Garrisons revisited

A couple of years ago, during Warlords of Draenor, anyone reading this blog would likely have been treated to a rant about how badly Blizz screwed up the whole garrison idea. Garrisons had become a second job, they made the game seem about as fun as spending your weekends cleaning house and mowing the lawn, they were the main cause the social aspect of the game was deteriorating, yada yada yada.

Well.

Last week I was doing some profession switching in preparation for Battle for Azeroth, making sure I had one of each crafting profession and getting most of them to level 800 before August. Recall that in BfA, you will level only the current profession recipes, and if you want to go back and learn recipes from earlier expansions there is a mechanism for doing those separately. My hope is that if you start BfA with a level 800 profession, you will not have to go back to learn the earlier stuff, you will automatically get credit for it. That’s how it should work, but I long ago learned not to count on Blizz to do the logical thing.

At any rate, while grinding out skill-ups, I rediscovered the usefulness of the WoD garrison. It is, of course, required if you want to learn the WoD crafting recipes, but it is especially terrific for leveling gathering professions — herbs, mining, even fish. (It is less useful for leveling skinning. But skinning is quick to level anyway.)

The key for leveling gathering professions is to get a level 3 mine or herb garden. (You can increase the number of work orders by assigning a champion to work in them, and also by getting a level 3 storehouse, but those things do not help you level up, only the actual gathering does.) Additionally, if you apply a small amount of effort, you can get a bank and an auction house, making it easy to dispose of your gathered materials without having to commute somewhere. (There are also vendors in the garrison if you just want to vendor your stuff.) Last, since all of Draenor is just outside your garrison, once you have gathered the daily take from your mine or herb garden, you can easily keep leveling, up to 700, by running gathering routes just outside your garrison gate. What’s not to love? Oh, and of course, you can get to your garrison with the special hearthstone, and if you need to run back to Stormwind for something and your Dal hearthstone is on cooldown, you can portal to Stormshield via your level 3 garrison tower in the back and from there quickly portal to Stormwind and a couple of other cities.

So the leveling potential in my garrison was kind of a forehead-slapping moment once it percolated through my brain. What I did not anticipate was the comfortable, homey feeling I would get when I went back. Seriously, it was like when you have been traveling for a long time and finally get home and kick off your shoes and sink into your favorite chair — “Ahhhhh”. I just would not have expected myself to have that kind of reaction, given how much I disliked garrisons when they were current.

Ever since Mists, I have considered my little Sunsong Ranch to be “home” for my characters. I always liked the cozy small room with the bed and neat shelves and bubbly stew on the stove, and to this day I frequently take a character there to spend the night or a couple of weeks if I know I won’t be logging in on them for a bit. It’s silly, I know, but somewhere in the back of my mind I feel good knowing they are in their own little place, snug and safe. This is the reason I have always gone to the trouble to become exalted (besties) with all the Tillers and have done the full Sunsong Ranch quest line on every alt.  I really value that little one-room place that is your character’s very own.

But now that garrisons are in the rear view mirror and I have had some time to distance myself from them, I am finding that I have similar feelings about them. While the Town Hall is not generally what I would describe as “cozy”, it does have a certain appeal — some of my characters have spent many a night sitting by the fire in the mission room, where I imagine they have come in weary and cold and pulled off their boots and clammy socks and warmed their feet while sipping a hot toddy, and fallen asleep in the chair because they were too exhausted to find a bed.

I also really enjoyed standing at the garrison gate and watching my champions walk out to start their missions — in my opinion this was one of the most clever mechanics in WoD. I really got a kick out of waving them goodbye, watching them march off in twos and threes to fight the good fight.

Upon occasion, I have also commandeered the gardener’s cottage in the herb garden. In my opinion, this would be a perfect and easy way to give players some housing — just kick the gardener out and put up a “Commander’s Residence” sign in the front, maybe add in a couple of quest lines to get some decorations for the inside. That way, Blizz can claim they are really not giving in on player housing (since they would not be adding much new), and players could actually have a house, everybody wins. They will not do this, of course, because they are stubborn shitheads, but still it is a nice idea.

I suppose almost anything looks better in retrospect, after all we generally like to forget the bad parts of experiences and remember the good parts. I suspect my newfound nostalgia for garrisons is part of the same foggy hindsight driving the desire of some players to go back to a classic WoW experience — I choose not to remember the parts I hated and instead remember only the sitting-by-the fire contentment. Of course, it also helps that now when I visit my garrison it is completely voluntary — I do not feel like Blizz is demanding I participate in a certain end game play style, because, well, it is no longer the end game part. I admit that I am prone to a certain amount of bull-headedness, too, in that the more I feel like I am being required to do something, the less I want to do it, even if left to my own resources I might actually like the activity. That is stupid and illogical, but there it is. (Yeah, for those of you wondering, I was like that in my soldier days, too, resulting in me being considered either an “independent thinker” or a “troublemaker”, depending on the commander I worked for. I actually valued both labels.)

So, as we draw closer to a new expansion, I am learning to love one of the previous ones. If that means my rear view mirror is smudged, I really don’t feel like cleaning it.

 

Token musings

Anyone who has relied on purchasing WoW tokens in the auction house as their way of paying for game time is well aware of their current high cost. When it was first introduced three years ago, the price in North America was pegged at 30,000 gold. It rapidly sank to around 18-20k and hovered at that level for well over a year. Now, the cost is over 200k. (It has always been significantly higher in European and Far East realms.) The real money cost, meanwhile  — $20 in the U.S. — has not changed. This means that the real exchange rate between dollars and WoW gold has gone from $1 for 1000g to $1 for 10,000g. In other words, the Blizz-sanctioned “price” of gold has taken a nosedive, while the gold price of game time has undergone huge inflation.

The token system also allows us to gauge the real world cost of gear and mats. For example, when tokens sold for 20,000 gold and the most expensive mount in the auction house was approximately 200,000 gold, that meant the mount cost about 10 tokens, or $200. Pretty pricey, imo, but the token system enables you to make those kinds of equivalencies and cost computations. These days if you buy a mount or piece of gear for a million gold, you can consider that to be a real world cost of about 5 tokens, or $100. Of course, not everyone actually pays the $100 directly, but still it gives you a way to make cost comparisons not bound by game economy inflation.

Which leads me to mention a rather remarkable forum exchange in the Blizz forums. Basically, the original poster posited that the cost of the token would soon skyrocket because Blizz just announced that it could be used to pay for the very popular Call of Duty game. I have no idea if that is an accurate prediction or not. The Blizz Blue poster pooh-poohs the idea, and he may also be right.

But what I found interesting about the forum exchange was the number of Blue posts it brought forth, and the insight we now have into the token mechanisms as a result of the posts. It is actually quite fascinating. (If you do not want to scroll through all the forum pages to find the Blue posts, they are extracted here on MMO-C.)

So what did we learn from them? Well, mainly Blizz reiterated that the token system is not completely market driven, that Blizz intervenes as they deem necessary to keep the token prices from fluctuating wildly and to keep the overall game gold economy on an even keel. We have known this from the start, of course, but now we have a tiny bit more insight into exactly how Blizz does it, and more importantly how they see the overall WoW economy.

Blizz’s underlying theme on the tokens is that they are a net zero in terms of the overall game gold supply. That is, within the game, a seller gains gold but only because a buyer transfers that gold to them. This is true, but as one forum poster pointed out, there is a cumulative effect on gold distribution within the game. The poster did not elaborate much on this theme, but I think it has some pretty noticeable consequences, mainly that the people with a lot of gold soon become the population that most controls which items in the economy are important for trade and which ones are not. What they will buy dictates what the cash-starved players will gather and craft, which in turn drives up those prices and drives down the prices on wealthy players’ undesirable items. Even if the token system is a net zero for gold supply, it eventually has a big effect on the economy.

Within the population of players, there are those who have real world money but not a lot of spare time, and there are those who have a lot of time but not a lot of real world money. The token system basically means that the “wealthy” players buy a month’s worth of game time for the cash-starved players, at a hefty 33%  increase for Blizz ($20 for a month’s game time as opposed to the standard $15). In return, the cash-starved players convert their time into gold that they give to the wealthy players. It is an ingenious system, and in principle, everyone wins.

However, over time and much like in actual capitalist economies, we start to see greater and greater imbalances in wealth distribution. People with real world cash get to the point where they have enough gold in the game, and they are less willing to plunk down $20 for a piddly 30-40k gold. Think about it — if you are sitting on, say, close to a million gold, is it worth it to you to spend $20 on what amounts to petty cash for you? No, you will hold onto your $20 until you feel you are getting some value for it. Meanwhile, since fewer moneybags are offering tokens for sale in the auction house, the asking price for the ones that are there will go up, even if Blizz has its thumb on the scale to prevent rapid escalation.

In general — and I have nothing but anecdotal evidence for this — I think there are more game-time buyers than there are $20-for-tokens buyers in the game. No matter how much time you may have to devote to playing WoW, eventually the gold cost of game time becomes too much. I know, for example, that several of my guildies who used to pay almost exclusively for their game time via tokens form the auction house have in the past couple of months unsubbed because they cannot keep up with earning 200k a month to pay for their subscription. And it seems that people who used to rather regularly plop down their credit card to Blizz in order to buy enough gold to make them happy in the game no longer are willing to do so. (Also, — as in real life — some people must spend every bit of gold as soon as they get it, while others feel like they always need more gold even if they have millions. Go figure.)

It is true there has been some significant overall inflation in the game. We saw a big jump in prices in WoD, when Blizz was pretty much handing out bags of gold through garrison missions, just to keep as many people playing as they could. The idea in Legion was for that kind of easy gold to go away, so as to tighten the gold supply and keep inflation in check. It absolutely did not happen. If anything, the inflation rate has increased in Legion. It is nothing, for example, for people to offer BoE gear in the auction house on my server for close to or even over 1 million gold. Even worthless crafted blue gear still goes for a couple thousand gold.

I suspect we are on the verge of, if not actual deflation, at least a temporary halt to more inflation. It is the end of the expansion. Pretty much no one will be buying gear at this point, whether expensive or cheap. Also, within a couple of weeks we will likely see a massive sell-off of all that leather, fish, ores, herbs stashes, etc. many people have been hoarding in their banks. It is all pretty worthless now anyway in terms of value for crafting. Even things like flasks and runes will be used less and less, driving down the cost of mats even more. Finally, some number of players who consider the game time tokens to be too costly will just unsubscribe for a couple of months rather than waste their gold on game time in a worn-out expansion.

So get those stacks of mats out of your bank now and throw them up for whatever gold you can get in the AH. You will be helping to stem the tide of inflation, and you might even make some gold. Whether it will be enough to finance your WoW habit for long depends on how gold-greedy the game’s wealthy players are. If we accept my premise that there are more players wanting the tokens from the AH than there are players — especially at the end of the expansion — willing to fork over real money for gold, then it seems likely the price of the tokens will remain very high. When BfA launches, there will be more players wanting the game tokens and also more players needing gold to buy expansive flasks and gear initially, so we will see what happens to the prices. But if there remains an imbalance in the number of players selling them and the number buying them, the bad news for many is that the gold price will continue to rise unless Blizz steps in and does some selective flooding of the token market to bring prices down.

As you can all tell, I am not an economist. But I know prices have gone up rather spectacularly in Legion, and I do not expect that trend to change in BfA. What that tells me is that it will become even more important for me to get my critical-profession alts up to speed as rapidly as possible, not necessarily to sell stuff, but as a gold-preserving measure allowing me to make my own stuff rather than deplete my gold stash paying for run-of the mill flasks and such.

And now my brain hurts. I need a beer. And a weekend. See you on the other side.

Hunter pet changes in BfA

There are some very minor hunter-related Battle for Azeroth spoilers in this post. Don’t read if you don’t want to know.

As many of you may know, Blizz is making significant changes to the hunter pet system in BfA. For a good rundown, check out Bendak’s post on this, but the essential points are:

  • Hunters will no longer select which specialty a pet has. That is, certain kinds of pets will be classified as Ferocity, others as Cunning, and still others as Tenacity. These cannot be changed. (All Spirit Beasts are now classified as Tenacity.)
  • All pet families do exactly the same amount of damage and have the same level of tanking ability.
  • Each pet family brings two abilities (one active, one passive) that benefit the pet, the hunter, and friendly players.
    • Ferocity grants a leech to the hunter and the pet, and has Blood Lust (30% haste for the group for 40 seconds).
    • Tenacity grants a blanket +8% health to the hunter and the pet, and has an active 20% damage reduction for hunter and pet for 6 seconds, on a 3-minute cooldown.
    • Cunning gives the hunter and pet an 8% speed increase and can remove snares and slows from a targeted friendly player.
  • In addition to the above, most pet families bring defensive cooldowns for themselves, and others bring a debuff against their target. Most (but not all) of these can be either manually cast by the hunter or put on auto-execute.
  • There are a few other minor changes, for example Stupid Hunter Insurance, where Growl is automatically turned off in dungeons and back on when you leave a dungeon. (You can turn it back on manually in a dungeon.)
  • Battle Rez has been removed completely as a pet ability, along with Heart of the Phoenix (except for Quilen, which may or may not be an oversight on Blizz’s part), Last Stand, and some other passives.

I really have not tested these changes much in the beta — hunter pets are limited thus far, since we cannot yet import a live character that might have already collected a lot of pet families. They may turn out to be okay, but in general I am very nervous about them. Pets are basically a cosmetic item for MM hunters, and SV hunter power comes primarily from the hunter not the pet. But BM hunters ARE their pets — without them we pretty much do zero damage. Our entire play style is centered on them.

So, for example, removal of Heart of the Phoenix (which has been a feature of all Ferocity pets) is significant — that one instant pet rez has saved my bacon more than once while soloing, and it has often enabled me to maintain damage on a boss during critical phases of a fight. For BM hunters, a pet revival cast time of 2 seconds can be serious — think if a warrior could periodically lose his weapon and not be able to retrieve it for 2-3 seconds in a boss fight. I smell a PvP whine at work here — having an instant pet revival spell makes BM hunters far less easy to gank in a world PvP situation. And of course if something offends PvP-ers, Blizz must change it immediately, especially when the design goal is to urge more people into PvP.

Interestingly — but unfortunately not surprisingly — while the BfA pet changes may result in hunters being expected to have at least one of every variation of pet, Blizz has not seen fit to change the antiquated pet stable system. The total number of pets a hunter may have is still 50, despite Blizz adding dozens of new pets to be tamed every expansion. Worse, a hunter is limited to 5 pets for summoning. If you have guessed wrong, and none of those 5 are a good fit for a certain situation, you have to go back to a stable master, usually in a major city, to change out your ”pet bag”. In BfA, we will likely need to keep one each Ferocity, Tenacity, and Cunning pets available, then have the remaining 2 slots be our best guess for special defensive or debuff spells.

It really is time for Blizz to give hunters a pet tab like the foo-foo pet tab all other players have for pet battles. Barring that, they should allow more than 5 pets to be immediately accessible. And barring even that, they should introduce some sort of “portable stable” that would allow hunters to switch out their 5 while in the field or in a dungeon or raid. Honestly, I would be much more accepting of the BfA pet changes if Blizz also gave us this long-overdue change. Yet they stubbornly refuse to even discuss the possibility…

Again I have the strong impression that Blizz considers hunters to be the throwaway class, the one they are free to ignore at any time, or the one they can do wild experiments on no matter what the fallout. The BfA pet changes are part of this pattern — Blizz has made zero effort to integrate them in any novel way with hunter play styles, nor have they made any changes that would allow hunters to use the new pet system in any newly efficient manner.

The last thing I have to say about the BfA pet changes is that Blizz seems to think these constitute enough class changes for BM hunters. MM and SV have undergone pretty significant play style and spell changes in BfA, but BM has remained relatively untouched save for the pet system makeover. While the pet changes are major, none of them do anything to increase BM hunter damage, nor do they change the clunky play style in any meaningful way.

My original impression of BM hunters in BfA was that the play style seemed a little livelier, but having internalized it, I think that impression was just from the fact that Dire Frenzy is baseline. I have almost exclusively played the zoo build in Legion, so switching to DF of course adds a button push along with a small decision point. But the play style is still slow (made slower by the switch to almost everything going on the GCD), and many of the talents seem not to be integrated with the play style at all, just something to be tossed in when they come off cd. At lower levels, focus seems also to be a problem at times, forcing very uncomfortable pauses. Maybe that will improve with better gear and stats?

It really seems like Blizz has once again thrown one of the hunter specs under the bus for an entire expansion. My bad luck they have chosen the spec I play both times — first SV in WoD and Legion, then BM in Legion and BfA.

Watch out, MM hunters, I may select this as my main spec, which will mean it is doomed for the expansion after BfA.

Alpha beta soup

The development of Battle for Azeroth has moved into the next phase. Late yesterday Blizz announced the closing of the alpha servers and a new start with beta. Accompanying this announcement was a new round of invites, presumably rather large in scope and permitting many of the actual customer base for the game to try out BfA.

(No, I haven’t checked yet to see if I got an invite, but since I think there were roughly a gazillion sent out, I suppose there is a chance. If I did, and if it goes like the schedule for Legion, we can expect the PTR very soon. 🤨)

Today’s post is just a couple of observations about what has become Blizz’s standard testing cycle for new expansions.

The alpha —> beta phases are new starting with Legion. Sort of. That is, in the run up to Legion, Blizz called its customer test phase “alpha” but was coy about saying what exactly that meant. In previous expansions there was only a beta and a PTR — at least those were the two phases Blizz publicly acknowledged. When we saw the term “alpha” for Legion, many assumed it was because development was at a cruder stage than usual for allowing some of the public to see it. This made sense, because WoD had been such a disaster that it seemed Blizz would do anything to refocus their customers on Legion. As far as I can recall, Blizz never did put out anything they called “beta” — they went directly from several months of alpha to the PTR. Still, there were a few discernible phases in the Legion alpha — it started with the usual favored few, then gradually — close to the end — was expanded to include representatives of the hoi polloi.

This time, the BfA alpha started out the same, but apparently Blizz is now comfortable with actually calling the early tests “alpha” and the ones where they let in some of the Great Unwashed “beta”.

Why the difference? I think there is a clue contained in a blue post quoted in MMO-C here. Basically, Blizz now permits the pros (big Twitchers, world-first guilds, top 1% on various servers, etc.) to have actual input on important development such as class and spec tuning and profession paths, while reps of the other 99% get to have input on things like travel glitches and wardrobe malfunctions.

Okay, that was maybe a bit snarky, but the blue post I cited pretty much announced that no one participating in the beta should harbor any illusions that they are going to actually shape any of the important stuff. That has already been done by the big kids. Just log on if you got an invite, and help Blizz find all their bugs and stress their servers a bit. Oh, and maybe rave about the marvelous new Island Expeditions which are of course awesome. Because another reason to send out a ton of beta invites is to help generate enthusiasm for BfA. Maybe we will get some explanation of the test phases in tomorrow’s happy chat with Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas.

HAHAHAHA! I crack myself up! More likely it will be an extended infomercial for the expansion.

To be fair, even during the alpha it was apparent that not a lot of class changes were going to be forthcoming. There were a few in response to alpha tester comments, but for a significant number of classes what we saw is what we will get. Blizz had already designed the winner and loser classes/specs for the expansion, and they would not be swayed by such details as actual comparison numbers and professional opinions about the feel of the spec.

Some of the only important stuff we might see tweaked in the beta, I suspect, is the interaction between class mechanics and quests/instances/raids. That is, if Blizz has failed to take the new class changes into account for their group encounter and quest designs (almost certainly the case), they might tweak some of the encounters to make them more compatible. Maybe. And of course, Blizz will happily accept actual bugs that beta testers find.

But if you got a beta invite and expect Blizz to listen to — much less take action on — your frustration with, for example, all the new actions now subject to the global cooldown, forget it. If you are lucky, there will have been a dev that actually plays and understands your chosen class and spec, and thus you will have an engaging play style in BfA and will routinely appear near the top of the charts (if that is something important to you). But if changes were made by a numbers geek who has no clue about the very soul of your chosen class/spec and who frankly could care less, prepare for a couple of years of frustration.

Hmm. I seem cranky today. Maybe I should go check my email.

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.

Saddle up

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not much of a collector in WoW. Even though I am a hunter, I usually don’t go out of my way to collect hunter pets, I hate foo-foo “battle” pets, I rarely go after transmog looks, and there are very few mounts I find worthy of pursuing. I understand some people love these aspects of the game, and more power to them, but it is just not my thing.

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Thus, I was more amused than intrigued yesterday when MMO-C posted the video for the new parrot mounts in BfA. Yes, that is correct, a parrot. You know, “Wraaaak! Polly want a potion!” This mighty steed is one of the new BfA mounts, a list that also includes a bee, a frog, a hippo, and several creatures I can only describe as “Whut the hell is that?!?” These mounts will be added to the game stable that includes hundreds of weird, wacky, and whimsical modes of transportation as well as a lot of “regular” ones like horses, elephants, airplanes, motorcycles, boats, well you name it.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fun aspect of mounts. I have had — and will continue to have — my own giggly moments when I soar or gallop or galumph on some strange creature. And I admit I have actually lusted after a couple of mounts in the game — the Mekgineer Chopper, that Alliance flying boat from Blizzcon 2017, some of the jewelcrafting tigers, the Headless Horsemen mount, the hunter class mount, and assorted  others. And, even though I do not directly chase them, I like getting surprised with a mount from an achievement or as a loot drop. I just checked, and I have 114 mounts. You collectors out there are laughing your asses off at this number and muttering, “Amateur!”, but I mean how many can you ride at one time? Over a hundred is not bad for someone who is really an accidental collector. 😉

The one thing that really annoys me about mounts are the fly-only types that people insist on using on the ground. I really do not see the joy in riding along on something that is awkwardly wallowing along a road like a huge wounded beast, painfully galumphing through an environment it was never meant for. I enjoy soaring through the skies on some of these mounts as much as the next person, but clomping along on the ground, no thank you. Not to mention, it looks really ridiculous. I can’t help but think many of the players who do this on some ginormous bird or the ilk think they are really impressing others, when there are a lot like me who are laughing themselves silly.

Part of this has to do with the limits we all put on our game fantasy. This is an interesting phenomenon about fantasy games — we all set “rules” about which impossible things we will buy into and which ones we will draw the line at. We may easily believe in a world where there are orcs and big slobbering one-eyed monsters and flying horses. We have no problem believing in a world where no one ever has to go to the dentist or wash their clothes or pee or sleep or call their mom or deal with a grumpy spouse. (“You’re questing again today? Sure, go ahead, don’t worry about me stuck here with screaming kids and laundry and meals to fix!”) We do not bat an eye at magical portals or pink trees, or Jurassic-Park type areas full of dinosaurs, or hostile petunias. But when Blizz gave us the time-tunnel version of Draenor in WoD, tons of players cried foul — it struck them as “unrealistic” and a cop-out. Similarly, when Blizz arbitrarily designates some areas as permanent no-fly zones (like Argus), players complain about it not being believable because lots of things are flying there, including some of the very beasts we have tamed as mounts. Or think about this: of all the kinds of mounts there are in the game, there are no automobiles. Why? “Not realistic” in the game. Go figure.

The point is, we all — along with Blizz — draw our own boundaries about things we can accept in the game and things we refuse to accept. Things that are “believable” and things that are not. So, for example, while I can accept the premise of a flying boat, I am pretty sure I will draw the line at riding a damn frog! That’s just ridiculous! Or a lumbering hippo. And I have actually had a parrot in real life, and trust me, they can be nasty and mean and dirty and noisy and they have a vicious beak. No way would I ever try to ride a giant one, even in a fantasy game! None of this has any logic to it, except in my twisted brain, but there it is.

I pretty much stick to having four mounts on my action bar: my Headless Horseman mount, the water strider, my transmog yak, and one random one that I rotate out just for a change. I like the HH mount because it looks good both flying and on the ground, and I don’t have to worry about forgetting I have a ground mount and thus accidentally run off a cliff to my death. Often, early in an expansion when we do not have flying, I like to tool around on my chopper. But mostly I stick to rather mundane, “believable” mounts.

I may, however, have to have a bee. And maybe a bee hunter pet. Because that is totally realistic!

Main planning

With the formal announcement that Battle for Azeroth will launch August 14, those of us who are compulsive organizers can now kick our planning up a notch. More than 4 months is not exactly what I would call “imminent”, but still it is good to have an actual target date.

The date is about 6 weeks earlier than the “not later than” date we saw in the promos during Blizzcon. I don’t know of any other titles due to launch in that same general time frame, so I don’t think the date is calculated to be a competitive market thing. And I hope it is not a marketing-driven deadline that corporate has imposed on the WoW team just to be able to say they hit their intended expansion schedule — pushing the envelope such that there is not enough slack time built in to allow for unforeseen glitches. Most likely, though, is that Blizzard is pretty confident the expansion is far enough along that the mid-August date will be no problem. Also, the release date occurs before most colleges and universities start the fall term, so possibly Blizzard is taking that into account as a way to engage this key group of players at the start rather than have them have to wait until things settle down a bit before they have a chance to play, and then feeling they are playing catch-up.

Still, as I pointed out back when the exclusive alpha started, this somewhat earlier launch date means many parts of the expansion — certainly class changes — are pretty well set in stone. (Maybe that is why Blizzard also forbade any class development questions in the recent dev discussion at Pax East — they have zero intention of making any more significant changes in classes at this point.)

As far as I am concerned, this is bad news for BM hunters, who have received almost no love now for years. Almost the sole change Blizzard has graciously deigned to make for BM hunters is a questionable revamp of pet abilities (which applies to all hunters, btw, not just the BM spec). It seems like they are tossing us a crumb — a rather stale and distasteful one at that — and basically telling us to sit the fuck down now and shut up, that is all we are getting, quit pestering. I said early on in the alpha that I had an uncomfortable feeling about hunters, given the significant number of announced MM and SV changes but the silence on BM, and I think I hit that one dead on. I can only surmise from what I read, of course, since it seems every player but me has gotten an invite to try it out, but this looks very much like what Blizzard did to us in the run up to Legion — the silent treatment as a response to bonafide concerns, reports, and requests for information.

The best writing out there currently on trends for hunters in BfA is coming from Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast, and I encourage anyone interested in the subject to check out his latest post. The bottom line is that both MM and SV are getting some much-needed and significant reworks, but BM is once again left out of the loop. It’s as if Blizzard hates the spec, wishes they could delete it, but instead will just make it so unpleasant, powerless, and boring that no one will want to play it. (This was their tactic back in WoD when they abandoned SV as too hard to deal with…)

Thus, a big part of my BfA planning will revolve around what to play as a main. Although it pains me to consider it, at this point I am still not sure that continuing as a hunter is in the cards for me. I feel like Blizz has dumped on me twice — first they destroyed my SV spec that I had lived and played for years, and now they seem in the process of also destroying the spec I switched to.

I will give both SV and MM a try, I suppose, but something in me just recoils at the idea of having to choose between being a hunter without a pet or one that is a melee spec. (Yes, even though Blizz has added a lot of ranged abilities to SV, its most potent shot is still a melee one.)

I have been having quite a lot of fun with my mages and my druid lately, so I suppose both of those would be candidates for a BfA main. And I have always had an attachment to my mistweaver healer, even though I have not paid much attention to her in Legion. (The main objection I have to maining a monk is that leveling and questing is most efficient with an off spec of windwalker, a melee spec…)

Fun is certainly one factor in my choice, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that relative power will be another. I enjoy raiding with my guild, and even though there is no pressure to tailor the team with “the right” classes and specs, still I feel it would be irresponsible to force a weak spec on the team. It is unfortunate but true that Blizz has in recent years not cared too much that each expansion brings clear winners and losers in terms of class/spec balances. Oh sure, they tweak a bit here and there as the expansion goes on, but they have become disturbingly comfortable with a fairly wide spread of results among the classes, as if it is too hard to compress the gap so if you happen to main a loser class, oh well sucks to be you…

What I am looking for in BfA is a class and spec that is reasonably powerful (upper-middle in the charts would be fine) and is a real rush to play. I stuck with BM in Legion, but honestly it was always sub-par in terms of performance and it never gave me the “whee!” rush many other classes have. I liked it because of the mobility and because I have an attachment to my spirit pets, and because I very strongly identify with my ideal of the hunter persona (mine, not Blizz’s) in the game. But the play style is just one long grind of grimly mashing short cooldowns as soon as they became available, with a very slight calculation of when to delay one or another of them for optimization. The combat animations stink (despite Blizz at one point “improving” Cobra Shot to make it wiggle more, oh what a wild and crazy change that was 🙄), there is no chance of getting any sort of exciting proc, the player has no control over focus generation, and there is no significant burst ability.

Just.

Mash.

Buttons.

On.

Time.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

So far, it seems none of this will change in BfA. In fact, Blizz is actually removing one button, the artifact weapon ability, and not replacing it with anything. And the pet changes may have the effect of limiting my choice of pets to whichever one provides a missing raid utility. (And even this consideration is not very significant since Blizz has removed combat rez as one of the options.) One pleasing aspect of Legion I have enjoyed is running raids with Gara almost all the time — I have a preference for wolf pets, I like the current additional spirit beast effects, and I really like the Gara rendering. I will most definintely not like it if even this one small player choice is slightly curtailed in BfA.

So, yeah. Almost everything is on the table for selecting a main for BfA. I hope I can come to terms with — and find actual fun in — one of the hunter specs, but if not, then maybe it is time to move on to another class.

Still, it would break my heart.

Possibly a weekend and some beer will help shape my thinking. See you on the other side.