Friday, March 30, 2012

Making sense of the Monk

Still no beta invite, but that's not stopping me from taking a look at the Monk talent tree over on Wowhead. Actually, the talents themselves are not really what I'm concerned with, because ultimately those are adding onto the core framework that is the main ability list.

At its heart, I think that the Monk resource concept is sound - a few abilities that cost Energy and generate Chi, and then a host of Chi-spenders. It's actually quite similar to the Paladin model, if you think of Jab being similar to Crusader Strike and Chi being similar to Holy Power.

I should point out now that we're very early in the Beta, and while I hope Blizzard has given it a lot of though, I imagine that the real rotation for each spec is still very much under development. I should also point out that the WoWhead talent calculator may be flawed in certain ways, or that there are placeholder values that can be confusing. For instance, some abilities are listed as having a cost of "1 Energy," which I typically interpret to mean "1 Chi," but could also technically be an Energy-spender that just has 1 as the placeholder value for what will ultimately be anywhere from 10 to 60.

The core abilities, as it appears, are Jab (your Energy spender/Chi generator,) Tiger Palm (basic Chi-spender with a bonus against targets that are above 50% health) and Blackout Kick (useable only under 35%, presumably replacing Tiger Palm in your rotation.)

As it stands, the Windwalker (melee dps) has the most coherent playstyle, partially because it mainly add cooldowns to the universal abilities. You do get Fists of Fury, Rising Sun Kick, and Exploding Jade Blossom as possible replacements (perhaps at specific health levels) for Tiger Palm and Blackout Kick.

I'm not going to comment much on Windwalkers because, for the most part, they seem to make sense, and while they can use some pruning and some focus and perhaps a little more complexity (though I could be underestimating their current complexity) I think they're the spec that makes the most sense at the moment.

Brewmasters (tank spec, and the one you can probably bet I'll be going with) are, sadly, all over the place. Dizzying Haze is ground-targeted AoE slow that costs Energy, but at the moment it does not generate Chi. However, you need to stack the DH debuff on your enemies to power Breath of Fire, which is presumably meant to be your main Chi-spender. One big problem is that DH doesn't do any damage. Another is that it's taking up your Energy that you'd probably rather spend on Jab to build Chi, which you need for basically every other ability. Also, having to target DH three times in a row to build charges seems pretty wonky. Seems like it would be a lot better to just toss the keg at your target and have it hit (and preferably damage, for, you know, threat) all the targets around that target.

If Blizzard wants to make good on its concept of tanks spending resources on defensive abilities, then you've got to save the Chi Spender ability spots in your rotation for things like Guard, and let Energy be spent on either Jab or some kind of AoE attack that also generates Chi. Simple redesign for Drunken Haze (sorry, I know it's Dizzying Haze, but did we really have to change that name?): Make it a short-range (or even melee-range) AoE attack that deals damage, spreads the DH debuff (plus Weakened Blows, which should be there, right?) and gives you some Chi for your troubles, which you then spend on Guard or other defensive abilities. It wouldn't solve all the problems, but it would certainly take Brewmasters in a slightly more coherent direction.

Mistweavers (the healing spec) are a little hard for me to analyze, not really playing a healer, but it does look like no other healer I've seen before (well, almost...) Essentially, it takes the Discipline concept of Atonement (today's Smite Healing,) which I believe works ok, but is not really the most powerful kind of healing, and runs with it. While I believe that you can theoretically heal as a Monk the old-fashioned way, the spec is built around allowing you to melee the bad guys. Your guess is as good as mine whether this is going to work out. For one, if you're wearing a bunch of spell gear, are your attacks going to land hard enough to heal anyone for a sufficient amount?

In all honesty, it's clear that Monks are a total mess right now. However, don't take this as a bad thing! For all the complaints people levy against Blizzard, balance is kind of their whole deal, and I've been more and more pleased with each expansion I've gone through when it comes to class design and balance (ok, I might like to have my old Blood dps spec back, but I know it died for the greater good.)

Here's what to expect: No class is going to change in the beta more than the Monk. Just as DKs went through immense changes throughout the Wrath development cycle (and indeed, beyond,) Monks are in for some doozies. While Jab seems pretty core to the class (and I doubt they could take Roll away without dealing with pitchforks and torches at this point,) nothing else is sacred. We're going to wind up with a tank, melee, and healer spec, and they're going to wear leather, and fight using video-game Kung Fu. That's all we know for certain.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The First Beta Patch

First off, to anyone complaining about not getting immediate beta access despite having an Annual Pass: those of us who read the initial FAQs knew before we signed up that it meant guaranteed beta access, but not guaranteed immediate beta access. Quit complaining, and enjoy your free $50 game in May. You will get into the Beta before Mists goes live.

So, while I do not yet have access, the big news today is that Pandaria has opened up on the Beta. The Jade Forest (and possibly other zones) are open, as well as dungeons (at least Temple of the Jade Serpent.) Watching MMO-Champion's livestream, I think it looks very cool so far. I get the impression that the Jade Forest is a kind of cool, river and lake-riddled forest with a thick, shady canopy. The dungeon also looks very cool so far.

We also know what Pandaren Shaman Totems will look like (man, I will salute anyone who can manage to make a Pandaren who is not a Monk. I know I won't be able to resist. Maybe if I make one Horde-side... though then I don't know what class it would be. Anyway, the point is that their totems look like thin beer casks with a kind of stone cap. I imagine a lot of Dwarf shamans are enraged. Pandaren really look like they're edging in on the Dwarven love of beer. Actually, I think a really great minor glyph would be one that lets you change your totems to beer casks (though I do kind of like the "mining lantern" look that Dwarf totems have.)

There's also a lot of fragmentary stuff, like a "Black Market Auction House." My best guess is that this is a new neutral auction house that they actually want people to use. Honestly, I wouldn't mind this. I'm no economist, but I imagine that the broader an economy is, the fairer prices will be.

Interesting note is that all the Brewmaster abilities referring to Drunkeness have been altered. Drunken Haze is now Dizzying Haze, Stance of the Drunken Ox is now Stance of the Sturdy Ox. I can only imagine that this is one of those ratings things, though in a game where you can get drunk for a few silver, it seems a little overreaching. After all, Brewmasters are essentially supposed to be Drunken Boxers (a martial arts technique that does not actually require you to be drunk, mind you.) This isn't a dealbreaker, by any means, but I hope that they reverse this change. I mean, come on, getting your enemies so drunk they punch themselves in the face? Best tanking technique ever!

Let's see, other details I've noticed: It appears that the Dungeon Finder and Raid Finder have been integrated into a single interface, with a third option for Scenarios. For those of you who haven't been keeping up, Scenarios are low-key PvE instances that are Blizzard's replacement for group quests (something we didn't see in Cataclysm outside the Crucible of Carnage.) You'll be put in a group of varying size (depending on the scenario,) but with no tank or healer requirements, and then fight your way through some challenge. Presumably enemies will be weak enough to negate the requirement of a tank and healer, but I think most of these will be group-based, so you'll still have some comrades along with you.

As usual, I'll post more as new information comes out, or when I have a rant to inflict upon the internet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Brave New World of Tanking

Cataclysm has seen the obliteration of threat as a compelling gameplay mechanic. In all honesty I don't really know why they decided to do this, as threat generation was, for Vanilla through Wrath, the main "active" job that a tank was concentrating on while using the occasional cooldown and reliance on having appropriate gear to stay alive. The one theory I can come up with is that threat is basically a binary system: you either have it or you don't. A tank who's got a 1000% of the threat that the highest dps is not really tanking the boss any more effectively than the one who's got 101% (though the extra damage is nice.)

So whether that's the reason or there's just been a sort of philosophical shift (that I don't really agree with,) all tanks are getting a pretty serious redesign to focus on Active Mitigation and just let the threat come cheap and easily. This is already pretty common today, with Vengeance and a whopping 500% threat bonus to all tanking stances (I remember when Righteous Fury only increased the threat of Holy Damage, and that only by 90%,) but the future design is that tanks will spend their resources on survivability, with the threat abilities generating those resources. So let's take a look at tanks and what they're getting out of this deal:

Most Warrior threat abilities like Shield Slam, Revenge, and Devastate are now free, and in fact, some generate Rage rather than costing it. However, they now are expected to use abilities like the redesigned Shield Block, which costs 60 Rage, guaranteeing a block and then raising your block chance by 25% (with additional critical block chance if your block goes over 100%, just like today.) So what this presumably means is that you can toss around your threat without any real concern about being Rage-starved, but the price you pay is that you have to constantly hit Shield Block or other defensive abilities whenever you can. (This will be a theme.)

Much like the Warrior, threat abilities like Mangle, Lacerate and Thrash are all now free. However, you'll be spending the Rage you generate on the new ability with a familiar name, Savage Defense, which reduces incoming damage by 40%. It appears that a lot of Rage mechanics, even for dps Warriors, are being re-worked to have Rage-generators and Rage-spenders, but with both Rage tanks, you typically spend it on defensive abilities.

Death Knights:
DKs actually already use a lot of Active Mitigation, with Death Strike being both their biggest threat generator and their biggest survival ability. The current talent calculator doesn't really show any huge differences that I can spot, so DKs can, at least for now, rest easy knowing that if they can handle tanking now, they'll probably be fine come Mists.

Mana as a resource has always been troublesome for the non-healing Paladins, and while Cataclysm introduced the idea that certain abilities (Consecration) would cost a lot of mana to discourage using them if you didn't really need them, it also shifted most of the Paladin gameplay into generating Holy Power and spending it with big finishers. I'm happy to say that Consecration is back in a big way, but only for Protection. We will now be able to once again maintain our holy pain zone, which should make holding threat on groups very easy (we can even target it, Death and Decay style, with a glyph.) Shield of the Righteous is getting reworked quite a bit, though. Essentially, the design is that we are only going to be spending our Holy Power on survival abilities. ShotR still damages the target, but not nearly as much. Instead, it now gives us a guaranteed block and then 25% additional block value, making it a clear equivalent to the Warrior's Shield Block. However, being Paladins, we also have access to Word of Glory as well as some other finishers granted by talents, so don't be surprised to find yourself making on-the-fly decisions on whether you want to reduce incoming damage, heal up after a big hit, or put a HoT on yourself to keep up your health.

Obviously, this is the hardest for me to analyze, as I've never played a Monk. Monks also don't have the benefit of 8 (or in the case of the DK, 4) years of development, so everything's certain to change a lot, but as I understand it, you'll be maintaining threat with the universal-Monk abilities like Jab, Tiger Palm, Blackout Kick, and Spinning Crane Kick, while using Drunken Haze as your Thunder Clap-like ability and Breath of Fire (some of those base abilities might get replaced, by these latter ones) and then using Guard as your primary defensive ability, with Elusive Brew, Purifying Brew, and Shuffle as cooldowns... maybe?

In all honesty, going through these abilities class by class has made me a little less concerned about the model. While I will miss being considered an awesome tank for being able to hold aggro on a ton of different targets while an Arcane Mage is blasting away, the gameplay doesn't seem so absurdly alien as to be impossible to transition my skills. Maintaining the Shield of the Righteous buff (if indeed that is what we're supposed to do) should prove a lot more fun than hitting Holy Shield only to worry I should have saved it, or not hit Holy Shield and worry I should have used it.

It's good that most threat abilities are being made free, to free up our resource bars for this new Active Mitigation stuff. However, ability costs are not the only impediment to threat. Here's what I want to see:

Bosses that Telegraph their big moves:
Theoretically, short-term cooldowns could be compelling if you had a good time to use them. Let's say a boss does "Mega Punch" every 45 seconds. That's a great time to hit the current incarnation of Holy Shield. However, most bosses only have big magic attacks, while their melee damage remains somewhat consistent (or just builds with a stacking buff, like Zon'ozz.) So unless the goal is that tanks should maintain their Guard/Shield Block/Shield of the Righteous/Savage Defense/Blood Shield throughout the fight (and that's something I'd be fine with,) trying to minimize the buff's downtime, we need to have real indications of when we should use them.

A decent way to pull for every tank class:
Avenger's Shield is great - silencing and hitting three targets, which will usually get you most of a trash mob. Charge always had the problem that on its own it did no damage, but if Protection got a cooldown reduction on Heroic Leap, it would be a great pulling ability. Heroic Throw is also pretty good for this, especially with the silence, but when dps ignores the skull you put above the target's head, you need to be able to establish that initial aggro fast. On Oterro (the DK) I usually pull with a Death and Decay, then Outbreak on the skull and a quick Pestilence, to get those diseases ticking away for some maintained threat. And of course Death Grip is amazing for pulling that one caster (assuming it's not immune.) Druids are a little awkward, as Faerie Fire gets a nice bit of threat, but doesn't really help you in the herding. If there were some kind of Charge/Swipe combined ability, that would be great (Rampage? Stampede? Is there a good "Holy Crap There's a Bear" kind of word to use for such an ability?) For Monks, the Windwalker-only Flying Serpent Kick (kind of a cross between Flame Orb and Heroic Leap) would be an awesome tank-pull ability, but for now all I can really think of is a quick Roll and then Drunken Haze (assuming DH will generate threat - currently it just debuffs the affected enemies.)

Static Vengeance:
We've talked about all the huge problems with Vengeance, but the one I find the most frustrating is that it works worse the better geared you are (which is absurd, given that it was meant to help tanks scale better with gear.) With the wonkiness of Vengenace, Tank Swaps become little crises of faith, and the one time when you really need to maximize your threat - at the pull - is the one time when you don't have any. So let's have a Vengeance that just grants a passive Stamina to Attack Power bonus. If you're worried about PvP, either make it just affect threat (actually, that'll make soloing dreadful) or make it only effective against NPCs.

Decent Solo damage:
While focusing on survival in groups makes a lot of sense for tanks, at the very least a tank is not going to be able to dual-spec until 30, and those first levels are going to largely be spent soloing (well, technically you could use Dungeon Finder over and over, but given the Cataclysm 1-60 revamp, you'd be missing out both on a lot of fun and a lot of good gear.) Let tanks get used to their abilities out in the world before inflicting their ignorance on dungeon groups. Also, even for those with dual-specs, I know I wouldn't mind being able to level through Pandaria with my shield in hand.

Fighting with a Staff!
Ok, this is just for Monks, but damn am I excited to finally have a class that you can actually see swinging a staff at enemies! Druid staves hide somewhere in their fur, and Hunters only ever used them if something had gone wrong (and soon they won't even use them at all) so I am very, very excited to whack some bad guys with a fightin' staff (or spear, though you did have a couple Strength polearms back in the day.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Leather, the other tank armor

Druids were always a little unique in that they were the one class that could tank without being able to use plate armor. While Warriors, Paladins, and later Death Knight had to cover themselves head-to-feet with thick plates of metal, Druids would wear their customary leather armor and turn into a bear (and as we all know, if you swing a sword at a bear, it will block it just as well as a steel breastplate.) Interesting that there will now be two leather tank classes, but no mail-wearing tanks. Demon Hunters some time in the future? (Though they also seem like a leather-wearer class... damn it! We need a new mail class.)

Back in Burning Crusade, bear tanks would have to get special gear that had a combination of bonus armor and strength, rather than agility (though it would often have both, providing attack power from strength and dodge/crit from agility.) This was of course back in the days when they made a lot of different armor types for specific specs. Imagine, essentially, that many other specs were in the position that Holy Paladins are in today.

Tanking gear also used to be a lot more complicated. In addition to dodge and parry, as well as hit and expertise (which you actually needed to maintain a decent threat ceiling for your dps - and back then it wasn't the tank's fault if you pulled off them, it was yours,) there was also block rating, block value, and Defense Rating, which worked to improve your defense skill (back then, you had to use a type of weapon a whole lot before you got good enough to actually hit anything with it, and you had to take a lot of hits before you built up enough defense rating to not get crit all the time. Cataclysm seriously streamlined a whole lot of stuff.)

In BC, druids simply took the crits, because they couldn't gear for Defense without plate armor. In Wrath, they gained a talent called Survival of the Fittest, which in Cataclysm was given to every tank, along with the elimination of Defense rating (and weapon/defense skill entirely.) The huge innovation in Wrath was that Druids of the Cat or the Bear persuasion would both use the same basic gear, which was also the same as for Rogues. This was all pretty much decided because only one spec would use tanking leather.

Cut to Mists of Pandaria. We're getting a new tanking class, and like the druid, Monks use leather armor. What does that mean? Well, it appears that Monks are going to have a number of defensive abilities to compensate for their low armor. While Bear druids will just soak things up with their big armor (which improves with Mastery) Monks will apparently use their variety of abilities to avoid and mitigate the damage.

This actually makes it seem like tanking on a Monk is going to be freaking difficult. If you are forced to constantly use abilities to stay alive, a couple-second lag-spike would mean a near guaranteed wipe - or at least a tank death.

The other interesting issue that this raises is that it isn't so weird to imagine leather tanking gear. After all, caster mail will only be for Elemental and Restoration Shamans, and caster leather will only gain one more spec that finds it useful. And of course Holy Paladin gear is still one-spec only.

It wouldn't be all that crazy to see dodge rating show up on leather armor, then. Druids still won't be able to parry, and Monks have class-mechanics that I assume will allow them to parry without making parry-rating gear too attractive.

Actually, it would even work out with armor models. With the introduction of Death Knights, Blizzard often goes with the convention that Healing Plate looks like Paladin tier gear, Tanking Plate looks like Warrior tier, and DPS Plate looks like Death Knight tier. One could imagine Caster leather looking like Druid gear, Melee Leather look like Rogue gear, and Tanking leather look like Monk gear.

It's very early in the Beta, and I'm sure the Monk has a lot of iteration to go through (let's remember how wildly the DK changed... even though it kind of changed back in Cataclysm, though Blood and Frost switched roles.) But if Blizzard decides to take one step back from its gear consolidation, I think that Tanking Leather is a definite possibility.

Patches and Tiers!

Blizzard has said something interesting about Mists of Pandaria. Theoretically, Mists will be "complete" in the box. That's to say, the story of Mists of Pandaria will wrap up with the first tier of raids. Not to worry, though, because there are still going to be additional tiers of content and patches with additional instances and other such things.

I've been trying to figure out what that means, exactly. My understanding is that when we head to Pandaria, the threat of the Sha and the Mogu and the Mantid are all going to be the main things on everybody's minds (plus, the Alliance v. Horde conflict.)

However, the way this makes it sound is that after tier 14, the Mogu and the Mantid, and possibly even the Sha, will all be dealt with. This is fairly contrary to how things have gone in the last two expansions. Yogg-Saron and Loken's forces were clearly a big part of the story in Northrend, and of course the Scourge remained a threat until Arthas was dead. In Cataclysm, Deathwing was torching entire zones until 3.3 hit, and while Ragnaros and his fire elementals were really only present in Hyjal, it was still one of the big stories.

So we're left with a few questions. First off, how many tiers of raiding content are we going to have? Vanilla had 3 official tiers, but Ahn'Qiraj sort of slipped in between tiers 2 and 3 - a bit surprising given how huge the AQ raids are. Arguably Naxxramas-40 should have been considered tier 4. Burning Crusade actually came out of the box with two and a half tiers of content, with all of tiers 4 and 5, and the Hyjal half of tier 6, with Black Temple, Zul'Aman, and Sunwell Plateau coming in patches. Wrath had 4 full tiers, each tier coming with each major content patch, plus a couple of bonus instances thrown in there. Admittedly tier 9 was only 5 bosses (not counting Onyxia,) but it was also their first experiment with true heroic mode raids (as opposed to the "hard modes" they had experimented with in OS and Ulduar.) Cataclysm once again had three tiers.

I don't know what the plan is for Mists of Pandaria, but given the amount of time they have to work on endgame content because of the lack of an old-world revamp, my hope is that we can get larger raids and more tiers of them. Tier 14 is supposed to have 14 bosses, which bodes well.

So if we assume that tier 14 is going to be us finishing off the Mogu, Mantid, and Sha threats, what does that leave us? On one hand, there's not a lot we can say having yet to see the new zones. However, I think it's likely we're going to deal with the Zandalari - maybe not permanently, but I would not be shocked to see a raid dedicated to them. According to Blizz, the Zandalari are old allies of the Mogu, and much as the Alliance and Horde are grabbing land and resources, so are the Zandalari. I actually think that Blizzard is setting the Zandalari up as essentially a third major mortal faction. I doubt we're going to see a third playable faction, but the Zandalari could eventually take on the form of a "team yellow" opposed to the Alliance's "team blue" and the Horde's "team red." If the Zandalari were to recruit the Mogu and some other races to their side, things could get very interesting indeed.

So I'm going to put the Zandalari as a possible tier 15 threat.

We've only seen glimpses, but there appears to be something Titan-made in Mogu'shan palace. I actually think that given the Mogu's stone-like flesh and the fact that A: they were put in charge of what is now called Pandaria and B: had the ability to shape other races, it would not surprise me at all to find that the Mogu are another Titanic race, like the Earthen, Vrykul, Mechagnomes and Tol'vir. It strikes me that something has to account for the fact that Pandaria's remained hidden for so long. Could it be a Titan device, akin to the one that was hiding Uldum? Does that mean that there's a Titan facility hidden somewhere in Pandaria? It stands to reason.

Obviously, whatever the final tier of Mists is, we're heading to Orgrimmar. While we know that Garrosh is going to be sent into forced retirement (though they have not said explicitly whether that retirement will be spent 6 feet underground,) we only have a few hints of what leads the Horde to turn on him (for the Alliance, it should be obvious.) We do know that Ragefire Chasm is getting the Stockades treatment - a revamp, but no heroic mode - and we're going to encounter some "Dark Shaman" and a huge berserker Orc like Gurtogg Bloodboil. We've heard that each patch is going to escalate the war, so it seems like these bad influences should be coming more and more to the forefront. While I imagine any sort of "Dark Horde - not to be confused with the Dark Horde in Blackrock Spire" raid is likely to just be the Siege of Orgrimmar, we might start seeing some stuff about them, or just the war in general, in patches.

So, so far I have: Mogu, Mantid, Sha, and then possibly Titans, Zandalari, Alliance v. Horde stuff, and finally Siege of Orgrimmar, which could account for 3 or 4 raiding tiers. Check back here in two years to see if I was right!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Block Nerf

When the Beta began, the floodgates opened, and while there's a lot of new information, I think we're at a point where the shocking reveals are mostly either already revealed (Siege of Orgrimmar, for one) or they haven't been discovered/put in the beta yet. Personally I'm probably most excited to hear about what Jaina will be up to - though that's probably something for another post.

No, what I'm here to talk about is the Block nerf.

Taking a trip to the past, there was a time where most tanks slung a shield in their off-hand. (Granted, given the current popularity of Paladin tanks *puts on Hipster Glasses* which I was totally playing before it was cool *takes off Hipster Glasses* this is still probably true.) In fact, if we look at Vanilla, the actual design intent was that only Warriors would make decent tanks, with Druids and Paladins sometimes getting to play in dungeons, but basically being forced to respec if they wanted to raid. This evolved into the three tank roles of Burning Crusade: Warriors were main tanks, Druids were add tanks, and Paladins were AoE tanks. Finally, in Wrath, it was decided that rather than create an entire new tanking niche for Death Knights (which was going to be "anti-caster tanks,") they just decided that everyone should be able Main Tank or do any of the other roles.

Let's also talk about the way that Block used to work. Before Cataclysm, all shields had a "block" value below the armor value. Additionally, pieces of gear sometimes had Block Rating or something that described the fact that it raised the Block Value of your shield by such and such amount. You would also gain a small amount of block value from strength. What this block value meant was that every time you blocked an attack, you would subtract that amount from the strike. As enemies hit harder in higher tiers, you either needed higher block value or block was going to get less and less significant. It also meant that in Wrath, some tanking gear sucked for Death Knights, as they gained no benefit from block rating or block value.

It also meant that a warrior or paladin tanking a huge swarm of creatures that would be weak on their own would take next to no damage if they blocked all those attacks. On the flip side, if you had only 1k block value and a boss was slamming you for 10k, it made all that block rating seem pretty pointless - which is part of the reason why in Wrath tanks stacked Stamina and Armor over everything else.

Cataclysm did a couple things regarding block. The biggest was the end of a "block value," simply determining that a shield block would reduce the incoming attack by 30%. The other was the elimination of Block Rating as a thing on gear. It was replaced by Mastery, which as we all know, does a different thing for every spec. As a result, all tanks could now benefit from the same rating, but in different ways. DKs no longer had to groan when a nice tank piece dropped with totally useless stats.

The problem with the new way Block worked, however, is that, given a huge amount of Mastery, a Paladin (or an even better-geared Warrior) can eventually hit a point where they are block-capped - that every incoming attack that isn't dodged or parried (and doesn't miss) is guaranteed to be blocked. So that's a flat 30% physical damage reduction guaranteed - more so when you take into account Holy Shield and Critical Blocks.

While theoretically effective incoming damage might be equivalent to a Death Knight or a Druid's mitigation, this flat damage reduction means a much smoother intake of damage, which makes block tanks (particularly Paladins) much easier to heal.

Blizzard is taking this very seriously, but we're getting into a territory that reminds me suspiciously of the infamous old "Nerfed to the ground" announcement. Blizzard is doing two things to combat this: first they're putting block masteries on diminishing returns. What this means is that the more Mastery you have, the less effective each further point is. This is the way that things currently work for dodge and parry.

The other thing is that blocks will, in the future, be calculated as a separate roll than the hit/dodge/parry/crit roll they've always been part of. The effect of this is that as your dodge and parry (avoidance) increases, you will effectively get a lower block chance.

Let's say you have 50% block.

If you have 20% dodge+parry, that means that there's only an 80% chance the game will even check if you're going to block (ignoring miss chance here.) So that 50% really translates to 40% block, in the final calculation.

Later on, you have a combined avoidance of 40%. With 50% block, and a 60% chance to check for that block, you have effectively 30% block.

So, in order to get up to a reasonable block chance again, you now have to get significantly more Mastery, which is now on diminishing returns. Really, Mastery will probably become totally worthless after a certain point.

I think the big problem here is the double nerf and the way that those two interact with each other. I don't know how the math will work out, but assuming that none of the other tanks are getting nerfed, this could wind up an overcompensation that severely punishes shield tanks.

It seems that we should try one or the other. Each has its own flaws and strengths.

Diminishing returns would mean that unlike anyone else, Protection(s) has a Mastery that gets worse the more you have. Is this the end of the world? Maybe not. It's somewhat elegant, and a tried-and-true method Blizzard has for dealing with caps. It also allows Block to scale linearly with incoming damage. Because we're looking more at damage left over, rather than damage reduced, going from, say, 85% to 90% block is not as big a reduction as 90% to 95%, because the 15% is only one and a half times as much damage as 10%, whereas 10% is twice as much as 5%. Diminishing returns effectively allows you to scale it to the damage you take, rather than what you reduce.

The two-roll method is a bit awkward, and might in fact require more complex computations that would, over the course of a fight, cause some lag. It's also just weird, and punishes a player for having decent avoidance. On the other hand, the current implementation of Death Strike kind of works the same way. Because it's based on damage taken (unless that damage was insignificant - there is a minimum heal,) a DK with tons of dodge and parry will get less healing, and thus a smaller blood shield when they use Death Strike. Similarly, because the Druid's Savage Defense is based on damage, and their Attack Power is driven by Vengeance... wait, what the hell is going on with Druids? No wonder their Mastery is getting redesigned.

Once again, I don't really know how the math works out, but the Diminishing Returns solution seems far more reasonable.

There are a couple other solutions, though. One is just to nerf Mastery numerically. We (Paladins) currently get something like 2.25 block chance per point of Mastery. If they're so worried about us Block-Capping, why not just nerf it down to 1.5 or wherever the calculations land it? Make it impossible to cap with gear, and if you find that you can't, nerf it some more.

If that gets the value so low that it's worthless next to dodge and parry, here's another thing you can do: make Divine Bulwark more interesting, like Critical Block. Warriors trade block chance for effective block value - the Mastery gives them a chance not only to Block, but an equal chance (before the base block chance) to get a Critical block, doubling the block value.

Paladins could go down a similar road, perhaps gaining straight block value (though that could cause even bigger super-scaling issues,) or work in a bit of Paladin-flavor appropriate healing, like a HoT that triggers every time you block, proportional to the amount of damage you blocked.

You might even chuck out a Block Rating-style Mastery entirely, giving Warriors and Paladins abilities like the new Shield of the Righteous that would give you on-demand or rotationally-maintained boosts to your block chance, but ones that would not become more frequent with gear, and then allow you to improve the effectiveness of those blocks via Mastery.

Ok, I'm getting long-winded here, but here's my proposal for new Masteries that would let us set aside all this absurd redesign:

All shield-bearers have an innate let's say 10% block. Paladin and Warrior tanks use abilities like Shield of the Righteous or Shield Block or whatever to allow them to maintain something like a 50% block chance (maybe less.)

Prot Warriors get Critical Block as their Mastery, but it no longer affects block chance - only the chance to block for 60% instead of 30% (values are open to change.)

Prot Paladins get a redesigned Divine Bulwark, where rather than any effect on the Block chance, you now gain Block value. If you were to pour all of your stats into Mastery, you could theoretically make a Block as powerful as a Parry, but you'd never do so 100% of the time. And you would need the same amount of Mastery a DK would need to make his Blood Shield equal to the total damage of the strikes that powered it - something that would be impossible unless there were like 20 tiers at the same level cap.

That's my solution there. Not sure if there's some glaring mathematical problem that would ruin us all, but it really seems like it could work a lot better, and wouldn't require some crazy two-roll system.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Professional Materials

I'm still in the "reload, reload, reload" phase.

So, just taking a look over at MMO-Champion, I think we've got some of our new professional materials.

Windwool appears to be the newest type of cloth, like Embersilk and Frostweave before it. Tailors and bandage-makers alike will want to load up on this stuff. Not sure if the Northrend Cloth gathering will apply to it, but hopefully yes.

Ghost Iron appears to be one of the base metals we'll be working with. Not sure if it will be the Fel Iron/Cobalt/Obsidium equivalent or the Adamantite/Saronite/Elementium equivalent. In all honesty, I wouldn't mind if they just gave us one base metal this expansion, but we'll see. It could technically be the Korium/Titanium/Pyrite equivalent (the precious metal,) but I don't think it will be, for whatever reason.

I'll try to get more of this stuff up as I see it. Props to MMO-Champion for the info.

Beta Seriously Incoming

Well, apparently invites for the Mists beta are starting to go out tonight. I would imagine that only a handful of people are getting it now - I have had a continuous account since the fall of '06 and picked up the Annual Pass pretty much as soon as it was announced, so I imagine that if they are doing a "first come first served" deal, I should be getting in pretty soon.

MMO-Champion has, of course, already data-mined a ton of item icons and achievements, even if the Beta servers are still not up.

Still, given the incredibly short gap between the Press Tour and the Beta, I'm very happy to predict that we'll be getting Mists sooner than I had hoped. Given a Beta now, even if it lasts four or five months we're still going to get it in the early fall at the latest (knock on wood.)

This was clearly their plan with the Press Tour - to get us all a lot of info and pump us up for the new expansion, and then open the floodgates two days later. While my guild is only 1/8 in normal on Dragon Soul (I told you, we're super-casual) I know that most people (and actually, myself included) are chomping at the bit to get to Pandaria.

I don't really have too much to say. I'm probably going to be obsessively reloading my page tonight to see if I got in yet.

Beta Incoming

Happy Spring!

Opt-ins for the Mists beta are now open, though on top of that about 10% of WoW's playerbase has already signed up for the Annual Pass (this guy included) and thus are guaranteed a spot in the beta. How they're going to fit a million people in the beta is something I don't know how they're going to pull off. How the hell do you sift through all that feedback? And how do you deal with such a huge number of players on what is essentially a horribly broken version of the game?

I opted in for the Cataclysm beta, but did not get in. This time I'm looking forward to trying my hand at checking out Mists. That said, my goal (and I'll have to see if I can hold to this) is that I will be doing two things: briefly checking in on my central toons - Jarsus mainly, and then the other four in my "core five," plus maybe Shibti the Mage if I can copy him as well (I want to see how Arcane plays.) Mostly, though, I'm going to avoid going to Pandaria itself to try to preserve some of the fun of discovery.

The big thing I'll be interested in doing is trying out the Monk. While all the tanks are getting a bit of a reworking to make them use "Active Mitigation," the Monk seems to have a ton of abilities that are all about defense. I've mentioned before that I'm not 100% behind Active Mitigation - I might even be below 50%. But if I can see it in action, and it doesn't turn into a tunnel-vision personal Healbot minigame as I fear it might, I'll be relieved. I also wouldn't mind some practice before I roll up my Brewmaster for real (and I'm totally going to get one of those badass beards like Chen Stormstout seems to have.)

With the Beta non-specifically imminent, this raises a lot of questions regarding release dates.

Frankly, I think it's got to be a 2012 release. A: they aren't going to want a repeat of the full year of 3.3 (good patch though that was,) and B: Without the 1-60 revamp, Mists is going to be much less work to complete than Cataclysm was. Though there are certainly unfinished areas, and we don't actually have a full dungeon and raid list, it's clear that what they have got looks pretty damned polished. I imagine that the dungeons and zones that they did not show are probably not quite finished, but mostly complete. This could be wishful thinking, but it seems probable.

So, let's assume the Beta comes out before the end of the month - essentially within a week. I can't actually remember how long the previous Betas went, but I think they were about three months. That really bodes well. Let's say four months to be safe, plus a period between the end of the beta and the two weeks of pre-expansion events (Justice for Theramore!: new Alliance battlecry?) Even with that we're looking at an early Fall release.

Still, delays are always a possibility, so let's not count our chickens before they hatch. Still, I have a good feeling about this one.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The New LFR Loot System

I've written a fair amount about the problems with loot in World of Warcraft, and potential solutions to said problems. I think that all issues with gear drops boil down ultimately to two categories: the game system issues and the other players issues.

The new LFR loot system almost entirely eliminates the "other players" problem.

For those of you who either have not read about it, or still don't know how it is proposed to work, here's my explanation of the new loot system - to be implemented in LFR only, at least for now:

The raid kills the Boss. On the loot table for the Boss is, let's say, a Caster Dagger (with hit,) a Caster Mail chestpiece, a set of Agility Leather Shoulders, a Healing Plate Helmet, and a Tanking Sword.

For the sake of simplicity, let's make this a 5-man group, with an Enhancement Shaman, a Rogue, a Warlock, a Holy Priest and Protection Paladin.

When the boss dies, each player gets a hidden, automatic "roll." You don't see this happen, you only see if you won the roll or if you didn't. I don't think they've decided how you determine who wins the roll - either the game will pick one or two of your five at random and say they won, or each individual will roll entirely separately, allowing for the possibility that everyone wins or everyone loses.

My understanding is that if you "win" on this boss, the game will then give you an appropriate reward based on your spec. So if the Paladin wins, they will get the tanking sword. If the Rogue wins, they will get the shoulders. However, if the Enhancement shaman wins, they will get gold instead of that Mail chestpiece, because it is designed for Elemental and Restoration.

I could be wrong about this, but I also believe that even if there is a piece you want off that boss, you still have a chance to only win gold off them.

Overall, this accomplishes quite a bit to eliminate ninja looting and really just preventing competition over gear. Sure, if they go with the "top one or two rolls" method, you might be pissed off that someone else won instead of you, but they're never going to take your gear. If you had, for instance, a Brewmaster Monk instead of a Protection Paladin, you might wind up with both the Monk and the Rogue getting their own pair of those shoulders.

There are some flaws, though. In the current Dungeon Finder, I often accumulate a fair amount of gear for my Retribution off-spec, needing after I've either confirmed that whatever plate dps class is in there with me doesn't want it, or that there isn't anyone who needs it for main spec. With the current Need+ system, I can need without fear (except on Gurthalak) that I am taking it away from someone who needs it for their main spec.

This system is going to make it much harder to build up a set of off-spec gear. On one hand, it's good that it prefers pieces for your main spec - I don't want to have a better Ret set than my Prot set - but it would be nice if it had a tiered system that detected your other spec, if you had dual-spec enabled (which has got to be most people at this point.)

I can't speak for everyone, but I know that if I were that Enhancement Shaman I would much rather get that Caster chest piece than an equivalent amount of gold. I have an Elemental off-spec on Tarbhad, and hey, I might want to transmogrify my current chest piece so that I look like a Shaman instead of a hunter.

I don't know how smart they're making the system, but I would say there should be a kind of preferential lean toward mainspec gear, but still allow off-spec gear to get mixed in there on occasion.

Complaints aside, I am very excited to see this system in place. The truth is that people do just blindly roll need on everything in Raid Finder. I never roll on a piece I already have (except tier tokens for off-spec sets, or of course No'kaleds on my Enhancement shaman, though I will never roll on those again, having both of them) but I know that most people would rather get the gold from selling the piece than let someone who they've never met before get it. Is that a sad commentary on the playerbase? Well, somewhat, but I think it's more just a demonstration of John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

Interestingly, the "just roll need" mentality currently prevents anyone from ever getting off-spec gear, so I guess we're not losing much.

Factions and Reputations: Owning a farm

One of the very pleasant surprises coming with the Mists press tour was the news about the new ways in which reputation factions will function. In Vanilla, most factions required endless grinding of instances or repeatable turn-ins. Burning Crusade added daily quests, but for the core factions, you generally had to grind dungeons within a particular dungeon complex: You'd get Sha'tar for doing the Tempest Keep dungeons, or Honor Hold/Thrallmar rep for doing Hellfire Citadel dungeons.

Wrath introduced reputation tabards, allowing you to run whatever dungeon you wanted and focus on one faction at a time, which was done very much the same way in Cataclysm. The problem with this, however, is that I think it's taken some of the meaning out of a reputation. Yes, it's definitely made it less onerous to hit exalted with the factions you want, but ultimately it doesn't feel very different than a JP/VP grind, except that the rewards will usually not be relevant beyond the initial content patch. While I was getting sick of running Mechanar, Arcatraz and Botanica over and over to get the shield from the Sha'tar (which come to think of it, I don't think I actually did until I had the Shattered Sun shield,) it also feels a little weird going into Throne of the Tides with a tabard declaring your love of the Guardians of Hyjal. The Naga there are probably like "the whos of what now?"

So what I'm very happy to see is that there appear to be a whole host of factions that have a more meaningful progression. The truth of it, really, is that factions have always been a pretty boring grind. Not only that, but they make it take longer and longer as you gain reputation, both because of higher numbers to reach the next level and lower amounts granted (at least in Avengers of Hyjal.)

The Molten Front was not a new faction - it was tied to Guardians of Hyjal, which was a faction you'd already be at least honored with by the time you unlocked those quests in the first place. It was also problematic (the main issue, I think, being that you started with a reasonable number of dailies, but as you unlocked the actual molten front, and then the Druids of the Talon or the Shadow Wardens, you wound up spending a huge amount of time there every day. Also, I try very hard, but even on a shaman I find a bunch of elementals to be not particularly compelling villains - but that's just me.

That said, when you did make progress, it felt very cool. One big part was the way that Leyara's story tied into it - her introduction along with the Druids of the Flame, the shocking moment when you thought Hamuul was dead, her death along with Hamuul's return, and then ultimately, her backstory, which made both her and Fandral more sympathetic, even if they did ultimately fall to corruption.

Many of the factions, the Tillers and the Shado-pan, the Cloud Serpent trainers - all of them seem to have a true story progression. Whereas with the Earthen Ring you simply get a couple more items to purchase if you get to the next level, I think there's a lot of potential if having a more active approach to factions.

While the reputation grind can still be a part of it, I'd like to see that as kind of a smaller part of the progression. It's very clear that Blizzard wants people to play the game as they prefer to play it in Mists, so if you're fine with the same dungeon grind as usual, you should be able to stick to that, but my hope is that you'll be able to make significant progress in other ways.

Now, the thing that would really, really help with grinds like these would be to implement a fairly large set of non-repeatable quests. The grind gets you from one link in the massive chain to the next, so for instance, you meet the Tillers and you do a little quest chain to convince them that you're worth their time. After that, you get a few dailies to help them out. When you hit friendly, which should be after just a couple days, you get a new set of non-daily quests, where you prove to them that you should go to the next level. Once those are done, you get new dailies, but you don't have to do the old ones anymore. Finally, when you hit exalted, you get a final quest chain that ultimately rewards you with the really cool rewards. The grind becomes more exciting when there's a meaningful difference between Honored and Revered.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Information Overload

There's way too much new information for me to sum up here, so I'm just going to leave this here on the table. Go on, take a look. Or not.

Anyway, much as we suspected, Mists is pretty far along. We're going to get the Beta very soon, though we don't have an exact date. I would guess within a month.

We now have an idea of how Monks will work - apparently they will use Energy like Rogues and Cat Druids, but have a sort of Holy Power/Rune kind of system, with Energy abilities building up Chi. Unlike Holy Power, abilities will cost a specific amount of Chi, so you can pool up to 4 and then, say, spend 3 on  one ability and 1 on another. Also, they have auto-attack back (lack of auto attack was probably insane to balance against the other classes, so I'm not terribly upset about that.)

One last thing about the Monk: Being designed from the ground up with "active mitigation" in mind, Monks have a huge number of damage-reduction abilities. I'm not even sure they get an armor boost with their stance, though even with the abilities they have I'm not sure how they could get away with that.

Probably the biggest shocker of the Press Tour is the announcement of the Siege of Orgrimmar. This is going to be the final raid of the expansion, and it looks like none other than Garrosh Hellscream is its final boss. I'm actually a bit conflicted here, because if you ever did the big Garrosh quest chain in Outland, you're basically responsible for Garrosh setting aside the guilt of what his father did. If you'd just left him alone, he would have just sat sulking harmlessly in Garadar, and maybe we'd have Saurfang as the interim Warchief during the Cataclysm. (Oh holy shit, can he be the Horde-side leader in that raid?)

Like I've said before, Garrosh is a terrible Warchief, betraying the "mission statement" of Thrall's Horde by pursuing conquest and casting aside the wisdom of the shamans. That said, terrible people can make awesome characters. Garrosh is actually quite complex. He does have a code of honor, but he doesn't really know how to apply it. Sure, he shows up to punish Krom'gar after the events of Stonetalon Mountains, but ultimately it was his super-militaristic philosophy that allowed the Horde to think it was ok to bomb a civilian target in the first place.

So killing Garrosh kind of makes him a tragic figure. Not quite MacBeth (because he didn't murder anyone to become Warchief - at least, not intentionally,) but I see the Siege of Orgrimmar as his kind of Birnham Wood moment.

That said, we don't necessarily have to kill him. We don't know what he's going to do to cause even the Horde to rise up against him, but assuming that there's still some redeemable value in him, buried deep, I think it would be interesting to, after defeating him, merely exile him to Outland. We've toyed with the idea of redeeming various villains. There was an entire quest chain in Icecrown whose conclusion basically explained why we wouldn't be able to redeem Arthas. Deathwing was too far gone, but in a way, Wrathion is a living redemption for the Black Dragonflight (though he does have you murder all of his relatives, and he's kind of terrifying himself.) Garrosh is the first expansion-ending villain who is just an ordinary mortal. Hell, we were able to rescue and redeem his dad in Warcraft 3 (well, rescue him for about five minutes until he got blown up when Mannoroth exploded.)

There is so much information here that I don't think I can cover everything in this post. So I'll just leave it here and pick it up a bit later. Just as a final thought: Mists looks pretty amazing. I'll admit I was a bit unsure when I first heard about it, but the enormous amount of new endgame content bodes very well. Also, 14 bosses in tier 14! That's more like it!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Old Dungeon Revamps

Yes, two posts in a row, so sue me.

When Cataclysm was announced, we found out that, in addition to the old-world revamp, two of the most popular dungeons from vanilla were getting the same treatment. Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep were both emptied out and filled with new enemies and bosses, with a couple exceptions (Silverlane and Springvale.) Overall, I loved these new instances, but at the same time I felt that we lost a bit in the revamp.

Deadmines is, I think, the more successful of the two revamped Cataclysm dungeons. If you do the quests in Westfall (and really, if you haven't, it shouldn't take you long to level up a human character to 10 and check it out,) there's a pretty compelling story disguised as a CSI parody regarding the Defias and the economic depression that's hit the Alliance lands. It's actually one of the few places where the Alliance has been given some moral ambiguity to play with. The Defias might ultimately be thugs, but their motivation is not some kind of dark apocalyptic new world order. They just want respect from a society they feel has exploited them. There's also a good question of what sort of consequences our adventuring ways might have.

When we went in to kill Edwin VanCleef, we didn't think much of it, because the guy was "a bad guy," and even by level 15 most of our characters have a kill-count that would shock Rambo. But if you do the quests in Westfall, you see that by killing this guy - admittedly a dangerous criminal - you've left Vanessa VanCleef an orphan (every notice that Warcraft has tons of fathers but basically no mothers? What's up with that?) In many ways, you (or the players who leveled before you) are responsible for Vanessa VanCleef. If I were a roleplayer, I think Jarsus would need a bottle of scotch after running Heroic Deadmines.

Shadowfang Keep is a bit more problematic. On one hand, I think it's a fun dungeon, and Lord Godfrey is such a wonderfully hateable villain. Seriously, first he sells out his countrymen, then he turns around and betrays the Forsaken. No one likes this guy. Still, SFK loses a bit of its original character. This was originally "The Worgen dungeon." Granted, we now have Worgen players, but if you play through the modern SFK, it's composed entirely of the undead - there's not a Worgen to be found, except in the ghosts that Silverlane summons. While Deadmines was always a slightly off-kilter dungeon with the Defias as its main villains, SFK feels wholly different, even if the map is unchanged.

However, given the Cataclysm revamp, it made sense to go back to these dungeons, and even if SFK is hardly recognizable, it is still totally justified by the quests in Silverpine.

So now we come to Scholomance/Scarlet Monastery. Mists of Pandaria is not doing any of the zone revamps we got with Cataclysm, so the reason we're going back to these dungeons is not entirely clear. We might not even get a quest explaining why we're heading back. So what are these revamps here to accomplish?

Well, these were also very popular dungeons (Scarlet Monastery is where I cut my teeth as a tank, actually.) That's basically the only reason I can come up with. It's not a terrible reason, but I have a few suggestions:

Without the zones around them getting an additional revamp, we are left with the assumption that story-wise, they have not progressed any farther than their current Cataclysm states (admittedly, Scarlet Commander Mograine should probably be dead, because I think his Death Knight brother killed him.) So for the most part, I think we're going to be fighting the same characters in there.

The other worry I have is that by removing certain bosses or rearranging dungeons, some of the crazy old gear we could get there, or some of the fun experiences, would be gone. There's a solution, though:

Just create new heroic modes. Leave the normal dungeons exactly as they are now. I don't know what sort of technological problems could arise from having normal and heroic dungeons with different layouts, but while I'm actually quite excited to take on Scholomance on heroic, or beat up the Scarlets, I think there has to be a way to add on to these dungeons without destroying the old ones.

One day left of ignorance regarding the Press Tour

Well, come midnight tonight, the NDA on last week's Mists of Pandaria Press Tour will have been lifted. The only things I've seen are vague "there were some big surprises" sort of statements and a couple of leaked videos that, while cool looking, don't tell us a huge amount without any commentary to explain them.

This will basically be the first time Blizzard has done a big reveal of Mists of Pandaria information since Blizzcon - other than a few "Watercooler" posts. Obviously, MoP is going to be slightly different from the last time we saw it. Some features will have been dropped, while others might appear.

Regarding which features we'll likely see dropped, I figure we should look at each new feature and see how to classify them: Crucial, Major, or Minor.

Crucial features are really the expansion-defining features. For example, Wrath's crucial features were the Northrend zones and dungeons, as well as the Death Knight class. Those were the two things that, without which, Wrath would not have really been Wrath. Cataclysm's crucial features were the updated 1-60 zones, the Goblin and Worgen races, the new race/class combos, and the 80-85 zones and dungeons.

Mists of Pandaria's Crucial Features - the ones that I would be absolutely shocked to see dropped, and basically think Blizzard cannot do so - are: Pandaria, with its 85-90 zones and instances, the Pandaren race, and the Monk class. These are all sort of "non-negotiable."

Major features are big changes that are certainly something to get excited about, but if they wind up dropped, it's not the end of the world. This is where I'd put, for example, Cataclysm's talent spec redesign, or Wrath's introduction of heirloom items. Mists actually has a lot of these sorts of features. PvE scenarios, Pet Battles, Challenge Mode dungeons, as well as the new Talent/Spec redesign that is already pretty visible and therefore pretty much guaranteed.

Honestly, PvE scenarios are probably the one I'm most excited for, but also the one that we've heard the least about. This has me worried, because if there's any major feature that looks like it would be cut, it's these. Though not as bad as Path of the Titans, Scenarios are in a hazy space since Blizzcon. We still don't really know how you start them, how often you can do them, or what the rewards might be. So if we're going to see a major feature cut, expect it to be this.

Pet Battles, on the other hand, seem like something they're pretty committed to. This was one of those features that came completely out of the blue for me, and while I imagine I'll dabble in it, it wasn't something I was yearning for.

Challenge modes actually seem relatively simple to implement, if you can build a sophisticated iLevel-reducer. How exactly is it going to deal with things like hit and expertise? If your crit goes down a bit, it means slightly lower dps, but if you keep yourself just barely hit capped, are you suddenly going to be missing a whole lot? Beyond this hurdle, though, Challenge Mode seems like it just requires attaching a timer to the dungeon and then you're good to go.

Minor features are the ones that you're not going to be all that worried about. These are the things like Barbershops, or Dance Studios (sorry to those of you who want this, but really, are you all that upset about not being able to change your dance? How often do you /dance?) Little fluff features that might make you go "neat," but aren't going to determine if you fork over the $50 for the expansion.

So there's your "score card." In a little under 12 hours, we'll find out how much of this stuff is sticking. Expect the most volatility in the Major features. And I'll see you on the other side.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Looking Good!

Mists of Pandaria Screenshot of the Day 3/16/12, copyright Blizzard
Well, unless they decided to start with the Tauren, this screenshot kind of disproves my "new models" theory, at least in the very near future. I actually did not think that the earlier screenshot really was new Tauren, but I stand by my earlier post about the need for character model buffs.

I assume what we're looking at is a Mage/Warlock/Priest wearing a set of Mists gear. Personally I'd guess this is the "blue dungeon" set, as opposed to leveling greens because they seem to make the dungeon gear a bit more colorful (though I would be pleasantly surprised if I was wrong.)

Gear models are something on which I tend to disagree with the general populace. I started playing a couple months before Burning Crusade, hitting 70 on my first level-capped toon some time in the fall of '07 (Darsino, the rogue - it took me that long to level because I was already an altoholic then, and I tended to wander off from my current quest without completing it if it took too long. Also leveling was just a longer process back then. Damn kids!) Anyway, there was something back then that players called your "clown costume." As you gathered gear from various sources, you were basically guaranteed that none of it would match. For example, while leveling my Mage (well, the older of two) through Netherstorm (admittedly this was during Wrath, but the point remains valid,) he looked like this:

Far out, mon!
A lot of people didn't like looking like that.

So, as a result, when Blizzard came out with Wrath, the made one or two models for each gear type, gave them about two shades of grey or brown, and basically told you to wait until you were raiding for you to have any color on your gear.

Now, I'm of a different mind: I think that Shibti looks freaking amazing up there. If you knew someone who could manipulate the flow of time and shoot fireballs from his hand, would you really think that this is someone who would dress like a normal person?

Admittedly, this is a look that people can achieve if they just do a bit of transmogrification, but I think this should be the rule, rather than the exception. Let those people who want to stay in tier 6-model armor forever do so (don't look at Jarsus' Armory page. I was weak!) and the rest of us should load up on crazy-looking mismatched stuff.

Now, admittedly, a big reason why so much BC gear looked weird and mismatched was that it was mostly reused models - either the recolored tier sets or just random crap. In no way do I think that Blizzard should stop making new gear models.

Really I think the best thing to do is what they did with some of the gear in Ulduar. Most of it was recolored versions of tier 8 gear, but occasionally you'd find, for example, a caster mail helmet that looked like a pair of goggles.

I also think that those recolored versions of older tiers could be a fun way for people to get their hands on lookalike pieces. Have you ever tried soloing (or two-manning) the first boss in Blackwing Lair so that you can go farm up some tier 2? It is, I'm pretty sure, literally impossible - no matter how much health and dps you have. I have a feeling I'll never get my hands on a full tier 13 set for either of my mages (especially not the normal-mode version, which is my favorite,) but I know that if I were to ever put in the effort, I could farm up purple Judgement on any of my plate toons.

I guess what I'm saying here is that that new set of gear looks great, and by all means I think we should be able to get a set that looks like that. But wouldn't it be fun, as a kind of surprise, to see, say, Herod's Shoulder make a cameo appearance?

Actually, related to that last one, the revamped heroics do offer a bit of a chance for this kind of stuff. While Deadmines and SFK largely stuck to the standardized Cataclysm armor models, we did see some familiar old weapon models. I can't imagine that the revamped Scarlet Monastery is going to pass on Whitemane's Chapeau, or Herod's Shoulder, both fairly iconic pieces of gear (slightly unclear whether the shoulder should be mail or plate - it was designed for Warriors and Paladins in their 30s, but the Heirloom version is for Hunters and Enhancement Shamans.) Personally, I'll be looking for the Aegis of the Scarlet Crusade, which was my first blue-quality shield.

The point, as always, is variety. Let's have matching sets for the squares and awesome Space Hippie Wizard garb for the rest of us.

Engineering a better... engineering

Engineering is my favorite profession in WoW. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest is that I love anachronisms in fantasy. Other than magic and fictional settings, anachronism is a way to reinforce the fantasy of it all. And Warcraft is full of anachronisms. You can take your futuristic trans-dimensional blue alien from a society based in crystal spires and togas into a cave and fight deformed cave men, or fly around in an enormous helicopter/battleship built by tiny green- and pink-haired nuclear physicists fighting a medieval army of the dead that also happens to have a mad scientist in techno-goggles working with them.

The problem with engineering (and it's not entirely alone in this) is that Blizzard isn't quite sure what its meat and potatoes should be. What do I mean by "meat and potatoes?" Well, every profession has a quick answer for "what does this one make?" Blacksmithing makes plate armor and weapons. Jewelcrafting makes gems for sockets and jewelry (go figure.) Enchanting makes enchantments.

So what does engineering make? Well, the answer might have been "ranged weapons and ammo," back in the day, but with ammo gone as of Cataclysm and ranged weapons going hunter-only come Mists (not that they were all that widespread before) that seems like an awfully narrow use for a profession. Maybe more accurate to today's engineering is that it makes "toys and convenience items." However, it seems wrong that a profession should focus primarily on things that don't actually help your character become more powerful when others do.

Engineering was once considered the trinket profession. In recent expansions, that's been given over much more to Jewelcrafting. I think it's time engineering take it back. Jewelcrafting already has rings, necklaces, and of course gems, making it one of the two universal "crap, I need to do some stuff to this item in order to make it good enough to equip" professions (admittedly, tailoring and leatherworking get in on this a bit for pants, and blacksmithing for belts - though in the latter case it's only to get another gem socket.)

Trinkets are a funny thing, as they are usually the pieces of gear with the most unusual effects (other than legendary weapons,) but ultimately they tend to give us fairly straightforward bonuses, either on-demand, or automatically. They range from "attack for a few seconds to ramp this up and you'll get a pretty hefty dodge bonus" to "click to activate a robotic attack chicken!"

Engineering in WoW is basically the profession of unpredictability. Hell, it's the profession most commonly associated with each faction's most comic-relief-oriented playable race (and also each faction's smallest. Do the people at Blizzard just find small things hilarious? Seriously, the Draenei, the Tauren, the Worgen, the Orcs - all fairly serious or solemn races. But as soon as you start dipping down into Dwarf territory things start to get ridiculous.) The problem with unpredictability is that a huge amount of effort by players is put in to reduce unpredictability. Dps seeks hit and expertise to make sure their attacks land before they really worry about the power of those attacks. Tanks make sure they're taking damage as consistently as possible to keep the healers from having a heart attack. So having, say, a tinker on your belt that usually provides a modest damage-absorption shield but sometimes makes you guaranteed to take critical strikes is not exactly something you want to risk a raid boss attempt on.

This is why I think Engineering should be primarily concerned with trinket-making. While we like things predictable, we also have lots of fun with procs. It's a nice treat when Landslide goes off and you get a small but significant-over-the-long-term damage boost. Practically every spec has procs that change up what would otherwise be a set rotation.

And trinkets don't all have to be procs either. There are the License to Slay-type trinkets, for example, that ramp up a bonus, or the activated ones that have cool, unusual effects.

Obviously I think they could still have their old territories: the fun teleporters and gadgets (I literally have never remembered to use my Looterang. It's not even soulbound yet, but it's an awesome idea.) They could even still provide ranged weapons and scopes - though I would seriously de-emphasize those given their restriction to a single class.

The next issue is the profession bonuses. Making cool stuff is always fun, but ultimately you can just pay someone who has the profession to make that stuff for you (they seem to have de-emphasized Bind on Pickup recipes as of late.) Nowadays, most professions have a granted boost in one form or another. Scribes have extra-powerful shoulder enchants (with the added bonus of having one less rep to grind.) Blacksmiths can add sockets to their bracers and gloves. Jewelcrafters can equip a set number of extra-powerful gems.

Ultimately these bonuses are meant to grant you the same net benefit, but through different means. Theoretically, the Engineering version of this is Tinkers, but these are seriously flawed. Most tinkers place your trinkets on cooldown (at least for a short time, as if you used the other trinket) and there is no equivalent tanking Tinker (the tiny armor boost for Quickflip Deflection Plates is pretty underwhelming.)

One of the really cool ideas when they were first talking about Cataclysm was the existence of Cogwheels and Steampumps. The latter never came about at all, but the initial idea was that you would be able to craft, using Engineering-like components, special gems that would go into Cogwheel slots. On live, these wound up being only in the 359 Engineering goggles, and you didn't actually make them, but rather traded other engineering-made items for them from a vendor. Really, the most frustrating thing about these is that now that most people are getting 378 helmets or higher, either from the HoT heroics or Raid Finder, or actual raiding, there's no reason to ever buy Cogwheels again.

So: Let's break it down. What do I want to see out of Engineering in the future:

  • A new emphasis on trinket-making, possibly giving us new recipes to keep up with new tiers of content, like the armor-makers and Jewelcrafters do.
  • Keep the flavor of making fun gadgets, but don't penalize us by making the rest of the profession utterly anemic.
  • Careful design of Tinkers to make them equal in quality to the bonuses provided by other professions OR
  • A new version of the Cogwheel system, perhaps allowing us to add sockets to, say, our helmets and chests which we then fill with Cogwheels we make ourselves.
  • More fun toys for other professions so that Blizzard doesn't feel like they have to keep us nerfed to prevent everyone from switching to Engineering. Flying Carpets and Magic Lamps are good examples (and oddly 1001 Arabian Nights-themed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why, hello there, Mr. Yak-man.

Blizzard's most recent (as of earlier today at least) Mists of Pandaria screenshot of the day was this:

Now, there are a lot of ways to interpret this. My first guess is that it looks like the Tauren are going to discover some new cousins, much like the Taunka up in Northrend. This actually got me thinking about the Tauren, and how we seem to have a fair amount of information regarding other ancient Azerothian peoples (the Trolls, the Night Elves, and to an extent the Dwarves, Humans and Gnomes by way of their pre-Curse of Flesh ancestors) the Tauren have always remained a bit of a mystery. Were they, like the Trolls, around there before the Titans showed up? (That's true about the Trolls, right?) Did they evolve naturally, or are they creations of some higher power?

The other thing this screenshot could be showing (though I think it's unlikely, given how Yak-like this guy looks) is that we're now seeing one of the updated character models we've been hoping for, and that this is, in fact, a Tauren.

Anyone who's taken a good look at the Worgen or the Goblins will realize that they look a hell of a lot better than the other playable races. It's not hard to imagine why - the vanilla races showed up in 2004, and the Draenei and Blood Elves only about two years later, whereas the Cataclysm races are only a little over a year old. But man, they look a hell of a lot better in terms of detail.

Look at Jarsus:
And then look at Ardten:

Even with these small pictures, you can tell that there's a much greater amount of detail in the Worgen model.

So it's no surprise that people are clamoring for an update to their character models. The question is: how should such an update be handled. For instance, when designing Jarsus, I picked the face that that has kind of dark circles under the eyes, mainly because that's what I look like. However, with a bit more detail, it might turn out that this was intended to be the "Old Man" face for humans. Jarsus is not supposed to be particularly old, but with greater detail, the face I picked for him may no longer seem like the right one.

I still think that we should have new, Goblin/Worgen level character models for all the older races. However, given the possibility that new models will not look the way we player like, we have a few options of how to proceed:

One would be an option that, like choosing whether or not to hear the lower, echoey death knight voices, you could simply see the old versions in your client. The other, probably more reasonable way to do it, would be to offer a one-time free re-customization. Your race, and obviously your class would remain set, and perhaps even the character's gender (though I could imagine some flexibility on this) and the character's name would all be stuck, but when 5.0.1 comes around, or whenever the new models come out, every non-Worgen, non-Goblin, and non-Pandaren (though I assume we won't have them yet if this happens pre-expansion) would get a little icon next to their character name allowing you to re-customize them if you so choose.

I for one, am looking forward to it, because while I've never apologized for playing a human, (eh, I've probably apologized once or twice - but never for playing Alliance. Woot Alliance! ...though I also play Horde) their wrists are absurdly large, so I'd be very happy to see a new model.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Big Dan's Big Proposal for a Better Loot System

(I thought I'd post this separately from the previous article because I think it's a good idea and probably shouldn't be stuck, buried under my ranting about Souldrinker and Gurthalak.)

This is a proposal for a solution to the problems inherent to both a random-drop-based loot system and a fully currency-based system.

Each boss still has a loot table. If you ever want to get, say, Blackhorn's Mighty Bulwark, you still need to kill Warmaster Blackhorn (and there's still a better one for each higher difficulty.) However, let's say you're unlucky. The shield drops, or worse, some Warrior takes it. The warrior would get that shield right away, and you'd fume at him for a bit, but despair not! Under this new system, there would be a special vendor inside the raid. Let's call him Shastablab (he's a gnome.) Shastablab would have a lot of items there that look awfully familiar - Blackhorn's Mighty Bulwark, Vagaries of Time, even Souldrinker - but they're all red - you can't purchase any of them yet. Once you've killed Blackhorn for the first time on that toon, the shield, along with every other piece of gear he drops (including tier tokens,) lights up in the vendor's inventory. Having killed Blackhorn, you've clearly earned the gear he drops as much as that warrior did, but rather than just get all of it immediately, you now have to spend your valor points. That shield's quite a nice piece, so you'd probably have to pay 2200 valor or something for it, so you might hold off and instead spend your valor on, say, your tier helmet, or one of the non-drop valor pieces. Maybe you want to try your luck again and hope the shield drops next week. That's fine, it's still going to be there from the vendor in case it doesn't. The high valor costs would make it so this was really for getting that one damned piece that never drops for you, rather than just getting every piece off every boss you wanted quickly and easily. One could even create a new currency to discourage people from just running the raid once and grinding valor in dungeons for all the other pieces, though I would advise agains this, as I think keeping currencies simple was a good achievement in Cataclysm.

Essentially, this hybridizes the random loot drops with the VP system. It still encourages people to try their hand at new bosses rather than just grinding endlessly through heroic after heroic. You still need to kill a boss in order to get the loot you want, and you're still encouraged to continue killing that boss on the off chance he actually drops the piece you want, but bad luck with RNG is compensated for by allowing you to get the piece "the slow way." The loot isn't "free" for newbies - if they haven't killed anything in there, they can't get any of the loot, and if they've only killed Morchok on LFR, they can only get the stuff he drops, and only of LFR quality. Your gear still shows off what you've been able to accomplish, but you are no longer (as) frustrated by the cruel RNG gods.

I have no idea if this is something Blizzard has thought of, or if they have any intentions to fundamentally change the way that loot distribution works after about eight years. I'm sure there are problems with this system that I haven't thought of, but as with most things, I think a hybrid approach (here blending boss drops and Valor) would make for the most enjoyable system.

Another way that loot could work:

Yesterday, before the reset, I finally got my hunter, Ordenar (who had been my secondary Alliance toon for a long time, but was bumped back to three by my DK, four by my Worgen, and is now kind of hanging back with the "eh, sometimes I'll play them if I feel like it" toons) geared up for LFR. Despite the fact that he's got a pair of one-handers with expertise on them (needed to replace a blue staff) and still has the 333 Earthen Ring shoulders, Ordenar is now the proud owner of both a 2-piece tier 13 bonus (gloves and helmet) and Vishanka, the Jaws of Earth - the very best weapon a hunter can get in this expansion (though it is the least powerful version of said weapon.)

This morning, I took Jarsus, my main, through LFR's Fall of Deathwing, and, like the now four previous months of LFR, he has not even seen Blackhorn's Mighty Bulwark drop, nor has he won a Souldrinker.

Obviously, there are several factors at play here. For one, there's the very notion of random drops. This is something that's been part of WoW since the beginning. When you kill a boss, it's purely luck whether the piece you want drops. Now, probability is one of those things that we often misunderstand. Yes, in the long run, the more you kill a boss, the more likely you are to get that drop eventually. However, having never seen that shield drop off Blackhorn after x attempts, (let's say 10 or so, to account for all the weeks where I've gotten a Fall of Deathwing that was already on Madness and I didn't feel like queueing up for the whole damned thing again,) my chance of getting that shield has not improved at all, because all those previous kills may as well have never happened.

Another factor is other players. I love it when I get a DK or Druid co-tank in LFR, because it means that if the shield does drop (and it never does) I'll win it, guaranteed. I don't know if they adjust drop rates depending on how many specs could use the piece (if they did, why do I ever see Vishanka or Kiril drop?) but that could account for how rare the shield is.

The other factor is that Blizzard really needs to fix the unsophisticated way that it determines Need+ rolls. Souldrinker is a piece designed for 2 full specs and 2 half-specs. The healing side of the proc makes it a tank weapon, and the damage makes it a dps weapon. I realize that going in to actual talents is probably asking a bit much (and that come Mists, all Frost DKs and all Fury Warriors will be specced to take 2handers or 1handers,) but the only people who should ever win that freaking sword are Protection Paladins, Protection Warriors, Frost Death Knights with Threat of Thassarian/Nerves of Cold Steel and Fury Warriors with Single Minded Fury.

And yet the people who get a Need+ roll also include Arms, Retribution, Blood, and Unholy. Going by talent specs alone, that means that half the people who get a Need+ bonus for that piece aren't going to use it for their spec, and if you include Titan's Grip Fury and Might of the Frozen Wastes Frost, it's more than half.

The worst part of this is that even if everyone was honest and only needed if they wanted things for the specs they had (needing things for offspec and trusting in the Need+ system to only give them those pieces if the mainspecs passed,) they still might get the wrong piece (which is how I wound up with a Gurthalak on Jarsus - and a bug with it not going into my inventory prevented me from trading it to a Ret Paladin guildie who had been along for the raid.) In fact, greeding on offspec gear essentially screws you, because then you've all but assured that it will either go to someone else who isn't so deferential or it'll get sharded. When I run Madness on, say, my DK or my Arms Warrior, I still roll need on Souldrinker, and I just hope that if the tank (or one of the aforementioned dps specs) actually does need it, that they win it instead.

So: how do we fix it? Well, the first obvious thing to do is not make a weapon that can be counted as both tank and dps (and do something to make an exception for Blood.) The next step is to make the Need+ system smart enough to actually know what spec you are, and not just your role and class.

But going back to the problem of drop rates and popular vs. unpopular gear, there is the notion of changing things to a VP/JP system entirely.

There are advantages to a fully currency-based loot system: You never feel like you wasted a run. You always feel like you've made some progress. You will never get screwed by the RNG gods. Loot drama goes away in a puff of smoke.

However, there are other problem that will arise: If everything comes from points, then everything's a grind. There is little personality to a boss' loot table if every drop is 100 VP. If everything's on sale for VP, there's no gear advantage for a guild that's clearing the the whole raid over a solo player grinding VP in Dungeon Finder. This next one's a bit cynical, but if everyone can get all of their gear at a predictable rate, they might stop playing as soon as they've completed their set, thus losing Blizzard subscription money.

So here's an idea that I just came up with (actually in the process of writing this) that I think might alleviate some of these issues, while avoiding some of the problems that would arise:

Dan's Big Happy Proposal for a Better Loot System:

Each boss still has a loot table. If you ever want to get, say, Blackhorn's Mighty Bulwark, you still need to kill Warmaster Blackhorn (and there's still a better one for each higher difficulty.) However, let's say you're unlucky. The shield drops, or worse, some Warrior takes it. The warrior would get that shield right away, and you'd fume at him for a bit, but despair not! Under this new system, there would be a special vendor inside the raid. Let's call him Shastablab. Shastablab would have a lot of items there that look awfully familiar - Blackhorn's Mighty Bulwark, Vagaries of Time, even Souldrinker - but they're all red - you can't purchase any of them yet. Once you've killed Blackhorn for the first time on that toon, the shield, along with every other piece of gear he drops (including tier tokens,) lights up in the vendor's inventory. Having killed Blackhorn, you've clearly earned the gear he drops, but rather than just get all of it, guaranteed, you now have to spend your valor points. That shield's quite a nice piece, so you'd probably have to pay 2200 valor or something for it, so you might hold off and instead spend your valor on, say, your tier helmet, or one of the non-drop valor pieces. Maybe you want to try your luck again and hope the shield drops next week. That's fine, it's still going to be there from the vendor in case it doesn't.

Essentially, this hybridizes the random loot drops with the VP system. It still encourages people to try their hand at new bosses rather than just grinding endlessly through heroic after heroic. You still need to kill a boss in order to get the loot you want, and you're still encouraged to continue killing that boss on the off chance he actually drops the piece you want, but bad luck with RNG is compensated for by allowing you to get the piece "the slow way." The loot isn't "free" for newbies - if they haven't killed anything in there, they can't get any of the loot, and if they've only killed Morchok on LFR, they can only get the stuff he drops, and only of LFR quality. Your gear still shows off what you've been able to accomplish, but you are no longer (as) frustrated by the cruel RNG gods.

I have no idea if this is something Blizzard has thought of, or if they have any intentions to fundamentally change the way that loot distribution works after about eight years. I'm sure there are problems with this system that I haven't thought of, but as with most things, I think a hybrid approach (here blending boss drops and Valor) would make for the most enjoyable system.

Unanswered Questions (Part 1)

World of Warcraft is absolutely chock-full of loose plot threads. This is not a bad thing. Anyone writing a long-term story, whether it's a game with an indefinite number of possible future expansions, a long series of novels, or a television show, needs to sow seeds of future stories to reap them in the future. The alternative is that every time something new shows up, it's completely out of the blue, and the stakes of a conflict that pops up suddenly tend to feel thin or fake. If we were suddenly to discover that there was a group of Elephant-people who were actually the "greatest threat Azeroth has ever faced," only to kill the Elephant-king at the end of the expansion and go "phew," and wipe our foreheads and then move on with our lives, we'd all feel a little short-changed.

The danger, though, of all these plot threads is that often people feel frustrated if they are not addressed or seem to be forgotten by Blizzard. So, just for fun, I thought I'd put up a list of unanswered questions that I would like to see developed, if not resolved, in future WoW expansions. This is not necessarily something I'd need to see in Mists of Pandaria (in fact, some of these are things I would want to see a whole expansion dedicated to.)

I've divided these by general topic. So, without further ado:

The Infinite Dragonflight:
After End Time, is the Infinite Dragonflight gone for good, or are we going to be revisiting the Caverns of Time? (hoping for the latter.) Is Murozond no longer going to exist, or is Nozdormu going to go through the same loop and die in End Time at our hands? Or is he going to exist, but without Deathwing's Final Cataclysm, is he still out there, having evaded the future in which he was fated to die? Essentially, did we prevent Murozond, ensure Murozond, or none of the above? What is the "true End Time" that Murozond refers to?

The Undead:
What role do Death Knights play now that the Lich King is dead? How active is Bolvar as "Jailor of the Damned?" Under Bolvar's leadership, could the Scourge be a force for good in the world, or is it all he can do to keep them from washing over the world of the living? Is it only a matter of time before Bolvar is corrupted and becomes a fully fledged Lich King? If the Scourge would have run rampant without Arthas, does that mean there really was good still in him? If Bolvar's Scourge is no longer (as) evil, would he reach out to the Knights of the Ebon Blade? What's going on in Sylvanas' head (other than Godfrey's bullet, which is probably still lodged in there?) What's happening to Koltira, and has Thassarian had any luck in his efforts to rescue him? What does Mograine think of Sylvanas kidnapping one of his knights?

Turalyon and Alleria:
Where are Turalyon and Alleria?

The Burning Legion:
Was that Sargeras giving Varimathras instructions during the Battle of Undercity (a quest that I am really, really sad you can't do anymore.) What has the Legion been up to since Sunwell Plateau? Who would win in a fight, the Burning Legion or the Old Gods? (My money's on the Legion.)

The Old Gods:
Are C'thun and Yogg-Saron really dead, and if so, why haven't Northrend and southern Kalimdor fallen apart? Did their "deaths" have anything to do with the Cataclysm? Where is N'zoth? Where and who are the other Old Gods? Are there more Old Gods out in the rest of the universe, not bound like the ones on Azeroth?

The Titans:
Are the Titans coming back? What's Algalon been up to these days? Where is Tyr? What other worlds have the Titans "ordered," and how did those ones turn out?

The Zandalari:
Who is Zul? How did he convince the previously peaceful Zandalari to go crazy?

How has the Alliance (especially the humans) been adjusting to the Worgen? Where's Magatha Grimtotem? Where's Gallywix? How close is this "war between light and darkness" Velen has started to talk about? Is Thrall going to come back as Warchief, and if so, what's that mean for Garrosh? Is the Alliance ever going to have some conflict (please?)

And these are just the ones I could think of in the space of a half hour or so. Mists will be introducing us to a whole lot of new characters and conflicts, and that's great, but my hope is that we'll also see one or two of these addressed as well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How Will Mists of Pandaria progress?

As anyone who's played World of Warcraft longer than just 4.3 should know, the beginning of each expansion is less of a complete and solid new era for the game, and more like the season premiere of a television show. We are introduced to a lot of new environments and conflicts, and they are resolved or expanded upon as the season or expansion goes on.

Much like a television season, the early victories can lead to new conflicts. Naxxramas is fall sweeps, and then Ulduar's the mid-season finale to take us through the hiatus, and then things ramp up for the rest of the season, culminating in a confrontation with the season's big bad at the season finale (ICC.) And then from there, we're waiting for the next season to come out.

Obviously, WoW goes a little slower than television - each expansion has lasted about two years, while TV tends to do a season per year - but I think the principle is the same. And just like a television season, where we get glimpses of what might be coming for us, but usually only taken from the first two or three episodes, we also should know that things can go in quite unexpected directions ("Holy crap! The Zandalar Tribe has gone evil!" Kind of like "Holy crap! (spoilers for Lost season 2 incoming) Michael just totally shot Ana Lucia and Libby!")

WoW expansions have, for the most part, been pretty straightforward with who's the bad guy. Arthas was always the big bad of Wrath, likewise Deathwing for Cataclysm. Illidan really should have been BC's final boss - not because I think it needs to be straightforward, but because they hadn't been intending for you to face off against Kil'jaeden when they were first planning it.

Mists of Pandaria is doing something very interesting, in that we really don't know who's going to be the major threat. The Mogu and the Mantid strike me as Drakkari-level villains - people we're definitely going to deal with in multiple zones, but I doubt we'll be looking back on them as the most memorable villains of Mists. Still, we know we're going to have a Mogu raid and a Mantid-themed zone.

Ultimately, we probably can't do much to speculate, because we don't even know what the first three raids of the expansion will be (likely a similar spread to tier 11, though I hope we get a couple more bosses, and if not, a decent reason to go to whatever the equivalent of Throne of the Four Winds will be.)

If any villainous group stands out as the most likely serious threat, it's the Sha. I've heard speculation linking them to the Old Gods and the Naaru (and actually, given the descriptions we've heard of them, they'd fit in with the latter pretty well.) But like the Old Gods, without a real personality applied to one of them, I doubt we'd see one as a final boss of the whole expansion.

So let's lay out the threats we know will exist, and other possible threats to include.

The Mogu (we already know there will be a Mogu raid.)
The Mantid
The Zandalari Tribe (they seem to have a presence. Not sure if the island north of Pandaria really is Zandalar, or just a base. Like the Infinite Dragonflight, this might be one of those recurring villains they're setting up.)
The Naga: No reason in particular we should see these guys in Pandaria, but then, there's no reason we shouldn't.
The Sha: Clearly.

Beyond this, we also need to find out why Pandaria's been hidden for so long. It's got to be pretty important to have been the only major land mass not part of pre-Sundering Kalimdor. Was this something of Titan design? Or is there some other creative force, something that was there before the Titans or the Old Gods?

Actually, this is starting to get into questions for an article coming up about questions I'd like to see dealt with in the future, so here I'll stop and reiterate what I've been saying for weeks: we know very little. Much as Pandaria was hidden from view, the content of Mists of Pandaria will, I think, remain mysterious until we can actually get there for ourselves.