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.

A change of pace

Over the weekend I spent some time on my alts, mainly my alt hunter and my druid. It was a nice change for me. I spent time on my alt hunter mainly to finish her jewelcrafting quest chain and to gather a lot of ore, because I have other alts that would benefit from rings and necks and gems and such. (Shhhhhh, don’t tell Ion Hazzikostas … be vewy vewy quiet!).

I did finish the JC line, although of course that means very little — most of my recipes are level 1, and the mats seem to be quite rare. Also, the mining RNG quests seem to have a rather low probability of dropping, so of course I have not yet gotten them, which means (I think) I cannot yet get any Blood of Sargeras from this gathering profession. Without Bloods, I can’t craft high end items, nor can I even gear up enough to get into LFR.

Not making Bloods BoA is one of the worst decisions in Legion, in my opinion. I have over 200 on my main, for the most part worthless, and my alts are crying for them. This critical mat is what I call a “domino mat” — it has game repercussions far beyond what a single material should have. If you are a crafter, you cannot craft many high end items without it. Even if you have enough to craft the items, you can only craft them at a relatively low levels, because anyone wishing to upgrade a crafted picee of armor must do it on their own, using their own Bloods (20 or more just to get a single item upon to mediocre level). Thus, players wishing to use crafted gear to get up to, oh, say ilvl 850 or so — not exactly a high level in Legion — must have a buttload of Bloods in order to do it. That is assuming you have a character — probably a main — who can crank out obliterum at a high level. (Yes, Ion, guess what, we are now at the point of having a main exist to support  alts. Happy?)

Thus, the soulbound nature of Bloods, along with the requirement that gear must be SB to be upgraded, means crafters cannot make and sell  gear above level 815, and players wishing to upgrade this low level gear must be advanced enough to be able to gather the Bloods to do it — which generally means by the time you are able to upgrade your gear you have long ago stopped needing it. (Similar to that ridiculous class hall gear that requires you to have jumped through enough hoops in order to buy 810-830 level gear — or even to buy the final upgrade to get it to level 840 — that by the time you have grubbed enough to get there you no longer need it.)

Great job, Blizz, really excellent planning. This is like a toy manufacturer making a toddler pull toy, but requiring any child using it to earn their own money to pay for it — by the time they can do that, the pull toy is kind of moot.

Thus, when I decided to gear up and play my druid more, it turned out to be a much longer and more tedious process than it should be at this stage of an expansion. Not only for the reasons cited above, but also because suddenly nearly all the gear-rewarding world quests disappeared. Seriously, I thought well if I can’t upgrade my crafted gear on my druid because of lack of Bloods, at least I can run a bunch of world quests and get some decent gear from them. Nope. Whether by recent stealth nerf design or simply because of bad RNG in the WQ selection engine, there were almost no WQs that awarded gear this weekend. It took me literally until Sunday night, after 3 days of grinding, to get enough gear to qualify for LFR. LFR!!!! This is sad.

However, once I did finally get geared up, I had a lot of fun with my druid. I had leveled her as a boomkin, because I have always kind of liked that somewhat quirky play style, but also because honestly Blizz still has not made the leveling process very healer-friendly. (I am always impressed with people who level their healers as healers.) Anyway, having leveled her up a couple of months ago, I decided to switch main spec to resto.

First I had to get the resto artifact weapon, and I have to say I found this quest line to be pretty engaging. I definitely liked that it was heals-centric and required healing to complete. It was not overly long, but for a non-healer like me it was somewhat challenging. (I let my group die once before I succeeded … oops.) I had enough AP saved up to get my heals artifact up to level 24 in one fell swoop, so that was kind of nice.

Armed with my new artifact and a whopping 826 ilevel, I queued for Emerald Nightmare LFR. It was the first LFR I have done in Legion, and especially considering it was late in the game week, it went quite smoothly. As usual, I was stressed healing, but after it was over I realized I had a lot of fun. I got two pieces of gear that pushed me up to qualify for Trial of Valor, but I didn’t queue for it as it was pretty late. I’ll do it tonight (yeah, I know, Monday night LFR is a bad idea).

Side rant: What is it with Blizz and their apparent need to make support functions as annoying as possible for players? Last night I wanted to try out a few heal rotations, and since I knew there were no target dummies in Dal (!!!), I traveled to the druid class hall, thinking of course there are target dummies there — they have them in every other class hall I have an alt for. Nope. No target dummies in the Dream Grove. This of course is along with the Blizz design “feature” of no mailboxes in class halls, no auction house in Dal (don’t start with me on this, engineers!), and of course as I said no target dummies in Dal. Seriously, Blizz, what is the reason behind these annoyances? And don’t give me some bull hockey mumbo-jumbo pseudo-lore crap. I want to know the real reason! Malevolence? Twisted dev humor? Technical limitations? Laziness? Incompetence?

Late edit: See Sar’s comment below. Apparently the druid class hall has both a mailbox and target dummies! Whoops, well now this is awkward, what can I find to rant about?? Maybe clueless players who can’t find stuff in class halls?

I did a small amount of druid healing in LFR and a few random instances in WoD, but it was nothing to write home about. Before I queued last night, I got some quick pointers from one of our guild’s top druid healers, and that was very helpful. As it turned out, no one died — well except for a couple who died from trash because they stupidly outran the raid. I was pretty low on the healing charts, but I was always in with the actual healing group not the also-healers like Spriests and Pallies, and anyway I don’t give healing numbers much notice. I did do a lot of overhealing, but our raid healer explained that is pretty much unavoidable with druids, and he gets a lot of good natured grief over it in our raids.

It seems like Blizz pretty much left resto druids alone as they worked over many of the other classes. I suppose those of you out there who main a resto druid might disagree, but from my untrained perspective I did not notice a huge difference between what I did in WoD and what I did last night in Legion. I think I like the druid healing style because it reminds me of what all hunters used to be — highly mobile, with quite a few extra tricks in their bag. Also, I find it refreshing once in a while to get away from the kill-kill-kill mentality of damage dealers. There is a certain satisfaction in helping out your group members in such a direct way. (But I still find it stressful while doing it.)

Anyway, I enjoyed my sojourn into druid healyland over the weekend. I expect I will be spending more time pursuing this as Legion wears on.

What Blizz got wrong in Legion

My last post laid out what I think Blizz got right about Legion. It was a long post, because I think on balance Legion is a decent expansion — certainly leagues better than WoD. As I said in the post, I give Legion a “solid B”. The reasons it does not make the cut for an “A” is the subject of this post.

All expansions have good and bad points. And of course what is one person’s “good” is another’s “bad”. Something I hate about the game may be the one thing that keeps you coming back to it. In weighing what I was going to include in this post, I tried to evaluate the big picture of things in Legion that make me grimly grit my teeth and slog through, knowing for me they detract significantly from the fun of the game, but they must be endured if I wish to get to the fun parts.

As I began to outline what I was going to include in this post, I noticed there were there design approaches that seemed to play a major role — singly or together —  in every area I find troubling about this expansion: RNG, the drive to increase the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric, and what I think of as “class chaos”. These seem to me to be meta-mistakes in Legion, fundamentally flawed design philosophies that give rise to a host of unpopular and/or fun-killing aspects of the game.

RNG (random number generator, or more properly, pseudo-random number generator) is at the heart of nearly every computer game — I don’t know of a way to code complex combat simulations without it. The extent to which randomness is used, however, is where people begin to get uncomfortable with it. For example, if every time you cast a spell in WoW, it was like spinning a huge wheel of fortune, and you got truly random outcomes anywhere in a range of one to ten million hit points, most people — Blizz devs included — would consider that bad design. Similarly, if absolutely every aspect of the game — even things like where you end up when you interact with a flight master, or how many health points you get when you down a health potion — were RNG-controlled, again almost everyone would consider that to be unacceptable game design.

But there is a vast area between minimal combat-outcome RNG and the extremes I just cited. And it is in this area where reasonable people differ in their opinions of “how much is too much”. I would argue that Blizz has a years-long history of RNG creep, in the sense of expanding its use to more and more areas of the game. Some form of RNG seems to be their preferred design approach for as many aspects of the game as they can apply it to, and we have seen it noticeably expanded in Legion, to the extent that for me it has crossed the line into “too much” territory.

This trend to making everything RNG is closely tied with the MAU motive: if you want certain gear — including legendaries — or certain profession recipes, there is absolutely no way to get them other than to keep playing until they magically appear for you. If you are exceptionally lucky, this will not take long. But if you have normal or bad luck, this means that the only thing you can do to “increase” your chances to get this stuff is to play more hours. If you are someone who is limited in your daily play time, this means it could take months — or never — before you get whatever it is you are seeking. We have all read the stories of how the world-first mythic guild members ran literally hundreds of instances in the first couple of weeks of Legion just to get their legendaries, or to advance their artifacts.

This is a demoralizing effect — no matter how skilled you are, no matter how diligently you work at a goal, you have zero control over obtaining items you are seeking. It is a lottery, and the only way to succeed is to keep buying more and more tickets, but even then there is no guarantee of a prize.

The concept of “class chaos” is this: Blizz had reasonably well-balanced classes and specs at the end of WoD. There were exceptions, of course (priests — both shadow disc, for different reasons — come immediately to mind, as do of course survival hunters), but overall most of the classes had reached a decent equilibrium. This was no small feat, as it had taken most of WoD to achieve this somewhat wobbly balance in what is undeniably a vastly complex system.

So what did Blizz decide to do? Rework nearly every class and spec (except for some unfathomable reason mages and druids), almost from the ground up, add in the huge complicating factor of artifact weapons, and create a new class. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we have seen. Patch 7.1.5 promises some improvement to the horrible unbalanced mess Blizz has made, but I believe the problems with many classes are so fundamental that they cannot be resolved in Legion. They can possibly be resolved in the next expansion, but only if Blizz exercises some discipline and refrains from yet another total rebuilding of every class.

These three basic design mistakes — expansion of RNG, drive to increase MAU, and class chaos — are the primary factors that result in what for me are fun-killing aspects of Legion:

Gear

Artifact weapon. I was leery of this idea to begin with, and four months have only served to confirm for me that it is a design I endure rather than embrace. It seems to me to have been created solely for increasing the MAU metric for the game. Some of my pet peeves about it:

  • It permeates most aspects of the game — nearly all activities are centered around this single piece of uber-gear. Want to switch specs within your class? Got to consider how to handle a new artifact weapon. Want to level an alt? Got to pretty much pick a spec and stick with it for many levels, as there is that artifact to consider. Want to run just a couple world quests? Better weigh the relative trade-offs between the ones that award AP or relics and any others you may actually prefer to do. Not a big fan of dungeons? Too bad, you better run them so you can get the gobs of AP they award.
  • There is no feeling of achievement or accomplishment with it, as the trait table is for all practical purposes endless. Once you get the last gold trait at level 34, you get to chase tiny power increments for 20 more levels at ever-increasing AP costs well into the millions for each. And new patches bring even more traits and levels. There is no goal to work towards, just an endless slog grubbing for artifact stuff.
  • While some classes and specs got artifacts with real lore and game history behind them, many others got made-up lore with absolutely zero history. I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz first made the decision that there would be 36 separate artifacts, then looked around and said “Holy shit, that’s a lot of design work, well just get something out there, bring in the interns to help!”
  • Which leads me to one of the worst artifact decisions Blizz made — having spec weapons instead of class weapons. I understand there are some technical problems with having the same weapon for hybrid classes, but I cannot imagine those would be worse than the current state of affairs. I suppose the corporate suits are happy that players must grub out more game hours to make off spec weapons viable, but it is a real joy-killer for me.
  • Last, the decision to make artifact weapons mandatory for all players. Again, forcing players down a specific game style path. Why could there not have been a choice — artifact weapon for any character that wishes to raid, normal weapon for others?

Legendaries. I think even Blizz is starting to realize this was a terrible design decision, but of course now they cannot back out of it, they are stuck trying to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t. (Another RNG-based MAU-driven decision.)

  • The fact that getting them is based completely on luck just does not seem very “legendary” to me. It’s kind of like getting a Pulitzer Prize in a box of cereal. Yeah, it was a nice surprise, but you did not work for it, you did nothing to deserve it, it was just pure luck.
  • Worse, if you do not get such a prize, you feel deficient because all your friends got one and you have munched your way through about 100 boxes of Lucky Charms and still have nothing but a sugar high to show for it.
  • Still worse, some of the Pulitzers come with actual monetary awards, and some are just gimmicky little jokes. You of course, want the “really good” Pulitzer, but even when you finally get one in your 101st box of Lucky Charms, it turns out to be just a piece of fancy paper folded up into an origami bird. Whoopty doo.

Other gear. I’ll cover this in my next post, where I’ll talk about things I think Blizz can still reasonably fix in Legion. But some of the gear decisions that do not work for me are:

  • Crafted gear. It is prohibitively expensive to upgrade, and even when you do, you have what is at best mediocre gear. Worse, you can only upgrade soulbound gear, meaning you cannot sell upgraded gear or even craft it for an alt.
  • World quest gear does not mesh well with the gear levels most people have by the time they are regularly running WQs. Except for the odd piece here and there, the WQ gear rewards are seldom worth pursuing, unless you are the lucky type that can reasonably hope for a random upgrade.
  • Order hall gear. Again, by the time a character has done everything necessary to qualify for most of this gear, it is not an upgrade, even with the upgrade tokens.

Professions

In general, I think Blizz has pretty much destroyed any satisfaction I ever enjoyed from professions. This is another design that seems completely RNG/MAU driven.

I think one of the reasons they have done this is because they have undergone one of their signature pendulum swings from a previous expansion. In WoD, pretty much anyone could enjoy the benefits of most professions; in Legion, almost no one can enjoy the benefits of any profession other than the ones they have on their main.

I think the other reason they have done this is as part of a conscious effort to implement Ion Hazzikostas’s pet theory that no one should be able to have a stable of alts that in any way benefits their main.

I am not against doing quest lines in order to level professions, but I think it is going overboard to require a certain play style to do so. In Legion, you cannot level a profession — especially a crafting profession — unless you not only complete a long quest line, but also run dailies and instances and in some cases raids, and get lucky enough for the RNG gods to award you with recipes. And of course, in order to do this, you must be properly geared which means if you do not have something close to main-character time commitment, you will not max out your profession.

  • One especially galling change in profession quests is that when you gather/craft something to fulfill a quest requirement, you have to give it up. This is unlike most pre-Legion profession quests, where when you gathered or made something, the quest was completed by the act of doing that activity, and you got to use/sell the proceeds of your quest.
  • The whole recipe level concept does not work for me. For one thing, it is hard to keep track of. For another, it is just a way to extend the amount of time required to reach a goal. Some recipe levels are only available from faction vendors, requiring long weeks of rep to qualify for. Some recipes and levels require relatively large amounts of expensive/rare non-related mats. Again, by the time one is able to amass these items, it is seldom worth it to craft them any more, with the possible exception of flasks and food.
  • There was — and still is — a design bias that vastly favors herbalism and alchemy in Legion, and to a lesser degree jewel crafting and enchanting. Nearly all other professions are close to worthless, both for gold making and for assisting other characters in your account.
  • Nomi. ‘Nuff said.

Alts

The points I have made above converge to have an extremely negative effect on alt play. And yes, I know there are people out there who will claim “I only play two hours a day, and I have leveled up 11 alts and maxed out their professions and still raid at the Heroic level with my main” — to which I will cry horse hockey! Anyone who wants to merely level up alts can do so easily. But to gear them even minimally for heroic instances, or to a level for LFR — much less for normal raiding or Mythic dungeons — takes main-level time commitments.

My preferred play style for years — and I suspect it is a fairly common play style — has been to gear up, progress on, and raid with a main, meanwhile leveling and minimally gearing up 6-7 alts for instances, guild alt raids, and professions. That play style is just not tenable in Legion unless I am willing/able to vastly increase my play time.

Ion Hazzikostas has finally put the mechanisms in place to force everyone to play every character in the approved play style, and any attempt at deviating from this approved style comes at tremendous cost to the player in terms of time.

Summary

I have titled this post “What Blizz got wrong in Legion”, but from Blizz’s point of view I suspect it is considered to be brilliant design. One of their main metrics — MAU — is almost certainly way up. The never-ending story of artefacts and world quests, along with drawn-out quest lines and random awards for professions and legendaries, means quashing the “I’m BOOOOORRRRED!” whines of a certain segment of the player population, even if it is at the expense of players like myself.

As I have said before, Legion is a fantastic expansion for high-end hardcore players and for super-casuals, but it is seriously flawed for those of us in the middle of those two extremes. Like I pointed out in my last post, this does not mean it is a bad expansion, but it does have significant failures that detract from my enjoyment of it. And I bet I am not alone.

My two cents.

What Blizz got right in Legion

It is, thank the stars, finally 2017. With the new year, hopefully, comes new wisdom and new insight, understanding that slowly insinuates itself into your brain, and then either rests there comfortably until you need it, or explodes and spreads shrapnel ideas all over your psyche.

I had one such thought grenade a couple of days ago, which I am now going to reveal to you. Brace yourselves.

Ready?

Legion is only four months old.

I know, right? Because it seems to me that this expansion has been around forever. It is as familiar and old-hat to me as WoD was by the end. I have the leveling process down to a system, I have a routine for my main, I have set items I sell to make gold, I know the general profession-leveling path, I am comfortable with the mechanics in dungeons and raids. Even the fact that the content changes regularly seems routine — I just incorporate it into my normal schedule of world quests or whatever. In short, Legion has become the normal game for me.

It is an interesting lesson in perspective. Legion will officially last 18-24 months, and I am betting it could stretch into 30-36 months. Which means that we still have something like over 80% of the expansion to go. (Okay, 78% if you believe it will be an 18-month expansion, but if you do, I have some prime real estate in a Florida swamp to sell you.)

If Legion were a human, it would be a young adult. And that means it will certainly change — possibly mellow — as it ages, but its basic character is pretty well set. With that in mind, my next few posts will examine what I think works in the expansion, what things don’t work in it and likely never will, and the things that might work if Blizz decides they want to put forth the effort to fix them.

Today being close to New Year’s, and therefore an inherently optimistic time, I’ll start with the things I think Blizz got mostly right this time around. There is a lot of good news here, and honestly if I had to give an overall grade to Legion at this point, it would be a solid B. These are just some examples, you may have others.

Zone scaling. This was a brilliant innovation for the game, and I hope Blizz keeps it for future expansions. It gives players a lot of leveling options that help keep boredom at bay. My initial worry about scaling was that it would make all travel at level 110 annoying, because all mobs would be difficult to deal with, but that has not turned out to be the case — increasing gear levels eventually render most world mobs trivial. This is as it should be, I think, and I hope Blizz does not go berserk “fixing” this zone scaling approach. It works, leave it alone.

World quests. I really like these. I like the idea of a whole bunch of daily quests where you can pick what you want to do based on what your needs are. Need rep or want loot chests — do the emissary and/or faction quests. Want Artifact Power or Order Hall Resources — do the WQs that award those. Need some gear or profession mats — yup, there’s a quest for that. And if you need a day off, just blow them off, most of them will still be available the next day. Are there some tweaks that could be applied to WQs? Sure, but in general I consider them a great addition to the game.

DungeonsI have to admit I am not a big fan of Mythic+ dungeons, mainly because I do not like timed competitions. I run them from time to time, but I am not as rabid about them as some of my guildies, and I have not gone beyond a +9. Still, I think they are a positive part of Legion. Along with regular Mythics, they tend to encourage guild activity, which in my mind is always a good thing. I actually like the idea that you have to organize a group to run them, I think it encourages more responsible play than auto-organized group finding. The fact that they give pretty decent gear (if you are lucky) is also a plus.

“Content”. This means different things to different people, but so far I think anyone complaining about its lack in Legion would be hard put to justify their claim. In addition to WQs and dungeons, there are raid tiers and timely mini-tiers, new zone quest lines, order hall quest lines, a solid patch schedule, profession quests, artefact appearance quests, and more. Blizz certainly took to heart the “no content” criticism of WoD, and in what some may say is typical, went overboard in correcting it. Still, whether you like all of the content or not, and even if you feel overwhelmed by it, there is no denying Legion has plenty of it. We got “content” out the wazoo, people.

I am sure there are a lot of different opinions on the raid content so far, but I am relatively happy with it. I think Emerald Nightmare was maybe a tad undertuned, and Trial of Valor a tad overtuned at first, but those are minor points. My guild raid team falls somewhere in between casual and hardcore, maybe more like serious semi-casual. We are not a mythic raid team, but we do like to pound away and finish heroic content as soon as we can — we have had EN(H) on farm for several weeks now — and if we can assemble an appropriate 20-man group we can sometimes down a mythic boss or two. So, from that point of view, Legion raids have been good.

Story lines in each zone. I like most of them, and even the ones I don’t like as much seem well thought out and cohesive. Bear in mind I am not a lore person, so if you are, you may disagree with me on this. But I found the story lines enhanced the leveling process and gave me a sense of zone identity I might not otherwise have had. (The exception for me is Suramar, a story line I find cohesive but abhorrent — more on that in a subsequent post.)

Zone art. In a word, terrific. I still don’t think it is as mind-blowing as Pandaria was for me, but it is definitely a Legion winner. I am not a real fan of pink trees and gloomy gas pools and such, so I prefer the Highmountain and Stormheim areas, but I can’t deny that every zone has been beautifully rendered. And Blizz continues its standard of excellence with their attention to detail. Buildings are stunning for their outer structural features as well as for the items adorning the interiors. Locales include, for example, not just snow but grimy patches of it, not just bugs and critters but ones that move and interact with each other, not just grass or sand but renderings that move with wind and water and show not only your footprints but those of pets and mounts and NPC companions. Did they borrow liberally from previous zones? Sure, but for me it all works seamlessly, making each zone come to life.

Transmog system and other quality of life enhancements. Technically, these are mostly pre-patch stuff, but I think of them as a Legion innovations, and I approve of them. The main one that comes to mind now is the transmog system. It just works, so please, Blizz, don’t try to “fix” it in the next expansion. Same with the Legion practice of selecting one of your own mounts for commercial flights from some areas — it’s cute and fun as is.

That awesome whistle. The Flight Master’s Whistle is, quite possibly, the greatest invention in Wow, ever. It eliminates one of the most annoying aspects of the game, namely completing a quest that you have had to fight your way into, only to have to fight your way out of it again, only this time for zero reward, like having to keep paying on a car you totaled a month ago. The whistle even works underwater! In fact, if they would make it work in caves, it would actually be the most perfect piece of gear ever introduced to the game.

There are some other cool gizmos that really enhance the whole ground-bound travel experience. I have a couple of things that instantly transport me to certain cities/settlements in the Broken Isles. There are all the leyline portals in Suramar, and the comprehensive set of portals in Dalaran. There is the grapple hook, which I find fun and quirky — although I have not been able to use the Suramar grapple points yet. And there is the fact that we get a special Dal hearth, along with our regular hearth that we can set to anywhere, and our garrison hearth. Some classes even have a special instant portal to their order hall.

(On the minus side, the “special” eagle flight system for hunters is mainly just annoying. I can’t count the number of times I have used the whistle, only to be instantly transported to some godforsaken mountain top not near anything, and then forced to use a hearth or a series of grapples or a feather or kite to get anywhere reasonable. About the only time I find it useful is to get near the Dreamgrove for an easy ride to Emerald Nightmare for raids.)

All in all, travel is becoming easier and easier even without flying or without being a mage. Which of course makes me worry. (Remember, I am a school-trained worrier.) I still see Blizz’s ultimate goal for flying to be to eliminate it for all but classic zones. The fact that they retreated in the face of massive blowback when they tried to do this in WoD does not, in my opinion, mean they have given up on the idea. Rather, they have adopted a frog-in-the-pot-of-water approach. They will keep introducing ground travel conveniences while at the same time making flight available later and later in an expansion and requiring more and more onerous achievements to get it. Legion may in fact be the last expansion to permit flying. From that point of view, The Whistle may be an evil, evil contraption!

I am sure I have missed some great features of Legion, but these are the major ones. Next up: My picks for the not-so-great features, the ones I consider big design mistakes.

Flasks, finally

Over the weekend I spent some time on a couple of alts, ones I am working on mainly for professions, but ones that I hope will allow me to get a break every now and then from the gear and rep grind on my main.

The alt I have spent the most time on so far is my druid — balance with resto attunement. She is an herbalist/alchemist, so that seemed like the most critical profession combo for me, at least the one that might save me the most gold in the long run. I leveled her over a month ago, but it has been a long slog to get her to the point where she can actually produce the pots and flasks I use on my main.

Balance has really improved as a play style in Legion, I think. Of course, this is the opinion of a rank amateur at the spec, but I find myself enjoying it far more than I did in WoD. While she is not well geared at all yet — 801 ilevel — I find both questing and herb gathering fun. The defensive capabilities are awesome when you need to avoid mobs or use the “run like hell” tactic, and having played a hunter forever, it is refreshing to be able to do so much self healing in order to survive some encounters.

The 7.1 change making Suramar and World Quests account-wide really helped, too. It allows me to focus on profession development and the factions that will give me some needed recipes, along with some modest artifact and class hall development activities. I don’t feel any real need to go beyond something like level 15 or 20 on my artifact traits. I will probably eventually get a resto artifact and level that to a minimum of 13-15, just to be able to heal some low level stuff in a pinch.

I did as much as I could with professions while leveling the druid, but there are level gates that prevent you from doing a lot until you have reached 110. And the crafting quest lines still seem far, far too onerous. There are something like 40 quests required just to get to the point where you can make basic combat flasks. While this in itself is not horrible — I am generally in favor of making people do some work to develop their professions — it is the nature of the quests that seems way out of line. For one thing, there seem to be a lot that require you to craft a significant number of relatively expensive and time-consuming items just to turn them in to the quest-giver. That is, unlike what has been usual in the past for professions (think engineering, for example), you do not get quest credit just for crafting the item but for giving it up. No longer can you craft 20 widgets, complete the quest, then sell or use the widgets. Nope, those are just freebies that get tossed into the bit bucket.

The other bad design — in my opinion — for crafting professions is the too-frequent requirement to do instances in order to complete a quest. And in at least one case for alchemy it is not just a matter of completing a dungeon but in fact you must unlock and defeat a special quest-related boss within the instance. This is the step that had been holding me back, and the one I finally completed over the weekend, with the help of a couple of generous guildies. The quest is Demon’s Bile, and I had tried it a couple of times using the group finder, only to have the groups pretty much laugh at me when I asked if we could do the special boss. No one wanted to take the extra time. Luckily, I always asked up front, so I was able to drop group when they said no. The quest is a critical step in being able to craft flasks, so without it much of your alchemy profession is useless. After this step, there are maybe half a dozen or more quests that make you run around all over Azeroth before you can get the desired recipes, but Demon’s Bile is a big hurdle.

I am not actually sure that going beyond Level 1 flasks is worth the effort at this point. I will be crafting them mainly for my own characters, so the fact that I won’t get the RNG drops of a couple extra here and there does not seem like such a big deal. I might try for a couple of Level 2s, which I think I can get via faction reps, but that is about it. It is not worth running mythics and high level group activities (for which you need decent gear, etc.) just for the off chance of maybe possibly getting a random drop of a Level 3 recipe.

Of course, without Level 3 recipes it will be basically impossible to reach 800, since the Level 1s grey out pretty quickly, but I am not sure I really care. I will not be able to craft raid cauldrons, but honestly there is not a lot of value in those in Legion anyway, in my opinion. They are horribly expensive to produce, and the flasks you get from them are no better than individual ones in terms of either stats or the time they last. Cauldrons in Legion seem designed as welfare for players too cheap to buy their own. So I really do not feel bad that I will not be able to produce them. I can make flasks for myself as well as donate some to the guild bank every week, so that is fine.

In general, I think I have decided that Level 3 recipes, and even reaching max profession level, is just not worth it for crafting professions in Legion. My main is a LW who is stuck at somewhere around 775. Eventually I will get the reps needed to fill in recipes for some pieces I don’t currently have, but getting the Level 2 recipes for some of the ones I do have is far too expensive (20 gems that still run into the thousands of gold each in the Auction House for one, for example) to be worth it. Especially since the gear I could craft with them tops out at 855. I can craft what I need by using a few more mats than it would take at Level 3, and so what if it takes more leather or scales to make — I have tons and tons of leather, scales, and Blood of Sargeras. I think it is too bad that maxing out professions is out of reach for a lot of players in Legion, but as I have pointed out before this expansion requires many of us to lower our game goals and expectations.

I do think it will be worth a certain amount of effort to max out gathering professions, though, and I intend to try for most of the ones I have. Gathering in Legion seems to take a lot longer than it did in Mists (I don’t count WoD where you could pretty much “gather” in garrison), and being able to get more items per node seems like a valuable skill to me.

Next up for profession leveling: my miner/JC, who happens also to be a hunter. I should reach 110 sometime this weekend. I have not really researched the quests required to learn useful gems, but I am expecting quite a lot of annoying requirements. And, like my other crafting professions, I doubt if I will progress beyond Level 1 recipes for many. (As an aside, my spec strategy for this, my second hunter, is to start out as BM and get my artifact to trait level 13 — BM being useful for leveling and soloing — then switch to MM as her main spec.)

Beyond these two alts, I think my third will be my Mistweaver monk, who has enchanting and engineering for professions. I am not too excited about engineering this expansion, but enchanting might be useful to me. I am not sure how many Bloods I will need for her, and getting them might be a challenge with no gathering skills (possibly have to depend entirely on world quests?). Also, being a healer, she should be more of a challenge to level up, but I will give it a try anyway.

Still, that is quite a ways off. For now, I am working on flask making and hoping there are not any more special-needs dungeon quests for the remainder of my baseline crafting professions. Diminished expectations ftw!!!!!