Nostalgia

I am not a let’s-join-an-illegal-vanilla-WoW-server kind of person. I think the game is what it currently is, and if I really dislike it I am at liberty to not play it. It would never occur to me to try and find a retro version of it, partly because I tend to look forward not back, but also because everything — the game, me, the tech world — has gone beyond those early days. Whatever great times I remember about my first months in the game cannot be fully recaptured because those times were a result of a whole array of circumstances. Going back to a vanilla — or even Wrath era — game in and of itself cannot replicate my level of knowledge or game proficiency then, nor can it make me unlearn my current expectations of graphics, server reliability, and other technical advancements.

Part of the reason misty memories are so alluring is because they are just that: misty.  If we really remembered everything about the times we yearn for, we probably would not hold them in such high regard.

Nevertheless, I do fall prey to nostalgia in the game from time to time. One such time happened yesterday as I was leveling my baby priest through Northern Stranglethorn. I was doing some power leveling and thus was pretty focused on the immediate quests at hand, but at one point for some reason I stopped and took in the scenery. And there above me, taking up most of the sky, was the ugly scar of Argus. It completely destroyed the moment for me.

I have been using my priest as a stress relief valve, a way to forget about Blizz’s insults to hunters and the grind the game has become — basically as a cheap way to recapture as much of the game’s simplicity as I can without going completely retro. And I have been successful at it until I looked up and was reminded of all the things awaiting my baby priest if I should actually get so far as leveling her up. Not to get too dramatic about it, but it was kind of soul-crushing.

This same burdensome feeling happened to me as I considered getting a couple more of my leveled alts able to do the Argus world quests. The whole series of quests necessary to do that just seemed not worth the effort. I read where Blizz is considering making this process easier for alts, but honestly I am not holding my breath over it. It would, after all, cut into their MAU stats.

Except maybe it would increase them. In my case, for example, if my alts were able to do Argus world quests without the heavy overhead necessary to unlock them, I would be far more likely to crank out some extra time every week doing a few more WQs on alts.

Short post today — lots going on in real life, both personally and nationally. In all areas I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the present and nostalgic for the past, but almost certainly I remember that past very imperfectly. We have the game that we have, and the ugly scar of Argus is now part of it.

Argus – second week

I am going to reserve my final opinion on Patch 7.3 and the whole Argus zone until after next week, which will give us nearly all we are going to see with it, but I have to say so far I am pretty underwhelmed. Absent some hugely fun new thing next week, I cannot see myself spending much time there once my main has gotten the rep to be allowed to buy some of the quality of life gizmos which in my opinion we should have had from the start of the patch. I am mainly talking about:

  • Whistle. Blizz, in its most patronizing and stingy fashion, is allowing us to spend 500 gold to “upgrade” our Legion whistle so that it will work on Argus, but only after we have ground out revered with the Argussian Reach. And just to make sure we get a sufficient amount of misery, they have apparently gone to some pains to ensure it will take several weeks to gather that rep.

I am not at all trying to start another huge emotional player fight about flying versus no flying, but here’s the thing: It is hard to not get the impression that Blizz is doing everything they possibly can to stubbornly dig in their heels and force players into slogging about on the ground for as long as they can in as many places they can, through as many obstacles and mobs as they can manage.

It is as if, having let the flying toothpaste out of the tube years ago, they spend every resource possible trying to cram it back in. They clearly hate that players can fly in the game, and since their attempt to remove it from all future expansions died a horrible death back in WoD, they are in sullen teenager mode over it, kicking dirt and muttering and pouting every step of the way.

The fact of the matter is — no matter how Blizz may protest it is not the case — that designing zones for flying takes significantly more resources than designing them for ground travel. The WoW franchise is becoming less and less of a moneymaker for Blizz as well as for the larger corporate structure of Activision-Blizzard, and they are cutting more and more resources from it with every patch and expansion. I would honestly have more respect for them if they would just come out and admit this, rather than patronize us with the whole “immersion” excuse or the “we never have flying on an island” one.

I could possibly buy into the “We never allow flying in a patch zone expansion, look at Timeless Isle for example” argument, but the fact is that ever since Mists, Blizz has made us jump through more and longer hoops to get flying for every expansion. (In Mists, as soon as you hit max level you got flying capability.) Part of that strategy is coming home to roost with them on Argus, since completion of the Legion flying quest line for many players came very close to coinciding with the release of 7.3, giving these players the impression that they just got flying only to have Blizz yank it away from them immediately, and causing them — with some justification — to howl in the forums.

Blizz was not required to implement flying in the game in the first place, but they did so in order to increase their player base and ultimately their bottom line. It was a business decision that they thought was appropriate at the time. Fine. But I recall that some devs, like Greg Street, warned there would be no going back once it was done, and that is absolutely the case. They are stuck with it, try though they might to throw a continuous tantrum over it and push its implementation further and further away with every expansion.

Argus is not Timeless Isle, nor is it Quel’Danas. (And for the record, the late patch zone in WoD, Tanaan, allowed flying, just sayin’.) In my opinion, Blizz should have designed it with some relatively short path to flying, if for no other reason than they were such dicks about the quest line for Legion flying. But they didn’t, and it will not happen now. But for crying out loud, do they have to also be mega-dicks about the lousy whistle?

  • Permanent augment rune. As was done in Tanaan, there is a permanent augment rune available for purchase once you become exalted with Army of the Light. The good news is, it is a lot easier to get rep with this faction than with the Argussian Reach. The bad news is, even after you become exalted, the damned rune costs 45,000 gold.

Yeah, I know there has been huge inflation in the game. (I won’t indelicately point out Blizz caused this themselves when they had to resort to massive gold giveaways in WoD just to bribe people into playing. Okay, I will. Yet another bad decision they cannot now undo and so are making players suffer as a result.)

But 45,000 gold for a rune? The current Defiled Augment Rune goes for about 150 gold on my server, and I suspect as more people shell out for the permanent rune the temp one will take a real nosedive in value. You can buy literally hundreds of temp runes for 45,000 gold. (300 at 150g, 450 at 100g, 900 if it goes down to 50g which is I think likely.) And as far as I know, LFR will keep awarding them, so I do not anticipate a shortage.

I have plenty of gold, but something in me balks at spending 45k for a damn rune that I will use only for raids. It just smacks of price gouging, and I do not like it, nor do I see why Blizz has priced it that way PLUS gated it behind rep. It is a mean-spirited “gotcha” that feels like someone is going “BWAAHAHA! Let’s make the little boogers work their asses off for it! My bonus goes up the higher we can force our MAU!”

Let’s see, what else am I underwhelmed about on Argus so far? Oh yeah, invasions. I honestly do not see myself doing very many of these. So far, the loot has been non-existent for me, and to be honest they are not really that fun. I really enjoyed the ones at the end of WoD, loved flying off to a place in old Azeroth to join in with dozens of other players, liked that even low level alts could do them and get really decent gear, liked that they had a set pattern of beginning, middle and end phases. I think a lot of people really enjoyed them.

So why, given a winning design, did Blizz feel compelled to “improve” on them, pretty much destroying much of the fun in the process?

The Argus invasions feel like just another daily or weekly quest, with worse loot potential. And getting an alt attuned to even get to Argus is no quick or easy thing. I put a new alt into the zone over the weekend — it had already been on Broken Shore, so I was not starting from zero. Even so, it took me well over 2 hours (closer to 3) to jump through all the Argus hoops to get to invasions, not to mention opening up Mac’Aree. And this process, I assume, will get even longer once the Week 3 requirements kick in. With WoD invasions, I could just hop on a (flying!) mount and jump into the fray with an alt. And once in the invasion scenario, I could fly madly from point to point, taking part in areas of the scenario I thought I could be most useful in. It was great fun. Argus is just not.

And I am not even talking about the Greater Invasions. I have done several of the Greater ones, either for myself or to help out guildies, and they are insipid and boring (the Greater invasions, not the guildies…). They have less complex phase structure than the WoD ones, they are not fun to gallivant around in, the bosses are only tedious not interesting, and the loot really stinks. On top of that, you have to participate in smaller ones every week just to be able to do them, and more often than not fight your way through mobs just to get to the portal.

Nope. I’ll do a few initially, I am sure, but there is absolutely nothing in these that makes me want to spend more time on Argus. I thought the demon invasions in Legion were a poor shadow of the fun of the WoD invasions, and I think the Argus ones are even worse.

So I am waiting until the reset Tuesday, hoping there will finally be something that makes Argus a desirable location for me. But I have not seen anything so far, and honestly I am not especially optimistic.

Alt weekend

I had a busy weekend in WoW. Nothing spectacular, just found myself with some windfall time on my hands and decided to spend it playing. As there is nothing much left for me to do with my main except grind out AP, I turned to my two most developed alts — balance druid and destro warlock. It was an interesting study in comparisons and contrasts.

Both are ranged dps, which is my solid role preference in WoW. I do have a couple of melee dps and healer alts, and they provide a nice break sometimes, but I always come back to ranged dps as my niche play style. Having said that, there are further distinctions among ranged dps, but the one that makes the greatest difference to me is mobility. Hunters used to be the most mobile of all ranged classes, and even after huge mobility nerfs to them in Legion at least BM hunters probably retain that distinction. So I am coming from that background as my baseline for determining “mobility”.

As I wrote last week, I have spent quite a bit of time lately developing my balance druid, and I am enjoying it. Her ilvl is around 890, but in all honesty she still has pretty crummy gear. Two legendaries, but one is just the crafted stat stick, worthless except as an ilvl booster, in my opinion. No tier gear, no BiS trinkets.

I was invited to a couple of mythics and mythic+ runs on her over the weekend. Pity runs, if I am truthful, but my guild is pretty good that way. Also, several of my guildies are building up alts now, too, so we end up taking turns running mains in order to carry some alts every now and then. My boomie dps was dismal, of course, but I was encouraged that it was not always bottom of the dps pile — there were moments of decent play.

The one thing that still dogs me with balance druid play is the extreme slowness of it.  Cast times just seem excruciating to me, like I could start the cast, go make a sandwich and get back just as it was finishing. I suppose this is an indirect reflection of my crummy gear — I have not even come close to really stacking the haste I need. The Icy Veins class guide goes so far as to rank haste and mastery above the primary stat of int (!) One of the consequences of this horrible slow play style is that I tend to overuse my instant casts — kill pace while soloing and even in mythic dungeons is such that there often is not enough time to get off a casted spell before the mobs die. So instant casts are frequently the only viable ones. Also, my muscle memory is hunter-honed, so I have a twitchy tendency to just interrupt a long cast in favor of an instant one. A lot. I am hoping I can get over this as my gear improves and I slap myself upside of my head often enough.

My lock also has crummy gear — even worse than my druid — right now hanging around 830 ilvl. Zero legendaries, not even a crafted one yet. But here’s the strange thing: even at a 60-ilvl difference, the lock feels much more powerful than the druid. I am relatively fearless at engaging mobs and elites with my lock, whereas with my druid I am super-cautious, almost always waiting for other players to show up before engaging anything higher than around 5 million health.

Some of that, I think, is because when I solo with my lock I run with a tank pet. Not only does this give me some breathing room when casting, but it is also the play style I have learned with my hunter since my earliest days of playing. So I am used to it.

But beyond the familiarity of using a pet, the lock play style — even though it is primarily a casted class — seems much more lively and engaging to me than balance druid. It seems mobile, whereas my druid does not. I am not sure why. Both balance druid and destro lock have casted spells as their primary power and some instant casts for setup or dots. Both require a certain rotational sequence to achieve high damage, and if that sequence is interrupted by the need to move, it suffers a bit. (Less so if you are skilled, more so if you play like I do.) Yet I find destro lock play not only more enjoyable than balance druid play but also more effective. Yes, destro lock has big casted spells, but the cast times seem reasonable, not M-A-D-D-E-N-I-N-G-L-Y S-L-O-O-O-O-O-W-W-W-W like for boomies.

The difference reminds me of the difference between BM hunters pre- and post-Legion. There is some major shift in play style, in class/spec philosophy. Prior to WoD, hunter development was guided by someone who understood the whole hunter “feel”. Starting in WoD, this was no longer the case, and hunter development seemed to be only about numbers no matter how awful the feel. It seems, from my very parochial view, that there is a similar lack of feel for balance druid play style, whereas those developers working on locks still retain it. Even though balance druid and destro lock have the same basic damage mechanics, one is horribly clunky in its implementation and one is lively and fun.

This, to me, perfectly describes Blizz’s problems with class development — they just do not get it for several classes, nor apparently do they care to, but for the ones they do get, it works out nicely. 

Last week I thought that my balance druid would become my primary alt as Legion progresses, but now I am not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I am still having fun with it, but a weekend with my lock is starting to change my mind. (Yes, I am fickle. Sue me.) The one thing that has thus far soured me on my lock in Legion is — and I know this sounds stupid — the class hall. I have never been a fan of the dark, fire-and-brimstone-with-overtones-of-torture-and-anguish environments Blizz seems to love, and this dismal environment is only compounded by what I think is a horrible layout for the class hall. I am getting more familiar with it now, but I still wander around a lot looking for stuff. Honestly, a big reason I have not played my lock much so far in Legion is because I dreaded having to do business in that class hall.

At any rate, it was a fun and relaxing weekend. And my little kick-ass gnome warlock is back!

Legion’s way or the highway

Usually over the weekend I play quite a lot of WoW, and in Legion it has become the most fun time I have in the game, since I feel like I can actually putz around and do what I want — play a couple alts, gather some mats, pick up an achievement or two, run some old instances for that recipe or mount I covet, explore some areas I might have neglected when they were current, etc. However, this past weekend I was unable to play very much because of some family commitments (not the good kind, the entertaining-your-idiot-in-laws kind), and when I was a finally able to log on Sunday evening, of course I had a full array of emissaries to catch up on, and I actually saw someone flying around and realized that omg I had missed out on almost 3 days of Armies of the Legionfall rep and it would still be weeks before I could fly at this rate, not to mention I still had 4 more timewalking dungeons to do if I wanted a shot at the reward. It was not fun “catching up”.

And it dawned on me: Legion is WoW’s most restrictive, grindy, bossy expansion yet. Even WoD was preferable, I am starting to believe.

See, to my way of thinking, when I play this game a couple hours every night, I should not have to wait until a weekend to have actual fun doing it. Sure, I know I could technically drop out, ignoring raids and instances and gear and AP and flying achieves and professions and class halls and champion missions and emissaries and…

Oh wait, that’s pretty much this entire expansion.

There really is no “dropping out” if you want to play the current zones, you MUST grind endlessly. I am not at the point where I want to quit the game, but there is no denying it has become more of an irritation than a source of joy and whimsy. I am at a strange point where I enjoy the game in the abstract, but the daily activities are constant annoyances. In fact, Legion has taken pretty much every bad part of recent expansions and doubled down on them, all while Blizz explains to us how new and innovative it is, how they really learned lessons from player reactions to past expansions.

I am sick of being told when to log on. I am sick of feeling like I will miss the puny few hundred rep needed for flying if I fail to log on and do the BS dailies. I am already sick of trying to track random but extensive invasions, most of which occur in the middle of the freaking night or when normal people are at work or school, all because Blizz could not be troubled to configure them to servers, took the lazy way out technically just so they could brag about adding “content”. Hell, if they were going to be lazy about it, why not just resurrect the invasions from the pre-expansion? Those were fun, quick, and rewarding, and if you missed a couple it was no big deal because there were always some popping up. I guess players liked them too much, can’t have that.

I am sick of the ever-dangled carrot of flying. I am sick of the “just one more thing” never ending string of requirements. I am sick of the stupid little games Blizz plays to make sure you know they strongly disapprove of flying — which they themselves introduced years ago — but if you must have it, then you will sure as hell have to suffer to get it. I am sick of the rep game they are playing with Armies of the Legionfall — awarding minuscule amounts for daily quests; no emissaries to give additional bonus rep; daily quests do not hold over so if you miss a day you are out of lucK. And strangely, there have been no Kirin Tor emissaries — which apparently would award a 750 rep token — since 7.2 went live even though they seemed to have been every other day before 7.2. I am unamused by “secret” achievement and quest requirements that will award more rep (like the running of the maze without being detected).

I am sick of class halls, which are nothing more than garrisons with all the perks removed. I am especially sick of the hunter class hall, to which almost no creative effort was devoted in its development. It is bereft of any imagination. There is still no place to sit in the entire hall, the bartender sells only mana drinks, there is no mailbox, not even any real connection to classic hunter lore. It was clearly designed by someone coming up on a deadline, who did not give a bucket of warm spit about any result save meeting that deadline.

I am sick of being required to run dungeons and raids — including mythics — in order to pursue almost any other game path, for example professions.

I am sick of being told that currency for gear is a bad thing, then being forced to deal with currency for everything else — order hall resources, Legionfall war supplies, Timewarped badges, artifact power, nethershards, seals of Broken Fate…

I am sick of being told how I must play my alts, sick of that depressing sinking feeling of eternal grind I get when I consider leveling up one of them only to realize how complex and dragged out it will be: artifact quest, order hall campaign, all the grinds of the various gated class hall actions, profession requirements of quest lines and rep and dungeons and raids and lucky drops, the eternal disappointment of legendary drops, and of course the addition of one more endless AP grind for the new alt.

I am sick of my spec options being severely limited, sick of Blizz bragging about how they have removed all obstacles from being able to switch to any spec in your class, then placing huge boulders in your path like “good legendaries”, artifacts, AP, different crucial secondary stats and therefore different gear, etc. I am especially sick of Blizz imposing hybrid problems on pure dps classes, but refusing to give them any commensurate perks such as role options.

I am sick of getting higher level gear that is actually a step down for your power, sick of having to run simulations or consult a web site just to figure out if a piece of gear is an upgrade. This is especially galling when we recall Blizz’s lecture to us on the evils of having to do “math” for reforging.

I am sick of empty promises to fix the near-total destruction of hunters as a class in Legion, sick of half-assed tweaks that do nothing to repair the fundamental problems Blizz engineered for the class. And I am sick of class overhauls every expansion, from a team that clearly is incapable of balancing their changes until the end of an expansion, at which time they stupidly decide it is time to repeat the process.

I am heartily, absolutely, positively, without a question, sick of RNG being applied to every aspect of the game. And I am enraged every time Ion Hazzikostas lectures us about how “fun” it is.

Look, here’s my point (at last): Everyone sets their own goals in this game, and pursuit of them is supposed to be fun and ultimately rewarding. Until Legion, players have been largely free to find their own path to those goals. But Legion effectively removed all side roads in favor of one super highway. And if you find an obstacle along that highway, too freaking bad for you, there are no detours. Your only choice is to remove it in the approved manner or stop all forward progress. Blizz has argued that Legion gives players a wide range of options, but that is not true — what it gives players is a wide range of requirements, all of which must be participated in to achieve virtually any game goal. Players are left with the “options” of sticking to the approved path or adjusting their goals downward. 

This is not player choice, this is nanny state game play.

My imaginary friends

Chatting online with a former guildie a few days ago, I had a revelation: Not every WoW player is emotionally invested in their characters.

Who knew?

This former guildie — an excellent hunter when I raided with him — told me he was so dissatisfied with Legion hunter changes that he had deleted his main hunter and switched to a Mage. I happen to know his hunter had been his first ever WoW character, and he had played it for several years. Yet, apparently, he had no qualms or even second thoughts about ditching it when he was dissatisfied with it. He mentioned the change more or less in passing, as if he were commenting on the weather.

As I tried to wrap my brain around the idea of summarily executing a longtime character, I realized I was guilty of the particular mental bias known as mirror imaging: the tendency to believe that others operate on the same set of experiences and values that you do. This was a surprise to me, because in my professional life I usually go to great lengths to avoid this kind of bias, almost never assuming a shared set of values or motivations in those I interact with. Yet here I was, more or less assuming that this former guildie harbored the same emotional bond to his virtual characters as I do for mine.

No great conclusions from this, just an interesting personal revelation I suppose. But it did cause me to give some thought to the way I approach my WoW characters. I’ll try not to repeat things I have said in previous posts, because I have written about alts quite a bit (you can use the blog search function using the terms “alt play” or “kick-ass” if you want a few examples), but I was able to observe some things about myself and my alts.

First, I am not at all averse to trying out new alts and quickly deleting them if I get bored. Generally, I have no qualms at all about deleting a “test” class after a few days. I think a little longer about deleting it if I have leveled past about 60 — and I think a LONG time if I have completely leveled it up — but still if I don’t enjoy playing the class I will dump it. (There are some exceptions noted below.) Over the years I have probably created and deleted something like 50-60 characters — various classes, specs, races and on various servers — not a huge number, but significant. I find I tend to more easily delete melee classes, along with non-damage dealers. I am more apt to keep a hoofless Alliance ranged damage dealer than any other combination.

Second, I do actually develop an emotional investment in some of my characters. I am not sure what triggers this, as it does not always happen. Certainly one factor is the amount of time I have had the character, combined with my overdeveloped sense of loyalty. I had a mage that I almost never played but that I could not bring myself to delete, due to my twisted thinking that I had mistreated her for years by making her my bank alt and never letting her get out in the world and do fun stuff. Eventually I leveled her to 100 in WoD, ran a few LFRs with her, got her some smart transmog outfits, etc. When I did finally bring myself to delete her late in WoD, I felt so guilty about it that I leveled up another mage as a kind of penance. Even though I am terrible at playing a mage and really do not enjoy it. Like I said, twisted.

For a number of complicated reasons not worth mentioning here, I have two hunters — my main, of course, as well as another one. The other one was my main for years, and she was my very first character in WoW. I cannot even think about ever deleting her, whether or not she ever again gets much game play. I use the flimsy excuse that I need her skills as a miner and jewel crafter, but honestly so far in Legion those professions for me have not been worth leveling up.

I am particularly devoted to my gnome destro warlock, though again I would be hard pressed to say why. I don’t especially favor the current turret-style of game play. Still, I think of her as a tiny furious dynamo, kicking ass and taking names, and don’t anyone dare to call her “cute” (although she really is).

I don’t have as much of an emotional attachment to my other alts who are at or above level 100. I am pretty sure, for example, that I will eventually delete my Demon Hunter and my Paladin. I just do not like their play styles, and I have not had them long enough to develop any kind of relationship with them. I will, however, almost certainly keep my druid, monk, mage (sigh), and rogue (whom I rather grew to like in WoD and who is my only male alt). I expect I will eventually level them all to 110, whether or not I actually spend much time playing or gearing them up, or even developing their professions (too daunting in Legion). I retain the hope that the next expansion will be kinder to alts.

Third, I find myself incapable of making characters antithetical to my real life values. I know there are people who enjoy exploring alternate lifestyles and personalities when they create virtual characters, but I cannot bring myself to do so. I simply cannot invest my characters with personalities that are mean or swaggering or deceitful or sneaky, because I would be horrified if I discovered such traits in myself in real life. I admit some of them are a bit vain, some tend to be quite judgemental, and a couple can tend towards bossiness — but, well, *sheepish grin*.

Fourth and last, I am continually amazed at how “immersed” I let myself be in my characters. My logical brain knows they are nothing more than imaginary constructs — not unlike the imaginary friends I concocted when I was a child — made up of magnetic media clumping up to form ones and zeroes (more specifically, not-ones). They have no reality, no personality, no existence in the classic meaning. But part of the game experience requires a willingness to believe in magic, to suspend logic. Apparently, I have a real talent for this, an observation that makes me both proud and uneasy.

How about you? Anyone else have an emotional relationship with their WoW characters?

Patch 7.1?

Late Edit. After I wrote this, the Official 7.1 Patch Notes came out, and contrary to what we were led to believe from the initial patch notes, BM hunters — and to some extent MM as well — were once again pretty much ignored. The Trailblazer talent did appear, but none of the other talent items I listed below. Plus there was a 37.5% nerf to Posthaste, presumably so that Trailblazer would be more attractive as a talent in that line.

Unfortunately, what this means to me is that the real “Phase 2” of Ion Hazzikostas’s Grand Plan for Hunters has not yet been put into effect, and we can look forward to a long, slow process for hunters. If at all. I would have liked to see a short explanation of why the apparently-planned other changes did not occur, but that would imply respect for the hunter class. One hopes the reason is that there are much more sweeping changes in the works and so there was no point in making a couple of small changes now. But of course, one has been sorely disappointed before….

Tomorrow Legion’s Patch 7.1 drops in the U.S., a few hours later in Europe. There are plenty of sites with summaries and data mining guesses, as well as info gleaned from PTR experience, among them Wowhead, IcyVeins, the official Blizz site, the PCGames site, and no doubt tons of others. Check them out if you are the type that likes to do last-minute prep.

One thing that comes through loud and clear with Patch 7.1 is that Blizz is making sure they avoid the variations on “lame” they were accused of (with justification) for the first patch of WoD. No one can say this patch is not chock full of new content, with new world quests, new zone quest lines, a new mini-raid, and of course the much-anticipated Return to Karazhan.

You wanted content, all right, I got your content right here! Now stop whining!

I am not sure how RtK will turn out. I know there a lot of people — possibly many of you even — who look back on the original Karazhan as a highlight of your group play. You remember fondly the various bosses, the trouble you had and overcame as a group in figuring out the admittedly innovative mechanics, took delight in the way the dungeon intertwined with other forms of art and leisure activity.

As a disclaimer, I never ran Karazhan when it was current, I only experienced it as a quick “fun run” when we were all overgeared for it, or when we decided to do a naked run or a protect-the-baby competition or something similar just for fun. On those occasions, honestly, I found the dungeon to be boring and tedious. I did not have any of the “fond memories” others clearly did and still do, to me it was just another place to do some guild night activities in.

So I am not looking forward especially to returning to it. As a game design, I wonder a bit about designing what is basically a 5-man raid, a complex Mythic-only dungeon with 11 known bosses and almost certainly some hidden ones, with extraordinarily complex mechanics, that will take hours to complete. For loot, gear base levels increase with later bosses, starting off at 855 and ending at 875 (with of course the almost-negligible chance of significant random upgrades). So loot is not bad, although I wonder if it will be much of a motivator, since the kind of 5-man group able to complete it will likely have most of their gear already at or beyond the 860 level. (Will there be RtK Mythic+ runs? I already think of places like Arcway and Court of Stars as nightmarish for anything other than a regular Mythic run…)

I find myself wondering who the target player audience is for RtK. It is certainly not the typical guild group looking to knock out a few 5-mans after a raid or on an off night. It seems like it is not a dungeon conducive to pugs, nor to casual guilds with a continually-changing cast of logged in players. It seems to award gear too low to attract more than a once-through for the achievement for hardcore raiding guilds, yet be too challenging for groups that would greatly benefit from the gear. About the only players I see loving this a few diehard “good old days” types who will run it for the perceived nostalgia and who can find 4 other individuals who are either similarly nostalgia-imbued or who could use a couple targeted pieces of gear.

The other thing with RtK is that it will probably exacerbate the already-concerning problem of guild tank and healer burnout we are seeing from trying to get Mythic+ runs for guildies.

Patch 7.1 has a few economic and quality of life changes as well. The Blood of Sargeras vendor will appear in Dalaran, allowing players to buy mats with BoS. For example, you can buy 10 herbs with one blood, and the thing here is that number applies to any herb, even the still-overpriced Starlight Rose. (Late edit: Not so, see the comments below.) As herbs on my server still go for exorbitant prices in the auction house, it should be interesting to see what if any effect this will have on those AH prices.

The big news, and the one touted by Blizz as being a magnanimous concession to alt play, is that unlocking world quests now becomes account wide. It certainly is a step in the right direction, but I would have liked to see some significant profession changes, too. At least something that would alleviate the horribly high gear and skill requirements to run Mythic dungeons just to be able to get profession recipes, and removing the RNG component. (I have already abandoned my attempts to level LW on my main — getting even the vendored pattern upgrades is far too expensive to justify, especially when you realize that crafted gear, even if upgraded to 850, is pretty useless except temporarily for some rarely-played alts.)

There are also quite a number of class changes, mostly in the name of “balance”. The hunter changes seem less numerous than those for other classes, and they seem a mix of nerfs and buffs. Though I will wait to see how they play out, especially for Beast Masters, a couple of them stood out for me. Basically, the hunter changes involve talents, and they seem to be the “phase 2” part of what Ion Hazzikostas was talking about when he outlined upcoming hunter changes. One hopes this is the case, as it might indicate that actual core mechanic changes (the supposed “phase 3”) are in the works for 7.2.

One that got my attention was the removal of Dash from the level 45 talent line and its replacement with something called Trailblazer. Delirium, over at The Thrill of the Wild, had a nice summary of the change a couple of weeks ago:

Aspect of the Cheetah:
The first change is the return of Aspect of the Cheetah, sort of…
Trailblazer: Your movement speed is increased by 25% anytime you have not attacked for 3 seconds.
This talent will replace the currently very underused, if ever used, talent Dash, which adds an additional 3 seconds to the duration of Aspect of the Cheetah. Instead, now, we’ll have a buff that’s similar to the old Aspect of the Cheetah, giving us a run speed buff whenever we’re not in combat.

It’s very hard to imagine taking this over Posthaste, for me, but I’m still excited about this change. For hunters, especially Marks hunters, we have almost no choices in our talents. The disparity between talents is fairly extreme, even in very different situations: high mobility vs low mobility, single target vs multi-target, etc. The only time I change talents at all is if I want a pet tank, which really isn’t often, and is never in group content.

On the minus side, in terms of mobility, however, I see that Disengage is going from a 20-second cooldown to a 30-second one. Note that by increasing the cooldown for DE, there is the additional effect of decreasing hunter mobility from Posthaste. This is pretty significant and also pretty discouraging, because it means that Blizz will be continuing to nerf the “obvious” talent choices they engineered, rather than simply buff the weak ones. I do not know what the cumulative effect of this will be, but common sense says that it will serve to weaken hunter damage a bit. Whether that turns out to be significant or not remains to be seen.

I note that the teacher’s-pet mages, however, still have a 15-second cooldown for Blink… 

A Murder of Crows and Volley are getting some buffs, presumably in an attempt to make Barrage less of a must-choose for level 90 talents. (Recall that Barrage already received its 20% nerf a while back.)

MM hunters are losing their special extra-health version of Exhilaration (they will now get the same 30% health restoration that SV and BM do), and in its place they are getting the option for an additional 20 focus, bringing their focus to 120 (I think).

As I said, I will wait to see how the hunter changes play out after the patch goes live, but I really hope that these are indeed the phase 2 Hazzikostas talked about, and that as soon as we get some word on 7.2, there will be some significant baseline changes to hunter mechanics.

Meanwhile, on to Patch 7.1.

Nine days of Legion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, forget it.

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