Hati, we hardly knew ye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions of a mediocre hunter

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

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

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

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

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

It is not a good feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinkets and space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cranky about the crucible

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

Blizz, have you completely lost your marbles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deja vu?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunters don’t fit in Blizzard’s mindset

Blizz announced a couple of days ago that Patch 7.3 will bring some fancy new caster visuals for some caster classes/specs. Um, sure, whatever. I suppose it is nice that they are continuing to improve the game’s visual experience.

Side comment: I have often said that I think mages have the best visuals in the game, so I find it a bit interesting that all three mage specs will be showered with even cooler new visuals, while only a couple of the remainder of the caster classes will be so favored. But then, we all know mages are the teacher’s pet class for Blizz….

And please, no hate mail from all you mages out there — I have a mage alt which I am terrible at but which I really wish I could play better. I stink at it, and I admire anyone who can play a mage well.  I do not hate mages, but you have to admit they are pretty much the untouchable class in WoW. They may not always be top of the DPS charts, but they also never get royally screwed with major changes like, oh, say, making one of the specs suddenly melee. Just sayin’.

Anyway, moving on. In reading the blue post about new visuals, I was struck by one thing: Blizz clearly thinks only in terms of casters and melee. Not ranged and melee. This was a revelation to me because it goes a long way towards explaining why they seem to dislike hunters so much — they have no idea how to think of them. Thus, hunters almost always fall through the cracks or become a last-minute afterthought.

And when I think about it, by “hunters” I am really talking mainly about BM hunters. SV are not really hunters at all but rather just a bad melee class. MM hunters, by virtue of their requirement to stand still to maximize their potential, are very close to casters, only they cast physical damage not magic. But BM hunters fit none of those categories. BM hunters are basically “ranged melee”. Our pets are strictly melee, and they do the bulk of our damage. But we control them (insofar as we can) from a distance, and we can even lob a few rather puny shots in ourselves from range. We live in both worlds, melee and ranged, but when Blizz primarily thinks of ranged as casters, we just get ignored. (Okay, yeah, we did get that marvelous new super-wiggly Cobra Shot, I guess we should be thankful…)

Now that I think about it, I wonder if the major class changes Blizz made to hunters in Legion had less to do with their desire for “spec uniqueness” and much more to do with trying to cram hunters into existing Blizz categories of melee and casters. They succeeded in doing so for two hunter specs, but they failed with beastmastery hunters. We are still neither fish nor fowl, still the exception spec, still the spec none of the devs really loves or understands at anything beyond a numbers level. Blizz created us, but they have no idea how to design our visuals or our damage or our rotations.

They are uncomfortable when we get either a caster or a melee advantage. Think about the very foundation of BM hunters, for example — we are “beast masters” but we have really very little control over our pets, and none over Hati. Is this because Blizz does not want someone standing at range to be able to have any real control over events in melee space? Or look at our puny, focus-eating Cobra Shot — does Blizz consider it unfair for a player to have a powerful ranged shot that is not cast, would it make “real” casters angry?

Yes, BM hunters are still the exception spec. Personally, I love this. I like not being part of the melee or caster herd, even if it means we are always the afterthought for cool changes like new visuals. But I suspect Blizz hates it. Over the years we have seen more and more centralized control in the game, more of Blizz making decisions for us about endgame activities, of Blizz deciding what our playstyle should be, of when and how we may use our flying mounts, of how many weeks it must take us to see new content, of how quickly we may progress in our professions, of how likely it is any of us will see needed gear. In this mindset, a spec that does not fit neatly into some set category is a real problem, because it must be dealt with separately, as an exception. Thus, Blizz must either largely ignore it because it takes too many resources to deal with, or work steadily to squeeze it into a category so it can be dealt with as part of a gaggle.

This makes me worry about what will happen to BM hunters in the next expansion. Will Blizz continue to allow us to exist as the exceptional spec we are, or will they stuff us into one of their defined categories? I think we will have to wait until at least Blizzcon to get even a hint of this, but I will be listening intently in the coming months. If Blizz starts to talk about something like “exciting new changes to hunters”, I will know it is time to panic.

But for now, it is time to start a weekend. See you on the other side.

An hour of nothingness and delusion

Today’s post is about all the juicy tidbits Ion Hazzikostas dropped for us in yesterday’s Q&A — some of them make me righteously indignant, I am excited about others, and still others have given us startling insight into not only 7.3 but also the direction the game is going for the next expansion.

HAHAHAHAHA! Just kidding. It was a real yawner, so much so it looked like even Josh Allen aka Lore got bored enough to semi-surreptitiously start checking out his phone texts about halfway through the session. A coincidence of irl scheduling allowed me to watch it live, and what a mistake that was — truly an hour of my life completely wasted. Unless you really have nothing else to do, do not waste your own time listening to it — if you are interested, read the MMO-C summary notes.

Nevertheless, herewith a couple of comments:

Who selects the “questions” for these things?

Okay, I get that not everyone has the same game interests I do, and that there will be subjects that cause me to roll my eyes but that are totally absorbing to someone else. Story lines would be an example — some people are real nerds (meant in the nicest possible way) about the game’s lore and can’t get enough of it, while I on the other hand…

Lore nerd: OMG!!! Did you hear that in the next expansion we might finally find out why G’Thun’De’Fxxxgrlk treacherously sold out the Squeakyoldfart Creators of Every Aspect of the Universe, causing the rise of the orcs and the demise of the Curlytoed Elves? And that he will finally be reunited with his centuries-long love Mp’K’Qrj’kunda? And that we will get to fight the Fel Caterpillar of Fuzzy Doom in the Temple of Gassygreenvapors? Sorry about the spoilers, but I’m so excited!!

Me: Zzzzzzz

But I digress. Luckily for me there were no story line comments yesterday (if there were, I blocked them out). There were, however, long minutes during which Hazzikostas droned on (and on and on and on) about a burning question of great interest to at least .001% of the player base — what is an acceptable amount of time for a world first guild to complete a new mythic raid tier?

Really? You have a total of one hour to address questions from actual players, about a ton of topics that truly impact their game experience, and this is what you choose to spend a huge chunk of time on? I really would like to know who chooses these “questions” and where they actually come from, because this sounded a lot like it might actually have been submitted by player “Rehctaw” in a special forum limited to  maybe the Game Director.

Patch 7.3 and artifacts, artifacts, artifacts

We learned it will take 3 weeks to unlock all parts of the patch, and that the whole point of unlocking it all is to be able to — hold onto your hats here — grind out more shit for your artifact weapon!

There were a lot — a lot — of questions related to artifact weapons, at least three asking about their appearance and transmog. (Again, what moron chooses these questions? I could see one question on this subject but three?) Of course, being a BM hunter, artifact appearances mean almost nothing , since Blizz has decided in their infinite wisdom that even though Hati is the main part of our artifact weapon, there will be no appearance changes. They gave us the Essence Swapper, we should just shut up and be grateful. This is in line with their refusal to allow hunters to use any cosmetic weapon enchants. It’s all, well, too hard, and what the hell it’s only hunters and why should we waste any dev resources on them? Not that I’m bitter or anything….

Sorry, I digress again.

I have said it before and I say it again: artifact weapons are the garrisons of Legion. They have shaped the expansion in a way that in my opinion completely distorts the entire game, and Blizz just keeps shoving them down our throats in new ways with every patch. The fact that something close to a third of the Q&A time was spent on discussing them demonstrates that in fact artifacts are Legion and Legion is artifacts, in the same way garrisons were WoD and WoD was garrisons.

Alts

One bit of bright news revealed about Patch 7.3 is that there will be some decent catch-up mechanisms for alts. I still think Legion is alt-hostile, but there will be at least a couple of concessions to help players. For example, the time necessary to grind out gear for your champions will be greatly reduced, quite a few of the Argus unlocks will be account wide, and there will be more shortcuts to milestones for your artifact weapon.

Reforging

This was one of the weirdest excursions into the mind of Ion Hazzikostas I can remember. The question was basically, is there any chance we might see the return of reforging — possibly the best question in the whole Q&A, and it was also the most out-of touch answer I have ever heard from any Blizz dev. Here are the MMO-C notes  summarizing Ion’s response:

  • Reforging had lots of downsides, such as trying to perfectly get the hit or expertise cap and reforging all of your items every time you got a new item.
  • Every item that doesn’t have your best two stats you would reforge to have your best stat. This didn’t really make for interesting choices.
  • This also narrowed the distinction between items, making them feel more similar.
  • It also made it harder to evaluate upgrades, as you had to look at the item in its current state as well as how you could reforge it.
  • There were some good parts, such as giving players choices to make.

Not included in the summarized notes is this astonishing quote regarding the current state of gear in Legion without reforging:

“A new helm drops for you, just put it on.”

Yes, folks, he actually said that. Just like he actually said one of the evil things about reforging was that it “made it harder to evaluate upgrades.”

One wonders just exactly what game it is that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas spends his time playing, because it most certainly is not World of Warcraft Legion. My mind is too boggled over this whole Twilight Zone answer to even rant about it, all I can do is shake my head in astonishment and disbelief.

And maybe drink a beer. It is, after all, the weekend. See you on the other side.