Weekend Update: Getting ready for Ulduar

If I have been lax with WoW updates lately it is because I have dialled back my time in game. At the moment, I am mostly just logging in for raids and to do auction-housing at weekends. I’ve stopped running weekly 10 man Naxx sessions, because even with alts, the interest dried up.

This is not especially a bad thing. It’s important not to feel forced to play any game when you’d rather not  — that’s a cornerstone of my casual ethos! And since my 10 man runs were always meant to be optional fun-runs, I’ll take the lack of interest as a sign to slow down. So, playing much less but not burned out and I still enjoy our raid nights.

The raids have been more unfocussed lately. The general feel is that this is because dps are now pretty darn geared. Tank threat was dialled so high at the beginning of the expansion that no one really had to think about it. Now, they do, and some people aren’t as quick to adjust as others. Tanks also are adjusting to the world in which threat is important.

I noticed this early enough to pick up a good threat set and really try to work on it. For which I owe many thanks to the other more experienced protwarrior bloggers, theorycrafters, and forum posters who generously described the hows and whys of threat and how they went about maximising it. And also all the guys who manage to put out insane dps while tanking Patchwerk and were happy to talk about how they did it. I’m not up with the stars but I was happy to hit 2k dps when tanking him last week.

Short form: The keys are lots of expertise, using dps trinkets when you are defence capped and have ‘enough’ heath, and hammering Heroic Strike.

I expect this to be an issue through Ulduar also. In a way, it would be sad if it wasn’t and it’ll make the fights more interesting. Also it’s a way to separate out the great dps players from the merely good :)

Getting ready for Ulduar

The next patch brings a new focus on raiding. A new, harder raid instance, and lots of progression raids to accompany it. Also, there will be a new arena season, and more solo content so a big upturn in activity in game.

The main two ways to prepare for this are:

  1. Lay in stocks of what you might need for your own use
  2. What can you stock up now that might sell for more gold after the patch?

So as a raider, I want to be able to lay my hands on a few week’s worth of consumables. Mostly flasks, since we’ll (probably) be dying a lot and the Stoneblood Flask is also getting a boost. Gems, enchants, and other enhancements like leg armour and belt buckles may be worth stocking up if you really want to make a virtue of being prepared.

In my case, I can farm saronite and swap it with our jewelcrafters for gems  and I can make my own belt buckles so I’m not really sweating it. It isn’t as if I’m really short of gold. With the help of guildies, we donated a stack of buckles to the guild bank which should keep people in buckles for awhile.

Dual speccing also means needing more glyphs. I don’t know whether I’d advise buying pre-patch. Prices might go up, but then again every inscriptor  on the server might suddenly get really active in competing with each other on the AH, so who knows?

The other intriguing loot area is the new recipes that will be dropping in Ulduar for blacksmithing/ leatherworking/ tailoring gear. If they are like the SSC patterns, then they may be rare drops. On the other hand, everyone and his dog will be in Ulduar as soon as it goes live. I figure titansteel bars/ arctic fur, and whichever cloth the tailors will need are probably safe to stock. Also elemental earth for the blacksmithing pieces.

Ideally, the pattern will be really rare but I’ll get one in our first Ulduar excursion ;P I think this is unlikely.

The main thing with making money from patch 3.1 is that there has been a lot of time for anyone who is interested to stock up items to sell and plenty of publicity about what the patch will contain. So there could be many many people with titansteel, glyphs, etc. stocked up. It’s hard to really know before the patch hits.

Safest bets are probably raid consumables. Frost Lotuses get used in large amounts. People will always want gems and enchants. There’s a new arena season coming also so that means a lot of people will be getting new gear.

But don’t go overboard on stacking blue quality gems. Bear in mind that people can turn in their heroic badges for blue gems and a lot of people have a lot of spare badges.

Anyone who can be bothered to collect stacks of raid food (or meat that can be turned into raid food) is probably also onto a good thing. Many people have plenty of gold and will happily spend it in order to avoid the duller side of raid preparation. Put it up on the auction house on maintenance day because that’s when most guilds start their raid week. (That’s my big money making tip, by the way.)

The other thing I’ve done is play my warlock some more. He’s just my fun dps alt, but he’s now exalted with the Kirin Tor which means that he can make Sapphire Spellthread. I’m stocking this to sell, partly for the cash and partly because he gets skill points from making it anyway.

Practicing that off-spec

I’ve also been dusting off my Fury gear and spending some of my excess badges on dps upgrades.

Tanks seem to be becoming rarer — I think people saw the glut and aren’t levelling their alts as tanks any more. Certainly I’ve been in more demand to tank heroics for people, so not as much chance to practice dps as I would have liked. I think I’m pretty much done with heroics now, even with friends I’m struggling to stay focussed these days.

Are you getting ready for Ulduar, or just take things as they come?

Tokens! And why Ulduar-10 is a problem

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

Why we love tokens:

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

Why we hate tokens:

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

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

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

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

The problem with 10 man Ulduar

OK, so the problem with Ulduar tokens is this:

Currently there are two types of raid token in Wrath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gossip! How are easy raids affecting servers?

I was writing last week about keeping in touch with server news, but I did miss out one way that I track guild moves on my server.

I check bboards of other guilds.

I can never decide if this is fair game or whether it is just one step up from cyber-stalking. In either case, it’s a habit I got into back in the days when I was the priest officer in a 40 man guild. The guild leaders used to get on my back any time we weren’t able to field five priests on a raid night so I spent a fair amount of time trying to second guess how many I needed to recruit and who might be planning on leaving and need to be replaced.

You can see where this is going. Initially I tracked the application boards of more progressed raid guilds so that if a good priest applied to them and was rejected, I could contact the player in game and ask if they were interested in a tryout with us.

But sometimes what you found was that a player from your guild had applied to ‘move up’ without letting anyone know. We were never a guild who took punitive measures when this happened. It sounds wacky to read now but some guilds would boot a player just for applying to another guild. Maybe some still do. If you do, you’re a bunch of nutters by the way …. just saying. Anyway, we didn’t boot people for that, but I took it as a sign to start looking for a replacement.

It was quite common for officers to scan other guilds’ public bboards at the time. ie. not just my freaky gossip-herding habits. So word got around. A lot of the more hardcore guilds started to take private applications – they knew that some of the players they’d want to recruit didn’t want to risk punitive action from their own guilds if they applied and were rejected. But fortunately, on my server this was not the norm so I was able to enjoy keeping tabs on guild movements in peace.

From the non-officer point of view, keeping an eye on the public forums of guilds which you aspire to join can also give you an insight into what they are like, and what they look for in recruitment posts. eg. If guild officers mock applicants who don’t write in full sentences and use good grammar, it’s a very different type of guild from one where everyone uses txtspk.

It isn’t just a WoW phenomenon either. Scanning guild boards in other games is just as useful a way to keep up with what’s going on. If nothing else, it’ll tell you whether the guild tends to use its public boards or not.

That was then, this is now

These days, we care less about the application boards. Also, there are more raid guilds around in WoW. It’s harder to know who the more influential guilds are. People in general fuss less about ‘server firsts’ and more about who runs raids on their preferred schedule, or which guild likes or dislikes achievements,  because they assume that most raids will be running most content. Sarth+3, whilst the hardest encounter in game at the moment, is not one that everyone cares about.

And even just scanning bboards from the older hardcore guilds, you can see this in the applications that they receive. There was a time when a server first guild never had a shortage of applicants for any class. That time is gone, at least on my server.

Partly I think most people don’t know or care which of the various raid guilds is better or worse. This comes down to Blizzard having scaled the Wrath raids such that most organised raid groups blitzed through them.

But I know what I’m seeing is guilds listing which classes they are looking for, and getting some … unimpressive applications. I’m not talking about hilariously bad here. Just people who wouldn’t normally be applying to high end guilds — new 80s, people with no previous raid experience. The kind of people we’d take if they had friends in our guilds! And I mean no disrespect to my alliance (who rock), but one of our strengths has always been in teaching new people how to raid. It’s not so much what I expect to see from the more hardcore groups.

So my scuttlebutt at the moment is that easing the difficulty of raiding has smashed server coherence. There are very few gradations between a hardcore and a midrange raid guild right now. And no reason at all for anyone to be raiding more than 2-3 days a week (I see people advertise 5 raid nights – WHAT DO THEY DO ON THOSE 5 NIGHTS? I really want to know! Or maybe I don’t.).

What’s worse for the hardcore guys is that because they have fewer ways to demonstrate their skill/organisation, regular players cease to care. And without any external pressure to funnel more hardcore players into those guilds (why bother, when you can raid all the content in your current guild), they’re struggling to replace turnover. This may be healthier for individual midrange guilds. I know it is more comfortable for us to not be losing our best raiders at a continual drip. It’s probably also a much better situation for individual raiders. It’s nice to be able to raid with friends and not be frustrated because they don’t progress as fast as you’d like.

But if Ulduar isn’t hard enough to let the hardcore guilds pull ahead, expect them to start dying.

Handing out the legendaries

Amongst all the information we’ve been seeing on patch 3.1 are hints of
a legendary weapon. Legendaries in WoW have been rare items, often with particularly good bonuses or abilities, that have required people to not only kill raid bosses but also enjoy the favour of the luck gods. They have also tended to be best in slot for the lucky recipient for the length of the whole expansion.

From what we’ve seen of this new legendary, it looks as though it will be a healing mace. It also looks at though it will require the would-be wielder to collect multiple fragments before they can assemble their prize, which are likely to be rare drops from Ulduar bosses (probably in 25 man mode, although it would be nice to have a 10 man version also), This sounds to be a similar scheme by which people picked up the Staff of Atiesh, which was a legendary from Vanilla WoW. Atiesh needed not only 40 fragments but also quest items that dropped from two of the hardest bosses in the game at the time. We’ll likely see something similar here.

I’m glad for our healers, but mostly just relieved that it isn’t a tanking piece so I can sit politely back on the sidelines and not get involved with any decisions about who gets to collect our fragments. Because if a raid wants to get the weapon into play as quickly as possible, they will need to nominate one person to collect fragments.

Most raids, probably including mine, will just nominate a raid leader (if they have one who is a healer). After all, they’re likely to be at every raid by definition and if you’re going to reward anyone, it might as well be the person who puts in the most work. I do remember that my old guild did this with Atiesh and no one else was particularly upset. I also remember that long after the event, we did agree privately that it would also have been fine to just let people blow all their DKP on the first fragment if they really wanted it. At the end of the day, you just want the thing to be in the raid and being used so as long as the recipient is wiling to keep showing up to grab bits, you’re golden.

With the healers though, it is more difficult. We do rotate healers, and effectively saying that one raid spot is always reserved for whoever is collecting the legendary will affect the others. So as well as not getting the ultra-cool weapon, they’re also less likely to be raiding at all.

I do anticipate drama. But it’s really not the worst thing in the world to not be working towards a legendary. For one thing, you don’t have to feel bad for taking a week off if you need to. For another, there will be other healing weapons in Ulduar, and you’ll probably get those upgrades long before whoever is collecting the legendary mace. And lastly, if you aren’t in a fairly hardcore guild, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to do the hard modes that the legendary will probably require.

Sometimes the best answer is to look past the shiny and take the best upgrade for the least effort, The legendary is unlikely to be it.

An Ulduar boss of our own to test!

Blizzard have released the PR hounds with some Ulduar information over the last few days. I mentioned the website, but we’ve also had some information about plans for testing the patch/raid on the public test realms.

This hasn’t been so widely geeked over but it’s actually very exciting.

Ulduar marks a departure from the standard test methodology, which was to dump the raid on the test servers (possibly with some bosses disabled) and let people have at it. This time, Blizzard are planning to test in a much more focussed manner. Testing Ulduar will be organised at pre-arranged prime time sessions, and a schedule for specific boss testing will be posted up in advance.

I say it’s exciting, but this is really very similar to the way I remember EQ2 doing its beta testing. Leaving the test servers running all the time, but have focussed sessions for instance testing with devs on hand to take feedback and reset things.

And we finally have an answer as to why companies bother with an EU test realm (other than to test networking issues and for PR), there will be different schedules and different bosses tested in the EU than the US. A smart company might also try to get some competition going between the two zones, because you can be sure we’ll be blaming each other and not the developers if the respective bosses go live with bugs.

What it does mean is that the PTR is going to offer quite an interesting gaming experience. The test schedule means that it may be much easier than usual to sort out raid groups, just be online at the right time.

My guild is starting to talk about testing on the PTR, which they never normally do. So the buzz is definitely working. The testing phase is now intriguing to people. Part of this may be boredom with current content, but I think the appeal of scheduled raid times and ‘a boss of our own’ to test is already luring people in who would not usually be interested.