Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are We So Eager to Leave Draenor?

I'll admit, I was highly skeptical about Warlords of Draenor from the announcement and even through the Beta. And let's be clear: we have yet to experience the expansion in its entirety. Right now it's all bright and new after fourteen months of 5.4.

But I think we can confidently say that the expansion was a big success. After hearing that Blizzard never expected WoW to reach its subscription peak numbers again, they shot up to 10 million, which might be short of the high-water-mark of 12 million, but is a damn sight better than Mists' drop to under 7. People are having fun in the expansion.

It's easy to lose perspective when you obsess over a game like this (something I'll admit to doing: hence the existence of this blog,) and all the issues like a lack of racial customization for garrisons or the seeming laziness of just bringing back a bunch of old Orc characters is, in the long run, not so bad when you consider how much fun people seem to be having with the game.

The dungeons are tuned just right, I think, and while I haven't been able to do much in the way of traditional raiding (we're hoping to get that going after the holiday, assuming my guild is still in a shape to do so,) LFR at least seems perfect (in Mists it was more akin to Wrath's 10-man normal, which is not too hard, but a real pain to organize without voice chat,) as a "preview" version of the raid (though I'll be curious to see how well it works when the regular raiders stop going to it. How's the new wing, by the way? I won't be able to play until January.)

We got a few announcements about 6.1 this week, which is exciting, though I don't think we'll be seeing it for a while. Blackrock Foundry isn't opening until Feburary (which is fine - Highmaul is plenty of raid to keep us occupied for a mere two months,) and I expect 6.1 will have to come out after that's been open for a while, even if it's not a raid patch.

But this brings us to an interesting question: Blizzard said they want annual expansions, but I think most people like Draenor a lot more than they liked Pandaria (I'm super excited about Draenei and Arrakoa, and actually Ogre lore, though I also really liked the wide variety of humanoids on Pandaria, particularly the grummles.)

So while I'm super excited to see if we get a new class, or at least new races next go around, I don't know if I'm so eager to move on. I'm settling in at Lunarfall (and Frostwall on my poor neglected Horde characters,) and having my own little army is, well, pretty darn cool (my Death Knight has Ebon Blade guards! I only wish my Paladin could have Argent Dawn ones.)

Right now at least, I'm actually pretty comfortable with the idea of just announcing the next expansion at next year's Blizzcon and getting it the following fall.

But there's a big caveat to all this: We do need to maintain the flow of content.

6.1 is clearly coming out slower than 5.1 did (if it were the same rate, we'd be getting 6.1 next week or something.) That's ok - there's a lot in 6.0 that remains to be explored. Part of the problem with Mists is that I think Blizzard used up their content too quickly. If they can pace things out a little more reasonably, the expansion can probably fit the two year schedule - but mind you, that's only if they do produce a third raid tier. If we're going from Blackhand to Grommash (or whoever the real final boss will be... Gul'dan seems the obvious one,) then yes, we better get sent off to the South Seas or the Emerald Dream or wherever we actually wind up in early 2016 at the absolute latest.

But, if Warlords winds up being as big an expansion as we are accustomed to, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if we stayed around.

Wherever we go next, though, I want my own Airship (one that I can name, preferably.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Level 100 Talents - My Choices

Most of the perks we got in Draenor had little effect on the number of buttons we hit (I've got a wash - with Assassination's Slice and Dice becoming a passive but Frost Mages getting a new button in the form of Water Jet.) And in fact, most of the new talents are also designed to avoid increasing the number of buttons we've got to hit, lest they undo all the work they did in the ability squish.

There a lot of new talents, especially because they will now sometimes change depending on your spec - Druids, for instance, got effectively twelve different level 100 talents. So I won't go into every last one of them. But I figured I'd share my thoughts on the ones that I picked.


Protection: I went with Holy Shield. Now there's a couple reasons why I did that. The first is that Holy Shield used to be an active ability that was at the core of the Protection Paladin rotation (Shield of the Righteous - originally just a source of damage during Wrath, sort of became its spiritual successor.) At some point, Blizzard decided they didn't like the idea of reflective damage, but it looks like they changed their minds on that. Anyway, Seraphim and Empowered Seals seemed way too fussy to be fun to play with, and bringing back an old favorite, albeit in a totally different form, was hard to pass up.

Retribution: I went with Final Verdict here. The main reason is that, again, I'm not really interested in the fussiness of the other two, but Final Verdict isn't just a passive - it does alter your AoE rotation, albeit slightly.

Death Knight:

Blood and Frost: I had to go with Defile. For anyone who did not raid during Wrath of the Lich King, Defile was an ability that Arthas could use that, if you didn't react in time, could wipe the raid in mere moments. Obviously the DK version is watered down a bit - really acting as a souped-up Death and Decay - but there's a nostalgia factor, plus the fact that it works its way into your single-target rotation and benefits from Frost's mastery.


Assassination: Shadow Reflection is pretty simple to just macro with Vendetta, as they have the same cooldown. I like to use it right before I put up Rupture, which hopefully means ticks beyond the duration of the guy. Unfortunately, when you're packed in with the melee, you don't often get to see your clone, but it's a nice little reminder that Rogues have a little bit of magic to them.


Frost: Comet Swarm is really cool, and I've been using it. I wouldn't say I'm entirely happy with it, though. Frost is all about ability synergy, and as far as I can tell, Comet Swarm is just one big burst of damage that you can hit twice a minute. You also want to make sure you use it on a target that isn't going to move in the next couple seconds, as it's really targeted at the ground beneath them. Still, the visual and the fantasy of the ability are awesome. I'm hoping they'll tweak it to make it fit in with the other abilities better.


Demonology: Demonbolt is kind of fascinating, as it adds a button, but actually simplifies the spec. Basically, you now use your Molten Core procs immediately in order to build up Demonic Fury. When you cap out or get near the cap, you hit Demon Soul (and I think the glyph works well for this,)  and then proceed to blast away four times with Demonbolt, which will do massive damage and put you down to only a hundred or so Fury. Then you just build up in order to do it again. I've been beasting with Demonology since hitting 100 - I'm one point shy of heroics but I can regularly do 10k DPS.

My warrior and shaman are on their way up to 100. I'm hoping to have the Warrior there soon (and I'll be trying Gladiator's Resolve,) and probably after the holidays I'll take the Monk, Hunter, Druid, and Priest up.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

LFR and Loot

Here's the huge caveat: this is a sample size of four characters, and it may have just been a fluke.

LFR's first wing of Highmaul opened up on Tuesday, and it's clear that some big changes were made to the way LFR works. First off - I have no idea how they managed this or if it was sheer stupid luck, but I didn't have more than a 5-minute queue time as a tank or DPS (with one exception, after re-queueing my rogue, who got in on the last boss, and had to wait about an hour to get another run to see the first two.)

The other thing that struck me is that the loot flowed freely. I did get one item via a bonus roll (on the hapless rogue,) but all four characters I took in there got at least two pieces of gear (the mage got three.)

So is the drop-rate in LFR far higher than it has been in the past? Again, this is anecdotal - it's possible I was absurdly lucky. But the other possibility is that they have made LFR drop gear far more easily than it had in the past.

Given the extreme ease of the fights - making Mists' LFR difficulty look like Heroic - this reinforces the impression I get that Blizzard really, really wants players to move past LFR quickly and start running normal mode.

The odd consequence here is that it sort of obsoletes heroic dungeons. Heroics are what we've had available since the launch of the expansion (which was just under a month ago,) and while they haven't been absurdly hard, there have been things you've had to pay attention to lest you go splat.

LFR requires somewhat higher-level gear. You'll need an average item level of 615 to run it, meaning you'll really have to exhaust the normal level 100 dungeons (or get some crafted/Apexis/vignette gear) if you want to do it without running heroics.

But once you hit that threshold, I don't really see many people worrying too much about heroics. If you want to gear up for your guild's normal mode runs, the rapid speed of the LFR wing and the apparent higher loot drop-rate would seem to make it a superior method for gearing. The main downside is that it's a weekly lockout, rather than daily. Still, with everyone grabbing lots of LFR gear, runs through heroics to fill in the gaps should go incredibly smoothly (and to be fair, at this point they're mostly pretty smooth now that people know the fights.)

I really have no idea why queue times were so fast, and I'll be curious to see if that holds up later in the week (if I can get my newly-100 warlock geared up before I go home for the holidays.) But it seems like hitting that 615 threshold will be enough to propel you far higher into fantastic (for now) gear levels. (Should make solo stuff on squishier classes a lot easier. I'm interested to see how soloing on my mage will be with these epic pieces.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Walled City LFR DPS Impressions

I was able to take two DPS - one melee and one ranged - through the Walled City (the mage required many dungeon runs to get qualified, mainly due to a lack of gear drops, which was then remedied by a piece off each boss in the wing.) Oddly, both were Draenei and both were Frost-specced.


Kargath doesn't have all that much to bear in mind when DPSing. Basically, if he fixates on you, run around to lead him into the flame pillars (he never did for me.) If you get tossed into the stands, get with the tank and AoE the crap out everything until it's time to hop down (and honestly, I'm not entirely sure when that is.) Again, I didn't get hurled, so basically my DPS experience of Kargath was more or less tank-and-spank.

The Butcher:

Here's one where the DPS experience is very different for melee and ranged. Ranged players should basically just stack. He'll do a knockback before he leaps into the ranged group, so just try to stack up as best as you can after that.

For melee, there's a stacking bleed that you'll get if you all clump together. I imagine that on normal and higher, you'll have to coordinate two different melee groups to either stack or spread in order to allow the bleed to fall off, but on LFR I recommend just stepping out if your bleed gets too high and let it tick down.


There's really not a lot here for DPS that tanks don't have to anticipate. The adds are relatively simple to down, and while you can intercept the spores, I don't think it makes all that much of a difference. It also appears that the fungus that you'd usually need the flamethrowers for does not appear on LFR, so basically it's a "kill adds, then go back to the boss" fight.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Walled City LFR Impressions - Tank Perspective

The very first thing I'll say is this: Holy Crap they were not kidding about making LFR tourist mode. I don't think I saw my health dip below 90% except on a trash pull where I did not know what I was doing.

I don't think we lost a single person in any fight.

So: LFR: quick and painless, just as we kind of all wished it had been.

Honestly, I think this is the right way to go with it - make LFR super easy, and then encourage people to run Normal mode through the group finder. And if Normal Mode is as easy as Wrath's 10 man difficulty, we might actually see raiding at its healthiest since, well, Wrath. I'd love to see a World of Warcraft again where just about everyone can do actual raiding, and let the hardcore do Mythic if they want a serious challenge (and I hope that Mythic is utterly brutal in difficulty - that's its point.)

But the actual raid, you ask?

The introduction to Highmaul is super-cool. You arrive in the pits below the gladiatorial arena, where Cho'gall is locked up in a cage. You talk to the ogre guy there and he puts you on an elevator to raise you up into the stadium itself.

You get some nice commentary from the guys at the Ring of Trials and then you face down Vul'gor, who is really your only trash pull. Just kill the ogres before you kill the sabreon. Then Kargath Bladefist shows up.

Kargath Bladefist:

No, there aren't any callbacks to his fight in Shattered Halls (you probably forgot that we had fought him already in Burning Crusade.) There's a simple tank-swap mechanic (though the debuff involves getting impaled for a few seconds, which stuns the tank.) The main two things to bear in mind in this fight are Chain Pull and... I want to say it's called Frenzied Rush.

Frenzied Rush, or whatever it's called, will have Kargath fixate on a random person and run after them. There will be several flame pillars around the arena. If you run him through one of them, he'll stop, otherwise he'll gain a speed and damage buff. Everyone who's in his path while he rushes will take damage, so get out of his way.

Chain Pull (or is it drag?) is the most interesting one. He'll grab a tank, a healer, and a few DPS and toss you up in the stands. Your job then is to pull as many adds as you can (especially the bombers and the ogres) and kill them before going back down into the arena. These adds will toss nasty AOE stuff on the ground that can make things harder on the raid.

Trash before the Butcher:

With Kargath dead, Cho'gall escapes and unleashes his Pale Orc minions on the city. You'll have to fight past some of these guys, but it's a pretty short jaunt over to the Butcher - I think we just had to kill some pig near him.

The Butcher:

Honestly, other than a tank swap, there wasn't much to this fight. I'm sure there are subtleties that we ignored given how easily tuned the fight was. Tanks should stack up, and I believe DPS should as well.

Yep, moving on already.

Trash before... no, not Tectus, but Brackenspore:

You might think Tectus is the third boss of the wing, but you'd be wrong. Nope, it's Brackenspore. You'll have to fight through some Pale Orcs fighting Ogres, and then make your way into the swampy part of the zone, where you'll encounter some Iron Horde guys. Pretty simple.


As a tank, there are only a couple things to bear in mind. First off, there's a tank swap debuff (four stacks is about how long it'll take for your co-tank's debuff to fall off.) You'll also get adds that pop out of the ocean called Fungal Flesh-Eaters. When you're not tanking the boss, tank these guys. They have a cast called Decay that should be interrupted. Essentially it's just about swapping between these two. There are other adds, but as far as I can tell, they don't need to be tanked.

And before you know it, the Walled City wing is complete. I think our run took only a half-hour or maybe forty-five minutes. Given that we were brand new to this place, I honestly think it was actually easier than even the normal-mode level 100 dungeons.

So I'm excited to try the place on Normal.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Crumbling Iron Horde and the Future of Warlords

The Iron Horde's leadership is devastated in 6.0. When we enter Tanaan Jungle, we meet five of its leaders - Kilrogg Deadeye, Kargath Bladefist, Ner'zhul, Blackhand, and of course Grommash "Grom" Hellscream. There are other warlords among the Iron Horde - the Iron Wolf leads the Thunderlord Clan, Zaela leads the Dragonmaw on Azeroth (and is, other than Garrosh, the only one from our universe,) and Azuka Bladefurry, who takes over from her father to lead the Burning Blade Clan.

However, look at those names: how many are alive by the end of 6.0?

The Iron Wolf dies at the hands of the Horde hero, Ganar and Durotan in Frostfire Ridge. Garrosh (spoilers...) is no more after his final duel with Thrall in Nagrand. Ner'zhul and Zaela are both killed in their respective dungeons. Kargath dies in Highmaul, and Blackhand will be the final boss of Blackrock Foundry.

So that's six dead Warlords, leaving just Kilrogg, Azuka, and Grommash himself in 6.1 and beyond.

The Iron Horde waged a brutal blitzkrieg, but they were unable to establish a real foothold in Azeroth, and even setting aside video game logic that would guarantee they couldn't win in the long run, just from a strategic standpoint, the turning point in the war was really the destruction of the Dark Portal. Every encounter with them since then has seen the Iron Horde defeated and losing important leaders.

But I don't think this is a flaw in the storytelling. I think that it's setting us up for the real threat of the expansion, which is, if not the Burning Legion itself, then the Shadow Council and the Sargerai.

The big difference between this Horde and the Old Horde is that Gul'dan is not pulling the strings. Now yes, this means that the leadership of the Iron Horde is unlikely to go off and abandon it when they find out about some demonic artifact that could be useful, but it also means that they don't have the level of control and allies that the Old Horde had. We can assume that in our timeline, the Horde, the Shadow Council, and probably even the Sargerai (I assume they existed in our timeline given Socrethar's existence in Outland,) were all working in concert. In this timeline, at best we could imagine the Sargerai and Shadow Council working together (though given Socrethar's Eredar-supremecist leanings, they could be just both branching off of the Legion but not working together.)

We managed to kick Teron'gor out of Auchindoun, but it's most likely he's still alive, and he did manage to gain a great deal of power from the souls there. In all honesty, while we've been able to defeat the Iron Horde several times, we haven't really managed to slow down Gul'dan.

With the Iron Horde beginning to rip apart at the seams, we should probably begin to turn our attention to the larger threat.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Flying, or the Lack Thereof

One of the most controversial moves that Blizzard made in introducing Warlords of Draenor was the stipulation that there would be no flying - even at the level cap - in the early patches of the expansion, and possibly for the duration.

Some were up in arms about it, some were cheering for the change. Now we've had a chance to experience it - the first time that we've been unable to fly at all in a new expansion's continent since, well, vanilla, which was not an expansion, technically speaking.

So how has it worked out?

Well, there are a couple things I've noticed. The first is that the world feels a lot larger. When I'm on a flight path, I'll look down at Gorgrond and realized that the Crimson Fen is really right next to Highpass, and that the Everbloom Wilds are just north of there. On foot, these all feel like very distinct locations that require some real travel.

And that leads me into the second point: navigation is more tricky. Getting from one part of a zone to another requires you to figure out where the avenues are to do so. The design of the zones has helped in this regard - typically there's a clear path that you can take - but sometimes the zones are designed to make things a bit confusing - making your way through Souther Gorgrond, for instance, requires a bit of exploration.

The lack of flight provides some interesting opportunities. For example, Spires of Arak is full of jumping puzzles and hidden secrets that require careful navigation of the eponymous spires and their jagged ridges. These would be utterly trivial if one could simply fly to these locations.

Sometimes, travel is simply difficult. Getting an Alliance character to Frostfire Ridge, for example, is quite difficult if you haven't played the Horde side of things and thus have no idea where Deadgrin is.

I don't know if this was meant to compensate for the lack of flight, or if it's simply a consequence of the garrison structure, but there's not a lot of continuity between zones. The Horde transition from Frostfire Ridge to Gorgrond is the only one I believe people make on foot. Every other zone has you first go back to your garrison and then get a flight to the next zone. This unfortunately makes the various parts of the world feel disconnected.

Draenor has plenty of "set pieces" - huge events that happen in interesting locations. Still, the map has been squashed down to become somewhat two-dimensional. For the first time since Burning Crusade, we don't see any cool Horde or Alliance airships hovering over the world. The air is pretty much empty except in Spires of Arak.

So what are my overall thoughts on the lack of flight?

I think it's working. Draenor was designed to be experienced from the ground, and it's a fantastic experience in that regard. Still, I think that there's design space to be explored that includes flight. For now, I'm fine with being bound by gravity, but I hope that Blizzard doesn't decide that the success of a flightless Draenor means a total grounding of our adventures from here on out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blood Elf Artcraft Update

With Warlords rolling merrily along, nearing the two-week mark, and 6.0 having come out a while ago now, there's one piece of the puzzle that has been missing - New Blood Elf Models. Well, Blizzard has just released an Artcraft showing off their work on the new models.

And yes, it's both genders.

Much like the Draenei, the Blood Elves, despite only coming out two years after the vanilla models, were a huge step up, and so I think what we're seeing is more subtle updates. One thing that I think we can expect though is a great deal more expressiveness in the facial animation. The pose and overall look definitely holds true to the originals, but they just look crisper.

We're not sure when these models will be implemented, but given that we've gotten this Artcraft, I'm fairly confident it will be by 6.1.

I imagine that the character design team's next work will be on new playable races or some such thing, but I do hope they come back and do another pass on the Cataclysm models at some point. While the Cata races look fantastic when they're not saying anything, their facial expressions are still locked into the old jaw-flap. Given that we're seeing non-pre-rendered cutscenes using the new models that seem to actually have their mouths synching up with what they're saying (more or less,) it'd be nice to get that same level of flexibility on the Cataclysm races.

Heroics in Warlords - First Impressions

I've now run every dungeon on heroic on my main, the Paladin Tank. There's far too much to go into on a fight-by-fight basis, but here's my general impression:

They're not too hard. In these early weeks, you're definitely going to wipe a couple times, but the real difficulty of the dungeons isn't much of an issue - it's more about learning how to do the fights correctly. There are some mechanics that come close to instant-kill, but these tend to be something fairly obvious that you can do something to mitigate. Admittedly I've been finding things a lot easier with a new computer - just being able to process everything that's going on allows me to be a far more reactive tank.

Many of the bosses are only buffed in heroic, though there are a few interesting mechanical changes (Bonemaw in Shadowmoon Burial Grounds, for instance, becomes a lot tougher.)

The major difference this time around is the prerequisite: Silver in Proving Grounds. Beyond hitting 610 item level (which is not terribly hard to do,) you need to prove that you can handle some tricky mechanics. The stuff in proving grounds is not terribly complicated, and certainly not everything is directly applicable to every fight, but it's basically a "can you pay attention to these things" test. The tank one tests you on mob positioning and keeping aggro on multiple targets, while the DPS one tests your ability to interrupt and your situational awareness. While the achievements for these are account-wide, you'll need to do them again in order to queue for heroics with strangers on each character. I haven't done the tank one on my Death Knight yet. If you're having trouble immediately after hitting the level cap, bear in mind that the mobs only scale down to about 610 item level - you'll want to hit that floor first, though it's not impossible to do earlier (just a little hard.)

This system has caused for some complaining in my guild chat, but honestly, I think it's been wonderful as a way to refine the people you're running heroics with to those who at least have the ability to pay attention. As such, my first couple heroic runs were actually easier than the level-cap normal dungeons.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Molten Core on LFR

One of the central pieces to the WoW 10th anniversary event is a 40-player LFR raid that sends us into the instance that started it all - Tier 1 itself, Molten Core.

It's actually pretty fascinating. The vast majority of players (myself included) never experienced Molten Core as an actual challenge. This (and the far quicker Onyxia's Lair) came with the game - raiding was Molten Core when WoW first came out.

And because of that, you can really gain an appreciation for how far Blizzard has come.

Because let's be honest - Molten Core is a terrible raid. The bosses tend to have essentially one mechanic, and there are just a ton of adds to justify having multiple tanks. The trash is copious and tedious. And the place itself is drab as hell - kind of literally. It's a fiery cave. Bosses don't have interesting locations - indeed, there are two bosses that just kind of patrol around the trash surrounding other bosses.

I think the main idea behind the raid was to impress with scale. Before going into MC, we never saw anything as huge and intimidating as the stuff we fought there. No one had ever seen a Core Hound before. There was just a novelty of having a huge area in which to fight huge monsters with a huge group of people.

Raiding has come a long way since then. Yes, it has been scaled down. People threw fits when BC shrunk raids to a mere 25 people, but frankly, I've always thought that was a hugely important idea. If you're not a tank in a 40-person raid (and even if you are, to an extent,) your contribution is hard to even quantify. Frankly, I think this becomes an issue as well in 25-player raids, and always enjoyed myself more doing 10-player raids.

This little nostalgia trip actually allows us to undercut the more dangerous aspects of nostalgia - the ones that allow us to look back with rose-colored glasses, prizing the "good old days" over what we have now.

So what do you get for slogging through this fiery cave?

First off - if you kill Ragnaros, you get an achievement that awards one of the coolest mounts they've ever made - a Core Hound (and it's a new model - same design, but rebuilt with modern graphics.) The other guaranteed drop is a iLevel 640 helmet that looks like Crown of Flame off of Ambassador Flamelash in BRD.

You'll also have a chance to get two things: one is a pet called Hatespark the Tiny, which is an armored fire elemental (standard void walker palette swap fire elemental but with black armor - like the last trash mob before Rhyolith in Firelands.) There's also a reusable weapon enchant illusion. Sadly, I did not get either of these, which means either I'll resign myself to being happy with the Core Hound or >shudder< run the thing again later.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Upper Blackrock Spire (100 normal) Impressions

Well, I guess we can say that this dungeon has had four versions - the original, the level 90 preview, and the normal and heroic versions of it now.

Bosses one through three are identical to how they were in the preview. Mainly we're just not as well geared anymore. My biggest recommendation for the initial room of trash is that if you have an engineer in the party, have them interact with the various auto-cannons in the room before you pull. You can make these guys friendly, and won't have to deal with them when the Leadbelchers inevitably try to activate them.

As I've already talked about the first three bosses, let's focus on what comes next:

The trash following Tharbek can get a little complicated when you're in such tight corridors. There are ogres who can fear you and proto-whelps who will lay down some fire on the ground. Try to pull conservatively, and remember that CC is your friend here.

Ragewing the Untamed:

You fight this big proto-drake on a narrow bridge over to Drakkisath's old room. The tank should stand in the middle of the platform, as the main danger in this phase is that he will do sweeps across the bridge with fire - when he does, everyone needs to run away from his breath (there will be some safe spaces on the opposite side of the bridge than where he starts his breath, but you won't know which way he's going to breathe until he does.) Periodically, he'll fly away and begin to bombard the bridge with pools of fire and summon tons of proto-whelps who put a bleed on the tank. Stack up initially to make sure that the tank gets aggro, but then spread so that not everyone winds up in a fire pool.

Trash before Zaela:

The trash before Zaela is mostly pretty easy. You can avoid a lot of it by hugging the right wall. There are some shamans who will drop wind fury totems, increasing the damage they deal to the tank, and there are some proto-drakes who will leave patches of fire on the ground, which is nasty. Once you get onto the bridge to where Zaela has the doomsday device suspended over the Molten Span, there will be a pair of pretty tough warriors who use colossus smash and shockwave. I'd CC one of them.

Warlord Zaela:

Zaela's the hardest fight in the instance. First off - you're on a relatively small, square platform. There are no rails, so if you run off, you'll die. Zaela will do two main things in the first phase - she'll fixate on a random player and do a whirlwind-like attack as she pursues them. Make sure you don't run her into your group members. She'll also toss an axe at random players (knocking them back, I think.)

Phase two is where things get very tough. She'll fly away and three adds will show up. These guys more or less just melee the tank, but you'll also start to get proto-drakes flying up to blast certain parts of the platform with fire. This fire hurts really badly, so make sure you're not standing in it. After a minute or so, Zaela will come back to the platform, doing all of her normal abilities while you also have to deal with the drakes' breath and the adds if they're still up.

Rocking the Spire:

Again, I think a large part of the difficulty of the instance is due to the fact that it's unfamiliar (I still need to figure out the proper way to pull the trash after Tharbek.) Bosses one through three were much easier on the groups I ran with than the other two. Also, we're only just barely starting to get geared up at this point - though I got three new 615 pieces on my second run (and I've got four garrison follower missions that reward that level of gear, though I don't yet have the followers with the right abilities leveled up enough to do them yet.) Gear is going to help a lot in making these dungeons easier, though I suspect that we're going to be seeing very difficult heroics. Still, Blizzard claims that normal dungeons will be enough to gear people for LFR. Really, that's the thing that makes me the most curious - how hard LFR and the new Normal are going to be.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shadowmoon Burial Grounds and Grimrail Depot Impressions

Having hit 100, I have embarked on my runs of the level-cap normal dungeons. I've now run two of the four - SBG and GRD, I guess. One thing I'll definitely say is that the dungeons are a challenge that this point, though whether they are truly difficult or if it's just that we're so used to two years of plowing through Mists dungeons at a breakneck pace, I can't really say.

Everyone's crit, haste, mastery, etc, is at its lowest level it will ever be. By the end of Mists, I was able to maintain an unbroken string of Shield of the Righteous buffs for what felt like a full minute if I was lucky with Divine Purpose procs, but now I need to be careful about timing with it. I have been blowing all my cool downs quite regularly to keep myself up, and it's not always enough. Some of the trash packs are difficult enough that you'll need to dust off the old CC abilities.

So: the Dungeons!

Shadowmoon Burial Grounds:

SBG is super-cool. It's a vast cavern filled with ghosts and void creatures. The first and last bosses were the ones that gave us the most trouble, and we had to be careful pulling trash. Boss one requires some strong DPS to kill adds before they can heal the boss (though they can be stunned, and I assume slowed.) Also, one needs make sure they stand only on the moon runes when she does her big AoE, and not the corrupted glyphs that ring the platform, as those will kill you very quickly. It's definitely something of a DPS check, as the platform gets filled with more pulsing daggers as the fight goes on.

The second boss is a big void creature. The big mechanic is that you'll have to beat up your own soul and reclaim it when he tries to suck it out of you. Given that once it is "defeated" you can hold off on clicking it, I think there might be some wisdom in making sure the tank does so first.

Boss three is Bonemaw, a giant carrion worm (a new model, but similar to things like Magmaw.) His mechanics are relatively simple. There's an AoE body slam that he telegraphs, and he'll spit out little pools of nasty stuff that will damage players and snare them. However, these pools are crucial for when he does "inhale," because if you aren't standing in them, he'll swallow you, healing himself, dealing a bunch of damage to you, and forcing you to find a water spout to get back up to the platform.

Finally, Ner'zhul himself has only three abilities, but they're all pretty dangerous when combined. First, he'll blast the tank with an AoE cone that gets telegraphed beforehand. He'll also target random players and create a powerful AoE attack that gets less dangerous the farther you are from it. Finally, he'll do Ritual of Bone, which will cause a bunch of skeletons to march across the platform (a bit like the Sylvanas fight in End Time, but linear rather than a ring.) You'll have to kill one of these or the AoE miasma that they drag with them will kill you. Choose one (we tended to go for the far left one) and focus them down asap.

Aside from mechanics, I have to say that I really love the design of the dungeon. The area feels really creepy - it's filled with the undead, and it's Ner'zhul, but it's not quite like the Scourge. Only the second boss, Nihallish, has a kind of nondescript area in which you fight him, but his creature design makes up for it.

Moving on!

Grimrail Depot:

I'm not sure I was doing the initial trash right, but you get a little preview of the first boss. The first boss is a Dire Orc and a Goblin. The tank needs to grab the orc while everyone needs to avoid the missiles that land in random places throughout the room. When the goblin jumps up to one of the platforms, the tank needs to position the orc in such a way that when he does his charge ability, it will knock the goblin down and stun him. As I understand it, the ideal strategy will probably be to try to kill them at the same time, but we killed the orc first and were still able to deal with the goblin (though he would keep jumping around, which was tough on the melee.)

With these guys down, you get to board the actual train. The trash here can be tough, so make sure you're pulling back and using CC. There's not a lot of room to move around. Also, if you have an old computer like mine (new one due in two days!) it's going to be a bit rough, given that 2/3 of the dungeon takes place on a rapidly moving train, with the deserts of northern Gorgrond whipping past you at high speed. The second boss has sort of two, sort of three phases, depending on how you count it. Basically, phase one and three are roughly the same - just fight him. But when phase two begins, the sides of the train open up and he'll jump into a cannon turret. There are other turrets that you'll need to fire back at him. But to get ammo for these, you need to defeat the adds that swarm in. The healer should stick close to the tank while the DPS aids in dispatching enemies and then taking the ammo to the turrets and blowing up his cannon. When the cannon is gone, you'll be able to fight him again.

There's some short but tough trash after that (and a train car with some caustic liquid that you'll want to make sure you don't walk through.) The final boss rides in on a Rylak. The main thing in this fight is that you'll need to move a lot, because she'll be putting down traps that will freeze you in place, and the Rylak will bombard the platform, making about a third of the space electrified at any given point.

Then you get to sabotage the train, which is pretty damn awesome. Really, the whole concept of this dungeon is pretty awesome. You fight on a train. What more do you want?

Two down, two to go:

The dungeons definitely feel a lot harder than the ones in Mists, but then again, one always gets that impression in every expansion. As we get more familiar with these dungeons and there's more of a mix of people with different gear levels, I imagine they'll feel a lot easier. Right now just about everyone who is running them really does need just about any piece of gear they can get out of them. Still, the big lesson to take away is that we are not over-geared anymore, and these fights will be a challenge.

Leveling Dungeons Tanking Impressions

I've now hit 100 on my main, the Protection Paladin, after a focused effort to complete all the major quests in each zone and make sure that I read every bit of quest text or the text on item descriptions. Having done it all on the Beta (multiple times) has really sped the process up. So yes, I have every quest achievement on day three (and I hit 100 in the middle of the solo scenario in the final climactic quest in Nagrand (I say final, though you don't have to have done everything else first.)

But the dungeons! you cry. Well, let's talk about dungeons.

Bloodmaul Slag Mines:

The dungeon that I'm going to avoid calling by its acronym for fear of getting the wrong kind of internet traffic for a blog where I even try to avoid swearing (which is an effort sometimes) is pretty short and sweet. It's also a little on the dull side. I think every single enemy inside is either an ogre or a fire elemental. Oh, wait, no, there are some Ogrons. It's your standard "fiery cave" dungeon, which are not my favorites. Mechanically, I can't really say too much, because as the first dungeon tuned for people who just finished Dread Wastes (or maybe picked up their pieces in the Tanaan intro,) most groups these days, composed entirely of peoples' mains, wildly outgear it. The coolest mechanic, I felt, was the boss that would roll boulders at you on the bridge (boss three.) I also think it's reasonably cool that you get to choose which of the first two bosses to hit first.

Iron Docks:

The over-gearing issue was less pronounced here, but still prevented the Iron Docks from begin much of a challenge. I like the design of circling the final boss before heading in to fight them, though the docks themselves were sort of a whole bunch of the same until you get onto that ship. I do like some of the livening up of the trash, like where you can send some Iron Stars forward to flatten big packs of trash or an area where you need to run between cover to avoid getting blasted by the ship's cannons, which foreshadows one of the final boss' mechanics.


Now here's where we start to get really cool-looking stuff. Auchindoun's design is gorgeous - it truly feels like a holy temple with great vaulted ceilings. I also suspect that the third boss is going to be quite difficult on heroic, depending on the tuning. One oddity is that after defeating the first boss, an NPC creates a portal to Talador, which everyone in my party clicked on, assuming it was part of the dungeon. Now, I understand why it's there - the main entrance to the dungeon gets blocked off by the new groups of trash there, and of course the second boss. But I'd put the portal a little out of the way. There are also some long, long cutscenes in that dungeon. Granted, they're probably skippable (as it was my first time in there, I watched them all the way through, but everyone in my group seemed to be doing the same anyway.) Definitely the prettiest dungeon in Draenor so far.


This I had actually done on the Beta, but this time I was going in as a tank. I will say that the over-gearing ceased to be an issue by level 98. There were some fights there where I was worried we could wipe. Boss one is relatively simple - just requires you to move a bit. Boss two was the toughest, though it's possible that that was only because no one other than me was actually intercepting the light beams that empower him (which I think everyone except the tank is supposed to do.) Boss three was interesting in that it forces you to time your active mitigation as a tank - you need to make sure it is up when he does his Pierce Armor. Succeeding will prevent the debuff being applied. And the final boss is really cool, mainly in that he takes a page out of the Lich King fight with adds that try to carry off and insta-kill people by dropping them off a ledge.

After doing these dungeons and hitting 100, I went straight to the proving grounds to get silver for tanking and DPS. Bronze on each is trivial, but silver was actually pretty tough on the tank - my recommendation is to get the Yaungol's attention with some quick damage and then just let the Mistweaver kill them while you focus on the other guys (particularly the Mantid ones.) The DPS one is much easier - you just need to focus down the Jinyu and make sure that the Mantid amber hits whatever add you're currently attacking (I think it increases the damage they take.)

I have yet to do the level 100 dungeons (except the half-version of UBRS we got in the pre-expansion patch,) but I'll hopefully have some quick impressions about those soon

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Warlords Live

Warlords of Draenor went live at 11:46 PST last night, and boy howdy has it been an interesting day.

The servers had it pretty rough - in fact, I expect that we might continue to have issues with them for the next day or two. According to Blizzard, there was a DDOS (direct denial of service) attack against their servers - essentially a huge number of bots that try to interact with the server in order to overwhelm them. It's probably the work of some trollish hackers.

But there's also the fact that an expansion's release is the heaviest time for traffic in WoW. Everyone is heading to Draenor - people who haven't played in months are coming back to do so - and the fact of the matter is that things are just swamped.

Unfortunately, for all the calls for Blizzard to update servers to be able to handle this load, the fact is that they only really get this one day every two years, so even if they have the capability, it's really not worth it. Very soon - possibly even tomorrow, after the initial excitement has cooled down, and very likely in a week, once the mad rush to 100 on people's mains is over, things will be far better.

Actually, the rush to 100 will probably be over far sooner than that. I've been taking nice long breaks to do productive things like work and sleep and wait for the servers to come back online, and I'm already about halfway through level 94 on day one. In previous expansions I never expected to make more than a level a day (and that includes Wrath, which was a fellow ten-level expansion.)

They have definitely made the climb to 100 far faster than previous expansion leveling climbs. Admittedly, the fact that I've done all this before on the Beta means that I'm naturally going to go a bit faster (I know my way around, for one thing.) But I also think that this is intentional. The only hiccup I've hit is that after completing seemingly every quest in Gorgrond and Shadowmoon Valley, I still had a chunk of 93 to get through (though actually, I lied. I hadn't done the "Rangari in Red" chain.)

I have now run Bloodmaul Slag Mines and Iron Docks. BSM (oh dear, is that the acronym?) I actually liked a bit better than when I tried it on my abortive attempt during the Beta. Still, I wasn't able to get a full sense of the difficulty given that the group was all Pandaria'd out with epics. It's a reasonably quick dungeon.

Iron Docks will probably be really cool on heroic, but at the moment one out-gears it as well. That said, I was able to pick up some upgrades - a 550 ring and necklace with bonus armor on both. (The necklace was actually lower in iLevel by a bit, but I'm going to see what it's like to stack armor.)

Things will get smoother as time goes on. It's day one, so I don't think we have to worry too much.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Countdown to Draenor

It is, as of my writing this sentence, less than 24 hours until the release of Warlords of Draenor (though it'll come even earlier if you're in Europe.) Having wrapped up Mists of Pandaria (and then some,) we're now heading out into WoW's fifth expansion, finally hitting triple digits in level and celebrating a decade of World of Warcraft.

What to do to prepare?

First off - if you want it and haven't done it yet, tomorrow will be the last chance to get your Garrosh heirlooms. While they might technically still drop off of Gary (I don't know for certain,) it will be significantly harder to find a group willing to go back and run that raid that was around for 14 months when there's a whole new world to explore.

But if you have yours already or if you're fine just picking up new weapons as you level (that's the camp I'm in,) there's still some stuff you can do to get ready.

First, I'd recommend doing a thorough inventory purge. Make sure you learn all your newly-classified "Toy" items and chuck out any redundant copies. Get that reagent tab in the bank and hit the beautiful "deposit all reagents" button.

If there are any side grade pieces you've been holding onto just in case you decide you'd rather have a bit more crit and a bit less haste, now's the time to hawk them for some gold. Take anything you're interested in transmogging but holding on to for similar reasons and put that in void storage (if you haven't filled the second tab yet.) Rings, trinkets, and necklaces are useless for transmog, so unless you intend to use them while leveling, hawk them to the nearest vendor.

Even with all the items classified as toys, there are still a ton of items that you'll want to stow or get rid of. The ones I recommend discarding are things like the buff-items from the Timeless Isle, any consumables that are "only usable in Pandaria" - really anything you really don't think you'll have a use for.

One thing you won't have to do is park people near their profession trainers. This time around, you'll pretty naturally get your training from easy sources. For any Gathering professions (including Fishing and Archaeology,) you'll simply get a scroll when you first gather the corresponding thing in Draenor that will raise the maximum on your skill at 700, effectively giving you Draenor Master in that skill (regardless of your current skill level,) though you'll still have to actually level the profession, of course. First Aid and Cooking scrolls will drop off of random mobs out in the world, and any production professions you have will be slightly more complex, with a quest item dropping off of a major mob in the first quest chain you get after you've established you garrison (the quest will also give you the blueprint for the corresponding profession's building.) If you plan on leveling up entirely through dungeons or something, you can buy the profession scrolls off of NPCs in Ashran, but there's not really any disadvantage to waiting for the quest, since as long as you have maybe an hour and a half (maybe more, given the rush of players out of the gate,) you'll be able to get that quest (how long it takes you to complete it depends somewhat on the profession, though they're all relatively simple ones.)

It's not a bad idea to make sure you have a decent number of Tomes of the Clear Mind - you never know when that Glyph/Talent build you have is better for raiding than soloing.

Also: Gold. Now is not the time to splurge on any big things at the auction house. You're going to need a fair amount of gold to get your garrison up and running (hopefully they've nerfed gold costs since I was playing in the Beta, because I don't know how boosted characters would be able to deal with it otherwise.) Aside from doing a bunch of daily quests, I've found that running Wrath raids is also quite lucrative. Cataclysm raids are still slow-going enough and tricky on squishier classes that it'll be a bit of a slog, but Wrath raids now are soloable by pretty much anyone, but are high enough level that the gear rewards are worth a lot to vendor. (Expect this to get nerfed barring some intentional gold inflation.)

Come back home: I don't know how exactly the breadcrumb quests will work - I assume there will be a city-wide quest as they've done for Cataclysm and Mists. Parking somewhere near the portals to Blasted Lands is not a bad idea either, given that you'll be heading through the Dark Portal to get to Draenor.

Get psyched: New expansion, guys! New zones, dungeons, raids! Also, some of the 90-100 perks are really cool. It's really close now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank the Light, Elune, the Elements, the Ancestors, and the Voodoo For Cataclysm

We're on the cusp of Warlords of Draenor - the new expansion will be going live on 12:00 Thursday morning (PST.) It's strange to think how much has happened in WoW over the last ten years.

I started playing in the fall of '06 - about two years after WoW itself had launched, and a few months before the release of The Burning Crusade. I leveled up, slowly, and eventually got a few characters to 70 before the release of Wrath of the Lich King.

Anyway, without any meaningful gear progression to be done, and most of my transmog-hunts either finished or delayed by raid lockouts, I've been venting my patch 6.0 and expansion-anticipating energy by leveling up some new alts - not sure if these guys will ever get into my "canon" roster, even though they are on a connected realm to my main one, so they could easily be integrated into my guild and such, but sometimes you have to say "you know what, I really only have the energy to focus on one of any given class at a time."

So among these new alts is Armaad - a Draenei Paladin (had I waited a few months before I started playing, and had I the foresight to know how awesome Draenei were, and that there would be Death Knights and Worgen in the future, I might have made one of these my main instead of the human, though I've gotten quite attached to the human, so oh well.) Having already run the revamped Cataclysm zones, I decided to stick to the Draenei starting areas - Azuremyst and Bloodmyst Isles. I literally had not quested through Bloodmyst since 2007, and so I decided to see what it was like.

Here's what I'll say about Burning Crusade - the world/zone design was amazing. Every zone they created for BC has a really cool feel and look to it (oddly, the only one I don't really care for is Nagrand, which everyone else seems to think is the bee's knees.) The Blood Elf and Draenei starting zones are no exception. Azuremyst has a cool serenity to it (something you'll see in the new/old Shadowmoon Valley) and Bloodmyst has an ominous aura to it that feels very different from the Felwood or Plaguelands types of "wrong." The zones are really cool, if a little light on interesting geographical features.

But oh, oh, oh dear god, the questing. The questing is... so bad. Mind you, for its time, the questing in these zones were great. They did a good job of introducing the Draenei and showing how they would fit in with the Alliance. But the quests and the quest flow was just...

Arriving in Blood Watch, you get a handful of quests. You then kind of ricochet between different areas on the island - and it's not even that big of a zone, but damn does it feel huge when you don't have a mount. Just about every quest sends you off to some far-flung location and then has you trek all the way back. Often they'll then send you back to the same place, or if that quest chain sends you elsewhere, some other quest chain will send you back there instead. There's no sense of which chain one should start on, and even if you round up all the quests you can and then complete them before heading back to town, they'll just send you out to do it again.

There's also very little variety in quests. You basically have your "interact with a specific object over there," or "kill x of these guys" or its "gather x of these things off these guys" variant. There are multiple quests where you just need one thing to drop, but you'll have to kill over twenty monsters to get it. And I can't stress this enough, there's a huge amount of travel and backtracking.

It's absurd, and I stuck to it for as long as I possibly could, but then gave up. I headed to Stormwind to get as far away from there as possible. But I realized something - this is what it used to be like to quest everywhere. Every zone in vanilla had this haphazard quest design. It occurs to me now that part of the reason it took so much time to level up back then is that you'd just spend so much time running back and forth from quest givers to quest objectives over and over and over (and on foot, as you didn't get a mount until level 40.)

Cataclysm gets a lot of flak - and much of it is deserved - but I don't think you can easily dismiss how much improved the game is thanks to the revamp of the old world. While there are some exceptions - relics of an older WoW that didn't get updated - questing through the world is just so much smoother and enjoyable. Yes, Cataclysm didn't get everything right - they went a little too linear, particularly in some of the high-level zones - but I'll take linear over whatever the hell is going on in Bloodmyst any day.

I don't know if it's possible to ever hit the "perfect" quest design; different people will have different opinions on what that is. But the Cataclysm revamp did a huge service to the game, and I really think that, accounting for nostalgia, you can't say it was anything but an enormous improvement.

Cataclysm is now four years old (give or take a month,) which actually means that it's been around half the time I've been playing the game. When WoW turns 12 (and we'll definitely have expansion 6 by then) it will have been the state of the game for half its lifespan. Will we look back at the Old World again and think "time for another revamp?" So far, I don't think so. I certainly think that Warlords of Draenor has reached the next level in quest design, but Cataclysm's old world revamp will, I think, mostly hold up. Sure, there will be zones here and there that aren't all that great, and of course the changes that had been made to adjust for the passage of time are already obsolete given the events at the end of Mists of Pandaria (there's a lot of Garrosh.) But honestly I think they'd revamp Outland before they do anything else with the Old World, and I'm don't think it's likely they'll do that either.

Anyway, my advice for those who want to start a Draenei (or Blood Elf, probably) character: get them the hell out of their starting zones as quickly as possible. If you want to experience the story there, come back at a high level with an epic mount and some patience.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Caverns of Time On DEFCON 1

First opened up in earnest in BC (they've existed since vanilla, but there were no dungeons there then,) the Caverns of Time are the biggest dungeon/raid hub in the game (though Blackrock Mountain is up there too, with one more raid but two fewer dungeons.) They're uniquely potent as a setting for instances, as they have the whole "it only looks that way because your mortal mind cannot perceive it as it truly is" thing going for it. Despite being underground, you can see out into some kind of cosmic expanse down there. New caverns opened up in 3.0 and 4.3, but there was no retconning at work (though technically speaking Hour of Twilight and Dragon Soul took place in the present,) as they had established from the beginning that new pathways could open up.

The Caverns of Time have mostly been opportunities to show us moments from Warcraft history, sometimes conforming closely with the RTS games. The Battle of Mount Hyjal raid was a WoW-ification of the final mission in Warcraft III Reign of Chaos - indeed, all the trash were Undead units from that game. Similarly, the Culling of Stratholme was a somewhat more liberally adapted version of the WCIII mission "The Culling."

One of the major appeals of the Caverns of Time is that they allow us to go see important events from Warcraft history. We witnessed the opening of the Dark Portal (defending a Sargeras-possessed Medivh to ensure that history - disastrous as it was - went the way it was supposed to.) We helped Thrall escape from Durnholde Keep and we stole the Dragon Soul from right before the moment it was corrupted into the Demon Soul during the War of the Ancients (and helped win the war sort of by accident along the way.)

The instance I actually find the most fascinating, though, is End Time, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where Deathwing succeeded. This future did not come to pass, yet it was accessible nonetheless.

This of course, sets up Kairoz' ability to open up the alternate Draenor that we're going to in this expansion, yet the Bronze and Infinite Dragonflights are, as of yet, unseen in Draenor (with the exception of the duplicitous Kairoz himself.)

One would think that the Caverns of Time would be a DEFCON 1 with the invasion of the Iron Horde. It's not so much the Iron Horde itself that is the problem (that might not even concern the Keepers of Time at all,) but the fact that one reality was bleeding into another. Granted, for all we know, they are freaking out lore-wise, and it's just not in game for the same reason the Exodar isn't fully repaired and hovering over Azuremyst Isle yet.

We killed Murozond in Cataclysm, but there are a number of reasons why we shouldn't consider that the end of the Infinite Dragonflight. First, it was in a timeline that we effectively erased (which does create something of a paradox... maybe.) Second, as Murozond was a time traveler in a distant future, there's still plenty of time for the Infinites to become a threat. Hell, they haven't even gotten started yet, what with the fact that Nozdormu is still Nozdormu and has not become Murozond yet. Third, the whole "one single timeline" thing has been exposed as a lie, or at least a misleading truth. There are absolutely other parallel universes out there, because we're currently being invaded by one of them. Are the Infinites truly from the future? Or are they from an alternate timeline? Nozdormu certainly thinks that he'll become Murozond one day - that's the vision that Aman-thul gave him, but given that it doesn't seem that even the Dragon Aspects actually met face-to-face with the Titans, it's possible that Nozdormu has had it wrong all these eons. Perhaps it's not so much that he is supposed to only believe in a single timeline, but that for this particular universe, the timeline needs to be kept a certain way. Why? Oh I wouldn't even pretend to have any idea.

I'll buy that the initial issues on Draenor are going to be dealing with these ghosts of the past. The Iron Horde has the viciousness of the original Horde with the technology to pose a threat to us, and the Shadow Council is far stronger on Draenor than it is on modern Azeroth. Still, those threats (yes, even the alterna-Legion,) might be just a part of the big picture. If you thought the original Dark Portal, which bridged a vast expanse of space between two planets, was bad, just imagine the kind of damage that a Dark Portal linking two different universes across an expanse of 35 years as well might do.

It's possible that Kairoz had simple motivations. Perhaps he wanted, like Wrathion, a force strong enough to stand up against the Burning Legion - something he didn't think the divided Alliance and Horde were capable of doing. Or perhaps he was just a standard power-hungry jerk who had dreams of a massive army of Orcs at his command. He's dead, so we may never know the full truth of it. On the other hand, he was a Bronze Dragon. If there's anyone we might be able to find despite being already dead, it's a time-traveler. And given that it was a group of Infinite Dragons who aided in Garrosh's escape, I think that there's something really, really bad going on, and that the Iron Horde is just a distraction.

The Thing About PvP (A PvEer's Perspective)

Overwatch was the biggest story at Blizzcon this year. The cinematic trailer for it looked straight out of a Pixar movie, and it's Blizzard's first foray into the world of first person shooters. It has really clear characters and a great aesthetic, and a lot of the gameplay options look really fun.

The thing is, I'm probably not going to play it.

The main problem: It's a totally PvP-oriented game.

Several years ago, I got the Orange Box - the pretty phenomenal bundle of Half Life 2, parts 1 and 2 of its episodic sequels, Portal, and Team Fortress 2. I was really excited to play Team Fortress 2, but then I discovered that the game was 100% PvP content in small arenas. There was no story to speak of, and nothing one could play on one's own.

Overwatch will very much be in the vein of Team Fortress 2. Heroes of the Storm, and Hearthstone, come to think of it, are competitive games - to be played against others.

And honestly, that's not my type of gaming.

It's not multiplayer that I'm against. The absurd number of posts on this very blog prove that I'm a huge fan of World of Warcraft. But as you can probably tell, my WoW experience is 99.99% in the realm of PvE. And ultimately, the main reason why is just... that I don't like playing against other people. I prefer coming together as a team to vanquish some giant obstacle. The primary reason is that I don't like that my success requires someone else's failure (or vice versa, of course.) But there are other reasons.

Defeating another player does not provide me with the same satisfaction as defeating a raid boss. When it's another player, you never know if it was just luck or some flaw in their play or a simple lag spike that allowed you to get the upper hand. When you down a boss, you know it's because your raid pulled together and executed the fight correctly - your coordination and dedication result in success.

Other players are certainly more difficult to kill given their unpredictability, but they're also more boring. When I fight the Lich King, he can shatter the icy platform I'm standing on and draw my soul into Frostmourne. When I fight Garrosh Hellscream, he can draw me into weird visions of various temples in Pandaria filled with Sha. When I fight that Undead Mage sitting somewhere in Chicago, he can... Blink? Ice Block? There will be minor tweaks and a few new talents or what have you with each expansion, but fundamentally, he's the same Mage I've been fighting since vanilla.

Another problem - and this might be just one that the gaming industry has yet to solve - is that PvP games are historically, and perhaps inherently, less story-driven. As we're seeing with Overwatch - there will apparently be no real in-game lore. Every game is just a fight against other players. If Winston and Reaper team up, despite being enemies, there's no justification beyond "that's what the players on that team chose." So things will remain static, and what lore they come up with will be entirely outside the game itself.

People seek out video games for different reasons, certainly, and I absolutely don't mean to disparage anyone who prefers PvP-style games. But given my tastes, Overwatch just doesn't look like it's aimed at a gamer like me.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Largely WoW-less Blizzcon

It's pretty clear that Blizzcon '14 will be remembered as the Blizzcon of Overwatch - that was really the big announcement, and it certainly has the potential to be a huge project and a big part of the Blizzard brand. It's not really an area of gaming that I'm all that familiar with (I tend to prefer story or exploration-based shooters, like Fallout 3 or Bioshock,) but given that Blizzard has a pretty strong place in multiplayer gaming, and clearly wants to get more into eSports (even though they've been a huge part of it thanks to Starcraft for a long time now,) and I think it looks like it will probably do well.

But it's not that surprising that WoW took a back seat this time around. With Warlords of Draenor coming out in less than a week (holy crap, Warlords of Draenor comes out in less than a week!) there's just not a lot left to tell. The Item/Classes/etc panel is largely reiterating stuff that we've known for a while, and I think the best thing they can really say is "there's new stuff. It's coming really soon, and not Blizzard soon, but six days soon."

This does raise some interesting questions, though. I had expected to at least hear about the future patches of Warlords - much as we learned about Ulduar when Wrath was announced and ICC after they had announced Cataclysm (for anyone who's a new player or just doesn't remember, it was actually really unusual - unprecedented, in fact - that we got the final raid tier of Mists before we heard about Warlords.) Barring some surprise tomorrow, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Here's the interesting thing, though: Blizzard claims that adding a bunch of people to the WoW team will result in faster content generation. I have no idea if it really will, but the goal is apparently to try to get out expansions faster - something they've talked about for a super long time, but this is the first time I've seen them do something to actually achieve it.

If they expect expansion six to actually come out a year from now, or even a year and a half, they're going to have to announce it before next year's Blizzcon, or they're going to have to move Blizzcon from its customary late-summer-through-autumn position and up to late-winter/early-spring.

For now, if anyone's feeling disappointed that there was no new expansion announced, I'd recommend considering that we haven't even gotten to play Warlords proper. Focus on getting that Highmaul gear. Chances are, we're going to be hearing something in just a few months, and absolute worst-case scenario, a year form now we'll know what comes next.

Warcraft Movie Details

At Blizzcon's Warcraft Movie panel, we learned a few details about the upcoming film, and were even able to get our first look at one of the Orc characters, Orgrim Doomhammer, and we were able to find out about the main cast.

As I believe had already been talked about, Warcraft will take place during the first war, and the film will split the focus between the humans and the orcs, with Lothar serving as the primary human protagonist and Durotan serving as the primary orc one. The orcs will be Gollum-style cgi characters, with the orcish members of the cast donning mocap suits, physically acting on the sets but being replaced digitally with their orc counterparts. The exception here is Garona, who was shot live-action. The humans will of course be live action as well.

They talked a bit about how they built a portion of Stormwind as a set (Chris Metzen mentioned how awesome it was to be able to walk through Stormwind's Trade District,) and how the Orc actors had done a lot of movement work to get their Orcish gait and physicality.

Here's the cast they announced:

Lothar: Travis Fimmel
Durotan: Toby Kebbell
Medivh: Ben Foster
Gul'dan: Daniel Wu
Lady Taria: Ruth Negga
Orgrim: Robert Kazinsky
Llane: Dominic Cooper
Blackhand: Clancy Brown
Khadgar: Ben Schnitzer
Garona: Paula Patton

I'll confess I'm not terribly familiar with most of these actors, though I've been a big fan of Clancy Brown ever since the HBO show Carnivale. The only thing that's shocking to me about his casting is that he isn't Gul'dan.

Also, I don't remember Lady Taria, but I sure as hell think there's room for more female characters in that cast, so I'm totally ok with it if they invented one to add in there.

I do recall seeing some concept art related to Dalaran, and it seems that they are talking about the "Alliance" as part of the universe of the film, which, as a lore stickler, doesn't quite fit (as the Alliance didn't begin until the Second War,) but it's a relatively minor quibble (one could imagine something akin to the Alliance of Lordaeron existing as part of the Troll Wars.) I don't know if we're likely to see any of the other races of Azeroth, but I can understand wanting to start off with a fairly self-contained narrative for the first film.

The film is due to come out in March of 2016.

Overwatch and Other Blizzcon Announcements

Well, there's no new WoW expansion announced this year at Blizzcon, and surprisingly nothing about Diablo III (unless they decide for some reason to announce it after the opening ceremonies.)

The biggest news is Overwatch, which really looks like what all the rumors about Titan had suggested - I honestly think the "cancellation" was just a "let's not make it an MMO" decision. So what is Overwatch?

Set on Earth in a relatively near future (about sixty years is what they're saying,) Overwatch is a team-based PvP shooter that has a sort of superhero aesthetic (honestly it looks very similar in style to Disney's Big Hero Six.) The background is that robots went crazy about thirty years ago and the Overwatch was founded to fight them off. With the crisis handled, the Overwatch has been disbanded, but the former members becoming mercenaries and, well, basically superheroes.

There are several heroes to choose from who all have different abilities, and you'll pick one to fight in 6v6 multiplayer combat. It looks to be very much in the vein of Team Fortress 2. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anything of a single-player campaign, and it looks like any real story content is going to be outside of gameplay. Still, given the popularity of multiplayer shooter games, it's not surprising to see Blizzard step into that arena. The game looks really cool, but as pretty devout PvEer, I don't know if it's for me.

The other major announcements were Legacy of the Void, the long-ago announced, but now confirmed and with a trailer Protoss installment of Starcraft II. The other is an expansion for Hearthstone called Gnomes vs Goblins. I don't really have much in the way of details on that yet, but I think we can expect a big influx of cards and probably some new mechanical shifts.

Heroes of the Storm now has a date for the beginning of its closed Beta, which is January 3rd. They also unveiled some new maps, as well as new heroes Jaina, Thrall, and the Lost Vikings (who will naturally work as a team.)

So that leaves WoW and Diablo. I'll post more as the weekend goes on.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

One Last Speculation Post Before Blizzcon

Well, supposedly the "Eye of Azshara" trademark was filed by some person not affiliated with Blizzard, so... it's looking like something of a fake.

And if Eye of Azshara is fake, then I'm going to go ahead and call it that we will not be seeing a WoW expansion announcement tomorrow. There are many missing pieces, (the most damning I think being the lack of a "What's Next" panel for WoW,) and while these don't rule it out completely, I think that the safest bet would be to say no on an expansion announcement.

Every expansion since at least Cataclysm (I didn't have my ear to the ground so much during BC,) people have been able to discover a trademark before Blizzcon. After months of speculation about "The Dark Below" last year, a trademark for "Warlords of Draenor" was discovered about a week before it was announced.

So if Eye of Azshara is truly a fake, and it's now starting to look like it is, then I think the likelihood of a real expansion announcement has just plummeted.

If that's the case, though, what will that mean for Blizzard's goal of annual expansions? Well, if they do intend to keep to that schedule, they will have to announce expansion six before next year's Blizzcon, and in fact well before it. At the latest, it would have to come some time in the spring in order for them to get the Beta up and running in the summer for a fall release.

What then should we expect tomorrow? Well, aside from big news for Starcraft and Diablo, I'd expect to see some real footage from the Warcraft movie and probably some news on what to expect from Warlords' patch cycle (we know about the arrival of the Alliance and Horde forces in 5.1 before the launch of Mists of Pandaria, but for the future of Warlords, we know only that Tanaan Jungle is going to open up and we're going to fight Grom Hellscream in a raid that has lots of demons in it.)

It might be disappointing that we won't have things like Azshara and playable Demon Hunters confirmed, but with an expansion literally about to be released, perhaps we shouldn't feel too let down.

One Week and One Day

Tomorrow is the beginning of Blizzcon, Blizzard's convention that serves primarily as a venue to announce new games, and other major details about existing ones. As a WoW player, the real question is what we're going to find out this year. The general idea is that Blizzard is either definitely going to announce an expansion because they absolutely have to, or they are most certainly not going to because they couldn't possibly. There are really strong arguments for both possibilities, despite being, of course, utterly contradictory. I've written plenty about the possibility of a new announcement, but I guess I'll lead toward the "no" camp because I fear that my wanting a new expansion announcement is clouding the logic of whether it actually seems likely.

Warlords of Draenor is coming very soon. We're definitely in a sort of calm before the storm right now. We got the initial pre-expansion patch with the launch event and all the system changes, but that's been out long enough that I think most players have gotten a pretty decent feel for it. They've run the preview UBRS enough and have their Iron Starlette pets. Some might still be going for their Garrosh heirlooms (which I think I'm going to decline in favor of just getting new weapons as I level)  but generally, the idea now is to keep inventories as empty as possible, maybe farm up some gold (I highly recommend soloing Wrath and Cataclysm raids as a source for that) and just generally position oneself to invade Draenor next week.

EDIT: It looks like Blizzard is pushing pretty hard on hinting toward some sort of Hearthstone expansion focusing on mechanical stuff. Swing that Eye of Azshara balance a little further toward the Hearthstone side.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why There Could Be an Expansion Announcement for WoW at Blizzcon '14

I've generally taken the attitude that expecting a WoW expansion announcement at Blizzcon this week is unwise, and will result in disappointment. There's no WoW: What's Next panel, and you wouldn't think they'd be so coy in leaving a big gap in the schedule in order to announce an expansion for a ten-year-old game. Hell, there's even a chance, albeit a low one, that that gap will have something totally different - an auction, dance contest, or just more Metallica.

Warlords is coming out literally next week - less than a week after Blizzcon. Would announcing 7.0 totally undercut the new expansion? Would it imply that we shouldn't really get invested in Draenor as a setting, as we'll only be leaving it a year from now?

Possibly. But I think the truth is that no one really knows.

Warlords of Draenor was supposed to come out sooner - no one contests that, including Blizzard. The reason the patch cycle of Mists of Pandaria was so quick was that they were expecting to speed up the releases of expansions. Unfortunately, that left us with over a year of 5.4 while we were waiting for Warlords to get put together.

Blizzard thinks long-term, especially about WoW, which, despite being down to a little over half its peak subscription numbers, is still a freaking cash cow that is several times as popular as the next subscription-based MMO. Blizzard representatives have said they fully expect to continue supporting the game for another ten years, which granted could be just some company-message-supporting-boastfulness, but is not totally unthinkable.

Blizzard was almost certainly already working on expansion six during Mists, or likely even before it. "Working" could have of course been on a pure conceptual level, but they've probably had an idea of its subject matter and its placement in the schedule for a long time (look at how Marvel has movies lined up for the next decade or so.)

So the plan might have always been to announce expansion six at this Blizzcon. The delays to Warlords make the timing a little odd, but if you consider that, in an ideal world, Warlords would have been out months ago, it's not that strange to imagine they'd let us know what the next big thing will be.

And there's another factor at play here: Let's look at the initial premise: that announcing expansion six right before Warlords would kill excitement for Draenor. It could, in fact, have a totally opposite effect. World of Warcraft always exists in its current expansion - you don't see hardcore raiders running Black Temple or ICC anymore. Essentially, the true game is World of Warcraft, and whatever expansion is current is simply the latest incarnation thereof. The Daleks don't care whether the Doctor is Tom Baker or Peter Capaldi, and to players, WoW is simply there, in whatever form is current.

And what would be healthiest not for Warlords of Draenor, but for World of Warcraft itself?

Well, Mists of Pandaria's biggest flaw was that we went for about fourteen months without any new content. We didn't even know what the next expansion would be until we had been in Siege of Orgrimmar for about two months. The timing of that announcement, and the subsequent long, long wait for an Alpha or Beta, meant that the players were starving for something new for a huge span of time.

Blizzard is known for sort of overcompensating (look at how dungeons difficulty swings from super hard in BC to easy in Wrath to hard in Cataclysm and to super-easy in Mists,) and if Warlords took too long to be both announced and released, then perhaps they're going to work on getting expansion six announced and released super soon.

And that would do a huge deal to reassure players that they can expect new content soon. If we know where we're going post-Draenor before we even get there, we know that Blizzard has a road map, and they don't want us sitting around running whatever the Grommash raid is for over a year. Indeed, the fact that there's a potential downside - that Warlords would be over too soon for it to make a lasting impact - almost makes it even more believable!

Don't expect a new expansion announcement, because at the very best, you'll simply be correct. But please, join me in my pessimism, imagining that we'll just learn a bit about the Warcraft movie and watch as Starcraft and Diablo get cool new stuff while we wait wistfully for Demon Hunters and Azshara. Because when pessimists are wrong, something wonderful has happened.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Wild Eye of Azshara Speculation

Recently, the trademark for a Blizzard game called "Eye of Azshara" supposedly surfaced. Given that Blizzcon is this week, there's a lot of reason to believe that we've got something from Blizzard with that name on its way. (Warlords of Draenor was similarly discovered a little before Blizzcon a year... oh jeez, a year ago. Wow.)

Still, World of Warcraft is not the only Warcraft property that Blizzard makes anymore, and while "Azshara" would seem to rule out any non-Warcraft titles, we're left with WoW, Hearthstone, and even possibly Heroes of the Storm.

I'm going to come out and say probably no to the latter - HotS isn't even out yet, and Azshara is something of a deep cut in the Warcraft universe - sure, anyone who plays WoW or played the Frozen Throne will have an idea of who she is, but she's not a headliner the way Arthas, Illidan, or Grom Hellscream are. Hell, we don't even have a great idea of what she looks like in her Naga form - yes she does show up during the quests in Darkshore, but she just uses a repurposed Lady Vashj model, and I'd bet we're going to see a unique model when we do see her in all her glory.

The biggest strike against a WoW expansion is that Warlords is coming out next week, which means that announcing a new expansion could threaten to steal the wind from the sails of the imminent one.

For that reason, a lot of people expect that it will be the first Hearthstone expansion, presumably adding a lot of cards and possibly even throwing in some new heroes for the old classes. The general rumor mill surrounding Hearthstone, though, is that the upcoming expansion will be largely mechanical-based - with Gnomes and Goblins at the forefront.

However, there's a somewhat crazy possibility that this name does not contradict that premise, which would be if the expansion referred to Azshara the place, rather than Azshara the person. Currently, the town that more or less serves as the capital of the Bilgewater Cartel is Bilgewater Harbor, smack dab in the middle of Azshara. The whole zone looks like a Horde symbol, yes (which the Goblins did in a misguided(?) attempt to curry favor with their new allies,) but one could also imagine it as a big eye, with Bilgewater Harbor as the pupil. Bit of a stretch, yes, but there it is.

Two other "Eye" things present themselves. One is the Maelstrom. The Maelstrom is what's left of the original Well of Eternity following the Sundering (given that we fly through it to get to Deepholm, does that mean that the Elemental Planes are what provided the power for the Well?) The Well of Eternity was Azshara's literal center of power - in addition to the fact that she drew power from it, she had her palace built overlooking it. So even though the well was destroyed, she might still want it for some purpose (though she'll have to clean off the bits of Deathwing that got blown all over it.)

The other possibility is that Azshara now possesses the Eye of Sargeras. The Eye of Sargeras was a relic from the Avatar that Aegwynn fought in Northrend. The Avatar of Sargeras was buried out on the remote Broken Isles, and it was there that Gul'dan died attempting to recover the artifact. Illidan managed to succeed with the help of Naga allies, and he used the Eye to assault the Frozen Throne (which is how the Lich King was weakened enough to allow Sylvanas and the Forsaken to break away.) Now, the snag here is that Maiev destroyed the Eye when attempting to capture Illidan, but still, an artifact as powerful as that might be something that could still be useful.

It's tempting to dismiss the notion of a new WoW expansion being announced at Blizzcon for the reasons I stated above. On the other hand, if they really do expect to be able to release an expansion every year, they might need to announce it soon to get the whole hype/Alpha/Beta/release train rolling. Blizzcon is when they have the most control over their announcements - it's really a convention specifically designed for Blizzard to announce new games, so it would be awkward for them to announce a new WoW expansion at some other convention. Yet unless they have Blizzcon '15 in the early Spring, they aren't going to be able to announce it at Blizzcon soon enough to really get it out on that schedule.

We'll find out soon enough. I'll admit, there's a whole island-hopping South Seas expansion I have all imagined up, but I'm going to try not to get my hopes up and concentrate on Warlords.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Overwatch and Eye of Azshara

This is admittedly some old news, but it's always interesting to take a look at some of the trademarks Blizzard is rumored to have filed in anticipation of Blizzcon (which is this week.)

The "Overwatch" trademark was filed way back in April, and there's been quite a bit of speculation on what it could be related to. Given the big gap in the Blizzcon schedule, a lot of people have been speculating that they may be getting ready to announce a new game. This is not Titan - Blizzard officially cancelled that game - but this could be some other project. Just from the name, I get a first-person-shooter vibe, but that's pure speculation on my part.

It is, of course, also possible that this is an expansion or continuation of a known franchise, but the general rumor consensus is that it is not.

Eye of Azshara is, I believe, a newer revelation. Azshara is most certainly a Warcraft-related property, so that leaves us with two options: World of Warcraft or Hearthstone. Again, there seems to be a kind of consensus that it's more likely to be related to Hearthstone, given the imminent arrival of Warlords of Draenor and the low likelihood of Blizzard announcing a new WoW expansion right before it comes out.

That said: one of the most common assumptions about WoW expansions is that there ought to be a South Seas-focused one that deals with Aszhara and the Naga. Blizzard has talked about the desire to one day do playable Naga (if they can figure out how to deal with the lack of legs) and Azshara remains one of the clear, famous, charismatic villains that were showcased in Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm.

There does not (if I recall correctly) seem to be a "What's Next" panel for Hearthstone, but given the nature of that game, Blizzard might not really do things the same way with their announcements for it. There's also no "What's Next" panel for WoW, so that puts them about even.

Still, we don't really know how expansions to Hearthstone will work. The Curse of Naxxramas was kind of an expansion, but it might be on the same order as a content patch. I don't really know what an expansion to Hearthstone would look like, but then, that doesn't mean that it couldn't be one.

So I'll say this: If we don't hear anything about "Eye of Azshara" during Blizzcon, that could mean one of two things - it's either fake (which it turned out the Dark Below was not, only that it was for a different game) or it's the new WoW expansion and they're just waiting to announce it until Warlords has had a chance to breathe.

Hoping for the latter. I don't know if they could justify Demon Hunters just yet, but playable Naga would be really cool.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Warlords of Draenor Beta Ending Monday

With the expansion itself coming very soon, it's perhaps no surprise that the Beta for Warlords of Draenor must inevitably come to an end. I had the privilege to play in the Beta from day one, and it's been exciting to see how things have developed and changed, particularly the garrison system, which is of course the biggest unique Draenor element.

All in all, the changes I saw on the Beta were mostly tweaks. We didn't see anything quite like the overhaul that we saw in the Jade Forest, for instance. Still, we got to see many updates to the character models (Draenei shoulder pads were on a roller coaster, I'm telling you!) and we saw the expansion's initial state unfolding nicely.

I actually think it speaks well of the expansion that they didn't have to do much rebuilding over the course of the beta. The questing is solid, and I think that there's enough flexibility (particularly with the Bonus Objective areas in each zone) that you'll be able to have some nice variations while leveling alts - particularly if you pick different buildings at your Outposts.

Still, we've come a long way from the beginnings, such as when turning in a key quest during the central Shadowmoon Valley chain would briefly shift every single player in the zone into a phase containing no NPCs.

Still, there's little reason to worry - the end of the beta means that the expansion proper is just around the corner, and so if anyone is going to miss Draenor, they'll be back soon enough.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Considerations of Future Visual Upgrades

6.0's biggest feature is probably the model revamps for the vanilla races and Draenei. Some elicit cheers, others tears, but without a doubt, this is one of the biggest visual changes the game has ever experienced. I, for one, am overjoyed by the look of my Human Paladin (though unlike most, I was actually not so bothered by the old human male model. Perhaps it's because I had the goatee facial hair, which had normal-sized eyebrows.) I'm pretty happy with the others - the only one that caused me any trouble was my Male Night Elf, who previously had a very thin face that seemed to be rounded out, but a quick stop at the Barber/Plastic Surgeon fixed that (I'm also waiting for them to fix the Undead Male's eyes where previously there were empty sockets.)

We know that the very next visual change will be an update to the Blood Elves. Both BC races were slated for an update, but Blood Elves have a relatively small presence in Draenor outside of Talador, whereas Draenei are the most central Alliance race in the expansion (no matter how many times I say or write that, it still makes me smile.)

So I expect to see Blood Elves updated as soon as 6.1. What comes next?

First off, while the Cataclysm models are far, far better than the Vanilla and BC ones, some of the facial gesture mapping that came in with the Pandaren is definitely lacking. My Worgen, much as I adore him, can't really make any facial expressions beyond "mouth open" and "mouth closed." I feel like the Goblins are a bit more facially dextrous, but it might be nice to see both of them a little more expressive. Still, unlike the Classic/BC races, I wouldn't go overboard with these revamps. Just do a little work on the faces (and I've heard that a lot of female Worgen would be interested in getting quite a bit more work,) and they should be ok.

Blizzard folks have talked about a few things. Moonkin form remains the only Druid model that hasn't changed since Vanilla (even the new Cataclysm Druid races got palette swap versions of the Night Elf version.) So it looks like these are due for an update. My personal hope is that we get greater racial distinction between the forms, much in the way that the Bear and Cat forms have nice touches that distinguish them. War paint and a mohawk and tusks for Trolls, glowing eyes and perhaps charms hanging from the antlers for Night Elves, etc.

Blizzard has also mentioned that they'd like to add some cosmetic items like quivers for hunters and librams for paladins. I'm not sure that every class has an obvious thing that's missing - for example, Warriors are pretty set (unless you'd like to give them a Blademaster-style war-banner to wear on their backs.)

Another thing that players have been clamoring for for quite a while is racial variations. Implementing Blackrock/Mag'har Orc Skins would be as easy as adding new skin color options. One could also do so with Dark Iron Dwarves (and you could even roll Wildhammer face tattoos in there as well.) Not every race is begging for this kind of variation - Draenei for example can be just about any color from dark purple to porcelain-white, and there's not really anything in lore to justify anything that's not some kind of bluish color, as the only red eredar we see are demons, and decidedly not on good terms with Velen. The Grimtotem Tauren are a similar issue - it's not unreasonable to think of implementing the Grimtotem facial tattoos, but are there any good Grimtotem (the closest we get are a group of them who get support from the Alliance to fight the Horde, but the rest of the tribe is clearly hostile to everyone.) That actually brings up probably the most popular racial-variant option, which is the High Elves. Many Alliance players have been hoping to play High Elves for a very long time indeed, but would this effectively make the Blood Elves a Pandaren-style neutral race, or would they need a whole new starting experience? Or just dump them into Northshire Abbey with the Humans?

Beyond that, however, there are greater variations in the races. We've now seen two variants on the Tauren - the Taunka and Yaungol. The Draenei have been accompanied by the Broken since BC (though don't expect to see any of them in Draenor, as the Horde rejected Warlock magic in that timeline.) Undead theoretically should be able to include all manner of creatures, from the current zombie-ish guys to skeletons, ghosts, and stuff like that. These variations might be a little tougher to implement. For instance, if you're a Taunka, do you start your adventures in Mulgore, far, far away from your home in Northrend? And does everyone just refer to you as a Tauren as if you were just another member of the Bloodhoof Tribe?

In terms of gear, I don't really think we need model revamps for gear. As much as I'd love to see my 25-man Paladin Tier 8 set updated (particularly to implement the awesome, huge belt buckle from the concept art,) it's probably best that they focus on the new gear models. There's some cool stuff coming in tier 17 (I'm particularly fond of the Rogue set,) and given that there will always be a need for new gear models, I'm happy for them to just work on that stuff.

Actually, to be frank, now that we have transmog for any gear pieces we're less enamored of, I wish that dungeon gear at least was a little more eclectic in look. I miss BC's re-colors of old raid gear. Oh well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

LFR to Have Unique Set Bonuses

In a move to separate traditional raiding from LFR, and certainly to encourage people to try out the former, Blizzard announced a while ago that Warlords' LFR setting would use different gear than the other difficulties - separated not just by color scheme and item level, but giving us totally different models and pieces. Additionally, to make sure that traditional raiders didn't feel they needed to run LFR to get important pieces of gear, they also simplified gear in LFR - making sure trinkets had either flat stats or very simple procs, and none of the kind of transformative pieces like Unerring Vision of Lei Shen or Rune of Reorigination. Likewise, LFR will not drop tier-set pieces, meaning that if you want the awesome set bonuses (and they are pretty cool,) you'll have to do the "real" raiding.

Still, gear sets are fun, and they don't want to make LFR feel totally unlike real raiding. Thus, there will be effectively "LFR tier" sets. These are not class-specific. Instead, there will simply be a set for each armor class and the roles those armor classes can perform. Presumably, like the normal Warlords tier sets, these sets will also change bonuses depending on your spec, so that you only have to collect a single set of them on your character.

I really wonder how raiding will work out in Warlords. Mists largely carried over the problem that had begun in Cataclysm. By merging the raid sizes with regard to difficulty, they effectively got rid of the 10-player normal mode that had made raiding so popular in Wrath of the Lich King. Flex mode helped, but a lot of guilds were broken in the intervening years. My personal hope is that, with "flex" as the new normal difficulty, we'll see guild raiding become more prominent again. For anyone who wasn't playing during Wrath, it was quite amazing - a huge portion of the game's players did actually run raids, long before LFR was a thing.

I definitely think LFR should remain, but I think it's all right if it becomes the super-easy version of the raid. LFR had a strange line to straddle during Mists. For most players, it was the only way that we would really be able to access Mists' raids (and without new dungeons, raids were really the sole path in PvE.) As a result, I think that they erred on the side of retaining a great deal of the raids' complexity (that said, some fights, like Elegon, became far simpler,) which is unfortunately torturous in a group with 24 strangers.

My hope for LFR is that it will be primarily a confidence-booster - a raid difficulty that lets you see the place and encourages you to try it out on a higher difficulty. If you can't manage to get a guild or a PUG to run the raids, at least you'll be able to see the fights, but I think it would be ideal for LFR to serve as a stepping stone into raiding, and not the primary challenge of the expansion itself.

Still, for those who stick to LFR, these sets will give them some incentive to collect gear there, and I think that's a good thing.