Closet cleaning again

Time to clean out my drafts folder again. At times it can get a little unwieldy with undeveloped topics — kind of like an untidy accumulation of paper scraps stuffed in a shoebox — and I am nothing if not a tidy person. I just trashed most of the items that were in there, but a couple were left over just as passing thoughts.

Official class fantasies. I find it interesting that, at the start of Legion, Blizz went to some trouble to rewrite the official class fantasies for most classes and specs, presumably as an important part of the disassembly and restructuring of them. Blizz thought it important enough to spend valuable resources to restructure the approved back-stories for the restructured classes. In a normal project-management world, then, the new class/spec mechanics and play styles would support the new fantasies and vice-versa. If a new fantasy does not match new mechanics, then there would seem to be no reason to waste resources rewriting that fantasy.

I have not investigated other classes, but I have noted a significant disconnect between the Beastmastery approved fantasy and the way the spec actually operate. The official story is:

A master of the wild who can tame a wide variety of beasts to assist him in combat.

Yeah. Not so much. Honestly, the way the BM spec works out in Legion, the fantasy is pretty much opposite of the way things work. This was driven home to me a few days ago when I was invited to do a guild speed run through Karazhan. I never ran Kara when it was current, don’t really have any kind of emotional bond with it, so even though I am attuned to the new dungeon, I had yet to run it at all. Nevertheless, the guild group promised some fun, so off I went. When we got to the chess boss, I was warned that my pets would be useless, and so they were.

Side rant: This huge bug in Kara has been there since the launch of the dungeon, and Blizz cares so little for hunters in Legion they cannot be bothered to fix it. (One can only imagine the flurry of fixes if for example mages were rendered useless in a boss fight…)  *steam comes out of ears*

Anyway, without pets, I was pretty much relegated to spamming Cobra Shot as long as my focus held out and cheering the rest of the group on. For kicks, I took a look at my dps numbers for the fight, and let us just say they were beyond pitiful. It is less true that a BM hunter’s pets “assist” in combat than it is that the hunter slightly assists the pets. More correctly, the hunter hangs onto some leashes, like a New York dog walker, and drops them at the start of combat, ceding control of much of the conduct of the fight to mostly-uncontrolled pets.

As I have pointed out before, the nature of this game play is such that a BM hunter functions much more like a melee damage dealer than a ranged one. There is nothing wrong with having a spec very dependent on pets, but to me that should imply — as the official fantasy does — that the hunter actually controls the pets. Not so in Legion, the hunter has very little control over pet damage abilities.

One additional thought on gear. Game Director Hazzikostas has frequently expressed his distaste for currency-based gear, for example valor points or the like. He believes it encourages overt grinding (as opposed to endless RNG grinding, but I am not going to revisit that particular thought) and is therefore bad. However, Blizz does employ something called “bad luck protection”. It occurs to me that such protection is nothing more than secret gear currency.

Think about it. The way valor or similar coinage works is that you perform certain acts — quests, kill bosses in dungeons or raids, etc. — and collect the currency until such point as you have enough to exchange it for gear. Once you spend it, you start over again collecting it if you still want more gear. You can watch the currency accumulate and generally judge how long it might take you to get the gear you desire.

Bad luck insurance — even though Blizz does not advertise specifically how it works — must operate on a similar mechanic. That is, there is some sort of programmed counter that keeps track of your activities that can award gear. When you do not receive gear, that counter is incremented some amount until it hits some secret tipping point, at which time you “spend” the accumulated secret currency and are awarded gear determined by Blizz.

The differences between overt currency and bad luck insurance are that 1) players are unaware of the amount they have thus far accumulated, as well as the “cost” of a piece of gear, and 2) players have no choice in the gear to be awarded when the secret currency is “spent”.

Otherwise, Mr. Hazzikostas, valor and bad luck insurance are the exact same mechanic. It makes no sense to oppose one and champion the other.

Micro-holiday events. I did a couple of these when they first started, but I have pretty much stopped doing them. I find them vaguely distracting and entertaining, but not enough to go out of my way to do them. For one thing, they take away time I feel like I need to spend chasing AP or legendaries, and with limited play time available each week, taking even 30 minutes or so away from these pursuits is significant.

I applaud Blizz’s creativity in these events, and I appreciate their sole purpose is a bit of fun, I just don’t find them fun enough for that factor alone to justify my participation. It will be interesting to see what the player base response as a whole has been to them, and to see if they continue as a regular feature in future expansions. In fact, it may offer us a clue as to whether the people regularly crying for more “content” actually mean just that, or whether what they really mean is “more loot”.

Legion’s hidden quests. This is one of those things I am not opposed to, but I do not care a fig about for myself. I do not look at WoW as a puzzle game. I am fine with having these kinds of quests in the game for those who do find them engaging, but I am not interested in doing them.

The one thing I do worry a little bit about is that Blizz will decide later that having a couple of these as required paths to professions or gear or whatnot would be a good idea. This is not an idle worry. Blizz has a history of introducing activities as purely optional, then inserting them later into unrelated player progression. The best example I can cite is the Brawler’s Guild. It was originally introduced as a fun diversion for anyone who wanted to participate, and indeed there were some mostly vanity type rewards involved. Then, in WoD, Blizz made achievement of a certain Brawler’s Guild level a prerequisite for certain mainstream jewelcrafting patterns. This to me was a bait and switch. There are of course other examples.

That’s it, drafts folder now squeaky clean.

 

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’s next?

It’s way too soon to start speculating about the next WoW expansion (NWE), so let me speculate about it. There is not much else to write about these days anyway, and it has been a while since I have put forth any crackpot ideas, so what the hell.

Disclaimer: Everything in this post is the product of my warped but robust imagination, I have absolutely no insight into any current or future Blizzard development plans.

In considering what we might see in the next WoW expansion, the process I used was to look at past trends and add in recent game features. I am not a lore buff, so I am not going to address much at all about the background story line — plus, honestly, WoW lore/history seems really only to exist in order to explain game design not the other way around, so I have never been able to get too excited about it. (I know some of you really love it, not disparaging you for this at all, just it is not my cup of tea.)

Location and scaling. There will be new zones. Whether they will be somewhere on Azeroth or — as has been coyly hinted — on another planet is, in my opinion, not important. On the other hand, zone scaling, a huge hit in Legion, will continue in NWE, and I look for it to be expanded in some way. Not sure exactly how, but one idea might be that some legacy zones become scaled, permitting leveled players to revisit and explore them in a somewhat challenging way, making it more fun to go back and finish unfinished or even new quest lines in those areas.

Content. Blizz believes they have finally hit on a winning plan to keep content flowing in Legion — whether this is true or not is a subject for a whole different post — and so NWE will see the same content paradigm. To wit:

  • World quests.
  • Mini-events/holidays.
  • Rapid patches and semi-patches.
  • Continued use — and likely expansion — of RNG as both the carrot and the stick to force more play hours for every facet of the game, from gear to professions.
  • Mythic+ dungeons, expanded in some way. For example, there might be some sort of “plus” mechanism for non-current raids, or add the “plus” concept into weekly timewalker bonus events.

Classes. I do not expect to se any new classes introduced in NWE, but I think we may see some or all race restrictions lifted for class selection. I also think we may see some further spec role changes (not mages, of course, don’t be ridiculous). For example, we might see another spec added to Demon Hunters to give them three. I would not expect it to be a healing spec, more likely would be a ranged spec, possibly using a combination of magic and thrown weapons. In the wishful thinking department, I would like to see SV hunters become a tanking spec, using pets in creative ways to really open up possibilities for some exciting tanking innovations.

I expect to see yet another huge rewrite of nearly every class, because Blizz has demonstrated that they simply cannot refrain from doing this every expansion, even when they are able to achieve a semblance of balance by the end of one. The rewrite will continue the recent trend of making some classes more or less indispensable to certain raid fights, finally driving a stake into the now disfavored notion of bringing the player not the class.

I think Blizz will also place more back-door restrictions on spec flexibility. They will continue to tout how a player can freely switch among all their specs, but they will increase the penalties for doing so, whether by charging gold or by creating restrictive gear or by limiting the times/places it can be done.

I also think we will see a continuation of the trend of “mini specs”. In Legion, we saw the notion of class begin to take a back seat to the notion of spec, as demonstrated most obviously with artifact weapons. In addition, we saw a very distinct differentiation in spec “specialization” emerge based on talent selection, and we saw a very slight but nevertheless active attempt to put some controls on changing that specialization. In effect, I think we saw the emergence of specs as the new class, the concept of class becoming more one of general category, and a growing importance placed on specialty builds for each spec. This trend will continue in NWE, and it will become more pronounced, to the point of identifying players by class, spec, and build specialty — “Single-target destro warlock”, “Bursty MM hunter”, etc.

Gear. First of all — RNG, RNG, and more RNG. Also, the secondary stat mess will continue and possibly get worse, compounded by the inevitable total rewrite of most classes and consequent unforeseen results of overpowered or underpowered secondary stat interactions.

As I alluded to in a reply to a reader comment a couple of days ago, I expect to see some continuation of the artifact weapon mechanism in NWE. Yes, I know Blizz has told us that artifact weapons are a one-expansion thing, but remember they also told us that same thing about garrisons, then gave us mini-garrisons in the form of class halls. We will have some piece of gear in NWE that will require upkeep mechanisms eerily similar to AP and relics and such, because:

  • Too many dev resources have gone into artifact weapons to trash the idea completely.
  • Spec abilities are rather intimately tied to weapon abilities now, and Blizz seems to like the possibility of tweaking abilities by tweaking gear traits.
  • The artifact weapon — or follow-on — plays a rather large role in encouraging players to spend more time in the game chasing infinite upgrades.

As to the whole Legion legendary debacle, who knows? I think Blizz is embarrassed enough by it that we may see legendaries as lottery winnings disappear in NWE, but we may see some return to quest lines for them. I would expect these to be less involved and time-consuming than the ones in Mists and WoD, but still requiring weeks to complete. Moreover, I think we may see options for obtaining more than one legendary per character, once again with the Blizz benefit of extending game play time.

Crafted gear? No clue. Wishful thinking is that it would become relevant again, for all professions, but I don’t know. My suspicion is that it will fall prey to the drive to devalue professions in general. Which leads me to —

Professions. I am not hopeful about this area. I think NWE will give us even more hurdles to professions, and I think Blizz’s inability to see the large picture will once again give us clear winners in losers in the profession lottery, as we saw with for example winner alchemists and loser skinners in Legion. The problem I see with professions is that they are totally tied, in Blizz’s collective mind, to the use of alts. To allow profession leveling and item production for characters not played the same number of hours as mains is to condone the evil practice of having alts support a main. Why this is bad is still a mystery to me, but we have heard that oracle of acceptable game play and approved fun, Ion Hazzikostas, lecture us many times on the fact that, take his word for it, it is evil evil evil. So it must be. So professions will continue to become more and more elusive for characters that do not spend main-level time in game.

Alts. They will continue to be forced into an “other mains” play style temulate. See above, end of discussion.

In short, I expect the next expansion will be a veritable clone of Legion, just different locations and a few changes either for cause or merely for the sake of change. I am not saying if this is good or bad, I am just saying that Blizz considers Legion to have been an unqualified success, they think they have found a winning formula after the failure of WoD, and they are going to stick to it. They certainly have cause for considering Legion to be successful — I agree with them for the most part — but I suspect the formula will wear a bit thin if it is repeated. Furthermore, the tendency for self-congratulations on the success of Legion means it is unlikely Blizz will take seriously some of the major flaws and missteps they committed. They may have gotten the message on legendary gear, but thus far it still seems like they are oblivious to the pain and chaos they caused by their horrible changes to many classes and specs, and I honestly expect them to repeat the same mistake in the next expansion.

What about you? Any predictions for the next expansion? (Tinfoil hat theories also accepted.)

Doubling down on bad ideas

Patch 7.2 will give us crafted legendaries. You can read the details of what we know about them thus far in this summary from MMO-C. Now, of course, Patch 7.2 is still undergoing a lot of changes, and the initial info on these legendaries could change a lot between now and live, but let me just say for the record:

What the hell, Blizz? Has the cheese finally slipped off your cracker?

Legendary implementation thus far in Legion has been a huge mistake, Blizz themselves have as much as admitted it. Yet they keep trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, and no one is clamoring for the sandwiches, so part of their solution is to add a line of artisan breads.

There are so many things wrong with the proposed implementation of this, I hardly know where to start. The basic plan is that players will be able to do a whole new series of profession quests that will allow them to collect rare materials that will allow them to craft leather/mail/cloth/plate legendary gear for specific classes.

First, the — admittedly still vague — quest lines for each profession involve defeating various raid bosses. This of course is Blizz doubling down on the main complaint about professions in Legion — they require raid level gear not to mention In some cases regular running of raids so as to be lucky enough to get the RNG recipe drops.

Second, crafting the legendary items requires what appears to be a host of very expensive and/or rare mats — 65 Blood of Sargeras, profession mats, something referred to only as “legendary mats” from quests, and a new mat called Felessence Legion-Flask. The latter is one of those horrible crafted (we don’t know by whom — all crafters or just alchemists) abominations that requires making a gray item, then upgrading it until it reaches “legendary” status. This is Blizz doubling down on the whole idea of ensuring that no one plays an alt for pure pleasure or to help out a main. If you have not had enough time to get your profession alts to level 800, you will not have enough time to have them craft a legendary, I guarantee.

Third, the crafted legendaries are BoP. Yup, you read that right. BoP. Thus, any character can only make this gear for itself. Your leatherworker better wear leather or mail, because she damn sure will not be able to make a piece of legendary gear for any other alt. There may be more of these crafted legendaries not yet announced, but so far characters that do not have a “classic” armor crafting profession — for example engineers or alchemists or inscriptionists — are S.O.L. And remember, early on in Legion, Blizz pretty much pushed many characters into having only one crafting profession because gathering professions are much more lucrative for garnering Blood of Sargeras (also BoP). So chances are a lot of players no longer have dual-crafting professions. Oh, and of course, making these crafted legendaries BoP also means they cannot be sold, just another little gotcha from Blizz.

Fourth, the current tooltip for these legendaries indicates they count as a normal legendary for equipping — thus they will be the one or the one of two you are allowed to equip. However, none of these legendaries appear to have any special abilities. Yup, they are stat sticks. So they might up your gear level a bit, but if you have any of the actual ability-boosting legendaries equipped, crafted will likely be last choice as a legendary. (Unless, of course, Blizz goes ahead and negates all current legendary damage, defensive, and healing bonuses — do not count that out as a possibility.)

Fifth — and this is the kicker — it looks like they will be level 910. Yes, again, you read that right — after going through all I described above, you will be left with a level 910 legendary. Trust me, any character able to do all the steps necessary to craft one of these will not need level 910 gear. I presume you will be able to upgrade them as we now upgrade the “old” legendaries, but guess what? That means you get to add another couple of weeks to the gear just to get it to a level that benefits you. (Oh, and it also is a way for Blizz to keep that ridiculous legendary upgrade quest line going.)

I honestly wonder what is in the water or air at Blizz HQ. Think about it, what are the parts of Legion people seem to complain about the most? It is as if Blizz has a working list of these complaints and used it to design these crafted legendaries. They have doubled down on many of the major perceived problems with this expansion. It reminds me of their reaction in WoD to the massive complaints about garrisons: they doubled down on them by requiring even more garrison work just to be able to see the new Tanaan content. “You don’t LIKE this? BWAAAAAHAAAAAA, well then you will HATE this!!!! That will teach you to complain!”

So, if you hate Legion professions, if you think legendaries are a failure, if you have given up on alts because Blizz does not approve of the way you play them — stay tuned. Blizz appears to be sensitive to player dissatisfaction, and the louder the complaints, the more they are going to shove it down our throats.

Now THAT’S communication. I get the message.

It’s the little things

A couple of weeks ago in a tongue-in-cheek comment reply to a reader, I wrote that I had reached the “acceptance” phase in my grief over what I still consider to be Blizz’s destruction of the hunter class in WoW. I still bristle over the betrayal, but I finally realized they are not going to change it significantly, and I can either keep playing or quit. As I still enjoy the game itself, and as I am not willing to play a different class as a main character, that pretty much means I need to get on with virtual life. Doesn’t mean I won’t have some choice words for Blizz about it once in a while, just that it is not usually my main focus.

However, just like when you have a massive headache and consequently all of life’s normal little annoyances really really bother you, so too have I begun to notice a lot of annoying minor aspects of Legion. If I were not already cranky over the hunter thing, I probably would just take them in stride as part of a massive and therefore imperfect game. But the fact is, I am cranky and out of sorts over hunters, so these little annoyances grow in proportion.

Blizz cannot possibly repair the damage they have done to hunters, but here are some quality of life things that I think they can — and should — fix, if for no other reason than to make amends for the big things they screwed up in Legion.

Blood of Sargeras. This needs to be BoA. The fact that it is BoP means that it is yet another reminder of many of the major problems with Legion.

  • The huge time requirement levied on each character in Legion means that your main probably ends up with far more than can be used, while alts are starving for it. Yes, you can now trade it for mats — on my server that translates into something like 100-250 gold per Blood if you do a mat shuffle. This is not insignificant — although I would argue it is fairly low given the massive inflation in WoW economy in Legion — but the fact is, your alts do not need gold, they need Blood of Sargeras.
  • Blizz chose to make some professions winners and some losers in Legion. For example, if you have a skinner, you pretty much clean up on Blood of Sargeras. Blizz may claim that the drop rate is the same for skinning as for herb gathering or mining, and it may be, but the fact remains that you can do what amounts to mass skinning in a few minutes, whereas it takes hours to exploit the same number of herb or mining nodes. My main is in fact a skinner, and without even trying I have over 200 Bloods in the bank even after using a bunch early on for obliterum upgrades. Meanwhile, my poor engineer/enchanter can’t get enough for even one max crafted gear upgrade, and the same is true of most of my other alts.
  • This mat is an absolute requirement for upgrading crafted gear, both to make obliterum and to use it. It takes 2 Bloods just to use one obliterum. Almost always what that means for me is that my alts cannot gather sufficient Bloods for upgrades until they are well past the point when the upgraded gear is useful. This just serves to highlight the total failure of crafted gear in Legion, as far as I am concerned.

Obliterum. At a bare minimum, Blizz needs to allow this to be used on non-soulbound gear. Because as it stands now, it is almost useless as an upgrade mechanic. And while I am on the subject, let me just say I think the whole mechanic is one of the stupidest ideas Blizz has ever come up with, and honestly that’s a pretty high bar.

  • You can only apply it to soulbound gear. This means you cannot craft higher level gear and send it to an alt, nor can you sell it for decent gold. Effectively, armor crafters are nearly useless in Legion.
  • It requires Blood of Sargeras, both to make it and to use it. As I pointed out above, this effectively severely limits any alts getting significant crafted gear upgrades, until such time as the upgraded gear is useless to them. (Another example of Blizz being deliberately disingenuous to us. Remember their braying about “You can freely change to any spec in your class, no more 2-spec restrictions”? Yeah, right. And crafted gear — “You can equip as many pieces as you want”. Uh-huh.)
  • The quest line to unlock the forge is ridiculously expensive and annoying. I realize I may be an outlier, but I am so bad at pvp and I hate it so much, that I died on my main hunter 31 times just to finish the sewer part of that quest line. I suspect I am not unique in this. How is this fun? Because even when I finally did unlock the forge, I realized that it had almost no value to me going forward.
  • Obliterum can be bought and sold. However, the fact that you cannot use it without a stash of Blood of Sargeras means that it is of limited use to players looking for gear upgrades. Additionally, on my server it still goes for 3000-3500 gold each. Thus, even if you have the Bloods to do a full 10 upgrade to a single piece of gear, it will cost you upwards of 30,000 gold for just that single piece. Absolutely not worth it, especially since world quests award similar level gear for a LOT less effort and zero cost.

Weekly quests. This idea occurred to me last night, as I was trying to crank out another 20 world quests for one of my alts. Since Legion requires significantly more time on each character just to get to the same point most people are used to getting to, why not do a bit of pro-rating for the weekly quests? So, for example, if you don’t have the time to run 20 world quests on every max level character, why not award half the loot for running 10? Same for the Mythic and TW quests. I think this would actually encourage people to run these on more characters — and thus spend more time playing — because it would not seem like such an endless grind.

Talent swapping. OK, I probably should not get started on this, but here is another world-class stupid idea from Blizz. This kind of hit home to me last week on one of our raid nights. We had just finished Mythic Nythendra and had decided to try our luck at Ursoc. Knowing there was a ton of trash to be dealt with before moving to Ursoc, I spent a Tome of the Tranquil Mind to swap from Murder of Crows to Volley.

Only I did not get to use it, because we were immediately in combat. I had neglected to announce to the other 19 people that everyone needed to stop what they were doing so I could make a talent swap. I did say something, and the RL said they would stop after this bunch of mobs. We paused, I hit another Tome, and lo and behold a mob wandered near one of our players and I lost yet another Tome and still was unable to swap talents. At over 500g a pop this gets mighty annoying might fast.

Here’s the thing: I understand we have never been able to swap talents while in combat, no big deal. But this ridiculous doubling of  steps necessary to do it — open the talent table, find the tome, click the tome, click the talent — means we are now doubly penalized for swapping talents. And those extra steps can obviously preclude talent swapping in a group just when it is needed most, as my experience shows.

This comes at a time when Blizz is deliberately making us choose significant differences in talent lines for AoE or single target, and when they are mixing up these kinds of fights to extreme degrees. (Not even going to address the raid time lost when players without the expensive Tomes need to hearth to Dal, then get resummoned just so they can swap a talent.) Honestly, hunters aren’t even the worst affected by this — poor warlocks are way worse off.

Blizz has said they made a mistake in setting the price of the Tomes too high and they intend to try and fix it soon, but for me that does not answer the basic question: Why the hell did anyone think this was a good idea to begin with? What possible benefit to game play does this provide? And don’t tell me it was so that Inscriptionists could make money — Blizz had no compunctions about letting many professions become useless in Legion, why should Inscription be anything special?

I really need someone to explain this to me.

That stupid hunter eagle “perk”. As some of you may know, hunters can get access to a special set of flight points presumably serviced by the same eagle line that transports us to our class hall. As it turns out, this is less a perk than yet another punishment inflicted on hunters. These flight points are all located on extremely remote, high mountain peaks. And, while they are not tied in to the regular flight points, for some reason they are tied in when it comes to using your whistle. Thus, hunters often use the flight whistle only to be whisked off to a remote location of no use whatsoever, and are then forced to use a hearth of some sort or perform a fairly long and complex glide just to get back into the flight system.

Blizz, please do hunters the favor of pulling your head out of your ass and  fully integrate the eagle flight system into the regular one, or if that offends you too much, at least make it unresponsive to the whistle.

Hearthstone type access to class halls. A couple of classes — druids and monks come to mind, there may be some others — have the luxury of being able to transport themselves directly to their class hall no matter where they are. Less favored classes — for example warlocks and rogues — must first get themselves back to Dal, then wend their way to a sewer access and through some corridors and maybe even then through a portal — to get to their class halls.

This may be “immersive” or “fun” at first, but after a few times it is merely tedious and annoying. Blizz, we get it: there is a great story behind each and every class hall, but for crying out loud give all classes a garrison-type hearthstone to get there.

As I said at the start, none of these things is a show-stopper, they are all minor annoyances. But taken together and along with some of the really major Legion problems, they become constant irritations that detract significantly from the game. Seems like Blizz could fix them for us, and no, doing so will not “cost a tier”.

Anyone else have any quality of life annoyances in Legion?

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.

Obligatory Blizzcon post

Blizzcon starts tomorrow, officially. It will be the eleventh such event since the first one in 2005 (the 2012 event was cancelled), and it is Blizz’s 25th anniversary year. If you haven’t yet checked out the schedule and want to, Wowhead has a good summary of events here.

I am almost always interested in what happens at Blizzcon, but only in a peripheral way. I am not really a convention type person, and even if I were, I can’t imagine myself shelling out the money to attend this particular event, either in person or virtually. I am glad there are people who do enjoy the experience, but I am just not one of them. I am not sure why this is, but my armchair self-analysis tells me it has to do with keeping my virtual game escapism completely separate from the harsher realities and complexities of the real world.

All that said, I will be following some of the Blizzcon events through delayed videos and the tweets and other reporting from those there. Like most people, I am not expecting any big WoW announcements. Legion is barely started, so it is way too soon to even think about a next expansion — the most we might expect in terms of concrete announcements is some idea of the scope and possibly timing of Patch 7.2.

The scheduled events I find most interesting are always the dev talks, along with the usual spate of “exclusive” interviews granted to various gaming media. Often, by stringing together common themes and odd comments made during these, it is possible to glean some wisp of a glimmer of Blizz’s game plans and/or true intentions. Over the past couple of years Blizz has clamped down on both the message and the messengers in interactions with the player base, but there is still hard information to be had if you know how to parse the communications.

There are really only three Warcraft panels with the potential for non-fluff content: the “Legion — What’s Next” today, and the “Legion — Design Retrospective” and Q&A panels tomorrow. I fully expect the What’s Next panel to be a unicorn-and-puppies-and-rainbows picture of upcoming raids, more Suramar quest lines, general timelines for patches, mention of world quests, and plans for class halls and artifact weapons. For the latter, expect an extension of the class hall campaigns as well as an expansion of the artifact trait tables.

For the design retrospective tomorrow, I expect a lot of self-congratulations about how awesome the Legion design has been, which is fair, but I would also like to see some admission that some designs have had unintended and in some cases far-reaching consequences, along with some thought on whether those consequences are good or bad for the game. Among them:

  • Professions.
  • The time burden imposed on alts by class hall and artifact requirements every character must perform in order to do almost any aspect of Legion’s end game.
  • The centrality of Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons, especially in relation to players not in guilds that are active enough to run these regularly.
  • The wisdom of making one single piece of gear — the artifact weapon — absolutely central to every aspect of an entire expansion.
  • Somewhat in line with the above points, a consideration of the theory that recent design decisions (reliance on end game advanced raids and dungeons, time required to be spent for character progression, etc.) have made the game less friendly to casual players.
  • The decision to add two new melee classes/specs to an already overcrowded space.
  • Suramar — especially the absolute gating of quest lines behind faction rep, and the focus on enabling addiction that is central to the story line.
  • Class design and constant redesign every expansion. Of course, I focus on hunters, but there are plenty of classes that have legitimate design concerns. Mainly, I would love to see an honest discussion of the design reasons for major reworks of classes (except of course mages, the third rail of WoW) nearly every expansion, and an assessment of whether or not this improves the game.

For the Q&A session, I have no clue. By definition, the attendees are extreme fans of the game, so there is likely to be a mix of fawning softball questions and emotionally outraged ones. Still, there is the potential for some actual information to emerge from the session. Often these sessions produce at least one “I can’t believe he went there” type question. If there is one this year, I am betting it will have to do with vanilla servers, still an emotional point with some players, and one Blizz has specifically said they will not address at this year’s Blizzcon.

Short post today, expecting another glorious fall weekend in Virginia, so I am off to enjoy it. Whatever you are doing this weekend, enjoy!