Friday, February 28, 2014

Cooldowns and Ability Pruning

The first of the long-awaited "Dev Watercooler" articles is up, and they're discussing the mechanics of the item squish as well as the philosophy behind the pruning our spell books will be getting, as well as a little word on bringing racial abilities into balance.

We also got several tweets about various specific class abilities.

First off, it appears that Amplify and Cleave are both getting nixed after the experiments in SoO (I always thought Cleave would be shunted off to the tertiary level, but either way, it's nice not to have one more way you can accidentally hit more than you wanted to (though these days CC in PvE is pretty rare.)

Amplify I always thought was a little uninteresting as a stat, as it only affected your other stats (though boosting crit and multi strike damage was maybe more interesting?) I'm not shedding a tear.

On the subject of abilities, it looks like one of their goals is to reduce the number of redundant cool downs, either by eliminating some or merging some (I believe the crit damage bonus of Skull Banner might get rolled into Recklessness, for example.) Likewise, Bloodlust/Heroism/Time Warp/Ancient Hysteria is going to stand alone as the one major raid damage cool down, with Skull Banner and Stormlash Totem going away.

There's little on cutting down rotational abilities, but I'm hoping that we get a little of that (the hunter level 90 tier is a little frustrating. It might not be so bad if those replaced other abilities, but as it is, it's easy to be playing and say "crap! I forgot Glaive Toss again!)

Perhaps of more interest to the PvPers, the various diminishing-return categories of crowd control are getting slimmed down a lot to allow the DR effect to truly help. Likewise, they're significantly cutting back on pet-based CC and cutting back on instant-cast CC.

In terms of racial abilities, one of the biggest blanket effects is that weapon racials are all going out the window, and getting compensated with new abilities. So long, my Paladin's preference for Swords and Maces. One of the nice effects that this, and other racial redesigns will have is that they should make the racial abilities more generally applicable. Right now, the Human Spirit does jack for me as a tank, but the idea they're having is that you'll be able to select two secondary stats to boost by a small amount. Racial damage cool downs, like Berserking, are going to get nerfed to be more in line with the other abilities. One ability that seems pretty interesting is for Night Elves, which gives them 1% haste at night and 1% crit during the day.

Pretty exciting revelations, and I'm pretty happy with all of them (though it'll still look weird for my Paladin to wield an axe, which I've actually managed to avoid for the vast majority of my time playing him.)

However, I don't think we'll be able to get the real picture until the Beta is out, which Blizzard claims is "Soon (TM.)"

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Role of the Warlords

Warlords of Draenor obviously has a big rogue's gallery of major figures who will play an important part in the game's story. I wrote an article not long after the announcement of the expansion speculating on the roles each Warlord would play, and while the flood of information I was hoping for last weekend has been more of a light shower, we do know a little more about some of them:

Blackhand, who in our timeline was the first Warchief of the Horde, will be the final boss of Blackrock Foundry. Blackhand was never really any more than a puppet of Gul'dan, and seems to be basically a dumb brute. That said, the Blackrock Clan has essentially become the industrial wing of the Iron Horde, quickly transforming their native Gorgrond into the Iron Horde's arms-making factory.

Just as an aside here, many of the famous members of the Horde are Blackrocks, such as Varok Saurfang, Eitrigg, and Orgrim Doomhammer. If we encounter any of these, I'm skeptical any except perhaps Eitrigg would be all that friendly. Saurfang and Eitrigg lived long enough to regret the brutality of the old Horde, but this would be the time of their youth. Doomhammer was free of demonic corruption, but like Garrosh, this did not stop him from leading the Horde in brutal conquest.

Onto the other confirmed leaders:

Ner'zhul will be the primary antagonist of Shadowmoon Valley's quests, and will be the final boss of the Shadowmoon Burial Grounds, one of Warlords' dungeons, where he retreats after a shocking event that I will not get into here for the spoiler conscious (it's also pre-Beta, and some might recall how there were sound files in 5.1's PTR where Anduin was killed by Garrosh, so... nothing's set in stone yet.)

It's unclear whether Ner'zhul's alternate fate of becoming the original Lich King will be touched on here, but they seem to be playing up his "speaker to the dead" angle, and given that we face him in something called "Burial Grounds," I could imagine dealing with some kind of necromancy.

Gul'dan is the most intriguing. In fact, my previous article describes how he may not even be an enemy (or at least we might not fight him.) Frankly, there are two ways I would go with Gul'dan, and they are not mutually exclusive. First is that he takes the place of Wrathion as the expansion-spanning Legendary chain guy. Sure, that establishes a weird pattern of having only the sketchiest people doing Legendaries (though arguably, with Wrathion having two legendary chains and everything about Shadowmourne being a bit unsettling, this isn't really anything new.)

The other option would be to have Gul'dan as the final boss of the expansion. If the Iron Horde falls apart, Gul'dan stands to benefit, and the Orcs of alternate Draenor - at least some of them - might turn to the blood of Mannoroth out of desperation, much as they did in Ashenvale during the Third War.

Finally, Durotan is going to be playing the role of the leader of the Frostwolves, who will be the main Horde faction. While I won't rule out some twist where he turns bad, I think it's most likely that Durotan will simply be the "good Warlord" out of the headlining seven.

So that leaves Kilrogg, Kargath, and Grommash.

This is pure speculation, but I could imagine Kilrogg and Kargath as being antagonists in Tanaan Jungle and Spires of Arakk, respectively. They could wind up as dungeon bosses (which would make Kargath's second, after Shattered Halls) or we might even defeat them in solo questing (or solo scenarios) at the end of major quest chains.

And of course, then there's Grommash. Admittedly, if you just watch the trailer, Grom seems like the obvious final boss, but given that his son, another G. Hellscream was the final boss of Mists, I hope that they do something different with him. What that is, I really can't imagine.

Monday, February 24, 2014

My Enemy's Enemy is... Still a Horrifying Person - Alternate Gul'dan

I had theorized that the most powerful mortal warlock in Warcraft might play an unusual role in this expansion, and guess what?

Well, nothing's confirmed, but in a recent interview, Ion Hazzikostas mentioned that Gul'dan is decidedly not with the Iron Horde, and may in fact prove to be something of an ally against them.

Obviously, this is problematic for both Alliance and Horde.

Gul'dan may not have meant anything all that specific to the races of the Alliance. He was the shadowy man behind the throne of the original Horde, and as such is certainly responsible for the genocide of the Draenei and the First and Second wars. Yet the original Gul'dan was mostly an external threat. We know that even in this alternate Draenor, Gul'dan has a direct line to Kil'jaeden, and as such represents just about everything the Alliance stands against. Yet as an enemy of the Iron Horde, some of the more reckless members of the Alliance (read: us) might reach out to him, or far more likely, the Grand Master of the Shadow Council might reach out to us.

In the case of the Horde, things get a lot weirder and a lot trickier. Make no mistake, the Iron Horde is a menace, and we all saw that Garrosh's vision for the Horde is a horrifying, essentially fascistic war machine. Yet the Horde from our original timeline was that and more. On top of the insane militarism and brutality, the old Horde was run by warlocks, and happily tampered with dark magics to defile the very nature of its people.

Our Horde, in that sense, was worse than the Iron Horde.

Yet our Horde has gone through an incredible transformation. First by cutting off the flow of demon blood, and then integrating such benevolent races as the Tauren, Blood Elves (once Kael'thas was gone) and the Darkspear Trolls (definitely the nicest of troll tribes,) the current Horde has had to at least settle into some kind of stable state that isn't all about constant conquest. Yes, our Horde was bad, but it has spent the last 30-40 years learning from the past, and the recent civil war essentially settled that the old ways were being put behind them. The Iron Horde, on the other hand, is too young to have learned these lessons.

Yet here is Gul'dan. Gul'dan represents everything that the Horde has left behind - the cruelty and barbarism, and the callous apathy toward morals and ethics (setting aside the Forsaken - that's the big asterisk in all of this.)

By teaming up with Gul'dan, would the Horde be proving Garrosh right? That they had become too weak, and too willing to compromise themselves in order to gain power?

And beside all that, there's another big question:

If we ally with Gul'dan against the Iron Horde, what does he get out of the deal? There is no way in hell (or the twisting nether) that anything good will come of it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Proving Grounds as a Requirement for Random Matchmaking

Blizzard has announced a new prerequisite for queueing in the dungeon finder for heroic dungeons. In order to be put in a group (NOTE: This ONLY applies to randomly-assigned matchmaking groups. Premade groups don't have to worry about this,) you must first beat the silver-level Proving Grounds challenge for your given role.

So, if I want to tank Heroic Auchindoun (random example, it's the only Warlords dungeon I could name off the top of my head,) I first have to get through the silver-level tank challenge.

Two big things here have not been confirmed:

We don't know if success in the Mists of Pandaria challenges will count toward this. I have silver in DPS and Tanking, so I'm mostly set. However, there will be an updated version of proving grounds, so these may not carry over. No word yet.

We also don't know if this will be per-character or per-account. Currently the Proving Grounds achievements are account-wide, but while there has been no such announcement, it stands to reason they might require you to do it on each class or character on whom you plan to run.

A couple other notes:

Given that this will no be a requirement, Blizzard says that they will try much harder to make sure that Proving Grounds is balanced between classes and specs.

Quest gear should get you into level 100 normal dungeons and scenarios, and the gear from that is should get you into heroic dungeons (not that this is news. This has been the case pretty much since heroic dungeons first existed.)

This will not be a requirement for LFR, and in fact, gear from those normal dungeons and scenarios is meant to get you into LFR (no word on if heroic dungeon gear will actually be better than LFR.)

Heroics are going to be more of a challenge than normal dungeons (obviously,) and likely more difficult than Mists heroics, but the hope is that they will not be "brutally difficult" (I'm looking at you, Cataclysm.)

After quickly running over and doing the tank silver challenge on Jarsus, I think that this could, potentially, be quite nice. So often I come across people queued as tanks or healers that clearly don't know what they're doing, so it should be quite nice to set the bar a little higher for entry. Just knowing that, say, a tank cannot pass that test without being able to pay attention to multiple mobs, and be able to position and taunt, it forces everyone to at least learn the very basics.

Admittedly, there will be situations where those basic skills need to be combined in unusual ways, and I'm sure Proving Grounds won't work perfectly, but given that it's a reasonable challenge - not face roll, but not Kanrethad Ebonlocke level - it seems like an exciting solution.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Big Flood of Warlords Info Incoming

There was recently a press event held in Korea for World of Warcraft, with several people given the opportunity to play the latest version of the game, starting in either Shadowmoon Valley or Frostfire Ridge. So far, the Orc (male at least,) Dwarf (both!) and Gnome (not sure about female) are all playable in their new models.

This appears to be a far more complete version. According to MMO-Champion (where I've gotten this information,) Shadowmoon Valley apparently feels more or less finished, including a climactic event that occurs at the end of the zone's main quests (there are spoilers in that link, so beware if you're worried about ruining something for yourself.)

Additionally, there appears to be an option to toggle new and old racial models. So if you can't stand the new ones for some reason, you can revert to the old ones. While we'll have to wait and see if this goes live, I think this is a great way of swiping away any complaints people might have about the character revamps.

As of yet, it does still appear that there is only one facial option per new model, but I fully expect this will be fixed. Given that they don't seem to be offering recustomizations (at least that's the plan right now,) I think that at the very least we can expect that Blizzard will give us updated versions of each of the current face options.

In the linked videos (and if you're like me, try to suppress how much it bothers you that the person playing is just randomly hitting various abilities and choosing talents at random. They must have had limited time, or something) we get glimpses of the siege of Karabor, where the Alliance hero is accompanied by a Draenei Paladin named Y'rel, who we've been told will be a central figure. The Horde character meets up with our Thrall and alternate-universe Drek'thar and goes to meet with Durotan, but I don't remember seeing much else that was all that exciting. Most notable thing about the Horde video is that Thrall is back in the old black doomplate.

Anyway, I think that we can expect a lot of new information over the next few days or even hours. Likewise, this bodes well for an oncoming Beta. Bring it on, Blizzard!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Female Orc Model Unveiled

The latest Artcraft post is out, this time showing off the Orc Female.

I guess I don't have much to say about this except that, as usual, the revamp models are looking good. Once again, this is unmistakably the same Orc lady who was kicking ass from Durotar to Dread Wastes and back to Durotar again, but she just looks way better.

Part of the article referred to player feedback about further customizations. It reiterates that the goal for the artists is not to re-conceptualize the models, but merely to update them to look as modern as the Pandaren, given that if they tried to go from the ground up, it would likely mean years before they actually got released. So as much as I'd love to see Tauren with necks, I respect this both as a way to be efficient, and also a way to avoid ruining races that people have grown to love.

So, with the Orc Female revealed, that puts us at 10/16 of the new models for the vanilla races, and 10/20 if you count the Burning Crusade races, which will also be getting revamps (I hope that they step up the Draenei one, both because I love the Draenei and also because they are going to play such a big role in Warlords.)

So, to Recap:

Revealed (some more than others)

Male Orcs, Female Orcs
Male Dwarves, Female Dwarves
Male Gnomes, Female Gnomes,
Male Undead, Female Undead
Male Tauren
Female Humans

Yet to be Revealed:

Male Humans
Male Night Elves, Female Night Elves
Male Trolls, Female Trolls
Female Tauren
Male Blood Elves, Female Blood Elves
Male Draenei, Female Draenei

While I know that this will be both purely cosmetic, and in a lot of cases covered up by armor (though I expect we're going to see a lot of open-face helmets and hoods in Draenor, because of these models,) this is one of the most exciting features coming from Warlords. I'm eager to see more.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Patch 5.4.7 and Further Warlords Speculation

The semi-minor patch 5.4.7 is coming this tuesday. It will bring with it a new arena season (apparently with gear that will be better than the current max of 522 for PvP,) as well as putting in several of the infrastructure for Warlords of Draenor features like the level 90 boost, and the groundwork for the purchase of the new expansion.

I don't know if we'll be able to pre-order the expansion quite yet, but it is at the very least a nice little tidbit of progress.

When Warlords was announced, I optimistically suggested the Beta could begin before 2014, but here we are, one and a half months in, and no Beta in sight. That said, I think we could see at least the announcement of the beta relatively soon.

The real challenge for Blizzard is that they have to get the Beta out within the next few weeks if they want to make good on their goal of releasing this expansion faster than previous ones have been. Mists of Pandaria came out in September of 2012, so in order to do so, they need to get Warlords out some time in the summer (preferably early summer.)

The Beta for Mists began in March, so roughly six months. But there was a new class and a fully-rebuilt talent system, so let's give them some slack.

The Cataclysm Beta ran from the end of June 2010 to late November, which is roughly five. But Cataclysm also had the entire old world to revamp, so that might have extended the process.

Assuming a five-or-six month beta, if Warlords got its beta at the end of February, we'd see the release in July or August, which is better, but not by a whole lot.

If, however, we got a shorter beta, due to the fact that there are no new classes and the talent system is pretty much going to remain the same (there are no new races, but with the new racial models, it's almost as if there will be ten of them,) I could imagine us getting a release as early as the beginning of June.

But that's only if the Beta starts very soon.

(Fingers crossed.)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Quest Reward Gear: How the Warlords Gear Model will Help Solve the Mists Reward Problem

As I've detailed, I have an Undead Monk (my first female toon, actually, and also my first healer. I promise I did not set out intentionally to proliferate a stereotype) who I have been playing and leveling.

I geared her up in heirloom pieces from a very early level, and sailed from Tirisfal to Pandaria, tossing out Renewing Mists and Eminence heals every which way.

And then I got to Pandaria. Obviously, heirlooms stopped being so good (I have a love-hate relationship with heirlooms. Now that I've tasted their power, it's hard to go back, which is why I have only to get the two mail armor sets to have them all,) which is fine. But the way that Mists changed the nature of quest rewards has presented a bit of a problem.

My first monk, the Brewmaster (on whom I've been lazy and gone Windwalker since) had an easy time, because his soloing/DPS gear was roughly the same as his tanking gear. But the Mistweaver Monk, not to mention my Blood (now Frost) Death Knight and my Protection (FOREVER!) Paladin have had to deal with the fact that the stuff they're getting for their quests is stuck in a binary "Good for soloing" or "Good for groups" status. Because I'm committed to Penbrooke's status as a healer, I've been willing to suck it up and just take intellect leather and allow my soloing to suffer, or rather I've been forking out most of the gold she's making off quests to buy the vendor-bought gear.

I understand why they've changed the way that quests reward gear. You no longer have to get all the way through a zone before you have a decent weapon just because they decided not to give you the intellect mace until the last five quests. Today, as soon as you get to Pandaria, the very first quest you do (which in neither case requires actual combat) gets you a 272 weapon. It's a way of leveling the playing field, allowing those who played in the previous expansion a way to not suck horribly when entering the new continent.

But the advantage of the old style of quest rewards was that doing all the quests in a zone would typically allow you to outfit both your main set and your off set. I could go through Hyjal and it was pretty rare to see a quest that made me choose between a tanking piece and a strength DPS piece. Hard choices were rare, and so you could live with it if there was one time you couldn't fill every slot with the newest stuff.

The other thing that was nice (and a reason I suspect Blizzard got rid of the old system) is that if you didn't need two sets - like say you were a pure DPS, or your two specs used roughly the same gear, like Feral/Guardian or Shadow/Discipline, you just got a ton of stuff to vendor off for fairly nice amounts of gold. If you quest all the way from 80-85, you're going to probably make a few thousand gold just from quest rewards.

Anyway, longwinded quasi-rant aside, there's reason for hope!

Even if Warlords of Draenor uses the same quest reward system, it's likely that things will work out all right. In Warlords, role-specific stats like bonus armor and spirit will only be on accessories, while armor pieces will switch primary stats. That means that the leather you're wearing as a Windwalker will be perfectly acceptable for you as a Mistweaver. When I take my Paladin to Draenor, I won't need to worry about Dodge and Parry on gear making the piece bad for Retribution, and I won't need to worry about the crit being bad for Protection.

And even on accessories, while bonus armor and spirit will be sought out by tanks and healers respectively, it's likely that the other stats will still be attractive enough that a tank can use the same, for example, Mastery/Amplify piece for both sets.

Really the only area I see this becoming problematic is weapons. Regardless of all the gear changes, the one thing I can't imagine will change is that Protection (of either class) will need a one-hander and shield, while Retribution is going to want two-handers. My hope, then, is that there will be enough quest rewards in a zone to allow a leveling Warrior/Paladin to pick up a two-hander and a sword-and-board.

Leveling in Mists was a bit painful, as I often found myself switching specs to see what the other quest reward would be, and which I wanted more. I expect that the gear changes in Warlords will make both leveling and gearing up a far more enjoyable climb.

Oh, and if you're a Mage, Warlock, Hunter, or Priest, this probably means absolutely nothing to you (Rogues might recognize the plight of a Combat/Assassination conundrum, but I have little sympathy.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Silence of the Titans

Azeroth is filled with heroes. From Eastern Kingdoms to Kalimdor to Pandaria, the world is brimming with people who are all about saving the world. Their motivations may differ - indeed, to some, "saving" the world is a prelude to conquering it - but ultimately, any character we roll in World of Warcraft is going to be a paragon of virtue at best to a self-interested anti-hero at worst.

But these heroes arise because of great evils. The Orcs are only on Azeroth because of the machinations of the Burning Legion. The Forsaken are a byproduct of the Scourge, and the original Druids of the Pack were founded to fight the Legion, and only brought back out of the Emerald Dream in order to employ the Worgen against the undead.

Azeroth is full of heroes, but only because heroes are needed. It is a dangerous, chaotic world. Eldritch Horrors reach out from below its surface while a demonic army lays siege from other worlds.  Your average adventurer has fought swarms of undead, raging elementals, mindless religious zealots, mutated troglodytes, sinister mer-people, other mindless religious zealots (these ones dedicated to a nihilistic cult,) all manner of rat-people, bear-people, pig-people, hyena-people, and fish-people.

What of the higher powers, then? The side of evil has demons and Old Gods. On the side of good, there are also multiple factions at play - the Naaru, the Ancients, whatever the hell Elune is.

But the greatest champions of good we can name are almost undoubtedly the Titans. The Titans shaped the world, created many sentient races, and attempted to protect Azeroth from the hideous threats that endangered it.

And they haven't done a thing for Azeroth in at least ten thousand years.

All of Azeroth's land was once part of a massive super-continent that was called Kalimdor. We use that name for one of its continents, but before the War of the Ancients, the places we now consider the Eastern Kingdoms, Northrend, and Pandaria were all just other parts of Kalimdor. At the center of the old Kalimdor was the Well of Eternity - a font of incredible arcane energy. When the Well was destroyed in order to cut the Burning Legion off from Azeroth, the result was a catastrophe called the Sundering, which sunk most of Kalimdor beneath the waves, leaving only the four remaining continents as its fragmented remnants.

Did the Titans know about this? Surely, something as enormous as this would rouse their interests. Theoretically, it might have been the role of Loken, the Prime Designate, to call upon them, but Loken was driven mad by Yogg-Saron, the Old God imprisoned within Ulduar. It was only his death that triggered a signal that called forth Algalon the Observer, who was there to evaluate whether Azeroth should be salvaged or totally re-started.

Yet Algalon is not a Titan. Indeed, more so even than the Keepers, Algalon is more like a sentient automated system. Algalon had seen many worlds, and in many of those cases had dispassionately chosen to re-originate. Our fight against him made him realize that we were not merely cogs in a machine, ready to be recycled, but sentient beings who did not wish to die.

The image I'm trying to paint here is that the workings of the Titans are like a long-running machine. It's a machine that has been running for millennia, and there has been essentially no maintenance.

The given explanation for why this is is that the Titans are traveling throughout the universe. They might be on a planet in another galaxy, creating life and order there, and Azeroth is so far away that they would have no way of knowing what had happened there for tens of thousands of years.

But I am beginning to suspect something different, something darker. The only Titan any mortal still alive has interacted with is Sargeras, and as lord of the Burning Legion, he can hardly be considered to be among the Pantheon anymore.

During the legendary chain in Pandaria, Wrathion eats the heart of the Thunder King - the ruler of the one Titanic race that was able to reverse the curse of flesh. When he does, his voice changes, and he says the following ominous words: "We have fallen," and "We must rebuild the final titan."

Perhaps the Titans are not out there in the universe, spreading order and creating life.

Perhaps the Titans are all dead.

Suddenly, their enigmatic nature is explained - they do not make themselves known because they cannot. Their systems on Azeroth have broken down in tremendous ways because they cannot return to set them back on course.

And that leaves us, the mortal heroes of Azeroth, as the first and last line of defense against he forces of darkness. We must carry on the Titans' legacy.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Horde: Fighting the Past in Draenor

Warlords of Draenor is going to be pretty weird for the Horde.

We're heading into an alternate past version of Draenor, yet the alterations to the past suggest that what we'll be seeing is really what Draenor was like before the corruption of the Orcs. While the original Horde wasn't going to be motoring around with Goblin-designed siege engines in their genocidal war against the Draenei, in many ways, what we're going to be seeing is a reasonable representation of the past.

While the role that the Burning Legion played in the creation of the original Horde is not present in the Iron Horde, in a rather true way, the Iron Horde really is the Horde of old. It's got the same leaders (albeit shuffled around.)

But the modern Horde, with all that history, has just gone through an identity crisis. Garrosh took his appointment to the role of Warchief as a mandate to recreate the Horde in the image that he had developed in his imagination. Garrosh's "True Horde" tried to have all the aggression and conquest of the Old Horde, but without the use of demonic magic. Indeed, while Garrosh was consolidating his power, he purged Orgrimmar of the Warlocks in the Clef of Shadow (I wonder if they'll get new Warlock trainer NPCs?) Despite his willingness to employ "Shadowmages," Dark Shaman, and the power of the Old Gods, Garrosh basically decided he was ok as long as he didn't do anything involving demons.

And I think that Garrosh's conscience was clear. He always had a fairly unnuanced view of the world, and so it was baffling for him to imagine that people under his leadership would balk at his methods. Vol'jin, whose Darkspear Tribe had already broken away from a powerful empire that engaged in dangerous magics and brutal aggression (namely, the Gurubashi Empire,) became a figurehead for the entire dissenting population within the Horde.

Garrosh's fall at our hands was, I imagine, a shock to him. But since Garrosh ultimately has a simple mind (and by simple I don't mean stupid,) he takes the rebellion as a sign that he is being held back by the Horde as it exists on Azeroth.

And it's true that the modern Horde is extraordinarily different from the one that marched in through the Dark Portal. The inhabitants of Lordaeron and Quel'thalas were enemies of that Horde, and the Tauren had never heard of it. The Goblins and Trolls had worked with the Horde, but the Darkspear and the Bilgewater Cartel were not really part of the Horde until far later.

Ultimately, the Horde that Thrall built - the ragtag band of misfits, trying to survive - is the one that won the Battle of Orgrimmar, and Vol'jin stand to be the true inheritor of Thrall's legacy (even though the World Shaman is still around, he's semi-retired, it seems.)

So it is an odd sort of homecoming. And it is an odd sort of fight that the Horde has. In the Iron Horde, Garrosh has literally brought the Horde's past back to fight it. But the new Horde, which, yes, maybe shouldn't even be called the Horde anymore, will prevail.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gearing, Downtime, and Consecrating Draenor: Concerns for Paladins in 6.0 and Beyond.

First disclaimer: I have never played a Holy Paladin. So I don't have any idea what issues Healadins are dealing with these days. I do now have a healer (a Monk, who is one level away from Pandaria) but I can't really say much about the overall healing issues.

But, I've got my tankadin, and I've done a fair amount of DPS on him, so let's talk issues.

Multi-Spec Gearing:

Actually, Holy Paladins are finally going to have their biggest remaining issue solved - Intellect Plate will now be interchangeable with Strength Plate. Sure, Healadins might not be so happy about this (having to share their gear - though given how common the new loot style is and will be, it doesn't make a huge difference.)

Actually, just as Death Knights kind of got a head start on "Active Mitigation tanking," Protection Paladins kind of stepped into the new gearing paradigm an expansion early. These days, Tankadins favor Haste, then Mastery, and then avoidance stats (meaning it's very rare for you to every seek out Dodge or Parry.) It actually works out quite well, because Retribution also favors Haste then Mastery. We do have three new secondary stats coming in 6.0, but if these stats retain the value they have now, it really means that a Prot/Ret Paladin can really use the same armor for either spec and not have to worry at all about having off-pieces to optimize.

As a class that can use Strength or Intellect, Paladins stand to benefit greatly from the stat-switching nature of the new gear. I don't actually know if weapons and shields will also do the switch, but if they do, this could make a Prot/Holy Paladin very, very happy. We'll still need to gather accessories like rings, trinkets, necklaces and cloaks, but that's a hell of a lot less off-spec gear to hoard.


This is less of a necessity and more of a desire. They are trying to cut down on button bloat, but it seems to me that Retribution at least ought to get to use Consecration again. It's such an iconic Paladin ability. As a tank, you'd have to pry it away from my cold, dead hands, but it has great flavor to it and it's just such a great-looking ability, even though the graphic for it hasn't been updated since vanilla.

Downtime and Fillers:

Sanctity of Battle is basically a core part of the class now. Essentially, ability cool downs are now our main resource. We are thus rewarded for stacking haste by getting to do things more frequently.

For Retribution, pretty much any ability you have that doesn't cost Holy Power generates it. This has done a lot to make the build up to Templar's Verdict far quicker. Overall, I think Retribution is in an ok place with these abilities. The one issue, though, is that this cool down-based system for abilities automatically requires a bit of button bloat. Take a Rogue for example. They get to use more abilities thanks to haste, and thus generate more combo points, but they can basically hit the same ability. Assassination, for example, uses Mutilate and Dispatch when they are able to (either in Execute range or thanks to a Proc.) Ret has twice as many abilities, with Crusader Strike, Judgment, Exorcism, and Hammer of Wrath. Admittedly, my Ret action bar isn't exactly crowded, but given how similar many of these abilities feel, it might be good to consolidate them, or perhaps just try to give them better identities.

Protection, on the other hand, has true filler spells. Consecration doesn't generate Holy Power, but as I said before, don't you dare take it away from us. Hammer of Wrath is there, but doesn't generate any HoPo, and as I said in the Death Knight article, Tanks probably don't need execute abilities. Finally, there's Holy Wrath. Now, I like Holy Wrath, mainly because you can usually ignore it until you need it. Yes, you should technically be using it whenever everything else is on cool down, but I often like to save it to get some snap-threat on a group of adds. Consecration is obviously useful for maintaining threat on a large group, but Holy Wrath will get their attention.

Still, I wonder if you could get rid of Holy Wrath simply by removing the need for a target on Hammer of the Righteous. If you could hit that regardless of whether there's someone in melee range (and only generate Holy Power if it does hit someone) it would basically serve the same purpose (minus the conditional stun.)

It's really just that when you've got Monks who can do Spinning Crane Kick at basically any time, or Death Knights who can usually spam Blood Boil a bit, a Paladin gets jealous of his former glorious status as the king of AoE tanking.


The role of Mana for Paladins is pretty well tied to the notion of Downtime. With the exception of Holy Paladins (who are more conventional healer-casters,) Mana is basically utterly irrelevant to Paladins. Yes, if you're casting heals, you might run out, but a Strength-based Paladin can basically ignore mana.

The question is: what role does mana play as a limiting factor? With all of our abilities on cool downs and our super-high mana regeneration, we might as well not have the resource.

But perhaps that's best. After all, back in the days when Ret could run out of mana (Prot didn't because of Spiritual Attunement, at least if they were taking enough damage,) gearing was a nightmare. Cataclysm tried to introduce a bit of mana management, such as the super-expensive Consecration, but we clearly all hated that.

Overall, the least controversial solution is to just do nothing. Mana keeps tanks and melee from spamming heals, and that's basically its role.

Alternatively, and something far more likely to infuriate people, is to do something similar to Monks. Tanking and DPS Monks use Energy, but healing Monks use Mana, thanks to the Stance of the Wise Serpent. Monks are, in many ways, similar to Paladins (Paladins are already a quasi-monastic order in the first place - just more Western-style.) Perhaps if modern design philosophy had existed when WoW first started, Paladins might have used something like Energy.

Would this be good for them? Eh... I'm hesitant to say so. While I think a Paladin's rotation could become far more dynamic (and abilities would have to really distinguish themselves to be justified,) I also think the backlash could be catastrophic. And while I was on board with the switch to Focus from Mana for Hunters, if I'm honest, I don't really enjoy playing them as much as I used to (though the rampant button-bloat for Hunters is also an issue.)

Holy Paladins, Batman!

All this aside, I think that Paladins have largely made it through Mists decently. It was very strange switching to Haste gear, but that's clearly the way that the wind is blowing. We have a lot to look forward to in WoD, especially now that we can carry far less off-spec gear. Also, and I think this is maybe the most exciting thing: we'll actually be able to get gear that looks like the Paladin tier for non-healing roles!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Evocation, Bombs, and AoE: Mage Concerns for Warlords and Beyond

I'm still not sure that I'm going to be doing an eleven-part series (having only played Shadow for Priests, I don't really feel like I can talk intelligently about the general issues of the class) but I thought I'd talk a bit about Mages.

I'm a big fan of Mages. I've never really played one as a main, and I've never really focused on one all that much, but I love the Mage aesthetic, I like their fast-paced, reactive gameplay, and I just overall think they're a cool class.

So what's going on with Mages these days? What might we hope to improve in the coming expansion?

The "Evocation" Talent Tier:

This is probably going to be at the top of everyone's list for what they want to see change. The tier 90 talents all pretty much conspired to make Mages less fun than they had been. Invocation requires you to use your Evocation ability every minute, and meanwhile nerfs your mana regeneration (making it unthinkable for Arcane.) Rune of Power also forces you to use it at least once a minute, but probably far more, as you have to stay close to the rune or you'll lose the benefit. Incanter's Ward could theoretically be the "opt-out" option, but the general consensus is that the Ward is really only competitive if you're able to benefit from the active bonus on cool down (which means the passive might as well not be there.)

While I usually try to avoid baby and bathwater situations, I think that this tier has basically got to go. Total redesign. Granted, perhaps Incanter's Ward could survive in some altered form, but I don't think anyone's excited about the idea of having to place Runes on the ground or having to Evocate every minute.

Mage Bombs:

Before Mists, Arcane and Frost were two of the last DoT-less specs. Today, I don't think there's a single spec (tank or DPS) that does not put some kind of damage-over-time effect on their enemies (actually, Prot Paladins might count, if you don't consider Consecrate to be one.) Fire was always the "DoT" Mage spec.

Is this a terrible thing? Perhaps not, but I think it would be nice to distinguish Mages from their Fel counterparts by making it clear that they are the direct-damage class, and Warlocks are the DoT class.

Admittedly, Frost Bomb is almost not a DoT. It only ticks once, so perhaps this is the "opt-out" choice.

The consequence of a Mage Bomb is actually not so much the DoT itself, but the effect that it has on AoE. Nowadays, the preferred method of AoE for Warlocks, Shadow Priests, and Balance Druids is multi-dotting. You switch from target to target, refreshing your damage effects so that they can tick away. It's probably ok for a few specs to do that, but Mages really seem like they should be exempt. The good news is that a recent blue post mentioned that they don't want Mages multi-dotting in Warlords, so I'm curious to see their solution.

Area of Effect per Spec:

It seems odd to me that each spec has access to three different true AoE spells that don't really overlap much. It seems to me that limiting Arcane Explosion, Blizzard, and Flamestrike to their obvious specs would be a nice step toward toolkit consolidation (and has the added appeal of not truly getting rid of any spells that people might be attached to.)

But in the absence of Multi-dotting, there's an obligation to make these spells a bit more interesting.

Here are some ideas:

Blizzard already seems like it should work pretty well with Frost. The slowing effect of the spell can trigger Fingers of Frost, and with the Glyph of Splitting Ice, you can get some decent cleave action with it. I'd like to see this synergy played up, perhaps using some kind of effect that Blizzard creates that will cause the Ice Lance to shatter and cause AoE damage.

Arcane Explosion has some interaction with Arcane Charges, so perhaps just having you spam it a bit and then let loose a big, cleaving Arcane Barrage would be a good enough system. My one qualm with Arcane Explosion has always been that you have to get in melee range for it. If I could change the spell, I'd make it targeted (perhaps one you could target friends or foes with, like Mind Sear - actually, same for Hellfire.)

Flamestrike has always been the most awkward of these spells, but the fact that you cast it and then do other stuff could position it in such a way that you'd lay down a Flamestrike and then spread out DoTs with an Inferno Blast.

Alter Time:

Alter Time is an ability that many find incredibly frustrating. Personally, I love it (half of why is that anything time-travel themed makes me feel like I'm six again, the other half being that it's pretty obvious how to use it for Frost - hit Icy Veins and Frozen Orb, and once you get a Brain Freeze and two Fingers of Frost, let'er rip.)

I hope that it is mostly preserved, and given that Temporal Shield already provides much of the Defensive benefit, perhaps it could be used more to preserve beneficial procs, making it a more obviously offensive cool down.