Friday, January 31, 2014

Old God Watch: 5.4

The upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion will, in all likelihood, be our first real break from those tentacled monstrosities that live beneath the world since The Burning Crusade. BC did have tangential allusions to the Old Gods, such as the final boss of the Arcatraz, the mysterious history of the Arrakoa, and of course the presence of the Nether Dragonflight (who stand as one of my key examples of how nether energy can purify Old God corruption - the Nether Dragons were Black Dragons, but the explosion of Draenor seems to have purged them of Deathwing's corruption.)

And at least in the case of the Arrakoa, it stands to reason that we'll have a bit of Old God lore going on, but I seriously doubt we're going to have any raids centered around the Old Gods.

But this actually makes it a great time to take stock and see what's happening with those eldritch behemoths.

To date, we have fought two Old Gods directly. C'thun was the final boss of the Temple of Ahn Qiraj (to this day I can't figure out why this wasn't considered "tier 3.") We tracked it down to its center of power and destroyed its body from the inside. In Northrend, we faced Yogg-Saron, who had taken over his own prison within the Titan city of Ulduar. During the fight, we found our way into the God of Death's brain, destroying it.

It would seem, then, that C'thun and Yogg-Saron are dead. But how dead are they? In fact, we would face C'thun a second time, in a way. The Ogre Mage Cho'gall took on the essence of the dead god, sprouting eyes all over his body and a strange, cephalopodic beak on one of his heads. Had C'thun truly survived? That's difficult to answer. Since Cho'gall death in the Bastion of Twilight, we have not  heard any more rumblings from the creator of the Qiraji.

Yet I'm hesitant to declare either of these monsters utterly dead. After all, we learned within the Halls of Stone in Ulduar that the Titans left the Old Gods alive for a reason - that their deaths would result in catastrophic chaos that could destroy the very world.

Oddly, despite Cataclysm being pretty much the most Old God-themed expansion, we did not actually directly face any of them. However, we did hear whispers of a being called N'zoth, who appears to be the source of the Emerald Nightmare, or is perhaps deep beneath the ocean (or both.) While Blizzard has all but ruled out a full Emerald Dream expansion, I expect that if we ever do make a journey into the Dream, we will deal with N'zoth.

But then, how do we define "deal with?" Well, we (and the Titans) long suspected that killing an Old God completely would lead to disaster. And in Mists of Pandaria, the reason behind that finally became clear.

The Titans created the Mogu as a warrior race with a specific purpose - to fight the Old God Y'shaarj and his forces. And the Titans were successful. The Mogu managed to truly kill Y'shaarj, but this brought about a bitter consequence. With its last dread breath, Y'shaarj unleashed the horrible Sha upon the land. In some ways, the Sha were worse. While they did not possess the cunning intelligence that Y'shaarj had, the Sha were not physical beings, and could not be bound the way that their creator had been. Thus, it appeared that the Sha could never truly be gotten rid of. Killing them would only cause them to dissipate like mist, ready to be called back the moment a mortal had a moment of emotional distress. The Pandaren created an entire way of life built around avoiding these negative emotions, but in the end, they could only hold the Sha off, and not rid themselves of them completely.

Or so they thought. Ironically, Garrosh's cruel act of barbarism - the destruction of the Titan-built Vale of Eternal Blossoms and the empowering of Y'shaarj's heart, ultimately allowed the Warchief to drain the last remaining power from this lost relic. The Titans had sought to contain the heart, just as they had sought to contain the other Old Gods, but in drawing the full remaining power from the Heart, Garrosh inadvertently allowed the last drop of Y'shaarj's essence to be expended. The Heart is now inert, and the Sha have no source from which to spring.

So of the Old Gods of Azeroth, we can firmly and confidently cross Y'shaarj's name off the list. We have also proven that, powerful as they may be, the Old Gods can be destroyed utterly.

The questions that remain are these:

What is left of C'thun? Did Cho'gall's death in the Bastion of Twilight kill off the last remnant of C'thun in the same manner as we killed off the last of Y'shaarj in Orgrimmar? C'thun's death did not seem to have the kind of immediate catastrophic effect that one might expect, which would almost seem to suggest that he isn't dead. But then, perhaps we were merely lucky, and C'thun simply did not have a chance to unleash a similar curse.

What is the state of Yogg-Saron? We attacked Yogg-Saron's brain directly. Perhaps the Old God of Death is effectively brain-dead? Might that circumvent the danger of a curse? When Deathwing attacked Wyrmrest Temple, who brought forth the faceless ones and the Maws from which they sprang?

When will we face N'zoth? N'zoth is the only Old God we know to be completely at large and undefeated. As the other Old Gods fall, does this one become more powerful?

Are we due for a catastrophe? I had wondered if the Cataclysm may have been triggered somewhat by the death of Yogg-Saron. The Titans seemed sure that killing the Old Gods would bring about devastation, but beyond the Sha, we don't know what form this will take. Are we sufficiently heroic heroes at this point that we've managed to take down two Old Gods and the last remnants of a third without destroying the world?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Diseases and other Future Death Knight Concerns

I don't know if this is going to become an eleven-part series, but for now, I thought I'd talk about what concerns and hopes I have for WoW's sole hero class.

Death Knights are not really the young pups of the game anymore. Having lived through three expansions, Blizzard has pretty much figured out the Death Knight's niche and themes.

But no class is perfect, and Death Knights, despite joining the big-kids table, have their own oddities. In fact, DKs have been around long enough that some of their original idiosyncrasies are beginning to show a bit of wear and tear.


First and foremost, I will say that you can't get rid of the concept of diseases for Death Knights. DKs are pretty much the last remnant of the Scourge that we still get to deal with, and disease is the main theme of undeath in World of Warcraft.

Though I don't remember reading a blue post about it, apparently the plan in WoD is that Death Knight abilities will no longer be boosted by diseases. I don't quite understand the logic of this, as it reduces what has been a core mechanic to the class to a couple of run-of-the-mill DoTs. I predict that, without other changes, Frost Death Knights won't even bother with Blood Plague.

Admittedly, I think that ever since Cataclysm, the two major diseases, Frost Fever and Blood Plague, have become harder to distinguish. With Outbreak, Unholy Blight, and the Unholy version of Plague Strike, we're often just applying both diseases with a single attack, which almost makes it seem as if they should just be one, harder-hitting disease.

Now, I like Outbreak and its ilk, because it makes gameplay a little smoother. In Wrath, regardless of spec, you had to weave in an Icy Touch and a Plague Strike every thirty seconds, and that meant you got to use your other attacks less frequently (though with the old rune system, you'd still probably be hitting your abilities more than you do now.)

Making disease-spreading easier would certainly be welcome (I love Roiling Blood, though it's useless for Frost.) Pestilence was always kind of a funny ability, and given that they're trying to cut down on rotational abilities for everyone, I'd put this one in the crosshairs, perhaps making Roiling Blood baseline.

The de-coupling of diseases from strikes is actually a little disappointing to me, as I think it eliminates one of the defining aspects of the class, and makes the whole idea of DK diseases seem vestigial. But rather than just chucking the diseases out, I might distinguish them a bit between specs. I think Frost could probably just stick with Frost Fever, maybe even having Blood Plague change into something radically different (this probably means that they'd have to change the level 100 talents, but they probably will anyway.) I could even see Frost Fever in general being a shorter-term disease that is more easily reapplied. Currently, the two diseases have the same duration and I believe do the same base damage (though with the two DPS specs' masteries, they'll naturally differ in ultimate value.) Unholy could get a different secondary disease that could be applied by Death Coil. And meanwhile, Blood could get some kind of life-leeching disease, in addition to one that applies Weakened Blows.

Soul Reaper:

I get what they were going for with Soul Reaper, but between Blood's total disregard for it and Frost's rotation getting totally thrown off by it, I think this could maybe become a spec-specific ability for Unholy. Yes, I get that it's cool to have one of the Lich King's abilities (Defile, man. Hope that makes it to live,) and I like that it's not just a clone of execute, but I think variations could be made for Frost (and tanks probably don't need an execute.)

Frost Mastery:

Frost is one of two specs (along with Fury) that is really two specs. Depending on which kind of weapons you use, Frost becomes a totally different animal. Dual-wield Frost is in this funny place where they (apparently - I play 2h) just spam Frost Strike and Howling Blast. Obviously, this makes Mastery pretty darn good for them, though there are some obvious issues with the rotation.

2H is in this funny place where Mastery is ok, but it fails to buff their single biggest ability, Obliterate, and ironically, Frost start stacking crit, despite the fact that Killing Machine ought to really de-value it.

So is the problem with Obliterate, Killing Machine, or the Mastery? I don't really know, but it does seem to me that Obliterate ought to have some kind of Frost component (maybe Killing Machine makes it do Frost Damage?)

I don't quite know how Single-Minded Fury and Titan's Grip differ in terms of rotation and gearing, but I would argue that while these play styles should feel a little different from one another, it would be nice if they could use the same gear (minus weapons of course.)


I realize that Blizzard is de-emphasizing leveling with the 90 boost (yes, you'll still have to level through Draenor,) but one of the consequences of the Mists revamp is that Death Knights are really awkward while leveling up.

In Wrath and Cataclysm, one would be able to catch up in talents and abilities with other classes pretty much by the time one finished the starting experience. The downside to this was that you had to make a lot of talent choices at once (you used to get one or two talent points for each quest in the chain) but it also meant that by the time you were in Outland, you were really a fully-formed class.

Now, however, you tend to be missing key components that make your spec work, like Might of the Frozen Wastes and Threat of Thassarian (which seem to me like things you should get as soon as you pick the spec.)

Key culprit amongst these? That's my next section:

The Rune-Regeneration Talent Tier:

I really don't understand why this is the second-to-last talent tier, when it's pretty clear to me that it should be the very first one (ok, maybe the second.) As soon as Cataclysm changed the way runes regenerate, Runic Empowerment/Corruption became absolutely necessary to keep gameplay fun. Without them, the pace is very, very slow.

It also might be worth looking into how these various talent work. Runic Corruption is pretty straightforward, but Runic Empowerment is kind of wacky. Personally, I like a little unpredictability in my classes (procs for the win!) so I treat RE as something to keep me on my toes, but there's also a lot of weird ways you're "supposed" to play that involve gaming which runes will pop. The same is true for Blood Tap.

If they're going to change these, I might humbly suggest a talent that restores the old constantly-regenerating rune system from Wrath, maybe nerfing the base regeneration rate if that proved too powerful.

Plague Leech:

Beyond the fact that I simply don't like how this talent works, I think the biggest problem is that in a tier with talents oriented more around convenience, Plague Leech can provide significant DPS when used properly. Basically, this is one of those "right choice, wrong choice" talent tiers. Maybe there's room for this as a talent (though "removing diseases" from a target feels so wrong to a sower of death and decay,) but certainly not among its fellows and certainly, certainly not in the first tier.


Not much here. Clearly they can't just add more and more Runeforges, as you can only have one per weapon, and you aren't going to be switching between fights. But I'd just hope that there could be a little more variety between specs.


I realize that Scaling is the buzzword for "I'm not doing as well as my guild mates." I don't know if DKs really suffer that much from scaling (that's not to say they aren't) but one thing I will say is that there must be something funny going on when, despite the guaranteed critical strikes from Killing Machine, I'm still expected to stack as much Crit as I humanly can.

For the Ebon Blade!

These are really just the issues I've come up with off the top of my head. I'm sure there are others that I have not thought of (and I'll admit a certain unfamiliarity with Unholy.) We've been in a bit of a dry spell in terms of information on Warlords of Draenor. With any luck, we'll soon get a better picture of just what's going to happen to our beloved masters of frozen death.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Human Female Character Model Preview

At last, we've gotten a glimpse of the human female character model. That puts us at 9/16 vanilla race/gender previews, and 9/20 of all the planned WoD character-model revamps.

As of yet, we still need to see female tauren, female orcs, male humans, and both kinds trolls and both kinds of night elves, as well as both genders of the Draenei and Blood Elves.

As always, I've very happy with how this latest preview has gone. As usual, when looking at this, remember that they're only going with one of the available faces, hair colors, and skin colors.

With the more recent races, the Worgen, Goblins, and Pandaren, I've hard a lot of people claiming that these only have one face model, and that they are worried that the new version of the old models will also be limited. While it could be that the Pandaren have one model with only different patterns in the fur, I can say very confidently that the Male Worgen have different faces. One could be forgiven for thinking that they have only one, however, due to the fact that for some strange reason every Worgen NPC has the same face option (which also happens to be the face I used on Ardten, who you can see to the side of this blog, hurtling through the skies above Tanaris.) As an example, take a look at Tripton, my somewhat neglected Rogue (given that my Undead Rogue is one of the last Hordies I've managed to still prioritize over my Alliance toons of the same class.)


Admittedly, the difference is subtle (they are both werewolves) but you'll notice that Ardten the Warrior has ridges on his brow and snout that Tripton the Rogue does not share.

Anyway, all that aside, here's a quick look at the human female.

(Courtesy of MMO-Champion)

I think that's looking pretty damned good. Remember, also, that the reason she has a blank expression is because this is the neutral look, from which they can animate the expressions you'll see in-game.

I was very curious about the humans, because of course the temptation might be to go for a more photorealistic look with them. Yet Warcraft works best with a somewhat cartoonish feel to it. This human has fairly realistic proportions (unlike the weirdly shaped human in the Mists of Pandaria cinematic) but is also just stylized enough to feel as if she'll fit in among the canals of Stormwind and the spires of Dalaran.

In related news, it sounds as if, as a long-term plan, they might actually even do a minor update to the Worgen and Goblins. While the Cataclysm races look far better than anything that came out of vanilla, they did come up with a new rigging system for animations, which is why the Pandaren have such incredibly expressive emotes. Much as I adore the Worgen (the one exception being the stupid flip that I do every time I hit Mortal Strike... and also the way that shields get lost in their cloaks,) their emotes are a little more like the jaw-flapping of the earlier models.

Still no word yet on the WoD beta, and I'd expect that only a couple races (if even that) will be updated at its start, but this is some pretty solid progress toward getting us all looking amazing.

Tip to Blizzard: Make the Tier 17 helmets relatively minimalistic. Let our awesome new faces show!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Mistweaver Experiment, Part Two

Penbrooke, who only about a week ago was level 5, is now level 59, and has made her first sojourn to Outland.

Having played through many if not most of the vanilla dungeons, I think I now have a better picture of how Mistweaving works, or at least can work.

While one can separate out the Fistweaving and Mistweaving styles, it appears that the best way to play is to combine the two. With a bunch of heirloom gear, you can typically keep your party healed with just your melee attacks, though Renewing Mists is one pure healing ability you'll want to weave in. Renewing Mists is an instant-cast HoT that has an eight second cool down and will jump to two additional targets. It also generates one Chi, which actually helps you take advantage of the Muscle Memory passive to its maximum even if you're trying to get a Blackout Kick in there.

Renewing Mists, coupled with Spinning Crane Kick (which will heal friends and damage enemies, and I believe that damage also causes Eminence) really opens up your AoE healing capabilities. It's pretty rare (in vanilla dungeons) that you'll have to worry about people other than the tank given that Renewing Mists will prefer targets that are wounded.

It strikes me that there's nothing about pure Mistweaving (standing in the back and casting) that makes you a worse healer, but given the low damage people take in vanilla dungeons and the fact that  you can contribute only slightly less damage than you would as a DPS spec makes it a solid idea to primary fight in melee.

So far, things are feeling pretty solid. I imagine that the Serpent Statue that one gets at level 70 will make things even stronger (as it duplicates your Eminence Healing,) but as of yet, I haven't really been put in challenging dungeon situations. I expect that I'll have to wait until Cataclysm content to really feel that, but I think that with these nearly 60 levels of working on healing, I should be able to meet the challenge.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Mistweaver Experiment

Any longtime reader will know that while I happily both DPS and Tank (though during Mists, with its de-emphasis on 5-mans, I've found my tanking is rarer,) I've never really been a healer.

Apart from the occasional embarrassing escapade (I healed Utgarde Keep on normal with a level 80 Druid and just barely made it through,) I haven't really ever committed a character to healing.

Until Penbrooke, my scrappy little Undead Monk, who is currently level 36 (and I'm going to limit myself to the abilities I've gotten.)

While DPS is fairly self-explanatory and I long ago developed the instincts that make up the basics of tanking (like making sure you get at least a little threat on everything,) I am now attempting to develop the fast-thinking mindset of a healer.

Unlike tanks and DPS, healers don't really have rotations. That said, at my current level, my arsenal of healing spells is limited enough that it mainly boils down to channeling my main spell and using a Chi-spender whenever I can.

While I'm no experienced healer, I do recognize that Monks are actually a very unusual sort. For one thing, they are really two very different specs rolled into one. The terms that are typically used to describe them are "Mistweaving" and "Fistweaving."

Mistweaving is the more conventional, stand in the back and cast spells style of healer. Yet even these guys are a little unusual.

First off, your first healing spell acquired at level 10 is Renewing Mists. This is a very cheap spell (with only a tiny amount of Spirit, I typically break even or even regenerate mana when spamming this.) Renewing Mists is a channeled spell, and each time it heals (for a modest amount) you have a 30% chance to generate Chi, meaning you'll generate it at a fairly decent rate (a full channel will likely get you up to 3 or 4.)

The thing that's kind of cool about this spell is that there are a couple of other spells that would normally take a second or two to cast, but will cast instantly while channeling Renewing Mists, and will not interrupt the channel.

And because this is a channeled spell, you'll be able to make use of it even if you only channel it for a portion of its full duration.

The other style of healing is very different. This is often called "Fistweaving." The Monk healing stance does a number of things, and among them is something called "Eminence." This causes 25% of the non-auto-attack damage you do to heal whoever needs it most within 20 yards. Because the stance also converts your spell power to attack power (effectively letting your Intellect do double-duty as Agility,) this means that in certain situations, you can actually provide enough healing to the party while also messing up enemies with Kung Fu.

While you won't be doing the damage you'd do as a Windwalker, this actually makes soloing on a Mistweaver relatively painless. As a strategy for healing, you'll probably want to have some of your more convention heals at the ready in case things start going south. Fistweaving, at least at my level, also seems less mana-efficient than the traditional healing, but you do get a few passives that help.

One is Muscle Memory, which makes your Jabs empower you Tiger Palms and Blackout Kicks to do more damage and also to restore a bit of your mana. Another is Lessons of the Monastery, which has several effects, but overall they seem to be there to increase the healing you do by attacking your foes.

So far, Mistweaving is proving to be a fairly enjoyable way to play. I feel free to swap between the two styles on a whim, which can make dungeon runs a bit more exciting. Obviously, I'll have to wait and see how well I do when I get into harder dungeons. The vanilla ones, after all, are tuned very forgivingly, and most people I run with are wearing full heirloom sets.

Actually, this article could also count as "the Heirloom Experiment" as well, as I've outfitted Penbrooke with the finest in scaling gear. Admittedly, this might reduce the challenge of learning this new role by too much, but for now, I'm happy for both the crutch, and the experience boost (while I love questing, it's hard to practice healing while solo, and I have no problem with out leveling a dungeon after a single run.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Speculation on 6.1 and Beyond

When Mists of Pandaria was announced, the path of progression for just how the expansion would roll out was a bit of a mystery. We later got a bigger preview that unveiled how Garrosh would be the final boss and how the last raid would take us through the streets of Orgrimmar (though in practice, we spend a fairly small portion of the raid within the city proper.)

It seems to me that Warlords of Draenor is in a similar space. We know that the expansion will revolve around the seven Warlords, but beyond that, it's mostly speculation.

First of all, of the eponymous Warlords, we only know for certain how we'll be interacting with one of them. Blackhand, who in our timeline was the original Warchief of the Horde, will serve as the final boss of tier 17's main raid, Blackrock Foundry. It appears that in this alternate timeline, Blackhand is not really in charge of the Horde. He was, after all, really just Gul'dan's puppet, and given that Gul'dan seems to be an outcast from the Iron Horde, it seems that Blackhand might not be in the leadership position (no word on whether we'll interact with Orgrim Doomhammer, who killed Blackhand and seized power of both the Blackrock Clan and the Horde.)

Beyond them, there's Grommash, Kil'rogg, Kargash, Ner'zhul, Gul'dan, and Durotan. Durotan will, presumably, be the central leader of the native Horde faction, the Frostwolves Clan. Unless there's a big twist coming, it looks like Thrall's dad will be on the side of the good Horde.

I could imagine some of these Warlords serving as dungeon bosses, or even having a zone's major quest line culminate in slaying them.

Grommash really seems to be front and center, and the only reason why I'm skeptical that they would make him the final boss is that he's so similar to Garrosh (perhaps unsurprising, given that he's Garrosh's dad.)

But beyond these Orcs, there are other major forces that I expect we'll have to deal with. The Kara/MSV-style intro raid will be Highmaul, which seems to be an Ogre raid, but given what we've heard about the Ogres being part of an empire in decline, I could imagine the Ogres serving the same function as the Mogu in Mists and occupying the second raid tier of the expansion.

The Arrakoa will also be making a return, and we might even get a little bit of Old God lore with them (because, you know, we don't get enough of that.) Whether the Arrakoa will be anything more than a zone and a dungeon kind of remains to be seen, though.

So that's all we've had confirmed as part of the expansion, but I strongly suspect there are other forces at play. The two most obvious ones are the Infinite Dragonflight and the Burning Legion.

The Infinites, perhaps linked to Kairoz, would certainly have a reason to be interested in an alternate universe created by meddling with time-travel. That said, Blizzard has insisted time and again that this is not a time-travel expansion. Is this a deflection? Who knows? We do know that there is apparently some kind of Chronomancy-themed location in the center of the continent that may in fact be where we arrive when we come to Draenor.

The Burning Legion is also a fairly obvious player in all of this, but it's one with caveats. The entire point of the Iron Horde was to divorce the Orcs' history from the demons, but if Garrosh arrived just in time to prevent his father from drinking the Blood of Mannoroth, that means that the Legion was already involved - goading the Orcs into a war against the Draenei. Additionally, Gul'dan still did drink the blood, and he has a contingent of warlocks serving him. The Legion might not have their claws in the sides of the Iron Horde the way they did with the original one, but that's no reason to think that they wouldn't have a role to play.

We've also been promised a little extra story around the Dark Iron Dwarves and the Blood Elf Paladins. The former will likely see some development in Moira's ascendence to power, which, despite roughness earlier on, seems to be working out ok. Meanwhile, the Blood Elves were set on a path to redemption by the reignition of the Sunwell, but they haven't really made amends for what they did to M'uru.

Theoretically, we're due for an update on the upcoming expansion, and I really hope that we can see the Beta coming on its way soon. With no new class, nor Cataclysm's enormous old-world revamp, the Beta could actually be shorter than usual, but even then, I hope they get it on its way.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The "Power" Stat: Primary Stats Down Memory Lane

Obviously one of the biggest developments in Warlords of Draenor will be the adjustment to gear that causes primary stats on armor to change depending on the player's spec. With these stats appearing only on armor (admittedly, also possibly weapons) and not on accessories, this will make nearly every piece of gear that is of the appropriate armor type now appropriate for your toon.

While anyone who has experienced that sad feeling of a piece of gear being equippable but not actually useful (so, anyone that's not a Shadow Priest,) it's a great solution to an old problem. Intellect Plate has been a problem for all of WoW's nine years, with only a single spec of a single class able to use it (and during Vanilla, if you were playing Horde, there was absolutely no one who could use it at all.)

But the question remains: Is this really an elegant solution?

Consider this: Strength, Agility, and Intellect will effectively be the same stat. Sure, Strength does not provide critical strike chance like the other two, but all three of these primary stats translate to raw throughput. While secondary stats can have funky interactions, like crit soft-caps and haste breakpoints, primary stats are the most basic kind of RPG stat - more is always better. It just translates to your numbers going up. That means more damage on your enemies and more healing to your buddies.

So why have different stats in the first place?

Well, let's take a walk down memory lane here.

Stats in World of Warcraft used to act very differently. There was a time, for instance, when, say, a Protection Paladin, would be happy to see all three primary stats on a piece of gear.


Strength has always been a throughput stat. In fact, Strength has changed the least of all the primary stats since vanilla.

It has always granted two attack power for every one point of strength to plate classes. However, it also used to do so for Shamans. Back in Vanilla and Burning Crusade, Enhancement Shamans were expected to get fairly rare Strength Mail pieces (the old Scarlet Crusade set was a very nice mid-level set for Enhancement.) Likewise, Druids used to get two AP per Strength, though Cat Druids got to double-dip by also getting a single point of AP for each point of Agility they had.

Strength's other benefit was that it would increase block value. For those of you who came in during Cataclysm or later, the Shield mechanic used to work differently. Rather than reducing incoming damage by a percentage, blocking would subtract a fixed amount. Shields would have an innate Block value, and one could use Strength to boost that amount (though by a fairly small amount.) There were even two block-related secondary stats that would increase your chance to block and your block value. When Death Knights were introduced, they were granted additional parry chance based on their Strength in order to compensate for what would basically be a lack of scaling due to their missing shield. With the block changes of Cataclysm, they just made this the standard.


Agility was a weird stat. Like today, leather and mail physical classes benefited from Agility (except Shamans and Bear Druids until Wrath,) but one would still only get a single point of attack power per point of agility. To complement the agility, almost all agility gear would also have raw attack power. Agility, as it does today, would increase one's chance to get critical strikes with physical attacks, which made it reasonably attractive even to plate classes in those early days when secondary stats were pretty rare.

Beyond that, though, Agility would also increase all classes' chance to dodge attacks (making it even more attractive to plate tanks) and would actually increase the character's armor as well (again, making it even more even more attractive to plate tanks.)


Of the three primary stats, Intellect has probably changed the most dramatically. Nowadays, Intellect really functions basically the same way that Agility does for non-plate physical classes. But Intellect actually only shares one attribute with its earlier self.

Today, mana pools are fixed - your level determines how much mana you have to work with. Intellect then alters the power of your spells and increases your spell critical strike chance. Back in the day, Intellect actually did nothing to effect the power of your spells. Instead, players would have to load up on spell power on gear (which, during vanilla, was actually quite rare.) Intellect would increase spell critical strike chance, but its more noticeable effect was that it would increase one's mana pool. In a way, Intellect was kind of akin to Stamina (and remember that in Vanilla, there were only two classes that didn't use mana.)

But it gets weirder. First off, just as Strength increased block value and agility increased dodge and armor, Intellect would increase your resistance to the five basic kinds of magic: Arcane, Frost, Fire, Nature, and Shadow (this actually gave a slight edge to Priests and Paladins, whose Holy spells could not be armored against.) Resistance was a really odd mechanic that frankly, I never fully understood, but Intellect was the easiest way to beef it up.

However, far weirder than that was that Intellect would affect the rate at which you learned your weapon skills. Before Cataclysm, you would have to practice with various weapons to gain skill with them, and you would also have to take physical attacks to increase your defense skill. Essentially, weapon skill was somewhat like Expertise, meaning if you had been a Gun-toting hunter for a long time and you got a really good Crossbow, you'd have to spend a little time being utterly terrible with your new weapon until you could actually hit your target for full damage. Likewise, casters were far more fragile, as they would be far more likely to receive critical strikes due to the fact that their defense skill was probably far below that of a melee class. Intellect, then, actually became an attractive stat to anyone who used a weapon, as it would shrink the time they took sucking. (Fun fact, Fist Weapons would use the "unarmed" skill, which you'd also level when an enemy disarmed you.)


Over time, these three stats have grown far more similar, so perhaps it's not that bad that we're going to see them become interchangeable. There was a time when there were a handful of classes who would actually want a piece of gear with a bit of each of them, but the gearing model has changed, and we're seeing Secondary Stats take on the role that a lot of these primary stats used to occupy.

The new system is a lot clearer, but it is a little sad to see these three stats become something almost vestigial. They used to be so delightfully bizarre.

Dual Specs in a WoD World

As we've heard, the gear changes coming in Warlords of Draenor are going to mean some very interesting things for those players with dual-specs.

To summarize: Armor pieces (meaning anything that is specifically cloth, leather, mail, or plate) will switch primary stats depending on your spec. The Holy Plate problem is finally solved by making all plate both Intellect and Strength (this also means you'll see some Paladin healers with scary DK-style gear or spiky Warrior-style gear.)

The second big change is that accessories, meaning necklaces, rings, trinkets, and possibly cloaks, will no longer have primary stats at all.

Finally, the old tank-specific stats of Dodge and Parry are going away, though there will now be bonus armor found on accessories. Likewise, Spirit will come in bigger chunks, but will only be found on those non-armor pieces.

The most obvious consequence here is that hybrid classes can switch roles with greater ease. A Ret Paladin can switch to Holy, and with the exception of his weapon, everything will be at least decently suited for his role as a healer. Sure, he might want to keep a few Spirit accessories, but all the stats he has for Ret will serve him decently for Holy.

However, I think the classes that will benefit the most from these changes are the only two classes that can be both kinds of DPS. Shamans and Druids each have a melee DPS spec that uses Agility as well as a caster spec that uses Intellect. It is kind of surprising that of all eleven classes, only these two have that kind of option in how they DPS (if they ever do consider giving other classes fourth specs, I'd recommend giving Rogues a ranged option or Hunters a melee one.)

But the reason why this is particularly exciting after the news about gear in WoD is that these classes will be able to switch between their two DPS specs with ease. Since Spirit is now a healer-only stat, the accessories a Balance Druid uses will be equally viable for a Feral Druid. Both Elemental and Enhancement Shamans tend to favor Mastery (though admittedly we are getting three new stats that could upset this tradition,) which means that really, all a 2-spec DPS shaman needs to do is get a second set of weapons.

While I believe that weapons will have a fixed primary stat, if they are similarly changeable, a Druid could literally just switch specs and go from perfectly-suited for Cat to perfectly-suited for Boomkin.

In many ways, it looks like these two classes will get to enjoy the kind of flexibility that other classes with multiple DPS specs enjoy. Sure, going from Assassination to Subtlety will leave you not all that optimized (last time I checked, Assassination prioritizes Mastery first and Haste last, while Sub is the opposite,) but it's nice to get that kind of flexibility.

Now admittedly, there's a downside to this, which is that people might feel even more compelled to switch to the flavor-of-the-month spec. On the other hand, this will make doing so feel like less of a burden.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Draenei and Blood Elves Confirmed to get New Models, and some Musing on Racials

This might not actually seem like news to most of us, but a recent Blizzard tweet confirmed that the BC races are due to get their visual revamp along with the vanilla ones, though again, this does not confirm that these races will be revamped along with 6.0. While I hope that we'll see all the new models by the expansion's release, I realize that that is almost like asking for ten new races (albeit new races who have already been fully conceptualized.)

Along with these cosmetic revamps, I expect that we'll be seeing a fair number of revamps to the various racial abilities.

Racials have always been tricky. Before Wrath of the Lich King, there were actually class-based racials as well. Priests had a number of different abilities that were later spread around. For instance, Devouring Plague in its original incarnation was, I believe, only available to Undead Priests. Likewise, while Heroism and Bloodlust have always been functionally identical (the differing names likely meant to call to attention that before BC, Shamans were Horde-only,) the formerly Alliance-only Paladin got Seal of Vengeance (which has evolved and mutated into Seal of Truth) while Blood Elves (at the time the only Horde Paladins) got Seal of Blood, which did a slight amount of damage to the Paladin him or herself (which actually helped with mana regeneration… which Prot and Ret worried about... things were weird back then.)

But of course, most racial abilities are just based on race. Some have been added and some taken away (rather than the infamous Every Man for Himself, Humans used to get "Perception," which marginally increased their ability to see Stealthed enemies for a few seconds.)

It seems that a lot of these abilities and passives are going to have to change. Usually, these abilities are meant to be fairly minor. A 1% boost to crit is nice, but in the grand scheme of things is not going to increase your damage by a ton. A lot of racial abilities are based on game mechanics that are disappearing, though. For instance, many deal with weapons. Humans like Maces and Swords, Dwarves like Maces and… well, they used to prefer guns but now there's just a bonus to all ranged weapons, which basically encourages them to be Hunters. Gnomes like one-handed swords and daggers, Orcs like Axes and Fist Weapons, and Trolls originally preferred Bows, but now get what I believe is the same bonus as Dwarves. And meanwhile, Draenei get a flat 1% bonus to their hit chance.

Most of these weapon bonuses take the form of expertise, which is nice, but given that that stat is going out the window, it will be pretty useless. Sure, it might make it so that melee DPS can attack from the front and suffer a slightly smaller penalty, but it's pretty tiny.

I suppose they could make you do 1% more damage with the given weapons, assuming that this was decently balanced.

There is also the problem of some of the less exciting bonuses. For example, Tauren have something like 5% more Base Health, but not only is that a tiny portion of what one tends to have, health-wise (it is calculated before even base stamina is factored in,) it's also something they're just straight getting rid of. All health will be based on stamina (including base stamina, so you won't just drop dead if you're naked.)

The other issue, of course, is also that some racial abilities are just flat out more powerful than others. Trolls have Berserking, which is like a mini-Icy Veins. While some races are getting true damage cool downs, others have utility buttons that, sure, might be great in a pinch, but become clearly inferior in a typical fight.

I don't even dare suggest I know how to balance all of these, especially given that stuff like Every Man for Himself or Will of the Forsaken can be really powerful in PvP, but given that they aren't doing any new races and that the art team's already working on the old ones, it might be a good time to do a minor overhaul to make sure that the racial abilities are balanced while still being fun.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

WoW in 2014

Happy New Year!

With our favorite MMO about to enter its tenth year, we have a lot to look forward to, and a lot to look back at.

The biggest news we learned in the past couple months is the nature of WoW's fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor. The expansion was announced in the beginning of November, and we're all hoping that it can arrive sooner than the pre-established pattern of expansion releases. We have not had a Beta start up yet, but the signs point toward at least some new information and signs of progress to be unveiled fairly soon.

With Mists of Pandaria essentially complete - the final boss is out and has been downed on heroic by the elite guilds, the next non-holiday event we're going to see in-game is the pre-expansion event.

After pre-expansion events that grew bigger and bigger with each expansion (I don't know why people seem to forget the Elemental Invasion before Cataclysm, with the four bosses that popped up, along with the efforts you took to infiltrate the doomsday cult that turned out to be Twilight's Hammer,) Mists was a little disappointing in that we only got a preview of the Scenario system and witnessed Theramore's Fall.

It appears that WoD will have a true opening event that may even involve an early sojourn into this strange, alternate Draenor (don't hold me to that.)

We don't know what the release date will be for the expansion, but I'm hoping the Beta will start soon. One reason to be a little optimistic is that, because there will not be a new class or any new low-level zones (which, if you count the DK-starting experience and its slice of Eastern Plaguelands as a zone, is a first for WoW,) they may have less balancing and development to work on.

While it has essentially no bearing on gameplay, one of the exciting new features of WoD is that the original eight vanilla races and the two BC ones will be getting updated character models. So far, I've liked everything I've seen of these. We can probably expect the first of these models to be rolled out with the pre-expansion patch. We are not guaranteed to get all of them at once, but it looks pretty likely that the Orcs, Dwarves, and Gnomes will be among the first to come out. As of yet, we still have not seen Humans, Trolls, Night Elves, Blood Elves, or Draenei at all, but I think that the theoretical upcoming burst of info will likely include at least a quick preview of some of these.

I think the real challenge for Blizzard this year is going to be to get Warlords of Draenor out in the first half. While I don't remember when Vanilla was released, I do remember that BC came out in January of '07, Wrath in November of '08, Cataclysm in December of '10, and Mists came out in September of '12. The expansions have, thus, essentially come out ever two years, usually releasing in the last few months of the year (BC took a little longer.) While Blizzard has said they want to release things more quickly (and despite the fact that 5.4 had already gone live months before WoD was even announced) they're beginning to run out of time. If they want to get WoD out before September, they're going to have to get the Beta started within the next month or two (assuming the Beta lasts six months, which - and correct me if I'm wrong - is how long it usually lasts.)

Until then, we'll be farming SoO.