Demon You-Know-Whats

I feel kind of a duty to write about Demon Hunters today, since yesterday I and a few million of my closest friends (I am sure some of you were among them, did you see me wave?) dipped a toe into those green fel waters. I spent enough time with my new DH to get to level 100 and knock out a couple of invasion scenarios, so understand from this that I am still basically at the “roll face on keyboard” stage of proficiency.

Before I get started with a few comments about the actual experience, I have to point out what I think is the worst part of this new class: the name. To me, it is yet another poke at hunters from the people at Blizz who seem to have the mission of destroying us as a unique class — “Haha, Hunters, even your name will no longer be unique!!” If you are someone who does not have a hunter as a main, think how you would feel if Blizz had opted to call the new class Demon Warrior, Demon Death Knight, Demon Mage, Demon Shaman, etc. I know it is not a big thing, but it is a thing, and coming along with the batch of other ill-advised and class-altering changes to hunters, it just seems to pour salt in the wound.

Anyway, my first impressions of the DH, Broken Shores, and initial invasion experiences.

Technical issues. I did not experience any show-stopping ones, but there were plenty of major annoyances — frequent disconnects, periods of huge lag, login issues, getting ported out of the Broken Shores scenario once and having to start it all over, and a weird thing with non-DH alts where I was locked out of my garrison. Also, the new CRZ seems still broken in a big way — one small group I was in could not seem to get phased into the same server at the same time, and there were a couple of hairy times when the only people I could see fighting parts of an invasion scenario were myself and 2-3 others (we died frequently, and once the scenario reset completely from the beginning).

I suppose Blizz considers the rollout a success, but when you think about it, they have been testing the crap out of this for months now, and still much of it played like a beta version. Let’s just say it did nothing to boost my confidence in what will happen the day Legion launches.

DH starting area and initial leveling. OK, this was fun. While I am not a fan of dark gloomy spaces in this game, I thought the DH starting area of Mardum was downright panoramic in terms of the space, the artwork, the story line, everything. It drew me in, in a way that the DK starting place never was able to. Huge kudos to the team that designed this experience.

The leveling process from 98 to 100 went fast. I am slow, and it only took me a bit over two hours. The leveling quests are all pretty easy, pegged to the spells you have available and increasing a tiny bit in challenge as you get new ones. The starting quests also give you a little bump in gear, and it is organized to upgrade your green starter gear one slot at a time with few if any duplicates.

As I mentioned, the story line is well integrated with the quests, and it does an excellent job of establishing the whys and wherefores of Demon Hunters. By the time you are out of the starting area, you really have a sense of class identity and of the role the class is to play in Legion.

While I enjoyed most of the cutscenes, I did find a few of them tedious. In particular, the final cutscene, where your DH is being set free from Mardum, was far too long and frankly boring. For one thing, it is not a true movie-like cutscene, it is more of an edgy comic book animation that was interesting to me because of the artwork for about 20 seconds, after which I realized the dialogue was mostly insipid filler. I literally went downstairs, made a sandwich, and the scene was still droning on by the time I carried the sandwich back upstairs.

DH playstyle. Honestly, I have no idea about this. The double jumping, the space-bar induced wings when you are falling, the combat moves that cause you to careen forward and backwards, the near-invulnerability of Metamorphosis — all these are great fun, no question about it. Also quite powerful. By the time my DH got to ilevel 687, she was often doing 40-50k DPS, even with me knowing zero about how to optimize her play.

What this says to me is that some gigantic nerfs will be forthcoming. Some of my guildies reported last night that they were unable to get into any raids with their DHs because Blizz was not yet allowing it — there was an error message to that effect. I think that means Blizz understands that DHs are overpowered, that without some major adjustments many WoD raid achievements will be rendered trivial with heavy DH teams. I don’t follow developments in PvP, but there is no way some of the DH abilities will ever make it into that venue, in my opinion.

As an aside, one interesting thing about DHs is that they currently only have two levels of talents — 99 and 100. It seems their talent structure will be an anomaly for WoW classes, as the levels once Legion goes live will be: 99, 100, 102, 104, 106, 108, 110. They will end up with the same number of tiers as other classes, but the tier numbers will be different. ??

As to raiding with DHs in Legion, we will have to see what happens. I hope raids and instances have not been designed with the current DH abilities in mind, because that would mean each team would be more or less required to have a DH member for some fights. (“Bring the class, not the player,” which I am sure is what Blizz has always said, right? …. “Four legs good, two legs better!“) The alternative would seem to be to design raids to specifically guard against DH advantages. In the absence of either of these strategies, we will likely be in for a long series of DH nerfs as players discover how to “beat” the game venues.

Late edit: It’s possible that the only restriction on DH participation in raids, etc., is a 24-hr one, to preclude people continually re-rolling a new DH to get around lockouts. I did not attempt to queue for any, so I did not actually see the error message.

My final word (for today) on DHs is that, while very fun and innovative, this seems to be an unfinished class still in its beta form for all practical purposes. I think that, once again, Blizz has failed to fully anticipate the cascading effects of these new mechanics. It may only now be dawning on them that there are rippling effects throughout much of the game, and we will certainly be seeing some fairly wild back and forth swings as they discover what has been broken by introducing this class.

Broken Shores scenario. It’s well done, well designed, and a well told story. (When it does not glitch.) That said, I am very glad Blizz has allowed us to opt out of it for alts once we have done it on one character.

Another late edit: Apparently Blizz has not implemented this option (to skip) in live. If you have 10 alts, you will be doing BS scenario 10 times. Ugh. I sincerely hope that does not mean they have reversed themselves on the policy — being able to skip was a great quality of life improvement.

Invasions. I only did a couple of these last night, so I don’t have much experience with them. (But I can say for absolute certainty that Azshara has to be given some new cemeteries — the trek back to your body if you die is nothing short of brutal right now.) They seem challenging enough without being impossible (unless the CRZ god has awarded you only a couple of players, in which case they are far too “challenging”). As there are multiple phases to each one, they do take a while to complete, 20 minutes or so was my experience — a lot longer if the group is having a problem downing the last couple of mini bosses.

Completing each phase, along with the entire scenario, grants you Nethershards, a currency you can redeem for 700-level blue gear (some of which can be upgraded) and transmog sets. What this means for me is that I will probably try to do all of them on my DH, since that is the alt most in dire need of gear.

All in all, I give the new stuff from this build a semi-enthusiastic thumbs up. For now. But I still wish they would change the new class’s name.

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.


Tempus fugit and the ECOD

I have been spending time lately doing some farming in preparation for Legion, and also trying to do what I can to increase the gear levels of my alts. My thought on the farming is it is easier now to gather mats I might need for transmog sales, classic enchants, and other facets of Legion. Plus, it is a nice break, laid back and kind of fun and relaxing. Or it would be, if I were not obsessing about all the other unreached goals I have set myself.

My thought on the alts is that the better geared they are the easier it will be to level them up through the first few levels in Legion. I think this will be important mainly because of the requirement to quest in order to level up professions, which of course in turn means I will need to pursue at least the initial quests for baseline artifact weapons on each just to have a usable weapon to quest for professions.

But in the process of doing these activities, I find that there is not nearly enough time to do what I want to do. Like many of you, I have a day job, family and social responsibilities, and other hobbies and interests. Even though I sometimes feel like I spend too much time playing WoW, it amounts to maybe 3 hours a night, call it a tad over 20 hours a week. Take out one night a week when I raid with my guild for 3 hours, and the time available for other game activities shrinks to well under 20 hours.

I decided to get a legendary ring on most of my alts. I already have it on my main and three alts and am part way through on two others. (Mage is not in the running for it, I am just too awful at playing a Mage, doubt if I could even pass the silver proving grounds, much less do the initial heroic dungeons without getting kicked multiple times. Mage exists for inscription profession, that’s about it.) So gathering the succession of various tokens and runes and whatnot takes up several hours a week. I still have not maxed out the ring’s ilevel on my main, so I try to run a full HFC LFR every week for the valor, which takes at least 2 hours, sometimes more. I used to run the weekly events, but I found they just take too much additional time for relatively small benefit, so I have pretty much stopped doing that.

I still run garrison missions and keep up with a few profession huts in my garrisons on all my alts, mainly to help build my stash of gold as much as possible before Legion. And of course the alts still working on their rings need to do shipyard missions, which in turn requires running the dailies in Tanaan for the oil and some minimal rep. All this takes time every night.

My estimate of time I would need to ideally do what I want to do every week is:

  • Garrison activities (follower and shipyard missions, minimal herb harvesting and profession crafting, turning in salvage crates a couple of times a week) on 7 characters — average 10 minutes per character x 7 characters = 1 hour 10 minutes daily or a tad over 8 hours a week.
  • LFR once a week on main and several alts, for valor and/or ring quest items — average (best case) 2 hours per character x estimated 4 characters = 8 hours per week.
  • Raid one night per week with guild = 3 hours per week.
  • Tanaan dailies, about an hour each on 2 alts = 14 hours per week.
  • Run Kazzak once a week on 7 characters, call it 15 minutes per character = about 2 hours.
  • Farming old content for Legion prep or just funsies — call it 30 minutes a night on alternating characters, usually two per night = 7 hours per week.
  • Miscellaneous admin duties such as bank and auction house functions, vendoring trash and repairing, etc. = maybe an hour per week.

Adding all this up comes to well over 40 hours per week. And I really only can usually manage about 20 hours per week. Which means something has to, and does, give. Typically what happens is I do my garrison stuff on 2-3 rotating characters per night, manage maybe a total of 2 LFR runs in a week, do Tanaan dailies more like every other day on one character, show up for raid, and squeeze in anything else in the time remaining.

Honestly, I don’t understand people who claim there is “nothing to do” in this game towards the end of an expansion. Maybe they don’t have any alts, or maybe they only care about raiding as a game activity, or maybe they can afford to spend 40 or more hours a week playing, who knows. All I know is that I seem to get more frazzled as the expansion goes on. Which is why I seldom care if a new expansion is delayed. In fact, I think I would be perfectly happy if every expansion lasted two years, minimum.

In any organization that deals with data and information, there is a concept of “cutoff time” — that point at which the data for a report becomes fixed, a point after which new information will not be included but instead saved for the next report cycle. In my corner of the military, we called one such concept the ICOD (Intelligence Cut Off Date).

I think I have pretty much reached my cutoff time for WoD, call it my ECOD (Expansion Cut Off Date). I need to establish my final no-kidding “must-do” list for WoD, concentrate on that until it is done, then completely abandon new  goals in this expansion and instead focus solely on preps for the next one. I think that “must-do” list will be simply to complete my ring on my last two alts. I will declare ECOD for my main’s and major alts’ ilevels as well as for my gold quantity. I will expend my remaining WoD profession cooldowns however I can; DE all that Baleful gear in my banks; sell off my excess pots, flasks, and other consumables; clear out the other useless junk in my banks and bags; make sure all my characters have max size bags in packs and bank slots; and use up any currency I have such as Apexis Crystals, Honor, Valor, garrison resources, etc.

Yes, that may leave a couple of months before Legion and hopefully before the pre-patch. I will use that time to organize all my bank and bag slots for Legion categories, farm and craft legacy mats for Legion use, and pursue some of the dungeon- and world-drop crafting recipes on my tailor, LW, engineer, and JC. I will also make sure I have the Shado-Pan rep needed on my Enchanter, so as to be able to pick up the Shado-Pan Illusion enchantment recipe as quickly as possible in Legion.

Last, I hope to have at least a couple of weeks if not a month to organize my main and alts after the pre-patch — reconfigure all their action bars, do some target dummy and actual group practice with the new spells and rotations, re-do addons like Weakauras and Healbot, and make my decision as to whether or not I will still main a hunter in Legion.

Momentous weeks ahead. Tempus fugit. Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus. (For those of you not privileged to have studied Latin: Time flies. But meanwhile it is lost, irretrievable time is lost. My own loose translation.)

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!

Crazy release theories

Well, it’s Monday morning, and we are getting down to the real dregs of any semblance of news from Blizz. This at a time when we are at least 5 months away from Legion, and I now believe that to be an optimistic guess. We have sporadic Legion information from the Golden Gamers who have alpha keys, but unless you want to spend hours watching someone make money streaming their experience, this too is very sparse. A couple of bloggers with the key have done a credible job writing about their particular areas of interest (thinking about Delirium, Bendak, Jade over at Jade’s Forest, and Megan O’Neill), but beyond that, about all there is for us in the Great Unwashed is plowing through the Legion class forums, piecing together tiny bits of info about this or that stat being bugged or conflicting with this or that other effect.

No one that I can tell is writing about the overall feel or tone of the Legion experience. Maybe that is because it is still so early in its development that it doesn’t have any kind of feel to it. Which brings me to my first of two crazy theories on release.

(And remember, Blizz, if you were being even the tiniest bit transparent on your Legion development, I would not have to resort to crazy theories.)

Blizz is further behind on Legion than they were on WoD at the same pre-release time point. (And we all know how that turned out for WoD.) How else can you explain that we are, in theory, 5 months from Legion live, and we still do not even have anything Blizz is willing to call beta? I am betting that Blizz has once again bitten off way more than they can chew.

I believe that their original idea of class halls has become much larger and consuming then they first envisioned, that the “fewer followers” they alluded to at Gamescom have become a veritable army with tailored missions and gear, crucial to progressing in the expansion.

I think their inexplicable decision to make artifact weapons unique to every spec has morphed into a nightmare of never-ending separate quest lines, weapon talent trees, skins to assuage every conceivable ego niche (PvP, every level of raid, etc.), and a host of spin-off problems they failed to anticipate. I think their decision to yet again revamp nearly every class and spec, when combined with the crucial talent role of unique artifact weapons, has caused them to be overwhelmed by balance issues.

We also see that professions are getting a complete overhaul, as are some very traditional features such as the glyph system. All these revamps are in addition to creating all the usual new expansion stuff like artwork and zones and raids and dungeons. The result, I am postulating, is a project so vast and complex that there is no way it can be ready by the end of the summer. At least not to Blizz’s pre-WoD release standards. Their options will be to delay release, to release it as a pile of poop like they did WoD, or possibly to do a bit of both and release it slightly later as a slightly smaller pile of poop. (You should prepare for yet another release day server debacle, possibly lasting a week or more, as in WoD and to a somewhat lesser extent Mists. This might mean you should ideally schedule your New Expansion “sick days” from work a week after release, not the day of. Just a suggestion. 😉)

I also think, if they are scrambling as desperately as my theory postulates, that there is other fallout. We are seeing some of this. For example, I think nearly all their WoW resources are working on Legion. They appear to have completely abandoned WoD, except as a stealth test bed for Legion enhancements (like the recent chat changes). We aren’t even getting any quick little fun changes, like the conga line fruit hat from a few months ago or, even, more ridiculous Pepe-like items.

This leads me to a crazy sub-theory that actually Blizz likes it when we are bored with WoW prior to a new expansion. They have said numerous times that the WoW genre is by nature cyclical, that it is to be expected and planned for. What if one of the ways they are “planning for” such cycles now is to embrace the pre-release lull by making sure there is nothing new to engage players, that such boredom will drive a significant number of us to try other Blizz and ATVI games? That WoW ennui is a perfect vehicle for ramping up Heathstone or Overwach participation? Just sayin’.

Another example of the consequences of Blizz being behind the curve on Legion is that they do not have the resources to deal with any kind of player revolt. Which means that they have conveniently not addressed some sensitive issues, such as flying or the promised “accommodations” to artifact weapons for off specs and alts. As far as I can tell, the flying quest line is not in the alpha at all. I take this to mean that Blizz is once again being coquettish on the subject. They said they intended to follow the “WoD model” for flying in Legion, which of course many people took to mean there would be a quest and achievement line for it. But to me, the other part of the WoD model is that it was delayed until the second major patch, and I am 99% certain that is the part of the model most important to Blizz. So I fully expect the flying quest and achievement line will be gated to ensure no one can get it prior to at least the second major patch. I would not even be surprised to see one of the achievements be full completion of the artifact weapon tree. You read it here first.

Disclosure of the flying gate would undoubtedly cause a great deal of public rage (both for and against), and as I said, I do not believe Blizz has the resources to deal with such a reaction now. Much easier to just not say anything and let people believe what they want to based on some early vague pronouncements.

My second crazy release theory is that my worst nightmare will come true, and Blizz will go live with the Legion pre-event as well as with the 7.0 class changes shortly after or even just prior to the movie release. Think about this for a minute. If you are Blizz, and you believe that the movie will bring many new and returning players to the game, heck you are even offering movie tie-in incentives to do so, then the last thing you want is for most of the new players to quit the game after a couple of weeks out of frustration.

The game is obscure enough to a new player — or even to one who has been gone a couple of years — in terms of leveling, questing, professions, raid and dungeon complexities, travel, you name it. To bring them in, have them finally become somewhat comfortable with their new characters after a few weeks, then to completely revamp everything they know about playing their class, is to invite mass quitting. We diehard veteran players put up with such massive changes every couple of years, but I think new players will not. There are just too many other gaming options for them now.

So I think Blizz will want to start new players out on the class and spec play style that will exist in Legion. This means — given what I said about how they are scrambling to need a late September release date — that we will be stuck with Legion class changes in a WoD world for at least three months, maybe more.

Think about that. Remember that Legion specs require the talents from the artifact weapon to realize their full play potential, remember that secondary stats are changing significantly, remember that in theory the Legion raids and dungeons are tuned for this but the WoD ones are not, and you start to realize how very painful this might be. And no matter how much Blizz might vow that they will make “accommodations” in WoD for the class and spec changes, go back to crazy theory number one and ask yourself how many resources they will be willing or even able to devote to something that will likely resolve itself as soon as Legion goes live. If you were Blizz, would you spend the resources on a dead horse (WoD), or would you delude yourself into thinking that by devoting all resources to Legion you can deploy it even earlier than late September?

That’s it for Monday crazy theories. Oh, and please make your comments very quietly, as I am pretty sure that the Worldwide Consortium of Evil is listening through my microwave.