Blizzard drops a Cataclysm bombshell: Guild levelling, raid lockouts, and so much for alternate advancement

I mentioned in news yesterday that Blizzard had announced that some projected Cataclysm features have been dropped. There will no doubt be more – we haven’t heard anything about the dance studio lately, for example. Here’s all the new information from wowhead, who were invited to the PR session for being a good, well behaved fansite. (Never let it be said that Blizzard don’t understand how to use rewards to get players/fansites to behave.)

The realities of coding a big project are that an idea which looked good on paper might prove too difficult or time consuming when it comes down to implementation. Or maybe there are design issues which weren’t obvious at the blue sky phase but that become crippling later on. So given that Blizzard likes to make lots of blue sky announcements years before the release of an expansion (which I think is just a bad idea), it’s inevitable that some of them won’t make it to live.

And with both of the big dropped systems – guild talents, and path of the titans, it’s fairly clear where the design issues lie. Also, as I said yesterday, it’s a good sign that they’re publically finalising the scope on the expansion. That means its moving into the final implementation stage.

So lets talk about guilds in Cataclysm

We do know that guild changes are to be front and centre to the new expansion. Guilds will be able to rise in levels, which they do via players doing stuff (quests, raids, battlegrounds, the usual) and via guild achievements (which involve lots of players doing stuff). There are 25 guild levels in total and at each level, the guild gets a new perk.

We don’t yet know what these will be but they may well include new mounts, tabards, livery for mounts (your mount can show your guild emblem), cloaks, and possibly other fancy things like extra % gold/xp for members and teleports (imagine being able to teleport to dalaran as a guild ability, rather than from an expensive ring).

So the intent is clear. If a guild has lots of active members, everyone in the guild will benefit. Blizzard measures activity via achievements because that’s what they’re like. RP guilds won’t be getting anything for organising cool events because it’s difficult to measure. I hope Blizzard can at least find a way to let guilds petition for one off achievements or guild xp for organising cool stuff (maybe via a feedback form.) But doubt that they will. Social or casual guilds also may lose out – Blizzard is very clear now that players are expected to ‘do game stuff’.

Also if you want to access these new guild rewards, you may need to pay with cold, hard gold. And you’ll need to have earned enough reputation with your guild by doing stuff. ie. not by sucking up to the GM as is traditional. Again the intent is clear – you need to be active within that guild to be able to access those rewards which the guild had earned.

We don’t know how hard it’ll be to become exalted with a guild but can probably assume that if you stay in the same guild all expansion, you’ll get exalted very quickly and by doing exactly the same things as you would to level the guild anyway.

Goodbye to guild talents, and good riddance. The original idea with guild talents was that as a guild levelled up, the GM could spend guild talent points to customise that guild. I’m delighted to see that concept go. It would only ever have been fun for GMs, and would have forced guilds to specialise in PvP/ PvE/ levelling/ etc. Plus the potential for inter-guild drama about how to spend the talent points was high.

I’m still on the fence about many of these guild plans. They aren’t bad in themselves, but I wish Blizzard could be less controlling or find ways to let players decide what sort of behaviour they want to give guild reputation for. I’d also like to see guild rep for helping people in your guild do stuff – like lower level group quests and the like. It seems wrong to me that this isn’t mentioned.

Path of the Titans dies in a fire

If you haven’t been following the press releases closely, you could be excused not knowing what this was. Path of the Titans was intended to be an alternate advancement scheme for WoW. Players could pick a titan of their choice, and by following/ doing stuff to help it, they’d be rewarded with points to spend in an entirely new set of non-class specific talent trees.

The idea is that this would broaden out the game and provide an alternate method for advancement for players. But no more, this concept was canned at the PR meeting.

I’m saddened because it sounded fun and different, even though it would probably have just been some kind of daily quest grind in practice. One of the big complaints about Path of the Titans was that if it affected gameplay, then raiders might feel forced to do it. And I suspect this is the underlying reason that it went. Lots of new abilities to balance, and disagreement on whether the Paths should be mandatory for raiding or not. Blizzard has a lot of stuff to balance for Cataclysms – big class redesigns, big crafting redesign, for example. And that’s probably limiting how confident they are in adding a whole new layer of complexity at the same time.

The argument of “raiders will feel forced to do X” is a rod that Blizzard has made for its own back. Actually, as Gevlon is proving, you don’t need to be pimped out to do normal mode raids in WoW. But in the minds of the playerbase, raiding is still a trial by fire and raiders must PROVE THEIR DEDICATION by doing every possible grind which the game allows to maximise that last % of damage/healing/ etc.

What this all proves to me is that for Alternate Advancement to really work, it truly needs to be Alternate. So whatever type of character progression is offered, it has to be something that is perpendicular to raid progression. ie. probably not to do with improving your character’s fighting ability. The reason EQ2 has alternate advancement which does improve fighting skills is that SOE have shown no interest in making raiding more accessible, and their raiders don’t whine if they are asked to jump through more hoops.

But still, you have to enjoy the incongruity between raiders being bored stiff on one hand, and yet complaining about the possibility of having more to do.

In any case, Path of the Titans is gone. And it has not really been replaced with anything. Instead, the new archaeology secondary skill will become some kind of collecting game with cosmetic rewards. Again I think the WoW team took a leaf from the EQ2 playbook because a lot of players love collecting things. I think Archaeology will be extremely popular with players, especially soloers. So good job on Blizz if they can come out with a fun implementation. It will also be good for traders because while searching for archaeology nodes, people will probably gather herbs/ore at the same time, which will end up in the AH, one way or another.

Raid Lockouts

I actually have no idea where Blizzard are going with raid lockouts, although I’m in favour of giving players more flexibility about what they do and when and with whom.

So in Cataclysm, you’ll be able to split a 25 man lockout into one or more 10 man lockouts. From a casual point of view, this will be great if we have 25 people signed up to the first raid night in the week but not enough on subsequent nights. It will not make life easier for raid leaders who have to decide who comes on the 10 man night and who stays – eg. if 19 people signed up.

The other change is that raid locks will allow a player to join several different raids during a week, as long as each raid is more progressed than the next. Or in other words, you are never allowed to kill the same boss more than once a week.

So for example, if you miss the first night of your guild raid and they kill the first 4 bosses in an instance, you could join a PUG and kill those 4 bosses and then join your guild raid the next night. I cannot really see this as being good for PUGs, especially if people increasingly drop before the last boss.

But anyhow, we’ll see how it goes.

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

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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?

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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)!

Play Dante’s Inferno if you like assaulting booth babes

edited to add: mashable.com points out that this stupid PR stunt has spawned its own hashtag so you can watch people’s reactions to it in real time by checking #eafail.

edited again to add: EA have now issued an apology for the Sin to Win contest. But at least we had a good laugh out of it first.

Thanks to Pete@Dragonchasers for wising me up on twitter last night to EA’s latest brilliant publicity stunt.

They’re running a promotion for Dante’s Inferno at Comicon this year where you have to commit ‘Acts of Lust’ with booth babes. Before I got round to pondering the sexist side of this, I was wondering if that was even legal.

Is there no anti-harassment protection in US employment law? Is prostitition legal in California? Would a contract specifying that the booth babe must allow herself to be sexually assaulted even be valid? Or is EA setting itself up for some nice lawsuits if any fans go too far and booth babes end up taking them to court? I’m sure they are usually hired as models, and even dancers in lap dancing clubs don’t usually let punters touch them up (without some kind of extra charge).

Coming hot on the heels of their ‘clever’ (as in: everyone who heard about it thought ‘that’s stupid’) stunt at E3 which involved the fake Christian extremist rally, I’m wondering which of their potential target audiences they plan to insult next.

Anyhow they are clearly going for shock PR tactics with this game, and it seems to be garnering them a lot of attention. Whether it will translate into sales we’ll have to see.

I will however  forgive them everything if they decide to highlight the deadly sin of Wrath at GenCon and someone punches out an EA executive.

WAR really wants you to come up and see it sometime

The big Warhammer Online news this week is that patch 1.2 has gone live, and along with it, the new Slayer and Choppa classes. (I keep typing Chippa instead of Choppa which makes me think of fish and chips). The new classes are bags of fun, it’s hard to really go wrong with a dual wielding melee “hit it till it falls over” style and people have been wanting their mohawk dwarves and basic orcs since forever.

The other big Warhammer Online news is that although they’ve been consolidating servers via transfers for some time, they’ve finally done some merges and closed the unneeded ones.

In the US, from 43 servers the number is now down to 17. 20 servers closed in the EU so they now have more servers than the US, but that does  include foreign language servers.

I don’t think closing servers is the great sign of doom that it used to be. Obviously losing players isn’t good but a game like Warhammer with the heavy PvP emphasis needs high populations to make it work. There simply isn’t much to do if other players aren’t around.

I also think that the reason fewer servers were closed in the EU is that GOA had been more proactive than Mythic in consolidating up until now. They’d seen the issues and tried to address them. And possibly, just possibly, the game actually has more subscribers in its continent of origin.

What it all adds up to is a game that desperately wants to be loved. Mythic/GOA have been adding content at a rate of knots, they’ve really been trying to address the issues that players had with the game, and they’ve taken the difficult step of closing servers in order to improve the game experience across the board. It’s a fun game with cool classes and a lot of smart design tweaks, set in a glowingly detailed universe with over 25 years of world development.

Also because of the new classes, the lower tiers are very very busy. It’s a good time to go check it out.

No better time than the present

And in case anyone was in any doubt about whether now was a good time to test the waters, Mythic/GOA have introduced 10 day free trials.

That’s not the end of the advertising blitz. Former subscribers, including Esri@Gaming Granny and Scott Jennings@Broken Toys have received personalised mailshots from Karl Franz himself ordering their characters back to the front line and referring to their guild and  friends who are already there. I was amused by that, nice one Mythic.

But my ‘they never??!’ award goes to wowwiki. I giggled.

Mythic’s ability at PR and spin may be one of the great unrecognised sparks of genius in the MMO arena at the moment. I thought those were all good ways of drumming up some interest.

And what about me?

I can’t be lured back because my sub is actually still active. I simply haven’t been playing much. But I did log on yesterday to pick up one of my underplayed alts and go join the tier 1 mayhem.

And yes, Tier 1 is still buckets of fun. I logged my little Knight of the Blazing Sun (it’s a tank, yes), queued myself up for scenarios and before long I too was enjoying the simple pleasure of thwacking orcs over the head and trying to protect my healer by … uh … getting in the way a lot.

PvP tanking in Warhammer is novel because it actually works. Tanks in WAR end up with a fair amount of crowd control, with the intention that you should use it to stop mean melee dudes slicing up your squishies. Added to this, collision detection means that standing in the way is not simply a way of life but also a viable tactic.

My little tier 1 tank doesn’t have much in the way of crowd control going for her yet. She has a snare to make it harder for enemies to get away. But damn if she isn’t good at being in the way.

Unsurprisingly, tier 1 is currently dominated by the new classes. And the side which is able to dredge up a couple of tanks, healers, or ranged dps to help them out has a definite advantage in scenarios. Props in particular to the brave little runepriestess, the only pure healer I saw all day, who did her best to heal me even when I failed miserably at my getting-in-the-wayness.

I don’t entirely know what the upcoming massive class imbalance will do to the game. I think a lot of people will love their new choppa/slayer and will continue to play it. But I do know that it certainly hasn’t ruined the PvP elements which I was playing.