Cranky about the crucible

Yesterday we “finished” our grand entry into Argus, with the quest line unlocking the Netherlight Crucible. And while I suppose I am in favor of more power for our gear — in this case weapon — can I just say,

Blizz, have you completely lost your marbles?

This latest “addition” to Legion gear calculations — based on a new relic structure for the already-flawed artifact weapon concept — is almost a bridge too far for me. A few of my objections:

Blizz has spent all of Legion until 7.3 telling us not to worry about AP, that it will accumulate at an adequate pace just by our doing things in the game. They deliberately structured it to give significantly diminishing returns, because, they said, the last thing they would ever want to do is introduce a mandatory grind. So don’t sweat it, they said, don’t go out of your way to chase AP, they said, it’s no big deal, they said.

Then, suddenly, in 7.3, they introduce the Netherlight Crucible and ramp up the rate at which we accumulate AP, and guess what? OMG, YOU GOTTA INCREASE YOUR WEAPON LEVEL SO YOU CAN UNLOCK MORE SHIT ON IT! And all those over achievers that Blizz kept trying to discourage from chasing AP before — well they are now top of the heap by a significant amount, and everyone else who actually believed Blizz and did not chase AP — yup, that’s right, we are all playing catchup.

So problem number one I have with the crucible is — headline news here — Blizz lied to us. Again. They led us down a garden path from the beginning of Legion, and then suddenly pulled the rug out from under us, if I may mix my metaphors.

If this was a design reversal planned all along for Legion, it strikes me as sleazy not to have given us some warning from the start of the expansion. They could certainly have said that AP/weapon level would be slow and minor for the first half of the expansion but would become more important in the second half — that way we could have decided whether or not we wanted to try and max it out even though we would not see the benefits for a while. But at least we would have been able to make an informed choice based on our game goals.

If this was not planned from the beginning, then it seems like a dirty trick to suddenly and capriciously change the weapon structure to reward AP grinding after telling us not to worry about it. It makes me think Blizz is getting desperate, that they way over-promised content and timing for Legion, and now they are scrambling for anything to keep their Monthly Active User numbers high. The fact that it is a reversal of a design approach they lectured us about for a year means nothing to them in comparison to the need to maintain the metrics.

Problem number two I have with the crucible is that it is exceptionally poorly implemented for BM hunters. When Blizz embarked on the whole artifact weapon idea they really never came to grips with how vastly more complicated class balancing would be, and in truth they have still not figured out how to do it. (And while my comments pertain to BM hunters, there are several specs that Blizz arbitrarily buffed because frankly they could not figure out how to make the new relic structure work well with the very artifacts they themselves designed.)

In particular they seem to be totally clueless about how to implement beastmaster hunter artifact power. They created the spec as almost completely dependent on the power of pets versus direct player power, and they compounded this by making the BM artifact (a gun) mostly a fashion accessory while Hati is the true BM artifact. Curiously, though, having created this setup for BM hunters, Blizz is strangely resistant to the idea of giving hunter pets more power. They have no qualms about adding power to almost any other dps weapon, but they only grudgingly add it to hunter pets, and when they finally do, they do so very reluctantly, as if their mom is making them do it but they-don’t-wanna-they-don’t-wanna. Hati still does less damage than the regular hunter pet, is slower to attack a target, and will disappear for 30 seconds if the hunter’s pet dies and is rezzed in combat. No other class loses their artifact weapon in the middle of a fight, much less for 30 seconds.

And this mess is all before the new artifact weapon enhancements we get through the Netherlight Crucible. Blizz’s inability to balance the BM hunter’s weapon system (intertwining of personal weapon, pet, and Hati) has resulted in a situation where standard increases in the calculus of artifact weapons has ever-decreasing effect for the BM hunter, because Blizz simply refuses to give the appropriate power to pets even though they purposely designed the spec to be almost completely reliant on them for damage.

The upshot of all this is that BM hunter relics have always been far more dependent on specific traits being enhanced than on relic level, and this factor has even greater effect on BM hunters with the introduction of the Netherlight Crucible. It is so complex that Blizz has apparently thrown up their hands in surrender and out of desperation are giving BM hunters an across-the board buff to keep us from sinking even lower in the charts than we are now. If you want specifics about the Netherlight Crucible for BM hunters, check out Bendak’s piece on it.

Let me reiterate: the BM buff is being done as a desperate move to let us keep our heads above water. Blizz created the spec as it is in Legion, they created the complicated interaction of pets and Hati and Dire Beast and a gun and tier bonuses and legendaries, yet they are too damn lazy to deal with their mess in a “class fantasy” way. It is too hard, so they are giving the spec a generic buff because hell who cares about hunters anyway? Once again they are demonstrating we are the throwaway class, not worthy of spending any significant dev resources on.

Problem number three I have with the crucible is that it adds an entire new layer of complexity to what is already a vastly over-complicated gear system. Without the crucible we were already dealing with gear factors that include:

  • primary stats
  • secondary stats
  • gear ilevel
  • tier bonuses (from several tiers)
  • legendary special effects
  • specialized effects of trinkets and necks
  • artifact power level
  • artifact traits
  • relics

And now we have added three levels of additional bonuses and enhancements with the crucible. (Think it’s not complicated? Just try reading about the crucible and the new relic structure on Wowhead or someplace and tell me if you understand it. Even if you understand the basic premise, tell me you are confident that you will be able to select the best relic setup for your spec.)

Change any one of these factors, and it has a significant ripple effect on nearly every other factor. For example, changing either a talent or a legendary can change the order of importance of secondary stats. All that mastery, say, you have been stacking on your gear has become pretty mediocre because crit is now the top stat. In turn, that same ilevel 920 neck with all the mastery now becomes worse for you than the crit-heavy one you have in your bank. Your gems and enchants pegged to mastery become mediocre compared to crit. And so forth.

We are already at the point where it takes a bank of high-powered computers to determine which gear is best for us to equip, and I submit that we have actually gone past the point where even such computers are useful. For example, I love and use the Raidbots site. But the number of permutations I have to run just to select my best gearing strategy strains even that site. Running permutations in manageable chunks — say just trying to find the optimal trinkets for a certain Tomb fight — risks not taking into effect the cascading gear selection effect I described above. I might end up with a good recommendation for the best trinkets to go with the rest of my gear setup, but it’s very possible that the rest of the gear setup actually stinks for that fight and would need a different legendary, say, or a talent tweak. Which in turn would require a different set of coordinating gear. And as of yesterday, we get to add a complex set of new relic traits to this mix! My head hurts.

Now, to be fair, the damage differences we are talking about are frequently (but not always) fairly minor — a few thousand dps and that’s IF you can actually perform as perfectly as a sim bot. (Spoiler: almost no one can.) If you don’t need to eke out every possible damage point, and if you are willing to crank out 900k dps instead of a potential 1.1 million, for example, then it is far easier just to go with your gut, using a couple of generic rules like stack mastery or whatever. And the new relic system? Meh, just select a couple of traits at random and go with what feels right. There are a lot of circumstances where this strategy works just fine.

But you don’t have to be a hardcore Mythic raider to be in situations where a few thousand dps actually does make a difference (say, heroic Kil’jaeden or even just a personal desire to optimize your play potential), but Blizz has made the calculations for achieving these extra points complex beyond the ability of most humans to deal with. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me why, given the already borderline chaos-theory gear and talent structure, Blizz decided to add the additional complicating factor of a new relic structure.

Yeah, this is why I am cranky about the Netherlight Crucible.

Never-ending grinds

Tier 20 Set Bonuses
The latest PTR build added Tier 20 set bonuses. Keep in mind that these haven’t been tuned, some are missing, and some have already been changed.

When I saw this little blurb in MMO-C, I pretty much just wanted to give up. Seriously? T20 is on its way? While unlucky sods like myself are still grubbing for their 3rd and 4th pieces of T19? Why am I bothering? Because, if history holds, I will get my 4th piece of T19 the day before 7.2 goes live. If I get it at all.

And to be honest, I am still irate that Blizz — once again — pulled a fast one on hunters for the T19. For the entire time that 7.1.5 was on the PTR — and in fact from the time we first got any inkling of the T19 sets — all the gear tooltips said this:

(2) Set (Beast Mastery): Dire Beast reduces the cooldown of Bestial Wrath by an additional 8 sec.
(4) Set (Beast Mastery): When you use Bestial Wrath, all of your currently summoned Dire Beasts gain 50% increased damage for 15 sec.

Finally, I thought, there is a reason to actually seek and equip a 2pc tier set. I might have a chance at last to derive some actual bonus from the 2pc set I almost always end up with, try though I may to get the 4pc set. I was optimistic. In fact, I was over the top when, on the first night of the patch going live, I got my first piece of tier! WOOHOO, I am on my way, I thought! Though I had not done any of the math, I felt certain that the additional 8-second cooldown of Bestial Wrath was a much more effective bonus than the contorted situation you would have to be in for the 4pc bonus to make a noticeable difference — that is, have multiple Dire Beasts up (RNG-dependent situation) with most of their active time still remaining, at exactly the same time BW comes off cooldown.

HAHAHAHAHA! Stupid gullible me. When I got that first piece and made some comment in raid chat about the nice 2pc bonus, another hunter said he was not that impressed with it, that the 4pc looked much more powerful. Sure enough, I double checked, and Blizz had apparently and sneakily reversed the bonus effects of the 2pc and 4pc sets, between the time the PTR came down and the patch went live. Even worse, they never announced the change — it was one of their famous stealth nerfs. 

See, this is just mean, there is no other way to put it. It may have been a result of sheer staggering incompetence rather than diabolical intent (recall they did not even have their stuff together enough to get patch notes out until a couple of hours before the patch went live), but no matter what the reason, I perceived it to be yet another example of Blizz selling out hunters. They just do not give a damn, because hell it’s only hunters, we can screw them over whenever we want.

Anyway, I got 2 pieces of tier in 2 nights of raiding, and of course I have seen no more pieces — other than duplicates — since then.

And now we know there will be yet another tier set in 7.2. A first look at the bonuses for it seem to indicate that once again the 2pc is a yawner and the 4pc is significant, but history tells us there is no way to know what they will be until the patch actually goes live, so it is futile to test it out at this point. Blizz can capriciously change it on a whim.

In the bigger picture,  the sinking, gut-punch feeling I had when I read about a new tier set in 7.2 really kind of sums up the worst aspect of Legion for me: it is a soul-sucking endless chase. It is one thing, I think, to provide “content” — things like world quests, weekly bonus events, additional zones, repeatable dungeons in the form of Mythic+, and additional quest lines like the Suramar ones. It is quite another to introduce mechanics that, by design, can never be “finished”.

I am not an obsessive achievement hound or completionist, I am not bothered by having unfinished achievements lying around. But there is something that just wears me down about the infinite pursuit of AP for never-ending weapon traits, something completely demoralizing about the lottery-ticket approach to getting items like profession recipes and what have become critical legendary gear. These things are not “content” — they are ass-kicking grinds, the very thing Ion Hazzikostas professes to despise. Except these grinds, unlike others in the game, have absolutely zero guarantee of success — you could theoretically keep at them 24/7 and still not achieve your goal. They are designed to manipulate, like dangling the never-to-be-obtained carrot in front of the horse to make him run faster.

As I was writing this, we got a lengthy Blue Post from Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas in one of the forums. Let me say up front that this is exactly the kind of post I love getting. It is detailed and thoughtful, and it really helps players understand a crucial aspect of the game — in this case, Blizz’s thinking on the whole Legion AP grind. I happen to not totally agree with the implications of some of the new AP design Watcher lays out, but that is just a difference of opinion. Reasonable people can respectfully disagree on many points, and of course it is Blizz’s game not mine, and they can design it any way they please. I am encouraged, though, when they have enough respect for the player base to explain why certain mechanics are as they are, and to lay out remedy plans when the mechanics do not work out as intended.

Anyway, I am not going to repeat the whole Blue Post here, I encourage you to read it. But the main point is that Blizz has identified some problems with the AP mechanic, and they are making some major changes to it in 7.2. Specifically, Blizz intends to address two problems:

  • The fact that the last 20 points of artifact traits require more or less the same amount of AP each (slight arithmetic progression), whereas the first 34 require exponentially-increasing amounts of AP.
    • The unintended result of this is that, for the last 20 artifact traits, players putting in 40 hours a week can in fact get twice the artifact power in a week than can players putting in 20 hours a week.
    • This is exactly the situation Blizz was trying to avoid, and which they did avoid with the first 34 traits. That is, they wanted to lessen the power gap between players who play a lot of hours and those with less available time but maybe the same degree of interest.
  • Some activities currently reward inappropriate amounts of AP, when weighed against time spent and level played. For example, short “Maw runs” have emerged as the best and fastest way to earn max AP each week. These normal Mythic runs award more than, say, hours spent in Nighthold, or running more difficult Mythic+ instances, or cranking out lots of World Quests.

Watcher explains all this by way of more or less preparing us for some major changes to AP in 7.2.

  • First, we can expect what seem to be insane amounts of AP for each new 7.2 artifact trait, so as to narrow the gap in weapon power between the top end and the middle-of-the road players.
  • Second, there will be some adjustments to the amounts of AP earned by various activities — specifically, it will no longer be possible to chain run regular Mythics as the fastest way to get large amounts of AP;  other more advanced activities will award proportionately more AP per time unit spent; and “harder” Mythic instances will also award more AP than, say, a quick Maw run.

I understand why these changes are being made, and it seems like they may well be a partial solution to the problems Watcher laid out in his post. I am skeptical, however, that they will accomplish the lofty ideal he laid out as his conclusion:

All of the above changes are aimed at allowing players the freedom and flexibility to decide how they want to spend their time, and which goals they wish to pursue, while limiting the difference in power between players who arrive at different answers to those questions.

I don’t actually know if these changes will improve the game for me or not. I think they may well exacerbate the problem with leveling and gearing alts, for example. And I am not certain that they will, as Watcher claims in the body of his post, make it easier to develop off specs for one’s main.

Last, I think they will magnify my main complaint about the whole artifact and AP thing: it is one of the main factors contributing to the part of Legion I perceive as an endless, Sisyphean, soul-crushing grind. I know this is not a Blizz concern, it certainly plays no part in the announced changes to AP. But it still is important to me.

And on that note, let the weekend begin!