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Class Fantasy, people, was the shining beacon that Activision Blizzard decided would redefine class development going into Legion. It would, for the first time in over a decade, define what it meant to be your character. It wouldn’t just be about picking a class based on what a Guide told you was best, but instead you’d have a series of spells and abilities that would truly make you feel as if you were an Outlaw Rogue, or a Beast Mastery Hunter. It was part of the means by which the Expansion was ‘sold’ to new players, but there was a catch. If you didn’t identify with the version of ‘fantasy’ that was being presented to you? The whole thing ended up as an elegantly constructed lie. In amongst the legions of players overjoyed at change, a small number of players quietly died inside and stopped playing.

Fantasy is a potent tool to not wield with consideration.

Of course, some people would never be happy. As time went on in Alpha and then Beta, it became apparent that what the designers considered as ‘fantasy’ and what long term players who had grown upwith certain classes grasped as the same was, in many cases, poles apart. To take an example that I’m close to: Hunters and traps were always going to be a problem. Removing the only CC that was 100% reliable and relocatable might make sense if you have a PvP hat on, but really it has ended up making many who relied on this utility feeling worthless. I’ll admit, I was one of them, but I’ve reached a point where I’m less willing to get angry at in game changes than I ever used to be, because this radical shift in approach needed to be give a chance.

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The key to this desire to not condemn is simple: this is still an idea that’s less than a year old. How will designers ever get a sense of what is right and wrong if the moment something vital is tweaked, everyone’s toys go out of the pram? It is neither helpful nor productive to pour scorn on an idea which, in many places, has cause the renaissance of a classes fortunes and interests, yet that’s what some people are still doing, as if telling designers what asshats they are is ever going to get the changes desired. Then, this morning, this tweet ended up in my timeline and I found myself realising just how fucking useless Twitter can be sometimes for trying to make things better:

This is not a question with a 140 character answer, Mr Feasel, and you should know better. For me however, working on only a few hours sleep, it ended up causing what ended up as a surprising rant on what pets as a Hunter in my head have been reduced to:

My bile was a surprise, but what being a Hunter means to me is no longer about picking and choosing a pet for a particular situation, because abilities have pretty much been neutered out of the equation. Fuck, there’s one spec THAT DOESN’T EVEN USE THEM ANY MORE FFS so there’s an argument that all those different styles of companion for one third of a Class is really too much. I get increasingly annoyed too at the joy when a Dev tweets there’s a new family of skins to collect, but don’t expect an increase Stable sizes to accommodate it. This isn’t pet collecting, you’re supposed to do Battle Pets for that, don’t you know? That’s normally the moment when I realise I’ve succumbed to Warcraft’s Dark Side and go listen to music or write, because I used to care a fuck of a lot about this class but now, I value my sanity more, because once you grasp your idea of ‘fantasy’ is diametrically opposite to the people making the game, you get a choice.

You either accept the change or you do something else.

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When fantasy goes bad, it can destroy your love of the thing you once used as inspiration. It removes a portion of your innocence and wonder, and it reduces play styles to numbers. That’s where we are now: all that really seems to matter to Activision Blizzard on certain days is the maths: why else would all these theorycrafters be employed by the company to crunch numbers otherwise? Where’s the hires that focus on aesthetics or blue sky solutions? Nope, can’t do that, this is about efficiency and finding the right skillsets… but what if such qualities cannot be precisely defined in such a way? Nobody’s interested any more in employing a dreamer or a speculative thinker, and that’s what I think could be needed here, someone who is allowed permission to work outside the numbers. Even though Warcraft cannot survive without the relentless push of progression, you need imagination that’s not fuelled by the desire to succeed.

What this game could use at this juncture is less definition, and not more.

Now I’ve gotten this out of my system? Nothing changes. I don’t now storm off in a huff, but realise I made an important connection: content is great and all, and I’m really happy that exists. Now, I think this game needs less of something, but is that control? Am I looking for the ability to be autonomous where it does not exist? Is all of this an indicator that however hard the designers try, it is effectively impossible to make everybody the same without fundamentally destroying what the whole point of this game has always been: to win. It does not matter what you offer, people want the most DPS, the best HPS and unkillable Tanks. They desire these because to play this game ‘properly’ is not about relying on Class fantasy or aesthetics, it is having the best numbers.

Until that basic philosophy changes, everything else is always gravy.

3 thoughts on “Let Me Be Your Fantasy

  1. Pingback: Don’t Believe the Hype | life: in pieces

  2. You’ll find this disagreeable, largely because it’s critical, but the reality of class design is that Blizzard simply doesn’t have a team capable of doing it properly. You correctly cite the issues with trying to push a fantasy, rather than the fantasy, but the conclusion isn’t “accept or reject”. The conclusion is, and always was, helping the design team see what they’re getting wrong. Unfortunately, it’s not the job of the community to fix problems – merely to highlight them. And when highlighting problems is considered noise, or simply gets ignored, then we get the type of design we’ve seen for Legion.

    Awful design.

    So much of this expansion has been done wonderfully, but a lot of players are having the experience poisoned by their long-time avatars, the characters they’ve related to the game world for years as, being a complete fucking mess to play. I moved on from my warrior because of the job they made of it, and Fury is a prime example of where the rubber meets the road here. Is the spec functionally competitive? Yes. Is the spec built around a fantasy theme? Arguably. Does the spec actually work properly? No. All Zierhut and his team needed to do was conceptually build how they thought the class fantasy should work (in conjunction with players), build the core framework of that concept, and then add the nuts and bolts for tuning purposes.

    Instead they started with rotational norms, cut what they felt they couldn’t balance, and then tried to shoehorn a fantasy into what was left. Too much effort went into things that didn’t matter (pet-less melee hunters a “priority”? Really?), while fundamentally class-breaking problems were ignored and taped over with talents.

    I’ve been playing a couple of years shy of your tally, and am largely in the same casual boat having been at the sharp end of performance before. I’ve never seen so many people unhappy with their class, nor have I seen so many laughably broken concepts get launched onto live servers. And it’s not part of the general trend of people complaining for the sake of complaining, because that’s much lower this time around when compared to Pandaria and Draenor.

    The class designers simply aren’t capable of pulling off something as ambitious as coherent class fantasies, and there’s no historical precedent to suggest that they are. It’s not, in my view, a question of time or patience – it’s a question of competence amongst those making changes, and the obviously unqualified leadership of Chris Zierhut.

    Don’t expect decent class design until he’s working in the snack bar.

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  3. I am a rogue. My main is a rogue. I will always identify primarily as a rogue, albeit I also tank on both a DH and a bear.

    Many years ago I created a hunter named Ekho. I loved the fantasy of a ranged person with a pet. As a solo player I loved having a pet to do things with me. I have a spider called Emmeline. I tamed Emmeline when we were level 10. Back in those days hunters didn’t start with pets and I gave a great deal of thought to who I wanted to tame as my pet. When I saw Emmeline in the forests of the Ghostlands I knew we would be best of friends.

    Ekho and Emmeline were my casual goto team. I played them when I wanted to do my own thing. Oh the adventures we had!

    The end of WoD left players with so much free time that I actually started raiding a little bit on Ekho, just for fun. I respecced from BM to MM (cuz that’s what you did) and sent Emmeline away. I missed her terribly. It was very sad. I was very sad. Emmeline was pissed.

    Along came Legion. Raiding was no longer on Ekho’s horizon and I went back to BM. Emmeline had to put up with a buddy. Hati was awesome, but three’s a crowd and we just didn’t get the hang of the spec. I switched to MM but not Lone Wolf, we were soloing after all. Screw that top dps nonsense. It was better, but I had to put Emmeline in tank spec and we still died a lot. It wasn’t fun.

    When I realized that I just wasn’t logging in to Ekho and Emmeline much any more, and when I did, I did as little as I could get away with to keep missions running, I knew something had to change. For the first time ever I switched to Survival.

    And I love it. Yeah, I’m a melee player so it was probably a no-brainer from an outside perspective, but giving up the ranged fantasy took a mental shift that I had to work up to. Emmeline is back to tenacity and we are eating up content, taking on mobs we would never have considered before. And the dying has stopped.

    So, a rogue thinks that hunter is awesome. Better than ever. So. Much. Fun. I’m not actually sure that that speaks well of the hunter fantasy. My point though, is that some players who do value numbers on the raiding end, also value fantasy. There should be room for both. It will take a bit of thinking out of the box to satisfy both in most situations and unless the devs are willing to concede that competitive content and casual gameplay can be as different as PvP and PVE, and give us abilities that satisfy each, it’s going to keep being a tug of war.

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