Friday, May 30, 2014

The Winged Dungeon of Yesteryear

During Vanilla, Scarlet Monastery was one of the most popular dungeons. Back in Vanilla, a lot of dungeons were pretty big sprawls. They were actually the size of raids, and often non-linear. Scarlet Monastery could have been like that, and I believe it was originally designed to be one big instance, but they instead decided to divide it into four dungeons - the Graveyard, Library, Armory, and Cathedral. The Mists revamp rebuilt these, combining the Graveyard and Cathedral as well as the Library and Armory. The appeal was that these dungeons could be run fairly quickly. The Armory, for instance, had you fight through a fairly short series of rooms to confront Herod (he of the famous shoulder.) This was in an era when most dungeons were more like Uldaman or Blackrock Depths (Sunken Temple was nearly three times as big as it is now.)

In Burning Crusade, they took the "winged dungeon" concept and ran with it. Most dungeons were built around these wings. You had three Hellfire Citadel dungeons, three Coilfang Reservoir Dungeons, three Tempest Keep dungeons, two Caverns of Time dungeons, and four Auchindoun dungeons. In many cases, these dungeons were linked to a raid, such as Magtheridon's Lair in Hellfire Citadel, or Serpentshrine Cavern in Coilfang Reservoir. The idea was sort of that these dungeons were like the preliminary strikes against the giant fortresses, and that the raid was when you moved in for the kill. Magister's Terrace, added in 2.4, served that function for BC's final raid, Sunwell Plateau. BC launched with fifteen dungeons, and ended up with sixteen.

In Wrath of the Lich King, we still had some winged instances, but there were also a few stand-alones. Utgarde Keep and Pinnacle were in Howling Fjord. The Nexus and the Occulus were in the Coldarra in Borean Tundra. The Pit of Narjun in Dragonblight had Azjol-Nerub and Ahn'kahet: the Old Kingdom. Ulduar had the Halls of Lightning and Halls of Stone. And the Culling of Stratholme was added to the Caverns of Time. Later, in 3.3, they would add the three Frozen Halls dungeons, linked to Icecrown Citadel, and built in such a way that you could actually run directly from one to another, so that if you so chose, you could treat it like a single 8-boss instance. Wrath had twelve launch dungeons and sixteen by the final patch.

In Cataclysm, none of the launch dungeons were really winged. Yes, Blackrock Caverns was in Blackrock Mountain, so one could theoretically link it to BRD and BRS. At launch, we only had seven original dungeons, plus two revamps. We would then get the former Zul raids turned into dungeons, and then three dungeons added to the Caverns of Time (and while I recognize why it was convenient, I've always thought it was funny that Hour of Twilight and the Dragon Soul raid were there. I mean, those were set in the present!) In total, Cataclysm wound up having fourteen dungeons, counting the revamps.

And then Mists. Mists did not have a single winged dungeon, and did not have any new 5-man content after the initial patch. Mists only wound up having nine total dungeons, counting the two Scarlet Monastery ones and single Scholomance revamp.

So do we notice a pattern here? Clearly, making Winged Instances allows Blizzard to make more dungeons. Without wings, BC would have had essentially six dungeons. Wrath would have had nine, or ten if you imagine they'd make a companion dungeon for Culling of Stratholme.)

And suddenly, the lack of dungeons in recent expansions becomes a lot more understandable.

The question is: Do we want winged dungeons or not? What are the pros and cons?

On the developer side of things, winged dungeons have one enormous advantage: art assets. Both Utgarde Keep dungeons, for example, use a ton of the same assets. We have the same Vrykul theme of stone and wood, those giant staircases. A lot of the same "doodads" like chairs and cobwebs and such can be reused. Sure, you'll want some unique things like the giant skull-furnace in Keep or the funerary ships in Pinnacle, but it's pretty efficient.

There's also the question of quantity. I contend that more dungeons is almost always a good thing. It was not very long at all before I got to a point where it seemed every dungeon I ran was Stormstout Brewery. Obviously, it wasn't. It was probably somewhere around a ninth of the time. But the fewer dungeons you have, the more quickly you get burned out on them. Just having some variety in there can really mitigate that. In Wrath, I ran those sixteen post-3.3 dungeons a zillion times, and while they did eventually get old, it wasn't that long before Cataclysm.

There's also a sense of progression and thus stakes. For example, Ner'zhul, one of the most important figures in Warcraft lore, will be a boss (possibly not even the final one) of Shadowmoon Burial Grounds, which is going to be one of the entry-level dungeons for leveling up in Warlords. Presumably it will be accessible from the get-go, which is frankly a little disappointing. Contrast, for instance, King Ymiron. We knew about King Ymiron through the quests in Howling Fjord, and while we made our first strike against the Vrykul in Utgarde Keep very early, we had to get ourselves up to level 80 before we could take on the King of the Vrykul. Indeed, it used to be that the dungeons in various zones would be higher-level than the zones themselves. Pre-Cataclysm, you might have finished Desolace at level 40, but you'd have to come back at 47 or so before you could take on Maurodon. Both BC and Wrath did this well, having us get a taste of, say, Hellfire Citadel when we first arrived in Outland, and then paying it off at the level cap by having us return to attack the Shattered Halls. This method also makes the world feel more exciting - yes, you might have triumphed throughout most of Howling Fjord, but there's still a threat there, and you're going to have to explore Northrend and get stronger before you can face it.

And then, of course, winged dungeons are also, I think, a good way of setting the stage for a raid. This is a tradition that dates back to Vanilla, but I think we saw phenomenal examples of it in 3.3 and 4.3 (even if Dragon Soul was a somewhat disappointing raid.) It would have been so cool if we had had some dungeons in 5.4 that involved extra events. Imagine, say, a dungeon where we landed with the Navy and started assaulting Orgrimmar's northern gate.

Now, granted, some people might cry foul about the re-use of art assets, but what I'm advocating for is that they would use new assets, just in multiple dungeons. No one had seen... anything like Tempest Keep before BC, so the Arcatraz was still pretty new-looking even when you also had Mechanar and Botanica to run.

Admittedly, winged instances aren't just a copy-paste level of simplicity for developers to create. A new dungeon needs a new layout and new boss/trash mechanics. But the fact that we've seen so few dungeons in the wake of Blizzard's decision to abandon winged instances suggests to me that these art asset concerns could be the reason we're not seeing the number of dungeons we used to.

And Warlords of Draenor, for all the cool and exciting ideas they're bringing to the table, will only have six, SIX dungeons at launch. And one of those is a revamp (though presumably it will be a SM/Scholo-style one, which means new art assets.) Granted, they've said that they want to bring in more dungeons as the expansion goes on, but unless they bring in like five dungeons per raid tier, we aren't going to see the variety of 5-person content that, frankly, got me really into the game in the first place.

So Blizzard, here's my suggestion: Bring Back Winged Dungeons!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Speculation on Dungeons!

We've gotten a fairly decent explanation of the two upcoming raids with 6.0. Highmaul will be the Karazhan/Mogu'shan Vaults entry-level raid, and will presumably have us toppling the last remnant of the Ogre Empire, at least on the familiar continent (then again, they might save the true last bastion of the Ogres for the second tier, though I'm hoping they go a little farther outside the box.) Meanwhile, Blackrock Foundry is going to be in Gorgrond and see us taking down the Iron Horde's industrial base along with Blackhand, who in this universe is never Warchief.

But what of dungeons? We've heard a few snippets about them, but some remain a bit mysterious. Let's go through and imagine what we might find there.

Bloodmaul Slag Mines:

I believe this dungeon will be in Frostfire Ridge, as the Horde starting zone seems to be largely concerned with pushing the Ogres out of there to get a foothold among the Frostwolf Clan. BSM (tricky acronym there...) will probably be our main "Ogre dungeon." This is the one dungeon that was previewed at Blizzcon, and appears to involve freeing slaves in the mines and killing the Ogre oppressors.

Blackrock Depot:

Judging from the name, I'd guess this is going to be in Gorgrond, and I imagine that it will be a highly industrial area, linked somewhat to Blackrock Foundry. One can probably assume that we will be engaging the Iron Horde directly here, further taking down their industrial capabilities.


This will be a single dungeon, as opposed to the four wings in BC (they seem to have moved away from the "Winged Dungeon" idea. Is that why we've had so few dungeons the last couple expansions? Because frankly, if it meant having more dungeons, I wouldn't mind seeing them using shared art assets.) It appears that in any timeline, the Auchenai Priests go crazy. But is this the result of a dark-cycle Naaru, or is it the work of the Burning Legion? Well, the darkened Naaru was injured before the timeline split, so it's definitely in there, but I believe that they've said we're going to be dealing with a demonic presence here. Ooh! Is it anyone we know/have killed? Anyway, it'll be cool to see the vast Necropolis/Funerary Temple before it got blown to smithereens.

Arrakoa Spires:

Well that's right in the name, isn't it? Clearly this will be the Arrakoa Dungeon in Spires of Arrak. We don't yet really know what the deal with the Arrakoa is. We know that pre-Portalpocalypse (really? spell check is ok with that?) the Arrakoa were/will be able to fly. The Arrakoa seem to worship the sun (in a creepy kill-people-with-giant-lenses-as-a-sacrifice kind of way,) but there's always been a hint that they might be involved with the Old Gods. While I'd be happy to take a break from the Old Gods, I'm also curious about their fabled "Dark Raven." I'm sure the dungeon itself will have us killing off their High Priest or something. Given their geographical isolation, this might be the most climactic confrontation we have with the Arrakoa, so expect their biggest leader as the end boss - if not Anzu himself.

Shadowmoon Burial Grounds:

This will be the Ner'zhul dungeon. While it's slightly disappointing that the would-be Lich King is only going to be a 5-man boss, on the other hand it's clear that he never really goes beyond Elder Shaman in this timeline. Ner'zhul will be the main antagonist of Shadowmoon Valley, the Alliance starting area. As it turns out, it seems that Ner'zhul had some ability to speak to the dead, and perhaps draw on their power. So maybe the Lich King's necromancy was not entirely due to Kil'jaeden's imbuing him with power. If there's going to be any sort of undead enemy to face in this expansion, it'll be here... well, and Auchindoun. Huh. Two of these dungeons are basically graveyards.

Iron Barracks:

This doesn't hint much at what it is, but I imagine that the Iron Barracks is going to be some central location for the Iron Horde. Given that this is a Hellscream-founded Horde, I think it's likely we'll find it in Nagrand. Perhaps it'll be in what in our timeline is Garadar. If Blackrock Depot focuses more on the industrial Blackrock Clan, expect this to be full of frontline soldiers of the Warsong Clan.

Upper Blackrock Spire:

Ok, the big question I have is how this will be separated. While UBRS and LBRS have always been separated by convention rather than by any physical barrier, it's clear that we'll need a new instance portal for UBRS. The question that then raises is: if it gets a new portal, that presumably leaves the old instance open. So then, I wonder, are they going to go out of their way to close off the old Upper Blackrock Spire? I'm not terribly optimistic about this, but I think it would be wonderful if they would leave the current "Blackrock Spire" instance untouched, and then simply add the new UBRS. Yes, the architecture and pathways might be the same (though given the Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery revamps, they might change,) but they would be two separate instances.

While I love the revamps, one does lose something from the game by replacing it with the new. Sometimes it works out fine, but sometimes,  you take the one Worgen-themed dungeon and remove all the Worgen from it.

Plus, there's the whole fact that the entrance to Blackwing Lair is in UBRS (though they might just make the "attunement" automatic.)

But then, if the revamped UBRS is a wholly separate instance, why not call it something else? Also, Jeez are there a lot of instances in Blackrock Mountain!

Further Dungeons:

We have yet to find out a lot of the future plot line of Warlords of Draenor, so it might be early to speculate on added dungeons later in the expansion. We know that Faralohn will be added probably in 6.1 or so. Right now, it looks like there aren't any dungeons in Tanaan Jungle. I know we'll be heading into Tanaan first, but I imagine that we'll return to it in the course of leveling up, since the initial invasion seems to be more of a starting experience meant to get us to Shadowmoon/Frostfire.

I imagine we'll see a greater demonic presence as the expansion goes on. We don't really know what Gul'dan is up to, but you can be very certain it won't be anything good. I could also imagine that we might at some point have to deal with the Infinite Dragonflight, though whether that takes the form of a dungeon or a raid (or both, or neither) is totally up in the air.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Taking it Outside - Lessons from Mists and Hopes for Warlords

After expansions that bottled us up farther and farther into capital cities, Blizzard aimed to make Mists of Pandaria get us out in the world. They employed a number of strategies to do this - some of which were successful and some less so.

In 5.0 itself, we got a few takes on this. Valor Rewards were now also gated through reputations, and rep could only be gotten through Daily Quests. Some of these were more successful than others. Infamously, the Golden Lotus - which tended to take the most time per day of any of these factions - was also a prerequisite for starting work on two of the other reputations, requiring you to first become revered with them.

The Farm, Sunsong Ranch, was a pretty revolutionary feature that was gated behind daily quests, but continued to be quite useful afterward. Allowing you to first farm ingredients for cooking, and later for all the major professions, the Farm created a new and reliable way to gather materials in a way that was both reliable and also noncompetitive.

The daily quest chain in 5.1 with the new faction was actually not all that functionally different from the 5.0 ones, but the way that one-shot story quests were woven into the reputation climb made it very popular.

5.2 added yet more daily quests, but it was here, on the Isle of Thunder, that we started to see the concept of outdoor content evolve. Beyond the daily quests and the realm-progress (similar to Quel'danas,) there were also unusual things you could farm, summonable bosses, unique area-specific buffs, hidden treasure boxes, and a repeatable solo scenario that could net you lots of gold and supposedly epic loot (though I never saw anything like that drop there.)

Battlefield Barrens, with 5.3, was kind of "Questless Outdoor Content Mk. 1." There was a quest, which was weekly, that required you to gather tons of material from the various Kor'kron forces in the Northern Barrens, but you had a lot of control over how long you wanted to spend there. You could even hoard extra material for the following week. There were special gear tokens that could be farmed up (though you needed an item from the weekly quest in order to activate them.) Rare spawns functioned as mini world bosses, and there were events (sadly that involved escorting - that grave sin of game design) that would pop up.

The Timeless Isle that came with 5.4 was "Questless Outdoor Content Mk. 2," and improved greatly on the Battlefield Barrens model by having far more interesting interactions. There were many secrets to be found, and tons of pets and toy items to clog our inventories (looking forward to that new UI element.) It became a great way to catch up in gear on neglected or new alts, and given the much higher drop rate of Lesser Charms and the location for the new World Bosses, it became an attractive to mains as well.

So what we went through was a kind of evolution. Daily Quests provide structure, but they also gate content. Gating content has, itself, benefits and problems. We were questing through the Golden Lotus, and later the Shado-Pan and August Celestials, long after we first arrived on Pandaria. As exciting as it was to finally take the fight to Garrosh (especially for Horde players, who had not had a chance to oppose him yet,) Battlefield Barrens was so skeletal that there was not much incentive to keep at it.

The Timeless Isle was, I think, a vast improvement on Battlefield Barrens, but the lack of gating led to a certain "oh, that's it?" feeling. Yes, it might take you a while to gear up to the point where you're ready to take on those elite Yaungol (indeed, the super-tough ones that populate the Ordon Sanctuary are only soloable if you perform flawlessly,) but once you've done a tour around the island, it's less about discovery than simply grinding, whether that be Timeless Coins, Epoch Stones, Lesser Charms,  or Shaohao Reputation (and I pretty much gave up on that.)

The Timeless Isle, perhaps fittingly, had very little of a sense of progression to it. It is one whole place held in stasis, and you can examine it in any order. It's thematically consistent, but there's nothing very visually distinctive about the place other than the cool Celestial Court, and there's not much about it that gets you excited to return, other than the prospect of getting absurdly awesome gear off Ordos.

But on the other hand, there's a double-edged sword to this sense of progression. People generally liked the 5.1 Shieldwall/DO quests and story, but did anyone continue doing those dailies after the big confrontation between Anduin and Garrosh? Progression requires constant movement, and Blizzard, not having infinite resources, can't have every feature go on forever. Or at least, they can't update it as quickly as we can consume it.

So what's the model, then, for moving forward?

If I had a perfect answer, I'm sure Blizzard would snatch me up (well, if I had a perfect answer and could communicate it to them succinctly with the implication that I would be able able to come up with more such solutions.) To me, it seems that there must be some kind of marriage between the freedom and exploration of the Timeless Isle with a kind of story progression. Ideally, you'd have a complex story that takes you months to play through, but I don't think that's possible to build fast enough to keep up with your players.

But I think you could go for more of a sandbox feel in your world, while making quests feel more like, well, Quests. Quests in WoW are literally anything an NPC tells you to do. Sometimes, a quest is something that fits that word - go slay the great beast that is threatening our village! Go learn under the apprenticeship of this wise master! But sometimes it's really just some subset of a quest: Go talk to this dude. Or sometimes it's a very minor task: Go collect ten berries from piles of goat poo.

I'm not saying these small-stakes quests aren't important. Indeed, the major quest chains are really more what you would, outside of the context of a video game, call a Quest. But I think we could imagine more Quest-like quests in a more randomized, sandbox world.

Given that we'll have these little satellite outposts in the various zones that are linked to our Garrisons (though I imagine these will be more standard leveling quest hubs,) I'd like to see more decisions for us to make. Perhaps we get there and decide we need to take a strategic location. We might choose a hill that would be a good place for a fortress, or perhaps instead we might choose to build a fortified bridge over a narrow part of the nearby river.

We could then have quests where we scout out the given location and establish a perimeter. From there, though, the traditional quest format could shift to one more like the Timeless Isle. Now that we have this base of operations on that hill (because screw rivers!) the surrounding area is ready to be explored. From there, you could fight the local Arrakoa, or explore a cave someone found at the foot of the hill that might have valuable ore, or perhaps house some nasty Gronn.

The idea I'm trying to get at is that as one quests through the zones, instead of just leaving them behind, each major chain would unlock a kind of mini-Timeless Isle. There's a sense of story progression that way, and you get to move on to the next quest hub if you're not that interested in it, but if you have been having a blast fighting across the tree-cities of the Arrakoa, you can keep exploring the Spires of Arrak some more before moving on to, say, Gorgrond, without feeling like you've hamstrung your own leveling or character-progression.

If they succeed in making the entirety of Draenor fun to explore after the quests are complete, I think we'll have seen the game take a big step forward.

Fort Kick-Ass - The First Dev Watercooler on Garrisons

Part one of Blizzard's major write-up on Garrisons is up.

While this first article is fairly rough, it's meant as an introduction to what I assume is a more comprehensive series.

Garrisons appear to be the major feature for Warlords of Draenor, apart from just more content. The feature looks like it could be transformative, really giving WoW a new type of gameplay, and it's exciting that we could have a feature that will really affect the world around us.

When Warlords was first announced, Blizzard had talked about allowing us to set up or move our base to any of the various zones, but this was eventually walked back. Instead, Alliance and Horde will have their Garrisons in their starting zones - Shadowmoon Valley and Frostfire Ridge, respectively.

This is perhaps a little disappointing, but the way they are compensating for this is actually really exciting.

Instead, as you level up and move from zone to zone, you'll make choices about other, smaller outposts and fortresses, and they will take on different forms depending on choices you make about your Garrison.

In effect, rather than having your base jump from zone to zone, they're giving you one big base and a whole bunch of mini-bases.

What I love about this harkens back to one of my first moments in Wrath of the Lich King. Through Vanilla (and the Cataclysm revamp of the 1-58 experience,) people tend to treat you like a nobody, except perhaps a few particular NPCs. In Outland, they're still kind of treating you like a grunt, if perhaps an elite grunt.

Yet when I first arrived in Valiance Keep, I saw a big line of NPCs at the recruiting station. But the man at the desk called out to me, telling me that a hero such as I did not need to wait in line. It was the first time that the game acknowledged that yes, I was a badass, and not just some run-of-the-mill hero.

And now, in Draenor, we're essentially 4-Star Generals. We're the ones that everyone salutes as we walk by. It's about damn time, right?

Anyway, the satellite base idea is, to me, actually more exciting than moving my Garrison (granted, considering how cool Shadowmoon Valley looks, I'd probably just keep mine there anyway.) I really hope that Blizzard makes the customization of the smaller towns very robust, though I recognize that they've got to use Molten Front-style "phasing for what you see," so that you can interact with other players.

But there's clearly going to be an impact. For instance, the article suggests that if you choose between, say, a Sparring Arena and a Lumber Mill, you'll get different zone-specific cool downs in the base where you made the choice. The Sparring Arena might give you a summonable Ogre ally, while the Lumber Mill might give you a Shredder Vehicle that you can slash your foes with.

And in case you're worried (and in case you didn't, for some reason, read the Blizzard article,) you'll be able to change all of these options if you aren't happy with what you originally went with. Likewise, schematics for Garrison buildings will be available from vendors in case you prefer leveling through PvP or Dungeons.

Check out the article, though. I, for one, am getting pretty excited about this feature.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Infinites in Draenor

This is about 99% speculation here, so I don't know if I'd classify what I'm going to talk about as spoilers, except for a bit of information from the War Crimes novel.

This is stuff you might be able to suss out anyway just from the premise of Warlords of Draenor, but just in case you're very spoiler-conscious, I'll give you this SPOILER WARNING.

This is a sentence for you to read in case your eyes skimmed past the big bold spoiler warning!


It would seem that the Bronze Dragonflight is enduring a schism within its ranks. Following the defeat of Deathwing, the Dragon Aspects were de-powered, essentially becoming just ordinary dragons. But of course, the dragonflights themselves had some special power linked to the Aspects. The Bronze flight, for instance, could see through the fabric of time. However, because Nozdormu expended all his powers in order to seal Deathwing's fate, the Bronze Dragons are now no more inherently capable of guarding the timeways than the Green Dragons, or even just mortals.

In the aftermath of all of this, some mortals have come down to the Caverns of Time to offer their services, forming the Timewalker faction. With the dragons weakened, it seems fairly logical that the great heroes of Azeroth would pick up the slack.

Yet among the Bronze Flight, there's been something of a difference in opinion about how to proceed. Some wish to keep up the tradition of safeguarding the prime timeline. Chromie, for instance (everyone's favorite dragon, and if you disagree you're just wrong,) advocates for continuing their work.

But there are other Bronze Dragons who are beginning to wonder if there's something else they could be doing. They feel that, using their knowledge of the flow of time, they might be able to guide it, either improving our timeline or even creating entirely new parallel universes.

There has been a dreadful suspicion that was more or less confirmed in patch 4.3, and that is that the Infinite Dragonflight, who seek to alter the timeline, are in fact future versions of the Bronze Flight. When we fight our way through the End Time, the final boss is Murozond, a corrupted, Infinite version of Nozdormu. Nozdormu himself accompanies us as we attack his future self, eulogizing Murozond and thus affirming his own fate.

But what, truly, are the Infinite Dragons? The creed of the Bronze Flight was that there was only one true timeline, and yet we are set to be attacked by an Iron Horde coming out of an alternate universe created by time travel.

If Murozond truly is a future Nozdormu, how, then, is he supposed to get to End Time, if that is a future that has been fully prevented? Surely, End Time is an alternate universe, but if that's the case, then might the Infinites not just be the alternate universe version of the Bronze Dragonflight, as opposed to their future?

Kairoz could be the first of the Infinite Dragonflight, or perhaps he was corrupted by them. Because we are speaking about time travelers, these two notions are not mutually exclusive. On the other hand, we could imagine seeing the Infinites arise organically, through dissent among the ranks of a disillusioned Bronze Flight.

The question I then have is how much we'll see these guys in Draenor.

The various raid tiers of Warlords remain something of a mystery. We know that in the first tier, we're going to be taking down the Ogres of Highmaul and the Blackrock Clan. But other than a vague sense that at some point we'll be fighting Grom Hellscream and maybe Gul'dan, there's not a lot clear about what major threats we'll be facing.

Given that, for all the chaos it will have caused, Draenor-B is a pretty successful attempt at creating a "new world," it seems like it might be a place that holds some interest for the Infinite Flight. Might we, in fact, see an Infinite-themed raid? The Infinite Dragonflight actually only shows up in four of the dungeons in the Caverns of Time, and neither of its raids. A time-bending raid might be an interesting environment. It would also be cool, seeing as we might approach it form Draenor, to have a time-themed instance no longer locked to the Caverns of Time (that place is pretty crowded by now.)

I wonder, what are the Infinites' goals? Before now, you might have guessed destroying Azeroth through either preventing the coalition from forming during the Third War or keeping us from retrieving the Dragon Soul, but now I wonder about that. It's suggested that Nozdormu was corrupted by the Old Gods into becoming Murozond, but I kind of hope that it's something else (partially because man is that a card that they have already played, and with a Dragon Aspect, too!)

I recognize that their mystery is part of their mystique, and perhaps their motivation should remain unknown, but the premise of this expansion provides us with an opportunity to explore these guys, and I hope it's an opportunity that Blizzard takes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The New World of Tank Stats - Determining Values

DPS and Healers have both historically valued throughput stats. DPS is all about throughput, to the extent that it's really the only thing (after hit/expertise, though that's going away) they care about when it comes to gear. Healers gain a great benefit from greater throughput, as when their heals come stronger, they can cast fewer of them or more mana-efficient ones, though Healers also have Spirit to take into consideration, which gives them longevity.

Tanks have always been about survival, though. And survival is a different beast than throughput. Arguably, tanks are concerned more with reducing the throughput of the enemy attacking them, and until Warlords, tanks have done so with different stats. Before Mists, a tank's attacks were pretty much just there to maintain threat (though Death Knights got on the "active mitigation" train an expansion early.) The line between survival stat and throughput stat has blurred a little, but in Warlords, it will be utterly eliminated. Dodge and Parry will no longer be found on gear, and tanks will now be taking on only stats that also provide some throughput boost. That said, while in most cases these stats will be more obviously throughput-ty, some will come the other way around, being more obviously defensive.

In Warlords, there will be six stats that tanks look for beyond the standard Strength/Agility and Stamina: Critical Strike, Haste, Mastery, Multistrike, Readiness, and Bonus Armor. Let's look at each of these stats and see how they affect tanks.


Mastery is already pretty well-suited to various tasks because the very idea of Mastery is that it does different things for different specs. Since its introduction in Cataclysm, this has made it quite good as a stat for gear that is useful to both tanks and DPS, because the Mastery can provide, say, extra block chance for a tank and bonus attacks on a DPS.

So the only real tweak to Mastery is that, to keep it in line with other tank stats, it will now also boost one's attack power by a percent.


Readiness, like Mastery, is a stat that lends itself to being good for just about every spec. Readiness will boost the recovery rate of tanking cool downs, though I don't know if it will provide any offensive benefit, which does make it something of an odd man out (unless they do something like giving Protection Paladins back Avenging Wrath, and having Readiness affect it.)

Bonus Armor:

Bonus Armor will be the only tank-exclusive stat. But even though it's only for people who just want survivability, it will, like Mastery, boost attack power, but in this case by an amount proportional (perhaps even equal) to the armor it grants.


Now we get into the trickier territory. For some tanks, the benefit of haste is already obvious. Death Knights and Monks recover their resources more quickly with more haste, and Paladins can use their Holy Power-generating abilities more often (which amounts to the same.) But the two Rage tanks need a little more incentive to make haste look good. Warriors will be gaining their own version of Paladins' Sanctity of Battle - theirs being called Headlong Rush, which is a pretty elegant solution. Likewise, haste will now lower the cooldown of Mangle for Druids, so it looks like the Paladin model is being spread across the various classes that need it.

Critical Strike:

The first major way that crit is being made useful to tanks is that among the three plate tanks, all will be getting the new version of Riposte. Crit Rating will now convey parry chance to these three specs. Likewise, Warriors will still benefit from the crit-induced enrages. Monks already had the benefit of getting Elusive Brew stacks from their crits, and Guardian Druids gain, I believe, Tooth and Claw as well as Rage from their crits through Primal Fury.


Multistrike is a totally new stat, and one that does not obviously lend itself to tank survival, so every class needs some kind of baked-in benefit.

Death Knights will now gain their Scent of Blood procs through Multistrike.

Druids will gain extra max health as they Multistrike with auto attacks, Lacerate bleeds, or Mangle.

Monks now gain their Gift of the Ox healing spheres through auto-attack Multistrikes, as opposed to crits.

Paladins now have a chance to effectively Multistrike on receiving heals, with a chance for 30% extra healing based on one's Multistrike rating.

Warriors gain a self-heal through Multistrikes, which refreshes the duration with each Multistrike auto-attack.

Gearing Defensively:

Overall, it looks like there won't be a single stat (other than Spirit, but we won't be picking that up now, will we?) that will be utterly useless to us in 6.0. Certainly, some stats will be better than others (if it is mathematically possible for them to all be equal, I doubt it's something Blizzard could easily achieve,) but I think that the philosophy here is good. One might even find that certain stat weights benefit different styles of tanking (that said, there's bound to be one proven "better" than the other - these days you could imagine a Mastery-heavy Paladin who has good timing, mitigating all the biggest boss hits with super-effective ShotR's, but the vast majority of them will go for higher uptime with haste.)

While overall it might not be a problem, I wonder how this will all effect tank DPS. Vengeance has been a pain in the ass, but it's also been something of an equalizer. If one tank favors, say, Crit and Bonus Armor for survival, but Haste and Multistrike for threat, are they going to be at a disadvantage if another tank gets the biggest benefit to both threat and survival through the same preferred stats? Readiness might not confer any benefit to threat, and even as they've eliminated Haste breakpoints, Readiness seems like a stat that will definitely have breakpoints (either you have enough Shield Barriers for every Deep Breath or you don't.) Still, I think we're heading in the right direction, and I'm excited to be able to just switch out my sword-and-board for a warhammer and be ready to go Ret.


Not really related to gear, but all tank stances are getting a buff, raising threat generation by 900%, as opposed to the current 600%. They really want us holding off the DPS/heals. I remember when you got like, only 200% threat.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Warcraft Filming Wrapped

Principle photography on the upcoming Warcraft film has wrapped. What this means is that the film is now heading into post-production, which is the final stage of filmmaking before the movie can be released.

If you don't know much about the way movies are made, it's generally divided into three stages - pre-production, production, and post-production. Pre-production is the planning stage. The script is written, costumes and sets are designed, actors are cast, and the logistics are figured out. Even a small production will need a pretty meaty pre-production, because filmmaking is an absurdly complicated process. And for a big-budget production like Warcraft, with an established brand and a clear intention to make a real blockbuster, you can bet that this process was extra-long. A lot of things can change during this phase, and you'll recall that the film was originally going to be directed by Sam Raimi.

Production is what most people think of when they think of filmmaking. Here, you have the cast and crew on set (or on location, which just means they're filming in a place that already exists rather than building sets) and you're actually recording the performances of actors.

Post-production then entails editing the film (which is where the editor takes all the raw footage - like the same scene shot from many different angles - and cuts them together in such a way that the narrative flows. This is a really cool but also really meticulous process,) scoring it, completing digital effects, adding sound effects, mixing the sound, and manipulating the footage to have the right sort of color balance. Additionally, often you'll get pick-ups, which are additional scenes that must be shot either because the filmmakers are unsatisfied with what they got the first time, or sometimes they are scenes that they just didn't get during production for a number of reasons. Additionally, sometimes these are new scenes written in to fill in some plot hole or make the flow of the story work better.

Depending on the film, this process can take a long time, and again, given the complexity of an epic fantasy film, you can bet that it'll take a long time for Warcraft.

Anyway, while this doesn't mean that the movie can just come out quite yet, it's a huge milestone.

I still have no idea if the movie will be any good. Historically, video game movies have generally been crap. Only a handful of them have been able to elevate to the level of mediocre, and there hasn't ever been one to actually stand proud as a truly good movie.

Why is that?

Well, speaking in general terms, often the problem is having "too many cooks in the kitchen." Any time there's a film with a very large budget, there tend to be a lot of investors, and because these people are paying in part for the film, they have the right to influence the way the product is made. Sometimes, if there's a tested producer or director, these investors might stand back and let them do their work, but when money's involved, people get nervous. Unfortunately, while those people have every right to worry about how their money is being put to use, conflicting opinions can also dilute the artistic vision of the filmmakers.

On the other hand, sometimes a tyrannical or cult-leader-like producer or director can make bizarre decisions and no one will be willing to question them (ahem, Star Wars prequels.)

There's also the problem of how video games are viewed by the public. Video games are a bigger industry than film these days, but there is still a stigma attached to them as being simplistic toys for children. It's a process that's already begun, but I expect that as time goes on, we're going to see this attitude evaporate, as more and more mature adults will have grown up as gamers.

Perhaps the most spectacularly terrible video game film was one of if not the first: the Super Mario Bros. film. The makers of that film had an utter disregard for the appeal of the Mario series. Rather than playing up the bright-colored, cartoony aesthetic, they just decided to make their own strange, dark, late 80s/early 90s-feeling urban dystopia that had just nothing to do with the Mario games. This was a purely cynical move to attach the Mario brand to a big pile of crap and hope that this would result in a big box-office return.

Thankfully, I don't think there's quite that attitude on the Warcraft set. Warcraft is far more story-driven than Mario games, and it's good to hear that Duncan Jones has played the games, and showed enough familiarity with the setting to fight for a Horde side of the plot (the biggest red flag I could see with this film would be if the Orcs were depicted as Tolkien-esque monsters with nothing redemptive about them.)

But while that pitfall may be avoided, there are others that one could fall into.

Given the stigma that video games have, and particularly video game movies, a lot of talented filmmakers don't want to be attached to these projects. Any person who works in the film industry knows that a big flop can really hurt one's career. This is probably worst for actors and directors (who tend to be the people that the public actually knows about,) but public reputation is not the only thing to look out for. Those within the industry are also paying attention to your projects, and they will be looking at those less public roles. Given the propensity for video game movies to flop, a lot of people are wary of getting involved in such a project.

While Duncan Jones has a lot of respect for his clever sci-fi films, this is a hell of a step up into the big leagues. It's something of a make-or-break project for him. But in terms of cast, I don't think I'm all that familiar with anyone who's been mentioned to be in it. Granted, you don't need to be famous to be a good actor (in an ideal world, it would go the other way around,) but the lack of star power could mean fewer people go to see it, and while the quality of the film is what most of us are individually interested in, the industry that is producing it is all about getting the most tickets sold.

There's another interesting factor to blockbuster filmmaking that has come up in recent years. For a long time, over half the profits from a movie would come from the domestic box office. But in the last decade or so, a lot of that has come from overseas markets. Places like China and Europe and really places all over the world are now a major factor in the strategy to maximize a film's money-making potential. The consequence of this is that films need to appeal broadly. Translating into different languages often risks losing some of the nuance of a film's dialogue. Translating into a different culture also requires that things get boiled down to simpler ideas. A film that deals heavily in class issues in South Boston might not be so resonant to people living in Shenzhen who are only vaguely aware that Boston is a city in America. But when there's a clear good guy who is handsome, tall and muscular and he's fighting a guy with a freaking skull on his costume, it's pretty clear who you're rooting for.

The thing that's tough is that nuance is generally what makes a story really good, but nuance is also really hard to communicate broadly, even before you translate the film into different languages and send it to radically different cultures.

So will the Warcraft film be good? I don't know. I hope it is, but that's what I've hoped for a lot of things. I think rather than hoping for a Lord of the Rings-quality epic, which is too high a standard, I'll be pleased if the film can at least get Warcraft right. This is the First War, so yes the Horde are the bad guys, but we need to see the side of the Horde that regrets it. We need to see Durotan mourning the corruption of his people, even as he fights alongside them. We also need some wacky humor, because it's not Warcraft without that. I'm sure they'll deliver on the spectacle (that's one thing that Hollywood has down to a science these days.) And I want the audience that doesn't play the games to be shocked when the movie ends with Stormwind being overrun and Anduin Lothar taking young Varian north to Lordaeron.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Parry Rating Returns, Is Renamed "Critical Strike Rating"

A little tongue in cheek here, but as it turns out, plate tanks are still going to be able to gear for avoidance.

You may recall a passive called Riposte that was added during Mists which gave Protection Warriors and Blood Death Knights (but not Protection Paladins, presumably because of their pre-existing affinity for Haste) that granted these two tank classes additional critical strike chance based on their avoidance. This was particularly important for Warriors, as it caused Avoidance to increase their likelihood of getting Enraged from Shield Slam, which of course meant more Rage and thus greater access to Shield Block/Barrier.

Well, with avoidance stats going the way of the Dodo, Riposte is basically getting turned around. Now, all Plate tanks will get a boost to their Parry chance based on their Crit Rating from gear. I actually suspected we might get this (though the Dodge-from-Haste doesn't seem to be coming.) Ultimately, the trick with tanks is to make sure that all the stats they get are useful in some way. Given the way the threat game has been designed (and even back when tanks had to fight pretty hard for threat,) tanks have always geared for survival first, so if there wasn't a clear survival benefit to a stat, they'd drop it.

What this does mean is that plate tanks can now directly gear for avoidance. I suspect crit is still going to be a little low on the priority list except for with Warriors, because of the established Enrage mechanic. Still, this is solid evidence that there won't be any stats that are worthless for a tank's survival.

And without dodge rating, I think they'll hopefully be able to avoid the problem of high avoidance, where bosses have to hit like freight trains in order to do enough damage to present a challenge.

Monks and Druids, however, will continue to use their stats in idiosyncratic ways, as the leather tanks have always done.

Big Changes for Balance Druids

Wow, this makes the Arms Warrior changes look minor.

Balance Druids, with their awesome laser chicken form and their totally unique resource system (which, granted, after the Warlock revamp in Mists is less unusual) are getting a hell of an overhaul. I don't play my Moonkin a huge amount, but I have enough to know that the changes coming are pretty freaking enormous.

First off, the whole Balance Energy bar and Eclipse is being redesigned. Solar/Lunar Energy is no longer tied to abilities you use. Instead, the bar will go through a natural day/night cycle every 30 seconds. I'm not sure, but this could actually continue regardless of whether you're in combat or not.

Rather than a binary (or trinary?) "in an Eclipse state" or "not in an Eclipse state," Eclipse will now increase the damage of appropriate spells based on how close you are to full of that particular form of energy. Baseline, before Mastery, there's a total Eclipse bonus of 30%, split depending on how far the bar is along. So if it's all the way at the Solar side, your nature spells will get 30% extra damage. If it's not quite there, you'll get a 27% bonus to your nature spells, and a 3% bonus to arcane. When it's halfway between, you'll get 15% bonus to both types of spell. Mastery will then increase that total bonus (with a baseline of 12% extra.)

So you'll still be switching off between Wrath and Starfire, but it'll be more about timing and watching the bar. Got that? Ok, there's more.

Moonfire and Sunfire now replace each other when the Balance bar is shifted to night or day respectively. However, their DOT effects are not mutually exclusive. Both effects last 16 seconds, so you should be able to keep them up even while you can't cast them. These effects are no longer extended by Wrath/Starfire/Starsurge crits, though, so it'll be a challenge to maintain uptime.

Lunar Shower is now Astral Showers, and looks like it might be an active ability? Moonfire's initial damage and duration are increased by 100% while Sunfire's initial damage is also increased by 100% and its DOT is applied to all enemies within 5 yards of the target.

Phew, keeping them coming.

Starsurge now has 3 charges on a 30 second recharge. It grants Lunar or Solar Empowerment (perhaps based on your Eclipse state?) Lunar Empowerment increases the damage of your next two Starfires by 30%, and Solar Empowerment increases the damage of your next three Wrath by 30%. So it looks to me like you'll want to save Starsurge for right as you're about to hit full Solar or full Lunar and then blast away with empowered Wraths or Starfires.

Starfall now shares the charges and recharge time of Starsurge, hitting all nearby enemies and clearly taking on the role of the AoE counterpart to Starsurge.

Shooting Stars now adds a charge for these two spells, having a 2.5% chance to trigger off Moonfire and Sunfire ticks, or with a 5% chance when those ticks crit.

But wait, there's more!

Hurricane's range is increased, but it looks like Astral Storm's gone (nature is for AoE? I guess?) Wild Mushroom now basically detonates immediately, and is a single spell. Actually, it might be purely for the snare now.

Celestial Alignment now works by pausing the Balance Bar cycle and maximizing the Eclipse bonus for all spells (which is not that far from what it does now.)

Astral Communion just increases the rate of the cycle by 300% while channeled.

There are more changes, though I think we're getting into talents.

As you can see, this is some huge stuff for Balance. I'm curious to see how a resource system (or at least something like a resource system) that is completely based on just time passing will work. You will have some control over it with Astral Communion, so if you're a super-pro player you can line it up for extra-damage portions of a fight. Balance could prove to be pretty crazy and dizzying, but it certainly gives players a new option on how they want to play.

To Beta or not to Beta...

We're now about five months into 2014. When Warlords was first announced, there was some wild speculation that the Invitational Beta might come out as soon as January. Clearly it hasn't, but at this point, it's actually starting to be worryingly slow.

I do have some sympathy for Blizzard on this account. Betas were originally purely about testing things. They'd let the public take a look at a half-built, broken version of the game, and use the vast volume of testers all looking into different nooks and crannies to find problems with a sort of massive parallelism.

The problem, though, I think, is that Betas have become something more of a marketing tool. This was certainly the case for Mists of Pandaria, where guaranteed access to the Beta was given as a reward for signing on for the annual pass. Rather than being about testing, the Beta became something of a preview. It's a little like those short clips of movies they're showing nowadays in addition to trailers (which I actually hate, because scenes are not meant to exist in a vacuum,) whetting your appetite with a taste of what's to come.

Indeed, I think this is part of the reason so much emphasis has been put on the idea of this test being an Alpha, rather than a Beta. I think that Blizzard fears that if they call it a Beta, people will expect to be able to participate, when in fact, the Mists Beta - fun as it was to try out the Monk in its primordial stages (I might do a Memory Lane post about that some time) - was pretty overloaded.

One of the reasons they say the Invitational Beta has been delayed is that they want to rework some of the quest-flow, presumably to help integrate Garrisons more thoroughly, as they've said that they want Fort *Your Name Here* to be a major part of the leveling process.

So there's a tension for me here, which is that on one hand, I really want to get my hands on the new ability-pruned builds of the classes, not to mention check out what my characters are going to look like with the new models. But I also recognize that it's best for them if they limit who gets in. Let's be honest here, this blog's only gotten one comment ever (and it was someone complaining about my uncomfortableness with haste for Paladin Tanks. You win, angry commenter!) so I'm not exactly a "prominent" WoW blogger that Blizzard would want to get testing for marketing purposes. Much as I enjoyed Icatia, my female human Monk who Monked around back when Tiger Palm did extra damage to targets above 50% health, I also think the most important thing for Blizzard to do with Warlords is get it built, get it tested, iron out the kinks ASAP, and release hopefully before Siege of Orgrimmar has been out for a full year (though honestly, I expect that 5.4 will wind up being the longest-running patch in WoW history, and that Warlords will come out some time in the Fall.)

With a game as complex as WoW, I don't think you can get away without Beta testing at all, but I suspect that this time around, the Beta is going to be a more limited thing, getting a decent number of players in there to make sure that by chance, most of the bugs will be stumbled into.

For now, I'm going to enjoy watching the data-mining, just as I did for every expansion since Wrath. Blizzard, make my male human Paladin pretty and send me to Draenor as soon as you can!

(To Beta or not to Beta, that is the question,
Whether 'tis nobler in the test to suffer
the bugs and crashes of outraged players
or to nerf Arms against a sea of QQers
and by making Colossus Smash less effective against players, satisfy them?)

(Ok, I'm done.)

Changes Coming for the Arms Rotation

Arms Warriors will be seeing some big changes to the way that their spec operates, but fundamentally, the core idea of the rotation will remain largely unchanged. Specifically, Arms will still be about being efficient with Rage and then blowing as much of it as possible while under the effect of Colossus Smash, which of course, thanks to Sudden Death, is somewhat less predictable than it is with Fury.

In fact, most of the pieces are sticking around. Mortal Strike is still the main Rage generator and will be a central ability in the rotation. You're still going to have Colossus Smash and try to maximize its uptime.

The big change is that Overpower is going away. Overpower's old funkiness, with its activation on dodges and its bypassing of avoidance mechanics, doesn't really fit in the brave new world of no expertise. Also, while it's been a useful ability to be frugal with Rage, Arms is being re-focused on very hard-hitting abilities.

The big change here comes to Execute. The cost of Execute is getting doubled, but Arms Warriors will now be able to use Execute regardless of an enemy's health. What this means is likely that Execute will be used during Colossus Smash, and Slam will now take the place of Overpower as the "cheap" ability to use when conserving Rage.

But if you thought that sounded like a serious nerf to Execute, here's the fun part: When the enemy is actually in Execute range, your auto-attacks will generate 40 Rage. That's right: 40. That's a lot of Rage.

So I imagine that in that bottom 20%, Arms will be able to almost spam Execute (weaving in a Mortal Strike now and again.) It also makes haste more attractive, as this Execute spam will be more sustainable when in that range.

This certainly cuts down on one of Arms' rotational abilities. While I don't know that this was the spec that needed such a central ability removed, I'm eager to test out the new rotation.

Fundamentally I think the Arms Warrior is about getting in those major strikes, which makes it kind of fun that Slam is the "cheap" one, assuming it still does massive damage.

I do think that what we'll see with these changes is that Arms Warriors are going to have to plan ahead a bit more. "Do I really want to hit Slam again before I get this Colossus Smash up?" Without Overpower as a practically free ability, you might find yourself saving up Rage until you can get CS up. But on the other hand, when you are ready to spend that Rage, you'll be able to blast away with gigantic Executes. It'll certainly make for a less frantic rotation, but Arms was never one of those frantic specs anyway. The question is just how much you can slow the rotation down (and that's assuming that slowing the rotation is the actual effect of this - I'm not a very experienced theory crafter) before it gets too slow.

And as a side note, Arms' mastery (which currently feels a lot like Multistrike) will now buff Mortal Strike, Slam, and Execute, reinforcing that idea of getting off gigantic hits.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

MMO Monolithism

WoW is the first and only MMO I've ever played. Given the popularity of the game, dwarfing any of its subscription-based competitors, I imagine this is true for most of WoW's players.

Throughout WoW's lifespan, there have been a huge number of games to come about that have been touted as "WoW-killers." To rattle off a few, I remember Warhammer Online, Aeon, Rift, Star Wars the Old Republic, and there are probably others that I don't remember.

For the most part, I haven't really been drawn to these, but I do think it's interesting that these are all looked at as threats to WoW.

When I think of conventional video games, I don't think of them as being in any more direct competition than "which do I buy first?" I approach most console games on their own terms. My interest in Assassin's Creed II did not deter me from playing Mass Effect 2 (those were around the same time, right?)

Admittedly, there is a real cost. Video games tend to go for fifty or sixty bucks these days, and that's not negligible, unless you have a large discretionary budget. But even still, it's pretty uncommon for someone to completely write off a game if they get a different one.

But with MMOs it's a bit different. I have been playing WoW for about eight years now. It's impressive that a game has been able to hold my attention for that long, but in order to truly experience the game to its fullest - for example, to progress through its raids, a game like WoW requires a pretty enormous time commitment. Of course, it's fun, so one doesn't tend to mind, but it does somewhat shut out other gaming experiences. A game like Bioshock Infinite will take you only about a week, and that's with moderate play sessions. I can stand back and proudly look on how I completed the game and analyze it in a retrospective manner. Admittedly, WoW has really been more like a series of five games, with each expansion acting something like a sequel, but there's a fluidity between expansions that really comes back and tells us that it is one single game. And given the periodical way that content comes out (and the fact that people complain loudly whenever there's a lull, like right now,) there's basically always something you should be doing in-game, unless you've defeated the final boss of the expansion on heroic enough times to have a full set of heroic gear and/or have a full set of elite gladiator gear.

I defeated Garrosh Hellscream (admittedly only in LFR) several months ago. The story of Mists of Pandaria is really truly finished. Yet I still log in (though only about once a week these days) in a sense to prepare for the next expansion, though I'm sure that any progress I make these days (like upgrading my DK's gear to squeeze out a few more iLevels) will be pretty much irrelevant a day or two after Warlords comes out.

Anyway, the thing that made me think about this is that Wildstar is coming out soon. I've watched videos and read about the game, and for the first time I find myself strongly drawn to another MMO. Now, to point out something: as a Mac user, this is pretty much moot, because Wildstar is, like many games, PC-only. But if it's successful, I could imagine them making a Mac version, like NCSoft did for Guild Wars 2.

Wildstar really seems to be aiming at WoW's audience, with its bright, cartoonish style and a clear dedication to humor. It also does one of my favorite things by mashing up science fiction and fantasy. There's a class called a Spellslinger that's literally a magic gunslinger! The gameplay could be a breath of fresh air for the genre, and it looks like the developers have learned a few lessons in the ten years since WoW came out (like don't do pure DPS classes. Everyone's a hybrid!)

WoW is constantly being retrofitted with new concepts like Garrisons and the talent overhaul, but fundamentally, it's still basically the same game it always has been. And that's a great, fun game. I love WoW's classes and races. I love its world. I'm invested in WoW's lore and I love having a blue undead juggernaut alien anti-demon to go around committing horrific acts in the name of all that is good and holy.

Assuming that they come out with Wildstar for Macs or I get a PC, what then? Well, I would love to check out Wildstar. Yet there's a worry here that by playing one MMO I'd be automatically abandoning another. It's a strange psychology that MMO's create, and part of the reason why I was hesitant to start playing WoW in the first place.

So is the MMO genre inherently limiting? Can there be only one super-popular MMO while the rest struggle with tiny player bases? Is it merely a consequence of the subscription model? I don't know, but I hope that one day I'll be able to continue playing my blue alien anti-demon while getting to know some kind of robot assassin with a kickass hoverboard.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Speculation Follow-Up: "Relics" for Each Class

The cosmetic accessories is something they've only just started talking about, and it's something they said will only come "after we've faced the Iron Horde," meaning it's definitely not coming with 6.0 and may, in fact, not even come until 7.0 (if even then.)

But because it's on our minds now, I thought I'd go in, class-by-class, and speculate on what kind of things we could carry around.


Just getting this out of the way: Paladins will be carrying big ol' books on their belts. Actually, given that Paladins can't dual-wield, and their off-hand pieces are typically shields, this actually means that a Paladin's right hip is always free, so there's a place to put it.


The first thing that springs to mind is a war banner, like the kind samurai would charge into battle with. We've seen these in-game, usually on the backs of Blademaster-type characters. Alternatively, and maybe this is silly, but a few medals to pin to the warrior's chest would be cool.

Death Knight:

I'm not exactly sure what the "Sigil" was ever supposed to look like. The most iconic death knight item is the rune blade, but we already have rune forging to turn our weapons into those. Perhaps giving us more detailed, cosmetic runes for our weapons would work. Or perhaps we could have our sigils appear beneath us, or behind us like dark halos. Or maybe give us some kind of skull to hang from our belt.


A quiver or ammo pouch has already been put forward as an idea here. I think it would be cool to have some kind of wearable trophies from the massive beasts we've taken down, but then, a lot of Hunter tier armor is already themed that way.


Massive totems on our backs! Like Cairne (even if he was theoretically more of a warrior.) This just seems the most obvious thing.


They've already put forth poison-kits and hidden (but not too hidden, because, you know, it's cosmetic) daggers. Works for me!


The real trick with druids is to make sure you can see it in shape shift form. Most druids shape shift during combat, which has always had the unfortunate effect of making their cosmetic choices somewhat moot. Going with the "Idol" theme from their old relics, I could imagine something like a statuette hanging from a belt.


Big old keg on their back. That was easy! Alternatively, some sort of prayer beads, though this could also fit for a number of other classes.


It's tempting to go with a book of spells, though that treads a little on Paladin territory. Perhaps a crystal ball. I think it would be cool to bring some of the classic wizard archetype back into the Mage toolset.


Like the Mage, it would be tempting to have some kind of scary spell book (I can imagine something like the necronomicon or something bound in charred demon skin with a moving eye.) Going a little outside the box, perhaps you could have a voodoo doll, or a demon's claw. One person in the WoW Insider comments suggested tiny imps that would hop on your shoulders, which would be awesome.


Prayer beads, a holy book, perhaps a vial of holy water or sanctified oil?

These are just the ideas I've come up with now. I'm sure there are better ideas out there. I'll be excited to hear more about this feature as it develops, but for now, I think we're going to have to wait quite a long time before we see anything in-game.

Librams and other Cosmetic Accessories in the Works!

If you're a very new player, or if you just have the memory of a goldfish, you might not know about Relics.

Before Mists of Pandaria, players had a third weapon slot - the ranged slot. All the cloth casters - Warlocks, Priests, and Mages, would equip a wand in that slot, which at the time was ranged-only. Hunters would put their main weapon there, but would either carry a staff or pole arm, or even dual-wield daggers, swords, axes or fist weapons in their main and off-hand slots. Warriors and Rogues could then use Crossbows, Bows, and Guns, or they could fill that slot with the now-defunct Thrown weapon type.

But Paladins, Shamans, and Druids - and after Wrath, Death Knights - would get a Relic to put there.

Relics were really weird. First of all, each of these classes had a different kind of relic. Druids used Idols, Shamans used Totems (which were different from the totem items they originally had to carry in their inventory to perform totem spells, though at some point they made the equipped totem count for those four, so that you no longer had to eat up four of your inventory spaces,) Paladins used Librams, and Death Knights used Sigils.

From Classic through Wrath of the Lich King, these Relics had unique effects. A relic would enhance particular abilities. For example, the first Libram I remember getting on my Paladin enhanced the block chance provided by Holy Shield, which was once a core ability for Protection Paladins.

It also took a long time before you'd see these items - while ranged weapons and wands would pop up pretty early (immediately for hunters, of course,) you likely wouldn't even see a relic until you were past level 50.

In Cataclysm, probably because they would be far less of a nightmare to balance, relics were changed so that they would simply provide certain stats and have a single prismatic gem socket with no bonus.

With Mists' elimination of the ranged slot, the Relic was lost.

Yet for years, Paladins in particular had wanted to see the Librams they were carrying. Since WCII, Paladins had always been shown wearing giant Holy Books attached to their belts. Yet the equipped Librams were never visible on the character.

Well, here's the exciting news:

Blizzard is working - somewhat tentatively, so we don't know when this will go live (and it may never, but here's hoping) - on creating cosmetic, equippable items that go beyond our ordinary armor and weapons.

The most obvious example, is of course the Paladin's Libram, but they've also shown some other ideas, such as a quiver for Hunters (something that actually used to be in-game, though this looks like it will be cooler-looking) and the option of either a hidden shoulder-dagger or a pack of poison vials for Rogues.

This is truly in an embryonic stage of development, but considering how wildly successful transmog has been, I think opening up new ways to customize the looks of our characters is a great idea.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Female Night Elf Revealed

The latest Artcraft unveiled the female Night Elf!

Regarding this model in particular, I actually don't really see a huge difference other than the obvious greater fidelity. This is definitely one of the models that is less of a redesign than a polish. After all, the female night elf is one of the most iconic models in the game (it was on the cover of the Alliance version of the vanilla box.)

In case you can't see, they have confirmed that yes, the Night Elves are keeping their fangs. Oh, did you not know that Night Elves had fangs? Well, yes, they always have, but it's pretty subtle.

For those of you keeping score at home:

Revealed: (12/20)

Human Female
Dwarf Female
Dwarf Male
Gnome Female
Gnome Male
Night Elf Female
Draenei Female

Orc Female
Orc Male
Tauren Male
Undead Female
Undead Male

Yet to be Revealed:

Human Male
Night Elf Male
Draenei Male

Troll Female
Troll Male
Tauren Female
Blood Elf Female
Blood Elf Male

Admittedly, I have less and less to say about each of these posts. It really does look like they are keeping the same "feel" with these models (the only ones that I have felt might stray from that are the Orcs and Dwarves, though one must remember that those were the first models they unveiled, and may have gone through more iteration.)

The real test, I think, will be seeing these animated. I was very happy to see what they had done with the Tauren in its post, where it looked like they had finally found a cure for flap-jaw.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Timewalker Dungeons Hoped for Some Time in the Future

As an obsessive of all things time-travel related, I was very excited to see the Timewalker faction pop up on the Timeless Isle (if one can ever grind rep with them, I will be exalted.) The Bronze Dragonflight is the best dragon flight - that's just fact.

Anyway, as we've seen in a few data-minings and what has been now mentioned by Ion Hazzkostas in an interview, Blizzard is hoping to be able to implement Timewalker dungeons some time in the future. I doubt this is going to be there for 6.0, but I could see this being one of the major features to come about some time during the course of the expansion.

Oh, what's a Timewalker Dungeon, you ask? (I'll defend the lack of linearity in my thoughts here as being thematically appropriate when talking about time-travelers.) Timewalker Dungeons would be scaled (or perhaps scale us down) to allow us to go in and run dungeons of expansions past in a way that remains challenging.

It's heartening to hear that Blizzard is working on this. WoW has so many great dungeons that one just doesn't run anymore. Even when leveling up a new alt (a process that is being at the least de-emphasized with the level 90 boost,) many dungeons just don't get run. Level-cap dungeons, especially those more challenging ones that came in later patches, are basically impossible to run at the correct level. Now granted, I am not yet yearning to run 4.1-era ZG again, but having the option to go do Magister's Terrace or Forge of Souls, or End Time in a way that: A. isn't absurdly easy to solo (ok, End Time's just "easy" and not absurdly so) and B. has a built-in way to get likeminded people to go run them - would be really cool.

Some challenges present themselves, though:

1. It can't be mandatory

The expansion system for World of Warcraft functions by allowing us to play within the context of the particular current expansion. If you hated Pandaria, come 6.0 you'll be able to leave it behind entirely. Much as I loved the strange quasi-futuristic sci-fi landscape of Outland, or the classical grim fantasy (and awesome Titan stuff) of Northrend, I don't need to be forced to return there constantly for the rest of WoW's lifespan.

It's important for us to be able to leave some of that stuff behind, for the same reason that as much as I love Ocarina of Time, I haven't been playing it over and over for the past sixteen years (wow, that makes me feel old.)

So making Timewalker dungeons a separate thing from the random heroics you use to get gear and Valor Points or whatever is important.

2. There still should be some incentive

It's a tough line to walk in an MMO, where both PvP and PvE are intensely competitive, between mandatory and pointless. Still, I'd love to see Timewalker dungeons provide some sort of reward. Gold is always an option, in that it's useful, but not game-defining (a player with a million gold who's never stepped into a raid is still going to be less powerful than heroic raider with two thousand gold.) But gold's actually a minor enough part of WoW that it might not actually be a big enough incentive.

Cosmetic rewards seem like the best option here. Titles, pets, mounts, and transmog gear could all be ways to get people to run these things while not forcing them to.

I figure running Timewalker versions of every old dungeon could give you a title, and then each time you complete one of these dungeons, you could get a currency that is spent on those cosmetic rewards. Rewards could be added to keep people running them in future expansions, and with enough rewards, you could keep people running them for a while before running out of stuff to get.

Still, given that these would probably take about as long as contemporary dungeons, it might be nice to get Valor Points, though you could make the reward rate lower to encourage people to run the new stuff.

3. Something would have to be done about Vanilla Instances

A lot of the best dungeons of vanilla were redesigned in Cataclysm and Mists, which had the unfortunate effect of leaving only the least popular ones unchanged. Deadmines and SFK were the original linear dungeons, which made them kind of the model for dungeons in BC and beyond. But that means that what we're left with in vanilla dungeons are the enormous, labyrinthine dungeons.

Now obviously, there's some fun to be had doing the huge dungeons. Blackrock Depths is actually awesome - if you're exploring solo or with one or two friends. But when you're in a match-made group of people who just want to get to the end of the dungeon, it's a pain.

In Cataclysm I believe, BRD was divided into two "wings" - the instance is unchanged, but depending on your LFG group, you might be deposited later in the dungeon and have to kill a different "final" boss. The problem is that there are parts of the dungeon that are not covered in either wing. Breaking it up was probably a good idea for the sanity of the players, and I applaud that they didn't physically separate it like Stratholme, so that if you wanted to, you could just keep going and clear the whole place. But they just need to make sure that every part of the dungeon is covered by one of the LFG pseudo-wings.

The other reason vanilla dungeons might be a bit of a slog is that many of the bosses in vanilla dungeons were pretty dull. A lot of those bosses would basically have no abilities, and only hit harder than a regular mob. That's not so bad when you're still learning how to play, but coming in at level 100, it's going to be a little pathetic when the boss is just a damage sponge.

One option would be to only Timewalkerize BC dungeons and beyond (including the revamped DM, SFK, SM, and Scholo... and UBRS... though that wouldn't really be a Timewalker until 7.0) But that would cut out a fairly large swath of dungeons, some of which I do legitimately think would be fun to run at max level (I was always partial to Razorfen Downs.)

4. Scaling

This is pretty simple: I'd recommend they scale the dungeons up rather than scaling the players down. Firstly, that keeps you from having to worry about the whole question of whether players retain their abilities when they get scaled down in level, and it would also mean that you could just figure out what boss and mob health ought to be for people at the level cap, and bring everything up to there.

I don't think you really need Proving Grounds/Challenge Mode- style scaling for this. Each expansion, you could just figure out the new level of difficulty for Timewalker Dungeons, and as the expansion goes on, players would get more powerful and be able to beat the dungeons more easily. If it's all for cosmetic rewards, then what's the worry?

5. Loot

What kind of loot do bosses drop? Well, you could just have them drop their ordinary loot. If someone wants it for transmog, then what do they care that it's designed for a level 70 toon?

For fun, you could also have each boss have a chance to drop something actually useful for a level 100 - not often enough to make Timewalkers more rewarding than heroics, but a little reward for your effort.

Walking the Dungeons:

I'm sure that Blizzard will look into this as a potential feature, and I think it would be a great way to allow people to have fun little nostalgia trips. There's so much stuff in WoW that we never see anymore. It'd be fun to hop back in and fight our way through the old haunts.