Monday, March 30, 2015

How Not to Wipe on Blackhand's Crucible LFR

The Blackhand fight is, at least on LFR, a somewhat more frantic rush than Imperator Mar'gok's careful hierarchy of add destruction and not standing in one of a million things. It's not a short fight, exactly, but each of the three phases feels like a fairly simple and quick boss fight, but one that can potentially subject your raid to attrition, which is why the third phase - in which the area fills with dangerous damaging areas and people start to take heavy damage - becomes the real challenge of the fight. Effectively, making it through phases one and two is how you beat phase three - which perhaps sounds like a tautology now that I'm looking at the sentence I just typed, but there you have it.

So: How Not To Wipe:

Hold On, Partner!:

One of the easiest ways to make a mess out of the fight is accidentally pulling the boss before the whole raid is there. Blackhand patrols a large area that opens up very soon after you step off the elevator to reach him - and that means that it's common for players to wander out into the arena while other raid members are waiting for the next elevator as they had missed the previous one.

There is a safe little foyer - just sit tight right there and let the raid assemble. Blackhand will sometimes cross rather near the edge of the circle, so stay the hell back!

Falling Stuff!:

You can die on phase one. Mainly this happens if you stand in a slag bomb and then get hit by Massive Demolition. Best advice I can give is that the tanks should be moving him in a circle quickly so that you can leave the bombs behind. Don't stand in the arrows, don't stand in the bombs. Don't stand in the big brown swirls (and avoid the little ones if you can.)

Tanks and Snipers:

Phase two I think is probably the easiest one to survive on LFR. But you should know that if you get fixated by a siege tank, you need to run it over the mines that Blackhand tosses out in order to blow off the armor and also give a temporary debuff that makes it much easier to take the siege tanks out (it actually lasts long enough that if the DPS is paying attention, it won't live long enough for it to fall off.) It seems you can get away with leaving the snipers alone, but if you're melee, let yourself get knocked back by his slam on the tank (red circle) and take out about six of them before jumping down.

Danger Zones!

Phase three is a mad rush. Really the tanks just need to be good about pulling the guy around in a  big circle. If you get bombs, run them to the center, or if that's not an option, run them to behind the group. Save Time Warp/Hero/Lust/Ancient Hysteria for this phase if you can. You will run out of space eventually, but if enough people survive the first two phases, you should be able to take him down without too much trouble.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Outcasts, Broken, and Sethe

We obviously don't encounter many of the "Broken" Draenei on Draenor. In our timeline, the Horde used a mysterious "Red Mist" at the siege of Shattrath that caused many of the defenders (those who stayed behind, unlike Maraad, who was tasked with escorting civilians out of the city) to be horribly mutated, transforming their bodies into the Broken, or for those who were perhaps hit with a larger dose, transforming them into the "Lost Ones." (Fun fact: in Warcraft Three: The Frozen Throne, all of the "Draenei" seen there use essentially the Lost One model we have in WoW. Akama was later retconned to be somewhere between your standard Broken and a Lost One, and Burning Crusade retconned the Draenei to be related to the Eredar.)

Beyond the physical transformation, the Broken were unable to call upon the power of the Light anymore. Paladins and Priests who had literally spent tens of thousands of years using the Light to protect themselves were suddenly cut off from the power that had kept them safe and given them hope.

And this severance created an uncomfortable segregation within the normally nearly-utopian Draenei society. With the Light being so central to Draenei culture, those who were unaffected worried that without the Light, the Broken would become a threat to them. Without the Light, after all, the Draenei would have become Man'ari, like their brothers and sisters on Argus. Of course, this became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy - driven to desperation, some of the Broken did turn to Warlock magics - some even joined the Shadow Council (though how many of these people had been members of the Sargerai before is up for debate, though I think most surviving Sargerai Warlocks most likely made the full transition to Man'ari Eredar demons, like Socrethar.) However, most of the Broken remained loyal to their people, and Nobundo, a former Vindicator Paladin, answered the call of the Elements of Draenor, who taught him Shamanism and gave the Broken an avenue to inner peace. But the Red Mist's effects were irreversible, and though people like Nobundo were certainly good and honorable, the Light was still inaccessible.

I think the general assumption was that the Red Mist was some sort of foul Warlock magic - the technique being - thankfully - lost to time.

Yet our journey to Draenor has revealed that the Red Mist actually has nothing to do with demons or Warlocks. Though I don't know if it has been confirmed exactly, all signs point to the idea that the Red Mist is in fact the blood of Sethe.

The sequence of events on Draenor isn't quite the same, though. It seems that Garrosh's interference pushed Gul'dan's Blood of Mannoroth Gambit to earlier in the war against the Draenei. In all likelihood, the original Horde had already conquered the Arrakoa and claimed the Blood of Sethe before they made their assault on Shattrath and Karabor. Yet the Iron Horde has a relatively small presence in Arak - and one that seems less like an invasion and more just the Shattered Hand's ordinary base of operations.

Anyway, it turns out that the Draenei were not the first ones to be transformed by Sethe's evil essence. The Arrakoa had, in recent centuries, become a cruel society of elitists, and political enemies were cast down - literally - into the ever-flowing blood of Sethe. The Wind-Serpent God had been slain by Anzu long ago, but his blood had cursed the land on which it spread. Anzu himself was cursed and made unable to fly. And those Arrakoa who were exposed to the blood were twisted and transformed as well.

The Outcasts are really just the Arrakoa equivalent of the Broken. Just as the Broken had their connection to the Light cut off, the Outcasts turned away from the magic of the Sun and embraced the Shadow.

Admittedly, something must have changed here - Draenei players who run through the blood are not transformed. This could be a mere gameplay/story separation, but it could also be that the blood had to be altered in order for it to work on other species.

It's a shame that the story of Arak is all limited to the zone itself. It seems like there's a lot more potential backstory there. What exactly is Sethe? Or Anzu and Rukhmar for that matter? It seems to me that the latter two could be Draenor equivalents of Ancients or Loa (which I've always maintained are essentially the same kind of entity - ditto Celestials.) And if that's the case, Sethe could be Draenor's equivalent of Hakkar the Soulflayer (actually, wind-serpent Loa tend to be bad guys. We worked with Quetz'lun, but she was clearly not a good guy.)

We know that Draenor had a Titan presence - and they most likely had a large role in the creation of the Ogres and their Breaker ancestors (Magnaron, Gronn, Ogron,) as well as the Primals and probably the Arrakoa (the Apexis ruins look very Titan-esque.) But then we still don't really have a solid understanding of the relationship between the Titans and the Ancients/Loa/Celestials on Azeroth, so I don't know how much we can infer about what's going on with the ones on Draenor.

Still, it's a fascinating connection and insight into the history of our Horde. And it answers the question of why the Red Mist disappeared - it was lost when Draenor broke apart and the Spires of Arak were cast out into the Twisting Nether.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Iron Crucible First Impressions - Tank Perspective

Well, this is it, boys and girls, the final wing of Blackrock Foundry on LFR, and the ultimate raid boss until we get into Tanaan Jungle. Much like Imperator's Rise, the Iron Crucible is a single-boss instance to allow for the complexity of the final boss.

Blackhand is, on LFR, actually not terribly difficult, but of course I was running more or less right when the servers went up, so my raid had some fairly hardcore people (though actually the DPS averaged only about 20k, which is certainly good for LFR, but not mind blowing.)

Trash before Blackhand:

We start once again at the very entrance to the instance, but thankfully all the trash in the Workshop is gone, so you don't have to pull those same guys again.

There will now be a path leading into the Iron Crucible. You'll find a single miniboss there. Make sure that you get the whole raid inside before you pull her (someone pulled ours before the other tank could get inside.) Flame jets will blast certain areas in the corridor, so pull the miniboss farther along as the fight goes on. She'll stack up a debuff on the tank, so do a taunt swap (if the other tank is there.)

An elevator will open up and you'll be able to head to the top, where Blackhand awaits.


Tanking Blackhand is relatively simple, though I did die on phase 3 so I might need to go into more specifics when I've seen the fight from other perspectives or just done it more than once.

The fight takes place in three distinct phases. You'll start way at the top of the instance, then drop down to ground level, and finally fall into a cavern on a platform over lava.

Phase 1:

This one's pretty simple. There's an enforced tank swap, as he'll knock his current target away, clearing their threat and doing the same to anyone standing within the red circle. When you're not tanking him, stand behind him with the melee. Bombs will appear on the ground that you should avoid, and you'll see arrows pointing away from him at players targeted by his impaling throw, which you should also avoid. Be sure to tank him in the center of the room, as the outer edge will heat up and deal damage to people, with the glowing heat slowly working its way to the center (that's your phase 1 soft enrage mechanic.) Once he hits a certain health threshold (I assume 2/3) he'll smash the floor and you'll fall to the second level.

Phase 2:

Much of the same mechanics will persist in this phase (and the last one.) He'll summon tanks that will fixate on random raid members, so as a tank you can ignore them. When he knocks you back, he'll send you to a balcony where a bunch of snipers are taking potshots at your raid. Kill what you can, but make sure you're down again before he knocks back the other tank. DPS should stand in your knockback circle so that they can help with the snipers. Eventually, he'll smash the floor and you'll fall to the lowest level.

Phase 3:

Ok, I died on this phase (though he was about to die when I did) so I might have some of the basics wrong, but mainly you want to make sure he doesn't knock you off the edge of the platform. That said, you can't be in the center, because he'll be laying down some persistent AoE, and you'll want to gradually kite him out of it by making a big circle. The bombs, throws, and knockback/tank swap are all still there. This is probably when you want to pop Hero/Lust.

So overall, not so bad. I'm sure it'll be more of a challenge later in the week, but it also doesn't really have the complexity or the adds of Imperator Mar'gok, so I think it should be pretty easy within a week or two.

And with that, Blackrock Foundry is down, and the Iron Horde is in serious trouble.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How Not to Wipe in Blackrock Foundry LFR

So, I did a bunch of rundowns on the bosses in LFR after my first impressions, but now that we've had two weeks of Iron Assembly (with only Blackhand left,) I figured I'd look at some troublespots and give advice about the bosses that seem to be causing the most trouble.


Actually, Slagworks pretty quickly became a rather safe LFR wing. As with all of them, the trash at the beginning is only hard if you try to skip it and fail. And it's LFR, so people will fail. Just pull the stuff and happily go on with your run.

Blast Furnace: This one's a long fight, but it's never been terribly hard. DPS should kill the Bellow Operators first, and let the other adds die to cleave damage. Be sure to interrupt Engineers casting Repair and stun Security Guards when they get their defensive shield up. Taking out Foreman Feldspar will ease your raid damage. Also, if you get Melt, run the hell away and drop that off somewhere people aren't going to be standing!

Black Forge:

Kromog: Thankfully people seem to be finally learning how to do this fight, so it's not the wipefest that it once was. Three key things: when he starts to cast his Rippling Smash, look at where he's facing and don't be there. Second: ranged needs to let melee and tanks take the runes at the front. Don't send that poor Rogue scrambling for a rune because you were being lazy on your Mage - easy fix, just stand toward the back of the room. Third: don't just start DPSing the boss when your rune is down. Help others out, especially healers, who are going to be busy what with the damage they're taking from the freaking hands!

Iron Assembly:

Operator Thogar: Two things: watch the doors (on either side!) and you'll never be surprised about where the trains are coming through. Second thing: kill the adds! It's not difficult. Just kill the adds. Go crazy for AoE and pad your numbers. Ranged also needs to take out turrets.

Iron Maidens: This one's not as complicated as it seems. You want to cleave until any of them get to 20% and then focus Gar'an's Dominator Turrets, followed by Admiral Gar'an, followed by Marak the Blooded, and then taking out Sorka when nothing else is standing. I don't care how your guild does it - on LFR, the turrets are the biggest danger. Once any of them hits 20% they all gain their new abilities, so keep cleaving until then, but afterwards you want to focus them down so that there are fewer of them and the fight gets easier. Thankfully, they're getting a big nerf in the health pool department- the Maidens and the Turrets as well - so this should be pretty easy going forward.

To sum up: Cleave until 20%, then go Admiral, Marak, Sorka. Ranged focus turrets. Also, pick a boat team before you pull.

I'm sure I'll have stuff on Blackhand next week.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

BRF Upgrades Live

Literally in the middle of a Black Forge run, I found that a lot of my gear suddenly jumped up in item level. That's right, kids, all gear out of Blackrock Foundry has been upgraded by 5 levels.

Apexis and Crafted gear (at level 4) has also received an upgrade, so my Paladin's goggles and apexes cloak are now 685 and 675, respectively.

UPDATE: So Blizzard must be messing with me, because now the LFR tier sets have been upgraded to 660. That means Blacksteel, Sootfur, Ebonflame or Ashlink armor pieces are gaining a nice buff, meaning you'd be crazy for putting any other LFR pieces in place of these sets (maybe if you're crazy for crit like a Fury Warrior or Fire Mage.) I'll have to check in on the Rukhmar pieces to see if they've also been buffed.

Apexis and Crafted gear (at level 4) has also received an upgrade, so my Paladin's goggles and apexes cloak are now 685 and 675, respectively.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Imagining Farahlon

My favorite zone in Burning Crusade was Netherstorm. I'm not really saying it had the best quests (questing back then was an improvement over vanilla, but Wrath was a big improvement on BC,) but I loved the feel of it. Some people are purists, but I love when the chocolate of science fiction gets mixed up with the peanut butter of fantasy, and Netherstorm felt like a crazy alien world, with its purple rocks floating in an atmosphere just buzzing with magical energy.

When they announced Warlords of Draenor, we discovered that a lot of familiar places once had different names (except Shadowmoon Valley and Nagrand,) but quests in Netherstorm gave us a bit of an image of what it used to be when it was Farahlon.

In those early announcements, the zone was included on the maps, but it has since disappeared. We're definitely going to Tanaan Jungle, but the fate of Farahlon is totally up in the air. I imagine that if we get a new island zone in the vein of Quel Danas or Timeless Isle, Farahlon will be the first one they jump to use, but there's a real possibility that Tanaan Jungle is the only new zone we'll find in Draenor before we head off to our next adventure.

Still, it's fun to think about Farahlon.

The denizens of Netherstorm were largely aliens. The biggest feature of the zone was a group of Naaru-built Manaforges, which were presumably built after the disaster that destroyed Draenor and apparently was there to pump magical energy into Tempest Keep - which means the whole zone could have been essentially a gas station.

The Blood Elves under Kael'thas' control had launched a huge campaign to capture the Manaforges as well as Tempest Keep (which despite being called a "Keep" was actually a ship, with each 5-player dungeons as well as the Draenei capital of the Exodar as satellite structures.)

It was in Netherstorm that we discovered Kael'thas was now fully allied with the Burning Legion, and the zone was home to some of their Forge Camps.

Netherstorm was also home to the Consortium, a group of Etherals who had fled their own homeworld of K'aresh in order to escape a Void Lord, who then followed them to Outland.

Likewise, there was Kirin Var Village, the home of Archmage Vargoth (who was and is still physically trapped in his tower by a spell cast by Kael'thas Sunstrider. Good thing he's a whiz at astral projection.) Unfortunately, Vargoth's really the only living member of the village, which had been an outpost for the Alliance Expedition after the Second War.

And then of course there was the Steamwheedle Cartel, which set up Area 52 and Cosmowrench in order to try to extract some of the extremely unusual materials that could be found on a piece of land that was more or less humming with Nether energy.

The point being: pretty much none of these people would be in Draenor's Farahlon.

Admittedly, there were already some aliens there. The Draenei had multiple settlements, some of which are now occupied by the Consortium and some of which are just haunted ruins. Presumably areas like Enkaat, Arklon, and the Stormspire might exist on Draenor.

The zone is also more seriously affected than any of the surviving areas in Outland (so it's better off than Arak and Frostfire,) so it's possible there are far more settlements. We don't know if there's a particular Orc clan that lived there - it's possible that the Blackrock or Laughing Skull might have had a presence there.

Geographically, we have only a little other than the wreckage and a quote from Archmage Vargoth, who describes Farahlon as originally having fields that would not look out of place in Westfall, which seems to suggest that it was an agrarian area, perhaps with amber grains growing on farms. It could have been another major Draenei settlement, like Shadowmoon and Talador.

Stretching a bit, in the early Beta of Warlords there were Botani-affiliated creatures called Fara - they used Tol'vir models and were probably going to be sort of smaller Genesaurs, but I believe they were replaced with the Mandragora. Could Farahlon have been named for these beings? Even if that got axed, the proximity to Gorgrond could allow for both the Primals and the Botani to have a presence there.

Apparently the original plan for Farahlon was for there to be a unique starting experience for boosted level 90 players that was separate from the Tanaan Jungle intro. Those got folded into each other, which left Farahlon kind of drifting.

Personally I'm still holding out hope for a third raid tier with Warlords, but I think that Farahlon would be a great place to set it. If the Iron Horde falls completely after we invade Tanaan, we have one more established zone to visit.

BRF Item Level Changes Not Yet Implemented

Despite the fact that last week Blizzard said they would be changing the item level of all Blackrock Foundry rewards and those of equivalent content (so, the new Apexis gear and the stage 4 crafted upgrades, and presumably Rukhmar drops) "next week," it will apparently take a bit longer, despite the fact that I think most people assumed it would happen on the reset.

Note again that this change will be retroactive, so there's nothing wrong with running the raid now in search of drops that will be upgraded by 5 points some time in the next few days. Still, if you have a flexible raiding schedule, you could wait until the upgrades are live so that your existing gear will be better and you'll thus have an easier time on the fights in there.

It's kind of surprising that this change was not part of the normal Tuesday restarts, but oh well - as long as it happens eventually, it's all good.


The change should go live tomorrow.

How Many Patches to Go? Speculations on 6.2

Much of the discussion about the future of Warlords of Draenor is about how many raid tiers we'll have. Clearly the next zone that's going to open up is Tanaan Jungle, which is the headquarters of the Iron Horde.

We don't really have a solid idea of when Tanaan Jungle will open up. Right now, Blackrock Foundry is kind of settling into a raid's middle age. Mythic Blackhand has been defeated by the world first guilds, and we're seeing a few adjustments to it, but it's not at a point where we're sick of it yet - Blackhand isn't even available on LFR yet, meaning that most players likely haven't even attempted the fight at all (either that or I really need to PUG more.)

6.1 has come already, but there wasn't really a headliner in terms of content for it. Even Mists of Pandaria's in-between patches has the Krasarang quests and Battlefield Barrens, but 5.1 was almost entirely a systems update - with a few quests thrown in there, but nothing huge.

So for that reason I almost wonder if 6.2 will bring us to Tanaan but not actually open up the next raid. I could imagine getting the new zone, complete with a quest chain and possibly a new Timeless Isle-like structure (though hopefully with a bit more form than TI,) along with new story development and another chapter in the Legendary chain.

I think it's definitely too early to open up tier 18, but when it does open up is somewhat contingent on both whether the next raid tier is intended to be Warlords' last, and also how far along expansion six is coming.

So what would I like to see in 6.2?

I'm hoping Tanaan Jungle will be a compelling zone. If they could release a zone with the number of quests and content of a launch zone later in the expansion, I'd be overjoyed. One of the laments of this game is that the characters you work the hardest on sometimes find themselves without anything to do. I love powerfully wrecking bad guys on my Paladin, but at this point there's not a huge amount of motivation to do so. So to have real quest content after having gotten geared up in epics would be pretty cool.

I DESPERATELY want to see some new, compelling reason to run dungeons again. The daily quests that came with 6.1 are not remotely good enough - rewarding garrison resources that I'm already always on the cusp of capping anyway. Bringing back Valor points or just giving Apexis crystals for running dungeons would encourage us to zerg through the old ones, but what I really want is new dungeons to run. Warlords launched with the fewest 5-player dungeons of any expansion yet, and I think we can all agree that it was pretty frustrating to only have the nine we had in Mists for two years.

Additionally, I'd love to see the "Timewalker Dungeons" implemented. I know that finding a compelling reward structure will be tricky, but there's such a wealth of dungeon content in the game that we just never touch anymore. I mean, when's the last time you ran Magister's Terrace at the appropriate level? Having scaling dungeons would be very exciting, but again, they've got to hit a sweet spot where the reward is compelling without feeling mandatory (I'd err on the side of granting vanity items like transmog gear, pets, toys and mounts.)

I'd like to see new dungeons set in Tanaan - preferably two or three - that reward (on heroic) gear with new art equivalent to normal Blackrock Foundry, or possibly 5 levels lower (so 665, given the 5-level buff that's happening later today.) It's got to be exciting enough for people who have geared up through LFR, and by the time it comes out, those who wanted BRF gear from Normal will likely have gotten it.

I think they should continue adding new upgrade items for crafted gear - these upgrades have offered a fantastic solution to keeping crafting relevant throughout the expansion. Even though transmog has made it less of a problem since 4.3, I'm happy that I'm still able to wear my goggles.

Garrisons are probably ready for some new buildings, but they also might want to buff some of the existing ones. For example, other than the treasure-hunt missions from the tier 3 inn, the ability to recruit new followers or get extra daily quests that reward 630 gear is hardly exciting stuff.

Likewise, having more stuff to spend garrison resources on would be nice. Right now I burn off any extras I have on the Dwarven Bunker and buying professional materials to keep my Enchanting Study always churning.

I think opening Tanaan is also the right time to finally allow flight in Draenor. I would be fine if it required a quest chain at 100 to unlock, and even though I remain convinced that you can design compelling questing with flight, Draenor was clearly not designed that way, so it should at the very least require you to be level 100. And while, again, Tanaan could theoretically be designed to allow flight, I'd be ok with them restricting it there.

I'm sure we'll start to hear whispers of 6.2 in the coming month or so. This has been admittedly more of a wishlist than real predictions, but I'll be eager to see what we do wind up getting.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Blackrock Foundry and Equivalent Loot Buff

All gear from Blackrock Foundry, as well as the new Apexis gear and crafted upgrades are getting a 5-item level buff in an upcoming hotfix.

Blizzard says that they feel BRF hasn't been rewarding significant-enough upgrades and so they're increasing the item level of every piece of gear that drops in the raid by 5, and so that crafted and Apexis gear doesn't suddenly become irrelevant, they will also be getting equivalent buffs (though I believe only at the new, BRF-like level.)

While I don't think this goes so far as to make the two raids feel like fully separate tiers, the main takeaway is that we're all going to get a pretty decent buff.

So, to lay it out: Blackrock Foundry gear will now be 655/670/685/700.

The seriously profound consequence of this is that LFR Blackrock Foundry gear will now be fully equivalent to Highmaul Normal gear - especially given that Highmaul does not have any set pieces. Thus, there will be far less incentive to run Highmaul on Normal. Basically, the two that I can think of (beyond the fact that running with a guild is more enjoyable than doing LFR) is that the gear looks better, and you'll need to take down Mar'gok on Normal in order to start getting heroic quality gear from Highmaul Caches.

Indeed, it looks like gear from BRF will essentially be equivalent to the next higher difficulty in Highmaul, so likewise, gear from Normal BRF will be equal to Heroic HM, and Heroic BRF will be equal to Mythic HM.

Beyond making BRF a bit easier, I suspect this will really diminish Highmaul's continued relevance.

One thing remains slightly ambiguous, which is the LFR tier sets. I'd assume that these would get the same 5-level boost, making them 660, but they were not specifically mentioned in the announcement.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Blizzcon '15 Announced, Nov 6&7

Blizzcon 2015 has been announced, and it'll be on November 6th and 7th this year.

That's pretty much all the new information I have, but what does it mean for WoW and Blizzard's other games?

I think we could easily hear about a new Diablo expansion - Reaper of Souls came out last year and more or less fixed the game, but at this point Malthael is old-hat.

Hearthstone is seeing sort of lower-stakes expansions with less fanfare. I'd expect to see more of that, unless Blizzard decides to create a new class, like the Death Knight or Monk (Arthas and Chen Stormstout, I'd assume as the heroes.)

Starcraft likely won't have anything huge to announce, as the Legacy of the Void will be the next big thing for that franchise.

We could get a Heroes of the Storm official release date (though now that you can pay to be in the Beta... what's the difference between that and its being available? I don't understand you, MOBAs!

Overwatch will likely be more fleshed out. Given that it's a brand-new property I think we might be waiting a bit longer for an actual release, but I expect we'll see a whole lot more detail about it in the year that's passed.

And finally:

We are 99.99999% certain to get the announcement of WoW's next expansion. Really the only reason we wouldn't is if we already knew about it. And, ok, that's maybe a bit better than a .00001% chance, but I think we're going to see thing play out they have for the past five expansions - every year we alternate between announcement and release.

So if we assume that expansion 6 will not be announced until Blizzcon, what does that mean for scheduling and Warlords of Draenor?

After the long delay for Warlords - the expansion was announced two months after there was nothing left to implement in Mists of Pandaria, yet we still didn't get the thing until the usual Fall release - I dearly hope that Blizzard is aware of the effect of a content drought. To be fair, every expansion has had one (BC had it between patches though, as Black Temple came out way too early and people had to wait a long time for Sunwell.) Still, I think we're going to be in big trouble if, having predicted a faster cycle, Blizzard designed Warlords around two raid tiers, and then wound up with the same two-year expansion cycle.

So if they don't announce the new expansion before Blizzcon, they're going to need to bring the big guns. Announce the start of the Beta as something imminent, not something to be expected eight months later.

Anyway, Blizzcon doesn't strictly determine when expansions come out, though, so I'll remain cautiously optimistic and remind myself of the fact that I am actually enjoying the current expansion, and I'm eager to see what's in store for us in Tanaan Jungle, what with SPOILERS happening there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Iron Assembly DPS Perspective:

I took the DK into the new BRF wing today. There's not a huge amount of new information to worry about, but I did get a bit better insight into a few mechanics.

Beastlord Darmac:

This fight is more or less the same. You'll want to DPS down any of the spears that are pinning raid members. The packs of beasts will go down relatively quickly, but you should most likely go into full AoE mode on them. Also, when he's on the Wolf or afterward, try to run away from him as he jumps away and back for Rend and Tear, as you can avoid getting stacks of the bleed this way.

Operator Thogar:

The best advice I can give is to keep your camera pointed at one of the two rows of doors. The most important thing is that you not get hit by the trains. If you need to stop DPS in order to do so, do it. Remember, a dead DPS does zero DPS. There are many adds here, so go full-blown AoE on them. Interrupt the heals if you can, but don't worry too much about it on LFR.

Iron Maidens:

This time I got a significantly new experience, as I was assigned to take the hooks to the boat.

One tank, one healer, and four DPS will need to take hooks to the ship in order to stop the bombardment - be sure to assign this ahead of time, as on our first attempt we wound up with no tank (which actually wasn't the end of the world for Gar'an's crew.)

Jumping to the ship will give you a group of adds to deal with. You'll need to kill the adds and then sabotage the turret's ammunition feed (by right-clicking on the bombs there,) which will then blow you back onto the main platform and end the bombardment phase.

When Gar'an jumps, you'll have two adds - one is a shaman who casts a shield and a lightning bolt. Kill this one first, interrupting the shield, then focus on the hunter who will fire at random people.

Source's adds consist of a single big elite and several Eviscerators. The Eviscerators will fixate on random people, so kite them and slow/stun them. There are to to start with, but I believe more will spawn if you kill them, so just take down the big add and blast the ship.

Finally, Mar'ak's add is just a single Dire Orc. He'll cause pools of corrupted blood to show up under each player on the ship, so you'll need to be moving pretty constantly.

On the main platform, make sure that you run to the edge of the room if you get Rapid Fire on you, and try not to drag the circle over other people. It's pretty slow, which means you can actually slow down and let it catch up to you a bit if you want to make a sharper angle (and not drag it into a healer or something.)

Finally, if you're melee, you're probably going to just have to stay away from the turrets on the last phase and let ranged deal with it. If you are ranged, your number one priority should be burning those turrets down ASAP. While the fire can be dodged, there will be far too much of it before long, and it quickly stacks up a powerful DoT on anyone it hits.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Iron Assembly LFR - Tank Perspective

The final real "wing" before we face Blackhand, the Iron Assembly has us facing Beastlord Darmac, Operator Thogar, and the Iron Maidens: Admiral Gar'an, Enforcer Sorka, and Marak the Blooded.

Trash before Darmac:

As with all the wings, you'll begin at the very start of the instance, with that nasty Ogron to deal with. You'll head right, but go farther in past the door to the Slagworks.

The trash in this wing is fairly easy to deal with and rather straightforward, so I won't focus much on it.

Beastlord Darmac:

Darmac is off in a little side room. He has three mounts that he'll jump onto at certain points during the fight - a Rylak, an Elekk, and a Wolf. He'll jump onto whichever living beast is nearest to him. When he does so, you'll have to kill the animal in order to attack him again. When the beast is dead, Darmac will gain one of the beast's abilities.

Periodically, he'll call in a bunch of beasts from the north-central door in the room. Whichever tank is not on the boss should just go pick them up and then the raid should AoE them down.

Additionally, spears will fall from the air. Try to dodge these, as those who are pinned by them will be stunned until the spear is destroyed. If you see someone pinned, help them out by killing the spear.

The Elekk has a tank-swap armor debuff and a channeled AoE called Tantrum. When the Elekk is down, he'll retain Tantrum.

The Wolf will do Rend and Tear, jumping into the ranged group and then back, applying a stacking bleed to anyone in range. There is a slight delay before he jumps, so you should be able to dodge. Darmac learns this after the wolf is dead.

Finally, the Rylak has a fire-DOT that works as a tank-swap mechanic. It also has a flame-breath, which players should run out of. When dead, Darmac gets "Burning Shrapnel," which is roughly the same as the flame breath.

Darmac's relatively simple.

Operator Thogar:

Thogar is basically a rail station conductor, and you'll fight him on a set of four tracks. Throughout the fight, trains will come through on the tracks. You definitely don't want to get hit by the trains - make sure you're watching which doors are open to know which track to not be standing on.

Thogar has a simple tank-swap mechanic in the form of Enkindle (taunt at two stacks.)

Three kinds of trains will come through.

Express Trains just charge through, shooting fire near them (like the Iron Stars on Garrosh) and dealing a bunch of damage (on LFR it's not automatically lethal, but it ain't good.)

Troop Trains will drop off several adds. These guys should be AoE'd down. Some will drop time bombs and others will create little electrical puddles that do a bunch of damage.

Finally, some trains will come in with turrets that I believe ranged can kill.

As the fight goes on, it seems that more trains park on the tracks, giving you fewer places to run to avoid getting hit.

Again, though, not terribly difficult - make sure to look at the doors on either side of the room to help predict where the trains are coming from.

The Iron Maidens:

This one's tough, though not quite Kromog tough.

There are three bosses, Sorka, Gar'an, and Marak. Gar'an is a hunter and will target random raid members, so tanks only need to throw some nominal threat on her (to keep her grouped up with the others.) Sorka is a rogue and Marak is a shaman. At first you'll want to cleave them down evenly, as when one of them gets to 20% health, they'll all gain Iron Will, increasing their damage done over time. So you want them as close to each other as possible until they get to 20%, at which point you'll want to take Gar'an, then Marak, then Sorka down.

Throughout the fight, one of the bosses will jump over to the ship and begin to bombard the platform you're on. One tank, one healer, and I believe four DPS should go over and kill the adds on the ship in order to get her to go back (I think you might have to set off a bomb or something - the other tank was doing the ship.)

While one of the bosses is on the ship, you'll get three abilities to deal with, always in these same order. Alpha Pattern bombardment will cause damage in a relatively sparse pattern - easy to dodge. Omega Pattern however will only leave a few safe spots. When the bombardment starts, a grid of bombs will appear. Those not hit by Omega Bombardment will begin to glow red/pink and explode. Get away from them, but quickly get back into the gap they've left, as all the other bombs will soon explode thereafter.

Gar'an will do a couple things. She'll shoot at random raid members. Sometimes she'll line up a powerful shot, signified by a straight red line. The more people in the line, the more the damage gets split. She'll also single out people for Rapid Fire, which will chase the player. If you get focused, run away from the raid and don't run the thing through them. At the last phase, she'll summon turrets that spit out fireballs that do a stacking DoT. Ranged has to focus these down ASAP.

Marak, other than melee, pretty much just does Blood Ritual on random players. Tanks can intercept this squiggly red line to save the raid member (the damage I took from it seemed to be insignificant.)

Sorka will jump to random raid members and stab them, but she seems to be the least troublesome.

Once all three maidens have done their ship duty, it's time to take them down. The worst of these is Gar'an's Deploy Turret - make sure that Ranged focus the turrets down as soon as they can, but melee should stay far away from them so they can more easily dodge the fire.

There are plenty of other abilities, but most are your sort of standard raid damage stuff (I think there's a debuff to be dispelled, but I never got it.)

One last note: for the Legendary chain, you'll need to go out onto the rock surface next to the dock you're standing on to get the Draenic Navigation Orb, as it's not actually picked up from the bosses themselves.

And with that, we've got the third wing of BRF down. It's just Blackhand now!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Handling Highmaul - A Slowpoke Raider's Guide - Brackenspore

About a week ago, we took down Brackenspore. I was going to wait until we had Tectus down to write the next of these posts, but schedule conflicts have been coming up, and we don't have him yet (though we got far enough that I could probably write a guide.)

Brackenspore is, of course, a fungal giant who climbs up out of the Zangar Sea and is harassing some Iron Horde soldiers caught out on the northern coast. Why are we attacking him when he doesn't threaten us and is in fact distracting our enemies? Why, loot, of course!

This is a fight that involves kill priorities, coordinating interrupts, some interesting healing mechanics and a bit of extra responsibility on the part of some of the ranged players.

Before the fight begins, there will be two flamethrowers left behind by the retreating Iron Horde soldiers. Have two of your ranged DPS pick them up (preferably hunters, given that they'll be running around a lot.)

Throughout the fight, a green algae or moss will slowly grow from the edge of the area inward. This stuff is nasty - it'll slow and damage players and it will heal the boss. The two people with flamethrowers will have to burn away the moss using the flamethrowers. Doing so will give them a big damage boost to help compensate for the time they're off the boss burning moss. However, the flamethrowers will overheat if they are left on for too long, so these players will need to know when to turn them off. Ultimately the moss will grow at a faster rate than the flamethrowers can burn them, which acts as a kind of soft enrage.

While those people are worrying about that, there are several other mechanics to bear in mind.

Periodically, beneficial, friendly mushrooms will pop up. If healed to full, they will provide a beneficial area around them. Green mushrooms will heal anyone standing in their circle, while blue ones will give a 30% haste buff and mana replenishment. The blue ones are the top priority and should be healed immediately (and everyone who can should stand within them) while green ones should be saved for Infesting Spores, which we'll get to.

Brackenspore itself has three major mechanics to pay attention to - though two of these are really just for the tanks to worry about. Rot is a stacking DOT that tanks will get. Though DBM starts shouting at you at three stacks, you'll need to let it get up to 4 for the other tank's stacks to fall off. Brackenspore also has a cone-breath attack. Tanks will need to keep it faced away from the raid and pop anti-magic cooldowns like Divine Protection or Anti-Magic Shell. The third ability is Infesting Spores, where Brackenspore will channel a stacking DOT on the entire raid, eventually hitting 10 stacks before it ends. At this point, healers should heal up any green mushroom that's in a safe place (not the moss,) and players should stand in the green circle.

There are three kinds of adds that need to be dealt with as well. Spore Shooters will pop up and send spores at the raid. DPS should focus these guys down quickly. Mind Fungi will also pop up, and while they don't have any real damaging abilities, they'll create an aura around them that reduces casting speed. Casters should get away from them before attempting to kill them, while melee can just wade in there and knock them out. These have a nasty habit of popping up around the blue mushrooms.

The final add type is the Fungal Flesh Eater. Whichever tank is not currently on Brackenspore should pick these up when they spawn over by the coast. If there are no Spore Shooters or Mind Fungi, DPS should focus these guys down (though they can be tanked next to the boss so that cleave damage will work.) The Fungal Flesh Eater has one ability, which is Decay, an interruptible spell that deals massive raidwide damage. Coordinate between your melee so that you can have one player interrupt the odd-numbered casts of Decay while the other does evens, as it casts it more frequently than a single person can interrupt.

Ultimately you're going to need good DPS to down the adds quickly and to make sure the boss goes down before the moss takes over.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Universes, the Legion, and Alternate Azeroth

While it's sort of a time-travel expansion - showing us a Draenor as it was when the Horde first arose - we're seeing a different turn of events. It's a parallel universe - Draenor B was always different, and we see that in a few different ways. Rulkan was still alive, Garrosh was never born, Akama was a Paladin instead of a Priest.

But these differences are pretty minute. Different though it was, it's clear that, had it not been for Garrosh's intervention, things would have played out quite similarly to how they did in our world. Small differences would certainly have magnified effects over time, but I think Blizzard's intention is to say that this universe would have been very similar to ours.

Spoilers ahead (though given the nature of WoW, I think plot details come from so many different angles that it's next to impossible to say what is and isn't a spoiler.)

As of 6.1, and those very few who are lucky enough to have already finished the Blackrock Foundry step in the legendary chain (seriously, I'm at about one tablet on my two top toons. Admittedly I've only done BRF on LFR, but are normal people clearing Normal that quickly?) have seen a pretty huge shift in the balance of power. The Legion's hold on Draenor, and Gul'dan's power ranking, has made one hell of a comeback (that was not intended to be a pun.)

With the Iron Horde falling under the sway of the Burning Legion, things are looking a bit higher stakes. The Iron Horde was, as many complained or at least observed, not much of a threat. After all, we defeated the original Horde (ok, some of us were the original Horde) back in the day, but this time we have a vast trove of intelligence. Hell, there could be older Orc commanders who are literally assigned to defeat their younger selves.

But now that the Legion is backing them, they stand to become a far more intimidating threat. The question, then, is what the plan is.

Remember that Draenor is more or less Kil'jaeden's side-project. Archimonde criticizes him, not sharing his obsession with wiping out the Draenei. The Legion has much bigger plans. The planet they really care about is Azeroth.

Why? We still don't know exactly, but there's a huge number of tin-foil-hat theories. My best guess is that Azeroth was created in order to build/give birth to/evolve from mortal species new Titans. Sargeras desperately wants Azeroth in order to stop the Titans from creating something that could defeat him (like us.) The whole Draenei genocide was just Kil'jaeden trying to settle a 25,000-year-old grudge against his former best friend (and maybe even brother? Unless that was metaphorical.)

But the Horde became important to the Legion when they realized that they could send them to invade Azeroth. Sargeras, using Medivh as a puppet, worked with Gul'dan to create the Dark Portal. One of the problems the Legion has is that it takes a ton of energy to summon demons to the physical world. And the more powerful a demon, the more energy it takes. But given that Orcs aren't demons (though I'd guess that after long enough in service to the Legion, they'd become demons,) they could send a ridiculously huge army to eliminate any resistance, and then allow Sargeras to take all the time he needs to get there.

With the Iron Horde falling into Gul'dan's hands, sure, it's likely that they'll want to eliminate us as a threat to their plans, but we don't exactly have a strong hold on the Dark Portal, and they could very easily be building a new one.

But when they do, why would they bother going to our Azeroth?

Draenor exists in what we must assume is a fully-formed, entirely separate universe, with its own versions not just of Draenor, but also Argus, Xoroth, and presumably Azeroth as well.

The only reason why these two universes were connected in the first place was so that Garrosh could get revenge on us for beating him in the Siege of Orgrimmar. Kairoz wanted to keep going to different Draenors, one after the other, and founding new Hordes in each of them, then uniting them into an infinitely large army that... would probably have been pretty scary.

But both Kairoz and Garrosh are dead. The Burning Legion and Sargeras that exist in Draenor are the ones from that universe. We know that the Legion isn't somehow pan-universal, because there was an alternate Mannoroth for Grommash to kill (in a very similar manner, but far earlier in his life, as the one in our universe.) And wouldn't they be far more interested in taking over the unsuspecting Azeroth from their own universe - one with no Alliance and no opposing Horde?

The last thirty-some-odd years have turned basically everyone in Azeroth into grizzled survivors, and it's kicked military development into hyperdrive. During the First War, Stormwind's trump card was freaking horses. Now they've got helicopters and airships and teleporters and nuclear bombs. And that's not to mention that the Horde is just as invested in holding off the Iron Horde, and all the tech that the Iron Horde is using was, you know, theirs to begin with. The original Horde was able to defeat the single Kingdom of Stromwind in the First War, but now you've got the whole Alliance as well as the entire Horde, and that's a lot of powerful people working, if not together, then in parallel. They're all tough. Hell, the Forsaken have actually died and they haven't let that slow them down. We've proven ourselves to be a serious force to be reckoned with. And I appreciate that it's very Orcish to see a powerful enemy and focus on taking them down first, but alternate Azeroth is ripe for the taking. All they need is to keep us distracted while they prepare the invasion.

Predicting the future is always a tricky game. And personally, I don't see us spending much more time in this alternate universe. While it's added in some cool new lore and introduced some cool new characters (or fleshed out old ones,) I think we're going to get back to a single timeline when we pack things up in Lunarfall/Frostwall. But if this alternate Legion is smart, and if we aren't able to stop them in time, there could very well be an Azeroth in that alternate universe that is totally imperiled.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Spoilers, Raid Tiers, and the Fate of Draenor's Horde

Ok, for the sake of people on the mobile site who don't want spoilers, here's a little paragraph of stalling. Blizzard has been fairly quiet about whether Warlords of Draenor will actually have the typical three raid tiers, or only two. Given the rate at which we've been going through bad guys, it was unclear for some time just how much there was on Draenor to deal with to make more tiers. Had they saved Highmaul for later, it would have been a logical "middle tier," but instead it became the intro raid, meaning that the Ogres are basically out of the picture already.

And of course, the number of raid tiers is totally dependent on how soon we can see the next expansion. If they do a mere two tiers, we're going to have to see expansion six either this fall or very early next year - otherwise we're going to have another Siege of Orgrimmar situation, and I'm sure that Blizzard realizes that that would be horrible for business and really upset basically everyone - confirming suspicions that Blizzard is terrible at time-management.

But recent revelations have potentially raised the possibility that there could indeed be a middle tier. There's a big shake-up going on, and we're going to talk about it below the cut.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Alliance with Hellscream

The Warlords of Draenor cinematic takes a famous scene from Warcraft history and then alters it. While both the "Draenor Universe" and the "Outland Universe" are separate from long before this event, it's here that the most profound change is made. Grommash rejects Gul'dan's offer of demonic strength. He slays Mannoroth with the help of Garrosh's sophisticated modern (or from Grom's perspective, futuristic) technology, and Gul'dan is taken prisoner.

It's not a case of the good guys winning, given that the Iron Horde is just as bent on conquest as the original Horde, but the focus of power is seriously shifted. The Warlocks, far from being the secret masters of the Horde, are now pariahs and outcasts, desperately scrambling to pick up the pieces of the plan that worked so effectively in the original timeline.

The thing is, Garrosh is not the only new factor in play. The Iron Horde, pushed by a vengeance-obsessed Garrosh, invaded Azeroth before they had fully consolidated their power on Draenor. The Draenei have lost ground, certainly, but they're still a significant force that takes resources away from the Iron Horde's strength. The Frostwolves, rather than being invited to join (and if they joined the original, demon-blood-infested Horde, I can't see why they wouldn't join the Iron variety,) were rejected, and thus present a smaller, but significant threat to the Iron Horde flank.

But the biggest factor - the result of this premature invasion - is the combined forces of the Alliance and Horde. There's no real technological advantage here - the Iron Horde's tech is taken from our era anyway - and the forces of Azeroth are well-acquainted with all the leaders of the Iron Horde, or at least, acquainted with their doppelgängers. There's practically no home field advantage, because the Orcs and Draenei of Azeroth spent years, or even centuries, on a nearly-identical planet.

Numbers and a resource-rich industrial base are surely nothing to sneeze at, but the Iron Horde is losing quickly and big.

And Gul'dan, who had been intended as nothing more than a battery to power the Dark Portal, is now free.

Ok, spoiler time.

6.2's legendary plot looks like it will have us witness Gul'dan's efforts to take over the Iron Horde. We don't know if this will be an immediate success, but given that they've talked about the final raid being very demon-heavy, I suspect Gul'dan will probably emerge victorious. Will he become Warchief? I don't know about that, as he'd probably prefer a puppet (can't be Blackhand, as he's officially killable now.)

I'd honestly not be surprised to find Gul'dan as the final boss of the expansion. Frankly, I'd be more excited about that than Grommash - Gul'dan's an Orc, yes, but he's a totally different archetype than Garrosh was.

But that leaves an interesting question open: What happens to Grom Hellscream?

It's totally possible that he'll remain Warchief. He was convinced to drink the blood of Mannoroth not once, but twice in our universe. Even after he swore the sauce off for good, all it took was a significantly dangerous foe (Cenarius) to get him to go back to it and go all Fel-red.

So as awesome as it was to see him pouring the blood on the ground, I don't have a lot of faith in Hellscream's conviction. Sure, Mannoroth is dead, and his blood is probably no longer potent, but Gul'dan's got a direct line to the Legion, and I'll bet they can bring in alternate-Magtheridon or someone like him if they need more blood.

But what if he doesn't drink?

Grom's methods have been brutal, yes, but he thinks he's doing the right thing. The vision he was given of our timeline was a Horde enslaved by the demon blood - destroying their own world and then ending up captured by the humans. The rest of the Horde's history was cut off before he could see it.

But if we're standing against the Legion, is Hellscream perceptive enough to realize that his entire crusade against us was built on lies?

WoW's not generally big on reconciliation. Even when there's a split between bad guys, it just means that we'll have two raids instead of one.

But I think, at least story-wise, it would be interesting to see an ousted Hellscream come to understand his errors and then aid us in the march against Gul'dan.


The Black Forge - DPS Perspective

I've actually run this wing a couple times as DPS - twice on the Death Knight and now once on the Mage - and I have a pretty decent idea of how the thing works.

Hanzgar and Franzok:

The main thing here is that you're going to want to multi-dot if you can - for much of the fight, both guys will be available targets, so if you're a DOT-heavy class, be sure to get both of them ticking away - much like on Twin Ogron.

For everyone, but ranged especially, you should note that between the conveyer belts are narrow spaces that will not move, so you can stand there and cast without worrying about being swept into the fire at the end of the belts. However, you should note that these areas are not safe from the stamp presses or the burning plates, so you'll still need to dodge.

Flamebender Ka'graz:

Ok, here's some actual perspective on this fight:

Ka'graz will use various abilities as she builds up energy. You'll first want to take out Aknor Steelbringer, who's really just a kind of "beginning of the fight nuisance," (he's there so that fancy people can keep him alive and gain him as a follower, but that doesn't work on LFR as far as I know.)

Ka'graz will send trails of fire at random players - ranged doesn't need to worry too much about this, as it's pretty easy to side-step, but melee should be aware of where the fire is on the ground, as it persists for quite a bit of time.

She'll also put two debuffs on ranged players, but you'll need to do two opposite things depending on which she casts on you. If you get a circle around you, move into the melee group to split the damage between everyone. If you simply get a debuff with no circle, run out instead.

She will occasionally summon a pair of fire wolves. These wolves are linked, so that if one gets to 1 health, it will begin to heal unless the other is also killed. One will fixate on a random raid member, while the other will grow large and need to be tanked. Melee should focus on the large one while ranged works on the fixated one. After a while, the two will switch, and everyone should trade targets.

Finally, Ka'graz does a channeled AoE that you should use some defensive cooldown during - it's not insane damage, but the healers will thank you.


Kromog is the LFR Killer, at least until people actually learn the mechanics.

Tanks will be on one side of him while melee should go to the other. Ranged should spread out and make sure they stand relatively far back.

The absolute most important mechanic here is Rune of Grasping Earth. Periodically, Kromog will summon a bunch of orange runes. Every raid member needs to pick a rune and stand on it - there no sharing of runes, so ranged be sure to pick the ones that are in the back so that melee doesn't get screwed.

Stone hands will grasp up from the runes and start squeezing, which does a bit of damage. You can damage the hands, but you'll want to leave them at about 40% or so. Kromog will channel a powerful AoE spell that, in addition to the damage, will send anyone not held by a rune flying into the air, where they will almost certainly die of fall damage (some classes might slow themselves or blink/shadowstep/demonic teleport down, but there will still be a lot of damage to deal with.)

Once he finishes this spell, kill your rune and then break out tanks first, then healers, and then any DPS who is somehow still trapped.

Aside from that, there are three abilities that need to be dodged.

First are these little shockwaves that will spawn constantly - just side-step them. Kromog will also slam the ground, creating a wave of rocks that move outward - again, run out of the way. Finally, RED (not orange) runes will pop up under ranged players, and a pair of red-runed stone hands will pop up and clap together. Be sure to get out of the way of these, regardless of whether you were the one targeted or not.

Kromog does a ton of damage to the raid, especially with Stone Breath, which he does frequently. Use self-heals when you can to alleviate the burden on the healers.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gametime Tokens: Is This the End of the World As We Know It? Or Not?

Blizzard has now officially announced (though it's something they've talked about before) the in-game gametime tokens. The way it works is that players will be able to buy these tokens for real money, but then they can trade the tokens in-game for gold. Effectively, this means that players can sort of buy gold from Blizzard, in that they can sell these to other players and thus get gold.

How do we feel about this?

Well, my intention is to effectively opt out. I plan on continuing to pay a standard subscription the way I have since I started playing in 2006. It's predictable, it's simple, and it's worth it.

I don't think this takes us all the way into "Free to Play, Pay to Win" territory, but it's a step toward a precarious ledge.

However, there are a few saving graces, or at least ameliorating factors that are noteworthy:

First is that they are not adding gold into the system. The gold you get does not come from Blizzard, but rather from other players. Now, there are some weird rules that I haven't quite gotten my head around revolving around standardizing the prices of these tokens, but the key thing is that it's other players who buy your tokens.

The other thing is that gold is ultimately, while important, not really the maker-or-breaker of a character's power in WoW. If you have 500k gold, but you only have an item level of 615, that's not going to get you into Mythic Blackrock Foundry. Sure, there are pieces of BoE equipment you can buy or you can get tons of materials to upgrade crafted items, but for the most part, gold is kind of a secondary form of progression.

You see, my big concern about the idea of buying gold from Blizzard is that Blizz would then be incentivized to make the game cost more gold to succeed. Today, as long as you don't become an auction house addict, the simple act of playing the game - running dungeons and raids, doing quests - will do more than enough to keep up with your maintenance like repair bills or buying flasks.

I'd hate to see WoW fall into the kind of gameplay that occurs when a game maker wants to make you spend more money as a function of the game's mechanics. I hate simplistic F2P games like Candy Crush with a passion, because they purposely make their games frustrating in order to draw more money out of people.

Now, you could sling some mud at WoW as well - the way that randomized gear drops, for example, make players spend much more time on content than they might otherwise - but I do have some faith in Blizzard that they really do want the game to be enjoyable.

And in that way, the monthly subscription is a pretty fair way of doing things - the Mythic Raider pays the same as the guy who just does Pet Battles. Success requires a certain dedication of time, but the dollar cost is all the same.

That's the way I like it, and while I know that the market forces seem to be pushing harder in the direction of F2P all the time, I think we'd all be poorer for it.

But is it time to panic yet?

Probably not. As long as those of who don't want any part in these shenanigans can still keep playing the way we have, we'll be ok.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Endangered Heroic Dungeon

For a few weeks, heroic dungeons were the endgame of Warlords of Draenor. We dodged shrapnel blasts in Grimrail Depot or desperately killed skeletons in Shadowmoon Burial Grounds.

But now?

There's really not much incentive to run heroic dungeons. Essentially, when you first hit 100, and if you don't have a Dwarven Bunker or War Mill (because if you do you'll likely gear up for them just from Nagrand quests,) you'll hit up the four level-cap dungeons for a bit and then move on to heroics.

But you'll only be in heroics for a brief time before you'll be qualified for LFR. Technically, you can gear for LFR without doing heroics at all, though it's a lot easier to hit that 615 item level quickly if you're getting 630 pieces to balance the 600ish questing greens from Nagrand.

Hitting LFR, you can get 640 gear and now 650 gear out of BRF, meaning that the 630 stuff from heroics is just not remotely worth the effort.

LFR wings are very easy this expansion, compared to those of Mists. And they should be! But what this means is that the amount of effort to get 640 stuff from LFR Highmaul is much lower than the level of effort it takes to get inferior gear from heroic dungeons. At this point, my new 100s really just run Grimrail Depot, Bloodmaul Slag Mines, Everbloom, and then Auchindoun to get them their legendary ring upgrade before going into full-time LFR.

And while I like LFR - and approve of the low difficulty that it has now - I wish that I had a reason to go into dungeons on my main again.

In the past, this was accomplished by awarding Valor Points, or its predecessor Emblems and Badges. It would be very easy to simply have heroics award something like Apexis Crystals in order to bring them back, but there's a kind of philosophical question to be answered.

Blizzard doesn't want players feeling "forced" to go back and do content they outgear. Now, I personally enjoyed running 5-mans throughout Wrath, even when we so ridiculously out geared the original dungeons that you could clear Utgarde Pinnacle in about ten minutes. But I can also sympathize with those who felt that it was just adding busywork to those who wanted only to raid.

The thing is, 5-player dungeons and 10-25-player raids are really different kinds of content. They're structured similarly, but there's a very different feel to running a dungeon than running a raid. I love, for example, not having to tank-swap constantly (and man, do I wish they would come up with new tank mechanics, or just bring back the idea of a main-tank and off-tank and let the off-tank worry about adds.)

Challenge Modes clearly aren't a good fit to make 5-player content relevant, as it's more of a niche, competitive thing. I still want to feel the effect of my gear progression as I go through these instances.

One thing I might have done was simply put LFR and Heroic dungeons at the same level. The intention originally was for serious raiders to gear up in heroics before they jump to Normal/Heroic/Mythic raiding. But LFR still offers better gear, and thus incentivizes even the hardcore to run it instead of Heroic dungeons. If things had been reshuffled, and, say, both heroic dungeons and Highmaul LFR had offered 635 gear, you'd allow those who could handle the more difficult dungeons to gear up faster.

But another problem remains, and that's the idea that Dungeons are just a stepping-stone to raids.

Now maybe that's always going to be the case. It always has been, and it's true that organizing a raid takes a lot more effort than organizing a dungeon group.

To me, though, I've always preferred smaller group sizes. A 5-player dungeon to me evokes the classic RPG group - a couple friends sitting around a coffee table eating junk food and listening to, I don't know, Led Zeppelin probably. When you play D&D around a table, you're not going to get 25 people to play - that sounds awful.

And granted, part of the appeal of doing this via computer is that you can handle these huge groups.

But I wish that raid did not come at the expense of dungeons.

Anyway, I'd like there to be meaningful rewards behind running dungeons. Garrison resources ain't going to do it - it needs to be something that leads to greater character power, and that means gear.