In a slump

Last night we ran through Heroic Antorus, clearing it in under 3 hours. It’s fair to say we now have it on farm, although I am not sure what anyone is really farming for any more. Before we finished Argus, the RL mentioned maybe if we had time we might take a run at Mythic Garothi. That, of course, was the signal for several people to immediately drop group and log off the minute we finished Argus. It is true we are not a mythic raiding guild, but we are certainly capable of finishing off a couple of the earlier bosses on that level every tier. I find it challenging and fun, because there really is no pressure to do any sort of heavy progression — we get as far as we can get, and when it gets too punishing we stop. Unfortunately, we do not have 19 other people who feel the same way, so even though we had 22 finish last night’s raid with an hour left in our usual raid time, at least 10 bailed immediately.

About the only thing I am still interested in getting from the raid are my final two tokens to finish upgrading my hunter Pantheon trinket. We have had only one legendary version drop from Argus, in what amounts to maybe 300 kills (20 people average, maybe total of 15 normal/heroic kills), and honestly I don’t see it as much of an improvement for me once I get mine to ilevel 1000. I am not even sure how useful the raid-wide proc is for us, as some people who have the specialized trinket for healing or dps or whatnot do not wear theirs during raid because their other trinkets sim higher for them. So I guess we could be getting more frequent procs if more people wore theirs, but that doesn’t happen.

Overall, I think the whole Pantheon trinket mechanism is poorly conceived. It seems like it was designed solely for high end raiding guilds, and even then the fact that there is zero control over the proc just blows. If a team really works to get their raiders the trinkets and upgrades, they should absolutely be able to control when to trigger the buff. Then again, possibly Blizz knew that this raid tier was going to be pretty mediocre, and doling out trinket upgrades was all they could think of to keep a few guilds going back.

My own performance in our raids seems to be regressing, and I am in kind of a funk about it. I don’t run a damage meter during actual raids, but I do look at my logs afterwards to see where I can improve. Everyone can have an off night, of course, but I have been having an off night now for about 3 weeks. My damage numbers (both totals and dps) are just not improving.

I am not so self-serving as to put it off on gear. I have a relatively high ilevel (around 962 equipped). I really cannot use that as an excuse. However, I am struggling with secondary stats — just cannot get seem to amass the crit I need for my zoo build. I have equipped the highest-crit items I have, and I gem and enchant for it, but it remains pretty pitiful. Meanwhile, my mastery soars to well over 100%, and I end up with what seems like far too much versatility. With so much mastery, I tried a Dire Frenzy build for a while, but there was little improvement that I could see, and it was a dead boring rotation, so I switched back.

The insanely high impact secondary stats have on each spec, combined with the randomness of their presence in gear, is in my opinion one of the worst things Blizz has foisted on us. (And don’t even get me started on gear specialized for a certain spec, such as tier gear, having large amounts of what is arguably the worst possible stat for that spec.) I almost hate getting new gear these days, because it is impossible to tell at a glance whether or not it will be an upgrade, or if it might become an upgrade with a different talent build or different legendaries or different sets of tier gear.

Still, I can’t chalk up my poor performance to gear. That is a cop out.

One thing, I think, is that BM hunters, with our mobility, do  well early in a new raid tier. But as the tier goes on, other damage dealers — melee, casters, and even MM hunters — learn the fights and learn where they can stand and when to move to optimize their performance. But other than mashing buttons more efficiently, BM hunters have nothing really to optimize, so even if we don’t actually get worse, everyone else is getting better.

It is true that excellent BM hunters can compete with the best damage dealers. We have one in our guild, and I am in awe of her amazing performance in nearly every fight. (Even so, she is rarely if ever the top damage dealer.) I, however, am only slightly above average even on my best days, and I think that average BM hunters fare rather badly in Legion. Worse than, say, average affliction warlocks or average almost any other class/spec.

(However, none of that is an excuse for doing things like accidentally disengaging off the Kin’garoth platform during a fight. Twice. Or for getting trapped in fire on the far side of the Aggramar platform. That was just inattention and stupidity last night, and I am embarrassed about it.)

Legion is the first expansion where I have not gotten better as the expansion went on. Better gear, higher proficiency with my rotation, more familiarity with the boss fights, more attention to mechanics — no matter how hard I work on those things, and I do work on them — I am losing ground. It is demoralizing.

So, yeah, I am in a definite slump. Whether it is strictly a personal one or one engineered by Blizz’s inability to scale and balance BM hunters, it just feels bad.

Scaling to gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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