The slow but inevitable death of 25 man raiding

As widely reported, yesterday Blizzard released their plans for changing the raid game in Cataclysm.

My bullet point summary:

  • They like having 10 man and 25 man versions of the same raids, so that will continue *cough* lazy *cough*
  • They like the Ulduar/ ICC scheme where raid leaders could decide whether to stick to normal or hard mode on each individual boss. (eg. take the first boss on easy mode, and then hard mode on the next one, et al.)
  • They don’t like that hardcore raiders felt forced to run 10 AND 25 man raids on their characters for optimal gearing up, so ….
  • … 10 man and 25 man raids will share the same lock. This is the big one. No more running the 25 man raids with your raid group and the 10 man raid with your friends in the same week. (Or rather, if you want to do that you’ll need separate alts.)
  • 10 man and 25 man raids will also drop the same loot. Just 25 man raids will drop more of it (more per person, I assume).
  • 10 man and 25 man raids will also be of the same difficulty (*coff* pigs, fly *coff* This is probably a subject for a different post.)
  • There will be two tiers of badges, much like at present. One tier will be available via heroics and will be unlimited, the other will be available from raids and heroic dailies.
  • These badges will also be available via PvP. So now the hardcore will have to PvP as well as PvE (or vice versa), instead of running 10 mans as well as 25.

Someone set us up the 25 man time bomb

Leading large raids is a harsh job at the best of times. It isn’t just due to making sure 25+ people each know what they are supposed to be doing and then checking that they are doing it. Nope, much of the difficulty and challenge of leading large raids is behind the scenes work, making sure that 25 people of appropriate classes and specs turn up on a weekly basis and are ready to raid.

And as if this wasn’t a harsh enough time to be a 25 man raid leader, they now are all aware that if this scheme proceeds as planned, Blizzard is setting them up to fail in Cataclysm.

The particular dilemma of rewards for different raid sizes is this:

  • for the individual raider, 10 mans are often more challenging. Each individual carries more responsibility.
  • for the group as a whole (and specifically for the leader), 25 mans are hugely more challenging. 25 people have to execute the fight correctly, as opposed to just 10. And the logistic overheads of 25 mans are a lot higher. Plus there is often more going on just due to the number of players wandering around.

But WoW is moving towards rewarding individuals for individual effort, and away from rewarding groups for group effort. If 10 and 25 man raids give the same rewards, then the 10 man raids offer by far the easiest path to getting them. At least for the stronger raiders, without whom more casual 25 man raid guilds will flounder.

So raid leaders will be asking themselves now whether enough people will still want to run 25 mans to make 25 man progression viable. To put this in context, you have to understand that for the majority of 25 man raid guilds, there will be a core of players who are more hardcore and a core who are less. It is significantly easier to put together a hardcore progression 10 man raid than a progression 25 man raid because you only have to find 9 other people (assuming that you are one of them). Any time a 25 man raid falters, or wipes more often than people would like, the temptation for the more hardcore 10 people to go it alone and ditch the guys who are holding them back will be there for the taking.

So how many of those more hardcore players will choose progression above 25 mans. The answer is … unknown at present, but never bet against people choosing progression. Or how about people ditching the 25 man because some friends just joined from another server who want to run 10s? Or ditching the 25 man because they found a 10 man group which raids on more convenient days (easier to organise when there are only 10 of you)?

In Wrath, no one had to choose. You could run 10s with your mates or hardcore set and 25s with your usual raid comm. In Cataclysm, everyone will have to choose. Some will use alts for different raids – but still, whenever the 25 man has a hiccough, the danger of people fleeing to the easier to arrange 10 mans will be there, like the elephant in the room.

And now, because hardcore raiders are unable to control their work/life balance – yeah seriously, just say no if you felt you were being ‘forced’ to raid too much –  we’re being forced to choose by being given a choice that isn’t really a choice at all.  The current setup is far better for casual raiders than what Cataclysm offers. There are plenty of PUGs (bored 25 man raiders running 10 mans for kicks or vice versa), casual 25 man raid guilds can flourish … wave goodbye to all of that.

All this has happened before. All this will happen again.

My first reaction to this news was one of those cold flush style flashbacks, you know where you get shivers down your spine? I’d put the trauma of the guild dramas that followed the end of 40 man raiding to the back of my mind.

And now here it is, all over again. People will be ditched from the core ‘clique’ because “sorry, you’re not one of the 10 best.” Guilds that had grown around a 25 man social dynamic slowly losing raiders, bleeding them away until there is nothing left. Drama laden guild break ups.

Will there be a typical Cataclysm guild?

Myself, I view the news with mixed reactions. I have loved running large raids, whether they be the old 40 mans, or the newer 25s. I hope that we can keep running 25 man raids into Cataclysm – however silly it is, I still think there’s a cachet to tanking 25 man raids.

And yet. And yet.

Imagine being in a small scale, tight knit guild with friends which raids together and runs rated battlegrounds together. That will be the Cataclysm model. It does sound fun. But is it worth the number of eggs that Blizzard will have to break?

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On taking a break from your main, and then going back to it

It’s fantastic to have an MMO which has a single server. All your mates are there. You don’t have to worry about whether your server will end up being under-populated and dead, or whether all the hardcore gank guilds will pick it. You know that all the best guilds will be there, because there isn’t anywhere else.

But recently in WoW, I’m also seeing the advantages of having several servers. When you are tired or worn out on your main character and want a break, you can take a ‘server holiday’. I’m not tired of Spinks, but I am running out of endgame content for her. And rather than burn out or pay to be bored, I’ve been spending more time on alliance alts with friends.

So most of my experience with PUGs recently has been with various alts: the hunter I’m playing with Arbitrary (our duo recently hit Outland, which is the first time she has been there), the inevitable death knight (did anyone mention yet that blood specced tanks are overpowered?), the bank alt that got levelled just because, the lowbie fixed group that I’m playing with friends (ok, no PUG there).

Last week, I decided that I missed my level 80s and ran a few instances on Argent Dawn, just to get back into the spirit of things. My main reactions:

spinksbadass

  • Spinks looks insanely badass on the loading screen in her T10 warrior kit. I think I’d been used to the lowbies, who look OK but … wow.
  • Spinks is a also a total beast when I spec her fury and go hang out in PUGs. Picking up Bryntroll the other week seems to have launched her into the dps stratosphere. I’m encouraged to spend more time practising as Fury to get my raid dps up a notch.
  • People are just plain nastier in level 80 PUGs. Oh for sure, the majority are fine, but the general experience was much pleasanter with lowbies.

Note the Ulduar tanking sword, I hate Blizzard sometimes

For example, let’s take a random LBRS (lower blackrock spire) group – which for my money is the toughest instance for its level.

We have a wipe, no surprise there. The rogue uses vanish to avoid being killed. As everyone else is running back, he comments that he’s scared about being alone with all those orcs. The tank says, “Don’t worry lilninja (that was his name), I’m coming to save you!”

Can you imagine that in a level 80 PUG? For one thing, as soon as there was a wipe, half the group would disband. If they didn’t, everyone would hurl abuse at the guy who managed to avoid wiping. And the tank would probably curse the healer.

Even the rubbish groups I’ve had at low level haven’t been really aggressively nasty in the way that high level groups can. Here’s another example:

Level 80 PUG, and I’m healing on my druid. I’ve not done any level 80 heroics for a month or so because I was taking a break. The tank is racing through and not waiting for anyone, and he’s taking shortcuts I haven’t seen people use before. I’m no slouch, but I’m remembering my way around. We wipe at one point (yet another stupid pull, and I got some adds because I didn’t realise that they’d skipped a pack on the way down some stairs) and I explain that I haven’t been there in awhile and ask if he could just wait for me to be in range from time to time. Others in the group whisper me and tell me that he’s just being an elitist jerk. He says, “You should have said you were a fucking cripple who couldn’t do your job,” and I leave.

I’m tempted to put it down to people continuing to run the instances long after they’re burned out. Which doesn’t happen so much while levelling.

I love my main

So it all comes down to this. I love my main character, and even after taking a break (apart from weekly raids) I get a kick out of coming back to her. Sometimes absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

But I will look forwards to harder instances in Cataclysm, if only so that they will cut some of the current 5 man players who fancy themselves elitist down to size.

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Why can’t everyone tank? (aka What if everyone secretly hates me…)

This is a thread that caught my eye this week, and it’s from a dps player who is explaining that he’d have more fun if he didn’t have to wait around for tanks and crowd control.

I just realized how stupid the idea of tank is when I played with some dudes in ST, the tank left for some reason and we continued to play while waiting in queue for another tank. After we cleared half of the dungeon, eventually some tank finally showed up and everyone agreed that “the fun was over”.

And that is true, this game is turning into a middle age women match 3 game, where you do everything nice and steady, healers sleeping in the back, dps pushing bored their one or two buttons macro, and the tank who is actually the only one who plays the game and when someone makes a mistake he has to take all the blame.

A lot of responders in this thread thought that the original poster was trolling, but I don’t think he is. He just had a lot more fun in a group where they didn’t have to worry about tanking. He even gets bored as dps when he has to wait for the tank to mark and call CC and then just go kill everything in the right order.

Blizzard mentioned in last week’s developer chat that crowd control will feature more highly in Cataclysm instances than it did in Wrath (i.e. not at all.) And … the big issue with crowd control, even more than tanking, is that everyone hates it except for the guys with the crowd control spells. In every single game I’ve ever played which featured crowd control, gamers did everything they possibly could to bypass that system. And yet, one of my favourite classes to play from any game ever was my sorceress in DaoC, which was a crowd control specialist.

I don’t hate crowd control as a tank, it adds a level of strategic interest to handling a pull. But I have also gotten quite used to not being forced to rely on other players to let me tank an instance. And given the general nastiness of some dps in random groups, I’m not dreadfully enthusiastic about trying to force crappy mage #335 to remember where his sheep spell is. And let’s not even start with the fears. Or with the spectre of people kicking group members from random groups because they don’t have enough crowd control.

But we’ll deal with that bridge when we come to it – maybe a greater need for cooperation in instances will get people talking. Maybe people will adapt. Or maybe people will dump the LFD in favour of guild and server groups again. We’ll see.

But still, I also have fond memories of crazy groups in other games where we didn’t have a tank but everyone had heavy armour. It wasn’t completely without tactics and mobs did have to be bounced around. But it was fun. This is key – however much we talk about intricate strategies and learning curves, it’s fun to cut loose.

I also thought the comment about the middle age women match 3 game was interesting. He doesn’t like the puzzle aspect of organising a pull, and PvE has traditionally been a puzzle game. You have to figure out how best to pull some mobs, and how best to kill them. And how best to clear an instance and achieve any instance objectives.  But how many people would actually rather have an action game – say, Diablo — than a puzzle game? I love puzzles, and it’s very key to my enjoyment of PvE and of tanking.

Oh no! What if it’s me?

I’m paranoid now. In every group where I’m tanking, is everyone else fuming silently and thinking about how much more fun it would be for everyone if I wasn’t there? Do they all wish that they could get instant groups without having to wait for a tank? Do they wish I wasn’t being bossy when I yell at them for pulling shit randomly? Oh god, does  this platemail make my bum look big?

Maybe everyone does secretly (or not secretly) hate tanks. The comment, “tank who is actually the only one who plays the game”, rings very true. Even with crowd control in the group, it was the tank who told everyone else what to do, which mobs to control, and which order to kill. Would the game be more fun for more players if tanks didn’t have that level of authority/ responsibility? Or didn’t exist at all? And then I wonder some more about Diablo, and whether Blizzard might be planning some MMO type functions for it.

General trends, the core tank toolset, and is survival more fun than threat?

(Firstly, apologies for the flood of WoW related posts. I’m trying to use WoW class changes as a jumping off point for more general discussion, but yeah I get that the blog is a bit focussed right now.)

Usiel asked in comments if I had any thoughts about the bigger picture for Cataclysm, based on last week’s class changes. I can see a few vague trends:

  • Blizzard are addressing a lot of ‘quality of life’ issues (rage normalisation, focus for hunters, simplified stats, treeform). If these work out as planned, then I do genuinely believe that the game will become more fun and less frustrating for everyone involved, whether or not they get many new cool abilities.
  • They have said several times that one goal is to make healing more fun. We are starting to see what they think that means. Wide range of heals, interesting choices, less frantic heal spam, more movement, more emphasis on deciding when to dispel and mana management. But we won’t see the whole picture until we get a chance to try it.
  • DPS specs of hybrid classes are losing some hybrid-ness. We will see shamans and paladins lose some dispel abilities when in dps mode. Blizzard have also commented that retribution paladins will lose some survivability (because defensive dps specs are viewed as not working well, perhaps another reason why Blood DKs are being turned into tanks.)
  • DPS in general are getting more abilities to control fights, in one way or another.

I don’t get a clear view yet of the vision for tanking in the next expansion. Gravity thinks that raids will place more emphasis on mobility, which would make me happy because I find the mobility fights more fun.

The core tanking toolset is becoming better defined, with more tools being handed out to classes who lacked them. Hence more interrupts for ferals and paladins, and a demo shout equivalent for death knights. Those are all good trends. If the ability is that important, then all tanks should have access to it. Anything else is just pointlessly frustrating.

So if we try to define a core tank toolset, it needs to include at least:

  • similar threat, both AE and single target
  • similar survivability, both vs magic and physical damage
  • similar cooldowns and effective health
  • interrupt/s
  • burst or targeted threat, to neatly pick up adds
  • similar buffs and debuffs (ie. if three tank classes have a buff, then the fourth should probably have it too).

In some ways, tanks are more homogenous than either healers or dps. It’s hard to imagine a core healer toolset when one healer has bloodlust/ totems, another has combat res, and another brings paladin buffs. This has always been an issue for priests, since originally the hybrids got more utility to make up for priests having better healing.

Interestingly, it appears that being able to smoothly switch from tank to dps (ie. in a multi-stage fight) is not considered a core tank ability, because as of Cataclysm only druids will be able to do that. We can only hope that there is not a single boss fight where this will ever be important, because it has been an annoyance for years. (ie. druids have felt annoyed at being ‘forced’ into the off-tank role, and paladins/ warriors have been annoyed at not being good at it. Death Knights have been good off-tanks up till now, but who knows what they will be like in Cataclysm?)

In many ways we also need to wait to see the new expansion encounters to really understand how tanking may or may not change.

Another trend I see is for more responsibility for the success of a group to be spread between dps and healers, rather than so heavily focussed on the tank. For those control freaks (surely no tanks are control freaks!) who enjoy the current state of tanking, this may not be an entirely good thing. Expect to spend more time feeling like a dumb lump with high auto-threat while dps misdirect threat, put up smoke clouds, run rings around you, and generally do more of the work.

Survival vs Threat

Perhaps put more succinctly, a lot of tank players just seem to find the survival game more fun than the threat game.

- Ghostcrawler

It’s clear from previews that tank threat is not intended to be much of an issue in Cataclysm. The easier it became for tanks to establish threat in Wrath, the more people played them. That sends a fairly clear picture of what players want, and also DPS players hate being threat capped so if one tank lets them go all out and another doesn’t, the one who doesn’t will get benched.

I’m in two minds about the above quote though. I find the pure survival fights to be very dull indeed (omg I hit my cooldown 0.5s late and died, woe is me!). Instead of favouring the tank with the highest threat, they favour the tank with the highest effective health or best cooldowns. This is equally out of the player’s control. And that’s not especially fun either.

In fact, I’d prefer to see both pure survival and threat become less of an issue, and instead focus on movement, situational awareness, and working with the other tanks and the rest of the raid. The tank who can both survive and hold threat whilst balancing a spoon on their nose and dragging a mob neatly through a dog agility course? That’s the one I want to play.

I’m just not really sure if that’s the way the game is going. We’ll know more after the paladin changes are announced.

It came from the PUG: Don’t worry, dwarves are cool!

One of the interesting things that can happen when you use the random dungeon finder in WoW is that you get sent into a half completed instance. This always feels to me like being the investigator in the denoument of an old fashioned detective story. You know that five people must have originally zoned in, but one of them met with a mysterious accident …

“Thank you all for joining me here today. As you know, I have been studying the mystery of what happened to missing person X. They were here in this instance … and all of you are the suspects. Nobody else came in, nobody else went out.”

So you zone in, and if you are tanking, you are no doubt thinking, “I wonder what you bastards did to your last tank?” This is because of tank empathy, a mythical construct which only exists when dealing with non-tanks. (If another tank was actually in the instance, you’d be too busy trying to pull threat from them to waste time sharing war stories and sympathy.)

Maybe the group will enlighten you. ie. “lol, last tank was a nub,” or “Yay! A new tank! last guy was afk 10 mins,” or just “gogogo!!!”

I did have a great welcome though when I zoned into Hellfire Ramparts on my new alliance (dwarf) Death Knight, said Hi, and the entire group practically fell at my feet proclaiming things like, “It’s a human being!” Someone else said, “She’s a dwarf, she’s bound to be nice!”

From this I gathered:

  1. Their last tank had been really nasty and then left
  2. Everyone likes dwarves? when did this happen?

See, I remember playing Alliance during Vanilla WoW and if you ever ran into someone who was really rude or a dreadful griefer, odds were that they were a dwarf rogue or hunter. I don’t know why this was, but they really had a very bad reputation on the server. Dwarf priests were also notoriously spoiled and brattish, due to being the only purveyors of fear ward.  Some time between then and now, evidently dwarves have gotten over that difficult adolescent roguish phase and grown up into respectable (and respected) tanks and healers.

Still, I am intrigued. Do you trust dwarves more than other races? Any other in-game race related biases? Are some races more likely to be picked by griefers (undead rogues are another notorious griefing setup)? Or are some race/class combinations more likely to be decent players?

Warrior Change Analysis: Fury is the new black (actually it was also the old black)

Reading through the list of warrior changes, there were two things that heroic leaped out at me.

1. Heroic Leap, it’s all about the fluff

Heroic leap sounds cool and all, but it’s functionally equivalent to  Charge + Thunderclap. And to hammer home the similarity, Juggernaut and Warbringer will allow this to be used in any stance and possibly while in combat.  From this we can deduce that the cooldown on Heroic Leap will be greater than the cooldown on Charge, because it’s cooler and therefore should not be used as frequently. (This is game designer logic, by the way.)

And also, the entire appeal of this ability lies in the animation and sound effect. Really as a Prot Warrior, I’d have preferred a Shockwave  to a Thunderclap, just for the sheer cartoon ‘Anvil falling on your head’ effect, but that’s probably deemed overpowered for the dps specs.

2. One handed Fury is back in style?

While we like how Titan’s Grip plays, we recognize some warriors liked the Fury tree because of the really fast swings that dual-wielding one-handed weapons could provide. Therefore, we’re planning to try out a talent called Single-Minded Fury that is parallel to Titan’s Grip and will provide a large boost to the damage of a pair of one-handed weapons.

I always liked the cuisinart style of the one handed fury builds, so count me among the people who would be happy to see that return. But do Blizzard really want to have to balance two handed fury builds, one handed fury builds, and arms for PvE at the same time?

There are some big advantages from bringing back the option to dual wield one handed weapons, mostly that Fury warriors could share weapons with Frost Death Knights since they use similar stats. It would also make sense for one of the one-handed weapon types to be solely itemised for strength (i.e. for plate users) and others for agility (i.e. everyone else). This would not fit with the weapon related racial bonuses – but really, what’s the chance of finding a matching pair of strength-based one handed axes when the one handed drops are going to be split between several classes, specs, and races?

One thing is for sure, warriors are going to have enormous and impressive …. weapon collections.

Other tweaks to Fury will make it easier and more rewarding to apply sunders, and will generate rage on interrupts as well as regular hits. (This latter really should be inherent in Pummel and not require a talent, but I guess that if people feel they don’t need the rage then they can just skip it.) Whirlwind also becomes a true AE, with a note that it should no longer be part of the regular DPS rotation but without any specifics.

I don’t get a strong feel yet for how the Fury rotation is going to look in future. One staple (Whirlwind) is being de-emphasised, so maybe that gets replaced by cleave or heroic strike? Who knows. We’ll have to try it out.

3. So how popular will warriors be in Cataclysm?

Hatch reckons that the numbers will decrease because this preview doesn’t offer anything very exciting. I think that we haven’t seen previews for the other tanking classes yet to compare this with, and that a lot of Death Knight tanks will switch to Protection Warrior if they don’t fancy tanking in Blood spec.

I also think that some of these changes, together with the rage changes, will be exciting to some players. (I know people who have been moping about losing one handed fury builds since Wrath first dropped and all DPS warriors will be happy for easier sunders.) I also think that Warrior will be a popular Worgen class, and that Blood Elf Warriors will appeal to a lot of players.

So I think that warriors will continue to be the most popular class for raid tanks, and that numbers overall will stay about the same.

Ramping up the Cataclysm PR, and what I want to see for warriors

wow-cataclysm-logo-5801

One thing I had forgotten until I saw the first of the class previews yesterday was how important these were from a PR point of view. All it takes is for Blizzard to announce one really cool sounding ability for a beloved class. And then the next expansion starts to feel more personal. For example, how many people came into Wrath excited to try dual wielding two-handed weapons on their warriors? Whether you like the idea or not, it’s still crazy, over the top, cool, and came in with this expansion.

There is a downside, of course. No one gets excited about playing the class which has nothing fun to look forwards to. And when you get a glimpse into the future, there is no guarantee that you will like what you see. A lot of players will also be looking at the class previews to help decide which class they want to play as a main in Cataclysm — if in doubt, pick the one that is getting the coolest new stuff.

Still, Blizzard will try to get every current player excited about the Expansion That Is To Come. So expect every class preview to include at least one really cool sounding tweak or ability as well as some housekeeping, and changes to some other aspect which will be made less annoying/ easier. (e.g. for warlocks – GREEN FIRE! Yes, I’m easily pleased.)

Is it time to sort out stances?

cataclysmlogo

I don’t expect to see many changes for Protection Warriors. The spec works just fine and is more fun to play than ever.  If they can get the rage changes in smoothly, I’ll be happy. However, there still need to be three new abilities for the next expansion. I have no idea what to expect but hope it won’t require too many extra key binds because … I have small hands and most of the keys I can easily reach are busy!

Nope, the big issue for warriors from a design point of view is the stances. Like a druid, each stances locks out many of our abilities in return for giviing access to others. Unlike a druid, we don’t get much in return for this, especially with battle/berserk stance. Switching from a Death Knight (who can use all of their abilities in any presence) and being forcibly reminded that warriors can’t interrupt in battle stance is like having a bucket of cold water thrown over you.

And also, we just don’t stance dance in PvE any more. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun and quirky, and warriors were originally designed to be switching stances a lot. So if you needed an ability (like fear resist), you would quickly switch to the right stance, use it, and then switch back. These days, the design is to pick the stance which goes with your spec and stay there. I don’t expect a return to the stance dancing days – it was fun, but it’s counter to every direction in which the game is going.

So I’m hoping for some answers to the questions:

  • What are stances really for these days?
  • What benefits should we get from them? And when should we switch stance?
  • Does it still make sense to lock out so many abilities via stances?

Also, heroic leap (an ability which was notoriously present in Wrath beta testing but then got removed)!

[Cataclysm] Rage changes, and the beginning of the end

Blizzard picked the Easter Weekend to begin dribbling out the hard information about class changes for Cataclysm.

We know that there will be many changes, and that talent trees are being completely reworked. We also know that some classes will change more than others, and that the design team want to take the opportunity to make some large, far reaching changes/ fixes.

But we also all know that this really means the beginning of the end. From here on in, it’s going to be all about Cataclysm (with a brief pause when the next patch drops for some ruby sanctum and echo isles saving fun)

So what does the future have in store for warriors and bear druids?

The major design announcements this weekend were all about the future plans for Rage and for Heroic Strike/ Maul.

As usual this expansion, Blizzard have been very forthcoming about listing exactly what issues they are trying to address:

  • Warriors/druids in the lowest levels of gear can be Rage-starved.
  • Warriors/druids in the highest levels of gear no longer have to manage their Rage when it becomes infinite.
  • Warrior/druid tanks lose Rage income as they improve their gear and take less damage.
  • The gameplay of warrior and druid tanks loses a lot of depth when massive boss hits means never having to manage Rage.
  • Heroic Strike and Maul are effective, but tedious abilities for using up extra Rage.
  • In general, warriors and druids don’t have enough control over their Rage.
  • To resolve these issues, Rage will be normalized in Cataclysm. This will make the Rage gained by characters more consistent and avoid drastic differences between low-end and high-end gear.

This is going to be a great change. All of those issues? They are all true right now. We’ve experienced them and they make the game less fun than it could be. They’re going to be addressed, and I can’t wait to try out the new design!

The other big issue is that DPS warriors currently get nerfed several times per expansion due to the way gearing up affects both their rage and damage output. (It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle; when you hit harder you get  more rage, so you can spam more attacks, which means you get more rage …)

Also, it sucks when you are unlucky with getting tanking weapons (yes I’m still using the one from Flame Leviathan when I don’t just sub in a DPS  1 hander), because your damage directly affects your rage and a weapon from a later instance will do more damage, regardless of the defensive stats on it. I’m hoping that Cataclysm will eliminate tanking swords which will both save us some hassle and stop people whining quite so much when 1 handed swords drop.

Anyway, the great thing about rage normalisation is that it will no longer dependent be on your damage output(or how much damage is done to you). So both a new DPS warrior and an overgeared Prot Warrior will no longer have to worry about being rage starved, although +hit (being able to hit the target) will still be important.

Warriors and Bear Druids will both also get more sources of instant rage – so if you really need to pick up some adds quickly or throw down some burst dps, you’ll be able to grab a dose of emergency rage.

There are some risks with the new rage normalisation scheme:

  1. Tanks left unbalanced while Blizzard tweak the new scheme. We know that DKs and Paladins are both strong tanks and that all of us Bears and Warriors want to try to stay competitive. We also know that when Blizzard tried to normalise rage at the beginning of TBC, warriors got shafted. If it happens again, there will be very few warriors/ bears tanking in Cataclysm because they’ll see the writing on the wall and switch to a different tank class.
  2. Tanking rotations get too complex. Whatever happens, tanks need to be able to keep up some threat output whilst dragging bosses around the room in a complex pattern, avoiding fire, and still being ready to use an interrupt/ cooldown as needed. If there are too many other variables to watch at the same time, it could all get a bit too stressful.
  3. One size fits all. Is there really a model for rage that will work for prot warriors, bear tanks AND two different dps warrior specs without leaving one over or under powered?
  4. Class in general gets too fiddly/ less fun. The temptation to just switch to paladin (or death knight) with its more forgiving model and similar functionality for the next expansion is going to be high. For example, I already find DK DPS rotations to be smoother and more fun than the warrior equivalent, plus DKs get much more utility while in DPS mode.
  5. The change is too great. This is more likely to apply to druids, who notoriously have a fairly dull tanking rotation. Some players probably love it the way it is right now and don’t want a ‘more engaging experience’.

Bornakk also comments, wisely:

We understand this change may be scary for many players, but keep in mind that the constants in the formulas for gaining Rage will give us the ability to make quick adjustments if we feel Rage generation is too low.

So they will be looking to make quick adjustments if this needs more tuning. Pre-expansion class changes in the past have always been patched in about a month or so before a new expansion drops. So that means we should have a chance to both play with the new normalised rage AND for Blizzard to tweak it appropriately before Cataclysm goes live.

Call me a glass half full person but I’m looking forwards to seeing how this plays out. And if we all hate it, then we all just reroll paladins or death knights (if we don’t have them already).

On next swing abilities – Maul and Heroic Strike

These on next swing abilities have been a quality of life issue for a long time. Many warriors and druids just use macros to basically smash this thing into the keyboard on every autoattack. (e.g. every ability is macroed to include Heroic Strike, such as: /cast Revenge /cast Heroic Strike and then you can just mash the buttons normally and the next swing ability should be constantly queued.)

There is currently some rage management involved, but not a lot. I see it mostly when playing Fury, which is the only warrior spec that uses a rotation. So it’s important to keep enough rage back to allow you to use the full rotation.

In future, this will change.

To clarify on Heroic Strike, it costs a third of your rage bar when you hit the button, but you can’t hit it unless you have 10 rage and it will only ever take a max of 30 (since that’s essentially a third of your full bar). The intent is that when you don’t have a lot of rage, it’s not an attractive button. When you are gaining too much rage, then you want to start pushing it.

No longer will you be required to spam it on every attack, and you won’t have the infinite rage that would allow you to do so in any case. Blizzard also comment that they have plans which will allow tanks to keep tank damage and threat high – we just don’t yet know what they are.

This is going to have a much greater effect on Bears than on Warriors, since they depend far more heavily on Maul for their threat. I also think Bears stand to gain much more from a more interesting play style and rotation. They have complained plenty about spamming Swipe and Maul, so hopefully this will be more fun.

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Orange (well, red maybe)

I am really looking forwards to trying out these new changes, and hope we’ll get a chance to do so before Cataclysm drops. I always enjoyed Rage as a mechanic on my warrior and I do feel that these changes keep the general feel of it — you will still gain rage both from attacking AND from being attacked.

Unlike some others, I don’t think warriors have been broken this expansion. I don’t think Protection has ever been as fun to play as it is right now, and I’m seeing designers looking at our current issues and finding ways to make it even more fun and less annoying.

But we can’t look at tanks in a vacuum.  If we aren’t happy with our warrior/ bear changes, we will simply switch class for the next expansion. (Other tank classes are unlikely to receive such sweeping changes as this rage redesign, because they don’t need it as much.) That’s the risk.

[3.33] Revenge is sweet! And whose responsibility is threat anyway?

How is everyone enjoying the new WoW patch?

It has been primarily a balancing patch (you can tell this because paladins got nothing) with the addition of a random battleground finder, and some tweaks to make crafted gear cheaper and reagents more accessible. Plus increasing the demand for frozen orbs which come from heroics (i.e. nudging bored players back into the LFD tool).

bestpatchchange

Also, the best patch change of all is that the login screen now reminds you that your battle.net account name will be your email address.

This is handy for people (like me) who keep typing in their old user name by mistake.

How about that Revenge, kids?

Protection warriors did get some love via a tweak to Revenge, which now does a lot more damage. And if you pick up Improved Revenge, it even turns into a mini cleave rather than a random chance for a short stun.

To give an idea of how much difference this makes, I logged in after the patch and queued for a heroic on Spinks. And it was the first time I’ve ever topped the damage meters while tanking (I was on about 3k dps). Since Revenge was part of the standard rotation anyway, at least up until the last patch, the real beauty of this change is that you don’t have to change much about your playing style. Veneretio suggests shooting Revenge up to the top of the priority list. And then it  just – magically — gives you crazy damage and threat. The damage, at least, was warranted and brings us more in line with other tanks. The threat is a nice bonus but was not in any way necessary.

For example, the other thing I did after the patch was run the weekly heroic raid, which was Patchwerk. I pulled threat off a paladin tank who was wearing threat gear, without trying. And I was in full tank gear because I forgot to switch. First I laughed, because it was so ludicrous. And also because single target threat for tanks is a measure of e-peen (as in ‘phwoar, look at the threat on that!’).  Then I noted that I’d have to be careful not to pull threat inadvertently when we have a fight that requires us to swap tanks. Death Knight tanks also picked up an insane single target threat boost this patch, so will be in the same boat.

Which roughly means that in WoW at the moment, the only players who actually need to be careful and watch that they don’t go over tank threat are … other tanks.

The usual question when warriors get more damage is how it will affect the class in PvP. Will players find a way to work this into overpowered arena combinations? And for that we need to wait and see. Because Revenge can only be used after a block, it may simply be a learn to play issue. Don’t melee the shield warrior. They can still be disarmed, crowd controlled, nuked, and otherwise taken out of play.

Who is responsible for threat?

I was thinking about how the responsibility for threat management has changed in WoW over time. (I’m relying on memory to check when these changes came in so please correct me if I am wrong.)

In vanilla WoW, it was the tank’s responsibility to generate enough threat to distract mobs from the healers, and the dps responsibility not to out threat the tanks. It was completely normal for dps to back off a fight, wait for three sunders, or otherwise sit around twiddling their thumbs while they waited for tank threat to build up. Alliance was vastly overpowered compared to horde because all of their dps caused 30% less threat due to paladin buffs.

In TBC, dps classes gained more abilities to control their own threat. Active threat reduction cooldowns became more prevalent and more widely used. So instead of having to wait for tank threat, dps classes could hit their cooldown (to reduce their own threat) and keep nuking. Paladin threat reduction buffs were available to horde as well as alliance. Hunters also gained misdirect, which allowed them to add more threat to another player (i.e. a tank). This helped immensely with tricky pulls such as Gruul. If a hunter pulled with misdirect, then the tank got an immediate threat lead right from the start.

Incidentally I do love misdirect and tricks of the trade. It’s awesome when you’re in a fight with an aggro wipe and someone can help you to pick up the boss again quickly. I like the notion of controlling the fight as a team effort.

In Wrath, tank threat got beefed up significantly, and also rogues picked up a misdirect-equivalent of their own. Suddenly more dps classes could actively help with tanking (by controlling where the threat was directed) but at the same time, the idea of dps being forced to ease off for threat reasons was mostly eliminated. It just isn’t a big part of the dps role any more.

And although tanking is fun and more fluid than ever, it’s also easy as a tank to feel that in some fights you could be replaced by a lump of rock, or a pet. The hunters and rogues would misdirect to you, and the lump of rock could probably take the hits without needing to block or parry anyway, let alone use Revenge.

I do wonder where the devs plan to go with this. Will they go further with the lump of rock paradigm, making it even easier for a group to complete an instance with a poor quality tank? Maybe healers should get in on the act too, and be able to redirect some of their healing aggro?

Or will threat generation go even more over the top, more passive threat generating abilities, making tanking even easier?

I’m not sure that either of those options will make tanking more fun for me. That’s the big risk to tanking that I see going into Cataclysm.

Growing your own raiders. And I come not to damn TotC but to praise it.

LoadScreenArgentRaid

This weekend, I had a revelation.

DREADSCALE IS THE FIRE SNAKE!

I had a post half written when patch 3.2 went live to list why I loved Icecrown Citadel; and the number one reason was because I no longer had to remember which snake was which. Anyone who ever tanked Trial of the Crusader will be familiar with this conversation in the tank channel before the start:

Which snake do you want to tank?

I’ll take the fire one, is that acid… dread … whatever it’s called?

Is that the stationary one?

No, moving one. It’s on the left. I mean right as we’re standing.

Could I have that one? I always take the one on the right

((etc))

But we were back in the Argent Tournament arena this weekend, and I remembered the gorram snake’s name. It feels like a major achievement.

Raiding with less experienced raiders

As to why we were there, that’s a longer story. Our raid group has been more progression focussed in Wrath than we ever were before. We have class quotas, and role quotas, and all that sort of gubbins which means that raiders don’t have to sit out too often.

But our member guilds (we are a raid alliance) also have members who don’t raid with us. Some are more casual players, or unable to commit to a timetable for RL reasons, or just don’t have much interest.

I think we all have been aware recently that some of these guys would love to raid with the alts, or in the non-25 man raids. But it has been difficult to arrange because ICC-10 is simply not a welcoming environment for new raiders. No matter how much people say that the game is dumbed down, it’s not easy for new players to fine tune their dps while getting out of fires, avoiding adds, target switching, and paying attention to the threat meter.

And the instance simply isn’t tuned so that experienced players can carry the less experienced ones while they learn. It is after all the last raid instance of the expansion, and if it was undertuned, people would definitely complain that it was too easy.

Moreover, it’s not possible to really learn how to play your class in heroics any more. They are AE fests. I don’t recall much in the way of target switching requirements, and healers will usually heal through fires anyway. (I’m not saying it’s right, but that is how things tend to go.) Or at least, you can’t learn to play it well enough to raid endgame, unless you are already an experienced raider and it is an alt.

So that’s where Trial of the Crusader comes in. It was suggested that maybe a 25 man TotC run would give us the chance to bring both experienced and inexperienced raiders. We all agreed that in theory this might be a good chance for the newbies to get their feet wet. But would we get enough people to sign? Would we get the mix of experienced players (who probably didn’t need any of the drops on their alts) and newbies? Would newer players be able to follow instructions – you can’t just steamroll TotC in the gear they’d be wearing?

And I foolishly said, “I’ll run it,” and put the run up on the calendar

And people signed. Not just the new guys, who were very excited at the prospect of a 25 man run where no one would shout at them, but also some of the more experienced raiders who were willing to come and help out. Also some people brought well geared alts along who don’t often get a look in on the 25 mans.

I had said from the beginning that if we didn’t get 25 signups, I would cancel the run due to lack of interest. I knew last Wednesday (the raid was scheduled for the weekend) that I wouldn’t have to cancel it.

At that point, I put up a prospective raid list (i.e. list of people/ characters who were picked) and the boards lit up with new people starting threads asking for advice, experienced raiders writing up guides, and threads about addons and consumables as well. I don’t remember if TotC was this well analysed when we were running it as progression content :)

When we all rolled up on Saturday night – everyone was on time, by the way – I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I think I’d assumed we’d wipe a few times on Icehowl as people got the hang of moving out of the way, and that Faction Champions might also claim a few scalps.

What actually happened is that we were successful beyond my wildest dreams.

We one shot the first four bosses (IIRC) and got Anub’Arak on the third attempt. I reckon about two of the raiders had never been in a raid, three more hadn’t been in a Wrath raid, we had a tank and a few healers who had never been inside that instance before, and about 8 of the dps were undergeared (i.e. undergeared for TotC). Some of them found PUGs so intimidating that they didn’t dare sign up for them at all, even 5 mans.

I was very proud of everyone, because it was a true team effort. We could not have done it without some experienced guys being willing to take one for the team and give it their all. We could not have done it if the newer players had not been totally focussed, listened to instructions, and done their homework.

After the second wipe on Anub, where we wiped at 5% (due to hitting the enrage timer), we discussed the fight in detail on voice chat as everyone was running back. We discussed why we used bloodlust when we did, how the spikes worked, what had gone wrong and what had gone right in previous attempts. And everyone, new guys included, was brainstorming how we might be able to find that extra 5% damage on phase 3.

At that point, the difference between them and hardcore progression raiders was simply a matter of time, practice, and gear. Job done. (The fact we got Anub on the next pull was icing on the cake.)

And TotC succeeds as a training environment in all the ways that the heroics fail. You cannot ignore the proper strategies there when half the raid is undergeared/ inexperienced. People will have to move out of the fire, switch target neatly, and listen to raid leaders. It is in every way a true raiding experience.

In retrospect, I’d been playing with fire when putting that raid together, and fitting in as many of the less experienced guys as I could. But what is life without a little risk. If we’d known that it was going to be a walkover, then it wouldn’t have felt like such a good achievement, and we’d have been cheating the new players as much as the old ones out of that. As a raid leader you have to balance up the raid’s objectives:

  1. Run a successful raid, lots of loot, happy raiders.
  2. Get as many of the inexperienced raiders and raider alts in as possible.

You know how some raid leaders are talented at running different types of raids. Some people run awesome farm raids, or are really good at getting people to optimise their performance. Some people are amazing progression raid leaders and can analyse where the group needs to improve on a new fight by some form of psychic ability.

I suspect my strength may be dragging mixed ability groups through content. I admit this is … marginally useful. But hey, it’s a thing. I cannot honestly say that I had to work hard – people taught each other. But still, you cannot teach someone who isn’t willing to learn.

We can do it, but why should we?

So what have we proved, at the end of all this? We can set up successful raids where both experienced and inexperienced raiders play alongside each other. And where the new guys can get some support, coaching, and encouragement. And, more importantly, where everyone can have some fun and even the old guard has a chance at some loot which they wanted.

But in order to do it, we have to flout just about every pointer in Warcraft that directs players towards the latest, greatest raid instance. We have to ignore the pressure to do everything as fast as possible, to focus only on our own goals, and to ditch the weak to make room for the strong. It may be possible to have everyone playing nicely together, but there’s no in game pressure, or encouragement, or reward. Only the social reward of making a lot of people very happy, of knowing that you have a guild/ raid that is socially cohesive, and of rising to meet a challenge together. It’s an achievement for our whole raid group that we were able to pull it off, but not an achievement recognised by the game.

I was comparing this mentally to Gevlon’s undergeared challenge. I see our newbie raid as the social equivalent to that, where we deliberately handicap the raid by bringing weaker players. I know I’m not the only one who pondered that, since at least one of the other raiders commented on it to me also.

Ultimately, I think this highlights a weakness in Warcraft that will pull the game down. If Blizzard cannot encourage players to teach each other in game, then all they can ever do is make things easier so that there is less to learn.

Even though it was a fun raid, and felt like a good achievement, I cannot run these newbie raids every week. I cannot ask the experienced guys to keep doing this week in and week out for no real reward. No one is that altruistic (I’m certainly not) and whilst I’m proud of my friends and raid allies for pulling it all together, I also don’t particularly want to run TotC every week.

Maybe guild achievements in Cataclysm will help to plug this gap, and perhaps there will be perks for the guild that is willing to grow its own raiders, and teach its own newbies.  But I suspect that they will choose to reward the hardcore instead. Who will continue to rely on ‘social’ guilds to train their new recruits for no reward, because the things they enjoy doing (supporting each other, building community, teaching and mentoring) are outside the achiever’s purview.