Monday, August 31, 2015

The Void, the Old Gods, and the Legion

The cosmology of the Warcraft universe has never been explicitly laid out. Generally, we can think of Azeroth and Draenor (before it was destroyed/in the alternate universe where it hasn't been destroyed) as planets the same way we conceive of them in the real world - big old spheres of rock that float through space, presumably each orbiting a star the locals think of as the sun.

I've always interpreted Draenor as being a planet within the same universe as Azeroth - extrapolating from real-world cosmology, the two planets could be as close as the same solar system (though that seems like a real stretch - the only reason we saw Azeroth from the roof of the Black Temple is because by that point, Outland was kind of half in the Nether, which does funky things with space) or as far away as being in entirely different galactic superclusters. But Blizzard has tried to emphasize that transport between these worlds requires a dimensional ship or portal - so for all we know, they could be completely different universes. That said, the uniqueness of our journey to Draenor (as opposed to Outland) seems to suggest that, though we might need fancy magical methods to travel between these two worlds, the reason is more distance than being in some kind of alternate universe (to specify: between Outland and Azeroth, not Draenor B and Azeroth, the latter of which is absolutely a different universe.)

Ok, tangent aside, we did find out a bit more about the higher planes of existence. While the mortal worlds seem to exist in an infinitude of parallel, alternate universes (though it sounds like there'e only one Azeroth in all of them,) comments by Blizzard indicated that the Twisting Nether transcends these different realities. The Nether exists as a kind of border dimension between the Light and the Void. Of course, that comment introduces us to the fact that the Light and the Void are, themselves, separate, presumably transcendent dimensions.

The mystery of the Light is likely to remain, well, mysterious. Naaru seem to come from there.

The Void, however, is something that seems to be getting explored more. We know that Ner'zhul gathered insight into the Void through the Naaru K'ara, who had fallen into a Shadow state until, in universe B, Velen sacrificed himself to restore K'ara to the Light (hey, where the hell has K'ara been all this time?)

Ner'zhul summoned void creatures, and he also gained the ability to raise the dead. That's a pretty big deal, because I think the generally accepted explanation for the Lich King's powers (and recall that Ner'zhul was the original Lich King) came from Kil'jaeden. However, as I speculated in the previous post, the Lich King became something far more powerful than Kil'jaeden had anticipated - or at least far more willful. Perhaps, the Lich King drew on the power of the void - a power that was enough to overcome his enslavement by the Fel magic of the Burning Legion.

What prompted me to start writing this post was that I was taking my Druid through Spires of Arak (just him and the Priest and I'll have all classes to 100) and I got to the quests in Veil Zellek - the one that gets destroyed by Skyreach's laser-crystal when you first enter the zone. You enter the Shadow realm and have to collect some shadowy essence things... quest stuff, you get the idea. Anyway, I was doing my thing when I saw a weird shadow on the ground. I looked up.

And I saw a massive, Ozumat-like kraken floating in the sky. (I refuse to call it a Leviathan. The WoW Kraken model looks more like a leviathan and vice versa - I assume someone mixed up the two terms.)

Now, this isn't the first hint that the Old Gods and the Faceless Ones are linked to the Void. We've seen Shadow Priests (well, ok, all priests, but flavorfully more Shadow priests) summon Void Tendrils that look a lot like C'thun's tentacles. Old Gods seem to be all about Shadow magic, and really, the Shadow Priests' psychic damage theme really feels in tune with the Old Gods and their minions.

But this really convinced me that I'm on the right track. Demons come from the chaos of the Twisting Nether - a kind of cosmic storm front between the Light and the Void, but the Old Gods come from that dark, cold place. They are the opposite of the Light. If the Light is everything kind of feeling right, and good, the Void is the opposite - wrong, impossible, maddening.

So what does this mean in the long run? I can't really say. Obviously both the Burning Legion and the Old Gods are going to remain our enemies, and while the Old Gods will probably sends us squishy tentacle monsters and the Legion will send us armored demons, we'll fight both of them with equal desperation.

I suspect that the Old Gods are going to sit Legion out much as they did Warlords (though I had been under the impression that the Emerald Nightmare had been the work of N'zoth, so perhaps we will see the two interact.) Still, with the big confrontation agains the Legion on its way (at least for a long time,) one does have to wonder - is there something even worse out there? Are we saving Azeroth from the Legion only to have the Old Gods claim our world?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mal'ganis, Kel'thuzad, Ner'zhul, and the Scourge

When Arthas traveled to Northrend the first time, his intention was to kill Mal'ganis, the dreadlord demon who, at the time, Arthas thought was the primary source of the Scourge. In fact, Mal'ganis had deliberately provoked Arthas with the destruction of Stratholme as part of a plan to corrupt the prince into taking up Frostmourne and becoming the champion of the Scourge.

What Mal'ganis had not considered was that the Lich King would then use Arthas against the Burning Legion.

The original Lich King was the spirit of the Shadowmoon Orc Chieftain Ner'zhul, bound to a suit of black armor, sealed within a crystal of magical ice, and sent to Azeroth. The Scourge was basically intended to replace the Horde as the Burning Legion's vanguard in Azeroth. The Orcs had been cut off from the corrupting influence of the demon, but more importantly, they had failed to secure Azeroth.

In the Scourge, the Legion had found a much more subtle, and much more insidious weapon than the Horde. Mal'ganis was one of a few Dreadlords (demons who seem to occupy some of the higher echelons of the Legion's hierarchy) whose task was basically to make sure the Lich King stayed on task. (The others were, if I recall correctly, Balnazaar, who corrupted the Scarlet Crusade into the Inquisition-like insanity that it embodied, and Varimathras, who "defected" to serve Sylvanas before betraying her during the Wrathgate Incidient.)

The thing is, the Lich King, despite essentially being a soulbound construct created directly by Kil'jaeden, was not at all bound to the will of the Legion the way that he would later bind the Scourge to his own.

We don't really now how all that Fel, demonic magic created the icy power of undeath that the Lich King wielded. If I had to guess, something that Kil'jaeden had not expected factored into the creation of the Lich King. We know from Draenor that Ner'zhul had access to Void Magic - something he turned to in desperation so he could prove himself useful to the Iron Horde. This Void Magic allowed him to raise the dead, which really seems to strongly suggest that it is this power, and perhaps not the demonic powers that Kil'jaeden imbued him with, that he drew upon to become the lord of the undead.

In fact, the relation between the Void and the Fel has kind of been a motif in Tanaan Jungle and Hellfire Citadel. We've seen the Legion employing lots of dark, purple void energy in contrast to its usual green fel fire. To be fair, we've always seen Voidwalkers working with the Burning Legion, but at, I believe last year's Blizzcon, Blizzard stated that, while mechanically a Warlock's VW is a demon, lore-wise, it's actually something different (and the void walkers we see in Shadowmoon Valley are classified as Aberrations.)

I think that Kil'jaeden unleashed something much bigger than he meant to when he created the Lich King. Ner'zhul had become desperate enough to open so many portals that he destroyed Draenor, so you can probably imagine that he had crossed the Void Magic threshold by then.

Mal'ganis made a brief appearance in Northrend - revealing that he had possessed the corpse of the Scarlet Crusade's Grand Admiral to bring about the Scarlet Onslaught. The Scarlet Crusade was always a puppet organization for the Legion. Mal'ganis' colleague Balnazar possessed one of its founding members. To be honest, I actually think that it was a misstep to allow Mal'ganis to show up in Northrend, as Frostmourne should have trapped his soul when Arthas killed him. Still, regardless of that issue, now that Frostmourne has been shattered, Mal'ganis would be free anyway.

The point is, he's at large.

Speaking of those who remain incredibly hard to kill: When level 60 raiders (very few of them, because it was the final raid tier in an era when hardly anyone raided and there was nothing remotely close to a "catch up mechanism,") defeated Kel'thuzad in Naxxramas above the Eastern Plaguelands, they took his Phylactery - the vessel where a Lich keeps his or her soul, allowing him or her to reconstruct a new body without fear of dying. Players took his phylactery to an Argent Dawn priest named Inigo Montoy. However, despite his name being a reference to a very likable character in the Princess Bride, Father Montoy was actually a Cult of the Damned turncoat, and returned the phylactery to the Scourge, getting transformed into a Lich himself as a reward.

This allowed Arthas to have his chief lieutenant return to the field of battle in Wrath of the Lich King, where a revamped Naxxramas served as the primary raid of Wrath's first raid tier (most players didn't mind that it was a repeat, as only a tiny number of people had ever run the original Naxx.)

The thing is, when we defeated Kel'thuzad this time, we did not pick up his phylactery at all. We looted him and buggered off. Subsequently, we did kill Arthas, and while his death led to the crowning of a new Lich King, it was clear that the Scourge had been defeated, even if it wasn't eradicated.

So what, you ask?

Well, in Spires of Arak, we come across Admiral Taylor's garrison and find that it has been wiped out - all of its inhabitants now reduced to ghosts - though we thankfully manage to restore their sanity to them. The massacre of the garrison is the work of Ephial - one of Taylor's lieutenants who came to Draenor as part of the fight against the Iron Horde.

Ephial is clearly a necromancer - when he removes his disguise, he even has the model used by Gothik the Harvester and Heigan the Unclean, which is based on the old WCIII necromancer model. We ultimately kill him (after he turns Taylor into a Lord Marrowgar-style bone construct) but he makes mention of a "master" he is serving, and we never find out who that master is.

To be fair, we don't even know that Ephial was Scourge. He could have been imitating the Scourge, experimenting with necromancy. But the state of the garrison really, strongly implies that Ephial represents a latter-day Scourge effort.

So who could be his master?

Well, Ner'zhul was raising the dead in Shadowmoon Valley. A die-hard (and old-school) Scourge adherent might have a special reverence for Ner'zhul (even though Arthas, clearly the stronger will, consumed Ner'zhul's mind and will when the two of them merged.) Ephial wields a Shadowmoon-style staff, so it's possible that he sees in Ner'zhul a second coming of his liege. On the other hand, there's nothing to suggest that Ephial even met with Ner'zhul B, and the latter didn't seem to have any interest in working with any non-Orc mortals.

Theoretically, he could be working for Mal'ganis. With MG on the loose, and the Legion clearly intent on invading Azeroth big-time, Mal'ganis might have been given the task of attempting to salvage the whole "Scourge Project" that went so wrong when the Lich King rebelled. The Scourge in the hands of the Legion is a particularly dangerous force, as we saw in the Third War. On the other hand, nothing we've seen of Legion suggests any Scourge presence there. The only Wrath elements there are the Vrykul, and it looks like we're specifically seeing them to see what they were like without the Scourge's influence on them.

So my money is on Kel'thuzad. KT was the founder of the Cult of the Damned. He was devoted to the Scourge in life, as well as in death. He had a personal connection to Arthas - yes, Arthas was the one who killed him, but in death, they were actually close friends. Arthas destroyed most of Quel'thalas to bring Kel'thuzad back as a Lich. But I think another very important factor is that, while Kel'thuzad served Arthas when the latter became the Lich King, Kel'thuzad had precedence. It's unclear exactly how much complete mind-control Bolvar has over the Scourge, but one could imagine that some of the Liches and Death Knights have a degree of autonomy, and you can imagine that a lot of those people are upset about Bolvar's "not killing everyone" policies as Lich King.

Kel'thuzad would be a figure that the Scourge's old guard could rally around. To the extent that an undead army needed propaganda, Kel'thuzad was the mind behind their most effective stuff.

Blizzard allowed the Scourge to persist for a reason. It seems inevitable that we'll eventually face them again (though where the venue for this conflict will be is debatable.) The events at Admiral Taylor's garrison served as a harsh reminder that the Scourge continues to be a threat to us. Bolvar is holding the reigns for now, but can he do that forever? Perhaps we've seen the first instance of his grasp beginning to slip.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Analysis of Draenor's Professions

The way that professions worked in Warlords of Draenor is often cited as one of the key failings of the expansion. It certainly has its problems, and I'll outline what I think those problems were, but there were some interesting ideas introduced that were actually quite cool.

Let's start out positive!

Pro: Continued Relevance of Crafted Items

I'm currently sporting ilevel 715 goggles and a 705 shield on my main character. It's really the first time since Burning Crusade that I've actually been able to continue wearing my engineering goggles late into the expansion. Admittedly, transmog softened that blow, but being able to wear plate goggles was one of two huge incentives for me to switch from Blacksmithing to Engineering back in the day (the other being the Flying Machine - both of which were added, I believe, in 2.1.)

Having items you build that can be upgraded (and in the case of weapons and non-goggle armor, that get cooler-looking as you upgrade them) to keep pace with the other sources of gear in the expansion is actually a fantastic idea. One of the problems that has always existed with crafted gear is that it all becomes basically irrelevant after you get into the first raid tier, save for those handful of armor recipes that go to blacksmiths, leatherworkers and tailors. Being able to build upgrade items for all crafted gear incentivized continued work on the professions later on.

Con: Upgrade Items Requiring a Specific Garrison Building

Though it's far less of an issue now, earlier in Warlords you were basically handicapping yourself if you didn't have a level 3 Barn in your garrison, at least on seriously-played alt (I have one on my DK - my Vice Main.) Admittedly this was maybe more a problem with Garrisons than Professions (so many of the buildings were just undeniably better than others. I love the Gnomish Gearworks, but it's never going to compare to the Dwarven Bunker's ability to outfit followers and give me a free seal every week.)

Pro: Easier Catch-Up Mechanics

In past expansions, it was always a pain to take a low-level alt and try to get them all the way up to some old expansion's level cap before you felt comfortable taking them into the next expansion's zones. Being able to start your professional work at a skill of 1, and quickly progress through recipes that granted 10 skill at a time, was a pretty good idea.

Con: Lack of Meaning to Professional Skill Level

Yeah, there's the flipside. There is a benefit to having higher skill in your profession, in that you get more of your daily resource out of each craft, starting at (as of some recent patch... was it 6.1?) 8 and going up to 20. But that just ties it to...

Con: Everything Was Based on Daily Cooldowns

Professions were so time-locked this expansion that you just cannot produce a big batch of items without spending weeks stockpiling materials. Even the professional buildings, which allowed you to produce more of those things, were still based on a "wait until it's done" system. Theoretically you could go grind mobs for Primal Spirits to make more, but the droprate on those compared with how much you could get from the Primal Trader was horrendously low. And on top of that:

Con: Crafting Materials Felt Meaningless and Valueless

Two things conspired to make going out into the world and farming totally worthless. One is that materials were readily available. As convenient as it was to have a mine in my garrison, it put me in a position when leveling up that as soon as I got to like Talador, I basically stopped bothering to actually gather any ore out in the world. Already, I could be sitting on a stack of 200 True Iron and 200 Blackrock and have nothing to do with it because my daily cooldown had been used and my Engineering Works already had a full workload, but on top of that, I had a mine in my garrison that could easily provide more ore than I would ever be able to use in a day.

Con: Creating a Problem to Fit the Solution of Garrisons:

Making Hexweave Cloth requires Gorgrond Flytrap. So when my Warlock got to Shadowmoon Valley and did his little quest to get the blueprints for the Tailor's Emporium and the Draenor Tailoring guide, he basically had to chill out and wait until he got to level 96 so that he could get his Herb Garden. Sure, he could have received stuff from an Herbalist alt or bought some on the auction house, but if the reason for this was to provide an incentive to trade with other players, why give us an Herb Garden in the first place?

Con: Alas, Poor Jewelcrafting

Blizzard's MO is that they tend to overcompensate. Didn't like sitting in Stormwind/Orgrimmar queueing for dungeons in Cataclysm? We'll make dungeons utterly unrewarding and gate Valor rewards behind weeks of rep grinds! Didn't like dailies in early Mists? No more daily quests! (This one being particularly bizarre, as while the 5.0 dailies weren't too popular, people loved the 5.1 ones and I think enjoyed the 5.2 ones.) So another aspect of this was "hate having to reforge around hit and expertise and re-gem to get around those stats as well? Well no more hit/expertise. Plus, no more reforging and you'll have an average of one gem socket at any given time!"

I'm ok with their getting rid of reforging, even if I think that the removal of hit and expertise and the elimination of haste breakpoints removed the biggest problem the feature had, but the slimming down of gem sockets has really taken the heart out of Jewelcrafting as a profession. Sure, they can create necklaces and rings that can be upgraded, but that makes the profession feel like a watered-down version of the armor-crafting professions.

The Score: Pro: 2, Con: 6

Yeah, that's a whole lot more in the "con" column than the "pro" one, and this isn't a totally definitive list (I'd include the RNG of crafted gear's secondary stats as another con, but that was a problem in Mists of Pandaria as well.)

Blizzard has said that they are putting more people to work on professions than every before, which hopefully means that they'll make it more engaging and rewarding. I will say that I applaud the experimentation done with professions this expansion - we did get a couple of really good ideas out of it - but I also hope that we see a very different version of them in Legion.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Problems to Deal WIth for Frost Death Knights and their Legion Rotation

I realize that I've probably made two or three posts already about the future of Death Knights' ghoul-less DPS spec, but, hell, it's been on my mind.

While Fury Warriors are eagerly awaiting news of their artifact weapons and speculating on whether Titan's Grip or Single-Minded Fury winds up getting enshrined (and there's a good argument on Blizzard Watch for Titan's Grip, even if I disagree with the "power arguments" because I think they should start with the feel of a spec and then balance that accordingly,) this isn't quite the same as the implications for Frost. While Fury basically plays the same regardless of your weapon choice (you might get more Sudden Death procs in SMF,) Frost takes the same abilities but puts them in an entirely different priority. For two-handed, you focus on massive Obliterate crits while pretty much only using Howling Blast when you get the proc-formerly-known-as-Rime or need to do fast-paced "Swarm AoE." Dual-Wield practically flips this, making Howling Blast your main ability while only hitting Obliterate when you have absolutely nothing to do with your Unholy runes. Dual-Wield does try to use Frost Strike instead of Obliterate on Killing Machine, but at least in my early phases of exploring the playstyle, Killing Machine starts to feel like more of a bonus than something you need to carefully watch to maximize your DPS.

So let's start there:

Killing Machine Needs a Change or Needs to Get Replaced With Something More Interesting:

Right now, what's clever about Killing Machine is the way that it works differently for the two playstyles. Because 2H gets a big buff to Obliterate, you want to make sure you use KM procs on that. DW, by contrast, gets a buff to Frost Strike, so you want to use KM on that. Essentially, the preferred strike for one style is the "wasted" strike for the other.

That becomes a lot less interesting when there's only one playstyle. If using it on Obliterate is always a waste, people will call (reasonably,) that Obliterate's half of Killing Machine be removed. Of course, then what the proc winds up being is just the occasional guaranteed crit for one of your abilities, which is hardly interactive.

Granted, a proc doesn't have to be waste-able for it to be interesting. The other kind of Frost (Mages) has plenty of procs, and these make the spec a fun game of managing your instant-cast spells, but unless you aren't quick enough on the draw (or if your Frozen Orb is going nuts on a big group of adds,) you don't really waste the procs. Still, with Frost, the spec's whole gameplay is built around responding to procs, whereas Frost DKs already have the inherent challenge of maximizing the efficient use of the Rune system as part of their gameplay. Frost Mages' rotations get pleasantly interrupted by Fingers of Frost and Brain Freeze, whereas this hypothetical version of Killing Machine would probably not change the way anyone played.

There's also the issue that Killing Machine naturally devalues crit. Sure, that's far from unique to Death Knights, but it does mean that every bit of crit on your gear starts to look a bit disappointing.

Right now I think what's interesting in 2H Frost is the balance of wanting to hit Obliterate as often as possible (to generate Runic Power for Frost Strike and thus feed that back into level 60 talents to regenerate Runes,) but also to save a pair of runes in case Killing Machine comes up.

One could imagine that what Killing Machine does instead is to make Obliterate deal pure Frost Damage, rather than Physical Damage. It could also buff the strength of the attack a bit, though if the mastery stays the same, that would happen anyway.

On the other hand, this has that same problem of a kind of passive bonus to the rotation, rather than something interactive. You could make it waste-able on Frost Strike, but then we're pretty much back to square one.

Howling Blast Confuses Single-Target with AoE Rotations:

One of the things that inflates DW Frost's damage in any kind of cleave/AoE rotation is that they constantly spam Howling Blast. Howling Blast is a wonderful ability - it feels good and flavorful, and it has the one-two punch of hitting a bunch of targets for a bunch of Frost damage as well as afflicting them with Frost Fever for the next 30 seconds. While getting Blood Plague up requires a bit more finagling, spamming Howling Blast can result in some terrifically large numbers in AoE situations (and if you go with Necrotic Plague, it's easy to stack the plague up quickly and re-apply it swiftly to go along with the bonus of not having to worry about Blood Plague anymore.)

I'm fine with Frost's AoE rotation being heavy on Howling Blast. But I think a spec's rotation should differ at least somewhat between Single-Target and AoE. At the moment, if there is a difference for DW Frost, it's a very subtle one. So why has it devolved into this?

Mastery: Frozen Heart and Obliterate Do Not Get Along:

The two Death Knight DPS masteries are very similar and simple. Frost's boosts Frost Damage, Unholy's boosts Shadow Damage. But given that DW Frost already favors Frost Strike for Killing Machine, plus the (arguably more important) fact that DW Frost has room for a weapon to be inscribed with Rune of Razorice (which both adds a Frost damage component to auto attacks and also further boosts Frost Damage done,) DW basically has to shoehorn in as much Frost Damage as possible, which is why Howling Blast starts taking over for Obliterate.

I wish they had followed through with the original plans during the Warlords Beta to give 2H Frost their own special Rune (reworking Cinderglacier, which is now off in the spellbook in the sky with Sentry Totem and Mana Burn.) Frankly, I think Fallen Crusader should be Unholy only, or eliminated entirely with Unholy getting its own equally powerful but more spec-synergetic Rune. As it stands, there was nothing they could give to 2H specifically to counterbalance Razorice.

I would argue that Obliterate is a Death Knight's most iconic attack (it shares an icon with the Class Symbol in character creation,) and with such a name, it deserves to be something that Death Knights see high on their individual damage meters. It deserves to be an attack that one is excited to make - something that it definitely is not in the DW rotation these days.

So either Obliterate's got to become a Frost attack or get a Frost component (which kind of steps on the toes of Unholy's Scourge Strike,) or Frozen Heart has got to be reworked to stop penalizing the use of Obliterate.

Stay Frosty Out There:

So those are the three big issues. That might not be a lot, but these are all at the very heart of the spec, and if Blizzard chooses to address them, rather than simply enshrining the existing DW playstyle, it will mean enormous changes for Frost Death Knights.

I suspect we won't really know for sure what they intend to do with the spec until Blizzcon at the earliest, or more likely the Legion beta (I'm assuming that Blizzcon will come first.)

Stormheim and the Expansion of Vrykul Lore

I had been pretty sure that the Vrykul were more or less a one-expansion phenomenon, like the Tol'vir or the myriad Pandarian races. I always liked the Vrykul, and in retrospect thought it was cool how they incorporated the Norse myth of the Draugar (Vikings thought that burying a person standing up would cause them to come back from the dead as an evil monster - look down into the big well-like structures under Gjaelerhorn in Howling Fjord and you'll see what I mean) into the larger ranks of the Scourge. (You'll also see a bunch of these in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.)

It was the Vrykul who also clued us into the fact that Warcraft's humans can trace their descent directly to the creations of the Titans. In fact, while Dwarves only recently discovered the existence of the Titans in the past couple decades, Vrykul who we didn't kill (or re-kill) in our war with the Scourge would probably remember a time when Titan-worship was their primary religion.

We don't know exactly when the Vrykul put themselves into stasis - places like Utgarde Keep and Jotunheim were abandoned ruins until the Scourge started re-awakening the Vrykul and convincing them that the Lich King was an all-powerful Death God (and don't get me started on the fact that the Lich King was a "death god" with Yogg-Saron, the Old God of Death as his next-door neighbor.)

What we saw of Vrykul culture was twisted, though one gets the impression that the Scourge capitalized on existing culture rather than creating all new ideas (during the Death Knight starting experience, but sadly not after, there's a book you can read in Acherus where Kel'thuzad lays out the Scourge's philosophy - essentially that they don't bother coming up with their own new culture, but instead appropriate that of existing cultures, which is why so much of their architecture has the Nerubians' quasi-Egyptian feel. In fact, all the skulls and "obviously evil" motifs they use are actually practical, intended to intimidate and demoralize their enemies.)

Warrior pride is clearly a big thing, and they have ritualized fights to prove themselves valorous. In Wrath of the Lich King, these battles were officiated by the Val'kyr and determined who got to be the super-powered (and physically intact) Ymirjar, and who would be doomed to a broken existence as a Var'gul drudge.

What we've heard about Stormheim in Legion is that Val'kyr were not some invention of the Scourge. Instead, these beings have been a part of the Vrykul spiritual world long, long before the Scourge ever existed.

The two dungeons in Stormheim will be the Hall of Valor and Helheim. Each of these will apparently explain, or at least feature, two very important Vrykul off-shoots that we saw in Wrath without much explanation.

The Val'kyr are psychopomps - ethereal beings who transport the souls of the dead - much like their real-world Norse myth counterparts, the Valkyries. The Hall of Valor is a pretty direct analogue for Valhalla, the place the Vikings believed those who died gloriously in battle would go after death.

A couple interesting things here. First is that humans in Warcraft don't seem to have any equivalent here. Indeed, human religion in Warcraft is pretty free-form. They believe in the Light, which is a maybe-conscious force of just plain goodness, and that good people will go to the Light when they die, but without much in the way of specifics. The Hall of Valor, I'd guess, is outside of the physical realm, but I wonder if that means it had to be made by the Titans (much like the Emerald Dream and the Elemental Planes.)

On the flipside, there's Helheim, and it's here that we finally seem to get an explanation for what the Kvaldir are. In Norse mythology, Hel (much like the Greek Hades, both the name of the location and Goddess who presides over it,) is somewhat different from the Christian version of Hell, in that it's kind of a neutral place (I suppose equivalent to Limbo.) Of course, given that there was a lot of influence from the spreading Christian religion when a lot of what we know about Norse religion was being written, there was some ambiguity on exactly how bad or not Hel was.

For the Vrykul, it looks like Helheim is definitely the bad kind of afterlife, though unlike the classic fiery cave, Helheim appears that it will be a stormy sea that we'll sail on the Ship of the Dead. And it looks like the wicked, or at least unworthy souls who wind up here are transformed into the Kvaldir.

So not only was Northrend overrun by the Army of the Dead, it was also apparently being assaulted by the Marine Corps of the Damned.

What's interesting is that in Vashj'ir, we discovered that the Naga had recently defeated the local Kvaldir with the help of the Faceless Ones, furthering their successful capture of Neptulon, the Elemental Lord of Water. The Kvaldir served Neptulon.

It's possible that Neptulon had managed to acquire their services somehow, but I actually wonder if perhaps there's a deeper connection there.

The biggest candidates for totally first beings on Azeroth are the Elementals. The timeline I've always found most convincing is that the Titans found Azeroth and locked away the Elemental Lords in the various Elemental Planes (I'd guess that every planet in the Warcraft universe has its own Elemental Lords.) The Titans left, the Old Gods arrived and broke the Elemental Lords out - chaos reigned. The Titans came back, locked up the Elementals again and defeated the Old Gods, locking them up and appearing to be "usurpers" to those civilizations who arose after the Old Gods had come, and thus thought the Old Gods to be the original deities of the planet.

So I wonder, then, if Helheim is not, in fact, its own plane of existence. Rather, it's instead a part of the Abyssal Maw. Those Vrykul who did not prove themselves worthy enough to enter the Halls of Valor (and for now I'm going to set aside the notion that the Halls could be in Skywall) would be cast away, bound to eternal service in the name of the Tidehunter.

Whether this was intended by the Titans or, more likely not, doesn't really need to be answered. But given Neptulon's current status as Azshara's captive, one could see how Helheim would be thrown into disarray now that the Queen of the Naga is making a move.

I really can't wait to find out more about these places.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Keeping Dungeons Relevant

Blizzard explicitly stated in their preview for Legion that they felt dungeons had "been done a disservice," and that they intended for 5-player content to be relevant throughout the expansion. That said, we don't really know what they're going to do to ensure that.

In Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor, one moved pretty quickly from running heroic dungeons to fighting through the expansions' raids. Players with organized raiding guilds would go on to Normal, Heroic, or for the very serious, Mythic raids, while most players would go into the Raid Finder, doing simpler versions of the raids but with a decent expectation that they would be able to complete the wing they were in (Warlords managed this a bit better - some of Mists' Raid Finder wings demanded more than you could probably expect from a group of 25 strangers, while Warlords dialed things down to the extent that only a handful of bosses were wipefests, and after a couple weeks, most players could execute these fights without too much trouble.)

Before Raid Finder, there was much more of a focus on dungeons. There were certainly lots of people raiding Icecrown Citadel (even pugging it, at least the first half or so,) but the basic expectation was that a player might bring his or her main character into the raid, but would probably leave alts entirely in the realm of dungeons, or possibly dailies.

In fact, turning the clock even farther back, the entire idea of what would become Valor/Justice points started in Burning Crusade, where until a later patch, Badges of Justice were awarded only in heroic dungeons, explicitly as a way to let running dungeons be an endgame alternative to raiding.

Wrath and Cataclysm had multiple dungeons come out after the expansion's launch. Wrath had Trial of the Champion in 3.2 and the three Frozen Halls dungeons in 3.3. Cataclysm had the two Zul raids transformed into level 85 dungeons in 4.1 and then the three "Hour of Twilight" dungeons in 4.3 that, much like the Frozen Halls, could be run as a single, extra long dungeon if you decided you wanted to do it that way.

These new additions helped with an issue that, admittedly, was most relevant in Wrath, which was that people kept running the old dungeons long after they had far, far outgeared them. (To be fair, this had been the case in BC as well, with groups farming Karazhan for Badges once they began to drop there.)

Was this a problem?

Honestly, I don't think it was. I think that 3.3's popularity (this was the high watermark era for World of Warcraft, and even if it technically peaked around the launch of Cataclysm, it was the good will that Wrath had bought that buoyed the game to such heights) implies it wasn't actually a serious issue. We could buy our entire tier 10 sets (item level 251) and several pieces of 264-level gear (equivalent to 10-player heroic or 25-player normal ICC loot,) by slowing earning Emblems of Frost with our daily dungeon runs. It was far faster to actually run the raid, and you could acquire more significant pieces of gear like weapons that way, but you had an alternative for decent, if not the best, gear out of the latter-day additions to the dungeon options.

The sole problem with this is that it made some older content feel irrelevant - that running Trial of the Crusader felt pretty pointless when you could get equivalent gear through much faster dungeons that had only a daily, rather than a weekly lockout.

But I think that in this era of Raid Finder, that problem is no longer relevant. People who play regularly are going to see every raid while it's current (even with Highmaul as a half-tier that was technically linked with Blackrock Foundry, it was very easy to have completed it on LFR before BRF came out.)

There were also concerns that the reward for running these dungeons was disproportionately good for the effort put in. By the end of Wrath, places like Utgarde Pinnacle could be cleared in about ten minutes (contrary to popular belief, the Wrath dungeons weren't actually super easy when the expansion came out. They were roughly on par with the Warlords ones, but most peoples' most recent memory of the outside of Timewalkers is when we were all geared in equipment from the equivalent raid after the raid after Hellfire Citadel.)

That's valid, though again, I didn't mind it. Despite the ease of dungeons, people were more motivated than ever to step into raiding. PUGs were going into ICC Normal all the time. My theory is that the relative lower stakes of dungeons allowed people to build up confidence. By the simple virtue of being in a smaller group, there's less anonymity and more personal responsibility. Yes, there were some profoundly dickish people playing then, but when you could chain pull through Heroic Nexus, and you had your tier 10 set all ready, you could feel pretty confident that you wouldn't utterly embarrass yourself if you went into ICC.

One of the issues with the raiding scene is that it's easy for a character to fall behind. There are catch-up mechanisms in place, sure, but Blizzard has focused those more and more toward luck-based rolls (I've wasted about 60k Apexis Crystals on Baleful Armaments to switch my Frost DK over to dual-wield and keep getting two-handers) and focusing almost entirely on raiding as the means to get gear (Tanaan Jungle was a step in the right direction, but see above about RNG woes.)

So how do we solve this?

Rewarding Heroics:

Blizzard tried, kind of limply, to turn heroic dungeons and LFR into separate progression paths. The idea was that if you just intended to do LFR, you could simply run normal level-cap dungeons and then move onto LFR, and likewise you could simply run heroic dungeons and step into Normal raiding from there.

Two big problems, though. The first is that, once again, dungeons were merely a stepping stone. And while that was arguably the case even in the ICC days, ICC was the final raid of a four-raid tier expansion. In Warlords, they were basically irrelevant - even for players catching up - halfway through the first raid tier (of two.) After my first two characters to level 100, I really only ran Bloodmaul Slag Mines, Grimrail Depot, Everbloom, and Auchindoun, each, once, at heroic solely to get the 680 upgrade to the Legendary Ring.

The other is that gear acquired in LFR was strictly better than that in dungeons. If you were in a raid group that was pushing slowly through the early raids, there was absolutely no reason not to do LFR each week to get the clearly-better items that would help you during the type of raiding you actually wanted to do.

So the solution to this latter problem is simple: Make the launch heroics drop the same quality loot as the launch raid's LFR. "Serious" raiders will be able to truly be ready for Normal mode, while those who eschew heroics will go, appropriately, to LFR as a source for gear.

But this has to be dynamic to keep things relevant. How?

One solution is to simply release new dungeons with each raid tier. I'd love this as a solution, but with a caveat. In Cataclysm, we had nine dungeons at launch, but as soon as 4.1 came out, it was basically a waste of time to do anything but Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub. Rather than increasing the diversity of the experience, the 5-player game slimmed down to a mere two (rather brutal) dungeons.

While these new dungeons should be harder and expect higher gear (and should only show up in the random queue for those with higher gear,) there needs to be something in the older dungeons that retains relevance.

And that's why we had Justice and Valor Points.

So honestly, my suggestions here are pretty simple - essentially to implement a mixture of the Justice/Valor system of Cataclysm with the ever-widening selection of dungeons in Wrath (and not penalizing those who by chance got one of the older dungeons, except in the quality of gear the bosses drop.)

I really think all of this stems from Blizzard's use of LFR. LFR solved a problem for them, but I think they misjudged which one. Rather than providing a replacement for the old dungeon-based gameplay of the game, LFR's true value is that it allows everyone to see the raid content while it's relevant.

I suspect we wont' be seeing any additional significant news about Legion until Blizzcon, but I hope that they do hold to their goal of making dungeons relevant again. I'll be curious to see how (or, for pessimists, "if") they manage to do it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why is the Legion So Bent On Azeroth?

The upcoming Legion expansion will, canonically, be the largest invasion by the Burning Legion of Azeroth ever. By my count, the Legion has launched or attempted to launch full-scale invasions three times - the War of the Ancients, the Third War, the invasion at the Sunwell, with this making four.

The Legion destroys worlds all the time. It's what they do. The Draenei, in their flight from the Legion, inadvertently left a trail of fel-burnt cinders behind them. In fact, according to the Legion announcement, Azeroth is the only world that we know of that hasn't fallen to the Legion (in our universe, at least - Draenor B narrowly avoided that. Good luck guys!)

So it could be a simple explanation - the project called "Azeroth" has simply taken longer than expected, and the Legion is attempting a fourth time to finish the job.

But that's kind of boring, so perhaps there's something else about Azeroth - a special quality that makes it of special interest to the Burning Legion and Sargeras.

Theory One: Bad Azeroth and Sargeras, Working as Intended

Sargeras' job when he was part of the Pantheon was the monster-hunter. The nature of the Titans remains highly mysterious, but it's been suggested that even though they can effectively create gods, they're not technically divine. Rather, the Titans seem to be a people - a civilization - so advanced that the difference between magic and technology has basically disappeared.

The Titans went around the universe, trying to make it a nicer place - they "brought order" to the universe. While just how involved they got has been a bit unknown, it sounds as if they really took a strong hand in creating things - literally shaping mountains and oceans and breeding new life to inhabit these worlds.

But the Titans weren't alone, and there were monsters out there, including demons. So one of the top Titans was given the job of hunting down these demons and locking them away (interestingly, they actually employed demons as well - using the Eredruin, aka Doomguards, to hunt down mortals who were using sacrificial magic.

Of course, we still don't know exactly what demons are, fundamentally, but it sounds like many, if not most, or even possibly all demons began as mortal races who were then infused with fel magic. The Man'ari Eredar went through this, as well as the Satyrs (former Night Elves,) and one gets the distinct impression that the Legion's endgame regarding Orcs was to do the same with them eventually.

Anyway, demons weren't the only thing that the Titans encountered that posed a threat to their creations. The other was the Old Gods. As of yet, while Harbinger Skyriss in the Arcatraz (someone you can see a lot more frequently now thanks to Timewalker dungeons) claims that they "span the universe, countless as the stars," as of yet they seem to be primarily an Azerothian problem. (In fairness, we've really only been to Azeroth and Draenor, and they might have just been undiscovered in the latter.)

Sargeras' job is to destroy monsters. But unlike demons, who are inherently apart from the worlds they invade (they don't even really go there themselves, sending avatar-like bodies that are relatively disposable) the Old Gods work their way into these worlds to become inextricably linked to them. We finally managed to scrub the residue of Y'shaarj out of Pandaria, but we haven't gotten an official confirmation that the Sha are totally, completely gone. For all we know, the essence of the Sha remains within the people of the land.

But even if the Sha have been eradicated forever, the Titans clearly gave up on getting rid of them. The conclusion that the Titans came to - regardless of whether it was strictly true - was that the Old Gods couldn't be killed without ruining Azeroth, and so the Titans decided to just lock them away and contain the infection while proceeding with the rest of the plans to make the world nice and orderly - essentially discovering a problem and kind of patching it up, rather than scrapping the whole thing and starting over (but leaving Uldum as the big "abort" button just in case.)

As monster-hunter-in-chief, Sargeras might have found that solution unsatisfying.

So we could actually give Sargeras some credit. He might think he's doing the right thing - purging the universe of the great evil of the Old Gods. It's just that he believes that the only way to be sure is to fry every planet with organic life on it. He's willing to employ demons because he knows how to lock them up or, potentially, eradicate them once he's done with his Burning Crusade.

This would make Sargeras less pure evil, but more of an extremist so obsessed with fulfilling his objective that he winds up doing something far worse. In fact, this almost fits in with the kind of quasi-robotic nature of Titanic creations. If Sargeras was built, rather than born (or rather than having arisen from the cosmic eternity,) perhaps he's just doing his job far too well.

Theory Two: The Final Titan

But the previous point would be a pretty serious retcon of what we know of Sargeras. The official story has been, for years, that Sargeras decided that evil outnumbered good, and this clearly meant that the universe was supposed to be chaotic and evil, and that the Titans were just struggling against the natural state of the universe. Maybe he read a bunch of Nietzche.

He blasted the planet Mar'duun to pieces and freed all the demons he had spent Light-knows-how-many years locking up there and basically said "do your thing, but under my direction," and started burning worlds throughout the universe - maybe picking up and corrupting/converting useful species he found along the way (if the Annihilan - aka Pit Lords - were originally mortals, I wonder what they looked like before they were demons.)

The obvious question here is what the hell the rest of the Titans were doing during all of this. The Titans were a whole race. The Pantheon was basically their governing body. Sargeras might have been the strongest fighter, but he was highly outnumbered.

We do know that the Titans continued to exist after Sargeras' turn. His former lieutenant, Aggramar, basically took up his old job.

But the Titans have been silent for ages, and we've never heard of the Titans stopping the Legion. It stands to reason that the first target Sargeras would have gone after was the Pantheon, and even if he didn't eliminate it entirely, it could be in a far weakened state.

Regardless of the Titans' current status, the loss of Sargeras was probably a huge blow to them.

During the Mists of Pandaria legendary chain (which I don't think you can actually start anymore,) Wrathion has you bring him the Heart of Lei Shen. Not only was the Thunder King a former Titan construct, he also, oddly enough, had stolen the heart of Ra-Den (being unaffected by the Curse of Flesh, Ra-Den survived this.) When Wrathion (who, we must remember, was kind of Frankensteined together by Titan technology,) ate the heart of Lei Shen, he went into a really, really weird trance.

Speaking in a slowed, odd voice, he said "We have fallen. We must rebuild the final titan." We haven't gotten any clarification on this, and Wrathion notes that the memories that had come to him during this process faded almost instantly.

But this could be the key to understanding the origins of Azeroth (something we've been told we'll discover in the new Violet Hold dungeon.) There's a lot to unpack here.

First off: "We Have Fallen." Could this be the Pantheon itself? It certainly does not bode well. At the very least, it means that someone, probably Titan or titan-affiliated, has fallen. Perhaps this is something as innocuous as the Curse of Flesh (real innocuous, I know.)

The second part is, I think, bigger. "We must rebuild the final titan." Ok: rebuild is kind of interesting, suggesting that Titans are built, not born or... eternal. But also rebuild, which suggests that the Final Titan had been built already, but was somehow dismantled.

Perhaps Azeroth was made to be the birthing ground of this Final Titan, and maybe the infestation of the Old Gods, or perhaps the Sundering, ruined the work that had been done, and the Titans are now scrambling to make up for the lost time.

Then there's that word "Final." What the hell does that mean? The "Final Titan" could imply a couple of things. Are the Titans an incomplete set - perhaps set to the task by their creators to build themselves into existence? Or are the Titans dying out, and this is a last ditch attempt to save their species.

In any case, if Sargeras had decided that his own people are what's wrong with the universe, he might be obsessed with killing this potential Titan (and potential rival) before she can emerge from Azeroth. This could be the most universe-shattering case of sibling rivalry ever.

It seems highly possible that the Well of Eternity was some kind of power source for this Final Titan's creation. All of the previous Legion invasions involved the Well somehow. The original war was fought around the original Well. The Third War set its sights on Nordrassil, the tree that had soaked up the waters of the new Well created by Illidan. The invasion during Burning Crusade involved the Sunwell, which was similarly created using the waters of the Well of Eternity.

And though this invasion seems centered around the Tomb of Sargeras, we do know that there's a "Nightwell," in Suramar City that could very well be a pre-corrupted Well derivative.

I'm eager to see what the Legion's true motivations are. As easy as it is to think of demons just going full-on chaotic evil, it's far more exciting to deal with a foe that is trying to accomplish something specific.

Black Gate LFR Tank Impressions

Well, here we are. The Black Gate is the final raid wing of Warlords of Draenor, in which we face off against Archimonde the Defiler, the right hand of Sargeras. I got in on a group that had four determination stacks already, so I don't know if there is any trash here (I get the impression that it's a "no.")

There is a ton of stuff going on in this fight, but maybe it was the determination stacks, or maybe it's just actually suitably scaled down for LFR, but it's not too hard as long as you actually pay attention to the mechanics (of which there are many.)

There are four phases, if I counted them right.

Phase One:

Archimonde's tank-swap mechanic is kind of interesting, in that he doesn't actually do it. Instead, he summons a doomguard (a something something deathcaller) that fixates on the current tank and stacks up a nasty debuff. I actually think you can tank-swap this add, but we were killing it so fast that we never really had to. In fact, if you can down these guys quickly enough, the tank who has it will lose his or her debuff before the next one is summoned, so you can actually have one tank on Archimonde until phase 3 (but I don't recommend it.)

Archimonde will also call a bunch of fel flame to cover the ground, which I believe is spawned by these spheres of fire that need to die. DPS is going to focus a lot on killing adds here, but as a tank, you basically just want to move the boss out of the fire for the sake of your melee.

Phase Two:

I believe this phase is pretty much the same, except that he'll start summoning these fel-rock spires that I think break line of sight and do nasty damage to those that they hit. Yrel will shatter these and create these light spheres that give a buff that prevents all shadow damage.

The big tanking responsibility here is to deal with streaming adds that come in through the Black Gate. If you're not tanking the boss (or hell, if you are,) toss some aoe at those guys and pick them up to keep them off your DPS and Heals. You'll still have to deal with the deathcallers and the fire.

Phase Three:

Here's where things can get tricky. The adds stop streaming in from the Gate, but the current tank will occasionally get debuffed with a Nether Portal. Basically, they get a big green circle around them, and after a few seconds, anyone in that circle (so automatically the tank) gets sucked into the Twisting Nether.

If your raid is full of tunnel-visioners, just run into the biggest crowd of people to bring with you. If they're on top of their games, they'll run to you. Make sure you get at least one healer and maybe three DPS.

While inside, you'll take more and more damage from everything in there. You'll be on a kind of modern-graphics Netherstorm-like rock surface, and there will be a big Voidwalker you have to fight. It has a spell that needs to be interrupted. There will also be Void Stars that fixate on random people and need to be killed before they get to them (I think they have rather low health.) If one of these goes off (I'm not sure with,) you'll get knocked way back off the platform, out of range of any battle rezes. This is a really solid way to wipe the raid. Lastly, in the Nether, there will be little green circles that you should not stand in.

I believe DPS has to deal with some kind of chain-soul-thing mechanic, but I really couldn't tell you much about that.

Phase Four:

Finally, Archimonde will do his signature move and start a Rain of Chaos, dropping those fancy new Infernals everywhere, leaving fire on the ground and, you know, being adds that need to be killed. These adds need to go down quickly, as they'll heal other within their vicinity. If you have multiples up, you'll probably need to tank them separately. Archimonde will continue to do his Nether portals thing (when we beat him, the other tank was dead and I was in the Twisting Nether.) But this is the major burn phase, and is probably when you want to use Heroism/Blood Lust/variants thereof.

Overall it's actually a pretty cool fight (the Twisting Nether area is really cool, and kind of makes up for the fact that tanks never got to see the inside of Frostmourne on Lich King.) This is certainly one of those fights where it's going to be a slog until people finally learn the mechanics, but hey, we beat Warlords of Draenor! Hooray!

Now someone explain to me when exactly Grommash apologized for all the crap he pulled earlier in the expansion.

Ideas for Further Race/Class Combination Expansions

Cataclsym did something unprecedented and unrepeated in WoW's history - it gave existing classes to existing races that had not previously been able to play as them. When I first started playing the game, I rolled a human Paladin (the first incarnation of my main, though I did it on the wrong server and only got him to level 7.) When I realized that my college roommate (who had introduced me to the game) was going to be playing mainly Horde, I looked at the Horde races and liked the look of the Tauren. Sadly, no Paladin option for them - in fact, no Paladin option for Horde at all, as this was still during classic WoW. So I rolled a Shaman who is still with me today (kind of my secondary Horde character, though he's sometimes jockeyed with the Undead Rogue for Horde Main status.)

Of course, these days, you can totally roll a Tauren Paladin. (In fact I did - he was the first character I took through the Cataclysm revamp of the old world in the weeks between the revamp and the expansion launch.)

Back before Cataclysm, some races had very limited options. Tauren and Gnomes could each only be one of four classes until Death Knights made it five. You could never see a Gnome healer nor a Tauren wearing cloth armor (well, they could wear it, they just shouldn't have been.)

The expansion of race/class combos was a great thing for the game. One of the big reasons it was so good is that we were finally in a place where you always had an option when choosing a race for each existing class within a faction. In BC and Wrath, Horde players who wanted to be Paladins could only play as Blood Elves, and Alliance players who wanted to be Shamans had to play as Draenei. And from all the way back in vanilla, Alliance Druids were all Night Elves and Horde Druids were all Tauren.

Cataclysm, then, gave us Tauren Paladins, Dwarf Shamans, Troll Druids, and Worgen Druids. Obviously, Worgen Druids were easily implemented given that they were a new playable race, but we got some expansion of the lore of these existing races. Some required more detailed explanations (there was a little scene that Horde players could see in Thunder Bluff in late Wrath where a druid and a warrior discussed how their form of druidism, learned from Night Elves, focused too much on the moon and not enough on the sun - and those two would become the first Tauren Paladin and Priest,) while some were pretty straightforward (Wildhammer Dwarves = Shamanistic society.)

So, could these classes expand further? At this point, it might not be necessary, given that, with the exception of the not-yet-implemented Demon Hunters, every class has some decent options, and every race has multiple options for tanking and healing. But if we were to expand the classes, to which races would they go?


Ok, this can't actually expand, as it's available to everyone. I actually kind of liked that Blood Elves couldn't be Warriors before Cataclysm, as it kind of fit with their snobby attitudes, but oh well.

Death Knight:

The only place to go here is Pandaren. There is an NPC Pandaren Death Knight that you can get as a follower from the inn, but the general idea is that the Pandaren weren't really present in Scourge-infested lands. Still, the Wandering Isle Pandaren were supposed to be a bit more cosmopolitan than their mainland distant cousins. Chen certainly got out in the world, so it's actually not that much of a stretch to imagine that some of these guys could have been raised by the Scourge. Still, while you could do it, it's probably not terrible that DKs aren't available for absolutely everyone.


Undead Paladins would either be awesome or infuriating, depending on how hard they work to justify it. Sylvanas has worked hard to turn the Forsaken into an entirely new type of society (one that conveniently reveres her as a god-like figure,) but fundamentally the Forsaken are humans of Lordaeron, and Lordaeron totally had plenty of Paladins. The Light does physically hurt the Forsaken (it can heal them, but it's painful, like cauterizing a wound,) but if anyone would be willing to bear the pain, it'd be Paladins. You could argue that being undead cut them off from the Light the same way that the Broken Draenei were, and I'd totally buy that except that there are definitely Undead Priests (unless you want to argue that they're all canonically Shadow Priests.) Undead Paladins are not something you could brush off - you'd have to work hard to justify it in lore, perhaps as a kind of dissenting faction who aren't so happy about the way that Sylvanas is running things.


I could actually imagine Human Shamans becoming a thing. The reason is that, when in Northrend, we discovered that humanity on Azeroth is descended from the Vrykul. The Vrykul have shamans, and are much more deeply connected to the Titans and the land, so Humans who want to explore their place within the primal forces of Azeroth could maybe work for this class.


The only option left here is Gnomes, but that actually works pretty well. Gnomes are engineers, and they make guns. We see Gnomes wielding guns all the time. Let the Gnomes shoot the guns!


While having hooves is going to make sneaking around tough, we have precedence for Draenei Rogues. The Rangari, while primarily Hunters, also have a number of Rogues in their ranks, and after becoming Broken, Akama definitely took on some distinctly Rogue-like qualities. Plus, Draenei look really cool in stealth.


The options here are just Worgen and Goblins. While it worked pretty well at the moment, it probably wasn't such a good idea to have their starting experience set at a specific time, because it basically makes it very difficult to justify any other classes being made available to them. I'd love to see a Goblin Monk, just aesthetically, but this might be unreasonable to pull off.


Druids have the extra problem of needing more art assets - and I wonder how much more complicated that's going to be with artifact weapons, unless every artifact variation applies to all races. Horde-side, I could see Blood Elves trying to connect with their ancient roots. Yes, they're not descended from the Malfurion-style Night Elves, but presumably the Ancients played a role in their society before the War of the Ancients. Alliance-side, I'd really just like to see Draenei druids because there's a clear animal theme you could use with them - face tentacles and horns! Lastly, I could actually totally get behind Pandaren Druids, as they already worship the Celestials, which are just Pandaria's local Ancients.

Demon Hunter:

This is a bit early, to be fair. As much as I'd love Worgen Demon Hunters (seriously, I've been wanting that for years,) given the backstory they came up with for the playable hero class, the only alternate options I can really think of that are justified are Orcs and Draenei. The Illidari were mostly Elves, but Illidan had the Fel Horde and the Ashtongue Deathsworn working with him. The latter is trickier, as they were all Broken, but you could easily come up with some justification that Illidan found a way to reverse that process using dangerous Fel magic.


Most of the oddly-missing Warlock races were quietly added in Cataclysm, so this one's tough. Draenei Warlocks would be a huge taboo, as, probably, would Night Elf ones (also, it seems like if a Night Elf is going to dabble in Demonic Magic, they're just going to be a Demon Hunter - though you could argue that this justifies Night Elf Warlocks - if they can be Demon Hunters, why not Warlocks?) Finally, the Tauren just don't seem to have any real connection to that style of magic. So, much like Undead Paladins, you'd have to work pretty hard to justify any of these.


Wait, who can't be Mages these days? Tauren? Just Tauren? Ok, Mages don't really need any more races. The Tauren have a much more spiritual way of looking at magic, while Mages are kind of strictly intellectual (or at most, hot-headed emotional.)


Likewise, really just one option here, which are Orcs. The Orcs don't really have any history of Light-based worship or really any of that kind of celestial sense of what is Holy. You could maybe slip in there, using the shadowy side of the Priest to make them all Twilight's Hammer-but-not-insane types. Still, like the other classes available to all but one race, they're probably fine as it is.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Legion's Final Boss

WoW's earlier expansions really built themselves around the clear final boss. Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm head a real headlining villain, and much of the expansion was built out from there.

Now, I'm sure you notice a problem here: Illidan Stormrage was not the final boss of Burning Crusade.

Blizzard has gone back and forth on just how much the Sunwell Plateau was built into the concept of BC from the start, and how much of it was created to deal with a massive content drought. You see, Burning Crusade launched with way more content than you'd typically expect from an expansion's X.0 release. It was the first expansion, of course, and I think at the time they expected that they'd try to get as much content out in the beginning and be able to use the time after launch to work on the next one.

The weird consequence here was that tiers 4 (Karazhan, Gruul's Lair and Magtheridon's Lair) and tier 5 (Serpentshrine Cavern, the Tempest Keep raid) both came out simultaneously, with the launch of the expansion. Black Temple and the Mount Hyjal raid both came out not too long afterward, in 2.1. Given that there was nothing like LFR and in fact raiding itself was kind of by definition a hardcore activity, there was basically no one actually "prepared" (get it?) for tier 6 when it came out, as they were, at best, still working on tier 5.

But after enough time, they did go on to do Black Temple, and Illidan fell. And then there was practically nothing for over a year.

Ok, that's not really true. 2.2 brought in-game voice chat (that no one ever used,) and is basically the antecedent to the non-patch of 6.1. But 2.3 brought Zul'Aman, a ten-player raid to give something to guilds that enjoyed Karazhan but had never been able to transition to 25-player raids. The thing is, while Zul'Aman was challenging and rewarding, it didn't offer much for the successful 25-player guilds who had been farming Black Temple for months.

So it stands to reason that Sunwell Plateau was built as a bonus tier to give people something while they waited for Wrath. Wrath would then go on to stagger the release of content much better and establish the "one tier at a time" pattern that WoW has stuck to since then.

Anyway, the point is: though Blizzard sometimes says that Sunwell was always going to be the final raid (and to be fair, the scene you get after turning in the item that drops off of Kael'thas in Tempest Keep does set up his return,) it seems more likely that Illidan was meant to be the final boss, and Kil'jaeden kind of came in to provide a suitable step up given that Illidan had already gone down.

I'd like to think that expansions are better planned-out these days, but Warlords kind of suggests otherwise. Really, my hope is that Warlords will be seen as a kind of fluke of poor planning, rather than a dismal sign of the game's future. Only time will tell!

But I do think that having a good sense of who the ultimate villain of Legion is would be a good route to go. There can be twists and surprises, but there needs to be some build-up. As sick as I was of Orcs by the end of Mists, they did manage to build up Garrosh as kind of the most extreme representative of the stupidity of the Alliance/Horde conflict. Archimonde, however, had almost no presence in Warlords - Gul'dan would have made a lot more sense as the final boss, but they appear to have been saving him to kick of Legion, and I guess they didn't want to do things exactly the way they had done with Garrosh.

So, after all this build-up, who do we think would work as a final boss for Legion?

Illidan Stormrage:

His face is on the box, and it's pretty clear that Illidan is going to be one of, if not the most central figure of the expansion. Essentially, they're going to finally do right by Illidan, allowing him to have an actual arc after he spent practically all of Burning Crusade - which was theoretically his expansion - cooped up in Black Temple. Still, unlike Arthas (who has always felt like kind of his counterpart, I guess because both were breakout characters of WCIII,) Illidan was always more of an antihero than a pure villain. Yes, he consorts with demons, but he always fought against the Legion in favor of Azeroth. He's super reckless and certainly dangerous, but on the scale of Warcraft characters, is he really evil? Not really. If anything, I'd expect him to play more of the Tirion/Thrall and the Aspects/Khadgar, Grommash & Yrel role, with him aiding us in the defeat of the final boss. I'm sure he'll anger a lot of people and probably get some people killed, but I think this is going to be his redemption story (of course, I thought that might have happened for Garrosh, and we all know how that turned out.)


We know that Azshara will have some influence on the events of Legion, but to what extent she actually enters the fray, that is uncertain. She seems to be using a proxy to lead the Naga in Azsuna, which I think suggests that she'll still remain hidden in the shadows - perhaps having a quick appearance like she did in Darkshore or even casually exiting a fight like she did in the Well of Eternity dungeon, but Azshara could easily headline her own expansion, and I think Blizzard would be wise to hold her in reserve.


This is flat-out not happening, though Gul'dan will probably serve as the primary villain of the leveling experience. But he's going to be the first raid tier's final boss, so while it'll be a rather epic fight, he's not going to be there for the end of the expansion.


Ok, to be frank I hate all the theories that Khadgar is somehow evil. Just because he's got a wry wit and isn't a volcano of testosterone-fueled fury, people don't trust him. That said, just for fun, if Khadgar is somehow really Medivh in disguise, and Medivh is still possessed by Sargeras, then... why the hell would he have helped us during the Third War? Seriously, this rumor needs to die. Though he did release Gul'dan...


We just fought Archimonde, who has now "died" to us twice (assuming those tweets about there being only one Legion across all timelines is canon.) I also think that, much for the same reasons they didn't have Grommash serve as the final boss of Warlords, they're not going to have Archimonde do it twice in a row. But that also probably rules out Kil'jaeden, as it'd be a bit silly to have us fight two Eredar Lords one after another as final expansion bosses. This does set up a bit of a problem though, because this is the expansion named Legion, and we should be fighting the Legion's biggest bad guys...


Here we go. Sargeras is the big bad of essentially the entire Warcraft universe (though the Old Gods could rival him.) The Legion was his creation, and he's been trying to get to Azeroth for over ten thousand years. The only reason I'm hesitant to fully predict him as our big bad is that this could potentially be a shark-jumping moment for the series. Where do you go when Sargeras is killed? Certainly you could build up N'zoth as the new big bad, but you run the risk of losing the traditionally biggest threat to the universe. If only there was a way to have their cake and eat it too...

Avatar of Sargeras:

Ah ha! Sargeras has never been able to physically set foot on Azeroth (or if he ever did, it was before he went evil - assuming that Azeroth existed already when that happened.) However, the closest he came was when he sent an Avatar to Northrend. This was, I think, about a thousand years ago (Aegwynn was very old when she gave birth to Medivh - she preserved her youth with magic. The Tomb of Sargeras is actually not truly the Dark Titan's tomb, but is instead the resting place of the physical body he had created to scout of Azeroth and trick Aegwynn into letting him possess her and her son in turn.

Given how much of the expansion centers appears to center around the Tomb of Sargeras and the fact that the Tomb is not listed as a launch dungeon or raid, it seems like a prime candidate for the expansion's final raid. This would allow us to fight Sargeras and win without permanently removing him from the narrative.

So if you ask me, the Avatar of Sargeras seems like the perfect compromise, giving us the clear "most powerful villain we've fought to date," and letting us very definitively halt the Legion's invasion in its tracks, but letting us save the ultimate destruction of the Dark Titan and the Legion for when we go to Argus ten years from now (or whenever.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Survival From the Ground Up?

Barring a transition to ranged for one of the Rogue specs, no non-Demon Hunter spec is going through a redesign as drastic as Survival Hunters. While Hunters once had a handful of melee attacks, the class has been pretty strictly ranged since vanilla. In a move to give hunters clearer identities between specs, both Marksmanship and Survival are going through some changes. Marks, however, is just losing the pet - they're effectively getting Lone Wolf baseline, and having the spec focus all on their own attacks.

Survival does get to keep the pet, but they will be a melee spec - wielding the Eagle Spear, an artifact polearm.

So how's that going to work?

First, a disclaimer: my Hunter is Beast Mastery, and though he's occasionally swapped back and forth between that and Marksmanship, I don't think he's ever been specced Survival. That said, I made a goblin hunter alt back in Cataclysm and I did wind up getting him all the way up to 90. So I am somewhat familiar with Survival, if not in a high-level, raiding capacity.

As it stands, a lot of Survival's abilities are going to either have to just go or, if they're iconic, get moved over to Marksmanship or Beast Mastery (personally I see Black Arrow as more Marks, and Explosive Shot as more Beast Mastery.)

But what do we leave Survival?

Honestly, I think we might see all new abilities, or perhaps a return of some of the old archaic melee strikes that have been gone since... Cataclysm?

So there's Raptor Strike, Mongoose Bite, and Wing Clip. The latter seems like it'll be a situational, Hamstring-like ability.

It shouldn't be too hard to build a rotation around the use of focus - have some focus spenders and a focus-builder, just like the ranged specs. I suspect that the focus-builder will not have a cast time, as the last time there was a melee class with an ability that had a "swing time" was Cataclysm-era Arms. Melee strikes are basically all instant - which makes sense, as melee's got a much narrower area to stand when attacking, and it would suck for an enemy to move out of range in the middle of a strike.

These days, Trap Launcher is something you can more or less just leave on at all times. Way back in the day, Hunters used to have to pull enemies onto their traps to activate them - basically, freezing trap was the most versatile CC option, but you have to work to pull it off.

Traps have always been something of a theme for Survival in particular, and being in melee, they might play a larger role. These days, you basically toss Explosive Trap down in mass-AoE situations, but you could actually imagine having Survival laying traps as a regular part of their rotation instead of doing everything as a melee strike.

Survival will be the "melee with a pet" spec, though I wonder if they're going to push interaction with the pet or let it kind of do its thing while you do yours. Beast Mastery is already the super pet-heavy spec (to the extent that your pet can wind up doing more damage than you,) so I think Survival might just use them the way they do now.

I do also wonder to what extent the existing ranged rotation will be incorporated into the new melee one. As it stands, you basically maintain Black Arrow when you can, and then do Explosive Shot when you can and Arcane Shot when you can't. Now, perhaps you could simple re-name and re-work those abilities to be melee strikes, but I wonder if instead there will be a more drastic redesign.

Likewise, the level 90 talents are very much based on the idea of a pure-ranged class. Power Shot, Barrage, and Glaive Toss don't really work at all for a melee class, so I think we could see this row redesigned - for Survival at least, though perhaps for all three specs.

Given that they won't really need to be the "magic damage hunters" to distinguish themselves anymore, I also wonder if we'll see that theme downplayed in favor of some of the more distinctive flavor of the spec - the super-grizzled woodsman (or woodswoman) who doesn't take too kindly to those demons encroaching on his or her land and proceeds to stalk them through the forest or jungle, setting deadly traps and baiting them into ambushes.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Glaives as a Weapon Type

It's very early in Legion's development - while there's an internal Alpha going on, we're probably months (though hopefully not too many months) away from a Beta, and the expansion won't launch until next year (though hopefully early next year,) so a lot of the perceived issues that exist might be totally moot points by then. Still, it bears talking about - the earlier these issues get out in the open, the more likely they are to address them (and although I'm pretty resigned to the death of two-handed Frost, the only way that change could be averted is if it's brought up at this stage.)

Weapons in Legion are going to be very different than they have been for the eleven or twelve preceding years of WoW. There will be a remarkable consistency for players, and if we can assume that Relics will be more generally usable, we can pretty much expect that waiting for a weapon to drop is not going to be harder for certain classes and specs than others.

It also allows them to do something unprecedented - adding a new weapon type to the game.

Glaives are the iconic Demon Hunter weapon. Illidan got his set of Glaives by killing a Pit Lord named Azzinoth - and those weapons are currently collectable in-game as Legendary drops off of Illidan himself in the Black Temple. Right now they're classified as one-handed swords, which actually means that if Blizzard wanted to make it easy for themselves in future expansions, they could just make all Glaives count as swords and be done with it (of course, in the real world, a glaive is more of a polearm, but whatever.)

As it stands, Demon Hunters will only be able to use Glaives, but given the way that weapons in Legion work, that's not really saying much. Presumably Demon Hunters will start with some green or blue-quality glaives and then fairly quickly acquire their artifact glaives - all of this will be tailored specifically to them as a class, so it's not really something Blizzard has to worry about all that much.

But moving past Legion, assuming that artifacts don't become a permanent feature of the game (and I expect they won't,) Blizzard needs to figure out if Glaives are something that will keep coming.

There are a couple things to deal with here:

If glaives really become another weapon type, it seems that the Warglaives of Azzinoth must be updated - it would be absurd to call them anything else. But this would mean that at the very least, Rogues, Warriors, Death Knights, and Monks would also be able to wield Glaives - as those classes can currently use the old warglaives (hey, maybe if they're not swords anymore, Enhancement Shamans could get in on the action?) It would be supremely crappy for some veteran Rogue who got the warglaives off Illidan way back in the day was suddenly unable to use them in Timewalkers or strut around town with them (I actually have a set on my rogue, though he's Assassination/Subtlety, so he won't actually be using them.)

If Demon Hunters are solely able to use glaives, this means that Blizzard has to commit to creating glaives for all future expansions, and it also puts DHs in a position where they have a much smaller selection of weapons (something that non-Combat Rogues are familiar with.) On the other hand, if glaives were opened up to more classes, they could simply make fewer agility swords or something like that.

Of course, the other issue arrives if they go for the common-sense solution, which is to simply make glaives a type of sword - much as the Warglaives are now. The issue that arises, however, is that Demon Hunters won't really be able to transmog their weapons to look like glaives. The Legendary Warglaives, at least currently, can't be transmogged over more recent weapons, and it looks like the same rule will apply for artifacts. Now, perhaps there will be some lower-quality glaives that DHs start out with (similar to the starter gear in the Death Knight starting experience,) but it's a pretty severe limitation on the DHs' iconic weapons.

Frankly, I think it might be time to allow us to transmog legendary looks. Sure, lots of people will want to use those, but I think plenty of people will look for something different - I'm much more likely to stick with Vagaries of Time than getting Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker for my preferred transmog option.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tyr's Hand and Light's Hope

In Wrath of the Lich King, we discovered the Titan installation of Ulduar, and the greater Storm Peaks complex. In fact, other than perhaps Uldum, we haven't run across so much Titan stuff in all of our travels.

Storm Peaks and the city of Ulduar - part planetary control facility, part Old God prison - were run by six Watchers - Titan constructs who, despite being essentially big (sentient) robots, were essentially on the level of minor gods in terms of power. While I don't remember if they explicitly state it, it's suggested that Mimiron is literally the inventor of the Gnomish race.

When we arrive in Storm Peaks, most of the Watchers have gone missing. Loken has been corrupted by Yogg-Saron into attempting to free the eldritch God of Death, and he tricks us (in a very complicated plot that has us switching loyalties two or three times) into helping him capture Thorim. As we all know, Loken dies in the Halls of Lighting, while Thorim, Hodir, Freya, and Mimiron basically all get some sense knocked into them in the Ulduar raid and then help us attack Yogg-Saron.

During the quests in Storm Peaks, though, we explore the temples of Winter (Hodir,) Life (Freya,) Invention (Mimiron,) and Order. It's this last one that's the puzzling one. While the other temples seem to have been only abandoned relatively recently (though how recent that is is anyone's guess,) the titanic scanning device that accompanies us notes that Watcher Tyr has been missing for a very long time indeed.

Tyr should be a familiar name to anyone who has quested through Eastern Plaguelands. There is a town that is controlled by the Scarlet Crusade called Tyr's Hand there (well, it's Balnazzar's "Risen" post-Cataclysm, but same dif.)

We've gotten tidbits about Tyr over the years from the developers. Legends in human society that have been passed on for ages tell of a heroic figure named Tyr who lost a hand fighting off a great and powerful evil, and then replaced the hand with a fist made out of silver. (This is, I believe, all taken from Norse mythology.) It is this Silver Hand that the Knights of the Silver Hand named their order after, so it makes sense that the Scarlet Crusade would have a strong presence in a place named after it.

It's likely that the humans passed this story down all the way from their vrykul ancestors, who directly worshipped the Titans. In the Dawn of the Aspects novella, we found that the great evil that Tyr had fought was actually Galakrond, a massive proto-drake who seemed to be mutating into a more familiar dragon, but was also doing weird things like eating smaller proto-drakes and vomiting them up as undead. (There's a whole bucket of unanswered questions right there.)

But since then, we don't really know what Tyr has been up to. The cleverer proto-drakes who bound together to fight Galakrond became the Dragon Aspects, but Tyr's exact history is unknown.

Ok, so let's move on to another Wrath lore moment. When Arthas came to Light's Hope Chapel (at the end of the Death Knight starting experience,) some immense Holy power prevented him from succeeding in his attack. The Corrupted Ashbringer, wielded by Darion Mograine, rebelled against the Scourge and was purified by the power there - the same power that broke the Lich King's control over the Knights of the Ebon Blade.

We've been told that the Chapel was Holy Ground due to the vast number of righteous paladins buried beneath it. That seems... possible, but kind of a stretch. After all, the Scourge had very little trouble raising Paladins from the dead - it's the primary way they created Death Knights. Sure, you could argue that a place so incredibly consecrated with all those people might add up to have some special power, but what if there's another explanation?

Consider the name Tirisfal. Tirisfal Glades is where the capital of Lordaeron once stood, and is clearly an important place for humanity (the Council of Tirisfal starting there, of course.) The Highborne Night Elves first landed there, but decided to search farther up the coast for their new settlement because of some dark power that Blizzard has explicitly said is not the Old Gods.

Tirisfal sounds a lot like "Tyr's Fall," doesn't it?

Could it be that the Watcher of Order, Tyr, the champion memorialized by humanity in the name of their most heroic knightly order, died in Lordaeron? Perhaps he accompanied those poor pygmy vrykul, fleeing the persecution of King Ymiron, and served as their protector in a strange land that would eventually become the home of humanity, and gave his life to defend their nascent civilization?

Such a figure would certainly bear remembering, and such a figure would also deserve an honorable burial. And such a burial site would become quite the holy ground - a place of reverence for pilgrims to visit.

We know that in Legion, the Paladin Order Hall - the headquarters for the Knights of the Silver Hand, will be in a vast, previously-undiscovered vault below Light's Hope Chapel.

Could this vault be Tyr's Tomb?

Having a Titan construct - a being that is practically a god - buried beneath Light's Hope would totally explain why it was ground so holy that it could repel the Lich King himself. It would explain the importance of the location (before Cataclysm, just a little chapel nestled in EPL's eastern hills) and why it was such an important stronghold in the fight against the Scourge.

And finally, what of his Silver Hand? Such a thing would clearly be a relic of immense importance, at the very core of the identity of the Paladin class. And perhaps that silver fist could be mounted on a handle... maybe forming a mace of intense holy power?

Yep, this is my theory - and I'm so happy with it that I'm tempted to upgrade it to a prediction - that Tyr's body is in the vault underneath Light's Hope, and that Protection or Holy Paladins (seems more Protection, but that might just be wishful thinking on my part) will get the literal Silver Hand as their artifact weapon.

Demon Hunter Flavor and Lore

Demon Hunters are WoW's second hero class and the third class to be added to the game after vanilla. The "hero" aspect of hero classes caused some controversy back in the early days of Wrath of the Lich King, when pretty much all three specs were overpowered (I loved leveling up as Blood DPS back then - though the self-healing and ability to sustain combat without stopping to heal or eat is something that most classes have these days anyway,) But in reality, the Hero Class label really just distinguishes the class in terms of lore and starting area.

Demon Hunters will start at a very high level - probably in the mid to late 90s so that by the time they finish the starting experience, they can jump right into the high-level Legion content. This is a departure from Death Knights, who did get to skip the vanilla zones, but had to go through Outland before joining veteran characters in Northrend.

What this means is that, during the Legion expansion's time as current content, Demon Hunters will essentially only do that current content. There's a risk here that they could thus feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world, but I think Blizzard is more concerned about scaring off people who don't want to have to go through old zones that they've been through eleven times before.

Timewalker dungeons - something that they're extremely likely to expand - should help with this. While I'm obviously going to focus a lot on Legion's stuff, it'll be cool to take my Demon Hunter into BC-era dungeons - though it'll be somewhat paradoxical for him to go back and run Black Temple (I would be overjoyed if they added a new line of dialogue just for those DHs who do that where Illidan calls you out for turning on him in the old level 70 raid.)

Playable DHs will obviously have a deep connection to Illidan. Unlike Death Knights, who very definitely turned against Arthas, it looks like Demon Hunters aren't really going to feel all that guilty about what they've done, and might remain loyal to Illidan.

As we understand it (and this is obviously subject to change,) the Demon Hunter starting experience will begin at the Black Temple, literally right as the raid full of, well, us from 2007 or 2008, is making their way up through the building. We'll then be sent to the planet Mar'duun, which is where Sargeras had originally imprisoned all the demons he had defeated back when he was a good guy, and which he destroyed to free them when he went evil.

I expect that Mar'duun will be where most of this experience takes place. By the end of it, however, it looks like we'll be captured by the Night Elf Wardens (Maiev Shadowsong being their leader) and imprisoned just like Illidan was, only to be freed eight-ish years later to fight against the Legion's invasion.

Presumably we'll be sent to our respective factions to offer our services (it'd be cool if we went to Darnassus and Silvermoon rather than Stormwind/Orgrimmar,) and then get funneled into the main expansion experience.

We really don't have a great idea of where Demon Hunters' class hall will be. Warlocks will be on a fel-blasted Portal World, so I think it might make more sense for Demon Hunters to have a place on the Broken Isles themselves - possibly some ancient site used by Illidan way back in the day.

As it stands, only the two elf races will be able to play Demon Hunters. This is a bit frustrating, but I expect it has more to do with how tricky it will be to do the Metamorphosis forms. Unlike the current Demonology ability, which uses an identical demon-form model regardless of the player's race or gender, the ones in the Legion trailer are clearly based on the player model - possibly even incorporating things like hair style and facial features. Doing this will be a big challenge, and I can see why they want to stick to just two races instead of thirteen.

They have said that after Legion, they might consider opening the class up to other races, but I'm not holding my breath (for one thing, the expansion after Legion could be as long as three years away.) I suspect that we might, possibly, some time in the future have one additional race per faction, sort of like the way that Cataclysm finally gave us options for non Night-Elf/Tauren druids. But if you thought animal forms were tricky, these Demon Forms are going to be much more complicated.

However, they are setting up a pretty big hurdle to adding any new races to the mix. One could imagine (indeed, I had done just that) that you could make Demon Hunters part of a new order, rather than using the actual Illidari from Burning Crusade. Rather than having the beginning of the class experience start in the past, you could have people like Feronas Sindweller (the Demon Hunter currently in Felwood) spreading the word about how Illidan was actually a hero, and that they could teach people those techniques.

As it stands, however, you're pretty limited. The only Demon Hunters we've seen in-game have been Night Elves and Blood Elves. The Illidari forces did contain some other races, though. It might not be too hard to justify Orc demon hunters - Illidan had the Fel Horde under his thumb, after all. Perhaps more of a stretch, but still possible, would be Draenei demon hunters. Illidan had the Ashtongue Broken working for him (until they were emphatically not working for him,) and you could maybe come up with some bit of lore where Illidan has managed to purge the Sethe-based toxins that mutated them in the first place, giving us healthy Draenei who would understandably be very loyal to Illidan for curing them and also probably still bitter and cut off from the Light thanks to all the Fel energy coursing through them.

But I really don't expect that we'll see other playable Demon Hunter races, at least for a very long time. We went three expansions (well, one core game and two expansions) before there were alternatives for Druids, and the lore of Demon Hunters is quite restrictive.

So get comfortable with your elves.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Artifacts and Dual Specs - Now You Shall All Feel My Pain!

I play a Protection Paladin. He has a Retribution spec that I use quite frequently - either for soloing in Tanaan Jungle (or while leveling) or if I feel like letting someone else worry about boss positioning for a change. These are two specs for whom weapon choice is very clearly defined, and the weapons and off-hand equipment you use for the specs are, importantly, different.

That means that I cannot simply switch specs and play the other role. Technically one could, theoretically, play Retribution with a one-handed weapon and shield, but you'd be doing significantly lower damage. And trying to go Prot with a two-handed weapon just flat-out wouldn't work, as half your abilities wouldn't even be usable.

So I've always had to collect multiple sets of gear - this was made a lot less of a burden in Warlords, as I really only need one set of plate armor (and thankfully, last time I checked, Prot's second-best secondary stat is Ret's best one, and vice versa, so having a bunch of haste/mastery plate works out fine.)

But it occurs to me that for a lot of people, the upcoming spec-specific artifacts will impose a new challenge - maintaining alternate sets of gear.

This is going to feel the weirdest for pure DPS classes (other than Rogues who have a Combat spec and a non-Combat one.) If I wanted to switch to Arcane on my Frost Mage, it's as simple as... just switching specs. Sure, I might have more Multistrike than I need and not enough Mastery, but I'd have perfectly functional gear.

In Legion, however, a Frost/Fire Mage is going to have a Staff for one spec and a Sword (and presumably an off-hand item that goes with it) for the other. All of a sudden, classes like those - or Balance/Restoration Druids who can currently get by with the same Staff, or Marksmanship/Beast Mastery Hunters who can use the same Gun - are going to need to work on both pieces of gear.

Now, part of me says "haha, welcome to my world, motherf**kers!" But I also know that one of the great conveniences of playing, say, a pure DPS class is that you really only need to maintain one set of gear.

Granted, there's less of an incentive to switch specs when you're pure DPS. But Hybrids get hit by this too - my Monk is going to have to maintain his Brewmaster and Windwalker artifacts, whereas now he can pretty easily get by with just using the same pair of swords.

I think what it all comes down to is Relics.

Relics are going to be, essentially, the new weapon drops. You'll plug them into your artifacts, and the Relic will really determine the stats of the weapon. I imagine we'll probably see enchantments applied to the Relics rather than the weapons themselves, to keep Enchanters in business (unless they just don't do weapon enchants this expansion, which would... probably not be a good idea.)

We don't really know how specialized these Relics will be, though. Will artifacts use only one relic at a time, or will you have different relics for the weapon's DPS, spellpower, stamina, etc? Will you be able to swap these relics out - if you get a really good one, can you move it between your Assassination Daggers and your Subtlety ones (or whatever those specs wind up using?)

Also, how does this work for two-handed weapons versus single-handed weapons and off-hands? Am I going to need to get two relics to plug into my Frost swords but only need one for my Blood axe?

Likewise, aside from the stats, we know that artifacts will get their own kind of talent tree that you progress through using "Artifact Points." But if I level up as Retribution, only switching to Protection to run each level-up dungeon (which is almost certainly how I'll level from 100-110,) will I be really behind on my Protection artifact while Ashbringer is just gleaming with artifact points?

Artifacts are clearly going to be one of the core features of the expansion, and while I think they have a lot of potential to make the game far less frustrating (no more hoping for that one freaking dagger in the whole raid to drop for my Rogue,) we could definitely use some clarification on the way that the system is going to play out.