Main planning

With the formal announcement that Battle for Azeroth will launch August 14, those of us who are compulsive organizers can now kick our planning up a notch. More than 4 months is not exactly what I would call “imminent”, but still it is good to have an actual target date.

The date is about 6 weeks earlier than the “not later than” date we saw in the promos during Blizzcon. I don’t know of any other titles due to launch in that same general time frame, so I don’t think the date is calculated to be a competitive market thing. And I hope it is not a marketing-driven deadline that corporate has imposed on the WoW team just to be able to say they hit their intended expansion schedule — pushing the envelope such that there is not enough slack time built in to allow for unforeseen glitches. Most likely, though, is that Blizzard is pretty confident the expansion is far enough along that the mid-August date will be no problem. Also, the release date occurs before most colleges and universities start the fall term, so possibly Blizzard is taking that into account as a way to engage this key group of players at the start rather than have them have to wait until things settle down a bit before they have a chance to play, and then feeling they are playing catch-up.

Still, as I pointed out back when the exclusive alpha started, this somewhat earlier launch date means many parts of the expansion — certainly class changes — are pretty well set in stone. (Maybe that is why Blizzard also forbade any class development questions in the recent dev discussion at Pax East — they have zero intention of making any more significant changes in classes at this point.)

As far as I am concerned, this is bad news for BM hunters, who have received almost no love now for years. Almost the sole change Blizzard has graciously deigned to make for BM hunters is a questionable revamp of pet abilities (which applies to all hunters, btw, not just the BM spec). It seems like they are tossing us a crumb — a rather stale and distasteful one at that — and basically telling us to sit the fuck down now and shut up, that is all we are getting, quit pestering. I said early on in the alpha that I had an uncomfortable feeling about hunters, given the significant number of announced MM and SV changes but the silence on BM, and I think I hit that one dead on. I can only surmise from what I read, of course, since it seems every player but me has gotten an invite to try it out, but this looks very much like what Blizzard did to us in the run up to Legion — the silent treatment as a response to bonafide concerns, reports, and requests for information.

The best writing out there currently on trends for hunters in BfA is coming from Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast, and I encourage anyone interested in the subject to check out his latest post. The bottom line is that both MM and SV are getting some much-needed and significant reworks, but BM is once again left out of the loop. It’s as if Blizzard hates the spec, wishes they could delete it, but instead will just make it so unpleasant, powerless, and boring that no one will want to play it. (This was their tactic back in WoD when they abandoned SV as too hard to deal with…)

Thus, a big part of my BfA planning will revolve around what to play as a main. Although it pains me to consider it, at this point I am still not sure that continuing as a hunter is in the cards for me. I feel like Blizz has dumped on me twice — first they destroyed my SV spec that I had lived and played for years, and now they seem in the process of also destroying the spec I switched to.

I will give both SV and MM a try, I suppose, but something in me just recoils at the idea of having to choose between being a hunter without a pet or one that is a melee spec. (Yes, even though Blizz has added a lot of ranged abilities to SV, its most potent shot is still a melee one.)

I have been having quite a lot of fun with my mages and my druid lately, so I suppose both of those would be candidates for a BfA main. And I have always had an attachment to my mistweaver healer, even though I have not paid much attention to her in Legion. (The main objection I have to maining a monk is that leveling and questing is most efficient with an off spec of windwalker, a melee spec…)

Fun is certainly one factor in my choice, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that relative power will be another. I enjoy raiding with my guild, and even though there is no pressure to tailor the team with “the right” classes and specs, still I feel it would be irresponsible to force a weak spec on the team. It is unfortunate but true that Blizz has in recent years not cared too much that each expansion brings clear winners and losers in terms of class/spec balances. Oh sure, they tweak a bit here and there as the expansion goes on, but they have become disturbingly comfortable with a fairly wide spread of results among the classes, as if it is too hard to compress the gap so if you happen to main a loser class, oh well sucks to be you…

What I am looking for in BfA is a class and spec that is reasonably powerful (upper-middle in the charts would be fine) and is a real rush to play. I stuck with BM in Legion, but honestly it was always sub-par in terms of performance and it never gave me the “whee!” rush many other classes have. I liked it because of the mobility and because I have an attachment to my spirit pets, and because I very strongly identify with my ideal of the hunter persona (mine, not Blizz’s) in the game. But the play style is just one long grind of grimly mashing short cooldowns as soon as they became available, with a very slight calculation of when to delay one or another of them for optimization. The combat animations stink (despite Blizz at one point “improving” Cobra Shot to make it wiggle more, oh what a wild and crazy change that was 🙄), there is no chance of getting any sort of exciting proc, the player has no control over focus generation, and there is no significant burst ability.

Just.

Mash.

Buttons.

On.

Time.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

So far, it seems none of this will change in BfA. In fact, Blizz is actually removing one button, the artifact weapon ability, and not replacing it with anything. And the pet changes may have the effect of limiting my choice of pets to whichever one provides a missing raid utility. (And even this consideration is not very significant since Blizz has removed combat rez as one of the options.) One pleasing aspect of Legion I have enjoyed is running raids with Gara almost all the time — I have a preference for wolf pets, I like the current additional spirit beast effects, and I really like the Gara rendering. I will most definintely not like it if even this one small player choice is slightly curtailed in BfA.

So, yeah. Almost everything is on the table for selecting a main for BfA. I hope I can come to terms with — and find actual fun in — one of the hunter specs, but if not, then maybe it is time to move on to another class.

Still, it would break my heart.

Possibly a weekend and some beer will help shape my thinking. See you on the other side.

Deja vu?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hole protocol

When you want to get out of a hole, so the conventional wisdom goes, the first step is to stop digging! Someone needs to tape that to every monitor at Blizz HQ, because they seem incapable of figuring it out for themselves.

There is no more obvious example of this than the Legion legendary debacle. Blizz began digging this hole way back when Legion was just a gleam in a developer’s eye, when someone had the bright idea that, since Legion would already feature a central all-consuming piece of gear in the form of an artifact weapon, there would have to be a significant change to the role of legendary gear. This was the first point at which they could have stopped digging, because they could have opted to have no legendaries in Legion. As far as I know, the legendary police would not have descended on Blizz had they gone this route. I doubt if even we admittedly cranky player base would have blinked an eye — we would have pretty much assumed the artifact was Legion’s legendary interpretation, and gone on to be annoyed about a lot of other things.

But they continued to dig. They decided that the new legendaries would be awarded randomly and rarely. They decided each would have a unique bonus, and that some of these bonuses would be extremely powerful to certain specs and others would be generically nice but not all that powerful. Here, too were opportunities to stop digging. They could have made the gear something to be earned, either through a quest line or by in-game earned currency of some kind. Instead of the vast range of bonuses, they could have made the gear a stat stick.

Instead, when there was player pushback on this, when it was “discovered” that certain legendaries gave the lucky lottery winner something akin to super powers, they continued to apply the shovel, first implementing a series of “bad luck insurance” moves. These were toothless, as the lucky ones continued to be overpowered under certain competitive conditions, since the “insurance” was for being awarded a legendary and not necessarily one of the “good” ones. To get out of this hole, Blizz continued to dig by nerfing many of the spec-specific legendaries. However, they did not really nerf them sufficiently to preclude certain ones being considered best in slot.

In 7.2, Blizz got a bigger shovel by attempting to fix the random nature of legendaries by adding a complex, prohibitively expensive path to crafting what will likely be inferior gear.

As an added complication similar to getting a couple more guys to help you dig, Blizz decided to imbue some legendaries with powers that actually fixed some of their other horrible class balance and game play decisions for Legion. The example that comes to mind are the BM hunter shoulders. By all accounts (I wouldn’t know personally since of course I have not been lucky enough to score them), these added the whoopie factor back into BM game play, making the rotation fun again and less like something you do to distract yourself while clipping your toenails. Of course, the way to have stopped digging here would have been to actually fix the broken specs and not applied the sloppy bandage of ill-conceived legendaries.

And now, in what seems to be Blizz’s move to bring in a scoop loader, we have this contorted set of changes for 7.2.5:

In 7.2.5, we are changing Wild Call from a cooldown reset mechanic to a cooldown reduction mechanic.

The base proc chance will be doubled and the cooldown reduction per proc will be 3.0 sec (affected by haste), roughly half the average expected value of current live Wild Call procs. Baseline, the amount of total Dire Beast casts and Dire Beast uptime should be roughly the same as on live, except the changes should result in smoother Focus regeneration from more well-paced Dire Beast casts.

Additionally, these changes have the desired side effect of bringing the power level of The Mantle of Command more in line with other legendaries.

I cannot honestly comment of whether or not this is a horrible fix or a decent one, since I have no experience with the shoulders. It will be an incremental plus for us shoulderless hunters, I suppose, although still not to the level of the shoulders bonus which absolutely should have been baseline. For a good discussion of the pros and cons (mostly cons) of this move insofar as we know any of the details, check out Bendak’s post today.

But the point is, this is just digging the hole deeper. There should have never been a symbiotic relationship between baseline BM hunter play and a particular luck-based legendary. And the fix for it should be to sever the relationship completely, not tweak it with a half-assed baseline change and a similarly half-assed legendary nerf.

To summarize, Blizz has had multiple points at which they could have stopped digging the legendary hole they started:

  • Leave then out of Legion completely.
  • Design them to be something to be earned, not awarded like a raffle winner.
  • Have only 3 or 4 of them, not the dozens we now have that include spec-specific as well as generic ones. Have the few remaining just be stat and gear level increasers, not bonus awarders.
  • Resist the temptation to use them to fix existing problems in class design.

They have steadfastly refused to stop excavation in the matter of Legion legendaries. And now we are all in the hole with them.

However, luckily, today is National Beer Day in the United States. To my way of thinking, if you are stuck in a hole, a lot of beer can’t hurt. Plus, I can’t think of a better way to start a weekend. Enjoy yours.

Dire Beast non-solution

It is an absolutely crappy day in my corner of Virginia today. The weather has reached that perfect pinnacle of miserableness: about 37 degrees, cold driving rain, and constant breeze. In my soldier days it was the kind of weather I most hated. We had gear for snow and extreme cold, and we even had ways to lessen the effects of extreme heat, but no amount of rain gear could help for this kind of day. You were always wet, you were always cold, there was always mud everywhere, you were mentally exhausted from constantly forcing your brain to keep thinking about the mission and not wander off to thoughts of cozy fires and hot meals. Miserable.

Maybe having to do with the weather, maybe having to do with general mental laziness, I find myself unable to come up with a reasonable WoW topic today, so this will be a pretty short post. Mainly I am recommending to my hunter readers an excellent piece by Bendak on the beastmastery legendary Mantle of Command. He gives some excellent pointers on how to employ that legendary if you are lucky enough to have it, but more importantly he gives some history on the struggle to force Blizz to do something about the horrible clunky BM rotation.

I am frustrated by what I see as a pattern of Blizz implementing terrible design mechanics for hunters, then eventually “fixing” them via RNG-based loot drops. In WoD they did this with MM hunters, making the spec only truly playable as a hunter style by getting the 4-pc tier set. They are doing a similar thing in Legion with this legendary for BM. Skilled hunters for months pointed out to Blizz the need for an additional charge to Dire Beast. As Bendak describes:

Adding a second charge to Dire Beast was one of the most consistent pieces of feedback given to the devs during the Legion beta. Several Hunters, including myself were giving this feedback at least 6 months prior to Legion launch, maybe even sooner.

As usual, Blizz completely ignored this feedback. When it became clear there would be some class changes in 7.1.5, these same top level hunters pushed for a second Dire Beast charge to be made baseline for BM hunters, arguing that it was a terrible “solution” to put this near-critical ability in a random-drop legendary.

We see how much attention Blizz paid to that feedback as well.

It’s not that Blizz thought the idea was a bad one — they clearly recognize the need for a second DB charge. They were just to0 effing lazy to do anything but add a piece of gear to fix it. Oh, and of course they had to add in the Hazzikostas-licensed fun™ factor of making it a rare drop RNG legendary.

I don’t have the legendary shoulders, and honestly I do not expect to get them any time soon if at all in this expansion. It frustrates me no end to think that this one piece of random gear could make a significant difference in my entire play style, that it could actually make BM a reasonably fun spec to play at last. Blizz could have provided this kind of fix to all BM hunters , and they could have done it long before Legion went live. But they just did not — and do not — give a damn.

So Blizz, in keeping with the weather today, here is a big wet cold raspberry to you: *phbbbbttttttttttttt*

Meanwhile, I am going to have another cup of tea, put some beef stew to simmer in the slow cooker, and start my weekend.