Chasing the carrot

I am not what anyone would call an achievement hog (or the other terminology where you leave off the “g”). I do not really go out of my way to check off unfinished tasks in my WoW log. Most of my achievements are there as a by-product of my normal play style, and in any guild ranking by achievement points I am pretty far down the list. I am happy to participate in guild achievement nights, and I am always ready to help others get special achievements, but left to my own devices I generally do not directly pursue them unless they lead to something else I really want. (Achievements to unlock flying would be an example.)

But that does not mean I am not goal-driven. It’s just that I prefer to set my own goals rather than have Blizz list them out for me. As I have explained before in this blog, I set pretty much the same goals for myself at the start of every expansion, roughly:

  • Progress through every raid tier at whatever level of play my raid team is doing.
  • Gear my main to approximately whatever the “max” level is for the level of raids I run.
  • Max out all my professions on all my characters.
  • Level all my alts, at least to LFR minimums.
  • Spend enough play time with my alts to be minimally proficient with them.
  • Develop one or two alts to be able to do normal raid mode.

I get a real feeling of satisfaction when I judge that I have reached these goals.

My frustration with Legion is that, for many of these goals, Blizz has either vastly increased the time necessary to do them, or they keep moving the line to where I can never really feel I have completed them. Both factors tend to make most of these personal goals unattainable. I only have so much play time available, for example, and if gearing up an alt (mainly artifact AP) takes twice as long as in a previous expansion, then I will only be able to gear up half as many alts. (That’s not the actual ratio, but you get the idea.)

But the most frustrating part of all this has been that it is not possible to “finish” my main’s artifact (and thus gear) leveling because Blizz keeps introducing more and more levels of power to it. Consider:

  • They initially told us once we got all the basic traits done and got to the final gold trait, anything beyond that would be minimal and we should not feel we had to diligently pursue it.
  • Then along came a patch and lo and behold they added a whole new set of traits we had to build until we got to “Convergence” on our weapons.
  • But after that, said Blizz, no worries, anything beyond that would be minimal and we should not feel we had to diligently pursue it.
  • Then of course along came patch 7.3, and Blizz once again yanked the football away and pushed us to chase billions and billions of AP every week to fill in — yes, you guessed it — another trait table, this one based on relic slots!

As usual, now they are reassuring us that once we get all relic levels unlocked, any further increases to artifact power are minimal and we should not feel we have to bust our sweet little asses pursuing AP after that.

Mmmmmmm-hmmm. Sure.

This is all old news, of course. We should no longer be surprised when Blizz lies to us time after time. (Remember their progressive lies about the role of garrisons in WoD.) “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” We have all rightly complained a lot about the endless AP grind in Legion, and even Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas seemed to realize it in a couple of oblique comments in yesterday’s dev Q&A.

The thing is, this will not change in Battle for Azeroth. We will not have an artifact weapon, but instead we will have at least 4 pieces of artifact-type gear. The mechanics will be different, but these things will not:

  • We will be required to have one certain piece of gear (the neck piece) in order to even function in the expansion. This is like our being required to have an artifact weapon in Legion. It is not possible to participate in the expansion without it.
  • The neck piece will in effect control the trait tables for at least 3 other pieces of gear. We will have to “progress” the neck piece in order to unlock various traits capabilities for other gear slots. Sound familiar?
  • Our artifact weapon special gear will gain power by our accumulation of massive amounts of artifact power azerite. We will get this by participating in the MAU-enhancing activities Blizz designates. For the entire expansion.

No matter what Blizz says about powering up the new gear, you can take it to the bank that the enhancement process will be never-ending. For anyone wishing to raid or even to do Mythic+ (Blizz’s new stealth raiding activity), there will be no logical stopping points. As soon as there starts to be a slight dip in MAU, Blizz will introduce an entirely new set of powers to be unlocked by diligently chasing more azerite. Count on it.

And so, finally, here is my point: I do not know how much longer I can continue chasing something I can never catch in this game. I am not sure I can reset my brain to give up a set of personal goals that have served me well ever since I began playing WoW. There is a slow burning anger in me that Blizz so cavalierly devalues my goals and my play style, and a growing nugget of rage that not only do they tell me what my goals will be but that they keep moving those goals further down the field. 

No, I am not going to rage quit. I will wait and see what BfA brings. In the big picture, when I engage my logic rather than my emotions, I know it is still an amazing game. I must certainly be having fun with it, because otherwise I would have quit long ago.

But I cannot shake the feeling that each time I log on I am being backed into a smaller and smaller corner, being forced into a play style and set of game activities set not by me but by Blizz. If I may shift metaphors here, I am sick of having a carrot tied to my head so that no matter how fast I run I can never catch it, and I am sick of Blizz telling me a continuous stream of lies about my chances of doing it.

I want the damn carrot, Blizz!

Next week is American Thanksgiving week, and I will be taking a blog vacation during that time to tend to relatives and cooking and football. Look for me back here on November 27th. For those of you who celebrate turkey day, enjoy!

Let’s talk AP

I don’t normally post on Tuesdays or Thursdays, but today I felt the need to comment. With the reset,  Blizz announced in the latest hotfixes that the cap on artifact knowledge (AK) will now be 40 instead of 50, the level it was set to at the beginning of 7.2. Their reasoning is worth quoting (emphasis mine):

Developers’ Notes: We raised the Knowledge cap from 40 to 50 very late in the 7.2 PTR cycle, out of an abundance of caution: We wanted to ensure that players of all playstyles, as well as alt characters, would view the Concordance trait as accessible. However, between the additional Artifact Power gains added in 7.2 and others that were hotfixed in after the patch released, we’re now well ahead of that mark. Knowledge 40 now seems more than sufficient for players to reach Concordance, and the prospect of months’ worth of additional Knowledge still left to research makes some players feel like their efforts in the interim aren’t meaningful. Therefore, we’re rolling the cap back to 40.

Just so we’re clear — Blizz claims they rolled back the cap out of concern that we would feel like we were doing an endless grind for something we might never attain.

Yes, they actually wrote that. With no apparent sense of irony, much less shame.

First, let’s translate their concern into what I suspect is really going on: Blizz has noticed a decline in the number of players chasing artifact power through world quests and mythic instances. They theorized, possibly correctly, that these players were instead stacking AK so that when they did start chasing AP again they could accumulate it faster. That is, if now it takes you a week of world quests and the odd instance or raid to get that next trait that costs 300 million or 600 million AP, or whatever level you are at, why not instead just keep working on AK and get to the point where you can get that next trait doing just one or two WQs?

If you are reaching your saturation point with Legion anyway and would just as soon spend less time playing, this strategy seems like one way to make that happen. All you have to do is use your mobile app to keep hitting your AK research button on time, take a break from WoW, and when you come back you can easily catch up on your AP and artifact traits with just a few world quests.

This, of course, hits Blizz where it hurts: the Monthly Active User metric. Clearly, they had to do something about this threat to their bottom line. And the solution is to cap AK so that players cannot stay away for very long and still be able to catch up.

See, in my fantasy world, Blizz would admit this and we would move on. Instead, they tell us how concerned they are about us having to grind endlessly for something we might perceive as unattainable. When in fact what they are concerned about is that some players might actually have found a way to ease the endless grind for artifact power and traits. That grind, of course, is not only good according to Blizz, but is one of the finest features of Legion.

Puh-leeze. Once again, Blizz has demonstrated, with this specious explanation, their total contempt for their player base, their corporate opinion that we are all a bunch of idiots who will believe anything they say.

For the record, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about the rate at which I accumulate AP once I get my Concordance trait, because I don’t care if I get another tiny increase in artifact power or not. Ever. The implementation of endless artifact traits and endless AP to attain them is hands down the worst part of Legion, and for Blizz to claim that clicking a button to increase the rate at which we accumulate AP is a horrible grind they must save us from would be laughable if it were not so vastly hypocritical. I am insulted not by Blizz’s action but rather by their ridiculous lie about why they are doing it.

 

Summer blahs

For about the last week, I have found myself in the weird mode of being almost completely uninterested in the game, while at the same time close to panicking because I have too much to do to be this close to Legion. It is a very strange feeling, and I don’t remember having it prior to other expansions.

I am by nature and training an organizer and planner, so usually by this point I have completed my on-paper planning and am deep into execution phase — cleaning out banks, consolidating gold stashes, ruthlessly auctioning or vendoring or DE-ing everything I can, doing final gearing up of alts, finishing up achievements I know I want (and have a shot at) before the end of the current expansion, etc. I did a little of that a few weeks ago, on a big-hand-little-map scale*, but I just can’t make myself get  interested in fleshing out the overall plan.

I think one reason for my disinterest in planning is my perception that the Legion changes are just overwhelming, it seems too daunting to even try to plan for it. I don’t remember feeling this helpless prior to other expansions, they always seemed manageable to me. But honestly, even after spending quite a few hours on the beta and in the PTR, I still feel like I have no real grasp of important mechanics like the interplay among all the various character and artifact spells, talents, glyphs, gear stats, runes, knowledge trees, what have you. Really I am lost, even on a hunter which is a class I have played as a main now for going on 9 years. I have literally zero confidence in my ability to select a good functional talent path for my artifact, in my ability to properly choose and change out my character talents to fit the specific scenario I am facing, or in my ability to determine which pieces of similar-level gear are best for my spec. Zero. Thank god for AskMrRobot is all I can say.

The learning curve for intelligent, skilled play in Legion — even for veteran players — is in my opinion much steeper than it has been in any other expansion, and something just seems fundamentally wrong to me about that. Change, yes, by all means, but complete rebuilds from the ground up? No.

Let’s be honest, there is no chance whatsoever that the majority of players will be able to figure out efficient character and artifact builds on their own. They will either go to a third party site and copy some template, or they will give up and just pick something at random with no thought to how the choice affects their other talents and spells or how it helps or hinders them for soloing, for AoE situations, whatever. Blizz loves to bloviate about how they want us to have “meaningful choices” in our talent selections, etc., but they completely negate that line of thought when they make the interactions between all the factors so complex that most people are reduced to a crap shoot in their selections.

So I feel like there is a gigantic hammer about to come down on my head with Legion class changes, and I am very worried about it, but at the same time there seems nothing I can reasonably do to prepare for it. Just keep glancing up and be ready to duck. Definition of stress.

Another reason I am not especially interested in the game now is that I think it is too late to do much about gearing any alts. With one exception, they are all above 700 gear level, which I think is fine for starting Legion. So I am not interested in chasing valor, or doing any of the weekly bonus events, or grubbing for felblight to upgrade crafted gear on them. I am finishing up the legendary ring on my rogue, so that means weekly LFR clears of HFC, and that is becoming more and more painful with each passing week. This week I got a grand total of 3 tomes from 13 bosses, a new low for me. It was demoralizing, I still have 4 more to go, and if I have a similar week next week I won’t even get them then. LFR has become beyond intolerable for me, I have to force myself to do it. The only thing that keeps me going is that I have promised myself once I get the tomes on my rogue, I will not step foot in it again until the Legion LFR tier kicks in, hopefully at least 2-3 months from now. Months of freedom from LFR, what a great thought!

Other than trying to get all the gold I can from missions, I am done with my garrisons. There is no point in gathering more profession cooldown mats, or WoD herbs or furs or ore or leather. I have a lot of all of these things in case they become useful in Legion. I will probably tear down at least one profession hut on each alt and build an enchanting hut, with the hope that I can DE Legion gear in them. (Hmmm. I actually don’t know if this will be possible. It should, but of course knowing Blizz, that would be too useful to players and so must be prevented at all costs… I need to try it tonight.)

I would clean out my banks, but until the pre-patch I don’t feel comfortable getting rid of all my saved gear for transmog.

I would like to do some rearranging of my alt profession structure, if it will be necessary, but Blizz is still being coy about the whole mechanism for Blood of Sargeras in Legion, sometimes saying you better have one gathering profession on every character and sometimes saying they are going to increase the drop rates for non-gathering activities because having two crafting professions is not wrong as Watcher may have mistakenly said…  I find this just infuriating, why be so opaque about it? Just tell us the plan, for crying out loud, throw us a damn bone for once. My tolerance for this kind of smarmy cuteness is very low just now.

So I guess I feel like I am forced to be marking time in the game now, even though there are tons of things I would like to be doing. It is not a comfortable feeling. Like when I was a kid and starting summer vacation — I had lots of projects and plans, but they were all pegged to later in the summer, dependent on other people’s  schedules, so I would find myself in an enforced wait mode. Not something an impatient person like myself does very well.

Summer blahs.

* Big hand, little map reference. When I was an Army operational planner, we had a standing joke about senior commanders who would come in to our planning sessions, stare at a map, then sweep their hand broadly over about half the map and growl something like, “What I want is a fixing attack here, with the main attack driving into their flank from this direction” (another big hand swoosh over the other half of the map). No matter that maybe there were only goat paths through those areas, or there were swamps or mountains or cities that would bog down any forces trying to pass through. It was easy doing the big-hand sweeps, unimaginably complex breaking it down into actual movement-to-contact routes for brigades, battalions, or companies.

Overly complex, overly simple

I have been dipping my toe into Legion, via the PTR and the beta, now for a little over a week, and so far my strongest impression is one of total confusion. I cannot keep track of all the various “things” I need to be working on, mainly because I have absolutely zero idea of how many things I should be trying to level and how they interact with each other. Take this “explanation” from Ion Hazzikostas supposedly enlightening us all on the details of artifacts weapons, artifact power, artifact knowledge, artifact traits and talents, class hall research and research tomes, and for all I know if you read it backwards and upside down it may reveal where Jimmy Hoffa is buried or summon Satan to claim your soul:

Max-level players in this build may notice an important new Artifact feature. The researcher/scribe NPC in your Class Hall will offer you a quest to retrieve a set of tomes from around the world. Once these are recovered, you can instruct your researcher to work on deciphering these tomes. Each step of research will require some Order Resources (which are primarily obtained through World Quests), and will grant increased “Artifact Knowledge.”

Increasing Artifact Knowledge permanently increases your rate of Artifact Power gains, and this bonus applies to all artifact weapons your character may possess. (And no, Artifact Power items obtained at a lower Knowledge level won’t automatically update, so hoarding items for future use won’t benefit you.) This system is key to the pacing of overall artifact progression, and to making it easier for players to maintain multiple artifacts if they so desire. For example, at Knowledge Level 7, you would be earning Artifact Power at over triple the base rate. Thus, if you wanted to switch to a spec you hadn’t yet tried at that point, you’d find yourself very quickly able to get that artifact up to par with your primary one.

As your scribes progress through their translation and research, you will fill in pages of a great tome in your Class Hall that provides more backstory and information about your artifact (this is not yet fully hooked up for some classes). Finally, in the live game, the speed at which your researchers can work will increase as the expansion progresses, allowing latecomers or alts to catch up on their artifact progress.

Well, that certainly clears that up. And the whole long comment does not even address the idea of Artifact Relics — which are a whole other thing — or the Rube Goldberg talent path you unlock as you gain Artifact Power at your appropriate Artifact Knowledge rate which is gained from tomes that you give your class hall researchers who do research projects that fill in pages in The Big Giant Tome in your class hall.

As if keeping track of this mess for your artifact weapon were not enough, now we learn that you get to do it for a special fishing pole artifact, too. Oh boy! It’s not clear if the  character-wide Artifact Power will also apply to the artifact fishing pole, but if I were betting, I would bet not, so there will be a whole separate set of AP earned just for this separate artifact, thus a second set of things to keep track of. And this will be for every alt that you wish to use fishing to collect the critical crafting mat Blood of Sargeras on.

Turning to other professions, these, too, seem unnecessarily complex. Every profession has a series of quests through which you level up, and these quests continue through your regular character leveling process, taking you to every zone in the Broken Isles. However, once you have learned your profession’s recipes, you are still not really done, as there is a process of “stars” that adds levels of efficiency with which you can create crafted items. In the case of gathering professions, there are also star levels that let you gather more things as you progress.

Then there is Obliterum.

The Obliterum Forge, unlocked with a questline at level 110, will allow players to destroy their crafted gear and obtain Obliterum. Obliterum, in turn, can be used to make crafted gear more powerful.

As far as I can understand — I do not yet have a max level character on the beta so have not reached this stage — the idea is you craft items for the purpose of destroying them so that you can add gear levels to other crafted items. (The max level to which you can upgrade crafted gear this way is not clear at this time, but each Obliterum upgrades the level by 5.) This strikes me as an overly complex way to force us to use up more crafting mats, since you need to use Blood of Sargeras and other mats to craft the items to be destroyed as well as the items you wish to upgrade, then more BoS to actually use the forge and destroy the sacrificial items. It is also not clear how many items will have to be destroyed in order to obtain enough Obliterum Ash to upgrade one item, but most of the comments I have read indicate it is at least three, possibly more.

All of this means that BoS assumes overriding importance for the entire crafting process. Without it, you might as well not have a crafting profession. And, as I wrote about a couple of days ago, it is currently BoP as well as incredibly scarce to gather when compared to the numbers of it you need to do most anything.

It is possible to argue the relative merits of the Legion profession system, and in general, in the small picture, making professions more interesting might be a good thing. But, as is my habit, I like to try and see the bigger picture. And the big picture I see is a game that is growing vastly more complex each expansion, at almost a geometric rate. I am not going to try and figure out if that is a bad or a good thing, but I also see that as usual Blizz is talking out of both sides of its collective mouth on this.

On the one side they are doing all the things I describe to add extreme complexity to the game. But on the other side, they are condemning any semblance of complexity in class mechanics as evil evil evil. Remember at the beginning of WoD when they told us we should not be bothering our little heads with icky math, and we should not have to go to a web site to see what was best for our character, so therefore they were removing reforging from the game? And then they gave us the “solution” of 12-15 different “flavors” of gear with so many permutations and combinations of secondary stats that if you did not have a degree in math to figure out what was best, well then everyone went to a web site to get the answer anyway.

And the biggest hypocrisy: WoD and Legion class “pruning” in the name of simplifying class mechanics. I take BM hunters in Legion as the prime example — it is a mind-numbingly boring spec to play in Legion, there is just no other way to describe it. And honestly, Blizz had already pretty much pruned it to death in WoD, so why they considered it needed even further dumbing down is just puzzling.

(Although, as a side issue, I note that Blizz is perfectly willing to keep fairly sophisticated and engaging play for its favorite classes, which in Legion seem to be Demon Hunter and SV Hunter. It is only the classes the devs have no love for they seem to want to simplify down into oblivion.)

So we should not have to suffer the trauma of engaging complicated class play, but we can easily deal with multiple and incomprehensible talent trees for class, artifact weapon, even freaking fishing poles, and with  levels upon levels of professions, and with a new multiple step process to just upgrade gear, not to mention the ever increasing madness of mechanics stacked upon mechanics stacked upon even more mechanics for raids? Yeah, clearly having those 3-4 extra buttons to push for your class is what was making the game too complex.

Blizz, I don’t mind you making a complex game, but for crying out loud have the backbone to admit that is what it is. Stop trying to tell us you have our best interests at heart by making our spec easy enough for a potato to play, when what you are really doing is trying to simplify your constant problem of class balance. We play our class and spec because we like it, we enjoy figuring out the nuances of spell interactions, we like getting really good at it when it is challenging — so please stop insulting us by saying we are too stupid to figure out a few extra rotation buttons but can easily deal with fantastically complicated mechanics for every other part of the game. And while you are at it, get down on your knees and thank third-party sites like Wowhead and IcyVeins and AskMrRobot and others, because without them your game would be too frustrating to play for all but the most hardcore of your players.

Overwhelmed

The more I read about Legion, the more confused and overwhelmed I feel. This is probably because I am only able to read about it, not experience it yet, but my impression is that nearly every aspect of it is designed to be tedious, drawn-out, and in some cases deliberately and unnecessarily complex. It seems to me that Blizz has started to use selective complexity as a way to stretch out content while at the same time forcing certain play styles.

Take artifact weapons. I read a very informative — but very intricate — post yesterday about artifact weapons in the context of how best to level as a healer in Legion. You can read it for yourself here at heliocentric. As I say, it is a good run-down of many of the mechanics of artifact weapons, but honestly I came away from it thinking it was something I was going to have to eventually actually study, you know, with yellow highlighter and note taking and everything. I feel the same way about the Wowhead, Ten Ton Hammer, and other artifact guides.

The sheer number of mechanics for artifact weapons just makes my head hurt. Here’s all I know about them:

  • You somehow get Artifact Power that is used to unlock weapon traits that are integral to playing your spec.
  • You get relics that go in relic slots that have something to do with leveling your weapon — yes the weapons levels with you apparently, I guess like your hunter pets used to. (?)
  • There is something you get at some point called Artifact Knowledge that has something to do with how fast you accrue Artifact Power.
  • Relics and some other pieces of the weapon and I guess even Artifact Power are awarded as quest rewards and random drops (oh good), and maybe even just from leveling up to a point.
  • Blizz has said it will take “months” to fill out your artifact tree, and it will have various appearances to differentiate the godlike players from the hoi polloi.
  • You get to go through this morass of mechanics for every spec on every alt.

Really? After Blizz has made such a damn fuss now for two expansions about how horrible and complex the various class and spec rotations are, after they have cut iconic and useful spells from nearly every class, after they have “pruned” the low level talents and spells to the point where you literally have only two buttons to push for 20 or more levels because, you know, don’t want to confuse the poor players — after this, they decide to introduce an intricate, arcane series of traits for a freaking piece of gear?? Yeah, pushing more than a couple buttons in a rotation is too hard, but requiring a spreadsheet to figure out a weapon is fun!

Lets take another example — professions. Prior to WoD, professions were a nice, simple, straightforward part of the game. You figured out which ones you wanted, based on things like what kind of gear you could craft or how profitable they might be or sometimes what small boost they might provide your character. You leveled them up, and prior to the start of their decline in Mists you could pretty much level them up as you leveled your character.

But in WoD, garrisons rendered professions almost irrelevant. There were no longer any profession perks. Elite players whined that they were “required” to have certain professions so as to eke out that extra .05% edge in raids, so gone they were. Gathering professions were superfluous, as were crafting professions for baseline functions and gear. And then in 6.2, Blizz introduced real gating into professions with the random garrison vendor and with the series of quests required for Jewelcrafters. Now, of course there had been gating of a sort in professions all along — have to be a certain level to advance, some desirable “cool” recipes were a dungeon or raid drop, and so forth. But the 6.2 gating was of a different order, because it gated the baseline patch profession items for max level professions. In the case of the random garrison vendor, it was more annoying than truly effective, but in the case of JCs, it was a pretty steep hill just to learn the basic patch gems. (Seriously, my main in the first part of WoD was a Survival hunter with JC as a profession — Blizz dealt her a very rough hand, it was as if they looked at my character and decided to make her the biblical Job of  WoW.)

In Legion, all professions are going the way of WoD JCs, and more complex wrinkles are being introduced. This is what I know about professions:

  • Professions will have to be separately leveled with specific progressive quests.
  • Quests are also the only way to learn recipes.
  • Even once you level your profession, there is a second and third tier of leveling for every recipe.
  • You will have to craft items in order to destroy them to get something called Obliterum, which you will need to craft more items (I think). The ultimate self-licking ice cream cone.
  • Even secondary professions will be gated behind quests, apparently, with a long draw out Archaeology quest line, a return to bandages for First Aid, and a promise to make fishing “more exciting” (not exactly a big challenge).

One effect of the type of complexity described in my two examples is to increase the perception of “content” — certainly if you have to spend months leveling a piece of gear or a profession, you have more to do in the game before you get to the point of “OK, done. Bored now.” I don’t really disagree with this approach, I am just pointing it out for what it is.

A second effect of this type of complexity is that it continues to limit player choices in the game. The fact that achieving a reasonably effective artifact weapon will take “months” and involve many many hours of game play means that most players will be quite limited in the number of such weapons they can pursue. This in turn effectively limits the number of alts, and indeed specs, that a player can play at a decent level. Similarly, making professions so complex and gated tends to discourage having alts to provide all professions to a player. Blizz has stated that they dislike this practice, and that players should not have alts for the purpose of filling out a “support system” for a main. In Legion, they are doing all they can to enforce this view.

A third effect of this complexity is that it tends to drive some players away. If I am confused, think how lost new players will be — those that join the game after seeing the movie, whether as brand new or returning after a long absence. They will initially join a system that is already fairly complex to learn, only to have it suddenly changed for Legion and made even more complex than it is now. Yeah, okay, they may have a couple fewer buttons to press because the dread button bloat monster will have been once again stuffed into a cage, but in every other way the game will change significantly in the direction of complexity. Once again, the cumulative effect of the game seems at odds with Blizz’s goals and objectives.

As I said at the top, I am feeling confused and overwhelmed. I did not feel this way before Mists or even before WoD. I felt like I had an idea of what to expect, and I was excited to dive in both during the pre-patches and on launch day. But for Legion, at least so far, I am filled less with excitement than with dread, as if it will arrive and I will have zero idea what I am doing. I feel there is a chance that small mistakes in choices in the beginning — or even now in failure to prepare adequately — will have huge ramifications later on, and that recovering from them will be both painful and long. This may not be the case, but at this point I have no way to tell.

Artifact weapon — the crap ideas just keep on coming

A day or two ago there was an interesting– and disturbing — post in MMO-C, laying out some data mined details of the costs for switching artifact weapon specs in Legion. Standard disclaimers that it is still alpha (why is that, btw?), the tool tips could still juse be placeholders, etc., but the bottom line: Looks like it will be prohibitively expensive to change your artifact talent selections.

Now, I do not have alpha access and honestly only have a vague understanding of artifact mechanics, but let me see if I can summarize what I understand so far:

As you go about your normal tasks in Legion you will accrue special artifact currency (“Artifact Power”) that enables you to open up various artifact talents. The talents in fact constitute a new talent tree for your character, bound closely not only to your spec but to the weapon you will be required to carry for that spec and only that spec. For all practical purposes these talents function the same as regular talents, in that they enhance your survivability, tankyness, deepsyness, or healyness.

Blizz has said that they expect it will take players months™ to complete their artifact talent trees. This tells me that either the currency cost for unlocking talents will be extremely high, or that the earn rate will be extremely low.

And now we learn that — should you choose unwisely in selecting your talents, or should there be some “balancing” tweak to your spec, or to a raid or instance, that negates the value of something you have already selected — you will essentially have to grind for more months just to change your selection.

Wow. Really? It’s not bad enough that you will have to grind out artifact talents for every spec on every character you play? And no, I put zero stock in Blizz’s big hand-wave about there will be “some mechanism” to maybe help you a little in your off spec. Because if it takes months™  to grind it out on your main, then even if you have only one off spec on your main, and say 4 alts who are single-specced — and really, who limits themselves to this very modest account makeup? — it could be 5 times “months™” to get a fully functional weapon for each. If you consider “months™” to be a conservative 4-5, we are basically saying that you will not be able to accomplish this before the next expansion goes live.

(Or that it is an attempt to make us love it if Legion lasts for several years….)

That’s assuming that you have your crystal ball in perfect working order and select the right spec at the start of Legion, and that you never make a mistake in selecting your artifact talents.

Now let us add in a complicating factor: nearly every class and spec — along with the entire secondary stat system — is being completely reworked for Legion. Do you trust Blizz to have this adequately (note I did not say “well”) balanced at the start of the expansion? Well, if you do, then please contact me about a great stock market deal I can offer you.

No, there is absolutely no way that class balancing — much less raid and instance tuning — will be even close to adequate when Legion goes live! I doubt if it will settle down until at least the second major patch. What does this mean in terms of your artifact weapon?

  • If balancing pendulum swings “tweaks” completely screw over your selected spec, you may decide to change specs. Lucky you, that will mean starting over again with your artifact weapon. And lest you pooh-pooh the notion that Blizz would ever completely screw over a spec, I have two words for you — survival hunter.
  • If the balancing tweaks don’t actually screw over your spec, what if Blizz drastically changes the weights and mechanisms of secondary stats (think “multistrike” in WoD)? Think that might affect your artifact talent tree selection? You bet your booty it might, and if you decide to go back and try to optimize it in light of the changes, guess what — yep, you get to start grinding again on the currency to do so, and it will take a loooonnnnng time to do so.
  • What might be the fallout to your artifact talent selection if Blizz starts tinkering with tuning in raids and instances? Honestly, I have no idea, but here’s the thing: neither does anyone else! But one thing you can be sure of — if it does affect your artifact talent spec, you are screwed until you can go back and grind for months to be able to change it, hoping that by the time you get there Blizz has not tweaked something else to affect it.

I have written before about my concerns with Legion artifact weapons. I am not necessarily against the concept, but I think Blizz, as is their wont, has gone way too far overboard with them. No one piece of gear should have that much influence over every facet of game play. In their current incarnation, they will become the hated symbol of Legion, in exactly the same way garrisons became the symbol of WoD’s failure.

Since Blizz has apparently already sunk too deeply into artifact pervasiveness in the game to go back, the one thing they can yet do to salvage the concept is to make it significantly less onerous for players to change weapon talents and even weapons/specs themselves in response to the inevitable swings in the game. I get that the execs make their bonuses by increasing active player monthly game time, but at some point inexorable grinds do nothing but demoralize players, many of whom will find the game rewards them negatively and only disproportionately for more and more hours spent.

I am not saying that the initial artifact quest line and talent table completion should be easy or even fast. I am saying that once you have put in the effort to maximize your weapon, you should not have to do it over and over again, as a virtual Sisyphus. Just as Blizz has come around to thinking that a long grind to achieve flying should award that benefit to the entire account, so should a long grind to maximize an artifact weapon. I would not even care if artifact completion took a couple of patches, as long as I only had to do it once. When completing something is a very long and arduous process, part of the reward must be that you don’t have to do it again. It most certainly cannot be that now you get to start over again, for every spec and alt you have.

In a more basic sense, Blizz, you should be encouraging players to experiment with different specs, with different artifact builds, not penalizing them for it! Sheesh, why do you not see that? Why must you adopt the tyrant style of central governance, of making all that is not compulsory, forbidden? By making artifact weapons required, critical to a character’s abilities, and difficult to progress in, you are once again pandering to the elite 1% at the expense of your bread and butter subscription base.

Thus I make yet another futile plea to Blizz: Please rethink your basic design of artifact weapons and their role in this game. Do not make them the garrisons of Legion.

Crazy release theories

Well, it’s Monday morning, and we are getting down to the real dregs of any semblance of news from Blizz. This at a time when we are at least 5 months away from Legion, and I now believe that to be an optimistic guess. We have sporadic Legion information from the Golden Gamers who have alpha keys, but unless you want to spend hours watching someone make money streaming their experience, this too is very sparse. A couple of bloggers with the key have done a credible job writing about their particular areas of interest (thinking about Delirium, Bendak, Jade over at Jade’s Forest, and Megan O’Neill), but beyond that, about all there is for us in the Great Unwashed is plowing through the Legion class forums, piecing together tiny bits of info about this or that stat being bugged or conflicting with this or that other effect.

No one that I can tell is writing about the overall feel or tone of the Legion experience. Maybe that is because it is still so early in its development that it doesn’t have any kind of feel to it. Which brings me to my first of two crazy theories on release.

(And remember, Blizz, if you were being even the tiniest bit transparent on your Legion development, I would not have to resort to crazy theories.)

Blizz is further behind on Legion than they were on WoD at the same pre-release time point. (And we all know how that turned out for WoD.) How else can you explain that we are, in theory, 5 months from Legion live, and we still do not even have anything Blizz is willing to call beta? I am betting that Blizz has once again bitten off way more than they can chew.

I believe that their original idea of class halls has become much larger and consuming then they first envisioned, that the “fewer followers” they alluded to at Gamescom have become a veritable army with tailored missions and gear, crucial to progressing in the expansion.

I think their inexplicable decision to make artifact weapons unique to every spec has morphed into a nightmare of never-ending separate quest lines, weapon talent trees, skins to assuage every conceivable ego niche (PvP, every level of raid, etc.), and a host of spin-off problems they failed to anticipate. I think their decision to yet again revamp nearly every class and spec, when combined with the crucial talent role of unique artifact weapons, has caused them to be overwhelmed by balance issues.

We also see that professions are getting a complete overhaul, as are some very traditional features such as the glyph system. All these revamps are in addition to creating all the usual new expansion stuff like artwork and zones and raids and dungeons. The result, I am postulating, is a project so vast and complex that there is no way it can be ready by the end of the summer. At least not to Blizz’s pre-WoD release standards. Their options will be to delay release, to release it as a pile of poop like they did WoD, or possibly to do a bit of both and release it slightly later as a slightly smaller pile of poop. (You should prepare for yet another release day server debacle, possibly lasting a week or more, as in WoD and to a somewhat lesser extent Mists. This might mean you should ideally schedule your New Expansion “sick days” from work a week after release, not the day of. Just a suggestion. 😉)

I also think, if they are scrambling as desperately as my theory postulates, that there is other fallout. We are seeing some of this. For example, I think nearly all their WoW resources are working on Legion. They appear to have completely abandoned WoD, except as a stealth test bed for Legion enhancements (like the recent chat changes). We aren’t even getting any quick little fun changes, like the conga line fruit hat from a few months ago or, even, more ridiculous Pepe-like items.

This leads me to a crazy sub-theory that actually Blizz likes it when we are bored with WoW prior to a new expansion. They have said numerous times that the WoW genre is by nature cyclical, that it is to be expected and planned for. What if one of the ways they are “planning for” such cycles now is to embrace the pre-release lull by making sure there is nothing new to engage players, that such boredom will drive a significant number of us to try other Blizz and ATVI games? That WoW ennui is a perfect vehicle for ramping up Heathstone or Overwach participation? Just sayin’.

Another example of the consequences of Blizz being behind the curve on Legion is that they do not have the resources to deal with any kind of player revolt. Which means that they have conveniently not addressed some sensitive issues, such as flying or the promised “accommodations” to artifact weapons for off specs and alts. As far as I can tell, the flying quest line is not in the alpha at all. I take this to mean that Blizz is once again being coquettish on the subject. They said they intended to follow the “WoD model” for flying in Legion, which of course many people took to mean there would be a quest and achievement line for it. But to me, the other part of the WoD model is that it was delayed until the second major patch, and I am 99% certain that is the part of the model most important to Blizz. So I fully expect the flying quest and achievement line will be gated to ensure no one can get it prior to at least the second major patch. I would not even be surprised to see one of the achievements be full completion of the artifact weapon tree. You read it here first.

Disclosure of the flying gate would undoubtedly cause a great deal of public rage (both for and against), and as I said, I do not believe Blizz has the resources to deal with such a reaction now. Much easier to just not say anything and let people believe what they want to based on some early vague pronouncements.

My second crazy release theory is that my worst nightmare will come true, and Blizz will go live with the Legion pre-event as well as with the 7.0 class changes shortly after or even just prior to the movie release. Think about this for a minute. If you are Blizz, and you believe that the movie will bring many new and returning players to the game, heck you are even offering movie tie-in incentives to do so, then the last thing you want is for most of the new players to quit the game after a couple of weeks out of frustration.

The game is obscure enough to a new player — or even to one who has been gone a couple of years — in terms of leveling, questing, professions, raid and dungeon complexities, travel, you name it. To bring them in, have them finally become somewhat comfortable with their new characters after a few weeks, then to completely revamp everything they know about playing their class, is to invite mass quitting. We diehard veteran players put up with such massive changes every couple of years, but I think new players will not. There are just too many other gaming options for them now.

So I think Blizz will want to start new players out on the class and spec play style that will exist in Legion. This means — given what I said about how they are scrambling to need a late September release date — that we will be stuck with Legion class changes in a WoD world for at least three months, maybe more.

Think about that. Remember that Legion specs require the talents from the artifact weapon to realize their full play potential, remember that secondary stats are changing significantly, remember that in theory the Legion raids and dungeons are tuned for this but the WoD ones are not, and you start to realize how very painful this might be. And no matter how much Blizz might vow that they will make “accommodations” in WoD for the class and spec changes, go back to crazy theory number one and ask yourself how many resources they will be willing or even able to devote to something that will likely resolve itself as soon as Legion goes live. If you were Blizz, would you spend the resources on a dead horse (WoD), or would you delude yourself into thinking that by devoting all resources to Legion you can deploy it even earlier than late September?

That’s it for Monday crazy theories. Oh, and please make your comments very quietly, as I am pretty sure that the Worldwide Consortium of Evil is listening through my microwave.