[SWTOR] Let me tell you about my character (Sith Warrior – minor spoilers), and notes on difficulty

Fortunately (?) for my loyal readers, Bioware decided to put a maintenance window in from 10am-4pm local time today. Which means that now that I’ve figured out screenshots, I can talk more about my sith warrior and why I love it.

EA did note in a recent press release that over 850k sith warriors have been created over the holidays, so I don’t feel particularly special in that respect. Still, this one is MINE. EA are also claiming “fastest growing subscription MMO ever” which I’m sure is true, and it will be interesting to see if/when they break 2 million subscriptions. (More of an if really, because that would definitely put the game in a different ballpark than anything other than WoW.)

I make no predictions as to what the community/size will look like in 3 or 6 months. But then, I’m wavering on whether ANY new MMO could retain the majority of customers for over 6 months these days, sandbox or themepark. Bioware have already announced that they’re working on a new operation (raid) and flashpoint (instance) for the next update and it would make sense to focus the first new content on the hardcore since they’re the ones who rush through to endgame most quickly.

Anyway, on to my sith warrior… with pictures!

spinksSW1

The top picture here is Spinks riding on a speeder in Tattooine, this isn’t my personal transport (sadly that looks more like a floating lawnmower), it’s the local public transport but I thought it was a nice design. Bottom left is Spinks looking out on Nar Shaddaa which is a moon/planet taken up entirely by a Bladerunner-esque city. And the bottom right screenshot was taken inside an instance, in which I’m standing next to the viewing platform in a spaceship looking down at a planet’s surface.

As you can see, my whistle stop tour of the known galaxy to spread mayhem and destruction is going pretty well. The planets are beautiful, with plenty of open space to explore and maybe find lore objects or holocrons (unless you are totally cheating and look the locations up online in which case you can’t really call yourself an explorer). Each one has a theme, backed up with its own music, colour scheme, and architecture. So you never really get the jarring zone transition of going from a desert to a jungle that’s such a feature in many open world MMOs.

One thing that Bioware have executed brilliantly is lots of large cities that look like actual futuristic cities and not just a small collection of houses with a corner shop and pub. The urban architecture on SWTOR is absolutely stunning. It’s not true open world  where you could go into every house and interact with whoever lives there, start your own business, build your own house, but in truth very few games are. SWTOR has gorgeous themepark style cities to explore, and I love them.

The gameworld itself feels spacious. Aside from the large open vistas when you are outside a city, Bioware are comfortable with making huge cathedral-like buildings when they feel like it, even for a one man instanced class phase. There are small buildings too, but I think the larger ones add to the general epic feel.

The main hub though is the fleet which is where you’ll tend to go to meet up for flashpoints, use the auction house or bank, train crew skill recipes et al. If you don’t fancy the fleet there are other cities you could use as your own personal hub but they’ll tend to involve a slightly longer journey (Kaas City and Nar Shaddaa for Empire both have auction houses, trainers and banks, for example.) Actually travelling from one planet to another is done via your space ship, which you acquire via class questline on the second planet you visit. So you have to get to your ship via the local space port, take off, select your destination via the star map, warp through, and then exit. This doesn’t actually require any piloting ability, it’s similar to the Mass Effect style of teleporting to your destination. It does take a few minutes though, especially if you are lagging.

spinksSW2

Top screenshot here is inside a palace in Aldaraan, with my handy companion and a rebellious noble who I captured and am delivering to justice (or my personal variant that once met justice for an awkward blind date before deciding that they really had nothing much in common.) My class storyline is exciting mostly because I’m starting to care more about it and the various characters involved. I want to see what happens next, I recognise foreshadowing as it is happening. It isn’t a coincidence that a couple of the quest NPCs associated with long planetary questlines recently have both warned me about my sith master, hinting that my long term interests may not be his.

The second screenshot is from Tattooine, and an encounter that I had with my darkside shadow (that’s why she’s looking especially murky) who also told me off about being overly light side. She was extremely convincing. I am reconsidering my character’s morality strongly right now, and this is the kind of story based experience which is making the game so compelling.

Tattooine, although I didn’t realise it at the time, has also hosted a couple of the most memorable quests I’ve run so far. One was part of the class quest, where your warrior is instructed to go search out a sand demon and bathe in its blood. “Simple,” you think, “Mr Sand demon, meet Mr Lightsabre.” But the Jedi you are tracking down apparently accomplished this without killing. So the question is, are you feeling competitive enough to say “Well if she could do it then so can I!!!” or do you just kill the thing and get the blood and have done with it? I went with the first option, and felt pathetically proud when I was able to pick out responses that allowed me to do it. Clearly at some point you’ll be able to look this stuff up online – but by doing that you’ll miss out on how it /feels/ to think it through yourself. This is what MMOs have lost by getting rid of puzzles that require you to think things through.

The other Tattooine questline I enjoyed was about an ancient alien artifact with a corrupting influence. This for me was a great example of how good questing can be. There was lots of travelling, fighting, talking to NPCs, and the final fight in an ancient tomb was very well balanced for me. I won, but used all my cooldowns and ended up on a sliver of health.

SWTOR isn’t a hard game, but I do find it entertaining that the harder bosses in the single player storyline are noticeably tougher. It’s a place where the mechanics really underpin the storytelling. Although there was one fight on a hidden orbital station that I found really tough, only to realise afterwards that there were two tanks full of healing gas that I could have broken mid-fight to heal myself up. “Oh!” I thought, “that’s how I should have done it.” But there was no time before the fight to explore the scenery and figure that out.

In which I remember I was going to talk about flashpoints

I have not been religiously running every flashpoint or heroic/ group quest as they come up for me, but the flashpoints I have seen so far have ranged from “really fun” (Black Talon) to “kind of cool” (Athiss, Mandalorian Raiders — both of which are more similar to WoW instances  in terms of the layout).

My sith warrior is Vengeance specced. That means her advanced class is Juggernaut, but I’m focussing on a dps tree. I still do get some baseline abilities that help with tanking and I have been tanking the instances. It would be truer to say that we’ve tended to dual tank them, which works quite well given that I’m not currently full tank spec. The sith warrior (unsurprisingly) reminds me a lot of Vanilla-esque WoW warriors in that their AE threat isn’t very impressive, and they have a sunder armour type debuff and an AE thunderclap-esque ability. They also have a variety of response skills (ie. things you can use after you have parried, or when your opponent is stunned et al) that do good damage if you use them appropriately, although elite mobs are fairly resistant to stuns and knockbacks. So being adept at target switching when you are trying to tank more than one mob will come in handy. I’ve heard complaints about the Sith Warrior’s tanking, but I’m finding it fine.

Generally, the trash mobs are fairly simple but the bosses may have more involved mechanics. None of them so far have been especially complicated, but using interrupts appropriately makes many of the encounters MUCH easier.

Mandalorian Raiders was the first instance where mobs really started to use knockbacks against us, handily knocking me off a platform mid fight. (This is where having multiple tanks gets really useful.) Lesson learned, in future I’m tanking with my back to the wall. The final boss was also good fun, teleporting around the room while turrets fired on the players from all corners. It felt like a very interactive fight, with me (as the tank) keeping the boss occupied as best I could while dps took out the turrets and Arb’s healer somehow kept us all up with some phenomenal multitasking.  I’m looking forwards to trying out the others as we level up a bit — I keep hearing that The Foundry has awesome lore, so that may be a particular high point.

Links, and the last word on tank numbers in WoW

First off, good luck to Kadomi (of Tank like a Girl renown) with her new blog, Live like a Nerd which is going to have a broader base than the WoW-centred blog. I’m a big fan, and welcome to life after WoW!

Pete at Dragonchasers ponders how he feels about challenge in games. I’m firmly in this camp where feeling overly threatened by a game just makes me turn it off. When I see a hard mode, I automatically think, “Oh it’ll be too hard for me,” and switch it to normal (or easier)  even though I’m a fairly experienced gamer. For people like me they should label the modes, “Beginner”, “Don’t worry, it’s a bit harder but you can do it,” and “Think before you rush in.” In any case, it’s perfectly legitimate to want your challenge doled out in a careful curve so as not to frighten the less macho amongst us.

Moon Over Endor posts about his experience with the extended SWTOR demo that was held recently in London. SWTOR announced on Friday that they’ve retooled class roles somewhat so that now Smuggler/ Agent is the only class that cannot tank, dps, or heal (they can’t tank!) — all the others can. (edited to add: Nope, my bad. What changed is that trooper/ bounty hunter and inquisitor/ consular both get the option of all three roles — smuggler/ agent can’t tank and jedi knight/ sith warrior can’t heal. Thanks expostninja for the correction.) I am amused at the notion of a trooper as a ranged healer, I hope they get a healing gun :)

Nick Dinicola at PopMatters explains why the whole point of Dragon Age 2 is that your character is limited in their ability to change things. He also puts his finger on one of the things I like about the setup which is that I’m a bit tired of the hero’s journey and like the idea of playing a character who is a bit less special.

Eurogamer reports that EA is planning its own version of realID (or at least a persistent identity across all EA games).

And finally, Bashiok (a Blizzard community manager) posts about making WoW easier:

Overcoming all of the obstacles (I CHOOSE NOT TO SHOOT HER WITH THE SILVER ARROW… NOOOOO) was a big part of what gaming (I HAVE 1 LIFE!?), and especially PC gaming (HOW DO I LOAD MOUSE DRIVERS?), <used to be> about. But, I feel we’re lucky to now be in an age where those ideals (intended or not) are giving way to actual fun, actual challenge, and not fabricating it through high-reach requirements

Clearly he hasn’t tried to play Mass Effect 2 on a PC recently, if the amount of hassle I have had in trying to persuade it to locate its own saved games are any indication.

And on that note, Bioware are giving a free copy of ME2 on PC to anyone who buys DA2 before 30th April (including people who already own it). Astoundingly, some people are complaining about this. When I started it up, I commented on twitter that I wondered if the Illusive Man was a love interest and got this:

Cdr_Shepard Commander J. Shepard

@copperbird What the hell… ?
Got to love twitter.

LFD and tank/ healer numbers

I wonder if the LFD tool itself has contributed to having fewer tanks and healers in the queues.

Why? Well, when forming groups was difficult, players who really wanted to socialise in games tended to roll tanks or (more commonly) healers. It was well known that doing this would automatically make you popular without all the hassle of actually having to make friends with people. (Note: this is not to say that no tanks/ healers have social skills since most of them do, it’s just that it was a shortcut to being quite popular in groups in game when you were new and didn’t know anyone.) For example, I always felt well loved in vanilla when I played a holy priest.

But now, with LFD, groups are more accessible to everyone. Playing a tank/ healer just offers shorter queues. So people who mostly wanted to tank/ heal to get groups now have a choice — wait longer or take the grouping roles. And if the instances or the random groups are sufficiently annoying when tanking/ healing then they may well be deciding to just suck up the longer queues as dps.

[Cataclysm] A few thoughts on tanking and instances

(I will write a more inclusive view on Cataclysm when I’ve seen more of it. At the moment, I’ve been posting thoughts more or less as they occurred to me. There’s a lot to like, though. A LOT.)

I’ve had a chance to run a few instances now, mostly with my guild but a couple with PUGs also. I don’t feel I have the mental stamina needed to tank a PUG – but sometimes it ends up happening anyway. i.e. If the tank is really struggling with a boss and I know my gear is better I’ll offer to switch. This is not to say that gear is the be all and end all, but 30k extra health isn’t to be sniffed at either. We’ve been running normal instances. I’d suggest that unless you really are in a hardcore guild, consider running normals for awhile before you move into heroics. They’re plenty hard as it is, you can pick up some nice blue drops, and it’s a good chance to really learn them.

The good news is that threat hasn’t been an issue. I haven’t done any reforging, on the basis that I’d see how my gear held up first and then decide which stats might need to be boosted. Or in other words, in levelling quest rewards and a couple of blue badge rewards (I had some points going in to Cataclysm to spend), I haven’t had any need to reforge for more hit or expertise to tank normal instances. I don’t imagine it’s necessary for heroics either – only in raids where the bosses are higher level.

Second good news is that protection warriors do fine. Maybe we have to work harder than other tanks, maybe we don’t have the crazy self (and group) heals that paladins do (although victory rush puts up some big numbers) but I haven’t had any issues with either tanking groups, picking up adds, or holding on to bosses.

Having said all that, here are a few tips:

1/ Get used to using crowd control. It’s probably worth marking up any group where you are not absolutely sure what each mob does. At least while you are learning.

2/ Assume people in PUGs will not know what the bosses do yet so take time to explain (or make someone else explain) before you pull one.

3/ The good news is, you don’t have to do all the marking yourself. I’ve found that CC classes are quite happy to be asked to mark their own mobs, and they’ll also have an idea of which mobs are positioned most easily for crowd control too. Just assign each CC character a symbol at the start of the instance.

4/ Gevlon has noted that having two healers will help on encounters/ instances where more of the pressure is on tanks/heals than on dps. I haven’t tried heroics but encourage your healer to ask hybrids for help when they know a fight is going to be hard. We used to regularly do this in TBC (I remember on my druid asking shadow priests to switch to healing on a couple of fights in the Arcatraz.)

5/ Heroic leap is great! But … perhaps you don’t need to use it on absolutely every pull, and it will break crowd control.

Cataclysm Screenshot of the Day

cata_daypic5

A couple of screenshots from Deepholm, the plane of elemental earth.  My screenies don’t really do justice to the amazing way the whole zone is lit.

It came from the PUG: Is there something in the Northrend water that turns people into idiots?

One of the big questions in WoW at the moment is what effect the lack of challenge in heroic instances will have on the playerbase as a whole.

The gear progression has been so steep in Wrath, and Blizzard have been so keen to make sure that new 80s can easily catch up (which is a worthy goal and has made a lot of players very happy!) that players race through the level 80 heroics with barely any need or knowledge of tactics. Everything gets pulled in clumps and AEd down. A dps class is measured on how quickly they can down trash – great for puffing up the damage meters. A tank is measured on how quickly they can grab AE threat and sustain it. A healer is measured on how invisible they are to the rest of the group while this is happening – plus ca change.

So the thought is that players are currently being trained to expect that all instances will be a 10 minute AE gankfest. And anything less will be met with screams of frustration. But is that really true?

I’ve run a few PUGs on levelling alts recently, and actually I found that players tend to adapt far better than that. If they need to communicate, then they will pause and do it. So on a BRD emperor run, even the newbies who were acting like twits sat and listened to instructions and used their torches correctly.

For sure, there are still players who forget that not everyone is in full heirlooms and try to run low level instances as if they were on their ICC geared mains. But I suspect that doesn’t last long. The tank who pulled half of Ragefire Chasm last night and then bitched at the healer when we wiped will learn that doesn’t work. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

And yet somehow, as soon as players cross the sea to Northrend, they forget it all again

What I have found in general is that aside from the odd tosser, low level groups do tend to eventually get it together.  But somehow, as soon as you start queueing for Northrend normal instances, everyone acts like an idiot again.

So my latest alt in Northrend is a DK tank, and yes I picked blood spec because I like it. The up-front AE threat isn’t as strong as others, but it’s a perfectly fine tanking spec. If I group with impatient dps, I usually mark the first mob with a skull so that they know it will be the one with the highest initial threat. Pretty simple, stuff you’d think. Or at least you might think that if you have never tanked, in which case you would know that inevitably the skull-marked mob will always be the last one standing.

The other day, I did this in a group and one of the other players went ballistic when I asked him to kill the skull first. It was all, “Screw your skull!!!!!” and the like.   I can’t be bothered with that type of hassle any more so I explained that there were lots of things I could be doing in the next 30 minutes and any of them were better than tanking for him, and left.

But what I don’t understand is why he was so angry. I wasn’t rude. All I asked was for him to target the skull first.

Maybe he associated marking as something that was bad, or a mark of a bad group or bad tank. Or just resented being reminded that he wasn’t in a group with a bunch of silent NPC minions who would get on and do their thing so that he could sit back, AE every group and then profit.

Maybe it’s all the saronite in the water, but something in Northrend seems to make players forget anything they possibly learned in instances while levelling.  It is all too easy to understand why people get put off tanking in Northrend. I will probably switch my DK over to dps and only tank with friends, at least until I’ve had a chance to gear up. It’s no skin off my nose and will be a lot less stressful.

End of the Expansion Blues

If there was any doubt that we were nearing the end of an expansion in WoW, the start of the Cataclysm alpha has put a line underneath it.

From here on, there will be one more content patch – it will contain a small non-progression raid to dispense trinkets and other epic sparklies, some fun PvE questlines (retake Gnomeregan or the Echo Isles), the battle.net Real ID integration, and whatever else Blizzard decide to do in preparation for the expansion that is to come.

And frankly, even though we haven’t yet killed the Lich King in 25 man raid, the kill cannot be too far away. I’d give it a month or so, depending on how raid attendance goes. And for a casual progression guild, that’s a good result which will make people happy.

But for all that, I’m worn down with Wrath raiding. It’s been fun, and I have a post in progress to go through some of the high and low points.  I’ll keep up my end of the weekly schedule as long as everyone else is keen, but I could give it up right now. I can see a mixture of reasons.

  • ICC holds very few tanking challenges for any tank who has cleared Ulduar. LK may be different but it won’t matter if I’m bored by the time I get there. From talking to friends who have tried heroic ICC, I don’t hold out much hope for those encounters either.
  • I don’t personally have any other avenues for progression. Aside from alting.
  • My efforts to get a 10 man crew together haven’t really worked (partly because other people are feeling end of Wrath blues too). I blame my social skills (ie. lack of friends) rather than gaming ones, but the enthusiasm for trying again has run dry.

I think the lack of challenge in ICC is an interesting issue. It isn’t that the encounters aren’t difficult, you only have to look at the hardcore versions to see how few guilds have completed them all. But the difficulty doesn’t really involve my role so I often feel as though I’m just ferrying bosses around while everyone else does the actual work. This is not why I raid.

So pardon me if I fail to get over excited about Cataclysm alpha leaks (why do they even bother with an NDA any more, I wonder?). It’s because I’m wondering if the raid game of the future has moved on and become something I’m no longer going to enjoy. Or maybe it’s just end of the expansion blues.

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.

[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.

Icecrown Citadel: Is tanking getting dull?

So, yesterday I was pondering what makes the tanking side of a raid encounter fun for me. And the reason was that I spotted this thread on the official forums, where an old school raiding tank is finding that the ICC encounters fail to thrill.

…on most of these fights I would much rather just be <…> a DPS spec in DPS gear than having to spend the vast majority of the fight in tank spec in tank gear, doing <poor> DPS, <…> just waiting for that very brief moment or two where I actually may have to do something that requires me to be at my keyboard.

Now that’s fighting talk, but does it speak to a design change in the encounter design. Is Blizzard deliberately trying to make room for at least one less demanding tanking role in the raid?

I thought I’d go through some of the fights and pick apart his thoughts.

1. Marrowgar. The saberlash mechanic (which requires all the tanks to stand on top of each other and move together as a group) is familiar to TBC tanks, but I think this is the first time it has been used in Wrath, at least in a way that required the tanks to move around. I disagree with the poster on this one, I think it’s fine. It isn’t hard per se but it’s an interesting challenge in teamwork to stick together.

I also think he’s rather hung up on MT (main tank) vs (OT) designation. On this particular fight, all three tanks are main tanking. It’s mostly irrelevant who actually has aggro.

2. Lady Deathwhisper. Phase one involves lots of add pickup, plenty of work for all the tanks and again not a clear MT/ OT designation. Phase two involves some tank switches and taunt rotations, plus trying to avoid ghosts. Again, same job for all tanks.

Again, quite a fun fight for tanks. Plenty of running around at the start followed by a more focussed rotation in phase 2.

3. Gunship. Jobs for at least two tanks here, one to defend the home ship by picking up adds, and one to jump across and stop Muradin from trashing the rest of the away team. Not a lot for a third tank to do, true.

Again the MT/ OT designation is irrelevant. It isn’t clear to me that one job is harder than the other, depending on how good you are at managing your rocket pack. I find this fight quite fun, so not really seeing the hate.

4. Saurfang. Again two tanks with identical jobs which involves another taunt rotation whenever a named debuff lands on the other tank.

This is a genuinely dull tanking fight, I can feel myself falling asleep sometimes. But coming after some fun fights, it’s OK to have a change of pace and let the ranged dps have some fun. Again, I’m not seeing which is the MT or which is the OT.

5. Festergut. Another fight which involves two tanks with identical jobs. Tank for a bit, then go dps for a bit.

This is probably more fun for tanks who can actually put out some decent dps when they aren’t tanking. I’m sure it’s a blast for druids. The taunt rotation mechanic is starting to seem repetitive.

6. Rotface. The offtank here has by far the more fun and demanding role, because they get to kite oozes around. The main tank sits on the boss, and tries to stop it puking on too many people.

7. Putricide. There’s some fun abomination driving for tanks in this fight, but phase three is yet another tank switching taunt rotation.

8. Blood Princes. I’ll tank skull, you tank star. The ranged tank looks to have the more fun job here. DPS are required to switch targets and avoid ranged attacks, moving out of fireballs and such like. The non-ranged tanks mostly stand still.

9. Blood Queen. Not quite a saberlash effect but something similar. 100% of the damage done to the main tank also goes to the person closest to the main tank (who will have the blood mirror debuff.)

This is the fight that drove the original poster nuts because his job was just to stand there and take damage. While he could interact with the boss (ie. hit her), he didn’t really feel it mattered. He also couldn’t take part in the fight’s  key mechanic, getting infected by vampirism and having to bite people, because the off tank is immune.

Even if the damage was worth mentioning, my role can still be easily accomplished if a rock was playing my character.

So what’s the verdict?

I haven’t tried all these fights myself yet, but the one I am really looking forwards to trying is Putricide if I get to drive an abomination. The others – maybe he has a point. There is a lot of repetitive tank switching, it’s true. I could see myself volunteering for DPS duties (which would be easier to justify if I could get my Arms dps up a bit) because many fights do sound more interactive for them.

But – we asked for more fights that required several tanks. We said that we didn’t want any more fights like Malygos where the off tank has very little to do. We said we didn’t want more fights like XT where one tank could comfortably manage both boss and adds. And the devs listened.

So what changed? Is it just that we wanted more interesting jobs for those off tanks, or that now we’ve been able to gear up our dps offspecs so feel more able to volunteer for whichever role looks to get a more interesting encounter? Or is this part of Blizzard’s plan to make tanking more accessible and to spread the encounter difficulty between roles more evenly.

Either way, until we’ve seen the last wing of the Citadel, we can’t come to any final answers. But that tank switching mechanic is definitely getting dull.

10 factors that make a fun tanking fight

This may be hard to believe for those who have never trod the hallowed path of the main tank, but staring at giant boss toenails for hours at a time while hammering out your main threat rotation can pall. You sense that there is activity going on elsewhere in the room as raid members make intriguing comments on voicechat such as “Arrgh, who put that fire there?”, “Heal me!!” and “Is it dead yet?” or die in explosive and interesting ways. And sometimes you might fall over dead without warning yourself; often a sign that the healers are bored too or you broke another shield.

Nope, main tanking has a prestige that is often totally out of proportion to how fun the encounter actually is. It shows that you’re trusted by the raid, but not necessarily by the developers.

Raid designers have a tricky job where tanks are concerned. In most MMOs, the tank’s job cannot be easily shared, so each tank in an encounter needs to be given a different task. So for example, one tank on the main boss, one on adds. Or maybe a fight which forces tank switches (no single tank can hold the boss for the whole fight, you have to organise some kind of tanking relay or rotation), or maybe two sets of mobs to control in separate rooms.

Blizzard have been moving steadily towards designing raid encounters that are more fun for everyone. That means away from the traditional ‘tank and spank’ which involved lots and lots of close-ups of boss toenails, in favour of something closer to dog agility trials. Often individual healers or dps will have different jobs to do in a boss fight now also, it’s much harder for anyone to huddle at the back and pretend they’re just along for the ride.

But just getting back to basics, I wanted to look at what makes an encounter fun for the tanks. There are bound to be people who prefer the old-style fights where they were worshipped as gods and never really asked to do much except tank a boss in the middle of the room – but I think they’re the minority. At least among raid tanks, who were drawn to the role because of the greater interactivity.

  1. Movement. Any fight where you have to move around is a good one, especially when the room itself makes for an attractive backdrop or has other features that come into play. If the movement involves a rocket pack of any variety, that’s an extra bonus.
  2. Interacting with the boss. We all have some kind of threat priority or rotation – in time it’ll become second nature. But it’s always fun to get a boss where you get to mix things up a bit. Maybe you have to throw in an interrupt, or there’s an encounter specific item to use. Any fight where I get to use spell reflect, for example, is more amusing than the rest.
  3. Adds. Oh, how we complain about adds coming into the fight, but bouncing around the room picking up stray adds is an opportunity to show off and keeps us focussed.
  4. Adds which need to be herded or gathered in a particular way. I get far too much enjoyment really out of trying to get my adds all lined up for that perfect shockwave, but I also enjoy the fights where it’s important to pick them up quickly and keep them facing away from the raid … or towards it. Similar to kiting, but a slightly different set of skills involved.
  5. Watching the scenery. However much we complain about getting out of the fires, it’s fun to have to keep an eye on the area around you as well as the giant toenails.
  6. Kiting. Now, I never used to be a fan of fights that required the tank to move the boss around the room, but it is again a chance to show your skills at maintaining threat, keeping your shield facing towards the boss, and still moving smartly and accurately around the area, even when you have most of your field of vision blocked. Malygos was the king of kiting fights – once I nailed that, I got to rather enjoy it.
  7. Working together with the other tanks. It’s fun to have to work out a coordinated strategy that is more involved than “I’ll take skull and you take star.”
  8. Making an emergency save. Usually we want our boss fights to be clean, predictable, and well drilled. But when something goes wrong, is it possible to rescue the situation with some kind of last ditch “use all cooldowns and say your prayers” dash? If so, it’s a more interesting fight than one where as soon as one person dies, you might as well wipe.
  9. Fights with several different tanking roles. I’ve always quite enjoyed off tanking myself, and some of the best tanking encounters feature interesting and different roles for each tank. This is great because it means that even though you usually take one role, there’s still more to learn (i.e.. before you get bored of the whole thing).
  10. Any fight where you get to show off, even if no one else sees. Tanks don’t really get to compare epeens on the damage meter (or at least I certainly don’t), but we tend to be looking out for opportunities to strut our stuff in a way that staring at toenails doesn’t allow us to express.

Writing this list, I’m wondering how much applies to other roles too, and whether this obsession with movement fights is just something I do because I like zooming around a room.

So that was the Icecrown Citadel Lower Spire

Finally after all those months of waiting, jousting, questing, clearing out necropoli, Old Gods and Dragon Aspects, our characters have had the chance they’ve all been waiting for to charge in against the Lich King head on.

And lo, it was good. In all the flurry of the dungeon finder excitement and people discussing minor strategic details and fretting over the difficulty and the bear butt rockets, it would be easy for a reader to miss the fact that the Icecrown Citadel is a fantastically cool and very fun raid instance.

None of the boss fights are clunkers, they’re certainly all good fun to tank, and the atmosphere, music and graphics are superb. Imagine that you’ve fought through Icecrown, using every trick in the book to set back the Lich King’s plans and finally arrived with the elite of the Horde army at the fortress itself. A siege engine (bringing fond memories of Warhammer) has done its work and the entrance is now open.

Inside, an eerie chill pervades the stone and metal halls. The crafters of the ebon blade and argent dawn have joined forces to set up a base camp for the assault. The leaders of both factions are present, and Tirion even gives one of his trademark dreadful pep talks as final checks are completed and we get ready for our first push. One of my goals this week is to get more screenshots to provide for a better travelogue.

Note: I’ve had bosses who gave pep talks like that. You know the sort where you feel worse after hearing it than you did before?

For now, here Spinks is sandwiched between two bears as we’re about to go pull the first boss. Feel free to criticise my UI (and I can’t remember why I had recount up either).

marrowgar

We’ve been raiding Icecrown every week apart from Christmas, and although Saurfang still hasn’t fallen to us, we’re had some good attempts and it’s just a matter of time. (Hopefully tonight, even.)

Even my death knight, still struggling with that new shiny badge armour smell, has been able to sneak into a pick up group to go farm some reputation in there. But bosses will die eventually, the main thing is … she’s in Icecrown too!

Fun Times for Tanks

I’m finding that all of the Icecrown boss fights so far have been really fun to tank. When you play through this type of content, you remember that yes, Blizzard actually is that good at creating fun raid fights.

The key is that all the fights can use more than one tank (I hear that people do Lady Deathwhisper with a single tank in 10 man, as long as someone else can step up in phase 2 – maybe a feral switching to bear or death knight in frost presence.)

There are some standard techniques used for this. The saberlash requires more than one tank (although this may change once we all outgear the fight), fights where tanks get debuffed and have to taunt off each other are another way to ensure more than one tank has a use, and fights where there are several spawns of mobs to tank in different areas need more than one tank running around.

But truth be told, the raid fights are significantly more fun for us when several tanks are required. We enjoy working as a tanking team, and it feels like a reward for the fact we’ve played together all expansion and all trust each other.

Marrowgar – The main tank issue here is his saberlash mechanic. Saberlash, introduced back in Zul Aman, means that the boss has a large cleave attack where the damage is divided evenly between characters standing in front of him.  So the answer is to have several tanks standing on top of each other, fighting for aggro on the boss.

I always found this good fun because it needs the tank corps to be quite coordinated. We run in together. We run out together. We dodge the fires and whirlwinds together. It’s very important that you learn to keep an eye on the other tanks and spot where they are moving.

In the picture above, you can see us standing together at one side of the room. This is (thanks to Moo) where we usually pull from. We’d run in together from here and the rest of the raid would be near the entrance to the room.

Lady Deathwhisper – I enjoy fights where I get to zoom around and pick up loads of adds, and Lady Deathwhisper certainly fits that mould. Not only do we have our own mobs to pick up, but when one of the fanatics becomes deformed (ie. grows huge, hits like a truck, should be kited rather than tanked) we can pingpong them across the room by taunting from other tanks and back again.

Communication is key here. Because the room is large, it helps the raid if we call out when one of our mobs just became empowered or deformed.

Phase two has one of the basic ™ tactics for using multiple tanks. The boss puts a debuff on whoever is top of the threat list. After the debuff has stacked to a certain amount, someone else has to taunt her away until the debuff has fallen off. So you have two tanks who have to pay attention to each other’s debuffs.

Gunship – Rise up, sons of the Horde! (I giggle every time Saurfang says this.)

This one needs two tanks because there are two different locations with tankable mobs. One stays behind to pick up the adds who jump across (picking up the captain as priority because he whirlwinds, I believe) and the other jumps across to the far boat to tank the boss.

So there’s lots of running around to do, lots of target switching, and rocket packs to play with also. This was always going to be a winner.

Note that if you are tanking the boss on the far boat, if you pull him close to the edge then your healers can help heal without having to jump across themselves.

Deathbringer – This is the dullest of the Icecrown fights for melee, since their main goal is to hit the boss and not get hit by the adds. It isn’t a lot more exciting for tanks. Again the debuff mechanic is used which means the main thing to focus on is taunting off the other tank when she gets marked.

I’m looking forwards to seeing the next wing too. How about you? Had a chance to see Icecrown yet?