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.

Nighthold, tier tears, and hotfixes

Today’s post is a few bits and pieces on Nighthold, tier gear, and the most recent hotfixes.

Nighthold. Last night our raid team ventured into Nighthold (N). We had a good time and downed 6 bosses — Skorpyron, Chronomatic Anomaly, Trilliax, Spellblade Aluriel,  Krosus, and High Botanist Tel’arn.

Mini-rant: What is it with Blizz and their seemingly random use of apostrophes in names? As far as I can tell, there is no solid linguistic foundation for it, none of the Azerothian or ancient WoW languages has any real basis in descriptive or structural analysis. Do the apostrophes connote contractions? Possessive case? Glottal stops or whistles or some other phoneme difficult to render in a Roman alphabet? Or, like raising one’s pinky in an elaborate show of faux politesse, are they a pretention? My money is on the latter.

Anyway, back to last night’s raid. We one-shotted all the bosses except for Botanist, who did give us some trouble. (However, we wiped a couple of times on trash, go figure.) There was some muttering about Nighthold being “undertuned”, but I don’t agree. We are pretty much overgeared for Normal, which as some of you may recall was originally (in Patch 5.4 I think) structured to be the “friends and family” mode, with Heroic being the progression mode. Had it been a true cakewalk, we should have cleared it, but Botanist’s mechanics did in fact kick our butts — the individual mechanics are not complicated, but dealing with all of them in the last phase was pretty chaotic. I haven’t yet studied the 4 bosses we did not do, but I suspect they will give us a challenge also.

My previous guild’s raid team was actually a “friends and family” type organization, and I can tell you there is no way that team would have been able to down even Skorpyron the first time we ventured in. So my initial impression is that Nighthold is tuned about right. Most of us last night had glanced at a couple videos and explanations for the first 2-3 bosses, but after that we just pretty much played it by ear, relying on the in-game raid notes, normal raid awareness, and above-average healing and tanking.

The raid’s physical structure is visually appealing, kind of a mix of both Arcway and Court of Stars, with both indoor and outdoor areas. (Whatever else such a structure provides, it is nice to be able to repair periodically without having to zone out or have a well-prepared engineer in the group — I hope this is Blizz’s standard practice from now on.)

We’ll go back Thursday and hopefully finish the last four bosses. We got some decent loot drops last night (not me, of course, don’t be silly) with one random legendary and a few pieces of tier gear. (Well, I did get a non-tier helm from someone who offered it up because they didn’t need it. I gratefully accepted it, I am not proud.)

Hunter tier gear. This, too, is a mini-rant (okay, maybe a full-fledged rant). I don’t know how useful the tier bonuses are for other classes, but for BM hunters, of the 2-pc and 4-pc bonuses, one is pretty good and one is crap. Here’s the thing — prior to last night, the Blizz tooltips had this description (quoted in MMO-C and IcyVeins and a couple of other places) (emphasis mine):

(2) Set (Beast Mastery): Dire Beast reduces the cooldown of Bestial Wrath by an additional 8 sec.
(2) Set (Marksmanship): Every 35 Focus you spend reduces the cooldown of Trueshot by 1 sec.
(2) Set (Survival): Flanking Strike now has 3 times the normal chance to trigger Hunting Companion.
(4) Set (Beast Mastery): When you use Bestial Wrath, all of your currently summoned Dire Beasts gain 50% increased damage for 15 sec.
(4) Set (Marksmanship): Trueshot also reduces the cost of all your Focus spenders by 15%.
(4) Set (Survival): When Mongoose Fury reaches 6 applications, you gain 20% increased damage to all abilities for 10 sec.

 

Well, I thought when I first began reading about hunter tier gear, at least they gave us the good bonus with 2 pieces, and the 4-piece set — which I almost never am able to get — is blah. The number of Dire Beasts beyond one that you have summoned at any point is completely RNG-dependent, so the 4-piece bonus is pretty hit and miss, not really something you can depend on for burst damage. Par for the course, but the 2-piece Bestial Wrath cooldown is pretty powerful. Woohoo, I thought.

Silly me, haven’t I learned by now?

Imagine my surprise last night when suddenly, out of the blue, the tier set descriptions were magically reversed. Now the crap bonus with Dire Beast damage is the 2-piece, and the BW cooldown bonus is the 4-piece. Chances of me getting this? Close to zero.

Blizz,seriously, do you just enjoy screwing with hunters, or what? Do you derive amusement from telling us one thing for months and then pulling the rug out from under us? Was this mixup just a stupid error in not checking tooltips, or did you in fact arbitrarily switch it in the hours before the patch went live, not giving a flying flap how it affected your players?

The sad thing is, this might still be a mixup. I have no idea what the hunter tier bonuses are, which is the 4-piece and which is the 2-piece. Blizz is that incompetent.

Recent hotfixes. January 17 saw some fairly significant hotfixes. The ones I though were the most interesting:

  • Mythic Emerald Nightmare is now cross-realm. This is something the Mythic raiders have been asking for now for some time. My raid team is not actually a Mythic team, but one of the reasons we did not go beyond 2/7 in EN (M) is that we frequently had 18 or 19 raiders but could not find that last one or two on our server. People had friends who would have happily joined us, but they were on another server. So I applaud this move by Blizz.
  • Crafting costs for the talent-swapping tomes have been “significantly reduced”. Good, I suppose, although as I have written before this is in my opinion nothing more than trying to polish a turd …
  • Some significant buffs were made to hunters, especially to BM hunters. Again, this to me is a good news/bad news situation — the good news is that we got some buffs, the bad news is that Blizz is still flailing wildly trying to “balance” classes and to slap some gigantic band-aids on the gaping wound that is hunter mechanics. It just seems worrisome to me that at this stage in an expansion, Blizz is still making “adjustments” of this magnitude.

Beast Mastery
Cobra Shot damage increased by 46%.
Chimaera Shot damage increased by 10%.
Barrage damage increased by 10%.
Kill Command damage increased by 10%.

Tl;dr: Nighthold is fun, Blizz has no idea what they are doing with hunter tier gear or class “balancing”. 

Class chaos

In my last post, I mentioned my view that one of the major flaws with Legion is something I call “class chaos”. Today I want to discuss that some more.

“Class chaos” as a term suggests to me that there is no true unifying control within the class development hierarchy. That is, there is no obvious indication that class design in Legion adheres to any identifiable project structure. Now, maybe there is such a structure, but it is so vastly complex that it is impossible to manage. Still, the result is the same.

Let’s take the idea of class fantasy as an example. When Legion was officially announced a couple of years ago, Blizz made a pretty big deal about how important class fantasy was going to be to the radically-redesigned classes. They even wrote and posted new class fantasies for each class.

Although it seems Blizz understood the idea that class fantasy is central to characters in the game, their actions indicated they only understood this centrality in terms of combat mechanics. The reworking of the most radically redesigned classes showed they had zero understanding of the emotional attachment players had to individual ideas of class fantasy. It would not have been difficult to get some idea of this, no expensive player polls or research required, in my opinion. They could have just sat down with some of the prominent players for each class and talked about why these players loved their class. Would this have been a perfect picture? Of course not, but at least it would have yielded some sort of emotional baseline that could have been used as a series of “red lines” not to be crossed during mechanical development. We know from a smattering of blue posts that the class devs may not even play the class they work on for development — they may understand certain mechanics, but without playing it and loving it there is no way they can know the “soul” of the class. Okay, fine, but they could at least consult with some people who do.

Moving on to more general class development, was there any attempt to define a meta-structure of class roles in Legion? How many tank specs should the game have, and what features should they have in common and what features should differentiate them? Same for healers and damage dealers. How many physical damage dealer specs should there be, how many should deal only in magic or nature damage? How does this defined class structure affect dungeon and raid design, PvP areas? There may be such a meta-design diagram somewhere on a dev wall at Blizz, but there is no indication it had any effect on Legion development — I offer as Exhibit A the fact that Legion introduced two new melee classes into an already-crowded melee space. Exhibit B is the effective removal of all utility functions from what had arguably been the prime utility class in the game — hunters.

Was there any realistic assessment of the increased workload necessary to deal with the complications inherent in rebuilding most classes and specs from the ground up while at the same time introducing the complex interactions of artifact traits? It’s pretty clear to me, from the horrible state some classes went live in, that the answer is  no. Blizz underestimated the complexity of this undertaking and, given what seemed to be a sped-up and arbitrary expansion deadline, simply got so overwhelmed that they gave up on some classes, hoping they could fix them later.

What they may only now be realizing is that some of the class/spec problems are so fundamental that patch tweaks cannot come close to fixing them. And that any mechanic changes must be weighed in consideration of player investment in spec artifacts. At least I hope they are realizing that, and that they will fix the fundamentals in the next expansion if they cannot do it in this one. But then, we are told that artifact weapons will not be a feature of the next expansion, and since these weapons are currently integral to the mechanics of each spec, I can only surmise that means yet another ground-up redesign of classes. *sigh*

Returning to the idea of class fantasy, I just want to mention one of my pet peeves, not for the purpose of ranting (although I never pass up an opportunity to rant), but rather to illustrate a last point about class chaos.

Blizz went to the trouble of rewriting class and spec fantasies for Legion. I may not agree with what they came up with for some specs, but the fact remains that they put them out there. To me, this means the implementation of spec mechanics should reflect the published fantasy. I only really know about hunter specs, but I can tell you nothing could be further from reality.

  • We have a “marksman” spec that uses a bow instead of something like a sniper rifle, and whose signature shots are anything but precise in their targeting. In fact MM shots closely resemble the effects of buckshot from my grandfather’s old 12-gauge. Worse, the baseline reliance on RNG means that this “marksman” relies not on skill for targeting, but on blind luck.
  • We have a “master of beasts” who in reality has almost zero control over them, even if the horrible pathing issues were solved, which they are decidedly not. One of these “highly controlled” beasts, Hati, tends to amble slowly to a target, taking his own sweet time, seemingly oblivious to any urgency from his master. Most pets have lost their special attributes, rendering moot any hunter expertise in pet selection based on animal or family traits. The calling of many pets all at once, in the form of the Stampede talent, is a joke because all the hunter can do is unleash them to run in a single direction, not sic them onto a directed target. Target moves, pets are ineffective. Technical glitches abound, such that in some raids and instances (Helya comes to mind), pets just stop attacking or disappear into some invisible path with no warning. Placing a pet on “Assist” may or may not have the intended effect, as sometimes they slip into passive anyway.

At any rate, the point I am trying to illustrate here is that there appears to be no follow-through to implement the very class fantasies Blizz themselves have created. This to me indicates sloppy project management and poor attention to detail. This is disappointing, because in other development areas — zone design, quest lines, artwork, etc. — Blizz is all about attention to detail, all about creating a seamless environment.

Maybe Blizz needs to do to themselves what they have been doing to us now for several expansions and rebuild their class development management and staff structure from the ground up. Selection of class and spec is one of the most personal and far-reaching choices a player makes in this game, and I think we deserve better treatment from Blizz than they have been giving us lately.

Everyone have a good weekend.