How’s dual specs working out for you?

I’ve been looking forwards to dual specs for a long time.

Perhaps it’s chronic indecision or just liking to explore different options for my characters. Perhaps it’s  the lure of saving gold on something that I was doing anyway (ie. switching specs a lot). Or perhaps it’s just that I hate being locked into a single role the whole time, especially when it gets in the way of something else that I wanted to do.

And Ulduar has been cool and all, but the dual specs is hands down my favourite part of 3.1.

This really came home to me the other night, when we were able to get a 10 man run together. Dual specs gave us some options in the raid to have people switch specs for one boss encounter or other so that we could try different tactics.

I switched to Fury so that we could fight XT-002 with one less tank and one more dps. We had a shadow priest switch to Holy for one fight where we felt that we needed an extra healer. We had the retribution paladin switch to Holy for a different fight where we needed an extra healer but wanted the priest helping to nuke adds.

I didn’t specifically look for a paladin and priest when lining up the dps section. But since we had them, and they had dual specs and were happy to heal occasionally, we used them.

As far as I can tell, everyone was happy. We killed a couple of new bosses. The dual specced guys got to feel that their investment was immediately and actively useful. No pure dps were shut out to make room for hybrids, it just happened that I invited anyone who wanted to come as long as their dps was up to scratch.

And yes, in future, I’d be comfortable running Ulduar (10) with two full time healers and one hybrid who had a healing spec and knew how to use it, rather than three healers.

Is it unfair to hybrids?

One of the issues people foresaw with dual specs is that it would put pressure on hybrids to gear up and learn to play an extra role, whether they wanted to or not.

In a casual guild and alliance like mine, that really isn’t an issue. Obviously if we are short on healers, it is a bonus if a hybrid offers that option, but then again, if we’re short on healers we’ll be recruiting more healers.

This may change later when people are less enthused about the new raid instance and signups dry up. When you can only just make the numbers, it’s a huge bonus to be able to assign people to multiple roles as needed.

For a more hardcore guild, this is likely to be an issue. If, for example, you are recruiting a new boomkin and one applicant has great resto gear and experience and the other doesn’t, it’s going to be a factor.

But how much of a factor really does depend on the guild. It’s probably no worse than the pressure that already existed for hybrids to zip off and respec as needed.

Playing a hybrid now in WoW probably does involve being able to fill more than one role. Maybe those classes were always bad design decisions, maybe it’s unfair that some classes have access to more roles than others, maybe it isn’t fair on the players who really did want to just specialise.There will always be some players who buck the trend and stick to one role anyway. And not everyone needs to play and gear both specs to raid level. I think it will work itself out in time. But expectations have changed and when experienced players reroll hybrids, they should figure on learning more than one role. (Probably they did anyway.)

But at least we now have an answer to: Why should I play a hybrid in WoW?

A: Because you want to play more than one role in game and are willing to spend extra time gathering gear and learning your different specs.

It still doesn’t answer the question: what if you don’t know what you might want to do at endgame when you create your character? It does give more options, but there’s extra pressure too.

Is it unfair to pure dps classes?

I honestly have not seen any situation where a pure dps class was benched to make room for a dual spec hybrid. The game simply doesn’t require that level of role switching.

I know there was some concern that a dual specced hybrid could enter a raid as either dps or healing and therefore had more raid spots available, but no one has equally good gear and practice in playing two specs.And in the case of people with PvP specs, the other spec may not be raid relevant anyway.

So in practice, everyone has a preferred spec and one which they can switch to if needed. No one would take a dps hybrid as a healer if they could take someone who specialised and geared for healing as their priority instead. It’s there as a backup.

The most difference it might make is that 1/2 dps slots might be reserved for hybrids if the raid leader likes the extra flexibility. And frankly, if you weren’t already taking at least two hybrids in your 25 man dps team then you’re running an unbalanced raid anyway.

The future for dual specs

To me, dual specs raises at least as many questions as it answers. I know that I enjoy the flexibility of playing more than one spec to raiding levels. It will be hard for me to go back to another game where you’re fixed in a role.

I also feel bad for all the hybrid players who face increased pressure to dual spec when they really didn’t want to. It may not have been the devs intention but the game is now making it easier and easier to do this.

But what does that say about the whole core design features that players should pick a role when they first create a character and never deviate from it?

Character classes in MMOs have tended to specialise. Games have rewarded specialisation and players who try to make jack-of-all-trade characters are mocked as noobs. This isn’t just true in WoW, but in pretty much most of the MMOs I’ve played.

This is also true in pen and paper games, but a large part of pen and paper games involves talking to NPCs, investigating mysteries, and … basically doing non-class specific activities. Fighting is a small part of the game. Also, a human GM can tailor the game to the players. If one player really wants a jack-0f-all-trade character then the GM can make sure that they encounter situations where being average at a wide range of skills really pays off.

I think that if we’re ever going to really escape the tyranny of class specialisation, MMOs need to provide more non-fighting things to do. It doesn’t matter what class you are when you are crafting or making your fortune on the auction house, after all.

How’s dual specs working out for you? Does it make you want to try a multi-role class if you aren’t already playing one?

Tokens! And why Ulduar-10 is a problem

Tokens have been fantastically popular in recent MMOs. The wonder of tokens is that they perfectly map onto grindy play.

Why we love tokens:

  1. They’re less random. You know exactly how many times you need to kill a mob in order to have access to the gear you want. But you will not have to sit there and watch the retribution paladin ninja the drop … again.
  2. They’re less class specific. No more gloomily disposing of drops which are for classes that aren’t even in your group.
  3. You get to choose how you spend them. If the vendor sells a ring, some boots, and a cool new mount, you can decide your own priorities for which order you want to buy. No more pretending to be happy because some gloves dropped again when you already have 3 spare pairs.
  4. More choices on how to get gear. If tokens can be transferred to other players, then you can grind cash in other ways and buy the tokens that you need. Or pick and choose between token gear and stuff that you get via other means.

Why we hate tokens:

  1. They’re boring. It isn’t as exciting to kill a boss, grab your tokens and move on as it is to get excited over that rare drop that might just be there.
  2. They take up bag space. Some games do solve this by providing special token bags. But WoW, as an example, still has plenty of tokens that sit smugly in your bags.
  3. They force grinding. Somehow the grind seems longer when you know that you need to kill a mob 200 times than it does when your item of desire has a small chance to drop on any of those kills. Even though the random mechanic could mean that you have to kill a lot more in the end. It’s intimidating to say ‘OK, I only need to clear this raid instance 10 more times’ … because that sounds like a lot.
  4. It’s confusing to newbies to have to deal with lots of tokens, many of which are totally devalued. Congratulations, you just picked up a heroic token! You only need 199 more and you can buy a totally awesome item which will be of no use after you have levelled to 80. The grind only makes sense if you’re there at the bleeding edge when it is introduced. Otherwise, it’s encouraging players to put in way too much time for the rewards.

So tokens are convenient, and give guaranteed rewards. But the grinds which they reward can become quickly outdated and there’s no indication in game as to which tokens you should just ignore.

This is a general problem with content becoming outdated in MMOs but not being either removed or explained. So what should devs do about old tokens? They become a foreign currency, useful only if you are travelling in the old content ‘world’.

Usually with foreign currency, you just convert it to the currency you want to use. The agent takes a cut and you get some cash you can use in local shops. But this is a problem for MMOs, because they don’t want you to get cash for local shops by converting old currency. They want you to get it from doing the newest latest grind.

The problem with 10 man Ulduar

OK, so the problem with Ulduar tokens is this:

Currently there are two types of raid token in Wrath.

  • Heroic and 10 man tokens, which share the same vendor.
  • 25 man tokens which use a different, higher level vendor.

In the next patch, with the next raid (ie. Ulduar) there will be 10 man tokens, which will use the old 25 man token vendor. And there will be new 25 man tokens which will use a different, higher level vendor.

Now the current 25 man token vendor sells nice stuff, to be sure. He sells 2 pieces of the tier 7 set, which is a great way to fill out the set if you have been unlucky with drops. He sells bracers and rings and cloaks. All nice raid gear. But not quite as nice as the regular drops from Ulduar 10 man. And of course, he won’t sell any pieces of tier 8. You want that from 10 man runs, you’ll have to get lucky.

The new 25 man vendor, on the other hand, represents nice upgrades. He will sell two pieces of tier 8, and also other items with better stats.

The problem is not that 25 man raiding provides for better tokens, gear, and upgrades. That’s fine. The problem is that 10 man tokens are practically worthless before the raid has even gone live. Lots of people currently run both 10 man and 25 man content, I’m one of them. I already have all the 25 man badge gear that I want for Spinks.

I’ll say it again, 10 man Ulduar badges are practically worthless as things currently stand. Blizzard can’t and won’t add better gear to the badge vendor because they don’t want people to log into the new patch and be able to immediately go clean him out because they had lots of Naxx-25 badges saved. They won’t add in a conversion from 10 man to 25 man badges in Ulduar for the same reason.

I think it will be more difficult now to entice people to run the 10 mans. The gear isn’t bad (hard mode 10 man gear is very good) and it’s still a great way to learn the encounters and have a fun, sociable, raiding experience. But everyone likes to achieve a variety of different rewards for doing the same content — tokens, chance at a good drop, cash, reputation. And cutting down the number of rewards from one type of raid while increasing it in another (with the addition of the legendary weapon) could well tip the balance.

Take the player, not the class

“Bring the player, not the class,” has been one of Blizzard’s mantras for Wrath. Heralding an end to the days when a raid could not set out unless it had exactly the right mixture of classes and specs to tackle an encounter, it is intended to make life easier for raid leaders and players alike.

In truth, I don’t recall that raid composition was ever totally set in stone, but trying to differentiate so many classes and specs with unique abilities inevitably meant that some were far more in demand than others. This isn’t just a WoW issue, it’s more to do with how classes interact — they each need their own niche.

In any case, the new regime requires all buffs to be spread out and duplicated. So although they may still be required, there will be several different classes and specs that can provide them.

Latest in the list of ‘required buffs’ is replenishment. This is a mana regen type of buff (yes it also includes rage regen, runic power regen, and whatever else characters run on …biscuits? coffee?) that is available to only three specs. This is in contrast to the other raid buffs which tend to be either baseline abilities or more widely available.

So I was all set to write a post pondering how to ensure that my 10 man group would always have a survival hunter (very unlikely), retribution paladin (quite likely, we have one who is very good and very keen) or shadow priest (likely if I pressure one of the priests to go shadow, which I don’t really like to do).

I was going to bewail the fact that we have loads of warlocks, and why couldn’t Blizzard just give replenishment to them as well. And now apparently, that’s exactly what they plan to do.

I’ll just have to think of something else to write about ;)