The Non-Upgrade

30 05 2009

Blizzard’s new design philosophies, from raids to PvP to itemization, are very frustrating. Here’s a recent blue post from the notorious Ghostcrawler:

When bosses reward too well then groups finish the content too quickly and then ask why we haven’t released anything new yet.

If an item drops that improves some of your stats but lowers others, that is far more interesting from a game-design point of view than if you *always* knew you were going to get an upgrade. One thing I always stress is that games should be about interesting decisions. Deciding if you can afford the loss of hit to get more stren[g]th*, or trying to decide if the parry rating is worth losing a little stamina are interesting decisions. There are not always clear cut answers. It lets players demonstrate mastery of the game when they can make the right choice for their character. A best in slot item is not worth it if you have to sacrifice too much of another stat to use it. An item with tons of defense can be the best thing for you if you are wearing blues to hit the cap, or the worst thing for you if you are already comfortably above the cap.

*OMG GC MADE A TYPO LOLZ

First up, I don’t think gear is the deciding factor in clearing content quickly. Yes, it helps to have all the newest gear, but in reality I think the learning curve of various fights will have more to do with when a boss gets downed. Blizzard has also consistently been pushing back enrage timers, almost to the point of making them irrelevant on normal mode. Let’s take the XT-002 encounter as an example.

I'm back!

I'm back!

When my guild first encountered this mysteriously childish robot, we hit the enrage timer multiple times. The next week when we went back, and the encounter had been nerfed and the enrage timer lengthened, it became significantly easier. There were no significant gear upgrades in the intervening period – we simply came back the next raid day and beat him. People in the raid learned what to do and we came up with a strategy that functioned well enough to allow us to win.

And now to talk of the non-upgrade and the side-grade

The first week my guild was in Ulduar, we were sharding loot. We still shard a lot, and when you consider that much of the raid still has pieces from Naxx (myself included), it is disheartening to see loot drop the first month in a new instance and have to disenchant it. Is this going to continue in 3.2 and onwards? I certainly hope not. GC states that this forces us to make choices, which is more interesting than simply taking whatever drops. The way loot works, however, means that we rarely get to make these choices. Say that Rune Edge drops for my guild (I’m still wearing the Betrayer of Humanity). When I look at the stats, and see lots of armor penetration and agility, I become sad. I cannot take this weapon and trade it in for one that has strength and crit.

My choice ends up being between “take this mediocre upgrade that’s badly itemized for almost every class that wants it” and “get nothing.” You can hold out for certain items, but they could be months from dropping (grrrrr, Sigil of the Vengeful Heart!), which means that the obvious choice is to take the mediocre upgrade that has actually dropped.  If weapon drops were replaced with tokens, allowing you to choose between, say, Rune Edge and Worldcarver then I’d have to make an informed decision based on what stats I have and what stats I want most. That would be interesting.

Best-in-slot

GC says a best-in-slot item “is not worth it if you have to sacrifice too much of another stat to use it.” Best-in-slot is not one item, but a set of items which make up a best-in-slot gear set that will likely accomplish the main goals of gearing as a DPS DK:

  • The hit cap
  • Close to or at the expertise soft cap
  • Maximizing strength while avoiding armor penetration and other weak stats as much as possible

So if you acquire one part of the best-in-slot set, you won’t necessarily want to wear it until you have the other pieces. The interesting decisions are great in theorycrafting, and it’s important to know what items you really want should they drop, but the choices are often made by RNG. If Worldcarver never drops for you, but you see Rune Edge every week, guess which one you’re going to take?

These choices are also made less interesting by the prevalence of stats that are completely unattractive. While hit, crit and strength are all excellent to have, for a Frost DK like myself, especially one using a rotation with less than 30% of damage affected by armor penetration, any item with this unpleasant stat will likely be avoided unless my current piece is similarly terrible. For example, I upgraded from Ring of Invincibility to Strength of the Automaton because the former was itemized for classes that like agility and the latter for plate classes (well, mainly Warriors and Blood DKs, since they’re the only ones who really like armor pen). It isn’t interesting to choose between two badly itemized drops or one badly itemized drop and one well itemized drop. I want to choose between similarly well itemized pieces of gear that have different stats on them, like Death’s Bite and Inevitable Defeat.





Is Rrrrraiding Grrrreat?

24 05 2009

I rarely agree with things posted on WoW.com (previously WoWInsider), but one paragraph from the most recent Ready Check piqued my interest.

The only thing really to say is that it’s a shame so few of the hard modes drastically change the form of the encounter, with several number-based buffs adjusting the difficulty of the fight through gear, rather than through skill. Hard modes like Firefighter and Saronite are really good fun because it’s not just the same old fight with a time limit, or with increased damage; let’s hope we see more of these in future.

Yes. Ten times YES. My main complaint about splitting raids into 10/25 mans is that, while making raids more accessible, reduces the number of different raids, encounter mechanics and lore that Blizzard can explore. It also makes a lot less sense in the game world. Admittedly, you can already go back to the same raid each week and kill the same bosses, who have been miraculously resurrected, which is entirely unrealistic. I almost wish that raids could be tuned to however many people are in at a time, with a max of 25 and a minimum of 10.

Why we crave drastic change in our hard modes

Ulduar is the only raid we’re going to get for a while, so obviously raiders want to make the most of the experience. See everything and kill everything in as many different ways as possible. I’d be satisfied with speed-kills and such for “hard modes” only if I knew there was another raid waiting for me and my guild after Ulduar. The way things are now, I fear completing the raid instance. I don’t want to kill Yogg-Saron because it means going back next week with all bosses downed and only achievements left. Since not everyone cares about achievements and drakes as much as I do, this means raid attendance will shrink and people will generally be less motivated.

I think what we need is a new way to motivate raiders to complete raids, aside from drakes. Not all people who love raiders love drakes, so in the spirit of something for everyone, what can Blizzard do to make finishing up Ulduar exciting rather than an anticlimactic finale?

  • Make sure new, large raids (i.e. not 1-boss, no trash instances) are available in a reasonable time frame
  • Make more, and more interesting hard modes
  • Tie end-game raiding into the rest of the game world (see Quel’Danas and the Sunwell)*

*Though this might happen with the Argent Tournament, it won’t be as exciting, at least for me. The Argent Tournament is great for dailies and things that reward pets, mounts, tabards, etc. but as a facet of the end-game it’s weak. Look at what we’ve seen before when raid instances are connected to the game world.

The Onyxia chain

How cool was it that Onyxia, arguably the introductory raid in vanilla WoW, was hanging out in the Stormwind throne room? And playing a part in the strange things going on with the leadership of the Alliance at the time? Awesome. When you went into Onyxia’s Lair to kill her dead, you felt like you were defending the kingdom. I’m not sure the same thing is happening with WotLK raids. Especially not with the incoming Argent Tournament raid, which does not feel like a threat to Azeroth. Another example is the Vault of Archavon, a raid that doesn’t seem to pertain to any part of the WotLK storyline.

Opening the gates

The Ahn’Qiraj storyline, again from vanilla, is another fine example of tying raid content to the game world. There were a lot of quests, scattered around different zones, about strange areas of terrain appearing with various Silithids wandering around and doing nasty things. This had NPCs concerned, and so naturally they set up a camp in Silithus and asked people to come on down and join the war effort. There were quests that lead you into the raids.

Ulduar and Naxxramas just sort of appeared, with the concocted drama of season finales of TV shows. In other words, the importance of these raids has no connection to real events except for release of a patch, something that is external to the game world. I don’t recall any NPCs telling me that some weird robots and a bunch of insane keepers were romping around Ulduar trying to take over the world. There’s no Illidan, a cool character we’re all familiar with, or C’Thun, something so powerful that was somehow at the bottom of a bunch of crazy bugs showing up and invading Azeroth.

Whatever happened to Arthas, emo king of the Scourge?

I'll be back! ...right?

I'll be back! ...right?

Is there any particular reason we’re raiding Ulduar? Why will we want to participate in the Argent Tournament’s Coliseum stuff, loot aside? It seems like the storyline of WotLK got a bit off track. Arthas popped up everywhere while you were questing. He turned Drakuru into some kind of crazy scourge guy. You had all sorts of visions of him. You even controlled him for a little bit in an Icecrown quest. I wish he’d been there when you killed Kel’Thuzad, getting angry at his underling for failing. Or doing something related to the Argent Tournament or Ulduar, even if it was another sort of invasion to mess with us. (You know he likes that kind of thing; see the zombie plague that happened prior to the release of WotLK.) I want that Arthas back.





The Times Will Be A Changing (In the Next Major Content Patch)

22 05 2009

Some news about patch 3.2 hit the interwebs today, with the most important (to me, anyways) tidbit being a nerf to Jewelcrafting:

In the next major content patch we will be removing the prismatic quality of the jewelcrafter-only Dragon’s Eye gems. Like other gems, they will have to match the socket color to receive a socket bonus. When this change occurs, players with qualifying jewelcrafting skill will be provided a yet to be determined amount of Dalaran Jewelecrafter Tokens as compensation. (Source)

Sorry Jewelcrafters. Here are some tokens, though.

Sorry Jewelcrafters. Here are some tokens, though.

This nerf is fair. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Currently, JC is head and shoulders above other professions for a couple reasons. First, you get essentially free socket bonuses as well as being able to choose what stat you want to improve. For a Death Knight, this is especially beneficial because the +33 strength from using 3 Bold Dragon’s Eyes is much better than the extra AP you would otherwise get from Enchanting or Inscription. You also get more benefit than Blacksmithing because it only gives two gem slots, which will be 32 strength and no easy socket bonuses. Basically, all of these advantages boil down to the fact that Blizzard is justified in nerfing it.

What interests me is that they will be handing out Dalaran Jewelcrafter Tokens “as compensation.” I don’t know if this has ever been done before, but I feel like it’s a mistake to do so. It makes it seem like they feel the nerf is unwarranted – Engineers aren’t getting anything for losing Nitro Boosts in arenas, for example.

Switching professions?

I won’t be dropping Jewelcrafting. It’s still very good, and hopefully they will buff Dragon’s Eyes to compensate for the existance of epic gems in the next patch. (If they don’t, JC will have lost pretty much all its usefulness.) Jewelcrafting will remain a very good way to make money, as well as giving you access to cutting and prospecting your own gems/ore.





Ulduar etc.

19 05 2009

ulduar Ulduar is a great raid instance, from what I’ve seen of it. The main problem I have with the place is that it, like other Wrath instances, is split into a 10 and 25 man version. In my opinion, 10-man raids often feel more fun. It’s easier to communicate, not as laggy, among other good things. I don’t see the benefit of having two versions of the same instance versus a different raid altogether. Variety, my friends, is indeed the spice of life. So despite the fact that Ulduar is way way way way better than Naxx, and consequently more like BWL and BC raids, the general atmosphere of raiding feels lacking.

How did BC and pre-BC raiding differ from the Wrath situation?

In vanilla WoW, the progression path was typically from the 20mans to MC/Onyxia to BWL to AQ40/Naxx. This meant that any guild had to be a 40-man raiding guild to get the highest tier of gear. In essence, this didn’t change in BC when you had to be raiding BT, Hyjal and Sunwell to get tier 6 stuff. Blizzard’s new philosophy is wanting to make the raid content (at least the normal modes) available to everyone. But to me there’s no comparison between having a Karazhan and a Magtheridon and having a Naxx25 and Naxx10. Two different instances always wins out.

Gear progression works the same way, except now a whole tier (ilvl 219 gear from Ulduar 10) is wasted, in addition to valor badges that will do absolutely nothing since anyone raiding the 10man Ulduar will be getting better gear. Those raiding Ulduar 25 can effectively skip the 10-man version, instead going from normal mode to hard mode. Does this system have any advantage over, say, creating two raid instances, one 10man and one 25man?

Hard modes are there so we’ll do them…

But they won’t compare to knowing that there’s a whole other instance waiting once you finish the current one. I remember when I played my Resto Druid in pre-BC days and my guild finally downed Ragnaros. The next raid night, we were in BWL. We were moving up, to bigger and newer things. This feeling is basically nonexistant for me in Wrath. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Ulduar and raiding it is a lot of fun (partially due to how awesome my guild makes it). But to me, “progression” doesn’t mean the same thing anymore. Now it feels more like it’s about gear than feeling ready to explore a whole new place.

Ulduar reminds me a lot of BWL anyways

To me, BWL represents the best aspects of WoW raiding: variety in both trash and boss fights and interesting mechanics (except for the 3 drakes, who were a tad dull). Naxx was the opposite of this; its trashh was completely AoE-able and the bosses were glorified tank and spanks. Ulduar is a step forward, but I hope Blizzard returns to the old system of separate 10 and 25 man instances. 25man Ulduar is already harder than its 10man cousin, so what’s the benefit of having it be the same instance? Yes, it lets more people see the “top content” but if people were really motivated to see content, I think they’d get past the difficulty and take a peek around anyways.





Raiding Spotlight: Heroism

11 05 2009

Halp! When does I supposed to Heroism?

Halp! When does I supposed to Heroism?

Every once in a while, I’ll try to take a detailed look at a specific element of the raiding game. Today in the spotlight: Heroism.

Matticus in his column on WoWInsider recently espoused the value of communication, specifically between healers and tanks. Just as a priest needs to let tanks and other healers know when he plans to use cooldowns, such as Guardian Spirit, communication between the DPS can be equally beneficial.  This is especially true with regard to Heroism, probably the single most important spell cast in any given boss encounter. The timing of this spell can make or break a fight.

My guild leader often calls for (and uses, he’s a Shaman) Heroism to help the healers out at clutch moments. For example, if Iron Constructs start to get out of hand late in the Ignis encounter, that combined with flame jets can call for a lot of healing. Since the math has been done proving that timing it for execute effects (see this article over at Blessing of Kings, or if you’re math inclined, you can look here) doesn’t increase its effectiveness, when is a good time to pop Heroism? There are a few options:

  • Pop Heroism at the beginning of the fight when everyone has their DPS cooldowns/trinkets available
  • Use it at a clutch moment, such as a Heart phase on XT-002 (on any fight with short phases where it’s beneficial to have a large burst of DPS it is best to use this option)
  • Choose when to pop Heroism on a per-fight basis

The last option is what my GL uses, in combination with the 2nd when appropriate. The downside to this option is that DPS can’t be sure that their cooldowns will be up which somewhat reduces the effectiveness of Heroism. However, I still think that this is the best option. Blindly using Heroism at 35% doesn’t necessarily benefit healers the most. With Blizzard’s new design philosophy of having varying types of healing necessary in a single encounter (compare the heart phase of XT with adds to the duration of Tympanic Tantrum), making an intelligent, informed decision about when to use Heroism benefits healers more than any other option. Sometimes fights are a DPS race, and others based more on endurance.

That said, the raid leader should inform the raid as to what his plan for using Heroism is so that the raiders can prepare accordingly. Good communication between shamans, raid leaders and other raid members is the best way to maximize its effect.





Humour in WoW: Yea or Nay?

6 05 2009
The only robot that does calisthenics before trying to destroy you.

The only robot that does calisthenics before trying to destroy you.

Blizzard tries hard to make us laugh at various aspects of the game, from achievement names (e.g. I Could Say That This Cache Was Rare) to NPCs (Haris Pilton). I’ve heard different opinions on the injection of humour into what is otherwise a serious fantasy world. Some think that, to take the example of XT-002′s childlike voice (take a listen here if you haven’t had the pleasure of engaging the deconstructor yet), it ruins what is otherwise a very well-designed raid instance. Others, like me, just enjoy having a laugh or two once in a while and can ignore the fact that XT really doesn’t fit in with the rest of Ulduar. Consider Ignis, who spends the entire encounter yelling very angry things at the raid (he is most certainly serious business).

So where should Blizzard draw the line?

Is it okay to have comedic achievement names, but not NPCs? Achievements are not as much a part of the fantasy world of WoW as they are a game mechanic, like your user interface. Since I personally have very little interest in the lore of the game, pop culture references and in-jokes in WoW always make me smile. From an RP perspective, however, I can see being annoyed at the anomaly that is XT in Ulduar. All the other bosses are either serious and angry with you (ala Ignis) or driven mad by Yogg Saron. How do you reconcile the two together?

I think it might be impossible to really mesh humour and WoW and make both sides (people who like lore and people who don’t care about it) happy. On the other hand, the people who don’t pay attention to lore probably don’t feel that strongly about the humour either, since they (and I) are mainly playing the game for its mechanics. The RPers and those who really enjoy the feel of the game, especially in the raid instances, where it really counts, would benefit more than the other side in having their raid instances be mainly serious and in-character for a fantasy world. If I had a say in the matter, I would probably leave humour out of the raids, since that is where the main storyline of each expansion seems to play out. I love killing Mr. Bigglesworth as much as the next Death Knight, but I do admit it makes me take Kel’Thuzad a little bit less seriously.

Humour has a place in the game, after all

If raids aren’t the best place for comedy, what might be? Blizzard takes advantage of more in-character types of humour, such as all things engineering and many things to do with goblins and gnomes. Having NPCs in the game make jokes, like player characters can do, would be a great place for some comic relief since it would stay within the realm of what’s possible and plausible in a fantasy world. Achievements and quest names are an excellent place for pop culture references, but having these inside the game itself can be a little distracting.








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