Thursday, October 30, 2008

Will Blizzard repeat mistakes from Burning Crusade?

That is a very good question. And I would like to answer that question from what I've observed thus far in the Beta. As with Relmstein, I think this is a question many of us have been wondering. In some cases we can see that Blizzard made design decisions ostensibly to correct some of the mistakes they previously made. So in large part, I think Blizzard won't make all the same mistakes. But in others I think they really have little choice because they have no impact on how people play in general.

Dynamic spawn system problems - I like the fact that Horde and Alliance factions have different starting zones this time around. And I can only hope that it does indeed help with the spawn issues Relmstein refers to. There just wasn't anything fun about running through parts of Hellfire Peninsula and having things spawn crazily around you. In fact it became downright tedious as you attempted to move into, then out of areas multiple times. My guess is that simply because there will be less people in a concentrated area this will be less of an issue, but time will tell.

Outdoor PVP objectives - I do not share the same opinion regarding how popular Halaa and the Bone Wastes were. Certainly at the beginning of the BC they were fairly popular, and then again attained more popularity when the daily BG quests were introduced. But I don't think they were anywhere near as popular as Blizzard had hoped they'd be. On my server I almost never see a battle over Halaa, and fighting over the spirit towers in the bone waste are always relatively small fights because frankly there just isn't anything worthwhile to buy with spirit shards. I am however, a little more excited to hear about the new outdoor PVP zone in WotLK because the benefit for winning is much larger scale and more robust. That essentially were the big problems with Halaa in Nagrand, and the Bone Waste in Terrokar. The benefits to winning were so small that even if you had interest at some point, it quickly waned. It looks like Blizzard answered this in large part.

Missing the leveling truce - I honestly don't think there is anything that Blizzard can do about this. They split the starter zones, so some of it will be cleared up. Yet without keeping the two factions completely separated you are still going to get to a point where you will enter "ganksville". And people who enter that zone at a point after most others have already finished leveling are going to continue experiencing the full brunt of it. And of course this point only has merit on PVP servers. If you don't want to be ganked, then play on a PVE server.

Raid blockage at Karazan - I remember this quite well, because it was a huge problem for guilds--including my own. Several arguments ensued initially because the core clique in my guild formed a team and everyone else was largely left out. We eventually were able to form a second 10-man raid team, yet there was a fairly large disparity between the quality of members which created even more arguments as team A went much further, much quicker than team B. Eventually the teams were broken up and members were allocated between the two teams again to make them a little more even at which point most of the problems were resolved. Yet even more problems crept up as we then attempted to transition to 25-man content in the very next dungeon. The transition from 10-man raiding to 25-man raiding is actually fairly difficult from the perspective of manning. The numbers of raid slots, and sub slots that you would typically have for a 10-man team are quite a bit different than one would have for 25-man raiding. Then factor in the larger problem in BC raiding that many of the fights in raids called for specific classes--who then were not needed (or even desired) in follow on fights. Take Gruuls for example. You would have 4-5 tanks for the High King, then only need 2 for Gruul himself. Raids would often bring 5 tanks to High King, then replace 3 with DPS for Gruul. Grumbling and problems galore.

My sense is that Blizzard has addressed this issue in part with their new raid philosophy. There will be 10 and 25 man versions of every raid so a 10-man team can continue raiding from beginning to end without ever having to change. Transitioning from 10 to 25-man raiding will of course require some modification, yet Blizzard has also dramatically changed mechanics in such a way so that specific classes are no longer required giving raid leaders greater latitude when forming their teams. Tanks in particular do much better damage now, so even if the number of tanks fluctuates between fights, you probably won't have to sub tanks in and out on fights. That alone should make people much happier.

Rewards for heroic dungeons - I think Blizzard failed miserably when they created the loot tables for heroics. There simply was little to no reason to even run a heroic, except for the badges. All the bosses, save the final boss, dropped the same loot as they did on regular. Yet the fights were much more challenging. Blizzard added in epic gems (not really all that better than the rare gems we were already using) after BC started but that didn't really change the central question of reward for risk. In WotLK there are different loot tables for Heroic dungeons, so this question I think is largely answered.

All in all I think Blizzard paid a great deal of attention to the problems they encountered--and created--in BC. And I think they fixed the vast majority of them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Two weeks from today

Well, two weeks from today and some hours anyway, the WotLK expansion will go live. I'm looking forward to it, though I think my desire is somewhat shy of what I felt looking forward to the Burning Crusade. Honestly I think some of that is related to questionable decisions and design philosophies Blizzard has taken recently. But I'm sure I'll get over most of those before too long as I decide to "just move on".

So my Shaman has been level 70 now for a couple weeks and he's finally starting to get some nice gear, although still T4 level stuff. I finally hit 900 spell damage last night unbuffed, and over 1k spell damage with my totem of wrath out. I don't expect to get much better before the expansion hits, so he is essentially what I'll walk into WotLK with on the 13th. And I'm fine with that. I made the decision to continue leveling my Shaman first, along with my wife who is also playing an Elemental Shaman. I'll eventually go back and level my Druid from 63 and start my Death Knight, but for now I think I need to concentrate on one character. If for nothing more than to build my monetary situation back up to where it needs to be. Being an alt-a-holic is a serious drain on one's assets!

The Zombie infestation has ended

On the very heels of my post on Monday, the controversial Zombie infestation has ended in WoW. In fact it ended Monday--according to Blizz "exactly as planned". Sure it did. In any regard I'm absolutely certain the GMs are happier than can be after what had to have been a mountain of in-game tickets related to the griefing, and everything else surrounding this world event. I did eventually get a response to my tickets sometime Monday night (well after the event was already over), so take all that into account when you look at Blizzards comments.

For my part, I hope whomever was responsible for this world event is never tapped to design anything ever again.

Monday, October 27, 2008

WoW Zombie Invasion

Anyone who has been playing WoW for the past several days has noticed a zombie or two running around the neighborhood. And when I say a zombie or two, I mean hundreds and thousands. And each one of them was retching up zombie goo on every battle master, NPC quest giver, flight point master, and auction house npc in every city of the game this weekend. And at the tail end of monumental problems associated with the patch 3.0.2 rollout just two weeks ago no less. Yes folks, Blizzard ate a big heaping bowl of dumb ass on this one. Have you ever heard the expression that one awe shit wipes out all the atta-boys you've accumulated? Well not only did Blizzard lose all their atta-boys this weekend, but they now have about 5 million "awe-shits" staring at them in the form of tickets in-game complaining about all the crap that went on all weekend long. I put two of them in myself on Sunday morning and would you know it as of this morning my tickets we still waiting to be answered.

I haven't been so upset about something Blizzard has done since the largest nerfing in the history of WoW (Druid nerf just prior to the Burning Crusade expansion). And that is saying quite a lot! Blizzard initiated a world event that not only enabled asshats and griefers to run amok on everyone else in the game, but actually condoned it. It was nauseating to see so many people revelling in the discomfort they were causing everyone else in the game. But those individuals can't help themselves--after all, they're just being themselves. Blizzard, on the other hand, should have bloody known better.

Frankly I still so angry about this past weekend that I don't even want to say any more on the subject.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

WoW Patch 3.0.2

It's been a long and shall we say, interesting couple of weeks since I last posted here on the blog. I've been busy with school work, work, and of course continued leveling of my two alts. One of which--my Shaman--hit 70 about 10 days ago, and my other--my Druid--still languishes at 63. I finally got to the point where it was taking more and ever more time to level each, and had to devote more time to the character I was leveling with my wife. So it definitely isn't disinterest that prevented me from blogging, but rather that I have been spending every available free moment in game, or in my school work.

So, it's been a week and a half since Patch 3.0.2 was released. General thoughts are that the patch was a success from a design stand point, but not so much in its delivery. The live servers have been plagued with instabilities with horrible lag spikes and instances that crash almost nightly. And not for short periods either, but for prolonged periods during prime-time play time. There have been entire evenings ruined, where not a single instance run could be carried off because of it. Still, things are beginning to look a little better. Most of the lagginess seems to have been cleared up over the past couple days at least. And I'm sure Blizzard will clear the rest of the problems up in the short term. Just in time for the expansion, set to be released on November 13th!

The Patch - so what do I like about "the patch"? At first I didn't really give much thought to the new achievements. But strangely over the past 2-3 days I've found myself warming up to it. I've found myself actually pursuing various achievements, and I'm generally someone who has never paid much attention at all in the nearly four years I've been playing, to the intangible "rewards" one earns for doing world events, or what have you. Including titles. I could have really cared less about titles. That is, up until now. I spent a good portion of yesterday afternoon running around Azeroth finishing up the Trick or Treat achievement for the Eastern Kingdom, and unlocking areas in zones I had never visited. I have a great deal more of that to come before I finish. In the end, I think I'm enjoying the achievement system more than almost any other new patch related item.

I can see in PVP just how the new skills and talents have worked out. Ret Paladins are now incredibly powerful. Very few others--and I do mean VERY FEW others can actually defeat a ret pally 1-v-1. In fact Ret Paladins are now known to roll into small groups and wipe them out. Its amazing to watch, until you realize you're one of the poor slobs receiving the wiping. Paladins of course, received a small nerf last week (within days of the patch going live), but it hasn't done much to tone down the huge burst damage potential these walking gods have in PVP yet. For my part, I'm absolutely loving my Shaman. In all actually this is my second Shaman. My first is Enhancement--was and always will be, and I leveled this one as Enhancement up to level 65 when I respecced him to Elemental. And I love it! I am amazed at it's mana efficiency. I've played a Mage and Warlock to end-game also, and neither of them is anywhere near as mana efficient as my Elemental Shaman is. Of course I'm comparing pre-patch Mage and Warlock to post-patch Elemental Shaman, but even then I watch Mages and Warlocks in the groups I run in (raiding and instancing) and while I see them have to drink fairly regularly I can go through entire instances without having to drink more than once or twice, if even at all. My spell rotation has much more to do with my mana efficiency than anything else. I can crank up the chain-lightning to lightning bolt percentage to maximize DPS on groups of mobs, and scale that down when I need to regen a little more mana. If I simply spam LB for single target DPS I never have to drink at all. I find myself anxiously awaiting the dual-spec system to be put in place so I can run as Elemental/Restoration.

Rouges and Warriors also got huge boosts. If you thought Warriors tore up the battlefields before the patch, then you need to observe them now. What can you say about Rogues other than they have increased DPS? All of it means that survivability of the classes on the receiving end of their attacks has become an even greater issue that it was before. Thus far, while I find I love my Elemental Shaman, I haven't found myself with a great deal of survivability in BGs. Thunderstorm is a pretty neat talent, doesn't offer any real degree of survivability. It knocks back everyone immediately around me about 15 yards, but doesn't impart a snare of any kind. So anyone knocked back is immediately back on you. Even if you do get off a frost shock. Alternatively, you can drop a totem and run, hoping to gain enough distance to safely heal. But I haven't found that to be a terribly effective tactic yet.

My opinion on the new inscription system is still up in the air. I've only seen a handful of glyphs that I thought were of much use, but I'm hoping that might change over time as I see more. And of course the huge nerf to raid bosses--their health and the damage they do--just makes whatever you happen to be doing now raid-wise that much easier. I personally think that's beneficial to allow more people to see more end-game content prior to its virtual retirement next month.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

WotLK and Championing

Blizzard announced some time ago a plan to add what is now being called "Championing" to the game. Championing is a process through which you would earn rep from a particular faction depending on which tabard you were wearing, while running through an instance that might give a different factional rep. In order to earn a different rep than is given from an instance you were running, you'd only need to don the faction's tabard you needed to level. I recall thinking this was a fantastic idea at the time, and would go a long way in helping out with one of the more problematic areas of WoW. Not being able to get groups/instance runs, yet needing desperately to level a rep to get rewards at the higher levels of that factional rep.

When I read World of Raids explanation of how it's been implemented, I can't even begin to tell you how dumbfounded I was by it's limitations. WoWinsider spoke more about it today. Why are the Burning Crusade factions not included in this plan? We all know what's going to happen when WotLK hits the streets. People are going to burn through the Outlands like they burn through Azeroth now. And they're not going to pause long to run many instances along the way. Which of course will make attainment of Revered or Exalted with any of the Outland's factions excruciatingly difficult. I can live with the limitation that you can only earn one rep at a time while Championing. But it's mind-boggling why Blizzard isn't enabling Championing of the Outland factions as well.

Big PVP changes coming?

It's one of the two things from WAR that I've previously commented I'd like to see Blizzard implement in WoW. Low and behold Tigole mentioned yesterday they were looking at XP gain from PVP. He said other things also, but "We're also going to explore EXP gain through the PvP system as well as low level itemization to support that." is what stood out in his entire post to me. All they would have to do in order for this to go live NOW would be to scale down (and up) the existing level 60 PVP gear like they plan on doing for the Heirloom Bind on Account gear. Voila, done, implement it already!

I've been playing WAR the past week and I love the fact I can level almost entirely through PVP. In WoW I don't PVP much until I hit the level cap because I'm one of those players that hates taking time away from levelling. Earning XP from PVP would solve that to a large extent. When I feel like PVPing, I'd PVP and still earn XP. When I didn't feel like PVPing, I'd quest/instance and guess what; I'd still earn XP. Of course people who play twinks wouldn't be much of a fan of this plan, but I think there would be many multiples of those who would.

Tigole made another comment yesterday that should make people looking to earn XP via PVP even happier. Go head, read his comment. Now that you're back, can you imagine how this will play out for Rogues, Prot Warriors, Prot Paladins, Resto Druids... hell, everyone? Of course this particular plan isn't just applicable to the PVP crowd. It also has deep significance for raiders who right now might have to pay through the nose for respecs in between raids. Or have had to level and play an alt for farming.

Incidentally, the other thing from WAR that I'd like Blizzard to implement is the group XP bonus you get in WAR, but do not in WoW. In WAR, if you group, XP for any given creature is divided by the number in the party. Same as in WoW. But in WAR you get a bonus on top of that amount which encourages grouping. In WoW you do not. In WAR you end up getting nearly half again as much XP in a two-person party than you do in WoW, and that can add up to a considerable amount. Blizzard should implement this immediately, since their stated goal on many occasions is to foster a social environment. Right now there is little reason to group up, unless you simply can't do a quest on your own. You're penalized for grouping, and that to me, is just plain silly.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What makes an MMO fun?

What makes an MMO fun? What keeps players coming back, day after day? And ultimately what causes the game's user base to grow over the long term? Interesting questions, yet no single answer seems to answer them. Really what I'm driving at is what made WoW into the titan among MMOs that it has become, and why have its competitors not been able to catch up? I ask this because another stalwart competitor has come along--WAR--and many people have expressed opinions that it's the WoW killer. Something that has been said of almost every other MMO that has been released in the last year and a half that I can recall. Yet WoW is still the titan, and most of those other MMOs have faded into near forgotten status. EA and Mythic released WAR, and if you were to judge by the amount of press it's received over the last several weeks, people were flocking to it by the millions. And yet in my own very informal poll of various WoW realms, they seem no less populated than they did prior to WAR's release.

So again, what makes WoW the titan it is, and why can't others seem to catch up? Why, for instance, will WAR not supplant WoW as the 800 pound gorilla on the block? In WoW the main "end-game" is raiding, with a PVP mini-end-game added on. It caters to both types of players, though I must say that real PVP only happens on PVP servers. That being world PVP, where ganking is the norm and leveling beyond the 20-something zones can become a real pain in the rear. I haven't played WAR all that long--a few days all told really--yet I can't really glean what awaits me at "end-game". WAR is really not about gear, and raiding doesn't seem to be an end-game in WAR. Which leaves us with capital city-raiding. WoW, on the other hand is very much about gear. And invariably, where you get gear is through raiding and instance runs. Unless of course you are strictly a PVPer, in which case you get your gear entirely through PVP. And I think that point begins to touch on why WoW was able to attain the position it did, and has yet to be supplanted. In games like Star Wars Galaxies, which I used to play many moons ago, and WAR, where the central focus is PVP related, that focus relies very much upon there being enough people to keep people occupied. If you play during off hours, or if the player base drops below a certain threshold, then the game quickly becomes boring. Case in point, I played a Rifleman/Doctor in SWG and would spend hours every day trolling through all the cities on the major planets looking for PVP. In the last several weeks I played, that PVP was very hard to find. I grew bored and desperately sought for a release which just couldn't be found in other aspects of the game. I wonder if the same thing will happen in WAR in the coming months.

Yet that largely doesn't happen in WoW. The population has remained high, and the game has a different focus, based on time sinks. While PVP can and does happen, and you can always run instances or raid, the focus is on gear progression. Which gives you something to do over the long term. And there is almost always something bigger to strive for. So the utter boredom that results in games like SWG doesn't seem to happen on the large scale in WoW. People came to WoW in droves because of it catered to multiple play stles, and because most of the game was accessible to the average person. With the release of the Burning Crusade, even more of WoW became accessible to the average player, and that accessibility was extended further late in the Burning Crusade when Blizzard removed the vast majority of attunements. And now we know there will be no attunments in WotLK. Access to raid content now focuses on gear issues, which are somewhat easier to attain now. Is that the case in other games? Is the "end-game" in WAR as accessible to players as it is in WoW? That of course remains to be seen.

From my point of view, what makes an MMO fun is its focus and accessibility. What keeps players coming back, again in my view centers around the focus and accessibility issues. And likewise, what enables an MMO to grow into the size that WoW has centers around those issues as well. I don't believe PVP-centric games offer a broad enough focus to attract and keep enough players to keep it vitalized, though they might be very fun during the hay-day, so to speak. All-in-all, I think what we'll be seeing in November is a great many of the players who are playing WAR now will come back to WoW. And even if some of them again leave WoW, I really don't see the current player base shrinking any time soon. In a world where MMOs are now pervasive, that indeed says quite a bit.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

People still play Star Wars Galaxies?

I don't read Massively every day, so I've apparently missed previous mentions of SWG. Today's article regarding the upcoming addition of the Battle of Hoth to the SWG universe caught be somewhat by surprise. SWG was my first MMO, which I started playing in Jul 2002 and stopped playing in Mar 2005 (the day the first "Combat Upgrade" went live). And I generally look upon it as exactly what an MMO should not espouse to be. I also look upon it's customer relations, and customer support as exactly what a company--in this case SOE--should not be like, as well. Those feelings I walked away with that day in Mar 2005 are what continue to keep me from playing any other game hosted or developed by Sony.

Believe it or not I gave SWG another look last year, and used a free pass to reopen one of my old SWG accounts. I played it for an evening, then logged out and uninstalled what remained a horribly buggy and unfun game. My sense then and now was that SWG hasn't received a great deal of development support, though I might be completely wrong on that subject. Shrug.

Be that as it may, I was somewhat surprised to see the announcement regarding Hoth today. I wonder why anyone still plays the game, and hope someone can explain it to me.

Do you believe the "tank" shortage will dissapear in WotLK?

Tanks will be in high demand and should be pretty plentiful when the WotLK hits the shelves, and for a number of weeks after ward. But if WotLK follows the same path as BC and vanilla WoW, tank availability should begin to dry up when the majority of guilds start to raid seriously.

Having played two different tanks nearly the entire time I've been playing WoW (since Mar 2005), I know precisely why there is and was a Prot Warrior shortage. And it is exactly why I retired my Warrior in the Fall of 2006 and rolled my Druid, who remains my "main". Once you went Protection as a Warrior you couldn't really do anything else with him except raid or run instances. It was miserable trying to farm or solo play, and that just isn't much fun. As prot Warriors started to raid seriously they either stopped PUG'ing and ran with guildees only, or stopped running instances all together once they were able to start getting raid gear.

Prot Paladins are in a slightly different boat, in that they can largely solo and raid/instance tank regardless of where they're at. It's just that there are far fewer of them than Warriors. And Feral Druids; well they didn't really have an issue with spec in regards to raid/instance tanking and solo play because their tree pretty much gives them everything they need in order to be successful at either. That is until WotLK however. Enough on that for now!

Blizzard has finally claimed to have heard the long spoken complaints regarding the situation. And has addresses some of the problems by raising DPS of Warriors and making them much better AOE tankers than they were. It remains to be seen if Prot Warriors will be more fun to play solo than they are now though, and that is essentially what I feel will play directly into the tank shortage debate.

Of course, what ever Blizzard does with tanks in general will have zero impact on whether someone decides to drop out of the PUG scene. I know I stopped tanking PUGS a very long time ago simply because I got tired of wipes and repair bills caused by silliness.