Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Questing in Mists

I've been in the beta now for a fairly long time. I don't really play it every day (in fact, I haven't played real-WoW in over a week - it's that end-of-expansion lull) because, after all, it's Beta, and all the progress I make is going to be erased once it ends. I've been leveling Jarsus (he's 88, half a level short of the current beta level cap.) The annoying thing is that it seems like either the Dungeon Finder isn't working or no one is testing the dungeons, because I don't even get a time estimate when I queue as a tank.

And of course, dungeons are where it's easiest to get a feel for a tanking spec.

So I've been confined to soloing (in Ret, because soloing in Prot remains kind of painful unless all you round up all 8 dudes you want to kill at once.) So, here's the interesting thing about questing in Mists of Pandaria: there are a lot of options. Like, I mean a LOT.

Wrath of the Lich King remains my favorite expansion, not just because I loved the setting and I thought the difficulty curve was just right (which puts me, at least among the more loudspoken members of the internet, in the minority. But then, I'm pretty sure Wrath was where WoW had its highest number of subscriptions, so they must have been doing something right...) but also because the questing (notably with the then-revolutionary implementation of phasing) felt very epic and personal. Wrath introduced the idea of building an entire zone around a single massive quest chain. Now, it didn't actually do that in any of the zones, but you had things like Upper Zul'drak, the pre-Wrathgate quest chain, or, of course, the massive Sons of Hodir chain, that were clearly the centerpieces of their respective zones.

Cataclysm took this concept to its logical extreme. All the top-level zones and many of the redesigned zones are composed of a single quest chain (ok, granted, Uldum is two, while Twilight Highlands and Deepholm give you a choice of the order in which you might do some of those quests.) The first time through, this is quite amazing, but what it leads to is having every single character go through basically all the same content. Being familiar with it will maybe make it easier, but it takes a lot of the fun and excitement out of leveling your alts.

So it's interesting to see what Mists is doing. To me, it kind of feels like a reconstruction of the original questing design: specifically, that it's all about being a wandering adventurer, exploring the world and helping out where you can. The new zones have overall feels, but not really defining stories. However, Mists improves on the formula quite a bit: In Vanilla, you'd find yourself getting really arbitrary quests that didn't feel motivated by much of a story (one of the most enraging quests I remember from that era was one you got from a guy in Stormwind's Mage Quarter that sent you all the way to the Charred Vale in Stonetalon Mountains. You go there, collect basilisk livers or something, go all the way back to Stormwind, and he gives you a wand. End of quest, no follow-up. You just went literally all the way across the world for a crappy green-quality wand.) In Mists, despite the lack of a single, monolithic chain that defines the entirety of a zone, there are many different quest chains, and many different hubs dotted around.

The point is, you don't have to do all of the quests in a zone to level through it. There is choice.

Now, I think this is primarily a positive. There are some very cool questing experiences (I had one involving an attempt to steal into the crypt of the Mogu emperor, which had lots of traps and eventually gets flooded with Zandalari soldiers) but you won't necessarily get sick of them because you can have your alts do different ones.

However, there are potential downsides: the other side of that coin is that you will miss things unless you're a total questing completionist. For example, the epic destruction of the Serpent Statue in Jade Forest, which is a major plot point, is something I have not experienced (admittedly, I was trying to clear every quest I could in Jade Forest back when it was the only zone open, but I was stuck on a few quests that were bugged - and in fact, some of the quests were probably not implemented either.)

The other thing is that you can easily get a full quest log. Cataclysm trained us to pick up every quest we saw - and usually that wouldn't be a problem, because you'd rarely have more than four quests to do at a time, given the linear nature of Cataclysm's quest flow. In Mists, however, you might get sent to, say, a Wise Man in the mountains, and along the path, you'll run into some Grummles (adorable Gophers/Sherpas) who give you a bunch of quests. Your instinct is probably to go do the Grummles' quests, but then you'll realize that they're sending you off on a totally different quest chain, and by the time you're done with it, you'll have probably run into some Shado-Pan people who will then have their own quest chain and if you keep doing everything everyone asks of you, you'll never meet the Wise Man at the top of the mountain.

Obviously, this is one of those things that will get easier as we get used to the quests there. If you're taking your fourth or fifth alt up through there, it'll be obvious which chains lead to what, but I know that on Jarsus, I'm going to really try to make sure I hit the important plot points, and that's going to be a bit tough.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Transitioning back to this being a WoW blog

I'm on Act IV of Diablo 3, and I've found that the most difficult enemy by far is having a three-year-old laptop running it. In certain environments, like open desert or dark, rocky caverns, the game runs smoothly and I feel like a total badass, tearing bosses apart like they were no big thing (incidentally, Archon, at least on Normal difficulty, makes me into a freaking god.) However, if we have a change of venue to snowy castle ramparts in the middle of a battle, or... well, a place that would kind of be a spoiler, the game crawls along as if I were running some old DOS machine. I actually kind of wish I could switch it to 16-bit sprite graphics in those moments.

Still, I'm powering through with a combination of the Templar's heals and health regeneration and being higher-level and more geared than I think they expect you to be (or maybe Normal is tuned to be very forgiving, even for a Diablo noob like me.)

Anyway, one of the things that struck me about the game is that, stylistically, it's certainly got some cool ideas (I love the concept of Angels as being incorporeal energy housed in suits of armor - they're like Ethereals, but less interested in profit and more in being bastions of light and goodness (even if some come off a bit anti-human.))

Demons, on the other hand, are handled in a mostly standard way. I guess it's not so much the demons themselves, but the demonic environments are all filled with spiky black metal, fire, and gross, bloody things everywhere. At least what I've seen of them, the demons in Diablo feel very, very similar to Oblivion in Elder Scrolls 4.

Now, admittedly, there's a reason for this. The Fire and Brimstone demons are pretty standard in western culture, and that image of them is clearly derived from figures within the religious cosmology of Christianity. Actually, the Diablo universe is a much more Christian fantasy universe than Warcraft. Despite the absence of, well, Jesus, or even God (though Anu is close,) the universe there is divided neatly between Angels in Heaven above and Demons in Hell below. Despite the stakes being for all of creation, Diablo is kind of a smaller scope than Warcraft - perhaps it is simply because the game isn't as big as WoW, but there's also the fact that there are two sides in an Eternal War that are very clearly marked (even if it turns out that humans are actually more powerful than either side - a device I tend to like) and thus, every conflict in the game ultimately boils down to "are you good or are you evil." Sure, evil fights amongst itself (and this is a fairly important plot point) but from your perspective it's rare to come across any other conflicts that don't turn out to be part of the central one.

And again, part of that is that it's not a sandbox game, but a linear RPG.

Demons in Warcraft, on the other hand, have got a fairly different feel to them. Yes, I think they started out in this style, but as the mythology has expanded, I think they've come up with a much more original take on them. And the weird thing is that a huge part of it is just changing the color of the fire. Yes, Green Fire, the (un)Holy Grail of things Warlocks want, kind of encapsulates how demons and the Burning Legion in Warcraft feel totally different. They're not just in big fiery caves filled with lava (that's where the Fire Elementals go!) Instead, they're products of Hyperspace (in fact, the Twisting Nether very closely resembles the Sci-Fi concept of Hyperspace.) Although one might consider Fel Magic to be Warcraft's "substance" or "source" of evil, you have to remember that there's plenty of evil being done without it (in fact, assuming my theories line up with Blizzard if they ever choose to explain this, the Old Gods - who are definitely evil - don't want to have anything to do with Fel magic.) Warcraft, despite aspects of it fitting into the standard medieval fantasy setting, is really liberated by its comfort with anachronism. Thus, turning demons from being straight-up nightmare creatures dreamed up by someone with some really fucked-up blood and gore fetishes and into a kind of alien army who has conquered or destroyed thousands of worlds - while still being demons and using dark magic - creates something far more original.

Warcraft started with a straight-up binary conflict - Orcs vs Humans - and if I am not mistaken, once had a much simpler mythology where (and I could be wrong) the Orcs were coming out of Hell, and Humans fought in the name of Heaven. However, due to judicious retcons, huge amounts of lore written, and many games expanding the mythology (Warcraft II introduces trolls, ogres, elves, dwarves, gnomes, goblins, dragons, Outland, Warcraft III introduces the Burning Legion, the Scourge, the Night Elves, the Ancients, the fact that the Orcs aren't just inherently evil, the Tauren, the Draenei (though, more accurately, the Broken and Lost Ones - see "judicious retcon") the Naga, and even the first signs of the Old Gods, and then WoW introduces... oh Jesus, there's no way I could list it all here.)

The fact is that, while there is a general sense of "Good" and "Evil," they're much less tangible subjects. Sure, the Naaru are clearly good, and the Titans at the very least mean well, and the Burning Legion is clearly not nice people while the Old Gods are that Lovecraft-style "these things are like ants to me"-style evil. However, neither good nor evil is a substance. Yogg-Saron is the Old God of Death, but that doesn't mean that he/she/it literally causes or even embodies death - it's more like a title and perhaps a field in which he/she/it has some expertise (it never really came up, but I always had a theory that the Scourge was essentially using Fel magic to steal Yogg-Saron's necromantic power without becoming its pawn - see my earlier posts about why I think the Burning Legion is ultimately more powerful than the Old Gods.)

Anyway, Warcraft kind of takes a Unitarian approach to its mythology. Yes, there is the Light, but there's also the Loa, and the Ancients, and the Titans, and just because Malorne isn't a Naaru doesn't mean he's "impure" and therefore "evil." Warcraft's a world where there's enough room for everyone's gods (well, except Twilight's Hammer's.) The result is a level of diversity that keeps the game fresh. One thing that was kind of missing in Cataclysm (late-game) was the Ulduar - a major side-story that gives us a break from the rest of the expansion. Don't get me wrong, I love the Scourge as villains, and I had a blast tearing through Naxxramas and ICC, but it was nice to get a break from "Skulls, Ooze, Ice, and decay" and get a big Titan instance. In Cataclysm, we got Fiery Dragons and Old Gods, then just Fire, then Old Gods and Fiery Dragons (actually, the Throne of the Four Winds was a pretty nice break, visually, though my guild certainly never spent any real time on it, being a "side instance," and story-wise, it was still part of the overall Deathwing and Elementals plot.)

So what is my point here, exactly? Well, I like WoW's lore. It's got a richness that allows for lots of stories. Perhaps the single strongest aspect of it is that what started as a binary morality has become a far more complex, and thus believable world.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Diablo v WoW

So, like many people with the Annual Pass - or simply fans of the series - I'm playing a lot of Diablo 3 (I'm on Act 3, having beaten the first major boss, Gluttony-dude.)

I should mention that this is the only Diablo game I've played, so everything here is specifically about Diablo 3.

WoW clearly has a lot of Diablo DNA, and I know that a lot of the initial class design for WoW was inspired by Diablo. Both are RPGs that have you killing big monsters for shiny loot, crawling through dungeons, managing your gear loadout.

So I figured I'd compare the two.

Despite its multiplayer capabilities, Diablo is at its core a single-player game, like the vast majority of games I play. That means that you, yes you, can face incredibly powerful demon lords on your own (well, with a sidekick. Question: I have become incredibly dependent on the Templar's healing and health regen abilities. How the hell do you play with anyone else? Note: I'm a Wizard.) It's actually kind of strange to be able to go kill Belial, Lord of Lies on my own, because I'm so used to thinking of giant monsters in Blizzard games as the ones you need a group of at the very least 5 to beat.

It's actually pretty cool to be self-sufficient (well, as long as I have my Templar buddy around. I kind of feel bad for the Scoundrel and the Enchantress, because I almost never take them anywhere.) It also varies the gameplay a bit. In WoW, if you're dps you typically only use your "utility" moves in PvP or very special situations. While running a dungeon as dps, you usually only switch between your "AoE" rotation or your "single target" rotation (or sometimes a "cleave" rotation, for smaller groups.) In Diablo, you don't really have a Tank, per se (though I've found that if I can get the Templar to wedge himself into a doorway, blocking the swarm of skeletal soldiers or what have you while I blast them from behind him with my Electrocute, we're nearly unstoppable.) When you're on your own, suddenly stats like Vitality (Diablo's version of Stamina) and armor start looking more attractive, even to a squishy Wizard, and things like Frost Nova (similar to the Mage spell, but it also stops them from attacking) and Shock Blast (which does damage and tosses enemies away) become very important parts of your arsenal. Hell, Demon Hunters (thematically a cross between a Rogue and a Hunter, with a tiny dash of Warlock thrown in) have an entire secondary resource system specifically for defensive moves.

It's also kind of cool that you get a little cast of characters that follow you around. While the dialog sometimes gets repetitive (I can't tell you how many times the Templar's asked me how criminals are dealt with in my land) you do feel like you're the leader of a little band of intrepid heroes - even the crafters have decent personalities.

There are some issues, however. Diablo uses a kind of dungeon randomizer - whenever you enter one of the game's vast dungeons (and most of the time you spend killing things is in these,) the game will take several basic room tiles and stitch them together, filling it with enemies and objects appropriate to that dungeon. You'll sometimes come across areas that are more deliberately laid out, when the plot or gameflow demands it, but it means that even on the same character, if you leave a dungeon and come back (other than using the "crap, I've got to go back to town and empty my bags" Town Portal spell,) the dungeon will have a totally different layout. The point here is to make sure that you don't just memorize the layout and speed through it on every playthrough, and it certainly achieves that, but the unfortunate side effect is that a lot of the dungeons lack flow. You're killing the same set of enemies from start to finish, and while there are cool devices like crumbling walls or chandeliers to drop on them, it mostly feels like more of the same until you get to your next checkpoint.

Gear has a similar feel to it. In WoW, the randomized gear you occasionally get is usually made into enchanter fodder (admittedly most of the magic gear you get in Diablo also goes to the Blacksmith) while you tend to equip either quest rewards or specific boss drops. In fact, a lot of the motivation to run a dungeon multiple times comes from the need for a specific loot drop. In Diablo, however, there are literally no specific loot drops (at least none that I've seen so far.) The best you'll get (again, this is just over halfway through Normal mode) is a yellow-titled item. These are items that you pick up, spend a couple seconds "identifying" and then find that they are specifically designed with certain stats (and they tend to be a lot better than the blue pieces, which are equivalent to WoW's random green drops.)

But these drops do not come off of specific bosses - I have no need to go kill the Skeleton King again (though I bet it would be a hell of a lot easier this time around, assuming he doesn't scale up with my gear/level.) So it's strange, despite being a game that is all about the dungeon crawl, there's not a whole lot of motivation to retread past conquests. Unless I'm playing it wrong.

Dungeons in WoW are really well-designed, actually. There tends to be a real flow to them, and it allows the trash to be nearly as interesting as the bosses. Diablo dungeons are basically like the giant field in the Firelands at all times - yes, there's some trash pulls there that require different strategies, but for the most part it's a big slog.

One more thing - making Left Click both your cheap attack and your walk button makes it really frustrating to get out of fires and the like when there's a swarm of enemies (or just a really big one) around you.

Mind you, I like both games, and while novelty has its hold, I'm playing Diablo. It might take me a long time, but I intend to play through it on all the classes, but I think that WoW is ultimately a better game. Even as a single-player game, the quests in WoW have evolved past employing only simple "kill x of these guys" - the only problem with it as a single-party game is that the big stories are somewhat anticlimactic.

I should also take a second to note that the ability and rune system in Diablo looks very much like the ideal they're striving toward with Glyphs and Talents. It's especially successful given the need for "utility" the single-player game uses, but it's also interesting in that by restricting you to six abilities at any given time (including buffs) and a maximum of three passive effects, you find yourself having to make real choices (My indestructible non-boss build? Electrocute with Chain Lighting, Ice Beam with Snow Blast - for the tough elites - Frost Nova with Shatter and Forceful Blast in case I get swarmed. Like the Templar, it's hard to wean myself off of this build.)

Edit: Oh, and one other thing I love about Diablo 3 - your money is account-wide. In WoW, assuming everyone's on the same server and faction, you can send gold around easily enough (minus the 30 copper, which wasn't a lot of money even in Vanilla days, unless your max-level toon was level 5 or lower) but there's something very convenient about just having the gold you collect on one dude be available on the others.

This also extends to your crafters: because the main in-game gold-sink (aside from the Auction House) is the training of your crafters, it makes sense that, given that it's everyone's gold, everyone should benefit from the training. In fact, even though you don't get Shen, the jewelcrafter, until Act II, your other characters will see him in New Tristram with all of the jewel recipes he's trained for (he even has special dialog there, which requires you to have an alt.)

Actually, Diablo is generally very Alt-friendly. With shared gold, and the fact that there is no such thing as "soulbound" items, you can very easily drop off powerful gear for your other characters. While your first guy might struggle by with some outdated, low quality gear, the awesome rare pieces you pick up can be put in your stash and picked up by alts as soon as they're high enough level to wield them. That's how my Demon Hunter (who started as my main, but was quickly outpaced by the Wizard) wound up with two insanely powerful hand-crossbows with which she slaughtered her way through dungeon after dungeon.

WoW could benefit from a few of these concepts. One: I love the Stash concept, even if the space there is pretty limited. It's kind of like a personal guild bank. I can't tell you how many times I've wished that I could just toss certain items into a communal storage space - things like cloth and basic trade goods - so that my characters could pick them up as they needed them. I also wouldn't mind making Gold account-wide. That way you wouldn't have to worry about a new alt needing funds before they can access a mailbox. It would also really help anyone who decides to reroll on a new server, and encourage people to try the other faction.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Diablo 3 and WoW's "fallow" phase

I find myself very much in the position I was toward the end of Wrath of the Lich King. A new expansion is on its way, and even though it's months off (we don't even have a release date for Mists, though I think we can expect it soon) we're very definitely in a "Cataclysm is pretty much over" phase. Even though my guild is only 1 boss down in Dragon Soul on Normal (a lot of our key raiders left after Cataclysm came out - for one, I know that one of our most dedicated healers refused to ever heal again after the changes that were made, which I think explains why we haven't made at least some decent progress.) Anyway, the point is that at this point, I'm not really feeling very motivated to gear up alts and all that with Pandaria around the corner.

However, there's a new game that's just downloaded on my computer (and I'd be playing it now if I could - gotta wait until midnight.) That is Diablo 3, the shining jewel of the cool stuff you get for the Annual Pass (guaranteed Mists Beta was the reason I signed up, but at this point I've mostly gotten a feel for the Brewmaster, and I don't want to overexpose myself to all the dungeons and all the cool stuff before I actually get to play the real thing.)

Anyway, I've never played any of the Diablo games before. WoW was my first Blizzard game, then I got StarCraft, Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2, and as you can probably tell, I'm impressed with the company's work.

I realize that multiplayer is a legitimate way to play Diablo, but it's actually pretty exciting to have the prospect of a single-player RPG made by the people who make WoW. I came to WoW not as a fan of MMOs (it's the only one I've played) but of RPGs. I grew up on Secret of Mana and Mario RPG (oddly not Final Fantasy - the first of those I played was Ten, and that was a while after it came out when I was in college.) While it's cool to raid, and I love being a badass tank (we'll see if I can still be a badass tank when tanking itself is completely redesigned for most tank classes - at least I know I'll still be good on my DK,) it's always been a little frustrating, on the other hand, that I can't face down the big bads of Azeroth without either submitting myself to the crapshoot that is Raid Finder or scheduling it out a week in advance with my guild.

Don't get me wrong, I love the sense of team spirit that comes with beating a tough boss with my guild, but at the same time, sometimes I just want to be badass by myself, and WoW has always had very few outlets for that once you've cleared all the max-level quests.

True to my nature, I expect I'm going to play all five of Diablo 3's classes, but the conundrum I face now is which of those I'm going to start with.

My preference has always been classes and characters that mix magic and melee. The Battlemage - with specifically an Arcane/"Fantasy Equivalent of Science" style of magic (think lots of secret and mysterious tomes, with maybe a space and time flavor) combined with a gigantic, ornate warhammer and heavy armor - is the perfect class archetype for me. However, seeing as this is a new game, I sort of feel I should start with something very different. So far, the only class I've been able to eliminate is the Barbarian. Somehow, the "I don't need any kind of magic, I can just smash things" character has never really appealed to me. On one hand, the Wizard fits that "Arcane" feel that I enjoy, but that almost makes me think I should save it for a later alt. The Monk could be cool, but I think the finalists are the Demon Hunter and the Witch Doctor.

I should be noted that when I played a lot of Magic the Gathering as a kid, I liked to play Black for the most part. Surprising for someone whose main in WoW is a Paladin? It should be noted that I'm of the generation that saw Nightmare Before Christmas as a kid (also don't forget that beside that Paladin, I also play a Rogue, a Death Knight, and a Werewolf among my "top five" toons)

Anyway, the Witch Doctor has a cool feel, with all the zombies and dark magics, though I worry a bit about the play style. Pet classes sometimes have the unfortunate side effect of feeling too automated. Your pet is effective, sure, but it makes your own actions seem less important. Demon Hunters have "badass" written all over them, but part of me is a little worried about playing the "fragile speedster." This might just be rooted in the fact that I was always one of the big kids, and speed is frightening to me.

Then again, removing me from my comfort zone is kind of the goal here, so Demon Hunter seems to be winning out.

And it's not like I won't be making a character of each class.

Anyway, this should do a good job in carrying me through WoW's fallow period (much as, of all things, Plants Vs Zombies did before Cataclysm.)

Here's hoping my computer doesn't explode when I try to run it!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Black Market

Well, according to MMO-Champion, we now know what the Black Market Auction House is really going to be. Unlike the current auction house, as far as I can tell you will not be able to place things for sale on it. Instead, various NPCs will periodically list various items for huge amounts of gold. The exciting thing is that these items are things that are either extremely rare or are not even attainable anymore.

Examples include Ashes of A'lar (the super-rare Phoenix flying mount off Kael'thas in Tempest Keep,) faction-specific Argent Tournament pets (though with pets going account-wide, this shouldn't be as much of an issue, unless you only play one side,) and even - cue the triumphant music - Tier 3!

That's right, for the first time since Wrath of the Lich King came out, you can get your hands on real, genuine Tier 3 armor. Though before you start celebrating, remember that despite the fact that Dreadnaught is the best Death Knight set they've ever made, it's still technically restricted to Warriors (Tier 13 for DKs is probably the best armor tier for them that is actually for Death Knights, but I still think that the black metal with glowing blue and all the skulls really just screams Death Knight, and it totally would have been a DK set had the class existed when the original Naxxramas came out. I have to imagine that the concept for it was "hey, let's let Warriors dress up as if they were Death Knights, which at this time is not a class, and is therefore basically just the Scourge equivalent of any heavy-armored soldier.")

I'm sure a huge number of people are going to be screaming that this somehow "dumbs the game down," or one of those other stock cliches for players who are desperate for a reason to complain. While this won't be an issue for reasons I'll get into, one could make the argument that by making these things more available, it decreases their specialness. Remember when having a Nether Drake was really cool, because everyone (except Engineers) only has access to the Gryphons and Windriders (well, and Nether Rays, but how many people have really pursued the whole Shat'ari Skyguard grind?) Nowadays, however, you can hardly find anyone who doesn't have a wide assortment of Drake mounts (it doesn't help that Blizzard's default concept for new flying mounts is always, always "make it a dragon, but this time it's ___")

Now, on one hand I reject the "special snowflake" attitude in an MMO. Another person's accomplishments do not demean your own. If you're dedicated to being the hardest of hardcore, the only thing that should matter to you is the cutting edge of heroic raiding. What should it matter to you if a group of casual raiders head back to Molten Core and put together a Thunderfury? Or a pug goes to ICC and gets everyone Kingslayer? If you're obsessed with being recognizably the best at something, you should be working on "Savior of Azeroth," at least until something newer and more prestigious comes around.

Also, remember when people were complaining about one being able to get replicas of the old dungeon sets? What did those people think about the fact that, at level 80, before Cataclysm came out, you could go solo the dungeons where you found those pieces? Did it enrage them that the stuff it took them so long to farm that stuff in a full group, people were then able to get it on their own? Would they advocate just removing every cool item that drops anywhere in old content because of the fact that as we grow more powerful with each expansion, it's easier to beat the bosses?

Another thing to consider is that just because these things will be made available on the Black Market does not mean we're suddenly going to see entire fleets of people roaming around on A'lar, rocking their tier 13 transmog sets. These things will be available, I believe, only once in a while. A'lar might show up once and not be back for over a month. That means that one person on the entire server gets it - which, compared to the drop rate and the server population, is probably not much more than is theoretically possible by just farming the raid.

The one issue that I can think of is that this might encourage gold sellers. Other than the (frankly fairly cheap given the flow of gold these days) upgrade to 310% flight, there aren't many gold-sinks in WoW's economy these days. Now, however, you'll have people bidding on things with a starting price of 20,000 gold. Granted, we don't know what our Pandaria-level income will be, but across all my Alliance characters, that's like a third of my total gold, and I'm really cheap. In a sense, an auction-style pricing scheme does manage to adjust to the economy - if everyone's got tons of gold, everyone will be willing to bid higher - but it does provide a big advantage (albeit a cosmetic one, as I doubt they'll be selling any currently useful gear on the Black Market) to those with tons of cash. That means either serious AH-manipulators (which, to be fair, is a legitimate gameplay decision) or gold-farmer customers (which is not) are going to always have first-pick. Frankly, it might not even be realistic for the average player to ever expect to win anything on the Black Market, which is a problem.

Overall, I think it's a cool idea, and I'd love to get my hands on some of the cool, no-longer available stuff (Amani War Bear, for example?) but I hope that enough thought is put into it that this won't be more trouble than it's worth.

The High King and the Evolution of the Alliance

First off, let's talk about the history of the Alliance briefly. The Alliance, much like the Horde, has gone through some very drastic changes. After the First War, when the surviving humans of Stormwind were forced to flee north to Lordaeron, the remaining human nations realized they were going to need to do something to deal with the threat posed by the Horde. Lordaeron (the country, rather than the sub-continent) and specifically King Terenas Menethil, was among the prime advocates for the formation of the Alliance - a union between the various human nations and Stormwind's exiles. The Alliance was actually originally called "The Alliance of Lordaeron," which is why the Alliance symbol (such as the little PvP flag you'll get on your character's portrait) is a big L (with a sort of P-like curve at the top - I'm not sure if this is just a caligraphy-like flourish or if it's meant to be the Azerothian version of the letter L.)

Anyway, the Alliance was always a bit like NATO - a group of politically independent entities banded together in a kind of permanent defensive pact. During the second war, the Alliance of Lordaeron would come to include the High Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes (complimenting the Horde's acquisition of Ogre, Troll, and Goblin allies.) However, despite their military unification and their ultimate victory against the Horde (which is why the southern two thirds of the Eastern Kingdoms is essentially Alliance territory today,) the Alliance was never quite the total unification that the Horde was.

The Alliance has seen profound changes. Lordaeron, as we all know, was utterly devastated in the Third War, and the few survivors of the Scourge have gone on to live either in Theramore or Stormwind, or have joined anti-Scourge religious orders like the Scarlet Crusade or the Argent Crusade. Despite the devastation of the founding member of the Alliance, and the loss of most of the High Elves (mainly due to the unfortunate attitude of one powerful Alliance General, Garrithos,) they have also gained a strong foothold on Kalimdor with the Night Elves, and even have the greatest expertise on the larger universe thanks to the inclusion of the Draenei.

The Alliance has had great success over the past few years defeating the major threats posed by the Burning Legion, the Scourge and the Old Gods, but they have had difficulty in dealing with a newly aggressive Horde. Theramore, once a fairly indisputable safe haven for the Alliance in Kalimdor, is under heavy assault (and is going to get destroyed,) and the Forsaken are making a concerted push to capture the entire sub-continent of Lordaeron for themselves. Despite a bold push into the Southern Barrens, pretty much everywhere else on the globe, the Alliance is either on the defense or on the retreat.

Part of the problem that the Alliance has is that it is very decentralized. The Night Elves, for instance, seem to be fighting the Horde incursions into Darkshore and Ashenvale entirely on their own, while the Humans fight in the Southern Barrens with little coordination with the Night Elves in the north (granted, the main point of the invasion of the Barrens is to connect Theramore with Night Elf territory, but you get the impression there's not a huge amount of communication.)

On the other side of things, despite the fact that the Forsaken have a great deal of cultural independence, Sylvanas' invasion of Gilneas and Hillsbrad is heavily supported by Orcish troops - much of your time in Silverpine, for instance, involves fighting alongside (ok, rescuing) Orcish marine forces. Sylvanas, for all of her rogue intentions, is theoretically pledged to serve the Warchief.

So what is the Alliance to do? Well, Blizzard has said that big changes are coming, and they're centered around Varian Wrynn. Varian is the closest thing the Alliance has to a leader. The Alliance was started in order to retake Stormwind, and Stormwind's been the primary force in the Alliance since the end of the Third War. We've been told that there will be a series of quests called "Trials of the High King," where Varian proves himself to the various leaders of the Alliance, and ultimately earns the place as the Chief Executive Officer of the entire thing.

This being the Alliance, rather than the Horde, you can expect that rather than simply beating all the other racial leaders up, he'll have to solve diplomatic issues (though some of this will inevitably involve beating other things up.) But assuming that he passes these trials (and given that we players will be involved, of course he will,) you're going to see a very different Alliance. Now, everyone in the Alliance, not just loyal subjects of Stormwind, will have a common Commander in Chief to follow. Alliance forces have never been completely segregated, but expect far more coordination between, for example, Dwarves and Night Elves, or Draenei and Gnomes (man, with the two of them working together, shouldn't the Alliance have freaking Starfighters by now?)

It's going to be a lot harder to push the Alliance around once this comes about, and especially with Garrosh losing his shit (possibly because of that fact) you can expect that Team Blue is going to turn this war around - hell, they might even march right through the gates of Orgrimmar.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Warchief and Succession

It won't be for a while, but in the final content patch of Mists of Pandaria, both Horde and Alliance are going to storm into Orgrimmar and relieve Garrosh of his command. The position of Warchief has not historically been the most stable one - it's more akin to a Roman Emperor, with lots of backstabbing and usurpation. Thrall, for all his flaws, managed to actually get his people to like him, and got to leave the office without a dagger sticking out of his back.

As I've mentioned before, while Thrall would probably be welcomed back as Warchief by much of the Horde (especially the Troll and Tauren populations,) it's not obvious that he would take the job. It's not an impossibility, and frankly Thrall has the best chance of any individual to wind up Warchief again, but let's set aside that and look at the very real possibility of someone else sitting on the throne.

First off - there's never been a non-Orc Warchief. The Horde started as a purely Orc-based government/coalition, and despite the fact that Ogres and Trolls have fought along with the Horde since the Second War, the position of Warchief, and the organization of the Horde in general has been firmly rooted in orcish culture. That said, today's Horde is a very different animal than the original. I don't know how much of any given playable race is supposed to exist in lore, but we can probably assume there's a fair balance (perhaps not so many Blood Elves or Worgen, but a disturbingly rising number of Forsaken.) Thus today's Horde has to be a blend of Orc, Troll, Tauren, Forsaken, Blood Elf, and Goblin culture (with a dash of Pandaren, of course.)

In fact, Garrosh has been a part of the Horde for far less time than Vol'jin. So it would not be unthinkable to see a non-Orc Warchief, even if there is probably a preferential probability toward the natives of Draenor.

Vol'jin: One of the most respected and experienced leaders in the Horde, he is also the racial leader for the Orcs' oldest allies. Vol'jin is smart and crafty, and no slouch in combat either. He's also demonstrated initiative in dealing with the Zandalari threat, functioning as basically the top General in the war against them. He's even coordinated with the Blood Elves (I don't get the impression that the Darkspear and the Sin'dorei are the best of friends, even if they're allies) and, more shockingly, the Alliance. This could hurt his chances or it could improve them - the ability to put aside the smaller issues and say "this is a threat we need to deal with NOW" much in the spirit of the Might of Kalimdor or the Shattered Sun Offensive would certainly do a lot for the Horde's character. Then again, if Garrosh's culture of persecuting the Trolls refuses to die with his reign, Vol'jin might have trouble getting the support of the Horde's most powerful segment.

Baine: Despite the duel that took Cairne's life, the Tauren were always welcome in Orgrimmar, even under Garrosh (perhaps he felt guilty.) The Tauren are a valuable asset for the Horde, both because of their strength and their spiritual connection to the Earth. The Tauren fit in particularly well with Thrall's shamanistic Horde, and they've even been helping the Forsaken try to discover a cure for their undeath (how committed the Forsaken are to that goal is up for debate.) Basically, if you're Horde, you can't have any reason to hate the Tauren (and really, the same goes for if you're Alliance.) However, one of the main reasons for that is that the Tauren have a somewhat isolationist bent. They prefer to live and let live. They aren't going to be happy if you burn their villages to the ground, but their relationship with the Night Elves shows you that if you aren't actively fighting them, they're willing to be friends. I don't know much about Baine himself, but assuming he represents the values of the Tauren, I don't think he'd want to be Warchief.

Sylvanas: I don't think Sylvanas would want to be Warchief either, but for a very different reason. Sylvanas and her Forsaken have always been a wild card. It's always seemed that the Forsaken are more allies with the Horde than part of the Horde itself. Sylvanas' endgame is not entirely clear, but she clearly only wants to rule over people if they're undead. She might retain a bit of sentiment for her homeland and her people - hence the alliance with the Blood Elves - but I think she'd just as soon bombard Orgrimmar with Blight as she would attempt to take the throne. Not to mention the fact that most of the Horde hasn't drunk the kool-aid she's ladling out. She might be able to dominate her own people whether by inspiring god-like devotion or by weeding out anyone who disagrees with her, but I think most Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, and possibly even Goblins and Blood Elves, would rather see her dead than ruling out of Grommash Hold.

Varok Saurfang: Ah, now here's an interesting one. Saurfang is one of those lore figures that was kind of made by the players. As the leader of the Might of Kalimdor, Blizzard embraced the memetic badassery that was Saurfang, eventually turning him from a randomly-named elite NPC to one of the most important figures in the Horde. Saurfang is quite interesting, in that he represents both the old, vicious Horde, and the yearning for redemption that was made possible by Thrall. Saurfang's an old Orc, true, and after the events of Wrath of the Lich King, with his beloved son being turned into a Death Knight and then killed by us, he might not have much left in him, but at the same time, he's a figure most people both in-game and in real life would respect. He's a strong warrior, and it's unlikely that any of the hardliners would accuse him of being soft on the Alliance, but unlike Garrosh, he's not naive. He knows that the Orcs are capable of horrible evil if they forget honor in the name of victory, because he was among those who committed that evil. But you combine the experience and wisdom he's gained over the years, his overall competence as both a soldier and a general (he led an army that defeated a freaking god!) and the fact that he is a true Orcish hero, and you've got a pretty decent candidate.

Varian Wrynn: Ok, now here's the curveball. Hear me out. I would never mean to suggest that Varian would actually take charge of the Horde, or that anyone in the Horde would accept him as a leader for a second, but let's talk about the way you can become Warchief: You either murder the previous one, challenge them to a duel (often to the death,) or the previous Warchief names you as his heir and you take charge when they either die or quit. Now, the Horde has always looked down on the Alliance as cowards and weaklings (this applies, quite baselessly, to players too,) but Varian's never backed down from a fight. We're going to besiege Orgrimmar and storm the city, and Varian will be leading the charge (at least on the Alliance side.) You know what would be the single most badass thing you could do if you were leading an army to take your enemy's capital? Using their rules, attempt to take control of the city in a perfectly legal way. If Garrosh declines the challenge, he's just brought complete dishonor to himself and embarrassed the entire Horde. If he accepts it, he runs the risk of being beaten, which would also lead to a humiliating moment of dishonor for the Horde.

I know it's a long way away, but here's something I keep wondering about with the aftermath of the Siege of Orgrimmar: if the Alliance invades and unseats the Warchief, doesn't that mean that the current war is going to end? Unless there's a period in the next expansion where Orgrimmar's being occupied by the Alliance, I have to imagine there has to be some kind of armistice.

So here's how I could see the Siege of Orgrimmar ending: Varian challenges Garrosh for control of the Horde - obviously, the duel doesn't go through exactly, but when Garrosh is defeated, Varian makes some kind of deal with the new leadership of the Horde. Alliance and Horde aren't going to become best friends overnight or anything like that, but it seems like the current Alliance/Horde war (arguably "the Fourth War," though it hasn't been as devastating as any of the previous ones) is going to have to die down a little, perhaps returning to the Cold War-like state that existed during Vanilla and Burning Crusade.

Later on I'll touch on the changing structure of the Alliance and the potential gameplay implications of Velen's Army of the Light.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cross-Realm Zones

I know, I've been meaning to get back to the lore stuff about Warchiefs and High Kings, but this seemed like it could use a bit of commentary. As I was sitting, downloading the Diablo 3 client, I came across Blizzard's new announcement that there will now be "Cross-Realm Zones."

This is pretty interesting. The idea is that, if you are in a zone that has few people in it (sometimes just you) the game will basically toss you in with people from other realms. These people will be able to fight the same monsters (or you, if you're on opposite factions) and group up with you (if not.) Essentially, the purpose of this is to fill out those zones where you feel like you're playing a solo game.

Now, admittedly, I actually think WoW's leveling game works pretty well as a solo game. Sure, you do still have your "kill 8 spiders" quests, but especially with the Cataclysm revamp, I have fun soloing my way through the world. That said, this is an MMO, and having an outer world devoid of other players does betray some of the central conceit of the genre. Certainly, you can't really do much at the level cap without grouping up, but I think that this is another method they're employing to fight the "the game begins at the level cap" mentality some people have. (Questing was actually always my favorite part of the game, hence the name of the blog, but I know that a lot of people would prefer to interact with others in the questing experience and get their open-world RPG from Elder Scrolls or Fallout.)

Another one of the motivations for this, I'm sure, is World PvP. I've always played on a PvE server, but even then, in the old days, a fair number of people would do things like raiding Crossroads. You could flag yourself if you wanted to fight them off (though as a level 17 guy in Crossroads fighting a bunch of level 60s you didn't stand much of a chance.) Personally, I hated it when they went after my quest givers, but on another level it adds to the dynamic nature of an MMO world.

By tossing more people together in those low-level areas, the potential for combat between equals, rather than some asshole ganker with full arena gear smashing a guy in crappy green gear, goes up.

Now, all this is good, but I'll tell you the thing that excites me the most by far:

They can do this in reverse. Apparently, this technology will allow them to split zones on a single realm. Overpopulation is not often an issue - especially after the first month or so of a new expansion - but if you've played on the Beta and tried to quest in the very first part of Pandaria or in the Pandaren starting zone, kill-stealing is absolutely rampant. In fact, because of the mechanism that increases the rate at which enemies respawn when they're being killed so quickly, you sometimes find yourself unable to move from one spot because the moment you've killed an enemy, it respawns and starts attacking you (this is part of the reason I stopped questing in Protection spec, because Consecration can't be turned off.)

Anyway, I certainly think it's ok to have one or two people competing with you for kills on a quest, but when you have those situations where there are hundreds of people all trying to, say, burn the same scroll, it'd be nice if the zone could split the population up a bit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Brewmaster Begins to Take Shape

It's amazing how much can change in a Beta - especially with an entirely new class. When Monks were first announced, and that Brewmaster would be the tanking spec, I got very excited. While Monks in general have a recognizable East Asian Martial Arts theme, and indeed the Pandaren are unapologetically the Warcraft equivalent of the Chinese, I always preferred it when there was a bit of uniqueness to the tone and feel of any of Warcarft's Fantasy Counterpart Cultures. The Pandaren love of all brewed beverages - whether it's tea or alcohol - is one of the defining characteristics that make them more than just  China: Warcraft Style. (At least in my experience, I've never heard of alcohol being considered a big part of Chinese culture - at least not any more than any other culture.)

Anyway, Warcraft's relationship with alcohol has always played it for laughs. Dwarves, for instance, are so enamored of the stuff that they name their families after it. So when I heard about Brewmasters, I figured we'd have a pretty fun way to play.

Betas are tough, though, because they have to go from what is essentially a very broken, bare-bones build and - in full view of players like me - try to turn it into something that will be fun to play. Brewmasters in particular have a big burden, because unlike the other four tanks, they're being built from the ground up with "Active Mitigation" in mind.

So let's talk about how Brewmasters are tanking in the current build:

The biggest, most important change is that Stagger now applies to every melee attack you take. This, I think, is a fantastic solution to the whole problem of having a leather-armored tank that doesn't have Bear Form. Baseline, Stagger will cause you to take 70% of your damage immediately, but spreads the other 30% out in a dynamic debuff (called Stagger.) The debuff shifts as you take more damage, and there's a clever display mechanic that I assume was built with the prediction that an addon would have been made to do this anyway: if your Stagger debuff is relatively small, the icon is green. As it gets more intense, with more Staggered attacks piling up, it goes to yellow and then finally red.

That's where Purifying Brew comes in. Now, Stagger already smooths out your damage, so even before you get PB(r?) at the probably-too-high level of 64, it'll be useful for your healers. But Purifying Brew only costs one Chi and has no cooldown. You'll be using it frequently, but probably not spamming it, because you will also want your Chi for other things.

First off, I just want to say that this sounds like the best Active Mitigation ability I've heard of so far (though Death Strike's also great.) The lack of a cooldown means you can use it whenever you need to - only needing a quick Jab to get the Chi you need. But it also feels like it will make a big difference - especially as your mastery puts more of your incoming damage into the Stagger debuff. Also, because it's a reactive ability rather than a proactive one, you won't be punished for missing the boss' swing - but you will be punished if you aren't paying attention to what has already happened.

Guard remains at a 30 second cooldown. Clearly it's still something you'll want to use, but I believe it's better saved for the boss' "Super Punch." If you're in a fight without such a thing, you're out of luck, but you can then save it for emergencies.

Another nice thing about the recent changes is that you're rewarded for using your dps abilities (except Breath of Fire, but I see that much more as a kind of "round up the adds" ability.) Tiger Palm now gives you a stacking buff (in addition to the armor penetration buff they just added) that increases your next Guard. Given Guard's cooldown, I expect you'll want to keep that 3-stack up at all times. Blackout Kick now triggers Shuffle (the ability with that name is gone) which gives you a boost to parry and your Stagger percentage - effectively, BOK now buffs your mastery for a couple seconds.

What I like is that there's actually a nice set of tools to deal with bosses that are spiky in their damage (the old Ulduar Splat) or regular (circling the Icecrown Citadel drain.) Tiger Palm and Guard are great for those bosses who like to hit you with big blasts, while Purifying Brew and Blackout Kick are great for dealing with regular damage. Your ability to mix and match them effectively will determine how good a tank you are.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Question of Leadership

Speculation abounds with a recent blue post refusing to confirm that Thrall will return as Warchief of the Horde. Now, to apply the grain of salt from the start, we should also remember that Blizzard has merely refused to confirm it, rather than outright denying it. By the end of Mists, we could very well have good old Go'El back in charge, and this speculation could be moot.

That said, speculation is fun, so here goes:

Thrall is obviously one of the most important figures in the Horde's history. The Horde is actually not altogether that old. Although it's possible that it was an old mechanism for the disparate orc tribes to temporarily unify in times of hardship and war, the current "permanent Horde" has only existed under five Warchiefs: Ner'zhul, Blackhand, Orgrim Doomhammer, Thrall, and Garrosh Hellscream. While Orgrim was arguably no more evil than Garrosh - acting only as an ambitious military conqueror who turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by his troops - Thrall is generally seen as a kind of savior of the Orcs. He did two major things: One is that he finished Orgrim's mission to reunite the Horde after the internment camps following the second war. The other is that he rooted out a lot of the corruption that made the original Horde so evil. Doomhammer had taken steps to reduce the influence of Gul'dan's Shadow Council, but Thrall was the one who completely removed the Burning Legion-fueled demonic bloodlust and reintroduced the shamanistic links that were severed by Gul'dan in the previous generation.

From a completely objective point of view, and with modern, real-world notions of how people should interact with each other, Thrall's leadership turned the Horde from outright villainy to a worthy force for good. Thrall's alliance with Jaina's forces in the Third War (which we sadly only get to experience for one mission before we start the Night Elf campaign) was an incredible step toward a lasting peace - one that sadly did not last.

Some blame can certainly be laid on hardliners in the Alliance refusing to allow the Horde to settle into its new home. However, with Thrall and Jaina in charge, the clashes between Horde and Alliance were more of a Cold War in nature. Sure, you had hot spots in certain places, and the Forsaken certainly were playing a more aggressive game, but it was not until the Wrathgate Incident that war between Alliance and Horde sparked again.

Still, even after that incident, it was the forces under Garrosh's command that acted the most aggressive toward the Alliance, and the current state of global war is mostly Garrosh's work. Thrall made a very strange judgment in naming Garrosh his successor, and it is a decision that we know did not turn out very well.

Thrall's own journey has led him away from the war. Much as other heroes, such as Khadgar or Tirion Fordring, or the entire Kirin Tor have proclaimed themselves neutral (the Kirin Tor being the most impressive, given the Forsaken's continued attacks on Dalaran forces in Silverpine and Hillsbrad,) Thrall has become something of a neutral figure as leader (or at least champion) of the Earthen Ring. Hell, half the audience to his wedding were key figures of the Alliance.

Thrall's settling down. He's married, he's got a kid on the way. Add to that the fact that, despite his loyalty to his people, he clearly does not want to be enemies with the Alliance, and you've got to wonder if he fits as Warchief in an era of increased conflict between the factions.

Then again, there's another thing to consider: What is going to happen to the war between the factions once Garrosh is deposed? Mechanically, not to mention quest-wise, it seems highly unlikely the war's going to end and we're all going to be friends (though it would be a cool option to choose such a path for your individual character.) In every zone featuring Alliance/Horde conflict except Southern Barrens, either the Horde is the aggressor or they are fighting on neutral territory. It doesn't seem that peace-minded Thrall would be a plausible leader for such a movement. Granted, he might take the reins reluctantly and try to resolve the conflict without leaving his people nothing to show for it, but it would seem very strange for him to now be fighting the very people who helped him kill Deathwing (even if you're Horde, that's an Alliance gunship that helps chase down the Destroyer.)

So in fact I feel it would be inappropriate for Thrall to return as Warchief. If, by some miracle, the Alliance and Horde were to finally resolve their differences and unify into Velen's vision of an "Army of the Light," I could certainly see Thrall leading the charge against the Burning Legion, but agains the Alliance, I would think that Thrall would want to sit out.

Later: If not Thrall, who should be Warchief? Plus, the High King and the reorganization of the Alliance.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stormstout Brewery and Scarlet Halls

Well, with the new build (and apparently a raised level cap) out, I've been running some of the other Mists dungeons.

Stormstout Brewery's pretty cool. I like the look of it and the atmosphere, and it's clearly designed to be "the silly dungeon." The first part of it involves fighting several Hozen (monkey-men) and leads you to eventually fight Ook-ook, who is the first boss, and is summoned by beating at least 40 Hozen (not a terribly difficult proposition.)

Ook-ook seems fairly easy. As the tank I wasn't sure whether I could hop on the rolling barrels to roll into him, but I understand that this is a way to do a nice little burst of damage (and prevent the barrel from hitting your friends.)

The next part is a gauntlet involving several Vermen (rabbit-people.) There's a huge number of these little bastards, and you can't stop until you get to the boss, Hoptallus. I recommend taking a mana break after killing Ook-ook, because it's not a terribly short gauntlet. We, of course, had an impatient dps who pulled while the healer was at very low mana. Hoptallus himself has, as far as I can tell, only two dangerous abilities - Carrot Breath, which is much like the Lurker Below's jet ability, and Furlwind, which is a basic moving whirlwind ability. The real challenge here is a constant stream of hundreds of adds. The number of adds makes me really miss Righteous Defense. Constant Consecration is, of course, quite nice, but ranged people tend to panic and run away from enemies, which of course makes it much harder for me to get aggro.

The final part involves a number of Alementals, who each give you previews of some of the abilities Yang-zhe (or whatever his name is) the Uncasked uses. The final boss apparently has random abilities, and I realized only 2/3 of the way through that one of the ones I came across required me to grab a bubble and fly off the floor.

I expect that once I get a better feel for AoE tanking Mists-style I'm going to like this dungeon a lot.

I also got to take Shengwu (the low-level Brewmaster) into the Scarlet Halls - the combination of the old Library and Armory. While all the bosses have new names and new abilities, they each correspond pretty closely to Loksley, Herod, and Doan. The first part of the dungeon has probably the most interesting mechanics. There are dogs on chains that I believe (didn't get a chance to test this) you can pacify by tossing them meat from buckets. Additionally, there's a row of archers that you have to approach using archery targets to protect yourself. The new Houndmaster has many Rogue-like abilities and summons hound adds, but is not terribly difficult as long as the tank picks up the incoming hounds. On heroic you might need to focus these guys down, but on regular they died to my aoe. Once you get him down to a certain about of health, his dogs turn on him and then kill the guys blocking your way.

The armory section is basically just normal trash, though cannoneers appear every once in a while, shooting at you. Not sure how big of a threat these guys are, as we just kind of went up and killed them.

The Herod-equivalent still does a whirlwind, though I think he moves more with it. Also, instead of summoning 30-odd recruits after he dies, he will periodically summon two soldiers, who I believe lose their armor at some point. They were dying too quickly for me to really understand what was happening.

The last part is pretty simple again, though there's a fun mechanic where Scarlet Bankers (who are throwing statues and paintings at you) toss piles of money on the ground when they die. I expect a lot of people will angrily steal the gold piles from each other - might be best to have this split between the group.

Anyway, Pyromancer what's his face is, like a good horrible extremist, burning books. I'm not sure what happens when he burns a bookshelf, but he also casts Pyroblasts and does a powerful Dragon Breath that sweeps around the room in a circle.

Overall thoughts:

Both dungeons are quite a bit of fun. While I'll miss the familiar names, the new Scarlet Halls does retain the feel of the old dungeon, and uses new mechanics and graphics to really depict a Spanish Inquisition level of paranoia and zealotry. Fire is a big motif here, which fits with the red of the Crusade and the notion that fire is required to cleanse the undead.

The Brewery is all kinds of ridiculous, much as it should be. I'm sure I'll grow to appreciate it more as the mechanics become clear to me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Threat and Damage, plus Brewmaster changes

I did a run of Shado-Pan monastery earlier today, making it the second dungeon I've run in the Beta, along with Temple of the Jade Serpent (Stormstout Brewery was already open, and Mogu'shan Palace also opened up with the latest build that brought Shado-Pan.)

The dungeon itself, despite a few missing models and some slightly confusing mechanics in the last stretch of trash (though I loved the last boss fight,) is pretty cool, but I've been thinking a lot about tanking.

The thought these days is that threat is a given. My experience did not exactly reflect that. Despite keeping Consecration down at all times and hitting Hammer of the Righteous on cooldown (and Holy Wrath) I was still losing aggro, sometimes even on single targets.

I think a big part of the problem is that the current supercharged version of Vengeance along with the ultra-buffed Righteous Fury (or equivalent stances/forms) are really the only threat-boosters we still have. There were many passive damage buffs that we, as Prot Paladins, take today on live. We get boosts to our critical strike chances, and just flat buffs to the damage of Crusader Strike. Shield of the Righteous on live is, thanks to Sacred Duty, more often a crit than not.

Now, I realize that they want us to focus more on defense (even if I think they've done a pretty uninspiring job making it compelling so far) but it in a sense that almost seems to suggest that we should have those passive effects more than we do now. If threat is meant to be something you don't worry about, what's the harm in giving us big crits? I'd love to have Sacred Duty back, and some passive crit bonuses.

The other reason for this is that tanks need more damage while soloing. I realize that Dual-specs mean you can play a dps spec while solo, but I leveled up 10-80 as Protection, dammit, and I think that people shouldn't be discouraged from learning their spec out in the world before trying out with others.

Anyway, moving on:

Brewmasters are starting to take shape rather nicely. One major improvement is that Stagger is no longer just a weird kind of Block. Instead, all physical damage you take is Staggered. You then have a debuff that goes from green to red as your Stagger damage gets higher. I imagine I'll create a Power Aura that goes off when Stagger goes red so I can use Purifying Brew. It's a great solution to keep Brewmasters from being the most spiky tank, and the Mastery has been changed to provide Parry (which you won't find on leather) as well as increasing the damage that is staggered, which starts at 30%.

On a low-level Monk (level 28, I think) Guard seems to be lasting its full duration even on boss fights, but I'm sure that at high levels it's more of a Power Word Shield-level damage shield, designed more for the big boss blasts. While I'm not a fan of the current 30-second Holy Shield, the fact that Guard protects against all damage, I'm willing to like it a bit more. Used as a true "pre-super punch" ability it makes a decent amount of sense.

And Keg Smash is back to an 8-yard range. The only weird thing about Keg Smash versus Dizzying Haze is that KS puts Weakened Blows on the target, but not DH. I'd just tie Weakened Blows to DH, much the way it is to Blood Plague, and make it so that regardless of which ability is used, it still puts the debuff up. As it is now, if I pull with Dizzying Haze (the ability) I still feel that I have to use Keg Smash for Weakened Blows, despite the fact that I'm applying Dizzying Haze (the debuff) to enemies who literally just got it.

Breath of Fire is awesome.