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.

It’s time

There being very little current to write about in WoW these days, I decided to venture off into wild suggestion land. Today’s wild suggestion: Make every class a hybrid class.

Back when Blizz first introduced hybrid classes, they promoted the idea that these classes would not generally be as strong as the “pure” classes for raid roles, but that their superior adaptability would make them valuable group members. So for example, they were designed — on purpose — to have healing abilities slightly inferior to the then-pure priest healers, or dps abilities slightly below those of pure damage dealers like hunters or warlocks or mages.

But over time this basis for hybrids completely disappeared — along with pure healing classes — and now certain hybrid specs frequently are at the top of the charts for damage, often leaving the “pure” classes far behind. In fact, the term “hybrid” is almost obsolete, and it actually describes the majority of classes — 8 of the 12. Only warlocks, hunters, mages, and rogues are stuck with no option but damage for all specs.

There used to be advantages to being a pure damage class. In addition to the early Blizz commitment that these classes would do more damage than the dps spec of a hybrid, there was the added benefit of gear. A pure class could easily switch specs and keep wearing the same gear — no need to carry around a tank set, a healing set, a dps set, etc. But that advantage, too is gone. Blizz destroyed it when they introduced high-importance secondary stats, artifact weapons, and tailored legendaries for every spec. Now, if you are a hunter who wants to switch between BM and MM, for example, you must carry two sets of gear, one for each spec.

So we are at the point where pure damage classes are not guaranteed to do more damage than hybrids, and where they are required to carry a separate set of gear for every spec they wish to play. Yet they do not have the same implied raid role flexibility that hybrids do. In other words, they have the same disadvantages as hybrids without any of the advantages.

Before I go on, let me hasten to point out that I like hybrid classes. I love my alt druid. I do some guild alt runs of normal ToS on her, and I love that I can easily switch between healing and dps, depending on which role is needed. It’s a fun class to play. Yes, it is a bit complicated to keep different gear sets and to have to keep advancing two different artifacts and chasing the “good” legendaries for both specs, but the point is if I wanted to play two hunter specs I would have to do the same thing and I would not have as much utility to the raid as my druid, at the same level of play.

So I think it is time Blizz made every class a hybrid class. This would of course cause howls of anguish from warlocks and mages and probably rogues, because undoubtedly their favorite spec would be the one Blizz decided to make a healer or tank spec. Well, boo-hoo, I would say, suck it up and join the club — SV hunters lived through having their favorite spec destroyed in Legion so you can, too.

Ideally, I think every class should have a tank, healing, and dps spec, but even my fertile imagination knows Blizz would never do that. They would claim it violates the “class fantasy” (even though that idea has long ago been tossed on the garbage heap in all but empty form). So here is my proposal:

  • Rogues and hunters would get a tank spec.
    • The clear choice for hunters is the currently-stinky SV melee hunter. It would be a tank with a pet, which would offer tons of opportunities for creative tank styles. Maybe the pet helps heal the hunter tank, maybe the pet can off-taunt for the hunter tank, fetch mobs to the tank, etc.
    • I know little about rogues, but the subtlety spec seems under-used at least for PvE, so that might be a good candidate for the new rogue tank. (And while I am at it, maybe it is time for an additional, separate, PvP spec for all classes, but that is a topic for another day.)
  • Mages and warlocks would get a healing spec.
    • I know the history buffs out there will argue for a warlock tank, and while I would not be opposed to that, I think the whole idea of dark magic argues for healing not tanking. Not to mention, warlocks already use mana, so there is that. I don’t have a preference as to which spec to switch to healing. Affliction currently has the single-target and multi-target flexibility plus high movement to make it an effective healer along the lines of a resto druid, but nothing would seem to preclude revamping either of the other two specs.
    • Mages — well pick one. Currently all three specs basically hurl big balls of magic at a target, so change the color of one spec from orange, purple, or blue to some other color and call them magic healing balls. Done.

Anyway, that is my wild idea for the day. Let’s lobby Blizz to make 2018 the Year of the Hybrid — if it’s good enough for 8 classes, it’s good enough for all 12! We pure DPS are as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more!! Give us hybrid specs or give us death! Now is the time for all good DPS to come to the aid of their raid leader! We shall overheal! Tanks for the memories! ‘Tis a far far better thing we (shall) do than we have ever done!

Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.

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.

Mists of memory

What was your favorite expansion in WoW? Mine — and I know lots of people will disagree with me on this — was Mists of Pandaria. Looking back, it was the expansion where everything seemed to mesh in a seamless game experience.

Start with the story line. I am someone who is generally completely uninterested in the lore of this game, but I was intrigued by the whole Pandaren story, and honestly the pop culture pseudo-Eastern philosophy touches enhanced the experience for me. I rolled a panda monk, and I remember being delighted when the initial quest line revealed the nature of the starting island. I am an Alliance player through and through, but I liked the idea that Pandaren could choose their faction path upon leaving the island. I became very intrigued with the whole Wrathion enigma, and I am sorry we have not seen him since — I found him to be a compelling character.

I enjoyed — and still do — the racial “personality” of the Pandaren. It seems that Blizz really put a lot of effort into giving them a depth and complexity beyond anything I had experienced with other races in the game. Many of my characters are Night Elves, but honestly I never really gave much thought to them as a distinct people in Azeroth, for some reason they just have never made much of an impression on me beyond having a certain cosmetic look that I like.  But Pandaren are wonderful — individuals can be good or treacherous, fiercely loyal or despicably traitorous, wise or vapid. They are fierce fighters and make great soldiers, but they also love the hearth and make equally great innkeepers. They like good food and good beer and sharing it with any weary traveler.

I thought the monk class introduced in Mists was one of the most innovative Blizz has ever come up with. Each of the specs had unique and intriguing mechanics that were not just variations of every other class. My Panda monk was a mistweaver, and I really enjoyed the healing play style that was completely different from any other in the game at the time. She was also powerful enough in her damage dealing that I leveled as a MW and never had a problem. Legion’s Demon Hunters and the hunter Survival spec, in my opinion, pale in comparison to the creativity we saw with the monk class.

Starting the expansion, I remember being just blown away by the graphics. I found Pandaria to be breathtakingly beautiful. Every zone had one or more areas of surpassing wonder, and I still visit them when I need a break from the grind that has been WoD and Legion. I still enjoy swooping and soaring over the amazing beaches of Krasarang Wilds, and the windswept vistas of Kun-Lai Summit are balm to my soul. I have a particular fondness for Zouchin Village — something about the colors, the setting, the ambient sounds always makes me think of one of those glorious days in early spring, when you can smell the earth as it warms and see the first signs of new growth even though the air still has a slight taste of winter chill in it. If I ever quit this game, I will take each of my characters to Zouchin Village and let them end their existence there.

Certainly there were down sides to Mists, but in retrospect they were pretty tame. I thought the quest lines were coherent and connected with each other nicely. With the exception of Heart of Fear (I called it “Bugistan”), I liked the raids. I enjoyed scenarios. I loved that you could actually earn gear, not just roll the dice for it. I did not especially like the long rep grind that served as a gate to other aspects of the game, but in retrospect that was a piece of cake compared to Legion’s approach of making every character have to raid or run Mythic instances in order to advance any aspect of their end game play. I even kind of enjoyed the chase after the legendary cloak (except fo the PvP requirements), so much so that I got it on all but one of my alts.

Speaking of alts, I thought Mists was perfect for alt play. There was incentive to level them, because that is when you got flying for each, and I thought that was a fun reward for reaching level 90. There was also ample opportunity to actually play your alts, without the pressure of having to run instances or raids in order to do so. There were dailies, scenarios, and eventually there was Timeless Isle, where you could run dailies in 30 minutes or so — enough time to get some proficiency with your alts, but not so onerous as to feel like a grind (except for the frog killing zone, that is). You could max out alt professions with a single grind for faction rep, and then you could actually *gasp!* get some good out of your professions by crafting items or gathering mats for decent profit in the auction house. And you did not have to gear them all up to raid level gear in order to enjoy them.

I liked a lot of other miscellaneous things about Mists. I thought the Noodle Cart was fun and different, and I really liked being able to provide my raid group with noodles. (I think we could have predicted problems with Nomi, given what a little smart ass he was in Mists: “Who are you supposed to be?”) I actually liked getting individual rep with the Tillers in Valley of the Four Winds, and all of my alts became Besties with every Tiller, spending hours zooming around looking for dirt piles containing the treasures so dear to each of their hearts. I think much of this particular attraction for me was the reward of adding enhancements to Sunsong Ranch, a place I still like to spend a night in once in a while. It is the closest we have ever come — or sadly are likely to — to player housing in this game.

Mists was when I really came into my own as a Survival hunter. I spent hours practicing in front of the target dummies, I played with lots of rotations and talent builds. I learned how to configure and use Weakauras. I finally mastered the iconic hunter “turn around jump shot” by repeatedly running along the front of the Shrine, first practicing the “reverse disengage” mechanic — run, turn around and jump and DE and turn around again before landing — then adding in a Concussive Shot after the jump but before the disengage. I regret that this skill has deteriorated since then, but for a while I was pretty damn good at it. Survival was fantastic fun to play back then, possibly the zenith of hunter play in WoW. It makes me sad to compare it to BM play now in Legion.

So, yeah, I think Mists is the best expansion Blizz has given us. Unlike WoD and Legion, it seemed “finished”, like a well-designed final product, not like a drawing-board concept constantly being adjusted. I know a lot of people were frustrated that it dragged on for so long, but I was never bored with it, not even in the waning months. It was an expansion where I felt like all my goals were attainable, where I felt like I could set my own play parameters and have fun, whether it was in advancing my main or practicing with an alt or making some gold or just admiring the artwork. It seemed like an individual game back then, not like an assembly line.

Enough reminiscence. Time for a holiday weekend, with Zouchin Village spring weather.