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.

Alt weekend

I had a busy weekend in WoW. Nothing spectacular, just found myself with some windfall time on my hands and decided to spend it playing. As there is nothing much left for me to do with my main except grind out AP, I turned to my two most developed alts — balance druid and destro warlock. It was an interesting study in comparisons and contrasts.

Both are ranged dps, which is my solid role preference in WoW. I do have a couple of melee dps and healer alts, and they provide a nice break sometimes, but I always come back to ranged dps as my niche play style. Having said that, there are further distinctions among ranged dps, but the one that makes the greatest difference to me is mobility. Hunters used to be the most mobile of all ranged classes, and even after huge mobility nerfs to them in Legion at least BM hunters probably retain that distinction. So I am coming from that background as my baseline for determining “mobility”.

As I wrote last week, I have spent quite a bit of time lately developing my balance druid, and I am enjoying it. Her ilvl is around 890, but in all honesty she still has pretty crummy gear. Two legendaries, but one is just the crafted stat stick, worthless except as an ilvl booster, in my opinion. No tier gear, no BiS trinkets.

I was invited to a couple of mythics and mythic+ runs on her over the weekend. Pity runs, if I am truthful, but my guild is pretty good that way. Also, several of my guildies are building up alts now, too, so we end up taking turns running mains in order to carry some alts every now and then. My boomie dps was dismal, of course, but I was encouraged that it was not always bottom of the dps pile — there were moments of decent play.

The one thing that still dogs me with balance druid play is the extreme slowness of it.  Cast times just seem excruciating to me, like I could start the cast, go make a sandwich and get back just as it was finishing. I suppose this is an indirect reflection of my crummy gear — I have not even come close to really stacking the haste I need. The Icy Veins class guide goes so far as to rank haste and mastery above the primary stat of int (!) One of the consequences of this horrible slow play style is that I tend to overuse my instant casts — kill pace while soloing and even in mythic dungeons is such that there often is not enough time to get off a casted spell before the mobs die. So instant casts are frequently the only viable ones. Also, my muscle memory is hunter-honed, so I have a twitchy tendency to just interrupt a long cast in favor of an instant one. A lot. I am hoping I can get over this as my gear improves and I slap myself upside of my head often enough.

My lock also has crummy gear — even worse than my druid — right now hanging around 830 ilvl. Zero legendaries, not even a crafted one yet. But here’s the strange thing: even at a 60-ilvl difference, the lock feels much more powerful than the druid. I am relatively fearless at engaging mobs and elites with my lock, whereas with my druid I am super-cautious, almost always waiting for other players to show up before engaging anything higher than around 5 million health.

Some of that, I think, is because when I solo with my lock I run with a tank pet. Not only does this give me some breathing room when casting, but it is also the play style I have learned with my hunter since my earliest days of playing. So I am used to it.

But beyond the familiarity of using a pet, the lock play style — even though it is primarily a casted class — seems much more lively and engaging to me than balance druid. It seems mobile, whereas my druid does not. I am not sure why. Both balance druid and destro lock have casted spells as their primary power and some instant casts for setup or dots. Both require a certain rotational sequence to achieve high damage, and if that sequence is interrupted by the need to move, it suffers a bit. (Less so if you are skilled, more so if you play like I do.) Yet I find destro lock play not only more enjoyable than balance druid play but also more effective. Yes, destro lock has big casted spells, but the cast times seem reasonable, not M-A-D-D-E-N-I-N-G-L-Y S-L-O-O-O-O-O-W-W-W-W like for boomies.

The difference reminds me of the difference between BM hunters pre- and post-Legion. There is some major shift in play style, in class/spec philosophy. Prior to WoD, hunter development was guided by someone who understood the whole hunter “feel”. Starting in WoD, this was no longer the case, and hunter development seemed to be only about numbers no matter how awful the feel. It seems, from my very parochial view, that there is a similar lack of feel for balance druid play style, whereas those developers working on locks still retain it. Even though balance druid and destro lock have the same basic damage mechanics, one is horribly clunky in its implementation and one is lively and fun.

This, to me, perfectly describes Blizz’s problems with class development — they just do not get it for several classes, nor apparently do they care to, but for the ones they do get, it works out nicely. 

Last week I thought that my balance druid would become my primary alt as Legion progresses, but now I am not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I am still having fun with it, but a weekend with my lock is starting to change my mind. (Yes, I am fickle. Sue me.) The one thing that has thus far soured me on my lock in Legion is — and I know this sounds stupid — the class hall. I have never been a fan of the dark, fire-and-brimstone-with-overtones-of-torture-and-anguish environments Blizz seems to love, and this dismal environment is only compounded by what I think is a horrible layout for the class hall. I am getting more familiar with it now, but I still wander around a lot looking for stuff. Honestly, a big reason I have not played my lock much so far in Legion is because I dreaded having to do business in that class hall.

At any rate, it was a fun and relaxing weekend. And my little kick-ass gnome warlock is back!

Legendaries — first aid for class balance?

Admin note: This post contains quite a few references to specific Beastmastery hunter talents. I have thrown in some Wowhead links, but if you want a more comprehensive picture of the talent table, check out the Icy Veins one here.

The latest development in Legion legendaries, reported by MMO-C as part of the most recent PTR build, is that now some of them will actually grant the wearer a talent from their spec’s talent table. For example, the new hunter legendary will grant Beastmasters the Dire Stable talent, a level 15 talent that increases focus generation while you have a Dire Beast active.

Well. Where to start?

I am not a theory crafter, so my take on this goes more to fundamentals than it does to actual numbers. But the first thing that occurs to me is this particular talent level has ever only had two choices for BM hunters — Way of the Cobra for single target fights and Dire Stable for multitarget fights. No one I know has ever selected the third talent in that row, Big Game Hunter, because it stinks and has stunk since it was introduced. It is a non-choice. So the new legendary effectively means BM hunters can have their cake and eat it too in this talent tier. It also means if you have the new legendary you have no other choices in this talent row, you will take Way of the Cobra. I am not saying this is a bad thing, just pointing out how it will play out.

The second effect this will have is to buff BM damage somewhat, at least for single target fights, because we will be generating extra focus. The effect on multitarget fights is less clear, I think, because Cobra Shot is not often used on those, so the extra damage may be moot. Number crunchers will undoubtedly play with various combos, including the desirability of using multiple Cobra Shots over Multishot for medium-size groups of targets.

Additionally, one of the basic complaints about BM hunter mechanics is that the player has zero control over focus generation — is completely dependent on auto-generation of this resource. With the exception of the really terrible talent Chimaera Shot, we have no power-generating shots, we are completely at the mercy of Blizz’s idea of how fast that critical factor should generate. One result of this early on was the clunky, start-and-stop nature of the rotation. It is still a problem, though most of us still playing the spec just grimly accept it after months of enduring it.

Dire Stable, while still not allowing control over focus generation, does increase the rate noticeably. So the fact that lucky winners of the new legendary will not have to choose between increased focus and increased single target damage will be nice, I suppose. I doubt if it will be a game changer, but it will be helpful.

But here’s the thing: Blizz is using legendaries to fix glaring problems with spec mechanics, problems that players identified months ago during alpha testing and have continued to point out ever since Legion went live. 

The most obvious and egregious flaw in this plan is — well, I hesitate to point out the obvious but here goes:

ONLY LUCKY PEOPLE GET TO HAVE THE FLAW FIXED.

What the hell, Blizz? If there is a mechanics problem with a spec glaring enough for even the most clueless dev to notice, shouldn’t the fix be available to all players? Why do you insist on making a lottery of everything? What is wrong in your brains? For the umpteenth time, Mr. Game Director Ion “I Am The Sole Arbiter of Fun” Hazzikostas, RNG is not fun except for the uber-lucky early winners. For all the rest of us who spend hours and days and months rolling the dice for that one piece of playstyle-changing gear, it is the furthest thing in the game from fun. Even when we finally get it — if we ever do — it is not a woohoo moment but rather a “oh thank god that is over” one.

Beyond the lunacy of basing spec mechanics fixes on pure luck, there is another aspect to this. It seems evident from WoD and Legion that Blizz is unable to adequately balance individual spec mechanics and numbers without ending up with obvious winners and losers — specs that are either overpowered or dismally puny performers. And when they have tried to fix glaring inequities the changes have frequently lurched from one extreme to the other. Everyone understands the class/spec balance and playstyle issues are complex. So why make them even more so by introducing additional factors?

Introducing a complicated artifact trait table made balancing specs more difficult by an order of magnitude. Introducing other gear — tier and legendaries — with significant spec-enhancing bonuses made it even more so.

If you are someone who is challenged when you are asked to bring microwave green beans to Thanksgiving dinner, it is almost certainly not a good idea to also volunteer to bring the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Even though you hope it will help fix your green bean inadequacies, you are just setting yourself up for failure.

So, although I think the new legendary talents may help some specs in the near term,  using RNG gear to address known problems is a terrible way to do it. Not only is it a lazy approach, but in the long run it only serves to make the entire class/spec system more complex, more fragile, and consequently more prone to imbalance as a result of even tiny changes that can reverberate through the system in unexpected ways. Blizz should just stick to perfecting their green beans.

With that, I am out for the weekend.

So many questions, so little time

Looking back over my education, I think the single most important skill I learned was to ask questions. The Jesuits who schooled me were big believers in the Socratic Method, so we were not only encouraged but required to ask questions as part of every learning process. Sure, fractions and Shakespeare and the date of the Magna Carta and the underpinnings of an agrarian economy are all good to know. But when it comes right down to it, asking the right questions at the right time of the right people has saved my bacon in life more times than I can count.

So today I have been thinking about Patch 8.x. Yes, I know we are not even a year into Legion, and the hints from Blizz are that we have a lot of time left to experience it (my bet at the start was that we are looking at Legion being with us for very close to 3 years). Still, I feel like speculating a bit, in the form of a series of questions.

Location.

  • Is the 7.3 excursion to Argus a prelude to the next expansion, or is it just that — a one-off adventure?
  • Will we ever see the other side of Azeroth? Is there an other side?
  • What if any lessons did Blizz learn about time-travel worlds like Draenor and underwater zones like Vashj’ir? This is less a question than it is a hope — I hope they learned both these ideas were big mistakes.
  • Will Blizz expand its recent trend of making classic parts of Azeroth relevant to current game play? 

Stats.

  • What will be the nature of the next stat squish? I think a dev mentioned that much of the code has been rewritten to accommodate very large numbers now, it still is cumbersome for humans to speak of character health in the millions and boss health in the billions, for example. What about ilevel? Very soon even in Legion we will break break into 4-digit ilevels. Will secondary stats and damage/healing numbers be squished in 8.x?
  • Will stats be simplified in the next expansion? What is the official Blizz view of the complexity of stats in Legion? Do they understand the frustration of players when a higher level piece of gear is not an upgrade? Are they happy with the proliferation of web sites and apps designed to do the intricate math necessary to determine a piece of gear’s worth to a player? 

Quest hubs and population centers.

  • Will we see new faction capitals? Blizz seems — both in WoD and Legion — to have concluded that faction capital cities are too resource-intensive to justify them. If Sanctuary Cities are the norm for the foreseeable future, will we see more of them in Horde areas, with Horde racial architecture?
  • What has Blizz learned about the garrison concept? It was innovative but not well liked in WoD, and it was extended — as Class Halls — in Legion. Is this idea now a core game mechanic going forward? Will we see the concept applied as guild halls in 8.x?  More wishful thinking on that last one, I am afraid.
  • Why is Blizz so dead set against player housing? This is really more of a pet peeve question and not so much of an insightful one about the next expansion. Certainly the technology is there — that was proven with garrisons, and with Sunsong Ranch before that. And there is player demand for it, though I am not sure how much. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to do it, citing from time to time the “war footing” nature of the game as being antithetical to cozy homesteading. My own opinion, completely biased, is that there is a culture at Blizz that insists WoW is a “hardcore” game, and to give players housing is just too girly and frilly for them to contemplate. They put it in the same category as playing house or cutting out paper dolls, and that would destroy the manly studly war aspect of the game. (Yeah, yeah, let the hate mail begin. But deep down you know I am right.)

Class development.

  • Will there be another major rewrite of classes in 8.x?
  • What is Blizz’s long range vision of class roles and balance? Are they on a path to achieve this, or do they have none and merely make change for change’s sake each expansion?
  • And the big question: Can Blizz stop screwing with hunters for at least one expansion? (Sarcasm flag.)
  • Will we see the pendulum swing once again towards class-provide raid buffs?

Gear.

  • Is the concept of artifact gear a one-and-out for Legion, as Blizz has claimed? 
  • Are there any big contemplated gear changes in 8.x, for example cutting the number of gear slots, maybe by eliminating necks and rings?
  • Will we see some sort of non-RNG mechanism for getting gear in 8.x?
  • After the debacle of legendaries in Legion, what is the future of legendaries going forward? Will we return to a single long-questline legendary, or have we crossed a line and henceforward they will fall like candy?

Miscellaneous.

  • Is Blizz happy with the complexity level of the game now? If not, in which direction do they think it should go?
  • Are there in-game advertisements in the works? Tie-ins with other Activision franchises, such as the King line of games?
  • What is the future for professions? Will we see them get less relevant and more complex, or will we see some semblance of a return to their classic role? Will Blizz move towards a Final Fantasy approach? Are they indeed an integral part of the game’s economy, or would it be possible to eliminate them altogether?
  • Will alt play remain viable in 8.x? It is narrowly so in Legion, but Blizz’s clear preference is for players to have very limited number of alts.
  • Are there significant quality of life improvements in store for 8.x? Off hand, I can think of a few: account-wide banking, better group finder interface, unlimited quest log, *coughplayerhousingcough*, removal of that ridiculous talent-changing tome requirement, improving exit process from caves once a quest is completed, increasing the number of stable slots for hunter pets, adding mythic dungeons to the auto-group finder, probably lots more.
  • Will Blizz help to make the role of guilds more robust? Like alt play, the trend since mid-Mists has been to make guilds less and less relevant, with the removal of most guild perks and advantages to guild membership.
  • With the apparent advent of interplanetary travel, will we eventually see honest-to-goodness actual working space ship “mounts”? Will space actually be a working environment — like an underwater area only without water — or just more of an abstract concept?
  • What will be the eternal-grind mechanism of 8.x? Because we know there will be one, just a matter of how Blizz repackages AP (like they repackaged garrisons into class halls).

And last but certainly not least:

Will we get a concept of the next expansion at Blizzcon this year?

What questions do you have?

Message on classes?

 

Yesterday, as I am sure you all know, there was another Blizz Q&A, this time with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas. I watched it live, then parts of it again this morning as I was munching my corn flakes. There were really no great revelations, and of course everyone will have their own take on it. If you want to check it out for yourselves, Wowhead has video of the entire interview and a nice text summary on this page.

In spite of the fact that we were told the Q&A is not the venue for discussing class balance issues, the one thing that struck me was a pretty defined thread of Legion class development weaving through many of the answers given to questions on varied topics. I think we are in the middle of a pretty significant swing on the entire philosophy of classes in WoW. That is not really news, I guess, but I do think we are finally seeing the emergence of a more or less clearly articulated set of class policies, which is something we have not had for some time now in the game.

The way I would express this policy is:

External game mechanisms are more important for determining class strengths than are individual player abilities, and those mechanisms should influence group compositions. 

Yeah, I know, but hear me out.

Gear. Gear level is the default measuring stick for all content in the game. Hazzikostas was pretty blunt about this when asked about the difficulty of the class artifact challenges in 7.2. He went to some pains to point out that the challenges were actually designed to get easier with better gear, and that player abilities could only go so far to beat the challenges absent good gear, and in some cases very specific gear.

However, in an apparent nod to player abilities (along with an obedient bow to the elitist mentality), he did add he is “confident that there will be a large number of people who just aren’t able to do [the artifact challenges]”. Yes, he used the word “confident”, which implies approval of the development. We don’t know whether he has this confidence because he also has confidence in the inept play of many players or because he has confidence in the fact that RNG makes getting decent gear unlikely for many players.

Nevertheless, the message was pretty clear: gear should matter more than almost any other factor.

External buffs discussion. This was eye-opening to me. The question being answered had to do with the wisdom of continuing to have external group buffs — of which there are currently very few. But Hazzikostas’s answer was quite far-reaching, I thought. It went far beyond the actual question, almost as if the question had been chosen to allow a public policy statement.

He first explained he thinks there should be more group-contributing type abilities, “not just numbers-driven ones”. I found this to be pretty amazing, considering Legion had gone to some pains to strip away almost all raid buffs.

He also expressed what I presume is the official Blizz stance on class value — that the game had veered too far in the direction of “bring the player not the class”, and that there is in his opinion significant value in bringing certain classes because of their unique group contributions. In fairness, he did point out that you can go too far in this direction, giving Sunwell Plateau as an example. But the message was clear: class should matter in group selection. He even went so far as to give the example of selecting a less-skilled warlock over, say “a third hunter”.

I admit I was annoyed that the only mention he made of hunters in the entire Q&A was to intimate there are too many of them, and that they are just generic damage dealers, but that is petty of me. And maybe I am reading too much into this, but it seems like he has completely forgotten that hunters used to be the premier utility class until under his watch nearly all utility functions were stripped from them. And now he has the nerve to imply hunters have no special utility and therefore should be replaced by a class that does have some??? OK, mini-rant over.

Anyway, I think this pronouncement is the formalization of the sea change in Blizz’s class development philosophy that we have observed evolving in Legion. I do not think it is overstating it to say that Blizz is moving back towards the idea of optimal class mixes for raids. In fact, he made this plain when he said (direct quote), “A well rounded group should always be the best one”.

Whether this will have any appreciable effect on non-elite raid teams remains to be seen. It seems unlikely, especially for flexible-sized difficulty levels. I suspect most semi-casual raid teams seldom run at the full 30 capacity, so if they have a few extra hunters (big fat raspberry to you, Mr. Ion “I Hate Hunters” Hazzikostas) it does not mean they can’t still add that oh-so-useful Warlock…

It will have an effect, I suppose, on Mythic raid teams, but many of those already configure their rosters based on class/spec contributions for specific fights. It could have an effect also on those non-Mythic teams who occasionally dip a toe into Mythic raids. I am thinking of my own guild, where just because of membership we frequently run with 4 or more hunters — if “proper” class mix becomes a thing, some of those hunters, regardless of their play abilities, could be asked to sit out if they are preventing a “useful” class from coming along. I think guild philosophy would supersede benching a regular raider solely because of their class, but if having a certain class mix is a clearly superior strategy, it could happen.

Another area that might be affected is pugs. Hazzikostas seemed to think increasing class relevance would be beneficial to pugs, because group leaders would not just be looking to grab the player with the highest ilevel. True, but it could also serve to really harm a class perceived to have no “special” contributions. Even if Blizz is forward-thinking enough to give every spec an identifiable beneficial utility, it could still backfire if that spec’s utility was not useful in certain fights — you might be able to get all the first wing Nighthold you could handle, for example, but no group would even think of picking you up for the second wing.

I often criticize Blizz for not communicating policy changes, so it is only fair that I hand them a kudo this time. Though it was subtle, I do think Ion Hazzikostas in the Q&A delivered a policy pronouncement on the role of classes in Legion and going forward: Gear and group utility (as handed out by Blizz in the form of unique class abilities) are significant pieces of class power, slightly outweighing player proficiency except in the most extreme cases, and it is desirable that these class attributes play a role in determining group composition strategies.

I may not agree with it, but I can’t argue that I have not been told about it.

Oh, and Blizz, please for the love of anything you may hold dear —

GIVE HUNTERS BACK THEIR RAID UTILITIES.

And have a good weekend.