New leveling process — nope

On Friday I finally got my void elf mage leveled. It took me what seemed like forever but in reality was about /played 4 days. Yes, I know, that is pretty slow. Towards the end I just gave up on efficient leveling and began a sort of grim grinding, doing a few things like some class hall quest lines available prior to 110, going out of my way to gather herbs and run down a couple of profession quests, etc. I do like that I am not constrained to certain zones at certain levels, but in my opinion that perk is not worth the extra pain the new system inflicts.

All along, I said I would reserve final judgement on the new leveling process until I was finished. Well, now I have finished and here is my judgement:

It stinks.

If it had been the first or second or even fifth time I was doing it, I probably would have enjoyed it more. But by now in my WoW career I have taken something like 30 characters through the process — at least through about level 80 or 90 — and trust me there is nothing interesting or immersive or nostalgic left for me. When I want to create a new character, I am interested in exploring the potential for end game content with that character, not in plowing through zones and quest lines I have done too many times before.

Even worse, Legion has brought us a kind of “end game leveling” process the likes of which we have not seen before. That is, even when you reach 110 with a character, there are a number of leveling processes you must go through before you can get to any semblance of end game play. There is the AP chase to unlock relic slots on your artifact weapon, the gear chase to unlock various LFR and dungeon tiers, the class hall quest lines to get followers and possibly the class mount if you want it, not to mention the various hoops you must jump through to unlock certain areas of world quests on Broken Shore and Argus. You even have to unlock Suramar and do a certain number of quest lines there in order to pursue other parts of the 110 leveling process. It is true that some of these requirements have been made shorter with recent patches, but the fact is, you still have to do them if you want a functioning 110 character. Reaching end game level no longer, by itself, permits end game play.

Even if you spring the $$$ to buy a character boost now, you still have to go through the entire end game leveling process. Boosting to 110 no longer means you have a functioning character for end game play, it just means you now have the privilege of grinding away for a few weeks to get to that stage.

Maybe if I had selected a different class for leveling I would have completed the process more quickly. A monk, for example, gets the additional XP boost, or a hunter generally can take on more mobs at once. My arcane mage was squishy and a mana hog to boot, so even though I did not die often I still had to take extra precautions and recovery time with nearly every encounter. It just takes longer. Still, the process should not be that dependent on class and spec selection. (I can’t even imagine leveling a healer or a tank in those roles with the new process. It would seem to be almost a requirement to level them in a damage spec and only switch to the desired healer or tank for group activities. That is sad, I think — I remember back in MoP my delight in leveling a mistweaver monk as a mistweaver and having no trouble whatsoever doing so. I think those days might be gone.)

There are players, of course, who welcome the new leveling process. I have no idea what fraction of the WoW community they represent, but I do know they tend to be extremely vocal and — let’s be honest — at times trolling and bullying. Not all of them, but enough that they paint the whole group with that brush. They have now gotten their way, and they did not have to wait for the Classic Servers to do so. Yay for them.

But there is another group — less vocal but I suspect larger than the purist group — who feel as I do: we are over the whole leveling-as-immersion thing, and when we roll a new character we just want to get to the end game as fast as possible. I think we are a large enough group that Blizz should pay some attention to us. They will not, of course, but here is what I would like to see:

  • Buff the heirloom gear to basically award bonus XP that would restore the old leveling times. Anyone who does not want to level quickly does not have to use heirloom gear. Simple.
  • Restore full profession leveling to characters who level to 60 and then use a boost.
  • Make it so that if you have all world quest areas on Broken Shore and Argus unlocked on one character, they automatically become unlocked on all characters on that account.
  • Similarly, make exalted rep account wide. Legion makes rep a pretty big thing in terms of gating for end game activities, professions, and the like, and it becomes less and less fun to pursue the more alts you have. If the purists object, create a coin or something that costs a fairly large sum of gold to buy, that gives account wide exalted rep if you already have it on one character. Call it a Publicity Coin or Advertising Blitz, and say it means you have hired a publicist who has spread the fame of you and your “family” far and wide. How cool would that be?
  • Spread artifact weapon level to all specs within your class, once you have reached, say, Level 75 on one artifact. It would not have to go any further than that — if you have one spec you want to keep grinding on and you get it beyond 75, fine, it would not be necessary to keep pace on all the other specs for that additional artifact level.

Changes like the above would not cause me to play the game less. On the contrary, they would probably make me play more, on more alts, because I would be able to do end game activities I really enjoy, rather than never ending grinds just to get to that point. As it is, I rarely log in on my lesser-developed 110 alts, because I just do not want to face the post-110 leveling grind necessary to get them to the fun part of the game. In Mists of Pandaria, I loved playing most of my alts nearly every day, because they were to the point where they could all do fun things on Timeless Isle — I could get loot and coins and such and also really concentrate on becoming more proficient on each alt. I did not feel as if I had to run certain quest lines or be forced to participate in dungeons I had to queue for, or jump through endless hoops to be productive in their professions, or have to run certain dailies just to get an adequate weapon. I could just — well — enjoy the game. This is a philosophy Blizz seems to have lost.

So, yeah, having taken an alt through the new leveling process (starting at level 20), I can now say categorically, I am not a fan of the change. Once again, it feels like Blizz is forcing me into an “approved” play style, that they are funneling me into their corporate-defined Fun™. Moreover, with Legion they have added an entire sub-leveling requirement on characters at level 110 — one that takes nearly as long to complete as the initial process.

I say again, the new process stinks. Just my 2 copper.

110 character boost stinks

This will be a short post today, due to “surprise” in-law visit. 😡

When Blizz announced a 110 character boost as part of the pre-purchase of Battle for Azeroth, I was pleased. I have made use of boosts for several characters, have even separately purchased at least one. I always thought the benefits of the boost were worth the money, particularly since I usually got my characters to level 60 first so that I would also get the profession max perk.

But Blizz seems to have pushed the 110 boost out the door with the absolute minimum work they could possibly do and still rake in the $$. There is no longer any profession perk. That is, even if you boost after level 60, you get your professions to 700 but still have to go through the maddening series of Legion professions hoops to get your recipes and to get to level 800. When people discovered this, they rightly assumed it was just a bug and reported it as such. No, came the response, it is “working as intended”.

Another thing that is “working as intended” is that boosted characters no longer get the Level 3 garrison from WoD. I do not know if this means there is no access to Tanaan, as I have not used my 110 boost yet, but I would not be surprised.

The auto level 3 garrison with the level 100 boost was, I thought, reasonable. Basically, Blizz was giving us full access to WoD content by doing that. But now, if you want full WoD access, you need to get out there and grind your little butt off.

Basic access to expansion end-game content was, I always thought, the purpose of marketing the character boosts in the first place. But this bare bones 110 boost seems pretty cheesy. I say that because in the past a full-level boost actually gave you some ability to participate in end game activities at a reasonable — not OP, but reasonable — level. One would naturally assume that the Legion boost would give the boosted character some progress on the long drawn-out class hall quests, champion quests, AP chase, zone unlocks, and profession lines. One would be wrong. The 110 boost does not give anything close to the ability to engage in end game activities — you are stuck with playing Legion catch-up to be able to get to that point.

Blizz apparently cannot step away from their all-powerful MAU master, even when players pay hard cash for what used to be decent perks. The new character boost is nowhere close to the decent shortcut it used to be, it is a scam no longer worth the money Blizz continues to charge for it.

I want the company to make money, I am glad that they do. But it seems to me that with Legion they have crossed a line from making profits to maliciously squeezing every dime they can out of players, frequently stooping to deliberately misleading them in the process. The 110 boost is far less value than previous boosts for the same money.

Enjoy your weekend. Mine unfortunately will be spent catering to in-laws.

New leveling, continued

In Friday’s post, I described my experiences so far with leveling a void elf under the new leveling structure. As nearly all of my weekend play time was spent leveling my new alt, this will be an update on additional observations.

Having now played a total of 17 hours in the new system on my void elf, I have to say I still have mixed feelings about the leveling and zone changes.

In my 17 hours I managed to get my VE to level 50. Allowing for the fact that they start at level 20, and allowing some non-leveling time for afk’s, incorporating new talents into action bars, setting up a bank and getting new bags, running back and forth to the Darkmoon Faire to get the leveling buff, etc., that is probably — very roughly — 2 levels per hour. (Not sure how much the DMF buff speeded things up, but it did help a little, even though it seemed like every time I freshly applied it, my next series of quests involved long intervals of road travel, with not much actual leveling going on. 😡)

That really is not a bad rate, but it is quite a bit slower than before the patch, so of course it feels really tedious. (Plus, I expect that rate to slow as I get higher.) These days I consider myself to be an efficient leveler — not a speed leveler, but also not wasting time on things like professions and extraneous exploration. I handicapped myself a bit this time by choosing a mage to level, and an arcane one at that. One of my guildies started out yesterday at almost the same level I was, and by the end of the day she had reached 60 while I only got to 50, playing about the same number of hours. But she is leveling a monk, and that xp buff they get is pretty significant. Also, my leveling an arcane mage means I have to spend time after every 2-3 pulls to replenish mana (arcane really eats mana fast) and health (squishy clothie). It adds up.

Pluses so far:

I do like the idea that I can select any zone I want to level in. For example, I am really burned out on Redridge, so I am avoiding it this time around. I did Western Plaguelands but when it came time to go to what traditionally would have been the next zone — Eastern Plaguelands, which I hate with a passion — I opted for Theramore instead. You can jump from zone to zone or continent to continent easily and not suffer any bad effects on the leveling process. (With the possible exception of some additional travel time.)

I also like the addition of zone quest sets. I was never big on going after the Loremaster achievement, but I do like the mini-achievements you get now when you finish a set of related quests in a zone.

I still like the heirloom gear, even after Blizz nerfed it. (A lot.) It saves me having to re-equip most gear after quests, and of course the added transmog expenses every time you re-equip. (Because of course fashion while questing is everything, Dahling!) Yeah, I know void elves get a slight break on transmog costs, but I am still a cheapskate in that area. (More about heirloom gear below.)

Minuses so far:

Something that did not occur to me before I started this process, but which I now find is pretty important, is that I never get the “oh, I must be making progress” feeling, because every mob is always pretty hard. They level up as I do, so I never get that “cool, this used to be hard but now they are dying much faster” internal feedback. Everything is just as difficult at level 50 as it was at level 20, even the exact same mobs.

In some ways, this absence of a sense of progression reminds me of the Legion AP chase — you never really feel like you have finished anything, it just grinds on and on with no noticeable change. Leveling an alt is now like leveling your artifact weapon, and it feels bad. I am astounded that Blizz just does not seem to understand this. It apparently is not important to the devs, but I can assure them it is very important to the majority of players.

I have not done any dungeons, so I can’t speak firsthand as to how or if that would affect the leveling process. However, the guildie I mentioned above ran a few on a different alt — a tank she is leveling — and described her experiences as a “disaster”, mainly because healers just could not keep up with the extra damage to the tank and dps. She is an excellent tank, knows the fights and is very situationally aware when it comes to pulling, and she will stop to let healers get mana and such, so when she says dungeons are “disasters” I tend to put some stock in it. If they give extra xp, is it really worth it if they take longer to do and require more repair costs?

I have also heard that the healer leveling process is significantly more difficult now than before the changes (if any of you have direct experience with this, chime in). Of course, it is not new that some classes and specs have an easier time leveling than others, this has always been the case. But I wonder if the new system, because of rushed testing or slipshod balancing, disproportionately punishes the “loser” classes and roles. It’s just a thought, I really have no data to go further with it.

Doing a major overhaul of the entire leveling system is certainly a daunting task, and I suppose we should be somewhat understanding if Blizz has not covered all its bases in the process. But honestly, my patience shelves for Blizz are pretty bare these days. They seem to rush things out the door, rarely if ever listening or reacting to the serious feedback they claim to want from players.

Not everyone wants the new prescribed and approved leveling “experience” every time they level an alt. The forums are full of people loudly braying this truism. It seems to me that Blizz might, for a change, listen to the drumbeat behind the comments and realize they could actually — and easily — appease both camps in this case. They could keep the new system in place, but structure heirlooms this way:

  • Keep the new nerfed versions, but add a level of enhancement, based on the player having attained certain achievements (max level, certain level of gear, certain reps, a high level quest chain, whatever) on at least one character.
  • The new enhancement would be purchased tokens, applied to each piece of heirloom gear after each has reached level Level 3 for that piece.
  • This new “Level 4” token would go into effect immediately and would basically grant greater gear power (yes, rendering mobs and many bosses trivial), as well as significantly increase the xp bonus for each piece. (Essentially restoring the old leveling experience.)
  • The token would be applied once the heirloom gear was equipped and soulbound, thus applying only to the character being leveled. (Like enchants do now.) If a player wished to level another alt, they would have to re-purchase these speed tokens for that alt.
  • The cost of the tokens should be reasonable, neither too cheap nor prohibitively expensive, maybe something like a few hundred gold each.
  • Players not wishing to rush through the leveling experience would not have to add this token and would get the full benefit of whatever “immersive experience” they want. (Of course there would be the inevitable argument of “I love playing this way, and so everyone else should have to play that way, too”, but that is an argument that should be ignored.)

I honestly do not see who would lose with such a system (except, probably the Blizz execs who now equate “tedious grinding” with “my quarterly MAU bonus”). But I think what Blizz has done with the new leveling system actually will discourage some players from leveling new alts (especially once the newness of Allied races has worn off), and by giving an option for speed leveling it might entice more players to participate, which in the long run will increase MAU.

None of this will happen, of course. First, Blizz has shown they do not give a rat’s ass if players feel they are being shoved into one endless grind after another. (All while Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas sanctimoniously tut-tuts about the evils of “grinding”, a prime example of alternative-reality thinking.) Second, Blizz is in the midst of a major game redirection — ongoing now for a couple of years — away from any form of player option or choice and towards a highly centralized and prescribed play style.

Meanwhile, I need more mage food.

Q&A, and servers, fail

Yeah, so I watched the latest episode of the Hazzikostas show, and it ranks right up there as one of the crappiest ones Blizz has done. You probably should not waste your time watching it, but if you insist, or just want the text summary, MMO-C has both.

Here are the takeaways from my notes:

Allied races are now available with BfA pre-purchase. This was a pretty badly-kept secret, lots of people seemed to be privy to the “leak” several days ago. The amazing thing to me is how ineptly Blizz rolled it out. Clearly they had been planning it for a while. But the rollout, combined with whatever they did in yesterday’s maintenance patch, was a total disaster. That they finally got many of the worst parts under control by about 9 PM ET last night does not mitigate what a total technical failure it was.

The first thing that happened was that the Blizzard store crashed, apparently under the stress of lots of people rushing to pre-order BfA. Blizz claims it was not their problem per se, rather the money people that handle that sort of thing for them let them down. Whatever. Blizz’s customers were kept in queue for hours, usually only to eventually be kicked out of it. Some people actually seemed to get to the “click this button to charge your credit card” part only to once again be flung into an endless loop that kicked them out of the process. Others had their credit cards charged multiple times, with some of this group actually getting the pre-order and some not.

Whether part of a cascading failure or merely by unlucky coincidence, some set of the game servers also crashed, with the result that no one could log into the game. Blizz issued an emergency patch around 7 PM ET, but that only worked for Windows users. Unlucky Mac users were forced to wait another two hours before Blizz got their butts in gear to fix whatever that problem was. (But not before a clueless CM made the blue comment that Blizz was “actively working” the Mac problem, but they had other higher priority stuff they were working on, the implication being just shut up and wait until we get around to it. Oh, and any readers tempted to make a snarky comment about Mac users, be aware I am in no mood!)

Was Blizz really surprised that a whole bunch of people would try to pre-order BfA immediately? I mean, how long have they been in business? And where the hell was their stress testing before going live — any testing at all, really?

I have said it before and I will say it again. Blizz is a worldwide company that still operates like two guys in a garage. They are woefully incompetent at what they apparently think are the un-fun parts of maintaining the game. Their attitude seems to be, “Yeah, but that part isn’t kewl, dude!”

PvP. A lot of people were pretty annoyed that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas and Mr. Emcee Lore spent probably 30 minutes of the hour-long session talking about PvP. I will admit, I was one of them. Yeah, I get that PvP is a major part of the game for some people (although I doubt it is half the player population). Truthfully, if I had known they were going to spend so much time discussing PvP, I would not have even watched the event.

Upon reflection, maybe that attitude is why they did it. I am getting the definite idea that Blizz is very slightly ramming PvP down people’s throats for BfA. All servers will be for both groups, just a matter of setting a player switch to decide. (I can hardly wait until that goes live, no chance for disasters there….) BfA will also feature scenarios that are basically modified PvP arenas, the only difference being that the game will simulate PvP opponents using AI for their NPCs. These scenarios (“islands” in the BfA parlance), in addition to being pseudo-PvP in nature, seem designed for esports — they are short, timed events, basically a new addition to Mythic+ dungeons for BfA.

“Utilities pruning” for classes. The main thing that came out of this for me was Hazzikostas officially lecturing us that “Bring the class not the player” is a good thing. And in fact, he pedantically Blizzsplained to us that we have stupidly misunderstood the whole “Bring the player not the class” thing from the beginning — if we had not been so dense, we would have grasped that it never meant groups should have the freedom to bring good players irrespective of class, nor was it any sort of design philosophy.

“Four legs good, two legs bad” has at last morphed into “Four legs good, two legs better”. It has always been so, we are just too confused to remember, poor brainless little things we are…

We will, of course see how this utility pruning campaign works out. But I remain skeptical. There is almost no way to structure it to avoid clear winners and losers in the pruning lottery. Some classes will get the “always good” utilities (hero, battle rez, etc.) and some will get the “good for a few types of fights” utilities.

Of course, I am particularly interested in this because until Legion hunters were the utility class. We had all kinds of useful stuns, traps, mobility moves, misdirects, pet saves. Nearly all of these were removed at the start of Legion, then begrudgingly a few were restored in an early patch. But we are still nowhere near the level of utility player we have been for almost all of WoW. And now it appears even our meager set of utilities will be pruned once again, all in the name of “class uniqueness”. Whatever the hell that is, other than an excuse for designating winners and losers in the class lottery.

BM hunters may be screwed. Clearly, Blizz’s plan is to make SV the winning hunter spec in BfA. We don’t know exactly what it will look like yet, but apparently, according to the esteemed Game Director, it will remain melee-ish, but in a kind of ranged way(?). Hazzikostas actually admitted they went too far out of the hunter play style when they destroyed SV and replaced it with what was effectively  another class. And so this spec will receive a rather major makeover in BfA.

In a sense, I suppose I should be glad that my beloved old-style SV may begin to make a return. But honestly I am still pissed that Blizz treated us SV hunters so shabbily, that they forced many of us to switch to BM to maintain any semblance of what we loved about hunters, that they arrogantly dismissed every comment we had to make on the change, and now they are saying “Oops, heehee, guess we went too far, silly us.”

Worse, it is starting to look like SV will get some major changes at the expense of the BM spec. Apparently Blizz picks one hunter spec each expansion now to be the one they make unplayable. It was SV at the end of WoD and pretty much in Legion, and it could easily be BM in BfA. So all you hunters out there who begrudgingly gave up your SV for BM: Psych!!! Blizz was just kidding, you should go back to SV in BfA.

Hahahahaha! They are such great kidders! Screwing with hunters just never gets old for them.

BfA release date. We now know this will be “before Sep 21st”. This is before most of us were predicting. I am happy to eat my words on this if it indeed comes to pass. (I predicted not before November.) But it means that BfA is further along, more set in stone than we had thought, and it really seems what we see in the alpha and beta will be very close to what we get in the live version.

Anyway, that was pretty much it for yesterday’s Q&A. If you did not watch it, congratulations, you just saved yourself some wasted time.

January closet cleaning

Checking out my drafts folder yesterday, I see it is getting a little cluttered. Time to clear it out. So here are some scattered thoughts I never worked on enough to make an entire post on them.

Mage fear conquered? Regular readers know of my long-standing love-hate relationship with the mage class in WoW. I rolled a mage many years ago, as one of my earliest alts, but I could never get comfortable with the play style. I dutifully leveled her up each expansion, but could never rise above the terribad level of proficiency. Each expansion I tried all three specs, got adequate gear for her, even ventured into an easy raid or instance now and then.

But it just never felt right, so finally towards the end of WoD, after much soul searching, I deleted the poor thing. Within a month, I regretted the decision. So I rolled a new mage and leveled her to 100 before the end of WoD. When Legion came around, I decided the one mage spec I had always like best was fire, so I leveled her to 110 as a fire mage. But this time, for some reason, I am having great fun playing her. The play style, unlike my mental image of mages, is quite mobile (certainly as mobile as, say MM hunter), and every time those Hot Streak procs hit — and they hit quite often — I get a little tickle of fun.

Maybe that is the key: fun. I really feel like Blizz has sucked all the fun out of huntering. Certainly for BM they have turned it into a grim process of mashing buttons when they are off cooldown. The only really fun procs left for BM are the odd trinket or legendary effect. But my little fire mage rewards me every time I play. I love planning my chain of crits to be able to sustain high damage and instant casts, and the visuals — especially when I plan properly — are nothing short of spectacular.

Attention Blizz: Fire mages are an example of a fun play style. BM hunters are not. There is no real fun in merely not missing a Kill Command cooldown. Also the hunter visuals — when they exist, which is not often — stink. If you cannot see the difference, then there is little hope for the hunter class going forward.

Paying for game commentary sites. You may have noticed that I removed Blizzard Watch from my blog roll on this site. The reason is not that I think it is a bad site (I do not). Rather it is because they have recently started what I think of as a sleazy Eyewitless News practice of hyping some posts with salacious headlines, then locking them for anyone who does not pay for the site.

I do subscribe to the site with Patreon, but I was uncomfortable with being complicit in putting the arm on my readers to pay up in order to read a post I linked to. Blizzard Watch, of course, is free to put pressure on anyone they want in order to make some money. (And I suspect it is not like they are raking it in, anyway — more like just keeping the lights on.) But it is not my style, and I really don’t want to be a shill for them.

Begging for gear. As I play my alts more frequently now that Legion is winding down, I am running more LFRs than I used to. I am finding one of the more annoying trends is for people to whisper me every time I get a piece of gear, asking if  I really need it. Usually I ignore them or whisper back a rather stark “yes”. I refrain from saying if I did not need the gear I would tell people to roll for it, though that would be a small lie, since I often do not put things up for roll because it is cumbersome to do so and even more cumbersome to effect the actual trade. There are a couple people in my guild who do not even loot bosses in LFR any more just because they don’t want to be annoyed by these beggars — they get their loot through the mail from the postmaster.

In typical fashion, when Blizz introduced the possibility of rolling for personal loot in a group, they gave exactly zero thought to how that would inevitably play out for The Great Unwashed. Here is the usual scenario:

  • Kill boss.
  • Loot rolls by in raid chat.
  • Tank runs hell bent for leather to engage next trash in combat.
  • People like me don’t even realize what if any loot they got, much less have the time to decide to put it up for roll, type out the link and the announcement, then monitor who wins the roll and try to find them during a rare non-combat interval to open trade.
  • Multiple beggars whispering me does not help the confusion.

This is bad enough in a guild run, where I actually want to help people out with gear, but for the record I refuse to deal with it in LFR. Sorry, LFR-ites, you are not getting any of my loot. It’s nothing personal, just that I can’t be bothered.

If Blizz actually gave a damn — which they clearly do not — they would have created a better user interface for announcing, deciding, and trading gear in group situations. No doubt this is on the table for BfA.

HAHAHAHA, just kidding.

Try not to panic yet. A few days ago we got the first big dump of data on Battle for Azeroth, along with a class balance dev post and the announcements of the alpha test and an imminent Hazzikostas “Q&A”. I took a very cursory look at the hunter changes in this first flood of information and saw what I thought were a lot of MM and SV changes, but almost nothing on BM hunters. A small nugget of worry took root in my brain, but I squished it down as I had not really studied the data and could easily have missed a bunch. (Recall that I am a professional worrier…)

But then yesterday, Bendak in Eyes of the Beast posted his first thoughts on sifting through the data, as it pertains to BM hunters, and it was pretty grim. Responsibly, he reiterated that this is the first set of data, it is extremely early in the process, he has not had a chance to actually play on a test realm yet, and there will be much more to come. But a couple of his remarks really caught my eye.

I was hoping for more from my beloved BM. But I’m willing to accept that BM hasn’t seen as much attention as MM and SV at this point in development. At least I hope that’s the case, or else we’re in trouble.


This new version of Survival looks oddly similar to Beast Mastery but with the addition of a bunch of DoTs. Half the abilities and talents can be used from range, and you can even do your main rotation at 40 yards while Aspect of the Eagle is active.

I know they feel like they need to make some big changes to Survival to get people to play it, but I would have rather seen them improve what’s there by pruning the existing rotation, keeping the good parts, removing a bit of the excessive maintenance, and adding some new talents. Now it seems like all they’re doing is adding abilities that would be better served as MM or BM abilities. Is it a melee spec or not? How do they plan on balancing this?

I refuse to panic yet, but I can’t help but hearken back to the early days of Legion testing, when we all thought the same thing about the bad place BM hunters were in and the curious lack of any announced changes. Surely, we thought, it’s just a matter of Blizz not having got around to the major BM changes yet. Nope, indeed what we saw in the earliest data was what we got, and it sucked. Moreover, Blizz steadfastly refused to even discuss the lack of changes, refused to even comment on the very detailed and cogent results posted by some of the best hunters in the game, rudely and disrespectfully ignored every plaintive cry for at least an explanation of the crude play style.

So yeah, it might be too early to panic. But then again, it might not. Is BM hunter destined to become the next “experiment” in Blizz’s never-ending quest to screw with the hunter class?

As much as I have come to enjoy mages, Blizz, why don’t you take a break from hunters and go screw with mages for a change? Or druids? I swear, if you destroy BM like you destroyed SV in WoD, I will haunt you and curse you to the end of my days!

Going postal and closing alt loopholes

I suppose we all knew it was inevitable, but Blizz has finally reached the bottom of their “content” barrel. Their Priority Mail achievement starts with — hold onto your hats —

Standing around Dalaran watching a tiny spot on the ground for 2-5 hours, then being lucky enough to click it first when 10-15 other players are trying for the same thing! 

Yes, folks, in Blizz’s never-ending mission to get us to spend more and more hours a day logged in to the game, they have come up with a way to get us to do nothing more than stare at the screen for hours on end. In the old days, only hunters were crazy enough to do this, but Blizz, bless their hearts, thought this insane fun™ just had to be shared with other players.

Wait, though, the whee! factor gets even better. Later on in the questline you get to actually sort mail! Holy cow, where do they come up with this kind of non-stop, wild wacky activity? If your grandma or grandpa plays this game, do not let them attempt this achievement unless they get cardio clearance from their doctor.

Yeah, okay, I know there a lot of players for whom the achievement rewards more than compensate for the over-the-top time investment it requires. More power to them. But let’s look at what is at work here.

This is Blizz’s single-minded approach to the game now: it doesn’t matter what people do in the game, as long as they are logged on more and more hours each month. If now people are not chasing AP each day, and if they have slacked off on grinding for legendaries, Blizz has to find another way to make them log in. Let’s face it, participation in World Quests And Emissaries was fueled mainly by the AP and legendary grinds, and when those became irrelevant, so did the activities based on them. Sure, a few people are doing them on alts, but I am betting Blizz’s stats show an alarming dropoff in participation rates.

That dropoff is certainly reflected in WoW’s Monthly Active User stats, the metric by which Activision-Blizzard measures a game’s corporate worth. Add to this the inevitable end-of-expansion lull, and this quarter’s bottom line starts to look less than rosy for Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas. Possibly the MAU will be rescued by introduction of Allied Races, but right now it seems like that is tied to pre-order of the next expansion, and given that we have not even seen a beta yet, it seems unlikely that pre-ordering will occur before March or April at the earliest.

I am not deluded enough to think Priority Mail will make up for all the lost MAU, but it certainly cannot hurt. Add to that longer timewalking raids (Black Temple and the upcoming Ulduar), significantly extended leveling times for new characters, and longer solo times for old raids people keep running for mounts and transmog. Multiplied by even a couple of million players, it adds up and might serve to keep Ion’s MAU numbers afloat for a couple of months.

(If you are interested, there is a very good guide to the whole Priority Mail achievement here in the Icy Veins forums. And if you do not want to spend hours staring at a Dalaran mailbox to start the quest line, the starter item is available in auction houses for the low low price of somewhere between 150,000 and 1 million gold.)

Anyway, back to my rant. Above I wrote that Blizz doesn’t care what you are doing in the game so long as you are logged in for many hours, but there is an exception to that: if you are playing an alt, Blizz requires that you play it strictly in accordance with how Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas thinks alts should be played. Blizz has been rather relentless in ferreting out infractions of this and clamping down as soon as possible.

Think I’m exaggerating? Recall Ion’s pronouncement back in WoD about how heinous he considered it to use alts to supply items to a main — he huffed and puffed about it so much that he seemed perilously close to hyperventilating. To stop such abuses, in Legion we saw a whole host of mechanisms designed to force every character, alt or main, into a strict end game chute, thereby ensuring Ion’s view of alts strictly as mini-mains would be forced on every player.

Professions, for example, required participation in not only instances, but also in Mythic level instances. In some cases only raids would supply the needed profession progression items. And of course in order to participate in these group activities, a certain item level was required, so the alt would have to not only level but also reach a certain ilevel. For many professions, a certain rep level with advanced factions was required, again requiring a certain gear level in order to be able to do the things necessary to get that rep. Blizz introduced a soulbound material necessary for most high-level crafting and gear level enhancements, and the only way you could get the material was to participate in end game activities with a time investment close to what had previously been reserved for main play. It is worth noting that, unlike in Mists, Blizz apparently has no intention, even now at the end of the expansion, of making these soulbound materials account bound. (They did very magnanimously allow a shuffle of sorts, but at an 80% loss rate for the materials.)

I suspect by now some of you are rolling your eyes a bit and muttering, “Yeah, okay, Fi, this is all old news, so what?” Well, one would have thought the introduction of an entire alt-control system such as we have in Legion would be enough. But one would be wrong. It turns out that there was a huge loophole that allowed players to *gasp* actually level alts more quickly than Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas wishes to permit!

To plug this loophole, the Blizz devs convened an emergency session and quickly nerfed the entire and long-standing Recruit A Friend program. Check out the Blue post quote explaining how they narrowly averted alt-play disaster with their quick action:

Now, we certainly recognize that the majority of people using the Refer-A-Friend system before these changes were doing so in order to level alts quickly. If anything, we take that as a strong indication that the system needed to change: the best method to level a character in WoW shouldn’t be “buy a new copy of the game, put it on a separate account, send it a Refer-A-Friend invite, level a new character, and then transfer that character to your primary account when you’re finished.” That’s messy, at best.

If people are buying new copies of the game, what the hell should Blizz care how they are using them, so long as they are not violating the ToS? If people want to buy them to use as doorstops, what business is it of Blizz’s? If people take a “messy” route to playing alts, who cares? Attention Blizz: People were buying your game! Isn’t that actually one of the primary reasons you are in business? And not for nothin’, but just maybe this shows that your recent “leveling experience enhancement” went too far and many of your customers will go to extremes to avoid it. Just sayin’… Not that you need to take any lessons from it or anything, heaven forbid.

No, this nerf was about two things: preventing players from deviating from the prescribed and approved alt-usage policy, and squeezing every possible MAU number out of this expansion.

Next up in Blizz’s “expansion of content”: the Dried Paint achievement. Awards the coveted “Painter” title, along with the Endless Bucket of Paint toy, which can be used (with a 3-week cooldown) to splash paint on the streets of Dalaran (this expansion only). To start the 28-quest achievement, watch the steps of the Violet Citadel closely. Cracks will begin to appear in the steps approximately every 4 hours, and when exactly 74 paint cracks appear in any 3 of the steps, make your way to the Hero’s Welcome and find the Tiny Magic Paintbrush, which will appear somewhere in the inn for 180-240 seconds. When you pick up the paintbrush, you may begin this quest line. Prepare yourself for fun!


Patch 7.3.5 do-over

Well, we have had a few days of Patch 7.3.5 now, and it appears today Blizz is going for a do-over of the patch install, as the servers will be down for what appears to be a major-patch amount of time.

What’s going on?

Anyone who has logged in this week has noticed something wrong  — from minor annoyances to really major bugs, sometimes enough to make the game unplayable. The forums are lit up over this dismal patch. After an initial attempt to blame the problems on “addons”, Blizz has seemed to accept that the patch is buggy as hell and today’s extended maintenance is their Hail Mary to straighten much of it out.

Just a few of the game areas that have developed significant bugs since implementation of the patch:

  • Old dungeons and raids (for example, boss health — many heroic bosses ended up with significantly less health than normal bosses).
  • Current dungeons (I was in a heroic Court of Stars last night, and the spy kept stopping in his tracks and refusing to move further. A guildie experienced some bosses in keystone dungeons arbitrarily assuming affixes that are not part of the ones in this week’s rotation.) Several dungeons became impossible to run for M+ because of the serious bugs.
  • Archaeology
  • Pet names (many just disappeared) and some pet skins (reverted to box)
  • Transmog
  • Lag and frame rates — as low as 1 fps for some people. Basically the game becomes a slide show at that rate.
  • Sound — choppy, interrupted, or just missing, like bad cell phone coverage.
  • Profession quest lines — NPCs you have to talk to become unresponsive.
  • Mat exchange. If you were given a stack of “Light Illusion Dust” in exchange for the now-defunct vanilla enchanting mats, and you tried to change it to “Rich Illusion Dust” at the rate of 3 light —> 1 rich, you found that whatever size stack of light you clicked on turned into exactly 1 rich, using up the entire stack of light.
  • Current raids — floor effects in Antorus, for example, very squirrelly.
  • Major unintended consequences of the zone leveling paradigm. (Unintended, perhaps, but not unforeseeable for any competent project manager. This point may be a future post for me, it is so heinous and irresponsible.)

Other than (finally) admitting the bugs and promising to fix them, Blizz has been mum on what is going on with the patch. Their silence, as usual, only serves to fuel speculation. One reddit thread advanced the intriguing theory that adding the extra backpack slots caused a cascading effect on the entire game, and actually it’s not such a bad argument. For a couple of years now, the standard Blizz response to request for more backpack space has been to explain that the backpack code is original game code and that changing it at this point could have a large number of unintended consequences. There is, in fact, some indication that many of the items and gear for characters (our “inventory”) are managed by means of a single array (!!) in the game code. I don’t pretend to have any knowledge beyond Basic Computer Code 101 level, but I know that arrays can be very touchy, and changing the parameters of one — if not done very carefully — can require you to chase down every single line of code that points back to it and make sure it still points to what you want it to. For a game with millions of lines of code, this might actually be an impossible task.

My own theory is that Patch 7.3.5 suffers from what I call the Blatchford Effect.

Blatchford Effect. (My own term) Some years ago, there was an Olympic-caliber speed skater named Neil Blatchford. Excellent athlete and very decent guy. My uncle went to school with him at Macalester College in Minnesota, and I heard this story from him. During the skating off-season (this was back in the day when there actually were such things as off-seasons), Neil ran track to keep in shape, specifically the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. Anyone who has ever run track knows that this is one of the most grueling races in the sport. It calls for sprinter-type speed, endurance, and hams/quads of steel, exactly the same requirements as for speed skaters.

One other feature of the race is that, in order to maximize performance, you need to take the exact same number of steps between hurdles, and the steps need to be the exact same distance each, so as to arrive at the next hurdle in perfect position to get over it most efficiently. The optimum number of steps for Neil was something like 15. Naturally, as the race progresses and the athlete gets more fatigued, it gets more and more challenging to maintain both pace and form.

The story my uncle told was of Neil running in an NCAAAA meet, where for some reason he lost part of a step early in the race. Nevertheless, he 15-stepped it for the entire distance, even though that meant that by about halfway through, he was actually stomping on the hurdles and driving them to the ground rather than hurdling over them. My uncle was in awe of the strength and determination it took to do that and combine it with sprinting for 400 meters, though of course “determination” can also be plain old ordinary “stubbornness”. Whatever you call it, Neil’s rigid adherence to 15-stepping contributed to losing the race.

Whatever the technical reason(s) for the disaster that so far has been Patch 7.3.5, to my mind the single biggest mistake Blizz made was rushing it to production before it was even close to ready. I am absolutely thunderstruck at the nonexistent quality control they exercised over this patch. Once again, Blizz has reverted to their two-guys-in-a-garage approach to this game.

I did not participate in the PTR (kind of sick of doing Blizz’s QC for them only to have them ignore valid concerns and actual demonstrated bugs), so I do not know if the patch was this bad when it was still being tested. Maybe it was fine, then Blizz decided to throw in some new stuff without testing just before it went live. (Was the extra bag space part of the PTR? I do not know.)

More likely, though, is that Blizz’s reputation for ignoring player PTR evaluations has brought them to a point where the PTR is of extremely limited value as a broad test vehicle. People dabble their toes in the PTR to check out one or two areas they are interested in, or merely out of brief curiosity, but the players who used to really dig in and give a test realm a thorough evaluation have stopped doing so. Why should they waste their time when Blizz refuses to listen to them?

At the start of Legion, Blizz — still stinging from the disaster that was WoD — promised frequent and regular content patches. They have kept that promise, though at this juncture it seems like they are committed only to the schedule, quality be damned. They are 15-stepping this expansion, come hell or high water, no matter how many hurdles they have to stomp on in order to get to the end. As Neil Blatchford could have attested, there may be a grim sort of satisfaction in such a course of action, but that is not how you win the race.

We’ll see if today’s round of maintenance can give us a workable patch. I hope so. But I think there is at least a 50-50 chance that what we will get is one that is still buggy as hell but has a few of the game-stopping problems fixed. The patch problems seem far too extensive to be fixed with even an 8-hour extra maintenance cycle. This patch was not even close to ready for prime time, yet Blizz foisted it on us anyway. That may bode well for executive bonuses and shareholder approval in the Activision-Blizzard world, but it stinks for the players. Unfortunately, player satisfaction is pretty far down on the list of important business considerations these days.

Time for the weekend. See you on the other — hopefully brighter — other side.