What Is And What Should Never Be

30 06 2009

What? That’s the name of a Zeppelin song? I totally had no idea.

ANYWAYS. I want to rant about the whole idea of a “hero” class. In my opinion, this should be a lore-only aspect of Death Knights. In no way should players expect DKs to be better or somehow above class balance as Blizzard sees it. I see the hero class as being different in that they have a specific storyline. All Death Knights began when they defected from the Scourge to join either the Horde or the Alliance, so in a way they are heroes where most other adventurers are simply folks who picked up a sword and started killing boars for their livers. They also start at level 55 instead of 1, which should really be the only in-game difference between hero classes and standard classes.

We should NOT be (by design) more powerful than any other class. Obviously Blizzard doesn’t always know what’s OP and what’s not when they release a patch, which leads to either nerfs or tuning. I’m not saying I agree with every nerf or buff that a class receives (why is Frost being nerfed when Blood has better single-target damage?), but the ultimate goal of class balance should be exactly that: balance.

Telling people to suck it up and live with DKs being superior is not going to happen. Ever. And it shouldn’t. We’re already unique in that we have runes and RP (though the mechanic is similar to energy/combo points) and a very different set up of our talent trees that allows all 3 to tank and DPS (but Blood is still terrible in PvP). I personally think calling DKs a hero class in the first place was a bit of a mistake on Blizzard’s part. It inevitably comes up when people whine about nerfing DKs (warranted nerfs or not) and gives no real benefit to the class as a whole. We’re still really cool, hero class or no.





Some News, Some Thoughts

30 06 2009

Option to change factions in the works (source)

Some may herald this as the downfall of WoW (as with so many other things, like the mount changes) but to me it’s another way for a) Blizzard to make money, since the transfer will probably cost 25$ and b) to make the playing experience more customisable and fun. It also basically doubles any given guild’s recruiting pool. Not only can you recruit horde from your own server, but it gives you far more transfer options. Maybe you’ll be able to combine server/faction switches, for ease of guild swaps. Wild speculation aside, this change falls in line with other things we never thought we’d see like PvE to PvP transfers and dual specs. I look forward to more changes along these lines.

New Wintergrasp gear, the emblem change and the “ease of getting gear” dilemma

MMO-Champion recently reported new items being added to Wintergrasp (see the new items here), stuff that is either ilvl 232 or 226. While I’m not surprised at this (it happened with 3.1 as well) there has been a significant lack of whining on my radar about this addition compared to the conquest emblems dropping everywhere. First, the two changes are connected. If you have a choice between running Wintergrasp, BGs and fail-arenas for points and getting ilvl 213-226 gear and running heroics to get ilvl 200 gear, well, which one would you choose to gear up to raid the fastest? My guess is PvP.

The change that makes all heroics and entry-level raids drop Emblems of Conquest is intended (I believe) to make sure people still run that content. It’s never Blizzard’s intention to have old content completely abandoned, especially for fresh 80s, so a change was necessary to incentivize people into doing that content.

The change to the emblem system also has the effect of making t8.5 and ilvl 226 gear available from running heroics. Some are bothered by this, feeling like it’s a kind of undeserved handout. Personally, I have everything I want from Emblems of Conquest on my main (and have for a while, so much so that I bought Emblems of Heroism with them) so this change affects my DK very little if at all. I believe the situation to be similar for all other guilds who are progressing well into Ulduar. In the next patch, when this change occurs, these raiders will be doing the Crusaders’ Coliseum rather than raiding Ulduar anyways, and Emblems of Triumph will be the ones we want, not Conquest. So basically my alts get gear faster and easier, which is a plus in my books.

Raid lockout extension

Cool. Probably not necessary in the next patch (the new raid instance has what, 5 bosses?) but again it’s nice to have control over stuff like this, especially for guilds like mine who only raid 9 hours of 25-man a week.

Common token for all tier pieces

Sweet. AWESOME. I love this change. If you haven’t looked at the stats for the DK t9, I’ll tell you that the one piece with ArPen on it is the legs. All the other pieces are decently optimized, with one piece that has haste (unfortunately) and the rest a mix of crit, expertise and hit. Streamlining the way loot works in this manner also plays into Blizzard’s idea that picking your upgrades should be a thinking process, which means they don’t want us assuming that every single new item that drops is an upgrade. While this change is great, it’s a bit lackluster compared to the state of loot overall.

Things like relics and mail with spellpower are very class-specific. If you either are that class, or your raid has none of that class, it can be quite frustrating. I think it would be best to put niche-items like tanking guns into professions like Engineering and Blacksmithing or into the emblem loot system.  This (or a similar change) would mean less wasted loot overall as well as fewer rotting badges.





The Fix That Wasn’t

22 06 2009

Blizzard has made a few strange decisions regarding Wintergrasp and arena. Today I want to talk about why I don’t like the way Blizzard has gone about making these nerfs/changes/whatevers to Wintergrasp and the 2v2 arena bracket. I’ll start off with Wintergrasp (it sounds more frosty than arena, I guess?).

The problem with Wintergrasp: too damn busy (i.e. too damn laggy, but is it performance lag or network lag?)

The WG fix: make Wintergrasp battles less attractive, hopefully drawing fewer people per battle

The WG problem redux: the fix didn’t do anything

My future is uncertain!

My future is uncertain!


The problem with this “fix” overall is that it really wasn’t a fix but a way to get players to stop using content. Blizzard is now changing Wintergrasp to a BG-like queue system (which you can read about here if you’re out of the loop) that will allow only 100 people from each faction to participate in the battle at the time. Will they in turn change the weeklies back to dailies? I doubt it – but since the change was (at least partially) done to disincentivize WG, it’s a possibility. But why didn’t Blizzard simply make it a queue from the start? Did they really expect people to go only once a week to do dailies? That seems preposterous. The queue system is a much better idea of a fix, though in practice I don’t think it will make a difference.

Here’s why: I had a 5-year old laptop a few weeks ago, and have since gotten a new one that can actually handle WoW. On the old one, I could barely move in Wintergrasp Fortress during a battle. Rarely were there more than 99 people of my faction in the keep with me, so that won’t change. Given 50 Horde and 50 Alliance fighting in one place, though, and my old laptop would just hide in the corner weeping and I’d get around 2-3 FPS, if that. With my new computer, not a single lag issue in WG (except for once when the whole zone experienced a few second delay, but that was the exception not the rule). Also, in a recent WG, my GM was with us and counted out how many people were in the battle: 120 Alliance. A cut to 100 won’t change the amount of performance lag, since there will still be 100 (less on my server) running around killing us and making our FPS low.

The new “fix” is more of a fix, but still not likely to change anything about Wintergrasp. Those with old computers will probably still feel the lag.

The problem with 2v2 arena: it’s not balanced, FotM (flavour of the month), it’s too fast-paced

The fix: 2v2 rating no longer allows you to buy the newest season of arena gear

The problem with the fix: it’s not a fix

So what Blizzard seems to be saying here is that they are giving up caring about 2v2 arena, a bracket that many care strongly about and others enjoy playing (I fall into thse second group, I find it to be fun and easier to setup than 3v3 or 5v5). In 3.2, where you won’t be able to get gear from 2v2, it seems like Blizzard will use this as an excuse to give up attempts at balancing it. Like the first WG “fix” this change wants you to stop playing 2v2. The message that this sends out is possibly a dire one: if something is broke, don’t fix it. There have always been broken elements of the game, like one class being overpowered either in PvE or PvP or another being underpowered, but Blizzard’s always taken the approach of fixing classes rather than saying “ummm don’t play that class anymore, okay?”

The 2v2 arena “fix” and the recent changes to WG are sort of like making Paladins unusable in PvP. Of course, that’s taking it to the extreme, but that’s what it feels like to me. If something isn’t working properly, well, fuck it and move on. But unlike Exorcism, which has been changed so much in the last few patches it’s hard to remember what it started out as, 2v2 seems to be going the way of the dodo. WG on the other hand will likely see more change or be instanced, eventually.

P.S.

You may have noticed a lack of discussion of 3.2 DK-specific changes. Every time I think about writing something about them, my thought always ends in “but we’ll have to see how it looks on the PTR.” Blizzard has been pretty vague as to the specifics of the changes, specifically how the new dual-wield talent will really work and what the buff to Blood Strike really means. So… check back when the PTR pops up and results from tests start flowing in.





Some Genuine Excitement

18 06 2009

I’ve been having some WoW blahs recently. The alt I was levelling hit 80 and is now pretty well geared. I got my DK the Argent Hippogryph, which has left me with a desire to never ever touch daily quests again. Like many people, however, I have been reading the tidbits that have leaked out about the content in the “next major content patch,” The Call of the Crusade. If you haven’t read any of it yet, here’s the part I want to talk about today. (Source)

In the next major content patch, the construction of the Crusaders’ Coliseum on the Argent Tournament grounds will be complete, and it will hold new challenges for players. We’d like to share some details on the new dungeon, which represents the next tier of content for the game, but keep in mind that this is still in development and subject to change. The Crusaders’ Coliseum will include:

  • New epic 10- and 25-player raid dungeon with five encounters, with each encounter being unlocked one week at a time
  • A more intuitive structure for harder encounters. This raid dungeon will have four different versions: 10-player, 25-player, 10-player Heroic, and 25-player Heroic, with each one using a separate lockout.
  • Each of the Heroic mode instances has a new tribute system that will limit players on the number of attempts they get in the Coliseum each week to present a greater challenge for the most battle-hardened heroes. Additional rewards can be earned depending on the number of attempts left in the tribute run each week when the final boss is defeated.
  • New 5-player dungeon with three encounters that will include Champion’s Seals as each one is defeated
  • New tier of armor and weapons that are modelled with Alliance- or Horde-specific themes

At first, I was shocked. 4 different raid IDs in one (with only 5 encounters?) instance. As it settled in, I can see that this is pretty in line with Blizzard’s philosophy. I think this is a change in the right direction. It will eliminate the ability for guilds to ‘give up’ progressing through hard modes and revert to a normal mode of a boss because you have to down the boss to continue. Although the difficulty level of “Heroic” mode is still somewhat vague, I imagine it will be similar to Ulduar hard modes. Although – is this the end of incremental hard modes like Yogg and the good old Sartharion? If the entire instance is on hard mode, it seems unlikely that you’d be able to choose the difficulty in any way after you zone in. This is somewhat disappointing to me, as I enjoyed the mechanic of three drakes, three trees, etc.

200px-Vesperon

I'm so lonely...

Addressing my concerns

With some of the news of 3.2, Blizzard has indeed addressed some of my concerns. For one, they continue to tinker with the mechanics of raiding, which at least assures me that they are unsatisfied with the current model. Having raid difficulty match the system of difficulty of 5-mans (normal is easy, heroic is harder) will make it easier for new players to understand the mechanics of the end-game. Currently, it’s a bit of a mess as to what’s hard and what’s easy. Then there’s the tribute run – a good idea, I think. Anything extra that will give replayability to new raids is a welcome addition, in my books.

My sword looks just like your sword

One complaint that I haven’t talked about much is the reusing of item models. Shoulders, helmets, weapons – there are so few models (colour-coded for normal or 25-man) going around. For instance, my Aesir’s Edge is a recoloured version of a guildie’s Rune Edge. Introducing faction-specific models will help a little bit, but I still question why Blizzard started using so many similar models? This never happened in BC or Vanilla (to my recollection, feel free to correct me) whether the item models were ugly or awesome.

Mmm…badges

I approve of new 5-mans. I’ll run it for badges a lot, and that’s cool. I hope it’s MGT #2, meaning that it’s actually remotely challenging.

So… what next?

I feel that this patch (3.2) is a step in the right direction, but that’s all it is with the information revealed so far. A new content patch coming out with only a 5-boss raid? Gutsy move by Blizzard. Focusing on the Argent Tournament, I think, is a mistake. It’s probably the least interesting aspect of the game right now. If we’re running around doing errands for them, or fighting in a coliseum, well… shouldn’t we be out saving the world from crazed dragons or evil liches? A tournament is fun and all, but it’s not up to the high standards of intrigue that usually go on in a raid (see: Illidan, the whole Sunwell thing, the AQ40 storyline).

I also hope they have plans to release another raid relatively soon after this patch goes live, because 5 bosses (if their difficulty level is on par with Ulduar, or even to the relative increase in difficulty from Naxx) won’t last very long. For me, WoW lives and dies on its raid content. Everything else is icing on my 15$ a month cake.





On Changes and Bitterness

15 06 2009

The response to changes, nerfs, buffs, etc. in WoW that I least understand is bitterness. The “I worked so hard to get that when it was hard” reaction. What brings this to my attention are the recent changes to mounts and their pricing (full list of changes here). They are making everything except for Cold Weather Flying cheaper, including epic flying, which will now receive a faction discount. Some people feel frustrated and bitter with these changes, having spent possibly upwards of 20k gold on various riding skills for various alts. I’m of the opinion that this reaction is more applicable to more basic purchases, like materials and other things you might buy for resale value.

Unlike, say, your house, riding skills have no resale value. You bought it knowing that it was completely optional, cost a lot of gold, and that you’d never really get anything but faster flight time for a return. Same goes for BoEs that you buy for your alts – you’re going to equip them, not sell them. We should be looking forward, not backward; remember when you levelled your first character and 5000 gold was just a ridiculously insane number to even think of? Let alone the ~7000 gold it takes to get all the riding skills required to fly at 280% speed in Northrend? So consider new players wearing the shoes you once did, who are dealing with gearing up, learning new raid encounters for the first time and making their first 1000 gold.

Think of the children!

Don’t kid yourself, 1-80 is a giant slogfest of sloggy slogishness. The real fun comes at max level, when you can raid, PvP, dance around in LAWLPURPLZ in Dalaran, etc. Anything Blizzard does to alleviate the pain of levelling and in doing so the strain on our virtual wallets is a welcome change for me. It will bring more people to WoW and help get more of those people to 80. So every time Blizzard makes it easier, cheaper or faster to level, I’m just that much more likely to bring up another alt. Well played, Blizzard.

For reference, I have 4 characters with epic flying (one that doesn’t have cold weather yet), and I’m nothing but happy about the new changes to mount/riding skill costs.

My old main, a Druid, with his flying mount of choice.

My old main, a Druid, with his flying mount of choice.





Should 10-Mans Be Easier?

10 06 2009

In Wrath, 10-mans are definitely easier than 25-mans. Not solely because you only have to get 10 people to learn all the fights, but in general the fights are just tuned to a lesser difficulty. For an anecdotal example, my guild recently killed Vezax on normal difficulty with a ranged DPS and a healer down, leaving one Paladin healer, a Balance Druid and enough melee DPS to cover interrupts. We had very little trouble, aside from the fact that Vezax started aiming Shadow Crashes and Marks of the Faceless at melee. In 25-man, minus half of the ranged DPS and half of the heals, most encounters would be impossible or at least very difficult.

As a result of the difference in difficulty between normal and heroic leaves me kind of confused. Blizzard has said that they want two separate progression paths, one that goes from heroics to 10-man Naxx to 10-man Ulduar (and presumably 10-man whatever comes next). And another that goes from heroics to 10-man Naxx to 25-man Naxx to 25-man Ulduar. If this is so, why are 10-mans easier? In BC this wasn’t the case. ZA was as hard or harder than Gruul and Magtheridon.

Zul'Aman Gates

I, for one, love 10-mans. I find that they often draw out the people in a guild (that regularly does 25-man raiding) who really enjoy raiding and know their class particularly well. They also tend to be the more social players, from my experience. So I’d like Blizzard to give 10-mans a little bit more love, rather than making them toned down versions of the heroic instances. It’s hard to tell what exactly Blizzard’s plan is with 10-mans, whether they want to make them easier or equal difficulty. I think they managed this in vanilla, where Zul’Gurub was almost more difficult in certain places than Molten Core, the introductory 40-man.

So mostly I’m just confused. I enjoy doing 10-man Ulduar, hard modes or otherwise, but I’d like it to be clearer what role exactly the 10-mans play in the big picture of raiding.





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.








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