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.

Gear and math

It’s been a nice relaxing couple of weeks in my WoW world. In my guild, we all took a break from what was becoming a very dull Nighthold raid circuit, and I seized the opportunity to work on a couple of alts — my balance druid and my destruction warlock. I find I enjoy playing them both, but the lock possibly a tad bit more than the druid. I still find the boomkin tedious for its long casts, but it gets better with better gear stacked for haste.

Both alts are hovering very close to ilvl 900 or a bit under, and the one thing that amazes me is how much better they are simply by virtue of having better gear. Trust me, in the last two weeks I have not suddenly become vastly more proficient on either one, but the difference in damage for both is pretty astounding. The only change has been upgraded gear. In some ways this is fun, because gear is relatively easy to get, even without subjecting yourself to LFR or mythic dungeons. But in other ways is seems kind of cheesy and not quite right. I guess it is an inevitable result of Blizz stepping away from the “bring the player not the class” philosophy — class/spec mechanics and gear seem to count for more and more these days. Nobody likes to blame gear for poor performance (well, okay, maybe some people like to), but that excuse is actually becoming more and more reasonable as Legion goes on.

I was thinking about this as I started last night to prepare my main hunter for resumption of raiding Tuesday when Tomb of Sargeras opens. Patch 7.2.5 brought some changes to BM hunters, and in spite of giving us a baseline 2-charge Dire Beast/Dire Frenzy, it is looking like overall we are in a worse place damage-wise than we were for Nighthold. Seems like Blizz just could not stand to have BM hunters close to the top, had to take away more than they gave. There will still be some class tweaks coming along in hotfixes, but honestly I am not holding my breath that any of them will include buffs for BM hunters.

At least two sites I read regularly have openly stated that MM is clearly — and by quite a ways — top of the hunter heap. From the IcyVeins BM hunter guide:

Now that 7.2.5 has released, we can say with reasonable confidence and assuming no major changes, that Marksmanship will be the optimal raiding spec going into Tomb of Sargeras, mostly due to the potency of its new set bonuses.

Beast Mastery remains a solid choice, though rather than being very competitive and sometimes even better at single-target than Marksmanship in ideal situations, it is now fair to say that its potential output is less than Marksmanship in nearly all situations.

And even the redoubtable Bendak, in his most recent BM post about Patch 7.2.5, is brutally realistic about BM, stating it will likely fall out not only in the middle of the damage pack, but likely in the lower middle at that.

Whatever. I am a hunter in WoW, that is who I am. And since Blizz has seen fit to destroy the essence of my vision of “hunterness” in MM and SV specs, I really have no choice but to continue playing BM. Numbers have never meant that much to me anyway, so what seems to be a sudden plunge from lower-top to lower-middle position is not a calamity. Some class/spec has to be in that position, it is the nature of rankings. Still, I will be interested to see what the actual numbers spread is when the ToS results start to become available. If the spread between top and bottom is large, then Blizz will have once again failed in its never-ending attempt to “balance” the class/spec mess they themselves caused.

My alt gear-centric push over the last couple of weeks also served to reinforce to me the utter insanity of Legion’s gear complexity. On my alts the calculus was relatively easy, since I never intend to actually raid with them: higher ilevel = good, secondary stats pretty much be damned. But when I started to weigh gear and talent combos on my main in preparation for ToS, I found myself once again despairing over the sheer mathematical enormity of the task.

It has gotten so bad that AskMrRobot is now implementing a SETI-like mass computer sharing approach to solving the gear problem for players. Mind you, modern computers already have pretty massive computing power. Certainly enough that even a middle-level server could perform general arithmetical comparisons, even for thousands of users at a time. But Blizz’s insane interdependencies of gear stats, talents, different types of raid bosses, RNG-dependent proc rates, and specialized legendary and set bonuses have gone exponentially past arithmetic calculations. To properly assess the relative value of gear, only massive computer simulations approach accuracy. One or two simulations at a time are handled (though slowly) on a home desktop computer, but if you are trying to do it for large numbers of players, you need vast computational resources, and the cheapest way to get them is to set up a distributed grid of community computers. (I applaud AMR’s ingenuity here, but honestly I would like to see a bit more detail on their app’s security setup before I open my computer to it.)

The point is, you need the power of modern computers to decide if a piece of WoW gear is actually an upgrade for you, or to decide which legendary works best with which set of talents. 

But Reforging was “too much math” for us.

🙄🙄🙄

See you after the release of ToS.

Specs and stats

When Blizz first announced Patch 6.0.2 class and stat changes, they went to some pains to explain to us how much better and less complicated our lives would be with the changes. In particular, they eliminated reforging because they wanted to save us from math and from having to go to a website like AskMrRobot to figure out our optimum secondary stats for a piece of gear. As it turned out, they didn’t save us from anything other than being able to get and use decent gear. Thanks, Blizz, your Nobel Prize nomination is almost finalized.

Just my opinion, of course, but secondary stats are a mess right now. First, they are a part of the loot-by-luck RNG scheme, and it is a double-blind system. Not only do you have to be lucky enough to win class-appropriate gear, but you also have to be lucky enough to win spec-appropriate gear, even if you are not a hybrid class.

Think about that for a minute. It is no longer possible for a pure damage class like hunters to switch specs without also switching gear sets. Not if they want to maximize their damage which of course is their only reason for being. In Mists, if I knew that an upcoming raid would face bosses that Beastmastery would be much better for than Survival, for example, I could switch specs to BM, pay a quick visit to my local reforger, and be set to provide my best effort for the raid team. But in WoD, that is impossible. I can still switch specs to fit a fight, but if I do not have a ready-made alternate gear set, doing so will probably yield less damage than if I did not switch specs, even if I am equally skilled in both specs.

And getting spec-appropriate gear is completely luck-based. Blizz has made gear for pure classes as spec-dependent as it is for hybrid classes, without the ability to select gear for a particular spec. On my monk, I can play as a windwalker but select to receive mistweaver gear, and I will get gear with intellect, possibly also spirit and multistrike.  But on my hunter, even if I opt to receive Beastmastery gear while playing Survival, it makes zero difference. All the secondary stats are pure crapshoots. Yet they are a very significant part of hunter damage.

In fact, secondary stats now play a much greater role than Blizz originally led us to believe they would. (Surprise!) When first announced, it was to be a simple 5% increase to your attuned stat — for example, +5% multistrike for SV hunters. This indicated that getting multistrike gear was desirable if you were SV, but it wasn’t a major problem if you didn’t. Similarly, if you had gear that was a mixed bag of secondary stats, you really wouldn’t be penalized by switching specs. All that would happen is that, for example, whatever mastery you had would be increased by 5% if you switched to BM.

But of course Blizz had to go completely overboard, they could not leave well enough alone. Trinkets, buffs, spells, passives, etc. suddenly had their benefits greatly enhanced by the amount of your attunement stat. This meant that something that started out as a nice-to-have suddenly became crucial to your ability to perform your role. But in their usual slipshod way, Blizz failed to adjust baseline mechanisms when they went berserk on attunement-based numbers.  Instead, they made band-aid fixes that ended up doing more harm than good to some classes.  Obviously, for me the example that springs to mind is Survival hunters, where the band-aid fix to extreme multistrike attunement resulted in a non-viable spec. In fact, I venture to say that the mass “fixes” to secondary stat attunements resulted in greater class imbalance, at a time when class balance was none too strong to begin with.

So, for a Survival hunter like me, I am left in the situation where:

1.  I can no longer play my spec. In addition to nerfing AoE, which was the spec’s strength, there are no cooldowns and no surge capability, rendering play purely mechanical, without meaningful player choices.

2.  Since I had gone to a lot of effort to accumulate gear with multistrike on it, and since I have been forced into another spec, now most of that gear is nigh unto worthless for me.

3. Blizz has removed reforging, so the only way I can get more appropriate gear is by double-blind luck with loot drops.

4. I have to trust that, even if I do get some spec-appropriate gear, Blizz will not suddenly decide to make that spec unplayable and force me to start all over again.

Basically, Blizz has given pure damage classes all the bad attributes of hybrids and none of the good ones. That is, we have to carry multiple gear sets but it is close to impossible to assemble and continue to upgrade the gear. The only raid role we can provide is damage, but we are greatly hindered in our ability to maximize that role.

So in Patch 6.3 (because there will be such a patch), I would like to see two major changes regarding secondary stats:

Bring back reforging. Very few players do their own math even now, everyone goes to MrRobot even to check if a piece of gear is an upgrade, because the secondary stat computations have gotten so intricate. 

Take away the second RNG factor in loot drops — make appropriate secondary stats automatically conform to your spec. 

Have a good weekend.

50 Shades of Complexity

Now that I have your attention, I apologize for the shameless semi-titillating title. But I have lately been feeling a bit overwhelmed by what I perceive to be the sudden immensity of this game. I can’t put my finger on why, but I feel like it has gotten way more complex in a very short time. And I feel like the rate of complexification (if there is such a word) is gathering momentum, some gigantic Indiana Jones boulder that is gaining on me no matter how fast I run. It remains to be seen if I will be ignominiously squished or if I will be able to jump out of its way and follow leisurely in the path it has carved.

I grew up in Southeastern Minnesota, in beautiful wooded rolling hills carved out by the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. After I joined the Army I was sent for training in Arizona, and my most vivid recollection of arriving there was of the sheer immensity of the desert. Looking up at the sky and following it down to the impossibly far horizon, I suddenly became personally aware of the vastness of the world. It was overwhelming, both intimidating and exciting.

Intellectually, of course, I had known there were such things as deserts, and that “the world is vast.” Sure, sure. The Sonoran Desert did not suddenly spring into existence when I arrived. But seeing myself as a tiny bug on the face of the planet gave me a perspective I had not previously had. It was truly an epiphany for me.

And so to my point (which I do have) — is my feeling of being overwhelmed by complexity in WoW just an “Arizona moment” or is game complexity rapidly accelerating? After giving it some thought, I think it is some of both, but much more of the latter than the former.

The leveling process for this game was very simple when I first started — kill stuff, gather stuff, deliver stuff to NPCs. Instances and even raids were similarly simple — don’t stand in bad shit, kill trash, kill the boss. If you were a tank, gather up adds and hold aggro, if you were a healer, don’t let the tank die.

Achievements were pretty straightforward too. Go find all the animals on a list and /love them all. Step your toe into every area of Kalimdor. Get exalted with these dozen factions. I’ve never been much of an achievement chaser, but until Mists, I felt like I could do most of them if I wanted to.

Naturally as the game matured, quests, instances, raids, achievements, even professions all got more complex. Until maybe the middle of Mists, I felt like it was a decent linear progression. When Timeless Isle hit, though, I started to suspect that the nice 45 degree straight graph line was ever so slightly beginning to curve up. I was a frog in the pot on the stove, saying “Waaaiiiiit a minute, I think this water is actually getting HOT!”

In the hype leading up to Warlords, it seemed like Blizz was also seeing the new complexity, and they announced several measures designed to simplify things. Reforging is too complicated because it requires — Children, please leave the room — MATH! Having to put gems and enchants on every piece of gear is too complicated. Class rotations are too complicated, and there are too many abilities. Having to level up professions to be able to get current stuff from them is too complicated. Flying makes it too complicated for the developers. Guilds having to actually work for perks is too complicated. Et cetera.

Fast forward to today. We have:

1. Secondary stats on gear. What a nightmare of complexity this is. Does anyone except for a few theory crafters understand them? Seriously, what the hell benefit does any class derive from “versatility”?

Blizz did not in fact do away with reforging, but now instead of player preference, it is done randomly via “rerolling” and only for at most three pieces of gear. (This way you don’t have to do any math, except to calculate the odds against getting what you need.)

Most gear cannot be gemmed or enchanted, and even for gear that can be, it is only for secondary stats.

The whole secondary stats fiasco is so bad that even gemming and enchanting what you can is usually not enough to overcome bad luck, to the point that conscientious raiders sometimes have no choice but to change their specs, based on their gear, not on their personal preference or needs of the raid. Removing choice from the player is of course simpler, but it also stinks as a game philosophy.

2.  “Pruning” and “rebalancing.” In some ways I will admit this has made some rotations simpler, although I do not believe that is necessarily a good thing. But it has also made them more complex, because there seem to be more and more timing dependencies for optimal casting — “Cast Awesomebolt only when you have 5 stacks of Gojuice and when Otherthing will come off cooldown within 12 seconds and target is less than 30% health. Crits for additional 1.31% of AP if 3 or more targets are within 10 yards.” Note to Blizz: Reforging involved too much math??!?

Removal of nearly all instant casts for healers and ranged casters, combined with the introduction of extreme movement-heavy bosses, has greatly increased the complexity of raid mechanics for many players. Yes, elite players will quickly overcome this, but for most of us ordinary folk this deadly combo is a pretty unreasonable complication in what are already ridiculously complex mechanics.

And raid mechanics have in fact become ridiculous. Worse, Blizzard does nothing to help players understand them. I double-dog dare you to read the Dungeon Journal explanation of The Blast Furnace and have any clue how to approach it. Without FatBoss and Icyveins and other third party assistance, current raids — even normal mode — would be beyond the reach of all but hardcore raiding guilds.

I am not saying raid mechanics should be easy to execute, but I am saying they should be relatively easy to understand. All of them, not just the ones that affect your role. But it has gotten to the point that ranged DPS  seldom understand melee mechanics, and other way around. To say nothing of healer and tank mechanics. There are just far too many of your own mechanics to keep track of.

3.  Profession simplification. Is your game life simpler with garrisons? ’nuff said.

4.  Leveling. Story lines in this xpac are far richer and more complex than even in Mists. That is probably a good thing, but it tends to complicate the leveling process — no more kill kill kill ding ding ding. You miss too much by that approach, from story lines to quest line achievements to getting followers. And Blizz does not help you discover quest lines — if you do not stumble upon them or use some third party assistance, you may never see or experience them. It doesn’t seem right that just finding quests is complicated.

Clearly, I could go on and on — I suspect some of you think I already have — but it seems to me that Blizz is introducing complexity faster and faster. Soon we will have Twitter and selfies in the game, presumably with suitable achievement sets for each. (I am imagining such achievements as “How Tweet It Is” — Take a Selfie with every race in your faction while standing around Kargath’s dead body, and tweet your accomplishment to every officer in your guild during the Darkmoon Faire.)

As the game becomes more and more complex, I play a smaller and smaller percentage of it. I honestly don’t know if that’s good or bad. For the free spirit side of me, it’s good because I can pick and choose the things I want to do. For the OCD side of me, it’s bad because I can never catch up. But I wonder if Blizz is confusing complexity with content? Because even though I feel the game is overwhelmingly complex, I still feel there is very little to do in the current expansion.

Go figure.

 

 

 

 

Specs and stats

This will be a short post today, as it is a very busy day real-life wise and game wise. Regarding the game, it is of course Tuesday, which for me usually means spamming LFR on alts that can still benefit from it either for gear or for the legendary quest line. I hit 100 on my lock last night, so I will have to take a quick run through Proving Grounds before she queues for LFR. Thanks to having spent a long time in garrison prior to leveling, and thanks to my mains being maxed on their professions, she is pretty well geared for just having hit 100.

I have always run the lock as destro, mainly because that was the spec du jour in Mists. I never dual-specced. So after dinging 100 I decided I would give dual speccing a go. Knowing zero about affliction or demonology, I turned to some web sites and read up a bit on both. My initial thoughts were to go with aff, because that seems to be the “hot” lock spec thus far in the expansion. But I ended up going demo, and the reason was Blizz’s crazy approach to secondary stats. Destro and demo have at least similar preferred secondary stats, aff is completely different. I do not want to be in the mode of chasing gear until the bitter end of this expansion, in hopes of getting the RNG gods to show me a bit of compassion. If I do manage to gather a decent set of lock gear, I don’t want to have to go through the annoyance of doing so twice just to feel like I am doing my best for both specs.

I had a similar revelation on one of my hunters recently. I love playing Survival, and it is actually viable for some raiding now. So both my hunters main spec SV and secondary spec Beastmastery for the spirit and exotic pets. (I have really tried to like Marksman, but even though I played it all through Wrath, it just does not work for me any more — Blizz has ruined it in my opinion.)

But here’s the thing. I do respectable DPS on one hunter as SV, and noticeably less DPS on the other SV hunter, even though they both have the exact same gear level and are enchanted and gemmed for multstrike where possible. When I investigated this, I found that the second hunter has — thanks to the RNG gods — got mostly gear with mastery on it. The first hunter has lucked into some decent multistrike gear. So I made the decision to main spec BM on the second hunter because that’s the kind of gear I have, not because that’s the spec I want to play.

This is crazy. Blizz is pretty much requiring us to pick specs based on random luck. There is so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to start. First, even on the gear you can re-roll stats on — which is only 3 pieces per set — there is zero guarantee of getting your desired stats. And you can’t re-roll stats on all the rest of your gear, which I am pretty sure I would not want to do anyway since it really is just a giant exercise in futility. Why in the world did Blizz take away a perfectly adequate reforging mechanism and replace it with this nightmare?

And yes, I understand that people who play hybrids have always had to deal with this problem, but here’s the other thing: Blizz gave them a way to ensure they would get gear for the spec they wanted. You just set your gear spec for what you want, and for example if you are in the role of a druid tank but want resto gear you can get it. Not so with the pure DPS specs, where secondary stats make a very noticeable difference in performance. If Blizz insists on continuing with this One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest logic for secondary stats, then they absolutely should allow me to get mastery gear if I select BM as my gear choice for my hunter, and multistrike if I select SV gear.

This just has to be yet another award-winning idea from Blizz’s Screw With the Players Department. There is no other rational explanation for it.