Friday, February 24, 2012

Boss Design, Tank Jobs, and Adds

Take a look at the Dragon Soul raid - at least on LFR, though I think this applies to normal mode as well. On any given boss fight, are there jobs for multiple tanks? Now, I should specify that I mean different jobs. If one tank picks up the boss, but then they simply trade places every time the tank-swap debuff falls off, it doesn't count. Also, "switch to your dps spec" doesn't count either. I mean multiple things for tanks to do. Morchokk: standard tank swap. Zol'nozz: single tank. Yor'sahj: tank swap. Hagara: single tank. Ultraxion: tank swap. Blackhorn: tank swap. Spine of Deathwing: (not sure what it's like on regular, what with the barrel rolls and everything, but on LFR it's basically a single tank fight.) Madness of Deathwing: tank swap on Mutated Corruption, otherwise you're tanking the same kinds of adds.

Essentially, there's one set of instructions that goes to both tanks in every single fight (again, with the possible exception of Spine of Deathwing.) Now, I know it probably sounds a bit selfish as a tank to demand special attention from encounter designers, but it is my belief that the more things you have tanks doing, the more dynamic the fight is going to be for the rest of the raid.

The tank swap is a tried-and-true way to make a single-tank boss into a two-tank boss. It's a piece of the boss design toolkit I have no problem with Blizzard holding on to. That said, I think they've been more creative in the past.

A lot of people decry "more adds" as a fairly uninteresting boss mechanic as well, but I think what they're missing here is that adds can come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, Freya's six waves of adds in Ulduar were really the main challenge of the fight - if you could get through them, the rest of the fight was simple. So you had one tank holding on to the boss while the other was desperately picking up lashers and elementals and hiding under mushrooms. And all three types of wave had very different strategies to beat them and different hazards to watch out for.

Professor Putricide gave the off-tank a big abomination to drive around, not exactly tanking the oozes, but making it easier for the rest of the raid to deal with them. As a Paladin/DK tank who often ran with a Warrior or a Druid, it was almost always my job to kite the ooze on Rotface while the other tank was dealing with the big guy in the center. And though I know a lot of people complained it was too easy, I adored the gunship battle, flying over to Orgrim's Hammer to have a polite chat with Varok Saurfang as he attempted to smash my face in while my druid buddy took care of the Reavers trying to bring the Skybreaker down.

Part of the appeal of raiding, as opposed to 5-man fights, is that the fights can be more complex. When you have both tanks focused on the same target, or one of the tanks simply doing sub-par dps as a "back-up" or forced to switch specs, it leaves you with fights that have only a single focus. While this can certainly be compelling sometimes, such as the "gear-check" fights where you're trying to push your dps to the limit and desperately trying to keep the tanks alive, these fights should be the exception rather than the rule.

I like LFR, don't get me wrong. It serves a valuable function - allowing people who don't have the time or the patience to schedule their raiding with a guild to see the content and get the cool-looking loot. But the worry I have is that, by designing for simplicity, to ensure that LFR always succeeds, we might be sacrificing compelling game mechanics. I am all for accessibility (Wrath of the Lich King was my favorite expansion so far,) but let us not confuse accessibility with simplicity.

This is actually what worries me about "Active Mitigation." I have always considered tanks to be "external-focused," concentrating on the battlefield and positions of enemies, allies, and what locations are safe, much the way that dps are. Tanks were given simpler rotations because they're also expected to be moving enemies around and popping cooldowns when they need them. Healers were always more "internal-focused," certainly worried about staying out of the fire, but it was their role to keep an eye on the team - cleansing debuffs and keeping health bars full.

If tanks are going to be expected to spend most of their efforts watching their health bars, are we just going to find ourselves playing a numbers game with a big boss never leaving the center of the room?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Twisting Nether, Fel energy, Voidwalkers and a justification for Sargeras' downfall

Although the big angry dragon has been center-stage in Cataclysm, expansion 3 has been, more than any other expansion so far, about the Old Gods. The more we've explored the World of Warcraft, the more we come to realize how big an influence the Old Gods have had in the shaping of Azeroth. The sequence of events are not entirely clear (as far as I know,) but they employed the Elemental Lords in their various conflicts, they inflicted the Curse of Flesh on the races the Titans had created (probably,) they corrupted Neltharion, created the Faceless Ones, they took Sargeras' sloppy seconds and transformed many of the Highborne into the Naga, and they have basically spent all of known history driving people insane (and they're probably insane themselves, if sanity is an applicable quality for an Eldritch Abomination.)

But the Old Gods are not the only ultimate force of ultimate evil out there. You see, the Titans were going around, essentially terraforming planets to fit their ideals of what a good world ought to look like. The problem is that there's a lot of bad stuff in the universe, and one of the Titans, a fellow by the name of Sargeras, had a dark epiphany: what if the entire idea of order was a fool's errand, and that the Titans had only arbitrarily determined that their way was good. Perhaps the only reason that the demons of the Twisting Nether (who he spent a lot of time fighting) were considered "evil" was because of the tyrannical definition of "good" that the Titans had imposed on the universe.

WoW Insider's "Know Your Lore" articles have a designation called "TFH," or "tin-foil hat." What this means is that there's a lot of speculation, not necessarily definitively proven by the existing content Blizzard has published, but something that might be the case. Please put your tin-foil hats on now.

Demons, in Warcraft, are beings of the Twisting Nether. They're not really from the physical realm, but exist in a plane of pure magic. Yet at the same time, we know that many types of demon - the Eredar, for example - were originally mortals that were transformed into demons by corruption via Fel energy, itself a kind of warped version of arcane magic. Arguably, Sargeras himself, as a Dark Titan, falls under this same category (even if he's hardly a mortal.)

So what is the origin of demons in Warcraft? We know that the Naaru go through a cycle of light and darkness. The ones we've encountered tend to be light - beings of Holy energy. Yet given certain circumstances, such as the case of Mu'ru, the dark Naaru take on the form of a Voidwalker. Unlike other demons, who seem fairly fleshy, Voidwalkers are beings of pure shadow - practically "shadow elementals" (in fact, the standard Voidwalker and Fire Elemental models are simply recolored versions of each other.) We don't know exactly where the Naaru come from, but we do know that the Draenei encountered them while traveling through the Twisting Nether. Perhaps this is where they are from - and consequently, so are the Voidwalkers.

So what if the Voidwalkers are the original demons - beings of pure, unadulterated malevolence, literally made of evil? Well, it gives us an origin for demons, and it also allows us to look at both Fel and Holy magic as the two sort of "polarizations" of the arcane.

So let's take a look at Sargeras again. We don't know exactly when Sargeras turned evil (I do not think he was "corrupted" in a magical mind-control sort of way, if for no other reason than it's less interesting for the story and it's also just a bigger Deathwing,) but suppose he fought the Old Gods - helped wrestle them into submission and chain them up beneath Azeroth. He was the Titan's muscle, so it stands to reason that he would be their go-to Old God wrangler.

But let's say he has a difference in opinion. The other Titans want to preserve Azeroth. The Old Gods are chained up, and they figure (erroneously, it turns out) that they've been dealt with. Sargeras says no. He's in favor of killing them. But the other Titans won't let him. They forbid him. So Sargeras storms off, enraged at the Pantheon's folly.

They won't let him kill the Old Gods for fear of harming Azeroth. So Sargeras decides he'll take matters into his own hands, and he goes out into the universe looking for the right weapon to kill the Old Gods once and for all.

And he finds it. Fel magic.

In Wrath of the Lich King, up in Northrend, Storm Peaks is going crazy with Yogg-Saron's corruption. Loken was turned first, long ago, and he's managed to at least temporarily indoctrinate Thorim, Mimiron, Freya and Hodir (still waiting to figure out what happened to Tyr.) Yogg-Saron's driven the Furbolgs of Grizzly Hills crazy too. You know who he's had exactly zero effect on? The Scourge.

Icecrown is one enormous Saronite fortress - towers and castles the size of skyscrapers are built with the Old God's congealed blood (gross,) but the undead shrug off its influence like it's no big deal, even cursing the name of the "God of Death" down in the Wintergarde mines. The Scourge, let us remember, was created by Fel magic. And Fel magic seems to burn (or in this case freeze) away any influence the Old Gods have over mortals and immortals alike. If you go into the Saronite mine in Ymirheim, the Val'kyr and the big Ymirjar warrior there are doing just fine, even with good old Darkspeaker R'khem standing right there, but the Argent Crusade prisoners are going totally nuts - many diving down a bottomless pit to their deaths with manic glee as soon as you let them go.

It looks like Sargeras did find the perfect weapon to fight of the Old Gods. But, much like nuclear weapons, Fel magic is a double-edged sword, trading eldritch corruption for demonic corruption. Sargeras was always a fighter, and having found the ultimate weapon, he's realized that he can kill just about anything in his way. The purpose of the killing is no longer important - he just wants to kill, desecrate, and destroy. Sargeras has dedicated himself so much to destroying his enemies that he's willing to destroy the very world he was meant to save. And if we don't stop him, that's exactly what he'll do.

But there is one note of hope. Just as the Voidwalkers can, presumably, return to their Naaru forms, perhaps Fel magic is not the only thing that can destroy the Old Gods once and for all. One day, we're going to have to deal with both the Old Gods and the Burning Legion. We might want to have some Holy magic on our side.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Loot Scalping - the Scourge of LFR

I thought I'd take a moment to talk about one of the biggest problems in LFR: Loot scalping.

Back in the day (actually only a couple years ago,) bind on pickup really meant bind on pickup. If you rolled need on an item, or if your master looter handed it to you, it was yours and yours forever. This caused some problems, though. Let's say you meant to hit greed, but accidentally hit need - for example, let's say your Elemental shaman rolled on a piece of mail because it looked really great until you realized that that wasn't spell power and intellect there, it was attack power and agility (back then you'd find all four of those on gear.) The hunter who's been pew-pewing next to you really needed that piece, and you feel like a dolt. Basically, back then you didn't have any options other than to either vendor it, get a GM to transfer the item to your hunter buddy, or go enhancement to assuage your guilt (enhancement redeems all.)

Raid Leaders and twitchy clickers, and certainly GMs were very happy to see Blizzard implement a 2-hour grace period. If you looted a piece of BoP gear, you had two hours to decide if you really wanted it, or if you should just hand it over to someone you felt was more deserving.

Fast forward to LFR. With four items dropping from every boss and twenty five people needing, greeding, disenchanting, or passing, it's not particularly hard for someone to abuse the loopholes in Need+ and get something they don't really want, but that they think they can trade for something they do.

For example, Alice has got a 2-piece tier 13 set, let's say the shoulders and the pants. Let's say she's a rogue, so there's no reason for her to get a second token of the same type. Bob, the friendly death knight (I don't remember who shares tokens, but for this example let's assume Rogues and Death Knights do,) desperately wants new shoulders - he's been stuck with those crappy old 346 blues he got back when Cataclysm just came out. His tier shoulders drop, but Alice picks them up.

Later on, Bob gets the tier chest piece. It's a marginal upgrade off of his tier 12 piece. So Alice whispers him and says: "hey, I'll give you the shoulders if you give me the chest piece." They make the trade, and theoretically everyone's happy, right?

Here's the problem: As the population gets better geared, they should be making room for newer toons (whether they're newer players or up-and-coming alts) to gear up. As time goes on, and content gets older, more people should be able to gear up. And what if Bob hadn't gotten the chest piece, or perhaps he really needed that chest as well? Alice is holding those shoulders from him despite the fact that they're doing her no good. Bob could have a 2-piece bonus, but Alice is holding that away from him out of selfishness.

If we multiply Alice by every player in the raid, the problem becomes more apparent. Eventually most of the loot that's getting dropped is being taken by people who don't need it. We achieve a kind of stasis, or at the very least a slow drip of new gear for people who've just broken in, while highly geared players sit on top of piles of useless stuff they can't even shard if they're not an enchanter.

But there's a very simple solution to all of this: Get rid of the grace period in LFR. If and when the Need+ roll is refined (which is something I believe they've said they'll do with Mists,) there will be little worry that a piece of gear is going to someone who shouldn't have it because of their spec. If we get rid of the grace period, there will be no incentive to roll on stuff you already have (well, except to shard or vendor it, but hopefully people will realize that's especially dickish - or maybe they could implement a "no sharding or vendoring things you've rolled need on" policy.)

Need rolls should be made by people who intend to equip that individual piece of gear. If, for any reason, you aren't going to, don't.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Internal Alpha for Mists of Pandaria begins! And the rest of us wait.

Apparently the internal alpha for Mists has begun. As I understand it, this is three steps back from an actual release. I don't think we can expect to see much - if anything - out of it, as this will be tightly controlled by Blizzard. Following this should be the Friends and Family Alpha (which is supposed to be secret, but given how the F&F Alphas for Wrath and Cataclysm went, we're probably going to be seeing quite a bit of content before the public beta begins.

Having signed on to the Annual Pass, I should be guaranteed a spot in the beta, but I think that's still a ways off. While it's exciting to know that there is a (probably horribly broken, bug-riddled and not remotely ready-for-the-public) build of it in existence now, I think we're still going to have to wait until the March press tour to actually see anything new content-wise (systems-wise, we've just gotten the updated talent calculator, so we can play around with that for now.)

So what do we know so far about the content? We got a fair amount of information at Blizzcon, talking about the feel of the different zones and previewing a couple of the dungeons, but there's a lot of info missing. But Blizzcon was several months ago, and I'm sure there's a lot more to show off now.

That said, what have we got so far?

We only know about two of the new five-man dungeons, Shado'pan Monastery and Stormstout Brewery. On one hand, I'm a little worried about the small dungeon count. Although Cataclysm eventually leveled out with the Hour of Twilight dungeons, we spent much of this expansion forced to run one of nine, and later one of only two dungeons whenever we wanted our random dungeon. (Frankly, I wish that there were an option to toss all the Hour of Twilight dungeons in with the 4.0s and the Zandalari in my random queue.)

On the other hand, though, this will be the first expansion with the Raid Finder implemented from the very start. Make no mistake, the Raid Finder is far, far more revolutionary than the Dungeon Finder was (though it could not exist without the systems developed for the DF.) While I enjoy 5-man content, I think their intention might be to de-emphasize running dungeon after dungeon every week, and to rather hop in the Raid Finder to satisfy your lust for VP (and shiny gear.) I could write a whole other post on the future of the Raid Finder, but I'll save this for later.

Then we've got Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance getting the Deadmines/Shadowfang Keep treatment. Much like the Raid Finder, I've got a lot to say on this topic, which I'm going to save for another post.

Raids have always been the pinnacle of WoW's PvE content, and I doubt that's going to change. So far we know about only one of the tier 14 raids, Mogu'shan Palace, which is a 6-boss instance. As of yet, we still don't know much about the Mogu and what might happen with them. My hope is that we can make a return to the days of double-digit raiding tiers. As I've said before, the most popular raids in WoW's history tend to be the huge ones. While I can sympathize with the desire to have a larger number of raids with fewer bosses in each, it can lead to situations like 4.2, which should have been half Firelands and half Abyssal Maw, but we missed out on the latter without getting a larger instance out of the former. It would be very disappointing to find that Mogu'shan Palace was the only serious raid, and the other two shipping with Mists were 1 or 2-boss instances.

The PvE scenarios are something that I'm very excited for, yet at the same time I worry that they could go the way of Path of the Titans. I never really missed PotT, because we never really got a good idea of what the hell it was going to be, but having dungeon-like, structured scenarios that you could do as many times as you'd want but without having to queue up is something I really want kept. Before 3.3, I used to run my friend's toons through low-level dungeons. Without the pressure of a PUG - or even just a group that isn't all in the same apartment - you can really take your time and enjoy messing around. I used to hate Blackrock Depths, but thinking of it as less of a "run" and more of a chance to explore made it a lot of fun.

Really, the more I look at this, the more I realize how little we know. However, rather than look at this as a bad thing, I'm assuming that Blizzard has done this intentionally. Not only is the story of Mists of Pandaria meant to be mysterious (look at the name,) but I think that they are emphasizing unfamiliarity. Cataclysm was all about the Old World - even if we wound up in such alien landscapes as Deepholm and the bottom of the ocean, it was meant to be stuff we could connect to the world we knew. Every final raid boss was a pre-established character - hell, we'd even killed two of them before (three if you count Onyxia separately.) Blizzard wants to flex its creative muscle and put together something that is truly new and that - gasp - might actually surprise us.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Beyond the Mists

Mists of Pandaria is going to be taking us somewhere pretty new. Basically the only thing we ever knew about it before its announcement was that there was a race of Panda-people (an off-shoot of the Furbolgs? Seems about right) with an East-Asian culture and a love of booze.

After three expansions of fighting important figures from Warcraft 2 and 3, Blizzard - rightly, in my opinion - is trying to expand the cosmos a bit by introducing a new continent with new beings to discover. Now, I would also say that Blizzard shouldn't sell themselves short. The Elemental Lords and the Old Gods are almost entirely original to WoW (ok, there's that C'thun-like thing (some appendage of Yogg-Saron, one assumes) that Arthas fights in the Frozen Throne, so technically the Old Gods and Faceless did exist pre-WoW.)

I'm all for creating new plots and story elements before they exhaust the ones they have to work with, but I figured here I'd take a look at some of the stories that really need to be dealt with in-game. I'm going to try to keep these to big stories - the kind of thing to devote an entire expansion to. WoW has lost some subscriptions lately, but I think Blizzard, and most players, are expecting it to stick around long enough to see several more expansions.

The Burning Legion:

Yes, Kil'Jaeden's defeat at the Sunwell was a big setback for the Legion, and we've basically only seen little hints of them since then. Yet the demons still clearly have a good amount of influence. The Wrath Gate was proof of that - Varimathras and Putress were being supported by someone who seems suspiciously like Sargeras. And let us not forget that Mal'ganis actually managed to outlive Arthas (apparently Frostmourne's soul-sucking capabilities weren't enough to permanently kill the dreadlord) and the remains of the Scarlet Crusade are now basically what the Scourge was originally meant to be - the Legion's proxy army of the dead.

And that's just their presence on Azeroth. As far as we know, there are billions of demons out there in the Twisting Nether. Argus is probably still downright swarming with them. It seems inevitable that we'll eventually journey to the Eredar homeworld, which would give the Draenei some much-needed lore love.

I'd also love to see more Titan stuff. With Wrath and Cataclysm, it does seem like the Old Gods have been set up as the Titan's primary antagonists, but I think there's also room for some good lore to flesh out the relationship between demons and titans. Most of the demon races are corruptions of mortal races, I think, and Sargeras was one of the Pantheon - a ruling order for a presumably much larger titan race. Might we have to fight off an army of Dark Titans?

The Nightmare:

There's just so much potential in this that I'd hate it if they really have closed off the potential for an Emerald Dream expansion with some tie-in novel's plot. I don't really know how that all went down, but as I understand it, we've got N'Zoth responsible for the Nightmare, and that at the moment it's mostly sequestered into a place within the dream called the Rift of Aln. Sounds like your Shadowmoon Valley/Icecrown/Twilight Highlands zone for a potential expansion to me.

I think the Emerald Dream has the potential for some very cool visuals, too. We haven't really had a chance to see truly surreal imagery other than the upper half of Karazhan in-game (well, and places like Netherstorm.) I'd love to see the Emerald Dream as a mix of MC Escher, Salvador Dali, and the scary, wild style of paganism - wicker men and animal bones.

The Infinite Dragonflight:

I adore time travel stories. Growing up, one of my favorite movies was Back to the Future. I also particularly like the steampunk feel of the Bronze Dragons (just look at Mage tier 13.) Murozond is dead as of End Time, but let us consider that A: Nozdormu is still around, and theoretically he has to become Murozond, unless killing Deathwing prevented that future and... um... aneurysm time... and B: Murozond died in a future that we just prevented, far in the future. So that means that he still has all that timeline-destroying fun ahead of him, and he might not even be dead considering the fact that that future never happened.

See why I love time-travel stories?

Anyway, there's a great hook for the entire expansion: Every zone is a different time. It would be awesome to find yourself back in the First War, or in a future in which something unexpected has happened regarding the Horde and the Alliance. You could also do alternate timelines - like a Lordaeron ruled by the benevolent King Arthas.

So those are the three I've thought about the most, but I think there's a lot of potential to expand on established stories. I don't mean that Blizzard should stick only to what is already there, but having a good mix of old and new will help ensure the new stuff fits in to the overall cosmos that exists.

Active Mitigation for Paladin Tanks

Generally, within this blog, I want to keep things general - talking about overarching whole-game issues. However, my main is a Paladin tank, and my primary alt is a Death Knight tank. Tanking is kind of my thing. During Wrath, I had a tank of each tanking class (my druid, Selarion, has been slightly neglected in Cataclysm, and Rechtar, my warrior, kind of got put aside in favor of Ardten, who is Arms and also a werewolf.) If I could, I would tank on my shaman, rogue, or mage (I made a Paladin in the first place because it was the closest thing to a Plate-armored wizard at the time. If they ever make a Battlemage class I'll seriously have to reconsider which toon is my main...)

Anyway, as a Paladin tank, my rotation's been put through the ringer every single time a new expansion comes out (in fairness, I don't really remember what it was in Vanilla, as I think Jarsus was about level 20 when Burning Crusade came out.) While I miss the reflective damage of Holy Shield and having a permanent Consecration (which might be coming back, if it's mana-affordable,) I have generally been happier with each iteration of the rotation than the previous one. (Except that I detest the current incarnation of Holy Shield.)

Still, relearning how to tank each time is kind of annoying. So when I hear about a sweeping redesign of not just Paladins, but all tanks, I am somewhat apprehensive.

As a little tank growing up through BC, and later Wrath, the way that tanking worked was basically this: Your gear determined how well you survived - the amount of armor (also granted by agility then,) health, dodge (either through dodge rating or agility,) parry (which was not affected by strength then except for Death Knights,) block rating and +block value (of which you got a tiny amount from Strength but was also independently found on gear) was the main thing that determined if you were a living tank or a dead tank. Survivability was a gearing problem. It just took a while to get a good set, like it does for anyone.

Threat was the other side of the coin. And that's what determined if you were a good tank or a bad tank. A good tank maximized their threat, making sure to hit everything, and hit it hard. The reason you took hit and expertise was so that when that Arcane Mage unloaded on your target, it wouldn't suddenly find you uninteresting.

Cataclysm has killed threat as an issue for tanks. With Vengeance, and then later the buff to tank stances, and then a buff to Vengeance, you basically have to either be really, really unlucky with misses or badly placed mobs (or some druid who thinks it would be helpful to Typhoon away all the mobs when you've just gotten them into position) to lose aggro, except when dealing with another tank in a raid situation.

With threat dead, though, Blizzard wants to make the challenge of tanking to be better survival. Now I'm not really happy about this. If I wanted to worry health bars (my own included) I would play a healer. Tanks used to be more of the focus for the dps. The tank keeps the enemies organized, and is more about smashing faces than huddling behind shields. Really, that's what I find interesting about tanking - keeping the mobs under control.

So here's what I want to see from Active Mitigation. Let's emphasize the "Active" part. Looking at the new Mists of Pandaria Talent Calculator, I'm glad to see we're not losing too many offensive abilities. (Holy Wrath is gone, but did that every account for more than 1% of our damage?) I was very worried about Crusader Strike reverting to a 4.5 second cooldown, but with more Grand Crusader procs, a shorter cooldown on Judgement, and Holy Power flowing from both, as well as a potentially constant Consecration (assuming we have the mana to pay for it) I actually think we'll be all right.

So far the only real "Active Mitigation" parts of the rotation are that Shield of the Righteous now gives us a bonus 25% block value (amazingly, this is basically a reversion to the 4.0 Holy Shield, which I thought was great.) Then we also have a cooldown-less Word of Glory. Basically, we're making the decision between lower incoming damage (and given the big swings some bosses hit us for, that could mean quite a lot) or we can heal damage we've already taken (nice if the healer's running or something and can't cast.)

As it is right now, I think we're in pretty good shape. Shield of the Righteous becomes something akin to Death Strike - a rotational ability used offensively but that helps us survive. It's very early to say whether our rotation will look like this when 5.0 comes out, but if we can keep tanks from looking like a big shield with a sign that says "hit me, please" I'll be happy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Raid Size and Loot Distribution

Today I'm going to talk about Raid Size - not the debate of 10, 20, 25, and 40-man raids (frankly, I've always enjoyed 10-mans the best, though admittedly I do like seeing the huge swarms of fireballs, arrows, lighting bolts and wraths flying through the air at a big raid boss.) No, what I'm talking about is boss count.

I'm also going to talk about Loot Distribution - though I am not talking about how a party or raid decides who gets what, I'm talking about what drops off of bosses.

Raids have been getting smaller in the past few years - especially in Cataclysm. The largest raid, in terms of bosses, is Dragon Soul, with eight. Arguably, tier 11 can be grouped together, leaving us with Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight adding up to 10 (+1 for the hardcore.) Yes, I realize Throne of the Four Winds adds two to that number, but much like Malygos, Onyxia, and other one-or-two boss raids, I sort of think of those as on the side. I mean, all the gear from Tot4W had random enchantments.

Actually, if we do include Tot4W, we should include its predecessors in the final count, so, starting with Burning Crusade because I don't really want to get into all the re-vamped instances and where they should belong:

BC: 44 raid bosses (50 if you count Zul'Aman)
Tier 4: 14
Karazhan: 11, not counting the Servant Quarter bosses
Gruul's Lair: 2
Magtheridon's Lair: 1
Tier 5: 10
Serpentshrine Cavern: 6
The Eye: 4
(Zul'Aman: 6)
Tier 6: 14
Hyjal: 5
Black Temple: 9
Tier 6.5: 6
Sunwell Plateau: 6

Wrath: 50 raid bosses
Tier 7: 17 (holy crap)
Naxxramas: 15
Eye of Eternity: 1
Obsidian Sanctum: 1
Tier 8/Ulduar: 14 (counting Algalon)
Tier 9: 6
Trial of the Crusader: 5
Onyxia's Lair: 1
Tier 10/Icecrown Citadel: 12
Ruby Sanctum: 1

Cataclysm: 28
Tier 11: 13
Blackwing Descent: 6
Bastion of Twilight: 5 (counting Sinestra)
Throne of the Four Winds: 2
Tier 12/Firelands: 7
Tier 13/Dragon Soul: 8

Ok, so why am I bringing up these numbers? No, I'm not trying to be another whining complainer about how underwhelming the endgame content was for Cataclysm (well, maybe just a little bit.) No, the problem I'm interested in talking about is the way that boss loot is assigned to drop from various bosses, and the role of Valor Point gear and how it relates to gear drops.

In the past, even within Cataclysm, the gear that dropped off of bosses in a raid was enough to put together a full set. You could, for example, take your Death Knight tank into Icecrown Citadel week after week and, avoiding any Emblem of Frost gear (for those of you who are newbies, Emblems of Frost were the Tier 10 equivalent of Valor Points,) you could still put together an entire set of tanking gear from boss drops alone (you'd wind up looking like an Arms Warrior, but it was worth it.) In fact, if you were coming in as a DPS Death Knight, you'd even be able to choose between various drops - one pair of plate dps shoulder might provide crit and hit, while the other might give haste and expertise, and you could choose the one that best helped you out. There were even three different two-handed strength weapons, an axe, a mace and a sword, that you could choose from - and this was before you even considered buying pieces with your emblems.

Blizzard has stated that they want Justice/Valor Points to return to their original intention. The idea was, originally, that you would run the raids and dungeons to get pieces of gear off the bosses. However, as any player (unless you're criminally lucky) knows, sometimes you get in a rut. You've run that raid approximately three billion times, and that stupid freaking pair of boots just refuses to drop for you. So, in Burning Crusade, they adapted Badges of Justice (for the probably larger number of slightly less newbie, but still a bit newbie folks, Badges of Justice were the original incarnation of Justice/Valor Points) - originally created to give non-raiders a way to upgrade their gear beyond drops in heroic dungeons - to drop from Raid Bosses, and help smooth over the unpredictability of gear drops.

So eventually tier 9 happened, which was the first time a raiding tier set was entirely purchasable (and in fact, only purchasable) via Emblems of Triumph (Wrath's system was a bit weird, with different Emblems for each tier, though in practice it basically worked like today's system.) Badge/Emblem/Point gear was always a nice kind of gap-filler, but now you were fully expected to spend those points on not just a stand-in for the piece you really wanted, but the tier set - kind of the pinnacle of desirable gear.

This is something they've been struggling with in Cataclysm, first limiting the shoulder and helmets to only drop for actual raiders, and then in tier 13 making every piece of tier gear require a token, but then providing several other pieces of Valor gear (notably not shoulders) available for purchase.

Dragon Soul not only doesn't provide alternatives for some slots, they flat-out don't even provide drops for some slots. There isn't a single helmet that drops out of Dragon Soul, nor a single cloak. Your only options are the tier piece or the Valor point piece. Usually that's fine, but sometimes you want another option, whether because of stat priorities or what-have-you. Before Deathwing himself, there is a single viable melee weapon for Enhancement Shamans or Combat rogues. There is, in fact, not a single tanking weapon other than the one-handed sword off Deathwing. There are missing pieces here, and one is forced to fill the gaps with the solitary option available from Valor Points (or, if you're a tank, you can take the useless crit on the axe from Morchok.)

Ok, so where am I going with all this? (You'll find I'm a bit of a rambler.) I think a big part of the problem here is the size of raids. When there are only 8 bosses in an entire raid tier, you are left with the choice of putting either a ton of pieces on each boss (making it less likely the individual player is going to get the piece they want) or you do what they've been doing - leaving gaps. Many a plate dps has had to deal with not having a single option for shoulders in Firelands other than their tier piece (which, one must remember, they are essentially competing with the whole raid for.)

Perhaps this isn't the most crucial problem facing World of Warcraft's raiding scene today. Frankly, I'd prefer more raid bosses simply because it means that we can have more space for easier, gate-keeper-like bosses such as Marrowgar, XT, and Morchok, giving us casual guilds a foothold to work our way up from while the hardcore kill the late-raid bosses. But for whatever reason you pick, I for one would like to see a return of the immense, epic raids of the past.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Alliance against the Horde

It was a good while ago that Blizzard announced that, in the run-up to Mists of Pandaria, Theramore will be destroyed. Reactions have been heated, certainly, but I think that, if done right - and that's a big if - this could revitalize the story for both sides.

The reworking of the old world did wonders for questing and soloing up in the Vanilla zones. Having done pretty much every one of these revamped zones on my army of alts, I can honestly say that they did a fantastic job. Here's the thing, though: the Horde has a better story.

When it was announced that Garrosh would become Warchief - either as a temporary position or permanently - there was great outcry. It seemed that Blizzard was pushing this dumb jock as someone we, as players should get behind. Now, I don't exactly "role play," but I do like to come up with a plausible backstory for some of my characters - one that motivates what kind of titles and vanity items they might go after. Having Garrosh as Warchief allows you to make a decision about your character. Is he a Thrall loyalist, worried that Garrosh is going to herald in the Fourth War? Is she a Garrosh die-hard, who's actually pretty psyched about the impending Fourth War? Even outside of the Thrall/Garrosh dichotomy, you've got stuff like disenfranchised Trolls and Tauren struggling to survive in a world even more war-torn than it was before. You have Sylvanas going from a pragmatic, dangerous woman who is nonetheless committed to securing the freedom of her people and becoming a mind-controlling tyrant with basically nothing differentiating her from Arthas except that she's smart enough to make allies.

I think that Blizzard has a problem, which I think you could call "snowball storytelling." The more interesting and original something is, the more motivated you are to write about it. The complexity of the Horde - a people who are simultaneously afraid of returning to the evil ways of the past but also too proud to cast aside their warrior ways - is a compelling idea. So when it comes to the Alliance, I think that there's maybe not an overt hostility toward their stories, just a lack of a creative catalyst.

If the Horde is a group of people struggling between a desire to redeem themselves for past atrocities and a desire to expand and become the dominant force in the world, what is the Alliance, on whole? What I see is a kind of mirror image. Where the Horde was born out of bloodlust and aggression, the Alliance has always confidently considered itself the good guys. We need to see some evidence to the contrary of that.

As a brief tangent, let's look at the Worgen. I adore the Worgen. They are my favorite playable race (even though the very two classes they cannot be, the Paladin and the Shaman, are my two favorite classes... well, I also like Death Knights, but read the name of the blog if you don't see where this is going...) and they have the potential to be an excellent shot in the arm for the Alliance. They are not Horde-like, but even before they were all turned into wolf-men, Gilneans were not interested in sticking their necks out. They were confident in their own strengths, and had little desire to stick around fighting those Orcs they would have rather just put to the sword in the first place.

The Worgen should be a force within the Alliance that allows for team blue to do things it's not going to be comfortable with. We actually see a little of this in Silverpine - the Worgen who let themselves be killed to lure the Forsaken commander into a trap - but when the Forsaken have started employing Val'kyr to actually raise the dead rather than just providing a place for any free-willed undead to go should they be upset about the whole undead thing, it's kind of hard not to think the Worgen are justified. If you put the Alliance's darkest race up against the Horde's darkest race (wow, that could be misinterpreted. Let me specify that I mean darkest thematically) it doesn't really help the Alliance delve into moral ambiguity.

If the Worgen had been better incorporated into the old-world revamp, just think of what we could have seen. Maybe the Worgen have been torching Tauren villages left and right throughout Kalimdor. Sure, the Night Elves and even the humans are probably thinking "hold on a minute, let's not go crazy here. Burning villages? That sounds like the Horde." The Worgen just shrug and say "that's war for you."

Ok, so where am I going with this? Theramore. In Wrath, the dichotomy of Thrall and Garrosh was mirrored by Varian and Jaina. Thrall and Jaina, who are old friends and allies, always pushed for a reconciliation between the two factions. Varian not only saw his childhood innocence ripped out of his father's chest by an Orc, he also spent years abused as a slave in the Horde's world. Garrosh... I actually have absolutely no idea why Garrosh hates the Alliance at all. None whatsoever.

Moving on!

You might need to do a little motivation gymnastics to pull this off, because even during Cataclysm, Theramore has clearly been supporting the Alliance military action in Kalimdor. But I like to think this is kind of their "Lend Lease Program," and that the destruction of Theramore has to be the Alliance's Pearl Harbor.

We haven't really seen much of the Alliance's strategies against the Horde, because most of the zones with the most intense fighting are Horde leveling zones (Horde gets Azshara, Silverpine and Hillsbrad, Alliance mainly fights non-Horde villains.) We can kind of infer that the Alliance has been  pulling their punches. The closest thing to a serious attack was the destruction of Camp Taurajo, which, if you do the Alliance side of that zone, you realize was a total snafu (it also happens before you even get there.)

If Theramore gets destroyed, the Alliance is going to have to pick up the game. That's all well and good, and I really hope they do, but there's still something the Horde has that the Alliance doesn't. It's not something that actually helps them beat their enemies, but from a story-telling perspective, it's absolutely crucial:


The Alliance gets along like one big happy family. They've even let the werewolves in and there doesn't appear to be any real problem with them (yes, I know that there is in the tie-in materials, but let's see this in-game.) When you start your Troll character post-Cataclysm, you realize that Garrosh and Vol'jin have literally threatened to murder each other, and that you really need to watch your step in Orgrimmar. I'd like to see the people of Stormwind freaking out about the Worgen in their city. I'd like to see growing evidence that Moira's planning to sell out the Alliance in a bid for power. I'd also like to see a division grow between Varian and Jaina. Jaina's always been the calmer, peace-loving one, but with Theramore destroyed, I think we could see some serious shifts. Maybe Jaina takes it too far. Let's have more people like Ivar Bloodfang (as seen by Horde players,) eschewing "honor" in favor of killing their enemies.

What it boils down to is choice. What kind of Alliance player are you? I've often thought that while my main, Jarsus, has always hoped for a future where Horde and Alliance are united, Oterro, my Draenei Death Knight, would rather just see the Orcs exterminated after what they did to his people on Draenor. There's very little in-game story in which to explore those types of choices. So if I can make one, quick soundbite of a suggestion, it's that they give the Alliance a choice.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Need+ Roll and how to improve it

We've now been blasting our way through Dragon Soul on LFR for two months. Overall, I think the raid finder is a fantastic addition to the game. I am in a very casual guild (we just got Shannox down on Normal mode last night,) but while I've been able to experience a decent amount of content on my Alliance characters, there's rarely more than two people online on the Horde side. So the fact that I've been able to take my shaman (and my rogue, and soon my mage) through to the end of Cataclysm, taking Deathwing down once and for all, is amazing.

Also wonderful is the introduction of the special LFR Need+ system. My guild's loot rules, and the ones that I generally apply in any instance I'm running, are fairly simple. You get priority on items for the role you've come in to play. Regardless of what you consider your "main" spec, if you come in as dps, you get priority to roll on dps. The one exception is that, if we have a shortage of healers, we'll sometimes ask someone to switch specs to fill the slot. In this case, we give them a choice - to roll as the spec they wanted to come in on, or to roll for the one we've told them to come as. Of course, we then open up off-spec rolls after the people with priority have passed.

Essentially, our system works almost exactly like the Need+ system.

Overall, Need+ works very well. When a plate shoulder piece with haste and crit drops, it's clear that the Ret Paladin should get it before the Protection Warrior. There are some problems, however. Essentially, all these problems boil down to not having a clear idea what spec a player is.

I have been both the victim and the unwitting perpetrator of this problem. On my main, Jarsus, I killed Deathwing in LFR. Gurthalak, Voice of the Deeps, the 2-handed sword (a great Ret piece) dropped, and Souldrinker, the 1-handed sword (with a proc that does a nice amount of damage as well as healing you, making it a nice tank proc) dropped as well (technically, these were different runs, but this doesn't matter.)

The big problem is that these two items are both flagged as Tank and Dps. Gurthalak is a tank weapon because of Blood Death Knights (I'm not sure if the tentacle it summons does anything for tanks, but it's the only weapon for Blood since they got rid of any of the pre-Madness of Deathwing weapons in LFR) and Souldrinker, despite its tasty healing proc, is clearly also meant to be used by Single-Minded-Fury Fury Warriors and Dual-wielding Frost Death Knights (two half-specs that add up to a whole, I guess.) So despite the Need+ system, I lost the Souldrinker to an Arms warrior and I won Gurthalak despite being a tank.

Blizzard claims that, at least at this point, the game doesn't have a clear way of knowing what spec you are. I'm not sure I believe that, given abilities like Guardian of Ancient Kings, but if that's their way of saying "sorry, we're busy working on the next expansion. We'll have it fixed by then" then I will begrudgingly accept it. But the clear way to improve Need+ is that, rather than simply giving each item a list of classes and a list of roles, there needs to be a specific list of specs for each item that drops.

If this change can be implemented, I'd like to see the improved Need+ in basically any PUG setting. Let's stop having Ret paladins roll on intellect shields just because Paladins can use shields and there is a spec - Elemental - that uses those shields for dps.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Intellect Plate: Ideas for the future.

WoW Insider has an article about intellect plate that bears looking at. Spell plate has always been the odd-man out in itemization for WoW, serving a single spec among 30 (soon to be 34.) In Wrath and Cataclysm, Blizzard's done a fine job of paring down the types of gear found throughout Azeroth. At this point, we have Spirit Cloth, Hit Cloth, Agility Leather, Intellect Leather, Agility Mail, Intellect Mail, Strength Plate, Tank Plate, and Intellect Plate. It's fairly elegant, actually, compared the bizarre mishmash we used to have (I remember trying to find tanking gear with + spell damage on it as a non-raider in Burning Crusade.)

While Balance and Druid Restoration have been able to merge gear types, and likewise Elemental and Shaman Restoration, there's no other plate-wearing spec that cares about intellect at all nowadays. So what's to be done? We've all been in runs where we get a million different intellect plate pieces and even the Paladins don't roll because they're Prot/Ret or Ret/Prot - or the Holy Paladin in the group got it long ago because there's no gear competition for stuff that's only made for you.

  • Do nothing: This is actually a serious option. While Paladin healers are one spec among 30, the Paladin is certainly a popular class. There's also a population (albeit one that is shrinking) that still think of Paladins as healers first and foremost (something I used to be vehemently opposed to on principle - I'm a tank, damn it!) Though the gear is useless to most people, it is still used.
  • Find another spec that can use it: One of the major oversights, I thought, in the design of the Death Knight class was that they only went with two of the four basic group roles (Tank, Healer, Melee, Caster.) Death Knights have a history in the lore as spell-casters. Though I love the Death Knight class as it is now, if I had a time machine (and had exhausted all the more important things I'd do with it) I would go to Blizzard and suggest they make Blood the melee dps spec, Frost the tank spec, and Unholy the ranged caster spec. Slap some intellect plate on those bad boys and BAM - you've got another spec to use that gear and you're filling a role that doesn't exist - a ranged dps plate spec.
  • Have Holy Paladins just wear Mail: This is an option many people have put forth, but it's one I'm strongly opposed to. The identity of a class is tied to its armor, particularly Paladins - who are "knights in shining armor." You can't tell healing paladins that they now have to be "knights in jangling armor." It also means that you'd have to have tier pieces that look identical but are of different armor types. Plus, I'm sure the caster/healer shamans don't really want the competition.
  • Find a way to make DPS plate work for healers: You'd need a lot of passive bonuses to make this work. Theoretically, you could give Holy Paladins a kind of reverse 4.3 Mental Quickness (which makes Enhancement shamans only get spellpower from attack power, making intellect useless to them) that converted Strength to Intellect, but totally cut down their attack power so that they wouldn't be able to heal at full power while simultaneously smashing people's heads in.
Blizzard's managed to do some impressive work cutting down on the types of gear they need to create to make everyone happy. Who knows what the future holds? Perhaps some day we'll all be playing our Battlemages, casting spells at our enemies while a Demon Hunter tanks and a Monk heals (I'm most confident in that last one.)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Altoholics of the world, unite!

Welcome to Altoholism, yet another World of Warcraft blog about the adventures of Jarsus, Oterro, Ardten, Tarbhad, Darsino and Shibti - and more. Here I intend to write about various things WoW-related. As the name implies, I like to play many different characters, but I'll probably be writing less about my specific experiences playing Blizzard's enormous MMO, and more about ideas for the direction of the game on whole.

A little background: I started playing in the fall of 2006, just as Vanilla WoW was winding down and The Burning Crusade was imminent. My main character is Jarsus, a Human Protection Paladin in the guild Infidels on Malfurion-US. My Horde main is Tarbhad, a Tauren Enhancement Shaman on Area 52-US, who also serves as the Guild Leader for Infidels in Exile - the tiny Horde branch of our guild.

We are a very casual guild, raiding one night a week, so the vast majority of my experience in the game is running pugs and leveling more alts. There are really only two things I don't do in the game, which is PvP and Healing (the former I'm just not competitive enough to find interesting and the latter I have just never been able to get a handle on.)

We're at a transitional phase in the game right now. Cataclysm has basically come to a close, and we have yet to see anything more of Mists of Pandaria than what we saw at Blizzcon last year, so until the Press Tour in March, we'll have to get by with just speculation.