Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Did We Miss Our Opportunity for Playable Ogres and Arrakoa?

First off, Ogres are the second-oldest race of the Horde. They're the only other Horde race to originate on Draenor, and while they didn't join the Horde until the Second War, when Gul'dan got Cho'gall (so many apostrophes!) to bring in his Twilight's Hammer Clan into the fold (Twilight's Hammer in the old lore was actually an Orc clan Cho'gall had taken over, but I think they've been gradually ret-conning it to having always been the Doomsday Cult that it is now - which is probably for the best.) The Ogres helped fight against the Alliance, but they were never as loyal as the Orcs and seemed to escape when the Orcs were captured at the end of the Second War. Indeed, the current Horde started as a really tattered remnant of its former demon-crazed glory, as the Ogres, Trolls, and Goblins who had supplemented them abandoned them (of course, later on, the Horde would get a different group of Trolls and a different group of Goblins, though to be fair, the Withertusk in Hinterlands seem to be from that original pact with Zul'jin.) There are, in fact, a handful of Horde-loyal Ogres in Dustwallow Marsh and Feralas, but it's not a playable race.

The Arrakoa do not have any history of affiliation with either faction. While the Alliance Expedition teamed up with Gruul to fight Deathwing in Outland (kind of surprising that Gruul was intelligent enough to understand the idea of teaming up,) the Arrakoa of our timeline were in horrible shambles. Of the three factions in Spires of Arak (Adherents, Outcasts, Sethekk,) only the Sethekk really survived the destruction wrought by Ner'zhul. A small handful of Arrakoa saw the Light and went to Shattrath to ally with the Naaru there, but this was a tiny group of refugees, and not the organized resistance movement that was the Outcasts.

Of course, the big thing these groups have in common is that they are from Draenor/Outland. The Ogres have a sizable presence on Azeroth, but the Arrakoa are almost completely unseen there.

Historically, World of Warcraft had added new playable races every other expansion, starting with the Draenei and Blood Elves in BC and then the Goblins and Worgen in Cataclysm. Mists of Pandaria was the expansion that upset that balance, adding both a new race and a new class.

But ultimately, these patterns are not as important as "what fits" with the expansion's concept. Wrath had us fighting the Scourge in a story that really mostly revolved around existing races (ok, the Vrykul were pretty prominent to be fair, but they're arguably quasi-humans... though no less different a race than Blood Elves are from Night Elves.) It made tons of sense to do Death Knights but no new races. Likewise, Mists kind of had to add Pandaren, but it also kind of had to add Brewmasters (which they made into a spec of the larger-umbrella Monk.)

Going back to Draenor would have been the ideal time to add Ogres and Arrakoa - both longstanding fan-theory favorites for new playable races. Ogres would clearly be Horde, and Arrakoa could easily be fit into the Alliance (or really either faction, though their color scheme feels more Alliance.)

Now, there's a very clear reason why they might have been hesitant to do new races. The ten racial revamps they did were probably not as time-consuming as creating ten races from scratch (the concept art was all done long ago) but it was still a ton of work. Both Ogres and Arrakoa did wind up getting new models, but they aren't the kind of super-detailed work the playable races got.

Still, I can't really think of another expansion where it would make sense to add these guys. It's very possible that we'll never get another Outland expansion. Ogres, to be fair, could fit in more situations given their presence on Azeroth, but Arrakoa would be hard to work in. That said, not all added races have had direct ties to an expansion's story. One could argue that Goblins were a big part of the evolving Horde war machine, but Worgen had absolutely nothing to do with the elemental unrest of the Cataclysm other than that they were a loose plot thread from vanilla that had never been dealt with.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Living in a Post-Calamity World - Bastion

As a Mac gamer, I often kind of write off computer games, hoping there will be a console version unless they're released by some of the few companies that make Mac games. However, on impulse, I took a look at the Mac games on Steam and noticed that Bastion was there.

I knew basically nothing about Basiton, but it was cheap and I had heard it was good, so I decided to try it out.

Two things are really great about the game right off the bat. The music is absolutely beautiful - a kind of fantasy version of kind of western ambience - lots of guitar, some very pretty singing, always pretty chill. The other awesome thing is the narrator. Not only does the guy have a relaxing, smooth cowboy cadence, but his commentary on the game is remarkably reactive. He doesn't just narrate the beginnings and ends of levels or in cutscenes (though he does that too,) but he'll comment on your play - if you pull off good moves, if you fail to block things, if you accidentally fling yourself off the many cliff-faces.

The premise is that you are living in a world that has suffered through "The Calamity," which pretty much broke the entire world. You make your way around a world that builds itself as you walk along paths, with nasty enemies popping up along with the environment.

The controls, at least as default, take a little getting used to. You can play with a mouse, Diablo-style, or walk with the keyboard, both styles making me do things I don't intend to occasionally, like blowing my special moves that are bound to Q. Practice helps, but I do wonder if it would work better with a console controller.

As one of only a few survivors of the Calamity, you attempt to rebuild the world, starting with the Bastion, which serves as a kind of hub. You have weapons that you can upgrade and trade out, as well as liquors that give bonus effects. There are bonus objectives to complete that give you a currency to buy upgrades (the currency is also found in abundance just by playing the normal levels.)

What I find interesting is the way that the story is slowly teased out. You'll find items that you can talk about with the various NPCs (though it's all told in a quasi-3rd person by the Narrator, despite the fact that he's the first person you meet at the Basiton - he seems to be recollecting the plot of the game in the narration.) So far, there are two ethnic groups and some accusations surrounding the scientific principles that brought about the Calamity. I'm really not sure whether I should trust the narrator, as the game builds a lot of mystery into its relatively simple gameplay.

But I honestly think that this game is worth it just to listen to the soundtrack. It's absolutely gorgeous.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Legendary in Legion

Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor really changed the way that Legendary items worked. In previous expansions, a Legendary item was always a weapon (there was a tanking necklace in the vanilla beta, I believe, but it got cut.) Except for the drops in BC - which were just extra rare boss drops - legendaries always involved a quest chain. But the weapons were always part of one tier or another - they did wind up upgrading some of the old legendaries to make sure they were still good later in the expansion - I think Valanyr, the healing mace from Ulduar, was upgraded so that it would remain relevant in ICC - but they were generally pretty self-contained to certain raids and tiers.

There was also only one instance of a legendary having different variants. Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian, which could be acquired in the original Naxxramas, and is now wielded by Khadgar, came in Mage, Warlock, Druid and... Priest flavors, I think (I don't think there was a Shaman version.)

But the other really defining thing about Legendary weapons was that they were for the hardcore. Early WoW actually made raiding a pretty much hardcore-only club, and legendaries required serious persistence (and luck.) It was by no means a guarantee that you'd get a legendary, and in fact, you could go for several expansions without seeing a legendary item fit for you (tanks really only got one in vanilla, the oft-spammed Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker - though theoretically a Death Knight tank could use Shadowmourne.)

Mists flipped this dynamic in so many ways that Legendaries are nearly unrecognizable. Mists established these chains as something that worked for all specs and roles. They were also completable in LFR - something that had not been the case in Cataclsym (much to my Rogue's sorrow, though now that DS is soloable, I'm working on it.) They also became expansion-spanning quest chains that involved numerous rewards that ramped up to the true legendary at the end. And of course, partially to satisfy the first change, they were no longer weapons, but instead universal gear slots - first cloaks and then rings.

Legendaries went from being a rare treat for the elite to being arguably more accessible than regular raiding. At this point, in fact, the legendary rings actually work best when you have lots of people in your raid wearing them. The uniqueness of the legendary item has been fundamentally undercut.

Now, there are certainly pros and cons to the new system. Having a quest chain that spans the whole expansion is a good way to add motivation to really explore the whole of what the expansion has to offer. The downside, though, is that if you start the chain late or have to take a break, there's a hell of a lot of catching up to do.

The system also prevents anyone from feeling left out (poor Enhancement Shamans) and also helps to resolve some of the balance that weapons like Dragonswrath used to upset.

Legion already has a pretty serious gear-related feature though - Artifact Weapons. We're going to be wielding some of the most famous weapons in the Warcraft universe. In a way, these go beyond Legendaries. In Wrath, we were able to build an axe that was almost as powerful as Frostmourne, whereas in Legion, Frost Death Knights will be able to wield sword literally made from its shards (like Widow's Wail and Oathkeeper were made from Ice, only if Ice had been an evil sword! /end Game of Thrones reference.)

In fact, this might present us with the obvious direction for legendaries. We're going to be spending the whole expansion upgrading our artifact weapons. So perhaps it will be as simple as letting those who go the extra mile upgrade their Ashbringers, Doomhammers, or what-have-yous to legendary status. In a sense, they'll already be legendary, but we'd be putting a final lair of polish on them.

Depending on how they structure the endgame in Legion, we might not even need a legendary chain to ensure that we take a tour through the world (and to be fair, Warlords' was really more a "tour through the raids.")

I wonder if artifact weapons might just take the place of a legendary quest chain in Legion - it could be the expansion that has no technical legendaries, though artifact weapons should fill out their spot quite nicely.

It's been a few months since Legion was announced, and we're now less than two weeks from Blizzcon, so again, I imagine we'll hear a bit about this relatively soon.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Envisioning Demonology Sans Metamorphosis

Historically, Warlocks have borrowed a lot from the WCIII Demon Hunter hero. In WCIII, the only Warlock units appeared as variants of the regular Shaman unit in the missions where Grommash and his Warsong were hopped up on Demon Blood.

In Wrath, Demonolgy got Metamorphosis as a powerful cooldown - it was at the bottom of the talent tree (meaning you had to invest the most talent points to get it.) Through Wrath and Cataclysm, it was really just a big boost to your damage that would persist for your average cooldown length (I want to say 20 or 30 seconds,) but it wouldn't really change your rotation.

The Mists of Pandaria Warlock revamp changed this tremendously (wow, between the spec revamps and the Green Fire chain, Mists was a pretty Warlock-friendly expansion despite their not really being central to the lore.)

The Mists/Warlords version of Demonology makes Metamorphosis the central ability of the spec. You spend your time trying to maximize the amount of Demonic Fury you can generate so that you can burn it off in demon form. You need to carefully toggle between the two forms to ensure that Corruption and Doom are up on your targets, and depending on talent choices, you either need to save stacks of Molten Core for when you're demonized or you need to burn them off to get ready for a blast of Demonbolts.

Assuming that Metamorphosis will be going away so that Demon Hunters can have exclusive access to it, that means big changes.

Demonic Fury itself might not really fit in a post-Meta world. Right now, DF is really just the resources that you use while a demon. That said, it doesn't have to disappear. You could easily make spells like Doom, Soul Fire, or Demonbolt cost DF, perhaps requiring a kind of build-and-spend rhythm that simply isn't locked away under the transformation. Might that make things too easy, though? Being able to refresh corruption in the middle of a Demonbolt spam session might make the spec too simplistic to play.

The biggest thing, though, is that they need to come up with a new theme. They have the beginnings of one, though. Demonology has always been about summoning demons, and as we won't be able to become demons ourselves, it seems inevitable that we'll turn the focus to our minions.

The key here, I think, is to make sure that this doesn't feel like just the Warlock version of Beast Mastery. BM Hunters, in case you didn't know, have two of their major rotational abilities based on the performance of their pet. Kill Command is their hardest-hitting ability, and it's performed by the pet.

I think that you could find a way to distinguish the two specs by allowing Beast Mastery to focus much more on the individual pet - kind of the idea that the Hunter has established a close, deep bond with his or her pet. Demonology, on the other hand, would be the Warlock who wishes to command an army of demons.

Right now, Wild Imps is one of the coolest features of the spec, even if it is essentially just passive. But that idea that a Demonology Warlock is summoning a small army really feels distinct from other heavily pet-based specs.

I could even see a de-emphasis on DoTs - perhaps just having us use Doom instead of Corruption (radical, I realize) - and instead focus on various spells to either summon more imps or to empower said imps.

As an example, I think it would be totally in-line with Warlock flavor to have an ability that causes your imp to charge the target and explode - sacrificing the Imp for a burst of damage.

But what of the Felguard/Wrathguard?

Well, at this point there is some interactivity - hitting Felstorm/Wrathstorm is a pretty heavy supplement to burst AoE. The problem is that direct control over the minion starts to feel a bit too much like Beast Mastery, and empowering the minion feels a bit like Unholy Death Knights. Perhaps the Minion is fine as it is, and Demo can put more of a focus on the swarm of Imps that follow them around.

If Demonic Fury is handed over to Demon Hunters along with Metamorphosis, one wonders what secondary resource Demo should have. I think it's become clear that most classes and specs benefit from having one of these, even if they aren't all that different from existing ones. I could imagine building up "Control" or something, which would allow you to use more of those minion-summoning or minion-altering spells. Controlling demons is an act of willpower, and it makes sense that a Demo Lock would have to build up that willpower to perform more complicated feats.

Blizzcon's about two weeks away now, and if Blizzard is on top of things, the beta should follow not too long after. This is one of the specs I'm watching most closely.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Buckling the Swash on Combat Rogues

The odd thing about Rogues is that even if you only play one spec (like I do with Assassination,) it's not hard to get a feel for the other specs, because the three specs have a very similar structure to them. Each spec has a finisher or two to maintain (Slice and Dice for Combat, Rupture for Assassination, and both for Subtlety) and a finisher that they use when the others are up (Eviscerate for Combat and Sub, Envenom for Assassination.) And all three specs have two combo-point builders - one that should be used in most situations (Mutilate, Backstab, Sinister Strike) and another that gets used either to set up a debuff or can only be used in special situations (Revealing Strike, Hemorrhage, Dispatch.) There are certainly differences in rhythm, and things get different when it comes to AoE and Cooldowns, but overall, the specs have very similar structures.

Of the three specs, I've never been drawn to Combat much. They have historically been a pretty powerful spec - when I was first paying attention to the power of the various specs during BC, Combat was hands-down the best Rogue spec, and at the time if you played Subtlety (as I did) in PvE people would look at you funny. But I've always felt like Combat was kind of struggling against the flavor of the Rogue. Rogues are built around stealth, slitting throats and stabbing people with poisoned daggers. Combat drops all that to be a kind of brawler, and while a swashbuckling pirate type could work as a kind of reinterpretation of the Rogue (pirates are often depicted as roguish,) there's not really enough in the flavor of the Rogue class as it exists to really suggest that. Both Assassination and Subtlety really push for more of the kind of professional assassin type - one who appears out of nowhere, eliminates the target, and then vanishes before they can be caught.

Pirates and Swashbucklers are so not that archetype. Swashbucklers are full of bravado and boldness. They don't want there to be any mystery about who took out their enemies. They should embody a kind of flamboyant, swaggering egotism. A swashbuckling rogue wants to make an entrance and ensure that everyone - friends and enemies alike - will be talking about his or her deeds for years.

There's also a kind of improvisational aspect to the swashbuckler - if we want to expand this archetype to include adventure heroes, you can think of how Indiana Jones is always thinking on his feet (I do believe Harrison Jones as a garrison follower does count as a Combat Rogue.) He doesn't go in with a serious plan, because he knows that sooner rather than later, he's going to find that that plan doesn't really work out, so he's going to instead make it up as he goes along.

So how do we express these ideas in terms of gameplay?

First, we need to slaughter two sacred cows. Stealth and Poison don't really fit for Combat. Stealth implies a certain degree of modesty - the kind of anonymity that an assassin uses to avoid getting caught. But a Swashbuckler is all about making a big name for him or herself, and that means that he or she would rather cut through mobs of enemies on the way to the big bad, probably drunk on rum and singing a bawdy song while doing so. Swinging on a rope off an exploding ship with a cutlass clenched in his or her teeth is basically the Swashbuckler's idea of heaven.

Poisons also require far too much prep work. Assassins have to carry vials of poison and keep stocking up (lorewise, though it used to be gameplay as well,) and that's totally not the Swashbuckler way. A Swashbuckler should be able to hang out in some tavern, gambling away half his or her money while downing copious amounts of alcohol and then grab the nearest pair of swords to fight off whatever brute has made the mistake of disturbing him or her.

Next, we've got to address some of the flavor and lore of old Rogue abilities. Sinister Strike? A Swashbuckler might not be a good guy (I mean, Pirates are criminals after all) but the word Sinister literally means left-handed, which (based on weird old stereotypes - no offense to lefty readers) implies underhanded and kind of insidious. Swashbucklers aren't big on deception - they might fight dirty, but they aren't defined by striking from the shadows or anything like that. Hell, they're most at home brawling in the streets or on the deck of a ship - areas where hiding isn't really an option. So I'd also take a look at some of the names and art of their existing abilities and alter them to make them less about the kind of "jumping out of the shadows" flavor that fit so well with the other two specs.

Now, we've talked a lot about what to take away. What, then, should we add?

First, a little idea - instead of Shadowstep, a talent that really takes the "stepping out of the shadows" idea to its logical extreme, Combat Rogues should be able to swing over to their target on a rope (we don't have to worry about what the rope is attached to - if my Mage's Comet Storm can happen underground, I think we're ok.)

Second, Warcraft is a little unusual in fantasy settings in that they have firearms. Luckily, that means that Combat Rogues have everything they need to fit in nicely with the classic 18th Century Pirate aesthetic. Having a flintlock pistol in addition to their swords (or axes or whatever) would be very appropriate. In fact, you could (as suggested on some forum post I saw) even make their primary finishing move a medium-range attack (lots of melee classes have ranged abilities. My Paladin's ret spec really only has to be totally in melee range for Crusader Strike/Hammer of the Righteous and autoattacks.) Sure, there aren't ranged slots anymore, but you could easily make the flintlock work like the big keg that Brewmasters throw at their targets for Keg Smash and Dizzying Haze - effectively making it a spell animation.

If Swashbucklers are essentially combat improvisers, it seems like combo points should have a little randomness to them. This is already the case, actually, with way Revealing Strike works, but you could also imagine there being procs that activated new abilities, such as another flintlock shot.

Combat already lost Fan of Knives to focus on Blade Fury, which I think would fit just as well in this new paradigm.

Finally, on cosmetic issues, having one third of Rogue specs as Swashbucklers would really open up possibilities for future class armor sets. The strong "shadowy assassin" theme has given Rogues several very strong tier sets, but after a while, it's hard to come up with a new take on "dark ninja hood and stealth gear" as a motif. Giving us a pirate's tricorn hat and pauldrons with, like, a parrot (different colored parrots for different item levels!) would be amazing (and even my Assassination Rogue would be happy to change things up.)

With Legion's re-focusing on class fantasies, I think they have a golden opportunity to make Combat Rogues feel like more than just "the assassin who uses big heavy weapons for some reason." Hopefully we'll get details on Combat Rogues, as well as all the other specs, in just about two weeks at Blizzcon.

Blizzard Taking Another Crack at Voice Chat

Until the unnamed 6.1 patch, the gold standard for patches that players totally forgot even happened was Burning Crusade's 2.2. 2.1 had brought the Black Temple, the Battle for Mount Hyjal, and the Netherwing daily quests, while 2.3 would later bring Zul'Aman, the Engineering Flying Machine and Turbo-Charged Flying Machine mounts as well as the first awesome epic goggle armor, and the town of Mudsprocket in Dustwallow Marsh, complete with several new quests in the zone.

2.2 brought Voice Chat. Yep, WoW's had an in-game Voice chat since Burning Crusade. Have you used it? I actually did, I think twice.

Players have instead typically opted to use other programs like TeamSpeak, Ventrillo, Mumble, or whatever the kids are using these days.

Well, guess what?

Blizzard is at it again.

This time, Blizz is trying to create a voice chat system. They'll start testing it with the Overwatch beta, which starts next Tuesday.

Good luck Blizzard!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Legion Surprises Might Be In Store At Blizzcon

If you had asked me a year ago what big WoW news I'd be anticipating at this year's Blizzcon, I'd first say "whoa man, Warlords is about to come out, and we haven't even had this year's Blizzcon! Calm down!" But if my hypothetical self were to answer that question despite these objections, I would have guessed we'd be waiting to find out what expansion six was going to be all about.

However, we actually know that already. Legion looks like it'll be a really cool expansion, and Blizzard seems to be orienting itself in such a way to address many fan concerns that have cropped up over the last couple expansions.

We got some very big details about Legion - the introduction of a Demon Hunter hero class, the setting of the Broken Isles, the threat of the Burning Legion, the Artifact Weapon system, and the names of the expansion's launch dungeons and first raid tier.

But not only is there a good chance that some big details remain to be announced, we also might see changes to things that were announced at Gamescom.

So this will be a list of predictions and a guess at their likelihood of coming true. Take these with a grain of salt. A "High" likelihood is not to say that it's guaranteed. It's more to say that there's nothing really preventing Blizzard from releasing such a feature other than the effort to implement it.

1. More Demon Hunter Races

People have been wanting Demon Hunters pretty much since Death Knights showed that Blizzard was willing to add new classes. Many were disappointed, even if only mildly, that as announced, all Demon Hunters will have to be elves - Night Elves for the Alliance and Blood Elves for the Horde. Lorewise, this does make sense, given that we only ever saw Illidan train Night Elf or Blood Elf disciples, but it would be easy to stretch this, given that we got Death Knights for all existing races (and even the Cataclysm races, which required some clever lore gymnastics to justify) when previous it had been established, or at least widely held, that Death Knights were only of races that could also be Paladins.

Likelihood: Low

The reason is less about lore (though that's a major factor, especially because expanding it to other races would mean they'd have to change whatever starting experience they had been working on) but more about models and logistics. Metamorphosis will be a thing for both specs, and unlike the current Demonology, this is not a one-size-fits-all demon model. Making the class available to more races would require making demon models for those races as well. Notice how they were really hesitant to add new Druid races? It's like that.

2. Third Demon Hunter Spec - Ranged

Demon Hunters are set to be the only class with only two specs - one for tanking and one for DPS. The reason they gave was that they didn't want to dilute the Demon Hunter fantasy between two dps specs, taking away cool things from one so that the other can have something of its own. Still, a ranged spec would easily have a distinct personality and feel from Havoc, the melee spec.

Likelihood: Moderate-Low

There's no established lore for ranged demon hunters, and a caster demon hunter would basically be a Warlock. A DH using ranged weapons isn't really precedented unless you go outside WoW and to Diablo. Diablo III's Demon Hunter is absolutely a ranged class, but despite sharing a name, the two classes have pretty different feels. Still, it would not be unprecedented for WoW to borrow ideas from Diablo III, and it would be cool to get a new ranged dps spec - something that has not happened since the game first began 11 years ago.

3. Dungeon "Tier" Sets

In Vanilla and BC, there were sets fairly similar to the class sets gotten in raids that you could acquire by doing max-level dungeons. Everyone loves getting class-specific things, and especially given the focus on class identity in Legion, it seems pretty straightforward that class sets could make a comeback.

Likelihood: High

I can't really think of a good reason not to have these other than just the effort to design set bonuses and potentially unique art.

4. Valor Gear Returns

6.2.2 will be bringing Valor back, but for item upgrades. The problem with item upgrades, though, is that they didn't really help with what Valor and its predecessors were meant to do, which is to provide a predictable manner of gear acquisition to supplement the traditional random drops. Valor gear was a good system, and Blizzard was wrong to get rid of it.

Likelihood: Moderate-High

Valor's return makes this far more likely than I would have said before 6.2.2 was announced, but we need Blizzard to make a full commitment to taking some of the RNG out of gearing. Blizzard has traditionally liked random drops better than currency-bought gear, as there's more excitement to getting a big drop, but I think that most players see it more in a "glass-half-empty" manner, which is that you're less excited to get your gear than you are frustrated by not getting it.

5. An End to LFR

Hoo boy. Here's the thing. I actually like that I can run LFR. I've been able to see the entirety of raids that, even if my guild were back to its peak raiding health, I'd never really finish (in Wrath, which was that peak, we cleared Naxx and I think Trial of the Crusader, but we never got Vezax or Yogg-Saron down until long after we were at level 85, and we didn't get the Lich King down until a few days into Cataclysm, when many of us were level 83 or 84.)

But LFR has been a problem. Less for players, and more for designers. LFR has allowed Blizzard to make max-level gameplay all about weekly raiding. Dungeons, once the backbone of the game, have suffered tremendously as a result. Few really like LFR, and instead accept it as an easier alternative to ordinary raiding that you don't have to schedule around.

Likelihood: Moderate-Low

On one hand, this might be the radical move they need to really juice up the game. Indeed, removing LFR would probably get more people running ordinary raids, as it would add mystique to the raid instances again. But LFR has also been around long enough, and it's been pushed hard enough that for a lot of people, it's a pretty core part of the whole game. This would be a hell of a gamble, and I can't say with any certainty that it would pay off.

6. New Race/Class Combos

Cataclysm not only added two races, but also gave us new classes to existing races. There's really no downside in gameplay to a move like this - everything there already exists. Giving more freedom to conceive your character as you like is pretty cool. You do risk diluting racial identities, but those identities don't necessarily have to be tied to classes.

Likelihood: Moderate

The main point against this is that Cataclysm covered the most obvious stuff. Not only did we get the obvious ones like Human Hunters and Blood Elf Warriors, but we also got some new lore to justify things like Tauren Paladins and Night Elf Mages. At this point, Warriors can be any race, and Death Knights, Mages, Priests, and Hunters each only have one race that they can't be, and with each faction having at least two choices for every class (except for the new Demon Hunters.) A few new race/class combos could certainly happen, but it wouldn't be as wide a sweep as Cataclysm. In Cata, Mages jumped from being available to six races to being available to eleven. So what's really left? Gnome Hunters, sure (odd that the race with an engineering boost is the one race that can't use guns.) Undead Paladins? You could come up with some super-cool lore to justify it, but this would be bigger even than Night Elf Mages. Draenei Warlocks? See: Undead Paladins above.

7: Timewalking Zones/Adventure Mode

We don't tend to do things in the old zones much anymore. Sure, that might be silly to say after the previous expansion ended with a massive siege of one of the most important faction cities in the game, but by its nature, WoW always has us going to new lands rather than dealing with ongoing plots at home. It would be really cool if players could go back and experience zones from ages past once again without having to roll and level up a new character to do so.

Likelihood: High

Two challenges present themselves here. The first is a UI function of how to switch, though that's not a terrible hurdle. The second is what one should get for doing this. Scaled up quest rewards? Special currencies? Still, being able to go through old zones - either that we missed because we leveled up in other ones, or simply going back to those we liked - would be a lot of fun. Also, given how quickly one blazes past things these days, it would be nice to go back and finish quest lines that we dropped so we could move on.

8: Legion Beta Launch Announcement

With Legion announced early, and Warlords only having two raid tiers, Blizzard is more or less obligated to get Legion out faster than previous expansion have in the old two-year cycle. With expansion Betas going about four or five months, they've really got to turn the ignition and put their foot on the gas to make it worth having truncated Warlords. Announcing the imminent (like, Tuesday after Blizzcon) launch of the expansion's Beta would be a great way to show that things are truly moving faster at Blizzard these days.

Likelihood: High

Maybe I'm a hopeless optimist, but I think the reality is that Blizzard's brand will suffer a lot if they don't get Legion into Beta as soon as possible, and that Blizzard knows this and is actively working to correct their trajectory.

9: Revamped Worgen/Goblin Models

Perhaps the biggest legacy of Warlords of Draenor will be the update to the vanilla and BC races. My human Paladin looks way, way better than he used to. One of the biggest things added was the facial rigging system they came up with for the Pandaren that allows characters to have real emotional expressions. The Cataclysm races looked a hell of a lot better than the Vanilla/BC ones, but they were too early for this tech to be implemented, and as such, they can only really flap their jaws. It would be fantastic to see these races given a little touch up to bring them in line with the other races, as they've suddenly gone way to the bottom of model quality.

Likelihood: Moderate-Low

There are no new races in Legion, which would make this a prime opportunity to give these guys some love, and Genn's purported importance in the expansion would make it good to improve his peoples' looks. The thing is, the Cataclysm races still look a hell of a lot better than the original vanilla/BC models did, and they might not want to commit the resources to that. Still, this is only a fifth the project that the Warlords revamps were, and the changes would probably be far less dramatic, given the high-quality textures and fidelity of the Cata races. Basically, I really want this to happen, but I would not say that I expect it.

Convening the Blizzard:

Blizzcon is actually coming pretty soon - roughly two and a half weeks from now. It's been months since we first found out about Legion, and things are hopefully a lot farther along by now. Still, we really won't know until Blizzcon, and even things that get announced there might wind up getting axed in the beta. But I know that I'm certainly looking forward to a kind of progress report on how Legion is coming along, and I'm sure that we'll get that at least.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dungeons and a Hypothetical Removal of LFR

LFR made its debut in Cataclysm's final 4.3 patch, which brought us the three (quite good) Hour of Twilight dungeons (End Time - soon to be Timewalkable - Well of Eternity, and Hour of Twilight,) and the (pretty disappointing due to the lack of new art or locations and small number of bosses) Dragon Soul raid. Dragon Soul was the first LFR-capable raid - a bold experiment in taking the greater complexity of raid mechanics to a casual audience.

Previous to this, raiding was something that you either had to have a dedicated guild to do, or you had to brave often excruciating PUG groups for. There were eras in which you could get a fair way through a raid with a PUG - in late Wrath, I participated in a few PUGs in ICC that got about halfway through the instance, which was far from bad. But overall, raiding was something that only a portion of the players were even expected to do.

In Wrath and especially Cataclysm, they experimented with adding a significant number of dungeons over the course of the expansion. Wrath added one in 3.2 (Trial of the Champion) and three in 3.3 (The Frozen Halls - Forge of Souls, Pit of Saron, and Halls of Reflection,) and Cataclysm added two in 4.1 (5-player revamps of the Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman raids) and the aforementioned Hour of Twilight dungeons in 4.3.

The worry that Blizzard expressed with these dungeons was that their rewards often eclipsed the previous raid tier. Trial of the Champion had Ulduar-10 level gear in it, and the Frozen Halls had Trial of the Crusader-10 level gear. The Zul'agains came out before Firelands, and were given kind of half-a-tier lower gear than the tier 11 raids, but the Hour of Twilight Dungeons had gear that was just as good as anything you could get in Normal Firelands.

The problem, as Blizzard saw it, was that this allowed players to skip forward. Far, far more people wound up doing Dragon Soul LFR (which had significantly better gear than Firelands) than had fought the minions of Ragnaros. The worst scenario was the case of Ulduar, which many consider the best raid Blizzard has ever made, which was obsoleted by the mere four-month-later Trial of the Champion (and Trial of the Crusader.)

Yet there was a kind of logical sense to this progression. Raiders would always be a tier ahead of players who only did dungeons, but dungeoneers could still feel that they were making significant progress.

Even though Dragon Soul was underwhelming as a raid, I actually think that the system was working pretty well in 4.3. Players could progress through effectively three tiers of heroic dungeons and then, if they wanted to jump to raiding, they could go up to LFR to get a taste.

After Cataclysm, Blizzard has not released any post-launch dungeons for Mists or Warlords, with the expectation that players will simply run LFR instead of dungeons after a brief stint running heroics to gear up after hitting the level cap. LFR certainly solves the "skipping content problem," because anyone who wants to experience the raids can do so pretty easily, even after they are no longer current.

If LFR had been in place for all of Cataclysm, it seems to me that anyone with any interest in raiding would have defeated Ragnaros several times before the Hour of Twilight dungeons came out to make Firelands gear obsolete.

I think the question that this raises is what the purpose of LFR is.

Is LFR meant to be the main way that those who do not have raiding guilds and are PUG-averse progress, as it has been for the past two expansions? Or is it a means to allow the majority of players to see the cool raid content that the designers have made at a far more leisurely difficulty level?

In Mists, it was primarily the first, and in Warlords, they've tried to balance the two.

But there is a question of rewards. The thing about WoW, and perhaps all MMOs, is that players will naturally gravitate to things with a significant, efficient reward. I certainly don't do many Mythic Dungeons because I know that I can get just-as-good or better gear running LFR and doing Tanaan dailies, which are easier.

If LFR had no gear rewards, I doubt many people would do it. But if you aim to, like in Wrath and Cataclysm, release new dungeons or new dungeon difficulties over the course of an expansion, where do the two balance out in the pecking order?

4.3 kind of had it easy, because with no tiers to follow, they could simply have the new heroics, then LFR, and then the regular raid difficulties. But a whole expansion could lead to crazy gear inflation like we saw at the end of Wrath (my Rogue had a 54% critical strike chance, if I remember correctly.) Also, if we're expecting to see more challenging dungeon content that represents the real meat of progression for non-raiders, perhaps LFR needs to have lower-level gear, which kind of upsets the tradition of raiding's supremacy in WoW. But wouldn't mythic dungeons have been a bigger success if the gear there was better than what you could get in Hellfire Citadel LFR?

I guess what has to happen is Blizzard needs to decide if they're ok with at least the lowest form of raiding being less "prestigious" than running dungeons. In the abstract, that seems clearly ok, but then you have to contend with the fact that this would make the lore feel pretty weird. Dungeons tend to have lower-level characters - often people we've never even seen before in-game, or perhaps in like one quest chain. Raids, at least for their final bosses, are almost always significant lore figures. With the system I'm proposing, had it been around in 4.3, beating Archbishop Benedictus would have been a bigger challenge and more rewarding than killing Deathwing himself - at least on the LFR setting.

Now maybe that's not such a big problem. Lore and gameplay have always been kind of divided (there's no way that Garrosh was more powerful than the Lich King or Death Wing - or freaking C'thun and Yogg-Saron - despite the fact that he was higher level.) But given the immediacy of these things coming in the same patch, I could imagine Blizzard feeling very uncomfortable with the idea.

Maybe enough to axe LFR.

As an old-school WoW player (I always felt like the new guy because I started at the end of vanilla, but I really can't realistically claim that anymore) I'm perfectly happy with having dungeons be the main way that "casual" players progress. But it does raise the biggest problem that Blizzard more or less created LFR to fix - that they go to a ton of effort to make these raids really cool and original, and yet only a fraction of the players actually see them.

If LFR got axed, I think they'd need to drop the difficulty level of Normal significantly - pretty much to just north of LFR's current difficulty. Those who want more of a challenge can do heroic, while the super-hardcore will still have a Mythic just as hard as it is now. If LFR goes, they need to make Normal the kind of difficulty in which the average player will be able to clear the raid on week two or three. This would also, I think, give Heroic difficulty a clearer identity as the kind of "real raiding" difficulty.

From Blizzard's talk, I wouldn't rule out this latter solution. Getting rid of LFR would be a huge upset for the game, and it's hard to tell whether it would be ultimately good in the long run It's been around long enough that there are plenty of players who think of it as the normal state of the game, and at this point, players expect to be able to see, fight, and defeat the final boss of each raid, and not simply have to look up the ending cinematics online.

That opens up a whole other can of worms - the merits and dangers of exclusive gameplay - but I think that the future of dungeons, raids, and LFR, will be at the heart of the evolution of WoW in Legion.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Overwatch Beta Coming Oct. 27th

This is actually somewhat old news, but I hadn't mentioned it, making it new!

Overwatch, Blizzard's upcoming competetive FPS is going into its beta on October 27th, which is pretty darn soon.

Now, I'm a bit ambivalent about Overwatch. The aesthetics of the game look fantastic - they're basically ripped right out of a hypothetical Pixar superhero movie (one in which guns are ok) - and I do enjoy shooters (I played a ton of Goldeneye back in the day.)

But I really don't go in for PvP games much. When it comes to FPSs, I really prefer the campaign mode, or, if possible, I go for single-player shooters, like Bioshock or Half-Life. Actually, a dream-game of mine would be an open-world FPS - a bit like Fallout, but balanced around the absence of the VATS system and less inventory-management. (Actually, to elaborate further, I'd love a game with the upcoming No-Man's Sky's space exploration and planet-hopping, though with a finite number of designed planets with real stories, rather than a procedurally-generated infinitude.)

I hope there will at least be a vs. Bots mode for Overwatch, because I would like to try to game out. I've actually never played an FPS on my computer, as opposed to a console, so I'm sure that it will feel pretty weird to control. Given Diablo III's successful console release, I wouldn't be all to surprised if we wind up with Overwatch on consoles as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Holy crap. It's like something out of a dream. Someone pinch me.

First off:

Blizzard will be adding Cataclysm Timewalking dungeons, namely Lost City of the Tol'vir, Grim Batol, Vortex Pinnacle, Stonecore, Throne of the Tides, and possibly my favorite dungeon ever, End Time. (I can't say I'm terribly surprised to find that there's no Halls of Origination, the old seven-boss slog.)

In addition, the Burning Crusade event will now include Magister's Terrace, while the Wrath one will include Pit of Saron.

Finally, a new time walking mount, very appropriate for the feature, will be a high-rez, new, armored Infinite Drake mount. Guys, guys, guys, I've wanted an Infinite Dragon mount for so, so long. This thing might become my primary mount. I'm serious.

Second Off:

Valor! Oh god, Valor returns!

For now, it will only be used for item upgrades, like it worked in late Mists. My hope is that this is just because they don't want to itemize a bunch of new gear. But let's talk, serious, Blizzard? Please tell me that Valor is coming back to its full former glory in Legion.

Valor will drop in heroic and mythic dungeons. It looks like Mythics will always drop it, but heroics and raid finder will only drop it the first time each day.


Warforged item upgrades are going to now scale (either with more randomness or according to your gear, I'm not sure.) Baleful pieces in Tanaan Jungle will be able to war forge themselves all the way up to 695, which I guess will save you the 20k apexis crystals to upgrade them - not sure what this means for empowered baleful pieces. Mythic dungeons, along with the valor points, will be able to scale up as far as 725, which is good, and should make farming valor a bit more exciting. If I were Blizzard, I'd raise the baseline rewards here a bit, but oh well.

In the meantime, Mythic dungeons will also have a chance to drop a new heirloom trinket that scales to level 110, preparing the way for Legion.


The Grove Warden mount will not be a store mount, as people had thought, but will instead be a reward from a quest gained by defeating Archimonde on heroic or higher, and then taking some item to Moonglade. It's sad to think I'll probably not get that mount as a result, but if it had been a store mount, I wouldn't have had it either, so... Infinite Dragon mount! Did I mention there's an Infinite Dragon mount?

The Dungeon Patch:

This is all great news, and I'm really eager to see what they have planned to keep dungeons relevant in Legion. I'm also curious to see how the Cataclysm dungeons will be tuned, as they were quite difficult when we were new to them. I honestly didn't expect any cool new stuff during the Warlords cycle. Maybe Blizzard will make up for the lack of major patches with lots of these minor patches.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Blizzcon Schedule

Well, Blizzard has now officially (as opposed to earlier leaks) released the schedule for Blizzcon next month. As it stands, World of Warcraft: Legion could really be the headliner, with four panels. Likely, because of the Gamescom announcement, we aren't going to have the same comprehensive set of panels we've gotten in previous odd-year Blizzcons, as we already know the headlining features.

WoW will have a "World and Content Overview" panel, a cinematic panel, a Game Systems panel, and a Q&A. My hope for the first of these is that we'll get a better sense of the patch release cycle for Legion. I don't think it's a terribly controversial statement to say that Mists of Pandaria handled patches a whole lot better than Warlords. Giving us a roadmap for the future of the expansion (preferably a big one you've got to unfold a bunch) would do wonders to mitigate fears that the future of "short expansion cycles" means anemic expansions. The cinematic panel should be fun, though not really about in-game stuff. Game Systems, on the other hand, could extend to a ton of features. I expect we'll be learning about how the Demon Hunter will function as a class, and also what's going to happen with the various class revamps, like Survival Hunters going melee. Personally, I'm very interested in seeing how Demonology adjusts to the loss of Metamorphosis (which is currently the heart of the spec) and also how much they'll lean into the "pirate swashbuckler" archetype for Combat Rogues, as that might actually get me interested in playing the spec.

There is no specific class panel, though, so it's possible this panel will focus more on larger systems, and we'll just have to wait for the beta patch notes to see what's in store. Given that Blizzard announced Legion will go into beta this year, I'm hoping we'll get a beta start date, though if it has to start in January, I won't be terribly surprised (no later than January though, I hope.)

On the Diablo III front, there's not much. I actually expected there to be a new expansion at least announced by now, but it really doesn't seem like there's enough to support that this time around, with just one panel called, generically enough "Dev Talk." Reaper of Souls did a ton of good for Diablo III's systems (and Westmarch is a really cool setting) but I think it's time for a new story/setting and hopefully class.

Starcraft II has a couple panels, but the intriguing one is "The Future of Starcraft II." The SCII model was to basically have oversized campaigns, but effectively really only cycle of campaigns between the three releases. The Future might simply be to talk about Legacy of the Void, but I imagine they want to keep the SC train rolling, given how big an esport it is.

Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone are both on a much faster cycle, so I suspect we'll just get a preview of what the next few months will bring us. New card expansions, new heroes, and new battlegrounds are what we'll see. I don't know if we're going to be getting any world-shaking announcements.

The Overwatch beta is coming relatively soon, I think, but I wonder what we'll be seeing for that. There are two panels, one that's just "What's New" which I think is basically "the whole game." The other is the "World of Overwatch," meaning I think we'll be seeing more of the lore behind the game.

Personally, what would attract me to Overwatch is some kind of single-player or at least PvE content. I'm ok with Heroes of the Storm given that it's kind of in that Smash Bros. category - it's all about smashing your toys together. Given that Overwatch is this whole new intellectual property, I'd be much more interested in exploring it through a campaign, rather than reading stuff outside of the game that kind of contradicts my having Tracer fight alongside Reaper.

Obviously the thing I'm most excited about is WoW news, and hopefully the imminent start of the Legion beta. We've still got over three weeks to wait, though, so sit tight.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Preparing to DM

I've been thinking a lot about the nature of the role-playing game, and lo and behold, Matthew Rossi at Blizzard Watch pretty much wrote the article that I was thinking of writing.

My experience with tabletop RPGs is limited. Somehow, I grew up without Dungeons and Dragons - instead, I played Magic: the Gathering, which is fantastic, but built far more around the mechanics than the narrative (also, like all other CCGs that it spawned, Magic has the problem that as soon as money gets involved, the game shrinks down into a few winning strategies.)

As a kid, I played some of the Sierra Entertainment adventure games - primarily Space Quest, as its profoundly geeky humor meshed well with mine. Of these, only the Quest for Glory series really incorporated any of the real RPG game mechanics. These games had a pretty wide breadth of interactivity, but everything still had to be pre-programmed, and usually a unique action would simply function in that one unique situation it had been designed for.

I've been thinking a lot about Dungeons and Dragons, as I'm finally in a position where it looks like we're going to get my game going. My dream job is to be a (financially successful) fantasy writer, and so it was a joy for me to come up with a setting, with key figures and factions and histories. My friends are mostly actors (in fact, many of them belong to the same Shakespeare company,) so I have the advantage of playing with a lot of people who have a strong sense of character. I expect that this will be both challenging and entertaining from a DM's perspective.

I'm jumping into the deep end here, of course, having never actually played D&D as a PC. I have read the books cover to cover and I've watched probably all of the Acquisitions Incorporated games that they do at PAX. I'm hoping this will allow me to at least function until I get the hang of it.

My hope is that in the future, I'll be able to blog here about what happens in the game's story. The freedom of the tabletop RPG genre seems well-suited to converting it into a narrative. But I think the burden is on me to give each session an interesting hook.

For a few months (since buying the core books as a birthday present to myself in June) I've been constructing the setting, a world called Sarkon.

Most of the action takes place on a continent called Karsiya. Until about five years ago, the entire continent was ruled by the Lupinian Empire, from the far-northern capital of Wolfenholm. The continent is divided into three cultural and geographical regions - the spooky northern forests and mountains of Volpon, the hot deserts of Sedsalaki, and the hilly peninsulas of Gesenas. All throughout history, there have been legends of an advanced civilization that had been lost in some catastrophe whose people were known as the Parthalians. In recent years, Parthalian technology had been discovered, largely in the deserts of Sedsalaki. Sedsalaki, which is united under the Church of Yad, has attempted to break away from the Empire, claiming these artifacts for themselves, while the Empire sends its Legion and its elite "Reapers" to preserve the peace that their rule has established.

Anyway, I've written pages upon pages of backstory for the various cities and kingdoms within the Empire, and I'm chomping at the bit to see how it survives contact with my players. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I'll be able to post about who my friends will be playing and what they wind up doing in this world.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pre-Legion Class Review: Warriors

So first a big caveat: I haven't played my Warrior very much in Warlords. It's a shame, because he's my main Worgen character and I love the Worgen (the other is a Rogue, who is upstaged by my Undead Rogue - simultaneously my Horde main and member of my favorite Horde race.) But my dissatisfaction with Warriors this expansion has actually afforded me a pretty broad (though not deep) spectrum of Warrior experiences. I've tanked, Gladiator'd, Arms'd, and Furied in both varieties.

Rage, Rage against the Dying Light:

Warriors are the universal class - available to every single race ever since Cataclysm gave them to Blood Elves. Given how constant war is in Azeroth, it makes plenty of sense that everyone would have some sort of heavily-armored front-lines fighter.

With Legion focusing on class fantasy, that puts Warriors in a kind of strange position. Warriors actually have a very broad class identity. In a way, much as Hunters are "anyone who uses a ranged weapon" (and soon to be even more than that,) Warriors are "anyone who fights with heavy armor and big honking weapons without some kind of magical supplement to their strength." Warriors' plate brothers-and-sisters-in-arms both have a great deal of specificity to their flavor. In fact, Death Knights are all members of the same formerly-Scourge-affiliated order.

But Warriors can be anything from a rural militiaman to a decorated royal knight to a frontier berserker to a samurai-like warrior-poet.

Likewise, Warriors don't really have a unified calling. If anything, it's the Warriors of both sides who are most likely to drum up the passion to fight against each other. The closest thing to a unifying faction I could imagine would be something like the Brawler's Guild - an opportunity to show off one's prowess and demonstrate one's techniques.

With the Class Orders taking a more central role than the player factions in Legion, one wonders how the class is going to pull together.

I have some suspicions that Warriors will find their home in Stormheim. The Vrykul are kind of a fascinating balance between Orcs and Humans - if you were to blend the two races, and then give them a Gnomish World Shrinker, you'd basically have a Vrykul. The Vrykul, like the real-life Vikings who inspired them, believe in an afterlife for those who die gloriously in battle. The cause for which one fights is not what matters - it's how passionately and well you fought. That seems pretty on-point for Warriors.

And given that Warriors are governed by their passions, it might make sense for Warriors to take over a Vrykul mead hall. What better place for them than a loud hall full of booze, where you can get into friendly brawls any time you wish?

This, of course, does skew a little to the Fury side of things, but I can imagine having a quieter tea-room for the Arms Warriors, and maybe a practice-yard out back for the Prot Warriors.

In terms of class champions, the options are enormous. Roughly half of the faction leaders are Warriors, and they've got to represent probably the majority of all NPCs. I'll be sad if I don't get a drunken Dwarf, an Orc blademaster, and a Night Elf sentinel at least.

To Arms, My Brothers!

I'll come out and say this: Warlords killed Arms for me. I leveled by Orc Warrior as Arms through Wrath, and my Worgen was Arms through Cataclysm and Mists. It played wonderfully, and they utterly killed it in Warlords.

I don't know if simply rolling back the changes is what Blizzard would want to do, but I think they do need to make a decision about whether Arms is the "precise, practiced blademaster" type, or if they're the Executioner who lands massive blows. Either way, they need to come up with something more interesting than "wait for Rage" as a class mechanic. Bringing back Mists-era Arms would do just fine by me.

In Mists, they had this idea that each Warrior spec would have one ability that generated, rather than costing Rage. It seems weird that they took this active control away from Arms, of all specs.

Feel the Fury:

I've been mostly Fury this expansion. One big question is about their artifacts - whether it'll be a pair of two-handers or one-handers. To me it seems obvious that they should go for the former, given that dual-wielding two-handed weapons is such a unique and iconic feature for the spec.

In terms of mechanics, I think they could come up with more interesting ways to spend Rage. So much of the spec is built on whether you can get Enraged or not, but the only thing you really spend that Rage on (single-target, at least) is Wild Strike. It might not be broken enough to make any real changes.

Protecting Azeroth:

The big question, I think, is if Gladiator's Resolve is sticking around. It's the only currently existing way for someone to DPS with a sword-and-board, but it's certainly a little awkward, given how many of your abilities are built around tanking. They could spin Gladiator off into a different spec, but that seems unlikely.

Warrior tanking has always had this odd thing where it used to be the only real tanking spec, and since then, many of the other tanks have kind of overtaken it in interesting design directions. I don't really know what to say about tweaking Warrior tanking. Tanking design space is, naturally, a bit more narrow, and I don't really know what you could take away without robbing them of something useful and cool.

You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry:

Warriors have been, frankly, generic in WoW's lore, so it'll be really interesting to see them given something specific in Legion. One also has to wonder a bit about the imminent fate of one of Azeroth's most important Warriors, Varian Wrynn, as there are some fears that he'll fall at the Broken Shore to leave his Priestly son as King of Stormwind. This is pure speculation, of course, but even if Varian goes down, we won't exactly be light on famous Warriors to bring to bear (off the top of my head, Shandris Feathermoon, Jarod Shadowsong, Muradin Bronzebeard, Baine Bloodhoof, Genn Greymane - who is a confirmed major character - Varok Saurfang (fingers crossed) Lor'themar Theron (or is he a Hunter? Or is he a Paladin?) Point is: there are plenty of important Warriors in WoW.

Keeping Dungeons Relevant

I love dungeons. There was a time when dungeons were truly the meat-and-potatoes of World of Warcraft at the level cap. If you wanted to get meaningful progression done, but your guild wasn't hitting the latest raid that day, or perhaps you didn't do much in the way of raiding, running a dungeon would be a perfectly good way to make your way toward better gear.

That started to falter in Mists, especially when 5.4 did not bring any new valor gear, but it really died in Warlords of Draenor, when Justice and Valor points disappeared and all we got for running a random dungeon with gear that was useless to us was garrison resources - something you could literally generate simply by waiting, and that was used primarily to build buildings that you already probably had up or send followers on missions (many of which granted you garrison resources.)

We're at a point where a fresh 100 player could simply skip dungeons entirely, moving directly to Tanaan Jungle to get far superior gear that would qualify them very quickly for Hellfire Citadel LFR.

Blizzard has noticed this, and one of the ideas they threw into the Legion announcement was that they felt that they had not done right by dungeons, and that they plan to have dungeons remain relevant throughout the expansion.

The question is: how?

Idea 1: Just bring back Justice and Valor Points already!

JP and VP were a fantastic system to keep old dungeons relevant. It got highly-geared players to run newbies through dungeons, and it gave you a reason to keep running, while not forcing you do to so, as serious raiders could approach their weekly caps by defeating raid bosses.

This is purely one of those "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" issues that Blizzard, unfortunately, "fixed." One concern, that was admittedly linked closer to late-expansion dungeons like End Time, was that they felt it allowed players to skip over existing content (once you could get Firelands-equivalent gear from End Time, Well of Eternity, and Hour of Twilight, very few people would run that raid anymore.) But in this era of LFR, that's really not a concern. Raids are consumed at a far faster rate than they used to be, which means that you never really have to worry about players skipping past those raids if they have any interest in them. Everyone had plenty of time to clear Blackrock Foundry several times over before Hellfire Citadel came out. So while only a fraction of the playerbase had defeated Ragnaros when Dragon Soul came out, I'd suspect that a huge portion, if not the majority of players (or at least the majority of players who had any interest whatsoever in raiding) had been able to defeat Blackhand at least on LFR before Hellfire Citadel was released.

And it's not like there haven't been other catch-up mechanics introduced that just don't happen to be from dungeons. Tanaan Jungle gear can scale up to 695, which is better even than Hellfire Citadel's LFR gear. (In fact, I think the Baleful apexis gear went too far.)

Idea 2: Artifact Weapon Points

We still only have a vague idea of how Artifact weapon progression is going to work. It looks as if we'll earn points through various means (including downing dungeon bosses) to unlock more talent-like bonuses for our artifact weapons.

What I wonder, however, is how deep this system will be. It would be problematic if we could all completely fill out our trees two months into the expansion. Hopefully we'll see the feature expanded over the course of the patch releases.

Idea 3: Crafting Materials

Professions are getting a revamp in Legion, but we don't really have the details on how they're going to work differently (one thing confirmed - far fewer daily cooldowns.) Theoretically, you could kind of combine the idea of profession and valor points, having professions function as the alternate-gearing system, but you would really need to get rid of the three-crafted-pieces limit, which they say is going to stick around.

Idea 4: Lots of future dungeons

The far more radical design would be if there are actually a massive number of dungeons that are being held back for later patches. There are nine launch dungeons with Legion - an improvement over Warlords, but only bringing us back to Mists numbers. If every raid tier came out with four or five dungeons, you could imagine these feeling like a real type of progression - essentially giving us new dungeon tiers.

Still, I think this is highly unlikely, given the resources required to create new dungeons. My hope is that we'll see some new dungeons with each raid tier, but it's unlikely that we're going to see the launch dungeons completely outnumbered by patch dungeons.

Idea 5: Multiple layers of Mythic

6.2 introduced Mythic dungeons, which are tuned quite difficultly and are built on the assumption that you have a fair amount of Tanaan or raid gear. Unfortunately, the reward isn't really up to the difficulty, as any non-Warforged gear that you get out of Mythic dungeons is only on par with the stuff you're getting out of Hellfire Citadel LFR, which is significantly easier, and less powerful than stuff you get from Tanaan Jungle, which is merely time-consuming.

Still, I could imagine basically introducing a new tier of difficulty for each dungeon with each raid release. This isn't really ideal for me, though, for a number of reasons. The first is that it splits the playerbase. It's really best when you can throw everyone in together, as this reduces queue times and just generally makes the feature seem more vibrant and alive. The other is that it's not really that exciting to find yourself wiping again on a boss that you already feel you conquered, especially if you had conquered it a full year ago.

The Call of Kel'thuzad

In a certain sense, the Warlords of Draenor and Legion expansions both play on very similar themes to WoW's first expansion, the Burning Crusade. Warlords took us to see what Outland looked like before it was Outland, while Legion carries over the late-Warlords theme of demons and the Burning Legion and brings back Illidan Stormrage - hopefully allowing us to explore him more as a character now that he isn't going to just be a raid boss you never see until you've made it to the end of a third raiding tier.

Given that Cataclysm was, in many ways, the thematic sequel to the original World of Warcraft (consider that, other than Naxxramas, all of its major raids were either Elemental, Black Dragon, or Old God themed,) it does not seem out of the question that Blizzard might eventually do a kind of thematic sequel to Wrath of the Lich King.

Wrath is probably the most popular WoW expansion (it had plenty of detractors in its day, mind you,) but Blizzard pretty definitively ended the story of Arthas. It's canon that his soul is drifting through the void - essentially hell, and one that Sylvanas knows she will go to if she can't keep herself alive/undead (or, you know, redeem herself, but I don't think Sylvanas is really considering that option - and in fairness, it may not really be open to her.)

But while Arthas is dead dead dead, the end of Wrath of the Lich King was left very deliberately open. The Scourge was defeated, but not eradicated, and a new Lich King sits on the Frozen Throne. There is plenty of potential for the Scourge to rise up as a threat again.

Still, finding that Bolvar Fordragon has been corrupted by his station would be a serious let-down, a betrayal of his character, and frankly, a pretty straight retread of the story of Arthas. Bolvar Fordragon was the perfect option for the new Lich King because he had proven himself capable of withstanding Arthas' torture. And let us not forget that Arthas had been robbed of his soul well before he took the crown. Bolvar wasn't so much undead as severely cauterized by Red Dragonfire. So he isn't in the state of unrepentant evil that Arthas had already been put in when he became the Lich King and absorbed Ner'zhul.

I could imagine Ner'zhul coming back in some sense - perhaps living on within the Helm of Domination, and finally freed from the will of Arthas - but it seems more likely that Ner'zhul had pretty much ceased to exist by the time we faced the Lich King at the top of Icecrown Citadel.

What I keep coming back to is the fact that we never took Kel'thuzad's phylactery when we defeated him in Naxxramas at level 80.

It does seem like really shoddy hero-work, but to be fair, we did the same with Teron'gor in Auchindoun - beating him, only to kind of walk away when he feel down into the mausoleum's depths, without, you know, checking to make sure that he wasn't alive and eating souls.

But it stands out even more when you consider that in the original Naxxramas, we (ok, not we, but the very tiny percentage of players who beat him) took his phylactery to an Argent Dawn priest to destroy (who was most unfortunately a Cult of the Damned sleeper agent.) It's clear that you've got to do that to deal with a lich, but we most certainly did not do it in Northrend.

The events at Admiral Taylor's garrison strongly suggest that some element of the Scourge, likely the Cult of the Damned (founder: Kel'thuzad,) is still going strong (indeed, we faced them in Cataclysm's Plaguelands and in Mists' Scholomance revamp.)

It's way, way too early to have any clear idea what elements we're going to be working with at the end of Legion. But that being said, we do know that Blizzard wants to push this idea of one expansion leading into the next. Garrosh took us from Mists to Warlords, and Gul'dan is taking us from Warlords to Legion. It's possible that we'll see the Naga elements in Legion lead us to an Azshara expansion, but we've also got the Vrykul, as well as Sylvanas as a major player. Sylvanas is fighting in a quest to save herself from damnation. She's going to be looking at the pre-Scourge Val'kyr for an answer, but perhaps her quest will lead her to discover a re-invigorated Scourge.

This is seriously far down the road, and unlike my ambivalence about Warlords of Draenor it its run-up, I want to make it clear that I am absolutely excited for Legion. But given how iconic and popular the Scourge have been, it seems inevitable that Blizzard is going to find a way to bring them back somehow at some point.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Some Interesting Changes to Cross-Race Illusions

I believe since 6.2.2 (which implemented flight,) some new changes have been made to the way that toys and effects that change your appearance work.

In the past, using something like a Mage's Illusion spell (a minor glyph that lets you take on the appearance of another player or that of one of a set of stock characters) or things like Mr. Smite's Brass Compass, your appearance would change, but it would be a purely visual thing. Error messages and mousing over yourself (or an affected target) would still show the true race of your character. You might look like a female gnome death knight, but your old "inventory is full" messages would still come in the low baritone of a male draenei (or what have you.)

This has changed, and I suspect it might have something to do with the Ashran mercenary mode system, which allows players to fight for the other faction on the PvP island in order to alleviate queue times.

You do not get the racial abilities when you get these illusions, but your character's voice (both for emotes and error messages) and the race displayed when you mouse over yourself, it will now conform to the illusion, meaning that you can run around as a Tauren Mage or an Orc Paladin (for as long as the illusion lasts.)

However, most fascinating, is what happened when I used my newly-purchased Mark of the Ashtongue, which gives you the appearance of an Ashtongue Deathsworn Broken Draenei. I did this on a Draenei character, and I assumed that if they considered this to be looking like another "race," it might said Draenei. Instead, the listed race was "Broken."

Which, as I'm sure you know, is not a playable race in-game.

I'm really curious to see now what other toys and illusions in that vein do with other non-playable race.

(I also tried out the Ever-Shifting Mirror, which is super-cool, but felt a bit redundant on a Mage, so I sold it back.)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Our Draenei

For all of its flaws, perhaps my favorite aspect of Warlords of Draenor as an expansion was that we finally got an expansion in which the main Alliance race was not Humans. And even better than that, the main alliance race was the Draenei - the oft-neglected people who really haven't had anything happen with them since they were introduced in Burning Crusade - and even then, they had a far less dynamic plot than the Blood Elves, their Horde counterparts.

(As a brief aside, I think it would be great for them to push non-Orc/Human races as the focus of future expansions. I was very disappointed to see that the Forsaken story in Wrath pretty much ended after the Battle of Undercity - though to be fair, it was one hell of a story, which is sadly mostly inaccessible post-Cataclysm.)

I don't think it would shock anyone who reads this blog that I'm a huge fan of the Draenei. They are the most original Warcraft race (they share some cosmetic similarities with Tieflings from D&D, though really only in the sense that they look sort of demonic,) and they simultaneously bring a certain sci-fi peanut butter to Warcraft's traditional fantasy chocolate while also being inundated with magic and imbued with divine blessings. They're also incredibly long-lived - possibly totally ageless (if there's some other explanation for why Velen looks old) and unlike the Night Elves, they don't have some special magical tree that made them that way - they're just like that. They open the Warcraft universe from pair of planets into a giant cosmic struggle.

And honestly, I identify with them, given that half my ancestry is also from a people who wandered for thousands of years after being exiled from their homeland and who suffered a massive genocide in relatively recent history.

It was fantastic to see the way that Draenei society had built up on Draenor, and there's a certain satisfaction to be had in knowing that the Draenei of this alternate universe should be able to survive with their civilization intact (and potentially, with a new prophet, if I interpreted Velen's actions at the end of Shadowmoon Valley correctly.)

My co-/vice- main in a Draenei Death Knight, and during Warlords, I've played my Draenei Mage a lot as well (essentially as my #3 toon.) Both characters would look at this world wistfully.

See, the thing is, as nice as it is to help Yrel defend her people and fend off the Iron Horde and the Burning Legion, the glory of that success only reinforces how horrific the failures were in our timeline.

There was no Alliance to help shield the Draenei from the sudden aggression of the Horde, and no older, wiser New Horde to undermine their alternate-universe counterpart. The beautiful Shadowmoon Valley is now a black and fel-green blasted wasteland.

The difficulty with the alternate-universe setting of Warlords is that it doesn't really change things for us. Thankfully our Velen is still alive (which does take a bit of the importance from his doppelganger's death in Draenor.)

But while it's been cool to see the Draenei before, it hasn't really done much to flesh out the Draenei we know.

Our Draenei - the ones we play as or ally with (or PvP against) - live in the shadow of the Horde's genocide. Remember, these are people who live for tens of thousands of years at least. We don't really know what it would be like to live that long, but we can generally infer that it would feel as if an event 30 or 40 years ago had only just happened.

Velen has declared that Azeroth is where they will make their stand against the Burning Legion (an event that looks like it's imminent,) but most Draenei are probably still reeling from the slaughter in Outland. We're not even talking about the "we should get these guys to talk to therapists" stage - they should practically still be in shock.

That trauma is pretty weighty stuff, and I can understand that Blizzard wants to keep the Warcraft universe relatively on the simple and fun side. One could argue that having the Naaru around would help a lot - some find solace in religion after a massive trauma, while others lose their faith, but the Draenei have the closest things they have to deities literally floating around in their cities, which I could imagine being a pretty serious comfort. In fact, the Naaru might even emit a kind of calming, soothing energy that can heal even serious psychological problems like post-traumatic stress disorder. Maybe that's why the Draenei are so chill, and even forgiving.

The thing is, the only universe-A Draenei character we got in Warlords was Vindicator Maraad, who sadly died about halfway through the leveling process. While it would have been nice to get more about this in-game, we did get the fantastic online animated short about him during the Warlords series. In a sense, dying in defense of alternative-Shattrath gave him a fantastic redemptive exit to the story, but it also robbed us of a perspective I would have liked to see more of in Draenor. The Draenei story became entirely about dealing with the imminent threat against their civilization, rather than getting closure by preventing something horrible from happening all over again.

I also suspect that we're going to be leaving the Draenei of Draenor behind, and as such, we haven't really explored more thoroughly how the Draenei fit into the Alliance. I think it would have been a really interesting plot point to have some Draenei decide to stay in Draenor - to take advantage of the fact that their 300-year-old society still existed, in a sense, while others would feel compelled to commit to Azeroth as their true new homeland.

Especially with the Burning Legion invading Azeroth, it would be good to know what our Draenei are doing to prepare us.