2018 – My year of alts?

I hope everyone had a great holiday. I certainly did, but I won’t deny it is good to be back to a routine. The house is back to its normal non-decorated self, all the bad-for-you Christmas cookies and fudge and such have been gobbled or otherwise disposed of, the relatives have gone home, the parties are over, and there is no need for constant cheer.

O, comfortable rut, how I missed you!

Anyway, I did get in a lot of WoW play time while on break. Mostly I took the opportunity to develop a few of my alts that have been so badly neglected this entire expansion. It occurs to me that our raid team will soon — probably within a month — be done with Heroic Antorus TBT, and then things will essentially be set on “coast” for the remainder of Legion. Sure, we will still raid a couple of times a week, but after progression it is mainly just fun runs and getting Ahead of the Curve for non-raiders, along with some gear. I doubt if we will be doing any Mythic attempts, as once we finish Heroic (currently 8/11) it gets hard to corral enough core raiders to get to 20. So I am not holding my breath on that, and honestly I am kind of looking forward to a respite.

I think we are in for a pretty long “content drought” this year — typical end-of-expansion doldrums. It seems unlikely that we will see Battle for Azeroth before Blizzcon. We do not even have a hint of an Alpha much less a Beta yet, and we are probably still a month or two away from Patch 7.3.5. Also, I cannot imagine Blizz going into a Blizzcon without something big to hype. So my main bet is that we will have Legion for most of the rest of 2018.

Still, I have to admit that Blizz has surprised me with their delivery of Legion content. I may quibble with their definition of the term, but I cannot deny that they have carried out the exact schedule they promised. If anything, Legion has given us too much to do. It is because of this recent history that I think there is a (slim) possibility that Blizz has a surprise or two left for us in Legion. Also, I do not think Ion Hazzikostas wants to risk players leaving Legion with a bad taste in their mouths because it dwindled to nothing for months on end.

I hope they are not banking on everyone being content to level their new allied race character for 8-10 months. (Although the cynic in me says that slowing down the leveling process while at the same time offering new races to level is absolutely not a coincidence…)

If there are Legion surprises (and remember I think it is a long shot), what they may be are anyone’s guess. After 7.3.5 there could be one or two small “fun” patches before we get 8.0 in preparation for BfA. These could offer some quality of life fixes, some new scenario-type activities, maybe some new timewalking stuff, maybe even a mini-raid.

Additionally, I think there is a tiny chance that all the WoW prognosticators and pundits are wrong, and we will get BfA much sooner than anyone expects. I have no real basis for this, but it still tickles at the back of my brain that there seems to be a very fuzzy line between BfA and 7.3.5 development. Patch 7.3.5 may be a Trojan horse of sorts, a way to sneak in a lot of BfA design and testing without actually admitting that is what is going on. If Blizz can limit the new things that a Beta has to test (and remember they have said that BfA will have very few major class changes), they might be able to bring the new expansion to live servers faster than most of us anticipate.

But as I said, both the “Legion surprise” and “early BfA” theories are extreme long shots. What is more likely is that we will have Legion for nearly all of 2018, with only allied characters to keep us busy. Which means I will have a nice long time to immerse myself in my favorite part of every expansion: the “content drought” period most people hate. With that thought in mind, I spent a good deal of my break time playing my alts.

Anyway, back to my alts. I am not even close to being an altoholic. I have basically a main and 7 alts, plus a bank alt and usually one or two low level alts that I play for a few days and then delete. Of my 7 alts, all but one are level 110, with varying gear levels. All are Alliance and all are on the same server. I have tried Horde alts from time to time but just do not enjoy that whole fantasy. Also, I have no dwarf or Draenei characters. If I had to pick a favorite race, it would be a tossup between Pandaren and Night Elves. All but one of my alts are female. My alt specs are either damage dealers (slightly more ranged than melee) or healers, no tanks.

My holiday surprise came when I spent some time on my mage. Regular readers will recall that I have struggled with mage play style forever, and that I tend to have a sort of love-hate relationship with the class. I stereotype it as a stand-still-and-cast class, and cloth-squishy to boot. So imagine my delight when I discovered that my fire mage is very mobile, and that she has some considerable defensive abilities. I am having a blast with her, trying now to get her gear level to a point where I can jump into a few of our guild alt runs in Antorus. I have always said I think fire mages have the best visuals in the game, and I think that even more now that I am actually playing one.

I get enormous satisfaction from a streak of Heating Up and Hot Streak procs, and these happen very frequently. Thinking about it, the absence of that is one of the things that makes BM hunter play so dull — you just do not get any fun procs to really get your adrenaline going. Back in the day, the thing I absolutely loved about SV hunter was getting that Lock and Load proc — it was pure joy when it went off and BAM! you knew you had a chance to do some very significant extra damage. It just never got old. The puny, yawn-inducing almost-unnoticeable procs you get on BM these days do not even come close. Thanks again, Blizz, for sucking the fun out of huntering.

I actually hope Blizz takes its time with Battle for Azeroth. I will be perfectly happy to play a lot of my alts for several months. As my game time is usually limited to around 20 hours a week or so, I have not so far had the luxury of both maintaining a raiding main and doing end game play on my alts. I am hoping 2018 allows me to give my main a rest and spend most of my game time on some of my favorite (and possibly even new) alts.

The way home

This post contains a few spoilers. Skip it if you are sensitive to that kind of thing.

I am frequently very hard on Blizz, especially when it comes to what I believe is their inability to carry out a clear and cohesive expansion, one where each individual piece contributes to a well-stated strategic message for the expansion. What often starts out as a nicely-encapsulated picture nearly always disintegrates into an everything-bagel mashup in which it seems like every dev with a half-baked idea gets to throw something into the mix, regardless of how — or even if — the idea is synchronized with the stated theme. And in the coming months, as we learn more about Battle for Azeroth, I am sure I will continue to berate Blizz for this constant shortcoming.

But today I am going to hand out a compliment: At least so far, I think Blizz is doing a bang-up job of preparing the path back to Azeroth for us.

In past expansions, we do not really get any prep for the next one until the very tail end. Usually the prep is in the form of a major patch that among other changes introduces a quest line or two, or some mechanism, to transition to the next expansion. In WoD, we had the worldwide invasion scenarios, for example. These were designed pragmatically to allow us to catch up alts and prepare them minimally for Legion (and also to give us something to do in the waning days of WoD), but story-wise they laid the groundwork for the Legion experience and ultimately taking the battle to the Legion’s own planet.

In the current expansion, I am seeing a subtle difference in that approach. I have no information on the release date for BfA, but most prognosticators think we are about a year out from it. Yet even this far out we are getting some major transitional mechanics for it, and the data mining for 7.3.5 tells us there are a lot more such transitional mechanics in the works.

Already, for example, the defeat of Argus in the new raid tier removes the ugly scar of the broken planet from Azerothian skies. (I assume this will be visible to all players as soon as the final LFR wing opens.) No longer does this epic fight for our survival consume every waking moment, no longer are we reminded of the looming danger every time we glance at the sky.

Patch 7.3.5 goes further. We will see our artifact weapons start to phase out. We will see the groundwork laid to establish homes for the Allied Races, thus placing Legion’s Broken Shores zones into historical context as the place where we met and formed relationships with these new races.

So, probably a full year out from BfA, we are getting the sense that the war is almost over. We won. And now, fulfilling the dream of soldiers everywhere, we are going home. As in real wars, though, going home is not an immediate thing. There is equipment to clean and repair and turn in, there are a million administrative tasks to complete before we can actually get on that plane, there are security promises to allies that must be fulfilled. But there is an undeniable change: We are no longer engaged in a struggle for our very existence, we have emerged victorious from those dark days, and we are ever so slowly bound for home.

I do not know if this kind of attitude shift was Blizz’s intent, or if more practically they just need to start surreptitiously testing some of the major planned BfA changes and 7.3.5 seems like the ideal cover for it since the beta seems nowhere close yet. Whatever the reason, from an immersion™ standpoint, it works for me. I really feel like we have won a long campaign, and now we can go home with our heads held high. If Blizz can maintain this trend, the transition to BfA will be in my opinion the smoothest ever in the game. (Of course, I think we should go home to our own player housing, but that is a complaint for another day.)

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

(Requiem, by Robert Louis Stevenson)

“Going home” evokes some of the warmest emotions anyone can express in any language.  It feels good. Nicely done, Blizz.

Crossing the line in Legion

Blizz’s announcement yesterday that they are effectively making full artifact trait progression not only pointless but impossible got me to thinking. In every expansion I reach a point where I put my main into a “maintenance” mode and move my game into end-of-expansion pursuits — going after achievements I want, playing around with my alts, finding isolated spots and just chilling, spending a lot of time gathering mats while listening to music. At such a point in an expansion, I still do some raiding and gear improvement on my main, but that no longer is the focus of my game.

Last night I realized I have hit that point in Legion. I reached Concordance on my main, and there is no cost benefit to further pursuit of artifact power. As I have no intention of playing any hunter spec except BM, I am not interested in developing any other hunter artifact weapons.

The only reason I have been doing world quests on my main for the last few weeks is for a chance at legendaries and for AP, but those rewards are no longer applicable. I have more legendaries than I can use, so the prospect of getting another no longer motivates me. Blizz’s coy little tricks with artifact traits have rendered AP valueless to me now. I am exalted with all factions, and the rewards for extended rep stink, so rep is not useful to me. I have about 200k order hall resources, over 300 Bloods of Sargeras, close to 3k leather, and way more gold than I can ever spend. Gear rewards from WQs have long since ceased to be of interest to me — I am relatively well geared at ilvl 908 (904 equipped, because of Blizz’s bizarre secondary stat mechanism that makes my 860 and 880 trinkets more useful than the 900+ ones I have). In short, I am done with world quests on my main, other than the odd one here or there. Even emissary quests hold no value for me now.

I will likely continue to pursue the hunter class mount, and I will raid with my team when the next raid tier comes along, likely getting some better gear in the process, but other than that, I am done with this expansion on my main. In a normal environment, I would try to max out my main’s professions, but Blizz has made that close to impossible with their dice-roll approach and their introduction of the tiered crafting system — the minimal additional benefit from level 3 recipes is not worth the time required to get lucky enough to get them. In any other expansion, this would be the point at which I start crafting high level items to sell on the auction house, but again Blizz has made that too painful to be a meaningful pursuit — the crafted legendaries, which are useless anyway except as stat sticks, require completion of an entire quest line, including certain mythic dungeons, for every legendary you wish to craft. Something in me rebels at that kind of blatant manipulation, and I just refuse to do it.

Even when we get 7.3, I do not anticipate significant changes in my feeling of being done with Legion. Yes, there will be some new quest lines and possibly some spacey stuff people will oooh and aah about, but I do not see the new planet zone in 7.3 as being significantly different from Broken Shore. In fact, my prediction is that it will be Broken Shore remastered — same daily grind, some temporary world bosses, some kind of new currency to grind for, some sort of random space ship bombardment, possibly a new dungeon and raid in the area, etc. I give Blizz credit that they do often come up with creative ideas, but unfortunately once they do, they drive them into the ground, using and reusing them for months or years regardless of how players receive them. Garrisons is a perfect example — players hated them, yet Blizz doubled down on them with patch after patch in WoD and even recycled them as class halls in Legion.

7.3 will be Broken Shore with a different artistic rendering. If I am wrong, I will happily eat my words. But I am not wrong.

The thought that strikes me about reaching my “the expansion is basically over” point is that we are still only 9 months into Legion, earlier by some months than I have reached that point in any other expansion. This seems ridiculous in an expansion widely touted as the “more content than you can handle” expansion, the one Blizz presented as “we heard you loud and clear in WoD and believe us we are not making that mistake again!”

But here’s the thing: I am done with Legion because there is no chance of achieving the normal game goals I set for my main each expansion. No, let me amend that statement: there is no point in pursuing my normal expansion goals any further because their completion relies on a lottery system, and in the case of my weapon, completion is simply not possible. There is almost nothing I can do to work towards those goals in a meaningful way.

Legion, for all its touted “content” and innovation, has revealed its dark side — players may only aspire to the goals Blizz sets for them, and they must pursue those goals in a strictly prescribed manner. Any deviation will almost certainly delay, if not prevent, their attainment. Anyone who does not like this is free to set their goals lower or abandon them altogether. Blizz seems to think quantifiable content is all that is needed to make a game great, and they have sacrificed player options in favor of it. They have lost sight of the fun players have when they can set a goal, work towards it in the way they find challenging or exhilarating, and achieve it. Content is fine, but from my worm’s eye view, being able to chase a dream is better.

As demoralizing as this is, it does not mean I am about to abandon the game. (Yeah, I know, that is sad.) As I have said before, I am someone who actually likes the latter part of expansions, because it is then that I permit myself to just be free to do whatever the heck I want to do, with no thought that I am letting others down because of failure to gear up a main or something. Normally, of course, I go into this end stage of an expansion feeling good because I have met my goals for my main and can now move on. In Legion, the feeling is more acceptance that such achievement is not possible, but move on anyway. Still, the end result is pretty much the same.

Like all metaphorical lines in life, you are usually not aware of the exact moment you step over them. But sooner or later you know for sure that you have crossed them. I have crossed my Legion line.

End-of-expansion meandering (“Not all who meander are bored”)

(If you are looking for the post “Stop digging!”, it is not here. Due to huge fumble fingers on my part, it was a draft  erroneously published, then withdrawn within one minute. Of course, the vagaries of updating insured that it was immediately updated in the Internet referral pages, whereas sometimes it can take a half hour or more to update. But when you want it to lag, of course it will not.) 

We had some rain and gloom over the weekend, so I spent a fair amount of time logged on. More than I usually do on a weekend. And it occurred to me that yes, it is now officially the end of an expansion. I know this because I play the game very differently at the end than I do at the beginning and middle of an expansion.

I am not talking so much about actual activities — although that is definitely part of it — as I am about a whole psychological approach to the game. It’s nothing I consciously do, it is just something that happens, like a switch that gets flipped in my brain. I usually don’t know exactly when it happens, but at some point it dawns on me that it has happened. This past weekend was that point for me for WoD.

At the beginning of an expansion, I am all organized and efficient. I have spreadsheets (don’t judge), lists, stickies all over my computer, helpful web sites tabbed and ready for reference, weekly and daily goals, etc. Some of this goes away by the middle of the expansion, but I still am quite organized, I keep doing weekly goals, I have checklists, I work to maintain proficiency on my main and major alts, I make sure I am on track with any achievements I am interested in. Most of this is just second nature to me, it is what I do for almost any endeavor. (My spousal unit derives no end of amusement from it, by the way. He calls my Thanksgiving preparations “Secret Plan Overbird: The Invasion of Turkey”, and has been known to have a countdown to T-Day.)

But at the end of the expansion, all that organization goes out the window. My stickies and lists disappear, and I play very much in the moment, doing whatever strikes me as interesting or fun. Mind you, it’s not that I have completed all my expansion goals and checklists, it’s that I just don’t care, they are suddenly and completely irrelevant to me.

So over the weekend I puttered around a lot. I fished on several alts, did a bit of archaeology, ran a couple of low level dungeons on my baby tank, gathered herbs and ore while listening to music. It was relaxing and enjoyable.

I also rolled a new rogue and leveled it to 20 in an hour or so. I have rolled rogues before but never really liked them and ended up deleting them after about level 10. But this time around I am finding the class to be more engaging. So far, I am having a lot of fun with him. (He and my tank are my only male characters, I am sure there is a good post topic in there somewhere.)

As I have mentioned before, I am not really into melee as a play style, but I am thinking my rogue may be the way I get over that bias. For one thing, he is highly mobile, which is a refreshing change from my alts who are casters. (I leveled my Boomkin also this weekend, and it was painful, those long casts really try my patience.) I am a key masher, so I do better at instants, even if they are less individually powerful than the 1-3 second casted ones. I looked at the number of  tools in a rogue’s toolbox, too, and I like the wide range of utility spells they have, kind of like a melee version of a hunter. (And no, this does not mean I am changing my mind on SV hunters in Legion. At least, I don’t think so.)

The main reason I rolled a rogue, though, is for his potential in my profession consortium. (No! This is not planning! It is spontaneous! Really!) One of the very annoying and inexplicable changes Blizz made to WoD was to remove the mechanisms for opening lockboxes from engineering and blacksmithing, leaving rogues as the only way to open them. Not only did they make the alternate mechanisms unworkable for the new lockboxes, but they made them unworkable for every level of lockbox. So, if you still had some BS keys or Eng explosives hanging around from Mists and got a Mists lockbox, in WoD suddenly you had to find a rogue to open them for you.

Really, Blizz? What was the point, I would love to hear the reasoning behind that one.

I am not someone who likes depending on others. I will go to great lengths to be self-sufficient in almost everything. I hate having to ask — either in guild or trade chat — if someone can open my lockboxes. And if I hate doing it once, imagine how much I detest it when you get one of those nested boxes that force you to go back and ask for it to be opened one more time. In fact, I hate it so much that now when I get a lockbox I don’t even bother getting it opened, I just vendor it as is. Thus, clearly the only answer is to have my own rogue.

I have not selected professions for him yet, but I am starting to think he could be my Inscription backup — and eventual replacement — for my mage. I have tried now for a couple of years to learn to play a mage even semi-competently, and I just can’t seem to learn it. I don’t like the squishiness and play style, and I am very, very bad at it. (Which is interesting, because I like my lock, which is also a squishy ranged caster, and I am fairly proficient on it. Just something about mages I don’t get, I guess.) So if I can keep leveling my rogue, I may just go ahead and delete the mage. (It goes without saying that I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to her…..)

With any luck, this week might finally provide something substantive to write about — Q3 Earnings Report from Activision Blizzard, not to mention Blizzcon. Just have to tough it out for a few more days. Hang on, Readers, help is on the way!