Chasing the carrot

I am not what anyone would call an achievement hog (or the other terminology where you leave off the “g”). I do not really go out of my way to check off unfinished tasks in my WoW log. Most of my achievements are there as a by-product of my normal play style, and in any guild ranking by achievement points I am pretty far down the list. I am happy to participate in guild achievement nights, and I am always ready to help others get special achievements, but left to my own devices I generally do not directly pursue them unless they lead to something else I really want. (Achievements to unlock flying would be an example.)

But that does not mean I am not goal-driven. It’s just that I prefer to set my own goals rather than have Blizz list them out for me. As I have explained before in this blog, I set pretty much the same goals for myself at the start of every expansion, roughly:

  • Progress through every raid tier at whatever level of play my raid team is doing.
  • Gear my main to approximately whatever the “max” level is for the level of raids I run.
  • Max out all my professions on all my characters.
  • Level all my alts, at least to LFR minimums.
  • Spend enough play time with my alts to be minimally proficient with them.
  • Develop one or two alts to be able to do normal raid mode.

I get a real feeling of satisfaction when I judge that I have reached these goals.

My frustration with Legion is that, for many of these goals, Blizz has either vastly increased the time necessary to do them, or they keep moving the line to where I can never really feel I have completed them. Both factors tend to make most of these personal goals unattainable. I only have so much play time available, for example, and if gearing up an alt (mainly artifact AP) takes twice as long as in a previous expansion, then I will only be able to gear up half as many alts. (That’s not the actual ratio, but you get the idea.)

But the most frustrating part of all this has been that it is not possible to “finish” my main’s artifact (and thus gear) leveling because Blizz keeps introducing more and more levels of power to it. Consider:

  • They initially told us once we got all the basic traits done and got to the final gold trait, anything beyond that would be minimal and we should not feel we had to diligently pursue it.
  • Then along came a patch and lo and behold they added a whole new set of traits we had to build until we got to “Convergence” on our weapons.
  • But after that, said Blizz, no worries, anything beyond that would be minimal and we should not feel we had to diligently pursue it.
  • Then of course along came patch 7.3, and Blizz once again yanked the football away and pushed us to chase billions and billions of AP every week to fill in — yes, you guessed it — another trait table, this one based on relic slots!

As usual, now they are reassuring us that once we get all relic levels unlocked, any further increases to artifact power are minimal and we should not feel we have to bust our sweet little asses pursuing AP after that.

Mmmmmmm-hmmm. Sure.

This is all old news, of course. We should no longer be surprised when Blizz lies to us time after time. (Remember their progressive lies about the role of garrisons in WoD.) “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” We have all rightly complained a lot about the endless AP grind in Legion, and even Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas seemed to realize it in a couple of oblique comments in yesterday’s dev Q&A.

The thing is, this will not change in Battle for Azeroth. We will not have an artifact weapon, but instead we will have at least 4 pieces of artifact-type gear. The mechanics will be different, but these things will not:

  • We will be required to have one certain piece of gear (the neck piece) in order to even function in the expansion. This is like our being required to have an artifact weapon in Legion. It is not possible to participate in the expansion without it.
  • The neck piece will in effect control the trait tables for at least 3 other pieces of gear. We will have to “progress” the neck piece in order to unlock various traits capabilities for other gear slots. Sound familiar?
  • Our artifact weapon special gear will gain power by our accumulation of massive amounts of artifact power azerite. We will get this by participating in the MAU-enhancing activities Blizz designates. For the entire expansion.

No matter what Blizz says about powering up the new gear, you can take it to the bank that the enhancement process will be never-ending. For anyone wishing to raid or even to do Mythic+ (Blizz’s new stealth raiding activity), there will be no logical stopping points. As soon as there starts to be a slight dip in MAU, Blizz will introduce an entirely new set of powers to be unlocked by diligently chasing more azerite. Count on it.

And so, finally, here is my point: I do not know how much longer I can continue chasing something I can never catch in this game. I am not sure I can reset my brain to give up a set of personal goals that have served me well ever since I began playing WoW. There is a slow burning anger in me that Blizz so cavalierly devalues my goals and my play style, and a growing nugget of rage that not only do they tell me what my goals will be but that they keep moving those goals further down the field. 

No, I am not going to rage quit. I will wait and see what BfA brings. In the big picture, when I engage my logic rather than my emotions, I know it is still an amazing game. I must certainly be having fun with it, because otherwise I would have quit long ago.

But I cannot shake the feeling that each time I log on I am being backed into a smaller and smaller corner, being forced into a play style and set of game activities set not by me but by Blizz. If I may shift metaphors here, I am sick of having a carrot tied to my head so that no matter how fast I run I can never catch it, and I am sick of Blizz telling me a continuous stream of lies about my chances of doing it.

I want the damn carrot, Blizz!

Next week is American Thanksgiving week, and I will be taking a blog vacation during that time to tend to relatives and cooking and football. Look for me back here on November 27th. For those of you who celebrate turkey day, enjoy!

Intermission

There are almost certainly going to be spoilers in this blog for the foreseeable future — if you do not wish to have any pre-knowledge of the next WoW expansion, do not read it.

Blizzcon has come and gone, and we got the next expansion announcement many of us were expecting. Over the next few weeks we will undoubtedly learn a lot more about it, as Blizz gives out more information and the data miners get down to business and possibly as the beta kicks off. There are lots of sites that recap everything we know so far, and I am going to assume you have a basic idea of what was revealed at Blizzcon.

I have not really dug into all the details of what we know, but here are my preliminary and somewhat unorganized thoughts after watching a few of the meatier Blizzcon events about 8.0 (“Battle for Azeroth” — an expansion title certain to be abbreviated as BfA and of course lampooned with endless variations of Big F***ing Something-that-starts-with-A.)

Excitement. Specifically, there was not much of it, either from the dev team or the fans. No gigantic buildup like we had for WoD or Legion. No great unveiling of some cool new enemy, no major changes to baseline game mechanics, no new classes, no new planet. We are going back to Alliance v. Horde and staying on Azeroth.

I do not think this is a bad thing. As I have written before, I am kind of ready for a little break from fighting The Great Battle For Azeroth’s Existence. And I get a nervous tic whenever I hear Blizz talk about “exciting new changes” because lately that seems to have turned out badly. So I was relieved when I did not hear about any Really Big Changes coming in BfA. I watched most of the WoW events while connected with some guildies on Discord, and their overall reaction was pretty much, “Cool about the next xpac, but I am not super excited about it.”

BfA almost seems like an intermission expansion, a sort of place holder that allows Blizz to tweak many of the sweeping class and other changes they made in Legion. So I am kind of excited to not be excited, if you know what I mean. I think this is a good move on Blizz’s part.

Blizz attitude. I was encouraged by the general tone of the devs as they interacted with players and presented panel topics. In particular, I thought the Q&A session was the best we have had in at least a couple of years. The questions did not seem to be cherry-picked for the purpose of Blizz tooting their own horn, the dev panel gave what I thought were very straightforward and realistic answers, and the live questions were for the most part respectful and well-expressed. (With the exception of the idiot who wasted time by asking about the ceilings in raids… But even that was treated with more respect than it deserved and explained in terms of some of the technical camera reasons for it. Bravo, Blizz.)

Learning from Legion. Many of the announced changes were clearly a result of things that had not worked well in Legion, and I was gratified to see Blizz has in fact been listening to players about many of the real current annoyances. One recurring theme seems to be a move away from the extreme spec-unique approach to classes. Not only has this been the underlying cause of a lot of Legion player complaints, but I suspect Blizz found out how unmanageable it is to have what are basically 36 separate “classes”. A few of the changes I thought important:

  • No artifact weapon. The replacement mechanic — a neck piece that is essentially a relic-enabler for certain pieces of gear — echoes the whole 7.3 relic crucible, but Blizz did say that the neck piece will not be spec-unique, that it will work for gear for all specs of a class.
  • Possible gear simplification. I did hear Hazzikostas say something along the lines of gear level should matter, and that it is not cool to have to carry lots of gear around with you, so I am tentatively optimistic that BfA will un-complicate  many of the gear problems we see in Legion.
  • Somewhat related to the above, it seems like the neck-enabled gear will be a replacement for tier, eliminating the horrible Legion system that made old tier more useful than current tier and that forced complicated computer simulations for every possible gear combo.
  • Raid buffs will return. Blizz seems to understand that players like to feel they contribute something special to group efforts, and they as much as admitted that stripping away all raid buffs was a mistake. We will see.
  • When it came to the question of legendaries, at first I understood Ion Hazzikostas to virtually confirm what a terrible idea the Legion version of these had been and say they would not continue in BfA. However, in retrospect, I think there was less clarity than I thought, and I am not sure Blizz is done with bad implementations of legendaries. Still, it seems they do not plan to make legendaries unique to specs, which I hope will be an improvement no matter how they decide to implement them.

There were a ton of other things I both liked and disliked about the new expansion, and over the next few months I am sure I will have more to say about them. Just a quick mention of the ones that caught my attention for now:

  • Bigger backpacks are on the drawing board. Yes, at last we will get a somewhat larger basic bag, beyond the tiny 16-slot one we have had ever since the start of WoW.
  • Some sort of whole-character transmog. I was unclear about this, but apparently there will be some ability to morph certain classes-races into variations of those. Or possibly have pseudo-independent characters of these other races. For example there will be Darkiron Dwarves and Void Elves. It’s not obvious to me why this is so cool, nor under what circumstances it may occur, so stay tuned. Honestly, I missed the whole point of this, so maybe ignore anything I say about it.
  • Flying will be on the same basic schedule as for Legion, so I guess that means something like 6 months into the expansion.
  • A substance called azerite will be the new artifact power — it will enable the magic neck piece and we will grind it forever. Get ready.
  • Esports-friendly activities will continue and be expanded in the form of Mythic+ dungeons and the new Warfront scenarios.
  • Blizz is phasing out the entire PvP or PvE server system. All servers will be both, with a toggle switch players can set to determine under which set of rules they play. (I am assuming this may have similar implications for the dwindling number of “RP” designated servers, but I don’t know that for sure.)
  • There will be 6 new realm character slots added per account.
  • Blizz will have legal, Blizz-controlled Vanilla servers up and running in the foreseeable future. One hopes this will finally shut down the whimpering of the atavistic crowd that cannot seem to come to terms with change, but that seems unlikely. We will see.
  • Eastern Kingdom will be Alliance-controlled and Kalimdor will be Horde-controlled. There will be some “footholds” in each, though — for example, the Exodar will still be Alliance. Also, the starting areas will not change for the races, rather when one gets to something like level 110 the true nature of what happened will be revealed. And yes, Teldrassil has been torched by the Horde, so go back and get your idyllic screenshots now.

The only thing really missing from the entire BfA discussion was timing — we do not know when it may be targeted to go live, nor do we know when even the beta will start. I expect sometime after the first of the year for the beta (or more likely another “special alpha” for the select few), and the expansion going live by around November. Again, stay tuned.

It was definitely an interesting weekend.

Blizzcon. Whee and danke shoen.

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that, for the first time in my WoW life, I bought a virtual ticket to Blizzcon. The only reason I did it is because I wanted the in-game mount they were using as an enticement. Clearly, the ploy worked for some people. I do like the mount, have had some fun flying around in it (not in Argus, of course, because that would be so wrong).

But now I find myself with this virtual ticket to something that I am having a hard time getting very excited about. Kind of like when your gramma gives you $20 and a ticket to the Wayne Newton Comeback Concert Tour for your birthday — you are glad for one part of it, not so sure about the other. Still, you have the ticket so you might as well use it, you think, maybe there will be a wine bar…

In an attempt to generate a little interest in the event, I checked out the official schedule, looking for events I might actually be interested in. The main 2-day schedule calls for something like 40 total hours of actual Blizzard game info sessions on their various franchises, and 70 hours of esports. (I did not actually count the open “community” time, nor did I include the some 15 hours of esports events that happen prior to the opening ceremony.) If you needed any more confirmation that Activision Blizzard is all in on esports, this is it.

Of the game info events, a bit under 8 hours are identified specifically as WoW events. This seems very balanced, given that Blizzard has 5 major IPs/franchises, so I guess at least WoW is holding its own, getting its full 1/5 share of the 40 hours. About half of the WoW-specific events seem like they are just fluffy time fillers, but still, they are WoW-centric, so that is something I suppose.

As far as I know, there hasn’t been much in the way of leaked rumors about any big WoW-related announcements coming in Blizzcon. I guess that could be because Blizz has really clamped down on leaks, or it could just be that there will be no big announcements. I am betting on the latter.

But with only one hour devoted to “What’s Next” in the game, my hunch is that we will get some amorphous description of the next expansion, but no concrete announcement, no expansion name or target date, no information on major new mechanics or changes, etc. Which means my original prediction that Legion will be a 3-year expansion is still viable. Absent very detailed progress on the next expansion, with a beta starting around the first of the year, it seems impossible that we will have a new expansion by Legion’s 2-year anniversary. If I am wrong, I will publicly and happily eat my words.

I really hope the speculation from earlier this summer on the next expansion (Old Gods/Kul Tiras) is not true. I am not sure what would be better, but my gut says almost anything.

And, since I am shamelessly trying to pad this post because I have almost nothing to write about, here are a few links to things I have recently written about the next expansion, in sequential order starting in February of this year. You don’t have to click on them, I am just filling up space. Also setting up a quick reference so after Blizzcon I can go back and verify that either I was brilliantly prescient or epically wrong. 😉

One thing that seems likely is that after Blizzcon we will at least have a general idea of where the next expansion will take place, even if we do not have many details. The real speculation and deep dive data mining can start in earnest then.

Usually my favorite part of Blizzcon is the WoW Q&A, but lately this genre has become little more than a way for Blizz to toot their own horn. I am getting tired of hand-picked questions like, “Can you tell us what part of Argus you like best, and how the team came up with such an awesome idea?” I will probably tune in to watch this year’s session, but I am not expecting it to be very exciting.

So, yeah, only about 10 days until Blizzcon. I am trying to feel the hype but failing at it. Maybe as the time gets closer I will build up a little more enthusiasm. But hey, even if I don’t, at least I have the mount.

Wild theory time

We are coming up on a year of Legion, so it might be a good time to stand back and take a look at it from a little more long-range perspective. And, since I am coming off a short break, indulge myself in some unfounded speculation.

So when I step back and look at Legion, the main question that comes to my mind is, where exactly are we in the expansion? At the start of Legion, then-assistant Game Director Hazzikostas stated that expansions starting with Legion would be 2-year expansions, and that the plan was for new raid tiers to be released every 4-5 months. If Blizz adheres to this plan (and so far it they have done so for the raid tiers), then we are about halfway through Legion and should expect the 7.3 raid tier not later than November and a 7.4 (final) tier around April 2018.

After that it all gets kind of iffy. In theory — sticking to the 2-year expansion model — we should get a fully-developed new expansion going live around September 1, 2018. This would mean a robust alpha/beta/whatever test would have been in place for several weeks by the same time the last raid tier is released, and a PTR should be available not later than June or July of next year.

I would like to believe this is what will happen, but I am extremely skeptical about it all. Blizz’s historical pattern (WoD was a slight but only slight anomaly) has been to announce significant project details of their next expansion at Blizzcon the year before implementation, initiate early invitation-only tests around January that continue for at least 4-6 months, then begin the PTR a couple of months prior to live.

This would mean Blizz should announce the next expansion at this year’s Blizzcon. Of course, they might do that, but we see absolutely zero indication of it — normally there are plausible rumors circulating about such topics shortly after tickets go out. Also, the timeline I described would mean Blizz would be working full bore on a new expansion at the same time as they are still cranking out major new raid tiers for the current one, and I have not seen evidence that they have the resources to carry out such a schedule. What we have witnessed for the last two expansions is that resources get moved to the new one at the expense of anything significantly new for the current one. I am not knocking this, it is just prudent business practice, but I think what it means is that we will not see anything public about the next expansion while Blizz continues to put out new Legion raid tiers.

What this could mean for players is that we will not hear anything official about the next expansion until after the last Legion tier is released. I don’t keep up with international gaming events, but Gamescom 2018 might be a venue that would fit that timeline. Which would mean announcement of the new expansion next summer. Since the typical public development part of a new expansion is about a year after initial announcement, that would mean in effect we would not see the next one until summer of 2019, making Legion in effect a 3-year not a 2-year expansion.

It all depends, I think, on the development resources Blizz has available from now until the end of Legion. But with the other franchises Blizzard is running, I just don’t see WoW getting the lion’s share of them — certainly not enough to go all out concurrently on new Legion tiers and the final stages of a new expansion.

This is all wild speculation, of course. I would love to be wrong, and to be able to welcome a new expansion in about a year. But I think Blizz has set Legion up to be  elastic in terms of longevity, so as to provide themselves with maximum flexibility on the next expansion. Look at the ways they have maintained current content, for example — ever-expanding artifact traits, use of the mythic+ mechanism, world quests, extending professions by adding on new quest lines that usually require older content such as dungeon completions, bringing back classic instances in challenging form, enticing play with things like class mounts, weekly bonus events, etc. They can keep iterating on these themes almost indefinitely.

Additionally, Blizz seems to have found a cheap technical way to add on mini-expansions, a way to give players the appearance of new worlds without the full overhead needed for actual new cohesive zones. The Argus model, with its portal system, seems to be a way to add on almost limitless new “zones” without the need for complex transportation systems or even artwork beyond the immediate ported area. Prohibiting flying in these new mini-areas further lessens the development cost.

As I said, this is all just speculation, I have no inside information about the timing of next expansion or even of the length of Legion. But it seems likely, given Blizz’s history along with their approach to content in Legion, that we will not see a new expansion until late summer/early fall of 2019. I think there is a slight possibility that we could get a next-expansion announcement very early next year — say in the first quarter — and Blizz might make use of the Argus model to fill in the rest of Legion while they work mainly on the new stuff. This might bump up 8.x by 6 months or so, making its live version appear in spring 2019 instead of late summer or fall.

But whatever, I think we are way less than halfway into Legion, and we have 18 months to two years left. Legion is not a bad expansion, and the possibility of two more years of it is not really horrible. Still, I hope I am proven wrong on this, and that by next year at this time we are eagerly anticipating the next expansion going live.

What’s next?

It’s way too soon to start speculating about the next WoW expansion (NWE), so let me speculate about it. There is not much else to write about these days anyway, and it has been a while since I have put forth any crackpot ideas, so what the hell.

Disclaimer: Everything in this post is the product of my warped but robust imagination, I have absolutely no insight into any current or future Blizzard development plans.

In considering what we might see in the next WoW expansion, the process I used was to look at past trends and add in recent game features. I am not a lore buff, so I am not going to address much at all about the background story line — plus, honestly, WoW lore/history seems really only to exist in order to explain game design not the other way around, so I have never been able to get too excited about it. (I know some of you really love it, not disparaging you for this at all, just it is not my cup of tea.)

Location and scaling. There will be new zones. Whether they will be somewhere on Azeroth or — as has been coyly hinted — on another planet is, in my opinion, not important. On the other hand, zone scaling, a huge hit in Legion, will continue in NWE, and I look for it to be expanded in some way. Not sure exactly how, but one idea might be that some legacy zones become scaled, permitting leveled players to revisit and explore them in a somewhat challenging way, making it more fun to go back and finish unfinished or even new quest lines in those areas.

Content. Blizz believes they have finally hit on a winning plan to keep content flowing in Legion — whether this is true or not is a subject for a whole different post — and so NWE will see the same content paradigm. To wit:

  • World quests.
  • Mini-events/holidays.
  • Rapid patches and semi-patches.
  • Continued use — and likely expansion — of RNG as both the carrot and the stick to force more play hours for every facet of the game, from gear to professions.
  • Mythic+ dungeons, expanded in some way. For example, there might be some sort of “plus” mechanism for non-current raids, or add the “plus” concept into weekly timewalker bonus events.

Classes. I do not expect to se any new classes introduced in NWE, but I think we may see some or all race restrictions lifted for class selection. I also think we may see some further spec role changes (not mages, of course, don’t be ridiculous). For example, we might see another spec added to Demon Hunters to give them three. I would not expect it to be a healing spec, more likely would be a ranged spec, possibly using a combination of magic and thrown weapons. In the wishful thinking department, I would like to see SV hunters become a tanking spec, using pets in creative ways to really open up possibilities for some exciting tanking innovations.

I expect to see yet another huge rewrite of nearly every class, because Blizz has demonstrated that they simply cannot refrain from doing this every expansion, even when they are able to achieve a semblance of balance by the end of one. The rewrite will continue the recent trend of making some classes more or less indispensable to certain raid fights, finally driving a stake into the now disfavored notion of bringing the player not the class.

I think Blizz will also place more back-door restrictions on spec flexibility. They will continue to tout how a player can freely switch among all their specs, but they will increase the penalties for doing so, whether by charging gold or by creating restrictive gear or by limiting the times/places it can be done.

I also think we will see a continuation of the trend of “mini specs”. In Legion, we saw the notion of class begin to take a back seat to the notion of spec, as demonstrated most obviously with artifact weapons. In addition, we saw a very distinct differentiation in spec “specialization” emerge based on talent selection, and we saw a very slight but nevertheless active attempt to put some controls on changing that specialization. In effect, I think we saw the emergence of specs as the new class, the concept of class becoming more one of general category, and a growing importance placed on specialty builds for each spec. This trend will continue in NWE, and it will become more pronounced, to the point of identifying players by class, spec, and build specialty — “Single-target destro warlock”, “Bursty MM hunter”, etc.

Gear. First of all — RNG, RNG, and more RNG. Also, the secondary stat mess will continue and possibly get worse, compounded by the inevitable total rewrite of most classes and consequent unforeseen results of overpowered or underpowered secondary stat interactions.

As I alluded to in a reply to a reader comment a couple of days ago, I expect to see some continuation of the artifact weapon mechanism in NWE. Yes, I know Blizz has told us that artifact weapons are a one-expansion thing, but remember they also told us that same thing about garrisons, then gave us mini-garrisons in the form of class halls. We will have some piece of gear in NWE that will require upkeep mechanisms eerily similar to AP and relics and such, because:

  • Too many dev resources have gone into artifact weapons to trash the idea completely.
  • Spec abilities are rather intimately tied to weapon abilities now, and Blizz seems to like the possibility of tweaking abilities by tweaking gear traits.
  • The artifact weapon — or follow-on — plays a rather large role in encouraging players to spend more time in the game chasing infinite upgrades.

As to the whole Legion legendary debacle, who knows? I think Blizz is embarrassed enough by it that we may see legendaries as lottery winnings disappear in NWE, but we may see some return to quest lines for them. I would expect these to be less involved and time-consuming than the ones in Mists and WoD, but still requiring weeks to complete. Moreover, I think we may see options for obtaining more than one legendary per character, once again with the Blizz benefit of extending game play time.

Crafted gear? No clue. Wishful thinking is that it would become relevant again, for all professions, but I don’t know. My suspicion is that it will fall prey to the drive to devalue professions in general. Which leads me to —

Professions. I am not hopeful about this area. I think NWE will give us even more hurdles to professions, and I think Blizz’s inability to see the large picture will once again give us clear winners in losers in the profession lottery, as we saw with for example winner alchemists and loser skinners in Legion. The problem I see with professions is that they are totally tied, in Blizz’s collective mind, to the use of alts. To allow profession leveling and item production for characters not played the same number of hours as mains is to condone the evil practice of having alts support a main. Why this is bad is still a mystery to me, but we have heard that oracle of acceptable game play and approved fun, Ion Hazzikostas, lecture us many times on the fact that, take his word for it, it is evil evil evil. So it must be. So professions will continue to become more and more elusive for characters that do not spend main-level time in game.

Alts. They will continue to be forced into an “other mains” play style temulate. See above, end of discussion.

In short, I expect the next expansion will be a veritable clone of Legion, just different locations and a few changes either for cause or merely for the sake of change. I am not saying if this is good or bad, I am just saying that Blizz considers Legion to have been an unqualified success, they think they have found a winning formula after the failure of WoD, and they are going to stick to it. They certainly have cause for considering Legion to be successful — I agree with them for the most part — but I suspect the formula will wear a bit thin if it is repeated. Furthermore, the tendency for self-congratulations on the success of Legion means it is unlikely Blizz will take seriously some of the major flaws and missteps they committed. They may have gotten the message on legendary gear, but thus far it still seems like they are oblivious to the pain and chaos they caused by their horrible changes to many classes and specs, and I honestly expect them to repeat the same mistake in the next expansion.

What about you? Any predictions for the next expansion? (Tinfoil hat theories also accepted.)