Saturday, December 27, 2008


I mentioned yesterday how I thought some of the world event achievements needed to be tweaked to make them somewhat less reliant on blind luck. I was a little annoyed by the situation and decided to do some more poking around. Despite the vast amount of bad information on the official forums, and the vague information released by Blizzard itself it seems that the hats can only be obtained--now--in level appropriate content. They still drop as world loot off various mobs, but I'm not sure about WotLK mobs. At any rate, I failed to a hat off any low level mob, so I think the loot tables were modified so that it also requires level appropriateness to loot.

With a week left in the event I did not want to give up. Especially considering the hat was the only thing left standing between me and my Wintervale world event completion. Turns out you can two-man the boss in Nexus and I was able to get a friend to run me through on two of my toons. Merrymaker title obtained!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Some achievements need tweaking

I've mentioned before that I got turned on to in-game accomplishments with the introduction of the new achievement system. I had a great deal of fun accomplishing achievements on my Shaman, but as time has gone by and I've started investing more time into my other two characters some of the achievements have become harder to get. Particularly some of the holiday achievements like "Tis the Season" which requires you to loot a holiday hat from bosses in various instances. As with the "Sinister Calling" during the Hallows End celebration, I've been very unlucky. I've failed to loot either the Sinister Squashling for two years now, and I've yet to loot a holiday hat on any of my toons either. Which of course means I can't complete either Hallow's End or Wintervale world events, and can't progress toward the "What a long, strange trip it's been" achievement which awards a purple proto-drake mount.

I know Blizzard has answered criticism on this very point during the Hallow's end event, saying they meant the achievement to be harder than others. But as I've already said I failed to loot a Sinister Squashling for two years now. Last year the achievement system wasn't in place so I largely ignored my frustration, but this year there was new incentive to loot the pet. Harder is one thing, but two years without being able to complete that particular achievement crosses over into ridiculousness I think. And now I've seen two world events that I can not complete because of the exact same problem.

One might rightly point out that no one forces us to complete these achievements and that they really don't mean anything anyway. But one could simply answer that this is a game in the first place and doesn't mean anything also. The fact is however, that people want to complete the achievements and while I accept that one should have to work on them, having a complete world event achievement hinge on a drop and winning a roll is probably too far to go.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Raiding update

I last wrote that we had started our formal raiding and had run into some problems. Since then we've changed out a couple people and actually cleared all four wings of Naax. The team is gelling and I think it will not be very much longer before we clear Naax all together. Unfortunately for me, my rolls have not yet improved. So I've yet to see a single T7 piece whereas my wife now sports the only T7 chest piece in the guild to my knowledge. I know eventually I'll get mine, but I hope it won't take me six months to get a single piece like it took my Druid to get his staff in Karazan.

Right now our schedule calls for us to raid Naax two nights a week, and the Obsidian Sanctum on a third night. Sartharion is on farm status, so I think we plan on trying for one add up next week for some extra loot. Should be fun, but I can't wait until we can start doing Sartharion with three adds and start getting the mount.

Death Knight progress part deux

When last I wrote, my Death Knight was only level 74. This last Saturday I finally hit 80 and have come to some firm conclusions about the class in general. I definatly like the Blood tree the best, and like the Unholy tree the least. Well, perhaps that goes a little too far. Instead, let me say that I like the unholy attack rotations the least. There are too many interruptions (white hits) in the rotations because of cooldowns compared to blood rotations. And I generally just do not like that.

For blood I use IT > PS > HS > HS > OB > DC. For Unholy I would either use IT > PS > SS > BS > OB > DC or IT > PS > BS > BS > OB > DC. The IT > SS > BS > OB > DC rotation, however, introduces several second delays in the second rotation. And that equates to lower DPS which I do not like. Perhaps haste is the answer to that question, but I'm not a great fan of haste for Death Knights. I definately see it as a tertiary stat consideration when compared to raw attack power, strength, stamina, and crit.

By comparison you can use the blood rotation (IT > PS > HS > HS > OB > DC) on multi-rotation mobs with no delay. On multi-mob pulls you'd want to add in pestilence to the mix, so IT > PS > Pest > HS > HS > OB > DC.

I've been testing out several builds since the weekend, including various Unholy builds, but hadn't found one that offers what I see as acceptable health regen compared to blood either. Part of that problem, I know, is my low hit rating which I definitely need to raise before getting into anything really serious. I know this because I've been toying around with soloing Onyxia and I can see I miss entirely too many Death Strikes. I actually do much better as blood against her than I do as unholy. And in both cases I fight in frost presence, in tank gear (475 def, so still somewhat shy of the cap).

I've also been PVPing and definitely need to improve my skills before I start venturing into the arena. Part of my problem is I'm a semi-clicker. I use the default UI with some mods. So I'm limited to what I can put on the first bar. I have most of my key skills on the first bar, but some other important skills are on the top left and right bar which I have to click on. I could improve the situation by making some key bindings. And I'll most likely go ahead and do that. But I'm still a "clicker" by nature and move forward with the W key, and steer with my mouse. So any use of key bindings will require me to move my hand from the mouse to keys. With the skills on the first bar I generally use my left hand to click those.

PVP as a Death Knight is not nearly so easy as I would have assumed at first. It's a very busy class, and I find myself constantly looking down at my bars watching cool downs instead of keeping my eye on my opponent. So I'm going to have to look for mods that assist me with tracking cool downs.

In PVE I find that short of a Retribution Paladin, the Death Knight is perhaps the best soloing and farming class out there. I've literally played every class in WoW, with the sole exception of a Priest into end-game, so I have some perspective when comparing one with another. The Death Knight class has zero downtime. Warlock in a drain mode is probably very close, but I never killed things nearly so fast on my Lock as I do on my Death Knight.

Which of course leads directly into the greater conversation regarding how over powered Death Knights are. I still think that Death Knights are no more "over powered" that Retribution Paladins are. And while a very strong class, they definitely have their limitations. Kiting is still a problem, even with Death Grip. Mages are perhaps my biggest problem because Death Grip and root does nothing to them. They simply blink away, root me, then nuke me from afar. As blood you generally only have the AMS, which of course has a hefty cool down. And of course a Death Knight has to do damage to heal. No bubble/heal combo for them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Okay, no patch today

Bad wowinsider, bad!

Patch 3.0.8 today

Surprise! It's patch day! I was caught by surprise when I woke up and tried to log into WoW first thing this morning. The PTR had been up for only a week I think, and they are making a lot of changes in this patch, so I was expecting testing to run a little longer than it did. I think we should all keep our fingers crossed and hope there are no major bugs that slipped through the cracks.

Of the three classes I decided to play into WotLK (Shaman, Death Knight, and Druid), all three are getting updates in this patch. Death Knights definitely receiving the most, with a litany of changes ranging from nerfs to bone shield and ice bound fortitude; to buffs to frost presence and health regen capabilities of the blood tree. And a great deal in between.

Among other things, Druids are seeing yet more changes to key stats related to weapons. Specifically Staves, which have traditionally had "feral attack power" and bonus armor to make up for the DPS gap between feral and rogue. Feral attack power is going the way of the dodo as of this morning, with Feral attack power now being generated directly from the weapons stats instead. Shaman have some interesting changes in store. Since I play an Elemental, I'm of course most interested in those changes. And I'm happy to see that my Lightning bolts are getting some love today. Can't say I'm entirely happy with Blizzard's idea of an AOE attack buff for the class, but I'll withhold judgment until after I've seen it in action first.

Overall there wasn't anything in the patch notes I reviewed last week that alarmed me. Though I admit I'm not playing a Hunter right now. Hunters not only are getting whacked with the nerf stick, but down right beat into a bloody pulp by it. I commiserate with them, but everything else in the patch notes seem to have been genuinely needed in some way or shape.

Hopefully the servers will not be down as long today as they were last patch, however.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The nerf bat swingeth

To the cries of "to the ground baby" echoing in the forum, Blizzard announced one of the largest nerfs in WoW history yesterday. Against Hunters no less. Which is unfortunate considering the state of the class for the past couple of years. I can definitely sympathize with the class after the debacle that was the Druid nerf between patch 1.8 and release of the Burning Crusade in 2007. After all, Blizzard makes these design choices, putting real teeth into a class that sorely needed it. Then they go through a lengthy alpha (internal only) and beta test. And then make the nerfs after its been released to the public. Its a process that simply makes no sense to me what so ever.

And this statement by Ghostcrawler really forms the crux of my confusion:
Hunters of all specs, and particularly Beastmaster, are doing too much damage in PvE. We tested this a lot internally in beta and knew hunters were high but we hoped other classes would be able to catch up in a way they have as yet been unable to do.
It's not as if players have abilities and knowledge the developers don't have. In fact it's been clearly stated before by Ghostcrawler that they have tools we don't have. He's described a series of spreadsheets and data collection utilities and touched on the process they use to look at the numbers. Given all of that, how could they not know that other classes would not be able to approach Hunters in PVE?

We want to be careful not to hurt hunter dps too much in PvP, so we’re taking most of the damage out of Steady Shot and Volley. Beastmaster hunters are in addition losing some of their pet dps. We still want BMs to have the best pets, but pet dps numbers are a little high at the moment.

Again, this speaks to the issue of number crunching. How on earth could a situation like this evolve without Blizzard discovering it in their pre-beta testing? And in fact in the open beta, as well as their continued testing?

I don't play a Hunter, so I have no direct interest in these changes. But I do care about the process. And it seems less than optimum to me. We've seen this same process over the years, with the previous example of it having been used on the Paladin class just a few weeks ago. Retribution Paladins made it through the entire Beta process with god like abilities, and in fact made it through release of WotLK despite literally thousands of people on the beta boards commenting on the state of the class. And then thousands more in the first couple weeks after patch 3.0.2. Only at that point did Blizzard make some nerfs to the class. And there have been plenty of examples of this same process before. All of which bespeak of "broken".

But it also shows glimpses into the philosophy of the developers. A philosophy which I take issue with. The developers have created an informal dps hierarchy which seems to govern their class decisions. They expect Mages to be top DPS, with Rogues close behind. Then you have a sort of second tier of DPS classes that seemingly is populated by Hunters, Shaman, Warlocks, Paladins, and the rest. Where exactly the various classes fall out in relation to one another is open to debate. The point being is that it seems awkward to limit the potential of a class based on what you want to see in another class. It makes more sense to me to design a class by itself.

Of course then you'd enter into other arguments regarding balance. But what is balance? If I asked 100 people I'd get 100 different answers. Just one of which would include "if X class was best, then everyone would play that class". Exactly the argument that was made about Death Knights. Yet we still have Rogues, Warlocks, Mages, and the rest of the classes still walking about. Clearly people are more discerning in their choices. People chose their class based on what that class can do. Not on what other classes can do. People more interested in PVP tend to play Rogues or Warriors more often than any other class, do they not?

My own point of view is I hate to see nerfs. Especially when they could be prevented in the first place by a better vetting process in the early stages of development.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What kind of player are you?

Are you the kind of player that has only one character in WoW? Or if you have others, are they toons you semi-retired long ago and you only play one toon now? Or are you someone who has several toons and you bounce around on them based on a whim, or plays several toons regularly? In my time playing WoW I have noted that there really are only two types of players. I find myself in the latter, having several toons and playing them regularly, or at the very least concentrating on one but playing the others here and there.

I'm what I like to affectionately call, an alt-a-holic. A couple months ago I had started a new Shaman, and got him leveled to 70 in the weeks prior to release of WotLK. Since then I have concentrated on playing him, for the most part, though I do also play my Death Knight (now level 75) and my Druid (still 70). I have others, but I find I have very little time to play them these days.

I ask these questions because an interesting observation came to mind this morning. Some people are very driven in the sense that they play one and only one character. They work on all the achievements, and probably have a couple hundred Badges of Heroicism right now. On the other hand, I find myself more than willing to run Heroics, or do dailies, or farm here and there but that doesn't hold my attention for long periods. Once I start raiding I find I am less willing to muddle around on my raiding character running content which I get very little out of. I find leveling much mor rewarding. Perhaps its simply I get bored standing around in Shatt or Dalaran looking for groups when I could be out solo-ing on a character I'm leveling up.

Frankly the badge gear right now is not very appealing, so I expect to get most of my gear upgrades through raiding. I'll accumulate my badges as they come, until something truly nice is added to the badge venders. That makes sense in my mind since we have multiple opportunities to obtain T7 armor pieces from different raids. T7 gloves drop in Naax as well as in the Obsidian Sanctum (Sartharion). And I believe off Archevon also. If all else fails you can simply pay the 60 badges for the gloves off the badge vender. The point being, I find myself not feeling much pull to get in several heroic runs each day. I certainly will if the opportunity presents itself though, because grouping and doing things with friends is what I truly like to do.

So over the past couple days I've noticed my attention has been drawn more and more often to my Death Knight. And I actually spent a few hours between yesterday and Sunday leveling him up. And once I get him to a certain point gear progression wise, I'm sure my attention will be drawn back to my Druid, who incidentally I still consider my main.

Do you find your experiences in WoW much the same?

Monday, December 8, 2008

The start of formal guild raiding

My guild now has enough people to put together two 10-man raiding teams, so we had formally started 10-man raiding last night. We had previously downed 10-man Sartharion twice previously, and PUGed a 25-man Archevon raid last week as well. But last night we sent two teams into Naax. I had been in 10-man Naax in a complete PUG last week and cleared the Plague, Spider and up to the Four Horsemen in the Deathknight wing before we broke up for bed. So I was expecting great things from our team last night.

That didn't exactly happen though. Initially we entered Naax and wiped three times on the first set of mobs inside the plague wing. It was a miserable 40 minutes while we figured out that the dungeon was actually set on Heroic! Funny now, but it wasn't so while we were getting our butts kicked. Needless to say the trash mobs went down much easier on non-heroic mode. The first boss (Noth) would have been downed on the first attempt had several people not been locked out because they weren't fully inside the room when the fight initiated. But we did get him down pretty easily on the second attempt. But that sort of set the tone for what came next, which was Heigan the Unclean. And anyone who knows who he is knows about the "dance". 12 attempts on him, and we were not able to get him down any closer than 16%.

Outside about 4-5 of the team, people simply could not stay alive during phase 2 of the fight. Some of whom were even being killed moving from section 1 to section 2. But most were always killed moving from section 4 back to section 3. Which to anyone should tell them they were simply going too far into section 4 to begin with, and weren't reacting fast enough to move back to section 3 once the pulse concluded. They put a marker over my head after the first couple of attempts and I think people were waiting to see me move, which of course introduced at least a second delay for them, and they would get caught by the pulse. It was just an example of a symptom which we've all experienced before in non-hardcore raiding guilds. And that is people being unprepared. There were those last night who hadn't done any research what so ever before walking into the instance. They hadn't bothered to read about the fights, or watch a video.

And I find this very frustrating personally. We should have walked into Naax last night and cleared the Plague wing at a very minimum. Cleared Plague wing and probably the first boss of two in the Spider wing. Instead I walked out after 3 hours with a 40 gold repair bill and serious reservations about many of the people on the team.

Myself and the raid leader had hopes of clearing Naax on a weekly basis, as well as 10-man Sartharion and probably Archevon as well. Now I think we'll be lucky to clear the first wing in Naax within the next few weeks.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Death Knight progress

Since my Shaman has been 80 for a couple weeks now and has made sufficient progress I've had more time to devote to leveling my Death Knight. He hit level 74 last night and just starting the Dragon Blight. Which is to say that is wonderful. I'm thrilled that the dual starter zones allow someone to run through both and make terrific progress before ever really getting anywhere in Northrend. 74 already and at the very beginning of the third zone, so I would expect to at least be nearly level 76 by the time I complete it. And that is if I do not run any instances with him before then.

He also hit 450 herbalism last night, so my impression that there were simply less herbs to go around than mines was mistaken. I think that must have been a by-product of the number of players herbing in the zones earlier and my Gatherer not working properly. I've since updated Gatherer and reimported the data pack, but it's still not showing the nodes I myself haven't collected. Together they must have given me a false impression. I know it's rough, but I would really recommend that players continue to herb in the outlands until you at least get to 425-430. Since no one is herbing in Netherstorm or Shadowmoon Valley any longer, its nothing short of easy to do now. Plus you can fly while doing it. Once you hit that 425-430 level you can move into Northrend and should have no issues picking any herbs you come across in the starter zones.

Meanwhile I've been farming away on my Shaman and at last accumulated all the mats I needed for a Titansteel Destroyer for my Death Knight. He can't of course use it yet, but I have it now and leveling away like mad so that he soon can.

I still haven't witnessed any appreciable changes in how I have to deal with mobs from the earlier levels. Mobs generally die within the first rotation (IT > PS > HS > HS > DC/DC) and I largely ignore the issue with runic power dump. If I pull multiple mobs or if I'm fighting an elite I'll pop DRW and DnD, but otherwise I don't even monitor my runic power level. Its simply not needed. Which of course is to say that even with mostly green quest items now the class is still fairly powerful. It wasn't just the outstanding blue starter gear.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

End-games are important

Tobold has an interesting post on his blog this morning, that made me recall some principles I learned from Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) back in 2005 and was at least in part responsible for me switching to WoW. Although not exactly the same, SWG is much like WAR in that the games end-game is player created and largely revolves around mass PVP. Unlike with WAR, SWG had absolutely nothing else to do at end-game, outside of a wonderful crafting system which I still look at as the pinnacle of crafting systems I've yet observed in the online games I've played.

I recall toward the end of my SWG playing days in Dec 2004-Mar 2005 that I would troll around the Bria server for hours looking for PVP. I would run the towns on the various planets looking for Rebels to snipe (I was an Imperial Master Rifleman/Doctor), but unfortunately there often times were very few to be found. As the weeks passed by I grew more despondent of the situation and utter boredom quickly set in. I did have a second account which was a Master Droidsmith and I spent more and more time attending to my Droid business and collecting materials I needed. I enjoyed my Droid business, but that isn't what the game was meant to be in its entirety. You simply needed something more to do.

Of course there were city and base raids in the evenings, and while great fun could be had, was also an illustration of a problem area for games centered on player created content--Lag. On Bria in 2003 through my leaving in March 2005, the Imperial faction was dominant. And we prided ourselves on our organization and impregnable fortresses. The main Imperial guilds created a council and coordinated our joint effort in fighting the Rebels. In this way the placement of Imperial bases was also controlled, making defense easier. We didn't have bases strewn about willy-nilly through Bria. Instead we'd have perhaps 2-3 main base complexes on a couple planets, and perhaps an odd base on others. We'd form defense units on the vulnerable evenings and guard these, with the remainder of the Imperial guilds being on call to come to the aid of any base or complex that was attacked. Bases and complexes were not attacked during every vulnerability period however, so those evenings were often times passed in conversation on teamspeak or ventrillo.

There would be periods of time where the Rebels would attack regularly--sometimes more than once in an evening at a given complex, or at multiple complexes. But there were also periods where there would be no activity at all. We of course would also attack rebel bases when we weren't forced to guard ours but there were long stretches where rebels guilds refused to place bases leaving us nothing to do most nights. It was a serious source of friction between the Imperial council and the various rebel guilds and caused much drama on the official SWG Bria forum.

I did play WAR for a brief period after it was released. I played many hours during the first week, though that lessened during the second week and didn't play at all after that. I quickly saw what I had come to hate about SWG. And that was that if you weren't leveling you were completely out in the cold if there weren't enough people to conduct scenarios as they are called in WAR. From reading various blogs I saw that that became more of a problem as time passed.

Tobold relates the end-game in WAR as being problematic because of LAG. Its the same LAG I experienced in SWG, and its something that is completely outside of your control. Because both games rely on player created content you have no idea how many are going to show up for raids. We'd often see 40 or more attackers at our complexes, and we'd of course have a similar number of defenders. And there were many nights where there were even greater numbers involved. Even with somewhere around 80 people in a given zone horrible lag was experienced by all. We'd all be frustrated by it and would joke on Vent that we were living the "power-point", meaning you would see a screen update every now and again and that was about it. And that was if we didn't crash the server to begin with.

As people started to leave SWGs in the run up to the first Combat Upgrade in March 2005 PVP came to a near stop anyway, but on those occasions where we were able to get something going it was beyond frustrating to have it ruined by this phenomenon.

WoW on the other hand has a completely different end-game. It's provided in the form of dungeons. While there is also a PVP centric end-game, it is also largely controlled via the use of instanced battle-grounds. Lag is controlled by controlling the amount of participants. And by focusing on developer content instead of player created content there is almost always something to do.

I didn't continue playing WAR because I didn't want to relive the experiences I had with SWG. While lag is still something to be contended with it is nothing like I remember in SWG. All I can say to the WAR brethren out there is have fun while you can.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I loath Tuesdays

Oh yes I absolutely loath it! But today especially so. I wake up early to get in an hour or so of farming before heading off to work to see messages in chat that the server was shutting down in 8 minutes. So they decided to start today's maintenance early, but then I come home to find the servers are still offline. Not only that but extended until at least 4pm EST. My wife gets home at 5 with dinner coming shortly thereafter so its basically a completely lost day of the week for me. And its been much like this the past few weeks. Adding insult to injury we're still experiencing those big lag spikes when the servers are up, though no where near as bad as the two weeks immediately after introduction of patch 3.0.2.

I miss those heady days of yesteryear when Blizzard announced they'd be performing regular maintenance only once every 3 weeks. One week there would be no maintenance at all, then the next rolling restarts, and finally the third week normal maintenance. Blizzard, what ever happened to that?

Monday, December 1, 2008

What to do at level 80? Part 2

Another fun aspect of end game is the farming. You might have done it during the grind from 70 to 80, but its at 80 when you will really have time to get some good quality farming in. I have two characters in Northrend--one a miner and one an herbalist. And from my limited perspective I think mining is way easier or more plentiful than herbalism is. Am I imaging things that there are more mines than herbs up here?

For mining, you might notice that Sholizar Basin is by far the best mining spot. And now everyone else in the world knows it. Thieves are thick as flies these days, and will try to rip you blind either when you are finishing off a mob that attacked you, or strait up while you're mining. I had a horde DK try to leech a Titanium mine the other day and finally got rid of him by not auto-looting and just leaving my guy there with the loot window up. I chatted away in guild chat for a while, then alt-tabbed out to read some news. After about 10 minutes he finally flew off but there were two others hovering on mounts directly over me when I finally finished mining the node. The second best mining zone that I can see is actually Wintergrasp of all places. I have no earthly idea what Blizzard was thinking about by putting mines in that zone, let alone making it the second best zone in Northrend. Do they not remember the problem they had in AV when people would come in and just fish for Salmon? They removed the fish.

Other than the plentiful amount of mines in Wintergrasp there are also tons of elementals. Of each type which also makes it the best zone for farming them as well. In between Wintergrasp matches you can find any number of people riding around farming. But you can also find that during matches which is my point. In a PVP setting I would rather people focus on PVP. Blizzard created a system with a berth of rewards for controlling that zone, so why temp people from the goal of capturing or defending the keep?

So herbalism. All I want to know is where are all the herbs? My herbalist is only level 73 so I admittedly haven't see all there is to see on him yet. But just from the first 3 zones it certainly seems to be about half as much as mining nodes. Am I wrong?

Yes, farming is alive and well at 80 thank you. And some of the rewards you get for farming are well worth the effort. Can't wait to get the final few bars of Titansteel for my Death Knights Titansteel Destroyer! 4 more bars to go!