Main planning

With the formal announcement that Battle for Azeroth will launch August 14, those of us who are compulsive organizers can now kick our planning up a notch. More than 4 months is not exactly what I would call “imminent”, but still it is good to have an actual target date.

The date is about 6 weeks earlier than the “not later than” date we saw in the promos during Blizzcon. I don’t know of any other titles due to launch in that same general time frame, so I don’t think the date is calculated to be a competitive market thing. And I hope it is not a marketing-driven deadline that corporate has imposed on the WoW team just to be able to say they hit their intended expansion schedule — pushing the envelope such that there is not enough slack time built in to allow for unforeseen glitches. Most likely, though, is that Blizzard is pretty confident the expansion is far enough along that the mid-August date will be no problem. Also, the release date occurs before most colleges and universities start the fall term, so possibly Blizzard is taking that into account as a way to engage this key group of players at the start rather than have them have to wait until things settle down a bit before they have a chance to play, and then feeling they are playing catch-up.

Still, as I pointed out back when the exclusive alpha started, this somewhat earlier launch date means many parts of the expansion — certainly class changes — are pretty well set in stone. (Maybe that is why Blizzard also forbade any class development questions in the recent dev discussion at Pax East — they have zero intention of making any more significant changes in classes at this point.)

As far as I am concerned, this is bad news for BM hunters, who have received almost no love now for years. Almost the sole change Blizzard has graciously deigned to make for BM hunters is a questionable revamp of pet abilities (which applies to all hunters, btw, not just the BM spec). It seems like they are tossing us a crumb — a rather stale and distasteful one at that — and basically telling us to sit the fuck down now and shut up, that is all we are getting, quit pestering. I said early on in the alpha that I had an uncomfortable feeling about hunters, given the significant number of announced MM and SV changes but the silence on BM, and I think I hit that one dead on. I can only surmise from what I read, of course, since it seems every player but me has gotten an invite to try it out, but this looks very much like what Blizzard did to us in the run up to Legion — the silent treatment as a response to bonafide concerns, reports, and requests for information.

The best writing out there currently on trends for hunters in BfA is coming from Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast, and I encourage anyone interested in the subject to check out his latest post. The bottom line is that both MM and SV are getting some much-needed and significant reworks, but BM is once again left out of the loop. It’s as if Blizzard hates the spec, wishes they could delete it, but instead will just make it so unpleasant, powerless, and boring that no one will want to play it. (This was their tactic back in WoD when they abandoned SV as too hard to deal with…)

Thus, a big part of my BfA planning will revolve around what to play as a main. Although it pains me to consider it, at this point I am still not sure that continuing as a hunter is in the cards for me. I feel like Blizz has dumped on me twice — first they destroyed my SV spec that I had lived and played for years, and now they seem in the process of also destroying the spec I switched to.

I will give both SV and MM a try, I suppose, but something in me just recoils at the idea of having to choose between being a hunter without a pet or one that is a melee spec. (Yes, even though Blizz has added a lot of ranged abilities to SV, its most potent shot is still a melee one.)

I have been having quite a lot of fun with my mages and my druid lately, so I suppose both of those would be candidates for a BfA main. And I have always had an attachment to my mistweaver healer, even though I have not paid much attention to her in Legion. (The main objection I have to maining a monk is that leveling and questing is most efficient with an off spec of windwalker, a melee spec…)

Fun is certainly one factor in my choice, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that relative power will be another. I enjoy raiding with my guild, and even though there is no pressure to tailor the team with “the right” classes and specs, still I feel it would be irresponsible to force a weak spec on the team. It is unfortunate but true that Blizz has in recent years not cared too much that each expansion brings clear winners and losers in terms of class/spec balances. Oh sure, they tweak a bit here and there as the expansion goes on, but they have become disturbingly comfortable with a fairly wide spread of results among the classes, as if it is too hard to compress the gap so if you happen to main a loser class, oh well sucks to be you…

What I am looking for in BfA is a class and spec that is reasonably powerful (upper-middle in the charts would be fine) and is a real rush to play. I stuck with BM in Legion, but honestly it was always sub-par in terms of performance and it never gave me the “whee!” rush many other classes have. I liked it because of the mobility and because I have an attachment to my spirit pets, and because I very strongly identify with my ideal of the hunter persona (mine, not Blizz’s) in the game. But the play style is just one long grind of grimly mashing short cooldowns as soon as they became available, with a very slight calculation of when to delay one or another of them for optimization. The combat animations stink (despite Blizz at one point “improving” Cobra Shot to make it wiggle more, oh what a wild and crazy change that was 🙄), there is no chance of getting any sort of exciting proc, the player has no control over focus generation, and there is no significant burst ability.







So far, it seems none of this will change in BfA. In fact, Blizz is actually removing one button, the artifact weapon ability, and not replacing it with anything. And the pet changes may have the effect of limiting my choice of pets to whichever one provides a missing raid utility. (And even this consideration is not very significant since Blizz has removed combat rez as one of the options.) One pleasing aspect of Legion I have enjoyed is running raids with Gara almost all the time — I have a preference for wolf pets, I like the current additional spirit beast effects, and I really like the Gara rendering. I will most definintely not like it if even this one small player choice is slightly curtailed in BfA.

So, yeah. Almost everything is on the table for selecting a main for BfA. I hope I can come to terms with — and find actual fun in — one of the hunter specs, but if not, then maybe it is time to move on to another class.

Still, it would break my heart.

Possibly a weekend and some beer will help shape my thinking. See you on the other side.

Hunters don’t fit in Blizzard’s mindset

Blizz announced a couple of days ago that Patch 7.3 will bring some fancy new caster visuals for some caster classes/specs. Um, sure, whatever. I suppose it is nice that they are continuing to improve the game’s visual experience.

Side comment: I have often said that I think mages have the best visuals in the game, so I find it a bit interesting that all three mage specs will be showered with even cooler new visuals, while only a couple of the remainder of the caster classes will be so favored. But then, we all know mages are the teacher’s pet class for Blizz….

And please, no hate mail from all you mages out there — I have a mage alt which I am terrible at but which I really wish I could play better. I stink at it, and I admire anyone who can play a mage well.  I do not hate mages, but you have to admit they are pretty much the untouchable class in WoW. They may not always be top of the DPS charts, but they also never get royally screwed with major changes like, oh, say, making one of the specs suddenly melee. Just sayin’.

Anyway, moving on. In reading the blue post about new visuals, I was struck by one thing: Blizz clearly thinks only in terms of casters and melee. Not ranged and melee. This was a revelation to me because it goes a long way towards explaining why they seem to dislike hunters so much — they have no idea how to think of them. Thus, hunters almost always fall through the cracks or become a last-minute afterthought.

And when I think about it, by “hunters” I am really talking mainly about BM hunters. SV are not really hunters at all but rather just a bad melee class. MM hunters, by virtue of their requirement to stand still to maximize their potential, are very close to casters, only they cast physical damage not magic. But BM hunters fit none of those categories. BM hunters are basically “ranged melee”. Our pets are strictly melee, and they do the bulk of our damage. But we control them (insofar as we can) from a distance, and we can even lob a few rather puny shots in ourselves from range. We live in both worlds, melee and ranged, but when Blizz primarily thinks of ranged as casters, we just get ignored. (Okay, yeah, we did get that marvelous new super-wiggly Cobra Shot, I guess we should be thankful…)

Now that I think about it, I wonder if the major class changes Blizz made to hunters in Legion had less to do with their desire for “spec uniqueness” and much more to do with trying to cram hunters into existing Blizz categories of melee and casters. They succeeded in doing so for two hunter specs, but they failed with beastmastery hunters. We are still neither fish nor fowl, still the exception spec, still the spec none of the devs really loves or understands at anything beyond a numbers level. Blizz created us, but they have no idea how to design our visuals or our damage or our rotations.

They are uncomfortable when we get either a caster or a melee advantage. Think about the very foundation of BM hunters, for example — we are “beast masters” but we have really very little control over our pets, and none over Hati. Is this because Blizz does not want someone standing at range to be able to have any real control over events in melee space? Or look at our puny, focus-eating Cobra Shot — does Blizz consider it unfair for a player to have a powerful ranged shot that is not cast, would it make “real” casters angry?

Yes, BM hunters are still the exception spec. Personally, I love this. I like not being part of the melee or caster herd, even if it means we are always the afterthought for cool changes like new visuals. But I suspect Blizz hates it. Over the years we have seen more and more centralized control in the game, more of Blizz making decisions for us about endgame activities, of Blizz deciding what our playstyle should be, of when and how we may use our flying mounts, of how many weeks it must take us to see new content, of how quickly we may progress in our professions, of how likely it is any of us will see needed gear. In this mindset, a spec that does not fit neatly into some set category is a real problem, because it must be dealt with separately, as an exception. Thus, Blizz must either largely ignore it because it takes too many resources to deal with, or work steadily to squeeze it into a category so it can be dealt with as part of a gaggle.

This makes me worry about what will happen to BM hunters in the next expansion. Will Blizz continue to allow us to exist as the exceptional spec we are, or will they stuff us into one of their defined categories? I think we will have to wait until at least Blizzcon to get even a hint of this, but I will be listening intently in the coming months. If Blizz starts to talk about something like “exciting new changes to hunters”, I will know it is time to panic.

But for now, it is time to start a weekend. See you on the other side.

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:


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:

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.


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.