Proc you!

A forum post caught my eye yesterday, and without a trace of sarcasm I can say it really tugged at my heart strings. Some poor hunter had been tracking Arcturis, the spirit bear, for years. Finally he comes upon this coveted pet, no one else in sight, and he casts Tame Beast, heart pounding.

Then one of his trinkets procs and kills Arcturis.

The player describes himself as “pissed”. Yeah, I think that choice of phrase shows admirable restraint. Speaking as someone who also hunted Arcturis for years, I can absolutely feel his pain. This bear has a long spawn time — I don’t know what it is, but it has to be close to 12-18 hours. He spawns in a tiny area near Amberpine Lodge in Grizzly Hills. And, of course, since he is a sought-after prize, there are often other hunters there (many from other realms, thank you CRZ) as well as despicable players whose only goal is to kill him and deny him to hunters. The only way I was ever able to get him is, to be blunt, pure dumb luck. I do not have the patience to actually camp rares, so for years I would visit the spawn area at random times 3-4 times a week, and finally one time there he was. My heart was pounding, and I was terrified I would screw it up with a mistimed auto shot or some other blunder, but all went well and he was finally mine. If one of my trinkets had suddenly proc’ed and killed him, I would have been far more than “pissed”!

At any rate, this unfortunate player quite rightly felt robbed by Blizz, so he put in a ticket. Still, his mind had clearly been affected by the traumatic experience if he actually expected assistance in righting this obvious bug. Because what he got from the GM was a slightly-more-polite version of “Oopsie we should fix this, meanwhile sucks to be you! Just go tame it again. Have a nice day.” To add insult to injury, he actually got a Blue response when he posted his experience in the forum, and the idiot Blue blithely said the equivalent of “My, that’s unfortunate. Next time take off all your gear first. Problem solved!”

I guaran-damn-tee you if the problem was a mage sheeping something and it triggered a damage proc, Blizz’s response to mages would not be, “Take off all your gear before you sheep a target.”

The first thing that hits me about this is — once again — there seems to be no one at Blizz with enough understanding of hunters or the hunter experience to give even a half-assed empathetic response. The responses were about as tone-deaf as someone cheerily telling you “Well, you can get another one,” in response to hearing that your beloved cat or dog died — zero regard for the depth of emotion you are experiencing.

Blizz, I double-dog dare you to name one dev in this game who actually mains a hunter, has done so for any length of time, and has a voice in influencing hunter class development. Prove me wrong and I will happily and publicly eat my words. 

The Tame Beast spell for hunters is basically a modified damage spell, or probably more accurately a variation on a cc spell. When it is cast,  you see a sort of reverse damage bar. It generates aggro, but instead of seeing a target’s health go down, you see a “love bar” with little hearts emanating from it. When the bar fills, your taming is complete and the animal switches from a hostile mob attacking you to a standard hunter pet.

There are some number of these “nice” spells in the game, these pseudo-cc spells. They certainly are common enough to be routinely factored in when contemplating new damage-dealing processes. But there seems to be no organized mechanism for staffing/brainstorming significant changes to discover conflicts. When Blizz decided to add trinket damage auto-procs to gear, any dev who was familiar with the class of spells like Tame Beast should certainly have raised a red flag. Did the gear developers talk to the spell developers? I do not know of course, but it seems like they did not. They just went ahead and put in a bunch of these damage-proccing trinkets, conflicts be damned.

This was a completely foreseeable conflict. By saying “Just take off all your gear before you tame anything” Blizz is telling us, “Yeah, we actually didn’t do a thorough development job on these, but you should absolutely be familiar with our shortcomings and take steps to avoid the problems we introduced.”

Late edit. Hotfixes for Dec 14, published late last night, indicate Blizz is testing this fix: “Tame Beast will no longer trigger trinket procs, such as Caged Horror”.  I am glad they are actually fixing this, but it does not change my opinion of their dev process. Basically they would never have done anything about this if someone had not made a pretty big stink about it, in spite of the fact that the bug has existed for a very long time now, was entirely predictable, and had indeed been noted by other hunters.

Which brings up my final point: do you have any idea how all your procs interact, or for that matter do you even know what they all are? I am betting less than a fraction of a percent of players do. I know I don’t. There are so many it is virtually impossible to know when they have activated, much less make intelligent decisions about a rotation to take them into account.

It’s one thing for a piece of gear to have an uncontrolled random passive effect like temporarily increasing a primary stat or enhancing crit rate or giving you an absorb, but it is entirely something else to have gear that randomly — and uncontrollably — sends out damage. I don’t care how many of the latter Blizz has implemented in Legion, they owe it to players to have done their homework and anticipated — and fixed — obvious problems before they go live with them.

Collectively, these random-proccing pieces of gear result in a significant loss of player control, which I suppose is in keeping with the new Blizz slogan, “Bring the class, not the player.” Obviously, I am not a big fan of having my gear decide for itself when damage will be unleashed, I kind of feel like that is my job.  I like it even less when the gear’s decision to act overrides and in some cases negates my conscious decisions in the game.

With that cranky tirade, it is time to start the weekend.

Friday scattered thoughts

It’s Friday, it’s been an especially long week, and my brain does not seem particularly focused, so today’s post is just some scattered thoughts on this and that.

Antorus the Burning Throne. Last night our raid team finished up the Normal raid. We had done 7 bosses on Tuesday, and the last 4 we downed certainly did not disappoint, in my opinion. I found the last 2 (Aggramar and of course Argus) to be great fun, they just seemed to be well designed and had some interesting mechanics. And the artwork, especially for Argus, is simply spectacular. Whatever other shortcomings we may eventually complain about for this raid, the visual design will remain, in my opinion, one of the best Blizz has ever done. Do yourselves a huge favor when you first get into the Argus area, and look behind you up into the skybox. It is not only beautiful, but it gives you a sense of the entire story of Legion — even me, who generally has no interest in lore.

And, without revealing any spoilers, the cinematic after you kill Argus is excellent. It rivals, in my opinion, the Battle for Azeroth cinematic we saw at Blizzcon.

We had enough trouble (something like 4-5 wipes) with both Aggramar and Argus that I think they will be quite tough for us on Heroic. As with many of the fights in the raid, there is a definite team learning curve

Overall, from a very limited point of view, it seems to me that very few of this raid’s bosses are even close to friendly to BM hunters. They seem either to involve single-target pew-pewing or a lot of very scattered adds. Several of the fights involve phases with high-priority adds placed all around a room or platform, and I really noticed a drop in my DPS just due to my melee-bound pets taking their time getting to the next target. Even switching to Blink Strikes as a talent did not seem to help much, partly due to the cooldown on that ability, and also to the ambling nature of Hati. Classes with robust DoT abilities and wide cleaves will shine in many fights in this raid.

As to the vaunted Argus trinkets from the final boss, our raid of 20 got 4 drops (not me, I got the useless quest legendary ring along with gold and AP), and none were Aman’Thul’s Vision (The One Trinket That Binds Them All).

Patch 7.3.5. This is up on the PTR for anyone that wants to try it out. I am somewhat disappointed that — at least as far as we know so far — it will not involve any significant class balance fixes, in spite of Blizz’s pronouncement early in Legion that the “dot five” patches would be mainly targeted at class balance changes. Some of the recently-announced changes include:

Patch/Expansion confusion. Honestly, I am kind of losing the bubble on what is happening in Patch 7.3.5 and what is just development for the next expansion. Blizz could probably be a little bit clearer on this. So the following comments may apply to changes coming in the next xpac, or to changes coming in the next patch. Who knows?

Changes to the early leveling experience. Zone scaling is implemented in Azeroth leveling zones, and XP to level is being increased for levels 10-59. I know this is a popular change, but I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I like the idea of being able to keep questing in a zone I enjoy, and still continue to advance. On the other hand, I find I generally like pretty much roflstomping through a zone at low levels. I have done these quests so often that they no longer hold much interest for me, and the only really fun is becoming familiar with my alt’s abilities. (And remember, Blizz has taken away a great many class abilities at lower levels, so that many specs go through a lot of levels with only 2-3 major abilities.) I don’t know that having every mob fight take longer is really an improvement.

I also get a kick out of leveling quickly, and I am not sure why Blizz thinks stretching that process out is desirable.

It almost seems like Blizz is enforcing a small part of the “Classic” experience on all of us now.

More backpack space. Okay, this is minor, but remember when Ion Hazzikostas promised us we would be seeing more space in our grubby old original backpacks? Yeah. Turns out, it appears, that the extra space will be tied to having an authentication attached to your account. In principle, I think this is a pretty good idea. Blizz wants to do as much as they can to stop account theft, which in turn makes life harder for illegal botters, gold sellers, and the like. So it’s not a bad idea to offer a little perk to people willing to add this bit of security to their account. (I have had the phone authenticator for years, and it in no way hinders my access to the game or my enjoyment of it. It is not an absolute guarantee that my account cannot be hijacked, but it greatly complicates the process for any hackers. Which means, I think, they would be more likely to go after someone who does not have an authenticator. So please, if you think an authenticator is a bad idea, for my sake continue to have an unprotected account …)

The quibble I have with this is that Blizz is really chintzing out on the offer. Their miserly “gift” is a whopping — get ready for this — FOUR extra bag spaces!

Sheesh.

Upgrading 970 legendaries. This is nothing more than a big Blizz gotcha joke, in my opinion. In the few comments Blizz has made about this annoying and tedious process (it will take many people literally months to upgrade all theirs, even assuming they max out Wakening Essences every day), they have rather smarmily intimated that maybe we should just pick a few legendaries to upgrade and forget about the rest.

Really?

After you handed them out like candy, after you refused to back off the RNG aspect of which ones we could get, after you nerfed the “good” ones so that they are all more or less equal in certain circumstances? After all you have done to encourage us to use all of them depending on the fight and our individual gearing and talents, NOW you say we should just pick a couple and stick with them?

If Blizz is going to stick with the system they have on this, the least they could do is make the Wakening Essences more plentiful. They could ensure we get at least 10 in the emissary chests. They could award them for every world quest we do instead of just emissary ones, or alternately they could award several as the actual WQ reward, like they do with gold or Blood of Sargeras or class hall resources. They could give us a shoulder enchant that awards a few bonus ones periodically as loot.

Even better, Blizz, quit nickel and diming us on this stuff and do like you did in other expansions — when the new numbers hit, auto-upgrade the ones we have. What the hell would it hurt to do that? If you really do want us to switch out these items as situations dictate, then you should upgrade them all so we will actually do that, not encourage us to just stick to the two or three we have managed to grind out upgrades for. Put your money where your mealy mouth is.

And on that note of cranky annoyance, I am off to start my weekend. Enjoy yours.

Hati, we hardly knew ye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confessions of a mediocre hunter

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

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

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

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

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

It is not a good feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cranky about the crucible

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

Blizz, have you completely lost your marbles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.