Hati, we hardly knew ye

If we needed any additional confirmation that Blizz not only does not care about the hunter class, but that they have absolutely zero idea of what it means to be a hunter, it is this: Apparently Hati will just disappear when artifact weapons disappear in Battle for Azeroth.

Now, I admit I have not really been much of a fan of Hati, certainly not in the clumsy way Blizz implemented it. The intro quest to get him was, I thought, very well done, but unfortunately that was pretty much the highlight of the entire mechanic. It ended up promising something that Blizz never delivered on. BM hunters thought they were getting an awesome second pet, but it turned out to be nothing more than an unimaginative DoT visual, with worse pathing and attack speed than our regular pet, and far less control.

Hati could not be renamed, he had absolutely zero player-controlled special abilities, and he had (and still does) an annoying tendency to just disappear after portal events. For a while he could even rather easily die in combat and even after rezzing your regular pet, Hati would not rez for a very long time, leaving the hunter without a weapon. Blizz never really came to terms with the balance between the actual artifact gun damage and the damage done by Hati. BM hunters got the short end of the stick almost every time there was an artifact weapon upgrade, because Blizz for some reason cannot abide the thought of an ever-more powerful hunter pet. (In spite of the fact that they designed Hati to be the most important part of the BM hunter artifact!!)

Even the art model was sloppily (and apparently hastily) rendered, so that Hati looked like an animation from years ago. Only after BM hunters pitched a fit (because that is the only way to get Blizz’s attention — calm and logical comments will not do it) did Blizz give us a way to change his appearance. Even with that, though, Blizz deprived BM hunters of one of the fun aspects of Legion — the cool artifact appearance quests every other class had meant approximately zero to BM hunters, since they did not alter Hati’s color or other appearance in any noticeable way. The only way to really change his appearance was to make him look like a pet you already had in your stable.

So Hati in my opinion was a huge Blizz failure. Worse, it was one they appeared to not give a damn about.

But here’s the thing: as bad as Hati was, I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with him. He is part of my posse. I feel unbalanced without two pets by my side everywhere I go. He has gone through every part of my Legion experience with me, from leveling to dungeons to progressive raids to world and emissary quests. I mean, he even went with me in my space travel to Argus, for crying out loud. For Blizz to now summarily dismiss him like he was vendor trash just seems wrong to me.

And the fact that Blizz does not recognize this goes to the very core of their approach to the hunter class: They simply do not understand the heart and soul of a hunter. A hunter pet is different from a mage’s water elemental or a warlock pet or a DK one, there is a far more personal level of engagement, a far greater degree of anthropomorphism. A BM hunter’s pet in many ways defines the player.

Unfortunately, I see nothing on the horizon that gives me hope Blizz will ever treat hunters better. Last week Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast posted a quick wrap up of some of his Blizzcon impressions and takeaways, including some reports he got about hunters from people playing the BfA demo. The BM hunter changes noted in the demo seem ok, but very minor and without an overall integrated purpose — more like a committee threw in some suggestions and voted on a few tweaks with no overall goal, just a requirement to “make some changes”. (Although Tranq Shot will be back, so that is exciting I suppose.)

MMO-C has been publishing various side interviews from Blizzcon for the last week. The one that got my attention was the one published today. An interviewer named Automatic Jak asked some pretty in depth questions of a class balance developer. Unfortunately AJ is, I guess, a healer, and the questions were therefore very healing-centric. But still there were a few interesting tidbits from the dev that I rather cavalierly interpreted in terms of hunter changes for BfA. It was actually the most informative interview I have seen regarding some of the team’s class balance philosophies.

  • The team went into Legion knowing that they might have to revisit some of the classes that received major changes once player feedback was collected
  • There most likely will not be complete class revamps again any time soon.

Here’s my interpretation of these two bullets from the hunter perspective:

  • The team made a deliberate decision to ignore all the insightful experienced hunter comments during the alpha/beta tests and figured they could wait to respond to the couple of things hunters howled the most about once Legion went live. Even then, they decided they could delay any response for several months. And even then, they decided they would merely respond to a couple of easy fixes, not do the hard work necessary to make the entire hunter experience smooth and fun again.
  • The whole SV hunter destruction was a mistake, and while it was fine to inflict it on the hunter class, no other class deserves such shabby treatment. Oh, and no real changes to the poor SV abomination that Blizz already created.
  • The team likes classes having unique abilities.
  • Going forward a big question is what unique abilities each class should have.
  • The team wants to spread out class strength and weaknesses more.
    Utility will be spread out and balanced more in the future.
  • Everyone should feel like they have some sort of cooldown to help them survive.

Translation: Blizz is proud of the fact that they have destroyed the whole super-utility role of hunters and wants to ensure they play no such special role in the future. Instead, everyone should be special. 🙄

So yeah, it seems Hati will be gone, hunters will get some scattered non-unified set of restored abilities, and “all classes will be above average”…. I am underwhelmed. And I will miss Hati.

Confessions of a mediocre hunter

Let’s get one thing clear up front: I am nowhere close to being a great hunter. At best, I am slightly better than adequate in terms of game play. Oh, sure, I have some moments of greatness now and then — as do we all — but in general the best anyone could say about me is that my game play is “reliable”.

I do not pay much attention to damage numbers during raids, nor do I obsess about rankings. However, we have some people on our raid team who immediately check their boss rating after every single boss kill, who like to equip certain low level pieces of gear so that they will compete for rankings in lower gear categories, who demand certain positions in fights because those positions allow them to just pew-pew and pad their damage numbers, who cannot resist humble-bragging about their DPS or awesome gear, etc. That is not me, and though these are very nice people, frankly I think less of them when they feel compelled to draw everyone’s attention to their game prowess. Where I come from, the truly great are quiet and self-effacing, and the only way you ever know how awesome they are is from others, never ever from them.

But I digress. The fact that I am not a top-notch hunter does not mean I do not constantly try to improve my game play. I spend time every week simming various gear combos, and I conscientiously grind out artifact level increases as much as my available play time permits. After every raid, I go back and analyze my performance in Warcraft Logs or similar log web sites, noting areas where I was deficient and setting a self-training goal for the week based on that analysis. I still spend probably on average 20-30 minutes a week slaving away at the target dummies.

Over the course of Legion, I have definitely improved my hunter timing and cooldown sequencing/coordination, as well as my ability to keep up a rotation even during heavy movement phases.  I still have some problems with focus management — too often am maxed out on focus — but I am working on that. And I have made great strides in my overall raid awareness in the past year — die much less often, need less healing, see more of the raid big picture. As a result of all this, I am performing closer and closer to sim DPS numbers on many fights.

But here’s the thing: whereas I used to frequently be in the top 5 damage dealers in our raid, now I am routinely near the very bottom. The harder I work and the more I improve, the worse my raid performance. I feel like I am running as fast as I can and still losing ground.

It is not a good feeling.

So why is it happening? Well, one reason is that once progression is over and everyone really learns a raid fight, BM hunter mobility stops being much of an advantage. Casters (and I include MM hunters in this) learn where they can stand and for how long, and thus they can take full advantage of their inherently higher damage potential. Melee learn how to maximize their damage even during constant interruptive boss mechanics. In short, BM hunter mobility allows us to start out progression fairly close to the top of our potential, whereas other damage dealers have a more intense learning curve. But once they master it, hunter mobility ceases to be the huge advantage it was at the start.

This is one of the major flaws in Blizz’s BM hunter design. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mobility. But every time hunters complain about puny damage potential, Blizz hollers, “Yeah, but MOBILITY!!” It is true that mobility is a significant factor and should be part of the overall BM damage equation, but it is not nearly as potent as Blizz claims. For one thing, as I described above, its effects are transient — by the middle of a raid tier it counts for very little when compared to other specs’ damage potential. For another thing, most of a BM hunter’s damage is done by pets, which are melee damage dealers, so hunter mobility is kind of a moot point. It doesn’t really make a whole hell of a lot of difference if I can shoot my puny Cobra Shot while moving, since that is not where much damage comes from anyway.

Another reason BM hunters are falling faster in the dps charts is because Blizz has steadfastly refused to treat the BM artifact — which in reality is Hati, not the actual gun — like a real artifact weapon. They have refused to scale Hati with gear level to the same degree as they scale, say, a warrior artifact. To be fair, this is not a unique BM hunter shortfall, there are several specs Blizz designed so poorly that they are unable to scale them with gear level and artifact improvements. More recently, Blizz admitted that the 7.3 Crucible would benefit some classes a lot more than others, and since they had done a shitty job designing some specs’ artifacts, they just threw up their hands in despair and gave these specs a lazy, across-the-board damage increase, hoping that would be sufficient. It is not, mainly because they probably need to do it constantly to keep up with other specs’ increasing power resulting from higher stat levels and artifact upgrades. Thus, we can anticipate these poorly-designed specs to continue their slow relative descent in damage levels.

I would not be overly concerned that much (but certainly not all) of my recent crappy raid performance can be blamed on BM hunter design (or lack thereof), except for one thing — our RL has started negotiations with another guild to see if we can put together a decent combined team for Mythic Tomb, at least to do a few early Mythic bosses, before the next raid tier goes live. I would love to be part of this, but I am afraid my increasingly poor showing will preclude that. If you can pick and choose your 20-man mythic team, you are probably not going to go much below your top 5 damage dealers.

Worse, I feel like there is not much I can do about it. I do not have the time to grind AP — and thus artifact levels — harder than I do now. I cannot do much to change my luck with titan-forged gear, so there is not much I can do to increase my overall gear level, which is stuck around 934-938. And there are limited areas for me to improve my game play — focus management being the one I can work on. It is a frustrating feeling. As I have said before in this blog, I am not part of a mythic raiding guild, but I feel like I should be able to contribute on the few occasions when we dabble our toes in that level towards the end of a raid tier. The fact that I am fighting an upstream battle — working as hard as I can — just to slow my regression does not feel good.

This is the human face of Blizz’s lazy approach to class design and balance.

Trinkets and space

Last night, in what has become my virtual version of buying lottery tickets, I used my accumulated veiled argunite to purchase another trinket from the vendor on the Vindicaar. Trinkets are all I ever buy from him, since there is almost zero chance any of the other gear will turn out to be anything but vendor trash for me. Even my relics — while not the “perfect” trait enhancers sought by BM hunters — are pretty high level and honestly 7.3 has made me hate them for the twisted new level of RNG Blizz added because of addiction to high MAU metrics. I refuse to chase relics.

So I buy trinkets, mainly for the chance to get a level upgrade to one of the “good ones” from earlier in the expansion. Last night I won something like the consolation prize lottery by getting a 915 Unstable Arcanocrystal with a gem slot. I say “consolation” because it was only minimally titanforged (+5) and so is already kind of an ilevel drag on my gear, though not quite so much of a drag as the 860 one I only gave up about a month ago. Still, I was pretty happy to get it.

But even having gotten it, I am not going to stop my gambling habit on trinkets. I would love to get the BM hunter holy grail of trinkets, the Convergence of Fates. This was originally dropped by Elisande in Nighthold, but I have never gotten it, so I am only going on faith that it even exists. I will keep plunking down my currency for a chance on it, though.

I am not sure when it happened, but somewhere during WoD, I think, Blizz began to really explore the idea of special-purpose gear. That is, they thought it would be nifty if the gear for certain slots varied wildly in their effects, even though the items might be the same ilevel. It started with trinkets and has since spread to necks — although necks can be further tailored with enchants. I think the original idea was kind of creative, but of course in typical Blizz fashion, they have gone far past the bounds of good sense with it in Legion, to the point of ridiculousness.

Trinkets have become almost a per-fight specialty, and on top of that the utility of any one trinket depends heavily on one’s talent selections as well as on equipped legendaries and tier sets. What your “best” trinkets are will likely change if you swap out a legendary. In the same vein, getting a “great” trinket may well dictate what talent build and legendaries you need to select.

Trinket selection has become so difficult that even the supercomputer sims disagree on what is best for a given player. Without swapping talents or any other gear, for example, I get 3 completely different trinket combination recommendations from Beotorch, Raidbots, and AskMrRobot sim sites. For the same standard Patchwerk type fight. Blizz has apparently reached new heights of RNG-ness: Not only is it a crap shoot for getting gear and for that gear to have decent stats, but it is now also a crap shoot as to which gear you should equip. The mind boggles.

What this all means for the poor player — especially for the raiding player — is that we have to lug around most of our trinkets in our bags, lest we be caught short in a certain fight knowing we have just the right trinket for it but it is languishing in the bank. Even worse, the same logic pertains to legendaries and to some extent tier gear (several classes/specs still use 890-ish tier 19 gear because Blizz made it so much more powerful than the tier 20 stuff).

I am someone who likes open space, for interior decorating as well as for geography. To me, things look tidy when they are neatly placed with a lot of clear spaces around them. Clutter makes me feel powerless and overwhelmed. In WoW, I like neatly arranged bag space and bank slots. I use the addon ArkInventory because it lets me turn my bag and bank into well-organized closets. But even that does not help my state of mind if my storage space is crammed full. And Blizz has been steadily increasing the number of things we “have to” either carry around with us or keep available in the bank.

I have 136 slots in my bags (4 30-slot bags plus the stupidly archaic original 16-slot bag). Of those, 86 slots are perpetually filled with things I feel compelled to carry around:

  • 11 trinkets and 10 legendaries I might have to swap out in any given instance
  • 15 pieces of unequipped gear that might have to be swapped out to compensate for a different legendary or tier change or talent swap or — heaven forbid — spec swap
  • 4 hearthstone type items (Dal hearth, actual hearth, garrison hearth in case I get stuck, and whistle)
  • Miscellaneous specialized gear such as the Essence Swapper, Grapple Launcher, Skinning Knife, and Mother’s Skinning Knife (since this is actually a toy I might be able to drop it from my bag and just use the toy’s spell but I have not tried).
  • 6 types of food depending on the stat and/or health restoration rate I will need, plus feasts for raids. 21 different potions, flasks, and bandages as well as other enhancers like Stonehide Leather Barding, Leystone Hoofplates, drums, Tomes of the Tranquil Mind, Fel Focuser, and various runes.
  • Miscellaneous gear for champions, since you can only swap champion gear if you actually have it in your bag — if it is in the bank you have to go back and get it, then go back to your class hall and swap it out. And with 7.3, I frequently also have a slot occupied by those new follower types you get from the guy in Krokuun.

In all, of the 136 slots in my bags, only 50 — far fewer than half — are actually available for newly-acquired loot, or inevitable gray items from quests and killing, or gathered items, or maybe an extra gem or enchant. Do I actually need 50 or more slots for that stuff? No — especially since I can vendor it in the field using a mount — but it’s the idea that Blizz is requiring untidy clutter that annoys me, plus the fact that they keep piling it on. I feel like they keep adding “must-carry” items to the game because they know we all have very large storage space now so why not fill it up? (This, btw, is my spousal unit’s approach to things — he would cover every square inch of surface space in our house given a chance. Another example of opposites marrying each other …)

With that, I think I will start relaxing for the weekend by tidying up my sock drawer. Enjoy yours (weekend, not sock drawer).

It’s time

There being very little current to write about in WoW these days, I decided to venture off into wild suggestion land. Today’s wild suggestion: Make every class a hybrid class.

Back when Blizz first introduced hybrid classes, they promoted the idea that these classes would not generally be as strong as the “pure” classes for raid roles, but that their superior adaptability would make them valuable group members. So for example, they were designed — on purpose — to have healing abilities slightly inferior to the then-pure priest healers, or dps abilities slightly below those of pure damage dealers like hunters or warlocks or mages.

But over time this basis for hybrids completely disappeared — along with pure healing classes — and now certain hybrid specs frequently are at the top of the charts for damage, often leaving the “pure” classes far behind. In fact, the term “hybrid” is almost obsolete, and it actually describes the majority of classes — 8 of the 12. Only warlocks, hunters, mages, and rogues are stuck with no option but damage for all specs.

There used to be advantages to being a pure damage class. In addition to the early Blizz commitment that these classes would do more damage than the dps spec of a hybrid, there was the added benefit of gear. A pure class could easily switch specs and keep wearing the same gear — no need to carry around a tank set, a healing set, a dps set, etc. But that advantage, too is gone. Blizz destroyed it when they introduced high-importance secondary stats, artifact weapons, and tailored legendaries for every spec. Now, if you are a hunter who wants to switch between BM and MM, for example, you must carry two sets of gear, one for each spec.

So we are at the point where pure damage classes are not guaranteed to do more damage than hybrids, and where they are required to carry a separate set of gear for every spec they wish to play. Yet they do not have the same implied raid role flexibility that hybrids do. In other words, they have the same disadvantages as hybrids without any of the advantages.

Before I go on, let me hasten to point out that I like hybrid classes. I love my alt druid. I do some guild alt runs of normal ToS on her, and I love that I can easily switch between healing and dps, depending on which role is needed. It’s a fun class to play. Yes, it is a bit complicated to keep different gear sets and to have to keep advancing two different artifacts and chasing the “good” legendaries for both specs, but the point is if I wanted to play two hunter specs I would have to do the same thing and I would not have as much utility to the raid as my druid, at the same level of play.

So I think it is time Blizz made every class a hybrid class. This would of course cause howls of anguish from warlocks and mages and probably rogues, because undoubtedly their favorite spec would be the one Blizz decided to make a healer or tank spec. Well, boo-hoo, I would say, suck it up and join the club — SV hunters lived through having their favorite spec destroyed in Legion so you can, too.

Ideally, I think every class should have a tank, healing, and dps spec, but even my fertile imagination knows Blizz would never do that. They would claim it violates the “class fantasy” (even though that idea has long ago been tossed on the garbage heap in all but empty form). So here is my proposal:

  • Rogues and hunters would get a tank spec.
    • The clear choice for hunters is the currently-stinky SV melee hunter. It would be a tank with a pet, which would offer tons of opportunities for creative tank styles. Maybe the pet helps heal the hunter tank, maybe the pet can off-taunt for the hunter tank, fetch mobs to the tank, etc.
    • I know little about rogues, but the subtlety spec seems under-used at least for PvE, so that might be a good candidate for the new rogue tank. (And while I am at it, maybe it is time for an additional, separate, PvP spec for all classes, but that is a topic for another day.)
  • Mages and warlocks would get a healing spec.
    • I know the history buffs out there will argue for a warlock tank, and while I would not be opposed to that, I think the whole idea of dark magic argues for healing not tanking. Not to mention, warlocks already use mana, so there is that. I don’t have a preference as to which spec to switch to healing. Affliction currently has the single-target and multi-target flexibility plus high movement to make it an effective healer along the lines of a resto druid, but nothing would seem to preclude revamping either of the other two specs.
    • Mages — well pick one. Currently all three specs basically hurl big balls of magic at a target, so change the color of one spec from orange, purple, or blue to some other color and call them magic healing balls. Done.

Anyway, that is my wild idea for the day. Let’s lobby Blizz to make 2018 the Year of the Hybrid — if it’s good enough for 8 classes, it’s good enough for all 12! We pure DPS are as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more!! Give us hybrid specs or give us death! Now is the time for all good DPS to come to the aid of their raid leader! We shall overheal! Tanks for the memories! ‘Tis a far far better thing we (shall) do than we have ever done!

Childhood and journey

I remember when I rolled my very first WoW character and lost myself in the game. It was my night elf hunter, back when hunters didn’t get their first pet until level 10, and by the way level 10 took a lot longer than the twenty minutes it now does. I remember those early quests in Teldrassil, figuring out how to move around, getting the concept of “targeting” something, coordinating that with a standard key bind to “shoot” the mob. I remember the surprise I got when eventually the target mobs actually attacked me if I got too close, rather than stand passively and wait for me to kill them. I remember getting almost hopelessly lost in my first cave quest, and to be honest I have disliked caves ever since.

When I made my way to Darkshore as a level 7, I got in a bit over my head and learned the tried and true technique of dying, getting back to my corpse, resurrecting at the absolute edge of where it was possible, and running like hell for about 5 seconds before dying again, then repeating the process until I made it to a safe area. It was harrowing.

I had been blow away when I discovered Darnassas — surely it was the game’s largest, most beautiful city? (I remember those ?level 60? NPCs majestically patrolling the road to the city on their gorgeous white tiger mounts, and I was in awe of such a high level. I could never aspire to that!) But then I accidentally got on a ship that took me to Stormwind, and an entirely new continent, and that was my first glimmer that the game was vastly larger and more complex than I had ever imagined.

Still, I was not intimidated by it. I loved that it was virtually infinite, that there was always something new to discover, something new to learn about the game, another level you could progress to.

I remember when I learned about groups. There was a Looking-for-Group chat channel, as I recall — some sort of very primitive precursor to the LFG mechanism we have now. I subscribed to it for weeks before I got up enough nerve to actually join a group for an instance. I think I was about level 20, but I am not sure — it was such a horrible experience that I have blotted it from my memory. I had no concept of group roles, so I immediately shot at anything that moved until some kind soul said something in chat like, “Hunter making it tough for the tank,” a hint that I was — thankfully — smart enough to take.

About halfway through (I think the instance was Gnomeregen, but as I said I have tried to block it all out) I ran out of arrows and was reduced to melee weapon and fists. Yeah, that was when hunters had to carry arrows in their bag in order to use their bow. If you ran out, shame on you. That was also when you could actually level your fists as weapons — you did this by unequipping all your weapons (hunters had both ranged and melee back then) and killing mobs until your fist proficiency level matched your character level.

Back to the group, there was some sort of mechanism where we had to jump from a machine to a specific spot, and of course I missed and died. I was told to run back, and I got so lost that I never did find the group again. I just ran around periodically aggroing mobs and dying and running back again. And again. And again. Sometimes it took me forever just to find my corpse. Eventually they kicked me, I guess, because I was no longer part of the group. I am surprised they had such patience, really. Not one of my best moments in the game…

It was even later when I learned about gear. By this time I had joined a guild, and I was invited to quest with some of the guildies. One of them noticed that I was wearing very low level vendor gear and was horrified. He opened trade and gave me a bunch of green gear closer to my character level. I honestly had never even considered that gear made a difference. I was perfectly happy with buying a bow or whatever from a vendor. I had no clue there was a difference between the stuff labeled in gray and the stuff labeled in white or green. (I had never seen anything blue or higher, so that was not even a question for me.) The notion that green gear could help you kill stuff faster was truly a revelation to me.

I won’t even discuss my epiphany when I realized that cloth or leather gear was worse for a hunter than mail. Or that eventually you had to repair gear or you couldn’t use it. Yes, I really was that clueless.

I am not sure I have much of a point here, but it strikes me that that kind of innocent discovery and leisurely exploration are really no longer part of the game. The days of it being all about the journey, not the goal, seem over. As vast and complex as I thought the game was then, it is immeasurably more vast and complex now. It is also more fast paced, players as a group seem to have little tolerance for anyone who exhibits ignorance of the game’s traditions and mechanics, and Blizz seems to design now mainly for the end game, not for the process of discovery.

Think about it, when is the last time you saw a guild advertising itself as a “leveling guild”? For that matter, when is the last time you actually ran across a low level player who was experiencing the game for the first time, without a RL friend to help and guide them?

Like Thomas Wolfe said, you really can’t go home again — the bygone days of youth, whether real or virtual, are — well — gone by. I know I can’t recapture the innocent wonder and joy of my early days in WoW, I know too much about end games and Wowhead and how to develop professions and how to use heirlooms and what to expect at every level of a character. I have chosen to raid on my main, and so I am now completely steeped in the endgame gear chase, in getting to the next gear goal as fast as possible. I no longer take the time to discover, I just look it up on Wowhead or some place and get it done, then move on to the next thing.

So yeah, I have done this to myself, I admit it. But I also think Blizz has encouraged me, along with a lot of other players, in this mindset. They are fixated on the end game, on an endlessly-expanding artifact weapon, on accumulating legendaries and tier gear and battle pets and mounts. They seem to promote a sense that leveling a character is only a means to the end game, and they — and we — have lost the joy of the journey itself. I can’t shake the feeling that WoW, while never a “sandbox” game, was once a game of process and discovery, but that it has morphed into a Type A personality kind of game, where getting to the end is the sole definition of “winning”.

To quote that noted American philosopher, Louis L’Amour, “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.”

And try to remember to stock up on arrows before you go.

Cranky about the crucible

Yesterday we “finished” our grand entry into Argus, with the quest line unlocking the Netherlight Crucible. And while I suppose I am in favor of more power for our gear — in this case weapon — can I just say,

Blizz, have you completely lost your marbles?

This latest “addition” to Legion gear calculations — based on a new relic structure for the already-flawed artifact weapon concept — is almost a bridge too far for me. A few of my objections:

Blizz has spent all of Legion until 7.3 telling us not to worry about AP, that it will accumulate at an adequate pace just by our doing things in the game. They deliberately structured it to give significantly diminishing returns, because, they said, the last thing they would ever want to do is introduce a mandatory grind. So don’t sweat it, they said, don’t go out of your way to chase AP, they said, it’s no big deal, they said.

Then, suddenly, in 7.3, they introduce the Netherlight Crucible and ramp up the rate at which we accumulate AP, and guess what? OMG, YOU GOTTA INCREASE YOUR WEAPON LEVEL SO YOU CAN UNLOCK MORE SHIT ON IT! And all those over achievers that Blizz kept trying to discourage from chasing AP before — well they are now top of the heap by a significant amount, and everyone else who actually believed Blizz and did not chase AP — yup, that’s right, we are all playing catchup.

So problem number one I have with the crucible is — headline news here — Blizz lied to us. Again. They led us down a garden path from the beginning of Legion, and then suddenly pulled the rug out from under us, if I may mix my metaphors.

If this was a design reversal planned all along for Legion, it strikes me as sleazy not to have given us some warning from the start of the expansion. They could certainly have said that AP/weapon level would be slow and minor for the first half of the expansion but would become more important in the second half — that way we could have decided whether or not we wanted to try and max it out even though we would not see the benefits for a while. But at least we would have been able to make an informed choice based on our game goals.

If this was not planned from the beginning, then it seems like a dirty trick to suddenly and capriciously change the weapon structure to reward AP grinding after telling us not to worry about it. It makes me think Blizz is getting desperate, that they way over-promised content and timing for Legion, and now they are scrambling for anything to keep their Monthly Active User numbers high. The fact that it is a reversal of a design approach they lectured us about for a year means nothing to them in comparison to the need to maintain the metrics.

Problem number two I have with the crucible is that it is exceptionally poorly implemented for BM hunters. When Blizz embarked on the whole artifact weapon idea they really never came to grips with how vastly more complicated class balancing would be, and in truth they have still not figured out how to do it. (And while my comments pertain to BM hunters, there are several specs that Blizz arbitrarily buffed because frankly they could not figure out how to make the new relic structure work well with the very artifacts they themselves designed.)

In particular they seem to be totally clueless about how to implement beastmaster hunter artifact power. They created the spec as almost completely dependent on the power of pets versus direct player power, and they compounded this by making the BM artifact (a gun) mostly a fashion accessory while Hati is the true BM artifact. Curiously, though, having created this setup for BM hunters, Blizz is strangely resistant to the idea of giving hunter pets more power. They have no qualms about adding power to almost any other dps weapon, but they only grudgingly add it to hunter pets, and when they finally do, they do so very reluctantly, as if their mom is making them do it but they-don’t-wanna-they-don’t-wanna. Hati still does less damage than the regular hunter pet, is slower to attack a target, and will disappear for 30 seconds if the hunter’s pet dies and is rezzed in combat. No other class loses their artifact weapon in the middle of a fight, much less for 30 seconds.

And this mess is all before the new artifact weapon enhancements we get through the Netherlight Crucible. Blizz’s inability to balance the BM hunter’s weapon system (intertwining of personal weapon, pet, and Hati) has resulted in a situation where standard increases in the calculus of artifact weapons has ever-decreasing effect for the BM hunter, because Blizz simply refuses to give the appropriate power to pets even though they purposely designed the spec to be almost completely reliant on them for damage.

The upshot of all this is that BM hunter relics have always been far more dependent on specific traits being enhanced than on relic level, and this factor has even greater effect on BM hunters with the introduction of the Netherlight Crucible. It is so complex that Blizz has apparently thrown up their hands in surrender and out of desperation are giving BM hunters an across-the board buff to keep us from sinking even lower in the charts than we are now. If you want specifics about the Netherlight Crucible for BM hunters, check out Bendak’s piece on it.

Let me reiterate: the BM buff is being done as a desperate move to let us keep our heads above water. Blizz created the spec as it is in Legion, they created the complicated interaction of pets and Hati and Dire Beast and a gun and tier bonuses and legendaries, yet they are too damn lazy to deal with their mess in a “class fantasy” way. It is too hard, so they are giving the spec a generic buff because hell who cares about hunters anyway? Once again they are demonstrating we are the throwaway class, not worthy of spending any significant dev resources on.

Problem number three I have with the crucible is that it adds an entire new layer of complexity to what is already a vastly over-complicated gear system. Without the crucible we were already dealing with gear factors that include:

  • primary stats
  • secondary stats
  • gear ilevel
  • tier bonuses (from several tiers)
  • legendary special effects
  • specialized effects of trinkets and necks
  • artifact power level
  • artifact traits
  • relics

And now we have added three levels of additional bonuses and enhancements with the crucible. (Think it’s not complicated? Just try reading about the crucible and the new relic structure on Wowhead or someplace and tell me if you understand it. Even if you understand the basic premise, tell me you are confident that you will be able to select the best relic setup for your spec.)

Change any one of these factors, and it has a significant ripple effect on nearly every other factor. For example, changing either a talent or a legendary can change the order of importance of secondary stats. All that mastery, say, you have been stacking on your gear has become pretty mediocre because crit is now the top stat. In turn, that same ilevel 920 neck with all the mastery now becomes worse for you than the crit-heavy one you have in your bank. Your gems and enchants pegged to mastery become mediocre compared to crit. And so forth.

We are already at the point where it takes a bank of high-powered computers to determine which gear is best for us to equip, and I submit that we have actually gone past the point where even such computers are useful. For example, I love and use the Raidbots site. But the number of permutations I have to run just to select my best gearing strategy strains even that site. Running permutations in manageable chunks — say just trying to find the optimal trinkets for a certain Tomb fight — risks not taking into effect the cascading gear selection effect I described above. I might end up with a good recommendation for the best trinkets to go with the rest of my gear setup, but it’s very possible that the rest of the gear setup actually stinks for that fight and would need a different legendary, say, or a talent tweak. Which in turn would require a different set of coordinating gear. And as of yesterday, we get to add a complex set of new relic traits to this mix! My head hurts.

Now, to be fair, the damage differences we are talking about are frequently (but not always) fairly minor — a few thousand dps and that’s IF you can actually perform as perfectly as a sim bot. (Spoiler: almost no one can.) If you don’t need to eke out every possible damage point, and if you are willing to crank out 900k dps instead of a potential 1.1 million, for example, then it is far easier just to go with your gut, using a couple of generic rules like stack mastery or whatever. And the new relic system? Meh, just select a couple of traits at random and go with what feels right. There are a lot of circumstances where this strategy works just fine.

But you don’t have to be a hardcore Mythic raider to be in situations where a few thousand dps actually does make a difference (say, heroic Kil’jaeden or even just a personal desire to optimize your play potential), but Blizz has made the calculations for achieving these extra points complex beyond the ability of most humans to deal with. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me why, given the already borderline chaos-theory gear and talent structure, Blizz decided to add the additional complicating factor of a new relic structure.

Yeah, this is why I am cranky about the Netherlight Crucible.

Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.