Argus – second week

I am going to reserve my final opinion on Patch 7.3 and the whole Argus zone until after next week, which will give us nearly all we are going to see with it, but I have to say so far I am pretty underwhelmed. Absent some hugely fun new thing next week, I cannot see myself spending much time there once my main has gotten the rep to be allowed to buy some of the quality of life gizmos which in my opinion we should have had from the start of the patch. I am mainly talking about:

  • Whistle. Blizz, in its most patronizing and stingy fashion, is allowing us to spend 500 gold to “upgrade” our Legion whistle so that it will work on Argus, but only after we have ground out revered with the Argussian Reach. And just to make sure we get a sufficient amount of misery, they have apparently gone to some pains to ensure it will take several weeks to gather that rep.

I am not at all trying to start another huge emotional player fight about flying versus no flying, but here’s the thing: It is hard to not get the impression that Blizz is doing everything they possibly can to stubbornly dig in their heels and force players into slogging about on the ground for as long as they can in as many places they can, through as many obstacles and mobs as they can manage.

It is as if, having let the flying toothpaste out of the tube years ago, they spend every resource possible trying to cram it back in. They clearly hate that players can fly in the game, and since their attempt to remove it from all future expansions died a horrible death back in WoD, they are in sullen teenager mode over it, kicking dirt and muttering and pouting every step of the way.

The fact of the matter is — no matter how Blizz may protest it is not the case — that designing zones for flying takes significantly more resources than designing them for ground travel. The WoW franchise is becoming less and less of a moneymaker for Blizz as well as for the larger corporate structure of Activision-Blizzard, and they are cutting more and more resources from it with every patch and expansion. I would honestly have more respect for them if they would just come out and admit this, rather than patronize us with the whole “immersion” excuse or the “we never have flying on an island” one.

I could possibly buy into the “We never allow flying in a patch zone expansion, look at Timeless Isle for example” argument, but the fact is that ever since Mists, Blizz has made us jump through more and longer hoops to get flying for every expansion. (In Mists, as soon as you hit max level you got flying capability.) Part of that strategy is coming home to roost with them on Argus, since completion of the Legion flying quest line for many players came very close to coinciding with the release of 7.3, giving these players the impression that they just got flying only to have Blizz yank it away from them immediately, and causing them — with some justification — to howl in the forums.

Blizz was not required to implement flying in the game in the first place, but they did so in order to increase their player base and ultimately their bottom line. It was a business decision that they thought was appropriate at the time. Fine. But I recall that some devs, like Greg Street, warned there would be no going back once it was done, and that is absolutely the case. They are stuck with it, try though they might to throw a continuous tantrum over it and push its implementation further and further away with every expansion.

Argus is not Timeless Isle, nor is it Quel’Danas. (And for the record, the late patch zone in WoD, Tanaan, allowed flying, just sayin’.) In my opinion, Blizz should have designed it with some relatively short path to flying, if for no other reason than they were such dicks about the quest line for Legion flying. But they didn’t, and it will not happen now. But for crying out loud, do they have to also be mega-dicks about the lousy whistle?

  • Permanent augment rune. As was done in Tanaan, there is a permanent augment rune available for purchase once you become exalted with Army of the Light. The good news is, it is a lot easier to get rep with this faction than with the Argussian Reach. The bad news is, even after you become exalted, the damned rune costs 45,000 gold.

Yeah, I know there has been huge inflation in the game. (I won’t indelicately point out Blizz caused this themselves when they had to resort to massive gold giveaways in WoD just to bribe people into playing. Okay, I will. Yet another bad decision they cannot now undo and so are making players suffer as a result.)

But 45,000 gold for a rune? The current Defiled Augment Rune goes for about 150 gold on my server, and I suspect as more people shell out for the permanent rune the temp one will take a real nosedive in value. You can buy literally hundreds of temp runes for 45,000 gold. (300 at 150g, 450 at 100g, 900 if it goes down to 50g which is I think likely.) And as far as I know, LFR will keep awarding them, so I do not anticipate a shortage.

I have plenty of gold, but something in me balks at spending 45k for a damn rune that I will use only for raids. It just smacks of price gouging, and I do not like it, nor do I see why Blizz has priced it that way PLUS gated it behind rep. It is a mean-spirited “gotcha” that feels like someone is going “BWAAHAHA! Let’s make the little boogers work their asses off for it! My bonus goes up the higher we can force our MAU!”

Let’s see, what else am I underwhelmed about on Argus so far? Oh yeah, invasions. I honestly do not see myself doing very many of these. So far, the loot has been non-existent for me, and to be honest they are not really that fun. I really enjoyed the ones at the end of WoD, loved flying off to a place in old Azeroth to join in with dozens of other players, liked that even low level alts could do them and get really decent gear, liked that they had a set pattern of beginning, middle and end phases. I think a lot of people really enjoyed them.

So why, given a winning design, did Blizz feel compelled to “improve” on them, pretty much destroying much of the fun in the process?

The Argus invasions feel like just another daily or weekly quest, with worse loot potential. And getting an alt attuned to even get to Argus is no quick or easy thing. I put a new alt into the zone over the weekend — it had already been on Broken Shore, so I was not starting from zero. Even so, it took me well over 2 hours (closer to 3) to jump through all the Argus hoops to get to invasions, not to mention opening up Mac’Aree. And this process, I assume, will get even longer once the Week 3 requirements kick in. With WoD invasions, I could just hop on a (flying!) mount and jump into the fray with an alt. And once in the invasion scenario, I could fly madly from point to point, taking part in areas of the scenario I thought I could be most useful in. It was great fun. Argus is just not.

And I am not even talking about the Greater Invasions. I have done several of the Greater ones, either for myself or to help out guildies, and they are insipid and boring (the Greater invasions, not the guildies…). They have less complex phase structure than the WoD ones, they are not fun to gallivant around in, the bosses are only tedious not interesting, and the loot really stinks. On top of that, you have to participate in smaller ones every week just to be able to do them, and more often than not fight your way through mobs just to get to the portal.

Nope. I’ll do a few initially, I am sure, but there is absolutely nothing in these that makes me want to spend more time on Argus. I thought the demon invasions in Legion were a poor shadow of the fun of the WoD invasions, and I think the Argus ones are even worse.

So I am waiting until the reset Tuesday, hoping there will finally be something that makes Argus a desirable location for me. But I have not seen anything so far, and honestly I am not especially optimistic.

What Blizz got right in Legion

It is, thank the stars, finally 2017. With the new year, hopefully, comes new wisdom and new insight, understanding that slowly insinuates itself into your brain, and then either rests there comfortably until you need it, or explodes and spreads shrapnel ideas all over your psyche.

I had one such thought grenade a couple of days ago, which I am now going to reveal to you. Brace yourselves.

Ready?

Legion is only four months old.

I know, right? Because it seems to me that this expansion has been around forever. It is as familiar and old-hat to me as WoD was by the end. I have the leveling process down to a system, I have a routine for my main, I have set items I sell to make gold, I know the general profession-leveling path, I am comfortable with the mechanics in dungeons and raids. Even the fact that the content changes regularly seems routine — I just incorporate it into my normal schedule of world quests or whatever. In short, Legion has become the normal game for me.

It is an interesting lesson in perspective. Legion will officially last 18-24 months, and I am betting it could stretch into 30-36 months. Which means that we still have something like over 80% of the expansion to go. (Okay, 78% if you believe it will be an 18-month expansion, but if you do, I have some prime real estate in a Florida swamp to sell you.)

If Legion were a human, it would be a young adult. And that means it will certainly change — possibly mellow — as it ages, but its basic character is pretty well set. With that in mind, my next few posts will examine what I think works in the expansion, what things don’t work in it and likely never will, and the things that might work if Blizz decides they want to put forth the effort to fix them.

Today being close to New Year’s, and therefore an inherently optimistic time, I’ll start with the things I think Blizz got mostly right this time around. There is a lot of good news here, and honestly if I had to give an overall grade to Legion at this point, it would be a solid B. These are just some examples, you may have others.

Zone scaling. This was a brilliant innovation for the game, and I hope Blizz keeps it for future expansions. It gives players a lot of leveling options that help keep boredom at bay. My initial worry about scaling was that it would make all travel at level 110 annoying, because all mobs would be difficult to deal with, but that has not turned out to be the case — increasing gear levels eventually render most world mobs trivial. This is as it should be, I think, and I hope Blizz does not go berserk “fixing” this zone scaling approach. It works, leave it alone.

World quests. I really like these. I like the idea of a whole bunch of daily quests where you can pick what you want to do based on what your needs are. Need rep or want loot chests — do the emissary and/or faction quests. Want Artifact Power or Order Hall Resources — do the WQs that award those. Need some gear or profession mats — yup, there’s a quest for that. And if you need a day off, just blow them off, most of them will still be available the next day. Are there some tweaks that could be applied to WQs? Sure, but in general I consider them a great addition to the game.

DungeonsI have to admit I am not a big fan of Mythic+ dungeons, mainly because I do not like timed competitions. I run them from time to time, but I am not as rabid about them as some of my guildies, and I have not gone beyond a +9. Still, I think they are a positive part of Legion. Along with regular Mythics, they tend to encourage guild activity, which in my mind is always a good thing. I actually like the idea that you have to organize a group to run them, I think it encourages more responsible play than auto-organized group finding. The fact that they give pretty decent gear (if you are lucky) is also a plus.

“Content”. This means different things to different people, but so far I think anyone complaining about its lack in Legion would be hard put to justify their claim. In addition to WQs and dungeons, there are raid tiers and timely mini-tiers, new zone quest lines, order hall quest lines, a solid patch schedule, profession quests, artefact appearance quests, and more. Blizz certainly took to heart the “no content” criticism of WoD, and in what some may say is typical, went overboard in correcting it. Still, whether you like all of the content or not, and even if you feel overwhelmed by it, there is no denying Legion has plenty of it. We got “content” out the wazoo, people.

I am sure there are a lot of different opinions on the raid content so far, but I am relatively happy with it. I think Emerald Nightmare was maybe a tad undertuned, and Trial of Valor a tad overtuned at first, but those are minor points. My guild raid team falls somewhere in between casual and hardcore, maybe more like serious semi-casual. We are not a mythic raid team, but we do like to pound away and finish heroic content as soon as we can — we have had EN(H) on farm for several weeks now — and if we can assemble an appropriate 20-man group we can sometimes down a mythic boss or two. So, from that point of view, Legion raids have been good.

Story lines in each zone. I like most of them, and even the ones I don’t like as much seem well thought out and cohesive. Bear in mind I am not a lore person, so if you are, you may disagree with me on this. But I found the story lines enhanced the leveling process and gave me a sense of zone identity I might not otherwise have had. (The exception for me is Suramar, a story line I find cohesive but abhorrent — more on that in a subsequent post.)

Zone art. In a word, terrific. I still don’t think it is as mind-blowing as Pandaria was for me, but it is definitely a Legion winner. I am not a real fan of pink trees and gloomy gas pools and such, so I prefer the Highmountain and Stormheim areas, but I can’t deny that every zone has been beautifully rendered. And Blizz continues its standard of excellence with their attention to detail. Buildings are stunning for their outer structural features as well as for the items adorning the interiors. Locales include, for example, not just snow but grimy patches of it, not just bugs and critters but ones that move and interact with each other, not just grass or sand but renderings that move with wind and water and show not only your footprints but those of pets and mounts and NPC companions. Did they borrow liberally from previous zones? Sure, but for me it all works seamlessly, making each zone come to life.

Transmog system and other quality of life enhancements. Technically, these are mostly pre-patch stuff, but I think of them as a Legion innovations, and I approve of them. The main one that comes to mind now is the transmog system. It just works, so please, Blizz, don’t try to “fix” it in the next expansion. Same with the Legion practice of selecting one of your own mounts for commercial flights from some areas — it’s cute and fun as is.

That awesome whistle. The Flight Master’s Whistle is, quite possibly, the greatest invention in Wow, ever. It eliminates one of the most annoying aspects of the game, namely completing a quest that you have had to fight your way into, only to have to fight your way out of it again, only this time for zero reward, like having to keep paying on a car you totaled a month ago. The whistle even works underwater! In fact, if they would make it work in caves, it would actually be the most perfect piece of gear ever introduced to the game.

There are some other cool gizmos that really enhance the whole ground-bound travel experience. I have a couple of things that instantly transport me to certain cities/settlements in the Broken Isles. There are all the leyline portals in Suramar, and the comprehensive set of portals in Dalaran. There is the grapple hook, which I find fun and quirky — although I have not been able to use the Suramar grapple points yet. And there is the fact that we get a special Dal hearth, along with our regular hearth that we can set to anywhere, and our garrison hearth. Some classes even have a special instant portal to their order hall.

(On the minus side, the “special” eagle flight system for hunters is mainly just annoying. I can’t count the number of times I have used the whistle, only to be instantly transported to some godforsaken mountain top not near anything, and then forced to use a hearth or a series of grapples or a feather or kite to get anywhere reasonable. About the only time I find it useful is to get near the Dreamgrove for an easy ride to Emerald Nightmare for raids.)

All in all, travel is becoming easier and easier even without flying or without being a mage. Which of course makes me worry. (Remember, I am a school-trained worrier.) I still see Blizz’s ultimate goal for flying to be to eliminate it for all but classic zones. The fact that they retreated in the face of massive blowback when they tried to do this in WoD does not, in my opinion, mean they have given up on the idea. Rather, they have adopted a frog-in-the-pot-of-water approach. They will keep introducing ground travel conveniences while at the same time making flight available later and later in an expansion and requiring more and more onerous achievements to get it. Legion may in fact be the last expansion to permit flying. From that point of view, The Whistle may be an evil, evil contraption!

I am sure I have missed some great features of Legion, but these are the major ones. Next up: My picks for the not-so-great features, the ones I consider big design mistakes.

Patch 7.1 is a solid B+

Blizz’s first major patch to Legion went live yesterday, and all things considered it seemed to be a relatively smooth rollout. There were some of the usual technical glitches and problems with addons, and the inevitable widespread bugs with mechanics, but overall it was a lot smoother than some others we can probably all remember. And judging by dev tweets and some of the official bug report forums, Blizz is hard at work to correct the problems. (Whether my B+ grade holds or not will depend on how efficiently they can resolve some of the more annoying or play-stopping bugs, and how responsive they remain to them.)

Nothing I experienced was game-stopping, and we were able to run our regular raid last night — usually an iffy proposition on patch days. The main problem I had was with some addons (not sure which ones, possibly an outdated Deadly Boss Mods) causing my frame rate to sink to a whopping 8 fps inside the Emerald Nightmare. In desperation, I disabled all but a few addons and was fine for the rest of the night. I’ll sort them out and find the problem one tonight.

And remember, this major patch is in place a short 8 weeks after the expansion went live. It is a pretty remarkable achievement for Blizz, a vast improvement over the sad first patch (6.1) to WoD. For me personally, all the new content actually seems to be too soon, but I know there are many out there who welcome it.

As I mentioned in my last post, I am not all that excited about Return to Karazhan, and so the attunement requirements are not high priority for me. I expect, though, to see a couple of Karazhan groups forming in my guild tonight, as some people are very hyped about it.

I was happy to find some new World Quests, a couple of which were a lot of fun. And whether or not it was a glitch, it was kind of a nice surprise to see three emissary quests pop up in one day. I really like the whole WQ setup in Legion, and I think when we look back on the expansion they will be one of the highlights.

I tried out the new account-wide “Uniting the Isles” completion and it did finally work for me, although it took a couple of tries. My druid had the original quest from Khadgar, so I had to drop that quest, log completely out of the game (just logging out and back in on the character did not work), log in to my main, then log back in on my druid. After that, I went to Khadgar, got the yellow question mark, and was given my whistle and could see WQs. I suspect the process will be quite a bit easier for most people.

I gave the new hunter Trailblazer talent a try. It seems like it is OK for solo questing, but not very useful for raiding where I think Posthaste (even with its 38% nerf) still is the best choice. However, there is an interesting philosophical change here. With the old Aspect of the Cheetah, the mechanic that removed it (if you had the glyph) was beyond your control — if you took damage, it got turned off, end of story. With the new Trailblazer, you have positive control over it — stop attacking for 3 seconds, and it kicks in. This still does not seem like it will be useful in raids or dungeons, but time will tell.

There is also what is becoming a real nuisance, in my opinion — the ridiculous requirement for a tome of some sort in order to change talents if not in a rest area. I don’t know how it is for other players, but I rarely if ever change talents except when I am in a raid. Blizz has configured bosses such that they clearly require one talent over another for certain classes, and those are the only times it seems beneficial to switch talents. I still am at a total loss for why this stupid inane moronic talent-switching mechanic was levied on us. Honestly, the only thing I can come up with is that most of the Blizz devs have transcription as one of their professions, and they needed to give themselves a good way to make gold. Because it is still expensive to buy the talent switching tomes — they cost several hundred gold apiece, and I can easily go through half a dozen in one night of raiding. It just seems to be a useless “feature” added for the sheer annoyance factor.

I did notice some number of changes — some fairly significant — between the live patch and what had been covered in patch announcements, both from Blizz and on third party data mining sites like Wowhead. Data mining, as we all know, is usually hit-or-miss, but I was a little surprised that there had not been more intensive reporting on the PTR changes over the past few weeks. (Also, a little more communication from Blizz would have been nice, along the lines of “Proposed changes X and Y for warriors have not worked out like we hoped, so that is why you are not seeing them in the live patch. We’ll continue to look into how to fix mechanic Z.”)

I suppose there is an element of fatigue involved — after long months of Legion Alpha and Legion Beta and baseline Legion PTR, there may not be a lot of people eager to do much serious testing of a patch so soon. Fewer people on the PTR means less volume testing, which means there will likely be more undiscovered bugs that only become visible when the patch goes live. And low PTR participation may end up being an unintended consequence of the push for more content — if there is a surfeit of content, people may not be bored enough or have enough spare play time to spend time on the PTR. I don’t know if low PTR participation is even a problem for Blizz, but it does seem like something they should consider.

Meanwhile, Patch 7.1 is live 8 weeks to the day after a new expansion, the rollout was adequate, and there is some very nice new content. Go have fun!

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.