Battle for Azeroth developments

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if — oh what the hell, it’s not like I’m giving away the ending to The Sopranos or anything.

I don’t know about you, but the news from Blizz on Battle for Azeroth has seemed to me to alternate between fire hose and last-trickle-of-water-from-the-canteen levels. The last day or two has been the former. So let me dig in with a few comments, in no particular order.

Battle for Azeroth will launch at exactly the same time everywhere on earth. No more chance for anyone to whine that Blizz loves EU or NA or whatever best. Specifically, it will launch at 3PM Pacific time on August 13th, which because of the Prime Meridian or Vasco da Gama or sidereal slant or something is actually August 14th in some parts of the world, which in spite of it sounding like being a day later is exactly the same time as August 13th, and now my head hurts. Anyway, just accept it on faith that there will be a simultaneous launch of BfA everywhere on the planet.

Not to sound too much like a pessimist or to put any ideas into anyone’s head, but holy moley does this sound like a golden opportunity for hackers to earn their wings by bringing down the entire game all over the world. And while Blizz has made some respectable strides over the past couple of years in fending off mass denial of service attacks, this announcement just feels like they are taunting the evil-doers in the world. And, let’s be honest, even if there are no successful outside attacks, Blizz has in the past demonstrated their own genius for crashing their servers their very own selves under heavy use.

Outside of the potential for technical disaster, many players are welcoming this simultaneous-launch announcement. For me, in Virginia, it means BfA will launch at 6 PM on Monday August 13th. I am strangely annoyed by this, even though probably lots of people would love it since it might mean they will be home from work and not have to call in “sick” *cough cough snuffle snuffle*.

Why don’t I like it? Well, sort of personal tradition. I have mentioned before that on launch day I really get a kick out of getting up around 1 or 2 AM, brewing a pot of coffee, getting on voice chat with guildies, and munching cereal while we all indulge our inner children by gleefully anticipating the launch like kids just before Christmas. We always joke about how many of us are still in our jammies, and of course there are the inevitable references to “Ummm, yeah, sure, ‘jammies’…”

To think this year it will mainly be a matter of scheduling dedicated computer time late in the day just does not seem as exciting for some reason. I know Blizz thinks this is a technological breakthrough for them, and I suppose if they can pull it off it will be hailed as such, but for me I feel like they have taken the specialness out of it. Maybe if they had stuck to simultaneous launch with something like 4 or 5AM Pacific time as the benchmark rather than the very mundane 3 PM… I guess they did not want to have to pay premium night rates to their techs, who knows.

Also big news is that today’s BfA beta build will finally allow character import, something many have not-so-patiently waited for now for a couple of weeks. I don’t think it is that big of a deal, personally, but it does allow some advantages. For one thing, it will mean we can see how level-800 professions transfer to the new profession system, rather than just experiencing what it is like to start a new profession in BfA. Also, presumably, a character’s mounts and pets will finally be available instead of the generic few allowed to this point. Possibly also a character’s transmog will now be visible instead of the hodgepodge look the generated characters have.

We will see the BfA effects on our regular character’s stats and legendaries. People used to several million health, high numbers for secondary stats, and a gear level at 950 or even higher will see all these numbers significantly squished. Similarly, people used to doing, say 1 or 2 million damage will see numbers far lower. Blizz has done this before, of course, so we should be used to it, but for some it is a big shock.

Of somewhat more interest to me is how Blizz will handle the stat squish in the pre-expansion patch, when we will still technically be in Legion. It might be easier to deal with now that there is widespread dynamic leveling technology in the game, but I suspect there will still be a large number of bugs — getting killed by a single imp, for example, or trash single-shotting the whole raid.

And not exactly BfA-specific, but what the hell is it with Death Knights? It seems like every time Blizz announces any change to classes or talents, there is like a page and a half of DK changes, and other classes will have one or two lines if that. I am talking about every single time, for a couple of years now. Sheesh, it’s like the infinite monkeys with typewriters thing — eventually you would think Blizz would get DKs straightened out, even if by sheer random fumbling.

Though I have not run any hardcore numbers, I am still hopeful for the future of BM hunters in BfA. I admit I hate the one-size-fits-all pet changes, and I am pretty pissed that Blizz promised us Tranq shot again then pulled it away, and that they hugely nerfed binding shot. Also, it strikes me that all the hunter “raid buffs” are pretty skimpy. They seem to be just backups in case the raid does not have any of the “real” classes that provide them. There seems very little unique to BM hunters (except possibly for PvP with Master’s Call), certainly not enough that would cause raid leaders to think of hunters in any way except as some added dps, and probably fairly mediocre dps at that. If, as Blizz claims, they want to put more emphasis on what makes a class unique, I am just not seeing that for hunters. If we do not bring any unique and useful raid buffs, then it seems to me that our value would need to be in top damage numbers, but so far anyway that does not seem to be the case.

(And not for nothin’, but what exactly was so terrible about Aspect of the Fox, the hunter-unique raid buff back in WoD that lasted approximately 20 minutes before Blizz — horrified — realized they had mistakenly given hunters an actual useful raid buff and quickly eliminated it. Whew! Any semblance of hunter raid uniqueness was narrowly averted, but it was a close call!)

Nevertheless, I have seen enough incremental changes to BM hunter for BfA to be just a tiny bit hopeful the spec will be viable.

Last but not least, if character copy is now available on the beta, that tells me the PTR cannot be far behind, which is a good thing. It will not be long before we hear Blizz plead for a lot of PTR logins so they can give the system a decent stress test. One hopes it will be sufficient to let them work out the inevitable crash points we are likely to encounter the day the entire world logs in to Battle for Azeroth.

With these scattered thoughts, it is time for a weekend. See you on the other side.

My week in WoW

It was a quiet week in Lake WoWbegone…

Okay, nope, not going there. Bad parody. But honestly it was a quiet game week for me. I mostly just enjoyed puttering around here and there. Bopped around a bit in the BfA beta world, read some game-related blogs and forums, switched my arcane mage to fire, and finally used my 110 boost.

BfA impression of the week: I created a few characters and took them to target dummies just to see how the playstyles felt. However, there was no real depth to my research, it was more of a toe-dabbling, and of course I am pretty bad at most of my non-hunter classes. (I will say, though, that I found Windwalker Monk to be amazingly engaging, to the KA-POW! level of fun. This is in spite of the fact that I usually do not enjoy any kind of melee class. I am definitely going to look into this for a “main alt” in BfA.)

My efforts were admittedly scattered and slipshod, but I want to recommend to you a new series by Wowhead, Battle for Azeroth Community Opinons. This series is anything but slipshod. There is a separate page for each class, and what Wowhead has done is solicit feedback from a few of the top players for each class. So what you get is 2-3 very decent analyses of the spec you are interested in, from different players, addressing not only spec changes but also an opinion of the flavor and feel of the spec.

I encourage you to check it out. Unfortunately, I could not find a sub-topic home page for the series to link to, but if you do a web search on “wowhead battle for azeroth community opinions” you will get a list of all of them. It really is some of the best feedback I have seen lately. Even if you prefer to experience your spec for yourself, these other opinions may show you some avenues of research you had not considered.

Switching mage spec to fire. Although I leveled my void elf mage as arcane, I finally decided that I just have way more fun playing fire. So I switched about a week ago. Yeah, I know fire mages are mediocre damage dealers in Legion, but so what? Anyway, the process of switching has once again brought home to me the very significant difficulties Blizz has introduced in Legion for switching specs.

Let me explain. Certainly for what we used to call “hybrid” classes, switching specs to another role has always involved some complexity — different gear, primarily. Hybrids have always had to carry around a set of gear for each spec they wanted to play. This was a drawback, though the theory was that it was compensated for by the fact that a hybrid was conceivably more useful to groups than was a “pure” damage class. Also, originally to balance out the increased utility of hybrids — along with their perceived desirability for groups — so-called “pure” dps were deliberately made a bit more powerful than the damage specs of  hybrid classes.

But starting a couple of expansions ago, Blizz threw most of that out the window. There is no longer a damage advantage for pure dps classes, and on top of that the increased importance of secondary stats on gear has resulted in even pure dps classes carrying around different sets of gear for each spec. So pure dps classes now have the disadvantages of hybrids without the advantage of being able to change roles. And Legion compounded this situation by introducing the burden of AP and artifacts and spec-particular legendaries to the problem. (Yeah, yeah, I know there are “catch-up” mechanisms, but it still takes hours and days and even weeks depending on your luck to get a new spec up to speed for gear and gems and enchants and legendaries and artifact level and relics.)

I suppose I don’t have much of a point here, except to say that I am still pretty damn mad at Blizz for deliberately misleading us. I clearly recall that, in the leadup to Legion, Mr. Not Yet But Soon To Be Game Director Hazzikostas touted the idea that “you will be able to switch into any spec you want, no more 2-spec limit!” And, like baby birds anticipating yummy regurgitated worm from mom, we were all chirping and excited about this. What a load of crap, foisted on us by someone who knew full well there was a huge catch to it but who apparently considered us all to be gullible and stupid enough to think Blizz was actually giving us a break.

My 110 boost. Nothing very exciting here. After weighing some options and considering my game play style preferences, I decided to create a shaman and boost it. Of course I boosted it into Elemental (remember my preference for ranged), but I think as soon as I get a bit more comfortable with it I will try Resto. I have never really played a shaman at level. Once or twice in the past I tried to level one, but got frustrated with having to keep track of what seemed like a bewildering array of totems, all of which had different effects and cooldowns and which had to be individually managed. So even though good shamans may disagree, I like the totem changes in Legion.

Anyway, finally that 110 boost is no longer burning a hole in my pocket and taunting me every time I log in. I will make my new alt a blacksmith, so that will fill out all professions for my little character family. Woohoo, lots of new stuff to learn!

Off to do a weekend. See you on the other side.

Dusting off alts

Last night I pulled out my poor neglected mistweaver monk and ran through a couple wings of Antorus the Burning Throne with her. It was pretty grim, but thankfully even really nasty LFR groups seldom pay any attention whatsoever to healers, so I have found it is easier to be very bad on a healer than on a damage dealer or certainly a tank.

Usually within the first half of an expansion I level all my alts. (I don’t have tons of them, only 8 not counting my main or my banker.) I was a little slower doing this in Legion than in previous expansions, mainly because the overhead was so high for my main. But I managed to level all my alts except my demon hunter, which to be honest I am thinking of deleting. (Not a big fan of the DH play style.) After an alt is leveled, I try to gear them up a bit and develop their professions, but then they pretty much sit on the bench until much later in the expansion. Also, I tend to ignore my melee classes longer because I am basically a ranged player at heart. (This is my main objection to monks — I like the mistweaver healing style, but I dislike having to maintain the melee windwalker spec for soloing.)

So in Legion, besides my main hunter, I leveled: another hunter, two mages, a warlock, a rogue, a monk, and a druid. Seven “working alts” total. My “main alt” this expansion is my druid, though I only play resto and balance on her. I’ve never felt the need to have one of every class, although I know a lot of players use that philosophy with alts. I do, though, have at least one of every profession except blacksmithing (because I don’t have any plate wearers, I suppose). In Legion, most of my professions have all the baseline recipes, but they have not progressed to level 3 on all of them. Still, I am pretty self-sufficient for gems, enchants, runes, raid food, etc. (*shhhhhhhh*, don’t tell Ion!) And earlier in Legion, when crafted gear was still relevant, I was able to outfit my cloth, leather, and mail wearers decently.

At any rate, last night I summoned my monk off the bench and put her in the game. Over the years I have developed a definite process for doing this. It invariably goes something like this:

  • Check gear/profession/questline status of alt. Make note of glaring gaps and set those as short term goals. For example, I noted my monk had not done anything beyond the initial Argus quest line. Also her gear level was sitting right at around 900, which I consider to be the minimum, so I will work on increasing it. And of her 3 legendaries, only one was level 1000, so 2 needed to be upgraded.
  • Determine which spec will be main and which will be off for the alt. In Legion, of course, sometimes this requires running through the artifact quest line for a spec you did not level as.
  • Head to Icy Veins or Wowhead for some book learning on the main spec’s crucial stats and baseline rotations. Both these sources often have a section that gives just the “Dummy” versions of recommended rotations, sort of a quick start guide. The main things I try to understand/relearn at this point are the spell dependencies and interrelationships, along with a lifeline rotation I can hang onto until I get more familiar with the spec.
  • Set up my action bars with the spec’s spells.

I actually study this stuff as if there were going to be a quiz on it. I have a notebook with a section for every class/spec I play, and each section lists the stat order of importance, recommended enchants, important spell dependencies, and my basic rotation. This last is very detailed, listing my actual keybinds in order of execution. So it looks something like “1-1-2-2-4-shift1 on CD-6 when it procs”. Sometimes I also copy the rotation sequence to a large sticky and put it on my monitor.

Yeah, I know, I am a nerd. Quit rolling your eyes.

  • Determine the things I will need to keep track of or be reminded of,  check online for an appropriate set of WeakAuras, import them and tweak to fit my needs. If no good ones already exist, I take the time to create my own.
  • Spend some time (usually about a half hour) at the target dummies, developing some initial muscle memory for the baseline rotation(s). Adjust keybinds and/or WeakAuras as necessary.
  • Venture out into the end game world. In Legion that has meant running some world quests and invasions, completing some emissaries, and progressing a bit along content expansion quest lines such as Argus, or part of Broken Shore, or Suramar far enough to get the mask.
  • Take a deep breath and plunge into the current tier of LFR.
  • Continue working on goals set way back in the first step of the process.

In Mists and WoD, I would run each spec through the Proving Grounds, but I have not done that in Legion, as what I need early in my learning curve is practice, not frantic time tests. Usually by the time I have run a couple of LFRs and done several emissaries, I have a good idea of whether or not the alt will be viable for one of our guild alt raids. If I feel it is not ready, I will either take a couple more weeks or just consign it to the “LFR-only” category. (My rogue is like this.)

I do like Timewalkers for alts, because everyone is more or less equalized for gear and whatnot in those, and they yield decent rewards for an undergeared character. Also, if my guild happens to be running groups for the Mythic instance weekly, I will sometimes jump in on one of those with an alt. But I rarely look for Mythic pug groups (even regular Mythic) with an alt. I guess I think if even my main hunter is frequently denied entry to these groups, there is no way I want to put up with the hassle for an alt. Also, I almost never run an M+ on an alt.

Anyway, that’s my prep sequence for dusting off unused alts and getting them into the game. And now it is time to dust off a beer and start the weekend. See you on the other side.

Alt raiding

Last night our guild did an alt run of Heroic Antorus the Burning Throne. We have been running normal for alt runs, but several people have got their “main alts” to a level where that is not really challenging any more. We set an ilevel requirement of 920 and ended up with something like 15 people. We made it as far as Kin’garoth fairly easily, but wiped repeatedly on him and called it for the night. That boss is really a DPS check (how fast you can down the adds) for the remainder of the raid, a sort of gateway to the hardest final bosses. But all in all it was a fun night, and we got further than I expected.

From a personal standpoint, I did get two tier upgrades on my druid — yay! But my healing was not much more than adequate, and it was only afterwards that I discovered a huge mistake in my keybind setup. Not necessary to go into details, but the result was that what I thought was my keybind for Nature’s Cure was in fact a dupe of my keybind for combat rez. Oops. No wonder I ended up with no debuff dispels on Imonar…. And that pretty much explains why the other two healers were hollering theirs were on cooldown, and for me to cast mine. I kept saying mine was also on cool down, because when I hit the key nothing happened (of course), so I just assumed that was the case. Not one of my finer moments. 🤭 Still, I am learning better techniques for conserving mana and for anticipating damage cycles, so I suppose it was a net learning experience. (Just don’t tell my GM about my faux pas!)

We will still do our Friday night normal alt raids, and at this point I am considering signing my void elf mage up for those, as there really is not anything loot-wise I need from normal for my druid. And heaven knows, I can use the practice on my mage. I expect the first couple of times I will embarrass myself with disgustingly low damage numbers, but hopefully I will improve in fairly short order. I know the DPS fights, it’s just a matter of figuring out how best to do my mage-y stuff for each one.

In truth, I am a tad conflicted about these alt raids. On the one hand, I almost invariably have fun doing them, and I enjoy figuring out how different classes need to interact in the fights. In the long run, I think it makes me a better raider because it gives me a broader perspective and ultimately better raid sense. On the other hand, I am kind of burned out on raiding, and going back to a 2-night per week “schedule” is a bit daunting, especially the heroic runs because I am still really stressed when I heal. But on the third (?) hand, we have four months left yet until BfA, so it is good to have a fun guild-sponsored way to really explore the advantages and disadvantages of my various alt classes and specs.

Plus, there is always alcohol to lessen the healing stress or to add to the Friday night party atmosphere. (🤫) And there is no “requirement” to participate in alt runs, like there is during the regular progression season. Sign up or don’t, whatever you want.

Okay, I talked myself into it.

Now maybe I should figure out which other alts I would like to run through the normal raids. It might be a good way to get an idea of another spec I might want to main in BfA since BM hunters continue to look like a lousy bet.

Yes, I know, I am probably deluding myself with talk of maining another spec in BfA, but I am trying to humor myself. Even given the terrible state of BM hunters now and likely for the entire new expansion, truth be told I am not sure I would ever be able to give up a hunter main. What is more likely is that I will kick dirt and grumble to myself and end up selecting either MM or SV for BfA. Okay, maybe not SV, as I really, really hate that it is melee, plus I am still stinging over the shabby way Blizz yanked this spec out from under me in WoD. Never say never, but I am still of the opinion that it will be a cold damn day in hell when I do melee SV except as a lark. Yes, I am obstinate. (Please feel free to taunt me with this statement if I end up going SV in the next expansion…)

Maybe I will buck the trend and try to do MM, even in raids, with a pet. From what I am reading so far, I doubt doing so will yield worse numbers than BM will. Except for Blizz skewing the numbers to strongly encourage MM hunters to go petless, the spec does seem like it will be engaging to play in BfA, especially with the changes that give it more mobility, along with active focus regeneration, and some decent procs. So far, MM is my  Plan B for BfA (a decent BM being Plan A, but this is looking more and more unlikely). But that does not mean I am not working on Plan C and even Plan D.

Hmmm, another idea for fun with alt runs — switch hunter specs and run as MM or even *shudder* SV….. Just as alts, mind you, not as a real hunter! Plus, I have all the legendaries for both specs.

Definitely worth considering.

Battle for Azeroth: Legion transmog?

Admin note: I will be taking next week off as a short spring break. I will return to this space on Monday, April 2.

Maybe it is just a reflection of the long dragged-out winter we are having, but most of the things I read about Battle for Azeroth seem depressing. (WARNING, RANT FOLLOWS) And of course reading about it is all I can do, because, no I do not have an Alpha invite, and I am getting to the point where I am suspecting many of them are not in fact random, that there is some sort of Santa good list and bad list as well — the good little children (streamers, friends of Blizz, bloggers who fall all over themselves to flatter Blizz, world-first mythic raiding guilds, etc.) always get early invites, and the bad children (me, for example) get flagged as not only no but hell no. Even if I were to come up on a random invite, the bad list kicks in and the invite would get pulled. There is a slim chance I may get an invite eventually, but if so it will likely be like the one I got for Legion: approximately one week before the PTR went live. Oh yeah, plenty of chances to influence changes at that point…

Yeah, OK, that is probably not the case, but it is difficult to not feel that way. (END OF RANT)

Anyway, back to my point, which is that there really is nothing I have read about BfA so far that comes close to generating excitement for me, other than the obvious fact that it is a new expansion and as such will at least give us different scenery that we have had for a couple of years.

Yes, there are some interesting aspects to it, I am not prejudging it to be lousy out of the box, but there is just nothing that makes me feel like doing one of those beautiful little whole-body grins you get from a six-year-old anticipating Christmas.

Battle for Azeroth seems to me to be nothing more than Legion with a different transmog. Some examples follow.

Instead of artifact weapons, we will have 3 pieces of artifact gear (okay, they call them something else, but artifacts they in fact are). Each piece has its own trait tree, and we will have to grind artifact power Azerite in order to unlock them and make them more powerful. Mark my words, the trait trees for this gear will expand throughout BfA, making any sort of end state virtually unattainable, the same as Legion artifacts, the never-ending carrot dangle revisited.

Professions change only insofar as now we will be allowed to pursue them by expansion group, eliminating the need to go back and do legacy crafting and gathering unless we just want to. This is a good move, but it in no way changes the Legion approach that will require end-game gearing to pursue profession quests in raids, heroic and mythic dungeons, and sheer RNG grinding. The terrible “levels within a level” recipe mechanic also remains.

As an added requirement to have all your profession players at end game level (character and gear), there will once again be a BoP crafting mat. This seems at odds with Blizz’s promise to make crafted gear relevant for more of the expansion, but we will see. Generally speaking, for the first several months in an expansion, only your main is powerful enough to gather such mats in sufficient quantities to make relevant gear, so if you are one of the profession lottery winners with your main you are in good shape (think alchemists in Legion), otherwise (like for example leather makers in Legion) forget it.

Invasions are replaced by Islands and Warfronts. Oh, and Islands will feature AI-driven NPCs, basically a variation on current affixes in M+ dungeons.

Speaking of Mythic dungeons, there will be a doubling down on this esports-friendly activity, with things like affixes being forced on even lower level players doing, say, a M+2 mythic. There will be new “kiss/curse” affixes introduced for M+10 and above, and there is something called “keystone customization” in the works that smells suspiciously like something to make life easier for the M+ pros. Regular mythic dungeons, meanwhile, become relegated to the common pile that includes normal and heroic, but with the added annoyance of having to find a group on your own instead of becoming part of the automatic group finder system.

Mission table and followers will remain, for no reason I can see other than to serve as a justification for Blizz to keep the mobile app, and cause players to log in more often and thus buff up MAU metrics.

Hunter class changes — this is possibly the most depressing of all to me. Again, I only know what I read or watch (see rant above), but from my point of view, Blizz is making no real changes to the fundamental destruction of the hunter class they perpetrated in Legion.

What do I mean by this? Consider the defining factors for the hunter class prior to Legion: highly mobile ranged physical damage dealers with an integral pet. Now consider what happened to the class in Legion. Basically, these defining factors were broken up and reallocated piecemeal to hunter specs. SV lost the “ranged” aspect. MM lost the “pet” and the “highly mobile” aspects. Only BM retained all of the defining aspects, but at significant cost in terms of play style and raw damage numbers. And even for BM, the “highly mobile” and “ranged” aspects were only applied to the hunter, not to the pet, which incidentally constituted most of the BM hunter’s even mediocre damage numbers.

None of this changes significantly in BfA. The touted “rangification” of SV hunters is pretty hollow when you consider that the spec will still derive its most potent damage from its one remaining melee shot, Raptor Strike. I do not play MM and have not studied the proposed changes for it, but it seems like they will remain limited mobility. I have read a few opinions that other MM changes make the spec less interesting to play, although to be fair some others think there is some additional fun that might be added with the right selection of talents.

The worst insult, though, in my opinion, is to BM hunters. BfA will introduce a somewhat new pet damage/buff system that seems to take some of the worst pet changes from each of the past couple of expansions. And other than switching out a few utilities, that is pretty much the extent of what Blizz considers BM hunter changes. Oh, yes, plus Blizz will remove the BM artifact abilities — mainly Hati’s bond and Titan’s Thunder — and as far as I can tell will replace that damage power with nothing. This is unlike they are doing for some other classes, which will have certain artifact abilities baked in to the BfA baseline.

Though it is hard to tell which power nerfs are actual nerfs and which ones are merely part of the stat squish, some things do stand out as genuine nerfs. For example, the speed buff from Posthaste will be cut to less speed and less time, a curious decision for the one remaining highly mobile ranged spec in the game. Other changes, such as increased focus costs for some shots (while still refusing to incorporate a focus generator as baseline) are harder to evaluate without actually giving them a try.

But all in all, Blizz has done absolutely nothing — nothing — to change the bland BM play style, nor do they seem to have any intention whatsoever of doing so. Quite the contrary, they have almost come out and said they consider the spec to be an “entry level” spec, a phrase that almost shouts “not for serious players”, “for wittle kids who wike fluffy cute pets”… 😡

Yes. I am insulted. And I am not alone in this. I am not so naive as to think Blizz will suddenly back off of their revamp of SV as melee and MM as a turret, but for crying out loud, do they have to keep stomping BM into the ground just because we still retain the full essence of the hunter class? If they hate the spec so much, just delete it and have done with it, quit doing passive-aggressive nerfs that make it more and more undesirable to play.

A couple of months ago, when the first changes to SV and MM were announced, many observers counseled to just wait, because it was early and certainly there would also be some significant changes to BM forthcoming.

Nope. This is exactly the Legion alpha being rerun. BM hunters will be totally ignored, despite significant and well-thought out comments in the alpha forum. Again. A starting bad place for them will be enshrined in the live version, possibly followed by a “concerned” CM in the forums asking for “feedback” on the surprising news that there are problems with the spec. Followed by an entire expansion of the spec mired not only in mediocrity for damage, but also in play style. Another entire expansion of grim, boring button mashing with little or no opportunity for player rotation choices, and certainly no possibility of fun in the form of “whee!” moments when procs coincide or when we can unleash a ton of burst damage.

And no one at Blizz gives a damn, because no one at Blizz loves hunters the way some of them love mages or DKs or almost any other spec.

I know there are plenty of hunters who will say BfA is making significant changes to the class, and of course they are welcome to that opinion. But I am sticking by my assessment that there will be no fundamental changes to the destruction inflicted on the class starting in Legion. If anything, Blizz is — once again — doubling down on it.

I am depressed at the prospect of BfA being a rerun of Legion, but I am positively disgusted by Blizz’s continuing disrespect for hunters.

It is time for a weekend to start. Where’s my beer?

Overcoming mage phobia

Those of you faithful readers that have followed this blog for a while now are probably aware of my love-hate relationship with the mage class. I rolled a mage as my second character years ago, mainly because I had a friend who swore it was the best class in the game. At the time he played what he called a frostfire mage, where he selected a complex set of fire and frost talents and touted it as the most powerful damage dealer that could be configured. I am not so sure about that, but I was sufficiently impressed to roll a mage when I decided one lonely hunter was not enough for me.

It was a disaster. For some reason I did not grasp the nuances of playing a caster, tried to power through everything the same way I did my hunter, and as a result died. A lot. As I am stubborn, I hung in there for a long time, though, and dutifully leveled her up every expansion, selecting whichever spec seemed best at the time, and of course cursing the class every step of the way.

Then finally late in WoD I deleted her. It is remotely possible alcohol played a role in the decision, but in a fit of pique I concluded I was never going to learn how to play the class, so why continue to torture myself. Stupid mages! DELETE CHARACTER.

Of course within a week I regretted the decision.

So I rolled a new one. I leveled her (a chubby little Panda mage) as fire, simply because I think fire mages have some of the best visuals in the game. To my surprise, the spec is quite mobile and I actually began to have fun with her. So when the allied races became available, in a fit of overconfidence, I decided to level a void elf arcane mage.

It has been a tough process, but I think something finally clicked for me over the weekend, because I started to feel not only confident in the play style, but also quite powerful. At level 110 and ilevel somewhere around 910, things began to come together. I no longer run out of mana after what seems like 4-5 casts, I can rather easily take on 3-4 mobs at a time, and I am no longer hesitant to engage mini-bosses in world quests by myself.

And it is fun. Who woulda thunk?

I am guessing a confluence of factors is at play here. Getting my gear to a respectable ilevel means more mastery, which in turn means better mana regeneration. This, along with more haste to slightly speed up casting times, has been a big quality of life improvement for me. It is still annoying, though, to have no reliable instant cast (if Presence of Mind is on cooldown) to preclude butthole horde from tag-stealing every mob in the area, or if other players are downing mobs faster than my shortest cast time.

In addition to gear helping, I am — finally, after all these years — learning to use the spec’s abilities instead of fighting them. I know that sounds basic, but I have had a real mind block on this. I am finding the Blink-Displacement-Blink combos to be pretty powerful, more so than a hunter’s Disengage in my opinion. And getting multiple Arcane Missiles procs in a row is super fun, there is just nothing in the BM hunter rotation to compare with that.

There is a lot — a lot — I still have to learn, of course. I really stink at any kind of AoE, and I am nowhere near close to being able to rapidly select the best talents for a given fight. (It does seem to me that this spec is annoyingly dependent on switching out talents in order to be effective in specific fights — possibly more so than most other classes and specs.) I have yet to do a successful Spellsteal (I think I will require an addon for that). I do not know how to use Rune of Power. And of course I am still a real novice at maintaining and using mana and arcane charges properly. But at least now I am interested in learning, which for me is a big step forward.

A mage will probably never become a main for me, and I expect LFR will be the extent of raid endeavors for this alt. But it is a nice diversion now that there is very little progression left for my main in this expansion. Not to mention, my void elf has some hawt transmogs!

All you great mages out there, stop rolling your eyes, this is a really big accomplishment for me! I think I can safely say I have finally conquered my mage phobia.

This is my happy mage dance.

Q&A – informative for a change

Yesterday I had a lot going on and was not able to watch the Q&A live, so I watched it this morning. I kind of wish I had made some time to watch it yesterday, because for a change there was quite a lot of very good information in it, and if I had had a few more hours to think about it I would probably be able to make some more thoughtful comments about it today. As it is, here are some of my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on it. And you can check out both the full video and the text summary courtesy of MMO-C here.

Allied races. There was a lot of discussion about these. To me, it was all of passing interest, but I know there a lot of players for whom this is an extremely exciting part of the game. I think the bottom line here is that Blizz will be introducing lots of new allied races over the course of possibly years. Though Hazzikostas did not admit it, the major reason will be to entice players to level new characters (and thus possibly beef up MAU numbers over an extended period of time).

How best to communicate with Blizz. Basically, don’t whine and don’t try to pass your comments off as representing all players. Meh.

Class balance. I thought this was a decent discussion because it did yield some insight into Blizz’s current guiding principles for class design. Hazzikostas reiterated the idea that the goal is to “make each class unique”. (And by “class” I am pretty sure he meant “spec”.) I do not disagree with the goal, but he failed to address the related designs. For example, it is all well and good to make a class that excels in the ability to DoT targets, but if you design raids and dungeons that only make this a valuable trait for a couple of bosses, then the “unique” aspect of the class is not worth much. Blizz has thus far not shown much success in coordinating raid and dungeon design with class abilities, and every expansion they end up creating winner and loser classes because of this failure. Thus, the idea of “class uniqueness” sounds good, but only if your class is one of Blizz’s design winners.

Similarly, he did not address the idea of “utility” balance — that is, some group utilities are way more valuable and widely useful than others. A combat rez, for example, is probably always useful, whereas something like a hunter Tranq shot is highly specialized. Not all “unique” abilities are created equal, and this again leads to winner and loser classes. Will Blizz realize this and develop a system to minimize it? I doubt it.

Gear. This is where there was some good news, on several fronts. It was apparent that Hazzikostas fully understands the mess Blizz gave us with Legion gear. He said no one should have to sim gear before they can determine if it is an upgrade for them, and he also said they had gone too far with secondary stat importance in Legion. He did not promise that all gear with higher ilevel will be an upgrade every time, but he did say most of the time it will be, and he also said the calculus of determining the worth of gear will be considerably easier. We will see, but to me it sounded positive.

Loot. Somewhat related to gear is the question of loot in group situations. It sounds like the only option in BfA will be personal loot. Some guilds will not like this, but the change has been coming for some time. I know with my own guild, at the start of Legion we tended to prefer a system of Master Looter with rolls, along with a very light determination of who could roll on a piece. Very shortly, however, we saw that Personal Loot dropped significantly more gear (a design by Blizz for Legion), and we switched to that and have not gone back.

Hazzikostas came right out and said the BfA move to all Personal Loot is being made mainly to reign in the top guilds, the ones who routinely game the world-first Mythic competitions by using group loot runs to overgear their main raiders before they even start Mythic runs. This practice has meant Blizz has to compensate for the idea that the professional guilds will be overgeared for Mythic raids at the start, thus they need to make the raid difficulty with that in mind. This has a cascading effect, because it means the raid bosses — particularly the end ones — end up being overtuned for everyone else.

Anyway, it looks like Group Loot will be a thing of the past come BfA. What Hazzikostas did not address, but what I would like to have heard him on, is whether there will be some adjustments to the more annoying parts of Personal Loot. For example, a user-friendly interface for sharing loot. Something like a pop-up loot roll window similar to what we now see in dungeons, except in this case it starts with the person who got the loot selecting if they want to offer it up and checking a simple yes/no. If they do offer it up, then a loot roll window automatically pops up for all players eligible for the loot, maybe a need/greed kind of thing to also allow for people to roll on it for transmog.

Another Personal Loot improvement might be a refinement of what loot is shareable and what is not. There is a lot of loot that may technically be an upgrade for a player but in truth it is useless to them, and currently they cannot offer it up for trade.

Talents. Lots of discussion here, but the one thing that gave me cause for optimism was the statement that the idea of selecting either the AoE or the Single Target talent in a tier just feels bad, and in fact it doesn’t make anyone actually choose, rather it just makes them burn a tome to adjust for each boss fight. Hallelujah.

The other interesting thing about talents in BfA is confirmation that Blizz will use them as a sort of testing ground for baseline abilities. That is, if one talent for a class is always selected by most everyone, then that begins to look like something that should become a baseline ability, and Blizz may change it to that in a patch. We kind of suspected this is what they were doing in the latter parts of Legion, but now we know that is indeed the case.

Mission tables. This was probably the most disingenuous part of the Q&A. Hazzikostas blathered on about how they will not serve as time gates in BfA, that they are more for auxiliary game play, they add a nice dimension to the game, they fit with the BfA story line, blah blah blah. What he did not admit was the obvious — that it is a mini-game within WoW that works well with the mobile app, and if they get rid of it then they might as well trash the app, too. And of course, every time a player logs in on the mobile app it counts towards MAU for the game.

Mythic+. Without saying so outright, it was pretty clear that Blizz sees this part of the game as increasingly important going forward. Hazzikostas was at some pains to explain that raiding is still important, but it was obvious that Blizz is looking to Mythic+ as the main end game group activity at some point. Just my opinion, of course, but I would have liked to hear a more robust defense of raiding and I did not.

Professions. There will be some changes for the better here, I think. The change to having professions grouped into expansion-specific ones is a good move. Also good was the comment that crafted items need to be more relevant throughout an expansion, not just at the beginning. Last, on a less optimistic note, I am not really a fan of the recipe-leveling mechanic introduced in Legion, but it sounded like we are stuck with that for BfA.

Alts. Sounds like what we have now in Legion will be what we have in BfA in terms of alt-friendly or alt-hostile (whichever side you come down on). There will be some concessions to alts in terms of grindiness — like we have now for AP catch-up — but Hazzikostas is digging his heels in on his personal conviction that the only reason to have alts is to play them as you would a mini-main. Playing them to farm items for a main is strictly frowned upon and Blizz is doing everything they can to make that as hard as possible for you.

Guilds. The introduction of “Communities” is interesting to me, and honestly I do not know if it will spell the virtual end of guilds or not. Likely I will be writing a lot more about this as we learn more of the specifics. Of note, Hazzikostas did not indicate there would be any new perks to guild membership, only that guilds would have “all the same things as Communities”, plus a guild bank. This is one that bears watching.

Anyway, those are what I saw as the highlights of the Q&A yesterday. I did think it was one of the more informative ones lately. If you find yourself with some free time it could be worth an hour to watch.

Speaking of free time, it is time to start a weekend. See you on the other side.