Gear and math

It’s been a nice relaxing couple of weeks in my WoW world. In my guild, we all took a break from what was becoming a very dull Nighthold raid circuit, and I seized the opportunity to work on a couple of alts — my balance druid and my destruction warlock. I find I enjoy playing them both, but the lock possibly a tad bit more than the druid. I still find the boomkin tedious for its long casts, but it gets better with better gear stacked for haste.

Both alts are hovering very close to ilvl 900 or a bit under, and the one thing that amazes me is how much better they are simply by virtue of having better gear. Trust me, in the last two weeks I have not suddenly become vastly more proficient on either one, but the difference in damage for both is pretty astounding. The only change has been upgraded gear. In some ways this is fun, because gear is relatively easy to get, even without subjecting yourself to LFR or mythic dungeons. But in other ways is seems kind of cheesy and not quite right. I guess it is an inevitable result of Blizz stepping away from the “bring the player not the class” philosophy — class/spec mechanics and gear seem to count for more and more these days. Nobody likes to blame gear for poor performance (well, okay, maybe some people like to), but that excuse is actually becoming more and more reasonable as Legion goes on.

I was thinking about this as I started last night to prepare my main hunter for resumption of raiding Tuesday when Tomb of Sargeras opens. Patch 7.2.5 brought some changes to BM hunters, and in spite of giving us a baseline 2-charge Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, it is looking like overall we are in a worse place damage-wise than we were for Nighthold. Seems like Blizz just could not stand to have BM hunters close to the top, had to take away more than they gave. There will still be some class tweaks coming along in hotfixes, but honestly I am not holding my breath that any of them will include buffs for BM hunters.

At least two sites I read regularly have openly stated that MM is clearly — and by quite a ways — top of the hunter heap. From the IcyVeins BM hunter guide:

Now that 7.2.5 has released, we can say with reasonable confidence and assuming no major changes, that Marksmanship will be the optimal raiding spec going into Tomb of Sargeras, mostly due to the potency of its new set bonuses.

Beast Mastery remains a solid choice, though rather than being very competitive and sometimes even better at single-target than Marksmanship in ideal situations, it is now fair to say that its potential output is less than Marksmanship in nearly all situations.

And even the redoubtable Bendak, in his most recent BM post about Patch 7.2.5, is brutally realistic about BM, stating it will likely fall out not only in the middle of the damage pack, but likely in the lower middle at that.

Whatever. I am a hunter in WoW, that is who I am. And since Blizz has seen fit to destroy the essence of my vision of “hunterness” in MM and SV specs, I really have no choice but to continue playing BM. Numbers have never meant that much to me anyway, so what seems to be a sudden plunge from lower-top to lower-middle position is not a calamity. Some class/spec has to be in that position, it is the nature of rankings. Still, I will be interested to see what the actual numbers spread is when the ToS results start to become available. If the spread between top and bottom is large, then Blizz will have once again failed in its never-ending attempt to “balance” the class/spec mess they themselves caused.

My alt gear-centric push over the last couple of weeks also served to reinforce to me the utter insanity of Legion’s gear complexity. On my alts the calculus was relatively easy, since I never intend to actually raid with them: higher ilevel = good, secondary stats pretty much be damned. But when I started to weigh gear and talent combos on my main in preparation for ToS, I found myself once again despairing over the sheer mathematical enormity of the task.

It has gotten so bad that AskMrRobot is now implementing a SETI-like mass computer sharing approach to solving the gear problem for players. Mind you, modern computers already have pretty massive computing power. Certainly enough that even a middle-level server could perform general arithmetical comparisons, even for thousands of users at a time. But Blizz’s insane interdependencies of gear stats, talents, different types of raid bosses, RNG-dependent proc rates, and specialized legendary and set bonuses have gone exponentially past arithmetic calculations. To properly assess the relative value of gear, only massive computer simulations approach accuracy. One or two simulations at a time are handled (though slowly) on a home desktop computer, but if you are trying to do it for large numbers of players, you need vast computational resources, and the cheapest way to get them is to set up a distributed grid of community computers. (I applaud AMR’s ingenuity here, but honestly I would like to see a bit more detail on their app’s security setup before I open my computer to it.)

The point is, you need the power of modern computers to decide if a piece of WoW gear is actually an upgrade for you, or to decide which legendary works best with which set of talents.Ā 

But Reforging was “too much math” for us.

šŸ™„šŸ™„šŸ™„

See you after the release of ToS.

Dire Beast non-solution

It is an absolutely crappy day in my corner of Virginia today. The weather has reached that perfect pinnacle of miserableness: about 37 degrees, cold driving rain, and constant breeze. In my soldier days it was the kind of weather I most hated. We had gear for snow and extreme cold, and we even had ways to lessen the effects of extreme heat, but no amount of rain gear could help for this kind of day. You were always wet, you were always cold, there was always mud everywhere, you were mentally exhausted from constantly forcing your brain to keep thinking about the mission and not wander off to thoughts of cozy fires and hot meals. Miserable.

Maybe having to do with the weather, maybe having to do with general mental laziness, I find myself unable to come up with a reasonable WoW topic today, so this will be a pretty short post. Mainly I am recommending to my hunter readers an excellent piece by Bendak on the beastmastery legendary Mantle of Command. He gives some excellent pointers on how to employ that legendary if you are lucky enough to have it, but more importantly he gives some history on the struggle to force Blizz to do something about the horrible clunky BM rotation.

I am frustrated by what I see as a pattern of Blizz implementing terrible design mechanics for hunters, then eventually “fixing” them via RNG-based loot drops. In WoD they did this with MM hunters, making the spec only truly playable as a hunter style by getting the 4-pc tier set. They are doing a similar thing in Legion with this legendary for BM. Skilled hunters for months pointed out to Blizz the need for an additional charge to Dire Beast. As Bendak describes:

Adding a second charge to Dire Beast was one of the most consistent pieces of feedback given to the devs during the Legion beta. Several Hunters, including myself were giving this feedback at least 6 months prior to Legion launch, maybe even sooner.

As usual, Blizz completely ignored this feedback. When it became clear there would be some class changes in 7.1.5, theseĀ same top level hunters pushed for a second Dire Beast charge to be made baseline for BM hunters, arguing that it was a terrible “solution” to put this near-critical ability in a random-drop legendary.

We see how much attention Blizz paid to that feedback as well.

It’s not that Blizz thought the idea was a bad one — they clearly recognize the need for a second DB charge. They were just to0 effing lazy to do anything but add a piece of gear to fix it. Oh, and of course they had to add in the Hazzikostas-licensed funā„¢ factor of makingĀ it a rare drop RNG legendary.

I don’t have the legendary shoulders, and honestly I do not expect to get them any time soon if at all in this expansion. It frustrates me no end to think that this one piece of random gear could make a significant difference in my entire play style, that it could actually make BM a reasonably fun spec to play at last. Blizz could have provided this kind of fix to all BM hunters , and they could have done it long before Legion went live. But they just did not — and do not — give a damn.

So Blizz, in keeping with the weather today, here is a big wet cold raspberry to you: *phbbbbttttttttttttt*

Meanwhile, I am going to have another cup of tea, put some beef stew to simmer in the slow cooker, and start my weekend.

Perspective

There is a mini-storm going on in the Legion beta forums right now, regarding a recent and sudden (that is, no warning) change in max camera level permitted in Legion. Essentially, Blizz rather abruptly disallowed players to use the “/console CameraDistanceMaxFactor 4” command that gave a huge boost to camera zoom levels in the game. Instead, they are limiting camera zoom range to the default UI slider, a smaller range than the max CVar hardcap unlocked by the console command.

As might be expected, there is huge wailing and gnashing of teeth over this from some corners of the playerverse. I admit I have for some time had my camera set to allow for zooming out to max, although in practice I rarely used it. I am sure the max zoom was very useful to some players and I take them at their word that the change will adversely affect their play. But overall my impression of this little flap is that in any practical sense it is very small potatoes, people pole vaulting over mouse turds.

I will resist the temptation to make this into an allegory about how Blizz does notĀ think the big picture is important, and since it is not important to them, they wish to forbid the rest of us from seeing it …

Still, the cameraĀ discussionĀ is kind of a useful segue into a larger consideration of perspective in the game. Some things that occurred over the weekend gave me pause to try and sort out a reasoned approach to this game going forward for me.

First, I spent some more time on the beta, continuing to level my BM hunter, starting a MM hunter, and getting my resto druid to Broken Isles and through the initial artifact quest line. I was struck by the vast difference in my perception of these two experiences. My overwhelming impression of playing my hunters was one of sadness for the demolition of a class that was once awesome to play but will no longer exist as soon as the pre-patch goes live.

Contrast this to my impression of playing my druid, which was one of pleasant surprise for the improvements made to the leveling abilities. As a disclaimer, I did not try any group healing on this alt, and I am not skilled enough at druid healing anyway to be able to detect any but the most obvious of healing changes. ButĀ I found the added damage abilities afforded by the Balance affinity talent to be surprisingly effective, to the point that I believe leveling as resto might be possible. In addition, I felt like the class hall area was in complete harmony with what I believe to be the druid “fantasy”. I actually felt, once I had reached the Dreamgrove, that my druid had come home. It all just fit. This is not at all what I felt when my hunter reached the hunter class hall — it was just another location, a place to transact some business, a place with no real connection to any previous hunter lore in the game, a place invented for Legion because well hunters have to go somewhere and Blizz couldn’t be bothered enough to actually put any thought or design into it when they had already put so much thought into how best to destroy the class.

I know that sounded bitter and it was. It leads me to my second thought-provoking weekend experience. Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast posted his thoughts on the state of BM hunters in Legion — and Blizz’sĀ steadfast refusal to address major shortfalls — and it was a stinging indictment, tinged with wistfulness for what might have been, as well as with an air of resignation and pessimism for the spec.Ā Ever since I discovered hunter blogs, I have looked to Bendak to point outĀ that pony in what I would invariably see as a barn filled withĀ poop. As I have written before, he is a hunter’s hunter, someone who looks to the big picture to help hunters see the positive aspects of expansion changes. When Bendak holds out little hope for the one remaining spec that most closely resembles the class many of us fell in love with years ago, well that pretty much seals it in my opinion. If Blizz refuses to seriously consider the legitimate concerns of this respected hunter, then there is zero chance that anything will improveĀ for hunters in Legion. What you see in the beta and in the PTR is what you will get. Please adjust your camera to limit your field of view.

The last thing that happened over the weekend was that I finally pre-purchased Legion. I know this sounds crazy, given what I have just written, but IĀ tried to apply a “/console CameraDistanceMaxFactor 4” command to my view of my relationship to the game. What I saw when I did this — and it really is no surprise to me — is that some parts of Legion will be fun and engaging, and I am just not ready yet to give it up, despite my rants and criticism of it. (I write those things because I care about the game, if I didn’t care, I would not devote hours to it and writing about it every week.) I will remain disappointed –and yes, furious with Blizz — over what I and many others see as the complete destruction of the hunter class, but I will hold out hope that the next expansion or possibly even a Legion patch will see some improvement. That may not happen, of course, and Blizz’s betrayal of hunters will remain a heavy weight on the “leave the game” side of the scale for me. It’s just that so far, anyway, it has not tipped it.

Blizz continues to make it more and more difficult to control your personal view and perspective on the game, but if you squint a bit you find it is still possible.