Sunday, September 30, 2012

90 + 1 Day

If you were worried there would not be enough to do at 90 (for some reason) think again. A huge number of reputation factions open up, with both one-shot and daily quests.

Jarsus hit 90 yesterday, and I've been taking him around to various factions and such. The first thing you'll want to do after hitting the cap is to head to your respective Terrace (the absolutely beautiful mini-cities in Vale of Eternal Blossoms - that count as contested even on PvE servers, though you don't get flagged, so... yeah, I don't get it.) Talk to the dude on the cloud serpent for your Pandaria flying (no way to get the cost down via rep, as he belongs to a faction you need flying to level... I think. Anyway, don't be cheap.) Then you're going to get an absurd number of breadcrumbs quests. The first is from a guy who hands you a Legendary envelope with an invitation to talk to a certain non-corrupted black dragon. I'd recommend picking this up first, as he'll give you a couple quests to do while  you do other things. One of them is to get honored with his own personal faction by killing level 90 Mantid and Mogu in certain areas, though you might get the rep before the quest anyway.

You actually won't be able to get August Celestial or Shado-Pan rep until you're revered with Golden Lotus, so this is probably a good place to start. I think they've gotten rid of the daily quest cap, so feel free to work on any of the reputations you want.

Lorewalkers are actually quite unique among the reputations. You do not gain any rep from daily quests or killing things. You get them by completing the "lore object" achievements. Searching the continent (perhaps with some help from Wowhead...) you'll see little scroll containers with some neat lore about one of the Pandarian (as opposed to Pandaren) races, or specific characters. Reading all of these (or at least clicking on them) will have Lorewalker Cho send you a message in the mail, net you an achievement, and get you a bunch of rep. Turn the letter in and you'll get more rep and a cool little show talking about the subject you researched.

I love this feature, incidentally. I always complained that I knew nothing about the Tol'vir, even after they had been set up to have some really cool lore. With this, I now know more about basically all the races in Pandaria than I do about even such awesome people as the Vrykul. I really hope this becomes a recurring thing in every expansion. Imagine a wizened old Broken telling us the history of the Eredar! Lorewalkers also gets you a really cool magic flying disk, which is very different from the typical "ooh, another dragon" (though cloud serpents are very cool, and I'm definitely getting one. Already working on it. Thinking of calling him Whiskers.)

I've done one scenario (I actually don't recall the name, but it involves helping a brewmaster create a new beverage while fending off Hozen pirates... which is fantastic.) It really is a very different take on the instance, being more objective based, which allows for serious variation.

I've also done my first heroic dungeon, the Siege of Nizauo Temple (no idea if the vowels are in the right order there.) Considering I was just barely at the right iLevel, I was surprised at how easy it was, with us wiping only once on the third boss due to my not knowing where the adds were coming from (we almost did again when my keyboard locked up, a new feature I've noticed since Mists came out.) My understanding is that they really want to make dungeons an easy, casual thing, as they were in late Wrath (other than Halls of Reflection) and to put more of an emphasis on raid finder. I'm a little worried my computer is going to explode (it's... three whole years old!) from the effort, but Challenge Modes (which are like... Heroic Heroic mode?) are there for the hardcore 5-manners. Not sure if this is the direction I'd like to see them take, but for now, it's nice to have some easy, simple 5-mans. We'll see how I feel when we're all geared to the teeth in Tier 16 or whatever it is and every dungeon is "gogogo." (Someone literally said that to me on the first boss of SNT - can we call it that? - after I asked how the fight worked.)

Mists will probably be labeled as "casual friendly," which some consider a derogatory term. I'd agree with them that it is casual friendly, but I think that's good. As we come to know further patches and see how the expansion evolves, we'll get a better idea of where the game is at, but for now, I think it's a resounding success.

Random Notes:

-Mogu might be evil, but damn if their architecture ain't pretty. Terrace of Seven Stars is truly opulent!

-Both Execution Sentence and Light's Hammer have very cool visuals (even if they reuse art assets.) I absolutely love Light's Hammer for Protection. It's a Death and Decay in addition to my Consecration that also heals my buddies. It might be less powerful on single targets for threat/damage, but then I get to help out the healer! And Execution Sentence might just be a DoT with a fancy visual, but it's really, really fancy.

-The Disk of the Red Cloud is the kind of mount I'd like to see them make more of. I hate how often people park their enormous dragon mounts on top of quest givers and flight masters. The Disk is totally unobtrusive, barely increasing your real estate. Plus you get to look like Kit Cloudkicker! (Yes, I was born in the mid-80s, as this reference demonstrates.)

-The cloak engineering tinker Goblin Glider is one of the best things ever. Not only do you get to play around, like jumping off the peak of Mt. Neverest and seeing how far you can get, you can also use it as an escape plan in any area with lots of hostile enemies and a handy cliff-side.

-The Klaxxi - they might be... slightly evil, I think... but they're really badass. Anyway, they're less evil than the rest of the swarm, which is nice.

-One of the amazing and awesome revelations from the Lorekeepers is that the Jinyu were once Murlocs. The waters in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms transformed them... which is what happened to the Dark Trolls and the Well of Eternity to create the Night Elves. So, there must be a Titan influence here. Also, some archaeology finds suggest that Mogu language is related to Titan. My theory is that the Mogu were created by the Titans, but like the Vrykul, they weren't exactly nice people (either by design or corruption.) Remember the army of Iron Vrykul in Halls of Lighting? Well, there's a Terra Cotta army of Mogu in their raid. Who are the Mogu? Were they created as they are by the Titans? Were they a local species that was transformed by a Well of Eternity-like source? This is, I think, the most compelling mystery of the expansion. So much of Pandaria is new and unfamiliar, but when you are hit by those subtle connections, it's quite the source of excitement.

Friday, September 28, 2012

What I Always Forget About Leveling Up Your Main

For those of us with many alts, the early days of a new expansion can be quite a shock. Leveling your main up takes a LONG TIME.

It's good, though. The process is never going to be tougher or more demanding, and it's good to do that on your main character. It's a combination of things: you don't have the professional support of your alts, so crafted gear and all that good stuff is nowhere to be found. You also don't know the quests yet. Now, I was able to speed through Jade Forest a bit because of the Beta (I did stop to read all the quest text, because there's some cool stories in there.) Jade Forest is also the most linear zone. It does have a couple places to go off and do side-quests, but if you follow the basic path from Stormwind/Orgrimmar, you'll get through the major story of the zone.

Now, I also have a tradition to always run the dungeons the first time with a guild group including a real-life friend, and because I have way too much free time on my hands, I tend to level up faster than him, so I've only done one run, Temple of the Jade Serpent. Annoyingly, my computer still seems to be running into overheating issues (I hope it's because of some crappy add-ons I squashed.) So, despite a disconnect here and there, the run was quite fun, and way easier than I remember it from early in the Beta.

Jade Forest is solid, and I moved on to Krasarang Wilds, rather than Valley of the Four Winds. I'm not sure this was the best idea. While KW has some good quests and a very cool vibe, it's somewhat rare to come across a zone as cheerful as Valley of the Four Winds. For once, the stakes are relatively low, and you can just chill out in a nice farming area.

From there, I went to Kun-Lai Summit. I'm somewhat conflicted on this zone. I was hoping for more Mountaintop Monastery action, but most of the time you spend in the steppes, and the promising Mogu-themed quest chain led down the mountain to a very remote, kind of dreary village that was being attacked by... oh, I won't spoil it. I understand there's a quest chain that leads into the non-instanced version of Shado-pan Monastery, which I'll have to do on my next toon.

From there, I went to Townlong Steppes, which is pretty cool. There is a major quest chain where you spend a lot of time with the Shado-pan, who are not exactly the bundles of silly, cheerful, gluttonous joy that most Pandaren are.

So, I'm currently sitting at 88 with a bar and a half to go.

Gearing: You're only going to get one quest reward per quest before Townlong Steppes. If you are a mainspec tank or healer, but are leveling in a dps spec, you can probably just ignore quest rewards until then. The "Adventuring Supplies" guys give you some decent stuff to get something resembling the average person who was max level in Cataclysm, so you'll be able to handle it with the gear provided.

Vale of Eternal Blossoms can actually be accessed as early as 87, and I've got to say the place is gorgeous, especially the mini-city (I assume the Horde one is similar in appearance.) Actually, it's this kind of ornate, Imperial Mogu look that I wouldn't mind seeing more of in other parts of the continent.

I expect I'll be hitting 90 some time this weekend (busy for much of tomorrow, and then I'm going to start working on factions and bringing the Core Five to the continent. Just logged in on all of them to train up professions and get their rest experience started. On my main, I'm cool with the long slog, but the others I think I'm going to want to get up there a bit quicker.

A critique: Alliance and Horde have somewhat different quests in Jade Forest (I know the Horde is different from the Beta,) and at least different settlements in Krasarang and parts of Kun-Lai. Hoping to see more of that in Dread Wastes (but not that hopeful.) There's actually some great characters, like Sully and Amber Kearnen (from Westfall!) who I wouldn't mind seeing again. Guess we'll have to wait for 5.1 to see the serious influx of Horde/Alliance folks.

Oh, and the engineering tinker, Goblin Glider, is maybe the best thing ever. I crossed about a third of the continent after jumping off the peak of Mt. Neverest.

Oh! And the Monk:

Gaotso, Brewmaster tank, is now level 23. I actually deleted him at 5 and made a Draenei to break the mold, but realized I'd never play a Pandaren character if I did so, so I went back (so long Isodin, we hardly knew ye.)

Anyway, so far tanking is ridiculously simple - Keg Smash, Breath of Fire, Jab, Jab, Blackout Kick. Repeat. Toss Dizzying Haze around if you need to round things up. It'll be nice to get Brewmaster Training at 34. Can't believe Purifying Brew doesn't come until 75. Doesn't that seem like something they should have you training to use from early on?

I'm finding the major pitfall of leveling up through dungeon runs is that you will have a hard time leveling professions.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Zero Day! Monks!

Well, you’re probably playing right now rather than looking at the blog, so enjoy this message from the past! (Cue spooky music, and imagine that last sentence spoken in a spooky ghost voice.)

Monks are the new class to come with Mists of Pandaria. Is your Monk a Pandaren? I don’t blame you for answering yes. Is it not? Holy crap, well done, sir. You will certainly be among the rare elite.

Monks are the third “Jack of All Trades” hybrid class. They are able to heal, tank, or do melee dps. Monks will use leather armor, and can dual-wield Axes, Maces, Swords, or Fist Weapons as well as using Staves and Polearms. Unlike other classes, your auto attacks will use your unarmed attack animation. Only the ability Jab will actually use the weapons you are holding. What this means for hit rating when dual-wielding versus using a 2-hander is sadly unknown to me.

Monks have a passive called “Way of the Monk,” that increases damage done while dual-wielding and haste while using a 2-hander, which I understand is there to balance the two, making it more of a cosmetic choice (or simply getting the piece that gives the best stats.)

Monks use Energy, much like Rogues and Feral Druids, but rather than Combo Points, Monks build up Chi. Mistweavers (the healing spec) use Mana instead of Energy, but they also build Chi. Energy is pretty much only used for Jab (with a couple of exceptions.) Jab will, baseline, generate one Chi. Chi is then spent on your other abilities.

Monks are very mobile, and make use of spheres that will pop up to heal or restore Chi, but require you to actually move into them to gain the benefit. Their “signature move,” like a Death Knight’s Death Grip, is Roll, which allows you to roll quickly in the direction you’re currently running.

So, let’s go spec-by-spec:

Brewmaster: The tanking spec, this is also the spec that lets you get your enemies drunk. Brewmasters have a unique defensive mechanic called Stagger. When you are hit with an attack, 20% (and more as your mastery goes up) gets prevented, and instead turns into a DoT called Stagger, which effectively spread out the damage over a period of time. You then have an ability called Purifying Brew, which is cheap and has only a 1-second cooldown, and will allow you to purge the Stagger damage – sort of forgiving your damage debt. Damage reduction is mainly handled by Purifying Stagger and using Blackout Kick to gain Shuffle, which is a buff to maintain that increases your Stagger amount. Threat-wise, you have an effect put on enemies by various abilities called Dizzying Haze (it used to be Drunken Haze. Never forget!) that slows enemies and gives them a small chance to hit themselves instead of you. Breath of Fire can then ignite those under its effect, though you might be too busy spending Chi on defensive abilities to take advantage of this.

Mistweaver: The healing spec, this one works in kind of two different ways. You can stand at the back, tossing heals like any other healer, or you can go on the offensive. One of the passive effects of Stance of the Wise Serpent is that a portion of the damage you do is converted to healing for nearby allies, using a similar “smart healing” system that Smite healing has. I don’t know if you’ll literally be able to just ignore your allies under this method, but it’s certainly a new take on it, and might finally be the spec that gets me to try healing.

Windwalker: The melee dps spec, Windwalkers gain an extra Chi on each Jab, which should allow them to fight with more fluidity. One highlight here is Flying Serpent Kick, which allows you to shoot through the air at epic-flight speed and crash down for an AoE snare and damage blast. Did I mention Monks had good mobility?

So, of course the nuances and subtleties of the Monk class are a little tough to figure out. We’ve had access to them on the Beta for a while, sure, but this is a brand new class. Expect big changes over the course of Mists. Also expect to be absolutely detested by Druids, especially if you roll Mistweaver, for stealing their gear.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Four Hours Left!

The end of the era of Cataclysm is nigh. In Europe, Mists is already live. Tonight, I'm heading out to pick up my copy (I still get physical copies. I'm old-fashioned that way.)

In these last few hours, there's not a whole lot you can do to prepare. I recommend trying to get all your add ons updated (if you can) and for the toon you plan on taking to Pandaria first, clear out their bags (including profession bags) and park yourself near profession trainers (especially gathering professions, if you have them. I count Enchanting here.)

The next couple days are going to be kind of hellish for questing, whether you're going to Pandaria or starting a Pandaren character (if you're making a non-Pandaren Monk, you might be able to get off ok.) While I know there's a lot of pressure to get to 90 and start gearing up as quickly as you can, I highly recommend you take your time and stop to smell the roses. You're going to have (if the pattern holds) nearly two years to chill at level 90. Sure, it might be hard to see other players rocking epics while you're in a mix of crap quest greens and mismatched dungeon blues, but I cannot stress this enough:

You will have time.

I can't say for everyone, but I also recommend that you don't do any of the leveling dungeons more than once. Queue for them specifically, and take the time to get excited about the specific places you're going. You're going to be grinding these things for a long time, so take them as simple, casual pleasures on your way to the level cap.

When you do hit the cap, heroics will already be open to you (you'll probably have to do a bit of questing to get the gear requirements.) As Cataclysm was with Dungeon Finder, this is the first expansion to have Raid Finder implemented from the get-go. The step of "do the max level dungeons" before getting into heroics has been cut, but you should take the time to get to know your class at 90. While some classes are going to have roughly the same rotation, others will gain serious cooldowns and rotational abilities. Try to figure these out before you step into the raids.

If you have a maxed or near-maxed tailor and you don't desperately need bandages, send all your cloth to that toon. Likewise, if you get enchanting materials or randomized crappy green gear, send those down to any Enchanters that can handle them as well. My Horde Mage and Alliance Warlock are both Tailors/Enchanters, and both can get a serious leg up on profession leveling by getting all the passed-down materials.

Different people quest at different paces. While it's great if you can quest with a buddy, don't forget that with the less linear quest progression of Mists, you can always meet up later and start another quest chain together.

Help your guildies out, especially for those leveling dungeon runs. You can help the guild get the achievements for them and build a sense of excitement (that 9 months of 4.3 might have drained from you.)

Also, don't be afraid to step away now and again. I know I'm going to find this particular piece of advice hard to take, but all of this is going to be there when you get back, and in fact, the slowpokes will probably have to deal with less kill-stealing than the people raging their way to 90 (so good to have a multiple of 10 again. 85 was the weirdest level cap. Then again, expect the next expansion to take us to 95.)

Alliance: Enjoy the opportunity to kick some Horde ass, finally. Remember Theramore!

Horde: Get this revolution going! Down with Hellscream! For the Horde!

One Day Out: Paladins

And here we come to the Paladin. Historically, Paladins have gone through a major revamp every single expansion. This time around, they’ve finally been allowed to retain something resembling the way they used to work. So, for once, it’s not a “back to the drawing board” situation for us.

The most noticeable change you’re going to see is the effect of Boundless Conviction. We now have our maximum Holy Power increased by two. Before you get excited at the prospect of ridiculously enormous finishers, you should also note that none of them can spend more than three HoPo. Additionally, some (not all) finishers now consume a set amount of HoPo (3,) rather than having varying strength.

Another thing you’ll notice is that Auras are gone. The only remnant of Auras is a new raid-damage cooldown called Devotion Aura, which is actually more in the vein of Divine Guardian and Aura Mastery, preventing 20% of raid spell damage and giving immunity to interrupts.

Seals then have moved into the bar where the Auras used to be. Your Seals no longer have a duration and they last through death, so there’s much less maintenance required (how far we’ve come! I remember when Seals lasted a whole 30 seconds and got consumed by Judgement – and yes, it was spelled that way.)

Never fear, though. Crusader Aura has been rolled in as a passive effect, though it only affects the Paladin.

As the only class that had racially-bound class mounts (they must love making Paladin mounts,) you will find that, sadly, those mounts are still restricted by race. So, no riding your Vindicator Elekk on your Human or your Sunwalker Kodo on your Blood Elf.

Despite the changes, the basic design from Cataclysm has been left more or less intact. We still use abilities to build Holy Power and then spend it for big effects.

Let’s go spec-by-spec!

Holy: Ooh! Ooh! I actually do know of one change here. Holy now has a regular ranged attack called Denounce (that uses Cataclysm’s Holy Wrath icon) that also buffs your next Holy Shock... I think. I think this is mainly for soloing and adding dps when you don’t need to heal, but it would be interesting if they found a way to give Holy Paladins the ability to do something akin to Smite-healing. I’ve always thought that if any healer should be able to get into the thick of it, it should be Holy Paladins. They are already by far the most armored healing class around, with plate armor and shields.

Protection: My main’s spec, so I might go into a bit more detail here. First off, block-capping is basically gone, with the separation of the dodge/parry roll from the block one. Mastery’s still pretty good, and has been given more effects to compensate with the weakening of the block mechanic. Two major things: Shield of the Righteous is now primarily a defensive ability. Instead of the absurd burst of damage, it now does a fair amount of damage while reducing the damage you take for three seconds, and grants a charge of Bastion of Glory, which is a buff to your next Word of Glory that stacks to five.

Still Protection: Your Mastery now buffs not only your block chance, but also the effect of Shield of the Righteous and Bastion of Glory, which should keep it useful even if block chance gets devalued by high avoidance. Shield of the Righteous is one of these 3-Ho-Po only abilities, but is off the global cooldown, allowing you to hit it quickly when there’s a big burst coming (if you have the HoPo saved up.) The ability is probably a bit less powerful than other active mitigation buttons, but the idea is that you want to maximize its uptime, rather than necessarily saving it for a big hit. I’d suggest saving the Bastion-buffed Word of Glory (which no longer has a cooldown, except for the ramp-up time of Bastion) as your “the boss just whacked me in the face for a huge amount) button.

Yet more Protection: Crusader Strike and Hammer of the Righteous now have a 4.5 second cooldown, which will take some getting used to. The good news is that Judgment (now with correct spelling) also grants HoPo. Consecration has had its cooldown and cost reduced, so we can now once again have it up constantly (the return of the Holy Pain Zone!) And Grand Crusader still causes Avenger’s Shield to generate HoPo, so despite the increased cooldown on CS/HotR, you’re going to see a decent flow of Holy Power, but you're going to have to re-learn the rhythm of your rotation. Weakened Blows, the standardized tank debuff, works on Hammer and not Crusader Strike, so even on single targets (if there isn’t another tank or a Shaman hitting Earth Shock) you’ll need to hit that every now and then. Tragically, Righteous Defense is gone, so while maintaining threat might be less burdensome thanks to Vengeance changes, getting it in the first place will require some effort. Also, we now have Sanctity of Battle, making haste reduce cooldowns of rotational abilities, so Bloodlust/Heroism/Time Warp/Ancient Hysteria will actually help us now.

Retribution: Whew, sorry about that, guys. Ret works pretty much as it has, except that more things generate HoPo. Exorcism, Judgment, and Hammer of Wrath all generate a charge, so you can expect to see a lot more Templar’s Verdicts (like Shield of the Righteous, this now has a flat cost of 3 HoPo.) On the AoE front, Ret no longer has Consecration. However, they have gained Hammer of the Righteous. You will now be hitting Hammer of the Righteous to build HoPo, and then paying it off with Divine Storm, which once again functions as a finisher. Templar’s Verdict has a new animation, too, with a cool kind of turn and smash, and you get a single glowy hammer like Divine Storm when it goes off.

Paladins can basically rejoice in not having to completely re-learn their class (even if they still got more changes than, say, Hunters.) It looks like Holy Power really gave Blizzard a framework to built the class around, and it’s something they will be able to build logical extensions out of for the future.

Now, all that said, as a matter of personal taste, I'm not entirely happy with the feel of the new Protection rotation. Perhaps Cataclysm spoiled me with its good flow, but even though Consecration has come back into the rotation, the 4.5 second Crusader Strike just feels weird. Often, people say that it's better this way, and that it was boring just hitting Crusader Strike every other global cooldown, but look at basically every other spec: they all have filler abilities you hit when other things are down, and that's every GCD, not just every other. Oh well. It's not like they won't tweak it with every patch.

Well, it’s been fun going through the ten existing classes and finding out what has changed. I’m sorry to any healers reading this – I just don’t really know much about your world. My job has always been “don’t let the bad things touch the healer, and then they can do their mysterious whack-a-mole game to keep us all from dying in three seconds.”

The game is, of course, in constant flux, and certainly by the time the expansion after Mists comes out, a lot of this will either be old news that no one would even think about, or simply inaccurate. And, of course, next time around we’ll have another class to talk about.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Missing Lore of Theramore

There's a WoW Insider article that details what we missed with the Theramore scenario, in terms of lore. Now, while I am still very excited for the upcoming expansion, I have to say: Blizzard, this is a bit disappointing.

Every previous expansion has had a bigger and bigger pre-expansion event in-game. Cataclysm's Elemental Invasion, along with the battles for Gnomeregan and the Echo Isles, was huge. The thing is, these big world events make the game world feel like a dynamic place where things can change. Yes, they may be fleeting and temporary, but they are an important part of the plot.

Books often have prologues, and these prologues are often very useful in a long-running series, because they help tie one book to another. The pre-expansion events have always had the feel of a prologue. The Scourge does a wide-scale invasion of the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, and releases a virulent zombie plague that is growing hard to fight, and it's clear that Arthas is spoiling for a real fight this time. Cut to chapter one, where your character is sailing/flying to Northrend, ready to strike back.

Pandaria itself is discovered practically by accident, but we've been told time and again that the Horde/Alliance war is what's really the main plot this time around. And as far as huge events go, Theramore getting destroyed is pretty high up there. Hell, Rhonin, the leader of the Kirin Tor, is dead, blown apart by the mana bomb! I had no idea that had happened until I read Anne Stickney's article. There is so little in-game to show what has changed since Cataclysm. Clearly Garrosh has become more radically tyrannical, but we don't see his secret police or anything like that.

I understand that resources are limited, even in a game that still has at least 9 million subscribers paying their 15 bucks a month, but I think this decision to go with no introductory event for the new expansion fails to show the kind of good will I expect from Blizzard.

Obviously, it's too late to fix it. And if we do see exciting world events happening within the expansion, like the oft-cited military build-up in 5.1, I might be willing to forgive this, but Blizzard should remember that part of the fun of an MMO is a dynamic world where big things can happen and you can be around to witness them. And they should know, because they've been behind some really cool events in the past.

Two Days Out: Shamans

We’re very close. Only one more of these articles before the expansion comes out (I actually think I will do a Monk article, to be posted when I get a chance or if I can figure out how to get blogspot to put it up at a specific time.)

So, let’s talk Shamans.

The biggest, most obvious change is that we are no longer going to be plunking down all four totems as a matter of course. Strength of Earth, Wrath of Air, and all the passive buff totems are gone. Instead, we now radiate buff auras depending on our specs. You basically won’t be using most totems except when you need specific things done, the exception being that dps shamans will always have a fire totem out.

As a natural consequence, the Call of the Elements/Ancestors/Spirits spells are gone. We’re not expected to need all four totems down so often, so these spells did not have much of a use.

Otherwise, however, things are looking roughly the same, with subtle differences. Lightning and Water Shields now last an hour, and only have one charge (except for Elemental, which still builds charges to use for Fulmination.) They are no longer consumed when they go off, so the need for charges is kind of gone. Also, Shamans can now actually use fun minor glyphs, as the three anti-reagent glyphs are gone now that nothing costs reagents anymore. On that front, the Glyph of the Arctic Wolf has been replaced with the far cooler Glyph of the Spirit Wolf, turning your Ghost Wolf form into one of those spirit wolves like you get from Feral Spirit.

Talents have, of course, provided some interesting hybridization, giving dps a bit more off-healing clout. Also, the Elemental Totems now have 5-minute cooldowns, allowing greater use.

Ok, spec-by-spec time.

Elemental: Really the main thing you’re going to notice is the totem change. Elemental still plays its game of Lighting Bolt granting charges for Earth Shock’s Fulmination and Flame Shock guaranteeing crits for Lava Burst and resetting its cooldown. Lava Flows now also makes Lava Burst instant, so it should speed up the rotation a bit. I think you’ll still probably want Searing Totem when Fire Elemental Totem is on cooldown. Overall, it feels the same, but that’s ok, because Elemental had a pretty good feel in Cataclysm.

Enhancement: Again, not much to notice beyond the totem change. One great quality-of-life change (that will actually help quite a bit when going from trash mob to trash mob) is that Searing Flames is now a buff on you, rather than a debuff on the enemy. Switching targets just got a lot less painful. The other very welcome, nice change is that Fire Elemental Totem (well, the Greater Fire Elemental it summons) now also grants Searing Flames, meaning that you can actually use this very cool damage cooldown.

Restoration: Love you guys! Sorry I can’t say anything intelligent about you!

Shamans will continue to be awesome. For those of you who, like me, feel sad at the prospect of no longer having a little forest of totems surrounding you, never fear! There is now a minor glyph called Glyph of Totemic Encirclement, which spawns non-functional versions of any of your inactive totems around you. It won’t despawn actual totems, which is of course good, but it means that if you’re only using Searing Totem, for example, all of your Fire Totem’s little buddies can come out to play too.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Three Days Out: Rogues

The first thing you will probably notice is that you now have a long-overdue Poison fold-out menu. Some of you newer players may not remember that back in the day, Rogues all had a kind of third profession, which was Poisons. You’d either buy materials from the poison vendor or pickpocket them off of random humanoids They’re one of the things you’d consistently find those junkboxes you used to level up your FOURTH profession, which was lockpicking. (Notice how strongboxes show a required lockpicking skill? That did not used to automatically go up as you leveled. It was something you’d either have to constantly be doing, or you’d have to go to various random places in Azeroth that were littered with locked chests.)

Anyway, poisons are no longer a physical item you keep in your inventory at all. Instead, Poisons are more akin to Shaman weapon imbues. The other big change is that your poisons will be applied to both weapons. Gone is Instant Poison. Instead, you have two baseline “Lethal” poisons, which are Deadly and Wound (PvE and PvP respectively) and then a handful of “Non-lethal” poisons, two of which are talents. You'll be able to have one Lethal and one Non-Lethal poison at a time. Physical poisons have gone the way of Blinding Powder and Flash Powder.

Non-Lethal Poisons have a specific instant effect that will occur when you use Shiv. Deadly Poison has also been reworked somewhat. It no longer needs to stack to five. Once it’s been applied, it will tick for full damage and every subsequent proc will refresh it and deal full instant damage.

Additionally, weapon speeds have been normalized. All daggers are 1.8 speed. Combat also can now equip any speed weapon in the offhand, but I’ll get into that when I do the spec-by-spec.

The removal of the ranged slot means that both Throw (which now has a cast bar to go along with the cast time it’s always had) and Fan of Knives operate off your Main hand weapon now. Fan of Knives also generates a combo point if it hits your target. We also now have Crimson Tempest, an actual AoE finisher that does a good chunk of damage and then puts a bleed on the affected enemies. Hooray! An actual AoE rotation!

Now for the spec-by-spec:

Assassination: The only major change beyond the class-wide changes is that Backstab has been replaced by Dispatch. Dispatch does not have a positioning requirement, but also cannot be used until the target is in Execute range (which was when we were using Backstab anyway.) However, Assassination has an actual, honest-to-God proc, with an in-game Power Aura and everything, that allows you to use Dispatch early. You’ll still want to be running Rupture to fuel Venomous Wounds’ energy recovery (and damage,) and Cut to the Chase still keeps your Slice and Dice going. And Mutilate/Envenom still haven’t gone anywhere.

Combat: This is another spec that’s only gotten one major change. Revealing Strike now gives your Sinister Strike a chance to grant an extra CP, as well as its old effect of buffing finishing moves. So your priority now is to keep the RS debuff up on your target to take advantage of the extra points. Combat Potency has been changed to proc more often on slower weapons, so theoretically you can now equip slow swords, axes, maces, or fist weapons in either hand and be fine.

Subtlety: And now for the victory music from Final Fantasy. My Rogue, the first to get to Outland and hit level 70, was my main for much of Burning Crusade. Two things did that in: one was simply that I realized tanking on a Paladin was awesome (though it worked entirely, entirely different to how it does today.) The other was that Subtlety sucked in PvE. At the time, you had to run Combat or go home. While Combat Daggers was technically useable, it just didn’t feel right. So Wrath comes out, and I’m super excited about this Honor Among Thieves talent that seems to finally get Subtelty working. Then they smash it into pieces. So then Cataclysm comes out, and I think: Holy Crap, they’re finally going to make Subtelty viable in PvE! But then they make it unplayable with five freaking finishers you’re supposed to maintain, and GOD FORBID you should let any of them drop or you have to start over from scratch while an Arcane Mage is doing three times your dps spamming a single button.

Ahem…. Still on Subtlety: But with Mists, they finally seem to have hit the right balance. Energetic Recovery is now linked to Slice and Dice, meaning we no longer have to keep up Recuperate unless we need the healing. Rupture also seems be lasting longer, meaning that you’ll actually have time to get in some Eviscerates between refreshing Slice and Dice and Rupture. We no longer get a free Rupture refresh on Eviscerates, but it’s a fair trade, because the rotation is far more forgiving (as in, no longer less forgiving than all other specs in the game.) The key to Subtlety is to keep up Rupture and Slice and Dice while trying to maximize the uptime of Expose Weakness through Vanish and Shadow Dance. Shadow Dance now reduces the cost of Ambush by 20, allowing you to get more in without going out of Energy. The flow of CPs from Honor Among Thieves appears more predictable, too (though that could be all the epic-geared people in my dungeon runs.) Crimson Tempest also interacts nicely with Sanguinary Vein.

The trade-off for balanced damage numbers is that a lot of the funky tricks Sub had are now available as talents. Shadowstep, Preparation, and Cheat Death can all be attained by all three specs. Preparation and Shadowstep are on the same tier, as well, and while I know all the theorycrafters are probably going to say to go with Preparation and that Shadowstep is a clutch mobility ability for PvP... screw you. Shadowstep! Forever!

The Rogue resource model has often been extolled as Blizzard’s favorite system (well, specifically Energy, rather than CPs.) Monks will be the first class to have Energy, but not use Combo Points (I’d say Chi is more like a cross between Holy Power and Death Knight Runes.) The fundamentals of the Rogue class – using Energy to build up CPs and maintain Slice and Dice and Rupture (Combat might be able to get away without the latter) and then using your instant-damage finisher as a kind of “filler” – are probably never going to change. But with each iteration, we see a bit of refinement, and frankly, I think the Rogue is in a better place than it ever has been.

Oh, and we can now do like Illidan and give the whole party stealth temporarily. Are Demon Hunters literally just Rogues and Warlocks at the same time?

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Other Monk, or the Other Pandaren?

When Mists goes live, and I log in for the first time, I'll probably take my main directly to Pandaria. But I imagine that within that first day or so (when I get fed up with dealing with the huge, huge rush of people in Jade Forest) I'll start my Monk.

I felt pretty conflicted about races here. The problem is that, on one hand, I would like to go against the grain and have a non-Pandaren monk. On the other hand, I'd also like to have both an Alliance and Horde Pandaren.

And I've got a toon of each class on each side (read the name of the blog. Admittedly, the Gnome Priest has been sitting outside New Gnomeregan at level 5 since 2010.) I also have at least one toon of every race (only one Human, Night Elf, Blood Elf and Goblin) So on both servers, I have only one slot open.

I imagine I will be making my main Monk both Pandaren and Alliance (and a Brewmaster,) because the original, Alliance wing of my guild is far more active. It still seems I should have a Huojin Pandaren, though. And I do actually want to try out Mistweaver melee healing, because that might actually be a kind of healing I'd be into.


When Monks were first announced, I actually thought I'd love to do a Goblin Monk. Something about being a tiny, green blur (like Yoda!) and combining the irreverent greed of the goblins with the intense discipline of a monk is delightfully ironic. Cue the sad "wah-wah" music. (Actually, I also thought if they made a new hero class that I'd do a Worgen, though I'm pretty happy with the Warrior and the Rogue - though I'm trying to resist making Tripton go Assassination and stick with Combat. I guess since Monks can use 1-handed swords...)

One of my other rules for alts is to never have characters of both the same race and class (likewise class and profession, which I had to break with Ardten and Rechtar so that both sides would have a blacksmith,) which kind of conflicts with the whole "Pandaren of each variety" thing. Probably will have to just not have a Horde Panda.

That leaves us with Tauren, Orc, Undead, and Trolls. Oh, sorry, and Blood Elves. Hm. Nope, not a Blood Elf.

Of these, I think Troll would probably be best. I like the idea of a lanky monk, kind of like Kareem Abdul Jabar in that Bruce Lee movie with the big tower and the yellow jumpsuit.

Four Days Out: Mages

There’s a big change that I think is probably going to affect healers the most, but it bears mentioning here as well. Intellect no longer increases your maximum mana. You will have a fixed amount of mana, based on your level. The good news is that caster dps have generally been given a huge amount of passive mana regeneration.

I chain-cast Blizzard over and over and could not run out. Of course, thanks to Nether Attunement, haste now grants additional mana regeneration to Mages, so this could be an issue of being too well-geared, but basically you won’t have to worry about running out of mana, unless you are Arcane, which is of course built around this and would be pretty boring if you just sat at full mana at all times.

Another game-wide change is that reagents of all kinds (except Glyph/Talent clearers) are gone. You might still have some Runes of Teleportation and Portals in your bags, and Arcane Dust, but they are now grey vendor trash (if you’re an insane packrat like me, you might hold on to them for the nostalgia factor. I still hold on to Blinding Powder in my Rogue's bank, though that's partially due to the humorous flavor text.)

Armor spells no longer have a duration, but they do require a 1.5 second cast, meaning they’re slightly less simple to change on the fly. They also now all have both a defensive benefit and an offensive one. The defensive ones are the same, as far as I can tell, but Mage Armor now gives Mastery and Frost Armor now gives Haste.

Now here’s a big change: Frost and Arcane used to be the only two ranged dps specs that did not have any DoTs. Remember Ozruk before you could Blink out of Paralyze? Kind of a pain, right? Well, now all Mages will be using a “Bomb” spell. You even get a “Mage Bomb” button for when you haven’t selected one of the three options among your talents. It is kind of interesting, as this is the only set of talents that absolutely adds something to your core rotation (as far as I can tell.) Living Bomb works basically the same as it has, though it interacts less with Fire-specific effects. Nether Tempest does Arcane damage and zaps an additional target each time it ticks, but has no blast at the end. Frost Bomb has both a cast time and a cooldown. It lasts shorter and does more damage, then slows enemies hit by it, but I expect the cast time will make it less practical for a PvE rotation, and is probably intended more for PvP.

So let’s spec-by-spec:

Arcane: Arcane has been made somewhat more complex and far more sensible. The key is that most of your important spells interact with Arcane Charges, which stack up to 6, rather than 4. Arcane Blast generates them, and they function the way the old Arcane Blast debuff/buff worked. Arcane Missiles still requires a proc, but now it generates a charge while still being free, which makes it a very attractive ability. The proc also now has two charges, so you can save them up for when your Charges are higher. Arcane Barrage is now a key part of the rotation as the way that you reset your charges to conserve mana and also to do a huge burst of damage, hitting an additional target for every charge. Arcane Explosion gets in on the action as well, sometimes generating a charge. With this and your Mage Bomb, you’ll actually have a few more buttons to press, which is something Arcane probably needed. Arcane is the only spec not to get its own Orb spell, which is kind of sad, but c'est la vie. (I actually had an awesome idea for an ability called Chrono Orb that I'll get to later.)

Fire: Ignite is now your Mastery, and functions on every Fireball, Frostfire Bolt, or Pyroblast, regardless of whether it crit or not. Combustion has had its cooldown reduced to 45 seconds, which makes it more rotational than a cooldown. However, it no longer includes the damage of your Living Bomb (which you might not have, after all.) Finally, Fire Blast has been replaced with Inferno Blast, which is a guaranteed crit (good for forcing Hot Streaks) and spreads Ignite, the Pyroblast DoT, and Combustion. For the most part, Fire feels the same, though the faster Combustion recharge might make you more eager to set it off.

Frost: Finally, Frost has had its damage put in a place where you can actually do PvE with it. Ice Lance damage was made much higher, and of course you’ll now have your Mage Bomb ticking on the target. At least from the tooltip, it appears that Deep Freeze no longer has a damage component, which is somewhat sad, but at least now you can just Ice Lance away with impunity. Frostfire Orb has become simply Frost Orb. It looks different and hits every target around it, chilling and damaging.

Mages don’t feel all that different. The main thing to notice is that Arcane feels more like a real rotation (rather than AB-spam forever) and Frost is finally seeing numbers that they can be proud of. One thing I find kind of fun and flavorful is that they are really playing up Time Travel and Time Manipulation as a theme (particularly for Arcane.) As someone who loves anything time-travel related (Mage tier 13 is my favorite tier set ever) this makes me excited.

BONUS: Chrono Orb idea!

So Arcane gets left out of the 1-minute orb of magic damage. Here's what I would suggest: Chrono Orb. It travels to the target, doing fairly low dos. However, every time you gain an Arcane Charge while it's out, the Orb gets a charge as well. These are not cleared by Arcane Barrage. When it runs its course, it does an explosion proportional to the charges you've gained while it was out, with no cap

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Serenity Peak and the Future of Class-based Content

The idea of a class home base has been around since vanilla. The small zone of Moonglade, while it occasionally gets people of other classes for the Lunar Festival or the intro to Hyjal, is basically Druid-only (though with the vast simplification of class quests, there's not a huge amount to do there.)

Death Knights are all about their class-home. You won't find DK class trainers anywhere else in the world, and they even start as characters inside of Acherus.

The Monk gets its own class-home in the form of Serenity Peak, which actually allows low-level characters (as long as they're monks) the ability to go to Pandaria way before they'd come there for class purposes. Serenity Peak is the only sanctuary in Pandaria, and is, appropriately, a mountaintop shaolin monastery where you can train.

But by train, I really mean train. There is an entire quest chain there that pairs you up with various trainers to teach you the ins and outs of the monk class. Sadly, my computer overheated and shut down when I tried to turn in the second one (they apparently haven't fixed that on the beta yet, or maybe I just needed to adjust my graphics settings,) but the thing I find very cool is that these quests really are teaching you fundamentals that are not necessarily obvious to the average newbie.

The first one pairs you up with Master Cheng, a Pandaren. You spar with him, and on occasion, he throws down a big patch of flame that you've got to run (or more likely, roll) out of. A quest that teaches you not to stand in the fire? Huzzah!

The second one pairs you with a dwarf lady named Master Woo (I wonder if these were all originally Pandaren, and then they decided to show some love to the non-Panda monks but didn't change the names.) Woo gains a stacking defensive buff that makes it harder and harder to defeat her. However, this buff does not extend to Touch of Death, essentially teaching monks "hey, you have an ability to end fights a little early."

These quests scale to your level and turn into dailies after you've done them the first time. You also get a nice blue piece from each of them. If I understand correctly, Monks do not have the standard level 20 SFK quest, and possibly the level 50 BRD one. Yet here, we have more personalized, class-specific quests that do a good job at teaching you the basics.

I've often talked about how I would love to see more class-homes. Frankly, I'd be happy if everyone got one.

Blizzard often says that they don't do class quests anymore because it takes too much development time for a tenth (and now eleventh) of the players. I would retort that actually, since most people have alts, each class quest would be seen by many if not most players. Another thing is that the biggest barrier to alt-leveling is the lack of novelty. We all know how tiresome the Cataclysm quest grind got after you worked your way up to friendly with Therazane for the sixth time, doing the exact same quests. Having class-specific content makes you excited to go through the process again, as there will be stuff you missed.

It is somewhat ironic to me that they took out most of the class quests in the same expansion where they created the Fangs of the Father. Don't take that to mean I am against an awesome quest chain where the rogue goes around assassinating the rest of the Black Dragonflight. But let's have more content like that, for all classes.

Paladins, Shamans, Druids, Mages, Death Knights, and kind of Rogues all have associated factions (Ravenholt is kind of a stretch.) The Council of Six Daggers is clearly being teased as a future Warlock faction. I would love to see more of these sorts of training quests.

Warriors could have something like Fray Island (remember that place) where the best of the best test their mettle against each other.

Paladins could either re-work the Argent Tournament as a training ground or perhaps a new, more Legion-fighting-oriented Paladin faction could come about, and we'd go to Outland or somewhere like that.

Shamans could have a bunch of spires in Thousand Needles dedicated to their practices.

Hunters could have a hunting lodge. Maybe south of Zul'gurub?

Rogues could have a revamped Ravenholt Manor (perhaps sending them on phased sneaking missions into the major cities?)

Warlocks I imagine could have a cool underground coven, either in the Plaguelands or Desolace.

And Priests could have some sort of cathedral... somewhere.

Serenity Peak is a great start to all of this, and while I realize this might just be a case of "new class gets the cool stuff," I think a lot of people would really appreciate having something different to do between their characters.

Five Days Out: Hunters

Hunters are another one of those classes that got their big revamp in Cataclysm, and so the Mists changes are not quite as huge. That said, there is one major change that I think is going to actually mean some significant changes to the way the Hunter plays, and that is the removal of the Ranged slot.

Now, obviously Hunters are still going to use their ranged weapons. The real meaning of this is that the days of the stat-stick (at least for any physical dps or tanks) are gone. Say goodbye to your polearms and staves (and hand them off to your nearest Monk) and say adieu to Raptor Strike and Mongoose Bite. Now, you can technically still equip those old melee weapons for cosmetic reasons, but they’re going to be useless in combat.

There are three implications here: One cosmetic, one for gameplay, and one for gearing.

The cosmetic change is that you will now see your ranged weapon slung on your back when not in combat. Ordenar, my Dwarf Marksmanship Hunter, now has Vishanka transmogged to Rifle of the Platinum Guard from Ulduar, and man does that look menacing with the stock visible over his shoulder.

The gameplay change is that there is no minimum range for Hunters anymore. Gone are the days of staying back a couple yards while everyone else is stacked on the tank for big heals. This is going to be a more noticeable change than you’d think, especially when soloing. For anyone whose pet couldn’t quite hold your enemies off of you, you had to be a little jumpy with your shots, getting a Concussive Shot off as you try to open distance with a rapidly approaching Fel Boar or some such thing. Now, should you choose, you can just sit there and take it as you fire point-blank into that demon-pig’s face. You’ve got Mail armor, might as well use it.

Finally, the gearing change is actually pretty profound. Three entire weapon types: Bows, Guns, and Crossbows, are now Hunter-exclusive. Oh sure, Warriors and Rogues can equip them cosmetically, but any and all ranged weapons (save Wands) are firmly in the domain of the Hunter. (Thrown weapons are now all grey-quality.) So, this means that in Dungeon Finder, where they basically never put two hunters together, you will never have gear competition for your weapon. It also means that actually getting a decent weapon set will take only one step. I would only hope we could start to see scopes have an actual visual effect (unlike a lot of people, I love having my weapon glow with a crazy enchant or rune.)

Another class-wide change is that you can now respec your pet, regardless of pet family. Boars can be Ferocity, Raptors can go Cunning, and Birds of Prey can go Tenacity. They’ll still have the pet-family exclusive abilities, but you can basically bring whatever pet you want. You can also respec your pet on the fly for free, so if you want, you can just keep one pet for everything.

Ok, now the Spec-by-Spec, though be warned, they’re mostly unchanged:

Beast Mastery: The only big difference I can tell is that Kill Command can be used before the pet gets into melee range, and they’ll charge right in there. BM Hunters still have exclusive access to Exotic Pets, and it’s possible some of those pets have had their buffs reworked, but it works pretty much the same.

Marksmanship: Again, not much changed except that Chimera Shot now heals you for a percentage of your health. Marked for Death and Posthaste are now a Glyph and Talent respectively, though you’ll also get access to some nice things from other specs, so it’s a trade-off.

Survival: I could be wrong, but I think Black Arrow was changed to allow for greater, if not constant uptime. It’s still all about Black Arrow and Explosive Shot for Survival, and Serpent Spread sadly comes later (meaning I don’t have it anymore on my Goblin.)

Despite all the shock of the talent overhaul, some of the classes came out of it pretty much unscathed. Hunters, like Death Knights, play almost exactly as they used to. We still don’t have Volley back yet, which makes me sad, but what are you going to do? (I know they say it was a boring Blizzard clone, which was true, but what if they made it more like Flame Strike or the new, non-channeled Rain of Fire? You throw down a Volley and an Explosive Trap and then you start Multishotting? I miss the visual more than the ability itself.)

You Say You Want a Revolution?

The Horde has not been this much of a menace since the Second War. Under Thrall, the Horde mostly reformed. The influence of Mannoroth's blood was no longer there, and the Horde expanded to encompass several other races, giving them roughly equal status with the originating Orcs. The Orcs had a proud warrior culture that was tough to totally squelch (and in a world like Azeroth, having a strong warrior culture is perhaps a necessary evil,) but the martial bent of the Horde was turned inward, toward protecting its civilians and lands, and lending a helping hand to the various good neutral factions that needed champions.

While the current conflict between Alliance and Horde can be traced to the Wrathgate Incident and the Battle of Undercity, the war did not truly begin in earnest until Thrall stepped down and left Garrosh Hellscream in charge as Warchief.

Today, the Horde war machine is much more homogeneous, as there is a clear preference in the leadership toward Orcish commanders. Really, you only tend to find enthusiastic soldiers of the Horde in Orcs and Goblins, the latter of which I think are more interested in the spectacle of war (and explosions) than any real ideological bent.

The Trolls are super-alienated. The Tauren lost their beloved leader to Garrosh's reckless inability to take advice. The Undead are actually kind of profiting from this chaos, as it leaves very little time for Garrosh to rein in Sylvanas' machinations. The Blood Elves... Well, we're going to hear more about them in 5.1 I believe.

And even among the Orcs, there is a cultural divide. There are some (mostly the older generation, who remembers what it was like in the Old Horde) who are none too happy about the way things are going. Thrall's Shamanism had done a great deal to return the Orcs to their roots, but that's mostly been tossed out the window in favor of militarism.

At this point, however, the majority of the Horde still seems to be standing behind Garrosh. Whether that is actually the case or not is a good question. After all, Garrosh seems like the type of leader to quash any sort of dissent. As adventurers, we tend to be out with the military on the front lines, and what we've been seeing (and participating in) is a rabid war against the Alliance.

Time and time again, though, we've been seeing the Horde doing stuff that we're probably not ok with. I'll talk a bit about Theramore, but I think Stonetalon Mountains demonstrates this the best.

What is the point of a military? Well, this may be a fairly modern notion, but it's one I believe in real life: the point of a military is to protect civilians. If there is no true, actual danger to fight, the military should stand down. They should remain vigilant, but when a military abandons its charge to protect the people, it has ceased to be a military and has become a group of well-armed brigands.

Stonetalon is all about Garrosh's war machine. Under Warlord Krom'gar, you rise through the ranks, preparing a massive Goblin bomb to be used against an entrenched Alliance outpost. You are told that this is a military target, and so your actions are justified.

However, later in the quest chain, you meet a Tauren elder who informs you that no, that is not a military target, but a peaceful civilian school that welcomes everyone. His son is there, so he asks you to bring him back. Yet when you try to do so, you discover that the boy is dead, murdered by one of Krom'gar's lackeys. You return to find that Krom'gar has set fire to the Tauren's village and murdered his wife. After confronting the lieutenant who did the job, Krom'gar arrives to punish you and watch the bomb go off, killing dozens of innocent, young druids.

Now, Garrosh arrives right after the bomb goes off, chastising Krom'gar for this horrific lack of honor (and sense even. What was the point in destroying the school?) He then tosses the Warlord off a cliff to his death.

That's all well and good, and good riddance to one of the most detestable people you'll ever interact with. The thing is that, even though Garrosh punished Krom'gar, the Warlord seems surprised at this reaction. Krom'gar has been doing things Garrosh's way.

Now, Theramore is a bit more complicated, because while Jaina has been committed to peace, it's still a large military presence on the doorstep of Horde territory. In this case, I think the parallel is much closer to Pearl Harbor, where the idea was to launch a sneak attack to knock Jaina out of the war before she could join in, only to create a far more powerful enemy than you intended to deal with.

But these attacks on the Alliance aren't really what I think is going to inspire the revolution. Members of the Horde may have less reason to hate the Alliance than vice versa, but the hatred is still there and still deep. While some may take exception to massacres like Stonetalon, Theramore, and Southshore (which admittedly is Sylvanas, and not Garrosh,) I think the big problem is how Garrosh treats his own people.

So, what can we expect in Pandaria? As of 5.0, it's mostly just expeditionary forces, but we've been assured that the main armies are going to be clashing in later patches. If my predictions are correct, Theramore will be the last decisive victory Garrosh ever has. The next major battle will be his Stalingrad, and as we all know, dictators start to go crazy (and people living under dictators start to get pissed off) when the military victories stop flowing.

If I were writing for the game, we'd see unrest start to arise over the course of the expansion. People are starting to call for a new Warchief, or some (Vol'jin, for example) might begin to talk of secession. Garrosh is not a consensus builder, so rather than talk it out like Thrall would do, he'll try to have Vol'jin (or whoever) arrested and start clamping down on this sort of talk.

Then, at some point, player characters would become part of an underground resistance.

They would still be able to move freely through Orgrimmar, but I could envision a series of quests (even dailies) where you help dissidents escape the city and distribute leaflets or free political prisoners. How cool would it be for you to break Vol'jin out of jail?

While the Alliance is doing the Trials of the High King (with a controversial leader learning to lead a diverse people,) the Horde could be doing The Resistance, setting to work on toppling a corrupt leader.

In the end, all of this culminates in Hellscream's Fall (or whatever they'll be calling the final raid.) And it will make sense on either end - the Alliance is conquering a foreign menace while the Horde is overthrowing their oppressor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Six Days Out: Death Knights

If you remember playing during Wrath of the Lich King, particularly in the first year of the expansion, you knew that there was just a massive number of these guys running about. While DKs are by no means an unpopular class these days, the novelty of them has worn off, and those people who preferred ranged dps or healing, or perhaps just a different system, have moved on, perhaps leaving their DKs as alts if not abandoning them entirely.

If you're like me, however, you still freaking love Death Knights. Frankly, I sometimes wonder if my Death Knight ought to become my main, but then I look back at my Paladin, Jarsus, and think, "no. Primary Alt is fine for Oterro. Gotta stay righteous."

While the change to the rune system was a bit of an adjustment to make, and the limitation of Blood to tanking and the other specs to DPS was a bigger one (especially for the Blood DPS and the Frost Tanks - did anyone tank as Unholy?) was huge, for the most part, DKs weathered the storm and came out looking pretty decent during Cataclysm.

The Death Knight resource system is fairly rigid, so you might find that each spec's rotation is more or less unchanged. Overall, DKs feel much as they did before, but considering how good they felt before, that's probably ok.

On the Glyph front, two very important ones have finally been introduced. Glyph of Tranquil Grip will turn off the taunt aspect of your Death Grip. I recommend that every single DPS DK gets and applies this glyph. You will be able to grip things (like those hunters in Hour of Twilight) and the tank will retain aggro on them. Simple, wonderful glyph. The other is Glyph of Army of the Dead. How many times have you used Army, only to have the ghouls turn the boss around, making it shoot out its cone-effect attack everywhere and making the lives of Feral Druids and Subtlety Rogues a living hell, trying to get behind a boss spinning at a thousand RPM? Well, now you can turn the taunt off those ghouls, which will frankly probably increase the damage slightly, as the ghouls won't get smushed by the boss.

So, let's spec-by-spec:

Blood: Unlike the other tanks, Blood got its Active Mitigation ability an expansion early, when Death Strike was re-worked to function wildly differently. While it was a strange change to get used to then, today the Blood tank works almost exactly the same. Blood is also the only tank to retain two taunts, because taking Death Grip away would be tantamount to treason... or something. I believe Blood Worms are healing for more now, and some of the numbers have been shifted around slightly. One of the bigger changes is probably that Runic Empowerment is now a talent, so you can choose Runic Corruption or a very re-worked Blood Tap instead.

Frost: Again, the basic rotation has remained untouched. You're still going to prioritize Obliterate, and try to use it when Killing Machine procs. Much like Fury, the two variants on Frost are now baseline to the spec, so you will get both Threat of Thassarian and Might of the Frozen Wastes, allowing you to switch out between Dual-wielding and 2-handers. I don't know how the math works out, but I've got Oterro's off-spec as Dual-Wielding and Lorconis' mainspec as 2-handed. The other big change is that they've buffed Frost Presence (or maybe nerfed non-Frost Presence RP-generation) to make it more attractive to Frost DKs. Again, i don't know the math, but I'm running with it.

Unholy: The only major change to Unholy is that Ebon Plaguebringer no longer counts as a separate disease. However, Scourge Strike's power has been buffed to compensate for the lack of a disease. Ebon Plague now gives the catch-all physical vulnerability debuff, but also buffs the individual Death Knight's diseases.

Now, there is one major change that affects all Death Knights. It's the kind of monumental, huge, enormous thing that I really felt I had to save for the conclusion of this article. That is: the return of...


One caveat: It's a purely cosmetic ability, dealing no damage. That said, once again, you can express your disdain for your slaughtered foes by making their corpses explode in a blast of gore. Oh, corpse explosion. We missed you so much!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Seven Days Out: Druids

The Druid is, of course, the most versatile class in the game. While Paladins and soon Monks can also fill the three official roles, Druids are the only ones who can tank, heal, and do both ranged and melee dps. (In fact, Shamans are the only other class that can be both ranged and melee dps.)

Now, while that's very cool, Druids have a big limitation on this, which is shapeshifting. When you're in Bear form, you are tanking - no exception. Likewise, Moonkin form is actually functionally a lot like Shadowform, forcing you to give up your heals in order to deal more damage.

One of the goals of the talent redesign was to give Druids a bit more incentive to shift forms, rather than just going with your spec-appropriate form and never shifting out. I will have to see more of this in challenging content before I make any judgements on how successful this was.

On a talent front, you'll notice that almost all the talents work in every shapeshift form. I actually love this, because as someone who has played what is now called a Guardian Druid since early Wrath, I always felt like I was missing out on some of the cool druidic magic that Balance gets to play with. I was just a bear, and that was it. Now, however, I can create crazy vortexes and spawn treants and all that fun stuff.

So, let's spec-by-spec. Note: I won't be doing Restoration. Sorry healers.

Balance: The most noticeable change for Balance is that Insect Swarm is gone, and instead we now have Sunfire as a distinct ability from Moonfire, taking IS's place as your go-to Nature DOT. Hurricane now transforms into Astral Storm, which is just the Arcane equivalent, allowing you to use it for AoE when you've got a Lunar Eclipse. Balance mostly feels like the same spec it has been since Cataclysm came out, but there are minor differences.

Feral: Honestly, this is one of those specs I don't have a lot of experience with. My Troll Druid, Tuzaka, is in the 30s. The same basic toolkit appears to be there, though like Moonkin getting agility out of spell power, Feral gets spell power out of attack power, to help with off-healing, or I suppose firing off some Wraths if the boss goes into ranged-only mode.

Guardian: Bear Druids have their own spec now, which is a natural consequence of the new spec system. I remember that when Cataclysm came out, the blues said the reason why crit-immunity was a talent, rather than just a spec bonus, was because Feral Cats weren't supposed to have it. Like Warriors, most of your abilities are now free to cast, with Mangle as your main Rage-generator. Gone is Pulverize (which I kind of liked, actually, though it has little place in this era of Active Mitigation tanking,) and Savage Defense is now what you'll be spending most of your Rage on. This gives you a few seconds of 45% increased dodge, which is still a little RNG-dependant, so we'll see how good it is. As your only AM option, though, you might as well be using it. Like Shield Block, this has a few charges and a "Recharge" time. One last note is that Guardians have a new Mastery (now that Savage Defense is not simply passive.) It very simply raises your armor, which I suppose allows Bears to be the super-armored guys again.

Restoration: ...I love you guys! Thanks for keeping me from dying!

Druids are always going to be a popular class, and particularly with some of the shiny new talented abilities, people will have fun playing them. The real question for Druids is whether this cross-spec ability use will actually be used. If it winds up too powerful, Druids will be able to do too much, but if it's too weak, no one is ever going to switch roles on the fly. It's a delicate balance. Another thing: Balance/Restoration Druids. I'm very sorry, but your monopoly on intellect leather is about to end. Actually, leather-wearers in general will probably have a pain with gear this expansion. We Paladins and Warriors can now stand back and laugh at you, going "Now you know how it feels!" Meanwhile, Subtlety and Assassination Rogues can frolic, arm in arm, rejoicing in the fact that Monks can't use daggers.

Theramore's Fall

Today, the Fall of Theramore came out on live servers.

While the expansion itself looks to be chock full of content, the Fall of Theramore is the whole enchilada in terms of pre-expansion events.

Admittedly, these events are temporary, and ultimately don't have a huge bearing on the total fun of the game. Also, I do actually like the Fall of Theramore. That said, this is really pretty underwhelming as a pre-expansion event.

Wrath had both the Scourge Invasion (which was, admittedly, just the return of the Naxxramas patch event) and the Zombie plague, plus attacks on Stormwind and Orgrimmar. (Also, Stormwind Harbor was introduced.)

Cataclysm had the whole elemental invasion (including the cool Twilight's Hammer quest chain) as well as the battles for both Gnomeregan and the Echo Isles. (Anyone who says Cataclysm's pre-expansion event was a letdown clearly forgets it was the biggest one yet.)

So, honestly, I'm a bit disappointed. C'est la vie.

Now, with that out of the way:

I ran both Horde and Alliance versions of the scenario. While Theramore looks quite different between the two (Horde - still standing, Alliance - smoldering ruin,) the sequence of events is almost identical, until the last phase.

I did the Horde version first (it takes place first, obviously,) playing on a Rogue with a Hunter and a Mage. I loved it. With no tank or healer, we had to be careful, and the whole thing felt pretty frenetic and chaotic. From a story standpoint, I also liked it a lot, because it built on the Horde narrative of the rank and file, along with the adventuring heroes, getting duped by their commanders. You go in as part of a conventional military invasion. Your mission appears to be to capture Theramore and rescue a Blood Elf spy. However, when you actually get to the guy, he tells you that the whole attack was just a feint. You guys were risking your hides just to get him out before some Goblins blew the whole place to bits. No conquest, and certainly no question of taking prisoners. You might have been able to beat up the Alliance, but it's a pretty hollow victory that leaves you as just a pawn in a genocidal maniac's game. This might sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not. The Horde needs to get really pissed off at their leadership. This expansion is going to end with a revolution, and a great way to galvanize a revolution is to betray the trust of your most powerful allies (aka: Horde players.)

The Alliance side I did on my main, a Paladin tank. Honestly, if you play a tank, go in on your dps spec (and if you're tank/heals... I don't know what to tell you.) Playing a tank spec made this feel a bit like running a super easy dungeon where our healer had dc'd. You can keep pulling, maybe healing every now and then, but all the enemies die very quickly and hit pretty softly. The main thing that I like is we get to see Jaina get MAD. She's still Jaina, and she's all about saving lives and protecting the innocent, but after this has happened, she's finally decided that the Horde, as is, cannot be peace-treatied away. It's a terrible realization to come to as someone who wants peace, but this is truly Jaina's Pearl Harbor moment.

Actually, Theramore really is like Pearl Harbor in many ways. If Jaina is the US and the Alliance is... the Allies... then Garrosh has just awoken a sleeping giant and filled it with terrible resolve. Pearl Harbor wasn't the beginning of the war, but it did bring in one of the most powerful players on the Allied side. Now, next we need a Stalingrad, when Garrosh's war machine finally hits the hurdle it just can't get over, and the direction of the war starts to flow the other way. (Just to note: no, I don't think the Horde are Nazis. But I do think Garrosh is basically a fascist.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Eight Days Out: Warriors

Eight Days Out: Warriors

Throughout WoW’s history, there have been a large number of sacred cows that Blizzard has been very hesitant to slaughter. However, as you might guess from the utterly huge talent redesign, they’ve gotten their hands on one of those pneumatic cow-guns like Anton Chigurh uses in No Country For Old Men.

One of those cows has been the way that rage works. While they’ve tried and tried to find a way to balance the mechanic so that DPS isn’t starved early in the expansion, but can ignore Rage later in the expansion (and Tanks do the opposite,) they’ve always tied Rage to auto-attacks and getting hit. The problem, of course, is that DPS is going to be critting more and hitting faster (with haste) as they get better gear, meaning that at a certain threshold, they have practically infinite Rage. Tanks, by contrast, as they get better avoidance, stop getting the steady flow of Rage they need, and thus the pantsless warrior tank was born.

So, the big change to Rage is that you now generate it only via abilities. Stuff like Mortal Strike, Shield Slam, and Blood Thirst now generates, rather than costing Rage. It’s a lot more like the Barbarian in Diablo 3, which makes sense, as it is my understanding that the Diablo 2 Barbarian is what the WoW Warrior is based on.

That’s the big change. Now let’s look at it spec-by-spec (I’ll try to do this for every class, but you might find that healing specs are a little few and far between.)

Arms: This is my main warrior’s spec. Arms feels a bit different with the loss of Rend. Also, Thirst for Blood works very differently. If you were like me, through Cataclysm you rarely had a use for Heroic Strike, as Slam was a good enough Rage-spender. Slam is still there (and instant, which is probably for the best, though I kind of liked having the only melee attack with a cast time,) but there is now a place in the rotation for Heroic Strike. Mortal Strike now automatically activates Overpower, but Overpower also sometimes reactivates itself. When it does this, it gives a stacking 100% bonus to your next HS or Cleave. At a full stack (which admittedly does not happen very often) you’ll be able to get off some freaking huge Heroic Strikes (in Hour of Twilight, I got a few crits in the 160k range.) Last but not least, we now have Whirlwind, which gives us quite a few AoE tools.

Fury: Fury largely works the same way, except with the Rage changes. However, one big change is that rather than Slam, Fury uses an ability called Wild Strike. WS is an off-hand strike that does a good amount of damage. When you get your Blood Surge proc, you now get to hit WS three times in a row for now cost and a shorter global cooldown. It does really feel like a frenzied attack, which is appropriate for the Berserker nature of the Fury Warrior. Oh, and you now want to be in Battle Stance in PVE. Also, the removal of stance requirements for abilities lets you use Charge (well, being in Battle Stance would mean this too, but it means you can use Charge and Whirlwind.)

Protection: Ah, now, here we see some of the strange new world of Active Mitigation tanking. Most of your abilities, like Devastate, or Revenge (which now only gets its cooldown reset when you dodge, block or parry, and can be used before this occurs) cost zero rage, and Shield Slam generates it. You also have two big AM buttons. The first is Shield Block, which guarantees you block the next few strikes. Shield Barrier, on the other hand, absorbs damage based on your attack power. The latter, I imagine, will be more useful for spell damage, so you’ll have to make that distinction. Rather than having cooldowns, these abilities have “recharge time,” and a couple charges. So you can’t simply use Shield Block every time you have the Rage (which, at least on a target dummy, could have allowed me to keep it up basically all the time) but if you’re going through a tough patch, you can spam it for a bit (if you get enough Rage.) Other than defensive abilities, you’ll only be using Rage for Heroic Strike or Cleave, and there is a proc that gives you a free one of these every now and again.

Warriors are in a bit of a weird place overall. Unlike Warlocks, for instance, they mostly look the same. The differences are somewhat subtle (though you’ll probably notice the Rage change,) and overall I think you’ll be able to pick up the changes without too much trouble.

(Oh, PS: The Battle of Theramore is going live today (should be eight minutes from the time I post this. Remember Theramore!)