Piecework game development

As we found out a few hours ago in a blue post cited by MMO-C, Russell Brower is leaving Blizzard. RB has given us some of the most compelling, iconic music in the game, and I think WoW will be worse for his departure. In fact, the haunting, beautiful strains of zone music were one of the main reasons I was so drawn to this game in the beginning. It was a dark time in my life when I first began to play, and I can’t begin to count the number of evenings I would log on and just let myself be carried away by the music experience that seemed to enhance the entire fantasy world I was entering. It was one of the things that helped me through, and I hope RB understands the impact his work has had on many people.

I do not know why he is leaving, although it seems it was not his choice to do so. It may have ultimately come down to money, or artistic differences, or most likely some combination of factors. The one thing he said in his post that caught my attention was this:

With the success of a “sound de-centralization” initiative, my current position of overall Sr. Audio Director/Composer is no longer relevant and is being eliminated.

I honestly do not know what “a ‘sound de-centralization’ initiative”  is, but it sure smacks of “music by committee”. It seems to indicate Blizz is going the route of contracting out piecework for this aspect of the game, an approach that is undoubtedly cheaper in the long run than keeping musicians and composers on staff. If true — and I am just speculating — I think it has more downsides than upsides for the quality of the game going forward.

The main upside, of course, is cost saving. If you contract out piecework, corporate does not have to shell out all the administrative costs incurred by employing someone — from taxes to health care to 401K to office space to lost time because of office parties to employee-of-the-month overhead. It’s simpler, neater, and — as the Federal Government has long ago discovered — cheaper in the long run no matter how high the piecework costs may seem in the short term. There are other upsides, of course — for example there is no need to lay off people or do a hiring blitz when the workload contracts or expands — but it all comes down to cost savings in the end.

But the big downside I see is that WoW loses a sense of theme or identity. Piecework is just that — discrete work products bought and paid for. Need three widgets, go buy three widgets, plug them in and move on. Absent a strong theme manager — someone to enforce a whole-project vision — you end up with just a jumble of individual items. Each one may be high quality, but they are standalones, not part of a cohesive whole.

I see this as a thread in WoW development trends. I think about the wholesale changes to the hunter class since WoD, and what I see is class development by piecework. Need a weapon for BM hunters? Farm it out to the weapon development department. Need a class hall for them? Give it to the art department. Talents and abilities — give it to the sub-department that handles these things for all classes and specs. And what you end up with is exactly what we got at the start of Legion — a hunter class that had lost its soul, that was merely a collection of items that filled in boxes in some departmental matrix. No one was providing a central hunter vision, a picture of what “hunterness” should be.

In similar vein, I am seeing a trend towards piecemealing the next major Legion patch. No real sense of geographical continuity, just a bunch of disconnected scenario-like areas reached by magical portal, not by exploring and traveling there.

There may be other examples, but here’s my point: I see WoW moving to an assembly line type of production from a total craftsman one. It’s the difference between a Ford and a Duesenberg. Fords seem to be practical, serviceable vehicles, (when they are not being recalled), but somehow I feel like the world is diminished when theirs is the production model that emerged victorious. It was inevitable, it makes business sense, but still…

WoW, I feel, has become practical and serviceable. It’s not awful, and once in a while there are flashes of great quality. I don’t blame Blizz for moving in this direction, it makes perfect sense in terms of efficiency and flexibility, and in truth it may be the only viable way to maintain the WoW franchise. But I miss the Duesenberg it used to be.

Master craftsmen like Russell Brower become collateral damage.

With that, it is time for a weekend. I think I may go listen to some music.

A plea to Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas

WARNING: Entering rant zone. Please drive carefully.

Okay. Today’s rant topic is one I have covered before, but last night it just hit a tipping point for me. To put it as delicately and politely as I can:

BLIZZ, YOU HAVE ROYALLY FUCKED UP GEAR IN LEGION!

What pushed me over the edge last night was getting two pieces of nice 930 level gear that in one case was a 20-level upgrade and in the other was a 35-level upgrade to what I had equipped. Except they were not, in fact “upgrades”, since I am unable to equip them. Doing so would require me to break up my delicately-balanced tier19/tier20 combo, the result of which — according to the supercomputers we now have to use to evaluate gear values — would be a net decrease of approximately 40k dps.

It gets worse. I actually have a beautiful 6-piece set of tier20 gear, which in theory would allow me to run a sought-after 2pc/4pc combo. Nope, can’t do it, since once again that would result in a significant damage loss over keeping my 895-level 2 pieces of tier19.

It gets even worse. I have some very nice, highly-valued BM legendaries all of which I have upgraded to 970. But for the most part I cannot use them because doing so would mean insufficient slots for my required 6 pieces of tier19/tier20 gear. The only one of value that I can use is the BM belt, only because — thank the Old Gods — there are no tier pieces for that slot. This means I am pretty much stuck with using legendary wrists, Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish, or Sephuz as my second piece. It turns out that Sephuz is the hands-down winner in terms of theoretical damage levels, KBW is a close second, and the wrists are quite a bit lower (plus I have never been lucky enough to snag the trinket that makes them really work, thus they are kind of “meh” for me). I tried Sephuz last night but found that the practical disruption to rotation necessary in order to maximize its procs was causing me to lose more dps than I could theoretically gain, so I switched to KBW and my damage immediately went up noticeably.

It gets still worse. Because of the huge role secondary stats play especially when they are intertwined with various talent builds and artifact relics, any new piece of gear must be evaluated not only for itself but for the pluses or minuses it brings to your current talent/relic setup. This means that you must consider changing your talents and relics in order to take advantage of a potential upgrade in gear.

For example, I run what Bendak calls a “Stomp” build for my BM hunter. This is a build that takes advantage of relatively high levels of crit — not normally a top stat for BM hunters, but it becomes significant if you are running the Stomp build. (I only happened to get a lot of crit because of the random nature of secondary stats, I did not set out to stack it on purpose.) But it is likely this build will be less powerful if I get a couple of pieces of gear with less crit, thus I need to evaluate them not only for the talents I am running, but for a possibly completely different talent build. In which case, other legendaries and/or tier combos might be significantly better.

It has gotten to the point where even the sophisticated simulations are of marginal value. I used to use a simple gear-evaluator (Pawn) addon based on optimal stat weights for your character. That is now useless, since it (by design) only compares gear for a single slot, not in combination with for example tier that gives bonuses. Thus, nearly every piece of gear in my bag is considered an upgrade, because of course a 930 cape is better by far than a 900 one. Except it is not, because the 900 one is part of a tier set.

Not only sim-based addons, but the simulation software itself is insufficient for most people in evaluating gear. This is because most people — even if they understand how to set up SimulationCraft on their own computers or plug in a set of gear and talents to one of the web sites — simply do not have enough time or expertise to methodically compare all the complex factors. Thus, the newest simulation helper is something called SimPermut, an addon that allows you to generate multiple combos of your gear and compare them. It also allows you to run talent and relic comparisons. What it does is generate a script that you can then use to run in Advanced mode on the website Raidbots.com. (If you want to get started, check out this IcyVeins tutorial — it is aimed at hunters but the technique can be used for any class.)

(Remember the days when you could just plant yourself in front of a target dummy and test out a couple variations of talents or gear? HAHAHAHA! We were so innocent then!)

See, here’s the thing:

WHY DO WE NEED A BANK OF HIGH POWERED COMPUTERS AND SOPHISTICATED VARIABLE SCRIPTS TO DECIDE IF A PIECE OF GEAR IS AN UPGRADE FOR US?

Come on, Blizz, pull your collective head out of your collective ass and look around! Really look at what you have done with gear in Legion and admit that this Rube Goldberg setup is just not sustainable. Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas is fond of lecturing us about what is and is not fun™ when it comes to gear, and one of his themes has been that when you get a new piece of gear you should be able to equip it immediately, not have to do that nasty reforging “math” or always have to have a gem or enchant for it. Well, guess what?

Getting a 30-level upgrade that makes your dps lower if you equip it is not fun™. Having to rearrange every piece of gear you are wearing just to accommodate a new piece is not fun™. Having to hang on to last-tier gear because Blizz fucked up the tier bonuses is not fun™. Having to run supercomputer simulations for every conceivable combination of gear/talents/relics is not fun™. 

Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, I implore you, fix this gear mess!

Gear. Again. Still.

After a decent clear of Tomb of Sargeras (N) last night, I ended up with a new 910 ring and was able to complete my T20 4-piece. We had a lot of fun, and while we did not one-shot every boss, we did not have any real trouble with them either. Everyone is looking forward to Thursday night heroic progression. By all measures, it was a great raid night.

So why do I feel so incredibly frustrated? One word: Gear.

I know I have written about this before, so feel free to skip this post if you do not want to hear it again, but I have a sincere, heartfelt message for Blizz:

GEAR IS TOO FUCKING COMPLICATED!

For example, the 910 ring I got was by rolling on it when the player it dropped for did not need it. I rolled on it only because it was 10 ilevels higher than one of my equipped rings. When I won the roll, I suddenly realized I had no idea if it really was an upgrade for me or not. It had the right stats, but my equipped 900 level had a gem slot. My Pawn addon indicated the new one was an 8% upgrade, but a) I had not run a new sim in a couple of weeks, and b) Pawn indicates that about 80% of the gear I have in my bags would be upgrades, too, then when I change it out, the changed out gear somehow turns out to be upgrades, too. I ended up taking the ring and equipping it, but does it make much difference in my damage ability? I don’t have a clue.

However, rolling on the ring — angst-laden as it was — was the easy part. Once raid was over, I began the process of deciding which mix of legendaries, T19, T20, and other gear would be optimal. The factors to consider:

  • Several respected theory crafters out there advise that, for BM hunters, a mix of T19 2-piece and T20 4-piece should be the goal.
  • Certain BM legendaries still are preferred over others, but only under certain circumstances, such as what trinket do you have equipped, what talent build do you have, how many adds are expected in a given fight, and of course would equipping a legendary destroy the recommended tier set combo.
  • I had three 970 legendaries and enough Withered Essence to upgrade one more. Two of my 970 legendaries were for what are now designated tier slots.
  • No matter what, I was going to have to run multiple new sims with varying equipment mixes and talent builds.

Remember when Blizz said the reason they removed so many gear gem slots was because they wanted you to be able to equip new gear in a raid as soon as you got it?

HAHAHAHAHA! Good times…….

(If you have a few minutes, take a look at this Ten Ton Hammer recap of dev gear comments from Blizzcon 2014 — almost the complete opposite of where we are now.)

I ended up running something like 8 sims before I verified for myself that the main difference was in the gear-talent relationships. For BM hunters, and I suspect for nearly every other class/spec out there, certain legendaries play better than others with your tier set bonuses and with your talent build. Or to put it another way, a legendary that looks like it gives you a cool bonus may not in fact do so if you do not have complementary talents and other gear.

After over an hour of weighing, simming, switching talents, studying options, etc., I came to the sad conclusion that — despite my having the four top rated (whatever the heck that means) BM legendaries, only one was viable and the other equipped one would have to be the generic (and in most lists bottom of the heap for BM hunters) Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish. Any other legendary combos I could configure would destroy one or both of my tier sets. So I reluctantly equipped it along with my legendary belt, and in fact used my upgrade on it. But it did not make me happy.

The other thing that really hit home for me while I was going through this process is that even all the gear helpers out there — addons and web sites — seem to consider only ilevel and to a limited extent generic secondary stats when recommending gear for you. Gem slots seem not to come into play, nor do tier set bonuses in most cases, much less the whole package of talent build and gear interactions. It’s too complicated for computers to evaluate in any kind of timely fashion. But apparently Blizz expects players to be able to do this on their own.

Realistically, most of the gear combos you try will make only maybe a less than 5% difference in your damage/healing/tanking. But they can make a huge difference in play styles (remember the pre-7.2.5 BM hunter shoulders?) and in a few instances they can make a significant numbers difference. The thing is, you usually won’t know unless you go through the complicated evaluation drill I went through last night — simming various combos of talents and gear.

This ratcheting up of complexity is in fact one of the things I was afraid would happen when Blizz fist announced the idea of artifact weapons and their interconnection with spec talents and abilities. The mathematical permutations rapidly spin out of control. Add in the exponential factors of tier sets and legendary bonuses, along with the normal complications of secondary stats and enhancements like gem slots, and you end up where we are today — it is virtually impossible for the ordinary player to know with any degree of certainty whether a piece of gear is an upgrade for them or not.

Blizz, if anyone out there is reading this, for the love of all you hold holy, I implore you, in the next expansion:

GO BACK TO A SIMPLE GEAR MODEL, ONE WHERE YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE A Ph.D. IN MATH AND A BANK OF SUPERCOMPUTERS TO FIGURE OUT IF IT WILL BENEFIT YOU. 

Scattered thoughts on Friday’s dev AMA

After a very decent weekend, my head is not yet back into work mode, so all I can offer today is a bunch of scattered and unconnected thoughts. (Apologize in advance that these are not very coherent.) Friday there was a class design AMA on the WoW subreddit. If, like me, you did not follow it in real time, you can read it here. (Be warned that it goes on. And on. And on. And on. Possibly a tad bit more brevity enforcement by the moderators would have been beneficial. You can check out a Cliff’s Notes version at MMO-C here.) A few interesting tidbits:

There remains a lot of dissatisfaction with the MM hunter spec as it is currently set up.

Much of the expressed frustration dealt with the issue of pet vs petless, and the decision — at the 11th hour before Legion went live — to make Lone Wolf a talent (again). I do not play MM in Legion, but from what I could glean, a sizable number of MM hunters would like that entire talent row to be viable, rather than have LW be so vastly overpowered that there is really no choice. There is also a group that would like LW to be baseline, with the option to select a pet in a talent.

The other main track on MM hunters was on the Vulnerable mechanic.

There was also at least one plaintive cry for a perceived Blizz promise (I don’t ever recall one) to reinstate a ranged Survival play style within the MM spec. Nice to contemplate, but I do not see it happening.

Pets. Several people mentioned dissatisfaction with the “one size fits all” pet nerfing that occurred in 7.0. Gotta agree there — it just seems wrong to have all hunter pets be basically the same, the only real decision for pet selection coming down to a cosmetic/skin difference. The only exceptions are the battle rez/battle lust special pets, but those easy decisions really are a huge simplification of the kinds of pet abilities we used to be able to weigh. Later in the session, though, there was a hint that at least the devs understand hunter pets have been made a bit too bland:

We don’t have any solid plans currently [to adjust hunter pet utility], but I fully agree that we’re not in a great place right now. I would love to improve the situation. With the power of Battle Rez (Quilen) and Bloodlust (Core Hound), I don’t think I’ve used a different pet on my BM Hunter alt in PvE in a long time.

Many very good questions were simply ignored by the devs. Some I would have liked to have had answered (but weren’t) are:

  • Instead of a new class in the next expansion, is it possible we could see a lot of fourth specs, for example, a healing warlock, etc?
  • With the designs we are seeing Legion instances and raids, is multi-dotting obsolete?
  • Are there any plans to reinstate filler-type insta-casts for most ranged dps? Might such a move actually encourage more players to play ranged dps?
  • Why are warlocks limited to a pet-specific interrupt?
  • Will reforging ever make a comeback?
  • Any plans to fix the many remaining pet pathing issues for BM hunters?
  • Any plans to fix the really stinko Legion version of Stampede?
  • Any plans to give hunters more stable slots?

Some ominous dev comments:

We’d like to move into a direction where utility is more meaningful in all types of content, not even necessarily at the loss of performance. Players should be rewarded for making smart decisions that affect the success of their group as a whole, and we’d like to broaden that space.” To me, this is the current Blizz party line to return to a “Bring the class, not the player” approach.

I think BM Hunters aren’t far from being in a good place.” I think this means it is time for all BM hunters to press the panic button. Remember when the devs told us, before Legion, that “BM hunters are in a pretty good place now,” and then proceeded to completely rebuild the spec? Yeah, be afraid, BM hunters, be very afraid…

Anyway, I did think the AMA was interesting, though certainly devoid of any bombshell announcements. I was impressed with the detailed dev comments, when they chose to answer, and with the amount of time they took out of their day to participate. A little heavier hand on moderating might have resulted in more questions being answered.

Do yourselves a favor, though, read the MMO-C summary, don’t waste your time scrolling through the hundreds of pages of live comments.

Gear and math

It’s been a nice relaxing couple of weeks in my WoW world. In my guild, we all took a break from what was becoming a very dull Nighthold raid circuit, and I seized the opportunity to work on a couple of alts — my balance druid and my destruction warlock. I find I enjoy playing them both, but the lock possibly a tad bit more than the druid. I still find the boomkin tedious for its long casts, but it gets better with better gear stacked for haste.

Both alts are hovering very close to ilvl 900 or a bit under, and the one thing that amazes me is how much better they are simply by virtue of having better gear. Trust me, in the last two weeks I have not suddenly become vastly more proficient on either one, but the difference in damage for both is pretty astounding. The only change has been upgraded gear. In some ways this is fun, because gear is relatively easy to get, even without subjecting yourself to LFR or mythic dungeons. But in other ways is seems kind of cheesy and not quite right. I guess it is an inevitable result of Blizz stepping away from the “bring the player not the class” philosophy — class/spec mechanics and gear seem to count for more and more these days. Nobody likes to blame gear for poor performance (well, okay, maybe some people like to), but that excuse is actually becoming more and more reasonable as Legion goes on.

I was thinking about this as I started last night to prepare my main hunter for resumption of raiding Tuesday when Tomb of Sargeras opens. Patch 7.2.5 brought some changes to BM hunters, and in spite of giving us a baseline 2-charge Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, it is looking like overall we are in a worse place damage-wise than we were for Nighthold. Seems like Blizz just could not stand to have BM hunters close to the top, had to take away more than they gave. There will still be some class tweaks coming along in hotfixes, but honestly I am not holding my breath that any of them will include buffs for BM hunters.

At least two sites I read regularly have openly stated that MM is clearly — and by quite a ways — top of the hunter heap. From the IcyVeins BM hunter guide:

Now that 7.2.5 has released, we can say with reasonable confidence and assuming no major changes, that Marksmanship will be the optimal raiding spec going into Tomb of Sargeras, mostly due to the potency of its new set bonuses.

Beast Mastery remains a solid choice, though rather than being very competitive and sometimes even better at single-target than Marksmanship in ideal situations, it is now fair to say that its potential output is less than Marksmanship in nearly all situations.

And even the redoubtable Bendak, in his most recent BM post about Patch 7.2.5, is brutally realistic about BM, stating it will likely fall out not only in the middle of the damage pack, but likely in the lower middle at that.

Whatever. I am a hunter in WoW, that is who I am. And since Blizz has seen fit to destroy the essence of my vision of “hunterness” in MM and SV specs, I really have no choice but to continue playing BM. Numbers have never meant that much to me anyway, so what seems to be a sudden plunge from lower-top to lower-middle position is not a calamity. Some class/spec has to be in that position, it is the nature of rankings. Still, I will be interested to see what the actual numbers spread is when the ToS results start to become available. If the spread between top and bottom is large, then Blizz will have once again failed in its never-ending attempt to “balance” the class/spec mess they themselves caused.

My alt gear-centric push over the last couple of weeks also served to reinforce to me the utter insanity of Legion’s gear complexity. On my alts the calculus was relatively easy, since I never intend to actually raid with them: higher ilevel = good, secondary stats pretty much be damned. But when I started to weigh gear and talent combos on my main in preparation for ToS, I found myself once again despairing over the sheer mathematical enormity of the task.

It has gotten so bad that AskMrRobot is now implementing a SETI-like mass computer sharing approach to solving the gear problem for players. Mind you, modern computers already have pretty massive computing power. Certainly enough that even a middle-level server could perform general arithmetical comparisons, even for thousands of users at a time. But Blizz’s insane interdependencies of gear stats, talents, different types of raid bosses, RNG-dependent proc rates, and specialized legendary and set bonuses have gone exponentially past arithmetic calculations. To properly assess the relative value of gear, only massive computer simulations approach accuracy. One or two simulations at a time are handled (though slowly) on a home desktop computer, but if you are trying to do it for large numbers of players, you need vast computational resources, and the cheapest way to get them is to set up a distributed grid of community computers. (I applaud AMR’s ingenuity here, but honestly I would like to see a bit more detail on their app’s security setup before I open my computer to it.)

The point is, you need the power of modern computers to decide if a piece of WoW gear is actually an upgrade for you, or to decide which legendary works best with which set of talents. 

But Reforging was “too much math” for us.

🙄🙄🙄

See you after the release of ToS.

Of mounts and imagination

Well, I got my hunter class mount last night. It is definitely cool, and I say this as someone who normally does not give a hoot about mounts — mostly I just think of them as transportation. Until last night, my main mount has been the Headless Horseman mount, which I got years ago the first time I ran the world event instance and have used ever since. I have always liked the HH mount because the movement mechanics flow gracefully whether it is in the air or on the ground — unlike most of the other flying mounts that may look impressive in the air but ridiculous waddling along on the ground.

I usually keep 3-4 mounts hot-keyed. HH is the main one, but at the start of an expansion (when we are ground bound), I switch it out for the Mekgineer Chopper, which I like mostly because I am amused at how certain alts look on it, especially my worgen, my panda, and my gnome. I also keep the Azure water strider from Mists on my action bar, because it is just so handy to have quickly available.

The third action bar mount is my Grand Expedition Yak. I actually just bought this about a month ago, because I am a real miser with my gold and it seemed like an unnecessary luxury. Prior to the yak, I had the much cheaper Traveler’s Tundra Mammoth, which does pretty much the same thing except transmogging. I found this mount to be invaluable while solo questing or leveling, because of the repair and vendoring functions. And its utility has only gotten more important with our dwindling bag space. I must admit, though, the upgrade to the GEY is very nice, because, well, it means I can always be well dressed in the field, no need to run around looking like a rummage sale until I can make it back to a city with transmog NPCs. 😉 (The one improvement I would most like to see on the GEY would be a mailbox.)

I usually reserve a fourth action bar space for a “mount du jour” — something just for variety. Maybe it is a new mount I have gotten, or an old one I haven’t used in a long time. Most often it is some kind of fiery mount, because even though I am not a big collector, I do like the ones with fire themes. If I know I will be doing a lot of underwater work, I will put my sea turtle in this fourth slot.

All this is by way of saying I usually do not go out of my way to collect mounts. But I liked the hunter class mount from the moment I saw the first pictures and videos of it. It combines the two animals I like most in the game — wolves and birds of prey. And the movement mechanics are nice. On the ground it moves like a wolf, but in the air it soars with the grace and ease of a hawk on a high thermal. Actually, in that aspect it is even better than my trusty HH steed, which rather awkwardly continues to move its legs and feet in the air. The wolfhawk looks at home in either medium.

The main thing I dislike about my new hunter mount is, once again, Blizz has felt the need to give a terrible sound to the summoning action. Instead of a whistle or even just silence, they have reused the same obnoxious sound they use for Bestial Wrath —  something that sounds to me like you are having a very hard poop.

This is a constant annoying thing Blizz does: they come up with some of the most creative, elegant designs, then it’s like they lose interest or get tired of the idea and finish up the details in an amazingly slipshod manner, anything to get it done and move on. It drives me crazy.

I was thinking about this a couple of days ago while flying to Broken Shore. The flying mechanism has some terrific details. For example, if the zone you are in is sunny, you can see a very realistic-looking shadow of yourself and mount far down on the ground keeping perfect pace with your progress. It is a small artistic detail that most of us would not miss if it were not there, but which raises the level of the whole experience when you notice it. But on the other end of the spectrum, if you look closely at many of the riding postures in the game, frequently there are no reins — the rider has their hands in a rein-holding position, but in fact there is nothing there. Why go to such incredible detail to put in a tiny ground shadow, then neglect something as basic as rendering the artwork for reins?

Which in a roundabout way brings me to the hunter quest line for the class mount. It, too, was an example of incredible creativity combined with incredible laziness and lack of imagination.

Let’s start with the latter. The first thing I was confronted with when I got to Broken Shore to finish the Breaching the Tomb achievement and unlock the class mount quest line was — wait for it — “Kill 100 demons on Broken Shore”. No, I am not making that up. My first thought was, this must be a glitch because we just had a kill-100-demons quest a couple of weeks ago. Nope. No glitch, just a breathtaking lack of originality or indeed of any thought process whatsoever. The previous demon-killing quest got a lot of well deserved ridicule at the time, so I really don’t know what more can be said of the most recent one. It did not take long to do if you found a group doing Sentinax portals — less than 5 minutes in my case. Which begs the question, why even have it?

Blizz, in response to a lot of criticism of the whole BS weekly quest line, actually admitted that yes the quests were “fillers”, but hey they needed a breather so they could work on the next patch and stuff. Okay, I get it, they have somewhat overextended themselves with their commitment to “content” in Legion, and they needed to throw in some time wasting stuff so they could catch up. But sheesh, two “Kill 100 demons” quests almost back to back in the same quest line? That is either a staggering lack of imagination or a staggering refusal to give a shit. And it is yet another example of Blizz’s recent too-frequent tendency to abandon its commitment to excellence in favor of a commitment to good enough.

But once the hunter class mount quest line was unlocked, I had great fun. I will not spoil it for those of you who have not yet done it, but suffice it to say I found the final scenario to be imaginative, perfectly in line with the hunter class, and a whole lot of fun to do. It was neither too long nor too short, and the artwork and animation were just stupendous. The story line hung together, and it made perfect sense to get the mount at the end. I was almost sad when I realized that I would not get to do it again on my alt hunter — it turns out that the class mounts are account bound, assuming you have two of the same class and spec. (I do not know how it works out if you have two of the same class but different specs, but I assume your second character only has to advance their spec artifact to Concordance to be able to buy that spec’s class mount.)

I have not done any of the other class mount scenarios, so I don’t know if they are as engaging as the hunter one. I have heard some grumbling from some of my guildies — mainly priests and druids — that the class mounts are barely worth the effort, but beyond that I cannot say. I do know that the hunter wolfhawk was totally worth it for me.

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!