Sunday, December 15, 2013

What is Draenor?

Admittedly, the title here might be a little misleading. Draenor was (well, in lore - probably not in real life) a real planet, with real people there. It witnessed the arrival of the Draenei, the rise of the Horde, the construction of the Dark Portal and the subsequent retreat of the shattered remnants of the Horde. The Alliance Expedition came in, and the shattering caused by Ner'zhul. It was transformed into Outland and saw everything that happened during the Burning Crusade expansion. The last real bit of lore to happen there was a gathering of the Earthen Ring in the lead-up to the Cataclysm.

But soon, we'll be trekking out to a very different Draenor. On the surface, it seems that we're stepping into the past - a Draenor that should have only existed in the memories of those who lived there. But it's different. It's a Draenor where the Orcs en masse did not drink the blood of Mannoroth, yet they were united nevertheless into an aggressive Horde bent on the conquest of both their world and of our modern Azeroth.

In theory, what we've got here is a standard alternate timeline. Garrosh, with the help of Bronze Dragon Kairoz, traveled back into the past and stopped his father from drinking the blood, instead introducing modern industry and technology to give them a military edge. Yet instead of changing our history, instead what appears to have happened was that an alternate universe opened up, parallel with our own.

Except it's not parallel. If it were, we should be coming to a Draenor that has been at war for 30 years, and the likes of Grommash and Durotan ought to be old, old men. Instead, it seems that at most a year or two have passed since Garrosh's changes to the timeline.

This new Draenor seems tied inextricably to our progression of time. It seems that both we and Garrosh have experienced the flow of time at the same rate, even as he's gone back into this past.

Seems a bit fishy, doesn't it?

When you first arrive on the Timeless Isle, you'll come to a small gathering of people - Lorewalker Cho, Anduin Wrynn (with his bodyguards,) Wrathion (with his bodyguards,) and Kairoz. There are actually two quests that send you to them. One, the standard one, prompts a little dialogue scene where Anduin and Kairoz discuss the interesting qualities of the Timeless Isle. However, if you're on the Legendary Chain, there's an additional discussion that begins between Kairoz and Wrathion. Wrathion's tendency toward shameless ambition is more evident there, but it prompts this tantalizing statement from Kairoz:

"What if it were possible to shape and mold time as you would a ball of clay? What possibilities await? What new worlds could we create?"

There's a lot that doesn't really make sense about this alternate Draenor. Why does it connect with the modern day? Why does it not change our history? Why does it not replace the existing Outland?

Because it's not really Draenor.

Kairoz created a facsimile of Garrosh's home world. He used the power he gained while studying the Timeless Isle to craft an entirely new world from scratch. And he populated that world with people who were based on these figures of the past, but are not truly them.

This alternate Draenor is real, and its people are real. But they've all only existed since the moment Kairoz created the world for Garrosh to travel there.

And with that, there are no paradoxes. This "alternate history" hasn't changed our for the very clear reason that it didn't even exist back then. The "red dark portal" does not need to be a time-travel portal in addition to its other duties, because the alternate Draenor truly is a modern entity.

Garrosh is satisfied. He has his army of Orcs and Orcs alone, ready to take revenge on the enemy who defeated him and the allies who betrayed him. He believes he has saved his people from demonic corruption. He has an entire world to himself.

But Garrosh is just a pawn in all of this. He's a point of inspiration and a catalyst for the true mastermind: Kairoz. Alternate Draenor is the first experiment in using the power of time to shape and create entirely new worlds, and if you don't care about the rampaging barbarian army you've unleashed, it counts as a resounding success.

Creating entire new worlds out of the fabric of time: there are infinite possibilities for what you could do with such incredible power. Take any force, any artifact from history, and merely imagine a world where it could still exist, and you have it. Did something go wrong in that world? Did something disrupt or corrupt that person or that object that you need? Simply rewrite history, change a few variables, and you have your readymade tool available to you.

Sounds impractical? Sounds convoluted?

Two words: Dragon Soul.

We've already done it. The Dragon Soul was shattered to a million pieces, and corrupted into the wretched Demon Soul by Deathwing. But through the manipulations of time, we were able to create a new version of it to use in the fight against the Aspect of Death.

A group of time-travelers at some point have, or will, figure out what Kairoz has been able to accomplish. Perhaps he is their instructor, or perhaps he has been manipulated by them. And all of the alternate, broken histories that they create, will be the crises that we heroes of Azeroth will be tasked with resolving in the Caverns of Time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Currency Gear Needs to Come Back

While there was a lot in 5.4 to be excited about - the removal of reputation requirements on the 5.0 and 5.1 gear, which, incidentally, was also downgraded to JP gear, as well as the huge slew of alt-friendly timeless armor pieces (and with cross-realm mailing, you can equip all your toons, regardless of which side!) - one thing that seriously worried be was the lack of new valor gear. At this point, the best stuff you can buy with valor points is Shado-Pan Assault gear, which has been around since 5.2.

Instead, the seeming intention is to have us use Valor Points to upgrade the iLevels of the gear we find dropping off of bosses.

I realize I've gone into this before, but I think it bears reiteration. The entire point of Valor points and its forebears was to help with bad luck in drops. You could run a raid many times over and just from sheer bad luck, never get new gear - or perhaps just never get those gloves you needed. With vendor-bought gear, you could end that streak.

What we've traded that system for is one that merely rewards being lucky with those drops. Sure, you might consider the ability to upgrade your, say, 522 gloves to 530 allows you to close the gap a little between what you have and the piece you want, but ultimately, upgrades just raise the numbers. Your newly 530 gloves are not a substitute for the 540 ones you want, because if you had gotten those 540 gloves, you'd upgrade them to 548. The only, only thing that valor upgrades as a game mechanic do is give people a reason to keep grinding valor.

Blizzard might want us all to raid more, and I think they've accomplished that to an extent if you consider LFR to satisfy that goal. What I miss, and I think a lot of people do, is the sense of progression you can make in alternate forms of content. The reason they started awarding valor points for doing daily quests was theoretically to allow people to just be hardcore questers (how many dailies you'd need for a full set, though, I don't even want to think about.)

Cataclysm gets a lot of flak (much of it deserved - I'll definitely say the raiding game is far better in Mists than it was in Cata) but one thing I think it got dead-on was the progression of Justice Points and Valor Points, and the gear one could get from them. Combining that with progressive dungeon tiers (admittedly, the 5.2 Zul'agains might have worked better if they had come in with Firelands - and the difficulty of heroics in Cata was definitely too high until 4.3,) you could feel like you were getting a serious sense of character progression even if you didn't want to deal with the hassles of raiding.

I worry, especially with the randomized nature of gem sockets, tertiary stats, and "war forged" iLevel boosts for gear in WoD, that Blizzard is determined to dismantle the system that they built up starting in Burning Crusade. Yes, getting a drop off a boss is exciting, but the game's a lot healthier when the routes to gear acquisition are diverse.

Give us raid drops, dungeon drops, crafted gear, Valor gear, and Rep gear, and anything else you can come up with.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What is the Ideal Difficulty Level for Heroic Dungeons?

We've seen heroic dungeons swing wide on the pendulum between easy and hard. In Burning Crusade, heroics were kind of like mini-raids. In Wrath, the necessity for crowd-control and the like mostly went away (which was good, because every class - even Rogues! - had been given AoE tools that they really wanted to use.) In Cataclysm, we saw heroics get beefed up to be far harder - with plenty of 1-shot mechanics and crowd-control and bosses where a single error could make the fight unwinnable unless you far out geared it (letting the Faceless Ones reach the eggs on Erudax, for example.) And then Mists swung the pendulum far in the other direction, making probably the easiest heroics ever.

So where should the difficulty be in heroics come WoD? I'd argue that they've never been just quite right, but the biggest problem is that there's a huge difference between what people want from them. Some want an intense, raid-like challenge that requires careful coordination and fast reflexes. Others want something they can breeze through quickly to get their VP.

Generally, the player base is better than they used to be. I actually think a large part of the perceived drop in difficulty is actually due to us all knowing our classes better. We also have great online resources to help us squeeze every last drop of juice from our gear and rotations. Likewise, our toolkits of abilities have gotten more diverse, so every player has a way to respond to most situations (Rogues used to just have to pick a target in an AoE pack, for example.) I would actually argue that a lot of Mists' era LFR fights are more difficult than many of the old-school raid fights from Vanilla and BC, but Blizzard can design around better-skilled players these days.

There is another factor that is crucial to remember: heroics need to be designed for the people who are just getting in to them. Many of the so-called hardcore complained about the Wrath of the Lich King heroics as being too easy because they remember blowing through them in ten minutes. But the thing is that that didn't really start happening until the latter days of the expansion, when most people (at least on their mains) could easily get a 4-piece set of tier 10 (the highest raid tier during the expansion.) When they were new, the heroics were certainly not as hard as BC ones, but you'd still wipe frequently (heroic Loken was brutal when you still needed gear off him.)

One of the reasons it is so important to bring in new dungeons over the course of an expansion is that as people run the current ones, they'll outgear them. While Mists dungeons were probably too easily tuned from the start, the effect has been compounded by the fact that nowadays, most of us have a decent set of 528, or at least 522 SPA gear, which allows us to utterly destroy everything in our paths with impunity.

There is, of course, also the problem of designing dungeons for pre-made guild groups using voice chat, and LFG groups that will use the in-game chat window at best. In general, the former will have a far easier time with just about any challenge than the latter.

So here's a fairly radical solution: do to dungeons what they've done with raids. Create a "Dungeon Finder" difficulty for heroics, which would be tuned for LFG groups. You would then be free to make more challenging versions with higher-level rewards, but this would only be accessible with a pre-made group (and given the new group finder that's coming - the non-automated group finder - you could push people toward that style of dungeon-run by offering the better rewards.

Ultimately, I think that as long as dungeons are seen as a stepping stone to raiding, they've got to remain easy enough to let new players get through without quitting out of frustration. While I do think it would be nice if the community was less wipe-averse these days (really? quitting after one wipe on Sha of Pride? Don't you want your Valor?) I don't know if the solution is just desensitization through ball-crushing difficulty. We saw how that worked out in Cataclysm, and it was not pretty (and while I hate to bring in the old subscription number game, as I think there are tons of factors that influence that, not the least of which is the worldwide economic downturn that may make some people think they can't afford what they see as a luxury expense, it was the early days of Cataclysm, with nothing but brutal content, that saw Wrath's constant ascendence in subscriptions turn around and start to drop.)

I wouldn't mind, actually, seeing a new "Mythic" dungeon difficulty to satisfy the people who miss the super hard Cataclysm or BC heroics, but I think that there needs to be a meaningful progression through 5-mans that is not solely for the hardest of the hardcore.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Questions Awaiting Answers for WoD

Warlords of Draenor was announced last month, and as tends to happen with a new expansion, we got a big flood of information. The folks at Blizzard have kept in touch with the community, largely clarifying things (like the new secondary stats, and the way that gem sockets and such will work.) But there are some questions that they haven't really touched on.

Final Boss:

This one's frustrating because someone (I want to say Kosak) said flat-out that Grommash was going to be the final boss, but someone else said that the boss would not be an Orc (hoping for the latter, personally.) There's been a lot of debate about whether that comment was just a joke (if it was, it was the most deadpan delivery I've ever heard,) but most notably, Blizzard has not weighed in at all after the fact.

The first three expansions were all built around ramping up to a final confrontation with the primary villain, though admittedly, Burning Crusade's true final raid was a bit of a twist - we didn't really know that we'd be fighting Kil'jaeden. Mists of Pandaria was a little odd in its structure. While they were up front about the fact that Garrosh would be the final boss, the expansion as a whole very gradually turned its focus away from the exotic locales of Pandaria and toward the Horde's Warchief. In a way, the real "main villain" of Mists was, collectively, the Sha and the remains of Y'shaarj, and in Garrosh, the Sha had found someone to wield their power effectively. There was only really one "Sha" raid, which was Terrace of Endless Spring, but the Sha's presence could be felt throughout the whole expansion (obviously the first wing of Siege of Orgrimmar was also heavily Sha-themed, even mirroring Terrace in several ways.)

So it is possible that the Iron Horde, with Grommash at its head, could be defeated in Blackrock Foundry, but nevertheless remain a constant presence, and also remain a threat that ties into whatever the final boss is.

Class Changes:

Beyond the level 100 talents and a few examples of the spell-upgrades we'll be getting from 91-100, we don't really know anything about how classes are going to change.

Every expansion has seen serious changes to how various classes work, whether it's something as simple as when they made Energy regenerate smoothly instead of in big chunks, or the huge overhaul of the Warlock we saw in Mists. While it does actually sound like they're pretty satisfied with how things are working out for the eleven classes these days, the fact that there is no new class and no new talent/ability system this time around actually gives them a pretty good opportunity to do some real house-cleaning.

The new goal seems to be a reduction in ability bloat, and while some of that can be achieved by making certain abilities passive (so excited about Assassination getting Slice and Dice passive,) we can also probably expect a few abilities to just get cut.

There's been very little talk about any philosophical shifts on various classes. Of particular interest to me is how they're going to make stats like Haste, Crit, and Multistrike useful to all five tanks.

Profession Details:

Obviously jewel crafting and enchanting are getting some changes, but we also don't know much about what they're going to do with the other professions. We saw Cooking and Blacksmithing get a lot of great catch-up mechanics in Mists, and I'm sure they'd like to expand those to the other professions, especially given the new level 90 boost.

We also don't know much about the resources we'll be getting. It's clear that things like Felblossom and Fel Iron wouldn't be in Draenor just yet, but might we see some thematic connection between the herbs and ore we get on Draenor and what we got in Outland?

Also, with the gear changes, what does that mean for all the armor-producing professions? As a personal note, is there any chance that Engineering could make weapons other than ranged?

Zone Levels:

Beyond knowing that we'll start briefly in Tanaan Jungle and then get shuffled off to Frostfire Peaks or Shadowmoon Valley*past, we don't really know where Talador, Nagrand*past, Gorgrond, or even possibly the rest of Tanaan Jungle fit within the leveling process.

Does the Alliance get to do anything in Frostfire Peaks, and does the Horde get to do anything in Shadowmoon Valley?

We know that Farahlon (known today as Netherstorm) will be added in a later patch, but do we have the slightest inkling of what is going on over there?

Other Enemies:

Every expansion has had a variety of enemies. Even though they are sometimes connected or allied, they tend to have different flavors to them. We know that the intro raid (what I assume will be the kind of Mogu'shan Vaults of the expansion) will be the Ogre-themed Highmaul, what other things might we have to deal with? Clearly, the Arrakoa pose a threat, and it's not unthinkable that we'd get a raid involving them (perhaps with their Old God connections?) The Ogres apparently once had a vast empire, so Highmaul might not be the last we see of them. It also stands to reason that the Burning Legion, while not central, will have a role to play (they must be pissed that Garrosh stopped the Orcs from drinking the blood.)

I would love to see the Infinite Dragonflight play a role, but Blizzard seems to be shying away from the trickier time-travel stuff (which I really hope is because they plan on doing something bigger with it later.)

Stat Changes:

With hit, expertise, dodge, and parry going away, what stats will we see replace them? Obviously this will be a short-term issue, as players who get to Draenor will only have the new array of stats to deal with, but for all the many items that still have those on them, what will we see? When they switched over from Wrath to Cataclysm, we saw Armor Penetration turn into crit, and we saw Defense turn into Dodge, if I recall correctly.

It might be cool if they brought in some of the new stats to replace the old ones, but that could be tricky, given that the new stats do wildly different things than the ones they'd be replacing. But given that there will be nothing like hit or expertise to replace them with, and nothing like dodge or parry to replace those with, it raises the question of what they'll do to adjust that gear.

Tons More:

There are many, many things that we have yet to find out about. I realize it's still quite early in the process to know a lot of these things. Really, we aren't guaranteed a big flood of information like we got at Blizzcon until the Beta test begins, and who knows when that will be? (I would love it if it came some time this month, though I realize that's pretty optimistic.)

In the meantime, we can only speculate.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Gladiator Stance - Bringing Back the Hybrid Spec?

During Blizzcon, they showed off many of the level 100 talents. I was glad to see that a lot of them were passive abilities or ones that would replace existing abilities - a way to combat button bloat while also adding some new functionality (Necrotic Plague is exciting for Frost DKs, for example, because it means we can take Pestilence off our bars.) I also liked that many of the talents change depending on the spec, rather than forcing wildly different specs to cram the same ability into their rotations.

But no talent surprised me more than Extreme Measures for Warriors, specifically in the Protection version.

Protection Warriors who take Extreme Measures have their Defensive Stance replaced with Gladiator Stance. What this does is crazy. It causes Shield Slam to consume the Shield Barrier effect as damage dealt to the enemy, with an increased critical strike chance based on your critical block chance, and it increases all damage by 20%. It does not, however, provide bonus threat or damage reduction.

This, boys and girls, is a talent that turns Protection into a DPS spec.

Now, here's the disclaimer: this could very easily never make it even into the alpha test. It might not actually be possible to get a fully-fledged DPS spec out of Protection with this change alone. After all, most of the passive abilities and cool downs that a tank tends to have are based around survival.

At the very least, as it stands, this talent would be a great way for Warriors to switch to when they wanted to do some soloing. A warrior tank would have plenty of great gear for his or her sword-and-board set, and given that tanks will also be using crit, haste, and mastery, it will all be appropriate to a damage-increasing strategy.

But, if they can fully tweak this ability, it does two major things:

One is that it makes Shields a lot more attractive. While many Warriors (myself most likely included) will probably stick to Fury or Arms, just the fact that a Strength Shield will now be available to multiple roles means that we could see a bigger market for them.

The other, far bigger implication is that Blizzard is apparently playing with the notion of allowing specs to change roles based on talent choices.

Admittedly, going from a tank role to a DPS role is perhaps not so terribly difficult. Tanks have, before Active Mitigation became such a big thing, always played kind of like a DPS spec that just focuses a bit more on AoE (to keep things off the healers.) Making a Prot Warrior go to DPS is largely just an issue of tuning their damage output, whereas making a Warlock into a tank requires giving them a pretty substantial revamp of their toolkit.

It is easiest to allow DPS to have their own style, because downtime and gaps in their toolkit can always be made up for. If a Death Knight does 450k in 5 seconds but only 50k for the next five, and a Rogue does 500k over ten seconds, ultimately that's pretty much ok, because on a boss fight, it evens out. On the other hand, a tank needs to have a little bit of snap-AoE threat to deal with incoming adds, they need a cool down to survive the boss' big blast attack, and they all need to start the pull with sufficient threat to keep the DPS from pulling aggro. Tanks and Healers need to be tuned far closer to one another than DPS, which is why a tanking or healing toolkit has to be so similar across the classes.

We don't know if Gladiator Stance will make it through (though I really hope it does, because a DPS Sword-and-Board spec sounds awesome,) but if it does succeed, we could actually be opening a door to far greater diversity among specs and roles. This is an ability to keep your eye on.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Future of Stats and How That Relates to Tanking

With the exception of bonus armor, tank stats are basically going away in the next expansion. While tanks previous had dodge and parry to stack up - stats that were undeniably for tanks, and were useful (if not optimal) for every tank (ok, technically parry wasn't useful for Druids) - in the future, we'll be using the exact same array of stats as DPS and Healers.

We'll also be getting new secondary stats: Amplify, Readiness and Multistrike.

There is something a bit problematic with this, though.

Tanks have always geared for survival. While threat was something that one had to work for before Cataclysm (and, to be fair, you still need to put in some effort,) your gearing strategy tended to be focused around surviving the damage taken by the big bad guys.

Tank gear that had avoidance stats, as well as the defunct Defense and Block ratings, was clearly useful in that regard. It used to be that haste or critical strike were utterly pointless for a tank - the best you'd get out of them was a little extra threat, and while that extra threat is by no means unwelcome, it would be ill-advised to focus too much on it.

There is a fundamental, underlying problem that causes this issue, and that is the relevance of throughput.

DPS and Healers grow more effective the greater their throughput is. A Rogue who hits harder with every strike is doing her job better. She is there to reduce the enemy's health as fast as possible, and thus, extra Agility, and therefore attack power, will always make her more effective at her job. A healing Druid, likewise, benefits greatly from having more powerful heals. If his regrowth ticks for twice as much as it did before, that means that he can be more efficient, using fewer heals to keep people alive and also producing greater heals to rescue players from high-damage situations.

Admittedly, a healer's job, much like a tank's is a bit of a binary situation - pass or fail. But a healer can do his or her job more effectively with greater throughput.

In the case of tanks, however, throughput is not really relevant. In an era when tanks are unlikely to lose threat on an enemy once they have them, the need to constantly push their damage-per-second higher diminishes. Sure, it doesn't hurt to have a tank do more damage, but this does not aid them in their primary role.

And that's why stats like Crit and Multistrike are in danger of being junk stats for tanks.

With changes to the Paladin passive skills, Paladin tanks began to benefit from haste - using the reduced cool downs on their main rotational abilities to maximize uptime on Shield of the Righteous. Death Knights benefit from haste as well, as more haste means more Death Strikes. But Warriors are left in the cold, basically only getting to auto-attack more frequently.

Likewise, crit grants essentially no benefit to DK and Paladin tanks.

So how are we going to navigate the brave new world where there are not typically tank stats on gear?

My best solution I can come up with is to tie survival to throughput. Active Mitigation provides a context for this that makes sense. In the case of Druids, for example, one of their passives allows their Maul ability to create a damage shield proportional to the damage done by the attack. Effectively, this means that the stronger that Maul is - and if it crits, it's twice as strong - the greater survival benefit of the tank.

I realize this isn't a perfect solution. Subtractive damage mitigation, like the way that Block originally worked, has always been problematic. It tends to be too powerful against lightly-hitting enemies and not powerful enough against hard-hitting bosses.

But I would like to see the damage a tank does tie into his or her survival. Otherwise, many of the existing stats will not merely be sub-optimal, but actually useless, and that flies in the face of the new gearing philosophy.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ghostcrawler to Leave Blizzard

Greg Street, aka Ghostcrawler, Lead Systems Designer for World of Warcraft, has recently announced that he will be leaving Blizzard.

For those of you who are unclear on just what a Lead Systems Designer does, Ghostcrawler was basically in charge of how the game worked. Class mechanics, gearing, all of the ways that reputations and currencies interacted. It may be easier to define his role in the game by what it wasn't. He didn't design the bosses, and he didn't produce the art or write the lore. Pretty much everything else fell within his jurisdiction.

In addition to playing this incredibly demanding role (and also becoming a lightning rod for just about every disgruntled player,) Ghostcrawler had an unprecedented level of back-and-forth communication with the players. More than probably any designer, GC talked to the people. He responded to forum posts, he had an active twitter account full of quick answers, and he also wrote longer blog entries to really unveil the thinking and reasoning behind some of the design decisions that he and his team made.

The WoW community is not without its toxic elements, and sadly I think that a lot of legitimate criticism gets drowned out by doomsayers and the nostalgically deluded. While I won't say I agreed with absolutely everything that has happened under Ghostcrawler's leadership, the vast majority of his contribution to the game has been a positive one.

There was a time, for instance, when nearly one spec for every class was just unplayable, and the attitude Blizzard took was that you would simply have to deal with that and respec. GC took charge during the launch of Wrath of the Lich King, which was the first expansion where they took inter-spec balance seriously for a change. We've also seen every spec given enough attention to have its own identity, and to actually make some kind of logical sense (to give an example, there used to be no Arcane Blast. Arcane Mages would… spam Arcane Missiles? And that was it.)

We don't know for sure who will be replacing Ghostcrawler in this key role. But I think we will be extremely lucky if it is someone who is as innovative and as open with the community as that crazy old spectral crab.

Good luck, Doctor Street.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Medivh's Birthday Bash

Supposedly the data mined phase involving a Karazhan where some of the cobwebs had been cleaned away and some chairs had been set upright has now been renamed "Medivh's Birthday Bash."

This is one of those things where it's certainly possible that we've been reading far too much into what could be a totally inconsequential tweak.

Either way, this rename shows that, yes, Blizzard knows that data miners found it, and they're going to have a little fun with us.

It doesn't rule out the possibility of something happening at Karazhan, nor does it confirm it.

And of course, there's always the possibility that we're going to be throwing a birthday party for Medivh. Sure, he's dead, but that didn't stop him from guiding Jaina and Thrall during the Third War.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pros and Cons of the Timeless Isle

One of the big messages we got in the announcement of Warlords of Draenor was that they don't plan on having any daily quests whatsoever. (EDIT: Apparently that was exaggeration. There will be some dailies, just nothing on the level of Mists.) Instead, they intend for max-level outdoor content to be more of the Timeless Isle style, with lots of rare mobs and the occasional event that you can take part in.

While I certainly think the front end of Mists was loaded up with way, way too many dailies, I do wonder how they're going to avoid the pitfalls of the Timeless Isle's style of outdoor content.

So before I go into what I'm hoping for in the future, I'm going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages we've seen with the Timeless Isle.

PRO: Do as much or as little as you feel like.

While the Timeless Isle is not entirely perfect in this regard (you need your 50 Epoch Stones and your 50 Lesser Charms every week,) for the most part, the zone feels very freeing. You can kill animals around the Celestial Court if you want an easier time, or, as you get better geared or simply more confident, you can move eastward to the Tigers and the Frogs, and then eventually move on to the Yaungol up on the big bluffs that surround the island (I don't know if many people solo the stuff in the Ordon Sancutary - it's doable, but probably designed more for groups.)

One of the biggest problems with daily quests is that there's a very clear set amount of work to do. Once you've completed the quests for the day, doing any more would simply be a waste. Oddly, this also makes it feel as if you can't just stop in and have a shorter session, because if you don't complete every daily quest, the day is effectively wasted - you can't just catch up later on.

While Shaohao's 20 elites daily quest sort of undermines this benefit to the Timeless Isle style, for the most part, it's a zone that lets you set the pace for yourself.

PRO: Different areas for different strengths.

While Timeless Isle doesn't really have much of a daily structure to it, there's a clear distinction between the different parts of the zone that people of different skills or gear progression should be attempting. For example, my 543 iLevel Death Knight can pretty confidently slash his way through big groups of Yaungol basically anywhere except in the Ordon Sanctuary. Meanwhile, my 495 Monk is probably going to stick to just the ground-level stuff, and possibly just that first Yaungol area.

PRO: Rares and Hidden Secrets provide fun variety.

While a lot can be said about the various rare mobs that pop up, the thing I find much more interesting in the Timeless Isle are the various events. For example, there's a sunken ship not too far from the Gulp Frogs and the pirate ship with a living crew. Occasionally, the ghostly crew of this sunken ship will come under attacks, and you can help fend off the evil ghosts (getting "cursed" with the ability to breathe under water) until their captain shows up.

CON: Lack of clear reward structure.

Unfortunately, everything about your time on the Timeless Isle is subject to RNG. Whether you get your Lesser Charms, or your Epoch Stones, or which buffs you get from the shrines (Chi-Ji's is by far the most fun.) But that also extends to your gear. Getting your Timeless Plate Helm, burning a Burden of Eternity to make it a 535 piece, and then getting dodge and parry when what you wanted were haste and mastery can be a serious let-down, especially when you consider either the immense effort to farm up 50,000 Timeless Coins or the incredible luck to actually see a Burden drop.

Personally, I'd like them to eliminate all forms of randomized-stat gear, but given the way that both Battlefield Barrens and Timeless Isle have worked, I fear that that's the route they want to use going forward. I like being able to work toward a clear goal, and not just have to cross my fingers and hope that I'll get an array of stats that is halfway decent for me.

CON: The return of the true grind.

We talk about daily quest reputation grinds, but in truth, they're not grinds, exactly. Shaohao rep, though, is nothing if not a grind. You just have to kill Yaungol after Yaungol after Yaungol to get it. There is no real sense of milestones being reached or any interesting stops along the way (ok, to be fair, he has you summon the Archerius of Flame at Honored.) The grind is also far, far slower than what we've come to expect with our reputations throughout Mists, mainly because it consists solely of killing the same mobs over and over hundreds, if not thousands of times.

I recognize that they wanted this to take longer than, say, Kirin Tor Offensive, but if that's the case, they have even more of a responsibility to make in interesting along the way.

CON: More of a gold sink than a source.

This is probably intentional, actually. Without twenty daily quests to turn in every day, we aren't getting nearly as much gold as we were in the early part of Mists. But then, this might be the best way to deal with gold inflation, so oh well.


The Timeless Isle was far more interesting than Battlefield: Barrens, and that gives me a lot of hope. The Timeless Isle was the first time they really built an entire zone around this free-form adventuring, and as such, it can be expected to have a few kinks to work out.

So I have a few hopes for the future: Let's have more fun events, with greater complexity. If we're not going to have quests that involve doing specific, interesting things, then let's have events that stand in for that. Let's have more of a story to the place and more visual variety. Let's also have clearer rewards for our efforts. You can have gear to discover out in the world, but let's also have some vendors that can sell you pieces that you know will be good for you. Especially with reforging going away, it's important that we don't get rewarded for our long efforts with gear that winds up being terrible for us.

And finally:

If this doesn't work out as well as you want it to, don't just throw the whole thing out. Daily quests can work out well. I think we saw that with the Shieldwall/Dominance quests, and also with the Isle of Thunder quests. There is stuff to be salvaged here, and I don't know if eliminating the entire idea of a daily quest was quite called for.

I will be very excited to see how this idea evolves, though.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Moving The Story Forward

I don't know what the general reaction was when Chris Metzen began to talk about the "biggest badasses in Warcraft history" coming back (ahem, Lothar was more badass than all of them combined, but that's another argument,) but I had to stifle a groan. Partially, it was another big old splash of fuel on the fire of how Metzen is obsessed with the Orcs and the Horde, and has little interest in the rest of the wide-ranging Warcraft universe, following up an expansion that built up to us fighting a Horde that had reverted to its old-school ways with… fighting the old-school Horde.

But the bigger worry I had was that this didn't feel like it was moving the story forward.

There is a ton of interesting stuff going on in Azeroth, from the upheaval within the Horde, to the burgeoning power (and scariness) of the Forsaken, to the reformation of Dwarven society, to the bitter guerrilla war being fought to free Gilneas.

We seem to be getting a lot of messages from Blizzard that are meant to be reassuring - that the Iron Horde is not going to change our history, and that it will be a self-contained adventure within this alternate Draenor. But you know what? That's the opposite of reassuring to me.

Big changes are good for a game that is designed around a vibrant, living world. We want to see those changes reflected in the world and our experiences. I realize we can't have a Cataclysm-style revamp every expansion (in fact, I think it would probably be wiser to never do such a thing again,) but it adds weight to our actions when, for example, the bitterly won victory over the Scourge has nevertheless cost Stormwind a huge portion of its treasury, which inadvertently led to the (admittedly short-lived) resurgence of the Defias.

So when they say that the Iron Horde will not have much of an impact on our Azeroth, I worry that this undercuts the stakes of the entire expansion. With no new race or class added to the mix, I would say they have even more of an obligation to make the story hit us, and hit us hard.

They don't have to do it in a time-travel sort of way, though. In fact, I think that most of the "reassurances" have mainly been about that aspect of the story. As I said before, time-travel is the origin of the Iron Horde, and not the key to its nature.

So while we're going to fight Grommash, Blackhand, and all those dudes, they aren't truly the people from our past. They're duplicates.

But for this expansion to have any serious impact, we need to see their interaction with our people, if not with our world. We know that Thrall's going to meet the father he never knew (and presumably his mother… hey Blizz, how about some focus on female characters?) But I think that the villains of WoD need to be fleshed out too. It won't be all that interesting to just see Blackhand again, or just see Kargath again.

Here's what I think Blizzard needs to do as a kind of ignition point to make the story relevant: the Warlords, at least some of them, need to find out about our universe.

Consider, for example, that Ner'zhul discovers what his fate was in the main timeline. How might that change the way that he views us? Gul'dan has been unable to convince the Iron Horde to drink the blood of Mannoroth, but that might not be necessary. After all, his entire goal was to use the Horde to clear the way so he could pillage the Tomb of Sargeras. Might he find the wider, more chaotic world of today an easier place to slip through and reach his goal (knowing, also, the fate of his doppelgänger and thus potentially being better prepared this time?)

It's very important to me that we get to see what the Alliance and Horde themselves are up to in the aftermath of the Siege of Orgrimmar. I want to see Vol'jin wrestling with his new responsibilities, and I want to see Varian making good on the promises he makes in Garrosh's throne room. These things don't need to be the focus of the expansion, but what we do need to see is how the struggle against the Iron Horde affects these ongoing plots.

There is some reason for hope, though. While I know plenty of people had a pretty serious negative reaction to the Pandaren, I think that the story of Mists actually integrated far better into the overall Warcraft narrative than I could have imagined. I had been worried, when I first came to Pandaria, that this would all be a fairly isolated story, and that the villains we fought would be totally self-contained, and never really mentioned again.

And to an extent that was true. I don't think we'll ever fight the Mogu or Mantid in any serious way again. But these figures nevertheless left their mark on Warcraft lore. The Mantid gave us a far greater insight into the minds of the Aqir than ever before. The Mogu showed us that, yes, sometimes the creations of the Titans, without any Old God or demonic taint, will still turn evil, and that perhaps we should not be so quick to trust that the Titans have our best interests at heart.

In fact, Mists of Pandaria had perhaps the biggest developments ever in the ongoing story of the Old Gods, even more than in Cataclysm, which was ostensibly the most Old-God-themed expansion. Not only did we discover just why the Titans were unwilling to kill the Old Gods, but we also discovered that the Titans had been wrong in their assessment of the situation. We've beaten C'thun and Yogg-Saron, but not truly killed them. But with the destruction of the seven Sha and the utter draining of the Heart of Y'shaarj (Garrosh's inadvertently positive contribution to the world, even if he did so with the absolute wrong intentions,) we have actually managed to totally purge one of the Old Gods from Azeroth for good.

When I first heard about Mists of Pandaria, I was concerned that what we did there wouldn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but the truth is that I couldn't have been more wrong.

And that's why I'm hoping that, as the greater story of Warlords of Draenor gets revealed, the trajectory for the story of Warcraft will grow clearer.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Future of Secondary Stats

One of the most interesting announcements to come out of Blizzcon was that the hit and expertise, as well as dodge and parry stats would be going away. While dodge and parry were kind of in a death spiral (I think they were favored by Warrior tanks only, and tolerated by DKs and total reforge-aways for Paladins) throughout Mists, hit and expertise were just as relevant as they've ever been.

The idea behind these stats was to make you do something other than just pick out your best stat and stack it to the rafters. It did accomplish that, but it was also another way to prevent getting a new piece of gear from feeling good. You might get an awesome new shoulder piece, but before you could equip it, you'd need to reforge that crit into expertise.

Reforging did serve to allow us to concentrate on our favorite stat, but the biggest benefit to it was making it easier to dance around the hit and expertise caps. But with hit and expertise gone (Casters, including Hunters, and Tanks will just always hit now, and melee will only have to worry about bosses parrying - though frankly, given that melee already has the disadvantage of having to move with the boss, I might just scrap that altogether,) Reforging would really only be to do that stat-maximizing, and while you can get some improvement in performance that way, for the most part Blizzard is happier to just have us deal with the stats that we get.

But with hit, expertise, dodge, and parry ratings gone, and Spirit (which was always in this weird space between secondary and primary stat) moving to healing-only rings, trinkets, necklaces and weapons (Shadow, Balance and Elemental will no longer need the hit rating it provides,) that leaves us with only three secondary stats: Crit, Haste, and Mastery.

Ah, but does it really?

We know that we're going to be getting new Tertiary Stats in Warlords of Draenor. These are meant to be less indicative of the real power of our gear, and more some fun flavor that gives us a small boost. I'm given to understand that the way it works is this:

Blackhand drops, say, the Normal-Mode version of Collar of the Blackrock Chief, a plate piece with Strength (well, actually Strength or Intellect, depending on your spec,) Stamina, Crit, and Mastery. Those four values (along with its armor value) remain fixed. But while it will usually be just those four stats, occasionally, you'll get a drop that's got +400 Lifesteal Rating.

But here's what I'm wondering about:

Blizzard has talked about a few other new stats, such as Cleave, Amplify, and Multistrike. While these could simply be other Tertiary Stats, I actually wonder if, instead, some will become new Secondary Stats - meaning that pieces of gear will be guaranteed to have them on them.

These new stats actually sort of exist in-game already, with the various Siege of Orgrimmar trinkets. For example, on my DK I have Thok's Tail Tip. In addition to a nice Strength proc, it also "amplifies your haste, mastery, spirit, and crit damage by 6%." I'm pretty sure this is just the written-out form of what the future Amplify stat will be.

I would actually love to see a lot of these stats become true secondary stats. Multistrike, for example, works not unlike the Shaman talent Echo of the Elements, which causes your spells to occasionally duplicate themselves (combined with the Elemental Mastery, you could get an absurd number of Lava Bursts off a single cast. You can already get four!)

This would solve a potential upcoming problem, too, which is that, without adding any new ones, we would only have crit, haste, and mastery on our gear. That means a piece of gear would be define more by what it is missing than by what it has (assuming we continue to have most pieces with two secondary stats.)

Amplify could be a good stat for specs that like lots of different things. Multistrike would probably be pretty powerful cross the board, but obviously the numbers would be tweaked in such a way to keep it from being too powerful. Cleave, to me, seems more like a Tertiary stat, given that it's very useful in AoE situations, but useless in single-target - I wouldn't want people to have to switch out gear depending on the fight.

While we learned a lot at Blizzcon, a lot of the more nitty-gritty stuff, such as class changes, remains to be announced. This gear revamp, along with the 91-100 spell bonuses we'll be getting, is something I eagerly look forward to.

EDIT: We'll, apparently I jumped the gun here, because I just found out it's been confirmed that Amplify, Multistrike and a stat called Readiness will all become new secondary stats.

All of these have appeared on trinkets in Siege of Orgrimmar, though the way they work could get tweaked.

Readiness will reduce the cooldown of certain abilities depending on the spec. The abilities will most likely be your long-term cooldowns, as opposed to rotational abilities. So, yes Ascendence, probably not Lava Burst.

Very exciting to see more diversity in stat options, and it will be particularly interesting to see how the interact with each other.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Time-Travel Expansion that Isn't a Time-Travel Expansion

In Warlords of Draenor, we'll be heading back to a Draenor that is 35 years in the past. It's a Draenor that existed before the Alliance or the Horde, and before the First War.

But Blizzard representatives have been emphatic that this is not a time-travel expansion.

Now, obviously, that's not entirely true. For all of this to begin in the first place, Garrosh Hellscream needed to travel into the past to stop the Orcs from drinking the blood of Mannoroth. There is time-travel involved here any way you look at it.

But Warlords of Draenor is most likely not going to explore the deeper, hypothetical issues that arise with time-travel. The alternate universe that Garrosh inadvertently creates with Kairoz's help is separate from ours. What we have is a new threat - a new entity, much as the Lich King was only created after the end of the Second War. Time wonkiness is merely the origin of the Iron Horde, and not the key to its nature.

Thus, I expect that, for the most part, the upcoming expansion will actually have very little of the paradoxes or philosophical quandaries that usually come with time-travel.

Why is Blizzard going with this route?

Well, first let's talk about how the idea evolved. Apparently it has been their plan for many years to have Garrosh rise to power within the Horde, lose his position as Warchief, and then break off to form his own, rival Horde. One of the ideas they were kicking around was having him form the "Mongrel Horde," taking many of the ever-present, but never really focused-on threats of the world and binding them together. Gnolls, Murlocs, Kobolds, Troggs, Centaur. There's even some concept art for this that, amazingly, makes these races seem somewhat threatening.

But ultimately, they instead came upon the idea that Garrosh would much rather find a way to get the figures of legend in the Horde's history to come back. Obviously, the big problem is that they're all dead. So they thought about having him go to Outland to raise them from the dead. That presented some other problems - mainly that they didn't want Garrosh to have an army of the undead (that's kind of stepping on the Scourge's toes.)

So, ironically, this bizarre alternate-universe wound up being the easiest solution for Garrosh to form his own Horde.

Blizzard really wants to focus more on the practical threat that the Iron Horde presents. This isn't Doctor Who territory - the Iron Horde is mainly a physical danger. Worries about breaking the timeline are somewhat pushed to the side. We are reassured that our own history and timeline is still there, and in fact, Outland - the shattered version of Draenor that is roughly in-sync with us in time - still exists.

The cynic in me thinks the reason they're taking this approach is that time-travel stories are hard to write. They're avoiding the brain-bending stuff so that people don't get out the torches and pitchforks.

But the optimist in me thinks that it's because it's just not time for that yet. Blizzard has said that this expansion will lead into the next one (much as Mists led into WoD,) and while that could easily translate into a Burning Legion expansion, what with Gul'dan and what I assume is a very disappointed alternate-universe version of Kil'jaeden, I also think that we could see some big things happening with the way that time works.

When we meet Kairoz, he seems to be a pretty chill guy, like most of the Bronze Dragons. He doesn't seem to be satisfied with the fact that their flight has lost its power, and so he's looking in the Timeless Isle for some way to regain it.

Kairoz talks about the strange power of the Timeless Isle, and how its temporal properties could be used to create entirely new worlds (something Wrathion is excited to hear about, because of his typical Black Dragon ambition.)

Right now, the motivations of Kairoz seem pretty foggy. Why would he help Garrosh unleash the Iron Horde upon the world? Surely, having seen what Garrosh was able to do with the modern Horde, he wouldn't be eager to see more of that.

No, I think that to Kairoz, the whole point of the exercise is experimentation.

The Bronze Dragons were charged by the Titans to preserve the one, true timeline. Aman'thul told Nozdormu that there was only the one, and that it was his sacred duty to keep things going the way they were meant to. Today, Nozdormu even accepts that he will one day die to us mortals within the End Time, transformed into Murozond.

But there's a lot about that that doesn't make sense. The End Time, in the form we saw it, is just plain not going to happen. So when does Nozdormu think he's going to die now?

The Bronze Dragons can no longer see the flow of time as clearly as they once did. The march of events is now clouded to them as it is for all mortals. With the future now a mystery to them, perhaps they feel a sense of relief. Perhaps they will not become the Infinite Dragonflight after all?

But they do remember knowing of that future. Part of them knows that it must come to pass, even if they can't truly see it. How, then, to avert it? How to thwart fate to prevent the downfall of their flight?

Well, one Bronze Dragon got a little inspiration from the disgraced, dethroned Warchief of the Horde and his time on the Timeless Isle. Yes, perhaps fate was immutable - the universe ultimately leading deterministically to a set destination. But if new worlds, or new universes could be created… Perhaps that is how one could escape one's fate.

Yes, in all likelihood, we're going to spend our time in Draenor simply fighting the Iron Horde. But what if the entire upcoming conflict is merely a byproduct of one individual's crucial experiment to save his people?

And, with the ability to pass between alternate universes, perhaps what we're seeing is the very first Infinite Dragon?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Level 90 Boost: Good for the Game, Despite Mixed Thoughts

Perhaps the most interesting announcement that came with Warlords of Draenor was the news that, free with the purchase of the expansion, players would be able to boost any character immediately to level 90, so that they could - after a short tutorial to allow them to make sense of their many abilities - jump into the current content without having to play catch-up.

As someone who played RPGs long before I played an MMORPG, this almost sounds like heresy. I've always been an opponent of the notion that "the game begins at the level cap," as I spent about a year playing in late vanilla and early BC before I ever got a character to 70, and I had tons of fun doing so. I value the leveling process - the way that abilities unlock as you go, with the world opening up to you as you played (I remember when I first got out of Mulgore on my Tauren Shaman and came to Camp Taurajo, that was the first time that the huge scope of the game really hit me.)

The 90-boost is not aimed at me, though. WoW is a game that has been designed from the start to appeal to a broad audience. I may be sitting on thirteen characters who are at the level cap (and a few more that are in the 85-90 range,) but I'm far from the norm (see: title of blog.)

For many people, a hundred levels seems like a freaking mountain range between them and the raids and such that their friends have been telling them about. Giving them the ability to do only a tenth of that - and all in the newest, most modern content - should make a lot of people consider trying the game who might otherwise not have. It could also bring back older players who know what it's like to feel super-powered, and don't want to spend a ton of levels trying to get back to that feeling.

One thing to note is that this boost will not give people a level-capped character immediately. You'll still have to do those ten levels in New-Old-Draenor, meaning they'll be arriving at the new cap with the same mix of weird questing and 5-man gear that the rest of us will (they're less likely to have their Legendary Cloaks, though.) They get a serious catch-up, but they won't have any more of a head start than people who played through Mists.

The other reason why I'm ok with this is that it won't necessarily mean a death to low-level questing. You get one boost, and while it's possible that it could become a paid service, I expect most people will be willing to spend the time leveling an alt if they've already got a main up top to hand them gold and heirloom gear.

There is one area that I'm a little curious, if not really concerned about, and that is hero classes.

At the moment, there's only one hero class: the Death Knight. Monks proved that you don't need every new class to be a hero class, but I wouldn't rule out the special "hero" perks being applied to a future class, especially if it's one that's steeped in lore like the Demon Hunter.

At the moment, you need a level 55 character to start a Death Knight (who starts at level 55 - basically, they want you to do the same number of levels to get to the cap, even if it's not on a single toon.) For those new players who have just started, I wonder how the 90 boost will work if that person chooses a Death Knight. Do they have to burn their boost on a character they aren't going to play so that they can start their DK - who will then have to go through all the expansions' zones? Or conversely, will they have to level up to 55 on a different toon first, before they can boost their DK to 90?

Granted, they'll probably just build the boost into the UI in such a way that allows you to make a level 90 DK regardless of your previously-existing toons. And as a weird consequence, that boosted DK would then qualify you to make any number of additional DKs. Actually, it might just make more sense to remove the prerequisite for starting a DK altogether.

Where I think this notion gets stickier is the prospect of future hero classes. There's no guarantee there will ever be more hero classes (though I really hope there will be,) and if there are going to be, we won't hear about them until the next expansion is announced at the earliest.

But assuming that we get our Demon Hunters, our Timewalkers, or our Tinkers, or whatever at some point, what does this level boost mean for them?

The whole idea of a hero class is that these are classes that wouldn't make sense as a level 5 dude clearing kobolds out of Jangolode Mine. Just being a member of the class implies that you've already become as powerful as some of the legendary heroes of Azeorth.

Death Knights started at 55 for that reason, and also because this was before the Cataclysm revamp, and they wanted to let people skip the dull old vanilla content and go straight into Outland, which was comparatively far better designed at the time.

I've often thought that 55 could simply be established as the hero class starting level, and that future ones could start there as well. But with these level boosts (and I imagine that, unless this somehow proves to be a horribly unpopular or problematic feature, we'll see a new one with each expansion,) what would that serve?

Imagine, for example, that in two years' time, we hear the announcement of "Sands of the Infinite," where we get to battle the Infinite Dragonflight across time with the aid of the new Timewalker hero class. The new level cap is 110, and there's a boost to 100 like what we're getting in Warlords of Draenor. If the Timewalkers start at 55, then what's going to happen? I imagine most people would ignore that and simply boost the shiny new class to 100. All the work they put into the new starting experience for the Timewalkers gets skipped.

I have two solutions to this totally hypothetical situation that may never arise: one is to simply make their starting level much higher - perhaps letting them start at 95 and get to 100 by the end of the starting quests, or, if people would want the option to take them through the older expansions, simply have the starting experience drop them directly into the level-boost starting experience if they so choose.

Anyway, that tangent aside, I think that fundamentally, Blizzard has got to cater to all of its customers. I'm served well by things like the Cataclysm low-level revamp, but for some, a far better solution is just to let them skip their way forward.

I honestly don't know if I'll use this feature this time around, or even if they introduce new classes in the following expansions. But I'm glad that those people who might be turned off by the game will reconsider when their climb to 100 is made only a tenth as long.

Female Undead Model - The New Character Models Look Freaking Cool

Blizzard just unveiled their first peek at the undead female model, and it looks fantastic, as all of these model revamps seem to. While for some reason we're only able to see the female Forsaken with her eyes closed, I think they really nailed that kind of dark, gothic look, while still showing that this is someone who at least used to be human.

Once again, I think they're doing a great job of making these new models updates of the existing ones, without alienating us with totally different looks.

Yes, the Forsaken are still missing the flesh around their elbows and knees, and they do have bones poking out at the back and out of their shoulders (I'm hoping they give the male model the more subtle shoulders-bones like the female model has, but we'll see.) While I'm sure a lot of people would have liked to see the elbow and knee joints filled out, now the bones are much more clearly what actual bones look like - kneecaps and all.

It also looks like the areas where the flesh ends are less of the kind of Jack-O-Lantern jagged edges that we have now. While I expect that gear will continue to tear where the flesh does, at the very least it will look like a natural tear. At the moment, my Undead Death Knight has leg plates that look like they were cut with a pair of scissors - that doesn't really make sense.

Anyway, we've now at least seen a glimpse of male Orcs, both kinds of Dwarf, both kinds of Gnome, both kinds of Undead, and male Tauren. That's 8/16 (or 8/20, if you count Blood Elves and Draenei.) Keep 'em coming, Blizzard!

(All images were taken from MMO-Champion.)

The Destiny of the Draenei

The Draenei left their home planet twenty-five thousand years ago to flee the Burning Legion. Throughout this time, they have ostensibly been preparing to return, hoping to destroy the Legion and prevent it from eradicating more worlds. It was the Prophet Velen who warned them of the threat of Sargeras, and for all this time, the Draenei have been guided by his leadership.

But is Velen the right leader for the Draenei?

First of all, I'm not sure how our Draenei - the ragged refugees who survived a crash-landing into Azeroth (NOT their fault - it was Blood Elf saboteurs, ahem,) will compare and contrast with the Draenei of the alternate Draenor we're heading to. I hope the game's writers will make a distinction (they didn't do such a good job distinguishing Wandering Isle Pandaren from Pandaria Pandaren,) even if they don't want to get into the sci-fi tropes about alternate realities and doppelgängers.

We know of two key Draenei figures that will play a role in Warlords of Draenor. One is Maraad, the Draenei Vindicator who proved his worth to the Alliance in Northrend. The other is the mysterious Yrel, apparently a young priestess in Draenor-B who will find herself rising through the ranks to be essentially the Draenei Joan of Arc (hopefully less of the stake-burning, more the righteous crusader on the battlefield.)

The Draenei of both universes follow the Prophet Velen. But is he much of a political leader? Velen spends most of his time in seclusion, constantly watching the visions the Naaru grant him of the works of the Burning Legion. Velen cannot help but take the long view, to look at the big picture. He is looking for a way to win a war that has lasted longer than most civilizations - that predates many of Azeroth's races many times over.

It's an important job - maybe the most important of all the mortals of Azeroth - yet can someone who is concerned with such enormous responsibilities really be expected to also lead a nation?

We don't really know how Draenei society works. All we've seen of it is a kind of thrown-together set of refugee camps and outposts. The Shattrath City where we spend our time in Outland is a ruin, and the Exodar is literally a wrecked ship that's thankfully still intact enough to serve as a shelter.

Now, granted, the Draenei live for a very long time, and over that time they may have established enough basic conventions to keep their society running without a strict regimented structure. But whatever system they were using in our timeline did not quite work out to keep them safe.

The Draenei jumped from world to world, spending a little time here and there until the Burning Legion inevitably tracked them down. On Draenor, they spent a thousand years thinking they had finally lost their pursuers, but when Kil'jaeden did track them down, he unleashed the might of the Horde upon them. To paraphrase Illidan, they were not prepared.

Warlords of Draenor gives a most rare thing: a second chance at a war that had been lost. With Garrosh having hit the big reset button, the Draenei of that timeline have a chance to survive the Horde where the Draenei of our timeline did not.

We are hearing about two new figures in Draenei lore (well, ok, technically Maraad's not new. He was the Draenei in the Burning Crusade cinematic, in fact,) and both appear to be fighters. And both seem to balance each other out. Maraad has spent a lot of time among other peoples. He fought the Scourge. His family history is more complicated, given his half-Orc niece, Garona, who murdered King Llane during the First War. Maraad is still a Paladin, and still filled with faith in the Light, but he forgoes forgiveness in favor of retribution. You can bet that this guy is going to be slaughtering Orcs left and right.

On the other hand, we have Yrel. We have really not heard much about her at all, but I imagine she will serve to balance Maraad. She is from the alternate Draenor, and thus she has not seen her people massacred (for all we know, our timeline's Yrel was among those killed) nor has she experienced all the tumultuous wars of Azeroth. Yet she will rise to fight for her people.

The tradition, it seems, among the Eredar, is to govern by triumvirate. Velen, Archimonde and Kil'jaeden did so before Sargeras came. For all this time, the Draenei have had but one leader, and they have suffered, despite Velen's benevolence.

Might we be seeing the birth of a new triumvirate? Could the trio of Velen, Maraad, and Yrel finally restore balance to the Draenei, provide them with a firm foundation for their society, and give them the strength they need to become more than exiles?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Currencies in Warlords of Draenor

At the moment, we have a number of currencies that play a part in gearing our characters. If I recall correctly, the first true gear currency was Honor, earned by participating in PvP and used to purchase PvP gear. The system was weird and complicated at first (I believe that your honor slowly drained away if you didn't keep up, and there was also something that tracked "honorable kills…" anyway.)

In Burning Crusade, they added Badges of Justice, which would evolve into Wrath's many different Emblems and then Cataclysm's familiar two-tier system of Justice and Valor points. Mirroring this, the PvP currency system also got two tiers, namely Honor and Conquest points.

Mists of Pandaria added a new wrinkle into the mix: Lesser Charms of Good Fortune. The idea behind lesser charms was to encourage people to do "outdoor content" instead of simply sitting in cities and queueing for instances. Much as Wrath of the Lich King had a tier of Emblem for each raid tier (two for Naxxramas… it was complicated,) there has been a new tier of Bonus Roll Coin, each purchasable with Lesser Charms when the content is current, but then transferred over to an alternate method (in the case of Elder Charms, a frustratingly RNG-oriented one.)

Justice and Valor:

In Mists, we did see some funny changes to how currencies are used. In Cataclysm, and effectively in Wrath of the Lich King's later patches (though in a convoluted manner due to the many types of Emblems,) Valor Points and Justice Points worked on a system of "Current Tier" and "Older Tiers." It was a fantastic catch-up mechanic, because you could always get pieces from the previous tier simply by running a bunch of dungeons.

Mists kind of screwed with that a bit. I think Blizzard was trying to experiment with the system, though if you ask me, they took a functional system and just broke it (I will acknowledge the flaws they were attempting to remedy, namely that it made it easy to skip content, but I think there were more elegant solutions, and in the era of the Raid Finder, there's no need to worry about that.)

First off, Justice Point gear at the start was inferior to heroic dungeon items. Not the end of the world, but it certainly made the purchase feel bad. It also meant that very, very quickly, Justice Rewards were nearly worthless. By the time you had enough to purchase a piece, you would likely have just gotten something better already.

The other thing is, at least for the second raid tier, they did not upgrade rewards. In Cataclysm, once tier 12 came out, the tier 11 Valor Gear became purchasable for JP. In Mists, this did not happen until the third tier. In fact, once the 489/496 gear was downgraded to JP, most of us had better stuff anyway.

Valor Points were also messed with a bit. Locked behind reputation grinds that would take several weeks, Valor gear became less of a bad-luck-aversion and more of a two-part grind. While tier 15 handled it, I think, the best, by having the reputation that unlocked the gear tied to the most current raid tier, with tier 16 they abandoned Valor gear entirely in favor of item upgrades - perhaps the game mechanic I would most like to see removed.

Given how they struggled to make Justice Points relevant, and that they really prefer us to run the old content to gear up, I could imagine them eliminating Justice Points entirely. Still, if they do that, I would hope that they also provide discounts for older gear, to allow players to speed through old content without necessarily skipping it entirely.

My hope is that we will see item upgrades removed and replaced with more conventional valor gear. I think that valor serves an important role as the best way to prevent bad-luck streaks, and in 5.4, it does not serve that function in any way, shape, or form.

Regarding reputations, I'd rather see Reputation Gear as a separate entity from Valor gear. If you do that, I'm fine with keeping reputations more of an outdoor thing that requires dailies and the like. More avenues to gear is always a good thing, if you ask me, so I don't think these two should be collapsed into one as they were in Mists.

Lesser Charms and Bonus Roll Coins:

First off, we're going to have an Emblems of Heroism/Valor/Conquest/Triumph/Frost situation here if they don't figure out more generic names for these coins. Depending on whether they keep Justice Points around, they could either make an old/new pair of tiers for the coins, or they could just turn it into a single type of coin that works for every raid.

Regarding the acquisition of Lesser Charms, I think once again this is one of those things that heavily favors DPS roles. Really, any questing content that isn't specifically designed for five-man groups (and we haven't really had that since the Crucible of Carnage in Twilight Highlands,) is going to favor DPS over tanks and healers. I have over a thousand Lesser Charms on my Death Knight (good for twenty weeks!) but I have to force my Paladin to go farm them.

Alternate methods to acquire Lesser Charms would be good, but it's tough, because I know that what they want is more people going out into the world. Is it possible to design outdoor challenges that favor tanks and healers? I'm not sure.

This would probably sink the whole "getting them out in the world" ship, but I could actually see Justice Points and Lesser Charms merged together.

Honor and Conquest:

As someone who doesn't really PvP, I can't talk all that intelligently about this, but I wonder, should they eliminate Justice Points, if they will do the same for Honor (maybe keep Honor and get rid of Conquest, given how integral the term "honor" is to WoW's PvP.)

I don't know what effect this would have, but given that I think they're trying to make gear less of an issue in PvP (the whole Trial of the Gladiator thing, for example,) I could imagine the currency and purchasing system changing.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Karazhan Clean-Up

Some suspicious stuff is going on at Karazhan.

Right now, it looks like they've just done a "clean-up," removing some of the spiderwebs and possibly rearranging chairs.

What the hell could this mean?

First, the no-fun answer: it could just be a weird little thing that they did. During Cataclysm (I believe,) they changed Ruins of Ahn-Qiraj (aka AQ20) into a ten-man raid. But they didn't raise the level of the enemies inside or in any way encourage people to run it again (there aren't even new battle pets in it.) It was just a change that Blizzard felt, for some reason, that they should do.

That said, I'm still getting excited about this.

It's not entirely clear what role Karazhan will play in Warlords of Draenor. During the Burning Crusade, the tower was fairly well-connected, given that Outland had literally sunk into the Twisting Nether, connecting it to all manner of worlds and demons and stuff like that. Karazhan was the home of Medivh, the possessed sorcerer who created the Dark Portal in the Black Morass (now known as the Blasted Lands.)

So far, at least, the focus of Warlords of Draenor seems to be much more on the savage wilderness that Draenor apparently was before the rise of the Horde. There's far less of the outer-spacey and weird almost sci-fi stuff that we got in BC.

On the other hand, Karazhan is one of the coolest locations in WoW, and while we're going to a Draenor that is stuck back in the time before even the First War, we can probably assume, or at least imagine, that the alternate version of Medivh is out there in the other Azeroth.

I won't go into my full-on speculation mode, as I've kind of already written that article, but given this new information, I think there are strong indications that WoD won't solely be about the Orcish home world.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Are We Going to Fight All the Warlords?

The Warlords of Draenor title refers to the chieftains of the various Orc clans at the dawn of the Horde, or, in this timeline, the Iron Horde.

While Grom Hellscream certainly seems to be the frontman for the Warlords (I really don't know about that final boss quote. People think it was a joke but from the video, but if it was, it was one of the most deadpan deliveries I've ever heard,) we've clearly been presented with an ensemble of dudes to deal with in the upcoming expansion. Each of these guys has their own vibe and their own history, and that got be wondering whether we're going to fight all of them.

Grommash Hellscream:

Garrosh's dad and Thrall's one-time friend, Grommash was the first Orc to drink the Blood of Mannoroth in our timeline, but he was prevented from doing so by his time-displaced son, which is how the whole alternate timeline split off in the first place.

Yet even without demon blood, Grommash seems like a real brute. He's bloodthirsty and vicious, and if the announcement trailer is any indication, just as bent on conquest as he was hopped up on green.

Indeed, if that remark was not a joke, Grommash could be the final boss of the expansion (though I really hope he isn't, because damn it, we just fought a Mr. G. Hellscream as a final boss.)

But even if he isn't the final boss, I expect we'll fight him at some point. The question, though, is if we'll kill him. Personally, I'd actually love to see Garrosh forced to fight him, to be confronted with the truth about his dad and thus hopefully recognize that everything he had feared when he was at Garadar had come to pass.


Blackhand, chief of the Blackrock Clan, was, at least in the original timeline, the original Warchief of the Horde (unless Ner'zhul was?) In our timeline, Orgrim Doomhammer assassinated him and took his place, but things are going to look very different in this timeline.

Blackhand will be the final boss of Blackrock Foundry, which will be a large, 10-boss raid in tier 17.

Not sure what else we'll find out about him. Currently, you can fight his son Rend in Upper Blackrock Spire, who claims the title of Warchief of the Dark Horde (there are so many Hordes!) But given that UBRS will be getting a revamp, it's not clear that we'll have Rend to kick around anymore (then again, Whitemane's still in Scarlet Monastery, despite most of the other bosses getting replaced with similar, but separate people.)

Kargath Bladefist:

This is actually the only one of the Warlords we've actually killed already (Ner'zhul's complicated.) In the original timeline, Kargath, chief of the aptly-named Shattered Hand clan, survived the first and second wars, and when Illidan took over Outland, he served the Illidari as Warchief of the Fel Horde (see what I mean?) To this day, you can head into the Shattered Halls wing of Hellfire Citadel and kill this dude to claim his badass fist weapon.

It seems that the younger Kargath will probably be in a different part of Draenor. While Kargath has been revered by some in the modern Horde (there's a town in Badlands named after him,) it actually looks like he's a creepy, vicious masochist.

I think it's really damned likely that we're going to have to kill this dude.


Durotan is Thrall's dad, and while he did take part in the war on the Draenei in the original timeline, and he did take part in the invasion of Azeroth, he and his Frostwolves Clan never drank the demon blood, and they always maintained a tie to their shamanistic roots.

While I think Thrall is going to be in for a bit of a shock and find his dad is not quite as enlightened as he is, I think that Durotan will be the one Warlord who accepts the modern version of the Horde, and it seems likely that he and the Frostwolves will aid the modern Horde in the struggle against the Iron one.

Kilrogg Deadeye:

The chieftain of the Bleeding Hollow clan, Kilrogg is apparently a powerful shaman/warlock who has a kind of reckless bravery due to the fact that he knows how he will die. Most people know of Kilrogg by his Warlock spell, the Eye of Kilrogg.

Two interesting facts present themselves regarding Kilrogg. First is that the visions of his own demise tie somewhat into the time-travel and prophecy theme that Blizzard may or may not be willing to explore (I'm hoping yes.)

The other thing is that, much like Grommash Hellscream, Kilrogg has a son who lived in Garadar. We don't know much of what Jorin Deadeye has been up to (clearly not as much crazy stuff as Garrosh,) but I'd be curious to find out more about this mystic.


Gul'dan is probably the most evil character in Warcraft who is not some kind of god of evil or embodiment of darkness. He and his Stormreaver clan want nothing but power, and they are happy - gleeful, even - in the wanton destruction they cause to get it. Gul'dan only created the Horde and opened the Dark Portal so that he could get to the Tomb of Sargeras out in the ocean. The destruction of Stormwind was just a side-effect to him, and he really couldn't have cared less.

Yes, Gul'dan is a super-bad guy. But will we fight him?

I actually think that if we're going to have an Orc as the final boss of the expansion, Gul'dan seems like a way better choice than Hellscream. But it might be interesting instead, if we were to find ourselves in a profoundly uncomfortable position of needing his help.

Gul'dan was the one who orchestrated the whole demon-blood infusion into the Horde in the first place. With Garrosh preventing his father from drinking it, I think we can imagine that Gul'dan considers the Iron Horde his enemy. With the Iron Horde out of his control, Gul'dan may very well want to see it destroyed.

And so do we. So, the question is: could we actually find ourselves teaming up with the most disturbing, despicable mortal in all of Warcraft to stop a mutual threat? (Yes, please. That would be awesome.)


And here's the weirdest one. Ner'zhul has two huge legacies, and both of them are pretty horrific. The thing is, at least when he was a mortal, he was not really a malevolent or spiteful person. Essentially, Ner'zhul spoke with the dead. It was his and his Shadowmoon Clan's thing. As the most respected Shaman in all of Draenor, people listened to what he had to say.

So when all of a sudden, the spirit of his dead wife came to warn him that the Draenei were going to make war on the Orcs, Ner'zhul brought this information to his people, and they decided to strike first. How could Ner'zhul have known that the spirit was not his wife, but a disguised Kil'jaeden?

Is Ner'zhul really a bad guy? He might be self-centered, and maybe callous, but evil? Perhaps not. If we could convince him that he had been misled, perhaps he might recant and try to end the hostilities.

So here's the other thing:

Ner'zhul wasn't just the one who brought the Horde together in the original timeline. He also inadvertently destroyed his planet trying to escape from Kil'jaeden. The portals he opened ripped the world apart, and it was all for nought, because the moment he stepped through one of those portals, he was captured by Kil'jaeden. His body was torn apart and his soul was locked within a helmet made of dark metal. The armor was sealed within an ice-like crystal and sent to Azeroth, specifically Northrend, and more specifically, Icecrown Glacier.

And Ner'zhul became the Lich King.

Something I had not realized before is that Ner'zhul was already a speaker with the dead. He had a connection to the afterlife. It's not that much of a stretch to see how he would use that ability, combined with the demonic power with which he had been infused, to create the Scourge.

So what I'm fascinated by regarding Ner'zhul is what his reaction will be when he sees Forsaken and Death Knights marching out of the Dark Portal. Will these figures disturb him? Or will he realize, somewhere deep down, that these are his own children?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Vengeance Changes!

First off:

Vengeance will now apparently only affect survival abilities. Your Word of Glories, your Shield Barriers, your Frenzied Regenerations - these are going to be boosted by how much damage you're taking. However, the damage you deal will not.

Here's why you should be happy about that:

As anyone who reads this blog regularly would know, I have some big problems with Vengenace. While I think that the mechanic had noble intentions, it's had some big flaws, and has led to some really frustrating problems, from making tank swaps way harder to the the fact that it only scales with the content, and not your gear.

Let's take a trip back to the late days of Wrath, which was the environment that spawned vengeance.

Back when we were climbing Icecrown Citadel in order to take down the Lich King, we were also dealing with the biggest case of stat inflation the game has ever had. My Rogue, for instance, was at something like 54% base critical strike chance. Yes, every attack he made was more likely to crit than not. Granted, some of this was the existence of talents that would boost these ratings, but the gear did not help.

A big part of the reason it didn't was that as DPS characters got higher and higher crit, haste, and armor penetration (this one was a particular problem, as the more of it  you had, the more valuable more of it was, which is probably why it got the axe,) tanks would simply be stacking up dodge, parry, and block rating.

Now sure, as item levels went up, the tanks would get more strength or more agility, which helped somewhat, but really, they couldn't keep up. When the Fire Mage is getting a crit two out of three Fireballs, she's probably also going to have a constant stream of massive Pyroblasts beefing her damage up by a ton.

So they wanted to help tanks' damage scale with their gear. The idea was to link it to their health. The problem, though, was that you might get into a situation where the tank wasn't really tanking, like, say, in PvP, where they're just trying to be super-powered and indestructible. So rather than having a straight health to AP conversion, they based it on damage you had recently taken.

And that's why Vengeance is so weird.

Now, Vengeance has changed a lot since then, but here's something to take into account: tank stats are basically going away. Tanks will get to have plenty of crit and haste to boost their damage along with the DPS.

Admittedly, tank Masteries don't boost damage, but it might be enough with crit and haste to keep tank damage up high enough that they'll scale alongside DPS.

The really exciting thing here is that we'll now be able to do our full damage potential while in content we outgear AND WHEN SOLOING. Without Vengeance, Blizzard can balance tank damage higher (they're saying roughly 75% of DPS) pretty consistently. Granted, with dual-specs, you don't really need to be able to solo as a tank, but for those of us who might not be so crazy about our class' DPS spec choices (I don't hate Ret, but I like Prot a whole lot more) this will be a welcome alternative.

Obviously, this also makes problems with co-tanks less troublesome. In the days of Vengeance, especially with big AoE packs, the first tank in is probably going to have aggro on the whole pack. This is frustrating for both tanks, as the first tank is taking more damage than they should and the second tank is standing there feeling kind of useless. With this change, you should be able (with a little tab-targeting) be able to go back to the days of splitting up a pack, something I haven't been able to do with much ease since Wrath.

And having Vengeance scale with survival abilities makes decent sense. While I don't know if it wouldn't be better to just have our survival abilities scale with our gear instead and simply let us be indestructible gods when we do older content, at the very least this is something that we'll be able to manage instead of being left feeling helpless when that equally-geared Fury Warrior pulls all the Shado-Pan monks off you at the beginning of SPM.

Garrisons, Your New Home

Garrisons are a really beefed-up version of player housing. While a lot of the gameplay will involve building it up and gathering resources like the farm (and managing your followers in what I hope will be a very fun mini game,) it's also presumably going to serve as a home.

Typically, with the exception of Mages (who can just teleport,) I always set my Hearthstone to the most convenient urban location. Shattrath, Dalaran, Stormwind (Dwarven District,) and the Shrine of Seven Stars.

We are getting two new cities - one for each faction - in WoD, and I'm sure that that's where all the portals and bankers and engineering auction houses will be, but I think it would be pretty cool to make it convenient for people to really count their player housing as a true home.

You might still want people to have to go into the major cities to do their business, but I think this could be achieved pretty easily by having a portal accessible somewhere on your Garrison that takes you to Karabor or the Horde equivalent (Bladespire?)

At the moment, the concept for the Garrison is that it's a per-character thing. Your Warlock main might have a huge fortress of people who fear and respect you, but your Hunter is going to come across a dinky little outpost that's basically just an inn and a fence.

In some ways, I'm ok with that. It will let you focus your Garrison on what that particular character really needs.

But on the other hand, I foresee my Death Knight and Paladin's Garrisons getting really tricked out while the rest of my toons don't really see much progress (though if managing your followers is a relatively quick process that requires less maintenance as time goes on, that might not be so bad.)

Still, there's one thing that I have wanted for an incredibly long time, and that's a way for my alts to interact with each other in-game.

While theoretically my alts are all good buddies, all members of the same guild and always happy to help each other out when one needs gold or the other needs some ore smelted, the fact is that none of them has ever actually laid eyes on another.

So here's my little suggestion to Blizzard: Let there be one standard building (that you get from the start) called the "Adventurer's Lounge." Think of it is a comfy tavern where the heroes of Azeroth can trade war stories over a pint of ale.

And in this lounge, you would see every alt that was on that server and of the same faction. They would be randomly arranged, sitting on chairs or standing at the bar. Maybe one of the is dancing on top of it. Two might be playing Hearthstone.

From there, you'd be able to access their inventories and be able to move around any non-soulbound items. You could also maybe access their professions as well. Isn't it annoying to get a new piece of gear, then have to log on to your enchanter, then your jewel crafter? I know that Blizzard wants to make it easy to access professions through the Garrison itself, but I'm going to be leveling up my Warlock and my Mage anyway, and presumably level their professions as well, so why not make it easier to access them?

It would make finding which toon had that Timeless Plate Shoulder piece a lot easier, and it would be just a great feeling to see all your dudes and lady-dudes chilling out like the badasses they are.

Additionally, I know that for now, Garrisons are probably going to only have a "Horde" theme and an "Alliance" theme. I get it - art resources are limited. But I'd love to see them allowing alternatives. Say, for example, that instead of a Human-style Inn, I want one of those built-into-the-side-of-a-hill Dwarven taverns? Or instead of an Orc-themed barracks, I want some kind of Forsaken stronghold?

If Garrisons are successful, I can imagine them carrying on into expansions in the future (not sure if they'll let you carry on your old one or just make you construct a new one,) but I have high hopes that it's something they'll continue building on in their Blizzardy way.

Let the Gear Be Gear! Hopes for Gear in Warlords of Draenor

There are a lot of big changes coming to gearing in WoD. In many ways, each expansion has been kind of defined by some big, striking change. BC really cemented what we might expect from an expansion, such as a new continent. Wrath made raiding accessible to the masses, Cataclysm revamped the leveling experience. Mists revamped the talent and ability system. And Warlords of Draenor seems like it will mean the revamp of the gear system.

As a quick recap:

Armor pieces will switch out Strength, Agility, or Intellect depending on your spec.

Hit and Expertise are gone (presumably you just won't miss or be dodged by enemies, though I think you might do something where tanks get an extra 7.5% chance not to be parried, which would allow bosses to still parry DPS and thus encourage them to stay behind them. Likewise, I could imagine dual-wielders still having a chance to miss with auto-attacks to balance it against 2-hander wielders.)

Dodge and Parry (the ratings, not the mechanics) are gone.

And with those, Reforging is going away.

Gems and Enchants will be used in fewer slots, but have bigger effects.

Gear will have tertiary stats that are more varied and weird.

What Else Can We Hope For?

Item Upgrades:

Upgrading items for Valor Points was added in 5.1, and then taken away for 5.2 only to be brought back (much cheaper) in 5.3.

However, I've argued that this feature is actually pretty lousy. It isn't very interesting, and instead simply gives you another way for your gear to be incomplete. It's a time sink more than anything else. Unlike Reforging (and I wasn't even that crazy about that one,) there was no thought to put into it.

What I find far preferable is using Valor points to purchase actual gear. Valor, like all of its predecessors, is there to help with bad luck. Sometimes, that one piece of gear never drops. Valor gear is there to make up for that, allowing you to get something else that is roughly as good.

In 5.4, we got no new Valor gear, and were simply expected to upgrade our gear.

If there's anything I really want to put on the chopping block regarding gear, it's these upgrades.

Tertiary Stats:

I love the idea of tertiary stats. Having really cool, flavorful stats can give pieces of gear their own identity. Instead of being one of the three leather agility boots that drops in that one raid, this piece of gear can be "the boots of desperate swiftness," and grant an extra 5% movement speed.

I think the one danger here, though, is making sure that the tertiary stats don't overwhelm too much.

One stat I heard tossed around was some sort of increased critical damage. This is not the kind of tertiary stat I want to see, the reason being that this is the kind of stat the could wind up being so powerful that people would want to get a full set of it.

Now, granted, if they make good on the idea of only allowing each of these stats to occupy a single slot - for instance, crit damage might only be on bracers - and if they kept the percentages low, it might not be so bad. But then again, you also want these stats to have at least some impact as well.

Tank Stats:

With dodge and parry going away, tanks will be using the same trifecta of crit, haste, and mastery. So, Leather tanks already used those, and Paladins have been favoring Haste and Mastery already, so it may not be such a huge change. Blood DKs don't really go in for Haste, but it's not a useless stat for them. More haste means more Death Strikes, after all. Likewise, recent changes to Warriors have made Crit a more useful stat, as it can translate into more Rage and thus more Shield Block/Barrier.

While certain stats might not be great for a DPS spec, all three do universally contribute to making a DPS character more effective. However, for tanks, some of these stats only help with threat, which is the area of tanking that Blizzard has tried to de-emphasize by buffing it to the rafters. Death Knights don't get any harder to kill when they have high critical strike chances, which is probably why Blizzard thought it was ok to give them Riposte. Paladins I suppose could get in a more powerful Word of Glory, but crit has no effect on Shield of the Righteous, which is where they're spending most of their Holy Power. Warriors do benefit from crit, but Haste doesn't really give them anything. Their abilities have the same cool down regardless of how fast their weapons swing.

So I think that they need to go into these three tanks' kits and find a use for these other stats. The alternative is either having tanks carry junk stats or that certain pieces be declared "DPS only," which is the opposite of the intended new philosophy.