Settling into a pattern, and Blizz is still alt-hostile

A month short of a year into Legion, and I realized over the weekend that I have finally settled into a weekly routine in the game.

Tuesday (reset day): Collect weekly things on my main — seals, Mythic+ chest, weekly bonus quest. I don’t run every weekly on my main — usually only the timewalkers and the mythics, the rest I either have no interest in (PvP and pets) or the reward is not worth the time. The rest of Tuesday is spent on raid 7-11 PM server time.

Wednesday: World quests and Broken Shore quests on main, decide which alts will receive emphasis for the week and run LFR, profession, or quests on it. Check the alts’ gear and decide how best to upgrade it for the week. I usually pick 2 alts to concentrate on — I find it is not feasible to work on more than that in a week, there is just not time.

Thursday: Replenish main’s potions/flasks/food, then raid 7-11 server time.

Friday: Run one Mythic +15 for the week on main with the incredibly generous guild group that tries to ensure every raider gets at least one in for the weekly chest. Run emissaries and BS quests on main and on one or both chosen alts. If I am doing it, run the weekly on main.

Saturday: Usually a day off, no game time.

Sunday: Pretty much alt day. Do class hall maintenance activities on maxed alts, also emissaries and BS quests on selected alts. If time, work on order hall or profession quest lines on an alt. If even more time, work on leveling a non-maxed alt.

Monday: Finish up odds and ends on main. Spend a couple of hours running sims on main for next week’s gear/talent best build. Study fine points of the coming week’s progression bosses.

I am at a point on my main where the only reason I run emissary quests and BS dailies is for the reward chests. Nothing given as individual loot for the quests is worth anything to my main — the gear is way too low, the gold amounts are paltry, and the AP is so low compared to what I need for an extra concordance point as to be downright insulting. Certainly not worth even the few minutes needed to do the AP quest.

The emissary and BS chests, it turns out, are the new gear currency. That is, there is apparently a magic secret number of them you have to open before you get a legendary. The difference between this system and previous currency systems is that we used to know how many seals/coins/etc we had to collect to get a desired piece of gear, plus we could actually choose the piece we wanted. But now only Blizz knows the number, and they not us get to choose which piece we get. But it is still a currency system, make no mistake.

So I still run these daily activities on my main. Luckily, it doesn’t take long, what with flying and also having pretty decent gear. Once in a while, if I need leather, I will spend extra time in one of the quest areas where skinnable critters are being killed.

On relatively new alts, the world quests are still useful in and of themselves. The gear can be an upgrade, and my new alts almost always are in desperate need of Blood of Sargeras in order to upgrade the crafted items I usually outfit them with, so they run the ones giving that as a reward whether or not they are part of an emissary chain. I also make sure my active alts run the world bosses each week.

I still believe making BoS soulbound is one of the worst ideas Blizz had in Legion. Of course, they stick with it because it forces more game play and thus increases bonuses for their executives, but it is an enormously frustrating mechanic. The effect of it is that by the time you have an alt able to gather BoS in reasonable quantities, they usually do not need it any more, unless they have a profession that goes through a lot of it. This is yet another instance of Blizz deliberately misleading us — “In Legion you can equip any number of crafted items, no more 3-piece limit!” Sure you can — except of course the crafted gear will be too low level to do you any good. At 20 BoS per crafted gear max upgrade, this can easily cost up to 200 or more BoS to fully outfit an alt.

In a grand gesture of generosity, Blizz recently allowed us to use order resources to buy BoS, at the rate of 1000 OR for 1 BoS, except you have to buy them in batches of 5. Generally, in keeping with the Blizz philosophy of being hostile to alt development, at the time when an alt most needs BoS they do not have 20,000 extra order resources available to upgrade one piece of crafted gear.

Not to worry, Blizz went overboard in their generosity here, allowing a shuffle mechanism to transfer BoS from one character to another within an account. You can buy order resources with BoS, transfer them to an alt, then have the alt use the extra order resources to buy the BoS they need. Sounds great, eh? Just one small thing: the exchange rates are exorbitant. You lose 80% of your BoS in the process. For example, it costs you 100 BoS to buy the order resources that would allow an alt to buy 20 BoS.

In everything, from profession quest lines to order hall chains to artifact progression to the nutty legendary system to crafted gear, Blizz remains extremely alt-hostile. Yes, they will claim they have gone to great lengths to permit alt catch-up, and there are some decent mechanisms. But in general Legion is still the most alt-unfriendly expansion ever.

Still, even given the hoops to jump through for alts, I have managed to get myself into a nice comfortable routine in Legion. Some people might think of this as a bad thing, but honestly I kind of look forward to getting to this point in an expansion. There is a lot to be said for the mental ease of familiarity.

The crafted gear dance

One or two of you who regularly follow this blog may have noticed I did not post anything on Wednesday, thus departing from my usual M-W-F pattern. The truth is, I had a wonderful rant all written, full of my usual over-the-top indignant comments, along with some really creative metaphors. As I was about to publish, I saw the June 14 hotfix notes, and they effectively negated most of what I had just written. That, combined with a real life schedule for the day that did not allow for a rewrite, made me just trash the post and plan for another day.

So what was the topic that the hotfix notes ruined? Blood of Sargeras. Specifically, the fact that Blizz has stubbornly persisted in holding this mat as the main stumbling block for many profession- and gear-related activities in the game. They have done so by maintaining its soulbound quality, thus putting many players in the position of having a main with several hundred Bloods they cannot possibly use up, while alts that could use them cannot manage to scrabble enough of them.

The thing that gave rise to my renewed ire on the subject was that I have one alt with a lot of crafted gear equipped, but it has taken me weeks to get enough BoS to upgrade the six equipped items to max crafted level (875, prior to 7.2.5). The idea that it takes 2 BoS to use one obliterum effectively limits max level gear — in any quantity — to characters who have the profession levels to gather a lot of the mat, and thus probably do not need to use crafted gear. The alts that do need the gear almost never have the wherewithal to gather more than a few per week.

(This is yet another example of Blizz deliberately misleading us back when they announced Legion — “You can equip as many crafted items as you want, no more 3-item limit!” Same as the “No more limits on how many specs you can have!” All true in lawyer language, but complete falsehoods in reality. But that is a post for another time.)

At any rate, the Wednesday hotfix announcement that caught my eye was this:

(Hotfix in testing) Blood of Sargeras can now be obtained from Class Hall vendors at a price of 5 Blood of Sargeras for 5,000 Order Resources.

WOOHOO! Of course, the caveat “Hotfix in testing” could mean we will never see the change as it was announced, but still, it at least tells me Blizz seems to be aware of the problem the current method poses for alts and is working on a typically obscure way of remedying it.

As I wrote above, the main use of BoS I am concerned with is its connection to gear, more specifically its connection to the use of obliterum. Obliterum is, I think, another Legion mechanic that simply has not worked well. It is tedious to create and consequently expensive to buy in the auction house. Even if you can create or buy enough of it to upgrade an alt’s gear, it is doubtful the alt will have sufficient BoS to use it, unless the alt has a fairly well advanced gathering profession. The obliterum mechanic was slightly improved when Blizz got rid of that ridiculous and expensive quest line to unlock the forge, but that was at best a minor improvement.

The other really awful aspect of the whole obliterum mechanic is that it can only be applied to soulbound gear. This has a very detrimental effect on the entire crafted armor part of the game. Not only can you not craft and upgrade a piece of gear for one of your alts, but you are also limited to selling low level gear in the auction house. With the economic inflation introduced in the game by WoD garrisons and by the now-official gold selling, there are undoubtedly many players who would gladly pay good prices to buy max-level crafted gear from the auction house rather than go through the dance of buying low level gear, creating or buying obliterum, and then scrabbling for the BoS to be able to use their purchases. I am, honestly, mystified by the whole thing.

But the June 14 hotfix note, if actually implemented, would fix the problem, at least within an account. (Not for selling items.) It would mean you could transfer BoS from one character to another, though you would have to do a shuffle to do so. Since an alt with few opportunities to gather BoS likely also does not have order hall resources to spare, the method would be to buy order hall resources on your BoS-rich character, send them to your BoS-starved one, then have that character buy BoS with the order hall resources. Leave it to Blizz to do something like this rather than the easier, more straightforward fix which would be to make BoS account bound. Still, clunky and cumbersome though it is, it would work.

The other obliterum/crafted gear observation I have is how clumsily Blizz handled the 7.2.5 change to crafted gear upgrade level. Originally the announcement was that crafted gear would be upgradable to ilevel 885, two obliterum levels above the 7.2 ilevel. Thus it would take 10 instead of 8 obliterums (oblitera? maybe just obliterum in singular and plural) to max out the gear. So if you had currently maxed gear, you would need two obliterum and four BoS to do the new max. But when the patch went live, there was a stealth buff to crafted gear that maxed it at ilevel 900 instead of 885. But the total obliterum necessary to reach max level stayed at 10.

Stay with me here. What that meant was that everyone who had already spent 8 obliterum and 16 BoS to reach pre-7.2 max level suddenly had that retroactively changed to 5 (no refunds, of course, just a sort of historical rewrite of what you had done), and to reach the new max level they would be required to spend, not 2 obliterum and 4 BoS, but rather 5 obliterum and 10 BoS.

I am not complaining about crafted gear being upgradable to ilevel 900, but the implementation of this was a pretty dirty trick on players. Even those of us organized enough to anticipate the changes in 7.2.5 were caught unawares. I had in fact built up enough obliterum and BoS on my crafted-gear-heavy alt to upgrade all equipped pieces to new max as it had been announced prior to the stealth change. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was not nearly enough. My stash of 12 obliterum and 24 BoS were no longer enough to upgrade all six equipped pieces, instead it was enough for only two. And by the way, the sudden change caused obliterum prices in the AH to skyrocket, more than 3 times their pre-7.2.5 prices on my server.

Overall, this is typical Blizz good-news-bad-news methodology. They give something with one hand, then take it away or make it less useful with the other. In the big picture, the crafted gear upgrades and possible vendor availability of BoS are positive developments. In the more immediate picture, the methods for doing those things are annoying.

And with that, since I have already screwed up my normal posting schedule for the week, I am going to take Friday off and start my weekend today. See you back here Monday.

Patch 7.1?

Late Edit. After I wrote this, the Official 7.1 Patch Notes came out, and contrary to what we were led to believe from the initial patch notes, BM hunters — and to some extent MM as well — were once again pretty much ignored. The Trailblazer talent did appear, but none of the other talent items I listed below. Plus there was a 37.5% nerf to Posthaste, presumably so that Trailblazer would be more attractive as a talent in that line.

Unfortunately, what this means to me is that the real “Phase 2” of Ion Hazzikostas’s Grand Plan for Hunters has not yet been put into effect, and we can look forward to a long, slow process for hunters. If at all. I would have liked to see a short explanation of why the apparently-planned other changes did not occur, but that would imply respect for the hunter class. One hopes the reason is that there are much more sweeping changes in the works and so there was no point in making a couple of small changes now. But of course, one has been sorely disappointed before….

Tomorrow Legion’s Patch 7.1 drops in the U.S., a few hours later in Europe. There are plenty of sites with summaries and data mining guesses, as well as info gleaned from PTR experience, among them Wowhead, IcyVeins, the official Blizz site, the PCGames site, and no doubt tons of others. Check them out if you are the type that likes to do last-minute prep.

One thing that comes through loud and clear with Patch 7.1 is that Blizz is making sure they avoid the variations on “lame” they were accused of (with justification) for the first patch of WoD. No one can say this patch is not chock full of new content, with new world quests, new zone quest lines, a new mini-raid, and of course the much-anticipated Return to Karazhan.

You wanted content, all right, I got your content right here! Now stop whining!

I am not sure how RtK will turn out. I know there a lot of people — possibly many of you even — who look back on the original Karazhan as a highlight of your group play. You remember fondly the various bosses, the trouble you had and overcame as a group in figuring out the admittedly innovative mechanics, took delight in the way the dungeon intertwined with other forms of art and leisure activity.

As a disclaimer, I never ran Karazhan when it was current, I only experienced it as a quick “fun run” when we were all overgeared for it, or when we decided to do a naked run or a protect-the-baby competition or something similar just for fun. On those occasions, honestly, I found the dungeon to be boring and tedious. I did not have any of the “fond memories” others clearly did and still do, to me it was just another place to do some guild night activities in.

So I am not looking forward especially to returning to it. As a game design, I wonder a bit about designing what is basically a 5-man raid, a complex Mythic-only dungeon with 11 known bosses and almost certainly some hidden ones, with extraordinarily complex mechanics, that will take hours to complete. For loot, gear base levels increase with later bosses, starting off at 855 and ending at 875 (with of course the almost-negligible chance of significant random upgrades). So loot is not bad, although I wonder if it will be much of a motivator, since the kind of 5-man group able to complete it will likely have most of their gear already at or beyond the 860 level. (Will there be RtK Mythic+ runs? I already think of places like Arcway and Court of Stars as nightmarish for anything other than a regular Mythic run…)

I find myself wondering who the target player audience is for RtK. It is certainly not the typical guild group looking to knock out a few 5-mans after a raid or on an off night. It seems like it is not a dungeon conducive to pugs, nor to casual guilds with a continually-changing cast of logged in players. It seems to award gear too low to attract more than a once-through for the achievement for hardcore raiding guilds, yet be too challenging for groups that would greatly benefit from the gear. About the only players I see loving this a few diehard “good old days” types who will run it for the perceived nostalgia and who can find 4 other individuals who are either similarly nostalgia-imbued or who could use a couple targeted pieces of gear.

The other thing with RtK is that it will probably exacerbate the already-concerning problem of guild tank and healer burnout we are seeing from trying to get Mythic+ runs for guildies.

Patch 7.1 has a few economic and quality of life changes as well. The Blood of Sargeras vendor will appear in Dalaran, allowing players to buy mats with BoS. For example, you can buy 10 herbs with one blood, and the thing here is that number applies to any herb, even the still-overpriced Starlight Rose. (Late edit: Not so, see the comments below.) As herbs on my server still go for exorbitant prices in the auction house, it should be interesting to see what if any effect this will have on those AH prices.

The big news, and the one touted by Blizz as being a magnanimous concession to alt play, is that unlocking world quests now becomes account wide. It certainly is a step in the right direction, but I would have liked to see some significant profession changes, too. At least something that would alleviate the horribly high gear and skill requirements to run Mythic dungeons just to be able to get profession recipes, and removing the RNG component. (I have already abandoned my attempts to level LW on my main — getting even the vendored pattern upgrades is far too expensive to justify, especially when you realize that crafted gear, even if upgraded to 850, is pretty useless except temporarily for some rarely-played alts.)

There are also quite a number of class changes, mostly in the name of “balance”. The hunter changes seem less numerous than those for other classes, and they seem a mix of nerfs and buffs. Though I will wait to see how they play out, especially for Beast Masters, a couple of them stood out for me. Basically, the hunter changes involve talents, and they seem to be the “phase 2” part of what Ion Hazzikostas was talking about when he outlined upcoming hunter changes. One hopes this is the case, as it might indicate that actual core mechanic changes (the supposed “phase 3”) are in the works for 7.2.

One that got my attention was the removal of Dash from the level 45 talent line and its replacement with something called Trailblazer. Delirium, over at The Thrill of the Wild, had a nice summary of the change a couple of weeks ago:

Aspect of the Cheetah:
The first change is the return of Aspect of the Cheetah, sort of…
Trailblazer: Your movement speed is increased by 25% anytime you have not attacked for 3 seconds.
This talent will replace the currently very underused, if ever used, talent Dash, which adds an additional 3 seconds to the duration of Aspect of the Cheetah. Instead, now, we’ll have a buff that’s similar to the old Aspect of the Cheetah, giving us a run speed buff whenever we’re not in combat.

It’s very hard to imagine taking this over Posthaste, for me, but I’m still excited about this change. For hunters, especially Marks hunters, we have almost no choices in our talents. The disparity between talents is fairly extreme, even in very different situations: high mobility vs low mobility, single target vs multi-target, etc. The only time I change talents at all is if I want a pet tank, which really isn’t often, and is never in group content.

On the minus side, in terms of mobility, however, I see that Disengage is going from a 20-second cooldown to a 30-second one. Note that by increasing the cooldown for DE, there is the additional effect of decreasing hunter mobility from Posthaste. This is pretty significant and also pretty discouraging, because it means that Blizz will be continuing to nerf the “obvious” talent choices they engineered, rather than simply buff the weak ones. I do not know what the cumulative effect of this will be, but common sense says that it will serve to weaken hunter damage a bit. Whether that turns out to be significant or not remains to be seen.

I note that the teacher’s-pet mages, however, still have a 15-second cooldown for Blink… 

A Murder of Crows and Volley are getting some buffs, presumably in an attempt to make Barrage less of a must-choose for level 90 talents. (Recall that Barrage already received its 20% nerf a while back.)

MM hunters are losing their special extra-health version of Exhilaration (they will now get the same 30% health restoration that SV and BM do), and in its place they are getting the option for an additional 20 focus, bringing their focus to 120 (I think).

As I said, I will wait to see how the hunter changes play out after the patch goes live, but I really hope that these are indeed the phase 2 Hazzikostas talked about, and that as soon as we get some word on 7.2, there will be some significant baseline changes to hunter mechanics.

Meanwhile, on to Patch 7.1.