Alt weekend

I had a busy weekend in WoW. Nothing spectacular, just found myself with some windfall time on my hands and decided to spend it playing. As there is nothing much left for me to do with my main except grind out AP, I turned to my two most developed alts — balance druid and destro warlock. It was an interesting study in comparisons and contrasts.

Both are ranged dps, which is my solid role preference in WoW. I do have a couple of melee dps and healer alts, and they provide a nice break sometimes, but I always come back to ranged dps as my niche play style. Having said that, there are further distinctions among ranged dps, but the one that makes the greatest difference to me is mobility. Hunters used to be the most mobile of all ranged classes, and even after huge mobility nerfs to them in Legion at least BM hunters probably retain that distinction. So I am coming from that background as my baseline for determining “mobility”.

As I wrote last week, I have spent quite a bit of time lately developing my balance druid, and I am enjoying it. Her ilvl is around 890, but in all honesty she still has pretty crummy gear. Two legendaries, but one is just the crafted stat stick, worthless except as an ilvl booster, in my opinion. No tier gear, no BiS trinkets.

I was invited to a couple of mythics and mythic+ runs on her over the weekend. Pity runs, if I am truthful, but my guild is pretty good that way. Also, several of my guildies are building up alts now, too, so we end up taking turns running mains in order to carry some alts every now and then. My boomie dps was dismal, of course, but I was encouraged that it was not always bottom of the dps pile — there were moments of decent play.

The one thing that still dogs me with balance druid play is the extreme slowness of it.  Cast times just seem excruciating to me, like I could start the cast, go make a sandwich and get back just as it was finishing. I suppose this is an indirect reflection of my crummy gear — I have not even come close to really stacking the haste I need. The Icy Veins class guide goes so far as to rank haste and mastery above the primary stat of int (!) One of the consequences of this horrible slow play style is that I tend to overuse my instant casts — kill pace while soloing and even in mythic dungeons is such that there often is not enough time to get off a casted spell before the mobs die. So instant casts are frequently the only viable ones. Also, my muscle memory is hunter-honed, so I have a twitchy tendency to just interrupt a long cast in favor of an instant one. A lot. I am hoping I can get over this as my gear improves and I slap myself upside of my head often enough.

My lock also has crummy gear — even worse than my druid — right now hanging around 830 ilvl. Zero legendaries, not even a crafted one yet. But here’s the strange thing: even at a 60-ilvl difference, the lock feels much more powerful than the druid. I am relatively fearless at engaging mobs and elites with my lock, whereas with my druid I am super-cautious, almost always waiting for other players to show up before engaging anything higher than around 5 million health.

Some of that, I think, is because when I solo with my lock I run with a tank pet. Not only does this give me some breathing room when casting, but it is also the play style I have learned with my hunter since my earliest days of playing. So I am used to it.

But beyond the familiarity of using a pet, the lock play style — even though it is primarily a casted class — seems much more lively and engaging to me than balance druid. It seems mobile, whereas my druid does not. I am not sure why. Both balance druid and destro lock have casted spells as their primary power and some instant casts for setup or dots. Both require a certain rotational sequence to achieve high damage, and if that sequence is interrupted by the need to move, it suffers a bit. (Less so if you are skilled, more so if you play like I do.) Yet I find destro lock play not only more enjoyable than balance druid play but also more effective. Yes, destro lock has big casted spells, but the cast times seem reasonable, not M-A-D-D-E-N-I-N-G-L-Y S-L-O-O-O-O-O-W-W-W-W like for boomies.

The difference reminds me of the difference between BM hunters pre- and post-Legion. There is some major shift in play style, in class/spec philosophy. Prior to WoD, hunter development was guided by someone who understood the whole hunter “feel”. Starting in WoD, this was no longer the case, and hunter development seemed to be only about numbers no matter how awful the feel. It seems, from my very parochial view, that there is a similar lack of feel for balance druid play style, whereas those developers working on locks still retain it. Even though balance druid and destro lock have the same basic damage mechanics, one is horribly clunky in its implementation and one is lively and fun.

This, to me, perfectly describes Blizz’s problems with class development — they just do not get it for several classes, nor apparently do they care to, but for the ones they do get, it works out nicely. 

Last week I thought that my balance druid would become my primary alt as Legion progresses, but now I am not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I am still having fun with it, but a weekend with my lock is starting to change my mind. (Yes, I am fickle. Sue me.) The one thing that has thus far soured me on my lock in Legion is — and I know this sounds stupid — the class hall. I have never been a fan of the dark, fire-and-brimstone-with-overtones-of-torture-and-anguish environments Blizz seems to love, and this dismal environment is only compounded by what I think is a horrible layout for the class hall. I am getting more familiar with it now, but I still wander around a lot looking for stuff. Honestly, a big reason I have not played my lock much so far in Legion is because I dreaded having to do business in that class hall.

At any rate, it was a fun and relaxing weekend. And my little kick-ass gnome warlock is back!

Legendaries — first aid for class balance?

Admin note: This post contains quite a few references to specific Beastmastery hunter talents. I have thrown in some Wowhead links, but if you want a more comprehensive picture of the talent table, check out the Icy Veins one here.

The latest development in Legion legendaries, reported by MMO-C as part of the most recent PTR build, is that now some of them will actually grant the wearer a talent from their spec’s talent table. For example, the new hunter legendary will grant Beastmasters the Dire Stable talent, a level 15 talent that increases focus generation while you have a Dire Beast active.

Well. Where to start?

I am not a theory crafter, so my take on this goes more to fundamentals than it does to actual numbers. But the first thing that occurs to me is this particular talent level has ever only had two choices for BM hunters — Way of the Cobra for single target fights and Dire Stable for multitarget fights. No one I know has ever selected the third talent in that row, Big Game Hunter, because it stinks and has stunk since it was introduced. It is a non-choice. So the new legendary effectively means BM hunters can have their cake and eat it too in this talent tier. It also means if you have the new legendary you have no other choices in this talent row, you will take Way of the Cobra. I am not saying this is a bad thing, just pointing out how it will play out.

The second effect this will have is to buff BM damage somewhat, at least for single target fights, because we will be generating extra focus. The effect on multitarget fights is less clear, I think, because Cobra Shot is not often used on those, so the extra damage may be moot. Number crunchers will undoubtedly play with various combos, including the desirability of using multiple Cobra Shots over Multishot for medium-size groups of targets.

Additionally, one of the basic complaints about BM hunter mechanics is that the player has zero control over focus generation — is completely dependent on auto-generation of this resource. With the exception of the really terrible talent Chimaera Shot, we have no power-generating shots, we are completely at the mercy of Blizz’s idea of how fast that critical factor should generate. One result of this early on was the clunky, start-and-stop nature of the rotation. It is still a problem, though most of us still playing the spec just grimly accept it after months of enduring it.

Dire Stable, while still not allowing control over focus generation, does increase the rate noticeably. So the fact that lucky winners of the new legendary will not have to choose between increased focus and increased single target damage will be nice, I suppose. I doubt if it will be a game changer, but it will be helpful.

But here’s the thing: Blizz is using legendaries to fix glaring problems with spec mechanics, problems that players identified months ago during alpha testing and have continued to point out ever since Legion went live. 

The most obvious and egregious flaw in this plan is — well, I hesitate to point out the obvious but here goes:

ONLY LUCKY PEOPLE GET TO HAVE THE FLAW FIXED.

What the hell, Blizz? If there is a mechanics problem with a spec glaring enough for even the most clueless dev to notice, shouldn’t the fix be available to all players? Why do you insist on making a lottery of everything? What is wrong in your brains? For the umpteenth time, Mr. Game Director Ion “I Am The Sole Arbiter of Fun” Hazzikostas, RNG is not fun except for the uber-lucky early winners. For all the rest of us who spend hours and days and months rolling the dice for that one piece of playstyle-changing gear, it is the furthest thing in the game from fun. Even when we finally get it — if we ever do — it is not a woohoo moment but rather a “oh thank god that is over” one.

Beyond the lunacy of basing spec mechanics fixes on pure luck, there is another aspect to this. It seems evident from WoD and Legion that Blizz is unable to adequately balance individual spec mechanics and numbers without ending up with obvious winners and losers — specs that are either overpowered or dismally puny performers. And when they have tried to fix glaring inequities the changes have frequently lurched from one extreme to the other. Everyone understands the class/spec balance and playstyle issues are complex. So why make them even more so by introducing additional factors?

Introducing a complicated artifact trait table made balancing specs more difficult by an order of magnitude. Introducing other gear — tier and legendaries — with significant spec-enhancing bonuses made it even more so.

If you are someone who is challenged when you are asked to bring microwave green beans to Thanksgiving dinner, it is almost certainly not a good idea to also volunteer to bring the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Even though you hope it will help fix your green bean inadequacies, you are just setting yourself up for failure.

So, although I think the new legendary talents may help some specs in the near term,  using RNG gear to address known problems is a terrible way to do it. Not only is it a lazy approach, but in the long run it only serves to make the entire class/spec system more complex, more fragile, and consequently more prone to imbalance as a result of even tiny changes that can reverberate through the system in unexpected ways. Blizz should just stick to perfecting their green beans.

With that, I am out for the weekend.

For stat geeks

There is a lot on my plate in the real world today, so this will be an abbreviated post. But I want to give a plug to a hunter who provides an excellent service to the community. Delirium over at Thrill of the Wild does not post often, but when he does it is frequently to do a lot of math heavy lifting for the rest of us. His deep dives on hunter stats over the years have helped me a lot.

If you are a math whiz, you can follow his extensive spreadsheets and testing results, and use them to make calculations for your own hunter. But if you are “math challenged” like I am, you can skip over that part and just read his bottom lines, which are written in normal and useful language.

An ongoing project of his is to break out hunter stat conversions and ability formulas, for all hunter specs as well as for pets. It is updated with each new patch and relevant hotfix. His results are all based on extensive testing, not tooltips, so they may differ from some more popular sites. I encourage you, if you have the time, to check it out. It takes a bit of dedication to get into the charts, but you are well rewarded if you do so. I was especially interested in the ability formula tables, because they tell you which abilities are affected by the spec’s most important secondary stats such as mastery or haste. For example, if you are deciding which stats to enchant or gem for, or which talents will take advantage of your current stat build, these tables can help you.

Wait, what?

On Monday I wrote about Blizz’s surprising announcement of planned baseline improvements to BM hunters. Basically, I was encouraged because the changes addressed two of the most fundamental problems with BM mechanics — problems that had been identified and quantified as early as the alpha testing phase, and problems Blizz had stubbornly ignored for all of Legion. However, I cautioned that the changes were so significant that there would almost certainly be some power nerfs to the spec, and we would have to see what those turned out to be.

Lo and behold, within hours of that post, Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast broke the news detailing the first round of “tuning changes” designed to compensate for the new baseline abilities. You can read Bendak’s post for the details, but they are pretty brutal. As Bendak points out, and I completely agree, it is somewhat early in the process, and this is a first cut at balancing the new BM power structure, so no need to panic just yet.

Nevertheless, what we have seen time and again with Blizz in Legion development is that their final cut is frequently only slightly different than their first cut. They suffer from a strong anchoring bias, rendering them incapable of significant change once embarked on a course of action, even if that course of action is determined early in a testing phase. Too often for Blizz, FD=FD (first draft equals final draft). I do not know if this is due to constraints of resources or of mental agility, but the end result is that terrible ideas — even if beta or PTR testers point them out — often make it into live versions. Thus, while I am not yet in panic mode over the BM tuning adjustments, I am definitely starting to worry.

Two aspects of these changes puzzle me. One is the nerf to tier gear. As it currently stands, Bendak points out that the T20 gear will be worse than the T19 gear, and in fact the best way to incorporate it will be to equip basically 6 pieces of tier gear — some mix of T19 and T20. This is insane, in my opinion.

Such a move is a continuation of Blizz’s abysmal morass of gear in Legion, where it is frequently impossible to know if a piece of higher level gear is an upgrade or not without consulting web sites and running complex simulations. How in the hell did we get into this situation anyway? Remember when Blizz was so solicitous of our tiny brains that they removed reforging because it was too mathy? They didn’t want gear to be “complicated”.

HAHAHAHA! Good one, Blizz, we totally fell for that.

And now we are at the point where an actual piece of legendary gear may or may not be an upgrade, where ilevel is often meaningless, where in some cases secondary stats are more important than primary ones, and apparently soon where new tier gear is actually worse than the older stuff. And the mechanisms for weighing the relative values of gear are so complex that it takes sophisticated computer programs to decide.

Here’s an idea, Blizz: If it’s higher level gear, it should be an upgrade. Period. 

In complex systems, components are intricately interrelated, often beyond what a human brain can comprehend in any detail. WoW is an enormously complex system. The pattern I see in Blizz development is that their systems engineers and coders almost certainly understand this, but their class designers are only dimly aware of it. Thus, they happily redesign class structures nearly every expansion, then seem genuinely puzzled and surprised when it causes huge problems reflected in gear and in overall power balance in game activities ranging from PvP to raids to nearly every other activity. To compensate, they spend most of every expansion tweaking (sometimes mega-tweaking) numbers and adding bandaid gear fixes, until the whole system comes to some state of very delicate balance — usually by the end of the expansion. Sometimes they find they have painted themselves into a corner, and they write big problems off as unfixable, regardless of the effect such action may have on players. (Thinking SV hunters in WoD here.) Then, having learned nothing, they start the entire process again for a new expansion.

I think this partially explains why we are in such a terrible place with gear in Legion. Adding new gear, or tinkering with stats in sought after pieces like legendaries or tier, has to be easier than reworking fundamental class/spec mechanics once an expansion goes live. Certainly for hunters we have seen Blizz use gear to try and fix baseline problems. Remember the 4-piece tier for MM hunters in WoD — it was what made the spec at least playable though still not really enjoyable. Similarly, the legendary shoulders were introduced in Legion to try and fix the clunky unresponsive BM play style. These were problems players identified early on in test phases, but Blizz refused to address them at that point, apparently being too anchored to them to even consider moving away from them. Then, when live versions proved players right, Blizz seemed surprised and tried all sorts of complicated bandaids to fix what could have been more elegantly addressed in test phases.

So here we are yet again — devs deciding that BM hunters were actually right way back in alpha testing, that something like two charges to Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy is absolutely needed to breathe some fun into the spec. They tried to fix it with a piece of gear, but then they made that gear an extremely rare drop, thereby punishing every hunter unlucky enough to not get it. Having decided that all BM hunters should have this ability, they then announced that it would be baseline in 7.2.5. So far, so good.

But I said, there are two puzzling aspects to Blizz’s brutal nerf to BM hunters, and the second is this:

If Blizz was fine with some hunters having the legendary shoulders and therefore getting the perk of 2 charges for DB/DF, why are they now distraught at the prospect of every BM hunter having the perk, so much so that they must apply draconian nerfs to the entire spec? The power increase with two charges is significant, no argument there, but why was it okay for some lucky hunters to have that additional power but it is unacceptable for all to have it?

We all expected Blizz to extract payment from hunters for “giving” us something we should have had all along. It is what they do. (Remember the great flying crisis in WoD.) Still, these particular types of payments make no sense to me whatsoever.

Woohoo and Holy Moly!

There is only one possible topic for today’s post, and I’m certain you all know what it is: The Blue post BM hunters have been waiting for ever since, well, the early days of Legion alpha testing:

Hi Beast Masters. We’ve been reading your feedback and trying different sets of changes for Beast Mastery Hunters internally and on PTR.

To start, we are reverting all 7.2.5 changes we’ve made so far to how Wild Call triggers. Instead, Dire Beast and Dire Frenzy will have 2 charges baseline. The Mantle of Command (legendary shoulders that currently add +1 charge to Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy) will be changed to instead further increase the proc chance of Wild Call.

Overall, this will result in more Focus for all Beast Mastery Hunters, resulting in a more active rotation. Additionally, this gives all Beast Mastery Hunters access to a Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy with 2 charges playstyle that is more engaging and fun, allowing you to make decisions on when to use the buttons, instead of feeling like you should most often simply push them on cooldown.

We’ve been trying other iterations of changes surrounding Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy and Wild Call, including increasing Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy Focus generation or versions that avoided changing the legendary shoulders drastically, but ultimately reached the conclusion that giving 2 charges to the abilities baseline, which many of you have asked for, was the best change for the spec at the current time. We appreciate your patience while we try different iterations on PTR.

We are also making a few other less major changes to the spec in the next PTR patch, including: 

  • Aspect of the Wild will reduce the global cooldowns of your damaging abilities by 0.2 seconds, allowing you to more reliably spend the Focus you’re generating while it’s active, especially with Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy going off.
  • Kill Command and Dire Frenzy will cause your pet/Hati to charge up to 40 yds (up from 25 yds) to the target, matching the max range of your ranged abilities.
  • When your pet casts Dash, Hati will also gain Dash for the same duration.

Halla

Freaking

Looyah

This was the best news Beast Mastery hunters have had in — literally — years. When it was first posted, I actually had to read it several times for it to sink in. The announcement came as a total surprise to me, and I suspect to most hunters, because the few mutterings we had had thus far from Blizz on any hunter changes in 7.2.5 were pretty underwhelming. I am not going to enumerate them, but basically they were depressing because they echoed the same pattern we have seen in BM hunter rotations since the beginning of Legion: next to zero player control, relegating the hunter to the role of dropping all the leashes at the start of a fight and periodically hollering “Sic ’em!” So, after a couple of desultory comments thus far about continuing this trend in 7.2.5, to suddenly get what amounts to the two most major changes we have been pleading for throughout Legion is just jaw-dropping.

For those of you who have not played BM hunters in Legion, it’s hard to convey the enormity of this announced change. It restores some real options and player control to the spec, and I think most of all it restores some excitement and fun to the rotation. The two most major complaints about BM in Legion have been the clunky, mash-the-buttons-on-cooldown nature of the rotation; and the frustration with having what is supposed to be an awesome all-powerful weapon wedded to the spirit beast Hati, only to have him take his own sweet time ambling about in a fight, much like That Guy in LFR. There have been hundreds of pages and thousands of comments on these two shortfalls, and frankly most BM hunters finally just gave up on ever seeing any significant improvement.

It was puzzling to many BM hunters that, when Blizz did finally seem to respond, it was to create the legendary shoulders, a move that only served to further frustrate those who were not lucky enough to have them drop. My feeling before I got them was that Blizz had taken the RNG concept far beyond the pale by making it the deciding factor as to a spec being playable and fun. When I finally did get the shoulders a couple of weeks ago and first tried them, it was a “Holy Moly!” moment. I actually laughed out loud with delight when I was trying them out in front of the target dummies. Two charges for Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy absolutely should be baseline, not dependent on good luck.

The Blue post called the other 7.2.5 changes “less major”, but they are nonetheless huge in my opinion. For one thing, reducing the global cooldowns while Aspect of the Wild is active should lessen the chance of capping on focus, which in turn will increase damage. But of greater impact, I think, are the changes to pet behavior. Making Hati actually dash instead of ambling will certainly cut down on player frustration, but it should also make a noticeable change in damage numbers. And extending the range of pets to match that of other ranged abilities should, among other benefits, eliminate that maddening situation when you think you are starting a fight and both your pet and Hati just stand there looking cute but dumb. (I am intrigued by the possibilities of the range extension if the range is measured not from the hunter’s position but from the pet’s.)

I am sure there will be tweaks and adjustments to the 7.2.5 BM changes, because I think the net result as announced is likely to make the spec much more powerful than Blizz intends or is good for the game’s class structure. So we should all expect some “nerfs”. But to me, the huge significance of the changes lies not so much in the numbers but rather in what looks to be a philosophical change in the basic BM design — away from the idea that hunters are passive onlookers, and towards the idea that we are indeed masters of our beasts, that we actually control their behavior and that our decisions influence outcomes.

It took too long for Blizz to recognize the harm they did to BM hunters in Legion, but I am ecstatic that they did finally come around to understanding and — hopefully — fixing some of the baseline play style problems.

Finally, some good news for hunters.

Message on classes?

 

Yesterday, as I am sure you all know, there was another Blizz Q&A, this time with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas. I watched it live, then parts of it again this morning as I was munching my corn flakes. There were really no great revelations, and of course everyone will have their own take on it. If you want to check it out for yourselves, Wowhead has video of the entire interview and a nice text summary on this page.

In spite of the fact that we were told the Q&A is not the venue for discussing class balance issues, the one thing that struck me was a pretty defined thread of Legion class development weaving through many of the answers given to questions on varied topics. I think we are in the middle of a pretty significant swing on the entire philosophy of classes in WoW. That is not really news, I guess, but I do think we are finally seeing the emergence of a more or less clearly articulated set of class policies, which is something we have not had for some time now in the game.

The way I would express this policy is:

External game mechanisms are more important for determining class strengths than are individual player abilities, and those mechanisms should influence group compositions. 

Yeah, I know, but hear me out.

Gear. Gear level is the default measuring stick for all content in the game. Hazzikostas was pretty blunt about this when asked about the difficulty of the class artifact challenges in 7.2. He went to some pains to point out that the challenges were actually designed to get easier with better gear, and that player abilities could only go so far to beat the challenges absent good gear, and in some cases very specific gear.

However, in an apparent nod to player abilities (along with an obedient bow to the elitist mentality), he did add he is “confident that there will be a large number of people who just aren’t able to do [the artifact challenges]”. Yes, he used the word “confident”, which implies approval of the development. We don’t know whether he has this confidence because he also has confidence in the inept play of many players or because he has confidence in the fact that RNG makes getting decent gear unlikely for many players.

Nevertheless, the message was pretty clear: gear should matter more than almost any other factor.

External buffs discussion. This was eye-opening to me. The question being answered had to do with the wisdom of continuing to have external group buffs — of which there are currently very few. But Hazzikostas’s answer was quite far-reaching, I thought. It went far beyond the actual question, almost as if the question had been chosen to allow a public policy statement.

He first explained he thinks there should be more group-contributing type abilities, “not just numbers-driven ones”. I found this to be pretty amazing, considering Legion had gone to some pains to strip away almost all raid buffs.

He also expressed what I presume is the official Blizz stance on class value — that the game had veered too far in the direction of “bring the player not the class”, and that there is in his opinion significant value in bringing certain classes because of their unique group contributions. In fairness, he did point out that you can go too far in this direction, giving Sunwell Plateau as an example. But the message was clear: class should matter in group selection. He even went so far as to give the example of selecting a less-skilled warlock over, say “a third hunter”.

I admit I was annoyed that the only mention he made of hunters in the entire Q&A was to intimate there are too many of them, and that they are just generic damage dealers, but that is petty of me. And maybe I am reading too much into this, but it seems like he has completely forgotten that hunters used to be the premier utility class until under his watch nearly all utility functions were stripped from them. And now he has the nerve to imply hunters have no special utility and therefore should be replaced by a class that does have some??? OK, mini-rant over.

Anyway, I think this pronouncement is the formalization of the sea change in Blizz’s class development philosophy that we have observed evolving in Legion. I do not think it is overstating it to say that Blizz is moving back towards the idea of optimal class mixes for raids. In fact, he made this plain when he said (direct quote), “A well rounded group should always be the best one”.

Whether this will have any appreciable effect on non-elite raid teams remains to be seen. It seems unlikely, especially for flexible-sized difficulty levels. I suspect most semi-casual raid teams seldom run at the full 30 capacity, so if they have a few extra hunters (big fat raspberry to you, Mr. Ion “I Hate Hunters” Hazzikostas) it does not mean they can’t still add that oh-so-useful Warlock…

It will have an effect, I suppose, on Mythic raid teams, but many of those already configure their rosters based on class/spec contributions for specific fights. It could have an effect also on those non-Mythic teams who occasionally dip a toe into Mythic raids. I am thinking of my own guild, where just because of membership we frequently run with 4 or more hunters — if “proper” class mix becomes a thing, some of those hunters, regardless of their play abilities, could be asked to sit out if they are preventing a “useful” class from coming along. I think guild philosophy would supersede benching a regular raider solely because of their class, but if having a certain class mix is a clearly superior strategy, it could happen.

Another area that might be affected is pugs. Hazzikostas seemed to think increasing class relevance would be beneficial to pugs, because group leaders would not just be looking to grab the player with the highest ilevel. True, but it could also serve to really harm a class perceived to have no “special” contributions. Even if Blizz is forward-thinking enough to give every spec an identifiable beneficial utility, it could still backfire if that spec’s utility was not useful in certain fights — you might be able to get all the first wing Nighthold you could handle, for example, but no group would even think of picking you up for the second wing.

I often criticize Blizz for not communicating policy changes, so it is only fair that I hand them a kudo this time. Though it was subtle, I do think Ion Hazzikostas in the Q&A delivered a policy pronouncement on the role of classes in Legion and going forward: Gear and group utility (as handed out by Blizz in the form of unique class abilities) are significant pieces of class power, slightly outweighing player proficiency except in the most extreme cases, and it is desirable that these class attributes play a role in determining group composition strategies.

I may not agree with it, but I can’t argue that I have not been told about it.

Oh, and Blizz, please for the love of anything you may hold dear —

GIVE HUNTERS BACK THEIR RAID UTILITIES.

And have a good weekend.

 

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.