Sunday, November 29, 2015

In the Hall of the Mountain King

We've got more in the way of spoilers here, though in this case, the "spoiler" is something that has only been hinted at. As a reminder, all of these spoilers (including those from the previous post) are only probabilities, not guaranteed outcomes. Let us not forget Anduin's (non) death at Garrosh's hands in 5.1, or the (non) unveiling of Grand Magister Rommath as a member of Twilight's Hammer in 4.0. Lots of things that would seemingly be major plot points are either thrown in as red herrings to dataminers or simply decided against later on in development. There are also certainly things that we can misinterpret. A character might claim that someone is dead because he or she believes that to be true, but it might not be the case. Vol'jin faked his death after Garrosh sent assassins after him, and the Horde (outside the player character) was meant to believe that he had been taken down.

So there's you salt grains. Let's talk about REDACTED below the cut.

Legion Spoilers

With the Alpha live (though still in a very early build in which only the Blizzcon version of the Demon Hunter starting experience is playable,) many an interesting detail has been discovered through quest text and voice files. This is a big expansion, with Warcraft's most important villains as the primary antagonists. Make no mistake, important things are happening, and the World of Warcraft will never be the same after Legion.

Spoilers Ahead, behind the Cut:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Nature of Elune

Elune is the only official "god" in the Warcraft canon, outside of the Old Gods, which the general consensus seems to consider more of a title than an actual descriptor. While many races worship the Light, the Light is generally considered more of a cosmic principle than a singular conscious entity. The Draenei revere the Naaru, but they don't strictly worship them, as the Naaru are more akin to Angels in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition than actual deities. The Trolls do worship Loa, and it's possible that these beings fit your classic definition of "gods" but they are not called as such (I've always assumed that Troll Loa and Night Elf Ancients - and Pandaren Celestials, which Blizzard has explicitly connected to the Ancients - are all effectively the same sort of being.)

But Elune is considered a straight-up Goddess by the Night Elves.

The closest thing to your Classical gods (classical meaning Greco-Roman, which are probably the biggest influence on Western mythological culture outside of the imported Abrahamic monotheism - though the Norse gods are also a big influence) are the Titans (Titans of course being an imported term from Greek mythology.) The nature of the Titans has always been mysterious, as it seems that they are somehow both divinely powerful, but also have a scientific/technological basis for their powers - they are your classic "sufficiently advanced" society. (Arthur C. Clarke, one of the biggest 20th Century sci-fi writers, suggested that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.)

Elune has always kind of been a mystery in Warcraft, because she seems so different from the objects of faith for every other culture. While the Night Elves revere or even worship the Ancients, they still have a fundamentally monotheistic religion. Cenarius, for instance, is revered in part because he is the son of Elune. And because Cenarius most definitely exists, we can be fairly confident that Elune does as well.

Some have theorized that Elune is, in fact, a Naaru (Blizzard kind of cheekily suggested that Velen had come to visit Darnassus and remarked that he thought she might be, which did not sit well with Tyrande.) It would make sense, as she's this vastly powerful benevolent entity that empowers her worshippers with Light (even if it's Moonlight instead of Sunlight.)

But some new details emerging from the Legion Alpha might give us an alternative explanation of just what Elune is.

As we quest through the Broken Isles, we'll be collecting Pillars of Creation, powerful Titan artifacts that played a key role in the creation of Azeroth. We'll be trying to use these Pillars to close the portal the Legion will have opened at the Tomb of Sargeras. Each pillar seems to be linked to a different Titan. For example, it seems that the one in Highmountain, held by the Drogbar chieftain, is the Hammer of Khaz'goroth.

And one of the Pillars is called the Tears of Elune.

Does this mean that Elune is a Titan?

The Titans are certainly the closest thing we have to your classical "gods." But we've never heard Elune mentioned as a member of the Pantheon. The Titans were originally presented as a race, over whom the Pantheon were the leaders, so it's possible that Elune was simply not a member of the Pantheon.

But perhaps there's another explanation.

The Pantheon is composed of Aman'thul, Eonar, Norgannon, Khaz'goroth, Aggramar, Golganneth, and formerly Sargeras (Aggramar took up his old position.) It's perhaps odd that Eonar is the only female member of the Pantheon (though I might just chalk that up to careless writing.) We do know that in the early days of Azeroth, when the Titans came to battle the Old Gods and cast down the Black Empire, one Old God died and one Titan fell. We learned that the Old God Y'Shaarj was the one who was killed, thanks to the work of Watcher Ra (Ra-Den) and the pre-Curse of Flesh Mogu. But we never really found out which Titan had fallen, and whether "fallen" meant slain or something else.

The Well of Eternity was clearly one of the most important features of Azeroth. Mere off-shoots of it at Mount Hyjal, Quel'danas, and the Vale of Eternal Blossoms have all been incredibly powerful sources of magic and power. The first Night Elves were most likely a group of Dark Trolls (a subrace that hardly exists anymore) who settled on its shores and were transformed, notably into more humanoid/Titanic morphologies, by the magics there (a similar thing happened to Murlocs who were transformed into Jinyu by the waters of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms.)

The Night Elves then came to worship Elune as their primary god, certainly revering other nature spirits, but with Elune as their most exalted deity.

Jumping well ahead, when Wrathion ate the heart of Lei Shen, he had some sort of vision that allowed a strange voice to speak through him, speaking about "rebuilding the Final Titan."

Could it be that the Titan who fell in the war with the Old Gods was that Final Titan? And that having fallen, it had to be rebuilt? The Titans are beings of metal and stone, and as such, perhaps the very concept of "death" is not really relevant to them.

And as beings of such immense power, it's possible that their blood could be an incredibly powerful source of magic.

So here's a proposition: Perhaps Elune was that Titan who fell in battle with the Old Gods. As she was struck down, her blood seeped into the world and became the Well of Eternity. She was not killed, exactly, and she remained a conscious force with some small portion of her original power. To keep her safe until she could be rehabilitated, she was placed in a large protective structure that was set into orbit around Azeroth, becoming Azeroth's white moon.

From there, she has been able to use some of her small remnant of power to aid Azeroth, empowering the Elves who had been transformed by her blood.

And because the Titans are the embodiment of all that Sargeras wishes to tear down, he has been trying to conquer Azeroth in order either to prevent Elune from being restored, or to corrupt her to be another Dark Titan.

And the Avatar of Sargeras was left within a Temple to Elune.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Class Order Hall Rundown - What We Know So Far

With the Alpha live, though in a very limited form, some of the Order Halls for the various classes have been discovered. These will be areas that only members of the associated class will be allowed to enter, and while they have separate loading screens, it's not clear whether they will be truly instanced away or, more likely, use the garrison-style "seamless instance." Order Halls will not be yours alone - you'll have members of your class in there doing their thing as well.

So here's what we have so far:

Paladin: Light's Hope Chapel

It appears that the entrance to the Silver Hand order hall will be through a new stairway in Light's Hope Chapel, leading down to a vast vault.

Shaman: Maelstrom

The Shaman Hall is a large rock-structure overlooking the Maelstrom, with several kind of elemental hot-spots for the four elements. This looks like it will be largely open to the sky, but presumably only accessible to Shamans.

Rogue: Hall of Shadows, Dalaran

Rogues will have a special section in Dalaran's Underbelly. While I'm hoping the up the "opulence factor," for now it looks like your classic Thieves' Guild kind of location.

Mage: Central Tower in Dalaran

There appears to be a new tower in the center of Dalaran where the fountain/Icecrown Citadel memorial used to be (presumably this will be in the Broken Isles version of the city and not the Northrend one.) The Mage order will either be the Council of Tirisfal or a related offshoot, the Council of the Guardian.

Warlock: Legion Portal World

The Warlock area seems like a large collection of broken land floating somewhere in the Twisting Nether. I suspect their order will be the Circle of the Black Harvest.

Warrior: Halls of Valor

I don't quite know how this will connect to the dungeon, but Warriors will be able to hang out in the Warcraft equivalent of Valhalla, in Stormheim.

Hunter: Hunting Lodge, Highmountain

Hunters will have a nice outdoor area with a lodge in Highmountain, which seems to be a very classic "rugged wilderness" kind of location.

Priest: Unnamed Temple

We don't really have any indications of where the Priest hall will be, but it looks like it will branch off, with one dedicated Holy side and another dedicated Shadow side. Priests are flavorfully getting more evenly balanced between Light and Shadow, so this kind of makes sense.

Druid: Druidic Grove

Again, I don't know where this is - possibly Moonglade, possibly Val'sharah, but Druids will get a tranquil grove area for their class hall.

Monk: Monastery, Wandering Isle

Yes, Monks will be able to return (or go there for the first time if they aren't Pandaren) to the Wandering Isle, I suppose leaving the Peak of Serenity behind in favor of the big turtle.

Death Knight: Acherus, Broken Isles

Like Dalaran, Acherus has the advantage of being far more mobile than your typical town or fortress. It appears that Acherus, the Ebon Hold, will be floating above an archipelago in the Broken Isles and will continue to serve as the Death Knights' HQ (though I would assume you'll get a new, separate Death Gate to get to this version.)

Demon Hunter: Mardum

There is a big structure, possibly once the Titanic guard station on the prison world, though long, long ago corrupted by the Legion. After securing the Sargerite Keystone, it looks like Demon Hunters will return to the prison planet and claim it as their base.

So I believe that's it. It's very early in development, and we could see some significant changes by the time this goes live. I'm sure some of these halls are more fleshed out than others, so while I bet Light's Hope is rather polished at this point, places like the Rogues' Hall of Shadows are probably due for a lot of changes (I really hope there's an art gallery there with stolen pieces.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mech Pet Details

With Gnomes now making Hunters the second class to be available to all races, they are bringing with them the new "Mech" pet family. These will be pets that, if I'm not mistaken, will actually be classified as Mechanical. If you're not a Gnome Hunter (and given that Legion isn't out yet, you aren't) you might be wondering how you gets your hands on such a glorious thing.

There will be Mech pets other than the one that Gnomes start out with, but taming them will require a couple prerequisites.

First off, most Hunters will need to get a special item from Engineers called a Mecha-Mind Synchronization Fluid to enable the taming of Mech pets. However, if you're a Gnome or a Goblin, you can skip this step - Goblins and Gnomes are already very much in-tune with robots and other mechanical stuff, and thus need no such fluid.

The pets, other than the Giant Mechanical Rabbit that Gnomes begin with, will all have puzzle-like challenges associated with them. An example they have was the need to create a special punch card in Gnomeregan to get access to a Mechano-Strider.

I don't know if these will be quite as complicated as the Gara "quest chain," (which didn't actually include any official "quests," and was seriously obscure if you didn't use an online guide,) but it should be a nice challenge for those who want to have a robot fight for them in battle. (My Dwarf Hunter, who is a Gnomish Engineer, will certainly be working on this.)

Artifact Druid Forms

Over on MMO-Champion, they have images and video of the various altered Druid forms based on artifact appearance. Obviously, with all the customization options for Artfact looks, it would have been pretty lame to just have Feral and Guardian Druids look the same regardless of their choices, given that their weapons will be hidden within their forms.

It looks as if there aren't really racial variants on these models, which is understandable, as that would multiply their work by four. But these models are quite cool.



I'm a particular fan of the Stone Bear and Wooden Cat (though it sadly comes just short of a long-running inside joke with one of my friends about Wooden Bears.)

You'll have color variations, presumably based on the color of your artifact, and a lot of really different-looking models.

Moonkin, as far as we know, will only have their ordinary (but new and updated) model, along with, presumably, the Glyph of Stars appearance. But that might be fair, given that Balance Druids will still have the Scythe of Elune strapped to their backs while in their shapeshift form, so they'll still have the customization options every other class has.

Dreadlords and The Origins of Demons

When the Draenei were introduced as a playable race, a few players scratched their heads in confusion. While there were Draenei in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, they all had the look of what we'd now call "Lost Ones" (those found in Swamp of Sorrows and Zangarmarsh.) The Draenei in Burning Crusade, which we're all very familiar with at this point, looked instead like the Eredar, the super-powerful demons that, prior to that point, had only been seen in the form of Archimonde in WCIII Reign of Chaos, and Kil'jaeden in the expansion, Frozen Throne.

Blizzard explained this by showing that the Eredar had once been a mortal race that then got corrupted and transformed into these "Man'ari Eredar," and that the Draenei were the last remnant of the Eredar who had not been corrupted. They then further explained the difference in appearance by introducing the idea of the horrific Red Mist used by the Horde in the Siege of Shattrath (which in Warlords of Draenor, was hinted to be the blood of Sethe, modified to mutate Draenei instead of Arrakoa.)

The problem with this was that there was a big continuity error. In Warcraft III, the Eredar were given the backstory of being the demons whose evil acts caused Sargeras to despair and turn evil himself. That doesn't really work with the new continuity, as it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense for the Eredar and Sargeras to have effectively corrupted each other.

So there was a retcon (and frankly I'm glad there was, as the Draenei are possibly my favorite playable race, and they have a really cool backstory) which gave that role of "corrupters of Sargeras" to the Dreadlords, aka the Nathrezim.

The Nathrezim are certainly officer-class within the Burning Legion - you tend not to see armies composed of them, instead finding them in leadership positions. They're probably below Pit Lords (Annihilan) and the Eredar.

Dreadlords played a key role in the Third War. Tichondrius was the commander of the Legion forces (under Archimonde of course,) while Mal'ganis was in charge of keeping the Lich King on task. The Lich King engineered Arthas' victory and his corruption by allowing him to kill Mal'ganis. Mal'ganis would later come back in Wrath of the Lich King, but beyond simply appearing after we defeat his Scarlet Onslaught, he just goes away.

(In all honesty, this plot always frustrated me, as my take had always been that, because Mal'ganis had been slain with Frostmourne, his soul should have been trapped within the blade, meaning that yes, now that the sword had been shattered, he should be free, but he should not have been able to come back in 3.0.)

Three Dreadlords were in control of the Plaguelands after the Third War: Balnazzar, Mephistroph, and Varimathras. Balnazzar would possess the commander of the Scarlet Crusade, which is likely the reason it went all Spanish-Inquisition-level-crazy. Varimathras was defeated by Sylvanas Windrunner and pledged to serve her, though he ultimately betrayed her, causing the Wrathgate Incident. He was killed in the Undercity (just as Balnazzar had been killed in Stratholme,) but being a Dreadlord, it's certain that he's still out there.

We never dealt with Mephistroph, but it appears that some of the Artifact Weapon quests will involve him.

As clearly pre-Legion demons, it's unclear what the Nathrezim's origins were. We don't really know what exactly it means to be a demon, but, and this is speculation on my part, it seems that a humanoid race can become a demon by being infused with the energy of the Twisitng Nether. While typically this is done with specifically Fel energy, the Green Fire quest chain showed us that demons can also feed on pure Arcane energy, which is what Illidan was doing with his demonic minions using the Reliquary of Souls.

Some have speculated that the Nathrezim might have come from Xorroth, the world that Dreadsteeds (the Warlock epic mount) come from, though it's possible this connection is simply thanks to the prefix of "Dread" in the names. We know that Xorroth was a twin planet with another world called Xerrath (the passive you gain when you get Green Fire is the "Codex of Xerrath.) Xerrath was destroyed by demonic magic.

It's possible that all demons begin as some sort of natural creature - humanoids, beasts, or elementals (Voidwalkers, while classified as demons for mechanical reasons, are technically aberrations, coming from the Void.) The Titans certainly used demons - we know that Doomguards were created to hunt down people using Sacrificial Magic - which is why they are now summoned using that kind of magic (this used to be more explicit in game mechanics, as you'd actually need to sacrifice a party member to summon one.) It's perhaps a little ambiguous if Doomguards were technically demons when the Titans were using them, but it shows that a lot of demons were originally something else that were made that way.

It strikes me that the Dreadlords might have been the first demons. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they were always demons, eternally. If Xorroth was their home world, they may have been an advanced race, somewhat like the Eredar. Yet without the prodding by some Dark Titan, the Nathrezim might have drawn upon the vast power within the Twisting Nether, infusing their being with it and getting corrupted by the power they found.

Perhaps the Nathrezim were the ones to develop Fel Magic, twisting the morally neutral Arcane into something inherently destructive. Perhaps they destroyed their twin planet, and such a depraved and cruel act was what pushed Sargeras over the edge.

New Models For Lots of Old Creatures

WoWHead found some interesting new things in the Alpha/Beta. There are several new models for older, kind of mundane creatures. Lots of go-to critters like Rabbits, Squirrels, and Rats have updated models, along with Murlocs, Kobolds, Owls, Dragon Whelps, Eagles, Banshees, Makura (not, as they list them, Lobstroks, which are the Outland equivalent and... wait, does WoW have two different kinds of crab-people?) Felhounds, Basiliks, Keepers of the Grove, Dryads, Satyrs, Harpies, and Bears (oh my.)

Some of these were sort of inevitable - with the focus on ancient Night Elf territory, it makes sense that we'd get updated versions of a lot of the creatures they hung around with. We did see updated Ogre, Arrakoa, and Wolves in Draenor.

What's kind of cool though is that a lot of these models really look like pure updates, instead of redesigns. The Murlocs look unquestionably like the Murlocs we've seen in the past, only they look caught-up graphically to the rest of the game.

What I wonder is whether these models will only be used in the Broken Isles, or if they're going to go back retroactively and spruce up the old world. According to WoWHead, these models will not update the existing pets you have (though the Rabbit with blood on its mouth would have to be the Darkmoon Rabbit, wouldn't it?) Given how most of these are strict updates and not redesigns - looking as if you had just turned up your graphics settings or something - I don't really see a downside to populating the old world with much better-looking critters.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Alpha Not Yet Available for Macs

The first build of the Legion Alpha isn't even really bare-bones, it's more like the bones in a severed hand. Right now the alpha has only the Demon Hunter starting experience, and while that's probably the first thing I want to check out if I get into the alphabetagammawhatever, it does mean that they do not yet have the Broken Isles open (I imagine they're still working on making sure the level-scaling stuff works - that's probably the biggest engineering challenge they've set for themselves with Legion.)

The other reason it's bare bones? Right now it is not available for Macs.

As a Mac gamer, it's easy to be a little sensitive to these things. While it may be a different story for iOS, most game developers basically ignore Mac computers. Blizzard has always been a steadfast supporter for Mac users, but that steadfastness was shattered when it was revealed that Overwatch, their new team-based FPS, would not be made available for Mac.

So a few people have gotten a little anxious about the idea that, if the Alpha is not available for Macs, the expansion itself might not be. I certainly worry about that kind of thing, but I think it's practically outside the realm of possibility for them to release a WoW expansion that does not work on Mac OS. WoW is eleven years old, and for all those eleven years, player like me have been able to do everything that PC players could. Expansions are not new games, and so while technically Blizzard isn't obligated to do anything, it would be seriously, seriously bad PR to suddenly cut off a wide swath of players from a game that survives thanks to established players who want to keep playing the characters they've had for several years.

Overwatch might set a frightening precedent for future Blizzard games, and whether Starcraft III or Diablo IV might wind up being PC-exclusive, but because WoW is actually one game that was released over a decade ago, and more or less stops working if you don't have the latest expansion, I don't think they could actually cut it off from Mac players.

According to the Mac team at Blizzard, they're just lagging a little behind on technical issues that I won't pretend to understand. According to them, the next Alpha build should be available to Mac users.

So I'm crossing my fingers for an invite!

Dark Souls is Kind of Metroid

I've gotten significantly farther into Dark Souls than I had the last time I wrote about the game. After defeating the Bell Gargoyles, I've vanquished the Capra Demon and the Gaping Dragon, and the Moonlight Butterfly. I've made a few attempts at the Stray Demon (which is actually the first enemy you see in the game, and is a bonus boss that you can find when you return to the Undead Asylum - the whole area kind of being a hidden secret area as far as I know.)

What's kind of fascinating about Dark Souls is that it's one massive inter-connected world. With the exception of the Undead Asylum, every part of the world is all within one massive area - you could essentially tie a string off in one place and, if it were long enough, pull it to any other part of the game (as far as I know. I have heard about this "painted world" that I believe you get to later on.)

it's a game with very distinct environments, but it folds back on itself in ways that are actually quite brilliant. Though I believe you do get a teleportation device later on, most of the world is connected via shortcuts. If you play through to the end of an area, you can usually unlock a door or kick down a ladder to allow you to get back there far more easily. For example, almost immediately after getting to Lordran after beating the tutorial section, you'll head up through an aqueduct, only to find a locked gate. Far later (and I honestly don't really remember how I got to some of these places, like the lower Undead Burgh, the first time around, without the shortcut) you'll find yourself at the other end of that tunnel and be able to open up that gate. After a fairly long and difficult journey to get there, you'll now be able to get back and forth from the Lower Burgh and Firelink Shrine (the kind of main hub/home area) with ease (though you will have to go through a small group of undead many times over.)

Finding one of these shortcuts is perhaps the most relieving moment in the game. You'll often find yourself fighting through an unfamiliar area, expending most of your Estus Flasks and desperately trying to make it through without dying. Finding that shortcut that then takes you practically right back to Firelink Shrine suddenly makes you feel safe - you pop into the Shrine, rest at that bonfire, and you know that when you go back in, you'll be able to get back out without too much trouble. It lets you decide whether you want to keep pushing forward or maybe turn back and try something else.

In a lot of ways, this gating system feels similar to Metroid, albeit a bit simpler (which is fine, because Dark Souls does not need to be more complex.) Rather than getting special weapons and tools that work in certain ways, you're usually just activating elevators or opening locked gates. But there is still this sense that you're gradually unlocking the whole game world.

There are some places, though, that aren't blocked off so much by locked gates and such, and more just really hard enemies. As far as I can tell, there's nothing stopping you from wandering into the New Londo Ruins when you first get to Lordran. But the enemies there are so strong (and I think require you to either be cursed or have a cursed weapon or an item that makes it seem as if you're cursed) that you'd be a fool to try to make it through there.

This system does require you to remember a lot about the structure of the map, or at least the paths through it. Still, I've found myself seriously shocked by some of these revelations - I was wandering through a dark, forested area and found a door that opened to a key I had, only to discover that I was at the bottom of a tower I had previously climbed up in order to fight the very first official boss in Lordran, the Taurus Demon - which I had thought was far, far away. I'm beginning to suspect that the layout of the game world is far more vertical than I had previously thought. It's amazing how well it all fits together.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Spoilers dude! Spoilers!

Ok, this here is basically a block of text to prevent people looking at this blog on a mobile site from seeing the massive spoilers coming in. So spoilers, dude! Spoilers. These are some very juicy spoilers, and they're at risk of getting all spoiled. So spoilers.

Right, we good?


Legion "Alpha" Live

The first test for the Legion expansion is now live. However, this is not being classified as a Beta yet - there are some people on it, but I don't know if it's available to any but the sort of top WoW community members (I'm currently watching a live stream of one of the Final Boss folks playing around with it.)

So far, it's just the Demon Hunter starting experience, but the new Transmog system is available, and we're getting a sense of how that will work.

No word on when this is going to become a real Beta. Obviously for most people, like me, there's no guarantee that we'll even get into the Beta (though given that I got in on the first day, I hoped that I might get in early again...)

Still, progress is progress! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a spring release.

(Also, there are some major plot spoilers showing up that I won't discuss here.)

The Ebon Blade and the Frozen Throne

While the Forsaken were essentially just rank-and-file Scourge over whom the control of the Lich King was broken (inadvertently thanks to Illidan, actually,) the other playable undead characters, the Knights of the Ebon Blade, were elite forces. Now granted, the Ebon Blade (who were simply the Knights of Acherus when they were in the Scourge) were ultimately expendable to the Lich King. His strategy was to send wave after wave of Death Knights - perfectly fine with them all getting cut down - in order to draw out Tirion Fordring. He underestimated the holy power of Light's Hope though, and while Fordring was, actually, drawn out, the Lich King had inadvertently put his knights in a situation that freed them of his control.

This event was basically the first thing chronologically to happen in Wrath of the Lich King, and by the end, Arthas was dead and there was a new Lich King on the Frozen Throne.

Very much by Bolvar's design, the Frozen Throne has remained silent. The outside world is meant to understand that the Lich King merely died and that what remains of the Scourge is simply the ragged remnant - he doesn't want the world to live in fear of the fact that there's a massive apocalyptic army that could sweep down through the rest of Azeroth if he loses control of it. By its nature, the Scourge is nearly indestructible.

One of the big questions since the end of Wrath has been what Bolvar's fate will be. While technically a Lich King-less Scourge would be the worst-case-scenario (assuming, of course, that the spirits of Uther the Lightbringer and Terenas Menethil weren't actually lying to us - and were indeed who we believed them to be,) but a close runner-up would be for Bolvar to be corrupted by the power of the Lich King.

Yet he showed great resilience after a solid year of torture by Arthas, and the hope is that he will in fact remain as the Jailor of the Damned.

We don't really know to what extent the Lich King is a conscious force outside of the people wearing the crown. The Lich King was originally Ner'zhul - the Orc Shaman was torn apart by Kil'jaeden and had his soul bound to the suit of armor that Kil'jaeden locked away within the crystal that became the Frozen Throne.

The Lich King's powers always felt a little different than your standard demonic stuff. The Legion is known for its green fire, but the Lich King's powers were those of ice and frost. In Draenor, we got a bit of insight into the Shadowmoon Clan. Ner'zhul began using Void Magic, which seemed to bear a striking resemblance to a lot of the magic of the Scourge - particularly raising the dead. We know that the Twisting Nether and the Void are separate things - the Nether is the domain of demons, whereas the Void seems to be more associated with the Old Gods.

Ner'zhul was the sole Lich King until the end of the Frozen Throne expansion to WCIII, but Arthas shattered the throne and put on the armor, becoming the new Lich King. We learn in one of the novels (Arthas) that Arthas more or less consumed everything left of Ner'zhul. There's hints that he retains some of Ner'zhul's memory (if you get caught by him in an early quest in Howling Fjord Alliance-side, he talks about how he was once a Shaman,) but Arthas becomes the true Lich King.

But Arthas was just wearing the armor, and Bolvar is now wearing the helmet. Ner'zhul was the armor. Could Arthas' death effectively allowed Ner'zhul's essence to escape? Or was Ner'zhul so fully extracted and consumed that there's nothing left of him? If that's the case, what is the Lich King essence that empowers the Crown of Domination to make Bolvar the Lich King?

Newly datamined files suggest that Bolvar is still keeping up the good fight. Two of the Death Knight artifact acquisition quests involve having an audience with the Lich King. While the Blood Axe is held by some demon and doesn't have a historical connection to the Scourge as far as we know, the Frost Swords are made from the shards of Frostmourne. But if the Ebon Blade is in contact with the Lich King, that raises some interesting possibilities.

Bolvar's purpose as Lich King is not to conquer, but to prevent the Scourge from conquering. He is there to hold the reins and pull back on them. The Knights of the Ebon Blade broke away from the Scourge partially because they had simply been granted their free will back, but also because they were pissed the hell off about being used as bait. But without the Scourge as a threat anymore, the Ebon Blade has had to struggle to define their purpose. I think most have simply done what the players have - tried to rebuild their former lives and serve their people as adventurers. But it strikes me that Bolvar might need some enforcers to help keep the Scourge under control. In fact, it might help to have Knights who have free will and can't be controlled or corrupted externally.

We know there will be a lot of class-specific content in Legion, and while I'm sure most of that will still focus on fighting the Burning Legion, it would be interesting to see Death Knights evolve into the kind of go-to Undead hunters - using dead guys to bust ghosts (and zombies/skeletons/ghouls/etc.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

An End to Buffs?

One of the interesting things to be found in the datamined abilities coming through the first Legion Beta build (note: the Beta hasn't actually begun, but the information is now on the servers to be downloaded) is that it looks like all longterm buffs are gone. That's a whole slew of things, and it's a bit of a shock, as buffs have been around for WoW's entire lifespan. It's a slaughtered sacred cow, assuming that it's really true.

Evidence in favor of the disappearance of buffs certainly comes in the form of new Paladin Blessings, which are short-term effects akin to the existing Hand spells. For those of you who remember way back in the day (I think pre-Wrath,) Paladins had a much larger number of Blessings. Some were your standard long-term buffs (though they had a shorter duration, only going for five minutes, but getting bumped up to 15 when you used a Greater Blessing, which consumed a reagent and blessed all members of the same class - the base versions had to be cast individually, like most buffs back then.) Because it was annoying to have, say, a Blessing of Protection overwrite a Blessing of Kings, they separated out the short-term and long-term ones into different kinds of abilities, creating the new Hand spells. But it looks like Salvation is becoming a Blessing again (actually, the original version was a long-term buff,) and there's no mention of Blessing of Might or Kings, or any other classic buff like Mark of the Wild or Power Word: Fortitude.

It's possible they're just going to shift to an aura system - Hunters have long provided the attack power buff of Trueshot Aura through a passive aura. But Trueshot is becoming more of a marksmanship cooldown that seems to do entirely different things.

So what's the gain, what's the loss here?

The good news is that your raid composition will be far more flexible. You don't need to make sure you cover every single buff (not that it's too hard these days,) and if you have a guild that happens to have a large number of, say, Unholy Death Knights, you're not missing out on anything by letting them all come instead of bringing a more diverse crew (well, you might be melee heavy.)

But of course one of the reasons for these buffs in the first place was to encourage diversity. While it's certainly not the way I play the game, a lot of people desperately want to maximize their power, switching specs or even classes to ensure they're pumping out the most DPS. A change like this could risk creating a situation in which the top raiding guilds (or anyone with delusions of being that hardcore) take whatever spec is doing the most DPS at the moment and no one else.

Still, this is pre-Beta, not even early-Beta, and this isn't set in stone by any stretch. Still, I'm curious to see what Blizzard might do, if anything, to keep raids diverse. Especially in an age of personal loot, there should be at least some incentive to do so.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Legion Legendaries

One could argue that the existence of Artifact Weapons kind of takes the place of Legendaries. From Vanilla through Cataclysm, Legendaries were always weapons, often involving long and complex quest chains (though in BC, they were simply somewhat rarer drops off of bosses very few players would ever even fight.) Mists certainly kept the long and complex quest chain, bumping it up to an expansion-long one (a model that Warlords continued, albeit in a more simplified, somewhat more raid-oriented manner,) but in order to accommodate all classes and specs, they were made universally-equipped items, a cloak and a ring.

Legendaries will work far, far differently in Legion. Essentially the expansion-long goal of super-powering some piece of gear will be all about the artifacts, which also have the added advantage of each having a unique backstory behind them.

There will still be legendary items, but it looks like they'll actually be working a lot more like Diablo-style legendaries. In Diablo III (the only one I've played, so this might be the case in earlier games as well,) legendaries are, like pretty much all gear, generally random drops (some are made via blacksmith plans, but of course those recipes are also random drops.) What makes Legendaries interesting is that most of them have some kind of unique effect. For example, there's a pair of boots that constantly does mild fire damage to any enemy standing near you.

The Legendaries in Legion will be more like this - they'll be rare drops that I believe can drop just about anywhere, and they'll have unusual effects. Right now the ones that have been datamined sometimes have flavor text, but the effects are not there yet.

What we do know, however, is that a lot of these legendaries will be for specific classes and specs, meaning that they will be able to interact with our abilities in interesting ways. Things like these or set bonuses (and I believe some of the random world drops will be class-sets) make gearing a more interesting game - there could be an effect that's might be more important than just getting a bit higher item level, so you have to decide what's worth keeping and what you move on from.

Legendary chains can be fun, but honestly I think the class-specific stuff we're getting, apparently all expansion long, along with our artifact weapons, will give us plenty of interesting plot threads to work through. There were some good moments in the Warlords legendary chain, but let's be honest - it was mostly just grinding bosses for quest items. I'm curious to see how this experiment works out.

For All You Crossbow Fans - Artifact Variations

There are three types of ranged weapons - Bows, Crossbows, and Guns. But there will only be two specs that use ranged weapons in Legion, and that means only two artifacts. Marksmanship will get a bow and Beast Mastery will get a gun. But for those of you who who prefer firing bolts instead of arrows or bullets, never fear. Both Thunderstrike and Thas'dorah (the gun and bow, respectively) will have a variant look that makes them each into Crossbows.

The fact that these weapons can change to a similar but different type actually raises some interesting questions, namely whether one could have done that for other weapons. As far as I can tell, every other artifact weapon will stick to its weapon type. Warriors of all types will be using swords, and there isn't a single two-handed mace among them. The sole axe is the Blood Death Knight artifact, and I don't believe there are any Wands to speak of (though the jury's out on what the hell the Demonology artifact counts as. If I had to guess an existing one, I'd say off-hand item, but that leaves the question of what's in the main hand totally open - and while there are off-hands for several casters (namely Shadow, Fire, and Holy Paladins - not counting shields used by Elemental and Restoration Shamans) none of them have been the "main event" as it were.

While obviously the Ashbringer is one of the most iconic Paladin weapons in the canon, it is a shame to me that there isn't, for example, an option to let Retribution use a two-handed mace with a classic warhammer (technically "maul") look.

Still, there are definitely tons of options for many of the artifacts, giving you a lot of leeway on how you want to represent the item. For example, Icebreaker, the Protection Warrior sword/shield combo, in which the shield is made from one of Neltharion's (pre-Deathwing) scales, can look like a big dragon scale with some Vrykul decoration, or you can go full-Deathwing to have the cracking-elementium look he had in Cataclysm with lava pouring out of it, or alternatively you can go for a more skull-and-bone motif, befitting the Vrykul and their relationship with the Scourge.

Some artifacts are inevitably going to get cooler options than others (personally I'm not really crazy about any of the Subtlety dagger variations, though I'll have to see how they really look in-game) but Blizzard knows that they're kind of forcing people into using these weapons for the whole expansion (and mind you, I'm excited about the system,) so they want to make sure that we get lots of options to personalize them.

And just for the record, every variant appearance has several color schemes, so you can give your Warlock artifact a nice Legion-y green fire appearance or you can go for the classic black-and-red/orange fire and brimstone look.

Vengeance Demon Hunters - First Beta Abilities

First off, a big old grain of salt: When Mists of Pandaria was in beta, the way that Brewmasters worked was very different. Shuffle was not a buff generated by Blackout Kick, but a channeled ability you were expected to use, eschewing all damage abilities in favor of survival. So these things can change.

But for now, here's what we've got:

Vengeance's Mastery seems to be based on what could be one of the spec's major themes - namely Parrying. This makes a lot of flavor sense - Demon Hunters generally being characterized as a flurry of Fel-powered blades. The Mastery, Glaive Master, increases Parry chance. For now, it looks like it will be pretty much flat-out Parry Rating (though I'd assume it will also have the standard attack power buff that comes with all tank masteries these days.)

There are other passive relating to your parry chance, including a flat damage reduction  in Blade Turning and what looks like a primary Active Mitigation ability, Blade Barrier, which increases your parry chance by 30%.

Vengeance has some good mobility - in addition to the existing Demon Hunter abilities like Fel Rush, there's also Infernal Strike, which looks like a kind of Heroic Leap-style ability that might be on a shorter cooldown and has multiple charges.

Additionally, they have a number of "Sigil" abilities, that allow them to put ground-targeted sigils which go off after three seconds, doing things like silencing, taunting, or pulling the targets to the center.

Shattered Souls is an ability both specs get, and while for Havoc it's probably more of a soloing ability - much like Monks' Afterlife, it creates a little object on the ground that will heal you when you run over it, generating it after you kill a target. Vegeance, however, seems to be able to generate these Soul Fragments more often, giving them some self-healing - a bit like Gift of the Ox, though it looks like DHs will have a way to pop those fragments without running over them in Soul Cleave, which is a melee strike that also consumes these fragments. While in Metamorphosis, which baseline increases max health and reduces incoming damage both by 30%, your Hateful Strike (which looks like a primary Fury-generator) is guaranteed to spawn one.

One of the fun little flavor things for Shattered Souls is that if the Soul Fragment came from a demon, you get a little damage buff on top of it.

So the image we're getting is of an avoidance (but not dodge!) heavy tank that also has some health buffs and self-healing. (Actually, with Monks and Druids both moving away from avoidance as their main source of damage reduction, there's an opening for Demon Hunters there.)

Big caveat though: nowhere in these datamined abilities is there any mention of the Pain resource. It's possible that Pain is on the cutting-room floor, but it's possible that these abilities are from an earlier build, or that we simply don't have the full picture. Given that Demon Hunters' voice emotes make mention of Pain (there are error messages for "Not enough Pain," etc.) it would seem that at least at some point, Blizzard was very confident about using the resource for the class (though to be fair, there are also error messages for mana, energy, rage, and even focus, I believe.)

Still, as someone who will probably try to go tank-spec on my Demon Hunter, I'm eager to get the details on how they'll work.

Is Genn Greymane Going to Start Some... Stuff?

Since the Siege of Orgrimmar, the Alliance and Horde have been more or less at peace. Sure, there are skirmishes around Ashran (though honestly I kind of consider the whole island non-canon, as it has essentially no bearing on the plot of Warlords.) While the cooperation in the Siege worked well and both factions were sick and tired of the fighting (and a lot of the players as well,) that doesn't mean that there aren't still some serious issues that remain between these peoples.

Garrosh's defeat probably means a draw-down of conflict in central Kalimdor. Tyrande agreed to let the Horde keep Azshara in the name of peace (though she expresses doubts that the Horde will be satisfied with it,) and while the Alliance I'm sure would like to find a replacement for Theramore (or rebuild it,) things would logically seem to have calmed down in that area.

But Sylvanas and her Forsaken were always a quasi-independent faction-within-a-faction, and while the Orc/Human rivalry has been given a breather (helped I'm sure by the presence of a non-Orc Warchief, though actually, Trolls have historically been the main rival to humanity) the Gilnean situation is profoundly unresolved.

We know that there will be a battle at the Broken Shore when we first confront the Burning Legion - we see the beginning of this battle in the opening cinematic. In that cinematic, Varian Wrynn and Sylvanas Windrunner fight side-by-side. Sylvanas has always been the most dangerous Horde faction leader to the Alliance (until Garrosh, and they kind of were neck-and-neck.) It's probably not a great idea to trust Sylvanas, and she's the faction leader most likely to lean toward the "evil" side of the alignment chart, but she isn't totally irredeemable (though she might be a bit nuts.)

Giving her the benefit of the doubt (which I know is generous,) it's possible that she is really just there to lead the Horde forces against the Legion in tandem with the Alliance. Even Sylvanas knows that this would be a terrible time to pull some crap, given that the Legion is about as big of an existential threat as the universe has to offer.

If Sylvanas wants peace with the Alliance (and it's not clear that she does, given that she tends to recruit from humans her armies have killed,) she's painted herself into a corner - basically acting in such a way that even if she does totally turn over a new leaf and welcome humans back into her lands to found a New Lordaeron, there's no way anyone would trust her. And many would never forgive her for what she had done.

Enter Genn Greymane.

In World of Warcraft, we're given a pretty sympathetic portrayal of Genn. He's an old man who sets aside old conflicts in order to rescue his people from the Forsaken. He is a king who loses not just his home but also his son and heir. And the killer? Sylvanas.

Genn's portrayal in WoW has generally been one of a sad but resolute man who sacrifices everything for his people. But we should remember that Genn is capable of taking drastic measures to get his way. When the Second War ended, Genn Greymane opposed the internment camps because he thought they were too soft a treatment for the Orcs. Instead, he wanted to see them all slaughtered.

And when he didn't get his way, what did he do? He pulled Gilneas out of the Alliance and built a massive wall to keep the world out - cutting off Lord Darius Crowley's lands in the process, which led to a rebellion and civil war.

This is not to say that Genn is without his positive qualities. But while Varian has been learning tolerance and getting a more enlightened worldview thanks to his son, Genn is a bitter, angry old man.

Oh, and he's a freaking werewolf on top of that, which has got to be bad for his anger management.

I've often argued that if the peace between the Alliance and Horde breaks down, it will have to do with Gilneas. And there is some evidence in the beta files that supports this.

We've been told that the Alliance and Horde are going to be too distracted by each other to really push the fight against the Legion, which is why we're rebuilding these class orders. Setting aside whether that's good for the narrative (frankly, I don't think it would be too crazy for the Legion to be enough of a threat to simply say "the Alliance and Horde are not enough,) we didn't really know if this was going to be the kind of open conflict that started in Wrath or if it was going to be more of the kind of mutual interference or reluctance to cooperate that we've seen in earlier expansions (in Warlords, the two factions were kind of left behind, and there was no reason for the Draenei and Frostwolves to have any problem with each other.)

There seems to be some sort of scenario - when it would take place I have no idea - that involves a battle between Genn Greymane on the Skyfire and Nathanos Blightcaller - Sylvanas' First Ranger - on a ship below. Notably, the Horde version ends with you "battling" Genn Greymane, while the Alliance one has you "defeat" Blightcaller.

This actually wouldn't be the first time that Alliance players killed Nathanos (pre-Cata there was a long quest chain that ended with an outdoor raid quest to kill him in Eastern Plaguelands,) but it seems like he's been canonically alive (as a hunter trainer in Undercity.)

Still, the Horde doesn't really have a reason to start a conflict with the Alliance. While Gilneas is still in contention (going by the Horde quests, the Greymane Wall is really the border between Alliance and Horde control,) it was only ever a strategic objective for Sylvanas. Garrosh wanted a port in Lordaeron, and she went to get it. But Garrosh is dead and the war is over, so while I'm sure Sylvanas wouldn't mind having complete control over the peninsula, it's clearly been back-burnered while this whole endless army of demons is pouring in.

But Genn's stubborn and angry, and you can sure as hell bet that he has not forgotten or forgiven what Sylvanas did to his son.

As hesitant as I am to rekindle the whole Alliance/Horde conflict as a central part of WoW, there are aspects of this that are pretty exciting. The Worgen were never really given a great story after they left Gilneas. They kind of stepped off the boat and became furry Night Elves. The promise and potential of Worgen joining the Alliance was that team blue would finally have a "dark" race - a race of monsters who would make members of the Horde quake in their boots, rather than the other way around. Ultimately this didn't wind up really being the case, because in the Cataclysm Gilneas story, the Forsaken were clearly the real monsters.

But as the violent, vengeful id of the Alliance, I think Genn and the Worgen could be stirring things up. Sure, the timing's pretty unfortunate, but I'm ready to see the Alliance make some bad decisions for a change.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Demon Hunter Voiceovers are Delightfully Over-the-Top

WoWHead has been doing plenty of data-mining as well, and one of the cool things they've uncovered is the various voice files for Demon Hunters. Unlike Death Knights, who simply got the normal voices, but modulated and given a kind of echoey quality, Demon Hunters (probably thanks to the limited racial options) have all-new voices, with Demon Hunter-specific things to say.

Likewise, it looks like Demon Hunters will actually have appropriate error messages for lacking Fury or Pain. It never made sense to me that Worgen, Goblins, and Pandaren don't have emotes for Focus or Runes.

The male Night Elf definitely channels the Illidan voice. The female Night Elf goes a little growly. The male Blood Elf totally sounds like some kind of ultra-macho action hero, and the female Blood Elf has something of a diva thing going on. I love them all.

There are a metric ton of sound files (so much that WoWHead had to split them into three different pages.)

There are also a ton of new sound files for various spells, attacks, and melee strikes. They are trying to make melee feel a bit less "floaty," and I think one of the ways they're trying to do this is to make more distinct, impactful sounds (animations will also be getting work.)

This is definitely some real minutia, but it's fun to listen through if you just want to obsess over Legion while we wait for the Beta proper to launch.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Beta Information Surfacing

MMO-Champion has a bunch of data from the Beta build, which I think means that the Legion Beta has either started or will very soon.

So far, there are a ton of details of questionable value. It looks like the artifact acquisition quests will likely be solo scenarios. Of note, the Ashbringer one seems to be an attempt to rescue Tirion Fordring, which might contradict predictions of his demise, though we could of course fail to do so (and then need to seek, say it with me... Retribution.)

The biggest thing I've seen is the surprising location of Dalaran above Deadwind Pass. Dalaran will certainly also be in the Broken Isles, but the maps seem to imply that at some point or another, we might see Dalaran above Karazhan.

Obviously, more info to come. (*Crosses fingers for a beta invite.*)


There are some boss descriptions in there. It looks like the Drogbar like to use horrible monsters to fight their enemies. Neltharion (aka Deathwing) was clearly corrupted by the Old Gods, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of that Old God/Faceless corruption had a presence in Neltharion's Lair. Additionally, it looks like the Violet Hold is currently just filled with Scourge - there's a Blood Princess, a prototype Festergut/Rotface-style abomination, and a Crypt Lord. And it looks like these ones aren't being held back by Bolvar.

More updates as they become available.

Update 2:

There are also a lot of things that appear to be quests or scenarios related to getting your artifact weapons. The one that stuck out for me seems to be for Marksmanship Hunters as the way to get the Windrunner Bow. This apparently takes you to another world, Niskara, home to the "Legion Inquisition." I'd guess this is the world or one of the worlds where Turalyon and Alleria have been. We know that there are new demons called Inquisitors, but I don't really have any idea what the Legion Inquisition does.

Update 3:

There appears to be a new hunter pet family: "Mech" which presumably will be the category that Gnome Hunters' starting pet will be. Given that my Dwarf Hunter is a Gnomish Engineer and clearly gets along famously with his Dun Morogh cousins, I really hope there's a way for non-Gnomes to get one of these pets.

Update 4:

How did I miss this? Looks like Millificent Manastorm, Milhouse's wife, is one of the bosses of the new Violet Hold. While described as a complete opposite of her husband, the two do have a tendency to wind up in magical prisons for incredibly dangerous beings.

Update 5:

Two entries on the dungeon boss list that should look familiar: Ymiron, the Fallen King, and Cordana Felsong. The former you should recognize as the king of the Vrykul who A. ordered all the pygmy children (aka humans) killed and B. pledged his people to the Lich King. So yeah, this guy seems like the ideal Vrykul to send to Helheim, and I suspect he's the first boss. (Also, I think the Helheim dungeon is going to be called Maw of Souls.)

Cordana Felsong might seem puzzling if you haven't completed the Legendary Ring quest. Well... um... Spoiler Alert, I guess. Over the course of the quest, Cordana takes a shadowy orb - a Burning Legion device of some sort - in order to destroy it. She doesn't seem to get around to that, and I'd guess that the orb wound up corrupting her, because at the end of the quest chain (well, except for the "defeat Archimonde" part) she goes evil, using the power of the Tomes of Chaos you collected to empower herself and try to kill you. She escapes, and I'd bet that she's the one who helped Gul'dan infiltrate the Vault of the Wardens, making it likely she's a boss there.

Update 6:

We're now getting the names of some class champions:

Death Knight: Thassarian/Koltira Deathweaver (these are grouped together. I don't know if that means that they come as a team or if you only get one or the other,) Highlord Darion Mograine

Demon Hunter: Lady S'theno <Coliskar Captain> and Kayn Sunfury <Illidari> (the former is presumably a Naga, which is cool.)

Hunter: Emmarel Shadewarden <Unseen Path>

Mage: The Great Akazamzarak, Mog'dorg the Wizened

Monk: Li Li Stormstout, Chen Stormstout

Rogue: Lilian Voss, Vanessa VanCleef... WHAAAA???? (I guess if anyone could fake her death, it'd be Vanessa.)

Warlock: Lulubelle Fizzlebang and Ritssyn Flamescowl, both <Council of the Black Harvest>. (Hope Lulubelle is a better summoner than Wilfred. Ritssyn is mentioned, I believe, in the Green Fire chain, and might be a Worgen?

Warrior: Commander Lynore Windstryke/Nazgrel (I'm thinking this might be either/or depending on your faction,) and Eitrigg (who for some reason I thought was a Shaman.)

Anyway, definitely some cool stuff. Definitely a mix of established characters and new ones. Very curious to hear about how VanCleef survived.

Update 7:

More Class Champions! Also, there are several blurbs about the champions that describe their backstories. Notably, Vanessa VanCleef totally faked her death in the Deadmines.

Lord Maxwell Tyrosus appears to be a Paladin champion as well as Lady Liadrin (though she was the first class champion revealed, so no surprise there.) Aponi Brightmane will be a Paladin Champion as well, along with Vindicator Boros, a Draenei from the Hand of Argus (get us a Dwarf and we should be covered!)

Altrius the Sufferer (who you might remember from Nagrand (Outland,)) will be there as well, presumably as a Demon Hunter champion. Someone named Allari the Souleater looks like a possible Demon Hunter champion, though her description almost implies that she's leaning more toward Warlocks.

Additionally, there's Zeros, who seems to be a dragon whelp and Mage Champion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Beta Forums Briefly Up on Beta Imminent?

Well, if you're like me, today's major WoW-related stuff is that the Cataclysm timewalking event has begun. I got to run End Time as my first of them, which was pretty awesome (I love the Murozond fight.)

But while 6.2.3 is all well and good, the big thing we're all really waiting for is the Legion beta. Today, very briefly, the WoW forums got a set of Beta forums, which is one of the primary ways in which players can give feedback during the beta test. Blizzard took the forums (fora?) down, but given that they're clearly working on setting these up, it would seem to imply that the beta test is due to begin soon.

I won't say necessarily this Friday (if I recall correctly, Friday is kind of the beta equivalent of Tuesday for maintenance and patches) but this could be an indication that the beta is starting within the next couple weeks.

No guarantees, obviously, but we could get our first, tentative hands on Demon Hunters pretty soon.

UPDATE: On the 19th, two Blizzard-rep twitter accounts hinted that the test might begin soon - though to be fair, they really only hint at it, one being an animated gif of Heath Ledger's Joker saying "And. Here. We. Go!" while the other is just a picture of someone hitting a red button. Not much, but given the context, I'd call it a legit hint.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Bushido and My Initial Take on Dark Souls Lore

The bushido, which I believe translates literally (or close to it) as the "way of the warrior" is the code of the Samurai. There's an aspect of that code that I think I just kind of picked up somewhere (so it could totally be invented) which is that the code includes the idea that "you are already dead." Essentially, it is meant to encourage bravery - if you already assume you're going to die on the battlefield, you can set aside the fear of death and focus on executing your orders and maneuvers with calm detachment.

I don't mean to invoke this simply because the game is from a Japanese company (indeed, the game is built more around "Western" RPG principles,) but I think taking this attitude has improved my play and made the game more enjoyable and less stressful. Essentially, you just accept that sometimes, you're going to die, and sometimes that means losing Souls and Humanity you've collected. It encourages you to spend that stuff quick before you lose it, but also allows you to get used to reacting calmly to things in effective ways. While I haven't beaten them yet, I made some very nice progress on the twin Gargoyles fight (the first really major boss fight, as I understand) thanks to a kind of calm way of playing the game. In Dark Souls, if you're the inexperienced novice player like me, you're going to die lots of times, which can be frustrating at first, but soon you'll recognize these moments as times when the game is simply teaching you the layout of each room, which enemies to look out for and how to approach them.

The thing is, the player character is literally dead - well, undead. Let's get into the lore here. I'm only going from what I have so far in-game, and this is in pretty broad strokes.

The opening cinematic shows us that the world used to be ruled over by the Everlasting Dragons and was filled with Grey Trees. Deep below the world, however, there was fire, and the beings within the fiery underworld found Lord Souls, which gave them the power or animation to affect the world above.

What I find really interesting about this is that the dichotomy of good and evil or life and death doesn't seem to be the central conflict here. Nito, first of the dead, is pretty terrifying-looking, and definitely seems to skew more toward the evil side of the spectrum. The Witch of Izulath might have started out good, but birthed demons. But among them is also Lord Gwyn, who is your classic patriarchal deity, associated with order and sunlight, and someone who would typically be considered good.

They bring war to the dragons - Gwyn uses his lightning bolts to blast off their scales (the protective armor that keeps the dragons immortal) while Nito descends upon the with pestilence to kill them and the Witch burns the trees.

What the Lords do by defeating the Dragons seems less of a triumph of good over evil, but one of transformation and change over stasis. The dragons are "everlasting" and don't really seem to be doing anything except existing perpetually, but the people associated with fire are all part of a continuum of change. It's not life over death, but life and death over neither.

Skipping ahead to some spoilers, I know that Lord Gwyn is the final boss of the game - not that he's really a bad guy, but because he has "gone hollow" after fueling the flames of the world with his own soul for so long. I believe there are two endings - either you take his place or you allow the flames to die down and bring about an age of darkness.

What I see here is a kind of conundrum - were the Lords right to defeat the dragons? On one hand, by introducing the transitions of time, you introduce the inevitability of greater entropy. It's a physical fact that entropy increases over time - simply by doing things, we are hastening the Heat Death of the Universe, when all matter basically breaks down into a kind of even, disordered energy. That gradually burning out - consuming the fuel of the universe - is the consequence of the Lords' actions. But on the other hand, if they had not done what they did, the universe would be still and unchanging - just Everlasting Dragons forever and ever, locked into that state. Neither is really that appealing, to be honest, but this game doesn't seem like a very optimistic one.

The fourth Lord is called the Furtive Pygmy, and seems to be the progenitor of all humanity. There are some aspects of this part of the lore that I don't even have a theory about, including the way that Souls differ from Humanity, and how Humanity might be fragments of the eponymous Dark Soul.

But what I can speculate on is the Darksign. The Darksign is key to the game, as it's the thing that brings about your adventure and also, conveniently, provides a mechanical basis for why you keep coming back to life after you die.

Every character in Dark Souls, as far as I know, is Undead. People marked by the Darksign simply start coming back to life after they die. For a time, they retain their personality and intellect - their "humanity" (though I don't know how I should read into that.) But eventually, Undead go "Hollow," becoming the kind of mindless zombies you usually think of when you think about the Undead. The majority of enemies you face in the game (at least so far for me) are Hollows.

My take on this is that the Darksign seems to be putting humans into a state where they are reverting to the time of the Everlasting Dragons and the Grey Trees (skipping way ahead, there's some stuff in the upcoming Dark Souls III where there are Hollow bodies put into trees - which seems to back up this idea.) Without the light and dark of Souls and Humanity (that's a reach, but stay with me,) the Hollows revert to the kind of grey stasis that the Dragons presided over.

In a sense, because we're at this stage in the Dark Souls universe where the world's animating flame is burning down to embers, the transformation wrought by the Lords in that earliest age is now being undone, with the Undead being a symptom of this blurring between life and death. The Heat Death is happening, with the fires consuming their fuels, and the perhaps-ironic result is that it's all kind of becoming what it once was.

So that's what I've got so far. I know this is a game (series) with a rabid fandom, and that it's designed specifically to be open to interpretation. And I'm having a ton of fun speculating on the lore while my ass gets handed to me by all manner of just mean, mean enemies.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Beta Estimates

Legion's Beta is supposed to begin before the end of 2015, meaning that it can't be all that far away.

Some very fascinating news came with Blizzcon, particularly in the way that leveling zones and leveling dungeons will scale to the player's level. A player will still benefit from new abilities (presumably through the Artifact system, meaning many will be passive, but still cool) but they'll be able to group up with players of any level from 100 to 109 as they level.

Still, while there will be no official "first zone" the way that we had Frostfire/Shadowmoon in Draenor, I would guess that they'll still be opening up zones on a gradual basis. The good news is that if they do multiple character wipes like they did in the Warlords beta, you won't be forced to take a fresh character through the exact same quests in order to test out new zones.

I'm certain there will be major bugs in this system early on - never take problems in the beta personally, as you're there to suffer through a broken version of the game so that the one people pay for is (mostly) unbroken.

I wonder if we'll have functional Vengeance Demon Hunters by the time the beta is opened up. I suspect that Demon Hunters will be playable from the get-go, given that they had a pretty polished-looking starting experience quest chain at Blizzcon. But the Blizzcon build forced you to go with the Havoc spec, and Blizzard has indicated that they're still working on the design for how exactly Vengeance would function as a tank spec.

That said, I'm sure the Blizzcon build was already weeks if not months old by the time they unleashed it - it was designed as a preview to get people excited about the game, not a test utilizing massive parallelism (the many players) to sift through the game and discover what bugs they could. So it's possible that Vengeance has come a lot farther since then.

The existing specs that are undergoing radical changes (honestly, Combat-to-Outlaw doesn't seem as big a deal as others, though I can see why "Combat" kind of grated on people as an utterly generic non-descriptor) will, I would bet, be playable, though some mechanics might need some iteration. Still, nothing will see as many changes in beta as the Demon Hunter. If your remember what it was like playing a Monk in the Mists beta (or the DK, though I was not able to do that one) you'll know that new classes get some serious redesigns before they go live.

By the end of the beta, the whole expansion should more or less be testable, but in the early days, I'd really only expect one or two zones and possibly (though it's no guarantee) the Demon Hunter starting experience. Dungeons will come later, probably, and raids will come pretty late in the process (and they do those on a rotating schedule.)

As for a beta start date? I really couldn't say, except that tomorrow's patch is probably the last thing they're doing for the live game until after they've launched the Legion beta, which suggests that however long it takes, that's going to be the next priority.

Personally I'm hoping we get it in November, partially because, if I get in, I'm not going to be able to try out much thanks to the holidays (I can't remember the last time I did anything Winter's Veil-related - not that I'm complaining about having a family to visit, of course. It's a good problem to have.)

I think I figured out that the Warlords beta lasted four and a half-ish months. Granted, Warlords had fewer big systems changes to implement, so the Legion one could wind up taking longer. But even if there's a six-month beta, we could get a May/June release if they meet the 2015 goal. Sign me up! (Oh wait, I'm already signed up.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Reflection on Subtlety Rogues

I've played Assassination relatively consistently for a while now. When I first started my Rogue, I sure as hell focused on Subtlety, as I loved the idea of striking from the shadows, and back then there were even talents that made stealth more effective against your enemies (there was even a piece of class gear that increased your "stealth level," something we sure haven't seen for a while.)

The thing is, Sub always struggled, both to live up to its fantasy and to pour out the numbers that the other two specs could. There was a time when you'd hear people talk about making sure there was balance between "both" Rogue specs, because any serious players would only consider the non-Subtlety ones.

This gradually started to change over time. In early Wrath, the talent Honor Among Thieves gave them the combo-point generation to maintain a lot of different effects at once, and with Mastery introduced in Cataclysm, they became the spec of finishing moves.

It's been that way for a while, and while Subtlety has finally become a perfectly viable spec - actually the top single-target spec in Warlords - the finishing-move theme never really matched the fantasy of being a ninja striking from the shadows.

There has been a bit of that theme, mind you, with a cooldown introduced in either Wrath or Cataclysm called Shadow Dance, but while this is on a short enough CD to give you a lot of Find Weakness uptime, it's not at the core of the spec that way you'd hope.

Oddly, I remember thinking years ago that Shadow Dance would feel more fun as a proc, rather than a cooldown. Lo and behold, that's exactly what it will be doing.

At the moment, the design is for the proc to literally put you in stealth, except when you are in PvP. I assume there will be some sort of design work to make sure that this doesn't make it literally impossible to use finishing moves while soloing out of fear that any proc will make the target reset (that might be what the shadow decoy is for - giving them something to attack.)

On top of this, the new Sub-only equivalent of Ambush will be Shadowstrike, which effectively mixes up Ambush with Shadowstep, or alternatively, essentially makes Cloak and Dagger baseline.

There's also a new DoT finisher to use instead of Rupture that does Shadow damage. Not very different mechanically, but certainly more on-flavor. We don't know whether Sub will still have to juggle finishers. Currently they have to maintain SnD and Rupture, filling in with Eviscerates if they can. The other specs only have one "maintenance" finisher (though Feral Druids, who are almost the fourth Rogue spec, are in the same boat as Sub, with Savage Roar and Rip to maintain.) While perhaps there are some Rogues who like having the management aspect to the spec, I really don't feel like it plays into the fantasy (if it would for anyone, I'd say Combat, but Combat is now Outlaw, and has its own new stuff going on.)

This re-orientation of the spec's major theme is something I welcome with open arms, and I find that I might actually go back to Sub as my Rogue's main spec (actually, I'm also excited to try out Outlaw.)

There is another really nice change coming for the spec, which is that you'll now be able to use Backstab from any angle - it's just that it'll do more damage (which I think we'll see balanced as its full damage) from behind (or the sides.) You still won't be doing max damage while soloing, but your signature CP-generator will finally be usable when you don't have a tank.

Reflections on Frost Death Knights

Arguably, Frost Death Knights are getting the fewest changes of the three DK specs, despite the fact that many of us long-time 2H Frost folks are being forced to dual-wield.

Looking at the abilities as they've been laid out, it actually looks like the 2H rotation is actually the one that the spec will be more similar to, now that Killing Machine only affects Obliterate. This should hopefully keep the ability relevant and at the heart of the rotation. On one hand, I'd like to see Obliterate get a talent that either modifies or replaces it, making a powerful frost-attack, but on the other, that would mean that everything Frost did was, well, Frost, which is a little odd for a melee spec.

That's always been the problem with Obliterate, since Mastery was introduced in Cataclysm. It hits very hard, but it doesn't scale with one of our core secondary stats. Mastery is, of course, meant to scale differently between different abilities so that it's not just a "you do X% more damage," but the way it's worked out for Frost is that the strike that should arguably be the keystone of the rotation is the one thing that really doesn't benefit from the stat.

In Mists and Warlords (I believe in Cataclysm the emphases were flipped, with DW favoring Obliterate over Frost Strike) this meant that 2H Frost DKs would actually keep Mastery on a low priority, preferring Haste and Crit in Mists, or Multistrike in Warlords.

The rotation was somewhat simple, but required quick judgment calls on whether to blow your runes when KM was not on, risking not having them up for the proc, or burning RP for Frost Strike, hoping you don't waste a KM proc that popped up right as you hit the button. If you were really good, you could work out your swing-timer to try to make sure you played ideally.

Ultimately, that rotation had a priority of Diseases, Howling Blast w/Rime, Obliterate w/KM, Frost Strike, Obliterate (it was more nuanced than that, but that's the basic gist.)

Theoretically, dual-wield should have been the inverse. With Frost Strike buffed more than Obliterate when dual-wielding, it should have been Diseases, Howling Blast w/Rime, Frost Strike w/KM, Obliterate - and maybe if you couldn't Obliterate, you'd burn a Frost Strike for rune-regen.

In practice, however, the Masterfrost build started getting traction, where you'd simply load up on as much Mastery as possible and spend your runes spamming Howling Blast instead of worrying about Obliterate. You'd spend you Unholy runes on Death and Decay (single target as well as aoe) and "free" Plague Strikes to keep up Blood Plague. Obliterate got a little play in Warlords thanks to a buffed Rime proc (though it wasn't called Rime anymore) but it was/is definitely low on the priority list. Unlike Frost Strike, which is always going to be how you spend your Runic Power, Obliterate got overshadowed by Howling Blast.

HB is a really cool ability, but it didn't see to be working as intended, which is why I think they're pushing for this version of Frost.

The key, I think, for their design is that they've got to make sure that Mastery never gets so high that Obliterate can be dropped from the rotation. I think a more exciting thing to do would to be to make Obliterate do more interesting things - it already has the Rime proc, which is good, but at the moment, between Killing Machine and the fact that it's physical damage, Obliterate actually manages to de-value two of the four remaining secondary stats. Giving Obliterate new ways to scale - either by changing KM from an auto-crit to a double-damage proc (realizing of course that a KM Obliterate crit might be too large) or adding new features, either through passives or talents, that makes Obliterate really awesome, would be a good way to keep the spec working as intended.

Frost DKs already had pretty flexible runes, with the Blood runes automatically transformed into Death runes, and with the loss of Blood Plague and Death and Decay (see below,) I actually don't think that the Rune change is going to hit them all that hard. It does mean less awkwardness around the Runes, which admittedly will simplify the spec (well, class,) but rune-juggling isn't terribly hard for Frost already, and it shouldn't totally trivialize the spec.

I also like that Frost is getting Remorseless Winter as an AoE damage ability to replace Death and Decay. Certainly, DnD is one of the most iconic DK abilities, up there with Death Grip, but it always felt the least appropriate for Frost, given how shadow-based it was. I imagine RW will be weaker, given that Frost already has Howling Blast, but it remains to be seen.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reflecting on Protection Paladin Changes

Now that we've had all the class blogs, I'm going to go a bit more in-depth on the specs that I play the most.

I've tanked as Protection since I first started doing things that weren't solo questing, way back in Burning Crusade. I spent a bit of time terrible (not using Holy Shield, which was absolutely core to the spec in BC) and then figured out how to play decently. In Wrath I started raiding, and I'd say I got actually pretty good.

In Wrath of the Lich King, Prot Paladins had something called the "969" rotation. Single-target or AoE, you'd always use five abilities, essentially alternating between a two-ability rotation and a three-ability rotation. Shield of Righteousness and Hammer of the Righteous were both on six-second cooldowns, so you'd alternate between them. Then, you'd have Holy Shield, Consecration, and Judgment essentially every 9 seconds, weaving them between the 6-second abilities (I may have swapped Judgment and Shield of Righteousness - it's been a while since Wrath.)

It worked out - you had a bunch of buttons to press - but it was very, very simplistic.

Queue Holy Power, which came with Cataclysm. Prot would now build up to a big Shield of the Righteous (note the subtle name change) and had a little less predictability in the form of things like Grand Crusader. Consecration also got a longer cooldown and cost a ton of mana, so you couldn't maintain it at all times, but let us never speak of that dark time again.

The thing is, before Cataclysm, there was a weird way in which Paladins' lack of structure (I'm also talking about Ret here) oddly locked them into a much stricter structure. Because all these abilities were just based on cooldowns, you had to hit them right as they came up and you couldn't fit in things like Avenger's Shield - which back then was used only for pulling.

Abilities have still been based on cooldowns, which has made Protection (and Ret) still a bit reliant on a lockstep rotation. But there's been a bit more randomness and unpredictability to keep you on your toes. The addition of two extra Holy Power slots in Mists really made the mechanic a lot more interesting, as you could choose to bank that HoPo so you could save up your defensive ShotR for some big hit and not waste Holy Power.

Ultimately, I don't think that the rhythm of the Protection Paladin is going to be all that different - we'll probably be able to raise our shield about the same amount of the time. Light of the Protector strikes me as probably being weaker than a 5-bastion Word of Glory, but you won't need the build-up anymore.

Still, I don't know if simply having a cooldown that ticks away is as cool as a resource that we generate. In the end, it might wind up accomplishing the same thing - we'll bank ShotR charges like we bank Holy Power now - but it feels a little more passive.

The other thing is AoE. I like that Hammer of the Righteous will simply replace Crusader Strike for us - frees up a button, after all, and as tanks, it really has to be a single-target fight for us to use CS - but I really do not like the idea that it only gets its AoE capabilities when you're standing in Consecration. Tanks needs easier AoE - they always have to put a little threat on every enemy to keep the healers from getting eaten. I don't really see why they can't just let HotR work the way it does now and give us some "free" AoE like Monks get with Keg Smash, Warriors get with Revenge, Druids get with Thrash, and Death Knights get with Blood Boil (though to be fair to DKs, they're going to focus more on Blood Strike, which has a similar AoE preparation requirement - but they still get Blood Boil for burst AoE.)

I suspect we're going to see some iteration on this design through the beta. At the moment, Prot doesn't really have any sort of resource to track. I'm kind of surprised that we're seeing DPS shamans, Shadow Priests and Balance Druids get a non-Mana resource but we aren't seeing Paladins get one.

YOU DIED - More Dark Souls

Well, my proud record of always recovering my Souls/Humanity ended pretty quickly.

This game is seriously not messing around. It will make you question your skill as a gamer, though I think that the game it keeps making me think of is Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts - something that two friends of mine independently started playing again. For those of you unfamiliar, SG'n'G is one of the most infamously difficult games of the SNES era. It was an arcade game, and of course arcade games made more money the more difficult they were, as you'd have to keep popping in quarters to keep playing if you ran out of lives. The SNES port of it didn't really change anything about it except obviously make the "quarters" a kind of virtual thing - I think you could earn more continues as you collected money bags. The point is, merely beating the first level was something I could not accomplish.

Fast forward about twenty years to Dark Souls, and you get a very similar feeling.

Now, I have managed to progress - I beat the Taurus Demon, which is essentially the first mini-boss after the Undead Asylum's intro-boss (that one took me a mere three tries.) That freaking demon took me... I lost count. Probably around ten times.

Part of the difficulty here is that every time you die, you restart way back at the last bonfire at which you rested. All the enemies reset, and the "trash" in this game can very easily kill you if you aren't giving each of them the kind of respect you'd pay to a boss in most games. And you won't be able to re-fill your Estus Flask collection without resetting these dudes, so you need to fight them carefully so you don't have to burn through them. The other real tricky part is that if you enter a boss' area, "Traversing the White Light" (these light-gates are not always the entrance to a boss lair, and in fact, the Taurus Demon's area, which is on the ramparts of a massive wall, doesn't actually look like a boss lair until you get about halfway along it and the guy jumps at you,) you can't go back through it until the boss is dead. That means that if you want to recover your souls and such after dying to the thing, you have to go back into the boss lair - meaning you can't recover and go back to the bonfire to level up and keep farming souls.

The boss himself is actually relatively simple, and there are ways to more or less cheese the fight. But I think the way this game works is that you HAVE to cheese the boss or he will kill you dead very quickly. It's about flawless execution.

I don't know if I'm going to write about every last fight in this game, as it seems pretty huge (though much like SG'n'G, the length might feel a whole lot more significant thanks to the difficulty - in truth, the stretch of enemies that I dealt with on each run back to the boss would be a quick hack-and-slash in any other game) but we'll talk about this dude.

He's on the ramparts of the enormous city walls of Lordran. The first thing you want to do before triggering the boss by walking halfway to the far tower is to first turn around and climb the tower that you're next to - there's a ladder to your right as you walk in. Two undead soldiers will fire crossbows at you from above, though one of them sometimes has his sword out already. You want to climb up, possibly rolling right as you reach the top so that you don't get slashed as you get to your feet. Kill these guys so they don't sabotage your efforts during the fight.

Then you trigger the boss by climbing back down and running forward. As soon as he appears, you run right back to that ladder, climb up and then go over to the broken ledge. You can't take your time up here, because he'll eventually jump up onto the tower, but you can probably get a firebomb off before you make a diving slash - jump and then hit your basic attack. This takes off a massive chunk of the demon's health.

The trick then is to get all up in his crotch. Some of his attacks won't hit you while you're up close with him, so just stay there and get some slash-combos. I'm playing a Knight who starts with a 100% physical-reduction shield, so I could actually take some of his melee swings. There's not a lot of time to heal here, so the best thing is to just make sure that you raise that shield when he's about to strike, and lower it to allow you to regain stamina when he isn't.

Once you beat him, you'll be able to find a ladder to kick down to the very same bonfire you've just been resurrecting at. That ladder stays down, so you no longer have to go through all that stuff again. And the demon, as a boss, does not respawn, praise the sun.

So yep, that's... the first mini-boss. Jeez.

Friday, November 13, 2015

6.2.3 Dropping on Tuesday

Patch 6.2.3, which could very well be the final patch before 7.0 (though I wouldn't be surprised to find another one for Mists of Pandaria timewalkers) will be arriving next week.

Probably the biggest feature of this mini-patch is the introduction of Cataclysm timewalker dungeons. These will be:

End Time
Grim Batol
Lost City of the Tol'vir
The Vortex Pinnacle
Throne of the Tides

You'll note, of course, that this is six dungeons, with one of them being a post-launch dungeon. Guess what? BC and Wrath timewalkers will get similar additions. Burning Crusade timewalking will now also include Magister's Terrace, while Wrath will get Pit of Saron.

Additionally, and this is maybe the most exciting thing, is that a new mount, the Infinite Timereaver, will be a random drop from enemies in any timewalker dungeons.

There will also be a vendor at the Earthshrines (the Cataclysm portal areas in Stormwind and Orgrimmar) who will sell new toys and other Timewarped Badge rewards when the event is on.

The first Cataclysm timewalker event will start the day after the patch, this coming Wednesday.

Other features include:

The Return of Valor Points and Item Upgrades:

Valor points will now be awarded for completing the first random heroic dungeon per day, completing Mythic dungeons, doing weekly bonus event quests (except for the pet battle one) and completing a raid finder wing (the first wing you do each week - don't feel you need to run them all.)

Here's hoping there will be actual gear rewards for this in Legion, but for now, you'll be able to upgrade your gear by 5 item levels, twice per item, 250 VP per upgrade.

Improved Item Rewards:

Mythic Dungeon loot now has a chance to have anywhere from 685 to 725 item level (in increments of 5,) with higher item levels being rarer. Bosses in mythic dungeons also have a chance to drop an heirloom trinket that will scale up to 110.

Additonally, baleful gear also has a chance to have an item level from 655 to 695, also rarer the higher the item level. (I believe that you'll just not use Empowered Apexis Crystals on pieces that hit 695 on their own.)

Warlords Season 3 starts off.

New PvP season, with the top-level gear scaling up to 740 in PvP

...And a bunch of balance changes!

Hopefully this stuff should tide us over until the Legion beta begins, which I hope is soon!

Gladiator's Resolve, Fistweaving, and Discipline

Gladiator's Resolve allows Protection Warriors to switch to DPS without changing their gear (well, unless they really want to maximize the best secondary stats.) It's an interesting experiment and one that allowed for an unprecedented playstyle - a melee dps that uses a shield.

But it's going away. The quasi-spec was certainly an interesting idea, but I always suspected that they would either have to give Warriors a fourth spec to allow it (something they only gave Druids out of sheer necessity) or they would have to give all tanks some kind of dps capability. They've opted to just remove it, which will upset a lot of people I'm sure.

Converting a tank spec to a DPS one consists of two challenges - buffing damage and reducing survivability.

Tanks already do damage enemies in order to generate threat, and as a result, tank damage needs to be balanced at a level that is proportional to DPS damage. Thus, it's not that big a challenge to simply add a coefficient when in "DPS mode" to make a tank spec work as DPS. (Ok, it's obviously more complex than that, but not substantially different from balancing between DPS specs.)

There's also the need to scale back some of the survivability. After all, if a tank-as-dps spec could take just as much punishment as a tank-as-tank spec, why would you ever take the latter? Or normal melee DPS?

But honestly I think that the main reason behind this is more about a return to fundamentals. They're doing this with all specs, trying to focus on the core of the spec's identity, and having this kind of dangling DPS quasi-spec off to the side for Protection was a bit odd.

Sort of in a similar vein, Mistweaver Monks will no longer be able to heal through their melee strikes.

Looking at Mistweavers in a vacuum, this makes tons of sense. If a healer can heal sufficiently while also contributing as much DPS as a tank or even a bit less, it clearly has a big edge over other healers. Essentially, you're in this place where balance is impossible. You either become far too overpowered - healing just as well as other healers but also contributing DPS, and thus making all other healers obsolete - or your healing is handicapped to make room for the benefit your damage brings. In a raid with four or five healers, that might be ok, because you could split the difference and be the half-healer within your raid's roster of four-and-a-half. But in smaller content, particularly 5-player dungeons, where you are the only healer, how can you justify taking up that spot when you're going to be struggling to keep everyone up thanks to your handicapped heals?

The solution in Warlords was to give Mistweavers two stances - one to serve as a dedicated, classic healer standing in the back and tossing out healing spells, and the other to focus on "Fistweaving," which you could opt into if your group or raid didn't need quite as much healing.

But with this "starting again from the basics" approach, Blizzard has decided to simply make Mistweavers into straight-up healers. However, this isn't really getting back to how things were, because Mistweavers were originally designed specifically to be the "punch-to-heal" spec. In fact, I think this is a large contributor to people playing the spec (it was what finally got me to try out leveling a healer, though to be fair she never quite made it to the level cap, sitting at 88.)

Still, perhaps it's for the best. After all, a healing/dps hybrid spec is inherently kind of problematic.

What was that? Discipline Priests?

Oh crap.

So Discipline got an interesting mechanic starting, if I remember correctly, in Cataclysm. They could blast enemies with Smite and Holy Fire (finally giving those spells a use) and thus heal the party. It gave Discipline something to do if group/raid damage wasn't that much of a threat.

It was this Atonement effect that I believe really inspired the design of the Mistweaver Monk (which of course came in the following expansion.)

But Discipline's theme was more around absorption shields. Power Word: Shield was fundamental to the spec, and finally gave it a way to shine after the dominance of Holy in early WoW.

The problem is that those shields were way too powerful. Shield spells are inherently kind of over-powered. As long as the target is taking any significant damage, the shield will always be useful, and on top of that, until that shield breaks and the target starts taking real damage, everyone else's heals are useless.

So Discipline has been overpowered - partially thanks to our over-reliance on healing meters - and so Blizzard wants to move Disco priests away from that as their primary theme.

But once you take a holy-themed, cloth-wearing healer away from the one kind of heal that the other healing spec for the class doesn't use, you kind of paint yourself into a corner.

So Discipline is going whole-hog on this hybrid DPS/Healer thing. With all the problems I just described for Mistweavers.

As someone who doesn't really play healers, it obviously doesn't affect me that much, but I do really wonder how well this will work out, and if Blizzard might be forced to reconsider Disco again (yes, I like to call the spec disco.) They do seem to be designing this hybrid status as mandatory, which might make it somewhat easier to balance than Mistweavers. Still, it remains to be seen.

Honestly, I think this all would have been a lot easier if in 2004 they had made Priests like every other healing class, giving them one healing spec and then making Discipline into a kind of Inquisitor-type, casting holy spells from afar, with maybe more of a direct-damage theme counter to Shadow's DoT theme.

But that was 11 years ago. Then again, they did make Survival into a melee spec.