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.

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+.

Hole protocol

When you want to get out of a hole, so the conventional wisdom goes, the first step is to stop digging! Someone needs to tape that to every monitor at Blizz HQ, because they seem incapable of figuring it out for themselves.

There is no more obvious example of this than the Legion legendary debacle. Blizz began digging this hole way back when Legion was just a gleam in a developer’s eye, when someone had the bright idea that, since Legion would already feature a central all-consuming piece of gear in the form of an artifact weapon, there would have to be a significant change to the role of legendary gear. This was the first point at which they could have stopped digging, because they could have opted to have no legendaries in Legion. As far as I know, the legendary police would not have descended on Blizz had they gone this route. I doubt if even we admittedly cranky player base would have blinked an eye — we would have pretty much assumed the artifact was Legion’s legendary interpretation, and gone on to be annoyed about a lot of other things.

But they continued to dig. They decided that the new legendaries would be awarded randomly and rarely. They decided each would have a unique bonus, and that some of these bonuses would be extremely powerful to certain specs and others would be generically nice but not all that powerful. Here, too were opportunities to stop digging. They could have made the gear something to be earned, either through a quest line or by in-game earned currency of some kind. Instead of the vast range of bonuses, they could have made the gear a stat stick.

Instead, when there was player pushback on this, when it was “discovered” that certain legendaries gave the lucky lottery winner something akin to super powers, they continued to apply the shovel, first implementing a series of “bad luck insurance” moves. These were toothless, as the lucky ones continued to be overpowered under certain competitive conditions, since the “insurance” was for being awarded a legendary and not necessarily one of the “good” ones. To get out of this hole, Blizz continued to dig by nerfing many of the spec-specific legendaries. However, they did not really nerf them sufficiently to preclude certain ones being considered best in slot.

In 7.2, Blizz got a bigger shovel by attempting to fix the random nature of legendaries by adding a complex, prohibitively expensive path to crafting what will likely be inferior gear.

As an added complication similar to getting a couple more guys to help you dig, Blizz decided to imbue some legendaries with powers that actually fixed some of their other horrible class balance and game play decisions for Legion. The example that comes to mind are the BM hunter shoulders. By all accounts (I wouldn’t know personally since of course I have not been lucky enough to score them), these added the whoopie factor back into BM game play, making the rotation fun again and less like something you do to distract yourself while clipping your toenails. Of course, the way to have stopped digging here would have been to actually fix the broken specs and not applied the sloppy bandage of ill-conceived legendaries.

And now, in what seems to be Blizz’s move to bring in a scoop loader, we have this contorted set of changes for 7.2.5:

In 7.2.5, we are changing Wild Call from a cooldown reset mechanic to a cooldown reduction mechanic.

The base proc chance will be doubled and the cooldown reduction per proc will be 3.0 sec (affected by haste), roughly half the average expected value of current live Wild Call procs. Baseline, the amount of total Dire Beast casts and Dire Beast uptime should be roughly the same as on live, except the changes should result in smoother Focus regeneration from more well-paced Dire Beast casts.

Additionally, these changes have the desired side effect of bringing the power level of The Mantle of Command more in line with other legendaries.

I cannot honestly comment of whether or not this is a horrible fix or a decent one, since I have no experience with the shoulders. It will be an incremental plus for us shoulderless hunters, I suppose, although still not to the level of the shoulders bonus which absolutely should have been baseline. For a good discussion of the pros and cons (mostly cons) of this move insofar as we know any of the details, check out Bendak’s post today.

But the point is, this is just digging the hole deeper. There should have never been a symbiotic relationship between baseline BM hunter play and a particular luck-based legendary. And the fix for it should be to sever the relationship completely, not tweak it with a half-assed baseline change and a similarly half-assed legendary nerf.

To summarize, Blizz has had multiple points at which they could have stopped digging the legendary hole they started:

  • Leave then out of Legion completely.
  • Design them to be something to be earned, not awarded like a raffle winner.
  • Have only 3 or 4 of them, not the dozens we now have that include spec-specific as well as generic ones. Have the few remaining just be stat and gear level increasers, not bonus awarders.
  • Resist the temptation to use them to fix existing problems in class design.

They have steadfastly refused to stop excavation in the matter of Legion legendaries. And now we are all in the hole with them.

However, luckily, today is National Beer Day in the United States. To my way of thinking, if you are stuck in a hole, a lot of beer can’t hurt. Plus, I can’t think of a better way to start a weekend. Enjoy yours.

Never-ending grinds

Tier 20 Set Bonuses
The latest PTR build added Tier 20 set bonuses. Keep in mind that these haven’t been tuned, some are missing, and some have already been changed.

When I saw this little blurb in MMO-C, I pretty much just wanted to give up. Seriously? T20 is on its way? While unlucky sods like myself are still grubbing for their 3rd and 4th pieces of T19? Why am I bothering? Because, if history holds, I will get my 4th piece of T19 the day before 7.2 goes live. If I get it at all.

And to be honest, I am still irate that Blizz — once again — pulled a fast one on hunters for the T19. For the entire time that 7.1.5 was on the PTR — and in fact from the time we first got any inkling of the T19 sets — all the gear tooltips said this:

(2) Set (Beast Mastery): Dire Beast reduces the cooldown of Bestial Wrath by an additional 8 sec.
(4) Set (Beast Mastery): When you use Bestial Wrath, all of your currently summoned Dire Beasts gain 50% increased damage for 15 sec.

Finally, I thought, there is a reason to actually seek and equip a 2pc tier set. I might have a chance at last to derive some actual bonus from the 2pc set I almost always end up with, try though I may to get the 4pc set. I was optimistic. In fact, I was over the top when, on the first night of the patch going live, I got my first piece of tier! WOOHOO, I am on my way, I thought! Though I had not done any of the math, I felt certain that the additional 8-second cooldown of Bestial Wrath was a much more effective bonus than the contorted situation you would have to be in for the 4pc bonus to make a noticeable difference — that is, have multiple Dire Beasts up (RNG-dependent situation) with most of their active time still remaining, at exactly the same time BW comes off cooldown.

HAHAHAHAHA! Stupid gullible me. When I got that first piece and made some comment in raid chat about the nice 2pc bonus, another hunter said he was not that impressed with it, that the 4pc looked much more powerful. Sure enough, I double checked, and Blizz had apparently and sneakily reversed the bonus effects of the 2pc and 4pc sets, between the time the PTR came down and the patch went live. Even worse, they never announced the change — it was one of their famous stealth nerfs. 

See, this is just mean, there is no other way to put it. It may have been a result of sheer staggering incompetence rather than diabolical intent (recall they did not even have their stuff together enough to get patch notes out until a couple of hours before the patch went live), but no matter what the reason, I perceived it to be yet another example of Blizz selling out hunters. They just do not give a damn, because hell it’s only hunters, we can screw them over whenever we want.

Anyway, I got 2 pieces of tier in 2 nights of raiding, and of course I have seen no more pieces — other than duplicates — since then.

And now we know there will be yet another tier set in 7.2. A first look at the bonuses for it seem to indicate that once again the 2pc is a yawner and the 4pc is significant, but history tells us there is no way to know what they will be until the patch actually goes live, so it is futile to test it out at this point. Blizz can capriciously change it on a whim.

In the bigger picture,  the sinking, gut-punch feeling I had when I read about a new tier set in 7.2 really kind of sums up the worst aspect of Legion for me: it is a soul-sucking endless chase. It is one thing, I think, to provide “content” — things like world quests, weekly bonus events, additional zones, repeatable dungeons in the form of Mythic+, and additional quest lines like the Suramar ones. It is quite another to introduce mechanics that, by design, can never be “finished”.

I am not an obsessive achievement hound or completionist, I am not bothered by having unfinished achievements lying around. But there is something that just wears me down about the infinite pursuit of AP for never-ending weapon traits, something completely demoralizing about the lottery-ticket approach to getting items like profession recipes and what have become critical legendary gear. These things are not “content” — they are ass-kicking grinds, the very thing Ion Hazzikostas professes to despise. Except these grinds, unlike others in the game, have absolutely zero guarantee of success — you could theoretically keep at them 24/7 and still not achieve your goal. They are designed to manipulate, like dangling the never-to-be-obtained carrot in front of the horse to make him run faster.

As I was writing this, we got a lengthy Blue Post from Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas in one of the forums. Let me say up front that this is exactly the kind of post I love getting. It is detailed and thoughtful, and it really helps players understand a crucial aspect of the game — in this case, Blizz’s thinking on the whole Legion AP grind. I happen to not totally agree with the implications of some of the new AP design Watcher lays out, but that is just a difference of opinion. Reasonable people can respectfully disagree on many points, and of course it is Blizz’s game not mine, and they can design it any way they please. I am encouraged, though, when they have enough respect for the player base to explain why certain mechanics are as they are, and to lay out remedy plans when the mechanics do not work out as intended.

Anyway, I am not going to repeat the whole Blue Post here, I encourage you to read it. But the main point is that Blizz has identified some problems with the AP mechanic, and they are making some major changes to it in 7.2. Specifically, Blizz intends to address two problems:

  • The fact that the last 20 points of artifact traits require more or less the same amount of AP each (slight arithmetic progression), whereas the first 34 require exponentially-increasing amounts of AP.
    • The unintended result of this is that, for the last 20 artifact traits, players putting in 40 hours a week can in fact get twice the artifact power in a week than can players putting in 20 hours a week.
    • This is exactly the situation Blizz was trying to avoid, and which they did avoid with the first 34 traits. That is, they wanted to lessen the power gap between players who play a lot of hours and those with less available time but maybe the same degree of interest.
  • Some activities currently reward inappropriate amounts of AP, when weighed against time spent and level played. For example, short “Maw runs” have emerged as the best and fastest way to earn max AP each week. These normal Mythic runs award more than, say, hours spent in Nighthold, or running more difficult Mythic+ instances, or cranking out lots of World Quests.

Watcher explains all this by way of more or less preparing us for some major changes to AP in 7.2.

  • First, we can expect what seem to be insane amounts of AP for each new 7.2 artifact trait, so as to narrow the gap in weapon power between the top end and the middle-of-the road players.
  • Second, there will be some adjustments to the amounts of AP earned by various activities — specifically, it will no longer be possible to chain run regular Mythics as the fastest way to get large amounts of AP;  other more advanced activities will award proportionately more AP per time unit spent; and “harder” Mythic instances will also award more AP than, say, a quick Maw run.

I understand why these changes are being made, and it seems like they may well be a partial solution to the problems Watcher laid out in his post. I am skeptical, however, that they will accomplish the lofty ideal he laid out as his conclusion:

All of the above changes are aimed at allowing players the freedom and flexibility to decide how they want to spend their time, and which goals they wish to pursue, while limiting the difference in power between players who arrive at different answers to those questions.

I don’t actually know if these changes will improve the game for me or not. I think they may well exacerbate the problem with leveling and gearing alts, for example. And I am not certain that they will, as Watcher claims in the body of his post, make it easier to develop off specs for one’s main.

Last, I think they will magnify my main complaint about the whole artifact and AP thing: it is one of the main factors contributing to the part of Legion I perceive as an endless, Sisyphean, soul-crushing grind. I know this is not a Blizz concern, it certainly plays no part in the announced changes to AP. But it still is important to me.

And on that note, let the weekend begin!

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!

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.

Ahead of the curve and behind it

Last night I think I had the most fun I have had in the game in a very long time. It was raid night, and we downed both Cenarius and Xavius in heroic, giving us our EN 7/7(H). It was not easy, nor was it especially pretty, and we killed them by the hairs of our chinny chin chins, but we did it. There were cheers and hoots and hollers all around, and much posing for screen shots, and in general it was just very cool.

This to me is where the main fun is in WoW. It is a social game, after all, and even extreme introverts like myself can enjoy that. We started our Legion raiding season the first night Emerald Nightmare was active (September 20? I think). About 25 people showed up that first night, and the team has varied a bit over the last 5 weeks but has kept a fairly consistent core of 18-25 members. The guild has some people that have played together for many years, but it is a very active guild in terms of recruitment, the founders are extremely open and welcoming to new members, and it has been interesting to watch a collection of individuals come together and function as a team. Kudos to the GM, raid leaders and officers for providing the conditions for success.

There was some talk of where we might go from here, so I guess there will be some discussions about that in the coming days. We are not really a Mythic raiding guild, but of course inevitably that will be one of the options discussed. If we go that route I am not sure I should be part of it. I am not an exceptional raider by any measure, more of a reliable member of the chorus line. My damage numbers are usually respectable but not remarkable, and it often takes me a bit longer than others to catch on to certain mechanics. (Tornadoes come to mind, and I never did catch on to Durumu’s maze.)

Also, my gear is approaching the “stinks” level when compared to others on the team.  As I mentioned a few days ago, my RNG luck is approaching catastrophic. Last night I noticed that, of 21 raid team members, 20 had legendaries equipped. Guess who was the only person not to have one (much less two or three, as some do)? And honestly, well-intended advice to “just run Mythics and do emissary quests” is annoying, not helpful. I think I have missed doing only one emissary quest since WQs opened for me. I run 4-5 Mythics a week, some regular, some pluses. I have never missed doing a weekly world boss since they started, and I have never gotten even a single piece of gear from any of them — always only gold. I have gotten to the point where I save up my emissary chests and open several at a time so as to concentrate the disappointment rather than have it more frequently. When I do get gear from world or other quests, the only time I seem to win an upgrade is if it is so low level that I can’t equip it, and then the lucky upgrade I get is +5, making it a slightly higher piece for vendoring.

Supposedly there is some sort of “bad luck insurance” Blizz has instituted for people like me. I guess their definition of bad luck is a lot different than mine is, because I see zero evidence of any kind of insurance kicking in. I think it is at least a 50-50 bet that it does not exist, it is just a lie perpetrated by Blizz to keep people like me on the hook.

That great oracle of fun, Ion Hazzikostas, is fond of lecturing us on how much more fun RNG is than boring old tokens or other currency, that it is a real rush when you unexpectedly get a great piece of gear. What he asininely fails to admit is that, when you are consistently on the butt end of the probability curve, it is frustrating beyond belief to see literally everyone around you get the RNG rewards — some multiple times — and there is absolutely nothing zero zip nada you can do to get them yourself. There is no skill or persistence that can help you get that random drop. He has said it is not fun to grind for gear, but that is exactly what some of us are doing, except there is no guarantee whatsoever that the grind will ever be successful. At least with a currency system, you know that eventually you will get what you are grinding for.

And here’s a news flash for you, Ion: after weeks and months of bad luck, it is no longer fun even if you do finally get a drop. It is just a relief that you will temporarily not have to face daily disappointment, that you will now be on a par with other players — at least until their luck inevitably kicks in before yours does again.

Getting the AotC achievement last night was fantastic fun. I was part of team that worked for it — we were completely in charge of our success or failure, and it was a real rush when we eventually succeeded. It just felt good. Being behind the curve on RNG-based gear feels terrible, more so because players have zero control over their fate, and no amount of hard work will result in success.