Alpha beta soup

The development of Battle for Azeroth has moved into the next phase. Late yesterday Blizz announced the closing of the alpha servers and a new start with beta. Accompanying this announcement was a new round of invites, presumably rather large in scope and permitting many of the actual customer base for the game to try out BfA.

(No, I haven’t checked yet to see if I got an invite, but since I think there were roughly a gazillion sent out, I suppose there is a chance. If I did, and if it goes like the schedule for Legion, we can expect the PTR very soon. 🤨)

Today’s post is just a couple of observations about what has become Blizz’s standard testing cycle for new expansions.

The alpha —> beta phases are new starting with Legion. Sort of. That is, in the run up to Legion, Blizz called its customer test phase “alpha” but was coy about saying what exactly that meant. In previous expansions there was only a beta and a PTR — at least those were the two phases Blizz publicly acknowledged. When we saw the term “alpha” for Legion, many assumed it was because development was at a cruder stage than usual for allowing some of the public to see it. This made sense, because WoD had been such a disaster that it seemed Blizz would do anything to refocus their customers on Legion. As far as I can recall, Blizz never did put out anything they called “beta” — they went directly from several months of alpha to the PTR. Still, there were a few discernible phases in the Legion alpha — it started with the usual favored few, then gradually — close to the end — was expanded to include representatives of the hoi polloi.

This time, the BfA alpha started out the same, but apparently Blizz is now comfortable with actually calling the early tests “alpha” and the ones where they let in some of the Great Unwashed “beta”.

Why the difference? I think there is a clue contained in a blue post quoted in MMO-C here. Basically, Blizz now permits the pros (big Twitchers, world-first guilds, top 1% on various servers, etc.) to have actual input on important development such as class and spec tuning and profession paths, while reps of the other 99% get to have input on things like travel glitches and wardrobe malfunctions.

Okay, that was maybe a bit snarky, but the blue post I cited pretty much announced that no one participating in the beta should harbor any illusions that they are going to actually shape any of the important stuff. That has already been done by the big kids. Just log on if you got an invite, and help Blizz find all their bugs and stress their servers a bit. Oh, and maybe rave about the marvelous new Island Expeditions which are of course awesome. Because another reason to send out a ton of beta invites is to help generate enthusiasm for BfA. Maybe we will get some explanation of the test phases in tomorrow’s happy chat with Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas.

HAHAHAHA! I crack myself up! More likely it will be an extended infomercial for the expansion.

To be fair, even during the alpha it was apparent that not a lot of class changes were going to be forthcoming. There were a few in response to alpha tester comments, but for a significant number of classes what we saw is what we will get. Blizz had already designed the winner and loser classes/specs for the expansion, and they would not be swayed by such details as actual comparison numbers and professional opinions about the feel of the spec.

Some of the only important stuff we might see tweaked in the beta, I suspect, is the interaction between class mechanics and quests/instances/raids. That is, if Blizz has failed to take the new class changes into account for their group encounter and quest designs (almost certainly the case), they might tweak some of the encounters to make them more compatible. Maybe. And of course, Blizz will happily accept actual bugs that beta testers find.

But if you got a beta invite and expect Blizz to listen to — much less take action on — your frustration with, for example, all the new actions now subject to the global cooldown, forget it. If you are lucky, there will have been a dev that actually plays and understands your chosen class and spec, and thus you will have an engaging play style in BfA and will routinely appear near the top of the charts (if that is something important to you). But if changes were made by a numbers geek who has no clue about the very soul of your chosen class/spec and who frankly could care less, prepare for a couple of years of frustration.

Hmm. I seem cranky today. Maybe I should go check my email.

Where’s the hope?

There is a Battle for Azeroth spoiler in this post. Don’t read if you don’t want to know. You have been warned.

At the end of last week Blizz put out a short video of the Burning of Teldrassil (see it courtesy of MMO-C here). This event is one of the central lore features of Battle for Azeroth. Regular readers of this blog know I am not big on lore in World of Warcraft, I am familiar with a few of the basics but that is about it. Thus, for example, I was not especially upset at the time-travel premise of WoD, nor did I really give a hoot in hell about the space travel aspect of Argus. To me, lore in this game is nothing more than an afterthought to explain game mechanics. That is, the devs come up with game mechanisms and then someone makes up some lore to “justify” it. This is why the lore is so disjointed and complex — it has to keep changing as the game’s technology changes, and there appears to be no real “script continuity” person assigned to ensure there are no jarring disconnects. When the community complains about various jumps in lore, Blizz’s answer is generally something like, “mumble mumble mumble Old Gods mumble mumble treachery mumble mumble magical reasons…. and Khadgar or Jaina or Big Ugly Horde Guy! See, it makes perfect sense!”

So you would think, with me not caring a fig one way or another about story lines, that I would pretty much shrug off the burning of Teldrassil. Well, I would have thought so, too, but for some reason I am very disturbed about it. In fact, more than disturbed — it’s like a gut punch that makes you just want to lay there and not get up again.

I am not sure why. I suppose for one thing, Teldrassil is where I started WoW, with my very first night elf hunter. I ran around happily in Shadow Glen, learning how to move and shoot, figuring out that shiny glowy things meant “click on me” and what the various punctuation above an NPC’s head meant. I first died in a cave there, multiple times, learning two things: how to rez and scoot a few feet over and over until I got far enough away from the mob to hearth, and that I hate caves. As the quest lines took me out of the protected Shadow Glen and closer to Darnassus, I remember encountering the majestic elves patrolling the road on beautiful white tigers — I was in awe of their grace and power, and in the back of my brain I was thinking “I have got to get me one of those riding tigers!”

When I finally got to Darnassus, I thought there could be no grander city in the game, that this must be the biggest and best WoW would offer. But of course eventually I found Stormwind, and all of Eastern Kingdom, and many other grand cities, and I came to understand that Darnassus was really just a little backwater provincial center, one that no one really visited very often or even paid much attention to. Still, I loved it and would frequently take my night elf there before logging off, to sleep in the inn and remember where I came from. For years, I did that every couple of weeks. In Legion, I even found myself going back and visiting Shadow Glen every so often. For some reason, whenever the grind got too grindy and end game got too suffocating, going back to where I started my adventure helped me to center myself.

But I haven’t been there since the BfA announcement about Teldrassil. Knowing that this tiny oasis of peace will be destroyed in the next expansion seems too much to bear.

But the other, bigger, reason I am distraught at the idea of burning Teldrassil is that when Blizz destroys things, they never allow them to be fixed or healed. (The park in Stromwind is the only exception I can think of, and this was due only to extreme and constant player pressure, I am sure.) Once something is destroyed or made ugly, it will remain that way. Blizz is like a kid who builds a sand castle only to gleefully destroy it, then loses interest.

I don’t think WoW should be all rainbows and puppies, but there is a dark strain that runs through it, one that over the years — at least for me — just wears me down with its depressing sameness and shuttering of hope. Only the bad guys ever win in this game, and the most we ever get for our constant state of war is a sort of cease fire with one group or another, only to be replaced with yet another war we are doomed to not win. It would be nice, for a change, if we could actually beat, say, the Legion, have a victory parade, and get some R&R. But we don’t, the Legion just magically goes away without any admission that we won, and now we go back to fighting each other — Alliance and Horde — as if none of that other stuff ever happened and we learned nothing.

I will never again be able to find cool respite in Teldrassil, just as no one can ever again ignore the ugly scars of Deathwing or the criminal destruction of the Vale in Pandaria. Blizz does not build except to destroy, and in their world there can be no healing or reconstruction. I might accept the burning of Teldrassil if I were convinced that, like a real forest after a fire, we would eventually see new growth and rebirth. But I doubt we will — Blizz will move on to the next expansion, and Teldrassil will be forever destroyed and ugly. Sure, they may have some stupid cutscene towards the end of the expansion — maybe after a final boss in a final raid tier — with flowers and sunshine and soothing voices foretelling of the rebirth of Teldrassil — but we will never actually see it in game.

It’s not Teldrassil’s roots they are destroying, it’s mine. And it’s wrong. It doesn’t make me  mad enough to fight the horde to the death, it just makes me hopeless. Beat down. Blizz has really gone too far this time.

Saddle up

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not much of a collector in WoW. Even though I am a hunter, I usually don’t go out of my way to collect hunter pets, I hate foo-foo “battle” pets, I rarely go after transmog looks, and there are very few mounts I find worthy of pursuing. I understand some people love these aspects of the game, and more power to them, but it is just not my thing.

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Thus, I was more amused than intrigued yesterday when MMO-C posted the video for the new parrot mounts in BfA. Yes, that is correct, a parrot. You know, “Wraaaak! Polly want a potion!” This mighty steed is one of the new BfA mounts, a list that also includes a bee, a frog, a hippo, and several creatures I can only describe as “Whut the hell is that?!?” These mounts will be added to the game stable that includes hundreds of weird, wacky, and whimsical modes of transportation as well as a lot of “regular” ones like horses, elephants, airplanes, motorcycles, boats, well you name it.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fun aspect of mounts. I have had — and will continue to have — my own giggly moments when I soar or gallop or galumph on some strange creature. And I admit I have actually lusted after a couple of mounts in the game — the Mekgineer Chopper, that Alliance flying boat from Blizzcon 2017, some of the jewelcrafting tigers, the Headless Horsemen mount, the hunter class mount, and assorted  others. And, even though I do not directly chase them, I like getting surprised with a mount from an achievement or as a loot drop. I just checked, and I have 114 mounts. You collectors out there are laughing your asses off at this number and muttering, “Amateur!”, but I mean how many can you ride at one time? Over a hundred is not bad for someone who is really an accidental collector. 😉

The one thing that really annoys me about mounts are the fly-only types that people insist on using on the ground. I really do not see the joy in riding along on something that is awkwardly wallowing along a road like a huge wounded beast, painfully galumphing through an environment it was never meant for. I enjoy soaring through the skies on some of these mounts as much as the next person, but clomping along on the ground, no thank you. Not to mention, it looks really ridiculous. I can’t help but think many of the players who do this on some ginormous bird or the ilk think they are really impressing others, when there are a lot like me who are laughing themselves silly.

Part of this has to do with the limits we all put on our game fantasy. This is an interesting phenomenon about fantasy games — we all set “rules” about which impossible things we will buy into and which ones we will draw the line at. We may easily believe in a world where there are orcs and big slobbering one-eyed monsters and flying horses. We have no problem believing in a world where no one ever has to go to the dentist or wash their clothes or pee or sleep or call their mom or deal with a grumpy spouse. (“You’re questing again today? Sure, go ahead, don’t worry about me stuck here with screaming kids and laundry and meals to fix!”) We do not bat an eye at magical portals or pink trees, or Jurassic-Park type areas full of dinosaurs, or hostile petunias. But when Blizz gave us the time-tunnel version of Draenor in WoD, tons of players cried foul — it struck them as “unrealistic” and a cop-out. Similarly, when Blizz arbitrarily designates some areas as permanent no-fly zones (like Argus), players complain about it not being believable because lots of things are flying there, including some of the very beasts we have tamed as mounts. Or think about this: of all the kinds of mounts there are in the game, there are no automobiles. Why? “Not realistic” in the game. Go figure.

The point is, we all — along with Blizz — draw our own boundaries about things we can accept in the game and things we refuse to accept. Things that are “believable” and things that are not. So, for example, while I can accept the premise of a flying boat, I am pretty sure I will draw the line at riding a damn frog! That’s just ridiculous! Or a lumbering hippo. And I have actually had a parrot in real life, and trust me, they can be nasty and mean and dirty and noisy and they have a vicious beak. No way would I ever try to ride a giant one, even in a fantasy game! None of this has any logic to it, except in my twisted brain, but there it is.

I pretty much stick to having four mounts on my action bar: my Headless Horseman mount, the water strider, my transmog yak, and one random one that I rotate out just for a change. I like the HH mount because it looks good both flying and on the ground, and I don’t have to worry about forgetting I have a ground mount and thus accidentally run off a cliff to my death. Often, early in an expansion when we do not have flying, I like to tool around on my chopper. But mostly I stick to rather mundane, “believable” mounts.

I may, however, have to have a bee. And maybe a bee hunter pet. Because that is totally realistic!

Battle for Azeroth insights

With Pax East concluding a few days ago, we who did not attend are just now getting some of the pertinent WoW-related interviews, and those of us in disfavor with Blizz who do not have a ticket to play the BfA alpha are getting a better look at the next expansion. The interview videos are spread out on the internet, but for one place to start check out MMO-C’s summaries. As I listened to these interviews, I think I began to get an idea of the “feel” of BfA — the things that will shape the expansion experience for me. Honestly, they do not make me any more excited about it.

First, the introduction of Warfronts and Island Expeditions. Warfronts, from what I understand, are large (multi-day?) competitions between Horde and Alliance, resulting in control of an area and presumably the chance then to plunder the Azerite and other resources in the area. One dev compared the concept to Wintergrasp. The same dev made the point that each side will have to have strong team cooperation to be successful. I don’t know that this has ever worked well in WoW on a mass basis. Players who do a lot of PvP are good at these events, but opening them up to — end encouraging participation from — the Great Unwashed Masses is usually an exercise in futility. People run around with no idea of what to do or where to go, or they join and then hide somewhere and go afk until the event is over, all while the people who really want to win and know what they are doing yell things like “EVERYONE GET TO THE KEEP!” Eventually the side with the most people paying attention wins. Yay.

Warfronts will in theory require “contributions” from players. One of the devs opined that possibly this might include not just fighting participation but also materials and profession products. This part sounds a bit like the buildings on Broken Shore to me. Honestly, if the contributions to those had involved actual gathered profession mats instead of the Legionfall War Supplies — which could not be spent in any other way, and which I accumulated as part of world quests in the area rather than going out of my way to gather — I would never have bothered to contribute.

My suspicion is that Warfronts will get some heavy participation in the very beginning of BfA but will soon become nothing more for most people than checking to see “who controls ((Wintergrasp-equivalent area))” to see if you can get in and grab up the azerite or whatever perk is there.

Island Expeditions seem patterned on the old Mists scenarios, an activity I rather enjoyed. However, the main reason I enjoyed them was that they awarded currency for decent gear, plus they were very quick to run and the queues were almost instantaneous. I do not know what the inducement is for running Island Expeditions in BfA, but it will need to be something solid and dependable (NOT an RNG-based shot at mediocre gear) for me to be interested. I do not know if there is a timed element to Islands, but if so that will greatly diminish their attraction for me, too.

The second thing that got my notice was some of the talk about BfA gear. In a couple of the interviews there was discussion of trinkets. Apparently the dev team likes the idea of trinkets having one-off abilities as well as interacting with class/spec talents and abilities. This tells me two things. One is that we can look forward to another entire expansion of carrying around or storing dozens of trinkets because who knows when one will be “THE” one to have for a specific encounter. The other thing this tells me is that there will be certain “must have” trinkets for some specs, because it is guaranteed that Blizz will use a trinket to fill in some gaping holes in spec design, the same way they did with legendaries in Legion. So you will have to have a certain trinket to play your spec the way it should be played, but of course it is a crap shoot as to whether you get the trinket or not. Wunderbar.

In BfA, Blizz also seems to be getting rid of some possibilities for casual players. For one thing, they are rather drastically reducing the rate at which items will Titanforge. I suppose this is because a few elite-snobs whined loudly about that “LFR scrub” who actually had one piece of gear equal to the level the Great Player had. Also, in BfA Blizz will limit the level of the key Azerite gear to the level at which it was earned, there will be NO Titanforging for this gear. Thus, the Mythic pros will never have to suffer the unimaginable indignity of a lesser being actually *gasp* having an equal level gear item — a severe trauma, I am sure we can all agree.

It seems, though, that the Azerite gear will entail the same kind of endless grind that artifact weapons required in Legion. Instead of chasing AP, substitute Azerite. Otherwise, same-same. Also, it would seem that the Azerite gear is in fact spec-specific, so once again switching specs will be a Big Fucking Deal, and if you are unlucky enough to pick a losing spec at the beginning of the expansion, sucks to be you, you could be playing catch-up for a long time.

Last, there was dev discussion of group composition as it interrelates to raid and instance design and class/spec design. Although Blizz clearly understands many of the implications of this complex design problem, I remain skeptical that they have either the ability or the desire to really give every class a decent opportunity for full participation. In terms of spec design, BfA seems to be going further down the road of actual specialization, so that any given spec has niche abilities such as AoE, burst, single target, mobility, and so forth. At the same time, they seem to be curtailing the ability to select talents to compensate for niche abilities, so that for example if you are a single target spec you have almost no significant talent choice to substitute anything other than a very puny AoE.

Similarly, while Blizz has renewed their emphasis on raid buffs, they have created real winner and loser specs in terms of the value and/or widespread usefulness of these buffs. And the buff pruning in the name of “uniqueness” is a joke. Hunters, for example, had their pet combat rez removed (supposedly because other classes have that ability), yet what remains is a form of Hero, which many other classes also have. How is that unique? This puts the lie to all the blather about “making each class feel special and unique”. Trust me, having a buff that several other classes have does not make me “special and unique”. Now, if I had, say Aspect of the Fox or something similar, that would be a real “special and unique” contribution. But of course Blizz panicked for the entire month or however long they permitted us to have Aspect of the Fox, because OMG hunters had an actual decent raid buff????? Somebody screwed up! Must. Fix. Immediately.

All this is intertwined with raid design, of course. And nothing in any of these interviews gave me confidence that most bosses will be designed to allow every class a chance to excel. One of the devs even went so far as to put a stamp of approval on raid-loading by saying that it was a good thing if, having gotten close to a boss kill, a team realized that only one class could give them that extra 2% and they reconfigured to include it. This, of course, goes further down the road Blizz has recently taken, where “Bring the class, not the player” is desirable.

BfA will once again bring us winner classes and loser classes, and it looks like Blizz does not care that that will be the case. In fact, they seem to like the idea. Get your class lottery tickets here, folks.

Okay, enough pessimism about BfA. Time for a weekend. We are finally getting some warm weather here in Virginia, and I need to paint a few old wood pallets for planter walls and such. And maybe drink a cold beer, it being almost hot today.

Alcohol and spray paint, what could possibly go wrong?

See you on the other side.

Main planning

With the formal announcement that Battle for Azeroth will launch August 14, those of us who are compulsive organizers can now kick our planning up a notch. More than 4 months is not exactly what I would call “imminent”, but still it is good to have an actual target date.

The date is about 6 weeks earlier than the “not later than” date we saw in the promos during Blizzcon. I don’t know of any other titles due to launch in that same general time frame, so I don’t think the date is calculated to be a competitive market thing. And I hope it is not a marketing-driven deadline that corporate has imposed on the WoW team just to be able to say they hit their intended expansion schedule — pushing the envelope such that there is not enough slack time built in to allow for unforeseen glitches. Most likely, though, is that Blizzard is pretty confident the expansion is far enough along that the mid-August date will be no problem. Also, the release date occurs before most colleges and universities start the fall term, so possibly Blizzard is taking that into account as a way to engage this key group of players at the start rather than have them have to wait until things settle down a bit before they have a chance to play, and then feeling they are playing catch-up.

Still, as I pointed out back when the exclusive alpha started, this somewhat earlier launch date means many parts of the expansion — certainly class changes — are pretty well set in stone. (Maybe that is why Blizzard also forbade any class development questions in the recent dev discussion at Pax East — they have zero intention of making any more significant changes in classes at this point.)

As far as I am concerned, this is bad news for BM hunters, who have received almost no love now for years. Almost the sole change Blizzard has graciously deigned to make for BM hunters is a questionable revamp of pet abilities (which applies to all hunters, btw, not just the BM spec). It seems like they are tossing us a crumb — a rather stale and distasteful one at that — and basically telling us to sit the fuck down now and shut up, that is all we are getting, quit pestering. I said early on in the alpha that I had an uncomfortable feeling about hunters, given the significant number of announced MM and SV changes but the silence on BM, and I think I hit that one dead on. I can only surmise from what I read, of course, since it seems every player but me has gotten an invite to try it out, but this looks very much like what Blizzard did to us in the run up to Legion — the silent treatment as a response to bonafide concerns, reports, and requests for information.

The best writing out there currently on trends for hunters in BfA is coming from Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast, and I encourage anyone interested in the subject to check out his latest post. The bottom line is that both MM and SV are getting some much-needed and significant reworks, but BM is once again left out of the loop. It’s as if Blizzard hates the spec, wishes they could delete it, but instead will just make it so unpleasant, powerless, and boring that no one will want to play it. (This was their tactic back in WoD when they abandoned SV as too hard to deal with…)

Thus, a big part of my BfA planning will revolve around what to play as a main. Although it pains me to consider it, at this point I am still not sure that continuing as a hunter is in the cards for me. I feel like Blizz has dumped on me twice — first they destroyed my SV spec that I had lived and played for years, and now they seem in the process of also destroying the spec I switched to.

I will give both SV and MM a try, I suppose, but something in me just recoils at the idea of having to choose between being a hunter without a pet or one that is a melee spec. (Yes, even though Blizz has added a lot of ranged abilities to SV, its most potent shot is still a melee one.)

I have been having quite a lot of fun with my mages and my druid lately, so I suppose both of those would be candidates for a BfA main. And I have always had an attachment to my mistweaver healer, even though I have not paid much attention to her in Legion. (The main objection I have to maining a monk is that leveling and questing is most efficient with an off spec of windwalker, a melee spec…)

Fun is certainly one factor in my choice, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that relative power will be another. I enjoy raiding with my guild, and even though there is no pressure to tailor the team with “the right” classes and specs, still I feel it would be irresponsible to force a weak spec on the team. It is unfortunate but true that Blizz has in recent years not cared too much that each expansion brings clear winners and losers in terms of class/spec balances. Oh sure, they tweak a bit here and there as the expansion goes on, but they have become disturbingly comfortable with a fairly wide spread of results among the classes, as if it is too hard to compress the gap so if you happen to main a loser class, oh well sucks to be you…

What I am looking for in BfA is a class and spec that is reasonably powerful (upper-middle in the charts would be fine) and is a real rush to play. I stuck with BM in Legion, but honestly it was always sub-par in terms of performance and it never gave me the “whee!” rush many other classes have. I liked it because of the mobility and because I have an attachment to my spirit pets, and because I very strongly identify with my ideal of the hunter persona (mine, not Blizz’s) in the game. But the play style is just one long grind of grimly mashing short cooldowns as soon as they became available, with a very slight calculation of when to delay one or another of them for optimization. The combat animations stink (despite Blizz at one point “improving” Cobra Shot to make it wiggle more, oh what a wild and crazy change that was 🙄), there is no chance of getting any sort of exciting proc, the player has no control over focus generation, and there is no significant burst ability.

Just.

Mash.

Buttons.

On.

Time.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

So far, it seems none of this will change in BfA. In fact, Blizz is actually removing one button, the artifact weapon ability, and not replacing it with anything. And the pet changes may have the effect of limiting my choice of pets to whichever one provides a missing raid utility. (And even this consideration is not very significant since Blizz has removed combat rez as one of the options.) One pleasing aspect of Legion I have enjoyed is running raids with Gara almost all the time — I have a preference for wolf pets, I like the current additional spirit beast effects, and I really like the Gara rendering. I will most definintely not like it if even this one small player choice is slightly curtailed in BfA.

So, yeah. Almost everything is on the table for selecting a main for BfA. I hope I can come to terms with — and find actual fun in — one of the hunter specs, but if not, then maybe it is time to move on to another class.

Still, it would break my heart.

Possibly a weekend and some beer will help shape my thinking. See you on the other side.

Battle for Azeroth: Legion transmog?

Admin note: I will be taking next week off as a short spring break. I will return to this space on Monday, April 2.

Maybe it is just a reflection of the long dragged-out winter we are having, but most of the things I read about Battle for Azeroth seem depressing. (WARNING, RANT FOLLOWS) And of course reading about it is all I can do, because, no I do not have an Alpha invite, and I am getting to the point where I am suspecting many of them are not in fact random, that there is some sort of Santa good list and bad list as well — the good little children (streamers, friends of Blizz, bloggers who fall all over themselves to flatter Blizz, world-first mythic raiding guilds, etc.) always get early invites, and the bad children (me, for example) get flagged as not only no but hell no. Even if I were to come up on a random invite, the bad list kicks in and the invite would get pulled. There is a slim chance I may get an invite eventually, but if so it will likely be like the one I got for Legion: approximately one week before the PTR went live. Oh yeah, plenty of chances to influence changes at that point…

Yeah, OK, that is probably not the case, but it is difficult to not feel that way. (END OF RANT)

Anyway, back to my point, which is that there really is nothing I have read about BfA so far that comes close to generating excitement for me, other than the obvious fact that it is a new expansion and as such will at least give us different scenery that we have had for a couple of years.

Yes, there are some interesting aspects to it, I am not prejudging it to be lousy out of the box, but there is just nothing that makes me feel like doing one of those beautiful little whole-body grins you get from a six-year-old anticipating Christmas.

Battle for Azeroth seems to me to be nothing more than Legion with a different transmog. Some examples follow.

Instead of artifact weapons, we will have 3 pieces of artifact gear (okay, they call them something else, but artifacts they in fact are). Each piece has its own trait tree, and we will have to grind artifact power Azerite in order to unlock them and make them more powerful. Mark my words, the trait trees for this gear will expand throughout BfA, making any sort of end state virtually unattainable, the same as Legion artifacts, the never-ending carrot dangle revisited.

Professions change only insofar as now we will be allowed to pursue them by expansion group, eliminating the need to go back and do legacy crafting and gathering unless we just want to. This is a good move, but it in no way changes the Legion approach that will require end-game gearing to pursue profession quests in raids, heroic and mythic dungeons, and sheer RNG grinding. The terrible “levels within a level” recipe mechanic also remains.

As an added requirement to have all your profession players at end game level (character and gear), there will once again be a BoP crafting mat. This seems at odds with Blizz’s promise to make crafted gear relevant for more of the expansion, but we will see. Generally speaking, for the first several months in an expansion, only your main is powerful enough to gather such mats in sufficient quantities to make relevant gear, so if you are one of the profession lottery winners with your main you are in good shape (think alchemists in Legion), otherwise (like for example leather makers in Legion) forget it.

Invasions are replaced by Islands and Warfronts. Oh, and Islands will feature AI-driven NPCs, basically a variation on current affixes in M+ dungeons.

Speaking of Mythic dungeons, there will be a doubling down on this esports-friendly activity, with things like affixes being forced on even lower level players doing, say, a M+2 mythic. There will be new “kiss/curse” affixes introduced for M+10 and above, and there is something called “keystone customization” in the works that smells suspiciously like something to make life easier for the M+ pros. Regular mythic dungeons, meanwhile, become relegated to the common pile that includes normal and heroic, but with the added annoyance of having to find a group on your own instead of becoming part of the automatic group finder system.

Mission table and followers will remain, for no reason I can see other than to serve as a justification for Blizz to keep the mobile app, and cause players to log in more often and thus buff up MAU metrics.

Hunter class changes — this is possibly the most depressing of all to me. Again, I only know what I read or watch (see rant above), but from my point of view, Blizz is making no real changes to the fundamental destruction of the hunter class they perpetrated in Legion.

What do I mean by this? Consider the defining factors for the hunter class prior to Legion: highly mobile ranged physical damage dealers with an integral pet. Now consider what happened to the class in Legion. Basically, these defining factors were broken up and reallocated piecemeal to hunter specs. SV lost the “ranged” aspect. MM lost the “pet” and the “highly mobile” aspects. Only BM retained all of the defining aspects, but at significant cost in terms of play style and raw damage numbers. And even for BM, the “highly mobile” and “ranged” aspects were only applied to the hunter, not to the pet, which incidentally constituted most of the BM hunter’s even mediocre damage numbers.

None of this changes significantly in BfA. The touted “rangification” of SV hunters is pretty hollow when you consider that the spec will still derive its most potent damage from its one remaining melee shot, Raptor Strike. I do not play MM and have not studied the proposed changes for it, but it seems like they will remain limited mobility. I have read a few opinions that other MM changes make the spec less interesting to play, although to be fair some others think there is some additional fun that might be added with the right selection of talents.

The worst insult, though, in my opinion, is to BM hunters. BfA will introduce a somewhat new pet damage/buff system that seems to take some of the worst pet changes from each of the past couple of expansions. And other than switching out a few utilities, that is pretty much the extent of what Blizz considers BM hunter changes. Oh, yes, plus Blizz will remove the BM artifact abilities — mainly Hati’s bond and Titan’s Thunder — and as far as I can tell will replace that damage power with nothing. This is unlike they are doing for some other classes, which will have certain artifact abilities baked in to the BfA baseline.

Though it is hard to tell which power nerfs are actual nerfs and which ones are merely part of the stat squish, some things do stand out as genuine nerfs. For example, the speed buff from Posthaste will be cut to less speed and less time, a curious decision for the one remaining highly mobile ranged spec in the game. Other changes, such as increased focus costs for some shots (while still refusing to incorporate a focus generator as baseline) are harder to evaluate without actually giving them a try.

But all in all, Blizz has done absolutely nothing — nothing — to change the bland BM play style, nor do they seem to have any intention whatsoever of doing so. Quite the contrary, they have almost come out and said they consider the spec to be an “entry level” spec, a phrase that almost shouts “not for serious players”, “for wittle kids who wike fluffy cute pets”… 😡

Yes. I am insulted. And I am not alone in this. I am not so naive as to think Blizz will suddenly back off of their revamp of SV as melee and MM as a turret, but for crying out loud, do they have to keep stomping BM into the ground just because we still retain the full essence of the hunter class? If they hate the spec so much, just delete it and have done with it, quit doing passive-aggressive nerfs that make it more and more undesirable to play.

A couple of months ago, when the first changes to SV and MM were announced, many observers counseled to just wait, because it was early and certainly there would also be some significant changes to BM forthcoming.

Nope. This is exactly the Legion alpha being rerun. BM hunters will be totally ignored, despite significant and well-thought out comments in the alpha forum. Again. A starting bad place for them will be enshrined in the live version, possibly followed by a “concerned” CM in the forums asking for “feedback” on the surprising news that there are problems with the spec. Followed by an entire expansion of the spec mired not only in mediocrity for damage, but also in play style. Another entire expansion of grim, boring button mashing with little or no opportunity for player rotation choices, and certainly no possibility of fun in the form of “whee!” moments when procs coincide or when we can unleash a ton of burst damage.

And no one at Blizz gives a damn, because no one at Blizz loves hunters the way some of them love mages or DKs or almost any other spec.

I know there are plenty of hunters who will say BfA is making significant changes to the class, and of course they are welcome to that opinion. But I am sticking by my assessment that there will be no fundamental changes to the destruction inflicted on the class starting in Legion. If anything, Blizz is — once again — doubling down on it.

I am depressed at the prospect of BfA being a rerun of Legion, but I am positively disgusted by Blizz’s continuing disrespect for hunters.

It is time for a weekend to start. Where’s my beer?

Q&A – informative for a change

Yesterday I had a lot going on and was not able to watch the Q&A live, so I watched it this morning. I kind of wish I had made some time to watch it yesterday, because for a change there was quite a lot of very good information in it, and if I had had a few more hours to think about it I would probably be able to make some more thoughtful comments about it today. As it is, here are some of my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on it. And you can check out both the full video and the text summary courtesy of MMO-C here.

Allied races. There was a lot of discussion about these. To me, it was all of passing interest, but I know there a lot of players for whom this is an extremely exciting part of the game. I think the bottom line here is that Blizz will be introducing lots of new allied races over the course of possibly years. Though Hazzikostas did not admit it, the major reason will be to entice players to level new characters (and thus possibly beef up MAU numbers over an extended period of time).

How best to communicate with Blizz. Basically, don’t whine and don’t try to pass your comments off as representing all players. Meh.

Class balance. I thought this was a decent discussion because it did yield some insight into Blizz’s current guiding principles for class design. Hazzikostas reiterated the idea that the goal is to “make each class unique”. (And by “class” I am pretty sure he meant “spec”.) I do not disagree with the goal, but he failed to address the related designs. For example, it is all well and good to make a class that excels in the ability to DoT targets, but if you design raids and dungeons that only make this a valuable trait for a couple of bosses, then the “unique” aspect of the class is not worth much. Blizz has thus far not shown much success in coordinating raid and dungeon design with class abilities, and every expansion they end up creating winner and loser classes because of this failure. Thus, the idea of “class uniqueness” sounds good, but only if your class is one of Blizz’s design winners.

Similarly, he did not address the idea of “utility” balance — that is, some group utilities are way more valuable and widely useful than others. A combat rez, for example, is probably always useful, whereas something like a hunter Tranq shot is highly specialized. Not all “unique” abilities are created equal, and this again leads to winner and loser classes. Will Blizz realize this and develop a system to minimize it? I doubt it.

Gear. This is where there was some good news, on several fronts. It was apparent that Hazzikostas fully understands the mess Blizz gave us with Legion gear. He said no one should have to sim gear before they can determine if it is an upgrade for them, and he also said they had gone too far with secondary stat importance in Legion. He did not promise that all gear with higher ilevel will be an upgrade every time, but he did say most of the time it will be, and he also said the calculus of determining the worth of gear will be considerably easier. We will see, but to me it sounded positive.

Loot. Somewhat related to gear is the question of loot in group situations. It sounds like the only option in BfA will be personal loot. Some guilds will not like this, but the change has been coming for some time. I know with my own guild, at the start of Legion we tended to prefer a system of Master Looter with rolls, along with a very light determination of who could roll on a piece. Very shortly, however, we saw that Personal Loot dropped significantly more gear (a design by Blizz for Legion), and we switched to that and have not gone back.

Hazzikostas came right out and said the BfA move to all Personal Loot is being made mainly to reign in the top guilds, the ones who routinely game the world-first Mythic competitions by using group loot runs to overgear their main raiders before they even start Mythic runs. This practice has meant Blizz has to compensate for the idea that the professional guilds will be overgeared for Mythic raids at the start, thus they need to make the raid difficulty with that in mind. This has a cascading effect, because it means the raid bosses — particularly the end ones — end up being overtuned for everyone else.

Anyway, it looks like Group Loot will be a thing of the past come BfA. What Hazzikostas did not address, but what I would like to have heard him on, is whether there will be some adjustments to the more annoying parts of Personal Loot. For example, a user-friendly interface for sharing loot. Something like a pop-up loot roll window similar to what we now see in dungeons, except in this case it starts with the person who got the loot selecting if they want to offer it up and checking a simple yes/no. If they do offer it up, then a loot roll window automatically pops up for all players eligible for the loot, maybe a need/greed kind of thing to also allow for people to roll on it for transmog.

Another Personal Loot improvement might be a refinement of what loot is shareable and what is not. There is a lot of loot that may technically be an upgrade for a player but in truth it is useless to them, and currently they cannot offer it up for trade.

Talents. Lots of discussion here, but the one thing that gave me cause for optimism was the statement that the idea of selecting either the AoE or the Single Target talent in a tier just feels bad, and in fact it doesn’t make anyone actually choose, rather it just makes them burn a tome to adjust for each boss fight. Hallelujah.

The other interesting thing about talents in BfA is confirmation that Blizz will use them as a sort of testing ground for baseline abilities. That is, if one talent for a class is always selected by most everyone, then that begins to look like something that should become a baseline ability, and Blizz may change it to that in a patch. We kind of suspected this is what they were doing in the latter parts of Legion, but now we know that is indeed the case.

Mission tables. This was probably the most disingenuous part of the Q&A. Hazzikostas blathered on about how they will not serve as time gates in BfA, that they are more for auxiliary game play, they add a nice dimension to the game, they fit with the BfA story line, blah blah blah. What he did not admit was the obvious — that it is a mini-game within WoW that works well with the mobile app, and if they get rid of it then they might as well trash the app, too. And of course, every time a player logs in on the mobile app it counts towards MAU for the game.

Mythic+. Without saying so outright, it was pretty clear that Blizz sees this part of the game as increasingly important going forward. Hazzikostas was at some pains to explain that raiding is still important, but it was obvious that Blizz is looking to Mythic+ as the main end game group activity at some point. Just my opinion, of course, but I would have liked to hear a more robust defense of raiding and I did not.

Professions. There will be some changes for the better here, I think. The change to having professions grouped into expansion-specific ones is a good move. Also good was the comment that crafted items need to be more relevant throughout an expansion, not just at the beginning. Last, on a less optimistic note, I am not really a fan of the recipe-leveling mechanic introduced in Legion, but it sounded like we are stuck with that for BfA.

Alts. Sounds like what we have now in Legion will be what we have in BfA in terms of alt-friendly or alt-hostile (whichever side you come down on). There will be some concessions to alts in terms of grindiness — like we have now for AP catch-up — but Hazzikostas is digging his heels in on his personal conviction that the only reason to have alts is to play them as you would a mini-main. Playing them to farm items for a main is strictly frowned upon and Blizz is doing everything they can to make that as hard as possible for you.

Guilds. The introduction of “Communities” is interesting to me, and honestly I do not know if it will spell the virtual end of guilds or not. Likely I will be writing a lot more about this as we learn more of the specifics. Of note, Hazzikostas did not indicate there would be any new perks to guild membership, only that guilds would have “all the same things as Communities”, plus a guild bank. This is one that bears watching.

Anyway, those are what I saw as the highlights of the Q&A yesterday. I did think it was one of the more informative ones lately. If you find yourself with some free time it could be worth an hour to watch.

Speaking of free time, it is time to start a weekend. See you on the other side.