Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Weirdness That Is Skull of the Man'ari

There is a different artifact or set of artifacts for every single spec coming in Legion. There are several 2-handed swords (two of which are a pair, for Fury Warriors,) a 2-handed axe, a polearm, a gun, a bow, a few sets of daggers, some fist weapons, several swords that are either paired with shields, off-hands, or just other swords. And of course, there are a ton of staves.

And then there's Skull of the Man'ari.

The Skull is a main-hand weapon - your "main" artifact will not be your off-hand item (I think only the shield-bearing tanks really focus on what's equipped to their left hands.)

But the Skull is not going to be on the end of some stick to serve as a staff or a wand. There's no off-hand item that Demonology Warlocks will be using, as far as I can tell.

Instead, Demonology will simply walk around with a floating skull nearby, rather than carry any sort of weapon. I have absolutely no idea what their melee autoattack animation is going to look like, but given that my Warlock is pretty happily demo-specced (even if the spec is getting utterly transformed, I expect I'll stick with it,) I'll find out soon enough.

I've been looking at some of the alternate models for the Skull, one of which is just a full Eredar head that floats around - basically a Draenei but with a few spikes where eyebrows should go, and the option to go with colors other than blue.

It's really bizarre, and just the sort of morbid touch you'd expect from a Warlock. I wonder if the Skull will talk to us, like our constant buddy while we fight our way across the Broken Isles.

As far as I know, this is really the only artifact weapon where they've gone so completely outside the box. It's actually a bit disappointing that there hasn't been more variation in artifact types. All three 2-hander wielding (actually, all four, given that Fury is going Titan's Grip) strength classes are using swords. It's actually kind of unfortunate that the Ashbringer is so obvious as the Retribution artifact, as it would have been nice to give them a nice blunt warhammer like the one Uther wielded. We're not seeing any one-handed axes or two-handed maces, and I think the closest thing we're getting to Crossbows is a pair of alternate skins for the Beast Mastery Gun and the Marksmanship Bow.

We are getting a new weapon type for Demon Hunters so that both specs can use Glaives (which I guess are a cross between swords and fist weapons.) But the Skull of the Man'ari is truly unlike anything we've ever seen in-game.

Especially given the artifact system, I almost wonder what they might have come up with going further outside the box. You could introduce a flail, for example, or give one of the hunter specs a pair of pistols like Lord Godfrey. The artifact system makes it so that you don't necessarily have to keep bringing these item types back in the future.

Anyway, given that Demonolgy's already going to be summoning their regular minions as well as wild imps and fel stalkers, it's kind of amusing that among their demonic menagerie will be a floating demon head who will probably be second-guessing your every move.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Alpha Build

If you, like me, are in a kind of WoW fallow period (even the prospect of Timewalker dungeons isn't enough to get me to log in today,) there is at least some movement on the Legion Alpha front. A new build is up, with a raised level cap (108, which is almost to the true cap) and a couple new dungeons, as well as some more specs available for play (still no Protection Paladins.)

As far as I know, no new zones have been opened up, meaning we're still missing Azsuna and Suramar. Also, Thal'dranah has disappeared from the mini-map overworld, which does make me worry a bit that it might go the way of Farahlon, though before it was just a flat plateau with "Thal'dranah" written in massive letters clearly by hand (or mouse) as a placeholder. So it's not like we're seeing a ton of work scrapped.

The two new dungeons are Vault of the Wardens and the new Violet Hold.

Vault of the Wardens apparently plays a part in the Demon Hunter starting experience - after your adventures on Mardum, you wind up there and have to help get some of the prisoners back in their cages - and those prisoners wind up being dungeon bosses. This looks like a very cool instance, and ends with a trip through a near-pitch-black basement area that requires you to use a special light buff.

The other prison dungeon, Violet Hold, sadly looks almost identical to its Wrath incarnation (they repaired the big broken staircase and there are new bosses.) Honestly, I never really thought anyone was begging to go back there. I'd really hoped that the new Violet Hold was going to be a different sort of dungeon - one that would let us delve deeper into the prison. But then, I guess that's what Vault of the Wardens is for.

They seem to be adding tons of additional artifact appearances, which is great. This seems like something they'll be able to build on constantly over the course of the expansion, and I'd be rather surprised if we don't get at least one new look per raid tier.

I don't know if there has been any iteration on the spec-switching costs. I also still don't know how one is supposed to get an off-spec artifact. My gut says the current plan is to make you wait until you hit 110, which sucks as someone whose main is not a DPS spec. If that's how it goes, I guess I'll just suck it up and solo as Protection like I did back in vanilla, BC, and Wrath.

There are dungeon journal entries for ten 5-player dungeons, which is much more like it. Even with Violet Hold as a kind of underwhelming rehash, it's still the most original dungeons we've had with a launch since Wrath of the Lich King. I really hope that they have additional dungeons planned for later patches. The thing that concerns me though is that, like Warlords, I don't really see what an obvious "middle raid tier" would be after we deal with the Nightmare and Suramar before we go into the Tomb of Sargeras (which I have to imagine will be the final raid.)

Anyway, good to know that progress is coming along. Honestly at this point I really think the term "Alpha" is just being used because they don't plan on inviting as many people to test the game as they did previously. There's definitely some serious testing left to do - probably a couple months - but at this rate I would not be shocked to see the expansion release in the first half of 2016. If you figure it'll be another month before they raise the level cap to 110, and then you give them two months for raid testing after that (something they've already begun,) and another month to polish things and make sure all the new systems are working right, that's still only May. This test might be called an Alpha, but the level of completeness is farther than we've seen things in Beta from them.

I'm pretty confidently optimistic that Legion will be ready months ahead of their conservative September 21st deadline. Now, from a marketing standpoint, I don't know when it's best for them to release (though I'd have to guess that summer's a good time, given that students will be done with school then.) Here's hoping! The sooner the better!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

O Sargeras, Where Art Thou?

First: a pet peeve. People sometimes joke about answering the "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" line with "I'm down here!" This annoys me, because wherefore doesn't mean "where." It means "why" (a bit like "how come.") She's not seeking him out, but lamenting the fact that the boy she has just become infatuated with is a member of her family's rival clan.

Ahem. (/end theatre nerd rant.)


The Burning Legion is the most central group of villains in the Warcraft Universe. The evils of the Old Horde and the Scourge trace themselves back to the Burning Legion.

What's funny is that there were actually demons long before the Legion existed. In fact, Sargeras' job as a Titan was to fight these demons. Yet when he had his nihilistic conversion (maybe he read and misinterpreted a lot of Nietzsche?) he broke them out of their prison on Mardum and organized them into a pan-dimensional army of destruction.

Using D&D terms, he took a bunch of rowdy, chaotic evil demons and turned them into a well-oiled machine of lawful evil devils. (Though his end goal seems to be the eradication of everything, rather than a new order over which he will rule, so maybe they're still chaotic evil, but using lawful methods. I have issues with the D&D alignment system.)

Anyway, Sargeras led the Legion for countless eons. About 25,000 years ago, he corrupted the Eredar (most of them, anyway) and from their race gained his two most important lieutenants - Kil'jaeden and Archimonde.

For whatever reason (and we're probably going to be seeing why in Legion,) Sargeras is obsessed with taking over Azeroth. It's possible that it's the one world that never fell to him, so he's just being thorough. Or it might be that there's some special power or energy source or something there that he really wants for himself. Or both. Or some other reason.

The point is, a couple hundred years ago, Aegwynn, a powerful and very arrogant mage who had become the Guardian and refused to give her power back to the council, went to Northrend to rescue some Blue Dragons from a group of demons that were hunting them. This was pretty standard Guardian work, except that after dealing with the (relatively) minor demons, a far more impressive figure showed up - an Avatar of Sargeras himself.

Now, all demons basically appear to us in-game as avatars - their souls reside in the Twisting Nether, which is why killing a "demon" is really more like shooting down an guy's Predator Drone. Yes, the drone was expensive and took a lot of effort to make, but the pilot is fine because he was controlling it remotely.

It's not clear that Sargeras officially counts as a demon, or if he's still physiologically a titan (which would be classified in-game as a Giant, I think.)

But in any case, the thing Aegwynn fought was an Avatar, though she thought she was fighting the real deal. It was by no means an easy fight, but she did wind up winning (which might have been the first clue that there were some shenanigans going on.)

Here's the thing I don't get, though. When the Avatar was slain, the spirit of Sargeras came out and entered Aegwynn's body, unbeknownst to her. Yet it was an Avatar - so was it really Sargeras' spirit? Wasn't he not even there, but piloting the thing from afar?

It's possible, of course, that Sargeras is working on a much higher level than most demons, and that the "spirit" that possessed her and would later possess her son and successor Medivh was really just an avatar in its own way.

Sargeras - whatever his means - would control Medivh and have him open up the Dark Portal to allow the Horde onto Azeroth. And while that would change the course of history for the foreseeable future, it also ended with Medivh getting his head cut off by Anduin Lothar.

It's at that moment that we completely lose track of Sargeras' presence. Gul'dan goes into a coma trying to pry whatever knowledge he can from the rapidly-dying Guardian, so even if he were still around to question (we have a Gul'dan, but he's not the one who did that) he probably wouldn't be able to tell us much about the Dark Titan's fate.

Medivh did wind up coming back, helping to organize the resistance to the Legion during the Third War. But as far as we can tell, this ghost or spirit of the man was free of the possession that had tormented him for his entire life. It seems unlikely that he would try to rally a defense against the Legion if Sargeras were still pulling the strings (there's probably a good tin-foil-hat theory there that I don't really want to get into just yet.)

But that raises the question: where did Sargeras go?

The Legion since then has been under the control of Archimonde and Kil'jaeden as a duumvirate. Archimonde has a pretty direct approach, launching the Third War and attempting to destroy Draenor B. In contrast, Kil'jaeden is far more interested in keeping enemies of the Legion guessing. You can see pretty easily in Warlords of Draenor how Archimonde's influence has made the Iron Horde far more obviously demonic (Gul'dan is installed as Warchief) in contrast with Kil'jaeden's style, where the Orcs were led to believe they were in control of their destiny and Gul'dan ran things behind the scenes with Blackhand as his puppet.

But those two are just keeping the seat warm. Sargeras is the founder of the Legion, and is basically the god to these demons.

So where the fel is he?

The only time we've gotten a hint that Sargeras is around is during the now-defunct Battle of Undercity. Horde players would fight Varimathras along with a big group of demons in Sylvanas' throne-room (huh, it just occurred to me that she doesn't have a throne.) During this fight, Varimathras is commanded by a "Dark Voice." And given that we'd already heard the voices of the two members of the duumvirate in Burning Crusade, there was little reason to be coy about that unless it was someone bigger and scarier than those two, which outside of the Old Gods strongly implies Sargeras.

So is Sargeras manipulating things from afar, calling the shots while the duumvirate simply appears to be running the Legion? It's certainly possible, but does make me wonder why the Legion would bother presenting things that way.

Perhaps we're looking at that scene wrong. We assume the dark voice commanding Varimathras is speaking through the portals. What if instead, he's on our end?

The spirit of Sargeras may have been some aspect of his Avatar. But alternatively, perhaps it was really a vessel. We haven't heard the term avatar used to refer to other demons. What if Sargeras really did come to Azeroth, really did inhabit Medivh. He left behind a great deal of power to come to our world, which is why we're not all burnt to cinders, but he's here.

After the Avatar's defeat, Aegwynn raised the Tomb (a former temple to Elune) to store the body. It is through this tomb that the Legion invasion is pouring forth. The Legion certainly wants Azeroth, but perhaps there's a more immediate goal, even before conquest.

What if this invasion is actually a rescue mission? And if it succeeds, and Sargeras is returned to his Titanic body, well, then we're in real trouble.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Legion: Off-Spec Friendly or the Opposite?

One of the exciting announcements that came about with Legion was that switching between any of your class' specs would be doable out in the field. Instead of going back to their trainer to respec and having to set up their bars all over again, you'll now essentially be tri-specced (or quad-specced for druids and dual-specced for Demon Hunters.)

That sounded pretty great for people who wanted to dabble in all their class' specs, but there were a couple issues. The first was the new artifact weapon system. We're going to be spending a bunch of time working on accruing artifact power to fill out the artifact "talent" trees. And since each artifact is limited to a single spec (you can't use your Arcane staff if you switch to Frost, for example,) that means that leveling up multiple artifacts might require a great deal more effort.

But the Alpha has revealed some additional hurdles.

The first one is that, as far as I know, there's nothing in the current build that allows you to do a different artifact quest after you've chosen your first. That means that, at this stage in the Alpha, you need to be very certain which spec you want to play.

I'm sure that they're going to provide some option to change your mind, as this would be particularly draconian. But I'm not entirely sure that we'll be able to get additional artifacts before level 110.

The other major issue added is that in the latest build, there is a gold cost every time that you switch specs.

Now, to be fair, it's 100 gold, and while that may have seemed like a lot of gold back when the only way to change specs was going to the class trainer (and I think that plateaued at 55 or something,) these days 100 gold is probably less than you'll get for doing a dungeon run.

But the signal that this (potential) change gives is that Blizzard really wants you to choose a spec and stick with it. And I can respect that that would seem to make the choice of spec a more significant one - one that allows you to really identify with that aspect of your class.

Of course, I'd argue that dual-speccing never broke that. Yes, I might solo as Retribution on my Paladin, but if someone ever asks me what my main is, I say a Protection Paladin. I only rarely run any instance that requires any tanks if I'm not tanking. Even for pure dps classes that can use the same sort of gear, I still think of my Mage as emphatically Frost, and I don't have enough mastery to make his Arcane spec really work.

It's still early (though I'd say testing has exited the "super early" phase, even if they're still calling it an Alpha,) but I think that if this is the direction that Blizzard wants to take things, they need to work on existing issues with solo tank and healer play.

I can speak a lot more about tanking. Tanks are good at surviving. They basically play to try to make it take longer for enemies to kill them. But how should that translate to solo gameplay? Back in the day, you could kind of enjoy less downtime because you wouldn't take as much damage as DPS players. But these days most DPS specs have mechanics to heal them up after killing a hostile creature.

Give tanks more damage and DPS starts to complain that their whole reason to exist is usurped. But if you make them too self-sustaining, you run into balance problems when they really are tanking. Tanks are not built to maximize damage output, and outdoor enemies tend not to hit terribly hard, so the tank's skillset makes for pretty slow solo gameplay.

Healers also tend to only have a couple of damaging abilities - enough to let them kill an enemy, sure, but not really to have an engaging single player experience.

And that's really the crux of this. Tanking and Healing in a group setting can be a ton of fun, but in a solo environment, even if you can survive just fine while battling your foes, there's no real advantage you have over just switching to a DPS spec - DPS can survive just fine, and they can kill things faster as well.

So they either need to do something like a toggled ability that increases damage output incredibly but also prevents the player from performing their group role, or they could do the simpler thing and just let us swap out specs when we want to, just as we do now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Banshee Queen's Old Friend

Most of my writing about Sylvanas' role in Legion has been focused on her rivalry/being on the receiving end of one hell of vendetta with Genn Greymane. But while I think that the King of the Werewolves is going to certainly be a big factor in her plot (and hopefully he'll have some plot of his own that doesn't involve her,) there's another guy who we might want to keep an eye out for.

The Scourge was originally a tool of the Burning Legion. The Third War can accurately be called a war between the races of Azeroth and the Burning Legion, but the Legion was mostly using the Scourge as its proxy force - a far more effective one (even if it was ultimately unsuccessful) than the Horde.

The Horde was unwieldy, and while Gul'dan attempted to manipulate it from behind the scenes, his Shadow Council was unable to keep Doomhammer under control once Gul'dan fell into a coma (partially because his first act as Warchief was to kill nearly all of them.)

The Scourge was all directly subservient to the will of the Lich King, and the Legion attempted to control it by sending a number of Dreadlords as Minders to make sure that he stayed on task. Of course, the Lich King used Arthas to undercut them (there are a lot of parallels between Arthas and Kerrigan from Starcraft, especially after the things we've learned in Starcraft II, though Kerrigan, at least as of the end of Heart of the Swarm, still seems potentially redeemable.)

Anyway, after Illidan tried to shatter the Frozen Throne using the power found in the ruins of Dalaran, the Plaguelands erupted into a three-way Scourge Civil War. Those loyal to the Lich King fought with the newly-freed Forsaken while this team of dreadlords tried to take this opportunity to assume direct control of the Scourge.

The three dreadlords given this task? Mephistroph, Balnazzar, and Varimathras.

Balnazzar would possess Saiden Dathrohan - one of the first Knights of the Silver Hand - and form the Inquisiton-like Scarlet Crusade, turning humans in the area into paranoid religious fanatics. Mephistroth hasn't done much, but he'll be in possession of at least one artifact weapon in Legion.

And then there's Varimathras.

If you started playing in Wrath of the Lich King or earlier, you probably remember seeing a big demon guy hanging out in the Undercity. Varimathras was defeated by Sylvanas (it's actually the mission if Frozen Throne that I got stuck on before I sort of drifted away from the game,) but instead of allowing himself to be destroyed, he instead swore allegiance to the Banshee Queen. He served the Forsaken for years, even founding their spy agency, the Deathstalkers. It was an alliance of convenience, to be sure, but clearly Sylvanas never thought that his eventual betrayal would go quite as catastrophically as it did.

Secretly, Varimathras had won the loyalty of the Royal Apothecary Society, or at least Grand Apothecary Putress. As the Alliance and Horde launched their fight against the Scourge, Varimathras took his opportunity, launching a coup d'etat in Undercity and betraying both sides. Putress launched the plague he had been developing for Sylvanas on the Alliance, Horde, and Scourge alike, killing some of the finest troops in Azeroth. While this major event at the Wrath Gate was happening, those loyal to him attempted to kill Sylvanas.

The Banshee Queen escaped Undercity and fled to Orgrimmar, leading refugees as Thrall put his own city on martial law lockdown. Eventually, both factions marched upon Undercity - the Horde to defeat Varimathras and the Alliance to destroy Putress.

Varimathras was using the royal chamber to summon swarms of demons, answering calls from a "Dark Voice" that many have speculated is Sargeras himself. Ultimately, Varimathras was slain, but we all know now that as a demon, he was not permanently killed.

With Sylvanas rising to prominence in the Horde, Varimathras is a potentially devastating foe - someone who knows her well, and knows how she leads the Forsaken. Personally, I can't wait to see the confrontation between them. I'm sure Varimathras is excited for round two.

The Role of Illidan in Legion

Illidan Stormrage is coming back - that's the first detail we really discovered about Legion.

Illidan was, of course, one of the breakout characters of WCIII, probably comparable in popularity with Arthas. So when Burning Crusade was announced, it was pretty exciting to get to interact with him (well, for people who knew about him. I had only been playing WoW for a few months when BC came out, so I really didn't know who he was until later.) However, despite facing many of his forces throughout BC (though the allegiances were a little muddled - sometimes the line between Illidari and Legion proper were a little confused,) we really only saw him at the end of the Black Temple raid, or more accurately, the 1-2% of people who could actually make it that far through the raids saw him there. I believe he had an appearance at the end of the Netherwing reputation grind, but I've never gotten that far.

Anyway, for such a popular character, he got pretty short shrift.

We did manage to get another appearance by him in the Caverns of Time in Cataclysm, and we got a little vision of him in Felwood (fingers crossed that Feronas Sindweller will be a Demon Hunter champion, especially as he dates back to WCIII as one of the random names you'd get in multiplayer when summoning a DH.) But ultimately, we haven't really gotten a chance to do much with him. He was painted into a villainous corner, and while we've seen some of his more heroic acts, it's been very scattered. He died as a major boss in BC (though not the final boss, which was actually a bit odd) and hasn't done a whole lot since. So how is he coming back?

Here's what we know happened:

After we killed Illidan, Maiev took his body. As a half-demon (or arguably just a full-on demon, but one that was not bound to the Burning Legion,) Illidan's soul resides within the Twisting Nether, or possibly it would naturally return there. Physical bodies for demons are like really expensive clothes. It's a pain to get a new one, but they're ultimately replaceable.

Maiev understood this, and was not about to allow Illidan to just float off to the Nether and get a new body at some later point. So she used some sort of magic developed by the Wardens (probably to bind the Legion's demons) to bind his soul and body inside a great magical crystal and return it to the Wardens' prison on the Broken Isles (which will be a dungeon.)

As we saw in the cinematic teaser, Gul'dan B (from the alternate Draenor) finds this crystal and somehow activates Illidan.

To what end?

Illidan is pretty powerful. He was imbued with his powers by Sargeras himself, which suggests that there could be a ton of untapped potential there. There's also the fact that Illidan's soul and body might both be bound, but they might not be bound together. His soul is certainly selfish and doesn't really think through things too far in advance, but ultimately isn't evil in the omnicidal way one often sees in Warcraft. Illidan wants to be a badass, he wants to impress Tyrande (which, dude, that ship sailed like 10,000 years ago,) and I think he'd love to be respected as some world-saving hero - a bit of credit that his brother Malfurion never gave to him.

But his body in the hands of the Legion could be an incredibly powerful weapon.

The thing is, we actually don't know how Sargeras is doing these days. After Medivh was killed while possessed by the Dark Titan, we haven't heard of him doing anything since. Yes, it's a common bit of speculation that the "Dark Voice" commanding Varimathras in the Battle of Undercity was Sargeras, but they never said that explicitly.

Perhaps Sargeras has been missing. And perhaps that means that the Legion is not at full strength. They need some piece of their master's power. And perhaps that power rests within Illidan Stormrage.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Checking Back In With the Infinite Dragonflight

We killed Murozond a while ago at this point in what is probably my favorite 5-man boss fight of all time - though of course now that there are Cataclysm Timewalker dungeons, you might have done so more recently.

But the thing about time-travelers is that just because you've killed them doesn't mean that they won't trouble you anymore. Even if we did truly end his life in the End Time, and even before we get to the whole "did preventing the Hour of Twilight, and thus the End Time, from happening mean that we also retroactively prevented ourselves from killing Murozond" paradox, there's still the plain fact that we have no idea how long Murozond lived after he stopped being Nozdormu in which he probably wrought a lot of chaos along the timeways.

And even if we set aside the fact that a slightly younger Murozond could literally show up at any moment and unleash catastrophe upon us (hell, there's nothing that says he hadn't already killed future versions of us by the time he went to hang out in the End Time,) there's also our very own Nozdormu who seems inevitably fated to undergo the same corruption.

The story goes that Murozond was corrupted, like Deathwing, by the Old Gods. But that means that even though Nozdormu knows exactly what is coming from him, there's nothing he can do to prevent it.

Of course, part of the tricky part of writing time travel stories is figuring out just how much can change and how much can't. It could be that if Nozdormu were to try locking himself in unbreakable chains or even trying to off himself before he gets corrupted, this very act might be the thing that turns him into the monster he fears. But of course, doing nothing would allow external events to lead him down that path.

The mere fact that the Infinite Dragonflight has ever existed means that we could potentially never truly defeat them unless we could account for every last Infinite Dragon's own personal timeline, which is probably going to be very difficult given that the Infinites are all former Bronze dragons and thus the very people we'd need to help track them would be inadvertently giving their future, evil selves all that information as well, allowing them to keep one step ahead of the game.

But there's a kind of weird hitch here.

After the Hour of Twilight, all the dragonflights lost their power over their old domains. A Bronze Dragon is now not really much different than a Red Dragon, except one breathes fire and the other breathes sand (not respectively.)

Yet Murozond seems to possess the powers that Nozdormu had when he was an Aspect.

I think the most obvious explanation for this would be that Murozond, in his corruption, is either empowered by the Old Gods or finds some way to restore himself through some Titan tech or some form of more mundane time travel (if you can call any time travel mundane) to return to the time he was created and siphon off some of that power (maybe it goes wrong, which explains why the Infinites look so freaky.)

But here's something we hadn't really considered: What if Murozond isn't actually Nozdormu?

It's been Nozdormu's narrative for his entire life as an Aspect that Aman'thul gave him a vision of his own death to keep his ego in check. But in the Dawn of the Aspects, it seems that the Aspects didn't actually have a sit-down talk where the Titans layed everything out for them in explicit terms. The Titans probably weren't even on Azeroth at the time, but empowered them from afar.

Was that vision really a warning to "remember thou art mortal?" Or was Aman'thul telling Nozdormu who his biggest adversary was?

There was some communication there - Nozdormu was told to protect the one true timeline. But Murozond died in a different timeline - a future that never came to pass. We assume he traveled there from ours, but that may not be the case.

We've spent this past expansion in an alternate universe that has a lot of familiar faces. What if Murozond is Nozdormu's doppelganger, and not his future self?

If that's the case, then the entire Bronze dragonflight has been preparing for the wrong sort of conflict.

Universality of Stats in Legion

So I'm not sure how this slipped by me, but there's some really big news for anyone who plays hybrids.

In Legion, it looks like Bonus Armor and Spirit are not going to be stats. That's a pretty huge deal on its own, as it means that tanks and healers will be able to use the same gear for those roles as they do for DPS.

But you might wonder what happens if you play, say, Enhancement/Restoration (though remember also that everyone will technically be tri-specced - with Druids and Demon Hunters balancing each other out for the average number of specs.) What if you're Ret/Holy, Guardian/Balance, etc.?

Well there are other changes coming as well. It looks like Rings, Necklaces, and Trinkets will no longer have primary stats, simply giving you a pretty big amount of secondary stats (they'll still have Stamina though, as historically the game has always kind of worked better when health pools are larger.) Cloaks will have primary stats, but they'll have all three, making them good for any role.

So min-maxers might try to maintain different sets for the specs they play, but for most practical purposes, the only thing you'll be switching out will be your artifact weapon.

I've got to say, this is potentially incredibly convenient. I loved being able to ditch two thirds of by off-spec gear in Warlords, and the idea of only having to hang on to the Ashbringer in my backpack when I want to do some soloing is really, really appealing.

On the other hand, I do wonder a little about what this is going to do to group looting and also just the feel of the game. I mean, it sounds like if a cloak drops off a boss, technically everyone in the raid is going to want to roll on it.

And yes, personal loot is becoming more the norm when it comes to loot drops, but I know that guild groups still tend to go master looter.

But even if loot distribution isn't an issue, there is a bit of a weird sense that everyone's going to be using the same loot. Granted, I'm sure it won't actually wind up that way, as the Fire Mages are still probably going to want tons of crit while the Retribution Paladins are probably going to still like lots of Mastery. But it does mean that the Fire Mage and the Fury Warrior are probably going to be competing for a lot of the same gear, which has never happened before.

Still, this could easily be one of those changes that seems momentous at the time, but just becomes the new normal. I know that I'll feel a bit better if I can just tune my stats for tanking and let Ret get by one my Protection gear.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Making Sense of Towers of Doom

Blizzard's approach to the MOBA in Heroes of the Storm has always put a lot of emphasis on the board mechanics. Yes, all the battlegrounds are built around knocking down walls, towers, fortresses keeps and cores, but the maps' various special objectives have always been powerful enough to make you deviate from your standard forward push.

Notably, the Haunted Mine map has been indefinitely removed, as they felt that it was structurally flawed (I always liked it, but it's true that the grave golems - spawning even if your team didn't get a single skull and also starting exactly where it fell - were perhaps overpowered and game-breaking.)

However, in its place we've gotten Towers of Doom, which is by far the most convoluted battleground in the game. It's fun, mind you, and holy crap do I love the aesthetic of it, but it's very unconventional compared to any other map in the game.

Actually, before we get into mechanics, I just want to sing the praises of the aesthetics. It seems to take place in a kind of haunted urban location. One team plays for the Gravekeeper - the announcer in the now-defunct Haunted Mines map, and the other plays for the Raven King, who is the announcer for the Raven Court map. Combined with several alternate costumes for several characters (which are generally justified as being alternate-universe versions of those characters,) and there's kind of an original setting (or a few) slowly being constructed within Heroes of the Storm. To top it off, the "Boss" mercenary on the map is the Headless Horseman, and the whole place has a very spooky-fun feel to it. Man, I'm in love.

But mechanics!

The big twist here is that you don't actually get to attack the enemy core directly. Both cores are surrounded by a thick wall that is covered with a million cannons that will make short work (though not instant) of anyone who steps over the clear line marking territory.

Instead, there are a total of six bell towers (three on each side) that, along with your core, will help you take down the enemy core.

Destroy an enemy bell tower, and one of yours will rise in its place. This means that the opponent will essentially have to re-capture their towers if they want them back. Destroying the tower also destroys related structures, so if you really focus down the tower, you might skip dealing with the nearby turret.

However, you'll have to fight pretty hard to hold on to captured towers, as the enemy will spawn rather close to the ones that were originally theirs.

Why capture the towers? Well, that's the second piece of the puzzle.

Around the map are, I believe, five Altars. Periodically, two of these will activate. If you can capture an altar, this will cause each bell tower you control, as well as your core, to launch projectiles at the enemy core. To simplify things, the core only has I believe 40 health to begin with, and each projectile does one damage.

So while you'll certainly get an advantage (potentially dealing 7 damage to the enemy's core if you control the whole map,) if you capture lots of bell towers, you'll definitely want to prioritize getting those Altars, as not only will they be used up after one use (though they will eventually be reactivated,) but your enemy will still be able to do at least some damage to your core even if you control everything else on the map.

There are a few mercenaries to be found around the map. Most of them are pumpkin soldiers, who I believe toss bombs at structures and can help you capture bell towers. Defeating the Headless Horseman will cause him to toss 4 pumpkin bombs at the enemy core.

Periodically, the dark lord that you're serving will open a tunnel from your core to the center of the map to make getting back into the fight easier.

While it's never wise to ignore map mechanics in Heroes of the Storm, in Towers of Doom you literally can't win unless you make use of them. The fact that you're really capturing, rather than simply destroying the various strongholds means that playing defensively becomes a far more important part of the strategy. Basically, a bell tower saved is a bell tower earned.

The Rise of Greymane

This is going to be a pretty spoileriffic discussion of Legion stuff, though it's going to be mostly speculation. I'll start with a bit of spoiler-free background.

Genn Greymane is oddly both one of the Alliance's oldest and newest leaders. Way back in the era of the Second War, Anduin Lothar - fleeing from a Horde-occupied Stormwind - was working to rally the other human nations to the cause of defeating the Horde. He found his most reliable ally in the altogether good guy, King Terenas of Lordaeron. Terenas championed Lothar's cause, pledging his kingdom - the largest human kingdom other than the devastated Stormwind - to provide a nice strong base of force upon which to build the Alliance. The other kingdoms - Kul Tiras, Dalaran, Alterac, Stromgarde, would join relatively eagerly (though Alterac would sell out the Alliance once things turned difficult to save their own skins - which is why you don't see a lot of Perenolde kings running around these days.) However, for Gilneas, this was a bit of a conundrum.

The very character of Gilneas was one of independence. They industrialized far sooner than the rest of the human kingdoms, achieving something of an 18th or even 19th century technological level while the rest were still limited to swords and arrows (not that they haven't made those work in Warcraft's lovely schizo tech setting.) Gilneas was relatively isolated on a peninsula. They weren't quite the naval superpower that Kul Tiras was, but they had a strong navy. Genn, whose father Archibald had instilled in him self-reliance as a core value, was extremely skeptical of this "Alliance" Lothar and Menethil were proposing. He felt that he could defend his lands against this "Horde" threat, and that it wasn't his concern if they were attacking other people.

Still, they managed to get him to commit at least a token force. But once the war was finished, Terenas advocated putting the Orcs in internment camps rather than just slaughtering them en masse. (Of course, the camps were really the lesser of two evils, and one that the Orcs uses as its only real rallying cry to make themselves seem the victims of the Alliance.) Genn had no interest in allowing the beasts to live - especially if the constituent nations of the Alliance were all going to have to shoulder the cost of maintaining these camps and providing land for them. So Genn had a new solution that (he thought) would be a nice permanent solution to all of the Orc/Alliance problems. He built the Greymane Wall, intending to simply let the rest of the world deal with its own problems while he worried about his own.

Isolated for decades, Gilneas had three major problems to deal with. First, there was the Northgate Rebellion - a direct reaction to Darius Crowley's loss of essentially all of his land now that it was cut off by the wall. Second, the Worgen began to rampage through the country (secretly a Forsaken plot, actually.) Finally, when the Cataclysm shattered the Greymane Wall, the Forsaken invaded, which ended with the evacuation of most of the Gilneans from their country (many of whom had been turned into Worgen by then, including Genn himself.)

Out of necessity, as well as a respect for the Night Elves who understood the nature of their curse and aided them in controlling it, Gilneas re-joined the Alliance.

We haven't actually seen much of them since, outside of the occasional NPC. But thing will be changing in Legion.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Taking Another Shot at Vengeance

Well, in this long series of "breakdown" posts for the various specs (and yes, I realize that I haven't done all of them yet, especially healing ones,) I made a (if I say so myself) valiant attempt at figuring out Vengeance, but there wasn't really enough there to put it all together.

There's a new Alpha build out now, and while the biggest difference I can detect is that there seem to be a lot of different spell icons, I think we're starting to get a real sense of what the spec is supposed to play like.

First off, it seems that the spec is going to use a different primary resource than Havoc. So in place of Fury, you'll instead have Pain, thus making Vengeance the most emo spec in the game! I don't know if Pain will automatically generate from damage taken (which would make a lot of sense,) though I think if it did that it would be dangerously close to Rage. If not, I think you'll just generate it a lot slower than you do Fury in Havoc spec.

It looks like parrying, healing, and straight damage reduction are big themes for the spec. Vengeance will wind up being probably the most mobile tank spec as well (though Warriors might remain close.) So let's get into the abilities. Some of these abilities might actually be for Havoc - there's still two versions of Toss Glaive, for example, so I'm going to try to keep this to things that look like core rotational abilities.

Demon Spikes is an active mitigation ability. It costs 100 Pain (which I assume is the full amount) and has two charges on a 15-second recharge. It increases your parry chance by 20% and reduces the damage you take by 8% (though I don't know if this is before or after baseline mastery.) It lasts 6 seconds.

Demonic Wards gives you your crit immunity and boss-hitting expertise. It also reduces magical damage taken by 30% and increases your stamina by 20%

Fiery Brand has a 30-yard range and a 45-second cooldown. It deals fire damage to the target and reduces the damage they do to you by 40% for 10 seconds.

Immolation Aura has a 10 second cooldown, dealing a burst of fire damage to enemies around you and then continues to damage them over 6 seconds.

Infernal Strike has a 30-yard range and 2 charges on a 15-second recharge. You leap to a targeted location and deal fire damage to enemies within 6 yards.

Mastery: Fel Blood reduces the damage you take while Demon Spikes is up, and it also increases attack power (like all tank masteries.)

Metamorphosis has a 3-minute cooldown, transforming you into a demon that has 30% more health and takes 30% less damage for 10 seconds. While it's up, you also automatically have Immolation Aura up.

Shattered Souls is the same as for Havoc, causing enemies you kill that yield experience/honor to drop a soul fragment nearby. Running over it will heal you, and if it's a demon that you killed, you'll also get a damage buff for a few seconds.

Shear is a melee strike with a 3-second cooldown, dealing moderate damage and spawning a soul fragment. It also generates 5 Pain.

Sigils are a few different spells. You place a sigil on the ground that activates after a couple seconds, affecting targets standing inside. Sigil of Flames deals fire damage over time. Sigil of Chains snares targets, and Sigil of Silence silences them. They each have a 1-minute cooldown (not sure if it's shared) and a 30-yard range.

Soul Cleave costs 400 Pain (guess it might go up to 1000?) and deals high damage to all targets in front of you and consumes all soul fragments nearby, each healing you for 2%, as well as an additional 10% of your max health regardless of soul fragments.

Throw Glaive has a 30-yard range and no cooldown, dealing light damage to a target and bouncing to up to two additional targets.

Felblade is a melee attack with a 10.5 second cooldown. You deal major fire damage to the target and generate 20 Pain.

So here's what I'm seeing: you have Demon Spikes as the cheaper active mitigation option - something you'll probably want to maintain as much uptime on as possible. Fiery Brand works a bit as a quick cooldown - obviously most effective against single powerful attackers. So let's talk rotation:

Active Mitigation:

1. Use Soul Cleave if your health is low - you may want to save this for emergencies, stacking up Pain and Soul Fragments for it.
2. Demon Spikes will probably be your default AM ability.

Threat/Resource Generation:

To be fair, we don't really know how Pain is going to work. It seems unlikely that you'll only get it through abilities, since there are only two that generate it and the cost of the spenders is so high. It might be that you'll mostly get it through taking damage or something akin to that.

1. Felblade on cooldown.
2. Shear (every other GCD.)
3. Immolation Aura - possibly worth it even if you're in single target situations.
4. Throw Glaive - if you don't have anything better to do - though this will probably be mainly for pulling - sort of like how Avenger's Shield used to be before Cataclysm.

Sigil of Flame coupled with Immolation Aura and Infernal Strike should make it a lot easier to pick up packs of adds. The cooldown in addition to the resource cost for Demon Spikes means you might actually find yourself using Soul Cleave more frequently than I'd predicted, but it really remains to be seen how quickly you can generate Pain. Clearly, it's got to be enough for them to justify a cooldown on Demon Spikes.

While I'm not as confident in this analysis of the spec as I've been with existing ones, I do think that we've now got a real idea of how Demon Hunters are going to be expected to tank.

Legion Alpha Coming Back Today

So while I've been shooting/clawing things in Heroes of the Storm, the Alpha test for World of Warcraft: Legion is due to start up again today.

Hopefully this also means a new build with new content to test. While there's been a fair amount of pretty-polished-for-technically-pre-beta stuff tested already, there have been some notable gaps, like one or two missing specs for most classes, or in the case of Shamans, all three.

I'm sure we'll be getting more info very soon, but my wishlist for this build is:

Vengeance Demon Hunters - I want to see how they're really going to work.

A New Zone: Either Azsuna or Val'sharah would be good, as those are the other two level-up zones before Suramar.

More specs implemented: Many classes only have had only one available spec to test. I think the most radical redesigns were mostly implemented already, though one that hasn't that I'm eager to hear about is Demonology.

A working Transmog system: Apparently up until this point, trying to use the new wardrobe feature just crashes the game client. So that seems like a good thing to work on fixing.

More Dungeons: I believe only Black Rook Hold and Halls of Valor have been playable. One that I'm very curious about is the Violet Hold. I wonder if it will be a direct revamp (small room with waves of trash) or if it will be a totally different dungeon. I'm assuming the former.

I'll comment on what shows up, but I'd recommend checking out WoWHead and MMO-Champion to get all the latest info.

Greymane in Heroes of the Storm

Well, obviously I was going to get Greymane for Heroes of the Storm. He's a Worgen, and uses that as a core part of his gameplay.

Greymane is a hybrid assassin, functioning both at range and in melee. You switch between these by switching between the human form (armed with a pistol and a sword) and Worgen form (claws.) Each of your abilities changes when you switch forms, except heroics, one of which always puts you in human form and the other always in Worgen.

While in Worgen form, you do extra damage with basic attacks.

Much like the Butcher, Greymane might fool you into thinking he's tankier than he actually is while in Worgen form. Essentially, his melee form is more of a high-risk, high reward kind of state, as he doesn't have the survivability of a warrior, but you'll be able to put out some really nasty damage.

Q: In human form, this is Gilnean Cocktail. You throw a bottle (basically a molotov cocktail) as a skill shot. If the bottle hits a target, it will deal light damage but then deal higher damage in a cone to enemies behind the target

In worgen form, this is Razor Swipe, which sends you forward a very short distance and deals damage to all enemies around you.

W: Inner Beast, which is used in both forms. This increases your attack speed by 50% for 3 seconds, but each basic attack will refresh the duration. You'll want to use this as much as possible, but especially when you're beginning a fight that you expect to last a while, as you'll be able to keep this refreshed as long as you can keep attacking.

E: This lets you switch between forms, but also works as a movement ability.

In human form, it's Darkflight, which sends you at the target and transforms you into a Worgen while dealing damage to the target.

In worgen form, it's Disengage, which sends you in the direction you aim it and then transforms you into a human.


Go For the Throat has you leap at a target and deal a large amount of damage to it. If you kill a hero with this, you will be able to use the ability again within the next ten seconds without worrying about the cooldown.

Marked for the Kill starts has you shoot the target with your pistol, marking them and making them vulnerable for 5 seconds. While the mark is up, you can hit it again to transform into a Worgen and leap at the target to deal more damage to it.


The obvious strength to Greymane is his versatility (and the awesomeness of being a werewolf.) In the very little experience I've had with the character, I tend to stay in human form most of the time, but when I have the advantage, I can shift into worgen form and really devastate things. Still, just having to be in melee range makes you vulnerable, so I recommend only going worgen when you're ready for a takedown. Luckily, Disengage is a great escape move.

Inner Beast is pretty easy to maintain if you can stand still and attack, and the cooldown's short enough that I'd say in most cases you just want to pop it once you get into a fight. But it's only basic attacks that refresh it, so you'll definitely want to try using it when you're able to stand still for a bit.

Worgen form inherently increases your basic attacks by a significant 40%, so if you're attacking buildings without much need to dodge enemy attacks, I recommend going Worgen to take them down that much quicker.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Fate and Culpability of Arthas

It has been a long time since the true death of Arthas Menethil. The Icecrown Citadel raid in which we faced him was released late in 2009, and I believe that gating kept players from actually getting to him until 2010.

Arthas was basically the Darth Vader of Warcraft. He began with a great deal of promise - the heir to the beloved King Terenas and a Paladin training under Uther the Lightbringer himself. A childhood friend of Varian's - a surrogate brother, really, whose family took in the boy who was far too young to be a king in exile - and the man who, probably, would have been Jaina Proudmoore's husband eventually, Arthas "should" have been one of Azeroth's most beloved heroes.

But his fate was the opposite. After taking up Frostmourne, Arthas walked a path that made him the most infamous human in the entire Warcraft universe, and one of the deadliest villains Azeroth would ever face. His rule of the Scourge was not just potentially world-ending, but also cruel, twisting other former heroes like himself into monstrous butchers who turned on their own friends and family.

But how much of it was really his fault?

Our exposure to Arthas before he became the Lich King takes place within Warcraft III - first the original game, Reign of Chaos, and then the expansion, the Frozen Throne. When we meet Arthas, he seems mostly benign - a little cocky, but pretty dedicated to serving the Light and keeping his people safe.

But thanks to Kel'thuzad, the horrors of the Plague of Undeath are unleashed on Lordaeron, and while Arthas and Jaina quickly deal with the necromancer, it is not enough to stop the onslaught. Arthas comes to the city of Stratholme, and this is really the big turning point for him. Seeing that the infected grain has made it to the city, Arthas decides that they must put down the citizens of the city before they arise as undead enemies.

Jaina leaves him, and Arthas perhaps arrogantly disbands the Knights of the Silver Hand when Uther refuses to assist him in the cull. Arthas goes ahead with it, meeting the Dreadlord Mal'ganis, who taunts him into traveling to Northrend.

Here, Arthas' obsession becomes more troubling. In particular, when he is called back by his father, he has a group of mercenaries burn his ships, and then blames the act on them, using his army to silence them before they can protest. Finally, in his last confrontation with Mal'ganis, he finds the runesword Frostmourne and, against the dire warnings of his friend Muradin Bronzebeard, he takes the sword, accepting the curse it bears in order to defeat the demon.

After this point, though, to what extent can we blame Arthas for his actions? Frostmourne is a trap - created by the Lich King in order to anoint someone as his champion. While it does, yes, allow Arthas to defeat Mal'ganis, the true effect is that it frees the Lich King from the Burning Legion's control. Very abruptly, Arthas goes from fighting the Scourge to being its most important leader. But because the sword has stolen his very soul, the Arthas we see is kind of just a shell.

"Soul" is one of those concepts that we all kind of understand, but have different conceptions of it. In a fantasy world like Warcraft, one's soul has more clear and studied properties. It seems that in Warcraft, the Soul is kind of the substance of a person's free will. I don't know if it is one's consciousness as well (which is my general interpretation of the word,) but the most important idea here is that Arthas loses some fundamental part of his being when his soul is taken by Frostmourne.

Yet he doesn't seem to be a total puppet. The Lich King uses Arthas' natural ingenuity and egoism to make him into a fearsome death knight. One interpretation of Frostmourne's effect is that it stole the good half of Arthas' personality. His conscience is utterly gone (something he even remarks upon to Kel'thuzad's ghost as the undead campaign begins in WCIII,) but he still seems to think and feel the way he did before his transformation in all other respects.

So really, the question is this: After getting Frostmourne, is Arthas truly Arthas? Or is he just an animated corpse that has the intelligence and knowledge of the person who once lived within that skin?

Things get far more complicated, of course, after the Frozen Throne campaign. Arthas is recalled to Icecrown to stop Illidan's assault on the Throne. After his victory, he shatters the Throne to retrieve the armor to which the Lich King is bound. Placing the Crown of Domination on his head, Arthas becomes the new Lich King.

But this fusion of personalities - the incorporeal presence of Ner'zhul with the fully-functional body of Arthas - has always been kind of a mystery. In the Arthas novel, it's suggested that shortly after this fusion, Arthas' personality overwhelms and consumes that of Ner'zhul - if the old Orc Shaman exists in any form afterwards, he could only be a helpless observer. This is further complicated by the idea that the Lich King might actually be a separate entity from both Arthas and Ner'zhul, which now exists in conjunction with Bolvar. If that's the case, we really don't have any clue to where this unaffiliated Lich King entity came from. Perhaps it was from Kil'jaeden's demonic magic that birthed him, yet the Pure Lich King seems to have nothing but disdain for the Legion.

When Frostmourne is shattered, the thousands of souls taken by it - most importantly that of King Terenas - escape, and they subdue Arthas to allow the freshly-resurrected heroes (us) to deliver the killing blow. The helmet falls from him and we hear Arthas' last words spoken to the ghost of his father - that he sees only darkness before him.

A grim fate to be certain. Later, while Sylvanas drifts through the void of death, she seems to see Arthas there (before she is resurrected by the Val'kyr.) It may indeed be the Void - the dark dimension that Ner'zhul drew his power from, and that exists outside even the Twisting Nether.

Arthas' crimes were many, but if it wasn't really him committing them after taking up Frostmourne, does he deserve this fate? Certainly the burning of the ships and the betrayal of the mercenaries were both pretty horrible acts, but an eternity adrift in nothingness? That seems too harsh. The genocidal march through Quel'Thalas and the ravaging of his own Lordaeron were acts committed after the very thing that should bear punishment - his soul - was not longer in control of his actions.

Arthas should perhaps be forgiven for these crimes for the same reason we make exceptions in the real world for people who commit crimes because of mental illness. They literally don't have control of their bodies, or they are operating under convincing hallucinations that affect their judgment. Arthas wasn't at the wheel, as it were, when he was slaughtering people throughout Lordaeron.

On top of all this, there's another complication, but it's one that I don't want to get into until we have a spoiler break. Arthas wasn't just driven mad like Deathwing, and he didn't undergo some kind of nihilist epiphany like Sargeras. Arthas had his self-control wrenched away from him. Yes, he took up Frostmourne voluntarily, but he did so out of a misguided attempt to protect his own people. Arthas was the Lich King's victim, perhaps more than he was the Lich King himself.

In addition... (Legion Spoilers)

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Economics of Hearthstone vs Magic the Gathering

With only my 6-year-old laptop and my brand-new iPhone, my gaming options while home for the holiday were fairly limited to the mobile platform. I found myself playing a lot of Hearthstone (and Fallout Shelter, which is fun, but in a kind of skinner-box way that is more about being OCD than really strategizing.)

I grew up playing Magic the Gathering, and while I always played more out of a sense of self-expression than real competitive edge (I created a Vampire deck back when there was only one or two vampire cards that came out every two or three blocks - before they became the default non-Zombie humanoid black creature type.)

But Magic was always a TCG - trading card game. When I first started playing, I made some really bad trades because hey, I was a kid and thought that a big 6/6 creature had to be more valuable than something silly like a Sol Ring (which is one of those cards they don't reprint because it's super-powerful, despite being kind of prosaic.)

Hearthstone owes a ton to Magic in its design. It was relatively easy for me to pick up because, for the most part, Hearthstone is "Magic, but simpler (usually.)"

But I think the really big difference is the way you put together your collection.

I'm usually pretty opposed to Free-to-Play models, because generally they're pay-to-win. Hearthstone skates pretty close to that, to be honest, but there are a few ways that it manages not to quite go over the edge.

The first way is that it's pretty easy to earn enough gold to buy packs. Daily quests will award 30-60 gold, and every three wins will get you an extra 10, which you'll get while working on said quests. So if you play regularly, you can earn a new pack every two days, or sometimes even more frequently.

That's on top of the Tavern Brawls, which often come with pre-made decks, meaning that if you play well (and are lucky) you'll have just as good a chance as your opponent, even if they've got an enormous collection.

The game was designed from the ground up to make sure that other players couldn't screw you. Individual cards aren't for sale (unless you count the rewards for Adventures, which comes with fun unique challenges that admittedly don't have a huge amount of replay value.) But because you can't trade cards, you do find yourself at the mercy of RNG with card packs. If you want to use the crafting system to make Legendary cards, you're either going to need to burn through a lot of cards or... well, hope that you get lucky with your next pack.

This does mean that "net-decking" is much more difficult. If you insist on getting all the specific cards to put such a deck together, you might need to drop big bucks to get the dust.

But I also think that fewer decks are unbeatable. A large part of that is because of the way that minions work. In Magic, as long as your opponent doesn't have spells that can kill specific creatures or wipe the board clean, you can summon your weak little 1/1 creature that has a powerful effect and simply leave them on the board, untouchable. However, in Hearthstone, if you summon someone like Baron Rivendare to make insane use of Deathrattle cards, I can always smack that guy with my minions, wearing him down over time.

Basically, those big strategy-making cards are far more vulnerable. Contrast that with Magic, where not only can creatures abstain from combat, but you can also have artifacts, enchantments, or even lands that really need to be dealt with using specific strategies or spells.

Hearthstone is unstable by design, forcing you to build your deck around themes rather than individual cards. And as a result, I believe it's easier for a casual player with somewhat less awesome cards to be able to give a good fight and sometimes win against some tournament-level stuff.

Of course, it might also be because the game is relatively new. Over time, Magic adopted special formats to ensure that players started on a relatively even level - having formats where only cards from recent blocks could be played. People haven't had the time to amass enormous collections from which they can pick only the most overpowered cards. So it's possible that the somewhat egalitarian environment of the game might only be temporary.

It'll be interesting to see.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Legion Check-In

I was going to call this an "update" but realized that might be misconstrued to imply that there was a new Alpha (or even a Beta) build up.

In terms of Blizzard's promise that the Legion beta would begin before the end of 2015, I would say they kinda-sorta delivered. They half-delivered, given that Alpha is the first letter of the greek alphabet and Beta is the second. So, half of two is one.

Still, what's up looks pretty good. We've seen a good portion of the specs playable there, and the Alpha was extended beyond the usual Friends-and-Family to various games journalists. As far as I know the general public hasn't gotten any invites, but it's still much more (intentionally) public than other Alphas have been.

I suspect that by the time they turn it into a true Beta, with random schmoes like you or me logging on, we might see a far more complete build than we've seen in previous tests. Recall, for instance, that when the Warlords beta launched, only Shadowmoon and Frostfire were open for testing, whereas they're already in that state now, plus two dungeons are open for testing as well, not to mention the many artifact scenarios that are open along with several class halls, and so presumably the beta will have more parts opened up.

Blizzard gave themselves the deadline of September 21st as the latest time for release, but you'll note that that's the first day of fall, which implies that the release is slated for summer of '16. That could, technically speaking, come as early as June 21st.

The question, then, is whether it could come in the spring.

Blizzard is clearly not holding themselves to such a release. I think the real question is how much this "Alpha" can count against the time required for a rigorous Beta test. As far as I understand, the questing in both Stormheim and Highmountain is entirely open for testing, and while there are a couple of placeholder models, and they might decide they need to go back and redesign some things, it's possible that they're more in the "sift through for bugs" type of testing there.

I believe previous tests have taken 4-5 months, but again, we have to wonder how much this "Alpha" will count against that time. Obviously, we shouldn't consider these durations hard and fast rules, but they might be a good indicator of what to expect.

In terms of player goodwill, getting Legion out asap would be in their best interests. The "shorter expansion" model only works if that final raid tier really doesn't stretch out too much. In order to simply match the usual period of "final tier" to next expansion, they need to release around June. But in order to justify the truncated Warlords expansion, they need to push it up even further, because otherwise this simply means that shorter expansions mean proportionally more time spent in the end-of-expansion doldrums.

Testing and implementing new content can be very unpredictable from our perspective, but given what I've seen them come out with before this holiday break they're taking (and I certainly won't begrudge them a little break for the holidays,) I think it's possible for them to release earlier than the summer. How much earlier? Well, I'd still wager that it's not going to be until late spring. If we assume that the test goes into full-on beta mode when they're back from the break, and that we even count the previous Alpha testing as equivalent to a month of beta testing, that still means that we probably wouldn't see a release until late April.

That said, if they could pull it off, I would be pretty happy with an April or May release. But we'll really need to keep a close eye on the progress over the next few months. If they have all the zones open for testing before the end of January, that'll bode well. But even then, there can always be big hurdles to jump. Legion is not only adding a new class, but also a fairly complex new artifact system, plus a PvP talent system, and so there will probably be a whole lot of effort required to balance all of these things out. Not to mention the level-scaling zones.