Monday, April 30, 2012

More Active Mitigation stuff. Sorry.

I know I've been talking about Protection Paladins a lot lately, but I thought I'd throw in some more thoughts about Active Mitigation (AM) and how to make tanks fun to play and easy to learn while still allowing for veteran players to be able to see an improvement when they play better.

Actually, first I'm going to talk about a serious problem that's faced the game for a long time: the Tank Shortage. Most players are totally uninterested in tanking. There's a huge amount of pressure on tanks to perform well. Not only are tanks non-combinational (meaning that having another tank in your group will not make you any more effective - at least on a boss fight,) but they are, as a necessary consequence of the design of the game, forced to set the pace of the run, know the most about how a fight works, and be at an equal or higher level of gear/skill than the rest of their group.

No matter how much you boost threat, the threat game is always going to be part of the Tank's job, because no matter how high your threat is, you first need to get the enemy's attention and hold it. If you aren't smacking the enemy on a regular basis, someone will pull off you.

Survival for a tank needs to be something that is intuitive. The original Holy Shield, seen way back in Wrath, was a good example of this. It lasted 8 second and had an 8 second cooldown. It was a rotationally-maintained ability that basically said "yes, I'm holding up my shield. I am properly tanking." Of course, when it was a guaranteed part of the 969 rotation, there was little interactivity, but I think it kind of fit as a sort of tanking version of "Slice and Dice." It's not a particularly exciting ability, but you're expected to maintain it.

Shield of the Righteous, Mists-style, is almost there. With the new Bastion of Glory aspect of it, what I think needs to happen is that they make Shield of the Righteous into a new Holy Shield. Now, a flat physical damage reduction is probably better than increased Block, as you no longer have it devaluing Mastery or risking Paladins sitting at the Block cap (and also not making it into RNG-dependent block value.) But the current implementation of 3 seconds makes it an absurdly small window - one in which you'd be lucky to reduce the damage of two boss auto attacks.

So, a proposal: Shield of the Righteous reduces incoming damage by a smaller amount, but for something like 8 seconds - or a number under what they'd expect you to be able to get enough Holy Power to refresh it. Protection is now concerned with maintaining their defensive bulwark.

Bastion of Light's super-buffed Word of Glory, then, becomes the short cooldown - to use when damage gets heavy.

The Main Point:

The biggest concern I have about AM is the notion that we have to sit on our defensive abilities. A compelling gameplay style is one in which you always have something to do. I think all tanks need to have something they can hit that doesn't have a cooldown and boosts their defense by a small amount. Tanks and boss damage are then built around the assumption that all tanks are maintaining that defensive buff. We then have our short cooldown ability - one that is exclusive with the maintained buff (by tying it to the same resources, such as Word of Glory and Shield of the Righteous) - which is the "and now the damage is really pouring in" ability.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Beta's Bugging so I Blog (Protection Paladin thoughts)

Yes, it's exciting to get into the Beta and be able to check out the new class, the new race, and the new continent, but the price you pay is that things can get really, really buggy. This latest build causes the game to crash very frequently. This is not a complaint. The whole point of a Beta is to see what causes the bugs to pop up and then smash them with a hammer (a programming hammer.)

The newest change to my main's spec (Prot Paladin, in case you had forgotten) is that Mastery finally functions as something more than Block Rating. Now, I know a lot of people complain that it was boring through Cataclysm, but I'm actually ok with Mastery being on a simplicity level comparable to other secondary stats. Still, the big problem for Mastery was that it was flat - if you capped it, it became worthless. Admittedly, the same can be said for a lot of Masteries, but unlike, say, Strikes of Opportunity, Divine Bulwark can cap in existing gear because of the way that Block interacts with Dodge and Parry currently.

By separating out the Block roll from the Avoidance rolls, you make it highly unlikely anyone's going to be Block capped, because you'd need the full 100% from Mastery alone and the more dodge and parry you get, the less exciting it is to get another 1% block.

However, the thing that was so good about Protection Paladins' Mastery in Cataclysm was that you could cap it. Now that block capping has been castrated, Paladins needed something else to make Mastery worth picking up again.

And that's where Bastion of Light comes in. There's a new effect on Shield of the Righteous that causes you to stack up a buff called "Bastion of Light," which scales with your Mastery (don't worry, Mastery also still provides Block Chance) and stacks up to 5 times, increasing the healing done by your self-targetted Words of Glory.

I haven't gone into the math of it very much, and in fact I've only run one dungeon on the Beta, but I understand that as they buffed Shield of the Righteous' defensive effect, other finishers (pretty much just Word of Glory, because what else do we use?) started to feel really lackluster. Now, you'll get a super-charged Word of Glory once you've stacked up Bastion of Light.

There are a couple ways to interpret how to use this. One is that you want to take advantage of the buff as much as you can, making every 6th finisher a Word of Glory. That's a fine idea, but I actually think that the best use is a solution to the whole question of AM (the acronym I'll be using for active mitigation): namely, is it rotational or reactionary?

Ever since they made Shield of the Righteous into an AM ability, I struggled with how the hell I was supposed to use it. Just hit it every time I can? Or save it for some big hit? As I've mentioned before, the problem I have with AM is that it's hard to be a proactive, defense-based tank when your enemies aren't telegraphing their moves. If Boss McLootman uses "Super Punch" every once in a while, certainly I'm supposed to hit my AM button right before it goes off. But if I have no way of knowing when Super Punch is going to go off, I'm either going to hold off on using it so long that I wind up taking way more damage than I need to (and sometimes miss the punch anyway) or I'm going to find that when he does use Super Punch, I don't have the resources to actually use it.

By tying Shield of the Righteous to a buff for Word of Glory, we can have our cake and eat it too. My proposed strategy (and this is really just a strategy - intricate knowledge of a fight can probably allow more intelligent use of these) is that you want to hit Shield of the Righteous rotationally. You probably want to pool up to 5 Holy Power so you can get back up to 3 in a pinch. You hit Shield of the Righteous every time you get to 5 Holy Power, and if that means wasting a few stacks of Bastion of Light, it's not the end of the world. After all, if you're not taking too much damage, the it will be an over-heal anyway.

However, let's say you're on... Zon'ozz, for example (the boss my guild is stuck on. Yes, I know, kind of sad, shush.) While he does start to pound pretty hard on you as his buff stacks, the healers can generally get you through that - plus, it's physical damage, so your ShotR will help with it. However, the really painful part is when he hits you with Psychic Drain. Even if you've hit Guardian of Ancient Kings or Glyphed Divine Protection, that's still going to leave you down a quarter or a third of your health (and it happens too often to have a cooldown ready for all of them.) This is a perfect opportunity, then, to hit your super-powered Word of Glory. If you've been good about stacking to 5 Holy Power, you can very quickly get your full-powered WoG off, and your healers will have a much easier time topping you off.

A lot of people have been talking about putting the overhealing absorb shield back on Word of Glory for Prot. Certainly, it would make it a more powerful ability, but I actually think that the design as is makes a lot of sense.

One of the problems I always had with AM is that it seemed like you could get in a position where you felt that you needed to do nothing for a while just in case you needed to save the resources for later. It's the whole "Use it now and risk wasting it on trivial damage or wait to use it and risk wasting its cooldown" thing that I hate about the current Holy Shield. This offers a great solution - either way, you're still doing something, but smart tanks will know when it's time to shoot off the super-powered WoG and when it's time to save it for a rainy day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To Fly or Not to Fly

Mists of Pandaria is going to deal with flying mounts the way that Burning Crusade did, making you hit the level cap before you can fly.

Flight in World of Warcraft has actually been around for the vast majority of the game's life-time. WoW Classic was the only time when you were bound to the ground regardless of whether you liked it or not - with the exception of Zeppelins and Flight Masters (or a Mage hitting Slow Fall and diving into Un'goro Crater.)

Outland was the first area to be designed with flying mounts in mind. While much of the continent/planet is accessible from the ground, there were a number of areas designed specifically for level 70 players that required the ability to fly in order to get there (for some reason, druids could get their slow flight form at 68.) It was actually quite cool, having leveled up all the way to 70 and then being able to take wing, flying up to Tempest Keep, for instance (back then you actually had to go to the dungeons you wanted to run. Go figure.)

Wrath and Cataclysm had their own variations on the rules about flying, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. As you'll probably notice, I tend to cite Wrath of the Lich King as the right way to do things, but I'll go into detail first.

Cataclysm is the opposite extreme of the BC model. All five of the high-level zones in Cataclysm allowed flight. They had just remade the entire world to make it flight-capable, and especially since they specifically wanted those zones (Deepholm notwithstanding) to exist within the original continents, it wouldn't make sense to limit your flight capabilities. Oddly, places like Hyjal and Deepholm do actually have roads and ramps that could theoretically get you where you needed to go (except the Alliance gunship in Deepholm,) but I can't imagine anyone took the time to go there on foot (or hoof/wheel/mechanical bird leg.)

Having a flying mount really does make you feel like you've made it to a point of pretty impressive power. You're the elite force, able to strike from above. I remember shortly after I got my first level 70 toon (Darsino, the rogue) his flight ability, I flew over to Kil'sorrow Fortress in Nagrand and landed on the balcony of the tower on the western side. It may not sound all that exciting, but having never been able to fly before, it was very cool and very flavorful for a rogue to land silently in an enemy fortress, slaughtering his way through surprised guards.

The problem, of course, is that when you can fly, especially now with the Quest Objectives on the map (and in fact, a lot of quests seem written with the assumption that you've got that on - the directions are left totally vague,) many quests feel sort of like "fly in, kill this dude, fly out." Unless someone's in a cave or a fort, it's rare that you'll actually bother fighting your way (or sneaking your way) into a hostile area unless you also need to kill eight nameless minions - though even then, you'll probably just land, kill the main guy, and then kill the eight nearest ones and fly out.

So how do you retain the awesomeness of being a winged warrior while still making the quests compelling and less like errands?

Before Cataclysm, you still had to get to level 70 to fly at all, and you had to hit 77 in order to fly in Northrend. Your assault against the Lich King was mostly ground-based, but once you hit 77, it was time for the real assault. In the Blizzcons talking about Northrend, they mentioned that Icecrown is absolutely crawling with undead. You can't land there without a ghoul or zombie jumping up and trying to bite you. It makes sense - the Scourge does nothing better than acquiring new members, Icecrown is not only their headquarters but also a vast, impenetrable fortress. That was why we had the Skybreaker and Orgrim's Hammer flying overhead - there were no Horde or Alliance bases because there just wasn't a safe place to set down long enough to actually build one. In fact, one of the major quest chains in the zone involves you defending the Argent Crusade's tiny incursion and establishing a new foothold just barely inside of Icecrown proper (In 3.0, the Argent Tournament grounds were just a flat, snowy space, which then grew into the current grounds over the course of the expansion.) Another major quest chain involves helping the Knights of the Ebon Blade take over one of the Scourge's many fortresses deep within Icecrown.

The point is that Icecrown was a zone that was designed specially for flying mounts - there was a story reason for it, and the mechanics were designed to match that need. Similarly, Storm Peaks, which were the same level range (the Netherstorm to Icecrown's Shadowmoon Valley, as it were) had their own story reason for being accessible only from the air. The Storm Peaks are so inaccessible because it's one of the areas the Titans set aside to both monitor the world (and you wouldn't want people interfering with that) as well as housing the prison for Yogg-Saron (and you definitely wouldn't want people wandering into that.)

Flight is a valuable tool for making the world a more exciting place, but it's best when it's used in limited ways. By all means, once a character hits the level cap and tends to be more concerned with endgame, it makes sense that the world should open up to them.

On one hand, a place like Uldum isn't made all that much more impressive by letting you fly around. In fact, the vastness of the desert might have had more of an impact if you were grounded. If there had been a facility of the complexity and scale of Ulduar inside, or perhaps if we had spent more time in Skywall (how sad is it that such a gorgeous location is limited to a single 5-man and a raid very few people bothered with?) flying mounts would have, of course, been fantastic, but as it stands, much of Cataclysm had the "drop in, fly out" problem.

In the future, I hope that Blizzard can really think about their design for zones in "flying" or "non-flying" way. Especially with epic group quests becoming epic solo quests or scenarios, it would be a shame to remove flight as a means for more epic questing.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Further Changes in a Post-Cataclysm World: New Lordaeron

One of the most exciting things about Cataclysm was the way that it allowed for the world to progress. Players have always been the heroes of Azeroth, trekking through lands both familiar and alien, fighting the bad guys or each other. However, before the advent of phasing in Wrath (something that admittedly was used in a very limited way before - such as the ghosts in Auchindoun and Nagrand showing up after you did a particular quest chain) you would never really see your impact on the world. You might blow up, say, a facility making a Mana-bomb in Terrokar Forest, but literally seconds after you accomplished that, the bomb would be back, and the evil Blood Elves would start to respawn.

But beyond phasing, which is mainly useful to show the results of a particular event, the revamp of the old world in Cataclysm showed the passage of years. This new version of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms truly felt as if all our past efforts had made a difference. Now, that difference was not necessarily a good one. For instance, when Alliance heroes (or Horde ones who took an interest in a fairly out-of-the-way problem) fought their way through the underground lair of the dangerous bandit-lord, Edwin VanCleef and killed him for his crimes against the realm, they unwittingly planted the seed that would lead to a resurgence of the Defias as a pseudo-Marxist revolutionary movement. On the other hand, some of our actions have been good. Andorhal and Caer Darrow notwithstanding, the Western Plaugelands are truly beginning to heal, and while the question of who actually gets to enjoy the newly fertile countryside is one Humans and Forsaken are happy to slaughter each other over, at the very least it looks like in a few years you'll be willing to eat produce farmed there (though probably still with some hesitation.)

This sort of plot progression is something that I really hope Blizzard commits to continue exploring. There is a problem, though, which is that after the intense effort spent on revamping the world, I doubt that Blizzard is going to go re-design things again any time soon (or even during the life of the game.)

So how can we continue these changes? Well, phasing is a big possibility. I think that the outdoor leveling zones have probably got to stay the same because that is just too much effort and time that could be spent on new areas and content. However, I would say that the places where the most plot-development happens should be the cities. After all, other than Stormwind and Orgrimmar, none of the cities were all that dramatically changed in Cataclysm. Also, we're definitely going to see Garrosh booted from Orgrimmar (dead or alive) after Mists' final patch, so clearly there's going to be some change there too.

Anyway, with that long introduction, I figured I'd start talking about possible developments in the plot I could imagine happening. Where I'm starting is a question of the real identity of the Forsaken - or, more specifically, the free undead of Lordaeron.

The Forsaken are not exactly doing a great job making friends with the rest of the world. While they can't really help their grotesque form, they have also been pursuing Scourge-like tactics in their efforts to secure their place in the world.

It's always been a little ambiguous whether the Forsaken simply want their own little corner of the world, or if they want absolutely everyone else dead.

I was playing a low-level Warlock on the Beta (to see how Affliction has changed, if at all. So far no) and it's interesting, because even Sylvanas talks the talk of someone who's just trying to live in safety. The events in Silverpine Forest (one of my favorite, if not my favorite post-Cataclysm zone (including the foray into Gilneas) begins with Sylvanas demonstrating her use of Val'kyr to Garrosh. Oddly, she almost seems surprised when Garrosh has the (totally reasonable) reaction he does, recoiling at the atrocity that she is committing. To Garrosh, and any sane person, inflicting undeath upon her adversaries to bolster her ranks is abhorrent.

It's also strange, because the very first thing you find out as a new Forsaken character (post Cataclysm - before then, there was a sense of uncertainty, as if most of the people around you had only just regained their free will) is that you are not a slave. You might be undead, but you're free to join the Forsaken or go your own way. Free Will is (or at least was) a key to the Forsaken identity, because that is what separated it from the Scourge.

The curse of Undeath was something that Sylvanas dedicated herself to avenging. The Scourge was adversary number one. Yet now, Sylvanas is doing to the humans of Hillsbrad and Gilneas exactly what Arthas did to the elves of Quel'thalas. She is conscripting her fallen adversaries to fight against their own friends and families. The legitimacy of the Forsaken is really starting to slip here, as the distinctions between them and the Scourge start to fall apart.

However, Sylvanas makes a decent point when you ride with her to the Sepulcher. The Forsaken are, in fact, the human inhabitants of Lordaeron. They didn't invade Brill or Andorhal or whatever Deathknell was called before the plague came. They were already there as living humans. This is their homeland, and it seems pretty damned unjust that a bunch of humans from another nation way down south would claim to have a more legitimate stake in the land. These were the subjects of the Menethils, not the Wrynns. Sylvanas argues that Lordaeron and its people are simply trying to defend their sovereign land.

And here's the big conundrum with the Scourge and the Forsaken: Does Lordaeron, as a country, still truly exist? Or has it gone the way of the Holy Roman Empire and the USSR? The land is still there, of course, and the people as well, but do the Forsaken consider themselves humans of Lordaeron, or Undead of the Forsaken? Lordaeron was a human nation. If the Forsaken no longer consider themselves human, can they claim to truly represent Lordaeron?

This is what I'd like to see developed: the Forsaken is an organization founded by former members of the Scourge who broke free of the Lich King's will (interesting thing to wonder: we assume pre-Cataclysm Forsaken players were simply alive as humans before Arthas returned from Northrend, but who are the new ones? Simply old corpses that had not been raised yet? Or various living humans killed by the Forsaken or the Scourge? Worth thinking about...) The Forsaken are not, however, really a "race." They are a political movement united over a shared affliction (undeath, and the free will to lament that fact.) They are not the only one, however. The Knights of the Ebon Blade, for instance, are also undead, and despite being more of an independent military institution than a political one, they are completely autonomous from any governmental body (though they enjoy friendly relations with the Argent Crusade.)

It stands to reason that there would be a different political movement in Lordaeron. Sylvanas is all about redefining her people - casting off "humanity" to embrace a wholly different identity, even as she invokes her people's right to the land based on their origins. Therefore, I think it would make sense that a new movement, a kind of "New Lordaeron" could emerge.

These would be members of the free undead who still consider themselves human, and would, as an endgame, like to normalize relations with the Alliance. They're still committed to owning all the land that was once called Lordaeron, and let's be clear here - they would still be at war with the Alliance. But New Lordaeron would be something very different. They would reach out to the Argent Crusade, rather than begrudgingly tolerating their presence. They would be opposed to the incursions into Hillsbrad and Gilneas, and most importantly, they'd be reluctant to cooperate with the Horde.

By making New Lordaeron a serious force, you have a group of undead that actually deserve Lordaeron. Furthermore, when the Alliance inevitably rejects their offers of peace and cooperation (whether because of post-Wrath Gate prudence or simply an inability to tolerate the undead) you finally get to see a situation where the Alliance are actually effective antagonists as well as being in a position of power.

There's actually already something vaguely similar going on with the few remaining High Elves, who remain loyal to the Alliance. It seems like a real missing piece to not have members of Lordaeron (the country around which the Alliance was first formed, after all) want to re-join, or at least reconcile with, Team Blue.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grimoires and Hellfire

Early in my experiences with WoW, I did not particularly like Warlocks. This may come as a shock to those who started playing more recently than I do, but Warlocks were, during much of Burning Crusade, "that class." What I mean by "that class" is that it was the class that everyone was playing. At the time, Warlocks (Affliction, mainly) were real powerhouses in PvP. If I recall correctly (my Warlock, Morcanis, was only in the teens I believe by the time I decided to actually level him during Wrath of the Lich King,) a Warlock could put Curse of Agony (as it was then called,) Corruption, Unstable Affliction, and I think even Immolate (before they kept UA and Immolate from stacking) on you all at once and then fear you, causing you to run around the battleground as your insides melted/dissolved/burned, screaming and unable to do anything while the Warlock just laughed.

BC was a different time. Back then, many PvE'ers would run Battleground after Battleground (or Arena, though that was truly for the hardcore) to get the most easily-acquired epics. This was a time when success in a heroic dungeon run was hardly a given. Even with all the resilience on the gear, you could get stuff that was miles ahead of what you were getting in heroics or Karazhan (few raiders were able to progress beyond Kara, especially given the jump from 10-mans to 25-mans. The original Zul'Aman was created to give 10-man raiding guilds a place to move on to.)

Anyway, the point is that PvP power led to PvE power, and so Warlocks were immensely popular.

While I never had any doubt in my mind (at least, once I'd figured out how talent trees were supposed to work) what spec Jarsus or Tarbhad, or Darsino should be (I've grown fond of Assassination, but at heart I prefer the flavor of Subtlety,) Morcanis was always a character I struggled with. Eventually, with the advent of the Felguard and Metamorphosis, the decision was made, and in fact, the more they play around with Demonology, the more I find I like it.

Other than the Monk (who is, of course, in the process of invention,) Warlocks are getting the biggest overhaul with Mists of Pandaria. I can't speak to Affliction, as I have not tried it out, but my understanding is that for the most part, Aff locks are getting the fewest changes. Demonology and Destruction, on the other hand, are getting entirely new resource systems (akin to Runic and Holy Power, respectively, sort of - though really they're pretty unique, new systems.)

I'll start with Destruction, because it's the one I know less about and we can get it out of the way. First off, Banes are gone for both Destro and Demo. In fact, Immolate is now Destruction-only, and replaces Corruption. So that's one DoT. Soul Fire, also, has seen huge changes that affect both D-spec (I don't think Affliction uses it, though I could be mistaken.) Soul Fire now always crits. Addtionally, Destro locks will gain power of Burning Embers whenever they Incinerate a target with Immolate on it (which is what you'll be doing most of the time.) The Embers take a few Incinerates to build up, and max out at 3 (4 with a glyph, I believe,) but once you have one, you'll literally catch fire. Now, this is where I could be wrong (and I'm too lazy to look it up,) but I think the more Burning Embers you have, the more powerful your spells will be. However, the more Burning Embers you have, the more damage you'll take as a self-inflicted DoT.

The flavor is quite well-reflected in the spec's design. Destruction Warlocks are insane pyromaniacs, with a fervor for chaos that would make Twilight's Hammer go "whoa, whoa, careful there, buddy." Destruction also is interesting in that Life Tap is gone, but instead they regenerate mana at a much higher rate. Destruction is going to play fast and hard. Seems like the perfect spec for a Goblin.

Demonology goes in a different, but also very interesting new direction.

The first thing to note is the new secondary resource, Demonic Fury. Various abilities build up Demonic Fury, which increases your damage done and also powers your demon form.

Metamorphosis was always a cool ability, but other than the few, mainly flavorful abilities you get with it, it was always pretty much a glorified cooldown that scaled with Mastery. Metamorphosis is much more important now. First off, there's no more cooldown, and you will be expected to toggle in and out of Meta-mode to play effectively. Meta will do a couple things: you won't be able to cast basically anything except Demonic Slash - which Shadow Bolt automatically transforms into - and Soul Fire. However, your damage is increased and none of this costs mana - instead it costs Demonic Fury. Simply being in Demon Form will drain your Demonic Fury, so ultimately, you can't stay in it forever, but wait, because the next part is fantastic.

Wild Imps. Currently, Bane of Doom has a chance to summon a little Imp that attacks your targets with weak melee. It's not totally insignificant damage, but it's certainly not your most crucial component. Wild Imps will be summoned when you use Shadow Bolt, with a 15-second internal cooldown. Their fire bolts will then charge you with Demonic Fury. If you want them out quickly, there's also a separate spell (on a cooldown) that pops 5 out at once.

So what this means is that you'll truly have a small army of Imps, your main summoned demon, yourself in Demon Form nearly half the time, and on important fights, a big, scary Doomguard (or Terrorguard, with the talent.)

Hand of Gul'dan's been heavily redesigned, and is now ground-targeted (which is actually one thing I'm not crazy about) but it will help get your Demonic Fury flowing.

Anyway, Warlocks are getting some serious love this expansion. Assuming thing remain on this trajectory of awesome, I expect Morcanis will see a lot of play over in Panda-land.

The Constant Influx: Races

As I was talking about in the previous post, every expansion has given us an incentive to roll up a new character, whether it be new races, new classes, or both (or new ways to combine old races and classes.) While I personally find new classes the most exciting way to do this, it's obvious that new races are a much simpler thing to bring into the game. With Mists of Pandaria, we'll be up to 5 new (as in, not from Vanilla) races against 2 new classes.

Races obviously require a lot more work from the creative side of things - creating an effective backstory, giving that side a reason to join its respective faction, and creating a part of the world that has, to this point, prevented them from stepping into the global fray.

One of the downsides of constantly introducing new races is that some stories can fall by the wayside. The Draenei, for instance, haven't had a huge amount of plot development since Burning Crusade. The Worgen didn't even get much screen time in their own introductory expansion (if I had to guess, I think Blizzard settled on Worgen as the new Alliance race much later in the process than when they chose Goblins for the Horde - which was probably the very instant they decided to introduce new races.)

Still, new races are fun, and I always like to imagine what a player in 2004 would think if they could see a  their trusty Night Elf hanging out with Space Goats, Werewolves and a Panda-man. They add new visual variety, and can change the tone of things.

Also, once they've created the new models and made the starting zone, they're basically done - no serious balance-tweaking unless someone winds up with an amazing set of racials.

Anyway, I seriously doubt that the influx of new races is going to stop any time soon, so let's talk about possibilities. While the Pandaren are available to both sides, I don't think (and in fact, I would not prefer) that all future playable races will be split like that - unless the big twist is that the factions are going to get united once we depose Garrosh - which I think is basically never going to happen in a million years.)

So, without further ado, the possible races:

Obviously, the biggest hurdle here is how the hell they'd be able to use a mount. I can kind of imagine them draping their tail over the mount. The other is how you'd handle boots, which I'd have to say could be done as a sort of "tail cap." Story-wise, I think there's a decent possibility for them as a Horde race. While the Naga were transformed by the Old Gods, that doesn't necessarily mean they're possessed the way Deathwing was. One could imagine it being more akin to the Curse of Flesh. Anyway, one could imagine a splinter group that has lost faith in Azshara. Their animosity toward the Night Elves (and vice versa) would be far too great to put them in the Alliance, but their shared history with the Blood Elves and their general cunning and military strength would be valued by the Horde. Also, obvious racial bonus: faster swim speed.

Another obvious Horde race - there's even Ogres friendly to the Horde already, so it's no big stretch that you'd be able to get a playable faction. They are a bit on the large side (and Tauren already have trouble fitting through some tight spots - especially if they're mounted) but I could definitely see them working out.

Quasi-Arabic Space Goblins made of Energy? These are a stretch, especially given their non-corporeality. Still, I think they would be very, very popular. Not sure which side they'd go to, though the Alliance could use a somewhat callous, ruthless addition. For customization, you'd have to look at the wrappings mainly, though you could also change the color of the glowy-essence within.

While the Vrykul are not exactly the most friendly people, and their alliance with the Lich King made them even worse, I could imagine a group of Vrykul that denounced Ymiron and maybe even remembers their human offspring, and would probably never bow down before a Warchief of some alien race, though they might respect a King who is almost like them, so I'd put these guys on team Blue.

Hilarious, yes, but I think these guys are best as the kings of the "minor threat races," like Gnolls, Kobolds, and Troggs.

The Constant Influx: Classes

Every World of Warcraft expansion has added new incentives to create new characters - if you're a true altoholic like me, you've made at least one new toon per expansion. Burning Crusade introduced the Blood Elves and Draenei races (and thereby effectively introduced a new class to the Alliance and the Horde, thanks to Blood Elf Paladins and Draenei Shamans.) Wrath of the Lich King gave us the Death Knight class (one of the reasons I still adore Wrath as an expansion.) Cataclysm actually created the biggest influx of new character possibilities, opening up not only two new races, but also a wide assortment of new race-class combinations, ranging from combinations like Human Hunters - which were always conspicuously absent for no particular reason - to ones like Tauren Paladins - which were supported by new lore, conceptually a kind of sweeping cultural change through Tauren society.

It was always suspected after Blizzard copyrighted "Mists of Pandaria" that the Pandarens would become a playable race. Despite the fact that Cataclysm had just introduced us to the Worgen and Goblins less than two years ago, it would seem odd to have an expansion all about the Pandaren homeland without allowing us to play as the Panda-people.

Of course, then there's the fact that the Pandaren are the only new race. BC and Cataclysm both, obviously, had to introduce two new races each - one Horde, one Alliance (while I like the Goblins a lot, I think the Alliance lucked out both times.) There are a couple reasons why I think they didn't just come up with a different race to introduce and give Pandaren to one side or the other (on the whole, they seem a bit more Alliance-like, but that's beside the point.) There is, of course, some lore background that suggests the Pandaren are not really the kind of people to divide themselves along such passionate lines, but I also think that whichever side didn't get the headliner race would feel pretty cheated.

Anyway, what surprised me a bit with the announcement was the introduction of the Monk. This will be the first time they ever introduce a new race along with a new class. Of course, the somewhat unfortunate consequence of this is that, with literally just one new race and one new class (and one new character-slot-per-server) you're going to see an immense influx of Pandaren Monks. We're going to see very, very few non-Pandaren Monks and very, very few non-Monk Pandaren. Because I'm a horrible altoholic, I have ten toons on both my Alliance and Horde servers. Admittedly, I wouldn't be too torn up to throw a couple of those guys on the chopping block (my Troll Druid, perpetually level 30, it seems, whose name is Tuzaka, started life as a hunter. I might reroll him as a Monk, though I'd miss the troll druid forms.)

Anyway, my agonizing over how I'm going to set up my Monk toon (and hopefully Brewmasters will have been given several more coats of paint - not loving it quite yet on the Beta, though I know it's still early) is actually not what I was going to write about here. What I'm actually here to talk about is what sort of new races and classes could be introduced in the future of the game.

Four expansions have set quite a precedent, so I will assume that every expansion will bring us something new. Let's start with the smaller category with a bigger impact: Classes.

First off, I should mention that the introduction of the Death Knight balanced the number of Healers, Tanks, and pure dps classes. Monks, conveniently, keep tanks and healers balanced. I actually doubt we'll see new pure dps classes, because I generally think Blizzard wants people to be more flexible. Also, imagine how long the dungeon queues would be for low-level newbies of a pure dps class when everyone is leveling that class (actually even a 2-role hybrid can cause that problem.)

Demon Hunter:

On one hand, this seems like an obvious addition. Demon Hunter NPCs are in-game, and the concept of their class is pretty flavorful and badass. On the other hand, this seems like it would be yet another melee class. Additionally, a lot of Demon Hunter territory is already occupied by Warlocks - most, if not all of Illidan's moves from Warcraft 3 are already Warlock abilities. Also, at least for now it stands to reason that the next new class should be a Mail-wearing one, as Cloth, Plate, and now Leather all support three classes. DHs really seem like they should wear Leather armor (Illidan's blindfold, the Cursed Vision of Sargeras, is a leather piece after all.) Demon Hunters would make sense as Tanks, Melee Dps, or Ranged Dps (though you'd have to make sure the latter didn't just feel like a Demonology Warlock.)


The Battlemages we've seen in-game are really just Mages, but reaching out to other RPGs, the Battlemage would be a plate-armored soldier who uses Arcane magic to fight and defend. I should tell you - this class would probably become my Main. Like the Demon Hunter, this feels like a Tank, Melee, and Caster class (the Casters would finally provide another spec to use all that intellect plate!) While Arcane Mages have a (somewhat underdeveloped) time-manipulation theme, I imagine Battlemages could a have a space theme - perhaps using some Titan backstory and giving them abilities like Black Hole and Meteor (a hostile-mob favorite.) Honestly, this is one of those ideas I've put far too much thought into - including a resource system that combines Mana with something called "Charge," which is akin to Rage or Runic Power.


Supposedly this was actually the first thing they considered as a new class when going in to Wrath of the Lich King. While a Necromancer could work, I think overall the niche is split between Affliction Warlocks and Unholy Death Knights. Really, that's essentially the space Necromancer's exist in - a cross between a Warlock and a Death Knight. One could imagine them being able to heal (imagine a shadow-based healing class. That's cool) but overall I don't know if it would really feel all that unique.

Classes are a tricky thing to do. Death Knights were filling a niche that was always empty (a dark plate class) and Monks go hand in hand with the whole Pandaria/China thing. Most of those flavor-niches are pretty much filled, and you can often squeeze certain classes to fill one role or another (Hunters, for instance, can be military snipers or spiritual one-with-nature types, and Shamans can be anything from Mage-like Elementalists to Witch Doctors to Tribal leaders, etc.) And of course, mechanically classes require a huge amount of work to make them feel unique.

Next up: New Races!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Questing in The Jade Forest - and Mists in General

Well, I caved and actually went out and leveled Jarsus to 86 via quests (and the experience I had gained from that Temple of the Jade Serpent run.) At this point, the only quests that appear available are two quests that involve talking to people to get them to fight me - which are either just straight-up bugged or are impossible to do because there are a million people there at the same time also trying to do it, and I guess you have to wait your turn/get put in a different phase...? The last is one that I just can't do because there are too many people. Amazingly, I actually think when this goes live it will be less stressful because there will be fewer people on the server.

Actually, my typical new-expansion habits are to play one of my new races/classes alternating with leveling Jarsus (it's a testament to how fun Blood Dps was as a leveling spec that I actually hit 80 on Oterro literally an hour before I did on Jarsus. Cataclysm's actually the first expansion where Jarsus hit the level cap first, even though he's been my main since mid-BC.) I'm still agonizing (maybe that's too strong a word) over how to handle my monk situation. I don't have a single female character among the 20 (before you judge me, about a quarter of those were just made to see Cataclysm revamped zones) I have, and somehow a kick-ass blonde chick (Buffy the Vampire Slayer?) who swills booze and mixes it up with the bad guys toe-to-toe seems pretty cool. This might be madness though, so don't be surprised if you see me doing as everyone else is doing and Brewmastering on a Panda-man.

Jade Forest: While I'll try to write in broad strokes, there are spoilers here in the strictest sense, so be forewarned.

So how is questing in the Jade Forest, you ask? Well, first I should say that this is from an Alliance perspective. Alliance starts on the southern end of the zone and has quite a few quests in that part that I imagine are not available to the Horde (your alliance with the Jinyu, for instance, involved fighting the Hozen, whereas the Horde will be allied with the Hozen and fight the Jinyu.) Anyway, at first there's a fairly straightforward direction for your questing, with a couple of off-shoot questlines that you can take or leave, but eventually you'll find Anduin and the two of you will cleanse a shrine and get your first whisperings of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, which is the central zone of the continent and where the central "capitals" will be.

From there, you head to Dawn Blossom, a large town relatively close to the Temple of the Jade Serpent and basically in the center of the Jade Forest. From here, the questing really opens up. Now, I don't know if it's because of missing "breadcrumb" quests or just the fact that some of the quests are bugged, thus preventing me from going farther, but there seem to be a few quest chains that you just find if you go exploring, like fighting off a Mogu raid on a Cider orchard, or preventing some seriously bad mojo that a Mogu Assassin-Priest is working. At least where I am with questing, there seem to be entire towns with no quests in them, though this might be because of the quests I can't finish or they may just not have implemented them. All the story about the Jade Serpent Statue getting destroyed is missing as far as I can tell, though the sky above said statue looks awful Sha-like.

Jade Forest is quite cool, actually, and has a nice degree of variation. In the starting areas, it feels a bit more wild and untamed, especially a bog area where you fight Mist-monsters. As you get closer to the middle of the zone, however, you find many Pandaren settlements along with Mogu ruins. Interestingly, the zone's dungeon, Temple of the Jade Serpent, feels very much a part of a stable complex that spans a large portion of the zone. There's not really any hint of what's gone wrong in there, but that could just be some missing quest line that I'm missing for one reason or another.

As far as I know, the only other zone that's open is Valley of the Four Winds, which, along with Krasarang Wilds, is one of the two zones you can go into following Jade Forest. I've just scratched the surface of the Vot4W stuff, but it appears to be a fairly idyllic farmland.

Mechanic-wise, the quests are very nice. While there are of course the occasional "kill 8 of these guys, collect 10 of these things" quests, there are also some really cool ones, like a series of phased flashbacks as an elite SI:7 squad tells you what they've been up to since they crash landed, the highlight of which is a part where you provide sniper support for another member of the group.

Quest rewards are the one area where I'm actually a bit disappointed. You may have heard of this "dynamic reward" system. Even in the older content, quest rewards have now been restricted to stuff your class should be using, which is ok if you're a newbie that doesn't realize your paladin shouldn't be using that agility polearm. However, in Pandaria, any quest that rewards an item (except those that reward blue items) will only reward one option, depending on your spec. If you're a pure dps class or only ever play your soloing spec, that's fine, but as a tank who prefers to solo as Ret (especially since Ret is working out quite nicely if you ask me) so that things don't take forever to kill and I don't automatically aggro every enemy in a 20-yard radius (I don't like to kill-steal) it makes me feel like I have to switch specs every time I finish a quest (especially annoying because your talents get reset every time you switch specs right now on the beta.)

Admittedly, as someone who has almost all raid-finder gear or better, the quest rewards in Jade Forest are unlikely to have me replacing everything just yet. But what happens when I'm level 87, and that stuff is really starting to show its age? The point is that this is, I think, a matter of player choice. While it's sad not to have an incremental improvement (beyond simple stat upgrades) every level like the old talent system, I respect Blizzard's new talent and spec design. The talent choices in Mists are real choices, and not just "new or uninformed player traps." However, this new quest reward scheme is seriously problematic.

The solution, I think, is fairly simple. All they need to do is allow for you to choose any of the rewards your class can take, like they do for blue rewards. If they're still concerned that a level 85 player still can't figure out what kind of gear is good for their spec (and yes, these people do exist) you could just have some kind of indication that the appropriate piece is recommended.

I'll be curious to see how the zone knits together in its final form. You can certainly quest through it, and level up via quests. I believe, and it certainly feels this way, that they're trying to recapture more of the explorative feel you got in Wrath, and even Vanilla (though providing enough guidance to prevent the problem in Vanilla of showing up in a zone with no idea where to go.)

Obviously, a lot of this design is a reaction to the responses to Cataclysm. While the linear approach worked in some zones (Vashj'ir, Twilight Highlands) it could also feel restrictive (Uldum.) The difficulty now is to get over the Cataclysm mindset of "I know I'll do every quest in the zone, because I have to in order to finish the one quest chain," and instead prioritize the quest chains that you want to do, making peace with the fact that you can move on to the next zone without fully clearing every last quest in the last one.

I have no idea how much of the zone I missed due to the unfinished quests, so when I find out I'll try to say something more about it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How To Do A Tank Legendary

Blizzard recently posted a video series showing in a nicely-edited way (that honestly looks better than their 4.3 patch trailer) a recap of the Fangs of the Father Legendary quest chain. For those of you either living under a rock or who are looking back on this much later, the Fangs of the Father are a set of Legendary Daggers designed specifically for Rogues (after all, what other melee class uses daggers? Actually, given that the one Monk ability that is based on weapon damage, Jab, is normalized between all kinds of weapons, why the hell can they not use daggers?)

I actually find it kind of interesting that Cataclysm had both the most broadly useful legendary they've made and the least. Dragonswrath, Tarecgosa's Rest, is useful to any ranged caster dps spec, which is 9 out of the current 30. The Fangs, on the other hand, are useful to only 3 specs (they wisely gave the main-hand dagger an effect that makes Combat's two weapon-dependent strikes deal more damage to make up for the fact that, as daggers, they would be doing less damage-per-swing.)

As someone whose main and primary alt are both tanks, I've always wondered how they might do a tanking legendary. The healing one, Val'anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings, out of Ulduar, worked out fine because Blizzard has always made sure that every healing class can use one-handed maces. Even if Druids and Priests, and even the occasional Shaman, can go with Staves, one-handed maces have been designed as the go-to healing weapon.

Creating a tank weapon would be a whole lot more difficult, because tanks use very different kinds of equipment. Creating a legendary that only some tanks can use would probably cause more balance problems than any other role, because unlike dps and to a lesser extent healers, tanks aren't really contributing to a greater whole. Other than a few abilities some tanks have (Hand of Sacrifice, basically) one tank can't help share the load of another, so imbalance is especially problematic.

So how do you design a weapon that every tank could use?

There was, actually, a legendary tanking weapon in vanilla: trade chat favorite Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker. It is a (huge) one-handed sword that has a proc the helps both with threat and slowing the target's attacks. Of course, back then, the actual design intent was that only Warriors would tank. Paladins and Druids had tank specs, sure, but they were really intended as kind of novelties. In Vanilla WoW, the idea was that when you hit 60, you'd pick the "correct" spec and move on from there. Design in Vanilla was stupid.

In Mists, however, we will have gone from one tank to five. And everyone's using different gear. Warriors and Paladins use the old sword-and-board, while Druids and Monks want to use an agility staff or polearm (you might even be able to get by dual-wielding as a Monk tank, but theoretically the intent is to make them use 2-handers) and meanwhile, Death Knights are supposed to take a 2-handed dps weapon. Warriors, Paladins and Death Knights use Strength, while Druids and Monks use Agility.

So first off, let's address the Strength vs. Agility issue. You do get a pit of parry from strength and a bit of dodge from agility, true, but all tanks get the vast majority of their attack power from Vengeance these days. So as long as there's a hefty amount of stamina on our tanking legendary, I think we can dispense with both strength and agility.

Obviously, since druids cannot parry, the secondary stats would be dodge and mastery.

The next problem to address is weapon type. Paladins and Death Knights can only use axes, maces, swords, and polearms. Druids cannot use swords or axes, and Monks cannot use the two-handed versions of axes, maces, or swords. Warriors can use everything except wands, but like Paladins, they need a hand free for their shield.

Now, all of this would be pretty easy to solve if we could do it like good old Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian, and give a different version to each class. As it stands, if we could reduce it down to just two weapons, one could imagine a Polearm for Druids, Monks, and DKs (remember that we've gotten rid of any Strength or Agility, so there's no reason DKs shouldn't be able to share with the leather tanks) and then make a sword, axe, or mace for the Warriors and Paladins.

But let's see if we can really squeeze this to make it fit every tank.

The weapon type would have to be a 1-handed Mace, as this is the only weapon type that every single tank can use that does not bar them from equipping a shield. Warriors and Paladins get to relax now, as they're taken care of.

Theoretically, Monks could just equip another weapon in the other hand and call it a day. Death Knights could do the same, but they would need a buff to their Death Strike, Rune Strike, and Heart Strike similar to the Sinister Strike/Revealing Strike buff on Fangs of the Father.

Druids would have it roughest, as they're the only tank that can't use a shield or dual-wield. There are no off-hand items that boost agility the way there are for casters. So I'd have to put some more text on the weapon that gives it a special boost while the bearer is in bear form. You'd have to increase the stats of the weapon itself, as well as its weapon damage.

The moral of the story here is that a tanking legendary that doesn't give a huge advantage to certain tanking classes would be a really tricky thing to make. We heard them say at Blizzcon that we might see a legendary shield some time in Mists of Pandaria. As excited as I am for that prospect, at the same time I think it's likely to cause some big problems.

Still, if they're willing to give Rogues one and make my Enhancement Shaman cry, I'd be curious to see what they can come up with.

Honestly, the thing that excites me most about Legendaries are the quest chains, which seem to have gotten especially interesting and complex in Cataclysm. As a tank I of course never went very far in the Shadowmourne chain (especially since we're pretty distinctly a 10-man guild, and back then Legendaries only came out of 25-man raids,) but I did do the first step, where you recover Arthas' old hammer from Frostmourne Cavern and fight off like a million ghouls. I really hope that I'll be able to see some of that stuff in Mists, even if my guild is unlikely to be able to complete the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Leveling the Windwalker

I have three Monks on the Beta: a pre-made 85 named Wuxiang, a Brewmaster Pandaren named Shengwu (see what I did there) who is at 18 or 19 (can't remember) and a Human Female named Icatia who just hit level 20 (and if you get the reference her name is making, congratulations! You're almost as nerdy as I am!)

Couple things: Is it weird that I kind of want to make my primary monk a human? The Pandaren are cool, and all, and their starting zone, while inferior to the Cataclysm races' starting zones in my opinion, is still quite good, and very pretty. Part of the motivation here is that everyone's going to have a Pandaren Monk. Ironically, by choosing a human I would actually be going against the grain (though not as much as, say, a Dwarf - though can you think of a better race for a Brewmaster? I don't care what Blizzard says: dwarves are the greatest drinkers in Azeroth or any other world. That's just a fundamental fact of the universe.)

This raises a conundrum or two, though. Given the plethora of alts I have, I really only have one chance to make a Pandaren (unless I were to make two Pandaren Monks, which seems a bit silly.) And while I know they're officially the neutral race, I don't really feel the Pandaren make a good fit with the rest of the Horde. Ok, that's not entirely true. I can see them getting along with Tauren, Trolls, Blood Elves, and even Goblins. But I really don't see Pandaren fitting in with the Horde's two most dominant races - the Orcs and the Undead (though perhaps after Garrosh is no longer in charge...)

The other thing is that, as much as I'd prefer not to marginalize my Horde characters, the fact is that my main, and the characters I can actually take on real, non-LFR raids are Alliance. That's where the guild is. That means that the Monk I should probably focus on will be my Alliance one, and if I'm going to focus on a new toon, I figure I should go with the new race (Hell, I had a level 80 warrior in Wrath, but I leveled up Ardten mainly so I could have a Worgen I actually played. I even switched the Orc, Rechtar, from Prot/Arms to Prot/Fury so that Ardten could have my favorite Warrior spec and still give both warriors a useful offspec.)

Still as much as people may say it's boring to play a human, I actually think that there's a lot of cool story stuff going on for them. While the Orcs are a disgraced people struggling between their desire to restore their honor and their desire to restore their pride, the humans are caught between a desire for peace and a desire for justice. Let's be totally frank here: the Alliance have suffered at the hands of the Horde far more than the Horde has suffered at the hands of the Alliance. The internment camps following the second war were not perfect, but when you defeat a vast army who have no way of getting back to their homeland, what are you supposed to do with them? Better than exterminating them.

Anyway, while one can complain about the overdose of pop-culture references, I absolutely adore the story of Westfall, which I have just quested through on Icatia. It's wonderfully frustrating, as you see how there is a real pain in the people there, and they really aren't getting the kind of life they deserve. Vanessa VanCleef is not a good person. She is a manipulator, and ultimately a destructive force. Yet at the same time, defeating her does not make all the problems that made her go away. It's that kind of ambiguity beneath the typical black and white morality of the Alliance that I really wish we saw more of. Oddly, I actually think the Humans are the Alliance's darkest race (though it really should be the Worgen, and probably would be if they had a chance to get their story developed.)

But this is all just my own ranting. Let's talk about the actual leveling process for early-game monks.

Windwalkers now get a passive bonus that causes Jab to generate two chi instead of one. Combined with the Chi spheres pouring out of every Blackout Kick (which I have to imagine is slightly bugged) it's going to be quite rare that you'll find yourself out of resources. If for no other reason, I like this change because it gives you something I really think was missing, which is a definitive "now you are a Windwalker" moment upon picking a spec. Those level 10 spec abilities need to be radical to really enforce in people's minds what kind of Monk (or other class) they are.

Like Brewmasters, there is the disappointing drip-drip of abilities in those early levels. At 10 you get Fists of Fury, and then at 18 you get Flying Serpent Kick. Now, don't get me wrong. Flying Serpent Kick is really, really cool. But it seems like you should be getting more abilities.

One thing I like is that you can really use whichever kinds of weapons you'd prefer. For me, I'm definitely most interested in Polearms and Staves, because what other class actually gets to fight with those? Hunter and Druids were the only classes before that used them (well, and casters use caster staves, but that's neither here nor there,) and in both cases they were only really stat-sticks. I've heard them say they want Brewmasters to stick to 2-handers while Windwalkers can choose either, but I don't really see why either should be limited. The only attack that is based on weapon damage is Jab, which is normalized between 2-handers and dual-wielding. Everything else is an unarmed Kung Fu move. And since parry-haste hasn't really been an issue since Wrath of the Lich King, I don't see why a Brewmaster couldn't dual-wield Tankards of Terror (and oh man, shouldn't they?)

I can't really recall when other classes get their cleaves and AoE moves, but getting nothing until 46 seems a little harsh.

In terms of UI, I'll repeat that I'd like to be able to see my Chi meter above my action bar, though with a Windwalker you're less likely to be worried about it. The other main thing is that with all the health-bar-watching, I'm sure I'll either need to set up a Power Aura to tell me when to switch from Tiger Palm to Blackout Kick, or they should put one in themselves.

Anyway, overall the Windwalker seems to be the spec that is making the most sense (though I have not yet tried the Mistweaver. I really should try it, but in the five and a half years I've been playing I have never been able to get myself to stick to a dedicated healer.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Temple of the Jade Serpent Impressions

So I finally took Jarsus into the first of Mists' dungeon, Temple of the Jade Serpent, which is a very beautiful area in the Jade Forest (the only zone currently available on Pandaria.)

I was able to solo the first wing, with a Jinyu (fish-man, but more humanoid than a murloc) guy who's been corrupted by the energy in the water there. So doing that in a group was very easy. After that, things got harder. The second wing (technically I think you can do this first if you want) is a kind of library with Sha possessing various books. The trash here does't have much going on ability-wise, but I like the concept of the Sha animating old stories to fight you. The boss here I believe is a choice between two, but we got Strife and Anger.

This was where things started to really cause pain. Attacking one of them gives them a very quickly-stacking damage buff, making them pour out insane amounts of damage. So it's imperative that you only attack one at a time. Ignoring a boss will cause its damage to decrease, to the point where a healer could, over a long enough time frame, solo the boss, letting the friendly npc finish them off. The mechanics here are problematic. For one, it's a lot easier to just stick to one of them, let the buff build up, at which point the boss goes immune, and then just wait for the immunity to fall off and keep going. It seems like they should encourage target switching, but at this point if you do so the damage gets way too high.

The trash before the third boss is pretty easy, but my experience with boss 3, Liu Flameheart, was pure pain. Liu does a weird sort of debuff that hits for a huge amount of damage and then does an AoE move that again, does an enormous amount of damage. I believe that you can dodge the second one if you move right after the first - or at least take less damage from it, but without any sort of announcement, it's very difficult to see when it's going to happen.

There's no trash after that boss, you just go to the Sha of Doubt, which is a decent, if a bit simple fight. Essentially you fight the boss while it puts debuffs on random people, causing them to damage those around them, and then after a while it summons clones of each part member, which fixate on them (meaning you should probably save the tank one for last, if you have time to focus.) If these are not killed before they go off, they explode for huge damage, killing the whole party. Each of these waves increases Sha of Doubt's damage, so it gets tougher as the fight goes on.

Overall, the Temple is very pretty, if a little on the small side. However, seeing as they seem to want to go back to the Wrath style of quick instances, this seems about right (no more Grim Batol slogs through a million trash pulls.)

This was also my first time in the Beta actually grouped up, so I'll talk about how I feel about the new Paladin tanking kit. Threat-wise, I felt fine, though it was weird seeing Shield of the Righteous almost never critting. While I know that they want tanks to focus on more defensive stuff, it would be nice to give us a few of the Cataclysm-era passive damage buffs to keep things interesting. I've talked about Active Mitigation a whole lot here, and while I guess I don't mind being able to Word of Glory myself when I need to or get some extra block out of my Shield of the Righteous, it would be nice if they hadn't totally eviscerated all the fun damage and threat mechanics. Even if threat is supposed to be a given now, having the occasional big number pop up is just good fun (and makes soloing in your spec that much less tedious.)

What I find fun about tanking is being able to control the conditions of the fight. A huge part of this is threat and positioning. My biggest fear with Active Mitigation is that we're going to be focused more on our resources and cooldowns than the battlefield.

Still, constant Consecration is nice to have back.

Beta: Third Impressions:

Ok, today brought us a new build of the Mists beta, and already I'm feeling a lot better about Brewmasters - even though I know there's some serious tweaking that is needed.

Brewmasters got a new ability: a 1-Chi cleave called Keg Smash. This, I think, is the hero of the latest build. Keg Smash is a cleave that causes targets hit by it to guarantee a misfire, hitting themselves instead for a set amount of damage (no, you can't make a boss do 150k damage to themselves - at least not yet,) thus making it both a nice aggro move and a nice survival move. Tiger Palm is also made free by Brewmaster Training at higher levels, which is probably overpowered (according to Ghostcrawler.) Tiger Palm improves your next Guard, which has a very cool new graphic. Guard, it seems, is actually on a fairly hefty cooldown, though the tooltip does not show it. Keg Smash has an 8-second cooldown, which puts it more in line with something like Shield of the Righteous (which doesn't have a cooldown, but is limited by Holy Power, which is kind of like a cooldown.)

Anyway, something of a tanking rotation is actually starting to take hold. Dizzying Haze and Breath of Fire are really more AoE moves akin to Cataclysm-era Consecration. So we Jab (or Clobber, or whatever) to gain Chi, then we probably hit Keg Smash to get a little mitigation/aggro off the bat (groups larger than three will probably need Dizzying Haze - assuming it causes sufficient aggro, otherwise there's still a problem.) Then you probably want to Tiger Palm three times, hit Guard, and then you've probably got Keg Smash off cooldown. From there, you probably need to Jab some more, Tiger Palm a bit, and survive until Guard is off cooldown using Expel Harm and keeping up with Keg Smashes.

Still needs some work, but holy crap does this feel better.

I still haven't used it in a group (I'm probably going to have my first Monk tanking experience in Deadmines on the low-level Brewmaster to learn the spec in a more forgiving environment) but I was able to clear the first trash pack in Temple of the Jade Serpent on my own (though it took a few tries, getting all my abilities in order.) I think Guard could stand to use a shorter cooldown if we're expected to use it rotationally, though if they want us to save that for the big hits, I suppose I understand it (though we're dangerously close to the current implementation of Holy Shield that I loathe and will be glad to see gone.) If Keg Smash is the kind of rotational damage reducer and Guard is the "every time the boss does his big hit" ability, then I guess it works. Still not crazy about Shuffle requiring you to channel.

Now, moving on to Protection Paladins. I took Jarsus into the same dungeon and cleared every trash pack and the first boss on my own. Using the Eternal Flame talent, I kept the EF HoT up, used Shield of the Righteous whenever I could, and Word of Glory whenever my health dipped low. Honestly, if you can clear the trash solo, you can probably clear the first boss solo. Essentially, you just fight four of those trash pulls in a row, then dps the boss while he turns in a circle. As long as you have a HoT up and don't stand in the water too long, and of course avoid his water jet, you can kill him. Admittedly, this is normal mode, so perhaps it doesn't have to be that complex, but it just seemed that I'm either way to overpowered in the self-healing department or that boss needs something a bit more dangerous.

Noblegarden begins tonight. Guess I'll have to take some time off the Beta to get Mage #2 (who's actually better geared at this point) his Rabbit-polymorph.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mists of Pandaria Beta: Second Impressions

Well, I've had another day to play with the beta, and here's what I've done:

Got the "core 5" transferred over and did a once-over on their main specs. I forgot how dependent I was on addons and macros. If you look at my UI on live, it's not super different, but without Power Auras I'm at a bit of a loss. I also made character copies of an 85 monk, warlock and mage. Here's the impression I've gotten from each:

At 85, Windwalkers still seem to have a much better design than Brewmasters. While there are certainly some issues (having your one healing spell require you to target a place on the ground, for example) overall Windwalkers are starting to make sense. I also adore the little animation and sound that happens when you cast either of your Legacy-buffs (Legacy of the Emperor is Blessing of Kings, Legacy of the White Tiger is Blessing of Might, but you can cast both if you're a monk.) Also, Flying Serpent Kick is really fun, if a bit tough to time right, give how insanely fast you're going. Might be more useful as a "get out of there now" ability than an attack.

I don't really know what the plan is in terms of how Brewmasters are going to shape up. Really, what they need is an AoE Jab. If Dizzying Haze A: didn't have to target a place on the ground, B: did reasonable damage and C: Generated Chi, they'd be in much better shape. As it is now, you need to spend a ton of energy to get the DH debuff up, then Jab a bunch to get Chi, and then spend that Chi on Breath of Fire - and that's just for soloing! God knows how these guys are going to play when you actually need to keep up Guard. Frankly, I think they need to go back to the drawing board and really cull some abilities and redesign others (keeping the cool names - like Drunken Haze.) I think it would be best if the Tiger Palm/Blackout Kick was kept to just the Windwalkers and 1-9 Monks, and Brewmasters (as well as Mistweavers) were given a different suite of Chi spenders that made more sense for what they needed to do.

Ok, moving on from Monks:

Playing a Paladin without Power Auras takes some getting used to. I actually think they should make good on what they said about making some resource bars (as an option) available at the bottom of the screen, rather than making you look up to check on it. This goes for Monks (who are already required to keep an eye on the target's health,) Death Knights, Rogues, Arcane Mages (with Arcane Charges being so clearly significant now) and now Warlocks.

I tried out two specs on the Warlock, Demonology (my lock's main spec) and Destruction. First off: Demonology is really cool, but I have no idea what I'm doing. My guess is the idea is you're supposed to maintain Demonic Fury at as high a level as possible. You can then hit Metamorphosis when you need to really bring the pain, but then I'm not sure where to go from there - either you're supposed to try to keep things balanced to stay in Demon Form, letting your veritable army of Wild Imps (and I mean it - you will have a freaking army of Wild Imps at basically all times) keep up your DF, or burning through it and returning to your less demonic form.

Destruction confuses the hell out of me. I was out killing random things (I'm avoiding quests to stay unspoiled - for the most part) and I was running out of mana like crazy. The "enhanced mana regen" you're supposed to get that replaces Life Tap might be bugged, because it didn't look like it was regenerating any faster than otherwise. I'm also not entirely clear on what you do to build up burning embers, and what's spending them. Really, I should probably just read about the abilities.

Still, altogether, Warlocks are getting some very interesting work done on them.

The last pre-made one I made was a Mage - specced Arcane. I don't know if there's really much to say about it - other than the face that there's an Arcane Living Bomb equivalent (and without the damage bonuses like in Cata, you're free to choose whichever you want in the talent tree) it plays very similarly. The only really big thing is that Arcane Missiles build Arcane Charges, rather than resetting them. They're still free, though, so you basically want to hit them any time they're up. Arcane Barrage is now a spell you need to use to reset your stacks, and lets you get in a decent amount of trash-pack AoE/Cleave, as it hits an additional target based on your AC stacks.

The characters I actually have (oh yeah, them!) I actually haven't done much with. Blood and Frost DKs seem almost entirely unchanged, as does Enhancement (with a few "under-the-hood" differences you might not notice.) Arms is a bit different, with forbidden fruit like Whirlwind now available to us, but an ancient staple like Rend gone completely. Also, I remember how weird Slam was when I first got it - a Melee attack with a cast time? But now that it's instant, I realize how much I kind of liked that. Oh well. Assassination is not all that different - the main thing is that Backstab got replaced with Dispatch, and there's an honest-to-God proc that lets you use it regardless of the enemy's health (very much like the pre-Cataclysm Sudden Death for Arms.) And I've already talked about Paladins.

So back to Monks real quick: Admittedly, tank specs always feel weird until you start tanking on them, but I really think we need to see a significant straightening-up of the Brewmaster spec. Actually, Monks all have a bit of a weird "which ability am I supposed to use with this limited resource" issue. Obviously, even with the tons of abilities that everyone has, you eventually figure out what the important ones are, but for instance, when am I supposed to use Rising Sun Kick instead of Tiger Palm? Also, there is only one Windwalker ability I can think of that spends the 3 Chi necessary to summon a Tiger spirit from the statue (like the old Buff-totems back before you could summon them all at once, I expect you'll only be putting your statue down on boss fights or tough trash.)

The other huge thing is that the abilities need to be better staggered. Getting Jab, Roll, Tiger Palm and Blackout Kick all by level 3, and then absolutely nothing until 10 (and then still nothing for many levels after that) is really, really weird. While I understand the reasoning behind the changes to the talent trees, the big thing they're losing is that sense of constant progress. We used to get a talent point every single level, so even if you went for a few levels without getting a new ability, you might put points into something that made you feel like you were that much more powerful - that much more in synch with your spec. Cataclysm balanced things decently well - usually if you weren't getting a talent point you were getting a new ability. Now, however, you'll spend most of your time in your starting zone using just three abilities in combat.

Oh, and Roll is great, but give it to us later. Much like Blink, this is one of those abilities that you feel you need to hit on every cooldown before you get a mount. Make it a level 18 ability, or something, so that you can play with it for two levels and then ride around like a grown-up. Here's what I'd recommend instead:

Level 1: Jab
Level 3: Tiger Palm
Level 5: Blackout Kick
Level 7: Healing Sphere, or some equivalent "heal up between fights" kind of spell for leveling monks
Level 9: Something vaguely Brewmaster-y

and with a couple other abilities thrown in there as they see fit.

Also, for the love of God, give Monks their resurrection spell before level 15. Remember when Druids couldn't rez except with Rebirth, with its long cooldown and reagent cost? Remember how much it sucked when you had a Druid healer, a Warrior tank, and let's say a Mage, Hunter, and Rogue, and someone died? Just as all tanks should get their taunt and tank-stance before heading into a dungeon, all healers need to have like two healing spells and a resurrection spell.

Mists of Pandaria Beta: First Impressions

Well, I got into the Beta on this last wave of a whopping 250k invites.

The only transferred character I've even logged onto is Jarsus, where I was mainly just looking to rearrange my bars a bit. This is probably a bug, but I can't find Guardian of Ancient Kings in my spellbook. Holy Wrath is still there, and Consecration is going back to a real rotational ability, rather than a "gather those adds now!" one. The weirdest thing to get used to so far (on a target dummy) is the 4.5 second cooldown on Crusader Strike/Hammer of the Righteous. When dps'ing, I'm not too worried about a second or two of inaction - you know it's designed that way, and as long as recount's high and you're still alive, you're doing fine. When tanking, though, every moment you aren't doing something, you're panicking that your dps is about to overtake you, or your healer's going to get squashed.

Getting power auras up will help a lot. Because Paladins now have two extra Holy Power to make sure procs and such go unwasted, and a lot of other abilities grant Holy Power, you're actually probably using finishers more - it's just that it's not all coming from CS.

The majority of my time spent in the Beta this evening was leveling two monks up to 10. I leveled a human first, and I've got to be honest, it was hell. But in retrospect, this was much more because a bunch of quests seem to be missing, and perhaps a lot of quest rewards, and I was using the starting handwrap fist weapons until level 9, wearing a bunch of cloth pieces. I went Windwalker (dps) with this one, but basically stopped at level 10.

Then I took a Pandaren through the starting zone, eventually making him a Brewmaster.

First thing: currently, and I'm almost certain this is a bug, you get Jab (which transforms into various other abilities depending on your weapons equipped) at level 1, Roll at level 2, and Tiger Palm as well as Blackout Kick at level 3. Then it's absolutely nothing until you pick your spec at level 10. While this is a decent host of abilities, it would be nice to get them a bit more staggered - perhaps getting Tiger Palm as your most basic Chi-spender, and then Blackout Kick once you get used to the system. Another ability there wouldn't be so bad, like a heal (those murlocs north of Eastvale are just as  brutal as I remember them back in Vanilla.)

The Wandering Isle - the Pandaren starting zone - is pretty good. Obviously, it's inundated with players at the moment, though as you go through, it seems enough people give up that by the end you're only competing for kills with a few other people, rather than like a million. The zone is beautiful, and presumably a nice indication of what's to come with the new continent (haven't gone there yet.) Story-wise, though, I find it a bit on the bland side. It's not terrible, and there are some cool enemies you fight (I like the rabbit-like Vermen) but overall it's very much a "kill so many of these guys," "collect so many of these things off those guys," and "pick this stuff off the ground" kind of questing experience. Compared to the intensity of the Worgen starting area or the ridiculousness of the Goblin one, it leaves me a little indifferent. The only really significant thing it sets up is the way that the two competing philosophies and their representatives will divide these Pandaren between Alliance and Horde.

Again, it's not terrible, and there are some moments (such as a baloon-ride near the end) that are really breath-taking, but compared to Catalcysm's new races starting zones, this is a bit of a step back. Interestingly, my favorite piece of the whole Pandaren starting experience was the arrival in Stormwind (yeah, two alliance monks - but I figured I'd have an easier time getting my friend to group with me that way.) Slightly similar to the Death Knight entrance, but much friendlier, Pandaren walk through the city and encounter several citizens of the Alliance - with representatives of each race - who comment on these newcomers. I would assume, of course, that Horde Pandaren have a similar kind of procession.

Regarding Monks, really I think I need to level up a bit more before I can comment intelligently. After all, every class is supposed to be simple at level 12. I am a little concerned about the slow drip-drip of abilities in the early levels, though, and I know this is an issue Blizzard is working on.

Tomorrow I expect I'll be venturing into Pandaria itself, which should let me comment a bit more on stuff like Active Mitigation.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Fate of the Horde: When Hellscream's Reach Exceeds His Grasp

I imagine I probably come off as being a little Alliance-biased, and I won't say it's entirely inaccurate. When I first started playing, I actually thought the Horde was profoundly unusual, and I actually think I liked it better than the Alliance then. There was one quest that really turned things around for me, though. In Icecrown, Horde players are sent to find out what happened to the army sent to invade the Lich King's domain. You discover that the Horde soldiers ambushed the Alliance while the humans were fighting the Scourge. As a result, both attacks on the much more important threat ultimately failed. This arrogance and idiocy is not called out by the general on Orgrim's Hammer, rather he seems proud. This rang false to me: the Horde was all about honor. How is attacking your enemy from behind while they are fighting your greater enemy remotely honorable? That was really the moment that swung my loyalty meter onto the blue side.

Under Thrall, the Orcs were far more interested in stability than conquest. One always got the impression that disputes with the Alliance were more of a Cold War style. Small skirmishes would erupt in key places (the Battlegrounds, actually,) but open war was not really going on. Even more surprising than the Orcs, the Undead were surprisingly sympathetic. Before Cataclysm, there were two primary threats you faced in the Undead starting zones: the Scourge and the Scarlet Crusade. It set up an interesting dynamic where the goal of most Forsaken was to return to some semblance of their lives as humans (their presence in Thunder Bluff is actually explicitly for that purpose - the Tauren are trying to help the Forsaken become living humans again.) Yet, beside their obvious horror at being transformed into such twisted forms, they have major obstacles on either side: the Scarlet Crusade had no interest in rehabilitating the Forsaken - they just wanted them wiped out. The Scourge was still the Scourge, as it had always been, and wanted to kill everyone and raise them to serve the Lich King.

Two very major things happened over the course of Wrath and Cataclysm to change the nature of the Horde.

The Wrathgate Incident in Northrend raised a lot of very difficult questions regarding the Forsaken. We always knew that the Forsaken were developing a new plague, but it was thought that the intended targets for said plague were the Scarlet Crusade and the Scourge. Sylvanas has plausible deniability on the whole Wrathgate situation - Varimathras' coup does seem to have been quite a shock to her, and yet at some point, Sylvanas and the Forsaken in general started acting a lot more like the apothecaries that Varimathras had turned. When he witnesses the raising of Gilnean resistance fighters as Forsaken, Garrosh does actually ask Sylvanas what difference there is between the Forsaken and the Scourge. After all, the whole point of the Forsaken (as I see it,) is that there is a place to go to be both undead and retain your freedom. There's no way in hell all the people raised by the Val'kyr in Silverpine and Western Plaguelands have decided - on their own accord - to join up with the Forsaken the moment they're raised. Lillian Voss is the only new Forsaken we see that doesn't seem to immediately sign up to serve the Banshee Queen, but I can't imagine she's the only one that exists. Sylvanas has kind of sold out in a way, and there needs to be a reckoning. I don't think we need to kill her, but we need her to hit rock bottom and see how badly she's screwed everything up. (You'd think getting shot in the head would be that moment, but for now it seems to have only strengthened her resolve.)

Actually, Garrosh's admonishment of Sylvanas was one of the more admirable things he's done (sexist epithet notwithstanding.) Predicting Garrosh's fate here would be redundant, though we do not know for a fact that he is going to die - he might be imprisoned, exiled, or if they really want to just give him a slap on the wrist, demoted. Still, his Warchiefdom (it's a word now) is going to end with a bang, and while I don't think it's necessarily going to be a total "Rah-rah, go Alliance!" moment that would make Horde players feel duped, I think the beginning of the end for Garrosh Hellscream involves a key Alliance figure.

We know that the centerpiece to the Mists of Pandaria pre-expansion event is going to be the siege, and ultimately the destruction of Theramore. Despite its Alliance affiliation, Theramore has historically enjoyed at the very least a mutual tolerance with Orgrimmar. Yet, at the same time, it is a definite strategic stronghold for the Alliance forces pushing into the heart of Horde territory.

Garrosh has a problem, which is that his entire philosophy is based on victory. Victory or death is a common thing for Orcs to say, but Garrosh has made the Horde embody that notion in a really fundamental way. Defeat is not tolerated. Now, on one hand, that can motivate people to perform better, and Garrosh, with his near-insane acts of battlefield chutzpah (like when he suggests that a twilight dragon removes itself from his airship) provides Horde warriors with an ideal to live up to, but on the other, it's not a very flexible philosophy that can adapt to less ideal situations.

Two big problems arise from this: One, his more pragmatic, tactically-minded allies (Tauren and Trolls, and Thrallist Orcs) are alienated in this "Might makes Right" society of his. The other, and this is the really big one, is that as soon as he loses a battle, everything is going to go to hell.

Garrosh is going to attack Theramore - a city-state that has tolerated the Horde just as much as the Horde has tolerated it - a country ruled by perhaps the most powerful mage in Azeroth. And he's going to fail to kill her. I expect that Theramore is going to be a really costly battle on both sides. Garrosh will have certainly weakened the Alliance's hold on southern Kalimdor in the short term, but if they write the story well, it's going to lose him his best troops.

With the formerly almost-neutral Jaina now on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, the Horde's going to start losing a battle here and there - they might not lose every battle, but the unstoppability seen throughout Cataclysm is going to be over. With their invincibility in doubt, Garrosh's biggest supporters are going to start questioning his rule. Most importantly, Garrosh is going to start questioning his rule.

And now we bring the Forsaken back into the picture. The central Horde really only has a significant presence in Kalimdor - the biggest area of Horde territory in Eastern Kingdoms is under the Forsaken. If Sylvanas ever wanted an opportunity to seize power, this would be it. Let's say she kicks the Kor'kron out - making a new deal, where the Warchief no longer gets to tell her what to do and has to deal with her as an equal - and just as Garrosh finally realizes he needs support from the Forsaken, Sylvanas is in the best position to just say "no."

So with his armies getting slaughtered, his own people beginning to rebel against him (Horde players would be included here - and the rebels are winning, so don't worry, Hordies still get to be winners,) his most powerful allies abandoning him, and one supremely pissed off woman who can shoot fire from her hands who wants him, personally, dead, what does he do? Garrosh does what his dad did. He grabs the biggest weapon he can get his hands on (for Grom, it was demon blood. For Garrosh? We don't know exactly yet, but if it isn't demon blood, it's something equally volatile and dangerous) and gives up everything the Horde stands for to try to save his own skin.

Ultimately, it won't be enough. Because we, the heroes of Azeroth, are going to take him down.

So what does a post-Garrosh Horde have to look forward to? That's a really good question. While some might think that we're going to see a combined Alliance-Horde force to unseat him, and that that might lead to some level of reconciliation, it could just as easily fan the flames of war higher. Sylvanas is still going to be a wild card, and unless she gets a wake-up call or dies, the Forsaken are going to continue to grow more Scourge-like as time goes on.

I don't think that there needs to be a "Alliance expansion, Horde expansion" kind of alternation, and I actually don't want to just see the Alliance winning all the time in Mists the way the Horde did in Cataclysm. Garrosh has undone a huge amount of progress made by Thrall. There's an interesting question to be raised: is the Horde destined to fall into bloodlust? Was a Warchief like Garrosh inevitable? But also, can the Horde find a cause to fight for that they can be proud of again?

We'll see how it goes.

Urban Life in WoW, part 2

So, we've talked about half of the home cities for the two player factions. While Shattrath and Dalaran are both important locations, I think that, given their relative isolation, it makes sense for them to remain unchanged. Don't get me wrong, Dalaran is probably the best-designed city in all of WoW, with everything relatively organized and a gorgeous design in a remarkably small space. And Shattrath is all right, I guess. But unless we see an Outland or Northrend revamp like Cataclysm did to the old world (and that would really just set us up for an ever-repeating treadmill of revamps - which granted, one could argue for) I think that both of these neutral cities will not likely change much.

So, to continue:

Silvermoon City:
While we're probably not going to see much change in the BC territories, the truth is that Blood Elf society has been going through drastic changes. We've actually seen a bit of change in Silvermoon already - when BC came out, the Blood Elf capital actually reflected total ignorance of Kael'thas' deal with the Legion. Hell, as a BE you headed into Outland basically on Illidan's side (the story for BC was a bit of a mess - Wrath was where they started getting better about making things clear in-game.) While Silvermoon is clearly a pleasant city (the part that wasn't destroyed by the Scourge,) there's some creepy totalitarian vibes going on as well. Though the propaganda-spewing Arcane Guardians are no longer preaching about Kael'thas and the promised land, they're still there, just with a new, Lor'themar-friendly message. There's clearly a bit of a rift between the Magisters and the Farstriders - the latter seem happy to team up with the High Elf exiles while the former are more interested in remaining loyal to the Horde. The Blood Elves have always had a bit of an identity crisis, and Garrosh's leadership has really tipped things in favor of reconciliation with, if not the Alliance, then those countrymen still loyal to the Alliance.

The Dwarves are another group of people with serious fractures forming. Actually, arguably they are not so much fractured as they are being inundated with new people who are officially welcome in their city, but not really gelling. The Wildhammers have always been a bit easier to get along with among the Bronzebeards than the Dark Irons, but I'd like to see a bit more of their influence on the society. Clearly, it is the Dark Irons who are going to cause the most trouble, especially given Moira's involvement with them and her son who actually has a pretty legit claim to the throne. There is a Dark Iron embassy in Ironforge, though it only really comes up in one quest. I'd like to see some serious clashes between the clans - perhaps even creating a neighborhood for each clan. We need to know more about Moira's actual intentions, and that needs to be reflected in changes to good old IF (which was totally the real Alliance capital back in the day, and I say this as a guy whose main is a human.) Oh, and also, what's the deal with Tinkertown? I know Mekkatorque is down by Gnomeregan, continuing the fight against the Troggs and the Leper Gnomes, but surely the gnomes would have something to say about all this dwarven intrigue.

Ok, here we come to the big ones. Orgrimmar saw the biggest changes of any city in Cataclysm - the Goblins took over the old Troll area, the Tauren now hang out in the ruins of Thrall's old keep, and Garrosh has set himself up where the old, glorious flight tower used to be (for you newbies, that's the thing you see collapsing in the Cataclysm cinematic along with the zeppelin crashing into the canyon wall - that zeppelin used to hover stationary over the city.) Garrosh has so totally remade Orgrimmar that I actually think it's the city that needs the least alteration. And yet, with Garrosh being removed, we're clearly going to need a bit of change. I don't know how that will work, exactly, as so much of the Horde leveling experience involves Garrosh. Will we phase him out for those who have completed the Siege of Orgrimmar, replaced by Thrall (or Saurfang, or Vol'jin, or a Basic Campfire?) I actually hope they keep the Drag the way it is, to preserve a bit of the Old Orgrimmar, but at the same time it would be nice to see the renovations on the front gates and some of the other parts of the city completed.

Stormwind was not rebuilt as much as Orgrimmar, but there were some huge changes. For one, the old "Night Elf district," the Park, was totally obliterated and is now literally a giant smoking crater, where the land has fallen into the sea. We do have some cool little farmland to the north - a kind of safe, protected area to get away from all the urban stuff. However, with the Cataclysm over, it seems like Stormwind should have finished rebuilding. If we have to keep Deathwing's claw-marks, so be it, but I would love to see something rebuilt in the area once known as the Park. It strikes me that, while Blizzard shuffled most of the Worgen over to Darnassus (giving them the Howling Oak, which, while cool, was just tossing a model used elsewhere in the world in an unused corner,) it would make far more sense for them to want to cling to their human allies. Additionally, the whole Gilnean architectural  style is fantastic. Give the Worgen and the Night Elves a kind of shared district within this area: the Druids of both races grow a tree, stretching out from cliff wall, providing a little natural balcony where the Night Elves could just chill out and enjoy it being a tree and the Worgen could set up their little caravans. Actually, to match the way that Orgrimmar has areas for four of the six Horde races, you could also make a little Draenei area in Cathedral Square (which was expanded quite a bit in Cataclysm.) For some reason, Blizzard has a very hard time incorporating the non-vanilla Alliance races into the world (which is a shame, because they're probably my two favorite playable races.) Giving them some face time in the capital would at least remind us that they're still there.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Urban Life in WoW part 1:

I remember one of my first experiences seeing WoW was when my college roommate was playing around on his level 6 or so Orc Warlock. I was amazed at how huge Durotar looked, and that such an expanse could incorporate such a tiny portion of the greater map. One of the coolest things I saw was Orgrimmar, with its big, off-kilter spiky wooden structures - a desert city with cacti and surprisingly friendly orcs (not being familiar with Warcraft, I had always filed orcs away with the "always evil" monsters, in the Tolkien style.)

Watching him play inspired me to try it out, and so I made my Tauren. Thunder Bluff blew me away - the city up high above the plains. And then I made Jarsus and saw Stormwind and Ironforge. The cities in WoW are pretty darned cool.

While Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King took us to new continents, each with a new, neutral city, we still returned to the old ones for our auction house and class training needs (Engineers and Mages got around those, respectively, during Wrath.) Cataclysm took us back to the Old World, and along with the questing revamp, Stormwind, and to a far greater extent, Orgrimmar, were rebuilt.

Actually, one could argue that the state of the two major capital cities give you a good sense of where each faction is at. Stormwind had an entire neighborhood obliterated, and is still scarred by Deathwing's assault. Orgrimmar, on the other hand, is having the last vestiges of Thrall's kinder, softer Horde wiped away in favor of Warsong Hold-style iron and stone.

One of my beefs with Cataclysm was the way that, ironically, by putting so much effort into these two cities, the other three cities for each faction have become greater ghost towns. I used to do my auctioneering and such in Undercity, Ironforge, and Thunder Bluff back when we were on an entirely different planet, but nowadays, regardless of the character, I stick to Stormwind and Orgrimmar.

I'm not entirely sure what the design goal will be for Mists of Pandaria. My understanding is that there will not exactly be a new neutral city, but there will be large towns for each side in the central Vale of Eternal Blossoms (which I understand to be kind of the Crystalsong Forest of Mists) and hopefully motivation to venture into the rest of the continent as well.

That said, I think there's a lot to be said for those original (and BC-era) cities, and I wouldn't mind an opportunity to see some development going on inside the various important cities of either faction. With the Cataclysm revamp done, and Blizzard in a state where I think they (rightly, for the most part) don't want to do much more redesign on currently existing stuff, I still hold out hope that some dynamic change can occur in the cities of WoW.

So here's what I'd like to see, city-by-city, along with quests and mechanics that would encourage us to go revisit them.

Honestly, Night Elf lore has never really drawn me in, with a few exceptions (even though I think he's a little too emo - with all of his darkness basically born out of a girl not liking him as much as his brother - Illidan and the demon-hunters on whole are a pretty cool concept.) I actually thought it was most interesting when Fandral was still there, and you had him vying for the position of leader while Tyrande - who back then was an ass-kicker who was willing to slaughter her own people to do what she felt had to be done - kept his radicalism in check. This may not have been the best place to start, because honestly Darnassus was always a little weird. The Night Elves are supposed to be these ancient people with ruins all over the world, and yet their capital city and starting zone are more recent than the foundation of Orgrimmar. Perhaps if we could see more apparently the flaws of Teldrassil in Darnassus, and show us the effect of the corruption from this failed world tree (which I'm assuming was Fandral's idea,) it would be better. For a source of natural corruption, Teldrassil and Darnassus are way to nice-looking.

After the Wrathgate incident, the abomination guards in Undercity were replaced with Kor'kron guards. As an undead character, the guards your ask directions from in your own city treat you like dirt. Here's the thing: since Wrath, the Horde has been portrayed as this industrializing juggernaut. Garrosh's influence has been that the Horde is constantly militarizing and constantly enforcing its will on an ever-expanding empire. Indeed, Cataclysm's old-world revamp watched the Horde expand its grasp on the world. Yet at the same time, Sylvanas is more aggressive than ever. Sure, officially she's Horde, but the Forsaken have always been a somewhat more independent entity than the rest of the Horde. I don't know if this is still the case, but Undead and Blood Elf characters used to actually start out only neutral with the Kalimdor Horde, but with a bonus to their Undercity and Silvermoon reps (the opposite was true for Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, and if this is still the case, Goblins.) I'm probably going to write a whole article about this, but what I see is that the Horde's grasp on the Forsaken is slipping. Theoretically the Kor'kron are there to prevent another Wrathgate from happening, but I think Sylvanas is doing a whole lot of stuff right under their noses. I think Garrosh has overextended the Horde, and eventually, they're going to have to sacrifice the control they have over their undead allies. I think the Undercity should get its abominations (or new creepy guardians) back, to reinforce the notion that the Forsaken are a wildcard that even the Horde can't necessarily trust. Throw in some more mad scientists and plague works and you'll have a very interesting development in Undercity. One last thing: I always thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity that Sylvanas isn't hunting down any remaining members of Varimathras' conspiracy. Even if Varimathras was more evil than Sylvanas, a witch-hunt going on among the undead would add a level of volatility and even more potential for stories.

Exodar is tough, because it's never really felt like a city. I've always liked to call it the Exodar Convention Center, because rather than shops or buildings, the areas within always felt more like booths. The only thing I could imagine doing to make Exodar cooler would be a very radical idea: repairing it. Imagine if when you got to your home city as a Draenei, you came not to a giant wreck, but an awe-inspiring, floating ship hovering above Azuremyst. The Draenei haven't had much to do since BC. I think it would be a great justification if they had been preparing for an assault on the Legion. The Scourge? Deathwing? Just speed bumps on the way to the real war. The Draenei are ready to go, and their ship is fueled up, armed, and ready to kick some demonic ass.

Thunder Bluff:
I adore Thunder Bluff. For one thing, it's probably the best city to fly around with a flying mount. Sadly, with the removal of Magatha Grimtotem (sort of like the removal of Fandral Staghelm) the internal conflict is not really present. Honestly, I'm not sure what to think of where the Tauren are nowadays. The new classes didn't really incur any cultural change. I think the best direction to go with the Tauren is their ambivalence about their future with the Horde. It would be interesting to see scenes throughout the city where Tauren are protesting Cairne's death and the massacres against Tauren by their own allies (Stonetalon Mountains - play that zone if you haven't.) Having a faction of Tauren who want nothing to do with the Horde anymore would be a very interesting development.

This is getting fairly long, so I'll finish with the other four cities next time.