Monday, October 31, 2016

Hidden Artifact Appearances for Protection (Paladin,) Blood, Havoc, Beast Mastery, and Arms

While I know where some of the artifact appearances can be found for other specs, I figured I'd detail the ones I had found so far. Note that alternate colors can be unlocked for each of these by doing 100 Dungeons using the appearance, completing 200 World Quests with the appearance, and killing 1000 enemies in PvP.

Protection (Paladin):

The Protection hidden appearance is a Draenei-themed shield and transforms the sword Oathseeker into a crystalline mace. Both the mace and much of the shield are made of purple (by default) crystals, though the Truthguard motif of the spinning central disk and the channels of light energy going right, left, and down are retained.

Getting this appearance requires you to run the Withered Army training scenario for the Nightfallen and it is looted from the main chest at the end (the one you get no matter what.) While I think you may improve your odds if you score higher, it is ultimately a matter of luck (I did several full clears of the scenario with over 30 Withered left at the end - not that they account for that in your score - without getting it to drop.)

Blood (Death Knight):

The Blood hidden appearance transforms your Maw of the Damned into a more one-sided axe, with the edge and the spiked pommel both showing the souls flowing into the axe. There is no skull-face, and the default color is blue, rather than red.

Like the one for Truthguard above, this appearance is acquired by doing Withered Army training (see the above example for more.)

Havoc (Demon Hunter):

There is a Fel Bat that flies above Felsoul Hold in Suramar called Downfall. While you'll be able to reach him if you jump down from other high points (such as Highmountain Peak) the official way to get to him is to find Candrael's charm, a random drop off of the demons in Felsoul Hold. You'll then want to find Candrael, a Blood Elf Demon Hunter who stands on a hill above the western edge of the Hold (you'll want to take a route from the north to reach her.) She will then offer to toss you up in the air at the demon. Downfall creates a pocket of air around himself that allows you to fly, but if you drop below or go too far away from him you'll fall. Soon after engaging him he'll boot you a far distance away and then follow. You'll need to glide in order to get back into his air pocket without falling all the way. As you fight him, he'll throw you away several times again, but he tends to stay in the same place after that first move, so just glide down to him. Oddly, I actually found it easier to fight him as Vengeance, but you'll be able to pick up the item either way. When he dies, he'll plummet to the ground. Glide down to him and loot to get the item that grants the appearance.

The appearance makes the Twinblades of the Deceiver look like they're made of bones and demon fangs, with skull motifs on the handguards. By default there is a fel-green glow around the edges.

Beast Mastery (Hunter):

This is by far the easiest appearance to acquire. It's basically there so that Hunters who prefer bows can get a look for Titanstrike. I wish that they would make gun appearances for Marksmanship and, yes, Survival (ever hear of a bayonet?) but oh well. To get it simply buy it from Hobart Grapplehammer in the Dalaran engineering shop for 8,000 gold.

This transforms Titanstrike into a bow, though thankfully it retains a very mechanical/gnomish look to it.

Arms (Warrior):

I don't know exactly what the prerequisites for this are - it seems easier to do now than before 7.1. In Skyhold, talk to the smith (the NPC who lets you reset artifact traits.) He should comment on your sword, wondering if it would be better as an axe. He then asks you to search the Broken Isles for an example of a worthy axe. The search is actually very simple - just go back to Dalaran and you'll find High Overlord Saurfang in Krasus' Landing. Talk to him to try to convince him to help you out (doing this on Alliance will have him comment on how he'd prefer not to empower the Alliance, but that in the face of the Legion, he's willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the world.) He'll then offer to show the axe to the smith if you can best him in combat. Return to Skyhold and jump into the arena off to the side (opposite the area with the smith) and you'll be phased so you can fight Saurfang. It's actually not that tough of a fight. Once you get him to 75% or so, he'll surrender. I don't know if there's an official way to get out of the arena, but if you just jump off a Val'kyr will catch you and take you out of the arena. Go over to the smith and talk to Saurfang, who is waiting there, and you can complete the quest.

This appearance changes Strom'kar to look like a double-bladed axe with a spiked skull-shaped ball on the end of a chain on the pommel.

Other Appearances As I Get Them:

I know of a number of other appearances and even the method of getting them, but right now RNG has not been favoring me for them (frankly I'm pretty happy I have the ones I do.) Many are purely luck-of-the-draw, while other have tricky challenges associated with them while still others require you to reach exalted reputations with various factions. And of course, some have not yet been discovered by the community.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Future of the Scourge

The Scourge was one of the most iconic collective Warcraft villains for many years. Introduced in Warcraft III, the army of the undead provided a very different foe from Fel-crazed Orcs (and came about just when the Orcs were ditching their fel-craze in favor of more traditional shamanism and proud warrior culture.)

(There will be spoilers here for some Mage and Warlock artifact quests as well as a lot of stuff in the Death Knight class campaign.)

Of course the story of the Scourge was embodied within that of Prince Arthas, who is introduced as an idealistic young paladin. As crown prince of Lordaeron, he gets to be trained by Uther the Lightbringer himself. But while his ultimate turn to evil comes through a fantasy-story contrivance (namely, Frostmourne robs him of his soul,) in truth he had been heading down a dark path of obsession since before his journey to Northrend began.

While he literally loses his soul upon taking up Frostmourne, what seals him as the monster he has become is the murder of his own father.

In fact, Arthas winds up making Lordaeron City into his capital, given that he is, technically, now king of Lordaeron. I actually would love to see what that was like - while Arthas found himself on the run by the start of the Undead campaign following that moment, it would be fascinating to see what happened as the capital was swiftly turned by his forces while the unprepared armies of Lordaeron tried to make sense of and deal with this implosion of their kingdom. After the Third War, the sewers of the capital have been excavated and turned into what we now know as the Undercity, and it's not until Illidan's assault on the Frozen Throne that Sylvanas and the Forsaken recover their free will and rebel, forcing Arthas to retreat and come to the Lich King's aid - an act that ends with his ascent as the new Lich King.

Wrath of the Lich King ended with Arthas dead, but they very pointedly left the Scourge intact. Bolvar Fordragon - long thought dead - instead takes on the crown to become the third Lich King, calling himself the Jailor of the Damned.

While players could easily watch the cutscene at the end of that boss fight (Wrath was the first expansion to have actual cutscenes, and the post-Lich King one established the tradition of having a cutscene for the final boss of each expansion. As a side note, a cutscene that will play at the end of the Gul'dan fight in Nighthold has leaked, though I'm going to save my discussion of it until we get closer to that raid's release.) Canonically, though, only the people up at the top of the Frozen Throne - players who beat Arthas, Tirion, Bolvar himself, and later Sylvanas Windrunner - actually know for a fact that there is a new Lich King. As far as the average commoner knows, the Lich King and the Scourge are basically no longer around, or at least the remnants are just waiting to be eliminated.

For three expansions, we didn't hear anything out of Bolvar. The Scourge does still exist in Eastern Plaguelands, but it is a tiny remnant with individual undead creatures vying for control of what remains. The Cult of the Damned is still around, what with the reintroduction of Darkmaster Gandling in Mists of Pandaria. But the Scourge sure doesn't look like world-threatening juggernaut it once was. Bolvar seemed to be doing his job right.

In fact, Warlocks who go after the Scepter of Sargeras (Destruction Artifact weapon) actually go and fight some Cult of the Damned members around Scholomance, discovering that Gul'dan is trying to recruit them for his new Shadow Council.

Mages who go after Felo'melorn (Fire Artifact weapon) actually track down a distant cousin of Kael'thas who went off to pursue her family's weapon.

Death Knights, however, get the fullest view of the current state of the Scourge. Because while the Knights of the Ebon Blade were instrumental in fighting the Scourge in Northrend, with this new leader, they have an ally. In fact, it is the Lich King who declares you Deathlord, charging you with acting as his champion in the fight against the Burning Legion. The Knights of the Ebon Blade hold a healthy level of skepticism toward the Lich King, but that does not stop them from accepting his cooperation.

Like Arthas, Bolvar was a Paladin before he became Lich King. But Arthas had an intermediate step of becoming a Death Knight. Arthas had dedicated himself to evil, and took the crown as a reward. Bolvar took the crown as a sacrifice to keep the world safe and keep the Scourge under control. But while he has clearly kept the Scourge away from the vulnerable mortal populations of the world, and his intentions have been the best, Bolvar is by no means the same nice guy we had known before.

Fire mages are truly outsiders when they travel to Icecrown Citadel to retrieve Felo'melorn, and Bolvar warns them that he will only tolerate them briefly within his domain. Should they fail, he says, they will be raised and join the Scourge, just as he had with Lyandra Sunstrider.

While all Death Knights interact with the Lich King, it is the Frost quest that has you journey through Icecrown Citadel. The Frost artifact swords are forged from the shards of Frostmourne, and while the vast majority of souls within the blade were freed when Tirion Fordring destroyed it with the Ashbringer, some still remain. With the Citadel, Bolvar has no pity for these lost souls, commanding the Death Knight to put them down, forcing them to submit and renounce the light.

In a sense this is just practical - if these souls are tainted and thus can only find any sort of redemption in service to the new, less world-endy Scourge, you're essentially showing them tough love. But it's really, really tough.

And we should remember that morality is a little different for the undead. A Death Knight player character might be a hero in a real sense - rescuing children and fighting off evil - but one gets the impression that there's not really any great sense of benevolence there. Death Knights fight evil because it is a purpose that has been left to them, and that seems to be what motivates them to keep on going.

It's actually pretty interesting - one of the big Death Knight class quests has you travel into the Scarlet Monastery and raise the corpse of Sally Whitemane to serve as one of the Four Horsemen. Despite the fact that you guys are the undead and they're the really religious ones, it's Darion Mograine who talks to the newly-undead Whitemane about how she has just been offered a chance at redemption - one that she accepts pretty readily (the Four Horsemen each become class champions.)

But the Scarlet Crusade has always been WoW's default "yes they're living humans but it's still ok to fight them" villains. Raising the High Inquisitor to serve as a Death Knight is the kind of ironic punishment (or penitence, depending on your interpretation) that you can sort of get behind.

What's far more compromising is the final mission for the Death Knight campaign. Most of these campaigns have you fighting some demonic force. In this case, you actually raid the Paladin class hall. You slay several perfectly innocent - allied, in fact - paladins in an attempt to retrieve the corpse of Tirion Fordring to serve as the leader of the Four Horsemen. Ultimately, this goes about as well as the last time the Undead attacked Light's Hope Chapel, and Darion Mograine is killed by Lady Liadrin, giving you not only a pretty useful corpse to raise, but also a Mograine whose father was the last leader of the Four Horsemen.

Having done 9/12 of the class campaigns, this is definitely the only time I've seen one class order literally attack another. Ultimately, the attack is a failure - which is probably the only way the Silver Hand and the Ebon Blade are ever going to be able to put this behind them - but it does show you that being a Death Knight really robs you of the values that you may have once possessed.

So what does that mean for the Scourge? For one thing, does the fact that the Ebon Blade is taking orders from the Lich King mean that they're actually part of the Scourge again? And what exactly does the Scourge represent as a whole? The Ebon Blade has been basically an anti-hero force within Azeroth since what I guess we're now going to have to call the First Battle at Light's Hope. They've been a net-positive for the world, but not without their problems. Will the Scourge become that as well?

In some future expansion, am I going to grind reputation with the Scourge and get a tabard when I hit exalted?

Or was Bolvar's ascension just a stopgap? Is the Scourge as a whole going to devolve back into the world-threatening army it once was? And given that Death Knights clearly will still be played by players, that would mean that either the Ebon Blade would have to abandon the Scourge, or players would have to abandon the Ebon Blade.

And this is all just the Scourge proper. We're not even talking about its most successful off-shoot, the Forsaken, whose leader recently became Warchief of the Horde but still seems to be concerned mostly with her own future.

Is Blizzard Pushing Mythic Dungeons Too Hard?

There is a progression that you can go through if you want to simply queue for instances in Legion. You get to the level cap, run some normal-mode dungeons and do some World Quests, then queue for Heroics once you have the requisite item level. You run that for a bit and then you can do LFR. This is basically how things have been since Dragon Soul, and while it's a flawed system to be sure (what system isn't?) it has worked out ok.

But there is a lot of stuff that you cannot do if you just want to queue for things.

When the dungeons in Legion were announced, there was talk of a Suramar dungeon that later expanded into two (originally they were talking about "Suramar City" which became Court of Stars and "Suramar Palace," which became the Nighthold. They later started talking about "Suramar Catacombs," which is clearly the Arcway.)

Far later into the run-up to the expansion, it was announced that the two Suramar dungeons would actually by Mythic-only and require you to get to a certain point in the Suramar quests before you could run them (annoyingly, Engineers can't get their max-level goggle schematics unless they run Court of Stars - the only profession quest I know of that requires a Mythic dungeon.)

The definition of a "casual" player is a pretty subjective one, but I think that someone who queues for instances and doesn't do pre-made groups is a pretty clear one. That means that casual players will truly be missing out on these two dungeons, as well as the headliner for the current patch: the Return to Karazhan, which is not only a Mythic-only dungeon itself, but also requires you to run four Mythic dungeons to get in the door (I literally only have Cordana Felsong left in my attunement. She's really that tough.)

The thing I find funny about this is that it's almost the opposite of the mid-Cataclysm issue that led them to introduce the Raid Finder difficulty. Basically, people could run Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub (they were hard, but you could queue for them,) and so for the better part of a year, WoW was basically those two dungeons (because they gave better gear than the other dungeons) for a lot of people who couldn't organize raids or whose guilds couldn't down bosses in those raids. Firelands was the last non-LFR raid, and I can tell you that we certainly didn't get much down there while it was current.

So the irony is that at this point, you can waltz into Emerald Nightmare and easily down all seven bosses on LFR, but getting a group for Return to Karazhan is significantly more difficult.

The ethos behind LFR was that players should be able to experience the whole game even if they weren't able to commit to a regular raiding schedule and work through it with a guild. With all these Mythic-only dungeons, it seems as if Blizzard is abandoning that ethos.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Personally I'm finding it a little frustrating, but I also think you could make the argument that locking some content behind these difficulties makes it a little more special. I took down Deathwing basically the day that the second half of Dragon Soul LFR came out, and it was strange to see the expansion's main villain go down so soon. Stepping into normal mode raids after having done the fights on LFR does, of course, lessen the feeling of discovery. Perhaps reaching the top of Icecrown Citadel after months of progression might have felt less epic if I had done it on LFR months earlier.

But I also think about how this limits things - I suspect that I'm rarely if ever going to be able to DPS through any of these dungeons, because my guild relies on me to tank. Don't get me wrong - I love tanking, which is why my top three characters right now are a Protection Paladin, Blood Death Knight, and Vengeance Demon Hunter. But there is now this rather large barrier to entry for new content Blizzard is clearly putting a lot of effort into. I'm very excited to take on the new Karazhan, but I honestly don't know how many weeks it will take to ensure not only that I'm attuned for the dungeon, but also that a solid group of guild members (who can't always be there for every dungeon run, and thus aren't all getting attuned at the same time) can be.

My hope for the future in Legion is that new dungeons will be introduced that are not strictly Mythic-only. I recognize how this reintroduces the problem of making old content irrelevant if a new dungeon gives better stuff than an old one, but as I've argued before, in the era of LFR, it's not as if players wouldn't have been able to experience content when it was new. Ironically, while people will easily be able to do Emerald Nightmare and have been doing it for weeks, it's things like the Arcway, Court of Stars, and Return to Karazhan that risk being ignored as new content comes in.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

7.1 Live: Getting Started

7.1 has three major features. There are a few others that bear talking about, but let's talk about the headliners, and what you should do to participate in them.

Return to Karazhan:

You cannot run this dungeon until you have attuned to it. I believe that you only have to do so on one character, after which any alts will be free to run it too.

The quest chain here starts in Dalaran. Khadgar will send you to kill God-King Skovald in Mythic Halls of Valor (you'll probably want to beat Odyn as well, but I don't know if that's required for the quest.)

Subsequent quests will send you to do Mythic Black Rook Hold, Mythic Assault of Violet Hold, and Mythic Vault of the Wardens. After this, you should be able to run Return to Karazhan (which has a recommended minimum item level of 840.)

Trial of Valor:

Wait two weeks! The Trial of Valor raid is not yet open. However, we will (apparently) be getting world quests all over the Broken Isles where we fight Helya's Helarjar forces.

Suramar Quests:

The Suramar story continues. If you have not yet finished the Suramar quest line, you'll still have to do that, as these quests follow directly from that main storyline. Given that if you've finished those quests you'll probably be either exalted or very close to exalted, the gating on these new quests is simply time - you'll get new ones each week.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dungeons in Legion Going Forward

This coming Tuesday, Legion will be getting its eleventh 5-player dungeon, meaning that an expansion that already surpassed the past two in 5-player content might bring us closer to the numbers we saw in the first three expansions.

But the dungeon system itself has gotten significantly more complicated in Legion. If you only run dungeons through the LFG tool - specifically the version that puts your group together - there's really only practically eight dungeons, the same as there were in Warlords.

The Arcway and Court of Stars, which reward the same level of gear as other Mythics but are, I'd contend, a little harder (not in strictly numerical terms but mainly navigating them and making sure you pull the trash carefully,) are both locked behind a pretty substantial quest chain and reputation grind. With this upcoming patch, however, your alts will be able to run these dungeons as long as you've completed them on at least one character, regardless of where they are in those quests.

On top of this, there's the Mythic Plus mode, which is a sort of evolution of the Challenge Mode introduced in Mists of Pandaria, except that it's less about bragging rights and transmog gear and instead conceived as a truly hardcore alternative to raiding.

The Mythic Plus mode is also the way that Blizzard planned to allow the creation of new dungeons without automatically supplanting the old ones (anyone who played during 4.1's Rise of the Zandalari can attest to how damaging it was for there to be basically only two dungeons worth doing.) New dungeons in Legion would actually have the same rewards as old ones, but with Mythic + they could all get arbitrarily more challenging and proportionately rewarding.

The Karazhan dungeon... doesn't really follow that model. Karazhan will be a Mythic-only like Arcway and Court of Stars, but its Mythic (no plus) is expected to be harder and is more rewarding than other Mythic dungeons (with 855 and 860 rewards.)

Now, perhaps we should consider Karazhan to be sort of its own thing - they seem to be conceiving it much more as a 5-player raid, with a whopping eight bosses (and I'd expect a ninth bonus boss that is probably Nightbane, just like the original raid.) Blizzard is encouraging guilds to break up Karazhan runs into different nights much like you'd do with a raid (that you don't have on farm mode.) Given its length, I don't even know if there is a Mythic Plus version of Karazhan, as that would presumably require a tense marathon session (Bronze: three hours!)

If Blizzard wants to add more dungeons after Karazhan (and I really hope they do,) I'd expect they'll be more conventional 3-5 boss dungeons. While I don't know that these will need to scale all the way down to the leveling process (frankly, I don't even often fit Violet Hold into leveling,) it would be nice to have more options for level-cap Normals and Heroics.

On the other hand, is Mythic Plus really the long-term solution? Let's say we're in patch 7.3. We're bored with killing Gul'dan over and over in the Nighthold and even LFR-only players are rocking an average item level of 860 or so. If they release a new dungeon, are we really going to want to hope that we get a keystone for it and then have to do a timed run of it (no bathroom breaks!) if we want to get any actual gear upgrades?

Mythic Plus may be good for keeping older dungeons relevant, but I suspect that Blizzard anticipated this issue at it is why we're seeing Karazhan coming out with higher gear rewards. Right now, I think most players are going to be decently happy to see 840 pieces, but that's not going to be the case forever, especially as we get into later raid tiers.

In fact, especially given that Mythics require player-built groups and I'm already seeing regular Mythic dungeon runs requiring a higher gear score than the actual gear that drops out of the place, I think it might behoove Blizzard to make Heroic and lower difficulties of newer dungeons more appealing.

Still, whatever solution they come up with, I hope that they aren't discouraged from adding more 5-player content as the expansion goes on. We still don't really have any idea what 7.2 will bring (Nighthold is, theoretically, coming before then - though of course we thought that it would come before 7.1. Not that I'm complaining - it's more that 7.1 is coming early than Nighthold coming late.)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Who's Playing Survival? I Guess I Am.

With my Monk halfway through his required 30 world quests and 2/5 through his last round of class campaign champion missions, I've turned my attentions back to my Hunter. Good old Ordenar was actually my secondary Alliance character when I started, until my Death Knight usurped his position.

While he's sometimes been Marksmanship, I'd say that through most of the dwarf's career he's been all about the Beast Mastery. However, while I'm happy to use Titanstrike (I got the secret appearance but don't have the heart to use a bow when I can be using a gun - where's the alternate gun skin for Thas'dorah, Blizzard?! Funny that I abhor guns in real life but when it comes to fantasy RPGs, I love them,) I've honestly found the Beast Mastery rotation a bit lacking - it's much less about the big burst of a powerful Kill Command and now seems to be a constant maintenance of Dire Beasts.

I've been intrigued by Survival's transformation into a melee spec since it was announced - I've always thought that classes that are pure-ranged or pure-melee and have multiple DPS specs should branch out a bit. Giving Hunters a melee spec makes perfect sense, and if we were designing the game from scratch, it seems obvious to me that Rogues ought to have a ranged spec (in fact, in most games Rogues are primarily a ranged class.)

To be clear - Survival is not what you'd call an elegant spec. There are a lot of overlapping ideas that don't really fit together all that well. You have Mongoose Bite, which is of course at the center of the rotation, but doesn't actually depend at all on your primary resource. There are a bunch of different themes - traps and explosives (a bigger theme if you take Dragonfire Grenade, and why wouldn't you?,) various strikes that do cost Focus, and a bleed ability that I think is mainly there because it was there in vanilla.

Still, with Marksmanship and Beast Mastery both having your sort of wait for the more interesting abilities to light up, Survival will never let you get bored (or complacent.)

Admittedly, I've also taken a selection of talents that adds a bunch of buttons to my rotation - Throwing Axes, Snake Hunter, Dragonfire Grenade.

It also probably doesn't hurt having a melee spec in an expansion where for once things seem to really favor melee dps (though given Beast Mastery still has just as much mobility as it always has, you can't really say that they have a disadvantage.)

I'd guess there are two main reasons you're not seeing a lot of Survival Hunters (though I've seen I think three now in dungeon groups - up from one since the last time I talked about this!) The first is that it's a totally new spec. Outlaw might have gotten its new name, but Survival as a spec has been built from the ground up, making it almost as totally new as Havoc and Vengeance (we'll say it's not quite as much given that there are still things like Freezing and Explosive Trap.) While novelty is not always such a burden (see the popularity of Outlaw and of Demon Hunters) I imagine that a lot of Hunters were already pretty comfortable with their specs as they were, and former Survival Hunters will find more familiar (not totally, but more familiar) territory in the other ranged specs.

The other reason is that yes, this spec is more complicated than the other two. Considerably so. But frankly, while I've mostly been very, very in favor of the class changes that came in 7.0, Beast Mastery and to an extent Marksmanship are stripped down a little too much for my tastes. It's not nearly as bad as Warlords-era Arms Warriors (which was basically just "hit Colossus Smash, wait for Rage. Hit Mortal Strike. Wait for Rage,) but I'm feeling pretty inspired to get into the Survival game.

Also, and I don't know if this is purely just weird stat scaling at low levels, but I seem to be doing way, way more dps as Survival than the other specs.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Comparing Four Tank Specs

I just got my Monk to 110 (I think this expansion I've been leveling more characters to max quicker than I've ever done before. I think a huge part of that is the class campaigns, which give me something truly new to do with each alt.)

Anyway, while my DK and DH have both been flirting with going mainspec DPS this expansion (on LFR, I've been going primarily Havoc and Unholy) I've been starting to gravitate back toward tanking on both of them, especially as it's a hell of a lot easier to get into a Mythic dungeon group when you're a tank.

My Monk, while he's never been anywhere near as top-priority as the Paladin or Death Knight (or Demon Hunter, who very quickly jumped up to my #3 spot,) has, like the Paladin, always been a Tank as his mainspec. You really cannot ignore the amazing and, well, hilarious flavor of the Brewmaster tank, so while I've played around with Windwalker a bit, it's really undeniable that he's a Brewmaster through and through (often going around with the Brewmaster title, though right now he's going with Crashin' Thrashin', which seems to fit even better.)

Anyway, having now tanked a decent amount on four classes (I did a round of five timewalkers with my guild on my Warrior as Protection, but that's about it) I thought I'd talk about them. As a big caveat, the Paladin is definitely better geared than the others, though that gap is shrinking now that my DK and DH are both only one gear slot shy of Brokenly Epic, and in terms of average gear level are only one or two points away from the Paladin. The Paladin is definitely ahead in terms of artifact traits, though. The Monk, on the other hand, is far behind, not yet even doing heroic dungeons.


Given that I've been playing this class and spec for about ten years, tanking on a Paladin is literally the main way I experience World of Warcraft. I try to make sure to take him into every instance first, before doing so on other characters (actually, I cheated tonight taking my Demon Hunter into Mythic Neltharion's Lair - the Paladin hasn't done that or Vault of the Wardens Mythic yet.)

Paladins are, as I've usually found, feeling pretty strong. The natural damage-smoothing of the block mechanic couples well with fairly reliable active mitigation and potent self-healing in the form of Light of the Protector. Having Judgment and Avenger's Shield really helps when you need to pick up threat on distant enemies, and I've found that taking the Blessed Hammer talent gives you a great tool to help get snap-threat and cover entire areas with at least a little threat now that Glyph of the Consecrator is no more.

Having to stand in your Consecration to get the full strength of your defensive abilities does reduce your mobility a little bit, but I think that fights are being designed with a little less mobility required now, and your Consecration is large enough that you'll usually be able to find a spot within it that's open. Also, with Consecration's cooldown but not its duration reduced by Haste as well as artifact traits that increase its duration, you can often have two Consecrations up at a time.

The charge-based system for Shield of the Righteous does require a little more forward-thinking now, but unless the boss has a specific ability that requires active mitgation, you can basically just use it on cooldown (though I recommend using Weak Auras or something similar to track the duration of the buff so that you don't needlessly overlap them - though I think there's a little bit of overlap protection built-in, so it might not be that much of a problem.)

Death Knight:

I really can't get over how smart it was to make Death Strike the Runic Power spending ability, as previously it always felt like a total waste to use runes on anything else. The Marrowrend/Heart Strike choice keeps you thinking about what to do constantly.

I also love the new Blood Boil, as it's a free and very frequently available AoE burst that also applies your spec's disease. Blood Boil is basically the ideal snap-threat ability, totally untargeted and doing a pretty sizable amount of damage in an area.

Death Knights don't have the best ranged-threat options. You can throw your Death and Decay over to distant enemies (and in fact it's very good for grabbing packs) or you can use Death's Caress. Unfortunately, Death's Caress doesn't really do a lot of up-front damage, and so while it's fine if there an add that none of the DPS is going after yet, it's not going to be all that effective at taking attention away from the Hunter who just pulled it with Barrage. Still, there's always Death Grip, and Gorefiend's Grasp as well.

Survival-wise, you've got to get used to using Vampiric Blood more proactively, and the artifact ability Consumption can be a nice burst heal when you're tanking big packs (on single target it's pretty underwhelming.) Still, with a massive health pool and super-powerful self-healing from Death Strike, Blood's also in a pretty good place for survival.

Demon Hunter:

So here we go from the two least-mobile tanks (Paladins and Death Knights are very much "plant your feet" tanks) to the two most mobile.

While I suspect that Death Knights are the most self-healing-focused tank spec, Demon Hunters can't be too far behind. Soul Cleave, especially when you have a decent number of soul fragments out, draws in a massive amount of healing, and like Death Knight's you're going to see your health bar bounce a bit more than some of the other tanks. For that reason, I wonder if Demon Hunters shouldn't have a bigger health pool. My DH and DK are almost at the same gear level (in fact, I think the only piece either has below 840 the chest piece,) but my DK has about 500,000 more health. Granted, Demon Hunters have Demon Spikes while Death Knights really have to rely almost entirely on Death Strike's healing, but I'll tell you that the heal out of Soul Cleave is usually pretty necessary.

Vengeance is fun, but there are definitely some reliability issues - Shear's chance to grant Soul Shards is very hard to predict, and so while you'll sometimes have three out and your Soul Cleave will totally fill you up, other times you'll be getting "raw" Soul Cleaves that are pretty underwhelming. The artifact ability Soul Carver does really help with this, though the 40 second cooldown means it's in that awkward middle ground between being a cooldown and a rotational ability.

Threat-wise, Throw Glaive is very reliable for snap threat, and of course Infernal Strike is great for that too, assuming that positioning isn't going to need to be too precise. Your Sigils are also pretty great utility spells.


With the loss of Guard and a far less reliable Expel Harm, Monks have really focused on the Stagger mechanic. While before Legion, it was pretty exciting to get Stagger above 50%, now you'll spend probably most of your time with a Stagger percentage of 80%. You no longer get any boost to armor or flat damage reduction (which I think would make any bonus armor items extra-powerful for Monks) so Stagger's the thing you've really got to rely on.

Especially with the talent Black Ox Brew (which resets the charges on your Ironskin/Purifying Brew, restores your energy to 100, and is itself a Brew and thus will have its cooldown reduced by Keg Smash and Tiger Palm) you can maintain very high uptime on your active mitigation, Ironskin Brew. This does make fights like Dargrul or Illysanna Ravencrest pretty trivial (unlike for Death Knights, who have to be very precise in timing to make sure their Blood Shield is up.)

Much like Paladins, Monks have to think carefully about their active mitigation abilities, though again, thanks to Black Ox Brew and the ability to actively regenerate your charges, it really only becomes a challenge when you're taking enough damage to start weaving in those Purifying Brews. I've found that from 100 through 109, it was rare that I had enough staggered damage to need a Purifying Brew. Upon hitting the cap, though, running through Halls of Valor again for a class quest saw my stagger bar going yellow and red pretty frequently.

That said, in those cases it was typically my stagger bar that got alarming, and rarely my actual health bar.

So survival is ok, though it'll require a lot more reactive maintenance than it did back when Guard absorbed about a billion damage.

Threat is a little trickier. For enemies in melee range, Keg Smash continues to do massive damage and will keep things glued to you. You also have Breath of Fire as a real part of the rotation, and not just something that you're wasting Chi on. However, while the range on Keg Smash has gotten bigger, grabbing far-away adds is not going to be as easy as it used to, now that Dizzying Haze is gone. You can actually use the artifact ability Flaming Keg to do a big burst of damage at a decent range, but given that it's really more of a defensive cooldown and is also only available once every minute and fifteen seconds, you'll probably want to have other options. There is Crackling Jade Lightning, but the damage it does is pretty pathetic.

In fact, there's really not any AoE ability that doesn't have a bit of a cooldown - Keg Smash and Breath of Fire are both AoE, but won't necessarily be ready when you want them. So there's basically tab-targeting if you get adds streaming in at an inopportune time.

Tanks to Come:

My Druid will probably go Guardian this expansion if I'm not once again torn between that and Balance. My Warrior will probably stick with Arms, but if I decide I really want to take him through Mythic dungeons, I might be inspired to have him go Protection. Hopefully some day my Shaman or Rogue will be able to find Mythic groups that want them (my Shaman in particular is capable of pretty insane DPS these days) but for now I'm pretty happy playing all these tanks.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nintendo Switch: The Big N's New Console

So I'm one of a relatively small number of Wii U owners, and I'll be honest, I've been a little disappointed. I think it's a good console and the games I have for it are good, but there has been so little that I eventually got a PS4 to supplement it (though to be perfectly honest, I haven't been playing a ton of PS4 games either, which might be due to a recent World of Warcraft expansion.)

For that reason I'm a little mixed on my reactions to the announcement of a new Nintendo console, though I realize that, as it releases next year, it will have been about four years since the Wii U, which isn't that unreasonable for a new console.

The Switch's most important feature is that it is a hybrid mobile/console. At home, the Switch will sit in a little stand by your TV and you'll have a conventional controller to play games on the TV. However, you can pull the Switch out of its stand and attach controller-like extensions with joysticks, d-pads, and buttons and then use the console as a mobile device.

Likewise, it appears you'll be able to set up the console on a desk and use a separate controller if that's more comfortable.

In terms of console power, I'd expect this to, as usual, be a step or two behind the other major players. One of the games in the announcement video they showed was Skyrim, which at this point is five years old and two generations behind (still an awesome game.) Still, we've gotten to a point where the difference in graphics is kind of hard to tell from one generation to the next, so I'm not actually that concerned about that anymore. (Also, I'm getting older, so the Xbox 360 still feels pretty current to me even though it's been officially obsolete for a few years now. Jeez, has it really been eleven years since that came out?)

Personally, I'm going to be a little more hesitant this time to pick up the new console (though let's be honest, at some point I'll probably get it) given how disappointing the Wii U library has been. I know that Nintendo is starting to work with other companies a little more (they've got an app coming out for iOS) and perhaps if they can start playing nicer with third parties we might see them reclaiming some of their old territory, but I think that for now, as it has been for a while, Nintendo machines are best for getting Nintendo games, and that means a smaller library.

Still, I'll be following the console closely.

Off Spec Artifacts

When you first start playing in Legion, I really do recommend sticking to one artifact (and therefore spec) for a while. Tanks at least are fine for leveling (I'm bringing up my Brewmaster at the moment, which is only slowing down because I've probably leveled up too many characters in too small a space of time and I'm just not feeling motivated to do Azsuna, which is his last zone to get through,) and I get the impression that healers can also put out enough damage to solo with reasonable efficiency (Paladins get a nice big hammer to smash people with, for one thing.)

Starting really with my Demon Hunter, who I began convinced he'd stick with Havoc, then wound up leveling him as Vengeance, and now have switched back to Havoc, I began to play with the idea of putting artifact power into an off-spec. Since then I've managed to get my Death Knight's Unholy artifact almost as powerful as his Blood one (and I'm even starting to toss some to Frost.)

And it's here that I think I'm beginning to see the cleverness of the artifact power and artifact knowledge system.

There's no cap on acquiring artifact power. If you ground endlessly, you could, in theory, eventually fill out your artifact with the only time limit being how long it takes you to clear random heroics.

The thing is, Blizzard doesn't want people to just get their artifacts fully powered immediately, but putting a cap on power acquisition wouldn't really feel good - you'd have people just hit their cap and stop playing for the week. They want the process to be a long-term progression, and so they make it so that each trait costs an exponentially higher amount (it might not be a strictly smooth exponential curve, but, you know, roughly.)

Artifact knowledge then lets them smooth out that exponential climb into something, if not linear, then at least shallower. At this point on my main, I get 650% additional AP from items I get, and so while I'm facing my next trait costing over 60,000 artifact power, it's a little less daunting when there are world quests giving me 3,000 AP from a single item.

The other really big thing is that if you want to start working on another artifact, you catch up, or at least get close to catching up, very quickly. As I said, I've focused primarily on Blood for my Death Knight. A little later, I started putting some into my Unholy artifact (so far I've been doing LFR as Unholy and dungeons as Blood, and mixing it up while soloing.) It went pretty quickly. Then, the other day, I did some quests in Suramar (he's still got a ways to go to finish that chain - I've only fully completed the zone's 7.0 content on my main) and with only two (admittedly bigger than usual) AP items, I managed to get 9 traits on the Frost artifact.

The point being: right now, if you've been playing since the expansion's launch and at a decent clip, you're probably at a point where your main spec's artifact is getting traits at a snail's pace. When you're looking at 60,000 artifact power to get the next trait, an item that gives you 1,000 isn't really going to blow you away. But if you have another spec that you've been ignoring, that item will get you I believe three traits right off the bat.

The system works pretty well, but I think there's only one potential flaw, which is that artifact knowledge requires resources and a lot of time. There is a slight catch-up mechanic, which is that the farther it's gotten from the expansion's launch, the more of a head start on research you'll get - you might start your research and see that it's immediately a third of the way to being done.

That's a good start, but I wonder if a year from now that means that the first few levels of artifact knowledge are going to have to be basically instantaneous. And given that the order resource cost for this research doesn't change, it will put a heavy burden on newer characters to gather tons of the stuff.

Blizzard has said that they're aware that they might need a more robust catch-up mechanic later on in the expansion's lifecycle, but I imagine we won't be seeing that until a later patch (and not 7.1)

Anyway, sacrificing a bit of AP for an off-spec is not going to set you back too far on your main spec, especially the farther you've gotten along on that main artifact. I'd also recommend getting any relic you can to fill out each slot in your off-specs, as even a 780 green (the highest BoE relic that drops randomly off anything, I believe) is better than nothing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Alliance and Horde in Legion

Mists of Pandaria saw the Alliance and, well, particularly the Horde at their worst - endlessly bursting into conflict, destroying the peace of the land, and escalating small local conflicts (specifically the Hozen and Jinyu in Jade Forest) into much larger and deadlier conflicts.

By contrast, Warlords of Draenor saw both factions at their best. Ignoring Ashran (which was really just an excuse for PvP,) the two factions cooperated just fine in the attack on the Dark Portal and spent the expansion either staying out of each others' ways (setting up garrisons on opposite sides of the continent) or again, cooperating (such as in the battle at Shattrath.)

While I'd attribute the swift success against the Iron Horde partially to the fact that the Iron Horde thought it had an advantage when it didn't (oh, you have modern technology? From our world and time period? That we invented? Yeah, we'll never see that coming,) you could also chalk it up to the Alliance and Horde both focusing their efforts on taking down a common foe. (You can also attribute it to Blizzard's ill-advised "expansion a year" goal, but that's getting a little too meta.)

But in Legion, the factions are kind of there and kind of not.

Val'sharah has plenty of stuff for two major Alliance leaders to do, but Malfurion has always been one of the most Horde-tolerant Alliance leaders (to the extent that a lot of Night Elves decided he was a traitor) and while Tyrande is not as tolerant as her husband, the story of Val'sharah is far less about factions fighting factions than protecting the world from what is sort of the fantasy equivalent of an environmental disaster, along with a personal story of an ancient grudge. So Tyrande is not happy about Horde players wandering the forest, but she's also perfectly willing to accept their help in order to rescue Malfurion and salvage the absolute catastrophe going on there.

The only place in Legion where we've seen a clear faction conflict is in Stormheim, and in fact, this conflict is really the zone's B-plot.

Alliance players are sent there with two goals - to secure the Aegis of Aggramar, sure, but also to attack Sylvanas. Genn Greymane is leading this mission, and not only was he the last friend Varian talked to before he died - an event that the Alliance has no way of knowing wasn't simply Sylvanas betraying them and leaving them to the Legion - but he also, of course, has a history of hating Sylvanas for some pretty legitimate reasons.

Horde players are actually kind of left in the dark about what Sylvanas' intentions were. Having done the zone on an Alliance character first, I was actually pretty disappointed that Horde players really don't know anything more about Sylvanas' deal with Helya and what she was trying to get out of Eyir.

Ultimately, Stormheim winds up as a win for the Alliance, as Genn manages to stop Sylvanas from achieving what she had hoped to do, which was presumably to enslave Eyir and force her to provide the Forsaken with an endless supply of Val'kyr so there could always be new Forsaken.

Genn didn't kill Sylvanas, though she nearly killed him. Still, it counts as a win for the Alliance given that the Alliance only had the simple goal of making sure that Sylvanas failed.

Genn is a king, and has his own kingdom of people (in exile - actually the state of Gilneas right now is kind of ambiguous, though if we treat the Battle for Gilneas battleground as canon, it's still subject to ongoing conflict.) But Genn certainly does not represent the Alliance as a whole. One gets the sense that Genn is operating mostly within the parameters of the mission given by Anduin (we still don't know if he's officially High King at this point, but given that Stormwind is clearly the most powerful faction within the Alliance, that might be a moot issue.) Sure, his attack on Sylvanas' ships is not exactly what you'd call "the situation demanding it," but one doubts that many within the Alliance are going to be opposed to an attack on Sylvanas (though the loss of the Skyfire stings a bit.)

The situation is a bit more complicated with Sylvanas. She is Warchief now - not just a leader of the Forsaken, but the entire Horde. That was a hell of a dicey move by Vol'jin, given how poorly things turned out when his predecessor's predecessor chose his predecessor.

Sylvanas operates almost entirely independently - you travel to Stormheim with her, but she very quickly goes off to do her own thing while her second-in-command, Nathanos Blightcaller (who for some reason now has a Human Death Knight model instead of a standard Undead model like he used to) is the one you interact with more. (While I don't know if undead still feel physical attraction, it wouldn't surprise me if, perhaps in life, Sylvanas and Nathanos were a bit more than mentor and protege, given how they interact in Legion. Also, it would mean that the Windrunner sisters are all really into humans.)

Other than the player character, the Stormheim operation is entirely a Forsaken one (and including the player if you're Undead.) Now obviously Sylvanas is more accustomed to having her own people work for her (the Forsaken, at least until Sylvanas became Warchief, were the most independent sub-faction of all the playable races,) but I've got to say it doesn't really reflect well on her as Warchief that she went off and focused on this personal mission while she's presumably supposed to be coordinating the Horde's ongoing efforts to fight off the Legion.

The real question I have, then, is what exactly the role that the Alliance and Horde factions are going to play in Legion as things go on. It's possible that they're not going to do much - Blizzard said that one of the motivations for the various class orders to mobilize is that while the major factions get distracted in both defending their own lands and fighting each other, someone has got to step up and bear the burden.

It's a bit like how the campaign against Arthas was certainly supported by the Alliance and Horde, but the Argent Crusade and the Knights of the Ebon Blade were really the ones who ensured the victory. Indeed, the former has rebranded back to the old Knights of the Silver Hand while the Ebon Blade is also back on the scene, along with ten other factions (actually, we really can't ignore the Kirin Tor's role in Northrend, even if they were maybe more focused on Malygos - and they're back too!)

Right now, having finished the quests in Stormheim, the only place where the factions pop up (again, ignoring the "all are welcome" druids in Val'sharah) is in the various little PvP world quest areas.

Still, we've got a lot of expansion to go through, if Blizzard is to be believed, and in fact, with the Nightfallen story getting wrapped up in 7.1 and the eventual (they say early 2017) release of the Nighthold raid, and with Helya and Odyn wrapped up in Trial of Valor, there's not actually that many loose ends left in the Broken Isles before we need to head to the Tomb of Sargeras.

Curveballs happen, of course, like the Zandalari in 4.1 (particularly shocking given that there were friendly Zandalari NPCs in the Stranglethron Vale quests that came with 4.0 that were all about stopping the people that their faction would later support in the very next patch.) But I wonder if perhaps the story of Genn vs Sylvanas is not over yet - perhaps we've only seen round one.

I'm not saying we need to focus everything on the faction conflict, though. In fact, it's actually nice to think of this as being one sub-faction versus another sub-faction while most people on both sides want to set aside their animosity to focus on stopping the Legion. But it's complicated by the fact that one of the so-called sub-faction leaders is also the leader of the entire Horde. So we'll see.

For now, I'm pretty happy about helping the Nightfallen resistance, and I'm very eager to see what comes next in 7.1 (I just got Good Suramaritarian, which also gave me Loremaster of the Broken Isles, which in turn gave me Broken Isles Pathfinder Part One. So I'm ready to get to the next chapter.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Rift of Aln: Emerald Nightmare Wing Three Impressions

As is the tradition begun with Warlords, the final wing of the LFR raids is the final boss on its own. I wonder if they'll go that route with Trial of Valor, as that would leave only two bosses for the other wing, but we'll find out in... well, three weeks (actually maybe more given that LFR usually comes out after Normal mode.)

The fight here is against Xavius, and as often happens on LFR, particularly when a new wing comes out and everyone brings their mains, who vastly overpower the fight, some of the mechanics got lost in the churn.

But let's talk trash first:

The Rift of Aln is featureless. It's a grey void with a haze of fog around where you're standing.

Within the fog are several minor-Sha-like Nightmare monsters. Attacking them actually sends them away, but then you start to get waves of three elite monsters (either "medium Sha" like monsters or faceless ones) which you'll need to kill.

Eventually, Xavius steps out of the fog, but unlike his rather conventional Satyr look we saw in Val'Sharah (which was really more of a quasi-independent avatar that we destroyed in Darkheart Thicket,) the true Xavius has grown misshapen and monstrous.

There are two major interacting mechanics in the Xavius fight. The first is Corruption - many of Xavius' abilities will cause Corruption to build on players hit by them. You have a little meter at the bottom of the screen to track this.

Hitting various levels of Corruption has various effects (this should all be familiar if you remember the Cho'gall or Sha of Pride fights.) Upon hitting 100%, you'll get a big damage buff for I want to say 30 seconds, but afterward you'll become mind-controlled for the rest of the fight.

However, there's another mechanic at play, which is Dreamstate. At the start of the fight and I think every three minutes, the Dream of Ysera will put roughly half the raid into a Dreamstate. Their bodies will drop to the ground and fall asleep while they will be able to go about as a sort of dream avatar that can do all the things they'd normally do.

If you die in the dreamstate, you simply wake up, and any corruption you suffered during the dreamstate is wiped clear. I don't know what happens if you get to 100% corruption in the dreamstate, but I assume that you simply wake up. It also wears off after 3 minutes.

The trick to the fight is making sure that players who are dreaming are the ones dealing with the corruption. Tanks who are dreaming will pick up adds that cause corruption to their targets, dreaming healers will dispel debuffs that cause corruption to the dispeller, and dps will kill other adds that cause corruption upon death.

Either we pulled off this fight better than I could have hoped for or I was doing something wrong, because I don't think I ever got above 25% corruption.

Upon beating Xavius, you're actually transported to the heart of the dream, which has now been purified (mostly.) You can actually capture a special battle pet in here, which is a Dream Whelpling. You'll also see the Dreams of various bosses you killed, who are now released from the madness. Following Ysera, however, you will find a cave where there is a strange flower that has a void portal above it, called Remnant of the Void. I think the druids are going to have to keep a very close watch on that thing.

Helya, the Shadowlands, and the Scourge

Warcraft Chronicle Volume 1 solidified a lot of the backstory of the Warcraft setting. Perhaps the most profound way this was done was setting up a kind of hierarchy of different primordial forces and planes. Moving from the outside in, we started with the six forces of Light, Chaos, Death, Shadow/Void, Order, and Life, each with affiliated representatives and its own branch of magic. We then had the Elements, including the usual four as well as the opposed forces of Spirit (a kind of binding element that allows the four familiar ones to operate in harmony, which is called Chi by the Pandaren) and Decay (the tool of Dark Shamans, which is all about force and discord.)

Right before we got to the familiar, physical world, we had two realms: the similarly familiar Emerald Dream and the new concept of The Shadowlands.

WoW, along with pretty much every fantasy RPG, borrows a ton from the granddaddy of pen-and-paper RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons. Within D&D, there is a similar concept of the Feywild - a realm of verdant fae magic, and the Shadowfell, a dark and twisted version of the real world where everything is in a state of decay and despair.

Clearly, the Emerald Dream and the Shadowlands fit into this mold, though with some Warcraft-specific touches.

In fact, the Shadowlands have been visitable in-game since at least Wrath of the Lich King, and depending on your interpretation, the realm has probably been in-game since it began.

My understanding, which is supported by lore in Chronicle and is something I'll probably touch on later in this post, is that any time you die in-game and find yourself roaming a darkened version of the world as you run back to where your body was, this is actually the Shadowlands.

Some quests involving Death Knights and the Scourge also take you into the Shadowlands, and in this case it's more explicit. Death Knights get their Acherus Deathcharger by stealing a horse from the Scarlet Crusade and allowing Salanar the Horseman to transform the horse into a deathcharger by taking it into the Shadowlands. Likewise, Horde players are sent by Koltira Deathweaver into the Shadowlands during quests in Dragonblight.

Let's talk about the val'kyr.

The val'kyr were originally created by the Titan Keeper Odyn with the following purpose: After Keepr Tyr enlisted the aid of the five proto-drakes who would become the Dragon Aspects to fight off Galakrond, he went to his fellow Keepers and suggested that they be empowered to serve as protectors of the world. Everyone agreed except for Odyn. Why? Because proto-drakes were not Titan creations. They were essentially highly complex elementals that had gradually evolved naturally into organic life. Odyn believed that only the Titanforged races should be elevated with any sort of Titanic power. Despite the fact that Odyn was, at the time, the "Prime Designate" among the Keepers, he was overruled and thus the dragon aspects were created.

Odyn, whose Halls of Valor were originally a part of the large Ulduar complex in Northrend, had his halls torn out of the foundations and elevated into whatever realm within which they now reside. He did this with the help of his favorite vrykul (remember, vrykul are a Titanforged race,) a sorceress named Helya.

Helya was incredibly powerful. Despite being a "mortal" (though this was before the Curse of Flesh, so she was probably only quasi-mortal,) she worked alongside the Keepers. She assisted Ra-Den in creating the Elemental Planes, to the extent that they basically get co-author credit for that project.

So it was Helya who actually helped Odyn relocate the Halls of Valor. In fact, she may have even created a demiplane in which to put it. The Halls of Valor don't really seem to be within the physical world of Azeroth after all. And Helya had experience with crafting entire planes.

Odyn decided that the protectors of Azeroth should be Titanforged, and so he came up with the following strategy: the vrykul (he seemed to have a particular fondness for this race, though it also makes sense as the vrykul were specifically created as the Titans' foot soldiers) who fought valiantly and died in glorious battle would be elevated and given new stormforged bodies to serve as his Valarjar - his champions.

But recovering the souls of these warriors meant traveling to the Shadowlands - the realm where the souls of the dead go.

Odyn needed people that could go to the Shadowlands and retrieve these souls. And so he took Helya, a person who was like a daughter to him, and forced her against her will to become the first Val'kyr.

This shocking action turned Helya's affection for the Keeper into resentful hatred. Eventually, she cursed Odyn, trapping him and his Valarjar within the Halls of Valor and created her own demiplane - Helheim. In revenge against Odyn, she began taking the souls of the fallen vrykul - whether they were valorous or not - and transformed them not into stormforged Valarjar, but instead into the Kvaldir.

Obviously, we deal with this quite a bit within Stormheim, briefly getting trapped in Helheim and then returning to make an attack on Helya by boarding the Naglfar. Helya retreats from this battle, but presumably in the Trial of Valor raid we will face her where she has nowhere left to run.

There are a few interesting issues that get raised here:

First off, if we assume the Helheim is actually within the Shadowlands, she is actually in a strange way returning things to the way they're meant to be. Odyn was the one who interrupted the natural process of the souls of the dead going where the dead are supposed to be. That being said, the Shadowlands don't really seem like a great place, so I can't say that it's such a bad thing that he started rearranging the afterlife in this way.

But I think we also really have to think about how this ties into the events on Northrend. Wrath of the Lich King introduced both the Val'kyr and the Kvaldir. At the time I think most of us just assumed the Val'kyr were a creation of the Lich King's, and the Kvaldir, while cool, were really left unexplained.

But consider this: the Lich King was copying Helya and Odyn, twisting the vrykul warrior culture that had been cultivated by Odyn in the first place, but putting himself in Odyn's position. The trials of combat that the Lich King encouraged among the vrykul were to qualify them to serve as the Ymirjar - which has a similar construction to the Valarjar.

Let's also consider the following: the Lich King had basically become the master of the Shadowlands. There's a speech that the Lich King gives during an Alliance quest in Howling Fjord. It's actually tough to get this speech because it involves visiting the spirit world (presumably the Shadowlands) with the help of a Draenei Shaman, but there are Val'kyr everywhere that will boot you back into the physical world if they touch you. You need to approach the Lich King within the spirit world and he will capture you and then kill you effortlessly after giving you a speech about how he has managed to take total control of this realm of reality.

The Kvaldir are not technically classified as undead, but they sure seem a lot like it. While questing through Stormheim and getting to the Helheim quests on my Death Knight, I had this sense of "wow, I really feel at home here."

Unfortunately, I don't really have a grand unifying theory here - it just seems that the Lich King absolutely knew about Helya and Odyn and their whole drama, and was taking it as inspiration to help bolster the Scourge. Was he usurping Helya's position? And is the new Lich King also doing so? Consider that Helya seems very focused on keeping her prisoners trapped in Helheim and then the fact that Bolvar refers to himself as the Jailor of the Damned.

Could it be that the reason we saw Kvaldir attacking Northrend's coasts was that they were trying to take on the Lich King for stealing Helya's thunder?

One of the big reasons I want to see more class content in Legion is that I feel like Death Knights have to do something special with Helheim. It just seems like the perfect place for them to operate, and given that we're about to fight Helya presumably for the last time, I'd really like to see if there's more to this connection than just having similar MOs.

Monday, October 17, 2016

In Ny'alotha There is Only Sleep

First off, there are some spoilers for the end of the Emerald Nightmare raid coming up. I have not personally experienced the end of that raid yet (though check again on Tuesday when the Rift of Aln LFR wing opens up) but I'm a terrible spoiler junkie, so I've already heard a bit about what happens after we fight Xavius.

Just to be safe, I'll put up a spoiler cut here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

7.1 Releases on October 25th!

Well, color me surprised: it turns out that 7.1's Return to Karazhan patch will release in a mere eleven days. As a quick recap, here's what to expect:

Return to Karazhan:

We're getting a Mythic-only 5-player dungeon at Karazhan. To be clear, this is not replacing the raid. The entrance will be elsewhere on the tower. This dungeon has nine bosses. Some of the bosses will be familiar, like the Opera Event (though this gets new "plays,") Maiden of Virtue, Moroes, Attumen the Huntsman, and the Curator. However, the second half of the dungeon will be very different, with new bosses and an upside-down version of the Library. The gear rewards will range from 855 to 860, as this dungeon is intended to be somewhat more of a challenge than other Mythics.

The Karazhan dungeon will also have a set of quests in Deadwind Pass that will allow players to attune to the dungeon, though I'm given to understand these won't be terribly time-consuming.

Trial of Valor:

This is a three-boss raid that has us first prove ourselves again to Odyn, then march into Helheim and take down the three-headed Helhound Guarm and then finally slay Helya. The raid will not open up immediately, instead there will be a two-week delay after the patch goes live. I'm still not sure what the gear rewards are for this.

Suramar Campaign Quests:

New quests, probably unlocking on a weekly basis, will show up in Suramar to lay the groundwork for the Nighthold raid. Given that the raid is technically-sort-of a 7.0 feature, we shouldn't have to wait for a patch to get it opened, so Nighthold could arrive at any time (though I'd imagine that they'd give Trial of Valor a month or two before Nighthold opens.)

Tons of Other Changes!

As with any major patch, we're going to see plenty of class tweaks and such. I believe there's going to be a Blood of Sargeras vendor to whom you can trade blood for other crafting materials.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Blizzcon 2016 Schedule Released

Blizzard's mostly annual proprietary convention is coming next month, and they have just released the schedule. Of course, these schedules can sometimes give you a good clue to where their various games are going and if there's something exciting to anticipate.

There are several "What's Next" panels, which frequently imply expansions, though I've learned to take that with a grain of salt after being very confident in a new Diablo III expansion for previous Blizzcons. Also, the World of Warcraft "What's Next" panel specifically refers to World of Warcraft: Legion, and given that the company has made it clear that they're going to focus on really ensuring that Legion has legs, I honestly think even hinting at the expansion to follow Legion would not be met by a good response - something that they're aware of.

So let's break it down by franchise.


Hearthstone gets updates at a pretty good rate and is a huge cash cow for Blizzard. We just got a new adventure, so I'd expect to hear about a new expansion this time around. No hints as to what that will be so far, as far as I know.

Heroes of the Storm:

Heroes just added new maps (which I haven't actually played yet) and new characters. Much like Hearthstone, though, additions to the game come at a pretty regular pace, rather than big bursts. So I'd expect them to announce a couple of new heroes and possibly a map, as well as new skins of course.


Diablo's 20th anniversary is coming up. Diablo III is also very much ready for a new expansion, or perhaps we're ready for Diablo IV. I don't see a ton of Diablo panels, though, so I'll remain skeptical.


Starcraft has a "Foundations for the Future" panel. Obviously the grand Starcraft II trilogy has come to a conclusion (and frankly, the plot really seems tied up in a definitive way) so I am curious about what their plan for the future of the franchise is. Granted, the original Starcraft persisted as a popular multiplayer game basically until Starcraft II came out (and may even still be played) so I would bet that Blizzard's focus is going to be on tending to the multiplayer side of things.


Like Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, Overwatch is a game that gets frequent updates, and so I wouldn't expect to see a huge thing like an expansion or sequel yet. Instead I'd expect to maybe hear about new game modes, maps, and characters that will filter in over time.


Legion just came out a month and a half ago, and they're also making it clear that they're going to stick with this expansion for the long haul (fingers crossed they succeed at that) and so the idea of hearing about the next expansion is basically a 0% probability. In fact, I'm not even sure that we're going to hear about the second raid tier, as I imagine that the Nighthold raid won't even be open yet at that point, given that we'll be getting Trial of Valor in between Emerald Nightmare and Nighthold. 7.1 will probably come out some time before the end of the year, but not necessarily before Blizzcon. Still, if they wanted to reassure players, announcing content to follow the release of Nighthold would be very welcome.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Withered Army Training

After questing a bit for the Nightfallen in Suramar, you will eventually unlock a world quest that shows up roughly every three days. This allows you to play through a solo scenario in which you lead forces through the ruins of Falanaar.

Each time you show up, you'll want to bring at least 400 Ancient Mana. I recommend going in with 500, because if you aren't keeping up with Thalyssra, she'll probably need to be fed so she can interact with you. The extra 50 I recommend bringing for Valtrois, because her buff both is very helpful in the scenario and also helps you recoup some if not all of the Ancient Mana spent (in fact, you might even make a profit.)

So why do this scenario?

First off, you'll get gear (though its quality drops off a bit if you're decently geared in other ways.) You'll also get lots of toys and reputation with the Nightfallen - I'm closest to Exalted on them thanks in large part to this scenario.

Additionally, and frankly my main motivation, is that Protection Paladins, Blood Death Knights, and Windwalker Monks have a chance (it's small - I've done this every available time on my Paladin for about a month and have yet to see it) to get the hidden artifact appearance for their spec out of the chest you receive at the end of the scenario.

The chest at the end gives more reputation the higher you score, and you get a higher score by killing enemies inside the scenario. I've done a couple of full clears and still have yet to get the hidden appearance, so don't hold your breath.

So how does it work?

Based on the amount of Ancient Mana you bring, you'll get a number of Withered Exiles who will follow you around. The minimum is 400 Ancient Mana which gives you 8 Withered. These guys will follow you and fight alongside you. You can command them to go Berserk, increasing their damage and having them attack everything in sight, or you can have them simply follow you and attack things you attack. I find it's easier to keep them alive if I keep them on the Follow setting (which is the default.)

Withered cannot be healed, so you really need to play carefully to avoid getting them killed. Using stuns, knockbacks, and interrupts will be very important when dealing with a number of enemies.

Over the course of the scenario, you will find many friendly Withered who can be recruited by right-clicking them. They will be added to your troops and follow you like the ones you started with. Starting with only 8, I've managed to amass at one point 40 Withered, though I would not hold out expectations for this kind of army on your first run.

You will want to keep as many Withered with you as possible for many reasons. First, they will attack your enemies, and when you get a sizable army they do a massive amount of damage.

Second, there are several doors that require at least 10 Withered in your army to open. You will find tough enemies as well as important treasures (we'll get to those next) in these rooms. There is also one door that requires two Withered Berserkers, which we'll get to below.

Third, there are several chests to be found around the scenario. Small chests can simply be opened and will spawn randomly, even in the middle of the scenario, though these usually don't have more than gold and a bit of Ancient Mana. However, there are larger chests that you only need to loot once (ever, not just in that particular scenario.) These chests will contain toys as well as items that enhance your Withered Army the next time your run the scenario. However, in order to open these, you have to send a number of your Withered, either 5 or 10 depending on the chest, to haul it back, meaning that your army will shrink.

I highly, highly recommend grabbing any chest you can in this manner, as many of them contain items that will either increase the health or damage of your Withered or they will give a member of your initial group a set of special abilities, transforming them into Starcallers, Mana-Ragers, or Berserkers, which vastly increases their damage and give them new abilities (Berserkers also taunt targets, though I always taunt back as they get themselves killed pretty quickly if they're taking the enemies' attacks.)

Strategically, I recommend picking up chests and also opening any doors you can with your 10 Withered but not actually going in until you have opened all the doors. There is one door early on that requires two Berserkers (and that room is a positive abattoir) and another in the initial temple building that requires 10 of any Withered. Farther into the ruins, there are two doors that require 10 that lead to "bosses" (just tough enemies with names) and another that leads to a big chest and three friendly Withered.

Once you get into the large central chamber, you will - at a random time - get attacked by a Nightborne assassin named Leystalker Dro. Killing him will give you a key that is needed to progress further, through a door that you would have passed going to the other "boss" rooms.

Going through this locked room, you will find a chamber with several eggs. Upon clearing the Fal'dorei from there, a door opposite the room you just came in will open up (that previously appeared to be non-interactive) and you will be able to fight Elfbreaker, an Ettin who is probably the toughest of the bosses. You'll also get a constant stream of little spiders until you follow a set of stairs up to the final boss, who is a large spider.

One key thing for this scenario is that you're not expected to make it through the first time. Think of it as a progression, and try to find and get those big chests each time, as it will make the next time go smoother. At this point, I've been able to finish the scenario with a 30-strong Withered Army, but it took me many, many attempts to get to the end.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Timewalking Rewards in 7.0

Well, we've got our first Timewalking weekly event, bringing us Timewalking versions of Burning Crusade dungeons. I'm eager to take my Demon Hunter through them this week (having orcs cry "Lok'tar Illidari" and Naga shouting "Illidan Reigns" should be pretty ironic for an Illidan loyalist who is fighting them.)

Timewalking dungeon rewards are 820, which is probably going to be pretty underwhelming if you've been running mythic dungeons, but if you have a fresh 110 or even someone who's still getting stuff out of heroics, it should be a really potent catch-up to let you start running LFR and the like.

However, unless you're quite the hardcore raider, there's a pretty good reason to run your 5 dungeons on your well-geared characters. Archmage Timear will reward you with a Seal of Broken Fate, an AP item that yields a fairly high amount (I think it's on par with the ones that drop off raid bosses) and most importantly, a Cache of Nightmare Treasures, which contains a normal-mode 850 epic item. While I might have been disappointed that I got a helmet when my own helmet is 855, I was happy to get the Paladin tier-lookalike helmet, so I'm satisfied.

Timewalking dungeons are pretty undertuned at the moment - they might be tuned appropriately to our level, but don't seem to compensate for the fact that we also have artifact weapons, and thus are performing far better than we would with ordinary weapons.

Also, yes, Black Morass is still in the rotation, despite the fact that we already have Violet Hold 2.0 among the normal Legion dungeons. Frankly I really wish they'd replace Black Morass with Old Hillsbrad, as I think nearly everyone preferred that dungeon back in the day.

There's no new LFR wing this week, but next week we'll have The Rift of Aln, which contains the Xavius boss fight and will allow players who are on the raid quest step of the Suramar quest chain to progress further.

Also, for those of us trying to get the Unleashed Monstrosities achievement, unfortunately this week's world boss is Withered J'im again, though I can't complain too much as a number of my characters have gotten loot off of him.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Is Anyone Playing Survival?

Players often gravitate toward whatever spec is considered "best" at the moment, particularly when their class is a pure-DPS class. When I step into my class hall on my Mage, I find myself greeted with thousands of flame-orbs floating above my fellow Mages' heads. I do see a fair number of Arcane players as well, but my Frost spec seems to be the minority at the moment, despite the fact that, at least for a fresh 110, he's doing perfectly respectable damage.

I have not done much on my Hunter yet this expansion. He is Beast Mastery spec, and so I've got Titanstrike (as a Dwarf hunter, I'm relieved that his spec's artifact is a gun - using bows and crossbows just seems wrong) and I've done the Illidari quests that start off Azsuna.

The expansion has been out for over a month now and I've run many, many dungeons, grouping with many different people. And I can think of exactly one time that I ran a dungeon with a Survival Hunter. And unfortunately, I couldn't get a sense of how well the spec was performing because the player would literally refuse to DPS on trash and I suspect was only half paying attention even on boss fights.

To be certain, Survival has changed probably more than any other preexisting spec in Legion - even those that were entirely overhauled like Demonology. For the first time ever, or maybe Vanilla, there is a Hunter melee spec.

The thing is, new stuff does not usually turn people off this much. Of course there are people who like to play something as close to their old spec as they can manage, and thus a lot of Hunters who got into the Hunter class in the first place because it was a ranged option will want to stick to the two ranged specs. But even with specs that have changed profoundly, like the aforementioned Demonology or Enhancement or Outlaw, which doesn't even have the same name anymore, people have been eager to try them out.

Of course, part of this is damage potential - Outlaw has shown itself to have some very powerful damage potential, as have Enhancement and Demonology. But I honestly do not have any idea what a well-played Survival Hunter can put out, damage-wise because I just plain haven't seen anyone except that one example actually playing it.

I did try it out a bit once 7.0 dropped. In fact, my Goblin Hunter, who likely won't go to the Broken Isles for long, long time, is sticking with it as his main spec (he may not be able to use guns anymore, but he does get to throw grenades and explosive traps, which make up for not getting Explosive Shot.) My impression of the spec is that it is certainly flawed, but it's also arguably more engaging than Marksmanship or Beast Mastery, which have both been simplified significantly in 7.0.

Still, the flaws are not to be ignored. One major flaw, I think, is the lack of interactivity between abilities. Mongoose Bite is entirely divorced from the Focus resource, and while Flanking Strike does double your chance to set off your mastery and thus generate more Mongoose Bite charges, it still feels a bit like you've got two rather simple rotations you're performing at once rather than one unified one.

There's also the fact that Lacerate feels like an entirely tacked on ability that is only there because of nostalgia.

Still, I think the idea of a hunter using a spear does fulfill a fantasy that has been absent from the game, and I'm kind of shocked that people are so hesitant to try it out. Even if Survival has serious damage issues, you would think you'd see at least some players choosing the spec for fun, rather than numbers (something that I always strongly advocate.)

I'm almost tempted, once I hit 102 on my Hunter, to start going Survival as a main spec, just so that I can see what the spec is capable of doing. Sure, I'll miss having my Exotic pets, but I'm currently using a mechanical one, which is available to all specs.

Still, I think my Monk is next in the line-up. Then it'll just be the Hunter, Druid, and Priest and I'll have really lived up to the name of the blog.

The Relative Heroism or Villainy of Illidan Stormrage

Illidan Stormrage is at the center of the Legion expansion, despite the fact that he has spent the entirety of it so far dead. At our hands. Yes, Illidan was the headliner to the Burning Crusade expansion, and indeed much of the expansion felt like a build-up to our ultimate confrontation with him, though Blizzard was still figuring out expansion pacing at the time (and given Warlords of Draenor, still screws this up on occasion) and so the raid with Illidan was actually released in BC's first major content patch, which led to a need for the Sunwell Plateau raid that came if I recall correctly in early 2008.

As a newcomer to the Warcraft universe when the Burning Crusade expansion was launched (I had only been playing WoW for a couple months and had not yet played any of the RTS games,) I really didn't have a sense of who Illidan was, and in fact sort of assumed that he was the ultimate villain of the games based on the expansion's launch trailer (I knew he was a demon and only learned far later that he was ever not one.)

In all honesty, the storytelling in Burning Crusade was not terribly clear - Blood Elf players would level up through their starting zones as loyalists to Kael'thas, and even get to Hellfire Peninsula still believing the propaganda that Outland was some paradise, and there wasn't really a clear moment when it became clear that Kael'thas had sold out to the Legion - we just kind of started fighting his followers when we got to Netherstorm. Likewise, it wasn't entirely clear what relationship the Burning Legion had with the Illidari forces - for example, the Fel Horde under Warchief Kargath Hellscream was loyal to Illidan (who had provided them with Magitheridon and his potent Pit Lord blood) and yet also seemed to be working with the Legion proper.

The image that we get in Legion is one in which Illidan is clearly a hero, even if he is an anti-hero. Yes, he has done some terrible things, but all in the interest of saving Azeroth (or even just Tyrande.) We get an image of Illidan as someone who has dedicated everything he is to stopping the Legion, and indeed creating a new class that was founded on that principle (the folks at Blizzard Watch pointed out something really cool about the scenario at Black Rook Hold that is part of the Light's Heart quest chain, which is that as you play as Illidan when he was a mage in the early stages of the War of the Ancients, the various techniques he unlocks after draining his followers are actually just Arcane versions of various Demon Hunter abilities - clearly Illidan took these techniques and adapted them to use Fel magic.)

In fact, during the Light's Heart quest chain, Xe'ra actually speaks about you, the player, being the one who needs redemption for killing him (I've completed this chain on my main, who has done Black Temple, and my Demon Hunter, who actually has as well, but apparently the class-specific quest text took precedence, as Xe'ra made no admonishment. Given that any Demon Hunter's clear of Black Temple is automatically non-canonical - as at that very moment your character is doing the starting experience on Mardum - it makes sense that they wouldn't blame you for Illidan's death.)

Now, here's the thing: was our act of slaying Illidan Stormrage in Outland really wrong? Certainly, given the foretold role he will play in defeating the Burning Legion, it may have been ultimately ill-advised, but was Illidan really just a good guy whom we were too blind and self-righteous to see for what he was?

I think the first thing to consider is that if Illidan had a secret plan to defeat the Legion and he wasn't sharing it with, say, the Draenei, that was a pretty serious oversight. Illidan was exiled after the Third War, and he did have plenty of reason to distrust his fellow Night Elves, but surely the greater Alliance and the Horde were more likely to hear him out. After all, at this point Warlocks had been contributing to Alliance and Horde victories for a few years.

Instead, Illidan decided that he would rule over Outland. He did some important services, like closing the portals left open by Ner'zhul and wresting control of the Black Temple away from Magtheridon. Why, then, did he attempt to conquer Shattrath City? The Scryers were initially a contingent of Blood Elves under orders from Illidan to take over Shattrath, who instead turned after their leader experienced a vision from the Naaru.

In fact, it was the Naaru who sent us to deal with Illidan in the first place, which makes the admonishment from Xe'ra feel particularly unfair.

Beyond helping to create a new batch of Fel Orcs and acting like a despot in Outland, we also have to talk about the events of the Frozen Throne.

Now, aside from the Founding of Durotar campaign, no one really winds up looking great in the Frozen Throne expansion of Warcraft III. Actually, maybe we should just say that no one winds up looking great in the Frozen Throne. Ironically, if there's a clearly heroic character in it, it's probably Kael'thas Sunstrider. Many WCIII players were shocked to discover that Kael'thas had become one of the most vile monsters in the Burning Crusade expansion, given that in the game in which he was introduced, he seemed to have nothing but noble motivations.

Still, the main conflict in the Frozen Throne is that between the Illidari and the Scourge. Illidan manages to take over Outland, but almost immediately he is confronted by Kil'jaeden, who tells him that Illidan must go and destroy the Lich King or face immediate eradication.

So Illidan's motivations for taking on the Scourge are not exactly noble - he's not trying to save Azeroth from the undead menace. He's mostly just trying to save his own hide, and is actually doing the will of one of his main supposed adversaries.

Did he have a choice? Probably not. Still, this is collaboration, not resistance.

In fact, when we come to Outland, it appears that Illidan is in a total panic, with the Legion closing in on him (when his forces don't seem mixed up with theirs, as I mentioned earlier.) During one quest chain in Shadowmoon Valley, Illidan makes one of his rare appearances, yelling out that not even Arthas could defeat him, and thus we wouldn't stand much of a chance.

Which is of course just plain incorrect. By any measure, Arthas did defeat him. Because Arthas went on to become the Lich King while Illidan's forces beat a hasty retreat to Outland.

So it does appear there are some inconsistencies. The Illidan portrayed in the Burning Crusade (albeit just barely portrayed at all,) was something of a gangland kingpin whose empire was collapsing, not the all-business man-with-a-plan badass that we're seeing portrayed in Legion.

It's been nearly ten years, and I don't blame Blizzard for wanting to do a little rewriting of the story, especially if they want to make Illidan a central part of this expansion. And to be fair, it's not like they're suddenly making him into Mr. Nice Guy. While they're shifting him from villain to anti-hero (a fence he was already kind of straddling) they're not suddenly saying his heart was as pure as Uther the Lightbringer's.

But I hereby throw a little sass back at Xe'ra for being so judgmental about our raid on the Black Temple. Illidan might not be the most deplorable villain we've ever faced, but I don't think that we should look back on everything we did in Burning Crusade as one huge mistake. Ok, maybe Zul'Aman. That was purely just invading another civilization's capital and killing its people for pants.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Future of Artifact Weapons

Blizzard has made it clear that artifact weapons are going to be a Legion-only thing. And honestly, that makes sense. They've really up-ended one of the core systems to the game, though I've got to say that they did it in a fairly smooth way.

As someone whose main uses two different pieces of equipment in his hands (a melee weapon and a shield) I can definitely say that it pleases my OCD tendencies that both items are always at the same item level (granted, it's less pleasing that I still have a blue-quality relic in the Arcane slot, even though I know that relics are actually only a third as important as any other piece of gear.)

We're still early in this expansion - an expansion that Blizzard claims is planned to take longer than previous expansions were planned to. 7.1's content list seems a good indicator of this philosophy - we're getting a new raid and dungeon and new world content, but we're still not actually going beyond the first raiding tier - in fact, despite the fact that the Nighthold raid is in-game as part of 7.0, it won't actually be accessible until after 7.1.

There's a real build-up to Nighthold, which is not even planned to be the expansion's final raid (my guess is Tomb of Sargeras, unless they surprise us and send us to Argus in this expansion rather than saving it for a later one.)

The point is that we're not going to be ditching our artifact weapons soon.

I doubt that anyone has been able to completely fill out their artifact traits yet - even if you've done every single world quest and run dungeons non-stop to maximize your AP acquisition, the exponential nature of the costs of artifact traits means that artifact knowledge is really required to finish them off.

My main hit 110 either the day after or two days after the expansion launched, and I've had his artifact research ticking non-stop during that time. He's currently got an artifact knowledge level of I think 7 (it's an additional 375%.) He's certainly well on the way to filling out his artifact - there are six minor traits to collect before he gets his final major trait, and then only a few more to get after that.

The point here is that players will have their artifacts filled out within the next couple months, possibly before 7.1 comes out.

Now obviously for many of us this will mean that we can now start pouring AP into off-spec artifacts (given that I never play Holy, I've decided to wait until I have the absolute highest level of artifact knowledge before I put a single point into the Silver Hand, just to see how quickly I can fill out its tree.)

Now there are "prestige" traits that unlock after getting the main 34 traits unlocked. These go up to I think 50 and give a minuscule amount of damage, healing, and health, but are there for when you have nothing else to spend AP on. I imagine these traits cost so much that only the truly insane will ever fill out all 50 of them.

For the remainder of Legion, I imagine that the main way to build on the system will be to release new cosmetic skins for them. There's already another set in the game files that is not accessible yet in-game (I'm particularly hopeful that I can get the "Crest of Holy Fire" on my main, which both looks cool and also replaces the sword with a flail.) My hope is that we'll see more artifact models in future patches as well.

Now, regarding the future beyond Legion, I think there are a few things to consider.

We'll presumably be getting some changes to each spec again - this is the constant with all new expansions. Some artifact traits, I think, are far more central than others, and I wonder which might be incorporated into the spec's ordinary spells. I think the newer and more changed specs are more likely to keep theirs. For instance, the Protection Paladin artifact ability is a 1-minute cooldown that does damage to nearby enemies and reduces the damage they do to the Paladin. Certainly it's a welcome ability, but if it were taken away I doubt that the spec would fall apart.

On the other hand, the Vengeance Demon Hunter artifact ability hits the target for some fire damage and causes them to pop off a guaranteed five soul fragments while they burn. This really helps the Demon Hunter get the healing they need to survive without being at the whim of the RNG gods. A friend who plays a Balance Druid was worried that the rotation had become kind of flat and uninteresting in the pre-patch, but upon getting the artifact ability, he said that it gave the rotation structure.

I imagine that Blizzard will have to go through each of these and see what feature should stay and which should go.

Obviously, the first weapon they give us in the next expansion is going to have to be incredibly powerful to get even someone who just leveled up through the Broken Isles to ditch their artifact. I actually suspect they might even have a quest very early on that forces us to give up our artifact weapons so that people will move on without them.

Cosmetically, collecting all these skins for our weapons should have a long-term benefit. I'm hoping that any skins we've unlocked will be available for transmog. I don't know if they'll be able to keep the spec-requirements (that might involve some tricky coding,) but given how much effort it is to get some of these appearances, I do hope Blizzard is thinking long-term about them.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

7.1 PTR: Karazhan Loot Levels

Return to Karazhan is being conceived as something like a 5-player raid, and as its difficulty (not to mention time commitment) are higher than the existing Mythic dungeons, Blizzard has said that rewards will be appropriately high as well.

Right now, it looks as if the first half or so of the bosses within will drop 855 gear, which is 5 levels higher than Emerald Nightmare's normal mode. Later bosses will go up by 5 points to 860.

With nine bosses, Return to Karazhan is a dungeon that Blizzard says they expect players will run in chunks, much like a raid. This is really the first time since vanilla that there has been a dungeon designed to be completed in multiple sessions (actually, not even then - they just expected you to slog through the dungeons for hours upon hours. Sunken Temple used to be about three times as big, for example, and took a very long time - not to mention that just getting into a lot of vanilla instances meant traversing an elite-filled area outside the instance proper.)

With that in mind, though, I really wonder how Karazhan is going to fit into the current Mythic+ dynamic. I'll admit I've only run one such dungeon, and due in large part to the fact that it was the second time I had run Court of Stars, we didn't make it within the time limit.

But with a dungeon where standard runs are expected to last multiple hours, I really have to wonder how Mythic + is going to work for it.

There is also, of course, the fact that the gear rewards for this dungeon are going to be inherently better than other Mythic dungeons. When introducing the Mythic+ feature, Blizzard explained that this would allow them to introduce new dungeons at the same difficulty level as existing ones, and simply allow them to be thrown into the mix with the 7.0 dungeons. Return to Karazhan does not seem to follow that model.

On the other hand, perhaps they're treating this as a special case. This is, after all, a dungeon that is headlining a patch that also contains a raid, and seems to be on the experimental side, even if it's recreating one of WoW's most popular raids as a dungeon (and again, is leaving the raid intact - something I hope they continue to do with any revamps going forward - much as a I love the new Scholomance, I do miss the broader and more labyrinthine original.)

In terms of progression, I think that raiders who are satisfied with what they have out of Emerald Nightmare are most likely to head on to Trial of Valor, though splitting the raid to run Karazhan might not be a terrible idea, as I imagine you'll get more gear out of a 9-boss instance than a 3-boss one. Still, we do not yet know what the loot quality of Trial of Valor will be.

All of this is, of course, also subject to change. I know my guild hasn't even started running regular mythic dungeons yet (something I'm hoping we can start doing soon) let alone going into Emerald Nightmare on Normal mode, so I'm in no rush to get these new instances just yet.