Winter Veil!

24 December 2009 § 2 Comments

Holidays crit Tsark for 1928035 damage (8507 overkill)
Tsark dies

Not die, die – but the holiday fever has struck me too, and clearly I’ve been too busy writing for the blog. Between presents, travelling back home to my family, nursing a cold, and handling the latest family medical emergency (aging parents ftl), I doubt that I’ll be able to write much before the New Year’s. If things go according to plan (and that’s still not clear, given the medical emergency I mentioned above), I will be going skiing between 26-29 Dec, and be back home on 30 Dec. So, let me wish everyone a fantastic Christmas, and lots of new Battered Hilts and epixx for the New Year!

Of Battered Hilts, missing off-hands and the role of 10-man raiding

15 December 2009 § Leave a comment

Patch 3.3 has been out for a week, and I think it’s safe to say it’s been a resounding succes. The new dungeons are fantastic, mixing some nice lore, great art, fun fights, and good loot – and in the case of Halls of Reflection Heroic, also a fair bit of challenge.

The Dungeon Finder tool is great: queues for dungeons go from negligible if you have a tank in your group to still acceptable if you are a dps. You do find the occasional asshattery (needing on the Frozen Orb in the end is the typical example), and whenever Oculus is the random dungeon I always have people leaving the group (why? It’s been nerfed to hell and back, you can basically sleepwalk through it) – but this changes nothing about the greatness of the system and the fact everyone seems to be doing Heroics, these days. I still need to try the tool out for lower levels, but I hold some high hopes for it still. Because of the Dungeon Finder and the new dungeons I’m actually dusting off some alts I hadn’t used in a long while and gearing them up, relearning how to play them, etc – so bravo, Blizzard.

Icecrown Citadel is a bit more of a mixed bag. I like the fights, and I certainly like the art and atmosphere of the place. As I said in my last post, I would have liked a bit more challenge – which I’m possibly going to find in Heroic but I’ll have to wait months before knowing for sure. And yes, I’m sorry, I’m still grumbling about that, because I cannot believe that Blizzard would get the “select your own difficulty level” thing so right in Ulduar, and so wrong in ToC and Icecrown.

There is however one thing that Blizzard did that left me scratching my head – so of course I’m going to vent about it here. Last Thursday, I went through the new Heroics for the first time on Tsark – and a Battered Hilt dropped. We all rolled, and I won it (which is fairly uncharacteristic: Tsark normally loses most such rolls, unlike some other of my alts – but I digress). So, giddy with excitement, I started up the new questlines, going from one place to another and collecting all the saronite, and the hammer, and forging the weapon, and getting into Sunwell. The questline is really fantastic, and reinforces my idea that crafting your own weapons, or armor, by collecting many different pieces and moving from one place to the next, is really one of the things I like the most in this game (and makes me pine once more for the lack of legendaries in 10-man, but anyway). I finish up the questline, and get my Hammer of Purified Flame. I knew that was an upgrade over my lllumination, so (still giggling to myself and excited), I equipped it – and realised my offhand was really a bit lacklustre. See, I’ve had the Illumination staff for a while now, and before that I was lucky enough to have the Icecore Staff, which dropped on our very first kill of Hodir oh-so-long-ago. So, the only offhand I kept in my bank was an Igniter Rod, which means something about 2-3 tiers behind current content.

That already surprised me, because I’m normally careful to keep my offhand up-to-date even when I’m using a two-hander. I wouldn’t take it over someone who would actually use it straight up, but if there’s one thing that 4+years of raiding have taught me is to stock all sort of alternative gear in your bank – because it’s bound to stop dropping the minute you need it. But hey, we could just have been unlucky and not got any good offhand to drop, right? I jumped onto wowhead, and checked what was available in ToC10/ICC10 – and I got my surprise.

Nothing.

That’s two full tiers of raid instances where Blizzard has decided to put NO offhand at all. Worse actually – they put two offhands, but they both have hit rating, which is a bit of a wasted stat for a healer. Now, in the same two tiers of instances, the 25-man raiders get THREE offhands for healers – and one more with hit! I don’t want to blow this out of proportion: I am now trying to get the offhand from Halls of Reflection, and I can try to get also the one from Onyxia. They are ilvl 232, so will be one-two tiers below top expansion gear (which will be ilvl 258 for me, Heroic 10-man ICC), but I’m sure that’s not going to hold me back. However, it does underline two points for me.

The first is that the mechanism for assigning loot to the various bosses is mysterious and (in my humble opinion) in need of fixing.I know of raiders who would prefer to focus on 25-man who had to farm Razorscale 10 for the Eye of the Broodmother. The paladin tank in my raid was complaining about the Ulduar10 gear being badly itemised for his tank – and had to resort to going to 25-man to gear up. Offhands for priests have been conspicuously missing in not one, but two consecutive tiers of raiding. The proposal I made for re-distributing loot along different lines would partially solve this – but really, this shouldn’t be needed. I’m surprised that the game developers haven’t seen these holes in the loot tables – and I suspect there may be other considerations at play, which I don’t know and cannot guess.

The second, and more general point, is that Blizzard still hasn’t decided what 10-man raiding should be. Is it something to do on a non-raiding night? You get 10 people together with your friends list, and just hit whatever instance is the current one, and get some gear. Is it something for casuals? People who really don’t want to spend a lot of time wiping to bosses, because this is a game: they just want to relax, chat with friends, get some purple pixels. Or, is it a full progression path? A way for people who prefer playing with tighter groups, who enjoy multi-tasking more to experience some endgame challenges and problemsolving.

Clearly, what I would like to see is the development of this latter option. I don’t want to deny the casuals their raids – but to me, that’s what normal modes are for. Normal modes are fantastic to gear up alts, and to literally get 10-people together at the last minute and hit an instance, and relax for a while. For all the fault of Trial of the Crusader, it was nice to be able to bring alts through it without having to be prepared and super-geared (and I admit that the shortness of Trial of the Crusader helped too: even a group of alts wiping a few times would get through the place in a couple of hours).

Right now, 10-man hardmodes are somehow stuck-in-the-middle. They are beyond the reach of a casual group, who doesn’t want to invest the time needed to master them. However, they still don’t offer a full progression path to “hardcore raiders” (assuming I want to call myself that): there are still slots that you need to fill with 25-man gear, and you still cannot get the excitement that comes from creating legendary weapons. All the same, you still see achievements that seem to encourage you to use 10-man as an exclusive path.

My guess is that Blizzard is still unsure about how to treat 10-man raiding. That’s (of course) quite alright – in primis because 10-man raiding is new, and so Blizz developers are still experimenting with it a lot. Although 10-mans started in BC, they were little more than stepping stones (Karazhan) or catch-up raids (Zul’Aman) then, and certainly not a full-fledged progression path. Wrath fleshed out the concept a bit more, but I think the developers have not yet had the courage to go full speed on it, and let 10-man stand on their own two feet. I would love to know more about their process, and whether we are going to see the 10-man concept develop further for Cataclysm. Part of it, of course, depends on how many players are currently “hardcore 10man” raiders – this is data that Blizz could easily have, for example checking how many players have a fair amount of hardmode 10-man achievements but little or no 25-man (most people I know will go along to a 25-man, and so have the “instance completed” achievements, but little more). I would love to have some developer input on this, but I’m really not sure about how to grab their attention (and this is hardly something that I can condense down to a 2-line question to submit to the developers…).

Storming the *yawn*

11 December 2009 § Leave a comment

Less than one raiding night.

That’s how long it took us to clear the new content. Four bosses, down in less than 3 hours – all of them have been 2-shots, where basically we did the first attempt to figure out the various abilities and to translate the strategies and videos into actual visual (and auditory) cues about what is going on, and then the second attempt to execute the strategy. That means, of course, that we’re now back to where we were before – with all content cleared, and nothing new to look forward to for quite some time.

Now, let me make one thing clear: I think Icecrown Citadel is GREAT. The fights are a lot of fun, there’s a good amount of trash (5-6 pulls before the bosses), the atmosphere (room art, mob models, music) is perfect. The patch in general is fun: the LFG tool is great and although Halls of Reflection is quite challenging for PUGs I think it’s a really nice instance. The problem, once again, is the gating system. In fact, I really think the problem is the double gating: the fact that you cannot get to the end bosses, and you cannot even try hard modes on the bosses available.

As much as I hold my raid in the highest esteem, I don’t think we’re the best players around. We’re good, we’re pretty coordinated, we tend not to die too much to fires. But really, two-shotting bosses doesn’t really mean that there’s a challenge – and if there’s no challenge, then our enjoyment of the instance will be lessened quite dramatically. I don’t begrudge Blizzard the choice to make normal modes very easy. I simply would like the option to do more difficult stuff – even just allowing hard modes for the four bosses available would improve things dramatically.

Ugh!

9 December 2009 § 2 Comments

Here I was, all excited about the new patch, and then, I got hit with a double whammy. First, the instance servers are down for the Cyclone battlegroup. This one boggles me: Blizzard launches a patch with 3 new 5-mans, 2 new raids, a new awesome-looking tool to find instance groups more easily – and then they fail to account for the increased load this will put on their own instance servers. Face, meet my palm.

Then, as we decided to give up until tomorrow (counting a lot on the restart that’s gonna happen at 5am), I read this. TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS? Are you out of your friggin’ minds? Now, I don’t know how hard the new encounters are, so maybe (hopefully) we will need more than one week to get through them all. But seriously, keeping Arthas until April? That’s gonna burn everyone on ICC, even before we get to the final boss. That really doesn’t seem like a smart strategy. I’m really trying not to whine, I want to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt because they have proven me wrong time and again. I have to admit, though, this doesn’t look good….

A modest proposal

3 December 2009 § 5 Comments

Next week, we will have a new tier of raiding available – and I can only add my voice to the choir saying that it’s about time. I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy to leave a raid instance behind. I’m also quite excited by the information and videos I’ve seen about Icecrown Citadel – the potential for a great instance is definitely there, although (as you know) I have my doubts about the gating system.

I want to make a modest proposal, regarding the structure of 10-man vs 25-man raid instances. I know it’s too late to change Icecrown, but Cataclysm is not that far off. That, and I need a new post for my blog, so hey, here goes.

The Current Situation

The way I see it, the split between 10-man and 25-man was one of the smartest moves Blizzard made. Talking to my friends, some prefer the 25-man challenges (more epic fights, more people to socialise with, more leeway to change specs/roles, less stress if one person dies), and some the 10-man ones (tighter commnunication and organisation, no deadweight raiders, more multi-tasking). That, right there, is the definition of success, where the choice between one or the other is purely up to personal taste, and not self-evident superiority. While I may get into heated discussions with my 25-man friends about the fact that 10-man is harder, I think we’re moving to the point where the hardmodes of both raid sizes are comparable – and some are harder in 25 (Thorim, with his placement issues, is easier in 10), and some are harder in 10 (Sarth 3D is the poster child here – or was, when you actually had to fight it and not zerg it). Blizzard decided the 25-man will have better loot. Basically, they are giving 25-man a loot bonus to reflect the organisational challenge of getting 25 showing up on time, with their gear and consumables and specs and glyphs at the ready, and then keeping those same 25 people out of fire patches for the entire duration of the raid.

The second big novelty of Wrath raiding were hardmodes. They were introduced with Sartharion, then extended to most Ulduar bosses. I think this has been a bit more of an unexpected change, i.e. something Blizzard introduced with one encounter because they thought it was fun, and then realised it could easily extend to become much bigger. So, there’s been a bit more experimentation on hardmodes. Hardmodes normally drop loot one full tier above the normal mode bosses. With Trial of the Crusader, it was decided to make the hardmode loot the same as the normal mode loot – just one tier level higher, so basically with more stats/gem slots.

So, let’s take a simple example. Let’s look at Northrend Beasts and one piece of loot from 10-man and 25-man both.

10-man 25-man
Normal Icehowl Bindings – ilvl 232 Belt of the Tenebrous Mists – ilvl 245
Hardmode Icehowl Bindings – ilvl 245 Belt of the Tenebrous Mists – ilvl 258

The proposal

I’d like Blizzard to move to a system where the direct upgrade of normal, 10-man loot is in normal, 25-man – and the upgrade of hardmode, 10-man is in hardmode, 25-man. In other words, to go back to the Northrend Beasts example, I would like loot to look like this:

10-man 25-man
Normal Icehowl Bindings – ilvl 232 Icehowl Bindings – ilvl 245
Hardmode Belt of the Tenebrous Mists – ilvl 245 Belt of the Tenebrous Mists – ilvl 258

The ilvl of the various drops won’t change, and neither will the number of items Blizzard has to create – so both game-balance and development time issues should be unaffected by the change. So, what would be the advantages of this system?

  1. More focus from the player’s perspective.  I suspect players are much more polarised on the 10 vs. 25 debate than the normal vs. heroic one. I’ve heard a fair amount of players complain that Blizzard is “forcing” them to do 10-man to get a specific item, when they would rather focus on 25-man (and viceversa, of course). This way, the loot tables will be more independent, and players would spend more time playing however they like.
  2. More encouragement to conquer hardmodes: right now, the incentive to kill something in hardmode is relatively small. Improving the items you already have by one tier is relatively less interesting, to me, than tapping into a whole new loot table with items that cover different slots/stats combinations.
  3. More fundamentally, it would make 10 and 25 man a lot more equal – to the point where even legendary weapons could be itemised for 10-man raids, too. I’m extremely sad that even though we have conquered Ulduar and killed Algalon we never had a chance at crafting a Val’anyr – and the same is going to happen for Shadowmourne for Icecrown Citadel. I’m not complaining about the actual item or its stats – I’m sure Icecrown weapons are going to be better than Val’anyr (so much so that some people are destroying Val’anyr on fairly trivial bets). However, creating weapons like that is a fantastic goal, and gives a sense of accomplishment like very little else in this game. It’s a raid achievement, and an incredible morale booster. As my last post showed, I still consider my Benediction quest as one of the pinnacles of my career, and I can remember still the excitement our raid felt as we all pitched in to create our Sulfuras, or our Thunderfury. This new system would allow for the presence of a Val’anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings in 25-man hardmodes, and of a Mallet of Younger Princes in 10-man hardmodes – lower ilvl, same idea, similar quests.

The biggest objection I see is that 25-man bosses drop more loot than 10-man – and so often have a bigger loot table. However, looking up the ToC bosses, the difference doesn’t seem enormous: Beasts have 12 items in 10, 15 in 25; Jaraxxus has 13 vs. 15; Champions 10 vs. 15; Val’kyrs 13 vs. 15; Anub’Arak 17 vs. 20. I’m not sure if having 3 items drop from a loot table of 15 vs a loot table of 13 really increases that much loot repetition (and by the way, why is the Champions loot table in 10-man so much smaller?) – I could calculate that, but I’m too lazy :-D.

Ultimately, I think the choice between the current system depends very much on what is the distribution of the population among the 4 possible combinations (10N, 10H, 25N, 25H). Most players act in more than one case of that table – so if the overlap is more 10N-25N, then the current system is probably preferable. If instead the overlap is more 10N-10H and 25N-25H, then moving to what I suggest would increase the enjoyment of this game on everyone’s part.

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