A farewell to hunters

Yesterday another hunter I respect, Delirium over at The Thrill of the Wild, threw in the towel on hunters as a class in Legion. He joins a number of excellent hunters who, after months of frustration trying to get Blizz to understand their very real and legitimate concerns about overall hunter play style in Legion, have finally given up and will just try to make the best of it. That is, if they play a hunter at all in Legion or indeed if they play the game at all. Some, like Delirium, hold out a very slim hope that it will turn out all right once Legion goes live, but really no one believes it will.

Even though you can read Del’s piece for yourselves, I am going to do a lengthy quote here, because I think he really captured the feeling of many true hunters. He certainly captured mine.

So, here we are; the Legion pre-patch likely less than a week away, and hunters are still in a fairly terrible place, from my perspective. All three specs received complete overhauls (now having only the names in common with the previous three hunter specs), and all three ended up significantly less fun than they have been for the last two expansions.

. . .

While I’d like to think that in general I’m appreciative of the developers trying new things, experimenting and trying to make the game better. In the case of all three hunter specs, they’ve ended up with results that are significantly worse than what they had when they started. And really, that wouldn’t be a problem either, except, as far as I can tell, the developers who are in charge seem to legitimately think that they’ve made a good class, despite months and months and months of feedback from hundreds of different hunters in the beta expressing dissatisfaction with every single hunter spec.

And that is the essence of it. Hunters may in fact turn out to compete well on the damage charts in Legion, but that is not the point. Blizz has succeeded in draining every bit of fun out of the spec, they have gutted its soul, they have removed every vestige of joy from it. The hunter class in Legion will remain, but in name only. The hunter class we have loved to play since the beginning of WoW will be gone.

Blizz has steadfastly refused to tell us why they have done this, beyond blithering idiocy about “class fantasies”. I can only conclude their actions are the result of one of two reasons: 1) They have no one on their staff who has ever understood and loved the hunter class, or 2) They made a deliberate decision to destroy the class, because it was too popular or because non-hunters hate it a lot, or whatever. No matter the reason, WoD and Legion have made it clear that hunters are the throwaway class in Blizz’s mind, the class they can screw with however much they want whenever they want.

This is bad enough, but it is compounded by the fact that Blizz has so little respect for hunters that they have not even bothered to have a real discussion over the changes and why they decided to make them, why they have stubbornly ignored the concerns of the best, most conscientious hunters in the game.

I will play a Beastmastery hunter in Legion, but I am not excited by the prospect. I look at it as something to endure, not something to look forward to. Though it retains the most flavor of traditional hunters, it, too has been stripped of its essential fun. It does not even come close to Blizz’s own ridiculous “spec fantasy”. How can you have a hunter with no skill whatsoever in camouflage or traps? How can someone be a “Master of Beasts” with many of them at his beck and call but with actual control over only one of them? (And in truth not a lot of control over even that one, as there are still serious pathing issues as well as issues with your pet failing to attack when it is on Assist.) The poverty of this shallow “fantasy” is exposed in the actual spec implementation.

The destruction of the hunter class puts a shadow over all of Legion for me. I know there will be many fun innovations, and I think there will be a lot of engaging content. But I will be reminded of Blizz’s hunter sellout every time I play. Every. Single. Time.

I know Blizz does not dwell in the real player world, so they will believe their own hype over Legion. But they should be sobered by the idea that there is a sizable group of players like myself who are not hyped by it, who are instead grimly resolved to get through it. For a game, that is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

I will spend my weekend playing my hunter, eking out every last ounce of joy I can while it is still fun to play. Soon it will just be a memory.

Blizz, why are you doing this?

Schedule change

After months of nothing much happening in WoW, suddenly everything is moving at a breakneck pace. No post today so that I can spend some time checking things out on both the PTR and beta realms, and hopefully organizing some observations.

Selection begins

It is getting down to crunch time. Which alts will I level first in Legion? And, even more anxiety-inducing, will my hunter still be my main? These are not questions I have felt I had to answer in the run-up to other expansions, but they seem important — almost key — to me as we approach Legion.

First, the question of main. I have always had a hunter as my main. In fact, by the end of Mists and all through WoD, I had two hunters as what you might call dual mains. (The reason is a long story not worth going into here, but it had to do with my guild-switching as my guild of many years was disintegrating.) Currently I have one adequately-geared MM hunter as my “main main” and a somewhat lesser geared BM hunter as my “off main”. The question I am dealing with is, will I maintain this hunter configuration in Legion?

I am not all that happy — and honestly not all that skilled — with the MM spec. Try as I might, I just can’t love it in its current incarnation. I usually run it with Lone Wolf  for the undeniable DPS boost. But it feels clunky and slow to me, from the need to be mindful of how often I am moving, to the puny burst capability. Even the 4-piece tier set seems to provide only marginal improvement — it is terrific fun in those rare instances when Careful Aim is active and Thrill of the Hunt has procc’ed, but other than that the 50-focus cost of Aimed Shot really limits its use except for being able to work maybe one more in during a regular rotation, possibly two more during a TotH when Careful Aim does not apply.

As for BM, it has never really been my favorite. I have usually had a BM off spec for my  hunters just to be able to tame rare pets and spirit beasts, and it is a terrific spec to level with. But it is frustrating to raid with, especially in any fight that requires a lot of target-switching. (And it seems like nearly all of the final tier raids in both Mists and WoD were this type of fight.) The DPS hit taken when your pet has to continually run to other targets is quite significant, and leaving the pet on a main target (by having it in passive mode) while you yourself switch is similarly unsatisfying, again because of the DPS hit you take when you remove that hunter-pet damage synergy.

This is why I loved SV before Blizz obliterated it — it really hit the sweet spot between the other two specs.

But back to my question of a main in Legion. With nothing to go on in terms of how each spec might feel to play, much less the raid environment they will have to deal with, it all becomes kind of a complicated coin toss.

All of this is complicated by two additional factors: professions and artifact weapons. Which leads me to my second question, which alts should I level first? Let’s leave artifact weapons aside — I have written about their game play complications previously — and focus on professions.

We are told that in Legion professions will all have their own quest lines, and that recipes will be learned as quest rewards and will also drop from various sources. I try to read everything I can about Legion, but the information on professions is extremely sparse. I don’t know if this is because Blizz has yet to implement most of the profession structure, if it is because the people who did the alpha had zero interest in professions, or if the people now in beta who are interested in professions are not interested in sharing their experiences with the rest of us. The Legion profession forums are sparse, and while there are a couple of bloggers writing very comprehensively about one or two professions, there just is not much information out there. I wish there was more, because it might help me decide which alts I should be gearing up most now so as to be able to level them efficiently in Legion.

My current lineup of characters/professions is:

Characters - pre Legion

(As you can see, Alchemy, Herbalism, and Inscription are duplicate professions.) All are level 100, with varying gear levels roughly in descending order. All but the mage either have the legendary ring or in the case of the druid and the rogue will have it within a couple of weeks.

With that rather long introduction, here is my current plan.

  • Leave the decision as to whether or not to main a hunter until the pre-patch, when I can get an idea of the play style for MM and BM. At that point I will decide first if I want to have a hunter as my main at all, and second, do I want to continue with the “dual mains” route I am on now or just have one main and a bunch of alts of which my other hunter is just one.
  • Within a week, decide which of my alts would be a candidate for main if hunter does not work for me in Legion. Right now the strongest candidate, given all that I can scrape up about Legion, seems to be my Druid. (I would love for it to be my Warlock, as I really love playing that alt, but I really don’t know how it will feel to play one in Legion.)
  • Also within a week, figure out the order in which I will level my alts in Legion. Some of this will depend on which is my main, of course, but I will go with a Plan A hunter main and a Plan B Druid main for planning purposes. The order of alts leveling will largely depend on which professions look to be either most lucrative or most useful to me. Right now Inscription looks to be a safe bet at least early on, mainly for the gizmos that allow for talent switching away from cities and inns. Beyond that, it is anyone’s guess, but possibly my LW will be useful for transmog items, and of course and enchanter is always useful for DE purposes if nothing else.
  • Last, decide within the next few days if I need to switch out some duplicate professions in favor of ones where duplicates will be more useful.

As I said above, this is not really a decision matrix I have faced before. But the twin factors of artifact weapons and what appear to be drawn-out profession leveling processes in Legion mean that it is now something to be dealt with.

Blizz really owes us a better picture of these Legion mechanisms — they are giving the beta selectees a huge advantage right now over all other players.

 

Well that was fast

On the heels of my long rant last Thursday, about the idiocy of the pay-per-spec-change policy, we get a series of long and thoughtful blue posts from “Watcher” Hazzikostas on the subject. You can read them in full in the forum or the compiled responses here in MMO-C. But the bottom line is that the proposed policy has been reversed as of yesterday, spec changes will be free in Legion, no change to the current policy, except of course you will not be limited to two specs per class. Also, there will instead be a tougher policy on talent switching — more on that in a minute.

I have some wide-ranging thoughts on this development, but overall I am encouraged and optimistic about the way it was handled.

First, this is another in a series of rather remarkable design reverses in response to player comments. I don’t have a list of them all, but the ones that come to mind are the Water Strider and pets for MM hunters. I think this shows that Blizz did in fact learn some lessons from the debacle that was WoD. No, they don’t cave to every criticism of certain design mechanics, but they seem to be getting better at determining when something is potentially a major problem. Not insignificantly, they also are willing to reverse themselves if they decide that the player criticisms are justified. This is something they were incapable of during the WoD beta and throughout the first part of the expansion. They seem to have rediscovered how to be flexible. (Sorry, I don’t buy the tinfoil hat theory that the initial spec changing cost was done solely to be able to look like good guys when they changed it, which they always intended to do — Blizz can be sneaky, but this would be a new low even for them.)

Second, I can see a certain maturing process at work with Watcher. (No, I am not trying to be condescending in noting this.) Although he is the current Big Dog in terms of player communications, he has seemed unwilling to put himself out there and engage with players in any meaningful way. In WoD his preferred mode of communication was the snarky comment, delivered so as to maximally demean whatever player concerns were at issue. He still seems reticent to engage with players on any kind of regular basis, but some of his most recent responses in forums have been detailed, thoughtful, and on an adult level of reasoning and explanation.

I found his collected responses to the spec-changing issue reasonable and fair. You can agree or disagree with the compromise solution Blizz arrived at, but there is no doubt that Watcher fully explained their reasoning and the basis for making the decision they did. After the nastiness of player communications in WoD, I am still pleasantly surprised when Blizz actually explains their deliberative process on some issues. I wish they would do it more, but that they do it at all is a huge improvement.

I for one appreciate being treated as a sentient, knowledgeable adult. It makes me much more receptive to grownup approaches like compromise.

Third, delving into the actual compromise worked out over the spec-changing issue, I find it to be reasonable. Do I love it? No, but I understand where Blizz is coming from, and after all the mark of a good compromise is that all sides are somewhat happy as well as somewhat unhappy.

For those who have not read the solution, it is that spec changing will be free, but talent changing will become more restrictive than it currently is. Though the final details are not yet worked out, basically you will only be able to change your talents if you are in a safe zone, defined as a place that gives you rest. (I am not sure if that means only sanctuary areas like class halls and sanctuary cities, or if any inn will do.) There will be a provision for some magic effect — crafted and presumably sold by Inscriptionists — to create a temporary sanctuary in raids/instances/field where those in the vicinity can switch talents. Of note, Watcher clearly indicated the intent is NOT for individuals to carry stacks of these magical widgets with them, rather that they be available to groups — though he did not elaborate much on that, so that is one of the details to be worked out I guess.

Blizz’s intent is to make choices actually count for something. After all, as they point out, you are not really making a choice if you can always have it all with a minuscule  effort. They believe they have put a lot of work into Legion’s talent tables for each class, and they want players to put some thought into their talent selections, realizing the trade-offs involved.

As I said, I can see their point. Currently, I do a fair amount of talent switching in raids, mainly involving Level 15 Posthaste versus Crouching Tiger Hidden Chimaera and Level 90 Glaive Toss versus Barrage. I change the Level 90 talents more frequently than I do the Level 15, mainly because it annoys me to not use Barrage on a single target or very small group — I feel like it is a waste of a talent to just have it sit there, even though I understand it means I can use more powerful shots more often. It’s a perception thing with me. So if I know there will not be big trash mobs in a fight, I change to GT.

Will I change talents so often in a raid if it means forcing a group effort similar to a warlock Summoning Portal in order to do it? No, I probably won’t, and I am sure there will be times when that frustrates me and makes me think I am not able to do my best. But in the big picture, it is preferable — at least to me — to chunking out gold every time I change specs.

But I think this most recent design reversal means that it is incumbent on Blizz to ensure Legion encounters are more balanced than they are now, so that there is less clear advantage to wholesale talent switching in raids and instances. Minor, yes, major, no. For example, there really should not be a series of encounters like the first two bosses in HFC, compounded by the hordes of trash mobs in between every boss, where the differences between AoE talents and single target talents are huge. Blizz will not do this, of course, we will just have to suck it up, but it would be the responsible design decision in light of this recent talent switching redesign.

I also think this compromise makes it important for Blizz to give us reasonable choices for each talent level. This means that each tier should have three equally viable choices for the “theme” for that tier, and this requires attention to detail in Blizz’s balancing process. More attention to detail than we have seen them capable of for the past couple of years. If our talent choices require us to make trade-offs, it seems only right that the same thing apply to Blizz’s design choices.

Still, I commend Blizz in general and Watcher in particular on their response to the spec-changing issue. Now, if we can talk a little about spec balancing and play styles…

Cranky Monday

It’s Monday, I had a terrible weekend (entertained idiot in-laws). It’s the middle of May and still not getting to 60 degrees here in Virginia during the day, we have had rain every day for going on 3 weeks now, more predicted this week. WoW is pretty much in hiatus which means there is little to write about. It looks like once again there will be no Legion beta invite for me just as there has never, ever been a beta invite for me. Blizz appears intent on making the game appeal to a smaller and smaller audience, and I am sick and tired of all their crappy little “gotcha” ideas that do nothing to improve the game but are just change for the sake of change. And the damn deer just ate $150 worth of “deer resistant” flowers I planted last week.

I am pretty cranky.

*deep breath* Ommmmmmmmmmm………

Apologies to my readers — this will be a scattered and possibly whiny post, you may want to go re-read some old Grumpy Elf posts instead. I am only writing it as a possible way to shake off this horrible mood I am in.

Comments in order of my cranky list from above:

In-laws. They are finally gone, thank the stars. ‘Nuff said.

Weather. Nothing I can do about that, so I need to just shut up about it.

WoW currently in dead zone. I still find plenty to do, but honestly most of it is just marking time until what I anticipate will be the debacle of Legion. Now of course the entire point to the game is to waste time, so it seems a tad ironic to say that currently I feel like I am just wasting time, but still, there are productive and non-productive wastes of time, and I feel like I am immersed in the latter right now.

In particular, I am frustrated by the fact that nearly every class and spec will be massively changed come Legion. Again. Typically, I like to use the ends of expansions to become more proficient with my alts, to get them some gear, to maybe set them up for a bigger role in the next expansion. That particular fun aspect of play is becoming more and more pointless, because many of the nuanced things you might learn about playing a certain class or spec will be totally useless in the next expansion.

Example: I am leveling a ret/holy paladin and am having some fun with her, bopping around Azeroth, learning a play style I have no previous experience with. I find it intriguing that much of a pally’s power, no matter what the spec, comes from helping others in the form of protecting them from Bad Things. But honestly, I find myself uninterested in learning anything more than some very basic button pushing, because what’s the point? Same with my combat rogue — surprisingly, I am drawn to the current play style but again what’s the point of pursuing it? Combat rogues will not exist in their current form or with their current name in Legion.

Beta invite. I should probably treat this as I do the weather, but I am cranky enough that I can’t completely shut up about it. So I will whine a bit. I don’t even have anything pithy to say about it other than to throw a tantrum because no matter what I do, there is apparently no way for me to participate. I even enter those third party beta key giveaways various sites offer. I love this game, I am a conscientious and active player, I have played for over seven years, I certainly give honest feedback, I am responsible if given something to test, I enjoy a fairly wide variety of play styles and activities, and I think I represent a fairly large segment of the player base.

But I am unlucky, and Blizz — as well as the giveaway sites — chooses to make the beta RNG-based. You might think, with as many records as they keep about every statistic in the game, that they would keep a list of who has and has not yet participated in a beta and try to give everyone opting in a chance to play. You might even think that they would track active time in the beta and kick those who haven’t bothered to sign in for a couple of weeks — after all, they keep meticulous “active user time per month” stats to measure exec performance. But no and no. The only real thing they are interested in at this point is stress testing — can the system handle large populations — and they really don’t give a hoot in hell who is doing that, they are just numbers. No more substantive changes will be made at this point anyway. The “real” feedback type testing occurred in the Golden Group alpha testing. Now they just need bodies.

Which makes me all the more cranky when I hear various bloggers and others nattering on about how “anyone” can now participate, and how glorious it is, yada yada yada. And I am annoyed that, with apparently so many participating, there is still so little of substance being written about it — good or bad. So I am forced to write about small little tidbits I can scrape up here and there, to rely on other people’s opinions on this or that tiny aspect of the game.

Don’t mind me, I am just pitching a selfish fit.

Game appeal and crappy ideas. I have already written about these subjects extensively. But they add to my general crankiness especially on a day like today. I am still mulling over that whole “pay progressively higher gold to change specs” thing, worst idea they have come up with in a long time, and that is a pretty high bar. In fact, I was going to pre-order Legion yesterday, to get the boost I would use on my pally, but honestly that little spec-pay thing made me wait. It just seemes to be representative of a direction Legion — and Blizz — is taking the game, and it is a direction that does not appeal to me much.

Deer. See Weather. Also, I am hoping the local coyote population increases.

Check back tomorrow for a hopefully more pleasant post.

Legion infomercial

Yesterday, as most of you know, Ion Hazzikostas spent an hour doing a “dev talk” on Twitch. MMO-C has both the video and a written summary of everything covered, you can check it out here. The program was not highly hyped by Blizz in advance, more of a mention in passing a couple of days before.

I can see why. I don’t want to be too negative about it, because I suppose it had some utility for some people, but my overall impression was that politicians could study it for pointers on how to say nothing for an hour. I kept waiting for Hazzikostas to get past the small talk and to the meat of the discussion. Turns out there really wasn’t any meat. Here is my summary:

  • Beta starts Thursday.
  • Class halls are not garrisons.
  • World quests are not Mists-style dailies.
  • For all those yammering about legacy servers, Blizz will work on improving the leveling process. (!?)
  • Something about Hazzikostas and being a shaman tank. Gotta be honest, I got up to get a cup of coffee here and when I came back he was still nattering on about it. Eventually this somehow morphed into a big plug for Demon Hunters.
  • Artifacts are powerful and they look cool.
  • Mythic+ dungeons are hard and provide another avenue for burnout in case raid burnout for progression teams is not enough. (My interpretation, of course, not his exact words.) Hazzikostas spent at least three times longer on this subject than he did on artifact weapons.

In all fairness, I suppose I had set my expectations far too high for this “dev discussion”. I know it must have been informative for some people, and I don’t want to denigrate anyone who liked it. But, honestly, for anyone following Legion developments so far, it was more of an infomercial than anything else. Other than the announcement of an exact time for the wider beta, there was nothing of any real substance in there that I could see. In fact, when he spent so much time on Mythic+ dungeons, I really felt like he had run out of things to say too early so had to go into great detail on this last topic because he still had several minutes before his hour was over. It just seemed a tad bizarre that he spent all of about 2 minutes on artifact weapons — the aspect of Legion that influences nearly every aspect of game play for every player, and even then really only focused on their graphic depictions — and much longer on Mythic+ dungeons that will probably affect only a fairly small percentage of the player base.

I will admit though, that besides the beta announcement, there were a couple small crumbs of new information. Not enough in my opinion to justify an entire hour, but still. For example, we will apparently be able to do our Legion entry scenario after the pre-event patch but in the weeks leading up to Legion going live, so that when it does go live we can immediately report to Dalaran and get started. That is clearly Blizz’s solution to server crashes on launch day — that and flexible zone leveling — and I think it is a great idea, here’s hoping it works.

The other tidbit I picked up is that Blizz considers 12-15 seconds per mob to be the optimal time it should take you to kill one at max level. Who knew? Not sure how useful this info is, and it makes me worry a bit that Legion’s annoying weed-mob-equivalent ambushing you as you travel about will be even more annoying than in WoD. Doesn’t seem like fun to spend over a minute killing 4-5 little nuisance mobs every time I gallop past them…

But my general response to the discussion was that it struck me as a bit condescending, not in tone but in substance. Blizz has been conducting this alpha test now for 6 months, with the top players in the world giving them feedback. There have been some major changes made, give Blizz credit where credit is due, but there is still a lot of discomfort out there with some major aspects of the expansion, for example class and spec play and the pervasiveness of artifact weapons. I expected Hazzikostas to give us some feedback on the alpha test process, on status of class balancing. I expected him to allay some concerns over the impact on the game from artifact weapons, to discuss approximate timetables for patches, maybe even talk about feedback so far on regular dungeons and raid tiers.

In other words, I expected to be given a realistic assessment of where Legion is going as game evolution. What I feel I got is a nice pat on the head, and an admonishment that “It’s gonna be great!” Like when you were a kid sulking because you were required to spend a week in the summer with your Great Aunt Dorothy, and your mom gave you the pep talk about how much fun it would be and how you were really going to have a great time, she was going to take you to her quilting group and bridge club and everything! Whee!

As for beta invites? Well, let’s just say, since they are essentially at the whim of RNG for us peons, I am not expecting one. I have signed up for beta testing ever since it was possible to do so in WoW, and I have yet to receive an invite. And I am certainly not one of Blizz’s Chosen Ones, so no hope for an invite from that end either. There will undoubtedly be beta keys given away by various web sites and third parties, but most of those also involve lottery-type luck, so ….. See you all in the PTR a couple of weeks before launch.

I give Blizz props for having a “dev talk”, but overall — being generous — about a C- for content.

Legion! Yay, or something

As everyone probably knows by now, Blizz has officially announced that Legion will go live on August 30. Honestly, I’m not sure what I think about that. I’ve had a lot of thoughts darting through my head since the announcement. Here are a few of them.

First, there is the big fat obvious fact that patch 6.2 celebrates its first birthday on June 23 of this year. Which means it will be just a smidge over 14 months old when Legion goes live. Last June, I wrote this:

How did your first day go with 6.2? I can best sum mine up with a hearty “meh…” Some things were fun, some were almost unbelievably frustrating, but one thing I know for sure is that this patch will get very old very fast.

Which it did. We had two patches in the first year of WoD — although 6.1 hardly even qualified as a patch — and then zero, zip, nada for 14 months.

WTF, Blizz?

Things have come a long ways — and not in a good way — from this November 2013 quote from Ghostcrawler:

We find that expansions are what bring players back to World of Warcraft…. Really good patches will keep them, but they aren’t as good at bringing players back to the game.

We really want to get to a cadence where we can release expansions more quickly. Once a year I think would be a good rate. I think the best thing we can do for new players is to keep coming out with regular content updates.

Not only no new expansions every year, but no new patches either, much less “really good” ones.

Certainly a new expansion every year, if it is of the immense scope that WoD and Legion are, is extremely optimistic. To achieve that frequency, a company has to devote very significant resources and must be almost flawless in their project planning and execution. Also, they must be willing to ignore the Good Idea Fairy who seems to make a nuisance of herself throughout the expansion development cycle, causing original concepts to become as bloated and overgrown as a Pentagon defense contract.

Blizz has demonstrated that they are just awful at all of this. Thus we get attempts to completely rework nearly every facet of the game for every expansion, the projects grow far beyond their initial scope without increasing the development resources to compensate, deadlines loom, and the projects get rushed out the door with a vague thought that all the known bugs will get fixed in the first patch. (When did Blizz adopt the Microsoft model of project management?) In short, we get WoD. I can only hope this is not the case with Legion, but I will wait to see.

I am neither surprised nor disappointed that Blizz has had to back off of Greg Street’s 2013 comment, but I would appreciate the courtesy of a new statement reflecting their current goals for frequency of expansions and patches.

Second, you have to wonder what kind of marketing duel may be going on between Blizz and Square Enix, which recently announced that Final Fantasy 15 — one of the strong WoW competitors — would be released Sep 30. This is suspiciously close to the previously-assumed release date of Legion, clearly chosen for the competitive value. Now suddenly Blizz one-ups Square Enix and announces an Aug 30 release. One can only hope that this is an actual, reasonable release date, and not one pulled out of the air in the spirit of “Oh yeah? We’ll see your Sep 30 release date and cut it by a month! Hah!”

Third, what does this mean for a beta test? By my calculations, if you allow time for a beta test followed by a PTR, the beta should have started, like — before now? It will be interesting to see how the “alpha” experiment will be spun by Blizz. My hunch is that we will soon see something that will be labeled “beta” but will actually just be a sort of  pre-PTR, with no substantive changes made, no matter what the comments are from the testers. Let’s face it, the alpha was the beta, from now on things other than minor tweaks are set in stone. The PTR — well, it will mainly be there as a pacifier to players not invited to either the alpha or the beta. If Blizz is smart, they will use it as a system stress test, because …

Fourth, what if any technical changes have been put in place to ensure we do not have a disastrous release day and/or week? The experiences for release of Mists and WoD were monuments to incompetence. There is no excuse for Blizz to fail to anticipate these factors for release week:

  • There will be a HUGE surge of players at the release hour. This surge will continue for at least the first week of the expansion. This means that servers must be prepared to take capacity loads, and additional tech servers may be needed.
  • People will be playing during times they ordinarily do not, so standard patterns of peak play times will be meaningless.
  • Some group will almost certainly try to attack Blizz servers and network infrastructure on release day. Get ready for it, and don’t complain that it is an “unforeseen event”. I am foreseeing it right now, so you should, too.
  • Lots of things will go wrong, so start preparing now to bring in extra support personnel, including GMs to quickly address tickets. People will have taken vacation time and made similar arrangements to experience intensive play time at release, so realize that they will be more emotional than usual when they hit a bug that prevents them from playing. You will win a lot of fans if you can address their problems rapidly and successfully.
  • Realize that you will likely have a lot of brand new WoW players for whom this will be their first expansion day, and whatever their experience is will color their entire view of the game.

Last, what does this mean for a pre-expansion event and for the pre-patch? Typically, these are big guessing games, Blizz gives coy little hints and bats its eyes like a middle schooler trying to flirt for the first time, but they never really announce a pre-patch release date. But this time, given the extreme changes every class and spec will undergo, I think Blizz owes it to their player base to cut out the cuteness and tell us at least an approximate time frame for the pre-patch. Those of us still around have proven our loyalty, we have stuck with this game in spite of a terrible and seemingly-endless expansion, and dammit we deserve to know when our classes will change forever.

What provisions are in place for playing a Legion spec in a WoD world? There are a ton of concerns here, not the least of which involve changes for secondary stats, for new global cool down intervals (1.5 seconds, up from 1.0 seconds — subject to haste), for new healing paradigms in an old-paradigm expansion, etc. I suppose we need time to get used to our new rotations and spec play styles before we get dumped into Legion, but honestly I am not looking forward to it, and I would like to have as much advance planning notice as possible.

Everyone fasten your seat belts, securely stow your belongings, and make sure your seats and tray tables are in an upright position. Here we go!