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!

A place for us

A couple of disconnected blogs I recently read got me to thinking about the human need to feel at home, an innate need identified and studied by psychologists, behaviorists, architects, interior designers, novelists, retailers — the list goes on and on. Think back to your Psych 101 class and you will recall this need is so basic it was identified by Maslow in his Hierarchy. (I suppose there are psychologists who take issue with Maslow’s work, but it always made sense to me. If you were not paying attention in Psych 101, you can get the gist of his theory in this totally unofficial Wikipedia article.)

The first blog I read that started me on this chain of thought was Matthew Rossi’s regular Blizzard Watch Q&A from yesterday. One of the questions was from someone complaining that the Blizz crossover promotion between Heroes of the Storm and WoW was ruining HotS for him, because there were all these scrubs jumping in and being stupid about how they played.

I have never played HotS, never intend to play it, and getting some big old ugly chunk of 1’s and 0’s to ride in WoW does not make me want to try playing it. But I can sympathize with the questioner. Remember back in Mists when everyone had to win some number of PvP battlegrounds as part of the quest line for the legendary cloak? (Now that’s when legendaries meant something! And you kids get off my grass!) Anyway, I always thought this was a terrible idea — the regular PvPers hated amateurs coming in and ignorantly screwing up established tactics, and the non-PvPers resented having to be there doing something they had no interest in learning or ever doing again.

Here was a prime example of Blizz deliberately messing with the basic human need to feel at home. The regular PvPers felt their space had been invaded by ignorant and clueless strangers — like when your in-laws suddenly show up at your door — and the non-PvPers were thrust into a situation where they did not know the rules of behavior or the terrain or how to interact with others. Neither group felt at home. It was a guaranteed lose-lose situation.

Now, I suppose Blizz did it because having a robust PvP play option attracts more people to the game, and maybe they were losing these kinds of players so they thought if more people tried PvP they would actually like it, thereby increasing this aspect of the game. I have no idea how it turned out, probably some players did in fact decide PvP was kind of fun. No matter. The point I am trying to make here is almost everyone involved in this activity at the time disliked it. Why did they dislike it? Because suddenly a part of the comfortable little niche they had made for themselves in the game was gone.

I would argue that much of the angst we players express with Blizz is due to the sudden removal of some aspect of the game we have come to feel at home with, in the Maslow sense. This is deeper than just stodgy old players uncomfortable with change, this is akin to having your home destroyed by a tornado. More than once.

Each of us defines the central aspect of WoW differently, or to put it another way, we each establish for ourselves what we believe to be our “home core” in the game. We may not even know that we do this, and we might be hard put to describe what that core is, but it is there for all of us. When that core is shaken or demolished, especially if it seems to happen frequently, then we start hollering. This I think is why the hunter changes of the last two expansions have seemed so heinous to me — prior to WoD, I doubt if I would have defined being a hunter as the home core of my game, but when Blizz began to demolish first the SV spec and later the entire hunter experience, suddenly I realized the very foundation of my game enjoyment had been removed. I was left to find another home core or rebuild on the old one. For humans, both these situations are difficult, just ask Maslow.

Which brings me to the other blog that got me thinking along these lines — a piece by Bhagpuss over at Inventory Full on player housing and the dilemma MMOs face on the subject. The quick summary is that there likely is a Goldilocks solution as to whether or not to have player housing and if so how much or little it should affect the game, but that this solution is difficult for most game makers to arrive at. In fact, recent history for MMOs shows that few companies have succeeded.

As some of you may know, I favor the idea of player housing. I really liked my little Sunsong Ranch home. In fact I still go back there every couple of weeks, just as a place to log off from, with a cozy bed and a bubbling pot of stew on the stove. It gives me a peaceful feeling of being at home, of taking off my boots and warming my tired feet by the stove, anticipating supper and reflecting on the day’s adventures.

If we had had just a few opportunities to customize that space — beyond becoming bff’s with whoever that was that decorated it for us — Sunsong Ranch would have been close to perfect as player housing in my opinion. It was completely optional, it did not in any way affect your game play beyond the initial zone quest sets, and it was instanced so that it was really just your own.But Blizz took this notion of an instanced individual space and made it into a monster in WoD in the form of garrisons, and into an annoyance in Legion in the form of class halls.

Anyway, my point is not to rehash all the problems with garrisons or class halls. (However, for crying out loud, can we get a lousy place to sit and maybe be able to buy a beer in the hunter hall??) My point is that some players — maybe even a lot of players, who knows  — really enjoy having a small space of their own, a place they can call home, even in a computer game. And Blizz has demonstrated they have the technology. The garrison technology was great — an individual instance that you could invite groups to, a few chances to do limited customization — it was just the typical Blizz overreaction that made it bad by requiring every player to have one and to develop it and make it the central jumping off point for an entire expansion, and by offering amenities like a bank and an auction house and portals so that you never had to leave it.

Maybe if Blizz gave us some decent optional and limited player housing — a place of our own — we would not be so quick to yell at them when they make huge changes to our class play style or professions or gear. No matter what they did , we could still come home at the end of a long day questing or raiding, kick off our muddy boots and put our feet up by a nice fire, and feel at home.

Maybe Blizz should dig out their old Psych 101 textbook. It might make them realize that always screwing with core player engagements like class and spec identity is more disruptive than it is helpful, and that maybe if they were to let us have a tiny space of our own in the game we might be happier. Just a thought.

Class halls – why?

Stopping in to my class hall on my main over the weekend, I realized that I rarely send followers on missions any more. Why? Mainly because the majority of rewards seem worthless to me. Just not worth the effort or the class hall resources — even though I am approaching 50k of those.

I still usually do the AP missions, but only if I can configure a team that will net me at least 75% bonus chance, because the bonus token is the one I want, not the paltry 30-40k main reward. Approaching 3 million AP cost per trait increase, it just doesn’t seem cost effective to take hours or days to gather 30,000 AP.

Once in a while, out of boredom, I will do the gold reward missions, but again only if I can get a very high percentage bonus chance, because although the 1500 gold bonus is decent, the baseline 400-700 gold is frankly not worth the effort these days. Too many other ways to earn gold in a lot less time. Heck, I can earn close to 400 gold just vendoring gray items and green gear from a bunch of daily world quests.

Dungeon and raid “special” missions? I have never gotten anything worth while from the chests awarded for completion. All these missions do, at least in my opinion, is clutter up my quest log. (And as a side note, Blizz, when are we going to get a larger quest log?)

Follower gear and tokens? Please. Some of them are of value early in the follower process, I grant you, but they are merely vendor trash once you have leveled your followers. I keep a few items in my bank just to outfit a team now and then for AP bonus missions, but otherwise — pfffft.

As a consequence of crappy rewards, my followers tend to sit around a lot. Except for Addie Fizzlebog. We go everywhere together, and though my hunter does not really need a bodyguard, I have managed to equip her with gear that nets me 150 garrison resources every time I complete a world quest. (In theory I should be able to get 200, but that other 100-resource token has been elusive for me.) 150 does not sound like a lot, but it seems to really add up — remember I am close to 50k resources and I do not usually do a ton of WQs every day. I should have enough to easily do the two new class hall improvement stages in 7.2. (Though why I want to do them may be another question, see below.)

(I will admit, though, sometimes I feel like smacking her if I have to hear her squeak one more time “I’m a real hunter now!”)

The fact that follower missions rapidly become fairly useless is to me emblematic of the whole concept of class/order halls in Legion. I just don’t see the point. Blizz seems to have gone out of their way to make sure we don’t spend a lot of time in them — no mailboxes, nothing that makes them places you want to hang out in, not even any particularly useful gear.

Recently there has been a spate of blue posts defending the class hall gear you can buy, but I think I have to side with the player complaints on this. It is true, I think, for most players, that by the time they have the level and rep and achievements necessary to buy a particular piece of gear, chances are excellent that they do not need it except possibly for transmog. I think the first piece I could buy on my hunter was useful, but after that not so much.

Arguably, some classes spend more time just getting to their class hall than they do actually transacting business there. Which brings up another point — what was cute and intriguing in terms of getting to a particular class hall in the beginning becomes tedious and annoying very quickly. This was brought home to me over the weekend when I spent some time leveling my rogue. I don’t really care that the rogue class hall is in the Dal sewers, but the whole requirement to run through Dal, into the shop, lay down your coin, have the secret door open, run down stairs and take a left, run down more stairs and take another left, then run through the sewer and across the bridge, then open another secret door — all just to get to your class hall — is, to put it mildly, FREAKING STUPID AND ANNOYING. I know some devs at Blizz think it is clever and fun, but honestly they must never have done it more than once or twice, because — no, just no.

Hey Blizz, how about doing something really nice for quality of life in Patch 7.2, and give everyone a class hall hearth like we had for garrisons, or if you don’t want to call it a hearth, call it an “instant portal” like a couple of classes have?

Class halls do have target dummies, but that brings up another ridiculous head-scratcher — why are there none in Dal? We are told the city is in hiding from the Legion, it will serve as the launch pad for the final assault, and it must be defended at all costs, yet there is no way for its defenders to train?  Honestly, between this and the ridiculous engineer-only auction house, Dal pretty much stinks as a hub city. I say let the Legion have it.

I am sticking by my theory that the only reason we have class halls in Legion is that Blizz originally planned to keep the WoD garrison idea for at least one more expansion, and it was too late to undo that plan by the time they figured out garrisons had a lot of unintended — and bad — consequences for game play, not to mention a lot of players voiced loud complaints over the whole idea. By the time it was clear that WoD’s garrisons had flopped,  Legion was already sketched out in some detail, and there was no good way to remove them with out trashing much of the rest of Legion’s design. So Blizz made a few passes at removing some of the things they perceived to be problems with them, and thus we got these relatively worthless class halls.

Blizz, for the love of all you hold holy, unless you intend to give us guild halls or player housing, please ditch the whole idea of garrisons or anything remotely similar in the next expansion. Though it might have looked good on paper, it turned out badly — cut your losses and move on. It is a complication that adds nothing to the game. And who knows, without it we might get another raid tier! 😉

Maybe Legion really is the expansion we hoped it would be

Blizzcon 2016 is now in the archives, and I am cautiously hopeful that Legion may indeed fulfill its promise as the anti-Draenor. I did not watch any of the panels live, but I did watch them in the videos afterwards, and I was struck by the amount of information we got from Ion Hazzikostas and the devs — concrete plans for Legion as it moves forward as well as Blizzard’s philosophical approaches to this game and its design. There was a lot to digest, but let me address what I thought were a few of the highlights from what I considered to be the major presentation.

But first, a little groveling on my part. I am often very hard on Ion Hazzikostas, but I thought he hit it out of the park with his presentation on “Legion – What’s Next?” I got a sense that he is finally coming into his own, possibly as a result of being promoted to Game Director, that he is at last comfortable with the game’s direction as well as with communicating that direction to the player base. His presentation was smooth, informed, relaxed, and lively. He seemed to finally shed the tendency to lapse into lawyer-speak, and there was absolutely none of the patronizing comments or snarkiness he has been prone to in the past. I would go so far as to say his presentation was the best we have heard from Blizz in many years. He will never, I think, be very good with interactive player communication — he does not strike me as being an extemporaneous type of guy — but if he continues to give us the quality of information we saw over the weekend, that does not matter. He is in a management position where he can “have people for that”.

I am beginning to believe that Blizz is ever so slowly working itself out of the trust deficit they dug for themselves in WoD. Of course, we still must see if they come through on the promise of Legion, but at least so far they have done what they said they are going to do.

So here are a few items I was most interested in from the “What’s Next” panel. (You can watch one of the many videos of it or check out one of the summaries like Wowhead’s.)

  • Major and minor patches. We know these happen, but it was enlightening to have them defined for us. And it was very pleasant to hear that they are being more or less pipelined in the PTR — once one goes live, the next one is queued up and ready to go for testing. Additionally, it was interesting to hear that content patches are not necessarily tied to raid tiers.
  • Micro holidays coming in Patch 7.1.5. While I am not a big fan of the current world holidays, I do think the Azeroth-based micro holidays have the potential to be a lot of fun. (I am imagining things like Leeeroy Jenkins Day, although it was not mentioned as one of the examples.) The fact that there will be no achievements, mounts, etc. for these events is good, I think, because it reinforces the idea that they are just for a bit of fun. I like the idea because it seems like Blizz is returning to one of their strengths — creative whimsy.
  • Class changes. This was probably the most exciting announcement in my opinion. It seems there will be a ton of substantive class changes coming in 7.1.5, but more than the actual changes, it was the way Hazzikostas described them that caught my attention, particularly as they relate to hunters.
    • He addressed the problem of class play style and feel, and he admitted that they had gone a bit too far in creating spec identity, sometimes at the expense of overall class identity. This has been the main concern of nearly every hunter comment since Alpha, and it gives me hope for qualitative improvement to the brain-dead BM rotation.
    • Traps! Yes, he actually said it, all hunters will get traps back in some form. This was part of a broader discussion of utility, and it seems that Blizz will be adding back some of the utility they had cut from certain classes. This is good news for many, but I think it is especially good for hunters, the class that has historically been “the” utility class in the game. I have heard some argue that utility was in fact the major defining feature of hunters, and that the Legion removal of nearly all utility abilities from hunters effectively destroyed the nature of the class. I am not sure I would go that far, but there is a certain amount of merit to the argument. I hope traps are not the only utility being restored to hunters.
  • Class order hall renewed emphasis in 7.2. Basically, there will be an extension to the order hall campaigns, and a renewed commitment to the idea of classes banding together to save Azeroth. I have not been a fan of this whole concept since it was first announced, and honestly I feel like it is an artificial convenience — to cover Blizz’s decision to continue garrisons in Legion — rather than a smoothly-fitting part of the story. Still, if it is a vehicle for providing continuing content, it is hard to argue with it.
  • Flying. Contrary to my predictions (eating a small portion of crow here), it will arrive in Patch 7.2. However, since I had not considered the possibility of a semi-major 7.1.5 patch, I think my initial prediction of 7.3 (third major patch) was not far off. But I am still not convinced that most people will be able to have flying before well into 2017, given both patch scheduling and the rather significant achievement additions to Pathfinder that will be required. Still, I think it is likely to be closer to early summer than my initial prediction of the end of the year. Which brings up ….
  • Class mounts. I am not much of a mount person, tend to look at them as basic transportation, but I have to admit I was pretty excited about the announcement of class mounts as the reward for completing requirements for flying. I am not exactly sure what that half-wolf, half-eagle thing is that hunters will get, but I want it!
  • Artifact weapons. I am already pretty sick of this mechanism and the way it influences nearly every aspect of the game for me, so the announcement that there will be extensions to them in 7.2 in the form of additional traits and a level 4 for existing 3-level traits was not welcome news to me. The only saving grace, in my opinion, was the comment that they would definitely not/not be continued in the next expansion. Thank goodness. Let’s just hope there will not be artifact bloomers or something ….
  • World invasions. These daily events, similar to the ones we had in the pre-patch events in WoD, will be returning in 7.2. I think this is a good move as a way to add content. The invasion scenarios were fast, fun, and they gave decent rewards. Also, I think they were very well received by most players. Good move on Blizz’s part.
  • No mention of Patch 7.3, and maybe extra-planetary travel?? Hazzikostas did not venture much beyond plans for Patch 7.2 — he did not specifically mention patch 7.3. The timeline, though, argues for such a patch.
    • Assuming 7.2 goes live sometime around March or April of 2017 (wild ass guess on my part), that would mean Legion is less than a year old by the time 7.2 goes live.
    • If Blizz’s previous declaration that they were going back to 18-month or 2-year expansions holds, that leaves a lot of time for more major Legion patches. And it seems unlikely, given the bad recent experiences with patches lasting for a year, that we will not have one or more after 7.2. Even if there is a Patch 7.2.5, there will still be a lot of time left in Legion, certainly enough for a Patch 7.3 and 7.3.5 before the next pre-expansion patch.
    • The hint Hazzikostas tantalizingly dropped was that the battle will be taken directly to The Legion’s home planet of Argus. This does not necessarily mean space travel with star ships and all — magic portals seem more likely — but still…. Remember the world invasions we got before Legion as part of the pre-expansion events? Those big things in the sky where there was a swirly spiral certainly looked like they might be space ships, didn’t they?
    • If in fact Argus is the new zone we get in Patch 7.3, it opens up an entirely new planet for future expansions. No more trying to cram new zones into what is becoming a rather crowded Azeroth map. Honestly, it is quite exciting, and it goes a long ways towards laying to rest the perpetual WoW-is-dead theories.

Many people — me included — expected Blizzcon 2016 to be a real yawner, but surprisingly I found it to be one of the more optimistic and exciting ones in recent history. It seems like Blizz has finally turned the corner from the long, dark days of WoD, and I am excited by the notion that Legion may actually be the expansion we all hoped it would be. For the first time in many, many months, I am enthusiastic about the future of the game.

Artifact and class hall quests

I spent some portion of my long weekend dabbling in the beta with some different classes. As we are rather recently able to copy our live characters over, I stuck to the classes that I have on live, on the shaky theory that I have at least a passing familiarity with how to play them, thus would get a fairer impression of the opening Legion quests. Also, they tend to have a higher gear level going in than the templated characters.

So far, I have gone through the initial artifact quest lines on two hunters (BM and MM), resto druid, mistweaver monk, and demonology warlock. My overall impression is that the artifact quest lines are very well designed and draw heavily on lore more or less related to what most players think of as the class fantasy. The quests are not trivial, but neither are they overly long nor overly difficult, and if you die during them it is not catastrophic, you can pretty much take up where you left off.

The template for the introductory Legion quests (not counting the pre-patch events that will start possibly within a couple of weeks) is:

  • Do a rather drawn-out quest line in Stormwind designed to get you to the new Dalaran. The quest line includes doing a group Broken Shores scenario, which is quite well designed and sets up the Legion story line, but wears thin after you have done it once. Luckily, you only have to do it on one character per account. After this, you can tell the NPC that starts the whole Stormwind (and I am assuming the horde version as well) quest line that yeah yeah I know the story, just get me to Dalaran, and you are transported there. Thank you, Blizz. (But note that if you really want to keep doing the whole story quest line on all your alts you may do so.)
  • Once in Dalaran you will get some sort of class-related NPC that appears by you and starts you off on the twin series of quests designed to get you to your class hall and into your artifact quest line. I have found these mechanisms quite entertaining so far.
    • Once you accept this initial quest, you are embarked on a linear path that will wind up with you having access to your class hall, equipping your basic artifact weapon with your first weapon talent, and having access to the Broken Isles map that allows you to choose where you wish to start leveling your character.
    • The artifact quest lines mostly take place in areas with lore importance to your class. For example, the MW quest takes you to the Terrace of Endless Spring.
  • After this, the leveling process kicks in pretty much as for every expansion. In addition to leveling your character, you can find your profession trainers for your profession leveling quests, and you can start some of the quests leading to class hall follower missions. If you pick a leveling zone then change your mind, you can easily go back to the zone map in your class hall and pick a different one.

This is just a guess, but I think this entire intro process (up through getting your artifact weapon) will probably take the average player, with a level 100 character under 700 gear level, something on the order of 3-4 hours to complete, maybe an hour or so less if you can skip the getting-to-Dal part. Of course, YMMV.

I have written previously about the BM hunter and resto druid experiences and class halls. I found both artifact quest lines to be fun and class-appropriate, but in my opinion the druid class hall area has a far better “feel” to it than the hunter one.

Interestingly, I was also very pleased with both the artifact quest and the class hall area for my MW monk. Both the resto druid and the MW artifact lines require some basic proficiency with healing in order to complete them, and Blizz has done a nice job setting up your healer in an actual group with the NPCs so as to facilitate healing them. Also, since my monk is a panda, I was pretty excited to see that the monk class “hall” actually returns you to the panda starting area. This is something I have wished was possible ever since I first rolled my monk. (Now, if Blizz could just make it possible for my worgen to return to Gilneas…)

I had a little more trouble with my warlock (ilvl 710). I died a couple of times during the artifact quest. I think most if not all of this was due to the fact that I decided to change specs from destro (which I have played since Mists) to demo (which I have never played). But I have not been reading good feedback on destro locks in Legion so far (honestly, not on locks in general but that is another story), so I decided that since I was going to have to relearn a spec no matter what, that I would move to demo. Affliction is too dot-y for my taste, and demo seemed to offer the most versatility. It is not really all that different from destro, plus it has the advantage of not having to do the whole Havoc mouse-over dance to get decent damage numbers. (You expert locks out there will, I am sure, take issue with that opinion.) Still, it is different enough that I had some minor problems completing the artifact quest.

I was pretty unhappy with the warlock class hall setup. It does not even count as a “hall”, assuming the meaning of that word is, as Merriam-Webster gives for the simple meaning:

: a usually long, narrow passage inside a building with doors that lead to rooms on the sides
: the area inside the entrance of a building
: a large room or building for meetings, entertainment, etc.

Attention Blizz: a common theme in that definition is a freaking building! Not a big chunk of cold rock filled with green and purple fire and big honking monsters chained up and skulls and skeletons and hookers with whips everywhere you look. Seriously, someone needs to donate a bunch of dictionaries to the staff at Blizz, because they just seem to make up their own meanings for words. (Remember the trouble they always seem to have with the definition of “optional”.)

My idea of a class hall — order hall, whatever Blizz is calling it these days — is a place where you can go at the end of a long hard day questing, where you can kick off your boots and put your feet up and swap lies with your fellow class members. Maybe get a beer and a steak — or pebbles and bark if you are a druid, or whatever the hell kind of green glowy stuff warlocks might drink. But it should be an inviting place, with lots of places to sit and congregate, maybe some NPC-generated music like in the mess hall in Ashran. It should be a social gathering place, it should feel like home.

I just think Blizz has failed to grasp their own concept of class halls. Thus far, the only ones that work even slightly for me are the druid and monk ones. The hunter one is better than the warlock one, but both in my opinion — and for different reasons — fail in the categories of “inviting” and “socializing”. They are just quest hubs, nothing more, and slightly irritating at that because you have to leave the real expansion hub of Dalaran to get many of your quests.

And not for nothin’, but if class halls are supposed to be such terrific class gathering places, with horde and alliance joining ranks by class, all for the greater good, why don’t we have cross faction class-specific chat channels?

Blizz has said several times that they plan expansions years in advance. I feel like they had planned for more garrisons in Legion back when WoD was just coming out, but then there was a huge negative reaction to them. Not willing to scrap the whole idea, Blizz camouflaged them as class halls for Legion, but the camouflage is thin and they never really gave any depth to the reworked concept.

Anyway, here is the tl;dr: Artifact quest lines seem well designed, fun, and tell good stories. Class halls, not so much. 

Perspective

There is a mini-storm going on in the Legion beta forums right now, regarding a recent and sudden (that is, no warning) change in max camera level permitted in Legion. Essentially, Blizz rather abruptly disallowed players to use the “/console CameraDistanceMaxFactor 4” command that gave a huge boost to camera zoom levels in the game. Instead, they are limiting camera zoom range to the default UI slider, a smaller range than the max CVar hardcap unlocked by the console command.

As might be expected, there is huge wailing and gnashing of teeth over this from some corners of the playerverse. I admit I have for some time had my camera set to allow for zooming out to max, although in practice I rarely used it. I am sure the max zoom was very useful to some players and I take them at their word that the change will adversely affect their play. But overall my impression of this little flap is that in any practical sense it is very small potatoes, people pole vaulting over mouse turds.

I will resist the temptation to make this into an allegory about how Blizz does not think the big picture is important, and since it is not important to them, they wish to forbid the rest of us from seeing it …

Still, the camera discussion is kind of a useful segue into a larger consideration of perspective in the game. Some things that occurred over the weekend gave me pause to try and sort out a reasoned approach to this game going forward for me.

First, I spent some more time on the beta, continuing to level my BM hunter, starting a MM hunter, and getting my resto druid to Broken Isles and through the initial artifact quest line. I was struck by the vast difference in my perception of these two experiences. My overwhelming impression of playing my hunters was one of sadness for the demolition of a class that was once awesome to play but will no longer exist as soon as the pre-patch goes live.

Contrast this to my impression of playing my druid, which was one of pleasant surprise for the improvements made to the leveling abilities. As a disclaimer, I did not try any group healing on this alt, and I am not skilled enough at druid healing anyway to be able to detect any but the most obvious of healing changes. But I found the added damage abilities afforded by the Balance affinity talent to be surprisingly effective, to the point that I believe leveling as resto might be possible. In addition, I felt like the class hall area was in complete harmony with what I believe to be the druid “fantasy”. I actually felt, once I had reached the Dreamgrove, that my druid had come home. It all just fit. This is not at all what I felt when my hunter reached the hunter class hall — it was just another location, a place to transact some business, a place with no real connection to any previous hunter lore in the game, a place invented for Legion because well hunters have to go somewhere and Blizz couldn’t be bothered enough to actually put any thought or design into it when they had already put so much thought into how best to destroy the class.

I know that sounded bitter and it was. It leads me to my second thought-provoking weekend experience. Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast posted his thoughts on the state of BM hunters in Legion — and Blizz’s steadfast refusal to address major shortfalls — and it was a stinging indictment, tinged with wistfulness for what might have been, as well as with an air of resignation and pessimism for the spec. Ever since I discovered hunter blogs, I have looked to Bendak to point out that pony in what I would invariably see as a barn filled with poop. As I have written before, he is a hunter’s hunter, someone who looks to the big picture to help hunters see the positive aspects of expansion changes. When Bendak holds out little hope for the one remaining spec that most closely resembles the class many of us fell in love with years ago, well that pretty much seals it in my opinion. If Blizz refuses to seriously consider the legitimate concerns of this respected hunter, then there is zero chance that anything will improve for hunters in Legion. What you see in the beta and in the PTR is what you will get. Please adjust your camera to limit your field of view.

The last thing that happened over the weekend was that I finally pre-purchased Legion. I know this sounds crazy, given what I have just written, but I tried to apply a “/console CameraDistanceMaxFactor 4” command to my view of my relationship to the game. What I saw when I did this — and it really is no surprise to me — is that some parts of Legion will be fun and engaging, and I am just not ready yet to give it up, despite my rants and criticism of it. (I write those things because I care about the game, if I didn’t care, I would not devote hours to it and writing about it every week.) I will remain disappointed –and yes, furious with Blizz — over what I and many others see as the complete destruction of the hunter class, but I will hold out hope that the next expansion or possibly even a Legion patch will see some improvement. That may not happen, of course, and Blizz’s betrayal of hunters will remain a heavy weight on the “leave the game” side of the scale for me. It’s just that so far, anyway, it has not tipped it.

Blizz continues to make it more and more difficult to control your personal view and perspective on the game, but if you squint a bit you find it is still possible.

Leveling strategies for Legion?

The past couple of days I’ve been thinking about how best to go about spending my time for the first couple of months in Legion. Clearly, there is no “one size fits all”, but I think I’ve isolated a few factors to consider.

Gear level at the start of the expansion. My first premade character in the beta was a template hunter, which started out with 680 gear. It felt very underpowered and indeed died several times during the quest line to get the baseline artifact weapon. After the artifact it felt a tad more sturdy, but with combined gear level still hovering around 690, attracting more than 2 mobs at once can get dicey.

Once I was able to do a character copy from live, I tried an ilvl 720 hunter, and there was vast difference for the better. So I think I am going to try for a minimum of ilvl 700 for all my alts before bringing them into Broken Isles. That is really not difficult to do — 695 Baleful gear along with some crafted pieces at 715, maybe a Conquest ring or shoulders, and some valor upgrades should easily do it. In fact, spending the time to get the valor upgrades may be superfluous.

Profession leveling. Right now my sense is that it will be just as easy to level professions at the same time as I do each character. It might ever so slightly delay reaching 110, but I do not think it will be enough to notice. With zone scaling, there is really no advantage to waiting until level 110 to go back and pick up profession quests — mobs do not die more quickly, and we still will not have flying so getting around will take the same amount of time. And I think the sooner I can level my critical professions the more it will help in gearing up my characters.

Artifact weapons. Right now I am thinking that I will initially pursue only one artifact weapon per character, which implies I will pick one spec and stick to it for a few months. This is chancy, of course, because Blizz really cannot be trusted to not “balance” your spec into oblivion at the drop of a hat. I have two hunters that I usually level first in any expansion, so if one is BM and the other is MM, that gives me a little insurance. Not much, but a little. And having only one artifact weapon eliminates the problem of dividing your accumulated Artifact Power, of having to decide whether to have two mediocre artifact weapons or one high powered one.

Leveling order for alts. This one is tricky, but I think, once I have picked a main, then the order for alt leveling will depend on their professions. Whichever ones seem to be most valuable for my main will be the ones to get leveled first. My main hunter has LW/skinning and my alt hunter has JC/mining, so those seem to be no-brainers. After that, I’ll just have to see. It may turn out that just getting alts past the baseline artifact weapon quest will be sufficient to get them to useful production for professions with a few quest lines.

Zone plan. Here is where zone scaling is really nice. I get bored rather easily with grinding through the same series of quests more than once or twice, so my plan for zones in which to level is that I don’t have a plan. For some, I will do one or two levels in a zone then move on, for others I may try to exhaust quest lines in a single zone before moving on. Part of the quest line for eventual flying in Legion involves what boils down to completing a large portion of the quests in every zone anyway, so at least one character — probably my main — will start working on that as soon as possible.

Class hall stuff. Yeah, in spite of what Blizz says, these are basically watered down garrisons, with all the annoyances but fewer of the perks. The fact that they are the main quest hub, yet Dalaran is the place where you have to be for things like bank, profession quests, etc., is just bothersome. And not for nothin’, but I absolutely do not feel like I am the Big Dog Main Hero Hunter in the hall, when there are a dozen other hunters running around with the same artifact weapon and the same Hati. The fantasy fails spectacularly for class halls, in my opinion. For that reason, I am not going to spend a lot of time developing class hall quest lines for my alts until relatively deep into the expansion.

LB-Too many Hatis

We are all special…

 

Things to save for later. Eventually I will go back and do some of the things I intend to skip during the first few months. I will probably do an off spec and accompanying artifact weapon on at least my main and a couple of alts. I will max out every profession. I will probably get at least one of my healers raid-ready. I will explore the areas I initially skip. I will tame a few Broken Isles beasts for my BM hunter and maybe my MM as well. At some point I will roll a Demon Hunter just because.

Honestly, if Blizz sticks to their new schedule of an expansion every two years, I suspect there will not be enough time to do all things I want to do in Legion, so as usual I will not be bored or complaining about lack of content.

(And now I realize I may have just talked myself into pre-ordering Legion.)

What about you — any special plans for the first few weeks of Legion?