Monday, October 29, 2012

Demon Hunters: Speculation on Illidan's Return

All this way-too-early talk about a new expansion, coupled with the fact that I just completed Blasted Lands on my Monk (sadly, I don't think Zen Flight goes as fast as a normal flying mount, but it'll be good if I don't have to go far, or decide to jump off a cliff or something,) got me thinking about Demon Hunters.

Like Death Knights, Demon Hunters are one of those obvious options for a new class, such that it would be kind of sad if we never got to play as them.

Death Knights, of course, have been around for roughly four years, and I think they were a great success. With Mists of Pandaria, we got a second new class: the Monk. The Monk is quite different from the Death Knight. It's not a hero class. Despite some visual differences and its own "class home" (complete with daily quests that make leveling go way faster,) Monks begin at level 1, and are just ordinary folks who choose a particular way to kick ass.

If Demon Hunters are introduced, I think it would make the most sense for them to be the game's second hero class. Demon Hunters are invariably badasses who have gone through very tough training, and also all seem to have had their eyes ritually removed and replaced with demonic magic - allowing them to see what others do not see, namely demons.

There are two major obstacles to the Demon Hunter class that the Death Knight did not have to deal with (as much.) One is that Demon Hunters are obviously a leather-wearing class (the Cursed Vision of Sargeras, which is the most Demon-Hunter-appropriate piece of gear that is not the Twin Blades of Azzinoth, is Leather.) With the introduction of Monks, we now have three Cloth, three Leather, and three Plate classes. Introducing yet another class to compete with Rogues and Druids while there are still only two Mail classes might make things a little painful.

The other issue is that all of the Warcraft 3-era Demon Hunter abilities already belong to other classes - particularly Warlocks. Metamorphosis, which is one of Illidan's signature moves, is now the centerpiece of the Demonology Warlock's rotation.

That said, I don't think this is a dealbreaker. Death Knights, after all, had a lot of totally new concepts built into them that were not from Warcraft 3 at all. Death Grip? Diseases? Runes and Runic Power? Totally new. Blizzard is pretty good at what they do, so I could imagine them coming up with something.

Also, we should remember that there's other sources for Demon Hunter abilities. We fought Illidan, as well as Leotheras the Blind, and any of their abilities could potentially be scaled down to be used as player abilities.

Demon Hunters, as I see it, would fit well as tanks, melee dps, and caster dps. I always thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity that Unholy Death Knights were not ranged (and another class that could have used Intellect Plate.) As Demon Hunters are also quite magic-based, it stands to reason they could be ranged.

Now, all the nitty-gritty of actual class design is something I'm not really suited for. What I can come up with here (not that I work for Blizzard - this is a pure exercise in fun speculation) is the backstory and starting experience for Demon Hunters.

If 55 were chosen as the "standard hero class starting level," you could begin in Blasted Lands, but if they're willing to let us skip Outland leveling, there's another option:

You begin at 65 in a specially phased/instanced version of Shadowmoon Valley. You are a powerful adventurer who has been drawn to Outland by rumors of great power and hidden secrets. It would seem that Illidan Stormrage's body has been recovered. You make contact with a group of Demon Hunters (Feronas Sindweller, from Felwood, may be among them) who seek to resurrect Illidan. However, the body is in the possession of the Ashtongue Deathsworn.

The Deathsworn are hunting down all the Demon Hunters in the ruins of the Black Temple, and you must fight them off. In the meantime, you discover that agents of the Burning Legion are attempting to take Illidan's remains for their purposes, and have infiltrated Akama's forces. You battle your way through the Black Temple and use your powers as a Demon Hunter to locate and dispatch the demons possessing the members of the Deathsworn.

Having proven yourself, you ascend to the top of the Black Temple and begin the ritual to return Illidan to life. Meanwhile, there is a great battle as demons pour in from the Twisting Nether to stop you. When you finally achieve victory, Illidan is brought back, and grants you great power in return for your deeds.

Much as the Knights of the Ebon Blade served a pivotal role in defeating the Lich King, this new group of Demon Hunters could serve as the "darker and edgier" side of the conflict against the Legion (with Velen's Army of the Light taking the Argent Crusade's role.)

I realize that all this speculation is a bit early. That said, we tend to get the announcement for each expansion about a year before it comes out - which means about a year after the current one launches. That means we're a 12th of the way to finding out what the next expansion will be!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Already talking about a new expansion?

World of Warcraft has been around for eight years, and it is still the largest MMO by a factor of ten over the next guy (if I recall correctly.) So perhaps it is unsurprising that, even though number have not quite bounced back to Wrath of the Lich King levels, they're still planning on keeping this thing going. (10 million subscriptions ain't bad. That's $150 million every month - before you account for people like me who go with the lower, long-term rate, but also before you account for the actual cost of the expansions.)

Rob Pardo, who is Chief Creative Executive at Blizzard, recently made a tweet about how the next expansion is going to be "awesome." This is, as far as I know, the earliest we've heard about a new expansion during the life cycle of a current one. Mists has been out for a mere one month and three days.

Yet it can hardly be shocking that they're planning a new expansion to follow this one. Mists of Pandaria is certainly epic, but it very much has the feel of "settling the accounts." The Alliance and the Horde have been at war off and on for decades. Both have expanded to include people who may have had no reason to fight each other before. For example, the Night Elves and the Tauren, by all rights, ought to be best friends. When new Pandaren character come to talk to their factions' leaders, both are informed that all of a sudden, their old friends who merely decided to check out a different group of people are now their mortal enemies.

I had this realization earlier this week: We are introduced to the Pandaren living in an idealistic, nearly pacifistic lifestyle. Their only soldiers are the Shado-Pan, who "serve so that others do not have to." Being a fighter in Pandaren culture is not something everyone is expected to do, but is a necessary evil that is only done by those who are willing to make the sacrifice, all the while placing their primary focus on controlling their emotions so that they do not become bloodthirsty and thus fodder for the Sha.

Yet as I take my Draenei or my Tauren through there, I think: "You know, my people were just as peace-loving and kind as the Pandaren. What happened?" And the answer is clear: the Alliance and the Horde happened.

Thrall's Horde was founded with noble intentions: to redeem the Orcs and save the world from a demonic invasion. The Alliance was founded to save the world from the Blood-crazed Old Horde during the second war. Both want to be the good guys, but by polarizing the world with a "you're either with us or against us" attitude, they take noble, kind people like the Tauren, Draenei, and Pandaren, and turn them into racially-motivated killers.


The factions as they stand are crumbling. Well, more the Horde than the Alliance. The Alliance has mostly stuck to the mission statement. People like Garrithos are more the exception than the rule. As it turns out, Varian Wrynn is reaching out to the Blood Elves. After all, the Blood Elves were originally High Elves, and had a long history of friendship with humanity (that was not without its problems.) As Lor'themar Theron says (holy crap! He's actually getting to do something!) the whole reason they left the Alliance was to avoid being used, their welfare left unconsidered because they were a "lesser race." Yet Garrosh's theories of racial superiority make Theron very concerned. Garrosh could be another Garrithos. Meanwhile, as Garrosh radicalizes, Varian is becoming more moderate, and actually reaching out to the Blood Elves, attempting to get them to re-join the Alliance.

Meanwhile, Garrosh learns about the Sha and begins to experiment to see if it could be harnessed as a weapon. Vol'jin is brought in to look into the Mogu spirit-binding magics and Zandalari voodoo, but it becomes clear to the player and to him that it is actually a trap to assassinate him. 5.1 is where Horde players will finally be able to join the resistance. Vol'jin is almost killed, but manages to survive, and then makes the player his personal agent to keep tabs on the maniacal Warchief.


So if Mists ends with a reckoning of sorts - the Alliance molds itself into what it needs to be while the Horde purges itself of the cancerous growth that is this literal second Hellscream - it stands to reason that the next expansion is going to raise the stakes, big time.

Admittedly, it'll be a bit harder to raise the stakes higher than they were in Cataclysm (the whole world is literally going to explode!) but I think we've been getting hints here and there that that nasty old Burning Legion, they of the green fire, are almost done regrouping and recuperating from their defeat at Sunwell Plateau. Is this to be the final confrontation with the Burning Legion? Perhaps not. Kil'jaeden was defeated, but not killed at the Sunwell, and for all we know, Sargeras may still be using a light touch/being an incorporeal presence in the Twisting Nether to run the show.

But with the Warlock quest chain and Wrathion's image of green meteors coming down to destroy Azeroth, you do begin to suspect that we might have some demons to deal with.

Where might this expansion take place? A full-scale invasion of Azeroth would be very hard to pull off, and would likely require a huge amount of effort to re-work existing zones (something I think they're probably very hesitant to do after having to focus so much on the revamp for Cataclysm.) What I can imagine is that we might head out into space again. Outland was a pretty cool setting, after all. It would stand to reason that other fragments of Draenor might exist. We could see more of the ancient Orcish homelands, or perhaps some of the other Draenei cities. Then, of course, there's also Argus.

The homeland of the Draenei - who were then called Eredar - is either a burnt-out husk or a major base of operations for the Burning Legion. It would be fascinating to get some insight into what Eredar culture was like before Sargeras came. Obviously, the Eredar were not evil to begin with (despite what you might read in a Warcraft 3 manual,) but they also weren't devout followers of the Light either. What we do know is that they were a people who were so skilled at magic that, of all the races in the universe, Sargeras came to them for spell-casters. One has to imagine that the Eredar capital of Mac'aree would make Silvermoon look drab and mundane by comparison.

Anyway, Mists is kind of an interesting story, because it turns the focus back onto us. It's not really a "small" story, per se, but the focus is inward. However, assuming we do achieve some degree of self-growth, we'll gain the strength we need to face this gravest of threats.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Curious and Frustrating Implementation of Vengeance

One of the old problems World of Warcraft has had is that as the tiers go up during the lifetime of an expansion, the dps does far, far higher dps, while tanks just produce somewhat higher threat.

Threat must always outstrip dps, or the whole system falls apart.

Back in Burning Crusade, the main job of damage-dealers was to stay just underneath the threat cap. Hunters could do outstanding dps because Feign Death would wipe their threat. It was simply an accepted fact that if you pulled off the tank, that was your failure, and not theirs (well, ok, if the tank was single-targetting in a group of five and the healer pulled off them, that was their bad.)

Now, a compounding problem back then was that for all three tanks at the time (Warriors, Druids, and Paladins. BC was actually the time when Paladin and Druid tanks started being taken seriously, though the raids were still literally designed around only Warriors tanking the bosses) is that the better geared they got, the less they had to work with resource-wise. Because Warriors and Druids generated Rage mostly by getting hit, and Paladins generated mana via Spiritual Attunement, which gave them a percentage of the healing received as mana (no damage = no healing, and thus no mana.) So once you started to outgear an instance, you had to sit down to take a crit or run without pants to be able to keep up in threat.

One of the awesome things about Death Knights during Wrath was that their Rune system was totally independent of how much damage they were taking, so there was no "Gear Penalty."

Tanks are the only role that can actually suffer from being better geared. The only hazard for dps of being overgeared is that you might out-threat the tank, which is easily remedied through a technique I like to call "just stop for a second." Healers, of course, have no penalty whatsoever from being overgeared (unless they're REALLY overgeared and generate too much threat.) I suppose the only penalty for healers is that they might get bored.

So, you had the problem that in very high-level content, tanks would be desperately pouring out as much threat as they could so the dps did not have to hold back, but on lower-level content they were running on fumes the whole time.

The solution to the first problem that Blizzard came up with was Vengeance. This universal tank passive was weirdly complicated. You would get a percentage of your damage taken as attack power, up to a maximum based on your max health. The idea was that as tanks got better geared, they'd get higher stamina, and thus higher Vengeance. In a sense, it mirrors a Wrath-era Protection Paladin talent that granted spellpower proportional to our stamina. More stamina? More threat.

The problem, though, is the damage-taken part. Another way of putting it is that the problem is that it varies significantly when it really ought to be a static effect.

They of course want us to be the ones getting bashed by the bad guys, but what this leads to is a bunch of other issues.

1. At the beginning of the pull, when everyone is at equal threat (zero,) you have no Vengeance. If an Arcane Mage lights them up with a crit, or a Warrior charges in and Bladestorms, those things are not going to come after you. The pull is when threat matters the most, even before you take fluctuating attack power into account, and this is where Vengeance is non-existent.

2. The Tank-Swap is a tried and true method for Blizzard to give both tanks in a raid something to do without having to come up with two different things for them to do. However, when your AP (and thus threat) is based on how much you've been hit, the guy who's got three stacks of a powerful bleed and has been getting maced in the face for the last 30 seconds is going to be way higher than the guy who's been standing there, waiting his turn, getting little more than the raid-wide aoe damage. Especially in these days of "active mitigation tanking," the first tank is not going to want to stop their rotation when all they're seeing is huge damage pouring in.

3. We're also recreating the old problem with Rage and Mana from BC, but now Death Knights and Monks get to experience it. The better geared you are, the less damage you'll be taking, so your threat will scale inversely with gear. Now, the new Vengeance does say "unmitigated damage," which I hope means that blocks and absorbs (like Blood Shield) are ignored when calculating it. Still, you'll probably be dodging and parrying more as you gear up, so it's still a loss of Vengeance. (Avoidance may actually refresh Vengeance, but if you get "unlucky" and get a string of avoidance after a stretch of low damage or at the beginning of the pull, you're SOL.)

These problems are pretty huge, but there's another which I think is essential to the reason why Vengeance as a mechanic is so deeply flawed:

It does not scale with gear in any positive way.

The whole point of Vengeance, after all, was to allow tanks, who were stacking stamina, dodge, parry, and mastery, to boost their threat against people stacking attack/spell power, crit, haste, and their version of mastery (which is a dps stat for dps characters, obviously.) In Cataclysm, at least, it kinda-sorta scaled with Stamina. However, with the stamina cap gone, the only thing it scales positively with is damage taken from enemies.

So yes, as you go into higher tiers of content, the bosses will probably be hitting harder. The problem is that this makes Vengeance really only useful in content that is cutting edge for you. As someone who might, for example, like to run 5-mans for VP and, you know, fun, you're out of luck.

Going Back to the Drawing Board:

I think we can say that the point of Vengeance is to allow tanks to have their threat scale even as their gearing focus is to focus on defensive stats. Let us consider that the whole point of the passive ability, and rather than just point out what is wrong with the current implementation, come up with a better one.

The question of tank gear itself is kind of an interesting one on its own, and is something I wrote an article about recently. While we're starting to see actual tank stats on Tier gear for Druids and Monks (with the Guardian spec introduced, Druids now have four options for Tier sets, and Monks are new, so they just went with three sets for them,) for the most part the Leather tanks are expected to use standard Rogue-style Agility Leather. Having only played my Druid tank a bit during Cataclysm (and often running him as Balance,) I haven't gotten a great feel for Vengeance on Leather tanks. But it seems like the problem of not having those dps stats to scale up with as you go from tier to tier should not be an issue. Sure, Mastery's going to be defensive, but you get the full benefits of all the crit and haste on your gear.

Plate tanks, on the other hand, have historically not gotten any crit or haste (current Paladins and Blood DKs' weapons being exceptions) on their gear. In fact, even given the prevailing wisdom about Paladin gearing, the automated loot in LFR that gives me "appropriate to my spec gear" will, I assume, never give me Mastery/Haste gear. With plate tanks, tank gear is tank gear.

Now, the one thing that all tanks are going to have a lot of is Stamina. Not only is it buffed by our spec bonuses, but we gear, gem and enchant for it. If you take the original Vengeance, and rather than getting rid of the Stamina part, you get rid of the "damage taken" part, you could just give all tanks an AP bonus based on your stamina (like the old Guarded by the Light, as I referred to earlier.)

This means all tanks get a static AP boost to offset the lack of Strength Gems and Crit enchants. While dps'ers are using those, we put in our blue (or Purple or Green) gems. They go up in equal measures.

1.) If the fear is that tanks will be doing too much dps when they are not really tanking, the solution is easy: we already get 5 times as much threat from our basic tank threat-boosts. Just scale Vengeance to make sure we're doing like a third as much damage as our dps and we'll be fine. No one will go with a tank spec to do dps (even with dps gear, a tank's passives and just their suite of abilities won't be suited to doing dps.)

This would really be my favorite solution. Vengeance would just give X% of your stamina as attack power. Done.

If, for some reason, there's a problem with this (and being a total armchair quarterback here, I fully admit there could be something I overlooked, especially if it relates to PvP,) there are a couple other ways you could go:

2.) Get rid of tank gear entirely, and let all tanks benefit seriously from dps stats. You get rid of Vengeance, but you resolve the issue by having tanks stacking the same gems and enchants as the dps. They get their dodge and parry from haste and crit. Their Masteries are reworked to be both offensive and defensive. The only thing differentiating a tank from a super-resilient dps is that your suite of abilities is ill-suited to dealing lots of damage, but AP, Crit, and Haste all go up just as much as they do for DPS.

3.) Make defensive stats offensive. Through passive spec abilities or just reworking things a bit, your dodge and parry and mastery will all now do things that increase your damage. Actually, this is somewhat like the first solution, but would have to be a bit more complicated, given that it's three stats instead of one.

4.) Go back to the Wrath style of tanking. During Wrath (and earlier) threat was not a given by any stretch. The definition of a well-played tank was one who could hold threat. Tanks geared for survival, but they played for threat. In other words, while you were stacking dodge, parry, defense rating (it was a thing,) block rating (it was a thing before mastery,) and block value (blocks used to subtract damage, rather than reducing it by a percentage,) you would let the healers worry about keeping you alive while you tried to spread the threat around frantically. This was the era in which I played a lot on all four tanking classes, so you can probably guess what I thought about this style of tanking.

The thing is, Vengeance as it works right now is really wonky, and frankly, I think it makes tanking less fun. The whole "Active Mitigation" change was to try to make tanking more engaging now that threat is (at least supposed to be) a non-issue. If they really want that to be the case, Vengeance has got to be redesigned completely.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

LFR: A Necessary Evil, but an Evil Nonetheless

In theory, I love the idea of LFR.

Before 3.3, which introduced Icecrown Citadel, the Frozen Halls 5-man dungeons, and the Dungeon Finder, putting together a dungeon group meant spamming trade with requests like "LFM VH, need two dps and a healer." You would do this for about an hour (though admittedly, playing a tank made things easier.) Finally, you'd get a group, and you could go run the dungeon. If someone was an asshole and you decided to kick them, you'd have to send someone back to Dalaran (or Shattrath, or Ironforge or wherever) to get a replacement. Having a guild obviously made this easier, but any guild I've been in has people who don't necessarily want to just drop what they're doing to run a dungeon.

The point is: For 5-man dungeons, people ran PuGs all the time. Sure, some of them were brutal (heroics in BC were generally considered harder than Karazhan, the starter raid,) and by no means were there not people who were total jerks, but really the environment did not change much with the introduction of LFG.

Nowadays, running 5-man dungeons is relatively stress-free. Sure, during the era of the Zuls you'd have some people who just couldn't figure out that you had to always stand next to Jin'do's chains - even if you were trying to dps the spirits chasing the healer, but overall, you could often come across a very friendly, sociable group of people that makes the run (even with occasional wipes) a pleasant experience.

I have yet to experience a pleasant LFR run.

Now, ok, once people really knew Dragon Soul, you could get Madness down pretty quickly and get the cool weapons. The thing is, the best you can ever hope for in LFR is a quiet group that is competent.

What you can usually expect are people complaining about low dps (even though we're downing the bosses just fine) or people starting the fight before everyone is there, or people who go AFK after every wipe, or people who just flat-out refuse to resurrect, yet want the people who are running back to be kicked for not being ready for the next attempt.

In short: LFR is a terrible way to experience the content.

Now, I am all for ease and accessibility. I've always been more of a "perfectionist" gamer than a "challenge" gamer. I'll play games on the low difficulty settings, but attempt to pull things off immaculately. In Skyrim, my Argonian assassin only ever got a bounty after killing the cousin of the emperor in the Dark Brotherhood quest chain (I don't know if it's even possible to get out of Solitude undetected.) And that's with both the full Dark Brotherhood chain and the full Thieves Guild chain. I like beating time records on bosses we have on farm. I like smooth runs.

So I have absolutely nothing against LFR as an easy way to raid. That's commendable.

My problem with it is that the anonymity of being in a group of 25 people, rather than a group of 5, allows for some really horrific behavior. I was just in a Vault of Mysteries LFR and we got wiped because someone activated the Will of the Emperor before everyone was there. But with 25 people, it's not easy to tell who did it. So we tried again, and the exact same thing happened. This, of course, after I was forced to stay up to 2:30 in the morning just to get in on a tank.

Honestly, I don't have a solution, other than the general advice of "don't be a dick." LFR was really the only way I got to experience Dragon Soul, as my guild's raiding core has somewhat dispersed since Wrath of the Lich King. I can only hope that we can try to rebuild this time around.

Now here's what concerns me: Blizzard has said that they want to emphasize LFR as the way that alts or latecomers catch up. They feel that the un-randomized grind of currencies makes things a bit too mechanical, and that it allows people to get far more powerful gear than what drops in the less challenging content they are running.

What I take away from that is that they want us running LFR a lot. Respectfully, Blizzard, I'd really prefer not to. Yes, it's true that you could get Firelands-quality gear out of the Hour of Twilight heroics, and that you could get Trial of the Crusader-quality gear out of the Frozen Halls. So yes, you can skip that content. But is that such a terrible thing? During Wrath, we fell into a lull after completing Naxxramas (sadly, Ulduar was the raid we missed out on the most.) We did some Trial of the Crusader, even beating it once or twice, but where the guild began to thrive again was in ICC. We would not have been able to get working on ICC had it not been for the 232 gear in the Frozen Halls.

I've never had as much fun raiding as the ICC days, when we had two full raids running each week: one the "progression raid," which was regularly pushing on the final bosses of the various wings upstairs, and the "Alt raid" that clearing a good half of the instance regularly (the first four plus Rotface/Festergut.) All of this was possible because of the Frozen Halls.

Now, I know the argument is that LFR will be able to provide that booster gear. The problem is that PuGs get exponentially worse the more people are in them. 5 people? You might get a rotten apple, but usually you'll be fine. 25 people? Oh dear lord.

Finally, as another direction to look at this from: Some of us like running 5-man dungeons. While raids are the pinnacle of PvE content, 5-mans have always been the meat and potatoes. Please let there be a progression of 5-man content through Mists!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Praise the Phantasmal Crab! Solo Old School Raids, here I come!

With 5.1, the requirement that one be in a raid group while entering pre-Mists raids is now gone.

This means many wonderful things, chief amongst them being that farming old tier gear for Transmog purposes will be far, far easier.

Obviously, hitting up Cataclysm raids will likely still be a hell of a challenge, and possibly impossible (at least until late Mists tiers, but even then probably by an elite few.) I expect, however, that BC raids will be very much in the realm of soloability (obviously barring certain mechanics that can't be soloed, like a Mind Control ability that resets the boss if everyone's MC'd.)

So let's see, what kind of stuff am I going to be on the lookout for?

Jarsus has got his Paladin tier 6 armor (full set,) but I think either he or Kerahn (the Tauren Paladin) has got to get a set of tier 8 (preferably in 25-man colors.) While it is a "plate skirt" set, which I usually don't like (ok, in fairness, a lot of the Plate skirts have actually been awesome, despite this. Tier 2 being the obvious example,) I absolutely love the look of Paladin Tier 8. Fitting very much with the Titan theme, it's like you're wearing a factory that produces holiness.

For Oterro, the Death Knight, the tier set I'd most like (other than Warrior tier 3, which ain't happening for a couple reasons) is tier 13, which will likely still be unsoloable until the next expansion. That said, I do have the LFR shoulders and pants already, so I can just get the JP versions of the rest of it, if I allow for some color inconsistency.

For Ardten, the Warrior, Wrathful Gladiator is the look I'm already working on, so not much trouble there. Then again, I would not mind picking up Armageddon, the absurdly huge sword from Four Horsemen 25 (that might be tricky to solo. Second Wind could help, though.)

For Darsino, the Rogue, completing a set of Tier 10 25-man would be great, though for his headpiece I'd have to go with Cursed Vision of Sargeras off of Illidan. Darsino is undead, and the "face option" I chose way back in the day was the one where his undead eye-lights are off. I always figured he was like a super badass blind undead assassin, so the simple blindfold off Illidan would be perfect for him.

For Tarbhad, the shaman, once again I love tier 8. I actually liked tier 13 a bunch for them, except for the helmet. But I got the LFR shoulders for that anyway, so I don't think he's really got to farm those up.

Now that we're out of the "Quintessential Quintet" (which I am just one Tarbhad away from getting, achievement-wise,) we'll talk about the other dudes.

Morcanis, the warlock, I will probably go for something simple. Not sure I even want to go tier on this, as most Warlock tier sets stress the "evil" look, and less of the "scholar of forbidden mysteries." If he were, say, an Orc, I'd go for tier 5, but my concept for Morcanis is more of a friendly, good guy who just happens to be really into some very dangerous magic, and sometimes becomes a demon.

Now, between the two Mages (Goraas, the Draenei, won out on the "who to get to 90 first" question. I'm going to try to wait to level up any class repeats until I get all 11 classes to 90, but Shibti, being one my original characters, gets an exemption here, and will probably precede the Priest and Monk.) Goraas already has a full set (minus gloves) of tier 13, which is not only my favorite mage tier set, but my favorite tier set of all. He has the JP gloves that match the normal mode, but I wouldn't mind getting a full set of normal-mode tier 13 at some point, even if the LFR version looks pretty good on his fishbelly white skin tones.

For Shibti, the troll mage, I think most helmets look a little odd on him. On one hand, I think that the tier 8 Kirin Tor look would be very appropriate to him (personality-wise, he was super happy to see the Kirin Tor recognizing Troll mages... might be a bit upset when Jaina takes charge...) On the other hand, I kind of like the simplicity of tier 4 for mages.

For Ordenar, the hunter, I'm not quite sure. Not many of the hunter tier sets have inspired me all that much, though 10's ok. Like all my engineers, he'll be keeping his goggles. (Actually, of all classes, high-tech goggles seem best suited to a hunter... well, maybe any ranged class.)

For Selarion, the druid, I've always wanted a set of tier 6. Yes, he's a Night Elf, and tier 6 for druids is CLEARLY meant for Tauren, but damn if it doesn't look awesome.

Finally, for Etharian, the Priest, I would not mind tier 6 - it's pretty well-suited to Shadow Priests.

Ok, so realistically, I doubt I'll get all of these. But with the removal of the need to coerce someone into forming a raid group with you, I expect to be hitting up these old instances with far greater frequency. Hell, I expect that I'll just head to Karazhan whenever I want a cool place to just hang out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Tiny note here. Apparently Paladins' Turn Evil and Warlocks' Banish will now affect "Aberrations" in addition to Demons and Undead/Elementals respectively.

As you are likely aware, Aberration is not a creature type that exists in-game, though we can probably be confident that it will appear. The current creature types are: Beast, Humanoid, Elemental, Undead, Giant, Demon, Dragonkin, Mechanical and Critter.

However, there are a large numbers of "unclassified" creatures out there, such as Oozes, Slimes, and Old Gods. I would suspect that these weird, wrong things will likely be given the Aberration type.

On the other hand, despite the fact that Worgen have the racial ability Aberration, they will presumably continue to be classified as humanoid, much the way that playable Undead are considered Humanoids rather than Undead, and Tauren, despite being cow-people, are considered humanoids instead of Critters.

Scattered Lore Questions and Speculation

First off, I'd suggest people take a listen at this new music coming with 5.1. Be warned, there's a lot of seeming repetition, as there are many variations on certain themes. But still, there's some really top-caliber music going on there. For those of you who play with the music turned off... You have something wrong with you.

This article's just going to be a list of things I'm curious about in WoW Lore. There's an enormous depth of lore to this game, what with its 13 playable races, not to mention all the zones and non-player races and its mysterious history.

Bug People: The Aqir and their Progeny, and the inconsistent Will of the Old Gods

Way back when, before there were even Night Elves to speak of (they were still Trolls at that point,) there was the Zandalari Empire and there was the Aqir. The Aqir seem to have been created by the Old Gods, though by "created," we cannot be sure if they were truly made from scratch, or merely uplifted from an original state as just, well, bugs.

Just as the Zandalari split off into the Amani and Gurubashi (and then into smaller groups,) the Aqir split into three species we know of: the Qiraji, the Nerubians, and the Mantid. Each formed huge, powerful empires, and we've been to each of them, mainly to kill those guys. Now, admittedly, Ahn'Qiraj was less an empire and more a Titan facility designed as a prison for C'Thun (though whether through wear and tear, repurposing by the Qiraji, or just a change in artistic direction over at Blizzard, it doesn't look all that Titanic.) The Nerubians had a vast underground empire in Azjol-Nerub, but thanks to the combined efforts of Anub'arak and Arthas, the Scourge has control over most of it (hm, a faction created by the Burning Legion overpowering a faction created by the Old Gods... hm...) Meanwhile, the Mantid have their Kypari trees in what is now known as the Dread Wastes, but are falling to the power of the Sha of Fear.

The Aqir-descended races worship the Old Gods as just that, gods. In fact, the Mantid believe that the "Usurpers," (aka the Titans) are false gods, and that indeed all the races of Azeroth should worship the Old Gods. But given what we've seen of the Old Gods over the course of World of Warcraft, they don't exactly seem to want us around all that much. Twilight's Hammer (which oddly enough began as an Orc clan, but has since transformed entirely into an Old-God-worshipping doomsday cult) clearly just wants things to get destroyed. Indeed, the Old Gods seemed very happy to watch the Elemental Lords duke it out in the interest of destroying everything.

So why would these guys go to the trouble of creating complex species? It's very possible they just wanted to see them fight each other, or perhaps wanted to use them to get rid of the pesky other races that might interfere with the chaos they were interested.

Then there's another possibility. What if the Old Gods really are interested in creating a stable world, where the people they created can live and flourish, and in so doing bring glory to their names?

On the other hand, there's a slight issue with that, which is the existence of the Faceless Ones. The Faceless Ones seem much more closely related to the Old Gods than the Aqir (though the Vezax lookalikes have a similar fringe thing to the Prophet Skyriss, or whatever he's called.) Yet when we come across possibly the last three non-Scourgefied Nerubians, they react with great fear and hatred toward beings like Herald Volazj.

There is another example of Aqir acting somewhat odd toward the things they claim to worship. The Klaxxi are still devoted to the Old God Y'shaarj, yet they oppose the Sha. Now, certainly, the Sha appears to be something somewhat different that the Old Gods. As much as you loved grandma, you probably don't want her body rotting in the living room. (Sorry for that sentence.) The Sha, is, kind of, the will of the Old Gods, but without real form or direction. It almost makes you wonder if the Klaxxi would be fine, even prefer, that the Sha of Fear had infested some other race.

Deathwing: Did he mean well?

So let's say that the Old Gods ultimately wanted to rule over Azeroth, using the Faceless Ones as enforcers to keep the various Aqir races fighting each other for their amusement. We now that Deathwing was driven crazy by the Old Gods, but what if it was a slightly different kind of crazy?

One of Deathwing's plans in Cataclysm was to use the re-origination device in Uldum. Now, given my understanding of it, I thought that this device would completely atomize the entire planet, and then begin to rebuild it. We've heard that the Titans did not want to kill the Old Gods even though they could, because they were worried what would happen to Azeroth if they had (and given the Sha, it seems to have been a valid concern,) but if the planet's getting destroyed, I would imagine the re-origination device would also kill the Old Gods as well.

So what if Deathwing's "destroy the world" goal was actually him (crazily) misinterpreting the role assigned to him by the Titans? He's supposed to watch over the deep places in Azeroth. He finds the worst kind of corruption there. He starts hearing whispers that drive him insane. Insane does not necessarily mean "being controlled by outside forces." He goes "ah, it's simple. I've got to just blow up the planet!"

Ok, so that one's a bit of a stretch.

Lo'gosh and Goldrinn:

In Cataclysm, we met, face to face, Goldrinn. This guy's a pretty important figure to the Worgen, but also to other races, including the Orcs. Now, the Orcs had never been to Azeroth before the First War, but they had a wolf deity called Lo'gosh that they worshipped. In Mount Hyjal, we more or less get confirmation that these beings are one and the same.

Which has pretty big implications. Goldrinn, at the very least, exists on multiple planets.

The Age of the Draenei:

Oftentimes, questgivers will adress you as a "young mage," or something similar, usually with the implication that if they are an old veteran, they are much older than you are.

So I was a bit surprised about four years ago when I was doing the Death Knight starting experience on Oterro (who is kind of my Vice Main - the Commander Riker to Jarsus' Picard) and I realized something. When talking with the guy of your race who you have to kill, he talks about knowing you from back on Argus, begging you to remember your homeland.

That made me realize: Oterro is OLD.

We know, of course, that Velen obviously has been living since Argus, seeing as he was one of the three leaders of the Eredar people. His brothers (though this may have been figurative rather than literal) Archimonde and Kil'jaeden were corrupted by Sargeras, and Velen led the Draenei away with the help of the Naaru. The thing is, we also know that the Eredar (specifically, the Mannari Eredar, as in, the demons) fought in the War of the Ancients.

In fact, according to the novels (which I have not read. This is from WoWpedia) the flight from Argus was a whopping 25,000 years ago.

Now, granted, many playable Draenei could have been born during the millennia of running from the Legion. Your Draenei mage might be an adorable little 900-year-old. But Oterro, and actually all Draenei Death Knights, are at the very least, 25,000 years old.

And you thought that Night Elves were an ancient people.

Actually, though I don't really role-play in-game, I like to think that any time Oterro comes to some place like Mogu'shan Palace, he's like "well, it's kind of old, I guess. You should see Mac'aree, assuming the Legion hasn't, you know, turned it into a smoking crater."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Slow Death of Tank Gear

Paladin tanks have very weird stat priorities now.

The reason for this is that we get a huge benefit from our Shield of the Righteous ability. At my current levels of mastery in a mix of JP blues and LFR epics, ShotR gives me a full 50% reduction in physical damage taken.

The thing is, Shield of the Righteous is very short. The damage reduction only lasts 3 seconds. On the plus side, getting to three Holy Power does not take long. The thing is, because this ability is so powerful, we really need to maximize the time it is up. This means we prioritize hit, HARD capping Expertise, and... Haste.

Because we inherited Ret's Sanctity of Battle, the cooldowns on Judgment and Crusader Strike/Hammer of the Righteous now scale with Haste. And when your survival is built on maintaining a 3-second buff that needs HoPo to put up, you are going to want to hit with your HoPo generators as consistently and frequently as possible.

What this means is that Paladin tanks now want Hit, Expertise, Mastery and Haste (Mastery is still good as it's the thing that determines how powerful that awesomely powerful ability is, not to mention giving Block chance and buffing Bastion of Glory.) Look at those stats. Notice anything? Put together, those look like DPS stats.

A Paladin tank could have a set of gear with not a bit of dodge or parry, and still be considered appropriately geared. This strikes me as odd and unsettling. For one thing, the automated gear-distribution in LFR is going to give me sub-par gear sometimes, and lock me out of some of the better pieces.

Part of my issue here is aesthetics. I don't like seeing any dps stats on tanking gear. Back in the day, hit and expertise were your threat stats, and dodge/parry/block (which became Mastery) were the defensive ones. Making tank gear distinct from dps gear helps people know what to roll on if they're not theorycrafters, and frankly, if there's a plate piece that has dodge and parry and there's a tank class out there that says "nah, that's not for me," you've got a problem.

I don't know what it's like for the other tanks. Given that Blood DKs have hardly changed, I assume the priorities are the same as they were in Cata, and I haven't touched the Druid or Warrior tanks this expansion, while the Monk is only level 50 and just taking what agility gear he can get.

So there are two solutions, as I see it:

A: Get rid of tank gear

This is not the solution I would favor, but it's doable. Plate tanks would simply use the same gear as plate dps - the same way that Guardians and Brewmasters essentially use the same gear as Leather Agility dps. They've already started making all tanking weapons have role-neutral stats, making them equally useful for Single-Minded Fury and Dual-wield Frost. However, if we went this way, I'd propose that Dodge and Parry be rolled into Haste and Crit, respectively. There's a certain flavor to it (you're fast, so you can dodge, or you're good at placing your weapon just right, so you can parry better) and it would truly unify the gear types. Plus, you could either nerf or get rid of Vengeance entirely, as tanks would now be scaling just as well in their offensive stats as dps. (And as I've said before, Vengeance has some inherent problems, like the way it makes tank swaps a nightmare.)

That said, this would raise some issues as well, such as causing even more loot drama. One could, of course, adjust drop rates or some such thing to allow what would now be the most popular type of gear among different specs (with 8 different specs that could use Strength Plate, compared to, for example, the 2 specs that can use intellect mail) to cause less of a problem.

B: Make dps stats less attractive to tanks

Now, I differentiate Threat stats from DPS stats, despite these meaning the same thing, ultimately, by putting Hit and Expertise in the "threat" category, and Haste/Crit in the "dps" category. The reason is that I actually really like having to hit/expertise cap now. I hated how in Cataclysm, a quarter of my attacks just plain didn't hit the boss. Sure, I was still holding threat and all, but it's not exactly a great feeling to see so many abilities just go to waste. But haste and crit, well, I just want to leave those to the dps. Let me get my dodge/parry (and wonderful, delicious mastery) for my survival.

Now, as far as I know, the haste issue is mainly a Paladin one (Brewmasters seem to like it a lot for Energy regen, but they're going to get some on their gear anyway.) So one thing they could do is take Sanctity of Battle away from us. Sure, this probably devalues Mastery a bit, and maybe takes some of the fun out of trying to maintain maximum ShotR uptime, but there's another possibility:

Instead, have something called, oh, let's say "Conviction," which would be a passive bonus to Protection. Every time you dodge or parry an attack, the cooldown of your Crusader Strike or Hammer of the Righteous (and maybe include Judgment) is reduced by .5 seconds (or whatever value would be balanced.) Now, we've got a huge incentive to get dodge and parry, because it not only gives us the RNG-dependent lack of getting hit that one time, it also gives us the damage-smoothing of Shield of the Righteous more frequently. Essentially, Conviction, and thus Dodge/Parry becomes our form of Haste. And then we can dance around, arm in arm with our Retribution brothers, wearing our cool black tanking gear while they wear their cool bronze dps gear and everyone's happy and puppies.

The Blessing of Flesh?

We were first introduced to the idea of the "Curse of Flesh" during the gnome quests in Borean Tundra. The Curse became a bit of a theme throughout Wrath of the Lich King, as well as Cataclysm.

The story goes that the Curse of Flesh is something that seems to happen to people created by the Titans. The Earthen became the Dwarves and the Troggs, the Mechagnomes became normal Gnomes, the Vrykul became flesh-and-blood people, and eventually gave birth to a pygmy subspecies that are, you know, humanity. Even the Tol'vir, sealed away in Uldum, were eventually transformed from beings of stone into flesh and blood cat-centaurs with very little personality.

Even members of the Scourge talk about the Curse of Flesh, and propose that they are able to remove the curse (by, you know, killing you and raising your corpse,) though this is likely just propaganda.

One version of the story that we are told is that the Curse was created by the Old Gods to facilitate the corruption of the Titans' creations. The Old Gods are pretty fleshy, after all, and the Titans' creations are basically very sophisticated machines. It stands to a degree of reason that the Old Gods would have an easier time corrupting that which is more like them.

But does the evidence support it?

Ulduar was ruled over by Titanic watchers, all made of stone and metal, but they got corrupted all the same (admittedly, the cure for most of them was pretty easy - we just beat them up a bit.) Eastern Northrend is swarming with Iron Dwarves, who are totally willing to do Loke and Yogg-Saron's will. The Mechagnomes as well are at least willing to work for the Iron Dwarves, though that might just be because they're programmed to do what they're told.

Flash forward to Cataclysm: The Tol'vir are fleshy, but they're good guys. However, the rebel tribe among them, the Neferset, get a djinn (which in Warcraft is a type of Air Elemental loyal to Al-Akir) to "de-curse them," making them stronger and better able to serve in Deathwing's plot to blow everything up, itself a goal of the Old Gods. (Though in all honesty, I wouldn't mind finding out that Deathwing actually went too far, even for the Old Gods' purposes. He wanted to trigger the Re-Origination device, which was presumably designed to kill the Old Gods... there's probably enough here for a full article.)

Anyway, here's another case of the de-cursed people being the bad guys, and the cursed ones retaining their minds.

So what if the Curse of Flesh is actually not the creation of the Old Gods at all? Remember that when we defeat Algalon, he's shocked by the will and power and ingenuity of the mortal races on Azeroth. He's destroyed countless worlds, but he's never seen anything like this. Even with all the problems Azeroth has, he's willing to let us live and solve our own problems.

So what if the Curse of Flesh is an intentional part of the Titan design? It could be a kind of randomizer. The Titans create world after world after world, and surely they must find that they begin to repeat themselves. If these worlds serve any purpose other than to just exist and look cool, might the Titans be looking for the perfect balance to come up with a world that could stand against the forces of chaos? Perhaps by introducing a little bit of entropy - in the form of the Curse of Flesh - they can allow stronger beings to emerge from the worlds than they could have designed.

We've now defeated two Old Gods, beaten back the Burning Legion on multiple occasions, defeated the Scourge, taken down Deathwing, and now we are in a struggle that could finally unify the races of Azeroth into a united front against the darkness. Azeroth, despite all the hardship and pain and utter chaos, might be the Titans' greatest success, all thanks to the Curse of Flesh.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mogu'shan Vaults LFR: Act Two...ish

Well, after sitting in the queue first 15 minutes, then 20, and then another 40, I got a 2/6 (which really means 2/3) bosses down invitation to do MSV each time and rejected them all. Finally, after another attempt later in the evening, I got in to a 1/6 boss down group. Sadly, that meant no chance at the cool shield off of Spirit Kings, but I did get to see both Elegon and Will of the Emperor, which are both very cool fights.

I also got a second Sigil of Power and the tanking chestpiece off of Will of the Emperor.

Cho continues to travel with you in the second half, commenting on the various things you find there. Within the Vaults there is some very definite Titan technology, including Elegon, who is an Astral construct akin to Algalon, but in the form of a Cloud Serpent rather than a Vrykul Rogue.

Elegon: Elegon is a fight that will take you one or two attempts to get the hang of, but once you do it's very cool. The construct sits in the middle, and is the kind of stationary boss that will freak out if you don't have a tank on him. One tank takes him while the other is there to pick up adds (finally! An LFR boss who has the tanks do different things!)

Anyway, he's floating above a big circular hole in the ground. He projects a platform over said hole, and while standing on it, you receive a 20% bonus to both healing and damage, not to mention getting an awesome astral form like Algalon. He spawns adds that explode when they die, so my understanding (and if I make errors here, forgive me. I gave a quick look at the dungeon journal and picked up what I could from what I saw and the surprisingly helpful LFR raid told me) is that you keep them close to the raid for splash damage and then pull them out when they're low to have them explode elsewhere.

The big raid-killer here is when he summons six orbs around himself. At this stage he will no longer yank people back if the tank is not there. Killing the orbs damages him (I think) and delays the mechanic that kills everyone if they're not light on their feet. When the orbs reach the outside of the projected platform, the platform will shut down, dropping anyone still on it into the abyss. This will happen eventually, as he keeps summoning orbs until it does (I think) but you can get in a lot of extra damage if you can delay this. Anyway, if (I think) one of the orbs hits the outer edge, the platform powers down and the six Power Conduits the orbs are linked to will go up, making walls segmenting the outer room. You'll have to dps down the Conduits while lots of little adds get spawned on random raid members. These guys are what the tanks deal with until the platform gets back. Anyway, then it's rinse and repeat.

A couple quick trash pulls later and you'll come to the room with the Will of the Emperor. Here, the Mogu are using that Titan tech to mass produce soldiers (Halls of Stone, anyone?) You now have to fight said rapidly manufactured soldiers.

Will of the Emperor: Now, most of these guys do not get tanked, and will fixate on targets. They also have varying levels of CC-vulnerability, with some who can be outright frozen, stunned, and all of that, up to some who can barely be controlled at all.

The two actual Boss-type enemies do need to be tanked, and tanking them works in a very interesting way. (I should note here that I did it terribly, and actually had to be battle rezed at one point.) The two bosses (whose names are very similar, but I can't quite recall them) are held at either side of the arena. They will occasionally do "Deadly Combination" where they will do some brutal swings with their weapons, causing a big chunk of damage and making the tank more vulnerable. The thing is, they telegraph their moves, and while tanks cannot move away from them entirely (due to a debuff they give the tanks,) the attacks can be avoided if you know which way to go. I've promised myself I will do better at this next time, as I only avoided about two out of five... ish. Anyway, if a tank successfully avoids these attacks five times in a row (which I did not,) they get Opportunistic Strike, which is a special-action button that allows them to strike the boss for 500k damage. With practice, I'm sure tanks are going to be topping recount on this one.

Anyway, the raid is quite cool, and with my settings turned all the way down (including resolution) I can actually get through it without a huge degree of lag.

Lorewise, I love that Cho comes with us to narrate the place, though I wish we'd gotten more of a definite reveal on the Mogu-Titan connection. Now, granted, the existence of Titan stuff in the possession of the Mogu itself may be considered a twist to those who haven't been paying much attention. What I'd like set down in stone is whether the Mogu are a Titanic race, or Titanic constructs akin to Thorim and Hodir. Another, more outlandish theory that's been put forth is that the Mogu literally are Titans, though I think this would be kind of a let-down. Somehow I feel that an actual Titan being anything less than a dungeon boss (or even a raid boss) in terms of power would be pretty underwhelming. From Cho's perspective, the Mogu are simply using pilfered Titan technology to meet their goals, though I read this as more of an unwillingness to see that the Mogu serve some greater purpose than to just be cruel oppressors.


I also killed the Sha of Fear, though if I thought lag was bad inside an instance with 25 people, being outside with 40 (and a bunch of Hordies we beat to the punch) is just insane. Still, I managed to pick up some adds and tank them acceptably, moving out of bad aoe, and got about 1/2 FPS (that's not one or two, it's half, as in a frame every two seconds or so.) We got him down, and while I did not get the White Tiger Legguards I was hoping for (one of my guildies got the Burning Scroll pants, which is the Mage tier 14 set - and this is not LFR level, but normal-mode,) everyone who beats him can loot a claw off the boss and turn it in to Ban Bearheart (don't all Pandaren have bear hearts, by definition?) for some nice 476 (crafted epic/LFR level) boots.

I'd tell you about that fight, but jeez, I don't even know. He mind-controls people who have to be dps'd to return to sanity, and there's bad stuff on the ground and like a million adds. It's an utter lag fest, but if you can get in the raid group, it's a chance at some very nice loot indeed, not to mention one of the requirements for the "Tranquil Master" title (Just need Sha of Fear, which will probably not be for a few weeks.)


I finally got the Puzzlebox of Yogg-Saron! It's a silly vanity item gotten via Archaeology, and one that doesn't do any appearance-changing or anything, so a lot of people might find it particularly repugnant, but I've been looking for it since Archaeology was introduced. Clicking on it will cause you to, a few seconds later, get a creepy whisper from presumably some part of Yogg-Saron's will, with a lot of prophetic insanity. Of note: It mention a Black Goat with Seven Eyes, which I have heard refers to Y'shaarj, whose "corpse," for lack of a better word, makes up the Sha.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Vol'jin: Is the Horde ready for a non-Orc Warchief?

5.1 is going to seriously bring the Lore. For now, Pandaria has been largely devoid of Alliance/Horde influence, with the exception of Jade Forest, Krasarang Wilds, and parts of Kun Lai. Even the parts in Krasarang are less part of the total Horde/Alliance forces and more independent expeditions spearheaded by non-flagship races of the factions. (I love that, for example, the Alliance and Horde shrines are guarded by Night Elves and Tauren, rather than the standard Humans and Orcs. Purple and Brown, rather than Blue and Red. Reminds me of how I really wish the main Horde force in Northrend had been the Forsaken.)

In 5.1, the main military forces will be landing (I believe on the shores of Krasarang) and a whole lot of stuff is going to go down. At the moment, we're only piecing things together from sound files and quest strings, but there are a couple big events that are at least potentially coming to the game. These are super spoileriffic, and so I'll avoid talking about the specifics save one, which relates to a question that has been on everyone's minds once Blizzard confirmed that yes, Garrosh's tenure as Warchief ain't going to last long (I also think that any previous ideas of him being forcibly retired but not killed are unlikely, given the depravity to which he is going to sink.) Namely: who gets to be Warchief when Garrosh gets taken down?

Now, there are a few possibilities:

Thrall: Thrall was the embodiment of the Horde's redemption, putting the days of demonic bloodlust behind them, and even reaching out to the non-Horde races to aid in the Third War and several other major world conflicts. Things were not by any means perfect under Thrall, and pockets of Alliance/Horde conflict certainly existed even then (the Forsaken war on humanity was pretty brutal even before they started employing Val'kyr to raise and brainwash the dead.) But Thrall is fairly beloved by all, and especially after the Cataclysm, he's respected by members of the Alliance as well. Thrall re-taking the seat of Warchief would be a "return to normalcy." The one issue is that Thrall proved that while he is a likable and honorable leader, his tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt has been disastrous. He trusted Sylvanas to both control her people and to use her deadly arsenal for defense. He trusted Garrosh to uphold his legacy of establishing the new, more thoughtful and diplomatic Horde, and that the younger Hellscream would flourish once he had a chance to prove himself. One of these led to the Wrathgate, the other led to the Horde's downward spiral into fascism. And that's not exaggeration: Garrosh runs a Horde where military status is equal to political status, and where dissent is crushed by force and intimidation.

Varok Saurfang: The most badass Orc alive, Saurfang is far older than Thrall and Garrosh. He's certainly a popular character, too. Saurfang remembers the early days of the Horde, and committed atrocities while under the influence of the blood of Mannoroth. Having lived through that, and the shock of guilt as the bloodlust wore off in the Alliance's internment camps, Saurfang has a great deal of perspective on what it means to be Horde. We also know that he promised to be there to take Garrosh down if he ever began steering the Horde in the direction of the Old Ways. Saurfang? That time is now. That said, there are two things that might limit his ability to lead: One is that he is quite old at this point. The other is that Northrend took a lot out of him. Saurfang's son, Draenosh, was memorably killed by Arthas at the Wrathgate (before Putress' betrayal.) The elder Saurfang saw his own son, with whom he had been reunited only recently, turned into a Death Knight of the Scourge, and then killed a second time by... well, us. If that doesn't take a lot out of a man, I don't know what does.

Vol'jin: Ah, and here we come to the radical, yet potentially awesome new Warchief. Vol'jin, as you should probably know, is a Troll, rather than an Orc. He became the leader of the Darkspear tribe when  a Naga sea witch murdered his father, Sen'jin. He has been a loyal friend and ally of Thrall's from before they even reached Kalimdor, and was instrumental in the foundation of the Horde as we know it today. While there had been precedent for Trolls within the Horde before (most notably the Amani, who were ruled by Zul'jin, who the totally unrelated Darkspear player characters invoke in one of their /charge emotes, despite the fact that, at least for a time, Horde players could slaughter the guy on a regular basis,) nearly all the Trolls in the modern Horde are Darkspear.

Outside of the lore, we also know that Vol'jin is getting an updated model in 5.1, not to mention that the next tie-in novel is going to center on him.

Perhaps one of the most endearing aspects of Vol'jin as a potential leader is that, like Cairne, he saw through Garrosh's bullshit from the get-go. Unlike Cairne, however, Vol'jin never challenged Garrosh for the seat of Warchief.

(Sidenote, clearing up the story of how Cairne got killed: When Garrosh was named Warchief by Thrall, Cairne was none too happy. After getting a look at the policies Hellscream was going to put into place, Cairne challenged him to a traditional fight for the position of Warchief. While Thrall and Orgrim had had a non-lethal version of this fight, and Garrosh had actually challenged Thrall for the position in the lead-up to Wrath of the Lich King, Cairne demanded to do it the old-fashioned way, with a fight to the death - a pretty rash move by Cairne, which, given his personality, was probably a bluff to get Garrosh to see just how much he was pissing people off. Garrosh accepted, however, and the two prepared to fight. However, good old Magatha Grimtotem, who used to live on Elder Rise, but is now found as part of a quest chain in Thousand Needles, had Garrosh's blades poisoned, so that after getting only a scratch, Cairne was doomed to die. Garrosh was willing to kill Cairne through honorable combat, but Magatha's meddling robbed him of a chance to prove his strength, and of course didn't do much for Tauren-Orc relations. I imagine this is the main reason why Garrosh is willing to let the Tauren into Orgrimmar proper, despite the fact that Cairne was just as opposed to him as Vol'jin is.)

New troll players post-Cataclysm get their own Kiddie Pool area at the Echo Isles, where they learn that Vol'jin and Garrosh had a heated exchange and actually threatened to kill each other. The result is that Trolls are forced into the ghetto that the Valley of Spirits has become (though frankly, I think it's one of the coolest parts of Orgrimmar these days) and Vol'jin is in self-imposed exile on the Echo Isles (which admittedly is like a five minute drive from Orgrimmar.)

Anyway, coming back to 5.1: Apparently part of the Horde quest chain is that the Kor'kron (who are looking more and more like the SS) are hunting down Vol'jin. The troll leader is doing... something that they perceive as a betrayal of the Horde, but given who we're dealing with, is probably just Vol'jin trying to do something sane.

If anyone's well-positioned to lead a resistance against Garrosh, it's Vol'jin. We might love Thrall, but he can't escape the fact that this whole mess is partially his fault. Thrall would, certainly, cause a lot of divided loyalties among the Orcs, but the strength of Vol'jin as a leader is that he gets to finally say "You know what? The Horde is not just Orcs anymore. You brought us in to serve as your allies, but we aren't just going to be your lackeys. You want our strength? Then you have to start treating us with some respect."

I can't imagine that anyone (except the more assholish of Orcs) would raise any objection to that.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mogu'shan Vaults: Act One

I finally got a fresh Mogu'shan Vaults run on LFR today, and was able to experience the first half of the LFR version of the raid.

Overall, I love the Mogu aesthetic, and Vaults fits that quite well. It looks like a fairly linear raid so far (though it might open up after Gara'jal,) which is fine by me, especially in a PUG group. We also get Lorewalker Cho to follow us around, giving a little insight into the history of the place. Again, something I'm totally fine with. I always wish we'd gotten a little more lore on some of the various raid bosses in previous raids.

The first boss in there is the Stone Guard, which is a council-type fight with three of four potential stone quilen enemies with a shared health pool. The two major mechanics of the fight are petrification and overload. When any of the Quilen are near another, they gain energy. Upon hitting 100% energy, they do overload, which causes a bunch of raid damage. The benefit, however, is that it interrupts Petrification, which one Quilen will be casting at any given time. If they succeed in casting it, it will wipe the raid. On normal, I'm given to understand that you have to juggle the bosses, making sure they don't all overload at once, but that the Petrification-enabled one does. On LFR, the strategy appears to be to zerg it, tanking them all together and eating the damage (I bet this is part of the reason healers always seem to be in high demand for LFR.)

I tend to enjoy these types of fights. I loved Four Horsemen in Wrath's Naxxramas (not remotely the type to have done Naxx 40 back in the day) and Omnitron Council was probably my favorite fight in Blackwing Descent. I look forward to doing this on normal.

Oh, and I got the belt off these guys, so I like them more.

Next up is Feng the Accursed, which is one of those fights where I wasn't sure if I was doing things wrong or if the dps were just being thoughtless. We did beat him on the second go.

This is a deceptively complicated fight. There appears to be a tank-swap mechanic on each phase (which made me feel very squishy, though it might have been because the healers were distracted by dps dropping crap everywhere. Also I am just barely geared for the place.) There are also two essence crystals that give very different sort of abilities. One is Nullification Barrier, which lets you channel a little zone that prevents AoE damage. The cooldown is timed to be used with all of his AoE attacks, so this proved quite useful, at least for the people who were willing to get inside. The other is Shroud of Replication, which is either bugged or I was using it wrong. It allows you to duplicate one of his attacks to use against him, but for whatever reason, it always seemed to get the wrong attack. Perhaps you have to use it preemptively, like Dark Simulacrum. I don't know.

Anyway, the rest of the fight is a big "don't stand in the fire," "stack up," "move away if you have the debuff" kind of ordeal that changes as he grabs different weapons.

This was of course one of those fights where I probably will enjoy it when I don't have 25-man lag.

Note to Blizzard if by some odd chance they read this: If you guys want to make LFR the new way for casuals to progress, you've got to do something about the lag and graphics horror. If it takes making every other player's spells invisible, I'll take it. It's just barely playable, but I certainly can't be at my best with the amount of lag I get in these many-person instances. Love the new loot system (lots more goodwill between puggers that way) but dear god, let me turn my graphics back to Naxxramas-level or something.

Ok, moving on. We next get the Zandalari segment of the dungeon. (Actually, I kind of wish ICC had had a similar Scarlet Onslaught interlude.) Gara'jal is a relatively simple fight from a tank perspective, but a fun one. Essentially, he's going to be summoning dudes in to the spirit world to make life painful for you. At certain intervals, a five-man team of four dps and a healer will use totems to go in there and kill the spirits. For tanks, he'll eventually banish his current target, and the tank will have to kill a "Severer of Souls" to be released from the spirit world and not get insta-killed after 30 seconds or so. It's not too hard to dps him down. I love this because I was always annoyed that I didn't get to go inside Frostmourne during the Lich King fight (which I've only ever tanked.)

With Gara'jal the Spirit Binder dead, act one is complete.

One thing I really appreciate is that at least for this first tier, there's a clear progression between the raids. Tier 11 had the right number of bosses, but it was never clear if we were supposed to do BWD or BoT, and going a week without raiding one of those would make us a bit rusty on the fights (our guild does one raiding night a week.) In tier 14, the obvious first step is Mogu'shan Vaults, then Heart of Fear, then Terrace of Eternal Spring. Sure, one could argue that it's more like three mini-raid tiers, but assuming they keep up with the raids as the expansion goes on, I'm totally fine with that.

Ooh! Ooh! And I got the first little token for my Legendary quest! It's one of 20, but progress is progress.

The Golden Gate: Mixed Feelings on Mists' Reputations

Upon hitting level 90, you will find that a veritable christmas tree of quests lights up. At 90, the major reputations are unlocked, and you are encouraged to get to work on them.

Reputations are increased through daily quests almost exclusively (apart from the Lorewalkers,) so if you want access to the reputation rewards, you've got to get to work on those reps.

All Valor gear is now Rep gear, so in order to spend those Valor points, you must first attain certain reputation levels with various factions. For instance, I am one day away from hitting revered with the Klaxxi on my main, and thus opening up the Valor pants (though I will also need to get some more valor points, as I spent some on a cloak already.)

The point is: if you want access to Valor gear,  you will need to attain certain reputation levels out in the world.

The Goal:

They want us getting out of the cities and doing stuff out in the world that is meaningful to our progression. This is a noble goal, and I do think that overall Pandaria seems like more of a living, breathing world than previous areas have been (though places like Icecrown I can forgive, as there's nothing living or breathing about it.)

The Problems:

If one is to accept that dailies should be the gateway to gearing up (other than through boss drops, which is of course what Blizzard has always thought should be the main way in which to gear up, despite the dangers of RNG,) then I have one major gripe: In order to even begin working on Shado-Pan or August Celestial reputation, you must first get all the way to Revered with Golden Lotus. There is no choice here, and so you not only create a burdensome barrier, you also bottleneck everyone in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, killing the same twelve mogu on the Golden Stair every day.

The Golden Lotus is also a bit frustrating because at each reputation level, you have more quests to do. By the time you hit honored, you go through three quest hubs to finish your dailies, which accounts for probably an hour of work every day. While more dailies means more reputation gains per day, thus making the grind from neutral to friendly and friendly to honored and honored to revered balanced out, you eventually wind up spending a huge amount of time on those dailies.

Currently, I feel disinclined to even worry about Shado-Pan or August Celestials because I'm already burned out on dailies (mind you, I like questing. My Death Knight, Oterro, is halfway through 89 at the moment, which will make my third level 90 toon. But dailies are, by their nature, repetitive on a daily basis.) Had I been able to start off with some kind of rotation, or focusing only on the factions that had gear I needed most, there might not have been such a problem.

While the Rogue is level 90, I dare not start the daily grind on him. It is too recent in memory and he's on a very high population server (in retrospect, transferring the Horde toons to an alphabetically early server was a terrible idea.) Perhaps when they implement the reputation boost for alts I'll be willing to wade in there again, but even still, that means at least a week's worth of dailies just to open up Shado-Pan and August Celestials. As someone who fully intends to have every class get to level 90 (and possibly duplicates for certain classes,) I'm not sure I'm going to be able to handle doing this grind on every single one of those characters.

Possible Solutions:

One of the new features in Mists that I love, despite the fact that they fit in a weird place in terms of character progression, is Scenarios. The quick and dirty version of the dungeon that works (and is most fun) with just three dps, Scenarios are actually one of the most original and coolest things they've brought to the game.

In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing more dungeons and raids that were more objective-based, and less "clear the trash to the next boss" kind of affairs.

Anyway, I'd love to see them implement some faction-based Scenarios. Now, I realize that this goes against the goal of getting people out into the world, but I think there needs to be an alternative to daily quests for gaining reputation.

Another, possibly radical solution would be to take the "alt boost" that they're planning for a future patch (hopefully 5.1) and run with it. Instead of just hitting revered on one character and then everyone gains rep at twice the rate, make it cumulative. If one toon hits revered, you'll get a 2x multiplier. If a second toon hits revered, make it a 3x multiplier. Three toons? 4x. I realize that eventually, if you're an altoholic like me, you'll be getting exalted in a day - or at least very quickly (at first I was going to suggest doing it exponentially, doubling the bonus for each toon, but then it occurred to me that on toon  eight or so, you'd be hitting exalted after a single, 150 reputation quest.)

Perhaps the less radical solution would be to finally make reputations account-wide. I realize they don't really want to do this for immersion purposes - it would be weird to arrive in Dread Wastes to find that the Klaxxi already had the red carpet out and were offering you champagne and caviar (I assume this is what happens when you're exalted with a faction,) but there are plenty of ways for a character to have to work hard on getting an alt up (leveling, obviously, as well as professions and JP/VP, not to mention getting the right gear drops.) One would also have to make things like the Scryers/Aldor or Oracles/Frenzyheart exceptions, but it would probably make people feel better about playing their alts (and Blizzard does want us playing alts, right?)

Reflecting on Daily Quests:

The daily quest was introduced in Burning Crusade. One could do a (rather long) quest chain in Blade's Edge Mountains to start one's grind with O'grila, or one could do dailies with the Sha'tari Skyguard in order to attain a Nether Ray mount. This was further expanded with the Netherwing and eventually the Shattered Sun Offensive. While the rewards for the latter were quite nice (I remember the great Paladin tanking shield, back when we still needed spellpower on our gear, was a goal of mine,) another major motivator was gold. Back then, gold came from far fewer avenues, and daily quests were the only really reliable way to increase your net worth.

These were the days when the 5k gold price tag on epic flight was something you'd have to work for a long time to attain.

Anyway, the major daily hubs of the past two expansions, namely Argent Tournament and Molten Front (ok, and Tol Barad, but I never really pursued that one all that voraciously) had their own gating mechanisms, and the Golden Lotus feels more like their descendant than the BC grinds. In a way, the daily grind has become more sophisticated, but I do think it's best left as an optional thing. I was perfectly willing to do both on Jarsus (and I'm revered with Golden Lotus on him as well,) but other than getting just far enough to get the blacksmithing patterns for Ardten in Molten Front, I never pursued those dailies very much with the other characters.

And One Last Note on Reputations:

The way I see it, Reputations should be influenced by helping out the faction in any number of ways. What you do in the daily quests certainly helps, but I think that in general, any faction should have multiple avenues to advancement. WoW is a huge, enormous, gigantic game, with a very diverse playerbase with just as many diverse tastes (I for one, love Hour of Twilight-difficulty heroics, Wrath-difficulty 10-man raids, and leveling up alts. Oh, and engineering!) and I think that if reputations are going to be so core to the game, they should let people contribute how they wish.

Also, part of the goal of getting rid of head enchants and making shoulder enchants all scribe-produced was to make sure there were no "required" reputations. By making VP gear tied to reputations, haven't they just made them all "required?"

For all this griping, I should point out that I do really like the expansion. The farming mechanic with the Tillers is both fun and useful (and gives you something easier and less time-consuming than old-style farming to get the mats you need) and I love the work they've done in exposing us to the lore of the world. I can't wait to see this level of detail when we get to Argus (I can only assume we're eventually going to go to Argus, and I can tell you Oterro's going to be having one hell of a homecoming,) or any of the other environments we'll be exploring in future expansions.

We whine and gripe because we love, Blizzard.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tank Queues for LFR! (Ok, that's not really what I'm going to write about.)

I got Jarsus geared up for LFR yesterday, specifically the first half of LFR Mogu'shan Vaults. It's a little odd to step into a raid with some green gear left, but I was given to understand that LFR is relatively easy (as it should be - if they made LFR too hard not a single boss would be downed given the number of quitters.)

The only group I got into was on Feng the Accursed, which never got off the ground, as there were about ten people in the raid at any given time (it didn't help that some idiot Paladin tank accidentally hit his auto-run key and caused a premature pull... and that paladin was totally not me...) Anyway, the queue times for a tank at least are over an hour long at this point, so I just don't know if I can run them (while I imagine that on weekdays this will become less of a problem, it still bodes ill for me. Let's hope we can get the guild raiding regularly again!)

Today I simultaneously got Dynamic Duo and Double Agent, leveling Darsino, the undead rogue, to 90. While Tarbhad, the tauren shaman, has been my Horde main since late BC (though he and Darsino jockeyed for that position a bit around patch 3.3,) the fact that they finally made Subtlety a viable PvE spec has me overjoyed. Finally, the abilities are cheap enough, the buffs last long enough, and we're just straight-up producing enough damage to work. It's glorious.

That said, I'm not sure it's the best soloing spec. The fact that Backstab does so much more damage than Hemorrhage and at less cost makes the zippy, stabby playstyle you'll get to love in dungeons go a bit slower while soloing. As far as I know, only Feral Druids share our plight, though I haven't ever spent a whole lot of time with a Cat spec. Only one rogue spec still "does it from behind," and while they've made Hemorrhage our Sinister Strike replacement, I wonder if it wouldn't be a better idea to just rename "Backstab" to "Stab," and let us use Hemorrhage as just a debuff we keep on the target every CP-cycle.

One thing that does make leveling a rogue less painful is the Glyph of Deadly Momentum, which lets your Slice and Dice (which is key to Subtlety's energy regen) and Recuperate refresh every time you kill a high-level-enough enemy. The buffs last long enough that if you don't have to go searching too far for your quest objectives, you can stay topped off and energized pretty constantly.

Subtlety is very cool, though I worry a bit about the reliance on Expose Weakness. Shadow Dance lets you keep applying it over the course of a fight, but combining that with Master of Subtlety (which you will truly need Vanish for if you want it during a long fight) makes the spec extremely bursty. I think they've taken it to a great place, but I wouldn't mind if Blizzard kept an eye on the spec to see if they could find a way to keep the flavor of the spec that gets to use openers a lot while allowing for a bit more sustained damage. That said, I'm regularly topping the meters, so I guess I shouldn't be complaining.

Ok, onto other subjects: Namely, 5.1.

The Darkmoon Faire! They haven't forgotten about it! Granted, there has only been one major patch between now and when they introduced Darkmoon Isle (which, I should note, is my favorite zone in the whole game. Seriously, a Tim Burton-esque carnival with bits of Alice in Wonderland (not the movie. God, what a disappointment! It should have been so good!) and a dash of Carnivale (the HBO show.)

Some of the pavilions that have been closed off will finally be open. There will be a carousel (that grants a modest XP buff) and a Master Pet Trainer, who fights with, and grants you an opportunity to attain, a Darkmoon Eye pet (which I NEED to get.)

There's also going to be some major, Major, MAJOR lore developments coming in the patch. They're so big that I don't think I should really even hint at them. Ok, here's the gist: the Garrosh is going to do something horrible, and Jaina is going to do something rash. One more hint: Blood Elves are actually going to get some new lore. Mind? Blown. (Please bring on the Worgen/Draenei lore! Seriously, Worgen didn't even get nearly anything in their own introductory expansion!)

Actually, if I may step into the editorial side of this blog, I was thinking: there's this huge conflict between the Alliance and the Horde, but it's mostly framed as Garrosh vs. Varian. We know Garrosh is going down at the end of the expansion, and while I doubt that there will be a lasting peace between the factions (because of game mechanics, if nothing else,) I imagine that the all-out furious war is going to die down a bit. However, there's another very big player in all of this: Sylvanas.

Sylvanas has arguably jumping off the deep end even more than Garrosh (though she was already pretty far out there to begin with.) I don't really know what she's going to be doing, but I imagine that in the power vacuum left behind by Garrosh, Sylvanas is going to take back what she has before the Wrath Gate, and then some. If nothing else, I want to see Abominations guarding the halls of the Undercity once again.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Flames of the Burning Legion

Remember the Black Temple? Once the Temple of Karabor, this center of Draenei worship was defiled by the demon-blood-enraged Orcs in the earliest days of the Horde. When the Legion conquered Outland, Magtheridon the Pit Lord took the Black Temple as his seat of power. Later, Illidan Stormrage, now a half-demon thanks to the effects of the Skull of Gul'dan, conquered the Black Temple with the aid of Lady Vashj and Kael'thas Sunstrider, claiming lordship over Outland.

And then we showed up.

The Black Temple was meant to be the ultimate raid of the Burning Crusade, but it famously came out far too early (while most people were still working on tier 5: Tempest Keep and Serpentshrine Cavern,) and then remained the pinnacle of raiding for a very long time, until finally Sunwell Plateau was released in patch 2.4.

It was a very good raid, actually. Today, you'll probably only pass through Shadowmoon Valley for one level before heading off to Northrend, but the Black Temple was the "big ominous base for the big bad" like Icecrown Citadel was in Wrath (I guess Grommash Hold is that now...) I highly recommend running some old-school raids there for both the cool atmosphere and one of the best looking sets of raid tier armor they've made (special mention for the Druid and Paladin sets, though I know the Warrior, Priest, Rogue, and... well, they're all pretty good looking.)

But Burning Crusade effectively ended in late 2008, and BT has not been significant as an instance since then.

Until now.

It appears that on the 5.1 PTR, there's a new Scenario that takes you to the Black Temple. Specifically, I believe this Scenario is Warlock-only.

We've been teased before about the possibility of green fire (if you haven't checked out Shadowmoon Valley, take a look. The place is DEFINED by Fel Fire, altering various warlock abilities like Incinerate, Immolate, Rain of Fire and Soul Fire to have this look (though honestly, I think that given the changes to abilities, only Destruction's going to really change that much.) They had said they'd want warlocks to go through a quest chain to get this (not sure why it couldn't just be a minor glyph, but if we're getting all this I'm totally on board.)

Anyway, it apparently involves that Council of Six Daggers we heard about earlier, and harnessing some seriously powerful mojo. At Illidan's house.

The thing that excites me about this is the way that Scenarios allow Blizzard to use older parts of the world. Without going through the difficulty of building an entire dungeon or some such thing, they can instead take some pre-established area and have specific, controlled things occur within.

Expand on this, Blizzard. I would love to A: see some of the old class-specific quests, like the Paladin Charger chain, reimplemented, or the Battle of Undercity brought back in all its glory and B: Get a lot more content in the old world. We've heard about important events happening in major cities, like Moira's takeover of Ironforge, and we haven't been able to see them in-game. This is a great way to do this without the hassles of phasing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pandaria Speculation Part Two

In part one, I talked a bit about various things that bore some speculation: mainly the nature of the Mists and the possible origins of the Mogu.

Now I'd like to talk about about the great cosmology. While each expansion has historically centered around a particular villain or new area, the overall story of the World of Warcraft has been evolving and developing over time. The existence of Wrathion in the Tavern in the Mists is, I think, one of the most tantalizing bits of lore-tease. Sure, we know that he's going to be the guy we're working with to craft our expansion-long Legendary weapons (which I have to say is a cool new take on the Legendary,) but his presence suggests some serious moving and shaking is going on. (Question: do Rogues who did the Fangs of the Father quest chain start with better rep with him? Shouldn't they?)

The Legion and the Water:

Something big is coming. Wrathion, despite claiming to stand by your faction when he gives you his spiel, agrees with most of the sane people in Azeroth in that the Alliance and the Horde need to stop fighting each other. However, it's not just because war is bad. There's something big coming, and it looks like it's coming with a whole load of green fire.

It's been four real-world years since we faced a serious threat from the Burning Legion, with Kil'Jaeden's attempt to enter Azeroth through the Sunwell. However, it's clear that while they were pushed out the door, they're still banging on it from the other side. One of the pivotal events in Wrath of the Lich King was the Wrathgate Incident, and the subsequent Battle of Undercity. If you only play Alliance, you may not have known exactly what was going on - it looked pretty much like Forsaken acting as Forsaken (though the Forsaken refugees in Orgrimmar during the quest where you talk to Thrall suggest otherwise - it's really too bad that these quests cannot be played anymore.) However, from the Horde side of things, you discover that Putress was working on behalf of Varimathras, and that this was all part of a coup to remove Sylvanas and Undercity's Horde presence.

Varimathras was a Dreadlord who had been beaten into submission during the three-way civil war in the Plaguelands between the Scourge, the Burning Legion, and the Forsaken. In exchange for his life, Varmathras offered to join Sylvanas. The Wrathgate was his sudden but inevitable betrayal. Not only did he kickstart the war between the Alliance and Horde (remember that through Vanilla and BC, the two factions were really in more of a Cold War, even joining up to fight off, say, the Qiraji or... the Burning Legion,) but he appeared to be attempting to summon something in Sylvanas' throne room. There is a "dark voice" who Varimathras refers to as his master. If it had been Kil'Jaeden, we'd probably just hear it as Kil'jaeden. So, I'm pretty sure we encountered at least the voice of Sargeras.

In the previous article, I suggested that Pandaria is special because it's a bad place - a contaminated environment filled with dead Old God essence, which is the Sha. However, there's another thing that appears to make it special: the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. Once the seat of the somehow Titan-affiliated Mogu, the Vale has powerful waters that require close protection. Even the overflow that drains down into Valley of the Four Winds is potent, allowing the Pandaren to grow ridiculously huge, nutritious crops.

The Well of Eternity is suggested to have been what drew the Legion and Sargeras to want to conquer Azeroth in the first place, but it was destroyed in the War of the Ancients. In the Third War, they turned their attention to the World Tree, which was planted on top of a new Well of Eternity created by Illidan. But the World Tree's essence was detonated, and while the power of it is still great, it's clearly lost some (otherwise the Night Elves would still be immortal.) Next, the Legion invades Quel'danas, attempting to use the Sunwell to get in - the Sunwell was originally created in a very similar manner to the second well underneath the World Tree, using vials of water from the original well saved by Illidan before the Sundering.

Notice a pattern?

The Burning Legion is obsessed with the magical waters in Azeroth. And now, thanks to the Cataclysm and the parting of the Mists, we've just uncovered the most potent source of magical water on the whole planet. And it's remained nearly untouched for ages.

Four Gods wait on the Windowsill:

With Y'shaarj, we now have four Old Gods named: C'thun, Yogg-Saron, N'zoth, and Y'shaarj. We have only heard N'zoth referred to (though some speculate that the Madness of Deathwing was really N'zoth taking over Neltharion's body once and for all to serve as his avatar.) Y'shaarj appears to be the one the Puzzle Box of Yogg-Saron referred to as the Black Goat with Seven Eyes (or whatever it's called.) Around Pandaria, we encouter the Shas of Doubt, Despair, Hatred, Anger, Violence (though this one might be a lesser Sha and aspect of Anger or Hatred,) and of course, Fear. If we count all of those, we get six.

What might be the seventh?

Ok, this is less speculation than musing.

Garrosh's Eventual Fall:

Because 5.1 (or whenever the main armies arrive) is not for a bit, we actually haven't been seeing a whole lot of Horde or Alliance forces in Pandaria. Apart from Jade Forest (which, after the initial battles, is just you and a tiny crack squad) and a bit in Kun Lai (involving the same squad members,) and the times you meet up with Anduin, everything else you interact with is native to the continent (ok, also Chen and Li Li.) So we haven't really seen much of what will eventually lead to Garrosh's fall.

Actually, there is also the interesting issue of what exactly we're going to be dealing with in subsequent patches. The major raids of 5.0 have us killing the Mantid Empress (seems to handle the Mantid as an issue,) the Sha of Fear (the last one we know of that is not killable through quests or in 5-mans) and going into Mogu'shan Vaults, giving us our Mogu-themed raid.

Now, I don't know that the resurrected Thunder King is down for the count after Vaults - after all, I don't think you even fight him there - but it does leave you to wonder what the raids will be between now and the Battle of Orgrimmar.

The Zandalari sure seem to have made their presence known, at least in Kun-Lai. One of the bosses in Mogu'shan Vaults even is a Zandalari troll. And what is with that island to the northwest of Townlong? Might we take the fight to the Zandalari and find out what drummed them up into this frenzy and turned them from being the peaceful scholars they once were? (And who we actually helped to take down the Gurubashi and Drakkari the first time?)

I don't know how many raid tiers or major patches we can expect with Mists. After all, 5.1 is not going to be a new raid tier (or even new dungeons,) but then again, one of the revolutionary concepts in Mists is that they're putting in a whole lot of effort to get us out into the world, rather than just queueing for instances in the cities.

True to the Title of the Blog...

Jarsus, the tankadin, is sitting at 90 with a decent compliment of heroic gear (still about four points shy of LFR, which opened up today,) and I am trying to run him through all the dailies to maximize rep gains (Golden Lotus is the only one that makes this feel like a burden. Tillers and Order of the Cloud Serpent feel very quick and easy, and while the Klaxxi does require a bit of time to get through them, at least it's only one phase. Golden Lotus gets longer and longer as you gain more rep. Granted, more quests means more rep per day, but I'd prefer fewer quests with greater rep rewards.)

However, I am also attempting to get my alts leveled up. At this point, Darsino, the undead rogue, is 89 and just about to go into Dread Wastes. Oterro the draenei death knight, is 87, and just about ready to head into Kun Lai. Ardten, the worgen warrior, just finished Jade Forest (which goes very quickly with rest experience) and is ready for Valley of the Four Winds at 86. Tarbhad, the tauren shaman, is just off the boat.

To level these guys up (and the others to follow - I WILL get the every class at 90 achievement,) I will need some kind of rotation. The goal: never do the same zone twice in a row, while maximizing rest experience to do it quickly.

So, the set-up requires me to get Oterro through Kun Lai and Ardten through Valley of the Four Winds. Then I will take Tarbhad through Jade Forest, and I'll have a toon at every level (several at 85.) From there, we can basically go from highest-level to lowest. Whoever's at 89 goes to 90, 88 to 89, 87 to 88, 86 to 87, 85 to 86.

The result in zones is Dread Wastes, Townlong, Kun Lai, Valley/Krasarang, Jade Forest, repeat. Never doing the same zone twice in a row.

Now, I'm not sure how strict I will hold to this. I expect that once my "central five" are at 90, I'll just be taking whoever I want through the whole continent (the warlock and the mage are prime contenders.)

Anyway, yes. I am insane.