“We’re as mad as hell, and…” Oh forget it

There comes a time in every firebrand’s life when they just have to admit defeat. I think I have, at long last, reached that point with hunters in WoW. Oh, out of stubbornness and habit, I will likely continue to play one, but for me the joy of it has gone. Worse than that, I have finally lost all hope that Blizz will ever restore the fun of huntering. I think they are truly too clueless to know they have destroyed it, but it is also possible they know and simply do not give a damn. And there is zero evidence this attitude will change.

As often happens, the final straw for me was a tiny one, insignificant and irrelevant when taken alone, but it tips the final balance when added to the pile already accumulated. I am not going to rehash here the “accumulated pile” — suffice it to say Blizz has systematically dismantled the hunter class in the last two expansions, to the point where someone who huntered even as late as Mists likely would not recognize the class if they had quit the game then and recently returned.

The straw? It was a chain of thought that started when I read about the 7.2 “challenge” to unlock some new artifact appearance for each spec. I have nothing against Blizz implementing this, I am sure a lot of players will really enjoy it — both the challenge and the appearance reward. But when I read it, my thought was basically, “Not worth the effort.” Why?

One reason was what I alluded to above — it is no longer great fun for me to play a hunter. There was a time not too long ago when I loved the class so much that any challenge was something I wanted to do, simply because I enjoyed pushing my hunter play to its limits and maybe a bit beyond. But now? I no longer get a rush of joy from “good” hunter skills, mainly because most of the skills currently consist of having fast enough synapses to mash a button when a computer-controlled spell comes off cooldown. There really is almost no player strategy or finesse that enters in.

The second reason — and the actual straw realization — was that hunters pretty much lose out when it comes to weapon appearance in Legion. For example, no hunter ranged weapon can have an enchant effect. Blizz simply does not care enough about hunters to give us some cool enchant effects like they have for every other class weapon in the game. I don’t know why, it can’t be any harder to configure a visual for a bow or gun than it can be for swords and staves and so forth, but apparently Blizz as usual can’t be bothered with hunters.

In Legion, BM hunters in particular suffer even further from Blizz’s negligence regarding weapon visual effects. After going to some trouble to hype the importance of Hati as an integral part of the BM artefact weapon, Blizz pretty much proceeded to design a dull and uninspiring model for it. When hunters complained, they finally gave us a gizmo to make Hati look like any pet we have, and even eliminated the major bug in it (you couldn’t change Hati back to original appearance) after a few more weeks of further hunter complaining. But here’s the thing: none of the hunter weapon appearances have any effect whatsoever on Hati’s appearance. I see no reason, for example, that Blizz could not have allowed hunters to choose a red glowing Hati as part of the “red” gun appearance. No reason, that is, except no one at Blizz can be bothered. It’s only BM hunters, after all.

In fact, even the BM hunter “hidden appearance” is pretty crappy. In the first place, it’s not all that hidden — you basically go into the Engineering shop in Dal and plunk down 8ooo gold, and it’s all yours. And this magical hidden appearance? It turns your gun into a bow. I am not a big fan of hunter guns, especially for some races, so I transmog my BM weapon into a bow anyhow. But this hidden appearance bow is a real monstrosity, possibly the ugliest bow in the history of WoW. It looks like something your four-year-old would do with Legos, except a little less creative.

Anyway, to return to my point. When I saw that 7.2 would offer these really cool weapon appearances as rewards for what look to be considerable skill challenges, I wasn’t even the tiniest bit excited. Mash designated buttons in timely sequence for an appearance change in a weapon I never see anyway? And do quests just to get the currency needed to repeat the challenge if you fail? (This mechanic is nothing more than another way to force people to play content over and over again, since you have to pay with Nethershards from the Broken Shore scenarios in order to retry this challenge. Another way Blizz is trying to up its monthly hours played metric come quarterly report time.) No thank you.

I realized that Blizz was not going to do anything whatsoever to make this challenge worthwhile to me as a BM hunter. We have not seen the new visual for BM hunters yet, but it seems extraordinarily unlikely, given previous history, that they are going to give me a cool Hati makeover. Similarly, it seems improbable that the gun appearance will be anything other than an over-the-top behemoth of a cannon that I would not be caught dead with. In the last two expansions, Blizz has proven they are not the least bit interested in applying their normal excellent creativity in any way to hunters.

And with this realization for some reason it came crashing down on me that Blizz will not restore any of the baseline fun to hunters, not in Legion and possibly not ever. They will throw us a few bones in the form of easy band-aid fixes, they will nominally include us in new stuff like this appearance thing, but it is crystal clear that they do not want to expend anything more than minimum resources on this class. For months now, I have harbored the illusion — okay, probably more accurately a delusion — that there was still time in Legion for Blizz to come to its senses about hunters and make some substantive and positive changes. But when I began to examine this whole weapon appearance thing it started a chain of thought that forced me to realize no such hunter changes will be forthcoming.

For Blizz, hunters are that cousin you really dislike and try to avoid as much as possible, but to keep peace in the family you have to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner every year. Still, there is no way are you going to let him have the drumstick.

Congratulations, Blizz, you have worn me down. I no longer kid myself that the hunter experience will improve in Legion, and I am losing hope that it ever will. I am no longer mad as hell. I am just tired.

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.

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.

Nine days of Legion

We are now about a week and a half into Legion, and a few things about the expansion are starting to become clear. Hunter class rage aside, I have been having fun so far, and I think at least for the initial experience the balance scales come down on the positive side for Legion. I am not wild about it, mind you, but it is certainly an improvement over WoD, and there are undeniably awesome pieces to it. And of course the first raid tier opens up in just under two weeks, so that might change things one way or another.

That said, I think my most dominant impression of Legion is a combination of total confusion leavened with a fair amount of frustration. Make no mistake, Legion is “not your father’s WoW”. Blizz has made a sharp turn with the direction and philosophy of the game, strengthening their hold on forcing “approved” play styles, and in the process promoting some players as clear winners and some — if not exactly losers — as at least non-winners. What do I mean?

First, while Blizz has made it relatively easy and fast to level up to 110, the leveling process is really the only straightforward and easily accessible part of the game. Everything else — professions, gear, reputation — is both confusing and complex, and requires significant time commitment, on the order of many hours or days or weeks, to make progress in. I am not passing judgement now on whether this is good or bad, merely noting what is a sea change in the game, one that many players, myself included, are having a hard time adjusting to.

One result of this development is that it really ups the ante for casual players, who form the majority of the player base. Both the time commitment and the exceptionally high learning curve will, I think, serve to frustrate the most casual players to the extent that they will just stop trying to figure it all out. Blizz yesterday reported that they sold 3.3 million copies of Legion, which I interpret as a triumph of optimism over experience on the part of the purchasers. I don’t know how many of those customers were hard core fans like me and how many were disgruntled WoD players deciding to give it one more chance, but my bet is for many of them Legion is the last shot at remaining with the game. (Admin note: I edited the number sold to reflect the actual report, not the 10 million number I for some reason misremembered and first quoted.)

This is all pure speculation, of course, but if someone like me — who has read everything I could about Legion, who makes frequent use of the third party sites, who played a little beta towards the end of the testing, who belongs to a guild with helpful and knowledgeable people, who plays about 20 hours a week and has probably at least doubled that in the first week of Legion — if someone like me is frustrated and confused, what must be the reaction of the players who do not have that kind of extensive support and commitment? I will tell you — they will try Legion, they may get one or two characters to 110, and then they will hit a wall and quit.

Another possible result of this might be that, except for hardcore raiding guilds, the raid experience will be exceptionally difficult. For one thing, “the good stuff” derived from professions will be much more difficult to come by for several weeks at least. I am talking about things like reasonably-leveled crafted gear, enchants, flasks and pots, gems, etc. Large guilds will undoubtedly have a few crafters who can make raid items, but this is likely not the case with smaller guilds. The stereotyped “friends and family” raid teams will just not be raid-ready for a very long time, and if they try to force it, they will fall prey to a lot of frustration from a lack of progress.

So I think that Legion has opened the possibility of a wide gulf in the player base. On the one hand, there is a lot to engage the “player butterflies”, the players who log on once or twice a week for a couple of hours just to pass some time. They can leisurely level, they can gather some mats, explore, do a profession quest here and there, maybe eventually do some wold quests. On the other hand, there are many paths to end game competition for more driven players, the ones who raid with pro or semi-pro raid teams, the ones who typically play 40 or more hours a week. They can go hard core into crafting for raiding or for personal gear, they can max out gear early through grouping for normal then heroic then mythic instances, they can pursue nearly every world quest, rapidly gain rep and thus access to more gear, etc.

But for many players in between these two extremes, Legion is very challenging and frustrating right now. I am talking about the players who do not have huge amounts of time to devote to the game but who nevertheless in the past have managed to maximize their potential or just achieve their game goals within a reasonable amount of time after a new expansion. For these players, Blizz has moved the goal posts a significant distance further away. They now have to reassess their years-long definition of “reasonable amount of time after a new expansion”. Because what used to be a couple of weeks or a month is now at least several weeks or even months.

Again, I am not saying this change is either good or bad, just that for most players it is a huge change in the tempo of the game. I think Legion is an unmitigated success for the fringe players — the butterflies and the hard core types — but it is a drastic change for those of us in the middle, and it is very hard to get used to.

Second, Blizz has finally forced us all into their restrictive alt play definition. They started this process in earnest in WoD, and in Legion they have completed it. That is, the only legitimate purpose of alts, in the approved rules, is to play them as mini-mains. They are not/not/not under any circumstances to be used to further the ends of a main or simply as gold makers. No, no, no. By forcing all professions to not only be leveled (nothing new here) but to also be geared enough and skilled enough in the class to compete in the world with mains in order to get mats or even to learn their professions. In Legion, alts must be able to do PvP, dungeons and raids, spend long hours gaining rep with nearly all factions, and defeat relatively difficult enemies, just to be able to craft items.

This logic totally escapes me. Honestly, Blizz, why the fuck do you care what my reasons are for having alts? This is the game developer equivalent of the nanny state — sticking its big fat nose into areas it has no business in.

And before I get hate mail, let me say I am not against having to work a bit for one’s professions. What I am against is forcing every alt to be played with the same intensity and time commitment as a main, to be proficient in every aspect of the game, just to be able to pursue a profession.

Blizz, if you want every profession to compete at a high level in the end game, in order to achieve profession competency, then allow us to pursue every profession on our mains, like some other games do. If you did that, then the only reason to have alts would be your approved one: just to experience another play style. Everybody wins.

Third — and last — we have still heard a big fat zip/zero/nada from Blizz on any recognition of hunter class deficiencies. (You didn’t think I would let a post go by without mentioning this, did you?) The most we have gotten is a patronizing blue post aimed at protecting raids from idiot hunters who insist on using Barrage indiscriminately in the decidedly Barrage-unfriendly Legion dungeons:

Barrage now fires in a tighter cone, and its visual has been improved to better show its area of effect.
Developers’ Notes– Barrage fulfills a fantasy of a wild spray of shots in a large area. Of course, that can be dangerous, and often Hunters accidentally pull additional enemies with Barrage, especially in Legion dungeons. We saw this as a failure on our part to convey what it actually does. This hotfix should allow Hunters to get a feel for the shape and size of it and build a reliable expectation of what will happen when they cast Barrage. No change was made to Barrage’s damage. We hope that this helps Hunters and their groupmates to have a more pleasant dungeon experience.

Yeah. (This sounds like one of those horrible breakup lines: “No, no, it’s not you, it’s me.”) Note that this was done not to improve the hunter experience, but to improve the experience of everyone in a group with a hunter. It’s nice they are so solicitous of every class in the game except hunters. Hey Blizz, what about the horrible pet control that often sends them off to pull mobs in dungeons even with no input from the hunter? What about the fact that even the existing pet controls of Assist, Defensive, and Passive are completely unreliable? What about the fact that hunters have less than zero control over Hati? What about the random disappearance of our pets in combat? What about the fact that hunters have so few shots that we automatically spam whichever ones we do have? What about…

Oh, forget it.

I will be listening intently to that oracle of all things WoW, Ion Hazzikosatas, in his next Dev Interview tomorrow. If he fails to even acknowledge the existence of valid and documented hunter concerns, or if he dares to insult us again by claiming “BM hunters are in a good place”, then I think it is clear that hunters are once again to be abandoned as a class in Legion.

Help build a hunter community response

Late edit: The first hunter forum thread hit max less than 24 hours after it appeared, so the current active thread is here. Also be aware there appears to be a posting bug that results in your first attempt at a reply just sending it into the ether, although a second attempt will succeed. I recommend you copy your entire forum reply before trying to post it, so if it disappears you can just paste and try again.

A couple of days ago I published a piece about Blizzard’s months-long practice of completely ignoring valid hunter concerns about class changes in Legion. Lo and behold, last night Ornyx, a Blizzard Community Manager, started a thread asking for input on hunter concerns. (No, I am sure my post had nothing to do with it, but if it did I solemnly vow to use this power only for good …. 😉)

First things first. Any of you who play a hunter, whether main or alt, please take a moment and go to the new thread and make your feelings known, in a calm and professional tone. (Emotion about the subject is fine, spittle-flecked invective and hateful language is not.) If you do not have the time to post, at least peruse some of the comments and give some feedback in the form of a Like or even a Dislike. It seems that sudden and massive response is the best way to get Blizz’s attention these days.

I have to admit, I was excited by the fact that there was finally a Blue post acknowledging the existence of hunters, and even soliciting feedback on the massive changes to the class. This of course is a sad commentary, because there have been literally thousands of pleas over the last 8-9 months begging Blizz to respond to serious and legitimate concerns about the current state of the hunter class, all stubbornly ignored. So it feels a little bit shameful that when we finally get one small acknowledgement that there might be some problems, my response is to wiggle like a happy puppy.

I commend Ornyx for starting the forum thread — nothing bad on him over this — but we simply cannot ignore the big turd in the punch bowl here:

Why now? And why a brand new thread, when there is a massive amount of forum input from hunter class forums as well as from Legion test forums?

With 5 days to go until Legion launch, the timing certainly seems strange. I have more questions than answers at this point.

  • Is Ornyx’s thread something he is doing on his own initiative, or is it part of a larger Blizz plan to lay the foundation for significant class changes in 7.1?
  • Why is it necessary to restate points already stated multiple times in other forums — in fact, in the very forums Blizz told us to provide feedback in? Do they not read those forums? Are they trying to see if hunters still really really feel the same way?
  • What is the point of this exercise? Are there actual plans to address the deep flaws in every hunter spec, or is this just a mechanism to allow hunters to release a little steam? Worse, is the move designed to give false hope, just to shut hunters up for a while? (The disconnected office thermostat ploy.)
  • Will we ever get the results of Ornyx’s initiative — that is, will we get an official response to the concerns, beyond “We hear you and we are thinking about it. There, there.” He stated in his original post that he intends to take the compiled responses “to the devs”, but what that means is a little unclear.
  • If in fact the initiative is the basis for 7.1 changes, is there any hope that they will be anything but superficial? The small responses to date indicate Blizz fails to understand — or is unwilling to deal with — fundamental flaws in spec design.
  • Slightly off topic, but not really: Ornyx admitted he does not play a hunter, which makes me wonder if any of the devs making drastic changes play a hunter seriously, beyond as a fun leveling and soloing alt (which btw is not really so fun any more). No one who has played a hunter for a long time, who has loved the hunter class, could possibly have made the class-altering changes we have seen. Come on, Blizz, come clean — Do any of you actually main a hunter?

Short post today, but I wanted to get this out there to help build the response. I choose to take Ornyx’s initiative as a positive sign of Blizz’s commitment to not abandon the hunter class. I hope I am not proven wrong.

Blizzard: /ignore hunters

Ever so slowly, I am coming to terms with the Legion gutting of hunters as a class. This does not mean I like it even the tiniest bit, but I have pretty much accepted that I can either tolerate it and keep playing a hunter — a class I have loved unreservedly since I first set foot in Azeroth — or remain seethingly angry and move on to another class. I can still find my own fantasy in playing a hunter, but please don’t tell Blizz this, as finding your own fantasy is one of the WoW deadly sins, if you believe Ion Hazzikostas. I have a good enough imagination that I can pretend that BM is not a brain-dead spec, and I am optimistic or naive enough to believe that eventually MM will stop feeling like you are dragging yourself out of quicksand just to get off a single shot.

But it is becoming more and more evident to me that Blizz has decided to simply ignore hunters for Legion. Oh, yes, they do the minimum — make sure there is a hunter class hall (which by the way has zero connection to any historic hunter location or even class history), they will provide an artifact weapon apparatus, and of course they made sure to take a sledge-hammer approach to the obligatory “pruning” process. Beyond that, though, they have simply put the hunter community on /ignore. This is most true for BM hunters, but also for MM and to a lesser extent for SV (probably because SV is one of the new favored specs that Blizz is pushing).

Since the new BM hunter spec forum for beta was updated on May 12, there have been a grand total of zero blue posts in response to any BM hunter comments. Zero. This comes after months of ignoring valid comments about BM hunter play — with numbers to back them up, and with excellent suggestions for improvement — from some of the most respected hunters in the community. We rarely see such comments from them any more, as most of them have given up on ever getting through to Blizz.

The same can be said of MM hunters, the beta spec forum for them also contains — you guessed it — zero blue posts in response to the many comments and suggestions and number-based critiques of the spec.

Moving on to the normal Hunter class forum on Battle.net, which is full of very similar comments about the sorry state of hunters now, I went back as far as March, and you will no doubt be astounded to know that I found a whopping — get ready for it — zero blue posts addressing these concerns. I did actually find a couple of green posts, but, as in this example, they were expressing the exact same sentiments as most of the forum comments.

Now, I get that for the most part Blizz dislikes engaging with players in the forums — they are virtually one-way communications that Blizz claims they take very seriously but are way too busy to spend time actually, you know, replying to them. (Not all of them, any of them.) So in general there are not a lot of blue posts in any forums, although most of the class forums have at least a couple blue post responses. But take a look at another way Blizz can respond to player concerns: by making changes, as announced in patch notes and hotfixes, or at least explaining why they will not be making any changes. In this area, too, we have seen virtually no BM hunter changes or no-change explanations since the early days of the closed alpha test. There have been a few more MM changes, but not a lot. Now take a look at the massive number of lines describing changes and construction philosophy for nearly every other spec, week after week (DKs come to mind).

Tell me hunters are not being ignored. The last time we saw this kind of indifference to valid concerns, it was SV hunters in WoD, and we soon learned the reason for that was that Blizz had decided to abandon the spec completely until the next expansion. Is that what is now going on with MM and BM hunters?

And even the changes that have been made do not address any of the serious, fundamental problems with the specs, they have been mostly superficial. For example, after a huge outcry over MM hunters not being allowed any pets, Blizz relented and went back to the Lone Wolf talent as an option rather than a baseline attribute. But this was a bandaid designed to shut up hunters, not a real change, since the spec remains clearly tuned for Lone Wolf. They made no changes to the interdependence of talents and shots that would make selecting a pet a true viable option for maximizing MM play. Too hard to do for what appears to be Blizz’s throwaway class.

Similarly, a week or so ago, Blizz responded to hunter (and other) complaints about the nerve-wracking constant whistle accompanying every Dire Beast call. (Why anyone ever thought that this would be a good idea in the first place defies explanation.) They basically just removed the sound from the audio file, problem solved. Now, I was one of the people who wanted this, and I am glad they did it, but there is no denying that it was done because it was a quick and easy fix, unlike any fixes to basic BM play that the community has been requesting for months now.

Nothing illustrates Blizz’s indifference to hunters more than this example: The entire BM “fantasy” has been set up to rely on a hunter’s pets for nearly all significant damage. It is the foundation of BM hunter play. And yet, pets are still massively bugged and too delicate to survive even moderate encounters. The least little change to the game almost always means that pet mechanics will fail, as if the code for them is so complex and delicate that it cannot stand even minor external changes. This boggles the mind — if you design a spec to be almost completely dependent on a pet in order to carry out basic damage functions, then it would stand to reason that the one thing you make sure is robust and solid is the code for pet mechanics.

Nope. Last night as I went through the new Dalaran quest line, I found that every time I took the portal to Dal my pet disappeared. In fact, it happened even if I flew to Dal above Karazhan. Not only that, but the action bar version of Call Pet was totally unresponsive. Even more, when I attempted to open my spell book and use the Call Pet spell from there, I found that the pets were shown only by one generic icon and named helpful things like “Call Pet 1,” Call Pet 2,” and so on. Even after I was able to summon a pet, if I mounted, it failed to reappear when I dismounted, and I was forced to go through the whole sequence again. Neither reloading nor relogging helped, nor did quitting and restarting the game unless I logged in to a different character first.

Going through any portal or entering any instance, it is a toss-up as to whether my pet will make the transition with me. Even if he does make it, often after such transitions he just stands there, not attacking, not moving, not even following me unless I dismiss and resummon him.

And BM pets are still weak creatures. Again last night, running a couple of Mythic dungeons, my spirit beast died repeatedly — 3 times in Auchindoun — in spite of the fact that I was weaving Mend Pet into my basic rotation as a matter of course. No, he was not on Growl, and yes, he is specc’ed into Ferocity. But there is something very wrong with a pet mechanic if even in groups where there is a tank you have to have all your pets specc’ed into Tenacity.

So, to summarize Blizz’s BM hunter design:

  • Part 1 — Make the hunter’s damage totally dependent on pets.
  • Part 2 — Write a pet subroutine that results in pets being unreliable, uncontrollable, and weak.

Apparently it is too hard to reconcile these two factors, and so of course Blizz prefers to ignore the problem.

The last thing I want to say about Blizz’s policy of ignoring hunters is that it is also manifested by a lack of imagination and whimsy in any part of hunter design. This occurred to me as I was trying to build up my weapon illusions a couple nights ago. Of course, there are no illusions that can be applied to hunter weapons, the idea being that hunters use scopes to enhance their weapons, not magic spells. Well, sure, I kind of get that, but that should not mean there is no fun to be had with them. Remember Flintlocke’s Woodchucker? That was some terrific fun, it showed some real imagination and creativity on Blizz’s part. There is absolutely no reason — beyond laziness and lack of interest in anything to do with hunters — that it could not now be a transmog weapon illusion for hunters. And I am sure that someone who actually likes hunters and wants them to have fun could design similar weapon scope effects.

When is the last time any hunter pet could do a trick on command? (Except Fetch and Play Dead, and those are generic, not specific to pet types.) It’s been years. Even the fun of great pet visuals for tailored damage is gone, because now all pets do exactly the same things, have exactly the same abilities. No one at Blizz designs these fun things any more because no one cares.

As I said at the beginning, I have come to terms with the fact that the hunter class is fairly well screwed for all of Legion. But I will continue to play it because I am a hunter in WoW, I am not a warlock or monk or anything else I might play from time to time. My enjoyment of the game is based on my own personal hunter fantasy, which I will maintain until Blizz makes it impossible to do so. And just because I recognize the realities of the class as Blizz has eroded it does not mean I will stop pointing out the inconsistencies and the downward trends, at least not until we — the hunter community — get an honest explanation of why Blizz is making these terrible design decisions.

In other words, Blizz, take hunters off /ignore.




Prepping my alts for Legion

I spent quite a bit of last week going through what has become a fairly long process of preparing my alts for Legion leveling. I went through certain steps for each alt, namely:

  • Clear out all accumulated transmog gear in bank and in void storage, then equip the BoEs in the mailbox and clear that out.
  • Set up Ark Inventory for bag and bank. I love this addon, and the author has done a terrific job of working on it for 7.0, but the transition has been rather painful.
  • Select my spec.
  • Read up on current balance of talents, think about how I will be playing the alt, and select initial talents.
  • Check out IcyVeins for new stat priorities, then reroll stats on crafted gear, get new gems and enchants as necessary, and stock up on new food.
  • Have my inscriptionist send the alt a stack of tomes for talent switching in the field.
  • Again using IcyVeins, learn about starter rotations, cooldown usage, and priorities and use that to set up initial action bars.
  • Configure main addons to reflect the changes. This meant Weakauras for all alts plus Healbot for healers.
  • Head to the target dummies, try everything out, tweak/reconfigure as necessary. Rinse and repeat.
  • If I still felt really unsure after all this, I would do a couple of LFR runs to shake out the kinks and get a little confidence back.

As you can see, it was quite a long process, usually a couple of days per alt before I felt like I had something even minimally ready for pre-expansion events as well as for leveling in Legion. Some seemed to go a little faster than others, due I think to a combination of me being more confident playing them going in, and the nature and extent of 7.0 changes for each.

As a side note, I did finally say goodbye to my mage. After years of struggling to play her, I finally admitted that I just do not enjoy the play style, not any spec, not any expansion. Legion will be time-consuming enough without feeling guilted into leveling and gearing an alt I dread playing. So I sold off all her gear and professional cooldowns, cashed in her currencies for anything of value, sent her gold to my bank alt, and unceremoniously deleted her. I am loyal, it is true, but eventually I figure out when to cut my losses and admit defeat.

So I have a few anecdotal observations as a result of my prep process.

Demonology warlock is far more interesting than BM hunter. In fact, the demo lock play style is what BM hunter should be, in my opinion. The lock has far more intricate, interesting player choices than does the hunter, and honestly it seems to have more control over its dark beasts, too. Whereas BM hunter is all about whack-a-mole for hitting RNG-derived cooldowns as soon as they pop up, demo lock actually gives you some choices that affect your final damage efficiency. Demo lock is a skill spec, BM hunter is a lottery ticket spec.

Balance Druid might actually be a decent damage spec in Legion. I opted for Balance with a resto attunement, and so far I have been pleasantly surprised at the improvement in the spec. It seems to have more snap to it, a better feel than the lumbering slow play style I found it to be in WoD. (I can’t speak much for change to resto, but my personal impression is that it did not change nearly as drastically as some other specs.)

I like the new boomkin skin and art, too, although I have an  objection to one aspect of it —  if you take Blessing of the Ancients, the strongest of the level 90 talents, you always have a spectral form, there is nothing you can do to look solid. This annoys me to such an extent that I dumped the talent, even though nearly every site says it is by far the most powerful in that tier. I have never liked the “spectral” look of characters, and while I can put up with it for very short periods to reflect certain buffs or auras, I hate looking like that all the time. I created a good solid character, and dammit I jolly well want to stay that way!

Marksmanship hunter still feels clunky to me. I set up my “off hunter” as MM, just to try out the spec and see if it might be more pleasing to play that my main’s BM spec. So far, the answer is no for me. It seems more powerful than BM, but of course that is without artifacts yet, and also the power is once again dependent on selecting Lone Wolf. The spec is clearly meant to be a petless one, and it is obvious that Blizz only added in the possibility of a pet to try and shut up some of the hunter community whining over it. And yes, I was one of the whiners, but adding a pet while making it a net DPS loss just seems kind of spiteful to me.

MM hunter still does not flow well in terms of play style, it is cumbersome, less mobile than BM, and still too dependent on RNG procs for excellent damage. Of course, like all specs it is incomplete without the artifact weapon, but still it seems clumsy. Having said that, however, at least it offers more player choice than BM does. Skill in making the right decisions at the right time can (if the RNG gods are with you) make a difference in your play. Contrast this with BM, where in essence you have zero real decisions to make, you just punch the buttons when they come available.

Mistweaver monk has some real potential for fun. I actually liked the Mists and WoD style for MW healing, but I have to say I think the Legion changes are a net gain for the spec. It remains quite mobile, can function adequately either as a tank healer or raid healer, has a good array of spells available, and retains a very robust offensive capability. Whether MW monks will be able to compete with other, more traditional healers, in elite raid settings is a question, I suppose, but at the level I play, they will be just fine.

I was a little worried about the removal of Chi as a power source, especially when combined with the removal of Mana Tea as we knew it, but so far I have not found it to be a problem. I am a little annoyed at a few of the changes, though. Mana Tea, for example, does not in fact provide you with more mana now, it merely lowers the mana cost of your next couple of spells. That strikes me as false labeling, and if nothing else I would like the buff to be renamed. Also, I feel a tad betrayed by Blizz making the statue a talent instead of keeping it as one of the iconic features of the spec. Still, overall I really like the changes, and I anticipate making my MW my first alt to level in Legion, after my main.

Outlaw rogues seem incredibly complex to play. This is not to say they do not have potential for great fun, but I am having a devil of a time feeling even marginally comfortable with mine. The biggest change to this former Combat spec is the Roll the Bones mechanic. For those of you unfamiliar with it, basically the spell gives you one or more (up to three) of six possible random buffs. Each buff or combo of buffs affects one or more of your other spells. Thus, the outcome of RtB affects what your next spell or series of spells should optimally be. RtB has a very short cooldown, so if you do not like the outcome you can pretty much keep rolling it until you get one you do like — of course, your overall damage takes a hit if you are spending your time trying to get a good buff setup instead of doing, you know, actual damage.

While RtB is an innovative mechanic, I really don’t know how it will turn out for outlaw rogues. In its current incarnation, it seems too edgy and iffy to count on for even semi-serious raiding, dooming this spec to the clown spec, one chosen simply for the pirate motif. AAAAAARRRRRHHHH!! It is hard to envision group pleas for “Prefer outlaw rogue to fill melee ranks.”

I am not even sure it is possible to play RtB in any way except what the name implies: roll the dice and hope for a good outcome. It seems almost impossible to effectively select your next casts based on what RtB yields, given the large number of possible permutations and the relatively short available response times. A few elite players may learn to do it, I suppose, but the vast majority of players will just plant their faces on the keyboard and hope for the best. Of course, there will inevitably be an addon that “selects” for you, but even with that it will be virtually impossible to optimize your response, and nothing will compensate for a run of bad luck in terms of not getting the “best” RtB outcome. Thus, outlaw rogue, like far too many Legion specs, remains overly dependent on RNG for its damage potential.

I am still working on my rogue, and I have yet to start my pally’s Legion prep, but at least there is finally an end in sight. Not a moment too soon, either. With the introduction of Demon Hunters next week and presumably the pre-expansion events the following week, not to mention Legion itself two weeks after that, the pace of play is about to accelerate big time.