Q&A, and servers, fail

Yeah, so I watched the latest episode of the Hazzikostas show, and it ranks right up there as one of the crappiest ones Blizz has done. You probably should not waste your time watching it, but if you insist, or just want the text summary, MMO-C has both.

Here are the takeaways from my notes:

Allied races are now available with BfA pre-purchase. This was a pretty badly-kept secret, lots of people seemed to be privy to the “leak” several days ago. The amazing thing to me is how ineptly Blizz rolled it out. Clearly they had been planning it for a while. But the rollout, combined with whatever they did in yesterday’s maintenance patch, was a total disaster. That they finally got many of the worst parts under control by about 9 PM ET last night does not mitigate what a total technical failure it was.

The first thing that happened was that the Blizzard store crashed, apparently under the stress of lots of people rushing to pre-order BfA. Blizz claims it was not their problem per se, rather the money people that handle that sort of thing for them let them down. Whatever. Blizz’s customers were kept in queue for hours, usually only to eventually be kicked out of it. Some people actually seemed to get to the “click this button to charge your credit card” part only to once again be flung into an endless loop that kicked them out of the process. Others had their credit cards charged multiple times, with some of this group actually getting the pre-order and some not.

Whether part of a cascading failure or merely by unlucky coincidence, some set of the game servers also crashed, with the result that no one could log into the game. Blizz issued an emergency patch around 7 PM ET, but that only worked for Windows users. Unlucky Mac users were forced to wait another two hours before Blizz got their butts in gear to fix whatever that problem was. (But not before a clueless CM made the blue comment that Blizz was “actively working” the Mac problem, but they had other higher priority stuff they were working on, the implication being just shut up and wait until we get around to it. Oh, and any readers tempted to make a snarky comment about Mac users, be aware I am in no mood!)

Was Blizz really surprised that a whole bunch of people would try to pre-order BfA immediately? I mean, how long have they been in business? And where the hell was their stress testing before going live — any testing at all, really?

I have said it before and I will say it again. Blizz is a worldwide company that still operates like two guys in a garage. They are woefully incompetent at what they apparently think are the un-fun parts of maintaining the game. Their attitude seems to be, “Yeah, but that part isn’t kewl, dude!”

PvP. A lot of people were pretty annoyed that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas and Mr. Emcee Lore spent probably 30 minutes of the hour-long session talking about PvP. I will admit, I was one of them. Yeah, I get that PvP is a major part of the game for some people (although I doubt it is half the player population). Truthfully, if I had known they were going to spend so much time discussing PvP, I would not have even watched the event.

Upon reflection, maybe that attitude is why they did it. I am getting the definite idea that Blizz is very slightly ramming PvP down people’s throats for BfA. All servers will be for both groups, just a matter of setting a player switch to decide. (I can hardly wait until that goes live, no chance for disasters there….) BfA will also feature scenarios that are basically modified PvP arenas, the only difference being that the game will simulate PvP opponents using AI for their NPCs. These scenarios (“islands” in the BfA parlance), in addition to being pseudo-PvP in nature, seem designed for esports — they are short, timed events, basically a new addition to Mythic+ dungeons for BfA.

“Utilities pruning” for classes. The main thing that came out of this for me was Hazzikostas officially lecturing us that “Bring the class not the player” is a good thing. And in fact, he pedantically Blizzsplained to us that we have stupidly misunderstood the whole “Bring the player not the class” thing from the beginning — if we had not been so dense, we would have grasped that it never meant groups should have the freedom to bring good players irrespective of class, nor was it any sort of design philosophy.

“Four legs good, two legs bad” has at last morphed into “Four legs good, two legs better”. It has always been so, we are just too confused to remember, poor brainless little things we are…

We will, of course see how this utility pruning campaign works out. But I remain skeptical. There is almost no way to structure it to avoid clear winners and losers in the pruning lottery. Some classes will get the “always good” utilities (hero, battle rez, etc.) and some will get the “good for a few types of fights” utilities.

Of course, I am particularly interested in this because until Legion hunters were the utility class. We had all kinds of useful stuns, traps, mobility moves, misdirects, pet saves. Nearly all of these were removed at the start of Legion, then begrudgingly a few were restored in an early patch. But we are still nowhere near the level of utility player we have been for almost all of WoW. And now it appears even our meager set of utilities will be pruned once again, all in the name of “class uniqueness”. Whatever the hell that is, other than an excuse for designating winners and losers in the class lottery.

BM hunters may be screwed. Clearly, Blizz’s plan is to make SV the winning hunter spec in BfA. We don’t know exactly what it will look like yet, but apparently, according to the esteemed Game Director, it will remain melee-ish, but in a kind of ranged way(?). Hazzikostas actually admitted they went too far out of the hunter play style when they destroyed SV and replaced it with what was effectively  another class. And so this spec will receive a rather major makeover in BfA.

In a sense, I suppose I should be glad that my beloved old-style SV may begin to make a return. But honestly I am still pissed that Blizz treated us SV hunters so shabbily, that they forced many of us to switch to BM to maintain any semblance of what we loved about hunters, that they arrogantly dismissed every comment we had to make on the change, and now they are saying “Oops, heehee, guess we went too far, silly us.”

Worse, it is starting to look like SV will get some major changes at the expense of the BM spec. Apparently Blizz picks one hunter spec each expansion now to be the one they make unplayable. It was SV at the end of WoD and pretty much in Legion, and it could easily be BM in BfA. So all you hunters out there who begrudgingly gave up your SV for BM: Psych!!! Blizz was just kidding, you should go back to SV in BfA.

Hahahahaha! They are such great kidders! Screwing with hunters just never gets old for them.

BfA release date. We now know this will be “before Sep 21st”. This is before most of us were predicting. I am happy to eat my words on this if it indeed comes to pass. (I predicted not before November.) But it means that BfA is further along, more set in stone than we had thought, and it really seems what we see in the alpha and beta will be very close to what we get in the live version.

Anyway, that was pretty much it for yesterday’s Q&A. If you did not watch it, congratulations, you just saved yourself some wasted time.

January closet cleaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAHAHAHA, just kidding.

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

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

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

….

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

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

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

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

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

Hati, we hardly knew ye

If we needed any additional confirmation that Blizz not only does not care about the hunter class, but that they have absolutely zero idea of what it means to be a hunter, it is this: Apparently Hati will just disappear when artifact weapons disappear in Battle for Azeroth.

Now, I admit I have not really been much of a fan of Hati, certainly not in the clumsy way Blizz implemented it. The intro quest to get him was, I thought, very well done, but unfortunately that was pretty much the highlight of the entire mechanic. It ended up promising something that Blizz never delivered on. BM hunters thought they were getting an awesome second pet, but it turned out to be nothing more than an unimaginative DoT visual, with worse pathing and attack speed than our regular pet, and far less control.

Hati could not be renamed, he had absolutely zero player-controlled special abilities, and he had (and still does) an annoying tendency to just disappear after portal events. For a while he could even rather easily die in combat and even after rezzing your regular pet, Hati would not rez for a very long time, leaving the hunter without a weapon. Blizz never really came to terms with the balance between the actual artifact gun damage and the damage done by Hati. BM hunters got the short end of the stick almost every time there was an artifact weapon upgrade, because Blizz for some reason cannot abide the thought of an ever-more powerful hunter pet. (In spite of the fact that they designed Hati to be the most important part of the BM hunter artifact!!)

Even the art model was sloppily (and apparently hastily) rendered, so that Hati looked like an animation from years ago. Only after BM hunters pitched a fit (because that is the only way to get Blizz’s attention — calm and logical comments will not do it) did Blizz give us a way to change his appearance. Even with that, though, Blizz deprived BM hunters of one of the fun aspects of Legion — the cool artifact appearance quests every other class had meant approximately zero to BM hunters, since they did not alter Hati’s color or other appearance in any noticeable way. The only way to really change his appearance was to make him look like a pet you already had in your stable.

So Hati in my opinion was a huge Blizz failure. Worse, it was one they appeared to not give a damn about.

But here’s the thing: as bad as Hati was, I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with him. He is part of my posse. I feel unbalanced without two pets by my side everywhere I go. He has gone through every part of my Legion experience with me, from leveling to dungeons to progressive raids to world and emissary quests. I mean, he even went with me in my space travel to Argus, for crying out loud. For Blizz to now summarily dismiss him like he was vendor trash just seems wrong to me.

And the fact that Blizz does not recognize this goes to the very core of their approach to the hunter class: They simply do not understand the heart and soul of a hunter. A hunter pet is different from a mage’s water elemental or a warlock pet or a DK one, there is a far more personal level of engagement, a far greater degree of anthropomorphism. A BM hunter’s pet in many ways defines the player.

Unfortunately, I see nothing on the horizon that gives me hope Blizz will ever treat hunters better. Last week Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast posted a quick wrap up of some of his Blizzcon impressions and takeaways, including some reports he got about hunters from people playing the BfA demo. The BM hunter changes noted in the demo seem ok, but very minor and without an overall integrated purpose — more like a committee threw in some suggestions and voted on a few tweaks with no overall goal, just a requirement to “make some changes”. (Although Tranq Shot will be back, so that is exciting I suppose.)

MMO-C has been publishing various side interviews from Blizzcon for the last week. The one that got my attention was the one published today. An interviewer named Automatic Jak asked some pretty in depth questions of a class balance developer. Unfortunately AJ is, I guess, a healer, and the questions were therefore very healing-centric. But still there were a few interesting tidbits from the dev that I rather cavalierly interpreted in terms of hunter changes for BfA. It was actually the most informative interview I have seen regarding some of the team’s class balance philosophies.

  • The team went into Legion knowing that they might have to revisit some of the classes that received major changes once player feedback was collected
  • There most likely will not be complete class revamps again any time soon.

Here’s my interpretation of these two bullets from the hunter perspective:

  • The team made a deliberate decision to ignore all the insightful experienced hunter comments during the alpha/beta tests and figured they could wait to respond to the couple of things hunters howled the most about once Legion went live. Even then, they decided they could delay any response for several months. And even then, they decided they would merely respond to a couple of easy fixes, not do the hard work necessary to make the entire hunter experience smooth and fun again.
  • The whole SV hunter destruction was a mistake, and while it was fine to inflict it on the hunter class, no other class deserves such shabby treatment. Oh, and no real changes to the poor SV abomination that Blizz already created.
  • The team likes classes having unique abilities.
  • Going forward a big question is what unique abilities each class should have.
  • The team wants to spread out class strength and weaknesses more.
    Utility will be spread out and balanced more in the future.
  • Everyone should feel like they have some sort of cooldown to help them survive.

Translation: Blizz is proud of the fact that they have destroyed the whole super-utility role of hunters and wants to ensure they play no such special role in the future. Instead, everyone should be special. 🙄

So yeah, it seems Hati will be gone, hunters will get some scattered non-unified set of restored abilities, and “all classes will be above average”…. I am underwhelmed. And I will miss Hati.

Timewalking + Beastmastery = Fun

I had quite a lot of fun in WoW last night for the first time in several weeks, thanks to a combination of running a Beastmastery hunter and Timewalking dungeons. I relearned a lesson that for some reason I can never seem to remember — when I play the game my way, it is huge fun, and when I let the game dictate to me, I hate it. I should take notes and pull a finals-type all-nighter to burn this fact into my sieve-prone brain once and for all.

As I have mentioned before, I have two hunters, both level 100. Until recently, my night elf was my main and my worgen was an alt. For several complicated reasons not important to explain, somewhere around January of this year their positions switched, giving me a worgen main and a very strong night elf alt.

The worgen — even though my guild has not been raiding much — is my raid hunter, the one that got to T2 first, the one that got the legendary ring, etc. Most importantly, it is the hunter that I felt duty bound to maximize for DPS and raid utility, so she is specced MM main spec and BM off spec. This means I have spent a lot of gold and time trying to configure secondary stats, gems, and enchants to optimize for MM. Her equipped ilevel is currently something like 698, not great, but not bad considering our abbreviated raid schedule.

My night elf meanwhile has been languishing, getting further and further behind in gear, the legendary quest, apexis accumulation, almost everything. She is SV main spec, BM off spec, but of course the SV main spec no longer counts. Her ilevel was in the low 680’s. So yesterday I decided to pull out all the stops to gear her up and optimize for BM. Even without the final stage of the ring, I managed to pull her up to 694 ilevel. It cost me a ton of gold for the 270 felblight to max out her crafted gear, and my apexis crystals got spent at an alarming rate, but it felt downright exhilarating to be a wanton spendthrift for a change, since I am normally a real tightwad with all currency — virtual or real.

Having gussied her all up, I looked around for a way to test drive the new gear and spec. Even though she still needs 32 tomes for the final part of the legendary, I couldn’t face LFR. I hadn’t ever done any of the Timewalking dungeons, so the new bonus event last night seemed like something I should try. I knew it would not really test the new gear, but still it would be an opportunity to play BM in a group setting. Even if it’s as bad as LFR, I thought, at least it will be less time consuming.

I was expecting the dungeons to be very difficult, made more so by players accustomed to inelegantly blasting through everything and paying no attention to what they were standing in. Imagine my surprise when they turned out to be really fun and relatively quick. I found them to be marginally challenging, but nowhere near what they were when they were current. Any challenge was really only the result of not knowing critical fight mechanics, or tanks getting completely wild with pulls, or healers not paying attention or having to unnecessarily heal idiot damage dealers. I did a lot of cc-ing, not because I really had to but more for the practice. Same with misdirecting. Had a tank die about halfway through one boss, and I set my pet on growl and we finished it that way. That was fun. I ended up doing four, some with a couple of guildies, before I just had to get some sleep. I’ll do a fifth one tonight to finish up the weekly quest for the bag of goodies, and maybe run some more on other alts.

I can see where they might get old after a while, but to me they seemed kind of like a slightly longer version of the scenarios that were so popular in Mists. I know lots of people are criticizing them for their “welfare gear” but I found them to be fun. The three suggestions I would have to improve them would be:

  1. Make them a permanent feature, not a bonus event.
  2. Let people queue for several at once, like you can for LFR, to minimize the maddening 30-45 minute dps wait in between them.
  3. Make the badges account-wide to help players get max alt benefit while also accumulating them for higher cost items.

The best part of the evening was that for the first time in weeks I actually enjoyed playing a hunter again. BM was never my spec of choice, but with the demise of SV and the clunkiness of MM without tier gear, it felt positively liberating to play like a real hunter again. Unlimited mobility. A pet. Ranged. Physical damage. WOOHOO!