Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tank Buffs! Riposte for Warriors and Death Knights and an Across-the-Board Buff for Taunts

Threat in WoW has transformed quite a bit in recent years. In Wrath and earlier, it was a tank's main focus to worry about keeping one's threat up on enemies. One geared for survival and played for threat. With Cataclysm's introduction of Vengeance, which was originally just to help us scale better with gear but since has been treated as a panacea for all threat problems (one that I think has some huge flaws,) the focus has shifted away from maintaining threat and on to active mitigation - playing for survival.

While I actually have mostly come around to the active-mitigation style of tanking (saving a Shield of the Righteous for something like Sha of Fear's Thrash, for example,) I think that the assumption that tank threat doesn't need any help is false.

Luckily, 5.4 appears to be adding some things to make a tank's life easier.

First off, all generic "taunt" abilities (Taunt, Reckoning, Growl, Dark Command, and although it is not listed yet, I would assume Provoke) will not only force the target to attack you and put you at the top of the threat list, but it will also increase your threat generation against it by an additional 200% for the duration. This, I think, will make things like Tank-Swaps far easier, and it will also make a taunt more meaningful and useful. Good!

The other change appears to be directed only at Death Knights and Warriors in the form of Riposte. Basically, dodging or parrying will give the tank a chance to increase their crit chance by I believe half of their combined dodge/parry value. This will certainly make dodge and parry better as threat stats, but also, at least for Warriors, increase Rage generation due to the recent changes to Enrage, and thus feed into survival.

Paladins don't get this, either because Blizzard wants to enshrine haste-tanking on Paladins (boo! boo I say!) or because we already have the 5.1 or 5.2 or whenever it was changes to Grand Crusader, causing parries and dodges to have a chance to light up our Avenger's Shield and make it generate Holy Power.

Even though I had talked about removing tank gear altogether, it might be more ideal to make those avoidance stats more attractive.

In an ideal world, I'd love to see the avoidance stats given a little more oomph, tying them into core mechanics in a mastery-like manner, like making parry increase resource generation, and also definitely making avoidance help out with threat.

The taunt change is very nice. Lets see more of this kind of thing!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Little Speculation about the Elder Scrolls

I was first introduced to the Elder Scrolls series through Oblivion, shortly after it came out. I played a little bit of Morrowind, but the game was so clearly designed for PCs as opposed to consoles (pushing fully forward on the control stick would cause you to run, which drained stamina, meaning you had to carefully just press the stick hard enough to move, but not too much) that I gave up on it.

Anyway, what should surprise few is that Skyrim, the fifth game in the series, blew everything before it out of the water. Many of the more annoying aspects of the old game were excised (like Oblivion's odd level scaling that made you feel less powerful the more you played) and they added many awesome elements (like Shouts, Dragons, and Beards.)

They are currently working on an online version of Elder Scrolls, set in the distant past, and arranged largely as most MMOs are, except that rather than two opposing sides, there are three.

While some kind of multiplayer Elder Scrolls game sounds interesting, my hope is that this does not sink the franchise as a whole into the MMO world. When it comes to Warcraft, WoW was my introduction to the series, so the fact that the games are no longer RTS's does not concern me too much. However, I can sympathize with those who wish they could command their peons to gather lumber while they send a mix of raiders and grunts to take out that pesky human encampment with a pretty fresh goldmine. To an extent, these people still have Starcraft to fall back on, which is mechanically similar even if its setting is not (though the Zerg and Scourge are pretty darned close to each other in feel.)

Anyway, Skyrim was a freaking fantastic game - few can argue that. I would love to see the future of Tamriel is subsequent games.

The only real issue I can see coming up is the outcome of the Skyrim civil war. Players can choose one side or the other, or (of course, being an Elder Scrolls game) stay out of the war and allow it to remain a stalemate.

Just as I'm not sure that they could ever do a true Mass Effect 4 (to an even greater extent than in this case,) due to the radically different ways the world could look, it would be difficult to reconcile this. One could set the next game another century or two in the future, at a point when Ulric's rebellion is just a footnote to the legend of the Dragonborn. They could find a way to gloss over it, or they could even have some sort of tie-in feature to link the game's save files with a previous one (or, for a simpler way, simply have you choose through dialogue early on.)

But there's a pretty cool story to tell that it only hinted at in Skyrim, which is the inevitable flare-up of conflict with the Aldmeri Dominion and their ruling Thalmor. Even though theoretically a high elf character (or even other non-human races) could back the Dominion, it's clear that these are bad guys - basically Nazi Elves.

In the lore, Hammerfell broke away from the Empire and thus does not have to abide by the laws banning Talos worship. It's clear from the civil war chain that either way the war ends, the Empire's position is weakened - they either lose an important province or they reinforce the Thalmor's position.

So I would love to see a new fully-fledged Elder Scrolls game that would get to deal with that. Set in either Hammerfall (which I imagine having a cool Arabian/North African desert feel) or the Summerset Isles we could see a reignited war between the Empire and the Dominion.

Skyrim came out in 2011, and Oblivion was in 2005, so it's not exactly like the next game is imminent, especially given that they're probably focusing on the MMO. But that said, I really hope there's some new Elder Scrolls action coming.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Does Garrosh Get Redemption?

With the Siege of Orgrimmar approaching, there is a question that many people have raised: What will be Garrosh's Ultimate Fate?

In the past, the big, expansion-wide villains have been monstrous, dangerous abominations. Illidan had literally transformed into a demon. Arthas has long ago lost his soul. Deathwing had transformed into a ball of fiery rage, literally bursting at the seams with hatred.

But Garrosh is really just a man. He's not inherently evil the way that demonic corruption, soulless undeath, or the taint of the Old Gods will make you. No, Garrosh is merely ambitious, reckless, and devoted to a worldview that puts his and his peoples' well-being far ahead of any of the other mortal races.

One could argue, actually, that the fact that Garrosh is doing all this on his own volition makes him more evil. Deathwing was a champion of good and order, but his mind was rewritten by the Old Gods. Arthas had certainly done a lot of bad things before he took up Frostmourne, but at least in his mind he was doing it for the greater good. It was only after his soul was stolen from him that he began to pursue true, vindictive evil. Illidan used his demonic power to save the world twice, and it was only after he was exiled for his methods that he fell into a cycle of paranoia and power-attainment.

On the other hand, Garrosh has two factors to mitigate our opinion of him. First of all, in his mind, he may believe that he is, actually, doing what is best for Azeroth. He's seen the Scourge and led the Horde against Twilight's Hammer. He knows that strength is needed to defend the world. Granted, his pursuit of strength and power has led him to an "ends justify the means" mentality where the means are actually harming the stated ends. The other factor is that Garrosh is ultimately doing pretty much what he was told to do. Thrall chose him because he felt the Horde needed the kind of heroic legend he had heard about the Old Horde having. The problem is that Thrall's rose-colored-glasses view of that Horde made him think that people like Doomhammer and his ilk were heroes, when in fact they were brutes and warmongers who waged an unrelenting war against the native inhabitants of Azeroth. The Horde considers the Orcish internment camps to be the original sin that created their conflict with the Alliance, which is so utterly myopic to be self-delusional. The internment camps were bad, yes, but compared the the actions of Doomhammer's Horde, they were a kindness.

So in Thrall's telling Garrosh to embody that Old Horde, Garrosh has done exactly as he was told. Is this a great excuse? No, Garrosh is an individual who ought to know that what he is doing is wrong, but his internal moral compass is so weak that all he can do is imitate the stories he has heard of.

The point is: with better guidance, Garrosh could have been a hero. The question now becomes "is he too far-gone?"

If the defeat of Garrosh leads to his death, it can hardly be said that he did not deserve it. After destroying the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, nuking Theramore, and turning Orgrimmar into a police state where trolls are gunned down in the streets, there's plenty of evidence there to put him in front of a firing squad. Not to mention the fact that the last phase of his fight appears to have him willingly soak himself in Sha-energy (or, more accurately, the essence of Y'shaarj - note the colors.) After an action such as that, there may be very little of the mortal orc left to redeem.

But suppose that that essence can be taken out of him - perhaps because Y'shaarj is truly dead, and not merely dormant the way that Yogg-Saron and C'thun likely are (seeing as we don't see Sha, or rather Sar and Thu, all over Northrend and Kalimdor respectively, one can probably assume that C'thun and Yogg-Saron are still somehow alive.) If we can cleanse Garrosh and stun him long enough to talk some sense into him, what then?

Exile would be a possibility, perhaps sending him back to Garadar. That would seem a little dangerous, though, seeing as he might rally the Fel Orcs to his cause if he decided he wasn't really interested in redemption. And if he was willing to douse himself in Y'shaarj's blood, you can sure as hell bet he'll drink the first Pit Lord's blood he comes across (though that could have some interesting interactions, the Forsaken Alchemist in me thinks.) Might he be imprisoned? That would seem a better option. A kind of years-long time-out so he could think about what he had done. The Alliance would have an interest in locking him up (if they didn't just chop off his head.) If Varian drags Garrosh away in chains at the end of the raid, that would A. give the Alliance a cool thing to do for once, and B. be a potential source of contention, as the Horde would feel that they should be the ones keeping him prisoner.

If the Horde were feeling super absurdly forgiving, bumping Garrosh down to a mere soldier would be an option (something he should have been from the beginning.) Still, I don't think it would be all that wise to put him in a position with any power again, including just giving him a weapon of any sort.

So far, we haven't tended to see many successful redemptions of characters in WoW. Player Death Knights and the Knights of the Ebon Blade basically achieved this. The Forsaken would seem to be redeemed, but Sylvanas is taking them down a far more Scourge-y path. The Blood Elves were not really evil, per se, but ditching Kael'thas was a really good move on their part. The Orcs of the previous generation largely succeeded in redeeming themselves (Grom Hellscream, for example,) but their children seem to have misunderstood all the history lessons they got.

I think it would be a cool move if Blizzard could find a way to redeem Garrosh. In a future article I'll talk about other characters who could be redeemed in some way, and what it could mean for the story and the game.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Old Content Relevance

There are a lot of ghost towns in WoW. There is a ton of content that is aimed at level-capped players that becomes impossible to do at that level when a new expansion comes around. Sure, you can complete the Cipher of Damnation quests in Shadowmoon Valley today, but are you likely to? This goes especially for instanced content. Who is going to raid Firelands at level 85 anymore? Probably no one. Pit of Saron at 80? Not likely.

Now, on one hand, this content usually doesn't just go away (though with revamps, occasionally they are changed to such an extent that they don't really feel the same. Shadowfang Keep used to be "the Worgen dungeon." There isn't a single living Worgen inside unless you count the friendly NPCs/Players when you run it as Alliance.) You can still go into Ulduar and mess things up with Flame Leviathan, XT, and hear Thorim's famous "in the mountains" line. But it's really not the same, because you're far more powerful than the place was designed for.

Now, let me begin by playing the devil's advocate here. This content is old, and the nature of the game is to come out with new content for us to focus on. If we were forced to run Trial of the Crusader from now until the end of WoW's life, it would go beyond tired and boring and into excruciating.

But it does seem like a bit of a waste, doesn't it? There are literally 25 raids (of varying size) from the past expansions that are basically just sitting there. Yes, there are battle pets to collect from some of them, which encourages you to go back and solo them, but soloing Karazhan is very different from actually raiding it. You're not going to worry about CC'ing the adds on Moroes, and you probably won't even get to the light-beam phase on Netherspite. These fights are not the fights they once were, simply because of the immense jump in power that players have experienced that allows them to ignore the fights' mechanics.

So what is to be done? Surely, I don't think they should get rid of the raids in their current form. It can actually be quite a lot of fun to go through the old raids and feel like a total badass as you plow through the ranks, defeating Ragnaros, or Kael'thas, or Kel'thuzad on your own (I doubt I'd be able to solo Cataclysm raids just yet.)

But it would be cool to be able to experience those raids the way that they were meant to be seen, not to mention the many level-cap dungeons and heroics.

Given that Blizzard has been playing around a lot with scaling features, such as in Challenge Mode dungeons and the upcoming Flex Raids, I think it would be very cool indeed to find a way to make this old-school content relevant again.

Here's what I would propose:

Allow you to do the "scaled" raid or dungeon difficulty. There would be 10 and 25-person options for raids, or you could use the flex raiding system and apply it to this.

All enemies and bosses would be scaled up to your level. Dungeons would be scaled to roughly where current heroic dungeons are (or maybe slightly harder, but not 4.0 heroic hard.) Raids would likewise be comparable to either LFR or Flex difficulties.

Loot in these instances would be primarily for transmog purposes, perhaps simply using the same loot they dropped originally - either that or transmog-only "replicas," that could be disenchanted for current materials if no one wanted them.

There would be two weekly quests: one for a dungeon and one for a raid. Like the old dungeon quests from BC/Wrath, these would be randomized, picking a particular raid or dungeon from the list of available ones. The reward for the quest would be a bunch of valor (think 150 or 200,) and perhaps reputation with your championed faction. The idea here would be that anyone who wanted to do these old-school runs would be free to, but the rewards would not be so overwhelmingly unique as to make people feel forced to run them.

Obviously the danger here would be that it could pull people away from the expansion's current content. For that reason, it may be advisable to not use a matchmaking system with it, instead working like heroic scenarios and requiring a pre-made group.

One of the unfortunate consequences of a multi-player game is that simply staring over and playing again will not actually yield the same experience as it did the first time. By bringing these old places back, that problem would be mitigated.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Destruction of the Vale

One of the biggest bombshells of the 5.4 PTR is that the Vale of Eternal Blossoms has been utterly devastated. Its water has been drained away and the Sha-corruption that we've seen in various parts of the world (Dread Wastes most of all, of course) has run completely rampant throughout the zone. If you thought the Horde dig that opened up in 5.3 was bad, then oh man, just wait until you see this. To give you an idea of the scale of the devastation visited upon the Vale, one of the two enormous Mogu statues has crumbled and fallen.

This is not just an instanced version of the zone - this is what it will look like for, I believe, all level 90 players (though I could imagine there being a quest that brings you into this phase, even if that is not the case for the current dig site.)

There are a number of implications here:

For one, this is really the last straw for Garrosh. Presumably, it was his actions in the Vale, with the theft of the heart of Y'shaarj, that led to the Vale's destruction. Given how important the Vale is to Pandaren culture, and also clearly to the Titans, this seems like a most heinous crime indeed.

Taking a step back, however, there are more grievous consequences for what has occurred. We've never really gotten an explicit answer about what, exactly, the Vale is - was it a new Well of Eternity? Was it created to purify the remnants of Y'shaarj? There is great power there of an uncorrupted nature, despite the presence of an Old God's heart. Yet as we see, the Vale is now lost, with only the home-city-shrines left somewhat intact.

This is a very bad thing, and could very well lead into the next expansion's plot. Might the Burning Legion take this as an opportunity to invade? Or perhaps the Titans will return and attempt to countermand Algalon's judgment of us.

I'm hoping that as more of the patch's story is revealed, we will find out just what the Vale was for, and also what will happen now that it is pretty much in ruins.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Siege of Orgrimmar Boss List

Well, more datamining has yielded a highly-anticipated set of information: the boss list of Siege of Orgrimmar. And boy howdy, it's a big one. With 14 bosses (assuming that these are all within the raid, and not, like, World Bosses,) Siege of Orgrimmar is poised to be the biggest raid since Ulduar, with which it ties for second biggest (both of them are one boss short of Naxxramas' 15.)

Interestingly, the boss list seems to imply that SoO will actually begin in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, and that only after the first four bosses (maybe) will we actually begin the assault on Orgrimmar itself.

All credit here goes to MMO-Champion.

So, without further ado: the boss list. Included here with a "-" are the descriptions in what might be the Dungeon Journal.

Immerseus - Tears of the Vale

This appears to be some kind of water elemental with some very nice textures and perhaps a hint of sha-corruption. Given how pissed everyone is at the Horde's digging up the Vale of Eternal Blossoms (and taking what seems to be Y'shaarj's heart from it,) it stands to reason that the elements would rise up against them, and perhaps cannot tell one little meatbag from another.

The Fallen Protectors

It appears that the members of the Golden Lotus have been corrupted somehow, and we must fight them as well.


The giant Mogu/Golem construct found in Y'shaarj's chamber is likely none-too-pleased about the loss of the Heart, though there is a "PH" label here, meaning Placeholder, though that could simply refer to the model. Either that, or it's the placeholder for the Dungeon Journal description.

Sha of Pride - the Seventh Sha

We knew this guy was going to come back to fight us after we escorted the spirit of Shaohao up Mt. Neverest. Again, there's a PH label here, but the Sha of Pride model already looks pretty nice.

From here, it appears that we get to attack the city itself.

Galakras - Warlord Zaela's proto-drake

Another PH label, though the model I've seen has serious missing textures, so it could simply refer to the model. Do we fight Zaela herself? Obviously, Horde players have had a chance to get to like Zaela, but we recruited her into Garrosh's Horde, and so perhaps it's not unreasonable that she would remain loyal to him. Then again, she said she respected him for being pure-blooded, unlike the Fel Orcs that controlled the Dragonmaw before she took over...

Iron Juggernaut

This appears to be some kind of giant mecha-scorpion, assuming the model I'm thinking of corresponds to this boss.

Kor'kron Dark Shaman - Haromm and Kardris trained thousands of shaman to whisper reverently to the elements to requisition their aid. The army of Garrosh, however, does not ask - they take what they desire in the name of the True Horde. Dark Shamanism forces the elements into servitude, twisting them into burned-out ash, corrupted waters, and toxic air.

Well, that kind of spells it out for you, doesn't it? I'd assume that these two have indeed become Dark Shaman, and are the bosses that we fight. Expect a lot of adds, I'd guess.

General Nazgrim - Once a grunt in service of the former warchief, Thrall, General Nazgrim rose quickly through the ranks after overwhelming victories in Grizzly Hills and the sunken city of Vashj'ir. Fiercly loyal to the Horde and bound by a rigorous code of honor and duty, Nazgrim will hold the line for his warchief until his dying breath.

Well this is pretty sad, but not inconceivable. Nazgrim is forced to fight us on principle, but I expect a victory over this guy to be bittersweet at best. I'd love for Admiral Taylor, his opposite number in the Alliance, to be there to eulogize him afterward - to sell these two as ultimately worthy opponents who respected each other. This would seem to epitomize the sad fact that by taking on the Warchief, Horde players are going to have to turn against people that they might like.


This guy, on the other hand, seems like an utter monsters, from what little I've heard about him. Like an Orcish SS Officer, this guy is all about screwing the other races and murdering dissenters. Unlike Nazgrim, no one is going to mourn this guy.

Spoils of Pandaria

No idea what this will be. Beasts? Things...? Or possibly stuff?

Thok the Bloodthirsty

I'm guessing some sort of Dire Orc like Gurtogg Bloodboil. Totally speculation there.

Siegecrafter Blackfuse

I'd guess a Goblin. The only non-Orc race the Kor'kron seem to be able to get to work for them are Goblins, presumably because of the promise of money.

Paragons of the Klaxxi

Well this one comes way out of left-field. Anyone who has reached exalted with the Klaxxi knows that in the long run, we're going to have to fight them. They worship the Old Gods, and despite the fact that they respect the player for his or her strength, they aren't really ever "good guys." Still, they seem to oppose the Sha, which they likely see as a mockery of Y'shaarj, which makes me curious to see how they will fit in. Is Garrosh trying to recruit the Mantid into the Horde?

Garrosh Hellscream - Warchief of the True Horde

Well, this is the one we knew was going down. There are two models of him, one uncorrupted, but seemingly older and more worn out, and also one where he's drenched in Sha-energy and some extra creepy eyes that make him look a bit like Cho'gall. I'd expect that this corruption happens during the fight, as one last attempt to try to defeat us. I just hope that they make it perfectly clear that Garrosh willingly brings on the Old God corruption, and not that the whispers of Y'shaarj have somehow corrupted him beforehand. We've seen that story enough (and also, taking it on willingly parallels his dad's story pretty well, which has a certain poetry to it.)

Anyway, there you go. Looks to be a pretty epic raid. Not sure what I think about what appears to be a first wing that takes place in the Vale, but even if you take four bosses out of Orgrimmar proper, there's still a ton of bosses to fight. I expect this is going to be quite the epic raid (and I'm looking forward to hopefully hitting it up on the Flex difficulty with the guild.)

5.4 PTR Starting Soon!

Well, as usual for this expansion, the PTR for the next, and likely final patch of Mists of Pandaria is already getting underway, a mere three weeks or so after 5.3 hit.

First off, some disclaimers. The PTR does not guarantee the arrival time of 5.4, and in fact, it's highly unlikely we'll be seeing the patch go live for three months at the least. Also, this is not just the PTR, but the very first build of the 5.4 PTR, and thus you should regard it with great skepticism. Much of this will change.

One huge thing is that they will be introducing "Virtual Realms," allowing basically entire battlegroups to function as realms, allowing mail and guilds and all manner of interaction to occur between them. What this means for, say, CRZ in high-level zones remains to be seen, but it should help a lot with underpopulated realms.

The two biggest features are not detailed very much - those being the Siege of Orgrimmar and the "Timeless Isle," which appears to be the new outdoor zone.

What we do know is that there's a model for the Sha of Pride - that most insidious of Sha that Emperor Shaohao warned us about - as well as what appears to be a Sha-Corrupted Garrosh that looks a little like Cho'gall. Interestingly, there also seems to be a model of a ragged and worn-out looking Garrosh. Could this be a post-corruption, cleansed Garrosh who we can send back to Nagrand to repent? Or is that just wishful thinking?

There also appears to be a pair of cool new mounts - one a Forsaken Skeletal Horse and the other a Sentinel's Nightsaber with all the cool new hi-res textures and look. I'd assume this is some kind of reward either for a daily grind or some achievement (please, please no more pet stores mounts. I was so sad about the bat.)

There's also a bunch of new armor models, mostly for PVP (the Paladin one is ridiculously badass, with a more traditional medieval armor look than you tend to see in this game) but also some Pandaria-themed tier sets for Mages and Warlocks.

Proving Grounds will finally be coming to the game, allowing some safe, audience-less training for healers, tanks, and yes, DPS as well.

Likewise, there appears to be a Battle-Pet-based Scenario (that I believe happens on the Timeless Isle.)

Flex Raids are of course a big announced feature, but whatever thing they were talking about that would "breathe life into old content" escapes me. Hopefully they just haven't put it up on the PTR yet.

To reiterate, we've heard very little about the raid itself (though there are some models that fit very well with Garrosh's industrial Horde War Machine theme) and we know next to nothing about the Timeless Isle. There's a lot more to come, but for a first PTR build, there's a lot to get excited about.

Oh, and at least for now, Pierre and the Skyclaw are back.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Mercenary without Loyalty in the Console War

The gaming console situation for the past three generations has been an odd one, given that Nintendo, the winner of the last console war, is sort of the Switzerland of the conflict. Nintendo is given little thought when comparing the Xbox and the Playstation. It doesn't have a great deal of power compared to the other systems, and its library is far smaller.

Nintendo is a bit like Apple (before the iPhone/iPad/iEverything explosion) in that it's a company that makes its own hardware and software, and while some are free to make things for it, you're really coming for the first-party stuff. Apple has Final Cut and iTunes, Nintendo has Mario and Zelda.

In the last generation, Nintendo was able to survive by being everyone's "second console." You'd have a PS3 or an Xbox 360 as well as a Wii. This generation things don't seem to be shaping up quite as well for the big N, due, I'm sure, to the gamble to try to make the Wii U work as a true competitor and wade their way back into the Red Waters.

Mind you, I think the Wii U has lots of potential, but whether it's through difficulty working with developers or just the fact that people don't really go out of their way to design for them, a lot of that potential has not been met. I'm sure the upcoming Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Smash Bros, etc. games will be great - they nearly always are - but I'm not holding my breath for the kind of mind-blowing new IP to come to the Wii U. Nintendo has far better first party titles than Sega did, but there's a danger that the Wii U, despite how amazing the potential of its iPad-like controller is, could be Nintendo's Dreamcast. I'm not going to forecast this dark fate, because I still have a shred of hope, but I also realize that this generation is not going to change what was established back in the Gamecube era.

So the PS4 and Xbox One are the two titans that will be clashing during the next/current generation (current because the Wii U is already out.) It's funny, because the last two generations, among the people I know, I seemed to only know those with PS2s, and none with Xboxes, but in this last generation, everyone had a 360, and none had PS3s. (I've literally only played on a PS3 once.)

Anyway, I don't really have a horse in this race (unless Nintendo comes out from behind somehow.)

This past generation has seen the internet integrated into gaming consoles in some clever ways. With hard drives and a connection to the web, indie games like Braid and DLC for established games were made possible.

From what I hear, Microsoft has learned all the wrong lessons from the last generation.

The Xbox One is going to require an online connection at all times, it never truly turns off, it seems that used or rented games will become a thing of the past, as the game disk will only basically let you install and register your copy. It's got a built-in Kinect that, like the console, will not turn off.

Let's mention this again. This is a camera you put in your living room that never turns off. That is literally something out of 1984 by George Orwell.

The list of features of the Xbox One sounds like a huge list of negatives. Perhaps some of these things appeal to publishers, but overall, it sounds as if they wanted to serve us a big pile of crap and expect us to thank them for us.

It's a shame, because I actually liked the 360 in general, but it really sounds like Microsoft is going after the mustache-twirling corporate overlord as their main demographic, and not, you know, people who will actually use the thing. Is there anything in that series of announcements that they actually think will make people want this thing? And for, like, six hundred dollars?

Sony's console seems to be lacking most of what is offensive about the Xbox One. Will it be a good console? I'm not sure. The key point, really, is what kind of games it can play. I've never really followed Sony news that much - I got a used PS2 at the very tail end of its generation mainly so I could play Shadow of the Colossus. Still, given how Sony doesn't seem to be working hard to convince everyone they're evil, I'd say Microsoft has a lot of damage control to work on.

Nintendo, on the other hand, needs to pump out some of their core games and encourage third parties to develop for them. If I could stick with just my Wii U this generation and still be able to play the next Elder Scrolls (not the online one - I mean whatever is the next in the main series,) the next Mass Effect (however the hell that's going to work,) and, you know, some really cool new game that isn't a sequel (I'm thinking a Bethesda-style open-world sci-fi FPS set in a solar system filled with space stations and planets to explore and spaceships to pilot) I would be very happy.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Undead, Elven Elephant in the Room

The Horde has got a huge problem that is not Garrosh Hellscream. Sure, the current conflict centers around the fact that the Warchief is so bloodthirsty and jingoistic that he's turned Durotar and the Barrens into a battlefield, but ultimately, this is just Orcish politics as usual.

No, the problem the Horde has, and I think that in the long run it's a bigger problem than Garrosh, is the Forsaken, and specifically Sylvanas.

All that we accuse of Garrosh - that he is merciless, that he disdains peace, that he has inflicted totalitarian tyranny on his people - we can equally see embodied in Sylvanas. Garrosh uses Blackrock Clan brutes to intimidate dissenters. Sylvannas murders or mind-controls them.

The Forsaken have gone through different tragic stages. First, there is of course the inevitable tragedy of undeath - the idea that they have been twisted, and that the lives they originally enjoyed are stolen from them, yet they must still be conscious enough to know the pain of that loss. With their minds, will, and souls restored to them, they are people once again, and people who can suffer, unlike the majority of the Scourge, who I imagine to be practically machines, with no inner life, or at least an inner consciousness so welded to the Lich King's control and the animal-like instincts of undeath that they do not think to consider how wretched their state is. The second tragedy is the way that their former friends and countrymen, and even family, see them purely as monsters to be destroyed.

Sylvanas gave them strength, and created a new identity - the Forsaken - that gave these poor souls a place to inhabit in the world. But while there have certainly been Forsaken heroes, the subjects of the Banshee Queen also seem unable to shake the brutality, ruthlessness, and callousness of the Scourge.

And in this way, in a final, most terrible tragedy, the Forsaken - who by all rights should be the world's greatest champions for freedom, individuality, and choice, given that they know how it feels to have such things taken away from them - have become a lot like the Scourge from which they broke away. When Garrosh asks what makes her different from the Lich King, Sylvanas merely replies that she serves the Horde. There is not even an attempt to justify her actions on a moral or ethical level.

Admittedly, Sylvanas reveals at least what she claims to be her motivations for her methods. She claims that, with the Lich King gone (or rather, with the new Lich King reigning the Scourge in) there is no source for new members. She had always envisioned the Forsaken as a race in its own right, but as creatures of death, they cannot reproduce the way that the living does. Sylvanas laments that her people will inevitably die out over time if action is not taken. She uses this logic to justify the murder of humans throughout Silverpine, Hillsbrad, Arathi Highlands, and attempts to do so in Gilneas (though the Forsaken never get a truly solid foothold there.)

Using Val'kyr that she recruited after Arthas' fall, Sylvanas raises the human dead in the lands she conquers. However, it is here that her hypocrisies become apparent. Every new Forsaken raised immediately becomes loyal to her. Now, Blizzard claims that this is due to the shock of the transformation, and perhaps that all these people realize the inevitability that they will now only be accepted by the people who killed them.

Still, I think this suggests one of two things: a completely tyrannical police state that will stomp out any resistance at the first sign of trouble, or magical mind-control built into the raising process. It's even possible that the Val'kyr do the latter without Sylvanas' knowledge.

The problem stems, I think, from the fact that Sylvanas envisions the Forsaken as a new race, rather than as a sort of robust support group for those who are afflicted with undeath. It strikes me that there must be members among the original Forsaken (before the Val'kyr) who were content to let themselves eventually die out, perhaps expecting the living to eventually re-colonize Lordaeron. Given Sylvanas' philosophy, however, these people must either be keeping this opinion secret or have been wiped out for their dissenting view.

And for those new Forsaken citizens, who were literally raised right after putting up a fierce resistance to Sylvanas' campaign, I cannot imagine that there would not be a group among them who not only have a dissenting view, but would actively attempt to sabotage and strike back at Undercity.

Sylvanas has proven willing to disobey orders from the Warchief. After assuring the Orcs that she would not deploy the plague in Gilneas, she turned around and ordered its use.

The Forsaken under Sylvanas have extremely dangerous weapons at their disposal, and the Horde is justifiably wary of them. Basically, what it all boils down to, from a Horde perspective, is one's interpretation of the Wrath Gate Incident.

On one hand, and giving Sylvanas the benefit of the doubt, it was Putress and Varimathras who orchestrated the whole thing - a kind of declaration of war on the rest of the world. It is unambiguous that Varimathras sought to take control of the Forsaken and Undercity in order to serve the Burning Legion, and employ the weapons they had developed to cripple the Horde, Alliance, and Scourge.

The question, then, is what Sylvanas intended to do with those weapons in the first place. If we are to attribute the best possible motivations to the Banshee Queen, it is that the weapons were intended to fight the Scourge only. Sadly, Southshore proves this is not the case. Still, a member of the Horde could believe that these weapons are meant only to be used against the Warchief's enemies.

Sylvanas could, in fact, be a loyal, albeit disobedient member of the Horde. To me, this seems like the most likely scenario to describe the current situation. The problem, however, is that we really don't know how long such a state of affairs will last. Might Sylvanas see an opportunity in Garrosh's fall to strike out on her own? Might she, in her mad philosophy that justifies the murder and raising of humans throughout Lordaeron, decide that it is time to start raising her Horde allies?

Koltira Deathweaver's fate could set a very important precedent. Do all Horde Death Knights answer to Sylvanas? Or ought Koltira to answer to Lor'themar? Sure, Sylvanas is just as much an elf as Koltira, but if she declares all Horde Death Knights to be hers to torture and "re-educate," is this not the first step toward some kind of power grab?

With the fall of Hellscream, we could probably hope that the Horde's new leadership will try to reach out to the Alliance and mend some fences, even if they don't become full allies. Yet Sylvanas' campaign through Lordaeron has been far more brutal and horrific than anything Garrosh has done so far. Sylvanas could be the torpedo that sinks a lasting peace between the Alliance and Horde.

The Forsaken are capable of being good allies. Beneath the bitterness and the macabre culture they've devised, they are ultimately people, just as any other race in Azeroth is. But as long as the Banshee Queen pursues her reign of terror and campaign of horror, the Horde is going to have to keep looking over their shoulder, and the Alliance is going to have to shore up their northern border.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Flexible Raid Could be a Very, Very Good Thing

First, let's get this out of the way:

5.4 will introduce a new raid difficulty that sits between Raid Finder and Normal, with corresponding gear, tentatively called the "Flexible Raid" option.

Flexible Raids allow 10-25 people per raid, and will adjust health and damage numbers to correspond to the number of people you bring. Got a few extra people for your 10 man? No problem! Can't fill out your 25-man? Again, no problem!

The goal of this difficulty is to bring back the easy, but still somewhat demanding difficulty that corresponded with 10-man normal mode in Wrath of the Lich King. Thus there will also be a fourth iLevel of gear, better than Raid Finder but not as good as Normal.

Flexible Raids will be on a separate lockout from Raid Finder and Normal/Heroic Mode. Unlike Raid Finder, though, you will still be able to earn the many special achievements for doing certain things in boss fights, and thus contribute to the Meta achievements (Glory of the Orgrimmar Raider being the upcoming one.)

Flexible Raids will require a pre-made group - this is still something that will encourage guilds to come together, but the difficulty and flexible size are meant to encourage groups to bring the people they like, rather than pushing for only the most skilled players.

Like Raid Finder, Flexible raids will use individual loot, which will come in handy when PUGging.

Ok, now my commentary:

This is a very, very good thing. And there are two major reasons why:

Firstly, the difficulty. Throughout Cataclysm and Mists, Normal Mode raids have been tuned fairly tight. As a totally anecdotal example, my guild was able to clear Naxxramas, most of Ulduar, all of Trial of the Crusader, and had two groups running ICC, one of which was on the Lich King and the other which consistently cleared up through Festergut and Rotface. In Cataclysm, we were able to do BWD, 3/4 in BoT, and then just Shannox and Morchok. And so far in Mists, we're halfway through MSV.

Now, there are a number of ways you could explain that, but one aspect is certainly difficulty. Having a difficulty level that allows for people with laggy internet connections or less-than-great skill makes a lot of sense.

Secondly, the flexibility in size is a really great innovation to bring. So often, our guild has put together a full group and then had to turn people down who either show up late or forgot to respond to the calendar invite, or make a bad roll and have to sit one out.

The way I see it, Flexible Raids can be for casual guilds or in-server PUGs who just want to go knock out the content but still want to actually play with the people they choose to play with and coordinate with TS or Vent. Normal will be for guilds who want to maintain a specific "raiding team," that is regimented and put together with care, and Heroic mode will be for guilds like that, but who want to be on the bleeding edge of difficult content.

Thus, Raid Finder's only real value moving forward will be the automatic matchmaking, which I still think will be enough of a draw to keep people using it (I'm sure I'll keep using it on alts.) By allowing for an easier, more flexible raid difficulty, Blizzard is taking an active step to help people make the game more socially interactive again.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Coming back to the Land of the Wolf

After Exodar and Silvermoon mostly felt like graveyards, Blizzard made the two new starting zones for the Cataclysm races (and notice that these went to only about level 12, instead of 20 - Kezan was just the "kiddie pool" area, the way the Valley of Trials or Northshire Abbey work, as opposed to the two fully-fledged zones for both BC races) basically one-shot and you're done. The Goblins watch Kezan collapse and then see the Lost Isles mostly destroyed by a volcanic eruption. The Worgen are forced to merely fend the Forsaken off long enough for their people to escape, and even though the Horde also gets to do a few things there, Gilneas is pretty much a ghost-town.

Likewise, even though there's nothing wrong with the Wandering Isle, one gets the impression that one is not going back there.

In fact, of these zones, it's only Gilneas that you can actually return to at all, even though there's nothing in the way on NPCs except for a few hounds out in the highlands to the north so hunters can get them as pets.

But Gilneas is also the zone among these with the most potential for future stories. It's one of the fiercest fronts between the Alliance and the Horde, and while Alliance players might be forgiven for thinking that this was a total loss, given how the Gilneas quests end, in fact that peninsular country has proven to be a real thorn in the side of the Forsaken War Machine, and remains the one area in the Eastern Kingdoms where they have yet to have had a decisive victory.

As I've said before, the Alliance needs a fist-pumping victory, and while the Siege of Orgrimmar is likely to feel pretty victorious, certain elements will negate a bit of the feeling that the Alliance can be really proud of what they've done - ultimately this is probably going to feel like more of a victory for Vol'jin, and presumably the Alliance will just be handing Orgrimmar back to the Horde when all is said and done (unless Blizzard wants to throw us a huge curveball and make Orgrimmar a neutral city in the next expansion.)

What I would propose is that we get, either in a 5.5 patch or next expansion, two outdoor-content areas that are actually totally separate between Horde and Alliance. The Horde would be dealing with the aftermath of the Siege, putting the pieces of the Horde back together while hunting down any remaining Kor'kron or dealing with whatever Sha-stuff Garrosh unleashed.

Meanwhile, while the Horde is pulling itself back together, the Alliance, emboldened by their victory in Durotar, and knowing that Sylvanas won't be able to get any significant back-up, lands a massive force in Gilneas to re-take the country.

At the end of all of this, we have the new leadership of the Horde finally assembled (whether Vol'jin becomes Warchief, or they have some kind of ruling council, or something,) and the Alliance takes back Gilneas, populating Gilneas City and restoring Genn Graymane to his throne.

Both sides actually come out the better for this: the Horde survives the fall of Garrosh, and the Alliance finally gets to step up their game and win for a change.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Flight in WoW

Burning Crusade seriously introduced much of what makes WoW what it is today. Before BC, there were no heroic dungeons, raids were 40-person monstrosities, PvP gear was just slightly-different in its itemization and nowhere near as good as the late-tier PvE stuff, and there were no flying mounts.

The flying mount is a source of much contention within the WoW community. It's a prime flashpoint for the "immersion" vs. "convenience" debate. To summarize:

Flying mounts make traveling through the world far easier. One does not have to navigate around terrain, nor does one typically have to worry about getting attacked by enemies in the zone. Detractors of the existence of flying mounts argue that this breaks the immersion of actually being in the world. One can set a bearing, hit your autorun button, and go make a sandwich while you cross over a whole continent. A journey to a distant area, by this logic, loses a lot of the epic sense of adventure.

One thing everyone agrees on (almost everyone) is that flying mounts are not going anywhere. Especially when you consider the fact that Blizzard has sold flying mounts for real money, one cannot imagine taking them out of the game, but beyond that, they've now been part of WoW for the vast majority of the game's lifespan.

So admittedly, arguing about this is really just for the sake of argument, but hey, that's what I do.

I think it would be easy to feel comfortable in one's position that flying mounts break immersion if one assumes that the only argument for them is convenience. However, I instead believe that flying mounts are, in fact, a potential contributor to greater immersion.


In BC, getting up to Tempest Keep (this was before dungeon finder, so you always had to physically go to the dungeon in question) required a flying mount. The dungeons there were all tuned for level 70, but this requirement reinforced that fact (except for druids, who got their flight form at 68 for some reason.) At the time, flight required level 70, the level cap at the time, and also cost about 900 gold, which was a fairly significant chunk of change back then. The fact that you could only reach the place by flying there reinforced the notion that it was a dangerous, isolated place. Your back was to a cliff, and the only option you had was to push forward.

In the lead-up to Wrath, there was a lot of talk about Icecrown as a zone. Sure, we'd assaulted places like the Black Temple and other fortresses before, but Icecrown was the heart of the Scourge, and nowhere, before or after, has there been a more intimidatingly hostile territory in WoW. During Wrath, one had to hit level 77 before getting the ability to fly in Northrend, and flight was necessary to traverse the expansion's last two zones. Storm Peaks contained pinnacles of such great height that a flying mount was absolutely necessary to navigate the place, but Icecrown used the flight requirement to reinforce that stakes of fighting the Lich King.

The idea was that you were flying there because there simply wasn't a safe place to land.

There weren't any Alliance or Horde bases, and the only group that had even gotten a foothold, which mostly existed in a part of the zone that could be considered to be part of Crystalsong Forest, was the Argent Crusade. So while the two player factions hovered above on their gunships and the Argent Crusade fought a painful battle to gain inches against the Scourge, the Knights of the Ebon Blade pulled off a kind of special-forces op, taking the Shadow Vault and establishing the only friendly base within Icecrown proper (one that is perpetually under attack by Scourge forces.)

What I'm getting at here is that flying in WoW can actually feel very epic and exciting, and totally in-world, rather than simply feeling like a cheat to get out of fighting your way to your location.

Mists is the first expansion to go back to the BC model of flight - making it something that you only got  after you'd done your leveling. While I think that's a valid way to present content, (the lack of flight on the Isle of Thunder clearly continuing this feel) I also think that there's room to design zones with flight in mind, much the way that Icecrown and Storm Peaks were. (The Cataclysm zones are a little mixed here. I actually think having some kind of arduous journey through the deserts of Uldum would have been cool, but Twilight Highlands I think worked best with flight, even if I don't think that there could have been more done with flight there.)

Flight is not strictly a bad thing. You can do a lot of fun stuff with it. Should there be limitations? Absolutely. Indoor spaces are a great way to accomplish that in zones where flight is allowed, but the flight or no flight toggle is another way that they can do it. I just hope they don't get rid of one or the other entirely.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

My Problem with the Armored Bloodwing

I don't go in for micro-transactions. It's against my nature. Getting me to subscribe to WoW was a big hurdle, and the idea of making additional purchases for a game I already have makes me a little sick to my stomach. For this reason, even full-content DLC material is something I don't really go in for (though part of that has to do with the fact that it's my friend and apartment-mate who owns the Xbox.) So when it comes to a totally cosmetic item like a mount, I can't really justify making the purchase.

Which is sad, because I've been waiting for a Bat mount since BC came out.

Nowadays, there are hundreds of mounts, flying and ground. When I first started playing, mounts were a rare thing indeed, and to have a mount that was not your race or faction's standard was pretty unusual (it also made the Warlock and Paladin class mounts pretty exciting to have.)

Flying mounts were even more limited at the beginning. Basically, if you were Alliance, you'd get a gryphon, and if you were Horde, you'd get a wyvern. These made sense, given that they were the standard "flightpath" animals. Of course, each faction had two such standards - the Alliance has gryphons and hippogryphs, and the Horde has windriders/wyverns and bats. The hippogryph was available to those who could reach exalted with Cenarion Expedition, but even as we've had helicopters, flying carpets, drakes, kites, and a gigantic robotic head added, we have not, until now, had a bat mount option.

Hell, trolls got the druid class and a bat-form before we ever saw a bat mount.

Anyway, it's just a little sad and frustrating because I've wanted a bat mount for my undead rogue since flying mounts were first introduced. I hope that some day, a different model of bat mount is made available for in-game gold rather than real-world dollars.

For now I guess I'll just have to make do with my Headless Horseman's mount.