Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Is 6.2 Alt Friendly in Terms of Gearing Them?

Being 6.2 is the last raid tier of the expansion that means catch up time.  It has been a design pattern of blizzards to add some sort of way to catch up to the last raid even if you just hit max level that day.  In wrath there were three new dungeons, same with cataclysm.  Mists introduced the timeless island as a way to play catch up and warlords took the timeless island idea a little further in tanaan, which I refer to as T2 because that is what it is, the second, updated, version of timeless island.

It is easy to say many loved the wrath and cataclysm catch up system and I would be lying if I said I did not think it was the best way to do it.  You had three new dungeons to show some new story, something we don't seem to get with the new catch up design.  Those three new dungeons also dropped relevant gear to help get yourself ready for the last raid of the expansion.  But there was also another piece of the puzzle that mists and warlords is missing, a glaring omission if you ask me, and that was valor gear.

Blizzard has decided to move away from the system of earning your gear by working for it and moved more toward a completely luck based random number generator system of gearing which is an article all of its own, so I can not really compare the excellent design of wrath and cataclysms catch up system with the mists and warlords system because warlords would lose, but I can compare it to the mists catch up system.

First I will say that mists catch up system was very alt friendly.  Amazingly alt friendly.  I believe for us to discuss if warlords system is alt friendly we need to spend a moment exploring where this catch up system came from and that is the timeless island.  Being this is a direct descendant of timeless island we could be led to believe it would take the good from the T1 version and use it and adapt the bad from the T1 version and make it better.

T1 allowed alts, even fresh off the boat 90s, to land and start collecting gear, with some luck, from treasures all around the area.  The first area you stepped into had mostly non-aggressive mobs that would not attack you with a few, well spaced out, elite mobs that were of minor threat but could be a challenge for a fresh 90.  They were completely avoidable however, if you did not wish to engage in battle.

In short, you eased your way on to the timeless island.   You were introduced to it in a way where you were capable of starting to catch up as you first got there.  As you explored further you would meet increasingly harder mobs, denser packs, and even some challenges, all the way up to the other side of the broken bridge where the hardest challenges were.  In effect this allowed the timeless island to have content for anyone of all gear and skill levels.  In terms of design, it was perfect and I have sang the praises of this design at least a dozen times in this very blog because T1 was designed well to have something for everyone.  From the raid geared player all the way down to the fresh 90 that did not really know how to play their class well, the timeless island offered something for everyone.

There was also the fact that all the gear tokens that dropped were BoA which meant if you had a main, or a few higher geared characters, you could easily collect a bunch of pieces and send them all to your alt.  This would mean when your alt hit the island it did not even need to go through the gearing process, it already had all the catch up gear.  The alts ended up being there for burdens of eternity only, the pieces that could be used to upgrade that 496 gear to 535.

This brings us to the one part of the timeless island catch up system I did not like.  The burdens of eternity had two huge problems with them.  One being they were soulbound, unlike the main pieces and the second was that they were a complete gamble.  You did not know what stats you would get.  Everyone that ever used a burden of eternity on a piece of gear and it ended up only having one secondary stat on it and that secondary stat just happened to be your worst secondary stat can tell you that sucked, huge.  Even more so being the burdens were not exactly chump change, they were expensive for an alt at 50K coins.

So we mentioned the good, and the bad, from the timeless island.  It was well scaled for everyone, easy to get catch up gear initially (496) but a little on the stressful side when it came to getting the better gear (535) later on.

Now to how warlords improved on this model.  I do hope you noticed the tone of my writing on the word improved.

First things first.  Lets start with what warlords got right on T2.

The new burdens of eternity are the empowered apexis fragments.  These fragments, unlike their predecessor, are indeed BoA and can be purchased with your main and sent to an alt.  Also unlike the burden that came before it these items could be used on a piece of gear once it has already been made.  No more wasting an upgrade on a piece of gear that is useless.  If you do not want a piece of gear with only one stat on it and that stat is your worst, don't use the fragment on it, simple as that.

So warlords did learn from mists.  The two worst things about T1s catch up system were addressed and made better.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is what progress looks like.  Unfortunately, this is also where progress ended.

While this addressed the one thing in T1 that I found lacking, the upper end of gearing up alts, it is the lower end of gearing up alts that I feel has suffered a fair deal with T2.

Unlike T1 where you just went there and started to get the base gear, this time around the base gear became multiple gated by the random number generator.  First you had to be lucky enough to get the gear token drops, then you needed to get lucky enough that they are for the slots you needed, and then you needed to get lucky enough that they had stats on them that were decent for you.  All that and the bonus that if you get lucky a forth time on one piece it might even end up as a 675 instead of a 650.  That is a lot of luck required to gear someone if you ask me.

This, while not a step forward, is not really a killer.  A piece of 650 gear even with the wrong stats on it is still better than a piece of 590 gear you had while questing even if the 590 had perfect stats and the 650 did not.  So while this situation is not perfect it is also not completely horrible.

The prices on buying gear pieces are also much better this time around.  20K for an empowered apexis fragment is a hell of a lot more reasonable than 50K coins for a burden.  And slot pieces for 5K and a weapon piece for 10K are not really all that bad either.

So why do I think that 6.2 is not alt friendly for gearing up those fresh 100s or those alts that never left their garrison?  The entry quest line and the areas on T2 are what kill it for me.

Remember how I said that T1 eased the player in?  There was that safe zone you landed in with few hostile mobs, easy to kill mobs, and then some slightly harder elites that you could easily pull one at a time without the risk of getting overwhelmed or avoid completely if you so wished to?  Well, T2 seems to have forgotten the idea of gradual progression in a zone like T1 had.

To even get to T2 you need to do a quest line that could be very hard for those that are under geared or under skilled.  I've had a lot of people tell me they have had problems with it.  I've heard stories of people that died multiple times while doing it.  And this is just the lead in to even get to the area that is the catch up zone.  I think people needed a catch up zone to do the quest that leads them to the catch up zone.

Mind you I have done it on six characters thus far and had no problems.  Two hunters, a priest, a druid, a rogue and a paladin.  But I also have a lot of experience at the game and I know what my characters are capable of and usually, but not always, I am pretty damn good with not pulling mobs I did not intend to.. 

While I pulled like a mad man with my hunters and tanks I took it one mob at a time with my rogue and my priest.  I never died, but I can absolutely 100% understand how people could and would never make fun of someone that did.  It is completely reasonable to get overwhelmed there if you are not careful.

This is a huge difference from T1 where people were eased into it.  It is completely different from T1 where you could walk into it with a fresh max level character that has no gear and you have little skill with and still slowly make your way through.  Nope, not even close.  Your freshly dinged character is going to get slaughtered here if you are not very careful, and dare I say it, if you are not very skilled at playing it.  I do not see someone at a 580 item level having an easy time here, even more so if they are new to the class or do not know it well.

So you need to be geared to get to a zone that is intended to gear you up.  That is strike one against T2 on why I think it is not very good for gearing alts.  Strike two is once you actually get there.

Once you actually get there you need to go through another little story line process that is not as hard as the one you just did at the iron docks, but still could cause some problems of its own.  At least if the pile of bodies I see near that one machine we need to blow up each time I go there tells me anything.  While on my hunter being trailed by 12 mobs up to it, it was a matter of turning with an MD and barrage, if an under geared alt or a fresh 100 makes that train of mobs they end up being one of the many skeletons I see laying there on the ground each time I pass through.  Once again showing the mists way of just landing and going it much more alt friendly than the warlords version.

Mistake number three that makes it a bit harder for alts, although not impossible by any means, is the zone itself.  It is not that it is larger than T1 that makes it worse, if anything that should have made it better.  It is that the areas all feel the same, from the close ones to the far ones.  There is no deviation in difficulty.

Back to T1 where there were multiple areas with different difficulties.  Some areas seemed better designed for ranged while others for melee.  Some zones were super easy, some where slightly harder.  Some you could never over pull in and others you could easily over pull by accident.  There was most definitely a feel that the further you went into the zone the harder it got.  T2 has no feeling like that, none of the sort.

Every single area feels the same.  The orcs in fel forge which is close to our base are the same difficulty as the arakkoa area and the iron front area which are both pretty far away.  There is no ease you in feeling like there was in T1.  There is no "this place is for weaker characters" that people could go to complete their quests. 

How many people farmed their epoch stones in the easy area killing turtles and cranes because that is all they could do as they were easier?  No option like that here, sorry.  Everything on T2 is scaled the same.  Even the elite areas are the same as the normal area.  Sure the stuff takes longer to die as they are elite, but the demons of the throne are no harder than the orcs of fel forge in terms of difficulty.  They are just elite so they live longer and their abilities hit harder, but they are still the same.  There is no scaled difficulty here, it is one difficulty.  This is not very alt friendly.  Where is their ease in area?

So the bottom line is that yes, 6.2 is actually alt friendly for gearing.  Even if the base pieces are not as good as they were in T1 being they were BoA there but having the higher gear as BoA unlike T1, which is awesome, actually makes it a toss up, almost even.  So yes, gearing an alt can be much easier.  The one problem I see is that getting into it with an alt is much much harder than it was on T1 where you could just walk in and get a started gearing up.  This design seems to require you to have some gear to begin with so you can get more.  It is almost as if it were designed with the player being 670 to begin with.  Which when you are getting 650 gear really does not seemed balanced at all.

Over all I would say the gearing up portion for alts is awesome this time around in a way.  Even more so being the prices on the upgrades are reasonable in terms of the apexis they require unlike the original apexis gear which was insanely over priced.  But the scaling is a complete failure.  Where is the easy access for the fresh 100 in 580 gear?  There is none.

So if your alt already has some gear to begin with gearing up in 6.2 is a winner.  But if they don't have gear or if you are not very good at playing that class or the alt is a fresh 100, gearing up in 6.2 sucks.  It was poorly designed for the people that needed it the most.  As that is the angle I should be looking at it from, then I have to say, even if I think I like the gearing system of 6.2, the over all system for gearing alts in T2 is very poor as it failed the people that needed it most.

Next up, the time sink of 6.2, who has the time?


  1. As a non-raider, I agree. As I was reading I was thinking, well, I guess I'll just say "Yup, agree, hit all of the points I would have" and be done with it. But then for the next-to-last few paragraphs I was lost on why you thought it was good. But you did come back round my way at the end and I got it.

    For me, I don't feel that the basic level of gearing is as easy this time around. What I mean by that is it was easier to get the 1st level of gear (495) in TI than it is to get the 1st level of gear (650) in T2.

    In Timeless Isle, I could take anyone that could get into Pandaria to the island. Why would I? Well, I always liked getting the Crystal of Insanity from the caves, since you could start to be use it at 85. It was nice to have that little stat boost as I leveled. Not necessary but enjoyable. I could even grab a few coins or perhaps hop in on one of the boss kills and grab gear for when I hit 90. I wouldn't do that last one often, but just if everyone else was already fighting a celestial and it was almost down, I might hop in. And since you could originally open some of the treasure chests before 90 (they changed that), you could have 495 gear ready to go as soon as you hit 90. Obviously you could do that will mailing them via the main too, but I liked this method as well.

    But even if I didn't go there before 90, as soon as you got there you could find a few treasure chests to try for some gear pieces. And if you did the introductory quests to the dailies, you got at least one piece of 495 gear right off the bat.

    T2 doesn't feel anything like that for all of the reasons you mentioned. The quest to get in. The flow (or lack thereof) once you get in. The locations of treasures. None of it feels friendly to a solo alt player.

    This to me, these two bits are a very fair summary:

    “This design seems to require you to have some gear to begin with so you can get more. It is almost as if it were designed with the player being 670 to begin with.”

    “So if your alt already has some gear to begin with gearing up in 6.2 is a winner. But if they don't have gear or if you are not very good at playing that class or the alt is a fresh 100, gearing up in 6.2 sucks. It was poorly designed for the people that needed it the most.“

    1. I might be a raider, and a hunter at that, which had absolutely no issues with T2 when I went in. Was pulling huge packs to begin with, but I attempt to look at things from all angles. It is nice to see that I saw it correctly, at least based on what you said. Sadly many people that are raiders would just say "its fine" because it was fine for them and that is the wrong way to judge something, in my opinion at least.

      Sorry I lost you at the end but you seem to have caught where I was going. The gearing up system is good. It is just getting to the point were you could use it that is bad. It works if you already had some gear and really sucks if you don't. Would have loved if they went the T1 style of design and had easy easier and as you went in further it got harder and harder. That is the one thing I really loved about the T1 design. Sad they did not bring it along to T2.

    2. Yup, you basically hit the points that stand out. The thing is, none of this stuff should be hard to see. It SHOULDN'T be to your credit (although it is) that you can see this as a person who raids. It should just be obvious. The problem is that this dev team, more than others feels like it falls strong in the "filthy casuals" mindset camp. It may not be true, but as a filthy casual/altoholic, it can feel that way.

      No apologies on "losing me". I just wasn't expecting your argument set-up. Acknowledge the good individual pieces before addressing the bad parts. No reason for that, just my mind set at the time.

    3. It does seem, to me at least, as if they are trying to push everyone into raiding and if you are not raiding you are left out.

      I think they have lost touch with the fact that the vast majority of players do not raid. Even with the addition of LFR most players do not raid. My person opinion is those are the people you have to design for and then work upwards to harder difficulties. Not design the hardest and then lower it some, which is what they seem to be doing.

      The sad part is that on the PTR people were saying that T2 was hard on any player in less than 680 gear. When you think of the fact that only the more serious players (usually) are the ones on the PTR and they are saying you need high level gear for it, blizzard should have known something was wrong. I do not understand why they do testing if they refuse to listen to the feedback being given to them.

      I have a weird way of arguing things sometimes. Or so I have been told. ;)

  2. I hadn't really thought much about the difficulty of the mobs in various areas of Tanaan, which is a good point. I have been thinking a lot about the monotony of them, though. As you said, even the elites up on the throne of KJ aren't actually harder, just take longer to kill.

    On pandaria, after a hotfix pretty early on, they made the Panda rares so that they would pretty easily kill your pet. I think that was a brilliant idea, so they were equally difficult for everyone. The Zandalari warbringers and the war-god dokah (the more powerful warbringer up on the isle of giants) had enough interesting abilities that both Bendak and I decided to write guides on soloing them (bendak on the warbringers, and me on the wargod).

    The first thing I did after the intro quests on Timeless isle, was go up to grab my free burden from the chest at the top of the hill with all those yaungol. And then I set forth farming them for epochs and such. It was interesting and fun. There were abilities that even hunters had to deal with. I don't recall what the types of mobs were all called, but there was one that was easier for melee to do, and one that was easier for ranged hunters/locks to do. And then once you mastered those, you could try to take on the high priests, who had all the abilities of both of those mobs, until eventually you could solo the rare up there that was sort of an empowered high priest. That was great game design, I think.

    I'm trying to think of anything interesting that happens in tanaan. I mean, I like Fel Rangari Anaara. She's an interesting fight. There are a couple of mobs at the throne of Kil'J that I interupt and/or tranq. But that's more of a reflex than actually necessary (may be more necessary with lower gear). But I can't even remember the names of those mobs or the abilities, having just killed some this morning; so they obviously weren't that interesting of abilities.

    Pretty much everything in tanaan is just hit it till it's dead. Even the rares, I can't think of any interesting abilities they have. Some spawn small adds. oh boy...

    It's weird how fondly I'm remembering MoP. The first time I killed one of the big devilsaurs, I was so excited, and I got like, 20 bones, that was my only reward and I loved it. Grinding mounts from the dinos on Isle of Giants or from the Zandalari Warbringers was waaaaaaaaaay more fun than grinding apexis crystals to buy mounts.

    1. If anything feeling the monotony of them kind of supports the idea I was saying that they are all the same. If they weren't it would not feel like you were killing the same mob no matter where it is located.

      I was soloing them both right away myself. Never thought to write a guide to do so however. I loved that I was one of the only classes that could solo them. Always a fun thing of being a hunter. I hated when they changed the pandas to kill the pet. Took me by surprise the first time because I was not expecting it.

      I did the same on TI, immediately went to grinding the elites across the bridge. But that was the area intended for a raid geared player, so I saw that as great design.

      The hunter only rare is a fun challenge, that is for sure, but it is the only challenge in all of T2 as I see it. Like you I interrupt and tranq out of habit, but even if I didn't the mob would still die, they do not do anything that can hurt a hunter.

      And grinding bones too WAY longer than grinding 150K apexis crystals do. Heck, I bought the 150K mount at the start of last weekend, bought 3 tokens to send to alts, and I am already at almost 60K and I am not even playing my main there outside of the dailies any longer. Apexis crystals might be a grind for alts but it is just annoying busy work for mains.

  3. I think it's not just alt friendly, it's main friendly. If I upgraded my stuff with the apexis thing, I could get my stuff to 695 which is better than my heroic BRF stuff. There are a number of people about who are still doing dailies, so if you wanted to group up and do your dailies you could. And not to mention hang around Kazzak and other rares, if you can get there fast enough to tag one before it goes down.

    The hardest thing I could imagine for an alt is trying to get places. I am a geared raider and I still die when I try to run places because mobs agro onto me. Imagine how hard it would be on an alt that isn't a healer with a lower item level. Bleh, that's enough to turn me off alt levelling. Not that I needed an excuse, I suppose.

    1. That is what I see the biggest problem for alts is, the getting around. There is no scaling in difficult on T2. Everything from the first mob you bump into the the furthest away mob is the exact same difficulty. I liked the T1 design better where the areas were all designed with people of different gear and skill levels in mind.

  4. The thing I don't like about free baleful gear is that when it's upgraded, and upgraded easily, it's 10 ilvl better than best loot from LFR (my raiding cap). And it also rains like hell, including naval missions.

    While at T1 I definitely used 495 items to get alts ready for SoO and get my 528 loot, I'm feeling now that merely by killing mobs I'll be flooded with gear that will easily be upgraded. With no effort (except time sink) I get better (and uglier) gear than at raids and it makes my raiding less valuable. Somehow LFR gear = mogging trash now.

    1. I guess there could be come concern with it being a higher item level than LFR gear but this is a bit of bait that shows the better players from the bad ones.

      A good player would take the LFR tier set over the 695s even if it were lesser gear. Heck I am running around with a 4 piece of 670 gear from BRF normal. Sure upgrading those 4 pieces to 695 would really boost my item level, but the power of the tier set greatly outweighs the item level provided on them, even with perfect stats.

      So there are still decisions to be made and the LFR gear in some spots is still better than the 695 gear.

      I think the idea is that the 695 gear is blizzards attempt to replace valor gear. Better than the original apexis model, but still not there. That is why it is entry level to the normal raid. Just my guess at least.

      LFR = a place for alts to get their legendary drops. (at least for me)

  5. Great comments and debate above guys, lots of head-nodding going on here.

    I'd like to mention the forthcoming introduction of flying. Unless Blizz do some big changes to that opening quest chain, alts will just fly right in there and start farming for 650s to upgrade to 695s. Then they'll be strong enough to do the introduction quest.

    Apparently one does not simply walk into Tanaan Jungle.

    How cheese-off-the-cracker would THAT be?

    There is another catch-up mechanic available too, in Kazzak. My ilvl 620 ish alt get ported into that fight and have a chance of awesome gear both from the boss drop and from the free token they get from the lvl 3 Dwarven Bunker.

    Final mention goes to the dreadful Galleonville, which is now handing out 650 BoA armour tokens. Yes, my lvl 23 Rogue now has three 650 leather belt tokens sitting in his bank ready for lvl 100. I'm sure one of them will roll good stats........

    1. I understand where you are going with this, but I don't believe it should be designed that you need to go there to get the gear so you are then capable of going there.

      It would have been better if they had balanced the area to be more of "little bit for everyone" design like T1 was.

      The BoAs from the missions are nice. My bank alt is collecting all of them to assign to alts should I ever decided to level another one this expansion. But with as alt unfriendly as this expansion has been this seems like it will be the first expansion I will be having fewer max level characters than I did the expansion before it.

  6. It seems like, in comparison to T1 it is easier to gear alts but harder to play them.

    Why take under-geared alts into the jungle when your main can just go and get the gear for them?

    I think the Baleful gear should be BoA and the upgrades should be BoP... your main could get you into the jungle but, if you wanted the top gear, you needed to actually play the char.

    With the system as it is, my alts will be better geared than ever but played less.

    1. oh, and I agree completely about the difficulty curve. T1 had it perfectly flowing around the island, T2 curve is non-existent.

    2. I like it the other way around, the upgrades being the BoA ones. Getting the gear itself is less of a problem, getting enough of the resources to get the upgrade on an alt your rarely play is harder. So I like my main can send upgrade pieces over to an alt.

      The difficulty curve is where I think they made their big mistake in T2. T1 was near perfect.