Settling into a pattern, and Blizz is still alt-hostile

A month short of a year into Legion, and I realized over the weekend that I have finally settled into a weekly routine in the game.

Tuesday (reset day): Collect weekly things on my main — seals, Mythic+ chest, weekly bonus quest. I don’t run every weekly on my main — usually only the timewalkers and the mythics, the rest I either have no interest in (PvP and pets) or the reward is not worth the time. The rest of Tuesday is spent on raid 7-11 PM server time.

Wednesday: World quests and Broken Shore quests on main, decide which alts will receive emphasis for the week and run LFR, profession, or quests on it. Check the alts’ gear and decide how best to upgrade it for the week. I usually pick 2 alts to concentrate on — I find it is not feasible to work on more than that in a week, there is just not time.

Thursday: Replenish main’s potions/flasks/food, then raid 7-11 server time.

Friday: Run one Mythic +15 for the week on main with the incredibly generous guild group that tries to ensure every raider gets at least one in for the weekly chest. Run emissaries and BS quests on main and on one or both chosen alts. If I am doing it, run the weekly on main.

Saturday: Usually a day off, no game time.

Sunday: Pretty much alt day. Do class hall maintenance activities on maxed alts, also emissaries and BS quests on selected alts. If time, work on order hall or profession quest lines on an alt. If even more time, work on leveling a non-maxed alt.

Monday: Finish up odds and ends on main. Spend a couple of hours running sims on main for next week’s gear/talent best build. Study fine points of the coming week’s progression bosses.

I am at a point on my main where the only reason I run emissary quests and BS dailies is for the reward chests. Nothing given as individual loot for the quests is worth anything to my main — the gear is way too low, the gold amounts are paltry, and the AP is so low compared to what I need for an extra concordance point as to be downright insulting. Certainly not worth even the few minutes needed to do the AP quest.

The emissary and BS chests, it turns out, are the new gear currency. That is, there is apparently a magic secret number of them you have to open before you get a legendary. The difference between this system and previous currency systems is that we used to know how many seals/coins/etc we had to collect to get a desired piece of gear, plus we could actually choose the piece we wanted. But now only Blizz knows the number, and they not us get to choose which piece we get. But it is still a currency system, make no mistake.

So I still run these daily activities on my main. Luckily, it doesn’t take long, what with flying and also having pretty decent gear. Once in a while, if I need leather, I will spend extra time in one of the quest areas where skinnable critters are being killed.

On relatively new alts, the world quests are still useful in and of themselves. The gear can be an upgrade, and my new alts almost always are in desperate need of Blood of Sargeras in order to upgrade the crafted items I usually outfit them with, so they run the ones giving that as a reward whether or not they are part of an emissary chain. I also make sure my active alts run the world bosses each week.

I still believe making BoS soulbound is one of the worst ideas Blizz had in Legion. Of course, they stick with it because it forces more game play and thus increases bonuses for their executives, but it is an enormously frustrating mechanic. The effect of it is that by the time you have an alt able to gather BoS in reasonable quantities, they usually do not need it any more, unless they have a profession that goes through a lot of it. This is yet another instance of Blizz deliberately misleading us — “In Legion you can equip any number of crafted items, no more 3-piece limit!” Sure you can — except of course the crafted gear will be too low level to do you any good. At 20 BoS per crafted gear max upgrade, this can easily cost up to 200 or more BoS to fully outfit an alt.

In a grand gesture of generosity, Blizz recently allowed us to use order resources to buy BoS, at the rate of 1000 OR for 1 BoS, except you have to buy them in batches of 5. Generally, in keeping with the Blizz philosophy of being hostile to alt development, at the time when an alt most needs BoS they do not have 20,000 extra order resources available to upgrade one piece of crafted gear.

Not to worry, Blizz went overboard in their generosity here, allowing a shuffle mechanism to transfer BoS from one character to another within an account. You can buy order resources with BoS, transfer them to an alt, then have the alt use the extra order resources to buy the BoS they need. Sounds great, eh? Just one small thing: the exchange rates are exorbitant. You lose 80% of your BoS in the process. For example, it costs you 100 BoS to buy the order resources that would allow an alt to buy 20 BoS.

In everything, from profession quest lines to order hall chains to artifact progression to the nutty legendary system to crafted gear, Blizz remains extremely alt-hostile. Yes, they will claim they have gone to great lengths to permit alt catch-up, and there are some decent mechanisms. But in general Legion is still the most alt-unfriendly expansion ever.

Still, even given the hoops to jump through for alts, I have managed to get myself into a nice comfortable routine in Legion. Some people might think of this as a bad thing, but honestly I kind of look forward to getting to this point in an expansion. There is a lot to be said for the mental ease of familiarity.

The crafted gear dance

One or two of you who regularly follow this blog may have noticed I did not post anything on Wednesday, thus departing from my usual M-W-F pattern. The truth is, I had a wonderful rant all written, full of my usual over-the-top indignant comments, along with some really creative metaphors. As I was about to publish, I saw the June 14 hotfix notes, and they effectively negated most of what I had just written. That, combined with a real life schedule for the day that did not allow for a rewrite, made me just trash the post and plan for another day.

So what was the topic that the hotfix notes ruined? Blood of Sargeras. Specifically, the fact that Blizz has stubbornly persisted in holding this mat as the main stumbling block for many profession- and gear-related activities in the game. They have done so by maintaining its soulbound quality, thus putting many players in the position of having a main with several hundred Bloods they cannot possibly use up, while alts that could use them cannot manage to scrabble enough of them.

The thing that gave rise to my renewed ire on the subject was that I have one alt with a lot of crafted gear equipped, but it has taken me weeks to get enough BoS to upgrade the six equipped items to max crafted level (875, prior to 7.2.5). The idea that it takes 2 BoS to use one obliterum effectively limits max level gear — in any quantity — to characters who have the profession levels to gather a lot of the mat, and thus probably do not need to use crafted gear. The alts that do need the gear almost never have the wherewithal to gather more than a few per week.

(This is yet another example of Blizz deliberately misleading us back when they announced Legion — “You can equip as many crafted items as you want, no more 3-item limit!” Same as the “No more limits on how many specs you can have!” All true in lawyer language, but complete falsehoods in reality. But that is a post for another time.)

At any rate, the Wednesday hotfix announcement that caught my eye was this:

(Hotfix in testing) Blood of Sargeras can now be obtained from Class Hall vendors at a price of 5 Blood of Sargeras for 5,000 Order Resources.

WOOHOO! Of course, the caveat “Hotfix in testing” could mean we will never see the change as it was announced, but still, it at least tells me Blizz seems to be aware of the problem the current method poses for alts and is working on a typically obscure way of remedying it.

As I wrote above, the main use of BoS I am concerned with is its connection to gear, more specifically its connection to the use of obliterum. Obliterum is, I think, another Legion mechanic that simply has not worked well. It is tedious to create and consequently expensive to buy in the auction house. Even if you can create or buy enough of it to upgrade an alt’s gear, it is doubtful the alt will have sufficient BoS to use it, unless the alt has a fairly well advanced gathering profession. The obliterum mechanic was slightly improved when Blizz got rid of that ridiculous and expensive quest line to unlock the forge, but that was at best a minor improvement.

The other really awful aspect of the whole obliterum mechanic is that it can only be applied to soulbound gear. This has a very detrimental effect on the entire crafted armor part of the game. Not only can you not craft and upgrade a piece of gear for one of your alts, but you are also limited to selling low level gear in the auction house. With the economic inflation introduced in the game by WoD garrisons and by the now-official gold selling, there are undoubtedly many players who would gladly pay good prices to buy max-level crafted gear from the auction house rather than go through the dance of buying low level gear, creating or buying obliterum, and then scrabbling for the BoS to be able to use their purchases. I am, honestly, mystified by the whole thing.

But the June 14 hotfix note, if actually implemented, would fix the problem, at least within an account. (Not for selling items.) It would mean you could transfer BoS from one character to another, though you would have to do a shuffle to do so. Since an alt with few opportunities to gather BoS likely also does not have order hall resources to spare, the method would be to buy order hall resources on your BoS-rich character, send them to your BoS-starved one, then have that character buy BoS with the order hall resources. Leave it to Blizz to do something like this rather than the easier, more straightforward fix which would be to make BoS account bound. Still, clunky and cumbersome though it is, it would work.

The other obliterum/crafted gear observation I have is how clumsily Blizz handled the 7.2.5 change to crafted gear upgrade level. Originally the announcement was that crafted gear would be upgradable to ilevel 885, two obliterum levels above the 7.2 ilevel. Thus it would take 10 instead of 8 obliterums (oblitera? maybe just obliterum in singular and plural) to max out the gear. So if you had currently maxed gear, you would need two obliterum and four BoS to do the new max. But when the patch went live, there was a stealth buff to crafted gear that maxed it at ilevel 900 instead of 885. But the total obliterum necessary to reach max level stayed at 10.

Stay with me here. What that meant was that everyone who had already spent 8 obliterum and 16 BoS to reach pre-7.2 max level suddenly had that retroactively changed to 5 (no refunds, of course, just a sort of historical rewrite of what you had done), and to reach the new max level they would be required to spend, not 2 obliterum and 4 BoS, but rather 5 obliterum and 10 BoS.

I am not complaining about crafted gear being upgradable to ilevel 900, but the implementation of this was a pretty dirty trick on players. Even those of us organized enough to anticipate the changes in 7.2.5 were caught unawares. I had in fact built up enough obliterum and BoS on my crafted-gear-heavy alt to upgrade all equipped pieces to new max as it had been announced prior to the stealth change. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was not nearly enough. My stash of 12 obliterum and 24 BoS were no longer enough to upgrade all six equipped pieces, instead it was enough for only two. And by the way, the sudden change caused obliterum prices in the AH to skyrocket, more than 3 times their pre-7.2.5 prices on my server.

Overall, this is typical Blizz good-news-bad-news methodology. They give something with one hand, then take it away or make it less useful with the other. In the big picture, the crafted gear upgrades and possible vendor availability of BoS are positive developments. In the more immediate picture, the methods for doing those things are annoying.

And with that, since I have already screwed up my normal posting schedule for the week, I am going to take Friday off and start my weekend today. See you back here Monday.

Doubling down on bad ideas

Patch 7.2 will give us crafted legendaries. You can read the details of what we know about them thus far in this summary from MMO-C. Now, of course, Patch 7.2 is still undergoing a lot of changes, and the initial info on these legendaries could change a lot between now and live, but let me just say for the record:

What the hell, Blizz? Has the cheese finally slipped off your cracker?

Legendary implementation thus far in Legion has been a huge mistake, Blizz themselves have as much as admitted it. Yet they keep trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, and no one is clamoring for the sandwiches, so part of their solution is to add a line of artisan breads.

There are so many things wrong with the proposed implementation of this, I hardly know where to start. The basic plan is that players will be able to do a whole new series of profession quests that will allow them to collect rare materials that will allow them to craft leather/mail/cloth/plate legendary gear for specific classes.

First, the — admittedly still vague — quest lines for each profession involve defeating various raid bosses. This of course is Blizz doubling down on the main complaint about professions in Legion — they require raid level gear not to mention In some cases regular running of raids so as to be lucky enough to get the RNG recipe drops.

Second, crafting the legendary items requires what appears to be a host of very expensive and/or rare mats — 65 Blood of Sargeras, profession mats, something referred to only as “legendary mats” from quests, and a new mat called Felessence Legion-Flask. The latter is one of those horrible crafted (we don’t know by whom — all crafters or just alchemists) abominations that requires making a gray item, then upgrading it until it reaches “legendary” status. This is Blizz doubling down on the whole idea of ensuring that no one plays an alt for pure pleasure or to help out a main. If you have not had enough time to get your profession alts to level 800, you will not have enough time to have them craft a legendary, I guarantee.

Third, the crafted legendaries are BoP. Yup, you read that right. BoP. Thus, any character can only make this gear for itself. Your leatherworker better wear leather or mail, because she damn sure will not be able to make a piece of legendary gear for any other alt. There may be more of these crafted legendaries not yet announced, but so far characters that do not have a “classic” armor crafting profession — for example engineers or alchemists or inscriptionists — are S.O.L. And remember, early on in Legion, Blizz pretty much pushed many characters into having only one crafting profession because gathering professions are much more lucrative for garnering Blood of Sargeras (also BoP). So chances are a lot of players no longer have dual-crafting professions. Oh, and of course, making these crafted legendaries BoP also means they cannot be sold, just another little gotcha from Blizz.

Fourth, the current tooltip for these legendaries indicates they count as a normal legendary for equipping — thus they will be the one or the one of two you are allowed to equip. However, none of these legendaries appear to have any special abilities. Yup, they are stat sticks. So they might up your gear level a bit, but if you have any of the actual ability-boosting legendaries equipped, crafted will likely be last choice as a legendary. (Unless, of course, Blizz goes ahead and negates all current legendary damage, defensive, and healing bonuses — do not count that out as a possibility.)

Fifth — and this is the kicker — it looks like they will be level 910. Yes, again, you read that right — after going through all I described above, you will be left with a level 910 legendary. Trust me, any character able to do all the steps necessary to craft one of these will not need level 910 gear. I presume you will be able to upgrade them as we now upgrade the “old” legendaries, but guess what? That means you get to add another couple of weeks to the gear just to get it to a level that benefits you. (Oh, and it also is a way for Blizz to keep that ridiculous legendary upgrade quest line going.)

I honestly wonder what is in the water or air at Blizz HQ. Think about it, what are the parts of Legion people seem to complain about the most? It is as if Blizz has a working list of these complaints and used it to design these crafted legendaries. They have doubled down on many of the major perceived problems with this expansion. It reminds me of their reaction in WoD to the massive complaints about garrisons: they doubled down on them by requiring even more garrison work just to be able to see the new Tanaan content. “You don’t LIKE this? BWAAAAAHAAAAAA, well then you will HATE this!!!! That will teach you to complain!”

So, if you hate Legion professions, if you think legendaries are a failure, if you have given up on alts because Blizz does not approve of the way you play them — stay tuned. Blizz appears to be sensitive to player dissatisfaction, and the louder the complaints, the more they are going to shove it down our throats.

Now THAT’S communication. I get the message.

It’s the little things

A couple of weeks ago in a tongue-in-cheek comment reply to a reader, I wrote that I had reached the “acceptance” phase in my grief over what I still consider to be Blizz’s destruction of the hunter class in WoW. I still bristle over the betrayal, but I finally realized they are not going to change it significantly, and I can either keep playing or quit. As I still enjoy the game itself, and as I am not willing to play a different class as a main character, that pretty much means I need to get on with virtual life. Doesn’t mean I won’t have some choice words for Blizz about it once in a while, just that it is not usually my main focus.

However, just like when you have a massive headache and consequently all of life’s normal little annoyances really really bother you, so too have I begun to notice a lot of annoying minor aspects of Legion. If I were not already cranky over the hunter thing, I probably would just take them in stride as part of a massive and therefore imperfect game. But the fact is, I am cranky and out of sorts over hunters, so these little annoyances grow in proportion.

Blizz cannot possibly repair the damage they have done to hunters, but here are some quality of life things that I think they can — and should — fix, if for no other reason than to make amends for the big things they screwed up in Legion.

Blood of Sargeras. This needs to be BoA. The fact that it is BoP means that it is yet another reminder of many of the major problems with Legion.

  • The huge time requirement levied on each character in Legion means that your main probably ends up with far more than can be used, while alts are starving for it. Yes, you can now trade it for mats — on my server that translates into something like 100-250 gold per Blood if you do a mat shuffle. This is not insignificant — although I would argue it is fairly low given the massive inflation in WoW economy in Legion — but the fact is, your alts do not need gold, they need Blood of Sargeras.
  • Blizz chose to make some professions winners and some losers in Legion. For example, if you have a skinner, you pretty much clean up on Blood of Sargeras. Blizz may claim that the drop rate is the same for skinning as for herb gathering or mining, and it may be, but the fact remains that you can do what amounts to mass skinning in a few minutes, whereas it takes hours to exploit the same number of herb or mining nodes. My main is in fact a skinner, and without even trying I have over 200 Bloods in the bank even after using a bunch early on for obliterum upgrades. Meanwhile, my poor engineer/enchanter can’t get enough for even one max crafted gear upgrade, and the same is true of most of my other alts.
  • This mat is an absolute requirement for upgrading crafted gear, both to make obliterum and to use it. It takes 2 Bloods just to use one obliterum. Almost always what that means for me is that my alts cannot gather sufficient Bloods for upgrades until they are well past the point when the upgraded gear is useful. This just serves to highlight the total failure of crafted gear in Legion, as far as I am concerned.

Obliterum. At a bare minimum, Blizz needs to allow this to be used on non-soulbound gear. Because as it stands now, it is almost useless as an upgrade mechanic. And while I am on the subject, let me just say I think the whole mechanic is one of the stupidest ideas Blizz has ever come up with, and honestly that’s a pretty high bar.

  • You can only apply it to soulbound gear. This means you cannot craft higher level gear and send it to an alt, nor can you sell it for decent gold. Effectively, armor crafters are nearly useless in Legion.
  • It requires Blood of Sargeras, both to make it and to use it. As I pointed out above, this effectively severely limits any alts getting significant crafted gear upgrades, until such time as the upgraded gear is useless to them. (Another example of Blizz being deliberately disingenuous to us. Remember their braying about “You can freely change to any spec in your class, no more 2-spec restrictions”? Yeah, right. And crafted gear — “You can equip as many pieces as you want”. Uh-huh.)
  • The quest line to unlock the forge is ridiculously expensive and annoying. I realize I may be an outlier, but I am so bad at pvp and I hate it so much, that I died on my main hunter 31 times just to finish the sewer part of that quest line. I suspect I am not unique in this. How is this fun? Because even when I finally did unlock the forge, I realized that it had almost no value to me going forward.
  • Obliterum can be bought and sold. However, the fact that you cannot use it without a stash of Blood of Sargeras means that it is of limited use to players looking for gear upgrades. Additionally, on my server it still goes for 3000-3500 gold each. Thus, even if you have the Bloods to do a full 10 upgrade to a single piece of gear, it will cost you upwards of 30,000 gold for just that single piece. Absolutely not worth it, especially since world quests award similar level gear for a LOT less effort and zero cost.

Weekly quests. This idea occurred to me last night, as I was trying to crank out another 20 world quests for one of my alts. Since Legion requires significantly more time on each character just to get to the same point most people are used to getting to, why not do a bit of pro-rating for the weekly quests? So, for example, if you don’t have the time to run 20 world quests on every max level character, why not award half the loot for running 10? Same for the Mythic and TW quests. I think this would actually encourage people to run these on more characters — and thus spend more time playing — because it would not seem like such an endless grind.

Talent swapping. OK, I probably should not get started on this, but here is another world-class stupid idea from Blizz. This kind of hit home to me last week on one of our raid nights. We had just finished Mythic Nythendra and had decided to try our luck at Ursoc. Knowing there was a ton of trash to be dealt with before moving to Ursoc, I spent a Tome of the Tranquil Mind to swap from Murder of Crows to Volley.

Only I did not get to use it, because we were immediately in combat. I had neglected to announce to the other 19 people that everyone needed to stop what they were doing so I could make a talent swap. I did say something, and the RL said they would stop after this bunch of mobs. We paused, I hit another Tome, and lo and behold a mob wandered near one of our players and I lost yet another Tome and still was unable to swap talents. At over 500g a pop this gets mighty annoying might fast.

Here’s the thing: I understand we have never been able to swap talents while in combat, no big deal. But this ridiculous doubling of  steps necessary to do it — open the talent table, find the tome, click the tome, click the talent — means we are now doubly penalized for swapping talents. And those extra steps can obviously preclude talent swapping in a group just when it is needed most, as my experience shows.

This comes at a time when Blizz is deliberately making us choose significant differences in talent lines for AoE or single target, and when they are mixing up these kinds of fights to extreme degrees. (Not even going to address the raid time lost when players without the expensive Tomes need to hearth to Dal, then get resummoned just so they can swap a talent.) Honestly, hunters aren’t even the worst affected by this — poor warlocks are way worse off.

Blizz has said they made a mistake in setting the price of the Tomes too high and they intend to try and fix it soon, but for me that does not answer the basic question: Why the hell did anyone think this was a good idea to begin with? What possible benefit to game play does this provide? And don’t tell me it was so that Inscriptionists could make money — Blizz had no compunctions about letting many professions become useless in Legion, why should Inscription be anything special?

I really need someone to explain this to me.

That stupid hunter eagle “perk”. As some of you may know, hunters can get access to a special set of flight points presumably serviced by the same eagle line that transports us to our class hall. As it turns out, this is less a perk than yet another punishment inflicted on hunters. These flight points are all located on extremely remote, high mountain peaks. And, while they are not tied in to the regular flight points, for some reason they are tied in when it comes to using your whistle. Thus, hunters often use the flight whistle only to be whisked off to a remote location of no use whatsoever, and are then forced to use a hearth of some sort or perform a fairly long and complex glide just to get back into the flight system.

Blizz, please do hunters the favor of pulling your head out of your ass and  fully integrate the eagle flight system into the regular one, or if that offends you too much, at least make it unresponsive to the whistle.

Hearthstone type access to class halls. A couple of classes — druids and monks come to mind, there may be some others — have the luxury of being able to transport themselves directly to their class hall no matter where they are. Less favored classes — for example warlocks and rogues — must first get themselves back to Dal, then wend their way to a sewer access and through some corridors and maybe even then through a portal — to get to their class halls.

This may be “immersive” or “fun” at first, but after a few times it is merely tedious and annoying. Blizz, we get it: there is a great story behind each and every class hall, but for crying out loud give all classes a garrison-type hearthstone to get there.

As I said at the start, none of these things is a show-stopper, they are all minor annoyances. But taken together and along with some of the really major Legion problems, they become constant irritations that detract significantly from the game. Seems like Blizz could fix them for us, and no, doing so will not “cost a tier”.

Anyone else have any quality of life annoyances in Legion?

What Blizz got wrong in Legion

My last post laid out what I think Blizz got right about Legion. It was a long post, because I think on balance Legion is a decent expansion — certainly leagues better than WoD. As I said in the post, I give Legion a “solid B”. The reasons it does not make the cut for an “A” is the subject of this post.

All expansions have good and bad points. And of course what is one person’s “good” is another’s “bad”. Something I hate about the game may be the one thing that keeps you coming back to it. In weighing what I was going to include in this post, I tried to evaluate the big picture of things in Legion that make me grimly grit my teeth and slog through, knowing for me they detract significantly from the fun of the game, but they must be endured if I wish to get to the fun parts.

As I began to outline what I was going to include in this post, I noticed there were there design approaches that seemed to play a major role — singly or together —  in every area I find troubling about this expansion: RNG, the drive to increase the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric, and what I think of as “class chaos”. These seem to me to be meta-mistakes in Legion, fundamentally flawed design philosophies that give rise to a host of unpopular and/or fun-killing aspects of the game.

RNG (random number generator, or more properly, pseudo-random number generator) is at the heart of nearly every computer game — I don’t know of a way to code complex combat simulations without it. The extent to which randomness is used, however, is where people begin to get uncomfortable with it. For example, if every time you cast a spell in WoW, it was like spinning a huge wheel of fortune, and you got truly random outcomes anywhere in a range of one to ten million hit points, most people — Blizz devs included — would consider that bad design. Similarly, if absolutely every aspect of the game — even things like where you end up when you interact with a flight master, or how many health points you get when you down a health potion — were RNG-controlled, again almost everyone would consider that to be unacceptable game design.

But there is a vast area between minimal combat-outcome RNG and the extremes I just cited. And it is in this area where reasonable people differ in their opinions of “how much is too much”. I would argue that Blizz has a years-long history of RNG creep, in the sense of expanding its use to more and more areas of the game. Some form of RNG seems to be their preferred design approach for as many aspects of the game as they can apply it to, and we have seen it noticeably expanded in Legion, to the extent that for me it has crossed the line into “too much” territory.

This trend to making everything RNG is closely tied with the MAU motive: if you want certain gear — including legendaries — or certain profession recipes, there is absolutely no way to get them other than to keep playing until they magically appear for you. If you are exceptionally lucky, this will not take long. But if you have normal or bad luck, this means that the only thing you can do to “increase” your chances to get this stuff is to play more hours. If you are someone who is limited in your daily play time, this means it could take months — or never — before you get whatever it is you are seeking. We have all read the stories of how the world-first mythic guild members ran literally hundreds of instances in the first couple of weeks of Legion just to get their legendaries, or to advance their artifacts.

This is a demoralizing effect — no matter how skilled you are, no matter how diligently you work at a goal, you have zero control over obtaining items you are seeking. It is a lottery, and the only way to succeed is to keep buying more and more tickets, but even then there is no guarantee of a prize.

The concept of “class chaos” is this: Blizz had reasonably well-balanced classes and specs at the end of WoD. There were exceptions, of course (priests — both shadow disc, for different reasons — come immediately to mind, as do of course survival hunters), but overall most of the classes had reached a decent equilibrium. This was no small feat, as it had taken most of WoD to achieve this somewhat wobbly balance in what is undeniably a vastly complex system.

So what did Blizz decide to do? Rework nearly every class and spec (except for some unfathomable reason mages and druids), almost from the ground up, add in the huge complicating factor of artifact weapons, and create a new class. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we have seen. Patch 7.1.5 promises some improvement to the horrible unbalanced mess Blizz has made, but I believe the problems with many classes are so fundamental that they cannot be resolved in Legion. They can possibly be resolved in the next expansion, but only if Blizz exercises some discipline and refrains from yet another total rebuilding of every class.

These three basic design mistakes — expansion of RNG, drive to increase MAU, and class chaos — are the primary factors that result in what for me are fun-killing aspects of Legion:

Gear

Artifact weapon. I was leery of this idea to begin with, and four months have only served to confirm for me that it is a design I endure rather than embrace. It seems to me to have been created solely for increasing the MAU metric for the game. Some of my pet peeves about it:

  • It permeates most aspects of the game — nearly all activities are centered around this single piece of uber-gear. Want to switch specs within your class? Got to consider how to handle a new artifact weapon. Want to level an alt? Got to pretty much pick a spec and stick with it for many levels, as there is that artifact to consider. Want to run just a couple world quests? Better weigh the relative trade-offs between the ones that award AP or relics and any others you may actually prefer to do. Not a big fan of dungeons? Too bad, you better run them so you can get the gobs of AP they award.
  • There is no feeling of achievement or accomplishment with it, as the trait table is for all practical purposes endless. Once you get the last gold trait at level 34, you get to chase tiny power increments for 20 more levels at ever-increasing AP costs well into the millions for each. And new patches bring even more traits and levels. There is no goal to work towards, just an endless slog grubbing for artifact stuff.
  • While some classes and specs got artifacts with real lore and game history behind them, many others got made-up lore with absolutely zero history. I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz first made the decision that there would be 36 separate artifacts, then looked around and said “Holy shit, that’s a lot of design work, well just get something out there, bring in the interns to help!”
  • Which leads me to one of the worst artifact decisions Blizz made — having spec weapons instead of class weapons. I understand there are some technical problems with having the same weapon for hybrid classes, but I cannot imagine those would be worse than the current state of affairs. I suppose the corporate suits are happy that players must grub out more game hours to make off spec weapons viable, but it is a real joy-killer for me.
  • Last, the decision to make artifact weapons mandatory for all players. Again, forcing players down a specific game style path. Why could there not have been a choice — artifact weapon for any character that wishes to raid, normal weapon for others?

Legendaries. I think even Blizz is starting to realize this was a terrible design decision, but of course now they cannot back out of it, they are stuck trying to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t. (Another RNG-based MAU-driven decision.)

  • The fact that getting them is based completely on luck just does not seem very “legendary” to me. It’s kind of like getting a Pulitzer Prize in a box of cereal. Yeah, it was a nice surprise, but you did not work for it, you did nothing to deserve it, it was just pure luck.
  • Worse, if you do not get such a prize, you feel deficient because all your friends got one and you have munched your way through about 100 boxes of Lucky Charms and still have nothing but a sugar high to show for it.
  • Still worse, some of the Pulitzers come with actual monetary awards, and some are just gimmicky little jokes. You of course, want the “really good” Pulitzer, but even when you finally get one in your 101st box of Lucky Charms, it turns out to be just a piece of fancy paper folded up into an origami bird. Whoopty doo.

Other gear. I’ll cover this in my next post, where I’ll talk about things I think Blizz can still reasonably fix in Legion. But some of the gear decisions that do not work for me are:

  • Crafted gear. It is prohibitively expensive to upgrade, and even when you do, you have what is at best mediocre gear. Worse, you can only upgrade soulbound gear, meaning you cannot sell upgraded gear or even craft it for an alt.
  • World quest gear does not mesh well with the gear levels most people have by the time they are regularly running WQs. Except for the odd piece here and there, the WQ gear rewards are seldom worth pursuing, unless you are the lucky type that can reasonably hope for a random upgrade.
  • Order hall gear. Again, by the time a character has done everything necessary to qualify for most of this gear, it is not an upgrade, even with the upgrade tokens.

Professions

In general, I think Blizz has pretty much destroyed any satisfaction I ever enjoyed from professions. This is another design that seems completely RNG/MAU driven.

I think one of the reasons they have done this is because they have undergone one of their signature pendulum swings from a previous expansion. In WoD, pretty much anyone could enjoy the benefits of most professions; in Legion, almost no one can enjoy the benefits of any profession other than the ones they have on their main.

I think the other reason they have done this is as part of a conscious effort to implement Ion Hazzikostas’s pet theory that no one should be able to have a stable of alts that in any way benefits their main.

I am not against doing quest lines in order to level professions, but I think it is going overboard to require a certain play style to do so. In Legion, you cannot level a profession — especially a crafting profession — unless you not only complete a long quest line, but also run dailies and instances and in some cases raids, and get lucky enough for the RNG gods to award you with recipes. And of course, in order to do this, you must be properly geared which means if you do not have something close to main-character time commitment, you will not max out your profession.

  • One especially galling change in profession quests is that when you gather/craft something to fulfill a quest requirement, you have to give it up. This is unlike most pre-Legion profession quests, where when you gathered or made something, the quest was completed by the act of doing that activity, and you got to use/sell the proceeds of your quest.
  • The whole recipe level concept does not work for me. For one thing, it is hard to keep track of. For another, it is just a way to extend the amount of time required to reach a goal. Some recipe levels are only available from faction vendors, requiring long weeks of rep to qualify for. Some recipes and levels require relatively large amounts of expensive/rare non-related mats. Again, by the time one is able to amass these items, it is seldom worth it to craft them any more, with the possible exception of flasks and food.
  • There was — and still is — a design bias that vastly favors herbalism and alchemy in Legion, and to a lesser degree jewel crafting and enchanting. Nearly all other professions are close to worthless, both for gold making and for assisting other characters in your account.
  • Nomi. ‘Nuff said.

Alts

The points I have made above converge to have an extremely negative effect on alt play. And yes, I know there are people out there who will claim “I only play two hours a day, and I have leveled up 11 alts and maxed out their professions and still raid at the Heroic level with my main” — to which I will cry horse hockey! Anyone who wants to merely level up alts can do so easily. But to gear them even minimally for heroic instances, or to a level for LFR — much less for normal raiding or Mythic dungeons — takes main-level time commitments.

My preferred play style for years — and I suspect it is a fairly common play style — has been to gear up, progress on, and raid with a main, meanwhile leveling and minimally gearing up 6-7 alts for instances, guild alt raids, and professions. That play style is just not tenable in Legion unless I am willing/able to vastly increase my play time.

Ion Hazzikostas has finally put the mechanisms in place to force everyone to play every character in the approved play style, and any attempt at deviating from this approved style comes at tremendous cost to the player in terms of time.

Summary

I have titled this post “What Blizz got wrong in Legion”, but from Blizz’s point of view I suspect it is considered to be brilliant design. One of their main metrics — MAU — is almost certainly way up. The never-ending story of artefacts and world quests, along with drawn-out quest lines and random awards for professions and legendaries, means quashing the “I’m BOOOOORRRRED!” whines of a certain segment of the player population, even if it is at the expense of players like myself.

As I have said before, Legion is a fantastic expansion for high-end hardcore players and for super-casuals, but it is seriously flawed for those of us in the middle of those two extremes. Like I pointed out in my last post, this does not mean it is a bad expansion, but it does have significant failures that detract from my enjoyment of it. And I bet I am not alone.

My two cents.

Dev interview number 1

Yesterday Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas inaugurated what is promised to be the first of several weekly dev interviews on Legion. While I applaud the concept, I have to wonder:

  • What took them so long? We have just spent a year crawling through a veritable desert, parched for information on Legion, chasing after mirages. A weekly scheduled communication such as this would have made that whole time easier on many of us.
  • How much of what is disclosed in these weekly interviews can we rely on? Not to put too fine a point on it, but Blizz’s history is of telling players whatever is necessary to just shut us up, then feeling completely free to do whatever the hell they want, even if it is exactly opposite of what they said they were going to do. Remember “WoD flying will be in Patch 6.1” and “Garrisons will be completely optional”? As Watcher himself said yesterday, actions speak louder than words, and Blizz’s actions for the past couple of years have not been very reliable.
  • What is the schedule for the rest of the interviews? While we know that next week’s will be on professions, and that there will be one on PvP, it would be nice to have a schedule of what is planned for the next few weeks.
  • How long will they last? Blizz has a history of fits and stops when it comes to regularly scheduled player communication and interaction.

With that, let me just comment on a few parts of the interview that made an impression on me.

First, I liked the format. Not only did Hazzikostas answer actual player questions, but Josh Allen kept it moving so that they covered a lot of ground and answered questions on a wide range of topics. I also like the idea that each week from now on there will be a theme, addressed by devs other than Hazzikostas. Assuming these interviews keep occurring on a regular basis, this is a very positive step by Blizz. I hope they do not stop them just because Legion has launched, because such sessions give players a sense that Blizz is listening to their concerns, even if maybe they might disagree with player sentiment on a particular issue.

Second, I came away with the distinct impression that the next expansion will see even more sweeping changes to classes than we saw for WoD and will see for Legion. I base this on Hazzikostas’s comment that they are looking at the entire combat system, that stat squishes are only a band-aid solution to the system’s problems, and that he thinks there are much better ways to design a combat system. Of course, I have no idea what the specifics of a redesign may entail, but it could be so radical as to include such things as the elimination of secondary stats and maybe even primary stats, introduction of a “one size fits all” power metric that changes dynamically with the needs of each class, or who knows what. One thing is sure, though — any change to the combat system will mean mega-changes to classes. (Hopefully to all classes next time, not just hunters and one or two selected dumpee classes…)

Third, I was ever so slightly encouraged that obtaining and leveling artifact weapons will not be so onerous as to effectively preclude attempting it on alts or for secondary specs. Hazzikostas said that the plan is that the rate at which artifact weapons can be leveled will increase as the expansion goes on. This is so that players coming into the expansion late will not feel it is hopeless to try to catch up, as well as to help people with alts feel like artifact talent trees are worth pursuing. It remains to be seen if the change is noticeable to humans or if it turns out to be merely a numeric change that on paper “proves” the leveling rate is faster.

Fourth, I was gratified to hear him say that Legion will be the most “alt-friendly” expansion in some time. Whether or not I believe him, it was at least good to hear that Blizz understands there is player concern about the viability of the alt play style. As someone who enjoys playing alts, especially towards the end of an expansion, I want to believe him, although the trend over the last couple of expansions has been the opposite. Still, we are at heart creatures of hope and I am at heart extremely gullible…

Fifth, as I have predicted all along (sorry to be an insufferable I-told-you-so), flying will not be achievable until well into the expansion. Hazzikostas said it will be in the “middle” of the expansion, and since they are now aiming for 2-year expansions, that means we will not see it until probably summer of 2017.

As an aside, there is a truly awesome item in the beta — and I hope it makes it to live — that really addresses some of the annoying aspects to being ground-bound. It is the Flight Master’s Whistle, which allows you to summon a sort of taxi from the nearest flight point. It will pick you up anywhere you are in the boonies of Broken Isles and transport you immediately to the nearest FP. It has only a  five-minute cooldown, and it is one of the most fantastic toys I have seen in a while. It is currently a reward for attaining Friendly rep with all 4 Broken Isles factions, but in my opinion, Blizz could get a lot of player goodwill by making it more less of a giveaway, easy for all players to get.

Sixth, personal loot changes will allow trading of personal loot if it is not an upgrade for the player getting it. This is a terrific idea, and in my opinion it should make PL the defacto best choice in most circumstances, if for no other reason than that it pretty much eliminates loot drama.

Seventh, there was a discussion of the reasoning behind making Blood of Sargeras BoP. A couple of comments gave me pause. One was Hazzikostas’s rather bland assertion that essentially having one gathering and one crafting profession is the way you should play, and that gathering has been undervalued. As if it Blizz had nothing to do with making gathering professions irrelevant in WoD, as if it was just misguided player choice that caused people to give them up.  Having encouraged people to abandon gathering professions in WoD, now you are reversing yourselves completely and making them almost compulsory, and on top of that you are tsk-tsking players for not making the “right” choice for professions? Shame. (Insert George Orwell’s Animal Farm reference here: “Two legs good, four legs bad.”)

The other thing that struck me about the BoS BoP subject ion the interview was the comment that having critical mats BoP gives “market power” to the crafter. In my experience, this is just not true, because very shortly into an expansion there are always crafters who consider BoP mats to have no cost, even if accumulating them takes weeks, so they quickly begin selling crafted items at vastly undervalued prices. I do not usually rely on selling crafted items to make gold, so honestly if I can buy something cheaply that it would take me weeks or months to craft, I will do so. But I don’t think the “market power” argument holds much water.

Last, I continue to be thunderstruck at Hazzikostas’s insistence that RNG-awarded gear is more fun than gear you actually work at to get, like valor or rep-related gear. Is it fun to be surprised when you get it? Yes, but listen to me, Ion:

Seeing gear drop to seemingly everyone but you time after time after time is not fun, it is demoralizing. Knowing there is nothing you can do about it besides repeating the demoralizing process for god knows how long is not fun, it is annoyingly Sisyphean. Hearing others complain about how awful it is to keep getting Awesome Boots, when you have been trying for them for months, is not fun, it is enraging.

And, in an exasperating leap of logic, he went on to comment about how RNG loot was bad for PvP players in WoD — the implication being it was good for all other players — because “ratings were so gear-dependent”. Oh, the horror for those poor PvP players, to have to depend on RNG for their gear like the rest of us. Boo. Freaking. Hoo. As if gear dependency didn’t exist for PvE players for activities like getting into raid groups. As if RNG-awarded tier gear wasn’t necessary to properly play some classes and specs.

There were quite a few other subjects discussed, but these were the ones that most made me sit up and take notice. These interviews are a great idea — if not especially original in the world of communications — and I really hope Blizz does not abandon them as they have virtually every other scheduled player interaction in recent years.

I am off to start my weekend. You enjoy yours.

Confessions of a ranged DPS

For the past few days, I have been trying to gear up my level 100 combat rogue a bit. It’s been an enlightening experience, I must admit. Before I go on, let me point out that:

  • This is my first and so far only max-level melee character.
  • He is my only existing male alt.
  • I only decided to roll a rogue out of spite, because I have vowed to not play SV hunter in Legion, having said that if I wanted to play melee I would have rolled a rogue. So I kind of felt I had to…
  • I boosted him to 100 once I got to level 60.

So, basically, this is a class that I have absolutely zero idea how to play, and that for the most part has never interested me. But I found I was intrigued by the play style while I was doing his basic leveling, and so with some time on my hands lately, I decided to try and get to know it better. I visited icyveins to get some pointers on talents, glyphs, rotations, secondary stats, etc. and then headed off to put in some quality time with the target dummies.

My plan was to gear him up as best I could with Baleful and crafted gear before venturing into instances or LFR. This turned out to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. It took me two days to wade through the pros and cons of dual wielded weapons, specifically how to deal with the varying opinions on main hand versus off hand weapon speeds. In the end, though I doubt it will make any real difference at my level of play, I went with having 3 crafted weapons — two slow ones and one fast one — and making a Blade Flurry macro that switches to MH fast/OH slow when I engage BF. Otherwise I opt for slow weapons in both hands. I really have no clue if this is useful or not, and I note that Ask Mr Robot always wants to insist I equip the fastest weapons in both hands, but I am ignoring him.

(Of note, the fiery visual effects of Mark of Warsong on my dagger/axe/hammer are undeniably cool!)

The rest of initial gearing was uneventful. I used up my stash of Baleful leather gear and got maybe 3 optimal stat combos, the rest are sub-optimal but still a vast improvement over my boosted green 640 set. I had enough apexis crystals to put all my Baleful gear up to 695, but haven’t upgraded them any further as I don’t have much valor yet. My weapons take up 2 of my crafted slots, and I am still debating about the best use of the third. My helm is my only remaining green, so I may go with that. There is also the conquest PvP route for some useful gear — I already used that trick on my second ring, and may go that way for a helm, not sure yet.

My next challenge was to finish silver proving grounds so I could start on my legendary ring. This, too, proved more complicated than I had anticipated. I have said before that PG have dismally failed as a concept that had a lot of potential, and I have pooh-poohed them as a useful gate to heroics. But I am not so sure after my recent experience there.

Recall that for silver, you have to defeat 8 waves of mobs in timed sequences. I had spent enough time with target dummies that I had no real problems with the first 6 waves, but the last two stymied me for quite a while. (Hours, not minutes, but beyond that I am too embarrassed to say…) I have to admit that the process I went through to finally finish really did help me to become more proficient with my rogue, especially with movement mechanics. So I suppose for someone clueless as to how to play their class and spec (like I was), PG do have some marginal utility. But the key word is “marginal” — there are more efficient and less frustrating ways to teach class basics — and I see that Blizz, realizing this, just announced there will be no PG in Legion. Yay.

So, armed with my huge 689 ilevel and PG-induced overconfidence in my proficiency, I ventured into Sky Reach normal to complete the initial part of my ring. My gear level carried me through easily.

Putting off the round of three required heroics for the next ring step (I detest 5-man pugs), I decided to jump into HFC LFR. The experience was not bad — at least I did not get kicked for disgraceful DPS, and no one even made any snide remarks — but it certainly gave me a completely different view of every boss and trash mob.

Really different.

The thing that was especially enlightening is how much less of the fight I could see and/or keep track of as melee. I am used to ranged after all, and especially with mobile hunters you can see pretty much everything that is going on in a fight. What I mostly saw as melee was butts. Butts and distracting seizure-inducing visuals cluttering up my whole screen. I found that I needed to keep my camera at a fairly close distance in order to see my rogue and determine if the boss or my targeted mob had turned and was now behind me instead of the other way around. I could not tell if I was doing any damage at all if I couldn’t see myself, but in order to do so I had to zoom in so far that I almost couldn’t see anything else.

Maybe this will change as I get more melee experience, but I did not like the effect. I have always had a lot of respect for melee fighters, and now I have even more. I still think ranged damage dealers have the easiest time of anyone both in groups and solo, which is why I am puzzled as to why more damage dealers don’t select ranged.

The other big thing I noticed as melee is that if the tank is not especially competent and cannot keep the boss away from fire, melee has almost no place to go. Tanks may survive standing in bad, but melee — especially leather melee — not so much. The choice is run out of melee range in order to survive or keep hitting and hope you can find a safe couple of pixels and that the healers have good aoe heals for the melee group. (Which reminds me, I may experiment with sorting my Healbot groups into ranged and melee on my healers, might help me respond better to boss mechanics.)

Anyway, I will probably keep at my rogue, even though combat spec will morph into outlaw spec, greatly changed, in Legion. (I seem to have a gift for picking specs Blizz hates and feels compelled to drastically change every few months…) Though I don’t think I will ever be a great fan of melee as a play style, I am definitely benefitting from getting a different perspective. This can only make me a better ranged damage dealer, I think.