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!

The problem with designing for the squeaky wheels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My night job

Yesterday, it being a lazy Sunday, I decided it would be a good time to bring a couple of my alts into Argus, mainly to update their professions but also to be able to get some of the gear and AP benefits of the place. I played for about six hours, and here is what I was able to do:

1. Catch up my 3 waiting emissary quests on my main and knock out the few Argus and non-emissary quests that awarded AP.

2. Do 3 emissary quests on my JC alt. (I need the whatchamacallit tokens still to upgrade my lousy crafted legendary, and I need to open as many boxes as possible in order to accumulate the required secret Blizz currency that eventually awards another legendary. I need the stats from a second legendary just to be able to efficiently mine ore on Argus, so that I can prospect to get the gems.)

3. Catch up my 3 emissary quests on my alt druid and do the Week 3 Argus quest line. (No time for any Argus world quests.)

That’s it. Six hours for that.

And here’s the thing: All the characters I worked on yesterday had already done at least the first two weeks of Argus unlocks. It took me six hours just to do “maintenance” quests on them, leaving exactly zero time to advance any other alts. I admit I may have done more of the week 3 quest line than necessary on my druid, because I had already unlocked the crucible on my main, but how the hell do you know which quests in that long chain are for the crucible and which ones are just to unlock Mac’Aree and the specified new world quest areas?

It almost seems like Blizz is throwing a little tantrum over our reaction to WoD’s lack of content, saying in effect, “You wanted content? I got yer content right here, so much that we are gonna make you beg for less! We dare you to bitch about lack of content again!”

I have written several times before about the whole idea of “content” and whether or not recycling quests and zones and forcing AP grind really qualifies as that. I think where I come down on the question is that for me content is a range of options for players. That is, when you log in on a character, true content means that you can decide for yourself what you want to do for the session, especially in the end game. But in Legion Blizz has drastically constrained end game activity. In order to participate in any end game activity, you must have a certain level of gear, you must unlock certain areas, etc. And to gear up or unlock areas there is pretty much one and only one path permitted.

You cannot, for example, elect to level up an alt’s profession unless you run dungeons up to and including mythic level. In some cases you must actually raid, even if it is only LFR. And to do these things, you must have a certain level of gear, even if you are at max level on your character. You cannot even gather current materials unless you are geared enough to survive and unlock the various areas of Argus.

To get the gear, you are pretty much forced into grinding out world quests nearly every day, so as to improve your artifact weapon, get some higher level gear, and accumulate the secret currency to get at least a couple of legendaries.

If you are a raider, even a semi-casual one like I am, Patch 7.3 once again forces you into the AP grind, just to not fall behind — and thus let down — your teammates. In the same way that a responsible raider does not show up with unenchanted or ungemmed gear, that same raider needs to show a certain amount of progress now towards unlocking the various relic traits. Early in Legion, we all had to chase AP to maximize our artifact weapon, and it was a grind then. In 7.2, possibly recognizing the burden it placed on raiders, Blizz did everything they could to diminish the importance of AP, even going so far as to say it is not worth going after in any way but incidentally to daily activity. Then in 7.3, probably as a result of falling MAU metrics, they re-instituted the AP grind in a big way, whiplashing raiders once again back into doing world quests every day just to keep current.

And here — finally — is my central point: I like world quests, I think the basic idea is good, but I hate them when Blizz crams them down my throat as the only way to achieve any other endgame goal I may have. It turns them into a chore, almost a second job. Blizz has taken a great idea and managed to suck all the joy and fun out of it. 

This is why the entire relic redesign was, for players, possibly the worst design change Blizz has had for Legion. We had just gotten to the point where WQs were actually optional — especially for a main — and we could pick out the ones we wanted to do and ignore the others. Or skip a few days entirely. We could take a little vacation on our mains and play with some of our alts, or even not play at all a couple of nights a week. Even emissary quests became optional for our mains because chances are we already had all the legendaries we wanted, and any other emissary rewards were of little value to us.

I really think Blizz started to notice MAU numbers slipping because of the 7.2 decision they made to discourage AP grinding, and they had to do something to get those numbers back up. In what has sadly become their standard procedure, they simply re-purposed an existing structure. Instead of coming up with some creative new ideas, they just brought back the same old tired AP chase for weapon enhancement. They could have, for example, made a few world quests actually attractive to a highly-geared player to entice us back into doing them regularly — maybe award a way to gem an existing piece of gear, or increase the actual gear level of awards, or allow us to give awarded gear to an alt, or bring back valor as an end-of-expansion currency, or provide a way to trade legendaries we have for ones we actually can use, or award actual new profession recipes, or give a significant number of soulbound mats, or —

Well, the idea is that there are a lot of ways to bring players back to world quests that would make us feel like we had some fun options and decent rewards for doing them. Grinding AP — especially  when we thought we had finally progressed, yes progressed, beyond that, only to have to push that boulder back up the hill again — is not fun.

Cranky about the crucible

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

Blizz, have you completely lost your marbles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patch 7.3 first week impressions

We have had close to a week to explore Patch 7.3, and I am still pretty neutral about it. On the one hand there are some interesting and fun things to experience, and on the other the never-ending grind on the same-old same-old is really wearing very thin. Let me get to some specifics.

Timed content release. In general, I am not a fan of this Blizz policy, because I think it is basically one of in loco parentis — they are saving us from ourselves because we are apparently too dim-witted to pace our game play. If they release an entire patch at once, so the Blizz reasoning goes, some of us might play it all through in the first week and then begin to whimper and whine about there being nothing to dooooooo! in the game. Can’t have that, so — like mom doling out Halloween candy a piece at a time — they feed us the patch content in small pieces.

That is my thought in the abstract. In the concrete reality, though, I find I do not mind it. I would probably play the same amount of time whether or not the entire patch was immediately available, but I find nothing in the stretched out release that hinders the way I play. In fact, it encourages me to get a couple of my alts into Argus this first week, since really all there is to do on my main is try and grab as much rep as possible with the new factions and gather some of the currency — all of which can be done just by cranking out the Argus dailies.

The quests. I have found them interesting so far, but I think that is just because they are not the exact same ones we have all been doing for almost a year now. And of course they occur in new territory, so some of the interest is in finding just how in hell to get to this or that world boss or quest area. That said, I haven’t yet found any really new or innovative quests, just the same old gather-20-of-this or kill-10-of-these patterns.

Some of them, in fact, are pretty blatantly just dressed-up versions of the same ones we have been doing in Broken Shore for months now. For example, you know the one in BS along the shore where you have to point your camera up to scan the skies for big menacing birds to shoot down using a special gizmo, all the while dodging mobs on the ground and picking up supply chests? Well, leave out the supply chests and substitute spacey looking fighter craft for the birds, a different icon for the shooting gizmo, and you got one of the world quests on Argus. Exactly. It’s not just the same idea, it actually seems like the same code with a few cosmetic changes.

Zone art. This, too, so far seems like a repurposing of the zone art used in Broken Shore. The two Argus areas we have access to thus far are, like BS, nothing but stretches of rock strata punctuated by green goopy fel rivers and pools, with a cave or cave-like building thrown in once in a while as a place to park an elite or a treasure chest.

Unlike BS, however, the venue of another planet allows Blizz to dispense with some of the more pleasing and/or “normal” geography we found in Azeroth — even on BS — like a few sparse bushes or blades of grass once in a while, or a shoreline with actual ocean and maybe a few islands. And this dispensation is made even more acute by the fact that we cannot even travel between zones ourselves, we can only transport to them, thus Blizz has eliminated the need for transition zones. Argus so far is just a collection of disconnected venues for killing stuff. Which brings me to my next point,

Flying. More specifically, NO flying. Blizz has told us Argus is essentially Timeless Isle, and there will be no flying on it ever. So those cool flying mounts you worked so hard to be able to use in Legion? Forget about them, they will be consigned to waddle about through rock canyons and abutments. Those nifty class mounts Blizz so generously allowed us to earn? Same thing, unless of course you are a druid, in which case you cannot even use your class mount on Argus, since Blizz has decided druids are too stupid to choose their travel form for themselves, and there will be no flying druid forms in no-fly zones.

In the past, Blizz has given us two condescending reasons for not allowing flying. One is that certain zones are too small for it. The other — and their preferred excuse — is that flying precludes “immersion” in the game. (The real reason, I am fairly certain, is that disallowing flying makes the zone design simpler/cheaper and also serves to stretch out a player’s time.)

See, the “immersion” excuse actually makes a little sense to me, especially in the beginning of a new patch when you want to get a sense of the detailed art in the game, or you just want to do some exploring to find hidden pathways or little gems of idyllic beauty off the beaten track. But Argus has no real beauty spots, and the art is the same version of designer hell we have seen for months in BS.

All “immersion” means in 7.3 is that you get to fight your way through mobs every time you travel, every step of the way to and from quests. And Blizz has saved even more on overhead by pretty much making roads the only way you can travel — the place is chock full of invisible walls everywhere you try to go. And while I am at it, whatever happened to the old “You are much less likely to meet monsters if you stick to roads”? The reason Blizz has roads now is to funnel everyone into mob after mob after mob. Not much fun, but it sure as hell racks up the Monthly Active User stats…

Class hall and champion missions. Blizz is still cramming these down our throats. Did you breathe a sigh of relief, feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally got all your champions to gear level 900? HAHAHAHA! Well guess what, now you get to grind them up to 950! For the classes lucky enough to be granted the class hall research permitting work orders for champion gear, this is annoying but doable. For the classes that have to rely on missions only to bring back RNG-determined gear, this new requirement is disheartening in the extreme.

Make no mistake about it, this is nothing more than a naked attempt to boost the use of the WoW mobile app.

Artifact Power and artifact relics. Sigh…. Prior to the release of 7.2, Ion Hazzikostas made a big fat deal out of lecturing us on the proper approach towards collecting AP: It was supposed to be just something that just gradually happened, not meant to be chased after, not meant to overly reward those who played many hours every day, and therefore Blizz was making the AP requirements for additional concordance levels go from ridiculous to impossible. Cool it, he said to us, just play the game and don’t worry about grinding AP. (“If you play it, it will come.”)

Well. What a difference one patch makes. Now, it turns out, in order to maximize your weapon relics, you have to achieve certain (quite high) concordance levels. And to encourage you to do this (in fact, just to make it possible for you to do this) we are going back to ever-increasing levels of weapon reasearch that permit ever-higher AP rewards! Grind your little asses off, maggots! Bwaaaahaha!

Bottom line. I am happy to get some new stuff to do with 7.3, and I kind of like the idea of taking the battle to another planet. And even if the new world quests are just reruns of the Broken Shore ones, at least they are a somewhat new variation. But I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz is funneling us down a narrower and narrower chute in terms of game play — no flying, no esthetic exploring, keep up your champion missions, grind your butt off for AP again. I feel like they are sacrificing their enormous capacity for creativity all in the name of cranking out “content” at a blistering pace. And that they have begun to view players as nothing more than Monthly Active User statistics to be manipulated for the bottom line, not as customers who play their game just because they take pure delight in it.

Personal note: Thanks to the well-wishers for my family in Houston last week. It was a week of little sleep for me, along with a lot of phone calls and micro-organizing, but it ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome. And not for nothin’, but I come from good stock — my 80-year old great-aunt and uncle weathered hardship that would defeat many, much younger, people. Uncle Bertie and Aunt Ellen — you guys rock!

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.