An hour of nothingness and delusion

Today’s post is about all the juicy tidbits Ion Hazzikostas dropped for us in yesterday’s Q&A — some of them make me righteously indignant, I am excited about others, and still others have given us startling insight into not only 7.3 but also the direction the game is going for the next expansion.

HAHAHAHAHA! Just kidding. It was a real yawner, so much so it looked like even Josh Allen aka Lore got bored enough to semi-surreptitiously start checking out his phone texts about halfway through the session. A coincidence of irl scheduling allowed me to watch it live, and what a mistake that was — truly an hour of my life completely wasted. Unless you really have nothing else to do, do not waste your own time listening to it — if you are interested, read the MMO-C summary notes.

Nevertheless, herewith a couple of comments:

Who selects the “questions” for these things?

Okay, I get that not everyone has the same game interests I do, and that there will be subjects that cause me to roll my eyes but that are totally absorbing to someone else. Story lines would be an example — some people are real nerds (meant in the nicest possible way) about the game’s lore and can’t get enough of it, while I on the other hand…

Lore nerd: OMG!!! Did you hear that in the next expansion we might finally find out why G’Thun’De’Fxxxgrlk treacherously sold out the Squeakyoldfart Creators of Every Aspect of the Universe, causing the rise of the orcs and the demise of the Curlytoed Elves? And that he will finally be reunited with his centuries-long love Mp’K’Qrj’kunda? And that we will get to fight the Fel Caterpillar of Fuzzy Doom in the Temple of Gassygreenvapors? Sorry about the spoilers, but I’m so excited!!

Me: Zzzzzzz

But I digress. Luckily for me there were no story line comments yesterday (if there were, I blocked them out). There were, however, long minutes during which Hazzikostas droned on (and on and on and on) about a burning question of great interest to at least .001% of the player base — what is an acceptable amount of time for a world first guild to complete a new mythic raid tier?

Really? You have a total of one hour to address questions from actual players, about a ton of topics that truly impact their game experience, and this is what you choose to spend a huge chunk of time on? I really would like to know who chooses these “questions” and where they actually come from, because this sounded a lot like it might actually have been submitted by player “Rehctaw” in a special forum limited to  maybe the Game Director.

Patch 7.3 and artifacts, artifacts, artifacts

We learned it will take 3 weeks to unlock all parts of the patch, and that the whole point of unlocking it all is to be able to — hold onto your hats here — grind out more shit for your artifact weapon!

There were a lot — a lot — of questions related to artifact weapons, at least three asking about their appearance and transmog. (Again, what moron chooses these questions? I could see one question on this subject but three?) Of course, being a BM hunter, artifact appearances mean almost nothing , since Blizz has decided in their infinite wisdom that even though Hati is the main part of our artifact weapon, there will be no appearance changes. They gave us the Essence Swapper, we should just shut up and be grateful. This is in line with their refusal to allow hunters to use any cosmetic weapon enchants. It’s all, well, too hard, and what the hell it’s only hunters and why should we waste any dev resources on them? Not that I’m bitter or anything….

Sorry, I digress again.

I have said it before and I say it again: artifact weapons are the garrisons of Legion. They have shaped the expansion in a way that in my opinion completely distorts the entire game, and Blizz just keeps shoving them down our throats in new ways with every patch. The fact that something close to a third of the Q&A time was spent on discussing them demonstrates that in fact artifacts are Legion and Legion is artifacts, in the same way garrisons were WoD and WoD was garrisons.

Alts

One bit of bright news revealed about Patch 7.3 is that there will be some decent catch-up mechanisms for alts. I still think Legion is alt-hostile, but there will be at least a couple of concessions to help players. For example, the time necessary to grind out gear for your champions will be greatly reduced, quite a few of the Argus unlocks will be account wide, and there will be more shortcuts to milestones for your artifact weapon.

Reforging

This was one of the weirdest excursions into the mind of Ion Hazzikostas I can remember. The question was basically, is there any chance we might see the return of reforging — possibly the best question in the whole Q&A, and it was also the most out-of touch answer I have ever heard from any Blizz dev. Here are the MMO-C notes  summarizing Ion’s response:

  • Reforging had lots of downsides, such as trying to perfectly get the hit or expertise cap and reforging all of your items every time you got a new item.
  • Every item that doesn’t have your best two stats you would reforge to have your best stat. This didn’t really make for interesting choices.
  • This also narrowed the distinction between items, making them feel more similar.
  • It also made it harder to evaluate upgrades, as you had to look at the item in its current state as well as how you could reforge it.
  • There were some good parts, such as giving players choices to make.

Not included in the summarized notes is this astonishing quote regarding the current state of gear in Legion without reforging:

“A new helm drops for you, just put it on.”

Yes, folks, he actually said that. Just like he actually said one of the evil things about reforging was that it “made it harder to evaluate upgrades.”

One wonders just exactly what game it is that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas spends his time playing, because it most certainly is not World of Warcraft Legion. My mind is too boggled over this whole Twilight Zone answer to even rant about it, all I can do is shake my head in astonishment and disbelief.

And maybe drink a beer. It is, after all, the weekend. See you on the other side.

Grinding is bad, reaching goals is not

For the past couple of weeks, ever since I hit Concordance on my main hunter’s artifact and hit level 40 on my Artifact Research, I have taken a vacation from BS and World Quests. Just haven’t done them. Grinding out hundreds of millions of AP for a marginal increase in power simply is not worth the effort, in my opinion. I am close to the one billion mark for getting the next level, and that number just makes my head explode. I took the AP bar off my UI because I can’t stand to see myself getting, say, 9 million AP and having the bar progress less than the width of a human hair. It’s too demoralizing.

This effect, of course, is more or less what Blizz said their goal was. They actually want us to think it is not worth the effort. In fact, they have jiggered the AP accumulation rate and Concordance costs so that it is not just difficult but impossible to max out one’s artifact traits.

Think about that for a minute, and you will see what a remarkable move this is. For almost the entire history of this game, character progression has been primarily based on two mechanics: racking up achievements and getting gear. Sometimes the two are even combined — remember that sense of satisfaction each expansion when you get the achievement for all blue gear or all purple gear?

Getting “that” weapon used to be one of the highlights of an expansion. Remember when you got that cool heirloom weapon after downing Garrosh in Siege of Orgrimmar? Hunters, remember when you finally got that awesome bow from Deathwing? (I loved that bow, still use it a lot for transmog.)

The esteemed Game Director, Ion Hazzikostas, has lectured us many times on the evils of “grinding” — it is no fun™, he has said repeatedly, to “grind” for gear, to build up tokens if you know within a certain amount of time you will be able to get the gear you desire. No, people! That is not fun™ at all, it is much more fun™ to be surprised when you win the gear lottery, or even better to be unlucky enough to never win it at all! Whee!

And yet, Legion’s artifact weapons are the antithesis of even this supposedly baseline design philosophy. You are given them via a small quest line when you reach level 100 (removing at least one piece of gear from the normal “getting gear” game pillar), and then you spend the rest of the expansion upgrading them, by grinding for AP (violating the “grinding is evil” pillar). Mind, you are not grinding for cool new weapons, no indeed, you are grinding knowing you will never get another weapon in Legion, all you can do is get some incremental increases in the one you have. Furthermore, after a certain point, it is mathematically impossible to grind enough AP to get even a small upgrade. So what the “grinding is evil” group at Blizz has done is implement a mechanic that is not only a pure expansion-long grind, but one with no end goal.

The mind boggles.

Which brings up the question: what exactly constitutes a “grind” in the game? It’s a term each of us understands perfectly, yet which I suspect few of us would agree on. (It’s like “content” that way.)

To me, a grind is a process in which I spend a period of time doing certain activities not for their own enjoyment, but for the purpose of achieveing some other desired end. The activities themselves are usually boring and tedious, but they are worth it to me because the goal is something I really want. The grind is made tolerable by the fact that the goal is great, and by the knowledge that each time I crank out a few more of the boring activities I am closer to my desired goal. So, for example, I did the endless dailies in Mists because I wanted the rep that would give me the profession recipes and gear I wanted. I did those uninspired weeklies in BS because I wanted to open up the hunter mount quest line.

So the grind itself is almost always not fun, but reaching your goal is fun. This is a basic truth that is apparently beyond the grasp of Ion Hazzikostas. Yes, nearly everyone hates grinding, but nearly everyone likes knowing that if they just stick with it, they will get what they have set out to get. The root of much of the dissatisfaction with Legion’s eternal AP grind is pretty much that it is the grind without the reward. Yeah, I know, you get some small increases in your weapon power, but realistically the rewards are not enough to justify the grind in many people’s minds. We are all Sisyphus, doomed to keep pushing that boulder up the hill, knowing we will never be allowed to reach the top with it.

WoW has conditioned us to chase achievements and gear/mounts/pets/whatever. It is true that we play the game in the big picture for relaxation and fun, but in the micro picture once we are playing we keep doing so for the tangible rewards. Very few people would keep playing the game if all it consisted of was a series of quests that gave no “things” as rewards. We all yammer on about the fun of raiding, for example, because of the satisfaction we get from a team effort, but would any of us keep doing it if there were no gear or achievement rewards also? Seems doubtful.

So for Blizz to introduce a mechanic like the artifact weapon and all its peripheral mechanics just flies in the face of everything they have established as game motivation since the beginning, and it seems to violate the very philosophies they espouse as fundamental to their game design.

Time for another weekend.

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.

 

“We’re as mad as hell, and…” Oh forget it

There comes a time in every firebrand’s life when they just have to admit defeat. I think I have, at long last, reached that point with hunters in WoW. Oh, out of stubbornness and habit, I will likely continue to play one, but for me the joy of it has gone. Worse than that, I have finally lost all hope that Blizz will ever restore the fun of huntering. I think they are truly too clueless to know they have destroyed it, but it is also possible they know and simply do not give a damn. And there is zero evidence this attitude will change.

As often happens, the final straw for me was a tiny one, insignificant and irrelevant when taken alone, but it tips the final balance when added to the pile already accumulated. I am not going to rehash here the “accumulated pile” — suffice it to say Blizz has systematically dismantled the hunter class in the last two expansions, to the point where someone who huntered even as late as Mists likely would not recognize the class if they had quit the game then and recently returned.

The straw? It was a chain of thought that started when I read about the 7.2 “challenge” to unlock some new artifact appearance for each spec. I have nothing against Blizz implementing this, I am sure a lot of players will really enjoy it — both the challenge and the appearance reward. But when I read it, my thought was basically, “Not worth the effort.” Why?

One reason was what I alluded to above — it is no longer great fun for me to play a hunter. There was a time not too long ago when I loved the class so much that any challenge was something I wanted to do, simply because I enjoyed pushing my hunter play to its limits and maybe a bit beyond. But now? I no longer get a rush of joy from “good” hunter skills, mainly because most of the skills currently consist of having fast enough synapses to mash a button when a computer-controlled spell comes off cooldown. There really is almost no player strategy or finesse that enters in.

The second reason — and the actual straw realization — was that hunters pretty much lose out when it comes to weapon appearance in Legion. For example, no hunter ranged weapon can have an enchant effect. Blizz simply does not care enough about hunters to give us some cool enchant effects like they have for every other class weapon in the game. I don’t know why, it can’t be any harder to configure a visual for a bow or gun than it can be for swords and staves and so forth, but apparently Blizz as usual can’t be bothered with hunters.

In Legion, BM hunters in particular suffer even further from Blizz’s negligence regarding weapon visual effects. After going to some trouble to hype the importance of Hati as an integral part of the BM artefact weapon, Blizz pretty much proceeded to design a dull and uninspiring model for it. When hunters complained, they finally gave us a gizmo to make Hati look like any pet we have, and even eliminated the major bug in it (you couldn’t change Hati back to original appearance) after a few more weeks of further hunter complaining. But here’s the thing: none of the hunter weapon appearances have any effect whatsoever on Hati’s appearance. I see no reason, for example, that Blizz could not have allowed hunters to choose a red glowing Hati as part of the “red” gun appearance. No reason, that is, except no one at Blizz can be bothered. It’s only BM hunters, after all.

In fact, even the BM hunter “hidden appearance” is pretty crappy. In the first place, it’s not all that hidden — you basically go into the Engineering shop in Dal and plunk down 8ooo gold, and it’s all yours. And this magical hidden appearance? It turns your gun into a bow. I am not a big fan of hunter guns, especially for some races, so I transmog my BM weapon into a bow anyhow. But this hidden appearance bow is a real monstrosity, possibly the ugliest bow in the history of WoW. It looks like something your four-year-old would do with Legos, except a little less creative.

Anyway, to return to my point. When I saw that 7.2 would offer these really cool weapon appearances as rewards for what look to be considerable skill challenges, I wasn’t even the tiniest bit excited. Mash designated buttons in timely sequence for an appearance change in a weapon I never see anyway? And do quests just to get the currency needed to repeat the challenge if you fail? (This mechanic is nothing more than another way to force people to play content over and over again, since you have to pay with Nethershards from the Broken Shore scenarios in order to retry this challenge. Another way Blizz is trying to up its monthly hours played metric come quarterly report time.) No thank you.

I realized that Blizz was not going to do anything whatsoever to make this challenge worthwhile to me as a BM hunter. We have not seen the new visual for BM hunters yet, but it seems extraordinarily unlikely, given previous history, that they are going to give me a cool Hati makeover. Similarly, it seems improbable that the gun appearance will be anything other than an over-the-top behemoth of a cannon that I would not be caught dead with. In the last two expansions, Blizz has proven they are not the least bit interested in applying their normal excellent creativity in any way to hunters.

And with this realization for some reason it came crashing down on me that Blizz will not restore any of the baseline fun to hunters, not in Legion and possibly not ever. They will throw us a few bones in the form of easy band-aid fixes, they will nominally include us in new stuff like this appearance thing, but it is crystal clear that they do not want to expend anything more than minimum resources on this class. For months now, I have harbored the illusion — okay, probably more accurately a delusion — that there was still time in Legion for Blizz to come to its senses about hunters and make some substantive and positive changes. But when I began to examine this whole weapon appearance thing it started a chain of thought that forced me to realize no such hunter changes will be forthcoming.

For Blizz, hunters are that cousin you really dislike and try to avoid as much as possible, but to keep peace in the family you have to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner every year. Still, there is no way are you going to let him have the drumstick.

Congratulations, Blizz, you have worn me down. I no longer kid myself that the hunter experience will improve in Legion, and I am losing hope that it ever will. I am no longer mad as hell. I am just tired.

The ascendancy of gear in Legion

Last night was our regular normal raid night, and it was a good session all the way around — we cleared normal Nighthold, did 3 early bosses in heroic so as to give us a head start Thursday for our heroic progression, and still quit 45 minutes early. Quite a few people got tier gear (not me, of course) and there was even one legendary drop, and in general we just had a pretty good time. But about halfway through, I had one of those sudden realizations, the kind you get when you know a certain situation exists but its full impact has not yet dawned on you:

Legion gear is a complete and total mess.

I have ranted a few times about various aspects of Legion gear, but last night it all came together like one giant poop snowball rolling down the hill at you faster and faster. What made it dawn on me is when I realized that I really can no longer tell if a piece of gear is an upgrade for me or not. This is not for lack of trying. Here are the steps I go through to try to determine whether or not a piece really is an upgrade:

  • Before raid, I run a series of sims (I use Beotorch, but there are other sites that will do this for you, or you can download something like SimulationCraft and run them yourself).
    • I take into account that I use a standard “AoE” talent build most of the time, but I also have a single-target talent build that I use for some bosses with no, or very few, adds. This means at least two sims need to be run, because the results are very different with different talent builds.
    • Then I need to pick a fight scenario. Because it is too complicated to pick more than one for each talent build, I usually pick a single boss stand-in-place one (Patchwerk, Ultraxion) for my single target build, and a single boss with quite a few adds and light movement for my AoE build.
  • Once the sims are done, I load them into Pawn (again, this is what I use, there are other similar addons out there). This in theory gives me a quick tooltip reading on any given piece of gear, whether it is an upgrade or not, and an estimate of how much of an upgrade it is.
  • When raid time comes around, the first thing I look for in a piece of gear that I have won or am being offered in trade from someone else who can’t use it, is the Pawn number in the tooltip.
  • In some cases, I will disregard Pawn and go with my gut — as for example if my current piece is level 870 and the new piece is 885, I will call it an upgrade even if Pawn does not. This, of course, assumes that the primary and secondary stats look decent, although for example in the case of necks there are no primary stats so you have to look at other things like bonus effects, gem slots, etc.

For several months, I used a BM Pawn build by Azortharion and linked in IcyVeins. It was a decent way to start, but the thing is, it is based on an assumed ilevel and an assumed baseline set of gear. If you don’t have this set, you will get skewed results — my experience was the higher ilevel I attained, the more skewed were my results.

The way that secondary stats interact in Legion, it is not always the case that the piece of gear with your preferred secondary stat is the best, since there are complex interactions among them, and the main factor really is the ratio of secondary stats, not just loading up on your “primary” secondary stat. (I am giving myself a headache here…) The bottom line is, your best upgrade gear varies according to the particular set of gear you have equipped, and it frequently has absolutely nothing to do with ilevel.  It doesn’t vary a lot If you get one new piece, but if that piece is enchantable and/or has a gem slot, it can change your stat ratio enough that you might want to rebalance things. And often we are talking about a few thousand additional damage points, not just a few hundred.

But here’s the thing: Even if Pawn or your gut tells you a piece of gear is an upgrade, it is still a crap shoot. All sims are based on a set of specific assumptions, and if those assumptions were flawed, then the outcome/recommendation will also be flawed. As to going on gut — on more than one occasion I have equipped what to my gut looks like a decent upgrade, only to unequip it and go back to my other piece when I realize it is not actually helping me.

Remember back in the WoD pre-patch (6.0.2), when they completely reworked secondary stats and got rid of reforging? Here is what the official patch notes (expanded) said about that:

The original intent behind Reforging was to offer a way for players to customize their gear, but in practice it offered little in the way of true choice. Players attempting to optimize every piece of gear were well advised to look up how they were supposed to reforge an item in an online guide or tool that had already determined the optimal choice. It added yet another step to the list of things that must be done to a new item before it was ready to be equipped, reducing the joy of getting an upgrade into a chore.

If an upgrade drops, we want you to be able to equip it with a minimum of fuss. It is for those reasons that we’re removing Reforging from the game.
The Reforging system and associated NPCs have been removed from the game.

HAHAHAHAHA! Oh, Blizz, you crack me up. At the time I did not appreciate what a great joke you were playing on us, but now that I see it, I have to say it was well done! You definitely got me on that one! Yeah, reforging was too complicated, so instead you gave us this Byzantine maze of obfuscated simulation math, probabilities, and contorted stats. Good one!

In fact, the whole Legion gear picture resembles a Hieronymus Bosch painting, with your piece of upgrade gear somewhere in the middle of all that clutter and confusion. In addition to the guess-if-it-is-an-upgrade factor, we have:

  • The mess with crafted and order hall gear that I talked about yesterday.
  • Artifact weapons making a single piece of gear central to most end game play — not only as far as chasing AP, but as being inextricably intertwined with spec power, spells, and play style.
  • The big mess with legendaries — everything from drop rate, to “good ones” versus “trash ones’,  to the fact that their lack often hinders effective spec changing within a class. (Another good joke from Blizz — yeah, you can freely change to any spec in your class, nor more restrictions! Except, of course, artifact weapon grinding, different gear sets because of stats, and “required” legendaries…)
  • Secondary stats. Honestly, no actual non-professional player can understand their complex interactions sufficiently to make any kind of reasonable judgment about a piece of gear’s utility to them.
  • RNG. Once again, the people on the good end of the probability curve make out like bandits, while the chronically unlucky are left to muddle along. This affects not only tier gear and weapon upgrades (relics), but also legendaries and possibly even more importantly secondary stats. I have said it before and I will continue to say it: Ion Hazzikostas, RNG is NOT fun! Speaking as someone always on the butt end of the curve, I can tell you not only is it not fun, it is soul-crushingly depressing.

Gear in Legion seems more important than I can remember, and I think it has reached a point where player skill, while still a factor, is much less a factor than in the past. This growing centrality of gear in Legion, combined with the pruning of raid buffs and utilities for all but a couple of classes, points to a sea change in Blizz’s philosophy, one that puts us far along the road to “Bring the class, not the player.”

I think when I look back on Legion, I will see gear as one of the biggest failures of the expansion, right up there alongside the betrayal of the hunter class. Methods for Legion gear enhancements and accumulation — like the current hunter play style — have become part of the game that I play in spite of, not because of.

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!

What Blizz got wrong in Legion

My last post laid out what I think Blizz got right about Legion. It was a long post, because I think on balance Legion is a decent expansion — certainly leagues better than WoD. As I said in the post, I give Legion a “solid B”. The reasons it does not make the cut for an “A” is the subject of this post.

All expansions have good and bad points. And of course what is one person’s “good” is another’s “bad”. Something I hate about the game may be the one thing that keeps you coming back to it. In weighing what I was going to include in this post, I tried to evaluate the big picture of things in Legion that make me grimly grit my teeth and slog through, knowing for me they detract significantly from the fun of the game, but they must be endured if I wish to get to the fun parts.

As I began to outline what I was going to include in this post, I noticed there were there design approaches that seemed to play a major role — singly or together —  in every area I find troubling about this expansion: RNG, the drive to increase the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric, and what I think of as “class chaos”. These seem to me to be meta-mistakes in Legion, fundamentally flawed design philosophies that give rise to a host of unpopular and/or fun-killing aspects of the game.

RNG (random number generator, or more properly, pseudo-random number generator) is at the heart of nearly every computer game — I don’t know of a way to code complex combat simulations without it. The extent to which randomness is used, however, is where people begin to get uncomfortable with it. For example, if every time you cast a spell in WoW, it was like spinning a huge wheel of fortune, and you got truly random outcomes anywhere in a range of one to ten million hit points, most people — Blizz devs included — would consider that bad design. Similarly, if absolutely every aspect of the game — even things like where you end up when you interact with a flight master, or how many health points you get when you down a health potion — were RNG-controlled, again almost everyone would consider that to be unacceptable game design.

But there is a vast area between minimal combat-outcome RNG and the extremes I just cited. And it is in this area where reasonable people differ in their opinions of “how much is too much”. I would argue that Blizz has a years-long history of RNG creep, in the sense of expanding its use to more and more areas of the game. Some form of RNG seems to be their preferred design approach for as many aspects of the game as they can apply it to, and we have seen it noticeably expanded in Legion, to the extent that for me it has crossed the line into “too much” territory.

This trend to making everything RNG is closely tied with the MAU motive: if you want certain gear — including legendaries — or certain profession recipes, there is absolutely no way to get them other than to keep playing until they magically appear for you. If you are exceptionally lucky, this will not take long. But if you have normal or bad luck, this means that the only thing you can do to “increase” your chances to get this stuff is to play more hours. If you are someone who is limited in your daily play time, this means it could take months — or never — before you get whatever it is you are seeking. We have all read the stories of how the world-first mythic guild members ran literally hundreds of instances in the first couple of weeks of Legion just to get their legendaries, or to advance their artifacts.

This is a demoralizing effect — no matter how skilled you are, no matter how diligently you work at a goal, you have zero control over obtaining items you are seeking. It is a lottery, and the only way to succeed is to keep buying more and more tickets, but even then there is no guarantee of a prize.

The concept of “class chaos” is this: Blizz had reasonably well-balanced classes and specs at the end of WoD. There were exceptions, of course (priests — both shadow disc, for different reasons — come immediately to mind, as do of course survival hunters), but overall most of the classes had reached a decent equilibrium. This was no small feat, as it had taken most of WoD to achieve this somewhat wobbly balance in what is undeniably a vastly complex system.

So what did Blizz decide to do? Rework nearly every class and spec (except for some unfathomable reason mages and druids), almost from the ground up, add in the huge complicating factor of artifact weapons, and create a new class. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we have seen. Patch 7.1.5 promises some improvement to the horrible unbalanced mess Blizz has made, but I believe the problems with many classes are so fundamental that they cannot be resolved in Legion. They can possibly be resolved in the next expansion, but only if Blizz exercises some discipline and refrains from yet another total rebuilding of every class.

These three basic design mistakes — expansion of RNG, drive to increase MAU, and class chaos — are the primary factors that result in what for me are fun-killing aspects of Legion:

Gear

Artifact weapon. I was leery of this idea to begin with, and four months have only served to confirm for me that it is a design I endure rather than embrace. It seems to me to have been created solely for increasing the MAU metric for the game. Some of my pet peeves about it:

  • It permeates most aspects of the game — nearly all activities are centered around this single piece of uber-gear. Want to switch specs within your class? Got to consider how to handle a new artifact weapon. Want to level an alt? Got to pretty much pick a spec and stick with it for many levels, as there is that artifact to consider. Want to run just a couple world quests? Better weigh the relative trade-offs between the ones that award AP or relics and any others you may actually prefer to do. Not a big fan of dungeons? Too bad, you better run them so you can get the gobs of AP they award.
  • There is no feeling of achievement or accomplishment with it, as the trait table is for all practical purposes endless. Once you get the last gold trait at level 34, you get to chase tiny power increments for 20 more levels at ever-increasing AP costs well into the millions for each. And new patches bring even more traits and levels. There is no goal to work towards, just an endless slog grubbing for artifact stuff.
  • While some classes and specs got artifacts with real lore and game history behind them, many others got made-up lore with absolutely zero history. I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz first made the decision that there would be 36 separate artifacts, then looked around and said “Holy shit, that’s a lot of design work, well just get something out there, bring in the interns to help!”
  • Which leads me to one of the worst artifact decisions Blizz made — having spec weapons instead of class weapons. I understand there are some technical problems with having the same weapon for hybrid classes, but I cannot imagine those would be worse than the current state of affairs. I suppose the corporate suits are happy that players must grub out more game hours to make off spec weapons viable, but it is a real joy-killer for me.
  • Last, the decision to make artifact weapons mandatory for all players. Again, forcing players down a specific game style path. Why could there not have been a choice — artifact weapon for any character that wishes to raid, normal weapon for others?

Legendaries. I think even Blizz is starting to realize this was a terrible design decision, but of course now they cannot back out of it, they are stuck trying to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t. (Another RNG-based MAU-driven decision.)

  • The fact that getting them is based completely on luck just does not seem very “legendary” to me. It’s kind of like getting a Pulitzer Prize in a box of cereal. Yeah, it was a nice surprise, but you did not work for it, you did nothing to deserve it, it was just pure luck.
  • Worse, if you do not get such a prize, you feel deficient because all your friends got one and you have munched your way through about 100 boxes of Lucky Charms and still have nothing but a sugar high to show for it.
  • Still worse, some of the Pulitzers come with actual monetary awards, and some are just gimmicky little jokes. You of course, want the “really good” Pulitzer, but even when you finally get one in your 101st box of Lucky Charms, it turns out to be just a piece of fancy paper folded up into an origami bird. Whoopty doo.

Other gear. I’ll cover this in my next post, where I’ll talk about things I think Blizz can still reasonably fix in Legion. But some of the gear decisions that do not work for me are:

  • Crafted gear. It is prohibitively expensive to upgrade, and even when you do, you have what is at best mediocre gear. Worse, you can only upgrade soulbound gear, meaning you cannot sell upgraded gear or even craft it for an alt.
  • World quest gear does not mesh well with the gear levels most people have by the time they are regularly running WQs. Except for the odd piece here and there, the WQ gear rewards are seldom worth pursuing, unless you are the lucky type that can reasonably hope for a random upgrade.
  • Order hall gear. Again, by the time a character has done everything necessary to qualify for most of this gear, it is not an upgrade, even with the upgrade tokens.

Professions

In general, I think Blizz has pretty much destroyed any satisfaction I ever enjoyed from professions. This is another design that seems completely RNG/MAU driven.

I think one of the reasons they have done this is because they have undergone one of their signature pendulum swings from a previous expansion. In WoD, pretty much anyone could enjoy the benefits of most professions; in Legion, almost no one can enjoy the benefits of any profession other than the ones they have on their main.

I think the other reason they have done this is as part of a conscious effort to implement Ion Hazzikostas’s pet theory that no one should be able to have a stable of alts that in any way benefits their main.

I am not against doing quest lines in order to level professions, but I think it is going overboard to require a certain play style to do so. In Legion, you cannot level a profession — especially a crafting profession — unless you not only complete a long quest line, but also run dailies and instances and in some cases raids, and get lucky enough for the RNG gods to award you with recipes. And of course, in order to do this, you must be properly geared which means if you do not have something close to main-character time commitment, you will not max out your profession.

  • One especially galling change in profession quests is that when you gather/craft something to fulfill a quest requirement, you have to give it up. This is unlike most pre-Legion profession quests, where when you gathered or made something, the quest was completed by the act of doing that activity, and you got to use/sell the proceeds of your quest.
  • The whole recipe level concept does not work for me. For one thing, it is hard to keep track of. For another, it is just a way to extend the amount of time required to reach a goal. Some recipe levels are only available from faction vendors, requiring long weeks of rep to qualify for. Some recipes and levels require relatively large amounts of expensive/rare non-related mats. Again, by the time one is able to amass these items, it is seldom worth it to craft them any more, with the possible exception of flasks and food.
  • There was — and still is — a design bias that vastly favors herbalism and alchemy in Legion, and to a lesser degree jewel crafting and enchanting. Nearly all other professions are close to worthless, both for gold making and for assisting other characters in your account.
  • Nomi. ‘Nuff said.

Alts

The points I have made above converge to have an extremely negative effect on alt play. And yes, I know there are people out there who will claim “I only play two hours a day, and I have leveled up 11 alts and maxed out their professions and still raid at the Heroic level with my main” — to which I will cry horse hockey! Anyone who wants to merely level up alts can do so easily. But to gear them even minimally for heroic instances, or to a level for LFR — much less for normal raiding or Mythic dungeons — takes main-level time commitments.

My preferred play style for years — and I suspect it is a fairly common play style — has been to gear up, progress on, and raid with a main, meanwhile leveling and minimally gearing up 6-7 alts for instances, guild alt raids, and professions. That play style is just not tenable in Legion unless I am willing/able to vastly increase my play time.

Ion Hazzikostas has finally put the mechanisms in place to force everyone to play every character in the approved play style, and any attempt at deviating from this approved style comes at tremendous cost to the player in terms of time.

Summary

I have titled this post “What Blizz got wrong in Legion”, but from Blizz’s point of view I suspect it is considered to be brilliant design. One of their main metrics — MAU — is almost certainly way up. The never-ending story of artefacts and world quests, along with drawn-out quest lines and random awards for professions and legendaries, means quashing the “I’m BOOOOORRRRED!” whines of a certain segment of the player population, even if it is at the expense of players like myself.

As I have said before, Legion is a fantastic expansion for high-end hardcore players and for super-casuals, but it is seriously flawed for those of us in the middle of those two extremes. Like I pointed out in my last post, this does not mean it is a bad expansion, but it does have significant failures that detract from my enjoyment of it. And I bet I am not alone.

My two cents.