Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Raid Finder Loot in Warlords of Draenor

Concluding the series of blog posts about raiding, we got some interesting new information about raids and loots in Warlords.

Once again, they're iterating hard on the raiding game. We've known the basic structure of the new raiding dynamic since Blizzcon, but what I find interesting is the revelation about loot.

Raid Finder has always been "quasi-raiding." In Dragon Soul, a lot of fights were either mechanically changed or maybe just tuned so forgivingly that one could ignore major fight mechanics (like Zon'ozz's beach ball or spinning Deathwing during the Spine fight.) We've seen a bit more of that in Mists as well. Really, the experience of a tight-knit raiding group progressing through a raid is hugely different from that of a raid finder group.

This is, of course, subjective, but guild groups tend to foster a far greater amount of camaraderie as you make very gradual progress through the raid. Raid Finder is sold on the expectation that you will complete the wing you start, even if there might be a few wipes (frankly, I think it could be tuned even more forgivingly, as even months later, one can still find raids that still struggle on fights like Nazgrim.)

We don't really know much about how tuning of raid finder raids might change in the future, but we did get some big news on loot. And there's good news and bad news for LFR-raiders.

Good News!

They will be roughly doubling the drop rate of loot in LFR. Blizzard sees LFR as a way to see the content quickly, which is fine, but when you find yourself running Last Stand of the Zandalari over and over and over and never seeing that axe drop, the "quick and easy" descriptor starts to feel inappropriate.

Bad News!

You will no longer be able to get tier sets, special trinkets (not exactly sure what specifically will designate a trinket as something special) or even gear that looks like the normal-and-up gear from LFR. LFR gear will now have unique models instead of just unique colors.

However, you can spin this as good news. The reason behind this change is actually not to punish LFR players (though they certainly would like people to try organized raiding if they can,) but rather to make sure that higher-end players don't feel obligated to run LFR to fill out their tier set or get that one trinket has such a powerful effect that even at a lower iLevel it's still a must-have.

Looking Forward:

I imagine that a lot of LFR-only players might be very unhappy with this, but I think there is hope: Flex Mode (which will be the new normal) should provide a fairly accessible style of raiding (it's touted as being akin to Wrath's 10-man normal, which was my favorite style and era of raiding.) My guild is a flex-mode type of guild, but I think he main reason we haven't been able to do much with the mode is that a lot of our guild hasn't been running LFR, and with flex coming in at the end of the expansion, many of our players were not really geared to jump into SoO flex. But with this easier difficulty available from the start, coupled with a more-robust version of the Group Finder (what is currently the "Other Raids" window,) this could provide a quick-and-easy type of raiding that might mitigate some of the headaches of LFR.)

It remains to be seen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shaking My World: DK and Paladin changes in the Latest Alpha Notes

We're still a long way from Warlords, and the Alpha has not officially switched over to a Beta yet, so take all these things with a grain of salt. If you're reading this at some later date, you should know that this article covers patch notes for April 23rd, 2014, and things may have changed.

The new patch notes have a lot of information, but the two biggest bombshells seem aimed at my two favorite classes. That may seem like a negative way of putting it, but these changes, while weird, actually show some promise. Also, there is other information for the other classes, but I'm going to focus on these two. If you'd like to read the new notes, click here.

First, some info for all tanks:

Just to reassure everyone, with Vengeance getting turned into the purely-defensive Resolve, tank damage is going to be tuned up across the board, with our abilities getting more powerful. Also, given that the "DPS" stats are going to provide defensive bonuses, they also wanted to make sure stats that were previously defensive-only, namely Mastery and Bonus Armor, would aid in tank damage as well. Thus, all Masteries will boost attack power by a percentage, and all tanks will get Bladed Armor, a passive that grants attack power equal to your Bonus Armor (and only Bonus Armor, because otherwise that would screw Brewmasters and give Guardians way more AP.)

EDIT: Oh, and here's another actually fairly major thing: All healers are getting Active Regeneration abilities. Spells like Innervate, Crackling Jade Lightning, and Divine Plea are getting redesigned to allow healers to always have the option to regen mana in combat, at the cost of being able to heal with the time/resources used by said spell. Resto Shamans are getting Telluric Currents baseline, and Priests can use Penance or Chakra: Chastise, depending on spec of course.

Now, DKs:

First off, Blood Boil is gone, and Pestilence will deal damage equivalent to Blood Boil (which is actually closer to how it was in Wrath. I remember that I would often skip Blood Boil because Pestilence would do nearly as much damage and also guarantee that diseases were refreshing.) My one hope is that Pestilence will get the satisfying "bwoump" sound that BB makes.

Now, for a sad thing: Blood Parasite is going away. I always liked those guys, even though they were totally passive and super-gross. But DKs ought to be gross (especially Blood... well and Unholy. Really everyone but Frost.) Rune of the Nerubian Carapace is also gone, to which I say good riddance. This rune was added I believe during Cataclysm to support dual-wield tanking, despite the fact that they've never wanted to support dual-wield tanking. Serves no purpose, so onto the chopping-block it goes.

Now for the weird thing: Rune Strike is going away. Instead, Blood DKs will be using Death Coil. The cost of Death Coil is being lowered (making Unholy's lowered cost baseline.) While it's a little sad to see Rune Strike go, the changes to expertise and enemy avoidance make it a little less exciting. And I'm glad that Blood gets to keep Death Coil, as the previous version of the notes had them losing it in favor of RS, which took away one of their ranged options (still kind of wish Frost could keep it, but they do have Howling Blast.)

With Blood Boil and Pestilence getting merged, Roiling Blood no longer serves a purpose, so instead the talent has been replaced with Plaguebringer. This will cause Death Coil and Frost Strike to apply both diseases. Will this finally unseat Plague Leech? I would think that having your diseases effectively automatic might actually at least balance with the extra runes granted by Plague Leech. Unholy Blight still might (might) be better for AoE (though if you ask me, in light of this and the Pestilence/Blood Boil change, it probably needs a buff.)

And with Plaguebringer serving a similar purpose in a more powerful way, Glyph of Outbreak is getting cut. Frankly, Outbreak itself almost looks obsolete, except that I have to remember that some people might not take Plaguebringer (I probably will if it comes through unchanged.)

Going the way I suggested, the Rune Regeneration talent tier now comes at level 60, which should make leveling a DK (if you don't use your boost on it) much more fun, though if you ask me, this should be the first tier, but fine, I'll take this.

Oh, and Desecrated Ground got buffed, but I don't PvP, so I don't really know if it's that significant.

And on to Paladins:

Seals are going to become relevant to Tankadins again! Right now, the healing received from Seal of Insight makes it the default "correct" choice for tanking. However, Seal of Insight's heal-on-melee-hit will be taken out of the seal (so that Holy just uses it for the boosted healing) and instead Protection Paladins will get a passive called Inner Light, which provides the heal-on-melee-hit.

But that's not all!

Prot and Ret will now be managing their seals a bit more, because Crusader Stirke and Hammer of the Righteous will now share a button. Much as Corruption turns into Doom when you go from caster form to demon form as a Demonology Warlock, Crusader Strike will be its usual single target attack when you have Seal of Truth active, but when you switch to Seal of Righteousness, it will transform into Hammer of the Righteous.

While I think this is a fun idea, the net effect of these two changes for Protection oddly increases button bloat. Right now, as Prot, I'm always in Seal of Insight. So I have two key binds - CS and HotR. Now, however, I'm going to need three, as will no longer be able to just passively leave my Seal as it is. So I'll need a key bind for CS, SoT, and SoR. Granted, with all the other abilities getting pruned I'll probably have room, but it is kind of funny that in seeking to reduce buttons, they're actually going to make me hit more. (Though I imagine that outside of boss fights I'll probably be sticking to SoR pretty much all the time, at least as Prot.)

EDIT: Well, apparently I'm not the only one to notice this issue, so this change is getting reverted. While I know Seals are one of the iconic Paladin things, I think it mostly works out to be similar to Shaman weapon imbues - something that you just put up there and forget about. Seals and Judgment, and their interaction, used to be the central component to Paladin combat, but we've come a long way since then, with Holy Power really taking its place. So yeah, this is probably for the best.

And all the rest:

There are plenty of changes to other classes. Monks are getting some iteration, including a weird quasi-nerf to Windwalkers that might actually wind up being a buff.

I can't wait to get my hand on a build (I'm signed up for the Beta, but who isn't?) But for now I'm reading these notes with great excitement. It really looks like the housecleaning that Blizzard started with the Mist talent revamp is proceeding in earnest with Warlords.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Going the Slow Route

I had a mad idea tonight.

Lately, I've been playing a whole lot of Diablo 3, Reaper of Souls. The gear and difficulty revamps have made the game far, far more enjoyable than it was two years ago, not to mention that the Crusader largely fills my demands for a cool class, with its combined indestructibility and magic damage sources.

One of the ways that the difficulty system changed is that all difficulties became available from the start, with the exception of Torment, though this becomes available to all characters once any of yours reaches level 70. Originally, one had to progress through the various difficulties, earning the next one when you beat Act IV, and sending you back to the beginning. Thus, you'd actually finish the game somewhere around level 30, with an additional 30 levels dedicated to just replaying things. Now, granted, this is a Blizzard game, where replay value is perhaps their core value.

RoS changed it so that instead, you could choose any difficulty ranging from Normal, Hard, Expert, and Master, each giving certain bonuses like extra XP, Gold, more Blood Shards (a currency relevant to the new Adventure Mode, which allows you to jump around from act to act without having to play through the whole story again.) But once one hits level 70 on any character, you unlock Torment. Torment is the highest difficulty, but more accurately, it's the highest six difficulties, as Torment 1-VI gives progressively greater rewards.

The bonus at Torment VI is absurd - 1600% extra XP and Gold (Torment also allows you to get new legendary items, though as far as I know I haven't seen any.)

But the bonus is earned. Torment is really tough, and sliding the bar all the way to the right makes it really, really hard.

So I decided to start a new character (female Crusader) and try my luck.

It's hard.

Really, really hard.

In fact, it might be a little masochistic. To give you an idea, I died to the second pack of zombies on encounters before you even get into town in Act I. Every single fight is a struggle, requiring deft kiting, hit and run attacks, and copious drinking of health potions.

Certainly, part of this is that a new character does not have much of a toolset. When your only attacks are to slam your shield into something or slam your shield into it harder, it's not exactly easy to stay out of range of your foes.

But it makes every enemy a fairly interesting encounter. Elites are like difficult boss fights.

But man, do you level up "quickly."

I say quickly, in that I have literally only killed that Wretched Mother mini boss in Old Tristram and I am already level 13. On normal mode I'd probably have to finish Act I to be at that level, whereas here, I'm still far, far away from fighting even the Skeleton King, Act I's first "boss' boss. At this rate, even Act II and Caldeum are a distant goal, far away. Frankly, I wouldn't be all that surprised if I were level 70 before I even got to Magda.

But it's not really quick. That very first real quest objective took me about an hour to complete. Partially this is because death comes very easily. Playing my main Crusader, even on Torment I, most non-elite enemies out in the world die in droves, "like chaff before the wind," as he is fond of saying when he gets a Mighty Blow. Playing at low level on Torment VI, however, makes you weaker than even the zombies and quill fiends that would normally be basically fodder. Even with a shield, my lowbie Crusader couldn't really stand toe-to-toe with anything until she was level ten, and even then, she has to use crowd-control effects as frequently as possible, and I've been working steadily through my backlog of health potions in the bank.

Still, there's something oddly appealing to this head-against-a-brick-wall approach. One of the things that video games do is that they automate the kind of random events that take so long in tabletop games. If you want to kill a zombie in Dungeons and Dragons, you have to roll all kinds of dice to see if the attack lands and how much damage it does. When these things are slowed down, it makes every fight a true event, and makes every move strategic.

Don't get me wrong, I love blowing through a hundred scarabs in a row with a single Fist of the Heavens, but this slowed-down pace both demands a lot of you and also effectively extends the lifetime of the game. For someone who grew up on Squaresoft RPGs (though oddly I didn't play a single Final Fantasy until college. Go figure,) I sort of miss the kinds of games that would take you weeks or months to get through.

But all of this would be a total slog if it weren't for the bonuses that the difficulty granted. Yes, it'll take you two full minutes to kill a single freaking zombie, but you'll get about a quarter of the way to the next level for your efforts. Really, the only downside is that you'll have to hoof it back to town to craft new gear for yourself when you reach the required level until you get the Town Portal spell, which at this rate, probably won't happen until I'm level 45.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Alpha Update and Paladin Tier 17 First Look

First off, this post is kind of an excuse to show off the tier 17 Paladin set, which looks like tier 4 all grown up:

Couple things I love: first is that it looks sufficiently intimidating. Paladins in World of Warcraft are almost always in the very far corner of Lawful Good, which is fine, but often this leads to a portrayal of them being softies. But Paladins wear plate armor, and they wield giant war hammers. They aren't there to just preach the good word of the Light (that's a Priest's job.) Paladins are there to stand up to demons, undead, and eldritch horrors and make them flee in terror. (This is part of the reason that I like that Diablo 3 Crusaders get Flails as their weapon of choice. There's something a little crazy and intimidating about a flail.)

I also like that it's very Draenei-themed (my fear for Warlords is that we get overloaded with Orcs, Orcs, Orcs, who have had plenty of representation in-game (including the current raid.) I want to see a wide variety of Draenei-themed gear. And this one has cool floating plates and a modest number of crystals.

And then that belt. Yes, it's clipping right now, but this is literally the first we're seeing of it, so give it time.

Anyway, to move on to the "substance" of the post:

There has been a recent update to the 6.0 Alpha patch notes. Most of it is simply additions - things that had not yet been addressed.

First off, they did a little clarification on how they're going to do the stat-switching. All plate armor will have strength and intellect on it, and all mail and leather will likewise have both agility and intellect. However, depending on your spec, only one of the two stats will be highlighted while the other will be greyed-out. A Prot Paladin (or even a Prot Warrior) will see both Strength and Intellect on her new helmet, but she will only actually get the strength. I imagine we can expect these stats to come in equal values, especially given how Attack Power and Spell Power are being roughly equalized.

Hit, Expertise, Dodge and Parry are being removed entirely from the game. Those stats that are on current gear will be converted to the other, universal stats (haste, crit, mastery, multi strike, readiness.) Likewise, armor pieces and weapons with Spirit and Bonus Armor (not much of the latter these days) will have that replaced with the universal stats, leaving these role-specific stats only on cloaks, necklaces, rings, and trinkets.

Regarding movement speed, there are now two sort of categories for the bonuses:

If it's a passive thing like an enchant, passive ability, or passive talent, these bonus will stack in an additive manor. So for example, a Rogue, with it's 15% speed bonus and a 10% speed enchant on his boots will move 25% faster.

If the bonus speed is the result of a temporary bonus, like the same Rogue's Sprint, it will simply choose the highest bonus and go with that.

Regarding Periodic Effects:

First off, though this isn't super new news, they're altering periodic effects to get rid of the headache of haste breakpoints. DOTs and HOTs will still tick more frequently based on your haste, but when the effect ends, you'll get a partial tick for any remaining damage or healing. So if a DOT ticks once a second without haste and lasts four seconds, but you then get enough haste that it ticks every .75 seconds, you'll then get five full ticks and then a tick for a third of the amount as the effect ends. This should effectively get rid of haste breakpoints.

Second: snapshotting is mostly going away. Mostly? Well, there are a few cases where it will not go away. DOT after-effects like Blackout Kick's DOT and Ignite will still be based on the original attack's damage, as those are kind of considered just part of the original attack, and not a DOT ability. Also, abilities that boost your damage for a specific spell or attack will still work on DOTs. For example, a Shaman using Unleash Flame and then doing a Flame Shock will still get a powered-up Flame Shock for its full duration.

But things like trinkets or damage boosts outside of your control will update your DOTs dynamically. The bad news is that you won't get several minutes of insane, Unerring Vision of Lei Shen-empowered Dooms, but the good news is that if your trinket goes off right after you cast Devouring Plague, the effect will be felt on the spell you already cast.

Regarding Reforging:

Reforging is going away. Everything you've reforged is getting unreforged. But with hit, expertise, dodge and parry going away, along with haste breakpoints, and an overall ambition to balance secondary stats a little better with each other for all specs, it won't be as big of a nerf as you think. (In fact, given that hit and expertise are getting converted to the new five universal secondary stats, it could very well be a buff.)

Regarding Combat Resurrections:

With flex raiding the new normal, the old "1 rez for 10-player raids, 3 for 25-player" system doesn't really work anymore. So instead, all battle rezzes will have charges. Any use of a brez by a raid member that is accepted by the target will use up a charge for everyone in the raid. When a new fight starts, the battle rez charge will be one. But the more people in the raid, the faster more charges are generated. A ten player raid will generate a charge every nine minutes (which in most cases will probably mean pretty much just one per fight) while a twenty-player raid will generate a charge every 4.5, giving them a bit more flexibility.

Outside of raid boss encounters, they work the way they always have.

Beyond this, there's plenty of class stuff. You can read the notes here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Alternate Realities and Stakes

Alternate Universes are fertile ground for speculative fiction. They're usually more of a science-fiction thing than a fantasy one - though one could argue that all fantasy is basically alternate-universe fiction, though oftentimes, as in Warcraft, there's no solid connection made between our universe and the fantasy one (except for that one little girl in Blade's Edge who claims to be from "Eng-land," which I suspect is more there as an easter egg than a real hint at some big lore reveal.)

In Warlords of Draenor, we're heading to an alternate universe, created (as they often are in Sci-Fi) by time-travel. Actually, we're also traveling back in time. Basically, if you think of alternate universes/timelines as being arranged horizontally while simple past/future time is arranged vertically, we're essentially going diagonally. The idea is that we're seeing something very similar to the past, but we're in a paradox-free zone. The timeline was interfered with once, and that one interference (performed by Garrosh and Kairoz) split Draenor B off such that nothing we do there will change our own history.

Not that the Iron Horde of Draenor B isn't a threat. It is, but it's a physical threat - literally an army that is trying to invade Azeroth. Truth be told, we have them at a disadvantage. The Alliance and Horde know all about the various leaders of the Iron Horde, while Kilrogg and Blackhand must be standing around going "wait, what the hell are those wolf-things and bull-men coming at us?"

As always with WoW, we're going in with support from our factions. Each faction has a headlining leader to come with us. The Horde has Thrall - now a twice-ex Warchief but still fairly respected in the Horde (probably moreso after standing against Garrosh, at least with the non-Orcs) and the Alliance has Maraad, who has not had nearly as much screen time, but what little I've gathered from the data mined conversations he has, seems like a Paladin of the old-school - less of a "spread the love" type we see in people like Uther and Tirion, and a bit more "Old Testament" fury and vengeance.

A few other people are going to be coming with us, (I know Khadgar will be among them,) but many of the figures we're interacting with will be Draenor B's version of them.

Now, I don't want to get into spoilers, both for respect to those who like surprises (though I've been leaning more toward the "I know how Hamlet ends and it's still a good play" side of the spoiler debate these days) and also because this is pretty much the earliest phase of public testing (actually, it's not even that, really) so we could have a Grand Magister Rommath situation here (about four years ago, early data mining of Cataclysm had Lor'themar calling Rommath out as a Twilight Cultist, mirroring Varian calling out Benedictus. Neither event wound up happening, though they did reveal Benedictus to be in the Hammer in 4.3.)

But that caveat aside, while we're seeing a lot of familiar faces in Draenor, there is a certain question to be asked of how much we should care if one of them gets killed off. Obviously, Thrall, Maraad, Khadgar - those are the very same people we've been dealing with all this time. But if someone dies and then we can just go to Orgrimmar and chill out with them - older, but definitely still among the living - it may cut a little into the stakes.

This doesn't really matter for villains, though. Indeed, the whole idea of the threat of the Iron Horde is that all those people we fought so hard to put down in the First and Second Wars (and that applies to some Horde races too, as the Forsaken and Blood Elves were, of course, previously the humans of Lordaeron and the High Elves) are now back, better armed, and thinking a little more clearly given that they aren't hopped up on Demon Blood (then again, Demon Blood was clearly an advantage in some ways back then, so who knows.)

We're looking forward to taking down those threats once again, but does it make sense for us to get all that attached to the people we meet in Draenor B?

Actually yes, but mainly for those people who are not alive in Azeroth A. For the Draenei in particular, Draenor B represents a chance to effectively save their people. Most of the Draenei on Draenor were exterminated by the Horde back in the day. We've been hearing about Y'rel, for instance. I would guess that Y'rel did not survive the slaughter in our timeline, given that we've never heard of her before this. Yet given how long Draenei live and how tightly packed they were for a very long time, one could imagine that many Draenei knew their Y'rel.

But for those duplicates we encounter, I imagine the pang of loss we feel should they die would be a little undercut.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Female Draenei! For Real This Time!

Blizzard has come out with a one-two punch, now showing us the actual, real female Draenei model. The latest Artcraft post does not go into quite as much detail as the previous one, and the big caveat is that this model's still a work in progress and has not been animated yet, but once again, we're looking pretty good, or at least the lady Draenei are.

Honestly, while they are clearly dated, I always thought the Draenei were the best-looking of the "old" races, and figured they would need the least touching up. Granted, all of the models are getting more than a "touching up," as I believe they're all really just getting rebuilt from the ground up. But the overall change in look is far more subtle in the Draenei, because it really doesn't have to be that profound.

For those keeping score at home:

Human: 1/2
Dwarf: 2/2
Gnome: 2/2
Night Elf: 0/2 (though there was a data mined female that had apparently been scrapped and they went back to the drawing board.)
Draenei: 1/2

Orc: 2/2
Troll: 0/2
Tauren: 1/2
Undead: 2/2
Blood Elf: 0/2

That means that we have seen (and I'm talking about this in the broadest terms - those quick glimpses of the Male Undead at Blizzcon count) 11/20 of the revamped models. I'm very happy with all of these, though if there's one thing that makes me nervous it's how I'm going to keep my food down when my undead Rogue starts to talk with such detailed animation. The guy has no flesh on his jaw (though at least he has a jaw... oh dear, that's going to be gross.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Male Tauren Model Unveiled with Animations! Plus, some Draenei Stuff?

Technically, we saw the male tauren at Blizzcon, but we get to see a lot more detail in the latest Artcraft post.

The new post gives some insight into the animation of the Male Tauren, and, as usual, I am very impressed with what they've got. One of the interesting issues with the faces of the old models (and I believe this extends to the Cataclysm models even) is that the only thing they can really adjust on the face is the jaw. Starting with the Pandaren, they created a whole facial rig that allows for the kinds of expressions you see above.

The Tauren have always been one of my favorite races, but they are also one of the vanilla models that shows its age the most. The expressiveness of the new model is very exciting, especially given that, unlike humans or orcs, for example, there hasn't ever been a unique "leader" model for Tauren. Both Cairne and Baine have used the same old model. There have been Tauren variants like the Taunka and the Yaungol, but we've never been able to see a really updated Tauren look until now.

I highly recommend checking out the post there, as it has several videos that show detail about how the animation is pulled off. It's cool stuff.

Now, as a little bonus: You'll remember that on April Fool's, we got a look at a very silly, possibly sexist, depending on your interpretation, look at the female Draenei. Obviously, the "derp-face" model was a joke, but that does leave us in a painful position of waiting for the real female Draenei.

Well, I have no idea where the commenter who posted this got this image, and whether it's legit or just a really skillful re-adjustment of the April Fool's joke, but if I had to bet, I'd say that this is our Draenei female:

EDIT: It appears that this is, actually, just a really, really well-done fan-made version. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if we see something fairly similar when the model is revealed.

Yeah, that's more like it, right?

Oh, and here's Velen. (Care of MMO-Champion)

EDIT: This one's real.

Transmogging, Diablo-Style

One of the interesting new features of Diablo 3's first expansion, Reaper of Souls, is the addition of transmogrification via the new "Mystic" artisan. Like in WoW, transmog allows you to change the appearance of your gear so you can come up with a cool look that you might prefer.

But the big difference is that in Diablo, you don't need to have the gear in your inventory. You can unlock several models simply by training the Mystic, and anything that she does not learn automatically will be permanently added to her list as soon as you see the piece of gear drop.

The fact that this does not take up inventory space makes this version of transmog extremely attractive for those of us who play WoW. Transmog came with Void Storage seemingly as a nod to the fact that we'll want to hold on to far more stuff now that we might want to keep it around for cosmetic purposes. Yet even with eighty-some-odd spaces in this extra bank, it's not terribly hard to fill up. Allowing the gear to simply work like a checklist and allowing us to ditch everything that we're not using anymore would, certainly in my case at least, allow for us to clear out a huge amount of inventory space for use of more practical things, like professional materials and side grade pieces we aren't quite ready to trash yet.

But transitioning to a Diablo-style transmog system would not be simple, and the reason is that the way that gear models work in Diablo is very different.

As you level up in Diablo 3, you'll tend to find pieces of gear that are appropriate to roughly your level. Like in WoW, gear requires a certain level, and typically, this required level will determine which gear model the piece of gear uses. For each class, there are several "tiers" of gear models that change as you level up (armor that is not already class-specific will change in appearance depending on who is looking at it. So the same helmet that you pass from your Barbarian to your Crusader will just look different when you switch characters.) For example, every non-Legendary Demon Hunter helmet from level 61-69 will have the same model (though sometimes different colors - Diablo 3 has an equipment-dyeing system.)

What this means is that despite the vast number of gear pieces you'll find throughout the world, there's only going to be about 20 different types of helmet you're going to see, with the exception of legendary pieces, which tend to have their own unique looks that don't change based on your class.

WoW, on the other hand, has an absurd number of gear models. Try to think of every single mail helmet model, and since WoW does not have a gear-dyeing system, you have to count every alternative color scheme as a separate model. The number must be enormous.

Admittedly, in more recent years, Blizzard has tried to have "tiers" of gear models. Your 30-40 leather armor tends to be the same model in varying colors since Cataclysm. But there are sometimes exceptions here. Then think about the models in Mists alone. Let's talk about plate helmets. Going strictly from appearance, there's the same model for Jade Forest and Krasarang Wilds/Valley of the Four Winds, but with different colors. Then there's the model used in Kun Lai, Townlong, and Dread Wastes, all with different coloration. Then there's three color-schemes of dungeon-drop blue gear. Then there's a model for each class through each PvP season (along with alternate colorations for elite gear and crafted gear,) plus engineering goggles, and then tier set models for every class, with at least three color schemes of each for the various difficulties.

I count 33 plate helmet models (and I could have been wrong) in Mists alone. Then account for the fact that you might have gotten a DK-normal-mode-lookalike helmet on your Paladin, and the LFR Paladin tier helmet, plus (crap, I forgot the MSV/Timeless Isle models, so add in like six) and you can see why this could be confusing. And that's before we get into all the unique weapon models.

But is it enough to prevent them from doing it?

Fundamentally, how difficult would it be for WoW to have a really long (probably hidden) list of all the items in the game? (I know next to nothing about programming, but I'd bet there already is such a thing.) Simply checking things off on that list seems like a fairly simple thing for a computer to do.

From a UI, perspective, though, I could still see it being a little difficult. Perhaps transmog could consolidate your list down, eliminating any two items with duplicate models? Likewise, as I've suggested before, higher-difficulty versions of certain pieces of gear could yield you a checkmark on their lower-difficulty equivalents.

I don't think this is something they could really just slap together in an afternoon, but I imagine many people would be happy with some of these changes.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Don't Call it a Beta

It might be a little confusing that the current onslaught of information is coming from the Warlords "Alpha," rather than the Beta. In a recent interview, Celestalon and Zarhym clarified that the line between Alpha and Beta are being blurred.

In the past, Blizzard would do a "Friends and Family Alpha," where, after internal testing, they would allow close associates of Blizzard employees to try out the game in a very, very rough form. Typically, these would come with an NDA, but invariably, someone would surreptitiously leak what they had, and MMO-Champion and other data mining sites would post what they got.

This time around, however, Blizzard is smooshing the Alpha and Beta together. What that means is that the information for Warlords of Draenor is actually being downloaded to our computers already. The only distinction they are making between Alpha and Beta is who gets invites - who gets the keys to unlock the ability to check out the new stuff. So we can expect that during the "Alpha," it's probably only those close associates, and once they start inviting random people who have opted in to test out the new stuff, we can start calling it a Beta. But regardless of whether you or I can try things out, the files are available, and that's why those wonderful Data-Dwarves over at MMO-Champion and WoWHead (and others, I'm sure) are going to work.

What this all boils down to is that hey, at least the testing has truly started.

The developers also made mention of why this might differ from, say, the Mists Beta. During the beta for Mists, many (a huge number) of players signed up for the annual pass, which among other things, gave them a guaranteed spot in the Beta. This actually led to probably too many people being in the Beta, and not really helping to test (I tried to help, posting about bugs and such. I remember the turtles in Valley of the Four Winds near the steps up to the Veiled Stair seemed to have a "disconnect you" ability.)

What I think we can expect is that there will be fewer participants in the Beta this time around. We don't know how long this Beta is going to go for (it's got to be finished by December 20th, though I expect it will be much earlier than that.)

While the lack of a new class or a totally revamped talent system does suggest that there will be less technical stuff to work through, one must remember that the item squish, the gear revamp, and Garrisons are all fairly new systems that could have hidden complexities.

Still, this is good stuff, and it means that Warlords is truly on track.

Also, there's apparently another 5000-word post that they're getting ready to put up with more information.

Professions to No Longer Grant Combat Benefits

Professions are kind of an odd part of the game. Today, professions are balanced in such a way that they are all meant to give an equivalent combat buff. This started with things like Blacksmiths getting to add gem sockets to their gloves and bracers, but for balance's sake, the system has had to expand.

Today, the general idea is that maxing out your professions will give you a bonus that makes you more effective. The downside is that not all of these bonuses are created equal. While most professions will give you what eventually works out to about the same bonus to your primary stat, some aren't really designed that way. My Mage is a Jewelcrafter and a Miner (the mining to serve his JC'ing.) While the special gems granted from Jewelcrafting are nice, the stamina gained from mining is basically irrelevant for a Mage.

So, rather than do a huge rebalancing of all the professional bonuses, Blizzard is cutting the Gordian Knot and just getting rid of them.

But, you might ask, why have a profession if not for that benefit?

Well, that's a good question, but I think it will largely boil down to economics. You'll still be able to make armor and weapons, and we're still going to need gems and enchants. Glyphs are complicated, because while Scribes will still be making them, some of the more central glyphs are going to be learned automatically.

To look at the bright side of this, it will no longer feel so bad if you have a character who never got around to leveling those professions (my 87 Horde Monk is a Miner/JC, both of which are at about 75 or so.)

We will apparently have access to other professions in a limited capacity through our Garrisons, but I expect this is something that we'll need to get more info on before we can say much about it.

Good news for Engineers: while you can probably expects Synapse Strings to go away, rocket boots will likely be staying, and you'll be able to sell the tinker so that Engineering isn't seen to have an unfair advantage (other than the inescapable "cooler and more attractive" benefit.)

Appropriately, the Combo Point Change Slips In, Unnoticed

Big news for Rogues and Feral Druids!

Remember way back in Vanilla, when you started your Rogue (ok, admittedly most people playing probably did that more recently,) and you thought: "Cool! Combo points. So, like, I stab this dude, and then I hit that guy, and then I beat down this third guy for mega damage!" and then you realized that as soon as you switched targets, the combo points went away?


Yes, Virginia, they're changing combo points so that they will now stack "on the rogue," allowing you to switch targets far, far more easily, just as we've been clamoring for over the last ten years or so.

Obviously, this means that Redirect will be going away (it solves a problem that will no longer exist.) Honestly, combining this with other stuff like Slice and Dice going passive for Assassination, Honor Among Thieves proccing off of your own auto attack crits, and Backstab being usable from a wider angle, there are a lot of reasons for Rogues to be happy.

Feral Druids should also be quite happy about this change.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Deluge Commences

Finally, the first true jökulhaup of information has arrived, and much as the biblical flood that is the subject of Darren Aronofsky's latest film, the flood of 6.0 patch notes is washing away much of the known world.

That's right, folks, the Warlords Alpha has arrived. Alpha, you ask? Not Beta? Well, I don't know how Blizzard is playing things these days. The big Heroes of the Storm thing that people are checking out now is technically an Alpha, even though it looks more like a closed Beta, so who even knows?

Anyway, there is a metric crap ton (tonne?) of information Blizzard has released, and while I would love to go into specifics, it is very late at night and even if it weren't, it would be better to just link you to the patch notes.

But let's do highlights!

Primary Stats:

Agility and Intellect will no longer provide crit, bringing them in line with Strength. However, because they like agile guys to crit more, all physical classes that use agility will get a base 10% bonus to their crit chance (all rogues, all hunters, feral/guardian druids, brewmaster/windwalker monks, and enhancement shamans.)

Strength and Agility will also now only provide one point of attack power per point of the stat, BUT: one's damage will scale up significantly more from attack power (at the very least compensating for this.)

Vengeance Dies Hard, Resolve Avenges It:

With tanks now benefitting from "DPS stats," Vengeance is going to be replaced with Resolve, which will only affect the defensive aspects of a tank's abilities. To compensate for the lost attack power, tanks will both have their abilities scaled up and also gain attack power from their masteries, in addition to the masteries' standard defensive effects.

As an example: Death Strike will now heal based on attack power, rather than damage taken in the last five seconds, but because Resolve will buff its healing based on damage taken in the last ten seconds, it winds up looking pretty similar.

Buffs and Debuffs Going Away or Getting Consolidated:

Haste buffs will now be consolidated, so your Rogue and your Moonkin will both just give everyone haste.

Sunder Armor effects were always basically a different flavor of Physical Vulnerability, so they're removing them (and in some cases giving PV to abilities that used to affect armor.)

The Grand Cull:

There are so many abilities getting streamlined or removed entirely. I really can't go through all of them here, but those notes are a veritable abattoir of holy cows. Check the link above.

And So Much More!

There's a lot here that I've left out, like more details on the stat squish and some of the implementations of the removal of hit and expertise, and the phasing out of dodge and parry (I could have misread, but I get the impression that current items with dodge/parry will still have them.)

Blizzard also unveiled the 91-99 perks that affect various abilities. While many of them are flat buffs that will likely come out as a wash in the long run, a few have significant effects. For example, Assassination Rogues will get Slice and Dice as a passive, and Frost DKs will get buffs to Razorice and Ciderglacier (hopefully enough to let my 2H Frost guy use a rune other than FC.)

There's also some interesting things about professions, particularly glyphs.

It's heartening to see some new information, even if it's just the beginning of the "Alpha." Expect a lot of change, but probably not reversions of the big changes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fools!

Ok, just a reminder to anyone reading stuff about faction betrayals or whatever. Look at today's date.