Ends are also beginnings

Tomorrow, if all goes smoothly, we will see the end of Legion and the beginning of Battle for Azeroth, the seventh expansion in World of Warcraft and the sixth that I will have personally experienced. Yes, I know the actual full expansion does not go live until a month from now, but the pre-expansion patch is the formal beginning. That is when we get many of the user interface changes and new class and spec spells and rotations, and when many of the features of the current expansion go away or get massively nerfed. We will have a month to internalize the changes, make adjustments, develop new muscle memory for our characters. The pre-expansion patch is kind of like the warning bell some schools have that rings a few minutes before the actual start of classes.

There is always a bittersweet tang to transition. We humans, even when we are unhappy, tend to stick with the familiar and be rather reluctant to change. This is as true for leisure games as it is for major life changes. I am someone who often engineers change merely for its own sake — I get tired of ruts even if they are very comfortable — and yet even I am slightly hesitant when it actually comes down to making the changes.

But, ready or not, 8.0 is barreling down on us and in a little over 24 hours it will be a done deal.

My first priority will be to learn my new BM hunter rotation. That will include writing some new WeakAuras, rearranging my action bars and a few keybinds, and spending some intensive time in front of the target dummies. I am trying to be very slightly hopeful that BM hunter will improve in BfA. If Blizz had not been such douches about laying the global cooldown on everything, BM hunter would definitely seem more lively than it has throughout Legion. (Alas, it seems they are incapable of giving anything without also taking away a lot. I am not talking about being OP — hell, I have gotten used to constantly being in the lower quadrant of damage numbers — I am just talking about wanting a fun, engaging play style that allows for some player options beyond twitch responses to hit cooldowns as soon as they become available. Or rather, as soon as the GCD comes off…)

OK, enough bitching. We got what we got. As I was saying, I’ll be spending a lot of time on my main hunter this week, mostly internalizing the new rotation. A great hunter blogger who unfortunately no longer writes, The Grumpy Elf, once wrote a fantastic guide to learning rotations. It is almost seven years old and still relevant, and if you are struggling with a rotation, I highly recommend it. The specific shots and spells he describes are long gone, but the general method is still very useful. That is the technique I will use to develop new muscle memory for the 8.0 rotation.

I have dabbled a bit in the beta and the PTR, so I have an idea of some of the changes I will have to make, but you can bet that I will also do some intensive study of Bendak’s guide to BM hunter for the patch, which he wrote for Wowhead. (You can also find links to the individual sections of the guide, along with some other informative links, in this post in his blog Eyes of the Beast.) I know some people are not big fans of Wowhead, but I have found their hunter guides to be excellent even for experienced hunters. In fact, I have found nearly all of their class guides to be useful, written by players who really are experts in the spec they are writing about.

When I practice with target dummies, I start out just standing in one place and getting used to the rhythm of the new rotation, maybe trying out a few variations, but in general just learning the baseline sequence from which I may later deviate to suit circumstances. Once I have that down pretty well, I add in some target switching and AoE. Next I add movement, the hunter staple. I run the rotation while strafing, moving forward and back and laterally, and disengaging. Finally, I vary the rotation by throwing a few traps and interrupts and learn to resume it as efficiently as I can.

Hopefully, with a few hours of this under my belt, I’ll feel comfortable when I run our weekly normal Antorus at the end of the week. Later, I will do a modified version of my hunter rotation changes on my alts, so as to be a little more prepared once I start leveling them down the road in BfA.

I have already cleaned out banks, sold a ton of excess Legion mats on the auction house, vendored gear (especially trinkets and tier 20) I was saving “just in case”, and put many legendaries into void storage. I am not sure if Blizz has a plan for eventually getting rid of these, but I sure hope so. It seems ridiculous to be stuck with 15-20 (or more) pieces of gear that you cannot ever sell or disenchant.

Beyond preparing new rotations, the pre-expansion patch is also the point at which social changes occur. Our guild has seen some announcements of people leaving the guild, or deciding they are not going to buy BfA, or staying in the guild but opting out of raiding in BfA. There will, as usual, be some turmoil as we work to assemble a viable raid team, though that is still weeks away. One thing I noted in Legion was a growing tendency for quite a few of our raiders to only participate in one raid night a week. We are not hardcore by any means — we run two nights a week during the progression raid cycle. The problem with people only coming once a week is that it is difficult to get reliable teamwork going — there are always one or two people who have not done the current boss before and therefore make the same mistakes the rest of the team did the last time the boss was attempted. Unfortunately, Blizz has lately become enamored of boss fights that feature one-person wipe mechanics — that is, a mechanic in which a mistake by one player wipes the whole raid. This is a deadly trend for casual raid teams that change personnel frequently.

Patch 8.0 brings another big social change to the game — Communities. I think of this as Blizz’s attempt to copy Discord in-game. We will see how well it works, and whether it promotes unity or encourages tribalism…

So, goodbye Legion, you are almost out the door. Let’s hope the transition is an easy one.

Take a deep breath, and see you all on the other side of 8.0.

Respite

For all intents and purposes, we have begun Battle for Azeroth. At least I have. I spent last night doing the Silithus artifact retirement quests on all nine of my characters. Only my main had done the previous Silithus quest line, so I had to go through the annoyingly tedious criss-crossing of the zone multiple times to crank out the maybe half dozen easy quests to get to the final artifact change on most of my characters. Seriously, if I have to fly around that big ass sword again any time soon, I will scream.

I am slightly peeved at myself for not realizing sooner that the artifact retirement process would include maxing out your artifact weapon, to level 127 (!), a level that very few insane players ever actually reached. The reason I am peeved about it is that I have spent the last 3 weeks furiously chasing AP to get some of my alt artifact weapons up to level 75. 😒 We will chalk that one up to sheer stupidity.

But what a sense of freedom it is to be totally free from the tyranny of AP! It was exhilarating to realize that doing the Silithus final quest meant I no longer had to have even a passing interest in racking up AP. No longer was there any need to log in on an alt, check the available emissary quests and AP-producing world quests and see how I could maximize my AP for the time I had available to play. I could now just log in and — hold onto your hats here — just have fun.

About half way through Legion, many of us really began to feel the burden of chasing that never-ending AP. Some who felt this way just stopped doing it and pursued other goals in the game, some stopped playing the game altogether, and some like me just gave in, put our heads down, and doggedly ground it out day after day. I truly didn’t realize how burdensome that had become until last night when I was suddenly freed from it.

Sadly, this bit of respite will be short-lived. When BfA goes live in August we will back to chasing AP again, only this time it will be for several pieces of gear, not just one. There will be a few changes in the mechanics of collection, but the basic grind will remain. It is, in my opinion, the worst legacy of Legion and the most soul-sucking design in recent WoW history. It has completely changed the end game for many of us by introducing another tier of leveling that starts once you have leveled your character to the expansion — 120 in BfA. Most of what we used to consider end game goals cannot be started until we make significant progress on this new leveling tier, and even worse, Blizz believes that there should never be an end to this end-game leveling. This is a large part of what they call “content”.

It’s telling, I think, that once I realized AP was no longer relevant, I considered Legion to be over.

I think the betting is that the pre-expansion patch will go live a week from Tuesday. It’s on the download now and probably could go live this next week, but Wednesday is the big Independence Day holiday in the US, so it seems doubtful Blizz would want to bring in lots of their employees to troubleshoot the inevitable glitches in a major patch and screw up their holiday.

I will be spending my game time until 8.0 tidying up — vendoring stuff, figuring out what to do with all the soon-to-be useless legendaries that we currently cannot get rid of (I guess Void Storage will be the answer), getting rid of some legacy mats my banker is hanging onto in order to make room for some of the Legion mats I want to keep, and so forth. I really do hope Blizz will allow us to vendor or disenchant our excess legendaries at some point, but I have not read or heard anything like that being in the works. Their special effects will remain until level 115, and after that I understand even their stats will diminish with each level. They may remain useful for Timewalking, but honestly I don’t know anyone who re-equips just to do TW dungeons any more.

There really are not any outstanding Legion achievements I am keen to do during our summer break. I am not an achievement hog anyway, and I have pretty much done the ones I am interested in. I would like to have finished Glory of the Argus Raider, but our guild was unable to field a team large enough to finish the last boss achievement. We did all except that one, but it requires a relatively large team to die and properly soak up the spirit orbs while still maintaining enough dps to kill the boss. Some of our guildies finally completed it using OpenRaid, but I am not interested enough in it to do it with a non-guild team.

Similarly, I have not done any of the mage tower challenges and do not intend to. The hunter artifact appearances were completely underwhelming — not worth my time — and I am nowhere near proficient, or interested, enough to beat my head against them on an alt. However, our amazing guild GM last night completed 35 of the 36 available, and I have no doubt but what she will finish the last one tonight or this weekend (if she hasn’t already). I am in awe.

As soon as 8.0 goes live, I will spend my time until expansion release just getting used to the new talents and rotations, deciding which specs will be most fun/effective for leveling in BfA and which ones will be viable raiding specs. I still expect to have a BM hunter as my main, all my recent angst notwithstanding. But I think I will work at getting an “alt main” in BfA, too, and 8.0 will help me select what that will be.

Lots to do, lots to look forward to. Plus it is summer, and both a weekend and a fun holiday coming up. I will be taking the next two weeks off from this blog to allow my creative side to recharge a bit. Look for me to be back on July 16. See you then.

The real Q&A

Despite my snarkiness in my last post, I thought the Q&A yesterday was relatively informative. There was surprisingly quite a lot of what I think of as “real” information as opposed to the kind of blather that is nothing more than an infomercial. If you have an hour with nothing else to do, check out the video yourself either directly on Twitch or via MMO-C here. With that, let me get started on my observations.

PTR is now live. The first announcement was a bit of great news — the PTR is now live for Patch 8.0. That is, now anyone can go up on the PTR and experience the pre-expansion patch, which as usual will contain everything new in BfA (stat squish, new profession system, War Mode, class changes, pre-expansion event scenario, etc.) except for the new zones and content-specific quests. I did not get a chance to check out the PTR yesterday after the Q&A, so I don’t have any firsthand information on it yet, but if you have specific questions I recommend you step in and give it a spin.

When 8.0 does go live (I am guessing in about a month), there will be a few things that have to be adjustment for you. For example, the tier and legendary bonuses will still work, but not the artifact actives. So if you are, say, a BM hunter, and have gotten used to working Titan’s Thunder into your rotation, that will be gone. Same with all the active artifact spells such as Sheilun’s Gift for mistweaver monks and the totally awesome New Moon for balance druids. (Seriously, what is cooler than dropping a moon on the head of your enemy?) Some of these have gone baseline for a few specs, but generally they are compensated for in other, mostly passive, ways.

Flying in BfA. Look for the BfA Pathfinder requirements to be pretty much the same as they were for Legion. Translation: No chance of getting flying until probably sometime around March 2019 at the earliest. Blizz will again gate the requirements behind faction rep, doing a certain number of world quests, and exploration of every nook and cranny of all the new zones, as well as withhold the final Pathfinder parts until a certain patch (8.2??).

Recall that Blizz started the whole Pathfinder mechanism back in WoD, when they were forced to back off their disastrous announcement that there would henceforward never be flying in any new zones. There was such a backlash over that, that they had to hurriedly come up with some way to put off WoD flying while they scrambled to make the zones flyable. So they invented the Pathfinder quest line, along with gates designed to ensure no one would get the ability before Blizz wanted them to.

I don’t actually mind the Pathfinder questlines, by the way, but my point here is that if you are leveling a new character that is not part of an account where one character has already unlocked flying, you must still do the Pathfinder quests for every zone they exist in. That means, in theory, that 5 years from now you will still have to unlock all the rep, exploration, and so forth in Draenor, in Broken Isles, in Battle for Azeroth, and in all expansions up to whichever one is current if you want to be able to fly in those zones.

Thus, an interesting question in the Q&A was, will Blizz stop requiring Pathfinder for older expansion zones such as WoD? Ion, as is his wont, punted on the answer, giving his usual not-at-this-time-but-maybe-sometime-in-the-future-soon™-we-might-start-to-think-about-it. Just my opinion, but I suspect by the expansion after BfA we will start to see Pathfinder going away in the earlier zones like WoD and Legion.

There was, however, a good bit of dissembling going on with Ion’s answer. He bleated on and on about not wanting to “devalue the effort” of completing Pathfinder in every expansion, and that “Draenor was designed for ground-based leveling so you don;t need flying to level there”. Well, yeah. But come on Ion, why not admit that the real answer is that for some reason you have decided that leveling should take a lot longer than it used to (do I smell MAU metrics here?), and allowing flying in a shorter time would not serve that goal.

Class Balance. Bottom line is, what you see on the PTR is largely what you will get for your class and spec. There are very few large changes planned at this point. Blizz is aware of some problems but will address them either by numbers tweaks between now and August 14 or leave those changes for 8.1.

After listening to Ion on this, I remain concerned that Blizz is rather deliberately making winner and loser classes, especially when it comes to raid and group utility. They keep blathering on about how they want each class to “feel special”, yet only a few classes are “special” enough to always be sought out for groups. That is, only a few classes have truly unique utilities — such as battle rez or innervate — and many other classes either have nothing or some lesser version of the sought-after utilities. When this trend is combined with Ion’s fixation on the idea that some classes should be sought after for certain fights (bring the class not the player), it does not bode well for the also-ran classes. Unfortunately for me, I think hunters are one of those. Ion can say all he wants about fitting your strategy to your team, but the reality is that, once there has been a “school solution” to certain fights, it will be well-nigh impossible for classes who are not part of that solution to find pugs willing to take them.

What this means, I think, is choose your main class and spec with care for BfA. If you love playing a certain one and don’t care that it may not be one of the favored ones, go for it. On the other hand, if high numbers, lively play style, and being able to easily get into groups are important factors for you, then spend some time figuring out which classes/specs will do that for you in BfA — it may not end up being your current main.

On the plus side, I was heartened to hear that Blizz understands they went too far with spec identity in Legion, and they want to return to overall class identity. Whether they will achieve this goal or not remains to be seen.

War mode. This new world PvP system is part of patch 8.0. The basics are that there will be no more PvP or PvE servers, there will only be Normal and RP ones. On all servers, you can toggle PvP mode on while in your faction capital city. When you do so, you will be transferred to a shard where everyone has also toggled PvP mode, thus making your location a PvP sever. The difference between RP and PvE servers is that currently RP servers do not involuntarily transfer players to other shards (except in extreme overload situations), so as to keep group integrity better for RP purposes. In 8.0, if you toggle War Mode on an RP server, you will stay on your own shard from your RP server. If you join a group, the group will join your shard, you will not be involuntarily transferred to a different one.

I was pleased to hear Ion explain a bit more about the perks awarded for doing War Mode in patch 8.0. Basically, players in War Mode will earn slightly more gold from world quests, and if they are leveling they will get fast xp than in PvE mode. Ion commented that the reason for this is that PvP players often get forcibly diverted from questing, and the extra gold and xp is a way to compensate for that. Ion said the team is paying a lot of attention to balancing this — they want to make sure PvP is not unduly punishing players who choose it, while at the same time they absolutely do not want the bonuses to be so lucrative as to make PvE players feel pushed into PvP.

Mythic Raiding. Who cares, really. BfA will implement some world ranking system that should result in cross-realm mythic raiding being unlocked sooner. Whoopee. 🙄

Mythic+ Dungeons. For me, another who-cares item. Players will not be able to switch out gear in BfA M+ dungeons, what they start with is what they will use for each. But the interesting takeaway for me from this whole M+ Q&A discussion is the sheer number of changes and “anti-exploit” measures being put into place in BfA for M+. This only means that these are going to be a major esports venue for WoW as we go forward, since nearly all the changes are targeted towards high-end min-maxxers.

Catch-up AP in BfA. There will be one, just as there was one for AP in Legion. Interestingly, in BfA Blizz is reversing the approach. In Legion, the amount of AP required to buy more artifact upgrades increased exponentially, and the catch-up mechanism was that you could earn geometrically-increasing amounts in order to get that AP. In BfA, you will earn Azerite at a constant rate, but the cost of the gear traits will go down periodically. Both systems work for catch-up, but the BfA method means we will not be faced with ridiculously high numbers for traits (over a trillion AP for some people with high artifact levels.)

Anyway, that was it for the Q&A. (There was some more PvP stuff but I pretty much tuned that out.) I think in general it was a decent hour. One of the most positive big takeaways for me is that I am beginning to believe Blizz is sensitive to the grindiness and tedium many of us disliked in Legion, and they do seem to be taking some steps to make that less of an issue.

And with that long, wordy post, let the weekend begin. See you on the other side.

Battle for Azeroth – more observations

Look at the title – if you don’t want to know, don’t read.

Yesterday I spent several hours on the Battle for Azeroth beta with my copied main BM hunter. In general, it was a positive experience (with some reservations). I took my time, but even so it only took me about 8 hours to get to level 112. Along the way I noted a few things.

Artwork. Once again, I think Blizz has outdone themselves in the artwork for this expansion. Prepare to be blown away with the detail and variation of the new zones. Towards the end of Legion, it struck me that Blizz was pretty much just mailing it in when it came to Broken Shore and Argus — feel pools, lava, and rocks seemed to be the extent of their effort. But Kul Tiras is rich, varied, and there has been a great deal of attention to detail. With the exception of my first “foothold” mission, I have not quested in the Horde starter zones of Zandalar, but from what I have seen, those areas, too, are exceptional.

I won’t deny that some parts of the new zones look suspiciously like recoloring of existing areas (is Boralus really just Suramar City reskinned?), but at least if that is the case, it has been done well. On a personal note, I am dismayed by what seems to be too many dark, gloomy regions — I prefer bright, sun-filled ones — but that is a personal preference, not a flaw in the artwork.

Intro scenario. The introduction to Battle for Azeroth — basically what everyone will be doing initially on launch day — is similarly well done. As most of you know, I am not a lore person, but to me the story was well told, hung together, and serves well as an introduction to the factors that will be recurring themes as BfA unfolds. And there really are some fun bits, including piling into mechanical devices and mowing down vast swaths of mobs.

It is, however, quite long and drawn out. As with most mechanics, it is interesting the first time through, but I think will not wear well at all more than once. I hope Blizz will offer a vastly abbreviated version for players’ alts once they have taken one character completely through it. As it is, even in the beta, they have given players the choice to skip the additional introduction to Kul Tiras — if you do that plus the first (currently mandatory) scenario, it is at least a couple hours before you can even start questing for real.

Handy and not so handy supplies. By all means, stock up on Goblin Gliders before you start. They work in BfA and are exceptionally useful when you need to get to a distant point below where you are — they really can cut down on travel time under the right circumstances, and there seem to be a lot of those circumstances.

Also go ahead and bring your special foods, flasks, and potions from Legion. I don’t know how long they will be effective in BfA, but they certainly are helpful at least during early leveling. I think a half stack of each would be plenty, but if you use them a lot then a whole stack might be better. They will end up at some point just being vendor trash anyway.

Do not bother with the crafted leather bardings that keep you from being dazed off your mount in Legion. They do not work in BfA. I learned this the hard way. Also, that handy little Lightforged Augment Rune you can buy from the Army of the Light in Antorus changes to be ineffective above level 109. I did not try the regular consumable Augment Runes, but I assume they are the same. You won’t need them, get rid of them.

Gear. If you are fairly well geared in Legion, your gear should last several levels in BfA before you will need to equip most gear drops from quests. The exception is your Azerite gear, which you get very early in the introduction quests.

For those of you unfamiliar with the special gear in BfA, it works very basically like this: Early on you get a neckpiece, the Heart of Azeroth, that you will keep the entire expansion. Its function is to absorb Azerite as you obtain it through various means. (The neckpiece itself seems to increase in ilevel rather automatically.) Once it absorbs a certain amount of Azerite, it will empower a new trait in one of the pieces of actual Azerite-powered gear you will collect.

You get an early quest that awards one piece of Azerite gear — you can pick helm, shoulders, or chest (I think). So your first accumulations of Azerite will go to empower the traits on this piece of gear. Like the neck piece, you will likely keep this piece throughout the expansion. Other pieces (up to a total of 3 equipped) are eventually obtained through raids and dungeons as loot. (It’s not clear to me yet if you can actually obtain more than 3 pieces and equip only 3, or if switching them out is a good idea even if you can.)

So, on a simple level, what BfA does is automate the legion AP/artifact mechanisms and spread them out among 3 pieces of gear plus an enabler piece. The neckpiece really is just a way to keep track of Azerite, and it eliminates the need to actually collect AP gizmos and click on them. The amount of Azerite needed for gear traits will of course increase exponentially with each trait, just like the AP requirements in Legion. Your action bars will include a tweak to the AP/artifact bar that will keep track of how long until your next Azerite trait upgrade.

If you want more detailed information on this gear in BfA, check out the Wowhead guide on it.

Your artifact weapon will transfer to BfA with you, basically as just a weapon with a relatively high ilevel.

The other gear thing to be aware of is how legendaries seem to work. Your legendaries will also transfer with you, again as gear with relatively high levels. But unlike artifact weapons, legendaries do retain at least some variation of their unique abilities from Legion. (Up until level 115, I believe.) So do tier pieces. So as you prepare for BfA you may want to give some thought to the relative value of legendary and tier bonuses, and how important these are to you in the early stages of leveling. Once you have decided that, then factor in that you will get one major piece of Azerite gear right away, and you will want to decide how or if that requires you to restructure your equipped Legion tier and legendaries.

As I said, I reached level 112 fairly quickly. My ilevel going in from Legion was 964, with 4-pc tier 21. So far most of the quest gear is just vendor trash for me, except of course for the Azerite piece and the neck piece. Towards the end of level 111 I did get a piece that made me dump one piece of tier, and I suspect by the time I reach 113 I will be replacing my Legion gear more often. Obviously, my lesser-geared alts will start dumping gear earlier.

Professions. As I suspected, if you start BfA with level 800 professions, it looks like Blizz will give you credit for the now-separate profession leveling from other expansions. The beta still has a few profession bugs in it, but that’s what it looks like. You will level to 150 (or 155??) for BfA, so even though it is a bit of a surprise to see your profession start at level 1 again, it seems like it will be a reasonable change. Gathering professions seem quick, and I am somewhere around 135 already on my skinner. No clue yet if herbalism and mining will be as fast. I have not yet done any leatherworking quests, although I do already have a couple in my quest list. So I don’t yet have a feel for how long and involved they may eventually be.

BM hunter. This post is not really about hunter specifics, but so far I think the experience is a mixed bag. On the one hand, BfA does seem to give us more decision options and thus more interesting play, but honestly most of that comes from an automatic switch to what we used to call the Dire Frenzy build in Legion.

Overall, the addition of  global cooldowns to hunter shots/commands that have not had them makes the play style seem somewhat clunky and slow, even given that BM hunters have all instant casts. The global cooldown going from 1.0 sec to 1.5 sec unhasted makes it even worse. Things that were off the GCD in Legion — like Bestial Wrath — are now on it, and I was amazed at how much slower and clunkier this change makes BM play seem.

The other really crappy thing about talents is the Hati replacement talent, Animal Companion. This simply has to change before BfA goes live, because as it now stands it is pretty effing useless. The additional pet has no pet special abilities (does only auto attack), does not share in Beast Cleave or Bestial Wrath, appears a few seconds after your main pet is summoned, has major pathing problems, seems to be back to the ambling mode when going to a target, and does not even camouflage itself when you do (resulting in unintended pulls).

I said it simply must change, but unfortunately we all know Blizz does not give a rat’s ass about hunters — especially BM hunters — and thus I would bet a week’s worth of gold that nothing will change. What we have is what we will get, because Blizz is clearly back to the mode of being pissy about getting pressure to give us some semblance of our artifact abilities — which they have happily and willingly done for many other classes, I might add — so they have reverted to their standard approach best summarized as, “Oh, ALL RIGHT! There. Now you got Hati so sit the eff down and shut up.”

Blizz remains uncomfortable with giving BM hunters any significant pet power, despite their fancy words on how committed they are to class and spec “fantasy”. Well, except for making Beast Master hunters actual masters of beasts, that is…..

Okay, that is enough bitching for a Monday. Overall, I am relatively pleased with what I have seen about BfA. I have not yet tried any War Fronts or Islands, but the leveling process seems solid. Of course, the initial leveling in any expansion is one of Blizz’s best design features, so we will see how the expansion eventually unfolds. I hope they learned a lesson about the eternal AP grind in Legion and will make the Azerite-gathering more pleasing in BfA. Of course we will have to grind it throughout the expansion — how else will they keep their MAU metrics going? — but maybe, fingers crossed, they have figured out a way to make it seem less onerous.

Battle for Azeroth developments

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if — oh what the hell, it’s not like I’m giving away the ending to The Sopranos or anything.

I don’t know about you, but the news from Blizz on Battle for Azeroth has seemed to me to alternate between fire hose and last-trickle-of-water-from-the-canteen levels. The last day or two has been the former. So let me dig in with a few comments, in no particular order.

Battle for Azeroth will launch at exactly the same time everywhere on earth. No more chance for anyone to whine that Blizz loves EU or NA or whatever best. Specifically, it will launch at 3PM Pacific time on August 13th, which because of the Prime Meridian or Vasco da Gama or sidereal slant or something is actually August 14th in some parts of the world, which in spite of it sounding like being a day later is exactly the same time as August 13th, and now my head hurts. Anyway, just accept it on faith that there will be a simultaneous launch of BfA everywhere on the planet.

Not to sound too much like a pessimist or to put any ideas into anyone’s head, but holy moley does this sound like a golden opportunity for hackers to earn their wings by bringing down the entire game all over the world. And while Blizz has made some respectable strides over the past couple of years in fending off mass denial of service attacks, this announcement just feels like they are taunting the evil-doers in the world. And, let’s be honest, even if there are no successful outside attacks, Blizz has in the past demonstrated their own genius for crashing their servers their very own selves under heavy use.

Outside of the potential for technical disaster, many players are welcoming this simultaneous-launch announcement. For me, in Virginia, it means BfA will launch at 6 PM on Monday August 13th. I am strangely annoyed by this, even though probably lots of people would love it since it might mean they will be home from work and not have to call in “sick” *cough cough snuffle snuffle*.

Why don’t I like it? Well, sort of personal tradition. I have mentioned before that on launch day I really get a kick out of getting up around 1 or 2 AM, brewing a pot of coffee, getting on voice chat with guildies, and munching cereal while we all indulge our inner children by gleefully anticipating the launch like kids just before Christmas. We always joke about how many of us are still in our jammies, and of course there are the inevitable references to “Ummm, yeah, sure, ‘jammies’…”

To think this year it will mainly be a matter of scheduling dedicated computer time late in the day just does not seem as exciting for some reason. I know Blizz thinks this is a technological breakthrough for them, and I suppose if they can pull it off it will be hailed as such, but for me I feel like they have taken the specialness out of it. Maybe if they had stuck to simultaneous launch with something like 4 or 5AM Pacific time as the benchmark rather than the very mundane 3 PM… I guess they did not want to have to pay premium night rates to their techs, who knows.

Also big news is that today’s BfA beta build will finally allow character import, something many have not-so-patiently waited for now for a couple of weeks. I don’t think it is that big of a deal, personally, but it does allow some advantages. For one thing, it will mean we can see how level-800 professions transfer to the new profession system, rather than just experiencing what it is like to start a new profession in BfA. Also, presumably, a character’s mounts and pets will finally be available instead of the generic few allowed to this point. Possibly also a character’s transmog will now be visible instead of the hodgepodge look the generated characters have.

We will see the BfA effects on our regular character’s stats and legendaries. People used to several million health, high numbers for secondary stats, and a gear level at 950 or even higher will see all these numbers significantly squished. Similarly, people used to doing, say 1 or 2 million damage will see numbers far lower. Blizz has done this before, of course, so we should be used to it, but for some it is a big shock.

Of somewhat more interest to me is how Blizz will handle the stat squish in the pre-expansion patch, when we will still technically be in Legion. It might be easier to deal with now that there is widespread dynamic leveling technology in the game, but I suspect there will still be a large number of bugs — getting killed by a single imp, for example, or trash single-shotting the whole raid.

And not exactly BfA-specific, but what the hell is it with Death Knights? It seems like every time Blizz announces any change to classes or talents, there is like a page and a half of DK changes, and other classes will have one or two lines if that. I am talking about every single time, for a couple of years now. Sheesh, it’s like the infinite monkeys with typewriters thing — eventually you would think Blizz would get DKs straightened out, even if by sheer random fumbling.

Though I have not run any hardcore numbers, I am still hopeful for the future of BM hunters in BfA. I admit I hate the one-size-fits-all pet changes, and I am pretty pissed that Blizz promised us Tranq shot again then pulled it away, and that they hugely nerfed binding shot. Also, it strikes me that all the hunter “raid buffs” are pretty skimpy. They seem to be just backups in case the raid does not have any of the “real” classes that provide them. There seems very little unique to BM hunters (except possibly for PvP with Master’s Call), certainly not enough that would cause raid leaders to think of hunters in any way except as some added dps, and probably fairly mediocre dps at that. If, as Blizz claims, they want to put more emphasis on what makes a class unique, I am just not seeing that for hunters. If we do not bring any unique and useful raid buffs, then it seems to me that our value would need to be in top damage numbers, but so far anyway that does not seem to be the case.

(And not for nothin’, but what exactly was so terrible about Aspect of the Fox, the hunter-unique raid buff back in WoD that lasted approximately 20 minutes before Blizz — horrified — realized they had mistakenly given hunters an actual useful raid buff and quickly eliminated it. Whew! Any semblance of hunter raid uniqueness was narrowly averted, but it was a close call!)

Nevertheless, I have seen enough incremental changes to BM hunter for BfA to be just a tiny bit hopeful the spec will be viable.

Last but not least, if character copy is now available on the beta, that tells me the PTR cannot be far behind, which is a good thing. It will not be long before we hear Blizz plead for a lot of PTR logins so they can give the system a decent stress test. One hopes it will be sufficient to let them work out the inevitable crash points we are likely to encounter the day the entire world logs in to Battle for Azeroth.

With these scattered thoughts, it is time for a weekend. See you on the other side.

I am NOT prepared

Panic buttonIn guild talk last night, someone pointed out it is 10 weeks until Battle for Azeroth goes live. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but when I began to mentally list the things I want to get done before then, my brain began to yammer, “Sound General Quarters! AWOOOOGA! AWOOOOGA!”

BfA release in 10 weeks means we will likely see the pre-expansion patch about a month before the new expansion, or 6 weeks from now. For me, the pre-expansion patch is the effective end of the current expansion, because that is when I make the adjustments to become familiar with the class changes — change out WeakAuras as necessary, take a look at the numbers behind secondary stats, and spend time at the target dummies to develop some new muscle memory. Then I follow this with a few LFR or guild runs through some of the raid tiers to be fairly proficient when the new expansion drops.

But before I start this whole process, I like to feel each of my characters is as caught up in the game as possible. That usually means:

  • Banks and bags are cleaned out and tidied
  • Professions are maxed
  • Gear level is as high as possible for as much as I play each one
  • The spec is the one I expect to level with in the next expansion
  • Any important achievements are done (example in Legion: class mount)

As you might imagine, while this list is not very long, it has a lot of what we used to call “implied missions” for each item. For example, to know which spec I want to level with for each character, I need to do some research to get a few hints about what might be the most fun and/or “best” spec in BfA. That will include some reading as well as a few beta (or soon PTR) test runs in order to decide. Maxing professions would seem to be straightforward, but it almost always involves switching a few around, and of course it takes time to level these new ones up. That is if I decide to level them up — they can still take full part in BfA professions without leveling them up now.

Cleaning out bags and banks is nothing more than tedious. Usually I do not do it far enough in advance to make any real gold in the auction house, what with everyone else cleaning out their stuff, too. So it generally involves a lot of vendoring and mailing around. The mailing occurs when I decide which alt should be the main keeper of whatever mats I decide to save. Sometimes it is obvious, other times not so much. My main hunter is a LW/skinner, but honestly she has so much other junk in her bank that it is not feasible for her to keep all the current leather along with stocks of classic leathers that come in handy. So those go to my bank alt.

I would really love to see an account-wide shared bank tab in this game, but it does not look like it is in the cards any time soon. It would save so much tedious busywork. You would not, of course, be able to put soulbound items in there, but everything else would be so great to have access to by everyone. And while I am on the subject, it seems like it is time to end the small-guild restrictions on bank tabs. (I am talking about the single-member guilds many of us have just for our bank alt.) Why not allow more tabs for these guilds — go ahead and charge the same as for regular guild additional tabs? I suspect it has something to do with meta-storage in the servers, but still it would go a long ways to improving quality of life for many players.

Of course, the other big thing I still need to do is decide what my main will be in BfA. In all likelihood I will end up still as a BM hunter, but for the first time ever I am seriously considering a class switch for main. At this point I have narrowed it down to druid (balance/resto), monk (windwalker/mistweaver), or mage (pick a spec). While WW monk is fantastically fun to play in BfA, our guild already has too many melee raiders, and in the final analysis I really prefer ranged play. I have not looked into MW monk for BfA, so I do not know if that would be a decent raid option if I went with monk as a main.

I really enjoy resto druid play — the mobility strikes me as sort of a hunter style, which I like. But I am not sure about Balance changes in BfA — the one thing I have always hated about them is the excruciatingly long cast times for most spells, combined with the wimpiness of the small number of instant casts. Clearly, more research is needed on my part.

My mage — well, I have got her to artifact level 75 in all specs, and I find each of them engaging to play, though I would say fire is far and above my favorite, followed by frost, with arcane a somewhat distant third. At least in Legion, both fire and frost have quite a lot of mobility, but I have not rolled a mage in the beta yet, so I have no clue what may change, if anything. (My bet is no major changes, since it is well known that Blizz loves mages best!)

Still, if I had to bet, I would bet I will keep my hunter main for BfA. It is, after all, the class I love best in the game and the one I have loved ever since I started to play. But it doesn’t hurt to at least consider a different path.

So, while it may not be quite time yet to push the panic button, my finger is definitely hovering over it. We rally have only about 6 more weeks of Legion left before 8.0 is released. At that point for all practical purposes we will have begun Battle for Azeroth. So much to do, so little time!

Hunter pet changes in BfA

There are some very minor hunter-related Battle for Azeroth spoilers in this post. Don’t read if you don’t want to know.

As many of you may know, Blizz is making significant changes to the hunter pet system in BfA. For a good rundown, check out Bendak’s post on this, but the essential points are:

  • Hunters will no longer select which specialty a pet has. That is, certain kinds of pets will be classified as Ferocity, others as Cunning, and still others as Tenacity. These cannot be changed. (All Spirit Beasts are now classified as Tenacity.)
  • All pet families do exactly the same amount of damage and have the same level of tanking ability.
  • Each pet family brings two abilities (one active, one passive) that benefit the pet, the hunter, and friendly players.
    • Ferocity grants a leech to the hunter and the pet, and has Blood Lust (30% haste for the group for 40 seconds).
    • Tenacity grants a blanket +8% health to the hunter and the pet, and has an active 20% damage reduction for hunter and pet for 6 seconds, on a 3-minute cooldown.
    • Cunning gives the hunter and pet an 8% speed increase and can remove snares and slows from a targeted friendly player.
  • In addition to the above, most pet families bring defensive cooldowns for themselves, and others bring a debuff against their target. Most (but not all) of these can be either manually cast by the hunter or put on auto-execute.
  • There are a few other minor changes, for example Stupid Hunter Insurance, where Growl is automatically turned off in dungeons and back on when you leave a dungeon. (You can turn it back on manually in a dungeon.)
  • Battle Rez has been removed completely as a pet ability, along with Heart of the Phoenix (except for Quilen, which may or may not be an oversight on Blizz’s part), Last Stand, and some other passives.

I really have not tested these changes much in the beta — hunter pets are limited thus far, since we cannot yet import a live character that might have already collected a lot of pet families. They may turn out to be okay, but in general I am very nervous about them. Pets are basically a cosmetic item for MM hunters, and SV hunter power comes primarily from the hunter not the pet. But BM hunters ARE their pets — without them we pretty much do zero damage. Our entire play style is centered on them.

So, for example, removal of Heart of the Phoenix (which has been a feature of all Ferocity pets) is significant — that one instant pet rez has saved my bacon more than once while soloing, and it has often enabled me to maintain damage on a boss during critical phases of a fight. For BM hunters, a pet revival cast time of 2 seconds can be serious — think if a warrior could periodically lose his weapon and not be able to retrieve it for 2-3 seconds in a boss fight. I smell a PvP whine at work here — having an instant pet revival spell makes BM hunters far less easy to gank in a world PvP situation. And of course if something offends PvP-ers, Blizz must change it immediately, especially when the design goal is to urge more people into PvP.

Interestingly — but unfortunately not surprisingly — while the BfA pet changes may result in hunters being expected to have at least one of every variation of pet, Blizz has not seen fit to change the antiquated pet stable system. The total number of pets a hunter may have is still 50, despite Blizz adding dozens of new pets to be tamed every expansion. Worse, a hunter is limited to 5 pets for summoning. If you have guessed wrong, and none of those 5 are a good fit for a certain situation, you have to go back to a stable master, usually in a major city, to change out your ”pet bag”. In BfA, we will likely need to keep one each Ferocity, Tenacity, and Cunning pets available, then have the remaining 2 slots be our best guess for special defensive or debuff spells.

It really is time for Blizz to give hunters a pet tab like the foo-foo pet tab all other players have for pet battles. Barring that, they should allow more than 5 pets to be immediately accessible. And barring even that, they should introduce some sort of “portable stable” that would allow hunters to switch out their 5 while in the field or in a dungeon or raid. Honestly, I would be much more accepting of the BfA pet changes if Blizz also gave us this long-overdue change. Yet they stubbornly refuse to even discuss the possibility…

Again I have the strong impression that Blizz considers hunters to be the throwaway class, the one they are free to ignore at any time, or the one they can do wild experiments on no matter what the fallout. The BfA pet changes are part of this pattern — Blizz has made zero effort to integrate them in any novel way with hunter play styles, nor have they made any changes that would allow hunters to use the new pet system in any newly efficient manner.

The last thing I have to say about the BfA pet changes is that Blizz seems to think these constitute enough class changes for BM hunters. MM and SV have undergone pretty significant play style and spell changes in BfA, but BM has remained relatively untouched save for the pet system makeover. While the pet changes are major, none of them do anything to increase BM hunter damage, nor do they change the clunky play style in any meaningful way.

My original impression of BM hunters in BfA was that the play style seemed a little livelier, but having internalized it, I think that impression was just from the fact that Dire Frenzy is baseline. I have almost exclusively played the zoo build in Legion, so switching to DF of course adds a button push along with a small decision point. But the play style is still slow (made slower by the switch to almost everything going on the GCD), and many of the talents seem not to be integrated with the play style at all, just something to be tossed in when they come off cd. At lower levels, focus seems also to be a problem at times, forcing very uncomfortable pauses. Maybe that will improve with better gear and stats?

It really seems like Blizz has once again thrown one of the hunter specs under the bus for an entire expansion. My bad luck they have chosen the spec I play both times — first SV in WoD and Legion, then BM in Legion and BfA.

Watch out, MM hunters, I may select this as my main spec, which will mean it is doomed for the expansion after BfA.