Thoughts on post-Cata QQ

This post is my response to a number of ‘QQ’ threads I’ve read recently, particularly this one on mmo-champion from Jessicka. There are some excellent points made, but the tone grates so badly with me that I’m finding myself respond to that more. Hopefully I’ll get it out of my system and be able to look at the substance more closely.

Through 5 years of playing a ‘lock, and playing the game in general, I have to say that the course of things is steady improvement interspersed with miscalculated hiccups, and on balance I’m happy to ride through the hiccups because the steady improvement wins out in the end. If the game lasts another 5 years I see no reason to expect that general curve of improvement to change – it’s exactly the result to expect from following a policy of iterative tweaking over an extended period of time. While we can act like Verucca Salt and stamp our feet demanding Blizzard switch to a policy of giving perfection on a plate and giving it NOW! I don’t imagine anyone who’s calmed down and had a cup of tea will genuinely acknowledge that as a realistic proposal, and the current problems are a good demonstration as to why…

There’s good reason to see Cataclysm’s implementation as the biggest change to WoW we’ve yet had. Many have described it as a “reboot” of the game. By the end of WotLK iterative change had polished the playstyles of many of the classes and in general things felt like a very smooth experience over some deeply broken core mechanics. The most obvious and severe of these was that years of polishing complex and intertwined abilities made balancing near impossible. There was no clear knob to twiddle to adjust the output of one spec that didn’t impact other specs. For Warlocks the shard mechanic was an outdated pain, but other than that all three specs were playing very nicely indeed after many years of struggle to get there. Other classes and specs had similar “legacy” mechanic problems (hunter mana, boomkin eclipse, etc) as well as a dominance of all kinds of AoE that was unbalancing the degree of challenge and interest that most encounters could provide.

So the situation was a broken core, but with the polish on top thats the expected outcome of years of tuning. Cata is an attempt to rebuild what was bust in the core, and it doesn’t have the years of tuning to polish the jagged edges that those kind of deep rooted changes make. Even if a particular mastery is crappy now, the details can be changed. The fact that mastery is in place at all is the important bit, as now there’s a knob to twiddle to allow spec balance to be tweaked without affecting other specs – the answer to the monster pre-cata problem. The details of shards aren’t polished yet, but the details can be tweaked and tuned – the core model is far superior to the pre-cata one.

Looking back to the BC to WotLK transition, the Meta spec that those of us who played it through later tiers got to love was pretty broken for tier 7, to the extent where most demo warlocks were running a FG/Emberstorm or Imp/Conflag build. It takes time for the kinks to be worked out after any change, and Cata is much more change at a much deeper level than either of the previous expansions. For me the surprise doesn’t lie with the fact that there are problems, but with how few problems there are. Folks are naturally comparing the post-cata builds with the end results of the WotLK iteration process, but comparing how a spec like Demo is going into this expansion compared to how we went into the last is much more informative. In my opinion the degree to which we have problems, when comparing a t7 meta build to a t11 meta build, for example, is much less despite the bigger changes. I think a lot of that is a testament to how well the core mechanic changes have worked, as the issues with balance are minor now. However, I do think there’s a reason for the degree to which people are getting upset…

When the meta build had problems at the start of WotLK, players experimented and switched to the FG/Ember or Imp/Conflag builds. They had much greater leeway in coming up with ways to deal with their own problems. Today, however, the talent trees are locked down to the extent where that is not possible. That gives nowhere for us to go but back to the developers. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll ride out the hiccup as I’m convinced that with some iterative polish the changes to the core mechanics are going to make the game better than ever, but I also get the reason for so much QQ as players are powerless to experiment and change things for themselves. The first things that needs some iteration are the current talent trees.

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