Wednesday, July 30, 2014


This is 100% Grade-A Spoiler (and thoughts on said spoiler) for something in Warlords of Draenor that does not seem to relate to the central plot, but is rather a hint for things coming far in the future. It's also highly speculative that it even represents something that will bear fruit, or even that I'm interpreting it correctly. For the spoiler conscious: beware. For those who only want solid news: beware.

For those who want to geek out, and hard, join me after the break...

Blood Elf Models Will Be Delayed

Blizzard first talked about updating character models some time before Mists of Pandaria, and the new models are arguably one of the flagship features of Warlords of Draenor. When the models were officially announced, Blizzard noted a few caveats: they didn't guarantee that they would all be there for launch, and at the time, they only guaranteed updates for vanilla models.

However, more recently, they confirmed that the Burning Crusade races - Draenei and Blood Elves, would be getting their own updates, and they even said that the Cataclysm races could get some love (though with these they made it clear that the Cata races would only get their updates after everyone else got them.)

The models have been coming along pretty well, and so the conservative estimates of only releasing a few of them with launch have grown a bit more optimistic, such that it looks like we'll be seeing just about all of them come 6.0.

Except the Blood Elves.

Sorry, Belfs. According to Blizzard, they did not feel they could do the Blood Elves justice in time for launch. While some may scream Alliance favoritism (for a change,) I can't really argue that the Draenei were not a bigger priority for this expansion. The Draenei are the second-most important race in this new expansion, and play an absolutely central role for the Alliance, and a pretty big one for the Horde as well (I'm given to understand that even Horde players will interact a lot with Yrel.)

The Blood Elves are not unseen, though, in Warlords, as they play a big role for Horde players in Talador in the fight against the Shadow Council.

It would be cool to have every new model out by launch, but I think that if you were going to delay any race revamp, it would be the Blood Elves. The BC races both certainly look dated, but they're still a big step up from vanilla, despite only coming out about two years later. And while I'd caution against inferring from omission, this also might suggest that 9/10 of the scheduled-to-be-revamped races will be getting their models.

Excluding Blood Elves, that leaves only Male Night Elves and both Trolls to be revealed in some way. Currently on the Beta, we're missing those as well as Male Humans and Female Tauren. There's still work to be done (in addition to the whole facial posing thing, they really have to fix the angle of Male Draenei shoulder armor!) but things are looking pretty decent.

In terms of art assets, I know we're still waiting on nearly all cutscenes, perhaps some new building models (some of the garrison buildings look identical regardless of which tier of that building you have) and we're missing music in most of the zones. But there's a lot that is in there (the Arrakoa - both the winged and clip-winged kind - look awesome.)

I know that this will piss off a large number of Horde players, given the popularity of the Blood Elves, but I'm sure we'll see these models implemented very soon after launch - probably in 6.1, if not even in a minor patch before then.

Plus, this means that Blood Elves will have the oldest character models in the game for a little bit, which is... cool... I guess.

We're still waiting to see Trolls, though I think the two normal-looking trolls from the Council of Elders in Throne of Thunder are most likely a good indicator of what we'll be seeing.

And we haven't heard a peep about those cosmetic trinkets they were talking about a few months ago. 

Blizzard Demonstrates Why Sameface Will Not Be a Problem

One of the big concerns with the new character models has been that, in testing, a lot of the faces either don't look all that much like the original versions, or they all look the same. I'll certainly admit that the differences between the Orc male faces on the Beta are subtle, to put it lightly.

But never fear! In the latest Artcraft article, Blizzard is showing why Sameface has been showing up, and why it won't be a problem as we get into later Beta builds.

I think the most demonstrative example is in this image:

To summarize the article, the vanilla models all used the same geometry. They were mostly flat faces that only had a bump for the nose, some depressions for eyes, and a little opening for the mouth. In the above example on the left, they actually just painted the dwarf's upper lip with teeth to give him that snarl.

But the new models will have individually-rendered teeth as well as lips, so these little cheats aren't really necessary.

What this does mean, however, is that in addition to texturing the models, they also have to adjust the poses. As you can see, the middle model (which is what we see on the Beta now) is in a basically neutral pose, and has none of the berserker-insanity that the old model radiates. However, with the facial posing implemented on the right, you can now see that psychotic dwarf is once again ready to start smashing everything in sight with a mighty hammer.

I recommend checking the article out for a few more examples that really get across the importance of this posing.

There's also some fun tidbits like the fact that they're now expecting to have all the vanilla models there when Warlords comes out (no word on Blood Elves, but one assumes that they'll be in the mix, or at least coming soon after.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Predicting the Patch Cycle

Having finished leveling up through the Warlords of Draenor beta, I've now done a pretty grand tour of the new continent/planet/universe, with a few unfinished quest chains, yes, and I never really finished the Frostfire Ridge experience, but a pretty good sense of the world as it stands.

The Iron Horde has a presence in every zone, even if it's fleeting (which really only describes Spires of Arak.) It's very clear that the Iron Horde is the Illidari/Scourge/Twilight's Hammer/Sha of the expansion - the headliner that will make its presence felt throughout the expansion with few exceptions. While I had wondered before seeing the Beta whether the Iron Horde might, like the Illidari, prove to be something of a red herring, at this point it seems very likely that it will be where we face the final boss.

I still think it's possible that Grommash will not be that boss, though. I'm not saying he won't, mind you, and actually I think it's more likely than not that he will be, but there's still the big question of just what role Gul'dan will be playing. However, (and here's the thing to look up should I want to see myself seeming foolish in the future,) I think it's basically one or the other. The final boss will be an Orc whose name begins with a G and has not been the boss of a previous expansion.


There are two zones we know will have to open up at some point in the patches. I predict that the first to do so will be Farahlon. Farahlon is what became Netherstorm, and if the Image of Archmage Vargoth is to be believed, it once looked not unlike Westfall. I'm not going to hold Blizzard to that (the purple stone there is too tempting an aesthetic to ignore.)

I'm thinking Farahlon will either be 6.1 or 6.2. The question, then, is what will be there? We really don't hear anything about Farahlon during the leveling process. In BC, Farahlon was home to the Naaru-built Manaforges, which were used to power the dimension-traveling fortress-vessel Tempest Keep. However, there's no guarantee that any of that stuff was there before Draenor turned into Outland. The Blood Elves (other than the Horde-friendly ones) would obviously not be there, as in that universe they're presumably still High Elves who have never heard of Draenor.

There could very well be Shadow Council and Burning Legion forces at work there. Both have had a presence in Draenor (primarily in Talador, but also in other places.) There may not yet be Forge Camps like in Outland, but particularly if the Shadow Council winds up being the middle raid tier, this would be a decent place to put them (though I'm kind of hoping they remain a threat to the end of the expansion.)

I'm hoping that Kairoz and the Infinite Dragonflight are the ones we find there. While I don't hold all that much hope that the Infinites will be key players in Warlords (and perhaps that would be for the best, as I really, really, really want there to be an Infinite-centric expansion some day,) Kairoz is still clearly tied to this world. Then again, Wrathion was also helping Kairoz, so we ought to deal with him (that said, I really hope they never make Wrathion a full-out villain, as I prefer to have a morally-grey sometime-ally.)

Tanaan Jungle:

Tanaan Jungle is 100% certain to be opening up at some point, but I really have to think it'll be the final raid tier that comes with it, or perhaps we'll open the zone up in the patch preceding the one with the raid. 5.1 was super-popular (though I think we all forget that 5.3 was kind of dull,) and so I think Blizzard will likely stick to the raid-tier-every-other-patch strategy.

There's almost certainly going to be some other areas that open up. We could also see some of the current zones transformed, as Krasarang Wilds were in 5.1.

I expect we'll see further additions to garrisons as the expansion rolls on, hopefully adding in more cosmetic customization.

Blizzard seems to be considering disabling flight for the entire expansion, but they are also not ruling out the reintroduction of flying. I've shared my thoughts on this many times. Now that I've seen the zones, I think flight would have to be a max-level skill. These are zones that are designed to be quested through while grounded. You really need to design a zone around flight for it to be fun to fly there, like Icecrown or Storm Peaks, and these are not like that. I would have loved to see a Spires of Arak designed around flying - sending us up to assault the arial bases of the Adherents, but what's done is done, and I think that flight would cheapen the leveling experience in the way Blizzard worried about with these particular zones.

Still, I think that as time goes on, I'm just going to want the opportunity to fly around this place, so hopefully that will come in 6.1 or so. I'd love if they designed Farahlon or Tanaan around flight, but I think it's more likely that we're just going to get grounded in those zones like in the Isle of Thunder or the Timeless Isle.

Ogre Continent:

There's some speculation that the area to the south of the Draenor continent we all know and love is another land. While Highmaul might be the capital of the Ogre Empire, I vaguely recall the developers discussing the Ogres in these zones as being the last vestige of a far larger Ogre Empire. I really have no idea what they're going to do with that little stretch of land, if indeed that's what we're actually looking at.

Stuff in Azeroth:

Mists of Pandaria really required us to go back to the old world, given how it all ended up leading us to the Siege of Orgrimmar, and Cataclysm was explicitly set in the Old World (and then the final raid was mostly set in Icecrown... but the portal there was in Kalimdor!) The Iron Horde has invaded Azeroth (that's why we're there, remember!) which is actually a bit of a tactical blunder, given the resistance they're facing from the Draenei. We're going to be dealing with the Dragonmaw and our universe's Blackrock Clan in Upper Blackrock Spire (so long, Zaela,) but perhaps there's a greater presence to be felt there? How far into Azeroth does the Iron Horde reach?

I also think it's possible that we'll see some hints at the next expansion in this one, which could be a real wildcard. We could find a resurgence of the Naga, or the Infinite Dragonflight (hint hint!) or the Burning Legion, or the Scourge (covers mouth, pretends he didn't say that,) but hopefully in a really vague and tangential way.

Draenor's absolutely important to Warcraft lore, and I certainly don't think we're missing out on the "main story stuff" the way some feared when we first got to Pandaria (only to find that Pandaria was full of Titan/Old God lore.) But it seems almost a perfect guarantee that whatever comes after is going to happen in Azeroth.

My hope for Warlords is that they pace themselves. It was very cool to get the patches in such quick succession for Mists, but the end result was that we've been (and will continue to) wait for Warlords longer than we've ever waited for an expansion to come out after the final patch. I'd much rather have us spend a little more time on the initial raid tiers than go for over a year on the final one.

While I know that they want to release expansions quicker - even shooting for once a year, as they once said - I think it's pretty solidly established that it takes about two years to make a WoW expansion. If you plan around that with plenty of well-paced patch content, it won't be so bad.

Realities of the Stat Squish

When I was a relatively new player (I started in vanilla but didn't actually see the level cap until halfway through BC,) I didn't really pay all that much attention to damage numbers or meters. Meters can be a frustrating pissing contest, but I also think they are useful. Players should absolutely care about how much damage they are doing, and raid leaders need to know which players need to either gear-up or maybe fine-tune their rotations, but if the bosses are going down, that's when you need to step back and be satisfied.

As a new-ish player, my main concerns were how big the numbers I could see were. In BC, I remember that getting my tank up to 12,000 health was a big accomplishment. My rogue sat at about 7000 (and if those numbers look low for BC, I should add that I didn't do raids or heroics - just level-cap dungeons.) Dealing a thousand damage in a single attack was pretty cool, and tended to be more the realm of casters than dual-wielding melee or tanks.

We've seen the scale grow in each expansion, and by Mists, we've gotten to the point where a Destro Warlock in good gear can regularly get million-plus Chaos Bolts. Ragnaros, the final boss of Molten Core (and Firelands, but I'm talking about the vanilla version) had 999k health. We've gotten a lot more powerful.

So the notion Blizzard had was to implement a stat squish. The exponential growth in iLevel in older expansions has been flattened out into linear growth. What this means is that the difference between Karazhan and Black Temple gear is much smaller than it used to be, and likewise the difference between Naxxramas and ICC gear, and such.

There's been some outrage about the squish, making us feel less powerful than we did, but I can actually say that A: you barely notice, as things go down about as quickly (though there is the usual "my epics aren't as impressive now that they're nine levels old" feeling, which we've always had to deal with,) and B: we don't actually look all that squished.

You'll still have nearly a hundred thousand health after the squish (non-tank,) and once you climb to 100, it's clear that we're going to see Cataclysm-and-higher health levels at the cap. And given that that's all in questing greens, I think we're going to probably be hitting early-Mists health levels by the time the later tiers roll around. So ultimately, the squish is not going to be that crazy.

That said, I'm leaving one detail out, which is that health pools, post-squish, have been roughly doubled. So while you might have 140k health when you hit level 90, this is really more akin to having 70k under the old paradigm. The idea here is to make damage and healing a more gradual thing. Blizzard has always wanted to make it more likely that players will be somewhere in between totally dead and full health, which promotes a more interesting and strategic healing game. (When this is not the case, they need to make sure that healers have tons of regen so that they can spam their biggest heals and... healers become one-button classes.)

So your damage will be cut by a somewhat larger percentage. However, this health-doubling applies only to players, as far as I know. I'm sure this will make PvP feel a bit slower-paced, but that's what they're aiming for (even if they wouldn't dare use the word "slower," for fear of an uproar.) They want it to be more thoughtful and strategic, and the only way to do that is to slow things down.

But what about soloing old instances?

Well, first off, the Warlords-era stuff is still on the usual expansion-exponential-growth scale, and so if you have any trouble with old content at first, you'll pretty quickly be able to clear Ulduar solo once again. But even better, they've made the scaling of high-level players versus lower-level NPCs into a much bigger deal. Just hacking away on a level 80 target dummy in Acherus, I was Obliterating for well over a million damage a strike. Throw in an extra ten levels, and you'll be absolutely beasting old content. In fact, I suspect that even Mists content will be soloable by most decently-geared players at 100.

So the squish: I think the impact is pretty minimal, but I also begin to wonder whether it was necessary. In the future, I hope that they just graduate to abbreviated numbers. Once you're doing 297,382 damage with an attack, do we really need those last three digits? I wouldn't mind just seeing 297k pop up instead, and then when we get more powerful in whatever expansion follows Warlords, we can start seeing 1.82m.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nagrand First Impressions, Plus Draenor Initial Impressions

Once you hit level 98, you're free to enter Nagrand. Often cherished as the most idyllic and actually pleasant-looking place in Outland (though honestly, I always found it pretty boring, and tedious given the single flight point in the whole zone - which is thankfully not the case in Draenor's Nagrand,) Nagrand is the home of the Warsong Clan, who are now the top clan in the Iron Horde, thanks to their leader Grommash Hellscream taking the position of Warchief.

Some SPOILERS here. If you're ultra-sensitive, best not to read these "first impressions" articles.

Nagrand is still filled with grassy plains and plenty of wildlife, though there's a slight hint of the kind of dry savannah that you'd expect a clan of nomadic warriors to call home. It's no Barrens, and frankly, it's more similar to Outland's Nagrand in climate. The main thing you'll notice, though, is that the Iron Horde is very strong here. Watchtowers dot the landscape, and when you first enter the zone, you immediately get attacked by some Warsong Raiders.

With Grommash off in Tanaan, ruling as Warchief, he has placed none other than his alternate-universe future son as Warlord of the Warsong Clan. That's right, this is where Garrosh has wound up. And just as he segregated Orgrimmar during his time as Warchief of the true (and the True) Horde, Garrosh has declared that only the Warsong and Burning Blade Clans are allowed to stay in Nagrand (the Burning Blade are apparently long-time allies of the Warsong.) I expect that the final reckoning with Garrosh is close at hand, which also suggests some symmetry, as this is where Horde players first met him.

There's plenty of hunting to be done in Nagrand, and Hemet Nesingwary has set up there, but ironically, he's not actually holding a hunting safari (at least not yet,) and is instead attempting to help in the effort against the Iron Horde.

The very obviously center of the threat there is Grommashar, which looks like an Orgrimmar-sized city in southern Nagrand. You'll definitely come across it as you traverse the zone.

Yet the Warsong are not the only threats in Nagrand. After all, this is where Highmaul is, which is the capital of the Ogre Empire. I've only had a few encounters with the Ogres, but I expect that I'll be seeing more of them as I quest up to 100. Additionally, Nagrand is where Oshu'gun is, aka the Genedar, which is the ship that the Draenei arrived on centuries before. I have yet to get the quests sending me there, but I would not be surprised if there was a bit more Shadow Council activity over there.

Now that I've seen every zone coming in 6.0 (and an an aside, I don't so much mind that Tanaan Jungle isn't releasing with the expansion, but they really should have been clear about that from the word go,) what do I think of Draenor as a whole?

It's cool. There's a wonderful feeling of nostalgia here for the Burning Crusade. That said, the thing I liked most about BC was the weird, outer-spacy feel to the place (Netherstorm being the best example of that.) Still, as big time-travel nerd (even if this isn't technically time-travel,) it's really cool to see how wildly transformed the zones have been. Obviously, some of it doesn't really link up perfectly (Skettis, for instance, looks nothing like it did in BC) but I love the idea of seeing how much things changed. And given that the old Outland is still going to be there, and the fact that Draenor was clearly built from the ground up, there's no sense of this being cobbled together. If anything, this makes me wish that they could go back and make Outland look as good as Draenor, but that would require unlimited time and effort.

Questing has evolved considerably. There's now a kind of happy medium with the freedom and choice you got in Vanilla and BC questing and the clear, structured storytelling of the more linear Wrath, Cata, and Mists style. Assuming they don't nerf XP gains (or increase XP requirements,) you're not going to finish every quest in every zone unless you choose to. Every zone has an interesting story in it, with the possible exception of Gorgrond (which is my least favorite zone, to be frank.)

Also, the advantage of a ten-level expansion is immediately evident. Cataclysm and Mists both had five levels each. Draenor has ten levels, but the climb from 90 to 100 is as fast if not faster than say 85-90. What this means is that you get your "dings" pretty frequently, and you get to play with your new perks. Also, your old epics from Mists don't degrade as suddenly as had happened previously, because with more levels, they can make secondary stat ratings degrade at a more gradual pace.

Despite the speed of leveling, there isn't the sense that there's not enough there. You have some truly epic moments during the leveling process, and there's a pretty wide range of stuff that you get to see.

Garrisons are still coming along, but the general sense I get is that they feel pretty well-integrated into the leveling process. The main takeaway from them is that everyone actually treats you with respect for once. You are referred to in quests as "Commander," (which actually opens up the option to have voice actors actually refer to the player character.) It's clear that every member of your faction that's there is working for you. They still send you on quests, yes, but the idea is that they recognize that you're a freaking badass, and the only person who could handle it.

Even the Iron Horde takes note of this, occasionally trying to trap or assassinate you during the course of your questing. So.. yeay? (Yes.)

Overall, I think Draenor feels very fleshed-out. Part of this is certainly that the various characters are pre-established. But before Draenor, I probably couldn't tell you that much about what the difference between the Shattered Hand and the Burning Blade were. We also do get a much clearer image of Draenei culture and society (I'm going to feel so much more guilty when killing Exarch Maladaar in Auchenai Crypts from now on.)

I'm eager to see how the storyline develops as the various content patches are released. There's still no word on the Infinite Dragonflight, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled (and unless I've misinterpreted a certain quest in Spires of Arak due to wishful thinking, there is one personal favorite Warcraft enemy that might be coming back.)

Spires of Arak First Impressions

Before the unlocking of the final two leveling zones, Blizzard did a character wipe on the Beta, and while you can now create level 100 characters on a server that actually lets you go to Draenor, I decided that I wanted to see what the zones were like when questing through them at the right level.

Thankfully, leveling is a quicker process than it has been in the past. Some speculate that this is because it's Beta, but I actually think it's a fantastic change of pace. Now, you'll pretty much always have a few quest chains left over before you out level a zone, which means that you can either decide to stay there if you like the feel of the place, or you can move on. It should also make leveling up with many alts much more interesting. And I haven't even been running dungeons, which I imagine will also contribute a chunk of XP that should speed you through.

And given that there's still questing content at 100, I think this is really just a good thing. While I hate the mantra "the game begins at the level cap," I also think that it's fine to make this final climb quick. Every expansion, they nerf XP for the whole climb, but then things slow down tremendously once you're in the new continent. That's mostly ok because the questing there is newest, but I think it's best to leave people wanting more, and encouraging people to level up alts. There are going to be a hundred levels to climb (after people use their initial level 90 boost on one character,) so I think making that climb feel fast-paced and fun rather than an interminable grind is wise.

Ok, tangent complete. How's Spires of Arak?

So far, I'm really enjoying the zone. The opening moments, as you journey south from Talador and witness the haughty brutality of the Arrakoa ruling class against the outcasts, are pretty breathtaking. Really, the central through line of the zone fleshes out Arrakoa culture. We never really knew exactly what was motivating them and why they were the way they were in BC, but here we begin to piece things together.


There are a few different Arrakoa factions, but the most basic divide is between the Outcasts and the Adherents of Rukhmar (Adherents for short.) The Adherents still rule the Spires, where there are massive cities up in the sky. The Adherents power their civilization through the technology of the long-lost Apexis civilization. We don't really get a sense of what the Apexis were. It's open to interpretation, but I think this is the strongest evidence of a potential Titan presence of Draenor.

The Arrakoa were once ruled by Talon King Terrok, but he was betrayed and thrown down into the blood of the god Sethe, who had been killed long ago. The blood had a corruptive influence on Arrakoa, twisting the minds of the weak-willed and ruining the body. Those who persevered found strength in the Raven God Anzu, and it's those guys that you're helping out, but some of the outcasts turned to worship Sethe, and basically went evil.

Meanwhile, the good Arrakoa use a kind of benign shadow magic, and you get to do a lot of interesting tricks with their power of illusion.


The Arrakoa are certainly center-stage here, but there are other threats at play. There is one Alliance-only quest chain (though there could be something mirrored there for the Horde) that brings the absolute most out-of-nowhere threat back into the picture, if I am interpreting what happened correctly.

SPOILER FOR ALLIANCE-SPECIFIC STUFF: After setting up your outpost, you find out that Admiral Taylor is leading his own forces, much as you are, and he set up his garrison in Spires of Arak. When you arrive at his garrison, however, you find out to your horror that everyone there is dead, their ghosts haunting the place. Some of the ghosts can be shaken from their trance, however, and reveal that there was a mutiny. You eventually discover that Admiral Taylor is dead, and after fighting off an undead creature made from his body, you kill the necromancer, who alludes to his "master." Admiral Taylor's ghost is recovered, however, and somehow he actually becomes a follower at your garrison. So... easy go, easy come? The main thing though: Does this mean the Scourge is coming back?

And I haven't done everything there either.

The atmosphere of the zone is quite cool, though I'll have to see what it looks like in the daytime. The rocky spires have a kind of mountainous or desert feel, but the forests are dark and shady. And the remnants of the Apexis are everywhere to be found, begging for more investigation.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Release Date Speculation!

Blizzard is obviously allowed to release Warlords of Draenor any time they please, but they have set the end of fall as a deadline (Dec. 20th being the last day of fall.) That said, there's one big hint as to the release date, and that's the fact that the Horde Chopper from the Azeroth Choppers thing is due to be released on Sept. 30th. It stands to reason that they'd want people to try out that new mount in the new content.

So how plausible is that? Sept. 30th would mean a release in two months. Is that enough time?

The beta has been going on for about a month now. What's open?

Well, all the zones are open (save Tanaan, which will be in a later patch, like Farahlon, but taunting us by being on the map from the get-go.) You can level up from 90-100 through said zones (there was a character wipe though, so I'm taking my DK back through the zones again, though I'm already back to Talador.)

I believe that all but two of the dungeons have been opened up, and while I haven't run them myself, each of them looks very cool (personally, the ones that I'm most excited for are Grimrail Depot, Skyreach, and Auchindoun.) We still haven't seen the Iron Docks or the Everbloom, but otherwise things are open for testing.

Raid Testing is going on the usual two-bosses-at-a-time schedule.

Garrisons came a long way in the latest patch, but there's clearly still a bit to set up.

Professions probably still need some work - there doesn't seem to be any cloth yet or enchanting materials, but the ore and herbs are there.

I haven't really tried out the level 100 questing content. I think I'm going to try to get to 100 the natural way first, so that I'll have flight points and stuff to travel around and check it out.

So overall, there's clearly still a lot of work to be done. The question, then, is whether that work can be done within the next two months. Given how much has changed in the past month, I think it's hard to predict.

I think Sept. 30th is a plausible release date. Alternatively, it could be when patch 6.0 drops, and we get our pre-expansion event (which I think we're all really hoping will be more like Wrath or Cataclysm and not the non-event that Mists got.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Claws of Shirvallah - Werecats as a Druid Talent

Apparently in the latest beta build, there's a new talent for Feral Druids (I assume only Feral) that changes one's cat-form into a Sabreon form (and one that changes depending on your race.) It allows you to cast your non-cat spells while in that form and increases Versatility by 5%.

The most interesting thing is that there seems to be a real lore justification for this which could play into the background of the Sabreon race. The talent, like some rare spells and passives, has a little quote. This one is from Hamuul Runetotem, which reads "Have we learned nothing from the Scythe of Elune?"

In case you weren't aware, the Scythe of Elune was linked to a group of druids that attempted to create a new animal form based on the Wolf god, Goldrinn. These "Druids of the Pack" couldn't really handle the way that wolf-form changed their personalities, and essentially became feral. The Scythe of Elune was created using one of Goldrinn's fangs, and the druids hoped to gain control over their form by submitting to the Scythe's will, but instead, it altered the form into a half-humanoid, half-wolf form.

Those druids were kept quarantined in the Emerald Dream until Archmage Arugal found some obscure reference to them in an old tome of magic. Arugal summoned the wolf-druids in order to fight the Scourge, but they brought with them a supposed curse, which began to infect the humans fighting alongside them. And that's why nearly all of Gilneas are now Worgen.

So the Claws of Shrvallah could very well be a Draenic version of the Scythe of Elune. What does that then mean? Are the Sabreon actually some native Draenor species - perhaps even Orcs - who learned druidism and fell into a similar trap as the druids of the pack, only they were overwhelmed by a cat god named Shirvallah?

The Sabreon already use the Worgen model skeleton, but it would have been fairly reasonable to assume that this was just because they often use that skeleton for beast-like humanoids (both the Saurok and Mantid used it in Mists.) But if this talent goes forward, it could suggest interesting things about the Sabreon, even if, so far, their presence in Draenor has been minimal.

EDIT: Some Googling has revealed that Shirvallah is one of the Troll Loa of Azeroth, and has shown up in-game before through adherents in Zul'gurub. Given that I'm 99% certain the Ancients worshipped by the Night Elves and the August Celestials in Pandaria are just subsets of the many animal gods worshipped by the Trolls, it makes perfect sense that a Loa could be the basis for a new druid form. But that does make one wonder about the Sabreon - though one must remember that the Orcs worshipped Goldrinn as well (though they called him Lo'gosh,) so it's possible that the Ancients/Celestials/Loa transcend the Great Dark Beyond to be worshipped on many distant planets.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gul'dan and the Legendary Ring of Warlords

While I wouldn't rule out weapon legendaries coming out in individual tiers, you had to expect that, given the success of the Mists of Pandaria legendary cloak chain, Blizzard would want to do something similar.

While looking over content for the latest beta build, I came across this little stretch of dialogue options (found on MMO-Champion)

  • As powerful as I am, I cannot be everywhere at once.
  • Game Text #86959 - But you, commander, are my greatest resource. Between the skill of your allies and the might of your garrison, there is not a stronghold that can withstand you.
  • Game Text #86960 - Under your leadership, the full might of the Alliance expeditionary force will engage the Iron Horde.
  • Game Text #86961 - Under your command, the Horde's greatest warriors will engage Grommash and his army.
  • Game Text #86962 - But I will be concentrating on the single greatest threat to the safety of Azeroth:
  • Game Text #86963 - Gul'dan. Darkness incarnate.
  • Game Text #86964 - In all my years, Gul'dan is the craftiest, most diabolical foe I have ever encountered. I hold myself accountable for his release.
  • Game Text #86965 - We MUST find and eliminate Gul'dan and his nascent Shadow Council network.
  • Game Text #86966 - With your help, I can track him down. I will ask a great deal of you. I will task you to the very edge of your abilities.
  • Game Text #86967 - But I will also help you as much as I am able. Together we will create for you an artifact of legendary power.
  • Game Text #86968 - With a core forged from the heart of Draenor's sun, this ring is a foundation upon which we will build a wonder.

While it doesn't say explicitly who is speaking, it seems pretty clear that this will be Khadgar sending you on your legendary quest line.

I had wondered, actually, if we might find ourselves allying with Gul'dan in order to defeat the Iron Horde. Wrathion isn't a villain, per se, (though he did help spring Garrosh,) but there was definitely a "morally grey" feeling to Mists' legendary chain. But it looks like we draw the line at the most evil mortal who ever lived. Go figure.

Given that this seems to be focused on eliminating Gul'dan, this could potentially hint that Grommash isn't actually the final boss of the expansion.

I do wonder, however, if we'll have the same kind of bonuses along the way as we did with the cloak chain, or if we'll just get a better ring each tier. And theoretically, one could limit this to a single tier, though honestly, this feels a lot bigger than that.

Anyway, keeping an eye out here more details, both on legendaries and Gul'dan.

Max-Level Outdoor Content: Tanaan Jungle Coming in a Later Patch (And Other Warlords News, Including a Speculative Release Date)

This might have been good to let us know earlier, but apparently, beyond the opening experience surrounding the Dark Portal, has always been planned to be patch content, and not an area that we would be questing in while leveling up, or even right after hitting 100.

This is disappointing, because it means we will have one fewer zone. Yet it also makes a little sense if my predictions are correct.

Hellfire Citadel was the headquarters of the Horde during the Draenei Genocide, the First War, and the Second War. And it stood in Hellfire Penninsula, which in Draenor B (and possibly pre-Outland Draenor A) is called Tanaan Jungle.

Hellfire Citadel could very easily be the final raid of Warlords of Draenor, and thus, it would make sense for Tanaan to be the zone that comes with the final patch, like Quel'danas. It's just unprecedented for a zone to be so visibly part of the new continent and yet inaccessible.

Yet I do like the idea that we know exactly (and that's assuming I'm correct) where the final raid will be for the whole expansion. While the Black Temple wasn't truly the final raid of BC (and we actually went there in 2.1,) it was pretty awesome to see that incredibly ominous place that really screamed "final dungeon." Wrath of the Lich King really perfected this, with Icecrown Citadel standing, impenetrable through 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2, before we finally broke through the Lich King's defenses and took him down.

It would have been interesting to see an entire questing zone designed for max level (questing, not daily quests,) but the good news is that there will be level 100 content in every zone, including Horde stuff in SMV and Alliance stuff in Frostfire.

So, if I had to guess, I think we're going to get Farahlon (Netherstorm in Outland) in 6.1 or 6.2, with Tanaan opening up with the final raid tier in 6.3 or 6.4.

I just hope that they build Tanaan up enough. I'd like to see us trying and failing to breach the defenses at level 100. Perhaps we'd have to finally defeat whatever malevolent force is keeping us from flying in Draenor? (hint hint.)

In other news!

It looks like you'll be able to transmog enchants using the enchanting building in the garrison, which is pretty cool. I hope that they include BC-era's Executioner. Personally, I like crazy, busy enchants, but I think those will be even more awesome when you can line them up with weapons that look good with them. Power Torrent for melee? Sign me up! Will it work for hunters, though?

The new build is coming soon, though there's been a delay because of a power outage. Opening up will be Spires of Arrak and Nagrand, and we'll be able to level up to 100. Hitting the level cap in the beta's a very good sign.

And in other great signs: we have what could be a secret hint at a release date: The (sigh) Horde-only Azeroth Choppers bike is going to go live on servers on September 30th. To claim it, you have to log in some time between now and then (I think it doesn't matter which side you log in on, even though the bike is still Horde only, but I did it on Horde toons just in case) and the mount should be yours come 9/30 or 30/9 for you crazy Europeans.

While the beta is pretty buggy at the moment, I think that two more months of testing will probably be enough. We should be getting the full leveling experience up tomorrow, and they've already begun raid testing. Two months of that? Yeah, I think September 30th sounds pretty reasonable.

Woot! Still not doing my preorder until it's announced officially. Just a policy of mine - I'm definitely going to get the expansion.

Female Tauren Model Revealed!

Yep, it's another Artcraft post showing off the new model for the female tauren.

While there have been so many of these that I feel as if I often repeat myself when commenting on them, the fact is that this model looks way better than the old one. The Tauren have always had a great feel to them, but the limitations of the old models have also been fairly pronounced with them. If you look at the eyes of the old model, for instance, they really look like just flat surfaces that are simply part of the overall structure of the head. The new models make them look like actual eyeballs!

So what's the count so far?

Human: 2/2
Dwarf: 2/2
Gnome: 2/2
Night Elf: 1/2
Draenei: 2/2

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

Obviously there's still some work to be done even on the models that are already live on the Beta, but the progress on these models has been very encouraging. At Blizzcon, they were careful not to promise that every model would be implemented by 6.0 (and there are some models we've seen, like the male human, that are still not up on the Beta,) but given the progress they've made, I actually think we can be relatively confident that we're going to see most of the revamps active, if not all of them, by the time Warlords comes around.

And as a reminder: if for whatever reason you hate the revamped models and just want your toon to look like he or she always did, there is an option to simply use the old character models in the graphics settings. The old models will remain in-game, even if most players will probably prefer to use the new ones.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Demonic Servitude: The Giant Demon is Your Friend!

I can't quite remember when the Felguard was introduced. Demonology Warlocks, being masters of summoning demons, have, for a long time, had an extra minion. The Felguard is basically you're go-to all-star, who you'll basically always be using unless you need to keep your pet at range (in which case you'll use your Imp) or you need another form of crowd-control (Succubus.)

So I was hanging out with my buddy Zurilshoken through Wrath and Cataclysm, but then when Mists came out, the Grimoire Talent tier called out to me. Grimoire of Supremacy turned all your demons into more powerful demons that used BC models instead of vanilla ones. Thus, I was introduced to my Wrathguard buddy Kil-Barash. Kil-Barash has been great, dual-wielding Hellreavers and helping me deal with my new Demonic Fury (the key to managing your anger as a Demo Warlock is to turn into a giant demon and kill things.)

Well, damn if now there isn't something else to compete with Kil-Barash. And that is the new level 100 talent: Demonic Servitude.

What this allows you to do is to summon your Doomguard/Terrorguard or your Infernal/Abyssal as a permanent pet. It shows up on the character-select screen and everything. It's... pretty damn awesome. Plus, if you've gotten yourself the Codex of Xerrath (Green Fire,) the Abyssal will be Fel-green (whereas I think Infernals are by default.)

I'm sure this is still undergoing heavy iteration, but right now it looks like the Infernal/Abyssal is going to be your go-to minion for soloing, trash, and any AoE situations. They have a threat-presence to tank for your and reduce melee damage they take, plus they can interrupt and dispel buffs on multiple enemies.

Right now, the Doomguard/Terrorguard seems to have fewer abilities, which could be filled out later on. I suspect that this one will be better for single-target situations.

So what's the trade-off?

Well, obviously having this talent means you won't get the big, powerful 10-minute cool downs in addition to your active minion. As far as I know, the various Warlock pets are tuned pretty close to each other, so they can probably fix it so that having the super-demons out permanently is better than having a normal demon in addition to the cool down version of the super demons.

However, ironically, the one place where this could be problematic is Demonology, where you've already got a boosted demon in the form of the Felguard/Wrathguard.

I'm sure there will be some theory crafting that comes down the line, and the difference might wind up being only one percent or something. The point is, if you ever felt jealous of that Undead Warlock in the original WoW cinematic who was sending Infernals after his enemies, well, this talent is for you.

Those Left Out of the Model Revamp

It doesn't seem that long ago that the Worgen and Goblins were the brand-new, shiny races in WoW. But at the risk of reminding everyone of the cold and indifferent passage of time, these guys joined the game almost four years ago. For me, that's half my time playing the game, and while they're still technically on the newer side of things (coming six years into a ten-year-old game,) the fact is that they're really not that new anymore.

The Pandaren are, of course, as similar in age as a playable thing as it can be to them, coming out in the very next expansion. But while the Cataclysm races were an incredible step up from the vanilla races, and a noticeable step up from the BC races, in truth, they're already showing their age.

One of the most exciting features of Warlords of Draenor is the character model revamp. They've done a good job so far of making them look better without being too different (and that's a process that's still ongoing,) and in many cases the revamp is doing some really remarkable things (the Tauren look a hell of a lot better, for example, if you ask me.)

But while the BC races are officially in, and in fact both varieties of Draenei are already revamped on the Beta (presumably they were prioritized given their huge role in Warlords,) the Cata races are most likely not going to get worked on until all the others are done, if ever.

Now, minus the "if ever," that's perfectly correct. The fact is that if you compare a current human or dwarf model to a worgen, it's just not fair.

But there are a few things that could be touched up.

Now, I know that the Worgen Female model is a really big sticking point with a lot of people, but for whatever reason I tend to create characters of my own gender, and I'm a guy, so it isn't something I can comment on all that intelligently. But the first thing that comes to mind is facial rigging.

The thing that blew people away about the Pandaren was their range of facial expressions. It was kind of a revelation, in that we now realized just how limited our current models are. The Pandaren can laugh and cry and scrunch up her mouth to one side or squint solemnly in mediation. The older models, even including the Worgen, can basically flap their jaw about and look in different directions.

And beyond that, there's still some clipping and animation issues that pop up as well. Shields and some Two-Handed weapons on Male Worgen have to go through their cloaks. There's that annoying freaking flip-leap that my Warrior does with every. single. attack.

Goblins I know got a bit more in the way of facial expressions, but I don't think they've quite got the Pandaren range either (while I like Goblins a lot, I just don't play Horde as often, and my only real Goblin character is my second Hunter, who has never been at the current level cap.)

Given that it looks like we could very well get all or nearly all of the vanilla/BC races revamped by the time Warlords comes out, I hope that the modeling team at Blizzard can spare a little look at the Cataclysm races. Obviously it wouldn't be as drastic a revamp, and may in fact be hard to notice, if it's done well. But for those of us who are obsessive about this, it would be deeply appreciated (and also could mean great stuff for machinima, which they stated as one of their motivations for the revamp in the first place.

Pandaren are probably fine. I don't think we need a constant cycle of model revamps.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why Naxxramas Is The Iconic World of Warcraft Raid

The new Hearthstone... expansion?... is out - it's a single-player campaign that has you play Hearthstone games against the various bosses of Naxxramas. Why did they choose Naxxramas? What is it about that raid that clicks, and not, say, Karazhan, or Molten Core, or Ulduar?

I should mention that while I started playing in (late) Vanilla WoW, I had only been on two half-runs of Karazhan before Wrath of the Lich King - that had been my entire raiding experience. I spent most of BC either leveling up my various toons (I didn't really have a "main" for a long while) and running normal-mode, level-cap dungeons (heroics were pretty intimidating back then.)

Naxxramas was the pinnacle of raiding in Vanilla, but because of the way raiding worked back then (a small fraction of players would see and beat Molten Core, and a fraction of them would do so with Blackwing Lair, and a small portion of those would do Ahn Qiraj, and only the elite of the elite would even get into Naxxramas,) Blizzard decided that Naxxramas was still new to most veterans, not to mention all the new players (back then, the number of subscriptions was still rising fast, and would continue to do so until about halfway through Cataclysm.) So Naxx became the first raid tier of Wrath of the Lich King, where it was decried as way too easy by the hardcore raiders of the Vanilla/BC era, and beloved by everyone else.

Thinking back, it makes perfect sense that Naxxramas would be the first "raid" in Hearthstone. Certainly, my experience of learning to actually raid there is not everyone's, but Wrath famously made raiding more accessible, so I imagine that experience holds for a lot of players.

But beyond personal experience, what makes Naxxramas so iconic? Here are a few ideas:

It's Got the Scourge, but No Lich King:

The Scourge is one of the most iconic "evil forces" of Warcraft. While they were actually introduced only in Warcraft III, they quickly became a really core part of the Warcraft universe's world. Now, I adored Wrath of the Lich King as an expansion (and while there were the usual complainers at the time that it "ruined WoW," I think that in retrospect, many if not most players see it as a high water mark for the game.) But in a way, it's kind of a shame that it happened so early. The Scourge is not entirely gone, and certainly with the Undead Race and the Death Knight class, it has left a permanent mark on the game that will continue on as long as the game goes. But it's a little sad to know that it's really unlikely that the massive army of the dead is ever going to be center-stage again.

In Vanilla, we didn't really face any of the top-tier villains (well, except C'thun.) But in a way, that let us set aside the lore implications and just have fun fighting some seriously evil dudes. Despite how awesome the fight was, defeating the Lich King was always going to be somewhat disappointing. But Kel'thuzad? Well, it's not like the Scourge is gone. And hell, in the original Naxx, they even strongly hint that Kel'thuzad isn't entirely dead, thanks to the sketchy traitor, Inigo Montoy. Yes, it can be a bit of a cheat to always have the bad guy come back, but clearly we like that, what with how I am totally on board with rescuing Peach from Bowser over and over and over again.

Naxx lets you beat the Scourge without feeling like there are any missed opportunities, because there's a chance for more later on.

It's the Best Implementation of a Winged Instance:

I'm eager to see how Blackrock Foundry turns out, because it sounds like they're building it in the Naxxramas style.

Naxx is great, because you have options without chaos. In some instances, like Firelands or Karazhan, you get to a point where it's not really clear which is the next boss to go to. Firelands in particular makes the first four bosses kind of arbitrary.

In Naxxramas, you essentially have four mini-raids that you need to complete to get to the final mini-raid. It's the largest raid in the game (in terms of numbers of bosses) but it breaks it down into bite-sized chunks. It was great for working on it as a guild, because unless you wanted to make sure you made it to Kel'thuzad that week, you could decide which wings to do. Say you had had Spider and Plague on farm for a while, then you could choose to ignore those and work on Military and Construct. Once you had the four wings cleared, and could do it in a reasonable about of time, you could happily head on up to mix it up with Sapphiron and Kel'thuzad.

It Was a Great Introduction to Raid Mechanics:

Naxx (at level 80) was a great place to learn how to raid. The fights there are complex enough that you realized you had to know how to use multiple tanks and crowd control and such, but not so complex that you'd have to spend half an hour explaining the fight before every boss.

It was also a raid that, as a tank, I liked a lot, because there were clearly defined Off-Tank and Main Tank roles. Nowadays, most raid fights have the tanks basically do the same job and trade off. That's fine occasionally, but I always found it far more stimulating to have each tank doing a clear job the entire time. It can be as simple as having one tank pick up an add, but it makes the tanks feel more focused and like they're actually contributing during the whole fight.

It Wasn't the Best Raid:

Now, this is somewhat counter-intuitive, but I think that the fact that Naxxramas wasn't the best raid actually serves it well in the memory of the players. One thing you'll notice in Naxx is that the whole place looks the same, aesthetically. It's basically the same walls and tile sets as Undercity, and it looks like that throughout the whole instance.

There aren't really any mind-blowing bosses in there either (though I bet that when it first came out at level 60, things like the Four Horsemen were totally unprecedented.) What it is is a really solid raid. It's not Ulduar, with all the crazy hard-modes and awesome Titan aesthetic. It's not Karazhan, with its haunting atmosphere and air of mystery. But it's a really solid example of what a raid is, at its most basic form - which is a far grander, far more imposing version of a dungeon.

Well, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic. I might go beat up Patchwerk.

Monday, July 21, 2014

So We've Got Garrisons. When Do We Get Player Housing?

When Garrisons were announced, they were billed as "WoW's Version of Player Housing." In practice, at least so far in the Beta, but I can't really imagine how they could change enough before they go live, they just aren't.

Mind you, in a vacuum, the Garrison concept is pretty neat. We're building our own special base that we get to customize, and it'll help us out with soloing and professions.

But this is not player housing in the sense that it's generally understood among the gaming masses.

The point of player housing in MMOs and any game that has housing as a concept, is personal expression. It's a part of the game that doesn't really have a huge impact on the main through line of the game, which is typically about amassing player power and beating the bad guys. One does not get upgrades to the house in order to benefit one's progress in the main game, but rather, one gets upgrades to the house because those upgrades are COOL.

To be clear: this is the implementation of Garrisons as it looks on the Beta:

You gather resources, which are used to create buildings. You unlock plans for those buildings during the leveling process. As you build those buildings, you unlock new tiers of the garrison, which allow for more buildings. The buildings have either passive effects, or they can be used to create whatever a profession's daily cool down reagent is, and there will be a professional who can create things using that reagent.

The buildings are all functional, so you'll be expected to choose based on their mechanical value.

You have a few statue pedestals that will have special monuments for different achievements. This is the only thing you can really customize without having a mechanical effect on the garrison.

So what's wrong with this? Well, technically nothing. But it ain't player housing.

Here's why:

Personal Expression is an afterthought, if that:

The buildings you get are cool, but you're really going to want to pick the ones that benefit you best. Sure, you can rearrange them  bit, but chances are, you'll figure out which buildings you want, and you'll stick to those.

No matter what, Lunarfall is going to look like it was made with stones taken from the same quarry as the walls of Stormwind, and Frostwall is going to be very reminiscent of Orgrimmar.

It'll All Be Irrelevant When the Next Expansion Comes Along:

The Garrisons are strongly tied to Draenor, which is fine, as that's going to be the focus of the expansion. But that also means that when we move on to Ny'alotha or Argus or the Emerald Dream or wherever we wind up, it's likely that these places are going to just be sitting around, gathering dust.

How often do we go back to Outland or Northrend? There was one quest in Wrath that briefly took us to Shattrath and you would have gone back to Outland if you're a Warlock going after Green Fire. Does anyone still worry about their Aldor Rep?

The Garrisons are not built on a strong foundation here, because they're destined to be swept under the rug as soon as Draenor becomes just another place to level through.

There's not enough choice:

Here's the ultimate boil-it-down: Every player's Lunarfall is going to look basically the same. Every player's Frostwall is going to look basically the same. I play a lot of toons. A lot. And while mathematically there might be technically enough combinations for me to never have an identical garrison, the fact is that I probably won't be able to tell the difference between two Alliance garrisons unless I look very carefully.

But Let's Not Get Too Negative:

Is the feature disappointing? That depends on your expectations. I will blame Blizzard for referring to it as player housing, because it clearly does not live up to our expectations based on what that kind of feature looks like in other games.

But taken on its own, it's actually pretty cool that we have a little home base that we get to go back to. I like the idea that we're finally being given the respect that we deserve, and that by level 90, our factions are willing to take commands from us.

Honestly, it's not like Warlords is going to be ruined because of this. A solid WoW expansion is more about the quality and quantity of its meat and potatoes stuff: Dungeons and Raids (and PvP stuff, I guess.) It's a little like Blizzard offered to take us out for Pizza, and then get us Ice Cream afterward, but then decided that Ice Cream was a little too much. We're still getting the Pizza, but it's natural, and justified, to be pissed off about the lack of Ice Cream.

But seriously, Blizzard. Eventually, we should all go out and get some Ice Cream.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Middle Tier

As I've posted recently, there's a slight mystery on what the final tier of Warlords of Draenor will involve. Frankly, as much as I'd prefer Gul'dan as the final boss, I think that the expansion is clearly being set up for us to be taking on Grommash and the Iron Horde, most likely at Hellfire Citadel in Tanaan Jungle (or whatever the non-Fel Horde calls that place.)

But what of the middle tier?

Since Wrath, the middle tier of an expansion has typically been a way to go to a kind of secondary threat. It's often a big one, but not really the focus on the expansion. Now, Wrath had two middle tiers (it's the only expansion to have four official tiers, though BC and Vanilla had "in between" tiers) but clearly of the two, Ulduar was the grander and more important raid.

So Wrath had us fighting the Scourge, but going off to deal with Yogg-Saron and all the Titan-themed stuff in Ulduar. Cataclysm had us fighting the Black Dragonflight and Twilight's Hammer, but sent us off to the Firelands to deal with Ragnaros' reemergence. Mists had us largely dealing with the Sha, then sending us to finish off the Mogu before having a final confrontation with the last remnant of Y'shaarj, who spawned the Sha (obviously, Mists was a bit more complicated, what with Garrosh being the real villain, but it fits the pattern for my purposes.)

So, thus, Blackrock Foundry is kind of the Naxxramas to whatever Warlords' final tier's raid's ICC. But what will be its Ulduar?

Well, let's talk candidates:

So far, in the Beta, I've actually encountered a decent number of non-Iron Horde threats that could prove to be significant.

First and foremost: Gul'dan, the Shadow Council, and the Burning Legion. Now, I'm still holding out hope that these guys make it to the final raid, but if they don't, it would stand to reason that we'd have to fight these dudes off. They don't have the grip on Draenor that they had in our universe, but it's still the freaking Burning Legion.

The Ogre Empire: I suspect that we'll be done with the Ogres after Highmaul. While we wound up getting two Mogu-themed raids in Mists, the Ogres haven't felt like quite the omnipresent threat in Draenor. So while I won't rule it out, it's not really positioned in such a way that the Ogres will continue to be that significant.

The Arrakoa: This I will reserve judgment on until I've done Spires of Arrak. Currently, the only Arrakoa one encounters are in Talador. They're a foe that could easily wind up being dealt with purely in a dungeon, but that depends on what we find out about their foci of worship (I've always suspected Draenic Old Gods.)

The Genesaur and their Ilk: The plant-creatures of Draenor are pretty darn powerful and scary. They show up in multiple zones, and seem like the ultimate manifestation of Draenor as a death world, where even the plants will kill you and then plant seeds in your corpse to turn you into some kind of plant-zombie.

The Gronn and Variants: With Gruul as the first boss in Blackrock Foundry, I don't know if there's really enough charisma here to justify an entire raid tier. But I suspect we'll see plenty of Gronn/Ogron bosses, particularly in Ogre-heavy areas.

The Infinite Dragonflight: Much to my dismay, there has not been any sign of the Infinites in Draenor. I had hoped we'd see at least something of Kairoz (who I'm pretty sure is an Infinite, or at least will be one.) Then again, I haven't seen every zone, and it's possible that they'd be coming in in a later patch.

The Fel Alliance: Haha, ok. Totally not supported by any evidence whatsoever, and it wouldn't even make all that much sense, since the original Fel Horde (the Old Horde, not to be confused with Illidan's Fel Horde) was sent after Azeroth, and Draenor doesn't seem to have the special properties that Azeroth does. But man, it would really through us all for a loop if Azeroth-B hijacked the Dark Portal and invaded Draenor. Oddly enough, with perhaps the exception of Kanrethad Ebonlocke, we've never seen a Fel Human. Imagine facing down Death King Llane, or Lothar the Destroyer? With a final boss Medivh? Yeah, no way in hell is this going to happen, but it's fun to dream.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Gorgrond Second Impressions: Player Choice!

Well well well. I've now taken my DK (an actual character from live who I've copied over) into Gorgrond. It's still crashing all the time, but the main difference in how I've approached the zone is which building I decided to build at my outpost.

After a few short quests in Gorgrond, you're given the option to build either a Lumber Mill or a Sparring Arena. After a few quests, you'll get your zone-wide Garrison ability, but it goes a lot farther than that.

It turns out that it's not just this one building-associated quest chain that is altered, but possibly a big chunk of the zone.

I had been disappointed by the fact that my sojourn through Gorgrond the first time around had been entirely within jungle and dense forests. But the second time through, I seem to be getting sent far more into the rocky, desert areas of the zone. I have not gotten terribly far in these quests, but it is heartening both to see that I'm going to get to experience the Gorgrond that was advertised, but also that the choice you make will have a big impact on how the zone plays out.

And given that every other zone after Shadowmoon/Frostfire will have this choice of buildings, it bodes well for questing through Draenor.

I also took a bit to explore Gorgrond itself. Blackrock Foundry actually takes up a very large portion of the zone, and looks extremely intimidating. I imagine there might be some major quests - either not yet implemented during the leveling process or perhaps being saved for level 100 - that involve an initial assault on the Foundry.

I'll come back with further impressions of Talador as well once I get there on the DK.

Grommash or Gul'dan?

When asked who the final boss of Warlords of Draenor would be at the announcement at Blizzcon, the Blizzard folks said "Grommash Hellscream." Yet many people noted a bit of sarcasm, or perhaps they imagined it.

The Iron Horde is certainly Grommash's thing. Garrosh basically set things up so that his father would be the one to lead the Iron Horde, and he is the Warchief. In questing, I haven't really seen Grommash, but his presence is still felt. The elder Hellscream died as a hero, but the truth of his life is that really, he was basically a bad person. He embodied everything brutal and callous about the Old Horde. We really only saw him in a positive light through Thrall's eyes, who met him as an old and defeated prisoner of the Alliance. But Grommash's actions were part of why the Orcs found themselves locked up, and during the days of the Old Horde, Grom Hellscream had been guilty of just about every sin you could lay at the feet of his people.

But there's another figure who has a recurring presence throughout Draenor. If Grommash Hellscream was guilty of representing everything the Orcs did, it was Gul'dan who made them do it. Hellscream might be a warmonger and a brute, but he can at least claim to be doing so for the benefit of his people. But Gul'dan will literally do anything for more personal power, and he is the most powerful mortal Warlock who ever lived, and even then, he's probably only less powerful than Kil'jaeden, Archimonde, and Sargeras.

Grommash has the Iron Horde, though, which certainly puts him in a position of strength on Draenor. It would make perfect sense for the expansion to have us defeating Blackhand in the first raid tier, going off to something else for the second, and then taking down the Iron Horde and Grommash once and for all (maybe at Hellfire Citadel?) as the final tier.

But given that we're going to be spending our entire time in Draenor dismantling the Iron Horde, isn't it possible that we're just making it easier for Gul'dan to take control? He's poised to take advantage of every weakness we create.

To get a little into the meta-narrative, the main reason I was sort of disappointed at Blizzard's answer was that this would mean two expansions in a row where a Mr. G. Hellscream was the final boss. Garrosh's version of the Horde (the "True Horde,") is pretty much similar to the Iron Horde, except with green-skinned Orcs. Grommash and Garrosh certainly have distinct personalities, but they're still basically the same archetype of a brutal Orcish warrior. Gul'dan's still an Orc, but he's very, very different in terms of personality. The Hellscreams are intelligent in that they are skilled military commanders and charismatic enough to get a following, but Gul'dan is a brilliant manipulator. To use Game of Thrones characters as examples, the Hellscreams are kind of Tywin mixed with Khal Drogo whereas Gul'dan is Littlefinger.

And given Gul'dan's contacts within the Burning Legion, he has potentially far greater power than the Iron Horde. In the original timeline, he used the Horde to clear away the Draenei, and thus be able to enact the Legion's will unhindered. He's got some more opposition this time, but he's still absolutely a threat.

So personally, I'd love to see Gul'dan supplant Grommash as the true final boss of Warlords.

Talador First Impressions

Following up from Gorgrond, Talador is the next zone that players travel to, with quests starting at level 94.

Talador is much more clearly linked to the Outland zone of Terrokar Forest. This is where you'll find Shattrath and Auchindoun, as well as less iconic areas like Tuurem.

As in all of the Draenor zones, you have a bit of flexibility on which quests you do (there is a bit of the old dreaded "Christmas Tree" effect when you get to a new town, but I think they mostly strike a happy medium between quest log overload and the linear Cataclysm model.) What surprised me is that the battle for Shattrath can be done pretty quickly. This is a major event, arguably Warlords' equivalent of the Wrathgate. I'll leave at that for spoiler-sensistive.

Like Gorgrond, I did this on an Alliance character (the same one, unsurprisingly.) I actually think that, perhaps more than any other zone, Talador hits the Burning Crusade nostalgia factor. You run into a ton of familiar faces and locations. In fact, nearly every BC element is touched upon: marauding Orcs, the Burning Legion, the Arrakoa, the Auchenai Soul Priests, and so on.

It's also quite exciting to see what Shattrath and Auchindoun looked like before they were ruins, though at least up to the point I'm at, you really only do anything all that significant on the outskirts of Shattrath, which has... suburbs, I guess, that stretch out much farther than the city we remember from BC.

While Shadowmoon Valley was fairly serene, Talador is a zone completely overtaken with warfare. Between the Siege of Shattrath by the Iron Horde, the Burning Legion's attack on Auchindoun, and the invasion by the Arrakoa (with their really cool new models,) there's not really much of a place to rest safely.

While there are certain spoilerific things that I'm a bit upset about, overall I think this is quite the exciting zone, and is a real step up from the frankly disappointing Gorgrond (though I'm still holding out hope for level 100 taking us to the actual rocky parts of that zone.)

I don't know exactly what will open up next, but I would guess that Spires of Arrak will likely be the 96-98 zone, with the final climb to 100 happening in Nagrand. Alternatively, we could be wrong about Tanaan Jungle being a 100-only zone. Frankly, I think it would be nice to have a bit of choice. I think Northrend's two starting zones and two "final" zones was a great idea. Given that Hellfire Citadel (or whatever the Iron Horde winds up calling it) is clearly still a significant location, and that Nagrand is Warchief Grommash's home turf, both could make for good "final" zones.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gorgrond First Impressions

With the latest Warlords of Draenor beta build, the zones Gorgrond and Talador have now opened up, and the level cap has been raised to 96. Upon hitting level 92 in Shadowmoon Valley or Frostfire Ridge, you'll get a quest sending you to Gorgrond.

I played through Gorgrond on a Dwarf Protection Paladin, so this is an Alliance perspective on the zone. I also chose to get the Lumber Mill, which may have meant that one of the quest chains I got was different than what you would have gotten if you chose the Sparring Arena. Once the servers are a bit more stable, I'm going to try it out the other way.

First of all: Gorgrond is nothing like I expected it to be. The image I had was of the rocky, mountainous region that you see Grommash riding through in the announcement trailer. Given that it's the home of the Blackrock Orcs and all their industrial stuff, and indeed many of the screenshots I had seen, it actually turns out that about half of Gorgrond - and it's the half in which you spend your entire time while leveling up - is full of dense vegetation. The main antagonists you face are the Botani, are race of creepy-as-hell plant people who seem to serve these massive plant-beasts called Genesaurs.

It's kind of cool, but it really seems like what I was expecting to find in Tanaan Jungle. I personally love desert settings, so in all honesty this was a bit of a let-down. That said, there is a whole other half of the zone that I didn't even have quests sending me to, and so I'm pretty confident that there will be level 100 content that will take us to the rocky, dry, badlands of Gorgrond.

I have not yet gone into Talador, and at the moment the world server is down, but what's exciting and encouraging is that upon returning to my garrison, I found a pretty cool and pretty plot-heavy quest chain back in Shadowmoon Valley.


When you get back to Lunarfall at 94, you get two quests. One simply sends you into Talador, but the other has you go down to the Night Elf outpost that's basically your next-door neighbor. Khadgar and Cordana Felsong (who is a Warden, like Maiev, but minus the crazy,) have become aware that there is some Shadow Council business going on in the woods to the northwest. Now, the Shadow Council is not a part of the Iron Horde, but they still sure as Fel want to do their usually nefarious things.

You and Cordana capture an Observer demon and force him to reveal what is going on, and you discover that it's actually the leadership of the Shadow Council who is meeting in the woods. Gul'dan gives instructions to Teron'gor, Cho'gall, and Razuun (the traitorous Draenei/Eredar who you may recall killing in the Deathforge in Outland's Shadowmoon Valley.) You go with Khadgar and attempt to capture Gul'dan, but Gul'dan breaks free and sets Razuun on you. (This chain also has a great callback, involving the Infernal Krosius, who at least used to be in Felwood.) And when you return to inform Khadgar of Gul'dan's escape, you suddenly get Sapped, and Khadgar Ice Blocks just in time to prevent getting skewered by none other than Garona Halforcen. Cordana chases her off, but yes, it looks like she's in the mix as well.

I have yet to play the Horde side of this, but presumably there will be a similar experience. Philosophically, I like the idea that a zone does not have to be strictly limited to a single level range. Indeed, it appears that every zone in Draenor will have at least some content for level 100, which should make those who enjoy questing happy. And for those who don't, I have to say that leveling is very quick in Draenor. Partially this is because, with twice the levels, it's designed to take half as long for each ding. But I also think they've very consciously tried to make the process quick. And given how much questing I did in Shadowmoon Valley after hitting 92, I suspect that if you don't care for a given zone, you can very easily level past it in previous zones.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Azeroth Without Orcs

Warlords of Draenor is a lopsided equation. Pre-Warlords, we had Azeroth and Outland. Outland was once called Draenor, but after the destruction wrought by Ner'zhul's panicked campaign of portal-opening, the planet is now really just a continent-sized chunk of rock that floats through the Twisting Nether (and for some reason the gravity is still sufficient. Chalk it up to magic.) It's still inhabitable, but only barely. Azeroth is still more or less the planet it has always been. And with the opening of the Red Dark Portal, we are now connected to an alternate-universe version of Draenor, and one that is 30-40 years in the past.

It's unlikely we'll see what things are like in Outland after the Iron Horde portal-jacks the Dark Portal, as going back there will effectively be going back in time to when Illidan was still in charge there. My assumption is that the garrisons of Thrallmar and Honor Hold simply saw the Dark Portal snuff out, and at least the folks at Honor Hold said "oh crap, not again!" but everyone also happily remembered that there are some Naaru dimensional ships and a lot of mages who can port them back home.

Anyway, we have Azeroth, Outland (which we can also call Draenor A) and Draenor (B.) And as I've mentioned before, that leaves us with the question of Azeroth B.

Now, to be clear: Blizzard has pretty much put the kibosh on the notion of Azeroth B coming into play in Warlords. We probably won't be going there. But it certainly allows for that as a future destination (assuming Draenor B does not exist within a planet-sized universe bubble - which I'm not ruling out.)

What would Azeroth look like if not for the Orcs?

The first appearance of Orcs on Azeroth was the opening of the Dark Portal (not counting Broxigar's time-travel appearance during the War of the Ancients... let's just assume the original history here.) Medivh, the Last Guardian, had been possessed since birth by the Dark Titan Sargeras, and Sargeras, through Medivh, coordinated the construction of the Dark Portal with Gul'dan to create the portal. No Gul'dan, and at best there might be a stone archway in the Black Morass, but it wouldn't connect to anything.

In fact, early on, we have our first real variable. With the Iron Horde heading to our universe and time period, there's no Horde to invade Azeroth. But Medivh is still very much a puppet of the Burning Legion's master. There's all manner of things he could do if the whole Orcish Horde thing doesn't pan out.

But setting Medivh aside:

Stormwind remains at peace. It is never destroyed by the Horde, and King Llane most likely gets to live out a peaceful reign, which in turn makes Varian less of a grump. The humans probably still have conflicts with the Trolls, but their loose alliances with the Dwarves, Gnomes, and High Elves provide them with enough support to fend them off.

Without Orcs, the First and Second Wars don't happen. And indeed, the Third might not as well. After all, the Burning Legion transforms Ner'zhul into the Lich King, and the Scourge serves essentially as a far more effective army than the Horde, except that the Lich King is a little too strong of will, and sabotages the Legion's efforts in Kalimdor by helping Illidan.

So no Scourge, and thus Terenas remains King until he dies of natural causes, probably. And Arthas hopefully doesn't come across anything too stressful in his training as a Paladin, and certainly doesn't get his soul stolen by Frostmourne.

Without the Scourge, the Burning Legion doesn't have a ready-made army to fight the Third War with, so they might decide to hold off on the invasion. Thus the Night Elves basically remain the way they were, still immortal. Illidan remains locked up.

It's tempting to say that the Old Gods and the Elemental Lords and their plans would be unaffected, but I'm also not certain of that. Twilight's Hammer has been an instrumental part of shepherding mortals into serving the Old Gods. But Twilight's Hammer was actually an Orc Clan originally, that had somehow been taken over by the Ogre Cho'gall. Cho'gall was a member of Gul'dan's Shadow Council, and it wasn't until after the Second War at least that the Hammer affiliated itself with the Old Gods.

So perhaps even Deathwing's reemergence might not have happened, and the Cataclysm may have been averted entirely.

That said, the Old Gods are not entirely reliant on Twilight's Hammer. Indeed, the Hammer is only affiliated with the Old Gods as a means to an end - they seek pure chaos, and the Old Gods seem to share that goal.

And the Old Gods are certainly a serious threat, nor are their minions. First off: Deathwing was pretty much at large before and during the Second War. I honestly don't have the full background on his role as Daval Prestor, but he very well might still be manipulating things behind the scenes in Alterac, and his daughter may have still been in Stormwind. Though with no grand rebuilding, the whole Defias thing may not have happened.

Ragnaros and the Dark Iron Dwarves who worshipped him would most likely still be a threat. In fact, it's possible that the Dark Irons would never have reintegrated into Dwarven society, or even the Wildhammers for that matter.

Yogg-Saron's machinations would still very much be going on, and without the threat of the Lich King to draw us to Northrend, we might not be there to stop him from escaping Ulduar - though how close he was to achieving that goal remains a little unclear.

C'thun and his Qiraji army would probably still be charging their way through Kalimdor, with only the Night Elves and Tauren to fend them off.

And Pandaria would certainly still be under threat from the Sha, but then again, our influence on Pandaria - while it may have a positive effect in the long run - is a little foggy at the moment.

And while the Burning Legion would probably not have the Horde or the Scourge at its disposal, it's pretty clear that they'd still be looking for ways to invade. In the absence of the Dark Portal or the corrupted Sunwell, or a friendly occupying force in Dalaran, though, it might be tough to get in.

But to be clear: Azeroth would not be a peaceful utopia without the Orcs. Would it be better? Well, that largely depends on what you think the net effect of the Horde has been on the world. Certainly at this point it's basically a necessity (though if Wrathion's goal of the Alliance absorbing the Horde were possible to accomplish peacefully, that might be better,) but many of the biggest problems that the Horde has been instrumental in fixing have been caused either directly or indirectly by the Horde itself.

Then again, the Horde necessitated the creation of the Alliance as a superpower to oppose it, and thus, the Alliance and Horde races would probably be divided. Indeed, even humanity itself would still be seven separate kingdoms (though there'd also be a lot more humans.) By uniting against the Horde or with the Horde, we now have two huge globally-reaching forces that can and do regularly defend the world... when they're not fighting each other.

Whatever that hypothetical would actually lead to is theoretically going to be right there on Azeroth-B. But will we ever see it? I'd love to, but it's unlikely.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Level 100 Talents and Perks Impressions (By No Means Comprehensive)

Well, I only just realized that by creating characters on the Mekkatorque (EU) server on the Beta, I can make characters who are already at level 100, and in full epic PvP gear (the realm appears to be designed for PvP testing.)

So I created female versions of my various characters and decided to test out some of the new talents and see how things worked with a full complement of perks.

This is by no means comprehensive, as there are plenty of specs that I did not look into, but the overall sense I get is that the perks are somewhat transformative on some specs, but on others they're not really much more than an across-the-board 20% boost, just handed out one ability at a time.

The talents, however, are mostly pretty darn cool.

Death Knights:

One interesting thing here is that they clearly want Frost to use Cinderglacier and Razorice. I think Dual-Wielders are going to want one of each, and right now it seems that Razorice is for 2-handers, because of the big chunk of weapon damage the frost-damage effect deals.

Talent-wise, Breath of Sindragosa is the only really new ability, but seems like you'll have to be careful timing it - you'll want basically full Runic Power. Defile is really cool, but is pretty much just a souped-up Death and Decay. Necrotic Plague is interesting, but the one frustrating thing about it is that you can't refresh it - you need to let it fall off before you can reapply. Still, it means that Frost and Blood only have to use one rune now to get their diseases up, but on the other hand, you'll have to keep a closer eye on it to maintain it.


Prot and Ret feel the same as they do now, with the one major exception being the removal of Inquisition. I'm not exactly sure what the intended use for Seraphim is, but it looks like it could be a kind of short-term cool down. I didn't play with the Seal-dancing talent, though, because it looks like everything I'm glad I haven't had to deal with since Burning Crusade.


Ok, the major thing I wanted to look at is Gladiator Stance. And yes, it works pretty well. The one thing I'm noticing is that I seem to be Rage-flooded, but that's ok, because I guess that's what Heroic Strike is for. Protection in general still has one too many buttons, I think (given how gutted Arms is, you'd think they'd look at Prot,) but it's very cool to imagine doing DPS with a Sword-and-Board.


I tried out Marksmanship. It's actually a very simple set of abilities now, with Chimera Shot, Aimed Shot, and your level 90 Talent as your Focus-Spenders and Steady Shot as your generator. The new ammo abilities work very much like Rogue poisons, but I think it's designed for specific circumstances - Frost Ammo for kiting/PvP, Fire Ammo for AoE and Poison Ammo for Single-Target. With Marksmanship's new Sniper Training Mastery (which was once a Survival Talent, if I recall) I actually think Focusing Shot will be attractive - as you're encouraged to stand still anyway.


Whether it was a combination of Echo of the Elements or some kind of perk I didn't see, I felt like was blasting away a whole lot more with Lava Burst than I used to on Elemental. Elemental and Enhancement have the same talents. The one I think I like the best is Storm Elemental Totem, just because it gives us a third Greater Elemental to have attacking our foes. Enhancement now has a proc that can reset the cool down of Lava Lash, which is good, as I think they've done a lot to speed up the Enhancement Rotation.


Assassination's biggest new feature is that Slice and Dice is entirely passive now, so you just need to track Rupture. I tried out Death from Above, which is pretty cool, and looks like it should be substituted in for Envenom/Eviscerate when it's off cool down.


Overall Brewmasters look about the same (though the healing orbs from Gift of the Ox are now gold instead of green.) I tried out Chi Explosion, which replaces Blackout Kick and has a greater effect the more Chi you spend. It's reasonably intuitive, and will probably be great for Windwalkers who get flooded with Chi.


I tried out Balance, and I have to say that with certain talents (Balance of Power) the spec gets a lot simpler to play, which I'm fine with, as I always found it to be a bit fussy. Also, there's now constantly a sun and moon eclipsing each other above your head, which is a cool visual representation of the cycle.


I only play Shadow among Priests. Largely, the spec remains unchanged. However, with the talent Clarity of Power, it gets very strange. I tend to take the passive proc talents (the ones that make Mind Spike and Mind Blast activate) and with Clarity of Power, I seemed to be proccing the instant, cool down-reset version of Mind Blast off of itself, meaning that I was getting to hit Mind Blast five times in a row. Granted, without the DoTs one does need to get more damage out of these spells, but it seemed a little insane.


The overall feel of Demonology Warlocks is pretty much unchanged at 100. While it's very cool to summon your Doomguard/Terrorguard or Infernal/Abyssal as a permanent pet (and they get names!) I actually think I might steer away from that, as at least for now, the Super-Summon Demons don't really have any interesting abilities. Demonology does get access to Demonbolt, which I think will actually have a big impact on Demo's rotation. Given that Demonbolt hits very hard and can only be cast in Metamorphosis mode, I actually think we'll start seeing Demonology use up its Molten Core procs in caster form, and save the Demonic Fury for Demon Bolt.


There are certainly some impactful perks for both Arcane and Frost, largely increasing the number of stored-up procs you can have. Arcane Orb is a talent that will be semi-rotational, as it has only a 15-second cool down. Comet Storm, on the other hand, has a somewhat longer cool down, but will probably also be used whenever it comes up.

For AoE, Frost gets a very cool perk that makes Blizzard reduce the cool down on Frozen Orb every time it does damage, meaning that in large groups, you'll probably be able to shoot off another Orb very soon after you send the first one. See, this is far better than running in and spamming Arcane Explosion. For single targets, the Water Elemental gets a cool new ability called Water Jet, which it channels at your target. While he's doing that, every Frostbolt or Frostfire Bolt you hit them with will generate a Fingers of Frost charge. You can set this to auto-cast, but I think the real pros are probably going to want to control this manually (we'll see how I go.)


As you can see, I have only scratched the surface here, as there are tons of specs I haven't even looked at, as well as many of the talents. Likewise, this is all probably subject to change. Still, it's cool to see some of these new ideas emerging.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Further SMV and FFR Beta Impressions

I have now completed, I believe, every pre-100 quest in Shadowmoon Valley (actually, there might be a group quest, now that I think about it.) It's quite interesting to see the strategy that Blizzard is implementing to make questing something a little simpler and smoother.

The central quest chain for SMV focuses on the threat of Ner'zhul and the Iron Horde's attempt to take Karabor, which is obviously one of the most important Draenei strongholds on the planet. But the refreshing thing about this chain is that, while it does take you through a lot of the zone, it's not the entire zone. There are other quest chains that lead off to different parts of the zone, such as Elodor in the northeast, or the Draakorium in the southeast. There's significant stuff in these chains (particularly Elodor,) but if you want to get the biggest events of the zone, you can just follow the quests that involve Velen, Yrel and Maraad.

I have covered less of Frostfire Ridge. There is a point in the central quest chain where it branches off, and I am not sure which of these chains is the "real" central chain, but it becomes clear fairly early on that the Ogres are only the initial threat, and that the Thunderlord Clan (whose ruins served as a major Horde quest hub in Blade's Edge Mountains) are the main threat, as they have joined the Iron Horde to get an edge over their Frostwolf rivals.

One of the interesting things that has been implemented is the seamless solo scenario. Many quests, usually involving big lore moments, like your first true confrontation with Ner'zhul, are actually sneakily scenarios. It's a bit like phasing, but even if someone else is on the same part of the quest chain, you won't have to compete for kills. I would assume that players who are in your group will be able to enter the same scenario, as otherwise this could really break up the flow if you're questing with a friend.

Right now, the level cap is 92 and no further zones have been opened yet. Hitting 92 actually happens pretty quickly. Blizzard has said that they want to allow players to get leveled up quickly, and thus I think it's very unlikely that anyone will be able to complete even half the quests in these zones unless they want to stay behind rather than moving on just yet.

Overall, I think that's for the best. Particularly for an altoholic, it really looks like you'll have the option to do different quests when you take a new character through the zone.

I love leveling up a new toon, don't get me wrong, but I also think it's best when the process is quick enough that you don't get overwhelmed. One of the issues that arose in Cataclysm, and to an extent Mists, was that you had basically one option for progress and leveling, which also made it a little frustrating when you out leveled a zone, as you'd typically have to drop in the middle of a story if you wanted to get more level-appropriate gear.

By dividing the zone into discreet quest chains, but each of which having a reasonably interesting plot and progression, it lets you feel like you at least got to figure out, for example, who the culprit in that murder-mystery quest was before you get sent to the next zone.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Male Draenei Preview

The latest Artcraft is up, and we've got a preview of the male Draenei.

Now, admittedly, this is not the first we're seeing of the boys in blue, as the new Draenei model has been up on the Beta since its beginning. Still, this is an up-close and personal look that's available to all.

Once again, and as noted in the article, the Male Draenei was one of the best-looking pre-Cata models, so the revamp here is somewhat subtler. Still, there's a very clear change in resolution and the new facial rigging is obviously far more versatile. As I noted before, the Draenei's run and general movement has been improved in subtle but impactful ways, and their shoulder armor seems to be at a better angle (which is less visible here.)

There are a few little nitpicks I have, though. The eyes seem a little rounder than they used to be, and the facial tendrils are thicker, which does change the look of the character.

Still, compare this to, say, the human, orc, or dwarf, and this really feels like just a touchup of what's already there.