On world quests and rewards

In a recent post in his game design blog, Greg Street (aka Ghostcrawler) wrote a few words on the art and science of game rewards. It started me thinking about how Blizz has structured rewards in Legion. Overall, I would give Blizz a C+ on this aspect of the expansion. They have done some really innovative things, but on the other hand they have made much of the reward process needlessly frustrating and/or manipulative. I am not talking about difficult — I don’t mind working to achieve something I want in the game — I am talking about things that just seem to operate on the “gotcha” principle for no good reason, or mechanics Blizz thinly disguises as “content” but are in reality vehicles for forcing certain kinds of game play.

Today I want to focus on one part of the Legion reward system: world quests.

I liked the idea of world quests early in Legion, and I am still basically a fan, especially with the emissary twist. My main hunter does not need any of the gear or gold or class hall resources they offer, but I still usually crank out some of them for mats or AP (anything above 300k, more about this below). But I run as many as I can of them when I am focusing on one of my alts. Most of them are fairly quick (especially now that I can almost run them in my sleep), and frequently the rewards are useful to my alts.

I think the tying of faction rep to these quests was a good idea, and I don’t mind that vendor-purchase items are in turn tied to achieving faction rep. If I am interested in being able to buy things from a particular vendor, I am fine with working a bit to be allowed that privilege.

I make sure to run all the offered emissary quests on whichever alts I am working on  — if I can find the time — mainly for the chance of getting a legendary, but I am kind of conflicted about this aspect. It is a fact that you cannot play a character in Legion to any reasonable level of competency without two of the “good” legendaries — whatever they may be for that spec. So I chase them on my focused alts, mainly via emissary quests and LFR, but it makes me feel manipulated. It seems bad enough that every character must have a certain weapon and only that weapon for the entire expansion, without requiring certain other additional gear as well.

But the main reason I still run world quests is part of the minus side of them: artifact power. Blizz has had a stunning turnaround on the whole idea of AP.

Prior to 7.3, Ion Hazzikostas several times reminded us that once a player reached Convergence on their artifact weapon, the amount of AP required to advance it further was, BY DESIGN, ridiculously high in an almost logarithmic progression. This was because — so he told us — Blizz did not want players to feel like they had to continually grind AP, that the idea was that it would just be a somewhat small additional reward for doing normal game activities like emissary quests, random instances, mythic dungeons, etc. Additionally, so he said, the design was that players who played many hours each day would not have a significant artifact level advantage over players who might play only a few hours a week.

In other words, the whole artifact trait mechanism was designed to become less and less important once the 7.2 Convergence point was reached.

Then, in what seems to have been a sudden reversal of design policy, in 7.3 Blizz introduced a whole new artifact weapon leveling system in the form of relic traits and the crucible. They tied it to AP and Convergence levels, and to make the new levels possible to attain they re-introduced a form of artifact knowledge, except they removed player control of AK progression and just time-gated it with weekly increases. The net result was to make AP once again important to players and to make grinding it a productive activity again.

And a true grind it is. There are several reddit threads in which mathematically-inclined people have analyzed ratios of AK to AP and estimated time required to get to certain points. But the thing I have noticed for my hunter is this: In spite of both AK increasing every week and AP increasing with each new level, it still takes me about a week to gain a level. This will change after I reach level 75 and after AK rates stop increasing, but it strikes me that this a whole new way to gate character power. Blizz for some reason has opted for an incredibly complex method to do this — why didn’t they just set a limit on how much AP you can earn in a week, or how many levels you could increase your artifact level?

Even more interesting, why was there this complete 180 on AP design? Why did we go from the official “We don’t want you to chase AP” to “Here is a whole new reason to chase AP — ready, set, GO!” ?

One obvious reason: MAU. My guess is that they saw their MAU levels falling as the AP rewards from game activities became less and less relevant for main characters. Players just stopped doing the daily stuff that was offering what had become insignificant rewards. So the magic metrics fell, causing this part of the Blizz world to start to look shaky in corporate eyes. Swinging into action — and without any apparent trace of embarrassment — they reversed themselves on the AP design philosophy, because chasing AP is the one thing that would bring raiders back to daily hours in the game. And raiders are the group Blizz values these days — basically anyone who runs regular or above raid tiers and Mythic+ dungeons.

It is nice that I can increase my alt artifact weapon traits by 10-15 or even more levels a day just by running a few world quests, but it is demoralizing that I have to continue to run them on my main just to feel like I will not be letting my fellow raiders down. Especially after all the assurances from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that after reaching Convergence, size artifact power doesn’t really matter.

If the all-important MAU numbers were falling, why could Blizz not have taken a different approach? For example, they could have significantly increased the non-AP rewards for emissary and world quests, and for early world bosses, or they could have added more cool mounts or pets as rewards for the non-Argus quests. They could have implemented some sort of catchup gear currency to be earned outside of Argus. They could have instituted a mechanism for alts whereby for the first two legendaries you win you get to pick which ones you want. They could have made Blood of Sargeras account bound, giving mains a reason to go out and get it, and giving alts reasonable-level gear with which to go and run their profession instances or to join regular raid groups or even just to compete on Argus without serial dying.

All of these things likely would have kept the MAU numbers up a bit. But Blizz does not design for players like this, they design for raiders, so the only idea they had was to re-institute the AP grind. Not the kind of creativity we are used to from Blizz.

So yeah — Legion reward system has some real A+ moments. Unfortunately it also has a lot of fail moments. Overall grade C+.

Non-legendary legendaries

Over the weekend I was reading up a bit on the 7.3.x upcoming changes — I opted not to dabble on the PTR this time — and I came away feeling pretty cranky about the whole legendary mechanic for Legion.

What got me going, of course, is the description we have so far for the one of the new pseudo-legendaries, Aman’Thul’s Vision. (Set aside for the moment that I was predisposed to hate it if because the name contains one of Blizz’s pretentious, senseless, and unfortunately ubiquitous apostrophes.) From what I can glean, it is a legendary trinket that is not really a legendary, in that it does not count as one of your two equipped legendaries. It does, however, count as your one allowed Titan/Pantheon Trinket (more on that below), and so now in addition to figuring out which legendaries to equip, along with which tier pieces and regular trinkets to equip, we will have to also figure out which trinkets are not allowed to play together. More fodder for the super computers.

The trinket itself is a stat stick, increasing all secondary stats to the player — crit, mastery, haste, and versatility. Additionally, it has a chance to proc tertiary stats — yes, I regret to say we have come to this sad situation — so at random intervals the player will get a buttload of speed, avoidance, and leech for 12 seconds. But the real presumed power of the thing is its use in a raid, where, if at least four players have the thing equipped, and if all four happen to randomly have overlapping procs, then an additional wildcard is proc’ed, giving the players a huge primary stat increase for a few seconds.

This is that stupid WoD ring on steroids, but with the added “feature” of it being totally random, no player control needed! This, of course eliminates the LFR problem of “premature use”, when that one inevitable idiot proc’ed the ring on the first round of trash. Now RNG can do that for you!

Who doesn’t love more RNG in the game, huh?

Now, when first I read about this trinket, I was thinking, OK, this is how Blizz gets around the 2-legendary restriction. They have vowed up and down that we will not/not/not be able to equip more than 2 legendaries, because that would be needlessly — something. So of course they cannot now change their minds on this important point. Instead, they craft an item that looks like a legendary, walks like a legendary, and quacks like a legendary, but they tell us it is not a legendary! So now we can equip two legendaries plus a thing that looks exactly like a legendary but trust us it is not one.

Yeah.

As silly as this sounds, it is actually much more complex — and ridiculous — than that. The trinket is part of en entire system of “Argus Pantheon Trinkets”, with a whole set of rules for how/when to equip them, ways to upgrade them, etc. Of course most of them are random drops on Argus, and they appear to have fairly specific circumstantial uses, so here is a whole new reason for players to grind out shit on Argus. (Aman’thul’s Vision, the exception, is a loot drop from the final boss of the new raid tier. Which means this is not for casual players, it is only available to raiders, yet another example of Blizz pandering to the pros.)

And the trinket system? Well, you can check out a pretty detailed description of it here, but I warn you it almost takes a degree in physics or engineering to understand it. Basically, Blizz has overlaid the Legion legendary system onto trinkets.

Think about that for a moment.

Blizz, in the persona of Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, has several times admitted that they made a mistake with the whole Legion legendary system. They have applied numerous bandages to it to try and fix it — bad luck insurance, increasing the drop rate of the first couple in order to help alts compete, incorporating some of the effects into baseline spec abilities, nerfing the stupidly-OP ones, etc. But the fact remains that Legion legendaries to this day just plain stink as a concept. They strictly limit a player’s options — once you embark for a few months on a certain spec, it becomes very difficult to switch if you do not have the required legendaries for it, and even if you do not want to switch specs (say nothing of class), you are handicapped for some aspects of the game if you have not had the good luck to get the “good” legendaries. Additionally, they make an already-complex gear system vastly more so.

And now Blizz — who have admitted Legion legendaries were not their best idea — have doubled down on the concept by introducing an entire trinket system that is a virtual twin of the legendary system.

What.

The.

Fuck.

Recall that this is exactly what happened with garrisons in WoD. Fairly early in WoD, Blizz admitted that the garrison system had turned out badly, that it had unintended adverse results for the health of the game, that players hated it. So what did they do for 6.2? Yep, they doubled down on it, requiring not only player garrisons but also expanded garrisons with shipyards to even be able to see the new patch content. Garrisons stunk as an idea, so what better course of action than to increase their importance!

I have said it before and now I will say it again, when you are in a hole you cannot get out of, the first rule is to stop digging.

I am sure we will all meekly accept the new Argus legendary trinket system, and we will dutifully chase them for months. Some of us will chase the non-legendary legendary trinket as well, and will grind away trying to get the gizmo to upgrade our other Pantheon trinkets into additional non-legendary legendaries, so that we can have an entire range of encounter-specific gear for almost every possible situation. We will carry around a ton of gear to be able to swap it out even if we never change specs, and we will haunt the web-based banks of computers to calculate the best gear set for every eventuality.

But is this really fun? More to the point, is the overhead becoming so high to get to the fun part that there is a serious cost-benefit deficit? It is a mark of how much I and others love this game that we have stuck with it for so long, even in the face of a relentlessly creeping complexity that is now nearing — or possibly well past — the level of stupidly ridiculous.

And with each new level of complexity the players cede more control, ironically lose more options. We are at the mercy of probability to get legendaries, to get tier gear, to get “good” legendaries and trinkets. And even after we have negotiated the probability minefield to get one of the new trinkets, we will not be able to control when to use it. It’s one thing for this to be the case with minor trinkets, where you might get a small individual boost randomly from equipping them, but it is a whole different thing for this to be how it works for a major buff that can affect the success or failure of an entire raid, after players have ground out what will likely be many final-boss kills just to get the ability. Or more accurately, just to get a lottery ticket.

Do the frogs ever get to the point of “This water is getting too hot, I’m outta here!”?

Clearly, I do not know the answer to that. I am still here, paddling around.

A plea to Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas

WARNING: Entering rant zone. Please drive carefully.

Okay. Today’s rant topic is one I have covered before, but last night it just hit a tipping point for me. To put it as delicately and politely as I can:

BLIZZ, YOU HAVE ROYALLY FUCKED UP GEAR IN LEGION!

What pushed me over the edge last night was getting two pieces of nice 930 level gear that in one case was a 20-level upgrade and in the other was a 35-level upgrade to what I had equipped. Except they were not, in fact “upgrades”, since I am unable to equip them. Doing so would require me to break up my delicately-balanced tier19/tier20 combo, the result of which — according to the supercomputers we now have to use to evaluate gear values — would be a net decrease of approximately 40k dps.

It gets worse. I actually have a beautiful 6-piece set of tier20 gear, which in theory would allow me to run a sought-after 2pc/4pc combo. Nope, can’t do it, since once again that would result in a significant damage loss over keeping my 895-level 2 pieces of tier19.

It gets even worse. I have some very nice, highly-valued BM legendaries all of which I have upgraded to 970. But for the most part I cannot use them because doing so would mean insufficient slots for my required 6 pieces of tier19/tier20 gear. The only one of value that I can use is the BM belt, only because — thank the Old Gods — there are no tier pieces for that slot. This means I am pretty much stuck with using legendary wrists, Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish, or Sephuz as my second piece. It turns out that Sephuz is the hands-down winner in terms of theoretical damage levels, KBW is a close second, and the wrists are quite a bit lower (plus I have never been lucky enough to snag the trinket that makes them really work, thus they are kind of “meh” for me). I tried Sephuz last night but found that the practical disruption to rotation necessary in order to maximize its procs was causing me to lose more dps than I could theoretically gain, so I switched to KBW and my damage immediately went up noticeably.

It gets still worse. Because of the huge role secondary stats play especially when they are intertwined with various talent builds and artifact relics, any new piece of gear must be evaluated not only for itself but for the pluses or minuses it brings to your current talent/relic setup. This means that you must consider changing your talents and relics in order to take advantage of a potential upgrade in gear.

For example, I run what Bendak calls a “Stomp” build for my BM hunter. This is a build that takes advantage of relatively high levels of crit — not normally a top stat for BM hunters, but it becomes significant if you are running the Stomp build. (I only happened to get a lot of crit because of the random nature of secondary stats, I did not set out to stack it on purpose.) But it is likely this build will be less powerful if I get a couple of pieces of gear with less crit, thus I need to evaluate them not only for the talents I am running, but for a possibly completely different talent build. In which case, other legendaries and/or tier combos might be significantly better.

It has gotten to the point where even the sophisticated simulations are of marginal value. I used to use a simple gear-evaluator (Pawn) addon based on optimal stat weights for your character. That is now useless, since it (by design) only compares gear for a single slot, not in combination with for example tier that gives bonuses. Thus, nearly every piece of gear in my bag is considered an upgrade, because of course a 930 cape is better by far than a 900 one. Except it is not, because the 900 one is part of a tier set.

Not only sim-based addons, but the simulation software itself is insufficient for most people in evaluating gear. This is because most people — even if they understand how to set up SimulationCraft on their own computers or plug in a set of gear and talents to one of the web sites — simply do not have enough time or expertise to methodically compare all the complex factors. Thus, the newest simulation helper is something called SimPermut, an addon that allows you to generate multiple combos of your gear and compare them. It also allows you to run talent and relic comparisons. What it does is generate a script that you can then use to run in Advanced mode on the website Raidbots.com. (If you want to get started, check out this IcyVeins tutorial — it is aimed at hunters but the technique can be used for any class.)

(Remember the days when you could just plant yourself in front of a target dummy and test out a couple variations of talents or gear? HAHAHAHA! We were so innocent then!)

See, here’s the thing:

WHY DO WE NEED A BANK OF HIGH POWERED COMPUTERS AND SOPHISTICATED VARIABLE SCRIPTS TO DECIDE IF A PIECE OF GEAR IS AN UPGRADE FOR US?

Come on, Blizz, pull your collective head out of your collective ass and look around! Really look at what you have done with gear in Legion and admit that this Rube Goldberg setup is just not sustainable. Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas is fond of lecturing us about what is and is not fun™ when it comes to gear, and one of his themes has been that when you get a new piece of gear you should be able to equip it immediately, not have to do that nasty reforging “math” or always have to have a gem or enchant for it. Well, guess what?

Getting a 30-level upgrade that makes your dps lower if you equip it is not fun™. Having to rearrange every piece of gear you are wearing just to accommodate a new piece is not fun™. Having to hang on to last-tier gear because Blizz fucked up the tier bonuses is not fun™. Having to run supercomputer simulations for every conceivable combination of gear/talents/relics is not fun™. 

Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, I implore you, fix this gear mess!

Gear. Again. Still.

After a decent clear of Tomb of Sargeras (N) last night, I ended up with a new 910 ring and was able to complete my T20 4-piece. We had a lot of fun, and while we did not one-shot every boss, we did not have any real trouble with them either. Everyone is looking forward to Thursday night heroic progression. By all measures, it was a great raid night.

So why do I feel so incredibly frustrated? One word: Gear.

I know I have written about this before, so feel free to skip this post if you do not want to hear it again, but I have a sincere, heartfelt message for Blizz:

GEAR IS TOO FUCKING COMPLICATED!

For example, the 910 ring I got was by rolling on it when the player it dropped for did not need it. I rolled on it only because it was 10 ilevels higher than one of my equipped rings. When I won the roll, I suddenly realized I had no idea if it really was an upgrade for me or not. It had the right stats, but my equipped 900 level had a gem slot. My Pawn addon indicated the new one was an 8% upgrade, but a) I had not run a new sim in a couple of weeks, and b) Pawn indicates that about 80% of the gear I have in my bags would be upgrades, too, then when I change it out, the changed out gear somehow turns out to be upgrades, too. I ended up taking the ring and equipping it, but does it make much difference in my damage ability? I don’t have a clue.

However, rolling on the ring — angst-laden as it was — was the easy part. Once raid was over, I began the process of deciding which mix of legendaries, T19, T20, and other gear would be optimal. The factors to consider:

  • Several respected theory crafters out there advise that, for BM hunters, a mix of T19 2-piece and T20 4-piece should be the goal.
  • Certain BM legendaries still are preferred over others, but only under certain circumstances, such as what trinket do you have equipped, what talent build do you have, how many adds are expected in a given fight, and of course would equipping a legendary destroy the recommended tier set combo.
  • I had three 970 legendaries and enough Withered Essence to upgrade one more. Two of my 970 legendaries were for what are now designated tier slots.
  • No matter what, I was going to have to run multiple new sims with varying equipment mixes and talent builds.

Remember when Blizz said the reason they removed so many gear gem slots was because they wanted you to be able to equip new gear in a raid as soon as you got it?

HAHAHAHAHA! Good times…….

(If you have a few minutes, take a look at this Ten Ton Hammer recap of dev gear comments from Blizzcon 2014 — almost the complete opposite of where we are now.)

I ended up running something like 8 sims before I verified for myself that the main difference was in the gear-talent relationships. For BM hunters, and I suspect for nearly every other class/spec out there, certain legendaries play better than others with your tier set bonuses and with your talent build. Or to put it another way, a legendary that looks like it gives you a cool bonus may not in fact do so if you do not have complementary talents and other gear.

After over an hour of weighing, simming, switching talents, studying options, etc., I came to the sad conclusion that — despite my having the four top rated (whatever the heck that means) BM legendaries, only one was viable and the other equipped one would have to be the generic (and in most lists bottom of the heap for BM hunters) Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish. Any other legendary combos I could configure would destroy one or both of my tier sets. So I reluctantly equipped it along with my legendary belt, and in fact used my upgrade on it. But it did not make me happy.

The other thing that really hit home for me while I was going through this process is that even all the gear helpers out there — addons and web sites — seem to consider only ilevel and to a limited extent generic secondary stats when recommending gear for you. Gem slots seem not to come into play, nor do tier set bonuses in most cases, much less the whole package of talent build and gear interactions. It’s too complicated for computers to evaluate in any kind of timely fashion. But apparently Blizz expects players to be able to do this on their own.

Realistically, most of the gear combos you try will make only maybe a less than 5% difference in your damage/healing/tanking. But they can make a huge difference in play styles (remember the pre-7.2.5 BM hunter shoulders?) and in a few instances they can make a significant numbers difference. The thing is, you usually won’t know unless you go through the complicated evaluation drill I went through last night — simming various combos of talents and gear.

This ratcheting up of complexity is in fact one of the things I was afraid would happen when Blizz fist announced the idea of artifact weapons and their interconnection with spec talents and abilities. The mathematical permutations rapidly spin out of control. Add in the exponential factors of tier sets and legendary bonuses, along with the normal complications of secondary stats and enhancements like gem slots, and you end up where we are today — it is virtually impossible for the ordinary player to know with any degree of certainty whether a piece of gear is an upgrade for them or not.

Blizz, if anyone out there is reading this, for the love of all you hold holy, I implore you, in the next expansion:

GO BACK TO A SIMPLE GEAR MODEL, ONE WHERE YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE A Ph.D. IN MATH AND A BANK OF SUPERCOMPUTERS TO FIGURE OUT IF IT WILL BENEFIT YOU. 

Break’s over

Yay, last night we all got to dip a toe into Tomb of Sargeras, and it felt good to be back into a weekly raid schedule after the last few weeks of “What are we going to do tonight” and “cancelled” raid nights. Our approach is usually to run a couple nights of normal for a new raid tier, then start in on heroic progression. So last night we charged into normal ToS.

Stipulating that we are probably overgeared for it, and that we have excellent tanks and healers, I still expected it to be more challenging than it was. Most of us had read one or two summaries of each boss, maybe a couple people had watched a PTR video or two, and before each pull our RL gave us about a 1-minute rundown on the basic mechanics. (We had 16? 17? people.) Strategies were minimal, limited to those bosses that absolutely required splitting the team in two or something obvious. We wiped a couple of times but were 8/9 by the time we reached our raid end time. Some decent tier gear and trinkets dropped for quite a few people, although no one got a new legendary. All in all, it was a fun night.

Some initial observations:

  • The raid is, in my opinion, crazy complicated to navigate — doors, spiral staircases leading to dead end rooms, holes to jump down into, etc. We spent a significant amount of time just running around the place looking for the next boss, often circumnavigating the whole tomb in the process.
  • There are some excessively long runbacks after wipes/deaths. We were saved by having a couple warlocks, and we ended up just summoning people who rezzed and got hopelessly lost — A LOT. Blizz really needs to put in a few portals for getting back to bosses.
  • It is an inside raid, which means there is no opportunity to use (possible exception is the last boss) repair mounts. You engineers out there, start producing auto-hammers, because they are going to be in great demand while this tier is current. (Whatever happened to the practice of stationing repair NPCs just inside raids?)
  • There is heavy use of light/dark motifs throughout the raid. Several bosses require you to be aware of what “color” you are (magic, not race) and react accordingly. Example: there is even one passageway with different colored orbs you have to dodge, except you can hit any of the ones of the same color you originally ran into without damage. (I usually just ended up hitting Aspect of the Turtle and plowing through — too annoying to deal with.)
  • We first thought there was not a lot of trash to deal with — a nice break from Blizz’s recent fixation on mega-trash. However, it turns out this is only the case in the first wing. After that, there is tons of trash, and much of it hits really hard.
  • If you read up on each boss’s mechanics, you will shake your head in despair, because it seems almost impossible to deal with all of them. Don’t worry. When it comes down to it, at least in normal mode, they are actually much easier to deal with than you would think just by reading about them. More complicated to describe than to execute.

No clue how much trouble we will have with the final boss on Thursday, and I am relatively certain it will take us at least a couple of weeks to clear heroic once we start. Still, I suspect this raid tier will get to farm status relatively quickly, and very shortly we will be in the kill-time-before-7.3 mode.

WARNING! RED ALERT! RANT FOLLOWS! 

Speaking of killing time, I am going to go on a small rant here and complain, once again, about the whole ridiculous Legion legendary gear adventure. The latest stupid move is to make us work our tails off to upgrade the legendaries we have, just to get them to the same level as the ones currently dropping. And before I get tons of snarky you-just-want-everything-given-to-you mail, let me say, no, that is not the case. I don’t mind long quest lines or difficult challenges that lead to whatever achievement I am seeking — rather like them, in fact. And I do not think gear should be given out freely like candy. If you are someone doing high level content then you should get higher level gear than someone not doing that content. That seems obvious to me. (But I think you should actually get it, not merely be given the chance to roll the dice for it, but that is another topic.)

But people who have multiple legendaries — useful ones at that — by this time in the game will now have to spend weeks upgrading them to the same level as will fall in 7.2.5. I don’t have a feel for how fast the upgrade currency will fall, but I think an active end game player will probably be able to upgrade maybe one or one and a half per week. Some people (not me) have as many as 15 legendaries or more. To have to grind out the currency to upgrade these just seems petty and stupid. (Not even going to guess at how long it might take a non-raiding non-mythics alt to get an upgrade.)

And as for the inevitable argument of “Well, you can only wear 2 at a time, so in 2 weeks you could upgrade all you need”, no that is actually not the case. Blizz has spent a lot of time blizzsplaining to us that they want us to switch out our legendaries to fit different situations — that, they say, is the whole point of having so many different ones, to give us “choices” and “options”.

Why not, instead of grinding currency (a practice, btw, roundly and often condemned by Ion Hazzikostas), have us do a one-time quest line to get some kind of magic upgrade stone for all our legendaries? That would still have the intended gating effect, but it would reduce, in my opinion, the sheer annoyance of once again having to grind out game time for the “gift” of making your legendaries — which many of us have chased for months — current with the current game level. (In WoD, as I recall, the legendary ring automatically upgraded when there were significant gear upgrades.)

Making us “earn” a current level legendary was not onerous the last time it happened in Legion, because back then most people had only one or two legendaries, and they probably had them only on their main. True, a few had more, but they were the exception. But now, I suspect most active end game players have a lot of them. Blizz clearly took the lazy way out on this, re-using the previous mechanic and not considering how the situation has changed. It is, I feel, yet another cheap easy attempt to inveigle us to spend more time playing the game than we would normally spend, and call it “content”.

Okay, maybe that was not such a small rant. Sorry.

END RANT. WE NOW RETURN YOU TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED BLOG POST.

Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, I found ToS interesting, and getting back to raiding was a lot of fun. I don’t think the raid will age particularly well, but it is something interesting to spend a few weeks doing this summer. 

Gear and math

It’s been a nice relaxing couple of weeks in my WoW world. In my guild, we all took a break from what was becoming a very dull Nighthold raid circuit, and I seized the opportunity to work on a couple of alts — my balance druid and my destruction warlock. I find I enjoy playing them both, but the lock possibly a tad bit more than the druid. I still find the boomkin tedious for its long casts, but it gets better with better gear stacked for haste.

Both alts are hovering very close to ilvl 900 or a bit under, and the one thing that amazes me is how much better they are simply by virtue of having better gear. Trust me, in the last two weeks I have not suddenly become vastly more proficient on either one, but the difference in damage for both is pretty astounding. The only change has been upgraded gear. In some ways this is fun, because gear is relatively easy to get, even without subjecting yourself to LFR or mythic dungeons. But in other ways is seems kind of cheesy and not quite right. I guess it is an inevitable result of Blizz stepping away from the “bring the player not the class” philosophy — class/spec mechanics and gear seem to count for more and more these days. Nobody likes to blame gear for poor performance (well, okay, maybe some people like to), but that excuse is actually becoming more and more reasonable as Legion goes on.

I was thinking about this as I started last night to prepare my main hunter for resumption of raiding Tuesday when Tomb of Sargeras opens. Patch 7.2.5 brought some changes to BM hunters, and in spite of giving us a baseline 2-charge Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, it is looking like overall we are in a worse place damage-wise than we were for Nighthold. Seems like Blizz just could not stand to have BM hunters close to the top, had to take away more than they gave. There will still be some class tweaks coming along in hotfixes, but honestly I am not holding my breath that any of them will include buffs for BM hunters.

At least two sites I read regularly have openly stated that MM is clearly — and by quite a ways — top of the hunter heap. From the IcyVeins BM hunter guide:

Now that 7.2.5 has released, we can say with reasonable confidence and assuming no major changes, that Marksmanship will be the optimal raiding spec going into Tomb of Sargeras, mostly due to the potency of its new set bonuses.

Beast Mastery remains a solid choice, though rather than being very competitive and sometimes even better at single-target than Marksmanship in ideal situations, it is now fair to say that its potential output is less than Marksmanship in nearly all situations.

And even the redoubtable Bendak, in his most recent BM post about Patch 7.2.5, is brutally realistic about BM, stating it will likely fall out not only in the middle of the damage pack, but likely in the lower middle at that.

Whatever. I am a hunter in WoW, that is who I am. And since Blizz has seen fit to destroy the essence of my vision of “hunterness” in MM and SV specs, I really have no choice but to continue playing BM. Numbers have never meant that much to me anyway, so what seems to be a sudden plunge from lower-top to lower-middle position is not a calamity. Some class/spec has to be in that position, it is the nature of rankings. Still, I will be interested to see what the actual numbers spread is when the ToS results start to become available. If the spread between top and bottom is large, then Blizz will have once again failed in its never-ending attempt to “balance” the class/spec mess they themselves caused.

My alt gear-centric push over the last couple of weeks also served to reinforce to me the utter insanity of Legion’s gear complexity. On my alts the calculus was relatively easy, since I never intend to actually raid with them: higher ilevel = good, secondary stats pretty much be damned. But when I started to weigh gear and talent combos on my main in preparation for ToS, I found myself once again despairing over the sheer mathematical enormity of the task.

It has gotten so bad that AskMrRobot is now implementing a SETI-like mass computer sharing approach to solving the gear problem for players. Mind you, modern computers already have pretty massive computing power. Certainly enough that even a middle-level server could perform general arithmetical comparisons, even for thousands of users at a time. But Blizz’s insane interdependencies of gear stats, talents, different types of raid bosses, RNG-dependent proc rates, and specialized legendary and set bonuses have gone exponentially past arithmetic calculations. To properly assess the relative value of gear, only massive computer simulations approach accuracy. One or two simulations at a time are handled (though slowly) on a home desktop computer, but if you are trying to do it for large numbers of players, you need vast computational resources, and the cheapest way to get them is to set up a distributed grid of community computers. (I applaud AMR’s ingenuity here, but honestly I would like to see a bit more detail on their app’s security setup before I open my computer to it.)

The point is, you need the power of modern computers to decide if a piece of WoW gear is actually an upgrade for you, or to decide which legendary works best with which set of talents. 

But Reforging was “too much math” for us.

🙄🙄🙄

See you after the release of ToS.

Legendaries — first aid for class balance?

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

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

Well. Where to start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONLY LUCKY PEOPLE GET TO HAVE THE FLAW FIXED.

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

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

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

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

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

With that, I am out for the weekend.