So much information to process

Well. Blizzcon is over, and we finally have a lot of information about Legion. A lot. Certainly too much for one person to process immediately. The specialists out there have already started to zero in on their areas of expertise, and in the coming weeks and months we can expect to see every aspect of the new expansion dissected. Excellent.

Today I want to focus on some big-picture impressions I have gleaned over the past few days, both from what I could observe from my limited (non-attendance, non-virtual ticket) vantage of Blizzcon, and from what I have read subsequently. There will be plenty of time later for detailed discussions of class changes, professions, end game, and every other aspect of the game.

My big impressions can be boiled down to 4 main observations:

Blizz seems to have really heard  many of the main player complaints from WoD. 

This was the most hopeful sign from all the Legion hype. Blizz has clearly heard and reacted to player dissatisfaction with the transmog system, lack of repeatable content, funneling players into a single prescribed play style, short useful life span of dungeons, complete reliance on raiding as the only end game activity, and lack of in-depth dev communication with players. Blizz appears to have made major changes designed to address every one of these player concerns. This is huge, and while I can’t discuss all of these changes today, I will touch on a couple.

Transmog changes. I can’t wait for them, they sound almost too good to be true — every item you have ever earned, or even could have earned but did not select, being available, moving to an heirloom type system that means you no longer have to store the actual item, and making all items account wide — wow, just wow.

We will be able to hide shoulders in Legion? Short break while I do my happy dance. (As you know, I have previously ranted on this subject.)

Scaled zones. I think I like this idea, and I predict it will be a success, IF Blizz can make it work without weeks of technical problems after it goes live. I am attracted to the idea of picking your own path to level, of staying in a zone you like until you feel you are finished with it. I like the potential of no mass crashes because of population overload in a required starting zone. I am encouraged that this feature might indicate that Blizz is moving away from the cattle chute approach to the game and realizes that people really do like choice in how they play. (There are a few downsides,  but all in all they seem minor. For example, zone scaling probably means there will no longer be any “easy” zones you can visit once you have leveled if you want some painless mat farming.)

Communication with players. At Blizzcon, the devs promised a series of class design blogs, and they are already making good on that promise, starting with hunter design today. We have also seen a fairly deep interview at Blizzcon with Ion Hazzikostas, and a class design dev chiming in on a Reddit forum. I applaud this approach, and I hope it continues. I may not agree with class design decisions (in fact, I vehemently disagree with the hunger changes), but I am extremely pleased to see deep background explanations for them. This kind of openness can only be good for the game.

Blizz continues to learn the wrong lessons from some of their previous (bad) decisions.

The most obvious example of this is flying. Every time the subject came up at Blizzcon or in subsequent dev communications/interviews, I saw only equivocating and evasion. All we know about flying in Legion is that it will be available after completion of a quest line, and that it will not be available in 7.0 or at launch. The most definitive time frame came from that bastion of stubborn hatred of flying, Watcher Hazzikostas, when he said that it will not be available in 7.0, but that the quest line will start then, in preparation for the “eventuality” of flying “later in the expansion.” The lesson Blizz learned from the WoD debacle is that, as long as they keep dangling that carrot in front of us we will keep chasing it. As I have predicted from the start, we will not see flying until the last patch of Legion. Blizz will give us a long, annoying, grinding quest line that spans at least the initial and first patch, making it possible to gain flying only in the final patch.

Another example of learning the wrong lesson comes from MM hunters in WoD. Blizz has said the reason they are removing pets from MM in Legion is because they found the vast majority of MM hunters in WoD selected Lone Wolf. Well, duh! The class balance was tuned such that MM with LW was completely OP, and if you were raiding it would have been irresponsible to select anything else. Of course MM hunters were going to select LW. It did not mean that MM hunters cared nothing for all those pets they had spent years collecting. Blizz deliberately skewed the numbers for MM to vastly favor LW, and now they claim to have proven that MM hunters don’t want to have a pet. (If these people ever decide to leave the field of game design, they have a rosy future in government budget planning.)

Some Legion changes have the potential for disaster.

Artifact weapons. The more I learn about these, the more convinced I am that they will become the garrisons-type mistake of Legion. Like garrisons, I believe the original concept was sound, but it seems Blizz is intent on making them the central feature of this expansion, and they continue to connect more and more game activity to them.

There will be fallouts that affect major game experiences. For example, even though there has been mention that characters may tri-spec in Legion, the artifact weapon mechanism will make this mostly unattainable. And Blizz studiously refrained from addressing any possible artifact shortcuts for off specs. Similarly, the long and arduous chase for artifact upgrades and accoutrements will pretty much shut down meaningful alt play for most players.

As an aside, honestly most of the weapons don’t look or seem very epic. Their back stories seem extremely contrived, I really don’t get much sense of lore history from most of them, more like “Bla-bla-bla, made up legends and lore crap, ancient something or other, imbued with special something hocus pocus magic, etc.” Some of them look just plain ridiculous — I can’t look at the Balance Druid one without thinking “dead pelican” or the Resto Druid one without thinking “dead reindeer”. Luckily, you will still be able to transmog them somewhat, so for example I will not be forced to have my BM Night Elf hunter carry that hideous looking gun since I will still be able to transmog it to a bow from my huge collection.

Hunters and other class changes. I will write much more on this later, but I remain convinced that the hunter class is being effectively destroyed in Legion. I think warlocks will suffer greatly from the introduction of the new Demon Hunter class, that they will be largely marginalized at least in the demonology spec. And I think the push to have “something unique” for each class and spec will have negative consequences for raid team selection.

Moreover, Blizz has a pretty dismal track record for being able to adequately balance individual specs as well as balancing within the entire class structure. I am not at all hopeful that the major class redesign in Legion will be successful. I think there will be months and months of imbalances so severe that players will frequently be forced out of classes and specs they love to play and may have played for years. And moving to a different spec will be a major change for many players, not only because of the artifact weapon impediment, but also because switching — even for pure damage classes — may entail a completely different play style, for example between ranged and melee.

Professions. Moving to the “earn every recipe you need” approach will very likely put almost the last nail in the coffin of alt play as a way to support your main. Most people simply will not have the time to screw around running time-intensive quest lines and hoping for mob drops to max out their profession alts. Blizz might save this one if they make every profession recipe account-wide, but I am not holding my breath. Time will tell, I am not overly optimistic.

Class halls. I am saying it now, these will bomb. They will do nothing to promote “class camaraderie” or whatever it is Blizz hopes for. They will become nothing more than an annoying quest hub. By implementing these, Blizz missed a huge opportunity to restore guilds as a social structure. We could have had guild halls with pretty much the same features as class halls, plus opportunities to participate in guild daily and weekly quests, chance to build guild loyalty and identity, etc. But instead we get these ridiculous contrived class groupings that further erode a player’s connection to and identity with a guild.

Blizz still must prove they can deliver on grand words and pretty pictures. 

Any major company can stage a boffo dog-and-pony show, can bring the hype for a new product, can whip up optimistic hysteria for future products. But follow-through actions are critical. Over the last year or so, Blizz has shown they frequently cannot follow through on rosy promises, they have treated their customers with disdain, they have dissembled and engaged in cover-ups of incompetence. In short, they have squandered what had been a considerable stockpile of trust and good will. So even though I loved many of the revelations about Legion, I will only be convinced if I see action to bring it about as advertised.

I want to see a beta very soon, and I want to see open feedback and evidence that Blizz is actually responding to legitimate beta player concerns.

I want to see a steady stream of sensible, relevant communication with players. Not a few good intentions for a week or two after Blizzcon, and then another communication blackout.

I do not want Blizz to rush this expansion out the door in as half-assed a fashion as they did for WoD. I want it to be up to traditional Blizzard standards of excellence in every aspect. If that means we don’t get it until September 2016, so be it. Judging from some of the slides and dev hand-waving, there is a very long way to go before the expansion is even close to release-ready.

So yes, I loved the Legion cinematic, and I loved finally getting hard data on the expansion. But now I want results. No pre-purchase for me until I see some.

Let the games begin!

In a couple of hours, in theory, we will start to get some real information on Legion. Finally, almost three months to the day since we got our initial teaser back in August. That Gamescom info was clearly very conceptual in nature, and I have a suspicion Blizz would rather not have put it out at all, except they were bleeding subs at the time and facing widespread player anger over WoD. I can’t say as I blame them for putting out the info in August and then shutting down all communication on Legion until Blizzcon. It was frustrating for us peons, but I think the whole picture of Legion was fuzzy enough that to have individual devs talking about their piece of it in the intervening weeks would have been too chaotic to manage.

However, Blizz has in theory known for months if not years that Blizzcon 2015 would be when they announce the details of Legion. So I am expecting — and I think we all have a right to expect — that we will get a pretty detailed picture of it today, tomorrow, and in the weeks to come.

I am not talking about things like the exact release date — the leaked advert for the expansion pack that said “on or before September 2016” notwithstanding. That is clearly a worst case scenario, they had to put something in the fine print on the package. And honestly, even if it is not released until September, I can’t get too upset about it. I would rather they wait and put out a great expansion than have them rush it out the door in basically beta form like they did with WoD. It does make for an interesting timing problem, though. Third quarter — summertime — is typically the lowest participation time for WoW players. Which of course is why Blizz has tended to release new expansions in the fourth quarter. So September 2016 might actually be a realistic release date. Releasing Legion in June, July, or August  might handicap its chances for success by forcing it to compete with all the other fun summer things people like to do.

Anyway, the kind of Legion details I want from Blizzcon are things like a more or less finished picture of the big pieces of class balance, a good idea of the role of class halls, some specifics on artifact weapons for every spec, details on the mechanisms for obtaining gear, any planned changes to raid structure, a comprehensive picture of professions, what if any changes will make Legion either more alt friendly or alt hostile, how beta participants will be selected, when the beta will start, etc.

Oh. And I want to know exactly when flying will be available. Not vague hand-waves about when “zone content has been completed.” No, Blizz, tell me how many weeks you expect it to take a diligent player to achieve flying. Tell me the steps in the quest line, we all know you have laid them out in perfect detail, so tell me what they are and how long you have designed them to take.

If instead of these things all we get are pretty pictures and movie videos, I will be disappointed and probably pretty cranky about the whole expansion. Not that artwork is not nice — I like looking at it, and it does serve to heighten the anticipation. But without real substance, artwork is basically just leftover Halloween candy — a sweet treat that does not replace supper.

So, here we go! I really want Blizz to show me the substance of Legion in the next two days. I want them to convince me it will be worth the wait.

Well, that explains it

Yesterday Activision Blizzard issued their Q2 2015 earnings report, and I found two interesting items in it. (You can download the actual report, the slides, listen to the conference call, etc. on the corporate website home page, but if you don’t want to plow through all of that, check out Joar’s excellent analysis over at WoW Alt Addiction.)

First interesting item:

Quote from Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard:

Our audience size and the total amount of time people spend with our franchises continue to grow. In the second quarter, our monthly active users grew by 35% year-over-year, and the time our communities spent playing our games grew by 25% year-over-year.

Who knew that time spent playing the game is one of the things the Blizz execs measure as success? It explains nearly everything people have complained about in WoD.

  • Ground travel only, no flying.
  • Slightly slowed travel speeds when compared to Azeroth proper.
  • Having to stop and fight mobs en route to a quest location.
  • Garrison “chores” for every alt every day.
  • Longer and longer boss fights for raids.
  • Longer time to even get to bosses because of huge numbers of trash.
  • Circuitous commercial flight routes even after the so-called “improvements.”
  • Complex jumping puzzles that involve 5 minutes or more per attempt (like the ones in Nagrand).
  • Apexis grinds as a rep requirement.
  • Garrisons spread out to maximize time spent running between fishing hut, mine, level 3 tower, profession huts, and shipyard.

Now you may say that none of the things I mentioned are very significant in terms of additional time required, and you would be right if considered individually. But look at the bigger picture.

Pseudo-mathy stuff: According to the Q2 report, WoW currently has 5.6 million players, a figure we will discuss more in a minute. I don’t know exactly how Blizz measures player time, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they compute an average daily play time for each franchise. So WoW might have an aggregate daily average of — just pulling these numbers out of thin air for the sake of making a point — say, 3 million active players on any given day. If in second quarter of 2014 the same 3 million active players averaged 20 minutes of play time, that would come out to something like 537,000 quarterly player-weeks. (3,000,000 players x 20 min/day x 90 days, converted to weeks)

Call it .5 million quarterly player-weeks.

Now add 10 minutes per day additional play time in Q2 2015, due to all the WoD time stretchers. That comes to over .8 million player-weeks.

Of course, this is a very very rough calculation. A year ago there more players than now. I have no idea how many play each day or what the average play time is. I did not account for the fact that some people only play for a certain amount of time even if it is slower progression. Not to mention a year ago there were more players than there are now.

Seemingly insignificant game time sinks can add up to a huge difference in aggregate time spent actually playing the game. (Which by the way translates into more revenue from WoW’s Far East players, who pay by game time not by monthly subscription.)

So, if you are in charge of WoW development, and you know the corporate execs consider increased game play time to be a measure of success, how interested are you going to be in listening to — much less fixing — player complaints about garrison time sinks, long travel times, etc.? Are you going to listen to players or to your corporate bosses when you give guidance on new boss encounter fight lengths? 

Second interesting item:

As others have written about, WoW lost another 1.5 million subscribers in Q2, added to the 3 million loss in Q1, bringing current subscription levels to 5.6 million. There are certainly multiple reasons for this (check out The Grumpy Elf for a good summary), and Mike Morhaime put his usual “expected cyclical drop” spin on it, but no thinking individual can ignore the obvious conclusion that WoD is a huge failure, possibly the biggest stinker in the history of the game.

The other major factor I see in the subscription decline is that Blizz has lost the trust of its players. Other expansions have been deemed failures, but they did not result in such drastic and sustained player loss. But Blizz has acted arrogantly throughout WoD. They have treated players shabbily, refusing to even discuss widespread and legitimate player concerns, often dismissing them with flippant and disrespectful non-responses. They have just gone through the motions with beta and PTR tests, ignoring serious player input. And if they have not lied outright, they have certainly been slyly and purposely disingenuous about nearly every aspect of WoD, from flying to the role of garrisons to what constitutes “content.”

People will just not put up with that kind of treatment for long, and the result is they vote with their feet.

We will see what effect tomorrow’s Gamescon event has on the player base. It is possible that it will be so awesome that it re-energizes interest in the game, and if the actual expansion carries through on what will undoubtedly be a series of terrific promises, it might be enough — combined with the movie — for a miraculous turnaround for WoW.

I hope so, because I still love this game. But honestly I am not optimistic. Nothing changes the fact that WoW is an aging game model, useful to Activision Blizzard mainly for its name recognition and echoes of past popularity. And! sadly, nothing apparently will change the current Blizz attitude of disdain for its customers.

A few thoughts on the movie

Though I have paid little attention to any of the rumors and/or hype that have been going on for years now, it seems that there will in fact be a Warcraft movie hitting the screens next summer. I don’t know if I will rush out to see it or not, honestly. I usually like to wait for the DVD or the pay per view versions to come out. The experience is less grand than it is in the theater, but it is also less annoying without the popcorn munching, tweeting and texting, phones ringing, people talking and putting their smelly feet up on your seat back, etc.

I have never been overly interested in WoW lore, and I don’t know if the movie will therefore turn out to be a big yawner for me, of if it will get me more interested in the lore. Remains to be seen.

I also don’t have a feel for how good the movie will be, on its own. Quite a bit of recent hype hints that it will border on spectacular, but that is hype and who really knows. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it is a real blockbuster — great CGI, absorbing story line, terrific dialogue, and hunks and hotties galore. What might that mean for the game?

It will almost certainly make a lot of money for Activision Blizzard. And since the money will be made on the back of the WoW franchise, it should mean that the game itself will get some much-needed corporate interest and resources for a newly energized continuation. Should. That doesn’t mean it will. I still think ATVI is in the process of abandoning the WoW model, and there is a good chance that money from a WoW movie will be seen as a windfall for all their new games.

A successful movie will bring in new players to the game, possibly a LOT of new players. If — and only if — Blizz is prepared for this influx, it will be good for the game. By “prepared” I mean quite a few things:

  1. Servers are ready for the new load. You would think this is a no-brainer, but I give you as People’s Exhibits 1 and 2 launch of Mists and launch of WoD. ‘Nuff said.
  2. The game itself is welcoming, fun, and absorbing for new players who have never seen it before. This means it is self-contained, not so confusing that it requires an outside source such as Wowhead to make sense of it. It means the low-level experience is rich and varied enough to permit a wide range of play styles. It means there are mechanics in place to allow new players to easily meet up with and play with friends (for example, the game is more guild-friendly than it is now). It means a non-toxic social environment, where new players are not ridiculed and scorned for asking reasonable questions, where they are not seen as easy prey and entertainment for more experienced players. (And yes, I do think Blizz can help with this, it is not totally dependent  on the player base. There are plenty of actions they can take to greatly discourage toxic behavior.)
  3. Devs are prepared for a more or less continuous stream of small patches, designed to introduce fun tweaks and options rather than tons of new content.
  4. Classes and specs are stabilized and well-balanced (that is, fun to play) at every level, not designed only for end game max gear.
  5. There are rewarding group activities at low levels.

The specter of a looming successful movie is likely to have an effect on the game even before the movie comes out. Take a look at the timeline. Almost the earliest we will get an initial announcement of a new expansion is at Blizzcon. That means that –even being very optimistic — we would not get a beta before early 2016, and a PTR in spring of 2016 at best. Which would put the new expansion launch in synch with the movie premiere. This makes business sense, as it would combine movie revenues with a rash of new players PLUS the rash of returning players and game sales always associated with a new expansion. A banner year for Blizz. (Although I shudder at the almost certain technical chaos it will cause, given their track record.)

What does that mean for the current game? It means we are a year out — in the best case — from a new expansion. Another year of WoD, another year of garrisons and shipyards and apexis crystals and broken professions and horrible class imbalances.

I think it also means — in spite of Blizz’s reluctance to do it — at least one more patch, 6.3, before we get 7.0. In fact, if we are a year out from the xpac, we could conceivably see a 6.4. And, since I do not think we will get another raid tier, indications are that we will be basically in the same situation we were in Mists towards the end. I could be wrong, and I hope I am wrong, but the realities of time are pretty compelling.

Another step in the right direction

A few days ago, writing about my reaction to the June 13 Q&A, I said that reinstating flying was a step in the right direction for Blizz, but that they have a lot of ground to cover to build back the trust they have lost over the past year. Much of that broken trust occurred because of their pathological aversion to meaningful communication with the player base. I said I would like to see a lot more Q&A type sessions as we go forward, on a regular basis.

Yesterday I saw a very positive step in communication. Ion Hazzikostas did a written follow-up to the Q&A, addressing some questions that were not covered in the original session and clearing up some of the answers he already gave. I urge you to take a few minutes and read it if you have not already done so.

You may not agree with everything he said — I certainly didn’t — but here’s the thing: It was the first time I can remember when he has treated players like interested, thinking humans. He actually explained the reasons behind some recent dev decisions, and he explained them thoroughly and, I thought, honestly. No condescension, no snark, no lawyer mumbo-jumbo. As some of you may have noticed, I am a pretty harsh critic of Blizz, and I have lately been especially critical of Hazzikostas, but I like to think I can also give praise when it is due. In this case, it is due.

Nice job, Ion. Really.

Here’s what I mean. In the original Q&A, he made what some people thought was a dismissive statement about demonology warlocks, basically that they were being nerfed because it is time they are on the bottom of the damage charts. That is not a direct quote, but it is pretty close. A lot of people who are passionate about their demo locks were upset by this. So in yesterday’s blue post, he went into some very great detail about that comment, not retracting it or retroactively weasel-wording it, but explaining why demo locks are being so drastically nerfed. The explanation boiled down to there being some fundamental problems with demo lock mechanics that are just too complicated to fix right now. So Blizz’s temporary solution was to avoid forcing locks into the demo spec by, let’s face it, making it as lousy or even lousier to play than the other specs. As I said, you or I may not agree with this decision, but I am satisfied that we got an honest answer. This is a huge step in the right direction, in my opinion.

There was a similar explanation of the comment he had made about disc priests. Recall that he had originally said something to the effect that raid teams that don’t have a disc priest are “probably doing it wrong.” He got a lot of feedback on this, basically accusing him of a double standard because he was willing to nerf demo locks to keep them from being required in raids, but he was not doing anything about disc priests. Again, he gave what I thought was a very honest answer: absorbs right now are so basic to the entire disc spell set that it will require a complete rework of the spec, and unfortunately in this case just nerfing some numbers will not work as a temporary fix. So the reality is, until Blizz can fix the absorb calculus, disc priests will remain a raid “must-have.” It is not a good solution, but it is the best of several bad ones for the time being.

I am not going to rehash all of the blue post, but I will mention one other point he made. There was a question about the upcoming removal of hunter and mage raid utilities (Aspect of the Fox and Amplify Magic). He gave what I think is clear and sound logic behind this decision, and it convinced me –finally — that it was not arrived at capriciously. I saw that the devs are in fact taking into account the big picture of their vision for raid mechanics, in this case the relative roles of melee versus ranged dps. Again, I am not sure I agree with the decision, but I see why they made it, and I accept it.

Even more importantly, this part of the explanation was refreshingly enlightening:

Even without Fox, Hunters are unique in that they are the only ranged DPS that can do nearly everything while on the move, which naturally makes them well-suited to specialized roles on a number of encounters, aside from naturally thriving in high-movement environments. On top of that, Deterrence, Feign Death, Misdirection, and Disengage all allow them to assist with handling mechanics in ways that many other classes cannot.

This told me that, at least for now, hunter mobility — what I consider to be the very essence of hunter play — is not in danger. This was a real revelation to me, because I had come to suspect that no one there any longer understood or cared about the central “feel” of playing a hunter. It gives me great pleasure to say I might have been wrong.

This is what happens when Blizz takes the time to communicate meaningfully and honestly with players. We come to see the bigger picture and hopefully focus on what individual decisions mean for our enjoyment of the whole game, not just one little corner of it. Whether Hazzikostas meant to or not, his blue post revealed a lot about the “vision” he has referred to so vaguely the last few weeks. And it was good.

I hope we can expect to see a lot more of these posts. I see no reason why Blizz can’t keep a Q&A forum open so people can submit questions continuously, and no reason why Watcher can’t select and answer a few of the more important questions regularly in a blue post. He doesn’t have to write the answers himself — certainly he has subject matter experts and minions for that — but it’s important that he put his name on the responses, because for better or for worse, he is the face of WoW development. I know he is extremely busy, but I hope he is beginning to understand that honest and forthright player communication is one of the most important things he can do.

It is still too early to call, but I am starting to think maybe Blizz is turning over a new leaf, that maybe they actually did learn from their spectacular failures over the last year. Fingers crossed.

Weekend grinding

I spent several hours this last weekend grinding out my remaining apexis dailies for the Defending Draenor achievement and looking for treasures to get to the required 100, all so as to have done everything I can do for the Draenor Pathfinder achievement prior to 6.2. It was not a horrible grind, but I was glad when it was done.

I had a lot of apexis dailies to do, having only done 4 of the 12 previously. The Scouting Missives you can buy for  200 garrison resources apiece from your garrison vendor were a life saver for me. The only one you can’t buy is Assault on the Pit, but I had already done that one. Buying the missives means you don’t have to wait for each daily to pop up randomly. And they are easy quests — none of them took longer than 15 minutes for me to solo on my hunter, although I think healer classes without a damage off spec might have more trouble. I did notice some people posting custom groups in the Group Finder, though, and some of them were for multiple apexis dailies. I did not join any big groups, but I did party up once with a player who was also grinding the same area I was in. I would have grouped up more given the opportunity, but I seemed to be the only one in most of the quest areas. All told, I was done with the achievement in a little over two hours.

The treasures were a lot harder for me. I started out with 41, the number I had gotten by the time I leveled my hunter. I had not been big on finding treasures while leveling, mainly because I determined early on that the reward did not begin to justify the time cost to get them. So if I did not literally stumble on them as I was leveling, I made no effort to seek them out.

I am embarrassed to admit it took me close to 6 hours to get my remaining 59. Part of this was due to a tactical error I made by starting in Nagrand. The treasures there are, almost without exception, enormously frustrating and time-intensive to find and get to, even with a map and the addon. I know some of you like doing these kinds of puzzles, and the more intricate the better. But I detest them. I spent close to 2 hours trying to find goblin rocket NPCs, in order to get fired up into an area where I could ride around and find a goblin glider, which was close to impossible to control, resulting in me crashing and not getting the treasure, causing me to have to ride a long ways to get back to the rocket guy to get blasted up to the area where I could once again gallop to the glider guy so that I could miss the treasure yet again and start all over.

This is not my idea of fun. This is Sisyphus in game hell. Take my advice, if you are just looking to knock out your required 100 treasures and are not masochistically inclined (not that there’s anything wrong with that …), do not set foot in Nagrand. If you look at a map you will be tempted to go there, because it looks like there are lots and lots of treasures scattered all around in the zone, and you will think “Aha! Easy pickings!” But you will be wrong, it is a trap. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

At any rate, once I came to my senses and abandoned Nagrand, the treasure hunting went much faster. It still took me another 3 hours to get to 100. This is due to my navigational ineptness, true, but it is also due to the twisted zone design that makes it impossible in many instances to find paths through obstacles even though it may look like there is a path on the map, or the graphics indicate there is a path. You may even get quite a ways along the apparent path only to discover it is a blind alley, and then you get to go back and start again, enjoying what Ion Hazzikostas would term “engaging, immersive fun.”

Once I got to 100, I stopped. I did not try to go on and get to 200, which is the current achievement requirement. I took Blizz at its word and believed they would give credit for 100 treasures as part of the Pathfinder achievement. (If they pull a Charlie Brown and Lucy football move on this one, I will quit this game, no ifs ands or buts about it.)

Speaking of Blizz and Hazzikostas, I did watch the Q&A on Saturday. It was not as bad as I was expecting, but it was not anything to rave about either. I thought it was very scripted, even the “brutally honest” comments such as the declaration that Blizz is intentionally nerfing demo locks into the ground because it’s time for them to be on the bottom for awhile. I thought that came off as a planned mechanism for demonstrating how sincere and open Blizz was being.

I don’t play a demo lock, so I was only partially interested in the comment, but it made me wonder if that is also their reason for what they are doing to SV hunters. Do they think “it’s time” for them to suck also? Because it seems like that suck rotation is a pretty rapid one, since SV hunters also sucked for quite a while at the beginning of WoD.

The only other thing that sort of got my attention was his comment that the reason they remained silent on the subject of flying for so long after the “no fly ever again” announcement was because there was still no consensus on the subject within Blizz. If this is true, then why in hell did they announce what sounded very much like a final decision? Was Hazzikostas going rogue? Was it a trial balloon? Is there a management coup in progress? Are they just that incompetent? I don’t know, and honestly don’t care much, but it just struck me as an illogical statement.

Overall, he didn’t address many class balance issues, and I would have been interested in hearing more about that. Even though the Q&A was highly scripted, I did think it was useful. I think Blizz could go a long ways towards improving its bad communication image by having regular Q&A sessions, say once a month, instead of waiting for the forums to blow up in outrage before they have one. They could even specialize them, talk about one class each month, or have Holinka talk about PvP on one, talk about raid philosophy on one, that kind of thing.

Now what?

This will be a disjointed post, but it reflects my current feelings about the game. I really don’t know where I am in my enjoyment of it, if indeed I am even still “enjoying” it. I just don’t know.

Last night I stepped out of the morass that is Draenor and revisited some of my favorite legacy areas. Places like Uldum, Tanaris, and all of Pandaria. I got out my favorite flying mount and swooped and soared to my heart’s content, taking in what I believe were Blizz’s finest art designs. Designs that cannot ever be truly appreciated from the ground, designs that inspire and delight when viewed from the air. This, I thought, this was Blizz at its best. This was art and design made by passionate, creative, talented people who loved what they did.

I dipped down in Pandaria and traveled awhile on my chopper, and I saw that this zone’s design was so rich that it gave me an entirely different experience on the ground — complex, varied, and with unexpected visual rewards just as I rounded a corner or trekked through a jungle.

The Blizz that designed Pandaria knew how to deliver a product for all of its player base. That Blizz welcomed challenge and met it head on, taking joy in showing they were more than a match for it. They gave us visual content at its very best.

But ultimately visiting these areas was sad for me, because I knew that I would never experience any of it again except by revisiting legacy areas. I realized that among other things it has done to weaken the game for me, Blizz has killed the joy of anticipation. I cannot make myself get excited over 6.2 because it will be nothing more than an undisguised rerun of the worst parts of WoD. More slogging around on the ground even at level, increased garrison chore load, even less relevant professions, class imbalances so great as to make some specs unplayable, crappy gear that can be bought with gold at prices as exorbitant and ridiculous as the Apexis crystal price, and “new” flying mounts that will never fly in Draenor or any future content and are just reskins of old mounts anyway.

Worse, I am so demoralized over this last weekend’s in-your-face announcement that I am pretty sure I won’t be able to work up any real enthusiasm over the next contraction expansion either. Blizz has made it clear that they are no longer about proudly doing the hard things and making them look easy. Instead, they are about cutting corners, about designing Potemkin Villages and telling us over and over how “rich” and “complex” they are, about setting up mechanisms that slow us down so we won’t notice there is very little content.

I doubt I will be logging on much for awhile. When 6.2 comes out, I’ll go through it at least with my hunters, because I’m not ready yet to give up raiding with my guild. But Tanaan will be simply a necessary means to an end, something to get through rather than enjoy.

The sad thing is, the fun I used to have running old dungeons and visiting old content is gone now. I used to have fun running Firelands for the mount, but now really what’s the point? Even if I get the drop, all I will be able to do with that magnificently-drawn mount in any current content is waddle around on the ground with it. Whoopie.

So thanks, Blizz, thanks for sucking the fun out of not only the current content, but also past and future contents.

I have started looking into Final Fantasy XIV. The new expansion, Heavensward, looks very promising and launches June 19 for early play, June 23rd for those who do not preorder. I did download the free 14 day trial on the current xpac, but unfortunately was unable to make it playable on my VMware Windows box — could not get more than 6 fps. (Yes, I play games on a Mac, don’t judge.) But Heavensward has a native Mac download, so I am very hopeful. I will definitely give it a serious try.

I am debating whether to unsub from WoW in the near future. Part of me says it would make a (microscopic) statement of protest, part of me says wait until after 6.2, part of me says get real you know you will stay with this game until the bitter end so quit fooling yourself. (Sometimes I do talk rather sternly to myself.)

I am foolishly now waiting to see what Blizz has to say for itself in the June 6 “Q&A” which clearly will be Watcher “A-ing” bogus watered-down “Q’s” designed to show brief “concern” over the reaction to the no flying decision and then quickly moving on to how exciting and content-packed 6.2 will be. The most I am expecting regarding flying is some vague hand-waving semi-promising to “relook” it possibly maybe in the future in some limited fashion, in hopes that those of us who want it to happen will be gullible enough to hang on and buy the next xpac. (Hey, that approach has worked for over a year, no reason it shouldn’t keep on working.)

Like the little kid diligently searching for a pony when presented with a room full of horse manure, I am furiously digging through this game to find the fun I know has to be hidden somewhere. Sadly, it is that reaction that makes me exactly the kind of player Blizz has come to love. . . .