Sense of Pride and Accomplishment

In addition to Hollow Knight, I have been playing a bunch of Dead Cells lately.

Because apparently I hate myself.

DeadCells_01

I definitely recommend letting traps do the heavy lifting.

Dead Cells is basically a roguelike Metroidvania that has more in common with Rogue Legacy and Binding of Isaac than, say, Hollow Knight. Defeating enemies occasionally gives you a currency (Cells) that you can spend at the end of each level to unlock permanent upgrades and blueprints of items that are then seeded into the item pool of future runs. Of course, that assumes you make it to the end of the level – die before then, and you lose everything you were carrying, and have to start over at the beginning of the game.

Of course, that’s how roguelikes work. It’s expected that you start over a bunch of times. And in this regard, I definitely felt less terrible after a death in Dead Cells than I did in Hollow Knight.

…up until The Hand of the King encounter, that is.

The final boss in Dead Cells is so absurdly more difficult than anything that comes before it. While its attacks are not inherently “unfair” beyond their massive power – they can be dodged just like everything else – most of them will prevent you from utilizing health potions, lest you get hit again mid-swig. Thus, you have very little opportunity to practice learning his moves, and dying here means it’ll take at least ~30 minutes of re-clearing everything else along the way to get another shot.

DeadCells_02

Amazing ranged synergy… what could go wrong? (Failed run)

Well, after 26 hours /played in Dead Cells, I finally killed the last boss.

According to conventional wisdom, I should be feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment. I died to this boss at least ten times, re-clearing the entirety of the game to get another chance each time. The fight itself is difficult, and difficult = rewarding. Permadeath confers a sense of risk, and overcoming risk = rewarding. Right?

I feel none of that. And it sorta makes you question the whole “difficulty” edifice.

To be fair, I did not expect to win on the particular run that I did. The items offered on each run are random, and while you can sometimes affect the odds by resetting shop items, the best gear drops from bosses and you don’t have many shots at those. I had strolled up to the final boss several times before with what seemed to be unassailable combos, only to die embarrassing deaths. On the winning run, I made a last minute substitution that basically had no particular synergy with anything – it simply offered an extra 30% damage reduction, which apparently was enough to get me over the finish line.

I have never particularly believed that difficulty was valuable in of itself. But the total emptiness of having beat Dead Cells makes me question why I ever tried to debate anyone on difficulty previously. It is often taken as a given that “log in, collect epix” is bad, and defeating the game on extreme permadeath Ironman mode (or whatever) is good. But I know for a fact that I would have enjoyed Dead Cells more had I beaten the last boss two runs earlier than I did two runs later. And that disappointment and dissatisfaction I felt at losing was not made up by eventually winning.

DeadCells_03

Successful run items. Ice Grenade was a late addition.

What makes the situation all the more absurd is that there is a lot more left to Dead Cells. Defeating the last boss unlocks “Boss Cells” which are essentially bonus modifiers you can apply to all enemies and bosses. Defeat the last boss on this new, higher difficulty and you unlock another Boss Cell slot. And so on, up to 4, which is the current limit. Ergo, the last boss could have been easier, and everyone else who craved a harder game could have been more than satisfied with four additional difficulty tiers.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m still just salty from winning when I didn’t expect to, and losing (several times) when I did. Perhaps that was the secret sauce all along – expecting to lose from the start led me to have lower anxiety levels during the fight. Or maybe I had seen the boss’s moves enough to commit them to muscle memory.

All that I know for certain is that difficulty, by itself, doesn’t particularly add anything meaningful to a game. In fact, it often can poison an entire experience. I’m not sure how you balance a game such that there are difficult moments without being frustrating, but Dead Cells ultimately did not get it right when it comes to the final boss. Which is a damn shame, because I otherwise had fun.

Ghost of Fun Past

Novelty is a finite resource. The best we can hope for in a game is that it ends before the novelty wears off. Too soon and the game feels like it missed its full potential (which it literal did). Too late, and well… we feel relief when the credits finally roll. Assuming we can bring ourselves to crawl across the finish line at all.

HollowKnight_2

Unless you like super hard games.

 

As mentioned previously, I have been playing Hollow Knight. It’s a decently fun game (with some reservations) with amazing music and visuals. It also has an almost tangible sense of novelty that you can feel slipping by, as sand through your fingers. Unfortunately, the last third of the game is the “gritty fingers” part of the experience.

Metroidvanias have a delicate balancing act. The hallmarks of the genre are exploration, boss fights, character progression, and backtracking. Specifically, you explore new areas, fight new bosses, unlock new powers and/or movement abilities, and then go back to previously unreachable areas to unlock new zones. Repeat until done.

The problem is when either the new zone or new power steps become exhausted and the game just continues on. This is what happens in the Hollow Knight. The base game “ended” around hour 15 but it took an additional 10 hours to finish.

Now, technically I unlocked the ability to fight the end boss and achieve an ending before the map and/or powers were totally completed. The issue is that this would have been a Bad Ending, and who the hell wants that? So I continued on, capping my movement abilities, and essentially farming harder versions of bosses I already fought for a currency to unlock the Real Ending(s). And there were technically new areas to explore too… but they weren’t the same.

A lot of games work this way, but the latter half of Hollow Knight basically transforms from what it originally was… into Super Meat Boy/Dark Souls. The White Palace area straight-up abandons any pretext of grounded world-building and populates halls with floating buzzsaws and thrusting spears. I was fine with the platforming aspects earlier in the game, because the thorns and spikes made in-universe sense. But what lumber were these subterranean bugs cutting in the stone palace, exactly?

Why are we going to such extremes to begin with? Bosses and puzzles getting harder over time is Game Design 101. But at a certain point, an ever-higher ceiling turns your living room into an auditorium into a cathedral. The entire purpose of the room changes. In an MMO, the transition is necessary as you move from the solitary leveling game into a daily/weekly set of multiplayer chores in order to keep players subscribed. Single-player games have no such need. It’s certainly disappointing when the final boss is weaker than a prior boss – be it due to greater player skill or character power – but I’m not sure erring on the side of absurdity is much better.

I did end up defeating the “true boss” in the base game a few days ago. It was an incredibly frustrating experience, because each time you fail, you have to defeat the “fake boss” all over again just to get another shot. Rather than satisfaction at finally completing a difficult task, all I felt was relief that my toil was finally over.

Those who enjoy the Super Meat Boy/Dark Souls experience will likely be happy with endgame content, and happier still with all the extended DLC that supposedly ups the ante even further. Anyone else who fell in love with Hollow Knight’s first 15 hours of gameplay, on the other hand, can presumably go fuck themselves.

Impressions: Hollow Knight

One of the games I have been playing in relatively short bursts is Hollow Knight.

HollowKnight_1

Beginnings

I am usually skeptical about games with nigh-universal praise, because I’m fundamentally a cynical bastard at heart. But Hollow Knight is really pretty good. Amazing, even. It can also be frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and exhausting overall.

Basically, Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania minus the XP. There is side-scrolling exploration, a lot of backtracking once you unlock new movement abilities, and some fairly lethal combat with severe death penalties. Specifically, you drop all your Geo (currency) upon death, and if you die again before reaching your corpse, it disappears forever… until you get some special items. There are no particular “instant death” mechanics, but the number of invincibility frames available after taking damage is quite small, sometimes leading you to take more than one “hit” from the same attack.

I would describe the game overall as a mixture of Salt & Sanctuary + Ori and the Blind Forest, if you played either of those two. Or a melee-based Super Metroid.

HollowKnight_3

Super Metroid vibes can get pretty strong.

What deserves every accolade attributed to it is the art and music of Hollow Knight. Beautiful, haunting, perfectly mood-setting. For a weird game about bug ghosts – at least I think that’s what this game is about – the visuals and soundtrack pull you in and makes everything… belong. Coherent. Even when there’s a lot of vague nonsense going on, you just let it slide right off as you go explore the new area or experiment with some new ability.

Like I said before though, the game is exhausting. When you reach a new area, there is no map until you find a specific NPC somewhere on the level. Then you have to find a Save bench before your map can be updated. Because reasons. This leads to play sessions that begin and end with Save benches, even though I think you can technically do a Save & Exit, as it’d be difficult to know where you left off. Plus, some bosses seem like total bullshit until you figure out the trick, and the game makes sure your face in rubbed in the carpet on the walk back to your corpse. Which can lead to behavior like backtracking all the way to a shop to spend all your Geo “just in case,” because Stiff Death Penalties are Good Game Design, Guys.

Whatever. Hollow Knight is fun despite its annoyances, but don’t assume you’ll be able to just play the game casually.

Fulfillment vs Excitement

There is an Asmongold video out that has received at least 27 Reddit gold after it was posted:

(All the good stuff is within the first six minutes)

Among the criticisms he makes regarding Battle for Azeroth, one that resonated a bit with me was the distinction between Fulfillment and Excitement. Essentially, Blizzard used to give you a 8% chance to get a specific piece of gear that was your Best-in-Slot piece. It might take a long time to get it, but once you finally got it, it was an event. You were complete. Done.

When Titanforging was introduced though, suddenly BiS gear was rendered largely impossible. You might receive your “BiS” piece, but if it didn’t proc with an extra gem socket and/or numerous bonus stats, it wasn’t actually BiS. Moreover, it was entirely possible that someone just dicking around in Warfronts could luck into a piece of gear that surpassed something that dropped from Mythic Uldir.

Asmongold’s point is that while you can feel excitement over a drop that suddenly Titanforges up to insane levels… that excitement is short lived. It’s the pull of a slot machine. That’s fundamentally different than working towards an end goal, even if said end also requires some RNG along the way.

When Titanforging was first introduced, I was impressed. It seemed like a clever solution to the problem of completing content that was no longer rewarding in any way. I distinctly remember my tanking days back in Wrath, and how I was asked to clear dungeons with guildies despite the fact that I could get nothing from it (once I capped out with Justice Points). With this new wrinkle, there was always a chance I could get an upgrade from any content I completed.

What I did not realize at the time was how destructive that notion really is. You are never “done.” And not just in a “there will always be another content patch with better loot” kind of way, but in a more literal “never experience satisfaction in current content” way.

As Asmongold points out though, Titanforging by itself is not what is killing the BfA experience. Indeed, the concept of Titanforging has been around for several expansions now, and nobody seemed to have been complaining about it until now (or at least to this degree). The real problem is that BfA is so mechanically weak on so many fronts, that the fundamental issue with Titanforging is poisoning the experience more than usual.

I’m sure Blizzard has the stats on the number of people who just stop playing the game after they achieve BiS, and found the numbers problematic. Certainly in my case, once I finally got the two piece of transmog gear I had been farming, I found myself at a loss of what else to do. This could explain why they are trying to get everyone back to collecting a bunch of full suits of extra gear. With the deprecation of the concept of BiS though, I don’t think these extra suits are going to satisfy players for as long as it may have before.

What is the solution? We already had it for years: vendors. Bring back Justice/Valor Points. Everyone rightly complained in Legion about the Legendary system and how RNG could lead you to a situation in which your spec was basically broken the whole expansion… up until they introduced the Legendary vendor in 7.3.5. The initial rollout was still a bit lame RNG until they allowed you to straight-up pick the ones you want, but it was there eventually. Collect “Wakening Essence” from a variety of sources (WQ, missions, ect) at your own pace, and know the end result.

Titanforging is dumb. If it’s some kind of design imperative to have raiders running WQs or dungeons all the time, fine, make it Justice Points. Except this time, put in consumables, gear you can buy for alts, and other nonsense to give everyone potential reasons to collect it all day.

Give us back some goddamn agency for once.

Azerite Armor as Regression

As evidenced by the latest Q&A – and the Reddit response threads – Azerite Armor is still a big issue within the WoW community. I would say “contentious issue,” but I’m pretty sure it’s only Ion and Rohan who like it.

That said, it finally struck me why I hate the system, and why Blizzard doesn’t care: Blizzard is trying to regress gearing back to the TBC days. In a recent LiveStream interview, Ion says:

(paraphrase) If you look at how most items work, if you want to play another spec, you want another item for that slot.

Ion goes on to say that Azerite gear is more flexible than that, in that you can technically respec (for a price!) the traits if you change roles. Which is fine… if not for the fact that Legion just had tier gear that automatically changed to match your spec. And the expansion before that (WoD) introduced dynamic primary stats, such that a Retribution paladin switching to Holy will see most his Strength gear turn into Intelligence. It felt like we were progressing to a point at which we simply had one major set of gear and were done.

I feel like players’ confusion and anger as to this sudden design reversal is justified.

Now, all this is probably a bit unfair to Blizzard. Weapons and trinkets were largely spec-specific even in Legion days, to say nothing about how Legendaries forced you to commit to specs to a ridiculous degree. On top of that, everyone knew that even if primary stats swapped around, different specs valued secondary stats differently, even after the super-specific ones like Dodge (etc) were removed. If you were a paladin tank and switched to Retribution, you knew that your tank gear would deal less DPS than something focused on the stats that Retribution favored (without even getting into Artifact Power differences).

And yet… Azerite still feels bad. Because its a regression back to a time that was inherently more frustrating for people with multiple specs. A split baby option of reforging doesn’t make anything better, nor the opportunity to split another baby by choosing generic Azerite traits (actual suggestion from Ion) rather than spec-specific ones in an effort to save gold. And Blizzard’s big “solution” to fix things in 8.1? They’re adding another ring with only spec-specific traits. Which means the power delta between each piece of Azerite gear is actively getting worse for your other spec(s).

This sort of thing is not an accident. Ion wants the game to return to the point at which players need a full set of different gear for each spec. That used to be okay. Hell, it used to be you needed a PvP set of gear on top of everything else you needed for PvE. But it is a regression from what we had before.

That’s the problem with Azerite.

The concerns people have about not being able to get 370+ Azerite pieces from content? Not actually an issue from the old design rubric – you only had 1-2 shots at a piece of tier gear from a raid boss each week anyway (the glory days of Justice/Valor Point vendors notwithstanding). Traits needing to be simmed, or some being wildly more powerful than others? There were many times in expansions past where two different two-set tier bonuses were better than the four-set tier bonus. Traits being boring? Again, welcome to many tier sets in WoW’s past.

On a final note though, I do believe that Azerite Armor will likely go down as one of the worst experiments in WoW history. Leveraging it as a means to regress gearing philosophy is one thing. But I also blame it for the fact that we got no new skills or abilities or talents to look forward to in this expansion. Why add a new talent row or button to push when you can just slap a random assortment of buffs on a piece of gear that will naturally cycle itself out come next expansion? In a single design, they seemed to have “solved” ability creep, added a substitute to Legendary items, and gave everyone a grind outlet via AP.

All they had to give up was… fun.

Two Days

My WoW subscription expires in two days, and I think I’ll let it.

This isn’t particularly Big News or anything, but experiencing the internal process has been interesting to me. I have been cashing out my gold for the past several weeks, to the point where I keep around 200k liquid gold, one WoW Token in the bags, and applying Blizzard Balance to the rest. Even now I could just right-click the WoW Token and be good for another month.

But what am I even doing?

Well, making gold. I still make Hexweave Bags because they still sell for 1400g despite current-expansion 30-slot bags go for 800g. I still do the MoP farm on one character, because those mats sell daily for around ~1500g. I herb whenever I run around on the Demon Hunter doing dailies (towards unlocking Pathfinder, Part 1), and that pulls in a couple extra grand. All told, I log in every day to the tune of 5k-10k a day. Peanuts to any serious goblin, but since I’m not seriously doing anything, getting paid $30-$45/month to play WoW seems pretty good. Especially when there is a spike in demand when the Warfront Contributions come around.

But… that’s it. There’s a bit more involved than the Garrison days, but I’m essentially logging in to collect my gold, muck around a bit to see if there are new markets to explore, and then logging off. That was good enough to justify things last month. Not so sure it still holds up this month.

Yeah, it’s probably for the best to let things lapse. I’ll check back in patch 8.1. Maybe. Fallout 76 beta should be in the next three weeks, so who knows.

So… Now What?

The problem with goals is that you complete them.

When I originally wrote Monday’s post about farming transmog pieces in WoW, I had not yet acquired the Tunic of Unwavering Devotion. Since I had technically been farming since Legion (via LFR), I was buckling in for the long haul. After a presumed failed run over the weekend, I was going to get back to leveling my Monk character to the cap and then seeing if she can also solo Nighthold.

Alas, like a strange monkey paw curse, I got exactly what I was looking for.

WoWScrnShot_340i

Oh, and have I mentioned that my Demon Hunter is sitting at ilevel 340 now? It took a dozen dungeons to go from 310 to 320, but about three days of casual, mostly solo content to go from 320 to 340. So there really isn’t much of a point in doing much of anything on the Demon Hunter now. I will do the occasional WQ if it offers reputation, but only in the off-chance that I continue playing WoW once flying is (re)(re)(re)released.

Leveling alts to the cap seems like a fine goal on the face of things, but… eh. They will not be used for raiding or dungeon running or farming transmog, so what’s left? PvP? I usually reserve my Warlock for PvP endeavors, but the forums are pretty clear about the apparent sad state of Warlocks this expansion. I could try going the healer route for giggles, as I do have a Priest at 111.

The real problem I have is that I somehow lack the motivation to do much of anything, anywhere. Post-game Depression is a thing I talked about a few years ago, and it may well triggered when I got that last piece of transmog gear. Or maybe WoW has been on its way out with me for several weeks.

I dunno. I have a million other games I could be playing, but no motivation to load any of them. The 7 Days to Die Alpha17 patch keeps getting pushed into Star Citizen territory, and Fallout 76’s beta isn’t until the end of this month. In the meantime, I am just logging into WoW and puttering around on the AH, or closing the client and watching people play Hearthstone on Twitch.

Guess my next goal should be to get more goals.

Transmog Goals

When I came back into WoW during Legion, I had two long-term goals:

  1. Getting (mythic) Living Wood Spaulders
  2. Getting Tunic of Unwavering Devotion, or Skimpy Demonleather Tunic

Having finally gotten both items after some trial and error (and weeks of RNG), here is a mini-guide in case you want to follow in my footsteps:

Living Wood Spaulders

WoWScrnShot_Wings

Are there better shoulders for any other class? Doubtful.

Why: the mythic version of these druid-exclusive shoulders have insect-like wings that are animated. While they will only be visible on Boomkin (with the Astral glyph) or Resto druids, the effect is rather striking.

How: Living Wood Spaulders drop from mythic Operator Thogar in the Blackrock Foundry raid from Warlords of Draenor. You will have the best chance of getting this item if you are at least level 111, as that triggers “Legacy Loot” and you’ll get ~5 pieces instead of just one.

That said, the first step is getting to the raid site. Garrison Hearth and then take a Flight Path to Gorgand. Fly or mount up to the raid entrance, which looks like this:

WoW_Blackrock

Be sure that the raid difficulty is set to Mythic. Once inside, avoid the trash and head to the right.

Before you can access Operator Thogar, you will have to kill Beastlord Darmac. This fight is relatively easy as a level 111 Boomkin, with one enormous caveat: you must avoid Pin Down. Periodically during the fight, there will be a faint horn sound and a small, swirling cloud graphic will appear. Within 2-3 seconds, a spear will hit the ground at that spot and, if hit, will render you unable to move or take action, permanently. If you manage to cast a persistent AoE (e.g. Starfall) right before getting pinned, there’s a small chance the damage will be enough to kill the spear and free you. Otherwise, you will have to wait several minutes while you slowly and helplessly get killed.

The second complicating factor in this fight is when Beastlord Darmac mounts Dreadwing, which is the dragon-looking beast in the back. Dreadwing has the Conflagration ability, which will essentially disorient you for ~10 seconds at a time. You can (and will) get CC’d by this ability and then be unable to move away from the Pin Down ability, which will (eventually) kill you. It’s exactly as frustrating as it sounds. Sometimes you might get lucky and the timing will be off (e.g. the Pin Down happens first), but you cannot rely on that all the time. Thus, I recommend starting the fight with Beastlord Darmac towards the rear of the room, closest to Dreadwing, so that he mounts Dreadwing first, and you won’t waste time beating the other beasts before seeing if you’ll survive the encounter.

Operator Thogar is a relatively more simple encounter at these levels. DoT him up, run out of the flames/electricity, AoE adds, and avoid being hit by the trains. You’ll be able to tell which tracks are safe by watching the train doors at either end of the room. Things were a bit more dicey in Legion, but if you get to level 111 and equip at least the crafted 225 ilevel gear in your slots, you should not have too many problems.

As mentioned, I completed the above as a level 111 Boomkin with ~225 ilevel gear. I recommend picking up Restoration Affinity over the other options, as I found Swiftmend (instant heal on 30-second cooldown) to be extremely useful if I accidentally took a lot of damage, like getting hit by a train. I cannot speak for whether Guardian or Feral would have been easier specs to farm this item.

Tunic of Unwavering Devotion

WoWScrnShot_Devotion

Why: this item is an incredibly risque leather chestpiece. Like, whoa.

How: There are technically three sources for this particular armor model. The first is the Demon Hunter PvP set for Legion. If you have X Marks of Honor, you can buy the entire armor set and be done with it. Note: you will only be able to transmog the set on your Demon Hunter.

The second source is the Legion world boss Ana-Mouz. This boss cannot be solo-farmed by any leather-wearing class that I know of, specifically because she will periodically cast a spell which will Mind-Control you after ~5 seconds. Now that I think about it, you might be able to pull it off if you switch to a healing spec and dispel yourself. Regardless, world bosses are on like a 12-week rotation, so it’s incredibly unreliable to farm her anyway.

The third, confirmed soloable method is killing Trilliax, the 3rd raid boss in Nighthold. My druid is still low-level, so I actually went in as a fresh, level 120 Demon Hunter with an average ilevel of 290. Make sure the raid is set to Normal, and you purchased some of those extra-roll coins!

Where is the entrance to Nighthold? Here are some pictures:

WoWScrnShot_RaidEnter

Go down, then past Meeting Stone, then down some more.

Zone in, clear/avoid trash until you get to the first boss, Skorpyron. This encounter took a while, but was completed with relative ease as DPS Demon Hunter. Make sure to save a few of your AoE spells for when the adds are activated. Also note that there will be a short burst window when the boss takes a lot of extra damage. Save your DPS cooldowns for then.

The second boss is Chronomatic Anomaly. This boss has an instant-kill debuff you would normally have to worry about, but there’s a trick to avoiding it. DPS the boss as normal, avoiding damage as best you can, until the add spawns. Run over and kill the adds, including the smaller ones that appear, but do not click the orb. The boss will essentially channel an AoE with stacking damage until the orb is used, but he otherwise doesn’t stack the debuff. So, basically, kill him during the channel. The level difference will allow you to survive 20+ stacks of the increasing damage, and you should be able to kill him before you’re whittled down. You might able to use the orb to buy yourself some more time, but I didn’t have a problem at ilevel 290.

Finally, there is Trilliax. Change to tank-spec for this fight. Trilliax will cast Arcane Slash periodically, which will give you a stacking debuff to damage taken, and I was not able to kite him long enough for the debuff to fall off. In tank-spec, your only real worry is the Enrage timer. To this end, make sure you maximize DPS as much as you can. For example, I took Abyssal Strike + Flame Crash, which gave me two additional uses of Sigil of Flame. Every DPS gain you can eek out is necessary! There’s nothing more frustrating than dying to Enrage timers when the boss is at 5%.

As mentioned, I completed the above as a new, level 120 Demon Hunter with an average ilevel of 290. I cannot speak to how a Druid, Rogue, or Monk might fair in these same fights.

320+ Achieved

What a joke.

Yesterday, I was talking about the Gearing Deadzone that exists between ~295 and 320 average ilevel. I had been receiving a few lucky drops from heroic dungeons, so I was quite far along in my quest to queue into Warfronts by that point, when I stumbled upon some easy “upgrades.”

First, Plundered gear. These are mostly “transmog” weapons that occasionally drop from Island Expeditions. The thing is, they are actual 325 ilevel weapons that sell for as low as 12,000g on the AH. The Agility 1-handed weapons are quite a bit more (around 20k), and you really want two of them, but it’s possible that this is an avenue to get you past the deadzone. If you have ilevel 300 weapons already, each Plundered upgrade will give you another +1.56 average ilevel.

Second, and I can’t believe this still works, just having BoE gear in your bag counts. Remember how I was saying that the DPS Darkmoon trinket cost 70k and that’s not worth the +3.75 ilevel bump? Well, I purchased the tanking Darkmoon trinket for 12k with the expectation of “I might potentially tank on this character someday anyway”… and then queued for Warfronts without equipping it. Because the 320 gate doesn’t care about equipped gear apparently. If I can sell it for the same price that I bought it, I’d only be out like 600g. That’s like four herb nodes.

So, I queued for Warfronts. Spent the entire battle wandering around, trying to figure out how to chop trees. Killed some mobs. Then got ilevel 340 gloves and ilevel 370 helm after about half an hour.

WoWScrnShot_Gloves

That was my lowest-level piece too.

Again, what a joke.

I’m not the sort of person that participates in the “log in, loot epix” criticisms of WoW. Using gear as the metric of achievement or skill always seemed asinine to me, because the drops are random. We all know (or have been) someone that cleared a raid a half dozen times with zero drops before. Having the whole set meant you were either lucky, or grinded out the RNG for months and months. Is that somehow more admirable than the person standing next to you, with the same Achievement unlocked, dealing comparable DPS in lesser gear because they rolled low?

The whole thing is silly, has been silly since the very beginning, and is especially silly in a world where Mythic Uldir gear is likely to be transmogged into gear sets from a decade ago the minute it’s equipped. Gear’s only relevance is to indicate how sloppy you can be and probably still complete content, or otherwise used as an artificial gating mechanism.

WoWScrnShot_Helm

Just a smidge of an upgrade.

Having said that, what is ridiculous and poorly designed is precisely this dumb gap between the end of leveling gear (290) and free loot raining from the sky (320). I understand the mechanics behind why the system is designed this way. Specifically, if Warfronts only rewarded 325 gear or whatever, then no raiders or Mythic+ players would participate, and it’d be dead content the entire expansion. Meanwhile, the 320 gate was slapped on so as to not invalidate dungeons altogether with fresh level-capped players getting fulls suits of 340.

But, seriously, man. After checking last night, the Warfront is actually going to be active for another day or two. Which means I’ll be chain-queueing that and turning in lumber until I have 340 gear in every slot. Then I’ll be running around tagging Arathi rares for every more loot and toys until it goes away for 2-3 weeks. The cycle will then repeat itself, possibly at a higher ilevel.

And that’s fine… if it were consistent with the rest of the level-cap experience, which it’s not. You ding and either cheese the 320 gate via gold/guildies, or slog through a bunch of dungeon content for hours and hours. Then, at 320, it’s free loot for the rest of the expansion. “Luckily,” by the time 8.1 rolls around, new alts will probably not have to endure this awkward phase at all and jump straight into Warfronts as soon as they hit level 120 via Profession BoE gear.

Fake Edit: In one, long Tuesday evening of playing, I queued five times for Warfronts and received 5 additional pieces of 340 gear. Not sure if it’s luck that I haven’t received any duplicates, but I almost cannot even stand to queue for it again. I see why people AFK through it – it’s not engaging.

Gear Deadzone

Never thought I’d be in this place again, but I spent the weekend chain-running dungeons in WoW.

My for-now main is a Demon Hunter, and I had been relatively satisfied with the ilevel ~290ish gear she had. Mobs scale up with ilevel now, and I’m not doing regular raids, so who cares? The thing is… character progression is nice. Also, I found that there must be breakpoints at which World Quests just refuse to grant higher-level gear. My understanding is that if you are at 290, you should see some 295 gear, presumably until you reach 295, at which point you’ll see 300, and so on. After 3-4 days of WQs, that did not appear to be the case.

Plus, the Alliance Warfront was active this past week, and that apparently hands out 340 gear every 20 minutes you chain-run it, with an extra 370 piece once a cycle. The catch is that you need to have 320 to queue for it. Also, you need 320 to queue for Raid Finder. So, how the hell are you supposed to hit 320?

Chain-run dungeons like a chump, apparently.

The experience has not actually been that bad, at the moment. I queued for some normal dungeons at the beginning, so I could hit the 305 breakpoint to queue for heroic dungeons. That took around two dungeons’ worth of drops. Then I ran about four heroics in a row, with about ~15 minutes of queue times inbetween them. Heroic dungeons drop 325 gear, which is nice, if a little weird considering how that’s 20 ilevels above the minimum.

During this process, I was very tempted to solve my situation with gold. First, by buying BoE epics from the AH. The DPS Darkmoon deck is 355, for example, and there were some BoE wrists that drop from Uldir too. Before committing, I decided to do the ilevel math myself to see how much of a bump that might give me. Going from a 295 trinket to 355 should be a big boost right? Well…

5016 (total ilevel) + 60 = 5076 / 16 = 317.25. Or +3.75 average ilevel.

While that ain’t nothin’, it also isn’t 320. Plus, the Fathoms deck is 70,000g at the moment. While I was poking around the AH, there were a couple of advertisements in Trade chat from people doing Mythic dungeon carries. I was very, very tempted to check up on the prices of that, out of curiosity if nothing else. Then I saw one being advertised for… 350k. Even that started to sound a bit reasonable as the Warfront window is rapidly to drawing to a close. Gold it meant to be used, right?

What brought me back to reality was Blizzard’s own intrusion into the real world. Specifically, WoW tokens. Current prices are 107k gold for $15, which meant I was about to pay $49 to get to 320 ilevel. That doesn’t seem all that good. There is often an argument to be made regarding how much time I am going to spend running heroics (etc) instead, and how I could just “work another hour of overtime” instead of spending 3+ hours doing something I don’t expressly enjoy.

First, I don’t have a job where I can just magically get overtime – that shit has to be approved on two different management levels. Second, there is a wide gulf between a distasteful or boring task in a videogame, played at home, in a comfortable chair, with a refreshing beverage, than there is with another hour spent at work. My job is relatively easy and stress-free, but I’d still rather be doing damn near anything else, including nothing, if given the chance.

Anyway, the decision is likely already made for me, as the Warfront window closes soon. I’ll continue to casually run heroic dungeons until I hit 320, so I can unlock LFR, which will give me a steady stream of gear for the rest of the expansion. This initial hump is extremely awkward though, as it’s likely to be pole-vaulted beyond for anyone playing in 8.1 given the next tier of crafted gear coming out.

I’m fine with Blizzard wanting there to be some sort of hazing phase where they want everyone doing 5-man content before “graduating” into raiding. I just think it’s weird to have Warfronts dropping 340 gear like candy for something that, by all accounts, is significantly easier than even 5-man normal dungeons. Finally getting over that 320 gear deadzone will apparently set you up for easy gear the rest of the expansion, and that’s just a strange sort of design decision.