Friday, February 26, 2016

Dark Shamans and Monks

The cosmic chart that was included in the preview of World of Warcraft Chronicle Vol. 1 is an absolute treasure trove for those of us who like to break out the tin-foil hats. I've written about the possibility that the Lich King might have existed long before Kil'jaeden caught Ner'zhul, and I think there's a lot of speculation to go around about the nature of demons and the Burning Legion and why the Shadow has two primary representatives while the other Great Powers have only one.

But much of that is concerned with the outermost layers of the cosmos. Go in a step and you'll find the Elements. There are the four classic alchemical elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, which are pretty much what we've spent much of WoW dealing with.

We've often heard that Shamans also work with a "Fifth Element," and no, it's not love. It's "Spirit," which is the sort of ineffable force of life. Shaman healing spells have become more water-focused over the years, but there was a time when they were more about just kind of green life energy. Spirit is the kind of animating essence that makes us more than just some mixture of physical elements, and it's what the Shaman calls upon to restore life through spells like Reincarnation, Ancestral Spirit, or Cleanse Spirit.

Shamanism is a very common practice across all of Azeroth (and Draenor of course.) The Pandaren have Shamans, but Pandaren also developed a special interest in this fifth element. The Pandaren word for that element is Chi, and it is the basis around which their Monk techniques are formed. Monks use some shamanistic or shaman-like techniques, using the power of wind or mist (you could argue that Brews might have the element of water in them,) but they channel those powers through themselves rather than calling on the elemental spirits themselves. In a sense, you could almost argue that Shamans and Monks have a similar relationship to Priests and Paladins or Warlocks and Demon Hunters, respectively.

We know that there is another side to Shamanism, though. The version of Shamanism we're familiar with is one that seeks balance and harmony, and asks the Elements to grant their power. But Dark Shamanism is another version of the practice, and rather than asking, the Dark Shaman takes the power by force. The Dark Shaman were probably never as prominent as during Garrosh's reign over the Horde, and made up his primary magical forces while he was trying to create the "True Horde." We saw the result of his Dark Shamans work as the landscape in the Northern Barrens was rendered even more damaged and polluted. Dark Shamanism is seriously nasty for the land, and seems to poison and ruin it.

With the cosmic chart, we see that there are six items within the "elements" ring. There's Fire, Earth, Water, Air, and Spirit, but there's also Decay.

I don't think it would be too much of a leap to guess that Dark Shamanism works by swapping out the use of Spirit for Decay. They still use the four physical elements, but they now sow death and, well, decay.

So that might be the simple explanation for Dark Shamanism. But what about Monks?

Monks, after all, use Chi (Spirit) to fuel their techniques. Would it be possible, then, for an order of Monks to arise who use Decay instead?

Admittedly, if there's one class that seems to be in the realm of decay, it's got to be Death Knights, and their necromancy might reach down into the sphere of Decay to do what it does. But I think it's an avenue that's open for Blizzard if they want to create an order of Dark Monks.

Unless that's just Rogues?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Lich King and the Power of Death

The Warcraft Cosmos is aligned along three major dichotomies. Light and Shadow, Order and Disorder, and Life and Death. Most of these have longstanding, well-established beings of incredible power. Naaru, Titans, Demons, Old Gods, Void Lords (the Shadow gets two) and the Wild Gods (which, to reiterate, is the blanket term for Ancients, Loa, and Celestials, and any other animal gods we come across) each represent their Great Power.

But for Death, we simply have "The Undead."

The Undead in Warcraft arise in many different ways. Probably the most common are simply ghosts - lingering spirits of mortals who died and are somehow still bound to the general location of their demise. In some cases, these are specifically caused by traumatic magical events, but to a large extent, it just seems that if you die some unnatural death, you've got a decent chance of being a ghost in the Warcraft cosmos.

But setting aside these figures, we then move on to the work of necromancers.

Necromancy appears, according to our new cosmos chart, to be its own branch of magic. Previously, we've seen necromancy performed by people who we might expect to use Fel magic (Warlocks) or Arcane magic (mages-turned-necromancers like Kel'thuzad.) That said, now that we're really locking down a lot of this stuff, it might simply be that these practitioners are actually branching out into this other type of magic.

We've encountered a few figures who claim to have dominion over death. Yogg-Saron is the self-proclaimed God of Death, but as an Old God, he/she/it is fundamentally linked to Shadow/Void magic, which our new chart considers distinct (and while the two are next to each other on the chart, Holy and Fel magic area also next to each other, so they don't have to be terribly closely linked.)

The Darkspear worship a loa named Bwonsamdi (among others) who, a bit like his real-world equivalent, Baron Samedi, is a death god. Yet given that Bwonsamdi is a Loa, that would theoretically put him in the domain of Life. It's probably a lot more complicated than that, what with Life and Death being opposing but also complementary forces (e.g. killing an animal to eat it means death for it and life for you.)

But if we're going to talk about necromancy, and beings of god-like power, we really can't avoid talking about the Lich King.

The Lich King commands the Scourge, and has become so powerful that we can't really get rid of him, lest the Scourge go on an uncontrolled rampage and spread unchecked.

Which is funny, because the Lich King is incredibly recent. For a being that has dominion over an entire sixth of the Great Powers in the Warcraft Cosmos, the Lich King has only just barely come to be. After the Second War, Ner'zhul opened several Dark Portal-like structures around Draenor to escape Kil'jaeden. Not only did his plan wind up breaking apart Draenor, but it didn't even work. The moment he stepped through, he was captured. His body was torn apart and his soul was attached to a set of armor - that armor (most importantly the helmet) would come to really be the Lich King itself. Arthas and later Bolvar would put that helmet on and thus become the new Lich King.

But here's some stuff that maybe doesn't add up. We know that Ner'zhul had access to Void Magic thanks to K'ara - a darkened Naaru. We don't know quite how much he used this in our timeline, but at least on Draenor B he was lousy with the stuff.

Yet he seemed to use this Void Magic to delve into necromancy, raising ghosts and skeletons to do his bidding.

Kil'jaeden was the one who created the Lich King, but how did he, a demon that used Fel magic by his very nature, wind up creating this font of necromancy?

Sure, it might be that Kil'jaeden's more versatile than that or that the necromancy came out of Ner'zhul's experimentations with the Void (perhaps even reverse engineering necromancy from Dark Shamanism, which seems to use the four physical elements and substitutes "Decay" in for "Spirit.")

But let's entertain another interesting notion: That the Lich King existed long before Kil'jaeden "made" him.

We don't really know what kind of magic Kil'jaeden performed to turn Ner'zhul into the Lich King. But suppose that the Dead - the Great Power of Death - has always had its own Titan/Naaru/Demon equivalent. But because death is, by its nature, kind of formless, this Essence of Death never really had an incarnation. Things would simply die, and perhaps some people would reach back into Death and pull things up into Undeath, but there wasn't a specific deity or conscious entity to invoke.

Perhaps Kil'jaeden was experimenting far outside of his ordinary wheelhouse and either created a vessel for this Great Power of Death to command, or unwittingly allowed Death to manifest as a figure of tremendous power - a figure that Kil'jaeden was unable to destroy once the Lich King turned on him.

Demons are kind of bad enough on their own, but what if Kil'jaeden unwittingly unleashed something far more dangerous than himself? The Lich King might only be about five years old (lorewise,) but already he's in a position where we just can't get rid of him.

The Lich King isn't really Ner'zhul or Arthas - we discover (SPOILERS) in the Frost Death Knight artifact weapon quest that Ner'zhul - long thought to have been utterly consumed by Arthas - is trying to use the soul of the Fallen Prince to wrest control of the shards of Frostmourne. Bolvar Fordragon now hold the position of Lich King, but if Ner'zhul is trapped in Frostmourne, along with Arthas, than that suggests that the Lich King - as an entity with enough of a consciousness to transform Bolvar's personality (while not aggressive or actively seeking the end of all life, Bolvar's Lich King is not quite the noble spirit that the old Regent was in life) - is somehow separate from everyone who has inhabited that role.

I'm very curious to find out more about the Shadowlands, to which I suspect the Lich King has unrivaled access. Whether a newcomer to the cosmic poker game or actually just as ancient (if not more) than most of the players, we really need to see what part the Great Power of Death will play in the future of Warcraft.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Prot Paladins Getting a Flail?

One constant in the Legion Alpha is the addition of new artifact weapon alternate models. Given that we're only going to be using the one weapon through the expansion (or two if you dual-wield,) they want to ensure that we have a decent amount of visual distinctiveness. What's cool is that this means that if you're not a big fan of, say, guns, but you like being a Beast Mastery Hunter, it looks like there will be at least one bow and one crossbow option for you (though seriously, just use guns. How many fantasy games let you use a gun?)

Until recently, every version of Oathseeker, the protection paladin sword that comes with the shield Truthguard (the shield being the half of the pair with its own unique properties) has looked like a simple re-color, regardless of which model you choose for your shield. But that seems to be changing, and the really exciting thing is that it appears that one of these models will be a flail.

In addition to the fact that the flail seems to match the "Holy Fire" Truthguard model, another piece of supporting evidence that this goes to Tankadins is that it recalls our Diablo III equivalent - the Crusader. In Diablo III, each class has its own unique weapon type in addition to unique armor types (actually, Crusaders are the exception here, unless you count Crusader Shields as armor instead of weapons.) Crusaders get Flails (in both one and two-handed varieties, though they have an optional special passive ability that allows them to wield a 2-hander with a shield.)

There is one logical problem with using a flail as a tank - namely how one parries (though I suppose you could kind of swat the enemy's weapon out of the way - it would require much quicker reflexes.) Still, this is a type of weapon that we've never seen in WoW, and it would be cool to let Protection Paladins use it.

EDIT: Here's video of the Flail in action:

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Warcraft Cosmos, Top-Down

As previously mentioned, the new World of Warcraft Chronicle Vol. 1 is giving us a really broad and comprehensive sense of the lore for the series. We know why the Titans are interested in Azeroth and a timeline for the reigns of the Elemental Lords, Old Gods, and Titans on the planet, all from the 20 preview pages made available. But I think a great starting place for talking about the lore is this very beautiful cosmic diagram:

As someone who is a (rather new - only started a couple months ago) DM in a Dungeons and Dragons game, this is actually pretty familiar - multiple layers of domains and realities that expand outward from the familiar, material world.

Starting from the outside, we have six major powers that seem to be opposed to their opposite numbers - yet those who are next to each other are certainly not allies either. You have the opposing forces of Light and Shadow, Life and Death, and Order and Disorder. If you draw a line between the upper right corner and the lower left, you kind of create a line dividing good and evil - at least until you get down to the next level, which contains the elements and an interesting other pairing.

Each of these major powers of the Warcraft universe has a representative type of magic. The Light, unsurprisingly, has Holy magic. Disorder has Fel. Death has Necromantic magic. Shadow has... shadow (though it's also referred to as Void magic.) Order has, interestingly, Arcane magic - which previously had been talked about as a chaotic, corrupting force. Life has Nature magic.

Subsequently, the various powers and types of magic have a kind of prime representative. The Light has the Naaru. Disorder has the Burning Legion, and presumably Demons as a whole (and at this point, we can probably assume that any demons in the Warcraft universe that haven't been enslaved by Warlocks are probably affiliated with the Legion or with the Illidari.) Death has the undead - broader, certainly, than the Scourge, but there's obviously no better representative of the undead in our experience of the Warcraft universe. The Shadow actually has two representatives. Closer to the pure, magic side of things, there are the Void Lords - which seem to arise when a Naaru dies, though I wonder if the reverse process may in fact be possible. But the Shadow also has the Old Gods, who seem to be tied more closely to physical reality. Order has the Titans (and I don't know how much to read into the fact that the Titans are next-door neighbors with the Old Gods on this chart - that said, its possible they spent more of their history dealing with demons than Old Gods - making the Old Gods the Joker to the demons' Ra's Al-Ghul.) Finally, Life is represented by the Wild Gods - a blanket term for the Ancients worshipped by the Night Elves, the Loa worshipped by the Trolls, and the Celestials worshipped by the Pandaren (and we can also probably throw figures like Lo'gosh, the wolf spirit worshipped by the Orcs who probably just is Goldrinn as well.)

Here's where things get a little trickier. I don't know how much to associate the various elements with their nearby Major Powers. I totally get that Spirit should be near Life (it's the Shamans' "Fifth Element" that Monks refer to as Chi) and Decay (which is really kind of a lack of substance) totally makes sense to be near Death. Earth being affiliated with Order and Fire with Disorder also makes a decent amount of sense. But Air being affiliated with Disorder and Death? Water with Life (ok, yes) and Order?

Spirit and Fire both seem to be in the Light's pie-slice, which actually makes decent sense. The Shadow then gets Decay (yes) and Earth (...maybe?)

It's possible that the primordial elements aren't really meant to match up precisely with the Major Powers, but perhaps they are meant to. I just don't really know what to make of the oppositions between these.

The next layer down is simpler and kind of easier to understand, but it also opens up a really interesting new realm of possibility for settings. Just one step above reality, we have the Emerald Dream and the Shadowlands.

Shadowlands, you ask? What the hell are the Shadowlands? One moment.

Obviously, the Emerald Dream is oriented toward Life and the Wild Gods, situated between Spirit and Water (water brings life.) The Emerald Dream is a kind of platonic ideal of the natural world, and we know that unlike the Elemental Planes, it is a direct reflection of Azeroth - or at least a version of Azeroth that exists as if there had been no civilization or intelligent peoples.

In Dungeons and Dragons (something that WoW and just about every fantasy RPG borrows a lot from,) there is an idea of the Material Plane (referred to in this diagram as "Reality") having something called the Feywild that exists above it as a kind of whimsical and beautiful place that Fey magic comes from (Faeries and such.) But the flipside is something called the Shadowfell, which is a dark reflection of the world that is harsher and more barren and crueler. A nice snow-capped mountain might have a blackened, spiky volcano as its Shadowfell reflection.

I don't know for a fact that we've ever truly seen the Shadowlands in Warcraft, but I have a strong suspicion that we have. And it's all thanks to the Lich King.

Note that the Undead (not the playable race of Undead, who should really just be called Forsaken, but the Undead in the whole of the universe) are up there with Old Gods, Titans, and the Burning Legion as one of the top representatives of their respective Major Powers. And they are in direct opposition to the Wild Gods (though as noted with the Titans and the Old Gods, and actually the Naaru and Burning Legion for that matter, your opposite number is not necessarily your main antagonist,) which means that just as the Wild Gods have a special connection to the Emerald Dream, the Undead might have a special connection to the Shadowlands.

During Wrath of the Lich King, there are a handful of quests where you are sent into some sort of shadowy death-realm. The first one is right in the Death Knight starting experience, where you have your mount transformed into a Deathcharger. Later, Horde players at least go into the real of Shadows doing a quest for Koltira, during which for some reason only on one character that I did this, the Lich King arrived flying on a Frostwyrm to taunt me. Alliance players might be stepping into this realm when they try to investigate the rumors about the connections between the Vrykul and Humans in a village outside of Utgarde Keep. If those players make the mistake of approaching the Lich King within that realm (and dodging the Val'kyr who will insta-port you out,) you get a really interesting monologue prior to what you have to imagine is a very painful insta-kill.

The Lich King is kind of a fascinating figure in the Warcraft lore, because despite being very new - less than 30 years - and being created by a member of the Burning Legion - the Lich King seems like an inextricable part of the Universe.

I wonder if Kil'jaeden's actions toward Ner'zhul didn't actually create the entity that is now the Lich King, but really just created a vessel for the very essence of the Power of Death to fill.

How long have the Shadowlands existed?

Going into Legion, there's another interesting question: Where are the Halls of Valor and the Maw of Souls? I actually had a theory that the Halls of Valor might literally be in Skywall (given the "floating up in a bright and heavenly-looking place) while the Maw of Souls might be in the Abyssal Maw (there's Maw right in the name, plus it's where Kvaldir come from and they seemed to be working for Neptulon in Vashj'ir.)

It's possible that they're kind of their own realms, or perhaps they exist more explicitly in "The Light" and "Death" or something.

The point of this whole post is that we've been given the mother of all lore bombshells here. I suspect a lot of this will be elaborated on in the book, but it really gives us a profoundly different look at the whole Warcraft universe.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Huge Lore Reveals in Warcraft: Chronicle Preview

Blizzard has a new book coming out called Warcraft Chronicle (the first volume of a series.) Unlike other tie-in books, this isn't a single narrative, but is rather a full history of Azeroth and beyond - kind of Warcraft's equivalent of the Silmarillion.

There are twenty pages available as a preview (I found it on WoWHead,) and boy are there some pretty huge revelations.

First off, it kind of determines a sort of "highest order" of beings in the universe. There are several forces at work that function in kind of dichotomies - Life and Death, Light and Shadow, Order and Chaos. And each of these opposed forces has a kind of prime representative. The Titans are Order, while the Burning Legion is Chaos. The Naaru are Light while the Old Gods are Shadow. And the Wild Gods (aka Ancients, Loa, and Celestials - which are now officially confirmed to be the same sort of thing) represent Life while the Undead represent Death.

This last one is a little interesting, as there hasn't been really one big representative of Death until the Lich King was created in relatively recent history. Yet that beings said, while young, the Lich King has more or less stepped into a position of such incredible power that it wouldn't be hard to describe it - the entity that transcends Ner'zhul, Arthas, and Bolvar - as being something on the same level as these figures of great power.

We get a few other confirmations. One is that yes, the Night Elves were originally the Dark Trolls. Despite the ominous name, the Dark Trolls were actually pretty chill people - uninterested in fighting the other Troll empires, they originally just lived underneath Mount Hyjal and then explored eastward (apparently going as far as Uldaman) before discovering the Well of Eternity and settling there. The energy of the Well transformed them into the Night Elves we know today - and this all happened about 5000 years before the War of the Ancients.

Now here's the biggest thing:

The Titans have been traveling the universe searching for more of their kin. They know that some planets contain a "World Soul," which is a nascent Titan. While their search was fruitless for untold eons, there was one world-soul that was slowly developing within a planet called Azeroth.

In its earliest eras, Azeroth was ruled by the Elemental Lords. They would fight constantly in massive, destructive battles. Yet all the elementals reveled in these contests - the state of constant war for them was ideal and utopian, even if we mortals would be horrified by it. Without warning, the Old Gods rained down from the Great Dark Beyond, implanting themselves in the surface of Azeroth like fleshy meteorites.

The Old Gods oozed out organic life in two forms - the insectoid Aqir and the cephalopodic N'raqi, also know as the Faceless Ones.

Of the Old Gods, Y'shaarj was the most powerful, and used its minions to build around itself the Black Empire. But the Elemental Lords struck back, working together for the first time and using their combined might to reduce the Black Empire's citadels to ash.

There's a lot to process here. First off, it confirms a lot of speculation about the nature of the Titans and the value of Azeroth. For all we know, Azeroth could be the home of the only nascent Titan in the universe. What happens when that Titan is ready to emerge? Are the races of Azeroth kind of screwed in that regard?

Also, from the sample we've gotten, it's not entirely clear if all organic life or just the Aqir and N'raqi are direct products of the Old Gods. If it's just those two, though, it does raise the question of where other life came from.

I've got to be honest - I've always been kind of repelled by tie-in novels. It might just be snobbiness on my part. But I'll confess that Chronicles has peaked my interest.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Scope of Lore in Diablo vs Warcraft

To a certain extent, my taste in fantasy might be shaped by the fact that I never had a very religious upbringing. While both sides of my family had Abrahamic traditions (one Jewish, one Catholic,) there was never a strong pressure to really conform to either of those. While not religious exactly, I've always been fascinated by the philosophical distinction between the mundane and the supernatural. In a way, that's kind of distinction between science fiction and fantasy. The best I can do to define the two is that in fantasy, the supernatural is ultimately mysterious. If you can sufficiently analyze magic, it just becomes a new set of physical laws. But in a science fiction setting, you can propose beings of such tremendous power and sophistication that, to us humans, their technology can only be appreciated as a sort of magic.

It's an interesting philosophical question whether technology and magic are inevitably on a spectrum and that the only distinction is our understanding of it or if the two are fundamentally different things.

The Warcraft Universe has plenty of magical stuff in it, but I actually think that if we consider this distinction (whether magic can ever be truly understood) the difference between Sci-Fi and Fantasy, then Warcraft actually leans a bit into the science-fiction side of things.

I'd hesitate to say that it's truly science fiction, though, because there are some things that remains mysterious. Much like Star Wars, it fits into the hybrid "Science Fantasy" genre, though Star Wars, having a more traditional science fiction setting, is generally thought to be from that genre, whereas Warcraft's setting is more similar (at least at first glance) to the Tolkien-style grand fantasy tradition. But unlike Tolkien, where there is a very clear creator of the universe who is ineffable, no individual in the Warcraft universe appears to be entirely, independently supernatural.

That's arguable, of course. But if we try to come up with the most powerful figures in Warcraft, the best answers are probably the Titans and the Old Gods.

The Old Gods seem to come from the Void, but they aren't void beings the same way that Voidwalkers are (the Voidwalkers could potentially seem "inherently" magical, but unlike the Old Gods, I suspect they are not really sentient, living beings.) The Old Gods seem to actually be organic in some sense, which suggests they are less truly "gods" than really Lovecraftian aliens. They are so fundamentally different from the animal life that we Azerothians are familiar with, and despite not being humanoid in appearance, are clearly far more advanced and intelligent than any mortals on Azeroth. They use void magic in a way that we could never hope to, and this makes it seem as if they are truly one with the Void - but I don't actually think they are. Instead, they are channeling the power of the void in such a sophisticated way (perhaps a way that has become part of their physiology to the extent that they don't even need to consciously "cast" shadow magic) that a mere mortal can only look upon them with awe (and madness.)

On the other side, you have the Titans, who almost go out of their way to demonstrate that, while incredibly powerful, their power is based in a scientific, technological understanding of the universe. They use magic the same way we use electricity. It's an understood force that behaves in ways that are predictable if used correctly, and they engineer with it. It seems as if they even might use the Holy Light as one of their tools.

Demons, it appears, are simply races that were once mortals and were inundated with Arcane energy (something that mortals don't really understand, but the Titans probably do.) The original demons were mutated and addicted to the Arcane, and Sargeras somehow altered this energy to create Fel, which empowers his Burning Legion to be even more dangerous and destructive than the demons he was originally fighting.

Finally, Naaru seem to be intelligent while also fundamentally attached to the Holy Light (tied to it just as the Voidwalkers are to the Void,) and that's another place you could say my argument breaks down. That's assuming, of course, that we won't discover in the future that someone (perhaps the Titans) created the Naaru. Really, explaining the Naaru as essentially magic robot angels would make more sense than any other explanation I could give you.

One of the key ways in which Warcraft seems to exist in a broader, secular worldview is that there might be demon lords or "gods," but they aren't inherent to their domains. Nozdormu was, for all intents and purposes, the Azerothian God of Time for most of his life, but it isn't like time itself wouldn't run without him. Instead, it was a kind of ministry position. It's like the distinction between being a Fertility Goddess or being the Secretary of Agriculture.

Also, while there are important historical events that are alluded to, there's no real official "beginning" of time in Warcraft. Even if many, most, or even all of the playable mortal races were ultimately created by the Titans (and then mutated through various things like the Curse of Flesh or later the Plague of Undeath or the Worgen Curse,) there's no "In the beginning." We still know very little about the Titans and how they came to be. We don't know how the Old Gods came to be. We're only just starting to scratch the surface on how the Demons came to be. But the universe itself plausibly could have come about the same way that modern physics believes ours did - a Big Bang, particles coalescing into atoms and then stars and planets forming, and then some unlikely chemical combination that could replicate itself and mutate and eventually become what we recognize as life.

Diablo is very different.

First of all, it's binary. There are really only two sides to the supernatural coin - good and evil, angels and demons. Outside of Sanctuary, as far as we can tell, there's really nothing other than those two types of things (though I do think there's some sort of mystery about dragons.) The Angels and the Demons have been waging war against each other ever since they arose, and they were both created out of the remnants of the ur-Good, Anu, and the ur-Evil, Tathamet.

The Nephalem, and their human descendants, introduced moral ambiguity to the universe. Born of both angelic and demonic ancestors, the Nephalem had the potential for both good and evil, and were actually practically Gods.

And that's, I think, the saving grace of Diablo's lore. With good and evil being so strictly separated, it becomes a pretty uninteresting cycle of the same things over and over. But in Diablo III's expansion (that made the game good, finally,) we got to see some very interesting twists that made good seem evil, or perhaps evil seem good?

Humans are half-Angel, half-Demon. Demons are, fundamentally, evil. At the end of Vanilla Diablo III, all seven of the Lords of Hell are trapped within Zoltan Kulle's black soulstone. Thus, it would seem that the only remaining evil in the universe is the demonic half of each human. Malthiel, the Angel of Wisdom, goes down to Sanctuary to retrieve the Soulstone and attempts to use it to siphon off all the demonic souls in Sanctuary - which would literally involve tearing every human's soul in half, annihilating them.

What's really fascinating to me about this is that in one sense, if you think of evil as a real thing that has a kind of tangible substance to it, Malthiel is right to do what he is doing. He has an opportunity to rid the universe of all evil.

But in a much saner way of looking at things, it's clear that what Malthiel is doing is evil. Evil is not some substance that can be cleaned away. It is  cruelty and callousness and violence against the innocent.

And ultimately, this casts the entire Eternal Conflict into a kind of new light. Before there were humans - specifically, before there were mortals - what really made one side of the Conflict better than the other? Each sought to destroy the other, and each had its own way of doing things, but outside of the context of day to day human morality, how could we even seriously call one side good and one evil?

Once presented with humans, Angels and Demons were given an opportunity to demonstrate the value of their side. Angels for the most part seem to be a lot nicer - Tyrael in particular, but most of them seem to be capable of sympathy for us.

But Malthiel did not show that, and his actions made him something just as evil as anything that came out of the Burning Hells.

I don't know what the future plans for the Diablo series are - whether they're going to do another expansion or start working on Diablo IV - but Malthiel opened the door to much more interesting stories. Then there are the Nephalem themselves - reborn into the world, we might see the old good/evil dichotomy break down as new Gods - more powerful than the Archangels or Demon Lords of old - start to throw their weight around.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Legion Checklist Update 2/11/16

Well, a new build came out in the last couple days. As far as I know, no new zones were opened up, but a couple of specs (including my main spec) were made available.

Blue is new, Red is still unavailable, and White is stuff that was already in the Alpha.

Death Knight: Blood, Frost, Unholy
Demon Hunter: Havoc, Vengeance
Druid: Balance, Feral, Guardian, Restoration
Hunter: Beast Mastery, Marksmanship, Survival
Mage: Arcane, Fire, Frost
Monk: Brewmaster, Mistweaver, Windwalker
Paladin: Holy, Protection, Retribution
Priest: Discipline, Holy, Shadow
Rogue: Assassination, Outlaw, Subtlety
Shaman: Elemental, Enhancement, Restoration
Warlock: Affliction, Demonology, Destruction
Warrior: Arms, Fury, Protection

So they actually added more specs this build than remain unplayable, which is a good sign. Given how involved the artifact quests are, I wouldn't be surprised if they're the real hold-up on testing the specs.

So we're now up to 32/36, which is pretty close to 90%. Also, I believe that this means that all the specs getting really significant re-works are now playable (not to downplay the changes coming to the still-missing specs - and Brewmasters are getting somewhat broad changes to be fair.)

In terms of dungeons, I don't think Maw of Souls is officially on the Alpha yet, but they did have a showcase of it with some hand-picked teams from the streaming community, and it looks pretty damn polished (missing a cutscene or two.) Also, Maw of Souls looks AMAZING. There does seem to be a map that might be for Eye of Azshara, but I don't know if it's open yet (also, Azsuna is not, I believe, available, which might be why they aren't ready to have people running dungeons there.)

If I'm remembering all the launch dungeons, that means that we've got three more to go - one in Azsuna and two in Suramar, which are the zones that are not yet playable.

At the earnings report, they claimed that they expect to release the expansion during the summer, after the Warcraft movie comes out. While I'd hope that Legion releases before June, they might be hoping that the excitement over a new expansion would help generate ticket sales for the movie (the opposite might not do so much - if you just plunked down your cash for a new expansion, you probably want to spend your free time playing rather than going out to the movies.) So I think it's very likely we're going to see the movie come out before Legion, though the pre-launch even might start before it.

While fragmented, what we're seeing in the Alpha looks better than a lot of stuff I've seen in rather late Alpha stages. June is four months away, but I don't think that it will take another four months of testing to be ready for a launch. I think the real consideration at this time is when it would be most advantageous to launch in comparison with the release of the film. The movie comes out June 10th, and I'd expect that if Legion hasn't already come out by then, it'll come very soon after - possibly the same week.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Legion Checklist

While I'm spending more of my time these days playing Diablo III Season 5 (at this point, my seasonal characters are way better equipped than my normal ones, thanks in large part to the free set I have on my seasonal Demon Hunter - even though supposedly DHs got the crappiest one this season, I'm finding it easier to tear through things like crazy,) I am, of course, eager to hear more news of World of Warcraft: Legion, which is still in its "Alpha" test (though by Alpha they practically mean Beta. I think the only reason they're sticking with that nomenclature is that they don't want people to expect an invite.)

The Alpha has been going for a little over two months. If we were to use Warlords' beta as a gauge, that would put them at just under halfway through, though given that this expansion is bringing far more system changes than Warlords did, I'd err on the side of expecting a longer testing process.

What might be a good gauge of the expansions' progress, however, is how much stuff is available to test.

At the moment, the level cap is 108, suggesting that the next time they raise it, they'll probably bring it to the expansion cap of 110. There are a number of specs that are not yet playable, though those are shrinking as the test goes on. So let's break it down:


Stormheim: Yes
Highmountain: Yes
Val'sharah: Yes
Azsuna: No
Suramar: No
Broken Shore: No. Not sure how the Broken Shore is going to fit into the questing game, but I suspect it'll be level-cap content. Whether it actually releases with launch is another big question, though Blizzard has it on the little infographic for the latest build (though that might also just be referring to the intro scenario.)

3/6 ish


Halls of Valor: Yes
Neltharion's Lair: Yes
Vault of the Wardens: Yes
Violet Hold: Yes
Black Rook Hold: Yes
Darkheart Thicket: Yes
Suramar City: No
Suramar Sewers: No
Eye of Azshara: No
Maw of Souls: Possibly? I think it's opening up very soon.



I'm not going to list all of these, partially because I don't know we have a full list.

3/17 tested


Ok, here's one that's big enough that I could totally mess up on it, but going by the latest infographic:

Blood: Yes
Frost: Yes
Unholy: Yes

Havoc: Yes
Vengeance: Yes

Balance: Yes
Feral: No
Guardian: Yes
Restoration: Yes

Beast Mastery: No
Marksmanship: Yes
Survival: Yes

Arcane: No
Fire: Yes
Frost: No

Brewmaster: No
Mistweaver: Yes
Windwalker: Yes

Holy: No
Protection: No
Retribution: Yes

Discipline: Yes
Holy: No
Shadow: Yes

Assassination: No
Outlaw: Yes
Subtlety: Yes

Elemental: Yes
Enhancement: Yes
Restoration: Yes

Affliction: Yes
Demonology: No
Destruction: No

Arms: Yes
Fury: Yes
Protection: Yes


And one key thing about playable specs is that it might be less based on how well the spec is put together at this point, and more about polishing and finishing up the design of the artifact acquisition quests. And it's still about 5/7 of the way there.

Of course, even once everything is in place, it'll still take a little while to get everything tested. The raid testing is clearly in pretty early phases, and there are some big questions left to be answered, like how one gets off-spec artifact weapons.

Still, the fact that we aren't still waiting for testing to begin means that the biggest hurdle has already been jumped. Obviously I'd knock on wood, but I think things are on track for a potential release in the first half of 2016.

Subtlety Getting Some Big Changes (Perhaps Reversions) in the Legion Alpha

About a month ago, I was writing a bunch of spec break-downs for Legion. Well, inevitably, there's some big news on the horizon - namely that Subtelty is going to get some significant changes in an upcoming (not necessarily next) Alpha build.

The big thing is that Shadow Dance is going to become an active ability once again, rather than a passive. They decided that the opener-generator-finisher-opener cycle wasn't really interesting enough. Honestly, while I've been hoping for Shadow Dance to become a proc to react to rather than an activated CD for a long time, I actually think that this is necessary.

As written, the soon-to-be-defunct Alpha version of Shadow Dance gives a 20% chance per combo point to put you into stealth, or at least let you use Stealth openers. Unfortunately, that 20-per-CP system means that this isn't really a proc to keep track of, but rather something you'll always get when you're using your fully-powered finishers. This actually winds up giving Subtlety a nearly-static rotation. The only thing that mixes it up is Shadow Techniques, which gives you a chance to generate extra combo points.

I'm rather curious to see what they come up with. Simply putting Shadow Dance back the way it is on live might be better, but I really think they need to do something to make sure that there's a "blindingly fast strike from the shadows" flavor to the spec.

One possibility I'd recommend is some proc to reset Shadow Dance's CD. It's only on a minute-long cooldown, so I don't know what the right chance would be.

I realize that snappy, proc-based gameplay looks like the direction they want more for Outlaw rogues, but I think that even if Sub winds up being a more steady, predictable rotation, it's pretty important for the flavor to make sure that openers hit very hard.

I'll be keeping an eye on this as it develops.