Where Are We Heading Tonight?

30 09 2009

This is a question I see with growing frequency in guild chat or raid chat as the group fills up. This is because, as a guild, we are in a strange place with regard to progression. We’re not quite ready for ToC-25 hard modes, but doing Ulduar hard modes can seem a bit silly. They’re definitely harder than ToC-25 normal mode, but with (mostly) inferior loot.

This makes the term “progression” a bit loopy. There’s no doubt that Algalon is significantly more difficult than Northrend Beasts on normal mode, but Algalon’s loot is a few item levels lower. If you look back at previous expansions, raiding progression was a bit more linear. In pre-BC, you started off with a mix of Onyxia and Molten Core. When you could reliably kill Ragnaros, you’d probably move on to a mix of ZG (which was harder than MC) and Blackwing Lair. Then you’d start playing around with AQ20 and AQ40. Then, if you were awesome, you’d head into Naxxramas (when it was actually hard).

A mishmash of progression

A mishmash of progression

In BC there were significantly more raids but again a fairly linear progression. You started with a mix of Karazhan and Gruul’s Lair, moving up to Magtheridon and then upgrading to the next “tier” of gear when you were ready. In Wrath, you can get Ulduar level gear from heroics. You can get ToC-25 level gear from an instance that is easily pugged (Vault). Malygos, Sartharionx3 and Kel’Thuzad drop loot that is comparable (and in some cases superior, as with the Signet of Manifested Pain and Pennant Cloak) to Ulduar gear.

Onyxia muddies the water even more. Another puggable instance that drops ilvl 245 gear! It’s crazy! Is it better, though? Hard modes have certainly made progression a fuzzier line than before. While I do certainly enjoy attempting (and later succeeding at, hopefully) the Ulduar-25 hardmodes, it feels off to be doing them after completing the normal mode of ToC. Invariably, progression is measured by the kind of loot you can get from an instance. So Ulduar is behind ToC in these terms. The major change we have seen in the last few patches of WotLK is that difficulty no longer necessarily scales with ilvl.

I recall talking to my GM about the subject (or at least something closely related) and he lamented the lack of a middleground. Something between ToC hardmode and ToC normal (which is simply too easy and a bit boring) for guilds that fall between casual and hardcore. What could this be, though? Perhaps if hard modes could be calibrated multiple ways with different loot, as with Sartharion, there would be more for middle-of-the-road guilds to do. This is my major frustration with having “hard” and “normal” modes. Where’s the middleground?

The basis for creating it is there. Have Freya with two trees alive drop, say, ilvl 236 loot (between 226 and 239, which is the ilvl of Ulduar hard mode gear). This would require tweaking of certain hard modes, such as Mimiron, where you have everything built into the press of the button. For other fights, such as the previously mentioned Freya encounter and Hodir, calibrating loot drops to have normal, medium and hard drops wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. It would also follow Blizzard’s trend of giving its players options.

Be casual, be hardcore, be casualcore. Play as much as you want. Just hope that Blizzard notices you and gives you something appropriate to your skill level to do.





Argent Coliseum Strategy: Heroic Edition

5 09 2009

So last night my guild wandered into the Trial of the Grand Crusader (hard mode Crusaders’ Coliseum, for the uninformed). We managed to down Beasts, Jaraxxus, and Faction Champions in 10-man. While most of the changes were straightforward, such as boss damage being raised, some upgrades came as a surprise.

Northrend Beasts

Gormok the Impaler

Instead of having a second tank (3 are used in 25-man, I’ve heard) taunt at 3 stacks of Impale, we had our OT taunt at 2. At 3 it becomes simply too dangerous. In addition to more boss damage, you have to kill Gormok in a certain amount of time (I forget the exact amount, but DBM has a timer) or else the worms come out regardless of whether he’s dead or not.

We also had anyone who got Snobolded run out of melee range or, if they were ranged or a healer, run to just outside stomp range until the Snobold was killed.

Acidmaw and Dreadscale

My guild’s strategy on normal mode was to burn down Acidmaw first and just heal through the enrage. On hard mode, the enrage is significantly more dangerous so another option is to burn down both worms at once. We chose to focus our DPS on the mobile worm due to the knockback that the rooted worm does on those in melee range. While this means that you will end up having to switch to Dreadscale while he is in the ground to avoid killing Acidmaw early, this strategy worked well. Aside from a more potent enrage, the worms are the same as on normal.

However, if you’re overgeared for the worms (say, you run 25s in addition to 10s) you can also choose to just burn down Acidmaw right away and blow tank/healer cooldowns to survive the enrage. If you’re using this strategy, the worm-burn phase is a good time to Heroism too.

Icehowl

The only difference my guild noted (aside from more damage on basically everything, including the freezing breath, which makes spreading your raid out very important) was that after the 3rd charge-into-the-wall thing, Icehowl will enrage whether he ran into anyone or not. This simply adds a “burn or die” component to the fight, similar to Gormok, where he has to be taken down before the worms come out.

You also get no speed buff to get away from his charging into the wall, so you have to be more careful.

Lord Jaraxxus

The major difference between normal and hard mode in this encounter is that the Infernal Volcanoes and the Netherworld Portals must be destroyed or they will continue to spawn Mistresses/Infernals. With good timing it’s possible to avoid getting a 2nd Mistress/more than 2 Infernals. Aside from that, everything else simply had its damage upped.

My guild made one strategy adjustment, and that was to have the ranged/healers stand in staggered pairs in a semicircle. Doing so makes sure that Fel Lightning only chains to one extra target. If your raid simply clumps up, you can get dangerous chains of Fel Lightning.

Faction Champions

The only real difference is that all the mobs do more damage, have more HP, and heal for more. It’s harder and takes a bit more focus/communication than 10-man on normal, but it’s not a huge adjustment by any means. They are also untauntable/have PvP trinkets on short cooldowns (courtesy of commenter Gil).

Valkyr Twins

Similar to Faction Champions, everything just got a boost numbers-wise.  It’s important to position the twins close to their same-essence portals (for example, the Dark Twin should be next to a Dark portal). The reason for this is that for most special abilities cast by the twins, it’s necessary to be able to quickly swap essences.

One other strategy adjustment that I had to make was saving DPS cooldowns for the Twins’ Pact shield, which was difficult to get down. To aid DPS (especially melee) the Twins should be tanked close together, and with their backs facing the middle. This way melee DPS have very little distance to travel.

Anub’arak

There are a few significant changes in heroic mode, aside from the expected buff in damage and HP (30% to both on Anub’arak). First, the Burrowers now cast a spell called Shadow Strike (8s cast, halved by the haste buff they cast on themselves). This ability does a base damage of 40000 (likely to one-shot anyone who’s not a tank) and is interruptable. These adds are still stunnable as well. The Burrowers also continue to spawn in phase 3 (the Leeching Swarm phase) unlike on normal.

Another of the changes is that you have a limited amount of Frost Spheres to work with (6). So when players are pursued by Impale in phase 2, they must take care to kite as far as they can. This accomplishes two things: first, it allows other players to move far away from the pursued player so that the next target will already be far away. Secondly, kiting for longer before running onto Permafrost allows you to break fewer Permafrost areas during phase 2.

Here are a few notes and tricks for phase 2.

  • Hand of Protection grants immunity to impale damage but will not make Anub’arak choose a different target to pursue
  • Immunity effects (such as Ice Block and Divine Shield) will cause Anub’arak to pursue another player
  • If an unfortunate raid member with no escape mechanisms/blinks is targeted, it’s probably better to use Hand of Protection on them rather than on classes such as Warlocks and those who can force a different pursue target via immunity effects
  • You may not necessarily want to drop all 3 Frost Spheres for the first phase so that you don’t accidentally have none left for phase 3 (where you need at least one patch of Permafrost to prevent adds from burrowing)
  • No matter how much Ghostcrawler says “bring the player, not the class” doing Anub on heroic without a 50% healing debuff (Wound Poison, Aimed Shot, Mortal Strike) it will be significantly more difficult

Phase 3 works much the same way as on normal, except that Anub’arak heals for more and does more damage. It’s important to keep only the targets of Penetrating Cold and the tanks at full health – everyone else’s HP should kept be as low as possible to reduce the effects of Leeching Swarm. Your best bet is to only kill as many adds as necessary to allow your tank to survive the stacking debuff. You should also be allowing adds that are not being killed to burrow when new adds spawn to reduce their uptime over the encounter.

Having a Paladin tank on add duty for phase 3 is also very valuable due to their Holy Wrath ability to stun everything around them. Warriors can also shockwave to accomplish this. Interrupts have a high priority since they will one-shot anyone they hit.





That’s Bloody Hard!

12 07 2009

Recently I’ve been doing two major things in WoW: 10-man hard modes and trying out Blood DPS in raids. While the DPS itself is not significantly higher or lower than Frost for most fights, some of Blood’s unique mechanics help out a lot for hard modes, especially ones like Mimiron, Thorim, and Freya, where you will likely take significant amounts of incidental damage throughout the fight. (Frost is better for Hodir due to the many crits produced by Rime, Killing Machine, and Subversion.)

So first I want to outline what Blood has that the other specs don’t have (or have less of):

1. Self-healing. All classes have Death Strike but since it’s in Blood’s main rotation, you not only gain more health from it but also lose less DPS from choosing to cast it over something else (like Obliterate or Scourge Strike).

2. Diseaseless damage. Before you get all up in arms about me and say that diseaseless Blood is dead, the only disease-dependant attack in Blood’s rotation is Heart Strike. What this means for hard modes is that, when you need to quickly mow down a low HP target, like Freya’s roots, Thorim’s Evokers, frozen people in Hodir and various adds in Mimiron, you don’t always need to set up diseases to do decent damage. Frost without Frost Fever up does very little damage (losing 15% from Tundra Stalker and another 20% from Glacier Rot) and Unholy loses 10% from Rage of Rivendare as well as the additional scaling from diseases on Scourge Strike.

If you set Blood up correctly or get lucky, i.e. if you have lots of RP or simply enough RP to maximize Death Strike damage with the glyph, you can hit things like Freya’s roots without wasting a valuable GCD on PS/IT to set up your damage. This might seem minor, but it really helps out a lot when time is limited (Mages die very quickly to roots!).

3. Burst damage. Combining DRW + Hysteria gives you a very potent burst rotation, and you also get DRW every 1.5 minutes. Unholy only really has Gargoyle (on a 3min CD) and Frost only has UA, which unfortunately combines a defensive and offensive cooldown, meaning you may use it for one purpose and later need it for the other. (Blood gets a choice between Vampiric Blood, Mark of Blood and Rune Tap as well, which helps out with its survival.) Burst is very helpful for hard modes are either DPS races (Hodir) or have short phases that require burst damage (XT) (Freya’s various adds).

4. Heart strike hearts you. The mechanics of Heart Strike are very nice (well, not for Hodir or Thorim much), mainly for Freya and Mimiron. On Freya, the 3-elemental phase (in 10-man anyways) often leaves you well away from the Snaplasher but close to the other two elementals. What this means is that you will be HSing both at once, and no other spec can really hit two targets for 5-6k consistently (Howling Blast has a cooldown, UB does damage over a longer period of time, Death and Decay takes time and lots of runes). On Mimiron, you get to smack two sections for lots of damage.

Hard mode is hard

MyKnw

I’ve done this fight as Frost. It wasn’t incredibly easier with Blood than Frost, but I definitely noticed the perks I’ve outlined here. One other minor benefit that Blood gets is 6% more stamina from Veteran of the Third War, which isn’t a big deal but it’s definitely a perk to have 30k+ HP in DPS gear. The best thing Blood has going for it in hard modes is that you can keep yourself alive very well.

For additional survival, you could spec into Night of the Dead for the ability to Death Pact more often, since you only lose 2 points in BCB to take it. This is useful for Freya, where damage is spiky but not continous, so you’re likely to have time to get the two GCDs necessary to summon and pact the ghoul. Unfortunately it’s less useful for more bursty fights like Mimiron, where damage happens at every turn.

So if you’re working on hard modes, and aren’t already Blood, give it a try.





An Open Letter

2 07 2009

Dear people who say the game is being dumbed down,

Did you enjoy reading a quest, only to have it tell you to head “northeast?” Northeast is quite vague. Sometimes the directions weren’t very accurate, and more often than not you were looking for some small object on the ground. As someone who levelled long before mods like Questhelper and Carbonite existed, I can tell you that this is not very fun. I also recall not having a mount of any sort until level 40. Then at level 60 I never had enough gold (500 gold was a LOT back then, what with there being no daily quests and all) to buy an epic mount, so I ran around on a 60% mount for a long time.

South, eh?

South, eh?

Did you like when many classes really only had one role, even if their talent specs seemed like they should be able to do more than one? Like when a Druid’s 31-point balance talent was Hurricane, on a 1-minute cooldown? And when tier sets for Druids, Priests, Paladins and Shamans were simply healing sets (which sometimes had strength on them for Paladins)? Do you remember not having dual specs, when you had to pay 50 gold if you wanted to do some PvP or tank/heal something?

How about when you didn’t get tier loot through tokens that multiple classes shared, but rather simply having the items drop, like Vault today? When pets and mounts took up room in your inventory? Do you remember questing in Blade’s Edge and Netherstorm without a flying mount? When the auction houses weren’t linked? When you could only fly from one FP to the next, and having to buy a new gryphon at each stop? When every raid needed as many Shamans as possible, lots of Shadow Priests, and many specs/classes were basically left out to rot?

Did you also know that a lot of MMOs have severe penalties for death, like XP loss, item loss, or any number of other things?

Do you remember how much these things SUCKED? I guess not.

I applaud Blizzard for doing their best to streamline what are the grindiest parts of the game while working to provide new raid content that satisfies people. Also, have you possibly noticed that the hardcore guilds like Ensidia are still here? When Naxx came out, and they cleared it within days (hours? I don’t recall), they stuck around. Blizzard may not be doing everything perfectly, but they’re doing a lot right.





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.





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.








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