what I can glean, it is a legendary trinket that is not really a legendary, in that it does not count as one of your two equipped legendaries. It does, however, count as your one allowed Titan/Pantheon Trinket (more on that below), and so now in addition to figuring out which legendaries to equip, along with which tier pieces and regular trinkets to equip, we will have to also figure out which trinkets are not allowed to play together. More fodder for the super computers.

The trinket itself is a stat stick, increasing all secondary stats to the player — crit, mastery, haste, and versatility. Additionally, it has a chance to proc tertiary stats — yes, I regret to say we have come to this sad situation — so at random intervals the player will get a buttload of speed, avoidance, and leech for 12 seconds. But the real presumed power of the thing is its use in a raid, where, if at least four players have the thing equipped, and if all four happen to randomly have overlapping procs, then an additional wildcard is proc’ed, giving the players a huge primary stat increase for a few seconds.

This is that stupid WoD ring on steroids, but with the added “feature” of it being totally random, no player control needed! This, of course eliminates the LFR problem of “premature use”, when that one inevitable idiot proc’ed the ring on the first round of trash. Now RNG can do that for you!

Who doesn’t love more RNG in the game, huh?

Now, when first I read about this trinket, I was thinking, OK, this is how Blizz gets around the 2-legendary restriction. They have vowed up and down that we will not/not/not be able to equip more than 2 legendaries, because that would be needlessly — something. So of course they cannot now change their minds on this important point. Instead, they craft an item that looks like a legendary, walks like a legendary, and quacks like a legendary, but they tell us it is not a legendary! So now we can equip two legendaries plus a thing that looks exactly like a legendary but trust us it is not one.

Yeah.

As silly as this sounds, it is actually much more complex — and ridiculous — than that. The trinket is part of en entire system of “Argus Pantheon Trinkets”, with a whole set of rules for how/when to equip them, ways to upgrade them, etc. Of course most of them are random drops on Argus, and they appear to have fairly specific circumstantial uses, so here is a whole new reason for players to grind out shit on Argus. (Aman’thul’s Vision, the exception, is a loot drop from the final boss of the new raid tier. Which means this is not for casual players, it is only available to raiders, yet another example of Blizz pandering to the pros.)

And the trinket system? Well, you can check out a pretty detailed description of it here, but I warn you it almost takes a degree in physics or engineering to understand it. Basically, Blizz has overlaid the Legion legendary system onto trinkets.

Think about that for a moment.

Blizz, in the persona of Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, has several times admitted that they made a mistake with the whole Legion legendary system. They have applied numerous bandages to it to try and fix it — bad luck insurance, increasing the drop rate of the first couple in order to help alts compete, incorporating some of the effects into baseline spec abilities, nerfing the stupidly-OP ones, etc. But the fact remains that Legion legendaries to this day just plain stink as a concept. They strictly limit a player’s options — once you embark for a few months on a certain spec, it becomes very difficult to switch if you do not have the required legendaries for it, and even if you do not want to switch specs (say nothing of class), you are handicapped for some aspects of the game if you have not had the good luck to get the “good” legendaries. Additionally, they make an already-complex gear system vastly more so.

And now Blizz — who have admitted Legion legendaries were not their best idea — have doubled down on the concept by introducing an entire trinket system that is a virtual twin of the legendary system.

What.

The.

Fuck.

Recall that this is exactly what happened with garrisons in WoD. Fairly early in WoD, Blizz admitted that the garrison system had turned out badly, that it had unintended adverse results for the health of the game, that players hated it. So what did they do for 6.2? Yep, they doubled down on it, requiring not only player garrisons but also expanded garrisons with shipyards to even be able to see the new patch content. Garrisons stunk as an idea, so what better course of action than to increase their importance!

I have said it before and now I will say it again, when you are in a hole you cannot get out of, the first rule is to stop digging.

I am sure we will all meekly accept the new Argus legendary trinket system, and we will dutifully chase them for months. Some of us will chase the non-legendary legendary trinket as well, and will grind away trying to get the gizmo to upgrade our other Pantheon trinkets into additional non-legendary legendaries, so that we can have an entire range of encounter-specific gear for almost every possible situation. We will carry around a ton of gear to be able to swap it out even if we never change specs, and we will haunt the web-based banks of computers to calculate the best gear set for every eventuality.

But is this really fun? More to the point, is the overhead becoming so high to get to the fun part that there is a serious cost-benefit deficit? It is a mark of how much I and others love this game that we have stuck with it for so long, even in the face of a relentlessly creeping complexity that is now nearing — or possibly well past — the level of stupidly ridiculous.

And with each new level of complexity the players cede more control, ironically lose more options. We are at the mercy of probability to get legendaries, to get tier gear, to get “good” legendaries and trinkets. And even after we have negotiated the probability minefield to get one of the new trinkets, we will not be able to control when to use it. It’s one thing for this to be the case with minor trinkets, where you might get a small individual boost randomly from equipping them, but it is a whole different thing for this to be how it works for a major buff that can affect the success or failure of an entire raid, after players have ground out what will likely be many final-boss kills just to get the ability. Or more accurately, just to get a lottery ticket.

Do the frogs ever get to the point of “This water is getting too hot, I’m outta here!”?

Clearly, I do not know the answer to that. I am still here, paddling around.

Confessions of a mediocre hunter

Let’s get one thing clear up front: I am nowhere close to being a great hunter. At best, I am slightly better than adequate in terms of game play. Oh, sure, I have some moments of greatness now and then — as do we all — but in general the best anyone could say about me is that my game play is “reliable”.

I do not pay much attention to damage numbers during raids, nor do I obsess about rankings. However, we have some people on our raid team who immediately check their boss rating after every single boss kill, who like to equip certain low level pieces of gear so that they will compete for rankings in lower gear categories, who demand certain positions in fights because those positions allow them to just pew-pew and pad their damage numbers, who cannot resist humble-bragging about their DPS or awesome gear, etc. That is not me, and though these are very nice people, frankly I think less of them when they feel compelled to draw everyone’s attention to their game prowess. Where I come from, the truly great are quiet and self-effacing, and the only way you ever know how awesome they are is from others, never ever from them.

But I digress. The fact that I am not a top-notch hunter does not mean I do not constantly try to improve my game play. I spend time every week simming various gear combos, and I conscientiously grind out artifact level increases as much as my available play time permits. After every raid, I go back and analyze my performance in Warcraft Logs or similar log web sites, noting areas where I was deficient and setting a self-training goal for the week based on that analysis. I still spend probably on average 20-30 minutes a week slaving away at the target dummies.

Over the course of Legion, I have definitely improved my hunter timing and cooldown sequencing/coordination, as well as my ability to keep up a rotation even during heavy movement phases.  I still have some problems with focus management — too often am maxed out on focus — but I am working on that. And I have made great strides in my overall raid awareness in the past year — die much less often, need less healing, see more of the raid big picture. As a result of all this, I am performing closer and closer to sim DPS numbers on many fights.

But here’s the thing: whereas I used to frequently be in the top 5 damage dealers in our raid, now I am routinely near the very bottom. The harder I work and the more I improve, the worse my raid performance. I feel like I am running as fast as I can and still losing ground.

It is not a good feeling.

So why is it happening? Well, one reason is that once progression is over and everyone really learns a raid fight, BM hunter mobility stops being much of an advantage. Casters (and I include MM hunters in this) learn where they can stand and for how long, and thus they can take full advantage of their inherently higher damage potential. Melee learn how to maximize their damage even during constant interruptive boss mechanics. In short, BM hunter mobility allows us to start out progression fairly close to the top of our potential, whereas other damage dealers have a more intense learning curve. But once they master it, hunter mobility ceases to be the huge advantage it was at the start.

This is one of the major flaws in Blizz’s BM hunter design. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mobility. But every time hunters complain about puny damage potential, Blizz hollers, “Yeah, but MOBILITY!!” It is true that mobility is a significant factor and should be part of the overall BM damage equation, but it is not nearly as potent as Blizz claims. For one thing, as I described above, its effects are transient — by the middle of a raid tier it counts for very little when compared to other specs’ damage potential. For another thing, most of a BM hunter’s damage is done by pets, which are melee damage dealers, so hunter mobility is kind of a moot point. It doesn’t really make a whole hell of a lot of difference if I can shoot my puny Cobra Shot while moving, since that is not where much damage comes from anyway.

Another reason BM hunters are falling faster in the dps charts is because Blizz has steadfastly refused to treat the BM artifact — which in reality is Hati, not the actual gun — like a real artifact weapon. They have refused to scale Hati with gear level to the same degree as they scale, say, a warrior artifact. To be fair, this is not a unique BM hunter shortfall, there are several specs Blizz designed so poorly that they are unable to scale them with gear level and artifact improvements. More recently, Blizz admitted that the 7.3 Crucible would benefit some classes a lot more than others, and since they had done a shitty job designing some specs’ artifacts, they just threw up their hands in despair and gave these specs a lazy, across-the-board damage increase, hoping that would be sufficient. It is not, mainly because they probably need to do it constantly to keep up with other specs’ increasing power resulting from higher stat levels and artifact upgrades. Thus, we can anticipate these poorly-designed specs to continue their slow relative descent in damage levels.

I would not be overly concerned that much (but certainly not all) of my recent crappy raid performance can be blamed on BM hunter design (or lack thereof), except for one thing — our RL has started negotiations with another guild to see if we can put together a decent combined team for Mythic Tomb, at least to do a few early Mythic bosses, before the next raid tier goes live. I would love to be part of this, but I am afraid my increasingly poor showing will preclude that. If you can pick and choose your 20-man mythic team, you are probably not going to go much below your top 5 damage dealers.

Worse, I feel like there is not much I can do about it. I do not have the time to grind AP — and thus artifact levels — harder than I do now. I cannot do much to change my luck with titan-forged gear, so there is not much I can do to increase my overall gear level, which is stuck around 934-938. And there are limited areas for me to improve my game play — focus management being the one I can work on. It is a frustrating feeling. As I have said before in this blog, I am not part of a mythic raiding guild, but I feel like I should be able to contribute on the few occasions when we dabble our toes in that level towards the end of a raid tier. The fact that I am fighting an upstream battle — working as hard as I can — just to slow my regression does not feel good.

This is the human face of Blizz’s lazy approach to class design and balance.

My fishing weekend

Because I have a very slight streak of masochism, I spent much of my weekend game time getting the Legion artifact fishing pole on my main.

O

M

G

Taken as a whole, it probably wasn’t all that bad in terms of total time spent. But the process is stupidly complicated. Basically, once you have completed certain prerequisites, you get a random drop quest that leads to a scenario that leads to getting the artifact. That part — from getting the quest onwards — is fairly trivial. It’s the prerequisites that make you want to take a break by listening to someone rake their fingernails down a blackboard or going to your root canal appointment.

Specifically the prerequisite that is the most painful is the achievement Bigger Fish to Fry. It requires you to catch 18 different types of rare fish in the Broken Isles — 3 kinds per zone plus 3 ocean rares. The thing is, you can only catch these rare fish by using special lure or bait — a different special lure or bait for each kind of rare. Where do you get these items? Well, you fish them up. They are a random drop from the area they are specific to.

There is a slightly better drop rate in fishing pools, and in theory you can further improve your chances of getting them by using something called an Arcane Lure. You get this by spending time fishing up a special kind of mana in Conjurer Margoss’s pool, and giving the mana to him in exchange for the lures. The lures improve your chances of getting the required special baits by 100%, which sounds great, but remember the approximate drop rate even in pools is only about 5%, so whatever it is would be doubled with an Arcane Lure. My experience was that I was getting closer to a 2-3% pool drop rate, so the Arcane Lure doubled that.

You can buy the bait/lures in the Auction House, but at least on my server it seems not worth people’s time to farm them for sale. Consequently, the ones available are very limited. Over the course of the weekend at least half of the ones I needed were not in the Auction House.

Even more fun, two types of rare fish require gizmos that permit you to see the pools of these rares — they are not fished up from regular zone pools, rather they have their own pools, invisible unless you have the gizmo for that particular kind of rare. What makes this mechanic so annoying is that the gizmos are only good for 5 minutes, so if you do not find a special pool in that time, or if the special pool is somewhere that requires you to have water walking or a raft and you are not prepared for that, you are hosed.

Did I mention that all of the special baits/lures (except the Arcane Lure) are unique? Which means you can keep a total of one in your bag or one in your bank. Blizz meant for you to not be able to stockpile these. However, there is a reported workaround — if you are going to use them up in a single session, you can sell them to a vendor, then buy them back as you need them. Still, even selling them to a vendor is a tedious process because of course you can only have one at a time to sell.

I started with Level 800 fishing, and I laid out a plan of action before I began the artifact chase. It took me close to 7 hours to complete, mainly because I had some really crappy luck with getting the special bait and lures. YMMV of course.

I have never really minded fishing in WoW, kind of enjoyed it actually. It is sometimes a nice break from chasing after this or that quest or achievement. It can be peaceful, you put on some great music and grab a beer or whatever and just kind of chill while catching fish. It’s how I made most of my gold back in Cata. But I did not enjoy this artifact quest line. The fact that there was an actual goal to it seemed to take away from the relaxation aspect of the activity for me.

Oh, and did I mention that once you get the artifact pole, you get to chase after special fishing pole AP to unlock the traits? Whee! Even more fun, artifact knowledge levels do not apply to fishing pole AP!! That’s right, the initial rate of fishing pole AP is what you get even this late in Legion. To get the special AP, you equip your artifact pole and go fish up more of the rares. (Having first gotten the appropriate special bait, of course…) I sold off all my rares I got while completing the achievement, so I do not know this firsthand, but I believe that none of the pre-artifact rares you get will provide AP, only the ones you fish up with the artifact pole. One of my guildies informed me, as a little morale booster I guess, that it takes 8000 rares to unlock all the fishing pole traits.

Yeah. And remember, the rares themselves are worthless in terms of gold or recipes or anything, they are only to be thrown back in exchange for pole AP.

Still, I have to admit many of the pole traits are enticing. Who wouldn’t like to fish up an entire school of fish with one cast every once in a while? Or have druid-like underwater abilities?

One more thing to grind. Legion continues….

Trinkets and space

Last night, in what has become my virtual version of buying lottery tickets, I used my accumulated veiled argunite to purchase another trinket from the vendor on the Vindicaar. Trinkets are all I ever buy from him, since there is almost zero chance any of the other gear will turn out to be anything but vendor trash for me. Even my relics — while not the “perfect” trait enhancers sought by BM hunters — are pretty high level and honestly 7.3 has made me hate them for the twisted new level of RNG Blizz added because of addiction to high MAU metrics. I refuse to chase relics.

So I buy trinkets, mainly for the chance to get a level upgrade to one of the “good ones” from earlier in the expansion. Last night I won something like the consolation prize lottery by getting a 915 Unstable Arcanocrystal with a gem slot. I say “consolation” because it was only minimally titanforged (+5) and so is already kind of an ilevel drag on my gear, though not quite so much of a drag as the 860 one I only gave up about a month ago. Still, I was pretty happy to get it.

But even having gotten it, I am not going to stop my gambling habit on trinkets. I would love to get the BM hunter holy grail of trinkets, the Convergence of Fates. This was originally dropped by Elisande in Nighthold, but I have never gotten it, so I am only going on faith that it even exists. I will keep plunking down my currency for a chance on it, though.

I am not sure when it happened, but somewhere during WoD, I think, Blizz began to really explore the idea of special-purpose gear. That is, they thought it would be nifty if the gear for certain slots varied wildly in their effects, even though the items might be the same ilevel. It started with trinkets and has since spread to necks — although necks can be further tailored with enchants. I think the original idea was kind of creative, but of course in typical Blizz fashion, they have gone far past the bounds of good sense with it in Legion, to the point of ridiculousness.

Trinkets have become almost a per-fight specialty, and on top of that the utility of any one trinket depends heavily on one’s talent selections as well as on equipped legendaries and tier sets. What your “best” trinkets are will likely change if you swap out a legendary. In the same vein, getting a “great” trinket may well dictate what talent build and legendaries you need to select.

Trinket selection has become so difficult that even the supercomputer sims disagree on what is best for a given player. Without swapping talents or any other gear, for example, I get 3 completely different trinket combination recommendations from Beotorch, Raidbots, and AskMrRobot sim sites. For the same standard Patchwerk type fight. Blizz has apparently reached new heights of RNG-ness: Not only is it a crap shoot for getting gear and for that gear to have decent stats, but it is now also a crap shoot as to which gear you should equip. The mind boggles.

What this all means for the poor player — especially for the raiding player — is that we have to lug around most of our trinkets in our bags, lest we be caught short in a certain fight knowing we have just the right trinket for it but it is languishing in the bank. Even worse, the same logic pertains to legendaries and to some extent tier gear (several classes/specs still use 890-ish tier 19 gear because Blizz made it so much more powerful than the tier 20 stuff).

I am someone who likes open space, for interior decorating as well as for geography. To me, things look tidy when they are neatly placed with a lot of clear spaces around them. Clutter makes me feel powerless and overwhelmed. In WoW, I like neatly arranged bag space and bank slots. I use the addon ArkInventory because it lets me turn my bag and bank into well-organized closets. But even that does not help my state of mind if my storage space is crammed full. And Blizz has been steadily increasing the number of things we “have to” either carry around with us or keep available in the bank.

I have 136 slots in my bags (4 30-slot bags plus the stupidly archaic original 16-slot bag). Of those, 86 slots are perpetually filled with things I feel compelled to carry around:

  • 11 trinkets and 10 legendaries I might have to swap out in any given instance
  • 15 pieces of unequipped gear that might have to be swapped out to compensate for a different legendary or tier change or talent swap or — heaven forbid — spec swap
  • 4 hearthstone type items (Dal hearth, actual hearth, garrison hearth in case I get stuck, and whistle)
  • Miscellaneous specialized gear such as the Essence Swapper, Grapple Launcher, Skinning Knife, and Mother’s Skinning Knife (since this is actually a toy I might be able to drop it from my bag and just use the toy’s spell but I have not tried).
  • 6 types of food depending on the stat and/or health restoration rate I will need, plus feasts for raids. 21 different potions, flasks, and bandages as well as other enhancers like Stonehide Leather Barding, Leystone Hoofplates, drums, Tomes of the Tranquil Mind, Fel Focuser, and various runes.
  • Miscellaneous gear for champions, since you can only swap champion gear if you actually have it in your bag — if it is in the bank you have to go back and get it, then go back to your class hall and swap it out. And with 7.3, I frequently also have a slot occupied by those new follower types you get from the guy in Krokuun.

In all, of the 136 slots in my bags, only 50 — far fewer than half — are actually available for newly-acquired loot, or inevitable gray items from quests and killing, or gathered items, or maybe an extra gem or enchant. Do I actually need 50 or more slots for that stuff? No — especially since I can vendor it in the field using a mount — but it’s the idea that Blizz is requiring untidy clutter that annoys me, plus the fact that they keep piling it on. I feel like they keep adding “must-carry” items to the game because they know we all have very large storage space now so why not fill it up? (This, btw, is my spousal unit’s approach to things — he would cover every square inch of surface space in our house given a chance. Another example of opposites marrying each other …)

With that, I think I will start relaxing for the weekend by tidying up my sock drawer. Enjoy yours (weekend, not sock drawer).