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

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

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

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

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

  • Removing the option of speccing any pet into Ferocity, Tenacity, or Cunning, because apparently it “feels outdated”.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and watch out for that nasty pendulum.

January closet cleaning

Checking out my drafts folder yesterday, I see it is getting a little cluttered. Time to clear it out. So here are some scattered thoughts I never worked on enough to make an entire post on them.

Mage fear conquered? Regular readers know of my long-standing love-hate relationship with the mage class in WoW. I rolled a mage many years ago, as one of my earliest alts, but I could never get comfortable with the play style. I dutifully leveled her up each expansion, but could never rise above the terribad level of proficiency. Each expansion I tried all three specs, got adequate gear for her, even ventured into an easy raid or instance now and then.

But it just never felt right, so finally towards the end of WoD, after much soul searching, I deleted the poor thing. Within a month, I regretted the decision. So I rolled a new mage and leveled her to 100 before the end of WoD. When Legion came around, I decided the one mage spec I had always like best was fire, so I leveled her to 110 as a fire mage. But this time, for some reason, I am having great fun playing her. The play style, unlike my mental image of mages, is quite mobile (certainly as mobile as, say MM hunter), and every time those Hot Streak procs hit — and they hit quite often — I get a little tickle of fun.

Maybe that is the key: fun. I really feel like Blizz has sucked all the fun out of huntering. Certainly for BM they have turned it into a grim process of mashing buttons when they are off cooldown. The only really fun procs left for BM are the odd trinket or legendary effect. But my little fire mage rewards me every time I play. I love planning my chain of crits to be able to sustain high damage and instant casts, and the visuals — especially when I plan properly — are nothing short of spectacular.

Attention Blizz: Fire mages are an example of a fun play style. BM hunters are not. There is no real fun in merely not missing a Kill Command cooldown. Also the hunter visuals — when they exist, which is not often — stink. If you cannot see the difference, then there is little hope for the hunter class going forward.

Paying for game commentary sites. You may have noticed that I removed Blizzard Watch from my blog roll on this site. The reason is not that I think it is a bad site (I do not). Rather it is because they have recently started what I think of as a sleazy Eyewitless News practice of hyping some posts with salacious headlines, then locking them for anyone who does not pay for the site.

I do subscribe to the site with Patreon, but I was uncomfortable with being complicit in putting the arm on my readers to pay up in order to read a post I linked to. Blizzard Watch, of course, is free to put pressure on anyone they want in order to make some money. (And I suspect it is not like they are raking it in, anyway — more like just keeping the lights on.) But it is not my style, and I really don’t want to be a shill for them.

Begging for gear. As I play my alts more frequently now that Legion is winding down, I am running more LFRs than I used to. I am finding one of the more annoying trends is for people to whisper me every time I get a piece of gear, asking if  I really need it. Usually I ignore them or whisper back a rather stark “yes”. I refrain from saying if I did not need the gear I would tell people to roll for it, though that would be a small lie, since I often do not put things up for roll because it is cumbersome to do so and even more cumbersome to effect the actual trade. There are a couple people in my guild who do not even loot bosses in LFR any more just because they don’t want to be annoyed by these beggars — they get their loot through the mail from the postmaster.

In typical fashion, when Blizz introduced the possibility of rolling for personal loot in a group, they gave exactly zero thought to how that would inevitably play out for The Great Unwashed. Here is the usual scenario:

  • Kill boss.
  • Loot rolls by in raid chat.
  • Tank runs hell bent for leather to engage next trash in combat.
  • People like me don’t even realize what if any loot they got, much less have the time to decide to put it up for roll, type out the link and the announcement, then monitor who wins the roll and try to find them during a rare non-combat interval to open trade.
  • Multiple beggars whispering me does not help the confusion.

This is bad enough in a guild run, where I actually want to help people out with gear, but for the record I refuse to deal with it in LFR. Sorry, LFR-ites, you are not getting any of my loot. It’s nothing personal, just that I can’t be bothered.

If Blizz actually gave a damn — which they clearly do not — they would have created a better user interface for announcing, deciding, and trading gear in group situations. No doubt this is on the table for BfA.

HAHAHAHA, just kidding.

Try not to panic yet. A few days ago we got the first big dump of data on Battle for Azeroth, along with a class balance dev post and the announcements of the alpha test and an imminent Hazzikostas “Q&A”. I took a very cursory look at the hunter changes in this first flood of information and saw what I thought were a lot of MM and SV changes, but almost nothing on BM hunters. A small nugget of worry took root in my brain, but I squished it down as I had not really studied the data and could easily have missed a bunch. (Recall that I am a professional worrier…)

But then yesterday, Bendak in Eyes of the Beast posted his first thoughts on sifting through the data, as it pertains to BM hunters, and it was pretty grim. Responsibly, he reiterated that this is the first set of data, it is extremely early in the process, he has not had a chance to actually play on a test realm yet, and there will be much more to come. But a couple of his remarks really caught my eye.

I was hoping for more from my beloved BM. But I’m willing to accept that BM hasn’t seen as much attention as MM and SV at this point in development. At least I hope that’s the case, or else we’re in trouble.

….

This new version of Survival looks oddly similar to Beast Mastery but with the addition of a bunch of DoTs. Half the abilities and talents can be used from range, and you can even do your main rotation at 40 yards while Aspect of the Eagle is active.

I know they feel like they need to make some big changes to Survival to get people to play it, but I would have rather seen them improve what’s there by pruning the existing rotation, keeping the good parts, removing a bit of the excessive maintenance, and adding some new talents. Now it seems like all they’re doing is adding abilities that would be better served as MM or BM abilities. Is it a melee spec or not? How do they plan on balancing this?

I refuse to panic yet, but I can’t help but hearken back to the early days of Legion testing, when we all thought the same thing about the bad place BM hunters were in and the curious lack of any announced changes. Surely, we thought, it’s just a matter of Blizz not having got around to the major BM changes yet. Nope, indeed what we saw in the earliest data was what we got, and it sucked. Moreover, Blizz steadfastly refused to even discuss the lack of changes, refused to even comment on the very detailed and cogent results posted by some of the best hunters in the game, rudely and disrespectfully ignored every plaintive cry for at least an explanation of the crude play style.

So yeah, it might be too early to panic. But then again, it might not. Is BM hunter destined to become the next “experiment” in Blizz’s never-ending quest to screw with the hunter class?

As much as I have come to enjoy mages, Blizz, why don’t you take a break from hunters and go screw with mages for a change? Or druids? I swear, if you destroy BM like you destroyed SV in WoD, I will haunt you and curse you to the end of my days!

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.

Scattered thoughts on Friday’s dev AMA

After a very decent weekend, my head is not yet back into work mode, so all I can offer today is a bunch of scattered and unconnected thoughts. (Apologize in advance that these are not very coherent.) Friday there was a class design AMA on the WoW subreddit. If, like me, you did not follow it in real time, you can read it here. (Be warned that it goes on. And on. And on. And on. Possibly a tad bit more brevity enforcement by the moderators would have been beneficial. You can check out a Cliff’s Notes version at MMO-C here.) A few interesting tidbits:

There remains a lot of dissatisfaction with the MM hunter spec as it is currently set up.

Much of the expressed frustration dealt with the issue of pet vs petless, and the decision — at the 11th hour before Legion went live — to make Lone Wolf a talent (again). I do not play MM in Legion, but from what I could glean, a sizable number of MM hunters would like that entire talent row to be viable, rather than have LW be so vastly overpowered that there is really no choice. There is also a group that would like LW to be baseline, with the option to select a pet in a talent.

The other main track on MM hunters was on the Vulnerable mechanic.

There was also at least one plaintive cry for a perceived Blizz promise (I don’t ever recall one) to reinstate a ranged Survival play style within the MM spec. Nice to contemplate, but I do not see it happening.

Pets. Several people mentioned dissatisfaction with the “one size fits all” pet nerfing that occurred in 7.0. Gotta agree there — it just seems wrong to have all hunter pets be basically the same, the only real decision for pet selection coming down to a cosmetic/skin difference. The only exceptions are the battle rez/battle lust special pets, but those easy decisions really are a huge simplification of the kinds of pet abilities we used to be able to weigh. Later in the session, though, there was a hint that at least the devs understand hunter pets have been made a bit too bland:

We don’t have any solid plans currently [to adjust hunter pet utility], but I fully agree that we’re not in a great place right now. I would love to improve the situation. With the power of Battle Rez (Quilen) and Bloodlust (Core Hound), I don’t think I’ve used a different pet on my BM Hunter alt in PvE in a long time.

Many very good questions were simply ignored by the devs. Some I would have liked to have had answered (but weren’t) are:

  • Instead of a new class in the next expansion, is it possible we could see a lot of fourth specs, for example, a healing warlock, etc?
  • With the designs we are seeing Legion instances and raids, is multi-dotting obsolete?
  • Are there any plans to reinstate filler-type insta-casts for most ranged dps? Might such a move actually encourage more players to play ranged dps?
  • Why are warlocks limited to a pet-specific interrupt?
  • Will reforging ever make a comeback?
  • Any plans to fix the many remaining pet pathing issues for BM hunters?
  • Any plans to fix the really stinko Legion version of Stampede?
  • Any plans to give hunters more stable slots?

Some ominous dev comments:

We’d like to move into a direction where utility is more meaningful in all types of content, not even necessarily at the loss of performance. Players should be rewarded for making smart decisions that affect the success of their group as a whole, and we’d like to broaden that space.” To me, this is the current Blizz party line to return to a “Bring the class, not the player” approach.

I think BM Hunters aren’t far from being in a good place.” I think this means it is time for all BM hunters to press the panic button. Remember when the devs told us, before Legion, that “BM hunters are in a pretty good place now,” and then proceeded to completely rebuild the spec? Yeah, be afraid, BM hunters, be very afraid…

Anyway, I did think the AMA was interesting, though certainly devoid of any bombshell announcements. I was impressed with the detailed dev comments, when they chose to answer, and with the amount of time they took out of their day to participate. A little heavier hand on moderating might have resulted in more questions being answered.

Do yourselves a favor, though, read the MMO-C summary, don’t waste your time scrolling through the hundreds of pages of live comments.

Gear and math

It’s been a nice relaxing couple of weeks in my WoW world. In my guild, we all took a break from what was becoming a very dull Nighthold raid circuit, and I seized the opportunity to work on a couple of alts — my balance druid and my destruction warlock. I find I enjoy playing them both, but the lock possibly a tad bit more than the druid. I still find the boomkin tedious for its long casts, but it gets better with better gear stacked for haste.

Both alts are hovering very close to ilvl 900 or a bit under, and the one thing that amazes me is how much better they are simply by virtue of having better gear. Trust me, in the last two weeks I have not suddenly become vastly more proficient on either one, but the difference in damage for both is pretty astounding. The only change has been upgraded gear. In some ways this is fun, because gear is relatively easy to get, even without subjecting yourself to LFR or mythic dungeons. But in other ways is seems kind of cheesy and not quite right. I guess it is an inevitable result of Blizz stepping away from the “bring the player not the class” philosophy — class/spec mechanics and gear seem to count for more and more these days. Nobody likes to blame gear for poor performance (well, okay, maybe some people like to), but that excuse is actually becoming more and more reasonable as Legion goes on.

I was thinking about this as I started last night to prepare my main hunter for resumption of raiding Tuesday when Tomb of Sargeras opens. Patch 7.2.5 brought some changes to BM hunters, and in spite of giving us a baseline 2-charge Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, it is looking like overall we are in a worse place damage-wise than we were for Nighthold. Seems like Blizz just could not stand to have BM hunters close to the top, had to take away more than they gave. There will still be some class tweaks coming along in hotfixes, but honestly I am not holding my breath that any of them will include buffs for BM hunters.

At least two sites I read regularly have openly stated that MM is clearly — and by quite a ways — top of the hunter heap. From the IcyVeins BM hunter guide:

Now that 7.2.5 has released, we can say with reasonable confidence and assuming no major changes, that Marksmanship will be the optimal raiding spec going into Tomb of Sargeras, mostly due to the potency of its new set bonuses.

Beast Mastery remains a solid choice, though rather than being very competitive and sometimes even better at single-target than Marksmanship in ideal situations, it is now fair to say that its potential output is less than Marksmanship in nearly all situations.

And even the redoubtable Bendak, in his most recent BM post about Patch 7.2.5, is brutally realistic about BM, stating it will likely fall out not only in the middle of the damage pack, but likely in the lower middle at that.

Whatever. I am a hunter in WoW, that is who I am. And since Blizz has seen fit to destroy the essence of my vision of “hunterness” in MM and SV specs, I really have no choice but to continue playing BM. Numbers have never meant that much to me anyway, so what seems to be a sudden plunge from lower-top to lower-middle position is not a calamity. Some class/spec has to be in that position, it is the nature of rankings. Still, I will be interested to see what the actual numbers spread is when the ToS results start to become available. If the spread between top and bottom is large, then Blizz will have once again failed in its never-ending attempt to “balance” the class/spec mess they themselves caused.

My alt gear-centric push over the last couple of weeks also served to reinforce to me the utter insanity of Legion’s gear complexity. On my alts the calculus was relatively easy, since I never intend to actually raid with them: higher ilevel = good, secondary stats pretty much be damned. But when I started to weigh gear and talent combos on my main in preparation for ToS, I found myself once again despairing over the sheer mathematical enormity of the task.

It has gotten so bad that AskMrRobot is now implementing a SETI-like mass computer sharing approach to solving the gear problem for players. Mind you, modern computers already have pretty massive computing power. Certainly enough that even a middle-level server could perform general arithmetical comparisons, even for thousands of users at a time. But Blizz’s insane interdependencies of gear stats, talents, different types of raid bosses, RNG-dependent proc rates, and specialized legendary and set bonuses have gone exponentially past arithmetic calculations. To properly assess the relative value of gear, only massive computer simulations approach accuracy. One or two simulations at a time are handled (though slowly) on a home desktop computer, but if you are trying to do it for large numbers of players, you need vast computational resources, and the cheapest way to get them is to set up a distributed grid of community computers. (I applaud AMR’s ingenuity here, but honestly I would like to see a bit more detail on their app’s security setup before I open my computer to it.)

The point is, you need the power of modern computers to decide if a piece of WoW gear is actually an upgrade for you, or to decide which legendary works best with which set of talents. 

But Reforging was “too much math” for us.

🙄🙄🙄

See you after the release of ToS.

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.