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?

Crazy versus cute

Today’s post may be a bit scattered, I am dealing with contractors and estimates and so am pretty distracted. It’s a good chance to deal with a couple of quick observations, basically unrelated to each other.

Findle’s Loot-a-Rang, I see from one of the forums, will only work in Draenor once Legion goes live. This is one of those things that just makes you scratch your head and wonder why. It is one of those minor quality of life improvements that everyone pretty much approved of. I certainly have not seen any ranting about “It’s way too easy to get your loot now, we need to get rid of that Loot-a-Rang thing so people have to walk over to far away corpses again, and hopefully it will be near a boss so that they will pull the boss in the process!”

Apparently an engineer can still use one in Legion, but everyone else will be out of luck.

Why would Blizz do this? They are once again “fixing” something that works fine, everyone likes, and so far as I can tell absolutely no one is complaining about. Is this yet another “immersion” item that some dev thinks takes away from the game? Will it be replaced with a Legion-only version just to give engineers some way to make gold?

I saw someone offer an opinion that it might be being removed because to make one in Legion will require legacy mats, and new players might be inconvenienced if they had to do so. ????? To that argument I offer one word: Jeeves. ‘Nuff said.

This is one of the things that Blizz habitually does that just makes me crazy. What can they be thinking? It’s like they cannot stand it when people actually really like a feature, they just have to screw it up. They did the same thing with the really nice guild perks like guild summon, with getting next-level loot from garrison missions, with scenarios, with the ability to change talents on the fly, with a lot of nice features. But no, every activity must have an annoying aspect to it! And if Blizz can’t just add an annoying aspect to a popular feature, then naturally they have to get rid of it. Can’t have people actually enjoying this game, for crying out loud!

What’s next, remove the “loot all” AoE, so that you have to walk around and loot every corpse again? Institute a “no running” policy so that now in addition to not being able to fly in a new expansion you also will not be able to run, you will have to actually walk everywhere? Require you to buy a bank slip every time you want to deposit or withdraw something in your bank? Require you to pay money to relearn every glyphed mechanism you already know? Remove the ability to efficiently optimize your gear’s secondary stats and replace it with a complete random process?  (Oh wait …)

On the bright side, I have been noticing some of the small nice touches once again. I spent a lot of time in my garrisons last week, and I noticed a lot of the very cool detail that went into them. It struck me that the whole garrison experiment was a kind of a good news bad news sort of thing. For all the annoying, frustrating, things about garrisons, there were a ton of very creative things, too.

I still get a kick out of sending all my followers on missions, then going out to the garrison gate to see them off as they leave. This little animation was, in my opinion, a real stroke of creativity. It’s the one activity in WoD that actually makes me feel “immersed” in the whole garrison commander fantasy.

I like that my pets rove around randomly, and even if I was forced to do pet battling just to complete the Menagerie so this could happen, I like the result of seeing them wandering around. It’s cute, in a way that isn’t in your face. (And speaking of “in your face cute”, I hope if Blizz is going to disable Loot-a-Rang in Broken Isles, they also disable Pepe and that stupid nasty little pug. Just sayin’.)

I like that my garrison has practice dummies, it’s a very decent innovation. I actually use them, especially when I am brushing the dust off an alt I haven’t played in a while.

Although I would have liked a choice in garrison architecture, I like the detail of the little out of the way houses scattered about (but I can’t for the life of me understand why there was not one designated for the commander….). I like the artwork for the alchemy and other profession huts, and I like the fishing area and herb garden. They are just chock full of beautiful artistic and animated details.

I also like the moving NPCs, there is a lot of detail in their movements. One thing I have noticed, though, is that they sometimes sit down alone at the eatery and commence to have a conversation with themselves, gesturing and all. That’s a little weird… I also like that they “notice” your presence and talk at you or salute or something, and that they actually navigate around you if you are in their path. Heck, they will even come to your aid if they are close and you are attacked by an herb garden creature.

The one thing I have noticed missing in garrisons is weather. I don’t think I have ever seen it rain there like it does out in the rest of the world.

I think when I look back at WoD, I will consider garrisons to have been a net plus for the expansion. I wish they had been account-wide, and I wish there had been some rudimentary player housing, but overall I liked them. I think much of the dissatisfaction with them was due to there being very little repeatable world content in the expansion, so people focused on their garrisons. Also, in typical Blizz fashion, they took a good idea and tried to make it The Ultimate Idea, so they went way overboard on the garrison’s centrality to the whole game. (Like they are probably going to do with Artifact Weapons in Legion, I am afraid.) This is a shame, because I think what Blizz took away from the experience is that players hated garrisons, not that their integration into the game was flawed.

So I doubt if we will ever see anything approaching garrisons again in the game. Sadly, the good things about them will become as yesterday as Findle’s Loot-a-Rang. My worry for Legion is that Blizz will institute class halls that have none of the cute, fun things that garrisons had, but that will retain an unhealthy centrality to game play that will cause them to become as unpopular as garrisons were.

In Blizzland, no good fun thing goes unfixed.

Legion infomercial

Yesterday, as most of you know, Ion Hazzikostas spent an hour doing a “dev talk” on Twitch. MMO-C has both the video and a written summary of everything covered, you can check it out here. The program was not highly hyped by Blizz in advance, more of a mention in passing a couple of days before.

I can see why. I don’t want to be too negative about it, because I suppose it had some utility for some people, but my overall impression was that politicians could study it for pointers on how to say nothing for an hour. I kept waiting for Hazzikostas to get past the small talk and to the meat of the discussion. Turns out there really wasn’t any meat. Here is my summary:

  • Beta starts Thursday.
  • Class halls are not garrisons.
  • World quests are not Mists-style dailies.
  • For all those yammering about legacy servers, Blizz will work on improving the leveling process. (!?)
  • Something about Hazzikostas and being a shaman tank. Gotta be honest, I got up to get a cup of coffee here and when I came back he was still nattering on about it. Eventually this somehow morphed into a big plug for Demon Hunters.
  • Artifacts are powerful and they look cool.
  • Mythic+ dungeons are hard and provide another avenue for burnout in case raid burnout for progression teams is not enough. (My interpretation, of course, not his exact words.) Hazzikostas spent at least three times longer on this subject than he did on artifact weapons.

In all fairness, I suppose I had set my expectations far too high for this “dev discussion”. I know it must have been informative for some people, and I don’t want to denigrate anyone who liked it. But, honestly, for anyone following Legion developments so far, it was more of an infomercial than anything else. Other than the announcement of an exact time for the wider beta, there was nothing of any real substance in there that I could see. In fact, when he spent so much time on Mythic+ dungeons, I really felt like he had run out of things to say too early so had to go into great detail on this last topic because he still had several minutes before his hour was over. It just seemed a tad bizarre that he spent all of about 2 minutes on artifact weapons — the aspect of Legion that influences nearly every aspect of game play for every player, and even then really only focused on their graphic depictions — and much longer on Mythic+ dungeons that will probably affect only a fairly small percentage of the player base.

I will admit though, that besides the beta announcement, there were a couple small crumbs of new information. Not enough in my opinion to justify an entire hour, but still. For example, we will apparently be able to do our Legion entry scenario after the pre-event patch but in the weeks leading up to Legion going live, so that when it does go live we can immediately report to Dalaran and get started. That is clearly Blizz’s solution to server crashes on launch day — that and flexible zone leveling — and I think it is a great idea, here’s hoping it works.

The other tidbit I picked up is that Blizz considers 12-15 seconds per mob to be the optimal time it should take you to kill one at max level. Who knew? Not sure how useful this info is, and it makes me worry a bit that Legion’s annoying weed-mob-equivalent ambushing you as you travel about will be even more annoying than in WoD. Doesn’t seem like fun to spend over a minute killing 4-5 little nuisance mobs every time I gallop past them…

But my general response to the discussion was that it struck me as a bit condescending, not in tone but in substance. Blizz has been conducting this alpha test now for 6 months, with the top players in the world giving them feedback. There have been some major changes made, give Blizz credit where credit is due, but there is still a lot of discomfort out there with some major aspects of the expansion, for example class and spec play and the pervasiveness of artifact weapons. I expected Hazzikostas to give us some feedback on the alpha test process, on status of class balancing. I expected him to allay some concerns over the impact on the game from artifact weapons, to discuss approximate timetables for patches, maybe even talk about feedback so far on regular dungeons and raid tiers.

In other words, I expected to be given a realistic assessment of where Legion is going as game evolution. What I feel I got is a nice pat on the head, and an admonishment that “It’s gonna be great!” Like when you were a kid sulking because you were required to spend a week in the summer with your Great Aunt Dorothy, and your mom gave you the pep talk about how much fun it would be and how you were really going to have a great time, she was going to take you to her quilting group and bridge club and everything! Whee!

As for beta invites? Well, let’s just say, since they are essentially at the whim of RNG for us peons, I am not expecting one. I have signed up for beta testing ever since it was possible to do so in WoW, and I have yet to receive an invite. And I am certainly not one of Blizz’s Chosen Ones, so no hope for an invite from that end either. There will undoubtedly be beta keys given away by various web sites and third parties, but most of those also involve lottery-type luck, so ….. See you all in the PTR a couple of weeks before launch.

I give Blizz props for having a “dev talk”, but overall — being generous — about a C- for content.

Brain crumbs and drafts folder

***Late breaking news edit: Legion will go live August 30.***

(This broke after I posted today.)

I am having a little trouble engaging my brain this morning, and adding that fact to the veritable vacuum of Warcraft-related things to write about these days, I find myself at a real loss for a topic for today’s post. Thus, you will be subjected to me cleaning out my drafts folder again, along with a few tiny crumbs that have been rolling around in my brain for a while.

Class halls. I admit I am still puzzled over these edifices in Legion. First of all, I fail to see the reason to even have them. No, I am not talking about the horse hockey public claptrap about “Only your class, led by you the Heroic Sole Wielder of The Most Awesome Weapon Ever Devised (well, you along with every other member of your class, not to mention all other classes, but never mind) can save the Warcraft universe from Final Devastation”. No, I am talking about what game design imperative drove creation of class halls as a mechanism in Legion. My bet is that the initial Legion design, almost certainly begun about the time WoD went live if not before, was done using the garrison concept as a carry-forward. By the time  garrisons turned out to be such a colossal lightning rod for WoD hatred, it was too late to scrap the idea for Legion, so modifications were made that resulted in what we are seeing emerge now.

Anyway, we are apparently stuck with them. I have paid only glancing attention to the artwork we have seen on them so far. But my impression of nearly every one of them is — they are largely dark, cavernous, un-cozy looking places that make me want to conduct my required business there and quickly depart. Kind of like going to the DMV. Nothing I have seen for any of them makes me want to spend time there, they look like the inside of monuments or government buildings. Definitely not places you would want to take off your boots, kick back with a beer in a comfy chair by a fire, and swap lies with the other members of your class.

And the last thing is, honestly, Blizz has not even come up with a decent catchy name for them. I guess officially they are Class Order Halls, which sounds to me like something a committee came up with as a compromise. I tend to call them class halls, some others I notice prefer to call them order halls, but sheesh when even the name is murky and confused what are we supposed to think about their real purpose?

Neutral faction hints. Muffinus has recently had a couple of cryptic tweets (and I think maybe a poll a couple of weeks ago) about how people would feel about belonging to a new and neutral — a la Switzerland — faction. The kicker each time is that such a faction would apparently not be able to form or join guilds and would not be able to access the auction house.

So I am trying to figure this out. Apparently Blizz has decided to explore some of the suggestions from players over the years asking for such a faction. I see the comments and blogs from time to time, but my impression is that this is kind of a niche wish, not a massive groundswell, so the first thing I don’t understand about the recent official hints is, why even consider it? Because I think they clearly are considering it, Blizz never drops these little subtle hints unless they are about to actually do something.

The second thing I don’t understand is why would there be restrictions on auction house and guild activity? I mean, honestly, Switzerland is a big player in monetary transactions in the real world, and while the Swiss are not members of factionalized clubs like NATO, they certainly belong to non-factionalized clubs like the United Nations. The only thing I can figure out with Blizz is that the auction house and guild mechanisms are coded such that faction is a major component of them, and that to add another faction is technically complex to do — sort of like the 16-slot backpack problem.

Officially-sanctioned boutique server hint? Less obvious, but still there, is another hint dropped by Muffinus, sort of dipping a toe into the idea of a vanilla or other type of boutique server. This may or may not be related to the recent Nostalrius flap, but it is hard not to connect the two.

Jeremy Feasel – ‏@Muffinus

If you could make your own server, and state ONE rule for it, what would it be? E.g. ‘perma-death’, ‘max ilvl 100’, ‘only gnomes/goblins’.

Now maybe he was just bored and trying to generate some player interaction, but as I said Blizz almost never just casually mentions things just for the hell of it, especially lately and especially since the great curtain of silence has descended on the company regarding almost all official comments. So it is just something that makes you go “hmmmm”.

Delvar Ironfist bodyguard. I only recently noticed that this dude rides his horse by standing on top of his saddle. Which I am thinking, why have a saddle at all if that is how you are going to ride? Strange, but I suppose maybe his legs are too short to even go over a saddle much less use stirrups? Who knows, it just seems a bit weird to me is all.

Fire mages are still cool. Over the weekend I hauled my poor garrison-bound mage out of mothballs, dusted her off a bit, and spent several hours gearing her up and trying to get familiar with a fire spec rotation. She has spent this expansion so far as arcane, but I just have never been happy with that spec as it is. I know it is supposed to be the preferred mage spec for WoD, but I really dislike it. On the other hand, I have always been attracted to the fire spec, so I just decided to switch, damage abilities be damned. Fire seems a lot more complex than arcane to me, and in some ways it is more RNG-dependent (or so my impression is, remember I stink as a mage), but still I really enjoy the spell graphics. And I saw where they will get even more impressive in Legion.

A month or so ago I had decided to prepare my mage for, umm, “going to a nice farm in the country, where she will be able to run and play and be happy”. But when it came down to it, I just couldn’t do it. No matter how much I may not enjoy the mage play style, the fact is I have formed a kind of virtual emotional bond with her. She was, as I recall, the second character I rolled, after my hunter initial character, and, well, we just have history I guess. I have always leveled her to max for every expansion, but then really not paid any attention to her until time to level for the next expansion. But, since we still have months before Legion goes live, I might do a little more mage play to pass the time.

My radical idea for beta. Yeah, I know this will generate hate mail for me, but I am used to it. My idea is this: Blizz claims their selection of alpha testers was based on getting reliable and detailed feedback from their serious players, but at the same time they claim to need a lot of feedback from ordinary players, because they need to get a lot of varied perspective. So what if, for the beta test, Blizz specifically excludes anyone who was part of the alpha test. That way they can be sure to get a whole new set of fresh experiences from players who are not likely to gush over how much improved this or that thing is from the alpha version, and instead will get feedback on what the whole thing is like stepping into it with no prior experience, which is what millions of players will do when it goes live.

Of course, I know this has no chance to happen, because a huge number of alpha testers are professional players and star-producing guilds who would lose tons of money if they were shut out of beta, not to mention their pitiful howls would surely melt the cold hard hearts of the Blizz execs, so oh well. It was just a thought. And let’s be honest, even if some alpha testers are not pros, they all certainly have a sense of special entitlement because of their selection for alpha. I am not saying this as an insult, I am certain that had I been selected (which of course there was never the slightest chance of), I too would feel hurt if Blizz did not continue to recognize me for the special snowflake I am by giving me beta access when alpha ends. It is human nature, I suppose. (And to be fair, there a few — very few — players who are doing an outstanding job analyzing specific subjects and writing about them for the benefit of the rest of us, I am not sure I would want those people to be denied beta access, so clearly this is a flaky idea on my part!)

Still, I think there is something to be said for bringing in a whole new set of testers who have no preconceived notions.

OK, drafts folder is once again empty and brain crumbs have been swept away. Thanks for bearing with my housecleaning.

Garrisons 3.0

Megan O’Neill has an excellent post today over at Blizzard Watch, about the details of garrison class hall follower champion missions in Legion. It is well written and gives us the most information I have seen so far on the mechanics of this “feature”. For me, at least, it provided some real insight into how this mechanic will actually feel, how it will play out for me on a daily basis in Legion. It is exactly the kind of alpha test report I love to see, the kind that there are way too few of from the alpha testers.

Unfortunately, while it is an excellent article it is bad news.

Blizzard, I fear, learned exactly zero from the garrison experiment. Or rather, they learned well, but wrongly. They learned that they can cram this idiocy down our throats and we will docilely shut up, and just do it. How did they learn this? Well, look at the progress of the garrison concept —

  • Garrisons are completely voluntary, anyone who does not like the idea will not have to have one.
  • Well, actually, a garrison is required, but just a rudimentary Level 1 garrison, anyone who does not wish to spend time developing it does not have to, it will not affect their game play.
  • Well, um, anyone wishing to participate in 6.2 Tanaan must have a Level 3 garrison and they must expand it even further by building a shipyard.
  • Oh, and by the bye, everyone wishing to complete the legendary ring quest line must complete a significant number of shipyard missions. Yes, yes, Blizz heard all our complaints about the onerous feeling we got from doing all those garrison missions, so they “fixed” that complaint for us by making the shipyard missions longer in duration, with the added feature that when the missions failed we could actually lose the ships we had spent weeks upgrading to epic level! Plus, the mission rewards were generally much less than for the garrison missions, and — get ready — even garrison missions would no longer award decent gear! There, all better now? Ok, as a consolation we’ll let you get lots of gold from the missions, well on second thought you are all earning too much gold by playing alts so we will decrease the amount of gold available if you have more than one character with this garrison we forced you to have on every alt.

So you tell me, what did Blizz learn from their ham-handed handling of the entire garrison concept in WoD? That they could get away with feeding us some really big lies of a Trumpesque nature (“Let us clarify our position — what we meant by ‘voluntary’ is ‘compulsory’.”) They learned that they could force us to continue to do more missions for less reward. And they learned that even if we complained about the whole concept eventually we would shut up and just do as we were told.

See, the thing about garrisons is that they tend to increase our  play time, because we all still take a few extra minutes to do some garrison stuff in addition to the other things we actually enjoy doing in the game. Finish your raid for the night, then take a quick few minutes to do whatever garrison chores you are still doing before logging off. Don’t have enough time some nights to play? — Well, often in this case you will log on quick just to collect your missions and set up some new ones. And as we know, Blizz execs are judged by how much they increase active monthly player time. So of course they will not permit any change to the game that could result in fewer logged-in  minutes. Get rid of garrisons with their player time bonus for the execs? Never happen.

Instead, just tell the player base that you heard their objections to garrisons, and in Legion there will be no garrisons (wink, wink).

In fact, Blizz seems to have ditched the good aspects of WoD garrisons and kept the worst features to incorporate them into the Legion garrisons renamed as class halls. To wit:

Best features of WoD garrisons

  • It was, in fact, your own place. Not quite player housing, but close. You could decorate it if you wanted to, you could choose to have some pets wandering around, you could choose to have your mounts stabled there and visible, you could pick what structures you wanted to build, and you even had a private target dummy area where you could try out really stupid moves with no comment from the jerks in the area.
  • You could pretty much raise your own mats for gold or your own use — ore, herbs, fish.
  • You could gain XP for your alts there, so that if you did not wish to take your lesser played squishies out into the cruel world to get killed constantly, you could in fact do so and continue to advance them, albeit slowly.
  • In the beginning, if you did not wish to raid, you could still gear up decently. (This was, however, stopped as soon as special snowflake elitists began to whine that their gear did not look so special if just anybody could get it — how else were they to demonstrate their superiority to the Great Unwashed?)
  • The story line was believable — you were one of many military commanders in the area, marshaling forces to carry out tactical missions in support of a larger campaign.

As as far as I can tell, none of these, except for the gearing up  –more about that in a minute — are features in Legion class halls.

As to gearing up, my impression is that any gear obtained from missions will be strictly for the followers, but that is just based on Blizz’s early announcements which as we all know are subject to rather severe “clarification” at any time. The other aspect of gear for Legion missions is that you must do them in order to complete certain aspects of your mandatory artifact weapon.

This was unwelcome news to me, as my plan had been to visit my class hall only as often as necessary to use it as a quest hub. I knew there would be followers, but I had no intention of pursuing that particular side game. I was not interested in them in their bodyguard role — honestly bodyguards in WoD were far more trouble than they were worth because of their tendency to always pull everything in sight. And unless you used them to accompany a healer, they died very quickly anyway.

I also had no real intention of spending time sending them on missions, because it seemed plain that Blizz was done with missions that actually gave reasonable rewards. Good, I thought, one aspect of the game that I disliked anyway, that I could ignore in Legion.

Wrong. It seems that we must do missions if we wish to get full use of our mandatory weapon. Every day. On every alt. Possibly as many times as we have specs on said alt. Blizz execs apparently saw that many players were sick of garrison missions and there was a possibility they might ignore them as I intended to do, which of course would affect the “active play time per month” metric. Can’t have that!

And, judging from the Blizzard Watch article, these are not simple click-and-go missions. No, they require some amount of planning and tailoring, and as an added bonus your followers can die on them and you will have to develop new ones from scratch.

Please, oh please, developers of  Master Plan, Mission Manager, and similar addons, do your thing for Legion and update your addons.

See, here’s the thing. Follower missions — no matter how they are disguised — are basically a side game, no different than Hearthstone or for that matter Candy Crush Saga (mark my words, within a year we will have some version of this incorporated into WoW). I hate games like that, I find them insipid and boring. This is not to say some people don’t enjoy them, and I have no wish to impose my opinion on them. But don’t make me play them, Blizz, because all it does is make me angry when you shove them down my throat.

I feel the same way about pet battles — the activity is basically a card game. You select your cards, figure out an order in which to play them, then lay them down one at a time, wait for the other player/computer to do the same, then see who won. Now of course one could argue that all of WoW comes down to this, because even raid combat boils down to the same process, and that is true. The difference for me is the time — I play WoW because when the process is iteratively executed in milliseconds it gives me the illusion of actual skill and control. When the process plays out over many seconds/minutes/hours/days, I find it dull. And I hate being forced to play this way, when that is not even close to why I was drawn to the game in the beginning.

So, Blizz, I know I have no choice but to accept class halls and champions and missions in Legion, if I want to keep playing WoW. But do me a favor and don’t blow smoke up my you-know-where by trying to tell me they are the best parts of WoD garrisons, that you heard and responded to our garrison complaints. You responded to your bottom line, and you are going to continue to force us into this auxiliary game play come hell or high water. For once in your corporate existence, just be honest about what drives your design.

So much information to process

Well. Blizzcon is over, and we finally have a lot of information about Legion. A lot. Certainly too much for one person to process immediately. The specialists out there have already started to zero in on their areas of expertise, and in the coming weeks and months we can expect to see every aspect of the new expansion dissected. Excellent.

Today I want to focus on some big-picture impressions I have gleaned over the past few days, both from what I could observe from my limited (non-attendance, non-virtual ticket) vantage of Blizzcon, and from what I have read subsequently. There will be plenty of time later for detailed discussions of class changes, professions, end game, and every other aspect of the game.

My big impressions can be boiled down to 4 main observations:

Blizz seems to have really heard  many of the main player complaints from WoD. 

This was the most hopeful sign from all the Legion hype. Blizz has clearly heard and reacted to player dissatisfaction with the transmog system, lack of repeatable content, funneling players into a single prescribed play style, short useful life span of dungeons, complete reliance on raiding as the only end game activity, and lack of in-depth dev communication with players. Blizz appears to have made major changes designed to address every one of these player concerns. This is huge, and while I can’t discuss all of these changes today, I will touch on a couple.

Transmog changes. I can’t wait for them, they sound almost too good to be true — every item you have ever earned, or even could have earned but did not select, being available, moving to an heirloom type system that means you no longer have to store the actual item, and making all items account wide — wow, just wow.

We will be able to hide shoulders in Legion? Short break while I do my happy dance. (As you know, I have previously ranted on this subject.)

Scaled zones. I think I like this idea, and I predict it will be a success, IF Blizz can make it work without weeks of technical problems after it goes live. I am attracted to the idea of picking your own path to level, of staying in a zone you like until you feel you are finished with it. I like the potential of no mass crashes because of population overload in a required starting zone. I am encouraged that this feature might indicate that Blizz is moving away from the cattle chute approach to the game and realizes that people really do like choice in how they play. (There are a few downsides,  but all in all they seem minor. For example, zone scaling probably means there will no longer be any “easy” zones you can visit once you have leveled if you want some painless mat farming.)

Communication with players. At Blizzcon, the devs promised a series of class design blogs, and they are already making good on that promise, starting with hunter design today. We have also seen a fairly deep interview at Blizzcon with Ion Hazzikostas, and a class design dev chiming in on a Reddit forum. I applaud this approach, and I hope it continues. I may not agree with class design decisions (in fact, I vehemently disagree with the hunger changes), but I am extremely pleased to see deep background explanations for them. This kind of openness can only be good for the game.

Blizz continues to learn the wrong lessons from some of their previous (bad) decisions.

The most obvious example of this is flying. Every time the subject came up at Blizzcon or in subsequent dev communications/interviews, I saw only equivocating and evasion. All we know about flying in Legion is that it will be available after completion of a quest line, and that it will not be available in 7.0 or at launch. The most definitive time frame came from that bastion of stubborn hatred of flying, Watcher Hazzikostas, when he said that it will not be available in 7.0, but that the quest line will start then, in preparation for the “eventuality” of flying “later in the expansion.” The lesson Blizz learned from the WoD debacle is that, as long as they keep dangling that carrot in front of us we will keep chasing it. As I have predicted from the start, we will not see flying until the last patch of Legion. Blizz will give us a long, annoying, grinding quest line that spans at least the initial and first patch, making it possible to gain flying only in the final patch.

Another example of learning the wrong lesson comes from MM hunters in WoD. Blizz has said the reason they are removing pets from MM in Legion is because they found the vast majority of MM hunters in WoD selected Lone Wolf. Well, duh! The class balance was tuned such that MM with LW was completely OP, and if you were raiding it would have been irresponsible to select anything else. Of course MM hunters were going to select LW. It did not mean that MM hunters cared nothing for all those pets they had spent years collecting. Blizz deliberately skewed the numbers for MM to vastly favor LW, and now they claim to have proven that MM hunters don’t want to have a pet. (If these people ever decide to leave the field of game design, they have a rosy future in government budget planning.)

Some Legion changes have the potential for disaster.

Artifact weapons. The more I learn about these, the more convinced I am that they will become the garrisons-type mistake of Legion. Like garrisons, I believe the original concept was sound, but it seems Blizz is intent on making them the central feature of this expansion, and they continue to connect more and more game activity to them.

There will be fallouts that affect major game experiences. For example, even though there has been mention that characters may tri-spec in Legion, the artifact weapon mechanism will make this mostly unattainable. And Blizz studiously refrained from addressing any possible artifact shortcuts for off specs. Similarly, the long and arduous chase for artifact upgrades and accoutrements will pretty much shut down meaningful alt play for most players.

As an aside, honestly most of the weapons don’t look or seem very epic. Their back stories seem extremely contrived, I really don’t get much sense of lore history from most of them, more like “Bla-bla-bla, made up legends and lore crap, ancient something or other, imbued with special something hocus pocus magic, etc.” Some of them look just plain ridiculous — I can’t look at the Balance Druid one without thinking “dead pelican” or the Resto Druid one without thinking “dead reindeer”. Luckily, you will still be able to transmog them somewhat, so for example I will not be forced to have my BM Night Elf hunter carry that hideous looking gun since I will still be able to transmog it to a bow from my huge collection.

Hunters and other class changes. I will write much more on this later, but I remain convinced that the hunter class is being effectively destroyed in Legion. I think warlocks will suffer greatly from the introduction of the new Demon Hunter class, that they will be largely marginalized at least in the demonology spec. And I think the push to have “something unique” for each class and spec will have negative consequences for raid team selection.

Moreover, Blizz has a pretty dismal track record for being able to adequately balance individual specs as well as balancing within the entire class structure. I am not at all hopeful that the major class redesign in Legion will be successful. I think there will be months and months of imbalances so severe that players will frequently be forced out of classes and specs they love to play and may have played for years. And moving to a different spec will be a major change for many players, not only because of the artifact weapon impediment, but also because switching — even for pure damage classes — may entail a completely different play style, for example between ranged and melee.

Professions. Moving to the “earn every recipe you need” approach will very likely put almost the last nail in the coffin of alt play as a way to support your main. Most people simply will not have the time to screw around running time-intensive quest lines and hoping for mob drops to max out their profession alts. Blizz might save this one if they make every profession recipe account-wide, but I am not holding my breath. Time will tell, I am not overly optimistic.

Class halls. I am saying it now, these will bomb. They will do nothing to promote “class camaraderie” or whatever it is Blizz hopes for. They will become nothing more than an annoying quest hub. By implementing these, Blizz missed a huge opportunity to restore guilds as a social structure. We could have had guild halls with pretty much the same features as class halls, plus opportunities to participate in guild daily and weekly quests, chance to build guild loyalty and identity, etc. But instead we get these ridiculous contrived class groupings that further erode a player’s connection to and identity with a guild.

Blizz still must prove they can deliver on grand words and pretty pictures. 

Any major company can stage a boffo dog-and-pony show, can bring the hype for a new product, can whip up optimistic hysteria for future products. But follow-through actions are critical. Over the last year or so, Blizz has shown they frequently cannot follow through on rosy promises, they have treated their customers with disdain, they have dissembled and engaged in cover-ups of incompetence. In short, they have squandered what had been a considerable stockpile of trust and good will. So even though I loved many of the revelations about Legion, I will only be convinced if I see action to bring it about as advertised.

I want to see a beta very soon, and I want to see open feedback and evidence that Blizz is actually responding to legitimate beta player concerns.

I want to see a steady stream of sensible, relevant communication with players. Not a few good intentions for a week or two after Blizzcon, and then another communication blackout.

I do not want Blizz to rush this expansion out the door in as half-assed a fashion as they did for WoD. I want it to be up to traditional Blizzard standards of excellence in every aspect. If that means we don’t get it until September 2016, so be it. Judging from some of the slides and dev hand-waving, there is a very long way to go before the expansion is even close to release-ready.

So yes, I loved the Legion cinematic, and I loved finally getting hard data on the expansion. But now I want results. No pre-purchase for me until I see some.