My night job

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

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

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

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

That’s it. Six hours for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood(s), sweat and tears

Today’s rant — yes, I regret to say that’s what it is — is about the most pernicious thing Blizz did to players in Legion: Blood of Sargeras. It is the mat that is the alt-killer and the profession-killer. It is, in fact, designed both to hold players back and to dictate which professions they must choose. It is possibly the most player-unfriendly mechanic ever devised by Blizz, far worse even than the hated Spirit of Harmony in Mists of Pandaria.

Let us review the “features” of Blood of Sargeras:

  • It is soulbound, Bind on Pickup.
  • You cannot collect it until you reach level 110.
  • It was designed to favor gathering professions, some way more than others.
  • You cannot even get it from gathering professions until you reach proficiency level 2 in them, and reaching this level is entirely RNG-dependent.
  • It is a required mat for many upper level crafted items as well as for the application of obliterum to raise the item level of crafted gear.
  • It is awarded, sporadically, in tiny puny numbers, from some world quests and loot chests.

The bottom line here is, any player wishing to craft items (gems, for example) for sale or even for donating to guildies, must have a significant stash of Bloods. Any character such as an alt using crafted gear as a way to gear up must have a freaking enormous stash of Bloods.

Yesterday I did a little experiment on two of my alts. One is a miner/JC and the other is an enchanter/engineer. Both are level 110 and both have the required proficiencies. In theory, according to the supercilious let-them-eat-cake Game Director and crafting devs, both mining and enchanting should yield Bloods.

Uh-huh. I spent 4 hours running mining routes on my miner, ending up with about 2-3 full stacks each of felslate and leystone ore. And four Bloods of Sargeras. Four. That’s right, about one per hour of nonstop mining. On my enchanter, I spent a similar amount of time running world quests for items to DE, and I also spent a tiny bit of time on my main crafting 30 items to send to my enchanter for DE. In all, I probably DE’ed something close to 60 items, for which I received a grand total of two Bloods.

I have no idea what the official Blood drop rate is for the various gathering professions and for DE, but my anecdotal evidence is that it seems all to be pretty much equal for all of them. Wowhead, which basically aggregates anecdotal drop rates for items and is thus not especially scientific, puts all the gathering professions (except fishing, which is abominable at like 0.2 percent) at single-digit Blood drop rates, generally between 2 and 7 percent. So on average, in theory, you should expect one Blood every 20 gathered items. My experience has been closer to 1 every 50, or 2 percent drop rate. But here’s the thing — my skinner can gather a buttload more leather in 10 minutes than my miner or herbalist can gather their items in hours. And my poor enchanter is even worse off.

Now let’s put this into perspective. If I wish to outfit one of these alts with semi-decent gear, the only real way to do it short of turning them into a main and running actual mythic dungeons and normal or higher raids, is to get them crafted armor and use obliterum to upgrade it to ilevel 900. Let’s say, just as a wild assumption, that in fact the alt has been amazingly lucky and gotten two legendaries and maybe a couple of 895-900 level titanforged pieces of loot from an emissary or world quest. That still leaves something like 6-8 pieces of crafted gear to upgrade. Let’s go the low end and say 6, and let’s say I have a main or other alts that could actually craft the gear and send it to them.

Upgrading 6 pieces of crafted gear requires 60 obliterum and 120 Bloods of Sargeras. My rich banker could theoretically buy the obliterum on the auction house, at a staggering cost of between 150,00-200,000 gold, given the current going rate on my server. But with the cost of gear nowadays, that is a real bargain for 6 pieces of gear.

Except an alt who actually needs crafted gear almost never has any possibility of accumulating 120 Bloods in anything resembling reasonable time. It would take months. On an alt that may be played a few hours a week, because hey it is an alt. By the time you spend enough time on an alt to accumulate 120 Bloods, you don’t need the crafted gear any more.

This angers me, mainly because Blizz played coyly cute with the whole crafted gear thing back when they announced Legion. They deliberately misled us by touting the fact that, unlike in WoD, in Legion we would be able to equip as many crafted armor items as we wished. Sorry, Blizz, this was a deliberate lie of omission, and it stinks.

And honestly, it would not be such a big thing to gear up an alt if Blizz had not designed Legion to ensure that gear is everything. You simply cannot play an alt to anything even close to its class potential unless it has high level gear.

Well, you may say, didn’t Blizz make Blood of Sargeras a vendor item in 7.2? Yeah, pretty much in the same way they bragged about equipping crafted gear. That is, they made the exchange rate between garrison resources and Bloods so high that by the time an alt can accumulate the needed number of resources, once again, they will be at the point where they probably do not need crafted gear any more. At 1000 resources per Blood (although you have to buy them 5 at a time), it takes 120,000 garrison resources on an alt to get enough Bloods to upgrade 6 pieces of gear. Not an insurmountable number, but also not something you can even approach for months on an alt.

And it is possible to transfer garrison resources from a main to an alt. But the cost, in my opinion, is prohibitive, in that it ends up being an 80% “tax” on Blood of Sargeras.  That is, you can use Bloods to buy garrison resources to send to an alt, who can in turn use the resources to buy Blood of Sargeras. But for example it would cost your main 100 Bloods to buy enough resources to enable your alt to buy 20 Bloods.

There are also little gizmos in the game that increase a character’s ability to gather Bloods. By far the easiest to get is the shoulder enchant from Wardens that once in a while will grant you 1-5 Bloods just from looting a mob. When I say once in a while, my experience has been that you might get this bundle once every 50-75 mobs. Of course, there are a couple of catches to getting this shoulder enchant. One is that you must be exalted with Wardens to be allowed to purchase it. The other is that the enchant may only be applied to soulbound shoulder gear. Which of course means your alt must be exalted with Wardens in order to get the enchant, you cannot buy the enchant on a main and apply it to shoulders before sending them to the alt. And Wardens rep may only be obtained through world quests or the odd champion mission, it’s not like you can start building rep with them while you are leveling like you can with other faction rep.

So here we are again — Legion has been designed to require players to spend vastly more time at the game than they have spent regularly over past years. It has been designed to be an endless grind for ever-moving goals. Most people complain mainly about AP in this role, but I submit that Blood of Sargeras is even worse. It is the primary mechanism for discouraging alt play and profession play. It is the mechanism Blizz used just prior to Legion to force people to drop dual crafting professions, because suddenly someone thought that should no longer be allowed. It is a deliberate move to force players into Ion Hazzikostas’s prescribed play style, which is that no one should be allowed to “dabble” in alts or professions, that everyone should have one crafting and one gathering profession, that only characters played in exactly the same way as a main should be allowed. He cannot (yet) stop players from creating alts just for fun, but he sure as hell can keep us from actually having fun with them unless they are played with the same intensity and play style as a main. And of course with the prescribed profession mix.

After all, Blizz cannot just permit people to have play style choices, for crying out loud. It offends the Game Director.

It’s past time to release the choke hold on Blood of Sargeras, to permit alt gear catchup, and to make this mat — at a minimum — Bind on Account. 

The crafted gear dance

One or two of you who regularly follow this blog may have noticed I did not post anything on Wednesday, thus departing from my usual M-W-F pattern. The truth is, I had a wonderful rant all written, full of my usual over-the-top indignant comments, along with some really creative metaphors. As I was about to publish, I saw the June 14 hotfix notes, and they effectively negated most of what I had just written. That, combined with a real life schedule for the day that did not allow for a rewrite, made me just trash the post and plan for another day.

So what was the topic that the hotfix notes ruined? Blood of Sargeras. Specifically, the fact that Blizz has stubbornly persisted in holding this mat as the main stumbling block for many profession- and gear-related activities in the game. They have done so by maintaining its soulbound quality, thus putting many players in the position of having a main with several hundred Bloods they cannot possibly use up, while alts that could use them cannot manage to scrabble enough of them.

The thing that gave rise to my renewed ire on the subject was that I have one alt with a lot of crafted gear equipped, but it has taken me weeks to get enough BoS to upgrade the six equipped items to max crafted level (875, prior to 7.2.5). The idea that it takes 2 BoS to use one obliterum effectively limits max level gear — in any quantity — to characters who have the profession levels to gather a lot of the mat, and thus probably do not need to use crafted gear. The alts that do need the gear almost never have the wherewithal to gather more than a few per week.

(This is yet another example of Blizz deliberately misleading us back when they announced Legion — “You can equip as many crafted items as you want, no more 3-item limit!” Same as the “No more limits on how many specs you can have!” All true in lawyer language, but complete falsehoods in reality. But that is a post for another time.)

At any rate, the Wednesday hotfix announcement that caught my eye was this:

(Hotfix in testing) Blood of Sargeras can now be obtained from Class Hall vendors at a price of 5 Blood of Sargeras for 5,000 Order Resources.

WOOHOO! Of course, the caveat “Hotfix in testing” could mean we will never see the change as it was announced, but still, it at least tells me Blizz seems to be aware of the problem the current method poses for alts and is working on a typically obscure way of remedying it.

As I wrote above, the main use of BoS I am concerned with is its connection to gear, more specifically its connection to the use of obliterum. Obliterum is, I think, another Legion mechanic that simply has not worked well. It is tedious to create and consequently expensive to buy in the auction house. Even if you can create or buy enough of it to upgrade an alt’s gear, it is doubtful the alt will have sufficient BoS to use it, unless the alt has a fairly well advanced gathering profession. The obliterum mechanic was slightly improved when Blizz got rid of that ridiculous and expensive quest line to unlock the forge, but that was at best a minor improvement.

The other really awful aspect of the whole obliterum mechanic is that it can only be applied to soulbound gear. This has a very detrimental effect on the entire crafted armor part of the game. Not only can you not craft and upgrade a piece of gear for one of your alts, but you are also limited to selling low level gear in the auction house. With the economic inflation introduced in the game by WoD garrisons and by the now-official gold selling, there are undoubtedly many players who would gladly pay good prices to buy max-level crafted gear from the auction house rather than go through the dance of buying low level gear, creating or buying obliterum, and then scrabbling for the BoS to be able to use their purchases. I am, honestly, mystified by the whole thing.

But the June 14 hotfix note, if actually implemented, would fix the problem, at least within an account. (Not for selling items.) It would mean you could transfer BoS from one character to another, though you would have to do a shuffle to do so. Since an alt with few opportunities to gather BoS likely also does not have order hall resources to spare, the method would be to buy order hall resources on your BoS-rich character, send them to your BoS-starved one, then have that character buy BoS with the order hall resources. Leave it to Blizz to do something like this rather than the easier, more straightforward fix which would be to make BoS account bound. Still, clunky and cumbersome though it is, it would work.

The other obliterum/crafted gear observation I have is how clumsily Blizz handled the 7.2.5 change to crafted gear upgrade level. Originally the announcement was that crafted gear would be upgradable to ilevel 885, two obliterum levels above the 7.2 ilevel. Thus it would take 10 instead of 8 obliterums (oblitera? maybe just obliterum in singular and plural) to max out the gear. So if you had currently maxed gear, you would need two obliterum and four BoS to do the new max. But when the patch went live, there was a stealth buff to crafted gear that maxed it at ilevel 900 instead of 885. But the total obliterum necessary to reach max level stayed at 10.

Stay with me here. What that meant was that everyone who had already spent 8 obliterum and 16 BoS to reach pre-7.2 max level suddenly had that retroactively changed to 5 (no refunds, of course, just a sort of historical rewrite of what you had done), and to reach the new max level they would be required to spend, not 2 obliterum and 4 BoS, but rather 5 obliterum and 10 BoS.

I am not complaining about crafted gear being upgradable to ilevel 900, but the implementation of this was a pretty dirty trick on players. Even those of us organized enough to anticipate the changes in 7.2.5 were caught unawares. I had in fact built up enough obliterum and BoS on my crafted-gear-heavy alt to upgrade all equipped pieces to new max as it had been announced prior to the stealth change. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was not nearly enough. My stash of 12 obliterum and 24 BoS were no longer enough to upgrade all six equipped pieces, instead it was enough for only two. And by the way, the sudden change caused obliterum prices in the AH to skyrocket, more than 3 times their pre-7.2.5 prices on my server.

Overall, this is typical Blizz good-news-bad-news methodology. They give something with one hand, then take it away or make it less useful with the other. In the big picture, the crafted gear upgrades and possible vendor availability of BoS are positive developments. In the more immediate picture, the methods for doing those things are annoying.

And with that, since I have already screwed up my normal posting schedule for the week, I am going to take Friday off and start my weekend today. See you back here Monday.

Alt reality

As I have written over the last few posts, I am starting to develop some of my alts in Legion. What I should say is I am trying to do so, but it is a long, frustrating road. This was driven home to me last night as I was working on my little gnome destro warlock, who has herbalism and tailoring as professions. It seems like everywhere I turn, every part of progression for this alt runs smack dab up against huge roadblocks, usually in the form of dungeon or raid requirements but also in the form of very specific zone progressions, for even the most basic accomplishments.

All I wanted was a few upper level tailoring patterns and to complete the Champions of Legionfall achievement so I could finish up my last two class hall order advancement ranks.

What a journey through frustration it has been. And no, I have not reached either goal yet.

Start with the tailoring. I had only gotten as far as getting the blue tailoring items. So I dutifully took up the quest line again. Just the basic quest line (38 quests, some of which are time gated) requires the running of 3 separate dungeons. This gets you two upper level (“imbued silkweave”) items. However, to even get there, you must complete enough of the Suramar quest line to get the Suramar City mask, as all your upper level items must be crafted in a certain Suramar building. If you want to craft useful bags, you must run two mythics — upper and lower Kara. Additional upper level items — beyond the chest and bracers you get from the basic quest line — require achieving exalted with multiple (four, I think) factions and completing one or two additional quests. After you do all this, you will be at skill level 1 for your patterns. I am assuming the remaining skill levels are parsed out by the RNG gods at some rate similar to Nomi’s recipes, which is to say one or two every few months, assuming you pursue them every day.

Late edit: You can, in fact, buy several of the imbued silkweave patterns, level 1, from vendors scattered about, and they do not all require exalted rep or extra quests.

Champions of Legionfall achievement. The kicker for this one is, it requires completion of the entire previous class hall campaign, which is a 47-quest project that includes two required dungeons, Black Rook Hold and Vault of the Wardens for warlocks. I got to step 36, which is Vault, and was stymied because I could not find a group to do it. Frustrating does not really begin to describe it.

Here’s the thing. Most of us did these quest lines on our mains — Yes, they were annoying because Blizz designs quest lines not for the fun and enjoyment of the players but rather for how long they can drag them out and thus improve their MAU metric for the stockholders. But we and our friends were doing similar ones at the same time, and we usually had some help with the dungeons and even the raids later on for higher skill level patterns and recipes. But when you are leveling an alt, it is unlikely anyone else in your guild is at the same spot in their alt progression. Even if you are in an active and helpful guild, it is a real imposition on guildies to ask them to run a specific normal or heroic dungeon just so you can get that one recipe or that one warlock class hall campaign quest completed.

Yes, I know there is the auto group finder and the custom group finder. They are useless, especially if you are a dps. Over the weekend, I waited a total of 3 hours to get into a Vault group, and was unsuccessful. There were a total of zero custom groups forming for that dungeon, which is a crap shoot anyhow since my lock hovers around 870 ilevel, and of course that is garbage if you are looking to join a group for anything. I tried forming my own group Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and the most interest I got — during prime evening play time — was 2 additional dps.

Basically, I have hit a wall on my lock for advancing either my profession or my order hall campaign — and thus, of course, also my gear progression since I cannot so far unlock my third relic slot and thus my artifact weapon level seems stuck. Could I prevail on one of our guild tanks or healers to help me run Vault or the Karas? Yes, but honestly I have already done that for the previous dungeons I needed, and I am someone who hates to beg for help especially if it will inconvenience others. My other option is to beg to be included in some of the mythics and M+ runs they do several times a week, but that, too, would be pure charity as I would have to be carried in order to complete them.

And the requirements for dungeons and raids to progress are not even the worst requirements of the game. Some professions require running rated battlegrounds to progress. Rated battlegrounds! Not just random ones, but rated, where if you are not a dedicated pvp player already in a regular group, you must ask a group to carry you, and in doing so they likely will diminish their own rating just to help you out.

These kinds of dead ends are the most demoralizing parts of Legion, in my opinion. There are no alternate paths, no player options. If you don’t want to give up (which is apparently fine with Blizz, they seem to be in dream-smashing mode these days), there really is no way to get past them other than to hope for some good luck.

Which, in a way I guess, kind of summarizes the state of the game these days: hope for good luck. Skill and perseverance are becoming less and less important, unless you are talking about persevering in rolling the dice.

Blizz has done a few superficial things in Legion to “help” alts — speeded up some of the champion mission times, added the catchup mechanism for artifact research, made flying account-wide. I am not knocking those things. But they have, as usual, failed to acknowledge a basic flaw in their design, much less do anything about it. Or worse, they know it is annoying and frustrating for players — that it limits the potential for advancement for many — and they do not give a damn. I do not mind running long quest chains to achieve my alt goals, and I grumble but do not really mind grinding things like reputation to advance my alts. But when I get to the point — multiple times for almost every progression goal — where there is nothing I can do on my own to advance, when I must either beg or hope for assistance from others, then I feel stymied and angry. And that is NOT fun.

Crossing the line in Legion

Blizz’s announcement yesterday that they are effectively making full artifact trait progression not only pointless but impossible got me to thinking. In every expansion I reach a point where I put my main into a “maintenance” mode and move my game into end-of-expansion pursuits — going after achievements I want, playing around with my alts, finding isolated spots and just chilling, spending a lot of time gathering mats while listening to music. At such a point in an expansion, I still do some raiding and gear improvement on my main, but that no longer is the focus of my game.

Last night I realized I have hit that point in Legion. I reached Concordance on my main, and there is no cost benefit to further pursuit of artifact power. As I have no intention of playing any hunter spec except BM, I am not interested in developing any other hunter artifact weapons.

The only reason I have been doing world quests on my main for the last few weeks is for a chance at legendaries and for AP, but those rewards are no longer applicable. I have more legendaries than I can use, so the prospect of getting another no longer motivates me. Blizz’s coy little tricks with artifact traits have rendered AP valueless to me now. I am exalted with all factions, and the rewards for extended rep stink, so rep is not useful to me. I have about 200k order hall resources, over 300 Bloods of Sargeras, close to 3k leather, and way more gold than I can ever spend. Gear rewards from WQs have long since ceased to be of interest to me — I am relatively well geared at ilvl 908 (904 equipped, because of Blizz’s bizarre secondary stat mechanism that makes my 860 and 880 trinkets more useful than the 900+ ones I have). In short, I am done with world quests on my main, other than the odd one here or there. Even emissary quests hold no value for me now.

I will likely continue to pursue the hunter class mount, and I will raid with my team when the next raid tier comes along, likely getting some better gear in the process, but other than that, I am done with this expansion on my main. In a normal environment, I would try to max out my main’s professions, but Blizz has made that close to impossible with their dice-roll approach and their introduction of the tiered crafting system — the minimal additional benefit from level 3 recipes is not worth the time required to get lucky enough to get them. In any other expansion, this would be the point at which I start crafting high level items to sell on the auction house, but again Blizz has made that too painful to be a meaningful pursuit — the crafted legendaries, which are useless anyway except as stat sticks, require completion of an entire quest line, including certain mythic dungeons, for every legendary you wish to craft. Something in me rebels at that kind of blatant manipulation, and I just refuse to do it.

Even when we get 7.3, I do not anticipate significant changes in my feeling of being done with Legion. Yes, there will be some new quest lines and possibly some spacey stuff people will oooh and aah about, but I do not see the new planet zone in 7.3 as being significantly different from Broken Shore. In fact, my prediction is that it will be Broken Shore remastered — same daily grind, some temporary world bosses, some kind of new currency to grind for, some sort of random space ship bombardment, possibly a new dungeon and raid in the area, etc. I give Blizz credit that they do often come up with creative ideas, but unfortunately once they do, they drive them into the ground, using and reusing them for months or years regardless of how players receive them. Garrisons is a perfect example — players hated them, yet Blizz doubled down on them with patch after patch in WoD and even recycled them as class halls in Legion.

7.3 will be Broken Shore with a different artistic rendering. If I am wrong, I will happily eat my words. But I am not wrong.

The thought that strikes me about reaching my “the expansion is basically over” point is that we are still only 9 months into Legion, earlier by some months than I have reached that point in any other expansion. This seems ridiculous in an expansion widely touted as the “more content than you can handle” expansion, the one Blizz presented as “we heard you loud and clear in WoD and believe us we are not making that mistake again!”

But here’s the thing: I am done with Legion because there is no chance of achieving the normal game goals I set for my main each expansion. No, let me amend that statement: there is no point in pursuing my normal expansion goals any further because their completion relies on a lottery system, and in the case of my weapon, completion is simply not possible. There is almost nothing I can do to work towards those goals in a meaningful way.

Legion, for all its touted “content” and innovation, has revealed its dark side — players may only aspire to the goals Blizz sets for them, and they must pursue those goals in a strictly prescribed manner. Any deviation will almost certainly delay, if not prevent, their attainment. Anyone who does not like this is free to set their goals lower or abandon them altogether. Blizz seems to think quantifiable content is all that is needed to make a game great, and they have sacrificed player options in favor of it. They have lost sight of the fun players have when they can set a goal, work towards it in the way they find challenging or exhilarating, and achieve it. Content is fine, but from my worm’s eye view, being able to chase a dream is better.

As demoralizing as this is, it does not mean I am about to abandon the game. (Yeah, I know, that is sad.) As I have said before, I am someone who actually likes the latter part of expansions, because it is then that I permit myself to just be free to do whatever the heck I want to do, with no thought that I am letting others down because of failure to gear up a main or something. Normally, of course, I go into this end stage of an expansion feeling good because I have met my goals for my main and can now move on. In Legion, the feeling is more acceptance that such achievement is not possible, but move on anyway. Still, the end result is pretty much the same.

Like all metaphorical lines in life, you are usually not aware of the exact moment you step over them. But sooner or later you know for sure that you have crossed them. I have crossed my Legion line.

So many questions, so little time

Looking back over my education, I think the single most important skill I learned was to ask questions. The Jesuits who schooled me were big believers in the Socratic Method, so we were not only encouraged but required to ask questions as part of every learning process. Sure, fractions and Shakespeare and the date of the Magna Carta and the underpinnings of an agrarian economy are all good to know. But when it comes right down to it, asking the right questions at the right time of the right people has saved my bacon in life more times than I can count.

So today I have been thinking about Patch 8.x. Yes, I know we are not even a year into Legion, and the hints from Blizz are that we have a lot of time left to experience it (my bet at the start was that we are looking at Legion being with us for very close to 3 years). Still, I feel like speculating a bit, in the form of a series of questions.

Location.

  • Is the 7.3 excursion to Argus a prelude to the next expansion, or is it just that — a one-off adventure?
  • Will we ever see the other side of Azeroth? Is there an other side?
  • What if any lessons did Blizz learn about time-travel worlds like Draenor and underwater zones like Vashj’ir? This is less a question than it is a hope — I hope they learned both these ideas were big mistakes.
  • Will Blizz expand its recent trend of making classic parts of Azeroth relevant to current game play? 

Stats.

  • What will be the nature of the next stat squish? I think a dev mentioned that much of the code has been rewritten to accommodate very large numbers now, it still is cumbersome for humans to speak of character health in the millions and boss health in the billions, for example. What about ilevel? Very soon even in Legion we will break break into 4-digit ilevels. Will secondary stats and damage/healing numbers be squished in 8.x?
  • Will stats be simplified in the next expansion? What is the official Blizz view of the complexity of stats in Legion? Do they understand the frustration of players when a higher level piece of gear is not an upgrade? Are they happy with the proliferation of web sites and apps designed to do the intricate math necessary to determine a piece of gear’s worth to a player? 

Quest hubs and population centers.

  • Will we see new faction capitals? Blizz seems — both in WoD and Legion — to have concluded that faction capital cities are too resource-intensive to justify them. If Sanctuary Cities are the norm for the foreseeable future, will we see more of them in Horde areas, with Horde racial architecture?
  • What has Blizz learned about the garrison concept? It was innovative but not well liked in WoD, and it was extended — as Class Halls — in Legion. Is this idea now a core game mechanic going forward? Will we see the concept applied as guild halls in 8.x?  More wishful thinking on that last one, I am afraid.
  • Why is Blizz so dead set against player housing? This is really more of a pet peeve question and not so much of an insightful one about the next expansion. Certainly the technology is there — that was proven with garrisons, and with Sunsong Ranch before that. And there is player demand for it, though I am not sure how much. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to do it, citing from time to time the “war footing” nature of the game as being antithetical to cozy homesteading. My own opinion, completely biased, is that there is a culture at Blizz that insists WoW is a “hardcore” game, and to give players housing is just too girly and frilly for them to contemplate. They put it in the same category as playing house or cutting out paper dolls, and that would destroy the manly studly war aspect of the game. (Yeah, yeah, let the hate mail begin. But deep down you know I am right.)

Class development.

  • Will there be another major rewrite of classes in 8.x?
  • What is Blizz’s long range vision of class roles and balance? Are they on a path to achieve this, or do they have none and merely make change for change’s sake each expansion?
  • And the big question: Can Blizz stop screwing with hunters for at least one expansion? (Sarcasm flag.)
  • Will we see the pendulum swing once again towards class-provide raid buffs?

Gear.

  • Is the concept of artifact gear a one-and-out for Legion, as Blizz has claimed? 
  • Are there any big contemplated gear changes in 8.x, for example cutting the number of gear slots, maybe by eliminating necks and rings?
  • Will we see some sort of non-RNG mechanism for getting gear in 8.x?
  • After the debacle of legendaries in Legion, what is the future of legendaries going forward? Will we return to a single long-questline legendary, or have we crossed a line and henceforward they will fall like candy?

Miscellaneous.

  • Is Blizz happy with the complexity level of the game now? If not, in which direction do they think it should go?
  • Are there in-game advertisements in the works? Tie-ins with other Activision franchises, such as the King line of games?
  • What is the future for professions? Will we see them get less relevant and more complex, or will we see some semblance of a return to their classic role? Will Blizz move towards a Final Fantasy approach? Are they indeed an integral part of the game’s economy, or would it be possible to eliminate them altogether?
  • Will alt play remain viable in 8.x? It is narrowly so in Legion, but Blizz’s clear preference is for players to have very limited number of alts.
  • Are there significant quality of life improvements in store for 8.x? Off hand, I can think of a few: account-wide banking, better group finder interface, unlimited quest log, *coughplayerhousingcough*, removal of that ridiculous talent-changing tome requirement, improving exit process from caves once a quest is completed, increasing the number of stable slots for hunter pets, adding mythic dungeons to the auto-group finder, probably lots more.
  • Will Blizz help to make the role of guilds more robust? Like alt play, the trend since mid-Mists has been to make guilds less and less relevant, with the removal of most guild perks and advantages to guild membership.
  • With the apparent advent of interplanetary travel, will we eventually see honest-to-goodness actual working space ship “mounts”? Will space actually be a working environment — like an underwater area only without water — or just more of an abstract concept?
  • What will be the eternal-grind mechanism of 8.x? Because we know there will be one, just a matter of how Blizz repackages AP (like they repackaged garrisons into class halls).

And last but certainly not least:

Will we get a concept of the next expansion at Blizzcon this year?

What questions do you have?

What a difference

After a week of flying, I am astounded at what a difference it has made in my approach to Legion. It’s like it’s not even the same game I have been slogging through for the past 8 months. I am actually having fun again, for the first time since maybe the second month of the expansion. I am not sure why this one ability should make such a huge difference in my outlook, but I think I can identify a couple of factors.

Time. This is certainly the biggest factor. It now takes me what I consider to be a reasonable amount of time to crank out world quests and daily Broken Shore quests. Just as an example, prior to flying I was spending close to an hour just doing the usual 4-5 BS quests, and now I spend 30 minutes or less. I don’t see such a dramatic change in the time it takes for WQs — probably because I am not especially efficient at planning out my quest routes — but it is still significant.

I don’t do my own flying everywhere. If I am going a long distance I usually still use the flight points. It’s just easier, and it gives me a chance to stretch, take a bio break, get a drink, put in a load of laundry, whatever. (But it is awesome to have the choice!)

The other aspect of the time factor is finally I am freed from the need to fight or outrun every little nuisance mob along the road. This alone saves a huge amount of time. And while I am at it, as a side rant, when did Blizz decide that sticking to roads was no longer a safe option? Now not only do mobs encroach on the roads, but they even block them, so that you cannot avoid fighting them or at the very least running like hell to get past them. (Thank you, Stonehide Leather Barding, possibly the single greatest craftable item from leather workers.) For years, Blizz has promised us that if we stick to the roads we will almost always be safe from hostile mobs. Now that they are delaying flying longer and longer in new expansions and forcing us to be roadbound, suddenly that rule no longer applies?

I spend almost no time now trying to figure out how to get past the many invisible walls Blizz has incorporated into the Legion terrain, especially in Stormheim, Suramar, Broken Shore, and Highmountain. I just fly over the area. It is glorious.

And Suramar City? It is absolutely great to be able to fly over those gangs of blue-circled thugs that account for so many deaths. Flying over them now, I often flip them the bird and cackle to myself. I no longer avoid WQs in Suramar City for that reason alone.

Alts. Mainly because of the time factor, I now feel I can spend some time several times a week on my alts, getting them to Broken Shore, doing world quests to gear up, and even venturing into LFR with them once in a while for the gear and the rotation practice. I still think Legion is the most alt-hostile expansion yet, but flying certainly helps a lot.

My alts tend to be a lot squishier than my main, of course — worse gear, plus I am not even close to proficient on them — so being able to avoid trash mobs helps me to focus on the quests more. Far from Blizz’s oft-expressed disdain for “avoiding” their annoying obstacles, flying actually encourages me to spend more time on my alts and thus playing the game.

Getting out of Dodge. I find many of the BS quests extremely unpleasant, not because of the quests themselves, but because of another ugly turn in game mechanics: Mobs that spawn as fast as, or even faster than, you can kill them, making it nearly impossible to leave the area even once you have finished the quest.

My main is a hunter, so there are very few things I cannot deal with solo, and these continually-spawning mobs are no exception. I can get to a safe spot then feign death, for example. Or I can just kill group after group after group after group until eventually there is a break long enough for me to escape. But it is annoying. Especially since Blizz still has not fixed the clunky problems with pet pathing and pet placement — these continuous mobs often mean I cannot loot at all since looting usually requires a kind of dance to get around my pet blocking the corpse, and spending the second or two doing this in these areas means another group has spawned and is attacking. And forget it if there are skins to be taken — not going to happen. No, it’s not a big deal, but it is terribly frustrating and annoying.

So having flying helps in escaping these areas, because if you can get the time to summon your flying mount (not always a given), at least you can be gone without having to run through dozens more of spawned mobs.

Gathering. On my gathering characters, I often fly from point to point, even great distances, just so that I can gather some mats along the way, even if it would be faster to use flight points for the actual trip. I don’t gather for sale, just to use the mats myself, but it still helps. (I think even flying does not help that much if you are a mat seller, unless you have level 3 gather for the mat it still takes a lot of time to get enough to sell in any decent quantity. This may account for why we have seen very little in the way of downward price movement for gathered items in our auction house.)

Fun. I sill get a real kick out of just hopping on a flying mount and swooping and soaring over an area. I love it when I see some little spot I have never before seen and can just set down and enjoy it. I like seeing the zones from a different perspective. I enjoy the art work far more, I think, when I can see it this way than when I am forced to slog along on the ground. I guess I just love being able to see the forests, and if I want to examine the individual trees I can do so on my own terms.

Freedom. This to me is second only to time as a factor in having flying. I feel like being able to fly restores some options to me as a player, some measure of play style freedom that Blizz has steadily eroded over the past couple of expansions. I have mentioned before that Legion more than any other expansion has put players into a virtual cattle chute for end game play, profession development, alt progression, and gear acquisition. There are just no options other than the Blizz-approved path to reach these goals. I have found this philosophy to be stifling.

Flying, by virtue of the fact that it gives us a third dimension for movement, seems to offer a metaphorical third dimension for some aspects of game play. It may be just an illusion that I feel freer to explore the game on more of my own terms, but if so it is a powerful illusion. I will take it.

And on that thought of freedom, it is time to begin the freedom that is the weekend.