[WoW] Everything old is new again. 5.04 and preparing for Pandaria.

MoP_login

Yup, this is the Mists of Pandaria loading screen. The image of ‘two statues flanking an entrance’ bears (sic) a resemblance to both the Vanilla WoW and TBC login screens. Again, as with the intro trailer, the message is that the game is getting back to its roots thematically.

Has it only been a week or so since I last mentioned how I was getting on with WoW? It feels much longer than that. I was getting set to screenshot my achievements, note that I had tried a LFR pickup raid into Dragon Soul and comment that I’d cleared up two of my Cataclysm bucketlist goals by getting Pebble on my Warrior and leveling my goblin priest chick to 85, and running a few instances with her. So ultimately, although I had been feeling very antsy about running heroics again, I felt that I got back into the swing of things with a couple of characters.

I also ran through the Firelands raid with my guild, which was good fun. (I never really disliked it as a raid, and it’s nice to have been able to go down Ragnaros. Again.)

So yay for that, then patch 5.04 hit and everything changed. And of course, that meant all the addons too. And if anyone is interested,  Noxxic, Icy Veins and MMO Melting Pot have guides for every spec in 5.04, which will get you started if you’re feeling confused.

Residual Notes on LFR

The raid I saw was the second half of the Dragon Soul, which involves a few set piece fights,  of which the most memorable is where the raid attempts to pry metal plates off Deathwing’s back while he’s spawing antibodies and trying to throw everyone off with barrel rolls. It probably isn’t as interesting as that sounds, or at least not on LFR.

I didn’t find it fun enough to bother queueing for the other half. It was nice to see the raid, I guess, but the Hour of Twilight instances were a lot more fun and had a better storyline (for what that’s worth). It is entirely possible that the raid encounters are more engaging in regular 10/25 man mode.

Really the odd thing about this raid is that it really does play like a collection of set pieces. In some cases the raid literally teleports from one location to the next and I half expected to see scrolling text on the screen during the transition reading “X hours later …” I guess that gives things a cinematic feel but it was a step too far for me, I prefer my raids (and instances) to feel like actual locations in the world rather than film sets.

I am in favour of LFR as a concept, I just don’t think that raid was particularly engaging.

Shared Achievements and Pets

After the patch hit, the majority of achievements and pets have become account wide. Yes, that means Horde alts now have access to Alliance only quest pets such as Withers and the Faerie Dragon. It also means that any rare or no-longer-attainable pets (eg. the ones you used to get for logging in during WoW anniversaries) are now part of the account-wide collection. It also means that, having logged on all the various alts on which I have dithered since the start of the game, I now know on exactly how many alts I completed the mechanical chicken quest. (Two.)

Account wide achievements also mean that I could create a new character tomorrow and display a variety of titles and achievements which aren’t in the game any more – sadly the Vanilla PvP titles do not go account wide, not that I ever got very far with those but I did have a couple on a no-longer-played alliance priest. Effectively, looking at my list of pets and achievements now makes it look as though I’m far more of an achiever than I really am. I suppose that’s good, but I wonder if characters feel more like adjuncts to the account than individuals now.

Some of the achievements can now be completed in bit parts across different characters. So for example, you could explore the Night Elf areas on an Alliance alt and the Blood Elf areas on a Horde alt and get completions on both of them account wide. Or in other words, simply logging in all your characters post-patch is likely to have resulted in extra achievements being noted. I am quite proud that despite all this I still ‘only’ have around 7700 achievement points on Spinks, Achievements are not really my thing.

The pet list also includes all the pets that exist which you do not (yet) own, including the Pandaria ones. My first reactions are that:

1. There are a LOT of reskinned pets. I don’t expect Blizzard to work miracles, but even Pokemon managed to give each of the pokies their own unique look.

2. I am going to be SO addicted to pet battles. I love Pokemon so this was never going to be a hard sell, but you have pets associated with different types, each of which has a variety of attacks of different types, and the various types are strong/weak against each other. I suspect pet battles will be far more strategically interesting than most WoW fights. Plus I suddenly got more interested in filling out my pet list.

I like the idea of starting Pandaria and favouring the pets I actually like best (usually due to having fond memories associated with them, like the mechanical squirrel that was given to me by a friend, or the crimson whelp that Arb gave me.)

Stoppableforce has a great post on Pet Battles in MoP, and I suspect that like me, he is a chicken fan. Ignore the haters, fun pokemon is fun.

Learning to play your class all over again

As has become the norm for WoW, the new class mechanics enter the game the patch before the expansion and they are currently live. I am still experimenting with my warrior but my first impressions are:

  • I like the tanking changes, I think it will be interesting and hopefully fun. But I wish I could do this with fewer buttons; warriors have a ton of utility and with the addition of an extra shield ability and the war banners, finding buttons and binds for them all is going to be a pain. I also think I need to find an addon to help monitor rage more closely.
  • Do not like the new Arms. It used to be such a fun, fluid rotation (I mean up until last week) and now it feels awkward, with lots of waiting around for crits and procs. I also think that one single target rage sink should be enough for anyone, so having two abilities that pretty much do the same thing (Slam and Heroic Strike) is just adding unnecessary complexity.
  • Fury looks OK though, my first impressions were mostly good. Also I’ve always wanted to try Bladestorm while dual wielding 2-handers.

The actual mechanics of being forced to relearn your class every expansion can get a bit wearing. As Beruthiel eloquently notes:

This is now the fourth time I’ve “relearned” to heal. The second time with massive mana changes. And you know what? It fucking sucks. I’m tired of trying to work small miracles with my toolkit, figuring it out, only to have it yanked out from under me and made to go through all the learning pains of learning your limits again.

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for that position, especially for anyone who really quite liked how their character played in Cataclysm.

A proportion of the WoW player base expects both themselves and everyone else to learn the ins and outs of a new spec pretty much instantly, which does up the pressure. I personally expect to get some practice in from levelling through MoP and running instances, and will probably come back to how warriors play later once I have a better feel for the spec. (I don’t know about anyone else but I do usually fret for ages about which character to play as a main in a new expansion and then end up playing my Warrior again anyway.)

I’m also tanking ICC for a guild run later this week so we’ll see how that goes.

Preparing for MoP

The last few things I intend to do in preparation for the expansion are to finish up the Fishing skill on Spinks and level my warlock from 83 to 85. I have toyed with laying in some materials so that I could grab 10 points in Blacksmithing as soon as the crafting cap is raised (ie. by making PvP gear which is currently orange to me), I just don’t know whether I can be bothered.   My priestlet now has engineering and tailoring up to 500, which will let her pick up the Pandaria upgrades and my enchanting alt also has enchanting at 500 for the same reason.

As WoW players will know, it is extremely common for players to have a few crafting alts. I kind of wish Blizzard would just allow crafting skills to be account wide at this point, because no one should have to level enchanting more than once, ever.

I have also been selling off various bits and pieces, but without the sort of laser intensity or the scale that gold making glyph sellers apply to their work. Having said that, belt buckles and weapon chains both turn a good profit, as do bags (as usual) and crafted engineering pets. I will probably go into the expansion with about 50k gold on my main and 20k gold on a couple of alts, which is plenty for anything I might need to do. I also suspect that the main money making window for Blacksmiths will be in crafting entry level PvP gear at the start of the expansion and every arena season, at least if things follow the same pattern as Cataclysm.

Everything old is new again

In a few weeks time, the busy Cataclysm endgame zones will be quiet again. Only the starting zones will see an influx of levelling characters who will probably reach the expansion max and move on before ever spending time in the Firelands daily quest area or Twilight Highlands.

I flew round the now-deserted old TBC endgame zones, to remember again how this impacted previous expansions. Some drink to remember, some drink to forget.

netherstorm

How are you spending the last few weeks of Cataclysm, if you are playing WoW?

[WoW] Tanking Changes

Ghostcrawler announced some design changes around the threat mechanics via a forum/ blog post today. Basically tanks will be getting an automatic 200% treat increase next patch. It’s mostly due to dps who don’t like having to hold back in instances when they get a lower geared tank. This plays into the issue I was discussing a couple of days ago about there being some barriers to people picking up tanking for the first time.

The threat change won’t make any difference to how tanks play, since they usually go for their best threat rotation anyway. Other proposed changes for more DK-like survivability active cooldowns sound interesting, but are likely to make the tanking classes play more and more similarly.

But there’s an interesting thread running through the post and it’s to do with threat dump abilities (ie. feign death, soul shatter, cower, etc.)

It’s not fun for the Feral druid to stop using special attacks in order to avoid pulling aggro. It’s fun to use Feint at the right time to avoid dying, but it’s not fun for Feint to be part of your rotational cooldown.

I had thought feral druids had a Feint ability of their own, why would it be fun for rogues to use it but not for cat druids? (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen either a rogue or a feral using an aggro dump, but besides that.)

We like abilities like Misdirect. It’s fun as a hunter to help the tank control targets. We are less enamored of Cower, which is just an ability used often to suppress threat. We like that the mage might have to use Ice Block, Frost Nova, or even Mirror Image to avoid danger. We don’t like the mage having to worry about constantly creeping up on the tank’s threat levels.

This is where I get confused, because several of the ranged dps classes have aggro dumps, as well as two of the melee. If it’s bad for one class to have to use that ability, why is it OK for the others?

Anyway, regardless of what you think of threat and the proposed tanking changes, the big question is why this was considered to be so important that it’s being changed mid-expansion. My guess is that instance tanking just isn’t keeping up with strong AE dps such as mages and frost death knights and this is a quick fix.

But it will take some of the teamwork out of instance play, having to adapt to what the tank was doing and watch your threat will become a playstyle of the past.

9 Ways to Justify Changes in the Lore

I love the lore behind imaginary places, people, objects, games, worlds, and stories! And I’m not alone. Far from it, drawing people into these imaginary places is what drives the huge popularity of the great IPs of our time. Middle Earth, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Twilight, James Bond, Superman, Sherlock Holmes, Sandman, Harry Potter, Warhammer. And so on.

They were stories first of course, or games, or comics, but to fans it’s all about the lore. About the imaginary history and the internal consistence, and even bout the places and events that are only ever visited ‘off camera’.

Now, MMOs, comics, and TV series have a unique challenge with respect to their lore, because it will change and grow over time. Sometimes in a long running series, it’s difficult for creators to keep track of every single aspect of the IPs history – and fans love to catch them out on it. This is especially true when it becomes more and more obvious that when the series began, the creators hadn’t yet decided how it would end.

And both TV series and games have reasons for wanting to insert new elements or directions into their lore. For a TV series, maybe the series needs to come to a neat ending (Battlestar Galactica), or a new show runner wants to take a different direction (Doctor Who), or one of the script writers just had a really cool idea that everyone likes. In games, developers also want to be responsive to what players want, and shifts in game design. Or maybe they just want to drop in a new race of space aliens because they look cool. Or in other words, there are good reasons for wanting to twist the lore into pretzels; to improve gameplay, or to improve a dramatic arc, for example.

As fans, we’d like to think this never happened, or at least that we would never notice. And in great novels, the chances are that the author will be able to go back and adjust the lore to fit the story if s/he needs to do it before publication. But in ongoing TV series, comics, or games, that isn’t an option.

It’s a familiar dilemma to pen and paper GMs also. You think of a great idea for next week’s scenario. But how can you make it fit into the game world?

Here are a few suggestions for game designers. Next time you need to do something crazy in game for gameplay reasons, try one of these excuses to sell it to the players.

1. A Wizard Did It

A time honored D&D favourite justification. This can explain just about anything you ever want to do in a fantasy setting. And as a bonus, can cover up any failure on the part of the GM to remember some minute background detail that was mentioned in passing three years ago. Players will ALWAYS remember this sort of thing.

For example: ”Why is there a black monolith in the middle of this desert? There’s no black rock around here.” “A wizard did it.”

If you get bored of wizards or are working in a different genre try these alternatives:

  • an ancient god/ civilisation did it
  • ultra high tech did it
  • black ops/ secret government labs did it
  • you have no idea what did it  (Oo, a mystery! As a bonus, if you are lazy you can listen to players discuss their ideas and then use the one that sounds coolest.)

2. A MAD Wizard Did it

Like #1, but when the thing in question is obviously pointless, contradicts current lore, or even acts against the creator’s best interests. You can even combine 1 with 2 if players ask particularly awkward questions:

Why is Bob riding a sparkly pony!

A wizard did it.

But all wizards are afraid of stars, you told us that last week.

Uh … a MAD wizard did it.

Sometimes you can even explain that the wizard in #1 later went mad and was responsible for #2.

3. Gotterdammerung

Everything goes up in flames for no reason. But it’s ok because it’s SYMBOLIC. Bonus points if you can work in a thematic colour scheme, weather effects, and NPC names.

“Do you think Mr Justifiablehomicide wants to be our friend?”

4. Crisis on Infinite Azeroths

It’s … a crossover!

5. The Hudson Hawk Defence

Also known as ‘the totally bullshit explanation’. Just state your highly implausible explanation with a straight face and see if anyone buys it.

You’re supposed to be all cracked up at the bottom of the hill.

Air bags!Can you fucking believe it?

You’re supposed to be blown upinto fiery chunks of flesh.

Sprinkler system set up in the back.
Can you fucking believe it?

Yeah! ……. That’s probably what happened.
— Hudson Hawk

6. I woke up, and it was all a dream

Made famous by Dallas, this explanation allows you to reset the lore to any time in the past that you wish.

7. Take the blue pill, Neo

Haha, bait and switch. Everything the players thought they knew turns out to be wrong.  In The Matrix, this was because the entire world known by the protagonist was just a VR simulation.

But a similar explanation can be used to justify why the players’ allies are actually their enemies or any of their assumptions (which were encouraged strongly by the game, story, or TV series) were completely incorrect.

Players will typically accept this once, but will then choose the blue pill and try to stick with the original assumptions because those are why they liked the game in the first place anyway.

8. Break the fourth wall

I’ve got to stay here, but there’s no reason why you folks shouldn’t go out into the lobby until this thing blows over.

- Groucho, Horse Feathers

We don’t see this often in MMOs but occasionally an in-game narrator or tutorial will explain game mechanics to the player. A similar scheme can be used to try to explain lore changes that were made for gameplay reasons.

9. Blame Christopher Tolkein

Blame any changes on the vagaries of the IP’s current owner.

Christopher Tolkein and the Tolkein Estate can take the flak for Middle Earth based games, Games Workshop can shoulder the blame for changes in Warhammer, and so on.

[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.

What do you want from patch 3.1?

I haven’t written much about the upcoming class changes in WoW because it’s a moving target. Lots of changes have been mentioned. Some have been added to the test realm and then removed again, and other things have been tried which weren’t expected.

One thing we can see is that there’s some fairly hefty class balancing in the works here. It’s not a few minor changes. One goal of the dev team is to rebalance the various tanks so that they’re all roughly competitive for all the new content. So with that in mind, druids and death knights are lined up for nerfs.

Intriguingly, I don’t have a link for the quote but it was implied that Sarth+3 was never meant to be easier with a druid or death knight tanking. How could they not realise that the huge health pool and/ or crazy cooldowns on the main tank would make that fight easier?

But aside from that, there are two different types of nerf:

  1. tweaking some numbers (a bit less damage, a bit less avoidance, a bit more health, etc)
  2. changes in the way the spec plays (different rotations, new abilities, etc)

Nerfs are always bad because they imply that the designers made a mistake, but sometimes its unavoidable. And changing the way a spec plays is all very well, but what if there comes a point where it just doesn’t feel like the class the player loved any more?

That’s the danger of it.

I feel bad for my friends who play DKs who loved the interactive way the cooldowns and the avoidance gear played into the tanking. It’s not that the cooldowns are going away, I’m sure they will be fine, but being effectively told that your cool effective class was a design error is hard to take. They’ll be more like warriors in future, I think. Just instead of a shield they have loads of extra armour from auras. It’s not really the “Hey y’all, look at this! I can tank with a 2-hander” that a lot of people were looking forwards to.

This is not to say that DK tanks weren’t overpowered. They took the warrior niche of having the best ‘oh shit’ abilities and magnified it to the extreme. And it was partly those defensive cooldowns that had made warriors the preferred progression tanks in the past.

I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m actively hampering my raid in progression content just by being there. So yay for nerfs, I guess.

But at the end of the day, I’ll judge 3.1 for (prot) warriors based on whether we get:

  • dual specs
  • more damage/ threat
  • rage on dodge/parry so my threat doesn’t suffer when I get better gear
  • Not having to spam heroic strike on every cooldown to keep competitive threat

The first two are definitely in the works. For the rest, I guess we’ll wait and see.

Any special changes you’d like to see for your class right now?