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! ūüėČ


Maybe Legion really is the expansion we hoped it would be

Blizzcon 2016 is now in the archives, and I am cautiously hopeful that Legion may indeed fulfill its promise as the anti-Draenor. I did not watch any of the panels live, but I did watch them in the videos afterwards, and I was struck by the amount of information we got from Ion Hazzikostas and the devs — concrete plans for Legion as it moves forward as well as Blizzard’s philosophical approaches to this game and its design. There was a lot to digest, but let me address what I thought were a few of the highlights from what I considered to be the major presentation.

But first, a little groveling on my part. I am often very hard on Ion Hazzikostas, but I thought he hit it out of the park with his presentation on “Legion – What’s Next?” I got a sense that he is finally coming into his own, possibly as a result of being promoted to Game Director, that he is at last comfortable with the game’s direction as well as with communicating that direction to the player base. His presentation was smooth, informed, relaxed, and lively. He seemed to finally shed the tendency to lapse into lawyer-speak, and there was absolutely none of the patronizing comments or snarkiness he has been prone to in the past. I would go so far as to say his presentation was the best we have heard from Blizz in many years. He will never, I think, be very good with interactive player communication — he does not strike me as being an extemporaneous type of guy — but if he continues to give us the quality of information we saw over the weekend, that does not matter. He is in a management position where he can “have people for that”.

I am beginning to believe that Blizz is ever so slowly working itself out of the trust deficit they dug for themselves in WoD. Of course, we still must see if they come through on the promise of Legion, but at least so far they have done what they said they are going to do.

So here are a few items I was most interested in from the “What’s Next” panel. (You can watch one of the many videos of it or check out one of the summaries like Wowhead’s.)

  • Major and minor patches. We know these happen, but it was enlightening to have¬†them defined for us. And it was very pleasant to hear that they are being more or less pipelined in the PTR — once one goes live, the next one is queued up and ready to go for testing. Additionally, it was interesting to hear that content patches are not necessarily tied to raid tiers.
  • Micro holidays coming in Patch 7.1.5. While I am not a big fan of the current world holidays, I do think¬†the Azeroth-based micro holidays have the potential to be a lot of fun. (I am imagining things like Leeeroy Jenkins Day, although it was not mentioned as one of the examples.) The fact that there will be no achievements, mounts, etc. for these events is good, I think, because it reinforces the idea that they are just for a bit of fun. I like the idea because it seems like Blizz is returning to one of their strengths — creative whimsy.
  • Class changes. This was probably the most exciting announcement in my opinion. It seems there will be a ton of substantive class changes coming in 7.1.5, but more than the actual changes, it was the way Hazzikostas described them that caught my attention, particularly as they relate to hunters.
    • He addressed the problem of class play style and feel, and he admitted that they had gone a bit too far in creating spec identity, sometimes at the expense of overall class identity. This has been the main concern of nearly every hunter comment since Alpha, and it gives me hope for qualitative improvement to the brain-dead BM rotation.
    • Traps! Yes, he actually said it, all hunters will get traps back in some form. This was part of a broader discussion of utility, and it seems that Blizz will be adding back some of the utility they had cut from certain classes. This is good news for many, but I think it is especially good for hunters, the class that has historically been “the” utility class in the game. I have heard some argue that utility was in fact the major defining feature of hunters, and that the Legion removal of nearly all utility abilities from hunters effectively destroyed the nature of the class. I am not sure I would go that far, but there is a certain amount of merit to the argument. I hope traps are not the only utility being restored to hunters.
  • Class order hall renewed¬†emphasis¬†in 7.2. Basically, there will be an extension to the order hall campaigns, and a renewed commitment to the idea of classes banding together to save Azeroth. I have not been a fan of this whole concept since it was first announced, and honestly I feel like it is an artificial convenience — to cover Blizz’s decision to continue garrisons in Legion — rather than a smoothly-fitting part of the story. Still, if it is a vehicle for providing continuing content, it is hard to argue with it.
  • Flying. Contrary to my predictions (eating a small portion of crow here), it will arrive in Patch 7.2. However, since I had not considered the possibility of a semi-major 7.1.5 patch, I think my initial prediction of 7.3 (third major patch) was not far off. But I am still not convinced that most people will be able to have flying before well into 2017, given both patch scheduling and the rather significant achievement additions to Pathfinder that will be required. Still, I think it is likely to be closer to early summer than my initial prediction of the end of the year. Which brings up ….
  • Class mounts. I am not much of a mount person, tend to look at them as basic transportation, but I have to admit I was pretty excited about the announcement of class mounts as the reward for completing requirements for flying. I am not exactly sure what that half-wolf, half-eagle thing is that hunters will get, but I want it!
  • Artifact weapons. I am already pretty sick of this mechanism and the way it influences nearly every aspect of the game for me, so the announcement that there will be extensions to them in 7.2 in the form of additional traits and a level 4 for existing 3-level traits was not welcome news to me. The only saving grace, in my opinion, was the comment that they would definitely not/not be continued in the next expansion. Thank goodness. Let’s just hope there will not be artifact bloomers or something ….
  • World invasions. These daily events, similar to the ones we had in the pre-patch events in WoD, will be returning in 7.2. I think this is a good move as a way to add content. The invasion scenarios were fast, fun, and they gave decent rewards. Also, I think they were very well received by most players. Good move on Blizz’s part.
  • No mention of Patch 7.3, and maybe extra-planetary travel?? Hazzikostas did not venture much beyond plans for Patch 7.2 — he did not specifically mention patch 7.3. The timeline, though, argues for such a patch.
    • Assuming 7.2 goes live sometime around March or April of 2017 (wild ass guess on my part), that would mean Legion is less than a year old by the time 7.2 goes live.
    • If Blizz’s previous declaration that they were going back to 18-month or 2-year expansions holds, that leaves a lot of time for more major Legion patches. And it seems unlikely, given the bad recent experiences with patches lasting for a year, that we will not have one or more after 7.2. Even if there is a Patch 7.2.5, there will still be a lot of time left in Legion, certainly enough for a Patch 7.3 and 7.3.5 before the next pre-expansion patch.
    • The hint Hazzikostas tantalizingly dropped was that the battle will¬†be taken directly to The Legion’s home planet of Argus. This does not necessarily mean space travel with star ships and all — magic portals seem more likely — but still…. Remember the world invasions we got before Legion as part of the pre-expansion events? Those big things in the sky where there was a swirly spiral¬†certainly looked like they might be space ships, didn’t they?
    • If in fact Argus is the new zone we get in Patch 7.3, it opens up an entirely new planet for future expansions. No more trying to cram new zones into what is becoming a rather crowded Azeroth map. Honestly, it is quite exciting, and it goes a long ways towards laying to rest the perpetual WoW-is-dead theories.

Many people — me included — expected Blizzcon 2016 to be a real yawner, but surprisingly¬†I found it to be one of the more optimistic and exciting ones in recent history. It seems like Blizz has finally turned the corner from the long, dark days of WoD, and I am excited by the notion that Legion may actually be the expansion we all hoped it would be. For the first time in many, many months, I am enthusiastic¬†about the future of the game.

Of classes and sea changes

I have lately been doing some survey reading on principles of MMO game development, and I ran across an item that really struck a chord with me. It was from a blog called Tough Love Critic, in a piece on principles for MMO balance:

Metas get stale, especially if they’re bad metas that take excitement, flexibility, agency, or all of the above from players. But that doesn’t mean that when a meta needs to change the patch notes should rival a doctoral dissertation each and every time.

Huge changes might drastically change the meta, but just as easily it can invalidate a player’s favorite build, expensive gear, or in worse cases their entire class. If the only balance patches that happen change everything, then players dread changes rather than look forward to them.

Steady, consistent changes, tweaking here and there, work much better over time. The meta steadily shifts away from its previous moorings, allowing for a hybrid lake where new builds and old builds vie for dominance.

Caveat: Sometimes large changes are necessary because a lot of other aspects of a game are changing as well, but they should never be a constant.

Now, before I talk a little bit more about this quote, let me point out that in almost anything you read about MMO design, World of Warcraft jumps out as a textbook example for proper application of gaming principles. In fact, in some instances, the principles were actually deduced from analysis of WoW. The game, even today, remains the gold standard for nearly every aspect of MMOs.

But the reason I was so taken with the quote above is that I think this is where Blizz has made a big mistake. Over the past couple of expansions they have been pushing the pendulum of change into ever-widening arcs, particularly in areas most sensitive to players, and they are either unwilling or unable to slow it back to a nice steady tick. Many of the most controversial changes over the two years have in fact been controversial simply because they were so drastic and so sudden, whereas had they been implemented more slowly they would have been more easily accepted.

Sometimes, as in the example of Survival hunters, there has been a series of these sea changes coming one on the heels of the other. At the start of WoD, the spec was terrible, then in patch 6.1 it became pretty much overpowered, then in patch 6.2 it became unplayable, then in patch 7.0.3 it became a completely different spec as melee. That, my friends, is change that is too drastic too often. And indeed the resulting perception for many SV players was exactly as described in the quote.

As a side note, I think Blizz may actually have learned their lesson on drastic change in one area: flying. They saw what happened when they wanted to suddenly¬†remove it from the game for all new areas, so they backed off. Backed off, but I still think that is their end goal. In Legion, it will be delayed for months, almost certainly for a year or more. My bet is that in the next expansion it will be delayed even longer, possibly until the last patch. After that, if there is an “after that”, I think it is a better than even chance that it will be effectively removed from the game for all new areas. Incremental change, not drastic change. It is the frog in the pot of water being gradually brought to a boil.

New expansions and new patches bring changes, that is a given. It is how MMOs evolve and grow. Changes in a game should be fun and exciting and challenging. There are parts of the game where people welcome change, and there are parts of the game where players are much more resistant to change. People enjoy content changes, quality of life changes, environmental/art changes. But people are much more conservative when it comes to areas of the game they have an emotional investment in, for example the essence of their game persona — class and spec.

And this is where I think Blizz has erred. They have insisted on making changes that are not only drastic but continual to classes and specs, to the very core of players’ self-identification. Rather than have a class evolve over the course of a couple of expansions, they have opted to swing them from one extreme to the other. They have failed to realize that these changes really, really matter to players, they are not just another game mechanic. (It makes me wonder if the real reason for such changes is that it helps to flesh out dev resumes — “Conceived of and implemented major changes to three character classes in World of Warcraft, resulting in …. bla¬†bla bla … increased corporate revenue…bla bla bla…certificate of achievement…bla bla bla”)

For all the protestations that the devs are passionate about the game, I see no indication whatsoever that they are passionate about any class or spec. Yes, one dev may appreciate one set of mechanics over another, but do any of them truly love being, say, a hunter or a priest or a warlock? I don’t know, but I do know that if they had the same kind of persona investment in a class/spec that many players have, they would not treat them as they have for last couple of years. They would be more respectful of player-evolved fantasies for their spec and less eager to impose a Blizz-approved fantasy du jour.

The weekend beckons.