Thursday, April 29, 2010

Activision finally does evil

Things sure have been getting interesting at Activision lately. Weeks ago we saw word that Activision fired their shining stars at Infinity Ward – developers of the wildly popular Modern Warfare series. And in recent days we’ve seen a flurry of accusations regarding intrusive and abrasive interrogation sessions where Activision sequestered the leaders and threatened to fire them for insubordination if they didn’t answer the questions or left. They also reportedly threatened to fire them if they attempted to answer the questions naturally put to them from their other staff members about the happenings. Activision, reading reports by Infinity Ward staff, created an atmosphere of uncertainty, fear, and worry throughout this period and wielded that atmosphere like a club. In fact Activision must have known their actions would result in the resignations of many of the staff because they changed their bonus policy during this time so that any who left would forfeit their earnings from the Modern Warfare 2 release.

Although details are sketchy it does sound as if Activision had at least a modicum of justification to go after as they were reportedly shopping their talents around to other publishers. Apparently wanting to work on new IP when your current publisher only wants you to milk the existing IP. Activision isn’t interested in a project unless it’s something they can release annually and will generate at least $100 million dollars. There is something to be said for the boss calling the shots, so to speak. But individuals have the right to decide for themselves where they will work and in this case Activision apparently found out their shining stars were casting glances abroad and created an incident in order to justify keeping millions of dollars that they would otherwise have had to pay to the Infinity Ward staff. Of course the plan seems to have backfired as all but 12 of the Infinity Ward staff have left Activision, and at least some of the remaining 12 may have already, or are in the process of leaving too. Of course the end result is Activision sueing Infinity Ward and Infinity Ward sueing Activision.

What is Activision to do when one of their big profit meal tickets jump ship? Find a new meal ticket apparently. News comes today that Activision has inked a 10-year deal with Bungie to develop new projects. Bungie will remain independent, with Activision serving as publisher/distributor. While the court battles between Infinity Ward and Activision will roll along for years, Activision is showing that to them Infinity Ward was so “yesterday”.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Latest developer blog highlights combat in SWTOR

Last week Bioware released a surprise developer video showcasing information about combat in SWTOR. The video included scenes we’ve seen previously but it did include a handful of scenes that we hadn’t yet seen, including one of a Sith Warrior fighting two Jedi and using an explosive Force Push to propel the two Jedi off a ledge. That was truly magnificent and made me laugh as visuals swam through my mind of Shaman and Druids using the same sort of mechanics to propel attackers and defenders alike off the cliff in AB and off the land bridge in EoTS in WoW. I can see how that might be a very fun ability in SWTOR as well. While much of the developer video illustrates information we already knew it was still interesting to hear them discuss the ideals behind the combat system and then see a few select scenes highlighting specific abilities of the classes.

Of course my favorite was the scene with the Sith Inquisitor using a devastating Force Lightning area attack to kill three attackers. But next on my list was a dervish ability used by a Jedi Counselor to ward off attacks by two Sith Warriors. That looked truly amazing and made me realize all the more there is still so much about the classes that we don’t know. Bioware has said they want to veer away from the holy trinity of classes and we’ve now seen several instances of classes using specific abilities that lends some credence to them having done exactly that. In typical MMOs the holy trinity of healer, tank, and dps classes creates relationships between the classes as no one class can do everything. Players are thusly encouraged (required) to group and play with others for mutual benefit. But that works best in a more open, traditional MMO whereas SWTOR is expected to be more attuned to individual game play and will be highly instanced.

Healers are highly defensive in the sense they can heal themselves or shield themselves from damage but generally have limited offensive abilities. They’re primarily responsible for healing others in a group. Tanks are highly defensive in the sense their abilities are generally aligned to reduce or shield themselves from damage, but have limited offensive abilities and usually have no or limited means to heal themselves. DPS classes are typically all about offense and have limited defensive capabilities and either no, or limited means to heal themselves. Many MMOs have what are called hybrid classes, which do not fit any one of the typical roles in the holy trinity, but rather have abilities pulled from two or all three of the roles. Balance is maintained (arguably) by limiting the abilities to some level shy of a corresponding ability in a pure class. Blizzard calls it the “hybrid tax” in WoW. Bioware appears to be developing classes to be all hybrids, which really isn’t as much of a stretch in MMO development as many people took their statement to believe, not realizing there really isn’t anything new under the sun in terms of class role creation. When you shear away all the fluff from a class there truly is only three things you can do with it. Tank (absorb damage and shield others from it), Heal (self explanatory), or DPS (also self-explanatory).

Hybrid classes are terrific in enabling a more solo-istic game play style, and removes many of the requirements that force group or cooperative play. It’s a theme we’re seeing more and more often in recent MMOs as developers are coming to grips with the real desires of those playing MMOs. Players, by and large, want a world where they can group with others and play cooperatively, but do not want to be hobbled and required to do so at all times. Bioware is simply following the trend. I’d expect content to be the determinant in regards to group cooperative play being required or not. The class story will probably be mostly solo-able as will much of the planet and other story-arcs. But there will be content that you will need to group for.

In the case of the video we see a DPS class (Sith Warrior) using a decidedly defensive ability that I can only assume will have some kind of stun or root mechanic appended to it. When coupled with the known force rush ability and strong offensive attack abilities can be used to effectively deal with multiple attackers quickly. The class also has defensive capabilities like parry and dodge that are MMO combat mechanic staples and can only assume the class will have other niche abilities. And we can assume the Jedi has the same abilities, though perhaps presented differently. What isn’t known yet is the level to which each class can heal itself.

In the case of the Jedi Inquisitor, we see what has been called a ranged/support class, use a strong defensive melee ability (dervish). In another scenes we also see a Jedi Counselor use a force push ability to debilitate an attacker by raising him in the air and slamming him back to the ground. If we assume the Counselor and the Inquisitor are roughly analogous to each other we have two support classes that have a bevy of defensive and offensive abilities available to them but we have not yet seen their healing abilities though Bioware has indicated they will have them. The classes are primarily ranged so you’d expect these classes to be standing in the back either attacking or healing their party members.

Much the same for the remaining four classes – Imperial Agent, Bounty Hunter, Smuggler, and Republic Trooper. Each has been shown to have a bevy of offensive and defensive abilities but information on their individual ability to heal themselves is yet to be known.

Right now is a very trying time in the MMO development cycle. The marketing machine is in full swing, creating hype everywhere it can get its message out to; the “community” is in overdrive attempting to find out more about the game and in discussing the pros and cons of various game elements; and the developers are still working on key aspects of the game and will be able to release details only slowly. We’re still undoubtedly about a year away from release, so the beta period probably won’t even begin until some time this Summer when we could expect to start hearing a little more about abilities, mechanics, and game play.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blizzard releases raiding and emblem plans for Cataclysm

Blizzard released a bit of new news regarding raiding in Cataclysm yesterday, along with information about how “emblems” will be handled. After having digested the news regarding raiding I’m going to have to come down on the side of disappointment. Blizzard seems to be addressing in a roundabout way, problem with current 25-man raiding when you can’t gather enough people. But as the 10 and 25-man content will share raid lock outs what they’re actually doing is scuttling options and limiting the number of “emblems” you can earn in any given week. Here is the Blizzard plan regarding raid content:

We're continuing to refine the raid progression paths in Cataclysm, and we'd like to share some of those changes with you today. Please enjoy!

The first of the refinements being made is that we're combining all raid sizes and difficulties into a single lockout. Unlike today, 10- and 25-player modes of a single raid will share the same lockout. You can defeat each raid boss once per week per character. In other words, if you wanted to do both a 10- and 25-person raid in a single week, you’d need to do so on two different characters. Normal versus Heroic mode will be chosen on a per-boss basis in Cataclysm raids, the same way it works in Icecrown Citadel. Obviously the raid lockout change doesn't apply in pure Icecrown terms though, as this change goes hand-in-hand with a few other changes to raid progression in Cataclysm.

We're designing and balancing raids so that the difficulty between 10- and 25-player versions of each difficulty will be as close as possible to each other as we can achieve. That closeness in difficulty also means that we'll have bosses dropping the same items in 10- and 25-player raids of each difficulty. They'll have the same name and same stats; they are in fact the exact same items. Choosing Heroic mode will drop a scaled-up version of those items. Our hope is that players will be able to associate bosses with their loot tables and even associate specific artwork with specific item names to a far greater extent than today.

Dungeon Difficulty and Rewards
  • 10 and 25-player (Normal difficulty) -- Very similar to one another in difficulty; drop the exact same items as each other.
  • 10 and 25-player (Heroic difficulty) -- Very similar to one another in difficulty; drop more powerful versions of the normal-difficulty items.

We of course recognize the logistical realities of organizing larger groups of people, so while the loot quality will not change, 25-player versions will drop a higher quantity of loot per player (items, but also badges, and even gold), making it a more efficient route if you're able to gather the people. The raid designers are designing encounters with these changes in mind, and the class designers are making class changes to help make 10-person groups easier to build. Running 25-player raids will be a bit more lucrative, as should be expected, but if for a week or two you need to do 10s because half the guild is away on vacation, you can do that and not suffer a dramatic loss to your ability to get the items you want.

We recognize that very long raids can be a barrier for some players, but we also want to provide enough encounters for the experience to feel epic. For the first few raid tiers, our plan is to provide multiple smaller raids. Instead of one raid with eleven bosses, you might have a five-boss raid as well as a six-boss raid. All of these bosses would drop the same item level gear, but the dungeons themselves being different environments will provide some variety in location and visual style, as well as separate raid lockouts. Think of how you could raid Serpent shrine Cavern and Tempest Keep separately, but you might still want to hit both every week.

We do like how gating bosses over time allows the community to focus on individual encounters instead of just racing to the end boss, so we’re likely to keep that design moving forward. We don't plan to impose attempt limitations again though, except maybe in cases of rare optional bosses (like Algalon). Heroic mode may not be open from day one, but will become available after defeating normal mode perhaps as little as once or twice.

In terms of tuning, we want groups to be able to jump into the first raids pretty quickly, but we also don’t want them to overshadow the Heroic 5-player dungeons and more powerful quest rewards. We’ll be designing the first few raid zones assuming that players have accumulated some blue gear from dungeons, crafted equipment, or quest rewards. In general, we want you and your guild members to participate in and enjoy the level up experience.

We design our raids to be accessible to a broad spectrum of players, so we want groups to be able to make the decision about whether to attempt the normal or Heroic versions of raids pretty quickly. The goal with all of these changes is to make it as much of a choice or effect of circumstance whether you raid as a group of 10 or as a group of 25 as possible. Whether you're a big guild or a small guild the choice won't be dependent on what items drop, but instead on what you enjoy the most.

We realize that with any changes to progression pathways there are going to be questions. We're eagerly awaiting any that we may have left unanswered. To the comments!

Here are some clarifications to a few common questions we're seeing.

Regarding how the raid dungeons will share the same lockout. This means that you cannot do separate instances in the same week. If you defeat an encounter in 10 player normal mode then you are locked to the 10 player mode of that dungeon for that week and can flip between 10 player normal and 10 player heroic on a per boss basis (assuming heroic is available). In this scenario you cannot do the 25 player version. Is this correct?

Correct. There should be no circumstances under which you kill a boss more than once per week on the same character. However, in the same way that you can decide on a per-boss basis whether to try normal vs. hard mode, we might allow you to change between 10 and 25 on a per-encounter basis for additional flexibility. If you started a raid in 25-player mode and then found that you couldn’t get everyone together later in the week, you might be able to downsize the next few bosses to 10-player.

Will legendary items be available through 10 player dungeons? How about special mounts like Invincible?

In some of these specific cases, the answer is that we just don’t know yet. We’re going to have to walk a fine line between dropping the same items in both 10- and 25-player modes, versus still offering something extra for the 25s. If we over-reward the 25s, then players who like 10-player raiding will still feel compelled to find more warm bodies. If we don’t provide any extra incentive for 25s, then some players may stop playing with their friends in order to avoid the extra organization required for a large raid.

Overall, our goal is that you make the decision between whether to raid with 10 players or 25 players based on what you find fun and not because of the reward structure.

For perspective, it might help to look back at how we changed lockouts and hard modes on every single raid tier of Wrath of the Lich King to see what felt right and try to fix problems that arose from previous tiers. After seeing the first tier of Cataclysm raiding, we may decide to adjust our design for the next tier.

How many pieces of loot will drop for 10 and 25 player modes respectively?

When we say “25 should drop more loot,” we’re just sharing a philosophy. You shouldn’t assume that this means that 10-player modes will drop 1 item or that 25-player modes will drop 6 items, or whatever. We haven’t finalized how much loot will drop, but our general goal is that 25s should drop more to help make up for some of the logistical cost.

Will achievements be broken down by 10/25 modes? Will realm first achievements/titles be only for 25s? Will meta-achievement mounts be available for both versions still?

There will just be raid achievements, not 10- vs. 25-player versions in most cases. The achievement won’t care if you complete it in 10s or 25s. If we do meta-achievement mounts, it’s possible we’d still have different colors of mounts, or maybe even different mounts; but for some players that might mean that 25s feels mandatory again, which would be a potential problem. This is the kind of thing we’re going to have to consider carefully, and again, we might try a few different implementations before sticking with something we like.

We’re also not sure about realm first achievements or titles. We don’t want to encourage, say, 25-player focused guilds to run a 10-player raid instead because they think that will get them the ream first title faster. One potential solution is you can earn a realm first title in 10 or 25, but not both. These types of achievements also serve as great content for guild achievements.

10 and 25-man content will share the same weekly lockout, meaning you could move back and forth between 25-man and 10-man raids and be at he same point. The intent seems to be to give options to guilds that might have trouble with raid attendance during the week. If you raid on a Tuesday night, but then are missing a few people on Thursday you’d have the option of continuing on in 10-man instead. The problem with this is two-fold – the excess players that were on the 25-man run would be saved and wouldn’t have the option of running a new 10-man that week. Their progression would effectively be over for the week. And secondly I believe the effect on raiding will be to kill 25-man raiding and make the new default the 10-man runs. Blizzard more or less acknowledged this by saying 25-man raids will be more “lucrative” than the 10-man raids as the bosses will drop more gold. The bosses in 25-man will drop more loot quantitatively, but not qualitatively. Depending on how much more loot they drop exactly, this may or may not be true in a real sense, but if it takes just as long in 25-man to obtain loot that isn’t much of an incentive to over come the problem regarding the lockout timers. In WotLK it’s become a normal activity to run a character through 10-man and 25-man runs each week, at least until the character gets to the point where they no longer need any additional emblems and have obtained enough 25-man loot. That will no longer be case in Cataclysm.

Of course the discussion regarding raiding would not be complete without also understanding Blizzard's plan for emblems in Cataclysm:

We're continuing to refine the badge/emblem and PvP point systems in Cataclysm and we'd like to share some of those changes with you today. Please enjoy!

Our primary goal when approaching badges in Cataclysm is to address a lot of the confusion that comes with these currency systems. To that end we're changing badges to a more straightforward point system, similar to the ones we've used for a while for Arenas and Battlegrounds. There will be a total of four types of points you can earn in Cataclysm (two for PvE and two for PvP), and these will remain the same even as we introduce new content.

Here's the breakdown:


* Hero Points -- Low-tier, easier-to-get PVE points. Maximum cap to how many you can own, but no cap to how quickly you can earn them. Earned from most dungeons. (most like the current Emblem of Triumph)
* Valor Points -- High-tier, harder-to-get PvE points. Maximum cap to how many you can own, as well as a cap to how many you can earn per week. Earned from Dungeon Finder daily Heroic and from raids. (most like the current Emblem of Frost)


* Honor Points -- Low-tier, easier-to-get PVP points. There will be a maximum cap to how many you can own, but no cap to how quickly you can earn them. Earned from most PvP activities.
* Conquest Points -- High-tier, harder-to-get PvP points. There will be a maximum cap to how many you can own, and a cap to how many you can earn per week. Earned from winning Rated Battlegrounds or Arenas. (currently called Arena Points)

When a new tier of raiding gear is released or a new PvP season begins, your higher tier of points will be converted into the lower tier. For instance, if a new tier of raid gear is released, your Valor points will be converted to Hero points, and similarly if a new PvP season begins your Conquest points will be converted to Honor points. Of course that means with these new releases you'll always begin without any of the higher tier of points, and thus be unable to stockpile them.

As noted for Conquest points, the Rated Battlegrounds and Arenas will be sharing this same point type. Because of that, it will in fact be possible to get the best PvP items without setting foot in Arena; however, more powerful armor and weapons will of course require more Conquest points, so players who win their matches more often will still gear up faster. We're removing personal rating requirements on almost all items; they're definitely removed for weapons. We might offer a few items to the absolute best players based on personal rating, largely as cosmetic or 'bragging rights' type items. And you'll have the option of purchasing the previous season's gear with the more readily available Honor points.

We do plan to have a way to convert Honor points (PvP) into Hero points (PvE), and vice versa, at a loss. The conversions will be possible, but it won't be a 1:1 rate, and you'll have fewer points after the conversion process. We won't allow the higher tiers to be exchanged for each other, however.

To explain the reasoning for the weekly cap on points for the higher tiers, this is to provide flexibility in how players choose to earn the points without feeling like they have to do all of the content as often as it is available. If your Valor income from raiding is sufficient, you may not feel the need to run Dungeon Finder every night, or perhaps even at all. Likewise, a PvP player could choose to participate in a lot of Rated Battlegrounds but no Arenas, or focus on both, and still be able to earn the points they want.

We realize that with any changes to progression pathways there are going to be questions. We're eagerly awaiting any that we may have left unanswered. To the comments!

I'm happy to see that Blizzard is finally fixing the complicated emblem mess they created in WotLK, but the involuntary caps that are ostensibly being put into place for flexibilities sake are ridiculous. The end effect between the raid content changes and emblem changes is an additional level of gating that will occur on a progression based game. It will all act as a sea-anchor that will slow down completion of content. The problem is we don't know what Blizzard will be introducing to replace that ability to access and complete content. As WoW has become a very regimented form of progression theme-park you can't take away something without replacing it with something else. Otherwise the masses will grow even more restless than we see today and that would seemingly be the opposite of Blizzard's intention with these changes to begin with.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Druid 60-70

If I had just one thing to say about the level 60 to 70 bracket it would continue to be that Death Knights should not be allowed to tank until at least level 70. And quite possibly not even then. I did hit level 70 yesterday morning but there were times along the way from 60 to 70 where I was seriously questioning whether I would ever see 70. While I did quest over the weekend in Hellfire Peninsula (I never made it out of the zone before 70), the dungeon finder would pop quickly enough that I'd rarely get to finish one quest and move onto another before I'd be pulled into a group. Which is pretty awesome in and of itself, but one thing it opened my eyes to was the amount of people who have recently created DKs. I'm not normally one to generalize about a class like this, but I can definitely see the point many people have long been making about the class now. Starting at level 58 and then generally moving strait into Outlands does not give you the time it takes to really learn how to play your class. At that point in your play you really only know the generalities of the class and its rotations and you aren't in a position to tank well. Which of course isn't to say I didn't actually see a couple good DK tanks here and there, but most of what I saw was just abysmal.

My general dungeon experience over the weekend was that I had a DK on about 60-70% of my runs, with a majority of those not being able to hold agro on groups. A great many of them didn't drop Death and Decay or use Pestilence to spread their diseases and I'd end up healing most of the party. I got through it, but what particularly galled me was that most of these tanks were so completely oblivious to anything but themselves that they wouldn't pay attention to my mana situation and would run off to the next group while I was still drinking. In a lot of those situations I'd be able to catch up in time and blow a swift mend cool down in time and give myself an opportunity to heal them up. But on many other occasions it would result in a wipe and despite my stern lecture to many of these tanks to pay attention to the healers mana they'd generally do whatever it was they felt like doing regardless. It didn't help matters that of all the tanks, DKs tend to take more damage and require more healing that others, so needless to say it was a relatively stressful leveling experience over the weekend.

It was strange because all of my experiences prior to this character were leveled without the benefit of the new LFG system. So I have general expectations that I should be in a particular zone by a specific level. I found it very interesting that I was level 68 and still in Hellfire Peninsula. Between dungeon runs and battlegrounds I earned so much XP that it simply didn't matter whether I moved on or not. Completing quests, I think, is now more about earning gold than earning XP and in that light it's probably better to hold off on completing quests until level 80 (if you can) when the pay outs for the quests increases.

In so far as tools go, Feral has everything it needs by level 60 to be quite successful, whether you pick up Berserk or not. I didn't, and chose to put my points in elsewhere as I feel Berserk is best left for level 80. All of my talent points post-level 60 went toward gaining additional damage, so I filled in a few talents in the feral tree, but also putting points into the Resto tree as well. Feral has always been the best leveling spec - as far as I'm concerned - but from level 60 on it truly shines. A great ability to dish out DPS, stealth, heal, and greater movement speed all add up to a great package. And the gear you generally get in Outlands only makes it all the better. Being able to now fly in Outland immediately at level 60 makes questing and leveling fantastically easier as you can avoid agroing everything while traveling from one area to another by simply flying over their heads. Simply fly to where you need to go, then drop down near your target and immediately fight. Of course this depends on whether you've put points into Furor or not. If you did you'll switch into cat form and have a full energy bar, otherwise fighting like this will become a bit tedious.

Level 60 is also the beginning of the best period for Resto spec as well. At level 60 you get Wild Growth, which makes healing runs tremendously easier. The only healing tool left to learn that you won't at level 60 is Nourish. Which isn't a big deal as you can just continue to use Regrowth as you've been using it since your earliest levels. From level 60 on all of your talent points should be making individual heals better or cost less mana making you an incrementally better healer. But you can and will run into mana trouble if don't continue to exercise the healing discipline I've mentioned previously. Generally if you only have to heal the tank and use wild growth to heal intermittent group damage you should use very little mana at all. Mana problems, and by that I mean getting down to 50% or so, should only happen if you have to use several regrowths on multiple group members, and also rejuvs and wild growth during any fight. Even on those fights where I was having to heal everyone because the tank couldn't keep agro I was able to keep up my healing throughput and never ran out of mana. When Innervate was available I'd use it and keep on moving with the group, but I would have to drink every now and again under those conditions. My experience might be different from others however, as I already have another Resto Druid and have had years of raid and dungeon healing experience. So I'm fully aware of the stats I need to pay attention to. I carefully weighed all of my upgrades to maximize my spell power and mana regen. If you were in similar situations as I found myself in but hadn't paid all that much attention to your mana regen you might find yourself running out of mana, or not able to keep heals up on everyone during chaotic fights.

Once I hit level 70 I abandoned the Outlands and moved on to Northrend, where I now get to figure out the new quests all over again.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Derek Smart vs. David Allen rd 2

If there's one thing I've come to expect about the tiff between David Allen and Derek Smart, it's continued dramaDerek Smart certainly delivered over the weekend and I enjoyed reading his public response to the latest bomb from David Allen.  I literally couldn't stop reading this last night while I was supposed to be leveling and healing.  I found myself HOT'ing up the tank then alt-tabbing out to read another sentence or two before I'd tab back into WoW.  I was just that enthralled by the drama.  The only thing I was lacking was a good tub of lightly buttered popcorn and some iced tea.

To be honest I really don't know what to think about the dueling accusations.  All we have are the competing statements with no real facts, but if things keep heading in the direction they seem to be heading, those will come in time in the form of publicly accessible information submitted to the court.  I will say this however; I'm amazed - no, UTTERLY AMAZED - that professionals would be airing all this dirty laundry to the public like this.  That Derek Smart is doing it so well, and with such relish, leads me to make assumptions that he is being nothing but truthful.  It's the detail he's releasing which makes me think he's more credible than David Allen and keep in mind I don't know either of them.  Until now my only real knowledge of Derek Smart was my remembrance of his first game 3000AD back in the 90's.  I followed news about it while it was still in development but I never actually played it.  I did have a friend that played it and really loved it, and I can recall having enough interest in it that I actually have strong recollections of it today.  But I don't remember who the developer(s) were and so I'm not certain if I ever even heard the name Derek Smart until just recently.  I've also never heard the name David Allen but a cursory reading indicates he's been associated with at least three melt-downs now.  My assumptions lead me to believe that if Derek were saying the things he's saying about David Allen right now, and wasn't being completely honest and forthcoming that his career in the industry would be severely damaged.

Aside from the excoriation of David Allen personally, what I found most amusing in Derek’s posts was about the technologies. Its rare to see a company President cast aspersions about the company’s IP, regardless of whether or not he had a hand in actually creating it or not. That IP has value to the company, yet we see Derek Smart basically saying it’s crap. It would be hard, having said all that, for me to envision much of a future for technologies that millions have been now spent in creating. Which essentially telegraphs that QOL would have to completely start from scratch if they somehow survive their immediate situation and seek to develop new projects in the future. That of course means millions of additional dollars would have to be invested that otherwise might have had to been the case. Derek’s assessment could, probably more realistically, be the nail in the coffin for QOL indicating the real outlook here is to recoup as much of the investment capital as possible and then bail. Not a very encouraging prospect for what I’d assume QOL would like to see – players.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Druid 50-60

I am amazed at how the LFG system has changed the face of leveling.  Normally the 50 bracket was dreadful and the bracket I least enjoyed.  It also seemed to take twice as long as any other bracket to complete because of all the travel.  Perhaps it's me and simply psychological, but as I've done the leveling thing numerous times in the past It's an opinion I've come to over a long period of time.  I hit level 50 Saturday morning and was already level 59 by Monday.  While I did complete several quests in the Hinterlands from level 50 to 52, most of my XP came strait from dungeons.  I completed other quests in Felwood, and Western Plague lands but all of those combined probably didn't even account for a single level.  And I find that just incredible.  LFG is, without a doubt, the best update to WoW Blizzard has done.  I simply loved it when it was introduced and I was running my two mains through it, but I have a much fuller appreciation of what it's really done for the game.

The Juxtaposition of the level 50 bracket is that you've gotten some incredible new abilities at level 50 if you put your talents in to take advantage of those options, so the play experience for your class is revitalized somewhat.  In the case of Feral (cat) I finally got Mangle, which is a huge upgrade over Claw.  And in proceeding levels I put talent points in to reduce the energy cost of it, so it became an even better option for me.  If you get Mangle at 50 you quickly see that if you were still using Rip, you won't any longer.  Rip should be an ability you use only in dungeon runs on bosses, or on elites while questing.  Instead you'll quickly find that most mobs will die with Mangle > Mangle > (Mangle >) FB.  So not only do you continue to have the lack of downtime while questing, but the speed at which you can kill mobs vastly increases.  It's a wonderful time, but truly at level 50 you're just on the cusp of the true experience that is to come.  As Resto I got tree form, which gives a nice little buff to my healing ability, but if you were leveling as Balance you got Moonkin form with it's crit buff.

As I said, I hit level 50 Saturday morning and by Monday evening I was level 59.  I didn't play on my Horde Druid Tuesday but I hit level 60 yesterday.  While I was still doing various quests in Western Plague lands up to level 58, I moved immediately into Hellfire Peninsula at level 58.  Incidentally I had forgotten just how much of an item inflation there was on Outland gear.  The stats from green quest items I started to pick up in Hellfire Peninsula were 2 to 3 times higher than gear I was wearing from Azeroth.  It's an artifact from Vanilla days when Blizzard needed to bring the masses that didn't have access to the restrictive system of raid content at the time, up to par with those who did.  That tremendous leap in itemization will undoubtedly be smoothed out in Cataclysm but since that's months away I found myself gleefully taking advantage of it.  I also found the questing in Hellfire Peninsula to be quite interesting.  I'd done it so many times on Alliance characters that there was a certain amount of novelty doing it now as Horde.  Especially on those quests which are diametrically opposed to the Alliance equivalents like the quests to destroy the cannons.  I've destroyed the four Horde catapults so many times that it was fun to have to now destroy the two Alliance cannons.  Hellfire Peninsula is the first place where you actually being to feel there is a real war, outside of the battle grounds.

I know from extensive prior experience that the leveling experience in Outlands is vastly better than in Azeroth.  Even without the LFG system I would expect a much quicker leveling experience.  As I recall on my last character I'd leveled through Outlands (my Paladin) I actually hit level 68 in Terrokar Forest, and I'm wondering right now if I'll even make it to Terrokar by level 68 this time around.  I'd already hit level 62 last night after only 6 or 7 quests completed in Hellfire Peninsula and an a number of  dungeon runs.  I still have 10-12 quests in my log from the first two quest hubs, and I know there are many other quests that I haven't even seen yet in the western half of Hellfire.  If I continue to work in the way I've been working, which is to quest while queued in LFG, I should be hitting Northrend this weekend for sure and should be heading there from either Terrokar Forest of Zangarmarsh

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

WoW, Cataclysm and the continuity factor

It's beginning to be that time in WoW where we annually lament the affect the good weather has on the end-game.  By that I speak of the "Doldrums".  I'm not entirely prepared to say the Doldrums are beginning this year or that they're in the immediate offing, but last year they started extremely early and the current state of raiding in WoW has me wondering if they might not start as early this year too.  We've been having problems with sporadic raid attendance again lately which has caused a few raid cancellations over the past few weeks.  I'm not entirely sure that even if we hadn't had to cancel those raids we'd be any further along in our progression though.  We're still 7/12 and working on Putricide.

The pervasive progression problems (never finished Ulduar on regular mode or accomplished any of the second half hard-modes, and never finished Heroic TOC-10, and didn't get past the first boss in Heroic TOC-25) has me contemplating my future in WoW at the moment.  I haven't accomplished all my current goals on my two main characters (Paladin and Druid) but I'm mostly biding my time by leveling my Horde Druid.  I'm not sure I have much more in mind with him other than to PVP and do the occasional raid so I fully expect that even pushing forward full bore with him I'll be back in my current state of mind again later in the Summer.  At the end of the day raiding is really the reason why I'm still playing WoW, and as I've come to expect little in that regard I've been casting about longingly looking for alternatives to WoW.  Unfortunately for me none of the others I've tried in the recent past have met my satisfaction.  I've been looking at Age of Conan but I'm not certain I like the combat techniques and given that reticence I haven't been willing to even give it a shot.  Which just leaves SWTOR at this point and that isn't expected until some point next year.  Ignoring all the open questions I and others still have about it.

Factoring into all this is the news trickling out about Cataclysm.  I'm looking forward to Cataclysm and trying to imagine what play will feel like them.  Hard in that we have so few real details but one thing I know I'm definitely worried about is the state healing will be in.  I don't have enough to go on right now, but various comments Ghostcrawler has made about healing have me wondering if healing will actually become factually harder than it is today.  Ghostcrawler has indicated Blizzard wants mana to become an issue for healers and wants to introduce some level of thought into the process.  As tanks will generally have more health and heals will generally do less healing than they do today I'm guessing Blizzard expects some level of coordination amongst the healers in how they heal in a raid environment.  I'm just not seeing how Blizzard will make that easier or alleviate the concerns healers have today - they play an all together different game called whack-a-mole.  As I really enjoy healing, and particularly in PVP, its one of the aspects I'm most interested in.

Most people dislike change, and myself in particularly, but another aspect of consideration is the appearance I've spoken about often regarding Blizzard's lack of long-term planning.  Every two years the game changes drastically.  Core mechanics are added and removed; classes are almost completely redesigned, or at the very least are modified to great extent that it's almost like playing a completely new game.  I understand that developers need to adapt to changing circumstances but from my vantage point what we're seeing is chaos.  Blizzard is purposely developing for Cataclysm in direct opposition to the development they completed for WotLK.  Ghostcrawler couches replies to this sort of question as "changing their minds", but I'm not as certain that what we're seeing is a change of mind so much as what we're seeing is a complete rethinking entirely.

Just look at the Druid and Paladin classes as examples of this.  In Vanilla Druids were essentially healers only.  In BC they became amazing and as healers they were given the terrific new spell Lifebloom.  Lifebloom and Rejuvenation were the primary healing tools used on 5-man runs and raids alike, with Regrowth filling the role of primary go-to heal but also using Healing Touch to some extent.  However Blizzard completely neutered that healing style by nerfing Lifebloom and then greatly increasing it's mana cost so that it could no longer be used as it had during the whole of BC.  Until now it's used only as a niche tool and mostly in PVP.  During WotLK Resto Druids heal primarily through Rejuv and Wildgrowth and using Regrowth or Nourish as the primary heal and never using Healing Touch at all.  With the odd additional spell like Nourish or Regrowth, the tools are largely the same but the way you use them are as different in WotLK as it was in BC when compared to Vanilla.  Now we're being lead to believe that the way Resto Druids will heal in Cataclysm will be completely different again.  There's very little continuity between the expansions and it's just not the one class that this can be said about.  Paladins are in the same boat, but so are most other classes as well.

Ignoring the class continuity issues you can look at the emphasis of the game in general and say the same things.  Blizzard has continuously experimented with end-game development throughout the entirety of WotLK so that the raiding experience has not been the same for more than one tier of content.  As we haven't gotten any detail of how they intend to handle end-game content in Cataclysm we're left to wonder if we can expect the same treatment in Cataclysm or whether we'll actually settle down into a predictable experience.  A lot of people are complaining about the lack of challenge in the current end-game content (clearly they aren't talking to the vast majority of guilds that are seeing that challenge) which has me wondering how Blizzard will address the issue.  Blizzard addressed the mass complaints about end-game raiding in Vanilla by developing content in BC that was somewhat more accessible at the initial stages but then went further by removing key requirements and by eventually developing content in WotLK that is immediately accessible to all and introducing the hard modes/heroic raids as the "real challenge".  I'm seeing as much complaining about the current state of end-game raiding as I was in earlier years.  What a dilemma!  Makes me really pine for some sand-box elements like being able to plop down a fort, take territory, and attack/defend.

And I think that is really what I'm hoping SWTOR will be like.  In WoW you have either instanced PVP (or Arena) and raiding as the end-game content and little else.  If you are like me -- beating your head against content and getting precious little progression to show for it - then you might wish there were other options to waste some hours on.  In WoW there simply isn't and I go through cycles where I become motivated to finish quests I've haven't completed yet or run more dailies or do nothing but PVP.  But on the opposite side of those cycles I sit look for something else to do that simply isn't present.  In SWTOR I'm hoping there is end-game raiding, PVP and a system of world-PVP where we can conquer territory.  Players need a system of progression.  In the case of WoW that is a stark option between PVP tiers or from end-game raiding.  As I'm in that part of my cycle where I'm not getting that and not really motivated to do anything else I can't but wonder if I want to continue on into Cataclysm or whether I seriously need to find something else to do.  SWTOR needs to hurry up and get here!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Low level DK tanks and the DPS meeting that kettle

If there was just one thing I wish I could change in WoW right now, it would be to ensure Death Knights couldn’t queue as tanks in LFG until at least level 70. That’s a somewhat flippant (okay, really flippant then) observation on my part as I’ve come to experience first hand what all the “lawls” have been about regarding newly minted Death Knights trying to tank. As the healer in level 50ish content (I hit 59 last night) I’m seeing a lot of DK’s now, and they all want to tank. The problem is that not a lot of them have any tanking experience as far as I can tell, and thus far I haven’t seen any that actually have a good grasp on the mechanics of their class. How could they, having only been playing the class for a few hours by this point? It’s been my observation that most people don’t actually research a class fully before they play it, so their knowledge tends to come from testing and experimenting on their own.

While I generally have no problem keeping a DK tank healed, the real issue is with the other players who don’t realize what I do – that they are creating the problems on the runs with these inexperienced DK tanks. The reason I wanted to dual-spec in the first place was because of the total lack of cat form AOE at the lower levels. I’d mentioned that if you were one to watch the meters you’d see the AOE classes far out and ahead of everyone else, which is a good indication that everyone that could AOE has been AOE’ing by this point for a good long time now. It’s ingrained into these players by this point and they aren’t going to stop, even though a real good player would observe a few things on these runs. If a DK tank isn’t using pestilence, or Death and Decay to grab area agro, it will probably mean you as an AOE’er will grab agro from several mobs as you AOE. Instead of having to heal just one or two people on a run, I’m now finding I’m having to heal 3 or 4 people more and more often. And when the DPS players throw out comments to the tank that he’s terrible they aren’t realizing they’re the ones that are actually doing something wrong. Yes the DK should be using Pestilence and Death and Decay, but it’s the DPS’s task to make sure they aren’t pulling agro. And that’s what they aren’t even attempting to do. As the healer it’s left to me to “save the day” regardless, or else I get the angry comments. And never mind that the group might run off to the next fight while I’m still sitting and drinking, or not. The total lack of any skill or any thought on runs is becoming more of an issue as we go, though it’s not really what I’d consider an emergency yet. At this point I’m actually wondering what the Outlands content will be like.

What I think I would generally like is some reintroduction of thought into runs. Blizzard has indicated they'll be creating the necessity for CC again, but I hope that means that while they're designing Cataclysm they take the time to introduce that at mid-level content as well as at the top level of content as well. I'd think the need for various mechanics like CC should be phased in around level 40ish, but not make it too drastic. Just enough to make groups understand they need to vary their approach to content and not just blindly AOE every group down regardless of the situation. I don't however, want to make runs longer to any great extent or make fights some complicated or complex that groups will grow despondent over tedious content. Regardless, either this needs to be done, or DK players need to have a tutorial added to their starter zone teaching them how to actually tank.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Celestial Steed = End of the world!

Thursday Blizzard added two new items to the Blizzard store, including the Celestial Steed.  By the many threads on several of the official forums you would have though the end of the world was nigh.  Many were outraged that Blizzard would dare sell something that was actually usable, such as a mount whereas most agreed that non-combat pets were just fine.  I personally don't have any problem with what Blizzard did.  After all, the mount gives you no advantage over anyone else in the game and it's not needed in any way.  Thus it comes to down to personal choice.  If you want the mount you have an option to buy it.  If you don't want the mount, no one is making you.

Druid 40-50

Having raiding attendance problems (already/again) gave me considerably more time during the week to level and so I actually hit level 50 first thing this morning. All in all it only took a few days, spending a couple hours here or there as dual-speccing has really paid off for me. Being able to quest as feral, with the extremely limited down time, and then queue as healer with the reduced made the 40-50 bracket go by in a blur. Previously by the time I hit level 40 I would be jumping around completing quests in the Hinterlands and traveling to other regions to grab as many quests as I could. But this time I was just beginning to quest in Stranglethorn Valley and finally finished my last quest by traveling to the Hinterlands and picking up bottles along the beach. Which is a pretty good indication of the synergies between the new dungeon system, heirloom items, and how the dual-spec system can allow you to tap the best leveling spec (even if it's not always the best dungeon spec). In the past I’ve commented on how I felt the leveling experience in the old world was just abysmal but things are very much improved if you can tap the heirloom items and use LFG extensively.

The 40 to 50 leveling experience is very much like the 30 to 40 experience questing wise. As Feral I still have the same tools I had 10 levels ago, though they’ve all been refined through period updates. Claw remains the primary attack in cat form, but I already knew what awaited me at level 50 (Mangle) and how incredibly better things were going to get relatively soon. A lot of Ferals might be attempting to spread their wings a bit and use Ravage or Pounce, but most of the time I ignored them both. For me speed was everything so I’d agro a mob with feral fire and build up 3-4 combo points with claw and rake, then finish them off with a ferocious bite. And immediately move onto the next mob.

I'm still lamenting the lack of any true feral cat AOE at this level so I did all my dungeon runs as Resto. Which I'm very happy to report is every bit as capable of healing a dungeon run at this level as they are at level 80. Even without my favorite healing spell -- Wild Growth. Even having to heal virtually everyone in the party on multiple runs (Black Rock Depths) with everyone AOEing and pulling agro off the tank, I was still able to heal adequately without running out of mana. In fact on no run I've been on yet have I come close to running OOM wearing the heirloom shoulders, chest, and main-hand weapon. Everything else is either a quest reward or something I picked up on a run. And I haven't been all that worried about replacing anything either. If I see something on a run and win the roll, fine, but otherwise I just go on with what I already have. Where I've mentioned having to exercise healing discipline at level 80, I can't stress enough how important that is at level 40 or 50.

If you’re using the LFG like it’s going out of style – as I did, then you’ll undoubtedly find as I did there was a reason why I hardly ever ran Muradon. Actually the final wing wasn’t so bad, but Purple and Orange were something I always avoided if possible. Unfortunately I got them both all too often these past few days. I guess I actually didn’t mind Purple all that much as it was relatively short and sweet, but Orange was very annoying with all the knock down effects. I found I could out-range the knock down and still heal effectively, but it was something that took me a bit of a while to judge properly before it stopped being a problem for me. Also, Orange isn’t the wing you want to run with an obnoxious tank. On more than one occasion I found myself having to heal tanks that love to jump around and kite the oozes and who ended up getting creamed as they were repeatedly hit in the back. I left more than one group this week because of that. I can certainly understand wiping because weird things happen, but to have to eat repair bills because someone is intentionally being an idiot is something all together different. I wasn’t seeing any of this in the lower level brackets but I began to see more and more of it as I got closer to level 50. Should be quite interesting to see if it continues in the 50 to 60 bracket.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cataclysm Druid class review (Part 2)

From the Balance perspective I'm pretty happy with what we're seeing thus far in the Druid class preview. While there is still some vagueness in the Eclipse mechanic and how it works with the newly announced Nature's Torrent, and I’m not entirely certain Moonkin are getting the buff in burst DPS they require, I’m optimistic in what we’ve seen thus far. The Eclipse mechanic issue, haste issue, and burst DPS issue were the three biggees on my radar as well as others, and it looks like at least one of them is definitely being addressed head on. The announced change to the Eclipse mechanic sounds like it does exactly what we were hoping it would do -- Removes some of the randomness, and lessens the detrimental impact of movement during an Eclipse. Given the change in the nature of Eclipse, which is essentially creating charges, that sounds exactly like what we need right now. Eclipses become more predictable, and movement will not have such a detrimental impact on DPS. However, it does perhaps indicate that much of DPS will remain tied up with Eclipse. As long as the mechanic is predictable, and no longer penalizes us to such a degree because of movement I’m okay with that.

I was already pretty happy with the state of Balance right -- outside of the Eclipse problem – so I'm looking forward to Balance in Cataclysm. What isn’t yet known are the specific changes to the talent trees. The question all Balance players have on their minds right now is how will Blizzard change the trees to shed all that haste? I love 1.6 second Starfires, but hate the .5/.6 second Wrath casts during Heroism. I actually hate when Heroism is called for when I’m raiding on my Boomchicken because the extra haste causes me casting issues. And all that isn't to say there still aren't other problems with Balance in areas like PVP, but I always PVP as Resto anyway so I don't focus on that myself.

Lastly I’m waiting on more information regarding our new level 85 spell – Wild Mushrooms. As it was particularly marketed for Balance, it’s of great interest to me. I’ve made up entire scenarios in my mind where I’m able to inundate a chokepoint on some battle ground with my invisible mushrooms, which utterly decimate an invading Horde mob. Yet I know that would probably never happen as being able to have multiple mushrooms out at the same time would probably be OP. Which leads me to believe that this will be strictly a situational tool. I guess on PVE fights with multiple targets and requiring movement this might be something I’d want to use, but other than that I’d probably stick with Hurricane and Starfall. Also seems to be something I could use in PVP but that might depend on how it treats stealthed opponents. As I would primarily look to use it as a sort of early detection system, if it didn’t have an ability to detonate off stealthed individuals I’d probably find this to be a very situational tool in PVP as well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Paladin Cataclysm preview

 Today Blizzard released the Paladin class pre-view.  I want to digest these a little bit more before I comment more than the few brief comments I already have planned.  So expect more from me on this over the next few days.

In short I like the three new spells the class is to receive, however I'm guardedly neutral on the overall class changes that were announced today.  From previous comments by Ghostcrawler I'm expecting that some miner Protection nerfs are coming in Cataclysm but this preview doesn't give us any glimpses of what form that might take.  From discussions about the other healing classes, healing in Cataclysm in general, and specifically in the Resto Druid healing threads I know that healing will look and feel quite a bit different in Cataclysm.  Blizzard wants mana to be an issue for healers and slow down the pace of healing a bit.  And you can certainly see that again in the Holy Paladin portion of the preview.  Gone will be the days of Beacon bombing, and the utter mana efficiency and I'm not sure I'm really going to like that.  In general the Holy changes we're seeing here are yet another near total mechanic revamp and it really makes me wonder anew what kind of decision making process Blizzard has in place when they decide on such things.  Beacon of Light was all the rage when Blizzard announced it two years ago, and now all of a sudden they dump all over it.  I'll reserve final judgment until we see a bit more on the planned changes, but again, I find all of these deep class changes to be quite annoying.  And lastly, they're going to make the Ret "rotation" less forgiving by introducing some risk into the mix?  You mean, like they did with the Feral Druid cat rotation?  The one they made completely too complex and unforgiving and allowed to remain so for two years before finally announcing plans to ease the situation?  Blizzard, please don't screw up Retribution like you did Feral cats.

New Paladin Spells
Blinding Shield (level 81): Causes damage and blinds all nearby targets. This effect might end up only damaging those facing the paladin's shield, in a manner similar to Eadric the Pure's ability Radiance in Trial of the Champion. The Holy tree will have a talent to increase the damage and critical strike chance, while the Protection tree will have a talent to make this spell instant cast. 2-second base cast time. Requires a shield.

Healing Hands (level 83): Healing Hands is a new healing spell. The paladin radiates heals from him or herself, almost like a Healing Stream Totem. It has a short range, but a long enough duration that the paladin can cast other heals while Healing Hands remains active. 15-second cooldown. 6-second duration.

Guardian of Ancient Kings (level 85): Summons a temporary guardian that looks like a winged creature of light armed with a sword. The visual is similar to that of the Resurrection spell used by the paladin in Warcraft III. The guardian has a different effect depending on the talent spec of the paladin. For Holy paladins, the guardian heals the most wounded ally in the area. For Protection paladins, the guardian absorbs some incoming damage. For Retribution paladins, it damages an enemy, similar to the death knight Gargoyle or the Nibelung staff. 3-minute cooldown. 30-second duration (this might vary depending on which guardian appears).

Next you will find a list of some of the paladin spell and ability changes, followed by our intentions for improving each talent tree for the release of Cataclysm. There will be further changes, but those revealed below should offer some insight into our goals.

Changes to Abilities and Mechanics

  • Crusader Strike will be a core ability for all paladins, gained at level 1. We think the paladin leveling experience is hurt by not having an instant attack. Retribution will be getting a new talent in its place that either modifies Crusader Strike or replaces it completely.
  • Cleanse is being rebalanced to work with the new dispel system. It will dispel defensive magic (debuffs on friendly targets), diseases, and poisons.
  • Blessing of Might will provide the benefit of Wisdom as well. If you have two paladins in your group, one will do Kings on everyone and the other will do Might on everyone. There should be much less need, and ideally no need, to provide specific buffs to specific classes.
  • Holy Shock will be a core healing spell available to all paladins.

New Talents and Talent Changes
  • We want to ease off the defensive capabilities of Retribution and Holy paladins slightly. We think the powerful paladin defenses have been one of the things holding Retribution paladins back, especially in Arenas. One change we're considering is lowering Divine Shield's duration by a couple of seconds. Having said that, Retribution does pretty well in Battlegrounds, and Battlegrounds will be a much bigger focus in Cataclysm since they can provide the best PvP rewards. Furthermore, the healing environment of Cataclysm is going to be different such that a paladin may not be able to fully heal themselves during the duration of Divine Shield to begin with, so this may not be a problem.
  • We feel Retribution paladins need one more mechanic which involves some risk of the player pushing the wrong button, making the rotation a bit less forgiving. In addition, we want to add to this spec more PvP utility. Right now the successes of the Retribution paladin in PvP seem to be reduced to either doing decent burst damage, or just being good at staying alive.
  • We want to increase the duration of Sacred Shield to 30 minutes and keep the limit to one target. The intention is that the paladin can use it on their main healing target. That said, we would like to improve the Holy paladin toolbox and niche so that they don't feel quite like the obvious choice for tank healing while perceived as a weak group healer.
  • We want to add to the Holy tree a nice big heal to correspond with Greater Heal. Flash of Light remains the expensive, fast heal and Holy Light is the go-to heal that has average efficiency and throughput. Beacon of Light will be changed to work with Flash of Light. We like the ability, but want paladins to use it intelligently and not be constantly healing for twice as much.
  • Holy paladins will use spirit as their mana regeneration stat.
  • Protection paladins need a different rotation between single-target and multi-target tanking. Likewise, we're looking to add the necessity to use an additional cooldown in each rotation.
  • Holy Shield will no longer have charges. It will be designed to improve block chance while active, and will continue to provide a small amount of damage and threat.

Mastery Passive Talent Tree Bonuses
  • Healing
  • Meditation
  • Critical Healing Effect

Meditation: This is the spirit-to-mana conversion that the priest, druid, and shaman healers also share.

Critical Healing Effect: When the paladin gets a crit on a heal, it will heal for more.

  • Damage Reduction
  • Vengeance
  • Block Amount

Vengeance: This is the damage-received-to-attack-power conversion that all tanks share.

Block Amount: We want to keep the kit of the paladin as a tank who blocks a lot. So by contrast, the warrior tank will sometimes get critical blocks, but the paladin will absorb more damage with normal blocks.

  • Melee Damage
  • Melee Critical Damage
  • Holy Damage

Holy Damage: Any attack that does Holy damage will have its damage increased.
In followup to various healing comments, Blizzard went on to clarify:
Here's a bit more clarification on some of these changes. Also, please keep in mind that this is merely a preview and we'll still have more to go in testing up to and including any other changes that aren't listed here in the preview.

We've updated the Flash of Light reference to make it a bit more clear in the original post as follows.
    Flash of Light remains a fast heal, but will be more expensive to justify the cast speed. Holy Light will be the go-to heal that has average efficiency and throughput. Beacon of Light needs to be changed so that its benefit is letting the paladin heal two targets at once, not letting the paladin get two heals for the mana cost of one. It's intended to save GCDs and targeting time, not mana.
In addition we're changing the paladin heal design to match that of the other healers. Holy Light is the middle heal. It's very efficient, but not particularly fast and doesn't have a lot of throughput. Flash of Light will be the faster heal that costs more mana. (Currently paladins sort of flip the model around by having a fast, efficient heal.) Holy paladins can talent into an additional heal that is like a giant Holy Light. It might take three of these big heals (or two crits) to get a tank from death's door back to 100% health.

Currently on live, Beacon of Light is a tool that allows paladins to target more than just the main tank. In Cataclysm if it just doubles their healing, it is going to be overpowered. We have two ways we might handle this and we'll experiment to see which feels better. The first is that Beacon only works on some heals, such as Flash of Light or Holy Light (but not the big one). An alternative idea is that Beacon increases the mana cost of a heal cast on a beaconed target, since you're essentially getting a double heal. Under this model, Beacon itself would cost no mana.

Also on the live realms currently, paladins have huge mana pools and massive throughput. The trade-off is that they are excellent single target healers and much weaker in other roles. We want paladins to be slightly more interchangeable with other healers. In Cataclysm, you should be able to have a Holy priest on the tank and a Holy paladin on the raid. We're not sure we'll back off of the current healing roles completely, but we definitely want to add more breadth to those whose roles are currently too narrow.

As for the Guardian of Ancient Kings. First, it's important to understand that this is not a pet nor does it have a pet bar associated with it. Second, it's also not meant to last for very long. So, it's not a pet in the traditional sense. It's a friend in need when you need it, but not a permanent companion.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Druid 40+ - Dual speccing your way to the top

As I mentioned in my last post regarding my baby Horde Druid I’m leveling, the best part of hitting level 40 is that I became eligible for dual-speccing. I’d recommended in my posts that players level their Druids as Feral (primarily cat) and that’s how I’ve been doing it myself. Which of course has meant generally longer wait times in the LFG queue as I haven’t attempted to be the tank on any runs yet, though I’ve had to fill in as an ad hoc tank from time to time on various runs. At these lower levels I can tank just fine without any of the bear specific talents, but certainly by the time I hit Outlands I know I’d really want some of those before I attempt to do any tanking there. And as I’m looking to maximize XP gain I’ve also been questing in-between dungeon runs.

Dual-Speccing solves the issues of this dilemma. If you want to maximize XP gain you need to be questing in-between dungeon runs – which means you either need to be feral or balance. Queuing as Feral cat and balance (DPS) in the LFG queue means generally longer queue times, which equates to lower XP gain on an hour by hour basis. You can level as Feral Bear and simply queue as tank, and that might be the simplest solution, but I definitely notice a DPS difference while questing when fighting in cat form with bear talents and when fighting in cat form with cat talents. Perhaps someone else wouldn’t mind, but my ADD screams at me to kill it already! For me the answer is Dual-Spec. One spec Bear (or Resto) and the other spec Kitty or Moonkin. I chose Cat and Resto. I quest as cat and run dungeons as resto maximizing my XP gain as I generally have faster dungeon queue times as Resto than I did as DPS.

It’s certainly something I’d recommend anyone looking at if they can afford the 1000 gold expense and the requirement to obtain two sets of gear (unless you spec Bear/Cat which will use the same set until you hit Northrend). I would think that wouldn’t be an issue for anyone who already had established characters to support the new alt, as it certainly wasn’t an issue for me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Druid 30-40

Although the 30-40 bracket is much like the 20-30 bracket, at least you start to get some interesting new abilities like Ravage, Pounce, Feral Regen, Ferocious Bite, Track Humanoids, Dire Bear form, and Innervate.  Instead of finishing mobs with Rip you're probably more apt to finish them with Ferocious Bite.  And you're probably more apt to open up with Pounce (ignore Ravage all together) instead of Claw and take less damage over all during any particular fight.  Especially as Pounce is particularly useful in PVP.

The class still suffers from a lack of cat form AOE and it shows in dungeon runs.  No one is running around at level 35 or 40 watching damage meters, but if you do you can see those classes with good AOE capabilities far out and head of the single target classes -- Cat Druids being just one of them.  Boss fights are a different story however.  By this point Shred is a staple ability, but the directional limitation is as much of a problem today as it ever was.  Particular on movement fights, or where you have a lot of spell effects going off that might obscure the boss if there is just a small amount of movement.  Blizzard has said before that the analog for Shred was Back Stab, but no Rogue at this level is running around Back Stabbing and once a Dagger Rogue gets Mutilate they'll never use Back Stab again.  Whereas Cat Druids have to use Shred.  I see that Blizzard is planning on making Mangle more able to replace Shred so I'll take that to mean they have no intention of removing the direction requirement any time soon.  Too bad as strict directional attacks like Shred have high down sides.

The addition of Feral Regen is very nice, and you'll come to appreciate it as most healers on low level dungeon runs are healers in name only and prone to mana issues.  On those fights where you end up as an OT or THE tank, Feral Regen comes in quite handy.  Being able to pop a health potion in form now is gravy on top of that.

And the best thing about hitting level 40..... dual spec!

Cataclysm Druid class review (Part 1)

Finally! The Druid class preview is one of the two class previews I had been waiting on and it finally was released late Friday afternoon. Unfortunately for me I wasn't all that excited by it in total, though there were a couple things that I do see as favorable. MMO-Champion has the class preview changes up, along with pertinent quotes from Ghostcrawler all on one page, so I'll link to that.

The Druid class is getting three new class abilities between 80 and 85:

Thrash (Level 81): Thrash deals damage and causes all targets within 10 yards to bleed every 2 seconds for 6 seconds. The intent here is to give bears another button to hit while tanking. Talents will affect the bleed, such as causing Swipe to deal more damage to bleeding targets. 5-second cooldown. 25 Rage.

Stampeding Roar (Level 83): The druid roars, increasing the movement of all allies within 10 yards by 40% for 8 seconds. Stampeding Roar can be used in cat or bear form, but bears might have a talent to drop the cooldown. The goal of this ability is to give both bears and cats a little more situational group utility. 3-minute cooldown. No cost.

Wild Mushroom (Level 85): Grows a magical mushroom at the target location. After 4 seconds the mushroom becomes invisible. Enemies who cross the mushroom detonate it, causing it to deal area-of-effect damage, though its damage component will remain very effective against single targets. The druid can also choose to detonate the mushroom ahead of time. This is primarily a tool for the Balance druid, and there will be talents that play off of it. No cooldown. 40-yard range. Instant cast.
Thrash seems like it would be a good addition to Bear, though at 25 rage it's a relatively high cost ability. In multi-target fights, where you will have virtually unlimited rage generation, I imagine it'll be a staple for threat generation. But I'm having a hard time seeing it utilized in the typical boss fight. Although I will say we haven't seen how rage normalization will work exactly yet. Now we have to be very careful of rage starvation but that might not be the case in Cataclysm. If rage generation is that much easier Thrash might become something of a staple, even on typical single target boss fights.

Stampeding roar, on the other hand, is an ability that I'm not clearly understanding yet in terms of its real usefulness. I have never seen, or heard of anyone asking for an ability such as this and so it's kind of come to us out of left field some where. And the lameness of it is sort of annoying when you look at the abilities the other classes are getting. Feels very much like Blizzard simply didn't have many good ideas to give the Druid class, yet they needed three.

Wild Mushroom is, however, potentially a spell that I think I could like very much. Need being able to see the exact mechanic of how it works yet I could be wrong, but either this will be more of a PVP related spell or will act like the Druid equivalent of Seed of Corruption. Druids really don't need another AOE damage spell. Particularly one that will take attention away from the other two primary AOE spells (Hurricane and Starfall). But I can see situational use for it in PVE, but a lot of PVP uses. Magic land mines ftw! What I'd really like to know right now is how many of them you can have out at a time. is it just the one, or will we be able to seed an area with these? If the answer is we can have many up at a time, then this could be a totally awesome spell! PVP choke points could become a very amusing place indeed!

Rounding out the class preview Blizzard posted a few paragraphs for each of the specs:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cataclysm class previews coming

One of the horrendous restrictions of working in Dilbertville are firewall restrictions prohibiting me from visiting my favorite game sites. Otherwise I would have seen the announcement today that Blizzard is going to start the Cataclysm class reviews tomorrow.

Schedule is as follows:
Shaman - April 7
Priest - April 7
Warlock - April 7

Warrior - April 8
Death Knight - April 8
Rogue - April 8

Hunter - April 9
Druid - April 9
Mage - April 9

Paladin - April 16*

Really looking forward to the Druid and Paladin reviews.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Druid 20-30

I had an opportunity to hop back on my baby Druid and do some leveling this past weekend, and finally hit that level 30 threshold. I wish I had the option of starting a new character off at level 58 like Death Knights because the under-60 experience is still simply abysmal. Being able to level in dungeons and battlegrounds helps tremendously but most of the pre-60 dungeons are in desperate need of overhaul and the XP earned in battlegrounds can be hit and miss. If you win a match you can earn a worthwhile amount of XP, but if you lose you can leave with virtually nothing for your time and trouble. As I write this I'm trying to formulate a list of dungeons I actually don't mind running and the only one I can come up with is Scarlet Monastery. The rest are long, convoluted messes that are often way more trouble than they're worth. And anyone that already has a high level character and has experienced the content available in Outlands and Northrend makes this lower level experience all the worse.

For much of the 20-30 bracket I ended up finishing up quests in the Barrens then moved north into Ashenvale. While Ashenvale does have two flight paths available (one on either side of the zone), but the zone is so large I really wish they’d add one somewhere in the middle somewhere. As far as the quests go, most of them were completely new for me and they took a little longer than they probably other would have as I had to actually read the quests, and at times had to consult wowhead to figure out where things were actually located. And of course with the large zones comes along the travel. I spent considerable time just running around the zone to complete everything.

It’s zones like Ashenvale that make me even more thankful for cat form. Being able to run just a little faster and being able to kill things just a little quicker takes some of the edge off. A typical fight would see me opening with Claw, then Rake, then applying a 2-CP Rip and either auto-attacking or using Claw again until it dies. On an odd occasion I’d need to change into bear form when I pulled multiple adds, and then it probably wasn’t exactly necessary as I could have simply killed things one at a time. But that highlights the biggest problem with the Druid class at this level, and becomes especially apparent on dungeon runs. Several other classes have AOE attacks by this point, but the Druid’s only AOE attack is Swipe. And that is only available in bear form. On a dungeon run, switching into bear form is often cause for comments by the tank or the healer and explaining that my only AOE attack is in bear form isn’t always enough to calm the storm. When speed is of the essence, and lets face it, when isn’t it; a viable AOE ability in cat form would be very nice.

In terms of PVP ability the class still lags behind many of the other classes at this level as well. It’s virtually impossible to beat a Hunter, Warlock, Shadow Priest, or Paladin at this level as the Druid simply has not counter to many of the abilities these classes have in this bracket. Especially the Hunter and Warlock, so I rarely even try to overcome them any more – Feral Charge (Cat) not withstanding. Having Pounce available at a lower level might help, but short of that a level 20 to 30 Druid has very little in the way of avoiding death to kiting. As the lower level brackets are full of Hunters you should steel yourself for the feeling of frustration. On the flip side the Druid continues to be the best flag carrier in WSG! Although without bark skin or feral regeneration, running flags is necessarily an endeavor in avoiding any opposition. At the higher levels where I have those other tools available I can withstand some abuse, but that threshold to withstand punishment is very thin in my current bracket.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Gearscore arguement has already hit the SWTOR forum

I've been spending a little more time in the SWTOR forum these days, which I guess is why I noticed the recent argument about "gear score" that took place there.

Just listen to this narrator, he makes me want to throw up. Sadly this is how far WoW has sunk. This is exactly what we don't need in TOR! It destroys the community, excludes certain players(whom they deem not worthy enough) from in game content, and makes you only a number. Worst addon and MMO community ever!
As you can guess the thread spawned many pages of comments for and against the sentiment. One of which was:
I don't see the big problem. When I played WoW back in BC it was the SAME THING people would inspect you and say w/e. Also in BC guilds wouldn't recruit you if you didn't have the hand of A'dal title or the other title. It's just people assumming since they don't gem/enchant your gear(for optimal dps/tanking/healing) they don't know how to play their class. Most of the time thats true(from all the pugs I was in).
To which I replied:

No, it isn't a big deal. Or, more accurately, it's only a big deal to the kind-hearted souls that don't want people to have self-esteem issues. The kind that don't want winners and losers in little league games because then someone will feel bad about themselves for losing. The kind that doesn't want dodge ball to be played at school, because some poor person will have to be singled out and beaned in the head with a ball.

I can understand where these people are coming from. But I know we live in a world where we're all judged every day in innumerable ways. I'm okay with that. I'm prepared for it and can deal with it either way. I guess, I'm just strong enough to not let what someone else thinks determine how I feel, or what I think.

The reality of the situation is that whether in a game, or not, you will be judged. Some how and in some way. You do not have an option to not be judged. The sooner people come to realize that, the better they'll be for it. Until that happens we'll continue to have these little conversations.
And I consider that the bottom line. Whether you want it or no, there is and always will be an undercurrent of competitiveness in a progression based game. And there will always be subjective judgments made about you whether its in a game, or in real life. You either deal with it or not, and those who complain about this sort of thing are the sort that want option #3 -- not to have to deal with it at all.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Deathwing is just misunderstood

No really!
Dear Adventurers of Azeroth,

It has come to my attention that certain organizations, who shall remain nameless (Wyrmrest Accord, for one) have (Argent Crusade, too) tried to paint me (the Horde and the Alliance, come to think of it)(you know, I think pretty much everyone) in the worst light possible.

They claim that I will lay waste to Azeroth with fire and FIERY PITS OF LAVA and storms and oh-so-much mayhem and destruction.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not a destroyer. I am a creator. You all just happen to be standing on my canvas. I'm sure you can see that, if you just move a few hundred leagues away from your cities and towns, things will work out for both of us.

You will all see. My design is grand, the scope enormous. The world will be a much better place, I am certain, if we just tweak things a little here and there, like a few hundred thousand dragon eggs or the beaches of Darkshore. I mean, you guys wanted some water in Thousand Needles. I'm giving it to you!

If you disagree with my plans, just put a little note in the box. I'll be sure to read each and every one of them. Just don't come pounding on my door and make a mess of things. Don't send your armies against me, don't run screaming to the Kirin Tor. We can all live peacefully, together, in this great new world that I designed.

I will even give you a pony.

Now I shall take my leave of you. You have given me much in these few, short hours, including troll meat, carcasses, and the chance to sing. Until we meet again, brave souls, until we meet again.

The Artist Formerly Known As The Destroyer

Friday, April 2, 2010

Reassuring words from Bioware

It's no secret that I've been a bit worried about SWTOR. I've discussed at great length my impression of SWTOR as an RPG with coop play, and despite the prior admission from various developers that MMO elements would be added later I grew even more worried by the interviews that took place during GDC10 that indicated those elements as not even being finalized, let along finished in development. So it's with some satisfaction that I saw for the first time today, someone at the highest level of development, stating in unequivocal terms that missing MMO elements are not only being worked on, but are considered downright essential. Today's blog post gives me much hope that things will begin to look better over the Summer and Fall.
Freedom is a true part of the magic of MMOs, and artificial constraints and mechanics can undermine the fiction and the sense that you are living in the virtual world – and when you have a brand as rich and textured as Star Wars™, the last thing you want to do is undermine it. Even worse, the depth and visual splendor of Star Wars™: The Old Republic would be completely lost if players couldn’t jump off the rails and just live in the space from time to time.

Raid progression update

I took my Druid out of the other guild, as they were beginning to raid three days a week from 8:30pm EST to Midnight. Raiding six days a week, not including any 10-man adventuring I might want to delve into over the weekend, was just too much. So it’s back to one guild and one “progression” raid. Unfortunately for me that “progression” raid doesn’t have a lot of “progression” in it. We were back in there last night, still trying to kill Putricide. First wing, Rotface, Festergut, and Blood Princes are all on farm status now but Putricide, Dreamwalker, and the Blood Queen are being very difficult. As we now have a handful of people who need the Putricide kill for their Shadowmourne quest chain, we’ve been focusing on him more than the others. And despite the now 10% buff in Icecrown, we can only get down to around 50% before we end up wiping. As with so many fights before this, the root issue to our problem is personnel performance. Too many people are being killed by Malleable Goo during phase 2. And it doesn’t much matter whether it’s a healer or DPS that gets killed. If it’s a healer we slowly suffer, but if it’s a DPS we end up not being able to kill the oozes quickly enough and eventually get to a point where we have two up at the same time. Then it’s over.

As fights go, the Putricide fight isn’t all that difficult – really. Phase 1 is a general tank and spank from 100% down to 80%. But during one ooze alternatively spawns, requiring the DPS to kill it. There is a bit of management required when the boss nears 80% as you generally don’t want to have an ooze up, or spawn when the transition from phase 1 to phase 2 occurs. But once phase 2 does occur the fight remains largely the same, but with the additional element of Malleable Goo thrown in. Throughout phase 2 Putricide will randomly target ranged players and will toss Malleable Goo at them, requiring the player and anyone within 10-yards of that player to move away. If they do not and are struck, the goo will explode dealing substantial damage to that individual and everyone within 10-yards of them. It will also put a negative haste debuff on them for a period of seconds, causing casting time to increase by 200% and running speed to decrease by 50%. Fairly nasty debuff but the direct damage aspect of the explosion is the part that generally kills you and is what keeps causing our wipes. It’s the classic “people aren’t paying enough attention” to what’s going on around them during a fight thing. We have the DPS to finish the fight, but once we start to lose people to the goo or the oozes it simply cascades from there.

I’ve only seen phase 3 on my Druid when I was raiding with him, but phase 3 is all about Putricide. No more oozes, but the ranged still have to worry about the Malleable Goo, and the melee have to contend with slime puddles spawning around the boss. So phase 3 is a movement phase, where the boss is slowly kited around the room.

Perhaps we’ll kill him on Monday night, but if not it’s simply another wasted week of progression and another wasted week toward Shadowmourne. With the Cataclysm beta reportedly starting this month I’m definitely beginning to see opportunity to get the three boss kills I need and then collect the 50 shards I need, coming to an end.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Blizzard strokes the EPEN But Bioware unleashes the Sarlaac!

Now you really can stroke your EPEEN in WoW. But not to be outdone, Bioware announces today you can play the ultimate class in SWTOR! The Sarlaac! From the "it's April 1st" stack.

SWTOR classes will have sub-specialties

Either this is completely new information or I had missed it recently. But as I was perusing the SWTOR forum last night I came across information on the Sith Inquistor board that the class will have sub-specializations. There wasn’t enough information to infer whether actual sub-classes were being referred to or whether it was a matter of talent specialization. But the article did state that at some point in the characters progression you’d be able to specialize into an acrobatic, melee-centric fighter, or further branch into a ranged force power fighter. According to developer interviews the class is envisioned to be something of an amalgam of a “Darth Sidious” type and “Darth Maul” type so either specialization seemingly makes sense. However, I’m struggling with the “Darth Maul” aspect to the class.
“The Sith Inquisitor is the more agile rogue character: he doesn’t wear heavy armour, he’s much quicker, and when he gets to a certain level, he has to choose between two different paths. One path is more like Darth Maul, where you have the dual-bladed lightsaber and you’re all about acrobatic lightsaber moves. Or you can choose to do another path which is more of a ranged path, and more of a Emperor Palpatine path. You’re less about the lightsaber, more about the range and force powers.”
What are the real differences between the Sith Inquistor and the Sith Warrior then? As the Sith Warrior has been described as a “Darth Vader” type of fighter, are they saying the only essential differences between the two would be the athleticism aspect? Sith Inquistor is an amalgam of Rogue with some ranged attacks and Ranged DPS with some melee attacks. And Sith Warrior is an amalgam of Warrior and something else?

I do like the idea of each class being well rounded and I can only assume, though I don’t know this for a fact, that every class will have similar specializations and that the Jedi class will specialize in the same way the Sith Warrior does and the Jedi Counselor will specialize in the same way the Sith Inquistor does. Unknown to me is how the other classes will specialize. How would the Bounty Hunter and the Sith Agent specialize? But along that vein it does seem that the classes are being homogenized to some great degree and I'm really hoping that decision doesn't lead even greater credence to the impression the game will heavily favor an RPG versus an MMO.