A case for boring gear

I read a forum and Blue post today that started me to thinking about gear in WoW. The post is about a healer cloak that I have never heard of — you can read the original if you want more details — but the point being made was that this cloak, which is neither tier gear nor a legendary, is basically a requirement for healers trying to maximize crit. It is so powerful that no other cloak comes close to replacing it, and it effectively blocks out that slot from any other gear, thus limiting the healer’s choice of tier gear as well as legendaries.

Blizz’s response was, I thought, pretty good. It may not have been a particularly satisfying response to the poster, but at least it was honest. Basically they said yeah, it’s a problem, and our half-solution will not be a good one for everyone who has the cloak, but it is all we can do at this point.

Thinking about this, it occurred to me that much of my angst with gear in Legion is less about the RNG factor in and of itself than it is about the dual notion that certain gear makes a significant difference in my damage-dealing abilities and my receipt of such gear is totally dependent on a roll of the dice. Thus my frustration with tier gear, the “good” legendaries, and so forth.

In my last post, I wrote about my frustration with Blizz’s recent habit of bandaging class and spec shortfalls with gear instead of addressing the base problem. This is one way gear makes a big difference in game play. That is, sometimes a spec really cannot function fully without the gear — the player cannot realize the full potential of the spec without the band-aid gear.

A second way gear matters to game play is that it may come with a special bonus — the player gets a big boost in tanking or healing or deepsing just by having certain gear. In Legion, the “good” legendaries fall into this category, along with some specialized trinkets and such, and to one extent or another tier gear. Blizz even tried to institutionalize this practice by some of the random enchants on neck pieces this expansion.

The third way gear matters is the mix of secondary stats on it. Although Blizz has tried recently to lessen the impact of secondary stats on game play, they have been unable to make much of a dent in their importance. At one point, I recall, our lead MM hunter on our raid team was bemoaning the fact that agility had assumed a secondary spot to mastery for him. Secondary stats, which, I assume from their name, should be — well, “secondary” considerations — have become so important that gear with much lower item level are often still superior to items 10-15 item levels higher. As I said, Blizz recognizes this problem, but they have been unable to untangle all the intricate dependencies enough to fix it.

Finally, there is the strut and preen factor. Some players just cannot get enough of humble-bragging about their gear. “Withered J’im always gives me that stupid Arcanocrystal, I’ve gotten it three times now!” “Man, I can’t believe my bad luck — my sixth legendary and only one of them is really good!” “I hate that I can’t equip all 6 pieces of my tier gear because I have that great legendary in the shoulder slot.” Et cetera. Let’s face it, in-your-face bragging is part of the game some people like best.

I know this will never happen, but imagine for a moment a game where most of the gear simply incrementally increased overall power as the levels rose. For a unique boost, there would still be maybe one legendary per expansion (like in Mists and WoD), and tier gear that you could actually earn rather than roll the dice for. Secondary stats, if they still existed, would match your loot spec automatically. If you got a piece of gear that was, say ilevel 900, you would know it was better than your current 890 one — no simulations, Mr. Robot, or complex calculations needed.

Much of Blizz’s current problem with class and spec balancing springs from their inability to foresee problems with huge gear bonuses (like the healer cloak I cited at the beginning of this post), and with their failure to properly integrate secondary stats into the already-complex equation of spells, talents, and artifact traits. A simpler approach like the one I suggest would allow them to actually make every spec fun to play again, as well as probably lessen the large gaps in performance among the specs.

Similarly, chronically unlucky players like myself rant and rail about the inequities of RNG gear, but much of that is due to the fact that most of the “desired” gear actually gives a significant advantage to players who have it. If it gave just an incremental power advantage, obtaining it would seem less urgent and much of the frustration of never getting a certain piece would disappear. Pursuing the special gear like a legendary or tier gear would be challenging and fun, because you would know if you stuck with it you would be rewarded.

Last, such a system of boring gear might restore the element of skill to its rightful place in the game. I freely admit I am not a highly skilled player — I am the equivalent of one of the chorus line in our raid team. But I was astounded to see what a difference it made in my damage when I did finally get my 4th piece of tier gear a few days ago. In some cases it boosted my damage by as much as 150k per second over the course of a long fight. Trust me, I did not suddenly become much more skilled in the last few days — this was solely a function of gear. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying skill no longer matters in the game, but I am saying I think we have veered too far in the direction of gear making more of a difference than it should.

About the only part of the game such a system would not help is the strut and preen group. They would have to find another way to rub their superior luck in the faces of the Great Unwashed. I have no solution to this, but I feel confident the strutters and preeners would find one.

Gear should matter, and it should reward skill and achievement. It just should not matter as much as it does now, and it should not depend on luck of the draw as much as it does now. I am hoping Blizz learns from some of the gear failures in Legion — such as the legendaries debacle — and returns to a more reasonable gear structure in the next expansion. We can always hope, right?

With that, the weekend commences.

Admin note: A family emergency involving two trips between Virginia and Minnesota this week accounts for my absence. All is well, but it has been a hectic week. Thanks to my readers for their patience.

Dire Beast non-solution

It is an absolutely crappy day in my corner of Virginia today. The weather has reached that perfect pinnacle of miserableness: about 37 degrees, cold driving rain, and constant breeze. In my soldier days it was the kind of weather I most hated. We had gear for snow and extreme cold, and we even had ways to lessen the effects of extreme heat, but no amount of rain gear could help for this kind of day. You were always wet, you were always cold, there was always mud everywhere, you were mentally exhausted from constantly forcing your brain to keep thinking about the mission and not wander off to thoughts of cozy fires and hot meals. Miserable.

Maybe having to do with the weather, maybe having to do with general mental laziness, I find myself unable to come up with a reasonable WoW topic today, so this will be a pretty short post. Mainly I am recommending to my hunter readers an excellent piece by Bendak on the beastmastery legendary Mantle of Command. He gives some excellent pointers on how to employ that legendary if you are lucky enough to have it, but more importantly he gives some history on the struggle to force Blizz to do something about the horrible clunky BM rotation.

I am frustrated by what I see as a pattern of Blizz implementing terrible design mechanics for hunters, then eventually “fixing” them via RNG-based loot drops. In WoD they did this with MM hunters, making the spec only truly playable as a hunter style by getting the 4-pc tier set. They are doing a similar thing in Legion with this legendary for BM. Skilled hunters for months pointed out to Blizz the need for an additional charge to Dire Beast. As Bendak describes:

Adding a second charge to Dire Beast was one of the most consistent pieces of feedback given to the devs during the Legion beta. Several Hunters, including myself were giving this feedback at least 6 months prior to Legion launch, maybe even sooner.

As usual, Blizz completely ignored this feedback. When it became clear there would be some class changes in 7.1.5, these same top level hunters pushed for a second Dire Beast charge to be made baseline for BM hunters, arguing that it was a terrible “solution” to put this near-critical ability in a random-drop legendary.

We see how much attention Blizz paid to that feedback as well.

It’s not that Blizz thought the idea was a bad one — they clearly recognize the need for a second DB charge. They were just to0 effing lazy to do anything but add a piece of gear to fix it. Oh, and of course they had to add in the Hazzikostas-licensed fun™ factor of making it a rare drop RNG legendary.

I don’t have the legendary shoulders, and honestly I do not expect to get them any time soon if at all in this expansion. It frustrates me no end to think that this one piece of random gear could make a significant difference in my entire play style, that it could actually make BM a reasonably fun spec to play at last. Blizz could have provided this kind of fix to all BM hunters , and they could have done it long before Legion went live. But they just did not — and do not — give a damn.

So Blizz, in keeping with the weather today, here is a big wet cold raspberry to you: *phbbbbttttttttttttt*

Meanwhile, I am going to have another cup of tea, put some beef stew to simmer in the slow cooker, and start my weekend.

Simple things

I spent my game play time over the weekend leveling my rogue. He is a notable alt for me because first of all he is a he, and second of all he is a melee damage dealer. I like him, he is kind of a happy-go-lucky type who doesn’t really stress about anything. In WoD, he was a combat rogue, and I opted to go with that spec’s morph — outlaw — in Legion. I have zero idea whether or not outlaw is one of the “respected” specs, honestly don’t care. Also, I am not especially skilled at dealing with the Roll the Bones mechanic, but I copied a weak aura from one of my in game friends, and that more or less provides me with light-up idiot buttons telling me whether to roll again or not. Basically, though, I just faceroll keys, and it seems to work out. I think I only died twice during the 100-110 leveling process.

I know all you really good rogues out there are now shaking your heads over my description of my rogue play. Sorry, I really do understand there is a lot more to playing a rogue than I just described, it’s just that this is my fun alt. I play him when I need that unexpected-day-off-from-work feeling. You know the one — that sheer delight when you find out you have an entirely free day to spend as you please, you are permitted to forget all your normal grown-up chores. I think lots of players have such an alt. In fact often it is a hunter, because they certainly are fun to play, even now, for things like leveling or world quests.

Anyway, leveling my rogue the last couple of days clarified a couple of thoughts about Legion. In no particular order:

  • Especially in the leveling process, Legion is a fun expansion. Zone scaling is one of the best design innovations the game has ever had. It allows you to customize your leveling experience and eliminates much of the boredom from leveling your third or fourth or fifth alt.
    • My only gripe — and this is all because of me being lazy — is that I can level from 100 to 110 in about 3.5 zone completions. I always tell myself I will go back and finish off that last partial zone and do the full one I missed, but so far I have not done so, except of course on my main. This tends to limit my world quest options for the alt, at least until I pick up some of the many flight paths I need.
    • I still don’t like the Suramar experience much, and it annoys me that, even though I get the whistle automatically at 110, I still have to go through that whole tedious Suramar intro set of quests, at least up through getting the mask disguise.
  • The profession slog is terrible, and each time I level an alt I resent it more and more. I don’t dislike the idea of having a profession quest line, but I do hate being pushed into specific end game content, such as dungeons, that I have no intent on pursuing with an alt. The “levels within levels” design stinks, too, and it makes me feel manipulated — “Spend more hours playing this game or you will never finish leveling your profession, BWAAAAHAHA!” And I really detest the whole RNG mechanism for advancing your profession. You should not have to be a raider or a mythic instance runner to have a well-developed profession. Blizz broke professions in Legion.
  • No matter how Ion Hazzikostas tries to spin the whole AP mess, it amounts to one gigantic expansion-long grind. And no matter how much he lectures us on how we shouldn’t bother our silly little heads with chasing after it, it remains a psychological dead weight, a virtual treadmill ever present in the game, taunting you no matter how many clothes you hang on it to try to ignore it.
    • I realized this when I figured out one of the reasons I was having such a good time leveling my rogue was that I didn’t care how much — if any — AP I was collecting for a weapon I would never be raiding with.
    • The AP catch-up mechanism for alts is decent, and I am glad Blizz implemented it. But it is also pernicious, in that it subtly sucks you into joining the AP grind for your alts.
    • It is tempting to say I should just not care about how much AP I gather for advancing my main’s weapon, too, but the fact remains that if you wish to raid with a regular team in Legion, you have to care about it. Even in guilds that do not push for certain gear levels or certain minimum damage numbers, the average of the team will inevitably increase as the expansion goes on, and if you write off AP grinding you will sooner or later begin to hold the team back. If you wish to raid in Legion, you must grind AP ceaselessly. 

Side note: I am having a hard time understanding the whole Watchersplaining about plans for AP in 7.2. I believe it goes something like this: “We know AP has become a grind for some players, so in 7.2 we are going to fix that by vastly increasing the amount needed for each additional trait beyond 34, as well as by making the weapon power increases less important. Also, we are going to cut the amount of AP earned for the quick group instances, but increase it for the long ones.”

I am at a loss as to how that does anything positive, I would think if anything it makes it more of a grind with less of a chance for ever getting anything useful out of it. I guarantee that the people who feel the need to grind AP now will not feel less of a need when it takes tens millions or even billions for each trait increase. Similarly, the people who are not currently driven to chase AP will feel even less of a need to do so in 7.2.

This may be a theoretical “improvement” because it lessens some gap between the people who have a lot of time to play and those who don’t, but it in no way gets at the base problem with AP, which is that it is a never-ending grind that weighs down the game. This is true, no matter how often or how emphatically Ion Hazzikostas tells us it is not so. We have come face-to-face with a Blizz “alternative fact”.

  • Class hall quest lines are tedious, over-long, and yield very little of value for an alt. If it is convenient to do parts of it for my rogue, I am doing it, but I am not going out of my way to finish it. I really do not care if I ever get that third relic slot.
  • Highmountain is my favorite zone. Stormheim is second. I definitely prefer more “natural” looking zones, not big on pink trees and green goopy rivers and hostile plant life and such.
  • The legendary mess is still a mess. I have almost zero hope of ever getting even one on an alt, mainly due to the exorbitant amount of time needed on each before the mythical “bad luck insurance” kicks in. But honestly, I find I do not care.

All in all, I think the reason I had so much fun leveling my rogue this weekend is that it was simple, and I tried to make sure it stayed that way. There was no pressure to do anything but gather quests, do them, and turn them in. And if I found I did not enjoy the quest, I abandoned it without a second thought. I refused to permit myself to feel pressure to develop a garrison class hall, or large amounts of AP for a weapon, or to gear up beyond what I could get as quest loot, or to quest in certain zones because they would pay off the most for professions, or to run instances as soon as I could. I just bopped around, doing what looked interesting to me and enjoying the best parts of Legion.

It was exhilarating. It was eye-opening. I learned some things about myself, about the value of not pursuing goals if they seem to be a burden. And I am going to try and apply some of this approach to my main, in an attempt to get back to the sheer fun and genius of this game.

Q&A — meh

Short post today, lots going on IRL. I did take the time to listen to the Q&A yesterday, and I am sorry I wasted an hour. I suppose there were a couple of interesting revelations about legendaries, but all in all it was pretty bland. Hazzikostas spent about 90% of the time talking about, yes you guessed it, gear — artifact appearances, artifact power, artifact relics, tier gear, trinkets, and legendaries legendaries legendaries. I hoped a question about secondary stats might lead to one on class balance, but no, secondary stats were discussed only insofar as they affect gear not as they affect class play styles.

As I said in my last post, Legion — and dev focus — has morphed into something  that certainly seems more gear-centric than I can remember in the game. I would really have liked to hear some discussion on class balance, maybe even one tiny mention of the long-promised help for the hunter play style, but no, just mainly gear gear gear.

Side note: Sorry, but the “fixes” Blizz has made thus far to hunters have done absolutely nothing to improve a clumsy and awkward rotation, have given BM players zero burst capability, have not significantly improved the deplorable pet pathing or Hati problem, have done precious little to restore the mobility Legion removed. We finally got some traps back, which was nice, but other than that all we have gotten are some shut-them-up number tweaks. It has never been about the numbers. I would have thought Hazzikostas might have at least mentioned the going forward plan for some of the worst classes, but nope, not a peep, as if that is now no longer a problem or at least not one they want to talk about any more.

Maybe the whole question of fixing classes is in the “too hard” category, and it is easier to focus on gear… I do find it amusing to watch Blizz scramble to apply bandaid after bandaid to the whole legendary process — there was even an expanded explanatory blue post later yesterday (collected here by MMO-C) — in an attempt to “fix” something that was poorly conceived and implemented, and which has had cascading major effects on nearly all class play. I am willing to bet more than one dev heartily wishes these legendaries would just disappear from the game.

I am betting one of the non-gear subjects discussed — the demise of some world competitive mythic guilds — will get a lot of attention in the blogosphere in the next couple of days. Towards the end, Hazzikostas very delicately took some of those guilds to task for promoting polices almost guaranteed to quickly burn people out. I thought he had some excellent points, but more than anything I was heartened to hear him say Blizz recognizes that many players perceive Legion to be overly — and endlessly — grindy. He said 7.2 will alleviate much of that feeling. I hope it does, although I think the solutions he has offered so far will fall short. Still, it is hopeful that they at least recognize the problem.

The only other item of mild interest was the short discussion of group buffing abilities. Apparently these are just an experiment (?), which is why only a few classes have them. I thought it was pretty naive of him to go on and say he does not expect that raid teams will stack them or select certain class/specs purely to take advantage of them. Really? What planet has he actually been living on for the last couple of years? He scolded some of the top guilds for going overboard on competing for world first, and he doesn’t think they will stack raid buffs?

So, as Q&A sessions go, the one yesterday was not awful, but it was also relatively uninformative. Just my two cents. Gotta get to my chores for the day, everyone have a nice weekend.

One of those days

Something about the best-laid plans… My plan this morning had been to bring my car in to the dealer for service and write my post while waiting for it. After all, they have free wifi and a decent waiting room, free coffee and muffins, and all that.

HAHAHAHAHAHA. Silly me.

First, it turns out nearly every site I use for material is on some sort of black list for the dealer’s network. When I asked, I got some sort of half-assed vague response about “no computer gaming” allowed. Unfortunately whoever manages the dealer’s network is apparently very ham-handed, so any site with certain key words in it are blocked. This means I have no access to WoW forums, certain reddit groups, Wowhead, not even to MMO-C nor to a couple of independent blog sites.

*grrrr*

Second, I guess I did not realize that today is bring-your-brats-to-the-dealer day. There is a woman in here waiting for a vehicle, and she brought along two of the worst-behaved children I have ever seen. I am used to pre-school kids running and squealing and generally just being kids, but these two are pulling all the magazines off the racks, throwing the provided toys at each other and the rest of the customers, running and screeching at the tops of their lungs, pushing the chairs around incessantly, using the coffee cups to build towers on the floor, and just generally being uncivilized little sh*theads. All while their mother ignores them, along with the multitude of dirty looks the rest of us are directing at her.

*sigh*

Where I am going with this cranky rant is, there will not be much of a post today. I can recommend a couple of interesting ones from some fellow bloggers, however. One is from one of my favorites, Delirium over at The Thrill of the Wild. He has some non-obvious observations about effects of legendaries in the current game and in 7.2 going forward. As usual, he has done the math heavy lifting for us and gives us the bottom line in language even the math-challenged like me understand.

Legendaries as they were implemented in Legion were a huge mistake. Even Blizz admits that. Unfortunately, rather than do something drastic to cut their losses and move on, they have insisted on tweaking them, and the result is they still are a huge “un-balancer” for nearly every class and spec. In my opinion, what they should have done when they discovered how badly they had messed up is this:

  • Remove all spec-specific armor legendaries from the game. For those who already had them, replace them with a standard piece of armor at say, 890 level. Would people have howled? Of course, but hey welcome to a world where Blizz can pull the rug out from under you in a heartbeat, not that I am bitter about Legion hunters or anything. Deal with it.
  • Limit the remaining jewelry type legendaries to maybe a ring, a neck, and a trinket flavor, each one configured like Chipped Soul Prism from Kazzak in WoD — primary stat that varies according to your class/spec, along with some of every  secondary stat. If you had gotten anything else, it would be auto-changed into one of these.

Anyway, read Delirium’s post — if you thought legendaries don’t make a huge difference, this will make you think again. In Legion, they have reduced one aspect of the game to lucky lottery winners and unlucky losers.

In the “would you please just shut up and not get people riled up about this again” category, take a look at a Blizzard Watch post on — yes, you guessed it — the subject of flying …. I am absolutely not going there again, and I hope none of you are either, but I guess some people just love trolling. If you feel compelled to vent your spleen on the subject, please reply to Blizzard Watch, not here.

Last, if you have a couple of minutes, take a gander at Marathal’s short post with some thoughts on Midwinter’s recent announcement that they are stepping down from world-first raiding competition. He doesn’t reach any grand conclusions, but he offers some good jumping-off points for further cogitation.

I take that back — this is actually the last: I miss The Grumpy Elf. I am frankly tired of being the only grumpy person writing about this game, and I don’t do it nearly as well as he did. Grumpy, if you are still reading about the game, please consider coming back to write about it, too.

Shane! Grumpy! Come back, Shane Grumpy!

Doubling down on bad ideas

Patch 7.2 will give us crafted legendaries. You can read the details of what we know about them thus far in this summary from MMO-C. Now, of course, Patch 7.2 is still undergoing a lot of changes, and the initial info on these legendaries could change a lot between now and live, but let me just say for the record:

What the hell, Blizz? Has the cheese finally slipped off your cracker?

Legendary implementation thus far in Legion has been a huge mistake, Blizz themselves have as much as admitted it. Yet they keep trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, and no one is clamoring for the sandwiches, so part of their solution is to add a line of artisan breads.

There are so many things wrong with the proposed implementation of this, I hardly know where to start. The basic plan is that players will be able to do a whole new series of profession quests that will allow them to collect rare materials that will allow them to craft leather/mail/cloth/plate legendary gear for specific classes.

First, the — admittedly still vague — quest lines for each profession involve defeating various raid bosses. This of course is Blizz doubling down on the main complaint about professions in Legion — they require raid level gear not to mention In some cases regular running of raids so as to be lucky enough to get the RNG recipe drops.

Second, crafting the legendary items requires what appears to be a host of very expensive and/or rare mats — 65 Blood of Sargeras, profession mats, something referred to only as “legendary mats” from quests, and a new mat called Felessence Legion-Flask. The latter is one of those horrible crafted (we don’t know by whom — all crafters or just alchemists) abominations that requires making a gray item, then upgrading it until it reaches “legendary” status. This is Blizz doubling down on the whole idea of ensuring that no one plays an alt for pure pleasure or to help out a main. If you have not had enough time to get your profession alts to level 800, you will not have enough time to have them craft a legendary, I guarantee.

Third, the crafted legendaries are BoP. Yup, you read that right. BoP. Thus, any character can only make this gear for itself. Your leatherworker better wear leather or mail, because she damn sure will not be able to make a piece of legendary gear for any other alt. There may be more of these crafted legendaries not yet announced, but so far characters that do not have a “classic” armor crafting profession — for example engineers or alchemists or inscriptionists — are S.O.L. And remember, early on in Legion, Blizz pretty much pushed many characters into having only one crafting profession because gathering professions are much more lucrative for garnering Blood of Sargeras (also BoP). So chances are a lot of players no longer have dual-crafting professions. Oh, and of course, making these crafted legendaries BoP also means they cannot be sold, just another little gotcha from Blizz.

Fourth, the current tooltip for these legendaries indicates they count as a normal legendary for equipping — thus they will be the one or the one of two you are allowed to equip. However, none of these legendaries appear to have any special abilities. Yup, they are stat sticks. So they might up your gear level a bit, but if you have any of the actual ability-boosting legendaries equipped, crafted will likely be last choice as a legendary. (Unless, of course, Blizz goes ahead and negates all current legendary damage, defensive, and healing bonuses — do not count that out as a possibility.)

Fifth — and this is the kicker — it looks like they will be level 910. Yes, again, you read that right — after going through all I described above, you will be left with a level 910 legendary. Trust me, any character able to do all the steps necessary to craft one of these will not need level 910 gear. I presume you will be able to upgrade them as we now upgrade the “old” legendaries, but guess what? That means you get to add another couple of weeks to the gear just to get it to a level that benefits you. (Oh, and it also is a way for Blizz to keep that ridiculous legendary upgrade quest line going.)

I honestly wonder what is in the water or air at Blizz HQ. Think about it, what are the parts of Legion people seem to complain about the most? It is as if Blizz has a working list of these complaints and used it to design these crafted legendaries. They have doubled down on many of the major perceived problems with this expansion. It reminds me of their reaction in WoD to the massive complaints about garrisons: they doubled down on them by requiring even more garrison work just to be able to see the new Tanaan content. “You don’t LIKE this? BWAAAAAHAAAAAA, well then you will HATE this!!!! That will teach you to complain!”

So, if you hate Legion professions, if you think legendaries are a failure, if you have given up on alts because Blizz does not approve of the way you play them — stay tuned. Blizz appears to be sensitive to player dissatisfaction, and the louder the complaints, the more they are going to shove it down our throats.

Now THAT’S communication. I get the message.

What Blizz got wrong in Legion

My last post laid out what I think Blizz got right about Legion. It was a long post, because I think on balance Legion is a decent expansion — certainly leagues better than WoD. As I said in the post, I give Legion a “solid B”. The reasons it does not make the cut for an “A” is the subject of this post.

All expansions have good and bad points. And of course what is one person’s “good” is another’s “bad”. Something I hate about the game may be the one thing that keeps you coming back to it. In weighing what I was going to include in this post, I tried to evaluate the big picture of things in Legion that make me grimly grit my teeth and slog through, knowing for me they detract significantly from the fun of the game, but they must be endured if I wish to get to the fun parts.

As I began to outline what I was going to include in this post, I noticed there were there design approaches that seemed to play a major role — singly or together —  in every area I find troubling about this expansion: RNG, the drive to increase the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric, and what I think of as “class chaos”. These seem to me to be meta-mistakes in Legion, fundamentally flawed design philosophies that give rise to a host of unpopular and/or fun-killing aspects of the game.

RNG (random number generator, or more properly, pseudo-random number generator) is at the heart of nearly every computer game — I don’t know of a way to code complex combat simulations without it. The extent to which randomness is used, however, is where people begin to get uncomfortable with it. For example, if every time you cast a spell in WoW, it was like spinning a huge wheel of fortune, and you got truly random outcomes anywhere in a range of one to ten million hit points, most people — Blizz devs included — would consider that bad design. Similarly, if absolutely every aspect of the game — even things like where you end up when you interact with a flight master, or how many health points you get when you down a health potion — were RNG-controlled, again almost everyone would consider that to be unacceptable game design.

But there is a vast area between minimal combat-outcome RNG and the extremes I just cited. And it is in this area where reasonable people differ in their opinions of “how much is too much”. I would argue that Blizz has a years-long history of RNG creep, in the sense of expanding its use to more and more areas of the game. Some form of RNG seems to be their preferred design approach for as many aspects of the game as they can apply it to, and we have seen it noticeably expanded in Legion, to the extent that for me it has crossed the line into “too much” territory.

This trend to making everything RNG is closely tied with the MAU motive: if you want certain gear — including legendaries — or certain profession recipes, there is absolutely no way to get them other than to keep playing until they magically appear for you. If you are exceptionally lucky, this will not take long. But if you have normal or bad luck, this means that the only thing you can do to “increase” your chances to get this stuff is to play more hours. If you are someone who is limited in your daily play time, this means it could take months — or never — before you get whatever it is you are seeking. We have all read the stories of how the world-first mythic guild members ran literally hundreds of instances in the first couple of weeks of Legion just to get their legendaries, or to advance their artifacts.

This is a demoralizing effect — no matter how skilled you are, no matter how diligently you work at a goal, you have zero control over obtaining items you are seeking. It is a lottery, and the only way to succeed is to keep buying more and more tickets, but even then there is no guarantee of a prize.

The concept of “class chaos” is this: Blizz had reasonably well-balanced classes and specs at the end of WoD. There were exceptions, of course (priests — both shadow disc, for different reasons — come immediately to mind, as do of course survival hunters), but overall most of the classes had reached a decent equilibrium. This was no small feat, as it had taken most of WoD to achieve this somewhat wobbly balance in what is undeniably a vastly complex system.

So what did Blizz decide to do? Rework nearly every class and spec (except for some unfathomable reason mages and druids), almost from the ground up, add in the huge complicating factor of artifact weapons, and create a new class. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we have seen. Patch 7.1.5 promises some improvement to the horrible unbalanced mess Blizz has made, but I believe the problems with many classes are so fundamental that they cannot be resolved in Legion. They can possibly be resolved in the next expansion, but only if Blizz exercises some discipline and refrains from yet another total rebuilding of every class.

These three basic design mistakes — expansion of RNG, drive to increase MAU, and class chaos — are the primary factors that result in what for me are fun-killing aspects of Legion:

Gear

Artifact weapon. I was leery of this idea to begin with, and four months have only served to confirm for me that it is a design I endure rather than embrace. It seems to me to have been created solely for increasing the MAU metric for the game. Some of my pet peeves about it:

  • It permeates most aspects of the game — nearly all activities are centered around this single piece of uber-gear. Want to switch specs within your class? Got to consider how to handle a new artifact weapon. Want to level an alt? Got to pretty much pick a spec and stick with it for many levels, as there is that artifact to consider. Want to run just a couple world quests? Better weigh the relative trade-offs between the ones that award AP or relics and any others you may actually prefer to do. Not a big fan of dungeons? Too bad, you better run them so you can get the gobs of AP they award.
  • There is no feeling of achievement or accomplishment with it, as the trait table is for all practical purposes endless. Once you get the last gold trait at level 34, you get to chase tiny power increments for 20 more levels at ever-increasing AP costs well into the millions for each. And new patches bring even more traits and levels. There is no goal to work towards, just an endless slog grubbing for artifact stuff.
  • While some classes and specs got artifacts with real lore and game history behind them, many others got made-up lore with absolutely zero history. I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz first made the decision that there would be 36 separate artifacts, then looked around and said “Holy shit, that’s a lot of design work, well just get something out there, bring in the interns to help!”
  • Which leads me to one of the worst artifact decisions Blizz made — having spec weapons instead of class weapons. I understand there are some technical problems with having the same weapon for hybrid classes, but I cannot imagine those would be worse than the current state of affairs. I suppose the corporate suits are happy that players must grub out more game hours to make off spec weapons viable, but it is a real joy-killer for me.
  • Last, the decision to make artifact weapons mandatory for all players. Again, forcing players down a specific game style path. Why could there not have been a choice — artifact weapon for any character that wishes to raid, normal weapon for others?

Legendaries. I think even Blizz is starting to realize this was a terrible design decision, but of course now they cannot back out of it, they are stuck trying to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t. (Another RNG-based MAU-driven decision.)

  • The fact that getting them is based completely on luck just does not seem very “legendary” to me. It’s kind of like getting a Pulitzer Prize in a box of cereal. Yeah, it was a nice surprise, but you did not work for it, you did nothing to deserve it, it was just pure luck.
  • Worse, if you do not get such a prize, you feel deficient because all your friends got one and you have munched your way through about 100 boxes of Lucky Charms and still have nothing but a sugar high to show for it.
  • Still worse, some of the Pulitzers come with actual monetary awards, and some are just gimmicky little jokes. You of course, want the “really good” Pulitzer, but even when you finally get one in your 101st box of Lucky Charms, it turns out to be just a piece of fancy paper folded up into an origami bird. Whoopty doo.

Other gear. I’ll cover this in my next post, where I’ll talk about things I think Blizz can still reasonably fix in Legion. But some of the gear decisions that do not work for me are:

  • Crafted gear. It is prohibitively expensive to upgrade, and even when you do, you have what is at best mediocre gear. Worse, you can only upgrade soulbound gear, meaning you cannot sell upgraded gear or even craft it for an alt.
  • World quest gear does not mesh well with the gear levels most people have by the time they are regularly running WQs. Except for the odd piece here and there, the WQ gear rewards are seldom worth pursuing, unless you are the lucky type that can reasonably hope for a random upgrade.
  • Order hall gear. Again, by the time a character has done everything necessary to qualify for most of this gear, it is not an upgrade, even with the upgrade tokens.

Professions

In general, I think Blizz has pretty much destroyed any satisfaction I ever enjoyed from professions. This is another design that seems completely RNG/MAU driven.

I think one of the reasons they have done this is because they have undergone one of their signature pendulum swings from a previous expansion. In WoD, pretty much anyone could enjoy the benefits of most professions; in Legion, almost no one can enjoy the benefits of any profession other than the ones they have on their main.

I think the other reason they have done this is as part of a conscious effort to implement Ion Hazzikostas’s pet theory that no one should be able to have a stable of alts that in any way benefits their main.

I am not against doing quest lines in order to level professions, but I think it is going overboard to require a certain play style to do so. In Legion, you cannot level a profession — especially a crafting profession — unless you not only complete a long quest line, but also run dailies and instances and in some cases raids, and get lucky enough for the RNG gods to award you with recipes. And of course, in order to do this, you must be properly geared which means if you do not have something close to main-character time commitment, you will not max out your profession.

  • One especially galling change in profession quests is that when you gather/craft something to fulfill a quest requirement, you have to give it up. This is unlike most pre-Legion profession quests, where when you gathered or made something, the quest was completed by the act of doing that activity, and you got to use/sell the proceeds of your quest.
  • The whole recipe level concept does not work for me. For one thing, it is hard to keep track of. For another, it is just a way to extend the amount of time required to reach a goal. Some recipe levels are only available from faction vendors, requiring long weeks of rep to qualify for. Some recipes and levels require relatively large amounts of expensive/rare non-related mats. Again, by the time one is able to amass these items, it is seldom worth it to craft them any more, with the possible exception of flasks and food.
  • There was — and still is — a design bias that vastly favors herbalism and alchemy in Legion, and to a lesser degree jewel crafting and enchanting. Nearly all other professions are close to worthless, both for gold making and for assisting other characters in your account.
  • Nomi. ‘Nuff said.

Alts

The points I have made above converge to have an extremely negative effect on alt play. And yes, I know there are people out there who will claim “I only play two hours a day, and I have leveled up 11 alts and maxed out their professions and still raid at the Heroic level with my main” — to which I will cry horse hockey! Anyone who wants to merely level up alts can do so easily. But to gear them even minimally for heroic instances, or to a level for LFR — much less for normal raiding or Mythic dungeons — takes main-level time commitments.

My preferred play style for years — and I suspect it is a fairly common play style — has been to gear up, progress on, and raid with a main, meanwhile leveling and minimally gearing up 6-7 alts for instances, guild alt raids, and professions. That play style is just not tenable in Legion unless I am willing/able to vastly increase my play time.

Ion Hazzikostas has finally put the mechanisms in place to force everyone to play every character in the approved play style, and any attempt at deviating from this approved style comes at tremendous cost to the player in terms of time.

Summary

I have titled this post “What Blizz got wrong in Legion”, but from Blizz’s point of view I suspect it is considered to be brilliant design. One of their main metrics — MAU — is almost certainly way up. The never-ending story of artefacts and world quests, along with drawn-out quest lines and random awards for professions and legendaries, means quashing the “I’m BOOOOORRRRED!” whines of a certain segment of the player population, even if it is at the expense of players like myself.

As I have said before, Legion is a fantastic expansion for high-end hardcore players and for super-casuals, but it is seriously flawed for those of us in the middle of those two extremes. Like I pointed out in my last post, this does not mean it is a bad expansion, but it does have significant failures that detract from my enjoyment of it. And I bet I am not alone.

My two cents.