Legendary follies continue

There are times when you almost have to admire Blizzard’s steadfast commitment to major blunders. Even when they publicly admit certain designs were mistakes, their response is usually to not only keep the bad design but also double down on it. (Think of WoD’s garrisons as a perfect example.)

It’s like there is a corporate attitude, when faced with the consequences of an obvious design mistake, of going big or going home. They seem incapable of any semblance of organized retreat, all they can do is cram the mistake down our throats.

Which brings me, of course, to the subject of Legion legendary gear. As I have written before (here and here for example), I consider the Legion legendary design to be one of the worst Blizz has ever done. Even Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas has, on more than one occasion, begrudgingly mumbled something about maybe they could have done a better job implementing the idea.

My main complaint about Legion legendaries is that Blizz tried to do too much with them in terms of their gear effects, and in the process they created a number of “must-have” pieces for a lot of specs. Sometimes these “good” legendaries were just bandaids to cover over bad spec design, sometimes they had effects that eventually turned out to be super powers for the spec. Bad enough, but then add in the whole RNG aspect of them, and Blizz created a world of player winners and losers based almost solely on luck. Eventually, even the RNGeniuses at Blizz realized this and made some tweaks designed to even out the relative values of legendaries. They were not entirely successful — there are still some “must-haves” for a couple of specs — but the endeavor met the new Blizz corporate standard of Good Enough.

Another fallout of Legion legendaries is that they made it difficult to easily swap to off specs, or to develop alts to the point where they were geared sufficiently to be fun to play. (And yes, I know I will get responses from some of you out there claiming you had no problem getting 6 legendaries each on all your druid off specs as well as on all 10 of your alts, and you did it in a weekend. Shut up. You’re lying.) Worse for unlucky players waiting weeks to get off spec or alt legendaries, Blizz’s claimed “bad luck insurance” algorithm apparently only goes so far as to increase the odds of a legendary dropping, it does nothing to help an unlucky player actually get a useful one once it finally does drop. (Yeah, Ion, nothing more fun™ than an RNG drop of a useless legendary and knowing it will be weeks before you get another chance at the lotto.)

For those few players who managed to get every legendary for every spec in their class, Blizz dipped once more into their Suggestion Box For Ways to Screw With the Players and came up with this: if a character has all possible legendaries for all specs in their class, the next time you win the RNG lottery, you will get — hold onto your hats —

A totally random legendary for a totally random class and spec you may not even have as an alt!!! What fun™!!

I am not even going to go into the doubling down actions Blizz took when they added a special raid-only set of non-legendary legendaries to the current raid tier. Or the fact that Blizz cheesed out and refused to upgrade our old ones (as they did in WoD) when the new ones rose in ilevel, instead opting to make us grind for weeks to get the stuff to upgrade each one individually. As if the mess they had made thus far was not enough.

And now comes Patch 7.3.5, and Blizz’s next installation of making the whole legendary mess worse and then shoving it in our faces.

On January 6, CM Lore grandly announced that Patch 7.3.5 would give us an additional way to obtain legendaries: we could use the same stuff (Wakening Essences) we now collect in order to upgrade our old legendaries. For the price of 175 of these things, we could get a token that would award a legendary appropriate to the class/spec of the character earning the essences.

OK, might be kind of cool, we all could see some possibilities there.

However, in typical fashion, this idea arrived half-baked. Some players immediately began to try to get 175 essences on as many characters as they could. They discovered that, if they had been diligent and already upgraded all of their legendaries, they could not obtain the quest to collect essences, thus they could not work on their 175. On the other hand, characters that had not rushed to upgrade legendaries still had the quest and could keep renewing it as long as they kept at least one legendary at 970 level.

This seemed like a bug, so a few players complained to Blizz.

Blizz did a double-take, because apparently it had not occurred to them that we sneaky players would actually try to collect essences before 7.3.5 went live. I mean, the very idea gave them the vapors! So they went into emergency session, and on January 8, CM Lore announced this:

A few additional details on the new Legendary token:

  • We’ve just pushed a hotfix live that makes Wakening Essences drop for everyone, regardless of whether you’re on the quest or not.
  • We’ll also be dramatically increasing both the number of Essences required to purchase tokens and the rate at which you gain them in Patch 7.3.5. The overall time investment needed to purchase a token will stay roughly the same, but this will minimize the benefits of stockpiling Essences ahead of time.
    • Note: Emissary bags earned prior to the release of 7.3.5 will still give pre-7.3.5 numbers of Essences. There is no benefit to saving Emissary bags until afer the patch.
  • We also plan to add Wakening Essences to your first Battleground win of the day in 7.3.5.
  • The tokens are bind-on-pickup, because we don’t want to overly encourage players to farm Essences on alt characters in order to feed Legendary items to their mains. However, if you purchase and use a token on a character that already has all of the available legendaries for their class, you will be given a random BoA token for another class.

Really, Blizz? Really? After all the legendary angst you’ve inflicted on us for more than a year because of your slipshod design and half-assed implementation, you have the balls to begrudge us the tiniest semblance of control? And pardon me, Mr. alt-phobic Hazzikostas, but could you kindly keep the voices in your head from leaking out? What the hell do you care if I or anyone else wants to have alts that send gear or mats or gold or enchants or gems or whatever to my main, or indeed vice-versa? It has no appreciable effect on the game as a whole, and frankly it is none of your goddamn business how I choose to use my alts. (And not for nothin’, but I suspect most players who care at all about legendaries would likely use their main to supply this gear to their alts, not the other way around.)

The vast majority of players are not in a position to “take advantage” of the first-announced 7.3.5 change in any meaningful way — they do not have the time, or they do not have sufficiently equipped alts, or they simply do not care about their gear level or their legendaries any more because it is the end of the expansion. So the latest move to stop what Blizz believes would be a heinous gaming of the system is in fact aimed at what we now must admit is Blizz’s only important customer base: the less than 1% of top tier players who aspire to competitive fame.

Blizz, do you really think the game would disintegrate if, this late in the expansion, you gave us BoA legendary tokens (both from the essence trade-in and as a result of getting one after you have all the ones in your class), ones any character could turn in and get a relevant legendary? In fact, what would it hurt if indeed these tokens allowed us to actually — better sit down for this one — choose our desired legendary?

WoW used to be a game for the masses, but now it is designed for the elite. It used to allow millions of players to shape their own play style and enjoy the game in their own way, but now the Blizz Central Committee dictates a smaller and smaller range of permitted play styles and personal objectives. What a shame it has come to this.

Alt reality

As I have written over the last few posts, I am starting to develop some of my alts in Legion. What I should say is I am trying to do so, but it is a long, frustrating road. This was driven home to me last night as I was working on my little gnome destro warlock, who has herbalism and tailoring as professions. It seems like everywhere I turn, every part of progression for this alt runs smack dab up against huge roadblocks, usually in the form of dungeon or raid requirements but also in the form of very specific zone progressions, for even the most basic accomplishments.

All I wanted was a few upper level tailoring patterns and to complete the Champions of Legionfall achievement so I could finish up my last two class hall order advancement ranks.

What a journey through frustration it has been. And no, I have not reached either goal yet.

Start with the tailoring. I had only gotten as far as getting the blue tailoring items. So I dutifully took up the quest line again. Just the basic quest line (38 quests, some of which are time gated) requires the running of 3 separate dungeons. This gets you two upper level (“imbued silkweave”) items. However, to even get there, you must complete enough of the Suramar quest line to get the Suramar City mask, as all your upper level items must be crafted in a certain Suramar building. If you want to craft useful bags, you must run two mythics — upper and lower Kara. Additional upper level items — beyond the chest and bracers you get from the basic quest line — require achieving exalted with multiple (four, I think) factions and completing one or two additional quests. After you do all this, you will be at skill level 1 for your patterns. I am assuming the remaining skill levels are parsed out by the RNG gods at some rate similar to Nomi’s recipes, which is to say one or two every few months, assuming you pursue them every day.

Late edit: You can, in fact, buy several of the imbued silkweave patterns, level 1, from vendors scattered about, and they do not all require exalted rep or extra quests.

Champions of Legionfall achievement. The kicker for this one is, it requires completion of the entire previous class hall campaign, which is a 47-quest project that includes two required dungeons, Black Rook Hold and Vault of the Wardens for warlocks. I got to step 36, which is Vault, and was stymied because I could not find a group to do it. Frustrating does not really begin to describe it.

Here’s the thing. Most of us did these quest lines on our mains — Yes, they were annoying because Blizz designs quest lines not for the fun and enjoyment of the players but rather for how long they can drag them out and thus improve their MAU metric for the stockholders. But we and our friends were doing similar ones at the same time, and we usually had some help with the dungeons and even the raids later on for higher skill level patterns and recipes. But when you are leveling an alt, it is unlikely anyone else in your guild is at the same spot in their alt progression. Even if you are in an active and helpful guild, it is a real imposition on guildies to ask them to run a specific normal or heroic dungeon just so you can get that one recipe or that one warlock class hall campaign quest completed.

Yes, I know there is the auto group finder and the custom group finder. They are useless, especially if you are a dps. Over the weekend, I waited a total of 3 hours to get into a Vault group, and was unsuccessful. There were a total of zero custom groups forming for that dungeon, which is a crap shoot anyhow since my lock hovers around 870 ilevel, and of course that is garbage if you are looking to join a group for anything. I tried forming my own group Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and the most interest I got — during prime evening play time — was 2 additional dps.

Basically, I have hit a wall on my lock for advancing either my profession or my order hall campaign — and thus, of course, also my gear progression since I cannot so far unlock my third relic slot and thus my artifact weapon level seems stuck. Could I prevail on one of our guild tanks or healers to help me run Vault or the Karas? Yes, but honestly I have already done that for the previous dungeons I needed, and I am someone who hates to beg for help especially if it will inconvenience others. My other option is to beg to be included in some of the mythics and M+ runs they do several times a week, but that, too, would be pure charity as I would have to be carried in order to complete them.

And the requirements for dungeons and raids to progress are not even the worst requirements of the game. Some professions require running rated battlegrounds to progress. Rated battlegrounds! Not just random ones, but rated, where if you are not a dedicated pvp player already in a regular group, you must ask a group to carry you, and in doing so they likely will diminish their own rating just to help you out.

These kinds of dead ends are the most demoralizing parts of Legion, in my opinion. There are no alternate paths, no player options. If you don’t want to give up (which is apparently fine with Blizz, they seem to be in dream-smashing mode these days), there really is no way to get past them other than to hope for some good luck.

Which, in a way I guess, kind of summarizes the state of the game these days: hope for good luck. Skill and perseverance are becoming less and less important, unless you are talking about persevering in rolling the dice.

Blizz has done a few superficial things in Legion to “help” alts — speeded up some of the champion mission times, added the catchup mechanism for artifact research, made flying account-wide. I am not knocking those things. But they have, as usual, failed to acknowledge a basic flaw in their design, much less do anything about it. Or worse, they know it is annoying and frustrating for players — that it limits the potential for advancement for many — and they do not give a damn. I do not mind running long quest chains to achieve my alt goals, and I grumble but do not really mind grinding things like reputation to advance my alts. But when I get to the point — multiple times for almost every progression goal — where there is nothing I can do on my own to advance, when I must either beg or hope for assistance from others, then I feel stymied and angry. And that is NOT fun.

Patch 7.1 is a solid B+

Blizz’s first major patch to Legion went live yesterday, and all things considered it seemed to be a relatively smooth rollout. There were some of the usual technical glitches and problems with addons, and the inevitable widespread bugs with mechanics, but overall it was a lot smoother than some others we can probably all remember. And judging by dev tweets and some of the official bug report forums, Blizz is hard at work to correct the problems. (Whether my B+ grade holds or not will depend on how efficiently they can resolve some of the more annoying or play-stopping bugs, and how responsive they remain to them.)

Nothing I experienced was game-stopping, and we were able to run our regular raid last night — usually an iffy proposition on patch days. The main problem I had was with some addons (not sure which ones, possibly an outdated Deadly Boss Mods) causing my frame rate to sink to a whopping 8 fps inside the Emerald Nightmare. In desperation, I disabled all but a few addons and was fine for the rest of the night. I’ll sort them out and find the problem one tonight.

And remember, this major patch is in place a short 8 weeks after the expansion went live. It is a pretty remarkable achievement for Blizz, a vast improvement over the sad first patch (6.1) to WoD. For me personally, all the new content actually seems to be too soon, but I know there are many out there who welcome it.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am not all that excited about Return to Karazhan, and so the attunement requirements are not high priority for me. I expect, though, to see a couple of Karazhan groups forming in my guild tonight, as some people are very hyped about it.

I was happy to find some new World Quests, a couple of which were a lot of fun. And whether or not it was a glitch, it was kind of a nice surprise to see three emissary quests pop up in one day. I really like the whole WQ setup in Legion, and I think when we look back on the expansion they will be one of the highlights.

I tried out the new account-wide “Uniting the Isles” completion and it did finally work for me, although it took a couple of tries. My druid had the original quest from Khadgar, so I had to drop that quest, log completely out of the game (just logging out and back in on the character did not work), log in to my main, then log back in on my druid. After that, I went to Khadgar, got the yellow question mark, and was given my whistle and could see WQs. I suspect the process will be quite a bit easier for most people.

I gave the new hunter Trailblazer talent a try. It seems like it is OK for solo questing, but not very useful for raiding where I think Posthaste (even with its 38% nerf) still is the best choice. However, there is an interesting philosophical change here. With the old Aspect of the Cheetah, the mechanic that removed it (if you had the glyph) was beyond your control — if you took damage, it got turned off, end of story. With the new Trailblazer, you have positive control over it — stop attacking for 3 seconds, and it kicks in. This still does not seem like it will be useful in raids or dungeons, but time will tell.

There is also what is becoming a real nuisance, in my opinion — the ridiculous requirement for a tome of some sort in order to change talents if not in a rest area. I don’t know how it is for other players, but I rarely if ever change talents except when I am in a raid. Blizz has configured bosses such that they clearly require one talent over another for certain classes, and those are the only times it seems beneficial to switch talents. I still am at a total loss for why this stupid inane moronic talent-switching mechanic was levied on us. Honestly, the only thing I can come up with is that most of the Blizz devs have transcription as one of their professions, and they needed to give themselves a good way to make gold. Because it is still expensive to buy the talent switching tomes — they cost several hundred gold apiece, and I can easily go through half a dozen in one night of raiding. It just seems to be a useless “feature” added for the sheer annoyance factor.

I did notice some number of changes — some fairly significant — between the live patch and what had been covered in patch announcements, both from Blizz and on third party data mining sites like Wowhead. Data mining, as we all know, is usually hit-or-miss, but I was a little surprised that there had not been more intensive reporting on the PTR changes over the past few weeks. (Also, a little more communication from Blizz would have been nice, along the lines of “Proposed changes X and Y for warriors have not worked out like we hoped, so that is why you are not seeing them in the live patch. We’ll continue to look into how to fix mechanic Z.”)

I suppose there is an element of fatigue involved — after long months of Legion Alpha and Legion Beta and baseline Legion PTR, there may not be a lot of people eager to do much serious testing of a patch so soon. Fewer people on the PTR means less volume testing, which means there will likely be more undiscovered bugs that only become visible when the patch goes live. And low PTR participation may end up being an unintended consequence of the push for more content — if there is a surfeit of content, people may not be bored enough or have enough spare play time to spend time on the PTR. I don’t know if low PTR participation is even a problem for Blizz, but it does seem like something they should consider.

Meanwhile, Patch 7.1 is live 8 weeks to the day after a new expansion, the rollout was adequate, and there is some very nice new content. Go have fun!

Tidying up

I’ll be taking a 4-day weekend starting tomorrow, for the U.S. 4th of July celebration. Normally, if we go away for a holiday, I like to tidy up my house so that we return to a neat, welcoming home and not a trashy depressing one. As we are not going away this weekend, I will take the opportunity to tidy up my blog, and dispose of a few scattered topics that have been cluttering up my drafts folder this week.

First, a revisit of Tuesday’s subject on Blizz’s announcement of the way gear will be awarded in terms of upgrades in Legion. Looking back on it, I feel like there were a couple of points I should have made but did not.

One is that I am still in favor of the change, but in analyzing it, I just do not think it is the radical departure I first thought it was. We do not know — nor will we — what the actual probability numbers are for upgrades to be awarded. But my bet is they will not be any higher than the WoD ones. We do not know what those are, either, but we can get a feel for them by the frequency with which we see Warforged items drop now in WoD. Warforged items in Legion are gone, by Watcher’s description, and they will instead just be a +5 or +10 upgrade, which in the new system means that a game-controlled upgrade roll will have succeeded once or twice for the dropped gear. I have no numbers to back this up, but my subjective impression in WoD is that I personally see a Warforged item maybe once in 15-20 items overall. This is not bad, I am not complaining about it, but it tends to back up my assertion Tuesday that the chance of getting any kind of gear upgrade beyond this in Legion is going to be very, very close to zero.

In short, it will almost never be a real upgrade factor for low level activities such as dungeons, once you have geared yourself up. For nearly everyone, upgrades greater than 10-15 gear levels will just not happen. Thus, if you are the kind of person who actually expects to win the lottery when you play, you will be optimistic about this change. If you are the kind of person who understands statistics, you will be pretty much unfazed by the change.

The second thing I wanted to add is that I think the change is a very poor substitute for a currency-type system. (WARNING: Gear rant follows)  Blizz seems hell-bent on not allowing us to feel we can earn some gear by dint of hard work and persistence. They do not want us to feel we have some control over our gear awards, they do not want us to feel any sense of progressing towards a goal. Watcher continues to school us in the correct way to have fun™, insisting we are just dense if we do not realize how exciting it is to have RNG award gear. He, of course, neglects to note how unfun™ it is to repeatedly do the same activity for possibly endless failure. (But I am assuming that never happens on the special dev servers he plays on.)

In this, Blizz seems completely cowed by the elite players who whine that if there is a currency system such as valor, they “have to” grind for it. Boo hoo. This is total bunk, as illogical as the claim that if some people can fly then everyone must. I am not talking about getting top-level gear with currency, I am talking about an alternate way to get the gear that might enable me to get top-level gear. Why not have both upgrade systems, an RNG-based one as well as a currency one? That way, if you have a run of bad luck for a few weeks or months, at least you can feel there is some reward for continuing to do the activity. But on the other hand you might get lucky and get a couple of quick upgrades randomly. No harm, no foul.

The interesting thing is, Blizz actually does understand the attraction of progressing towards a gear goal, they just refuse to admit it. One reason I think this, is that they nearly always couch their probabilities in terms of time spent pursuing a random award. If there is a 1 in 8 chance of getting it, for example, Blizz frequently expresses this in terms of, if you run X dungeon 8 times, on average the outcome is expected to be blah blah blah. This is one way probabilities can be expressed, true, but it is misleading because it is almost always not the case for limited rolls of the dice. And by limited, I mean the time available to players. Yes, possibly if you average out all dungeon runs by all WoW players, you get the expected 1 in 8 result, but that means absolutely nothing to the individual player, unless that player is running said dungeon hundreds or thousands of times.

But Blizz subtly leads players to believe that they can more or less, sort of, possibly, maybe, expect that if they persist in running that dungeon 8 times, they should get upgraded gear. This panders to players who may not have much interest in probability math but who like to think they are making progress towards gear. They are not. If you have a 1 in a zillion chance the first time you run it, you still have a 1 in a zillion chance the zillionth time you run it.

So yeah, Blizz understands the player desire to feel progress, they just refuse to overtly indulge it. Because some elite raiders might feel required to — pardon my language here — grind a bit. Can’t have that.

OK, end of gear rant.

Second, there is a post in one of the Legion forums that claims one of the Leatherworking levels is gated behind winning a rated BG. I have not seen this for myself, but as there has been no disclaimer from a blue on it, I am assuming it is indeed the case. If so, and if it makes it into live, this is nothing short of stupid stupid stupid. It seems Blizz learned nothing from the horrible experience in Mists of requiring non-PvP players to win a number of (non-rated) battlegrounds for the legendary cape. PvE players hated it because many of them just hated PvP. PvP players hated it because they had masses of incompetent, uninterested, non-geared PvE players cluttering up their BGs.

It was a disaster. So think how much more of a disaster it will be if there is a requirement for a profession to win a rated BG. I am not a PvP-er, but as far as I know rated BGs are like the top of the heap for PvP. It would be like gating some PvP rank behind successful completion of PvE Mythic raid. It makes zero sense.

Sometimes I really think they have lost their marbles at Blizz. Or possibly the famous Blizz Screw With the Players Department just want to get their licks in before the summer vacation season kicks in.

Last, on a woo-hoo level positive note, Tuesday night I got my Archie moose. It was not something I even had as a game goal, but I have to admit it was a fun achievement.  To be clear, I don’t condemn the people who are offering carries for the moose mount, nor those who get carried, whether or not there is a great deal of gold changing hands. It is just different paths to game goals. But it seemed wrong for me, something I was not willing to do given the game boundaries I set myself, so I had pretty much accepted that I was not going to get it in this expansion.

Some of you may remember that in January of this year, and after a 9-month hiatus from organized raiding, I joined a new guild. They had just begun to do weekly HFC(N) fun runs for alts after their raid team had completed 13/13H. I have participated every week with my main. It has been terrific fun, and once in a while we have successfully ventured into lower level heroic. This week, though, the guild organized a Heroic Archie run, and since both my gear level and my proficiency had significantly improved over the months, I was invited along. The GM put together an impressive pug fill, gave perfect guidance and reminders throughout the fight, and we downed him on like the third try.

I suppose, since I had never run the boss on heroic, that in a way I was being carried. A couple of the regular raid team switched to their mains instead of the alts they have been running most of the year, so they were certainly doing this for charity. Still, I think I did a decent job with the mechanics and had quite respectable DPS, so I do feel I contributed. And here’s the thing — with this experience, now I feel like I can help carry other guildies if we do another of these runs. For me, this was the best way to get this achievement, and it really makes me want to give back to the guild that gave me and a couple of others this opportunity.

With that, I begin my weekend. Back Tuesday.

Micro rant

Today I am on a very small, insignificant rant, one of those things that just makes you want to shake your head to clear it because you must be missing something.

Before I get started, some numbers and facts.

  • In a little over 90 days the WoW universe of classes will contain 12 classes, 36 specs. (Interesting, never thought of this before — is the reason Demon Hunters have only 2 specs a nifty little balancing thing to the fact that Druids have 4?)
  • Of those 12 classes, 3 can equip shields: Paladins, Shamans, and Warriors.
  • A total of 4 specs within the three classes actually use shields: Prot Warrior, Prot Pally, Holy Pally, Resto Shaman. (This is a tad subjective, because other specs can technically equip shields but at least in this expansion typically don’t because of the hit to their powers, so the number of shield-bearing specs may be off by maybe one or two.)
  • Shamans cannot equip any type of sword.
  • According to WorldofWargraphs, the three shield-bearing classes represent about 28% of all WoW characters. If you subtract Shammies, the number is 20%.

So with this little rundown of weapons proficiencies, we come to today’s subject: Yesterday Blizz started to send out their movie gifts to current players. As previously announced, it was a movie-inspired transmog set. I am not sure if they had previously told us the composition of the set, but it turned out to be a one-handed sword and a shield.

Now, of course I was brought up to always be appreciative of gifts, whether I liked them or not. When I got that 6-pack of plain white cotton underwear for my 7th birthday from my Great Aunt Dorothy, I put on my best smile, thanked her, and gave her a big hug. When I got that vacuum from my spouse for our first anniversary, I thanked him and smiled. (He later described the smile as “frosty” and “threatening” and naturally we subsequently had The Discussion about the difference between a gift and a household appliance….) But I was polite and genuinely grateful for the thought of a gift. It’s how I was raised.

So I don’t want to be rude about this latest gift from Blizz. It is after all the thought that counts, and in this case — probably for quite a few players — the thought is the only thing they can use. I will not deny that the set is quite attractive, plus it is BoA, but if I were not so polite, I would be saying, “WTF, Blizz, have you lost your marbles? What the hell good is a transmog set of a sword and shield that can’t be used by the majority of your players?

Seriously, someone at Blizz actually made the decision to hand out a transmog set that can be used as a set by fewer than 20% of the characters in the game. (I don’t have any statistics on how many Pallys and Warriors use shield-bearing specs, but it is certainly less than all of them, and together the classes represent only 20% of WoW classes.)

It’s like getting a Christmas present “for all you kids” that consists of a telescope that only your nerdy brother will ever use.

Again, I really don’t want to be ungrateful, but I would love to have been in on that particular staff meeting. I cannot even imagine what the discussion must have been, what weird pseudo-logic must have swayed the decision makers to go with this. I think the extent of it must have been:

Staffer 1: Boss, we need to give the current players some kind of movie-related freebie, or else they will feel left out of the promotions and may not even go see it.

Boss: Any suggestions?

Staffer 1: Well, we don’t really want to go to a lot of trouble over it, so it has to be something we can do easily. Maybe a digital item we can deliver via in game mail. Tech guys tell us it is possible to determine the first character each account logged on with and limit the item to that character only. Makes it more manageable if we only have to send one item per account.

Staffer 2: Hey, you know the faction swords and shields from the movie, those are way cool! Let’s send those out as transmogs.

Staffer 1: I dunno, how many players could really use those?

Boss: Great idea, do it! Now I gotta run, got an Overwatch meeting I am late for.

As I said, in the big picture of things, this doesn’t count for anything. Sure, I was annoyed when I discovered that what they sent me was something I could not use on any of my characters except my baby Pally (which I am not even sure I will keep), but mostly it just puzzles me that Blizz thought it was a great thing to do. I really do not understand their decision making process, in this or in many other things lately.

But, hey, I was raised to be polite and appreciative, so, Blizz, thank you thank you for the awesome underwear transmog set! It’s just what I wanted! *hug*

SWPD strikes again

Well.

The geniuses in the famed Blizzard Screw With the Players Department (SWPD) are back from their extended Spring Break and have once again hit one out of the park. In the most recent Legion patch notes — you can find the MMO-C blue post here — we find this little gem:

Specialization System Changes

  • Characters can now change between any of their specializations at most any time for a progressive gold cost. Action bar configurations are saved for each specialization. As a result, Dual Specialization has been removed.
  • Characters can queue up as any role that is available to their class and will automatically switch to the suitable specialization when entering the Dungeon, Raid, Battleground, or Arena without any gold cost. For example, a paladin might be questing as Retribution but queue up in Dungeon Finder as a Tank. When the paladin enters the dungeon, they will automatically switch to Protection.

WTF, BLIZZ? 

Let’s see, does anyone remember the Blizz position back in Blizzcon 2015 about class specs? Let me refresh your memory (I quote in full the report by Matthew Rossi in Blizzard Watch):

One answer from the World of Warcraft Q&A that I think all players will be interested in is this one, about whether or not we’re going to get tri-spec. The answer is apparently a resounding yes.

Q: Can we please have three specs?
A: No. Just kidding. Sure. We’ll do that. As a matter of fact if you’re a Druid we’ll let you have four. As a matter of fact we’re letting you tri-spec and quad-spec in Legion. We’re actually going to smooth out the UI, too.

This is huge, because it basically means an end to the legacy of vanilla WoW‘s need to pick a spec and stick with it — if you’re of a mind to, you could have all three of your specs represented. Or you could be weird like me and have two Guardian and two Feral specs just to be that guy. It’s still an amazing change to WoW’s spec system. Considering Demon Hunters would have been able to essentially have both Havoc and Vengeance specs, it’s a welcome change to let everyone have that same ability to choose.

Wow. Poor Rossi, he was led down the garden path. So the real answer was, “We’re letting you tri-spec and quad-spec in Legion, but we are charging you gold every time you change (actually more gold each time), and also we are making it almost impossible to do because you must spend months grinding out an artifact weapon on every spec. BWAHAHA!”

And Blizz acts offended when people say they don’t trust the devs? This is a deliberate misleading of players on a par with “WoD will have flying sometime around the first patch” and “Garrisons are completely voluntary”.

What exactly might this little SWPD brilliant idea do as far as game play? First, let us think about hunters. (Always the first thing I think about with game changes.) How many hunters out there keep a Beastmastery spec not so much to play, but to use when they want to spend some time adding exotic and spirit beasts to their stables? I know I do this, and I suspect quite a few other hunters do. It is a fun thing to do if you are a hunter. Well, get ready to pay extra gold for such fun in Legion, both when you switch to BM and when you have the pet and want to switch back to your main spec. More gold every time you do so, in fact.

Second, this is yet another penalty imposed on pure DPS classes, because if you are a hybrid class with both a DPS and a tanking or healing spec, you take no gold hit by entering a raid or dungeon as a different spec than you may solo with. But if you are, say, a hunter, who solos as BM but it turns out to be so horribly unbalanced that you are not competitive raiding with it, well too effing bad, it will cost you gold every time you switch for a raid or dungeon.

Third, even the hybrid classes are penalized somewhat. Let’s say you are a resto Druid but — as has been the case now for a couple of expansions — there is no decent way to level or solo as one, so you choose Boomkin for those activities. Let’s also say you are conscientious about your healing and want to test out some healing styles on practice dummies or possibly on a tag-it world boss. Get your pocketbooks out, because it will cost you gold every time you switch specs to do these things. In fact, even if you want to set up an addon for your healing, like Healbot or Weakauras or Bartender 4, every time you switch into your healing spec to do so — ka-ching, ka-ching. Done with setting things up and ready to do some more questing? Ka-ching. More gold every time you do it, because as Blizz says, the cost is “progressive”.

Working a couple of hours a week to try and get your artifact weapon for a second spec? Gold every time you switch to pursue it, then again when you switch back at the end of the evening.

Thinking about it, the SWPD has really outdone themselves on this one — I see bonuses and promotions in their future. Not only have they royally screwed the players, but they have found an exceptionally painful, widespread, and annoying way to remove gold from the game — gold Blizz bribed us with as an emergency measure to stop bleeding subscriptions in WoD. They have discovered an outstanding weaselly way to mealy-mouth their Blizzcon 2015 pronouncement about being able to switch to all specs, so Ion Hazzilkostas and other program managers at Blizz can haughtily claim they did not in fact lie, how dare we insinuate such a thing. And — and this one is the true genius of the move — they have provided a solution to the complaint that pursuing a second or third artifact will be too onerous, because now it will likely cost too much for most players to do so. Fewer players pursuing second or third artifacts equals fewer players complaining that it takes too long.

I am in awe.

And Blizz — a big fat raspberry to you for once again deliberately lying to our faces misleading your players.

Tired and cranky

Warning: Disorganized, general rant follows, no doubt partially due to sore muscles and lack of sleep from shoveling snow (31 inches, plus several 5-ft drifts) for three days straight. Not to mention not playing WoW at all during that time.

Everything I read about Legion lately just annoys me. Most likely the main reason for this is because everything I read is third hand rumor — “official” dev comments remain obscure little 140-character tweets of no value to anyone, and the flow of information from the privileged few alpha testers seems to have dried up.

Perfect example is a recent little flap over an alpha mechanic that charges players 100 gold each time they switch specs. The only official pseudo-comment we have had on this is that 100 gold is a “placeholder” and that “We are still working out what the cost will be!”

The concept of paying to switch specs is already a done deal, we are down to haggling over the price!

Really? A cost to switch specs? What’s next, a cost to stay overnight in an inn, or to enter the city gates of Stormwind, or to use your hearthstone, or to enter a dungeon? Maybe WoW should take a cue from the old versions of the Sims and require our characters to pee every so often, and then Blizz could charge us to use the toilets!

Think about it, the virtual monetization possibilities are endless. In-game communications could be monitored and charged like phone minutes. (Wait, maybe that’s not such a bad idea, it might actually cut down on the trade chat idiots.) Blizz could charge a licensing fee for herbing or mining or skinning, or a sales tax for selling anything in trade instead of the auction house. There could be a stabling fee for every one of your pets and mounts. A leveling fee, you get charged a certain sliding scale of gold every time you ding a new level. Mandatory malpractice insurance for healers and liability insurance for tanks and damage dealers. A driver’s license fee for your chopper or goblin glider, not to mention a taxi charge every time your new alt avails itself of the chauffeured service. A banking fee every time your level of certain reagents falls below an established minimum level. A graduated income tax on the gold you make. A Value Added Tax on everything you buy.

With just a little imagination, Blizz could ensure that no one could ever accrue gold, that we would be trapped in an endless cycle of having to play in order to get gold, while at the same time having to pay gold for every game activity. The perfect self-perpetuating gold sink!

Can this really be anything other than another brilliant idea from those creative folks in Blizz’s Screw With the Players Department?

So, okay, I will get serious for a moment. I think I understand a possible Blizz reason for charging gold to switch specs — currently we are allowed to switch between two specs for free, but if we wish to change one of them to a third spec it costs us a small amount of gold. In Legion, everyone will be able to maintain all their specs without having to retrain in any of them. So a small amount of gold sink would disappear. What I don’t understand is why that is a problem, and more to the point why the solution to such a non-existent problem is to start nickel and diming us to death for something that has always been free.

As usual, it seems like none of the geniuses at Blizz have thought this through. Now raiders who change specs to help out the raid will be penalized for their cooperation. Will there be a mechanism to charge the spec-switching fee to the guild bank as there currently is for repairs? Will there be increased opportunities for guilds to earn gold for their increasing expenditures? What about classes who routinely level as one spec but raid or run instances as another? What about people not important enough to have been given a chance to try out the huge changes to their specs beforehand — now just trying out each new spec will cost them.

This is exactly the kind of development that has caused me to dread rather than anticipate Legion. How many other little gotchas are lurking out there?

In the big picture of a new expansion, this little flap over paying gold to switch specs is probably very small potatoes. But it is exactly the kind of “news” that helps to sink an xpac. Consider:

  • The existence of a privileged-people only alpha test, combined with a looming closed/exclusive beta (if there ever is one) means that the vast majority of players feel completely powerless to influence any aspect of Legion. When people feel small and powerless, they develop a strong we-they mentality, and every perceived change becomes evidence that “they” are out to get us.
  • As Blizz has seen fit to eschew all official transparency about the alpha testing of Legion, small snippets about annoying changes are the only things people have to discuss.
  • Complete turn-arounds to long-established game mechanics — no matter how small — tend to be the hardest for people to accept. (*cough*flying*cough*) When game companies intend to change them, they can ease player angst by explaining why they are doing it and possibly what the compensatory gain will be. (Honestly, though, not a bunch of horse hockey full of meaningless phrases like “class fantasy” or ” immersion”.) Of course, that would require actual communication, not just a couple of worthless tweets…
  • In this case — and rightfully so, I believe — many people are already worried that the implementation for artifact weapons will practically preclude effective spec switching anyway. To add a fee to what is already perceived as a burden seems like piling on. Rather than some patronizing tweet that amounts to “Don’t worry your empty little heads, it’s just a place holder,” maybe Blizz should consider an in depth discussion of the whole spec picture. What actually will it take to get the appropriate weapons for each spec on a single character? How exactly will the problem of healer leveling be addressed? What benefit is conferred by charging to switch specs, and what safeguards will be in place to ensure certain classes are not penalized by this more than others?
  • Last, and certainly not least, the last year saw Blizz squander a huge amount of trust. Whereas small things like this announcement would probably not even have caused raised eyebrows before WoD, now many players are are suspicious and wary of every move by Blizz. It’s like someone tapping you on your arm — normally no big deal, but if you are battered and bruised you are much more likely to howl in pain at even the slightest touch.

Well, I did warn you I am cranky today…