Blog Archives

Back-end Expansions

Over the holidays, I declined to purchase either the Heart of Thorns (GW2) nor the Heavensward (FFXIV) expansions, despite them being on sale for $25 and $10 respectively.

In the case of FFXIV, the decision was easy: the expansion’s content is locked at the very end of the base game’s storyline (which is mandatory). While I am going to give the MMO another shot this year, I would be dozens and dozens of hours out from even getting a whiff of the new content, so there isn’t a particular reason to buy-in now.

With GW2, the consider was basically the same, but slightly more strategic. I already have a level 80 Elementalist, so I could technically start into the new endgame content right away. However, I’m 99% sure I’d want to be playing my Necro instead, who just hit level 36. But more than that, we already know Arenanet is working on GW2’s next expansion, and that it’s extremely likely (based on Heart of Thorn’s release) that it will end up including HoT in its purchase price.

In both cases, it was kind of clear that there wasn’t much of a point in buying the expansion without already having an endgame character. Some stuff works earlier on, such as new classes, but for the most part all the new content is back-loaded. Which… makes sense, of course. “Expansion.”

At the same time, as someone who has purchased the base games already, such expansions hold zero immediate appeal to me. If they had immediate appeal, I’d have bought them and felt an obligation to start playing right away. GW2 offers a level 80 boost with Heart of Thorns, so there is at least that, but I’m not even particularly asking for insta-endgame characters here. Just… something. New starting zones or other low-level content, basically.

Hell, I remember Diablo 2’s expansion back in the day added entirely new items to the loot tables across the entire base game. That was actually an instance where I kicked myself for not buying the expansion right away, as I pretty much cleared the normal game and only installed the expansion later (despite my being late to the Diablo party generally). On the other hand, that sounds like a few mobile games I know, where “VIP” status allows you to get loot the plebs never see. Hmm.

P2Setup

Although I did not mention it beforehand, I spent all of last week vacationing in Florida.

While I was gone, Hearthstone released its third expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods. As with the expansions prior, Blizzard ran a “sale” in which $50 bought you 50 packs instead of the usual $1.25/pack price. I had decided to not take advantage of this deal before the vacation, as at that time there still wasn’t a full spoiler. So I passed on the deal, which ended before I returned.

As it turns out, I really didn’t need it:

Hearthstone_Whispers.jpg

That’s a lot of eyeballs.

I ended up purchasing around 55 packs with gold alone (100g apiece), and received another 13 packs via the quests everyone gets for playing during the expansion release. And this reminded me that I had also purchased the League of Explorers expansion last November solely with gold too, for around 2800g, I believe. In fact, given my (casual) playing habits, there’s a good chance I never have to spend real dollars on Hearthstone ever again.

What playing habits? Hearthstone gives you one daily quest each day, and you can bank up to three. Most reward 40g, but the average payout is actually closer to 50g. I typically play twice a week or so, usually in Tavern Brawl mode (which also gives you a free pack once a week), for 1-2 hours each time to complete quests. If you do that consistently, as I have, that means you are banking 1200g-1400g a month just for dicking around.

You can grind more gold via wins (+100g each day) or Arena (+infinite/skill), but I like my method.

Thus, even if Blizzard releases two expansions and an Adventure each year as they plan to, I can afford to purchase the Adventure and 58 packs of each expansion via in-game gold playing just twice a week and completing 6 quests. Will that give me all the uber-cards necessary to be competitive in the Standard format? Well… depends on the deck. If you aren’t above playing Aggro, it’s entirely possible to hit Legend on a budget, just as it’s always been. Wallet Warrior? Not so much.

Having said all that, I’ve both been playing Hearthstone for a while and dropped some cash for packs early on. I have all the staple Legendary cards from the base set, at least for the classes that I routinely play. There are some clever catch-up mechanisms in place (Tavern Brawl pack, end of month rewards), but I don’t want to give the impression that Hearthstone is a pleasant experience for the die-hard F2P player. In fact, I imagine it sucks, perhaps more than ever.

However. Now that I’m all set up? I’m good to go. And even if there were some chase Legendary that I really felt I needed – there doesn’t seem to be an obvious Doctor Boom this time around – I accumulate a minimum (e.g. worst-case) of ~300 dust a month from free packs/rewards, or 540 dust each month on average, meaning I can craft whatever Legendary I wanted every 3 months. That’s a long time, granted. But sometimes you pull the cards you need, and it doesn’t count dusting unused cards from your collection.

So, really, I consider Hearthstone to be a P2Setup game these days rather than straight-up P2W. If you’re considering playing for the first time today though… well, good luck. If you enjoy the overall gameplay, it does get better over time. It will just be you or your wallet that endures the hazing.

The Grand Tournament

[Blaugust Day 25]

Technically the latest Hearthstone expansion should have came out before this post will go Live, but I’m finding it difficult to get too excited. New cards and the possibility of new metagames are good. The actual cards being released though? I’m looking at the complete spoiler right now and feeling rather underwhelmed.

Here are the cards I am actually interested in:

It's a short list.

It’s a short list.

That is 12 cards out of 132, or about 9%. While that more or less follows Sturgeon’s Law, I can’t help but wonder if this is indicative of the state of Hearthstone overall, the weakness of this particular set design, or some combination thereof. I’m not even saying that the cards listed above are the best ones of the set, or the strongest ones. Maybe someone will find a way to break Astral Communion straight away… although that’s a card I suspect will find a better niche a few expansions from now. No, I’m simply stating that the above cards are the only ones that excite me in any way.

We’ll see, I suppose. I’m not a metagame master by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe Lock and Load will completely change the metagame (doubtful); or Aviana will be stronger than combo druid (no way); or Rhonin will be a surprise break-through Mage success (not really). My suspicions are that we will see the same sort of Aggro-or-Bust decks on the ladder, supplemented by mid-range and Control decks running the above cards.

And maybe Shaman will be more of a thing.

[Fake Edit:] Bought 31 packs with accumulated gold. Golden Eadric and regular Fjola Lightbane were the Legendaries I pulled. The latter is not quite Eydis, but it’s difficult to complain about anything after a golden Legendary. After disenchanting a golden Epic I received, I have enough dust to craft a Legendary of my choosing. But, honestly, not sure I’m going to. At least, not a Legendary from this new set.

Legion Thoughts

[Blaugust Day 7]

And the award for easiest Blaugust prompt goes to… WoW’s next expansion, Legion.

Rather than talk about the entire expansion concept as a whole, I wanted to talk about two things that, admittedly, we don’t have enough information about to make informed opinions on.

The first is Artifacts:

Well played, Blizzard.

Unintentional spoiler about Magni, Blizzard?

There are a whole lot of incidental questions regarding the introduction of Artifacts. Like… 36 of them, really? Also, does this not strongly imply that there is a rather sweeping, Game of Thrones-esque purge of all these weapons’ prior owners? I’m almost imagining a reverse Warlords scenario in which all the story heroes land on the beach, a portal opens up, and the hand of Sargeras comes flying out and grabs them all. Certainly there’s no other explanation possible for why every level 100 paladin will be running around the Ashbringer out of the gate.

This brings me to my primary concern: will there be other weapons this expansion? I can see Blizzard simply not releasing any weapons, as why would you ever not use your spec Artifact? Even if the event that leads us to looting Ashbringer from Tirion’s cold, dead hands renders the weapon “drained of power” or whatever, it’s hard to imagine it feeling good to carry an Artifact around in your back pocket while you equip the first green drop from the second Felboar you kill.

Plus, it makes no sense to introduce a pseudo talent tree in a weapon you won’t be using 24/7:

Path of Titans 2.0

Path of Titans 2.0

So here’s my wild speculation: you’ll be using your Artifact all the time, and Artifact Power is the new Valor points. There is a chance that perhaps we’ll be able to disenchant gear into Artifact Power, thus preserving normal gear progression, but I find it difficult to believe that such a system won’t be gamed hardcore. Having raid bosses drop epic weapons whose sole purpose is to be turned into Artifact points sounds really dumb.

Which, of course, means there’s a 50/50 chance that actually happens.

My second concern is the new direction they are taking WoW PvP. Because unless I’m mistaken, it sounds like they’re removing PvP gear entirely.

You can watch the section yourself starting at 3:52:14 in the Youtube video.

We really want to dial back the effect that gear has. […] It’s just not that fun to have players running around with that huge level of power disparity. So we felt like we needed a new system that addresses that, so that while gear plays a role, it plays almost no role in terms of how powerful you are. […] Essentially what [Honor v3] is, is a PvP talent system.

That sort of quote, along with the description of how Honor v2 was basically a currency-based system “that introduced PvP gear,” leads me to believe that we may see PvP gear just go away. Which… is not the worst scenario ever. I’m not sure how popular Guild Wars 2 BGs are, but they feature vendors that hand out unlimited amounts of free PvP gear to level the playing field. The whole Prestige system also sounds fine, but I don’t know how motivating it will be in practice.

The core gameplay loop in WoW is gear progression. That’s basically it. Even if you “don’t care” about gear, the only reason people grind through raids more than once or twice total is precisely because there is a reason to, e.g. to get better equipped to make the next raid less difficult. PvP is absolutely no fun when you’re sitting in starter gear with 1/3rd less HP than the guy about to ruin your day, yes. It is also absolutely true that the participation pittance you receive after being facerolled in a BG makes said BG worth getting facerolled in. Maybe there are people out there sitting on the Honor cap and raring to go into another Isle of Conquest loss. For me personally though, the moment I reach that gear plateau is the same moment I find more constructive uses of my gaming time.

It’s possible that there will still be PvP gear to be earned despite the direction things are leaning. I’m not entirely sure how that would work if Honor is no longer a currency, but the alternative is Blizzard pushing PvP players back into “raid or die” scenarios. What else would PvPers wear? Or maybe Blizzard would go full GW2 and have vendors standing around. No matter the outcome, it is quite the sea change in Legion.

By the way, this PvP slide raised my eyebrow:

Every Race for Themselves.

Every Race for Themselves.

For those that may not know immediately, Gladiator’s Medallion is the namesake trinket, i.e. what you press to get out of stuns, etc. So unless the description of the baseline PvP talent is something incredibly clunky like “your trinket’s cooldown is reduced by 30 seconds” or something, I must assume that everyone is getting a PvP trinket baseline. In which case, we’re either going to see the Human racial be completely redesigned again, or… maybe we’ll see the end of racials in PvP altogether. Hell, in the latter scenario, Humans could keep their trinket racial since the PvP talents are only activated in BGs and Arena.

Undoubtedly we’ll be getting more information soon.

Next Expansion Surprise

In a rather surprising twist, Blizzard announced it’s expansion announcement will be announced during Gamescon on August 6th. That’s a full three months ahead of Blizzcon, which has been the traditional venue for such news. Speculation abounds for the reasoning behind the early reveal, but I feel Wilhelm is on point with this observation:

[…] the date seems set to come in just after we get the Activision-Blizzard quarterly results for the second quarter of 2015 and, most importantly, the WoW subscription numbers that will come with it.  That hits on August 4th according to the investor relations site.

For the first quarter of 2015 the subscription numbers were down to 7.1 million.  Now there is a rush to get the next expansion announced early in August, a slow news month, well before BlizzCon, and just after the quarterly report?

WHAT A COINCIDENCE.

As mentioned in the MMO-Champ comments, what is also amusing is the hypothetical future in which the next expansion is released by the end of the year. Amusing because the “flying patch” still hasn’t came out yet, and thus we might have (inadvertently?) been put into the “unlock flying in Draenor when the expansion launches” scenario.

But how likely is a December 2015 release really? Blizzard has promised quicker launches for ages now, and I don’t think anyone thinks they are capable of doing so. Even if the August reveal is a fully playable beta… would Blizzard only run an expansion beta for 3-4 months? Maybe. I believe Warlords was 5 months from alpha to beta to release. If we see an expansion announcement in August followed by a beta test after Blizzcon in November, that would set them up for a mid-summer expansion release around the time of the WoW movie. That makes more sense to me… and puts the 6.2 raid tier at 10-12 months long. Just like the good ole’ days.

As for predictions over subscriber numbers? I honestly have no idea. I obviously suspect a large subscriber loss in the last quarter, but I have no idea how the numbers will be finessed by the WoW Token. I have eight such tokens sitting in my inventory right now, for example. Am I counted as a subscriber? Will they continue counting me for eight months despite my not redeeming said tokens? Tough to say.

Just to throw out a number though: 6.5 million.

WoW Content Comparison

One of the relatively common criticisms of Warlords overall has been the lack of content in comparison to prior expansions. With 6.2 being confirmed as the last raiding tier and Blizzard rather adamantly opposed to creating new 5-man dungeons – despite them being “one of the greatest strengths of the genre” – I find it increasingly unlikely that a hypothetical 6.3 patch would include either. So what better time than now to offer some data to back up the claim?

For this part, I am taking all info from Blizzard’s own webpage:

Raids (Boss) Dungeons BGs (Arena) Other
Warlords of Draenor 3 (30) 8 0 (0) Garrisons?
Mists of Pandaria 5 (43) 9 3 (2) 18 Scenarios
1 Race/1 Class
Cataclysm 6 (31) 14 2 (0) 2 Races
World Revamp
Wrath of the Lich King 9 (54) 16 2 (2) 1 Class
The Burning Crusade 8 (44) 16 1 (3) 2 Races

If you found that I made a mistake somewhere in the calculations, let me know.

Otherwise… well, the results kind of speak for themselves, yeah? Cataclysm, hitherto the worst expansion in the game, was the closest to Warlords in terms of raid bosses. And yet it had six more dungeons, introduced two new Battlegrounds, two new races with entirely novel starting areas, and a complete revamp of the entire world. Perhaps not everyone necessarily wanted the old world revamp, but that still represented a rather insane amount of designer attention. The same sort of attention that has seemingly clocked out starting from Day 2 in Warlords.

Indeed, when you start thinking about it a bit deeper, the Warlords situation is even worse than first glance. The devs might have built eight dungeons, for example, but the dungeons were designed for no one to actually use them. I invite you to watch that mea culpa video from Ion Hazzicostas again, or perhaps for the first time. The TL;DR version is this reckoning:

Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.

I wanted to bring the above up again, just to point out that even if Warlords had a comparable amount of content to other expansions (it doesn’t), the base structure of the game denigrates the content that does exist. For example, suppose you want to include the ten Timerwalker Dungeons into the Warlords count for whatever reason, even though they are only actually available for a limited timeframe and aren’t even revamps of the originals. In that situation, I would argue that Warlords only has ten dungeons overall, since those ten Timewalker Dungeons are the only ones still relevant to anyone in the game (by dropping high-level gear). In contrast, even when you were progressing through ICC in Wrath, running Gundrak was useful in getting you Frost Badges and that much closer to a tier piece.

In a bizarre sense, Warlords is the result of Blizzard’s design working as intended. The devs have said for years that they wanted to get to a place where they could pump out faster expansions. And as players, we all agreed… but not to this. By “faster expansions,” we meant not waiting 12-14 months with zero content. Which, by the way, is still a very real possibility with Warlords.

Players and Relationships

If you have not been following the latest high-profile MMO PR disaster, the short version is that ArenaNet is selling their latest expansion for $50, and bundling in the base game.

That’s it. There is no long-version.

While Tobold (as always) decries player entitlement and Ravious wants us to think of the children, what is lost in the shuffle is perhaps why the “Don’t preorder the expansion” became the top-rated thread in the GW2 reddit forum (indeed, the top 3 are currently about this issue). Specifically, because ArenaNet failed Relationship Rule #1: it isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it.”

In many ways, MMOs are relationships between players and the developers. It is a business transaction first and foremost, of course, but rarely are MMOs successful without fostering a sense of familiarity and engagement over the long-term. There are feelings of investment, especially considering the game you are playing continues to be in active development. “The devs are listening,” and hey, they sometimes do in fact change things based on feedback. You as the player feel in the loop.

That is why feelings run so high over “betrayals,” real or imagined.

Objectively, there isn’t anything wrong with ArenaNet’s actions. The expansion was going to cost X amount, they chose $50 as the baseline, and that was that. The decision to bundle in the base game was obviously made at the financial level, as there are likely some costs incurred in stocking store shelves with two boxed products, one of which requires the other to function anyway. Plus, there might not be a way to purchase just the base game anymore, basically upselling new players who might not even play long enough to get into expansion content. All very straight-forward business decisions.

Subjectively, though? I agree with subtext many players are reading into the situation, if for no other reason than a corporation (and the developers) should know better by now. First was the (intentionally?) misleading statements that the expansion would require the base game to play, a subsequent sale of the base game, and now the base game is bundled with expansion for free. Then the introduction of a new class without a free increase in the character slots available. Are players entitled to free character slots with a MSRP of $10 apiece? No. Does it look suspicious as hell to not include them? Yes. I would feel the same way if SWTOR’s expansion included five new buttons to push when they already charge money for additional hotbars.

Tobold suggests you cannot win with the kind of players that complain about these things. This is incorrect. In fact, it is very easy to win in this scenario: either sell the expansion as a standalone for $40, or include a free character slot for anyone who purchases Heart of Thorns and already has a GW2 license. Bam! You win the moral high ground. Hell, if ArenaNet is worried about losing all the extra money their current scheme generates, they could tie these elements to the preorder prepurchase prepay only – they would likely recoup their costs on the interest generated between now and whenever the expansion will actually be released.

MMOs are social games, and companies need to manage social expectations in the same way you would in relationships. Or choose not to, I suppose. In which case all your carefully spent millions of dollars in advertising will run directly against a bunch of jilted lovers who will trash talk you in public for weeks for free. And while there will always be some people you cannot please, you damn better make sure that the narrative they present is as crazy as they are.

Because if they have a point? You’ll never hear the end of it.

Hearthstone’s Expansion

Goblin vs Gnomes (GvG), Hearthstone’s first expansion will supposed go Live later tonight. You can see the cards here.

I have not talked about Hearthstone in a while, primarily because I had stopped playing for a while. The Naxx Adventure mode (e.g. mini-expansion) brought me back for a bit, but once the PvE content was finished I once again retreated to getting my Hearthstone fix via Twitch.

It is not so much that the game stopped being fun to play, rather it became… well, a bit more prescriptive. An aggressive deck hits its curve? GG. The opponent plays a card you cannot immediately deal with next turn? GG. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to dig yourself out of certain holes. The means of doing so are completely known though, which means the opponent can either play around it or know when they are safe not to.

Looking at GvG, I am not entirely sure anything will change.

Nevertheless, I have been knocking out daily quests these past two weeks or so. And, surprisingly, been enjoying it. Indeed, I might even show an uncharacteristic break in willpower and straight-up purchase some GvG packs this week.

Some of this interest might be due to the shake-up of the metagame, some due to an ipso facto renewed interest from buckling down and playing Hearthstone some more. Hmm. You know, it might simply be because the marginal value of in-game gold has increased due to the upcoming expansion. After all, once you own 95% of the cards you want, the sense of progression from gold pretty much evaporates as each additional pack/arena run is likely to result in nothing but disenchanting materials. Which is is still useful, of course, but much less exciting. Getting 2-3 brand new cards per pack though? Super exciting.

I suppose we’ll see what happens with GvG tomorrow and in the days ahead.

Hearthstone Naxx Pricing

Can I make a post via bluetooth keyboard on the deck of a beach condo with my smartphone getting 2 bars of signal? Let’s find out!

Anyway, as you may or may not know by now, Blizzard released the official Naxx mini-expansion pricing scheme for Hearthstone. Needless to say, it’s a bit convoluted. As promised, the first wing is free to everyone… who logs in sometime during the first month. The other wings are 700g apiece, or $6.99 each. Unless of course you buy them at bundled prices, which knocks it down to roughly $5 per wing.

I honestly don’t know what to think about these prices. A daily quest will reward you with 50g on average (40g is the lowest + 3 wins is 10g) so it sorta makes sense to tie things to two weeks of dailies per wing. Since the wings are going to be gated to one per week already, this means you will have a slight pressure to either purchase the later wings or fall behind, but not by too much. And this sort of assumes there won’t be any gold rewards for actually beating any of the bosses (which could go either way).

But the thing I come back to is, of course, the opportunity cost. A booster pack is 100g. So, basically it costs 7 booster per wing to unlock, with the total being 28 boosters (2800g). The lowest RMT cost of packs is $2.99 for 2 boosters. The cost of unlocking all of Naxx assuming you log on post-patch is $19.99, which is the same price as 15 boosters.

So… yeah. Depending on whether or not you are morally opposed to spending any money on a F2P* title, it seems as though your choice is either spending $20 or grinding out the equivalent of $40 worth of boosters. I can’t check my Hearthstone account at the moment, but I have around 1400g saved up, I think. Even though I am halfway there, I am not entirely sure I want to commit to a month or more of dailies all to save money and end up getting $20 less boosters.

Perhaps this is  exactly why the pricing is so convoluted in the first place; Blizzard accountants working their dark magic to get people on the fence to pony up the cash. But Jesus Christ, man, remember those days when you didn’t have to do differential calculus to figure out if something was worth buying? I suppose the good part is that I’ll be able to see if the rest of Naxx is worth getting based on the free wing first.

Then again, anyone who doesn’t end up getting all 5 wings is just going to be hosed in Constructed Ranked play. Unless, of course, Blizzard has made the expansion cards perfectly balanced and optional and not power-creep-y at all.

Yeah, about that.

Anti-Patch Notes

I didn’t think it was possible to get excited for an expansion of a game I haven’t played in over a year, but damn. I got to about here:

Druid

  • Innervate has been removed. Mana costs for Druids have been adjusted accordingly.

…before I realized the devs were serious about the pruning of cooldowns thing. I mean, Jesus, they even removed Mana Gem.

Blink and you'd miss it. Wait... Blink is still around, right?

Blink and you’d miss it. Wait… Blink is still around, right?

Paladins were about the one class that seemed to come out ahead after the ability decimation; losing Wings on non-Ret specs makes me shed a nostalgic tear, but in return no more Divine Plea or Inquisition? That’s practically a bonus! Plus, Lay on Hands and Divine Shield survived. Blinding Light didn’t, but we only had that for what, one expansion? It looks like Seal Twisting is making a come-back, but hopefully it won’t be powerful enough to be mandatory.

Man, look at this:

Priest

  •     Binding Heal is no longer available to Shadow Priests.
  •     Hymn of Hope has been removed.
  •     Heal has been removed.
  •     Greater Heal has been renamed Heal.
  •     Inner Focus no longer provides any mana cost reduction.
  •     Rapture has been removed.
  •     Renew is now available only to Holy Priests.
  •     Shadow Word: Death is now available only to Shadow Priests.
  •     Void Shift has been removed.
  •     Inner Fire has been removed.
  •     Inner Will has been removed.

That’s all of the Priest notes. Well, more or less, there’s some additional explanation at the bottom. Still, there is 109 instances of the word “removed” across 34 pages of notes. The end result will likely be a tighter game experience, but damn, all these simultaneous band-aid removals took some hair with them.

As for the new level 100 Talents, some of them are jokes that won’t pass the AV test. What’s that? It’s simple: just imagine someone (or 40 someones) using the ability in an AV match. Seriously, they’re giving Death Knights Defile. Defile. I hope your CPU is water-cooled next time you’re slumming it up in Drek/Vann’s room because otherwise your machine might well burst into flame. Necrotic Plague alone will pad all the meters, and combined with Chilblains? You can single-handedly stop an entire mounted charge.

That’s basically what I’ll be doing in BGs all expansion long: being annoying. Did it when Death Knights first came out with Death Grip and/or Chains of Ice; did it when Paladins could Seal of Justice mounted players from 40 yards away; did it with portal shenanigans via the Warlock; did it old-school just Sapping people and watching their reactions from stealth as the Rogue. If your goal is to be annoying, it’s damn hard to lose in WoW. And now it’ll be 100% easier in the next expansion!