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.

Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.

Miscellaneous stuff

No big topic today, just a few incomplete thoughts about the game that have been rattling around in my head.

Flying. At last, over the weekend, I completed Legion Pathfinder Part 2. The long pole in the tent for me was getting revered with Legionfall Armies. I had lost a couple days questing the previous weekend (in-laws from hell), so I had been scrambling all week. I finished all available Broken Shore quests Saturday and was still about 50 rep points short, feeling a bit frustrated to be so close yet so far. Then I completed my class hall missions, and lo and behold my Valarjar rep mission got a bonus token, and it turned out to be for Legionfall Armies! Ta-da!

I was honestly expecting some final admin quests, like visit a trainer or watch a cutscene or something, to actually start flying, but no, as soon as I got the achievement my flying mounts magically began flying again. Nice. Also my alts had no problems, all of them were able to fly immediately, no bugs in the implementation that I could see.

And how glorious it is! I was surprised at how far it goes to lessen the perception of eternal grinding in the game. It really speeds up the world quest times, and it is luxurious to avoid all those “en route” mobs that dog you at every step, especially in Broken Shore. It is terrific to not have to wait for a whistle cooldown before you can leave a completed quest area (although I love the taxi whistle). It is great to be able to swoop down on the way to another quest and gather a mining node or herb you happen to see. And it is just fun to see the zones from another perspective, to get an idea of their size and layout from the air rather than the worm’s eye view on the ground.

I am not especially opposed to Blizz’s new pattern of waiting until a patch to get flying in a new expansion, and I don’t mind completing some achievements for it. But I do think flying should come in the first major patch, not wait until what is effectively the third one (7.1, 7.1.5, 7.2). Seven months of slogging along on the ground seems a bit much to me. Most of us don’t need that much “immersion”, thank you very much, to get the artistic flavor of an expansion.

Flying will also help a lot with leveling and gearing up alts. I was able to take one alt through the Broken Shore intro stuff and get some of the class hall upgrades yesterday in about 3 hours. And I took a couple others through 3 emissary quests each in very short order, including being able to pick up enough ore on one to get the two turn-in quests for level 2 mining. Flying alone will not fix the horrible paths to professions and alt gearing that Blizz has set up in Legion, but it definitely will speed some of the process.

Plus, it is great fun — an element that has been missing in the game for me lately.

Class Hall efficiencies. In addition to flying, some 7.2 changes in class hall mechanics help with alt development. I don’t spend a lot of time any of in my class halls, basically only go there for required progression. For example, I do as few champion missions as possible. But Blizz’s streamlining of things like order hall resources needed for research and time required for completion of various steps do help. Also, the speeded up paths for gathering massive quantities of AP are a welcome addition. In the last week, I have lept ahead quite a bit in my order hall chores on a couple of alts.

Honestly, part of my angst with the whole class hall thing is that I find it “nitpickily” complex. I have yet to get a sense for everything that must be done to get up to speed in a character’s class hall, and I have now six characters at level 110. But I still feel lost when it comes to know what next steps I need in order to get to an end game state in their class halls. Artifact research, order hall research, class questlines, class hall questlines to get the third relic slot open, figuring out the ways to get assistants for my champions, figuring out how to gear my champions (not all class halls offer the same options), figuring out what the “extra” perk is for each class and then remembering to use it regularly, etc. etc. Not to mention the confusing physical layout of some class halls — I still wander aimlessly in the warlock one every time I have to go there.

It’s just too messy and confusing. Please, Blizz, if you are not going to give us a guild hall or player housing in the next expansion, give up on the whole garrison mechanic. You tried. It didn’t work. Move on.

World quests. I still like these. I like that they give decent gear if you are just starting out. I like that most of them are relatively quick to do. I like that there is some variety in the game activities (PvP, professions, pet battles, raids and instances, standard PvE) you can engage in to complete some of them. I especially like that the emissary quests persist for three days, allowing those of us dealing with real life to take a play break once in a while and not miss any of them.

The only puzzling thing to me is why Blizz decided to abandon the WQ model for Broken Shore dailies. Now that I have flying, I am not so annoyed by this decision, but I still don’t understand the reasoning. I think WQs in general have been well received by most players, so I am not sure why Blizz would essentially regress for Broken Shore.

And while I am at it, after a couple weeks of demonic invasions in Legion, I am not feeling any more receptive to the timing mechanics of them. I have one more to do to complete all four for the achievement, and when that is done, I will be done with them too. I find them tedious and long. I think I would have liked them better if they had just been scenarios like we had in Mists, or if they popped up frequently like they did in pre-Legion and were essentially always available and quick to complete,  or if they were just specialized world quests (without the final couple of required quests and the scenario) that slightly advanced the story line. Honestly, I am not sure what one thing I don’t like about them, but I am decidedly not a fan and will not be doing them as soon as I complete the achievement.

Obliterum forge. For me, the best thing about 7.2’s change to the obliterum forge is not the fact that you no longer have to do that ridiculous and expensive quest line in order to unlock it, but that finally that stupid burning cart is gone from from the commerce exchange area. Hallelujah!

Blizz and hunters. MMO-C had an interesting blue post summary a couple of days ago. It was a thoughtful blue response to some Brewmaster Monk concerns from PTR players. It struck me because this is exactly the kind of responsive dialog hunters have been begging Blizz for ever since the early days of Legion’s closed beta.

Dozens and dozens of hunters have given Blizz exactly the same sort of thoughtful, observant comments we see from the monk poster in the cited blue post, and Blizz has steadfastly ignored every single one of them, has never once deigned to even recognize there are fundamental problems with hunter class mechanics. Yet we see this very respectful and in-depth response to Brewmasters. And it is by no means the first such — months ago there was a series of blue posts that painstakingly explained Blizz’s philosophy on the Brewmaster spec and outlined where they saw the spec going in the future, how they envisioned it should be played, et cetera and ad nauseaum. All because a few Brewmasters had expressed worries over their testing on the beta.

I was particularly touched by Blizz’s deep concern over the perceived Brewmaster angst with a clunky, hesitating play style. Here are a few astonishing excerpts (emphasis mine):

As you can imagine, the numbers for Blackout Strike’s cooldown and the CDR from Tiger Palm are very important to get right on this; we’ll tweak them and try a few things. We started out with the 4-beat cycle for PTR; we may also try the 3-beat cycle soon and see how that feels.

The common Blackout Combo-driven rotation right now is, in a way, not GCD locked, because it spends a significant amount of its time off GCD, but in practice it feels more like GCD locked, because that time is in between every few GCDs with little empty half-GCDs, adding a stutter to your rotation that we’re trying to clean up.


Brewmaster is not a particularly popular spec, and the awkwardness of their offensive abilities is one of the prime reasons why. That sort of thing is shrugged off by some people, really bugs some other people, and contributes to a general discomfort with a spec to most (and is usually hard for them to describe exactly why, falling back to works like ‘doesn’t flow’ or ‘clunky’).

Now, I am not trying to dump on Brewmasters who have done such a good job giving feedback to the devs, and I am sure they are correct in their assessment of the spec. Good on ’em. But,

What.

The.

Fuck.

Blizz is suddenly concerned about a slow, clumsy, stuttering play style??? They feel your pain, Brewmasters, over how the spec “feels”????

This is just unbelievable. Beastmaster Hunters have made similar comments for months, actually for over a year, and Blizz has not even tried to respond, has not in fact even admitted the play style stinks, has completely ignored every hunter comment to that effect. They dash off some quick easy tweaks, like give us back a couple of traps, or rework some Cobra Shot graphics, and call it good enough. But Brewmasters mention a little clunkiness and the devs fall all over themselves to try and fix it, expressing how concerned they are and how yes they completely understand, and oh no this is awful we simply must do something???

If we needed any further proof that Blizz considers hunters the throway class, one they simply cannot be bothered with, here it is.

Hello! Blizz, how about some hunter recognition for a change?