January closet cleaning

Checking out my drafts folder yesterday, I see it is getting a little cluttered. Time to clear it out. So here are some scattered thoughts I never worked on enough to make an entire post on them.

Mage fear conquered? Regular readers know of my long-standing love-hate relationship with the mage class in WoW. I rolled a mage many years ago, as one of my earliest alts, but I could never get comfortable with the play style. I dutifully leveled her up each expansion, but could never rise above the terribad level of proficiency. Each expansion I tried all three specs, got adequate gear for her, even ventured into an easy raid or instance now and then.

But it just never felt right, so finally towards the end of WoD, after much soul searching, I deleted the poor thing. Within a month, I regretted the decision. So I rolled a new mage and leveled her to 100 before the end of WoD. When Legion came around, I decided the one mage spec I had always like best was fire, so I leveled her to 110 as a fire mage. But this time, for some reason, I am having great fun playing her. The play style, unlike my mental image of mages, is quite mobile (certainly as mobile as, say MM hunter), and every time those Hot Streak procs hit — and they hit quite often — I get a little tickle of fun.

Maybe that is the key: fun. I really feel like Blizz has sucked all the fun out of huntering. Certainly for BM they have turned it into a grim process of mashing buttons when they are off cooldown. The only really fun procs left for BM are the odd trinket or legendary effect. But my little fire mage rewards me every time I play. I love planning my chain of crits to be able to sustain high damage and instant casts, and the visuals — especially when I plan properly — are nothing short of spectacular.

Attention Blizz: Fire mages are an example of a fun play style. BM hunters are not. There is no real fun in merely not missing a Kill Command cooldown. Also the hunter visuals — when they exist, which is not often — stink. If you cannot see the difference, then there is little hope for the hunter class going forward.

Paying for game commentary sites. You may have noticed that I removed Blizzard Watch from my blog roll on this site. The reason is not that I think it is a bad site (I do not). Rather it is because they have recently started what I think of as a sleazy Eyewitless News practice of hyping some posts with salacious headlines, then locking them for anyone who does not pay for the site.

I do subscribe to the site with Patreon, but I was uncomfortable with being complicit in putting the arm on my readers to pay up in order to read a post I linked to. Blizzard Watch, of course, is free to put pressure on anyone they want in order to make some money. (And I suspect it is not like they are raking it in, anyway — more like just keeping the lights on.) But it is not my style, and I really don’t want to be a shill for them.

Begging for gear. As I play my alts more frequently now that Legion is winding down, I am running more LFRs than I used to. I am finding one of the more annoying trends is for people to whisper me every time I get a piece of gear, asking if  I really need it. Usually I ignore them or whisper back a rather stark “yes”. I refrain from saying if I did not need the gear I would tell people to roll for it, though that would be a small lie, since I often do not put things up for roll because it is cumbersome to do so and even more cumbersome to effect the actual trade. There are a couple people in my guild who do not even loot bosses in LFR any more just because they don’t want to be annoyed by these beggars — they get their loot through the mail from the postmaster.

In typical fashion, when Blizz introduced the possibility of rolling for personal loot in a group, they gave exactly zero thought to how that would inevitably play out for The Great Unwashed. Here is the usual scenario:

  • Kill boss.
  • Loot rolls by in raid chat.
  • Tank runs hell bent for leather to engage next trash in combat.
  • People like me don’t even realize what if any loot they got, much less have the time to decide to put it up for roll, type out the link and the announcement, then monitor who wins the roll and try to find them during a rare non-combat interval to open trade.
  • Multiple beggars whispering me does not help the confusion.

This is bad enough in a guild run, where I actually want to help people out with gear, but for the record I refuse to deal with it in LFR. Sorry, LFR-ites, you are not getting any of my loot. It’s nothing personal, just that I can’t be bothered.

If Blizz actually gave a damn — which they clearly do not — they would have created a better user interface for announcing, deciding, and trading gear in group situations. No doubt this is on the table for BfA.

HAHAHAHA, just kidding.

Try not to panic yet. A few days ago we got the first big dump of data on Battle for Azeroth, along with a class balance dev post and the announcements of the alpha test and an imminent Hazzikostas “Q&A”. I took a very cursory look at the hunter changes in this first flood of information and saw what I thought were a lot of MM and SV changes, but almost nothing on BM hunters. A small nugget of worry took root in my brain, but I squished it down as I had not really studied the data and could easily have missed a bunch. (Recall that I am a professional worrier…)

But then yesterday, Bendak in Eyes of the Beast posted his first thoughts on sifting through the data, as it pertains to BM hunters, and it was pretty grim. Responsibly, he reiterated that this is the first set of data, it is extremely early in the process, he has not had a chance to actually play on a test realm yet, and there will be much more to come. But a couple of his remarks really caught my eye.

I was hoping for more from my beloved BM. But I’m willing to accept that BM hasn’t seen as much attention as MM and SV at this point in development. At least I hope that’s the case, or else we’re in trouble.

….

This new version of Survival looks oddly similar to Beast Mastery but with the addition of a bunch of DoTs. Half the abilities and talents can be used from range, and you can even do your main rotation at 40 yards while Aspect of the Eagle is active.

I know they feel like they need to make some big changes to Survival to get people to play it, but I would have rather seen them improve what’s there by pruning the existing rotation, keeping the good parts, removing a bit of the excessive maintenance, and adding some new talents. Now it seems like all they’re doing is adding abilities that would be better served as MM or BM abilities. Is it a melee spec or not? How do they plan on balancing this?

I refuse to panic yet, but I can’t help but hearken back to the early days of Legion testing, when we all thought the same thing about the bad place BM hunters were in and the curious lack of any announced changes. Surely, we thought, it’s just a matter of Blizz not having got around to the major BM changes yet. Nope, indeed what we saw in the earliest data was what we got, and it sucked. Moreover, Blizz steadfastly refused to even discuss the lack of changes, refused to even comment on the very detailed and cogent results posted by some of the best hunters in the game, rudely and disrespectfully ignored every plaintive cry for at least an explanation of the crude play style.

So yeah, it might be too early to panic. But then again, it might not. Is BM hunter destined to become the next “experiment” in Blizz’s never-ending quest to screw with the hunter class?

As much as I have come to enjoy mages, Blizz, why don’t you take a break from hunters and go screw with mages for a change? Or druids? I swear, if you destroy BM like you destroyed SV in WoD, I will haunt you and curse you to the end of my days!

7.3 precursors

The final wing of Tomb of Sargeras for LFR opened yesterday. I could not face what I knew was going to be a poop show, so I did not venture in with any of my alts — didn’t even consider doing it on my main — but some of my guildies did, and they came away either laughing themselves silly or dazedly shaking their heads, depending on their personal reactions to LFR in general. The forums, predictably, are full of comments ranging from outrage over how hard it is to outrage over what idiots everyone is except the poster of course who is actually the best player in the history of WoW.

As I said, I have no first hand knowledge of the LFR Kil’jaeden fight, but it sounds about the same as the LFR Archimonde fight in WoD — wildly hard until most of the LFR population gains a group understanding of the mechanics, then somewhat better as crowd proficiency improves. I do know from experience that KJ is very challenging on both normal and heroic, and we all read about the problems Method had on mythic. So we can stipulate that KJ is crazy hard, even on LFR.

Blizz has wobbled around a lot on LFR ever since its inception. Game Director Hazzikostas admitted this in the most recent Q&A, when he stated there was no longer a desire — presumably on Blizz’s part — to make LFR “tourist mode”. You will recall that this had been the original intent of LFR — basically a low-pain way for people who chose not to raid with a regular team to experience some end game content and story lines without committing to the demands of regular raiding. It was in fact designed to be ridiculously easy. Now, it seems, that is no longer desirable.

The other historic thing about LFR is that Blizz at one time indicated it should have all the same mechanics as normal and heroic but way less demanding. That way, if players wanted to preview and/or practice for harder modes they could do so. But of course that was back when Blizz’s philosophy on raid levels was that the mechanics should not change, only the damage levels.

But now apparently “tourist mode” — formerly a good thing — is a bad thing, and changing mechanics — formerly a bad thing — is a good thing.

I don’t run LFR often enough any more to really have an opinion on the constantly changing Blizz design philosophy on it. However, it does strike me that there are limits to how “challenging” you can make a raid composed of 25 strangers, some of whom are conscientious and do their best and some whom simply do not give a shit. Some are pretty proficient at their roles and some have no clue what buttons to press, much less where to stand so as not to die. Some are there for accomplishments and gear and some are there just to screw with everyone else.

The group you get in LFR is the ultimate RNG. (With the added benefit that you can keep rolling a new one simply because people lose patience and drop group, so that you are in effect constantly rerolling the group composition until you finally get a winning combo.) So to be honest I am not sure how useful it is to, for example, keep the dark phase of Kil’jaeden where no one can see anything and you have to run around in pitch darkness trying to find the safe zone — hoping you do not fall off the edge in the process –and then venture out for a few seconds to find and kill adds. Some people in LFR will never be able to do this, just as some people will never soak the meteors, either because they don’t understand the mechanic or because they are ass hats. Time will tell if KJ is overtuned for LFR, but I think I will wait until it’s a bit less chaotic before I venture in.

Blizz has a habit of setting up major parts of the game with a clearly-stated design purpose, only to completely reverse that purpose in short order for no apparent reason other than some dev doesn’t like it. There is something to be said for flexibility and for the willingness to remake the game frequently, but there is also something to be said for keeping implied promises. I really don’t know if I would call the constant swings of LFR breaking a promise, but I wonder exactly who the target player group is for it. I think Blizz wonders, too, and I think every time they rethink the question they change LFR tuning.

There is a sizable group of players for whom LFR is their only participation in raiding. It is their endgame. I have the feeling these players go into it trying to do their best, trying to deal with mechanics, trying to improve their proficiency, in the same way as any other raider. Hazzikostas indicated Blizz is trying to tune LFR for this group of players. I guess we will see if the effort is futile or not, given the large number of morons and jerks who also run only LFR.

Here’s the problem with constant re-evaluation of LFR’s purpose: If people consider it “tourist mode”, then it attracts a large number of players who think it is a big joke, who think nothing of going afk for most of it, who disdain mechanics, who do whatever they can to pull every trash mob, who think it is funny to wipe the raid, who consider it fine to have no idea how to play their class. So when Blizz tries to change the “tourist mode” approach to make it more challenging, the perception of it being a cakewalk persists, thus those same undesirables keep running it. Which of course becomes increasingly frustrating to those who want it to be something more. Maybe over time Blizz can change the popular notion that LFR is a total joke, but it is not going to be an easy transition.

As a related event to opening the final wing of ToS for LFR, the giant imploding planet Argus is now visible in the sky to everyone instead of just to those who have killed KJ on normal or higher. As I have mentioned before, I am not really overjoyed at the prospect of Argus for our 7.3 venue. What I have seen of it, it seems pretty much to be a rehash of the depressing nothingness of Broken Shore. It might turn out to be terrific, but I am not encouraged by the ever-present specter of a planet in its death throes. Just does not seem likely such a planet will yield hours of pleasant exploration and idyllic excursions to scenic overlooks.

And the Doomsayers are back. Whatever the hell those are. I never understood what the point of them was when we saw them at the end of WoD, and I don’t understand them now. I always thought a doomsayer was that one kid in grade school who, when we had to go into the basement because of a tornado warning, would tell us all in somber tones that we were probably going to die. Kind of a less-cute Eeyore. I never thought of it as a professional calling, which is apparently what it is at certain times in WoW. I also don’t get the whole pamphlet thing and why dying repeatedly is desirable, or why there are periodic breathless announcements in trade chat about the location of this or that doomsayer, followed by a player stampede to that location.

In other words, regarding Doomsayers: Huh?

At any rate, opening the final LFR wing in this raid tier, along with other factors like announcing the end of the PvP season, weirdos wandering the streets of Dalaran,  and a big honking fire planet in the sky all point to 7.3 going live sometime around the end of this month. Legion moves on.

A change of pace

Over the weekend I spent some time on my alts, mainly my alt hunter and my druid. It was a nice change for me. I spent time on my alt hunter mainly to finish her jewelcrafting quest chain and to gather a lot of ore, because I have other alts that would benefit from rings and necks and gems and such. (Shhhhhh, don’t tell Ion Hazzikostas … be vewy vewy quiet!).

I did finish the JC line, although of course that means very little — most of my recipes are level 1, and the mats seem to be quite rare. Also, the mining RNG quests seem to have a rather low probability of dropping, so of course I have not yet gotten them, which means (I think) I cannot yet get any Blood of Sargeras from this gathering profession. Without Bloods, I can’t craft high end items, nor can I even gear up enough to get into LFR.

Not making Bloods BoA is one of the worst decisions in Legion, in my opinion. I have over 200 on my main, for the most part worthless, and my alts are crying for them. This critical mat is what I call a “domino mat” — it has game repercussions far beyond what a single material should have. If you are a crafter, you cannot craft many high end items without it. Even if you have enough to craft the items, you can only craft them at a relatively low levels, because anyone wishing to upgrade a crafted picee of armor must do it on their own, using their own Bloods (20 or more just to get a single item upon to mediocre level). Thus, players wishing to use crafted gear to get up to, oh, say ilvl 850 or so — not exactly a high level in Legion — must have a buttload of Bloods in order to do it. That is assuming you have a character — probably a main — who can crank out obliterum at a high level. (Yes, Ion, guess what, we are now at the point of having a main exist to support  alts. Happy?)

Thus, the soulbound nature of Bloods, along with the requirement that gear must be SB to be upgraded, means crafters cannot make and sell  gear above level 815, and players wishing to upgrade this low level gear must be advanced enough to be able to gather the Bloods to do it — which generally means by the time you are able to upgrade your gear you have long ago stopped needing it. (Similar to that ridiculous class hall gear that requires you to have jumped through enough hoops in order to buy 810-830 level gear — or even to buy the final upgrade to get it to level 840 — that by the time you have grubbed enough to get there you no longer need it.)

Great job, Blizz, really excellent planning. This is like a toy manufacturer making a toddler pull toy, but requiring any child using it to earn their own money to pay for it — by the time they can do that, the pull toy is kind of moot.

Thus, when I decided to gear up and play my druid more, it turned out to be a much longer and more tedious process than it should be at this stage of an expansion. Not only for the reasons cited above, but also because suddenly nearly all the gear-rewarding world quests disappeared. Seriously, I thought well if I can’t upgrade my crafted gear on my druid because of lack of Bloods, at least I can run a bunch of world quests and get some decent gear from them. Nope. Whether by recent stealth nerf design or simply because of bad RNG in the WQ selection engine, there were almost no WQs that awarded gear this weekend. It took me literally until Sunday night, after 3 days of grinding, to get enough gear to qualify for LFR. LFR!!!! This is sad.

However, once I did finally get geared up, I had a lot of fun with my druid. I had leveled her as a boomkin, because I have always kind of liked that somewhat quirky play style, but also because honestly Blizz still has not made the leveling process very healer-friendly. (I am always impressed with people who level their healers as healers.) Anyway, having leveled her up a couple of months ago, I decided to switch main spec to resto.

First I had to get the resto artifact weapon, and I have to say I found this quest line to be pretty engaging. I definitely liked that it was heals-centric and required healing to complete. It was not overly long, but for a non-healer like me it was somewhat challenging. (I let my group die once before I succeeded … oops.) I had enough AP saved up to get my heals artifact up to level 24 in one fell swoop, so that was kind of nice.

Armed with my new artifact and a whopping 826 ilevel, I queued for Emerald Nightmare LFR. It was the first LFR I have done in Legion, and especially considering it was late in the game week, it went quite smoothly. As usual, I was stressed healing, but after it was over I realized I had a lot of fun. I got two pieces of gear that pushed me up to qualify for Trial of Valor, but I didn’t queue for it as it was pretty late. I’ll do it tonight (yeah, I know, Monday night LFR is a bad idea).

Side rant: What is it with Blizz and their apparent need to make support functions as annoying as possible for players? Last night I wanted to try out a few heal rotations, and since I knew there were no target dummies in Dal (!!!), I traveled to the druid class hall, thinking of course there are target dummies there — they have them in every other class hall I have an alt for. Nope. No target dummies in the Dream Grove. This of course is along with the Blizz design “feature” of no mailboxes in class halls, no auction house in Dal (don’t start with me on this, engineers!), and of course as I said no target dummies in Dal. Seriously, Blizz, what is the reason behind these annoyances? And don’t give me some bull hockey mumbo-jumbo pseudo-lore crap. I want to know the real reason! Malevolence? Twisted dev humor? Technical limitations? Laziness? Incompetence?

Late edit: See Sar’s comment below. Apparently the druid class hall has both a mailbox and target dummies! Whoops, well now this is awkward, what can I find to rant about?? Maybe clueless players who can’t find stuff in class halls?

I did a small amount of druid healing in LFR and a few random instances in WoD, but it was nothing to write home about. Before I queued last night, I got some quick pointers from one of our guild’s top druid healers, and that was very helpful. As it turned out, no one died — well except for a couple who died from trash because they stupidly outran the raid. I was pretty low on the healing charts, but I was always in with the actual healing group not the also-healers like Spriests and Pallies, and anyway I don’t give healing numbers much notice. I did do a lot of overhealing, but our raid healer explained that is pretty much unavoidable with druids, and he gets a lot of good natured grief over it in our raids.

It seems like Blizz pretty much left resto druids alone as they worked over many of the other classes. I suppose those of you out there who main a resto druid might disagree, but from my untrained perspective I did not notice a huge difference between what I did in WoD and what I did last night in Legion. I think I like the druid healing style because it reminds me of what all hunters used to be — highly mobile, with quite a few extra tricks in their bag. Also, I find it refreshing once in a while to get away from the kill-kill-kill mentality of damage dealers. There is a certain satisfaction in helping out your group members in such a direct way. (But I still find it stressful while doing it.)

Anyway, I enjoyed my sojourn into druid healyland over the weekend. I expect I will be spending more time pursuing this as Legion wears on.

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.

Just. One. More…..

Last night I spent a few hours playing my rogue, who is at the Tomes part of the legendary ring saga. It is the second week of it for this alt, and I am only at 13/33. Last week I only got 4 tomes for a full run, this week obviously my luck was much better. But it was a chore, I dread doing it for 2-4 more weeks, and honestly I do not consider any part of it fun any more. It is just something to be endured because I have told myself I want the end reward.

As I have written many times before, I cannot remember ever being bored with WoW, even when expansions go on for much longer than many people like. But that does not mean I don’t suffer through periods where I feel like the parts of the game I am pursuing feel like sheer drudgery. That is where I am now with WoD, at least with many aspects of it.

In some ways, this is because of game design (more about that in a minute), but it is mainly due to my poor choices for game goals. There really is no good reason, for example, for me to be pursuing a ring on my rogue. I doubt if I will ever raid with this alt, and I have done the whole legendary ring quest line now on five other characters, so I knew going in that there would be nothing new or exciting for me to experience with the rogue. Also, I made the decision that my one remaining alt — my poor neglected mage, would go into Legion ringless, so I am keenly aware that the rogue’s ring will be the last one I do. And since I know this, my brain has shifted into an impatient let’s-get-it-over-with mode, which contributes to the sense of drudgery.

It is interesting that this sense is so strong that it resembles every other hated chore. Like when you know you have to work on that term paper due in a couple of days, but you find yourself thinking actually it would be kind of fun to do your laundry now, or maybe mow the lawn — things you normally hate doing but that suddenly seem attractive when faced with That One Big Dreaded Thing. Last night I found myself thinking how fun it would be to level up mining as a new gathering profession on my warlock instead of suffering through hours of LFR on my rogue…

MMOs, because of their basic role playing nature, are designed to include drudgery — they require a certain amount of patience and commitment to reach certain goals, whether those be attaining high levels, scoring top-of-the-line gear, achieving titles, making pretend money, whatever. Years ago (2007, which might be thought of as a Paleo era for MMOs), Jeff Woleslagle, writing for Ten Ton Hammer, pointed out that MMOs are a cross between first person shooters and what I like to call gardening games (games like The Sims where all you do is tend things). That is, MMOs offer a lot of frenetically-paced combat in the form of raids and so forth — like FPS games — but it is not constant adrenalin like you have in FPS. They also require a lot of tending and grinding in order to get to the point of being able to successfully complete the combat, and in this way they resemble gardening games.

As MMOs evolve and attract varying types of players, inevitably some players gravitate towards the fast-paced features of the game while others gravitate towards the grinding part. The shoot-em-up types often begrudge grinding, and they want to get it over with as quickly as possible in order to get to what they consider the “real” part of the game. It is hard for them to understand the attraction of grinding and tending. On the other hand, the grinders can come to resent the shoot-em-ups as overbearing weenies who fail to grasp the joy of steadily and patiently working towards a goal.

And of course the majority of players (I think) are somewhere in between. Like me, they enjoy both aspects of the game at different times. They may want to efficiently pursue the ability to succeed in combat early in an expansion, but later they like to slow down and appreciate many parts of the game they rushed through earlier.

Honestly, I am not sure I have a real point in all this, more just thoughts springing from my perceived drudge “job” of completing the legendary ring on my rogue. I do think, though, that Blizz understands and is trying to break away from player perceptions of drudgery as much as they can. Legion seems to offer all types of players the opportunity to be challenged and have fun pursuing whatever aspect of the game that most appeals to them. For example, leveling alts can be a different experience every time due to zone scaling. Dailies and weeklies will offer a lot of variety. Achieving profession goals will be challenging and unique for each profession. I may think that artifact weapons signal the end of meaningful spec switching within a class (and that it is fraught with danger if you are unlucky enough to choose a spec Blizz continually “balances”), but for some this offers the possibility of true specialization, of becoming a real expert in your chosen specialty with the option to constantly improve your gear and talents throughout the expansion.

Meanwhile, “only” 20 more Tomes to go, and then I. Am. Done.

Another tier gear discussion

After several weeks of hints, Blizz confirms that Legion LFR will in fact award tier gear, probably more or less on the model of Mists. At least I think they are confirming this, it’s sometimes hard to tell with their obtuse I’ve-got-a-secret corporate mentality. Check out the predictably-enraged forum here, or the abridged MMO-C summary here.

If true, I think this is generally a good move. The WoD “tier” gear from LFR is nearly worthless except possibly for a brand new level 100. Worse, it in no way ties in with the “real” tier gear from Normal and beyond. So even if someone assembles a 4-piece LFR set, it does them no good at all if they decide to start raiding at the Normal level. For some classes/specs, for example MM hunter, the actual 4-piece tier significantly affects play style as well as performance. This means that, without the tier, many pug raid groups are reluctant to bring in players who need to get into such groups in order to get the tier gear. This is clearly a self-perpetuating handicap of the you-need-experience-to-get-a-job-and-you-need-a-job-to-get-experience type. Some guilds still working through progression part way into a raid tier are even reluctant to bring in a new player who does not have tier gear if most of the rest of the team already has it. (I think they are the exception, but I have run across them in the last year.)

So I like the Mists model for tier gear more than the WoD one — it’s the same gear, but with decremented stats/set effects and oh of course we must have a different color to satisfy the special snowflakes in the game. It actually gives people a reason to run LFR, beyond a few valor points. On the flip side of this argument, naturally, are the self-styled elite players who were the driving force behind the WoD approach, because they howled that having “real” tier gear “given out like candy” in LFR meant they themselves had to run LFR — oh, the horror, the ignominy of it all, how they suffered because of it. I am getting all teary-eyed just thinking about their tribulations….

Look. The problem was not that the gear was in LFR, the problem was that Blizz designed the raid levels so poorly that many progression teams could not feasibly complete Normal level without LFR gear, nor Heroic without Normal gear. Somewhere along the line, the designers completely abandoned their stated goals for raiding going forward from Mists: namely that LFR was for tourists, Normal was for friends-and-family type teams, Heroic was implied to be where progression teams would start, and Mythic was for hard-core raiding guilds. As a result, in WoD there is really no place for the casual different-members-every-week raid team, at least not until the very end of the expansion after the “real” raid team has cleared the raid tier and is into alt mode. At one time, Blizz thought this type of group was integral to the WoW raiding community:

Raid Difficulty and Raid Groups—An Aside

In broad strokes, there are three distinct types of groups that participate in organized raiding:

  • Friends and Family groups: These are social groups that exist for reasons besides raiding, but whose players would like to venture into raid content together. This type of group is inherently inclusive, and will not organize its roster according to specific class needs, nor is the group likely to criticize or remove players based on performance. Members of this type of group prioritize playing together.
  • Raiding guilds: These are groups that have formed for the purpose of raiding. These are the majority of guilds that you’ll see recruiting in Trade chat or on realm forums. These groups will generally look for specific classes based on roster needs, and will expect a certain level of attendance or performance. Members of this type of group prioritize experiencing and learning the content.
  • Hardcore raiding guilds: An extreme subset of the previous category, these are the guilds of players whose ethos drives them to be the best at games they play, and who are willing to dedicate time and energy to maximize their results. Guilds of this type will recruit and maintain a roster based primarily on performance, and will expect raiders to optimize their characters. Members of this type of group prioritize competition and success.

It is a shame that Blizz no longer considers the first group to be worth designing for. I say this because it really is not possible, in my opinion, for a group with dynamic membership to clear Normal HFC in anything approaching timely fashion. This is because the mechanics require a pretty sophisticated amount of choreographed teamwork, and it is definitely possible for a mistake on the part of one player to wipe the group. Rotating players every week means that every week there are almost always those one or two or three new players who will make the same mistakes that the rest of the members did when they were new to the boss, and it will almost certainly cause wipes. Add in the fact that bad tuning means there frequently is in fact an optimal number of players for any given boss, and the concept of a “casual” raid team pretty much becomes a myth.

(Please note that by “casual” I do not mean “bad” or “incompetent”, I just mean what Blizz laid out in the quote above.)

Anyway, I have strayed from my original topic of tier gear in LFR. I see no down side to having it. And for those who want to stomp their feet and throw a tantrum over how doing this means Blizz is giving away gear that should be reserved only for people such as themselves who “earn” it, or at the very least if this must be, then LFR absolutely has to be made “harder”, I say this:

Whether or not you believe it, it is a fact that for some people LFR is challenging. Just because it is a joke to you does not mean it is to others. You would not find a kindergarten curriculum challenging, either, but it is not designed for your 20-or 30- or 40-something self, it is designed for 5-year-olds, who do actually find it challenging and engaging. When people who think LFR is a joke go into it with the intent to mock it and screw it up for others, that is pretty much the same as walking into a kindergarten class and making fun of it, dumping the goldfish on the floor and letting the class gerbil out of the cage, all because they think the class is too easy and they themselves are bored and want to have some fun.

So, no, there is no need to make LFR harder in order to “justify” tier gear being awarded as drops. The fact that some people have low level but functional tier gear in no way takes away from others who have higher level tier gear. In this aspect, WoW is not a zero sum game.

Is WoW too buggy to patch?

I am in the process of doing a massive overhaul of my home office. It has existed in its current form pretty much ever since we moved into this house, some 15+ years. I am basically a neat freak when it comes to my personal space, so when I first set it up I took great care to arrange the room, the furnishings, and the attached storage space so as to facilitate easy organization. The system has worked well over the years, but even so it has reached the point where it is junky and unmanageable. This is because, no matter how much I may try to maintain order, over the years my needs for the space have changed, plus it was never really meant to hold the sheer volume of stuff I have accumulated.

I decided to do the overhaul when one day last week I was trying to get at a notebook on one of the shelves, and my pulling it out caused the contents of the entire shelf to come crashing down around me. Digging myself out from the avalanche, my course of action became crystal clear to me.

Last night when I logged into WoW, my intent was — as usual on Tuesdays — to run my main and at least one of my alts through all of HFC LFR for the valor. Reset days are usually the best time to do this — queue times are shorter, and the groups tend to be either overpowered or experienced enough that it goes pretty fast.

Not last night. Last night the entire LFR mechanism was whacked. At first it seemed all right — I queued for all 5 wings and quickly got into a Halls of Blood. Expecting a very fast run, I was a little surprised when we just barely defeated the Council after a very long fight where all bosses were tanked together, the raid group stacked on the tanks, no one but me bothered to try and kill the Mirror Images, and no one moved so much as a pixel when they got Reap. This is strange, I thought.

On to Kilrogg, where no one bothered to run to the back when they got Heartseeker, adds usually made it to the boss, and  we could never get more than two people to step into the Visions circles. Unsurprisingly, we wiped. Twice. At this point, raid chat ceased to work, so even those who tried to give advice were unable to do so. On the third attempt, miraculously, we killed him but it took forfreakingever. Then, after we got the Gorefiend trash down (and rezzed the 2/3 of the raid that had died), suddenly the raid was spontaneously disbanded and everyone found themselves back in their garrisons, unable to get back to the now-nonexistent raid.

And of course, after suffering through that hour+ (!) for two lousy easy bosses, no raid completion and no valor.

Worse, the queues kept seeming to pop for the other wings, but they would give you the join window for about a second, pop up the “Someone has declined the invitation … ” message, and disappear, only to have the entire bizarre sequence repeat 10-15 times about every 5 seconds or so. Then you would apparently finally be removed from the queue and the whole experience would start again with the queue for another wing.

Seriously bugged.

I did manage eventually to get into and finish Archie (3 wipes) and Hellbreach (one wipe on Reaver and two on Kormrok, I kid you not), but by then I had spent close to 4 hours and all I had to show for it was 300 valor. I quit and went to bed. My theory as to why every group I was in was so bad is that the normal reset day players — clearly smarter than me — gave up early in the evening, leaving only the incompetent and/or uncaring to fill out the groups.

Now, clearly, something that was changed during the Tuesday maintenance or patching caused this major LFR glitch. It was certainly an unintended consequence. Someone started a thread on it in the support forum, and eventually a Blue posted a short message that the techs were looking into it, but that’s it. I don’t know if it has been fixed, and there has been no further word from Blizz. Sadly, I don’t expect any more information to be forthcoming, the problem will undoubtedly eventually go away with not so much as an “Oops” from Blizz.

So, finally(!), here is my point: Has the WoW code reached the same stage as my home office? Is it no longer possible to work on a piece of it without an entire shelf falling down?

I have written software code, but I am decidedly not a coder, and honestly I cannot even imagine the complexity of maintaining what must be millions of lines of code, much of which was probably written by people who no longer work there. Much less the complexity of adding to it without breaking something else. It truly does boggle the mind. My hat is off to Blizz’s software engineers, who I imagine to be a group of bug-eyed wild-haired techies always on the verge of insanity because of the immensity of their task. To me, it is a miracle that we don’t see dozens of game-stopping bugs every day.

But there has to come a point where it is no longer worth committing more and more resources just to prop up the legacy code so that you can keep adding to it, a point where you realize the only option is to rip everything out and start over.

In theory I could have gotten a few 2-by-4’s to brace up my bookshelves, tied some sturdy twine around the largest stacks of paper, stacked the boxes a little higher, etc. But that would have been a major effort just to maintain a system I had clearly outgrown. Far better to take a few pictures for historical reminiscing, tear the structure down, throw out the tons of junk I don’t need, and make a tidier space for the things I do still want to keep. It is a wrenching process, but in the end it is the only option if I want to have a functioning and pleasing office space.

Some time ago, the Grumpy Elf suggested that Legion may be WoW’s swan song, the last ever expansion, the final installment in a groundbreaking and genre-defining game. It was a tinfoil hat kind of theory, but I did not think it was all that far-fetched. At the time, I made a comment about the difficulty of maintaining the code guts of the game, and how such a challenge might be another reason to make Legion the last expansion.

Every time I see a significant bug manifesting itself as a result of a maintenance patch, I become more convinced Blizz realizes it is time for a complete overhaul.