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.

 

Simple things

I spent my game play time over the weekend leveling my rogue. He is a notable alt for me because first of all he is a he, and second of all he is a melee damage dealer. I like him, he is kind of a happy-go-lucky type who doesn’t really stress about anything. In WoD, he was a combat rogue, and I opted to go with that spec’s morph — outlaw — in Legion. I have zero idea whether or not outlaw is one of the “respected” specs, honestly don’t care. Also, I am not especially skilled at dealing with the Roll the Bones mechanic, but I copied a weak aura from one of my in game friends, and that more or less provides me with light-up idiot buttons telling me whether to roll again or not. Basically, though, I just faceroll keys, and it seems to work out. I think I only died twice during the 100-110 leveling process.

I know all you really good rogues out there are now shaking your heads over my description of my rogue play. Sorry, I really do understand there is a lot more to playing a rogue than I just described, it’s just that this is my fun alt. I play him when I need that unexpected-day-off-from-work feeling. You know the one — that sheer delight when you find out you have an entirely free day to spend as you please, you are permitted to forget all your normal grown-up chores. I think lots of players have such an alt. In fact often it is a hunter, because they certainly are fun to play, even now, for things like leveling or world quests.

Anyway, leveling my rogue the last couple of days clarified a couple of thoughts about Legion. In no particular order:

  • Especially in the leveling process, Legion is a fun expansion. Zone scaling is one of the best design innovations the game has ever had. It allows you to customize your leveling experience and eliminates much of the boredom from leveling your third or fourth or fifth alt.
    • My only gripe — and this is all because of me being lazy — is that I can level from 100 to 110 in about 3.5 zone completions. I always tell myself I will go back and finish off that last partial zone and do the full one I missed, but so far I have not done so, except of course on my main. This tends to limit my world quest options for the alt, at least until I pick up some of the many flight paths I need.
    • I still don’t like the Suramar experience much, and it annoys me that, even though I get the whistle automatically at 110, I still have to go through that whole tedious Suramar intro set of quests, at least up through getting the mask disguise.
  • The profession slog is terrible, and each time I level an alt I resent it more and more. I don’t dislike the idea of having a profession quest line, but I do hate being pushed into specific end game content, such as dungeons, that I have no intent on pursuing with an alt. The “levels within levels” design stinks, too, and it makes me feel manipulated — “Spend more hours playing this game or you will never finish leveling your profession, BWAAAAHAHA!” And I really detest the whole RNG mechanism for advancing your profession. You should not have to be a raider or a mythic instance runner to have a well-developed profession. Blizz broke professions in Legion.
  • No matter how Ion Hazzikostas tries to spin the whole AP mess, it amounts to one gigantic expansion-long grind. And no matter how much he lectures us on how we shouldn’t bother our silly little heads with chasing after it, it remains a psychological dead weight, a virtual treadmill ever present in the game, taunting you no matter how many clothes you hang on it to try to ignore it.
    • I realized this when I figured out one of the reasons I was having such a good time leveling my rogue was that I didn’t care how much — if any — AP I was collecting for a weapon I would never be raiding with.
    • The AP catch-up mechanism for alts is decent, and I am glad Blizz implemented it. But it is also pernicious, in that it subtly sucks you into joining the AP grind for your alts.
    • It is tempting to say I should just not care about how much AP I gather for advancing my main’s weapon, too, but the fact remains that if you wish to raid with a regular team in Legion, you have to care about it. Even in guilds that do not push for certain gear levels or certain minimum damage numbers, the average of the team will inevitably increase as the expansion goes on, and if you write off AP grinding you will sooner or later begin to hold the team back. If you wish to raid in Legion, you must grind AP ceaselessly. 

Side note: I am having a hard time understanding the whole Watchersplaining about plans for AP in 7.2. I believe it goes something like this: “We know AP has become a grind for some players, so in 7.2 we are going to fix that by vastly increasing the amount needed for each additional trait beyond 34, as well as by making the weapon power increases less important. Also, we are going to cut the amount of AP earned for the quick group instances, but increase it for the long ones.”

I am at a loss as to how that does anything positive, I would think if anything it makes it more of a grind with less of a chance for ever getting anything useful out of it. I guarantee that the people who feel the need to grind AP now will not feel less of a need when it takes tens millions or even billions for each trait increase. Similarly, the people who are not currently driven to chase AP will feel even less of a need to do so in 7.2.

This may be a theoretical “improvement” because it lessens some gap between the people who have a lot of time to play and those who don’t, but it in no way gets at the base problem with AP, which is that it is a never-ending grind that weighs down the game. This is true, no matter how often or how emphatically Ion Hazzikostas tells us it is not so. We have come face-to-face with a Blizz “alternative fact”.

  • Class hall quest lines are tedious, over-long, and yield very little of value for an alt. If it is convenient to do parts of it for my rogue, I am doing it, but I am not going out of my way to finish it. I really do not care if I ever get that third relic slot.
  • Highmountain is my favorite zone. Stormheim is second. I definitely prefer more “natural” looking zones, not big on pink trees and green goopy rivers and hostile plant life and such.
  • The legendary mess is still a mess. I have almost zero hope of ever getting even one on an alt, mainly due to the exorbitant amount of time needed on each before the mythical “bad luck insurance” kicks in. But honestly, I find I do not care.

All in all, I think the reason I had so much fun leveling my rogue this weekend is that it was simple, and I tried to make sure it stayed that way. There was no pressure to do anything but gather quests, do them, and turn them in. And if I found I did not enjoy the quest, I abandoned it without a second thought. I refused to permit myself to feel pressure to develop a garrison class hall, or large amounts of AP for a weapon, or to gear up beyond what I could get as quest loot, or to quest in certain zones because they would pay off the most for professions, or to run instances as soon as I could. I just bopped around, doing what looked interesting to me and enjoying the best parts of Legion.

It was exhilarating. It was eye-opening. I learned some things about myself, about the value of not pursuing goals if they seem to be a burden. And I am going to try and apply some of this approach to my main, in an attempt to get back to the sheer fun and genius of this game.

What Blizz got right in Legion

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

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

Ready?

Legion is only four months old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flasks, finally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leftovers and ruminations

Today’s post is really just a few unconnected thoughts that have been dancing around in the back of my brain for a bit. Sorry, but every once in a while I have to run the mental Roomba just to tidy things up for later…

Q&A session. Today there will be another in the more-or-less regular series of “Dev Talks”, this one being Ion Hazzikostas answering player questions about Patch 7.1. I am not expecting much info, to be honest, more of an infomercial about Karazhan, so I doubt if I will take the time to watch it live. I’ll catch it later this evening when I don’t have much else to do.

I am still glad that Blizz is continuing these pseudo-Q&A sessions, even if they seem to have devolved into a series of softball questions hand-picked for their toadiness. Don’t get me wrong, I do not approve of in-your-face, impolite, selfish, whiny type questions, but there are some very valid and tough conversations to be had between players and devs, and these sessions scrupulously avoid them, it seems.

Two subjects we will not hear about in today’s session (and I will happily eat my words if I am wrong):

  • Timetable for flying in Legion. (I have long predicted it would not happen before the second major patch, and honestly I think now it might not happen until whatever is the last patch of the expansion.) If the subject is even mentioned, expect some kind of saccharine cutesy evasive answer from Hazzikostas.
  • Any mention of the hunter class other than maybe a passing reference as part of a 7.1 attempt to do “minor balancing” of classes as a whole. Blizz seems hung up on the numbers game and refuses to address the wholesale selling out of the entire hunter class play style, along with completely ignoring even their own “fantasy” descriptions.

Game management changes. Today it was announced that Tom Chilton will be moving on, and Ion Hazzikostas will be moving up to take Chilton’s position as Game Director. Chilton will remain with Blizzard but be working on “another project” — unspecified. Stay tuned.

I have no idea what if any effect this management change will have on the game. I am guessing — but it is only a guess — that we will see more and more “prescribed” and “approved” play styles. Hazzikostas, at least as gleaned from his public statements, is a big fan of dictating what is and is not fun in the game. He has said he does not believe that earning gear is fun for anyone, but rolling the dice for it is great entertainment. So I expect to see — if it is even possible — even greater reliance on RNG for more aspects of the game.

Hazzikostas has also told us repeatedly that there is a certain style of alt play that is approved — only for the purpose of emulating your main but with a different class —  and indeed we have seen Legion implement mechanics that actually preclude any but the approved alt play style.

Last, let us not forget that it was likely Hazzikostas who pushed through the disastrous no-fly policy in WoD, the one who stressed to us how “immersive” it was to be road-bound. Expect longer and longer times between flying capability in Legion and subsequent expansions, with, I think, the goal of eliminating the capability altogether. (But of course we will still be able to hand over cash to the Blizz store for cool flying mounts that can easily waddle along the roads!)

My one optimistic hope with this change in management is that Blizz finds someone to fill Hazzikostas’s position who is serious about communicating with the player base, someone unafraid of getting in there and having even the difficult conversations, someone who will institute a professional system of customer communication instead of the “read the forums if you have nothing better to do” approach they currently seem to have.

I finally hit 110 with my druid. Last night I finally dinged 110 with my balance druid, who is also an herbalist/alchemist. Obviously the reason I have been pushing to level this alt first is so as to eventually stop spending upwards of 20k gold a week just to buy flasks and pots for raiding. Of course, I am still not there, as there is a ridiculously long and complex route to even being able to make the flasks I need, much less get to a profession level where there is a chance of getting a few procs. I expect that by the end of next week I should be able to do at least the basic stuff.

I still think the Legion character leveling process is well designed. It moves along fairly quickly and you can vary the experience for each character by varying the zone rotation you choose. But I do find it onerous to be forced to go through the artifact and class hall quest lines just to be able to function in the expansion. Not to mention the requirement to chase artifact power. There really needs to be an alternative to using an artifact weapon for a character you have no intention of raiding with. Of course, this cannot happen, because Blizz now requires you to run instances up through Mythic on every character you wish to use for professions.

Sorry, but alt development and professions in my opinion are still a huge Legion failing.

Escape versus complexity. This is entirely personal, but I find myself in the position of disliking Legion’s political complexity with the whole Nightfallen thing. Alternative Chat has a piece today discussing how refreshing it is to explore these issues in Suramar, and I suppose it is fun for many to sift through these nuanced layers. I am much more simplistic in my game needs. I look to games as pure escapism, as a sort of bubble gum for the mind where things are clearly Good versus Evil and oh by the way Good always wins in the end.

So I hate Suramar, I do the World Quests and achievement quest lines there, but I am most decidedly not drawn to political complexity in a game. Unfortunately, I get far too much of that in real life these days, especially now that the USA is embarrassing itself on the international stage with its soap opera Presidential election. As I said, I like my games to provide escape, not a microcosm of real life. Maybe in a year Suramar will seem fun to me, but just not now.

I’m out for the weekend, and it is looking to be a glorious one in Virginia, with perfect fall weather. I think we can assume there will be grilling on the deck, some bike rides and leaf peeping, and drinking a couple beers in my future. You enjoy your weekend, too.

Widening player gulf?

Legion is, in many, many aspects, a vast improvement over the nightmare of Draenor. The lore is more relevant, artwork is phenomenal, and there is tons of content both new and repeatable. Even the leveling process, which was one of the few highlights of Draenor, is if anything more engaging in Legion.

But I find myself wondering if Legion will ultimately be bad for the game. I am seeing what I perceive to be early indications of a widening divide between the player “haves” and “have-nots”. Just as in a thriving capitalist economy it is a robust middle class that drives the engine of optimism and opportunity, so it is in WoW that the majority player base of casual and semi-casual players drives extended game interest and engagement. When these middle groups start to dwindle, when they lose hope that they can achieve their aspirations, the systems begin to break down. It starts with economic disparity and inevitably spreads to nearly every other aspect of the system.

As with real systems, the WoW problem, too, starts with the economy.

  • Blizz’s decision to give away massive amounts of gold to try and staunch the WoD subscription hemorrhaging is a move we are still paying for. It has resulted in massive gold inflation, driving up the cost of materials and equipment to the point where only very wealthy players can afford these items.
  • Prices are driven even higher by Blizz’s decision to stretch out the time required to achieve even initial game goals such as profession leveling — even gathering professions. Not only are there quest lines for gathering, but Blizz has opted to place very few nodes in zones, compensating by making them theoretically multi tap. But the overall result is that it takes significantly longer to gather a stack of herbs or ore than it did in previous expansions. (Every time I say something like this, I get comments from self-styled genius gatherers that just the other day they gathered 100k worth of mats in some ridiculous amount of time like 30 minutes, and I must be doing something wrong. Please, spare me the tall tales.)
  • Prices are driven still higher by the decision to require non-related mats to craft almost anything. Food requires ore chips and rare herbs. (OK, I get the herbs, but who deliberately puts heavy metal chips in their food?) After years of telling us that LW/skinning is a winning combo, Blizz now requires buttloads of ore to buy LW recipes. (!!!) (Why is it not leather you need to buy them?) And we are not talking about the odd piece of cloth for mail pieces, or the odd bit of leather for a cloth belt. Oh no, we are talking about very high quantities of these mats.
  • There is a noticeable disparity among professions for usefulness, with alchemy/herbalism being the current lottery winner. Gear-producing professions are already for all practical purposes obsolete, as the same or better gear can be obtained via world quests and other means. The sheer amount of time and materials needed to produce and upgrade a single piece of crafted gear to 850 are no longer worth the cost. (The obliterum forge idea stinks, the quest to obtain it is ridiculously expensive and annoying, and the cost to produce obliterum is prohibitive given the mediocre result.)

The net result is that it takes vast amounts of gold to buy anything in the AH or even in trade. Yes, you can — if you were lucky enough to pick the right professions — make a fair bit of gold yourself, but for most people it is not enough to cover their costs for other things they need. (And if you were stupid enough to pick a gear-crafting profession such as tailoring or LW or BS, you might as well abandon it — it is not even worth reaching max level to say nothing of it not being worth grubbing for rng- and rep-granting higher level recipes. Any gear you could produce from it is basically worthless.)

Players who did not start this expansion with a great deal of gold, or who did not pick the right professions, or who have limited play time each week, will have a very difficult time catching up. For example, being able to raid or participate in Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons requires, at the very least, a certain level of gear and a certain supply of food, flasks, and pots. The time commitment for gear as well as the gold and/or time commitment for consumables is a very significant hurdle for all but the most dedicated players. (Not even talking here about gear enchants and gems, which easily run more than 20k each on my server.) Players might be able to raid with a team that is willing to overlook shortfalls in these areas for a while, but not for long. And pugs will certainly not put up with it.

Not everyone wishes to raid, of course. But the thing is, raiding and/or running high level instances is required now for nearly every end game activity in WoW. Want to just concentrate on producing/gathering for professions? Sorry, you gotta do all these other activities in order to do the one you like. Just want to putz around with a few different alts? Sorry, even if all you want to do is level them, you still have to pursue quest lines like class halls, artefact power, and time-consuming profession quest lines if you want to even gather a few herbs with them.

My point is that the combination of high cost and huge time commitment for virtually any Legion activity is starting to show a clear dividing line — those willing and/or able to do it, and those not. The former are becoming the game’s “haves” and the latter are becoming the “have-nots”. I do not in any way begrudge people who decide to put a lot of time and effort and gold into the game their just rewards. More power to them. Similarly, I do not judge those who simply want to spend a couple of hours a week at the game as pleasant diversion — it’s how they relax and have fun, and good for them.

What does give me concern is the possibility of the game’s “middle class” losing hope that they will eventually be able to acquit themselves adequately in their chosen end game activities. If they perceive that the road to gear or raid preparedness or profession completion or faction rep or certain achievements is too difficult or time-consuming or expensive, they will just stop pursuing these goals. If they drop out in appreciable numbers, then we will be left with what I think is an unhealthy mix of hardcore near-professionals and super-casuals.

The thing that drives many of us in this game is the thought that, it may take me a bit longer to get there than some, but I can very respectably compete in fill in your favorite end game activity here. But if you think the point at which you can do that is some ridiculous number of months in the future, then you might just give up. You have more commitment to the game than the super-casuals, but you cannot or will not devote the same time to it as the semi-pros, so there is little left for you but frustration. Nobody plays this game to be continually frustrated.

Now, as I said in the beginning, this is not the game’s situation yet. It is just what I think could happen, the situation that we have the right conditions for now. I even see it happening in the microcosm of my guild, where we have a small group of super-dedicated people with ilevels like 860 or higher, with artifact weapons into the high 20’s for development, with the Broken Isles Pathfinder achievement completed, who regularly run Mythic+ at the +6 or above level, and so forth. They have the highest level gems and enchants on their gear, and they always are well supplied with flasks, food, pots, runes, things that let them change talents on the fly, and so forth. They are incredibly generous with their time, offering to run regular Mythics or +2s with people just to help them gear up or complete quests, and they willingly make profession items if you can supply the mats. But even this — when added to the time burden of world quests/rep grinds/profession quests/mat-gathering/etc. — begins to exceed the limits of play time for many of us.

For many of us in the middle, it may not be possible to get to the same relative level in Legion as we did in previous expansions. That is diminished expectations, and it is not a goal that game developers should strive for.