Sunday, January 31, 2010

Star Trek is not the only Iconic IP on the block

I don't remember exactly when, but at some point in late 2007 (or was it early 2008?) I gave Star Wars Galaxies another try. I swore when I quit playing in March 2005 that I would never play another SOE hosted game; such was my deep seated feeling about Sony after watching them completely screw up, then screw over the MMO. For whatever reason I decided to give it another look and I can still remember, first how different it was from my first experience, and secondly how buggy it still was after all that time. I played it for an evening and uninstalled the game. I love Star Wars and would love another real MMO based on the IP, but there simply isn't one. Bioware's the Old Republic is slated for release sometime in the Spring of 2011, if you believe the rumor mill. So what's a poor, old, gamer like me to do in the mean time?

I've been giving serious consideration to replaying Knights of the Old Republic I/II, yet I know those combined will only last me a few days each. I still might, but believe it or not I'm actually considering installing Star Wars Galaxies again and playing a free trial. My old account is still there (I just checked), but I don't want to pay to check it out again, so I'll most likely start another account to do some testing on. If I do somehow like what I see I can always go back and reactivate my original account.

If I do play again it'll be the play Jedi and Bounty Hunter again. I had two accounts back when I was playing, as you could only have one character per account, with the exception being for those who unlocked the Jedi slot. Those accounts had two characters -- the main, and then the Jedi. And I had much the same criticisms then about that as I do with how Blizzard went about creating their first "Hero class" in WoW. Character development is a big thing with me, and I didn't like having to establish a completely new character then, nor did I like it in WoW with the Death Knight. Still, I understand now that you can have multiple characters on the same account in SWG, so at least I have the ability to create a Jedi and a Bounty hunter without having to pay for multiple accounts.

Time to start doing some reading and see if I want to check it out again or not.

Head Start - day 3

Day 3 is much like day 2, except the server isn't crashing and staying down for hours. Instead the server just grinds to a halt and you get stuck at loading screens for 5-15 minutes, then everything is fine again. If you not traversing between zones or instances I assume everything is fine, but if you are traversing you probably are hating things right now. I know I am.

The lag seems to be a little bit better, but I'm not sure given the trade off whether I'm better off or not at this point.

[Update 1 - 1:27pm EST] Oh, never mind. The sever did crash. No wonder why I was stuck at the loading screen for 15 minutes. I didn't get disconnected, just got stuck and never would have gotten out of there. I'd decided to close the client and log back in to see the notice by Cryptic about the server being down "unexpectedly". That's become something of a joke to the players, by the way.

[Update 2 - 2:18pm EST] Servers are back up.

[Update 3 - 6:40pm EST] Announcement that the servers are being brought down for 1.5 hours for maintenance.

Welcome to Arathi Basin, STO style

I chuckled a bit to myself after the first couple times I ran one of the space battlegrounds called "Hostile Engagement - Capture and Hold - Space - Salvage Operation" and realized it was Arathi Basin in space. The battleground features five nodes which have to be captured and held, with one central node. Imagine the abandoned space station in the middle being the Blacksmith, and the four remaining nodes being the stables, lumbermill, farm and gold mine. Even the number of nodes line up. Once held those nodes give you points, though unlike in Arathi Basin, you points count down instead of up. Both teams start off at 1200 points and the more nodes each team has the faster the other team loses points. There are some missing pieces that would complete this battleground however. Like some sort of indicator on the map that shows who is in possession of each node at the moment. Right now you look at the map and it just shows you that. Auto-grouping would be nice too, though not strictly necessary as grouping gives you no benefit over flying solo. And I would love to see timers and influence indicators. As I said, you have to capture the nodes, but you have no indicator how long it will take to capture individual nodes so you end up sitting there. I've sat on a node for 1-2 minutes and they never changed so it's either a bug or something else was going on. Some kind of influence/possession indicator would help with that.

As far as battleground go, there is some terrain to maneuver around, though obviously it's very limited. The name of this game is travel in small packs and like in Arathi Basin, cap those nodes. Capping is everything and you are killing the opposing forces as a consequence to capping. Traveling alone is not a good idea as you can be jumped by multiple forces at any time. The physical lay out of the nodes -- one central node, with one node on one side and three lined up on the opposite side of the map -- tell you all you need to know in how you should fight this battle. You want to hold the side with the three nodes and keep the central node if at all possible. Essentially all you need to do is keep to one large group, or perhaps two smaller groups. One protecting the central node and reacting to the other smaller ones, and one roaming the smaller nodes and reacting to the central node as required.

Once you get the strategy down you will see that the Klingons seem to have the advantage in the Tier 1 level. Cannons are better than the default phaser banks on the federation ships, and all you need to do is make yourself into a turret with your impulse set just high enough to maneuver and snipe. Staying grouped helps tremendously as you can focus down someone very quickly. If you do get caught off alone and jumped by multiple forces, make sure you are keeping your shield up and shift over to your speed setting then hit evasive maneuver for a quick get away. Head toward friendly forces obviously. Of course dieing isn't at all a big deal in STO as you will respawn in about 10 seconds and can be back in the fray even before the other guy you were just fighting even recovers. It's an issue in PVP that I think needs to be addressed at some point, because there is zero impact in dieing. You die, respawn and get right back in the fight.

I've only run one ground battleground, but as I'm primarily interested in the space aspects of Star Trek I ignore those battles now. The only other space battleground I've gotten into is the "Cracked Sphere" battle, where the objective is simply to kill 15 opponents. The first to 15 wins. The strategy for this battle is very simple. Stick together and never stray apart. If you are Klingon, just pick a spot and let the Feds come to you as it plays toward your firepower advantages. If you have voice comms let the leader pick a target and the entire group focus it down in a few seconds. Rinse and repeat to 15. If you can get this battleground to pop regularly it's the best battleground for points in my opinion as the battles are very short.

I'm very close to LCDR right now where I'll get to experience Tier 2 ships and battles. So it'll be interesting to see how things shake out at that level.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

STO Headstart started

The STO head start period started yesterday at 1pm EST and I was there. Helps to actually know what to expect, so I made LT6 by yesterday evening after only about 5 hours of play time. As soon as I made LT6 I logged out and logged back in to create my Klingon, who then made LT5 in all of about 30-45 minutes. Talk about a leg up! And I've already hit LT8 this morning just running PVP queues, which is entirely what the Klingon faction is all about, game-wise. Unlike the Federation faction, which has stories and missions to run through, the Klingon faction has none of it. Any "quests" you get from Klingon faction NPCs relate directly to PVP of some variety.

While I think that makes some sense in a Star Trek way, I have to wonder how much of that was driven by the very tight time line within which Cryptic had to produce this MMO. If you look at it from a simple developmental standpoint, the Klingons were announced late last year. And as you walk around in the early minutes of the game on the Klingon site you can't help but notice how stark it is compared to the Federation faction. Which quite honestly, isn't all that busy to begin with. As I mentioned, it took me something around 5 or 6 hours to make it to LT6 on the Federation side, but on the Klingon side of things it's a simple matter of walking around in the station for 30 mins before you hit that mark. I don't buy the premise that the developers were just slingshoting Klingons to the point where they could PVP. It smacks too much of cut corners to me.

As far as launches go, the head start actually didn't start off too badly. There was some lag which caused rubber banding and the such, but much better than I had believed I would be seeing given Cryptic's track record with previous MMOs. The server has crashed only once that I know of, though I'm going to be very interested to see how things hold up on the 2nd when the bulk of the player population logs in.

[8pm EST Update] I spoke way too soon. The server went down for hours today, and finally came back up, only to now go back down after an hour. The official forums are turning into a mudfest.

Friday, January 29, 2010

"Interesting" design premise of upcoming MMOs

Notice anything similar between the two largest upcoming MMOs? I've mentioned my recent thoughts on the Star Trek Online (STO) MMO, but hadn't really gotten into the amount of instancing it does. Almost everything is an instance in STO. From the public quests, to the quests, you will jump from instance to instance and only interact -- however limited -- with other players in the sector zones, space stations, and whenever someone ventures into the same public quest instance as you. For all intents and purposes, outside of that you are screaming through what can only be said to be an RPG. Replete with NPC party members, AKA bridge officers.

A lot of this has been available through other sources, but this recent IGN video about the Old Republic (SWTOR) certainly cements things together in a way that I don't think has been done previously anywhere else. Like STO, SWTOR will be repleat with individual instance environments where you will spend a majority of your time.

Bioware has said cities will be open zones, which can be equated to the space stations in STO. And it struck me that this design premise has become more prevalent lately and seemingly started with Age of Conan. Only now it's been taken to the Nth degree and represents a large departure from traditional MMO design. I'd already remarked how the feeling to me in STO was that I wasn't playing an MMO, but rather a simple RPG that just happened to have some other people in it (rpg w/coop) and I'm really wondering at this point if SWTOR will not feel the same way. Interaction with others is important in an "MMO", yet in these two MMOs that interactivity is specifically and intentionally limited. And I have to wonder what would be driving this design premise. Whether this is a reaction to years of failed bids to dethrone WoW, or reaction to a common design problem in other MMOs; that low player base destroys much of the playability of the game; we can only surmise.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

End of Star Trek Online Beta

The servers are down right now, which in effect means the end of the beta for me as it's a WoW raid night tonight. All in all I think I was able to get in around 12 hours of play time but would have liked to have been able to put in many more as I was still short of LCDR rank. Only having risen to LT 5 there was still much of the game I never gained access to, though I poked around every nook and cranny I could see. My earlier impression about the game being more akin to a first person RPG still stands. While you may see other people running around in sector space you never interact with them, except in the smallest way -- i.e. joining in on public quests, etc. Reinforcing that feeling are the limited communication abilities. Perhaps I am wrong, but I never discovered any specific communication channels created when joined with others. In fact in whatever public quest I was running at the moment I hardly noticed I was actually grouped with anyone else at all as there didn't seem to be any tools to help coordinate the various ships joined together.

I also didn't get to participate in any PVP. I had really wanted to level to the point where I could create a Klingon and see what that was all about, but evidently fell short. The unfortunate aspect of the horrible AI evident in both the ground missions and the space missions makes me want to PVP all the more, where I'm thinking the real gem of this game may reside. At least that's my thoughts on it now and freely admit I may be wrong. If getting into PVP proves to be too hard then I really can't see myself staying around very long. The missions you're asked to run are of the most inane sort imaginable. Other than the sure amount of damage you can take from missions there simply is nothing difficult about them (in general) and they tend to become very boring very quickly. It's a simple matter of rotating your ship to preserve shields, using bridge officer skills and equipment to buff shields, limit the enemies ability to target you, and wear down their shields to kill them. Yet the enemy NPCs never seem to use any strategy or special abilities when combating you. They simply fly around in circles and shooting at you.

There is still the very nagging question in my mind regarding what the end goal of this game is. Perhaps that's simply a question of me being too low to discern, but the available information on the STO website and ingame certainly doesn't clear it up either. You complete missions and kill targets to accumulate different "currencies" and skill points. The skill point system looks interesting, but the currency required to "requisition" higher level ships seems pretty steep. The open question in my mind is is the purpose of the game to level up and acquire more currency to buy a better ship? Only to level up more and but a better ship? Eventually you'll get to the point where you're an Admiral and are flying around in that monster heavy Cruiser, or Fleet Escort ship. Then what? In WoW we have raiding. What does STO online have to occupy the players at the higher levels? Really wish someone could answer this question for me.

In any event those questions will all have to wait until the game launch. The beta was of the typical sort -- which is to say buggy, unstable, and ever changing. However one thing I was greatly surprised that Mythic did not have in place early was a queue system. A great deal of the instability over the weekend was due to the number of people logged in. There wasn't anything in place to keep players from logging in and making the servers unstable, requiring a hardware upgrade on Saturday and a queue test yesterday. These are the sorts of things that make me look back at previous Mythic MMOs and groan hoping those problems aren't to be had here either. Only time will answer this question as well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sometimes PUGS can be good

I've been working on completing Glory of the Hero for two months now, with Less Rabi being the single remaining achievement to complete. Every time we tried it though we were just off by a hair. Quite frustrating actually. Yet today, in a PUG I get it and get my Red Proto-Drake mount. PUGs, it seems, are not always all bad.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Star Trek Online beta

I've been able to spend a couple more hours playing in between the frequent server crashes. Unfortunately the server is crashing a couple times an hour now and I've taken all of that I can today. However I can say that yes, the fleet actions do become a bit more strategic. They're still fairly fast paced, so by strategic I mean you need to be able to ascertain how to rotate shields away from an enemy and utilize the skills your bridge officers give you to minimize damage you're taking and maximize damage you deal out. I'm in the middle of Lieutenant now and I would have died several times over if I hadn't paid attention to those sorts of things. A few of my fleet mates did -- evidently because they didn't.

I really wish Mythic could keep the servers in a more stable state, but the common statement on the forums from real "fans" is "lawl this is a beta". Not sure what that has to do with anything, but there it is. I had a mission that took me to a sector that I simply couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do it, and would have liked to have given it some more time tonight. Oh well, perhaps tomorrow.

U.S.S Aries

I really wasn't planning on participating in the beta and had considered skipping STO all together since most of the beta reviews I've seen have been more on the negative side than positive. Yet I couldn't stay away. I had to see for myself what this game was all about, and I've spent the better part of today playing for the first time -- something like five or six hours so far. That isn't enough time to tell you anything substantive about the game, but it's enough time for me to relay some impressions on it.

First, I'm a starship captain! U.S.S. Aries is mine. I think I completed all the tutorial missions, though the server crashed so I'm not entirely certain of that. I'll know more when they can bring it back online and I can complete talking to the two NPCs at the Earth station I need to talk to. It was kinda shaky at first as I tried to figure out exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and how. Most confusing is how to find specific NPCs you are supposed to talk to -- say like on the Earth Station, and how to find specific ships in zones you need to find. In stations they definitely need to add some functionality to the map or some sort of a pointer along the floor to lead you to NPCs attached to missions you currently have. I can see the names of the NPCs I'm supposed to see on my map, but can't tell you where they are in a three dimensional environment. In the zones, where it tells you to get close to U.S.S. Whateveritis, they should add a colored pointer on the mini-map, or a colored directional arrow on the screen to point you in the right direction. You'll experience this problem very soon in your career as the first set of space missions will have you interacting with a Science Vessel that asks you to beam off crew members of four different ships. Finding those four ships in a very busy battle was a bit on the difficult side for me, and then I ended up having to find the original ship that gave me the mission again. Surely this can be done better.

The ground missions are somewhat lacking, most of which have been of the "rescue 6 scientists", "talk to 6 miners", or vanilla kill raiders variety thus far. I found all the missions where I actually had to shoot things to be extremely easy. Something along the lines of shoot one NPC, watch them swarm, and target whichever comes after me first. Knocking them down and stunning them while shooting is the way to go it seems. I'd be just as happy if the away/ground missions were never included in STO because quite honestly I think most people are more interested in the space aspects of STO.

Speaking of the space aspect, I realize that I'm still in the uber noob zone but there isn't really much to space battle I have seen thus far. Simply target and shoot. I like the idea and implementation of weapon arcs, which has been the sole aspect of battles where I've had to do any thinking what so ever. That being which way to point my ship. I'm really hoping that battles become a bit more strategic as I get into real content later on otherwise it will devolve into whoever has the biggest, hardest hitting weapon will win no matter what, and you might as well just sit still and slug it out.

Something else I'm trying very hard to discern is what the "end-game" goal is. What is the over-arcing theme of the game, and that simply hasn't been anything I've been able to tell yet. Unfortunately the information available through the Mythic website is extremely anemic. So far my impression is this is more akin to a first person PC game than an MMO.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Warrior 1-20

The most interesting aspect of WoW to me is the literal plethora of gaming experiences you can make for yourself with the several classes and the talent spec combinations that are available for each of them. And that is not even to mention the fact that you can start in any one of 4 starter zones for each faction. That alone has been one of the biggest aspects of the WoW MMO that propelled it to the top, and has kept it there. I've spoken at length recently how I've been playing all specs on my two main toons -- my Druid and my Paladin, but I've also recently decided to try my hands at the Warrior class too. I haven't played a Warrior since vanilla, so I went in with absolutely no pre-conceived notions and have plenty to say on the matter.

After five years of playing I just like trying new things. And I've been very happy to find that I could find something new with the Warrior. I have no idea what to expect in the upper levels for this class, but from 1-20 I can tell you that the Warrior class is a lot of fun to play. Especially with heirloom gear. I had the shoulders and Arcanite Reaper from leveling my Paladin, and I added the chest piece to those. Not only to relieve myself of having to upgrade these pieces all the time, but lets be honest; the typical starter gear and weapons just plain suck. Inclusion of these in my little experiment might color my experience somewhat, but not overwhelmingly so.

I was struck with how similar the early experience was between the Warrior and the Paladin. In both cases you are afford the opportunity to fight with a two-handed weapon, or a one-handed weapon and a shield. Been there, done that and I wasn't going to make that mistake again and I would suggest that you not either. Two-handed weapon is the only way to go but be prepared for to some might seem like a combat style is a bit on the boring side. In the first few levels you will be auto-striking. At level four you get charge, which is a fun skill and emblematic of the class, but it won't be until level six when you get a skill to supplement those auto-strikes with. At level six you get Victory Rush, which is a one-time attack usable after a kill. My typical fighting routing consisted of charge (when available), rend, Victory Rush, and auto-hitting until dead. At level 20 I was still doing exactly the same thing -- just with a little more power behind each of those attacks.

I know things get a little more energetic in the coming levels so I'm not overly worried with the current boredom level. But it's something you should be prepared for at the outset. Despite that, the Warrior is a powerful class and I was a veritable juggernaut running around Ellewyn Forest, Westfall, and Lakeridge. I literally killed everything that was between me and where ever I was going at the time with zero down time. Even when taking on multiple mobs. Normally I'm level nine or ten when I head into Westfall, but between all the kills and the XP bonus from the heirloom gear I was nearly level 13 when first stepping foot into Westfall. Nothing in Ellwyn Forest gave me any pause what so ever, and neither did it in Westfall or Lakeshire either.

There isn't a great deal more to be said about the class by level 20, other than to say at level 20 you technically can begin to dual wield and start working up through the fury tree if you so choose. I have every intention of switching to Fury at level 60, but I want to level to 60 as Arms. Not only because it's what is recommended on the Warrior boards, but also because the first time around I completely neglected Arms and leveled entirely as Fury. I want to experience the other side of things this time. And thus far I really see to reason to switch to Fury. Arms does plenty of damage, though it does mean mostly auto-attacks for the time being.

That's something I can live with.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The hole in the hole in the hole

Well evidently I need to rethink my position because I just found a loophole. The "tank" was a DK with 5k gearscore and about 37k health, but I noticed before very long that he was taking huge hits. Especially on group pulls. Of course it didn't help matters that two of the DPS were also taking big hits -- especially the Mage who for some reason can simply not explain, wanted to run into the groups and aoe on top of them. In any event I noticed right away the tank was taking hits. If I hadn't had beacon on him (yes I was healing as Holy Paladin) he would have died quickly several times while I was healing the others. We did just fine on the Maiden and Krystallus, but we actually died on the Tribunal during phase 3. Despite spamming FoL on him which heals for 5-8k every 1.1 seconds he went down like a ton of bricks, and then everyone else did as well. The tank died again on Sjonnir.

Now keep in mind I am top healer in my ICC-10 group and I heal Heroics every day. I die of boredom healing as Holy in heroics, yet I let this tank die not once but twice. You tell me how that happens.

So what fooled me? I moused over him and saw he had a 5092 gearscore. After the first few pulls where I saw him taking big hits I inspected him and he had decent gear. Certainly nothing that screamed to me to drop group. Later on I went and looked at the armory but it showed him in Unholy spec as DPS, so I couldn't even look to see what his Defense stat was in tank mode (btw Blizzard, you need to change it so that we can actually see stats when we inspect someone). From the hits he was taking I can only speculate that he was not defense capped, and was low. Not just a bit shy. And I can only guess that he was letting things hit him in the back.

This folks is why tanks, prior to the new LFG system, stopped tanking for PUGs. And it's going to be why I stop healing in PUGs. So when you start to see a healer shortage you know why. Thank the "tanks" who have no business tanking because they don't know how and aren't ready.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Deserter buff just needs to go

These last two weeks have reminded me more than I can remember just how big the disparity is in the player base. I don't consider myself a hardcore player, yet I'm someone who doesn't like to do something without doing it right. And I'm competitive by nature. Like everyone else I carry my personal traits into the game with me, so I prepare for whatever it is I'm doing. I've been reminded over and over again these last two weeks that just simply isn't the case with so many in the game. I'm of course referring to those I come across in the LFG system, and as I've been running countless dungeons on my Druid getting healing practice in, and pick up badges to update my healing set I'm on the receiving end of those who are really not all that prepared. Particularly the tank and or healer who has ungemmed and unenchanted gear and really has no business tanking or healing yet. I mentioned how annoying that was before, but it's a completely different experience when you're just a DPS in the group watching this, and when you are the healer who has to heal a tank who isn't even defense capped.

I've decided on a personal rule that I'll follow whenever I'm healing, and that simply is that if the tank has less than 4k gear score I'm going to inspect them. And if I see any items that are unenchanted, or ungemmed, or they're wearing items that aren't for a tank, like plate gear with spell power on them then I'm simply dropping group on the spot. If I don't see anything like that I'll hop over to the armory quickly and check their defense stat. If they aren't defense capped I'll also drop. I figure if the "tank" can't bother with actually being prepared for what should be an easy run then I can't be bothered with healing them. Those sorts of situations usually end up being messes as the dps gains agro repeatedly and you have to perform some serious healing to keep everyone alive. In any event it's simply more work that I want to bother with, though I could most likely do it. The question is why should I? I want quick runs, and I'm not looking to make it any harder on myself than I need to. Sounds awful elitist doesn't it? Yet it's simply a reaction to the situation as I see it.

Mathew Rossi at agrees in principle, I believe, with the feelings I hold for these people, yet he has a different take on the matter.
I'm arguing that you have no reason to hold the other four people to a standard of play they haven't signed up for or agreed to.
I already know from listening to him on his podcast that I don't always agree with him, and this is just such another example. While I can certainly agree that random pug members should not, and can not be held to the standards that you would typically hold in a member in a raid, that really isn't the point. A great many people might not mind undergeared or unprepared players on a run, but what about those like me who do? It has nothing to do with an elitist desire to remove all less skilled players from the game, or a lack of understanding that everyone has to start someone at some point. Rather it has to deal with the fact that many just want to play with like skilled and like minded players. I would simply say that "I've put in my time" in those kinds of PUGs and I have little interest in going forward with them any further. To me it's all about the emblems per hour now and I'm really sorry if others can't see that point of view. If you can't see my point of view, please don't expect me to see yours.

All of this has got me thinking that the deserter buff is more punitive to those in my situation who are prepared, than it is to those who aren't. The tank that isn't defense capped, has gear that isn't even for tanking, or who hasn't bothered to finish off his gear with enchants or gems isn't punished at all for subjecting the group to what is often wipes. Yet those who don't want to be subjected to it are punished if they drop group. Therefore I call upon Blizzard to remove the deserter buff entirely from the LFG system.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Comparing healing Paladins to Healing Druids PT 2

In followup to my post yesterday comparing Holy Paladins to Resto Druids, I wanted to continue the analysis. I touched on the basic differences between the healing styles and gave examples of how either would heal in 5-man content but I think that bears more examination. 5-man content is probably where you'll begin your healing career, so it's only right that you know up front what it will most likely look like for you. First, as a general rule, don't start healing until you are actually ready to heal. You can easily DPS and pick up healing items such as rings, necklace, and trinkets from various instances, while earning the badges you need for a full ilevel 232 suit. And that is really what I'd recommend. There just isn't any better way of getting into healing than assembling a T9 suit, which of course means running enough dungeons until you can earn 210 badges for the five pieces of T9, another 25 for the ilevel 245 Libram (or Idol as a Druid), and probably another 70 as for the Ring of the Invoker and Heartmender Circle off the Triumph vendor. You can probably spend another 19 emblems on the Frozen Tear of Elune necklace off the conquest vendor (unless you loot the healing necklace from Forge of Souls) just to round it all out, for a grand total of 324 badges. That seems like a lot but it really isn't. If you run just 5 dungeons a day you can probably get everything you need in 10-11 days and pick up the remaining pieces like a belt, boots, bracers, and trinkets from TOC, FoS, PoS, and HoR.

Once you have all that stepping into 5-man heroic healing will be very much easier than trying to break into healing with greens and blues. Which isn't to say that it can't be done, but running heroics today is really a different proposition than it was six months ago. Today your tanks are typically better geared and more prone to fast runs through chain pulling. It's much more likely you will encounter problems under those circumstances in typical starter gear than in an epic suit you can easily assemble.

As a Holy Paladin you generally want to keep your beacon either on the tank, or on yourself if you're in an instance that features a lot of AOE damage like HoR, TOC, FoS, or PoS. With the suit I'm recommending you'll find yourself around a 4700-4900 gear score and will probably be able to hit 4-5k with Flash of Lights, and FoL Crits in the neighborhood of 6-8k. As such you'll probably just want to use FoL spam heals throughout the instance, as I doubt you'll need to use Holy Light at all, or at least very infrequently. FoL and Holy Shock will be your staples, as will Sacred Shield. FoL healing is mana efficient, but you want to judge whenever you can to give you those haste buffs and to regen even more mana through judgement crits. It sounds funny, but judging can be an integral part of your healing rotation and I routinely scan health bars, then look at the timer of my judgment spell. My eyes are constantly moving so that I can anticipate when I will next judge. Outside of that it's a simple matter to keep Sacrificial Shield up on the tank and spam FoL on the tank or on party members. I'll often keep Holy Shock in ready to use as a mini emergency button for a party member that is taking some damage, but in an AOE damage fight I'm spamming FoL on each member in quick succession. I'll target the first member, get FoL going and immediately target the next before FoL lands on the first member so I can immediately start healing the second. As Beacon will most likely be on yourself of the tank you only need to do that with four party members and shouldn't have any trouble keeping the party up under all but the most extreme damage.

Whereas you are somewhat more reactive and have to pay a bit more attention to you part as a Holy Paladin and not care in the least about your over-healing, it's a different case as a Resto Druid. As Resto it's all about HOTs, though since WotLK was launched Resto Druids now have their first quick direct heal spell in the form of Nourish. As I looked into the specific spec I wanted to go with, it looked like Nourish was more about raid healing, so I didn't take the talents that reduced it's cost and didn't glyph for improved Nourish healing. You might use an occasional Nourish in a group, but your primary heals are going to be Rejuv and Wildgrowth. Meaning you will have to exercise a little more discipline than you probably would as a Holy Paladin. You have mana regen mechanics based on spirit as a Resto Druid and you will probably notice you aren't out-right as mana efficient as a Holy Paladin. So you will need to let your HOTs do their work and not spam rejuv on the tank every 4 seconds. And that essentially is the main difference between healing styles.

As Resto I'll keep Rejuv up on the tank at all times, along with wildgrowth for constant group healing. I'll add a Lifebloom, and a regrowth tot he tank as the situation warrants and can throw a rejuv out on any individual in the party that needs a little extra healing than wildgrowth. This type of healing is ideal for chain pulling tanks who are constantly on the move. Especially those who don't even stop to loot because your heals are still working even if you aren't casting. You simply don't have to be as attentive --I almost hesitate to say that-- to the party as you do for a direct healing class. Which isn't to say that you don't need to be attentive, but with your heals constantly ticking on the tank and the party you don't have to have worry about taking your eyes off healing bars for a second or two.

I enjoy both styles of healing very much, though I'm leaning toward the Holy Paladin as my preferred Raid healer and my Resto Druid as my preferred PVP healer. If you are new to healing either would be a terrific choice to start out as.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Comparing healing Paladins to Healing Druids

Up through the end of BC my only healing experience was on my Druid, which included raid healing through BT and MT Hyjal, and of course the obligatory 5-man healing. At the time I couldn't envision healing on any other class because I truly loved the total mobility that the Druid class gave me as a healer. Rejuv and Lifeblooms rolling on the tank and judicious use of Rejuv and Lifeblooms on everyone else can do marvelous things. And all done on the move. If you ever needed to do big chunks of healing you always had the option to blow swiftmend, or in the worst cases Natures Grace and then instant Healing Touch. Those of course have cool downs, so if you needed to do additional healing you would of course have to stand still a few seconds to get off Regrowth.

Then WotLK launched and everything was turned on its ear. I of course switched "mains" after playing my Druid as my main for four years, and Blizzard retooled most spells and abilities, including many of the healing classes mechanics. Mid-way through last year I decided I wanted to have a healing option again, but instead of just leveling my Druid I asked a friend what he thought I should do and he recommended the Paladin. I leveled that to 80 and found out I wasn't all that taken with Paladin healing and parked him for a while before coming back to him. I say "not taken" with it, but what I was really suffering from was "differentitus". Paladins, like every other healing class except the Druid, are a stationary healer. Outside of one instant cast healing spell Paladins have to remain stationary to cast their spells and that really bothered me. Particularly in PVP which was what was driving my desire to heal again in the first place. It had been my observation that if you stand still in PVP you were usually dead.

However I'm very glad I decided to give the Paladin another look a couple months later. Since then I've officially switched to my Paladin as my main, and I raid and pvp heal on him regularly. Once you get over the mobility issue the other advantages of the Paladin healer become very striking. The first thing I noted was the extreme mana efficiency of the class. Particularly if the player uses Flash of Light as their primary healing ability. Spamming FoL, with it's short cast time enables the player to heal multiple characters in quick order and Beacon of Light, which heals whoever its is placed on for the same amount of the heal, essentially doubles HPS. Of course it can double your over healing too. On those occasions where you actually need to regen mana, divine plea with it's one minute cooldown, is almost always up. Divine Plea regenerates 25% of your mana, but reduces your healing by 50%. Sounds horrible, but it's really not because it can be used in conjunction with Avenging Wrath which increases healing effect by 20% and Divine Illumination which reduces the cost of healing spells by 50%. You don't absolutely need to use the three in conjunction with one another, however you will see a great amount of regen if you do. Even while continuing to heal at a reduced rate because of Divine Plea. I've die, been battle-rezzed and been able to buff myself and get right back into healing through these abilities, ending the fight with close to 50% mana. In addition Paladins gain back mana through critting, so critical rating is of utmost importance, followed closely by haste.

A typical 5-man healing endeavor would entail me putting a beacon and Sacred Shield on the tank and hitting him with Holy Shock as required. I don't typically have to use anything other than FoL for healing, and if I have to heal any other group member because of random damage the Beacon on the tank takes care of him while I take care of the rest of the group. Unlike other healing classes the Paladin doesn't have a true area heal ability, so in those fights where a lot of group damage is present your only means of handling that is by spamming FoL in a rolling fashion from one member to another. It shouldn't take more than 4-5 seconds to heal everyone in succession, excluding the tank of course.

For those occasions where you find you have to heal someone for a great deal or they will die, there are a couple of ways of handling it. If it's the tank you have your big heal Holy Light, and depending on your gear can heal for 14-15k or higher. You also have Lay on Hands, which is your real emergency button and should only be used in true emergencies as it has a fairly lengthy cool down. For those group members that are in trouble you have Hand of Protection that will protect them from melee damage, and you can always blow Lay on Hands if you think you won't need it for the tank any time soon.

Just as important as a classes healing ability is it's tools for self-preservation. And no other class has better self-preservation than the Holy Paladin. When faced with a situation where survivability is questionable a Paladin always has the option to place their beacon on themselves, which of course continuously heals them as they go about continuing to heal others. That alone will save the Paladin more often than not, but in those cases where massive damage is being taken there simply is not better emergency button than Divine Shield, which absorbs all damage for 12 seconds. 12 seconds of complete freedom to heal in total safety while others regain threat.

Lately though I have been wanting to heal on my Druid again. Honestly I've had the desire to do just about everything you can do with my two hybrid characters, and through two mods I've been doing just that. Of course I have a full healing and Ret set on my Paladin, but I've also got a nearly complete 245 ilevel tanking set too. On my Druid I took him back up over the Summer leveling as Feral where I DPS'd and Tanked, but have since respecced and raid as Balance. A week ago I dropped my remaining Feral spec and switched to Resto, and have been having fun healing Heroics and in PVP with him again.

As I mentioned at the outset the biggest difference in my view is the mobility, but the primary Druid healing style is also completely different. Unlike Paladins, who have fast direct, and big bomb heals, the Druid class is mostly about healing over time. For someone coming from a direct healing class like a priest or Shaman that might take some getting used to, but really only until you realize the freedom that gives you. Direct healing classes are often very reactive, meaning you often won't start healing until someone gains agro, or has already take damage. But as a Druid healer you most likely already have HOTs running on a tank, so he is already being healed as he takes damage. As a Paladin, if I find myself in a situation where my group (or raid) is taking area damage I have to heal them one at a time, although in quick succession. But as a Druid I have something in addition to my primary HOTS that my Paladin does not -- a true AOE heal. I can easily put Rejuv on everyone in the party and just use Wild Growth every six seconds to keep AOE healing up. With HOTs rolling on the party I don't have to be a reactionary healer, but instead transform in a proactive healer, anticipating damage and dealing with it before it happens.

As I get back into the swing of things with my Resto spec, the only thing that I think I still need to rest is my mana efficiency. Whereas I had been quite spoiled with the mobility of the Resto Druid, I've become quite spoiled with the mana efficiency of the Holy Paladin. As I've only done Heroic healing as Resto, I need to see first hand what my mana efficiency is like in a raiding environment and I should see that Saturday night in ICC-10. More to come on this subject.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

China and MMO's

China is a topic I haven't posted about in a while, so after reading Scott Jennings post up on MMORPG.COM this morning I knew I just had to add my own two cents to the matter. I've mentioned previously I've worked in the IT field for over 20 years. First as and IT in the Navy for 10 years (I was an Intelligence analyst in the Navy prior to that), then as a IT consultant for a Fortune 500 firm here in the States. Through my extensive experience I know first hand how prolific the IT attacks are from China. I see hundreds of them daily against Defense Department networks, and I also see the reports of the attempts at industrial intelligence gathering China does against corporations in the United States. As I said, they are prolific. They're also, we believe, government sponsored.

For those that do not know much about China, they have been a Communist nation since the 1940's, and have throughout their history been a nation that has often been out of control of it's own destiny. That fact, more than anything else, is what drives China's culture today. China has a deep seated desire to be in control of itself, and in today's age that more often than not, means being in control of others. That and Communist rule make China a place with few rights and where the rule of law often means little. These "relationships" Scott talks about facilitate business deals the likes of which would get you thrown in jail in the states as they often demand "greasing the rails". "Bribes" are an accepted and expected form in business and government relationships there and I'm convinced the battle between China's GATT and Ministry of Culture over WoW has more to do with power, the growing MMO market, and of course money.

Companies like Blizzard that seek to do business there should think long and hard before doing so. And they should not let the allure of the size of China's market dazzle them as China is not a westernized civilization that is deeply rooted in the rule of law. Laws and regulations can literally change over night, and for no other reason than retaliation against a company or person. China's market is quicksand and no one will make a great deal of money there any time soon. At this point in time China needs western companies more than western companies need China.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Entitlement now means you aren't to be subjectively judged

After listening to last weeks WoW Insider Show I was considering writing a lengthy blog post in response to the portion where two of the three hosts argue against "gear score", but decided that I've said enough over the past few months here and on the official forums in it's favor. However, after reading Tobold's blog post this morning I've decided to go ahead of detail my reasoning for gear score, and how I believe a sense of entitlement is behind objections to it.

Merriam Webster defines entitlement as a belief that one is deserving of certain privileges.
Main Entry: en·ti·tle·ment
Pronunciation: \-ˈtī-təl-mənt\
Function: noun
Date: 1942

1 a : the state or condition of being entitled : right b : a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract
2 : a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also : funds supporting or distributed by such a program
3 : belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges
Something I have witnessed more often in WoW recently than in any other MMO, or in truth, even in WoW previously. The feeling is permeating WoW to the extent that it's taken on a life of it's own and is the primary reason, I believe, behind the guiding philosophy that Blizzard has been employing for raid tunements in WotLK, as well as the totality of dungeon "tunements" -- cough nerfs -- including those recently announced regarding the Occulus. Enough people have demanded that all content become homogenized and "accessible" that Blizzard has made it so, or will given enough time. Look to the raid tunements for example. Blizzard has been fairly upfront that they watch raid progression. Once the hard core raiding guilds clear content Blizzard has been fairly consistent with going back in and nerfing the content until a majority of players can then clear it. And given more time goes back in so that even more players can clear it. They didn't really need to do that in Naax, which was already constructed and balanced for level 80 characters in ilevel 200 gear. But we saw the practice in Ulduar and TOC, and we've begin to see it in ICC. Unlike Ulduar or TOC, Blizzard is tuning on a wing by wing basis in ICC and despite claims to the contrary everyone knows they will tune down Festergut and Rotgut too.

I'm all for people having an opportunity to see content, but I believe that what Blizzard is doing is not helping, but rather harming the game. WoW is about progression, be it gear, abilities, or skill. Tuning content down so that players that are incapable of playing well enough to experience content as it was intended to be experienced actually curtails Blizzard's ability to create new and vibrant content later on. Why? Because the players that had to be catered to in the way Blizzard is catering to them don't progress as a player. If content is difficulty is reduced to the point that nearly anyone can finish it without much thought or skill, then they didn't obtain anything useful. They don't grow. And I've seen this over and over again. Less skillful players get carried by the more skillful and remain a yoke around the entire raid in perpetuity. On a larger scale that is the problem Blizzard has created for themselves and the sense of entitlement they have allowed to grow in the community stops them from changing course.

I believe that everyone should have an opportunity to experience all content, but I also believe there is an emphasis on the individual to progress to the point where they can. I believe that Blizzard can create content that remains as originally intended, but also does not have to be tuned down in difficulty repeatedly so that everyone can complete it. That doesn't mean I pine for the days of Naax-40, but rather a belief that development can be done in such a way content offers sufficient difficulty and progression and still cater to a majority of players.

How all this ties in with gear score is that like the "controversy" surrounding the new Looking for Group system, and the group problems easier access to dungeons brings with it, I believe it basically boils down to this sense of entitlement. People have come by a belief that regardless of their preparation, level of skill, or level of gear that they should have the same level of access to a given piece of content as anyone else. The concept of gear score is relatively new, but it represents a clear delineation from how someone would decide previously if someone else was ready for that raid dungeon. Before you would simply look at their gear and make a snap judgment about the person. Through much of the last year achievements were added to that mix, and now we have gear score. At every turn individuals would decry the "meanness" of it all; how they despised being judged and how they were being boiled down to xyz. In short, they wanted no one looking at them, and wanted no one making judgments about their suitability for the content. They wanted to go, and they felt they had as much right to go as the person next to them. Never a thought was given to whether they should go and never a thought that perhaps they should simply start their own group with slightly lower requirements.

Along comes gear score and voila, fresh controversy yet gear score gives you something very distinct from the subjective standards used previously. Gear score gives you a definitive numerical score that can be tied to tiers of content. If it is a surprise that raid leaders putting together pugs want only highly geared members, then please watch trade chat for those low level characters asking for level 80's to run them through Dead Mines. What's the difference I ask you? Nothing, of course. It's human nature. People are not the least interested in wiping repeatedly through a night in an ICC-25 pug. Instead they want to complete the content in something approaching relative ease and only a certain level of gear will give you that. Or, more accurately, has a chance of giving you that because clearly gear score is not the end all and be all that I think a lot of people make it out to be. Gear score makes no distinction between a Ret Paladin wearing all cloth healing gear and the same Ret Paladin wearing proper plate dps gear for instance. It can't tell you how skillfully the player will play his class, or whether that individual will afk though most of the instance, or whether that player will cause deaths in the raid through careless mistakes. But no means of subjective decision making prior to a raid can tell you those things. Gear score only tells you whether an individual is geared in such a way that they can be a productive member of a raid, or whether they probably could not be.

It's a sad truth that our society is growing less and less prepared for real life. If you think WoW is only a game, then I have a bridge I'd like to sell you along with some beach front property in Arizona. WoW is an extension of the real world as it relies on the interactions between real people. And guess what? People are often arrogant pricks. Life is often unfair, and guess what? So are the demands of people putting together PUGs. If you get hung up on the fact that others judge you then perhaps you should hide in your closet and never venture outside because I'd venture to say that you are being judged by people in your real lives every day, whether its a friend, a colleague, or your employer. And there are many consequences of those judgments in your real life as there are in WoW.

The old Axiom that God helps those that help themselves holds as much truth in WoW as it should in your real life. If you think a raid leader is being unrealistic in his or her expectations then help yourself and start your own raid. If there is a question in your mind regarding whether you are prepared for a level of content or not, then don't access it. Put the time in to prepare yourself so that you can be a real partner in a team effort and not someone simply being a burden on others. And most of all, do not go forward with a sense of entitlement, but rather understand there will always be achievers and non-achievers. Decide which on you want to be and make it so.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

ICC-10 and Festergut

My Friday night 10-man group that I run with my Paladin killed Festergut last night after 4 attempts, and then went on to get Rotface down to 40% on two attempts before we had to call it an evening. While the bosses are definitely "easier" in 10-mans, the fights are still largely the same with the exception of mechanics like the blood beasts in Saurfang being only two, instead of 5 as they are in 25-man and the adds in the Deathwhisper encounter only coming from one side at a time instead of three. The Festergut fight is identical as far as I can tell, though tuned down for 10 players. The fight requires about the same level of coordination that you would give to the Deathwhisper encounter, and while healing is stressful to the healers, is manageable with good group placement and pre-planning responses. The raid leader needs to plan for several eventualities, like what everyone is to do if both spores end up in Melee, or both end up in ranged. What happens if one of the healers gets the Vile Gas? Who will cover the tanks and who will temporarily pick up healing of the ranged and the melee, while also healing the indisposed healer?

And that is really why it took us the four attempts last night to finally down him, because we hadn't put in enough thought and coordination that the fight demands. Ultimately we had one healer out with the ranged, and two healers with the Melee, one of which was dedicated to the tanks, and the other covering for the ranged healer should she get the vile gas. And we decided that the ranged healer would always remain where she was, that all ranged would always converge on her regardless of who got the Spore. And we decided that if two ranged ended up getting the spore the right most ranged would always run into the melee, unless it was the healer who would remain where she was. The melee did the same. And once we worked out all the kinks, including figuring out exactly when the tanks needed to taunt off each other, and that we ended up needing to bubble one of the tanks to help with the buff they got, things went off superbly.

I think I was simply in shock the other night
when I was watching the amount of damage that everyone was taking in 25-man on this fight, but now I realize it was simply a product of everyone being completely unprepared. We hadn't spaced people properly, people weren't getting the inoculations, or all of them, and we hadn't properly coordinated the healing assignments. With three groups doing these fights in 10-man every week it should give us a leg up on the 25-man side of things, as the fight is the same, just a bit harder. And I think I might need to retract the opinion I expressed saying the difficulty of this encounter was much higher than it should have been, coming from the Saurfang encounter. The key to this fight is clearly coordination, and ensuring the tanks use cool downs appropriately, and perhaps supplementing those with cool downs from the rest of the raid to assist them. I'm actually somewhat glad we didn't get in there Thursday night to attempt this, as it gave the three 10-man teams an opportunity to look it over on a slightly easier mode. Whether we can get in there on Monday or not remains to be seen. With the next wing coming out on the 19th I certainly hope so.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

WoW - the new cougar prowling grounds?

Color me silly, but middle-aged women who used to pretend they were still in their 20's and were cruising for casual sex would simply head to local watering holes where there were plenty of available young men seeking nothing more than as much casual sex as they could get. That apparently is not the preferred method for these cougars now. Now, the virtual world of World of Warcraft is the preferred hunting grounds for these sex-hungry middle aged women. Just last week we heard of the latest cougar who flew from her home in Houston Texas to meet with a 16-year old boy in Canada. The Canadian authorities refused to charge her as the age of consent there is 16. But today we find that Lauri Ann Price has been arrested by Houston authorities for her alledge plot to seduce the young boy, starting the long running process when he was only 15.

But Lauri Price, the 42-year old mother of four, is not the first middle aged woman who has used the MMO to track down and have sex with under-aged children. In February 2009 Lynn Walls had pursued an under-aged boy in WoW was sentenced to 12 months in jail, and ordered to remain as a registered sex offender for ten years.

Like-wise, Tamara Broome ended up taking a plea agreement and spend 29-days in jail for her attempted relationship with an under-aged North Carolina boy she had flown to see from Australlia. Jacquelynn Fielding was sentenced to six months.

And there are many more such examples. Just look to Google. And they are hardly alone in making the World of Warcraft fertile ground for their predations. Men are equally using it to pursue under-age girls for exactly the same reasons and it's disgusting. This folks is why you do not let your under-aged kids play this, or any other online game without ample supervision.

Thoughts of ICC-25

As the Plague wing in ICC was released Tuesday I thought I would take a few moments to jot down some thoughts on it all. We’ve been running ICC for a month now, and thus far I’m extremely happy with it. TOC was a nice respite, but it’s back to the norm in ICC with several bosses with varied mechanics and interesting twist, trash aplenty, and something we haven’t seen since WotLK was released – Rep Grinds. Long time players will find the rep grind aspect familiar as it was a normal part of raiding in Vanilla and BC but had been completely absent up to this point. Unfortunately the only reward for the rep grind is a ring (no strength ring Blizz? Seriously?) or access to crafting patterns at honored. No special items of gear, jewel crafting or inscription patterns, or consumables as had been the norm in BC and Vanilla.

The trash in the initial wing seems like a lot at the outset, but really isn’t as bad as it might look at first glance. It takes only 20-30 minutes to clear to Marrowgar, after which there is a single room of four trash pulls to clear, and then three trash pulls between the second and third bosses. There is no trash to clear between the third and final boss – Saurfang. That is much less than what we would normally expect in a traditional raid instance, and for the most part that level of trash is carried forward into the Plague wing as well. The trash is numerically less in the Plague wing, though individually they are much harder and typically require more group healing than is experienced from the trash in the initial wing. Unlike the four skeletal “mini-bosses” that can be fought (or not) in the initial wing, you must engage the two mini-bosses in the Plague wing. Stinky, and Precious are nothing short of a surprise if you don’t already know what to expect from them. Precious and Stinky carry forward the decimate effect used by Gluth in Naaxramus, however with a twist from Stinky. Precious is probably the easier of the two and should be brought down the stair case a little when engaging him so as not to agro Stinky if you end up fighting in the doorway.

Precious is a typical tank and spank until his decimate, which requires massive AOE healing. During his decimates he summoned a number of zombies, which we simply ignored until after we had killed him. Stinky on the other hand is the harder of the two. He doesn’t call forth zombies, but he does feature an aoe damage tick (his stinky cloud) that can cause a number of deaths if you are low on health from the decimate he also does. I ended up judging light the entire fight to help my group with healing, and we needed it. I can not emphasize enough how much group healing is required from this one encounter, more than any other in the entire wing. The other trash mobs that are present in the wing are more powerful than anything in the initial wing, but they are easily manageable with some forethought.

I noted with some levity yesterday when I read the “patch” notes before the servers came back online, seeing the Lady Deathwhisper encounter had been nerfed. Not only was her mana shield reduced by about 2.5 million points, but the health on the adds was also reduced, and the casters were further nerfed so they didn’t cast quite as often. There were many comments in Vent during the fight regarding how much easier it was, though we were just fine with it as it was. That fight, more than any other up to Saurfang required good coordination and carry-through. Blizzard mentioned simply on the forum that the nerfs were in-line in order to assist more casual guilds and PUGs to be able to complete the content. Saurfang remains the wings only boss in the wing now that presents much of a challenge, and that only if you do not have a group that has good coordination and capable of successfully kiting. The ship battle is much akin to the chess event in Karazhan and not really worthy of being called a boss event in the raid.

But the bosses in the Plague wing are something all together different. Actually I can only say that of Festergut, who we cleared to and got two attempts on before having to call it quits last night. Those two attempts were quite the eye opener and told me we probably have a great amount of work ahead of us before we move much further in the wing. I understood the fight before stepping into his room, but seeing the fight in someone else’s video and experiencing it first hand are something entirely different. I was utterly unprepared for the massive damage we would all take and the utter unpreparedness with which our healers were to deal with it. Our first attempt it was over at 90%. Our second attempt it was over at 86%, and I simply see no way a PUG is going to carry that fight off any time soon. You need lots of AOE healing, which of course means you have to stack your healers with a couple tank healers, and the rest all capable of group/AOE healing. In the thread Blizzard commented in yesterday regarding the nerf to the Lady Deathwhisper encounter, they agreed with the postulation that they are seeking to fine tune the instance so that the encounters become progressively more difficult. That is the case, I believe, in the initial wing save for the Ship fight. But Festergut is so much more difficult than Saurfang as to make that statement completely ludicrous. I’ve read the strats for Rotgut and Festergut, and I believe Rotgut is actually somewhat easier, but our raid leader insisted Festergut was the easier of the two. I, of course, won’t be able to opine on that until I witness it personally. But unless it is much easier than Festergut I still would say the ramp up in difficulty from Saurfang to either of those two would be far too great.

Thursday night should be fairly interesting as we’ll have a full night of attempts in the Plague wing, so I’ll report more about it Friday or Saturday.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More on that Paladin T10 2-piece bonus

This will be my last blog post about this for a while, but I just had to share my experience in ICC-25 last night. To put this in context, we had all our heavy hitters last night, so I came in at number 22 out of 25 gear score wise, whereas I was 19 out of 25 Monday night in TOC-25. I understand that gear score is not everything, but it is an indicator of pure power and really serves as the only comparative means of association between two or more individuals. That being said, I was definitely near the bottom of the list in as far as being the best geared in the group. The top of the list was 500 points higher than me, yet at the end of the night I was number one on the overall damage list and came in number one on total trash, and number one on Marrowgar, Lady Deathwhisper, and Saurfang. I came in second on the ship battle. The only individuals that were even close to me in trash were the two Warlocks who did nothing but spam Seeds. And only one DK came close to me on the boss attempts. His acquisition of Death’s Verdict on Monday night greatly improved his game, so to speak. It was so comical last night during the trash clearing that the raid leader sent me a whisper that my DPS was just stupid. It truly was. Those Warlocks were doing 12-13k by spamming seeds and I was right in-between them on the pulls that I didn’t come in number one myself.

I now have only three pieces of 226 gear left as I got the Blood Soaked Sabotons last night. I would have really liked that Deaths Verdict the DK won over me Monday night to replace my Corren’s Coaster I’m still using along with my Nobles Card of Greatness, but I’m apparently making due. As one of the hunters remarked last night (himself one of the former top DPS’ers in TOC), I need no help. Clearly I will be getting little sympathy from the raid as I try to finagle my way into more upgrades. Tis lonely at the top!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dumbing down has reached a new level

I woke this morning to a new lesson in dumbing down in WoW. In as much as I would love to get my hands on that Blue Drake (I've never killed Malygoes on any of my toons), the new announced changes to "encourage" players to stay and finish Occulus are completely unnecessary.
To encourage players not to shy away from the many invigorating adventures to be had in The Oculus, we have applied a change to enhance the rewards players are provided when selected for this dungeon via the Random Heroic option in the Dungeon Finder. Once Ley-Guardian Eregos is defeated, one loot bag per character will be provided in his chest in addition to the current rewards. Each loot bag will offer players rare gems, two additional Emblems of Triumph, and a chance of being rewarded the Reins of the Blue Drake. These fine treasures could be yours should you honor your fellow party members by besting the challenges contained within The Oculus! Keep in mind, however, that these extra loot bags will only be awarded to each party member if Oculus is selected by the Dungeon Finder when players choose the Random Heroic option.

In light of this change, the Reins of the Azure Drake will now have a chance of dropping in both 10- and 25-player versions of The Eye of Eternity.
People have been complaining bitterly about the Occulus almost since WotLK was released. Complained so bitterly, for so long in fact that Blizzard has nerfed this instance at least three times that I can recall. And yet apparently they're still seeing people who load into it through the random tuck tail and load out immediately.

Listen folks, Occulus is easy. Even more now than it ever was. It just takes a little thought--I know, I know, that's a lot to ask from people--after all, this dungeon is partly fought in 3D, rather than the 2D you are used to every where else. It's that 3D experience that makes this "hard". So let me make this easy for you and explain exactly how to run Occulus. First and foremost, get out of the habit of spreading out. Stick to the tank like glue. Not only does this afford you a little more protection but it also has the benefit of reducing the groups agro radius. You have an individual radius, but taken together the group can do a lot more harm that you probably can by yourself. If everyone is spread out and agroing lots of dragons that is when the group starts to see trouble. Reduce that by staying in a more compact group and flying from one objective to the others directly.

As you kill the first mini-boss and gain your drakes, you need to fly low and directly to the first level inner ring and clear out those mobs. Then as you pass the other platforms fly out to them directly, staying low and only killing the drakes that are directly in your path. You shouldn't have to kill more than 2-3 getting to any of the platforms. After killing the constructs on the second platform, head directly back to the inner ring that you have already cleared and fly through that to the last platform where you can kill the second mini-boss. From there look up and you should see a floating outer ring, where you will have to agro the Mage Lord three times. Kill his adds that spawn, then fly directly into the upper inner ring to actually kill Uram. From there you can either fly out and then up to Ergos, or you can kill all the little drakelings and then fly up to Ergos. It's more expedient if you avoid the drakelings and simply fly directly out from Uram, then up and around the drakelings to the platforms around Ergos.

Ergos is the second of issues that give groups problems, yet he's just as easy to surmount as the drakes that everyone agros when they're clearing the platforms were. If you want to survive Ergos then do two things. First, stay together. Do not under any circumstances spread out. And second, when he phases out, becoming immune to damage and summoning the three glowing balls of doom, fly as a group either clockwise or counter-clockwise around his platform staying clear of those balls that will be following you. When you see the message that the phase shift if ending you can fly back to Ergos as a group and continue to DPS. Throughout the azure drakes need to be putting their rifts up on him and allowing their dot to stack to 10, then firing a shot to detonate that dot. Rinse and repeat throughout the fight. The Green drake needs to keep a 3 stack of poison up on Ergos at all times, and using their own detonate ability for added damage. I forget what it's called, but it's their number 2 button. The loss of health will regenerate from the poison dot they place on Ergos. And of course the red drake needs to simply do tank. Tank better by using the ability to absorb damage from the group either during his enrages (if azure drakes aren't using time stop on those) or when Ergos casts his AOE damage ability.

If you do these two things in Occulus you will finish, and finish without trouble. No need for additional encouragement or bonus loot from Blizzard.

Paladin T10 2-piece Bonus

I speculated that the Paladin T10 2-piece bonus was too good, but had only anecdotal evidence from heroic dungeon runs to back that opinion up at the time. Pulling 9-11k in heroics is not exactly the best evidence, but last night I ran my first raid (TOC-25) as Ret and can unequivocally say that yes, that 2-piece set bonus is OP. Despite the fact my gear score puts me at 19 out of 25 in the raid, I came in first on the damage meters on all fights except for the faction champs where I came in at number four. Two DK's, who were spreading their diseases like mad, and a hunter came in ahead of me on that fight.

Yet I would have expected these same players to have beat me on all fights, as they had done for weeks in TOC. After all, they all out gear me by as much as 400-500 points and are very good players. The fact that I rank as number 19 out of 25 in gear says quite a lot. I've had Bryntroll for two weeks and still wasn't topping the meters, though I had gone up considerably on the charts. The only difference in the past week is that I picked up my second piece of T10, which gave me the bonus. I did pick up the 7th Legion boots off Anub, but wasn't wearing them during the raid, so the only answer to the question of how all that happened last night is the set bonus. There are others in the raid who have their 2-piece set bonus as well, but perhaps not new ICC weapons so I will watch individual progress with great interest in the next 2-3 weeks to see how it levels out. As I should be wearing Shadow's Edge shortly myself, I'd expect my personal numbers to edge up a bit though.

I'm wondering just how much internal testing Blizzard did on the bonuses before releasing them to live. When Paladins that are still wearing 4 pieces of 226 gear, and a good weapon can pull off 9k-11k in heroic dungeons while the rest of the group is doing 2-4k that can not but serve as an example that others can't miss. And when a Paladin wearing the same gear can out DPS everyone, regardless of how well geared they are that simply screams for balance. In as much as I love being the god on the block right now that set bonus probably needs to be adjusted down to 30% proc rate if not perhaps a bit lower. As the "problem" really comes to light most notably in multi-target fights, I might even go so far as to say Blizzard needs to redesign the 2-piece bonus and change it to something that would be more even in single-target and multi-target fights.

Can you imagine what the set bonus will mean to the Paladin that does eventually gain Shadowmourne? The combination of that set bonus and Shadowmourne's proc will be utterly devastating in raids. Add in the 4-piece Paladin T10 set bonus to that.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

One prediction for WoW in 2010

I got my second piece of T10 Friday and had an opportunity to run as Ret in several dungeons all day yesterday. It took me all of about 3 seconds to say to myself "now there is a set bonus that will be getting nerfed". While I'm completely happy to be on the receiving end of almost unrelenting Divine Storms right now, I'm having a hard time believing that won't be nerfed at some point.
Your melee attacks have a 40% chance to reset the cool down on your Divine Storm ability.
Doesn't seem like much does it? It's only a 40% chance. Except it procs off Divine Storm, and can lead to 3-4 Divine Storms in a row. I was already doing 10-11k on packs of mobs in ICC-25 with 4 pieces of 226 gear still equipped, so I am anxious to see just how much more this new unfettered Divine Storm will give me on Tuesday night. I did however do 9k on the first boss in H-HoL. Heroic you say? Well considering I normally do 6k on that boss I'd say that is some pretty convincing anecdotal evidence right there. And it wasn't the only boss I saw a 2k or more uptick in my DPS either. I'll also throw out my testing on the test Dummy.
10 mins: 4315 dps w/4-piece T9 bonus
10 mins: 4750 dps w/2-piece T10
It's difficult to model the differences considering I'm using 2-piece T9 and 2-piece T10 on the second 10-min run, and I also wasn't using Consecration on the second run, whereas I was on the first run because I can quickly run myself out of mana with all the proc'ed Divine Storms. So lets just say there is a 400-500 dps difference on single targets from my 4-piece T9 set to my 2-piece T10 set. By any calculation that is a pretty nice uptick on a boss, but those boss fights that also include adds like the twins in TOC, or Lady Deathwhisper in ICC, that uptick is multiplicative and gives Paladins a huge advantage over several other classes. Lets compare the other DPS classes set bonuses.
Death Knight: Your Obliterate and Scourge Strike abilities deal 10% increased damage, and your Heart Strike ability deals 7% increased damage.
Druid (Balance): When you gain Clearcasting from your Omen of Clarity talent, you deal 15% additional Nature and Arcane damage for 6 sec.
Druid (Feral): Your Swipe (Bear) and Lacerate abilities deal 20% additional damage and the cost of your Rip ability is reduced by 10 energy.
Hunter: Your Auto Shots have a 5% chance to cause you and your pet to deal 15% additional damage for 10 sec.
Mage: Your Hot Streak, Missile Barrage, and Brain Freeze talents also grant you 12% haste for 5 sec when the effect of the talent is consumed.
Priest: The critical strike chance of your Shadow Word: Pain, Devouring Plague, and Vampiric Touch spells is increased by 5%.
Rogue: Your Tricks of the Trade ability now grants you 15 energy instead of costing energy.
Shaman (Ehance): When you activate your Shamanistic Rage ability you also deal 12% additional damage for 15 sec.
Shaman (Elemental): Your Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning spells reduce the remaining cooldown on your Elemental Mastery talent by 2 sec.
Warlock: The critical strike chance of your Shadowbolt, Incinerate, Soulfire, and Corruption spells is increased by 5%.
Warrior: When your Deep Wounds ability deals damage you have a 3% chance to gain 16% attack power for 10 sec.

The Death Knight set bonus is definitely up there in the clouds. I'm not sure the buff to Scourgestrike quite makes up for the nerfing Scourgestrike just took last patch, but the 7% buff to Blood Strike is certainly very nice. On fights like Anub or Twins in TOC and Deathwhisper in ICC that will be a very, very nice uptick. Even on single target mobs a 7% increase with hysteria and rune weapon out will be huge. Compared to the Paladin set bonus I'd probably say this is about equal.

I'm ambivalent about the Druid set bonuses. The dmg increase during clear casting certainly doesn't make up for what I'm seeing from the Paladin and DK bonuses and I raid as Boomkin. I would have thought something buffing Eclipse slightly would have been in the cards, or at the very least increasing the damage bonus from 6 seconds to something like 10 or 15 seconds. And the reduction of Rip by 10 energy is so so as well. Not impressed with that what so ever. All in all I'd have to say I'm seeing nothing here that reaches the lofty levels of DK or Paladin set bonuses yet.

The Hunter bonus on the other hand is a very nice buff. Hunters already have extremely high DPS and a significant portion of their DPS comes from auto-shot. Looking at our very well geared Hunters in our raid, I see auto-shot accounts for fully 24.1% of the dps for one, and 28.3% for the other. And both are in the 6-7k range on non-gimmick fights, and upwards of 9-11k on gimmick fights. According to RAWR, updating to two pieces of T10 (which he does not yet have) would be about a 150 dps increase alone, though it doesn't speculate on how much increase one could see from the 2-piece proc. 5% of his typical auto-shots on bosses would be 95. His average hit is 2551 and his crits average 4551.6 dmg, so we can assume that of 330 to 862 additional dmg for 15 seconds. That's a pretty healthy buff in my mind. All in all I think this set bonus ranks up there at the top.

The mage set bonus strikes me as middling. I understand that haste could add quite a bit to a Mages DPS, however I'm curious how much this additional haste would lead to mana issues. Its something I'm going to have to ask the Mages in my raid about before I can speculate on it, so consider this one a bye for now.

Priest bonus granting an additional 5% crit chance is interesting but looking at the last log for our lone Shadow Priest, it doesn't look like a 5% additional crit chance would actually be all that much. As she is fairly well geared I'm inclined to believe this is more of a mediocre bonus than anything else.

As I have been playing my Rogue quite a bit recently, this set bonus is very intriguing. Granting 15 energy after every ToTT usage is a very nice burst of energy, while at the same time increasing DPS from ToTT itself. I'm inclined to say this is actually a fairly nice buff, though perhaps not top of the heap nice. Lets call this one a B+.

In as far as Shaman set bonuses go, Enhancement definitely got the better end of the stick as far as I can tell. A 12% increase to damage for 15 seconds every time you use Shamanistic Rage, which is on a 1-min cool down, meaning this can be up fully a quarter of the time. If that isn't a terrific buff to DPS I don't know what is. On the other hand the Elemental set bonus knocks a whopping two seconds off a three minute cool down. WHOA, knock me over with a burst of air there, why don't ya Blizzard? Solid D- for Elemental, but solid A for Enhance.

Warlock set bonus giving an extra 5% crit chance to certain destruction and corruption spells? What Warlock wouldn't like that? Especially raiding Destruction Locks that are all the cookie cutter Incinerate build. That 5% crit chance bonus is icing on an already good looking cake so I'd consider this set bonus to be at the tier two level of set bonuses we've discusses thus far.

And last, but certainly not least, are the Warriors who really are getting a set bonus that could become very, very, over powered. Deep wounds is inflicted after every crit, dealing damage over time to the target. The 2-piece bonus gives the Warrior a 3% chance after every tick to increase their AP by 16% for 10 seconds. As PVE Warriors are crit happy to begin with, Deep Wounds is usually up on the target most of the time. While a 3% chance seems fairly low on the outset, the sheer number of dot ticks means this is going to be going off at least 1-3 times a minute. As it scales with your attack power, the bonus they see will only get better as the Warrior works through ICC.

I have my own opinions on which set bonuses are better than others, but I'll leave it to you to decide for yourself which you think are the best. As far as I can tell, Paladin and Hunter set bonuses are the top of the heap, with the others staggering below those. But only one set bonus will lead to tremendously huge damage totals in instances, and that is the Paladin bonus. The sure number of mob pack pulls before bosses will drive the Ret Paladins to the top of the charts if they aren't there already and that is simply going to get the QQ training moving on another nerf. Expect it now, so that when it happens you won't be taken completely by surprise.