My week in WoW

It was a quiet week in Lake WoWbegone…

Okay, nope, not going there. Bad parody. But honestly it was a quiet game week for me. I mostly just enjoyed puttering around here and there. Bopped around a bit in the BfA beta world, read some game-related blogs and forums, switched my arcane mage to fire, and finally used my 110 boost.

BfA impression of the week: I created a few characters and took them to target dummies just to see how the playstyles felt. However, there was no real depth to my research, it was more of a toe-dabbling, and of course I am pretty bad at most of my non-hunter classes. (I will say, though, that I found Windwalker Monk to be amazingly engaging, to the KA-POW! level of fun. This is in spite of the fact that I usually do not enjoy any kind of melee class. I am definitely going to look into this for a “main alt” in BfA.)

My efforts were admittedly scattered and slipshod, but I want to recommend to you a new series by Wowhead, Battle for Azeroth Community Opinons. This series is anything but slipshod. There is a separate page for each class, and what Wowhead has done is solicit feedback from a few of the top players for each class. So what you get is 2-3 very decent analyses of the spec you are interested in, from different players, addressing not only spec changes but also an opinion of the flavor and feel of the spec.

I encourage you to check it out. Unfortunately, I could not find a sub-topic home page for the series to link to, but if you do a web search on “wowhead battle for azeroth community opinions” you will get a list of all of them. It really is some of the best feedback I have seen lately. Even if you prefer to experience your spec for yourself, these other opinions may show you some avenues of research you had not considered.

Switching mage spec to fire. Although I leveled my void elf mage as arcane, I finally decided that I just have way more fun playing fire. So I switched about a week ago. Yeah, I know fire mages are mediocre damage dealers in Legion, but so what? Anyway, the process of switching has once again brought home to me the very significant difficulties Blizz has introduced in Legion for switching specs.

Let me explain. Certainly for what we used to call “hybrid” classes, switching specs to another role has always involved some complexity — different gear, primarily. Hybrids have always had to carry around a set of gear for each spec they wanted to play. This was a drawback, though the theory was that it was compensated for by the fact that a hybrid was conceivably more useful to groups than was a “pure” damage class. Also, originally to balance out the increased utility of hybrids — along with their perceived desirability for groups — so-called “pure” dps were deliberately made a bit more powerful than the damage specs of  hybrid classes.

But starting a couple of expansions ago, Blizz threw most of that out the window. There is no longer a damage advantage for pure dps classes, and on top of that the increased importance of secondary stats on gear has resulted in even pure dps classes carrying around different sets of gear for each spec. So pure dps classes now have the disadvantages of hybrids without the advantage of being able to change roles. And Legion compounded this situation by introducing the burden of AP and artifacts and spec-particular legendaries to the problem. (Yeah, yeah, I know there are “catch-up” mechanisms, but it still takes hours and days and even weeks depending on your luck to get a new spec up to speed for gear and gems and enchants and legendaries and artifact level and relics.)

I suppose I don’t have much of a point here, except to say that I am still pretty damn mad at Blizz for deliberately misleading us. I clearly recall that, in the leadup to Legion, Mr. Not Yet But Soon To Be Game Director Hazzikostas touted the idea that “you will be able to switch into any spec you want, no more 2-spec limit!” And, like baby birds anticipating yummy regurgitated worm from mom, we were all chirping and excited about this. What a load of crap, foisted on us by someone who knew full well there was a huge catch to it but who apparently considered us all to be gullible and stupid enough to think Blizz was actually giving us a break.

My 110 boost. Nothing very exciting here. After weighing some options and considering my game play style preferences, I decided to create a shaman and boost it. Of course I boosted it into Elemental (remember my preference for ranged), but I think as soon as I get a bit more comfortable with it I will try Resto. I have never really played a shaman at level. Once or twice in the past I tried to level one, but got frustrated with having to keep track of what seemed like a bewildering array of totems, all of which had different effects and cooldowns and which had to be individually managed. So even though good shamans may disagree, I like the totem changes in Legion.

Anyway, finally that 110 boost is no longer burning a hole in my pocket and taunting me every time I log in. I will make my new alt a blacksmith, so that will fill out all professions for my little character family. Woohoo, lots of new stuff to learn!

Off to do a weekend. See you on the other side.

Dusting off alts

Last night I pulled out my poor neglected mistweaver monk and ran through a couple wings of Antorus the Burning Throne with her. It was pretty grim, but thankfully even really nasty LFR groups seldom pay any attention whatsoever to healers, so I have found it is easier to be very bad on a healer than on a damage dealer or certainly a tank.

Usually within the first half of an expansion I level all my alts. (I don’t have tons of them, only 8 not counting my main or my banker.) I was a little slower doing this in Legion than in previous expansions, mainly because the overhead was so high for my main. But I managed to level all my alts except my demon hunter, which to be honest I am thinking of deleting. (Not a big fan of the DH play style.) After an alt is leveled, I try to gear them up a bit and develop their professions, but then they pretty much sit on the bench until much later in the expansion. Also, I tend to ignore my melee classes longer because I am basically a ranged player at heart. (This is my main objection to monks — I like the mistweaver healing style, but I dislike having to maintain the melee windwalker spec for soloing.)

So in Legion, besides my main hunter, I leveled: another hunter, two mages, a warlock, a rogue, a monk, and a druid. Seven “working alts” total. My “main alt” this expansion is my druid, though I only play resto and balance on her. I’ve never felt the need to have one of every class, although I know a lot of players use that philosophy with alts. I do, though, have at least one of every profession except blacksmithing (because I don’t have any plate wearers, I suppose). In Legion, most of my professions have all the baseline recipes, but they have not progressed to level 3 on all of them. Still, I am pretty self-sufficient for gems, enchants, runes, raid food, etc. (*shhhhhhhh*, don’t tell Ion!) And earlier in Legion, when crafted gear was still relevant, I was able to outfit my cloth, leather, and mail wearers decently.

At any rate, last night I summoned my monk off the bench and put her in the game. Over the years I have developed a definite process for doing this. It invariably goes something like this:

  • Check gear/profession/questline status of alt. Make note of glaring gaps and set those as short term goals. For example, I noted my monk had not done anything beyond the initial Argus quest line. Also her gear level was sitting right at around 900, which I consider to be the minimum, so I will work on increasing it. And of her 3 legendaries, only one was level 1000, so 2 needed to be upgraded.
  • Determine which spec will be main and which will be off for the alt. In Legion, of course, sometimes this requires running through the artifact quest line for a spec you did not level as.
  • Head to Icy Veins or Wowhead for some book learning on the main spec’s crucial stats and baseline rotations. Both these sources often have a section that gives just the “Dummy” versions of recommended rotations, sort of a quick start guide. The main things I try to understand/relearn at this point are the spell dependencies and interrelationships, along with a lifeline rotation I can hang onto until I get more familiar with the spec.
  • Set up my action bars with the spec’s spells.

I actually study this stuff as if there were going to be a quiz on it. I have a notebook with a section for every class/spec I play, and each section lists the stat order of importance, recommended enchants, important spell dependencies, and my basic rotation. This last is very detailed, listing my actual keybinds in order of execution. So it looks something like “1-1-2-2-4-shift1 on CD-6 when it procs”. Sometimes I also copy the rotation sequence to a large sticky and put it on my monitor.

Yeah, I know, I am a nerd. Quit rolling your eyes.

  • Determine the things I will need to keep track of or be reminded of,  check online for an appropriate set of WeakAuras, import them and tweak to fit my needs. If no good ones already exist, I take the time to create my own.
  • Spend some time (usually about a half hour) at the target dummies, developing some initial muscle memory for the baseline rotation(s). Adjust keybinds and/or WeakAuras as necessary.
  • Venture out into the end game world. In Legion that has meant running some world quests and invasions, completing some emissaries, and progressing a bit along content expansion quest lines such as Argus, or part of Broken Shore, or Suramar far enough to get the mask.
  • Take a deep breath and plunge into the current tier of LFR.
  • Continue working on goals set way back in the first step of the process.

In Mists and WoD, I would run each spec through the Proving Grounds, but I have not done that in Legion, as what I need early in my learning curve is practice, not frantic time tests. Usually by the time I have run a couple of LFRs and done several emissaries, I have a good idea of whether or not the alt will be viable for one of our guild alt raids. If I feel it is not ready, I will either take a couple more weeks or just consign it to the “LFR-only” category. (My rogue is like this.)

I do like Timewalkers for alts, because everyone is more or less equalized for gear and whatnot in those, and they yield decent rewards for an undergeared character. Also, if my guild happens to be running groups for the Mythic instance weekly, I will sometimes jump in on one of those with an alt. But I rarely look for Mythic pug groups (even regular Mythic) with an alt. I guess I think if even my main hunter is frequently denied entry to these groups, there is no way I want to put up with the hassle for an alt. Also, I almost never run an M+ on an alt.

Anyway, that’s my prep sequence for dusting off unused alts and getting them into the game. And now it is time to dust off a beer and start the weekend. See you on the other side.

Gadgeteers and purists

Last night as I launched a new sim on my Balance druid, it occurred to me that I rely a lot on third party sites and addons to play this game. I mean, really, a lot. Here is a sample, off the top of my head:

  • Over 20 addons — DBM, GTFO, ArkInventory, Weakauras, Bartender4, Healbot for my healers, Shadowed Unit Frames, Pawn, Tradeskill Master, Skada, World Quest Tracker, TomTom, Paste — to name a few.
  • Wowhead — my go-to site for guidance on where to find patterns and recipes, mats needed for crafting, various Legion guides, gear info, transmog ideas, and quest info. The latter is especially important to me. If I run into a problem with a quest, I immediately turn to Wowhead for solutions to whatever is stopping me. I am not worried about “spoilers”, I am just interested in finishing the quest and moving on, and I derive no satisfaction from figuring it out on my own after beating my head on a rock for hours or days. Thank goodness for the Wowhead users who unselfishly post their insights into quests as soon as they get them figured out.
  • Icy-Veins — I use this for class/spec info as well as for quick and dirty raid guidance. When I am coming back to an alt I have not played in a while, it is always my first stop to brush up on rotations, talent builds, and the order of stat importance. In Legion, I use this site to make my way through artifact traits and to get their list of BiS legendaries. The class/spec guides are always up to date and are written by world class players. I can’t imagine trying to figure out a rotation on my own for every alt by evaluating the various spell and talent and artifact interactions.
  • Sims. I use SimC on my own computer, and I also use web sites like Beotorch and recently Raidbots to run quick sims for importing into my Pawn addon. I know sims are only partially useful, but honestly I do not know of a better way to evaluate the complex factors in gear these days. (It would be interesting, I think, to compare the results for a player using all these complicated methods to select gear and talents versus selecting solely on the basis of ilevel increases and gut feeling for talents. I wonder if there would actually be much difference?)
  • Quest guides. I confess I use a quest guide to speed my way through leveling and also through dailies, profession quest lines, class hall quests, artifact quests, and even long achievement chains. (I am not going to say the one I use because it is a paid service and I do not want to plug a commercial product.)

There are probably a few more outside resources I use, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately. As I said, it’s a lot.

I know there are purists out there who are horrified by a list like this. I respect that point of view. Intellectually, I am even drawn to it, but realistically I am far too impatient to actually try to deal with a Blizz-only interface.

The native game UI itself, to me, is clunky, un-intuitive, and not responsive to player preferences. This opinion is reinforced every time I log in to the PTR and have to set up the Blizz-only interface. It just does not work for me, from the lack of raid frame options to the multiple-bar action bar setup and separate keybind interface, to the horrible bag space viewer, to the inability to set up reasonably-located spell cues and proc notices.

Additionally, the game flow — especially in Legion — seems confusing to me, possibly even deliberately vague. Blizz sometimes thinks they are running a puzzle game, not an adventure MMO, and they love to obfuscate in the name of “challenge”. Sometimes, for example, quests follow logically from one to the next, but equally as often you have to search for the next series without knowing whether or not it is a line you are interested in or where it might lead. And the “secret” quests — they are not my cup of tea. If I wanted to figure out puzzles, I would be playing a different game than WoW. I honestly cannot imagine a new player figuring all this out for themselves with zero outside help.

So I tend to go a bit overboard in third party assistance. I know this. I wish it were not necessary for my enjoyment of the game, but it is. In an ideal world, Blizz would provide a wide range of player options, permitting an approach like mine as well as the purist one. But even I know that is not really possible — they seem to have all they can do to keep the game from imploding without adding in a lot of complicating player-option code.

To be fair, periodically they co-opt some third party ideas and try to bring them into the native interface, but to my eye they usually do it badly. For example, there is the in-game Dungeon Journal now, a Blizz version of third party raid and instance explanations. It’s okay, but it falls short of most outside ones, in my opinion. The bag-sorting algorithm introduced in WoD is a slight improvement over what we had before, but it does not come close to the categorizing and display options in an addon like ArkInventory. I could give a lot more examples, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I do not think I would continue to play this game if I could not use third party resources to the extent I do. I like gadgets and gizmos and convenience and efficiency too much to give them up. Those of you who are purists, I salute you — try not to judge me, I am weak!

Complexity, continued

World of Warcraft is an incredibly complex game. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) I’ve written about the technical complexity of the game before, but today I want to examine it from the player side.

Could you play this game without the aid of third party help sites?

Just think about it for a minute. What if there were no WoWHead, no IcyVeins, no Blizzard Watch, no profession leveling sites, no AskMrRobot, no YouTube videos of boss encounters, no [insert your go-to help site here]? Could you play the game at the level of involvement you do now without them? If you are a hunter, would you have been able to track down the incredibly complex quest line for Gara all by yourself? I could not, and I am betting you could not either.

I would not still be playing the game without outside help sites, because I would long ago have gotten too frustrated to continue. I am not saying it is impossible to play without help sites, I am saying that progress would be glacially slower than it is with them, and the average level of play would be vastly lower than it is now. As I am not by nature a patient person, there is no way I would have kept playing under such conditions.

Here is an example: My spousal unit used to play WoW. He started about the same time I did, with a hunter. His approach was to just wander around, killing mobs as he encountered them, getting quests as he stumbled upon them, turning them in only if he happened to see a big yellow question mark over an NPC’s head, discovering Azeroth by leisurely strolling around. He leveled mainly through killing random mobs, exploring, and mining. He is not goal-driven as I am, he is someone who lives in the present and enjoys every bit of it. (A trait I find both admirable and irritating IRL, but never mind.) Once while waiting for a boat in Menethil Harbor, he fell off the dock (no, I have no idea how) and decided since he was already in the water he might as well swim to Stormwind. It took him a loooooooonnnngggg time (hours) but he did it.

He no longer plays. Somewhere about level 50 the game became too complex for his play style, and he just lost interest. He did not want to consult help sites, thought that was a bit too much like real world work research, was not interested in joining a guild, and he was just not able to keep playing unless he got some guidance. So he quit.

Had I not started reading WoWHead and some of the hunter blogs (my guild at the time was no help), I probably would have quit, too. But I did research them, and doing so opened new levels of interest for me in the game. It also greatly speeded up my progress, further holding my interest.

I’m not sure I really have a point to all this, but a couple of thoughts come to mind. The first is, would Blizz be able to make game play as complex as it is if players did not have outside help sources? I think not. Many players would find the game far too frustrating to keep at it. Even activities like basic leveling become much more time-consuming without help. I doubt I would have found the WoD profession quests without help, nor would I have easily — if at all — found the various NPCs for some of the longer leveling and follower quest lines.

Second thought is, should Blizz provide more and better in-game resources for players to reference as they progress? From time to time they have attempted to do so, but almost always the results are half-assed and clumsy. The Dungeon Journal comes to mind. As does that ridiculous quest tracker thingie that annoys me every time I log in because you can’t turn it off and you can’t move it. So I think the answer to should Blizz provide better in-game references is yes they should but they are totally incapable of doing so, and most of the times they try, the result is they make the game interface worse, not better.

Last thought is, maybe the existence of the outside help sites is a kind of validation of the whole MMO concept. MMOs are designed to be social activities, to create virtual communities of like-minded individuals. People devote huge amounts of time, money, and effort to community help sites. Yes, sometimes they turn into actual revenue-producing businesses, but most of them did not start out like that, they started out as people in the community generously sharing their experiences and knowledge with others. This is a very good thing, something that makes me optimistic about the big picture of MMOs.

I hope Blizz realizes the huge contribution these sites make to the game and thus to Blizz’s bottom line.  And if you have a site you depend on for information, please support it in whatever way you can.