Crossing the line in Legion

Blizz’s announcement yesterday that they are effectively making full artifact trait progression not only pointless but impossible got me to thinking. In every expansion I reach a point where I put my main into a “maintenance” mode and move my game into end-of-expansion pursuits — going after achievements I want, playing around with my alts, finding isolated spots and just chilling, spending a lot of time gathering mats while listening to music. At such a point in an expansion, I still do some raiding and gear improvement on my main, but that no longer is the focus of my game.

Last night I realized I have hit that point in Legion. I reached Concordance on my main, and there is no cost benefit to further pursuit of artifact power. As I have no intention of playing any hunter spec except BM, I am not interested in developing any other hunter artifact weapons.

The only reason I have been doing world quests on my main for the last few weeks is for a chance at legendaries and for AP, but those rewards are no longer applicable. I have more legendaries than I can use, so the prospect of getting another no longer motivates me. Blizz’s coy little tricks with artifact traits have rendered AP valueless to me now. I am exalted with all factions, and the rewards for extended rep stink, so rep is not useful to me. I have about 200k order hall resources, over 300 Bloods of Sargeras, close to 3k leather, and way more gold than I can ever spend. Gear rewards from WQs have long since ceased to be of interest to me — I am relatively well geared at ilvl 908 (904 equipped, because of Blizz’s bizarre secondary stat mechanism that makes my 860 and 880 trinkets more useful than the 900+ ones I have). In short, I am done with world quests on my main, other than the odd one here or there. Even emissary quests hold no value for me now.

I will likely continue to pursue the hunter class mount, and I will raid with my team when the next raid tier comes along, likely getting some better gear in the process, but other than that, I am done with this expansion on my main. In a normal environment, I would try to max out my main’s professions, but Blizz has made that close to impossible with their dice-roll approach and their introduction of the tiered crafting system — the minimal additional benefit from level 3 recipes is not worth the time required to get lucky enough to get them. In any other expansion, this would be the point at which I start crafting high level items to sell on the auction house, but again Blizz has made that too painful to be a meaningful pursuit — the crafted legendaries, which are useless anyway except as stat sticks, require completion of an entire quest line, including certain mythic dungeons, for every legendary you wish to craft. Something in me rebels at that kind of blatant manipulation, and I just refuse to do it.

Even when we get 7.3, I do not anticipate significant changes in my feeling of being done with Legion. Yes, there will be some new quest lines and possibly some spacey stuff people will oooh and aah about, but I do not see the new planet zone in 7.3 as being significantly different from Broken Shore. In fact, my prediction is that it will be Broken Shore remastered — same daily grind, some temporary world bosses, some kind of new currency to grind for, some sort of random space ship bombardment, possibly a new dungeon and raid in the area, etc. I give Blizz credit that they do often come up with creative ideas, but unfortunately once they do, they drive them into the ground, using and reusing them for months or years regardless of how players receive them. Garrisons is a perfect example — players hated them, yet Blizz doubled down on them with patch after patch in WoD and even recycled them as class halls in Legion.

7.3 will be Broken Shore with a different artistic rendering. If I am wrong, I will happily eat my words. But I am not wrong.

The thought that strikes me about reaching my “the expansion is basically over” point is that we are still only 9 months into Legion, earlier by some months than I have reached that point in any other expansion. This seems ridiculous in an expansion widely touted as the “more content than you can handle” expansion, the one Blizz presented as “we heard you loud and clear in WoD and believe us we are not making that mistake again!”

But here’s the thing: I am done with Legion because there is no chance of achieving the normal game goals I set for my main each expansion. No, let me amend that statement: there is no point in pursuing my normal expansion goals any further because their completion relies on a lottery system, and in the case of my weapon, completion is simply not possible. There is almost nothing I can do to work towards those goals in a meaningful way.

Legion, for all its touted “content” and innovation, has revealed its dark side — players may only aspire to the goals Blizz sets for them, and they must pursue those goals in a strictly prescribed manner. Any deviation will almost certainly delay, if not prevent, their attainment. Anyone who does not like this is free to set their goals lower or abandon them altogether. Blizz seems to think quantifiable content is all that is needed to make a game great, and they have sacrificed player options in favor of it. They have lost sight of the fun players have when they can set a goal, work towards it in the way they find challenging or exhilarating, and achieve it. Content is fine, but from my worm’s eye view, being able to chase a dream is better.

As demoralizing as this is, it does not mean I am about to abandon the game. (Yeah, I know, that is sad.) As I have said before, I am someone who actually likes the latter part of expansions, because it is then that I permit myself to just be free to do whatever the heck I want to do, with no thought that I am letting others down because of failure to gear up a main or something. Normally, of course, I go into this end stage of an expansion feeling good because I have met my goals for my main and can now move on. In Legion, the feeling is more acceptance that such achievement is not possible, but move on anyway. Still, the end result is pretty much the same.

Like all metaphorical lines in life, you are usually not aware of the exact moment you step over them. But sooner or later you know for sure that you have crossed them. I have crossed my Legion line.

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!

So many questions, so little time

Looking back over my education, I think the single most important skill I learned was to ask questions. The Jesuits who schooled me were big believers in the Socratic Method, so we were not only encouraged but required to ask questions as part of every learning process. Sure, fractions and Shakespeare and the date of the Magna Carta and the underpinnings of an agrarian economy are all good to know. But when it comes right down to it, asking the right questions at the right time of the right people has saved my bacon in life more times than I can count.

So today I have been thinking about Patch 8.x. Yes, I know we are not even a year into Legion, and the hints from Blizz are that we have a lot of time left to experience it (my bet at the start was that we are looking at Legion being with us for very close to 3 years). Still, I feel like speculating a bit, in the form of a series of questions.

Location.

  • Is the 7.3 excursion to Argus a prelude to the next expansion, or is it just that — a one-off adventure?
  • Will we ever see the other side of Azeroth? Is there an other side?
  • What if any lessons did Blizz learn about time-travel worlds like Draenor and underwater zones like Vashj’ir? This is less a question than it is a hope — I hope they learned both these ideas were big mistakes.
  • Will Blizz expand its recent trend of making classic parts of Azeroth relevant to current game play? 

Stats.

  • What will be the nature of the next stat squish? I think a dev mentioned that much of the code has been rewritten to accommodate very large numbers now, it still is cumbersome for humans to speak of character health in the millions and boss health in the billions, for example. What about ilevel? Very soon even in Legion we will break break into 4-digit ilevels. Will secondary stats and damage/healing numbers be squished in 8.x?
  • Will stats be simplified in the next expansion? What is the official Blizz view of the complexity of stats in Legion? Do they understand the frustration of players when a higher level piece of gear is not an upgrade? Are they happy with the proliferation of web sites and apps designed to do the intricate math necessary to determine a piece of gear’s worth to a player? 

Quest hubs and population centers.

  • Will we see new faction capitals? Blizz seems — both in WoD and Legion — to have concluded that faction capital cities are too resource-intensive to justify them. If Sanctuary Cities are the norm for the foreseeable future, will we see more of them in Horde areas, with Horde racial architecture?
  • What has Blizz learned about the garrison concept? It was innovative but not well liked in WoD, and it was extended — as Class Halls — in Legion. Is this idea now a core game mechanic going forward? Will we see the concept applied as guild halls in 8.x?  More wishful thinking on that last one, I am afraid.
  • Why is Blizz so dead set against player housing? This is really more of a pet peeve question and not so much of an insightful one about the next expansion. Certainly the technology is there — that was proven with garrisons, and with Sunsong Ranch before that. And there is player demand for it, though I am not sure how much. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to do it, citing from time to time the “war footing” nature of the game as being antithetical to cozy homesteading. My own opinion, completely biased, is that there is a culture at Blizz that insists WoW is a “hardcore” game, and to give players housing is just too girly and frilly for them to contemplate. They put it in the same category as playing house or cutting out paper dolls, and that would destroy the manly studly war aspect of the game. (Yeah, yeah, let the hate mail begin. But deep down you know I am right.)

Class development.

  • Will there be another major rewrite of classes in 8.x?
  • What is Blizz’s long range vision of class roles and balance? Are they on a path to achieve this, or do they have none and merely make change for change’s sake each expansion?
  • And the big question: Can Blizz stop screwing with hunters for at least one expansion? (Sarcasm flag.)
  • Will we see the pendulum swing once again towards class-provide raid buffs?

Gear.

  • Is the concept of artifact gear a one-and-out for Legion, as Blizz has claimed? 
  • Are there any big contemplated gear changes in 8.x, for example cutting the number of gear slots, maybe by eliminating necks and rings?
  • Will we see some sort of non-RNG mechanism for getting gear in 8.x?
  • After the debacle of legendaries in Legion, what is the future of legendaries going forward? Will we return to a single long-questline legendary, or have we crossed a line and henceforward they will fall like candy?

Miscellaneous.

  • Is Blizz happy with the complexity level of the game now? If not, in which direction do they think it should go?
  • Are there in-game advertisements in the works? Tie-ins with other Activision franchises, such as the King line of games?
  • What is the future for professions? Will we see them get less relevant and more complex, or will we see some semblance of a return to their classic role? Will Blizz move towards a Final Fantasy approach? Are they indeed an integral part of the game’s economy, or would it be possible to eliminate them altogether?
  • Will alt play remain viable in 8.x? It is narrowly so in Legion, but Blizz’s clear preference is for players to have very limited number of alts.
  • Are there significant quality of life improvements in store for 8.x? Off hand, I can think of a few: account-wide banking, better group finder interface, unlimited quest log, *coughplayerhousingcough*, removal of that ridiculous talent-changing tome requirement, improving exit process from caves once a quest is completed, increasing the number of stable slots for hunter pets, adding mythic dungeons to the auto-group finder, probably lots more.
  • Will Blizz help to make the role of guilds more robust? Like alt play, the trend since mid-Mists has been to make guilds less and less relevant, with the removal of most guild perks and advantages to guild membership.
  • With the apparent advent of interplanetary travel, will we eventually see honest-to-goodness actual working space ship “mounts”? Will space actually be a working environment — like an underwater area only without water — or just more of an abstract concept?
  • What will be the eternal-grind mechanism of 8.x? Because we know there will be one, just a matter of how Blizz repackages AP (like they repackaged garrisons into class halls).

And last but certainly not least:

Will we get a concept of the next expansion at Blizzcon this year?

What questions do you have?

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.

Breaking news: Cobra Shot to wiggle more

It’s no secret that I am beyond disgusted with the way Blizz has treated hunters ever since they trashed and then abandoned SV hunters in WoD. After promising to make SV better in “the next expansion”, they proceeded to complete their destruction of it by making it a melee spec in Legion, and a pretty puny one at that. Then they moved on to MM, basically turning it into a turret style damage dealer, removing two of the signature features of hunters — mobility and pets — in one fell swoop. Last, after Ion Hazzikostas told us how BM hunters were “in a pretty good place” just prior to Legion, Blizz went on to ransack that spec, too, removing nearly all possibility of skill play in favor of a couple of cooldowns the player had almost zero control over except to mash the button as soon as they were up.

When the Legion Alpha test went live, skilled and well-respected hunters diligently measured, analyzed, and described to Blizz the many ways the hunter class came up short. Their focus was on play style, not on numbers, and they tried every way possible to make Blizz understand that the very soul of hunters had been ripped away.

Blizz ignored them.

Then when the beta test finally went live, a lot more hunters voiced their anguish to Blizz, again not so much about numbers, but about the fact that the class they had played and loved for years had been stripped of every trace of what made the class unique. Again, these players wrote thousands of pages of feedback in the approved forums, detailing all the factors that contributed to what they perceived was the death of the class.

Blizz ignored them.

By this point, sadly, the leading community hunters had pretty much given up, bruised and battered after months of talking to a brick wall. But then the PTR went live, and hunters who had not previously tried the Legion hunter class expressed their keen sense of loss and anger, again writing reams of comments about the mechanics that made them feel they were no longer true hunters.

Blizz ignored them.

And when I say “Blizz ignored them”, I mean not just that no changes were made or design explanations given, but that Blizz met the entire hunter outcry with a steadfast, impenetrable wall of silence. There were no blue posts that even deigned to acknowledge there might be some problems with the Legion hunter class implementation, no hunter class adjustments as builds were put out (even though there were tons for other classes), no dev mention of the problem, no recognition whatsoever of the near-universal condemnation of the changes they had made to the hunter class. Not even so such as a “F**k you, hunters, we like things the way they are.”

Then, one week before Legion went live, a CM had the chutzpah to make a blue post asking for hunter input on Legion problems. As if the thousands upon thousands of previous posts did not even exist. As if, one week before launch, it would make a difference. He even called the thread “Let’s Talk”, implying that at long last, this late in the cycle, Blizz’s wall of silence would finally be broken. Like Charlie Brown rushing to kick that football he just knew Lucy would hold still for him this time, hunters once again posted thousands of thoughtful, detailed, specific comments about every aspect of the class they felt had been ripped from them.

Blizz ignored them.

In the first Q&A after Legion launch, a few warlock trolls and scumbags bullied their way into it, spamming the pre-event thread and using flame and shame tactics to downvote every question not submitted by a warlock, and then further spamming the live event feed with spittle-flecked tantrums. After very slightly scolding them for their tactics and telling them such actions would not be successful, Ion Hazzikostas proceeded to explain how Blizz was going to fix perceived warlock class problems. Long blue posts were written on the subject, and immediate changes were made in hotfixes, along with a detailed plan for long term fixes.

Meanwhile, hunters, who had played by Blizz’s rules for feedback, who had not thrown public tantrums, continued to be ignored. Then, finally, months after the “Let’s Talk” thread appeared, weeks after the warlock meltdown, there was one relatively short blue post in the hunter forum promising significant changes to the hunter class, but hunters had to be patient, wait for 7.1 and 7.2 because of course these things take time.

Hunters waited. In 7.1, a few paltry changes appeared, nothing of course for BM, but a nerf for MM (as if that were all that was wrong with MM mechanics!), and some stiff for SV presumably to try make it at least semi-viable as a spec.

Hunters continued to wait. In 7.1.5, all hunters had traps restored, and a very slight adjustment was made to correct the awful Aspect of the Cheetah, but it cost a talent to do so. There were multiple other changes, but of note every change to BM dealt with numbers designed to buff the spec’s damage. Nothing Blizz did even began to address the fundamental problems with the spec. Pet pathing — other than slightly speeding up Hati’s slow amble to a target — remained horrible. BM hunters still had no surge ability beyond the worthless Stampede talent. Pet control remained problematic, hit-and-miss in terms of setting your pet on passive for example and having confidence it would remain so. BM hunters themselves had almost zero damage ability without a pet, effectively making them a melee damage dealer who operated out of melee range. The play style — unless you had “the” appropriate legendaries and a 4-pic tier set — remained clunky and slow, with no player control over focus generation, no skill abilities beyond mashing a cooldown button or key as soon as it became available.

Similarly, most of MM changes were to adjust numbers, little was done to address the turret play style, and nothing was done to address the underlying fact that all MM damage was RNG-dependent at its origin.

In short, in spite of months of hunter comments that the class problems were about play style, not about numbers, most of Blizz’s fixes have been to tweak numbers.

Now we are into the 7.2 PTR, and there seems to be no plan to make any further changes to hunters. Except one — shown here.

Yes, at long last, hallelujah! Hunters are finally getting the spell animation changes NO ONE has asked for! And what changes they are! Brace yourself now — Arcane Shot  will soon cause much bigger weapon kick and be more purple! Barrage will have more muzzle flash! Bestial Wrath will cause that symbol to only appear over the hunter’s head, no longer the pet’s!! (Of course, there is no change to that pleasant “I am having a really hard poop” sound that accompanies it…)  A few other similarly HUGE and MOMENTOUS changes, such as Black Arrow will have a bigger bullet!!  (I guess it is a bullet, the demo showed a hunter with a gun…) But the big one, and the one I know all BM hunters have been waiting for: Cobra Shot will wiggle more!!! OMG, I have to sit down, this is too much.

Really, Blizz? Really? Everything that is wrong with hunters, and this is what you decide has priority?

Words fail me at this point.

A place for us

A couple of disconnected blogs I recently read got me to thinking about the human need to feel at home, an innate need identified and studied by psychologists, behaviorists, architects, interior designers, novelists, retailers — the list goes on and on. Think back to your Psych 101 class and you will recall this need is so basic it was identified by Maslow in his Hierarchy. (I suppose there are psychologists who take issue with Maslow’s work, but it always made sense to me. If you were not paying attention in Psych 101, you can get the gist of his theory in this totally unofficial Wikipedia article.)

The first blog I read that started me on this chain of thought was Matthew Rossi’s regular Blizzard Watch Q&A from yesterday. One of the questions was from someone complaining that the Blizz crossover promotion between Heroes of the Storm and WoW was ruining HotS for him, because there were all these scrubs jumping in and being stupid about how they played.

I have never played HotS, never intend to play it, and getting some big old ugly chunk of 1’s and 0’s to ride in WoW does not make me want to try playing it. But I can sympathize with the questioner. Remember back in Mists when everyone had to win some number of PvP battlegrounds as part of the quest line for the legendary cloak? (Now that’s when legendaries meant something! And you kids get off my grass!) Anyway, I always thought this was a terrible idea — the regular PvPers hated amateurs coming in and ignorantly screwing up established tactics, and the non-PvPers resented having to be there doing something they had no interest in learning or ever doing again.

Here was a prime example of Blizz deliberately messing with the basic human need to feel at home. The regular PvPers felt their space had been invaded by ignorant and clueless strangers — like when your in-laws suddenly show up at your door — and the non-PvPers were thrust into a situation where they did not know the rules of behavior or the terrain or how to interact with others. Neither group felt at home. It was a guaranteed lose-lose situation.

Now, I suppose Blizz did it because having a robust PvP play option attracts more people to the game, and maybe they were losing these kinds of players so they thought if more people tried PvP they would actually like it, thereby increasing this aspect of the game. I have no idea how it turned out, probably some players did in fact decide PvP was kind of fun. No matter. The point I am trying to make here is almost everyone involved in this activity at the time disliked it. Why did they dislike it? Because suddenly a part of the comfortable little niche they had made for themselves in the game was gone.

I would argue that much of the angst we players express with Blizz is due to the sudden removal of some aspect of the game we have come to feel at home with, in the Maslow sense. This is deeper than just stodgy old players uncomfortable with change, this is akin to having your home destroyed by a tornado. More than once.

Each of us defines the central aspect of WoW differently, or to put it another way, we each establish for ourselves what we believe to be our “home core” in the game. We may not even know that we do this, and we might be hard put to describe what that core is, but it is there for all of us. When that core is shaken or demolished, especially if it seems to happen frequently, then we start hollering. This I think is why the hunter changes of the last two expansions have seemed so heinous to me — prior to WoD, I doubt if I would have defined being a hunter as the home core of my game, but when Blizz began to demolish first the SV spec and later the entire hunter experience, suddenly I realized the very foundation of my game enjoyment had been removed. I was left to find another home core or rebuild on the old one. For humans, both these situations are difficult, just ask Maslow.

Which brings me to the other blog that got me thinking along these lines — a piece by Bhagpuss over at Inventory Full on player housing and the dilemma MMOs face on the subject. The quick summary is that there likely is a Goldilocks solution as to whether or not to have player housing and if so how much or little it should affect the game, but that this solution is difficult for most game makers to arrive at. In fact, recent history for MMOs shows that few companies have succeeded.

As some of you may know, I favor the idea of player housing. I really liked my little Sunsong Ranch home. In fact I still go back there every couple of weeks, just as a place to log off from, with a cozy bed and a bubbling pot of stew on the stove. It gives me a peaceful feeling of being at home, of taking off my boots and warming my tired feet by the stove, anticipating supper and reflecting on the day’s adventures.

If we had had just a few opportunities to customize that space — beyond becoming bff’s with whoever that was that decorated it for us — Sunsong Ranch would have been close to perfect as player housing in my opinion. It was completely optional, it did not in any way affect your game play beyond the initial zone quest sets, and it was instanced so that it was really just your own.But Blizz took this notion of an instanced individual space and made it into a monster in WoD in the form of garrisons, and into an annoyance in Legion in the form of class halls.

Anyway, my point is not to rehash all the problems with garrisons or class halls. (However, for crying out loud, can we get a lousy place to sit and maybe be able to buy a beer in the hunter hall??) My point is that some players — maybe even a lot of players, who knows  — really enjoy having a small space of their own, a place they can call home, even in a computer game. And Blizz has demonstrated they have the technology. The garrison technology was great — an individual instance that you could invite groups to, a few chances to do limited customization — it was just the typical Blizz overreaction that made it bad by requiring every player to have one and to develop it and make it the central jumping off point for an entire expansion, and by offering amenities like a bank and an auction house and portals so that you never had to leave it.

Maybe if Blizz gave us some decent optional and limited player housing — a place of our own — we would not be so quick to yell at them when they make huge changes to our class play style or professions or gear. No matter what they did , we could still come home at the end of a long day questing or raiding, kick off our muddy boots and put our feet up by a nice fire, and feel at home.

Maybe Blizz should dig out their old Psych 101 textbook. It might make them realize that always screwing with core player engagements like class and spec identity is more disruptive than it is helpful, and that maybe if they were to let us have a tiny space of our own in the game we might be happier. Just a thought.

Unofficial and pertinent views

Admin note: We are having a terrific 2-day windstorm in my neck of the woods, and our power keeps going out, so today’s post may end up being a bit choppy.

Ghostcrawler has a piece on his Tumblr page that really caught my eye. If you have a couple of minutes, I encourage you to read it.

I was never a particular GC fan when he was with Blizzard and was the most visible dev interfacing with players, but in retrospect I wish we had someone doing that thorough a job now. Yes, he was often reviled — he took an incredible amount of player abuse — but say what you will, he was always out there explaining and debating design issues. Even when I disagreed with the path of the game, I always felt like GC was being honest — sometimes brutally so — with us, and more importantly that he respected the player base. Those feelings evaporated as soon as Ion Hazzikostas took GC’s job and began to put out piles of snarky, disingenuous doublespeak to a player base he seemed to disdain. That he has backed off this approach over the last year or two does not erase that first awful impression. Since Hazzikostas has gotten away from everything other than canned Q&A sessions, there is no one who has been able to fill the void and create a regular, trusted, respectful — if often contentious — dialogue with players.

All this is by way of saying that I think GC still has insightful things to say about WoW, even though he is no longer with Blizz. I like the fact that he still responds to questions about the game, and I take his comments for what they are — general views of how things developed years ago in WoW, and insights into much of the messy process of designing and maintaining the complex enterprise that is an MMO. Does he know anything about current Blizz design problems and plans? No, but he is still the only one out there willing to address valid player concerns in any meaningful way. He fills a void, even if imperfectly and unofficially, in Blizz’s customer interaction.

So the cited piece on Tumblr caught my eye. There are actually two discussions there, the main one answering a question about why players unsub, and a second one below that about why WoW players keep playing.

One part that got my attention in the unsub piece was that in the big picture, when you have millions of players, the vast majority who unsub do it for personal reasons of not having enough time, or their friends stopped playing or the like. It is rare indeed when there are significant numbers of people who quit out of protest for a certain game design or trend, and even then generally that group still ranks below, in terms of numbers, those quitting for personal reasons. (Translation: rage quitting WoW likely gets zero attention from any part of the dev team…)

Another interesting observation, I thought, was that games — like nearly every human enterprise — have life spans with long-term ups and downs in numbers of players. Unstated, but what I presume, is that sometimes there are identifiable causes for these fluctuations, and sometimes probably not. GC says there is usually a predictable dev set of responses to this:

When you see a lot of players leave over the course of say half a year, it usually spurs two diametrically opposed views on the development team. You will get one faction of “Players are getting bored – we must be bold and innovate!” You get another faction of “We are changing the game so much that we’re losing our soul! We need to get back to basics!”

I think we have really seen this scenario play out in Legion. A lot of players did in fact unsub in WoD — recall the famous 3-million player loss in the first quarter of 2015 — and there was much criticism of the expansion throughout its existence, most of which centered on some version of “There’s nothing to do” with sprinklings of “It doesn’t fit with the lore, this whole time machine idea stinks”.

So what did we get in Legion? I think we saw the “bold and innovative” group dominate, but there was a nod to the “back to basics” group in terms of the main story and lore. The dominant group led to many of the mechanics in Legion — complete class rewrites, the idea that specs become what amounts to their own class, artifact weapons and the eternal AP chase, the complete repudiation of the WoD profession model, severe curtailment of alt play, Mythic+ dungeons, world quests, zone scaling, etc.

But the kicker point made by GC is this:

My perception has been that the players and developers in the “We’ve changed too much!” camp tend to be those who are less engaged with the game than they once were. Losing track of change usually happens to players who once played every day and are now playing once a week or once a month. They remember being super engaged with the game and knowing everything that was going on, and so the dissonance of that no longer being the case for them is really striking, perhaps even alienating. On the other hand, players who are still really engaged are the ones most likely to need something fresh and new so that they don’t run out of stuff to do.

What this comes down to is a game company knowing who its intended audience is, understanding what kind of a player base they are courting. Do they want lots of new players, or are they content to design for what will almost certainly be a gradually-dwindling group of dedicated players? I think Blizz has still not figured out the answer to this.

Legion seems to be favoring the latter group, the dedicated player base. As I count myself in this group, I am not totally unhappy with that trend. But I can’t help but wonder if it is ultimately a strategy designed to gradually — and hopefully gracefully — ease the game’s final demise. I had hoped that Legion, maybe in conjunction with the Warcraft movie, would bring in a rush of new players who would soon love the game as much as I do. Sadly, that turned out to not be the case. The movie, let’s be honest, was a stinker for anyone not already involved in the game (and even for some of us predisposed to liking it, it bombed), and Legion added an incredible leap in complexity for what was already a complex game. The buy-in for new or even returning players, especially if they do not have someone to help them along, seems almost insurmountable.

We will see what happens in the next expansion, but it is looking to me like WoW is moving towards catering to a small group of dedicated players, and Blizz is not especially interested in significantly increasing its player base. Whether that vector is ultimately beneficial or destructive remains to be seen.