Patch 7.3 first week impressions

We have had close to a week to explore Patch 7.3, and I am still pretty neutral about it. On the one hand there are some interesting and fun things to experience, and on the other the never-ending grind on the same-old same-old is really wearing very thin. Let me get to some specifics.

Timed content release. In general, I am not a fan of this Blizz policy, because I think it is basically one of in loco parentis — they are saving us from ourselves because we are apparently too dim-witted to pace our game play. If they release an entire patch at once, so the Blizz reasoning goes, some of us might play it all through in the first week and then begin to whimper and whine about there being nothing to dooooooo! in the game. Can’t have that, so — like mom doling out Halloween candy a piece at a time — they feed us the patch content in small pieces.

That is my thought in the abstract. In the concrete reality, though, I find I do not mind it. I would probably play the same amount of time whether or not the entire patch was immediately available, but I find nothing in the stretched out release that hinders the way I play. In fact, it encourages me to get a couple of my alts into Argus this first week, since really all there is to do on my main is try and grab as much rep as possible with the new factions and gather some of the currency — all of which can be done just by cranking out the Argus dailies.

The quests. I have found them interesting so far, but I think that is just because they are not the exact same ones we have all been doing for almost a year now. And of course they occur in new territory, so some of the interest is in finding just how in hell to get to this or that world boss or quest area. That said, I haven’t yet found any really new or innovative quests, just the same old gather-20-of-this or kill-10-of-these patterns.

Some of them, in fact, are pretty blatantly just dressed-up versions of the same ones we have been doing in Broken Shore for months now. For example, you know the one in BS along the shore where you have to point your camera up to scan the skies for big menacing birds to shoot down using a special gizmo, all the while dodging mobs on the ground and picking up supply chests? Well, leave out the supply chests and substitute spacey looking fighter craft for the birds, a different icon for the shooting gizmo, and you got one of the world quests on Argus. Exactly. It’s not just the same idea, it actually seems like the same code with a few cosmetic changes.

Zone art. This, too, so far seems like a repurposing of the zone art used in Broken Shore. The two Argus areas we have access to thus far are, like BS, nothing but stretches of rock strata punctuated by green goopy fel rivers and pools, with a cave or cave-like building thrown in once in a while as a place to park an elite or a treasure chest.

Unlike BS, however, the venue of another planet allows Blizz to dispense with some of the more pleasing and/or “normal” geography we found in Azeroth — even on BS — like a few sparse bushes or blades of grass once in a while, or a shoreline with actual ocean and maybe a few islands. And this dispensation is made even more acute by the fact that we cannot even travel between zones ourselves, we can only transport to them, thus Blizz has eliminated the need for transition zones. Argus so far is just a collection of disconnected venues for killing stuff. Which brings me to my next point,

Flying. More specifically, NO flying. Blizz has told us Argus is essentially Timeless Isle, and there will be no flying on it ever. So those cool flying mounts you worked so hard to be able to use in Legion? Forget about them, they will be consigned to waddle about through rock canyons and abutments. Those nifty class mounts Blizz so generously allowed us to earn? Same thing, unless of course you are a druid, in which case you cannot even use your class mount on Argus, since Blizz has decided druids are too stupid to choose their travel form for themselves, and there will be no flying druid forms in no-fly zones.

In the past, Blizz has given us two condescending reasons for not allowing flying. One is that certain zones are too small for it. The other — and their preferred excuse — is that flying precludes “immersion” in the game. (The real reason, I am fairly certain, is that disallowing flying makes the zone design simpler/cheaper and also serves to stretch out a player’s time.)

See, the “immersion” excuse actually makes a little sense to me, especially in the beginning of a new patch when you want to get a sense of the detailed art in the game, or you just want to do some exploring to find hidden pathways or little gems of idyllic beauty off the beaten track. But Argus has no real beauty spots, and the art is the same version of designer hell we have seen for months in BS.

All “immersion” means in 7.3 is that you get to fight your way through mobs every time you travel, every step of the way to and from quests. And Blizz has saved even more on overhead by pretty much making roads the only way you can travel — the place is chock full of invisible walls everywhere you try to go. And while I am at it, whatever happened to the old “You are much less likely to meet monsters if you stick to roads”? The reason Blizz has roads now is to funnel everyone into mob after mob after mob. Not much fun, but it sure as hell racks up the Monthly Active User stats…

Class hall and champion missions. Blizz is still cramming these down our throats. Did you breathe a sigh of relief, feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally got all your champions to gear level 900? HAHAHAHA! Well guess what, now you get to grind them up to 950! For the classes lucky enough to be granted the class hall research permitting work orders for champion gear, this is annoying but doable. For the classes that have to rely on missions only to bring back RNG-determined gear, this new requirement is disheartening in the extreme.

Make no mistake about it, this is nothing more than a naked attempt to boost the use of the WoW mobile app.

Artifact Power and artifact relics. Sigh…. Prior to the release of 7.2, Ion Hazzikostas made a big fat deal out of lecturing us on the proper approach towards collecting AP: It was supposed to be just something that just gradually happened, not meant to be chased after, not meant to overly reward those who played many hours every day, and therefore Blizz was making the AP requirements for additional concordance levels go from ridiculous to impossible. Cool it, he said to us, just play the game and don’t worry about grinding AP. (“If you play it, it will come.”)

Well. What a difference one patch makes. Now, it turns out, in order to maximize your weapon relics, you have to achieve certain (quite high) concordance levels. And to encourage you to do this (in fact, just to make it possible for you to do this) we are going back to ever-increasing levels of weapon reasearch that permit ever-higher AP rewards! Grind your little asses off, maggots! Bwaaaahaha!

Bottom line. I am happy to get some new stuff to do with 7.3, and I kind of like the idea of taking the battle to another planet. And even if the new world quests are just reruns of the Broken Shore ones, at least they are a somewhat new variation. But I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz is funneling us down a narrower and narrower chute in terms of game play — no flying, no esthetic exploring, keep up your champion missions, grind your butt off for AP again. I feel like they are sacrificing their enormous capacity for creativity all in the name of cranking out “content” at a blistering pace. And that they have begun to view players as nothing more than Monthly Active User statistics to be manipulated for the bottom line, not as customers who play their game just because they take pure delight in it.

Personal note: Thanks to the well-wishers for my family in Houston last week. It was a week of little sleep for me, along with a lot of phone calls and micro-organizing, but it ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome. And not for nothin’, but I come from good stock — my 80-year old great-aunt and uncle weathered hardship that would defeat many, much younger, people. Uncle Bertie and Aunt Ellen — you guys rock!

More inexplicable changes

And I quote from yet another unbelievable Blizz post yesterday:

New Ranks for Warlords Crafted Items
Two new ranks of upgrades have been added to Warlords Crafted items, “Mighty” for rank 5 at item level 700, and “Savage” for rank 6 at item level 715.
Crafting the new upgrade items requires Felblight Felbood, a new reagent that can be obtained from Fishing, Herbalism, Mining, or Skinning in Tanaan Jungle.through the Barn.
The new recipes can be purchased from visiting Garrison traders.

Yes, folks, the busy little beavers at Blizz’s Screw With the Players Department are at it again, cranking out more of their crackpot ideas. And in their usual hard-hitting, hands-on project management style, Blizz management has vaguely waved their hand and muttered something like “Yeah, whatever you wanna do. Someone get me the latest sales figures on the token!”

There is so much wrong with this decision I hardly know where to begin. With the big picture first, I guess:

Blizz, how about a nice long explanation about what you want to accomplish with all of Patch 6.2? What is your vision of where that patch will take the game?

I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here and assuming they do have such a vision. If they would just explain it to us, we could put seemingly ridiculous changes into context. But honestly the changes announced so far point at them having zero vision, no organized plan. The only way I can explain them now is that they put a big anonymous suggestion box in the lobby at Blizz Headquarters and are implementing changes by pulling the suggestion slips out randomly, like lottery tickets.

I would easily accept most well thought out explanations from Blizz. Maybe they realized much of WoD is not working, they have identified these three or five or ten things that are the cause of it not working, and here is how they are going to go about fixing those things. Or maybe they have completely given up on the entire xpac and the whole purpose of Patch 6.2 is to pave the way for the next xpac, so we will see changes geared towards that.

But no. No explanations from Blizz, just some snarky comments about how sheesh they can’t be expected to explain every little change because they are Very Busy People, and we are not to worry our little heads about such things, they know what they are doing. Uh huh.

Here’s the thing. Some changes are indeed trivial, but others are not, and Blizz for some reason cannot distinguish between the two.

So now in Patch 6.2 our garrison barns will be worthless. This announcement comes on the heels of announced changes that will make the dwarven bunker/war mill worthless. (See The Grumpy Elf’s post on this.)

Its as if, once players start actually accepting and using game mechanics, Blizz goes into panic mode and must immediately change those mechanics. Look at reforging — players were actually using it to max out hit and expertise, oh no, it must go! Aspect of the Fox was actually being used (somewhere, by a small group of raiders) to *gasp* ALLOW CASTING ON THE MOVE IN RAIDS! Who knew those sneaky little players would actually use something the way it was designed for, clearly it must go!

And now that most of the complaints about garrisons have subsided, now that some players have figured out how to use the barn to make gold and how to maximize the usefulness of the bunker/mill, it is obviously time to make these buildings obsolete.

Here is yet another inexplicable mixed message from Blizz. On the one hand they are cramming garrisons down our throats by requiring them to be at level 3 in order for us to be admitted to the new content, and on the other hand they don’t want us to use them in any way that might actually benefit us.

Again, Blizz is taking away player choice, forcing a particular game style on everyone.

Tinfoil Hat Theory:  By making the announced change to how Felblight is collected and the other changes making garrisons less useful, Blizz is trying to enforce their “immersion” fixation on all of us. Players responded to their stubborn position on no more flying, ever, by pretty much holing up in their garrisons and doing their mat gathering there. They were not experiencing Blizz’s idea of the perfect game, which is galloping around on the ground, fighting your way through mob after annoying mob just to get to an ore node or some worthless “treasure” or a quest location! How dare they?

Once again, Blizz was pissed that players were actually playing the game by using the rules Blizz set up. So now, if you ever expect to get required crafting resources, you WILL play Blizz’s notion of “immersion”. You WILL spend huge amounts of time gathering resources, fighting other players, annoying mobs, and of course the inevitable botters, just to do so. You will be immersed or Blizz will by god know the reason why. They have the power, they are the power, and you will be made to understand that your wishes mean nothing to them.

In short, Blizz is throwing a tantrum that the players are not playing the way they are supposed to!

The floggings will continue until morale improves . . . .

These changes are not trivial. They have a significant effect on game play. It seems unprecedented for such major changes to occur with such frequency in the middle of an expansion. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to explain them and seems to implement them at random, forcing us to assume there really is no one there who even gives a crap about the player base any more. Or that the tinfoil hatters are right.

What is “immersion”?

I should warn everyone that this post may seem like one long rant but, well, I just have to get it out of my system.

I AM SICK AND TIRED OF IDIOTS NATTERING ABOUT “IMMERSION” AS IF IT WERE THE HOLY GRAIL.

Immersion as The Divine Reason To Play WoW gained traction as the insipid argument of choice over the question of flying in Draenor. In the face of a pretty long list of reasons flying should be allowed (not going to enumerate them here, read any of the hundreds of forum posts if you are interested), the no-fly enforcers can only shrilly scream “Immersion!” And then go on to explain — you can almost see the little bits of spittle foam flecking their mouths — exactly why they and they alone can define it not only for themselves but for everyone else.

Well. Let’s take a look at this.

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

First, let’s stipulate that everyone who plays MMOs is already receptive to suspending reality for awhile. If you are such a hard-headed realist that you cannot enjoy any experience that delves into fantasy, then you are not going to be playing any kind of MMO. The question becomes, how far are you willing to go and what set of fantasy rules do you devise in order to judge what is permissible in the fantasy world. Herein, of course, lies a problem. If you do not know what external factors drive game rules, or if you perceive that the internal game rules must adhere to a certain fantasy logic, you feel cheated if one or both of those elements is missing from game changes.

Fantasy games have a basic set of rules for how the fake world operates. In WoW, while lore plays a part in defining these rules, most of them are unwritten but expressed through the graphics and code (movement mechanics, art transformations as a character gets “closer” to the horizon, item attributes, etc.) Sometimes the rules are tied to technology or business policies but explained through lore or just accepted story line. The game is a closed system, so relevant factors outside the system need to be explained from within it. This can make for some awkwardness if you are placing yourself inside the closed system in order to understand some new rule, but it makes perfect sense if you step back into the real world for a bit. Usually you will eventually accept some internal awkwardness if you understand the external reason for it.

For example, in the real world, Blizzard did not want to create an entire new continent for the most recent expansion, so they did major revisions of Outland, an existing area. Within the closed game system, they “explained” this new-old continent as a portal exploiting a tear in the space-time continuum, an alternate universe kind of thing. Some players found this internal explanation not in keeping with their understanding of the system environment, and there was a lot of criticism of what was undeniably a very awkward solution for fitting an external business decision into a closed system. But eventually most of the criticism stopped, because people wanted the new expansion, and there seemed to be no good alternative to the internal explanation Blizz offered.

Similar thing with flying. For a long time the external technology did not permit the mechanics of flying mounts, except via strictly controlled predetermined taxi routes. Then technology and customer demand evolved, and so within the system players could get “flying licenses” and mounts with the flying attribute. A known external development was explained using internal rules that most players accepted.

When Warlords came out there was some unexplained external development that resulted in no flying in Draenor, and on top of that there has been no real attempt to provide an internal explanation. Like your mom using the “Because I said so, that’s why” explanation. It just doesn’t work. So you have  both an unknown external reason for no flying and a total lack of a satisfactory internal explanation. This is a recipe for discontent.

The only word we hear over and over again from Blizz devs as well as some very vocal players is the “I” word. As if everyone is agreed on what that means and accepts it as the driving reason for playing the game.

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master— that’s all.”

Really. What exactly is so immersive about players being almost the only creatures in Draenor that don’t fly? NPCs fly, followers fly, taxis fly, big giant behemoth rylaks fly, birds and flying insects are everywhere. To me, it is decidedly NOT “immersive” to not fly in a world where almost every other creature can fly. To me, immersion would be flying. This would be my definition of immersion.

We do not hear massive outcries from the Immersers about the fact that their characters are unaffected by weather. Since the closed system has actual weather, it would be much more immersive if when it rained you had to slow down all movement, your battle performance decreased, your spells had more limited range, and after a certain period of time you either had to change all your gear or go inside somewhere for a period of time to let it dry out. Now THAT would be a real immersive experience.

How about all that different terrain in Draenor? To be truly immersive, you should have to slow down when going uphill, or through jungle or deep snow. In arid areas, you should have to stop and drink frequently or suffer significant performance decrements and eventual death. Very immersive.

What about food and rest? The internal rules provide for food items to exist, and for rest to be a factor. So why not require all characters to take in a certain amount of food every day and to rest a minimum of 6-8 hours every 24? I personally would feel much more immersed if that were the case.

What? You say I am free to impose these requirements on myself if I feel they are integral to my game enjoyment? No, no, no, you don’t understand. I can only truly enjoy the game if I can make everyone play the way I do. Can’t you see that if other players can ignore sleep requirements, or the effects of terrain or weather, then I am forced to ignore them also? The injustice of it all!

OK, look, I know this whole post this is a little heavy-handed, but the point is, immersion is whatever you want it to be. My immersive experience — and enjoyment thereof — is almost certainly not the same as yours. That is as it should be. It is a feature of a good game. And I do not accept that some number of small-minded self-appointed screaming evangelists can impose their definition on everyone else in the game. I do not know what the numbers are for Immersers versus fliers — and I am betting Blizz does not know either, their bogus “polls” notwithstanding — and I really do not care. I know there are significant numbers of each. There was room for both to play their game the way they wanted before Draenor, and there should be a way for it post Draenor.

And for the record, “immersion” as someone else insists on defining it is not the only reason I play this game.