On world quests and rewards

In a recent post in his game design blog, Greg Street (aka Ghostcrawler) wrote a few words on the art and science of game rewards. It started me thinking about how Blizz has structured rewards in Legion. Overall, I would give Blizz a C+ on this aspect of the expansion. They have done some really innovative things, but on the other hand they have made much of the reward process needlessly frustrating and/or manipulative. I am not talking about difficult — I don’t mind working to achieve something I want in the game — I am talking about things that just seem to operate on the “gotcha” principle for no good reason, or mechanics Blizz thinly disguises as “content” but are in reality vehicles for forcing certain kinds of game play.

Today I want to focus on one part of the Legion reward system: world quests.

I liked the idea of world quests early in Legion, and I am still basically a fan, especially with the emissary twist. My main hunter does not need any of the gear or gold or class hall resources they offer, but I still usually crank out some of them for mats or AP (anything above 300k, more about this below). But I run as many as I can of them when I am focusing on one of my alts. Most of them are fairly quick (especially now that I can almost run them in my sleep), and frequently the rewards are useful to my alts.

I think the tying of faction rep to these quests was a good idea, and I don’t mind that vendor-purchase items are in turn tied to achieving faction rep. If I am interested in being able to buy things from a particular vendor, I am fine with working a bit to be allowed that privilege.

I make sure to run all the offered emissary quests on whichever alts I am working on  — if I can find the time — mainly for the chance of getting a legendary, but I am kind of conflicted about this aspect. It is a fact that you cannot play a character in Legion to any reasonable level of competency without two of the “good” legendaries — whatever they may be for that spec. So I chase them on my focused alts, mainly via emissary quests and LFR, but it makes me feel manipulated. It seems bad enough that every character must have a certain weapon and only that weapon for the entire expansion, without requiring certain other additional gear as well.

But the main reason I still run world quests is part of the minus side of them: artifact power. Blizz has had a stunning turnaround on the whole idea of AP.

Prior to 7.3, Ion Hazzikostas several times reminded us that once a player reached Convergence on their artifact weapon, the amount of AP required to advance it further was, BY DESIGN, ridiculously high in an almost logarithmic progression. This was because — so he told us — Blizz did not want players to feel like they had to continually grind AP, that the idea was that it would just be a somewhat small additional reward for doing normal game activities like emissary quests, random instances, mythic dungeons, etc. Additionally, so he said, the design was that players who played many hours each day would not have a significant artifact level advantage over players who might play only a few hours a week.

In other words, the whole artifact trait mechanism was designed to become less and less important once the 7.2 Convergence point was reached.

Then, in what seems to have been a sudden reversal of design policy, in 7.3 Blizz introduced a whole new artifact weapon leveling system in the form of relic traits and the crucible. They tied it to AP and Convergence levels, and to make the new levels possible to attain they re-introduced a form of artifact knowledge, except they removed player control of AK progression and just time-gated it with weekly increases. The net result was to make AP once again important to players and to make grinding it a productive activity again.

And a true grind it is. There are several reddit threads in which mathematically-inclined people have analyzed ratios of AK to AP and estimated time required to get to certain points. But the thing I have noticed for my hunter is this: In spite of both AK increasing every week and AP increasing with each new level, it still takes me about a week to gain a level. This will change after I reach level 75 and after AK rates stop increasing, but it strikes me that this a whole new way to gate character power. Blizz for some reason has opted for an incredibly complex method to do this — why didn’t they just set a limit on how much AP you can earn in a week, or how many levels you could increase your artifact level?

Even more interesting, why was there this complete 180 on AP design? Why did we go from the official “We don’t want you to chase AP” to “Here is a whole new reason to chase AP — ready, set, GO!” ?

One obvious reason: MAU. My guess is that they saw their MAU levels falling as the AP rewards from game activities became less and less relevant for main characters. Players just stopped doing the daily stuff that was offering what had become insignificant rewards. So the magic metrics fell, causing this part of the Blizz world to start to look shaky in corporate eyes. Swinging into action — and without any apparent trace of embarrassment — they reversed themselves on the AP design philosophy, because chasing AP is the one thing that would bring raiders back to daily hours in the game. And raiders are the group Blizz values these days — basically anyone who runs regular or above raid tiers and Mythic+ dungeons.

It is nice that I can increase my alt artifact weapon traits by 10-15 or even more levels a day just by running a few world quests, but it is demoralizing that I have to continue to run them on my main just to feel like I will not be letting my fellow raiders down. Especially after all the assurances from Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas that after reaching Convergence, size artifact power doesn’t really matter.

If the all-important MAU numbers were falling, why could Blizz not have taken a different approach? For example, they could have significantly increased the non-AP rewards for emissary and world quests, and for early world bosses, or they could have added more cool mounts or pets as rewards for the non-Argus quests. They could have implemented some sort of catchup gear currency to be earned outside of Argus. They could have instituted a mechanism for alts whereby for the first two legendaries you win you get to pick which ones you want. They could have made Blood of Sargeras account bound, giving mains a reason to go out and get it, and giving alts reasonable-level gear with which to go and run their profession instances or to join regular raid groups or even just to compete on Argus without serial dying.

All of these things likely would have kept the MAU numbers up a bit. But Blizz does not design for players like this, they design for raiders, so the only idea they had was to re-institute the AP grind. Not the kind of creativity we are used to from Blizz.

So yeah — Legion reward system has some real A+ moments. Unfortunately it also has a lot of fail moments. Overall grade C+.

Nostalgia

I am not a let’s-join-an-illegal-vanilla-WoW-server kind of person. I think the game is what it currently is, and if I really dislike it I am at liberty to not play it. It would never occur to me to try and find a retro version of it, partly because I tend to look forward not back, but also because everything — the game, me, the tech world — has gone beyond those early days. Whatever great times I remember about my first months in the game cannot be fully recaptured because those times were a result of a whole array of circumstances. Going back to a vanilla — or even Wrath era — game in and of itself cannot replicate my level of knowledge or game proficiency then, nor can it make me unlearn my current expectations of graphics, server reliability, and other technical advancements.

Part of the reason misty memories are so alluring is because they are just that: misty.  If we really remembered everything about the times we yearn for, we probably would not hold them in such high regard.

Nevertheless, I do fall prey to nostalgia in the game from time to time. One such time happened yesterday as I was leveling my baby priest through Northern Stranglethorn. I was doing some power leveling and thus was pretty focused on the immediate quests at hand, but at one point for some reason I stopped and took in the scenery. And there above me, taking up most of the sky, was the ugly scar of Argus. It completely destroyed the moment for me.

I have been using my priest as a stress relief valve, a way to forget about Blizz’s insults to hunters and the grind the game has become — basically as a cheap way to recapture as much of the game’s simplicity as I can without going completely retro. And I have been successful at it until I looked up and was reminded of all the things awaiting my baby priest if I should actually get so far as leveling her up. Not to get too dramatic about it, but it was kind of soul-crushing.

This same burdensome feeling happened to me as I considered getting a couple more of my leveled alts able to do the Argus world quests. The whole series of quests necessary to do that just seemed not worth the effort. I read where Blizz is considering making this process easier for alts, but honestly I am not holding my breath over it. It would, after all, cut into their MAU stats.

Except maybe it would increase them. In my case, for example, if my alts were able to do Argus world quests without the heavy overhead necessary to unlock them, I would be far more likely to crank out some extra time every week doing a few more WQs on alts.

Short post today — lots going on in real life, both personally and nationally. In all areas I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the present and nostalgic for the past, but almost certainly I remember that past very imperfectly. We have the game that we have, and the ugly scar of Argus is now part of it.

My night job

Yesterday, it being a lazy Sunday, I decided it would be a good time to bring a couple of my alts into Argus, mainly to update their professions but also to be able to get some of the gear and AP benefits of the place. I played for about six hours, and here is what I was able to do:

1. Catch up my 3 waiting emissary quests on my main and knock out the few Argus and non-emissary quests that awarded AP.

2. Do 3 emissary quests on my JC alt. (I need the whatchamacallit tokens still to upgrade my lousy crafted legendary, and I need to open as many boxes as possible in order to accumulate the required secret Blizz currency that eventually awards another legendary. I need the stats from a second legendary just to be able to efficiently mine ore on Argus, so that I can prospect to get the gems.)

3. Catch up my 3 emissary quests on my alt druid and do the Week 3 Argus quest line. (No time for any Argus world quests.)

That’s it. Six hours for that.

And here’s the thing: All the characters I worked on yesterday had already done at least the first two weeks of Argus unlocks. It took me six hours just to do “maintenance” quests on them, leaving exactly zero time to advance any other alts. I admit I may have done more of the week 3 quest line than necessary on my druid, because I had already unlocked the crucible on my main, but how the hell do you know which quests in that long chain are for the crucible and which ones are just to unlock Mac’Aree and the specified new world quest areas?

It almost seems like Blizz is throwing a little tantrum over our reaction to WoD’s lack of content, saying in effect, “You wanted content? I got yer content right here, so much that we are gonna make you beg for less! We dare you to bitch about lack of content again!”

I have written several times before about the whole idea of “content” and whether or not recycling quests and zones and forcing AP grind really qualifies as that. I think where I come down on the question is that for me content is a range of options for players. That is, when you log in on a character, true content means that you can decide for yourself what you want to do for the session, especially in the end game. But in Legion Blizz has drastically constrained end game activity. In order to participate in any end game activity, you must have a certain level of gear, you must unlock certain areas, etc. And to gear up or unlock areas there is pretty much one and only one path permitted.

You cannot, for example, elect to level up an alt’s profession unless you run dungeons up to and including mythic level. In some cases you must actually raid, even if it is only LFR. And to do these things, you must have a certain level of gear, even if you are at max level on your character. You cannot even gather current materials unless you are geared enough to survive and unlock the various areas of Argus.

To get the gear, you are pretty much forced into grinding out world quests nearly every day, so as to improve your artifact weapon, get some higher level gear, and accumulate the secret currency to get at least a couple of legendaries.

If you are a raider, even a semi-casual one like I am, Patch 7.3 once again forces you into the AP grind, just to not fall behind — and thus let down — your teammates. In the same way that a responsible raider does not show up with unenchanted or ungemmed gear, that same raider needs to show a certain amount of progress now towards unlocking the various relic traits. Early in Legion, we all had to chase AP to maximize our artifact weapon, and it was a grind then. In 7.2, possibly recognizing the burden it placed on raiders, Blizz did everything they could to diminish the importance of AP, even going so far as to say it is not worth going after in any way but incidentally to daily activity. Then in 7.3, probably as a result of falling MAU metrics, they re-instituted the AP grind in a big way, whiplashing raiders once again back into doing world quests every day just to keep current.

And here — finally — is my central point: I like world quests, I think the basic idea is good, but I hate them when Blizz crams them down my throat as the only way to achieve any other endgame goal I may have. It turns them into a chore, almost a second job. Blizz has taken a great idea and managed to suck all the joy and fun out of it. 

This is why the entire relic redesign was, for players, possibly the worst design change Blizz has had for Legion. We had just gotten to the point where WQs were actually optional — especially for a main — and we could pick out the ones we wanted to do and ignore the others. Or skip a few days entirely. We could take a little vacation on our mains and play with some of our alts, or even not play at all a couple of nights a week. Even emissary quests became optional for our mains because chances are we already had all the legendaries we wanted, and any other emissary rewards were of little value to us.

I really think Blizz started to notice MAU numbers slipping because of the 7.2 decision they made to discourage AP grinding, and they had to do something to get those numbers back up. In what has sadly become their standard procedure, they simply re-purposed an existing structure. Instead of coming up with some creative new ideas, they just brought back the same old tired AP chase for weapon enhancement. They could have, for example, made a few world quests actually attractive to a highly-geared player to entice us back into doing them regularly — maybe award a way to gem an existing piece of gear, or increase the actual gear level of awards, or allow us to give awarded gear to an alt, or bring back valor as an end-of-expansion currency, or provide a way to trade legendaries we have for ones we actually can use, or award actual new profession recipes, or give a significant number of soulbound mats, or —

Well, the idea is that there are a lot of ways to bring players back to world quests that would make us feel like we had some fun options and decent rewards for doing them. Grinding AP — especially  when we thought we had finally progressed, yes progressed, beyond that, only to have to push that boulder back up the hill again — is not fun.

Housecleaning

Lately it has been challenging for me to come up with decent topics to write about in this blog. (Read the one from Wednesday and you will say something like “That’s for sure!”) We are pretty deep into summer game mode, I suppose — Patch 7.2.5 is old news, and 7.3 is months away. People are spending more of their leisure time in pursuits other than WoW, and I suspect a lot of Blizz devs are off on vacation or at least in a vacation mindset. This is a good thing, and I love summer, but it does make it tough to remain creative and thoughtful on a steady basis.

Thus, today I’ll do some housekeeping and clear out a few unrelated — and mostly undeveloped — topics that have been rattling around in my drafts folder.

Group finder for world quests/bosses. This is one of the best quality of life improvements Blizz has made in Legion, in my opinion. Except for the weekly world boss, I don’t often use it on my hunter because I can solo nearly everything, but I use it a lot on my alts, especially my squishier ones. I love that it is so easy, just hit a button on the quest tracker and you are good to go. The groups form quickly, do their thing, then disband immediately. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. The only improvement I might suggest is that there be a clearer labeling of PvP and PvE realms, but that is minor. Good job, Blizz.

Argus innovations. As a disclaimer, I have not yet logged on to the PTR, so honestly I am writing in complete ignorance, but when has that ever stopped me? I am hoping to log on sometime this weekend, but meanwhile, based entirely on 7.3 notes, I have a couple of questions.

  • Does the concept of portals put players into even more restrictive cattle-chute type play? Will it compartmentalize new areas in such a way as to preclude meaningful exploration and — Blizz’s favorite word — “immersion”? Are the Argus portals a precursor to the main mode of transportation in the next expansion?
  • Does the lack of flying on Argus portend anything more sinister for the future of flying, or is Argus just a Timeless Isle kind of zone?
  • Will the requirement to complete quest lines in order to unlock new portalled mini-zones become yet another endless grind, all in the name of “content”? Will those quest lines themselves become as onerous as the profession ones are now, especially for alts?

Will we ever be free of garrisons? In WoD, a significant number of players (at least the active ones) expressed hatred of garrisons, almost from the start. The backlash was strong, yet Blizz responded by doubling down on them as WoD progressed. They repeatedly lied to us about the role of garrisons, at first saying they would be completely optional, then saying everyone had to have one but only the basic level, then requiring an advanced level garrison in order to experience the new Tanaan Jungle content.

And then, given this very strongly expressed player dislike of garrisons, Blizz slightly repackaged them as class halls for Legion — pretty much removing the WoD perks and leaving the crap parts. Each patch has introduced extensions to them, and apparently there will be more such extensions in 7.3.

I would love to see an absolute end to this concept in the next expansion, but I am not hopeful. Someone at Blizz loves them, and I predict they will continue to be crammed down our throats. And, even though they appear to be the perfect technical mechanism for something like player housing or guild halls, Blizz will never bow to these popular requests. We will continue to have the worst of all worlds.

Monetization of WoW PvE. A few days ago Blizz announced a Mythic Dungeon Invitational. This is an open competition for teams to go through a series of gates to be able to compete publicly for prize money by achieving top speeds on a Mythic+ dungeon. Ultimately the winning team will receive $50,000, and other finalists will share lesser amounts of prize money. Oh, and of course the races will be covered on Twitch for esports fans to follow.

We’ve all known this kind of competition was coming, it was only a matter of time before Blizz tried to capitalize on more than the PvP aspects of WoW as a spectator sport. And honestly, the handwriting was on the wall when they introduced the whole Mythic+ idea in Legion.

I am not sure I have any strong feelings one way or another about this. I am not fundamentally opposed to the whole esports phenomenon — it’s not really so different from any other spectator sport when you come down to it. It holds zero interest for me, but I can see where others might enjoy it.

The part that gives me pause is how it might affect the game I love to play. I say this because of a conversation we had last night in raid. Someone picked up a really awesome piece of gear using a bonus roll, but they could not use it. Of course, since it had been a bonus roll, they could not offer it up to the others on the team who could absolutely have used it, and they expressed frustration about this seemingly arbitrary rule. The reason Blizz has given for this rule is that “some” teams might abuse it and require everyone to use up bonus rolls in order to gear up others.

The thing is, the only teams likely to engage in this kind of behavior are elite teams who gear up their rosters through the (somewhat gray area) method of split runs. No normal guild team engages in this kind of activity. So basically Blizz has implemented a rule that prevents abuse by less than 1% of the player base, and the other 99% are disadvantaged because of it.

This is the kind of thing I worry about happening more often as a result of expanding professional competition in the form of the game I play. People competing for real money will inevitably push the envelope as much as possible in that pursuit. Blizz’s response to such pushing has often been to apply a bandaid rule designed to prevent the specific perceived infraction, regardless of the consequences to the vast majority of players who would never even consider such action.

And with that, my drafts folder is clean, and it is time for the weekend to begin. See you on the other side of it.

Oh, and Happy Bastille Day.

 

Miscellaneous stuff

No big topic today, just a few incomplete thoughts about the game that have been rattling around in my head.

Flying. At last, over the weekend, I completed Legion Pathfinder Part 2. The long pole in the tent for me was getting revered with Legionfall Armies. I had lost a couple days questing the previous weekend (in-laws from hell), so I had been scrambling all week. I finished all available Broken Shore quests Saturday and was still about 50 rep points short, feeling a bit frustrated to be so close yet so far. Then I completed my class hall missions, and lo and behold my Valarjar rep mission got a bonus token, and it turned out to be for Legionfall Armies! Ta-da!

I was honestly expecting some final admin quests, like visit a trainer or watch a cutscene or something, to actually start flying, but no, as soon as I got the achievement my flying mounts magically began flying again. Nice. Also my alts had no problems, all of them were able to fly immediately, no bugs in the implementation that I could see.

And how glorious it is! I was surprised at how far it goes to lessen the perception of eternal grinding in the game. It really speeds up the world quest times, and it is luxurious to avoid all those “en route” mobs that dog you at every step, especially in Broken Shore. It is terrific to not have to wait for a whistle cooldown before you can leave a completed quest area (although I love the taxi whistle). It is great to be able to swoop down on the way to another quest and gather a mining node or herb you happen to see. And it is just fun to see the zones from another perspective, to get an idea of their size and layout from the air rather than the worm’s eye view on the ground.

I am not especially opposed to Blizz’s new pattern of waiting until a patch to get flying in a new expansion, and I don’t mind completing some achievements for it. But I do think flying should come in the first major patch, not wait until what is effectively the third one (7.1, 7.1.5, 7.2). Seven months of slogging along on the ground seems a bit much to me. Most of us don’t need that much “immersion”, thank you very much, to get the artistic flavor of an expansion.

Flying will also help a lot with leveling and gearing up alts. I was able to take one alt through the Broken Shore intro stuff and get some of the class hall upgrades yesterday in about 3 hours. And I took a couple others through 3 emissary quests each in very short order, including being able to pick up enough ore on one to get the two turn-in quests for level 2 mining. Flying alone will not fix the horrible paths to professions and alt gearing that Blizz has set up in Legion, but it definitely will speed some of the process.

Plus, it is great fun — an element that has been missing in the game for me lately.

Class Hall efficiencies. In addition to flying, some 7.2 changes in class hall mechanics help with alt development. I don’t spend a lot of time any of in my class halls, basically only go there for required progression. For example, I do as few champion missions as possible. But Blizz’s streamlining of things like order hall resources needed for research and time required for completion of various steps do help. Also, the speeded up paths for gathering massive quantities of AP are a welcome addition. In the last week, I have lept ahead quite a bit in my order hall chores on a couple of alts.

Honestly, part of my angst with the whole class hall thing is that I find it “nitpickily” complex. I have yet to get a sense for everything that must be done to get up to speed in a character’s class hall, and I have now six characters at level 110. But I still feel lost when it comes to know what next steps I need in order to get to an end game state in their class halls. Artifact research, order hall research, class questlines, class hall questlines to get the third relic slot open, figuring out the ways to get assistants for my champions, figuring out how to gear my champions (not all class halls offer the same options), figuring out what the “extra” perk is for each class and then remembering to use it regularly, etc. etc. Not to mention the confusing physical layout of some class halls — I still wander aimlessly in the warlock one every time I have to go there.

It’s just too messy and confusing. Please, Blizz, if you are not going to give us a guild hall or player housing in the next expansion, give up on the whole garrison mechanic. You tried. It didn’t work. Move on.

World quests. I still like these. I like that they give decent gear if you are just starting out. I like that most of them are relatively quick to do. I like that there is some variety in the game activities (PvP, professions, pet battles, raids and instances, standard PvE) you can engage in to complete some of them. I especially like that the emissary quests persist for three days, allowing those of us dealing with real life to take a play break once in a while and not miss any of them.

The only puzzling thing to me is why Blizz decided to abandon the WQ model for Broken Shore dailies. Now that I have flying, I am not so annoyed by this decision, but I still don’t understand the reasoning. I think WQs in general have been well received by most players, so I am not sure why Blizz would essentially regress for Broken Shore.

And while I am at it, after a couple weeks of demonic invasions in Legion, I am not feeling any more receptive to the timing mechanics of them. I have one more to do to complete all four for the achievement, and when that is done, I will be done with them too. I find them tedious and long. I think I would have liked them better if they had just been scenarios like we had in Mists, or if they popped up frequently like they did in pre-Legion and were essentially always available and quick to complete,  or if they were just specialized world quests (without the final couple of required quests and the scenario) that slightly advanced the story line. Honestly, I am not sure what one thing I don’t like about them, but I am decidedly not a fan and will not be doing them as soon as I complete the achievement.

Obliterum forge. For me, the best thing about 7.2’s change to the obliterum forge is not the fact that you no longer have to do that ridiculous and expensive quest line in order to unlock it, but that finally that stupid burning cart is gone from from the commerce exchange area. Hallelujah!

Blizz and hunters. MMO-C had an interesting blue post summary a couple of days ago. It was a thoughtful blue response to some Brewmaster Monk concerns from PTR players. It struck me because this is exactly the kind of responsive dialog hunters have been begging Blizz for ever since the early days of Legion’s closed beta.

Dozens and dozens of hunters have given Blizz exactly the same sort of thoughtful, observant comments we see from the monk poster in the cited blue post, and Blizz has steadfastly ignored every single one of them, has never once deigned to even recognize there are fundamental problems with hunter class mechanics. Yet we see this very respectful and in-depth response to Brewmasters. And it is by no means the first such — months ago there was a series of blue posts that painstakingly explained Blizz’s philosophy on the Brewmaster spec and outlined where they saw the spec going in the future, how they envisioned it should be played, et cetera and ad nauseaum. All because a few Brewmasters had expressed worries over their testing on the beta.

I was particularly touched by Blizz’s deep concern over the perceived Brewmaster angst with a clunky, hesitating play style. Here are a few astonishing excerpts (emphasis mine):

As you can imagine, the numbers for Blackout Strike’s cooldown and the CDR from Tiger Palm are very important to get right on this; we’ll tweak them and try a few things. We started out with the 4-beat cycle for PTR; we may also try the 3-beat cycle soon and see how that feels.

The common Blackout Combo-driven rotation right now is, in a way, not GCD locked, because it spends a significant amount of its time off GCD, but in practice it feels more like GCD locked, because that time is in between every few GCDs with little empty half-GCDs, adding a stutter to your rotation that we’re trying to clean up.


Brewmaster is not a particularly popular spec, and the awkwardness of their offensive abilities is one of the prime reasons why. That sort of thing is shrugged off by some people, really bugs some other people, and contributes to a general discomfort with a spec to most (and is usually hard for them to describe exactly why, falling back to works like ‘doesn’t flow’ or ‘clunky’).

Now, I am not trying to dump on Brewmasters who have done such a good job giving feedback to the devs, and I am sure they are correct in their assessment of the spec. Good on ’em. But,

What.

The.

Fuck.

Blizz is suddenly concerned about a slow, clumsy, stuttering play style??? They feel your pain, Brewmasters, over how the spec “feels”????

This is just unbelievable. Beastmaster Hunters have made similar comments for months, actually for over a year, and Blizz has not even tried to respond, has not in fact even admitted the play style stinks, has completely ignored every hunter comment to that effect. They dash off some quick easy tweaks, like give us back a couple of traps, or rework some Cobra Shot graphics, and call it good enough. But Brewmasters mention a little clunkiness and the devs fall all over themselves to try and fix it, expressing how concerned they are and how yes they completely understand, and oh no this is awful we simply must do something???

If we needed any further proof that Blizz considers hunters the throway class, one they simply cannot be bothered with, here it is.

Hello! Blizz, how about some hunter recognition for a change?

Scaling to gear

Very interesting post last week by Watcher on the issue of scaling in WoW. By now, most of you who are interested have already read it for yourselves, but the tl;dr is that Blizz implemented a sort of stealth mechanic of world scaling in 7.2, in which a player’s gear determines the amount of health a mob has. And initially your gear level also determined how much damage the mob would do to you. My impression on the first day was it was pretty brutal, akin to losing 40-50 ilevels. Within a couple of days, however, Blizz hotfixed it so that the mobs no long deal any increased damage relative to your gear level, and they also seriously nerfed the mob health ramp-up. Honestly, I don’t much notice the effect at all now, except possibly when my hunter gets greedy and attempts 10-15 mobs at once.

But I thought Blizz’s rollout of this mechanic was interesting for several reasons.

First, the underlying problem — if geared players reach a point in current content where they can not only one shot a trash mob in the world, but they can one shot 20 such mobs all at once, and they can do it in the space of a global cooldown or less, then that is not a good thing, for several reasons:

  • It renders world quests not only trivial but downright annoying, as the player spends far more time getting to the quest areas and looting corpses than in killing the mobs.
  • Play style thus degenerates into a consideration of how fast the player can spam instant casts, because mobs die long before they can get off anything close to a normal rotation.
  • Lesser geared as well as less mobile players undergo a lot of frustration, since the more highly geared/faster players can decimate an entire quest area without giving anyone else a chance to even get off an instant cast or get into range and thus participate in the kill.

I can appreciate this problem, I have been on both the overpowered end of it and on the lesser-geared part of it. On the overpowered end, it does start to seem silly to spend 5 minutes getting to a quest that you can finish in less than a minute. And if there are other players in the area, I do feel bad about killing masses of mobs in what seems to be a selfish way, but there is not much I can do about it with my current power level, except get in and out in as little time as possible. Still, even my geared main is often frustrated when the area is overrun with horde and I cannot get a single shot in before they tag it and it becomes useless for my quest. Not to mention that hunters are slow movers, only two very puny speed cooldowns, and sometimes even getting within “ranged range” is a challenge when the mobs or mini bosses die almost instantaneously.

On my alts, especially my more slow-moving melee ones, lately I cannot even get close enough to a mob to get in a lick of damage before it dies, so I spend a lot of time just running around the quest area. I am left to seek out mobs in fringe areas where the more highly geared players do not bother to go. And it does not just happen with trash mobs in WQ areas — the mini-boss types die almost as quickly, so nearly every time I am required to wait for a respawn. Not a huge problem, I grant you, but annoying nevertheless.

Second, Blizz’s previous pronouncements on scaling — namely, they said they would absolutely not be doing gear-based scaling, only the initial Legion zone scaling. And now they have done gear-based scaling. I am actually somewhat encouraged in this case by Blizz’s willingness to change their policy here. True, they probably should have never said never, but as Watcher confessed, they really had no idea about some of the challenges they would face when they opted for keeping outdoor world content relevant throughout an expansion, as they have done with WQs in Legion.

Watcher seemed to be claiming a “Who knew?” kind of excuse here, reaffirming once again that Blizz stinks at this kind of project planning. The answer, of course, is that anyone worth their salt as a project planner should have anticipated this result. Still, beyond staggering incompetency at project management, it is basically a good thing that Blizz can be agile enough to back down when they were clearly wrong in their initial pronouncement.

Third, the “stealth” nature of this rather significant change — it was intentionally not included in the official patch notes, according to Watcher. He blizzsplained that they wanted players to not focus on it because then the devs might have gotten a biased player response, and what they wanted was a response “not skewed by the experience of logging in and actively trying to spot the differences.”

So in other words it was for our own good and to get around our tendency to lie. We are of course too stupid to be able to understand the highly complex thinking of mightier beings like Watcher and his minions, and we are too dishonest to give realistic feedback. There, there, little players, don’t over stress your puny brains with it, run along now. Watcher knows best.

Silly me, I thought the purpose of a Public Test Realm was, well, “testing”. I do not generally think of a live patch as the place to do it, certainly not for something as major as this change. As it turned out, some players did notice and comment on some of this world scaling on the PTR, but Blizz pretty much played off any comments on it, purposely hiding their rather significant play style change intention. They did not actually lie about it, but they were deliberately deceptive.

Yeah, it’s not a huge thing, but it shows once again Blizz’s pattern of disdain bordering on contempt for their customers.

Fourth, can we trust Blizz not to go overboard on this new scaling? As I have written above, in general I think world scaling has a place in Legion, and I get that the problem took Blizz more or less by surprise. Watcher’s blue post clearly indicates that he knows there is a delicate balance to be achieved here: players need to feel more powerful as they gear up, but no one benefits if the current world content is like questing in Elwynn Forest as a level 110.

Unfortunately, Blizz’s history is not encouraging for achieving that balance — we have all witnessed and experienced what has become the pendulum swing meme with WoW. They often seem incapable of striking a happy medium, preferring instead to lurch from one extreme to the other.

Why add a lot of new content if the current content can be made to be perpetually challenging? Although I do not generally subscribe to the “slippery slope” theory, once this genie of scaling activities to gear level is out of the bottle, will it be too tempting for devs to use as a convenient play-extender? Undeniably, scaling world content to gear just makes quests take longer, and we all know Blizz’s recent obsession with measuring hours played per month. If you could tweak the geared scaling just a tiny bit more and get, oh, say, a million more hours played per month overall, why not do it?

And why stop at world scaling? Blizz has already applied the principle to Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons in 7.2 — players are outgearing the initial ones, so they have ramped up the overall difficulty in response. (I ran a Neltharion’s Lair +11 last night and it was orders of magnitude harder than the 7.1.5 version. Our team that had been 2- and 3-chesting +14’s was unable to come close to beating the timer at all.) True, the increased difficulty is not pegged to individual team gear levels but rather to overall player base averages, but what is to stop Blizz from calculating the team average ilevel and incrementing the instance difficulty in the same way they now calculate player ilevel and ramp up mob health in the world?

Why stop at gross gear level scaling? Should healers get easier mobs than damage dealers? What about tanks? Should clothies have less damage directed at them than plate wearers? Should long casts be made instant in certain quest areas, or should instant casts be disallowed? Should all mobs be made available to both factions, no matter who tagged them first? How far should the game go to tailor content to individual player circumstances? More insidiously, how far should game design go to manipulate the quarterly statistics for the stockholders?

I am not saying this initial world scaling mechanism is bad — in fact I am in favor of it — and I am not predicting Blizz will misuse it, but I do think it is something they need to be very careful about. It is a  short philosophical hop from “We think players need to feel more powerful as they gear up,” to “We think players need to feel challenged even as they gear up”. And now that the gear-based mechanism is available, the Good Idea Fairy is bound to visit devs in many parts of the game — someone needs to make sure they do not get carried away.

Patch 7.2 is upon us

Well, the big news from yesterday’s Q&A is that Patch 7.2 will go live at the next reset. I suppose this is good news — the current content is getting a bit worn, although honestly I would be able to find too much to do in it for weeks or even months yet. Still, it is always fun to get new shinies.

No question in my mind, flying will be my main and most frenetic focus for the first couple of weeks until I get she achievement. I am heartily sick of bumbling around on the ground and being forced to take commercial air to get to far away places. Flight paths are still too roundabout for my tastes, and if I am going to take scenic tourist flights, then I want to be able to swoop down or stop at interesting points I see from the air.

Not going to lie, I am also waiting for flying to get some profession quest lines finished on alts. Some of them are too lightly geared to deal efficiently with mobs encountered getting to or getting out of quest areas. If the quest is to kill 12 bears, for example, I do not want to have also fight my through an area packed with spiders or rabid plant life, both entering and exiting the quest area. And I am also waiting on flying to level a couple of my more problematic alts (looking at you, Mage).

I have Pathfinder Part 1 finished, so it will just be a matter of grinding out the new rep and other requirements for Part 2. I am not really that happy with Blizz introducing an entire new faction for us to get rep with for this achievement, however. It just strikes me as Blizz once again — in what has become a depressing pattern — screwing with us, moving the goal posts just as we get close enough to think we are finished. To add insult to injury, no existing rep tokens count for the new rep.

Similarly, Patch 7.2 will permit (ok, “force”) us to increase the gear level of our class hall champions if we wish to use them for new missions. But all those gear upgrade tokens you have been collecting ever since your champions all reached level 850? Yup, you guessed it, worthless. There will be new ones we can grind for endlessly.

The other goal post that has been moved is of course the artifact trait one. I would not ever characterize myself as a completionist when it comes to achievements in this game, but there is just something mean about letting me get a whiff of success at maxing out my artifact traits — I am at 52 right now — then move that goal nearly out of range (there will be something like 50 more traits or trait levels in 7.2, and each will cost millions or even tens of millions of AP to get).

It just feels like Blizz ran out of good ideas and decided that redoing artifact traits, class hall quest lines, champion missions, faction rep, and class hall research was the way to go. Yeah, take what are arguably the most annoying parts of Legion and make everyone do a do-over on them and pass it off as new content….

I have not played the PTR lately, so I only have what I read to go by for some of the upcoming changes. In general, I kind of liked the world scenarios we got at the end of WoD as prep for Legion. They were fun to me because they really were completely optional. I am not so sure how much I will like them now that they will be a requirement for another achievement.

I don’t really understand the mechanics of establishing a new class hall base on a new island — this is beginning to smell like more garrisons to me. And I surely do not get the building mechanic. Apparently, each region and/or server group somehow “votes” for the kind of building (one of three possibles) they want. From what I can glean, you “vote” by collecting and giving up nethershards (something new to grind for, but remember Blizz hates collecting currency except when they don’t). At some point there are enough votes for the building to be constructed, it gives a local buff, lasts for 72 hours, gets destroyed by the Legion, then everyone gets to start all over again.

Forgive me if I am not jumping up and down in anticipation of what appears will be yet another depressing Sisyphean activity.

There will be some number of user interface upgrades in the new patch. Again, this is always nice, but the ones I saw were ones I have long ago fixed by using an addon. Blizz’s UI is generally poor, and they remain extremely lazy about fixing it because they know addons will fill in the holes until they get around to making a stab at it.Reading about the upcoming changes, it seems like my addons will still be leagues better than Blizz’s “fixes”.

I have not seen any updated official 7.2 patch notes yet, which makes me wonder if once again — like for 7.1.5 — they will only be published a few hours before the patch goes live, and even then they will be incomplete and straight out wrong in some instances. I would think if a new patch is deemed ready for prime time, that part of that includes having well-written and complete patch notes, but I guess this is not a priority for Blizz.

Still, for all my crabbiness about 7.2, I have to give Blizz credit for thus far sticking to their promise of continually pumping out new Legion content. I honestly did not think they would be able to do it, and I am happy to be proven wrong so far. In my opinion, “content” is at once the best and worst feature of Legion. The best because, well, there is undeniably a lot of it and it keeps changing and morphing at a pretty furious pace. The worst because too much of it is required rather than just optional — I say required because it is part and parcel of nearly every conceivable game goal for almost any player.

(For example, running dungeons is required in order to complete zones, develop professions, do class hall quest lines, etc. There is no  path to accomplishing these activities without running dungeons. Just my opinion, I know, but to me this is cramming certain content down people’s throats, forcing certain very narrow play styles on every character.)

There is a ton of stuff in Patch 7.2, and I have not even touched the surface. It will be here in a few days, and at that time we will all be able to judge for ourselves what works and what doesn’t in it.

Apologies for the rather disorganized comments today, I am on the phone fighting with customer service over what should be a simple door opening mod to my new dryer, and I am at wit’s end over trying to explain the problem to what seems to be someone with the technical grasp of a carrot on the other end of the line. I thonk I see alcohol in my near future.