Saturday, September 26, 2015

How Old is the Burning Legion?

When you deal with the fantasy genre, timelines tend to get stretched out. Think about how much happened during the 20th century - Empires fell, the world was rocked by two World Wars and a forty-year stand-off that looked like it could bring us to a third (which could have ended the world as we knew it.) We went from cobbling together a contraption that could take us flying over a few sand dunes to walking on the moon. Tons of things happened.

In fantasy, no author (no, not even JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin) can match actual history for the sheer density of historical events. Yet we often deal with far greater stretches of time.

Warcraft is one of the most detailed game-worlds out there, but there are huge gaps. We know that the Night Elves fought in the War of the Ancients ten thousand years ago. At some point in there they fought the War of the Shifting Sands... and at some point Orcs and Humans started stumbling into their lands during the Third War.

That means that in the last ten thousand years between the War of the Ancients and the Third War, essentially one really notable event happened for them - even though many of the Night Elves could easily fill us in on the details, given that most of them were already around during the War of the Ancients.

And the Night Elves aren't even the oldest race in the game. The Draenei seem to be functionally ageless - they aren't exactly immortal, as they can be killed violently (and boy do they ever get killed violently) but they seem to hit maturity and then just keep living. It's possible that they just have an incredibly long lifespan - which might explain why Velen actually looks old compared to other Draenei - but either way, many of the Draenei remember Argus, which they left twenty-five thousand years ago - two and a half times longer than it has been since the War of the Ancients.

Of course, there are some races who aren't individually long-lived, but have been around for a seriously long time. As far as we can tell, the Trolls are the oldest humanoid civilization on Azeroth. Troll history suggests that there were Trolls who witnessed the coming of the Titans - though given that the Titans came to Azeroth at least twice - once to establish the planet and once to discover and fight the Old Gods - it's somewhat ambiguous how long ago, exactly, that was (though just gut-feeling, I'd assume well before the War of the Ancients. The Mogu were created when the Titans were fighting the Old Gods, which means there has to have been enough time for the Mogu to get afflicted by the Curse of Flesh, build their empire, get overthrown by the other Pandarian races, and for a lasting Pandarian Empire to exist for Shaohao to be the last emperor at the time of the War of the Ancients.)

There really isn't a solid timeline for most of the events that took place before the War of the Ancients - we don't know, for example, whether the first humans existed at that point or if there were only the Vrykul. And ambiguity is totally ok here - the mystery of just how things came together is part of the fun of the world, with Aqir like the Mantid even believing that the Titans were "Usurpers" who had taken Azeroth from the Old Gods, rather than the other way around.

For that matter, we don't know which came first, Azeroth or the Burning Legion.

The powers of the Titans are not precisely defined. For all we know, they could coalesce a bunch of space dust into a planet if they wanted, or they might have found a planet (probably already inhabited by elementals, but no real organic life.) It's clear, however, that they created most of if not all of the humanoid races, or at least their pre-Curse of Flesh ancestors.

Obviously, in the real world, human life didn't come about for billions of years - in fact, in Earth's 4.5  billion years, we've occupied only 200,000 years, which is 1/22,500 of that time. (And what we'd call civilization has only existed for a small fraction of those 200,000.)

Azeroth, however, was sculpted by the Titans and its life purposely engineered, and while you could argue that the Curse of Flesh and such things might be kind of the fantasy equivalent of evolution, it seems that those effects took place over course of single generations (or perhaps two or three.) What that boils down to is the fact that Azeroth, as we know it, might only be a couple hundred thousand years old.

The only really firm piece of evidence to deny this possibility is that we're told that Draenor is younger, geologically, than Azeroth. And while 200,000 years might be huge on a historical scale, and even large enough to be significant on a biological scale, it's negligible on a geological scale.

Still, if the Titans came to Azeroth not as a bunch of stellar dust but as an actual, existing planet, the planet's true age might not actually matter for this discussion. Azeroth might have been several billions of years old, but with no life (again, except elementals) before the Titans.

Looking at the Burning Legion, we're also a bit in the dark here. It's clear that the Man'ari Eredar are valued members of the Legion. Sargeras' chief lieutenants (they don't have real titles as far as I know, but I'd call them the "Consuls" of the Legion) are Eredar, and while there are certainly somer Eredar who are subservient to other demons like Nethrezim or Annihilan (Dreadlords and Pitlords, respectively,) it's clear that Eredar have real status.

The question, then, is whether status requires seniority. The induction of the Eredar into the Burning Legion is actually an event we can put a precise date on, because the Draenei remember it happening. The Draenei are, of course, also Eredar, (in a way, it might make more sense to refer to the demons as specifically "Man'ari," as the Draenei arguably have more of a claim to being true Eredar than their demonic kin.)

Sargeras came to Argus because the Eredar were masters of arcane magics, using it to build a utopian civilization. The Dark Titan offered to grant them even greater power - something the Eredar were either too naive or too greedy to realize would turn them evil (to be fair, Sargeras might have presented himself to them as a true Titan - given how advanced the Eredar had been, it's likely they had discovered the existence of the Titans, so when one of them came to them with an offer to take them to the next step in evolution, it might have seemed like the best possible idea.)

That happened twenty-five thousand years ago, which could theoretically still be pre-Azeroth (though again, given the talk about geological age, I'm not inclined to believe it,) but the induction of the Eredar is not necessarily the birth of the Legion.

Sargeras' first act of betrayal against his fellow Titans - the act that truly gave birth to the Burning Legion - was the destruction of the prison in which the Titans had been keeping the demons found in the Twisting Nether - demons who were locked away in said prison by Sargeras himself. The world of Mar'duun was shattered, and its inmates were allowed to stream out of it - before Sargeras bound them to his will and set about on his Burning Crusade. (Another ambiguity - do the demons serve Sargeras willingly, or is he controlling them through Titan magic?)

Again, we're left with one of these "how long between these events" questions. Was the Legion well-established when the Draenei fled Argus? Or was Argus the first stop after Mar'duun?

The reason that these questions are interesting is that it could potentially give us a lot more insight into why the Burning Legion exists, and why Sargeras is so obsessed with Azeroth.

The official story is that Sargeras had his mind-breaking moment after experiencing the evil of the Nethrezim (this was actually a retcon, as it had originally been the Eredar, but I think we're a lot better off with the Draenei existing, so I'm ok with it.) Essentially, without getting physically or magically corrupted by the Dreadlords, simply had an existential crisis in the face of that evil, deciding that the Titans' attempts to bring order to the universe were pointless, and that he would not allow them to continue. But while the Nethrezim are bad, the match-up I've always been curious about is Sargeras versus the Old Gods.

It would probably require another retcon or some serious "from a certain point of view" reasoning, but I've always thought it would be interesting if Sargeras had still been with the Pantheon in the fight against the Old Gods. But while the rest of the Pantheon wanted to preserve Azeroth, Sargeras was so disgusted by the Old Gods that he started employing Fel Magic to burn them away (I've written articles in the past about how Fel-affiliated things other than player Warlocks always seem to be immune to the Old Gods' manipulations.) Essentially, Sargeras, monster-hunter-in-chief, would rather destroy the universe than allow the Old Gods to have it. To him, the demons are the lesser of two evils.

Alternatively, there's a good explanation that would require the timeline to be reversed here. It's possible that Azeroth's purpose is to bring about a new Titan (Wrathion's "Final Titan,") to replace Sargeras after his fall to evil. The Titans were unwilling to destroy Azeroth, even after the catastrophic infection of the Old Gods, because they could not afford to lose the "child." Sargeras might envy this Final Titan, or perhaps fear that the Titans will somehow siphon his power into it, or simply believe that more Titans and more Order is the wrong direction for the universe, and so he desperately seeks to destroy our world to prevent the Final Titan from coming to life.

With Legion coming (sooner rather than later, I hope,) it sounds like we're actually going to be getting some answers to these questions. Demon Hunters will fight their way through the shattered remains of Mar'duun, and we've been told that the new Violet Hold will contain answers to questions about the creation of Azeroth itself.

It's pretty exciting, is what I'm getting at.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What Was Missing From Warlords of Draenor? The Infinite Dragonflight

As much as I loved the leveling experience, the revamped vanilla/BC character models, and a chance to actually spend time with the Draenei for once, I seriously doubt anyone's going to be listing Warlords of Draenor as WoW's greatest expansion. I think one can boil down the problems with Warlords to three issues:

A Lack of Content

A Lack of Stakes

Isolation in Garrisons

This third part has little to do with the article. Blizzard wanted Garrisons to be a core gameplay feature and not a cosmetic vanity project for people to work on, and unfortunately, they succeeded. Garrisons should have been player housing - a thing to collect stuff for to make it look cool, and maybe have some of the features of the "fun" buildings like the Gnomish Gearworks/Goblin Workshop or the Mage Tower/Spirit Lodge. The capital cities should have been the default log-out spot, and those capitals should have been Bladespire/Karabor. Enough said.

Earlier on, during the expansion, I wrote an article speculating on what the "middle tier" of Warlords would be. It was pretty clear that Hellfire Citadel was going to be the final raid (though it might have been called something else if Gul'dan hadn't taken over - though to be fair, the guy he usurped the Iron Horde from was named "Hellscream.) But I remember wondering what, exactly, there could be in-game to justify a middle raid tier. BC launched with its middle tier already available. Wrath had two middle-tiers, and Ulduar at least was heavily hinted at throughout the leveling experience (it was also announced at Blizzcon before Wrath even launched.) The entrance to the Firelands Raid for Cataclysm was already in Mount Hyjal, and while the exact location of it was a mystery, it was pretty clear after doing the quests in Kun-Lai that we'd be facing the Thunder King in some capacity.

With the Ogres in Highmaul dealt with before anything else (as the kind of intro-tier, like Mogu'shan Vaults,) there wasn't a really obvious place to go.

But there should have been.

We know that Kairoz and Wrathion (who didn't show up in Warlords, except possibly at the very end of the Legendary chain - though I didn't see him) teamed up with the Infinite Dragonflight to break Garrosh out of jail. In fact, it's strongly suggested that Kairoz is succumbing to the corruption of the Infinite Dragonflight - or even giving birth to it - as he arrives in Draenor and attempts to get Garrosh to start a Horde around which he will coalesce countless other Hordes from other timelines. Kairoz literally says he will become "infinite" before Garrosh stabs him in the throat.

Despite all of this, the meddling of Dragons is pretty much relegated to a single quest in the Legendary chain, and while it's a cool quest (that involves Chromie, by far my favorite dragon,) it's just a tiny footnote in a, frankly, small expansion.

The Infinites would have given us a reason to go elsewhere in Draenor - they seemed to have trouble figuring out what to do in Farahlon, and so they wound up cutting it, but they could have easily drawn parallels between the nether-torn Netherstorm and a time-twisted Farahlon. Not only that, but it would have given us a break from fighting Orcs non-stop.

But perhaps even more important than providing fodder for content (and that's certainly important,) is that it would have provided stakes for the expansion.

In the long run, two important things happen in Warlords. Garrosh dies, and we get Gul'dan back.

Essentially every other detail is trivial. Yes, the Draenei in this universe survive, which is great, but doesn't change the fact that our Draenei are the survivors of a massive genocide. This version of Durotan and Draka will presumably not be murdered by Gul'dan's assassins. But ours were.

In fact, even if you are willing to take this alternate universe seriously because it shows you how the Horde would have turned out if it hadn't become corrupted by the Legion, it just winds up getting corrupted anyway.

What we needed was a serious crisis. Even if the Iron Horde was supposed to be a threat to the Alliance and Horde on Azeroth (though as portrayed in-game this did not feel like the case - not to mention that the logic of it didn't make sense - the very technology that the Iron Horde had just gotten their hands on was the stuff that we Azerothians have been using and developing for thirty years - so there goes your tech advantage,) it wasn't really anything that hadn't happened before. Azeroth has defeated plenty of invading armies, and that's when they hadn't literally fought those same people before (while the Iron Horde only had Garrosh's recollections.)

I'll concede that not every expansion has to be "Arthas is going to kill everyone in the world," "Deathwing is going to destroy the world" or "the Burning Legion is invading," but at least in terms of story, Mists of Pandaria handled a (relatively) low-stakes situation in a way that made it feel personal and important.

Beating Archimonde in Hellfire Citadel is no moment of great triumph. We haven't even really killed him. And even if there wasn't this demonic pan-dimensional thing going on, it would only mean that we had once again killed someone we already faced before, only back then it was more important to do so.

Blizzard shied away from making Warlords a real "time travel expansion," for fear of having confusing plots and the possibility of paradoxes that they felt might be hard to follow. But in the long run, their solution wound up being more convoluted and deflated the stakes.

As excited as I'm sure they were to have these old characters back, ultimately a time-travel story has to be about more than just the setting. Watching the Iron Horde collapse and become corrupted before really getting off Draenor isn't really enough to make a compelling story - the original was far more interesting. But if this desire for a "pure" Horde led Garrosh to unwittingly give birth to the Infinite Dragonflight, and create a multiverse-threatening crisis that threatened to tear causality apart? That would have been a crisis worthy of our heroic skills.

I'm glad that we're going back to Azeroth, fighting an enemy that poses a real threat, and getting a break from Orcs. But it is sad to see how the potential of Warlords was only half-met. I worry that this will turn them off of the idea of time-travel as a concept and gameplay mechanic, which is sad, because I've always loved the Caverns of Time and all that mind-bending potential that the genre provides. As awesome as the Murozond fight was, I really hope that that's not the end of the Infinites in-game. We've seen their (purported) demise, but they're time travelers! We still need to see their birth!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Demon Hunters, Level Boosts, and Timewalking

We've been waiting a long time for Death Knights to be joined by another hero class, and Demon Hunters were always the obvious choice for another one. Arthas and Illidan were both fan-favorites from Warcraft III, and while we got Arthas' class seven years ago, it's only with the upcoming Legion (which I really hope comes out in the first quarter of 2016) that we'll be seeing Illidan's methods playable in-game.

While there are a lot of cosmetic differences, the real definitive meaning of a hero class is that they start at a higher level with their own story justification.

When Wrath of the Lich King launched, the Old World was still largely unchanged from vanilla (they had revamped Dustwallow Marsh in 2.3 - I still think of Bogpaddle as that "new goblin town" there.) Death Knights began at level 55 with the intention of finishing their questing experience at 58 - the level that one needed to go to Outland.

So while they got a big leg-up, they were still one expansion behind.

These days, as a simple consequence of the age of the game, most players have taken multiple characters through Draenor. It's actually a bit odd - I did not feel any frustration with having to go through Outland on my Death Knight - the new class was enough to excite me about doing the content again.

But I also think that the game was a bit more of a sandbox back then. Zones had stories, sure, but they felt more kind of based on geography than story. These days, when you go somewhere, it's usually to deal with a specific threat than to just see that part of the world. It's a double-edged sword - on one hand, our actions feel far better-motivated these days. On the other hand, a zone's purpose and story feels much more locked into its own time period, and there's less of a sense of your being a wandering hero doing quests for the people you meet than being part of a massive military organization that is methodically taking care of crucial objectives.

The level boost that came with Warlords is getting a level 100 equivalent for Legion - Blizzard is wary of making people level up their main through a bunch of old content. And to be fair, there's a ton of content to get through.

But unfortunately, starting at a high level means that you miss out on some of the fun lower-level stuff. Until the Mists revamp, I couldn't really seriously take my Death Knight into Scarlet Monastery, as it wouldn't be a run so much as a slaughter (which admittedly, would totally be in keeping with the Death Knight theme.)

There are plenty of dungeons I'd like to do and zones I'd like to quest through on my Demon Hunter that I'll be way too high-level for.

It's an oddity of the MMO genre that there's this enormous amount of content - seriously, just consider how much content WoW has - but only the most recent stuff is really relevant. And with level boosts and hero classes starting at very high levels indeed, most of that stuff gathers dust.

Timewalking has provided a lot of hope, though. It's a lot of fun to be able to run through those old BC and Wrath dungeons, and Blizzard has indicated that they intend to expand the idea, opening up more dungeons from those eras and also opening up stuff from other expansions.

But while I love running 5-player dungeons, it would also be nice to get some of the old zones the same treatment. This is a little trickier - there's not really a built-in UI for changing the nature of a zone you saunter into. Quests are not inherently designed to reset the way that dungeons do.

Still, I'd love to be able to take my Demon Hunter through Felwood - even if Feronas Sindweller's admonitions for not treating Illidan fairly would be pretty silly (though already if you take a Worgen through Grizzly HIlls, when you rescue the Alliance officer from Silverbrook he yells "Were you bloody bitten?!" at you, which prompts a "What the f**k do you think?" from me on my wolfed-out Worgen characters.)

I recognize that they can't ensure that every bit of old content remains relevant - it's really funny in retrospect (and even at the time) that they made a special call-out for the original Nefarian fight for Death Knights - but it's a shame that more and more, the game has kind of isolated the "current content" as the whole scope of the game.

There have been whispers of an "Adventure Mode" for WoW - which, assuming it's similar to Diablo III's, could solve these problems. But we haven't heard anything concrete yet.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hopes for Genn Greymane and the Worgen in Legion

The Worgen have gotten a bum deal, both in-universe and in a meta-narrative sense. In-universe, Gilneas was invaded by the Forsaken and a good portion of it sank beneath the sea during the Cataclysm. And that's on top of the civil war that began after the building of the Greymane Wall and the spread of the Worgen curse (something I only found out recently was part of a Forsaken plot - Sylvanas made a deal with Ralaar Fangfire, aka "Alpha Prime," the Night Elf druid who was the leader of the Druids of the Pack.)

In terms of the meta-narrative, the Worgen were introduced in Cataclysm, but their role was pretty much negligible. While the Goblins played a huge part in helping to modernize and mechanize the Horde war machine, which led to the escalation of the conflict (and eventually the creation of the Iron Horde,) the Worgen didn't really change the character of the Alliance at all. There were a handful of questing areas in the Cataclysm-ized old world, but they had practically zero presence in the 80-85 zones (there were a couple Worgen around the Shrine to Goldrinn in Hyjal, but the good ones weren't even in their Worgen forms.) Since then, there hasn't been any real Worgen story - Genn Greymane sits in Stormwind (in human form) and we hear vague talk of "going back to Gilneas" but never any action.

There's cause for hope, though I would take it with a grain of salt. Genn Greymane is listed as a primary character in Legion on its website. That is potentially very exciting, but don't break out the GIlnean Brandy just yet.

Literally just having Genn do anything is something of a relief for those of us who like the Worgen, but I worry that Genn is being set up purely as the Alliance counterpart to Sylvanas. We know that Sylvanas is trying to uncover the mysteries of the Val'kyr to avoid her own death and damnation (she's rather justifiably convinced that if she does die, she'll find herself in the Void, not whatever place good elves go when they die.)

I'm happy to see Sylvanas gettings stuff to do (I'm a big fan of the Forsaken as well,) but the thing I worry about is that Blizzard has a tendency to have the Horde act and the Alliance react. Sylvanas is being proactive - going out there, trying to find a way to save herself. It would be a real shame if Genn's story was simply to try to stop Sylvanas. We could, very easily, essentially have the same series of quests, with a "get there first" motivation. The problem is that this basically defines Genn by Sylvanas, and it defines the Worgen by the Forsaken.

There's a lot more to the Worgen than simply getting revenge on Sylvanas.

I'm certain Genn's going to be aware that Sylvanas is there, and he's not going to just leave her alone, but I think there's a golden opportunity to get into the nature of the Worgen curse. Why, for instance, is it infectious? The idea that the Druids of the Pack couldn't control the ferocity of Goldrinn makes sense - they'd become feral beasts who can't tell friend from foe. But when a wolf bites you, you don't become a wolf.

We know we're going to be dealing with the Emerald Nightmare. I think it would be really interesting if we found out that the Worgen curse actually comes from the Nightmare.

See, part of the problem I have with the way the Worgen have been explained is that it's kind of... benign? Clearly not benign exactly, as the Worgen are, without that ritual to restore their control, vicious violent creatures. But ultimately, it's all based on Druidic magic that is totally natural and derived from a revered Ancient.

It's not really a curse. It's a blessing that was calibrated wrong.

I want the Worgen to be the product of dark magic. Yes, they're good people, but let's make it a real curse. Plenty of playable races have dark origins. The Forsaken are undead, the Orcs and Blood Elves are marked by Fel magic, and the Goblins got smart by drinking something that might be Old God blood. The promise of the Worgen was to give the Alliance a dark and monstrous race, but beyond the rainy grey/brown/black aesthetics of Gilneas (which I love, mind you,) they're not really any "darker" than humans or Night Elves. The biggest problem of the Curse is dealt with in the quests in Gilneas.

It would be really cool if we could uncover that the Druids of the Pack were either being corrupted by the Emerald Nightmare, or even better, using the Emerald Nightmare's power to make their form infectious in a kind of misguided attempt to force it on the rest of their society. It would be great to give the Worgen a conflict that didn't rely on the Horde doing something awful to instigate it.

I worry, though. Maraad and Velen were both listed as important figures on the Warlords website, and both died before you even made it halfway through the leveling experience (ok, Maraad died at the halfway mark.) I could totally imagine Genn basically playing the role Matthias Shaw did in Twilight Highlands - being the half-assed Alliance counterpart to a more interesting Horde character and plot.

Also, with Gilneas sitting as a totally empty zone (except for a few Mastiffs to tame in the north) once you're done with the quests there, it seems like a really easy thing to use the zone for high-level content. Questing through the zone on a Mage the last couple days (and seriously considering race-changing my level 100 mage to Worgen so that I'll have a Worgen character I know I'll play and since I already have another Draenei I play often,) I was struck by just how cool it was fighting through Gilneas City. The original concept for the Gilneas battleground was that it was going to be urban combat, but they decided that line of sight issues would penalize ranged classes too much. But I'd love to have excuses to fight on the streets of GC.

Anyway, with Legion being the fanservice expansion, I think a truly expanded role for the Worgen would be a welcome part of the package.

And hey, how about a model update to Worgen and Goblins so that they can make actual facial expressions?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Latest Levels I'm Super Proud of in Super Mario Maker

My Ghost House level  (4491-0000-0033-2201) was quite awesome, but I'm very proud of the kind of duology of levels that have a kind of concept behind them.

The first is an underground level that requires you to blast through several blocks using Bob-Ombs (or simply avoid the flying already-triggered bob-ombs coming out of pipes) to get through. You gradually make your way through a series of challenges before finding a lone Clown Car, which lets you escape at the end of the level. The concept here is that it's an underground Koopa air base, and you're stealing a Clown Car. Why?

The second level is called "Taking Down the Flagship," (code A5B5-0000-0033-5D31) and has you fly that clown car through a couple of little koopa-piloted skiffs (all firing cannons at you, of course) and then breaking into the cargo hold of a massive airship (you do need to, once  again, use bob-ombs to blast your way in.)

I make use of Warp Pipes to have you descend below decks to the Engine Room first, where you have to dodge a couple of sawblades and koopas, (probably should have put in some of those moles that throw wrenches. Oh well.) You emerge in a little gangplank below the ship, hop over a chomp-chomp and then make your way through the arsenal, where several cannons and bob-ombs threaten you. From there, you make it up to the main deck and have to deal with a Hammer Bro. and a giant Goomba with a Bullet Bill Launcher on his back. Going down into a pipe again, you make it to the bridge, where you have to fight (or just bypass) Bowser Jr.

Emerging from that area, you effectively hit the self-destruct button (signified by the detonation of several bob-ombs) and then make your escape on a Clown Car.

But before you can, you have to make it through a massive airforce coming to take revenge, led by a Super-Mushroom-Enlarged Bowser. It's a race to the finish from there.

Damn do I love this game.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ghost House and Super Mario World in Super Mario Maker = I'm Home!

Super Mario World is my favorite Mario game (it's my original, so it's the one that all other Marios are compared to.) And I love spooky things (Halloween's my favorite holiday. Oddly enough, I'm really squeamish about gore - but then I do like horror that focuses on weirdness and creepiness rather than just violence, like the Shining.)

Anyway, I've been on a feature-unlocking spree today, starting a new level with each theme only for the next to unlock. In the middle of making my (rather awesome, if I do say so myself) Airship level (that involves hopping from airship to airship,) I unlocked the Ghost House and SMW set/theme.

Included, in addition to the obvious things like Boos (and Boo Buddies) and Dry Bones, are Doors, which you can make and then drag the paired door to elsewhere in the level, and Hidden Blocks, the tool of trolls everywhere.

So I've created a little ghost house that I think lives up to the style of the classic ones. It's full of hidden passages and little deathtraps (my favorite not-exactly-trap is a really long fall that ends on a bunch of quickly-collapsing platforms that you need to climb up the whole height of the level.) There's definitely a theme here that using hidden blocks is always the better choice than using regular ones (I think there's one normal question mark block that doesn't spawn something nasty.)

Philosophically, I always give some hint at what the right choice is. For example, I unlocked sound effects sometime when working on the level, and the first pair of visible blocks pops out a set of Boo Buddies in a crowded space, but if you land on them, you'll get some creepy screams, which should be your indication to leave them alone.

Right now I think I'm mostly just playing with ideas that only evolve a little bit. But this is only the third day I've had the game, so I expect that over time I'll come up with some more interesting things.

It's definitely a tricky little balance to get a level that's not impossibly hard or trivially easy. My general rule is be "tough but fair," and I also have to remind myself that a level that feels easy to me likely does because I'm the one who designed it. I'll need to get friends to try out my levels to see how difficult that they really are.

Faster Unlocks for Super Mario Maker

Apparently after an update (man, it's a lot easier to adjust games now than it was in the cartridge days,) Super Mario Maker will now allow you to unlock level elements at a faster pace, though the mechanics of this remain somewhat mysterious.

I experienced this myself earlier today. After unlocking the Underwater set through the normal wait, I created a level that used all the elements from that set, and suddenly unlocked the Castle set. Obviously I immediately went to make a Castle level, and after using all of its elements, I unlocked the Airship set and the Super Mario Bros. 3 theme.

I've used all the Airship elements, though I used them in my Castle level (I was only about halfway done with the Castle level when I unlocked the Airship.) I suspect that if I make an actual Airship level, I might unlock the next set and theme - Ghost House and Super Mario World (which are both basically the ones I was most excited about.)

This is a pretty solid alternative to the original "just wait for new stuff to arrive" system, as it still requires you to take a look at every piece they've given to you before giving you new stuff.

Oh, and I've unlocked (somehow) auto-scroll, adjustable time limits, and a feature that lets you track Mario's path for fine-tuning jumps (something that I kind of wish had come earlier.)

I'm hoping I've correctly analyzed the system here, and that I can start making Super Mario World levels (SMW was my first Mario game, so its aesthetics and feel are the most iconic to me.)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Replacing Mana: A Radical Redesign

Mana, as a resource, is important only to healers and Arcane Mages. It is, at best, a little inconvenient hiccup to deal with as an Affliction or Demonology Warlock, but for Destruction, Shadow, Fire, Frost (Mages,) Balance, Elemental, Enhancement, Retribution, and Protection (Paladins,) it's a pretty blue bar that sits at full at essentially all times.

Now I like that blue bar. Blue's my favorite color. But that's about the only reason I like it.

To be fair, most of these classes have ways to waste the resource. Mages can spam spell-steal to remove buffs from enemies and take them for themselves, and most of the listed specs have some healing spells that would normally be used a lot more by their healing specs, and these will drain the mana to prevent those classes from just spamming heals and supplementing the real healers.

But for a more modern example, Monks typically use Energy, and they use that to cast their healing spells, which puts a pretty strong limitation on their ability to supplement the healers.

Building a resource system isn't easy, if you want it to feel unique. Monks went with Energy because a quick-recharging resource like that would pretty much just feel like Energy even with a different name. I actually wonder if, should they have to do it all again, the Hunter Cataclysm revamp that changed their resource from Mana to Focus would have just used Energy instead.Focus is of course inherently more limiting than Energy (having a passive regeneration rate at about half of what Energy gets) and so they built Hunters around this idea of spend-and-build.

A lot of the elements of WoW's combat gameplay came out of the Diablo series. Diablo III's combat system actually gives a different resource system for every class (and of course, the way abilities work, it's possible for two players of the same class to use an entirely different set of abilities.)

All the resources are different, but there do tend to be common themes. The Witch Doctor's Mana and the Wizard's Arcane Power function the same way, except that the Wizard burns through his or her Arcane Power much more quickly, but then regenerates it very quickly - allowing them to unleash their most powerful spells, spend a few seconds casting their free "Signature Spells" and then going back to their big ones. Witch Doctors can front load a lot of their very powerful spells, but they need to spend a lot of time (relatively speaking) easing off to allow the Mana to regenerate (more of their spells have cooldowns - something I'll get to when talking about Paladins and Shamans.) Demon Hunters' Discipline also functions somewhat like this, but you have your Hatred-related abilities to keep yourself busy if you need to wait for Discipline to regenerate.

Demon Hunters' Hatred, Crusaders' Wrath, Monks' Spirit, and Barbarians' Fury all function as build-and-spend resources - though Fury is the only one that sits at zero by default (it's very similar to a Warrior's Rage, but there are no auto-attacks in Diablo III, so generating Rage is an active process.) These resources are made to feel pretty different, though, by varying how quickly they are built up and spent. Hatred and Fury both move pretty fluidly in both directions (and they have some design space to feel similar, given Fury's default state and Hatred's coupling with Discipline.) Wrath gets spent  quicker than it is generated, and Spirit probably takes the longest to build-up/recover before getting unleashed in only one or two attacks.

The only real rule here is that spenders have to be more powerful than generators, as otherwise players would just spam the generators.

Frankly, I think that with a lot of secondary resources that currently exist in-game, you could almost just get rid of the mana bar. Shadow, Destruction. and Demonology kind of have the rhythms of their specs defined by their secondary resources. You could kind of say this about all the non-healing Mana specs, though something like the Balance Meter isn't exactly a "resource" per se. And of course Elemental doesn't have a secondary stat unless you count the Lightning Shield charges.

Melee specs that use Mana rely on giving almost every attack a cooldown. It would then be tempting to give Paladins or Shamans some kind of Energy-like resource instead. The only problem here is that you wind up losing some of the motivation to use multiple attacks. If I could spam Crusader Strike instead of weaving in Judgment, I'd be able to do more damage. So those cooldowns serve a purpose. Rogues and Feral Druids get around this by making the generation of combo points less interesting than the weaving of finishing moves (though even they have multiple generators that should be used in each spec.)

I could imagine a version of Ret and Prot Paladins who use a resource called Righteousness - perhaps having to use Judgement to build it up and then spend it on things like Crusader Strike and Consecration. Maybe Hammer of Wrath would cost prohibitively too much Righteousness unless it was used below a certain threshold or during Avenging Wrath.

This would pretty much eliminate spare global cooldowns within the rotations, as you'd be hitting Judgment any time you didn't have enough Righteousness to generate the Holy Power.

But the danger here is a kind of "don't fix what ain't broke" problem. Right now, even if Mana is kind of superfluous to these specs, it might not be a such a great idea to mess with what exists. Sure, Destruction would be essentially unchanged if you just got rid of Mana, but creating a new system just because Mana is redundant could unbalance some perfectly healthy classes.

So I advise caution.

Still, I'm really curious to see what Insanity will be.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Super Mario Maker First Impressions

Well, I picked up Super Mario Maker, obviously. I've made two courses and played a couple of levels made by others (many of whom seem to have done the "set your Wii U's calendar forward" trick to get more items.)

I'm a longtime Mario veteran, of course (Super Mario World was the first I really played seriously, back when the SNES was the current-gen,) but I'm pretty inexperienced in level design.

So far the two stages I've created are both pretty simple. The first is kind of two parts - one involves making tricky jumps between flying koopas and then kicking a shell through a long line of piranha plants (because it's just so satisfying and cathartic.) It's not a terribly difficult level as long as you know how to jump from koopa to koopa.

The second is practically an auto-play level (you do have to run forward,) which I recognize is a genre that will probably get pretty old. Still, it has you bouncing off of a ton of red flying koopas, which is pretty fun. There are a few superfluous bits there that I should get rid of, but it's not terrible.

At this point, without clock shenangians, the options are pretty limited. You can make solid ground, bob-omb-able blocks (though no bob-ombs,) destructible blocks, and question mark blocks. You can make pipes, put in super mushrooms and coins and those bouncing spring platform things. And then you can put in Goombas, Piranha Plants, and Koopas (the latter two you can shake to get variants, like the fire-ball-spitting piranhas and red "I don't run off platforms" koopas.)

And that's it for now. You can do a fair amount with these items.

In terms of themes, I currently only have the Ground and Underground settings and the Super Mario Bros. and Wii U "looks." (No World or 3.)

After playing for a while, my gamepad was getting low on battery, so I took a break. I'm eager to get the Super Mario World theme and the Ghost House setting (along with Boos!)

Next level I come up with I'm going to try to make a bit challenging (but not absurdly hard, like some people seem to do.)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Flight Thoughts: Now That We Have It

Quickly reversing after announcing that flight would essentially be a thing of the past in the run-up to 6.2, Blizzard instead implemented a set of achievements that would unlock flight account-wide in Draenor. The method here was, I think, rather fair. Essentially, you had to really experience the on-the-ground content, getting the loremaster achievement in each leveling zone, doing the various level-cap daily assaults, and doing a significant amount of Tanaan Jungle - enough to get revered with the three factions there (something that could be accomplished after about two or three weeks of dailies,) and finding several Draenor Treasures (something that is pretty easy given the availability of treasure maps for all those zones.)

On one hand, I understand the rationale for keeping flight restricted. Keeping you on the ground means that to scale a mountain, you have to fight your way up a path - they can design that path to be an adequate challenge, and make reaching the top feel like a real accomplishment. They can make a heavily-guarded fortress feel like something you really have to fight your way through to kill the general in the center. And flight can trivialize some of this questing content.

In the past, we've seen expansions where you unlock flight at the level cap - this was true in Burning Crusade and Mists of Pandaria. In Cataclysm, flight was unlocked immediately, and in Wrath, flight was unlocked at level 77 - right before going into Icecrown and Storm Peaks, two questing zones that absolutely required the ability to fly.

It might not be surprising that I prefer the Wrath model, but the BC/Mists version also works out pretty well.

Even with daily quests, Blizzard has never really made outdoor content the main event at the level cap, so in a real sense, hitting the cap is a pretty strong "you've completed this content, so feel free to fly over it" kind of milestone.

I think you could potentially justify the restrictions on flight during Mists of Pandaria, when there was a ton of content (even if it was a pretty unpopular set of daily quests in 5.0) out in the world you'd be expected to complete after hitting 90. But that argument actually falls apart a little in Warlords, where there really wasn't much to do "outdoors" at 100, at least until Tanaan Jungle. The main outdoor content was in specific assault areas that you could have easily made into no-fly zones while making the rest of the zones flyable.

Ironically, by making the flight achievement account-wide, you actually introduce the worst-case scenario of flight, which is a whole leveling experience that involves dipping down and striking at enemies with impunity.

Though how "worst-case" is this? I've finished leveling my Druid and Priest post-flight, and I've got to say that it was a pleasure to be able to fly around while doing it. Then again, I already know these zones like the back of my hand, so it's not exactly the typical questing experience for most players.

Storm Peaks and Icecrown show that you can make wonderfully compelling questing content that include flight (I used to just hang out on the Skybreaker or Orgrim's Hammer because it felt so cool to be hovering above Icecrown on an airship like that.) So I actually reject the notion that flight ruins questing.

But I do appreciate that some zones benefit from that limitation. Restricting flight allows you to force players to explore for paths and also lets you hide things in clever ways.

Ultimately, though, once players are at a point where that exploration is no longer compelling gameplay, it doesn't really make sense to keep flight restricted.

Going forward in Legion, I'm going to keep an eye on what world content exists. If there's tons of questing left in the Broken Isles (before they add new zones, which could easily be made flight-less like Isle of Thunder or Timeless Isle) then I can understand the delay on unlocking flight. But if it's like Warlords, where there's really not much to do outside... well first that would be bad in general, but it would also make the restrictions on flight just kind of spiteful at that point.

Flight is a part of World of Warcraft, and while on any project, you've got to be willing to slaughter some sacred cows, I think that the lack of flight in most of Warlords was not the right call. Had there been a Draenor Pathfinder achievement in 6.0, or even 6.1 (making that patch good for something, at least,) it would not have been as much of an issue, but Warlords has gone quite quickly into the "winding down" phase, and so the fact that flight was unlocked two months after the last major patch (probably shouldn't have said "weeks not months" about that,) it comes a bit later than I would have hoped.

I hope that we see a revitalized outdoor game at level 110, and I hope that part of that game involves flying (preferably between airships and floating islands in the sky, because dammit, this is fantasy!)

Eleven Class Challenge: Warlords Edition: Complete!

EDIT: That's Eleven Class Challenge, not Twelve Class. I must be more excited about Demon Hunters than I thought!

While storming Grommashar, my Blood Elf Priest dinged 100, giving me one level 100 character of every class. I'm heavily weighted in favor of Alliance: Human Paladin, Draenei Death Knight, Draenei Mage, Worgen Warrior, Gnome Warlock, Dwarf Hunter, Pandaren Monk (Tushui, of course,) and Night Elf Druid. Meanwhile, I have my Undead Rogue, Tauren Shaman, and now Blood Elf Priest at 100 (in order of getting them to the level cap, divided by faction. The Rogue was between the Death Knight and Mage and the Shaman was, I believe, between the Mage and the Warrior - if you care about that at all.)

So no Orc, Goblin, or Troll at the level cap (actually, I still haven't gotten either of my Orcs to 90.)

I do still think that the questing experience in Warlords going from 90 to 100 is better than any expansion that has come before it. It isn't flawless - Gorgrond feels kind of half-developed (part of the problem being that you only do half the zone, which half being determined by which building you pick.) Gorgrond's definitely the weak link here, as there's not really much story to it. Actually, I think the "radically different quest experience depending on building choice" could have been great, but there just wasn't enough there to make those individual quest chains all that fun (and it seems like there's not enough XP in them to actually get you through the zone without lots of rest experience.)

But outside of Gorgrond, things are very good. I think Talador suffers a bit from being linear - the Shattrath and Auchindoun quest chains take you along a very narrow path, and there's not a lot of choice about the order in which you do them.

By contrast, I'd say that the top zones are Shadowmoon Valley and Spires of Arak. I'll admit that part of the reason I rank Shadowmoon so high is that I love the Draenei and also the zone is probably the most beautiful zone they've ever made. But it also feels like a really epic story, and the sort of optional quest chain at Elodor, where you discover Socrethar, is a great little murder mystery.

Spires of Arak has a bunch going on, and there's a refreshing amount of variety to it (I actually wish Blizzard would be a little less thematically consistent. I'd love more expansions with totally unrelated threats, like Yogg-Saron and Malygos during Wrath.) You've got the Adherents, the Sethekk, what could be a necromancer from the Scourge, fungal mind control insanity. The only element I wish they'd explored a bit more was the Shattered Hand, which had a pretty minimal presence. That said, it was nice to get a break from the Iron Horde, so maybe that's ok.

I definitely think the bonus objectives and vignettes were great additions to the leveling experience, and I expect we'll see more of those in the Broken Isles. Solo scenarios, likewise, allowed for some very epic climaxes to big quest chains, and they hit a good balance on cutscenes (really the only place they went totally overboard on cutscenes was Uldum.)

I think the challenge in the future is to see if you can make world content good at the level cap. I think the gold standard here is the 5.1 Shieldwall/Dominance Offensive dailies. But I also think that they need to be better at leaving plot threads to pick up in the quests but also being sure to pay those off. Admiral Taylor's possibly be-Scourged garrison is clearly a long-term set-up for something post-Legion, but I think that there were a few elements (like Cho'gall and the Pale) that didn't seem to pay off that much in the end (I know Cho'gall was the mythic-only boss of Highmaul, but big plot stuff should not be only for the elite of the elite.)

I'm also very curious to see how the class-specific content in Legion is going to work out. As great as these zones were, the twelfth time through them, I wasn't exactly engrossed in the quest text. And that's probably not really Blizzard's fault - I'm the one insane enough to get every class to the level cap - but I think class quests could be a great way to make leveling up an alt feel exciting and new. I hope that it isn't just like "get your artifact" and then you get siphoned into the exact same experience for the rest of the expansion.

Anyway, I tried Clarity of Power, but then switched over to Auspicious Spirits. While I'm generally more of a cleave/aoe guy than a multi-dotter, Clarity of Power made Shadow feel kind of thin. Also, I love those spirits flying toward my enemies.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Going Back to Blood and Hopes for Tanking in Legion

After fretting about the removal of two-handed Frost and wondering what the mechanics of the spec are going to look like once we're wielding the shards of Frostmourne, whose names I'm currently blanking on, I've kind of wound up just deciding to go back to Blood tanking as a main spec for my Death Knight. After a brief stint as Blood DPS in early Wrath (I think I took him on one or two Naxxramas alt runs way back then,) I started tanking (also in Blood, after experimenting with the other specs, which could also tank at the time.)

Blood had originally been conceived of as the "physical DPS" spec way back before even the Wrath beta, but over the course of Wrath, it became a popular tanking spec (though there were Frost tanks too. Unholy wasn't terribly popular for tanking) and in Cataclysm, when, frankly, sanity prevailed and one spec was declared the official tank spec (the insanity was fun, to be fair,) Blood's penchant for self-healing made it the clear choice for tanking, and ushered in the first real active-mitigation-focused tank spec.

So through Wrath and Cataclysm, my DK was a tank. Through Mists and Warlords, though, he's been DPS - I think largely because A: my main's already a tank, B: I found the massive Obliterates of two-handed Frost really satisfying and C: the value of tanks has, well, tanked. With the dearth of dungeon content in favor of LFR raiding, and in Mists, scenarios that were designed to be run by three dps (basically a dungeon group without the tank or healer,) the natural population for tanks had plummeted.

In WoW's early days, it seemed (and admittedly, I started tanking pretty early, so I've got a biased perspective) like about a fifth of the player population was tanks (and another fifth healers.) This worked out, because back then, raiding was something only a small elite would do (think Mythic raiding now - maybe mythic and heroic) and so the main content for people to run was dungeons.

But even raiding was a little friendlier to tanks then. In Naxx-25, we'd take three tanks at least, and sometimes have someone switch for fights with huge numbers of adds (Noth the Plaguebringer, mainly.) These days, raids use two tanks, regardless of the raid size. And of course, this does let the fights remain consistent between sizes (important with flex mode,) but it also means that at most, tanks make up a fifth of the raid, and can be as little as a fifteenth.

I do think that a lot of players are more wary these days of performing those non-DPS roles, and particularly tanking, because there's really no way for tanks to pool their efforts (well, outside of the legendary ring ability.) Dungeons, despite putting more individual responsibility on the sole tank, are a great place to learn how to do it (though hopefully you'll start early in the leveling process, when the dungeons are more forgiving.)

So ultimately, I really hope that Legion does follow through on the goal of making dungeons relevant throughout the expansion, and I really, really hope that we get an expanding dungeon list over time (it worries me a bit that there are only nine dungeons at launch. What happened to the days when we could get twelve or fifteen right out the gate?)

But beyond that, I hope that Blizzard finds a way to communicate some of the ideas behind tanking. Unlike DPS and healing, tanking's not quite as intuitive - your D&D group doesn't have a tank; the enemies just attack what the DM wants them to. The proving grounds don't so much teach you how to position enemies or use cooldowns as much as they test whether you already know how to do those things. And there really needs to be some instruction on how to do a damned taunt-swap before you can queue as a tank for LFR. Seriously, I've run into so many co-tanks who either taunt back to make sure the boss is always on them while they stack up some deadly debuff or need to be prompted every single time I need them to taunt off of me. It's kind of a pet peeve at this point.

So I have high hopes for my Death Knight, wielding his Maw of the Damned (though he'll of course have the Frost swords for his offspec) in Legion. I just hope that this finest and most heroic of group roles will return to the noble position it once held.

Monday, September 7, 2015

What to Expect at Blizzcon 2015

We're now two months away from 2015's Blizzcon. This is the Blizzard-only convention where they tend to make their biggest announcements, but also, because it's only Blizzard's show, they get to go into nitty-gritty stuff that wouldn't really fly at a regular convention, like having an entire panel dedicated to professions or something like that.

Blizzard has been pushing a lot of game-synergy, with rewards in one game earned by playing another - and it's been a pretty effective strategy. Heroes of the Storm is basically the embodiment of this philosophy, especially with all the goodies you get in-game for playing their other games (I have a Dire Wolf mount and Malthael's Charger in HotS because of what I've done in WoW and Diablo III.)

So, franchise by franchise, what might we see?

Diablo III:

It might be time to introduce a new expansion. Diablo III was massively improved by the Reaper of Souls expansion, and they've further iterated on the game to make various forms of gameplay more rewarding. Still, many of the old locales, and even the areas from Act V have perhaps started to get old. We've dealt with most of the remaining problems, of course (it was so, so satisfying to kill Adria after what she did to Leah,) but new ones have arisen (like the fact that Malthael freed the souls of the seven evils during our fight against him.

Adding a new class would also be fun, as usual. To be fair, the existing ones do cover a pretty satisfying gamut of RPG archetypes, though perhaps some kind of nature-themed class could work.

It'd also be nice to find some way to salvage Leah's soul. Pretty much the most innocent and likable person to be transformed into the embodiment of evil. I actually wonder if they might end Diablo III with one of the series' classic dark endings, having us fall to corruption in order to save Leah. Though I'd rather see the rebirth of the Nephalem have a much larger impact on the Diablo universe than just sweeping our heroes under the rug as monsters.

Starcraft II:

Legacy of the Void is being tested, I believe, so I suspect we won't really find out much earth-shattering news about that. It remains to be seen what they're going to do with the Starcraft franchise once Legacy of the Void completes the Starcraft II trilogy. Future expansions will have to exist outside of the obvious Terran-Zerg-Protoss trifecta. Perhaps there will be an expansion with smaller campaigns for each faction. Still, I doubt we'll hear about it any time soon.


They just released a new expansion, but these seem to be quick to make, so we might even hear about another one coming up. Alternatively, they could release another solo adventure.

Heroes of the Storm:

With the Eternal Conflict event ending tomorrow (no treasure goblin portrait for me, though I think the mount will still be purchasable through October,) they might be gearing up for a new themed event. I think a Starcraft event with new maps would be great - so far all the maps are fantasy-themed (well, Luxoria Sun Temple might have a steampunky feel to it) so it would be cool to have some high-tech forts and minions to blast.

New heroes have been released on a pretty regular basis (we're getting Rexxar tomorrow,) so I expect this will just continue. Still, if there's a special event, we might see more from a particular franchise (I believe Johanna, the Butcher, Leoric, and Kharazim were all in a row and meant to be part of the Eternal Conflict event.)


I don't really know what to expect, but I think they might start talking about a Beta for the game. And perhaps some new characters.

World of Warcraft:

The Gamescom Legion announcement was, I think, to reassure us that there was something cool coming next for WoW. Still, while we did get the major points - Burning Legion, Broken Isles, Demon Hunters, Illidan, Class Halls, Artifact Weapons - the announcement didn't really go into fine details about what they were working on for the expansion (though in fairness, we got way more than what I expected. I really thought we'd get at most a "this is the title, this is where it will be, this is the new race/class.")

We know that big changes are coming for a lot of existing classes and specs - Survival's going to be a melee spec, Shadow Priests are getting "Insanity" as a resource, etc. Still, at the moment, we just know that they are getting changes, not how those changes are going to work. Some of that we'll probably still not get fully until the Beta is up (and even then, things will be subject to change. For a time, Shuffle was a Brewmaster ability that you'd channel and be unable to do anything else while it was going,) but some of the really huge changes, as well as some of the details on the mechanics of the Demon Hunter class, will be clarified.

And if Blizzard is really on top of their game, they'll announce the start of the Legion beta. Preferably followed by "this coming Tuesday!"

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Evolving Weapons for WoW

Right after Demon Hunters, the biggest feature of Legion is the idea of "Artifact Weapons." Rather than getting new weapons as the expansion goes on, we'll instead get new relics to plug into our existing weapons to change the stats. This aspect of artifacts could actually wind up being pretty much how it works now, but with the new idea that that really fancy weapon you acquired doesn't simply get tossed aside for a better one.

Interestingly, Demon Hunters are going to be getting a unique weapon type - Glaives (the existing Warglaives of Azzinoth will remain swords so that other classes can use them - DHs will be able to use Glaives and One-handed Swords.) The Warglaives iconically wielded by Demon Hunters have always been kind of unusual - literal double-edged swords (but with a handle in the middle, of course.) You could just make them technically swords, and I actually think Blizzard might consider simply doing that when Legion actually comes out.

But it does sort of raise an interesting possibility. When Death Knights were first announced, Blizzard had considered giving them a unique weapon type - the Runeblade. In fact, they seemed to toy with the idea of a kind of early version of this artifact weapon concept back then - coming up with the idea that maybe a Death Knight would keep a single weapon (or pair of weapons) forever, but upgrade it as they went along.

In the end, Death Knights basically make their swords and axes into runeblades through runeforging (and their maces into runemaces?)

But the acquisition of weapons these days is a lot more sort of guided than it was then. With personal loot (and granted, in guild raids, you'll probably still be using master looter,) you can easily put in items that only one class, or even one spec would want, without worrying about crowding the loot table with stuff that will just get sharded. Already, since Mists, every Gun, Bow, and Crossbow has been exclusively a Hunter weapon (and soon it will be exclusively a Marksmanship/Beast Mastery weapon.) Agility Daggers, likewise, have been just for two Rogue specs.

After Legion, when we're probably going to be going back to normal weapons (artifacts seem more like a one-expansion feature, as opposed to an "evergreen" feature, though that depends on how successful it is,) there will have to be some thought given to weapon types and weapon acquisition, but Legion presents Blizzard with the opportunity to go kind of nuts with weapons. Every weapon will be designed specifically for its respective spec. They could try out this idea of weapon types exclusive to certain classes - perhaps even using the Diablo III system, where there are certain types of weapons that are exclusive to particular classes, but every class can also use the generic types. (As an example, only Crusaders can wield Flails or Crusader Shields, but they can also use regular shields and maces, swords, daggers, axes, spears, etc.)

Glaives could open the door to new weapon types. Here are a few that I'd be happy to see, for specific classes:

Kegs: Monks - I'd really like to see my Monk carrying a big old keg of ale on his back - perhaps even using it as part of the Keg Smash animation.

Hammers: Paladins - it's really frustrating to me that there are so few good warhammer/maul models in-game. Azeroth's Paladins are known for their iconic hammers (see the animations for Judgment, Templar's Verdict, Final Verdict, Execution Sentence, Light's Hammer, Hammer of Wrath, Divine Storm, the freaking class icon...) but pretty much after vanilla or maybe BC, there have been roughly zero really good blunt hammer models for Paladins to use - everything's covered in spikes instead. I'm stuck using my Hammer of the Naaru (ok, it's technically a Sunsoul Warmaul, but same model) which is great, but my Human feels like he's appropriating Draenei culture. Maybe the key is to separate out Maces (available to practically everyone) and Hammers (Paladins only.)

Totems: Shaman - ok, that big old totem that Cairne used (and yes, he was a Warrior, shut up) would be really cool for a Shaman to use. Alternatively, taking the concept of the Witch Doctor's Ritual Knife (though to be fair, that's pretty close to a dagger anyway.)

Spears: Warriors - You know, we have polearms, which pretty much have spears, halberds, and the real-world version of glaives under their umbrella, but I'd like to see Protection Warriors using one-handed spears, Ancient Greek Phalanx-style!

Tomes: Warlocks or Mages - Books often get use as off-hand items, but sadly, they never really get seen. I'd like to see a Warlock pull out a tome of unspeakable knowledge when they're casting something like Chaos Bolt. Though this might just open us to a larger conversation about whether casters should use their weapons as part of their casting animations.

To be fair, there might not really be a concept like this for every class. But it might be fun to free up some design space from the existing weapons. I'd be really cool to see a Combat Rogue using a whip or something, or letting Paladins get a bit of that Crusader flavor and letting them swing around a flail (though a flail seems like it would be terrible for tanking - how do you parry with a flail?)

We'll have to see how tricky it is to add a whole new weapon type to the game (and in fairness, we'll really not see that effect until the expansion after Legion.) But if it goes well, it might open up some fun new possibilities.

Adventure Mode in WoW

One of the ideas mentioned at Dragoncon was creating an "Adventure Mode" for WoW. Adventure Mode is a feature in Diablo III that allows players to travel freely between the different Acts and the areas within, playing where they want to and completing "bounties" (essentially quick quests) to get useful rewards.

Doing so in WoW would have to be a pretty different affair. Since Reaper of Souls, Diablo III has had enemies in any area scale to your level, meaning that leveling up (at least until you get Paragon levels) is more about getting new abilities and runes (modifiers to abilities) than becoming numerically superior to your enemies. In fact, you could beat the entire game in its ordinary mode at a fairly low level, because enemies scale down as well as up.

Azeroth (and Outland/Draenor) is, of course, a much larger setting than Sanctuary, and WoW's gameplay is designed for more discrete chunks - specific quests and objectives, specific trash groups and bosses. And WoW is not automatically scaled to one's level (though Timewalkers have proven that it's a technology they can implement, at least in some situations.)

But Diablo is also randomized by its nature - not only are its many rare/elite enemies given random affixes (abilities) but the maps themselves are procedurally generated when you enter a dungeon, ensuring that you'll always have to do some exploration to get where you want to go.

Adventure Mode in WoW could take a couple of forms.

One would be to allow you to go back and do entire zones again, either scaled down (but like Timewalkers, retaining all your abilities,) or scaled up, and potentially then getting scaled-up rewards.

The other option is to create new randomized daily (or weekly, or whatever) quests that send you to a random zone from older expansions. Perhaps one day you'd get a quest sending you to Redridge Mountains to fight some bandits and another day you'd get a quest sending you to Sholazar Basin to fight some Cultists.

I think that of the two, I'd prefer the former. One of the things that has happened over the years is a kind of irreversible raising of stakes - at this point, the player character is such a big deal that everyone is practically kissing your boots as you walk by. You're the Commander, and soon you'll be the leader of your entire Class Order.

That's fine, and certainly makes sense given the things we've accomplished (killed the Lich King, two Old Gods, beaten both co-leaders of the Burning Legion - one of them twice,) but there's also something really appealing about just being the wandering hero, going to strange towns and fighting bandits. These days, you pretty much have to replace "bandits" with "highly trained military hit squad empowered by dark magic" to make the threat seem plausible.

Anyway, there hasn't been an official announcement of this feature, so I wouldn't get too hyped up about it just yet - it's the kind of thing that might be delayed or cut to ensure Legion comes out in a reasonable amount of time (and man, I'm starting to feel done with Draenor - sad that that's less than a year after getting there.)

Especially given the fact that we're now in the era of level boosts, and that Demon Hunters are going directly to the Broken Isles after finishing their starting quests, it'd be nice to have an incentive to take people back to older content.

Jaina Proudmoore and Dalaran

Unlike most expansion locations, Dalaran has remained relevant to World of Warcraft well after we first went there (or at least really into the city - as it's technically been in-game since vanilla, only before Wrath it was a bubble in Hillsbrad Foothills.) This ancient city - the only Human "Kingdom" with no hereditary monarch - was conveniently uprooted, allowing the entire city to essentially serve as a moving crisis response unit.

When we first arrived there, Dalaran was under the leadership of Rhonin. But when Garrosh had Theramore destroyed, the archmage gave his life to save his colleague, Jaina Proudmoore, shoving her through a portal right before the bomb went off.

Jaina would go onto to become the new leader of Dalaran. And while she had spent the previous several years ruling over the city-state she had founded, and by rights, she really ought to be Queen of Kul Tiras (wherever it is,) Jaina was also a key member of the Kirin Tor. She was Archmage Antonidas' apprentice, and she was clearly being groomed to take over for him (assuming she wasn't wed to Arthas to be the queen of Lordaeron.)

Jaina was always one of the Alliance's strongest advocates for peace with the Horde. With Thrall as Warchief, she managed to broker peaceful cooperation between Theramore and Orgrimmar - which were both founded around the same time. Indeed, after being united in battle by Medivh, Jaina and Thrall were actually pretty good friends.

Things started to go to hell after the Wrath Gate incident. Jaina tried to keep things under control, but after seeing the hideous atrocities committed in the Undercity - even after accounting for the fact that Putress and Varimathras were not technically operating for Horde, or even Sylvanas' interests - Varian really threw down the gauntlet, and the war between the Alliance and Horde that would eventually end at the Siege of Orgrimmar began.

Still, it was the appointment of Garrosh Hellscream as Warchief that really kicked the war into gear (one could actually interpret this somewhat more sympathetically to Thrall - with Varian threatening war, Thrall might have felt he had no choice but to put someone who would ensure the Horde was on the offensive, rather than defense.) And probably the most infamous act in that war (well, perhaps aside from the destruction of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms) was the sudden obliteration of Theramore. While it certainly made sense as a military target - Theramore's forces might not have engaged the Horde, but they were certainly aiding the Alliance war effort in their push into the Barrens - the utter destruction of a city that had, for a time, represented the hope for peace was, well, pretty damn nasty.

But the thing that one should remember is that this is not what turned Jaina away from the path of peace. Re-situated in Dalaran, she essentially tried to make the floating city a fulfillment of the hopes that Theramore had represented. Dalaran had been instrumental in the efforts to defeat Malygos and the Lich King, and while there was definitely an Alliance and a Horde side of town, it was a place where people set aside these differences to work together. Humans and Blood Elves, living side by side, and it all looked everyone there genuinely believed in cooperation.

But Dalaran was used by some Horde elements to help Garrosh in his attempts to secure a weapon of mass destruction - something he might be able to wield to similarly devastating power as the Focusing Iris (the artifact used in the creation of the mana-bomb.)

Jaina didn't know who was ultimately responsible, but it was clearly a member or members of the Horde. And let's remember that Dalaran was an Alliance city to begin with. Even with the long history between the Humans and High Elves (who would become the Blood Elves,) the Horde was allowed there under the assumption that they would use the city to aid in the defense of common interests.

Jaina's reaction was not great. Rather than a thorough investigation to find the specific perpetrators, or even simply expelling the Horde from Dalaran, she rounded up all the Horde citizens and tossed them in the Violet Hold (and allowed those who resisted arrest to be killed.)

This was not a good move, and it actually wound up scuttling a deal Varian and Lorthemar had been working on to get the Blood Elves back into the Alliance (something that clearly couldn't happen for gameplay reasons, but is pretty interesting story-wise.)

But I reject the notion that Jaina has somehow gone "evil." Jaina's actions would be considered totally acceptable for pretty much any other Alliance leader. It's just that her history as the advocate of peace makes this shocking. But damn if the Horde didn't earn her ire. It's kind of amazing that she held back for as long as she did.

As of 5.1, Dalaran became lore-wise an Alliance-only city. In fact, there was originally a plan to see Dalaran bombarding Orgrimmar from above during the Siege (this was cut because rendering two cities, one on top of the other, would have been terrible for peoples' computers.)

But in Legion, Dalaran will become a neutral city once again, and we'll even have a new version of it in the Broken Isles (the old one in Northrend will remain, though it'll be updated so that the two versions look the same.) And it won't be Jaina in charge of the city, but Khadgar.

Now Khadgar's certainly got the credentials to run Dalaran. In fact, technically the Kirin Tor are supposed to be run by a council, rather than a single Archmage. The real question is what brings about this transition (well, other than a massive demonic invasion.)

Jaina did start to mellow a bit as early as the Isle of Thunder. She and Lorthemar agreed to walk away from a potential conflict at Taran Zhu's insistence, which is growth! Sure, she was still calling for the dismantlement of the Horde at the end of the Siege, but she wasn't necessarily saying "kill all those people." So far, allowing the Horde to persist has been ok (I view Ashran as essentially non-canon.) Both sides fought together with little incident at the Dark Portal, and pretty much didn't even see each other through most of Draenor (our local allies, the Frostwolves and universe-B Draenei, had no reason to dislike each other, so no real problems there.)

I think it would be a real shame to have Jaina devolve into some "corrupted" villain. She had a big, angry outburst, but by the standards we tend to hold Warcraft heroes, one could hardly consider her actions evil. In fact, she represents a certain righteous anger in the Alliance that is sorely needed to allow the Alliance some pro-active plots. We need an Alliance that hits back just as hard as it takes them, and while the Alliance/Horde conflict has receded into the background (thank the light,) I'm perfectly happy to have angry Jaina as a strong force within the Alliance.

Some reconciliation would be ok, though. A rapprochement between the Alliance and Horde could help with this transition. In fact, it could be as simple as the peace treaty signed at the end of the Siege of Orgrimmar having the release of the Blood Elf prisoners in the Violet Hold as part of its terms.

And Jaina, perhaps worried that the Alliance is just setting itself up for betrayal, might resign from Dalaran in frustration. That's not evil. That's just knowing when to fold 'em.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Will Warlords and Legion's class revamps be like Cataclysm and Mists'?

It's easy to forget now, but there was actually what seemed like a pretty major talent revamp in Cataclysm.

Throughout Classic, Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King, there was no moment at which you explicitly chose a spec. Instead, each class had three talent trees. Every level starting at level 10, you'd get a single point to put into one of the many talents in these trees. Once you had put five into a tree, the second tier of talents would open up, another ten (though the second group of five did not have to go into the second tier of talents) would unlock the third, until about twenty levels below the cap, at which point you would have the final talent of the tree. Typically, you'd then start investing in some of the low-level talents of other trees.

The odd consequence of this was that until you got to level twenty or even thirty, there actually wasn't a huge difference between the various specs - an ostensibly Holy Paladin could easily tank a dungeon at that level.

Cataclysm added the idea that you would choose a spec at level 10 and instantly get a number of clear bonuses to really drive home the idea that you had chosen that specialization. Rather than very gradually orienting an Enhancement Shaman toward melee attacks, you immediately had Lava Lash and an ability that gave you spellpower based on your attack power.

They also locked you into a given spec - there were actually builds back in the day that put a relatively even number of points into multiple talent trees, but Cataclysm locked off the trees outside your spec until you had spent enough to have the final talent (though you didn't actually need to spend that last point on that final talent.)

Obviously, Mists of Pandaria's talent overhaul was far more dramatic, with the new system making Specialization and Talents completely different game mechanics.

In addition to the number squish we got for Warlords (something that I imagine most people don't even think about anymore. Remember when we were doing 300k DPS in Mists?) there was also an "ability squish" that seriously reduced the number of abilities clogging up action bars. Mostly, this was a good thing (I'm so glad that Mages don't have to mutli-dot with their bomb spells to AoE anymore and constantly use their mana-regeneration talents. Leave that to Warlocks!) But while I think they pushed things in the right direction, it was something of a half-measure, much as the Cataclysm talent revamp was.

There's nothing terribly specific, but at this Dragoncon, we started to hear about the idea of giving lots of specs new resources and even new names (the latter of these is the most mind-blowing.) Survival Hunters, we know, will be essentially a whole new spec, but I wonder how extensive these class changes will be.

Major class changes can be a big risk, and I've certainly had my disappointments in this department (Arms Warriors. Never Forget.) But on the other hand, perhaps some serious re-working could result in much more interesting specs. In Cataclysm, all three Warlocks specs played pretty similarly, but the tear-it-down, build-it-up approach they took to revamping the class resulted in some really cool gameplay (at least for Demo,) and also, even though this isn't really the most important thing in the world, some cool-looking elements added to the UI.

Taking Arms Warriors as an example, the revamp in Warlords was meant to focus the spec more on making those massive Mortal Strike hits. But in order to do that, they had to remove a lot of smaller sources of damage, like Overpower. If Blizzard were to go so far as to create a whole different resource system for Arms (Rage always seemed more appropriate for Fury,) they might be able to custom-design it to ensure that Arms got compelling gameplay instead of the current model of "auto-attack until you have enough Rage."

I've been lamenting the death of two-handed Frost and begrudgingly forcing myself to play DW Frost for the remainder of Warlords to prepare myself, but it's possible that this is foolish, because for all we know, the spec might be getting overhauled with a totally different rotation.

Blizzard does need to tread lightly here, though. As someone who plays a Paladin as a main, I remember the transition in Cataclysm to Holy Power. Ultimately I think it was a good move for the class and prefer the way Protection plays now over pretty much any earlier iteration of the spec, but not all these changes are going to be big hits (and there are still people who want to get rid of Holy Power these days for some reason.) Rotations do naturally have to change somewhat over time - some Rogue specs essentially play the same way they have since vanilla - but sudden, jarring changes have to be managed carefully. And doing this to every spec, or even most specs, could really cause a cascade of discontent - even if those changes actually improve the gameplay of those specs.

As someone who doesn't really play a Survival Hunter, it's easy for me to sit back and think its cool that Hunters are getting a melee spec. But if they turned around and made Protection Paladins into a healing spec, you can be sure I'd be grabbing my torch and pitchfork and driving down to Orange County.

Here's looking at Blizzcon, and hopefully imminently thereafter, the Legion beta.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Moonkin Form Revamp Coming!

Ok, I literally just posted the previous article, but here's another tidbit:

Moonkin Form will be receiving an update in Legion! Hooray!

The Moonkin form still uses the model from way back in vanilla (and other than the horned, Tauren version, is, I believe, just the normal owlbear model found in northern Kalimdor, with different color variations for different races.)

I really hope that this will be an extensive revamp like the Bear/Cat one that happened mid-Wrath. Hopefully the different races will have noticeably different models (going beyond the aforementioned Tauren horns) and different color variations based on hair and fur color. Give Troll Moonkin little voodoo charms on their antlers and Worgen could play up the Wickerman, "scary type of pagan" side of Druidism with their look.

This is fantastic news, especially after a miscommunication at today's Q&A suggested that Moonkin were explicitly not getting a revamp.

So if I go back to Balance, I'll have to undo that Glyph of Astral Form (or Glyph of Stars? Whatever it's called.)

I also hope that they do variations on the form based on artifacts like they're doing for Guardian and Feral Druids, though in fairness, Balance Druids do already get to see their weapons while shapeshifted, so this isn't entirely necessary.

The Fates of the Wrynns

The Wrynn dynasty has been through the ringer in the last few decades. First, the noble Llane Wrynn was murdered by Garona Halforcen - a person he had thought was a dear friend (though honestly, I don't really understand how the timeline works here. How long did they know each other? How long was the First War?) Varian's wife, Queen Tiffin, was killed in a riot after Stormwind was finally rebuilt (and yes, this is a bit of a fridging situation - Blizzard's got a good story, but they do sometimes fall into "Boy's Club" habits.) And then, after all that crap, Varian got kidnapped and spent years in prison, and then apparently got his personality split into two separate people and... look, I don't read the comics.

Anyway, at this point, things are actually going pretty decently for Stormwind and the Alliance. With the Horde defeated (or at least forced into a change of management) after the Siege of Orgrimmar, and the Iron Horde stopped dead in its tracks, the Alliance has had a few years to take a breather, work on rebuilding its infrastructure and consolidating its territories on Azeroth.

Varian and Anduin also seem to have reconciled their differences - Varian wanted Anduin to be a strong warrior like him, but Anduin is a more thoughtful and patient type. But Varian has managed to accept that his son is not necessarily what he had expected, and that that's ok.

We know that Anduin will be one of the major figures in Legion - he's listed on the official website. But Varian will not. Yet Varian appears in the announcement trailer, and the single screenshot we saw of the Legion cinematic showed Varian... so...

This doesn't bode well for Varian Wrynn.

Legion is going to be a big deal. After the "stakes, what stake?" problems of Warlords, it might be hard to grasp, but Legion will be the highest stakes expansion yet. This is the straight-up Burning Legion invading with a bigger force than they had in the War of the Ancients. This is their biggest play they've ever made for Azeroth, and the Legion only makes big plays (ok, to be fair, Varimathras' coup in Undercity wasn't a huge play - more of a strike of opportunity.)

The point is, this is what we call a hero-killing moment. Blizzard basically has to kill off major characters here in order to make the stakes clear. Tirion Fordring is more or less a dead man, and while Thrall might live, he's made enough bad decisions that have bitten him in the ass that I could see him going catatonic in the face of this threat - great alternative, right?

I have a strong feeling that Varian will die in the initial invasion.

But this will do a lot to invigorate Anduin Wrynn. Prophet Velen foresaw Anduin leading the Army of the Light against the Burning Legion, and it really seems like that prophecy is on its way.

I do wonder, though, what that means for Anduin in terms of his class. So far, Anduin has been a Priest (he's even the Hearthstone Priest hero,) but in the vision, Velen sees him as a Paladin. Leading an army is, after all, more the kind of thing a Paladin would do, and in a way, it would fit for him to kind of merge his own Priestly identity with the Warrior tradition of his father. Also, it just seems like the Alliance ought to have a Paladin as its leader. That said, I could understand a lot of Priests getting upset about that.

But if Anduin becomes the King of Stromwind (again - remember that during Vanilla and BC he was King, with Bolvar Fordragon as his regent,) and potentially High King of the Alliance (a title I don't really like, because High King suggests that they're all Kingdoms, when really only Stormwind and Gilneas have Kings... well, Ironforge does, but he's a big rock at the moment,) that could mean some really odd things for Alliance/Horde relations. Anduin has always been a strong advocate for peace with the Horde, and has held fast to that conviction even after the atrocities committed by Garrosh.

But perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves. The Legion's the big matter at hand. We don't even know what Azeroth is going to look like afterwards (I'd assume it survives, given that I don't think they're going to just shut down the servers after the expansion's final boss is defeated - even if they lose another two million subscribers, it'll still be the biggest subscription-based MMO in the world, and that means more expansions will follow.)

Anduin has grown up before our eyes in-game, with the announcement trailer making it look like he's finally a real adult. He might not be up for slaughtering hundred of Orcs en masse, but I'm eager to see him blast a bunch of demons back to the Nether. Expect upheaval in Legion, and perhaps the deaths of kings.

Some Interesting Legion Details at Dragoncon

The twitter feed @mmoc_events (that of MMO-Central, not to be confused with MMO-Champion) and also Elvine (@Elvinelol) live-tweeted an event with Jonathan LeCraft (a Blizzard designer on WoW) in which we got some really interesting tidbits about Legion.

The series is pretty rapid-fire - it's clearly just a quickly-typed recording of a Q&A - but it's got some really juicy details. I'm not exactly sure how I'll be organizing it, but I'll start with the things I found the most interesting:

  • The current plan is for Demon Hunters to start at level 98, which I think works out fine. Having a quest experience equivalent to all of Nagrand B? Great! (I'm sure it won't be quite as extensive as a whole zone, and you'll be earning more XP per quest to ensure you're 100 by the time you get out.)
  • Demon Hunters will be able to use one-handed swords as well as glaives, presumably so that they can allow them to wield the Warglaives of Azzinoth. Frankly, at this point wouldn't it make more sense to just make all Demon Hunter glaives swords?
  • Demon Hunter Metamorphosis will be a relatively short-duration transformation, and not like a Druid form that you stay in constantly. It sounds like it will be less often than Demonology currently uses it - which is basically in and out constantly in combat.
  • Pretty much all specs are getting a lot of work done to make sure they have a unique identity. This makes me a little worried, because major revamps can cut out the most compelling gameplay of a spec. Let's hope this is more like Mists' Warlock revamp and not like Warlords' Arms Warrior revamp.
  • Some specs are going to be renamed. It really looks like they're focusing on class and spec identity, and I think that means some major overhauls. One thing I wonder is if they're going to give all specs unique names. Currently, Holy, Restoration, Frost, and Protection could all refer to a mix of Priests, Paladins, Death Knights, Mages, Shamans, Druids, and Warriors. Also, "Enhancement" has always been the least inspiring spec name.
  • Some specs are getting new or at least renamed resources. The example given was Insanity for Shadow Priests. Whether this means that Shadow Orbs will become Insanity, or if they'll take the more radical approach and have it replace Mana remains to be seen. I do wonder if they'll be giving specs that don't currently care about that always-solid blue bar below their health new resources - Enhancement, Protection, Retribution, Frost, Fire, Destruction, Balance, Elemental, and of course the aforementioned Shadow really never have to pay attention to Mana in most situations.
  • Multistrike as a stat is going away. This actually surprised me, as I thought it was much more interesting than Versatility. But I do understand that it is kind of a stat where, without a passive that boosts its value (as some specs have) or something that makes crit worse, it's basically always going to play second-fiddle to Crit. Still, at least it does something interesting. Versatility is incredibly dull, and even if it is a useful stat (though basically only for tanks) it's not fun.
  • Transmog is going to be account-wide! Items with class restrictions will still be usable only by that class, but if you get a plate item's look on your Warrior, you'll be able to use it on your Death Knight. I don't think they've said anything about letting you transmog different armor types over each other, so there will still be some big restrictions (I assume.) The point is that this will all be UI-based, so you won't have any need to hold on to the pieces anymore. As a result, Void Storage will not be getting any bigger - but then, you'll probably be able to empty it of all but your most sentimental pieces (Verigan's Fist!)
  • Survival's definitely going melee, but no other class is going to have access to ranged weapons. So there goes my "ranged rogue" theory. No word yet on how they're going to differentiate Rogue specs, but it better be significant.
  • Survival will get a harpoon throw ability to pull enemies to them - presumably similar to Death Grip.
  • Rather than upgrade tokens, professions will be able to destroy older models to get materials for newer models.
  • Professions will have lots of quests, and there will not be daily cooldowns like in Warlords (thank the light.)
  • The Dalaran Sewers will "not look like sewers," and they feel bad that they made people feel so attached to Ravenholdt. So it does sound like they're rather committed to that area as the Rogue class hall, but I'll be fine with it as long as it is OPULENT once you get in the door.
  • "Will dungeons be relevant again?" "Yes, Absolutely," with apparently not-yet unveiled mechanics to ensure this.
  • Dalaran will be getting a facelift - both the Broken Isles one and the Northrend one (I guess Northrend's Dalaran will be changing so that it isn't a big floating continuity error.)
This is a much bigger infodump than I had expected to see before Blizzcon. There's a bunch more on that feed that I didn't get to - some of it is confusingly worded. But this makes me that much more excited about the Beta and Blizzcon.

I only ask that they don't do anything too radical to Protection Paladins. Call us Defender Paladins or whatever, but don't suddenly make us into dodge-focused tanks who have to run into spheres of light in order to block attacks.

Villain Sustainability in World of Warcraft

Archimonde doesn't really make that much sense as a final boss to Warlords of Draenor.

The Defiler has been cooling his heels in the Twisting Nether since his defeat at the battle of Mount Hyjal at the end of the Third War, and there isn't really anything to foreshadow his appearance in Hellfire Citadel other than the general "the Legion is here! Oh Crap!" vibe to the place. Gul'dan was really the best-foreshadowed final boss for Warlords of Draenor - he's the very first major lore figure we directly interact with, and the quick collapse of the Iron Horde at our hands gives us a certain degree of responsibility for Gul'dan's ascension.

One could argue that the final fight in HFC is essentially Gul'dan pulling off a far more successful trick than old Wilfred Fizzlebang (RIP) in Trial of the Crusader. Gul'dan had already rebuilt Mannoroth's body to pit us against the Destructor, and because even that wasn't enough to stop us, he brings forth Archimonde.

But it's still, honestly, pretty anticlimactic. When he was defeated in WCIII (and the Caverns of Time, which we can, I think, safely just interpret as the same exact event but in a different game format - it's one of the few CoT instances with no Infinites in it) we assumed he was dead for good, but the "soul stays in the Nether" type of resurrection that we knew Dreadlords could do has been extended to all demons in Warcraft lore - which also means that this Archimonde is, unlike the many characters we've seen in Draenor, one and the same Archimonde we faced before.

The consequence of this is that when we beat Archimonde in HFC, there's basically nothing to celebrate. Yes, Draenor is safe for now, and the Legion's claim on the world has been rebuffed (and we've all just kind of decided to forgive Grommash for some reason - and even let him be the one leading the cheer,) but there's no sense of relief that Archimonde the Defiler has finally been killed, because he hasn't, really.

Resurrection in fiction is always a tricky thing to pull off. It can be a really cool plot development, but overuse can make a world's stakes feel lower. For example, in a Song of Ice and Fire (the books Game of Thrones is based on,) there is certainly the magic needed to bring someone back from the dead, but the instances of this working have been nothing short of miraculous (meaning rare and unprecedented) and also leave the subject of the resurrection deeply disturbed by the process - suggesting that this return to life is not necessarily a good thing.

On the flipside, however, Blizzard killed off some very major characters in their first few expansions. Both Illidan Stormrage and Arthas Menethil were very popular figures, and Deathwing was a major presence in the game, even if we didn't see him until Cataclysm. We lost a bunch of big Warcraft names, and now I sort of wonder if Blizzard now wishes it had spared them somehow.

Clearly they do for Illidan, as the Betrayer (man, so many of these guys have a "the blank" epithet, though to be fair, some share them, like Deathwing and Sargeras the Destroyers) will be coming back to life in Legion. Indeed, I highly suspect that Illidan will wind up being not a villain, but a champion (albeit a bitter, angry, and volatile one) in the fight against the Legion.

When you write a limited story - even if it's a long series of novels - you can reach the end of a story arc, and sometimes that means that the character at the center of that arc needs to die. Wrath of the Lich King sent of Arthas fantastically. We closed out his story, and you couldn't really ask for a better conclusion to his arc (ok, I'm sure you could think of somewhat better ways to send him off, but the point is, this was a satisfying one.)

The problem, though, is that now you can't have Arthas in the Warcraft Universe anymore. Arthas is one of the most iconic villains of Warcraft (possibly the most iconic,) but he's out, and there's really no logical way to bring him back (ok, yes, he was undead, so maybe you could - the point is that doing so would undo everything about his death in Wrath that was so great.)

Perhaps when they first started making WoW, and even in the first few expansions, they didn't really expect it to have the kind of longevity it has had. By now, of course, the thinking at Blizzard has shifted toward WoW as an ongoing saga - analogous, I think, to a comic book series.

There's a reason why Batman has a no-killing policy. Well, two reasons, with the first being that we can always root for him. But the other reason, more important to this post, is that that means all the memorable characters can actually stick around, even if Batman wins against them. The Joker can lose, but still remain a presence in the Batman universe (ok, DC Universe, but you know what I mean.)

Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy version of Batman had the freedom to kill off villains (though interestingly, not the Joker) because they knew it was self-contained - it was never going to be more than the three movies it was, and so having Two Face die only briefly after becoming a bad guy didn't really hurt them that much; they wouldn't have even really had time to do more with him in the third movie anyway - the point of his character was made, and he was free to get killed off. But the way the comics work, characters can only be killed off on a temporary basis.

It's a tricky balance to strike. Arguably, we defeated Archimonde Joker-style (though actually even less definitively, as we have no Arkham Asylum for demon souls.) I still think that he wasn't really a great choice for a final boss because he really didn't have any presence in the expansion up until that point. I'm glad they didn't go with Grommash, as that would have felt too similar to Garrosh in Mists, and I suppose they decided against Gul'dan because, though he's a very different kind of orc than Garrosh, he's still an Orc, and also that they wanted Gul'dan alive to set up Legion. But unlike the Joker, Gul'dan's going to get killed off (again-ish) early in the expansion, so rather than keeping him around as a constant thorn in our side (/threat to our planet,) instead we'll just see him die as the fairly epic final boss of tier 19, rather than the majorly epic final boss of a whole expansion. It's threatening to get into Alias territory, where instead of cliffhangers, they just had what should have been the climax of each episode simply happen at the beginning of the next one (to be fair, I've only seen the first two or three episodes of Alias.)

In a way, I think Garrosh was, until those final quests in Nagrand, a good example of how to sustain a villain. We definitely beat Garrosh - he was on the floor, and later dragged off in chains - but he was still alive, and still a threat. But the next time we saw him in person, Thrall killed him, which means that we lost Garrosh as a figure within the universe (multiverse,) just like Arthas. Gul'dan will at least get to last past Legion's level-up experience (well, to be fair, Garrosh was kind of the final boss of the level-up experience in Warlords - most of my characters have dinged 100 either in the middle of that scenario or by turning in the quest,) but believe me, by the time we're thinking about 8.0, we'll have kind of vague memories that Gul'dan was a thing in Legion.

I think that ultimately, Blizzard needs to start working on some new villains and seeding them now within the lore. Garrosh was actually a great example of this, even if some could reasonably argue that the direction his character went was disappointing. It's dangerous to put too much weight on a figure who has just been introduced (though you can pull it off - Lei Shen, the Thunder King, felt reasonably epic as a mid-tier boss,) but you'll also find yourself having to constantly resurrect and re-resurrect lore figures to use as bosses if you can't come up with new characters.

This all makes me very curious to see who the final boss of Legion will be. I really, really hope Blizzard knows already, so that they can build the expansion as a big lead-up to that confrontation. But they also should try to give themselves some wiggle room. The Burning Legion is arguably the big bad of the entire Warcraft universe, so there's naturally going to be a big question of "where do we go from here?" once Legion reaches its conclusion.