Cranky about the crucible

Yesterday we “finished” our grand entry into Argus, with the quest line unlocking the Netherlight Crucible. And while I suppose I am in favor of more power for our gear — in this case weapon — can I just say,

Blizz, have you completely lost your marbles?

This latest “addition” to Legion gear calculations — based on a new relic structure for the already-flawed artifact weapon concept — is almost a bridge too far for me. A few of my objections:

Blizz has spent all of Legion until 7.3 telling us not to worry about AP, that it will accumulate at an adequate pace just by our doing things in the game. They deliberately structured it to give significantly diminishing returns, because, they said, the last thing they would ever want to do is introduce a mandatory grind. So don’t sweat it, they said, don’t go out of your way to chase AP, they said, it’s no big deal, they said.

Then, suddenly, in 7.3, they introduce the Netherlight Crucible and ramp up the rate at which we accumulate AP, and guess what? OMG, YOU GOTTA INCREASE YOUR WEAPON LEVEL SO YOU CAN UNLOCK MORE SHIT ON IT! And all those over achievers that Blizz kept trying to discourage from chasing AP before — well they are now top of the heap by a significant amount, and everyone else who actually believed Blizz and did not chase AP — yup, that’s right, we are all playing catchup.

So problem number one I have with the crucible is — headline news here — Blizz lied to us. Again. They led us down a garden path from the beginning of Legion, and then suddenly pulled the rug out from under us, if I may mix my metaphors.

If this was a design reversal planned all along for Legion, it strikes me as sleazy not to have given us some warning from the start of the expansion. They could certainly have said that AP/weapon level would be slow and minor for the first half of the expansion but would become more important in the second half — that way we could have decided whether or not we wanted to try and max it out even though we would not see the benefits for a while. But at least we would have been able to make an informed choice based on our game goals.

If this was not planned from the beginning, then it seems like a dirty trick to suddenly and capriciously change the weapon structure to reward AP grinding after telling us not to worry about it. It makes me think Blizz is getting desperate, that they way over-promised content and timing for Legion, and now they are scrambling for anything to keep their Monthly Active User numbers high. The fact that it is a reversal of a design approach they lectured us about for a year means nothing to them in comparison to the need to maintain the metrics.

Problem number two I have with the crucible is that it is exceptionally poorly implemented for BM hunters. When Blizz embarked on the whole artifact weapon idea they really never came to grips with how vastly more complicated class balancing would be, and in truth they have still not figured out how to do it. (And while my comments pertain to BM hunters, there are several specs that Blizz arbitrarily buffed because frankly they could not figure out how to make the new relic structure work well with the very artifacts they themselves designed.)

In particular they seem to be totally clueless about how to implement beastmaster hunter artifact power. They created the spec as almost completely dependent on the power of pets versus direct player power, and they compounded this by making the BM artifact (a gun) mostly a fashion accessory while Hati is the true BM artifact. Curiously, though, having created this setup for BM hunters, Blizz is strangely resistant to the idea of giving hunter pets more power. They have no qualms about adding power to almost any other dps weapon, but they only grudgingly add it to hunter pets, and when they finally do, they do so very reluctantly, as if their mom is making them do it but they-don’t-wanna-they-don’t-wanna. Hati still does less damage than the regular hunter pet, is slower to attack a target, and will disappear for 30 seconds if the hunter’s pet dies and is rezzed in combat. No other class loses their artifact weapon in the middle of a fight, much less for 30 seconds.

And this mess is all before the new artifact weapon enhancements we get through the Netherlight Crucible. Blizz’s inability to balance the BM hunter’s weapon system (intertwining of personal weapon, pet, and Hati) has resulted in a situation where standard increases in the calculus of artifact weapons has ever-decreasing effect for the BM hunter, because Blizz simply refuses to give the appropriate power to pets even though they purposely designed the spec to be almost completely reliant on them for damage.

The upshot of all this is that BM hunter relics have always been far more dependent on specific traits being enhanced than on relic level, and this factor has even greater effect on BM hunters with the introduction of the Netherlight Crucible. It is so complex that Blizz has apparently thrown up their hands in surrender and out of desperation are giving BM hunters an across-the board buff to keep us from sinking even lower in the charts than we are now. If you want specifics about the Netherlight Crucible for BM hunters, check out Bendak’s piece on it.

Let me reiterate: the BM buff is being done as a desperate move to let us keep our heads above water. Blizz created the spec as it is in Legion, they created the complicated interaction of pets and Hati and Dire Beast and a gun and tier bonuses and legendaries, yet they are too damn lazy to deal with their mess in a “class fantasy” way. It is too hard, so they are giving the spec a generic buff because hell who cares about hunters anyway? Once again they are demonstrating we are the throwaway class, not worthy of spending any significant dev resources on.

Problem number three I have with the crucible is that it adds an entire new layer of complexity to what is already a vastly over-complicated gear system. Without the crucible we were already dealing with gear factors that include:

  • primary stats
  • secondary stats
  • gear ilevel
  • tier bonuses (from several tiers)
  • legendary special effects
  • specialized effects of trinkets and necks
  • artifact power level
  • artifact traits
  • relics

And now we have added three levels of additional bonuses and enhancements with the crucible. (Think it’s not complicated? Just try reading about the crucible and the new relic structure on Wowhead or someplace and tell me if you understand it. Even if you understand the basic premise, tell me you are confident that you will be able to select the best relic setup for your spec.)

Change any one of these factors, and it has a significant ripple effect on nearly every other factor. For example, changing either a talent or a legendary can change the order of importance of secondary stats. All that mastery, say, you have been stacking on your gear has become pretty mediocre because crit is now the top stat. In turn, that same ilevel 920 neck with all the mastery now becomes worse for you than the crit-heavy one you have in your bank. Your gems and enchants pegged to mastery become mediocre compared to crit. And so forth.

We are already at the point where it takes a bank of high-powered computers to determine which gear is best for us to equip, and I submit that we have actually gone past the point where even such computers are useful. For example, I love and use the Raidbots site. But the number of permutations I have to run just to select my best gearing strategy strains even that site. Running permutations in manageable chunks — say just trying to find the optimal trinkets for a certain Tomb fight — risks not taking into effect the cascading gear selection effect I described above. I might end up with a good recommendation for the best trinkets to go with the rest of my gear setup, but it’s very possible that the rest of the gear setup actually stinks for that fight and would need a different legendary, say, or a talent tweak. Which in turn would require a different set of coordinating gear. And as of yesterday, we get to add a complex set of new relic traits to this mix! My head hurts.

Now, to be fair, the damage differences we are talking about are frequently (but not always) fairly minor — a few thousand dps and that’s IF you can actually perform as perfectly as a sim bot. (Spoiler: almost no one can.) If you don’t need to eke out every possible damage point, and if you are willing to crank out 900k dps instead of a potential 1.1 million, for example, then it is far easier just to go with your gut, using a couple of generic rules like stack mastery or whatever. And the new relic system? Meh, just select a couple of traits at random and go with what feels right. There are a lot of circumstances where this strategy works just fine.

But you don’t have to be a hardcore Mythic raider to be in situations where a few thousand dps actually does make a difference (say, heroic Kil’jaeden or even just a personal desire to optimize your play potential), but Blizz has made the calculations for achieving these extra points complex beyond the ability of most humans to deal with. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me why, given the already borderline chaos-theory gear and talent structure, Blizz decided to add the additional complicating factor of a new relic structure.

Yeah, this is why I am cranky about the Netherlight Crucible.

Woohoo and Holy Moly!

There is only one possible topic for today’s post, and I’m certain you all know what it is: The Blue post BM hunters have been waiting for ever since, well, the early days of Legion alpha testing:

Hi Beast Masters. We’ve been reading your feedback and trying different sets of changes for Beast Mastery Hunters internally and on PTR.

To start, we are reverting all 7.2.5 changes we’ve made so far to how Wild Call triggers. Instead, Dire Beast and Dire Frenzy will have 2 charges baseline. The Mantle of Command (legendary shoulders that currently add +1 charge to Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy) will be changed to instead further increase the proc chance of Wild Call.

Overall, this will result in more Focus for all Beast Mastery Hunters, resulting in a more active rotation. Additionally, this gives all Beast Mastery Hunters access to a Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy with 2 charges playstyle that is more engaging and fun, allowing you to make decisions on when to use the buttons, instead of feeling like you should most often simply push them on cooldown.

We’ve been trying other iterations of changes surrounding Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy and Wild Call, including increasing Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy Focus generation or versions that avoided changing the legendary shoulders drastically, but ultimately reached the conclusion that giving 2 charges to the abilities baseline, which many of you have asked for, was the best change for the spec at the current time. We appreciate your patience while we try different iterations on PTR.

We are also making a few other less major changes to the spec in the next PTR patch, including: 

  • Aspect of the Wild will reduce the global cooldowns of your damaging abilities by 0.2 seconds, allowing you to more reliably spend the Focus you’re generating while it’s active, especially with Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy going off.
  • Kill Command and Dire Frenzy will cause your pet/Hati to charge up to 40 yds (up from 25 yds) to the target, matching the max range of your ranged abilities.
  • When your pet casts Dash, Hati will also gain Dash for the same duration.

Halla

Freaking

Looyah

This was the best news Beast Mastery hunters have had in — literally — years. When it was first posted, I actually had to read it several times for it to sink in. The announcement came as a total surprise to me, and I suspect to most hunters, because the few mutterings we had had thus far from Blizz on any hunter changes in 7.2.5 were pretty underwhelming. I am not going to enumerate them, but basically they were depressing because they echoed the same pattern we have seen in BM hunter rotations since the beginning of Legion: next to zero player control, relegating the hunter to the role of dropping all the leashes at the start of a fight and periodically hollering “Sic ’em!” So, after a couple of desultory comments thus far about continuing this trend in 7.2.5, to suddenly get what amounts to the two most major changes we have been pleading for throughout Legion is just jaw-dropping.

For those of you who have not played BM hunters in Legion, it’s hard to convey the enormity of this announced change. It restores some real options and player control to the spec, and I think most of all it restores some excitement and fun to the rotation. The two most major complaints about BM in Legion have been the clunky, mash-the-buttons-on-cooldown nature of the rotation; and the frustration with having what is supposed to be an awesome all-powerful weapon wedded to the spirit beast Hati, only to have him take his own sweet time ambling about in a fight, much like That Guy in LFR. There have been hundreds of pages and thousands of comments on these two shortfalls, and frankly most BM hunters finally just gave up on ever seeing any significant improvement.

It was puzzling to many BM hunters that, when Blizz did finally seem to respond, it was to create the legendary shoulders, a move that only served to further frustrate those who were not lucky enough to have them drop. My feeling before I got them was that Blizz had taken the RNG concept far beyond the pale by making it the deciding factor as to a spec being playable and fun. When I finally did get the shoulders a couple of weeks ago and first tried them, it was a “Holy Moly!” moment. I actually laughed out loud with delight when I was trying them out in front of the target dummies. Two charges for Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy absolutely should be baseline, not dependent on good luck.

The Blue post called the other 7.2.5 changes “less major”, but they are nonetheless huge in my opinion. For one thing, reducing the global cooldowns while Aspect of the Wild is active should lessen the chance of capping on focus, which in turn will increase damage. But of greater impact, I think, are the changes to pet behavior. Making Hati actually dash instead of ambling will certainly cut down on player frustration, but it should also make a noticeable change in damage numbers. And extending the range of pets to match that of other ranged abilities should, among other benefits, eliminate that maddening situation when you think you are starting a fight and both your pet and Hati just stand there looking cute but dumb. (I am intrigued by the possibilities of the range extension if the range is measured not from the hunter’s position but from the pet’s.)

I am sure there will be tweaks and adjustments to the 7.2.5 BM changes, because I think the net result as announced is likely to make the spec much more powerful than Blizz intends or is good for the game’s class structure. So we should all expect some “nerfs”. But to me, the huge significance of the changes lies not so much in the numbers but rather in what looks to be a philosophical change in the basic BM design — away from the idea that hunters are passive onlookers, and towards the idea that we are indeed masters of our beasts, that we actually control their behavior and that our decisions influence outcomes.

It took too long for Blizz to recognize the harm they did to BM hunters in Legion, but I am ecstatic that they did finally come around to understanding and — hopefully — fixing some of the baseline play style problems.

Finally, some good news for hunters.

“We’re as mad as hell, and…” Oh forget it

There comes a time in every firebrand’s life when they just have to admit defeat. I think I have, at long last, reached that point with hunters in WoW. Oh, out of stubbornness and habit, I will likely continue to play one, but for me the joy of it has gone. Worse than that, I have finally lost all hope that Blizz will ever restore the fun of huntering. I think they are truly too clueless to know they have destroyed it, but it is also possible they know and simply do not give a damn. And there is zero evidence this attitude will change.

As often happens, the final straw for me was a tiny one, insignificant and irrelevant when taken alone, but it tips the final balance when added to the pile already accumulated. I am not going to rehash here the “accumulated pile” — suffice it to say Blizz has systematically dismantled the hunter class in the last two expansions, to the point where someone who huntered even as late as Mists likely would not recognize the class if they had quit the game then and recently returned.

The straw? It was a chain of thought that started when I read about the 7.2 “challenge” to unlock some new artifact appearance for each spec. I have nothing against Blizz implementing this, I am sure a lot of players will really enjoy it — both the challenge and the appearance reward. But when I read it, my thought was basically, “Not worth the effort.” Why?

One reason was what I alluded to above — it is no longer great fun for me to play a hunter. There was a time not too long ago when I loved the class so much that any challenge was something I wanted to do, simply because I enjoyed pushing my hunter play to its limits and maybe a bit beyond. But now? I no longer get a rush of joy from “good” hunter skills, mainly because most of the skills currently consist of having fast enough synapses to mash a button when a computer-controlled spell comes off cooldown. There really is almost no player strategy or finesse that enters in.

The second reason — and the actual straw realization — was that hunters pretty much lose out when it comes to weapon appearance in Legion. For example, no hunter ranged weapon can have an enchant effect. Blizz simply does not care enough about hunters to give us some cool enchant effects like they have for every other class weapon in the game. I don’t know why, it can’t be any harder to configure a visual for a bow or gun than it can be for swords and staves and so forth, but apparently Blizz as usual can’t be bothered with hunters.

In Legion, BM hunters in particular suffer even further from Blizz’s negligence regarding weapon visual effects. After going to some trouble to hype the importance of Hati as an integral part of the BM artefact weapon, Blizz pretty much proceeded to design a dull and uninspiring model for it. When hunters complained, they finally gave us a gizmo to make Hati look like any pet we have, and even eliminated the major bug in it (you couldn’t change Hati back to original appearance) after a few more weeks of further hunter complaining. But here’s the thing: none of the hunter weapon appearances have any effect whatsoever on Hati’s appearance. I see no reason, for example, that Blizz could not have allowed hunters to choose a red glowing Hati as part of the “red” gun appearance. No reason, that is, except no one at Blizz can be bothered. It’s only BM hunters, after all.

In fact, even the BM hunter “hidden appearance” is pretty crappy. In the first place, it’s not all that hidden — you basically go into the Engineering shop in Dal and plunk down 8ooo gold, and it’s all yours. And this magical hidden appearance? It turns your gun into a bow. I am not a big fan of hunter guns, especially for some races, so I transmog my BM weapon into a bow anyhow. But this hidden appearance bow is a real monstrosity, possibly the ugliest bow in the history of WoW. It looks like something your four-year-old would do with Legos, except a little less creative.

Anyway, to return to my point. When I saw that 7.2 would offer these really cool weapon appearances as rewards for what look to be considerable skill challenges, I wasn’t even the tiniest bit excited. Mash designated buttons in timely sequence for an appearance change in a weapon I never see anyway? And do quests just to get the currency needed to repeat the challenge if you fail? (This mechanic is nothing more than another way to force people to play content over and over again, since you have to pay with Nethershards from the Broken Shore scenarios in order to retry this challenge. Another way Blizz is trying to up its monthly hours played metric come quarterly report time.) No thank you.

I realized that Blizz was not going to do anything whatsoever to make this challenge worthwhile to me as a BM hunter. We have not seen the new visual for BM hunters yet, but it seems extraordinarily unlikely, given previous history, that they are going to give me a cool Hati makeover. Similarly, it seems improbable that the gun appearance will be anything other than an over-the-top behemoth of a cannon that I would not be caught dead with. In the last two expansions, Blizz has proven they are not the least bit interested in applying their normal excellent creativity in any way to hunters.

And with this realization for some reason it came crashing down on me that Blizz will not restore any of the baseline fun to hunters, not in Legion and possibly not ever. They will throw us a few bones in the form of easy band-aid fixes, they will nominally include us in new stuff like this appearance thing, but it is crystal clear that they do not want to expend anything more than minimum resources on this class. For months now, I have harbored the illusion — okay, probably more accurately a delusion — that there was still time in Legion for Blizz to come to its senses about hunters and make some substantive and positive changes. But when I began to examine this whole weapon appearance thing it started a chain of thought that forced me to realize no such hunter changes will be forthcoming.

For Blizz, hunters are that cousin you really dislike and try to avoid as much as possible, but to keep peace in the family you have to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner every year. Still, there is no way are you going to let him have the drumstick.

Congratulations, Blizz, you have worn me down. I no longer kid myself that the hunter experience will improve in Legion, and I am losing hope that it ever will. I am no longer mad as hell. I am just tired.