Gadgeteers and purists

Last night as I launched a new sim on my Balance druid, it occurred to me that I rely a lot on third party sites and addons to play this game. I mean, really, a lot. Here is a sample, off the top of my head:

  • Over 20 addons — DBM, GTFO, ArkInventory, Weakauras, Bartender4, Healbot for my healers, Shadowed Unit Frames, Pawn, Tradeskill Master, Skada, World Quest Tracker, TomTom, Paste — to name a few.
  • Wowhead — my go-to site for guidance on where to find patterns and recipes, mats needed for crafting, various Legion guides, gear info, transmog ideas, and quest info. The latter is especially important to me. If I run into a problem with a quest, I immediately turn to Wowhead for solutions to whatever is stopping me. I am not worried about “spoilers”, I am just interested in finishing the quest and moving on, and I derive no satisfaction from figuring it out on my own after beating my head on a rock for hours or days. Thank goodness for the Wowhead users who unselfishly post their insights into quests as soon as they get them figured out.
  • Icy-Veins — I use this for class/spec info as well as for quick and dirty raid guidance. When I am coming back to an alt I have not played in a while, it is always my first stop to brush up on rotations, talent builds, and the order of stat importance. In Legion, I use this site to make my way through artifact traits and to get their list of BiS legendaries. The class/spec guides are always up to date and are written by world class players. I can’t imagine trying to figure out a rotation on my own for every alt by evaluating the various spell and talent and artifact interactions.
  • Sims. I use SimC on my own computer, and I also use web sites like Beotorch and recently Raidbots to run quick sims for importing into my Pawn addon. I know sims are only partially useful, but honestly I do not know of a better way to evaluate the complex factors in gear these days. (It would be interesting, I think, to compare the results for a player using all these complicated methods to select gear and talents versus selecting solely on the basis of ilevel increases and gut feeling for talents. I wonder if there would actually be much difference?)
  • Quest guides. I confess I use a quest guide to speed my way through leveling and also through dailies, profession quest lines, class hall quests, artifact quests, and even long achievement chains. (I am not going to say the one I use because it is a paid service and I do not want to plug a commercial product.)

There are probably a few more outside resources I use, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. As I said, it’s a lot.

I know there are purists out there who are horrified by a list like this. I respect that point of view. Intellectually, I am even drawn to it, but realistically I am far too impatient to actually try to deal with a Blizz-only interface.

The native game UI itself, to me, is clunky, un-intuitive, and not responsive to player preferences. This opinion is reinforced every time I log in to the PTR and have to set up the Blizz-only interface. It just does not work for me, from the lack of raid frame options to the multiple-bar action bar setup and separate keybind interface, to the horrible bag space viewer, to the inability to set up reasonably-located spell cues and proc notices.

Additionally, the game flow — especially in Legion — seems confusing to me, possibly even deliberately vague. Blizz sometimes thinks they are running a puzzle game, not an adventure MMO, and they love to obfuscate in the name of “challenge”. Sometimes, for example, quests follow logically from one to the next, but equally as often you have to search for the next series without knowing whether or not it is a line you are interested in or where it might lead. And the “secret” quests — they are not my cup of tea. If I wanted to figure out puzzles, I would be playing a different game than WoW. I honestly cannot imagine a new player figuring all this out for themselves with zero outside help.

So I tend to go a bit overboard in third party assistance. I know this. I wish it were not necessary for my enjoyment of the game, but it is. In an ideal world, Blizz would provide a wide range of player options, permitting an approach like mine as well as the purist one. But even I know that is not really possible — they seem to have all they can do to keep the game from imploding without adding in a lot of complicating player-option code.

To be fair, periodically they co-opt some third party ideas and try to bring them into the native interface, but to my eye they usually do it badly. For example, there is the in-game Dungeon Journal now, a Blizz version of third party raid and instance explanations. It’s okay, but it falls short of most outside ones, in my opinion. The bag-sorting algorithm introduced in WoD is a slight improvement over what we had before, but it does not come close to the categorizing and display options in an addon like ArkInventory. I could give a lot more examples, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I do not think I would continue to play this game if I could not use third party resources to the extent I do. I like gadgets and gizmos and convenience and efficiency too much to give them up. Those of you who are purists, I salute you — try not to judge me, I am weak!

Is quantity content?

Last night as we were cranking out our weekly H Nighthold farm run, there was a semi-lively discussion of Legion — mainly Patch 7.2 but also Legion in general. No great insights, but the comments did start a few chains of thought for me, focused on the whole idea of “content” that is Blizz’s main claim for Legion.

Patch 7.2 gave us a lot of new quests, no doubt about it, but beyond the one big “The Legion is coming, the Legion is coming!” story, there is not a lot to advance the expansion. The daily and weekly quests on Broken Shore are not much more than “Kill 20 demons/harpies/spiders or fill up this progress bar.” Ya, okay, there is a space ship, so that means we are dealing with interplanetary travel pretty soon — hardly a new revelation. And there is poor doubt-wracked Anduin, dithering and wringing his royal hands over whether or not he can step into his father’s boots. (I actually liked the Anduin quests, especially the last cutscene, but they were hardly significant in the Legion story. And for crying out loud, what rule dictates that every escorted NPC must walk as slow as my Great Aunt Dorothy?)

What I am getting at is that I see almost zero creative effort in the 7.2 quest lines. True, there are a lot of them — beyond the dailies and weeklies, every time you turn around you are getting yet another long ass quest line and achievement matrix for your order hall or your class mount or some artifact appearance or to advance your profession. Just my opinion, of course, but they seem to be longer and longer quest lines for less and less ultimate reward.

Even the time gates are uninspired, Blizz-controlled slow releases that do not begin to compare to the innovative player-influenced releases of Isle of Thunder in Mists, for example. Basically, we can do only what Blizz Central permits us to do, at the virtual pace of Anduin’s slow saunter. Oh, right, we do have the player-influenced BS buildings, but this is pretty much a sham, since their completion does not open up new content, only a couple of temporary buffs, and at least North America is now in the mode of a pretty steady and predictable rotation.

(One wonders what would happen if we all just stopped contributing to their construction — would we truly get no buildings, or would we get them anyway because who the hell knows if “player contributions” are just a cover story and the real “progress bars” are computer-generated automatic fills?)

When Blizz announced the Legion expansion, one aspect they stressed over nearly all others was that it would pretty much be a never-ending stream of “content”. This was, of course, a reaction to the perception that WoD had almost none of the “C” word. As I have noted before, content almost certainly means something different to every player. I think we are at the point where we can say that what it means to Blizz is “lots and lots of quests.”

In at least one case this has worked in Legion, I think. I was not personally a fan of the Suramar quests that unfolded during the weeks preceding the release of Nighthold (I just have a general objection to the whole drug-addict story line), but they were certainly creative, they significantly advanced a side story in Legion, they were relevant to the opening of Nighthold, and they continued long enough after the raid release to award a pretty cool mount. And while you were doing them, you could see the advancement of the story line. So while they filled Blizz’s “lots and lots of quests” content philosophy, they also engaged players and made us feel like we were personally guiding the story to its next major chapter.

It may be my unfamiliarity with WoW lore, but I find no similar unifying thread in the 7.2 Broken Shore quests. They are just variations on the “kill a lot of boars” theme. They seem like time fillers, not story advancers.

In the bigger picture, when you think about it, Blizz’s pre-Legion promise of lots more content — which I admit they have made good on so far — has turned out to be nothing more than their normal expansion plan stretched out by adding many more quest requirements to every aspect of the game. Legion’s basic blueprint so far is almost identical to WoD’s, except it has been designed to ensure that players who expect to achieve their game goals in, say, 6 months, now cannot achieve them in anything close to that time frame, because every goal in Legion has far more requirements — usually in the form of long quest lines or endless currency accumulation — than in any other expansion.

Is this “content”? Well, it’s not to me, but then again I do not write the game. Blizz has gambled that by making everything take longer for players to accomplish, by piling requirement upon requirement even for simple game goals, players will actively commit to the expansion until they meet these goals. Basically, Blizz is betting that players only complain of being bored when they have met their game goals and see no new ones on the horizon. By vastly stretching out the time necessary to meet any goal (for example, think of the “maxing out my weapon” goal some players have), Blizz hopes they can show their corporate bosses that they have licked the “boredom” complaint.

The danger here is that they hit a tipping point where people just give up on their goals because they see no reasonable chance of achieving them — certainly not in the time they feel they can commit to the game. For these players, the only remaining attraction of the game then becomes the “in the moment” enjoyment they derive from it. This is where uncreative masses of quests to “kill 20 demons” become a liability, because honestly you can only do that so often before being bored out of your skull. Add to this feeling one of betrayal that suddenly you can no longer meet your game goals in the same general time frame you are used to, and many will just stop playing altogether, exactly the same outcome as we saw in WoD.

It turns out you can have a boring expansion by letting players achieve their goals too quickly, but you can also have one by fostering a player perception that there is no hope of achieving their usual game goals at all and combine it with uncreative activities. It’s a delicate line to walk, but I see little evidence Blizz even recognizes there is such a line.  Certainly 7.2 does not indicate they do.

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.

Not impressed with 7.2

We have had a little over a week with 7.2 and I am extremely underwhelmed with it. If pushed to come up with one reason, I guess it would have to be that it is just more of the same bleak Legion never-ending grind. Some random thoughts and observations:

New artifact trait system. This just depresses me. For BM hunters the new traits are decidedly uninspired, and I think Blizz as usual took the lazy path by adding one more tick to the old 3-tick traits. Nothing about this system makes me excited to progress in it. There is no “WOOHOO” moment anywhere in the path — nearly everything is a dull unimaginative tiny increase to some boring passive trait. I do not deny some of them are useful, but the whole idea is just freaking boring. The snakes? Yeah, they are about as powerful as the old snake trap, which is to say useless.

Gazillions of AP. Yeah, see above. I get that we are now earning AP at a much greater rate, but there is something demoralizing when you get half a million and it barely nudges the little AP bar. And I just feel hopeless and beat down when I need tens of millions of AP in order to get that next boring uninspired .5% increase in some passive trait. I am starting to get quite sullen over the “bonus” AP events and mechanics, too, because I feel manipulated — like everything in the game is pushing me towards amassing AP.

What we have is an endless chase after in-game currency to buy tiny incremental power increases for a central piece of gear. There is no end to it, no achievement, no sense of accomplishment, no cool fun result. Even if someone could reach the final trait — and there will be people who do this — it is hopeless because Blizz will then add on more grinding just like they did after that 54th trait.

I am absolutely dumbfounded that Ion Hazzikostas and other devs can lecture us — with a straight face, mind you — about the evils of “grinding” for gear, and then hand us this, the greatest and most obnoxious gear grind the game has ever seen. In this, their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Broken Shore. Ugh. First, there is nothing aesthetically inviting about it, it is desolate and ugly. At least Timeless Isle and Tanaan Jungle had some decent artwork attached to them, some nice eye candy to reward you for all the time you spent there.

Second, it is chock full of invisible walls, dead ends, and obstacles to ground travel, making getting anywhere an exercise in annoyance. Add to that the fact there are only 3 flight points, and that there are armies of imps and other mobs that dog your every step no matter where you set foot, and you have a recipe for extreme frustration. And don’t forget, Blizz has kindly made these mobs scale to your gear level, so none of them are truly trivial.  I do not know if we will be able to fly in this zone if and when we ever are allowed to fly again, but I can tell you if I cannot fly there I will probably spend very little time there. It is just not fun.

Third, the daily quests. That is exactly the problem — they really are dailies, not world quests. Which means if you miss a day, you miss a lot of rep. There is no emissary, no skipping a day or two and catching up. This is exactly the situation Blizz said they did not want to repeat after the rep grinds of Mists — they did not want people to feel they had to log on and do the dailies every day or risk falling behind.

WTF, Blizz?

Fourth, those buildings. Their mediocre perks aside, this whole mechanic is going to get mighty old mighty fast for me. I am pretty sure that after we have had one of each type, I will deliberately withhold my war supplies and refuse to contribute them to a building I know will be destroyed in a couple of days. Just for spite, because it is a stupid mechanic.

Mage Tower challenge. Nope, just nope. For one thing, the unlocked BM artifact appearance is butt ugly. For another, as usual, there is no appearance change for Hati. Last but certainly not least, the challenge is stupid hard, designed for 1% or less of the elite, and at least thus far dependent on having equipped a couple of very specific legendaries. Oh, and it costs you currency to try it more than once, and it is designed to take many, many attempts to successfully complete. Oh, and just out of spite apparently, Blizz seems to have removed the Ignore Quest option, thus guaranteeing that big ass yellow quest marker will be there every time the Mage Tower is up.

So let’s see — spend currency to enter, spend hundreds or more likely thousands of gold in repairs, suffer huge and continuous frustration because Blizz wants 99% of players to fail, add additional difficulty because I am not one of the lucky few with the “right” legendaries, all for an ugly appearance for a weapon I always transmog anyway?

Not only no, but hell no.

Demonic invasions. I really thought these would be like the pre-Legion scenarios, which I found fun, quick, and even rewarding. Nope, definitely wrong on that one. They are nothing more than world quests in a certain zone, followed by a 3-person scenario. Oh, and of course you cannot get the scenario until you have knocked off most of the invasion quests for the zone. Got to keep those monthly hours up for Ion’s bonuses after all.

I did the first set of these — Aszuna — last night. Well, I say I did them but the truth is I did not compete the actual scenario because after 15 minutes of running back and forth between two sets of mobs and killing them over and over again, we finally got to Stage 2 of the scenario (no idea how many stages there are), but by that point it was time for our guild raid so I had to drop group. It’s certainly possible that in time we will learn the layout of these scenarios better, but my limited experience last night is that they are unimaginative, boring game play extenders.

By the time we got done with our raid, the invasion had disappeared. And of course since I did not complete the scenario, I assume I get no credit for completing one invasion. Thus, the next time the Aszuna one comes around I get to start all over again with the world quests.

The invasions spawn randomly in a zone for six hours, so even though this is a rather large window, it still means it will be possible for some players to have the bad luck to not be able to play while the invasions are active. I have no idea how often “randomly” is, but this seems designed once again to force players to keep checking the game and rearrange their schedules to log in when any needed invasions are active. I will do each of them once then pretty much ignore them, I think.

More hate for hunters. A couple of 7.2 developments are/were decidedly anti-hunter, and show once again that Blizz has no understanding of the downstream effects of their Brilliant Ideas, no one among the devs who has a clue how to play a hunter.

I am a BM hunter, not MM, but Blizz really screwed MM hunters at the start of 7.2. They initially set up the Unerring Arrow trait bonus as 10% per point, for a total of a 40% bonus for filling in all 4 points. This of course was very attractive to MM hunters, and many if not most of them immediately filled out this trait with their traded AP when 7.2 went live. Within 24 hours, however, Blizz nerfed the bonus from 10% down to 4%, more than halving it.

It is possible that 10% was too high, but why in the world would they wait until AFTER MM hunters had taken these points to nerf it so drastically? This is not something Blizz might have noticed and fixed on the PTR? Here are the optics for this: Blizz cares so little for hunters that they have no qualms about making them spend precious AP on a trait only to nerf it into oblivion once the AP is spent. No attempt to put themselves in the place of players agonizing over trait decisions, no notion of refunding the AP fully in light of the sudden reversal of value for the trait. And of course no official comment on it because, hey, who gives a damn about hunters, the throwaway class?

Blizz recently “improved” certain visual effects for some specs. Among these changes was one to Multishot for hunters. I have no idea what they thought they were doing, but the effect has been to render the shot far less useful than it was before the change. Specifically, in the old version the number of arrow or bullet representations were roughly equal to the number of targets you were hitting. In particular, it was very easy to see if you were targeting only two mobs or a single mob, in which case Multishot was probably not what you wanted to be using. But with the change, you no longer can tell if you have killed most of a pack and are down to one or two targets, since the representation now shows multiple tracers even with just one target. This can cause a net damage loss if applied over time, as Multishot is wasted on just a single target.

No idea if this was done on purpose, or if as usual Blizz failed to anticipate this complication. Did none of the dev hunters try the new graphic and see this? (Never mind, we know the answer.)

Are there some good things about 7.2? Of course there are — if nothing else, we are getting a bunch of new world quests and a story line extension. But for me, the never ending grind Blizz continues to foist on us — for profession recipes, AP, class hall quests, class hall research, champion gearing up, the eternal carrot of flying, etc. — outweighs most of the positive points. I am sick of garrisons class halls, sick of artifact weapons, sick of Legion’s insane “legendary” acquisition mechanics, sick of eternal grinding for

every.

single.

game.

activity.

Because, as we all know and have been told over and over again by the esteemed Game Director, grinding is a bad thing. Unless it serves Blizz’s bottom line and not players.

Scaling to gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patch 7.2 is upon us

Well, the big news from yesterday’s Q&A is that Patch 7.2 will go live at the next reset. I suppose this is good news — the current content is getting a bit worn, although honestly I would be able to find too much to do in it for weeks or even months yet. Still, it is always fun to get new shinies.

No question in my mind, flying will be my main and most frenetic focus for the first couple of weeks until I get she achievement. I am heartily sick of bumbling around on the ground and being forced to take commercial air to get to far away places. Flight paths are still too roundabout for my tastes, and if I am going to take scenic tourist flights, then I want to be able to swoop down or stop at interesting points I see from the air.

Not going to lie, I am also waiting for flying to get some profession quest lines finished on alts. Some of them are too lightly geared to deal efficiently with mobs encountered getting to or getting out of quest areas. If the quest is to kill 12 bears, for example, I do not want to have also fight my through an area packed with spiders or rabid plant life, both entering and exiting the quest area. And I am also waiting on flying to level a couple of my more problematic alts (looking at you, Mage).

I have Pathfinder Part 1 finished, so it will just be a matter of grinding out the new rep and other requirements for Part 2. I am not really that happy with Blizz introducing an entire new faction for us to get rep with for this achievement, however. It just strikes me as Blizz once again — in what has become a depressing pattern — screwing with us, moving the goal posts just as we get close enough to think we are finished. To add insult to injury, no existing rep tokens count for the new rep.

Similarly, Patch 7.2 will permit (ok, “force”) us to increase the gear level of our class hall champions if we wish to use them for new missions. But all those gear upgrade tokens you have been collecting ever since your champions all reached level 850? Yup, you guessed it, worthless. There will be new ones we can grind for endlessly.

The other goal post that has been moved is of course the artifact trait one. I would not ever characterize myself as a completionist when it comes to achievements in this game, but there is just something mean about letting me get a whiff of success at maxing out my artifact traits — I am at 52 right now — then move that goal nearly out of range (there will be something like 50 more traits or trait levels in 7.2, and each will cost millions or even tens of millions of AP to get).

It just feels like Blizz ran out of good ideas and decided that redoing artifact traits, class hall quest lines, champion missions, faction rep, and class hall research was the way to go. Yeah, take what are arguably the most annoying parts of Legion and make everyone do a do-over on them and pass it off as new content….

I have not played the PTR lately, so I only have what I read to go by for some of the upcoming changes. In general, I kind of liked the world scenarios we got at the end of WoD as prep for Legion. They were fun to me because they really were completely optional. I am not so sure how much I will like them now that they will be a requirement for another achievement.

I don’t really understand the mechanics of establishing a new class hall base on a new island — this is beginning to smell like more garrisons to me. And I surely do not get the building mechanic. Apparently, each region and/or server group somehow “votes” for the kind of building (one of three possibles) they want. From what I can glean, you “vote” by collecting and giving up nethershards (something new to grind for, but remember Blizz hates collecting currency except when they don’t). At some point there are enough votes for the building to be constructed, it gives a local buff, lasts for 72 hours, gets destroyed by the Legion, then everyone gets to start all over again.

Forgive me if I am not jumping up and down in anticipation of what appears will be yet another depressing Sisyphean activity.

There will be some number of user interface upgrades in the new patch. Again, this is always nice, but the ones I saw were ones I have long ago fixed by using an addon. Blizz’s UI is generally poor, and they remain extremely lazy about fixing it because they know addons will fill in the holes until they get around to making a stab at it.Reading about the upcoming changes, it seems like my addons will still be leagues better than Blizz’s “fixes”.

I have not seen any updated official 7.2 patch notes yet, which makes me wonder if once again — like for 7.1.5 — they will only be published a few hours before the patch goes live, and even then they will be incomplete and straight out wrong in some instances. I would think if a new patch is deemed ready for prime time, that part of that includes having well-written and complete patch notes, but I guess this is not a priority for Blizz.

Still, for all my crabbiness about 7.2, I have to give Blizz credit for thus far sticking to their promise of continually pumping out new Legion content. I honestly did not think they would be able to do it, and I am happy to be proven wrong so far. In my opinion, “content” is at once the best and worst feature of Legion. The best because, well, there is undeniably a lot of it and it keeps changing and morphing at a pretty furious pace. The worst because too much of it is required rather than just optional — I say required because it is part and parcel of nearly every conceivable game goal for almost any player.

(For example, running dungeons is required in order to complete zones, develop professions, do class hall quest lines, etc. There is no  path to accomplishing these activities without running dungeons. Just my opinion, I know, but to me this is cramming certain content down people’s throats, forcing certain very narrow play styles on every character.)

There is a ton of stuff in Patch 7.2, and I have not even touched the surface. It will be here in a few days, and at that time we will all be able to judge for ourselves what works and what doesn’t in it.

Apologies for the rather disorganized comments today, I am on the phone fighting with customer service over what should be a simple door opening mod to my new dryer, and I am at wit’s end over trying to explain the problem to what seems to be someone with the technical grasp of a carrot on the other end of the line. I thonk I see alcohol in my near future.

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.