Gadgeteers and purists

Last night as I launched a new sim on my Balance druid, it occurred to me that I rely a lot on third party sites and addons to play this game. I mean, really, a lot. Here is a sample, off the top of my head:

  • Over 20 addons — DBM, GTFO, ArkInventory, Weakauras, Bartender4, Healbot for my healers, Shadowed Unit Frames, Pawn, Tradeskill Master, Skada, World Quest Tracker, TomTom, Paste — to name a few.
  • Wowhead — my go-to site for guidance on where to find patterns and recipes, mats needed for crafting, various Legion guides, gear info, transmog ideas, and quest info. The latter is especially important to me. If I run into a problem with a quest, I immediately turn to Wowhead for solutions to whatever is stopping me. I am not worried about “spoilers”, I am just interested in finishing the quest and moving on, and I derive no satisfaction from figuring it out on my own after beating my head on a rock for hours or days. Thank goodness for the Wowhead users who unselfishly post their insights into quests as soon as they get them figured out.
  • Icy-Veins — I use this for class/spec info as well as for quick and dirty raid guidance. When I am coming back to an alt I have not played in a while, it is always my first stop to brush up on rotations, talent builds, and the order of stat importance. In Legion, I use this site to make my way through artifact traits and to get their list of BiS legendaries. The class/spec guides are always up to date and are written by world class players. I can’t imagine trying to figure out a rotation on my own for every alt by evaluating the various spell and talent and artifact interactions.
  • Sims. I use SimC on my own computer, and I also use web sites like Beotorch and recently Raidbots to run quick sims for importing into my Pawn addon. I know sims are only partially useful, but honestly I do not know of a better way to evaluate the complex factors in gear these days. (It would be interesting, I think, to compare the results for a player using all these complicated methods to select gear and talents versus selecting solely on the basis of ilevel increases and gut feeling for talents. I wonder if there would actually be much difference?)
  • Quest guides. I confess I use a quest guide to speed my way through leveling and also through dailies, profession quest lines, class hall quests, artifact quests, and even long achievement chains. (I am not going to say the one I use because it is a paid service and I do not want to plug a commercial product.)

There are probably a few more outside resources I use, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. As I said, it’s a lot.

I know there are purists out there who are horrified by a list like this. I respect that point of view. Intellectually, I am even drawn to it, but realistically I am far too impatient to actually try to deal with a Blizz-only interface.

The native game UI itself, to me, is clunky, un-intuitive, and not responsive to player preferences. This opinion is reinforced every time I log in to the PTR and have to set up the Blizz-only interface. It just does not work for me, from the lack of raid frame options to the multiple-bar action bar setup and separate keybind interface, to the horrible bag space viewer, to the inability to set up reasonably-located spell cues and proc notices.

Additionally, the game flow — especially in Legion — seems confusing to me, possibly even deliberately vague. Blizz sometimes thinks they are running a puzzle game, not an adventure MMO, and they love to obfuscate in the name of “challenge”. Sometimes, for example, quests follow logically from one to the next, but equally as often you have to search for the next series without knowing whether or not it is a line you are interested in or where it might lead. And the “secret” quests — they are not my cup of tea. If I wanted to figure out puzzles, I would be playing a different game than WoW. I honestly cannot imagine a new player figuring all this out for themselves with zero outside help.

So I tend to go a bit overboard in third party assistance. I know this. I wish it were not necessary for my enjoyment of the game, but it is. In an ideal world, Blizz would provide a wide range of player options, permitting an approach like mine as well as the purist one. But even I know that is not really possible — they seem to have all they can do to keep the game from imploding without adding in a lot of complicating player-option code.

To be fair, periodically they co-opt some third party ideas and try to bring them into the native interface, but to my eye they usually do it badly. For example, there is the in-game Dungeon Journal now, a Blizz version of third party raid and instance explanations. It’s okay, but it falls short of most outside ones, in my opinion. The bag-sorting algorithm introduced in WoD is a slight improvement over what we had before, but it does not come close to the categorizing and display options in an addon like ArkInventory. I could give a lot more examples, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I do not think I would continue to play this game if I could not use third party resources to the extent I do. I like gadgets and gizmos and convenience and efficiency too much to give them up. Those of you who are purists, I salute you — try not to judge me, I am weak!

Just a couple things…

It is now Day 4 of Legion live, and I have some random thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly thus far.

For reference, you should know that my experience has been limited to my BM hunter main. She has gotten the artifact for MM but done nothing other than obtain it, she is now level 110 as of mid-morning yesterday, and has leatherworking and skinning as professions, along with all the secondary ones except archaeology. I do not do pet battling or PvP on any of my characters, and generally do not actively chase special mounts or toys. I usually play about 20 hours a week, but have spent considerably more time than that on the first few days of Legion.

The Good

  • Zone design and rendering — really not enough superlatives for this.
  • Questing — another huge success. It outshines even the excellent questing experience of WoD. The introduction of scaled zones has worked extremely well. The quest lines are interesting even to someone like me who cares very little for lore (I think it is added in and amended to justify mechanics, not the other way around). The one criticism I have is that the dialogues can get tedious, and there is usually no way to skip them like you can cutscenes — I think this will wear very thin by my third or fourth alt.
  • Travel portals — the addition of portals to the ones Dalaran already had is a good idea, as is the portal to Dal in faction capitols. I also like that we have a special Dalaran hearthstone, so that we can keep a handy locational hearth in an area we are questing in, a faction city, a tranquil little inn we just like, etc. Retaining our garrison hearthstones is similarly useful, since we may need to duck into them later from time to time for a quick bank trip, to DE some low level gear, as an alternate  (albeit circuitous) route to other places, whatever.
  • Dungeons — I have only done a couple of these, normal because my gear is still fairly low level, but the ones I have done seem adequate. Not too long, not too short, with some varied mechanics per boss.

So I guess so far Blizz has gotten most of the major expansion things right. Of course, we have not seen the live version of raids yet, and most of us have not gotten heavily involved in world quests or other end game activities, so I will reserve judgement on that part. And this is a 3-day weekend in the U.S., so there will certainly be a significant increase in the number of people playing, and we may yet experience some technical problems due to volume. But a thumbs up on the general experience so far.

The Bad

  • Class halls — so far, this whole idea is just not working for me.
    • I can’t buy into the “everyone is the heroic leader of their class” fantasy, that is just moronic in my opinion.
    • I rarely see a whole gaggle of hunters hanging out there, so it is not exactly a social gathering place. As a matter of fact, in the hunter class hall there is not even any place to sit in the bar/food area. Now that I think of it, I am not sure there is any place in the entire structure to sit down except the floor.
    • I find the follower missions annoying and puzzling and far too reminiscent of the bad parts of WoD garrison missions, except there seems to be far less reward for the new ones.
    • I see no point in the class-specific quest lines, and I think the ones that require a class-pure group to do will become harder and harder to find a group for.
    • The only purpose I can see to the class hall is to manage your artifact weapon, and there really is no reason that could not have been done in Dalaran.
    • The whole mechanic just seems contrived and strained, as if someone decided there would be more garrisons in Legion, then had to do some dramatic changing because of the horrible reaction to them in WoD. Blizz should have just trashed the whole notion instead of trying to convince us that chicken poo is really chicken salad.
  • Professions — maybe these will sort themselves out in a couple of weeks, but leveling a profession is now a quantum leap in complexity from anything we have seen before. I confess I still cannot figure out what the hell I am supposed to be doing in order to just to craft some basic mail gear for myself.
    • There are long, long, long quest lines just to get a few recipes.
    • There is an annoying bug in which every time I enter the LW shop in Dal, I auto-learn the exact same recipes over and over again.
    • Getting to one of the key parts of professions — obliterum — is a ludicrous and currently prohibitively expensive process. I cannot for the life of me understand why everyone should be required to obtain a crafted item from four crafting professions just to be able to further craft their own stuff. On my server, to get the required items now (even assuming you can craft one of them yourself) is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90,000g. Blizz airily claims the prices will come down in the coming weeks, but I am not so sure, given normal greed in combination with the gold inflation of WoD.
    • I have collected over 2000 skins, am at 815 (Worgen racial) skinning level, and I have yet to collect even one Blood of Sargeras. Is this bad luck, a Blizz joke, or is it yet another part of the incomprehensible profession changes?
  • Overall game complexity — there is a difference between a game’s depth and its complexity, and I think Blizz has conflated the two, adding layer upon layer of complexity as a cheap way to give the impression of depth and skill challenge, or possibly as a way to easily add “content” that will keep people busy for a few months.
    • I am not exactly a novice at this game, and I confess I have no idea what the hell I am doing right now. I cannot juggle all the separate pieces of professions, leveling quests, class hall stuff, artifact talent and relic progressions, unlocking a seemingly endless string of required things and processes — even for just one character.
    • I suspect that in a few weeks I will have it more or less figured out, but I absolutely cannot imagine many new players will have the patience to deal with this. Has Blizz abandoned the goal of bringing in masses of new players to this game? Because at this point the investment of time to even understand how you want to approach the game seems too high for a new casual player.
    • Blizz has told us for quite some time that complexity is bad, we cannot be expected to bother our little heads about more than a few action buttons or to undergo the math trauma of figuring out how to reforge gear, and then they give us the chaos that is the Legion experience?
  • Some quality of life things — these are unnecessary annoyances Blizz really should take the time to fix very soon.
    • Auction house in Dal — there is no reason not to have one each for horde and alliance here. I read one blue post where Blizz is considering putting in an engineer AH like we had in Mists, but that is unacceptable and merely annoys non-engineers further. I urge them to discard this idea and just do it right, give us a regular AH in Dal, end of story. (Late Edit: Acutally, I just found the blue post and re-read it. The idea is to put in an engineer AH like in Wrath — not like in Mists. So if that is basically the barrel with an auctioneer on it, available to all, that would work for me.)
    • Quest log — given the large number of quest lines Blizz is more or less forcing us to carry at one time in Legion, the limit of 25 quests in your log is very difficult to deal with. (I hope this limit of 25 is not another piece of unchangeable legacy code like the knapsack limit.) This is another example of Blizz making sweeping changes to the game and failing to follow through  with their implications — make the game vastly more complex, add dozens and dozens of quests for every profession (even secondary ones), make them long and involved enough that one cannot just do them and move on, add even more quests for world content and class hall campaigns and special perks like the taxi whistle — yet fail to see that a limit of 25 quests needs to be changed, too.
    • Transport to hunter class hall — make this a thing you can carry around, don’t force us to go back to Dal, then take an eagle from there. Yes, I know it doesn’t take long, but it is an annoying and unnecessary step that some other classes don’t have to deal with.

The Ugly

  • Hunters. I am not going to stop harping on this. Blizz has, either because of incompetence or indifference, broken this class, and they must fix it. Yet we still have no acknowledgement from them that there even is a problem. Stunning. And ugly.

Summer blahs

For about the last week, I have found myself in the weird mode of being almost completely uninterested in the game, while at the same time close to panicking because I have too much to do to be this close to Legion. It is a very strange feeling, and I don’t remember having it prior to other expansions.

I am by nature and training an organizer and planner, so usually by this point I have completed my on-paper planning and am deep into execution phase — cleaning out banks, consolidating gold stashes, ruthlessly auctioning or vendoring or DE-ing everything I can, doing final gearing up of alts, finishing up achievements I know I want (and have a shot at) before the end of the current expansion, etc. I did a little of that a few weeks ago, on a big-hand-little-map scale*, but I just can’t make myself get  interested in fleshing out the overall plan.

I think one reason for my disinterest in planning is my perception that the Legion changes are just overwhelming, it seems too daunting to even try to plan for it. I don’t remember feeling this helpless prior to other expansions, they always seemed manageable to me. But honestly, even after spending quite a few hours on the beta and in the PTR, I still feel like I have no real grasp of important mechanics like the interplay among all the various character and artifact spells, talents, glyphs, gear stats, runes, knowledge trees, what have you. Really I am lost, even on a hunter which is a class I have played as a main now for going on 9 years. I have literally zero confidence in my ability to select a good functional talent path for my artifact, in my ability to properly choose and change out my character talents to fit the specific scenario I am facing, or in my ability to determine which pieces of similar-level gear are best for my spec. Zero. Thank god for AskMrRobot is all I can say.

The learning curve for intelligent, skilled play in Legion — even for veteran players — is in my opinion much steeper than it has been in any other expansion, and something just seems fundamentally wrong to me about that. Change, yes, by all means, but complete rebuilds from the ground up? No.

Let’s be honest, there is no chance whatsoever that the majority of players will be able to figure out efficient character and artifact builds on their own. They will either go to a third party site and copy some template, or they will give up and just pick something at random with no thought to how the choice affects their other talents and spells or how it helps or hinders them for soloing, for AoE situations, whatever. Blizz loves to bloviate about how they want us to have “meaningful choices” in our talent selections, etc., but they completely negate that line of thought when they make the interactions between all the factors so complex that most people are reduced to a crap shoot in their selections.

So I feel like there is a gigantic hammer about to come down on my head with Legion class changes, and I am very worried about it, but at the same time there seems nothing I can reasonably do to prepare for it. Just keep glancing up and be ready to duck. Definition of stress.

Another reason I am not especially interested in the game now is that I think it is too late to do much about gearing any alts. With one exception, they are all above 700 gear level, which I think is fine for starting Legion. So I am not interested in chasing valor, or doing any of the weekly bonus events, or grubbing for felblight to upgrade crafted gear on them. I am finishing up the legendary ring on my rogue, so that means weekly LFR clears of HFC, and that is becoming more and more painful with each passing week. This week I got a grand total of 3 tomes from 13 bosses, a new low for me. It was demoralizing, I still have 4 more to go, and if I have a similar week next week I won’t even get them then. LFR has become beyond intolerable for me, I have to force myself to do it. The only thing that keeps me going is that I have promised myself once I get the tomes on my rogue, I will not step foot in it again until the Legion LFR tier kicks in, hopefully at least 2-3 months from now. Months of freedom from LFR, what a great thought!

Other than trying to get all the gold I can from missions, I am done with my garrisons. There is no point in gathering more profession cooldown mats, or WoD herbs or furs or ore or leather. I have a lot of all of these things in case they become useful in Legion. I will probably tear down at least one profession hut on each alt and build an enchanting hut, with the hope that I can DE Legion gear in them. (Hmmm. I actually don’t know if this will be possible. It should, but of course knowing Blizz, that would be too useful to players and so must be prevented at all costs… I need to try it tonight.)

I would clean out my banks, but until the pre-patch I don’t feel comfortable getting rid of all my saved gear for transmog.

I would like to do some rearranging of my alt profession structure, if it will be necessary, but Blizz is still being coy about the whole mechanism for Blood of Sargeras in Legion, sometimes saying you better have one gathering profession on every character and sometimes saying they are going to increase the drop rates for non-gathering activities because having two crafting professions is not wrong as Watcher may have mistakenly said…  I find this just infuriating, why be so opaque about it? Just tell us the plan, for crying out loud, throw us a damn bone for once. My tolerance for this kind of smarmy cuteness is very low just now.

So I guess I feel like I am forced to be marking time in the game now, even though there are tons of things I would like to be doing. It is not a comfortable feeling. Like when I was a kid and starting summer vacation — I had lots of projects and plans, but they were all pegged to later in the summer, dependent on other people’s  schedules, so I would find myself in an enforced wait mode. Not something an impatient person like myself does very well.

Summer blahs.

* Big hand, little map reference. When I was an Army operational planner, we had a standing joke about senior commanders who would come in to our planning sessions, stare at a map, then sweep their hand broadly over about half the map and growl something like, “What I want is a fixing attack here, with the main attack driving into their flank from this direction” (another big hand swoosh over the other half of the map). No matter that maybe there were only goat paths through those areas, or there were swamps or mountains or cities that would bog down any forces trying to pass through. It was easy doing the big-hand sweeps, unimaginably complex breaking it down into actual movement-to-contact routes for brigades, battalions, or companies.

Overly complex, overly simple

I have been dipping my toe into Legion, via the PTR and the beta, now for a little over a week, and so far my strongest impression is one of total confusion. I cannot keep track of all the various “things” I need to be working on, mainly because I have absolutely zero idea of how many things I should be trying to level and how they interact with each other. Take this “explanation” from Ion Hazzikostas supposedly enlightening us all on the details of artifacts weapons, artifact power, artifact knowledge, artifact traits and talents, class hall research and research tomes, and for all I know if you read it backwards and upside down it may reveal where Jimmy Hoffa is buried or summon Satan to claim your soul:

Max-level players in this build may notice an important new Artifact feature. The researcher/scribe NPC in your Class Hall will offer you a quest to retrieve a set of tomes from around the world. Once these are recovered, you can instruct your researcher to work on deciphering these tomes. Each step of research will require some Order Resources (which are primarily obtained through World Quests), and will grant increased “Artifact Knowledge.”

Increasing Artifact Knowledge permanently increases your rate of Artifact Power gains, and this bonus applies to all artifact weapons your character may possess. (And no, Artifact Power items obtained at a lower Knowledge level won’t automatically update, so hoarding items for future use won’t benefit you.) This system is key to the pacing of overall artifact progression, and to making it easier for players to maintain multiple artifacts if they so desire. For example, at Knowledge Level 7, you would be earning Artifact Power at over triple the base rate. Thus, if you wanted to switch to a spec you hadn’t yet tried at that point, you’d find yourself very quickly able to get that artifact up to par with your primary one.

As your scribes progress through their translation and research, you will fill in pages of a great tome in your Class Hall that provides more backstory and information about your artifact (this is not yet fully hooked up for some classes). Finally, in the live game, the speed at which your researchers can work will increase as the expansion progresses, allowing latecomers or alts to catch up on their artifact progress.

Well, that certainly clears that up. And the whole long comment does not even address the idea of Artifact Relics — which are a whole other thing — or the Rube Goldberg talent path you unlock as you gain Artifact Power at your appropriate Artifact Knowledge rate which is gained from tomes that you give your class hall researchers who do research projects that fill in pages in The Big Giant Tome in your class hall.

As if keeping track of this mess for your artifact weapon were not enough, now we learn that you get to do it for a special fishing pole artifact, too. Oh boy! It’s not clear if the  character-wide Artifact Power will also apply to the artifact fishing pole, but if I were betting, I would bet not, so there will be a whole separate set of AP earned just for this separate artifact, thus a second set of things to keep track of. And this will be for every alt that you wish to use fishing to collect the critical crafting mat Blood of Sargeras on.

Turning to other professions, these, too, seem unnecessarily complex. Every profession has a series of quests through which you level up, and these quests continue through your regular character leveling process, taking you to every zone in the Broken Isles. However, once you have learned your profession’s recipes, you are still not really done, as there is a process of “stars” that adds levels of efficiency with which you can create crafted items. In the case of gathering professions, there are also star levels that let you gather more things as you progress.

Then there is Obliterum.

The Obliterum Forge, unlocked with a questline at level 110, will allow players to destroy their crafted gear and obtain Obliterum. Obliterum, in turn, can be used to make crafted gear more powerful.

As far as I can understand — I do not yet have a max level character on the beta so have not reached this stage — the idea is you craft items for the purpose of destroying them so that you can add gear levels to other crafted items. (The max level to which you can upgrade crafted gear this way is not clear at this time, but each Obliterum upgrades the level by 5.) This strikes me as an overly complex way to force us to use up more crafting mats, since you need to use Blood of Sargeras and other mats to craft the items to be destroyed as well as the items you wish to upgrade, then more BoS to actually use the forge and destroy the sacrificial items. It is also not clear how many items will have to be destroyed in order to obtain enough Obliterum Ash to upgrade one item, but most of the comments I have read indicate it is at least three, possibly more.

All of this means that BoS assumes overriding importance for the entire crafting process. Without it, you might as well not have a crafting profession. And, as I wrote about a couple of days ago, it is currently BoP as well as incredibly scarce to gather when compared to the numbers of it you need to do most anything.

It is possible to argue the relative merits of the Legion profession system, and in general, in the small picture, making professions more interesting might be a good thing. But, as is my habit, I like to try and see the bigger picture. And the big picture I see is a game that is growing vastly more complex each expansion, at almost a geometric rate. I am not going to try and figure out if that is a bad or a good thing, but I also see that as usual Blizz is talking out of both sides of its collective mouth on this.

On the one side they are doing all the things I describe to add extreme complexity to the game. But on the other side, they are condemning any semblance of complexity in class mechanics as evil evil evil. Remember at the beginning of WoD when they told us we should not be bothering our little heads with icky math, and we should not have to go to a web site to see what was best for our character, so therefore they were removing reforging from the game? And then they gave us the “solution” of 12-15 different “flavors” of gear with so many permutations and combinations of secondary stats that if you did not have a degree in math to figure out what was best, well then everyone went to a web site to get the answer anyway.

And the biggest hypocrisy: WoD and Legion class “pruning” in the name of simplifying class mechanics. I take BM hunters in Legion as the prime example — it is a mind-numbingly boring spec to play in Legion, there is just no other way to describe it. And honestly, Blizz had already pretty much pruned it to death in WoD, so why they considered it needed even further dumbing down is just puzzling.

(Although, as a side issue, I note that Blizz is perfectly willing to keep fairly sophisticated and engaging play for its favorite classes, which in Legion seem to be Demon Hunter and SV Hunter. It is only the classes the devs have no love for they seem to want to simplify down into oblivion.)

So we should not have to suffer the trauma of engaging complicated class play, but we can easily deal with multiple and incomprehensible talent trees for class, artifact weapon, even freaking fishing poles, and with  levels upon levels of professions, and with a new multiple step process to just upgrade gear, not to mention the ever increasing madness of mechanics stacked upon mechanics stacked upon even more mechanics for raids? Yeah, clearly having those 3-4 extra buttons to push for your class is what was making the game too complex.

Blizz, I don’t mind you making a complex game, but for crying out loud have the backbone to admit that is what it is. Stop trying to tell us you have our best interests at heart by making our spec easy enough for a potato to play, when what you are really doing is trying to simplify your constant problem of class balance. We play our class and spec because we like it, we enjoy figuring out the nuances of spell interactions, we like getting really good at it when it is challenging — so please stop insulting us by saying we are too stupid to figure out a few extra rotation buttons but can easily deal with fantastically complicated mechanics for every other part of the game. And while you are at it, get down on your knees and thank third-party sites like Wowhead and IcyVeins and AskMrRobot and others, because without them your game would be too frustrating to play for all but the most hardcore of your players.

Overwhelmed

The more I read about Legion, the more confused and overwhelmed I feel. This is probably because I am only able to read about it, not experience it yet, but my impression is that nearly every aspect of it is designed to be tedious, drawn-out, and in some cases deliberately and unnecessarily complex. It seems to me that Blizz has started to use selective complexity as a way to stretch out content while at the same time forcing certain play styles.

Take artifact weapons. I read a very informative — but very intricate — post yesterday about artifact weapons in the context of how best to level as a healer in Legion. You can read it for yourself here at heliocentric. As I say, it is a good run-down of many of the mechanics of artifact weapons, but honestly I came away from it thinking it was something I was going to have to eventually actually study, you know, with yellow highlighter and note taking and everything. I feel the same way about the Wowhead, Ten Ton Hammer, and other artifact guides.

The sheer number of mechanics for artifact weapons just makes my head hurt. Here’s all I know about them:

  • You somehow get Artifact Power that is used to unlock weapon traits that are integral to playing your spec.
  • You get relics that go in relic slots that have something to do with leveling your weapon — yes the weapons levels with you apparently, I guess like your hunter pets used to. (?)
  • There is something you get at some point called Artifact Knowledge that has something to do with how fast you accrue Artifact Power.
  • Relics and some other pieces of the weapon and I guess even Artifact Power are awarded as quest rewards and random drops (oh good), and maybe even just from leveling up to a point.
  • Blizz has said it will take “months” to fill out your artifact tree, and it will have various appearances to differentiate the godlike players from the hoi polloi.
  • You get to go through this morass of mechanics for every spec on every alt.

Really? After Blizz has made such a damn fuss now for two expansions about how horrible and complex the various class and spec rotations are, after they have cut iconic and useful spells from nearly every class, after they have “pruned” the low level talents and spells to the point where you literally have only two buttons to push for 20 or more levels because, you know, don’t want to confuse the poor players — after this, they decide to introduce an intricate, arcane series of traits for a freaking piece of gear?? Yeah, pushing more than a couple buttons in a rotation is too hard, but requiring a spreadsheet to figure out a weapon is fun!

Lets take another example — professions. Prior to WoD, professions were a nice, simple, straightforward part of the game. You figured out which ones you wanted, based on things like what kind of gear you could craft or how profitable they might be or sometimes what small boost they might provide your character. You leveled them up, and prior to the start of their decline in Mists you could pretty much level them up as you leveled your character.

But in WoD, garrisons rendered professions almost irrelevant. There were no longer any profession perks. Elite players whined that they were “required” to have certain professions so as to eke out that extra .05% edge in raids, so gone they were. Gathering professions were superfluous, as were crafting professions for baseline functions and gear. And then in 6.2, Blizz introduced real gating into professions with the random garrison vendor and with the series of quests required for Jewelcrafters. Now, of course there had been gating of a sort in professions all along — have to be a certain level to advance, some desirable “cool” recipes were a dungeon or raid drop, and so forth. But the 6.2 gating was of a different order, because it gated the baseline patch profession items for max level professions. In the case of the random garrison vendor, it was more annoying than truly effective, but in the case of JCs, it was a pretty steep hill just to learn the basic patch gems. (Seriously, my main in the first part of WoD was a Survival hunter with JC as a profession — Blizz dealt her a very rough hand, it was as if they looked at my character and decided to make her the biblical Job of  WoW.)

In Legion, all professions are going the way of WoD JCs, and more complex wrinkles are being introduced. This is what I know about professions:

  • Professions will have to be separately leveled with specific progressive quests.
  • Quests are also the only way to learn recipes.
  • Even once you level your profession, there is a second and third tier of leveling for every recipe.
  • You will have to craft items in order to destroy them to get something called Obliterum, which you will need to craft more items (I think). The ultimate self-licking ice cream cone.
  • Even secondary professions will be gated behind quests, apparently, with a long draw out Archaeology quest line, a return to bandages for First Aid, and a promise to make fishing “more exciting” (not exactly a big challenge).

One effect of the type of complexity described in my two examples is to increase the perception of “content” — certainly if you have to spend months leveling a piece of gear or a profession, you have more to do in the game before you get to the point of “OK, done. Bored now.” I don’t really disagree with this approach, I am just pointing it out for what it is.

A second effect of this type of complexity is that it continues to limit player choices in the game. The fact that achieving a reasonably effective artifact weapon will take “months” and involve many many hours of game play means that most players will be quite limited in the number of such weapons they can pursue. This in turn effectively limits the number of alts, and indeed specs, that a player can play at a decent level. Similarly, making professions so complex and gated tends to discourage having alts to provide all professions to a player. Blizz has stated that they dislike this practice, and that players should not have alts for the purpose of filling out a “support system” for a main. In Legion, they are doing all they can to enforce this view.

A third effect of this complexity is that it tends to drive some players away. If I am confused, think how lost new players will be — those that join the game after seeing the movie, whether as brand new or returning after a long absence. They will initially join a system that is already fairly complex to learn, only to have it suddenly changed for Legion and made even more complex than it is now. Yeah, okay, they may have a couple fewer buttons to press because the dread button bloat monster will have been once again stuffed into a cage, but in every other way the game will change significantly in the direction of complexity. Once again, the cumulative effect of the game seems at odds with Blizz’s goals and objectives.

As I said at the top, I am feeling confused and overwhelmed. I did not feel this way before Mists or even before WoD. I felt like I had an idea of what to expect, and I was excited to dive in both during the pre-patches and on launch day. But for Legion, at least so far, I am filled less with excitement than with dread, as if it will arrive and I will have zero idea what I am doing. I feel there is a chance that small mistakes in choices in the beginning — or even now in failure to prepare adequately — will have huge ramifications later on, and that recovering from them will be both painful and long. This may not be the case, but at this point I have no way to tell.

Relearning your spec every expansion

A few days ago, Blizz dev Celestalon wrote a blue post in one of the Legion feedback forums, basically a primer on how to play a Brewmaster monk in Legion. The post was a response to what has been a ton of negative comments in the forum about the Legion rework of BM monks. Only people with alpha access can post in the forum, so — based on Blizz’s own statements about alpha selection — the people making the comments are presumably among the best players in the game. Celestalon’s response was long and detailed, and honestly I kind of glossed over it because I do not play a Brewmaster monk and have no intention of doing so.

But it got me thinking: Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong when the top 5% or even less of players cannot figure out how to play a spec without detailed guidance from a developer? Monks as a class have been around for two expansions now, it’s not like they are a new class no one has any experience with. So what does it say when the best players in the game have to be schooled anew just to be able to adequately play a spec some of them have expertly played for years?  I am not talking about explaining a few new tweaks or nuances, I am talking about teaching a whole new play style, a complete turnaround to the way these players have understood and played their spec.

And of course, BM monks are not the only spec experiencing this. I have not done any calculations or extensive research, but my scientific wild ass guess is somewhere around 70-80% of the specs in the game will undergo major play-style-changing reworks in Legion. (I will refrain from yet another rant on the gutting of all hunter specs. You’re welcome.) For some specs, this is rather a new experience, but for several others (*cough*hunters*cough*) it happens every time there is a new expansion.

The fallout from this is quite significant. Of course, individual players are greatly affected. We must learn entirely new rotations, cooldown use, movement techniques, even basic combat actions such as crowd control and kiting and self defense. Often these are skills we have spent a lot of time honing and refining, only to have the whole effort be for naught come a new expansion. If it happened every couple of expansions it might be tolerable, but when it happens Every. Single. Expansion. it just makes many of us crabby and cynical.

But the more significant fallout comes in the form of game balance, in the inevitable chaos that results when many, many specs are drastically changed. I believe most of the class/stat/raid balance problems of the past couple of years are the result of Blizz’s inability to adequately compensate for major spec changes. One simple example that comes to mind is the heavy reliance by SV hunters on multistrike, a change implemented for WoD that became a damage monster when gear levels allowed for multistrike stacking, and a consequence that in no small part led Blizz to obliterate SV as a viable hunter spec for basically the entire expansion.

The game is almost unimaginably complex in its interactions, and even small pushes on one end of the class mechanic system can result in catastrophic changes that cascade through the entire game, usually in unpredictable ways. Some specs get way overpowered, others become ineffective, some specs become an absolute requirement for certain raids while others have almost no place in any raid, some raids employ a mechanic no spec can deal with, leveling some specs becomes a nightmare, etc. I know this, most of you know this, and Blizz  certainly has to know this. So why would you deliberately change nearly every part of class mechanics every expansion? The result every time seems to be chaos, chaos that gets sorted out only near the end of the expansion, by which time the class devs at Blizz are rubbing their hands gleefully in anticipation of starting it all over again.

The only thing I can figure out is that there is a significant personnel turnover at Blizz for each expansion, and the way to make your name in the job is to pad your resume with “major redesign” accomplishments. There appears to be no one at Blizz looking at the full system picture of the game, at its overall equilibrium as a state machine. I could be wrong, but of course it is hard to say because we seldom if ever see any communications from Blizz on overall game design concepts, beyond tutoring us on what is and is not fun.

A Vietnam veteran I know once told me that the personnel rotation scheme for that conflict was a significant contributor to the U.S. loss there. Troops would rotate in for a year then go home, to be replaced by others who would in turn also go home in a year. Officers wishing to advance their careers had only a short time frame in which to do it, and the attractive shortcut was to “innovate”, to change tactics and procedures — often trying methods others had failed with multiple times, just for the sake of changing something. The result, according to my friend, was that “We did not have 20 years’ experience in Vietnam, we had one year’s experience 20 times.”

Maybe Blizzard has not done 6  expansions as of Legion, maybe they have done one expansion 6 times ….

At any rate, I for one am sick of having to completely relearn my spec every expansion, often only to be forced to switch again mid-expansion and relearn another spec because Blizz is incapable of managing the multitude of changes they insist on making.

With that, I am going to start my weekend.

Complexity, continued

World of Warcraft is an incredibly complex game. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) I’ve written about the technical complexity of the game before, but today I want to examine it from the player side.

Could you play this game without the aid of third party help sites?

Just think about it for a minute. What if there were no WoWHead, no IcyVeins, no Blizzard Watch, no profession leveling sites, no AskMrRobot, no YouTube videos of boss encounters, no [insert your go-to help site here]? Could you play the game at the level of involvement you do now without them? If you are a hunter, would you have been able to track down the incredibly complex quest line for Gara all by yourself? I could not, and I am betting you could not either.

I would not still be playing the game without outside help sites, because I would long ago have gotten too frustrated to continue. I am not saying it is impossible to play without help sites, I am saying that progress would be glacially slower than it is with them, and the average level of play would be vastly lower than it is now. As I am not by nature a patient person, there is no way I would have kept playing under such conditions.

Here is an example: My spousal unit used to play WoW. He started about the same time I did, with a hunter. His approach was to just wander around, killing mobs as he encountered them, getting quests as he stumbled upon them, turning them in only if he happened to see a big yellow question mark over an NPC’s head, discovering Azeroth by leisurely strolling around. He leveled mainly through killing random mobs, exploring, and mining. He is not goal-driven as I am, he is someone who lives in the present and enjoys every bit of it. (A trait I find both admirable and irritating IRL, but never mind.) Once while waiting for a boat in Menethil Harbor, he fell off the dock (no, I have no idea how) and decided since he was already in the water he might as well swim to Stormwind. It took him a loooooooonnnngggg time (hours) but he did it.

He no longer plays. Somewhere about level 50 the game became too complex for his play style, and he just lost interest. He did not want to consult help sites, thought that was a bit too much like real world work research, was not interested in joining a guild, and he was just not able to keep playing unless he got some guidance. So he quit.

Had I not started reading WoWHead and some of the hunter blogs (my guild at the time was no help), I probably would have quit, too. But I did research them, and doing so opened new levels of interest for me in the game. It also greatly speeded up my progress, further holding my interest.

I’m not sure I really have a point to all this, but a couple of thoughts come to mind. The first is, would Blizz be able to make game play as complex as it is if players did not have outside help sources? I think not. Many players would find the game far too frustrating to keep at it. Even activities like basic leveling become much more time-consuming without help. I doubt I would have found the WoD profession quests without help, nor would I have easily — if at all — found the various NPCs for some of the longer leveling and follower quest lines.

Second thought is, should Blizz provide more and better in-game resources for players to reference as they progress? From time to time they have attempted to do so, but almost always the results are half-assed and clumsy. The Dungeon Journal comes to mind. As does that ridiculous quest tracker thingie that annoys me every time I log in because you can’t turn it off and you can’t move it. So I think the answer to should Blizz provide better in-game references is yes they should but they are totally incapable of doing so, and most of the times they try, the result is they make the game interface worse, not better.

Last thought is, maybe the existence of the outside help sites is a kind of validation of the whole MMO concept. MMOs are designed to be social activities, to create virtual communities of like-minded individuals. People devote huge amounts of time, money, and effort to community help sites. Yes, sometimes they turn into actual revenue-producing businesses, but most of them did not start out like that, they started out as people in the community generously sharing their experiences and knowledge with others. This is a very good thing, something that makes me optimistic about the big picture of MMOs.

I hope Blizz realizes the huge contribution these sites make to the game and thus to Blizz’s bottom line.  And if you have a site you depend on for information, please support it in whatever way you can.