Of elves and factions

As I did not have full use of my mouse hand over the weekend, I played WoW very little, but instead spent much of my normal game time perusing reddit and the Blizz forums. I can report that the level of discourse on these has not, for the most part, changed much over the last couple of years. I suppose in a way that is good because it means it has not gotten worse, but on the other hand it has not improved either.

While I may bemoan the sad state of the art of debate these days — it usually devolves into “I have the only correct opinion and if you disagree with me then YOU ARE A MORON OF QUESTIONABLE LINEAGE!!” — I do occasionally find some interesting nuggets in the various popular forums. Mainly I like to look at them to discern some meta-opinions and revelations about the game and its players.

One of the most amazing — to me — forum topics for the last few days has been on the subject of High Elves.

I am thunderstruck at the depth of emotion on this subject. I didn’t even know it was a thing, but apparently it is a really big thing for some very vocal players. The best I can understand, players are upset by Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas’s annoucement last Thursday that High Elves would not be a possible allied race, at least not in the foreseeable future. His reasoning was that Blood Elves really are High Elves in all but name, and Blizz doesn’t know how to draw them any differently, thus no HE. Unfortunately for Alliance HE proponents, he then added a somewhat snarky comment (thus reverting to his usual treatment of players) that if you want to play a HE then go Horde and be a Blood Elf. I think his exact words were “the Horde is waiting for you”.

Well. Judging by the hundreds of comments, you would think MGDH had come to your house drunk, pooped in the living room, insulted your mom, and spray painted graffiti on your car. There was indignation to spare, and forum contributors can’t seem to move on from this Ultimate Insult To Their Sensibilities. High Elves are NOT the same as Blood Elves, they are not they are not they are not! (stamping of feet, pounding of fists, and shrieks of outrage)

I am reminded of the saying, often wrongly attributed to Henry Kissinger, that goes something like, “Academic debates are so nasty mainly because the stakes are so low.”

Yeah. To me, an elf is an elf in WoW, and the game already probably has too many different flavors of them. Who cares? (I tried to read up on them here but almost passed out from boredom a couple of paragraphs in.)

But the raging “debate” has at least one interesting aspect.

It may be part of a deliberate Blizz move to even out a perceived moral (and possibly also population) gap between Alliance and Horde. Consider:

  • Horde was definitely given an advantage when the idea of allied races was first introduced — that is, the faction rep prerequisites for Horde to open up allied races were decidedly easier than for Alliance. Horde rep was from factions many players got simply by leveling to 110 — exalted with Highmountain for one race, exalted with the Nightfallen and completion of the Suramar quest line for the other race. Alliance rep requirements, on the other hand, were for the much more grindy and arguably harder factions on Argus — exalted with Argussian Reach for one race, Army of the Light for the other.
  • While the initial allied races were evenly split 2-2 between Horde and Alliance, there was a great deal more excitement among players for the mount available in the 8.0 Horde allied race Zandalari Trolls. This is clearly a real incentive for many players. I don’t know of any similar widespread excitement over Alliance allied races, even though a great many hunters are pretty stoked over Darkiron Dwarves.
  • I think MGDH’s snarky comment about if you want to be a HE you need to go Horde was no accident or off-the-cuff remark. I think it was calculated. Blizz knows what a draw High Elves are to many players. While it is unlikely that the comment will cause droves of players to roll a Horde character just for that, there are undoubtedly players like me who never realized the connection between Blood Elves and High Elves, and the artistic rendering that is the same for both except for maybe eye color. Also, a comment like this is very typical of the kind of thing people  say when they have decided to work an idea in to as many conversations as they can.
  • Last, MGDH made some cryptic statement towards the end of the Q&A about the relative moral compasses of Horde and Alliance. I don’t have the exact words, but it was a pretty remarkable series of  hints about both sides “worrying” about becoming evil, that the idea of the Horde being just a bunch of bad guys is patently false, and a couple other statements about Horde being more complicated than many players think.

I think most people playing WoW understand that the Horde is not a monolithic tower of evil, just as they understand there are good and bad Alliance members. I have said before that I think people who prefer to play Horde are drawn to complexity and nuance, whereas people like me who always come down on the side of the Alliance are more comfortable with binary distinctions of Good and Evil. For myself, that is a conscious decision I made in order to make a computer game less like the complicated real world and more of a fantasy escape mechanism. But I get that others like the more gray areas that seem part and parcel of Horde faction definition.

Whatever the composition of the iconic WoW factions, MGDH’s last set of comments definitely gave me the feeling that in BfA we will see a merging of the “morality” of Horde and Alliance. Whether that degenerates into a stereotype of “Hordies need love, too” or some version of “the orc with the heart of gold” remains to be seen, but I think after BfA people like me may no longer harbor illusions that WoW is a clear fight between Good and Evil, and the Alliance is the Good side.

However it comes down, I do see a rather concerted effort in the upcoming expansion to rekindle player loyalty to either Horde or Alliance, with a side goal of increasing player participation in the Horde side, possibly at the expense of pulling some players from the Alliance.

All this from a High Elf tantrum in the forums…

New leveling, continued

In Friday’s post, I described my experiences so far with leveling a void elf under the new leveling structure. As nearly all of my weekend play time was spent leveling my new alt, this will be an update on additional observations.

Having now played a total of 17 hours in the new system on my void elf, I have to say I still have mixed feelings about the leveling and zone changes.

In my 17 hours I managed to get my VE to level 50. Allowing for the fact that they start at level 20, and allowing some non-leveling time for afk’s, incorporating new talents into action bars, setting up a bank and getting new bags, running back and forth to the Darkmoon Faire to get the leveling buff, etc., that is probably — very roughly — 2 levels per hour. (Not sure how much the DMF buff speeded things up, but it did help a little, even though it seemed like every time I freshly applied it, my next series of quests involved long intervals of road travel, with not much actual leveling going on. 😡)

That really is not a bad rate, but it is quite a bit slower than before the patch, so of course it feels really tedious. (Plus, I expect that rate to slow as I get higher.) These days I consider myself to be an efficient leveler — not a speed leveler, but also not wasting time on things like professions and extraneous exploration. I handicapped myself a bit this time by choosing a mage to level, and an arcane one at that. One of my guildies started out yesterday at almost the same level I was, and by the end of the day she had reached 60 while I only got to 50, playing about the same number of hours. But she is leveling a monk, and that xp buff they get is pretty significant. Also, my leveling an arcane mage means I have to spend time after every 2-3 pulls to replenish mana (arcane really eats mana fast) and health (squishy clothie). It adds up.

Pluses so far:

I do like the idea that I can select any zone I want to level in. For example, I am really burned out on Redridge, so I am avoiding it this time around. I did Western Plaguelands but when it came time to go to what traditionally would have been the next zone — Eastern Plaguelands, which I hate with a passion — I opted for Theramore instead. You can jump from zone to zone or continent to continent easily and not suffer any bad effects on the leveling process. (With the possible exception of some additional travel time.)

I also like the addition of zone quest sets. I was never big on going after the Loremaster achievement, but I do like the mini-achievements you get now when you finish a set of related quests in a zone.

I still like the heirloom gear, even after Blizz nerfed it. (A lot.) It saves me having to re-equip most gear after quests, and of course the added transmog expenses every time you re-equip. (Because of course fashion while questing is everything, Dahling!) Yeah, I know void elves get a slight break on transmog costs, but I am still a cheapskate in that area. (More about heirloom gear below.)

Minuses so far:

Something that did not occur to me before I started this process, but which I now find is pretty important, is that I never get the “oh, I must be making progress” feeling, because every mob is always pretty hard. They level up as I do, so I never get that “cool, this used to be hard but now they are dying much faster” internal feedback. Everything is just as difficult at level 50 as it was at level 20, even the exact same mobs.

In some ways, this absence of a sense of progression reminds me of the Legion AP chase — you never really feel like you have finished anything, it just grinds on and on with no noticeable change. Leveling an alt is now like leveling your artifact weapon, and it feels bad. I am astounded that Blizz just does not seem to understand this. It apparently is not important to the devs, but I can assure them it is very important to the majority of players.

I have not done any dungeons, so I can’t speak firsthand as to how or if that would affect the leveling process. However, the guildie I mentioned above ran a few on a different alt — a tank she is leveling — and described her experiences as a “disaster”, mainly because healers just could not keep up with the extra damage to the tank and dps. She is an excellent tank, knows the fights and is very situationally aware when it comes to pulling, and she will stop to let healers get mana and such, so when she says dungeons are “disasters” I tend to put some stock in it. If they give extra xp, is it really worth it if they take longer to do and require more repair costs?

I have also heard that the healer leveling process is significantly more difficult now than before the changes (if any of you have direct experience with this, chime in). Of course, it is not new that some classes and specs have an easier time leveling than others, this has always been the case. But I wonder if the new system, because of rushed testing or slipshod balancing, disproportionately punishes the “loser” classes and roles. It’s just a thought, I really have no data to go further with it.

Doing a major overhaul of the entire leveling system is certainly a daunting task, and I suppose we should be somewhat understanding if Blizz has not covered all its bases in the process. But honestly, my patience shelves for Blizz are pretty bare these days. They seem to rush things out the door, rarely if ever listening or reacting to the serious feedback they claim to want from players.

Not everyone wants the new prescribed and approved leveling “experience” every time they level an alt. The forums are full of people loudly braying this truism. It seems to me that Blizz might, for a change, listen to the drumbeat behind the comments and realize they could actually — and easily — appease both camps in this case. They could keep the new system in place, but structure heirlooms this way:

  • Keep the new nerfed versions, but add a level of enhancement, based on the player having attained certain achievements (max level, certain level of gear, certain reps, a high level quest chain, whatever) on at least one character.
  • The new enhancement would be purchased tokens, applied to each piece of heirloom gear after each has reached level Level 3 for that piece.
  • This new “Level 4” token would go into effect immediately and would basically grant greater gear power (yes, rendering mobs and many bosses trivial), as well as significantly increase the xp bonus for each piece. (Essentially restoring the old leveling experience.)
  • The token would be applied once the heirloom gear was equipped and soulbound, thus applying only to the character being leveled. (Like enchants do now.) If a player wished to level another alt, they would have to re-purchase these speed tokens for that alt.
  • The cost of the tokens should be reasonable, neither too cheap nor prohibitively expensive, maybe something like a few hundred gold each.
  • Players not wishing to rush through the leveling experience would not have to add this token and would get the full benefit of whatever “immersive experience” they want. (Of course there would be the inevitable argument of “I love playing this way, and so everyone else should have to play that way, too”, but that is an argument that should be ignored.)

I honestly do not see who would lose with such a system (except, probably the Blizz execs who now equate “tedious grinding” with “my quarterly MAU bonus”). But I think what Blizz has done with the new leveling system actually will discourage some players from leveling new alts (especially once the newness of Allied races has worn off), and by giving an option for speed leveling it might entice more players to participate, which in the long run will increase MAU.

None of this will happen, of course. First, Blizz has shown they do not give a rat’s ass if players feel they are being shoved into one endless grind after another. (All while Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas sanctimoniously tut-tuts about the evils of “grinding”, a prime example of alternative-reality thinking.) Second, Blizz is in the midst of a major game redirection — ongoing now for a couple of years — away from any form of player option or choice and towards a highly centralized and prescribed play style.

Meanwhile, I need more mage food.

Mixed alt messages

Over the weekend I spent a few hours on my outlaw rogue alt. I like this alt, but he is not one of my “main” alts, if there is such a thing. He was already at 110 and had worked through the basic parts of Broken Shore and the class hall quest lines (but not the class mount one), but he had done nothing more than the intro quest to just get him aboard the Vindicaar.

The reason I hauled him out of mothballs is because he is my inscriptionist, and I usually provide most of the vantus runes we hand out in raid while we are doing progression. I craft them and send them to the RL, who passes them out to the raid just before whichever boss we think will be the toughest one for the week. They may be a crutch, but we have found they often make that small bit of difference — especially early on in a tier — that lets us walk away with a kill instead of a series of wipes.

So I dusted him off and ran a quick LFR to get the level 1 vantus rune recipe for Antorus the Burning Throne. My experience, if anyone is interested, is that it takes approximately 100 herbs at level 1 to mill enough mats to make one vantus rune, maybe a bit less with Dreamleaf which gives a bonus, or Astral Glory which seems to have a higher drop rate. So about 2000 herbs — 10 full stacks — for 20 vantus runes. Last tier I never did get beyond the level 1 recipe, mainly because of course the higher levels are random drops in the raid itself. (*sigh* RNG is such fun™)

Of course, if I regularly ran LFR on my rogue, I would theoretically increase my chances to get the level 2 technique, paving the way for level 3 and greatly decreased mat requirements. To make that LFR experience a little more pleasant, I figured doing Argus dailies and invasions would help gear him up (he is currently sitting at something like 905 ilvl) and increase his artifact level/effectiveness.

Unfortunately, for some reason Blizz has seen fit to require that every character has to unlock the various Argus dailies. It is not an account-wide achievement. At this point someone will inevitably assert something like, “Oh, you can knock those quests out in 20 minutes,” but trust me that is just not true. It takes me hours, and I suspect that is the case for most people. My rogue is the 4th character I have taken through the process, and it is starting to get old.

Blizz will proudly list for us all the “alt-friendly” changes they have made to Legion, and I do not deny they have made quite a few. But the fact remains that Legion started out as probably the most alt-hostile expansion in recent history, so to throw us a few bones that serve to make it only slightly less alt-hostile is not much to brag about in my opinion. Ion Hazzikostas believes that the only legitimate way to play alts is to force them into the same end game cattle chute as a main, and he has finally shaped the game to implement his personal opinion on the matter.

Now, finally, my point. Legion — by design — discourages alt play. I suspect (of course I do not have any publicly disclosed numbers to back this up) Blizz has seen the number of alts at max level take a nosedive in this expansion. By introducing Allied Races, suddenly Blizz is encouraging us to start brand new alts. Why the new ones? Why not just make some more changes that will nudge us to finally spend time with the ones we have?

As an aside, I am totally confused about what Patch 7.3.5. will bring. Suddenly it seems like it will include a whole bunch of things I could swear we were told at Blizzcon would be part of Battle for Azeroth. What gives? Has Blizz discovered they cannot possibly meet a reasonable BfA deadline and thus need to give us a bunch of new shinies to keep us busy? Are some of the promised changes so complex that they need to use 7.3.5 as a testing ground for them? Have they given up on making significant class balance changes — as they told us every “dot 5” patch would be — and need something else to make it seem like a major patch? Maybe it is all part of a grand plan for 7.3.5 to ooze into BfA, but it sure is confusing.

It is true that players have been whining for new races for a while now, so certainly this will be a popular move. But consider:

  • You cannot start one until you have met some rather lengthy max-level rep requirements on your main (and possibly other requirements, too, we don’t really know yet for sure).
  • The new alt leveling will coincide with what from all reports is a significantly lengthened leveling process due to Blizz’s zone leveling and increase of XP required for most levels.
  • Just encouraging players to play with alts they already have would absolutely not require as much play time as leveling a new one under these circumstances.
  • It will come at the end of an expansion, historically the time when players lose interest and go do other leisure activities until the next expansion.

Yeah. It is almost certain that the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric is at work here, notably the need to maintain high MAU numbers as a corporate measure of a game’s success. Although Blizz has often said the nature of WoW is that it is cyclical, and it is something they plan for and accept, clearly they are working furiously to change that business plan.

Will I level a new Allied Race alt? Sure, and I expect it will be a nice distraction during the waning days of Legion. My choice, even though I know I am being manipulated: Blizz discourages me from playing alts, except the ones they approve of, at the time they approve of, at the leveling pace they approve of, with the preconditions they have set.

I love Big Brother, and there are five lights. Life is so much easier when you accept these things.