Legion – the good stuff

In my last post, I said I would eventually publish something about the good aspects of Legion. As I am at a loss for anything else to write about today, and as things seem to be moving rather quickly with the pre-expansion patch now on the downloader, I suppose today is as good a day as any. So here goes.

New content rollouts. I think Blizz did a commendable job with the pace at which they rolled out new content in Legion. I may think some of the content stunk (Argus, for example, and the class patches that consistently failed to address significant problems for some specs/classes), but I can’t fault them on their almost-lockstep timing on rolling it out. At times, I felt almost overwhelmed by the pace, but they really did set a schedule and stick with it.  Except for the last patch, 7.3.5, major patches (I include the “dot 5’s” in this) came out almost exactly every 11 weeks. This may be a reflection of how badly Blizz was burned by the charge of “no content” in WoD, and thus they set content release as their primary objective for Legion — but whatever the reason, Legion gave us a lot of new content on a regular basis.

Emissary quests. In Legion, Blizz bundled up a bunch of dailies world quests in a zone, and gave out a bonus for doing 4 of them (3 for Kirin Tor, but the less said about those the better). I did like this mechanism, probably because it gave the illusion of being able to log in every 3 days if you wanted, and still not feel like you were getting behind. In that sense, it was Blizz giving a tiny bit of notice to the fact that most of their players are casual and do not have the time to play the game every day.

That said, there were plenty of flaws. For one thing, emissary quests really did nothing to help players still grinding AP — if you wanted AP you were pretty much required to crank out every world quest that offered AP every day, as well as do some raids and dungeons for it. Also, rewards from the emissary quests — except for holding out the ever-dangling carrot of a legendary drop — were pretty yawn-inspiring most of the time. It says something, I think, that Blizz used them as the vehicle for accumulating the tokens for upgrading legendaries — likely it was about the only way to keep players even mildly interested in doing them.

Still, overall I think emissary quests were a decent innovation.

Zone scaling. This was not new in Legion — it was introduced in WoD — but I was glad to see it reappear, signaling that it is now almost certainly a constant feature of the game. During the leveling process, it is nice to be able to vary your path, especially if you are leveling some number of alts. The process does eventually still get pretty boring and stale, but zone scaling helps a little. Also, I do give Blizz props for realizing that players want to feel they are getting more powerful as their gear increases, and for scaling back the scaling so that at some point mobs all become quite trivial.

I was not, however, a fan of the 7.3.5 spread of zone scaling (along with the big xp nerf) to every area in Azeroth. To me, this was Blizz once again taking a good thing and jamming it down your throat, taking something you kind of liked and rubbing your nose in it enough to make you hate it. I leveled a void elf from 20-110 under this new system, and it was one of the most miserable experiences I have had in the game.

Mythic+ dungeons. As a matter of personal taste, I do not like these and tended to run them only enough to get the max weekly chest for them each week. But I still think they were a creative and positive mechanism for the game. There is no denying that they kept some players active in the game far longer than they would have otherwise been. More importantly for Blizz, M+ competitions almost certainly increased player interest in WoW-related esports. They have clearly been a winner for Blizz. Let us hope Blizz will leave well enough alone and not take their usual path of overdoing a good thing and forcing them upon us.

Class mounts. I thought the ones I did the quests for were fun little diversions. They were not especially tedious to do, and each of the final scenarios did seem designed to fit the individual class. Of course, some of the mounts were, well, “hideous” comes to mind, and druids really did get a bit screwed over (not to mention the unfortunate Wilford Brimley resemblance). But still, I liked the idea of class mounts and had some fun with the ones I did. And I love my mage platform, especially the fire mage version!

The whistle. Genius quality of life improvement. ‘Nuff said.

Raid tiers. In general, I think Blizz did a decent job hitting the sweet spot with each tier. One or two bosses (Kil’Jaeden and Mistress Sassz’Ine are examples) were a bit overtuned at the Heroic level in my opinion, but they were not insurmountable. (Yes, I know a couple were almost impossible for a while on Mythic, but I don’t raid at that level.)

And in hindsight, raid tiers were released at about the right points in the expansion. I did feel like sometimes I was burned out on one before the new one came out, but that really is a personal situation, and honestly it gave me an excuse to take a raid break every few weeks. I also remember feeling Antorus was a little rushed, but it was the last tier and we have had a ton of time to finish it and get bored with it. All in all, the release pace has seemed decent.

Extra hearth stones. Again, this idea was not new with Legion, but I was glad to see Blizz carry it through. Giving us the extra Dal hearth stone was a good idea, and I hope we will see more of these special stones in future expansions. The thing I did not like, though, was that certain classes also got a class hall hearth stone of sorts, while other classes did not. And since every class hall has a portal back to Dal (and some even to other locations), this meant that some classes were favored with two special hearth stones, while other classes were in effect made to pound sand. If Blizz is no longer going to keep mages as the only class with instant portal ability, then they need to give all classes equal abilities for travel.

Okay, that is pretty much it. I suppose if I really wracked my brain I could come up with one or two more positive thoughts on legion, but the ones I listed are the main ones. On balance, I think for me Legion had about an equal number of significantly good and significantly bad design features. I am still too close to it to be completely objective or to have a decent perspective, but I am willing to give this expansion something like a B-minus final grade. There is no question but what it has been better than WoD, but in my opinion it does not come close to the high level set by Mists of Pandaria. Legion, though, has started some major design threads that seem to be taking the game in a new direction. I like some of these and hate some. We will see how they develop in Battle for Azeroth.

 

The real Q&A

Despite my snarkiness in my last post, I thought the Q&A yesterday was relatively informative. There was surprisingly quite a lot of what I think of as “real” information as opposed to the kind of blather that is nothing more than an infomercial. If you have an hour with nothing else to do, check out the video yourself either directly on Twitch or via MMO-C here. With that, let me get started on my observations.

PTR is now live. The first announcement was a bit of great news — the PTR is now live for Patch 8.0. That is, now anyone can go up on the PTR and experience the pre-expansion patch, which as usual will contain everything new in BfA (stat squish, new profession system, War Mode, class changes, pre-expansion event scenario, etc.) except for the new zones and content-specific quests. I did not get a chance to check out the PTR yesterday after the Q&A, so I don’t have any firsthand information on it yet, but if you have specific questions I recommend you step in and give it a spin.

When 8.0 does go live (I am guessing in about a month), there will be a few things that have to be adjustment for you. For example, the tier and legendary bonuses will still work, but not the artifact actives. So if you are, say, a BM hunter, and have gotten used to working Titan’s Thunder into your rotation, that will be gone. Same with all the active artifact spells such as Sheilun’s Gift for mistweaver monks and the totally awesome New Moon for balance druids. (Seriously, what is cooler than dropping a moon on the head of your enemy?) Some of these have gone baseline for a few specs, but generally they are compensated for in other, mostly passive, ways.

Flying in BfA. Look for the BfA Pathfinder requirements to be pretty much the same as they were for Legion. Translation: No chance of getting flying until probably sometime around March 2019 at the earliest. Blizz will again gate the requirements behind faction rep, doing a certain number of world quests, and exploration of every nook and cranny of all the new zones, as well as withhold the final Pathfinder parts until a certain patch (8.2??).

Recall that Blizz started the whole Pathfinder mechanism back in WoD, when they were forced to back off their disastrous announcement that there would henceforward never be flying in any new zones. There was such a backlash over that, that they had to hurriedly come up with some way to put off WoD flying while they scrambled to make the zones flyable. So they invented the Pathfinder quest line, along with gates designed to ensure no one would get the ability before Blizz wanted them to.

I don’t actually mind the Pathfinder questlines, by the way, but my point here is that if you are leveling a new character that is not part of an account where one character has already unlocked flying, you must still do the Pathfinder quests for every zone they exist in. That means, in theory, that 5 years from now you will still have to unlock all the rep, exploration, and so forth in Draenor, in Broken Isles, in Battle for Azeroth, and in all expansions up to whichever one is current if you want to be able to fly in those zones.

Thus, an interesting question in the Q&A was, will Blizz stop requiring Pathfinder for older expansion zones such as WoD? Ion, as is his wont, punted on the answer, giving his usual not-at-this-time-but-maybe-sometime-in-the-future-soon™-we-might-start-to-think-about-it. Just my opinion, but I suspect by the expansion after BfA we will start to see Pathfinder going away in the earlier zones like WoD and Legion.

There was, however, a good bit of dissembling going on with Ion’s answer. He bleated on and on about not wanting to “devalue the effort” of completing Pathfinder in every expansion, and that “Draenor was designed for ground-based leveling so you don;t need flying to level there”. Well, yeah. But come on Ion, why not admit that the real answer is that for some reason you have decided that leveling should take a lot longer than it used to (do I smell MAU metrics here?), and allowing flying in a shorter time would not serve that goal.

Class Balance. Bottom line is, what you see on the PTR is largely what you will get for your class and spec. There are very few large changes planned at this point. Blizz is aware of some problems but will address them either by numbers tweaks between now and August 14 or leave those changes for 8.1.

After listening to Ion on this, I remain concerned that Blizz is rather deliberately making winner and loser classes, especially when it comes to raid and group utility. They keep blathering on about how they want each class to “feel special”, yet only a few classes are “special” enough to always be sought out for groups. That is, only a few classes have truly unique utilities — such as battle rez or innervate — and many other classes either have nothing or some lesser version of the sought-after utilities. When this trend is combined with Ion’s fixation on the idea that some classes should be sought after for certain fights (bring the class not the player), it does not bode well for the also-ran classes. Unfortunately for me, I think hunters are one of those. Ion can say all he wants about fitting your strategy to your team, but the reality is that, once there has been a “school solution” to certain fights, it will be well-nigh impossible for classes who are not part of that solution to find pugs willing to take them.

What this means, I think, is choose your main class and spec with care for BfA. If you love playing a certain one and don’t care that it may not be one of the favored ones, go for it. On the other hand, if high numbers, lively play style, and being able to easily get into groups are important factors for you, then spend some time figuring out which classes/specs will do that for you in BfA — it may not end up being your current main.

On the plus side, I was heartened to hear that Blizz understands they went too far with spec identity in Legion, and they want to return to overall class identity. Whether they will achieve this goal or not remains to be seen.

War mode. This new world PvP system is part of patch 8.0. The basics are that there will be no more PvP or PvE servers, there will only be Normal and RP ones. On all servers, you can toggle PvP mode on while in your faction capital city. When you do so, you will be transferred to a shard where everyone has also toggled PvP mode, thus making your location a PvP sever. The difference between RP and PvE servers is that currently RP servers do not involuntarily transfer players to other shards (except in extreme overload situations), so as to keep group integrity better for RP purposes. In 8.0, if you toggle War Mode on an RP server, you will stay on your own shard from your RP server. If you join a group, the group will join your shard, you will not be involuntarily transferred to a different one.

I was pleased to hear Ion explain a bit more about the perks awarded for doing War Mode in patch 8.0. Basically, players in War Mode will earn slightly more gold from world quests, and if they are leveling they will get fast xp than in PvE mode. Ion commented that the reason for this is that PvP players often get forcibly diverted from questing, and the extra gold and xp is a way to compensate for that. Ion said the team is paying a lot of attention to balancing this — they want to make sure PvP is not unduly punishing players who choose it, while at the same time they absolutely do not want the bonuses to be so lucrative as to make PvE players feel pushed into PvP.

Mythic Raiding. Who cares, really. BfA will implement some world ranking system that should result in cross-realm mythic raiding being unlocked sooner. Whoopee. 🙄

Mythic+ Dungeons. For me, another who-cares item. Players will not be able to switch out gear in BfA M+ dungeons, what they start with is what they will use for each. But the interesting takeaway for me from this whole M+ Q&A discussion is the sheer number of changes and “anti-exploit” measures being put into place in BfA for M+. This only means that these are going to be a major esports venue for WoW as we go forward, since nearly all the changes are targeted towards high-end min-maxxers.

Catch-up AP in BfA. There will be one, just as there was one for AP in Legion. Interestingly, in BfA Blizz is reversing the approach. In Legion, the amount of AP required to buy more artifact upgrades increased exponentially, and the catch-up mechanism was that you could earn geometrically-increasing amounts in order to get that AP. In BfA, you will earn Azerite at a constant rate, but the cost of the gear traits will go down periodically. Both systems work for catch-up, but the BfA method means we will not be faced with ridiculously high numbers for traits (over a trillion AP for some people with high artifact levels.)

Anyway, that was it for the Q&A. (There was some more PvP stuff but I pretty much tuned that out.) I think in general it was a decent hour. One of the most positive big takeaways for me is that I am beginning to believe Blizz is sensitive to the grindiness and tedium many of us disliked in Legion, and they do seem to be taking some steps to make that less of an issue.

And with that long, wordy post, let the weekend begin. See you on the other side.

Garrisons revisited

A couple of years ago, during Warlords of Draenor, anyone reading this blog would likely have been treated to a rant about how badly Blizz screwed up the whole garrison idea. Garrisons had become a second job, they made the game seem about as fun as spending your weekends cleaning house and mowing the lawn, they were the main cause the social aspect of the game was deteriorating, yada yada yada.

Well.

Last week I was doing some profession switching in preparation for Battle for Azeroth, making sure I had one of each crafting profession and getting most of them to level 800 before August. Recall that in BfA, you will level only the current profession recipes, and if you want to go back and learn recipes from earlier expansions there is a mechanism for doing those separately. My hope is that if you start BfA with a level 800 profession, you will not have to go back to learn the earlier stuff, you will automatically get credit for it. That’s how it should work, but I long ago learned not to count on Blizz to do the logical thing.

At any rate, while grinding out skill-ups, I rediscovered the usefulness of the WoD garrison. It is, of course, required if you want to learn the WoD crafting recipes, but it is especially terrific for leveling gathering professions — herbs, mining, even fish. (It is less useful for leveling skinning. But skinning is quick to level anyway.)

The key for leveling gathering professions is to get a level 3 mine or herb garden. (You can increase the number of work orders by assigning a champion to work in them, and also by getting a level 3 storehouse, but those things do not help you level up, only the actual gathering does.) Additionally, if you apply a small amount of effort, you can get a bank and an auction house, making it easy to dispose of your gathered materials without having to commute somewhere. (There are also vendors in the garrison if you just want to vendor your stuff.) Last, since all of Draenor is just outside your garrison, once you have gathered the daily take from your mine or herb garden, you can easily keep leveling, up to 700, by running gathering routes just outside your garrison gate. What’s not to love? Oh, and of course, you can get to your garrison with the special hearthstone, and if you need to run back to Stormwind for something and your Dal hearthstone is on cooldown, you can portal to Stormshield via your level 3 garrison tower in the back and from there quickly portal to Stormwind and a couple of other cities.

So the leveling potential in my garrison was kind of a forehead-slapping moment once it percolated through my brain. What I did not anticipate was the comfortable, homey feeling I would get when I went back. Seriously, it was like when you have been traveling for a long time and finally get home and kick off your shoes and sink into your favorite chair — “Ahhhhh”. I just would not have expected myself to have that kind of reaction, given how much I disliked garrisons when they were current.

Ever since Mists, I have considered my little Sunsong Ranch to be “home” for my characters. I always liked the cozy small room with the bed and neat shelves and bubbly stew on the stove, and to this day I frequently take a character there to spend the night or a couple of weeks if I know I won’t be logging in on them for a bit. It’s silly, I know, but somewhere in the back of my mind I feel good knowing they are in their own little place, snug and safe. This is the reason I have always gone to the trouble to become exalted (besties) with all the Tillers and have done the full Sunsong Ranch quest line on every alt.  I really value that little one-room place that is your character’s very own.

But now that garrisons are in the rear view mirror and I have had some time to distance myself from them, I am finding that I have similar feelings about them. While the Town Hall is not generally what I would describe as “cozy”, it does have a certain appeal — some of my characters have spent many a night sitting by the fire in the mission room, where I imagine they have come in weary and cold and pulled off their boots and clammy socks and warmed their feet while sipping a hot toddy, and fallen asleep in the chair because they were too exhausted to find a bed.

I also really enjoyed standing at the garrison gate and watching my champions walk out to start their missions — in my opinion this was one of the most clever mechanics in WoD. I really got a kick out of waving them goodbye, watching them march off in twos and threes to fight the good fight.

Upon occasion, I have also commandeered the gardener’s cottage in the herb garden. In my opinion, this would be a perfect and easy way to give players some housing — just kick the gardener out and put up a “Commander’s Residence” sign in the front, maybe add in a couple of quest lines to get some decorations for the inside. That way, Blizz can claim they are really not giving in on player housing (since they would not be adding much new), and players could actually have a house, everybody wins. They will not do this, of course, because they are stubborn shitheads, but still it is a nice idea.

I suppose almost anything looks better in retrospect, after all we generally like to forget the bad parts of experiences and remember the good parts. I suspect my newfound nostalgia for garrisons is part of the same foggy hindsight driving the desire of some players to go back to a classic WoW experience — I choose not to remember the parts I hated and instead remember only the sitting-by-the fire contentment. Of course, it also helps that now when I visit my garrison it is completely voluntary — I do not feel like Blizz is demanding I participate in a certain end game play style, because, well, it is no longer the end game part. I admit that I am prone to a certain amount of bull-headedness, too, in that the more I feel like I am being required to do something, the less I want to do it, even if left to my own resources I might actually like the activity. That is stupid and illogical, but there it is. (Yeah, for those of you wondering, I was like that in my soldier days, too, resulting in me being considered either an “independent thinker” or a “troublemaker”, depending on the commander I worked for. I actually valued both labels.)

So, as we draw closer to a new expansion, I am learning to love one of the previous ones. If that means my rear view mirror is smudged, I really don’t feel like cleaning it.

 

End game games

The last week or so I have been working on making my Void Elf mage actually viable for end game play. I have come to the conclusion that it is a seriously flawed process in Legion, and I fear the general framework will be repeated in Battle for Azeroth.

OK, let me explain.

First, it has always been the case that once you reach max level in an expansion there are some things left for you to do in order to reach “real” max level — higher level gear, that one special weapon, maxing out professions, progressing through raid tiers and/or PvP stuff, maybe getting some mounts or high level achievements. For many, these end game activities are where most of the game’s fun are, and I tend to agree. Once you have done these, you probably consider the expansion to be over, and you move into whatever your end-of-expansion game mode is — messing with alts, farming gold, unsubscribing for a bit, or just pulling back on your game time.

But Legion seems to have thrown in an entirely new leveling process, between reaching max character level and being “ready” for real end game activities. Think about it — once you reach 110 and before you are really prepared to do end game activities like raiding or M+ dungeons, you need to:

  • Increase your ilevel (this is not new)
  • Farm AP to get your artifact weapon to a high enough level to select relic traits
  • Do the Broken Shore and Argus quest lines to be able to farm higher AP tokens and gear rewards.
  • Do most of your class hall quest line in order to complete things like the BS and Argus quest lines, and in order to have the right number and level of champions to do the required missions for BS/Argus completion, and so as to be able to equip 2 legendaries.
  • For some classes and professions, you have to do at least part of the Suramar quest line.
  • Chase legendaries until you get two adequate ones

It is really only after you have done the things listed that you are truly ready for Legion end game. Blizz has indeed introduced — I guess in the name of “content” — a new tier of requirements in order to get to the end game, call it “Leveling Stage 2”, after initial leveling. It is a stealth leveling requirement.

Worse, the requirements for this new leveling tier are confusing and they vary according to class. In typical fashion, Blizz has opted to leave them a tangled, obscure mess, and instead left all user help in the hands of third parties. I defy anyone to go through the processes listed above without consulting any outside guide or assistance from friends/guildies, even if you have already done it once.

Of course, depending on their end game goals, not every player needs to go through all the steps above. But, again, without a lot of outside guidance, it is impossible to know which steps are required for a certain goal and which ones may be skipped. How many times have you wanted to start a quest line that you are interested in, only to be unable to start it until you figure out which quest line or achievement is a prerequisite for it, and then have to go back and find out how to finish that one before you start the one you are really interested in? (And holy moly, was that ever a run-on sentence!)

The LS2 process, I maintain, is deliberately confusing and vague, so as to squeeze out more MAU over the course of the expansion. Blizz does not want players to know exactly what they must do next in order to play for their own expansion goals. They want players to spend time chasing unimportant (to the player) quest lines. And the longer it takes a player to feel like they have finally reached their end game, the longer they consider the expansion viable.

I suppose, just as societies become more complex and thus extend the length of childhood and young adulthood, so too WoW becomes more complex as it ages and thus extends the leveling process. Or maybe Blizz is just playing (end) games with us. I don’t know. But I do know that Legion has given us the virtual equivalent of teenage years, where we are neither still leveling, nor ready for real end game activities.

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.

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.