Pre-Patch is the Worst Kind of Patch

WoW patched to 8.0 on Tuesday.  It did not go well.

And I mean this from nearly all sides, from developers to consumers.  Pre-patch should be renamed to client testing.  That’s what I call it at work.  We do all the tests we can internally (alpha), stage it in a test environment for clients to poke (beta), then have an initial small release in production (client testing) to a select group of users who know things can still go awry.  Blizzard does the same, they just happen to have a slightly larger scale.

And all developers dread the notorious X.0 patch.  Most people who spend time in IT will wait until at least a full sub release, if not two.  The larger the X gets, the worse the patches get.  Plain and simple, they need to take into consideration years of previous code.  Example – Internet Explorer.  If you ever had the chance to see that source code, you would find stuff from the 90s in there.  They had to dump most of it away, and rewrite Edge from the basics (also why W3 testing seems to finally work).

So, yeah.  Context on the post.  I get what Blizzard was trying to do, I get the challenges.  What I am most curious about is the level of failure this patch brought about, and the optics around that.  From the outside, it seems two things happened.  One, they made some new global variables to put in “big wheels” to adjust numbers across the board to save time.  Second, they don’t have black box testing.  The first one, I can see how it can make things go sideways.  I’ve had that happen.  But the black box testing always found it – especially when it took a larger scale.

What is black box testing?  The general idea is that you apply inputs on one end, and look at the outputs, without knowing how the insides of that box work.  If you look at how the code executes, then you’re too far in to see the larger bugs.  For example.  Enemies that are in the 80-90 range have 2x more hit points than enemies at 110.  Looking at the code won’t show you that, but testing against set use cases and analytics will.  It will not find the specific use case of sub boss X from 3 patches ago, that does the moonwalk instead of normal pathing (at least, it’s not likely).

It also appears that they didn’t stress test their login servers for pre-patch code.  Which again, seems a ridiculous thing after so many years of server meltdowns on every X.0 patch, and every expansion release day.

As for the actual content, I found numerous bugs.  Most in WoD (faction running and Tanaan).  All my characters appear to be 25% weaker at max level, and leveling is like hitting a meat wall.  The numbers need tweaking, and that’s doable in the short term.  Losing artifacts and their bonuses however, that is quite painful.  My monk is so much less fun to play, and has lost nearly all self-sustain ability.  As a tank, he could solo pretty much anything without much trouble – in particular invasion bosses on Argus.  Now, it’s 3-4 deaths per, unless I have someone healing me.

 

As much empathy as I have for the Blizz developers, considering the sheer amount of money they have, as well as a reputation for quality delivery, this entire event makes it seem that WoW has been delegated to the C team.  It certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in the actual release of the expansion.  I’m sure the large scale items will get fixed (squish related), but the fun aspect of classes we had in Legion is seriously diminished.  Not sure how that will work out.

Vacation’s Over

Two weeks passed by in a flash.  One of the hottest flashes in a long while I may add.  Nearly every day was in the mid 30s (mid 90s for the imperials), with a few bit more in humidity.  The water was a full 5 degrees (10) warmer than it should be… to the point where it stopped being refreshing and you just felt more wet.  So bring out the parasol, put a chair in the sand, and take out a beer.

We have a cottage on the lake/river, so there’s always a breeze, a good spot to swim, and some decent fishing.  If I recall, we were 25 for the Canada Day festivities, over 4 days.  Lots of fun, but very busy.  Wife did a bang up job organizing a lot of that.  From that point on, it was relax mode with a few visitors here and there.  It’s just nice to get away from the city, the worries of work, and spent a huge chunk of time with the family.  Can never get more time, right?

Side note, I was linked to from the MOP’s Global Chat for my post on a Legion retrospective. Summer months are usually pretty slow, so that spike was interesting to see.

Related the BfA pre-patch it due on Tuesday, giving a month until the next expansion.  I am of the ever growing opinion that Legion will be looked back upon as WoW 2.0, mainly due to the lack of system changes found in BfA.  Instead, the expansion is adding to existing systems (races, PvP, modified artifacts, modified legendaries).  Legion was like a “best of” run, with all the major characters present, and the closure of a story arc that started in 2002.  Now we’ll move into the Void Lords domain…

Time to get back to it!

 

 

WoW Legion Retrospective

With Legion coming to a close, let’s take a look back.

Launch

Relatively pain free as launches go.  Zones and dungeons were all working well.  There were a lot of good changes at launch for quality of life.

  • Transmog:Appearances to help people sort out their looks
  • Up to 5 players can tap an open mob, making world quests a lot more pleasant
  • A simplification of stats (spirit, armor, multistrike, spell power were removed)
  • Re-specing out in the wild for free
  • Removal of glyphs
  • Max gold increased to 9,999,999
  • Max characters per realm upped to 12

The scaled content was well balanced in Legion zones, and made each area fairly similar in terms of challenge.  The loss (for some) of flying for leveling was offset with the flightmaster’s whistle.  The emissary quests were a good way to compensate for dailies, and there was always something to do when you logged on.  Small shout to the hookshot ability.  I found that to be a super tool.

The dungeons provided were all quite good, though Maw of Souls, Eye of Azshara, Vault of Wardens, and Halls of Valor were the ones that worked best for me.

7.1

We got Karazhan, Trial of Valor, Suramar Part 2 (Nighthold), more world quests – and Falcosaurs.  For a small patch, it did delivery some nice things.  It was nice to revisit Kara…and the nightmares of TBC.

7.2

This was a big one.  Broken Shores was launched, which brought new dungeons and a raid, demon assaults, class mounts, flying (!!), class hall upgrades (and followers), and pet battle dungeons.  It was a surprising amount of content for a patch.

7.3

Argus.  Which I would argue is a refinement of the Timeless Isle mechanics and lessons learned from the Broken Shore.  Invasion points worked for me.  99% of Argus as a quest / lore location worked for me.  The closure of the Burning Legion saga was really nice to see through.  The downside I have for Argus is that flying was removed for that zone.  The teleporters certainly helped, and trash was well spread out, so not too bad in the end.  Plus, it rained purples.

Artifacts

Giving players weapons of supreme lore/power was neat.  A bit jumping the shark, as there’s nowhere but down to go from here.  The customization of passive talents was fun for the first bit.  The Artifact Knowledge gating mechanic (to make the weapons stronger) was broken, and dramatically rewarded grinding.  When class power is measured in Maw of Soul runs… there’s a problem. It also made off-spec work a real pain in the butt to manage.  It also made alts a whole lot less fun.

The appearances of each artifact worked for me.  Collecting them was a fun challenge.  For most classes at least.  Some were gated behind weekly bosses, which was pretty dumb.  Still, the concept of power and bonding to a weapon worked, and clearly the Azurite system is a reflection of that.

I will say that it’s going to be funny to be replacing something like Ashbringer with a green sword that drops from a spider.

Crafting

I liked the ranked concept of crafting.  I didn’t mind the quest gating too much, but some of it was annoying when forced to do high level dungeons on an alt. You needed to gear them, then boost their artifact, then quest, then do more quests.  It was too long, and provided minimal value for most.

I’m not surprised that First Aid is gone the way of the dodo.  I am surprised that Inscription has not been merged with Enchanting.

Class Halls

This was generally better than garrisons, as it wasn’t about micro-managing.  It was thematic, and provided a reason for class fantasy.  The follower quests were not fun.  I further dislikes quests/dungeons/raids being behind these gates.  It was a lot of busywork.

But if you ignore the followers, then the rest of the class halls worked.  The people within the halls, the various quests, or even just the hall itself – lore-nuts were ecstatic.

Suramar

This entire zone worked for me, end to end.  Parts were open, the city felt like a city, there were tough areas, the questing was solid… it just worked.  The central quest to restore the tree was fun.  The pet zombie scenario was fun.  The costume worked.

Mythic + Dungeons

I ran a few of the lower level ones.  I had some fun.  The additional constraints changed the thinking of how those were run, though in 90% of cases it was better to run with a pre-made group.  I am in the camp that thinks that this type of content will replace raids as the top tier activity.

Character Alts

It was bad in WoD, as the garrison work was character specific.  Once you put in the time, then it was a crazy amount of busy work to manage it, but provided an insane amount of gold-making opportunity.

Legion seemed to double down on that theory.  As mentioned, artefacts were a serious grind for one spec, let alone one character.  Throw in the legendary (with 4 item cap) that had a dramatic impact on playstyle and it compounded the frustration.  Suramar dungeons were also gated per character.

I get the concept, Blizz wants people to be invested in a single character.  Well, it’s 2018 and that mindset needs to be tweaked.  Put in roadbumps for alts… fine.  Bigger ones for optional branches, but the main power line should be streamlined.  I don’t think we’ll ever see FF14s system here, but there’s a middle ground to be had… something like Rift’s core classes, or SWTOR’s Legacy system.  At least something given that they want people to re-roll their characters for a new skin of the same class.

Overall

Aside from the penalties to alts, I think Legion delivered an amazing package.  The timing of content release was good, the content was relatively bug-free, the lore was solid, the flows inside each zone worked…it was all rather seamless.

And there seemed to always be something to do, a reason to log back on and achieve something.  At least for a good long while.  I’d guess retention here was much better than in previous expansions because of it.

WoW Apathy

In the same vein as Tobold on this one.

I think there’s a ying/yang effect with WoW expansions.  I am under the thought that Vanilla/BC are the baseline, then each expansion past is solid, with the next being ugh.  WotLK was good, Cataclysm was meh, Pandaria was good, Warlords was meh, Legion was good, BfA…?

Of important note, the devs have been pretty clear that there are no items left before launch… all that’s left is number tweaking.  If a skill is broken, it will be fixed “later”.

Story

Let’s face it, the story in Legion was impressive.  The whole ant vs. god trope was in full effect and you took down the largest threat to the universe.  BfA is back to the Horde vs. Alliance model.  You know, that conflict that Pandaria showed was useless?  In both Warlords and Legion the factions worked together against a common foe.  I don’t quite get how time passes in WoW, but in the real world we’re around 4 years of being chummy.

It’s hard to argue with the logic in a game with dragons and tentacle demons…I concede that point.  That said, the best stories are the ones where character behaviors are consistent across multiple events.  It would appear no one learned any lessons.

Loss

Legion added a bunch of neat ideas to the game, and most worked out fairly well.   Order halls, artifact weapons (the concept, not the grind), leveling, open world questing…even Argus was a neat approach.  Most of that is out the window.

Normal with expansions, out with the old, in with the new.  But the new has to at least be attractive.  Feral, Shadow and Shamans are basically a bit broken from a fun perspective at launch, with numbers being boosted to make them competitive.  Which is odd.

Stat squish doesn’t bug me.  The GCD changes are a bit odd, which will certainly slow down the game.  A lot of those were rolled back, which is good. Curious as to how that plays out.

Raid sets are also gone, replaced with generic role-based armor.  Paladins and DKs will look the same.

Gain

What’s new aside from levels, zones, and dungeons/raids?  Artifacts/legendaries are being replaced by a new neck piece.  This works a lot like the Netherlight Crucible, were after certain power levels, you get a passive boost.  Lots of PvP options.

There aren’t any new classes or races.  Scratch that, there are new skins on existing races.  Not to the same scale of Goblins/Worgen, or even close to Pandaria itself.

Maybe

Perhaps this just means that WoW has hit its apogee.  Legion did some amazing things to the overall game.  Mythic dungeons were a great way forward.  Leveling was much better than in previous expansions.  Broken Shore / Argus were great improvements on the Timeless Isle mechanics.  The pacing of patches was solid.  The storyline made sense.

What Legion made difficult was alts (heck, even alternate specs).  Sure, leveling them was easy enough.  But tradeskills and power levels were taken behind the barn.  Artifact Knowledge / Power, random drop quests for crafting, horrible RNG for legendaries, Titanforging…all of that seems to be changed in a positive way.

Could simply be that this feels less like an expansion of mechanics compared to previous expansions, and more of a large patch instead.  There’s a lot of tweaking, but no large sweeping changes, or shiny new carrots to keep people going.

The Art of Unlearning

Inspired by two articles – Zubon’s on Scaffolding  and grumpy ol’ Matt’s on Tanking/threat changes in WoW.

The core argument in 2nd post is how BfA will revert a rather longstanding tradition that threat is a meaningless item in group content, and bring back active management.  This reminds me a bit of Blizzard’s attempts to bring back crowd-control into group content – and that died a horrible death.

For better or worse, any game that is meant to played over long period of time has an issue with static difficulty and growing power curves.  This means that as the game progresses, players get stronger (numerically) and smarter (tactically), while the actual game remains the same.  Things just become easier.  The longer the duration of the game without a difficulty reset (an expansion, a large patch, a gear reset, scaling content) then the more players become accustomed to that “easy mode”.

WoW really found this out the hard way with Lich King.  The start of the expansion had some difficulty – in particular with the optional trials on boss fights.  The tail end of that expansion had a lot of length, and the power curve provided a “permanent farm mode” on nearly all the content.  People were simply too strong and the culture of “go-go-go” took hold.

Cataclysm tried to revert that easy-mode to the earlier LK launch.  The start of the expansion had groups dying on the first few pulls.  People had to re-learn to play the game.  Fine, this was a restart after all.  But the devs went a step further and curtailed the power curve by applying mechanics that could not be absorbed through numbers alone.  Even if you were decked in super gear, you still needed to avoid Shatter.  This was not met with smiles.

MoP went a very odd route and said at the start that small group content would only be relevant for the initial launch.  Gear progress was better off in raids and daily quests.  I won’t even both talking about WoD – that was atrocious.

Legion though, there’s an interesting bit.  Dungeons started off quite easy.  Stayed that way too.  What was added was Mythic+ mode, with increasing difficulty.  To succeed at high levels, you needed both good players, the right classes, and adequate stats.  CC/Stuns are required.  There was easy-mode (ala Raid Finder) and then hard mode.

So it’s an interesting model to re-jig the base game towards the lessons learned from Mythic+ mode.  I get the feeling that Blizzard saw that people were able to ignore specifically designed mechanics to progress further than they had planned.  Game the system if you will.  And the majority of the “controversial” changes from BfA are meant to address that exact issue – more abilities tied to the GCD, this threat change, class revamps, breaking down the homogenization of classes.

People that have spent years on “easy mode” without Mythic+ will have to relearn the game. And if WoW has shown us anything, it’s that wide scale base-game changes are rarely appreciated when they add difficulty.  I’m quite curious as to how this all plays out a few months after launch.

Updates Aplenty

Long form aside, here’s a quick list of weekend achievements, first in WoW

  • Monk (main) completed the steps to unlock flying in Legion.  He did so by completing a pet battle.
  • Monk completed the steps required for the class mount
  • Monk is halfway (?) done the Argus quest line – enough to unlock all the world quests, and armor upgrades to 925 for class hall heroes
  • Demon Hunter realized that to get the class mount, he needs to complete a the same chain of quests as the Monk.  He’s already sacrificed everything.
  • Rogue and Paladin, while 110, have not finished their class hall quest.  They are benched.
  • Death Knight is at the class hall step that requires a dungeon run.  Ehhhh.
  • Death Knight hit 110.

There are really 2 parts to this.  The Monk and the DK.

Most of the Monk’s time has been on the Broken Shores and the main quest line.  There’s a dozen or so steps required, and they cover pretty much everything the zone has to offer.  I think it’s a really solid way to make people try everything out once, and see what clicks.

Flying is unlocked through reputation – and the main source is the main quest line.  Some of those steps are a bit more painful (waiting on a class hall quest), a bit more grindy (Sentinax marks), or even a bit luck based (killing 3 rares when none are up).  The last step was finishing 6 world quests.  I only saw 5, then remembered I hid pet quests.  Did that and the screen lit up.  Flying ahoy!

The better news was that I was 2 small quests away from the class mount.  Monks get Ban-Lu.  Here’s a neat art piece on the cat.  Oddly this is pretty much how my tanky Monk looks.

veli-nystrom-wow-monk-mount-final-preview-veli

Every other class needs to do 2 things.  Finish their class hall quest (which is a week’s worth of effort due to the timed missions) and do the Broken Shores quest line (a couple days’ worth).  DH may do it since the mount is neat looking.  Rogue and Paladin… nope.  Devs – note for you.  Paladins and Warlocks have had enough horses that are golden/green.

Death Knight

Heirloom gear is supposed to give more experience.  As per above, I have already leveled 4 characters to 110.  I think only the Rogue did so on rested experience.  All of them hit 110 by the 4th zone, though at different points.

The DK hit 110 on the 4th zone – though only 10 or so quests in.  Just before completing the southern part of the map.  I did not see the experience gains from heirlooms here.  The stat boosts are nice though and makes the gear/stat cliff at 110 more bearable.  Now it’s about picking the right world quests to get him up to 850-875.

What did save time was flying.  I decided to focus on that with the Monk before doing any questing after hitting 100.  While each level too the same amount of quests/experience, each of those levels was extremely fast.  The longest was 30 minutes and that was mostly due to 2 bonus quests that gave pithily advancement but large exp boosts.  The main speed boost was flying.  It cuts leveling time by 75%.

Now I’m stuck on a dungeon quest for the DK, a run through Nethalrion’s Lair.  And since I hit 110, I collected 3 pieces of artifact knowledge that were around 3 billion each.  So all the traits are unlocked on all 3 specs.  I don’t have any decent relics, but it’s something.  Time for some world quests.

Alts

Similar vein of thought here… WoW had a long history of being alt-friendly.  Leveling was a joke after the first few runs – heirlooms did all the work.  Getting to level cap was easy enough, then a few days of dungeon runs put you in a decent spot.  At least up until MoP.  WoD, garrisons and the rep grind did it in for me for alts.  Legion pulls back a bit on that, with the dramatic exception of the artifact weapon – in particular the power and time gates.  That’s been reverted now (AK is shared on an account, time gates on 3rd relics are gone, empowerment is gone).

Given that the focus for BfA seems to be a reversion of the “bring the player” mentality, with a renewed focus on class distinction, that probably means people are going to have more alts.  The leveling portion is one thing, but it’s the cap-level activities that will need to be balanced.

I’ll go back to my old recommendation with MoP – make proving grounds mandatory for each class.  Continue to have unlocks/achievements, but base those on the account – not the character.  To figure out if that alt can take on extra content, just put them in the proving grounds.  It’s not time locked, takes about 20 minutes to reach gold rank, and is a great way to figure out how class mechanics work.

Update on the Death Knight

Apparently Legion opens up at level 98.  WoD ended before I was even halfway done with Shadowmoon Valley.  Yay!

Tank Swap

I swapped to Blood for the last bit of WoD.  It went better in that I finally had the ability to restore my health during combat, but the overall damage went down.  There’s clearly something wrong with the scaling numbers, as every piece I had was within 5 item levels of my heirloom gear.

Let’s just say I won’t be running a cloth-wearing alt through this anytime soon (sorry ‘lock!).

Legion Boost

I guess I should have guess since all the expansions seem to open up 2 levels before the original entryway.  I figured I’d run the Broken Short campaign and test out both real tanking combat with proper numbers, and get a piece of gear from it (~100 item levels upgrade).

Like tearing through wet tissues.  Or rather, exactly like every other tank I’ve leveled.  Clearly, there’s a number issue pre-Legion, since the balance is as expected here.  Tweaks a plenty in the next few months I’m sure.

I had forgotten that DK’s already had a class hall, what with Acherus there since WotLK.  I was disappointed that it wasn’t upgraded a little bit.   Monk’s kept theirs, but it looks neat.  Acherus feels like a teenager’s basement.  Good news is death gate, making travel to/from quite easy.  (Side note – of the halls I can access, my preference from best to worst – Rogue, Monk, Druid, Shaman, Paladin, DH, DK). The tanking weapon – Maw of the Damned – was quite easy to acquire.  It’s neat to see the Lich King again (or the new old one… confusing).

My fingers are crossed that this story line actually plays out.  The DK storyline really closed a long time ago, but since it was the Burning Legion that actually created the entire line…it seems ripe for opportunity.  So far though, underwhelming.

Heirloom Scaling

First, my armory link.

You can see that a) the armory hasn’t been updated since 7.0, since it doesn’t list tier 3 Heirlooms, and b) that the actual items scale at a lower rate than gear drops.  At level 100, they are ilvl 605, compared to some ilvl 700 items I have equipped.  That apparently changes at 101, where the ilvl jumps to 695 and caps at 800 at level 110.  Not really an issue, since I’m doing just fine combat-wise.  Better than fine.

I did spend the 25,000g to upgrade all the items, giving me 45% more experience gains for Legion.  I have no issues with the actual content in Legion, but I’ve leveled enough through the core and have the achievements set that it isn’t needed.  The downside to the ugprade is that one I’m done the DK, the only other plate wearer is my Warrior – whom I will not be leveling any time soon.  Odd enough given that I could use that exp boost on the cloth wearing classes.  Ah well, making that money back won’t be too hard.  I get a gold mission every day that nets a bit more than 2k.

For now though, I can get through the levels without having to worry about rested xp.  And if the timing works out, I should have Legion flying up and ready within a week.