Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Getting ready for Da Thunda King!

This article is less of a philosophical rant and more of an update on how my play is going, so if you come here for the grand idea stuff, feel free to skip this article.

I've basically come to the conclusion that until we actually get our raiding going (and that's partially my responsibility, as a guild officer,) I've got to use LFR as my main progression path. As I've said before, tanking for LFR can be a pain.

This expansion, I fairly quickly switched Oterro from being a tank back to being dps. I actually originally created him to be my plate dps character to counter Jarsus as my plate tank, but tanking in Wrath was so fun that I wound up making not only my Death Knight, but also my Druid and Warrior (the Orc one - this was before Worgen) into tanks, such that I had a tank of every class.

Oterro was originally Blood DPS, which was the best leveling spec the game's ever seen. This was back in the day when the general impression was that Frost would be the tank spec, based on the original announcement of the DK class. As you may or may not know (I tend to assume everyone played during Wrath at least, but I realize that could be false,) when the DK was first announced, people were still very much in the Burning Crusade mindset, where specific specs would serve specific functions. Back then, Warriors were main-tanks (boss tanks,) Paladins were AoE tanks, and Druids were off-tanks. Death Knights were announced as the "magic tanks," being adept at tanking casters. In addition, the specs had specific functions as well. Blood was the PvE DPS spec, focusing on sustained damage. Frost was the tank spec (with various anti-magic bonuses in addition to higher armor.) Unholy was the PvP Utility spec, with lots of tricks to compete on the battlegrounds. Shortly into the development of Wrath (pre-Beta) they decided to make every spec for Death Knights capable of tanking and doing DPS, the way that Feral Druids worked (in the days before the Guardian spec and the whole talent revamp, Feral druids could assign their talent points differently to serve as better tanks or better melee dps.)

Over the course of Wrath, Blood and Frost tended to be the stronger tank specs while Frost and Unholy tended to be better at DPS. Cataclysm reworked the specs so that Blood became the tank spec, and the others were DPS. At that point, I didn't mind, because I'd already made the switch to tanking (when they introduced dual-spec, I went with Blood tank/Blood dps.)

Anyway, after having about ten decently geared characters by the end of Cataclysm, it's been a bit of a shock to the system to only have really two (I keep telling myself I'm going to gear up my Rogue so that I have someone competent Horde-side.) I wish it were easier to gear up alts, but then again, it might just take waiting for future patches.

Today I got my LFR tier shoulders for Oterro (and a second Shin'ka, which is fine for his tank set but makes me feel like a bad person) bringing him up to iLevel 480, which is the same as Jarsus (Jar has fewer raid drops but more VP gear. He still has a blue sword and shield, but it's not like there are a ton of those in LFR.)

So on one hand, they're both ready to queue for Throne of Thunder when it comes out, but both still have a lot to work on for the Legendary chain.

As I've said, I've been more reluctant to run Jarsus through LFR (he actually still needs the Protectors of the Endless for the Terrace of Endless Spring achievement,) which means that Oterro's actually much farther along his Sigil hunt than Jarsus, needing only 6 sigils of Wisdom (if I get super-lucky, I could technically get them all this week, if I got one from every boss in Heart of Fear.)

I've never actually done a Legendary chain before - I started raiding in Wrath, and back then Legendaries only came in 25-man raids - not to mention that Shadowmourne was a dps weapon, and while technically I could argue that Oterro could use it as a tank, it's a moot point, because we're a 10-man guild (I actually miss 25-man being tuned harder and granting better gear, because it meant that 10-man was easier.) Even if we had been seriously raiding in Cataclysm (we did finish BWD, to be fair) the Legendaries there were for Casters and Rogues, and as cool as Darsino is, he's Horde, and thus is strictly LFR-only.)

So currently what I've got to do is religiously run Heart of Fear on LFR (and Terrace, of course) every week. Then there's the issue of reputation. I waited to grind reps on Oterro mostly until after getting the Grand Commendations. The result is that I actually wasn't quite honored when I was done with them and started on Shieldwall. Oterro's already revered with them, so when I do actually get to the second stage of the Legendary quests, I'll presumably have to grind rep by killing Horde in Krasarang. Oh well, at least there's no daily limit on that.

Last bit of news: I finally got into the Brawler's Guild (on Oterro - I'd originally meant to do so on Ardten, but I don't think he's geared enough for it, and I just happened to get the invitation while on Oterro.)

Bizmo's Brawlpub is, of course, a really cool location (SO much better than the Brawl'gar Arena) and the fights in the pit are pretty cool - really designed as solo boss fights. I'm sure some classes have an easier time on them than others, but there's some fun little strategies.

You do get a fair amount of gold for a short amount of time down there, but gold is of course not a huge incentive these days. It would be cool to get a set of transmog gear or a title, or even get some kind of power-level reward. I'm currently rank 3, so I'm not sure what happens when you finish all the fights. It is a pretty small feature, for all the hype that it got, and while it's enjoyable, I think they're going to need to do some serious re-working to keep it as a relevant feature in future expansions.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Justice for... Justice!

The very first PvE currency WoW introduced was the Badge of Justice. At first, only heroic 5-man bosses would drop these during Burning Crusade. PvE currencies have evolved considerably since then - with Wrath's introduction of tiered currencies and then Cataclysm's simplification of Wrath's system by making two tiers of currency: Current (Valor) and Old (Justice.)

Justice Points were basically the main catch-up mechanic. The idea was that every 5-man boss would drop Justice Points, and you could easily get a lot of JP from running random dungeons. At the expansion's launch, this would provide decent heroic-dungeon-level blue items, and as the expansion went on, the gear that used to sell for Valor Points would be downgraded to sell for JP. Because a player running old dungeons could acquire JP with relative ease, if you needed to catch up, you could run dungeons until you had enough of last patch's gear to enter the current content.

The entire premise of JP as a useful currency is based on the idea that it's easy to acquire, and easy to acquire quickly.

The irony in Mists is that JP is actually kind of hard to come by.

The acquisition of both Valor and Justice has been considerably slowed this time around, not to mention the fact that Valor gear has been locked behind reputations requiring weeks to grind (on a per-character basis, though I don't want to get too far into that.)

While Valor isn't exactly flooding us, the methods of acquiring it are myriad. One gets VP from dungeons, scenarios, raids and raid finder, and even daily quests. JP is only acquired through dungeons, and recently, scenarios. Therefore, it's actually easier to come by VP than JP these days, which raises the question: why have JP?

The culprit here, I think, is Raid Finder, and specifically Blizzard's decision to push Raid Finder as the main PvE activity. One does not gain JP through LFR.

Also, JP gear is not even up to the same level as heroic dungeon gear. It seems as if JP gear is meant to get you into heroics, rather than past them.

The thing is, we're still in the early phase of the expansion. We may be past the first patch, but we're still on the first raiding tier. I don't know what the intention for the various points is, though what I've heard is that they intend to reduce the VP cost for the current stuff. This seems to suggest that it will still be VP.

Truthfully, it looks as if we're returning to a one-currency system, which we have not had since BC. The irony is that this will likely make catching up more difficult, as they will keep that one relevant currency hard to acquire.

And if this is the path they take, it means we'll probably hit a point where we've got tons of JP and absolutely nothing to spend it on.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Legendary Redefined: Wrathion's Pandarian Tour

Legendaries have been a part of the game since the first raid (though they might have been added in a patch - I wasn't playing at launch.) Historically, Legendaries have always been weapons. Molten Core introduced Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros, and everyone's favorite Trade Chat spam: Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker. Later on, Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian was made available to casters after battling through the original Naxxramas (again, if there are errors here, it's because I don't remember this era very well.)

Burning Crusade changed Legendaries to simply be ultra-rare drops off of very difficult end-game bosses - the Twinblades of Azzinoth and Thor'idal, the Stars' Fury (at the time, Thor'idal's self-generated ammo was what made it truly Legendary, which seems quaint now.)

Wrath brought back the epic Legendary quest chains with Val'anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings and Shadowmourne (the closest we were allowed to get to wielding Frostmourne.) Likewise, Cataclysm's Legendaries involved very elaborate quest chains with many unique experiences and plot developments, granting casters of all sorts Dragonswrath, Tarecgosa's Rest and the Blades of the Father, the latter of which of course introduced us to Wrathion.

Legendaries varied in accessibility. Wrath limited them to 25-man mode (which was tuned harder those days and rewarded better gear) while Cataclysm made starting the chains relatively easy (as long as one was working on normal-mode raids at least) but required diligent clearing of the raids with great frequency.

The thing is that Legendaries have always been for specific classes or roles, and they've always been a single item (or dual-wielded set.) Admittedly, some of these items take on different forms, growing more powerful as you progress through the chain, but it was always focused on that one, shiny weapon.

Mists has absolutely redefined what Legendary means. For one, it is far more accessible. Legendaries in Mists are for everyone, and starting the quest chain requires only that you hit 90 and speak with Wrathion.

The rewards are also quite different. Completing the first leg of the chain grants you your first item - a Sha-Touched gem, for use in specific weapons that drop from Heart of Fear and Terrace of Eternal Spring. We've never had a Legendary gem before, but there you have it. Likewise, 5.2 will be bringing us Legendary Meta Gems, with the ability to give your helmet a socket to hold it (not tied to a specific helmet the way it is for weapons.)

While there has not been, so far, the kind of world-trekking story-based quest chain one sees with some of the older quests, the theme of Wrathion's chain is about exploring Pandaria and basically participating in all aspects of the expansion.

As of yet, we don't really know what the subsequent parts of the chain will involve. Will we get super-fancy weapons, like the Legendaries of old? How will it all come to a head?

The other interesting question is this: how many of us are expected to complete the chain? Currently, you can get the Sigils for the first part even from LFR, and while the droprate is very low, many have been able to get all 20 (on Oterro, who's farthest along, I've got 8 Power and 2 Wisdom.) Other requirements have tended to require diligence more than anything else, like gaining rep while working on daily quests or gaining a certain amount of Valor.

Legendaries used to be a sign of being one of the elite, but perhaps the goal of the Legendary has shifted. Rather than simply showing who's in a top raiding guild, now the Legendary quest chain is about telling the story of the expansion.

I'm still far away from finishing even the first part of the chain (I think I need to make peace with the fact that I need to spend more time in the Raid Finder than the Dungeon Finder,) but it would be quite awesome indeed to be able to complete a Legendary quest.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thank the Light: Ghostcrawler on Prot Paladin Haste

Recent blue posts have acknowledged the problem I've had with Prot Paladin gearing this expansion.

This is some fairly esoteric stuff, and even though Paladins are probably the most popular tank class (well, them or DKs,) most people don't tank, so I'll give some background:

Mists gave Prot Paladins a passive that Ret has had since Cataclysm: Sanctity of Battle. Because Paladins are a long-term resource class, nearly all our abilities have cooldowns - using the CD to keep us from casting or striking every global CD. Sanctity of Battle shortens the cooldowns of those important abilities relative to our haste, mirroring the way that a Rogue, for example, gets extra energy with more haste (a Cataclysm change.) With ability cooldowns as our "resource," haste lets us fit more button-presses in a minute, just as it does for those with short-term resources.

The weird thing, then, is that because of the change to "Active Mitigation" tanking, Prot's need to generate Holy Power so we can cast Shield of the Righteous more often becomes paramount to survival.

The odd consequence of this is that after hit and hard-capping expertise (to make sure our abilities connect and thus grant our Power,) Mastery and Haste share our third priority spot for secondary stats. With role-neutral Mastery and Haste as our chief uncapped stats, we actually wind up preferring what would usually be considered DPS pieces instead of "tanking pieces," which have the two stats that are strictly for tanks: dodge and parry.

I have a necklace, for instance, from hitting exalted with the Klaxxi, that is expertise and haste. I passed up a dodge/parry one to get it, and that seems super wrong. Worse still, with the current gearing system, there are plenty of pieces in LFR that would be upgrades but that I'll never see because they're not "tank" pieces.

Ghostcrawler has seen this, and help is on the way: They're going to reevaluate some of the systems, likely nerfing Shield of the Righteous (and compensating elsewhere) to encourage dodge and parry over haste. They still want haste to be useful, but they don't want us wishing for DPS gear and sighing at all the useless dodge and parry on our tier sets.

I appreciate the desire to make non-traditional tank stats viable, but stacking haste on a tank - and a plate one, no less - is just plain wrong. Bring on the changes, hopefully as of 5.2.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Grand Plan of the Old Gods

We've had four Old Gods named so far: C'thun, Yogg-Saron, N'zoth, and Y'shaarj. We know that they've been trying to take over Azeroth since it was created (Kil'ruk the Windreaver believes the Old Gods got there first, but I'm inclined to think that what he thinks of as the invasion of the Usurpers was actually when the Titans came back to visit a second time, only to find their creation infested with Eldritch Abominations.)

We know that they've been in conflict with each other - sending their Faceless Ones against each other in many wars, though this may have not been because of any actual disagreement, instead being their nature as creatures of chaos.

Anyway, Y'shaarj did not survive that encounter with the second arrival of the Titans, leaving the Sha behind. If he was in that part of the world for a specific reason, it probably had something to do with the waters of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms - which I've speculated is either a back-up or remnant of the Well of Eternity.

If I recall correctly, during a lore panel, Blizzard said that Ahn-Qiraj was actually built by the Titans, though we can also probably guess that it was heavily modified by the servants of C'Thun. The most important thing we know of existing in that part of the world is Uldum, and specifically the Halls of Origination.

Yogg-Saron is way up in Storm Peaks, and Ulduar does serve as his prison, but I also think that the facility was there more as a monitoring station for the planet. Ulduar was, I would guess, the main Titan headquarters on Azeroth (it's certainly the most opulent.) So there's an obvious reason for the Old Gods to want a presence there, but if we also assume that the Storm Peaks are where the first Earthen, Mechagnomes, and Vrykul were created, it would imply that this is where the Titans made their sentient constructs - and thus Yogg-Saron could have been the one most responsible for the Curse of Flesh (ignoring my earlier article about how that curse may have actually been a blessing.)

We don't really know where N'zoth is, but we do know that his influence is very wide, and that he is responsible for the Emerald Nightmare. It would not be too far-fetched to imagine that N'zoth is, actually, in the Dream as well.

And that means the N'zoth is a freaking genius.

The Titans knew that Azeroth may have gone wrong somehow. It's an important project for them, for reasons that we do not yet know, and so a lot of safety features were built in. One of these features was the Emerald Dream - a back-up of Azeroth in its natural state, before sapient beings are introduced. The other is the Halls of Origination - this is the big red "Abort" button that the Titans can push if things go wrong. If the world is compromised and cannot be salvaged, the Titans can hit that button and the whole planet gets broken down to the atomic level and rebuilt from scratch.

The blueprint for that re-build? The Emerald Dream.

So let's say that C'thun and Yogg-Saron rise from their prisons and Sha start running all over the place, and just for good measure the Scourge, the Burning Legion, and the Murlocs are overrunning the place while what's left of the Alliance and Horde are either zombies, insane, dripping with ingested demon blood, or all three? Algalon comes down, says "whoa damn! Time to hit that button like a mofo!"

He hits the button, and poof! Reset. All's well, except... No, the planet's totally overrun with Nightmare and N'zoth cackles to himself and then thanks the Titans for building him such a lovely home.

N'zoth's running a classic Xanatos Gambit. Even if the Titans manage to use their doomsday device to stop the Old Gods, he still wins. The only hope, then, is for heroes like us to beat down those Lovecraftian beasties the old fashioned way.

Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!

The Expansion of Our Dreams

There's a very obvious place that we ought to go in a future expansion. It's been teased and hinted at, and the concept seems to scream with potential. Every time talk begins of a new expansion, this is the first one people jump to.

I am referring, of course, to the Emerald Dream.

(No, that was not a build-up for an ironic pay-off, unless you were expecting that, in which case it was meta-ironic, which may be the most hipster-ish adjective ever known to exist.)

Yet four expansions in, and we have yet to enter the Emerald Dream. WoW Insider has a post that argues why Mists of Pandaria is actually the closest we'll get to an expansion focusing on the Dream. I am still not convinced that Blizzard will not find a way to get us there, but at the same time, there are some huge roadblocks in place.

PRO: Background

We know that the Emerald Dream is there, and that it's got a huge influence on Azeroth. As far as we can tell, the Dream is another layer of Azeroth, somewhat akin to the Elemental Planes, but this one was created not as a prison, but as a back-up. Presumably, should the Titans or their representatives decide to re-originate Azeroth through the mechanism in Uldum, the planet will revert to a state identical to the Dream, which is that of a single continent, devoid of civilization, or possibly even the sapient species who could create one (apart from visiting Druids while they sleep. I'd also guess that Cenarius and the other Ancients are from here.) There's a lot of background that would make this feel like a logical destination.

CON: Nothin' There!

One of the key concepts of the dream is that there's no civilization, which presumably means no buildings. Having an entire expansion take place in a completely unsettled wilderness (without even ancient ruins or mysterious tribal people) would probably get pretty damned dull, even with cool landscapes.

PRO: An Obvious Villain

We've been hearing about N'zoth since Cataclysm, and we've been hearing about the Nightmare since vanilla. The WoW Insider article points out that the Sha are not too much unlike what we might imagine the Nightmare to be like, but I could imagine the Nightmare being really, really trippy. Plus, the existence of the Nightmare corrupting the Dream could be an excuse to have more than just wild country.

CON: The Nightmare Was Defeated

In Stormrage, or one of those books, Malfurion beats Xavius and clears out the Nightmare.

PRO: But Not Destroyed

Despite defeating the Nightmare, it still exists, stuffed into something called the Rift of Aln. There's your Shadowmoon Valley/Icecrown zone of the expansion! In fact, even areas free on the corruption might still need to mend.

CON: It's super Druid-centric

Don't get me wrong, Druids are cool, but it's not as if they've ever lacked story focus. And despite the fact that they're available to four races, Night Elves really dominate Druid lore (despite the Worgen being tied more inextricably to Druidism.)

PRO: Huge Potential for Lore

Knowing what the back-up for Azeroth is would give us huge insight into what the Titans actually intend to do with our planet. So far, most of the time the big reveal is not so much what the Titans are doing, but just that Titans are involved in something (though I expect to learn more in 5.2.) We already know how the Titans relate to the Dream, and I think Blizzard could move the lore forward in a serious way in an Emerald Dream expansion.

CON: We've Seen the Emerald Dream Before

There are actually a number of quests for druids and non-druids alike where we've been able to enter the Emerald Dream. This usually just shifts us to a different phase with a green filter, though. Shouldn't ICC disappear around us when healers enter the dream to get mana back on the Valithria Dreamwalker fight? How is there a Maelstrom there when we enter the dream during Madness of Deathwing (ok, maybe our characters enter it while the camera stays on them in their sleep-state in the real world.) If the Emerald Dream were just normal Azeroth through a green filter, that would be pretty lame, yet so far, that's what it is.

There are probably some points I've overlooked, but I'm not giving up all hope of an Emerald Dream expansion (Alliance faction: Druids of the Pack? Please?) If they could justify (or just ret-con, though this is less elegant) putting towns and cities into the dream, I think it would be a cool area of conflict, especially if they take the "dream" idea and really freaking run with it. I want Alice in Wonderland-level stuff! Floating clocks and spiraling roads! I want to slay a Jabberwocky with a Vorpal Sword, damn it! And then I want to tame one on my hunter!

All this has got me thinking about Emerald Dream lore. I'll make a post about that soon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Valor Gear and Reputation in 5.2

Well, big news coming from Blizzard: The new valor gear coming with the new tier of content will still be tied to a reputation faction, but it will be the new raid faction: Shado-Pan Assault. What this means is that players who are sick of dailies and just want to raid can rejoice - as long as you're running the Throne of Thunder, you'll get access to the new sweetness.

As long as one can gain rep through LFR (and given how much they're pushing LFR this expansion, I imagine they will allow that) I think this is a fantastic change. While I'm not entirely against daily quest factions, as an altoholic I think rep-grinding through instance runs is a lot less of a pain (soloing as a mage - something I've never really enjoyed.)

On the other hand, that does leave a certain question of how non-raiders are going to get by. One could argue that as non-raiders, they don't need the fancy gear, but I think that's a pretty bad philosophy - as soon as one's avenues to improvement are closed, the game feels less like fun.

And even though Blizzard clearly wants to convert a lot of non-raiders to at least LFR raiders, I think allowing multiple options for people is a very good idea.

The question all of this raises is what the new daily factions, the Kirin Tor Offensive and Sunreaver Onslaught, are going to reward. A mount might be cool, but I think there ought to be some kind of power-increase reward for the weeks it will take to hit exalted.

The simplest solution is of course to merely let people buy Reputation Gear with gold from these two. They could return to a more traditional reputation model, though the big problem with those old-fashioned types was that they usually had a very limited selection. By having "all shoulders" or "all helmets" tied to a particular faction, the appeal was fairly general.

Frankly, I actually think it might just be time for them to return to the old model of having VP gear available without any gating other than the weekly cap. Then, you could keep the daily quest model for factions (allowing the faction grind to really feel like a grind for that faction and not just a "check out my tabard! I'm totally fighting the Neferset in the name of the Wildhammer Clan!") Hardcore daily-questers would be able to get decent gear for their efforts, and the way one acquired VP (and VP gear) would be up to them.

I get what Blizzard is trying to do: They're balanced on the edge of a knife, trying to make content appealing without making it feel mandatory, and while I think that the fragment of 5.2's Valor system that I've seen is a step in the right direction, I think the system I've just proposed would be the optimal one.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kirin Tor Offensive and the Sunreaver Onslaught

The Operation Shieldwall and Dominance Offensive reputation grinds are widely considered the most successful in Mists so far, due, I have no doubt, to the existence of one-shot story missions roughly every other day (or every day after you get your Grand Commendation.)

What we get, effectively, is a gated quest chain. The limits on reputation imposed by the limits on daily quests means we don't get to do the whole thing in one go (though perhaps because of my guild and racial bonus, I did manage to get three story quests in a single day on my main) but we feel very motivated to push the dailies, because of the frequent rewards in the form of these story-quests.

And the reason these quests are so rewarding is that we get to see serious story development. In expansions past, because questing was mostly for leveling, we didn't really get a lot of story after hitting the cap. With OS/DO, we got to see some serious developments take place. While the story of the Divine Bell itself was fairly self-contained (spoilers: at the end of the quest chain, Anduin destroys the bell, so I guess we don't have to worry about that) the implications of the various actions the other characters take has a much more lasting impact. Not only do we know that Garrosh fully intends to weaponize the Sha to use against the Alliance, we also see how the harmony between Alliance and Horde in Dalaran breaks down - Jaina finally loses patience after members of the Sunreavers use Dalaran's portals to steal the bell from Darnassus. What was once a shining beacon of cooperation is now torn apart.

Jaina, left in charge of the Kirin Tor after Rhonin's death, puts her foot down and kicks the Sunreavers out, making Dalaran an Alliance-only city once again.

5.2 will bring two new factions: the Sunreaver Onslaught and the Kirin Tor Offensive. Given the popularity of the 5.1 factions, I expect that these two will have a similar structure.

As of yet, I do not believe there's much about the chain on the PTR, but I imagine we can predict how things will go: The Sunreavers, frustrated by their summary eviction/imprisonment, are going to go back to the Horde and begin working against the Alliance. Meanwhile, Jaina will likely be the focus of the Kirin Tor Offensive's story, as she attempts to beat the Sunreavers to the punch and deal with her anger.

There are some who see Jaina becoming a real fanatic, that she will become obsessed with destroying the Horde as vengeance for Theramore, and even that she might eventually go down the path to become a full-fledged villain. I, for one, really hope that does not happen. Jaina's been undergoing about six months of anger and grief, feeling stabbed in the back by people she trusted, but she's not quite bloodthirsty the way that Garrosh is. She doesn't just kill every Sunreaver in Dalaran, after all - she locks them up.

The Sunreavers, and the Blood Elves in general, are in a pretty bad position. Garrosh would throw them to the wolves if it suited his purposes, but the Alliance (quite justifiably, I might add) does not trust them. Will the 5.2 faction stories lead to a showdown or a reconciliation? The latter seems a little overly optimistic, but I also wonder what direction we can expect Alliance/Horde relations to go before we go and depose Garrosh.

It kind of matters how 5.3 or 5.4 (or whatever patch the Garrosh raid is in) goes. If we simply see two very different sides of things, such as the Horde just seeing it as a popular revolt and the Alliance seeing it as a full-scale invasion, we might not see much in the way of reconciliation, but on the other hand, it would be kind of cool to see the Alliance join forces with the Horde uprising and use a united front to defeat Garrosh and his Kor'kron.

5.2's reputation grinds could really hold the key for how it all plays out.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

World of Cold Warcraft: Possibilities for an End to the Fourth War

The numbering of the wars in Warcraft's history is pretty silly, except if one takes a step back out-of-universe to think of them as merely corresponding to the three RTS games. The First and Second Wars were, after all, not the first and second wars to be fought on Azeroth. They were the first to be fought between Humans and Orcs (the Alliance would not really come into existence until the second,) but even if you use that logic, the Third War doesn't make sense either, because the Third War was against the Scourge and the Burning Legion (actually, it was pretty much a total mess, with Humans vs. Scourge and Night Elves vs. Horde and then Scourge betraying the Burning Legion and then Alliance, Horde, and Night Elves vs. Burning Legion.)

Would we call the current conflict the Fourth War? Perhaps, but after the War of the North (Wrath of the Lich King) and the Nexus War (same) and all the other unnamed conflicts that have happened between, the number system is kind of screwed.

Anyway, the current Alliance/Horde war began at the Wrath Gate or the Battle of Undercity (depending on your perspective,) but did not really turn into a full-fledged war until the appointment of Garrosh Hellscream as Warchief. The Alliance did some serious saber-rattling at Undercity, but the thing did not boil over until the Shattering.

The state that existed before this was fairly complex. The two sides (the Alliance incorporating the Night Elves into their faction following the Battle of Mount Hyjal and the Horde incorporating the Forsaken after the Plaguelands Civil War) had shared a victory, and theoretically an era of peace might have been the logical result. And in a way, there was an era of peace. Battlegrounds like Warsong Gulch, Alterac Valley, or Arathi Basin represented pockets of armed conflict, and the logging operations in Ashenvale or the aggression against the humans of Hillsbrad were areas where both sides clashed, but for the most part, the two factions were cooperating.

This extended even in the journey to Outland. Not only did Draenei and Blood Elf forces work together to protect Shattrath and assault Kael'thas and Illidan (and later team up more cohesively to retake the Sunwell,) but Honor Hold watched Thrallmar's back against the arrayed Demonic Forge Camps. There were operations to subvert the other side, such as attempts to neutralize the guardian creatures around Sylvanar and Thundermar Ruins (might have the name wrong - Horde town in Blade's Edge) but this never erupted into open conflict.

There's even a quest in Borean Tundra where Horde players return deserters to Alliance handlers, suggesting a (somewhat begrudging) air of cooperation - a cooperation that was punished dearly at the hands of Putress at the Wrath Gate.

Looking at the real world, the biggest war ever fought was World War Two, and much like the Third War, there were two very powerful factions that were left after the threat of Demons/Nazis was eliminated. Thankfully, the United States and the Soviet Union never did get into an open conflict, but that's certainly not to say that there was not a deadly, dangerous competition going on between the two sides.

Returning to WoW: the War (whatever we're calling it) is coming to a climax in Mists. With things like the annihilation of Theramore and the eventual invasion of Orgrimmar and Garrosh's fall from power (even though Horde players will most likely experience this primarily as a revolutionary uprising, the Alliance's part in the event must also be acknowledged,) it would not really make sense to say that the current war will continue.

Now, as a caveat to what's coming up: There's an argument a lot of people make for having the Alliance and Horde constantly at odds, which is that it's World of WARcraft. I disagree with this, because we were certainly at war against the Burning Legion and the Scourge - nothing about "Warcraft" requires that it be a war between Alliance and Horde.

Still, as much as I imagine if I were living in Azeroth that I would want to see both sides getting along, like the Klingons and the Federation in the Next-Gen era (Warcraft Orcs are TOTALLY Next Gen-era Klingons,) I do recognize that maintaining the conflict they have in one form or another is important to the game (especially on PvP servers.)

I would love to see a World of Spycraft, as it were. One of the reasons you often see long-running works team up the old adversaries is that you can get a lot of fun out of the trust issues and simmering hatreds - where things can be more subtle and mysterious rather than just big battles.

Imagine, for example, being in Dalaran during the events that lead up to Jaina's purge (actually, I haven't done Dominance Offensive yet, so I don't know if Horde players do so.) Alliance players could try to investigate the Sunreavers, using the friendliness of the setting to cozy up to some Horde folks and see if you could pick up a lead and find whoever was responsible for helping Garrosh's war efforts. Horde players, likewise, could do their own investigation to try to discover whether the Sunreavers really were behind it, while at the same time trying to deflect the Alliance spies looking into it.

In the future, you could imagine a place like Gilneas City becoming a hotbed of intrigue - if a treaty is signed, but the Horde still want to maintain a presence in the city, you could have tons of potential - peacekeepers trying to maintain order, Forsaken fringe elements (who might have tacit approval from the Dark Lady) attempting a big plague-attack, Worgen renegades murdering Horde ambassadors. You could make Gilneas City look like Cold-War era Berlin! It might suck for anyone who wants to live there, but as a game it could be a ton of fun.

Admittedly, mechanically there's a lot of trouble with sustaining that sort of stuff, and so a Cold War would also have to include a lot of actual open conflicts. But that's what we've got the Burning Legion and the Old Gods (and their respective subsidiaries) for! Even if they aren't stabbing each other in the back before a battle against the real threat (cough, Horde in Icecrown,) having both sides attempt to manipulate the war to put themselves in a better position after beating the Demons/Old Gods/Undead/Emerald Nighmare would be some compelling story.

In terms of Horde/Alliance relations, I would love to see a messy and subtle War-that-is-not-a-War going on, once the dust settles in Grommash Hold.

Striking from the Shadows: Subtlety

Rogues are, I believe, currently the most under-played class in the game. Supposedly, there are more Retribution Paladins than Rogues of all three specs. The class, which actually used to be quite popular back in the day, now has to compete for gear with viable Druid animals specs (Bear and Cat) as well as Monks of the Windwalker and Brewmaster varieties. If we get Demon Hunters, they will have even more competition. While the type of armor does not really mean much in terms of gameplay and what you might find interesting (I have plenty of fun playing a Prot Paladin, a Frost DK and an Arms Warrior,) there is a bit of overlap in flavor that I think makes playing a rogue less exciting, even if they are actually very cool lore-wise (definitely my favorite non-magical class in terms of flavor.)

I've already written about the need for a Warlock-style total class revamp for Rogues, and I stand by that article, but this one is going to focus on my favorite Rogue spec, which is also sadly the spec that people usually pretend does not exist: Subtlety.

I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm pretty sure that Subtlety is the least popular spec in the entire game. Rogues are already pretty underrepresented, and for many expansions, even the Rogue columnists at WoW Insider have referred to "the two Rogue specs," meaning Combat and Assassination.

Subtlety has typically had a somewhat more healthy position as a PvP spec, but much of the utility that made it a PvP powerhouse was distributed to the other spec via the Mists talent overhaul.

Mechanically, Subtlety has two things going thematically: the importance of Stealth openers (Shadow Dance and Expose Weakness) and Bleeds (Hemorrhage and Sanguinary Vein, and a need to keep up Rupture, though that is shared by the other specs.) Subtlety also likes to be behind the target, given the superiority of Backstab over Hemorrhage as your CP-generator and the importance of those flurries of Ambush you use while in Shadow Dance, which is certainly flavorful, but is more of a liability than an asset in terms of making the spec attractive to skeptical players.

The problem is that, at least in the case of Bleeds, this does not feel exactly "Subtle." Bleeds seem more like the kind of thing a brawler would use, and thus would logically fit with Combat better (and frankly, Combat's not all that interesting mechanically either - other than the fact that they don't use daggers.)

The "Stealth matters" stuff is good, but your uptime for Expose Weakness is a pretty small percentage of your time on the target.

It was pointed out by narlic on the comments to this article on WoW Insider, referring to a post on the official forums, that with the introduction of Shadow Blades, Rogues officially have a bit of the old Black Magic working for them. In fact, from Vanilla, the Rogue class description had always mentioned that Rogues combine agility and speed with mysticism to do what they do. And in a world like this, mysticism means magic.

It would seem very logical that Subtlety could act as the mystic assassin type. If you could truly become one with the darkness, you'd be pretty damn Subtle indeed.

There would be a lot of work to be done, but replacing Subtlety's bleed theme with a Shadow-damage theme (and not simply replacing Rupture with a Shadow-damage DOT - I'd rather see some actual re-working of rotational abilities) would do a great deal to increase the "cool factor" of the spec.

The article I linked up above makes a good point: Subtlety can actually do decent damage. Its numbers are skewed by sampling bias (long story short: people hear Sub's numbers are low, top players in top guilds avoid it so as not to hinder their group, thus Sub's numbers go down relative to the other specs because none of the best players are playing it.) The problem is that the identity of the spec is extremely vague.

I'd like to see a whole host of Shadow-based abilities, creating illusions, conjuring a sense of dread in your opponents while they frantically look for you. A lot of the stealth-based gameplay loses its strength in PvE, but there's plenty of room for abilities that have the flavor of a dark-magic-wielding master assassin that are more about killing a big monster.

While I am by no means a game designer (I call this Armchair Game Design,) I figured I would come up with a couple abilities that would work with Subtlety. While I could also see them creating a new resource for the spec, in the same vein as Demonic Fury or Burning Embers, I realize that Rogues already have a two-resource system by default.

Silent Companion: 0 Energy, 1.5 Min Cooldown
Animates your shadow with murderous power, creating a duplicate of yourself that attacks your foes, dealing pure Shadow damage.

Not only would this be a nice little cooldown to weave in there, it would also be an opportunity for a bit of flashiness, as you could come up with some cool effects for your shadow duplicate.

Ghostly Strike: 40 Energy. 15 sec Cooldown
Strikes the target for X damage (Hemo-level) and surrounds you with a ghostly mist, allowing Ambush and Backstab to be used regardless of your position for the next 10 seconds.

I've always been sad that Ghostly Strike is no longer part of our toolkit, even if the ability itself was not terribly interesting (though the dodge buff was kind of nice for soloing.) Ghostliness is really the theme that I think Subtlety should push, so it would be nice to see a reincarnated Ghostly Strike.

Infectious Paranoia: 35 Energy, range 30 yards
Finishing move that causes the target to shout in fear, inflicting Paranoia on all targets within 10 yards. Paranoia causes (x - variable by combo points) Shadow damage to the target over 8 seconds.

This is perhaps an inelegant replacement for Crimson Tempest, but I would want the flavor of being the stalker who causes panic among the enemies by remaining unseen.

Rogues are due for a revamp much the way that Warlocks were, and I'll be very curious to see what they look like when that happens (I imagine we'll have to wait until the next expansion.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Paths of Progression and 5.2's Lack of 5-man Dungeons

Today it was announced (or perhaps just confirmed) that when 5.2 comes out, the 5.0 Raid Finder raids will have an increased drop rate, to help people catch up in gearing.

Throne of Thunder, believe it or not, will actually be the first raid to be added to an expansion before additional 5-man dungeons since Ulduar. Trial of the Crusader brought Trial of the Champion, Icecrown Citadel brought the Frozen Halls dungeons, While the raid and dungeons were not related, Firelands came after 4.1's addition of the revamped Zul dungeons. Dragon Soul came along with the Hour of Twilight dungeons.

While there are some who prefer to raid and only raid, or some who PvP, or even some small few who really do like to play the game solo and just stick to dailies, I would argue that 5-man dungeons are the very backbone of World of Warcraft. One plays through them while leveling up, and it is the smallest group in which the three player roles are relevant.

With the introduction of the raid finder, Blizzard let it be known that they were very happy with the idea that Raids would become the core PvE progression method. Of course, it had already been so for those in raiding guilds, but with the relative ease of Raid Finder, players of all stripes would now be able to see all the biggest, most epic content Blizzard puts together.

Now, I love the Raid Finder (even if you often get crappy groups.) I would probably still have never seen Madness of Deathwing if it weren't for LFR (I still have not seen Firelands' Ragnaros fight, or really any fights there other than Shannox, Beth'tilac, or Alysrazor.) As my guild's raiding core has dissipated since Wrath, Raid Finder is a great way for me to see the content when it's fresh, rather than having to wait to the end of the expansion before I get through the first tier of raiding.

That said, I also really like running heroics. Nowhere do you feel more in control as a tank than when you are tanking a 5-man (in the days of Vengeance - have I mentioned my dislike of Vengeance? - the first tank in usually will hold entire trash mobs until they are dead while the next tank will desperately try to get aggro on a single target.)

Blizzard's frustration with the late-expansion 5-mans was primarily based on the idea that one could "skip over" content rather than playing through it. Most notoriously (though I think this was really more because of the raid than the dungeon,) many were able to gear up to Trial of the Crusader entry-level gear without doing Ulduar, a sin that Blizzard is loathe to repeat.

Heroics can be run once a day, rather than once a week, so if given a handful of 5-mans versus the previous raid tier, and the two shared iLevel, most players would focus on running those dungeons for their gear. A lucky player can get a full set of previous-raid-tier-quality gear in only a few days.

So, of course, this sparks the problem of "too much to do" versus "too little to do." Some will resent the "need" to run these heroics every day to make sure they're gearing up, or feel that they've missed out on the previous raid because they outgear it so easily, thus shrinking the game in their eyes.

Yet I would argue that the lack of dungeons is worse. While I really like that the LFR loot system prevents loot drama in a giant PUG, the fact that you only have (as of tier 14) 16 bosses to kill per week (versus, for example, a max of 56 per week if we use 3.3's Frozen Halls as an example) means that, regardless of the percentage chance of getting a drop in LFR, it is such a small sample size that you'll get some wide fluctuations in actual drop rates.

I've often thought that I'd like a system that emphasized currencies - providing a little more predictability, without losing the randomization of a loot table. In Cataclysm, my Enhancement Shaman was my Horde main, and I went through most of the expansion without replacing my 346 blue weapons in both hands. In fact, it was not until I got to Deathwing himself that I finally replaced the fist weapon from Ozruk and the Justice Point (as in, always was a JP piece) off-hand axe.

Dungeons are also a lot easier to fit into one's schedule. Setting aside queue times (for DPS, this expansion, I've found queues for RF and DF fairly comparable, for Tanks, RF can take an hour while DF is usually less than a minute,) a raid finder run typically takes considerably more time. A raid boss, after all, can take up to ten minutes, and while wipes are meant to be somewhat infrequent in RF, they certainly still occur. The point is, you need to set aside a very large chunk of time, usually over an hour, to run the raids, and if you are expecting to maximize your chance at gear, you have to set aside (at least this tier) 5 such chunks per week.

Dungeons are much more flexible - Mists dungeons rarely take more than a half-hour. Even if you might spend the same or more time in those dungeons in a week, each individual run is easier to squeeze in.

But let's set aside gear. I know that the game doesn't really work if we can all gear up instantly, and it's fine that there are some speed bumps to keep us running things. They haven't really been able to come up with a way to keep us from gearing up too fast through 5-mans, but I don't think that's a very good excuse to not have the 5-mans in the first place.

The Frozen Halls were a brilliant series of dungeons, letting us see different parts of the Scourge infrastructure as well as serving as a great lore introduction to Icecrown Citadel. Also, one cannot forget the sense of panic one felt as the Lich King slowly marched toward you, sending wave after wave of Undead to kill you before you could escape, and then the awesome Big Damn Gunship moment when the Skybreaker/Orgrim's Hammer came to rescue you. Likewise, seeing a Bad Future in the post-apocalyptic Dragonblight or witnessing how Illidan kind of saved the world were both great experiences that wouldn't have really fit into the Dragon Soul raid itself.

New 5-mans can be a great infusion of lifeblood into the game, so I'm sad we won't be getting any in 5.2.

So what's the answer? You could adjust the iLevels of the new dungeons so that the previous tier's raid finder is still attractive, but that would discourage those who had kept up with the tier from wanting to go in there.

What I think this goes back to is the question of what the Raid Finder is there for. As a method for people to see the raid regardless of their guild status, I think you couldn't expect any more from it - it does a great job at that. As a primary form of progression, though... I don't know about that.

The key is options. If someone wants to see the raids, they have a great way to do so. But if they decide, for example, that they don't really like Mogu'shan Vaults, I don't think it's a terrible idea to give them some alternate method to move on through the content. If you were desperate to make sure they at least saw the place once, you could make it a prerequisite to beat it before you could try the other raids.

Oh, right. That's already the case.