2018 – My year of alts?

I hope everyone had a great holiday. I certainly did, but I won’t deny it is good to be back to a routine. The house is back to its normal non-decorated self, all the bad-for-you Christmas cookies and fudge and such have been gobbled or otherwise disposed of, the relatives have gone home, the parties are over, and there is no need for constant cheer.

O, comfortable rut, how I missed you!

Anyway, I did get in a lot of WoW play time while on break. Mostly I took the opportunity to develop a few of my alts that have been so badly neglected this entire expansion. It occurs to me that our raid team will soon — probably within a month — be done with Heroic Antorus TBT, and then things will essentially be set on “coast” for the remainder of Legion. Sure, we will still raid a couple of times a week, but after progression it is mainly just fun runs and getting Ahead of the Curve for non-raiders, along with some gear. I doubt if we will be doing any Mythic attempts, as once we finish Heroic (currently 8/11) it gets hard to corral enough core raiders to get to 20. So I am not holding my breath on that, and honestly I am kind of looking forward to a respite.

I think we are in for a pretty long “content drought” this year — typical end-of-expansion doldrums. It seems unlikely that we will see Battle for Azeroth before Blizzcon. We do not even have a hint of an Alpha much less a Beta yet, and we are probably still a month or two away from Patch 7.3.5. Also, I cannot imagine Blizz going into a Blizzcon without something big to hype. So my main bet is that we will have Legion for most of the rest of 2018.

Still, I have to admit that Blizz has surprised me with their delivery of Legion content. I may quibble with their definition of the term, but I cannot deny that they have carried out the exact schedule they promised. If anything, Legion has given us too much to do. It is because of this recent history that I think there is a (slim) possibility that Blizz has a surprise or two left for us in Legion. Also, I do not think Ion Hazzikostas wants to risk players leaving Legion with a bad taste in their mouths because it dwindled to nothing for months on end.

I hope they are not banking on everyone being content to level their new allied race character for 8-10 months. (Although the cynic in me says that slowing down the leveling process while at the same time offering new races to level is absolutely not a coincidence…)

If there are Legion surprises (and remember I think it is a long shot), what they may be are anyone’s guess. After 7.3.5 there could be one or two small “fun” patches before we get 8.0 in preparation for BfA. These could offer some quality of life fixes, some new scenario-type activities, maybe some new timewalking stuff, maybe even a mini-raid.

Additionally, I think there is a tiny chance that all the WoW prognosticators and pundits are wrong, and we will get BfA much sooner than anyone expects. I have no real basis for this, but it still tickles at the back of my brain that there seems to be a very fuzzy line between BfA and 7.3.5 development. Patch 7.3.5 may be a Trojan horse of sorts, a way to sneak in a lot of BfA design and testing without actually admitting that is what is going on. If Blizz can limit the new things that a Beta has to test (and remember they have said that BfA will have very few major class changes), they might be able to bring the new expansion to live servers faster than most of us anticipate.

But as I said, both the “Legion surprise” and “early BfA” theories are extreme long shots. What is more likely is that we will have Legion for nearly all of 2018, with only allied characters to keep us busy. Which means I will have a nice long time to immerse myself in my favorite part of every expansion: the “content drought” period most people hate. With that thought in mind, I spent a good deal of my break time playing my alts.

Anyway, back to my alts. I am not even close to being an altoholic. I have basically a main and 7 alts, plus a bank alt and usually one or two low level alts that I play for a few days and then delete. Of my 7 alts, all but one are level 110, with varying gear levels. All are Alliance and all are on the same server. I have tried Horde alts from time to time but just do not enjoy that whole fantasy. Also, I have no dwarf or Draenei characters. If I had to pick a favorite race, it would be a tossup between Pandaren and Night Elves. All but one of my alts are female. My alt specs are either damage dealers (slightly more ranged than melee) or healers, no tanks.

My holiday surprise came when I spent some time on my mage. Regular readers will recall that I have struggled with mage play style forever, and that I tend to have a sort of love-hate relationship with the class. I stereotype it as a stand-still-and-cast class, and cloth-squishy to boot. So imagine my delight when I discovered that my fire mage is very mobile, and that she has some considerable defensive abilities. I am having a blast with her, trying now to get her gear level to a point where I can jump into a few of our guild alt runs in Antorus. I have always said I think fire mages have the best visuals in the game, and I think that even more now that I am actually playing one.

I get enormous satisfaction from a streak of Heating Up and Hot Streak procs, and these happen very frequently. Thinking about it, the absence of that is one of the things that makes BM hunter play so dull — you just do not get any fun procs to really get your adrenaline going. Back in the day, the thing I absolutely loved about SV hunter was getting that Lock and Load proc — it was pure joy when it went off and BAM! you knew you had a chance to do some very significant extra damage. It just never got old. The puny, yawn-inducing almost-unnoticeable procs you get on BM these days do not even come close. Thanks again, Blizz, for sucking the fun out of huntering.

I actually hope Blizz takes its time with Battle for Azeroth. I will be perfectly happy to play a lot of my alts for several months. As my game time is usually limited to around 20 hours a week or so, I have not so far had the luxury of both maintaining a raiding main and doing end game play on my alts. I am hoping 2018 allows me to give my main a rest and spend most of my game time on some of my favorite (and possibly even new) alts.

The way home

This post contains a few spoilers. Skip it if you are sensitive to that kind of thing.

I am frequently very hard on Blizz, especially when it comes to what I believe is their inability to carry out a clear and cohesive expansion, one where each individual piece contributes to a well-stated strategic message for the expansion. What often starts out as a nicely-encapsulated picture nearly always disintegrates into an everything-bagel mashup in which it seems like every dev with a half-baked idea gets to throw something into the mix, regardless of how — or even if — the idea is synchronized with the stated theme. And in the coming months, as we learn more about Battle for Azeroth, I am sure I will continue to berate Blizz for this constant shortcoming.

But today I am going to hand out a compliment: At least so far, I think Blizz is doing a bang-up job of preparing the path back to Azeroth for us.

In past expansions, we do not really get any prep for the next one until the very tail end. Usually the prep is in the form of a major patch that among other changes introduces a quest line or two, or some mechanism, to transition to the next expansion. In WoD, we had the worldwide invasion scenarios, for example. These were designed pragmatically to allow us to catch up alts and prepare them minimally for Legion (and also to give us something to do in the waning days of WoD), but story-wise they laid the groundwork for the Legion experience and ultimately taking the battle to the Legion’s own planet.

In the current expansion, I am seeing a subtle difference in that approach. I have no information on the release date for BfA, but most prognosticators think we are about a year out from it. Yet even this far out we are getting some major transitional mechanics for it, and the data mining for 7.3.5 tells us there are a lot more such transitional mechanics in the works.

Already, for example, the defeat of Argus in the new raid tier removes the ugly scar of the broken planet from Azerothian skies. (I assume this will be visible to all players as soon as the final LFR wing opens.) No longer does this epic fight for our survival consume every waking moment, no longer are we reminded of the looming danger every time we glance at the sky.

Patch 7.3.5 goes further. We will see our artifact weapons start to phase out. We will see the groundwork laid to establish homes for the Allied Races, thus placing Legion’s Broken Shores zones into historical context as the place where we met and formed relationships with these new races.

So, probably a full year out from BfA, we are getting the sense that the war is almost over. We won. And now, fulfilling the dream of soldiers everywhere, we are going home. As in real wars, though, going home is not an immediate thing. There is equipment to clean and repair and turn in, there are a million administrative tasks to complete before we can actually get on that plane, there are security promises to allies that must be fulfilled. But there is an undeniable change: We are no longer engaged in a struggle for our very existence, we have emerged victorious from those dark days, and we are ever so slowly bound for home.

I do not know if this kind of attitude shift was Blizz’s intent, or if more practically they just need to start surreptitiously testing some of the major planned BfA changes and 7.3.5 seems like the ideal cover for it since the beta seems nowhere close yet. Whatever the reason, from an immersion™ standpoint, it works for me. I really feel like we have won a long campaign, and now we can go home with our heads held high. If Blizz can maintain this trend, the transition to BfA will be in my opinion the smoothest ever in the game. (Of course, I think we should go home to our own player housing, but that is a complaint for another day.)

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

(Requiem, by Robert Louis Stevenson)

“Going home” evokes some of the warmest emotions anyone can express in any language.  It feels good. Nicely done, Blizz.

The problem with designing for the squeaky wheels

This blog is not exceptionally popular. On any given day I probably have less than 200 readers, small potatoes in the blogosphere. Of those, maybe less than 10% ever post comments, but I am nearly always impressed with how thoughtful and well-expressed those comments are, even when someone takes great issue with something I have written. I have rarely had to deal with trolls or rage-filled screeds. So I feel a tiny bit of pride that I seem to have attracted something akin to the top echelon of WoW blog readers.

I don’t reply to every comment, but I read every one of them, and even when I do not reply, I do think about every point made in them or sometimes just appreciate the humor of a well-expressed smartass retort. Every once in a while, though, a reader makes a comment that puts my brain into overdrive. This happened with a comment on my last post, from Marathal, a fellow blogger.

You can go back and check it out for yourself, but basically Marathal made the point that Blizz adjusts their game at least in part to remedy shortcomings expressed by players who have left the game, rather than by trying to figure out why people who have not left are still playing. This may seem like a subtle distinction, but the more I thought about it, the more profound I thought it was.

WoW has millions of customers, and with that many there will always be a pretty significant turnover — people leave the game, new people take it up. But Blizz sits up and take notice if many more are leaving than are joining. We do not know if this is happening lately, because they stopped publishing subscription numbers after the great exodus during the first few months of Warlords of Draenor. But we are still feeling the effects of game design changes Blizz made in response to that exodus.

The big public complaint about WoD was that there was a lack of “content”. People left the game, so Blizz tells us, because they felt that once they had leveled up their characters, there was nothing to do. Thus, in Legion, Blizz went berserk overcompensating for this perceived shortfall. We have world quests (basically just a lot of dailies, renamed), an artifact weapon designed to be endlessly upgraded, flying  gated both by time and long-grind achievements, lottery-drop super gear in the form of RNG legendaries (lots of them, so once you get one you do not quit trying), a renamed WoD garrison with continuing quest lines, professions that can only be maxed out by participating in activities that require high level gear and good luck, quality of life items gated behind tedious rep grinds, Mythic+ dungeons designed to keep players running the same instances over and over indefinitely, classes/specs that only perform adequately with certain levels of gear with certain secondary stats— well, you get the idea.

Basically, Legion is a response to all the players who quit in WoD. It is Blizz saying, “You want content? I got yer content right here, whiners!”

Did it work to bring these players back? We don’t know for sure, absent subscription numbers, but certainly it brought some back. There is anecdotal evidence that many of the same players who left in WoD and came back for Legion, though, continue to take significant breaks from the game as soon as they have plowed through whatever the current patch is, waiting for another flurry of game activity with the next patch, then leaving again, etc. I would love to see the weekly-fluctuating MAU numbers over the course of an entire Legion patch.

Meanwhile, what about the players who did not leave during WoD? Why did they stay, in the face of the gigantic “No content!” outcry? Clearly, this was not a good enough reason for them to quit the game. I can only speak for myself, but I stayed because I think the game is big enough for me to always find my own content, and for something more complex: I like the feeling of maxing out my character for the expansion and then having total freedom to do whatever the hell I want to when I log on. It is my favorite part of every expansion. I usually set some loose game goals at the start — max out professions, be a contributing member of a heroic-level raid team, enjoy most of the expansion’s perks, have the leisure to develop all my alts, etc. — and when I reach that point I feel a real sense of accomplishment.

I feel like Legion has taken that away from me. In their zeal to appease the players who demand to have their game goals set for them, Blizz has designed an expansion that never lets me achieve mine.

One quick example: Our raid leader — a terrific generally laid-back guy — recently said that he expects all raiders for the next tier (due in about 3 weeks) to have achieved level 75 on their main artifact. Given that I am currently only at level 69 and that each new level requires billions and billions of AP, my life for the next 3 weeks will pretty much consist of me grinding out every AP-reward world quest every day, because I want to keep raiding in the next tier. It will also require me to run some M+ dungeons (which I am not a fan of) to get the huge weekly AP bonus from running a +10 or higher. In short, a year into Legion, my game time will not really be my own.

Sure, I brought this on myself by wanting to be part of a raid team. But my point is, Blizz designed our main piece of Legion gear to be not only indispensable, but also a never-ending grind. Our RL is merely doing his job requiring us to keep up with the grind, because that will actually make a difference in our next-tier progression rate. This may be the first time in WoW history when merely having the previous tier’s gear will probably be insufficient to tackle the next raid tier — we will need to have a separate progression on our weapon, one not connected directly with tier.

Blizz designed the artifact weapon — and nearly all of Legion — to appease the short-attention-span people who left the game in WoD, not to appeal to the people who did not leave.

There is an obvious danger in this design approach. Blizz runs the risk of not being able to keep up with the demands of the easily-bored, and in the process of trying, of making the game ultimately abhorrent to the steady, patient, loyal group of players that are still the game’s core, no matter how much Blizz may wish to deny it. Each of us has our own point of no return, our own final straw. We may not be able to articulate what that is, but we will recognize it when it happens. For me personally, I feel a loss every time Blizz removes game play options, every time they force me into a certain track in order to achieve one of my goals. With Legion, I have seen that trend accelerating. What happens in the next expansion may well determine how much longer I stay in the game.

I wish Blizz would see what they are doing to their most loyal players, and I wish they would realize that they cannot sustain a game entirely with the hard-core pros. (It’s not the elite top 10% who pay the bulk of the monthly subscriptions, after all.) WoW won its preeminent place in the gaming world because it was available to nearly everyone, because it offered as much to the casual player as it did to the hard core types. It really was a game for the masses, and I am saddened that apparently Blizz believes that was a bad thing. For it now to become accessible almost exclusively to the pros, to those who have the desire and luxury of devoting hours to it every day, is in my opinion a betrayal of the very roots of the game.

So, yeah, a shout out to Marathal for really making me think. And thanks to my few but loyal readers — you are tops in my book.

Thinking is thirsty work, though, and and thus it is time for me to grab a beer and start a weekend. 😉 You all enjoy yours, too.

Non-legendary legendaries

Over the weekend I was reading up a bit on the 7.3.x upcoming changes — I opted not to dabble on the PTR this time — and I came away feeling pretty cranky about the whole legendary mechanic for Legion.

What got me going, of course, is the description we have so far for the one of the new pseudo-legendaries, Aman’Thul’s Vision. (Set aside for the moment that I was predisposed to hate it if because the name contains one of Blizz’s pretentious, senseless, and unfortunately ubiquitous apostrophes.) From what I can glean, it is a legendary trinket that is not really a legendary, in that it does not count as one of your two equipped legendaries. It does, however, count as your one allowed Titan/Pantheon Trinket (more on that below), and so now in addition to figuring out which legendaries to equip, along with which tier pieces and regular trinkets to equip, we will have to also figure out which trinkets are not allowed to play together. More fodder for the super computers.

The trinket itself is a stat stick, increasing all secondary stats to the player — crit, mastery, haste, and versatility. Additionally, it has a chance to proc tertiary stats — yes, I regret to say we have come to this sad situation — so at random intervals the player will get a buttload of speed, avoidance, and leech for 12 seconds. But the real presumed power of the thing is its use in a raid, where, if at least four players have the thing equipped, and if all four happen to randomly have overlapping procs, then an additional wildcard is proc’ed, giving the players a huge primary stat increase for a few seconds.

This is that stupid WoD ring on steroids, but with the added “feature” of it being totally random, no player control needed! This, of course eliminates the LFR problem of “premature use”, when that one inevitable idiot proc’ed the ring on the first round of trash. Now RNG can do that for you!

Who doesn’t love more RNG in the game, huh?

Now, when first I read about this trinket, I was thinking, OK, this is how Blizz gets around the 2-legendary restriction. They have vowed up and down that we will not/not/not be able to equip more than 2 legendaries, because that would be needlessly — something. So of course they cannot now change their minds on this important point. Instead, they craft an item that looks like a legendary, walks like a legendary, and quacks like a legendary, but they tell us it is not a legendary! So now we can equip two legendaries plus a thing that looks exactly like a legendary but trust us it is not one.

Yeah.

As silly as this sounds, it is actually much more complex — and ridiculous — than that. The trinket is part of en entire system of “Argus Pantheon Trinkets”, with a whole set of rules for how/when to equip them, ways to upgrade them, etc. Of course most of them are random drops on Argus, and they appear to have fairly specific circumstantial uses, so here is a whole new reason for players to grind out shit on Argus. (Aman’thul’s Vision, the exception, is a loot drop from the final boss of the new raid tier. Which means this is not for casual players, it is only available to raiders, yet another example of Blizz pandering to the pros.)

And the trinket system? Well, you can check out a pretty detailed description of it here, but I warn you it almost takes a degree in physics or engineering to understand it. Basically, Blizz has overlaid the Legion legendary system onto trinkets.

Think about that for a moment.

Blizz, in the persona of Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, has several times admitted that they made a mistake with the whole Legion legendary system. They have applied numerous bandages to it to try and fix it — bad luck insurance, increasing the drop rate of the first couple in order to help alts compete, incorporating some of the effects into baseline spec abilities, nerfing the stupidly-OP ones, etc. But the fact remains that Legion legendaries to this day just plain stink as a concept. They strictly limit a player’s options — once you embark for a few months on a certain spec, it becomes very difficult to switch if you do not have the required legendaries for it, and even if you do not want to switch specs (say nothing of class), you are handicapped for some aspects of the game if you have not had the good luck to get the “good” legendaries. Additionally, they make an already-complex gear system vastly more so.

And now Blizz — who have admitted Legion legendaries were not their best idea — have doubled down on the concept by introducing an entire trinket system that is a virtual twin of the legendary system.

What.

The.

Fuck.

Recall that this is exactly what happened with garrisons in WoD. Fairly early in WoD, Blizz admitted that the garrison system had turned out badly, that it had unintended adverse results for the health of the game, that players hated it. So what did they do for 6.2? Yep, they doubled down on it, requiring not only player garrisons but also expanded garrisons with shipyards to even be able to see the new patch content. Garrisons stunk as an idea, so what better course of action than to increase their importance!

I have said it before and now I will say it again, when you are in a hole you cannot get out of, the first rule is to stop digging.

I am sure we will all meekly accept the new Argus legendary trinket system, and we will dutifully chase them for months. Some of us will chase the non-legendary legendary trinket as well, and will grind away trying to get the gizmo to upgrade our other Pantheon trinkets into additional non-legendary legendaries, so that we can have an entire range of encounter-specific gear for almost every possible situation. We will carry around a ton of gear to be able to swap it out even if we never change specs, and we will haunt the web-based banks of computers to calculate the best gear set for every eventuality.

But is this really fun? More to the point, is the overhead becoming so high to get to the fun part that there is a serious cost-benefit deficit? It is a mark of how much I and others love this game that we have stuck with it for so long, even in the face of a relentlessly creeping complexity that is now nearing — or possibly well past — the level of stupidly ridiculous.

And with each new level of complexity the players cede more control, ironically lose more options. We are at the mercy of probability to get legendaries, to get tier gear, to get “good” legendaries and trinkets. And even after we have negotiated the probability minefield to get one of the new trinkets, we will not be able to control when to use it. It’s one thing for this to be the case with minor trinkets, where you might get a small individual boost randomly from equipping them, but it is a whole different thing for this to be how it works for a major buff that can affect the success or failure of an entire raid, after players have ground out what will likely be many final-boss kills just to get the ability. Or more accurately, just to get a lottery ticket.

Do the frogs ever get to the point of “This water is getting too hot, I’m outta here!”?

Clearly, I do not know the answer to that. I am still here, paddling around.

Time for your Metamucil, Auntie Blizz

Has Blizzard become risk-averse?

It is only a question, but these days the company seems less like the brilliant, shirts-untucked, energetic skateboard bunch we all thought we knew, and more like Great Aunt Dorothy, tut-tutting about noisy children and concerned she is not getting enough fiber.

Yesterday Blizz announced that, after years of development to improve their battle.net social media vehicle, they now proudly present — wait for it — a Discord knockoff. It is still in beta, though, and only fully available in North America, but at last they have achieved the same technology other social media companies reached long ago. (This is after they tried — largely unsuccessfully — to tie WoW in with existing social media giants like Twitter and Facebook.)

There appears to be absolutely nothing innovative about the new battle.net. The feature they are touting the most is the “appear offline” button, a much-requested feature that in theory allows a user to effectively hide from their friends if they do not wish to be sociable while on line. Except it still does not work with WoW. From the blue post (emphasis mine):

Appearing offline will show you as offline to everyone in your Blizzard friends list. Once you have joined a game, the experience of appearing offline might be slightly different depending on which game you are playing. In the case of World of Warcraft, your guildmates will see your character come online and enter WoW’s in-game chat channels, and anyone who has you as a character-level friend will see you online on their friends list. Everyone outside of the same game as you will not see you online or playing any games.

Well, if you use battle.net, so much for trying to get a little “me” time by questing on your secret non-guilded character.

Fail!

Which brings me to the other part of this post — yesterday’s Q&A with Game Director Hazzikostas. (Check out the MMO-C Cliff Notes and full video here.) Before I launch into my comments, though, I will say that Ion was being more honest with us than I can ever remember him being. I give him some props for that, even if the honesty was more of a “brutally honest” kind of thing. Anyway, with that, a few specific observations:

  • We will soon get an account bound Argus-unlocked whistle. Once we do it on one character it will be unlocked for all. That may be coming in a few short days.
  • Get ready to grind for-freaking-ever if you want to upgrade your stash of legendaries in the new patch. Yes, same horrible grind as from 940 to 970, because, according to that oracle of fun™, Ion Hazzikostas, it feels “odd” to just have them automatically upgraded. Yeah, wouldn’t want that…
  • Also on legendaries, the tokens datamined in 7.3.2 will be available to players who have amassed every legendary for their entire class, not for their spec. To me, this is another huge piece of Blizz hypocrisy — they want every spec to feel “unique” and special, and they have gone to great lengths to turn each spec into its own mini-class, but when it comes to getting any perks from this change, forget it. Can’t have players not putting in their required monthly hours, can we?
  • Dev team is not totally happy with Legion legendaries and tier set bonuses, and how those interact with class balance/tuning, but basically it is too hard to fix now. Same with some aspects of professions, class pruning of utility spells, and the clunky high numbers associated with AP. These are the topics where I thought Ion was being brutally honest with us. I respect the fact he admitted they painted themselves into a corner on these, that there were unintended consequences, and that they simply do not have the resources now to do any more than minor tweaks to make the situation less awful.
  • RNG — it’s good, they like it, and it is here to stay so get used to it. (This is a bit too glib of me — Ion gave a pretty decent explanation of Blizz’s philosophy on RNG. It’s just that I think they are doing a much worse job of “managing” it than they think they are.)
  • Argus technical design is such that flying is impossible there, and at least two world quest areas cannot be unlocked for an account, only per character. (Which means I will be spending as little time there as possible.)
  • During the discussion on class utility, Ion reiterated the current Blizz philosophy that raid class composition should make a difference in boss fights. He tried to back away from a perception they believe raids should “bring the class not the player” but it was pretty clear they like the idea of certain classes making a difference in specific boss fights.
    • He indicated that at some point they would be restoring some raid utilities to classes, that the significant pruning at the start of Legion may have been ill-advised. However he is not in favor of every class having a set of standard utilities so that classes are fungible, rather he wants every class to maintain a unique raid utility.
    • I suppose this is an OK idea if and only if there are not favored and forgotten classes. Blizz does not have a great track record in this area.
    • Also, this kind of thinking is a prime example of Blizz targeting development for elite players in Mythic raiding guilds, because they are the only ones with the luxury of picking and choosing their roster for given fights. The rest of us have to go with who we have, regardless of whether or not those classes give the team the best shot at killing the particular boss.
  • Mythic+ is here to stay, and it will likely become more and more complex and elite. Blizz has discovered that this is where the esports money is for WoW and I fully expect Blizz to go all in on it. While this is not in and of itself bad, it seems likely that the activity will evolve to suit professional players and teams at the expense of it being a fun diversion for casual players.

As an aside, I thought one of the real highlights of the Q&A was when a newly-spiffed-up (and looking good!) Lore did a Ken Burns voiceover of one of the questions. I actually did laugh out loud, it was so well done. If you have a couple minutes, check it out, around timestamp 35:30 in the MMO-C video.

The Q&A had a lot of information in it, I thought, although for some of it you had to read between the lines. If I had to sum it up, I would say there were three main messages:

  • Grinding is here to stay because it keeps the MAU metrics high, so suck it up.
  • Blizz has moved beyond Legion and is not prepared to devote any more big resources to fixing it.
  • Blizz will continue to develop the game with elite players as the target group. 

This is what I mean when I say Blizz has become stodgy and unimaginative. They are sticking with proven formulae, obeying their corporate masters on bottom lines and resource allocation and target venues. (I mean, even Lore is looking downright corporate these days!)  Yeah, sure, of course I want them to make money, but for crying out loud do they have to dump their original creative genius to do it? Were they really so hurt by WoD that they will no longer take any risks at all? What happened to the Blizz Dude that would have said, “Oops, my bad, man!” and laughed at himself but then shook it off and came back with even more intensity?

That Blizz got old and cautious and crotchety. It watches its diet now, and always wears slippers, and knows the value of staying regular.

Witnessing the slow decline of someone you love is never fun. Here’s your shawl, Auntie.

Trinkets and space

Last night, in what has become my virtual version of buying lottery tickets, I used my accumulated veiled argunite to purchase another trinket from the vendor on the Vindicaar. Trinkets are all I ever buy from him, since there is almost zero chance any of the other gear will turn out to be anything but vendor trash for me. Even my relics — while not the “perfect” trait enhancers sought by BM hunters — are pretty high level and honestly 7.3 has made me hate them for the twisted new level of RNG Blizz added because of addiction to high MAU metrics. I refuse to chase relics.

So I buy trinkets, mainly for the chance to get a level upgrade to one of the “good ones” from earlier in the expansion. Last night I won something like the consolation prize lottery by getting a 915 Unstable Arcanocrystal with a gem slot. I say “consolation” because it was only minimally titanforged (+5) and so is already kind of an ilevel drag on my gear, though not quite so much of a drag as the 860 one I only gave up about a month ago. Still, I was pretty happy to get it.

But even having gotten it, I am not going to stop my gambling habit on trinkets. I would love to get the BM hunter holy grail of trinkets, the Convergence of Fates. This was originally dropped by Elisande in Nighthold, but I have never gotten it, so I am only going on faith that it even exists. I will keep plunking down my currency for a chance on it, though.

I am not sure when it happened, but somewhere during WoD, I think, Blizz began to really explore the idea of special-purpose gear. That is, they thought it would be nifty if the gear for certain slots varied wildly in their effects, even though the items might be the same ilevel. It started with trinkets and has since spread to necks — although necks can be further tailored with enchants. I think the original idea was kind of creative, but of course in typical Blizz fashion, they have gone far past the bounds of good sense with it in Legion, to the point of ridiculousness.

Trinkets have become almost a per-fight specialty, and on top of that the utility of any one trinket depends heavily on one’s talent selections as well as on equipped legendaries and tier sets. What your “best” trinkets are will likely change if you swap out a legendary. In the same vein, getting a “great” trinket may well dictate what talent build and legendaries you need to select.

Trinket selection has become so difficult that even the supercomputer sims disagree on what is best for a given player. Without swapping talents or any other gear, for example, I get 3 completely different trinket combination recommendations from Beotorch, Raidbots, and AskMrRobot sim sites. For the same standard Patchwerk type fight. Blizz has apparently reached new heights of RNG-ness: Not only is it a crap shoot for getting gear and for that gear to have decent stats, but it is now also a crap shoot as to which gear you should equip. The mind boggles.

What this all means for the poor player — especially for the raiding player — is that we have to lug around most of our trinkets in our bags, lest we be caught short in a certain fight knowing we have just the right trinket for it but it is languishing in the bank. Even worse, the same logic pertains to legendaries and to some extent tier gear (several classes/specs still use 890-ish tier 19 gear because Blizz made it so much more powerful than the tier 20 stuff).

I am someone who likes open space, for interior decorating as well as for geography. To me, things look tidy when they are neatly placed with a lot of clear spaces around them. Clutter makes me feel powerless and overwhelmed. In WoW, I like neatly arranged bag space and bank slots. I use the addon ArkInventory because it lets me turn my bag and bank into well-organized closets. But even that does not help my state of mind if my storage space is crammed full. And Blizz has been steadily increasing the number of things we “have to” either carry around with us or keep available in the bank.

I have 136 slots in my bags (4 30-slot bags plus the stupidly archaic original 16-slot bag). Of those, 86 slots are perpetually filled with things I feel compelled to carry around:

  • 11 trinkets and 10 legendaries I might have to swap out in any given instance
  • 15 pieces of unequipped gear that might have to be swapped out to compensate for a different legendary or tier change or talent swap or — heaven forbid — spec swap
  • 4 hearthstone type items (Dal hearth, actual hearth, garrison hearth in case I get stuck, and whistle)
  • Miscellaneous specialized gear such as the Essence Swapper, Grapple Launcher, Skinning Knife, and Mother’s Skinning Knife (since this is actually a toy I might be able to drop it from my bag and just use the toy’s spell but I have not tried).
  • 6 types of food depending on the stat and/or health restoration rate I will need, plus feasts for raids. 21 different potions, flasks, and bandages as well as other enhancers like Stonehide Leather Barding, Leystone Hoofplates, drums, Tomes of the Tranquil Mind, Fel Focuser, and various runes.
  • Miscellaneous gear for champions, since you can only swap champion gear if you actually have it in your bag — if it is in the bank you have to go back and get it, then go back to your class hall and swap it out. And with 7.3, I frequently also have a slot occupied by those new follower types you get from the guy in Krokuun.

In all, of the 136 slots in my bags, only 50 — far fewer than half — are actually available for newly-acquired loot, or inevitable gray items from quests and killing, or gathered items, or maybe an extra gem or enchant. Do I actually need 50 or more slots for that stuff? No — especially since I can vendor it in the field using a mount — but it’s the idea that Blizz is requiring untidy clutter that annoys me, plus the fact that they keep piling it on. I feel like they keep adding “must-carry” items to the game because they know we all have very large storage space now so why not fill it up? (This, btw, is my spousal unit’s approach to things — he would cover every square inch of surface space in our house given a chance. Another example of opposites marrying each other …)

With that, I think I will start relaxing for the weekend by tidying up my sock drawer. Enjoy yours (weekend, not sock drawer).

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.