Sunday, July 16, 2017

Set Investigation with Diablo 3's Necromancer

Diablo 3 works a bit like a snowball: you start off having to really watch yourself when you encounter an elite enemy, and your abilities are a mix of what seems cool at the time. However, once you get to level 70 and hope and pray to Rathma (or whomever) for set pieces, and those prayers start getting answered, things get kicked into high gear.

At this point, I have full sets of Trag'oul and Inarius armor for my Necromancer, and I'm close to complete on the Rathma set, and the Plaguebringer set I actually have six pieces, but need to farm Death's Breath in order to transform pieces until I get all six individual parts.

While I'd like to get a Rathma-based set going, I haven't quite figured out the survival game for that playstyle (using Icy Veins as my guide - I don't like that their build doesn't use Army of the Dead, which, unless I'm missing some Legendary that causes it to go off automatically, seems like you wouldn't want to bother with a six-piece bonus.)

The easiest one I've been able to work with is an Inarius build that uses Corpse Lance and of course, based on the set, Bone Armor. The Inarius set greatly increases the damage done by Bone Armor's activation, and also ups the defensive bonus from the set as well. At 6 pieces, it causes the bones to whirl around you, dealing a fair amount of damage to anyone nearby and I think just generally buffing your damage.

The build is very bursty - using Land of the Dead to fuel Corpse Lance and of course waiting for Bone Armor's cooldown, you'll utterly annihilate rares and elites if you can burn your cooldowns, but until then you're just going to be running through with your swirling bones and Grim Scythe-ing enemies. This is a close-quarters build.

Trag'oul also uses Corpse Lance, but this is a build that has absurd damage potential and can very easily kill you even if you aren't getting hit, as it's all about your life-spending abilities. Still, if played with finesse, it has a ton of potential, but the funny thing is that you will definitely be using Blood Rush all the time to give you a corpse to start the process going.

While leveling up I used lots of minions and Corpse Explosion as a major source of damage, and I'd like to find a build that incorporates those elements, but for now I'm very much still farming non-set pieces.

Friday, July 14, 2017

7.3 Nerfs Coming to Breath of Sindragosa Build, Buffs to Frost to Compensate

I have a complicated relationship with Frost Death Knights. I started playing Blood DPS when that was a thing, but when Blood became a dedicated tank spec and the other two specs became dedicated DPS, I went two-handed Frost. I still main-specced as a tank in Cataclysm, but through Mists, Warlords, and Legion, I've been primarily Frost.

Now, I really prefered two-handed frost, with its massive Obliterates. So when they made it dual-wield only, I actually started Legion as Unholy, then went Blood, but then went back to Frost. The thing is, my favorite color is blue. I know that seems really minor, but I've gotten so used to my Draenei (blue skin) wearing blue-tinged dark armor, wielding a weapon with a blue glow, and having all my attacks cause bursts of blue death, that it's really hard to get back to thinking of Death Knights as having another dominant color palate.

And given that look and feel are basically the main appeal to video games for me, that's a big deal.

It is a difficult trade-off, wielding two dinky swords versus wielding a much more impressive runeblade. Basically the only real saving grace of the Blades of the Fallen Prince as an artifact weapon is that they literally used to be Frostmourne. Given the option to actually wield, somehow, Frostmourne itself in its intact form (and seeing variants on it the way that the other artifact weapons have,) I'd really prefer it, but I'll have to content myself with the swords made from it. Sadly, Blizzard feels that at least one DK spec should be a dual-wielding one, and with Blood as the tank spec and Unholy already having the whole "summoning undead" schtick, it's not terribly surprising that Frost got stuck with it. I only hope that in a post-artifact world, we can go back to using two-handed weapons (and maybe if we all beseech the Lich King like good little Knights we'll someday get a Frostmourne transmog piece. A DK can dream, can't he?)

Anyway, in the last few patches, the love-it-or-hate-it Breath of Sindragosa talent has been dominant - basically if you want competitive DPS as a Frost DK, you have to pick it and all the talents that allow you to sustain it as long as possible.

Thus Frost winds up being a kind of two-phase spec. You have the Breath phase where you desperately need to generate as much runic power as you can and get seriously penalized if you screw up or if you need to stop whacking the boss for a couple seconds, and the waiting phase where you just do the baseline Frost rotation while you wait for Breath to come off cooldown.

I'll be honest and say I've started to get used to this build, but the panicked resource generation required from the build isn't always what I want, especially given that I feel Frost, flavor-wise, should be more about being slow and steady (the "fight" against Arthas in Halls of Reflection is a great example of what I think a Frost Death Knight should feel like.) In fact, I could imagine a whole redesign of the spec that would have you build up Runic Power and unleash it in a massive single swing, but the point is that I don't know that Breath of Sindragosa fulfills my particular image of the spec's fantasy.

The changes they're making are fairly extensive - I believe the Hungering Rune Weapon talent is getting a bit of a redesign, and many talents are swapping around. The goal is not to nerf Frost in general (as far as I know they're not really exceptional these days) but to allow for greater build diversity, which is something I'm right on board with.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Fall of the Legion and Demonic Anarchy

When the Undead Scourge was defeated nearly definitively at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, this did not mean the end to the threat of the undead. Not only did the Scourge remain an entity, albeit one more or less under control of a Lich King who so far does not seem interested in global domination (though the tactics he uses and encourages within the Knights of the Ebon Blade are questionable at best,) but ghosts and other necromantic horrors have always existed outside of the specific domain of the Scourge. Both the Legion and the servants of the Void have employed necromancy in the past.

While the Scourge was perhaps the most iconic and intimidating terrestrial threat (ok, Old Gods probably take precedence, though I think the Scourge's actions in Icecrown suggest that they had a certain immunity to the power of the Old Gods and thus might have given them a run for their money,) the Legion has, historically, been the greatest cosmic threat (though again, the Void that spawned the Old Gods is likely the greater danger.)

However, under Sargeras, the Legion seemed in a position to really dominate every demon in the cosmos. Demons existed before the Legion, but vast numbers of new ranks were added - we know at the very least that the Man'ari Eredar and the Satyrs were originally members of mortal races (playable ones, in fact) and we could probably assume that a lot of existing demonic races were similarly corrupted specifically by the Burning Legion.

So while we don't seem to be fighting Sargeras directly in Legion (I think he doesn't have a corporeal body to fight,) the datamined dialogue does suggest that the leadership of the Legion will truly be eliminated in one way or another. Kil'jaeden is, I believe, permanently dead at the end of the Tomb of Sargeras raid, and it's possible that Archimonde truly died at the end of Hellfire Citadel (that's tricky, as only mythic kills him within the Twisting Nether, and the cutscene implies that he's back on Draenor when he dies.)

With Sargeras and his two Eredar lieutenants gone, it really does not seem like anyone is in a good position to take up leadership of the Legion. And here's the thing: many of the demons of the Legion were only doing Sargeras' will under threat. I imagine the Eredar and the other "newer" demonic races were devoted to him in a religious way, and would seek to carry on with his Burning Crusade, but beings like the Nathrezim are unlikely to hold any true loyalty to him.

When Sargeras first discovered the Nathrezim, they were serving the Old Gods on a different planet. Given that they are so gifted in duplicity, it would not shock me in the least to discover that the Nathrezim were in fact playing all sides all along. And in the wake of Sargeras' fall, they may eagerly go back to serving the Void.

While Sargeras aligned his demonic forces in opposition to the Void (by way of all of creation,) there's nothing inherently anti-Void in demons.

So basically, after Legion, don't expect demons as a creature type to vanish all together (though they'll certainly take a backseat to things like Aberrations if we're doing Old God stuff next.)

Argus Further Impressions: Mac'Aree

Yes, I know we have a new raid finder wing, but I can't help but feel a bit focused on the upcoming patch.

Since Burning Crusade I believe introduced the world of Argus as a concept (I can't remember if those Argus Wake guys in Alterac Mountains existed already) we've more or less known only one geographical feature of the world from which the Eredar who would come to be known as the Draenei fled, and that was the capital city of Mac'aree.

Your adventures on Argus will begin in what is called at least for now "Argus Wastes," and this area will feel pretty familiar given the Legion's MO. There is some interesting new wildlife, and I think they get the feeling of a desolate, ruined, but at least somewhat still intact world in this area. Unlike, for example, Niskara, not everything is burned black with green flame, but it is still a place where there's almost no non-demonic life there.

After completing the first leg of the Argus quest chain, you'll eventually travel to Mac'aree. You can see the capital floating above the Argus Wastes in the skybox (cleverly, they tend to point you in the direction of Azeroth as you adventure across its new twin world, and you also see Mac'aree in the skybox.) Traveling to the capital, you'll be able to access a fragment of the city, the rest of which is drawn into the skybox behind, to really give you a sense of how enormous this place was.

And Mac'aree is broken, but not utterly ruined. And it certainly does not have the stereotypical Legion look. Mac'aree calls to mind much more the Warlords iteration of Shattrath, with the Draenei (well, Eredar) style of spire-like buildings. (In fact, I think they took assets created for Warlords and adjusted them only a bit to build up Mac'aree.) Far from Black and Green, Mac'aree is awash in golden grass with spots of purple vegetation and buildings of yellow, grey, and some blue. The impression this suggests is one of the city as the seat of a society that was once near-utopian. At least in the first few quests, the NPCs are largely ghost-like echoes of the ancient Eredar. You'll even go to the academy where Archimonde (and his teacher Thal'kiel) once studied and researched.

I really have to say that if you have any kind of roleplaying sensibilities and you play a Draenei character, Mac'aree perhaps even more than the Argus Wastes will feel like coming home.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Kul Tiras: Zone or Continent? Assuming We're Understanding the Leak, That Is

Much as people discovered an "Iron Horde" texture in Mists of Pandaria's 5.3 Insurrection (or whatever the pre-Siege patch was) patch, which gave us our first obscure hint of the Warlords of Draenor, much buzz is coming up around a few textures and icons that are labeled Kul Tiras, with what looks like an armor set that incorporates a lot of nautical-themed elements like ropes and anchors, as well as a rough in-game (as opposed to UI-based) map.

Given how Kul Tiras has nothing to do with Argus and that even more than the Iron Horde texture (which was just kind of a grey square) these are very clearly referring to stuff that don't seem linked to Legion, it seems very hard to come up with any explanation other than that Kul Tiras will play a role in the expansion that follows Legion.

Let's talk Kul Tiras lore:

Kul Tiras was one of the seven human kingdoms, along with Stromgarde, Lordaeron, Gilneas, Alterac, Dalaran, and Stormwind. Kul Tiras was the major naval power among the kingdoms, as it was situated on an island off the coast of the Eastern Kingdoms (not far from Tol Barad.) The monarch of Kul Tiras is called the Grand Admiral, which gives you a sense of how important sailing is to their culture. The previous Grand Admiral was Daelin Proudmoore, father of Jaina.

As Jaina was establishing Theramore down the coast from Orgrimmar, she had worked to secure a lasting peace with the newly-situated Horde. Her father, unwilling to make peace with the Alliance's old enemy, led his fleet in an attack on Orgrimmar. Jaina ultimately allowed Rexxar to lead Horde forces into Theramore to defeat and kill her own father in exchange for a lasting peace - which is why the notion that Jaina is overreacting in her current antipathy to the Horde is total absurdity. She literally sacrificed her father for peace, and was paid with the destruction of her city in return.

Since Cataclysm, Kul Tiras has been missing. While it never appeared in-game, the notion was that it was still where it had always been. However, as Tol Barad was added in that expansion, the fate of Kul Tiras remained a mystery, and devs suggested that it had been moved by the massive tectonic shifts that came with Deathwing's emergence from Deepholme.

While not officially confirmed until we get a real announcement, I strongly believe that Kul Tiras will be a location in the next expansion. The question, then, is what form it will take: A zone, or the whole expansion-spanning continent.

I'm leaning toward the former, as I think that a sea-based expansion would benefit from having other island cultures, such as a visit to Zandalar, perhaps a return to Kezan, and perhaps a journey to Nazj'atar.

To return to lore for a moment: in the apocryphal WoW tabletop RPG, Jaina had brothers, one of whom could now lead as the Grand Admiral of Kul Tiras. If these brothers are not, in fact, canonical, it would mean that technically Jaina should be the Grand Admiral and Queen of her people. Jaina has been notably absent from Legion, and it seems that trouble at home would be the only reasonable explanation.

Now, I could actually imagine Kul Tiras as a continent, even if I think it would work better as a zone. Taking the Broken Isles as an example, in ancient times, the zones of Suramar, Azsuna, the Broken Shore, and Val'sharah were all considered sort of "the Greater Suramar metropolitan area." We see this with Lordaeron and Stormwind as well, each kingdom being represented by a cluster of zones rather than a single one.

Still, given the nautical theme of Kul Tiras, I would find it very hard to imagine an ocean-faring-based expansion that does not include the aforementioned zones - particularly Nazj'atar, as I can't imagine a sea-based expansion that does not put the Naga at the forefront.

I wonder if they'll keep the level-scaling of Legion. I think it worked out well, with the one flaw being that the story couldn't really develop zone-to-zone as you leveled up, and that if you picked your zones in the wrong order, you could feel handicapped (like if you got a class quest sending you to Azsuna right after you'd chosen Stormheim as the zone you were heading to next.) Certainly it helped provide max-level content - I'm happy to have now six zones to do world quests in instead of being stuck with only Suramar and Broken Shore (even if Suramar might be my favorite zone in the expansion.)

We don't have a trademark for an expansion title, which I think will give us a much clearer idea of what the expansion will be, but we can infer a huge amount of information from the presence of Kul Tiras items. If you're feeling skeptical about this, I would consider that the quality of these textures is really way too much to dismiss them as meaningless. Aside from an epilogue-patch trip to Kul Tiras (which again, seems to have utterly nothing to do with Argus and the Legion) that seems incredibly unlikely (I don't think we've ever gotten a whole new zone after the final raid tier; the biggest thing we ever got as an "epilogue" patch was a one-boss raid in the Ruby Sanctum,) the only other explanation I could give you for this is a setting for a new expansion.

Gamescom, which is where they announced Legion two years ago, runs August 22nd-26th, and Blizzcon runs November 3rd-4th. I wouldn't be shocked if they announced the next expansion at Gamescom to keep up the sense that there's something coming, though 7.3 is unlikely to go live until the end of summer or the beginning of fall. Before Mists, new expansions were always announced before the final patch of the current one came out, and while I can tell you I'm happy to focus on Argus right now (holy crap am I excited for Argus) I also think it's wise for Blizzard to always keep players aware of what is coming next with WoW. The Siege of Orgrimmar and even more Hellfire Citadel patches seemed to go on for an eternity largely because for a big stretch of both, we had no idea what was coming next. Giving players something to speculate about and await with eager anticipation is never a bad idea.

Argus PTR Impressions

It's kind of crazy that in this expansion we've been able to see not only the Emerald Nightmare but are now going to Argus. It's like three expansions in one.

Getting to Argus is relatively simple. Players will get quests that give them a direct boat ride to the Exodar (Horde included, of course.) The Draenei have managed to piece together a smaller vessel from the wreckage of the Exodar, this one called the Vindicaar, and this ship will serve as the hub for your assault on Argus.

Above Argus, the gleaming blue world of Azeroth is a vision of beauty on a treacherous and shattered world. Argus is a ruin, and at least in the first areas feels shadowy as you are constrained to demon-filled canyons. However, it appears that Argus is a bit like Vashj'ir, with three large sub-zones to explore. So far, the quests seem to end before getting out of the initial zone, but clearly there's more to come as we head to Mac'Aree (the ancient Eredar capital) and the zone that holds Antorus, the Burning Throne (the final raid.)

As someone who loves the Draenei and their science-fantasy feel, Argus does not disappoint. Rather than flight points you have teleportation beacons that all link back to the Vindicaar, and there's a lot in the way of crystals and space-based laser cannons.

I don't want to get too plot-spoilery, but fairly early you encounter two allied factions to aid you in your fight, the first being the Army of the Light, which appears to be composed mostly of uncorrupted Eredar (so, Draenei, but technically not) though it also has Turalyon, Alleria, and Lothraxion, the Nathrezim paladin (one of the class champions that Paladins have had since 7.0.) The other is the Krokul, who are like the Broken introduced in Burning Crusade, but these Broken have been on Argus all along, and seem to have been mutilated independently from folks like Nobundo and Akama.

It seems that as one progresses through the main questline, areas will open up for World Quests. As of yet I'm not seeing an Army of the Light quartermaster, but I suspect that that will be the new faction.

So far, it seems highly likely that Argus is going to follow more of the Suramar path than the Broken Shore path as a top-level zone. There's a ton of plot to get through and a ton of ground to cover. Indeed, I imagine that there are plenty of characters we have yet to encounter. But if you've been wanting a massive war on an alien landscape, boy howdy does this deliver.

This is one of the earliest builds of the patch on the PTR, so expect a ton of changes and a ton of additions.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Argus and the Next Expansion

Legion has been an enormous expansion in terms of stakes, content, and lore. The Legion has loomed over the World of Warcraft really since Warcraft 1, and the notion that the Legion could ever truly be defeated and ended seems hard to imagine, and yet here we stand in the best position the game will ever get to ending it.

What comes next?

Well, Blizzard has put a lot of effort into expanding the cosmos of Warcraft, and one aspect is the Old Gods and more importantly, the Void that they serve. While the status of Old God bosses C'Thun and Yogg-Saron is somewhat ambiguous (we killed them, but did we really kill them to a point where they can't come back? That which is dead may never die, and in strange aeons even death may die,) it's plausible to consider N'Zoth to be the last one standing (or flomphing or whatever a continent-sized-tentacle-monster does.)

Speculation purely based on lore existing even prior to... like Mists... has suggested that an expansion set in the South Seas that sees the return of Kul Tiras and a fight against Azshara and possibly N'Zoth would make perfect sense. We might be seeing more evidence for this based on information from the 7.3 PTR.

Spoilers to follow.