So many questions, so little time

Looking back over my education, I think the single most important skill I learned was to ask questions. The Jesuits who schooled me were big believers in the Socratic Method, so we were not only encouraged but required to ask questions as part of every learning process. Sure, fractions and Shakespeare and the date of the Magna Carta and the underpinnings of an agrarian economy are all good to know. But when it comes right down to it, asking the right questions at the right time of the right people has saved my bacon in life more times than I can count.

So today I have been thinking about Patch 8.x. Yes, I know we are not even a year into Legion, and the hints from Blizz are that we have a lot of time left to experience it (my bet at the start was that we are looking at Legion being with us for very close to 3 years). Still, I feel like speculating a bit, in the form of a series of questions.

Location.

  • Is the 7.3 excursion to Argus a prelude to the next expansion, or is it just that — a one-off adventure?
  • Will we ever see the other side of Azeroth? Is there an other side?
  • What if any lessons did Blizz learn about time-travel worlds like Draenor and underwater zones like Vashj’ir? This is less a question than it is a hope — I hope they learned both these ideas were big mistakes.
  • Will Blizz expand its recent trend of making classic parts of Azeroth relevant to current game play? 

Stats.

  • What will be the nature of the next stat squish? I think a dev mentioned that much of the code has been rewritten to accommodate very large numbers now, it still is cumbersome for humans to speak of character health in the millions and boss health in the billions, for example. What about ilevel? Very soon even in Legion we will break break into 4-digit ilevels. Will secondary stats and damage/healing numbers be squished in 8.x?
  • Will stats be simplified in the next expansion? What is the official Blizz view of the complexity of stats in Legion? Do they understand the frustration of players when a higher level piece of gear is not an upgrade? Are they happy with the proliferation of web sites and apps designed to do the intricate math necessary to determine a piece of gear’s worth to a player? 

Quest hubs and population centers.

  • Will we see new faction capitals? Blizz seems — both in WoD and Legion — to have concluded that faction capital cities are too resource-intensive to justify them. If Sanctuary Cities are the norm for the foreseeable future, will we see more of them in Horde areas, with Horde racial architecture?
  • What has Blizz learned about the garrison concept? It was innovative but not well liked in WoD, and it was extended — as Class Halls — in Legion. Is this idea now a core game mechanic going forward? Will we see the concept applied as guild halls in 8.x?  More wishful thinking on that last one, I am afraid.
  • Why is Blizz so dead set against player housing? This is really more of a pet peeve question and not so much of an insightful one about the next expansion. Certainly the technology is there — that was proven with garrisons, and with Sunsong Ranch before that. And there is player demand for it, though I am not sure how much. Yet Blizz steadfastly refuses to do it, citing from time to time the “war footing” nature of the game as being antithetical to cozy homesteading. My own opinion, completely biased, is that there is a culture at Blizz that insists WoW is a “hardcore” game, and to give players housing is just too girly and frilly for them to contemplate. They put it in the same category as playing house or cutting out paper dolls, and that would destroy the manly studly war aspect of the game. (Yeah, yeah, let the hate mail begin. But deep down you know I am right.)

Class development.

  • Will there be another major rewrite of classes in 8.x?
  • What is Blizz’s long range vision of class roles and balance? Are they on a path to achieve this, or do they have none and merely make change for change’s sake each expansion?
  • And the big question: Can Blizz stop screwing with hunters for at least one expansion? (Sarcasm flag.)
  • Will we see the pendulum swing once again towards class-provide raid buffs?

Gear.

  • Is the concept of artifact gear a one-and-out for Legion, as Blizz has claimed? 
  • Are there any big contemplated gear changes in 8.x, for example cutting the number of gear slots, maybe by eliminating necks and rings?
  • Will we see some sort of non-RNG mechanism for getting gear in 8.x?
  • After the debacle of legendaries in Legion, what is the future of legendaries going forward? Will we return to a single long-questline legendary, or have we crossed a line and henceforward they will fall like candy?

Miscellaneous.

  • Is Blizz happy with the complexity level of the game now? If not, in which direction do they think it should go?
  • Are there in-game advertisements in the works? Tie-ins with other Activision franchises, such as the King line of games?
  • What is the future for professions? Will we see them get less relevant and more complex, or will we see some semblance of a return to their classic role? Will Blizz move towards a Final Fantasy approach? Are they indeed an integral part of the game’s economy, or would it be possible to eliminate them altogether?
  • Will alt play remain viable in 8.x? It is narrowly so in Legion, but Blizz’s clear preference is for players to have very limited number of alts.
  • Are there significant quality of life improvements in store for 8.x? Off hand, I can think of a few: account-wide banking, better group finder interface, unlimited quest log, *coughplayerhousingcough*, removal of that ridiculous talent-changing tome requirement, improving exit process from caves once a quest is completed, increasing the number of stable slots for hunter pets, adding mythic dungeons to the auto-group finder, probably lots more.
  • Will Blizz help to make the role of guilds more robust? Like alt play, the trend since mid-Mists has been to make guilds less and less relevant, with the removal of most guild perks and advantages to guild membership.
  • With the apparent advent of interplanetary travel, will we eventually see honest-to-goodness actual working space ship “mounts”? Will space actually be a working environment — like an underwater area only without water — or just more of an abstract concept?
  • What will be the eternal-grind mechanism of 8.x? Because we know there will be one, just a matter of how Blizz repackages AP (like they repackaged garrisons into class halls).

And last but certainly not least:

Will we get a concept of the next expansion at Blizzcon this year?

What questions do you have?

Set your sights lower

We are approaching the 2-month mark for Legion, and I think by now most of us have gotten a good feel for the expansion’s general mechanics and layout. For me, there is one overwhelming impression, and it is this:

Whatever your game goals and play style for all previous expansions, it is no longer possible to achieve them without significantly — by a factor of 2 or 3 — increasing your playing time. If you cannot or choose not to extend your play time, then you have no choice but to set your goals much lower.

I don’t know about you, but for me this is not an inspiring choice. I am currently playing about 30 hours a week, which is more than my standard 20 hours I have been doing for some years now. In that 30 hours, all I can manage to do is raid (8 hours), do WQs every day (and not all of them, either, just the emissaries, Nightfallen, and a couple of profession ones), work on the seemingly-infinite achievements for Legion Pathfinder, gather a few mats for raid food, carry out some Class Hall mission quests, and run some Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons with guildies.

And even with this, I am falling further and further behind in terms of gear. I have not had even a glimpse of a legendary, crappy or otherwise. (I guess this means I am having great fun, according to that great fun authority Ion Hazzikostas.) For at least a month, I have not won the lottery to get any significant upgrades to looted gear. Falling further behind in gear means it is more difficult to be invited to the higher level Mythic+ runs (perfectly understandable), which in turn means I have a diminished chance at better gear, which means I have less utility for higher level Mythic+ runs, etc. A downward spiral.

During the weeks when I played even more than 30 hours I managed to level one alt, a Balance Druid with herbalism/alchemy professions. But that alt remains at a an extremely basic level with only a couple of artifact talents, only two followers, and a gear level that has yet to hit 800. As to professions, she has not yet finished the extensive quest lines necessary to get to even Level 1 of the flasks I need to for my main.

I just do not have the time to devote on an alt to gather class hall resources and Artifact Power to advance beyond this point. I will likely make the time to finish the initial profession quests, but I do not expect to ever get beyond profession Level 2 for alchemy, because I will not have the necessary gear to go into the dungeons I need in order to have a “fun” RNG chance at Level 3’s.

Thus, my Druid will be relegated to being an herb gatherer and flask maker. Ironically, this is exactly the alt role that Ion Hazzikostas has decried, instructing us that the only acceptable reason to have alts is to play them in the same way as mains, that in fact having them solely to support a main is very naughty and will no longer be tolerated. Short of abandoning my main, I do not foresee me leveling any other alts in this expansion, or if I do they will reach 110 and that is it.

Honestly, I feel kind of betrayed by this turn of events in Legion. My goals for the last several expansions have been quite modest:

  • Level my main and gear her sufficiently to be a respectable raider with a semi-casual team.
  • Level my 7 alts, max their professions, and gear them sufficiently to be able to do LFR.
  • Further gear a couple of the alts to be able to participate in guild alt raids later in the expansion.
  • Play my alts a bit each week, so as to keep a minimum proficiency with them.

That’s it. Those are very modest goals, in my opinion, and they are goals I have always been able to meet by playing about 20 hours a week. But they are goals no longer possible in Legion. I don’t know of any endeavor where forced diminished expectations is an inspiring message. I can’t imagine, for example, a real stump-stomping speech where people would be rallied by a politician exclaiming,”And if I am elected, I can promise you that your future will be one of harder work and longer hours for fewer rewards!!!”

It doesn’t work for politicians, and it doesn’t work for online games. Anyone who has played this game for more than a couple of years has a pretty well-established set of expectations for personal progression each expansion. For many players, Legion has demolished those expectations. For me it is becoming a long, hard slog, an expansion where I will no longer be able to reach even my modest goals, an expansion that has a lot of content but few meaningful rewards. In typical fashion, Blizz has in my opinion once again severely overcorrected the problems they perceived in the previous expansion. The game continues to lurch from one set of extremes to another, never really seeming to find a decent balance.

And now (nothing to do with lurching, I assure you),  I believe it is time to start my weekend and have a beer.

Just a couple things…

It is now Day 4 of Legion live, and I have some random thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly thus far.

For reference, you should know that my experience has been limited to my BM hunter main. She has gotten the artifact for MM but done nothing other than obtain it, she is now level 110 as of mid-morning yesterday, and has leatherworking and skinning as professions, along with all the secondary ones except archaeology. I do not do pet battling or PvP on any of my characters, and generally do not actively chase special mounts or toys. I usually play about 20 hours a week, but have spent considerably more time than that on the first few days of Legion.

The Good

  • Zone design and rendering — really not enough superlatives for this.
  • Questing — another huge success. It outshines even the excellent questing experience of WoD. The introduction of scaled zones has worked extremely well. The quest lines are interesting even to someone like me who cares very little for lore (I think it is added in and amended to justify mechanics, not the other way around). The one criticism I have is that the dialogues can get tedious, and there is usually no way to skip them like you can cutscenes — I think this will wear very thin by my third or fourth alt.
  • Travel portals — the addition of portals to the ones Dalaran already had is a good idea, as is the portal to Dal in faction capitols. I also like that we have a special Dalaran hearthstone, so that we can keep a handy locational hearth in an area we are questing in, a faction city, a tranquil little inn we just like, etc. Retaining our garrison hearthstones is similarly useful, since we may need to duck into them later from time to time for a quick bank trip, to DE some low level gear, as an alternate  (albeit circuitous) route to other places, whatever.
  • Dungeons — I have only done a couple of these, normal because my gear is still fairly low level, but the ones I have done seem adequate. Not too long, not too short, with some varied mechanics per boss.

So I guess so far Blizz has gotten most of the major expansion things right. Of course, we have not seen the live version of raids yet, and most of us have not gotten heavily involved in world quests or other end game activities, so I will reserve judgement on that part. And this is a 3-day weekend in the U.S., so there will certainly be a significant increase in the number of people playing, and we may yet experience some technical problems due to volume. But a thumbs up on the general experience so far.

The Bad

  • Class halls — so far, this whole idea is just not working for me.
    • I can’t buy into the “everyone is the heroic leader of their class” fantasy, that is just moronic in my opinion.
    • I rarely see a whole gaggle of hunters hanging out there, so it is not exactly a social gathering place. As a matter of fact, in the hunter class hall there is not even any place to sit in the bar/food area. Now that I think of it, I am not sure there is any place in the entire structure to sit down except the floor.
    • I find the follower missions annoying and puzzling and far too reminiscent of the bad parts of WoD garrison missions, except there seems to be far less reward for the new ones.
    • I see no point in the class-specific quest lines, and I think the ones that require a class-pure group to do will become harder and harder to find a group for.
    • The only purpose I can see to the class hall is to manage your artifact weapon, and there really is no reason that could not have been done in Dalaran.
    • The whole mechanic just seems contrived and strained, as if someone decided there would be more garrisons in Legion, then had to do some dramatic changing because of the horrible reaction to them in WoD. Blizz should have just trashed the whole notion instead of trying to convince us that chicken poo is really chicken salad.
  • Professions — maybe these will sort themselves out in a couple of weeks, but leveling a profession is now a quantum leap in complexity from anything we have seen before. I confess I still cannot figure out what the hell I am supposed to be doing in order to just to craft some basic mail gear for myself.
    • There are long, long, long quest lines just to get a few recipes.
    • There is an annoying bug in which every time I enter the LW shop in Dal, I auto-learn the exact same recipes over and over again.
    • Getting to one of the key parts of professions — obliterum — is a ludicrous and currently prohibitively expensive process. I cannot for the life of me understand why everyone should be required to obtain a crafted item from four crafting professions just to be able to further craft their own stuff. On my server, to get the required items now (even assuming you can craft one of them yourself) is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90,000g. Blizz airily claims the prices will come down in the coming weeks, but I am not so sure, given normal greed in combination with the gold inflation of WoD.
    • I have collected over 2000 skins, am at 815 (Worgen racial) skinning level, and I have yet to collect even one Blood of Sargeras. Is this bad luck, a Blizz joke, or is it yet another part of the incomprehensible profession changes?
  • Overall game complexity — there is a difference between a game’s depth and its complexity, and I think Blizz has conflated the two, adding layer upon layer of complexity as a cheap way to give the impression of depth and skill challenge, or possibly as a way to easily add “content” that will keep people busy for a few months.
    • I am not exactly a novice at this game, and I confess I have no idea what the hell I am doing right now. I cannot juggle all the separate pieces of professions, leveling quests, class hall stuff, artifact talent and relic progressions, unlocking a seemingly endless string of required things and processes — even for just one character.
    • I suspect that in a few weeks I will have it more or less figured out, but I absolutely cannot imagine many new players will have the patience to deal with this. Has Blizz abandoned the goal of bringing in masses of new players to this game? Because at this point the investment of time to even understand how you want to approach the game seems too high for a new casual player.
    • Blizz has told us for quite some time that complexity is bad, we cannot be expected to bother our little heads about more than a few action buttons or to undergo the math trauma of figuring out how to reforge gear, and then they give us the chaos that is the Legion experience?
  • Some quality of life things — these are unnecessary annoyances Blizz really should take the time to fix very soon.
    • Auction house in Dal — there is no reason not to have one each for horde and alliance here. I read one blue post where Blizz is considering putting in an engineer AH like we had in Mists, but that is unacceptable and merely annoys non-engineers further. I urge them to discard this idea and just do it right, give us a regular AH in Dal, end of story. (Late Edit: Acutally, I just found the blue post and re-read it. The idea is to put in an engineer AH like in Wrath — not like in Mists. So if that is basically the barrel with an auctioneer on it, available to all, that would work for me.)
    • Quest log — given the large number of quest lines Blizz is more or less forcing us to carry at one time in Legion, the limit of 25 quests in your log is very difficult to deal with. (I hope this limit of 25 is not another piece of unchangeable legacy code like the knapsack limit.) This is another example of Blizz making sweeping changes to the game and failing to follow through  with their implications — make the game vastly more complex, add dozens and dozens of quests for every profession (even secondary ones), make them long and involved enough that one cannot just do them and move on, add even more quests for world content and class hall campaigns and special perks like the taxi whistle — yet fail to see that a limit of 25 quests needs to be changed, too.
    • Transport to hunter class hall — make this a thing you can carry around, don’t force us to go back to Dal, then take an eagle from there. Yes, I know it doesn’t take long, but it is an annoying and unnecessary step that some other classes don’t have to deal with.

The Ugly

  • Hunters. I am not going to stop harping on this. Blizz has, either because of incompetence or indifference, broken this class, and they must fix it. Yet we still have no acknowledgement from them that there even is a problem. Stunning. And ugly.

Summer blahs

For about the last week, I have found myself in the weird mode of being almost completely uninterested in the game, while at the same time close to panicking because I have too much to do to be this close to Legion. It is a very strange feeling, and I don’t remember having it prior to other expansions.

I am by nature and training an organizer and planner, so usually by this point I have completed my on-paper planning and am deep into execution phase — cleaning out banks, consolidating gold stashes, ruthlessly auctioning or vendoring or DE-ing everything I can, doing final gearing up of alts, finishing up achievements I know I want (and have a shot at) before the end of the current expansion, etc. I did a little of that a few weeks ago, on a big-hand-little-map scale*, but I just can’t make myself get  interested in fleshing out the overall plan.

I think one reason for my disinterest in planning is my perception that the Legion changes are just overwhelming, it seems too daunting to even try to plan for it. I don’t remember feeling this helpless prior to other expansions, they always seemed manageable to me. But honestly, even after spending quite a few hours on the beta and in the PTR, I still feel like I have no real grasp of important mechanics like the interplay among all the various character and artifact spells, talents, glyphs, gear stats, runes, knowledge trees, what have you. Really I am lost, even on a hunter which is a class I have played as a main now for going on 9 years. I have literally zero confidence in my ability to select a good functional talent path for my artifact, in my ability to properly choose and change out my character talents to fit the specific scenario I am facing, or in my ability to determine which pieces of similar-level gear are best for my spec. Zero. Thank god for AskMrRobot is all I can say.

The learning curve for intelligent, skilled play in Legion — even for veteran players — is in my opinion much steeper than it has been in any other expansion, and something just seems fundamentally wrong to me about that. Change, yes, by all means, but complete rebuilds from the ground up? No.

Let’s be honest, there is no chance whatsoever that the majority of players will be able to figure out efficient character and artifact builds on their own. They will either go to a third party site and copy some template, or they will give up and just pick something at random with no thought to how the choice affects their other talents and spells or how it helps or hinders them for soloing, for AoE situations, whatever. Blizz loves to bloviate about how they want us to have “meaningful choices” in our talent selections, etc., but they completely negate that line of thought when they make the interactions between all the factors so complex that most people are reduced to a crap shoot in their selections.

So I feel like there is a gigantic hammer about to come down on my head with Legion class changes, and I am very worried about it, but at the same time there seems nothing I can reasonably do to prepare for it. Just keep glancing up and be ready to duck. Definition of stress.

Another reason I am not especially interested in the game now is that I think it is too late to do much about gearing any alts. With one exception, they are all above 700 gear level, which I think is fine for starting Legion. So I am not interested in chasing valor, or doing any of the weekly bonus events, or grubbing for felblight to upgrade crafted gear on them. I am finishing up the legendary ring on my rogue, so that means weekly LFR clears of HFC, and that is becoming more and more painful with each passing week. This week I got a grand total of 3 tomes from 13 bosses, a new low for me. It was demoralizing, I still have 4 more to go, and if I have a similar week next week I won’t even get them then. LFR has become beyond intolerable for me, I have to force myself to do it. The only thing that keeps me going is that I have promised myself once I get the tomes on my rogue, I will not step foot in it again until the Legion LFR tier kicks in, hopefully at least 2-3 months from now. Months of freedom from LFR, what a great thought!

Other than trying to get all the gold I can from missions, I am done with my garrisons. There is no point in gathering more profession cooldown mats, or WoD herbs or furs or ore or leather. I have a lot of all of these things in case they become useful in Legion. I will probably tear down at least one profession hut on each alt and build an enchanting hut, with the hope that I can DE Legion gear in them. (Hmmm. I actually don’t know if this will be possible. It should, but of course knowing Blizz, that would be too useful to players and so must be prevented at all costs… I need to try it tonight.)

I would clean out my banks, but until the pre-patch I don’t feel comfortable getting rid of all my saved gear for transmog.

I would like to do some rearranging of my alt profession structure, if it will be necessary, but Blizz is still being coy about the whole mechanism for Blood of Sargeras in Legion, sometimes saying you better have one gathering profession on every character and sometimes saying they are going to increase the drop rates for non-gathering activities because having two crafting professions is not wrong as Watcher may have mistakenly said…  I find this just infuriating, why be so opaque about it? Just tell us the plan, for crying out loud, throw us a damn bone for once. My tolerance for this kind of smarmy cuteness is very low just now.

So I guess I feel like I am forced to be marking time in the game now, even though there are tons of things I would like to be doing. It is not a comfortable feeling. Like when I was a kid and starting summer vacation — I had lots of projects and plans, but they were all pegged to later in the summer, dependent on other people’s  schedules, so I would find myself in an enforced wait mode. Not something an impatient person like myself does very well.

Summer blahs.

* Big hand, little map reference. When I was an Army operational planner, we had a standing joke about senior commanders who would come in to our planning sessions, stare at a map, then sweep their hand broadly over about half the map and growl something like, “What I want is a fixing attack here, with the main attack driving into their flank from this direction” (another big hand swoosh over the other half of the map). No matter that maybe there were only goat paths through those areas, or there were swamps or mountains or cities that would bog down any forces trying to pass through. It was easy doing the big-hand sweeps, unimaginably complex breaking it down into actual movement-to-contact routes for brigades, battalions, or companies.