For stat geeks

There is a lot on my plate in the real world today, so this will be an abbreviated post. But I want to give a plug to a hunter who provides an excellent service to the community. Delirium over at Thrill of the Wild does not post often, but when he does it is frequently to do a lot of math heavy lifting for the rest of us. His deep dives on hunter stats over the years have helped me a lot.

If you are a math whiz, you can follow his extensive spreadsheets and testing results, and use them to make calculations for your own hunter. But if you are “math challenged” like I am, you can skip over that part and just read his bottom lines, which are written in normal and useful language.

An ongoing project of his is to break out hunter stat conversions and ability formulas, for all hunter specs as well as for pets. It is updated with each new patch and relevant hotfix. His results are all based on extensive testing, not tooltips, so they may differ from some more popular sites. I encourage you, if you have the time, to check it out. It takes a bit of dedication to get into the charts, but you are well rewarded if you do so. I was especially interested in the ability formula tables, because they tell you which abilities are affected by the spec’s most important secondary stats such as mastery or haste. For example, if you are deciding which stats to enchant or gem for, or which talents will take advantage of your current stat build, these tables can help you.

Wait, what?

On Monday I wrote about Blizz’s surprising announcement of planned baseline improvements to BM hunters. Basically, I was encouraged because the changes addressed two of the most fundamental problems with BM mechanics — problems that had been identified and quantified as early as the alpha testing phase, and problems Blizz had stubbornly ignored for all of Legion. However, I cautioned that the changes were so significant that there would almost certainly be some power nerfs to the spec, and we would have to see what those turned out to be.

Lo and behold, within hours of that post, Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast broke the news detailing the first round of “tuning changes” designed to compensate for the new baseline abilities. You can read Bendak’s post for the details, but they are pretty brutal. As Bendak points out, and I completely agree, it is somewhat early in the process, and this is a first cut at balancing the new BM power structure, so no need to panic just yet.

Nevertheless, what we have seen time and again with Blizz in Legion development is that their final cut is frequently only slightly different than their first cut. They suffer from a strong anchoring bias, rendering them incapable of significant change once embarked on a course of action, even if that course of action is determined early in a testing phase. Too often for Blizz, FD=FD (first draft equals final draft). I do not know if this is due to constraints of resources or of mental agility, but the end result is that terrible ideas — even if beta or PTR testers point them out — often make it into live versions. Thus, while I am not yet in panic mode over the BM tuning adjustments, I am definitely starting to worry.

Two aspects of these changes puzzle me. One is the nerf to tier gear. As it currently stands, Bendak points out that the T20 gear will be worse than the T19 gear, and in fact the best way to incorporate it will be to equip basically 6 pieces of tier gear — some mix of T19 and T20. This is insane, in my opinion.

Such a move is a continuation of Blizz’s abysmal morass of gear in Legion, where it is frequently impossible to know if a piece of higher level gear is an upgrade or not without consulting web sites and running complex simulations. How in the hell did we get into this situation anyway? Remember when Blizz was so solicitous of our tiny brains that they removed reforging because it was too mathy? They didn’t want gear to be “complicated”.

HAHAHAHA! Good one, Blizz, we totally fell for that.

And now we are at the point where an actual piece of legendary gear may or may not be an upgrade, where ilevel is often meaningless, where in some cases secondary stats are more important than primary ones, and apparently soon where new tier gear is actually worse than the older stuff. And the mechanisms for weighing the relative values of gear are so complex that it takes sophisticated computer programs to decide.

Here’s an idea, Blizz: If it’s higher level gear, it should be an upgrade. Period. 

In complex systems, components are intricately interrelated, often beyond what a human brain can comprehend in any detail. WoW is an enormously complex system. The pattern I see in Blizz development is that their systems engineers and coders almost certainly understand this, but their class designers are only dimly aware of it. Thus, they happily redesign class structures nearly every expansion, then seem genuinely puzzled and surprised when it causes huge problems reflected in gear and in overall power balance in game activities ranging from PvP to raids to nearly every other activity. To compensate, they spend most of every expansion tweaking (sometimes mega-tweaking) numbers and adding bandaid gear fixes, until the whole system comes to some state of very delicate balance — usually by the end of the expansion. Sometimes they find they have painted themselves into a corner, and they write big problems off as unfixable, regardless of the effect such action may have on players. (Thinking SV hunters in WoD here.) Then, having learned nothing, they start the entire process again for a new expansion.

I think this partially explains why we are in such a terrible place with gear in Legion. Adding new gear, or tinkering with stats in sought after pieces like legendaries or tier, has to be easier than reworking fundamental class/spec mechanics once an expansion goes live. Certainly for hunters we have seen Blizz use gear to try and fix baseline problems. Remember the 4-piece tier for MM hunters in WoD — it was what made the spec at least playable though still not really enjoyable. Similarly, the legendary shoulders were introduced in Legion to try and fix the clunky unresponsive BM play style. These were problems players identified early on in test phases, but Blizz refused to address them at that point, apparently being too anchored to them to even consider moving away from them. Then, when live versions proved players right, Blizz seemed surprised and tried all sorts of complicated bandaids to fix what could have been more elegantly addressed in test phases.

So here we are yet again — devs deciding that BM hunters were actually right way back in alpha testing, that something like two charges to Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy is absolutely needed to breathe some fun into the spec. They tried to fix it with a piece of gear, but then they made that gear an extremely rare drop, thereby punishing every hunter unlucky enough to not get it. Having decided that all BM hunters should have this ability, they then announced that it would be baseline in 7.2.5. So far, so good.

But I said, there are two puzzling aspects to Blizz’s brutal nerf to BM hunters, and the second is this:

If Blizz was fine with some hunters having the legendary shoulders and therefore getting the perk of 2 charges for DB/DF, why are they now distraught at the prospect of every BM hunter having the perk, so much so that they must apply draconian nerfs to the entire spec? The power increase with two charges is significant, no argument there, but why was it okay for some lucky hunters to have that additional power but it is unacceptable for all to have it?

We all expected Blizz to extract payment from hunters for “giving” us something we should have had all along. It is what they do. (Remember the great flying crisis in WoD.) Still, these particular types of payments make no sense to me whatsoever.

Not impressed with 7.2

We have had a little over a week with 7.2 and I am extremely underwhelmed with it. If pushed to come up with one reason, I guess it would have to be that it is just more of the same bleak Legion never-ending grind. Some random thoughts and observations:

New artifact trait system. This just depresses me. For BM hunters the new traits are decidedly uninspired, and I think Blizz as usual took the lazy path by adding one more tick to the old 3-tick traits. Nothing about this system makes me excited to progress in it. There is no “WOOHOO” moment anywhere in the path — nearly everything is a dull unimaginative tiny increase to some boring passive trait. I do not deny some of them are useful, but the whole idea is just freaking boring. The snakes? Yeah, they are about as powerful as the old snake trap, which is to say useless.

Gazillions of AP. Yeah, see above. I get that we are now earning AP at a much greater rate, but there is something demoralizing when you get half a million and it barely nudges the little AP bar. And I just feel hopeless and beat down when I need tens of millions of AP in order to get that next boring uninspired .5% increase in some passive trait. I am starting to get quite sullen over the “bonus” AP events and mechanics, too, because I feel manipulated — like everything in the game is pushing me towards amassing AP.

What we have is an endless chase after in-game currency to buy tiny incremental power increases for a central piece of gear. There is no end to it, no achievement, no sense of accomplishment, no cool fun result. Even if someone could reach the final trait — and there will be people who do this — it is hopeless because Blizz will then add on more grinding just like they did after that 54th trait.

I am absolutely dumbfounded that Ion Hazzikostas and other devs can lecture us — with a straight face, mind you — about the evils of “grinding” for gear, and then hand us this, the greatest and most obnoxious gear grind the game has ever seen. In this, their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Broken Shore. Ugh. First, there is nothing aesthetically inviting about it, it is desolate and ugly. At least Timeless Isle and Tanaan Jungle had some decent artwork attached to them, some nice eye candy to reward you for all the time you spent there.

Second, it is chock full of invisible walls, dead ends, and obstacles to ground travel, making getting anywhere an exercise in annoyance. Add to that the fact there are only 3 flight points, and that there are armies of imps and other mobs that dog your every step no matter where you set foot, and you have a recipe for extreme frustration. And don’t forget, Blizz has kindly made these mobs scale to your gear level, so none of them are truly trivial.  I do not know if we will be able to fly in this zone if and when we ever are allowed to fly again, but I can tell you if I cannot fly there I will probably spend very little time there. It is just not fun.

Third, the daily quests. That is exactly the problem — they really are dailies, not world quests. Which means if you miss a day, you miss a lot of rep. There is no emissary, no skipping a day or two and catching up. This is exactly the situation Blizz said they did not want to repeat after the rep grinds of Mists — they did not want people to feel they had to log on and do the dailies every day or risk falling behind.

WTF, Blizz?

Fourth, those buildings. Their mediocre perks aside, this whole mechanic is going to get mighty old mighty fast for me. I am pretty sure that after we have had one of each type, I will deliberately withhold my war supplies and refuse to contribute them to a building I know will be destroyed in a couple of days. Just for spite, because it is a stupid mechanic.

Mage Tower challenge. Nope, just nope. For one thing, the unlocked BM artifact appearance is butt ugly. For another, as usual, there is no appearance change for Hati. Last but certainly not least, the challenge is stupid hard, designed for 1% or less of the elite, and at least thus far dependent on having equipped a couple of very specific legendaries. Oh, and it costs you currency to try it more than once, and it is designed to take many, many attempts to successfully complete. Oh, and just out of spite apparently, Blizz seems to have removed the Ignore Quest option, thus guaranteeing that big ass yellow quest marker will be there every time the Mage Tower is up.

So let’s see — spend currency to enter, spend hundreds or more likely thousands of gold in repairs, suffer huge and continuous frustration because Blizz wants 99% of players to fail, add additional difficulty because I am not one of the lucky few with the “right” legendaries, all for an ugly appearance for a weapon I always transmog anyway?

Not only no, but hell no.

Demonic invasions. I really thought these would be like the pre-Legion scenarios, which I found fun, quick, and even rewarding. Nope, definitely wrong on that one. They are nothing more than world quests in a certain zone, followed by a 3-person scenario. Oh, and of course you cannot get the scenario until you have knocked off most of the invasion quests for the zone. Got to keep those monthly hours up for Ion’s bonuses after all.

I did the first set of these — Aszuna — last night. Well, I say I did them but the truth is I did not compete the actual scenario because after 15 minutes of running back and forth between two sets of mobs and killing them over and over again, we finally got to Stage 2 of the scenario (no idea how many stages there are), but by that point it was time for our guild raid so I had to drop group. It’s certainly possible that in time we will learn the layout of these scenarios better, but my limited experience last night is that they are unimaginative, boring game play extenders.

By the time we got done with our raid, the invasion had disappeared. And of course since I did not complete the scenario, I assume I get no credit for completing one invasion. Thus, the next time the Aszuna one comes around I get to start all over again with the world quests.

The invasions spawn randomly in a zone for six hours, so even though this is a rather large window, it still means it will be possible for some players to have the bad luck to not be able to play while the invasions are active. I have no idea how often “randomly” is, but this seems designed once again to force players to keep checking the game and rearrange their schedules to log in when any needed invasions are active. I will do each of them once then pretty much ignore them, I think.

More hate for hunters. A couple of 7.2 developments are/were decidedly anti-hunter, and show once again that Blizz has no understanding of the downstream effects of their Brilliant Ideas, no one among the devs who has a clue how to play a hunter.

I am a BM hunter, not MM, but Blizz really screwed MM hunters at the start of 7.2. They initially set up the Unerring Arrow trait bonus as 10% per point, for a total of a 40% bonus for filling in all 4 points. This of course was very attractive to MM hunters, and many if not most of them immediately filled out this trait with their traded AP when 7.2 went live. Within 24 hours, however, Blizz nerfed the bonus from 10% down to 4%, more than halving it.

It is possible that 10% was too high, but why in the world would they wait until AFTER MM hunters had taken these points to nerf it so drastically? This is not something Blizz might have noticed and fixed on the PTR? Here are the optics for this: Blizz cares so little for hunters that they have no qualms about making them spend precious AP on a trait only to nerf it into oblivion once the AP is spent. No attempt to put themselves in the place of players agonizing over trait decisions, no notion of refunding the AP fully in light of the sudden reversal of value for the trait. And of course no official comment on it because, hey, who gives a damn about hunters, the throwaway class?

Blizz recently “improved” certain visual effects for some specs. Among these changes was one to Multishot for hunters. I have no idea what they thought they were doing, but the effect has been to render the shot far less useful than it was before the change. Specifically, in the old version the number of arrow or bullet representations were roughly equal to the number of targets you were hitting. In particular, it was very easy to see if you were targeting only two mobs or a single mob, in which case Multishot was probably not what you wanted to be using. But with the change, you no longer can tell if you have killed most of a pack and are down to one or two targets, since the representation now shows multiple tracers even with just one target. This can cause a net damage loss if applied over time, as Multishot is wasted on just a single target.

No idea if this was done on purpose, or if as usual Blizz failed to anticipate this complication. Did none of the dev hunters try the new graphic and see this? (Never mind, we know the answer.)

Are there some good things about 7.2? Of course there are — if nothing else, we are getting a bunch of new world quests and a story line extension. But for me, the never ending grind Blizz continues to foist on us — for profession recipes, AP, class hall quests, class hall research, champion gearing up, the eternal carrot of flying, etc. — outweighs most of the positive points. I am sick of garrisons class halls, sick of artifact weapons, sick of Legion’s insane “legendary” acquisition mechanics, sick of eternal grinding for

every.

single.

game.

activity.

Because, as we all know and have been told over and over again by the esteemed Game Director, grinding is a bad thing. Unless it serves Blizz’s bottom line and not players.

Breaking news: Cobra Shot to wiggle more

It’s no secret that I am beyond disgusted with the way Blizz has treated hunters ever since they trashed and then abandoned SV hunters in WoD. After promising to make SV better in “the next expansion”, they proceeded to complete their destruction of it by making it a melee spec in Legion, and a pretty puny one at that. Then they moved on to MM, basically turning it into a turret style damage dealer, removing two of the signature features of hunters — mobility and pets — in one fell swoop. Last, after Ion Hazzikostas told us how BM hunters were “in a pretty good place” just prior to Legion, Blizz went on to ransack that spec, too, removing nearly all possibility of skill play in favor of a couple of cooldowns the player had almost zero control over except to mash the button as soon as they were up.

When the Legion Alpha test went live, skilled and well-respected hunters diligently measured, analyzed, and described to Blizz the many ways the hunter class came up short. Their focus was on play style, not on numbers, and they tried every way possible to make Blizz understand that the very soul of hunters had been ripped away.

Blizz ignored them.

Then when the beta test finally went live, a lot more hunters voiced their anguish to Blizz, again not so much about numbers, but about the fact that the class they had played and loved for years had been stripped of every trace of what made the class unique. Again, these players wrote thousands of pages of feedback in the approved forums, detailing all the factors that contributed to what they perceived was the death of the class.

Blizz ignored them.

By this point, sadly, the leading community hunters had pretty much given up, bruised and battered after months of talking to a brick wall. But then the PTR went live, and hunters who had not previously tried the Legion hunter class expressed their keen sense of loss and anger, again writing reams of comments about the mechanics that made them feel they were no longer true hunters.

Blizz ignored them.

And when I say “Blizz ignored them”, I mean not just that no changes were made or design explanations given, but that Blizz met the entire hunter outcry with a steadfast, impenetrable wall of silence. There were no blue posts that even deigned to acknowledge there might be some problems with the Legion hunter class implementation, no hunter class adjustments as builds were put out (even though there were tons for other classes), no dev mention of the problem, no recognition whatsoever of the near-universal condemnation of the changes they had made to the hunter class. Not even so such as a “F**k you, hunters, we like things the way they are.”

Then, one week before Legion went live, a CM had the chutzpah to make a blue post asking for hunter input on Legion problems. As if the thousands upon thousands of previous posts did not even exist. As if, one week before launch, it would make a difference. He even called the thread “Let’s Talk”, implying that at long last, this late in the cycle, Blizz’s wall of silence would finally be broken. Like Charlie Brown rushing to kick that football he just knew Lucy would hold still for him this time, hunters once again posted thousands of thoughtful, detailed, specific comments about every aspect of the class they felt had been ripped from them.

Blizz ignored them.

In the first Q&A after Legion launch, a few warlock trolls and scumbags bullied their way into it, spamming the pre-event thread and using flame and shame tactics to downvote every question not submitted by a warlock, and then further spamming the live event feed with spittle-flecked tantrums. After very slightly scolding them for their tactics and telling them such actions would not be successful, Ion Hazzikostas proceeded to explain how Blizz was going to fix perceived warlock class problems. Long blue posts were written on the subject, and immediate changes were made in hotfixes, along with a detailed plan for long term fixes.

Meanwhile, hunters, who had played by Blizz’s rules for feedback, who had not thrown public tantrums, continued to be ignored. Then, finally, months after the “Let’s Talk” thread appeared, weeks after the warlock meltdown, there was one relatively short blue post in the hunter forum promising significant changes to the hunter class, but hunters had to be patient, wait for 7.1 and 7.2 because of course these things take time.

Hunters waited. In 7.1, a few paltry changes appeared, nothing of course for BM, but a nerf for MM (as if that were all that was wrong with MM mechanics!), and some stiff for SV presumably to try make it at least semi-viable as a spec.

Hunters continued to wait. In 7.1.5, all hunters had traps restored, and a very slight adjustment was made to correct the awful Aspect of the Cheetah, but it cost a talent to do so. There were multiple other changes, but of note every change to BM dealt with numbers designed to buff the spec’s damage. Nothing Blizz did even began to address the fundamental problems with the spec. Pet pathing — other than slightly speeding up Hati’s slow amble to a target — remained horrible. BM hunters still had no surge ability beyond the worthless Stampede talent. Pet control remained problematic, hit-and-miss in terms of setting your pet on passive for example and having confidence it would remain so. BM hunters themselves had almost zero damage ability without a pet, effectively making them a melee damage dealer who operated out of melee range. The play style — unless you had “the” appropriate legendaries and a 4-pic tier set — remained clunky and slow, with no player control over focus generation, no skill abilities beyond mashing a cooldown button or key as soon as it became available.

Similarly, most of MM changes were to adjust numbers, little was done to address the turret play style, and nothing was done to address the underlying fact that all MM damage was RNG-dependent at its origin.

In short, in spite of months of hunter comments that the class problems were about play style, not about numbers, most of Blizz’s fixes have been to tweak numbers.

Now we are into the 7.2 PTR, and there seems to be no plan to make any further changes to hunters. Except one — shown here.

Yes, at long last, hallelujah! Hunters are finally getting the spell animation changes NO ONE has asked for! And what changes they are! Brace yourself now — Arcane Shot  will soon cause much bigger weapon kick and be more purple! Barrage will have more muzzle flash! Bestial Wrath will cause that symbol to only appear over the hunter’s head, no longer the pet’s!! (Of course, there is no change to that pleasant “I am having a really hard poop” sound that accompanies it…)  A few other similarly HUGE and MOMENTOUS changes, such as Black Arrow will have a bigger bullet!!  (I guess it is a bullet, the demo showed a hunter with a gun…) But the big one, and the one I know all BM hunters have been waiting for: Cobra Shot will wiggle more!!! OMG, I have to sit down, this is too much.

Really, Blizz? Really? Everything that is wrong with hunters, and this is what you decide has priority?

Words fail me at this point.

Patches 7.1.5 and 7.2

Today’s post may be a bit disjointed, I am still juggling repairs for our flooded basement and hot water heater replacement, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about some of the recent changes in the game.

Patch 7.1.5 rolled out Tuesday, and from my point of view it was pretty smooth, with the exception of the patch notes goat rope. The class changes took a little getting used to for some specs, and our Tuesday night raid was kind of off as a result, but there are some nice features in the patch.

I am fine with the BM hunter changes, and the MM hunters in our guild — one of whom admits he is a real dps whore — are good with their changes, also. MM lost a little AoE capability but it seems not too significant. BM got some very decent buffs, making the spec pretty crazy with massive AoE. And traps are back, which is awesome.

I think Blizz made incremental progress in giving a few more actual choices in talent tiers, but there are still too many where there is one clear required talent and/or one clearly useless talent. Barrage, in spite of getting a buff for BM, is still the worst choice by far in that tier, but on the other hand Volley now has some utility in certain situations.

The one change I did notice that makes a noticeable difference, though, is the nerf to the BM legendary belt, Roar of the Seven Lions. In my opinion, the previous stats on it were the one thing that seemed to correct the abysmally slow BM rotation, the saving change that brought back some fun to the spec. Now that the belt’s focus cost reduction has been nerfed by 25%, we are back to a very clunky rotation.

And the BM changes have still done nothing to give the spec any semblance of burst capability, no cooldowns unless you count Stampede which few hunters do since it stinks so bad as a talent. It is frustrating to be at a crucial point in downing a boss, and when the RL says to give it everything you’ve got, all you can do is maybe punch your keyboard harder (at the same slow pace) and set your mouth in a determined manner.

Also, I  can’t really tell any difference in Hati’s relative speed (or lack thereof) in ambling towards a target.

I am not a fan of Brawler’s Guild, but the people in my guild that enjoy it seemed pleased with its return and the new bosses. Me, I had some fun with the new books you can buy and send to your alts that bump up your artifact knowledge to level 20 (if you have completed level 25 on the character you buy it on). It was kind of a kick to use the book, then do a couple of World Quests and advance your artifact traits by 10 or more all at once.

Other than these things, I have not had a lot of time to explore the 7.1.5 changes (spent a lot of time the past couple of days with plumbers and contractors), but it seems to be a decent patch for a “minor” patch. Hopefully maybe next week we can get a look at the Mists timewalking dungeons, and I will have some time to check out a few more of the quality of life improvements in the group finder, and explore the new world quests. I don’t have a leveled engineer or enchanter, so those changes aren’t of much interest to me, and my JC is still stuck in the ridiculous dungeon requirements so probably not too interested in the JC changes.

Our guild has both EN and ToV heroic on farm,  and we have even downed a couple of EN mythic bosses, so the release of Nighthold next week will be fun. When it was first announced, I thought it might be a little soon, but honestly we are pretty bored with the current tier. And it will be nice to complain about not getting tier gear instead of complaining about not getting regular gear 😉

Now people’s attention will turn to Patch 7.2, which we are told will soon be up on the PTR. Of course the main thing I am looking forward to is flying — we will see how many more requirements Blizz piles on before they let us have it.

The other two things we have been promised in 7.2 — from Thursday’s dev Q&A — are more class changes, specifically more hunter changes (unspecified), and some more profession changes. Not to get too deeply into the whole professions thing, but it seems like Blizz kind of knows they screwed them up in Legion, even though in the Q&A Kubit explained to us how much of a success things like obliterum, and quickly obsolete crafted gear, and expensive mats are.

I was kind of amazed that Kubit seemed to think the whole reason mats are more expensive in Legion is because they cannot be farmed in a garrison like they were in WoD. No mention of the great gold giveaway that led to pretty significant inflation for all items.

I was also amused that both he and Lore are under the impression that time required to craft an item (as well as to gather mats) translates to a higher price. My experience has been that long crafting times (such as the ones we had in WoD due to cooldowns) or scattered nodes mean absolutely nothing for prices after about the first month. There are always people willing to sell them for a few gold over mat cost, with no regard for the amount of time invested in crafting the item or gathering the mats. Most people place no value on their time in a computer game, maybe since their purpose usually is to waste time anyway.

7.1.5 seems a relative success, but 7.2 really is the patch I hold out the most hope for.

Sorry for the scattershot approach in this post. Hopefully by Monday I will have my thoughts better organized. Everyone have a great weekend.

Class chaos

In my last post, I mentioned my view that one of the major flaws with Legion is something I call “class chaos”. Today I want to discuss that some more.

“Class chaos” as a term suggests to me that there is no true unifying control within the class development hierarchy. That is, there is no obvious indication that class design in Legion adheres to any identifiable project structure. Now, maybe there is such a structure, but it is so vastly complex that it is impossible to manage. Still, the result is the same.

Let’s take the idea of class fantasy as an example. When Legion was officially announced a couple of years ago, Blizz made a pretty big deal about how important class fantasy was going to be to the radically-redesigned classes. They even wrote and posted new class fantasies for each class.

Although it seems Blizz understood the idea that class fantasy is central to characters in the game, their actions indicated they only understood this centrality in terms of combat mechanics. The reworking of the most radically redesigned classes showed they had zero understanding of the emotional attachment players had to individual ideas of class fantasy. It would not have been difficult to get some idea of this, no expensive player polls or research required, in my opinion. They could have just sat down with some of the prominent players for each class and talked about why these players loved their class. Would this have been a perfect picture? Of course not, but at least it would have yielded some sort of emotional baseline that could have been used as a series of “red lines” not to be crossed during mechanical development. We know from a smattering of blue posts that the class devs may not even play the class they work on for development — they may understand certain mechanics, but without playing it and loving it there is no way they can know the “soul” of the class. Okay, fine, but they could at least consult with some people who do.

Moving on to more general class development, was there any attempt to define a meta-structure of class roles in Legion? How many tank specs should the game have, and what features should they have in common and what features should differentiate them? Same for healers and damage dealers. How many physical damage dealer specs should there be, how many should deal only in magic or nature damage? How does this defined class structure affect dungeon and raid design, PvP areas? There may be such a meta-design diagram somewhere on a dev wall at Blizz, but there is no indication it had any effect on Legion development — I offer as Exhibit A the fact that Legion introduced two new melee classes into an already-crowded melee space. Exhibit B is the effective removal of all utility functions from what had arguably been the prime utility class in the game — hunters.

Was there any realistic assessment of the increased workload necessary to deal with the complications inherent in rebuilding most classes and specs from the ground up while at the same time introducing the complex interactions of artifact traits? It’s pretty clear to me, from the horrible state some classes went live in, that the answer is  no. Blizz underestimated the complexity of this undertaking and, given what seemed to be a sped-up and arbitrary expansion deadline, simply got so overwhelmed that they gave up on some classes, hoping they could fix them later.

What they may only now be realizing is that some of the class/spec problems are so fundamental that patch tweaks cannot come close to fixing them. And that any mechanic changes must be weighed in consideration of player investment in spec artifacts. At least I hope they are realizing that, and that they will fix the fundamentals in the next expansion if they cannot do it in this one. But then, we are told that artifact weapons will not be a feature of the next expansion, and since these weapons are currently integral to the mechanics of each spec, I can only surmise that means yet another ground-up redesign of classes. *sigh*

Returning to the idea of class fantasy, I just want to mention one of my pet peeves, not for the purpose of ranting (although I never pass up an opportunity to rant), but rather to illustrate a last point about class chaos.

Blizz went to the trouble of rewriting class and spec fantasies for Legion. I may not agree with what they came up with for some specs, but the fact remains that they put them out there. To me, this means the implementation of spec mechanics should reflect the published fantasy. I only really know about hunter specs, but I can tell you nothing could be further from reality.

  • We have a “marksman” spec that uses a bow instead of something like a sniper rifle, and whose signature shots are anything but precise in their targeting. In fact MM shots closely resemble the effects of buckshot from my grandfather’s old 12-gauge. Worse, the baseline reliance on RNG means that this “marksman” relies not on skill for targeting, but on blind luck.
  • We have a “master of beasts” who in reality has almost zero control over them, even if the horrible pathing issues were solved, which they are decidedly not. One of these “highly controlled” beasts, Hati, tends to amble slowly to a target, taking his own sweet time, seemingly oblivious to any urgency from his master. Most pets have lost their special attributes, rendering moot any hunter expertise in pet selection based on animal or family traits. The calling of many pets all at once, in the form of the Stampede talent, is a joke because all the hunter can do is unleash them to run in a single direction, not sic them onto a directed target. Target moves, pets are ineffective. Technical glitches abound, such that in some raids and instances (Helya comes to mind), pets just stop attacking or disappear into some invisible path with no warning. Placing a pet on “Assist” may or may not have the intended effect, as sometimes they slip into passive anyway.

At any rate, the point I am trying to illustrate here is that there appears to be no follow-through to implement the very class fantasies Blizz themselves have created. This to me indicates sloppy project management and poor attention to detail. This is disappointing, because in other development areas — zone design, quest lines, artwork, etc. — Blizz is all about attention to detail, all about creating a seamless environment.

Maybe Blizz needs to do to themselves what they have been doing to us now for several expansions and rebuild their class development management and staff structure from the ground up. Selection of class and spec is one of the most personal and far-reaching choices a player makes in this game, and I think we deserve better treatment from Blizz than they have been giving us lately.

Everyone have a good weekend.

In the cold light of day

Yesterday I published a short announcement about the fact that WoW Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, after months and months of silence, finally addressed — in very generic terms — the widespread unhappiness hunters have about our class in Legion. I described it as a positive sign. I still think it is a positive sign, but there are some significant events that must happen for me to keep that opinion.

First, the positive aspects of the announcement:

  • It was a substantive communication, one that outlined a plan — sketchy, but a plan nevertheless — for making the hunter class whole again. The base plan is: low hanging fruit (numbers/spec balancing) first, then talent trees, and finally spec identity and play style issues.
  • It was an actual communication, a huge change from the months-long silent treatment we had been subjected to.
  • He admitted that hunters underwent some of the most drastic class changes in Legion, that the devs had not followed up on the complex cascade of changes such a rewrite requires, and he said that they fully intend to address this shortfall in this expansion.
  • He acknowledged that the source of most angst among hunters is not damage numbers, but overall class feel.
  • He dropped a big hint that MM/BM might get traps back at some point.
  • He sort of weasel-worded an apology for his reference to Deterrence in Friday’s Q&A.

So there was a lot in the post that gives cause for optimism. But there are also some gigantic unanswered questions.

  • What took you so long to even acknowledge our concerns? Would it have killed you to stick in a few Blue posts that at least gave the illusion that you are working on the problems? Is your time so constrained that you could not have even used the word “hunters” in all your discussions of class concerns in the Q&A sessions you have had? Out of curiosity, what was the tipping point that made you finally address us this time?

Side comment: I am beginning to discern a pattern with Blizz here. They seem only to address major player concerns in response to quantity and emotional outpouring, not quality, of comments. Think back to the Big Huge Gigantic Flap over flying in WoD — absent a player tantrum, flying in the game would be but a distant memory. Think about the recent warlock bullying and spamming and holding-their-breath-until-they-turned-blue methods that did indeed get Blizz’s attention for their class. The hunter community — while declining to engage in warlock tactics — has refused to go quietly and meekly, has continued to express their anger about their treatment in Legion, piling up forum posts and tweets every day.

  • Why did you ignore everything hunters told you about before Legion went live? Our concerns have not changed since then, the same things we gave you for feedback in Alpha, Beta, and the PTR are what we are still pointing out. Hazzikostas said that it is complicated to make substantive class changes in a live expansion, and I get that, but this is a problem of Blizz’s own making. They had the opportunity to do it long before Legion went live, and they chose to do nothing. To say now that they have not figured out how to fix the class problems — as if they are just hearing about them for the first time — rings pretty damn hollow.
  • Realistically, what is the time frame for your third phase of class changes? 7.2? 7.3? Pre-patch for the next expansion? Come to think of it, when can we expect to see the second phase (talent tree) changes?
  • Will you now continue the dialogue with hunters, or was that Blue post intended merely to shut us up for a while? “Dialogue” can take several forms, including follow-through actions as well as additional feedback in forums and on social media.  I want to believe people when they make commitments, but the sad fact is that I — and many other players — still have a lot of trust issues with Blizz. They have yet to dig themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves in WoD. Hazzikostas himself has admitted that actions speak louder than words. OK, we just had the words, now let us see some action.

Honestly, here is what I expect to see unfold with hunters going forward:

  • Minor nerfs to BM and MM in the immediate future — we have already seen some of these — in the name of overall “spec balancing”.
  • Talent tree changes that will not buff the bad talent choices in certain lines, but rather nerf the currently very powerful (“only choice”) ones. Talent tree changes may also include a few new items designed to fill in some play style holes, as it seems unlikely that Blizz will actually give us anything back without also taking something away.
  • Some time in 7.2, traps in some form will be restored to all hunter specs, and possibly some additional mobility will be given to MM hunters. Unfortunately, I do not expect to see the baseline problems addressed. There are just too many and they are too fundamental.
    • For example, I do not expect to see a rewrite of MM play style that actually reflects the “class fantasy” of a real marksman instead of the current “spray everything in sight” approach.
    • I do not expect to see any help for the fact that MM is completely RNG-based.
    • I do not expect to see a skill-based focus generator for BM, nor do I expect any significant improvement in the whole beast control mess, or any fixes to the now-puny surge capability, or any move towards skill-controlled dps enhancements in the artifact tree.
  • Possibly, by the end of the expansion, hunters will be in a somewhat better position than we are now, but watch for Blizz to not learn any lessons and totally destroy the class again in 8.0.

So, yes, I am glad that the Game Director has seen fit to address the hunter community, but I am still angry that it took so long, and I will wait to see some follow-through before I let myself get too excited about it.