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.

Well, whaddya think?

Whew! Patch 7.0.3 rolled out yesterday, with surprisingly few glitches, and honestly my main impression so far is: this is a helluva lot of work! Yes, work. I am sure I have never before labored so hard as I have done for the past two days, just to make a game playable. And my most optimistic estimate is that this will go on for at least another three or four days. Maybe longer.

The drudgery started Monday night, when I realized that all those garrison resources I had capped out on for most of my characters would be virtually worthless come the patch. Even using a couple of macros, it took me over two hours just to trade in all my resources for sacks of gold. True, I cleared close to 30k gold doing it, but it was tedious. And not exactly wild fun.

Then I tackled all the salvage crates I had saved up for the past month or so. I think I only had about 500 or so total in my account — not nearly as many as some of my guildies had — but that was just painful. Open them up, sell the follower gear and gray items, bank the mats, and sort out where to send which type of gear, using mailboxes as a temporary banking system. Ugh. The only saving grace for me was that I had pretty much been doing this for the last year. I would open crates maybe once a week for everyone, then check each item to see if it was most suitable for transmog for someone, or for AH sales, for DE, or for vendoring. Then about a month ago my banks began to fill up with transmog gear that would not fit in void storage, so I just kept the crates because they at least stacked.

The other thing I am glad I did was that whenever I would send some transmog gear to a character over the past year, I made sure to equip it and make it soulbound. I became very thankful for this foresight last night as I was busily equipping all the BoE gear I had sent around Monday night, so that I could sell it after making sure the appearance made it into my transmog tab. Still, it was tedious even with the relatively few BoE pieces I had to deal with. I got my two hunters sorted out for transmogs and cleaned out all the accumulated gear in their banks and void storage areas. It took several hours, and the process was made more complex by the fact that the main storage addon I use, Ark Inventory, had some major glitches. They eventually got more or less fixed, kind of, but it was a real mess.

While I am on the subject, though, I have to give some major kudos to all the addon authors. At least for the major addons I use, these folks were on top of the situation. They had done the prior work to make their addons mostly 7.0.3 ready, and most of them were issuing updates every few minutes yesterday as bug reports came in. Sure, I know they have had a long time to do this while they were in the alpha and beta tests, but most of them do this for no direct money, and I am pretty sure even what revenue they may derive from forum and blog sites and whatnot is not exactly vast riches (the addons themselves are free, and they may not ask for donations or anything on compendium sites like Curse).

Next I tackled changes with my main hunter. I have been MM since patch 6.2 — 13 months — and decided that I would at least start Legion as BM. Honestly, it is kind of a Hobson’s choice. Some of the very early comparisons seem to point to MM/LW being “THE” raiding spec for Legion — as it has been for most of WoD — but it really is too early to know for sure. But I have never been comfortable with MM in WoD, never really liked the limits on movement, never got used to not having a pet by my side. My current plan is to make my main hunter BM and my almost-main hunter MM to start Legion. This is a pretty stupid decision on my part, because right now they are the opposite, which means I will have to switch both of them. But my “main” main has a lot more cooler pets … It just seems right to make her the BM hunter.

Setting up new action bars and keybinds is not a trivial chore. Not to mention, I rely on Weakauras as the major part of my UI, and all of my auras had to be redone, many deleted, new ones added, and so forth. As to gear, I made some minor changes in light of Multistrike going away, Crit becoming pretty “meh” for BM, and trinkets getting nerfed, but for the most part I am not going to get overly concerned about secondary stats for the remaining few weeks of WoD. I will change out some gems on my BM hunter to stack some haste, but if I have a lot of Mastery instead of the slightly-better Versatility, I am not going to worry about it. Secondary stats are pretty meaningless anyway, as they will shortly be overshadowed by artifact weapons. And Blizz is still tinkering with them for many specs. Bottom line for my BM hunter — keep most of my gear, change out a trinket, stack Haste when convenient, move on.

Side comment: In their official Pre-Patch Notes from two days ago, Blizz claimed that this patch would allow us to equip more than 3 crafted items, but I was not able to do so last night. ??? And in searching just now for the actual quote, I find that in fact the notes have been changed since that particular tidbit was put out. They said it, they announced it, then they unsaid it. No explanations, no apologies, just a selective edit and memory erasure. What, hmmmm? No, we never claimed that….. Poor dear *pat pat* you must be working too hard….

Anyway, back to my hunter. After I finally got things more or less squared away last night, I stepped into a couple of LFRs with her. Grim. Of course, no one ever does any cc in LFR, but I felt completely useless in that area. No traps is a huge deal, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And no, Wyvern Sting is in no way even close as a substitute. I also really felt the loss of specialty shots like Tranq and Distracting Shot. True, I never used them all that often, but I liked knowing they were there if the situation called for them. The new Aspect of the Cheetah, with its timer and cooldown just really sucks. This just seems to be a mean-spirited change, driven only by some sort of hunter envy. And no camouflage will hurt a lot when it comes time to level, I am sure.

I am probably one of the few hunters who actually enjoyed doing lots of little extra raid chores. Now, we have almost no utility for those things. We are just another damage dealer in a crowd. As for actual damage numbers, it is a bit hard to tell. No one was doing anywhere close to what we were seeing before the patch, but whether that is mainly due to spec changes or to everyone having to relearn rotations is not clear. BM will always stink at rapid target switching, and much of HFC involves that. I had not selected an AoE-heavy talent build, but I still did respectable damage with lots of targets if they were all bunched up. Volley is a pretty cool talent, very similar to the rogue’s Blade Flurry. Stampede just blows, at least in any situation where the tank keeps moving adds or the boss — it is completely dependent on your own directional orientation, has absolutely nothing to do with targets.

I will point out that Blizz needs to cut back on some of the audio effects for hunters, though. The constant Dire Beast whistle gets very annoying very fast, and the Bestial Wrath scream is just nerve-grating.

The thing with BM is that most of your damage is based on your pets, and you lose a ton of damage if you miss even one Kill Command or Dire Beast when they either proc because of spell interactions or just come off their rather short cooldowns. I had also taken Chimaera Shot as a talent, and that, too, requires very close monitoring. What I found myself doing was tunnel visioning my hot bars (or my Weakauras), and I lost a lot of raid awareness as a result. Since there are a lot of dynamic cooldown and focus regen changes, it does not seem possible to get into a second-sense rhythm of when things are about to become available. I am somewhat dubious that it will ever be possible to do so. Of course, it was my first real group effort with the new BM, so it is still early in the process.

Anyway, I have gone on far longer than I intended to for this post. Bottom line is that so far I have found the pre-patch to be a lot of drudgery, I think the new transmog system is a welcome improvement, and BM hunters still stink.

I would be very interested in your early impressions.

Vacuuming

Before I get to today’s post: Stoic, over at Stoic But Not Silent, has teamed up with Equivalence guild mate Hargalaten to put together a really awesome set of FAQs (no spoilers) for Legion. I highly recommend it. Check it out here, and give them some feedback if it is useful to you.

Cleaning the house is never a fun task, unless you are an actor in a TV commercial getting all giddy over some dirt-busting product. But fun or not, sometimes you just have to buckle down and vacuum and dust and swab out those commodes. That is basically what I was doing this weekend in WoW, finally starting to get my game house in order for Legion. It was not glamorous or fun, I was not giggling and dancing like the TV actors, it was just put-your-head-down-and-get-it-done housekeeping. The two things I was focusing on were profession adjustments and gearing up my ret pally to a level that would permit a decent Legion experience (some months down the road, but still).

Specifically, I was trying to balance out my alt professions so that I maximized the number of them with one crafting and one gathering profession, and had as little duplication of crafting professions as possible. What this boiled down to for me was that I needed to drop blacksmithing  on my rogue and pick up herbalism to go with his inscription. My plan, following the advice of a couple of profession leveling sites, was:

  • Get the WoD herbalism manual so that I would not have to stop and find a trainer  periodically to allow me to continue to level to 700.
  • Break out my Sky Golem so that I would not have to dismount and remount every time I picked an herb.
  • Use my Gathermate2 addon.
  • Stay in Pandaria where the mobs are easy and the herbs are plentiful, until level 600, then switch to Draenor.

Using this plan, at least one site promised leveling from 1 to 600 would take, and I quote, “2-3 hours”. I am not going to link the site because THEY LIED. There is no way you can go from 1-600 in that amount of time. It is impossible. I spent 3 hours, no breaks, zooming about Pandaria (mainly a prescribed route in Jade Forest, as recommended), and I made it to level 431. And yes, I have the top level of flying speed on this alt.

This is something I have noticed about many guides and even just players giving advice. They tend to grossly overstate gold making potentials and grossly understate time requirements. Whether they do this because it is the only way they can sell their product (even if that product is for free), or because they have selective memory lapses, or because they simply must puff themselves up, I cannot say, but it happens a lot. I have started to apply a factor of two to these guides: double the time they say it will take, and cut the potential gold-earning at least in half. How many times have you had someone dismiss you as incompetent or lazy if you cannot earn at least 10-20k gold a day from your garrisons? Yeah, me too. My experience with 7 level 3 garrisons is that if I really am diligent about working them every day on every alt, I can earn maybe 5-10k gold every two days. But that assumes I don’t do anything else as game play when I log on, just grind out garrison chores.

Similarly, there are players who love to brag about how much gold they make from soloing old content. One such player on my server was running his mouth the other night about how he spends about 20 minutes each week clearing Firelands and easily makes 2-3k gold from it. Sorry, not possible. Even with a well geared max level hunter, I maintain you cannot clear Firelands in 20 minutes. And unless you are incredibly lucky selling that legacy gear on the AH, you are not going to get that much gold from it. Just not gonna happen.

My other focus for the weekend — gearing and prepping my pally — also took much MUCH longer than I had planned. I had leveled her to 60, then used my Legion boost on her. Honestly, I don’t know how much time the boost mechanism actually saves. True, you are spared the leveling pain of Hellfire Peninsula and the Cata zones as well as the boring-after-several-characters Pandaria and Draenor zones, but a boosted character is woefully incomplete. To wit:

  • If you do not already have a normally-leveled character with the same class and spec, you have virtually zero idea how to play it at level 100. This means you have to
    • Figure out a decent basic rotation and cooldown usage so that you can lay out your action bars and if necessary assign key binds to your spells.
    • Research the various interactions for your mastery and other secondary stats.
    • Select your talents and glyphs.
    • Figure out flasks, food, pots, and lay in a stock of them.
    • If you use addons, configure them — I use Weakauras, so that required figuring out what spells I wanted to keep close track of and then either finding appropriate auras for them or configuring my own.
    • Spending some time at the target dummies just to get an initial familiarity with level 100 play styles.
  • Boosted gear for a level 100 is green 640 stuff. This just will not work this late in WoD, especially when you have Baleful gear and probably a lot of profession cooldowns on your other alts to provide 3 pieces of crafted gear.
  • Even though the boosted character is provided with a level 3 garrison, it is a templated one that may or may not fill your needs. And you still have to do the quest line to be able to build a Salvage Hut. Also, the templated garrison has a lumber mill, but you cannot gather any lumber for it until you have completed the Tanaan quest line to build your shipyard and establish the Tanaan assault base.
  • You start out with almost zero garrison resources, so you will have to work for a while to be able to do much with your garrison. On the plus side, you are provided with a goodly number of followers at the get go.

I had saved close to 100 BoA Baleful plate items that I used to outfit my pally with a near-complete set of Merciless gear, and I had more than enough Apexis Crystals scattered around on my various alts to be able to upgrade all of the pieces to 695. I supplemented this with 3 pieces of 6/6 crafted gear: 2 trinkets and a weapon. This gave me epic for everything but one ring, which I filled with the Conquest ring. Even with no valor upgrades and no legendary ring, this gave me a 699 ilevel, which is not bad for a brand new character.

The other thing many players forget about is that, even with the bonus profession boosts to 700, your boosted character still has to train low level craft and first aid recipes and purchase/loot others that you may want. The profession training, when done all at once, is not cheap, it can easily run into at least a couple of thousand gold. Then there is the added time and in some cases mat expense to level cooking, fishing, and archaeology if you want these secondary professions, as they are not included in the bonus boosts.

So, after many hours this weekend, I now have a level 431 herbalist and a pally that is at least on paper well prepared to go to Broken Isles whenever I want her to go. (Of course, I will have to reconfigure her action bars, etc. once the new class/spec builds hit.) At least having my rogue with inscription/herbalism means that my mage is completely superfluous. I regret to say that she will be “sent to the happy farm” as soon as the pre-patch hits next week and her accumulated cloth gear becomes account-wide for transmog.

Not really a fun weekend, but a necessary one. I’ll finish off leveling my rogue’s herbalism in the next couple of days, and probably get my pally Tanaan access, clearing the way for all the transmog activities and class adjustments that will start next Tuesday. I am planning on that process taking 2-3 days at least a week.

Farewell WoD

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So it begins

Yesterday I wrote that I felt somewhat adrift in the game, basically marking time until Things Happened. No sooner had I posted that when Things Actually Began To Happen. Three events tell us that we are now into the final lead-in to Legion launch, and, for me, mark the official end of WoD.

First, Blizz announced what seems to be a public beta. It is a pseudo-contest on Twitter, and they are not calling it a public beta, but essentially anyone wishing to do the small tasks for it, I believe, can get beta access. It comes a tad later in the development cycle than usual, but it is an unmistakable sign that we are close to the pre-patch and launch.

This move was clearly intended to swell the ranks of beta testers, a necessary step for the second event, the announcement of a stress test on the beta to identify possible launch day glitches. As far as I know, this is the first time Blizz has conducted such a formal test in anything but a development environment, and I am gratified to see them doing so. It seems doubtful that it will completely forestall major glitches on actual launch day, but maybe it will show them some obvious bugs, so that possibly launch day catastrophes will be short-lived and not make the first week of Legion virtually unplayable as happened for WoD.

I am assuming that Blizz has a professional, robust test team, and that they have some complicated algorithms to predict scaled disasters from small ones. Unfortunately, in the world of massive networks such as Blizz’s, “inconsistencies” in the workings of 4-5 servers can become total shutdown failures when scaled to, say 100 or more servers. The butterfly effect and all. I also am assuming, given what have now become standard DDoS attacks on expansion launch days, that Blizz has a Red Team that will simulate a couple such attacks during the launch test today, to see how well their detection and defensive intrusion systems work.

Do I think today’s stress test — and possibly one or two follow-up tests — will ensure a smooth Legion launch? No, but with any luck it might help make launch day problems quickly fixable. If you have the time and are on the beta or can get on before the test today, I urge you to participate and report your experiences to Blizz.

Last, the pre-expansion patch (7.0.3 currently) is on the background downloader for most people. There was a little confusion over it yesterday afternoon, first it was on the downloader, then it was taken off, then finally it was back on. But it seems to be there now, a third sign that we are indeed in the final stages of Legion preps. We still have not had an announcement of the end of the PvP season, so in all likelihood we will not see the pre-patch go live on the 19th as some have speculated, but we will certainly see it, I would think, before the end of July. My guess now is the 26th. If it is delayed past that, then I think people should begin to have some legitimate concerns about the readiness of the whole project. It is almost inconceivable that the August 30 launch date would be slipped, so if the pre-expansion patch doesn’t kick in until the first week of August, that to me would signal some pretty serious development problems with Legion. Still, the Legion development cycle has been different in many ways from previous ones, so who is to say that maybe there will only be a one-week hiatus this time between the end of the PvP season and the pre-patch?

So yes, WoD for me is now well and truly in the rear view mirror, and honestly good riddance to it. There were some interesting and fun aspects to it, but I think the flaws — and Blizz’s seeming inability or unwillingness to admit them, much less try to make them better, until the player base pitched a tantrum over them — were so significant as to completely overshadow any good parts. I will not shed a tear over its passing. Buh-bye, WoD, take care that the door doesn’t hit you in the ass on the way out.

Completely off topic: Last night I took my rogue through the Legion initial artifact and class hall quests. It was a blast. I have leveled and played him in WoD as Combat, so in Legion I opted to retain the equivalent Outlaw spec. Serious fun, in my opinion. The class hall in the sewers of Dalaran works well, and I think Blizz has done a good job with it, “secret codes” to gain entrance and all. I did not expect to like the pirate fantasy of the spec, but I really found myself having fun with it, and it definitely was enhanced with the Booty Bay focus for the artifact quest. If I did not dislike melee so much, and if there were not already two new melee specs vying for space in Legion, I would definitely think about maining a rogue. It was that much fun.