Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Mists of Pandaria Postmortem: Raids, Tier 16: The Siege of Orgrimmar

While we've spent a large amount of time in Pandaria dealing with the local threats, the conflict between the Alliance and Horde has always been in the background. It is, actually, the fusion of the new and the old that leads to the conflict here in Siege of Orgrimmar. Garrosh, in his all-consuming lust for more and more powerful weapons, takes the Heart of Y'shaarj: the source of the Sha and the last remnant of the Old God, which causes phenomenal destruction in Pandaria and basically forces the Darkspear Rebellion's and the Alliance's hands, requiring them to act before he can truly unleash this power.

Inherently, the story of this raid is more complex for the Horde. The Alliance has always had to deal with brutal Warchiefs: Blackhand, Orgrim Doomhammer, and now Garrosh Hellscream. But Garrosh's acquisition of the Heart of Y'shaarj both gives them a reason to shift their focus away from the various battlefronts and go for broke, taking down Hellscream as quickly as possible.

The Horde has seen things slipping farther and farther into a kind of fascist totalitarianism ever since Garrosh took charge, but his assassination attempt on Vol'jin was the real catalyst for change. His treatment of the Trolls bodes ill for any of the other "lesser" races, and we've seen him alienate the Blood Elves and Goblins. On one hand, the other Horde races want a strong Horde that can take what it needs and not need to fear outside forces, but Garrosh has made it clear that there is no place for them in his Horde. Even if you were a die-hard Horde zealot, if you're not an Orc, you know that things aren't going to work out for you (and if you're an Orc Warlock, you're in serious trouble.)

But the raid! Let me get to the raid.

Siege of Orgrimmar is a huge instance, divided pretty neatly into different segments.

Vale of Eternal Sorrows:

This first part of the raid is almost like a small mini-raid that in the BC days would probably have just been made a separate instance. The fights here are a little more intuitive and tuned, I believe, to be easier, but there are some clever mechanics.

Immerseus is an effective gatekeeper boss: simple, but with high enough damage and DPS requirements that it sets a bar for what kind of gear you're looking for. First bosses should be simple, and I think this one works out great. Plus, what a cool model!

The next segment of this wing has us going through familiar territory, which is always a fun thing to do if done in moderation. As you'll see, I think this raid strikes a pretty good balance on the familiar versus the new. Likewise, I appreciate that in the two 4-boss wings of the instance, there is no trash between the first and second bosses. Trash is important for setting a pace (Trial of the Crusader showed us that,) but given how long four bosses can drag, I think this was a good choice.

I do think that the Norushen and Sha of Pride fights were a little too similar in style, but they both had their interestingly unique aspects. Norushen obviously requires a certain degree of individual responsibility. Sha of Pride also has some tricks, but I think it ultimately boils down to being pretty much this raid's most Patchwerk-y fight (even if they said that about Malkorok.)

Anyway, this section of the raid provides a good answer to why we've picked this moment to take down Garrosh. It also introduces (through the Fallen Protectors) a big theme of the raid, which is that we're killing a lot of people we've known for a long time.

Gates of Retribution:

This section of the raid is really what we were all thinking of when the idea of a Siege of Orgrimmar was put forward. The entire wing takes place in the city we're familiar with (though the last part is in Ragefire Chasm.) Galakras is a pretty exciting first fight, and also emphasizes a mechanical theme for the raid, which is the importance of fighting adds. It's also fairly enjoyable to do one of these fights where the raid splits up, even if you're only going to the top of some towers. I do feel that Zaela doesn't really get the send-off she deserves, as she seems to simply fall to her death from atop Galakras. Zaela was likable, and while it makes sense she sided with Garrosh, we didn't really get to hear much from her until we were fighting her people.

Iron Juggernaut is pretty conventional as a boss, as are the Dark Shaman as a kind of smallest-possible Council fight. Clearing out a bunch of familiar NPCs from the Valley of Strength (including the bosses, who were two obscure Shaman trainers) is pretty cool, though some of the shopkeepers feel like they ought to have been hiding. And then of course, you face Overlord Runthak and free Gamon before facing down Nazgrim.

Nazgrim is of course the most heartbreaking fight here, because he makes it clear that he's only fighting for Garrosh out of a sense of duty. Mechanically, it's yet another add-focused fight.

The Underhold:

Here's where we get what really feels like a conventional raid instance, though it's also not so overblown in size as to seem unreasonable as an actual fortress. This truly feels like a military base as you first assault it. Then you come to Malkorok, who gives us our first taste of something otherworldly in Orgrimmar. Malkorok is kind of an interesting fight, though I imagine it's most bizarre for healers. You also of course have to play your little "memory" game with it, but it's a fight that's mercifully devoid of adds after the last couple fights.

And then there's Spoils of Pandaria. Spoils is probably the least conventional fight of the instance, but like many of them, a lot of the individual mechanics of the adds kind of get drowned out by the frantic and chaotic nature of it. I enjoyed Thok the Bloodthirsty quite a bit, mainly due to the perverse humor of freeing all those prisoners only for him to eat them. Thok is one of those great, classic enormous bosses: simple, yet dangerous.


I have yet to see Siegemaster Blackfuse as DPS, but what I can say is that it's pretty fun to tank. Any time a tank gets to do significant damage and kill something on his or her own is pretty exciting. Plus, I'm a huge fan of the weird kinds of technology that they have in WoW, and this fight is all about that.

After Blackfuse, you kind of make your way out of the really conventional military base part of the Underhold and you start going through tunnels. I'm not quite sure where you are at that point, but it's probably not Orgrimmar anymore. The Paragons of the Klaxxi are kind of interesting as a penultimate boss, though I imagine that the difficulty of the fight largely depends on the luck of what order you get. On its lowest difficulty, it suffers, like Spoils did, of having a kind of mechanical overload - one sort of just ignores the mechanics because there are too many to keep track of.

Finally, there's Garrosh. Garrosh actually surprised me in that it's not that hard of an expansion-boss fight if you know what to do, and the mechanics can be broken down and pretty easily understood. However, I do think there are some pretty cool unique mechanics, particularly the visions. The Garrosh fight would be pretty mundane in visuals if it were not for the visions, but every time you get sucked into the Heart of Y'shaarj, you get to see a bit of the connection between the super-familiar (Garrosh and his "True Horde,") and the unique stuff of Pandaria.


Finally, I think the two cutscenes: the Horde showing Thrall stepping aside for Vol'jin and the Alliance one showing Varian making a decision to end the war, do a good job of establishing the new status quo going forward. Add on to that the fact that we get to talk to many of our leaders (no Genn or Velen though, boo) and see what they think of the situation, plus a whole mini-quest chain involving Lorewalker Cho and seeing how Pandaria is going to move on, and you've got the most story-driven raid yet.

Mechanically, I think we've got a fantastic raid in Siege of Orgrimmar, even if it leans a little heavy on one standard mechanic (kill these adds!) It's a fitting way to end the latest great war between the two factions, and it leaves a ton of questions that will have to be answered in the future (like who is still alive in Orgrimmar?)

So that sums up all the raids in Mists of Pandaria. In the future, I'll be writing up an article about the relationship between Raiding, Dungeons, and Scenarios, and how that's worked out in Mists.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Level Scaling Seems to Be in the Works

Through a couple of glitches and bugs, there have been reports of people running old dungeons with their level and iLevel scaled down to match the appropriate level for the instance. Blizzard has said they're working on some kind of level scaling, and it appears that the guts of the mechanism are in place, and it's just a matter of implementing it in the UI and tweaking it.

I'm very excited about this, but I also wonder how it will be implemented.

First off, I'm sure that this will be an optional feature. Blizzard has said time and again that the item squish coming in the next expansion will only be done if they can guarantee that people can still solo old stuff the way they can now. Thus, I can't imagine this level scaling will be anything other than optional.

But, given that option, I'm extremely happy to hear about it. There are a ton of old dungeons and raids that we don't really get to experience anymore. Sure, you can see the fights, but when Algalon only lasts about two seconds against your group of level 90s, you know you aren't really experiencing the fight.

But the main implementation I can imagine for this is to allow people of disparate levels to run content together. I remember how, back before the dungeon finder, I would simply run my friend through the low level dungeons, letting him DPS the bosses and just keeping the occasional heal on him (even when not in a healing spec, the smallest heal would top him off.) These were fun, but not really the kind of dungeon-going experience that you crave. With a scaling feature, you could truly run the dungeons together. Hell, Death Knights don't even really get out into the world until Outland. It would be kind of fun to run through, say, Gnomeregan on a DK.

DKs actually highlight an issue with level scaling that I think could arise. Put simply, I think that while health, damage, and healing should be scaled down, the player should still have access to their actual-level kit. You might be scaled down to level 26, but you should still be able to use your Chaos Bolt, or your Runic Empowerment.

A lot of classes really don't play fluidly until they are higher-level. You let people learn the basics of the class over time, but by the time you get to 90, you should understand how to use Storm Earth and Fire, or Berserker Rage. These tools make the class feel complete, and it would be pretty unattractive to suddenly lose a bunch of your capabilities.

Now granted, that means that even with a scaled-down iLevel, you'll be far more powerful than you were at that actual level. But currently, old dungeons are already tune very forgivingly. I would even argue in favor of beefing things up (actually, the only thing I'd do is increase enemy health pools. Currently things die so quickly that most people can't even get a spell cast off before the tank's killed it.)

Another question that I'd have for this is whether you actually need a low-level player to queue for these old dungeons. There are some places I wouldn't mind going back to. As I was saying earlier, opening up the entirety of WoW's heroic dungeons would be a great way to provide a variety of content for the late-patch doldrums. I'd love to run End Time or Forge of Souls again.

Anyway, I don't know when or if this will be implemented. Supposedly there is a new classification for dungeons called "Timewalker," which points to some lore-based explanation for this scaling (and maybe hints at a time-travel expansion?)

Anyway, great stuff here. I'm so looking forward to Blizzcon (12 days to go!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Improving Transmogrification

Transmog was a fantastic addition to the game. Not only did it give us an opportunity to look different than our peers, but it gave us a great excuse to go run old content and see all the old stuff that we don't do anymore.

WoW Insider had a nice article talking about how the addition of transmog to Diablo III is an improvement over the way it's handled in WoW. I totally support the idea of continuing to opening up transmog more, and particularly on playing around with storage.

The biggest thing with Diablo III's transmog is that you don't actually have to have the piece of gear in your inventory to use it. Instead, any piece of gear you acquire is basically checked off on a list, and you can use any appearance you've unlocked.

This would mean huge things, but primarily it would make Void Storage obsolete. Right now, Void Storage is essentially a bank for things you never want to take out. Now that you can transmog directly from your Void Storage (which you actually could do previously, but needed an addon to do so,) the stuff sits there, never to be released. And granted, that's fine, but the main issue is that Void Storage is still limited in size.

I'm a packrat, in-game and out. I know I may never going to transmog my Death Knight to a full set of tier 7 with the Dark Edge of Insanity off C'thun, but I like having the option (seriously, while I'm not a huge fan of the overall tier 7 look, it goes very well with that axe.) I think Paladin tier 2 is overrated, but dammit, I've still got to have my set of it just in case!

But the best news regarding this new form of transmog is that it's account-wide. Now admittedly, Diablo's set up in a more account-wide style, having your characters share gold and be able to trade gear back and forth regardless of whether you've worn it or not, but I think WoW could stand to be a little more alt friendly in terms of cosmetic things.

Now, regarding Legendaries. Some day, I'd love to have Shadowmourne. It's the closest you can get to having Frostmourne, and is really, hands-down the ultimate Death Knight weapon (even if the proc effect was copied for a cooldown for Retribution Paladins, albeit with totally different flavor.) Yet the great effort put forth to create Shadowmourne would ultimately be to make something I'd only be able to show off when I wasn't fighting anything. Shadowmourne was the best possible weapon to use in ICC, but that was a time when doing anything over 10k DPS was seriously impressive.

I realize that Legendaries would be very popular, and this might diminish how special they were, but you'd eventually have something like the aforementioned Judgment Set. When transmog first came out, every Paladin scrambled to put a full set together for that look. Yet now, while it remains popular, you also see a lot more creativity.

So here's another question: should you still draw some lines? Should a Hunter be able to put on a bunch of Shaman tier gear (if we're going account-wide.) That's not too far outside the realm of possibility. and in fact can be achieved when using not-set pieces. But should a Paladin be able to dress up like a Mage? Personally, I'd love to put together a kind of battlemage look, with plate armor and a cloth hood (think tier 5 or season 2 Mage helmets) or possibly go the reverse, with a caster decked out in plate gear (an affliction Warlock dressed in Death Knight gear, or: "how Unholy Death Knights should have worked.")

But maybe that's too ridiculous. Sure, thanks to my spec choices, my Paladin tends to be dressed in mixes of Warrior and Death Knight lookalike gear, but maybe Blizzard wants to still at least separate classes by armor type. I don't know how strongly they feel about this, but if Diablo III's version of transmog is any indicator, it's that they're willing to experiment with it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Place Ya Bets!

Ok, don't actually do that. I mean, if you and your friends like to gamble on things, then that's fine by me, but I'm not involved.

Blizzcon is two weeks away, and we are pretty much guaranteed to get the announcement of the next World of Warcraft expansion. However, unlike the last two (or possibly three?) expansions, we haven't had a single hint at a name. Sure, there was that whole "Dark Below" business, but at this point the verdict seems to be that it's just a self-perpetuating rumor. We know that Heroes of the Storm is just the new name for Blizzard All-Stars, and I think Corgis Unleashed is probably (probably) not the name of WoW 6.0.

The possibilities are open, and Blizzard is totally capable of throwing a curveball (I never would have guessed at something like Cataclysm before I heard about it,) but I think there are three routes that really present themselves for future content.

Azshara and the South Seas:

Admittedly, the South Seas can't be that far south, or they'd be in Pandaria, but there's often been a lot of talk of some kind of island-hopping expansion focusing on Azshara and the Naga as the primary antagonists. There's a lot of potential here to deal with not only the Naga, but also the Faceless and the Old Gods (we could finally face down N'zoth,) as well as dealing with the Naga's connection to the Burning Legion, both through their War of the Ancients affiliation and because the South Seas would presumably include the Tomb of Sargeras.

Personally, I'd love to have an opportunity to interact with Gul'dan, if he were somehow revived, though I know that it might be wise to steer away from constantly reviving old characters.

A South Seas expansion would also allow us to perhaps finally deal with the Zandalari once and for all. We don't know what Zul's deal is, but I'd like to see the Zandalari turn friendly again after we defeat this Dark Prophet. Who knows, though.

Burning Legion:

The Burning Crusade was kinda sorta a Burning Legion expansion, and we certainly had our big confrontation with them at the Sunwell, but they intentionally kept Kil'jaeden alive so we could fight him again, and while the final part of the expansion may have focused on the Burning Legion, the man center-stage was Illidan.

It seems to me that we've really got to head to Argus at some point, and it would be pretty cool to see Illidan brought back to life (I know what I said earlier, bear with me here) so that he could train Demon Hunters, giving us a new hero class. (While I think it may be unlikely to see a new class added right after the Monk, the rollout of the Monk was incredibly smooth compared to the Death Knight. While the DK was overpowered in all three specs during 3.0, the Monk kind of slid in as if it had always been there. They're a lot better at balance now, so I don't think giving us DHs next expansion would be out of the question.)

With a whole new world, there's a lot of opportunity to totally invent new things, so the story's really only limited by imagination, but I think at the very least we could get some cool Draenei lore and also possibly delve into the history of the various demon races. After all, if the Man'ari Eredar were originally indistinguishable from the Draenei, what might the other demonic races have been like before their falls?

Infinite Dragonflight:

My thoughts on an Infinite Dragonflight (or other agents affiliated with them) are pretty clear to anyone who's read this blog.

I really think for this expansion to be successful you would need to hop across multiple time periods, but you also would not want to have the Cataclysm effect of having isolated zones. So as I suggested earlier, having some kind of mashed-up continent made of different eras, with time-warps at the borders to go between them, would probably be the way to do it.

Considering the Chances:

Well, both the Burning Legion and Infinite Dragonflight possibilities have points in their favor. The former is all Wrathion talks about, and was his entire motivation for gearing us up (and attempting to unify the Alliance and Horde.) We know the Legion's still trying to get us, though we haven't really seen much of their activity since the Battle of Undercity. Of course, that may simply mean that we're due.

The main point for the Infinites is that the Timeless Isle, the emergence of the Timewalkers, and the disturbing visions we've seen using the Epoch Stones found on the Timeless Isle all point to something funny happening with the Bronze Dragonflight. In fact, we pretty much know that at some point, the Bronzes are going to be corrupted into the Infinites. We just don't know when. If the emergence of the Timeless Isle means anything, it could mean that we're going to have to deal with some problems in the space-time continuum.

The South Seas expansion doesn't have a huge number of hints at the moment, though if we go back to Cataclysm, there are a lot of hooks that point us in that direction. We still haven't faced N'zoth, and we don't know what has become of Neptulon. I'd actually argue that of the three of these, the South Seas expansion has clearest model for how to structure the expansion.

On the other hand, one wonders if perhaps we need to go to a more unusual setting. Dread Wastes aside (which really felt like just a corrupted version of Townlong Steppes - and indeed, they were originally going to be a single zone,) Pandaria is a fairly normal set of zones. We have a forest, a jungle, farmlands, mountains, and steppes. The zones of Pandaria were actually fairly ordinary, whereas in the last few expansions, we've seen strange vistas like Icecrown, Deepholme, or Netherstorm. One concern I'd have for a South Seas expansion is that it would simply be a series of tropical islands. Of course, that's not a guarantee. If Ny'alotha were a zone, for example, or whatever island the Tomb of Sargeras is on, we could see some unusual things. It would also be a good opportunity to introduce Kul Tiras and maybe Zul'dare as zones, though I don't know how unconventional those would be.

There is, of course, still the chance that something will come way out of left field and surprise us, but I think that the three possibilities I mentioned seem the most likely. Oh, and yeah, I've basically given up on the Emerald Dream. Such is life.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Imagining 5.5: Aftermath

The major raids of Mists are over - of that much I am convinced. We have ended the war, and we have defeated the last of the Sha.

However, given that it's still over two weeks until the next expansion is even announced, I could imagine that there will be another transitional, story-based patch, like 5.1 and 5.3.

But what would it be? Well, I can't claim to have any knowledge of what will happen. There's no guarantee that 5.5 will even exist, but here's what I was thinking:

Assuming we're drawing a distinction between 5.5 and whatever pre-expansion event the next one will have (I hope they do one. Mists' lack of a prologue - other than the underwhelming Theramore's Fall scenario - was kind of sad, especially after the awesomeness of the Wrath and Cataclysm prologues,) I could see a kind of Aftermath, showing the two factions moving on from the war.

Horde-side, you would basically go to work rebuilding. First off, Vol'jin (spoilers) needs to establish himself as Warchief. While I'm sure that Baine and Thrall will back him up, and Lor'themar's unlikely to give him any problems, he will need to prove himself to Sylvanas, who will almost certainly take this as an opportunity to assert her independence.

The other major thing is the Orcs. While I'm sure that Thrall will play a part in winning the Orcish people back over to Vol'jin (who I imagine will be a truer successor to Thrall's governing style,) there will still probably be some Garrosh loyalists holding out. I could even imagine some kind of Kor'kron insurgency that needs to be taken down.

So I could imagine a set of daily quests or Timeless-Isle-style tasks that involve repairing the damage to the city from the siege, arresting or fighting insurgents, and burying the dead.

Alliance-side, I think it's time to get back to the Eastern Kingdoms. Gilneas has been a dangling thread for a long time, and I think that this is the perfect time to go rebuild there. With the Horde forced to rebuild, the Alliance can take this opportunity to cleanse the plague out of the Worgen homeland. This seems especially prudent given that, with Garrosh out of the picture, Sylvanas is now the biggest threat to Alliance safety.

Gilneas could be a powerful bulwark against further encroachment by the Forsaken, and it seems like a strategically smart thing to turn Gilneas into a serious bastion of Alliance power from which they can project it over all of Lordaeron.

So I'd like to see Alliance players head to Gilneas to start cleaning up the plague, rebuild some of the ruined parts of the country, and fight off any Forsaken troops that are trying to occupy it.

Both of these things could work very similar mechanically, but you'd have a nice opportunity for Horde to feel like they were doing something Horde-specific, and Alliance to feel like they were doing something Alliance-specifc.

Throw in some cool vanity items, like mounts and pets, and some nice little story moments (I'd love to see Genn reclaim his throne, and perhaps see Saurfang return as head of the Kor'kron - though we might just wind up seeing the Kor'kron abolished,) and it would be a fitting epilogue to Mists of Pandaria.

First Impressions of Hearthstone

Seemingly in response to by victory over Garrosh Hellscream, I received my beta invite for Hearthstone today. I've played a fair amount of it. The overall impression I'm getting is that it's a lot of fun.

When I was very young, back in the mid 90's, I started playing Magic: The Gathering, which is generally considered the granddaddy of all collectable card games. I played this pretty much from third through sixth grade, but I later got into it in the online version in college.

Hearthstone certainly owes a lot to Magic in terms of overall design. You have an opponent you're trying to reduce to zero health, and you generally use an assortment of spells and minions to accomplish this.

Resources are simplified, as you'll simply get one additional mana crystal per turn, capping out, I believe, at 10. Each turn, you can use these crystals to play your cards or use your hero ability.

Your hero ability is basically something you can keep using once per turn if you have spare mana. The games I've played generally devolve into draw-then-play sorts of turns, so having this extra thing to do is quite nice. I suspect that strategically, card-advantage will play a big role in Hearthstone just as it does in Magic. I've loaded up my own Mage deck with tons of card-drawing to keep my options open.

The various classes are almost a substitute for the different colors of Magic. Each class has its own style, and while I'm sure people will come up with new ideas and strategies as time goes on, the kind of things you tend to get with each class create a recognizable pattern. For instance, Mages have tons of board-sweeping abilities and big bursts of damage, while Paladins have a lot of buff-cards that make your own minions more powerful.

Gameplay is fairly simple because there's not really any simultaneous action. You only play cards on your own turn. There's also basically nothing that goes out onto the playing field other than creatures, though sometimes these creatures have interesting effects. For instance, there's a "Raid Leader" card that will boost the attack power of all your other minions by one, or there are "battlecry" effects, where a creature will do something when they come into play, as well as being there to help you out.

Damage done to minions will persist indefinitely, so you can whittle down some of the tougher creatures with a bunch of attacks by weaker creatures. Generally, you can have your minions (and I realize I'm jumping back and forth between "minion" and "creature" here, as I'm not sure what the official term is) attack any other creature or the enemy hero. However, if there is an enemy creature with "taunt," it means you will have to attack that creature and not the others. If there are multiple taunt creatures, you get to choose between them.

You'll be able to play against pretty decent AI opponents, and if you really hate any kind of PvP gameplay, that's an option that's open for you. However, the good news for us PvP-phobes is that this is the least in-your-face kind of PvP there is. There's no chat window for someone to hurl slurs at you. Instead, you can simply use various emotes that your character can make. While I'm sure there will still be some jerks who will intentionally play as slowly as possible, overall I think this could be a pretty healthy environment, thanks to the careful sterilization of your interactions.

Lastly, yes, this is Free to Play, with all the hidden weirdness that comes with it, but really, it would be hard to conceive of a CCG that wasn't structured that way in the first place. You actually get a pretty decent selection of basic cards to begin with, and by leveling up your various heroes, you'll gain access to more of their class-specific cards. As I understand it, you can disenchant your unwanted cards to create materials to make specific ones, which actually means rare-hunting might be less of a pain here than it is in other CCGs. On the other hand, I expect that the best cards will require a very high material cost.

You will be able to earn gold coins by doing various things, like quests that pop up (I'm currently working on "Do 100 damage to enemy heroes," which should require four or five games.) I don't know if there will be some kind of curve that makes this less and less rewarding as time goes on, but my hope is that if you're ok with just getting one new pack after an evening of play, you'll be able to do so without spending cash.

Overall, I think this should prove to be a fun little side-game. It also has huge potential for depth. While it doesn't have the fundamental mechanical complexity of Magic (no Lands, no Artifact, Enchantments, Instants, or different colors,) it's got plenty of lore to draw from, and plenty of room to expand. I'd love to see Death Knight and Monk decks introduced (as well as any other new classes that might come to WoW.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Aftermath of Garrosh's Fall

Now that I've gone through the mechanics of the last three fights in Siege of Orgrimmar, I figured it would be a good time to talk about the ending of the raid, and the expansion.

This is going to be fully spoilerific, so I'll make a cut.

Downfall: Tank Perspective

Well, boys and girls, here we are: the last wing of the last raid of Mists of Pandaria (barring some sort of Halion-style prologue to the next expansion.)

I had a surprisingly easy time of the wing for the first two bosses, one-shotting each of them, but then we wound up having to fight Garrosh eight times, though what we figured out in the process should hopefully make future attempts far easier.

Trash before Siegemaster Blackfuse:

First of all, when you initially come into the instance, you may think you somehow wound up in an in-progress version of the Underhold right after Malkorok. Never fear, though. The thing is that SoO isn't actually as linear as the other Mists raids. Essentially, after Malkorok, it looks like people on Normal or Heroic can choose to go to Spoils of Pandaria or Siegemaster Blackfuse. Anyway, let Mekkatorque or his Horde equivalent CC all the trash in this room and then head to the big door to the left. (EDIT: Actually, Horde players will have to fight through this trash, which they also did in Underhold. Instead, Horde raids will be able to skip the trash between Blackfuse and the Paragons, as Saurfang proves his badass-ness again by clearing that entire corridor for you.)

Opening it will start a cutscene where Moira (or some Horde equivalent) shows up and you get to witness the power of the new Ironstar weapons as they wipe out her soldiers.

You will then get three waves of trash that Blackfuse sends at you, each with a named miniboss among them. This is sort of one of those "showing boss abilities beforehand" segments, but basically what I recommend is running away from lasers and pulling the trash out of the big orange patches, as they buff the damage they do.

Siegemaster Blackfuse:

Despite the insanity of this fight, it's pretty simple for tanks. There is a kind of long-duration tank swap debuff that you will want to keep an eye on called Electrostatic Charge. The tank who is on Blackfuse should keep him in the Northwest corner of the room. The Electrostatic Charge will increase the damage it does per stack, but it also helps you kill adds called Automated Shredder.

Blackfuse will heal any add within 35 yards of him, so you want to tank the shredders far away from him. The good news is that the Shredders have something called Reactive Armor. For each Electrostatic Charge you have, you deal significantly more damage to these guys. Likewise, the Sawblades that Blackfuse tosses out there will also damage the Shredders, so be sure to drag them to them.

When the shredder does "Death from Above," you'll want to get out of the way so as not to be hit by the ability, but then make sure you attack the add immediately afterward, as they take a lot more damage after using this ability.

When any of his adds die, Blackfuse gets a damage buff, which is a good time to blow a cooldown if you're tanking him.

There's lots of stuff on the ground to avoid, and if your shredder is down but you still have the debuff, help kill Crawler Mines. Otherwise, I imagine most of the complexity in this fight is for the DPS.

Trash before Paragons of the Klaxxi:

The trash before the Klaxxi first involves a series of minibosses with abilities that might possibly have to do with the bosses, but in all honesty I couldn't keep track of it all. Once you make it past the minibosses, there will be three groups of fairly standard enemies, and finally the Kunchong Kovok. I believe you're supposed to stack on Kovok to share his cone attack damage.

Paragons of the Klaxxi:

First, let's shed a tear for these guys, even though they're unrepentantly evil. They called me Wakener. /sad.

This is one of those fights that's probably fairly complex and involved, but here's how we did it: pretty much a zerg.

There are nine Paragons that you will be fighting (they should all be familiar to you if you've done the rep grind.) It's all a bit of a blur, but I'll see what I can remember:

First off, when a Paragon goes down, the others heal to full and the next in line joins. So there's really no value to AoE, cleave, or multidotting except to inflate your DPS on the meters. When all nine are down, you'll have beaten the encounter.

Ok, specifics:

Korven the Prime will encase any low-health Paragon in Amber, allowing them to heal up to full. Killing this Amber is your top priority.

Some of the Paragons have attacks that interact with each other. The best thing I can recommend is making sure you split up any melee Paragons between the tanks.

...and there's a lot more to it, but we kind of just muscled through it.


Trash before Garrosh Hellscream:

After 1-shotting the first two bosses, we wiped two or three times on this trash, though once we figured things out, it got easier.

First off, try to pull the Orcs on their own, without the little Sha-goo adds. Focus down the Harbingers of Y'shaarj, as they summon adds that are invulnerable until they die.

Little puddles of goo will summon oozes as well. You need to have a ranged DPS stand in the goo to soak it up, increasing damage done and taken. When the puddle is soaked, the adds will stop coming.

After watching a brief scene where Thrall gets his ass kicked by Garrosh, you'll be ready to pull the Warchief.

Garrosh Hellscream:

This fight can be intimidating and frustrating if the raid isn't cooperating, but it's actually not that bad.

There are three phases to the fight, but the main theme, as it has been in this whole raid (this whole expansion?) is that you CANNOT get tunnel-visioned.

Phase 1:

During this phase, Garrosh summons members of the "True Horde." One tank will simply be on Garrosh, while the other has the unenviable job of picking up tons of adds coming from multiple, distant locations.

Most of these will be Warbringers, who come out six at a time from the two gates on either side of his throne. However, less frequently, you'll get FARSEERS, who ride around on Wolves. THIS IS YOUR TOP PRIORITY FOR PHASE ONE. The Farseers cast a chain heal that, if not dealt with, will keep the adds up and make the fight practically impossible. Interrupt and kill the Farseers, though, and the Warbringers will die to cleave effects and the rest of the fight will be, well, not easy, but far easier.

Also during this phase, two Kor'kron engineers will prepare the Ironstars to use in the fight. While on harder difficulties you might want to let them unleash these things and then pull the adds into them, on LFR, I recommend simply having two ranged players dedicated to taking the engineers out when they pop up. If the Ironstars are unleashed, they'll roll along the floor, squashing to death anyone in their path (save Garrosh, sadly) and then explode, dealing 1.5 million damage to everyone, but dealing less the farther you are from them. Anyway, if you kill the engineers, you won't have to worry about them.

Also during this phase, Garrosh will do Desecrate, hurling a desecrated weapon at a random raid member, creating a very large void zone and a stationary weapon that can be dps'd and killed. It's probably recommended that you kill these weapons to keep the stage clear.

When you get him down to 1 health, phase two will begin.

Phase 2:

Garrosh gets some power from the Heart of Y'shaarj and he begins to gain energy. Every 25 energy, one of his abilities becomes empowered. First off: when he's getting his Old-God-juice fix, this is a perfect opportunity to nuke down the rest of the "True Horde" Kor'kron adds. Make sure that they're all dead, and the rest of the fight will get a lot easier.

After a few seconds, Garrosh will pull you into a vision within the Heart of Y'shaarj. This will be one of three random locations: the Terrace of Endless Spring, the Temple of the Jade Serpent, or the Temple of the Red Crane. There will be varying numbers of adds (only two in Red Crane, but tons in the Terrace) who will grant a damage-reduction buff after they die to anyone who walks through the glowing light spheres. Kill all the adds and then attack Garrosh. He will do only one attack here, which is Annihilate: a massive-damage frontal cone attack. Just stay behind him and you'll be ok. I believe that it's in these visions that Garrosh gains energy, and that damaging him enough will get you out of it, so do that quickly.

Now, once you're out of the vision, the most dangerous part of the fight begins. First off, did you kill all the Kor'kron? No? Dammit, people. Ok, you'll want to do that, but not quite yet. Your first priority is to DAMAGE ANYONE WHO IS MIND-CONTROLLED. The "Touch of Y'shaarj" is a MC-effect that is far worse than any you've dealt with. Why? Because it's infectious. MC'd people will start casting this on other raid members. If not dealt with IMMEDIATELY, the raid will be totally overrun.

Now that the adds are down, the tanks will want to swap frequently, as Garrosh gains a fast-building debuff.

Additionally, after a certain energy threshold, Garrosh's whirlwind will create Sha adds, so you should try to take those down when you have a chance.

The visions will continue through this phase, but if you're quick, you can keep him from getting too much energy. Bringing his health down to 1 again will begin phase three.

Phase 3:

Garrosh will finally absorb the rest of the power of the Heart, fully empowering all of his abilities, but restoring him to only 25% of his health. This is your burn phase. You'll still want to interrupt and damage anyone who's mind controlled, but hopefully you've hit Hero/Bloodlust/Time Warp.

My main advice here is to not lose focus. You'll still need to deal with his abilities, so try not to get over-excited with the prospect of taking him down.

Once you've got his health all the way down, the essence of Y'shaarj will dissipate and, well... I guess I won't spoil things for you. I do recommend sticking around, as there's a quest you can get, and you can also talk to all the present leaders (sadly, Velen and Genn Greymane are not there for some reason.) Granted, if your Alliance, the Horde leaders all simply say "I have nothing to say to you, *race,*" and I assume the reverse is true for Horde, but it's still kind of fun to see everyone there.


Well, that's the Siege of Orgrimmar, and raiding in Mists of Pandaria as a whole. I guess the main moral of the story for this raid is to always kill adds. I suspect that Garrosh will give people trouble for a while, but once you get good about taking down the right kinds of adds, it should be easy. Paragons of the Klaxxi might be harder than it seemed, if your group is not that well geared (we must have been one of the first LFR groups to run the place, and I think most of us were pretty well-geared mains with lots of Legendary cloaks.)

Probably next week I'll take my Death Knight in here to get a DPS perspective on it. I imagine I'll particularly have more to say about Paragons then.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Last Hurdle To Embracing Nontraditional Tank Stats

You know, I was actually going to make a post about how the introduction of nontraditional tanking stats (haste for paladins, and to a lesser extent crit for warriors) does have one major flaw, which is that we won't get the loot we actually want with the automated loot system.

Well, consider that point moot, because at least for Protection Paladins, we will now be eligible to receive gear with haste on it in LFR, Flex, world bosses, and any bonus rolls.

Paladins have gone through a weird kind of metamorphosis during Mists. At the beginning of the expansion, Mastery remained the king stat (though block-capping was no longer achievable as it was in Cataclysm - but we were compensated for this with additional effects from mastery, namely boosting the power of our Shield of the Righteous and Bastion of Glory stacks.)

However, as iLevels increased, the appeal of haste became apparent. I think the original intention for Active Mitigation was to have us react to the boss, saving our defensive abilities for big hits. In fairness, if a fight calls for it, you can still do this. But what Haste-tanking has allowed Paladins to do is to instead focus on maintaining maximum uptime on the Shield of the Righteous buff. Instead of making that one massive attack do 40% of its usual damage, you now basically make almost every enemy attack do 60% damage (numbers are made up, of course, and totally depend on gear.)

I still think that the developers need to address the unattractiveness of avoidance stats, either by getting rid of them, buffing them, or consolidating them into a single stat.

Given that Blizzard has officially endorsed the use of haste on Protadin gear (look at the tier 16 set,) I'm really only surprised that it took them this long after the patch hit to make this change.

One thing I will say is that if they go the route of making dodge and parry a thing of the past, they should give critical strike rating a beneficial effect for plate tanks as well. It may be overpowered, but I could imagine doing something like crits granting additional Holy Power, or Scent of Blood Stacks. Warriors already benefit from crit, but they should gain something from haste as well.

Alternatively, if they decide that they don't want plate tanks sharing gear with dps, they should do something to make defensive stats buff offense. The current implementation of Grand Crusader is a decent example.

Still, I think it's more likely that they will get rid of or consolidate avoidance stats in the next expansion, as active tanking seems to be quite popular. Plus, it's worked out well for Druids for years, and seems to be fine for Monks.

Anyway, I'm mainly happy that this means I'll be able to get appropriate gear without having to switch my loot spec to Ret and risk getting a crit piece.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Scaling Content and the Future of the Past

For whatever reason, I've gotten really into the idea of a time-travel expansion. It's a little less than three weeks from Blizzcon, and I know that anything I say about the next expansion is likely to make me feel silly, but if they could pull it off (and I know there are some who are super-skeptical about that,) a time-travel expansion could be amazing. The Infinites share my top spot for favorite Warcraft villains with the Scourge (ok, maybe they're in second, because the Scourge is better developed) and I would love to see them branch out to become their own thing: spreading beyond the Bronze Dragonflight so you could start seeing Infinite versions of mortal races (and how cool would it be if in a pre-expansion event, you started seeing Infinite Agents showing up in the major cities, doing nefarious things?)

Anyway, what's gotten me really excited about the idea is that it would be the perfect opportunity to create scaling content.

Setting aside vanilla (where dungeon design was very different,) there have been four expansions full of dungeons and raids. In fact there have been 56 dungeons with heroic modes, all somewhat reasonable in size and scope (though I'm keeping an eye on you, Halls of Origination.)

Dungeons are typically a fun way to blast through some content and earn some valor points, but in recent expansions, we've had the problem that our selection is limited. These days, you only get to run from a selection of nine dungeons when you queue for a random, and during Cataclysm, we spent most of the expansion queueing for either two or three dungeons, thanks the the ill-advised tiered random queue.

However, since then, we've seen two implementations of pretty cool tech: in Challenge Modes and Proving Grounds, they can scale your gear down to an appropriate level, making you rely on skill alone. In Flex raids, the enemies scale up or down depending on how many people you bring.

So, it stands to reason that one could create a system that allows you to run old heroic dungeons that are scaled up to present a challenge to players at the level cap.

Flavor-wise, you could pass it off as being a kind of time-travel. In a time-travel expansion, one could assume that the timeline is in flux, and even your past deeds are in danger of being undone.

Here's how I'd like it to be implemented:

In addition to your typical heroic dungeon queue, which would include all of the current expansion's dungeons, there would be an additional queue that would include every heroic dungeon WoW has ever had. These dungeons would be scaled up to the current level cap, but they would be fixed at a difficulty level comparable to the newest dungeons. To incentivize people to run these, there would be a greater Justice Point drop off of the bosses, but Valor would remain the same so that people did not feel forced to go to them.

Rewards from bosses would be cosmetic, and disenchant for contemporary materials. Likewise, all trash loot (cloth, random green pieces, vendor trash) would be of contemporary level.

The main idea here would be that if you wanted the specific items from the bosses, you would stick to the new dungeons, but once you had all you needed from them and felt you'd rather do something for the nostalgia (or just the variety,) you could run in these ones.

The "Time-Shifted" dungeon queue would also include the most recent dungeons, because the whole point is to increase variety - the more the merrier.

With each new expansion, you would add more dungeons to this queue, so you would have an ever-expanding selection to choose from. In this way, the breadth of World of Warcraft would really give it a huge advantage.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Level Squish? No Way! A Profession Squish, Though...

With the upcoming item squish, a lot of people have talked about doing some kind of "level squish," which would make the new level cap something like 60, the way it was in Vanilla WoW.

Honestly, I don't really see the point. Sure, 90 levels looks like a lot, but leveling from 1 to 90 today is way faster than leveling from 1 to 60 in Vanilla. I don't know how most newcomers look at the game, as I've been playing for about seven years (almost exactly, actually,) but as someone who likes traditional RPGs, the notion of lots of levels is a positive, rather than a negative.

Anyway, the point is: leveling happens so quickly now (though I'll admit that I probably level faster than the average new player, given that I know the ins and outs of the game) that I really don't see any problem with the levels going arbitrarily high. Each expansion, they do an XP squish anyway, which is pretty much equivalent to what a level squish would be.

However, there's one aspect of all that that does get left out in the cold, and that's professions.

Very little has been done to make profession leveling easier, at least in the old content. On one hand, you do have the Darkmoon Faire monthly quests that give you 5 points (which is a great way to get over some kind of hump, like a point where you can only get your new recipes by making five of some really fancy thing that has expensive materials.)

It's also very difficult to just power-level your professions, because time and gold inflation has made stuff like a stack of Mithril Ore worth hundreds of gold.

So what's the solution? Well, some ideas have been tried in Mists: For gathering professions, you can actually mine ore or gather herbs regardless of your skill level, but you'll get fragmentary pieces until you hit the appropriate proficiency. It's still pretty slow-going, though. They also did something with Blacksmithing, where you could use Ghost Iron to make vendor trash recipes that would give you five skill points a piece and would allow you to level from 1 to 600 with all Pandaria resources.

It's a decent way to at least keep you from having to farm old content, but over all, I think what we ought to have is some kind of profession revamp.

These days, given how much better the quest rewards are in a post-Cataclysm world, the stuff you make with professions tends to be vendor trash. Ultimately, this would be a good opportunity to just go through and re-do the recipes.

I realize nostalgia's a factor, but at the very least they could add in new recipes that give you appropriate gear for every ten-level range. These recipes would give multiple skill points, so you wouldn't have to fill your bags with tons of useless gear. You could simply use the gear models that came with the Cataclysm revamp (and this would be an excellent source for transmog. Some of the new 1-60 gear is really cool-looking,)

On the gathering side of things, first of all, granting more material per gather would help (and hopefully drive prices down on the auction house,) but I also think you could do things like granting multiple skill-ups per gather, or alternatively making respawns on ore and herbs a lot quicker. It's pretty easy these days to fall behind on gathering professions.

Whatever the case, Blizzard needs to create a dial that they can adjust whenever they tune the XP required to level up in the old world (as well as the expansion content.) Professions right now are a little lackluster, and while endgame stuff is working out all right (the research recipes for Tailoring, Leatherworking and Blacksmithing in Mists are slightly problematic but overall pretty good) I think it would be nice to see these feel like meaningful choices.

Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard's DOTA Game

Blizzard has officially released a quick, kind of adorable mini-trailer that confirms that yes, "Heroes of the Storm" is the name of the upcoming Blizzard DOTA-style game, which has gone through two renames, starting out as Blizzard DOTA (despite the fact that Defense of the Ancients was created using Warcraft 3, Valve trademarked "DOTA" for use in their DOTA 2, despite the fact that it seems like League of Legends is the most prominent one,) then renaming it to Blizzard All-Stars, and now Heroes of the Storm.

I expect we'll be hearing a lot about this new game at Blizzcon, but it does have the interesting implication for WoW, which is that we can definitely rule out Heroes of the Storm as the next WoW expansion.

Which, simply by being a name that has been put forward and not explicitly denied, puts the Dark Below back at the top of the list of possibilities (though I'm still pretty skeptical.)

I've been following the rumor mill for expansion five pretty closely, but it's really anyone's guess at this point.

Good on Blizzard for keeping things locked up so tight. November 8th can't come soon enough!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Underhold: DPS Perspective

Once again, it's the second look at a wing of Siege of Orgrimmar, this time wing 3: the Underhold.

While the main purpose of these second looks is to cover things that I missed when tanking the place, it's also a good way to see how strategies evolve and just getting a deeper sense of how a fight works.

Tonight I ran Underhold on my Frost Death Knight, and amazingly after last week, we one-shot all the bosses. I don't know if this is to be expected in these early weeks, but it's promising: you absolutely can defeat this wing without any determination buffs.


I guess the one thing here is that if you're not tanking, the healers are not going to be as focused on you. You'll want to soak the purple swirls (and blow a survival cooldown when you do) but if you see that your Bulwark shield is yellow or red, you probably want to let someone else take the hit.

Likewise, it'll be a little harder to gauge where the Arcing Smashes will come, because you don't get to keep the boss faced in a particular direction, and will likely be circumnavigating him to keep yourself in a good position. Also (and this is true for tanks as well,) if you're unlucky enough to have a raid that doesn't stack on Blood Rage, you're SOL, and you're going to die.

So, just to be clear: watch his Rage meter. When it gets to about 95, everyone in the raid should stack up on the tanks. You'll get one last Breath of Y'shaarj, but if the tanks are paying attention, they'll plant their feet in a safe location. At that point, just stay put until his Rage goes back to zero, and then you can go back to your regular stuff.

Spoils of Pandaria:

Obviously, dividing the raid properly is a big part of this fight. However, the thing that I really noticed was how a change in strategy could make it a lot smoother.

My tank elected to break open each of the largest crates, defeating the boss in one and then going after the other. From there, you'll have about half the energy you need, and you will probably have plenty of time to break open more medium crates. DPS can probably afford to break the smaller crates as well, but you don't need to rush it so insanely fast. We worked our way from large to small and we finished each room with about a minute to spare.

For DPS, I guess the main thing is that you'll want to burn things down quickly, especially anything that summons adds.

Thok the Bloodthirsty:

Again, this is a pretty simple one, though I must confess that I spent much of it taking a dirt nap. In my defense, I did not die by getting trampled. Rather, I made the far more noobish mistake of going after the jailer add before the tank had gotten to it. (Though the tanks seemed very sluggish on this, and may not have realized that they needed to take him.)

Anyway, after getting rezzed, (always nice when a fight's going well enough that you can afford to rez DPS,) I think the other important stuff is to remember to favor survival. On the flame phase, you'll need to move frequently to get out of the burning blood.


Maybe I got really lucky with my group, but this run demonstrated that once people get the mechanics down, I expect Underhold to be a breeze. Malkorok and Thok are both pretty straightforward. Spoils will likely still cause problems now and again, especially if impatient people pull it before the raid's been split. But overall, I think we're in good shape.

A Low Rumble of Time Issues

There are some rumors floating around - non-substantiated and vague (and awkwardly translated from the Chinese) that the next expansion will be a time-themed one, dealing with a parallel timeline, or perhaps multiple ones.

First off: this is totally rumor mill stuff: DO NOT take this as a guarantee or anything.

However, I've often thought that we're due for a time-travel-themed expansion.

After the events of the End Time dungeon, one might think that the issue is resolved. Murozond is dead. Yet Nozdormu still lives, and while Murozond could have been an alternate-unvierse version of the Aspect of Time, it may be that all of his actions have not yet even taken place. Indeed, Murozond could feel emboldened by the fact that he already knows when he's going to die - and until then, he can act with impunity.

The Timeless Isle is a weird fluke of a location, locked as it is in time. Things never change there, and a Bronze Dragon named Kairoz asks for your help in researching it. In the process, though, you see a few odd things, many dealing with the ongoing Siege of Orgrimmar.

However, apart from the events revolving around Garrosh, we also discover that Kairoz himself is showing up in odd places, including the meeting of Horde and Alliance leaders following Garrosh's fall. More ominously, when you find yourself in the Caverns of Time, the vision provided shows Soridormi, Nozdormu's consort, dying, while Kairoz looks on.

Did Kairoz kill her? He certainly seems disturbed by the vision, claiming that it must be from an alternate timeline, or may simply be false. Yet I wonder...

We've been talking Burning Legion and Azshara a lot, but you know what? I'm beginning to feel more and more convinced that the next expansion will be a time-travel-themed one.

Beyond these rumors (which may, after all, simply be fabricated by someone like me who likes to speculate,) there's a fairly big, glaring reason to suspect that we're going in this direction, which is the introduction of the Timeless Isle and the Timewalkers.

If we're about to see the Bronze Dragons corrupted (Not Chromie!) we're going to need a benevolent faction to help us protect the timeline. The Timewalkers would fit that pretty darn well.

The rumors suggest that we'll be dealing with some kind of alternate history. This could have huge implications, because in just the last few decades, we've seen Draenor destroyed, the kingdoms of humanity ravaged, the birth of the Forsaken, the desolation of Quel'thalas and the subsequent Blood Elf revolution, the loss of the Night Elves' immortality, the arrival of Orcs, Ogres, and Draenei on Azeroth, the reunification of the Dwarves, the introduction of the Worgen curse, the CATACLYSM, the growing of Teldrassil, the founding of Durotar, the building of Thunder Bluff...

The world has gone through insane changes over the last 30 years, and even more of them in the last 15. Little changes could mean huge differences. Just think, if Arthas had stayed to fight the Scourge in Lordaeron instead of going to Northrend, there might be no Forsaken, and Lordaeron might be thriving. The Blood Elves would have never renamed themselves, and Kael'thas might still be a beloved king. Without the Scourge, the Legion may have never summoned Archimonde to Dalaran, and the Third War might have been stopped in its tracks.

So here's an odd notion: What if we're in the wrong timeline?

From our perspective, we've been protecting the timeline as it is meant to happen whenever we do a favor for the Bronze Dragons. But what if they've got it wrong? After all, if the timeline was changed, our memory of events would be different. How many times have we stopped the Infinites, despite their protestations that they are trying to prevent pain and suffering?

I really don't know how a time-travel expansion would work. Part of the rumor suggests that the upcoming item-squish is actually going to be part of the canon story to it. Would the zones there simply be old zones that were refreshed?

Certainly, you wouldn't do another Cataclysm-level revamp of the Old World, but I could imagine a kind of "new continent" made up of time-shifted versions of older zones. In fact, to make the squish easier on old-world content, you could simply receive a debuff that lowered damage, healing and health in the new zones only.

I'd hope that we'd get to go to multiple times - perhaps passing through a time warp each time we cross the border of a zone. I know it's a lot easier to have us go to the past, but seeing the future is even more exciting. Mixing it up, I think, would be best.

Anyway, this is all rumors and lots of speculation on my part. For all I know, it's just going to be the Azshara expansions, or the Burning Legion expansion, or something.

But in the past, we have sometimes gotten unbelievable rumors that turned out to be true. I remember reading about an expansion that would "totally re-do the Vanilla continents," with "no new continent, just new zones in the old ones," and "only five new levels." It sounded like BS then, but when Blizzcon came about, I had to eat my words.

Anyway, if this proves to be true, my time-travel post that I made at the beginning of this month (that you won't see until after the first day of Blizzcon) will be surprisingly apropos.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

"Heroes of the Storm" Apparently Approved as a Trademark

According to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, "Heroes of the Storm" has, truly, been "formalized" as a trademark owned by Blizzard.

This puts a serious feather in the cap of those who argue that this will be the name of the next expansion. While it's not hard proof, it's strong evidence.

We've had a drought of information about Blizzard trademarks, which previously had tipped us off to both Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria's titles months before their respective announcements. Given that a company like Blizzard really does need to have this sort of duck in a row - they can't make the announcement and then register their trademark, a TM is a pretty good indicator.

Many have argued that Heroes of the Storm does not sound like a WoW expansion, and that it seems like it would be more appropriate for a new mobile game or perhaps a new name for Blizzard All-Stars, Blizzard's in-house DOTA game they've been working on for ages.

On the other hand, we had the exact same speculations when Mists of Pandaria was first uncovered. People could not believe that a serious WoW expansion would include what until that point was considered purely an April Fool's Joke.

And yet, the skeptics were wrong.

In fact, if you had asked me in 2011 which name I thought more likely to be a WoW expansion, I'd probably have said Heroes of the Storm.

The other big point in the favor of Heroes of the Storm as a WoW expansion is that we haven't seen anything else. I don't know if there's some legal way for Blizzard to make a secret trademark, and in the absence of such a thing, they need to get the name out there. It's now less than a month until the next expansion is announced, meaning that if they haven't done their legal work yet, they're really letting it get down to the wire.

And given that there must be a lot of people preparing for Blizzcon who will inevitably have to know the name of the next expansion, Blizzard has to make sure that those people can't go out and buy the website domain name ahead of time, or do some other shenanigans that would allow them to leech money out of Blizzard.

So I think we're looking at a good 75% chance that HotS is the next expansion. Beyond this, I can't really speculate. Storms could refer to Azshara's power over the ocean, or to the Titans' general affiliation with lightning. It could be any number of things.

Anyway, we're T minus 27 days here, so I look forward to discovering the truth (turns out it's Corgis Unleashed.)

The Mists of Pandaria Postmortem - The Raids, Tier 15, Throne of Thunder

While tier 14 was split up between three different raids, the second tier of the expansion returned things to the grand, sweeping, epic raids of yore, with the largest raid since Icecrown Citadel (or, technically, Ulduar, thanks to Ra-Den.) We had heard much about the Thunder King, so it stood to reason that we would eventually fight the guy (though that may have been a surprise for those who had not done the quests in Kun Lai where he was resurrected.)

Throne of Thunder was intentionally created to feel huge, and it is neatly divided into four sections (that correspond with the LFR wings) with quite different tones and motifs.

Last Stand of the Zandalari:

The Zandalari's sudden turn into villains was a bit of a shock in patch 4.1 (especially given that there were friendly Zandalari quest-givers as recent as 4.0 in Stranglethorn Vale) but it's been long enough that, yeah, I guess we can accept them as bad guys. The relationship between the Trolls and the Mogu made the Zandalari a major presence within the raid, and the first boss is in fact one of the old friendly NPCs from Yojamba Isle (it would seem that this expansion is all about having us fight former friends, especially in the next raid,) Jin'rokh the Breaker. Jin'rokh serves very well as a gatekeeper boss, with relatively simple mechanics but who also requires a certain minimum DPS to defeat. This is mostly a brute-force fight that functions as a decent gear-check.

Horridon, on the other hand, is a crazy execution fight that requires everyone to have their wits about them, dealing with tons of different kinds of adds with different abilities. This one was more of a raid-destroyer, and while at this point it's not too bad, this was the fight that made you dread going in there in the early days. As a second boss, perhaps it was a little over-tuned? However, one thing I kind of enjoy is the way that both Horridon and the third boss, the Council of Elders, play on the theme of the four major Troll tribes uniting together under the Zandalari. Not to mention the fact that on the Council fight, we're sort of having that rematch with Gara'jal that he promised after we killed him in Mogu'shan Vaults.

Forgotten Depths:

Ah, this is the section that I believe was designed to test your patience with LFR players. While the bosses themselves are not too hard (Megaera is probably the easiest in the raid,) the trash area leading to the second boss can be a real struggle, given how easy it is for people to accidentally (or trollingly) pull additional packs. Likewise, the trash before Ji-Kun makes it very easy to fight tons of enemies you didn't need to just because someone walked over something they shouldn't have.

But the bosses, you say? Mostly, I like them, though Tortos could be a little frustrating (after shockingly little trash,) mainly due to the huge number of adds and the fact that those Whirl Turtles are nearly impossible to avoid getting hit by. As a Paladin tank, I've never been allowed to tank the boss (which is funny, because Paladins are definitely not "the AoE tank" that they used to be - I'd give that honor to Monks or DKs,) which I think is the one role that's fairly simple in this one. Still, I appreciate the Mario Bros. reference of having us defeat turtles and kick their shells at our enemies.

Megaera is very simple, but Ji-Kun has some interesting mechanics. The only sad thing about said mechanics is that only a tiny portion of the raid gets to experience them. Fighting Ji-Kun herself is pretty standard boss stuff, but being able to fly between nests killing adds before they become a problem is quite a lot of fun, especially if you play a class that has good cleave abilities. I'm always a fan of funky fight mechanics, and flying around fighting giant birds is pretty unusual.

Halls of Flesh-Shaping:

Somehow, the Halls of Flesh-Shaping fell the most "dungeon-like" area we've been in a long time. That might be because Durumu the Forgotten is basically a Beholder from D&D. The trash in this wing is notably quick. The trash before Durumu is actually substantial, but doesn't feel too bad because it all happens in the same room as the boss. Meanwhile, Primordius' trash is a quick AoE gauntlet-zerg, and there are only two pulls before Dark Animus (though the enemies have a lot of health.)

These fights had some tricky mechanics. Durumu in particular could be frustrating because you could be doing really well for about half the fight, and then totally wipe out when he does his maze. And in some ways, this was really more Blizzard's fault than ours, because seeing your way through that maze was, and to an extent still is, pretty hard. Still, conceptually I love the fight, frustrating as it may be at times.

Primordius is fun, but the absurd number of adds and objects on the ground and just plain stuff going on can make it a lag-intensive one (actually, all three of these fights have their sources of lag.) This is one of those fights that lets you feel really awesome, especially if you get a lucky set of buffs (having an extra 50% crit is pretty cool.)

And then there's Dark Animus. I understand that this fight works entirely differently on Normal and Heroic, in that you have to game which golems you kill to make sure he doesn't hit 100 Anima. But on Raid Finder, where he's only got 80 to work with, it's a fight that actually settles down after a bit. Really, the only major danger of this fight is when the Large Anima Golems are out, but damn if it isn't a fun little bit of chaos. It's also kind of funny that the more golems you leave up, the quicker you can just get to working on the boss itself. Anyway, my main thing about Dark Animus is that it's one of the coolest looking bosses they've done.

Pinnacle of Storms:

The Pinnacle of Storms is quick and easy until you get to the final boss of the raid, and then it's insane. Really, I think we should mention Lei Shen here, because he's the most complicated fight I've yet seen in Mists (though I have not done the Garrosh fight, so get back to me.) Iron Qon, I felt, was somewhat underwhelming. The Twin Consorts, on the other hand, have the fun aspect where if you have super DPS (and I've only done this once,) you can turn a four-phase fight into a two-phase one. The Celestial mechanic here felt weirdly tacked-on, but it's still pretty cool (though I've never actually done the sigil-drawing myself.)

Really, the Pinnacle of Storms does feel like the home-stretch of the raid, but it doesn't have the distinctive character that the middle two wings have. It also strikes me as kind of funny that, other than the handful of guards before Dark Animus, this is the first wing where we actually fight any Mogu in "The Mogu Raid," (ok, to be fair, MSV was also "The Mogu Raid.")

A Return to the Epic Raid:

Throne of Thunder was the first raid to break double-digits since Icecrown Citadel. As a raid, I'm actually a big fan. There's a lot of cool stuff going on in it, along with interesting new models and fight mechanics. I guess my only real critique of the place is that it's rigidly linear. Now granted, this is true of all Mists raids. Still, the place does just feel enormous. Simply trying to imagine how far you have to walk from the beginning of it to Lei Shen's sanctuary: it must be miles and miles (though are we meant to understand that the entire Forgotten Depths and Halls of Flesh-shaping are a detour? Having only run it on LFR, I don't know if there's like a scene after Council of Elders that shows why we've jumped down into a deep dark pit.

It'll be a little while before I get the post-mortem for SoO up, given that I have yet to see the whole place, but you can expect it not long after the Tuesday after next.

The Underhold: Tank Perspective

Yes, it took me a while, but I finally got around to running the third wing of Siege of Orgrimmar.

The Underhold is the first half of the massive complex Garrosh has built within Ragefire Chasm. You'll be fighting your way through lots of Kor'kron forces, as well as a number of beasts imported from Pandaria and Northrend.

Mercifully, this wing has 3, rather than 4 bosses, so even with the kinds of wipes you see in the early days of an LFR wing, it will still take less time than Vale or Gates.

Trash Before Malkorok:

The trash before Malkorok is fairly straightforward, but there's a lot of it. You'll need to make your way around to one of the side rooms, and then up the stairs to reach Malkorok.


Garrosh's #2 and head of the Kor'kron (presumably Saurfang resigned in disgust at some point) volunteered to be dosed with Y'shaarj's essence and has thus become a fearsome dire orc.

This is a fairly simple fight, but puts a serious strain on healers, tanks, and DPS due to some unforgiving mechanics.

The core unusual mechanic to this encounter is Ancient Miasma, which will prevent ALL healing. However, your heals will be converted instead into a buff called Ancient Bulwark, which is a damage absorption shield. Ancient Bulwark cannot be more than 100% of your health, so healers will have to A: front-load a lot of healing on the raid, and B: be careful not to over heal.

During this phase, Malkorok does three things major things. One is that he will create purple void zones. Rather than avoiding these, you want 5 people to soak them, or else they will go off and damage the whole raid.

The other two abilities go hand in hand, and can be a bit of a memory challenge. Malkorok will do Arcing Slams, which deal a bunch of damage to anyone they hit, in a cone. After three of these, he will instead do Breath of Y'Shaarj, which will deal enormous AoE damage in any area that had been hit with the previous three Arcing Slams. So you'll need to remember roughly where those three areas are.

Malkorok gains rage as the fight goes on. When he hits 100, he'll go into a Blood Fury. At this point, the whole raid needs to stack on the tank to share damage, as he does something like 1.8 million per hit on Raid Finder, but it's split between everyone it hits. The good news is that during this time, the Ancient Miasma goes away, allowing you to finally heal up anyone whose health had dropped during phase one.

Blood Fury does not last terribly long, and then you simply go back to phase one. Rinse and repeat.

Trash Before Spoils of Pandaria:

I don't know if this works differently for Horde, but on the Alliance side, after defeating a few of the same kinds of trash mobs from before, High Tinker Mekkatorque will show up and engage the Kor'kron, permanently crowd-controlling everything between you and the next "boss."

Spoils of Pandaria:

Oh, Spoils. This is a weird, weird fight that is mostly about a tank's ability to gauge how much he or she can pull, and the rest of the raid's ability to keep up with the tank.

First, you need to divide the raid in two (which is a pain on LFR for the normal reasons.) Each groups should have one tank and three healers, and as even as you can make the dps (just split your raid as evenly as you can.)

After engaging the Titan chest in the middle of the platform, you'll be able to jump down into two rooms diagonally across from each other.

What you need to do is to shut down the security system. To do that, you need to release the Titan energy stored within the enemies that are shut in the boxes.

One team will deal with Mantid enemies first, and the other will have Mogu. Generally, I've found that the Mantid seem to be harder for whatever reason.

If you find yourself split too unevenly, there are chains you can use to jump out of your room and back to the high walkway where you begin the encounter, so that you can switch sides, but if you've split the raid up well, this shouldn't be necessary.

The smallest boxes have one unit of energy, and fairly simple enemies. The medium ones have, I believe, 6 energy, but are of course tougher. And the biggest boxes have mini-bosses that are considerably more dangerous, but also grant something like 12 energy.

Each side needs to fill the energy bar to 50, which will activate a lever that opens a gate to the next room. If either side wipes, or if the gate is not opened soon enough, the security system will kill the entire raid. In order to open the gate, both sides will need to be at full energy.

Once you've done this the first time, each side will come across a new room that has the other type of enemy, so the Mogu side is now the Mantid side, and vice versa.

As a tip: Tanks should be the ones to open the crates, just to let them have some control (and have an easier time picking up adds.) Try to crack open the next box when the contents of the previous box starts to get low. And remember that you can handle probably 3 or 4 small boxes, or 2 medium ones, or 1 large one, depending on the group. I'd usually try to make sure that there were always some small-enemy boxes open and at least one medium-box one.

Many of these enemies have abilities. As a tank, you'll probably not be super-aware of them. The key for tanks here is to be brave and pull a little more than you think you can, because that timer is pretty strict. And always have some open boxes unless you're certain that you'll have enough energy when the current enemies are down.

Trash before Thok the Bloodthirsty:

The trash before Thok is fairly simple. There are several bats that will lift raid members very high up and then drop them. There's a Yeti who works basically just like Icehowl in Trial of the Crusader (don't be in the way of its charge) and a Mushan that has a frontal-cone and a bleed that stacks.

With the trash cleared, Thok comes out.

Thok the Bloodthirsty

Thok is a giant Devilsaur that the Kor'kron are trying to turn into a beast of war. There are three jail cells surrounding the massive arena here, with Saurok, Jinyu, and Yaungol prisoners.

This fight is actually fairly simple, but requires precision in execution.

Thok will alternate between phases at certain health percentages (in Flex, Normal and Heroic it's more complicated than that, but it's just percentages on LFR.) The abilities in the Main phase will change as the fight goes on, but they're dealt with in largely the same way.

The Main Phase, Thok uses a cone-effect tank-swap, but also has a tail swipe, so tanks should step in when they taunt and step out when they're no longer on the boss. Thok does some periodic AoE, but nothing terribly complicated.

At a certain percentage, Thok goes into a Blood Rage and begins to chase a random raid member, getting faster as he runs and doing massive damage to anyone in his path. The affected raid member should kite him away from the raid and run as fast as he or she can.

At the same time, a Kor'kron Jailer will show up at the entrance to the room. Tanks should pick up this Jailer and drag them to one of the three cells (which roughly make an equilateral triangle around the arena.) DPS should focus down the jailer. When he falls, one player can right-click on him to take his key, getting a minute-long buff that allows them to open a cell.

The released prisoners will attempt to help you fight Thok, but instead, Thok will eventually decide to eat them, gaining new powers based on the guy he just ate. The Saurok gives Thok poison damage (though I honestly am not sure what difference the poison makes.) The Jinyu gives him frost attacks, most notably allowing his cone-attack to freeze enemies at 5 stacks, and requiring dps to break people out. The Yaungol gives him a fire buff, which is most notable in that he will begin to leave Burning Blood on the ground, meaning that the tanks will need to slowly move him around the arena (gradually, and without turning too much, if possible.)

After all three prisoners are dead, it's just a race to kill him.

Conclusion for the Underhold:

The Underhold is two refreshingly conventional fights with a really, really weird one sandwiched in the middle. While the initial trash is a little thick, it's not quite like Gates of Retribution. And given that this is one fewer boss than the previous two wings, it should be relatively quick and easy for those who want to get a wind down quickly - assuming that people get better (and I include myself here) in Spoils of Pandaria.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Significance of the Timeless Isle

Part of me assumes that the Timeless Isle was simply a way for Blizzard to create some (relatively) quick outdoor content that played with the conventions, serving primarily as an experimental grounds for doing level-capped content that did not involve daily quests.

And yet, the place has some odd stuff going on. It's called the Timeless Isle because time doesn't really flow there. It is perpetually stuck at just before sunset. It's haunted by the ghosts of human sailors (and a small handful of living ones) as well as ancient elemental spirits and a tribe of fire-worshipping Yaungol. And, for some reason, the spirit of Shaohao and the August Celestials hang out there.

Most of that stuff would work just fine as a standard "farewell to Pandaria" zone, but it's the time issues that make me curious.

Canonically, we haven't traveled through time since going to the War of the Ancients to retrieve the Dragon Soul before it was corrupted into the Demon Soul. In order to do so, however, we first had to contend with the fact that Murozond, the leader of the Infinite Dragonflight and future incarnation of the benevolent Nozdormu, had somehow locked things up, forcing us to travel to a post-apocalyptic future and defeat him.

On the Timeless Isle, there are two dragons. One is Wrathion, who is interested in using the odd phenomena of the place to help outfit his champion. The other is Kairoz, a member of the Bronze Dragonflight who is accompanied by many of the Timewalkers - a mortal group who is gradually taking on the role that the Keepers of Time used to play - protecting the timeways from interference.

Kairoz has you gather Epoch Stones in order to augment his ability to see through time. After the fall of Deathwing, all the Aspects expended their powers, significantly weakening their ability to perform their duties. Kairoz is thus trying to gain some of that power back - for benefit of Azeroth, of course.

Yet as we watch the visions, first seeing Thrall and Saurfang fighting their way into Ragefire Chasm, we gradually begin to see other aspects of the future. We see Garrosh defeated, yes, as one might expect of a raid boss. We see him (spoilers!) imprisoned at the Temple of the White Tiger, with Anduin presumably attempting to help rehabilitate him (good luck, kid.) Yet we see Kairoz himself in a number of these visions. Lastly, we see him standing by while Soridormi, Nozdormu's consort and probably the second most powerful Bronze Dragon in the world, dies.

There's a dangerous fact that the Bronze Dragons must realize: the Infinite Dragonflight is them. Murozond is the future Nozdormu, and he apparently dies just as Aman'thul had told him he would. The other Infinites may indeed be our own Bronze friends.

Kairoz himself, could become one of their agents, even if at this point in the timeline, he wants nothing more than to fulfill his Titan-assigned duty.

So, to go meta here, what is the purpose of the Timeless Isle? In many ways, it is a farewell to the lush land we've spent the last year in. We get to chill with nearly all the characters we've met along the way, and we get to find even more toy-like items in case our bags weren't filled up enough.

And yet, to throw all this stuff in here... Is Blizzard hinting at something?

Granted, sometimes Blizzard plays the long game. After all, we had Lady Sinestra gathering Netherdrake Eggs in Outland two expansions prior to culmination of the Black/Nether/Twilight Dragon plot.

But on the other hand, what if we're getting a huge preview of the next expansion and we don't even know it?

It seems like the two big concepts that are being tossed around for the next expansion are either a South Seas one with Azshara, or a Burning Legion themed one. Granted, some of that is based on the possibly-fake title that was floating around, the Dark Below, but those seem to be popular ideas - expansions that seem inevitable.

In theory, you could say the Infinite Dragonflight story ended in End Time. And yet, as I was saying in a post not too long ago, when you're dealing with time travelers, you can't get too comfortable with cause and effect. Sure, we may have seen the death of the Infinite Dragonflight (in a future that never came to pass, mind.) But we have still yet to see their creation.

Could we find out on November 8th that the next expansion will be all about time-travel?

Theoretically, we're going to get a 5.5, but rather than a raid patch, it will be another story-based, transitional one. (I don't know if this will simply take the place of the pre-expansion 6.0 patch.) Imagine, then, if the Timeless Isle, known for being totally unchanging, suddenly changes - and dramatically so. Shattered Timeways splinter out from this temporal anomaly, and it all centers around our buddy Kairoz. Hell, take a look at the Sha and then at the Infinite Dragons. Notice a similarity?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to hop in my virtual time machine and check in with the guys in November.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Mists of Pandaria Postmortem - Monks

The Death Knight was an incredibly exciting addition to World of Warcraft, with its unique starting experience and boosted levels, with its cosmetic differences and free weapon enchants, and with its wild overpowered-ness and hideously difficult balancing that took all of Wrath to get right.

The Monk had none of that, but perhaps that's all right. It does have unique combat animations, though, which is something.

Like the Death Knight, the Monk was made available to a wide variety of races (though not the Cataclysm-era ones,) yet because of its co-introduction with the Pandaren, it is perhaps not surprising that most people made a Pandaren Monk.

In addition to bringing in a new tank and dps spec, the Monk is the first new healer to be introduced since WoW's launch in 2004. Sadly, I can't actually say much about Monks as healers, as I've never really played any healer. I do know that they seem to be ok, but that's from a tank/dps perspective, so whatever balance issues there might exist, I don't really know.

The Monk resource system manages to blend the old with the new, keeping a Rogue's energy but using Chi instead of Combo Points. While Energy is important, it's really the Chi that gives the class its rhythm.

Appropriately, Monks feel very mobile, mainly thanks to Roll, and their ability to fight with fluidity is reflected in the mechanics of the class.


Case in point, the Brewmaster feels very different from any other tank on the field. Sure, in this era of active mitigation, you can't just wade into battle and expect to survive on heavy armor alone, but the Monk needs to be constantly working to keep up that survivability. Essentially, you have to juggle maintaining Shuffle at all times, maximizing uptime on Elusive Brew, and getting your powered-up Guard up as often as you can, while trying to maintain one spare Chi to use Purifying Brew if you get in trouble. Compare this to, say, Death Knights, who simply have to hit Death Strike as often as they can.

On the other hand, in my experience, Threat seems easier to maintain on a Monk. With Keg Smash as well as Dizzying Brew and Spinning Crane Kick, coupled with the mobility granted by Roll and Clash, not to mention your Ox statue, it's not too hard to pick up those big swarms that tend to be a nightmare for other tanks if they don't use some big AoE attack at the exact moment on the exact target they need.

Monk tanking is challenging, but fun, and it's a real change of pace from the other tanks.


I'll admit I mainly know Windwalkers from soloing. Essentially, the Windwalker does feel pretty fast-paced, like other Monks. Despite mobility abilities like Roll and Flying Serpent Kick, you'll also need to know when to plant your feet and do Fists of Fury. While Windwalkers do fine in single-target situations and excel in AoE, the cleave-like situations that make up most trash groups are a little tricker, though I believe that's what Storm Earth and Fire are for (I've only run one dungeon as a Windwalker.)

Like Brewmasters, you have a lot of cooldowns, both short-term rotational and long-term burst damage, to juggle. Windwalkers use Tigereye Brew frequently to boost their damage, and Fists of Fury is rotational, but feels almost like a cooldown. The only baseline cooldown that is more than a minute seems to be Energizing Brew, which boosts your energy regeneration. However, at least in my experience, one tends to be more worried about spending Chi than gasping for Energy to Jab more. But again, I've done very little Windwalking other than solo questing.


I can't really talk about this from practical experience, but Mistweavers do seem to have a very different style of healing, using channeled spells and other spells that can be cast during those that will boost them and refresh DoTs.

Additionally, they seem to downplay Spirit-based mana regeneration in favor of Mana Tea. Again, I can't comment all that much on this.

While Mistweavers have a built-in Atonement-style damage-to-healing mechanic, it looks like you can't just play as if you were DPS and still put out the same level of healing. I imagine that if you're doing content that you out-gear, you can probably just spam your melee attacks, but I get the impression that Eminence healing isn't as good at dealing with big spikes on the tank.

The Monk HQ:

Perhaps the most notable thing about Monks as a class is Zen Pilgrimage, and the Peak of Serenity. Like Moonglade and Acherus, the Peak of Serenity is kind of the "class guildhall," with amenities designed for that class. However, just as Acherus had far more interesting things than Moonglade, such as training dummies and rune forges, the Peak of Serenity is specially-built for leveling (and level-capped) Monks.

This is primarily because of the quests. Every ten levels, the Monk gets a cool piece of blue-quality gear. In addition, there's a daily quest there (requiring you to defeat the same opponents) that awards "Enlightenment," which greatly increases you reputation gains. At the level cap, you instead get a whopping 3000 mastery rating, which is borderline absurd.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting:

Despite these advantages, and the overall benefit of being designed from the ground up more recently than all those classes that were carrying eight years (or four, for DKs) of baggage, Blizzard managed to do a good job in balancing Monks. Unlike in Wrath, where DKs were the best tanks and the best DPS (at least at first,) Monks have slid in fairly inconspicuously, doing very well for those who master them, but not overshadowing the older classes.

So overall, a successful addition to the game.

(Now give me a Demon Hunter.)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Warlocks and the Fight against Homogenization

Warlocks used to be somewhat similar. All three specs would keep up three DOTs and then fill the time between refreshing said DOTs with either Shadow Bolt or Incinerate (or, in the case of Demonology, both - depending on whether you got a Molten Core proc.)

Mists of Pandaria did a lot of things to revamp the way that talents and abilities worked. You see, while Cataclysm had seen a pretty big set of changes to the old talent-spec system, it still suffered from the same problems.

Essentially, here's how things used to work:

Most of the abilities that a class got were baseline - regardless of spec. The only abilities or passive effects (though there were very few baseline passive effects then) that were spec-specific were from talents. While Cataclysm had you officially choose your spec at ten and get several of these things immediately, the effect was that you had a hard cap on the number of key passive abilities as well as active abilities that any one spec could have.

Talents, of course, looked extremely different than they do now. Talents were all specific to one spec or another, and in order to unlock the more advanced ones, you had to invest additional talent points in your particular tree. Cataclysm forced you to invest enough points into a single tree to get its final talent before allowing you to go into other trees, but seriously, if you didn't play before Mists of Pandaria, the talent system back then would be utterly unrecognizable.

Because you could only have so many talented abilities, it meant that most had to be baseline. That meant that while a Protection Paladin was not going to be using a lot of healing spells, they still got the full complement of Holy Light, Flash of Light, Divine Light, and Holy Radiance.

The Mists system essentially changed it so that choosing one's spec would simply determine which abilities you got as you leveled up - and without the old talent tree system, you could make an arbitrary number of new passive effects and abilities for a particular spec. Talents, then, became something for the class, rather than the spec, and they've tried to make the choices interesting (usually with decent success, if you ask me.)

So: Warlocks.

This system allowed a class that had at one time been very homogenous to become radically different between its specs. Unlike, say, Mages, who had a clear elemental theme to at least distinguish the specs visually, Warlocks always struggled to make the specs distinct.

Now, however, they play almost like different classes.

Perhaps the key to this distinction is the introduction of new secondary resources. Soul Shards were always a Warlock mechanic, and while the Cataclysm change to turn them from physical objects that would take up one of your bag slots into something that was part of the UI made them a lot more convenient, they always kind of struggled for relevance.

So Soul Shards were played with to make them interesting for Affliction (in addition to their Cataclysm-era utility, Haunt was changed to function using them and the Nightfall proc, adding a little unpredictability to the spec, which is always good.) Meanwhile, Destruction and Demonology just tossed the Soul Shards out, getting their own resources.

Burning Embers allows Destruction to build up until they're ready to release a burst of incredibly powerful Chaos Bolts, and Demonic Fury allowed them to focus the Demonology spec entirely around what was always the coolest ability the spec had: Metamorphosis.

The talent revamp also allowed them to trim a huge amount of fat away from the class. Affliction retained all of its old DoTs, because it is, after all, the DoT spec of the DoT class (even its fillers are Channeled DoTs now - it's kind of ridiculous.) However, Destruction only has a single DoT now in the form of Immolate, and Demonology, while it does like to maintain both Corruption and Doom, really uses those as just one small piece of the puzzle.

The identities of each spec have always been there: Affliction's all about DoTs, Demonology is all about dealing damage with/as demons, and Destruction's all about nukes, but those identities had always been somewhat vague and unfocused. The new system makes these identities core to the experience of playing those specs.

These days, while I don't know if I'm all that good at it (my Warlock always has slightly disappointing DPS given the gear I have,) I enjoy playing the class a whole lot.

I think the model of this revamp could set a great precedent to make a clear distinction between specs, particularly of the other pure-DPS classes. The fact that a single spec could have an entirely different resource system (admittedly something they had done earlier with Balance Druids) allows a game with eleven (and hopefully more to come) classes to still make your playstyle feel unique.