Q&A – informative for a change

Yesterday I had a lot going on and was not able to watch the Q&A live, so I watched it this morning. I kind of wish I had made some time to watch it yesterday, because for a change there was quite a lot of very good information in it, and if I had had a few more hours to think about it I would probably be able to make some more thoughtful comments about it today. As it is, here are some of my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on it. And you can check out both the full video and the text summary courtesy of MMO-C here.

Allied races. There was a lot of discussion about these. To me, it was all of passing interest, but I know there a lot of players for whom this is an extremely exciting part of the game. I think the bottom line here is that Blizz will be introducing lots of new allied races over the course of possibly years. Though Hazzikostas did not admit it, the major reason will be to entice players to level new characters (and thus possibly beef up MAU numbers over an extended period of time).

How best to communicate with Blizz. Basically, don’t whine and don’t try to pass your comments off as representing all players. Meh.

Class balance. I thought this was a decent discussion because it did yield some insight into Blizz’s current guiding principles for class design. Hazzikostas reiterated the idea that the goal is to “make each class unique”. (And by “class” I am pretty sure he meant “spec”.) I do not disagree with the goal, but he failed to address the related designs. For example, it is all well and good to make a class that excels in the ability to DoT targets, but if you design raids and dungeons that only make this a valuable trait for a couple of bosses, then the “unique” aspect of the class is not worth much. Blizz has thus far not shown much success in coordinating raid and dungeon design with class abilities, and every expansion they end up creating winner and loser classes because of this failure. Thus, the idea of “class uniqueness” sounds good, but only if your class is one of Blizz’s design winners.

Similarly, he did not address the idea of “utility” balance — that is, some group utilities are way more valuable and widely useful than others. A combat rez, for example, is probably always useful, whereas something like a hunter Tranq shot is highly specialized. Not all “unique” abilities are created equal, and this again leads to winner and loser classes. Will Blizz realize this and develop a system to minimize it? I doubt it.

Gear. This is where there was some good news, on several fronts. It was apparent that Hazzikostas fully understands the mess Blizz gave us with Legion gear. He said no one should have to sim gear before they can determine if it is an upgrade for them, and he also said they had gone too far with secondary stat importance in Legion. He did not promise that all gear with higher ilevel will be an upgrade every time, but he did say most of the time it will be, and he also said the calculus of determining the worth of gear will be considerably easier. We will see, but to me it sounded positive.

Loot. Somewhat related to gear is the question of loot in group situations. It sounds like the only option in BfA will be personal loot. Some guilds will not like this, but the change has been coming for some time. I know with my own guild, at the start of Legion we tended to prefer a system of Master Looter with rolls, along with a very light determination of who could roll on a piece. Very shortly, however, we saw that Personal Loot dropped significantly more gear (a design by Blizz for Legion), and we switched to that and have not gone back.

Hazzikostas came right out and said the BfA move to all Personal Loot is being made mainly to reign in the top guilds, the ones who routinely game the world-first Mythic competitions by using group loot runs to overgear their main raiders before they even start Mythic runs. This practice has meant Blizz has to compensate for the idea that the professional guilds will be overgeared for Mythic raids at the start, thus they need to make the raid difficulty with that in mind. This has a cascading effect, because it means the raid bosses — particularly the end ones — end up being overtuned for everyone else.

Anyway, it looks like Group Loot will be a thing of the past come BfA. What Hazzikostas did not address, but what I would like to have heard him on, is whether there will be some adjustments to the more annoying parts of Personal Loot. For example, a user-friendly interface for sharing loot. Something like a pop-up loot roll window similar to what we now see in dungeons, except in this case it starts with the person who got the loot selecting if they want to offer it up and checking a simple yes/no. If they do offer it up, then a loot roll window automatically pops up for all players eligible for the loot, maybe a need/greed kind of thing to also allow for people to roll on it for transmog.

Another Personal Loot improvement might be a refinement of what loot is shareable and what is not. There is a lot of loot that may technically be an upgrade for a player but in truth it is useless to them, and currently they cannot offer it up for trade.

Talents. Lots of discussion here, but the one thing that gave me cause for optimism was the statement that the idea of selecting either the AoE or the Single Target talent in a tier just feels bad, and in fact it doesn’t make anyone actually choose, rather it just makes them burn a tome to adjust for each boss fight. Hallelujah.

The other interesting thing about talents in BfA is confirmation that Blizz will use them as a sort of testing ground for baseline abilities. That is, if one talent for a class is always selected by most everyone, then that begins to look like something that should become a baseline ability, and Blizz may change it to that in a patch. We kind of suspected this is what they were doing in the latter parts of Legion, but now we know that is indeed the case.

Mission tables. This was probably the most disingenuous part of the Q&A. Hazzikostas blathered on about how they will not serve as time gates in BfA, that they are more for auxiliary game play, they add a nice dimension to the game, they fit with the BfA story line, blah blah blah. What he did not admit was the obvious — that it is a mini-game within WoW that works well with the mobile app, and if they get rid of it then they might as well trash the app, too. And of course, every time a player logs in on the mobile app it counts towards MAU for the game.

Mythic+. Without saying so outright, it was pretty clear that Blizz sees this part of the game as increasingly important going forward. Hazzikostas was at some pains to explain that raiding is still important, but it was obvious that Blizz is looking to Mythic+ as the main end game group activity at some point. Just my opinion, of course, but I would have liked to hear a more robust defense of raiding and I did not.

Professions. There will be some changes for the better here, I think. The change to having professions grouped into expansion-specific ones is a good move. Also good was the comment that crafted items need to be more relevant throughout an expansion, not just at the beginning. Last, on a less optimistic note, I am not really a fan of the recipe-leveling mechanic introduced in Legion, but it sounded like we are stuck with that for BfA.

Alts. Sounds like what we have now in Legion will be what we have in BfA in terms of alt-friendly or alt-hostile (whichever side you come down on). There will be some concessions to alts in terms of grindiness — like we have now for AP catch-up — but Hazzikostas is digging his heels in on his personal conviction that the only reason to have alts is to play them as you would a mini-main. Playing them to farm items for a main is strictly frowned upon and Blizz is doing everything they can to make that as hard as possible for you.

Guilds. The introduction of “Communities” is interesting to me, and honestly I do not know if it will spell the virtual end of guilds or not. Likely I will be writing a lot more about this as we learn more of the specifics. Of note, Hazzikostas did not indicate there would be any new perks to guild membership, only that guilds would have “all the same things as Communities”, plus a guild bank. This is one that bears watching.

Anyway, those are what I saw as the highlights of the Q&A yesterday. I did think it was one of the more informative ones lately. If you find yourself with some free time it could be worth an hour to watch.

Speaking of free time, it is time to start a weekend. See you on the other side.

In a slump

Last night we ran through Heroic Antorus, clearing it in under 3 hours. It’s fair to say we now have it on farm, although I am not sure what anyone is really farming for any more. Before we finished Argus, the RL mentioned maybe if we had time we might take a run at Mythic Garothi. That, of course, was the signal for several people to immediately drop group and log off the minute we finished Argus. It is true we are not a mythic raiding guild, but we are certainly capable of finishing off a couple of the earlier bosses on that level every tier. I find it challenging and fun, because there really is no pressure to do any sort of heavy progression — we get as far as we can get, and when it gets too punishing we stop. Unfortunately, we do not have 19 other people who feel the same way, so even though we had 22 finish last night’s raid with an hour left in our usual raid time, at least 10 bailed immediately.

About the only thing I am still interested in getting from the raid are my final two tokens to finish upgrading my hunter Pantheon trinket. We have had only one legendary version drop from Argus, in what amounts to maybe 300 kills (20 people average, maybe total of 15 normal/heroic kills), and honestly I don’t see it as much of an improvement for me once I get mine to ilevel 1000. I am not even sure how useful the raid-wide proc is for us, as some people who have the specialized trinket for healing or dps or whatnot do not wear theirs during raid because their other trinkets sim higher for them. So I guess we could be getting more frequent procs if more people wore theirs, but that doesn’t happen.

Overall, I think the whole Pantheon trinket mechanism is poorly conceived. It seems like it was designed solely for high end raiding guilds, and even then the fact that there is zero control over the proc just blows. If a team really works to get their raiders the trinkets and upgrades, they should absolutely be able to control when to trigger the buff. Then again, possibly Blizz knew that this raid tier was going to be pretty mediocre, and doling out trinket upgrades was all they could think of to keep a few guilds going back.

My own performance in our raids seems to be regressing, and I am in kind of a funk about it. I don’t run a damage meter during actual raids, but I do look at my logs afterwards to see where I can improve. Everyone can have an off night, of course, but I have been having an off night now for about 3 weeks. My damage numbers (both totals and dps) are just not improving.

I am not so self-serving as to put it off on gear. I have a relatively high ilevel (around 962 equipped). I really cannot use that as an excuse. However, I am struggling with secondary stats — just cannot get seem to amass the crit I need for my zoo build. I have equipped the highest-crit items I have, and I gem and enchant for it, but it remains pretty pitiful. Meanwhile, my mastery soars to well over 100%, and I end up with what seems like far too much versatility. With so much mastery, I tried a Dire Frenzy build for a while, but there was little improvement that I could see, and it was a dead boring rotation, so I switched back.

The insanely high impact secondary stats have on each spec, combined with the randomness of their presence in gear, is in my opinion one of the worst things Blizz has foisted on us. (And don’t even get me started on gear specialized for a certain spec, such as tier gear, having large amounts of what is arguably the worst possible stat for that spec.) I almost hate getting new gear these days, because it is impossible to tell at a glance whether or not it will be an upgrade, or if it might become an upgrade with a different talent build or different legendaries or different sets of tier gear.

Still, I can’t chalk up my poor performance to gear. That is a cop out.

One thing, I think, is that BM hunters, with our mobility, do  well early in a new raid tier. But as the tier goes on, other damage dealers — melee, casters, and even MM hunters — learn the fights and learn where they can stand and when to move to optimize their performance. But other than mashing buttons more efficiently, BM hunters have nothing really to optimize, so even if we don’t actually get worse, everyone else is getting better.

It is true that excellent BM hunters can compete with the best damage dealers. We have one in our guild, and I am in awe of her amazing performance in nearly every fight. (Even so, she is rarely if ever the top damage dealer.) I, however, am only slightly above average even on my best days, and I think that average BM hunters fare rather badly in Legion. Worse than, say, average affliction warlocks or average almost any other class/spec.

(However, none of that is an excuse for doing things like accidentally disengaging off the Kin’garoth platform during a fight. Twice. Or for getting trapped in fire on the far side of the Aggramar platform. That was just inattention and stupidity last night, and I am embarrassed about it.)

Legion is the first expansion where I have not gotten better as the expansion went on. Better gear, higher proficiency with my rotation, more familiarity with the boss fights, more attention to mechanics — no matter how hard I work on those things, and I do work on them — I am losing ground. It is demoralizing.

So, yeah, I am in a definite slump. Whether it is strictly a personal one or one engineered by Blizz’s inability to scale and balance BM hunters, it just feels bad.

Aaaand we’re off!

I am pronouncing Legion officially ended.

Oh yes, I know technically we have months to go in this expansion, and lots of people are still totally engrossed in it, but for all practical purposes it has shifted from a windshield view to one we see in the rear view mirror. Battle for Azeroth is now the windshield view.

In my days as a soldier, I was transferred from one duty station to another about every two years (sometimes more often). Every time I did a PCS (permanent change of station), there was a defined point at which I stopped thinking of my last duty station as home and started anticipating my new one. When I returned from Iraq, for example, somewhere about halfway on the flight home, my brain did a sort of “click” and I pushed the previous months to the back of my consciousness and began to really think about arriving at the airport, reuniting with family, planning for my next set of duties, and so forth. I had a turned a page to a new chapter, and I knew it.

Last night I had that kind of “click” in my brain about Legion/BfA. It was an accumulation of news and events, I think. For one thing, our raid team downed heroic Argus, so Legion progression raiding has been officially completed. For another, in the last couple of days we have seen an avalanche of data about BfA — a rare Developer Water Cooler post, announcement of a Hazzikostas “Q&A” next week, the start of the BfA alpha test, and of course the first crush of mined data. Blizz has definitely kicked off its official next-expansion blitz.

Right now we are in an overload-induced lull in the face of all this information, but over the next few days, weeks, and months we’ll start to see a realistic picture of BfA emerge. So, a few (very) preliminary observations on the process we are beginning:

As always, I applaud the publication of the Dev Water Cooler post, but back in the old days before the Hazzikostas Dynasty these were much more frequent and thus gave us a lot more insight into game design and goals. Now we are lucky if we see one or two a year, and sadly they now seem mainly to be part of publicity blitzes in advance of a new expansion. Nevertheless, better one than none I suppose.

I think the biggest takeaway I got from this one is that Blizz has almost completed their morph from “Bring the player not the class” to “Bring the class not the player” in their design philosophy. BfA will see — if the post is to be believed — class and spec utilities pruned and added with the goal of having only one or two classes with any given raid utility, and (in theory) raid bosses designed to take specific advantage of specific utilities. I think this is a big mistake, but of course Blizz designs for the professional-level raider, not for the majority of their players. (Most raid teams do not have the luxury of switching out specs to fit each boss — and in fact probably would not do so even if they could.)

I agree with Blizz that it is not very interesting if every class has every utility. But the hints are that BfA will see a typical pendulum swing that will severely limit and further specialize class utilities. This will be fine for classes that win the lottery and have generically useful utilities, like hero/timewarp or battle rez or group-wide speed bursts. It will be far less fine for classes that get highly specialized utilities and in the process lose their more generic ones in the name of promoting class “uniqueness”. One example I can think of right now is the fact that hunters will lose the AoE stun effect of Binding Shot — it will be simply an AoE root. But hunters will gain (get back, actually, after its removal in Legion) Tranquilizing Shot. I am not complaining about getting tranq back again, but its utility is far more selective than the current Binding Shot. Back when we still had tranq, I estimate it was useful for maybe one in ten boss fights. Contrast that with the current Binding Shot, which I use much more frequently in Legion, and very often indeed in M+ dungeons.

The net effect of this kind of selective specialization is that, for example, a druid with battle rez is always useful in a raid, whereas a hunter with tranq is useful in maybe a few boss fights. Multiply that effect across 36 specs, and there will be very clear winners and losers in Blizz’s attempt to bring back “uniqueness” in raid utility. Some specs will get the “always useful” abilities, and some will get the “once-in-a-while useful” ones. Blizz will undoubtedly try to even things out, but their track record in doing so is pretty dismal.

The other takeaway I got from the Water Cooler post is that Blizz is once again going to take a stab at redefining class and spec “identity”. This terrifies me, because the last time they did something like this, they demolished my chosen spec. In the run up to Legion, Blizz made a big deal about establishing class and spec “fantasies”. They actually did come up with narratives for each, but that was the end of it, because in many cases the spec implementation was not even close to the official “fantasy”. There was almost zero follow-through on what some class writer thought the spec should look like and what the developer implemented for it. BM hunters, for example — “master of beasts” — ended up with almost zero control over their array of pets.

(Bendak has a great discussion of this whole idea of class identity as applied to BM hunters in his recent post on what he would like to see for the spec in BfA. Hunters, check it out if you have not already, it is worth reading.)

Part of the whole fantasy/identity thing is that Blizz really has no good idea of how to really define some classes. Yes, they are pretty good with mages and the various druid specs, but they have struggled with classes like paladins and hunters among others. I do not know why, but they just do not seem to “get” certain classes. The result is that a staffer writes up some good boilerplate class/spec description, and that is the end of it — the abilities, play style, and rotation end up being nowhere near the description.

One last comment, this one on the alpha test (still waiting on my invite, sure it is on the way 🙄) and the data mining effort. Every post you see on these activities will be prefaced with something like “it is very early yet, and everything might change”. A necessary statement to make, but what I have observed over the last two expansions is that the live version very rarely deviates in any significant way from the very earliest tests we see. In the case of Legion, the only time Blizz even seemed to consider making changes was during the invitation-only alpha test, and even then they did not make many. By the time it got to beta and of course later to the PTR, the entire expansion was set in stone.

I believe that once again we are going to see the game’s elite players (the ones who got the alpha invitations) determine the course of the entire expansion, certainly in the areas of gear and class abilities. Additionally, in areas that pro players (basically Mythic world-first caliber) have little interest — professions, for example — developers will have full power to do whatever they wish, with little or no player input until we get to the “too late” stage.

I said at the time the Legion alpha test was going on, that it was a mistake to shape an entire expansion on the feedback of the elite, and it looks to me like Blizz is about to repeat that pattern.

One thing they could do to make me feel better about this whole test period would be to give the players frequent and robust feedback in the forums or by other means. I am talking about Ghostcrawler-type feedback, honest and even at times brutal, but reliable and transparent. In the runup to Legion we basically saw a few media blitzes, but crickets in responding to even the most solid and detailed player feedback. For months on end. It gave the impression of epic disdain for their customers. I know it is not developers’ favorite thing to actually *gasp* write or address questions/concerns, but I think Blizz could do themselves a huge favor by putting a priority push on player feedback for the next few months, even if that means they have to increase their resources devoted to it.

They will not do it, of course, but I have to make the suggestion. We are creatures of hope. We are (at least I am) also creatures who live for the weekend. Enjoy yours.

Hati, we hardly knew ye

If we needed any additional confirmation that Blizz not only does not care about the hunter class, but that they have absolutely zero idea of what it means to be a hunter, it is this: Apparently Hati will just disappear when artifact weapons disappear in Battle for Azeroth.

Now, I admit I have not really been much of a fan of Hati, certainly not in the clumsy way Blizz implemented it. The intro quest to get him was, I thought, very well done, but unfortunately that was pretty much the highlight of the entire mechanic. It ended up promising something that Blizz never delivered on. BM hunters thought they were getting an awesome second pet, but it turned out to be nothing more than an unimaginative DoT visual, with worse pathing and attack speed than our regular pet, and far less control.

Hati could not be renamed, he had absolutely zero player-controlled special abilities, and he had (and still does) an annoying tendency to just disappear after portal events. For a while he could even rather easily die in combat and even after rezzing your regular pet, Hati would not rez for a very long time, leaving the hunter without a weapon. Blizz never really came to terms with the balance between the actual artifact gun damage and the damage done by Hati. BM hunters got the short end of the stick almost every time there was an artifact weapon upgrade, because Blizz for some reason cannot abide the thought of an ever-more powerful hunter pet. (In spite of the fact that they designed Hati to be the most important part of the BM hunter artifact!!)

Even the art model was sloppily (and apparently hastily) rendered, so that Hati looked like an animation from years ago. Only after BM hunters pitched a fit (because that is the only way to get Blizz’s attention — calm and logical comments will not do it) did Blizz give us a way to change his appearance. Even with that, though, Blizz deprived BM hunters of one of the fun aspects of Legion — the cool artifact appearance quests every other class had meant approximately zero to BM hunters, since they did not alter Hati’s color or other appearance in any noticeable way. The only way to really change his appearance was to make him look like a pet you already had in your stable.

So Hati in my opinion was a huge Blizz failure. Worse, it was one they appeared to not give a damn about.

But here’s the thing: as bad as Hati was, I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with him. He is part of my posse. I feel unbalanced without two pets by my side everywhere I go. He has gone through every part of my Legion experience with me, from leveling to dungeons to progressive raids to world and emissary quests. I mean, he even went with me in my space travel to Argus, for crying out loud. For Blizz to now summarily dismiss him like he was vendor trash just seems wrong to me.

And the fact that Blizz does not recognize this goes to the very core of their approach to the hunter class: They simply do not understand the heart and soul of a hunter. A hunter pet is different from a mage’s water elemental or a warlock pet or a DK one, there is a far more personal level of engagement, a far greater degree of anthropomorphism. A BM hunter’s pet in many ways defines the player.

Unfortunately, I see nothing on the horizon that gives me hope Blizz will ever treat hunters better. Last week Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast posted a quick wrap up of some of his Blizzcon impressions and takeaways, including some reports he got about hunters from people playing the BfA demo. The BM hunter changes noted in the demo seem ok, but very minor and without an overall integrated purpose — more like a committee threw in some suggestions and voted on a few tweaks with no overall goal, just a requirement to “make some changes”. (Although Tranq Shot will be back, so that is exciting I suppose.)

MMO-C has been publishing various side interviews from Blizzcon for the last week. The one that got my attention was the one published today. An interviewer named Automatic Jak asked some pretty in depth questions of a class balance developer. Unfortunately AJ is, I guess, a healer, and the questions were therefore very healing-centric. But still there were a few interesting tidbits from the dev that I rather cavalierly interpreted in terms of hunter changes for BfA. It was actually the most informative interview I have seen regarding some of the team’s class balance philosophies.

  • The team went into Legion knowing that they might have to revisit some of the classes that received major changes once player feedback was collected
  • There most likely will not be complete class revamps again any time soon.

Here’s my interpretation of these two bullets from the hunter perspective:

  • The team made a deliberate decision to ignore all the insightful experienced hunter comments during the alpha/beta tests and figured they could wait to respond to the couple of things hunters howled the most about once Legion went live. Even then, they decided they could delay any response for several months. And even then, they decided they would merely respond to a couple of easy fixes, not do the hard work necessary to make the entire hunter experience smooth and fun again.
  • The whole SV hunter destruction was a mistake, and while it was fine to inflict it on the hunter class, no other class deserves such shabby treatment. Oh, and no real changes to the poor SV abomination that Blizz already created.
  • The team likes classes having unique abilities.
  • Going forward a big question is what unique abilities each class should have.
  • The team wants to spread out class strength and weaknesses more.
    Utility will be spread out and balanced more in the future.
  • Everyone should feel like they have some sort of cooldown to help them survive.

Translation: Blizz is proud of the fact that they have destroyed the whole super-utility role of hunters and wants to ensure they play no such special role in the future. Instead, everyone should be special. 🙄

So yeah, it seems Hati will be gone, hunters will get some scattered non-unified set of restored abilities, and “all classes will be above average”…. I am underwhelmed. And I will miss Hati.

Impossible odds and imbalance?

I am sure most of you already know, but Method successfully downed Kil’jaeden to claim Mythic World First for Tomb of Sargeras. They did it after 653 wipes, which follows their 400+ wipefest for Fallen Avatar. I don’t know the record for these kinds of things, but I am suspecting that over a thousand wipes for the last 2 bosses is in itself a World First title. Whether you think a pursuit like this is a good use of one’s time or not, you have to be a little bit in awe of the commitment and sheer stubbornness it takes to accomplish it. I am not a big fan of Method, but there is no doubt that hearty congratulations are in order.

So the number of wipes is pretty mind-boggling and causing not a few comments in the WoW blogosphere. The other thing causing comments is the composition of the 20-man Mythic team. Among some of the noteworthy items: 5 druids, 5 rogues, 3 hunters. Classes absent were mages, monks of any flavor, death knights, and demon hunters. Two of the druids were Balance spec, and all of the hunters were MM. The melee DPS consisted entirely of rogues and two warriors.

As you might suspect, there is a river of speculation as to The Future of The Game based solely on this one event. Much of it is overblown, of course, but I do think there are a few valuable insights we can derive from it — at least from the little we know of the actual tactics so far.

For one thing, it strikes me that 653 wipes is way more than these elite players need in order to learn a fight. We are talking about people who live and breathe this game, who have genius-level reaction times, who have almost uncanny “raid sense”, who have raided together so much that they know each other’s reactions as well as their own, and who have been preparing for this fight since at least the early PTR days of 7.2.5.

For a team like this to wipe 653 times tells me that the fight is essentially unwinnable, but that there is a small random chance every mechanic will work out to the team’s benefit. If the team can put together a flawless performance when that happens, they can beat the boss. It is not about being world-class good, it is about being world-class good every single time, so that when favorable RNG finally happens, the boss goes down.

This takes nothing away from Method — it is no small feat to achieve consistent performance perfection. But I do think it takes away from Blizz’s tier design, because it renders ludicrous the baseline assumption that raids allow players to progress as a character and as a team. To beat this boss, Method on average had to outgear the loot — average gear level over 933 for a raid that awards 930 level gear. And let’s be honest, any kind of team esprit or group learning occurred long before the ultimate win.

Eventually, Mythic ToS will be nerfed, and it will be attainable by non-World First kinds of guilds, the ones that are hard-core raiding guilds (think realm-first levels) but not necessarily the ones who dedicate their entire waking existence to it for weeks at a time. It might even be nerfed enough so that a few of the early bosses become beatable by guilds such as mine — after we greatly overgear it. I don’t know what that says about raid difficulty levels, but I think it is safe to say we have gone beyond the LFR-Normal-Heroic-Mythic model. It’s almost as if we now have two levels of the four-level model — one version early in a patch and another sinmpler version later in the patch. And it definitely says that Blizz is more concerned with hyping World-First competitions than it is with setting a difficult but attainable goal for regular raiding guilds. (They’ll fix that shortfall after they have milked the hype…) Also, possibly, that they have signed on to RNG as a viable raid mechanic.

As to the other notable aspect of Method’s victory — team composition — I am not sure what to make of it. We will learn more of the reasoning behind it once we can see a video, and as Method speaks more freely about it. I do not think it should be news to anyone that Blizz has completely abandoned the “Bring the player not the class” philosophy, nor should it come as a surprise that the current state of class imbalance has given us superstars and losers in the class/spec lottery.

What gives me pause is how much of this philosophy and actual state of affairs will filter down to the majority of raid teams, and what effect it might have on player perceptions of “winner” and “loser” classes/specs. Certainly guild teams such as mine that raid for fun not profit will remain largely unchanged, especially since they rarely run Mythic level and are thus not bound into a strict 20 players. I suppose some realm-first guilds may decide to reorganize their rosters, but that will not affect a lot of players.

We have seen backlashes before, mainly in pugs, when certain classes/specs are deemed inferior, even if the perceived inferiority is only for certain fights under certain circumstances. Such backlashes can result in unhappiness among players, and unhappy players tend to switch specs to be the flavor of the month, to just quit the game, or to gripe loudly in forums and other communications venues, demanding their now-unpopular class/spec be buffed enough to be “competitive”.

I expect to see an uptick in the number of Balance druids, rogues, and MM hunters in the next few weeks, simply as a result of Method’s raid roster for the KJ kill. It is not logical, but it almost certainly will happen. I also expect there to be some amount of unfair discrimination against a few classes for pugs — possibly some against non-bear tanks, mistweaver healers and tanks, maybe BM hunters. And some of the forums will undoubtedly light up with demands for buffs — pretty much the same forums as the classes omitted from Method’s roster. (There are already buffs in the works for some of these classes, so Blizz may get off easy on them.)

But I still think it way too early to make any sweeping inferences about class balance based just on Method’s team roster for this kill. It was a special circumstance, a fact that will almost certainly elude many people. On the other hand, I do think it is appropriate to think about the stunning number of wipes involved, and what that might say about Blizz’s current approach to raid development.

 

Scattered thoughts on Friday’s dev AMA

After a very decent weekend, my head is not yet back into work mode, so all I can offer today is a bunch of scattered and unconnected thoughts. (Apologize in advance that these are not very coherent.) Friday there was a class design AMA on the WoW subreddit. If, like me, you did not follow it in real time, you can read it here. (Be warned that it goes on. And on. And on. And on. Possibly a tad bit more brevity enforcement by the moderators would have been beneficial. You can check out a Cliff’s Notes version at MMO-C here.) A few interesting tidbits:

There remains a lot of dissatisfaction with the MM hunter spec as it is currently set up.

Much of the expressed frustration dealt with the issue of pet vs petless, and the decision — at the 11th hour before Legion went live — to make Lone Wolf a talent (again). I do not play MM in Legion, but from what I could glean, a sizable number of MM hunters would like that entire talent row to be viable, rather than have LW be so vastly overpowered that there is really no choice. There is also a group that would like LW to be baseline, with the option to select a pet in a talent.

The other main track on MM hunters was on the Vulnerable mechanic.

There was also at least one plaintive cry for a perceived Blizz promise (I don’t ever recall one) to reinstate a ranged Survival play style within the MM spec. Nice to contemplate, but I do not see it happening.

Pets. Several people mentioned dissatisfaction with the “one size fits all” pet nerfing that occurred in 7.0. Gotta agree there — it just seems wrong to have all hunter pets be basically the same, the only real decision for pet selection coming down to a cosmetic/skin difference. The only exceptions are the battle rez/battle lust special pets, but those easy decisions really are a huge simplification of the kinds of pet abilities we used to be able to weigh. Later in the session, though, there was a hint that at least the devs understand hunter pets have been made a bit too bland:

We don’t have any solid plans currently [to adjust hunter pet utility], but I fully agree that we’re not in a great place right now. I would love to improve the situation. With the power of Battle Rez (Quilen) and Bloodlust (Core Hound), I don’t think I’ve used a different pet on my BM Hunter alt in PvE in a long time.

Many very good questions were simply ignored by the devs. Some I would have liked to have had answered (but weren’t) are:

  • Instead of a new class in the next expansion, is it possible we could see a lot of fourth specs, for example, a healing warlock, etc?
  • With the designs we are seeing Legion instances and raids, is multi-dotting obsolete?
  • Are there any plans to reinstate filler-type insta-casts for most ranged dps? Might such a move actually encourage more players to play ranged dps?
  • Why are warlocks limited to a pet-specific interrupt?
  • Will reforging ever make a comeback?
  • Any plans to fix the many remaining pet pathing issues for BM hunters?
  • Any plans to fix the really stinko Legion version of Stampede?
  • Any plans to give hunters more stable slots?

Some ominous dev comments:

We’d like to move into a direction where utility is more meaningful in all types of content, not even necessarily at the loss of performance. Players should be rewarded for making smart decisions that affect the success of their group as a whole, and we’d like to broaden that space.” To me, this is the current Blizz party line to return to a “Bring the class, not the player” approach.

I think BM Hunters aren’t far from being in a good place.” I think this means it is time for all BM hunters to press the panic button. Remember when the devs told us, before Legion, that “BM hunters are in a pretty good place now,” and then proceeded to completely rebuild the spec? Yeah, be afraid, BM hunters, be very afraid…

Anyway, I did think the AMA was interesting, though certainly devoid of any bombshell announcements. I was impressed with the detailed dev comments, when they chose to answer, and with the amount of time they took out of their day to participate. A little heavier hand on moderating might have resulted in more questions being answered.

Do yourselves a favor, though, read the MMO-C summary, don’t waste your time scrolling through the hundreds of pages of live comments.

Gear and math

It’s been a nice relaxing couple of weeks in my WoW world. In my guild, we all took a break from what was becoming a very dull Nighthold raid circuit, and I seized the opportunity to work on a couple of alts — my balance druid and my destruction warlock. I find I enjoy playing them both, but the lock possibly a tad bit more than the druid. I still find the boomkin tedious for its long casts, but it gets better with better gear stacked for haste.

Both alts are hovering very close to ilvl 900 or a bit under, and the one thing that amazes me is how much better they are simply by virtue of having better gear. Trust me, in the last two weeks I have not suddenly become vastly more proficient on either one, but the difference in damage for both is pretty astounding. The only change has been upgraded gear. In some ways this is fun, because gear is relatively easy to get, even without subjecting yourself to LFR or mythic dungeons. But in other ways is seems kind of cheesy and not quite right. I guess it is an inevitable result of Blizz stepping away from the “bring the player not the class” philosophy — class/spec mechanics and gear seem to count for more and more these days. Nobody likes to blame gear for poor performance (well, okay, maybe some people like to), but that excuse is actually becoming more and more reasonable as Legion goes on.

I was thinking about this as I started last night to prepare my main hunter for resumption of raiding Tuesday when Tomb of Sargeras opens. Patch 7.2.5 brought some changes to BM hunters, and in spite of giving us a baseline 2-charge Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, it is looking like overall we are in a worse place damage-wise than we were for Nighthold. Seems like Blizz just could not stand to have BM hunters close to the top, had to take away more than they gave. There will still be some class tweaks coming along in hotfixes, but honestly I am not holding my breath that any of them will include buffs for BM hunters.

At least two sites I read regularly have openly stated that MM is clearly — and by quite a ways — top of the hunter heap. From the IcyVeins BM hunter guide:

Now that 7.2.5 has released, we can say with reasonable confidence and assuming no major changes, that Marksmanship will be the optimal raiding spec going into Tomb of Sargeras, mostly due to the potency of its new set bonuses.

Beast Mastery remains a solid choice, though rather than being very competitive and sometimes even better at single-target than Marksmanship in ideal situations, it is now fair to say that its potential output is less than Marksmanship in nearly all situations.

And even the redoubtable Bendak, in his most recent BM post about Patch 7.2.5, is brutally realistic about BM, stating it will likely fall out not only in the middle of the damage pack, but likely in the lower middle at that.

Whatever. I am a hunter in WoW, that is who I am. And since Blizz has seen fit to destroy the essence of my vision of “hunterness” in MM and SV specs, I really have no choice but to continue playing BM. Numbers have never meant that much to me anyway, so what seems to be a sudden plunge from lower-top to lower-middle position is not a calamity. Some class/spec has to be in that position, it is the nature of rankings. Still, I will be interested to see what the actual numbers spread is when the ToS results start to become available. If the spread between top and bottom is large, then Blizz will have once again failed in its never-ending attempt to “balance” the class/spec mess they themselves caused.

My alt gear-centric push over the last couple of weeks also served to reinforce to me the utter insanity of Legion’s gear complexity. On my alts the calculus was relatively easy, since I never intend to actually raid with them: higher ilevel = good, secondary stats pretty much be damned. But when I started to weigh gear and talent combos on my main in preparation for ToS, I found myself once again despairing over the sheer mathematical enormity of the task.

It has gotten so bad that AskMrRobot is now implementing a SETI-like mass computer sharing approach to solving the gear problem for players. Mind you, modern computers already have pretty massive computing power. Certainly enough that even a middle-level server could perform general arithmetical comparisons, even for thousands of users at a time. But Blizz’s insane interdependencies of gear stats, talents, different types of raid bosses, RNG-dependent proc rates, and specialized legendary and set bonuses have gone exponentially past arithmetic calculations. To properly assess the relative value of gear, only massive computer simulations approach accuracy. One or two simulations at a time are handled (though slowly) on a home desktop computer, but if you are trying to do it for large numbers of players, you need vast computational resources, and the cheapest way to get them is to set up a distributed grid of community computers. (I applaud AMR’s ingenuity here, but honestly I would like to see a bit more detail on their app’s security setup before I open my computer to it.)

The point is, you need the power of modern computers to decide if a piece of WoW gear is actually an upgrade for you, or to decide which legendary works best with which set of talents. 

But Reforging was “too much math” for us.

🙄🙄🙄

See you after the release of ToS.