A stay of the execution

27 September 2010 § 1 Comment

MMO-Champion reports that the Cataclysm release date may be pushed back to the beginning of December – and I hope this means that they will wait a bit more to push 4.0 on live servers as well. I really want to get a Heroic LK kill before 4.0: I thought we had enough time, given we got to Heroic LK in May, but apparently I was not counting to our usual summer period of slump, as well as several scheduling and connection problems that have severely reduced our ability to work on that encounter. I don’t think we’re very far, but honestly I don’t think we will get it this coming week either.

If I had to guess, now I would think that 4.0 will go live on Tuesday 26th October – after Blizzcon, and about a month before Cata releases. This is however a wild guess, not based on any inside source or private information, so not very reliable :-).

In other news, the same post on MMO-Champ lists the rewards for Justice and Valor Points. The interesting thing is that Justice Points will be redeemed for blue rewards only (boo!) but the spellpower weapons only require lvl 83 – if this stays, it will be nice to have those weapons before getting to max level. Also, the JP rewards cover all set slots, plus main hand, offhand, wand, neck and waist, which is not bad at all. I also appreciated a lot the fact that VP cover rings and trinkets – and that the two rings and the two trinkets can both be used by Disc Priests without too much of a stretch. In short, gearing for Heroics shouldn’t be too hard.

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Talent ceasefire

26 September 2010 § Leave a comment

The Disc tree is clearly being fine tuned by the developers as we speak, which means that each build brings one or two changes – which often are annulled or compounded by the build after. I am going to suspend debating the talent trees for a (short) while, and I am sure the tree will stabilise soon and we can restart. So far, the changes are interesting and fun, but don’t change the gist of what I posted before: I will still go with an Archangel/Atonement build. As for the details of that… well, stay tuned!

Phase 3!

24 September 2010 § 1 Comment

I just have to post, I’m too psyched up: after 4 months of wipes on the LK Heroic, we finally got to P3 – and we got there consistently, about 4 times within 10 attempts. We didn’t change anything, we just all…. clicked, and everything went so smoothly, it was unbelievable. Before tonight, we had some good attempts, but normally it was one good attempt in a sea of stupid wipes. We still have 26 attempts left (in itself a measure of our success, as normally one full night on LK would use a LOT more attempts than that), so we’ll probably extend on Wednesday, and once we’re done we’ll go play in Ulduar or Ruby Sanctum or something else. Stay tuned!

Pendragon, the Wrathgate and the Battle for Darrowshire

23 September 2010 § Leave a comment

Tamarind over at Righteous Orbs recently wrote a post that really resonated with me, about storymaking and Blizzard. His point was that Blizzard seems to have moved the players even more into the centre stage roles, as witnessed by mega-events like the Wrathgate/Battle of Undercity as well as now with Operation: Gnomeragan and the Conquest of the Echo Isles. He also suggested that this is actually not a good direction: that good stories (in terms of immersion) comes from small moments of introspection much more than big battles.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I agree so much I’m making a post about this, even though I don’t know that I can add anything to what Tam said. So you will have to bear with me rambling on this topic for a bit, and hopefully at the end I will have said something that reinforces Tam’s argument.

Have you ever played Pendragon? If you haven’t, you’ve missed an absolute gem of a game. Pendragon is a table-top role-playing game set in Arthurian Britain, originally published by Chaosium. To this day, it is one of the best games I’ve played, mostly because the game system and the setting mesh very well. Anyone who played it, however, will tell you of a problem: there is a temptation to make your knight take a central role in the story. The problem is, the story already has its heroes: Lancelot, Parsifal, Gawain and all the names that are familiar from the stories. And trying to shoehorn the player characters into those roles always feels forced, untrue, and quite frankly uninteresting. The best adventures I’ve had in that wonderful game were the ones where my group of friends and I were tangential to the main story: we interacted with the main characters, but our roles were secondary, either because we were doing something else, behind the scenes, or because we were simply extras, part of an army of knights in specific crucial battles.

WoW works in the same way: there’s a Story going on, involving Thrall, Sylvanas, Garrosh, Vol’jin, Wrynn, Jaina, Alexstrasza, Arthas and all the other figures. And then there are stories, with a small “s”: the farmers trying to survive in Westfall, the goblins trying to make an easy buck, the spirits that need to have closure on their deaths to be able to move on. Of course I want to be involved with Thrall: but if Tsark is involved with Thrall through quests, then so are all the other 11,499,999 players (or thereabouts). You can easily see how suspension of disbelief is stretched when you are asked to pretend that every single adventurer on each realm is a major figure in the Horde (and of course the same goes for the Alliance). RPers cringe when they see back stories that try to establish player characters as the illegitimate son of Thrall and Jaina, raised by Alexstrasza and blessed by Therazane – and trying to tell every adventurer that really, Undercity would have been lost if not for them, is almost the official, Blizzard-sanctioned equivalent of that. The quest I remember most fondly in Wrath is not the Wrathgate/Battle of Undercity line, but the Matthias Lehner questline (and I wish Blizz had done more with it, making it more important in the overall ICC story). Similarly, across all expansions I think my personal favourites remain the Battle for Darrowshire (the redemption of a Redpath) or the Fallen Hero of the Horde (albeit this latter one has a little too much travelling to be worth doing now). All these questlines focus on side episodes of the great stories: people that got caught in something bigger than them, and were corrupted (Redpath, Arthas) or failed (the Fallen Hero).

These however are considerations of story – so most of the WoW players can go “lolRP” and dismiss them. I would argue however that even from a gaming perspective they do not result in much enjoyment. Today, a guildie of mine was completing the Conquest of the Echo Isles, and he asked in chat: “Can I just let Vol’jin move ahead and meet him at the last battle?” Tam confesses he spent the Battle of the Undercity fishing. The last time I did the Battle on Horde (for my warlock), I actually dozed off at the keyboard – about the only time it has happened to me in WoW, which tends to engage me pretty thoroughly. I’m not blaming Blizzard for poor design: given the premises (players help Thrall and Sylvanas retake Undercity), clearly the two faction leaders need to be way ahead in terms of contribution, and it is awesome to see their powers in action (I love that Sylvanas uses Songs, and Thrall’s use of elemental powers is absolutely kickass – in fact, these powers are part of the reason I think the Horde version is so much better than the Alliance one). But the result is that your contribution is a rounding error, and thus you get bored.

There is no question that Blizzard has got a lot better at storytelling in its six years of production of WoW. The flow of quests has improved, they have got rid of annoying drop rates for quest items (I still remember Helcular’s Rod as a nightmare, 6 years after I quested for it), phasing technologies helps a lot in making you believe that your actions actually have an effect on the world. I also loved the Wrathgate cutscene, although some of those character models are just painfully bad to look at, when you have close-ups. The problem is how to use these additional tools, and the higher skill at designing quests in the most profitable way. We already suspend disbelief while we raid (how come these bosses come back to life every Tuesday around 8am? How is it possible that 90% of the server population has slain the King when I don’t remember them being with me when I did?) but that’s in many ways unavoidable and part of the game mechanics. Questing however is much more under Blizzard’s control – here’s hoping Blizzard still allows people their small stories to enjoy!

A coda – and some humble pie

22 September 2010 § Leave a comment

GC explained the rating decay thing a lot better yesterday, and you can find it all in a nice compilation on the new wowinsider.com here. It turns out, as it is often the case, that I was making a lot more noise than this change warranted – in fact, I kinda like where this is going, now that I understand it a bit more.

The “rating decay” will in fact be bosses being “higher level” in successive tiers of raiding. Inverted commas are needed in both cases, as you can plainly see. Ratings in fact will not decay at all: however, bosses being higher level will mean that you need bigger quantities of rating to give you 1% hit/crit/dodge/parry. Bosses will not actually be higher level (because they do not want to have crushing blows sneak back in, nor to worry about future expansions’ bosses having to start from even higher level than now), but will just behave that way for the sake of rating calculation (I have a feeling that this part however is not set in stone yet – they may still be deciding exactly how to make this work).

So, not that he needs my excuses, or that he’ll ever know I fretted in the first place, but yeah, I owe an apology to GC and Blizz devs. Once again, I am shown how panicking over supposed changes that are not in game yet is often pointless until we know more. In my defence, I think that sometimes community panic is good, at least to signal to GC and the blue posters what needs to be explained better – which is what he did – or what worries the community in general (see the RealID debate/debacle). So, I will keep trying not to panic, will probably fail a few times, and will apologise when I panic for the wrong reasons (and of course I will still chastise any other blog I see panicking, because what’s blogging without some hypocrisy?).

Now that that’s out of the way, this is introducing some interesting asymmetries. Asymmetry #1 is healers vs dps and tanks: healers will not suffer from this change at all, given our targets are not changing levels. Technically, Disc will suffer more than most because of Evangelism/Atonement, but the smite glyph for 18% hit should mostly take care of that – so we will only have a slightly lessened chance to crit. So, our crit chances on heals will keep increasing, while the dps and tanks will evolve through step functions, increasing during a raiding tier, then suddenly dropping at tier change and starting to increase again. I will still see a lot of Divine Aegis by the end of the expansion, and maybe become a more interesting Focus Magic target than other mages….

Asymmetry #2 is haste vs the other ratings: haste will not suffer from this change, because it is the only rating that doesn’t enter into the combat table, and so is not affected by enemy level. Haste was the stat that many classes were capping during ICC (disc priests, boomkins, resto druids…), so I guess the devs will have to watch that a bit more. I know they took away some of the haste talents, which should also help on that side.

All in all, I think the change as it is explained now makes a lot more sense. Now, if you will all excuse me, I have to see if I can find some more of that delicious humble pie…

And out of the blue…

20 September 2010 § 8 Comments

(Harr, harr, harr! See what I did with the title? Because blues are… and out of the blue is… never mind….)

Love it how Ghostcrawler sometimes slips a bomb just as an aside comment. Case in point: while discussing the eternal problem of hit rating and getting capped meaning you want to ignore everything with hit on it, he threw out this little tidbit:

3) Requiring higher combat ratings for additional content tiers. What hit caps you for 4.0 won’t be sufficient in 4.1, so the extra budge on the 4.1 gear will be helpful. (Source)

*Stunned silence*

So if I understand correctly, every single new tier of content will automatically decay your ratings. To bring it to Wrath terms, there you are, decked in Naxx gear and finally getting your haste, crit (and hit, if you’re a dps) to decent levels, and suddenly Ulduar comes out, and going back to Naxx you find out that all your ratings now convert to a lot less percents – with the consequent loss in dps/hps. Thankfully, defence is not a rating anymore, so at least we won’t have tanks suddenly getting crit – the avoidance stats are still ratings though (dodge and parry), so tanks will be suffering more damage through that.

For all intents and purposes, every raiding tier will effectively partially reset gear. We are getting used to these gear resets as they happen at the beginning of any expansion, but frankly, there they have relatively little effect. There is new levelling to do, and very few people go back and seriously raid the old content. That is very much not true for raiding tiers within an expansion cycle. Unless you are in a top raiding guild, you are bound to have some overlap between tiers, or finish mopping up a tier while the other has come out. When ToC came out we were still going to Ulduar to kill Algalon; when ICC came out we still went to ToC (though mostly we did that because Lower Spire was way too easy, and nothing else was available). Now, if you run out of time, the top bosses will be even harder to kill as your gear will “degrade” simply because you reached the time limit.

Hopefully, this change will be implemented as a “Sunwell Radiance” thing: in other words, the new tier of raiding has a debuff in effect when you zone into the instance decaying your ratings. This will leave your effectiveness in earlier tiers unchanged, while allowing Blizzard to avoid the stat inflation. Even in this more benign version, I am just not sure I like the change. It feels like a clunky solution to something that could be solved by itemisation – both in terms of ilvls and of actual stat choice on the items.

There is no doubt that stats went out of control in Wrath: the spread of loot has been from ilvl 200 in Naxx to ilvl 277 in Heroic ICC 25. This compares to a spread of 115 (Attumen) to 164 (Kil’Jaeden) for BC, and 66 (Lucifron) to 92 (Kel’thuzad original) in Vanilla. In Wrath, we’ve had TEN separate tiers of loots (in ilvl: 200, 213, 219, 226, 232, 245, 251, 258, 264, 277), over only four tiers of raiding. Let’s assume Blizzard uses the same loot model in Cataclysm, letting Heroic loot be a full tier above normal (13 ilvl), while the normal loot of the tier above is only 6 ilvl above the Heroic loot of the tier below. We also know that the starting epics are going to be ilvl 359, so we should see the following progression (assuming 4 tiers of raid instances again):

  • Tier 11: 359 normal, 372 heroic
  • Tier 12: 378 normal, 391 heroic
  • Tier 13: 397 normal, 410 heroic
  • Tier 14: 416 normal, 429 heroic

Most importantly, Blizzard has always said that the biggest issue was that when they designed Wrath and the ratings conversions, they were not counting on Heroics mode at all (they really started in Ulduar, so post Wrath launch). The addition of an upper tier of gear for every raiding instance clearly inflated the numbers. This particular problem is gone: we know heroics are here to stay, and so we can plan the build up of the various ratings better, to make sure that by 429 we’re not having everyone hit against haste, hit and crit caps.

Of course, hit is a bit of weird stat in all this, because you want to be able to hit the cap in all tiers. Ghostcrawler’s concern is that if ratings don’t decay, then caster dps will wear all the same gear (the crit/haste/int/stamina gear, to be clear), because they can ignore hit. Except I really don’t understand this objection: the current model of itemisation suggests that a higher tier item with hit/crit/int/stamina will have higher values of all four stats than a lower tier item with the same stat. But couldn’t we have higher ilvl items where the increase in stats happen just in crit/int/stamina, leaving hit to be (roughly) the same? This way, caster dps still has an incentive to upgrade (more of the other stats), while still wanting to wear the same number of pieces of hit gear.

I remember when Sunwell came out, and several posts almost seemed to apologise for having to resort to Sunwell radiance (which, btw, was mostly a problem with bear tanks). A similar attitude seemed to pervade the introduction of Chill of the Throne in Icecrown. When framed that way, I had no problem accepting either debuff. But it seems to me that somewhere in the last eight months we went from “this is our last resort because something happened to screw our original plans”, to “this is a good plan”. It’s not – it feels clunky, and it artificially slows the character progression, when a slower build up of the ratings would get the same result much more elegantly. I am hoping that we can learn more about this soon, but this feels like a fairly bad idea so far.

Newsflash from the PTR, and updated talent builds

20 September 2010 § Leave a comment

I finally downloaded the PTR client, and went there to play a bit. Here’s a couple of tidbits and stuff that had escaped me:

1. The Prayer buffs are gone: Fort and Shadow Protection are automatically group wide, require no reagent, etc.

2. Mana has shot up, but the drinks have stayed the same. Tsark has 50k mana unbuffed, and drinks still restore 19.2k. A small suggestion: stock up on holiday food, whether the Harvest Nectar I mentioned in my last post, or the upcoming Halloween candies or the Winter Veil Eggnog. I cannot find new drinks up in the PTR, which makes sense as the post-80 content is not in, so I don’t know when new drinks become available. If anyone is on beta, please let us know.

3. Archangel/Evangelism: the dynamic is interesting, but it’s difficult to test it when not in a group or raid. Just to give an idea, my Smites are hitting (with 5 stacks of Evangelism) for around7k, critting for 10.5k. The healing buff of Archangel lasts for 18 secs, while the ability itself has a 15 secs cooldown. If you’re really good, and  your tank is not taking too much damage, you could keep the Archangel buff up all the time. More realistically, it’s quite possible to weave your Smites in a way that keeps your stacks at 5, to be used whenever you need mana. This segues well into…

New Talents

Gone is Improved Inner Fire, and Inner Sanctum, its replacement, seems to be wholly PvP now (damage reduction on Inner Fire, movement increase on Inner Will). Nice talent, and both of those effect could be situationally useful in PvE too (especially if you move slowly like me), but I can only see me getting it if we’re stuck on a specific fight that could use that (e.g. a Firefighter fight, or Sindragosa). So, I’m taking it out of my chosen spec.

Atonement got a BIG buff, and now heals for 120% of Smite. Damn you Blizzard, now it is actually interesting, as it means that while Smiting with a full 5 stacks of Evangelism (i.e. to keep them up), I get 8.4k heals, which are not much short of my Flash Heals – for a much lower mana cost (792 for Smite, 4k+ for Flash Heal), and a slightly higher cast time (about .5 secs, depending on haste). Atonement is also a smart heal (which is good), but doesn’t refresh Grace or Inspiration which is bad) – still, all in all it seems to be a viable choice even in a raid environment, especially with the appropriate targetoftarget or mouseover macros so you don’t waste time retargeting.

The other change is that we lost Improved Healing (good riddance to a boring passive buff) and gained Trinity – more spell haste, this time if we Smite three times in a row, which means we could even build up the stacks quicker if there is a lull in the fight. A sequence of Shield – Smite – Smite – Smite – Shield – Smite – (Shield) – Smite would probably be a nice way of still healing, while building up Evangelism stacks and Trinity buffs.

So my chosen build now looks like this. I would dearly love to get the second point in Trinity: so far, the only contenders for the axe I see are either Desperate Prayer, or Borrowed Time. I think this will need some serious testing…

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