Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are We So Eager to Leave Draenor?

I'll admit, I was highly skeptical about Warlords of Draenor from the announcement and even through the Beta. And let's be clear: we have yet to experience the expansion in its entirety. Right now it's all bright and new after fourteen months of 5.4.

But I think we can confidently say that the expansion was a big success. After hearing that Blizzard never expected WoW to reach its subscription peak numbers again, they shot up to 10 million, which might be short of the high-water-mark of 12 million, but is a damn sight better than Mists' drop to under 7. People are having fun in the expansion.

It's easy to lose perspective when you obsess over a game like this (something I'll admit to doing: hence the existence of this blog,) and all the issues like a lack of racial customization for garrisons or the seeming laziness of just bringing back a bunch of old Orc characters is, in the long run, not so bad when you consider how much fun people seem to be having with the game.

The dungeons are tuned just right, I think, and while I haven't been able to do much in the way of traditional raiding (we're hoping to get that going after the holiday, assuming my guild is still in a shape to do so,) LFR at least seems perfect (in Mists it was more akin to Wrath's 10-man normal, which is not too hard, but a real pain to organize without voice chat,) as a "preview" version of the raid (though I'll be curious to see how well it works when the regular raiders stop going to it. How's the new wing, by the way? I won't be able to play until January.)

We got a few announcements about 6.1 this week, which is exciting, though I don't think we'll be seeing it for a while. Blackrock Foundry isn't opening until Feburary (which is fine - Highmaul is plenty of raid to keep us occupied for a mere two months,) and I expect 6.1 will have to come out after that's been open for a while, even if it's not a raid patch.

But this brings us to an interesting question: Blizzard said they want annual expansions, but I think most people like Draenor a lot more than they liked Pandaria (I'm super excited about Draenei and Arrakoa, and actually Ogre lore, though I also really liked the wide variety of humanoids on Pandaria, particularly the grummles.)

So while I'm super excited to see if we get a new class, or at least new races next go around, I don't know if I'm so eager to move on. I'm settling in at Lunarfall (and Frostwall on my poor neglected Horde characters,) and having my own little army is, well, pretty darn cool (my Death Knight has Ebon Blade guards! I only wish my Paladin could have Argent Dawn ones.)

Right now at least, I'm actually pretty comfortable with the idea of just announcing the next expansion at next year's Blizzcon and getting it the following fall.

But there's a big caveat to all this: We do need to maintain the flow of content.

6.1 is clearly coming out slower than 5.1 did (if it were the same rate, we'd be getting 6.1 next week or something.) That's ok - there's a lot in 6.0 that remains to be explored. Part of the problem with Mists is that I think Blizzard used up their content too quickly. If they can pace things out a little more reasonably, the expansion can probably fit the two year schedule - but mind you, that's only if they do produce a third raid tier. If we're going from Blackhand to Grommash (or whoever the real final boss will be... Gul'dan seems the obvious one,) then yes, we better get sent off to the South Seas or the Emerald Dream or wherever we actually wind up in early 2016 at the absolute latest.

But, if Warlords winds up being as big an expansion as we are accustomed to, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if we stayed around.

Wherever we go next, though, I want my own Airship (one that I can name, preferably.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Level 100 Talents - My Choices

Most of the perks we got in Draenor had little effect on the number of buttons we hit (I've got a wash - with Assassination's Slice and Dice becoming a passive but Frost Mages getting a new button in the form of Water Jet.) And in fact, most of the new talents are also designed to avoid increasing the number of buttons we've got to hit, lest they undo all the work they did in the ability squish.

There a lot of new talents, especially because they will now sometimes change depending on your spec - Druids, for instance, got effectively twelve different level 100 talents. So I won't go into every last one of them. But I figured I'd share my thoughts on the ones that I picked.


Protection: I went with Holy Shield. Now there's a couple reasons why I did that. The first is that Holy Shield used to be an active ability that was at the core of the Protection Paladin rotation (Shield of the Righteous - originally just a source of damage during Wrath, sort of became its spiritual successor.) At some point, Blizzard decided they didn't like the idea of reflective damage, but it looks like they changed their minds on that. Anyway, Seraphim and Empowered Seals seemed way too fussy to be fun to play with, and bringing back an old favorite, albeit in a totally different form, was hard to pass up.

Retribution: I went with Final Verdict here. The main reason is that, again, I'm not really interested in the fussiness of the other two, but Final Verdict isn't just a passive - it does alter your AoE rotation, albeit slightly.

Death Knight:

Blood and Frost: I had to go with Defile. For anyone who did not raid during Wrath of the Lich King, Defile was an ability that Arthas could use that, if you didn't react in time, could wipe the raid in mere moments. Obviously the DK version is watered down a bit - really acting as a souped-up Death and Decay - but there's a nostalgia factor, plus the fact that it works its way into your single-target rotation and benefits from Frost's mastery.


Assassination: Shadow Reflection is pretty simple to just macro with Vendetta, as they have the same cooldown. I like to use it right before I put up Rupture, which hopefully means ticks beyond the duration of the guy. Unfortunately, when you're packed in with the melee, you don't often get to see your clone, but it's a nice little reminder that Rogues have a little bit of magic to them.


Frost: Comet Swarm is really cool, and I've been using it. I wouldn't say I'm entirely happy with it, though. Frost is all about ability synergy, and as far as I can tell, Comet Swarm is just one big burst of damage that you can hit twice a minute. You also want to make sure you use it on a target that isn't going to move in the next couple seconds, as it's really targeted at the ground beneath them. Still, the visual and the fantasy of the ability are awesome. I'm hoping they'll tweak it to make it fit in with the other abilities better.


Demonology: Demonbolt is kind of fascinating, as it adds a button, but actually simplifies the spec. Basically, you now use your Molten Core procs immediately in order to build up Demonic Fury. When you cap out or get near the cap, you hit Demon Soul (and I think the glyph works well for this,)  and then proceed to blast away four times with Demonbolt, which will do massive damage and put you down to only a hundred or so Fury. Then you just build up in order to do it again. I've been beasting with Demonology since hitting 100 - I'm one point shy of heroics but I can regularly do 10k DPS.

My warrior and shaman are on their way up to 100. I'm hoping to have the Warrior there soon (and I'll be trying Gladiator's Resolve,) and probably after the holidays I'll take the Monk, Hunter, Druid, and Priest up.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

LFR and Loot

Here's the huge caveat: this is a sample size of four characters, and it may have just been a fluke.

LFR's first wing of Highmaul opened up on Tuesday, and it's clear that some big changes were made to the way LFR works. First off - I have no idea how they managed this or if it was sheer stupid luck, but I didn't have more than a 5-minute queue time as a tank or DPS (with one exception, after re-queueing my rogue, who got in on the last boss, and had to wait about an hour to get another run to see the first two.)

The other thing that struck me is that the loot flowed freely. I did get one item via a bonus roll (on the hapless rogue,) but all four characters I took in there got at least two pieces of gear (the mage got three.)

So is the drop-rate in LFR far higher than it has been in the past? Again, this is anecdotal - it's possible I was absurdly lucky. But the other possibility is that they have made LFR drop gear far more easily than it had in the past.

Given the extreme ease of the fights - making Mists' LFR difficulty look like Heroic - this reinforces the impression I get that Blizzard really, really wants players to move past LFR quickly and start running normal mode.

The odd consequence here is that it sort of obsoletes heroic dungeons. Heroics are what we've had available since the launch of the expansion (which was just under a month ago,) and while they haven't been absurdly hard, there have been things you've had to pay attention to lest you go splat.

LFR requires somewhat higher-level gear. You'll need an average item level of 615 to run it, meaning you'll really have to exhaust the normal level 100 dungeons (or get some crafted/Apexis/vignette gear) if you want to do it without running heroics.

But once you hit that threshold, I don't really see many people worrying too much about heroics. If you want to gear up for your guild's normal mode runs, the rapid speed of the LFR wing and the apparent higher loot drop-rate would seem to make it a superior method for gearing. The main downside is that it's a weekly lockout, rather than daily. Still, with everyone grabbing lots of LFR gear, runs through heroics to fill in the gaps should go incredibly smoothly (and to be fair, at this point they're mostly pretty smooth now that people know the fights.)

I really have no idea why queue times were so fast, and I'll be curious to see if that holds up later in the week (if I can get my newly-100 warlock geared up before I go home for the holidays.) But it seems like hitting that 615 threshold will be enough to propel you far higher into fantastic (for now) gear levels. (Should make solo stuff on squishier classes a lot easier. I'm interested to see how soloing on my mage will be with these epic pieces.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Walled City LFR DPS Impressions

I was able to take two DPS - one melee and one ranged - through the Walled City (the mage required many dungeon runs to get qualified, mainly due to a lack of gear drops, which was then remedied by a piece off each boss in the wing.) Oddly, both were Draenei and both were Frost-specced.


Kargath doesn't have all that much to bear in mind when DPSing. Basically, if he fixates on you, run around to lead him into the flame pillars (he never did for me.) If you get tossed into the stands, get with the tank and AoE the crap out everything until it's time to hop down (and honestly, I'm not entirely sure when that is.) Again, I didn't get hurled, so basically my DPS experience of Kargath was more or less tank-and-spank.

The Butcher:

Here's one where the DPS experience is very different for melee and ranged. Ranged players should basically just stack. He'll do a knockback before he leaps into the ranged group, so just try to stack up as best as you can after that.

For melee, there's a stacking bleed that you'll get if you all clump together. I imagine that on normal and higher, you'll have to coordinate two different melee groups to either stack or spread in order to allow the bleed to fall off, but on LFR I recommend just stepping out if your bleed gets too high and let it tick down.


There's really not a lot here for DPS that tanks don't have to anticipate. The adds are relatively simple to down, and while you can intercept the spores, I don't think it makes all that much of a difference. It also appears that the fungus that you'd usually need the flamethrowers for does not appear on LFR, so basically it's a "kill adds, then go back to the boss" fight.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Walled City LFR Impressions - Tank Perspective

The very first thing I'll say is this: Holy Crap they were not kidding about making LFR tourist mode. I don't think I saw my health dip below 90% except on a trash pull where I did not know what I was doing.

I don't think we lost a single person in any fight.

So: LFR: quick and painless, just as we kind of all wished it had been.

Honestly, I think this is the right way to go with it - make LFR super easy, and then encourage people to run Normal mode through the group finder. And if Normal Mode is as easy as Wrath's 10 man difficulty, we might actually see raiding at its healthiest since, well, Wrath. I'd love to see a World of Warcraft again where just about everyone can do actual raiding, and let the hardcore do Mythic if they want a serious challenge (and I hope that Mythic is utterly brutal in difficulty - that's its point.)

But the actual raid, you ask?

The introduction to Highmaul is super-cool. You arrive in the pits below the gladiatorial arena, where Cho'gall is locked up in a cage. You talk to the ogre guy there and he puts you on an elevator to raise you up into the stadium itself.

You get some nice commentary from the guys at the Ring of Trials and then you face down Vul'gor, who is really your only trash pull. Just kill the ogres before you kill the sabreon. Then Kargath Bladefist shows up.

Kargath Bladefist:

No, there aren't any callbacks to his fight in Shattered Halls (you probably forgot that we had fought him already in Burning Crusade.) There's a simple tank-swap mechanic (though the debuff involves getting impaled for a few seconds, which stuns the tank.) The main two things to bear in mind in this fight are Chain Pull and... I want to say it's called Frenzied Rush.

Frenzied Rush, or whatever it's called, will have Kargath fixate on a random person and run after them. There will be several flame pillars around the arena. If you run him through one of them, he'll stop, otherwise he'll gain a speed and damage buff. Everyone who's in his path while he rushes will take damage, so get out of his way.

Chain Pull (or is it drag?) is the most interesting one. He'll grab a tank, a healer, and a few DPS and toss you up in the stands. Your job then is to pull as many adds as you can (especially the bombers and the ogres) and kill them before going back down into the arena. These adds will toss nasty AOE stuff on the ground that can make things harder on the raid.

Trash before the Butcher:

With Kargath dead, Cho'gall escapes and unleashes his Pale Orc minions on the city. You'll have to fight past some of these guys, but it's a pretty short jaunt over to the Butcher - I think we just had to kill some pig near him.

The Butcher:

Honestly, other than a tank swap, there wasn't much to this fight. I'm sure there are subtleties that we ignored given how easily tuned the fight was. Tanks should stack up, and I believe DPS should as well.

Yep, moving on already.

Trash before... no, not Tectus, but Brackenspore:

You might think Tectus is the third boss of the wing, but you'd be wrong. Nope, it's Brackenspore. You'll have to fight through some Pale Orcs fighting Ogres, and then make your way into the swampy part of the zone, where you'll encounter some Iron Horde guys. Pretty simple.


As a tank, there are only a couple things to bear in mind. First off, there's a tank swap debuff (four stacks is about how long it'll take for your co-tank's debuff to fall off.) You'll also get adds that pop out of the ocean called Fungal Flesh-Eaters. When you're not tanking the boss, tank these guys. They have a cast called Decay that should be interrupted. Essentially it's just about swapping between these two. There are other adds, but as far as I can tell, they don't need to be tanked.

And before you know it, the Walled City wing is complete. I think our run took only a half-hour or maybe forty-five minutes. Given that we were brand new to this place, I honestly think it was actually easier than even the normal-mode level 100 dungeons.

So I'm excited to try the place on Normal.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Crumbling Iron Horde and the Future of Warlords

The Iron Horde's leadership is devastated in 6.0. When we enter Tanaan Jungle, we meet five of its leaders - Kilrogg Deadeye, Kargath Bladefist, Ner'zhul, Blackhand, and of course Grommash "Grom" Hellscream. There are other warlords among the Iron Horde - the Iron Wolf leads the Thunderlord Clan, Zaela leads the Dragonmaw on Azeroth (and is, other than Garrosh, the only one from our universe,) and Azuka Bladefurry, who takes over from her father to lead the Burning Blade Clan.

However, look at those names: how many are alive by the end of 6.0?

The Iron Wolf dies at the hands of the Horde hero, Ganar and Durotan in Frostfire Ridge. Garrosh (spoilers...) is no more after his final duel with Thrall in Nagrand. Ner'zhul and Zaela are both killed in their respective dungeons. Kargath dies in Highmaul, and Blackhand will be the final boss of Blackrock Foundry.

So that's six dead Warlords, leaving just Kilrogg, Azuka, and Grommash himself in 6.1 and beyond.

The Iron Horde waged a brutal blitzkrieg, but they were unable to establish a real foothold in Azeroth, and even setting aside video game logic that would guarantee they couldn't win in the long run, just from a strategic standpoint, the turning point in the war was really the destruction of the Dark Portal. Every encounter with them since then has seen the Iron Horde defeated and losing important leaders.

But I don't think this is a flaw in the storytelling. I think that it's setting us up for the real threat of the expansion, which is, if not the Burning Legion itself, then the Shadow Council and the Sargerai.

The big difference between this Horde and the Old Horde is that Gul'dan is not pulling the strings. Now yes, this means that the leadership of the Iron Horde is unlikely to go off and abandon it when they find out about some demonic artifact that could be useful, but it also means that they don't have the level of control and allies that the Old Horde had. We can assume that in our timeline, the Horde, the Shadow Council, and probably even the Sargerai (I assume they existed in our timeline given Socrethar's existence in Outland,) were all working in concert. In this timeline, at best we could imagine the Sargerai and Shadow Council working together (though given Socrethar's Eredar-supremecist leanings, they could be just both branching off of the Legion but not working together.)

We managed to kick Teron'gor out of Auchindoun, but it's most likely he's still alive, and he did manage to gain a great deal of power from the souls there. In all honesty, while we've been able to defeat the Iron Horde several times, we haven't really managed to slow down Gul'dan.

With the Iron Horde beginning to rip apart at the seams, we should probably begin to turn our attention to the larger threat.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Flying, or the Lack Thereof

One of the most controversial moves that Blizzard made in introducing Warlords of Draenor was the stipulation that there would be no flying - even at the level cap - in the early patches of the expansion, and possibly for the duration.

Some were up in arms about it, some were cheering for the change. Now we've had a chance to experience it - the first time that we've been unable to fly at all in a new expansion's continent since, well, vanilla, which was not an expansion, technically speaking.

So how has it worked out?

Well, there are a couple things I've noticed. The first is that the world feels a lot larger. When I'm on a flight path, I'll look down at Gorgrond and realized that the Crimson Fen is really right next to Highpass, and that the Everbloom Wilds are just north of there. On foot, these all feel like very distinct locations that require some real travel.

And that leads me into the second point: navigation is more tricky. Getting from one part of a zone to another requires you to figure out where the avenues are to do so. The design of the zones has helped in this regard - typically there's a clear path that you can take - but sometimes the zones are designed to make things a bit confusing - making your way through Souther Gorgrond, for instance, requires a bit of exploration.

The lack of flight provides some interesting opportunities. For example, Spires of Arak is full of jumping puzzles and hidden secrets that require careful navigation of the eponymous spires and their jagged ridges. These would be utterly trivial if one could simply fly to these locations.

Sometimes, travel is simply difficult. Getting an Alliance character to Frostfire Ridge, for example, is quite difficult if you haven't played the Horde side of things and thus have no idea where Deadgrin is.

I don't know if this was meant to compensate for the lack of flight, or if it's simply a consequence of the garrison structure, but there's not a lot of continuity between zones. The Horde transition from Frostfire Ridge to Gorgrond is the only one I believe people make on foot. Every other zone has you first go back to your garrison and then get a flight to the next zone. This unfortunately makes the various parts of the world feel disconnected.

Draenor has plenty of "set pieces" - huge events that happen in interesting locations. Still, the map has been squashed down to become somewhat two-dimensional. For the first time since Burning Crusade, we don't see any cool Horde or Alliance airships hovering over the world. The air is pretty much empty except in Spires of Arak.

So what are my overall thoughts on the lack of flight?

I think it's working. Draenor was designed to be experienced from the ground, and it's a fantastic experience in that regard. Still, I think that there's design space to be explored that includes flight. For now, I'm fine with being bound by gravity, but I hope that Blizzard doesn't decide that the success of a flightless Draenor means a total grounding of our adventures from here on out.