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.

For stat geeks

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

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

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

Woohoo and Holy Moly!

There is only one possible topic for today’s post, and I’m certain you all know what it is: The Blue post BM hunters have been waiting for ever since, well, the early days of Legion alpha testing:

Hi Beast Masters. We’ve been reading your feedback and trying different sets of changes for Beast Mastery Hunters internally and on PTR.

To start, we are reverting all 7.2.5 changes we’ve made so far to how Wild Call triggers. Instead, Dire Beast and Dire Frenzy will have 2 charges baseline. The Mantle of Command (legendary shoulders that currently add +1 charge to Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy) will be changed to instead further increase the proc chance of Wild Call.

Overall, this will result in more Focus for all Beast Mastery Hunters, resulting in a more active rotation. Additionally, this gives all Beast Mastery Hunters access to a Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy with 2 charges playstyle that is more engaging and fun, allowing you to make decisions on when to use the buttons, instead of feeling like you should most often simply push them on cooldown.

We’ve been trying other iterations of changes surrounding Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy and Wild Call, including increasing Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy Focus generation or versions that avoided changing the legendary shoulders drastically, but ultimately reached the conclusion that giving 2 charges to the abilities baseline, which many of you have asked for, was the best change for the spec at the current time. We appreciate your patience while we try different iterations on PTR.

We are also making a few other less major changes to the spec in the next PTR patch, including: 

  • Aspect of the Wild will reduce the global cooldowns of your damaging abilities by 0.2 seconds, allowing you to more reliably spend the Focus you’re generating while it’s active, especially with Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy going off.
  • Kill Command and Dire Frenzy will cause your pet/Hati to charge up to 40 yds (up from 25 yds) to the target, matching the max range of your ranged abilities.
  • When your pet casts Dash, Hati will also gain Dash for the same duration.

Halla

Freaking

Looyah

This was the best news Beast Mastery hunters have had in — literally — years. When it was first posted, I actually had to read it several times for it to sink in. The announcement came as a total surprise to me, and I suspect to most hunters, because the few mutterings we had had thus far from Blizz on any hunter changes in 7.2.5 were pretty underwhelming. I am not going to enumerate them, but basically they were depressing because they echoed the same pattern we have seen in BM hunter rotations since the beginning of Legion: next to zero player control, relegating the hunter to the role of dropping all the leashes at the start of a fight and periodically hollering “Sic ’em!” So, after a couple of desultory comments thus far about continuing this trend in 7.2.5, to suddenly get what amounts to the two most major changes we have been pleading for throughout Legion is just jaw-dropping.

For those of you who have not played BM hunters in Legion, it’s hard to convey the enormity of this announced change. It restores some real options and player control to the spec, and I think most of all it restores some excitement and fun to the rotation. The two most major complaints about BM in Legion have been the clunky, mash-the-buttons-on-cooldown nature of the rotation; and the frustration with having what is supposed to be an awesome all-powerful weapon wedded to the spirit beast Hati, only to have him take his own sweet time ambling about in a fight, much like That Guy in LFR. There have been hundreds of pages and thousands of comments on these two shortfalls, and frankly most BM hunters finally just gave up on ever seeing any significant improvement.

It was puzzling to many BM hunters that, when Blizz did finally seem to respond, it was to create the legendary shoulders, a move that only served to further frustrate those who were not lucky enough to have them drop. My feeling before I got them was that Blizz had taken the RNG concept far beyond the pale by making it the deciding factor as to a spec being playable and fun. When I finally did get the shoulders a couple of weeks ago and first tried them, it was a “Holy Moly!” moment. I actually laughed out loud with delight when I was trying them out in front of the target dummies. Two charges for Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy absolutely should be baseline, not dependent on good luck.

The Blue post called the other 7.2.5 changes “less major”, but they are nonetheless huge in my opinion. For one thing, reducing the global cooldowns while Aspect of the Wild is active should lessen the chance of capping on focus, which in turn will increase damage. But of greater impact, I think, are the changes to pet behavior. Making Hati actually dash instead of ambling will certainly cut down on player frustration, but it should also make a noticeable change in damage numbers. And extending the range of pets to match that of other ranged abilities should, among other benefits, eliminate that maddening situation when you think you are starting a fight and both your pet and Hati just stand there looking cute but dumb. (I am intrigued by the possibilities of the range extension if the range is measured not from the hunter’s position but from the pet’s.)

I am sure there will be tweaks and adjustments to the 7.2.5 BM changes, because I think the net result as announced is likely to make the spec much more powerful than Blizz intends or is good for the game’s class structure. So we should all expect some “nerfs”. But to me, the huge significance of the changes lies not so much in the numbers but rather in what looks to be a philosophical change in the basic BM design — away from the idea that hunters are passive onlookers, and towards the idea that we are indeed masters of our beasts, that we actually control their behavior and that our decisions influence outcomes.

It took too long for Blizz to recognize the harm they did to BM hunters in Legion, but I am ecstatic that they did finally come around to understanding and — hopefully — fixing some of the baseline play style problems.

Finally, some good news for hunters.

What a difference

After a week of flying, I am astounded at what a difference it has made in my approach to Legion. It’s like it’s not even the same game I have been slogging through for the past 8 months. I am actually having fun again, for the first time since maybe the second month of the expansion. I am not sure why this one ability should make such a huge difference in my outlook, but I think I can identify a couple of factors.

Time. This is certainly the biggest factor. It now takes me what I consider to be a reasonable amount of time to crank out world quests and daily Broken Shore quests. Just as an example, prior to flying I was spending close to an hour just doing the usual 4-5 BS quests, and now I spend 30 minutes or less. I don’t see such a dramatic change in the time it takes for WQs — probably because I am not especially efficient at planning out my quest routes — but it is still significant.

I don’t do my own flying everywhere. If I am going a long distance I usually still use the flight points. It’s just easier, and it gives me a chance to stretch, take a bio break, get a drink, put in a load of laundry, whatever. (But it is awesome to have the choice!)

The other aspect of the time factor is finally I am freed from the need to fight or outrun every little nuisance mob along the road. This alone saves a huge amount of time. And while I am at it, as a side rant, when did Blizz decide that sticking to roads was no longer a safe option? Now not only do mobs encroach on the roads, but they even block them, so that you cannot avoid fighting them or at the very least running like hell to get past them. (Thank you, Stonehide Leather Barding, possibly the single greatest craftable item from leather workers.) For years, Blizz has promised us that if we stick to the roads we will almost always be safe from hostile mobs. Now that they are delaying flying longer and longer in new expansions and forcing us to be roadbound, suddenly that rule no longer applies?

I spend almost no time now trying to figure out how to get past the many invisible walls Blizz has incorporated into the Legion terrain, especially in Stormheim, Suramar, Broken Shore, and Highmountain. I just fly over the area. It is glorious.

And Suramar City? It is absolutely great to be able to fly over those gangs of blue-circled thugs that account for so many deaths. Flying over them now, I often flip them the bird and cackle to myself. I no longer avoid WQs in Suramar City for that reason alone.

Alts. Mainly because of the time factor, I now feel I can spend some time several times a week on my alts, getting them to Broken Shore, doing world quests to gear up, and even venturing into LFR with them once in a while for the gear and the rotation practice. I still think Legion is the most alt-hostile expansion yet, but flying certainly helps a lot.

My alts tend to be a lot squishier than my main, of course — worse gear, plus I am not even close to proficient on them — so being able to avoid trash mobs helps me to focus on the quests more. Far from Blizz’s oft-expressed disdain for “avoiding” their annoying obstacles, flying actually encourages me to spend more time on my alts and thus playing the game.

Getting out of Dodge. I find many of the BS quests extremely unpleasant, not because of the quests themselves, but because of another ugly turn in game mechanics: Mobs that spawn as fast as, or even faster than, you can kill them, making it nearly impossible to leave the area even once you have finished the quest.

My main is a hunter, so there are very few things I cannot deal with solo, and these continually-spawning mobs are no exception. I can get to a safe spot then feign death, for example. Or I can just kill group after group after group after group until eventually there is a break long enough for me to escape. But it is annoying. Especially since Blizz still has not fixed the clunky problems with pet pathing and pet placement — these continuous mobs often mean I cannot loot at all since looting usually requires a kind of dance to get around my pet blocking the corpse, and spending the second or two doing this in these areas means another group has spawned and is attacking. And forget it if there are skins to be taken — not going to happen. No, it’s not a big deal, but it is terribly frustrating and annoying.

So having flying helps in escaping these areas, because if you can get the time to summon your flying mount (not always a given), at least you can be gone without having to run through dozens more of spawned mobs.

Gathering. On my gathering characters, I often fly from point to point, even great distances, just so that I can gather some mats along the way, even if it would be faster to use flight points for the actual trip. I don’t gather for sale, just to use the mats myself, but it still helps. (I think even flying does not help that much if you are a mat seller, unless you have level 3 gather for the mat it still takes a lot of time to get enough to sell in any decent quantity. This may account for why we have seen very little in the way of downward price movement for gathered items in our auction house.)

Fun. I sill get a real kick out of just hopping on a flying mount and swooping and soaring over an area. I love it when I see some little spot I have never before seen and can just set down and enjoy it. I like seeing the zones from a different perspective. I enjoy the art work far more, I think, when I can see it this way than when I am forced to slog along on the ground. I guess I just love being able to see the forests, and if I want to examine the individual trees I can do so on my own terms.

Freedom. This to me is second only to time as a factor in having flying. I feel like being able to fly restores some options to me as a player, some measure of play style freedom that Blizz has steadily eroded over the past couple of expansions. I have mentioned before that Legion more than any other expansion has put players into a virtual cattle chute for end game play, profession development, alt progression, and gear acquisition. There are just no options other than the Blizz-approved path to reach these goals. I have found this philosophy to be stifling.

Flying, by virtue of the fact that it gives us a third dimension for movement, seems to offer a metaphorical third dimension for some aspects of game play. It may be just an illusion that I feel freer to explore the game on more of my own terms, but if so it is a powerful illusion. I will take it.

And on that thought of freedom, it is time to begin the freedom that is the weekend.

“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.