Alt raiding

Last night our guild did an alt run of Heroic Antorus the Burning Throne. We have been running normal for alt runs, but several people have got their “main alts” to a level where that is not really challenging any more. We set an ilevel requirement of 920 and ended up with something like 15 people. We made it as far as Kin’garoth fairly easily, but wiped repeatedly on him and called it for the night. That boss is really a DPS check (how fast you can down the adds) for the remainder of the raid, a sort of gateway to the hardest final bosses. But all in all it was a fun night, and we got further than I expected.

From a personal standpoint, I did get two tier upgrades on my druid — yay! But my healing was not much more than adequate, and it was only afterwards that I discovered a huge mistake in my keybind setup. Not necessary to go into details, but the result was that what I thought was my keybind for Nature’s Cure was in fact a dupe of my keybind for combat rez. Oops. No wonder I ended up with no debuff dispels on Imonar…. And that pretty much explains why the other two healers were hollering theirs were on cooldown, and for me to cast mine. I kept saying mine was also on cool down, because when I hit the key nothing happened (of course), so I just assumed that was the case. Not one of my finer moments. 🤭 Still, I am learning better techniques for conserving mana and for anticipating damage cycles, so I suppose it was a net learning experience. (Just don’t tell my GM about my faux pas!)

We will still do our Friday night normal alt raids, and at this point I am considering signing my void elf mage up for those, as there really is not anything loot-wise I need from normal for my druid. And heaven knows, I can use the practice on my mage. I expect the first couple of times I will embarrass myself with disgustingly low damage numbers, but hopefully I will improve in fairly short order. I know the DPS fights, it’s just a matter of figuring out how best to do my mage-y stuff for each one.

In truth, I am a tad conflicted about these alt raids. On the one hand, I almost invariably have fun doing them, and I enjoy figuring out how different classes need to interact in the fights. In the long run, I think it makes me a better raider because it gives me a broader perspective and ultimately better raid sense. On the other hand, I am kind of burned out on raiding, and going back to a 2-night per week “schedule” is a bit daunting, especially the heroic runs because I am still really stressed when I heal. But on the third (?) hand, we have four months left yet until BfA, so it is good to have a fun guild-sponsored way to really explore the advantages and disadvantages of my various alt classes and specs.

Plus, there is always alcohol to lessen the healing stress or to add to the Friday night party atmosphere. (🤫) And there is no “requirement” to participate in alt runs, like there is during the regular progression season. Sign up or don’t, whatever you want.

Okay, I talked myself into it.

Now maybe I should figure out which other alts I would like to run through the normal raids. It might be a good way to get an idea of another spec I might want to main in BfA since BM hunters continue to look like a lousy bet.

Yes, I know, I am probably deluding myself with talk of maining another spec in BfA, but I am trying to humor myself. Even given the terrible state of BM hunters now and likely for the entire new expansion, truth be told I am not sure I would ever be able to give up a hunter main. What is more likely is that I will kick dirt and grumble to myself and end up selecting either MM or SV for BfA. Okay, maybe not SV, as I really, really hate that it is melee, plus I am still stinging over the shabby way Blizz yanked this spec out from under me in WoD. Never say never, but I am still of the opinion that it will be a cold damn day in hell when I do melee SV except as a lark. Yes, I am obstinate. (Please feel free to taunt me with this statement if I end up going SV in the next expansion…)

Maybe I will buck the trend and try to do MM, even in raids, with a pet. From what I am reading so far, I doubt doing so will yield worse numbers than BM will. Except for Blizz skewing the numbers to strongly encourage MM hunters to go petless, the spec does seem like it will be engaging to play in BfA, especially with the changes that give it more mobility, along with active focus regeneration, and some decent procs. So far, MM is my  Plan B for BfA (a decent BM being Plan A, but this is looking more and more unlikely). But that does not mean I am not working on Plan C and even Plan D.

Hmmm, another idea for fun with alt runs — switch hunter specs and run as MM or even *shudder* SV….. Just as alts, mind you, not as a real hunter! Plus, I have all the legendaries for both specs.

Definitely worth considering.

Main planning

With the formal announcement that Battle for Azeroth will launch August 14, those of us who are compulsive organizers can now kick our planning up a notch. More than 4 months is not exactly what I would call “imminent”, but still it is good to have an actual target date.

The date is about 6 weeks earlier than the “not later than” date we saw in the promos during Blizzcon. I don’t know of any other titles due to launch in that same general time frame, so I don’t think the date is calculated to be a competitive market thing. And I hope it is not a marketing-driven deadline that corporate has imposed on the WoW team just to be able to say they hit their intended expansion schedule — pushing the envelope such that there is not enough slack time built in to allow for unforeseen glitches. Most likely, though, is that Blizzard is pretty confident the expansion is far enough along that the mid-August date will be no problem. Also, the release date occurs before most colleges and universities start the fall term, so possibly Blizzard is taking that into account as a way to engage this key group of players at the start rather than have them have to wait until things settle down a bit before they have a chance to play, and then feeling they are playing catch-up.

Still, as I pointed out back when the exclusive alpha started, this somewhat earlier launch date means many parts of the expansion — certainly class changes — are pretty well set in stone. (Maybe that is why Blizzard also forbade any class development questions in the recent dev discussion at Pax East — they have zero intention of making any more significant changes in classes at this point.)

As far as I am concerned, this is bad news for BM hunters, who have received almost no love now for years. Almost the sole change Blizzard has graciously deigned to make for BM hunters is a questionable revamp of pet abilities (which applies to all hunters, btw, not just the BM spec). It seems like they are tossing us a crumb — a rather stale and distasteful one at that — and basically telling us to sit the fuck down now and shut up, that is all we are getting, quit pestering. I said early on in the alpha that I had an uncomfortable feeling about hunters, given the significant number of announced MM and SV changes but the silence on BM, and I think I hit that one dead on. I can only surmise from what I read, of course, since it seems every player but me has gotten an invite to try it out, but this looks very much like what Blizzard did to us in the run up to Legion — the silent treatment as a response to bonafide concerns, reports, and requests for information.

The best writing out there currently on trends for hunters in BfA is coming from Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast, and I encourage anyone interested in the subject to check out his latest post. The bottom line is that both MM and SV are getting some much-needed and significant reworks, but BM is once again left out of the loop. It’s as if Blizzard hates the spec, wishes they could delete it, but instead will just make it so unpleasant, powerless, and boring that no one will want to play it. (This was their tactic back in WoD when they abandoned SV as too hard to deal with…)

Thus, a big part of my BfA planning will revolve around what to play as a main. Although it pains me to consider it, at this point I am still not sure that continuing as a hunter is in the cards for me. I feel like Blizz has dumped on me twice — first they destroyed my SV spec that I had lived and played for years, and now they seem in the process of also destroying the spec I switched to.

I will give both SV and MM a try, I suppose, but something in me just recoils at the idea of having to choose between being a hunter without a pet or one that is a melee spec. (Yes, even though Blizz has added a lot of ranged abilities to SV, its most potent shot is still a melee one.)

I have been having quite a lot of fun with my mages and my druid lately, so I suppose both of those would be candidates for a BfA main. And I have always had an attachment to my mistweaver healer, even though I have not paid much attention to her in Legion. (The main objection I have to maining a monk is that leveling and questing is most efficient with an off spec of windwalker, a melee spec…)

Fun is certainly one factor in my choice, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that relative power will be another. I enjoy raiding with my guild, and even though there is no pressure to tailor the team with “the right” classes and specs, still I feel it would be irresponsible to force a weak spec on the team. It is unfortunate but true that Blizz has in recent years not cared too much that each expansion brings clear winners and losers in terms of class/spec balances. Oh sure, they tweak a bit here and there as the expansion goes on, but they have become disturbingly comfortable with a fairly wide spread of results among the classes, as if it is too hard to compress the gap so if you happen to main a loser class, oh well sucks to be you…

What I am looking for in BfA is a class and spec that is reasonably powerful (upper-middle in the charts would be fine) and is a real rush to play. I stuck with BM in Legion, but honestly it was always sub-par in terms of performance and it never gave me the “whee!” rush many other classes have. I liked it because of the mobility and because I have an attachment to my spirit pets, and because I very strongly identify with my ideal of the hunter persona (mine, not Blizz’s) in the game. But the play style is just one long grind of grimly mashing short cooldowns as soon as they became available, with a very slight calculation of when to delay one or another of them for optimization. The combat animations stink (despite Blizz at one point “improving” Cobra Shot to make it wiggle more, oh what a wild and crazy change that was 🙄), there is no chance of getting any sort of exciting proc, the player has no control over focus generation, and there is no significant burst ability.

Just.

Mash.

Buttons.

On.

Time.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

So far, it seems none of this will change in BfA. In fact, Blizz is actually removing one button, the artifact weapon ability, and not replacing it with anything. And the pet changes may have the effect of limiting my choice of pets to whichever one provides a missing raid utility. (And even this consideration is not very significant since Blizz has removed combat rez as one of the options.) One pleasing aspect of Legion I have enjoyed is running raids with Gara almost all the time — I have a preference for wolf pets, I like the current additional spirit beast effects, and I really like the Gara rendering. I will most definintely not like it if even this one small player choice is slightly curtailed in BfA.

So, yeah. Almost everything is on the table for selecting a main for BfA. I hope I can come to terms with — and find actual fun in — one of the hunter specs, but if not, then maybe it is time to move on to another class.

Still, it would break my heart.

Possibly a weekend and some beer will help shape my thinking. See you on the other side.

Battle for Azeroth: Legion transmog?

Admin note: I will be taking next week off as a short spring break. I will return to this space on Monday, April 2.

Maybe it is just a reflection of the long dragged-out winter we are having, but most of the things I read about Battle for Azeroth seem depressing. (WARNING, RANT FOLLOWS) And of course reading about it is all I can do, because, no I do not have an Alpha invite, and I am getting to the point where I am suspecting many of them are not in fact random, that there is some sort of Santa good list and bad list as well — the good little children (streamers, friends of Blizz, bloggers who fall all over themselves to flatter Blizz, world-first mythic raiding guilds, etc.) always get early invites, and the bad children (me, for example) get flagged as not only no but hell no. Even if I were to come up on a random invite, the bad list kicks in and the invite would get pulled. There is a slim chance I may get an invite eventually, but if so it will likely be like the one I got for Legion: approximately one week before the PTR went live. Oh yeah, plenty of chances to influence changes at that point…

Yeah, OK, that is probably not the case, but it is difficult to not feel that way. (END OF RANT)

Anyway, back to my point, which is that there really is nothing I have read about BfA so far that comes close to generating excitement for me, other than the obvious fact that it is a new expansion and as such will at least give us different scenery that we have had for a couple of years.

Yes, there are some interesting aspects to it, I am not prejudging it to be lousy out of the box, but there is just nothing that makes me feel like doing one of those beautiful little whole-body grins you get from a six-year-old anticipating Christmas.

Battle for Azeroth seems to me to be nothing more than Legion with a different transmog. Some examples follow.

Instead of artifact weapons, we will have 3 pieces of artifact gear (okay, they call them something else, but artifacts they in fact are). Each piece has its own trait tree, and we will have to grind artifact power Azerite in order to unlock them and make them more powerful. Mark my words, the trait trees for this gear will expand throughout BfA, making any sort of end state virtually unattainable, the same as Legion artifacts, the never-ending carrot dangle revisited.

Professions change only insofar as now we will be allowed to pursue them by expansion group, eliminating the need to go back and do legacy crafting and gathering unless we just want to. This is a good move, but it in no way changes the Legion approach that will require end-game gearing to pursue profession quests in raids, heroic and mythic dungeons, and sheer RNG grinding. The terrible “levels within a level” recipe mechanic also remains.

As an added requirement to have all your profession players at end game level (character and gear), there will once again be a BoP crafting mat. This seems at odds with Blizz’s promise to make crafted gear relevant for more of the expansion, but we will see. Generally speaking, for the first several months in an expansion, only your main is powerful enough to gather such mats in sufficient quantities to make relevant gear, so if you are one of the profession lottery winners with your main you are in good shape (think alchemists in Legion), otherwise (like for example leather makers in Legion) forget it.

Invasions are replaced by Islands and Warfronts. Oh, and Islands will feature AI-driven NPCs, basically a variation on current affixes in M+ dungeons.

Speaking of Mythic dungeons, there will be a doubling down on this esports-friendly activity, with things like affixes being forced on even lower level players doing, say, a M+2 mythic. There will be new “kiss/curse” affixes introduced for M+10 and above, and there is something called “keystone customization” in the works that smells suspiciously like something to make life easier for the M+ pros. Regular mythic dungeons, meanwhile, become relegated to the common pile that includes normal and heroic, but with the added annoyance of having to find a group on your own instead of becoming part of the automatic group finder system.

Mission table and followers will remain, for no reason I can see other than to serve as a justification for Blizz to keep the mobile app, and cause players to log in more often and thus buff up MAU metrics.

Hunter class changes — this is possibly the most depressing of all to me. Again, I only know what I read or watch (see rant above), but from my point of view, Blizz is making no real changes to the fundamental destruction of the hunter class they perpetrated in Legion.

What do I mean by this? Consider the defining factors for the hunter class prior to Legion: highly mobile ranged physical damage dealers with an integral pet. Now consider what happened to the class in Legion. Basically, these defining factors were broken up and reallocated piecemeal to hunter specs. SV lost the “ranged” aspect. MM lost the “pet” and the “highly mobile” aspects. Only BM retained all of the defining aspects, but at significant cost in terms of play style and raw damage numbers. And even for BM, the “highly mobile” and “ranged” aspects were only applied to the hunter, not to the pet, which incidentally constituted most of the BM hunter’s even mediocre damage numbers.

None of this changes significantly in BfA. The touted “rangification” of SV hunters is pretty hollow when you consider that the spec will still derive its most potent damage from its one remaining melee shot, Raptor Strike. I do not play MM and have not studied the proposed changes for it, but it seems like they will remain limited mobility. I have read a few opinions that other MM changes make the spec less interesting to play, although to be fair some others think there is some additional fun that might be added with the right selection of talents.

The worst insult, though, in my opinion, is to BM hunters. BfA will introduce a somewhat new pet damage/buff system that seems to take some of the worst pet changes from each of the past couple of expansions. And other than switching out a few utilities, that is pretty much the extent of what Blizz considers BM hunter changes. Oh, yes, plus Blizz will remove the BM artifact abilities — mainly Hati’s bond and Titan’s Thunder — and as far as I can tell will replace that damage power with nothing. This is unlike they are doing for some other classes, which will have certain artifact abilities baked in to the BfA baseline.

Though it is hard to tell which power nerfs are actual nerfs and which ones are merely part of the stat squish, some things do stand out as genuine nerfs. For example, the speed buff from Posthaste will be cut to less speed and less time, a curious decision for the one remaining highly mobile ranged spec in the game. Other changes, such as increased focus costs for some shots (while still refusing to incorporate a focus generator as baseline) are harder to evaluate without actually giving them a try.

But all in all, Blizz has done absolutely nothing — nothing — to change the bland BM play style, nor do they seem to have any intention whatsoever of doing so. Quite the contrary, they have almost come out and said they consider the spec to be an “entry level” spec, a phrase that almost shouts “not for serious players”, “for wittle kids who wike fluffy cute pets”… 😡

Yes. I am insulted. And I am not alone in this. I am not so naive as to think Blizz will suddenly back off of their revamp of SV as melee and MM as a turret, but for crying out loud, do they have to keep stomping BM into the ground just because we still retain the full essence of the hunter class? If they hate the spec so much, just delete it and have done with it, quit doing passive-aggressive nerfs that make it more and more undesirable to play.

A couple of months ago, when the first changes to SV and MM were announced, many observers counseled to just wait, because it was early and certainly there would also be some significant changes to BM forthcoming.

Nope. This is exactly the Legion alpha being rerun. BM hunters will be totally ignored, despite significant and well-thought out comments in the alpha forum. Again. A starting bad place for them will be enshrined in the live version, possibly followed by a “concerned” CM in the forums asking for “feedback” on the surprising news that there are problems with the spec. Followed by an entire expansion of the spec mired not only in mediocrity for damage, but also in play style. Another entire expansion of grim, boring button mashing with little or no opportunity for player rotation choices, and certainly no possibility of fun in the form of “whee!” moments when procs coincide or when we can unleash a ton of burst damage.

And no one at Blizz gives a damn, because no one at Blizz loves hunters the way some of them love mages or DKs or almost any other spec.

I know there are plenty of hunters who will say BfA is making significant changes to the class, and of course they are welcome to that opinion. But I am sticking by my assessment that there will be no fundamental changes to the destruction inflicted on the class starting in Legion. If anything, Blizz is — once again — doubling down on it.

I am depressed at the prospect of BfA being a rerun of Legion, but I am positively disgusted by Blizz’s continuing disrespect for hunters.

It is time for a weekend to start. Where’s my beer?

Looking towards summer

Now that it is officially spring, and the birds are tweeting and the trees are budding and the flowers are blooming and we are in the middle of another freaking snow storm (🤬), it’s time to start thinking about how I will spend my summer in WoW.

Snow, spring 2018

Actual photo taken this morning

Last night was our last official raid night until next expansion, and I think we were all more than ready to end the season. We didn’t even do a full clear, just the first boss then skipped to the last two in order to get the mount for a couple of people who had not yet gotten it and still wanted it. It was not our best effort, nor was it our worst, it just — was. Notable only because it was the last for Legion. We have an active guild, and we will continue to do weekly alt raids and such, but they are really just for funsies, a chance to take some of our mothballed alts out and check out how badly we stink on them, as well as engage in some mostly well-intentioned trash talk.

Now, of course, everyone will have to decide how to fill game time until what will likely be the end of the summer, possibly even as late as the end of September. Some will decide to take a break from all gaming and unsub for a few months, some will cut back on their hours played, some will move to other games, some will keep at it pretty much as they have been. Already we have quite a few who have jumped to other games like Final Fantasy and HotS.

I will probably do a combination of things. I usually like having some time to concentrate on alts, and Legion is no exception. But probably for the first time in my WoW experience, I am genuinely tired of my hunter. I really feel like Blizz has sucked all the fun out of my spec, left it with only a grim routine of mashing buttons on cooldown and once in a while throwing out a cc. This thought resonated with me when I was playing my mage over the weekend — I was getting a real kick out of the chained procs and deciding how best to employ them. There is just nothing to compare with that for BM hunter. (And so far it does not seem Blizz has any interest in improving the spec for BfA — they have remained almost completely silent on any planned changes, beyond the iffy new pet abilities, that would add interest to it.) Yes, I still have an emotional attachment to the hunter class, and it seems unlikely I will ever main another class, but after a year and a half of mind-numbingly boring play, I am ready for something with a little more pizzazz. At least for a few months.

I know one thing I will not do, and that is level up another character. If I decide to roll another of the allied races, I will definitely use my boost on it. Leveling is another of those game things Blizz has ruined for me.

I will happily cut back on my game hours played, enjoying the mental freedom that comes from not having to gear up a main for raiding. And when logged in, I will do things like pick herbs or futz around with some underdeveloped professions, do some transmogging, knock out a few of the achievements I am interested in, maybe explore some other servers. I am truly looking forward to having nothing pressing to do in the game. (I just wish I could have this free attitude all the time in the game. My own mental prison, I suppose…)

Before Legion I did try my hand at a couple of other MMOs (Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online, and even Wildstar 🤫.) For some reason they did not engage me the way WoW always has, and I ended up dropping them after a couple of months. Certainly I did not get to whatever constituted end game play for them, and that might have colored my impressions, but I just could not get immersed in them. (And yes, I am hampered by the fact that I am a Mac user and I do not want to use Boot Camp, don’t judge!) I am much more likely to play non-MMOs like one of the Civs or Master of Orion or even Sims.

Anyway, it is spring, all evidence to the contrary, and summer is not far behind. I intend to enjoy a long lazy game summer doing whatever the hell I want, leaving behind the (self-induced) pressure to grind for AP and legendaries and other gear and rep and class hall quest lines, and any of the long list of grinds Legion thrust upon us.

Now if you will pardon me, I have to go shovel some “spring” from my driveway.

Time to normalize mythic dungeons

Last night I knocked out my weekly quest — this week is 4 mythics — with a guild group. It took us almost no time, and we did not even bother to run with a healer which caused no problems since we are so overgeared for regular mythic instances at this point. But the experience got me to thinking.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at the looking for group listings for regular mythics, and I was dumbstruck at the ridiculous requirements many of the groups were imposing. Mind you, they were looking to get groups together to do the same trivial run I had just done with my guild. Several were requiring an ilevel of 950 or even higher (saw one at 962 and one at 975). A couple even stated a current tier AotC requirement. One idiot was looking for dps “> 2 million or immediate kick”. And a surprising number required a threshold raider.io rating even though they were forming a group for regular mythic dungeons, not mythic+ runs.

Really?

Get a grip, people.

Yeah, okay, I understand the desire to get only the best players in your group, but sheesh, here are a couple of reminders:

  • It’s entry level mythic instances.
  • Almost certainly many of the elite types you are fantasizing about are not going to be doing a weekly mythic run anyway (there is probably no gear in the quest box they need any more).
  • The elite types you want — if they are doing a weekly run — probably already did it with guildies or friends.
  • And not for nothin’ but do you remember when you were minimally geared and how hard it was for you to find a group?

In general, I like the LFG idea. I think the interface could use some improvements like sorting by time posted, by role requested, by pvp or pve servers, and so forth, but I like the idea of having a place besides chat to get pickup groups together for specific quests or instances or custom whatever. I use it a lot for world bosses, and sometimes also for world quests or even regular quests if I am running them on a fairly squishy alt or a healer. It works, even if it is pretty clunky.

By design, it has limitations not present in automated group assemblers like LFR or the dungeon finder. It is intended as a help for group leaders looking to assemble tailored groups for specific goals. I get that. And when you get actual players involved in picking their groups you are bound to get a lot of asshats. So I guess the problem I have is not with the interface so much as with the proliferation of asshats, which is something Blizz has little control over.

What they do have some control over, however, is which activities go into the automated group assembly mechanic (the dungeon finder) and which ones go into the asshat group assembly mechanic (LFG). I think it is high time that regular mythic instances go into the dungeon finder, right there along with regular and heroic dungeons.

When Blizz introduced mythic dungeons in WoD, they were clearly end game activities, ones that required a certain amount of teamwork to defeat mechanics, the kind of thing you probably did not want to take a chance on a random stranger for. Of course, as WoD wore on, people tended to outgear even the mythic dungeons, and mechanics became less of an issue. In Legion, Blizz continued the dungeon structure set up in WoD, but they added Mythic+ with the introduction of keystones. I argue that Mythic+ is in fact a separate dungeon tier, making regular mythics no longer the top tier of instances. It seems no different than the regular and heroic tiers, just maybe requiring a slightly higher gear level to qualify for, in the same way that various LFR tiers require certain gear levels.

Moreover, Legion requires the running of some mythic instances for other game activities — class hall quest lines and some profession progression. To my mind, this places them solidly in the “for the masses” category and removes them from the “for the top players” category. This is what the dungeon finder is for. Players who do not belong to guilds, or who belong to guilds that are not very active, are at a significant disadvantage for running regular mythic dungeons. They must go though the LFG torment of applying for group after group after group only to likely be turned down again and again. They may be perfectly qualified, but some asshat group leader is looking for that 980 level Mythic raider to join his piddly little Maw regular mythic.

Worse, some players will be turned down again and again, no matter their qualifications, because they do not have the “approved” class and spec. While it has not happened often to me, a couple of weeks ago I was looking to for a specific mythic dungeon group to knock out a quest I had. I applied for a group that seemed to have a ridiculously high gear level requirement, but I did meet it, along with the equally-stupid AotC requirement. I applied and was rejected, even though that meant they still continued to look for dps. When I whispered the group leader, he said I was “not what they were looking for”, and when I asked what they were indeed looking for, all I got was “something else” as a reply. It seems the real answer was, they did not want a BM hunter but were apparently too embarrassed to add to their group listing, “No BM hunters need apply”.

Blizz, it’s time to recognize regular mythic dungeons are no longer the top of the end game food chain — that Mythic+ long ago supplanted them in that role — and relegate them to dungeon finder status. It really would be a huge quality of life improvement for players, if that is still a consideration for you. 

Look out! The Blizz pendulum is coming at you again!

Today Blizz gave us the first detailed look at their vision for hunter pets in Battle for Azeroth. Interestingly, they posted this information in a forum that requires a “beta” ticket to even comment in. I am trying to talk myself out of the opinion that this means they are too chickenshit to subject themselves to the huge outcries they know they will get from virtually every hunter in the game. Yes, you can make a case for them wanting to only hear from people who can actually try the changes, but who are those people at this stage, the only stage when significant changes will be made? No one but Blizz knows, of course, but my suspicion is that very few of the favored friends and family and streamers actually have BM hunter as their main. They may be familiar with the mechanics, but how many of them really have a passion for the spec and the kind of gut understanding that comes with that?

You can read (but probably not comment on) the Blue post for yourselves, but for a more balanced exposition of the changes, I recommend Bendak’s post on them or Delirium’s from a couple days ago. My logical side says time will tell if these changes turn out to be a boon or a bust for hunters, especially BM hunters, but for now my lack of trust in Blizz makes me very suspicious. Part of me imagines that Blizz, in typical fashion, took the hunter request for more pet talent variety (say, like we had in WoD), and went berserk with it. I can almost hear them sneering, “You little whiners want pet variety? I gotcher pet variety right here! BWAAAAAHAHA, guess you won’t be asking for that again will ya, you little snivelers?”

My initial take is that Blizz is getting ready to do to pets what they did to gear in Legion — make them so complex that we will need a bank of computers to select the most effective one for any given situation. In the process, they are once again demonstrating their complete lack of understanding of the role a pet plays in the overall BM hunter experience, and they may be setting the stage for screwing over BM hunters in BfA.

Start with the complexity issue. They are adding a bewilderingly large matrix of “pet family uniqueness”, endowing certain pets with a single raid cooldown, and assembling a multitude of varied “pet ability packages”. In the process, they are:

  • Removing the option of speccing any pet into Ferocity, Tenacity, or Cunning, because apparently it “feels outdated”. One gets the idea they do not want us to have to bother our little heads about this thing — the same way they solicitously took away reforging so that we would not have to do that icky old math.
    • According to the Blue post, “we’re going to shift all pets to a setup that will work as though they’re specced into both Ferocity and Tenacity”. So what happens with Cunning traits? They just go away? They will be limited to PvP? Or did the Blue poster just forget about them, because who the hell can keep track of all those hunter-ish things anyway?
    • Even though they claim they are rolling all Ferocity/Tenacity traits into the  merged sped, they are removing the powerful Charge spell and buff, no explanation why.
  • Adding Bloodlust to more pets and removing Battle Rez completely from hunter pets. Blizz’s reasoning for this is a textbook example of obfuscation, designed to cover their real reason which is “OMG! Hunters as actual raid utility players? Sound the alarm!” Here it is, for your reading and dining pleasure:

    In a world where we are proliferating abilities to many families, our first inclination was to add Battle Res to a separate third of those families. After seeing that landscape, it felt odd to fully embrace Resurrection as part of the Hunter kit. Further, moving into Battle for Azeroth, we are solidifying Bloodlust and Battle Res as the strong shared cooldowns that a group can bring – one offense, one defense. In that world, Hunters having access to both of the super powerful group benefits didn’t feel appropriate.

  • While Blizz is removing the pet roles of Ferocity, Tenacity, and Cunning, they are keeping the terms as a way to categorize pet families. So every pet will fall into one of the those three categories. These categories form the basis for the matrix of abilities hunters will have to choose from in selecting a pet for a given situation. I am not going to go into detail on this, but it looks like there will be some permutation of at least 18 different abilities (more with Spirit Beasts and maybe Exotics) combined into 3 (or more with the special beasts) each that the hunter will have to select. (I am wondering if Blizz has stock in one of the sim web sites…)

Second point here is that this system completely disregards one of the coolest aspects of being a hunter — the bond you actually form with one or two pets. Blizz is making them just another piece of gear or a second talent tree — pick what works best for each situation. Forget that you always level with your favorite wolf pet, forget that you love Gara and have raided with him ever since you got him early in WoD, forget that your turtle pet has saved your skin more times than you can count while questing solo.

No, just roll-a-pet depending on the situation, they are just another piece of gear, who cares? Certainly no one at Blizz, where no one understands the emotional bond hunters have for their pets, much less ever experienced that for themselves.

Further, this announced change still does absolutely nothing to bolster the whole idea of BM being “Master of Beasts”. One additional active power button does not give us much more control over pets, we remain essentially leash holders whose main function is to drop the leashes and let the pets do what they will, while we stand back and fire off one or two puny little shots. One could actually argue that both MM and SV will have greater control over pets in BfA. MM will be able to call a pet — say for a quick Bloodlust — and dismiss it in a few seconds, thus hardly even touching their 18% Lone Wolf buff. SV seems like it will work hand in hand with their pets, and increases to hunter damage through higher level gear and more secondary stats will scale very well with their pet damage. This is not true of BM hunters, at least so far as we have seen — Blizz is willing to see SV pets as an integral part of their power, but they are opposed to pets scaling equally for BM hunters.

Last, what do these pet changes mean for the future of BM hunters in the next expansion? Given the dearth of BM hunter changes so far — especially when compared to the very significant changes announced for SV and MM — is this Rube Goldberg-esque pet matrix what passes for major BM changes in BfA? Does Blizz think they can switch a few talents around and give us this pet complexity and call it done for BM? I am getting the uncomfortable feeling the answer is yes. So far, I am seeing nothing close to compensating for the damage we will lose when we lose Hati and our artifact weapon, and bear in mind even with those things in Legion we are close to the very bottom of damage charts in nearly every fight.

And as an aside, what is going on with Tranq Shot and A Murder of Crows? The Blue post seemed to hint that the vaunted restoration of Tranq Shot for hunters may actually turn out to be a pet ability, though it was a bit unclear. If that is the case, it certainly waters down the already-puny raid utilities left to hunters in BfA (which were already watered down in Legion). As for Crows, all the changes I have seen now clearly label that talent “Marksman Hunter”. It seems ludicrous that MM would be gaining this and BM would be losing it. As I indicated above, who the hell is supposed to be the Master of Beasts, anyway? A spec whose fantasy is flailing away with super-high potency guns or bows suddenly can call in a flock of crows and the Master of Beasts suddenly cannot? I hope I am wrong about both of these things.

As a further aside, when are we going to get a bigger stable for hunter pets? You can have hundreds of mounts and foo-foo vanity pets in the game, but no no no, absolutely must limit the number of hunter pets? Blizz, could you at least try to appear a bit more even-handed? 🙄

Anyway, get your sims and spreadsheets and matrices ready for pet selection in BfA. And maybe say goodbye to your favorite pets — just explain to them they are not “optimal” any more, and it is time for them to go to a nice farm where they will always be happy and run in the sunshine…

Oh, and watch out for that nasty pendulum.

Are target dummies obsolete?

I had a very laid-back weekend, game-wise. Friday night I ran our alt raid with my resto druid and managed to not embarrass myself too badly. I took Saturday off and did actual real world social things. Sunday I devoted a lot of hours to grinding away at leveling my void elf mage (still only level 68, it is a LOOONNNGGG grind). I also managed to squeeze in a half hour or so on my main, whaling away at target dummies.

The last activity got me to thinking — with all the gear and talent complexities of Legion, and the inevitable proliferation of computerized simulations, do most players still even use target dummies? Anecdotally, I have noticed that there are almost never any other players using them when I am, and I remember when it was almost always pretty crowded, before Legion. I suppose for one thing we now have them in more places than we used to. We are not stuck with going to a capital city if we want to use them, we have our garrisons and class halls. (Although I am continually annoyed that there are none in Dalaran. If we are on such an emergency war footing for Legion, and if Dalaran is the center of the resistance, you would think there would be accommodations for troop training. Sheesh.)

When I first started using target dummies (early Wrath, I think), I would usually go to Ironforge, plunk myself in front of one, and blaze away at it. I don’t think I even knew exactly what I was trying to measure or test. Eventually I got a damage meter addon, and then I used it to have a damage number I could tout in whispered exchanges with someone looking to fill a raid.

Sometime along about the middle of Wrath, an excellent raider took pity on me and showed me how to get a whole lot more out of target dummies. Standing in one spot was useful for a couple things, he told me, but just because the target dummy was stationary did not mean I had to be. So I learned to strafe and jump disengage and move while using them, I switched targets, I called my pet off and sicc’ed him back on, I simulated stuns on myself, I would pick some hapless player next to me and aim a mid-fight Misdirection at him (it didn’t do anything, of course, but it was good practice for me). I varied my regular rotation with some of the then-abundant utility shots and even traps we hunters had, sometimes vaguely simulating a particular boss fight where I knew, for example, that a tranq shot was needed for an add or that I needed to keep my healer protected by traps.

I even spent hours perfecting the hunter turn-around jump shot, where you run away from the target, then rapidly turn around to face it again, simultaneously executing a disengage and a concussive shot and then face away from the target before hitting the ground to keep running. I am woefully out of practice on it now, but I was damn good at it for a while, thanks to hours with the target dummies. (The ones in Ironforge were never any good for this, I had to use the ones in Stormwind. Later, in Mists, the ones in the Shrine were ideal, as you had that entire long and broad front platform to use. Even now, neither the garrison nor the hunter class hall begin to approach the Shrine in terms of running space.)

I thought it was a terrific quality of life move when in WoD Blizz gave us healing and tank versions of target dummies. There are still some problems with them, of course. It would be nice, for example, if you could create a group with the friendly dummies you need to heal. Also, there are times when the game doesn’t really consider you to be in combat when you are engaged with target dummies, along with times when you can’t easily get out of combat with them. I have not often used the tanking target dummy, so I can’t speak to how well it allows tanks to practice.

I always had high hopes for proving grounds to be the equivalent of target dummies on steroids. Sadly, they did not really work out that way. The mini-scenario structure of them limits you in terms of working on a specific thing, and you are stuck with the scenario playing itself out, even if, for example, you are just working on openers. Where Blizz went wrong with proving grounds, I think, is that they made them into achievement-based competitions rather than leave them as a vehicle for simple practice.

My ideal of proving grounds would be that they would be more player-configurable. For example, you could select from a list of different types of fights — trash, Patchwerk boss, boss with adds, boss with movement, etc. Kind of like the various sim scenarios you can pick. Also, I think it would be useful if players could bring in other players to the proving grounds. So for example if two tanks need to practice something, they could both go in. Or if someone was having a problem with damage numbers, that person could go in with a mentor and practice better techniques while getting immediate feedback and advice.

We basically have three different levels of practice activities in WoW now — target dummies, proving grounds, and LFR. (Maybe four if you count battlegrounds.) Each of them has their own pluses and minuses. I don’t mean to denigrate LFR — I actually think the latest tiers have restored a little more of the challenge to it. But I often use it just for practice on alts, rather than for gear or other reasons. This is especially true of my healer alts where, for example, people stubbornly standing in fire are a pretty good simulation of a heal-heavy boss fight. If I know I will be a designated tank healer in an alt raid (not often with my resto druid, but still…), I may step into LFR and take it on myself to heal the tanks, watching closely to see where the big damage points are.

But back to target dummies. I still use them quite a bit, even on my main hunter. I use them to practice new rotations (for example if I switch from a BM zoo build to a dire frenzy build, or if I equip a legendary or trinket that changes my rotation), or to field-test a couple of competing simulation results. I also use them to test out addons from time to time, especially new Weakauras I want to use. Sometimes I just need to retrain muscle memory I have gotten lax on.

What about you, do you still use target dummies? Do you want to see Blizz improve them, or should they be just a holdover from earlier days of the game?