Battle for Azeroth – more observations

Look at the title – if you don’t want to know, don’t read.

Yesterday I spent several hours on the Battle for Azeroth beta with my copied main BM hunter. In general, it was a positive experience (with some reservations). I took my time, but even so it only took me about 8 hours to get to level 112. Along the way I noted a few things.

Artwork. Once again, I think Blizz has outdone themselves in the artwork for this expansion. Prepare to be blown away with the detail and variation of the new zones. Towards the end of Legion, it struck me that Blizz was pretty much just mailing it in when it came to Broken Shore and Argus — feel pools, lava, and rocks seemed to be the extent of their effort. But Kul Tiras is rich, varied, and there has been a great deal of attention to detail. With the exception of my first “foothold” mission, I have not quested in the Horde starter zones of Zandalar, but from what I have seen, those areas, too, are exceptional.

I won’t deny that some parts of the new zones look suspiciously like recoloring of existing areas (is Boralus really just Suramar City reskinned?), but at least if that is the case, it has been done well. On a personal note, I am dismayed by what seems to be too many dark, gloomy regions — I prefer bright, sun-filled ones — but that is a personal preference, not a flaw in the artwork.

Intro scenario. The introduction to Battle for Azeroth — basically what everyone will be doing initially on launch day — is similarly well done. As most of you know, I am not a lore person, but to me the story was well told, hung together, and serves well as an introduction to the factors that will be recurring themes as BfA unfolds. And there really are some fun bits, including piling into mechanical devices and mowing down vast swaths of mobs.

It is, however, quite long and drawn out. As with most mechanics, it is interesting the first time through, but I think will not wear well at all more than once. I hope Blizz will offer a vastly abbreviated version for players’ alts once they have taken one character completely through it. As it is, even in the beta, they have given players the choice to skip the additional introduction to Kul Tiras — if you do that plus the first (currently mandatory) scenario, it is at least a couple hours before you can even start questing for real.

Handy and not so handy supplies. By all means, stock up on Goblin Gliders before you start. They work in BfA and are exceptionally useful when you need to get to a distant point below where you are — they really can cut down on travel time under the right circumstances, and there seem to be a lot of those circumstances.

Also go ahead and bring your special foods, flasks, and potions from Legion. I don’t know how long they will be effective in BfA, but they certainly are helpful at least during early leveling. I think a half stack of each would be plenty, but if you use them a lot then a whole stack might be better. They will end up at some point just being vendor trash anyway.

Do not bother with the crafted leather bardings that keep you from being dazed off your mount in Legion. They do not work in BfA. I learned this the hard way. Also, that handy little Lightforged Augment Rune you can buy from the Army of the Light in Antorus changes to be ineffective above level 109. I did not try the regular consumable Augment Runes, but I assume they are the same. You won’t need them, get rid of them.

Gear. If you are fairly well geared in Legion, your gear should last several levels in BfA before you will need to equip most gear drops from quests. The exception is your Azerite gear, which you get very early in the introduction quests.

For those of you unfamiliar with the special gear in BfA, it works very basically like this: Early on you get a neckpiece, the Heart of Azeroth, that you will keep the entire expansion. Its function is to absorb Azerite as you obtain it through various means. (The neckpiece itself seems to increase in ilevel rather automatically.) Once it absorbs a certain amount of Azerite, it will empower a new trait in one of the pieces of actual Azerite-powered gear you will collect.

You get an early quest that awards one piece of Azerite gear — you can pick helm, shoulders, or chest (I think). So your first accumulations of Azerite will go to empower the traits on this piece of gear. Like the neck piece, you will likely keep this piece throughout the expansion. Other pieces (up to a total of 3 equipped) are eventually obtained through raids and dungeons as loot. (It’s not clear to me yet if you can actually obtain more than 3 pieces and equip only 3, or if switching them out is a good idea even if you can.)

So, on a simple level, what BfA does is automate the legion AP/artifact mechanisms and spread them out among 3 pieces of gear plus an enabler piece. The neckpiece really is just a way to keep track of Azerite, and it eliminates the need to actually collect AP gizmos and click on them. The amount of Azerite needed for gear traits will of course increase exponentially with each trait, just like the AP requirements in Legion. Your action bars will include a tweak to the AP/artifact bar that will keep track of how long until your next Azerite trait upgrade.

If you want more detailed information on this gear in BfA, check out the Wowhead guide on it.

Your artifact weapon will transfer to BfA with you, basically as just a weapon with a relatively high ilevel.

The other gear thing to be aware of is how legendaries seem to work. Your legendaries will also transfer with you, again as gear with relatively high levels. But unlike artifact weapons, legendaries do retain at least some variation of their unique abilities from Legion. (Up until level 115, I believe.) So do tier pieces. So as you prepare for BfA you may want to give some thought to the relative value of legendary and tier bonuses, and how important these are to you in the early stages of leveling. Once you have decided that, then factor in that you will get one major piece of Azerite gear right away, and you will want to decide how or if that requires you to restructure your equipped Legion tier and legendaries.

As I said, I reached level 112 fairly quickly. My ilevel going in from Legion was 964, with 4-pc tier 21. So far most of the quest gear is just vendor trash for me, except of course for the Azerite piece and the neck piece. Towards the end of level 111 I did get a piece that made me dump one piece of tier, and I suspect by the time I reach 113 I will be replacing my Legion gear more often. Obviously, my lesser-geared alts will start dumping gear earlier.

Professions. As I suspected, if you start BfA with level 800 professions, it looks like Blizz will give you credit for the now-separate profession leveling from other expansions. The beta still has a few profession bugs in it, but that’s what it looks like. You will level to 150 (or 155??) for BfA, so even though it is a bit of a surprise to see your profession start at level 1 again, it seems like it will be a reasonable change. Gathering professions seem quick, and I am somewhere around 135 already on my skinner. No clue yet if herbalism and mining will be as fast. I have not yet done any leatherworking quests, although I do already have a couple in my quest list. So I don’t yet have a feel for how long and involved they may eventually be.

BM hunter. This post is not really about hunter specifics, but so far I think the experience is a mixed bag. On the one hand, BfA does seem to give us more decision options and thus more interesting play, but honestly most of that comes from an automatic switch to what we used to call the Dire Frenzy build in Legion.

Overall, the addition of  global cooldowns to hunter shots/commands that have not had them makes the play style seem somewhat clunky and slow, even given that BM hunters have all instant casts. The global cooldown going from 1.0 sec to 1.5 sec unhasted makes it even worse. Things that were off the GCD in Legion — like Bestial Wrath — are now on it, and I was amazed at how much slower and clunkier this change makes BM play seem.

The other really crappy thing about talents is the Hati replacement talent, Animal Companion. This simply has to change before BfA goes live, because as it now stands it is pretty effing useless. The additional pet has no pet special abilities (does only auto attack), does not share in Beast Cleave or Bestial Wrath, appears a few seconds after your main pet is summoned, has major pathing problems, seems to be back to the ambling mode when going to a target, and does not even camouflage itself when you do (resulting in unintended pulls).

I said it simply must change, but unfortunately we all know Blizz does not give a rat’s ass about hunters — especially BM hunters — and thus I would bet a week’s worth of gold that nothing will change. What we have is what we will get, because Blizz is clearly back to the mode of being pissy about getting pressure to give us some semblance of our artifact abilities — which they have happily and willingly done for many other classes, I might add — so they have reverted to their standard approach best summarized as, “Oh, ALL RIGHT! There. Now you got Hati so sit the eff down and shut up.”

Blizz remains uncomfortable with giving BM hunters any significant pet power, despite their fancy words on how committed they are to class and spec “fantasy”. Well, except for making Beast Master hunters actual masters of beasts, that is…..

Okay, that is enough bitching for a Monday. Overall, I am relatively pleased with what I have seen about BfA. I have not yet tried any War Fronts or Islands, but the leveling process seems solid. Of course, the initial leveling in any expansion is one of Blizz’s best design features, so we will see how the expansion eventually unfolds. I hope they learned a lesson about the eternal AP grind in Legion and will make the Azerite-gathering more pleasing in BfA. Of course we will have to grind it throughout the expansion — how else will they keep their MAU metrics going? — but maybe, fingers crossed, they have figured out a way to make it seem less onerous.

Legendary follies continue

There are times when you almost have to admire Blizzard’s steadfast commitment to major blunders. Even when they publicly admit certain designs were mistakes, their response is usually to not only keep the bad design but also double down on it. (Think of WoD’s garrisons as a perfect example.)

It’s like there is a corporate attitude, when faced with the consequences of an obvious design mistake, of going big or going home. They seem incapable of any semblance of organized retreat, all they can do is cram the mistake down our throats.

Which brings me, of course, to the subject of Legion legendary gear. As I have written before (here and here for example), I consider the Legion legendary design to be one of the worst Blizz has ever done. Even Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas has, on more than one occasion, begrudgingly mumbled something about maybe they could have done a better job implementing the idea.

My main complaint about Legion legendaries is that Blizz tried to do too much with them in terms of their gear effects, and in the process they created a number of “must-have” pieces for a lot of specs. Sometimes these “good” legendaries were just bandaids to cover over bad spec design, sometimes they had effects that eventually turned out to be super powers for the spec. Bad enough, but then add in the whole RNG aspect of them, and Blizz created a world of player winners and losers based almost solely on luck. Eventually, even the RNGeniuses at Blizz realized this and made some tweaks designed to even out the relative values of legendaries. They were not entirely successful — there are still some “must-haves” for a couple of specs — but the endeavor met the new Blizz corporate standard of Good Enough.

Another fallout of Legion legendaries is that they made it difficult to easily swap to off specs, or to develop alts to the point where they were geared sufficiently to be fun to play. (And yes, I know I will get responses from some of you out there claiming you had no problem getting 6 legendaries each on all your druid off specs as well as on all 10 of your alts, and you did it in a weekend. Shut up. You’re lying.) Worse for unlucky players waiting weeks to get off spec or alt legendaries, Blizz’s claimed “bad luck insurance” algorithm apparently only goes so far as to increase the odds of a legendary dropping, it does nothing to help an unlucky player actually get a useful one once it finally does drop. (Yeah, Ion, nothing more fun™ than an RNG drop of a useless legendary and knowing it will be weeks before you get another chance at the lotto.)

For those few players who managed to get every legendary for every spec in their class, Blizz dipped once more into their Suggestion Box For Ways to Screw With the Players and came up with this: if a character has all possible legendaries for all specs in their class, the next time you win the RNG lottery, you will get — hold onto your hats —

A totally random legendary for a totally random class and spec you may not even have as an alt!!! What fun™!!

I am not even going to go into the doubling down actions Blizz took when they added a special raid-only set of non-legendary legendaries to the current raid tier. Or the fact that Blizz cheesed out and refused to upgrade our old ones (as they did in WoD) when the new ones rose in ilevel, instead opting to make us grind for weeks to get the stuff to upgrade each one individually. As if the mess they had made thus far was not enough.

And now comes Patch 7.3.5, and Blizz’s next installation of making the whole legendary mess worse and then shoving it in our faces.

On January 6, CM Lore grandly announced that Patch 7.3.5 would give us an additional way to obtain legendaries: we could use the same stuff (Wakening Essences) we now collect in order to upgrade our old legendaries. For the price of 175 of these things, we could get a token that would award a legendary appropriate to the class/spec of the character earning the essences.

OK, might be kind of cool, we all could see some possibilities there.

However, in typical fashion, this idea arrived half-baked. Some players immediately began to try to get 175 essences on as many characters as they could. They discovered that, if they had been diligent and already upgraded all of their legendaries, they could not obtain the quest to collect essences, thus they could not work on their 175. On the other hand, characters that had not rushed to upgrade legendaries still had the quest and could keep renewing it as long as they kept at least one legendary at 970 level.

This seemed like a bug, so a few players complained to Blizz.

Blizz did a double-take, because apparently it had not occurred to them that we sneaky players would actually try to collect essences before 7.3.5 went live. I mean, the very idea gave them the vapors! So they went into emergency session, and on January 8, CM Lore announced this:

A few additional details on the new Legendary token:

  • We’ve just pushed a hotfix live that makes Wakening Essences drop for everyone, regardless of whether you’re on the quest or not.
  • We’ll also be dramatically increasing both the number of Essences required to purchase tokens and the rate at which you gain them in Patch 7.3.5. The overall time investment needed to purchase a token will stay roughly the same, but this will minimize the benefits of stockpiling Essences ahead of time.
    • Note: Emissary bags earned prior to the release of 7.3.5 will still give pre-7.3.5 numbers of Essences. There is no benefit to saving Emissary bags until afer the patch.
  • We also plan to add Wakening Essences to your first Battleground win of the day in 7.3.5.
  • The tokens are bind-on-pickup, because we don’t want to overly encourage players to farm Essences on alt characters in order to feed Legendary items to their mains. However, if you purchase and use a token on a character that already has all of the available legendaries for their class, you will be given a random BoA token for another class.

Really, Blizz? Really? After all the legendary angst you’ve inflicted on us for more than a year because of your slipshod design and half-assed implementation, you have the balls to begrudge us the tiniest semblance of control? And pardon me, Mr. alt-phobic Hazzikostas, but could you kindly keep the voices in your head from leaking out? What the hell do you care if I or anyone else wants to have alts that send gear or mats or gold or enchants or gems or whatever to my main, or indeed vice-versa? It has no appreciable effect on the game as a whole, and frankly it is none of your goddamn business how I choose to use my alts. (And not for nothin’, but I suspect most players who care at all about legendaries would likely use their main to supply this gear to their alts, not the other way around.)

The vast majority of players are not in a position to “take advantage” of the first-announced 7.3.5 change in any meaningful way — they do not have the time, or they do not have sufficiently equipped alts, or they simply do not care about their gear level or their legendaries any more because it is the end of the expansion. So the latest move to stop what Blizz believes would be a heinous gaming of the system is in fact aimed at what we now must admit is Blizz’s only important customer base: the less than 1% of top tier players who aspire to competitive fame.

Blizz, do you really think the game would disintegrate if, this late in the expansion, you gave us BoA legendary tokens (both from the essence trade-in and as a result of getting one after you have all the ones in your class), ones any character could turn in and get a relevant legendary? In fact, what would it hurt if indeed these tokens allowed us to actually — better sit down for this one — choose our desired legendary?

WoW used to be a game for the masses, but now it is designed for the elite. It used to allow millions of players to shape their own play style and enjoy the game in their own way, but now the Blizz Central Committee dictates a smaller and smaller range of permitted play styles and personal objectives. What a shame it has come to this.

More Antorus

We have had another week of the new raid tier, Antorus the Burning Throne. On Tuesday, Mythic and the first wing of LFR opened. I still have not seen anything to change my initial opinion of it: Great artwork, a few interesting boss mechanics, but not a tier that will wear well enough to last almost a year until the next expansion.

This is an observation, not a complaint: the raid is easier than either Tomb of Sargeras or Nighthold. I say that even though our raid team has only done 4/11 Heroic bosses. Of course, the remaining ones could be impossibly hard on Heroic, but judging by the progress of guilds on my server — which is decidedly not a raiding server — within a couple of weeks there will likely be several guilds that are 11/11 (H). I would venture to say that within a month the top 10-15 guilds on the server will have heroic on farm. Whether they decide to farm it for the raid trinket system or the somewhat puny tier gear is an open question.

My initial concern that the sheer size of the raid would hinder farming seems to have been unfounded. We have some Thursday scheduling problems, so last night instead of continuing with progression on heroic, we did normal with about 20 people. We had no problems completing a full clear in less than our normal 4-hour raid time.

We had fun last night, and it is good to be back into some actual problem-solving raiding again, but I still don’t see this raid holding my interest once we have heroic on farm. For one thing, of course, we are at the end of the expansion, and there is a certain amount of burnout that inevitably takes place. For another, the gear from this raid does not excite me much. Honestly, what is the point of grubbing out every piece of gear you can get when this is the last raid of the expansion?

Blizz buffed a couple of specs’ t21 bonuses this past week, but most of them are still uninspiring. And the special trinket system seems like a self-licking ice cream cone to me: you get it by raiding so that you can be more efficient at raiding. The only reason I can see to keep running this raid is to eventually upgrade the “regular” special trinkets as a back door to being able to equip three legendaries. (Assuming you do not get the one legendary trinket drop from Argus, which I am absolutely certain I will not.) Even that seems a stretch, given that there is not another raid tier to prepare for.

I wonder if, after a few guilds have this raid on farm, that the group emphasis in Legion will shift in a big way to M+. If that is really the only challenge left after Antorus, it seems likely. (And would force some continuing gear farming from the raid, since gear is an important factor for high level M+ runs.) This, of course, creates a bigger esports audience for the next M+ tournament, which in turn fuels Blizz’s emerging game focus. We have a few people in our guild who are hooked on M+, but it is not really my thing. I run one or two a week, mainly to get the weekly chest, but I do not generally enjoy timed activities.

Back to the Antorus raid. I still think the last three bosses are the most fun and engaging. (And I still think the tower defense Eonar is annoying to the max.) Argus especially, with the planned wipe and the smart use of death as a raid weapon, seems to be one of the most innovative bosses Blizz has given us in a while. Even after Blizz up-tuned it earlier this week, it was a fun fight on Normal last night. It definitely requires some raid planning and some decent team coordination, and when that comes together it really is quite satisfying.

Short post today and one with no profound thoughts, but there is lots going on in my real world schedule. See you all on the other side of the weekend.

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.