ActiBlizz – Part 2

Let’s start with a disclaimer in that the all the allegations of abuse at Activision Blizzard are abhorrent. At no point am I defending any of those actions, and I’m not too far away from the idea that it’s simply too corrupt to continue. It’s a farce to believe that capitalism exists – it’s an oligarchy driven by a sole purpose, more power through more money. Power corrupts, plain and simple.

In my prior post I was somewhat curious as to what the fallout would be of the DFEH lawsuit. Considering what came before it, the odds of any significant impacts were rather low. A few shuffles, but generally not much else.

We’re at 2 weeks now, and J Allen Brack is gone (no surprise, he was named in the suit) as well as a formal release of the head of HR (who was out of that position in January, indicating knowledge this was all coming). That’s expected. The replacements with Kotick-assigned members is also expected, given that has been the trend for nearly 10 years now.

There are other bits in this too, all standard things that are part of the corporate dance. There’s an internal bad cop, the staff express dismay and write a letter, the good cop steps in with some sort of plan to address it (but not). Shareholders complain that the value of the stock is tarnished. There’s a lot of hand waving is what I’m getting at.

Kotick is a smart bugger, you have to give him that. Employees wanted a big response… they got one from one of the largest law firms on the globe. A firm that will report to Kotick, and zero reason to anything other than the bare minimum.

Tangent for a second. Amazon treats most of their employees as garbage and disposable (enabled by our massive consumer tendencies). They account for turnover rates near 150% per year. Amazon employs so many people and turnover is so high that they have a corporate risk that there are not enough people to replace those leaving and that they will have burned out that pool. In other words, they are at a point where it’s possible there are not enough people who want to work for Amazon in order to keep the thing moving. This is a new concept, where most companies figure that cheap labour is practically infinite (and to Amazon’s credit, they somehow found the value of that term.)

Kotick has only one concern here… making shareholders happy. Doesn’t matter who is stepped on to get there, there’s always another job applicant waiting to fill in the ranks. The stocks dropped by about 10% when the news broke on July 26 (the volume commensurate to shorts) and then bounced to halfway to continue the year-trend of a downward slope. The anticipation of the Q2 report had another dip (5%) which has pretty much bounced back after they reported that they met their financial targets (well, Activision did. Blizzard is still hemorrhaging players and their pipeline is even dryer than before.) And if you think he’s not going to do everything in his power to crush any possibility of a union, then you’re not paying attention.

Is it a good thing that Activision is trying to build a corporate culture on top of a “bro” culture? Honestly, yes. Corporate cultures evaluate risk to make decisions. Blizzard assumed (from the allegations) that a reminder was enough to stop the bad behaviour. If anything this raises the floor of bad behaviour to the industry average, rather than the bottom. Industry is still very bad, so it’s more about the lesser of two evils. There’s no “return path” for Blizzard here.

All back to the topic of actual meaningful change. I don’t see that actually happening in this case, not unless there is a massive financial incentive to do so. I’d love for that to not be the case, but we’re talking about companies that rake in billions of net revenue dollars per quarter (close to $10b a year). It’s like if you had $10 dollars and I said you need to pay me 10c a year and do what you want to your employees.

If ever there was a time for me to be completely wrong, I wish it was here.


The joy of vacation is that the world keeps going while you’re away. It meant that by the time I came back the entire season of Loki was ready for a binge watch. And it is a worthwhile binge.

I won’t get into specific spoilers here, since that’s part of the ride. I will hit some broader strokes, which I think make this the most “comic book” of all the Disney series so far. The larger plot point tries to answer the question about free will or pre-destination.

The series deals with a time travel agency (TVA). You learn this in the first 5 minutes, and the set design is astounding. It’s borderline brutalist in architecture design, but also full of whimsy – making for a very anachronistic setting. Each episode has something going on within the TVA, and it always feels real. This is a big contrast to the Easter-egg-a-thon of episode 5, which is almost entirely CGI. Comics work because they don’t live in the grey. They have a base foundation from where people start, then end up in space or another dimension.

With the exception of the last episode, every other one manages to build an idea and then subvert expectations. It’s very close to Dr Who under Moffat, where it feels like a roller coaster in the dark, never quite sure of what twist is coming along, but it’s a fun ride. It’s supremely helpful that all the actors here do a great job with the material (casting Owen Wilson seems madly appropriate in his role). The last episode is almost entirely exposition, which I’ll get to in a bit.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the development that Loki goes through. He’s one of the most interesting villains in the MCU, and has been in as many films as the Avengers (10+ years). MCU isn’t known for character development, and Loki was certainly in that package. He was interesting because you were never quite sure what his next crazy plan would be to betray everyone. He was consistent in his inconsistency – sort of like Jack Sparrow. That is not the case in this series – he goes through ample character development, to the point where he is all but unrecognizable by the end. It’s a bit weird that a being thousands of years old has a major change in a couple day’s adventures. He’s not causing any mischief – which is sort of his bag.

The last episode is pure comic book exposition. Love it or hate it, comics books follow a story line for months, then when it’s about to close, they put on bigger stakes or a bigger villain. Loki goes all in on this, and sets up phase 2 of the MCU multi-verse with the grace of a sledgehammer. Which, fine if it wasn’t preceded by 5 episodes of character progression. The sole saving grace in the last episode is that the character doing the exposition is frankly the most interesting character I’ve ever seen in MCU.

Some caution on the multi-verse… I read comics in the 80s when this took off. Without a leash, it goes off the rails super quick and nothing matters anymore because there’s another version to make up the gap. You get something like Sliders rather than Fringe. I’m less worried because it’s clear that Marvel has the larger plot points locked up 5-10 years down the road (as compared to DC), and yet the movie audience is not going to see these movies for the plot.

I liked Wandavision’s slow burn reveal, which was also wonderfully acted. I didn’t like Falcon and the Winter Soldier as it wasn’t episodic, with a really weird pace and structure. Loki feels like the best of the MCU series, while still being handcuffed to the larger story arcs.

Puzzle Boxes

There’s this weird intersect where virtual and physical items meet. You look at movies and the old Harryhausen stop-motion creatures existed for decades. It took Toy Story for industry to realize that digital effects could be a viable alternative. Sure, we still have some serious uncanny valley issues, Star Wars notably, but by and large most things are turning into digital assets.

D&D is a good example of something that has bucked the digital trend. Sure, there are some amazing D&D games, and WotC has some digital tools to help with sessions, but the real experience is still only available in a semi-live event. Two reasons… it’s a whole lot easier to design and adapt a session with physical media, especially with real-time curveballs. Second, the face to face aspects still aren’t working perfectly through video calls. There was a time where digital media looked like it would take over, but the advent of 3D printers and massive price drop in miniatures has reversed that trend.

I’ll roll back the clock to Myst for a minute. Revolutionary at the time, it was a 3D puzzle game that focused on logic and the environment. There was a spike in that type of game, but eventually it became saturated with rather poor clones and frankly, bad puzzle designs. We reached a point of brute force clicking to find hidden clues, or solve puzzles. The genre didn’t die though, it embraced that commodity aspect and went straight to Flash’s waiting arms. For a decent period, JayIsGames was the hub for escape room games. There were all sorts of games here, good and bad, with multiple coming out every week. Some were click fests, others key hunts… but there was some gold in there. Long logic-based quests to save a planet, or get out of jail. The genre was tailor made for digital, as the solutions only had 1 answer, and the assets and logic could be reused later on. If you have the chance, you should check out The Room series on mobile… a near perfect example of solid puzzle design. And yet…

In the mid 10’s we started to see Escape Rooms come out into the real world. You and some friends paid money to get locked into a room and have to solve a large set of logic puzzles within an hour. The beauty of these rooms is that while they require some thought to design, they need next to no upkeep for a very long time. You can set up 3-5 rooms and never change them for a year and people will still pay to do them. Mobile Escape rooms are not available, letting you have a similar experience (though MUCH less tactile) from the comfort of your house. They are pretty much multiplayer Myst games.

Roll the clock back even further, and you have old wooden puzzle kits. Slider puzzle. Rubik’s cubes. Things that kept you busy for a while until you unlocked the logical solution. They remained somewhat ‘simple’ because the cost of construction was so darn high. Mr Puzzle is a great window into the ever increasing complexity of puzzle designs. C&C machines + 3D printers have opened up a new world of puzzles and complexity. For $20-$50 you can get some real brain teasers that will get you really going crazy. I recently opted to pick up a pair of wooden puzzles, with multiple steps.

Beer for scale

It’s an impressive feat to take the concept of a puzzle room, in that you solve one puzzle and use that result to solve another, in a physical form. It took me over an hour each to solve the puzzles. Each time I was stumped and came across the solution, I was frankly amazed at how the logic was physically applied. Nothing felt cheap or a cheat to get through.

I’ve got my eldest taking a look at one of them now. It’s supremely fascinating to see a child’s brain at work at solving these things. Maybe someday I can show her Myst and where I cut my teeth on the genre.

Outriders: RNG

All good looters have some RNG, though there’s a lot of debate as to how that RNG is applied. Diablo 3 went through two major revisions, with a horrible first pass under Jay Wilson, and then an amazing rebirth after Reaper of Souls. Games with any duration need to nail this down at the fundamentals, or they risk turning into Anthem 2.0

The good news here is that Outriders appears to get this part right, and mostly because of the combination of mods, limited stat pools, and weights.

Level Up

I do want to start with the mechanic of levelling up a weapon. From 1-40, the costs are relatively minor, depending on the quality of the item. Blue items in particular are super mega cheap to upgrade. At 40, you need Pod Resources to upgrade an item, and you need significantly more every increase. Enough where it’s pretty much 1 run per upgraded item.


Every green/blue item can have 1 mod. Any purple/orange item can have two mods. If you disassemble an item with a mod, you ‘learn’ that mod and can re-use it as much as you want. You can replace any 1 mod on any item. There are tiers of mods too, with purple items having the best ones right now. Orange items have some solid ones too, but they are quite situational – and you probably want to keep their good mods on the item and replace the other one.

This mod effectively lets you slot 6x boosts of your choice based your playstyle. 90% chance you’re going to want to mod on something like Death Chains for some really high DoT damage. Rather than hunting for an item with a perfect mod while leveling (pre item lvl 50) you can use pretty much any drop.

Limited Stat Pools

This is the real smart part… each item only has a set amount of stat rolls possible, and you can’t roll the same stat more than once on an item. Here’s an explanation. Given that each class build has a favored set of stats, you’re really drawing from a limited pool of options. So let’s say I want with my stats… well I want

  • Firepower Bonus (not Health or Anomaly)
  • Long Range, and Short Range/Cooldown Reduction (not Status, Leech, or Healing)

Those are actually some decent odds!

Random Weights

One bit I didn’t get into is the randomness on the base stats of an item. Armor and Firepower roll in a given range for any item, and a fairly significant amount as well (25% it seems). This isn’t anything earth shattering, and as a general rule doesn’t mean much for Armor. Weapons though…25% is a lot. The range is set on drop and isn’t related to item level. Purple will roll higher than blue though! It has nearly no impact on the quest portion of the game, but does mean a whole lot in expeditions.

Same item level, vastly different stats
Firepower is worth more than armor

Expedition Scaling

The gains from gear are not linear to the challenge from enemies. I’m at CT11, with ‘maxed’ out items for my level with the stat rolls I value. Enemies themselves are more challenging, either in new abilities from the champions OR simply having more hit points. The grunts aren’t so bad, but the champions and end bosses a heck more painful. The timers on expedition progress are generous enough to allow relatively easy movement of +1 CT per run, but I do die often enough now.

Right now, it seems the best path to CT15 is to find amazing rolls in the sub CT10 space, and then just upgrade them to get to CT15. Find an amazing weapon with a good mod, and same with 2 solid armor pieces. The rest can sort itself out.


That doesn’t mean you’re going to see the best gear drop quickly, but it does mean that there’s higher odds of finding something useful as you go through. It’s not the drop speed that we see in Diablo 3 now, where there are tons of catch up mechanics to optimize the RNG, but it’s a hell of a neat way to get people to keep playing!

More than anything here though, this goes to show that you don’t need a super complex loot pool to make it interesting.

WoW Gold Update

I’ve gone super passive with WoW now that Valheim is taking up so much time. That said, I try to log in every day or so to post up some stuff.

With 9.05 coming today, it’s really the inclusion of valor tokens that would see any possible player spike. Maybe that will cause more players to run content, and therefore an uptick in new gear. New runs = new consumables. New gear = new enchants & gems. New tokens = likelyhood of alts actually playing.

Why is this important? Because the AH right now has become saturated due to low demand. An enchanting shard that went for 60g is now less than 30g. It’s not possible to make any profit on any enchantment. Potions are in a similar space, where the sales are much less than the value of the materials.

Of the various methods I’ve applied to make gold:

  • Leatherworking (cosmetics or other) move 1 item every 5 days or so
  • The cloth shuffle (Cloth–> Bracers –> Shards) turns in a 5g profit (I peaked at 70g)
  • Transmog flips have dropped in volume by 75%
  • Glyph sales are still oddly consistent.

I’ve now acquired all the glyphs that turn a 500g profit, but one (that’s a super rare WQ in the broken isles). Dark Absolution was the most painful of them, given the single run per day. It has sold for 12k a shot, and costs about 600g to make. I’ve also come to terms with the need to mill my own pigments for this, as Sallow can be quite expensive.

The Curve

I’m showing the gold progress from when I started Shadowlands til now, across all characters. You’ll see the trend is somewhat linear, while I only really stated the gold making efforts about a month ago. I have a habit of leveling characters with gathering skills. The monk was an herbalist, the DH was herbalism & mining. The first went the campaign route, the latter took the threads of fate route. Both turned in a similar profit range from the 50-60 portion. The daily quests still give about 2k in grey material, so that’s really the floor on the curve. Anything under 2k a day means you’re not playing, or at least it means you don’t have any cares about gold. Which, you know, makes sense given there’s very little to actually spend gold on.

Just looking at this you can see when I started playing Valheim pretty darn clearly.

Anyhoo, in the general goal of quickly paying for tokens, it would seem that 2-3 minutes a day selling glyphs is by far the simplest route. I’ve got enough gold now for 10 tokens at current value. I’d have to hazard that the prices on tokens goes up given the sheer glut of gold all around. But that’s for another time.

WoW Gold Making Update

Still trying to find the right battle plan to make a quick token. The context of Stormrage is that it’s like 95% Alliance and one of the largest servers, so there’s a TON of competition in the market. That means prices are generally lower due to competition, but that there’s more general gold to make through higher volumes.

I’ve got a few methods that are proving effective.

#1 Transmog Flips

I’ve made about 200k since starting in just flipping transmog items. I scan once a week (takes about 5 minutes to complete), load up stock, then have a 24hr auction go up just around prime time. I usually have 30 or so items up at a time. I don’t bother with anything under 1k, or that sells less than 0.03 items per day. Just not worth the hassle.

#2 Glyphs

This one I lost a ton (like 15k) of money on because of the way the crafting was calculated, I then hardcoded it to be 100% based on market value, not milling value. Since then, there are a dozen or so glyphs that sell for 2k each, and I clean house every day. They are almost exclusively Legion glyphs, which are not from a vendor but require either a really long quest chain, faction exchange, or rare drops. This one is borderline more profitable than Transmogs, just takes a lot longer to set up.

A nice side note, I purchased 1000 Sallow Pigment (needed for Legion glyphs) for 1s each. The median price is 60g. Hell of a steal.

#3 Cloth / Shard Shuffling

There’s always a shuffle you just need to find it. In SL, it’s turning cloth into dust/shards. You only need level 50 (do the intro quest) and get like 20 tailoring in SL to get access to the blue bracers. They cost 10 Shrouded Cloth, 2 Lightless Silk, and 3 Penumbra Thread (which has faction discounts, so 7.25g is the cheapest price). They DE into 1.4 Shards, and 1.5 Dust.

At my market rates, it costs about 77g to make and sells for 105g. So let’s say 25g profit per. I can make / DE about 10 in a minute, so 250g per minute profit. Getting a good deal on cloth, or having a spike in value on dust/shards can (and has) doubled that profit margin. That’s the nature of high volume transactions, small changes can have massive repercussions.

#4 Transmog/DE Farming

To get the recipes for the glyphs, I needed to grind quite a bit. The best selling items drop from TBC zones, by and large. I could spend say 30m chain running dungeons and make a decent coin. Anything Legion and below I can chain pull the entire zone, bring to the boss, nuke everything, lag for 10s while I loot, and do it again to clear the dungeon. DE the BoP items, DE the BoE items that won’t sell, mail transmog item to an alt, and sell everything else.

Raids are also good… set it to 25 players and you’re pulling in 4-5k a run easily.

Things that are NOT working

  • Leatherworking transmog is not working, at all. I think I sold 1 piece of Pandaria gear which should turn a decent profit. The costs are minimal thankfully. If stock sold, I’d have close to 100k profit.
  • Alchemy prices are crazy volatile. Herbs go up and down 25% a day with no reason. Pots are all over the map. I could make 100g at 8pm, and lose 15g at 10pm.
  • Enchanting remains stupid. Unless there’s a mystery source for cheap purple shards, there’s nothing on the AH that turns a profit.
  • I have not tried BoE group farming. I prefer to set-it-and-forget-it, and grinding even for 100k/hr is not something I enjoy.

Token Prices

It’s around 120k for a token. Transmog can easily cover that, but the profit/minute is all over the place. The Cloth shuffle, at 250g/minute would mean 8 hours. Glyphs turn about 10k a day for 2 minutes of work, which does turn into a month affair but only 25 minutes of actual effort.

Can anyone turn a profit? Yeah, install TSM4, don’t configure anything, and just fill up the AH with your bags. Optimizing that profit takes more thought process, as would be expected. It’s an interesting mini-game.

Mandatory Buffet

The only benefit to consumers for a buffet is the sheer variety of options for a fixed cost. The quality is rarely that of a focused restaurant. The benefit to the restaurant is that they have a much larger client base and a rather consistent income stream because of it. The expense management aspect is similar to other restaurants (people make different choices), yet there can be massive spikes with no corresponding income spike. You should be able to identify trends and accommodate, but the launch is going to be rough – or if you get a sports team show up. Consumers generally sour on buffets if there is not enough food, or if the quality dips beyond a certain level (e.g. it’s cold).

Why is this relevant? Most games offer a buffet type approach. Assassin’s Creed is a perfect example of this, you have dozens of possible activities. MMOs also have this, in that you can craft, hunt, dungeon, raid, or other. The difference is in the structure of the buffet in that things are an option or not.

MMO players have differing goals. Some like the social part, some the achievements, some discovery, some the competition. Most games have a gate that prevents access to a given function, either player level or player power. Some are soft gates (you can try something while underpowered but it will be very hard) or they are hard gates (you simply cannot access the feature).

In WoW, there are both. The hard gates are usually related to levels (90% of the game is locked at max level), or to a quest. The quests are notable in WoW, as most items are time gated. Even if you have all the pre-requisites done, you still have to wait for that gate to be accessible (covenant storylines, twisting corridors). The soft gates are power related, or ilevel. You need a certain level to do dungeons, another for raiding, and so on. If you want to access the full buffet, then you need to increase your power level or renown level.

To increase renown, you need to do your covenant quests. These require you to do a set of activities (you don’t get to choose which):

  • collect souls from the maw (weekly)
  • collect 1000 anima (weekly) – anima comes from WQ + dungeons
  • complete some combination world quests (daily)
  • complete a specific dungeon (uncommon daily)
  • complete a PvP event

If you want to increase your power level, you need to:

  • complete the odd WQ that has a reward
  • complete the covenant story (through renown + dungeons) and boost your item level
  • complete relevant dungeons and get a drop
  • complete raids and get a drop
  • complete PvP and raise your rank
  • open the weekly vault, which stems from completing mythic+ dungeons, raids, and/or PvP
  • complete the weekly open world boss and get a drop
  • complete 2+ Torghast runs to get ash for legendary upgrades

Assuming you’re a fresh 60, that’s a big buffet! Nearly all of it is right at your door when you start too. You’re going to try as many pieces as you can, then develop a taste for one or two. Then you realize you’ll need…

  • to do WQ for the weekly anima quest
  • to run the Maw once a week for the souls quest
  • to do WQ for renown increases
  • to run Torghast multiple times (at least twice) to get soul ash for your legendary
  • to PvP for renown and vault rewards
  • to raid for vault rewards
  • to run M+ dungeons for vault rewards

“Need” may be a harsh word, you don’t need to do any of it. You can ignore all the systems if you want, and just do the content you enjoy. The game will hamper that enjoyment if you don’t engage in more systems, but that’s entirely up to you. That loot is so incredibly sparse, if ever you do see something drop, you’re going to jump on it and forcibly try any avenue to get that artificial number to increase.

The cynic in me see this design approach as on par with mobile games and their focus on engagement. Or, as we’ve all seen reported, Monthly Average Users (MAU). The game is purposefully designed to tunnel you into ALL activities, whether you enjoy it or not. If you don’t enjoy content and (feel the) need to do it, then that is not a positive feedback loop. If that content is not working properly (e.g. Beastwarrens bugs, placeholders in Torghast, anima rewards that don’t scale, broken mission tables, broken WQ gimmicks, etc…) and you need to do it, then ugh.

In the individual mechanism space, on the whole, Shadowlands improves on BfA. You never have a reversion of power. The borrowed power mechanic doesn’t scale to absolutely stupid levels. You’re never looking at triple RNG (-forging). But as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t see how the game could have gotten worse than BfA. It reminds me of an Eddie Murphy joke.

Shadowlands feels like this.

The Maw

Leveling and Torghast so far have a thumbs up. They have their quirks, but all told, positives. Now for the Maw.

I clearly remember the Timeless Isle in MoP, targeted as a daily activity to hunt down rares and frankly, gear the crap out of any alt you may have had. It was an interesting zone, and really quite innovative at the time. Each expansion has brought their own version to bear since then, with varying levels of success. Legion is still a high water mark for me. Nazjatar I have a crazy dislike due to zone design, and Mechagon seems like it could have used the space better. The less we talk about Tanaan, the better. None of them allowed for flying at the start, but all of them allowed mounting.

The biggest point about all of these is that they came after the main expansion, and were mechanically bound to catch-up mechanics and new storylines.

The Maw is this weird space where it takes a lot of pieces of those zones and puts them at the start of an expansion. It has plenty of rares and it’s own faction. Travel is improved over time. It has an interesting (-ish) time gate mechanic so that you can’t just grind it for hours. On the surface, it’s an interesting proposition.

The challenge is in WoW’s risk vs reward mindset, caked in through nearly 15 years of training. The rewards from the Maw are

  • Faction & currency to improve travel (which is character bound)
  • Faction & currency to improve RNG in Torghast (which is account bound)
  • Faction and currency to randomly improve a low level conduit (character bound)
  • Faction and currency to add a gem slot to a legendary (character bound)
  • A weekly i183 gear drop chance
  • A potential mount (3 days out of 14), but from a quest broken since launch
  • Access to 2 more “hard mode” zones in the Maw

You can optimize and get ~1500 faction a day. 42,000 total to max, so you’re looking at a month of daily play to get there (weekly quests are there too).

Jailer Levels

As a time gating mechanic, this sort of makes sense. Level 1 is meaningless. Level 2 is easy to manage, if you’re not in an massive AE battle (e.g. Jailer event). Level 3 is a new level of annoyance, spawning an NPC that keeps you in battle for the entire map. Level 4 can’t be avoided, you just get scooped up and need to kill the target before they kill you, and survive the fall damage. Level 5 is just like level 3, but if they touch you, you die.

It’s entirely possible to run around with level 5, it is not possible to enter combat and survive at level 5. Completing both daily quests will get you to level 2. Hunt rares to go higher.

Early Experience

As a fresh 60, you’re dropped into the Maw to run some basic quests. Horrendously undergeared, and a map that makes little sense, it’s not a good first run. You’ll see some rares, and promptly get wiped out. Most players are going to have a rough time at the 150-ish gear level. That the mobs are so tightly spaced, you’re going to aggro tons of stuff just getting around. And thematically, the zone is supposed to be punishing, right?

I should mention it’s the first open world zone in which you cannot mount, and the game does nothing to explain why that is, or how to change it. If you’re a DK, be ready for a bad time.

Finally, its near impossible to navigate the Maw without an add-on. HandyNotes is practically required,

The Mid Game

Frankly, the only reason to even bother with the Maw is if you like Torghast. Aside from a potential renown quest from your faction, there are zero reasons to go into the Maw. There are no transmogs, the achievements are gated behind harder content, there are no gear drops.

This is further examined as you open up the other areas in the Maw and see that there’s no one there. All the players are in the “starter” area of the map.

The End Game

Is a month end game? I dunno. Is 1 gem slot worth a month’s faction grind? By the time you find value in the Maw rewards, you’ve so dramatically overleveled the zone that you’ll be killing everything in there in 5 GCD. And after you’ve done it once, it’s a near guarantee you’ll never want to see that zone again.


The Maw feels like an undercooked mechanic. It’s nowhere near as bad as the Isles in BfA, and that’s primarily because it can be done solo. But that’s also the Achilles heel here, if you don’t like Torghast, then there’s no reason to go in the Maw aside from the random renown quest. Every other system in the game offers a better reward for your time, even just walking around.

Credit to Blizz here in that no alts are required (or even suggested) to do the Maw. There’s zero in here for them, aside from a potential weekly quest for renown. It does make you question why they would have designed an ENTIRE zone that no one wants to go through. I have to hold out some hope that there are long terms plans for the Maw. The concepts here are well worth exploring.

Torghast Thoughts

Hades is my game of the year. Dead Cells has a few dozen hours. My mobile device always has some sort of incremental installed. I really like the concept of growth over time, and that there are ceilings where you need to restart. The “pure” rogues are frankly more like Mario Bros on the NES, where each playthrough is independent of the next, aside from experience. Todays’ versions take that concept, then add RNG to a given run (skills/weapons/spawned enemies), yet maintain a set of rules (e.g. the map has X drops, Y set of enemies). The most popular ones provide tiers of progress within their structure. As much as they are pauses in a given run, they often give rewards for the meta gameplay. In other words, while a full run gives 100% resources, a partial run gives you something.

With that foundation of expectations, my thoughts on Torghast are a mixed bag. First, the not so good.

There are a lot of anima powers. They are average to good, though there are quite a few that drop that are outright bad. Some are bugged. Some have horrible descriptions of what they do. Some are actually built to destroy a run (e.g. can’t move). While I’m game that experience tells you which powers are better than others, there are limits. A good rogue-like will define a run quickly through choice… and it’s rare that by the end of floor 1 you have a defined build in mind.

Ravenous Anima Cells allow you to convert an enemy into a power. You need a wiki entry to see which are actually useful (or just try on the dozens of enemies), which is a giant waste of anima. Some wings are useless, others are amazing. The concept here is great. The implementation… not so much.

Some of the tuning is really weird. Using this week…Mort’regar is full of very large fights with enemies that are hidden. Skoldus Hall has an enemy that continually casts AE attacks that debuff players if they get touched – like 10% per stack and that stick around if you die. So either you kill the bugger (and use their power to cleanse yourself) or your run is pretty much over. Bosses are all over the place, where you may find floor 5 a cakewalk, then the 6th floor boss hits you for 25% a shot. (Credit to Blizz for the downtuning on Dec 17th for pretty much everything.) The RNG on floor design is also a bit iffy. You can have a straight corridor that lasts 2 minutes, or you can have a maze that takes 20 minutes.

The reward structure is only based on completion, which is surreal. There is no content in the game where you can do something for an hour and get nothing for it. (Group content still has drops, whether you can use it or not is different.) The meta buffs, which impact future runs, have NOTHING to do with Torghast. You get those through faction gains in the Maw.

Torghast should be account based, not character based. Full stop. Time gating on content here is dumb, since if you’ve done it on one character, then you know what’s coming. There’s zero benefit here except stalling the ALT enjoyment process. The meta boosts are account based, the floor rewards are meta. But accessing the quests or twisting corridors? Nope.

There are no rewards for exploration except more currency. Seems a wasted opportunity.

Now for the good.

The variety in builds is nice to see. There are some crazy OP options for nearly everyone, but they require amazing RNG. Some only shine if you stack them, or if you combo them with others. Or, you could end up with a run where you just end up with +HP. It rewards adaptation.

The skill floor is at a decent spot. It may not be communicated, and it’s certainly RNG heavy, but players need to use most of their skill set to survive (e.g. interrupts / stuns). It could use a couple “long cast” options where it’s near certain death, especially at the floor bosses. If we can’t get the proving grounds, then this is the next best place for it.

The NPCs you meet are useful. Very useful. To the point where you don’t want them to leave, and only complete their quest after clearing the entire floor. It makes the other rewards (chests) seem “meh”. Which, again, the RNG fun of it all.

The enemy variety is nice. You have melee, ranged, AE, DoTs… the whole mix. You need to prioritize targets, stun a few, and pull away to AE. It can get painful, especially where multiple enemies can fear and throw you to the edge where a small step kills you. (The chain bridges have horrible clipping…)

The rare elites are really nice changes of pace, and about half of them have interesting anima powers. They feel like a much better expression of risk/reward than anything else in all of Torghast.

The diminishing returns of Torghast are also good to see. 375 ash for layer 4, and only 195 more if you get to layer 8.


Rohan said it best, Torghast is effectively a Rextroy simulator. What kind of crazy can you come up with and make it work. It is not a measure of player skill, and barely one of item level. What you go in with has only a small impact on your ability to succeed. Sure, rocking 210 gear is going to be a boost, but you can still clear most of it at 155.

There are still some weird questions here, as to the long term purpose of Torghast. In particular why it doesn’t have it’s own mechanics and why it is gated behind 7 weeks of time gates to get someone else into the twisting corridors. Still, it’s a solid alternative to the go-go-go of M+. With a few more tweaks, this could be a transmog / collection dream come true.

Shadowlands Leveling

WoW has already undergone enough squishing that I sort of expect it in every other expansion. I’ve talked at length on the insane power curve problems that Blizz has self-inflicted, and this continues in SL. The squish does nothing to fix that problem, it just makes sure that their servers don’t blow up dividing by zero.

The Early Game

Squishing levels though, that’s different. After BFA’s attrocious power “wave” approach to leveling and gearing (where everyone got weaker, then stronger, then weaker, and again…), SL had a goal of resetting the leveling power curve. Levels themselves were meaningless, aside than an artificial gate on content. With the squish to 50, it makes the dings a tad more meaningful. After having gone through it, it could have had even another 20 levels shaved and no one would really have noticed. There were really only a dozen times where I stopped and re-ordered my play style – some basic rotational skills and then the 6 talents.

Speed-wise it was admittedly a lot faster than prior. There’s still a “hell level” section in the 30s (which was the 70s prior) where it feels like molasses, but the overall process is MUCH more enjoyable. The fun part here is that the entire leveling experience can be contained to a single expansion. War mode is a nice bonus, but as always, you need to turn it off for the real content (50-60).

I find it somewhat hilarious that WoD is the defacto leveling zone. The bonus objectives are reasonable (more so than SL), the double hearthstone makes a big difference, the treasures are a big boost, and most of the zones are decent while on the ground. Having WoD flying is a huge boost to time, and the garrison is almost entirely ignored. I still don’t have a positive memory of the WoD leveling experience, story-wise. Mechanically though, it is hard to argue the efficiencies. If Legion didn’t have class halls, it would be the fastest by far. Pandaria is my next favourite way to go, but you miss out on a lot of “bonus xp” stuff.

So the 1-50 stuff goes by pretty fast. The Azeroth Auto-pilot speeds it up further (I usually put that on for the 2nd alt and beyond). My last attempt was a Druid, which is like turbo mode for leveling. Herbalism/Mining is still a wild XP boost while leveling. And the way that the game dumps tons of gold into the bag isn’t hurtful (WoD is extremely generous). I had no issues getting 30 slot bags and all flying unlocked at 50… with a lot left over.

Chromie Time deserves a thought. This makes it so that the entire game scales to 1-50. If you don’t do this, then you’re going to max out a zone’s level. With no in-game explanation. This option is only available if you already have a level 50 character… so the whole refer-a-friend thing doesn’t work here. Why does this even exist as a choice and not be the default?

Overall, a significant improvement. But…

The class trial does a better job of getting you ready to play the game than anything 1-50. The content from 1-50 (aside from pet battles) is completely irrelevant, and in no way resembles the gameplay in SL, at or before 60. The amount of opportunities available here to ease new players into whatever it is Blizz has in store for them is absent. I know, I know, who hasn’t played WoW that would be interested at all? Enough for it to be worth it. Exile’s Reach is a good attempt, but it should end with the player ready for that expansion’s content. And for the love of all that’s covered with cheese, why oh why can’t Blizz find a way to make the proving grounds part of the leveling experience?

Shadowlands Content

I did both the campaign and the threads of fate. Or rather, the tutorial and then expert mode. The world design is still something to celebrate, and there are plenty of times where I just stopped to appreciate it all. The characters, the arcs, the arts… just really well done. The flow of the story is decent too, so much that you don’t really notice the travel time between the points. I’m sure everyone comes out with a favourite by the end, and the trial of the covenant abilities is solid. Blizz’ dependency on every fantasy trope in the book generally works, especially considering that they have access to every single Warcraft character they’ve killed (where’s Arthas?), making for some interesting interactions. It also allows access to every other world in the Warcraft universe… By the time you’re done the campaign you have a good idea of what’s going on, what skills you’d like, and which team you’d like to pledge for. In terms of “consistent” story, this is really top notch.

The threads of fate opens up after your first campaign, allowing you to level as you want. Each zone has a bar that fills up based on your activities, then you move to the other zones. The advantage here is that each zone gives you 1 renown level, the only catchup mechanic in game currently. The disadvantage is that you need to find the content to complete. Quests are great, as are rares (if they are up), yet you need to travel A LOT to find them. Bonus objectives are so very, very painful to complete, and with pitiful rewards. Harvest 20 of anything and you’ll get more experience. Travel itself is also unpleasant, since the quests are not typically chained. It is neither faster, nor more rewarding than the campaign. The real benefit is if you want to chain run dungeons and get renown. Well, not completely true. There are some hidden gem quests that you will really only see in this mode. A shame really.

I will point out that people will truly appreciate zone design if they take the threads of fate path. Revendreth has a dense and vertical design, almost claustrophobic. Andrenweald has a branch/leaf design (you’re in a hub, then in a field, then in a hub). Bastion is large open plains. And Maldraxxus… well, it’s there alright.

Another post will go into the experience from 60 and beyond. What I will say is that when you do hit 60, the deluge of new systems-with-no-explanation comes at you fierce. This is the expansion with the least amount of training wheels I’ve yet to see. It gives you all of this, no explanation of why or even if it’s important.


This is WoW at it’s most streamlined. It has never been faster to level. Nearly every ding has some meaning (big or small). There are no bells and whistles, systems just come at you full speed. The 1-50 portion highlights how meaningless it actually is. The 50-60 campaign/thread of fate is a great choice for leveling, with two truly distinct paths. It’s arguably a better single player RPG than most AAA games out there. Hats off to the art/world design teams.