Abandoning the moral high ground

Last night I ditched what was left of my principles and bought a virtual ticket for Blizzcon 2017.

Yeah, I know. I’m not proud of it. For years I have haughtily disdained the groupie-like behavior I stereotyped Blizzcon-goers as. It was a kind of badge of honor for me that I could wait, like an adult, and see what announcements were made and consider their implications patiently and soberly. I am not a Big-Bang Theory kind of Blizzcon nerd, I told myself. I am a grownup.

But then…….

The thing that tipped the scales for me was the mount. Not so much the horde version, since I do not have a horde character, but something about that Stormwind Skychaser caused great lust to arise in my heart. At raid last night, a couple of our guildies had them and as soon as I saw them my only thought was, “I have got to get me one of these!” IMG_0279

So after raid, head hanging, looking around furtively as if I were buying porn, I plunked down my money and bought the ticket.

I have mentioned several times in this blog that I am not a mount collector, that I look at mounts as transportation, nothing more. I think that is generally true. Still, once in a while one comes along that I just have to have. The headless horseman mount was one such — I luckily got it the very first time I ever ran the holiday event many years ago, and it is still my go-to mount for every character. The engineer-crafted chopper was another, and I actually changed a profession on one of my alts from alchemist to engineer specifically so that I could craft this mount. There are one or two others, but those stand out in my mind.

And now the Stormwind Chaser.

Beyond this, though, I suppose now that I have a virtual ticket I will probably (virtually) drop into some of the Blizzcon 2017 activities. There are many of them that I am just not interested in — anything not related to WoW, any of the esports stuff, or the cosplay, for example. But I confess I am curious about what if any “big announcements” we may get about WoW.

I honestly do not know what to expect in that area. There are a great many players expecting The Big Announcement About The Next Expansion, and of course that may happen. But it also may not. Especially with the addition of Argus, Blizz has structured Legion to be almost infinitely expandable on its own. Relieved of the need to make the WoW world contiguous, new Legion content is mostly a matter of adding limited-terrain scenario-type instances one gets to via portals. Though I would not be in favor of it, there is really nothing stopping Blizz from using this mechanic for the next year or even two to extend Legion.

I stumbled across an interesting post from about a year ago by Nathan Grayson on Kotaku. It contained some quotes from Ion Hazzikostas at last year’s Blizzcon. It’s a short piece and you can read it for yourself, but one part in particular struck me:

“We’re working on a new expansion,” Hazzikostas told me. “It’s gonna be great. But we’re setting ourselves up to be much more flexible in the amount of patch content we create. We’re making sure that we’re always gonna be working on the next step, the next link in the chain. To keep our players engaged, to make sure there’s always something new to do in Azeroth. The expansion will be done when it’s done.”

“I don’t think [this will impact how much content is in the next expansion],” he said. “Obviously, the expansion will come out later than if we decided to make less patch content and focus on the expansion. But there’s always a process of iteration that goes into making our expansions. That’s gonna happen regardless. I think it’s more about making sure we have a contingency plan in place so that when it’s done, there hasn’t been a gap.”

I may be way off base here, but to me this hints strongly at Legion being close to a 3-year expansion, giving us two more years of it, not one more like many people think.

And what that may mean for Blizzcon 2017 is that instead of a detailed announcement of a new expansion, we will get more of a schedule. Something like approximate release dates for 7.3.5 and at least 7.4, along with some details of what those will contain. Any mention of the next expansion will be very sketchy, possibly limited to typical coy hints. Because what the Legion “content” approach has given Blizz is the luxury to not rush a new expansion. This is good and bad — we all saw what a disaster a rushed expansion could be with WoD (even though it seemed to take forever to go live it seemed undeniably to have been hastily slapped together and ill-conceived). On the other hand, Blizz is acutely aware of player impatience once an expansion hits about the 15-month time — no matter how much “content” is introduced, players think of it as the “old” expansion and start to look for other things to do, often moving to other games. (Blizz may hope these other games are Blizzard franchises, but they cannot be sure they will be.)

So, yeah, I bought the virtual ticket. Mainly because of the awesome mount. But I will be interested in some of the live streams, too.

Meanwhile, let the weekend commence. I got some air cruisin’ to do.

Scattered bits

Nothing really big seems to be happening in WoW for me these days, so today’s post is just a collection of odd thoughts and observations.

Patch days. A couple of years ago, patch days almost certainly meant hours of frustration. Servers would go up and down every few minutes, your addons would render the game unplayable, people would be removed from LFR and groups at random or be locked out of instances, there would be huge server lags, the new stuff would have massive bugs — well, you get the idea.

That’s not really the case any more. Oh, sure, once in a while there are a couple of pretty obvious bugs that make you wonder if Blizz has hired Bozo the Clown as head of Quality Control, but in general patch days are very smooth. It seems like Blizz has figured it out. So I give them a shout out for that. And while I am at it, I will also give a shout out to the addon writers. At least for the addons I use — and I use quite a few — the authors seem to really be on top of patch changes. They might lag a day or two behind a new patch in terms of updates, but they catch up quickly. It has been over a year since I have had to go through the old “half and half” approach to finding a troublesome addon. (Turn off half of them, if the problem is still there, turn off half of the ones that are still on, etc., until you isolate the one that is the problem.)

Movement in Argus. Patch 7.3 is only a week old, and already I am fed up with movement on Argus. Every facet of it. I am annoyed at the setup of the Vindicaar and   how whatever you need to do on it is invariably at the other end of the ship, on a different level. At the very least, Blizz needs to give us an auto speed buff while on board — like they did for the Shrine in Mists — to help us get around faster.

And last night I kind of hit the wall with fighting through endless mobs just to get to or from a quest location. At one point, the mobs I was just trying to get past respawned almost simultaneously with me killing them. It was beyond frustrating. And I still want to know when Blizz changed their policy from roads being a safe place to roads being a terrific way to force feed everyone into more and more mobs….

This frustration is compounded by the fact that it probably will never get much better. We will never be able to fly on Argus, and the damn whistle equivalent Blizz has dangled in front of us depends on grinding for months to get the appropriate rep.

The movement frustration alone makes me want to spend as little time as possible on Argus.

Mac’Aree. Having unlocked this zone yesterday, I was pleased to see it was not another hellfire and brimstone kind of place. I haven’t done a lot of exploration there yet, but it struck me as very similar to Suramar. In spite of the yellow and orange grass and trees, it seems much more welcoming than the other two zones. I hope Blizz does not decide to make it scorched-earth ugly like they did for the Vale in Mists…

Still, the place has a closed-in feel to it, unlike the spaces in Azeroth, where you know you can keep going and eventually get to an ocean or another zone or some place of interest. You cannot do that on Argus — every zone is a small self-contained scenario-like composition. It just makes the game feel smaller to me.

Argus Invasions. I unlocked these yesterday and did one small one and one large one. It’s a little early to tell, but the small ones seem kind of like the invasions Blizz gave us at the end of WoD. That is, you go to the area and probably there will be other players already involved in them. I did not notice much of a progression to them, however, certainly not the structure we had in WoD. Also, the loot pretty much stinks.

I also did one “large” invasion. These are actual portals/scenarios you enter, and they do have more structure. You cannot really just wander into them on your own unless you want to die quickly, or unless you hope someone will see you and invite you to their group. I was in a group of 5, including a tank and a healer, and once we got to the final boss, it took us maybe 10 minutes to kill it. Not really sophisticated mechanics, mostly just pretty boring steady pew-pewing along with dodging one boss mechanic. I was unimpressed with the loot, not really sure why you would go out of your way to do one every week.

And not for nothin’, but it was again a pain in the ass to get to the portal location, you had to fight your way through mobs — of course — to get there.

Week 2 quest lines. I found these mildly interesting. They were not especially challenging, but then I don’t think they are meant to be. I was a little impatient with them, but that was because I was trying to do them all before raid time. I missed one chain initially because I did not see the starter quest in the middle of a field in Krokuun, but once I got it, I thought it was the most fun one. I will not spoil it if you have not done it, but suffice it to say that the place they take you for the final part is pretty cool.

Nice surprise. Using my stash of veiled argunite to buy a couple pieces of the 910 gear from the vendor on the Vindicaar, I got a 910 version of Bloodthirsty Instinct, the coveted trinket from Ursoc in Emerald Nightmare. This was kind of sweet for me, as the trinket was BiS for quite a while for hunters. Our raid team generously ran Ursoc H and M for several weeks until all our hunters but me got the thing, but then they lost interest, so I pretty much just lost out. The Mythic version was ilevel 880, though (unless you got some fantastic luck with titanforging), so finally getting a 910 version was definitely nice. It still sims as the best trinket for me (at 910).

Now if I could just get a 910+ version of Unstable Arcanocrystal

That’s it for this Wednesday. Any of you in the path of Hurricane Irma, please stay safe, and listen to your local authorities. I need all the readers I can get! 😉

 

Patch 7.3 first week impressions

We have had close to a week to explore Patch 7.3, and I am still pretty neutral about it. On the one hand there are some interesting and fun things to experience, and on the other the never-ending grind on the same-old same-old is really wearing very thin. Let me get to some specifics.

Timed content release. In general, I am not a fan of this Blizz policy, because I think it is basically one of in loco parentis — they are saving us from ourselves because we are apparently too dim-witted to pace our game play. If they release an entire patch at once, so the Blizz reasoning goes, some of us might play it all through in the first week and then begin to whimper and whine about there being nothing to dooooooo! in the game. Can’t have that, so — like mom doling out Halloween candy a piece at a time — they feed us the patch content in small pieces.

That is my thought in the abstract. In the concrete reality, though, I find I do not mind it. I would probably play the same amount of time whether or not the entire patch was immediately available, but I find nothing in the stretched out release that hinders the way I play. In fact, it encourages me to get a couple of my alts into Argus this first week, since really all there is to do on my main is try and grab as much rep as possible with the new factions and gather some of the currency — all of which can be done just by cranking out the Argus dailies.

The quests. I have found them interesting so far, but I think that is just because they are not the exact same ones we have all been doing for almost a year now. And of course they occur in new territory, so some of the interest is in finding just how in hell to get to this or that world boss or quest area. That said, I haven’t yet found any really new or innovative quests, just the same old gather-20-of-this or kill-10-of-these patterns.

Some of them, in fact, are pretty blatantly just dressed-up versions of the same ones we have been doing in Broken Shore for months now. For example, you know the one in BS along the shore where you have to point your camera up to scan the skies for big menacing birds to shoot down using a special gizmo, all the while dodging mobs on the ground and picking up supply chests? Well, leave out the supply chests and substitute spacey looking fighter craft for the birds, a different icon for the shooting gizmo, and you got one of the world quests on Argus. Exactly. It’s not just the same idea, it actually seems like the same code with a few cosmetic changes.

Zone art. This, too, so far seems like a repurposing of the zone art used in Broken Shore. The two Argus areas we have access to thus far are, like BS, nothing but stretches of rock strata punctuated by green goopy fel rivers and pools, with a cave or cave-like building thrown in once in a while as a place to park an elite or a treasure chest.

Unlike BS, however, the venue of another planet allows Blizz to dispense with some of the more pleasing and/or “normal” geography we found in Azeroth — even on BS — like a few sparse bushes or blades of grass once in a while, or a shoreline with actual ocean and maybe a few islands. And this dispensation is made even more acute by the fact that we cannot even travel between zones ourselves, we can only transport to them, thus Blizz has eliminated the need for transition zones. Argus so far is just a collection of disconnected venues for killing stuff. Which brings me to my next point,

Flying. More specifically, NO flying. Blizz has told us Argus is essentially Timeless Isle, and there will be no flying on it ever. So those cool flying mounts you worked so hard to be able to use in Legion? Forget about them, they will be consigned to waddle about through rock canyons and abutments. Those nifty class mounts Blizz so generously allowed us to earn? Same thing, unless of course you are a druid, in which case you cannot even use your class mount on Argus, since Blizz has decided druids are too stupid to choose their travel form for themselves, and there will be no flying druid forms in no-fly zones.

In the past, Blizz has given us two condescending reasons for not allowing flying. One is that certain zones are too small for it. The other — and their preferred excuse — is that flying precludes “immersion” in the game. (The real reason, I am fairly certain, is that disallowing flying makes the zone design simpler/cheaper and also serves to stretch out a player’s time.)

See, the “immersion” excuse actually makes a little sense to me, especially in the beginning of a new patch when you want to get a sense of the detailed art in the game, or you just want to do some exploring to find hidden pathways or little gems of idyllic beauty off the beaten track. But Argus has no real beauty spots, and the art is the same version of designer hell we have seen for months in BS.

All “immersion” means in 7.3 is that you get to fight your way through mobs every time you travel, every step of the way to and from quests. And Blizz has saved even more on overhead by pretty much making roads the only way you can travel — the place is chock full of invisible walls everywhere you try to go. And while I am at it, whatever happened to the old “You are much less likely to meet monsters if you stick to roads”? The reason Blizz has roads now is to funnel everyone into mob after mob after mob. Not much fun, but it sure as hell racks up the Monthly Active User stats…

Class hall and champion missions. Blizz is still cramming these down our throats. Did you breathe a sigh of relief, feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally got all your champions to gear level 900? HAHAHAHA! Well guess what, now you get to grind them up to 950! For the classes lucky enough to be granted the class hall research permitting work orders for champion gear, this is annoying but doable. For the classes that have to rely on missions only to bring back RNG-determined gear, this new requirement is disheartening in the extreme.

Make no mistake about it, this is nothing more than a naked attempt to boost the use of the WoW mobile app.

Artifact Power and artifact relics. Sigh…. Prior to the release of 7.2, Ion Hazzikostas made a big fat deal out of lecturing us on the proper approach towards collecting AP: It was supposed to be just something that just gradually happened, not meant to be chased after, not meant to overly reward those who played many hours every day, and therefore Blizz was making the AP requirements for additional concordance levels go from ridiculous to impossible. Cool it, he said to us, just play the game and don’t worry about grinding AP. (“If you play it, it will come.”)

Well. What a difference one patch makes. Now, it turns out, in order to maximize your weapon relics, you have to achieve certain (quite high) concordance levels. And to encourage you to do this (in fact, just to make it possible for you to do this) we are going back to ever-increasing levels of weapon reasearch that permit ever-higher AP rewards! Grind your little asses off, maggots! Bwaaaahaha!

Bottom line. I am happy to get some new stuff to do with 7.3, and I kind of like the idea of taking the battle to another planet. And even if the new world quests are just reruns of the Broken Shore ones, at least they are a somewhat new variation. But I can’t escape the feeling that Blizz is funneling us down a narrower and narrower chute in terms of game play — no flying, no esthetic exploring, keep up your champion missions, grind your butt off for AP again. I feel like they are sacrificing their enormous capacity for creativity all in the name of cranking out “content” at a blistering pace. And that they have begun to view players as nothing more than Monthly Active User statistics to be manipulated for the bottom line, not as customers who play their game just because they take pure delight in it.

Personal note: Thanks to the well-wishers for my family in Houston last week. It was a week of little sleep for me, along with a lot of phone calls and micro-organizing, but it ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome. And not for nothin’, but I come from good stock — my 80-year old great-aunt and uncle weathered hardship that would defeat many, much younger, people. Uncle Bertie and Aunt Ellen — you guys rock!

Deja vu?

As we all know, Patch 7.3 will go live with the reset next week. Some people are wildly excited about it, others not so much. For myself, I am in a wait-and-see mode about it. On the one hand, I am impressed with Blizz’s lockstep adherence to their stated release goals for Legion patches and raid tiers. I have to admit, when they announced them for Legion I was very skeptical that they would be able to keep up, and that soon we would be in another dire WoD dearth situation. Let’s face it, their recent track record up until Legion was pretty grim. But they have thus far been true to their words, and I hereby eat mine. My following comments notwithstanding, Legion is by any measure a success story for Blizz and for WoW players.

That said, my “on the other hand” comment about 7.3 is about BM hunters. I am starting to get an uneasy, gnawing feeling in my gut about Blizz’s intentions for the spec. Since the first round of class adjustments in 7.1.5 (the one where all hunter specs got their traps back), Blizz has either nerfed BM or ignored it while they buffed many other classes. When they have given us a buff, as in 7.2.5 when they gave us as baseline 2 charges of Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, they have subsequently taken it away with larger nerf chunks — like the terrible T20 bonuses that made T19 remain the tier of choice for many many ilevels. The net effect — nerfs, leaving it alone while other classes receive buffs — has been that BM has been systematically relegated to lower and lower damage tiers. And this will apparently continue in 7.3. (Check out Bendak’s 7.3 BM outlook here, it is excellent reading.)

In my mind, this systematic downgrading of BM is eerily similar to what Blizz did to SV hunters in WoD. There, after SV was found to be wanting at the beginning of the expansion, they buffed the spec in the first major patch, found they had made a big mistake by making the spec so responsive to the secondary stat Multistrike, decided it was too much trouble to fix the stat mess, so in subsequent patches purposely nerfed SV into the ground in order to make it unplayable for the remainder of the expansion. They did this because they intended to eliminate the spec entirely in Legion, and make a melee spec with the same name. (Of course, they never breathed a word of this to bewildered SV hunters left high and dry in WoD.)

What we are seeing with BM in Legion is not exactly the same as the WoD SV pattern, but it is close enough to give me pause. BM started out Legion on the lower end of the damage spectrum, became a bit OP after 7.1.5 with the combination of tier and a couple of legendaries, and when Blizz realized what they had done they seemed to deliberately embark on a nerf spiral for the spec, with no word of explanation or intent. Are they, in fact, planning yet another huge betrayal of hunters — this time BM hunters — in the next expansion?

I have said before that most of my initial objection to BM in Legion had to do with play style and not numbers. I stand by that, and although I still dislike the general press-the-button-on-CD method, Blizz has added a small amount of complexity to the rotation that helps. Basically, I have made my peace with it.

And while I am not a meter hog, I do understand that numbers matter because of perception. It’s in some ways a self-fulfilling prophecy that if a particular spec is thought to be weak then fewer top level players will play it, thus the spec will sink even lower on the summary charts because almost no experts are playing it, etc. And one of the initial reasons people will consider a spec to be weak, like it or not, are simulation results. These have a lot of flaws, but they do have one overriding feature: for a given spec, talent and gear build, and type of fight, they will show the maximum damage potential. Absent a lottery-winning run of proc luck, almost no player in those same circumstances can hope to do better than the sim number, no matter how perfectly they may play. Now of course for any given raid there is almost never a simulation set of circumstances present. Still, the sims do give a very general benchmark of what to expect from a spec.

More to my point, when the sims as well as the actual damage charts have a spread of over 300k between the top and bottom specs, then in my opinion we are in a situation of class imbalance that implies there are definite winner and loser specs. Try though they may, Blizz has thus far failed to bring about true class balance in Legion, feel-good comments by the Game Director notwithstanding.

We can quibble about the exact damage position of BM hunters in 7.2.5 and going forward, but both the charts over time as well as my own anecdotal observations show a definite downward trend. I used to routinely be in the top 5-6 damage dealers in my raid, for example, but over the last month or more it is far more usual for me to only be in the top 10 or even 12. (Which is not very encouraging considering we usually run with only 12-15 DPS.)  Some of this is due to the nature of the bosses in Tomb of Sargeras, and on a couple of bosses may just be my slow learning curve, but some of it is also due to Blizz’s failure to design BM hunters to scale with gear as well as other classes do. This is a clear class balance design flaw, possibly not limited to BM hunters, but that is the spec I pay attention to.

So yeah, I am starting to get worried about the future of BM hunters. I was confused and angry when they nerfed my beloved SV hunter into the ground in WoD, and I certainly did not catch on at the time to their intent. But I am older and wiser now, and I am beginning to suspect I have seen this show before. Fool me once, etc. I will be scrutinizing every word Blizz has on hunters as we move forward, into 7.3 and beyond.

Now I believe beer is in order. Enjoy your weekend.

Activision Blizzard earnings and what it means for WoW

Activision-Blizzard (ATVI) published its Q2 2017 earnings report a couple of weeks ago. I usually write about these reports, but decided not to write about this one when it came out. However, MMO-C — I guess because it is a slow news season for WoW — wrote up a little summary about it today, so I will make a couple of comments. The quotes below are from the transcript of the conference call among ATVI executives published on August 3rd.

Esports. I do not follow esports, so I am rather constantly amazed at the worldwide interest in them, and more specifically in ATVI’s gigantic investment in them. They really believe — possibly with total justification — that the company is poised to become the NFL of esports. The thing that caught my eye over this in the Q2 report is this comment from Bobby Kotick, CEO of ATVI (emphasis mine):

We also announced the first team sales for the Overwatch League, the first major global city-based professional esports league. We have the very best teams with the very best resources dedicated to celebrating and rewarding the world’s best professional Overwatch players.

Overwatch, with more than 30 million players has captured imaginations and driven strong global engagement. We organized our league around major cities, taking a proven model from competition in traditional sports. Our announced team owners and their locations, New England, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, Shanghai and Seoul and the many more we expect to announce, represent the very best in esports and traditional sports.

Actually, possibly my comparison to the NFL was a tad too limiting. ATVI believes they are poised to become as big as, or bigger, than the biggest traditional sports franchises worldwide, whatever the local big money sport may be.

I point this out not to make any judgement on the viability of esports now or in the future, but rather as seed material for a little thought exercise. Imagine for a moment that ATVI’s vision comes true. Imagine a system of colleges and universities fielding Overwatch teams not only as money-makers for the institution but as a pipeline of promising players to the professional franchises in the major cities. Imagine an annual player draft with teams competing for college stars, offering big money and professional perks. Imagine an established Overwatch pro season, with TV stations vying for broadcast rights. Imagine the endorsements and the advertising and the spinoff merchandise. Imagine a playoff season and the hype around a final championship game.

Far-fetched? Yeah, probably, at least for the immediate future. But now think about World of Warcraft, and maybe you can see how very tiny is when fit into the strategic thinking of ATVI. I am not saying its demise is imminent, but it clearly is becoming more and more a niche market for ATVI and indeed even for Blizzard. It was the game that launched Blizzard into years-long dominance of the MMO genre, and it still makes significant money for them and for ATVI, but it is puny when compared to the esports dreams of the company.

ATVI also clearly sees the continuing move away from desktop computing, towards tablets and notebooks/game platforms and mobile mini-games, and they are poised to take advantage of it for all their franchises. Hearthstone proved to them the viability of WoW mobile spinoffs. The acquisition of King a few years ago has not yet had a noticeable impact on ATVI, but the Q2 report is enthusiastic about the “advertising potential” King brings to all ATVI business lines.

Bottom line here: WoW is not dead, but we should be prepared for a lot of wrenching changes in the not-too distant future.

What can the Q2 report tell us about the nature of WoW going forward?

  • Blizzard’s Monthly Active User (MAU) and D(aily)AU metrics were at an all-time high. The fact that ATVI continues to crow about MAUs can mean only one thing for WoW players going forward into the next expansion: the business model henceforth will be feature endless grinds on the same pattern as AP for artifacts in Legion. The vehicle for such grinds may change from expansion to expansion, but make no mistake there will be such a mechanism.
  • The Blizzard app is popular among players, and it dovetails nicely with ATVI’s focus on mobile apps as a significant part of their future plans. I think what this means for WoW going forward is that we can expect not only a continuation but possibly an increase in WoW’s mini-games (like garrisons and order halls), because these lend themselves to use of a mobile app.
  • In order to be a part of the burgeoning esports venture, WoW will continue to feature short competitive spectator-friendly pieces of the game, such as Legion’s Mythic+ dungeons. What effect this will have on the ordinary player’s game experience is anyone’s guess. We have already seen Blizz make general policy and adjust mechanics based on World First raiding guilds, though, so there is precedent for tailoring parts of the game for elite rather than ordinary players.
  • WoW’s tentative steps into integrating social media into the game (Twitter and Facebook) have not been roaring successes, but ATVI’s investment in King and their continuing development of it suggests they will keep trying. I do not expect Blizz to be so crass as to inject advertising into WoW directly, but I do expect them to try and integrate some social media aspect that will in turn generate advertising revenues. They just have not found the right vehicle yet.
  • Blizzard has had wild success with Hearthstone and Overwatch, so we can expect them to devote significant R&D resources to coming up with more such hits. I fully expect that to mean WoW will suffer in allocation of development resources. What that means for the game, I think, is that we will see more and more recycled content — perhaps more “classic” dungeons revisited, more reuse of artwork and graphics like Broken Shore/Argus, more recolored mounts and armor, more “piling on” of existing boss mechanics rather than coming up with new ones, etc. It may also mean Blizz will seek to save money by outsourcing seasonal-type piecework, such as music for a new expansion. (As we saw with the recent departure of Russell Brower.)

It’s good news that ATVI is making more money. We all want them to be successful. However, the nature of their success as well as their strategic vision has some definite impact on World of Warcraft.

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.

An hour of nothingness and delusion

Today’s post is about all the juicy tidbits Ion Hazzikostas dropped for us in yesterday’s Q&A — some of them make me righteously indignant, I am excited about others, and still others have given us startling insight into not only 7.3 but also the direction the game is going for the next expansion.

HAHAHAHAHA! Just kidding. It was a real yawner, so much so it looked like even Josh Allen aka Lore got bored enough to semi-surreptitiously start checking out his phone texts about halfway through the session. A coincidence of irl scheduling allowed me to watch it live, and what a mistake that was — truly an hour of my life completely wasted. Unless you really have nothing else to do, do not waste your own time listening to it — if you are interested, read the MMO-C summary notes.

Nevertheless, herewith a couple of comments:

Who selects the “questions” for these things?

Okay, I get that not everyone has the same game interests I do, and that there will be subjects that cause me to roll my eyes but that are totally absorbing to someone else. Story lines would be an example — some people are real nerds (meant in the nicest possible way) about the game’s lore and can’t get enough of it, while I on the other hand…

Lore nerd: OMG!!! Did you hear that in the next expansion we might finally find out why G’Thun’De’Fxxxgrlk treacherously sold out the Squeakyoldfart Creators of Every Aspect of the Universe, causing the rise of the orcs and the demise of the Curlytoed Elves? And that he will finally be reunited with his centuries-long love Mp’K’Qrj’kunda? And that we will get to fight the Fel Caterpillar of Fuzzy Doom in the Temple of Gassygreenvapors? Sorry about the spoilers, but I’m so excited!!

Me: Zzzzzzz

But I digress. Luckily for me there were no story line comments yesterday (if there were, I blocked them out). There were, however, long minutes during which Hazzikostas droned on (and on and on and on) about a burning question of great interest to at least .001% of the player base — what is an acceptable amount of time for a world first guild to complete a new mythic raid tier?

Really? You have a total of one hour to address questions from actual players, about a ton of topics that truly impact their game experience, and this is what you choose to spend a huge chunk of time on? I really would like to know who chooses these “questions” and where they actually come from, because this sounded a lot like it might actually have been submitted by player “Rehctaw” in a special forum limited to  maybe the Game Director.

Patch 7.3 and artifacts, artifacts, artifacts

We learned it will take 3 weeks to unlock all parts of the patch, and that the whole point of unlocking it all is to be able to — hold onto your hats here — grind out more shit for your artifact weapon!

There were a lot — a lot — of questions related to artifact weapons, at least three asking about their appearance and transmog. (Again, what moron chooses these questions? I could see one question on this subject but three?) Of course, being a BM hunter, artifact appearances mean almost nothing , since Blizz has decided in their infinite wisdom that even though Hati is the main part of our artifact weapon, there will be no appearance changes. They gave us the Essence Swapper, we should just shut up and be grateful. This is in line with their refusal to allow hunters to use any cosmetic weapon enchants. It’s all, well, too hard, and what the hell it’s only hunters and why should we waste any dev resources on them? Not that I’m bitter or anything….

Sorry, I digress again.

I have said it before and I say it again: artifact weapons are the garrisons of Legion. They have shaped the expansion in a way that in my opinion completely distorts the entire game, and Blizz just keeps shoving them down our throats in new ways with every patch. The fact that something close to a third of the Q&A time was spent on discussing them demonstrates that in fact artifacts are Legion and Legion is artifacts, in the same way garrisons were WoD and WoD was garrisons.

Alts

One bit of bright news revealed about Patch 7.3 is that there will be some decent catch-up mechanisms for alts. I still think Legion is alt-hostile, but there will be at least a couple of concessions to help players. For example, the time necessary to grind out gear for your champions will be greatly reduced, quite a few of the Argus unlocks will be account wide, and there will be more shortcuts to milestones for your artifact weapon.

Reforging

This was one of the weirdest excursions into the mind of Ion Hazzikostas I can remember. The question was basically, is there any chance we might see the return of reforging — possibly the best question in the whole Q&A, and it was also the most out-of touch answer I have ever heard from any Blizz dev. Here are the MMO-C notes  summarizing Ion’s response:

  • Reforging had lots of downsides, such as trying to perfectly get the hit or expertise cap and reforging all of your items every time you got a new item.
  • Every item that doesn’t have your best two stats you would reforge to have your best stat. This didn’t really make for interesting choices.
  • This also narrowed the distinction between items, making them feel more similar.
  • It also made it harder to evaluate upgrades, as you had to look at the item in its current state as well as how you could reforge it.
  • There were some good parts, such as giving players choices to make.

Not included in the summarized notes is this astonishing quote regarding the current state of gear in Legion without reforging:

“A new helm drops for you, just put it on.”

Yes, folks, he actually said that. Just like he actually said one of the evil things about reforging was that it “made it harder to evaluate upgrades.”

One wonders just exactly what game it is that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas spends his time playing, because it most certainly is not World of Warcraft Legion. My mind is too boggled over this whole Twilight Zone answer to even rant about it, all I can do is shake my head in astonishment and disbelief.

And maybe drink a beer. It is, after all, the weekend. See you on the other side.