Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.

In the cold light of day

Yesterday I published a short announcement about the fact that WoW Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, after months and months of silence, finally addressed — in very generic terms — the widespread unhappiness hunters have about our class in Legion. I described it as a positive sign. I still think it is a positive sign, but there are some significant events that must happen for me to keep that opinion.

First, the positive aspects of the announcement:

  • It was a substantive communication, one that outlined a plan — sketchy, but a plan nevertheless — for making the hunter class whole again. The base plan is: low hanging fruit (numbers/spec balancing) first, then talent trees, and finally spec identity and play style issues.
  • It was an actual communication, a huge change from the months-long silent treatment we had been subjected to.
  • He admitted that hunters underwent some of the most drastic class changes in Legion, that the devs had not followed up on the complex cascade of changes such a rewrite requires, and he said that they fully intend to address this shortfall in this expansion.
  • He acknowledged that the source of most angst among hunters is not damage numbers, but overall class feel.
  • He dropped a big hint that MM/BM might get traps back at some point.
  • He sort of weasel-worded an apology for his reference to Deterrence in Friday’s Q&A.

So there was a lot in the post that gives cause for optimism. But there are also some gigantic unanswered questions.

  • What took you so long to even acknowledge our concerns? Would it have killed you to stick in a few Blue posts that at least gave the illusion that you are working on the problems? Is your time so constrained that you could not have even used the word “hunters” in all your discussions of class concerns in the Q&A sessions you have had? Out of curiosity, what was the tipping point that made you finally address us this time?

Side comment: I am beginning to discern a pattern with Blizz here. They seem only to address major player concerns in response to quantity and emotional outpouring, not quality, of comments. Think back to the Big Huge Gigantic Flap over flying in WoD — absent a player tantrum, flying in the game would be but a distant memory. Think about the recent warlock bullying and spamming and holding-their-breath-until-they-turned-blue methods that did indeed get Blizz’s attention for their class. The hunter community — while declining to engage in warlock tactics — has refused to go quietly and meekly, has continued to express their anger about their treatment in Legion, piling up forum posts and tweets every day.

  • Why did you ignore everything hunters told you about before Legion went live? Our concerns have not changed since then, the same things we gave you for feedback in Alpha, Beta, and the PTR are what we are still pointing out. Hazzikostas said that it is complicated to make substantive class changes in a live expansion, and I get that, but this is a problem of Blizz’s own making. They had the opportunity to do it long before Legion went live, and they chose to do nothing. To say now that they have not figured out how to fix the class problems — as if they are just hearing about them for the first time — rings pretty damn hollow.
  • Realistically, what is the time frame for your third phase of class changes? 7.2? 7.3? Pre-patch for the next expansion? Come to think of it, when can we expect to see the second phase (talent tree) changes?
  • Will you now continue the dialogue with hunters, or was that Blue post intended merely to shut us up for a while? “Dialogue” can take several forms, including follow-through actions as well as additional feedback in forums and on social media.  I want to believe people when they make commitments, but the sad fact is that I — and many other players — still have a lot of trust issues with Blizz. They have yet to dig themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves in WoD. Hazzikostas himself has admitted that actions speak louder than words. OK, we just had the words, now let us see some action.

Honestly, here is what I expect to see unfold with hunters going forward:

  • Minor nerfs to BM and MM in the immediate future — we have already seen some of these — in the name of overall “spec balancing”.
  • Talent tree changes that will not buff the bad talent choices in certain lines, but rather nerf the currently very powerful (“only choice”) ones. Talent tree changes may also include a few new items designed to fill in some play style holes, as it seems unlikely that Blizz will actually give us anything back without also taking something away.
  • Some time in 7.2, traps in some form will be restored to all hunter specs, and possibly some additional mobility will be given to MM hunters. Unfortunately, I do not expect to see the baseline problems addressed. There are just too many and they are too fundamental.
    • For example, I do not expect to see a rewrite of MM play style that actually reflects the “class fantasy” of a real marksman instead of the current “spray everything in sight” approach.
    • I do not expect to see any help for the fact that MM is completely RNG-based.
    • I do not expect to see a skill-based focus generator for BM, nor do I expect any significant improvement in the whole beast control mess, or any fixes to the now-puny surge capability, or any move towards skill-controlled dps enhancements in the artifact tree.
  • Possibly, by the end of the expansion, hunters will be in a somewhat better position than we are now, but watch for Blizz to not learn any lessons and totally destroy the class again in 8.0.

So, yes, I am glad that the Game Director has seen fit to address the hunter community, but I am still angry that it took so long, and I will wait to see some follow-through before I let myself get too excited about it.