Friday, July 31, 2015

Lore and Mechanics of a New Class

With the announcement of expansion six one week away, there's been a ton of speculation not just on where we're going and who we're fighting, but there seems to be a kind of consensus among fans that we'd be getting a new class. I, for one, would be very happy to see a new class thrown into the mix, despite the difficulties in balancing. My take on it is that basically, Blizzard is good at balancing classes. Sure, you'll get a spec that's severely overpowered or underpowered, but they're generally good about buffing and nerfing accordingly. And ultimately, my philosophy is that you should always play the classes and specs that you actually like - the ones whose rotation you find pleasing and whose aesthetic you enjoy, and not worry too much about what is doing the best in the metagame. My Rogue is Assassination, despite the fact that I think the spec has been performing worst of the three this expansion, because I just like the way it plays.

Since I usually approach this from the mechanical side first, let's talk lore. And I'm going to focus less on specifics than archetypes.

You can kind of break down the various classes into different thematic categories. Using D&D alignment as a kind of starting point, you can arrange them along various axes - magic/hybrid/physical and light/neutral/dark.

Warriors: Physical/Neutral
Paladins: Hybrid/Light
Death Knights: Hybrid/Dark
Shaman: Hybrid/Neutral (though they lean more toward Magic.)
Hunter: Physical/Neutral
Rogue: Physical/Dark
Druid: Hybrid/Light
Monk: Physical/Light (yes, they use magic, but even the healers melee.)
Warlocks: Magic/Dark
Mage: Magic/Neutral
Priest: Magic/Light (Shadow Priests being Magic/Dark.)

So what does that leave us with?

It's actually a pretty good spread. Hm... now that this is written out it's perhaps not a great predictor for a new class. Granted, there are certain categorizations that you could argue are stretches. Monks definitely use some magic, pushing them more into the hybrid status, leaving us without a Physical/Light option. Likewise, you could argue that Shaman should really be considered magic, which leaves us without a morally neutral hybrid (and I know that I'm using that word in a different sense than how it's typically used in WoW.

So it might be better to break things down into sources of power in the Warcraft universe. Pretty much all magic, except Arcane magic, is drawn from some kind of intelligent force (well, admittedly the Light is kind of ineffable, though at least some Light-wielders do so through the blessing of intelligent beings like the Naaru.)

We have classes that draw or drew power from demons, the elements, nature/the ancients or the Celestials (which I believe are Pandaria's local Ancients,) the Light, the Shadow, the Lich King, and for the physical classes, simply their own strength and skill.

We don't seem to have anyone whose power comes from the Old Gods. Of course, that might not be entirely true. It seems that Shadow magic, like that used by Shadow Priests, could be linked to the Old Gods, due to abilities like Void Tendrils and also just the psychic nature of their attacks. We don't really know how the Old Gods fit into the cosmology alongside Demons and the Void. It looks like the Void, and the walkers thereof, are actually separate entities from Demons, given what we saw of the Shadowmoon Clan on Draenor. The question then is whether the Old Gods are tied to the Void or if they are a third source of evil in the universe.

On the other side of things, no class seems to draw its power directly from the Titans. Of all the important figures in Warcraft lore, the Titans remain the most mysterious, but are also potentially the most powerful. I've theorized in a lightweight way that doesn't even warrant a tin-foil hat article (yet) that the Light is actually related to the Titans, but there's no hard evidence for that.

There are myriad possibilities for future classes there, but nothing terribly specific that leaps out at you. I think the reason Demon Hunters always come back as a possibility is that there's precedent. Demon Hunters aren't really satisfactorily represented by any existing class, given their demonic power, but their clear emphasis on physical attacks in contrast to Warlocks.

Of course, flavor-wise, there's a bit of a gap in that we don't have a really dark healing class. Though I'm far happier we got Death Knights, a Necromancer would have been a good option for a dark healer (of course, that would have left us without a dark tank.)

Mechanically, things are somewhat easier.

It seems likely that a future class would wear mail armor. There have always been three cloth classes, and with Death Knights and Monks each joining as the third class within their armor class, it seems like it's Hunters and Shamans' turn to share their loot with someone else.

Ideally, this could also apply to certain weapon types as well. Currently, only two Rogue specs use agility daggers, and all three kinds of ranged weapon (well, not counting wands as the fourth) are the exclusive purview of Hunters. A new class ought to use these types of weapons. Of course, that would mean that said class should be a melee/ranged hybrid.

In terms of roles, it would be best, mechanically, to be able to do all three, but given that that's tough to justify in flavor, I'd suggest that it be at least a hybrid. Pure DPS classes have always been tricky for the game, and in retrospect probably should have been given non-DPS roles when the game began. But this problem is also compounded given the excitement over a new class. When Death Knights were introduced, it was rather hard to find a healer to run those level-up Outland dungeons.

That said, in this era of LFG, it might not be such a problem.

I've said before that I think that a new class will most likely be a Hero Class, mirroring the level 90 boost that came with Warlords. I personally love taking new characters up through the Old World, but I think they'll want to get the new guy into the mix sooner rather than later - I remember how shocking it was to see a Monk in Pandaria in the first couple weeks of the expansion. Also, if we get a new class but no new race, we'd probably want some unique new experience to introduce the class rather than just going back and doing the same quests that have been around since Cataclysm.

I think Blizzard was wise to make the new classes they introduced available to as many races as possible. It probably would have been good to make Monks available to Worgen and Goblins, but I sort of understand how tricky that would be in-lore (they had already had to stretch things a bit to allow Worgen and Goblin Death Knights.) But giving players options in character creation is always a good idea.

Actually, to dip back into lore, should they do a Hero Class, I'd hope they come up with a scenario that isn't so inextricably tied to the expansion at hand. As it stands, it doesn't seem like any new races will be able to be Death Knights, unless they're clearly-established pre-existing ones like High Elves (actually, isn't a Blood Elf Death Knight already a High Elf Death Knight? You could certainly roleplay that your elf had been dead long enough for that to be the case.)

So to wrap things up:

I don't really expect so much as hope that a new class would:

Wear Mail
Fight using ranged weapons or daggers.
Be a Hybrid (personally prefer tank/dps.)
Be a Hero Class
Available to All Existing Races

Now, that could describe many things, though it certainly doesn't rule out Demon Hunters. As much as I'd like to be able to wave this article in the future as a sign that I knew that Demon Hunters were going to be announced on the 6th, the fact is that I'm not even certain we'll be getting a new class at all. So I'll forfeit bragging rights to avoid looking foolish if it turns out to be wrong.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Process of Demonization

We know that many, if not most, if not all demons in the Burning Legion were once mortal races. In fact, the drinking of the Blood of Mannoroth by the Orcs was, in all likelihood, the first step toward converting the Orcs into a race of demons. The uncorrupted Eredar live on as the Draenei, so we can safely assume that Archimonde, Kil'jaeden, and the other Man'ari were originally blue space goats like Velen or Yrel.

However, those infamous tweets about the nature of demons and the Twisting Nether suggested (though they didn't explicitly say) that demons are all the same demon, regardless of which reality you find them in.

Ok, technically, the tweets only said that the Twisting Nether is universal. It's possible that if were to enter the Nether itself, we'd find a multitude of Archimonde souls from each reality in which he turned evil. They would be able to compare notes, but would still exist as individuals.

If that's the case, then the problem is more or less solved.

But the implication of these tweets seems to suggest something more profoundly strange, and that is that there is only one Archimonde, whose demonic soul rests in the Twisting Nether. The times we've fought him - on Mount Hyjal and in Tanaan Jungle - we've really been fighting a kind of puppet-avatar. A physical body that Archimonde controls, but is not one and the same with.

The problem that arises is that there were clearly once several Archimondes - across the potentially infinite universes, an infinitude (though possible a fraction of infinity, as there could be realities in which Archimonde declined Sargeras' offer) of uncorrupted Archimondes became a single demonic Archimonde.

This actually makes the process of becoming a demon quite horrifying - not that "becoming a demon" suggests anything but that. All the myriad differences between the lives of these various Archimondes would suddenly become a cacophonous discord of memory. A plethora of tiny differences would add up to a confusing blur.

But then again, doesn't that kind of sound like what you'd expect the inside of a demon's mind to be? Maybe they want to destroy everything just to shut the millions of voices up.

This does raise some interesting questions about fate, though. We've taken for granted that there could be some timelines in which Archimonde declines Sargeras, and perhaps Velen accepts his offer.

But given the pan-universal nature of the Legion, that would mean we'd probably encounter this demonic Velen at some point - it would be strange if we hadn't.

So there's also the possibility that the corruption of Archimonde and Kil'jaeden is strongly fated to happen - happening in all universes.

The alternative is perhaps more horrific.

Consider that there could be some universes in which Velen convinced his fellow members of the triumvirate not to accept Sargeras' offer. Perhaps in some of these, the Eredar fended off a subsequent Legion invasion, or perhaps fell to it. Hell, Sargeras might turn around and invade Argus with the very Eredar army he got from the universes in which he did succeed.

But maybe it's not always up to you whether you become a demon. Perhaps there were realities in which Archimonde and Kil'jaeden turned Sargeras down, but as they were transformed into demons, uniting their infinite versions between the myriad universes, even those who had tried to resist were sucked into the Nether to be bound with their less virtuous doppelgängers.

What's horrifying about this is that it's not enough for you to resist the Legion's call. Every version of you would have to be.

So what about Gul'dan?

The end of the Archimonde cinematic makes it clear that Gul'dan's still in the picture. The question is whether Archimonde will use him to create something similar to the Lich King, simply employ him elsewhere, or possibly turn Gul'dan into a demon himself.

And if he does that, what does that mean for our universe's Gul'dan? Our Gul'dan died during the Second War after he tried to take the Eye of Sargeras. But if Gul'dan becomes a demon, would he essentially resurrect his universe-A doppelgänger's memories? A demonic Gul'dan would become not just a copy of the one that created the Horde - he would be that very Gul'dan who menaced the world, only now even more powerful.

Other, Earlier Leak Rumor - Rumor! Rumor! Not Confirmed!

Ok, the other rumor about expansion six, which we'll know in... eight days, goes by the title "The Dark Prophet."

This would, similarly, deal with The Prophet Zul, who came to King Rastakhan of the Zandalari and drummed up the whole "re-unite the Trolls" story we've been getting since 4.1.

The expansion would also feature Azshara prominently, though it's unclear from the rumors whether she or Zul would be the real headliner (here's a tin-foil theory for you: Zul is Azshara in disguise.) I'd prefer Azshara, just because she's a bigger name and frankly we could use more prominent female characters in WoW. Not to say that it doesn't have them - Sylvanas is a great character, and I like Jaina a lot too (frankly, I think the reaction to her purging of Dalaran has been interpreted as far more "evil" than "badass" and "done putting up with this bullshit" primarily because she's a woman, but that's a whole can of worms that I don't want to get into here.)

The rumor goes that Vol'jin will be at the center of the Horde plot, which makes a lot of sense. He'd be dealing with questions of his loyalty, with the Zandalari perhaps trying again to interest him in joining their nationalistic movement. Obviously he won't, because Vol'jin is awesome, but it'll be a nice bit of conflict and a cool story you couldn't have done if the Horde were still being run by an Orc.

Meanwhile, the rumor goes on to say that Malfurion would be central to the Alliance plot - though frankly, again, I think they need to bring Tyrande back to the forefront. In my headcanon, Malfurion's obviously powerful and useful, but he's not a real military leader, and is more the kind of earthy, Night Elfy version of your most powerful wizard - in other words, too caught up in his mystical stuff to deal with mundane practicalities like actually running their society. Tyrande, however, is practically the Queen of the Night Elves, and so I'd like to see her kicking ass.

Still, the overall idea that we could have a WoW expansion where neither Orcs nor Humans were at the center of things makes me super excited. We got half of that in Warlords of Draenor, and whatever flaws the expansion might have had, I don't think I've heard anyone complain about getting more Draenei lore.

Obviously this is not far off from the Council of Glades rumor. The main reason I put points in this one's favor is that the name "The Dark Prophet" sounds way, way cooler than "Council of Glades."

I think we could definitely see some carry-over of demons, and perhaps even see Gul'dan-B return to kick off the expansion. It's kind of shocking that Gul'dan wasn't a raid boss in Warlords of Draenor (I really expected him to be the final boss) but they could be saving him to kind of take us, as they did with Garrosh, into the new territory.

And while Warlords is really the first expansion since BC that didn't deal in some way with the Old Gods, I think we've been long enough away from those eldritch horrors that I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of them. Twilight's Hammer might have lost it leader, but you can be certain that it hasn't been wiped out.

I'm also very curious about where Azshara's loyalties lie. Deathwing was taken over entirely by the Old Gods, but I wonder if Azshara has somehow managed to maintain her own will. I know it's unlikely my "Fel Magic makes you immune to Old Gods" theory will prove to be canon, but it'd be cool if it did!

EDIT: Oh yes, and this one seems to suggest that we'd be getting a class called "Shadowstalker," with specializations called "Dark Ranger" and "Shadow Hunter." While not totally outside the realm of possibility, this seems less likely to me than Demon Hunters. The reason being that "Shadowstalker" isn't really a name that has much existing meaning in WoW. Granted, it's not unprecedented to see an established "class" re-conceived as a spec of a larger class (Brewmasters.) That said, if we have a Troll/Naga South Seas expansion, a class that allows for Shadow Hunters might fit better than Demon Hunters.

Again, none of this is confirmed, and there's still a possibility that the next expansion won't have any new classes, even though I'd prefer that it did. I certainly have a positive response bias toward Demon Hunters as a new class, so while I think it's more likely, I realize that my expectations are a bit skewed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Race, New Class, Both, or Neither?

For the first few expansions, there was something of a pattern. We got new races in BC (though we shouldn't forget how big of an impact Blood Elf Paladins and Draenei Shaman had on the game,) a new Hero class in Wrath of the Lich King, new races in Cataclysm (plus new race/class combos,) and then things started to deviate a little. Rather than simply adding a new class, Mists brought us the Monk and a single new race - the Pandaren.

Of course, having blown their new class and new race, Warlords of Draenor focused instead on revamping the old vanilla/BC models. Arguably, re-doing six existing races is an effort equal or greater to that of creating one or two new ones from scratch.

Still, I think it's enough of a deviation that we shouldn't simply predict things based on patterns. There's a chance that expansion six, like expansion five, will not have either new "new toon incentive."

That said, I think that races and classes are the most effective way of drumming up excitement for a new expansion - classes in particular. Races are far easier to implement, as they just require some new art work (though racial abilities can require some tricky balancing.) Story-wise it clearly behooves the designers to work them into the game in a fairly crowded fantasy universe, but Blizzard clearly doesn't mind letting certain playable races kind of join the team and then fade into the background (*cough* Worgen.) The bright side of this attitude is that it means races can be more or less indefinitely added to the game, as they require very little follow-up.

Classes, on the other hand, are a real commitment. Just because we beat Arthas and left Northrend doesn't mean that they don't have to worry about Death Knights anymore.

Still, classes are by far a more exciting thing to add to the game. It's great for us altoholics, and it changes up the metagame in interesting ways. It is, of course, difficult to come up with new mechanical concepts, and sometimes you might worry that a class niche is already partially filled by an existing one. Before Monks, I always kind of thought of Discipline Priests as the Monk variety (albeit a more Western-style Christian variety, rather than the Shao Lin Chinese style martial-artist.) The Demon Hunter - a class that has always been pretty central to discussions of new classes - is kind of a cross between Warlocks and Rogues, leading some to speculate that it would be easier to simply say that Demon Hunters are actually under the umbrella of one of those classes or the other.

If we do get a new class, I think it's likely we'll get a Hero Class, like the Death Knight, unlike the regular start-at-one Monk. Indeed, we might even see the removal of level restrictions to start said class, given that we're now in the era of level boosts. I'd think a new hero class would start at level 100, or perhaps at level 97 or something to allow them to level up a bit in a special starting experience that would then pop them out at the same level as the others heading to the new content.

Death Knights started at level 55 in order to let them skip the Old World, but they were still expected to go through Burning Crusade content. I think partially this is just because there was a different philosophy back then - BC was seen as recent enough that people would likely not be sick of it yet (and given how slow leveling was in the BC era, most players would have only gotten a couple of characters up to Outland anyway.)

But these days, partially just due to the natural accumulation of alts at the level cap due to the age of the game, they're unlikely to make a new hero class character go through Draenor again.

There are certainly existing, established races that Blizzard could make playable. Ogres are probably the oldest and most obvious ones. Blizzard has said in the past they'd like to do playable Naga (I'd like to see how they solve pants, shoes, and mounts.) Ethereals, Arrakoa, Furbolgs - the list goes on.

Of course, there's also the possibility that they'll just not have either. Personally I think that would be a bad decision. I think part of the reason that Warlords has felt especially light on content is that there hasn't been any reason to do anything that isn't in Draenor. There's no incentive now that there wasn't during Mists to go back to the old world and level a low-level toon again. In contrast, I remember that when Wrath came out, I was pretty evenly splitting my time between leveling my Paladin up through Northrend and my Death Knight through Outland. In Cataclysm, I was taking the Paladin again through the new zones while my Worgen Warrior was fighting his way through the shattered old world. In Mists... you get the idea.

Warlords of Draenor, on the other hand, was just a series of "take another character into Tanaan, make sure that he gets far enough that he start accruing garrison resources."

I know that a lot of players just want to get to the endgame as quickly as possible, but I think one of the game's strengths is just how much content there is to work through before getting there. There's something refreshing and kind of low-stakes about taking a level forty character into Eastern Plaguelands - not worrying about getting that new trinket or shield. Warlords didn't give us any reason to do that again (and arguably encouraged us not to with the character boost.)

I don't have any problem with people who do want to skip ahead, but having a new perspective to see the world is fun, and I hope we get one in expansion six.

Blizzard Confirms New World of Warcraft Expansion to be Announced August 6th at Gamescon

Well! In an refreshingly up-front manner, Blizzard has... if you read the title of the article... new expansion...

Blizzard will be announcing the next expansion to World of Warcraft at Gamescon on August 6th.

This ends months of speculation about whether Blizzard would ever dare announce an expansion not at Blizzcon with resounding: Hell yes they'd dare.

Given the shorter nature of Warlords of Draenor - an expansion that had only one major content patch (no, 6.1 don't count) - Blizzard would seemingly need to bump up the expansion-release schedule. In the past, expansions have always gone about two years, with each year having an expansion release in the fall, or an expansion announcement in the fall (or thereabouts.) However, in order to get the process going and allow them to do the kind of testing that you really only want to do after there have been announcements earlier, you'll need an earlier announcement.

I highly suspect that this will be a similar reveal to the Mists of Pandaria expansion - we'll get a short trailer that will detail the major features like where it's taking place, what the new level cap will be, and if we'll be getting new races or classes, as well as the usual "new dungeons, new zones, new raids, new battleground" froo-fra. We'll hear a bit more during a panel, but I'd expect that we'll be waiting for Blizzcon to get details like the names of the various dungeons, zones and raids, and clarifications on things like any major class mechanic changes or the mechanics of any new classes that come about.

Still, knowing where we're going next will be very nice. And hopefully we'll see the expansion release proportionately sooner.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Council of Glades" Rumor - Rumor, Mind You. Putting That Right in the Title.

Ok, with Gamescon coming up an a lot of speculating that we might hear about expansion six there, we have another supposed "Trademark Leak." The "Leak" "is" that there is a Blizzard trademark application in New Zealand for "Council of Glades."

Trademark leaks are usually the most reliable way to discover the truth of a new expansion - Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, and Warlords of Draenor are all trademarked titles that were discovered before their respective expansion announcements.

On the other hand, "The Dark Below" was similarly discovered, and we all know how that turned out.

Additionally, a little while ago, there was a rumor of a leaked "Council of Tirisfal" themed expansion. In case you don't know what that is, allow me to elucidate.

The Council of Tirisfal was created thousands of years ago by mages in Lordaeron (primarily human ones, though I think High Elves got in on the action as well.) They chose someone to serve as the Guardian, imbuing said Guardian with their power and creating effectively the most powerful Mage on Azeroth. Why don't we have such a useful person anymore?

Well, the second-to-last Guardian was Aegwynn. In her time as Guardian, she traveled to Northrend and did battle with an Avatar of Sargeras. Despite Aegwynn winning, Sargeras was able to pour his essence into Aegwynn. When Aegwynn seduced Nielas Aran in order to create an heir that she would give her Guardian powers to (circumventing the Council,) she conceived Medivh, and Sargeras transferred over to him while he was still a microscopic embryo.

Medivh was thus the Last Guardian, and his possession by the Dark Titan led to the invasion by the Horde.

Now, in the comics, Medivh had a son with Garona Halforcen. This character, Med'an, is almost universally reviled by anyone who has read the comics, who appears to embody all the worst Wesley-Crusher-style wunderkind/Mary Sue tropes. I don't know for sure, having never read Warcraft tie-in materials outside of short stories on their website.

Anyway, the expansion rumor mentions a return of Illidan, with Gul'dan and Azshara also working against us. The rumor puts forth playable Demon Hunters, the establishment of Gnomeregan and Gilneas as functional Alliance cities, Thassarian attempting to rescue Koltira from Sylvanas, as well as Magatha Grimtotem summoning a massive ocean behemoth and Timewalker Zones, which would allow you to scale down and quest through old zones again.

So, can you spot the problem with this rumor?

My problem is that it looks way too good to be true. Demon Hunters, Gilneas, a follow-up to Thassarian and Koltira, a return of Illidan - these are all like a checklist of things that players have been clamoring for for years.

Mind you, this is more or less exactly what I want out of the next expansion (throw in "launching with twelve 5-player dungeons and three new ones each patch" and I'll overdose) but let's just say color me skeptical.

While real expansion leaks do happen, for every true one, we get at least three total BS "leaks." This one looks way more like the BS variety.

But that said, if it does turn out to be true, it could be a fantastic expansion.

Bastion of Shadows Tank Impressions

Unfortunately, I wound up doing this wing out of order, but I still got through the whole thing, so I've got a little quasi-guide/rundown as usual. There are three bosses here and, joy of joys, not a single Orc! Seriously, I did not see any Orcs whatsoever in this wing. Bastion of Shadows consists of Shadow-Lord Iskar, Socrethar the Eternal, and Tyrant Velhari. If you ignore the first one, this is effectively the Sargerai/Eredar wing (not counting of course the Black Gate, which is purely Archimonde and thus the real Eredar wing.)

Trash before Iskar:

The trash before Iskar is pretty quick - you'll get I think three packs of Arrakoa, giving you a preview of the adds that spawn during the fight. I believe the constructs will create a shield - though whether it affects just them or everyone, I couldn't be certain. Anyway, quick series of fights and you're ready for the boss.

Shadow-Lord Iskar:

First things first: regardless of your role, you should have your raid frames up so you can see fellow raid members and whether they have debuffs up.

The central mechanic here is the Eye of Anzu - an item that a raid member will be able to pick up at the start of the fight. The person holding the eye will get an extra-action button to toss the eye to another raid member.

The main key to this fight is to toss the Eye to people who have various debuffs. The main one that I was aware of was Phantasmal Winds, which will gradually push a player toward the edge of the room, eventually dumping them to their deaths. You can run against this wind, but the best way to deal with it is to toss the Eye to anyone who has it, which will dispel the debuff. I believe there are other debuffs that can be cleared with it, but that's the one that comes up the most.

The tank-swap is similar to Iron Reaver - you'll be targeted with a Chakram that will land after a few seconds. The other tank taunts and you get out of the way.

Periodically, Iskar will fly away and summon adds. Group them up where you were tanking the boss and have the raid stack up, as he'll channel a massive death laser that splits damage between those it hits. He'll also shoot fire at random players, leaving a trail as the fire chases them. Just run away from this if you get targeted (which you shouldn't if you're a tank.) Stay out of the fire. Kill the adds (who seem to be the same as the trash.)

Trash before Socrethar:

The Sargerai have enlisted some Vigilant robots to serve them. The flesh-and-blood Sargerai in these packs are not terribly hard, but some will do Shockwaves that stun you for a few seconds, so you'll want to face them away from the raid and try to step out before they go off.

The Vigilants will periodically shoot lasers in a big arc around them and also use "Crowd Control Protocols" which will disorient everyone nearby and then go off after one of the ranged. Taunt them back once you recover.

Socretar the Eternal:

This fight is sort of reminiscent of Professor Putricide, in that, at least during one phase, one tank will spend the time piloting a big construct.

There are two phases - one you want to get through quickly, the other you want to last long.

In phase one, Socrethar will be piloting his own Vigilant (remember that we killed him in Shattrath.) The Vigilant has a couple tricky abilities. The main one you'll want to deal with is Reverberating Blow. He'll smash the ground, sending out a cone of pain. You'll take some damage and get up to three stacks of a debuff, which will increase the damage that you take from subsequent Reverberating Blows. The key here is to have others - NOT the other tank - stand in the strike with you, as if there are others to take the strike, they'll get some of the stacks instead. The debuff lasts long enough that you'll have to take the strike multiple times before the other tank takes over, but if you can keep the debuff at low stacks like two or three, you'll survive, but if it gets up to five or six, you'll get one-shot.

There are other things to watch out for, like a charge that leaves a path of fel fire, but Reverberating Blow is the big one.

When the construct is depleted of health, the Soul of Socrethar will be ejected from it, allowing you to actually fight the boss.

One tank picks him up while the other takes over the Construct. I did the latter, so I'll talk about that, primarily.

You only get two of his abilities - no fire-charge - but you can help a lot with the adds and putting hurt on the boss. Use Reverberating Blows to keep the boss debuffed and smack him for big damage. You can also hit the ghosts with it from afar. But you also want to avoid standing near said ghosts when they die, as they will damage the construct. While you won't be able to do it yourself, the raid should interrupt the boss when he casts Exert Control, as that will further damage the construct. There are other adds that pop up, but I believe the ghosts and Exert Control are the biggest dangers to you during this phase.

If you're good and lucky, you might be able to down the boss from here, but at least on my first go, the construct eventually lost its health. This simply reverts the boss to phase one, requiring you to take down the construct again and eject Socrethar from it.

Trash before Velhari:

The ramps you took down into Socrethar's room are now filled up with demons and Sargerai forces. There are four portals at each corner of the ramps. You'll need to take out the adds nearby and have someone shut down the portals to keep the adds from continuing to stream in.

As you make your way to Velhari's room, you'll need to deal with some named Eredar Vindicators who are accompanied by several unnamed adds. Each has a special ability, but the main one you'll want to worry about as a tank is Seal of Decay, which reduces healing and necessitates a tank swap. The final named add will resurrect the other two when you pull her.

Tyrant Velhari:

This fight I was admittedly a little shakier on. Seal of Decay is your main tank-swap debuff to worry about here. It's your standard "swap when your stacks fall off," though I think there's a little grace period, so you can actually taunt after your co-tank gets I believe two stacks.

Velhari will go through three auras as the fight goes on at each third of her health. She'll also summon three adds that you'll probably want to tank if you're off the boss.

During the first aura, you'll take damage for moving, so you only want to move when she casts her big fire tornado and puts a knock-up attack under your feet.

The second phase, she'll prevent all healing, so you'll want to burn her quickly. (Not sure how this applies to Death Knight tanks. I'd hope they'd get an exception, because otherwise they'd be crippled on this fight.)

On phase three, she'll start dropping shadowy "consecrations" on the ground. You'll want to gradually kite her around the (rather small) room as she does this and hopefully kill her before you run out of space.


There are some interesting new mechanics in this wing, and it's a nice change in aesthetic as well. Despite being arguably the most conventional fight, I found Velhari to be the hardest, and the most likely to wipe raids. That said, we got through without any wipes (though I died twice due to two different tanks failing to do a taunt-swap.)

I believe it's two more weeks before we get the penultimate wing, which will have Xhul'horac, Fel Lord Zakun, and Mannoroth, and then another two before we get Archimonde himself.

And hey, it's possible that we'll know what expansion six is by then!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Blizzard Having a Second, Invite-Only Event and Gamescon

Blizzard announced a while ago that they would be coming to Gamescon in early August (so, quite soon) and there has been a lot of speculation based on the fact that Warlords is a "short expansion" that the announcement of expansion six might be coming then, rather than at Blizzcon as usual.

Blizzard announced Reaper of Souls at Blizzcon, so it's not unprecedented for them to do a big announcement outside of their own special convention. And also, given the pacing of the content releases for Warlords of Draenor and the expectation (which has been confirmed by Blizzard if I recall correctly) that Warlords is essentially done (with the exception of the minor flying-activation patch,) many have speculated that Blizzard would be forced to announce the new expansion earlier rather than later in order to bump up the whole Alpha, Beta, and release schedule so that we don't have to wait until Fall of 2016 and wind up going for even longer than we did during Siege of Orgrimmar without new content.

This is by no means a guarantee, but the pieces fit nicely in place to the point that I'd argue the most likely scenario is that we'll get our first announcement of the new expansion very soon.

That said, even if we do, it may not be the massive info influx we typically get. As I recall, Mists of Pandaria (which was announced at Blizzcon) had a trailer and a brief set of statements, but they delayed a few weeks before going into detail (we knew we were going to Pandaria, but not that Garrosh would be the final boss.) I could see us getting a quick confirmation - announcing the biggest features, like new races, classes, or something I'm unlikely to be able to predict - but waiting until Blizzcon for the massive "here's a comprehensive list of zones, dungeons, raids, battlegrounds, etc." announcements.

So let's talk scenarios.

First of all, technically this could actually be the announcement of a Diablo III expansion. The game is probably due for one to come out in like a year. I really hope Tyrael's speculation that the Nephalem could go crazy and evil in the end doesn't pan out, but I know that historically, the Diablo series has always led to a kind of dark ending. Of course, none of the previous heroes were effectively god-like creatures, whereas they all are in Diablo III.

But onto World of Warcraft:

To me, there are two most likely expansion subjects, one that I'd far prefer and one that I think is plausible, but problematic.

The first is a perennial favorite - the South Seas expansion. My reasoning for this one is really more that it's about time we go there than anything else. While Blizzard might want to hold back on having us interact with the Titans or take the fight to the Burning Legion, Azshara is a villain more on the level of Arthas or Deathwing - someone who is powerful enough to be a serious threat, but not so universally godlike that defeating them would leave us with nowhere to go but down. Also, the Zandalari and the Prophet Zul could play a big part - it might be stretching it, but Zul might even function as a main villain (though I think Azshara would work far better. Also, let's have some powerful female characters!)

The other would be a trip to the alternate Azeroth. While I think most people want to go back to Universe A and maybe leave alternate timeline stuff behind forever (or at least leaving it to the occasional quest or Caverns of Time dungeon) I'll admit that seeing Stormwind or maybe the other kingdoms before the invasion of the Horde would be kind of cool. It would also tie a lot into the upcoming Warcraft movie, which would be the kind of brand synergy that a lot of companies would want to push. Gul'dan's survival of Hellfire Citadel (and apparent enslavement by the Burning Legion) suggests that he could remain a threat and spearhead an incursion into that more innocent Azeroth.

Now obviously there could be totally different scenarios that I haven't thought up. I've talked about other expansion ideas, and things like both Warlords and Mists were pretty big curveballs that I didn't see coming.

And of course, there's a chance that August 5th will roll around and we still won't know. But I'm reasonably confident that we will, and that's pretty exciting.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Halls of Blood DPS Perspective

I've now taken my Death Knight into Hellfire Citadel's second (of five) wing. Right now, I think that Kilrogg Deadeye will be the LFR-killer until people get more used to the fight's mechanics, whereas the Hellfire High Council is pretty easy. The Gorefiend is sort of in the middle - you might occasionally wipe on it, but you're far less likely to than on Kilrogg.

Hellfire High Council:

The council has a simple kill order: Gurtogg, Blademaster, Dia. DOTers might want to light up all three, but killing Gurtogg Bloodboil first is a high priority, as the debuff he slowly stacks up lasts the rest of the fight - killing him quickly means that you'll only be set back by 10 or 20% of your health. Melee can get some nice cleave on the Blademaster while working on Gurtogg, but you should still prioritize single-target damage. When Gurtogg fixates on you, be sure to run away from his tank - not only is this the way you avoid, you know, getting killed, but you also give the tank time for his or her stacking DoT to fall off. The fixate doesn't last quite long enough for this to happen if he can just go back to the tank immediately, so try to draw him back to the other end of the room (though not to Dia Darkwhisper.)

If you get hit by Dia's debuff, be sure to run to the edge of the room, away from the raid, so that you drop the void zone out of the way of your fellow raiders.

Blademaster what's-his-name is relatively easy to deal with. Basically you'll just need to burn down his multiple mirror images when he pops them out.

Kilrogg Deadeye:

The name of the game here is Adds Adds Adds. Also, Visions of Death.

Let's talk Visions of Death first. Periodically, Kilrogg will create three runes near him in a line. You need one person to stand in each rune - which will cause them to light up, a handy little hint to help you make sure all of them are covered. If you don't have all three runes covered, it doesn't count, and when the spell expires, the raid will take damage (though on LFR it's kind of slap-on-the-wrist damage.) The main drawback of failing to do Visions of Death is that you lose out on a massive damage buff.

If you successfully pull off the mechanic, the three people on the runes (if there are extras on each rune, you might just get left behind) will be transported to what is ostensibly a vision of their own demise, standing in Stromwind Keep (or Grommash Hold, I'd assume, for Horde) as waves of Imps and Azzakel-style fire demons come in. Kill as many as you can before you die. If you survive long enough to kill 20, Khadgar (in the vision) will set off a massive explosion to take out the demons attacking and go out in a blaze of glory, ending the vision and returning you to the boss chamber.

For every demon you kill during Visions of Death, you'll get a 10% damage buff, meaning that with all 20 stacks, you'll be doing three times your normal damage. Healers will also get an aura around them that I believe heals everyone standing near them (and presumably get a healing buff rather than a damage one.)

Now, as important as that mechanic is, it's not the only one.

There are four types of adds you'll need to deal with. Periodically, regular orcs will charge toward the blood fountain where Ariok is chained up. If they reach the fountain, they'll transform into dire orcs, which are a pain. These orcs can be slowed and knocked back, so do what you can to keep them from getting to the fountain.

Sometimes, even if you've been good about taking out the regular orcs, some will jump directly into the fountain and transform before you have a chance to stop them. These guys should be picked up by the tanks and DPS'd down quickly. They have a shout that should be interrupted. Tanks can switch off on these guys. These guys will give players Fel Corruption, which honestly is a mechanic that I don't quite understand, but doesn't seem to be super relevant on LFR except as a reason to keep the big adds off the blood fountain.

Kilrogg will frequently pick out a random raid member and prepare to throw a knife at them. You'll see an arrow on the ground that shows which way he'll be throwing. If you're not targeted, make sure you're not in the knife's path. If you are targeted, run as far away from the boss as you can. When the knife lands, a little blood glob will form. Everyone should kill the blood asap, as it will damage the raid and heal the boss if it gets to him. Sometimes the globs will be fel-corrupted, and I believe become more dangerous.

The key to the fight is taking down adds and using Visions of Death. It can be a long slog, especially if you allow the blood to heal him, but if the raid focuses on those adds, he'll go down.

The Gorefiend:

The Gorefiend has two alternating phases. You'll be doing way more damage to the boss during the second phase, so you'll want to prioritize killing adds in phase one.

When you get marked with the shadow of death, you'll eventually get sucked into his stomach. Kill adds that you find there - using snares to keep them from exiting if you can. You have thirty seconds before he digests you, so give yourself 25 seconds to kill adds and then run to the center to get the hell out of there.

Of course, some of the adds will escape. There are slow-moving melee adds that fixate on people that you should kill or kite if you're the one they've fixated on. Casters will stand and spam AoE spells. And occasionally you'll get a tougher one that needs to be tanked. I believe these are top priority.

You can get some damage in at the boss during this phase, but for the most part you should focus on knocking down those adds. Save your big cooldowns for phase two.

Once he depletes his energy, Gorefiend will do Feast of Souls. You'll want to burn the boss as much as possible during this time, as I believe he takes something like two or three times as much damage. If you can, try to absorb the spirits that come toward him (they look like big sparks.) You'll take a bit of damage, but you'll slow down the rate at which he recovers his energy.

Rinse and repeat and he'll go down.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Playing the Skeleton King in Heroes of the Storm

After a delay of a couple hours, Leoric, aka the Skeleton King from Diablo, was made available for purchase in Heroes of the Storm. I decided to chuck a few bucks Blizzard's way and get the bundle with both Leoric and his Vrykul skin (what's fun is that the different color schemes you earn as you level for the Vrykul are basically normal Vrykul, blue Ymirjar, and green Kvaldir, complete with a seaweed cape.)

Leoric is a lot of fun. He encourages you to play aggressively, because you actually get to do stuff even if you die. Mind you, you should still avoid dying if you can - you'll still want to retreat and use a healing fountain if you get low on health - but if you see an enemy hero who's on his or her last legs, the stakes are a bit lower for you to chase after them.

The reason being Leoric's trait, Undying. When you die playing Leoric, rather than having to wait at the spawnpoint, you'll instead become a ghost (I don't know if you can see the ghost if you're on the other team.) While a ghost, two of your abilities become available in a non-damaging capacity, but using them will allow you to speed up your death timer by regaining "health." And once you've filled up your health again, you'll simply pop back into existence wherever you ghost is. While Undying, you can't do basic attacks, but you get alternate versions of Skeletal Swing and Drain Hope.

Essentially what this means is that your opponents can never get rid of you. They can only turn you into a nuisance rather than a threat.

Q: Skeletal Swing: Q will allow you to swing your giant mace in a wide, 180 degree arc, slowing enemies that are hit. This lands for a lot of damage, and is great for taking out swaths of minions in a single swing, or at least getting them all pretty low. It's also useful when used in conjunction with the W ability. It does double damage against non-hero targets, so this can be used to knock down entire squads of minions, and at higher levels you might be able to just take them all out completely in one go. Given the wide arc, you can also hit a gate and its two turrets with a single swing.

While Undying, Skeletal Swing becomes Ghastly Swing, which does no damage but reduces death time.

W: Drain Hope: W is a skill-shot that hits an enemy hero and begins to drain health from them. It only works on heroes, but thankfully will pass through minions if they're in the way. You'll be slowed while this is active and you'll need to remain in relatively close range for it to continue to work (hence why hitting them with a mace swing is a good idea) but this will provide both damage and a decent amount of healing.

While Undying, this become Drain Essence, and no longer deals damage but also doesn't slow you down.

E: Wraith Walk: E is a somewhat more situational ability, but quite useful when used properly. Hitting E will free your ghost, leaving your body stationary but "unstoppable" (to prevent people from stopping you using the ability.) You'll move your ghost separately and when the timer runs out or when you hit E again, your body will be where your ghost has gone. Importantly, though, your body can still take damage during this, so you'll want to hit E again as soon as you're clear, lest you wind up dead before the timer runs out.

Wraith Walk is problematic as an escape move, given that you're leaving your body there for them to beat on, but it's great at chasing down enemy heroes, as the longer you wraith-walk, the higher speed you'll travel. You can combine this with your other abilities to lull an enemy into thinking they're winning by holding off on your attacks for a second and just doing basic attacks, then Drain Hope, Skeletal Swing them to slow them down, and when they get low enough that they want to run, finish them off by catching up to them with Wraith Walk. It's also a fantastic counter to things like Nazeebo's Zombie Wall.

R: Entomb is one of your heroic abilities, which creates a three-sided room essentially to trap enemies inside. I think this barrier will work regardless of whether your enemy is inside or trying to move past it, but it blocks allies as well, so be careful with it. Still, a great addition to the "you can't escape" arsenal.

R: March of the Black King is the one I tend to go for, which sends you forward, unstoppable, smashing everything in your path with massive strikes that heal you. You'll travel relatively far and strike three times in a wide arc. This can be useful for finishing off enemies, dealing with a crowd if you get ganged up on, or getting a lot of cathartic stress release from just smashing things like crazy. You also heal for something like 70% for each hero you hit, so if you find yourself low on health with a bunch of enemy heroes nearby and don't feel like playing the ghost game and handing them some XP, this is a great way to survive and maybe put them on the ropes long enough to make a getaway or wait for the cavalry to show up.

The build I've been playing puts a ton of emphasis on healing, making Leoric quite the implacable foe. He's certainly not as tanky as Johanna, but with the right talents he can be a very hard-to-kill harasser and bane of minions. There a nice talent at level 4 that heals you and restores mana whenever a minion dies near you, which can really charge you up quite well. Also, one of the level one talents allows you to collect regen globes while Undying, as well as giving yourself a permanent health regeneration bonus for each one.

I love the aesthetic of the Skeleton King (though it pains me to say it, I actually think he looks cooler than Arthas - though Arthas is certainly the character I like better.) His Master Skin is a little funny looking, (nowhere near getting it - my max character is Sergeant Hammer, who's level 7, though I expect Leoric to join her and maybe even surpass her) but the Vrykul look is pretty good, though it doesn't really hit the "skeleton" theme (though this will cost real money - there's a bundle up now for both Leoric and the Vrykul skin, which is the main reason I payed real money for him.)

For future skins, I think a living Leoric would be pretty obvious, and I'd like to see how he'd fit into some of the other universes that exist solely in HOTS' alternate skin descriptions.

The Prophet Zul and the Zandalari Story Moving Forward

Warlords of Draenor is our first expansion not to have a single "Troll Instance." Granted, the Trolls do have a certain presence, what with the fact that Vol'jin is now the first non-Orc Warchief of the Horde (giving the Horde a certain Azerothian legitimacy, actually - no offense to Thrall, who is of course a native Azerothian himself. *Insert joke about long-form birth certificates.*)

For the first few expansions, our dealings tended to be with individual Troll Empires. Vanilla had us fight the Gurubashi and, though they were a much smaller presence, the Farraki. We fended off the Amani in BC (who might have been ok with joining the Horde had it not been for the addition of the Blood Elves.) Wrath set us agains the Drakkari, but in all these cases, we were dealing with empires that were well into their declines. We allied with the Zandalari tribe who seemed perfectly friendly (to both factions) until the rather shocking turnabout in patch 4.1.

I've always been a little uncomfortable with that turnaround, primarily because not just in previous expansions, but as recently as 4.0, we had been working with the Zandalari. In Stranglethorn Vale, there are still quests where you help the Zandalari fight against Jindo's attempts to resurrect the threat of the Gurubashi. How the Zandalari so suddenly went from helping us fight Jindo to providing him with troops and allies within the space of a single patch... well, it wasn't really earned narratively. There was nothing remotely close to foreshadowing.

Still, the change was made, and the Zandalari developed into a unified threat - the oldest of the Troll Empires uniting the other tribes under their banners. We dealt with a contingent that was sent to Pandaria, and we foiled them in Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman, but the Zandalari forces on whole are probably safely fortified somewhere in the South Seas.

That said, things aren't going great for them. Indeed, the main motivation for their bellicose turn was the Cataclysm's effects of Zandalar. The island is sinking into the sea.

The key figures among the Zandalar are King Rastakhan and the Prophet Zul. "Zul" is almost certainly a pseudonym - Zul is apparently a kind of honorific prefix. I don't know how complex Blizzard has gotten with their Troll etymology, but to take a few names into account, Sen'jin and Vol'jin have both been chiefs of the Darkspear, which might suggest the suffix "jin" means "chief." Zul'jin, who had been the Amani Emperor, might have dropped his personal name for what was really more of a title: Zul'jin meaning "Honored Chief."

It was Zul - a mysterious prophet - who galvanized the militarization of the Zandalari. Rastakhan likely does not have firm control over his Empire as more people have been signing up for Zul's quasi-nationalist vision.

It actually wouldn't surprise me if there are dissidents among the Zandalari who would still see us as allies. Certainly, even some of the trolls we helped in Stranglethorn have turned to the dark side (Jinrok the Breaker, the first boss in Throne of Thunder, had been a quest giver in Stranglethorn Vale,) but it still seems a bit shocking for all of them to turn against us so suddenly.

To go into tinfoil hat territory, I wonder if Zul is really a troll at all. The Old Gods are largely based on HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, and one of the evil creatures in that is Nyarlathotep - the only eldritch abomination in the mythos who bothers disguising himself as a human. Zul's preachings about reunifying the Trolls and making war on the rest of Azeroth would certainly cause a lot of death and chaos, and the swiftness with which he turned the Zandalari to this task suggests something that goes a bit farther than charisma.

The Trolls are the oldest humanoid race on Azeroth - all the Elves and the Naga are off-shoots of the Trolls. In many ways, Azeroth is really the Troll planet. If the next expansion takes us to the South Seas, I can't imagine that we won't be sent to deal with the Zandalari - even if Azshara is the main villain.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What Should We Hope for in Expansion Six?

Warlords of Draenor has been, much like Cataclysm, a kind of odd mix of success and failure. Subscription numbers surged when the expansion was released, climbing back up to ten million. Leveling up through Draenor has been maybe most pleasant leveling experience in WoW history, and certainly since Wrath.

A lot of nice new features have been added, and I think the gear consolidation has been tremendous for us hybrids. Draenor is also a gorgeous setting, and the game certainly has never looked so good (especially now that we all have fancy new character models. Well, almost all of us.)

But there are some ways in which the expansion has felt not as good. Probably the biggest problem there is content - we got a huge first raid tier, yes (in fact, it's tied with tier 7 for the largest number of bosses in a raid tier,) but there has been a sense that the expansion has felt fairly limited to raiding and sitting in one's garrison.

The garrison itself I think was a noble failure. Blizzard insisted on making the garrison more gameplay-based than cosmetic, when they should have done the opposite. The relative value of the different buildings is quite skewed (I can't imagine not having a Dwarven Bunker or Armory on any character,) and the ultimate result of much of the garrison's gameplay has made it easy for players to simply check in on their follower missions and get better stuff than they would get going out in the world.

But let's not talk about Warlords - let's talk about what we want to see in expansion six:

New Toon/Low Level Content Incentive:

With no new race, class, or race/class combination, Warlords is the first expansion that did not give anyone an incentive to start a new character. One could argue that the free level 90 boost does this (something I still haven't used) but I'd argue that this is almost the opposite of a new-toon incentive. The boost further concentrates players at the highest levels, and while that's probably good for Draenor, it effectively cuts away the rest of World of Warcraft as content.

WoW's expansions do, by their nature, kind of cut off their predecessors, but it seems to me there should be an incentive to do low level content. Timewalking's ability to mix people of various levels together is a good start, but I think new races and classes are really the best way to get people to do the old stuff. It's also a great incentive to try the expansion: you might have been disinterested in going to Pandaria, but playing a class that tanks by getting their opponents drunk? Count me in!

The best routes for this are of course new races and classes (especially the latter, though I recognize how difficult that is balance-wise.)

New race-class combinations are perhaps less exciting, but also pretty fun (I still want Undead Paladins just because of how much of a mind screw that would be.)

Player Housing and Not Garrisons:

The Ashran capitals were pretty underwhelming after the promise of using Karabor and Bladespire, but ultimately, Stormshield and Warspear are really secondary to our own isolated capitals - our garrisons.

Warlords has thus been kind of lonely, and much of the excitement about player housing was directed toward features that didn't wind up being there.

Player housing should essentially be a new kind of vanity item. You like collecting mounts? Battle pets? Toys? Make furnishing your house the new collectable.

Get everyone to hang out together in a real capital city (you can split the factions if you want, but I always loved Dalaran, even with the lag,) and those who care about housing can pursue that as a fun thing. And hell, put the housing in old zones. There's enough spare room in just about all the racial starting zones that you could easily set aside some space for a house. (You might have to have Goblins use Azshara.)

More Small Group Content:

I'll admit this is kind of a pet issue, but I've always felt 5-player dungeons were the best content in WoW. Sure, Raids can go big, but there's a lot more personal responsibility in a 5-player situation.

It might even be a good idea to bring back scenarios - just make sure that tanks and healers have something compelling to do in them.

Bring back Justice/Valor Points:

Admittedly Tanaan Jungle has made Apexis Crystal farming much quicker and more rewarding, but the JP/VP system was great - knowing you can work toward a specific piece of gear (none of this random stat nonsense) was a great way to lessen frustrations over RNG. It works for PvP, why not PvE?

Draenor-style Exploration:

No, this isn't just a litany of things that Warlords did wrong. Draenor is a fantastic setting, and the myriad nooks and crannies to search made leveling up tons of fun. Holding on to that expanding upon it is something I both hope and expect Blizzard to do.

New Types of Exploration:

If, as we've often postulated, we wind up getting a South Seas expansion, I think there's tremendous potential to make the world feel huge. Creating an ocean to explore - allowing zones to be near each other or isolated far away - would be a great opportunity. I'd love to see a "continent" where there are tiny islands hidden out in the ocean that don't belong to any specific zone.

Cool Lore Developments:

Warlords had some cool characters (I'm a big fan of Yrel,) but ultimately, its place within the story of Azeroth feels a little flimsy. Because so much of the story took place not only on another planet, not only in a different time, but in a different universe, the longterm repercussions on the price of bread in Ironforge are ethereal at best. Warlords was basically a nostalgia kick to allow us to see some old famous names from the original Horde (though most of them died without getting much of a personality) and admittedly a really fun way to see the Draenei at better times, but expansions should have a big impact on the ongoing story. Wrath and Mists did this quite well, but I don't know if we're really coming out of Draenor feeling we've learned anything particularly new other than "wow, I guess Orcs have kind of always been assholes."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Time for the Rumor Mill?

With Mythic Archimonde down, we find ourselves in a similar situation to the end of Mists (yes, Blizzard should be worried unless they can announce the beginning of the beta for the next expansion at Blizzcon.) While I wouldn't say we're "done" with Draenor (LFR raiders haven't had a chance to see over half of Hellfire Citadel, and the flying patch hasn't come out yet,) we're at a point where we can look at Warlords of Draenor as a final product.

While the expansion has been out for less than a year, we can be almost certain that this Blizzcon we will find out what the next one will be. That's always been the pattern, and the only reason I could imagine them announcing at a different time would be to get an initial trailer out at an earlier convention so that they can get the hype up before going into the nuts and bolts of the expansion at Blizzcon.

Previous expansion names have historically leaked as a trademark registration. This happened in my memory for Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, and Warlords of Draenor (at the time of Wrath's announcement I wasn't hunting for WoW news as much, and BC had already been announced by the time I started playing.) That said, these leaks can be misleading - recall of course the "Dark Below" trademark that turned out to be for Destiny.

The Warlords trademark was only discovered a few weeks before Blizzcon, so I'd hold off on jumping on those until the fall.

We will of course sometimes get leaks that describe the expansion. This, of course, is a field that's prone to trolling and presenting wishful thinking as fact. But this is not always wrong either. Cataclysm's old-world revamp and five-level range was leaked beforehand, and I definitely did not believe it until I saw the official announcement. Elements of Warlords of Draenor (specifically that it would take place in a past Draenor and involve a time-traveling Garrosh Hellscream) did leak briefly before the announcement.

So far, I've only heard one rumor for expansion six, which suggested that we would be going to the alternate/past Azeroth and fighting Gul'dan, essentially turning the Eastern Kingdoms south of Blackrock Mountain into the new "continent." I'd rate this as plausible, given Blizzard's comments that they really want the expansions to flow into one another, though I'd personally like to get back to the "real world." It would of course tie into the movie quite well, which is the kind of cross-media marketing that I'm sure a lot of executives would be happy about, but I don't think it would be all that great for the game. Also, it would most likely have us fighting more Orcs, which... let's have at least three expansions without fighting any organization that ends in "Horde" (except Alliance fighting the player Horde faction in PvP.)

But this is just the first of many rumors, and we've gotten plenty of those that never took root as it were.

We'll start to see more rumors crop up as time goes on, but ultimately it's all unconfirmed until Blizzard announces it for real.

Visual Upgrades I Only Just Noticed in Bodyguard Followers

If you have a level 2 or higher Barracks, you can assign certain followers with the Bodyguard trait to "work it" and take them anywhere outdoors in Draenor (not sure about Ashran.)

Anything you kill will grant you 10 reputation with them (this is affected by bonuses, so as a human with a level 3 trading post, I usually get 14.) You can then progress through three reputations: Bodyguard, Trusted Bodyguard, and Personal Wingman.

At the second level, you'll get an instant-complete quest that unlocks a new ability. At the third and final level, you'll be sent on a quest to one of the level 100 daily assault areas to retrieve an item for them and unlock a useful non-combat ability.

What I had not realized until recently is that most of the bodyguards get a visual upgrade when this happens.

Tormmok: After retrieving his sword in a cave at the Broken Precipice in Nagrand, he'll wield it instead of the rusty old one he used to have and become a repair vendor.

Talonpriest Ishaal: After acquiring a staff from a Shadowmoon sorcerer at the Pillars of Fate in Shadowmoon Valley (though I've always felt this counted more as Spires of Arak, given that you can use your outpost ability from there,) Ishaal will be able to send and receive mail and he'll gain a shadowform with interesting particle effects.

Delvar Ironfist (Alliance Only:) Delvar will send you to the Everbloom Wilds to take down a plant-zombie and give him the remains (as a Death Knight he's particularly appalled by people getting killed and then taken over by a foreign puppetmaster.) He'll gain the ability to create a Death Gate that takes you back to your garrison and he'll trade out his purple tier 10 armor for some tier 17.

Leorajh: Leorajh will send you to Skettis to retrieve some of his prayer beads. Doing so will allow you to access your garrison follower missions out in the field, though as far as I can tell, he has no change to his appearance.

I have yet to do Defender Ilona or either of the Horde-only followers, but this was kind of a neat discovery for me.

Also, I believe these changes only apply to them while they're active bodyguards - unassigning them will return them to their old looks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Flight and "Mercenary Mode" on the PTR

6.2.1 is on the PTR, and while usually an x.y.z patch isn't all that interesting, this one will add two fairly big features.

The first is of course flight in Draenor. By now if you've been working hard on it, you should probably have the Draenor Pathfinder achievement, which awards a Rylak mount and the ability to fly once it gets implemented. The addition of flight and the compromise on how to unlock it was a rather late decision in 6.2 development, which is why we got the achievement and not the ability with 6.2.0.

I'm eager to soar above the heights of Draenor and see what it all looks like from up there.

The far more surprising change is "Mercenary Mode" in Ashran.

NPCs from the opposite faction will be hiding out in the Ashran bases. If the queue to enter is too long because of faction imbalance, you'll be able to talk to these guys and become a turncoat, disguising yourself as a member of the other faction and fighting for them.

This is a hell of a take on faction cooperation - though it's really not so much cooperation as treason. But Ashran is barely in the "lore" of Draenor anyway.

Still, I think this sets an interesting precedent - one that I'm sure many will decry as messing with one of the central mechanics of the game, though I find it fairly exciting. Of course, this particular implementation is, lore-wise, a fairly despicable act of treason, I've always thought that cross-faction grouping could be quite good for the game - and could easily be justified in lore.

After all, the factions have a history of working together to face larger threats - why has this never spilled into cross-faction grouping?

While doing this would be pretty out of character for most of my characters, one of the ones I occasionally PvP with, the Undead Rogue, would have no qualms whatsoever (being apathetic to the faction conflict and really just interested in money and the fine things money can buy.)

Anyway, if players are willing to do this (and I'm sure some will object on principle) it could help fix the balance issues in Ashran

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Halls of Blood Tanking Perspective

The Halls of Blood wing of Hellfire Citadel is actually more or less the "Orc wing" of the instance. All the bosses are (or at least used to be) Orcs. As we push on, we'll be fighting primarily demons (though I expect Orcs will still make up a lot of the trash.)

The trash here is mostly self-explanatory and not terribly difficult. You'll have some long hallways to fight through, but typically with small and sparsely-placed mobs, so it's not the BC-style trash gauntlet you might expect.

Hellfire High Council:

I'll abbreviate the three bosses in this council fight to Dia, Gurtogg, and Blademaster, as that's probably how you'll do it in the raid. Tanking these guys is fairly simple - there's no tank-swap mechanic, so instead you'll just have one tank pick up Gurtogg and Blademaster and the other grab Dia. I don't know that Dia's particularly dangerous (I was tanking the other two) but she does have some kind of damage-reduction aura, so you'll want to tank her away from the other two bosses.

A lot of this fight depends on the rest of the raid.

Gurtogg should die first, as he stacks up a permanent max-health reduction on everyone. He will stack up an acidic wound debuff on the tank as he attacks. However, he'll occasionally fixate on a random raid member. That person should book it (seriously, people in my raid were just letting him wail on them, which is bad for them and for the tank.) You want to get as much distance from Gurtogg as you can during the fixate so that you have time for the acidic wound debuff to fall off.

Blademaster will throw swords at random people and he'll occasionally split into different mirror images. I believe all the images need to die before he comes back. They can't really be tanked, so just dodge the blades they throw (there will be an arrow to indicate where they're coming from) and help out the DPS in taking them down.

Finally, Dia, who you'll be attacking last, does one major raid-wide thing, which is putting a mark on various targets and then casting Reap, which causes them to spawn a void zone where they're standing. Raid members with this mark should run to the edge of the room to drop them off. She'll also summon giant voidwalker beast things that will float across the room. I think you just don't want to be in their path (think Onyxia's Deep Breath.)

This is one of those fights that gets simpler as it goes and is not terribly hard.

Kilrogg Deadeye:

This is the only one we wiped on (though we came close on Gorefiend.) It's more or less a battle of attrition.

The job of the tanks is actually quite simple. Apparently we did it wrong, but I don't know if it made all that big a difference. We just had me tank the boss while the other tank picked up big adds. Apparently you're supposed to swap on the big adds, but oh well.

The big challenge with Kilrogg himself for a tank is making sure you get your active mitigation ability up before he does Shred Armor, otherwise you'll get a stacking debuff that increases damage done. However, if you're comfortable with active mitigation, this shouldn't be too hard. Simply bank resources so you always have one available. As a Paladin, I'd always wait until I had five Holy Power before I used Shield of the Righteous so that I could quickly get the one HoPo I needed if I had a Shred Armor coming. If you can tank Rukhran in Skyreach properly, you can manage Kilrogg.

The raid is responsible for making sure you don't get too many big adds. Part of the reason this fight will last so long is that adds need to be prioritized. Normal-sized Orcs will rush toward the blood circle to get turned into berserkers. DPS needs to make sure they die before they do. Kilrogg will also fling blood at random players (there's an arrow to indicate its path, which I assume means that you don't want to stand in the way,) which will spawn a blood pool and a little blood add that needs to die.

Some of the normal-sized orcs will jump directly into the blood circle, not giving you time to kill them. So you will occasionally have to pick up big adds.

Finally, Kilrogg will occasionally create three little runes for Visions of Death, which will detonate after a while if people aren't standing on them. Those who do will be transported to a vision of their own demise and have to fight off demons in another room. As a tank, I didn't experience this, so I'll have to talk about it when I do the DPS impressions.

Overall, Kilrogg's a pretty long endurance fight.


Gorefiend is also largely about adds. He has two distinct phases.

During the main phase, he'll melee the tank and eventually mark players and the current tank with Shadow of Death. When this gets applied, the other tank should taunt and the first one should prepare to get sucked into Gorefiend's stomach.

Inside, there will be a number of adds to kill, but tanks should focus on the big, hostile one. Interrupt its casts and DPS it as best you can. When it reaches something like 50%, you'll want to run to the center of the stomach room to be transported back into the main room. Pick up that add again and kill it.

While not tanking the boss, you can help kill adds.

After a while, Gorefiend will run out of energy (runic power?) and he'll begin Feast of Souls. During this phase, he'll take extra damage, so DPS will pop Hero/Lust and do as much damage as they can to him. In the meantime, tanks should spread out and intercept the little glowing souls that shoot toward the boss. You'll take a bit of damage, but intercepting these will prolong the phase, allowing your raid to kill him more quickly.

As I understand it, tanks should only get Shadow of Death once per main phase, so you'll have plenty of time for the debuff to wear off as long as both tanks are kept alive.

Dem Bloody Halls:

Perhaps the overarching theme of this wing is that you're totally in the hands of your raid. Each of the fights is rather simple to tank, and you won't be moving around all that much. There are lots of adds, but only a few actually need to be tanked. If I recall correctly, we'll have two weeks of this and Hellbreach before we head on over to the third wing, then another two weeks before wing four and another two weeks before taking on Archimonde himself.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Tale of Two Frosts (Death Knight, to be Clear.)

While casters can pretty much pick whatever combination of weapons, off-hands, and shields will provide the greatest spellpower, most physical specs are limited to a single load-out - there are sort of genres of weapons that they'll use, but a Retribution Paladin, for example, is always going to be using a two-handed strength weapon, and an Assassination Rogue is always going to be dual-wielding agility daggers.

While Monks are kind of a whole other story (and one I have far less experience with,) there are two melee DPS specs that have options for weapons.

Fury Warriors can go between what used to be called "Titan's Grip" and "Single-Minded Fury," choosing to go with two-handed or one-handed weapons in each hand. Various passives ensure (or at least try to ensure) that, despite having less stats and lower base weapon damage, a Fury Warrior who chooses to use smaller, faster weapons will still be able to do the same amount of damage. The Fury rotation remains more or less the same - you still want to stack up critical strike rating so that Bloodthirst triggers Enrage as often as possible. The two styles play very similarly, and really only vary in terms of rhythm.

Frost Death Knights, however, feel quite different depending on your weapon choice, to the point where they're nearly different specs. These used to have their own fun names - Threat of Thassarian for dual-wielding and Might of the Frozen Wastes for two-handers. (Really, I wish they'd bring back some of old passive abilities that got merged into active abilities or turned invisible. It provided flavor and it also made it way easier to understand a spec.)

The central mechanic of Frost is Killing Machine - a proc activated on occasion by (main-hand) auto attacks. This makes the next Obliterate or Frost Strike a guaranteed critical strike. The big reason why this divides Frost Death Knights is that other passives buff one ability or the other depending on what loadout of weapons you're using.

Those who use a two-handed weapon focus on Obliterate, a two-rune, purely physical attack that hits like a truck, particularly when you crit with it. Dual-wielders instead buff Frost Strike, a... strike that deals frost damage and costs runic power rather than Runes.

This difference creates a kind of avalanche of differences. The Frost mastery simply increases frost damage dealt by the Death Knight, which makes it more valuable for Dual-wielders, but it does nothing for two-handers' most powerful attack. Because Dual-wielders can safely invest more in Mastery, they then deal greater AoE damage through Howling Blast - one of Frost's most potent AoE tools.

Thus, there's an inherent imbalance - Dual-wielders will suffer less if they gear for AoE than Two-handers. In fact, during Mists of Pandaria, a Dual-wielder who stacked up enough mastery could simply spam Howling Blast rather than ever spending runes on Obliterate, using the orphaned Unholy Runes for the occasional refreshing of Blood Plague or throwing down a Death and Decay. Their rotation was essentially identical for single-target and AoE situations.

Before we ask how to fix this, we should wonder whether it should be fixed at all. Would it be ok for Frost to be better at AoE when dual-wielding? Perhaps two-handers could be compensated by having better single-target balance - but that opens a can of worms. Given that DPS matters most on bosses, and usually it's single-target damage that counts the most (though perhaps more accurately it's single-target damage that people pay the most attention to) it could be dangerous to enshrine one style over the other for that situation.

There are a couple issues of "good feeling," though, that are of course very subjective. As someone who prefers the rhythm of two-handed frost, it's always a little frustrating that Mastery doesn't affect my biggest ability. Usually they make Mastery more interesting than a simple "+damage" stat by having it affect only your biggest abilities - like Retribution's Hand of Light.

But the issue with Frost's Mastery is also that it makes gearing within the same spec pretty significantly different. If you want to swap out your weapon load-out, you'll need to re-gem and enchant your stuff to maximize your damage. It also makes Frost's stat attunement, Haste, kind of anticlimactic for dual-wielders who focus on Mastery (at least last time I checked, which was admittedly a while ago.)

The Archimonde trinket in Hellfire Citadel gives Obliterate a Frost Component, and I could see this being a kind of "try out" for a change to the mechanic. If Obliterate dealt Frost damage, it could make Mastery a good stat for all Frost Death Knights, and would do a lot to balance out their AoE damage.

Another alternative would be to unify the preference of Obliterate or Frost Strike - if both types of Frost preferred Obliterate (which has a ton more flavor than Frost Strike,) neither would be pushed to stack mastery. On the other hand, this difference in style is something that makes Frost a fairly unique spec, and surely there would be people upset that their style got taken out in favor of the other one.

A modification to Obliterate - either adding frost damage or making the entire thing do frost damage (though it's the only physical ability you use other than auto-attack) - would do a lot to emphasize the "frost" aspect to Frost Death Knights. And once they do that, they could start working on getting the "death" aspect back into the spec.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Warcraft Movie: Beyond Orcs and Humans?

Today at Comic Con they unveiled some of the footage of the practically-finished Warcraft movie. The film won't come out for just under a year (going big, they can really only do a summer blockbuster or a holiday release, and Star Wars is going to own this winter,) but they revealed some of the movie to the few lucky folks at Comic Con. Hopefully we'll get to see some actual footage online soon (probably not until Blizzcon,) but there have been a few accounts from the crowds (and some quickly-shut-down smartphone videos.)

What intrigued me is that one article describing the footage mentioned that Gul'dan is seen sucking the souls out of "awkward purple humanoids." That sounds a whole lot like Draenei (and while they're typically more blue than purple, it's pretty close.) The Draenei are, of course, a huge part of the lore surrounding the formation of the Horde, though they were not introduced until WCIII: the Frozen Throne - and it wasn't until Burning Crusade that they established/retconned the Draenei to be the uncorrupted Eredar - Akama and his folks during the Kael'thas/Illidan campaign in WCIII were depicted as what we'd call Lost Ones post-BC.

The original Warcraft game focused entirely on Orcs and Humans (there might have been an Ogre somewhere in there,) but of course the lore has expanded dramatically in the twenty years since then, meaning that the filmmakers have plenty of other races to work with. Along with the Draenei (and as a huge Draenei fan I can't tell you how cool it is to hear that they might have an appearance in the movie, however fleeting) it sounds like we'll at least see some of the High Elves. I'd expect the Dwarves, and possibly Gnomes, Goblins, and even Trolls to potentially make an appearance.

From the sounds of it, the settings look quite CGI-ish, which is a shame (though I do remember them talking about having built real sets for Stormwind Keep and one of the squares in the city.) This might be unavoidable, given that half the cast is Gollum-style CGI-people.

In terms of plot, there's not a whole lot beyond Orcs realizing their world is dying and some of them saying "hey, this Gul'dan guy might have the right idea!" Draka does mention she's pregnant - so I guess you can count Thrall as being in the movie, albeit in fetus-form.

The Mystery of the G-Man

I'll confess here that I haven't really played all that much of the Half-Life games. I got through a decent chunk of 2, but to be perfectly honest, something about the art direction and the speed of the action actually made me feel nauseated - which is odd, because I can't think of any other game that has given me motion sickness (I don't even get it when reading in a car.)

It's a shame, because I know it's a fantastically popular game, and one of the biggest fan speculation stories in the gaming world is when Half-Life 3 is going to come out, if ever. It's also a shame because Half-Life is one of the few FPS games that focuses on the single-player campaign these days, when so many are all about online multiplayer (I'm also a big fan of the Bioshock games.)

But perhaps the biggest shame in my inability to play them is that Half-Life has one of the most intriguing characters in video games - the G-man.

For those of you not familiar, the G-man is a character who pops up very sparingly in the Half-Life series, but he tends to have his biggest moments in major climactic scenes. At the end of the first game, he takes the player character, Gordon Freeman, away, stashing him on something that looks like one of the trams at the Black Mesa facility, but is traveling through some sort of starscape. The second game has him sending you on your way almost two decades later, in which the "tram" you were on kind of bleeds reality into a train taking you to "City 17," where you discover that in the years you've been missing, Earth has been conquered by an inter-dimensional empire known as the Combine.

After you spend the game blasting away the Combine forces, the G-man appears again, freezing time to pluck you up right before a massive explosion would kill you.

The G-Man look human - he wears a suit and carries a briefcase, and has an old-school crew cut hair style. But there's something... off about him. His face is asymmetrical (which is of course fairly common in the real world but less so in video games) and his speech patterns are highly unusual.

And he can warp reality around himself. The Half-Life games take place entirely through the first-person perspective, and interacting directly with the G-man can be very strange. For example, the beginning of Half-Life 2 sees the G-man waking you up from your long hibernation, but as you look at him, it's as if the positive space of his face is actually the negative space in the darkness around you - a window into the train that you find yourself. These sorts of shifts in perspective happen a lot when you talk to the G-man - it's really cool and mega-creepy.

On top of that, the G-man is hidden throughout the games, often visible in the distance across long expanses or even on the screen of a malfunctioning television screen.

One thing remains certain: we really have no clue what the G-man is.

The series has its share of interdimensional monsters, but the G-man seems to almost transcend that category. Barring some more out-there theories that the G-man is some kind of future post-human (or even, more whacky, a future Gordon Freeman himself,) the G-man's human appearance is almost certainly a lie. But what is he then? There's a definite Lovecraftian quality here - that he might just be incomprehensible to human eyes.

We also really don't know where he falls on the good/evil spectrum. Gordon Freeman would, I imagine, have a lot to hate about the G-man, given that he kept him imprisoned for, like 17 years (though how much of that time Freeman actually experienced is questionable - given that he didn't age a day) and how the G-man dumped him out into a situation that required Freeman to shoot his way through an entire city of bad guys and monster aliens.

But on the other hand, he has certainly seemed to undermine the Combine - dispatching Gordon Freeman against them (which works way better than you'd expect) and does seem to be furthering humanity's interests. Still, he's super freaking shady.

Of course, the thing about the G-man that's perhaps frustrating is that any real explanation is almost sure to be a let-down. And that means that we probably won't ever actually get an explanation, even if Half-Life 3 does eventually wind up happening. It's probably for the best, though, because a lack of an official explanation means that we can come up with our own headcanon versions.

(I'm always a big fan of post-human time-travelers guiding their own evolution, but that's just me.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hellbreach DPS Perspective

I've now run the first LFR wing of Hellfire Citadel on several toons - a Death Knight, Rogue, Mage, and Warlock, in addition to the tanking Paladin. Admittedly, on at least two of those characters as I recall, I came in on the last boss, but I've got a good idea of how the fights go.

Hellfire Assault:

The first fight is, sadly, a pretty dull affair. The only non-boss boss fight I remember really liking was the Icecrown Gunship Battle, with the awesome jetpack mechanic. On LFR especially, this fight's basically an AoE fest - though killing the warlocks who do Metamorphosis will help reduce damage to the raid.

As soon as one of the Fel siege engines goes down, be sure to grab the ammunition box - chances are someone else in your raid will get it first, but you don't want to be in one of those situations where everyone figures someone else is doing it. This is of course how your end the fight, so it's a high priority.

Iron Reaver:

This is the real raid-killer of the wing - not because the mechanics are particularly difficult to deal with, but because it's a fight that requires the raid to spread out, and in the uncommunicative manner of LFR, your healers will probably not be very well-distributed to cover everyone.

The Reaver also moves around a lot, so you'll need to constantly readjust, making sure you're in range of the Reaver and also not crowded up with your allies.

Finally, spend all your "not standing in fire" attention on the air phase killing bombs. It's your only real job (again, other than not standing in the fire) and will save the raid a bunch of pain.

Also, sometimes DPS gets hit with Artillery. Be sure to run away and, if you have one, pop a survival cooldown before it hits you.


If you pull it off well, you can skip the green-pool phase entirely just by killing the boss before he gets to it.

On the orange pool phase, be sure to run away from the tank when they get their debuff, as they won't be able to run away from you. Also, pop the exploding runes before they hit the raid - the faster you do, the less damage you'll take.

Purple phase will be fairly simple - just take the effort to dodge the waves. You might have to drop what you're doing in order to do this, but it's better to live longer with slightly lower dps than to die and produce no further damage.

Last Note on Loot:

As with all the wings in LFR HFC, the final boss of each wing drops gear that's ten item levels higher than the other bosses, so if you're planning on spending your bonus rolls in LFR, you're best served saving them for the last boss of the wing (the set pieces also drop off these bosses.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hellfire Citadel the Final Raid, 6.2 Likely the Final Major Patch

Blizzard has confirmed what we likely expected, which is that Hellfire Citadel will be the final raid of Warlords of Draenor, and that it's unlikely we'll get another major patch before the next expansion.

Let's start with the potential bright side: Blizzard said that they might make the expansion shorter if they were confident the next expansion could be delivered more quickly, and this seems to indicate that they are confident.

But to undercut that optimism: if they had only planned out two raid tiers and one major patch, even if they found themselves pressed for time, it would be very difficult to derail the expansion development in order to put people on designing a new zone like Farahlon (which seriously, of all the zones in Draenor I wanted to see... gah.) We just won't know how successful this strategy will be until we get a release date for expansion six. But I'm not really ready to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt here, because every expansion since Wrath of the Lich King has gone for roughly a year after its final patch. Expansions take a long time to plan out, and even if they've won themselves a head start that will allow them to release expansion six "one tier earlier," meaning some time next summer, that's still a year of no new content and is just as much of a problem as we had in 3.3, 4.3, and 5.4.

But on top of that, there's the disappointment of Draenor. For the record, I think that most of Draenor's content was superb. The leveling experience was the best they've ever done, and while there were definitely fewer dungeons than I'd like, they were pretty much all interesting and fun to run. The endgame content was problematic - Blizzard's insistence on making the Garrison functional rather than decorative was a big mistake if you ask me. Garrison maintenance replaced going out into the world to gather resources for professions and follower missions, while profitable, didn't have terribly engaging gameplay.

The biggest problem, though, is that in WoW, we pay for expansions and for subscriptions. If expansions came free with the subscription like patches, I'd have little to complain about, but the chunk of content that is Warlords of Draenor, whatever its merits may be, is just plain smaller than what we've gotten previously, and yet we paid more for it.

And this is a big reason why I'm not a fan of the "quicker expansion cycles." One should also be able to settle in to an expansion - the effect of gear inflation can get out of control, but a little allows players to feel massively powerful, which is one of the appeals of any RPG.

It's a shame, because I'd like to focus on 6.2, which, if you look at it in isolation, is a perfectly good patch with a lot of cool features. But I worry that we're going to be stuck in Tanaan for over a year waiting on an expansion that will only wind up having a single raid tier.

Grab the Tinfoil: Theories on Demon Blood, Ancients, and Kil'jaeden's Obsession

I was fighting the Fel Iron Horde today and I was thinking: what exactly is the difference between this Horde and the one from our timeline?

Obviously, our Horde drank the Blood of Mannoroth and reaped the consequences, but it seemed to work a bit differently.

The influence of the Burning Legion is extremely apparent in Gul'dan's Iron Horde. Tanaan Jungle has undergone a transformation that is reminiscent of our Shadowmoon Valley. Indeed, it even seems that Gul'dan B is seeking out the Cipher of Damnation - an absurdly powerful spell that clearly transcends worlds, as it was used by Emperor Thaurissan on Azeroth to summon Ragnaros to the Molten Core. The Cipher's use on Outland created the volcano called the Hand of Gul'dan (the spell always seems to involve summoning a planet's resident most-powerful-fire-elemental and then creating a volcano) and turned Shadowmoon Valley into the burned-to-a-crisp hellscape it is today, severing the bonds with the elements that had been so important to Orcish culture (I'd wager this act of destabilization probably contributed to the destruction wrought by Ner'zhul - as if Gul'dan perforated the planet and Ner'zhul ripped.)

The Fel Iron Horde is filled with the look of demonic power - green fire is just about everywhere, and the demons aren't really hiding. In fact, the Shadow Council is not particularly shadowy right now - Gul'dan is recognized as the Warchief, instead of making Kilrogg his puppet Warchief like our version did with Blackhand.  Of course, this probably has a lot to do with the fact that it's Archimonde, instead of Kil'jaeden, who is in control of the Horde. In our timeline, Kil'jaeden probably pushed Gul'dan to use subtlety to make the Horde feel as if they were in control of their own actions and conquering for their own purposes. Archimonde has never placed as much emphasis on subtlety (see: destroying Dalaran the moment he was summoned in the Third War,) and so has cast aside all pretenses that the Iron Horde is anything other than a small branch of the Burning Legion.

The other things is that the Fel Orcs just look different. These Orcs aren't green, nor are they red, but are instead a weird sort of grey. In our timeline, the color-changing nature of Mannoroth's blood seemed to work by first making the Orcs red immediately after drinking it, but then leaving them Fel-green afterwards - almost as if most of the blood got burned out of their systems. Essentially, the green skin of orcs is indicative of some kind of chemical (or magic equivalent of chemical) change where the blood loses its potency, but the consumed material remains. This would also explain why even non-blood-drinking Orcs like the Frostwolves would also get this condition, as there would be so much blood in the environment that non-potent blood remains would gradually work their way into anyone who spent much time around it. The blood only really provides its "beneficial" properties while it's fresh, and this manifests in the bright-red skin coloration that we saw in Grommash and his forces in Warcraft III as well as Kargath's Fel Horde in Outland, who were drinking the blood of Magtheridon, rather than Mannoroth, but still a Pit Lord.

Why is Kilrogg B, and his line of Fel Orcs, grey then?

The answer may lie in the fate of Mannoroth. While Blizzard has effectively extended the dreadlord immortality functionality to all demons (and opening a whole can of worms by revealing that there's only one Twisting Nether shared by all universes,) it clearly takes a lot of time and energy for a demon to manifest a physical avatar with which to interact with the world. Gul'dan might have thus saved Mannoroth some time by reassembling his physical body that was killed by Grommash and Garrosh in the Warlords of Draenor cinematic. But because this body is kind of undead as far as demons go, the blood has turned - begun to decompose in some way.

So perhaps these Fel Orcs are grey because... the blood they're drinking is rotten. More rotten than it is already, given that it's freaking demon blood. Gul'dan's still green because he drank it while it was still fresh and Mannoroth was still alive. Anyway, pretty gross no matter which way you look at it.

Speaking of things that come back from the dead:

I've pointed out a few times that the way that demons come back from the dead is almost exactly how it works for elementals. We fought Ragnaros in the Molten Core, but "killing" him there really just sent him back to the Firelands. One can think of it this way: the elementals and demons that we interact with in the physical world are not the actual beings, but are really kind of remote controlled units - avatars - that these powerful magical creatures use to manifest. Killing an avatar is a pain to the person whose avatar it is, but it's just a setback - in time, with effort and resources, they can build a new avatar.

We've seen evil things do this (demons) and morally neutral things do it too (elementals.) But what about good things? The Naaru clearly go through cycles of light and dark, but on the rare occasions where a Naaru truly dies, it seems to leave a body behind. M'uru's spark was used to reignite the Sunwell. Of course, one could argue that this was sort of akin to just cycling back to the Light side, but let's set Naaru aside for a moment.

There are plenty of "big bad" supernatural villains in Warcraft, but they usually have a good counterpart. Naaru seem to be the direct opposite of Void beings (which, despite being favored by Warlocks as minions, are explicitly not demons.) The Titans are often juxtaposed against either demons or Old Gods, but they treat the OGs more as their direct opposition - demons only really became a threat to them after one of their own turned evil and enlisted their aide. But the third category of "big powerful good guys" might be the best fit for the demons' opposite numbers. And in fact, the biggest war against them in our history is named after the big fighters on our side: the Ancients.

In Mount Hyjal, you're tasked with holding of Twilight's Hammer until Jarod Shadowsong and the other Ancients are able to finish bringing Cenarius into the world. But Cenarius was dead: he was killed by Grom Hellscream during the Third War after the Warsong Chief had a relapse and drank Mannoroth's blood again.

In fact, the Ancients don't seem to stay dead, really. Ursoc died during the War of the Ancients, but he was also in Grizzly Hills, getting corrupted by Yogg-Saron until we were able to kill him, which then freed him.

This all seems to point to the idea that the Ancients we interact with are really just avatars. And there's a perfectly convenient place for their true essences to inhabit - the Emerald Dream. In a very odd way, it might be that Demonology Warlocks who transform into something resembling a Dreadlord are actually more or less doing the same thing that Druids do when they transform into something resembling Ursoc or Ursol.

This would of course have huge implications. If the Emerald Dream was created by the Titans, then it would stand to reason that they created the Ancients as well. Could it be that Elune is actually a Titan - not a construct like Freya, but an actual Titan? One whose role is to oversee the Ancients? (We know that the Celestials are basically the same kind of thing as Ancients, and I think it would make sense if the Loa were as well.) It would definitely explain Elune's place in the Warcraft cosmos and also justify why she, instead of anything encountered on Azeroth (barring the Old Gods,) is referred to as a literal goddess.

But getting back to Draenor and our current struggle:

Someone in some comment section (sorry, I don't remember where, but I would assume Blizzard Watch) pointed out that on the Warlords of Draenor site, Yrel is described as having a "dark secret." (Actually I can't seem to find where, but let's just roll with it.) Yrel, so far, really hasn't revealed any such thing. Beyond some early doubts at her ability to lead, she has been an exemplary Draenei Paladin, and went from acolyte (albeit one being personally trained by Velen himself) to Exarch in a fairly short amount of time.

Yrel is very young for a Draenei - she was apparently born on Draenor, which means she's less than three hundred years old. For context, many Draenei (including all Draenei Death Knights, given Valok the Righteous' attempts to talk sense into you before you are forced to kill him) personally remember Argus, the planet they left behind 25,000 years ago, making Yrel less than an 80th the age of my Death Knight (even if we ignore the fact that he could well have been several thousand years old when they left.)

But given how absurdly long Draenei live, it's possible that they don't really age. It might make sense that as a species, the Eredar just hit adulthood and as long as they don't get hit with any big infections or injuries, they'll continue to live indefinitely. Sure, Velen looks "old," and he almost certainly is, even by Draenei/Eredar standards, but this might be explained in other ways. Archimonde and Kil'jaeden are probably around the same age as Velen, but they look fine (though they're also demons now, so who the hell knows?)

Ok, onto the crackpot theory, and this is cribbing a bit from the commenter who I really wish I could credit: Suppose Yrel's lying about her age and who she really is. What if, rather than 300 years old, she's actually more on the order of 25,000? What if she really does have a dark secret, and that secret is a key to the Horde's creation? What if she is Kil'jaeden's daughter?

We don't use the word Eredar to describe the Draenei that much because it tends to be associated more with the Manari Eredar demons who are arguably the top-ranking demons in the Burning Legion. But it might be more accurate to call the Draenei Eredar than their demonic kin. Kil'jaeden, before accepting Sargeras' deal, would be indistinguishable physically from the Draenei. It's not that crazy to think that maybe he had a family. Of course, most likely his family would have gone with him, getting transformed into demons and joining the Legion.

But among the Eredar Triumvirate that oversaw a practically utopian society, the two closest members were Velen and Kil'jaeden, calling each other brothers (and to be fair, I'm only assuming this is metaphorical.) If Kil'jaeden had a family - a daughter - one could imagine Velen acting in a kind of avuncular capacity. And when Velen was granted his vision by the Naaru, he presumably tried to convince his fellow leaders of the dire threat Sargeras posed. But clearly Archimonde and Kil'jaeden were not willing to listen.

But maybe Velen turned instead to Yrel (who in this hypothetical is Kil'jaeden's daughter.) Unable to convince the father, Velen succeeds with the daughter, and Yrel comes with Velen and the other Draenei as they flee Argus.

The pursuit of the Draenei has always been Kil'jaeden's obsession, while Archimonde has been fairly apathetic toward them. You could explain this as simply a difference in personality, or even the sense of betrayal Kil'jaeden felt at Velen's dissension.

But if Velen "stole" Kil'jaeden's daughter, well. That would be a hell of a motivation to scour the universe for the Draenei, and ultimately led to the transformation of Draenor and Azeroth in turn. And it would also make Yrel's journey more exciting - here, the daughter of perhaps the most notorious Eredar in history, has overcome the doubt she felt because of her history and has come to lead her people as their greatest champion. She would be the successful foil to Garrosh Hellscream, managing to overcome the shadow of her father by accepting that she is not the same person. And it would also set up an amazing confrontation later on... if we can set aside the crazy alternate-universe nature of this story.

(Ok, clearly there are some problems with this theory - like Yrel's sister Samara (though there's nothing inherently wrong with the idea that Kil'jaeden has two daughters) and more importantly, the fact that plenty of Draenei know Yrel and would probably remember seeing her for thousands of years if she were lying about her age.)

(Ooh! Ooh! In an older voice file, she refers to Velen as her uncle. Maybe this was a plot they considered doing but then decided against it?)

Damn. Can we bring Yrel back with us? I mean, she's probably needed by her people, but I just think she's so cool.