Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My son cheated

I ran Heroic Sett Halls at least a hundred times to get my Raven Mount. My son hit 80 a few days ago on his Druid and finished his Heroic Flight Form quest tonight with my help. And wouldn't you know it, but the mount drops on his very first attempt!

He hackz!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cataclysm Beta to begin next month

According to MMO-Champion, who is normally spot on regarding these types of things, the beta for Cataclysm will start some time in April.

If I could make SWTOR

With all this talk about SWTOR lately I've been spending a lot of time considering just what I would like to see in it. As virtually no real information has been released yet it serves as an interesting topic to consider. Right now I'm building SWTOR in my mind!

Overall I'd like to see SWTOR function as a "theme-park" with a traditional “end-game”, although with some sand-box elements as well. I wouldn't be looking to develop my SWTOR as a breakout MMO, but rather would seek to stay within the traditional space. I think the selling point of SWTOR should be the IP itself and good game design. Fun. In my SWTOR the central theme would be about character development, which I would express in terms of "progression" and the "moral decision making" I've mentioned previously I was intrigued with. In my version however I'd choose to construct a passive system that tracked my morale decisions in some way creating an "alignment" for the character over time. The alignment would affect my character in game in various ways but I'd want to make sure that the system was thought out sufficiently and that it reflected as best as possible, the true play style of the player. I wouldn't want an alignment system that caused players to play in artificial ways as that would be counter-productive and serve as a brake on progression and long term gamer satisfaction.

I'd also stick with the class-based game design, though I'd probably tie the alignment system into it in some way so that alignment affected classes, faction, and perhaps even class bonuses. I don’t like the traditional system of class usage that limits healing to a specific set of classes, creating a symbiotic relationship between the “tanking” and “damage dealing” classes and the “healing” classes. This lack of healing has been the bane of many DPS classes in that they have “down time” in between fights while they regenerate. And on the opposite side of the spectrum are healers who can heal but typically have limited damage capabilities. Instead I like the idea of all the classes having an ability to heal themselves to one extent or another and having damage abilities to one extent or another as well. In group content this would mean that each player could heal themselves, but could also be healed by others. And it would mean that all players could contribute to the successful completion of the content in a direct way instead of the more traditional way of the “tank” holding agro, while the DPS players kill it and the “healer” keeping everyone alive. In my SWTOR all characters would potentially be a “tank”, “DPS” or “healer”, though I think there are obvious factors that need to be taken into account. A ranged class like the Imperial Scout would not, in my view, make for a good “tank” in a melee centric fight but could possibly be a good “tank” in a ranged-centric fight. This would tend to encourage a broad group composition. Otherwise I think we’d only see Sith Warriors/Inquistors and Jedi/Counselors.

I like the idea of the game having a solid questing system with regularly updated content as I think WoW has shown fairly convincingly that games constructed thus can have wide appeal. I am not opposed to the "fourth leg" that Bioware has focused on as the selling point to SWTOR, though I would choose to keep it in its traditional sphere in that it would be used as a means to level to end-game. And at the end-game would be used to further develop the character. Again, I like very much the though of the alignment system, and I can see a vast sea of ways to tap into that at the highest levels in the game. Including epic (and I mean truly epic, as in requiring months to complete) story-arcs – both character and class specific, but also factional specific quest chains that also earn the character something tangible in-game.

I think the "phasing" technology that Blizzard began using in WotLK could be used to great effect in SWTOR as well. Think of how many “mini-games” could be had by leveraging phasing technology. Everything from love interests to vendettas and everything in-between could be created and tapped through the use of phasing.

At the “end-game” I would implement a diverse array of content. My SWTOR would encourage far-reaching world PVP. I like the idea of players being able to plop down factional assets (bases, etc) and those becoming central elements in world PVP. I' definitely thinking Star Wars Galaxies, though long term readers will know I stopped playing SWG the day CU was unleashed on the game in March 2005. So however factional warfare changed post-CU is unknown to me. But in my day bases were the focus of PVP and factional warfare and I would very much like to see something akin to that in my SWTOR, even if it were not exactly identical. World-PVP would have to encourage hard-core and casual alike, as healthy world PVP relies on high population. But I would also likely institute a series of "pvp zones" like Wintergrasp in WoW right now. Perhaps a single zone on each planet, or a small number of planets, with the zone becoming active on a rolling basis. Winning the battle would grant some faction-wide bonus and also grant a more specific bonus of some kind to that planet. Tie that into the world PVP and I think you'd have a terrific basis for sustained world PVP.

Lastly I'd love to see the ultimate in world PVP being factional raiding. Make the Jedi Master and Sith Emperor targets. Killing either should grant bonuses to the opposite faction and simultaneously grant debuffs to the other. Obviously world PVP and especially factional raiding would be affected by factional population balance/imbalance so either scaling would have to be carefully implemented along with the system, or some other means to enforce equalization would have to be put into place.

In addition to the world PVP I would want to see a deep system of raiding. Perhaps not in the 10 or 25-man level variety, but 5 or 10-man group content would be great. Perhaps even enable content scaling so that it could accommodate those 25-man groups. The imagination is the limit for this type of small-scale group content, ranging from space-based fights, to ship boardings, base defense, and chance encounters. Integrate these "raids" with the epic quest chains and character develop I spoke about earlier and I can't but see this as anything but a huge hit.

Overall I'd want combat to be fluid and fast paced but afford players opportunity to be able to counter attacks in some regard. I'd want to see players able to unleash devastating attacks but certainly wouldn't want individual fights to be over in mere seconds. If all things are equal I'd envision individual combat taking something like 30 seconds and more to occur. And above all, balanced. I'd make it a point to ensure that no class has a clear cut advantage over others, though that is something all together difficult to do. After all, how many MMOs have said this and failed? Too often we see melee classes being able to dominate ranged classes because ranged classes have limited melee abilities. And vice versa, we see ranged classes dominating at time as they're given buffs to counteract those melee classes. The key is to give all classes a little of both worlds. There wouldn't be a strict ranged class or a strict melee class in my SWTOR. In my SWTOR every class would favor one or the other type of combat, but would have some array of the other as well. Ranged would not be able to kite melee classes forever, and melee would not be able to close and pummel ranged classes completely either. All classes should be tailored and expected to have to fight at disadvantage some times.

I spoke about wanting to see sand-box elements included earlier. Those elements would include a player controlled economy and crafting system. Craftable items should include weapon and armor upgrades and replaceable modules that degrade over time, as well as consumables (food, stimulants, etc). I wouldn't want to see strictly crafting or business classes, however I'd institute professions and professional capabilities through skill points. And as with the previous topics I've already mentioned, I'd very much would like to tie acquisition of skill points and capabilities into story-arcs/questing/character development. Everyone should start with an ability to use the auction facilities for instance, but you should be able to increase your capabilities over time. Like-wise everyone should start with some limited ability to create some basic consumables and should have some limited gathering ability but those should abilities that can be increased over time as well.

Bring the war in Star Wars to the MMO, and enable deep character development that isn't solely based on questing alone and that is a game I would love to play.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Official Bioware SWTOR forum is the place where logic just doesn't exist

I don’t often visit the official SWTOR forums, though I did over the weekend. I’ve said in the past how I felt it being actually being counter-productive for developers to build “community” on games 2-3 years out from release. But it is particularly so when there is an expectation that takes hold that said game will be released in the given year, then it’s discovered through a quarterly investors meeting that the anticipated date is not even on the table. Leads to a grumpy community. In any event I visit the official forums only infrequently because to be honest, the real news from Bioware is very infrequent. And that largely relegated to the beginning experiences of the game. So far all we’ve seen or heard is about the PVE story-lines, touching on the limited grouping that can take place in regard to the larger group story-arcs. And we’ve seen brief glimpses of limited game-play during those beginning experiences.

Yet if you were to visit the official forums right now you’d find boards full of posts from hundreds (or thousands) of potential players who proclaim the game the best to have ever been released. Despite the fact it hasn’t been released and despite the fact that we virtually know nothing of the game at all. I’ve mentioned this all before. But it still strikes me how anyone can become this attached to a game that for all intents and purposes, has even yet to be made. Recent interviews with Bioware at the Game Developer Conference 2010 (GDC10) are very clear that much of the game has yet to be finalized, and you can read between lines that a lot of typical MMO components are still in the consideration phase.

Those who mention sticky little problems like that on the forums are usually castigated as WoW fanbois and ignored. There simply is no point in trying to speak in logical terms to a bunch of people who are bent upon SWTOR being the best game ever, no matter what. Not that I don’t want it to be too. I’m just a little too jaded to take anything at this point, for granted. I wish there was one location where you could go (you mean, like the Bioware SWTOR website??) where all the available information on the game were available without all the headache of the horde of player zombies to muddle up the information. Because if there were, I'd probably visit it regularly.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Detrimental impacts piling up

The law of unintended consequences can be the bane of existence to many. Such might be the case for Blizzard, as with the release of patch 3.3.3 on Tuesday a fairly big one is now upon us. Except I'm not all that convinced it was "unintended".

In patch 3.3.3 a series of changes to the honor you receive in PVP were put into effect, such that it is now the norm to receive in the neighborhood of 5-7k honor from your first daily random battleground, to 3-5k honor from others thereafter.

  • The amount of Honor awarded for an Honorable Kill has been increased by 100% for characters of all levels. This change will effectively double the amount of Honor received from Honorable Kills, or for completing Battleground and Wintergrasp objectives; however, the amount of experience gained from completing Battleground objectives and the amount of Honor rewarded for completing each Wintergrasp quest remain unchanged.
  • Battlegrounds
    • The Random Battleground system has been added! Similar to the Random Dungeon system in the Dungeon Finder, players can now queue for a random Battleground.
      • The Random Battleground option can be found in the Battleground tab of the PvP frame and is only available for level 80 characters at this time.
      • If this option is selected, players may not queue for specific Battlegrounds and a random Battleground simultaneously.
      • Similar to the Random Dungeon system, players will not know for which Battleground they are chosen when selected from the queue until they zone into the Battleground.
      • The Random Battleground option will only allow a group size of 5 players to queue together.
      • Bonus rewards will be offered for choosing the Random Battleground option.
        • Winning a Battleground using the Random Battleground option for the first time in a day will award players with 30 Honorable Kills worth of additional Honor currency and 25 Arena points.
        • Winning additional Battlegrounds using the Random Battleground option after the first random win will award players with 15 Honorable Kills worth of additional Honor currency.
        • Losing a Battleground using the Random Battleground option will award players with 5 Honorable Kills worth of additional Honor currency.
    • Daily Battleground quests have been removed in place of the Random Battleground option.
    • Battlegrounds will no longer award Marks of Honor.
      • Players with existing Marks of Honor can still turn them in to their respective faction's quest givers, including individual marks for those who may have more marks for one Battleground than another.
      • Items which previously required Marks of Honor will have their costs adjusted to remove these requirements.
    • Whenever a Battleground has the holiday bonus active, it will now be referred to as "Call to Arms" in the Battleground tab and Calendar. In addition, Call to Arms Battleground Honor rewards have been changed.
      • Choosing a specific Battleground with the Call to Arms bonus active will yield the exact same rewards as when choosing the Random Battleground option.
        • Winning a Call to Arms Battleground for the first time in a day will award players with 30 Honorable Kills worth of additional Honor currency and 25 Arena points.
        • Additional Call to Arms Battleground victories after the first win for a player that day will award them with 15 Honorable Kills worth of additional Honor currency.
        • Losing a Call to Arms Battleground will award players with 5 Honorable Kills worth of additional Honor currency.
      • When using the Random Battleground option, players will not receive additional rewards if the Battleground chosen under the Call to Arms bonuses. In addition, the rewards for the first victory of the day cannot be earned more than once, regardless of whether or not it is obtained from the Random Battleground system or the Call to Arms Battleground.
  • Wintergrasp
    • The internal balance system now only changes when a faction achieves 2 consecutive defenses after an initial capture of Wintergrasp, up from 1. More details can be found on our PvP Discussion forum.

With that amount of honor it doesn't take long at all to get to the honor cap, and doesn't take long until you have a full suit of Furious, Relentless, and Wrathful pieces. The question is what do you do with all that honor. If you are a serious PVP'er you buy a full set first. For a more casual PVP'er they might buy a few pieces here and there, especially since you can buy all the main Furious pieces with emblems of Triumph. But you might use your honor for other things as well. Serious PVP'ers will certainly, after they've got their suit, but even casuals are using excess honor to purchase epic gems. And have been for months now. The rate at which you earned honor prior to patch 3.3.3 didn't enable a glut of epic gems on the AH, but that isn't the case now as prices on the most popular epic gems are now 50-75g lower than they were just last weekend. Today, anyone that can run two battlegrounds a day can purchase an epic gem and sell it. So can you imagine how much honor a PVP junkie earns on the average day? Let alone on the weekend?

I can answer that. I'm somewhat a PVP junkie myself, and I do most of my PVP on my Druid. Not only do I have a full suit of resto gear (head, shoulders, chest, legs are furious, with everything else being relentless and wrathful), but also a full Balance suit, and a full Feral set (deadly/furious) as well. I have no idea how much honor that amounts to as I've never attempted to add it all up in terms of honor, but I know it's a lot. And I have 61k honor at the moment with nothing to use it on, unless I want to upgrade the feral set. As I was getting 10-20k of honor a day this week and since I pvp a lot on the weekend, I'm getting 50-75k per day it's not hard to envision hundreds of additional gems per week being put up on the AH. And this is just the first week of the PVP changes.

Although not an unintended consequence, as it was very clearly intended, the change in patch 3.3.3 that enables purchase of Frost Lotus with Frozen Orbs and the previous enchanting changes that enable anyone to access DE'd materials on Dungeon runs where there's an enchanter has to make one wonder if the unintended consequence is actually unintended. I'm becoming more convinced that these changes are part of a longer term, larger Blizzard goal to scale back the amount of gold players can make. And focusing more of the earning power on daily/weekly quests. If you realize that a series of gold sinks are a requirement in an MMO, and that Blizzard has swung developmental efforts very far to the "casual" side of the spectrum and those casual players will generally play fewer hours and have a lower earning potential, there probably needs to be a higher level framework in place to limit overall earning power or else gold sinks would necessarily impact casual players to a higher degree than it would less casual players.

Makes one wonder, does it not?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Blizzcon 2010 -- Oct 22-23

Blizzard officially announced Blizzcon 2010 today, which will occur in Anaheim 22-23 Oct. Blizzard hasn't announced their plans for streaming yet, but I'd be very surprised if they didn't handle it in a very similar way as was done in 2009. The bigger question in my mind is, will it be the same humdrum I saw in 2009? Or will it be a little more vibrant as it was in 2007?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yes, let those grizzled old developers do what they do

Lum it seems, is not a big fan of SW:TOR. Or more to the point, not a fan of huge developmental budgets and the effect that has on the market. Can't say I disagree with his assessment, however, I for one think that fewer choices on the market is exactly what we need. Back in October I ruminated about the abysmal performance of new MMOs, and that I thought there were far too many options in the MMO market. The players are horribly fragmented across dozens of games, and with the advent of free-to-play games, and apps from social networking sites, the player base might be broadening, but it's also further fragmenting from the continued onslaught on MMOs either already released, or slated to be released soon. SWTOR is just one of those.

Maybe it's not the budget that causes the problem. Maybe its the real problem that causes the budget. Not to mention the silly developmental decision making.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I might have to play Alganon!

You know, I know nothing about Alganon, but with Derek Smart of the case who the hell has to know anything? I'd love to say I know everything that was going on, but I'll just let Derek say it all himself.


More SWTOR info from GDC

I'd blogged about my single greatest fear in regard to SWTOR -- that being it is really only an RPG in MMO guise. This week's Bioware's Friday special includes links to several articles about SWTOR from the GDC including several that have some very insightful comments about the fabled story-driven aspect Bioware has been talking up. First, I really can not say enough how I loathe buzzwords. And Bioware is trying to create their own with this "story-driven" "fourth leg" non-sense. "Story-driven" is nothing more than questing and I wish they'd just stick with that. Compare apples to apples, and don't try and make people think what you are really doing is comparing your Orange to Blizzard's Apple. But then again if I were under the gun and had to ensure I was drawing in and keeping 2 million subscribers, perhaps I'd feel compelled to cheat the language a bit too.

Don't get me wrong, I like PVE as much as the next person does. But I'm not sure that a game that has it's very back-bone built upon such an in-depth PVE questing system with interactive discussions and voice-overs, will feel as much like an MMO as people expect their MMOs to feel. I don't want to be constrained within a questing system when Bioware knows well that what I really want is the end-game. Lets face it, despite what anyone says to the contrary, we all want the "end-game". I don't want to have to spend weeks of questing and desiring nothing more than to wring some NPCs neck while he forces me to entertain his interactive chat. Instead I'd prefer a more traditional questing system with clear-cut objectives. I'm intrigued by the "moral decision making", but then again I'd be just as happy with that if that were a passive part of the game that tracked the things I did while I traipse through it. Such as killing critters making me darker, or stopping to help vagabonds making me not so dark. I very much like the idea of my "alignment" being determined over time but Bioware has that wrapped up in the interactive chat system and I already know I'm not going to like it.

How do I know I'm not going to like something before I try it? I guess I'm just that good. I guess I just know my gaming interests and what I typically find to be fun, and what I typically find to not be so fun. And I already know from all the MMOs I've already played that I haven't the slightest interest in having to read quests that are books. And having to sit and listen to a discussion that I can't even skim is going to annoy me to all ends. Many MMOs have proven they can implement immersive story-telling without going to the lengths Bioware is and I see no reason to fix something that simply isn't broken.

So where's the beef? Here's where I think it becomes most telling and explains why we haven't seen more information about the MMO in this MMO.
Like the Inquisitor demo, it's a strictly single-player experience. We all play offline in separate instances of the same mission. As RPG gameplay goes, it's slick, accessible, pacey and enjoyable - but in common with everything LucasArts, EA and BioWare have shown of The Old Republic so far, there's nothing massively-multiplayer about it. They've shown an appealing and obviously high-quality game, but they simply haven't shown us an MMO yet.

I quiz Neri about it. What does LucasArts - which has already had its fingers burned in this genre with the under-performing, U-turning Star Wars Galaxies - want from an MMO using its most precious intellectual property?

"I think what we wanted to do was create an amazing story-driven experience," he answers. "We believe, as a company, in story. We had great success with BioWare in the past with KOTOR [Knights of the Old Republic] and we wanted to continue that. We wanted to deliver a smash in the space, for sure.

"I think, first off, in order to enter the space in any sort of serious manner I think you need to be different than what everyone else has done. I think that's probably the reason why we believe so much in story."

They made the decision to intentionally differentiate themselves in the market by focusing on "story" rather than using tried-and-true developmental strategies and letting the IP differentiate. When I read stuff like this it makes me want to pull hair out. It's the sort of thing Lum talks about in his blog from time to time, as he regales us with what passes for judgment in the gaming industry.

All that's bad enough, but once you understand that they haven't released any details on the MMO parts of the MMO are because they haven't made them, it makes you want to scream while pulling that hair out.
"We haven't talked a ton of details on in-between activities," Neri says, truthfully. "We've just said that we do understand that in this type of game you do need to have that type of secondary behaviour, things like crafting, harvesting systems, things like that: mechanics that players can draw themselves into when they're not fighting. So, not too much detail on that right now, but we understand the expectation and we're going to make sure that the game supports that type of behaviour as well."
Get that.. the things that make an MMO, an MMO -- like:
a structure for player-versus-player combat, a broad spread of challenging content for groups, social areas, trading, crafting and the wide spread of relaxing ancillary activities best described as "downtime"
are secondary activities. Trivial even. Unbelievable.

I want this game to to happen. I want it to be fantastic because not only am I a super Star Wars fan, but also because I love Bioware. I just want an MMO, not an RPG with coop play. I might feel better if they'd actually release real, in-depth information on what would make this an MMO but I'm beginning to see the bridge down at the end of the road... and you know... I'm not sure if I can see the other side!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Raven God finally smiled upon me!

I can't tell you how many times I've killed Anzu because the achievement tracker doesn't track that boss and I lost count a very long time ago. But I've been farming for this boss for a long while. Finally got it today -- the best looking mount in the game!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

World first Shadowmourne

MMO-Champion is reporting Modk from Mal'ganis is the world first recipient of Shadowmourne. As I'm also working on the Shadowmourne quest I'm of course jealous! But congratulations to Modk all the same!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

That was very welcome, but you need to pay attention during the cinematics

GDC10 (Game Developer Conference 2010) was last week and one of the tidbits to come out was a summation of a 45-min hands-on play session of SWTOR by Obviously Shawn Schuster likes what he saw, but what I took away from his summation was the sentence I chose for this blog entry.
That was very welcome, but you need to pay attention during the cinematics.
I wish I could find the quote now, but a few months back (or perhaps it was many months, I simply don't recall) one of the Blizzard developers spoke candidly about what they've learned over time about quest development. Essentially he said it took them a while to figure out people didn't want to read a lot of crap. That what people really wanted was to get their quest and then go about completing it. I couldn't agree more.

SWTOR is going to be completely voice-over though. And I've been worried that those voice overs would force you to engage in a "conversation" with each NPC quest giver before you can actually just play and it sounds from Shawn's article that that is indeed the case.
Let me remind you, this is not on one or two quests, this is every quest. The voice acting I experienced by a half-dozen voices was done very well. There was never a point where I felt it was done cheaply or felt awkward, as I regularly encounter in other games with voice work.
That sort of thing is fine in an RPG, but in an MMO I can see it getting old very quickly. In an RPG you will spend about 30-40 hours or so. In an MMO you can log thousands of hours over a few years. You really think that I'm not going to become annoyed after having to pause and work through a conversation with various NPCs after a couple weeks in the game? I'm all for story. I'm not all for inconvenience or annoyance.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Leveling experiences and what Cataclysm has to do with it

I’ve been playing WoW since March 2005. And if you read this blog on any regular basis you will know I’m somewhat of an alt-a-holic. I’ve been pretty good (considering) in WotLK in keeping myself to two main characters I play – now my Paladin and my Druid – but when WotLK launched I was playing my Shaman and my Death Knight. I dropped my Shaman relatively early in the Winter 2008/Spring of 2009, but I played my Death Knight all the way until late Summer 2009. Now I never touch him and have no plans to revive him. I had recounted last November the various characters I have, but that list has changed somewhat as I deleted my Hunter and my Mage replacing them with a baby Horde Druid I’ve been blogging about recently and a baby Warrior I’d also blogged about in the recent past. But I also have a baby Horde Rogue which has been languishing at level 7 for a long time now. Because of my desire for a Horde Druid that is beginning to change though, and it’s the comparison between the two which I most want to blog about today.

First, understand that a new player is at a serious – and I mean tremendously so – disadvantage to other established players in that the current leveling experience simply sucks. Blizzard made changes to the 1-20 experience by upping mana and health regen for low level characters, and most recently enabled Rogues and Warriors to start out with dual-wield, whereas previously neither got dual-wield until level 20. Those changes certainly helped, but the issue of low level gear itemization was equally important, and that won’t be changed until Cataclysm. Right now you very easily can still be stuck with white/grey level items at level 12-15. And outside of a lucky green drop off a mob, buying something off the auction house at extraordinarily outrageous prices, or winning a lucky drop off a boss in dungeons you can start running in your teens, you are absolutely stuck. The best thing established players can do is equip your new alt with heirloom gear, but a new player doesn’t have that option.

Second, even without the gear issue you still need some way to support yourself. New players may not realize this point, but long time players certainly do. It’s why I didn’t simply transfer my Druid to Horde as he’s my Enchanter and my Jewel crafter on the Alliance side. During the leveling experience it isn’t as much of an issue, but by the time you are in your 70’s and certainly by the time you hit 80 and expect to raid you need some way to make gold or at the very least supply yourself with materials to raid (flasks, potions, gems, enchants). Otherwise you’ll go broke. 200 gold per day running dailies simply isn’t going to be enough to outfit you initially at level 80 when one gem alone can cost that much. Let alone the enchants you need. 1400 gold per week from dailies can be spent remarkably fast and that is ignoring the expense of mounts (flying or otherwise).

In my view it is necessary to have at least two characters to make yourself some-what self-sufficient, although three would be better. That is unless you have the time to complete 25 dailies daily, and still have time to do a considerable amount of farming. On the Alliance side my Druid is my Enchanter/Jewel Crafter, and my Paladin is my gatherer (Miner/Herbalist) and right now my Alchemist is my 75 Warlock who I don’t really play. Those are the professions I consider to be “must haves” and would not like to play without having direct access to. When I decided I wanted to have Horde side characters and had made the decision to become serious about that and started leveling my Horde Druid I also decided that I would need these available on that side as well. Which means that I would have to level 3, not 1, characters. As I have no set deadline to get all this done, and don’t even plan on raiding with at least 2 of them. I might raid on the Druid, but the other two (Rogue and Paladin) will just be support characters.

When I started leveling my Horde Druid I made a point of mentioning how OP he felt at the 1-10 bracket, mostly because of his heirloom gear. But I remember well what it was like when I leveled my Druid the first time around and nothing has changed since then. When a Druid first starts out their only recourse is to cast Wrath or Moonfire when they get it, and auto-swing a level 1 staff they get at creation. It’s a horrible experience, broken only by the need to constantly sit and drink water to regen mana. The fact that I could actually kill things with a few swings of my heirloom mace the second time around made all the difference in the world, but even my three heirloom items could not make up the difference by the time I was level 12 or 13. By then I hadn’t been able to upgrade the other white items I was still wearing and it began to show. By level 15 it felt very much like I remember feeling at the initial levels on my original Druid as it was taking longer and longer to kill things, and I was taking more damage doing it. Then I’d have to heal and was having to sit and regen mana again.

You do get bear form at level 10, and the idea really is to fight in bear form, yet that isn’t much different from just whacking with my mace. Fighting in bear form at levels 10-13 is just as slow as fighting in caster form, except if I need to heal I have to pop out into caster form, and then waste more mana by popping back into bear form. As you get closer to level 20 things get slightly better once you get swipe, and enrage, but not much more so. Things do not get markedly better until level 20 when you get cat form and can dish out much higher DPS, though you will occasionally still take damage spikes if you have to take on more than one mob at a time. But even with that you will have needed to upgrade those armor pieces, preferably through dungeons.

Compare that to the low level Rogue experience though. Low level Rogues start out with dual wield now and as with my Druid, I equipped Chest, Shoulder and heirloom weapons (two daggers). While it took only 2-3 whacks with my mace to kill things in the 1-10 bracket on my Druid, it would only take 1-2 seconds to kill things with my Rogue. While I have to wait for weapon swings on my Druid if I didn’t want to cast multiple Wrath spells, all I had to do to kill things with my Rogue was Sinister Strike to 1 or 2 combo points, then eviscerate. I leveled from level 7 to 15 over the weekend and still have that feeling of OP’ness, even though I haven’t upgraded any of my other armor pieces. It’s something altogether different from how my Druid felt by that level and highlights tremendous differences in the leveling experience that I think Blizzard needs to address. I haven’t seen any mention of it, but I keep hoping Blizzard will take the opportunity to conduct a cleanup of the classes while they also take the time to address the zones.

By level 15 on my Rogue I SS once, pop Slice and Dice and kill the mobs with white hits in just a few seconds. On my Druid I’ll apply claw 2-3 times, then rip as a finisher and kill individual mobs in a few seconds as well, but my Druid is level 24 right now, whereas my Rogue is nearly 10 levels lower. As this is my second Rogue, I already know (also) to ignore the advice I’ve seen so often to level as combat. Instead I’ll level as Assassination, where I’ll take a lot less damage and will have a whole lot more control over mobs. I won’t make the same mistakes I made the first go around.

The point is, even though the classes are obviously different, and have different abilities, the leveling experience should not be so stark between the classes. Rogues are very powerful at the lower levels and have very little, if any, issues when leveling. You can level non-stop and quite literally never have to regen if you know how to play the class right, whereas another class like Druid, is much slower and takes more effort. The gear situation I expect will be fixed in Cataclysm when Blizzard revamps the quests and zones, but the rest of the experience can be changed by altering when classes get abilities. For instance, why can’t Druids start out with Cat form and keeping bear form at level 10? Forcing someone to level by auto-attacking until level 20, or at the very least, semi-auto attacking until level 20 is just down right silly. If Cataclysm is WoW 2.0, as a lot of people are comparing it to, then take the time to clean up all the other glaring areas as well.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Druid 15-20


The best thing about the 15-20 level bracket is that you get travel form at level 16 and you are within grasp of cat form. Things get progressively more difficult to kill through auto-attacking with the mace, however if you have the money to upgrade armor you can do a fair amount of AOE killing in bear form as you now have Swipe. I ended up doing that myself because it was just too painful to endure auto attacking any more.

I did end up going to the Blood Elf zones to level as I understand the leveling experience there is generally easier, like I know it is with the Draeni start zones. It probably won't be the case much longer as all the zones in old Azeroth will be redone come Cataclysm, but for now I really do recommend saving yourself some time and making your first act as a new character to get to the Draeni or Blood Elf starter zones. In any event I burned through this level bracket not only because of the zone but because you can use the Looking For Group function as well. Two dungeons, despite them both taking a fair amount of time to clear, netted me two levels by themselves.

I mentioned in my last post that I was allotting my talent points to take advantage of cat form, as I already knew I'd be spending most of my time in it. But there is considerable disagreement as to which specific talents to take. A lot of people will tell you to get to Omen of Clarity in the Resto tree first, because it's multi-use. It'll help you in Cat and Bear form, and if you intend to do any serious tanking that might be a good idea to pursue. However for me I know that I won't be tanking regularly and will be spending the majority of my time in Cat form running quests. Therefore I think the best plan for me is to get Feral Swiftness in the Feral tree first, then continue working down the tree until I can pick up Mangle at level 50. I already know that once I get Mangle I'll never use Claw again, so after picking up Mangle I'll go back and work toward Omen of Clarity. Chances are I may want to start tanking again as I hit the Outlands, so having it by that point will come in handy.

On hitting level 20 you also get a mount. Which, frankly, is one of the best things since sliced bread. Even with travel form you can't help but do the Snoopy Dance. Makes the considerable amount of travel you are doing by this point much easier. Especially if you are like me, and realize you can get faster XP by working two zones at the same time. Bounce back and forth between the Crossroads and the Ghostlands for plenty of green quests.

Friday, March 12, 2010

It was only a setback?

See? I told you information was beginning to trickle out. Today comes drips and drops, thanks to PC Gamer with a whole bunch of spoilers. Don't read the WoWinsider article I link to unless you want to get your Cataclysm on!

Proving again that you just can't fix stupid

Yeah it just takes one person to press Need after everyone's pressed Greed on the Frozen Orbs and you miss out. But the good news is that in patch 3.3.3 this won't be the case anymore -- the roll for Frozen Orbs will be an automatic Greed roll. Rejoice!
It's a sad day when "government" has to cater to the lowest common denominator as a matter of case.

Blood Princes down

It's been a fairly exciting two weeks for me in my mains guild. We've consistently killed Festergut and now Rotface, and we've now killed the Blood Princes after only a few days worth of attempts. Quite honestly I didn't expect us to do that quite so quickly, but I'm also certainly not going to complain about it. I'm happy as could be about it! It's a busy, technical fight and if we can kill the Blood Princes we can also kill Putricide. Unfortunately we haven't attempted him yet but I expect that we'll probably do that soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Putricide and the Eclipse effect

In my main's guild we've skipped over Putricide in order to work on the Blood Princes, but in my alt's guild we've chosen to work on Putricide. And I got my first look at that fight last night. I didn't think I was going to like the fight all that much, but after a handful of attempts where we were able to get him down to 20% at his enrage timer, I found myself actually liking the fight a great deal. I see us killing Putricide Friday night if we make sure we more quickly transition to the sludges and burn them down faster, and ensure we more cleanly transition between phases without having sludges remain up as carryovers, and ensure the person kiting the orange sludge doesn't run out of range of the ranged classes I think we'll kill him on Friday night. The issues above are simply about maintaining a high level of DPS on target to meet the enrage timer, but the other issue that we have to work on is also not being hit by the Malleable Goo. We simply had too many people being hit by that last night, putting pressure on the healers to keep those individuals up, but also the effects of being hit effectively reduce their DPS as it increases the duration of spells and attacks by 200%.

As my Druid is in the alt guild, this fight is relatively easy for me. Limited movement, unless I have to dodge Malleable Goo, or unless I have to move to get back into range of the individual kiting the orange sludge (or unless I'm also the one kiting), I get to stand and do what Balance Druids do best - pew pew with massive DPS increases thanks to the Eclipse effect. At the end of the attempts I found myself always in the top five, but twice ending up number two on the DPS meter. It made me think again of how bad Eclipse is, or really, how it's simply too good. On fights where I have to move fairly often like on the Rotface or Restergut fights I always find myself around number 10 or 11 on the DPS meter which is middle of the pack. On those fights where I simply get to stand and take advantage of my Eclipses I'm up near the top. Other casters, like Mages for instance, are not as affected by movement as they hit harder on a spell by spell basis and some of my DPS is reflected in the DOTs I put on the target and which amplify my main spells (Wrath and Starfire) effects. In short, fights that require movement - and the more movement the more the affect - have more of a detrimental impact on me that they do on other casters and I would very much like Blizzard to fix that now rather than later. Yet I know a fix, whatever it is, isn't due until Cataclysm.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cataclysm information is starting to trickle out

It must be getting closer to the Cataclysm beta because Blizzard has been releasing a lot of information about important changes that are upcoming, like last weeks announcement about stat changes and yesterdays announcement about how the new Mastery system will work. As I expect to see Cataclysm launch at some point in the October or November time frame, I’d expect to see more information about these changes and others not yet discussed in increasing frequency as we head into the Summer. Such revelations lead inevitably to thoughts of where Blizzard must be in there testing now. They must already be in their Alpha and must be gearing up to head into a closed beta soon, if they aren’t in it already. My guess is that the public beta, though still invite only, will begin in June or perhaps July but the dreaded NDA will keep information flow at a minimum. Which of course means we will be devouring any trickle of information that does come out.

Like this Mastery system announcement from yesterday. I have to admit I was intrigued by it when it was first announced at Blizzcon but the details that were released yesterday – specifically the level 3 Mastery abilities -- still remain largely unknown. All we know is that they will be affected by gear we obtain in levels 81 – 85. A Mastery set bonus! Blizzard has been up-front that the idea of the Mastery system is to remove talents that directly buff abilities by adding specific amounts of damage or healing abilities. Those talents are being replaced by the level 1 and level 2 Mastery abilities and will be earned as passive bonuses by spending points in specific trees, and I imagine will require a level of points for each level, which should make it a bit more interesting for min/maxers to eek out those tidbits in upcoming talent builds.

We also already know that the talent trees will not be getting any deeper, but will be getting wider. Not only will Blizzard need to replace those talents being removed through the Mastery system, but if they are getting “wider” it necessarily means they will also be adding additional talents that are not already existing. For those of you looking at the talent trees now and salivating over where to put an additional 5 talent points now, you might want to put the brakes on and just sit back and wait for more relevant news. Because it’s clear Blizzard simply isn’t going to give you 5 additional points just to put where ever you wish. The talent trees are still going hobble you in the same sort of ways they always have. Regardless of what Blizzard says, there are still going to be talents that are “required” for your class and role, and there are still going to be a limited number of points available to you for “filler”. In short order the math geeks will figure out the “best” talent specs and most will adopt those. Same as happens today.

I remember well my thoughts on Jewelcrafting back in BC when I realized gear with slots were actually worse than previous gear that had no slots. The slots have value costs that have to be subtracted from the rest of the item budget. Blizzard’s stated intent was to enable people to buff the item stats in a way they chose but the end effect is that the vast majority of people use the same gems and buff in the same way. The real reason for the gem slots was to add in additional money sinks. No money is involved in the new talent system that I’m aware of but it acts in the same way. In order to keep talent inflation to a minimum we’ll have the new wider talent trees with the new Mastery system.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Druid 10-15

I was right in that I was level 12 before I moved into the Barrens. It's quite the hike without a travel form, or without the flight path!

You want me to find who??

Unfortunately the OP'ness that I experienced in 1-10 all but disappeared as I got closer to level 15. This being my first Horde toon, I don't have another character to fund my way which means I can't simply upgrade gear from the auction house as often as I probably need to. The prices on the auction house are ridiculous and I feel very sorry for the player who is just starting out now and has no high level character to farm on. The quests I’ve completed this far give money, but very few items that are usable meaning I either have to upgrade from the auction house, or continue on with the equipment I have and hope things improve soon. As I’m no longer over-geared for the content it takes longer than a two or three whacks with my mace to kill things and I’m doing a lot more healing that I have before. I’m still killing creatures with little trouble, but as they have generally have more health the higher I go, it simply takes longer to kill them and I consequently take more damage doing it.

The only other option is to drop into bear form and fight that way. Unfortunately that option isn’t much better because all I have in bear form is auto-attack and maul. Think of Maul like Heroic Strike for Warriors, and as Bear form works much like the Warrior class, Maul takes Rage just like Heroic Stroke takes Rage for Warriors. I gain rage in bear form by auto-attacking, so I might be able to get one Maul off on a creature before it’s killed. In my opinion, it doesn’t offer me much more than continuing to auto-attack with my mace. Especially as I do not yet have Feral Regeneration yet and can not heal in Bear form. And popping out to heal, then popping back into bear form takes up considerable mana. All in all, nothing has changed from level 10 to 15 in that you gain nothing new in the way of combat abilities, so for me it remains casting a couple Wraths, then auto-attacking. This being my second Druid, if I didn't know how much better things begin to get at level 20 I'd quit right now. Especially if all I knew was the Barrens. Questing in the Barrens can most aptly be described as "the hike". Travel is involved in every quest and I’ve had to travel all over the area surrounding the Cross-Roads. And all of it done at normal run speed because I won’t get my travel form until level 16. I've all but decided that the Barrens isn't for me and will be making my way to Silvermoon where I can experience the better leveling experience and hopefully get better quest rewards.

The only other consideration that you really need to make at level 10 is how to best place your talent points. I already know that at level 20 I will be using Cat form extensively, so I want to put my talent points in to best leverage that.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rotface has left the building!

Yes we finally killed this guy. And yes I finally got Shadow's Edge. 1000 creatures to kill, plus a bunch of bosses, and 60 shardes and Shadowmourn will be mine!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Druid level 5-10

Druid leveling from 5-10 will take you from Red Cloud Mesa to Bloodhoof village, just down the road. It’s also amazingly like 1-5 except there’s a great deal more travel involved as the various quests ask you to roam the environs surrounding the village. Still, the quests are very easy and unlike those found in Ellwyn forest, or not hidden in out of the way corners that you wouldn’t know about unless you happened to stumble across them at some point.

As you level from 5 to 10 you will gain a few new skills, like Thorns and Mark of the Wild, but nothing new in the way of combat abilities. What you do get are an update or two – namely to Wrath. Fighting mobs will feel largely the same to you in this level bracket as the last, except you can actually probably cast a couple Wraths at a mob and finish them off with melee when they get to you. My Wraths were hitting in the neighborhood of 30-35ish and I would use only about 15% of my mana casting 2 or 3 of them. By the time I killed the creature after a couple whacks with my dredger I was already back at 100% mana. Occasionally I’d have to throw up a Rejuv if I pulled more than one mob at a time, but other than that I never worried about healing and never had any down time to regen health or mana.

I find the story that unfolds in Mulgore a very telling story as Blizzard obviously paid great attention to the postural culture and influence of the race. And despite the roaming required from all the quests wasn’t overly burdensome. If you don’t have the option to use the heirloom items it might take longer, but I was able to level from 5 to 10 in a little more than an hour and still have a handful of quests to complete before I finish the zone. You will most likely find yourself leaving the zone at level 10 or 11, but it’s looking for me that I’ll be closer to 13 than 11 when I leave.

At level 10 you’re sent to Thunder bluff to learn the ways of the Druid. The elder sends you on your first trip to Moonglade where you complete a quick and easy quest, and back to Thunder bluff where you obtain another quests to defeat the dreaded Lunaclaw! Bear form is your reward but quite honestly, doesn’t mean a great deal to you at this point unless you intend to tank instances. If you are just intent on leveling, you should continue casting Wrath on mobs and finishing them off with melee until you eventually get cat form at level 20.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stat changes revealed

They've been talking about them since Blizzcon, and have been promising recently to put up a full disclosure. Today they finally did and WoWInsider has the full post.

In short:
  • Stamina -- Non-plate wearers will have a lot more.
  • Spirit -- Only found on healing gear.
  • Intellect -- Grants spell power.
  • MP5 -- Gone completely.
  • Spell power -- Only on weapons, and just to make them clearly a caster item.
  • Attack power -- Gone on most items.
  • Parrry -- No longer provides 100% avoidance and no longer speeds up attack.
  • Resilience -- Only affects player damage and player crit damage, no impact on crit chance, mana drains, etc...
  • Block Value -- Gone, 30% passive block value now when wearing a shield.
  • Weapon Skill -- Gone completely.
  • Gem Color -- Few stats changing. Hit will likely become a blue gem (it's yellow now).
  • Defense -- Gone, becomes dodge, parry, or block rating.
  • Reforging -- You'll be able to reforge gear to customize your stats -- 50% of stat X can become stat Y. Restrictions apply (no Stamina->Strength, for instance).
I'm very happy that weapon skill is being done away with as it was incredibly painful to level. In fact it was so painful that anyone trying to level it would look for any way possible to cheat the system. Many of those have been "fixed", but the underlying point is that the players hated it and Blizzard finally saw the light. Thank you!

The Defense removal is largely moot for me as I only tank on my Druid, who didn't have to worry about it thanks to Survival of the Fittest anyway. And since Druids don't get Parry or Block this is largely unimportant for us. However, notice how many fewer Druid tanks there are now than there were in BC? I see one only once in a great while, which is a crying shame. Fix it Blizzard!

Although it's not spoken to directly by what I quoted above, but Balance Druids will derive hit from Spirit. It says Spirit will only be found on healing gear, except for Balance gear, which will continue to be shared by Resto Druids. There is some level of cross over now, but not a spectacularly great deal as Balance gear has lots of crit on it and resto gear doesn't. Blizzard is going to simply make all the stats correct themselves behind the scenes which is fine with me as long as it works out properly. However I don't want to have to break out a calculator whenever I'm looking at a piece of gear and seeing if it's going to be an upgrade for me or not. I want the stats to be apparent and easily measurable against other stats.

And lastly reforging. Perhaps the most anxiously awaited change. I can not tell you how many times I've wanted to change stats on various pieces I've had! I'd love to change stats so I can reduce haste and increase crit, lets say. And although they haven't really told us how it's going to work yet, it sounds like we will be able to do just that. I imagine Blizzard will be dealing with reforging over the Summer when I expect the Beta will have started.

So far everything looks good.

Resto Druid raid healing reflections

Even though I had already dipped into some raid healing in last weeks VOA-10 I don’t really consider that true raid healing. However I was able to do some real Resto Druid raid healing yesterday, in an ICC-10. It was just me and a Resto Shaman, and a Holy Priest who switched over to Shadow after the first fight. I still topped the healing meters, but I wasn’t far and away from the Shaman as he was a pretty effective raid healer himself. There really isn’t much to raid healing other than throwing out Rejuvs and Wild Growths for area healing, and keeping the tanks Rejuved and Regrowthed. What I did notice, despite the fact that I have very high Spirit, is that I still have considerable mana issues. I have to use my Innervate whenever it’s up and still ended up using a mana pot on each fight. In looking over my gear I think I probably need to replace my trinkets with MP5 trinkets so I’m going to make it a point to run TOC-25 and 10 every week to grab those two.

I’ve healed ICC-10 on my Holy Paladin many times and never once did I have even a single instance where I had to worry about mana. I’ve mentioned before how out of whack I thought the issue was but the point was driven home during Sunday’s raid. Even with the mana return meta gem in my helm there simply is no comparison between the mana regen of Holy Paladins and that of Resto Druids and I was thinking they should probably give Innervate a 2 minute cool down instead of it’s current 3, but leave the mana return as is.

Outside of that tiny little problem with having to be uber-disciplined with my mana pool, I find Resto Druid raid healing as pleasurable as I do Holy Paladin raid healing. Outside of Wild Growth it’s not all that different from my raid healing days back in BC so I think I’ll continue on with it. It’s truly the beauty of a hybrid class where you can be Caster DPS for 25-man raiding, then healer for 10-man raid the next day and all the while still have a Feral spec for miscellaneous solo dungeons runs.

Druid 1-5

What can I say? I love the Druid class, and because I've wanted to play on the horde side for some time I finally got around to creating a Horde Druid. There truly isn't a great deal to say about the Druid class for levels 1 to 5 other than to say "be prepared for utter boredom". In fact, if you will be leveling using the available items through the quests and off the mobs you're going to be killing, be prepared to take drugs before hand. You essentially have two means of killing mobs -- either Wrath or by auto-attacking with the level 1 staff you get when you create the character. Killing is faster by casting Wrath but you'll find yourself running out of mana rather quickly. And my guess is that you'll end up casting a Wrath or two and then auto attacking. But even with that you might run yourself out of mana after a few mobs depending on how fast you kill things. The more auto attacking you do the more you will want to bang your head against the keyboard because there simply is nothing glamorous about Druid melee attacking at this stage.

However there is a way out. Heirloom items! If you have a high level character that can get the items, I suggest you do it. Not only because it will free you from the need to constantly upgrade three items, but those heirloom items will make your journey from level 1 to 5 a breeze. Almost "OP" in fact. Do yourself a favor and pick up the Repurposed Lavadredger, Stained Shadowcraft Tunic, and the Exceptional Stormshroud Shoulders. The Chest and Shoulders will give you a 10% xp gain bonus (works on creatures AND quests), and all three items will grow as you level.

If you take the advice, you simply need to cast a moonfire or a Wrath on a target and auto attack your mobs as your work through the quests out of Red Cloud Mesa. It takes all of two or three hits to kill mobs so you can expect to be through all the starter quests in 20 to 25 minutes and on your way to Bloodhoof Village.

At level five you will have Wrath, Moonfire, Healing Touch and Rejuvenation to add a little extra oomph to your attacks and to keep yourself healed as you level. You shouldn't need to cast more than a Rejuv on yourself once you start on the Bloodhoof quests though, and should expect no downtime while doing it.