Friday, November 16, 2018

FFXIV Shadowbringers Expansion and Blue Mage

FFXIV is having it's Fanfest this weekend, and it announced the latest expansion, Shadowbringers:

I do like that FFXIV teases things, rather than stating them outright. I'm a little tired of everything in WoW being revealed and data-mined months in advance.

Apparently, Viera (some sort of bunny race) was strongly hinted at. Yoshi-P wore a Bugs Bunny t-shirt, which is as close to gospel as FFXIV gets.

There are multiple classes coming, including Blue Mage:

FFXIV does like flamboyant casters (see Red Mage).

Blue Mage is actually coming out in Patch 4.5, but has a level cap of 50, which will be raised later. It's a little unsure what SE has in mind here. Is it like a preview, do they think they won't meet the 4.5 deadline with a full class, are they dealing with balance concerns? The last class they released in a mid-expansion patch was Rogue/Ninja, and that did have a lot of balance issues at first.

It's also possible that this isn't a regular job, but more something meant for solo play.

All in all, Shadowbringers looks pretty interesting. It sounds like the major story arc with the Ascians that started in 2.0 will come to a close. And it continues FFXIV's focus on story and traditional dungeons.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mythic Zek'voz

My guild killed Mythic Zek'voz last night! This puts us at 3/8 Mythic.

Been a while since I've posted a killshot
We actually killed the boss with every single person in the raid dead. Zek'voz keeled over just as the last person died. Though this is mostly because Zek'voz has a soft enrage where people are mind-controlled and need to be killed.

Mythic Zek'voz took us about three weeks or so. I think more than anything else, we just needed to put time into the fight, practice the mechanics and slowly get used to the timers.

We did this using a normal strategy, moving from one voidweaver to the next. I had an idea where half the raid attacks the left voidweaver, and the other half takes the right voidweaver. Minimize target-switching and keep people spread out and use most of the room. Sadly, we never tried it out, so I have no idea if it would work or not.

Now to see if we can repeat the kill next week. On to Vectis!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Overhauling Mounts

In theory, WoW has a very large number of mounts which players can ride. In practice, though, everyone seems to use the same three or four mounts: water striders, sky golems, yaks, or mammoths.

This is because these mounts have unique special abilities. Water striders can walk on water, golems can gather materials without dismounting, and yaks and mammoths have vendors so you can sell and repair.

WoW should spread out these special abilities to other mounts. Ideally, every mount should have one, and only one, special ability. That way you would have a variety of mounts to use in different situations.

Potential properties:
  • Flying - can fly
  • Fast - can move faster than normal
  • Gathering - can gather without dismounting
  • Vendors - has vendors
  • Two-Seats - can carry a passenger
  • Swimming - provides water-breathing and faster swim speed
  • Steady - cannot be dazed or dismounted
Of course, this is a nerf to Sky Golems and some Two-Seats mounts as they effectively have two special abilities. Personally, I think the Sky Golem is a little too good, and could stand a nerf.

Another possibility is to come up with a few more properties, and then let each mount have two special properties. That would lead to a bunch of combinations.

I think making sure all mounts have access to special abilities would make it more likely that a wide variety of mounts are used, and reduce the importance of getting specific chase mounts. Personally, I'm a little tired of seeing everyone on water striders, and would like to use a different mount every so often.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

FFXIV Eureka

In Stormblood, FFXIV introduced a new area/system called Eureka. It's meant to be a more old-school group mob-grinding experience with a lot of players (up to 144 per instance). As such, it's pretty controversial, especially among the forum community which prizes "skill". I kind of like it though.

In Eureka, you have a separate "elemental" level and all your stats are synced to a fixed point. Creatures generally require a group to kill, and experience has a very high drop-off, so you're sort of restricted to a band within two levels of your own. The larger and more skilled your group, the higher you can go.

The mob density is somewhat high. You can sneak around and run behind high level monsters without aggroing them, but you have to be careful and deliberate. If you accidentally aggro a monster with a much higher level, it will kill you in one or two hits. You cannot use a mount until max elemental level.

There's also a mechanic where you can attune yourself to certain elements, and either take less damage from or deal more damage to creatures of that type.  Finally, when you kill a creature your level or higher, it starts an "XP chain", increasing the amount of XP you get. If you kill the next creature within a minute or so, the XP chain increases.

So the base way you play Eureka is get into a small group and chain-pull specific mobs around your level. As your level increases, you have to keep moving to find new mobs.  There are challenge logs which require you to kill 30 or 60 creatures of a specific element once a week for a lot of XP.

The second way to play Eureka is the Notorious Monster train. If you kill enough of a certain monster, a Notorious Monster will appear. Once an NM is killed it won't respawn for a couple of hours. So people form a train of multiple 8-man groups, and move from area to area triggering NMs.

Killing NMs usually gives more currency to upgrade gear, while challenge logs are faster to level.

There are some interesting design decisions here and there. For example, if you respawn when you die, you lose XP, even dropping you back to the previous level. But if someone resurrects you, then you don't lose anything. So you'll see people asking for resses in general chat, and healers and red mages sneaking around trying to get to them and resurrect. A small binding together of community.

Eureka is not high skill or anything, but I find it fun. It's nice to join a group and just grind, or run around in a large group attacking, healing, ressing, with some chatter.  It's low intensity group content, which I think has been missing from the current generation of MMOs. It's something you can dip in and out of. Join the train, kill a few NMs, then leave. Groups pick up new members and lose old members as time goes on. A feeling of continuous content rather than something with a defined start and end.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Destiny 2 Impressions

Activision is giving everyone on PC the base game for Destiny 2 during November. Just open and claim it as a gift.

I gave it a whirl. It's a pretty straightforward looter-shooter. You shoot things and collect loot. I rather like the variety of weapons. The inventory system is great, as it is combined with the character pane. Items are sorted by slot, so it's really easy to use. You can break down unneeded items for cash right away.

It's a little weird, but for a futuristic shooter the story is very "high fantasy", with lots of magic, and magic-like elements running around. I suppose it's kind of necessary for a game where you can respawn from death. The story is fairly mundane so far. 

It has a fair amount of cutscenes and lots of voice acting. Nathan Fillion plays a very Nathan-Fillion-esque character. Your character doesn't say anything, but she has an AI companion, Ghost (possibly not an AI but a real ghost), who talks for you. The Ghost also delivers information to your character during missions.

I played a warlock. I'm not entirely sure what the major differences between classes are. It seems to be mostly special abilities, while primary gunplay is very similar.

One thing I had a lot of trouble with was jumping, especially as there are some jumping puzzles in the game. At first I was quite surprised at how difficult these were, but then I finally realized that I was jumping wrong.

I thought that first you pressed Space, and then pressed Space while in flight to activate your suit thrusters. It turns out that there's two completely separate jumps. Just Space is a normal jump, but Space-Space in quick succession at the very start is boosted jump. Once I figured out that there was two different jumps for the warlock, the jumping puzzles became much, much easier.

The ironic part is that when I tried a different class, the Gunslinger, jumping worked more like my original conception.

All in all, Destiny 2 is a decent game. It's free to try, though it is an 80 GB download. I'm not sure it's going to hold my interest though. The community around it is very positive, especially with the latest expansion. Apparently the game at launch was considered to have a lot of issues, but the community greatly approves of the Forsaken expansion.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Blizzcon: What's Next for WoW

At Blizzcon, Blizzard laid out a road map for the next year or so of WoW. Here's what's coming up:

Patch 8.1
  • Releases Dec 11th
  • Raid comes out after the holidays
  • Raid - The Battle for Dazar’alor. 9-boss raid, Alliance attacks Horde capital. Includes Alliance bosses and Horde bosses. When you attack your same faction, it's like a point-of-view switch, and your raid appears as the other faction.
  • Warfront - Battle for Darkshore. Night Elves are angry. Malfurion actually does something useful.
  • Incursions - Basically Legion invasions, only this time the opposite faction attacks one of your zones.
  • Azerite armor changes - new traits, a new (fifth) ring of traits, mythic dungeons have a currency and a vendor
  • Some reputation changes - Paragon rewards, some reps will apply account-wide.
I like that the raid comes out in January. That seems like a good spacing to me. The two faction perspective is an interesting experiment, and I'm excited to see how it pans out.

I also like the pacing of the faction war. 8.0 was establishing bases and outposts. 8.1 heats things up with Incursions and the raid. Raising the stakes at an appropriate point in the story.

Patch 8.1.5
  • Allied Races - Kul Tirans and Zandalari
  • Warlords of Draenor Timewalking
  • More updates to holidays
  • PvE variant of Arathi Basin
  • Visual revamp for Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin
  • Portal rooms for Storwind and Orgrimmar, consolidating expansion transport
I approve of breaking up the patch into smaller pieces. Hopefully this makes things easier and smoother for the development team.

Of these, I think the PvE version of Arathi Basin will be the most interesting. Key question: Will the AI fight on the road or not? And which answer is actually the correct behavior for a realistic AI?

Patch 8.2
  • Nazjatar - new zone, focus on naga and Queen Azshara
  • Azshara's Palace - 8 boss raid
  • Mechagon - megadungeon (like Karazhan)
  • Horde/Alliance story continues
  • Heroic warfronts
  • Flying is unlocked
As I really disliked Vash'jir, it's good to see that Nazjatar is on land. Karazhan was pretty popular, so Mechagon should be good. Otherwise, this patch is fairly far out, so there's not a lot of detail yet.

I believe there's also a small 2-boss raid raid coming between patch 8.1 and 8.2. And there are profession improvements, including a questline for every profession, but I'm not sure which patch it is in.

All in all, the next year of WoW looks good. Steady content and progress. I do hope Blizzard throws a curveball in somewhere, maybe in the story. I would like Saurfang to challenge Sylvanas, but then have Sylvanas defeat or kill him fairly in the Mak'gora. That would put an interesting gloss on the Horde story, making Sylvanas the "rightful" leader by all traditions.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Blizzcon: Classic Wow

Classic WoW was demo'd at Blizzcon this year, both for attendees and virtual ticket subscribers. As I am neither, I had to rely on reports from other people on the internet. Blizzard also announced that it would launch in Summer 2019, which is a little sooner than most people expected.

From all I've heard, Classic seems to on the right path, and hitting all the notes that people want. There are still minor inconsistencies, but they seem to be around things like tauren melee range, or the exact timing of warlock summons. Which are are relatively small issues.

The two bigger areas of controversy are sharding (multiple copies of a zone) and trading loot. There was some dismay that Blizzard was sharding the demo server, and will be sharding at launch.

In my opinion, Blizzard has to shard at launch. There's going to be a ton of tourists, followed by a steep drop in population. If a healthy server has 5000 people, it will probably need 15,000 at launch. If they open too many servers, three months from now there will be many dead servers. Just like SWTOR's launch. So sharding is the best solution.

The other change is that Blizzard will allow loot trading to other people in the raid. This is primarily so that people can fix mistakes with loot distribution, like master loot misclicks, rather than filing tickets with Customer Service. I think this is reasonable, and probably a good idea.

All in all, Classic WoW looks like it is on track. Then we'll see if people really want all those inconveniences, or if it is just nostalgia.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Overwatch's Latest Character: Ashe

At Blizzcon, Overwatch introduced their latest character, Ashe:

It's good to see a more basic hero, one who focuses on her straightforward weapons rather than special abilities. Ashe feels very much like a hero that could have been released at launch.

I was a fan of UT99 back in the day, and it's great to see a Shock Rifle variant make it into Overwatch. The Shock Rifle secondary fire was a slow-moving energy ball which could be detonated with the laser primary fire. Much like Ashe's dynamite. The skinning for that ability is just perfect, by the way. It's very intuitive, and fits her character like a glove.

The Ultimate ability, calling in help from B.O.B., is also unique. B.O.B, is really popular on the forums for some reason.

One of the most interesting things about this reveal is that Ashe actually loses in the animated short which introduces her character. Almost always, the hero reveal pumps up the hero, making her seem more competent. Ashe's loss is extremely unusual. And yet, I think it worked here, because Ashe is a small-time villain. It actually ginned up a lot of audience sympathy for her.

I do wonder if this would have worked with a male hero, though. Would an lower-competence male hero generate sympathy, or disdain?

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Blizzcon: Diablo Mobile Game

The biggest story from Blizzcon was the reveal of a Diablo mobile game, and the subsequent backlash from the crowd.

Personally, I think the backlash is a little excessive. Like many, I was disappointed that Diablo IV wasn't revealed. But if Blizzard wants to make a mobile game, to explore that space, then a streamlined Diablo III is probably the best fit. I don't play games on my phone, but--assuming the payment scheme is sensible, which is a big assumption--I might try this one out.

Though I suppose the backlash is just par for the course in the current age. Everything is pushed to the extremes. Something is either a 10/10 or a 1/10; the best or the worst; love or hate. There's no room for indifference, mild curiosity, or a wait-and-see approach.

I think that Blizzard made three mistakes here. First, they should not have announced the announcement. They should have just not said anything about Diablo like they normally do. Instead they explicitly said that there would be reveals at Blizzcon, and that got the hype train out of control.

Second, Blizzard should have been explicit about the payment model. I believe the main reason mobile games are disliked is that the micro-transactions are widely seen as annoying at best and predatory at worst. I would love to see Blizzard use their clout and establish a sensible price for a mobile game. The fact that they are not saying anything about payment models gives rise to suspicions that they're going to go down the predatory micro-transaction route.

Finally, Blizzard sends mixed messages about fan response. For example, in the WoW presentation, they talked about how the "Remove shoulders for Saurfang" had a big impact on the team and led to trying to make choices that matter (SWTOR players winced here). But saying things like this just encourages fans to overreact and start "movements" for every little thing. Blizzard would do far better to name drop people who make polite, reasoned arguments on the forums.

Basically, if the squeaky wheel gets the grease, don't be surprised when all the wheels suddenly start screaming. You get more of the behavior you reward or subsidize.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

When Robots Get Bored and Invent Team Sports: A More Suitable Test than the Turing Test?

Here's an interesting paper proposing a new way of determining if an AI has human-level intelligence:
Increasingly, the Turing test—which is used to show that artificial intelligence has achieved human-level intelligence—is being regarded as an insufficient indicator of human-level intelligence. This essay extends arguments that embodied intelligence is required for human-level intelligence, and proposes a more suitable test for determining human-level intelligence: the invention of team sports by humanoid robots. The test is preferred because team sport activity is easily identified, uniquely human, and is suggested to emerge in basic, controllable conditions. To expect humanoid robots to self-organize, or invent, team sport as a function of human-level artificial intelligence, the following necessary conditions are proposed: humanoid robots must have the capacity to participate in cooperative-competitive interactions, instilled by algorithms for resource acquisition; they must possess or acquire sufficient stores of energetic resources that permit leisure time, thus reducing competition for scarce resources and increasing cooperative tendencies; and they must possess a heterogeneous range of energetic capacities. When present, these factors allow robot collectives to spontaneously invent team sport activities and thereby demonstrate one fundamental indicator of human-level intelligence.
I think that the word "sport" should be replaced with "game". But the basic idea is interesting. We will know AI is intelligent when they start creating new games with recognizable rules.

It's an appealing idea because it also harkens back to childhood, where we play games, invent new rules, and even new games entirely. A common human experience and an expression of intelligence and creativity.

And of course, we'll know the AI has truly reached our level when they start trash-talking or rules-lawyering the opposition.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Game Details and Fight Difficulty

Syncaine suggests that increased difficulty forces players to learn fights in greater detail:
In short, difficulty is what forces you to actually learn a game, and the absence of it is the absence of that motivation. 
For example, if you are playing an MMO and a boss puts down red circles of fire, with the mechanic being to step out of them, that mechanic only really works if you must step out. If you can beat the boss while still standing in the fire, or getting out slowly, because the difficulty is that low, you aren’t motivated to learn the mechanic. In a vacuum that might not be a huge issue, but if the overall design of the game hinges on players learning and appreciating the mechanics, the difficulty being too low ruins that entire design, regardless of how good the actual mechanic is. Responsive controls so getting out of the fire feels skillful, interesting abilities to assist in moving out, gearing up correctly so you buy yourself more response time, etc, none of that will matter or feel important if the game doesn’t punish you enough for ignore said fire.
I think this is partially correct, and partially incorrect. It's certainly true that a lot of mechanics at LFR level are totally ignored, and thus the level of play is very low. But a similar phenomenon also happens at the very highest level of difficulty.

For example, in the Mythic M.O.T.H.E.R fight this tier, there are three types of adds, each with a special mechanic. I have no idea what those mechanics are, because we send the entire group through the field at once, survive with major defensive cooldowns, and blow up all the adds instantly with a full raid's AoE.

Similarly, on Mythic Taloc, there's some sort of "stack on the tank" mechanic. We have a paladin cheese it with bubble and Spellwarding. On Heroic Zul, we have a tank suicide off the edge in Phase 2 (and then battle-res) instead of dealing with the blood on the floor. Heroic G'huun is one long exercise in using movement abilities to avoid having to throw the orb and clear paths.

This happens in other games too. There's a host of high end fights in FFXIV where you can ignore specific phases if your DPS is high enough ("skip soar"), and the community goes to great lengths to increase DPS so that they don't have to learn those phases. (This may be the NA/EU community only. My understanding is that the Japanese community actually creates and learns strategies for those phases.)

In some respects, high end gameplay is all about figuring out which fight details can be safely ignored. If you really want to learn all the small details in a fight, the sweet spot is probably around late Normal or early Heroic mode, when your players aren't good enough to brute force mechanics.

Monday, October 22, 2018

"All-left" Talents in Battle For Azeroth

I've been playing a few alts and secondary specs recently. One interesting thing is all specializations appear to have a baseline build where you just take the left-hand side talents. These talents are all passives, and the resulting builds are actually really fun.

They are all focused on the core elements of the specialization. This type of build may not be the highest performing build, but they're simple and easy to use.  They're probably a little too simple for someone's main spec, but I think they're perfect for alts or specs that you rarely play. Or even for weaker players.

For example, I was in a group for timewalking, and we needed a tank. Tanking is my least-played specialization. I hadn't actually tanked anything yet this expansion, though I had been picking up Azerite pieces and weapons. But I grabbed all the left talents and gave tanking timewalking dungeons a whirl. And it worked very well. That build was easy to play, and did a good enough job.

I did a similar experiment with my tank-spec demon hunter that I've started to level in BfA. The "all-left" build is quite fun. Fast leaps with flame crashes automatically adding Sigils is quite good while levelling.

Once again, though, these builds generally have one or two main buttons less than a regular build. This is good for weaker players, or less played classes/specs, because you don't have to remember how everything works. However, they're only "good enough", and are probably not strong enough for heroic raiding or mythic+.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Ahead of the Curve: G'huun

My guild is still steadily progressing. We actually killed Heroic Mythrax a couple of weeks ago. This week we took out Heroic G'huun for our Ahead of the Curve achievement, and then killed Mythic M.O.T.H.E.R for good measure.

Heroic Mythrax

Not a lot to say about this fight, it's very much like Normal Mythrax, just more difficult.

I had an idea for technique for the add phases, but we didn't try it, so I have no idea if it will actually work in practice.  Basically, whenever Mythrax starts casting the beam, both tanks pull their add about 10 yards counter-clockwise. The groups, which are usually stacked on the adds, move with them.

The idea here is to pretend a beam is coming towards both groups, and both groups move to avoid it. That way, you don't have to check and see if a beam is coming, which is sometimes hard to tell, and then move. You just always move.

Heroic G'huun

We wiped a lot on this boss last week, learning the different phases. We ended up getting to phase 3 a fair bit, but kept dying to spacing and malignant growth. This week we sorted that out, and got our kill.

It's been a while since we've seen a fight with specialised teams, and orb-running is kind of fun.

I'm not really a fan of the way the second malignant growths start spawning before the first ones have popped. It does make it hard to see the "edges" of the danger zones. But I guess that's part of the challenge.

It was also amusing that we emphasized that healers should heal with their backs to the boss. Kind of like Yogg-Saron, way back in Ulduar. On the next attempt, I followed that plan, then tried to cast Judgement of Light and Light of Dawn, and went, "wait a second...". I never realized that Holy paladins cannot really use that technique anymore.

Mythic M.O.T.H.E.R

We use this cheesy strategy where we send 15 people through the barrier at once, and then pretty much everyone through the second barrier 3 minutes later. We pop a lot of defensives like Spirit Link, Devo Aura, Disc Priest barriers, Darkness, etc, as well as personal defensive cooldowns.  As long as you stay in the Spirit Link, you're likely to survive.

It took a few attempts to get that settled, and then a few more to get the hang of the "wall beam, ceiling beam, fire" pattern. One tip is to avoid running diagonally to the safe spot. Run to the gap for the wall beam, then turn 90 degrees, run to the safe spot. Like the sides of a right-angled triangle.

Mythic+ Shrine of Storms +10

On Tuesday after raid, I was asked to heal a Shrine +10. How bad could it be, I naively thought.

Three hours and 179 deaths later, we finally killed the last boss. I hate the Grievous affix. It's especially annoying on the last boss. Grievous stacks on you when your health is below 90%. The healer power buff won't allow you to heal higher than 90%. So that buff must be dispelled immediately and is a non-factor in the fight.

You can cheese the last boss a little. His Sunken City cast is very long, so you can heal up and wait for cooldowns to come back up before interrupting it. Of course, you'll kill the timer doing that, but we had already blown past that.

Most of our deaths were on the second boss, though. The aoe damage from wind slices combined with Grevious were not fun, and it took us a while to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Is Gearing a Solved Problem?

In reading all the discussion about Azerite gear, a thought occurred to me: is gearing in WoW a solved problem?

It feels like in Legion and BfA, Blizzard thought gearing up was a little too bland, and sought to "spice" it up a little. And then the playerbase gets upset with the mechanisms like Legendaries and Azerite gear which add the spice.

So is the following gear situation ideal:
  • Has Str, Int, and Agi, so they're useful for multiple specializations
  • Armor has plate, mail, leather, cloth types
  • About four secondary stats
  • One or two secondaries are clearly best for a given specialization, but the others aren't far behind
  • 15 ilvls per raid tier
  • 5 ilvls per mythic dungeon level
  • Warforging and titanforging
  • Sockets and tertiary stats are randomly gained
  • Neck and trinkets don't have a primary stat, just secondaries
  • Weapons and trinkets are role-specific
That's pretty much the baseline Legion and BfA gear system. 

It's a pretty solid core. You can use most of your armour for alternate specializations. You just need a weapon and trinkets. But if you're truly hardcore, you have to have correct secondaries, so you'll maintain a second full or partial set.

There are different axes of competition. For example, a Holy Paladin competes with other plate-wearers for armor; with other critical strike users for jewellery; and with other healers for trinkets and weapons.

Warforging adds some randomness and doesn't make weaker content a total waste of time. Determining if an item is better is not strictly ilvl, but mostly ilvl + correct secondaries. This gives you some gear to chase, but doesn't make replacing gear a trivial decision. A simple heuristic like "go with higher ilvl if the increase is 15 or more ilvls, otherwise pick the better secondaries" will give you good enough results. But people can always use stat weight addons like Pawn or sim their character if they really want to.


The one thing this system is missing is a replacement for class sets. Some sort of collectible that players chase. But class sets don't really work well with the rest of the system. Getting a new titanforged piece and having to choose between it and your 4-piece bonus is annoying.

Perhaps something like guarantee that the major armor pieces (head, shoulders, body, legs) have a gem socket. Then the bosses drop "class trophies" which can go into sockets. Then the trophies, which are all unique-equipped, have the set bonuses. You can use regular gems until you get the class trophies you need. 

(I feel like I'm describing a system I've seen before, but I don't remember where. Maybe Diablo 3 legendary gems? Or the set bonus system used in Rift?)

The one problem with this is replacing gear with trophies when you don't have another copy.  Perhaps the trophy follows the Heirloom model, where getting one unlocks the ability to make more soulbound copies.

End Tangent

In any case, maybe the core gear system of Legion and BfA is strong enough, and doesn't need improvements. Perhaps Blizzard should treat it as a "solved problem" and put their design efforts into non-gear systems.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An Alternate Azerite Design

I've been musing over ways that Azerite gear could have been improved. As I've said before, it falls a bit short, but doesn't seem like it is that far from a good system.

For me, the biggest flaw is the link between the Azerite item and the Azerite necklace. It seems kind of awkward that your necklace level determines the power of the item you just got. I suppose it makes sense as a catch-up mechanic, but it still seems not quite right.

Here's my proposal for a different, but similar, design:
  • Azerite gear has the current ring and trait structure.
  • The first ring is always unlocked.
  • Each Azerite piece has an independent AP bar and levels.
  • When you earn AP, each piece you are wearing gains the same amount of AP separately.
  • When a piece's AP hits the next level, the next ring unlocks.
  • The weekly AP requirement for level reduction applies to the gear pieces.
  • The amount of AP required to level an item might vary with the tier. I.e. i325 gear would level up faster than i355.
Basically, Azerite items have levels, and they level up as you earn AP while wearing them. They always start at level 1, and you always have to level them up. At some point, though, they will hit max level.

I think this mechanism, having to level up Azerite items separately, is more obvious and intuitive. It fits in with all the fantasies of levelling up and improving gear. It kills the awkward tie in between the necklace level and the gear level, which behaves oddly when the two are not in sync.

It also gives you many smaller goals, as you try and level up specific items.

There are three problems I see. First, having to wear the item might be harder for specs you don't play a lot. Personally, I'm not too fussed about it. I don't think it's wrong for you to have to tank to improve your tanking items. You could always reforge the piece to your main spec, level it up, and then reforge it back.

The second problem is that this does require more data. Each Azerite piece needs to store the current AP, as well as a level scheme. I don't know if requiring this extra data would have performance implications. This may have been the reason that Azerite gear levels were tied to the necklace in the first place.

The final problem is that the hardcore might insist on having every Azerite piece and levelling them all up. My inclination is to let them. Stopping the hardcore from being hardcore is not worth the effort.

I think this scheme preserves a lot of what is good about Azerite gear, but makes it work in a more consistent and intuitive fashion.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Genres and Types of Skill

Gevlon posted this idea about a month ago in the middle of a post on Wildstar. It's somewhat provocative (in a gaming sense) and I have not seen it before:
Each genre of gaming focuses on one kind of “skill”. Those who like to hone this skill, find it fun to do so will be attracted to the genre. They are attracted exactly because they want to hone that skill. Everything that distract them from it (besides random, progression-irrelevant flavor stuff) hurt their fun. 
For example FPS fans value the skill of quickly moving the mouse to the head pixels of the enemy. It’s a senso-motoric skill. The FPS games are purposefully bend everything for this one skill. The characters can turn back at infinite speed which is completely impossible for soldiers that the games formally simulate. Because the game is not simulating soldiers, the combat setting is just a lore-background, you are not roleplaying a soldier trying to stop terrorist, you are playing a “move cross to pixel faster” game, and if character turn speed was limited, it would put an artificial ceiling to your “skill”. The maps are fixed and few, because the players don’t want to be distracted by having to find their way or map the place when they focus on moving that cross. Any FPS which isn’t about moving the cross for the win will either fail – or like PUBG – the community ignores the other parts and just plays for headshots anyway. 
The “skill” in MMORPGs is long-term planning and disciplined execution. Players collect items, reputation points, currencies, quest counters for progression that takes place over thousands of hours. While many games have thousands of hours of play by enthusiasts, those hours take place in thousands of independent short matches. In MMOs, it takes place in the same “round”, today session starts with all the advantages you collected in the previous days. You have more “stuff” than a newbie and players support that. Otherwise, they wouldn’t play. 
The core MMO player values discipline (think of raiders with schedules and leaders), planning, “effort” and dependability. This is the setting they want to play in. Everything else distracts them. Putting action combat in an MMO is like putting year-long character progression into an FPS. Imagine that [Counterstrike] would announce that you’ll have a persistent character that will get traits over time and a 2000-hours character will have 10x HP, 5x damage, 2x speed than a new player. The game would die in an hour, because players would be outraged that the combat isn’t won by the “skilled” (the one who moves crosshair to head faster), but the “lowly nolifer” who “grinded” out the upgrades. 
An MMORPG must be very light on twitch-skill and heavy on planning, disciplined and organized play to succeed.
I've been contemplating this for a while. It's certainly true that the most successful games in the MMO space aren't mechanically difficult.

And if you consider MMO FPS games like The Division, the most common complaint is that enemies are "bullet sponges". This can be seen as the game violating the core skill of FPS games.

Of course, if a game strays far enough from the core skill, and yet is successful, we often consider a new genre entirely. For example, "sneaking" games like Thief versus traditional FPS games. Or a strategy game like Rainbow Six, where the majority of the game might be the planning stage.  Most of the time, though, these games aren't super successful compared to the baseline traditional game.

Another situation might be the difference between League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm. LoL has "last-hitting", HotS does not. Is the micro-management of your hero to that degree a "core skill" for that genre? If so, maybe that explains why HotS never managed the success of LoL, in a rare miss for Blizzard.

I think Gevlon's formulation is a very interesting idea, and worth examining in more detail.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Lockboxes and Secondary Markets

Shintar at Going Commando makes a really interesting observation about lockboxes and secondary markets in a post about how SWTOR appears to phasing out cartel packs in favour of direct sales:
It's a win for those who just want to buy things from the Cartel Market directly - less so for those who preferred to buy new items for in-game credits for other players. For the latter group, people opening Cartel packs full of items they didn't necessarily want for themselves provided a constant supply of new goodies. Even when it came to the rarest of rare items, there were always spares to go around, and if you weren't only after whatever people considered the latest "must-have", you could snatch up some other decent-looking and more common items at incredible prices. 
With everything new being direct sale, there is much less of that. Sure, there'll continue to be a very small influx of random drops through the Ultimate Pack, but aside from those the only new things being put up for sale on the GTN will be those purchased from the store with the specific intent to re-sell, which makes for a much smaller number than when players were constantly opening new packs in search of the newest drops and thereby stacking up on goods to sell on the GTN more or less "by accident".
That's a very insightful point about how the randomness of a lootbox or pack promotes a thriving secondary market. And how losing that randomness dries up the secondary market.

You trade the items you don't want, so if you get exactly what you want, you have nothing to trade.

Of course, this only applies to games which allow trading or selling of items in the first place. SWTOR was somewhat unique in that pretty much everything on the Cartel Market could be sold for in-game currency.

It also devalues subscribing. One of the perks of subscribing to SWTOR is that you can hold unlimited currency (non-subscribers have 350k cap), and SWTOR is fairly generous with that currency. So it was very common for subscribers to use the currency they were swimming in to pick up cartel market items on the auction house. But now, subscribers will have all that currency, and nothing to really spend it on.

If a subscriber wants a special item, she will have to spend real money to acquire it. The option to spend in-game currency is effectively gone. I wonder if Bioware will end up having to increase the Cartel Coin stipend given to subscribers to compensate. When I played, I subscribed, and my only interaction with the Cartel Market was through the auction house.

Personally, I thought SWTOR's model of lockboxes was pretty decent. Most people are cheering the move away from lockboxes, but Shintar's post is a reminder that there may be less palatable second-order effects.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Upcoming Azerite Changes

Blizzard announced some upcoming Azerite changes:
We need to make Azerite Armor more available, for all types of players, through a method everyone can utilize. So we’re actually looking at Emissary rewards for that. The plan is to make Azerite Armor rewards from Emissary quests scale all the way up to 370 (based on your item level), which gives everyone a new, reliable source for appropriate gear. Further on, we’re looking at making some further improvements to the ways Emissaries reward gear, but getting more Azerite Armor in your hands is the higher priority for the immediate future.  
When we add new Azerite Armor in what we’re calling “BfA Season 2” (starting with Siege of Zuldazar and its corresponding Mythic+ and PvP seasons), we’re going to add another outer ring to those pieces of gear that has two spec-specific trait options for each spec. This effectively means that your favorite traits will be available on a lot more items, while also opening up a lot more options across the scope of all of your Azerite pieces (and thus, we hope, create more interesting decisions). 
We’re also going to continue to work on the individual traits themselves. We’ve done some basic tuning so far, but we’re taking the lessons we’ve learned from these first iterations forward, and Tides of Vengeance will bring new traits into the pool that reflect that. Our goal is to make the more generic traits be decent middle-of-the-road options for when you want to use a single piece for multiple situations or specs, but make sure the spec-specific options (which are generally the more interesting traits) win out in their respective environments.
The first change is interesting. I had assumed that raiding was giving out enough Azerite pieces, but apparently it isn't. So Azerite gear is getting tied to Emissaries, and getting given out to every one. The downside of using Emissaries, though, is that you can't target specific pieces.

The second change makes it more likely that you'll get your "best" trait, as each piece will have 3 different specialisation traits in total. Though I foresee a lot of complaining from the people who have unlocked only one outer ring.

The final change is a good one as well. I like the general traits for leveling, because you can use one set of Azerite armor and swap specs. But it is kind of a letdown to use a general trait on your spec-specific Azerite gear.

I do wonder how this will interact with the Uldir-specific traits like Archive of the Titans, which enable the stacking Uldir buff. Will the next raid tier not have this catch up mechanism?

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Uldir Progress and Holy Paladin Build Thoughts

My guild has continued to push deeper into Heroic Uldir (and get our feet wet in Mythic Uldir).

Heroic Vectis

We finally got a good strat down. We use 3 groups, 2 ranged and 1 melee, and split up the three vectors. It's ironic, because this was more or less the strat we started with, but then discarded and went through two or three other strats before coming full circle back to this one.

Heroic Zek'voz

This fight doesn't feel too much different from normal, at least for healers. The pattern of rings you have to run out of is different, but that's about it. I think there's some nuance with how the adds have to be killed, but I don't really worry about it.

Mythic Taloc

We killed it for the first time last week. I stepped out as we were at 21 people and had 5 healers. I got a kill this week, though.

Mythic Taloc is very similar to Heroic Taloc. There's two new mechanics, one where some players have to spread out, and one where the players who don't need to spread stack on the tank. We cheese the second mechanic with a paladin tank and Blessing of Spellwarding, though. With that and bubble, the paladin can solo two casts, so the raid only has to stack for one or two.  There's also more lasers on the elevator ride down.

All in all, it's not too difficult. We one-shot it this week.

Heroic Zul

Last week we wiped and wiped on Zul. Last night, we had 15 minutes left after Zek'voz, so we cleared the trash in the hope of BoEs. No BoEs dropped, but we had 5 minutes left in the raid when it was clear. So we did a pull for fun.

And we killed Zul! I think the key was that our dps went up a bit, and we didn't try to time the transition. Last week, we were trying to time the transition perfectly, but it never lined up and Zul kept gaining stacks as we delayed. At the end, we'd have 15 stacks of the DoT, and still transition poorly. This time we just transitioned and cleaned up and kept going, and we only had 10 stacks.

So now we're looking at Heroic Mythrax or Mythic Mother. I'm not sure what our target will be.

Holy Paladin

Last night I tried a new build focused on tank-healing. I took Awakening and Divine Purpose, and Beacon'd one tank and focused the other. I am not really sure how it did. By the meters, it seemed worse than last week. But we one-shot pretty much everything last night. We did have five healers, so maybe they carried me.

Last week I was using the standard two-beacons and heal non-tanks strategy. But I ended up direct-healing the tanks a fair bit. So this week I tried to lean into that. Maybe I'll see how the new build performs on the new progression fights.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Proposed Changes for Azerite Armor

As you know, I don't think Azerite Armor is a bad system. But a lot of the community seems to disagree. Here are some ideas for tweaks to smooth down the worst of the rough spots:
  • Reduce the Azerite level requirement of the first ring to 1. 
This would mean that the first ring is always unlocked. Since the majority of the Azerite armor's power is in the stats and first ring, it's pretty much always an upgrade. The inner rings can fill in as you upgrade your necklace, and give you small improvements as you play.
    • Set the reforge cost to a flat 100g. 
    Right now, the reforge cost starts at 5 gold, and doubles whenever you reforge. It goes back down after 3 days of not reforging. The intent is clearly to allow you to correct mistakes fairly easily, but dissuade you from constantly flipping the same piece of gear between specs.

    However, I think the hardcore are simply eating the cost of reforging, flipping between specs anyways, and then complaining about the costs on the forums. Setting the cost to 100g discourages casual reforging, but lets the hardcore be hardcore if they really want. 100g is cheap enough that an extra World Quest will cover the cost. This also simplifies reforging.
    • Add a chance to get Azerite Armor when doing a Mythic+ of a given level for the first time each week. 
    The way I envision this working is an extra loot roll, where you can only get Azerite armor. You get one loot roll for each "level" of Mythic+. For example, the first time you do a +7, you have a chance to get a normal Mythic 7 piece of gear, and you have an independent chance to get an i370 Azerite Armor. The second time you do a +7, even if it is a different instance, you only have the chance to get regular Mythic 7 gear.

    So this basically gives you 3 chances per week to get Azerite Armor of a given tier. For example, do a +7,  a +8, and a +9 to get i370 Azerite Armor. That's roughly comparable to a heroic raider's chance of getting a piece of Azerite Armor in a raid. But it keeps Azerite gear from being completely farmable and making Mythic+ mandatory. And since this is a separate roll on top of the current system, it doesn't reduce the amount of gear you get running Mythic+.

    It also minorly encourages doing a few different levels of keys, which I think is probably a good thing for the Mythic+ system.

    Those are the three changes I would have Blizzard implement. I don't think they help people who fundamentally oppose Azerite gear, but I do think they smooth out the most serious rough spots.

    Monday, September 24, 2018

    War Mode Imbalance

    I came across an interesting post on Reddit, Warmode is fastly becoming unplayable by Alliance players:
    I have two 120 character I play everyday. One horde and one alliance. Both with war mode on all the time because I like world PvP. With the Horde character it's almost always peaceful. I attack almost any Alliance I come across, but there are just too few of them. 
    But when I log on my Alliance character, dear God. Champions of Azeroth quests are the worst, with 10, 20 hordies against me alone. It doesn't matter if I'm playing on an Alliance dominated realm (77% at level 120, according to Realmpop), because the horde comes from many different realms.
    And here we have the latest in a long history of examples, dating from Ultima Online, that when given a choice, people choose the non-PvP option, especially when it's likely they will lose.

    So how would we fix this, or at least bring it up to reasonable parity?

    Here's my idea:
    • Balance War Mode zones to be equal Horde and Alliance. Move all unmatched Horde players into empty zones without Alliance. Better some Horde have no Alliance to kill, than all Horde. These Horde would still get the War Mode bonus.
    • War Mode raids automatically get moved into an empty zone. As well, the War Mode bonus stops applying in raids.
    Basically, we are trying to guarantee two things. First, War Mode is always equal in terms of numbers. Second, War Mode is about individual and small group combat.  There's no more forming a large raid and steam-rolling all the opposition.

    I think those two guarantees would be enough to allow Alliance to feel like there is a level playing field, and make them more willing to try War Mode. Restricting War Mode to small groups also feels more even.

    The downside, though, is that you do give up the raid vs raid clashes, as in the old days of Southshore and Tarren Mill.  It also would make Capital City raids, to kill faction leaders, rather weird. You might need special rules for faction zones.

    But I think it would improve the day-to-day experience of War Mode in the regular leveling and expansion zones.

    Thursday, September 20, 2018

    Seasonal Alts

    In the Reddit AMA, Watcher discusses alts:
    We're often torn when it comes to questions about alt progression, alt catch-up mechanisms, or account-wide systems. Philosophically, what's the point of an alt? For one group of players, the primary desire is to jump into participating in endgame activities from a different perspective (a PvP alt, or a healer alt for a change of pace from your usual DPS main, or whatever). In that context, almost any required progression can feel like a nuisance - an obstacle in the way to the desired endpoint of being raid-ready, or arena-viable. 
    For another group of players, an alt represents a fresh set of goals to pursue after reaching a point of diminishing returns on a main, whether that's someone who hits max level and then promptly begins leveling another character, or someone who doesn't have many available gear upgrades left on their main and hops over to an alt where progress can once again come quickly. For this type of player, the more things are account-wide, the fewer new goals they have to pursue.
    This is a good point on how there are two groups with opposing desires when it comes to alts. Fortunately, Blizzard has a game which has already solved this problem: Diablo 3.

    Normally, new characters in Diablo 3 share a lot of elements: access to followers, crafters and recipes, and a common stash. But Diablo 3 also has "seasonal" characters, which are a new character which does not share anything with the others. The character lasts for the season, and at the end converts into a normal character.

    This might be a good system to bring to WoW. Allow people to create seasonal characters, which:
    • cannot use heirlooms
    • cannot receive mail from non-seasonal characters
    • cannot trade with non-seasonal characters
    • cannot access guild banks
    • do not share currency or reputations
    • cannot be boosted
    Then allow normal characters to share reputations, and maybe other elements like a common bank stash, or even currencies.

    Throw in some achievements, and maybe a pet or mount reward for levelling a seasonal character from 20 to 120 (start at 20 so that you can level Allied races). Maybe automatically give out an old tier set cosmetic armour. That's enough of an excuse for people to try out seasonal characters.  You can link the seasons to the PvP seasons, as they already exist.

    I think this would solve the issue between the two groups of people who want to create alts. It would also create a new track of gameplay for people who are so inclined.

    Personally, I really like Diablo 3 seasons. It gives you a reason to start a fresh character and level it to max, as well as several points where you can stop and feel satisfied with what you've accomplished. Seasons would be a good system to port to WoW, especially with all the new Allied Races.

    Monday, September 17, 2018

    More thoughts on Island Expeditions

    Since my last post on Island Expeditions, I've done a bunch more. I do them on Heroic difficult now. Most of the time we win, but I have had a couple of losses. Here are a few more thoughts on Island Expeditions:

    • Island Expeditions are a lot more tractable when you start with a clear plan. I usually play with random groups, so it's very hit and miss. Generally, you follow the one person who's most willing to charge ahead. But I did a couple of expeditions with guild members, and we started with a very simple "Go for the X to the east, hitting diamonds, skulls, and quests along the way". Somehow just having that plan at the beginning made the expedition much easier to handle. It was a lot easier to predict where the team would stop and in which direction they would go.
    • Island Expeditions need more varied palettes in flora and fauna. Really, you should be able to identify the island just by the view from the ship at the start. Instead, your first sight is always a tropical beach with some crocodiles. This adds to a feeling of sameness with expeditions. Blizzard should have started with fewer, more distinctive islands.
    • Having Azerite elementals is a mistake. Right now, you run from a beach with crocodiles and end up in an area with Aerite elementals. This adds to feeling of sameness. Both the beginning and end of your charge are the same in every island. Start on a beach with crocodiles, run to the Azerite elementals. As well, you have to fight the Azerite elementals in world quests as well, and they're relatively uninteresting mechanically.
    • Island Expeditions should focus on skulls. In contrast to the elementals, hunting skulls is fun. They're always different creatures, with different abilities and minions. Remove the red X deposits, or have them spawn with a random skull and greatly empower the skull enemy.
    • Encountering the enemy Horde is odd. Maybe this is just coincidence, but in both of my losses, we never encountered the Horde. It feels like, in an average pickup Heroic group, the Horde's ability to collect Azerite outstrips ours. But we can kill them, and set them back enough to pretty much guarantee victory. It's always a close game until the Horde is encountered. It's slightly annoying too, because after you kill them once, they keep coming back and making things take longer. So it feels like you want to see the Horde, because it guarantees a victory, but it also guarantees that the rest of match will take longer and be more annoying ("Sneaky Pete!"). I don't really know how to fix this, or even if it is something that should be fixed.
    • I would like to see a variant that wasn't a race. Perhaps something where all the enemies are tougher and deal more damage, but a single death is automatically a loss. Though that might make tanks and healers mandatory. Perhaps disallow tank and healer specialisations, since every class has a damage specialisation.
    Those are some more thoughts on Island Expeditions. After playing several, they're reasonably fun. I do enough to get the weekly quest, and I like doing that. However, I think a few tweaks here and there, especially a greater focus on the skull enemies, could make Island Expeditions better.

    Sunday, September 16, 2018

    Reddit AMA with Ion Hazzikostas

    On Friday, Reddit had an Ask Me Anything with WoW's Game Director Ion Hazzikostas (WatcherDev, formerly Gurgthock from Elitist Jerks). It's a very interesting read. Watcher talks a bit about all the perceived issues with the new content in BfA.

    For some reason, Reddit (and MMO-Champion) seem to have a lot of issues with Battle for Azeroth. I am not really onboard with the majority of their complaints.

    To me, the "meat-and-potatoes" of BfA, the questing, the dungeons, mythic+, the raids, are the best they've ever been. That's where I spend the bulk of my time. A few of the newer "side-dishes" could probably be improved. But even then I don't really think any of them are outright bad. I think the complaints are overblown, and more a community circle-jerking than serious issues that greatly affect players.

    Reading Ion's responses, though, I do think that the WoW team is not paying enough attention to "first impressions". They seem to be designing for the steady state, how things play months into the expansion. That's probably good, as it's been a flaw in the past. Something seems amazing on first glance (say Legion legendaries) but five months down the line every one hates it.

    But the WoW team are stumbling on the new mechanic's first impression. People look at the new element, or try it once, and aren't excited. This is a real problem that the WoW team needs to address.

    The other major issue I saw is that Blizzard is moving to a model where class specializations have strengths and weaknesses. But they have not communicated to use exactly what strengths and weaknesses our specializations actually are supposed to have.

    Having strengths and weaknesses doesn't bother me, as I play a Holy Paladin. We're pretty much the archetype for a specialization with true strengths and weaknesses and have been for most of the game's history. We're strong in single/double target healing, and bad at healing many targets at once. So I'm used to it. But I can see how the specializations (especially DPS) which were well-rounded are now disconcerted that they don't have mobility, or lower AoE damage, etc. compared to their compatriots.

    I do think that Blizzard should explicitly lay out the expected strengths and weaknesses of each class specialization.

    In any case, the AMA with Ion is well worth the read.

    Friday, September 14, 2018

    Venturing into Heroic Uldir

    This week, we decided to go into Heroic Uldir after killing the first 7 bosses in Normal. We didn't actually get attempts on Normal G'huun. I rather think we won't actually attempt it until we get stuck in Heroic. The lure of higher item level gear is too strong for our leadership.

    Heroic Taloc

    This fight was more or less the same as Normal, except there are laser beams below the elevator as it descends. You have to look below the elevator to see where the beam is, and make sure you avoid it as the elevator goes through it.

    In our first attempt, I think everyone was trying to look for the beams. We successfully avoided them all, but the adds on the elevator wiped us. In the second attempt, we paid more attention to the adds and did the fight successfully.

    Realistically, if you move as a group, you only need a few people watching for beams. The rest of the group just follows them around while focusing on adds.

    Heroic Mother

    This fight has a new mechanic in the second room where lasers come down from the ceiling and there is a row of swirlies which mark the safe spot. In the first attempt we all thought the swirlies denoted danger, and got wiped out by the lasers.

    We also killed Mother in the second room, and never moved to the third room, where I gather there is another new mechanic.

    Heroic Fetid Devourer

    This guy hits like a truck. The mechanics are fairly straightforward, but it's pretty much a gear check for your tanks and healers. And in a way, dps as well, as you need to kill the boss before you run out of cooldowns.

    We even lost the Thrash tank near the end, and then starting bleeding dps as different melee would run in and try to pop cooldowns to take the Thrash attack.

    Heroic Vectis

    This is fight we're currently working on. Unfortunately, the strategy we're following requires some choreographed movement to deal with the blood vectors safely. Choreographed movement is a great weakness of ours. So I don't think everyone in the raid really understands it.

    We'll see how it goes next week.

    I wonder if we will drop Normal and continue working on Heroic. We have three bosses worth of loot, and I think we could to five. That's enough for a reasonable farm, and we'd be able to get back one and a half raid nights to work on Heroic.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2018

    Azerite Armor

    The major new mechanical system in Battle for Azeroth is Azerite Armor. It's kind of a cross between Legion legendaries and artifact weapons. Like artifact weapons, you empower your neckpiece by collecting Azerite Power. Then your head, shoulders, and chest are special pieces which have abilities that unlock based on your Azerite level. You can usually choose one ability from four or so choices.

    There are three or four rings which can be unlocked. The first ring has abilities which modify your powers. The second-last ring has defensive abilities, and the last ring gives +5 item levels. Raid gear has a second outer ring with offensive passives.

    However, unlike legendaries, it's not a completely random system. Specific pieces have specific abilities, so you can farm exactly the abilities you want. Azerite pieces also don't warforge, so you don't have to worry about getting a better version.

    It's not a bad system, but it isn't a great system either.

    The greatest flaw is that it's not an exciting system. It's a very "Spike" system, to use Magic: the Gathering terminology.[1] A Legion legendary drop was an event. It was rare, and was raw power compared to normal gear. The only problem was that some legendaries were much more valuable than others. A similar thing happened with Artifact weapons. Getting one was another event, and then you unlocked this giant tree of abilities which you worked on filling out. The anticipation of having a completed weapon was very attractive.

    Compared to those systems, Azerite Armor lacks sizzle. Most of the power is in that first ring, so it's very front-loaded. The final reward, +5 item levels, is useful, but rather boring.

    The other issue with Azerite Armor is that there is a corner case which is a bad experience if it happens to you. If your necklace is behind on Azerite levels, and you loot a very high ilevel piece, none of the rings are unlocked, and the armor feels useless. It's not quite as bad as getting the "worst" legendary, though. Your comparative power to other players is still the same, and you can leave the armor in your bags until you achieve the required level and you've got an instant upgrade then.

    For the most part, though, I think Azerite Armor will play well. It will give players something achievable to chase, kind of like set gear, but without the massive gap between those who have the item and those who don't. It's also different from normal armor, where you chase secondary stats. You also get to collect different sets of Azerite Armor for different specs, but you can get by with only those 3 pieces (and trinkets and weapons).

    It's just a very boring system, compared to the pure excitement of the Legion gear systems. Azerite Armor may very well be better in day-to-day play, though. It might have been better received if Azerite Armor had been the mechanic for the next expansion, to put some space between it and Legion.

    1. "Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill of Magic is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory."

    Monday, September 10, 2018

    Wildstar Closing, Eve Online Sold

    Last week had some big news in the MMO world. NCSoft announced that Wildstar and Carbine Studios would be closing down. Eve Online developer CCP was purchased by Pearl Abyss, who make Black Desert.

    Wildstar Closes

    This news is unsurprising. The game never got traction. Even a switch from subscription to F2P didn't help. Apparently there was a lot of internal drama in the studio as well. There are a lot of potential causes for Wildstar's failure: the focus on the hardcore, the polarizing marketing campaigns, the telegraph action mechanics, the sci-fi'ish setting.

    I think Wildstar's base mechanics just required too much intensity for an MMO. Casual play was tiring. I remember giving up at level 15 or so in the beta because it was just too much.

    I also saw a comment saying something similar about high end gameplay. It was challenging enough that "farm mode" really never existed, and even high-end raiders got exhausted with the pace.

    Also, being sworn at on level up really, really annoyed me. Hopefully, every game takes this to heart and never does it again.

    Previous posts on Wildstar:

    Black Pearl buys CCP

    The most amusing thing about this is that it pretty much shuts up Eve Online partisans from now on. "Oh, the game that was bought out by a Korean publisher" is a leveller in any argument.

    Though, honestly, I think this was more about CCP being unable to make a second successful game and grow as a company. Eve Online becomes a division of a larger company and the stockholders get to cash out.

    It will be interesting to see what happens to Eve. Everyone fears more aggressive monetization, but I think if Eve is relatively stable in revenue, that won't happen. It's quite an old game now, so I don't think anyone is expecting it to suddenly spike in popularity.

    It will also be interesting to see if Eve gets a Korean version. That market might be more receptive to a cutthroat PvP game like Eve.

    Thursday, September 06, 2018

    Uldir First Impressions

    The first raid of Battle For Azeroth, Uldir, has opened.

    From the Alliance perspective, this raid is a little weird because it seems to be tied entirely to the Horde story line. The Alliance are basically tourists following Brann Bronzebeard on his eternal quest to release more Old Gods into the world. I guess this is one drawback of having two very different faction stories in the expansion.

    My guild has decided to be a little more hardcore this expansion. We're looking at raiding 3 nights a week, and ultimately aiming to move into Mythic difficulty. I'm going along with it, but ultimately I am doubtful of things working out. I don't think we're really prepared for the roster management that Mythic requires. I also think we're pretty weak at time management, movement, and positioning. Attributes which Mythic will stress. But maybe attempting Mythic will force us to realise that and improve those weaknesses.

    In any case, we tried Normal Uldir to start. We killed the first five bosses on Tuesday. They're all pretty decent.

    The second boss, Mother, is particularly interesting because you have to slowly funnel raiders from one room to the next, while still handling mechanics and leaving enough dps on the boss in the previous room. It will be quite interesting to see pick-up groups handling this.

    On Wednesday, we killed the sixth boss, Zul. This one took us quite a while, as it involves a lot of target switching. It's a pretty interesting fight overall, though. The boss takes control of people and forces them to jump off the platform. You have to cleanse them before they reach the edge. That creates adds which need to be purged/dispelled to be defeated. Interesting mechanics which I don't think we're really seen before.

    The seventh boss, Mythrax, is funny because you have to jump down into his room, and that automatically starts the fight. We had an attempt or two which happened because someone overshot the edge and fell down too early.

    For holy paladins, I have a feeling BfA is going to be a return to focused tank healing. Stand within 10 yards of your tank so you get full mastery and aura and keep them alive.

    All in all, Uldir looks like like an excellent raid instance, and a great start to raiding in the expansion.

    Wednesday, September 05, 2018

    Mythics in BfA

    I did several Mythics last week.

    In general, they aren't that difficult with a tank that pulls safely. You know, pull back to the group so other groups don't get accidentally pulled, use crowd control occasionally, etc.

    Trash can be difficult, especially if you get multiple packs at once. I would rotate cooldowns for the trash packs to make life easier. Avenging Wrath - Holy Avenger - Blessing of Sacrifice - Holy Avenger, one per trash pack, was a good pattern that made healing easier.

    I strongly recommend Beacon of Virtue for Holy Paladins as well. There's a lot of group damage going out in heroics.

    The only bosses that I found unusually difficult were the Triad in Waycrest Manor and the end boss of Shrine of the Storms. Triad you can jump instead of moving, and using Heroism on the second witch got us past that.

    Most of the bosses are mechanics checks. Do the mechanics correctly and the fight is easy enough.

    One trend I found is that a Brewmaster Monk tank is bad sign in a group. I don't know why, if they are underpowered, or if it's a difficult class to play, but all the dungeons where I had a Brewmaster tank were a lot more difficult than they needed to be. They also seemed a lot more resistant to pulling safely than the other tanks, for some reason.

    Monday, September 03, 2018

    Kul Tiras

    I finally finished Kul Tiras story. It was a solid ending, and quite enjoyable. I really liked Siege of Boralus as well. Using the main city as the dungeon was lots of fun. I did it at i315 with a group in Party Finder who were looking to finish the quest as well.

    All the Kul Tiras zones were good. I liked how there was a main story quest line through the zone, but it only took about 40-50% of the quests, with the remainder being side quests to flesh out the country.

    I did Tirgaarde Sound first, which focused on the Ashvane company. Then Stormsong to find the fleet, and finally Drustvar. I would recommend switching Drustvar and Stormsong, and going Tirgaarde Sound to Drustvar to Stormsong.

    Drustvar was really interesting as well. In many modern books and movies, it feels like witches are usually portrayed as misunderstood, and the prejudice and ignorance of the peasantry is the real evil. Also shades of feminism conflicting with an evil patriarchy, or men being threatened by women with power.

    Drustvar played it straight. Witches exist and they are evil. Burn them in righteous fire. It actually felt quite refreshing, and oddly unique. And you get an "Inquisitor" title, excellent for paladins.

    All in all, Kul Tiras is an excellent country for World of Warcraft. It actually feels kind of daunting to realize that I still have an entire second country still to do.

    Friday, August 31, 2018

    Warbringers: Azshara

    Last week Blizzard released the final Warbringers video, this one focusing on Queen Azshara:

    It's a great video, and does an excellent job of showcasing Azshara's arrogance, and how that trait is almost admirable. The portrayal of N'Zoth is also also very well done, creepy and effective.

    I've mentioned before that one thing I enjoy in movies and other media is a good introduction of a villain. This dual introduction of Azshara and N'Zoth is one of the better ones I've seen, revealing both their characters and establishing their power with beautiful efficiency.

    One criticism I've seen on the forums is that N'Zoth "outplayed" Azshara, and didn't actually give up anything of value. I think it's best to think of these magical bargains as binding on both parties. If Azshara had made the first bargain, she would have been a literal slave, unable to disobey N'Zoth. Instead she successfully bargained for both power and free will, a triumph indeed.

    Ranking the Warbringers video, Jaina's is definitely the best. Azshara's comes in second, and Sylvanas's is last by a wide margin.

    Thursday, August 30, 2018

    Dungeon, Island Expedition Impressions


    I have almost finished the Kul Tiras story. I'm have to do the Siege of Boralus dungeon. It would have been nice if Blizzard had actually noted that Siege was a Mythic-only dungeon in the quest text. It was very confusing.

    Actually, this is a bit of a general problem so far at max level. Blizzard isn't providing obvious directions that I think should be provided. For example, emissary turn-ins. I finished a Champions of Azeroth turn-in and I had no idea where Magni was. Apparently there's a portal to Silithus in Boralus? When did that happen? Same thing with the Tortollan emissary.

    Dungeons so far are interesting. I finally got to i305 and started doing heroic dungeons.

    It's kind of weird doing the Horde dungeons. Normally during an expansion, I've done all the quests beforehand and know the story for each dungeon. But now you enter a Horde dungeon, and there are trolls and gold and dinosaurs running around, and you have no idea why. Especially when a boss is talking smack to you.

    If the tank pulls one pack at a time, heroic dungeons are pretty easy, even at minimum item level. If she pulls multiple packs, all bets are off.

    I did get my item level up to 312 or so, thanks to a couple lucky drops. Perhaps that's enough to start tackling Mythics, at least with my guild.

    Island Expeditions

    I also did an island expedition on Normal difficulty. I'm not too sure what to think. The thing is that we were rushing to gather Azerite so fast that you couldn't really understand the nuances of the place. Apparently the opposing faction NPCs have really cool AI or something, but everything went by in a blur, so I'm not sure what really happened.

    I kind of wish it wasn't a race, and there was more room to slow down or be strategic. But I don't really know how you would accomplish that. Maybe increase the damage and disallow resurrecting when you die.

    The only thing I noticed about the Horde NPCs (a blood elf mage team, I think) was that they jumped an awful lot while fighting. So kudos to Blizzard for successfully imitating human PvPers.

    Wednesday, August 29, 2018

    Battle for Azeroth: First Impressions

    It's pretty late for a first impressions post, but I played a lot on launch week (though I didn't take time off or anything). Then I went on vacation for a week and didn't play at all. So now I'm back, and currently behind everyone in my guild. Oh well, they can carry me for the first couple weeks of raiding.

    Some scattered impressions:
    • There is a ton of content. I'm still not finished with Kul Tiras on Coriel, though I'm close. Then there's the whole Horde side to go. It really feels like two expansions in one.
    • There seems to be a lot of angst about level-scaling. Honestly, I didn't really notice any real change from 115 onwards. Before 115, Coriel out-geared the mobs, so it was a bit faster.
    • Azerite gear and mechanics seem okay to me. I do think that Azerite gear makes a bad first impression, especially compared to the artifact weapons in Legion. Maybe I'll expand on this later.
    • I actually like the talent setup a lot, at least for Retribution. I've been playing around with the options, and they all play slightly differently. Inquisition, no Inquisition, Wake of Ashes, no Wake, more or less Art of War procs, faster Crusader Strikes, Divine Purpose procs. You can tailor your rotation to just how you like it. I use faster Crusader Strikes, Wake of Ashes, and no Inquisition. Fairly straightforward, with a small amount of procs to make life interesting.
    • At least, you can tailor your rotation if you don't care about absolute max damage. For raiding, you'll probably get stuck with the cookie cutter build. But for levelling and solo play, it's quite good.
    • There are a lot more cutscenes than I expected, and it's nice to see that a lot of them feature your character.
    • Normal mode dungeons are pretty solid, though best with a steady tank instead of one who pulls everything. For some reason, out of all the tanks, Brewmaster monks seem the most impatient to me. Which is rather ironic.
    • Professions are pretty good. I really like having a separate rating for each expansion, rather than one giant bar. It also looks like Blizzard has made the ranks easier to get. In Legion, it kind of felt like Blizzard expected Rank 2 to be the standard, and then Rank 3 was a bonus that a given character might or might not have. However, everyone got upset when they didn't get Rank 3.

    Thursday, August 16, 2018

    The Siege of Lordaeron

    The introductory scenario for Battle for Azeroth is the Siege of Lordaeron. The Alliance attacks the Undercity. This scenario was very well done, presenting the battle from both the Horde and Alliance perspectives.

    The Horde portion of the scenario even has a small moral choice. Sylvanas uses the Blight, and the  Horde players can either attack the Alliance with a blight-sprayer, or just rescue their own soldiers. Despite a lot of the forum anguish, the vast majority of people in my raid gleefully blighted the Alliance. Though one person said he regretted it afterwards.

    The Alliance gets to battle Saurfang, and then Anduin echos Arthas in Warcraft III with his entrance into the throne.

    Horde-side, the conversation (not in the video) between Sylvanas and Saurfang was spicy. It drew gasps in raid chat.

    Ah, there's the Sylvanas we know and love. Arrogant and snarky. I bet these videos greatly restored her status among Horde players.

    For the most part, these scenarios are excellent. Putting major content into the game instead of novels or other secondary media. Blizzard also interleaved game-play and cut-scenes very well.

    About the only criticism I have is that the Alliance seems curiously unprepared for the Blight. Here's how I imagine the planning session went down:
    King Anduin Wrynn: Our siege towers and armies are ready. Let us march on Lordaeron! Any final concerns? 
    Sky Admiral Rogers: Sir, what about the Blight? Do we have a plan to deal with it? 
    Anduin: I don't think Sylvanas will use the Blight
    Rogers: The Forsaken used the Blight at the Wrathgate. They used it at Gilneas and Southshore. Why would the Forsaken avoid using the Blight now? 
    Anduin: You know, Sky Admiral, I don't think we will need a flying ship in this battle. I'm leaving you behind to guard Stormwind.
    And that's why our beloved Sky Admiral Rogers wasn't at the Siege of Lordaeron.

    Sunday, August 12, 2018

    Cinematic: Old Soldier

    Blizzard released a coda to the War of Thorns: "Old Soldier"

    This cinematic focuses on Saurfang's reaction to the Burning of Teldrassil. It also features a young troll nicknamed "Zappy Boi", who first appeared in the Battle For Azeroth trailer.

    The cinematic is quite well done. Technically excellent and a nice look at the Horde. It's somewhat surprising that they went for a full cinematic here, as those are usually reserved for trailers.

    If there is any problem here, it really harkens back to an old post I wrote, Alliance vs Horde Storyline Favoritism. In that post, I wrote:
    That sets up two stories: a civil war within the Horde, and the Alliance attempts to finish Garrosh. Of those two stories, the civil war is always going to be the more interesting story.
    You can see the same pattern repeating. The civil war story is more interesting, and has more focus than the other story. We will see what Blizzard does with the Alliance though. If they will introduce an internal conflict for that faction.

    A lot of people are predicting a repeat of Pandaria. At the end of the expansion, Sylvanas will become a raid boss and new Warchief will be chosen.

    My prediction, however, is that Sylvanas stays Warchief throughout the expansion. The Horde rallies behind her, and unlike Garrosh, she does not turn on them. I think Blizzard will keep the faction war "hot" for the next few years, and the best way to accomplish that is to leave Sylvanas as the Horde leader.

    Wednesday, August 08, 2018

    War of Thorns: Conclusion

    Last week, Blizzard released the second part of the War of Thorns, including the Warbringers: Sylvanas cinematic. They started off quite well in the first week, but did they manage to stick the landing?

    And the answer is "No!" It's been a while since we've seen a game writing team face-plant so spectacularly. Not since Mass Effect 3, in fact.

    In my opinion, the problem is the writers' use of emotion. Emotion must be anchored in reason. If emotion is divorced from reason, the character is irrational. And no one likes following irrational leaders. It's especially bad for Sylvanas, who's basic character is the cool, calculating, ruthless archetype. A night elf talks smack to Sylvanas, she gets mad, and burns the tree in a fit of anger? That's so far out of character that it's just senseless.

    I'm not objecting to Sylvanas burning the tree, by the way. It was almost totally what I hoped for. (A pity the Horde did not have a quest to light the torches and fire the catapults!) If only Sylvanas had said something to the night elf like:
    I am not wasting a Horde army in a pointless occupation. Nor will I watch them be bled by your sentinel "resistance". Burn the tree.
    That sort of attitude would have been totally in line with the existing characterization of Sylvanas, and lead to the same result.

    Other than the cinematic, the conclusion to the War of Thorns was short but decent. The final Alliance quest, where you try to save as many night elves as possible before being overcome by the fire, was excellent. A great use of standard quest mechanics to drive home the point.

    Tuesday, July 31, 2018

    War of Thorns: Alliance Part 1

    A quick post on the first part of the Alliance pre-patch quest.

    The Alliance story was okay. It was very reactive to what the Horde was doing though. As such, it didn't feel as purposeful or as forceful as the Horde story was.

    I did also try some World PvP in Darkshore. I joined an Alliance raid which ran around the zone a lot. Unfortunately, I think we were in an instance that did not have an opposing Horde raid. So all the kills were isolated overrunning of individuals or small groups. Not really that exciting.

    In any case, the next part of the story releases today. We'll see how things turn out and find out who really burns Teldrassil.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2018

    War of Thorns: Horde Part 1

    I did the first part of the pre-expansion questline, the War of Thorns, on my Horde character last night.

    My first reaction:
    Picture found through Google
    I wrote two posts long ago which are worth revisiting in light of this questline:
    I said that one side has to be the aggressor, and thus in the wrong in the modern view of war. In the War of Thorns, Blizzard has embraced this. The Horde is unequivocally the aggressor. Sylvannas is driven by the old vision of war as a strategic tool.

    I think this is the only correct way to do faction warfare, but there are a number of Horde players who are deeply unhappy over this turn of events. Especially the Horde druids who don't want to attack Malfurion. (I, on the other hand, am looking forward to dispatching him.)

    The other part is that the Horde players have their fingerprints all over this conflict. Unlike Theramore, their characters are involved from the very beginning. (And there isn't even a Kitten of the Horde to motivate them.) Blizzard finally put the major event into the game, rather than having it in a book.

    I quite applaud Blizzard for taking these decisions. If you're going to do faction warfare, commit 100%.

    The questline is quite good as well. It's about 45 min to 1 hour or so. Given that there's another questline on the Alliance side, I think that's a solid amount of content for a pre-expansion event.

    There are also several World Quests in Darkshore after the quest finishes. Apparently Darkshore is hilarious if you have War Mode enabled, with lots of PvP going on. I haven't tried that yet, though.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the resolution of the War of Thorns. I hope Blizzard sticks to their guns. Even up to having the player being the one who burns the World Tree. That would set the forums aflame.

    Monday, July 23, 2018

    Warbringers: Jaina

    Blizzard released a new short in advance of Battle For Azeroth. It's titled Warbringers: Jaina, and it is excellent.

    I really like what Blizzard is doing with Jaina Proudmoore so far. I was expecting that they would end up disgracing her character like they did with Fandral Staghelm.

    Layering Jaina's anger with guilt, and having her question the choices she made in her youth, is the pitch-perfect way to handle her character. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing how her story unfolds in the expansion.

    Wednesday, July 04, 2018

    Mage Tower Challenges

    I finally completed the Mage Tower for my Holy Paladin, buoyed mostly by the capped Artifact Power.

    Actually, having the Mage Tower be active full-time was probably the biggest benefit. Previously, whenever I thought about doing the Mage Tower, it was never up. And when it was up, I didn't feel like doing it.

    In any case, here's the Holy Paladin skin:

    The healer challenge was pretty interesting. The hardest part was probably the section where you had to heal the ghosts, and it was challenging mostly because it didn't use the UI. So it felt like a completely new skill you had to learn.

    The final section was rather annoying. The Ignite Soul mechanic, where your allies take damage equal to your health when the debuff expires, is supremely nerve-wracking. Especially when I realized--in the middle of the fight--that I was wearing [Highfather's Machination], which heals you when you drop below 50%:

    "Alright, I'm standing in the bad, my health is dropping. I'm not healing myself. I'm down to 30%, good. Debuff expires in 3, 2, ... Wait,why did my health just jump back over 50%? OMG, everyone's dying! Heal, heal, heal!"

    Ah well, it was a fun experience.

    I also did the Retribution Paladin Mage Tower, fighting Sigryn's council. I think this challenge must have been very sensitive to gear level, and got significantly easier with better gear. With the level of gear I had, it was fairly straightforward once you understood the mechanics. Here's the Ret Paladin skin:

    I also tried the tank challenge. It looks fairly doable. My problem is that everything is going fine, and then I get punted off the edge. That happened a couple of times, and I gave up for the night.

    I think the Mage Tower Challenges were an excellent part of Legion, and I have mad respect for those people who completed them when they first came out. I also like the way Blizzard let increasing iLevel decrease the difficulty while still preserving a lot of the challenge. You still have to do mechanics correctly, even if you have more room for error. The Dev team did an outstanding job here.

    Sunday, July 01, 2018

    WoW Classic Dev Watercooler

    A couple of weeks ago, Blizzard released a Dev Watercooler for WoW Classic, talking about where the project is and some decisions that have been made.

    Some thoughts:

    • Blizzard has decided on 1.12 as the baseline version for WoW Classic. As much as we will all regret missing out on the days of 5 minute paladin blessings, 1.12 is a good choice. Far enough in so that a lot of the really wonky stuff got ironed out, but still with the classic feel. I understand that most of the private servers use 1.12 as well, so it is in line with community expectations.
    • The team has the 1.12 code and 1.12 data. Important, because it means that team doesn't have to recreate it from old memories.
    • The team has a 1.12 build running internally. This means that they have a "source of truth" for the project. No matter what path they go, they can always compare their latest version with the 1.12 build and know that they are faithfully recreating the classic feel.
    • Blizzard has decided to go with the modern WoW engine, but use the 1.12 data. This is mostly good, because the modern WoW engine has all the bugfixes and is tuned for today's computers. For example, the 1.12 was 32-bit, if I recall correctly, but modern WoW is 64-bit. The only issue might be if the older data trips the modern anti-cheat measures.
    There's also some details on the different formats of data. Old WoW data is apparently "de-normalized" in many ways, probably for peformance. Meanwhile modern WoW uses a more normalized form.

    All in all, WoW Classic appears to be pretty far along. I wonder if Blizzard will surprise us with an early 2019 release.