Legendaries — first aid for class balance?

Admin note: This post contains quite a few references to specific Beastmastery hunter talents. I have thrown in some Wowhead links, but if you want a more comprehensive picture of the talent table, check out the Icy Veins one here.

The latest development in Legion legendaries, reported by MMO-C as part of the most recent PTR build, is that now some of them will actually grant the wearer a talent from their spec’s talent table. For example, the new hunter legendary will grant Beastmasters the Dire Stable talent, a level 15 talent that increases focus generation while you have a Dire Beast active.

Well. Where to start?

I am not a theory crafter, so my take on this goes more to fundamentals than it does to actual numbers. But the first thing that occurs to me is this particular talent level has ever only had two choices for BM hunters — Way of the Cobra for single target fights and Dire Stable for multitarget fights. No one I know has ever selected the third talent in that row, Big Game Hunter, because it stinks and has stunk since it was introduced. It is a non-choice. So the new legendary effectively means BM hunters can have their cake and eat it too in this talent tier. It also means if you have the new legendary you have no other choices in this talent row, you will take Way of the Cobra. I am not saying this is a bad thing, just pointing out how it will play out.

The second effect this will have is to buff BM damage somewhat, at least for single target fights, because we will be generating extra focus. The effect on multitarget fights is less clear, I think, because Cobra Shot is not often used on those, so the extra damage may be moot. Number crunchers will undoubtedly play with various combos, including the desirability of using multiple Cobra Shots over Multishot for medium-size groups of targets.

Additionally, one of the basic complaints about BM hunter mechanics is that the player has zero control over focus generation — is completely dependent on auto-generation of this resource. With the exception of the really terrible talent Chimaera Shot, we have no power-generating shots, we are completely at the mercy of Blizz’s idea of how fast that critical factor should generate. One result of this early on was the clunky, start-and-stop nature of the rotation. It is still a problem, though most of us still playing the spec just grimly accept it after months of enduring it.

Dire Stable, while still not allowing control over focus generation, does increase the rate noticeably. So the fact that lucky winners of the new legendary will not have to choose between increased focus and increased single target damage will be nice, I suppose. I doubt if it will be a game changer, but it will be helpful.

But here’s the thing: Blizz is using legendaries to fix glaring problems with spec mechanics, problems that players identified months ago during alpha testing and have continued to point out ever since Legion went live. 

The most obvious and egregious flaw in this plan is — well, I hesitate to point out the obvious but here goes:

ONLY LUCKY PEOPLE GET TO HAVE THE FLAW FIXED.

What the hell, Blizz? If there is a mechanics problem with a spec glaring enough for even the most clueless dev to notice, shouldn’t the fix be available to all players? Why do you insist on making a lottery of everything? What is wrong in your brains? For the umpteenth time, Mr. Game Director Ion “I Am The Sole Arbiter of Fun” Hazzikostas, RNG is not fun except for the uber-lucky early winners. For all the rest of us who spend hours and days and months rolling the dice for that one piece of playstyle-changing gear, it is the furthest thing in the game from fun. Even when we finally get it — if we ever do — it is not a woohoo moment but rather a “oh thank god that is over” one.

Beyond the lunacy of basing spec mechanics fixes on pure luck, there is another aspect to this. It seems evident from WoD and Legion that Blizz is unable to adequately balance individual spec mechanics and numbers without ending up with obvious winners and losers — specs that are either overpowered or dismally puny performers. And when they have tried to fix glaring inequities the changes have frequently lurched from one extreme to the other. Everyone understands the class/spec balance and playstyle issues are complex. So why make them even more so by introducing additional factors?

Introducing a complicated artifact trait table made balancing specs more difficult by an order of magnitude. Introducing other gear — tier and legendaries — with significant spec-enhancing bonuses made it even more so.

If you are someone who is challenged when you are asked to bring microwave green beans to Thanksgiving dinner, it is almost certainly not a good idea to also volunteer to bring the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Even though you hope it will help fix your green bean inadequacies, you are just setting yourself up for failure.

So, although I think the new legendary talents may help some specs in the near term,  using RNG gear to address known problems is a terrible way to do it. Not only is it a lazy approach, but in the long run it only serves to make the entire class/spec system more complex, more fragile, and consequently more prone to imbalance as a result of even tiny changes that can reverberate through the system in unexpected ways. Blizz should just stick to perfecting their green beans.

With that, I am out for the weekend.

Emerald Nightmare part two

Last night my guild finished up the last three bosses in Emerald Nightmare (Normal). This week was basically a warmup for progression, which we will start next week with Heroic. I can’t claim great expertise with EN yet, but I do have some general observations to add to my earlier comments.

Fight length. The one overwhelming impression I had after finishing up last night is that most of these fights are very, very, very long. I think this is true for nearly all the EN bosses, but especially so for the last three. The fights just seemed to go on for-freaking-ever, reminding me a bit of how I usually felt in the Immerseus fight back in Siege of Orgrimmar.

This is almost certainly due to a combination of it being early in the expansion — thus most players are not at the peak of their damage powers — and the fact that these bosses have hundreds of millions (in some cases over a billion) health. I have to wonder if Blizz merely substituted the add-crazy approach of WoD with a length-crazy approach for Legion. After a certain amount of time, very long fights get challenging just because eventually people get bored or fatigued enough to start to make mistakes, so the challenge really is not the fight itself but rather one of maintaining focus. And, of course, longer fights are usually a bigger challenge to healers not only because of mana issues, but also because of the fatigue tendency for other players to stand in more bad stuff the longer the fight goes on.

Tuning. I have seen some of the usual forum-dweller complaints about EN being “a joke” or “too easy”, and some data mining indicates Blizz may be considering a combo of “class tuning adjustments” along with significantly buffing many dungeon and raid bosses in 7.1. Thus, I take this opportunity to reiterate my opinion that normal mode raids should not be weeks-long slogs for non-progression casual raid teams. Blizz itself has told us repeatedly that normal mode is supposed to be the “friends and family” mode. This does not mean it should be a stroll in the park, but it also should not take a casual team weeks of progression-type raiding to finish, and it should be tolerant of a true flex setup, rotating people in and out as their schedules permit.

When Blizz set up flex mode in 5.4 (I think that is about when they did it), it was designed to be a difficulty level between LFR and what was then Normal mode. When they made the flex concept permanent, they announced that their intent was for Normal to be the same as the new “flex” mode, and for Heroic to be the same difficulty as the old Normal mode. Thus, Normal would be the “friends and family” level, and Heroic would be the level for progression teams. In WoD, this was absolutely not the case — Normal mode required a progression setup and schedule for most casual teams, and even for many semi-casual teams. This in my opinion is one reason why many teams disintegrated about the time that Black Rock Foundry came out — they simply were not the kinds of guilds that could field solid progression teams.

Thus, it seems to me that any cries of “too easy” for EN are unfounded. We are simply seeing what I hope is a return to the original intent of Normal mode raid tiers. I really hope Blizz does not cave in to either the devs or the forum denizens who believe that raids at any level are strictly for hardcore 40-hour+ a week players.

Cost of raiding. Simply put, this is astronomical. Basic flasks, enchants, gems, talent switching tomes, and food on my server — and I suspect on many servers — are going for well upwards of a thousand gold each, with enchants and gems easily fetching 20k+ each. Even the mats go for huge sums. These numbers will come down a bit as the expansion wears on, but for now they are effectively a bar to raiding for many players, as most raid teams expect a certain amount of preparedness from each of their members. Players who went through the gold giveaway of WoD may have enough to get through at least a couple of months of this high cost, but new players really don’t have a chance.

Also, I do not expect the costs to go down significantly for many months, due to Blizz’s treatment of professions in Legion. It is a prohibitive time and skill sink for most people to learn — much less produce — the major products of their professions unless the character is a main. The mechanics of profession progression in Legion require main-level commitment to leveling and to doing dungeons (Mythic as well as Heroic) and world quests. What this means is that far fewer players than in the past will be able to produce their own raid supplies, resulting in these items remaining very high cost. Basically, if you were not lucky enough to have selected the “right” mix of professions for your main, you are going to be spending a LOT of gold just to be able to effectively raid every week, for many months to come.

The whole subject of professions in Legion is certainly a topic for an entire post (or series of posts), but I think as Legion wears on we will find that Blizz may have finally broken the profession system in WoW. It is one thing to have to work a bit to max out a profession, it is quite another to structure the process such that only a character with main-level proficiency and time commitment can achieve a max profession.

BM hunters seem to stink. I grant you that my experience raiding thus far in Legion is extremely limited, but from my worm’s-eye view it may soon be almost irresponsible to try and raid with any hunter spec except MM. This week our 28-30 member raid team ran with four hunters: one MM and three BM. Of this group, the MM hunter and one BM hunter are highly skilled raiders as well as being players that routinely squeeze every bit of damage they can from their spec. (And nope, I am not that BM hunter.) On every boss and in every trash fight, the MM hunter out-damaged the BM hunter by usually several thousand points both in DPS and in total damage, and often the difference was in excess of 10k-20k. Additionally, the MM hunter was frequently at the top of our damage charts overall.

Checking the initial raid charts from some of the third party log sites, I see that there are a few MM hunters at the top, but there are zero BM hunters. (Also zero SV hunters, but honestly I don’t consider that spec to be a true hunter.) Yes, the self-fulfilling prophecy effect enters in here — the top players perceive that MM is the best, thus none of them raid with BM, thus the top ranks only show MM, thus it becomes the defacto “raiding spec” — but I think we are seeing an imbalance similar to what we saw with SV hunters at the start of WoD. The difference is enough that selecting any hunter spec other than MM seems to deny your team a significant amount of damage power. (And no, good solid raid teams worth their salt will not kick someone just because of their spec, but there comes a point at which a conscientious player feels like they are not pulling their weight.)

This is troublesome, because Blizz has several times stated that they feel class balance is critical in Legion, mainly because of the huge investment in artifact power and progress. I think we are perilously close to the point where serious hunters who chose BM as their Legion spec will feel compelled to switch specs just to remain competitive.   This is exactly the situation Blizz said they are going to great lengths to avoid. This is a balance issue that must be addressed very soon, and yet every indication we have had from Blizz is that they have already abandoned the hunter class for the remainder of this expansion. None of the class balancing changes announced thus far for 7.1 even begin to address some of the fundamental problems with BM hunters — or any hunter spec for that matter.

I end this post with what has become a plaintive and lonely cry in the wilderness: Blizz, for crying out loud, do something to acknowledge the concerns of Legion hunters. At least give us a sign that you know we are unhappy, even if that sign is just a big Blizz middle finger and an announcement that yes, you intend to destroy the hunter class, BWAAAAAHAHA! Why do you pay attention to every other class and continue to ignore hunters? 

With that, I am off to start my weekend. You enjoy yours.

Relearning your spec every expansion

A few days ago, Blizz dev Celestalon wrote a blue post in one of the Legion feedback forums, basically a primer on how to play a Brewmaster monk in Legion. The post was a response to what has been a ton of negative comments in the forum about the Legion rework of BM monks. Only people with alpha access can post in the forum, so — based on Blizz’s own statements about alpha selection — the people making the comments are presumably among the best players in the game. Celestalon’s response was long and detailed, and honestly I kind of glossed over it because I do not play a Brewmaster monk and have no intention of doing so.

But it got me thinking: Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong when the top 5% or even less of players cannot figure out how to play a spec without detailed guidance from a developer? Monks as a class have been around for two expansions now, it’s not like they are a new class no one has any experience with. So what does it say when the best players in the game have to be schooled anew just to be able to adequately play a spec some of them have expertly played for years?  I am not talking about explaining a few new tweaks or nuances, I am talking about teaching a whole new play style, a complete turnaround to the way these players have understood and played their spec.

And of course, BM monks are not the only spec experiencing this. I have not done any calculations or extensive research, but my scientific wild ass guess is somewhere around 70-80% of the specs in the game will undergo major play-style-changing reworks in Legion. (I will refrain from yet another rant on the gutting of all hunter specs. You’re welcome.) For some specs, this is rather a new experience, but for several others (*cough*hunters*cough*) it happens every time there is a new expansion.

The fallout from this is quite significant. Of course, individual players are greatly affected. We must learn entirely new rotations, cooldown use, movement techniques, even basic combat actions such as crowd control and kiting and self defense. Often these are skills we have spent a lot of time honing and refining, only to have the whole effort be for naught come a new expansion. If it happened every couple of expansions it might be tolerable, but when it happens Every. Single. Expansion. it just makes many of us crabby and cynical.

But the more significant fallout comes in the form of game balance, in the inevitable chaos that results when many, many specs are drastically changed. I believe most of the class/stat/raid balance problems of the past couple of years are the result of Blizz’s inability to adequately compensate for major spec changes. One simple example that comes to mind is the heavy reliance by SV hunters on multistrike, a change implemented for WoD that became a damage monster when gear levels allowed for multistrike stacking, and a consequence that in no small part led Blizz to obliterate SV as a viable hunter spec for basically the entire expansion.

The game is almost unimaginably complex in its interactions, and even small pushes on one end of the class mechanic system can result in catastrophic changes that cascade through the entire game, usually in unpredictable ways. Some specs get way overpowered, others become ineffective, some specs become an absolute requirement for certain raids while others have almost no place in any raid, some raids employ a mechanic no spec can deal with, leveling some specs becomes a nightmare, etc. I know this, most of you know this, and Blizz  certainly has to know this. So why would you deliberately change nearly every part of class mechanics every expansion? The result every time seems to be chaos, chaos that gets sorted out only near the end of the expansion, by which time the class devs at Blizz are rubbing their hands gleefully in anticipation of starting it all over again.

The only thing I can figure out is that there is a significant personnel turnover at Blizz for each expansion, and the way to make your name in the job is to pad your resume with “major redesign” accomplishments. There appears to be no one at Blizz looking at the full system picture of the game, at its overall equilibrium as a state machine. I could be wrong, but of course it is hard to say because we seldom if ever see any communications from Blizz on overall game design concepts, beyond tutoring us on what is and is not fun.

A Vietnam veteran I know once told me that the personnel rotation scheme for that conflict was a significant contributor to the U.S. loss there. Troops would rotate in for a year then go home, to be replaced by others who would in turn also go home in a year. Officers wishing to advance their careers had only a short time frame in which to do it, and the attractive shortcut was to “innovate”, to change tactics and procedures — often trying methods others had failed with multiple times, just for the sake of changing something. The result, according to my friend, was that “We did not have 20 years’ experience in Vietnam, we had one year’s experience 20 times.”

Maybe Blizzard has not done 6  expansions as of Legion, maybe they have done one expansion 6 times ….

At any rate, I for one am sick of having to completely relearn my spec every expansion, often only to be forced to switch again mid-expansion and relearn another spec because Blizz is incapable of managing the multitude of changes they insist on making.

With that, I am going to start my weekend.

WOOHOO! Marks pets back for Legion!

This will be a fairly short post, but as I am sure many of you have already heard, Blizz has reversed its position on real hunter pets as an option for MM hunters in Legion.

A moment while I do my happy dance.

Still dancing.

Okay, finish move coming up here.

There. Done.

This. Is. Huge. It is so momentous that I quote Celestalon’s comment from the forum here in full:

Celestalon
Game Designer
Hey Marksmanship Hunters. Here are a few changes that didn’t make it into today’s build, but we’re planning for a soon upcoming build:

One of the most common points of feedback we’ve heard is that all of the specs are cool on their own, but none of them maintain the existing “Hunter + Ranged Weapon + Single Pet” archetype that people have grown attached to (Survival is now Melee, Marksmanship has lost its pet, and Beast Mastery has added a ton of additional pets).
Marksmanship losing its pet has been one of the most impactful, but contentious changes we’ve made this expansion. We’re going to try returning the pet to Marksmanship, baseline, along with Lone Wolf as a level 15 talent (and very competitively tuned), so that this is a choice again.
Exotic Munitions is being removed, and Black Arrow will be moving down to where it was, since the Lone Wolf + Black Arrow combination proved to be very popular and fun (the newest version of Black Arrow, where the minion reliably spawns and taunts the target, that is).
Keep those in mind for feedback on this build! Thanks!

I am (almost) speechless. This will, in my opinion, make MM an option for me in Legion. Hell, what am I saying, it will make Legion an option for me now.

Couple of comments on this bombshell, one pessimistic and one optimistic.

The pessimistic comment is that we still have no idea how MM pets will — or possibly won’t — affect the overall Legion MM spec balance. For the last couple of years, the devs doing class/spec balance have pretty much blown it, with wild over-corrections and pendulum swings affecting nearly every class. It is entirely possible that returning real hunter pets to MM in Legion will turn out to be mostly an empty gesture, because the balance with LW will turn out to be so OP that pets are not a real MM choice except for soloing. (However, Celestalon did say LW would be “very competitively tuned”. I don’t know if that was a hint that LW would be over-tuned, or if it was a hint that in fact either choice would be viable in raids as well as in solo questing.) For some more in depth comments about possible impact on MM, as well as an excellent summary of its current alpha imbalances and shortcomings, check out Delirium’s post today.

But the optimistic comment is that Blizz actually listened to, considered, and weighed the fairly intense hunter response to their decision for a petless MM spec. Celestalon’s comment indicates they understood the emotional attachment many hunters have for their pets, as well as the logical argument that there seemed to be no reason not to at least give MM hunters a true hunter pet option. I have to think that making such a change at this relatively late stage of class development will consume a lot of dev resources, and I give Blizz high marks for going ahead and doing it anyway.

This is now at least two instances of Blizz reversing itself on major Legion mechanics — the other one being the flap over the water strider mount. It is beginning to look as if there has been a significant change in Blizz’s attitude towards interaction with players with legitimate concerns. The nasty, confrontational attitudes — on the parts of players in forums as well as Blizz — seem to have changed for the better. We seem to be in a mode of legitimate debate, which I applaud. No one expects — nor should they — for Blizz to blindly change everything that players dislike about Legion. But it is satisfying and encouraging to see them truly weigh players’ arguments for specific changes.

If I had been told I could have only one wish for Legion hunters, the one I would have chosen is for MM hunters to have a true pet option. It looks like that wish has been granted. The devil will be in the details, but I am a happy camper for now. Thank you, Blizz.

The emerging Legion big picture

I spent most of my weekend game time not so much playing WoW as reading about it. Specifically, catching up on some of the in-depth blog posts about experiences so far on the limited-invite alpha/beta Legion.

Obviously, it is still very early — I really do believe it will be September 2016 before Legion goes live — but I see what for me are some large-trend, big-picture design consequences that I find disturbing, possibly to the point of destroying the parts of the game I love the most. Let me try to weave the pieces together for you.

Item: Professions. Pherian over at alt:ernative chat is doing a series on her experiences thus far with professions in Legion alpha. I should say, with her experiences thus far with one profession — skinning — since that is the only one currently available. But, as she points out, it is fair to assume that skinning is representative of the whole new Legion profession template.

Taken in onesies or twosies, the new profession approach seems interesting. Leveling is done through a series of quests in the Broken Isles. Although there is no crafting to learn for skinning, Blizz has told us that crafting recipes will be learned through questing also.

While this may be a refreshing approach for your main, my prediction is that it will eventually drive a stake through the heart of alt professions, especially for those of us who have leveled one of every profession in order to be self sufficient. And indeed, Blizz has told us that having alts for that reason is not desired game play, it is frowned upon by Blizz. In fact, Watcher condescendingly instructed us in the correct/approved use of alts in the Patch 6.2 Q&A (quoted here from the MMO-C wrap up):

The team recognizes that many people play multiple characters. They prefer to see alts exist to serve themselves. You should have a healer alt because you want to heal, or another class PvP alt because you want to PvP as that class. The progression for each character should be on that character. Multiple alts shouldn’t exist to serve your main character.

By gating every 7.x profession behind a series of quests that must be carried out in the Broken Isles, Blizz has effectively required every alt to be viable in that environment. If they are not properly equipped, and if you are not proficient at playing them, you will not be able to level their professions.

And “properly equipped” may include having at least the initial artifact to weapon for each alt, which is yet another series of quests to go through. Not to mention any kind of pre-Legion scenario to actually get to the Broken Isles.

The big picture I get from this? Blizz does not want you to be able to level a profession in Legion unless it is on an alt that you have played, equipped,  and intend to continue to play in the “approved” fashion.

Item: Hunters. My opinions on the Legion changes to hunters are pretty well known, and I do not intend to itemize them again in this post. But a few days ago Bendak published his first impressions of Survival hunter, in a Locked and Loaded piece on Blizzard Watch as well as on his own blog. Now, Bendak is what I would call a hunter’s hunter, and generally he is quite positive regarding inevitable hunter changes, he always seems to find the gold nuggets in what most of the rest of us often see as a pile of “fertilizer mats”. But his pieces on SV hunter are the most pessimistic I have seen from him.

To be fair, he points out as I did above, that the current test version of Legion is extremely early in its development, and he notes that some aspects of SV hunter have excellent potential. Still, the one overriding negative factor he cites is that SV hunter is truly an entirely different class.

Those of you who do not play hunters, please think about that for a minute. For example, if you play a warrior — Arms, for example — think about how you would react if Arms were to suddenly become a ranged spec, and instead of a two handed sword, suddenly the only weapon available to you was a bow. On top of that, imagine one of your key raid spells, such as Recklessness, was removed. All of the skills you had learned would become worthless, and you would have to learn an entire set of ranged damage skills. In short, nearly all of the things that caused you to select Arms Warrior in the first place would be gone. All because Blizz had a notion that Warriors had become too “homogeneous”.

Add to all this Blizz’s very dismal history of successfully balancing any class when it undergoes change, the for-no-good reason removal of pets from Marksmanship hunters and of traps from MM and BM hunters, and Blizz’s track record of staying the course with bad ideas no matter how many numbers-heavy reports they get from their beta testers, and this is the big picture I get:

Blizz will destroy the hunter class in Legion. Some players will like the new class, some will not, but make no mistake about it, the hunter class will no longer exist in Legion. 

Last item: Change. Bhagpuss over at Inventory Full has a thoughtful article on change in MMO’s. A couple of comments are worth quoting:

MMORPGs were never meant to be “games”. Not really. They’re pastimes, hobbies, obsessions. They’re places to hide and places to go and places to live. They’re the virtual equivalent of the garden shed, the attic, a quiet night in by the fire. They stand with knitting, whittling, gardening or fishing as things you can do when you don’t have anything you have to do, something you can go on doing for as long as you want to go on doing something.

And,

For those of us who still enjoy our MMOs it’s not boredom we’re feeling; it’s comfort. Coming home from a rough day at work to a familiar MMO is like pulling closed the cabin door against the snow and settling down in front of the fire with a whittling knife and a stout log.

That’s not enough for most gamers. Gamers crave novelty. MMO “players”, by and large, aren’t gamers. If they crave anything it’s stasis. “More of the same” is their battlecry when they take to the forums, something they rarely do because most of them barely know there are forums.

Herein, I think, lies the foundation of my unease with Legion, and my extremely strong reaction to the very significant changes that will be part of it. I am not a gamer, I would never characterize myself as such. But I love WoW. I love it for the reasons Bhagpuss enumerates, and since I find refuge in it as a place of comfortable escape, I am resistant to change, and I am furious when that change is so large as to pretty much destroy my escape sanctuary, as I feel is happening with the destruction of alts and of hunters.

But Blizz is under the impression that most of its players are gamers, that they “crave novelty”. This, I think, is not the case — most of Blizz’s most vocal players may be gamers, but most of its bread-and-butter monthly subscribers are not.

And indeed, Blizz is moving forward with the assumption that it is creating content for gamers, ignoring the almost-certain fact that the majority of whatever player base they have remaining are probably not true gamers.

And this, I think, is the biggest big picture I get of Legion: Blizz is shaping the game in ways that will cater to their ideal image of who their player base should be, not who their player base actually is. 

This cannot end well, at least not for me and those like me.

 

Is it too soon to be depressed?

I think I am fighting a losing battle over Legion — I really, really want to be excited about it, but a sense of impending doom keeps washing over me. There are quite a few things I am looking forward to — new transmog system, scaled zones, end game play style choices — but they all keep getting overshadowed by my feeling that Blizz completely sold out hunters. It is nothing short of class betrayal, and I am going through all the emotions anyone does when they have been betrayed.

Worse, in typical Blizz fashion, they are giving me bulls**t reasons for doing so, like when you get dumped and your soon-to-be ex gives you the old “It’s not you, it’s me” line. The stated reason for the massive hunter changes is to “de-homogenize” the classes.

Really, Blizz? You can say that with a straight face and still leave mages untouched? I don’t want anyone to take this as me putting down the mage class, but let’s face it, all mage specs boil down to flinging big balls of magic at a target. The magic may be orange (fire), blue (frost), or purple (arcane), but there is no substantive difference in the approaches of any spec. And yes, before I get hate mail from mages, I completely understand that each spec has some different mechanics and each has a unique fun feel, but the point is, there is almost no other class in the game more homogeneous than mages. Yet Blizz says mages “are in a good place” and really need no major class changes.

Hunters were in the exact same place at the end of Mists and shortly after 6.1, yet for some reason Blizz could not resist screwing with them, again and again. In 6.2 they completely destroyed Survival as a viable spec, almost gleefully admitting it sucked but oh well, haha, too hard to “fix”. They deliberately skewed the Marksmanship numbers to make Lone Wolf the only responsible choice for raiding, then had the *big balls of magic* to use that to justify removing pets from MM entirely in Legion.  Because, well, “Most MM hungers opted for LW.” OF COURSE THEY DID, YOU MADE IT TOO OP TO IGNORE. IT DOES NOT PROVE MM HUNTERS DO NOT WANT PETS.

And to add insult to injury, the most recent revelations about beast mastery tell us that this spec will have almost zero active control over their focus, effectively removing much of the fun choice and skill from this spec. Other changes indicate BM will be very dependent on RNG (even more so than currently) for their damage. In other words, a likely return to rote button pushing, no more priority shot selections, just a mindless rotation.

Blizz is removing every aspect of hunters that I have loved for years, and they are doing so completely, leaving me not even one spec that I can love. If this is not utter betrayal, then I do not know what is.

I understand that every class will change over the course of several years. But it seems to me that there is an implicit contract between the developers and players in the matter of class selection. There are some basic foundations of a class that every player of that class has a right to expect to remain the same. For example, if you pick a class that flings big balls of magic at a target from a distance, you have a right to expect that your class will continue as a magic-flinger, even if some of the mechanics for doing so change over the years. If you pick a class that is highly mobile and uses pets to attack from range, you have a right to expect that class to continue doing so.

I cannot make myself get excited about Legion, no matter how many good features it may have, when I know that I will no longer be able to play the one class I have loved playing from the start, the one class that has been a constant source of fascination and enjoyment for me, the only class — and I have tried them all — that I never lose interest in. It is gone, it will no longer exist in Legion. There may be some interesting aspects of the new hunter class, but for me it as untried as the new DH class.

And therein lies another betrayal from Blizz. Hunters will be, for all practical purposes, a new class in Legion. As with any new class, and judging from Blizz’s history, there are likely to be wild pendulum swings in the viability of the specs. Which means any hunter may be forced to change specs as that pendulum swings. (Don’t say this can’t happen, look at SV as a spec in WoD.) But Blizz will make that very difficult to do, since you will have to spend weeks if not months getting your new artifact weapon and upgrading it for the new spec. If you pick the wrong spec at the beginning of Legion, you will pay a heavy price for it. And with a new class, picking the right spec is a total crap shoot. This is just wrong. We have, by all accounts, months before Legion, Blizz must change the artifact process to allow for seamless spec switching, no matter what class you play. I can think of no reason to not do this, and if there is one I would love to hear it. As long as it does not insult my intelligence by blathering about the immersive importance of following the individual spec quest lines. No. If you have gotten your artifact weapon to level X and switch specs, you should automatically have that spec’s weapon at the same level. End of discussion.

I will keep playing, of course, even with the demise of the hunter class, because I am a shameless fangirl of the game, I admit it. My original Plan B had been to make my mistweaver my main, but now that, too, seems in doubt as a viable spec. Plan C is to go with my druid, spend the rest of WoD learning to heal on it, then in Legion make resto my main spec with “attunement/affinity/whatever they are calling it” to boomkin.

Or, maybe I could learn to love flinging big balls of magic at targets. No, just kidding, not something I am good at. You mages out there should be glad I will not have a mage as my main, because given my luck, doing so would guarantee its eventual class demise. 😉

Secondary stats: A grand mess

My fervent hope is that the class changes in Legion include a complete overhaul of the secondary stat mechanism. It just stinks as it is now. In my opinion, this horrible state derives from the intertwining of their importance for combat mechanics, the independent spec reliance on different secondary stats (for pure damage dealers), and use of a pseudorandom algorithm as the sole determiner of their composition.

(Apologies to my core readers, I know I have written about this before, but honestly the situation is so terrible, and it has such an adverse impact on nearly every facet of game play, that I think I need to keep harping on it.)

Importance for combat mechanics. Secondary stats are crucial to class and spec balance, they are the foundation of all the damage/healing/protection calculations that make complex combat possible. So they are not going away. Even tweaking them a little bit can have serious repercussions. Blizz proved this when they changed the mechanism in 6.0 — they pretty much destroyed both meta-class and individual class balance across the board, and despite a huge number of tweaks since then, they have still not completely recovered from it. Nearly every class still has at least one unplayable spec due to gross imbalance of secondary stats, a fact that Blizz has admitted multiple times over the last year. Disc priests, SV hunters, MW monks, I am sure you can come up with other examples. Either the spec is at a notable disadvantage when compared to other classes in the same role, or the mechanics are so bad that it no longer reflects the vision for the class. In some instances — MM hunter comes to mind — Blizz has “fixed” clumsy mechanics only by requiring a full 4-pc tier set (and then making the tier gear a crap shoot, nice going devs).

The point is, secondary stats and their interplay with nearly every aspect of WoW combat is vastly complex. It is also something Blizz cannot back away from, secondary stats are here for the foreseeable future.

Different secondary stats for different specs. As I alluded to above, here I am talking about just pure damage dealers. By making every spec achieve acceptable efficiency only by use of different secondary stats, Blizz has effectively made every class a hybrid class, with the attendant disadvantages but not with the advantages. A conscientious hunter, for example, must carry two sets of gear to play both MM and Beast, the same as a druid with both a damage and tanking spec. Yet the hunter still only brings one role to a raid team, less utility than the druid. And without two sets of gear, the hunter’s former utility of being able to tailor spec nuances according to the fight is now gone. Net loss for both the hunter and the raid team.

Worse, the hunter gains no advantage from selecting one spec as the gear spec, since Blizz stubbornly refuses to admit that each hunter spec requires a different set of secondary stats on gear. Selection of gear spec remains based only on primary stats, except for healers who for some reason now are more or less guaranteed to get spirit (a secondary spec) on those pieces of gear that can carry it.

If Blizz can do this for healers, why can’t they do it for other classes? Surely mastery is just as important for Beast hunters as spirit is for healers, whether or not it is unique to the role.

RNG for secondary stats. Of all the things wrong about Blizz’s lazy reliance on a pseudorandom algorithm for rewarding nearly everything in the game, the worst in my opinion is using it to determine secondary stats on gear. As should be clear from the above, secondary stats are hugely important to being able to properly maximize your spec. Imagine the outcry if Blizz decided to apply this mechanism to primary stats. In my opinion, this is almost as bad. Secondary stats have become so integral to combat calculations that even though they do not carry the same weight as primaries, they still have a significant impact, thanks to the way Blizz has structured them.

Yet these extremely important stats are awarded not on the basis of spec requirements, but by a crap shoot. To add insult to injury, Blizz removed reforging as an option because — I am not making this up — they wanted to spare us the trauma of math.

!!!!

And it’s not just a 50-50 chance or something similar. Oh no. Take Baleful gear as an example. As I recall, there are something like 15 possible secondary stat combinations for a given piece of this gear. Usually, one of the flavors is optimal for a particular spec, and maybe a second flavor is a close runner-up. As I am the masochistic type, I have kept track of all the Baleful gear I have gotten for my 4 characters that have made it to Tanaan. Of the almost 300 pieces I have collected, care to hazard a guess as to how many have had the optimal set of secondary stats for that character’s spec?

Zero.

I have had three runners-up, though, and those work to some extent. But I have never seen a drop of Decimator, Impatient, Relentless, Pious, or Deft gear on any character, much less on one with an appropriate class/spec. Honestly, I am beginning to doubt that these exist.

I would love to see the official drop rates for the various flavors of Baleful gear.

And the ultimate insult? Even when you buy Baleful gear you do not get a choice of the secondary stat combos. Nor is it possible — as for crafted gear — to reroll them. It’s like going in to the Toyota dealer, handing over your money, and they reach into a grab bag and tell you what kind of car with what options you are going to get. Like it or lump it.

I won’t even get into the double whammy of crap shoots not only for getting gear from a raid boss, but for getting any kind of useful secondary stats from it.

Final point. Legion will be a great opportunity for Blizz to right many of their wrongs with secondary stats. They have already said that they plan to make major changes in class balances. Blizz, I beg of you, start with secondary stats. Almost no one who plays the current game (I would like to think that includes the devs, but I really doubt it unfortunately) is happy with what you have done with them.