Nostalgia

I am not a let’s-join-an-illegal-vanilla-WoW-server kind of person. I think the game is what it currently is, and if I really dislike it I am at liberty to not play it. It would never occur to me to try and find a retro version of it, partly because I tend to look forward not back, but also because everything — the game, me, the tech world — has gone beyond those early days. Whatever great times I remember about my first months in the game cannot be fully recaptured because those times were a result of a whole array of circumstances. Going back to a vanilla — or even Wrath era — game in and of itself cannot replicate my level of knowledge or game proficiency then, nor can it make me unlearn my current expectations of graphics, server reliability, and other technical advancements.

Part of the reason misty memories are so alluring is because they are just that: misty.  If we really remembered everything about the times we yearn for, we probably would not hold them in such high regard.

Nevertheless, I do fall prey to nostalgia in the game from time to time. One such time happened yesterday as I was leveling my baby priest through Northern Stranglethorn. I was doing some power leveling and thus was pretty focused on the immediate quests at hand, but at one point for some reason I stopped and took in the scenery. And there above me, taking up most of the sky, was the ugly scar of Argus. It completely destroyed the moment for me.

I have been using my priest as a stress relief valve, a way to forget about Blizz’s insults to hunters and the grind the game has become — basically as a cheap way to recapture as much of the game’s simplicity as I can without going completely retro. And I have been successful at it until I looked up and was reminded of all the things awaiting my baby priest if I should actually get so far as leveling her up. Not to get too dramatic about it, but it was kind of soul-crushing.

This same burdensome feeling happened to me as I considered getting a couple more of my leveled alts able to do the Argus world quests. The whole series of quests necessary to do that just seemed not worth the effort. I read where Blizz is considering making this process easier for alts, but honestly I am not holding my breath over it. It would, after all, cut into their MAU stats.

Except maybe it would increase them. In my case, for example, if my alts were able to do Argus world quests without the heavy overhead necessary to unlock them, I would be far more likely to crank out some extra time every week doing a few more WQs on alts.

Short post today — lots going on in real life, both personally and nationally. In all areas I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the present and nostalgic for the past, but almost certainly I remember that past very imperfectly. We have the game that we have, and the ugly scar of Argus is now part of it.

My new Panda priest

My last post awakened some nostalgia in me, so the night I wrote it I rolled a brand new character, a Panda priest. No real reason for that particular combination, except I don’t have a priest (other than a bank alt which does not count) and I like Pandas. Generally I think of clothies as difficult to level up, but honestly nothing is difficult to level up to at least 90 or 100 these days. I took my time and last night hit level 25 on the new alt. I have opted thus far for Disc as a spec, but I have zero idea if that is a wise choice or not, or even if it makes any difference at low levels.

It has been a while since I leveled a brand new character, and my overwhelming impression thus far is how rapid the process is. I am not really a purist when it comes to leveling, so I outfitted my alt in as much heirloom gear as I have, sent her some decent size bags from my tailor, and started her out with 1000 gold. Oh, and can I just say that the chauffeured chopper is one of the coolest things in the game!

I have always liked the Panda starting area, and I think the whole choose-your-own-path approach to factions was a great idea. However, having started something like 4 or 5 Pandas by now, the process is starting to seem a little tedious. On my priest, I found myself just rushing through the initial quest line in order to get to the end of it and select Alliance as my faction. (Also, annoyingly, I could not use the chauffeured chopper until I selected my faction.) I did not initially equip heirlooms, so I was close to level 11 or 12 by the time I escaped the big turtle island.

One of the big decisions I had to make was whether or not to identify my new alt to my guild and seek an invite. On the one hand, it is kind of nice to just have some alone time in the game, when you can lose yourself in questing and exploring and leveling, with no need to follow guild chat or respond to requests for “one more dps for timewalking” or “need healer and dps for M+12”, etc. On the other hand, such anonymity is hard to achieve these days even if you opt out of guild matters, since apps like Battle.net and Discord can make you available to others even if your character is not part of the guild. Yes, I know no one forces me to use these and there a couple of settings that will camouflage me a bit, but they are so damn handy that I am loathe to attempt to deliberately drop off the grid. (This, I suppose, is the seduction of social media and locational apps in general. They are just too nifty to actively avoid. We know advertisers and others feed off our addiction to them, but we can’t seem to help ourselves.) So in the end, somewhere around level 20, I opted to whisper an officer for an invite on my baby priest. I have no willpower.

Anyway, back to my leveling experience. In addition to the astonishing rate at which I accumulate XP, the quests seem completely trivial. Mobs die almost instantly, even for a clothie with only 2-3 offensive spells. The only real reason to try and avoid them is for efficiency — it takes longer to get to where you are going if you stop and kill things even if they die quickly. I remember doing these same quests on my early characters, and they were challenging, making me map out safe routes and strategically plan which mobs to kill and which to go around. Some of the easiness of it now is due to me being smarter about how to play the game, but clearly Blizz has greatly nerfed the difficulty also.

In some ways I regret this easing of the process, but for the most part I don’t mind it. If the leveling process took as long as it did in vanilla or in any of the then-current expansions, it would take months level up a new alt, and most people would not bother doing it. As it is, if I want to take a long time leveling, I can, just by doing all the quests in a particular zone before moving on to a new one. (There is no real reason to use heirlooms, for example, except to crank up your XP and eliminate the need to gear swap when you get an upgrade.) I can take my time — if I want — developing the classic parts of professions. I can try to max out rep for the classic factions. The point is, if I want to take a long time developing a new alt, I can, but if I want to make the process faster I can do that, too. So I like what Blizz has done with the classic parts of the game in terms of leveling.

I don’t know if I will keep this Panda priest or not. I have a long history of rolling new alts only to abandon them somewhere around level 50 or 60. Mainly I tend to lose interest in them, since I have never really found a class I love as much as hunters. And now, to be honest, getting an alt to level 110 only means that the grind begins. Maybe what I really like is the feeling of newness, of potential, with a brand new alt.

Currently I have six characters (main and 5 alts) at level 110, and two sitting at 100 (but one of those is 100 only because I used my boost on her). But I have found that once most of them got to 110, I lost motivation for playing them since doing so requires so damn much time in Legion. In Mists, I played all of them enthusiastically, taking them all to Timeless Isle for dailies and weeklies. (I even did the quest line to get the legendary cloak on 7 characters.) But getting to Timeless Isle did not require long quest lines to unlock the place, and there were areas that were not lethal even to undergeared alts. That is not true of either Broken Shore or Argus. Just getting to those places is tedious for an alt.

So, yeah, I am having fun going back to classic zones in Azeroth with a new alt. I am going to try and stretch that fun out a bit, and I am going to use the priest as a pressure valve — a way to take a little vacation in the game when I am frustrated with Legion’s grind dujour.

And speaking of relaxing, it is time for a weekend. Yay!

Childhood and journey

I remember when I rolled my very first WoW character and lost myself in the game. It was my night elf hunter, back when hunters didn’t get their first pet until level 10, and by the way level 10 took a lot longer than the twenty minutes it now does. I remember those early quests in Teldrassil, figuring out how to move around, getting the concept of “targeting” something, coordinating that with a standard key bind to “shoot” the mob. I remember the surprise I got when eventually the target mobs actually attacked me if I got too close, rather than stand passively and wait for me to kill them. I remember getting almost hopelessly lost in my first cave quest, and to be honest I have disliked caves ever since.

When I made my way to Darkshore as a level 7, I got in a bit over my head and learned the tried and true technique of dying, getting back to my corpse, resurrecting at the absolute edge of where it was possible, and running like hell for about 5 seconds before dying again, then repeating the process until I made it to a safe area. It was harrowing.

I had been blow away when I discovered Darnassas — surely it was the game’s largest, most beautiful city? (I remember those ?level 60? NPCs majestically patrolling the road to the city on their gorgeous white tiger mounts, and I was in awe of such a high level. I could never aspire to that!) But then I accidentally got on a ship that took me to Stormwind, and an entirely new continent, and that was my first glimmer that the game was vastly larger and more complex than I had ever imagined.

Still, I was not intimidated by it. I loved that it was virtually infinite, that there was always something new to discover, something new to learn about the game, another level you could progress to.

I remember when I learned about groups. There was a Looking-for-Group chat channel, as I recall — some sort of very primitive precursor to the LFG mechanism we have now. I subscribed to it for weeks before I got up enough nerve to actually join a group for an instance. I think I was about level 20, but I am not sure — it was such a horrible experience that I have blotted it from my memory. I had no concept of group roles, so I immediately shot at anything that moved until some kind soul said something in chat like, “Hunter making it tough for the tank,” a hint that I was — thankfully — smart enough to take.

About halfway through (I think the instance was Gnomeregen, but as I said I have tried to block it all out) I ran out of arrows and was reduced to melee weapon and fists. Yeah, that was when hunters had to carry arrows in their bag in order to use their bow. If you ran out, shame on you. That was also when you could actually level your fists as weapons — you did this by unequipping all your weapons (hunters had both ranged and melee back then) and killing mobs until your fist proficiency level matched your character level.

Back to the group, there was some sort of mechanism where we had to jump from a machine to a specific spot, and of course I missed and died. I was told to run back, and I got so lost that I never did find the group again. I just ran around periodically aggroing mobs and dying and running back again. And again. And again. Sometimes it took me forever just to find my corpse. Eventually they kicked me, I guess, because I was no longer part of the group. I am surprised they had such patience, really. Not one of my best moments in the game…

It was even later when I learned about gear. By this time I had joined a guild, and I was invited to quest with some of the guildies. One of them noticed that I was wearing very low level vendor gear and was horrified. He opened trade and gave me a bunch of green gear closer to my character level. I honestly had never even considered that gear made a difference. I was perfectly happy with buying a bow or whatever from a vendor. I had no clue there was a difference between the stuff labeled in gray and the stuff labeled in white or green. (I had never seen anything blue or higher, so that was not even a question for me.) The notion that green gear could help you kill stuff faster was truly a revelation to me.

I won’t even discuss my epiphany when I realized that cloth or leather gear was worse for a hunter than mail. Or that eventually you had to repair gear or you couldn’t use it. Yes, I really was that clueless.

I am not sure I have much of a point here, but it strikes me that that kind of innocent discovery and leisurely exploration are really no longer part of the game. The days of it being all about the journey, not the goal, seem over. As vast and complex as I thought the game was then, it is immeasurably more vast and complex now. It is also more fast paced, players as a group seem to have little tolerance for anyone who exhibits ignorance of the game’s traditions and mechanics, and Blizz seems to design now mainly for the end game, not for the process of discovery.

Think about it, when is the last time you saw a guild advertising itself as a “leveling guild”? For that matter, when is the last time you actually ran across a low level player who was experiencing the game for the first time, without a RL friend to help and guide them?

Like Thomas Wolfe said, you really can’t go home again — the bygone days of youth, whether real or virtual, are — well — gone by. I know I can’t recapture the innocent wonder and joy of my early days in WoW, I know too much about end games and Wowhead and how to develop professions and how to use heirlooms and what to expect at every level of a character. I have chosen to raid on my main, and so I am now completely steeped in the endgame gear chase, in getting to the next gear goal as fast as possible. I no longer take the time to discover, I just look it up on Wowhead or some place and get it done, then move on to the next thing.

So yeah, I have done this to myself, I admit it. But I also think Blizz has encouraged me, along with a lot of other players, in this mindset. They are fixated on the end game, on an endlessly-expanding artifact weapon, on accumulating legendaries and tier gear and battle pets and mounts. They seem to promote a sense that leveling a character is only a means to the end game, and they — and we — have lost the joy of the journey itself. I can’t shake the feeling that WoW, while never a “sandbox” game, was once a game of process and discovery, but that it has morphed into a Type A personality kind of game, where getting to the end is the sole definition of “winning”.

To quote that noted American philosopher, Louis L’Amour, “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.”

And try to remember to stock up on arrows before you go.

My night job

Yesterday, it being a lazy Sunday, I decided it would be a good time to bring a couple of my alts into Argus, mainly to update their professions but also to be able to get some of the gear and AP benefits of the place. I played for about six hours, and here is what I was able to do:

1. Catch up my 3 waiting emissary quests on my main and knock out the few Argus and non-emissary quests that awarded AP.

2. Do 3 emissary quests on my JC alt. (I need the whatchamacallit tokens still to upgrade my lousy crafted legendary, and I need to open as many boxes as possible in order to accumulate the required secret Blizz currency that eventually awards another legendary. I need the stats from a second legendary just to be able to efficiently mine ore on Argus, so that I can prospect to get the gems.)

3. Catch up my 3 emissary quests on my alt druid and do the Week 3 Argus quest line. (No time for any Argus world quests.)

That’s it. Six hours for that.

And here’s the thing: All the characters I worked on yesterday had already done at least the first two weeks of Argus unlocks. It took me six hours just to do “maintenance” quests on them, leaving exactly zero time to advance any other alts. I admit I may have done more of the week 3 quest line than necessary on my druid, because I had already unlocked the crucible on my main, but how the hell do you know which quests in that long chain are for the crucible and which ones are just to unlock Mac’Aree and the specified new world quest areas?

It almost seems like Blizz is throwing a little tantrum over our reaction to WoD’s lack of content, saying in effect, “You wanted content? I got yer content right here, so much that we are gonna make you beg for less! We dare you to bitch about lack of content again!”

I have written several times before about the whole idea of “content” and whether or not recycling quests and zones and forcing AP grind really qualifies as that. I think where I come down on the question is that for me content is a range of options for players. That is, when you log in on a character, true content means that you can decide for yourself what you want to do for the session, especially in the end game. But in Legion Blizz has drastically constrained end game activity. In order to participate in any end game activity, you must have a certain level of gear, you must unlock certain areas, etc. And to gear up or unlock areas there is pretty much one and only one path permitted.

You cannot, for example, elect to level up an alt’s profession unless you run dungeons up to and including mythic level. In some cases you must actually raid, even if it is only LFR. And to do these things, you must have a certain level of gear, even if you are at max level on your character. You cannot even gather current materials unless you are geared enough to survive and unlock the various areas of Argus.

To get the gear, you are pretty much forced into grinding out world quests nearly every day, so as to improve your artifact weapon, get some higher level gear, and accumulate the secret currency to get at least a couple of legendaries.

If you are a raider, even a semi-casual one like I am, Patch 7.3 once again forces you into the AP grind, just to not fall behind — and thus let down — your teammates. In the same way that a responsible raider does not show up with unenchanted or ungemmed gear, that same raider needs to show a certain amount of progress now towards unlocking the various relic traits. Early in Legion, we all had to chase AP to maximize our artifact weapon, and it was a grind then. In 7.2, possibly recognizing the burden it placed on raiders, Blizz did everything they could to diminish the importance of AP, even going so far as to say it is not worth going after in any way but incidentally to daily activity. Then in 7.3, probably as a result of falling MAU metrics, they re-instituted the AP grind in a big way, whiplashing raiders once again back into doing world quests every day just to keep current.

And here — finally — is my central point: I like world quests, I think the basic idea is good, but I hate them when Blizz crams them down my throat as the only way to achieve any other endgame goal I may have. It turns them into a chore, almost a second job. Blizz has taken a great idea and managed to suck all the joy and fun out of it. 

This is why the entire relic redesign was, for players, possibly the worst design change Blizz has had for Legion. We had just gotten to the point where WQs were actually optional — especially for a main — and we could pick out the ones we wanted to do and ignore the others. Or skip a few days entirely. We could take a little vacation on our mains and play with some of our alts, or even not play at all a couple of nights a week. Even emissary quests became optional for our mains because chances are we already had all the legendaries we wanted, and any other emissary rewards were of little value to us.

I really think Blizz started to notice MAU numbers slipping because of the 7.2 decision they made to discourage AP grinding, and they had to do something to get those numbers back up. In what has sadly become their standard procedure, they simply re-purposed an existing structure. Instead of coming up with some creative new ideas, they just brought back the same old tired AP chase for weapon enhancement. They could have, for example, made a few world quests actually attractive to a highly-geared player to entice us back into doing them regularly — maybe award a way to gem an existing piece of gear, or increase the actual gear level of awards, or allow us to give awarded gear to an alt, or bring back valor as an end-of-expansion currency, or provide a way to trade legendaries we have for ones we actually can use, or award actual new profession recipes, or give a significant number of soulbound mats, or —

Well, the idea is that there are a lot of ways to bring players back to world quests that would make us feel like we had some fun options and decent rewards for doing them. Grinding AP — especially  when we thought we had finally progressed, yes progressed, beyond that, only to have to push that boulder back up the hill again — is not fun.

An hour of nothingness and delusion

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

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

Nevertheless, herewith a couple of comments:

Who selects the “questions” for these things?

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

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

Me: Zzzzzzz

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

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

Patch 7.3 and artifacts, artifacts, artifacts

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

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

Sorry, I digress again.

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

Alts

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

Reforging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scaling to gear

Very interesting post last week by Watcher on the issue of scaling in WoW. By now, most of you who are interested have already read it for yourselves, but the tl;dr is that Blizz implemented a sort of stealth mechanic of world scaling in 7.2, in which a player’s gear determines the amount of health a mob has. And initially your gear level also determined how much damage the mob would do to you. My impression on the first day was it was pretty brutal, akin to losing 40-50 ilevels. Within a couple of days, however, Blizz hotfixed it so that the mobs no long deal any increased damage relative to your gear level, and they also seriously nerfed the mob health ramp-up. Honestly, I don’t much notice the effect at all now, except possibly when my hunter gets greedy and attempts 10-15 mobs at once.

But I thought Blizz’s rollout of this mechanic was interesting for several reasons.

First, the underlying problem — if geared players reach a point in current content where they can not only one shot a trash mob in the world, but they can one shot 20 such mobs all at once, and they can do it in the space of a global cooldown or less, then that is not a good thing, for several reasons:

  • It renders world quests not only trivial but downright annoying, as the player spends far more time getting to the quest areas and looting corpses than in killing the mobs.
  • Play style thus degenerates into a consideration of how fast the player can spam instant casts, because mobs die long before they can get off anything close to a normal rotation.
  • Lesser geared as well as less mobile players undergo a lot of frustration, since the more highly geared/faster players can decimate an entire quest area without giving anyone else a chance to even get off an instant cast or get into range and thus participate in the kill.

I can appreciate this problem, I have been on both the overpowered end of it and on the lesser-geared part of it. On the overpowered end, it does start to seem silly to spend 5 minutes getting to a quest that you can finish in less than a minute. And if there are other players in the area, I do feel bad about killing masses of mobs in what seems to be a selfish way, but there is not much I can do about it with my current power level, except get in and out in as little time as possible. Still, even my geared main is often frustrated when the area is overrun with horde and I cannot get a single shot in before they tag it and it becomes useless for my quest. Not to mention that hunters are slow movers, only two very puny speed cooldowns, and sometimes even getting within “ranged range” is a challenge when the mobs or mini bosses die almost instantaneously.

On my alts, especially my more slow-moving melee ones, lately I cannot even get close enough to a mob to get in a lick of damage before it dies, so I spend a lot of time just running around the quest area. I am left to seek out mobs in fringe areas where the more highly geared players do not bother to go. And it does not just happen with trash mobs in WQ areas — the mini-boss types die almost as quickly, so nearly every time I am required to wait for a respawn. Not a huge problem, I grant you, but annoying nevertheless.

Second, Blizz’s previous pronouncements on scaling — namely, they said they would absolutely not be doing gear-based scaling, only the initial Legion zone scaling. And now they have done gear-based scaling. I am actually somewhat encouraged in this case by Blizz’s willingness to change their policy here. True, they probably should have never said never, but as Watcher confessed, they really had no idea about some of the challenges they would face when they opted for keeping outdoor world content relevant throughout an expansion, as they have done with WQs in Legion.

Watcher seemed to be claiming a “Who knew?” kind of excuse here, reaffirming once again that Blizz stinks at this kind of project planning. The answer, of course, is that anyone worth their salt as a project planner should have anticipated this result. Still, beyond staggering incompetency at project management, it is basically a good thing that Blizz can be agile enough to back down when they were clearly wrong in their initial pronouncement.

Third, the “stealth” nature of this rather significant change — it was intentionally not included in the official patch notes, according to Watcher. He blizzsplained that they wanted players to not focus on it because then the devs might have gotten a biased player response, and what they wanted was a response “not skewed by the experience of logging in and actively trying to spot the differences.”

So in other words it was for our own good and to get around our tendency to lie. We are of course too stupid to be able to understand the highly complex thinking of mightier beings like Watcher and his minions, and we are too dishonest to give realistic feedback. There, there, little players, don’t over stress your puny brains with it, run along now. Watcher knows best.

Silly me, I thought the purpose of a Public Test Realm was, well, “testing”. I do not generally think of a live patch as the place to do it, certainly not for something as major as this change. As it turned out, some players did notice and comment on some of this world scaling on the PTR, but Blizz pretty much played off any comments on it, purposely hiding their rather significant play style change intention. They did not actually lie about it, but they were deliberately deceptive.

Yeah, it’s not a huge thing, but it shows once again Blizz’s pattern of disdain bordering on contempt for their customers.

Fourth, can we trust Blizz not to go overboard on this new scaling? As I have written above, in general I think world scaling has a place in Legion, and I get that the problem took Blizz more or less by surprise. Watcher’s blue post clearly indicates that he knows there is a delicate balance to be achieved here: players need to feel more powerful as they gear up, but no one benefits if the current world content is like questing in Elwynn Forest as a level 110.

Unfortunately, Blizz’s history is not encouraging for achieving that balance — we have all witnessed and experienced what has become the pendulum swing meme with WoW. They often seem incapable of striking a happy medium, preferring instead to lurch from one extreme to the other.

Why add a lot of new content if the current content can be made to be perpetually challenging? Although I do not generally subscribe to the “slippery slope” theory, once this genie of scaling activities to gear level is out of the bottle, will it be too tempting for devs to use as a convenient play-extender? Undeniably, scaling world content to gear just makes quests take longer, and we all know Blizz’s recent obsession with measuring hours played per month. If you could tweak the geared scaling just a tiny bit more and get, oh, say, a million more hours played per month overall, why not do it?

And why stop at world scaling? Blizz has already applied the principle to Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons in 7.2 — players are outgearing the initial ones, so they have ramped up the overall difficulty in response. (I ran a Neltharion’s Lair +11 last night and it was orders of magnitude harder than the 7.1.5 version. Our team that had been 2- and 3-chesting +14’s was unable to come close to beating the timer at all.) True, the increased difficulty is not pegged to individual team gear levels but rather to overall player base averages, but what is to stop Blizz from calculating the team average ilevel and incrementing the instance difficulty in the same way they now calculate player ilevel and ramp up mob health in the world?

Why stop at gross gear level scaling? Should healers get easier mobs than damage dealers? What about tanks? Should clothies have less damage directed at them than plate wearers? Should long casts be made instant in certain quest areas, or should instant casts be disallowed? Should all mobs be made available to both factions, no matter who tagged them first? How far should the game go to tailor content to individual player circumstances? More insidiously, how far should game design go to manipulate the quarterly statistics for the stockholders?

I am not saying this initial world scaling mechanism is bad — in fact I am in favor of it — and I am not predicting Blizz will misuse it, but I do think it is something they need to be very careful about. It is a  short philosophical hop from “We think players need to feel more powerful as they gear up,” to “We think players need to feel challenged even as they gear up”. And now that the gear-based mechanism is available, the Good Idea Fairy is bound to visit devs in many parts of the game — someone needs to make sure they do not get carried away.

Simple things

I spent my game play time over the weekend leveling my rogue. He is a notable alt for me because first of all he is a he, and second of all he is a melee damage dealer. I like him, he is kind of a happy-go-lucky type who doesn’t really stress about anything. In WoD, he was a combat rogue, and I opted to go with that spec’s morph — outlaw — in Legion. I have zero idea whether or not outlaw is one of the “respected” specs, honestly don’t care. Also, I am not especially skilled at dealing with the Roll the Bones mechanic, but I copied a weak aura from one of my in game friends, and that more or less provides me with light-up idiot buttons telling me whether to roll again or not. Basically, though, I just faceroll keys, and it seems to work out. I think I only died twice during the 100-110 leveling process.

I know all you really good rogues out there are now shaking your heads over my description of my rogue play. Sorry, I really do understand there is a lot more to playing a rogue than I just described, it’s just that this is my fun alt. I play him when I need that unexpected-day-off-from-work feeling. You know the one — that sheer delight when you find out you have an entirely free day to spend as you please, you are permitted to forget all your normal grown-up chores. I think lots of players have such an alt. In fact often it is a hunter, because they certainly are fun to play, even now, for things like leveling or world quests.

Anyway, leveling my rogue the last couple of days clarified a couple of thoughts about Legion. In no particular order:

  • Especially in the leveling process, Legion is a fun expansion. Zone scaling is one of the best design innovations the game has ever had. It allows you to customize your leveling experience and eliminates much of the boredom from leveling your third or fourth or fifth alt.
    • My only gripe — and this is all because of me being lazy — is that I can level from 100 to 110 in about 3.5 zone completions. I always tell myself I will go back and finish off that last partial zone and do the full one I missed, but so far I have not done so, except of course on my main. This tends to limit my world quest options for the alt, at least until I pick up some of the many flight paths I need.
    • I still don’t like the Suramar experience much, and it annoys me that, even though I get the whistle automatically at 110, I still have to go through that whole tedious Suramar intro set of quests, at least up through getting the mask disguise.
  • The profession slog is terrible, and each time I level an alt I resent it more and more. I don’t dislike the idea of having a profession quest line, but I do hate being pushed into specific end game content, such as dungeons, that I have no intent on pursuing with an alt. The “levels within levels” design stinks, too, and it makes me feel manipulated — “Spend more hours playing this game or you will never finish leveling your profession, BWAAAAHAHA!” And I really detest the whole RNG mechanism for advancing your profession. You should not have to be a raider or a mythic instance runner to have a well-developed profession. Blizz broke professions in Legion.
  • No matter how Ion Hazzikostas tries to spin the whole AP mess, it amounts to one gigantic expansion-long grind. And no matter how much he lectures us on how we shouldn’t bother our silly little heads with chasing after it, it remains a psychological dead weight, a virtual treadmill ever present in the game, taunting you no matter how many clothes you hang on it to try to ignore it.
    • I realized this when I figured out one of the reasons I was having such a good time leveling my rogue was that I didn’t care how much — if any — AP I was collecting for a weapon I would never be raiding with.
    • The AP catch-up mechanism for alts is decent, and I am glad Blizz implemented it. But it is also pernicious, in that it subtly sucks you into joining the AP grind for your alts.
    • It is tempting to say I should just not care about how much AP I gather for advancing my main’s weapon, too, but the fact remains that if you wish to raid with a regular team in Legion, you have to care about it. Even in guilds that do not push for certain gear levels or certain minimum damage numbers, the average of the team will inevitably increase as the expansion goes on, and if you write off AP grinding you will sooner or later begin to hold the team back. If you wish to raid in Legion, you must grind AP ceaselessly. 

Side note: I am having a hard time understanding the whole Watchersplaining about plans for AP in 7.2. I believe it goes something like this: “We know AP has become a grind for some players, so in 7.2 we are going to fix that by vastly increasing the amount needed for each additional trait beyond 34, as well as by making the weapon power increases less important. Also, we are going to cut the amount of AP earned for the quick group instances, but increase it for the long ones.”

I am at a loss as to how that does anything positive, I would think if anything it makes it more of a grind with less of a chance for ever getting anything useful out of it. I guarantee that the people who feel the need to grind AP now will not feel less of a need when it takes tens millions or even billions for each trait increase. Similarly, the people who are not currently driven to chase AP will feel even less of a need to do so in 7.2.

This may be a theoretical “improvement” because it lessens some gap between the people who have a lot of time to play and those who don’t, but it in no way gets at the base problem with AP, which is that it is a never-ending grind that weighs down the game. This is true, no matter how often or how emphatically Ion Hazzikostas tells us it is not so. We have come face-to-face with a Blizz “alternative fact”.

  • Class hall quest lines are tedious, over-long, and yield very little of value for an alt. If it is convenient to do parts of it for my rogue, I am doing it, but I am not going out of my way to finish it. I really do not care if I ever get that third relic slot.
  • Highmountain is my favorite zone. Stormheim is second. I definitely prefer more “natural” looking zones, not big on pink trees and green goopy rivers and hostile plant life and such.
  • The legendary mess is still a mess. I have almost zero hope of ever getting even one on an alt, mainly due to the exorbitant amount of time needed on each before the mythical “bad luck insurance” kicks in. But honestly, I find I do not care.

All in all, I think the reason I had so much fun leveling my rogue this weekend is that it was simple, and I tried to make sure it stayed that way. There was no pressure to do anything but gather quests, do them, and turn them in. And if I found I did not enjoy the quest, I abandoned it without a second thought. I refused to permit myself to feel pressure to develop a garrison class hall, or large amounts of AP for a weapon, or to gear up beyond what I could get as quest loot, or to quest in certain zones because they would pay off the most for professions, or to run instances as soon as I could. I just bopped around, doing what looked interesting to me and enjoying the best parts of Legion.

It was exhilarating. It was eye-opening. I learned some things about myself, about the value of not pursuing goals if they seem to be a burden. And I am going to try and apply some of this approach to my main, in an attempt to get back to the sheer fun and genius of this game.