Where’s the hope?

There is a Battle for Azeroth spoiler in this post. Don’t read if you don’t want to know. You have been warned.

At the end of last week Blizz put out a short video of the Burning of Teldrassil (see it courtesy of MMO-C here). This event is one of the central lore features of Battle for Azeroth. Regular readers of this blog know I am not big on lore in World of Warcraft, I am familiar with a few of the basics but that is about it. Thus, for example, I was not especially upset at the time-travel premise of WoD, nor did I really give a hoot in hell about the space travel aspect of Argus. To me, lore in this game is nothing more than an afterthought to explain game mechanics. That is, the devs come up with game mechanisms and then someone makes up some lore to “justify” it. This is why the lore is so disjointed and complex — it has to keep changing as the game’s technology changes, and there appears to be no real “script continuity” person assigned to ensure there are no jarring disconnects. When the community complains about various jumps in lore, Blizz’s answer is generally something like, “mumble mumble mumble Old Gods mumble mumble treachery mumble mumble magical reasons…. and Khadgar or Jaina or Big Ugly Horde Guy! See, it makes perfect sense!”

So you would think, with me not caring a fig one way or another about story lines, that I would pretty much shrug off the burning of Teldrassil. Well, I would have thought so, too, but for some reason I am very disturbed about it. In fact, more than disturbed — it’s like a gut punch that makes you just want to lay there and not get up again.

I am not sure why. I suppose for one thing, Teldrassil is where I started WoW, with my very first night elf hunter. I ran around happily in Shadow Glen, learning how to move and shoot, figuring out that shiny glowy things meant “click on me” and what the various punctuation above an NPC’s head meant. I first died in a cave there, multiple times, learning two things: how to rez and scoot a few feet over and over until I got far enough away from the mob to hearth, and that I hate caves. As the quest lines took me out of the protected Shadow Glen and closer to Darnassus, I remember encountering the majestic elves patrolling the road on beautiful white tigers — I was in awe of their grace and power, and in the back of my brain I was thinking “I have got to get me one of those riding tigers!”

When I finally got to Darnassus, I thought there could be no grander city in the game, that this must be the biggest and best WoW would offer. But of course eventually I found Stormwind, and all of Eastern Kingdom, and many other grand cities, and I came to understand that Darnassus was really just a little backwater provincial center, one that no one really visited very often or even paid much attention to. Still, I loved it and would frequently take my night elf there before logging off, to sleep in the inn and remember where I came from. For years, I did that every couple of weeks. In Legion, I even found myself going back and visiting Shadow Glen every so often. For some reason, whenever the grind got too grindy and end game got too suffocating, going back to where I started my adventure helped me to center myself.

But I haven’t been there since the BfA announcement about Teldrassil. Knowing that this tiny oasis of peace will be destroyed in the next expansion seems too much to bear.

But the other, bigger, reason I am distraught at the idea of burning Teldrassil is that when Blizz destroys things, they never allow them to be fixed or healed. (The park in Stromwind is the only exception I can think of, and this was due only to extreme and constant player pressure, I am sure.) Once something is destroyed or made ugly, it will remain that way. Blizz is like a kid who builds a sand castle only to gleefully destroy it, then loses interest.

I don’t think WoW should be all rainbows and puppies, but there is a dark strain that runs through it, one that over the years — at least for me — just wears me down with its depressing sameness and shuttering of hope. Only the bad guys ever win in this game, and the most we ever get for our constant state of war is a sort of cease fire with one group or another, only to be replaced with yet another war we are doomed to not win. It would be nice, for a change, if we could actually beat, say, the Legion, have a victory parade, and get some R&R. But we don’t, the Legion just magically goes away without any admission that we won, and now we go back to fighting each other — Alliance and Horde — as if none of that other stuff ever happened and we learned nothing.

I will never again be able to find cool respite in Teldrassil, just as no one can ever again ignore the ugly scars of Deathwing or the criminal destruction of the Vale in Pandaria. Blizz does not build except to destroy, and in their world there can be no healing or reconstruction. I might accept the burning of Teldrassil if I were convinced that, like a real forest after a fire, we would eventually see new growth and rebirth. But I doubt we will — Blizz will move on to the next expansion, and Teldrassil will be forever destroyed and ugly. Sure, they may have some stupid cutscene towards the end of the expansion — maybe after a final boss in a final raid tier — with flowers and sunshine and soothing voices foretelling of the rebirth of Teldrassil — but we will never actually see it in game.

It’s not Teldrassil’s roots they are destroying, it’s mine. And it’s wrong. It doesn’t make me  mad enough to fight the horde to the death, it just makes me hopeless. Beat down. Blizz has really gone too far this time.

Things that need to be account wide

I have said it before, and my opinion has not changed, Legion is one of the most alt-unfriendly expansions in recent history. I don’t know how it was before Wrath because I did not play alts then, but the last two expansions have seen a steady diminishing of benefits for alts. Coincidentally (?) that is the exact same period as the reign of Mr. Game Director “I Alone Will Dictate How You Will Have Fun” Hazzikostas. (And those of you out there who have like 50 alts and always send me a comment about how easy it is to play a whole stable full of them, just save your breath and bytes, you are flat out wrong. Playing alts in Legion might be less painful if you have 8-10 hours a day to play the game, but for any normal person, it is getting harder and harder to maintain anything but one main character.)

This was driven home to me over the weekend when I took my void elf mage through both the Argus and the enchanting quest lines. It took pretty much the entire weekend, probably a total of 12 hours of play time.

The Argus quest line is not difficult, and I found it passably interesting the first 2-3 times I did it, but after that it is just a long boring grind. The only reason to do it at all any more is to unlock the full set of Argus world quests, which in turn help you to grind AP at a slightly faster rate than on the rest of the Broken Isles.

The enchanting quest line, like most Legion professions, is just painful because of the dungeon requirements. I do not mind doing quests in order to advance a profession, but when every alt with a profession is forced into group activity (including raiding for some of the higher level profession recipes), that seems like an unreasonable imposition of one and only one play style for every character in the game. I got somewhat lucky with my mage, and the queues for the specific dungeons needed for enchanting were only between 10-20 minutes, but please note that this can add over an hour (I think I needed 4?) of time just waiting.

I suppose Blizz’s twisted reasoning here is that by making us go through every quest line on every alt, they are padding their MAU. But for me it really has the opposite effect — there are alts I have just stopped playing because the time sink required to get them to true end game play is just too steep. And by “true end game” I am not even talking about regular raiding or Mythic+ dungeons — just daily emissary quests, some LFR once in a while, the basic profession recipes, and a reasonable shot at level 75 for an artifact weapon. In fact, there are times when I might have an inclination to play the game but the prospect of grinding the same quests are so off-putting that I do not even log in.

I have only a bare bones champion setup in my class halls on most of my alts, because the time sink required to grind the class hall resources and get max gear for them is daunting. And I have not even attempted the full Suramar quest line or the Broken Shore quest line on any alts — the prospect is just too depressing.

Contrast this with the way I played alts in Mists of Pandaria. I really enjoyed taking them all through the Timeless Isle dailies and weeklies, mainly because most of the perks earned were account wide. Even things like the special legendary cape had account wide perks in terms of being able to get to that one boss across the chasm high up. It was fun to have a little practice area for becoming more proficient on various classes, and you could progress to harder areas as your proficiency and gear level increased. It did not seem like a grind because even if the particular alt you were playing did not need any more of the vendor gear, you could get it for a lesser-geared alt. And you could always stock up on it by running your main through every day.

Plus, there was that rep perk, where your alts earned rep at a significantly faster pace once one character had gotten to exalted with a faction.

Those days are long gone.

I am at a total loss for the reasoning behind the change. It is apparently a matter of almost religious belief on the part of Hazzikostas that alts must not, under any circumstances, be played in any kind of role except exactly as a main. There must not be any set of perks that would allow them to, say, be primarily a mat or crafted gear supplier to a main. No, no, no! They must be developed as fully as a main, and their sole approved purpose must be to pursue the exact same end game goals as a main. And in fact, the changes implemented in WoD and most especially Legion all funnel alts into exactly that mode. Why does Blizz give a flying fuck how we play our alts? The more of them we enjoy playing — for whatever purpose — the more we log in. I do not get it, except as a power trip for Hazzikostas: “Not only can I determine for you the manner in which you must have fun, but I can also dictate exactly how you must play your alts.”

Blizz could significantly improve player quality of life in the next expansion by making certain things account wide. Making some of these changes, rather than inhibiting play time, would actually encourage more players to log in more and play alts even towards the end of the expansion when typically they lose interest. Some examples that would benefit:

  • Rep. Ideally, once you earned Exalted status on one character, that would apply to all characters in the same faction on the same server. Or, if that idea is too distressing to Blizz, at least do something like was done in Mists and make subsequent rep significantly faster to gain once one character hits Exalted.
  • Quest lines that open up additional game play. These, too, should be account wide once attained on one character. Blizz gains nothing by forcing the exact same process on every alt. After all, they recognized the boredom factor this entails in leveling, and they instituted the zone leveling concept for exactly that reason: to prevent leveling burnout by following the same path every time. So why not give us a break in the long quest lines at the end of the game? I would argue that the prospect of having to do them again and again actually discourages people from logging in at a certain point rather than forcing them to log in more often and for longer periods of time.
  • Profession leveling. Once you have fully leveled a profession for a given expansion, any additional alts with the same profession should be able to share the recipes immediately. If Blizz fears this would give rise to whole stables full of alts with the lottery-winner profession for that expansion (such as alchemy in Legion), they could limit the total number of crafted items per day or even the number of additional alts with the profession. Even better, they could design an expansion that does not have clear winner and loser professions!
  • Rep-dependent mounts. Same as rep — if you have earned it on one character, why not make it available to alts? (This is not the same as class-dependent mounts.) I refuse to do that stupid fisher rep on any more alts to get the raft — I ground it out on one, saved up my Mists timewalker tokens to get it on another, and that is it. Not going to do it. But I probably would spend more time fishing on alts if I had it. Not a lot, but still more than I do now.

None of these suggestions has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being implemented, but I make them anyway. The thing is, I really believe they would encourage people to play more, because then logging in to play an alt would actually be fun rather than an exercise in grim acceptance of yet another long slog to get to the fun part.

Of course, it would require His Royal Eminence Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas to allow some people to play their alts in a fashion he frowns upon, but possibly he could learn to live with the trauma or at least get counseling to help him accept it.

New leveling process — nope

On Friday I finally got my void elf mage leveled. It took me what seemed like forever but in reality was about /played 4 days. Yes, I know, that is pretty slow. Towards the end I just gave up on efficient leveling and began a sort of grim grinding, doing a few things like some class hall quest lines available prior to 110, going out of my way to gather herbs and run down a couple of profession quests, etc. I do like that I am not constrained to certain zones at certain levels, but in my opinion that perk is not worth the extra pain the new system inflicts.

All along, I said I would reserve final judgement on the new leveling process until I was finished. Well, now I have finished and here is my judgement:

It stinks.

If it had been the first or second or even fifth time I was doing it, I probably would have enjoyed it more. But by now in my WoW career I have taken something like 30 characters through the process — at least through about level 80 or 90 — and trust me there is nothing interesting or immersive or nostalgic left for me. When I want to create a new character, I am interested in exploring the potential for end game content with that character, not in plowing through zones and quest lines I have done too many times before.

Even worse, Legion has brought us a kind of “end game leveling” process the likes of which we have not seen before. That is, even when you reach 110 with a character, there are a number of leveling processes you must go through before you can get to any semblance of end game play. There is the AP chase to unlock relic slots on your artifact weapon, the gear chase to unlock various LFR and dungeon tiers, the class hall quest lines to get followers and possibly the class mount if you want it, not to mention the various hoops you must jump through to unlock certain areas of world quests on Broken Shore and Argus. You even have to unlock Suramar and do a certain number of quest lines there in order to pursue other parts of the 110 leveling process. It is true that some of these requirements have been made shorter with recent patches, but the fact is, you still have to do them if you want a functioning 110 character. Reaching end game level no longer, by itself, permits end game play.

Even if you spring the $$$ to buy a character boost now, you still have to go through the entire end game leveling process. Boosting to 110 no longer means you have a functioning character for end game play, it just means you now have the privilege of grinding away for a few weeks to get to that stage.

Maybe if I had selected a different class for leveling I would have completed the process more quickly. A monk, for example, gets the additional XP boost, or a hunter generally can take on more mobs at once. My arcane mage was squishy and a mana hog to boot, so even though I did not die often I still had to take extra precautions and recovery time with nearly every encounter. It just takes longer. Still, the process should not be that dependent on class and spec selection. (I can’t even imagine leveling a healer or a tank in those roles with the new process. It would seem to be almost a requirement to level them in a damage spec and only switch to the desired healer or tank for group activities. That is sad, I think — I remember back in MoP my delight in leveling a mistweaver monk as a mistweaver and having no trouble whatsoever doing so. I think those days might be gone.)

There are players, of course, who welcome the new leveling process. I have no idea what fraction of the WoW community they represent, but I do know they tend to be extremely vocal and — let’s be honest — at times trolling and bullying. Not all of them, but enough that they paint the whole group with that brush. They have now gotten their way, and they did not have to wait for the Classic Servers to do so. Yay for them.

But there is another group — less vocal but I suspect larger than the purist group — who feel as I do: we are over the whole leveling-as-immersion thing, and when we roll a new character we just want to get to the end game as fast as possible. I think we are a large enough group that Blizz should pay some attention to us. They will not, of course, but here is what I would like to see:

  • Buff the heirloom gear to basically award bonus XP that would restore the old leveling times. Anyone who does not want to level quickly does not have to use heirloom gear. Simple.
  • Restore full profession leveling to characters who level to 60 and then use a boost.
  • Make it so that if you have all world quest areas on Broken Shore and Argus unlocked on one character, they automatically become unlocked on all characters on that account.
  • Similarly, make exalted rep account wide. Legion makes rep a pretty big thing in terms of gating for end game activities, professions, and the like, and it becomes less and less fun to pursue the more alts you have. If the purists object, create a coin or something that costs a fairly large sum of gold to buy, that gives account wide exalted rep if you already have it on one character. Call it a Publicity Coin or Advertising Blitz, and say it means you have hired a publicist who has spread the fame of you and your “family” far and wide. How cool would that be?
  • Spread artifact weapon level to all specs within your class, once you have reached, say, Level 75 on one artifact. It would not have to go any further than that — if you have one spec you want to keep grinding on and you get it beyond 75, fine, it would not be necessary to keep pace on all the other specs for that additional artifact level.

Changes like the above would not cause me to play the game less. On the contrary, they would probably make me play more, on more alts, because I would be able to do end game activities I really enjoy, rather than never ending grinds just to get to that point. As it is, I rarely log in on my lesser-developed 110 alts, because I just do not want to face the post-110 leveling grind necessary to get them to the fun part of the game. In Mists of Pandaria, I loved playing most of my alts nearly every day, because they were to the point where they could all do fun things on Timeless Isle — I could get loot and coins and such and also really concentrate on becoming more proficient on each alt. I did not feel as if I had to run certain quest lines or be forced to participate in dungeons I had to queue for, or jump through endless hoops to be productive in their professions, or have to run certain dailies just to get an adequate weapon. I could just — well — enjoy the game. This is a philosophy Blizz seems to have lost.

So, yeah, having taken an alt through the new leveling process (starting at level 20), I can now say categorically, I am not a fan of the change. Once again, it feels like Blizz is forcing me into an “approved” play style, that they are funneling me into their corporate-defined Fun™. Moreover, with Legion they have added an entire sub-leveling requirement on characters at level 110 — one that takes nearly as long to complete as the initial process.

I say again, the new process stinks. Just my 2 copper.

Through the glass darkly

As I have for the past couple of weeks, I spent most of my game time this weekend continuing to chug away at leveling my Void Elf arcane mage. I thought maybe as I got more into the leveling mindset, I might come to appreciate the finer points of Blizz’s throwback leveling mechanics.

Nope. I find it needlessly tedious and stupidly boring. Blizz has changed or varied some of the quest lines, it is true, so those are of very mild interest when I encounter them, but I am finding a lot of quest lines designed to force you to spend inordinate amounts of time simply shuttling back and forth:

  • Get a quest.
  • Go far away and do the quest.
  • Go back to turn it in.
  • Get newly available quest from same quest giver.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • zzzzzzzzzzzz…….. hmmm, what did I do with my toenail clipper?

I would have abandoned this whole project days ago if it were not for the fact I have all the Pathfinder achieves and thus can at least fly rather than gallop about. It seems clear that the “new” leveling protocol is all about stretching out the process as much as possible. Blizz can bray all they want about “restoring the experience”, but trust me, there is nothing interesting about commuting back and forth along the same path multiple times just to turn in and get new quests. (I am actually waiting for the change that will prevent us from skipping cutscenes, it seems almost inevitable it will happen. 🤨) Still, I suppose I am helping to contribute to Ion’s annual bonus by cranking out some MAU numbers for him, so at least that’s something.

Anyway, this post is not a rant about the ridiculous leveling changes (that will come later). It is about looking back and seeing expansions with the benefit of perspective.

I started playing WoW sometime around the very tail end of Burning Crusade. (I think I must have been about level 50 or 60 on my then-main hunter when Wrath of the Lich King went live.) One of the positive things about leveling my Void Elf is that it has given me a kind of retrospective on my history in the game. As I have gone through zones from each expansion, I am reminded of my first time through them years ago, and it is interesting that the things I see about them are not necessarily the things I would come up with if asked to list the highlights (or lowlights) of each expansion.

For example, if asked about Wrath, I think I would have remembered only two things. One, it was where I began my years-long search for Skoll and Arcturis. And two, it was where I finally found a guild I fit with and began regularly running instances and raids. That, and the Amberseed poop quest in Grizzly Hills.

What I would not have remembered, but which came back to me like a load of fresh Amberseed material falling on my head, was how much I detested nearly every quest in Zul’drak. Especially the seemingly-endless quest line where you put on that Ensorceled Choker disguise (you know, the one that keeps falling off exactly when you are surrounded by mobs that will kill a squishy mage in an instant) and run around playing with the Scourge. I hated it the first time I did it, and I hated it this time, too. If I had remembered how awful it was I would not have selected that zone to level in this time, but I only remembered about halfway through. I gritted my teeth and did most of it, but finally abandoned it prior to completion. It was just too long and annoying.

The main things I remember about Cataclysm are the zones — I hated the undersea one and loved Uldum. I spent hours in Uldum every week — even after leveling — gathering herbs and ore, and fishing. It was some of the most laid back, relaxing time I have ever spent in the game. I was having quite a bit of stress in my own life at the time, and putting on some music and flying my gathering routes was exactly what I needed to decompress.

I skipped all of the Cata zones leveling my Void Elf, opting instead for staying in Northrend until level 80, then going directly to Pandaria. I considered moving to Uldum, but I think I was loathe to overwrite what I want to keep as a sort of hazy pleasant memory.

The surprise revelation I got as I was leveling through Pandaria and now Draenor is this: I love the idea of a personal homestead in the game. When I got to Valley of the Four Winds, I couldn’t wait to get my cozy little Sunsong Ranch home. It was stupid, as I did not need to do any of the Tiller stuff for leveling purposes, but it was weirdly important to me to get a little place of my own.

Similarly, when I got to Draenor, I made sure to do the quest line to set up my Level 2 garrison. I did this mainly to be able to get the vendor for the XP potions, but I was astounded at the happiness that ran over me when I first walked into the gates of my Level 2 garrison. Yeah, I complained as bitterly as everyone else during WoD about the garrison burden, and if asked, I would have never listed garrisons as a plus for WoD. But there is no denying how good it felt to see this familiar scene of safety and sanctuary and know it was my own place. If I do anything with my Void Elf once she is leveled to 110, it will probably be to go back to Draenor and build up my garrison.

I am certain I will never have the same “coming home” feeling about class halls once Legion is finally history. I still do not understand why Blizz is so adamant about any form of player housing. They came so close with garrisons, but in typical fashion completely ruined the experience by ramming them down our throats. The unfortunate thing is, they now hold this venture up as an example for why player housing would be a bad thing — “See, we tried a prototype of it in WoD and you all complained bitterly and loudly about it! So no more of that, we promise you!”

Anyway, the best thing so far about leveling my Void Elf is that I am getting a renewed perspective on my history in the game, one that is frequently a surprise to me. Memory is often like looking through the wrong end of very dusty binoculars. We see tiny imperfect images and have a tendency to interpret them imperfectly, too.  And while we can never really go back, sometimes we get a brief chance to turn the binoculars right way round, and we can see the past a bit more clearly, and we can apply a proper perspective.

R&R

I don’t know about you, but after two expansions of The Great And Final™ Battle Against <insert name of evilest evil the universe has ever known here>, I need some down time. I want to have an expansion where the worst monsters I have to fight are some local badass tribes, not an entire mighty armada. I am sick of being invaded. I am depressed by the thought of space travel and worlds being torn apart. I am weary of always having to establish hasty and primitive military outposts.

It’s time for some R&R in WoW.

The last time we had any respite was in Mists. The enemies we fought were home-grown: mogu and sha and such, and none of them came from another planet or seemed capable of assembling vast armies. Even Garrosh was just a local boy gone bad. Mists allowed us to take a breather from saving the universe, and I think we need to do so again.

I have no idea what the setting of the next expansion will be, but I really want it to be back on good old Azeroth, with no interplanetary or time-warped excursions. (And, since I am wishing, no underwater zones either, please.) I mean, there is an entire half of the planet we have not even seen — surely there are land masses there we have not yet discovered.

You may have guessed where I am going with this, and of course it is a lost cause, but  my R&R wish for the next expansion comes with the The Great WoW Untouchable Subject: player housing. We have been fighting unbeatable enemies nonstop for two expansions now, and dammit we deserve to come home to a cozy fire, take off our boots and smelly socks, have a beer and some hot stew, and relax a little. Maybe putter in the garden or play with one of our hundreds of pets.

Blizz officially detests this entire idea, though I cannot for the life of me understand why. Every time a dev is asked about it, they do everything but spit to express their disdain. This, in spite of the fact that garrisons gave us proof of concept — separate instances for individuals or invited groups, the ability to have collected pets and mounts wander about, a productive garden and fishing area, even the ability to decorate and select guards. Garrisons were player housing in all but name (and of course they lacked an actual commander’s house).

Where Blizz went wrong with the whole garrison idea was that they — typically — went way overboard with them, requiring them for every player and making them the focal point for the entire expansion. But they could easily use the basic technology in the next expansion for player housing. Here’s how:

  • Make them entirely voluntary. Players wishing to obtain one could either do a quest line for them, or purchase after getting some faction rep, or purchase outright, whatever. Players not wishing to bother with them would not be disadvantaged, in the same way that players currently not opting to do pet battles are not disadvantaged in the game.
  • Severely limit the perks. A good model for this might be Sunsong Ranch, which offered a few gathered items if one “worked” the ranch, a mailbox, and a hearthstone. No profession huts, no auction house, no bank, no quest hub, no garrison-type scenario battles, and definitely no content gating.
  • Make the whole endeavor a kind of mini-game, like pet battles. Encourage special quests to obtain various cosmetic enhancements — interior design, bigger yard, picket fence, barbecue patio, stable for your mounts, permission to allow your pets to wander around and curl up by the fire, etc. Attention Blizz: Just think of the “content” potential, think of all those additional player hours!
  • Adapt the current transmog system to add a sort of transmog ability to the player housing, allowing cosmetic changes to suit the player’s mood. Whatever items you have collected would appear in various housing slots in a collection tab, and you could save entire sets and modify them at will.
  • Include the garrison ability to invite other players to your house, because what good is a house if you can’t throw a party now and then?
  • Allow players to choose from a small range of architectures for the housing — night elf, some kind of horde, worgen, etc. Along with the selected architecture would come appropriate landscaping to match.

Yeah, I know. It will never happen, even though there is exactly zero reason to not do it. Of course it would take dev resources, but honestly even if it cost “a raid tier” I think it would be worth it. Maybe not to the 1% hardcore players, but probably to the other 99%, though of course Blizz is not all that interested in them. Honestly, though, it would be a nice change if Blizz stopped designing for the minority of hard core players and threw a little love towards the great unwashed majority. No, it doesn’t lend itself  directly to esports, but it might keep enough people interested in the game itself to nudge them into esports spectators.

Come on, Blizz, we have all been good soldiers, we have fought every battle you asked us to fight, we have saved Azeroth over and over again, we have spent nights in cold, austere military camps, we have gone everywhere you have ordered us to, hopped from invasion point to invasion point, galloped miles and miles over fel-scarred hellish rockscapes. We have done everything asked of us. Is it too much to ask you for a little R&R in a cozy home of our own? I mean, when it comes down to it, what else are we fighting for?

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.

Hell — I am not a fan

Spoiler alert. There are some very minor 7.3 spoilers in this post, don’t read any further if that bothers you.

I have not played a lot of WoW the past few days, but I did get a chance to dip my toe into the 7.3 PTR. As a disclaimer, it was just a taste, I did not even get out of the starting area — I completed a couple of quests and looked around a bit. So I really can’t comment on anything to do with content. What I can comment on is the environment: Argus appears to be yet another ugly, rocky, brimstone-spewing chunk of hell. In fact, to me it seemed remarkably similar to Broken Shore in its landscaping and artwork. It is not a genre I am fond of.

In general, I am impressed with Blizz’s zone designs and the incredibly painstaking detail they put into every aspect of a new zone — geologic formations, roads, vegetation, building structures, animals, even insects. As I have mentioned before, I was positively blown away by the majestic, sweeping vistas of Pandaria. I think that was the high water mark of zone design for Blizz.

I understand that it is a matter of personal taste, but I just do not like slogging through dark, dismal, or scorched-earth areas. To enjoy the experience, I much prefer jungles or woods or farmland or deserts or mountains or even urban areas. I still love Uldum, for example, with its oasis areas interspersed with vast desert landscapes. I love that you can see the blowing sand and even hear it. Similarly, I am drawn to Pandaria’s Kun-Lai Summit and to the beaches of Krasarang Wilds. These zones are balm to my brain, and I still visit them every couple of weeks just to experience the peacefulness they impart. I select my favorite flying mount, and I swoop and soar and just immerse myself in the beauty.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that the esthetic experience of the game is important to me. As it happens, I like the kinds of zones I just described, but I know not everyone is alike, so there are undoubtedly many players who prefer dank, depressing, dismal zones devoid of vegetation, where the only “wildlife” is a species of cockroach that crunches under your feet or creepy spiders and vicious hyena-like creatures. To each his or her own.

But personally I don’t like it, and to me nothing represents this barrenness more than Broken Shore. So I was disappointed to see that at least the starting area on Argus is just more of the same.

There is another aspect to this, and it is what I perceive to be a fascination with destruction on the part of the WoW developers. Time and again, we have seen beautiful zones made ugly with destruction in the game. Some of it certainly has to do with the story of how evil and nasty “they” (Deathwing, the Legion, etc.) are, of course. But Blizz seems to take special delight in destruction scenarios. I will never forgive them for what they did to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, for example. They took what was a fantastic end of quest line — a triumphant and emotional homecoming to an ancestral land of surpassing beauty — and rather than allow this small victory to stand, they turned the homeland into an ugly, scarred area of desolation and hopelessness.

Expansions like Pandaria and Legion start out with beautiful imagery in their zones, but seem to disintegrate into ugliness, at least in part. Broken Shore is only a bare-knuckled place of struggle and death, not a place anyone would choose to spend time in voluntarily. And now, the very image of Argus — a huge fire-spewing planet on the verge of exploding, filling the Legion sky — is a constant reminder of even more destruction to come, destruction that will be carried out, apparently, in a grim landscape devoid of beauty or softness or the gentle warmth of sunshine. It will be just another chunk of hell.

I know Blizz is hardcore on the philosophy of being on a constant war footing in WoW. I get that it is conflict that is interesting, not peace and happiness. But honestly that is getting kind of old for me. I am weary of always operating out of beleaguered temporary camps or cities in hiding.  I need respite once in a while, a break to appreciate beauty and peace even in small corners of this virtual world. I don’t want every end game quest to occur on barren chunks of rock. I don’t want the places I find attractive to be destroyed — because it seems like our side in WoW will never win, and the destruction will linger forever. Blizz should at least give us some hope.

As I said, I only dipped my toe into the PTR. Maybe there will be places of surpassing beauty on Argus. I want there to be signs that beings actually live there, raise their children and build their homes there, even if those beings are enemies sworn to destroy us. I would like to see some signs of life once in a while, not constant death and decay. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic. The next time we get anything close to that in a new zone is likely to be the start of a new expansion.

See you all Monday.