Digital downloads and cinematics

31 October 2010 § 1 Comment

Two days ago I went ahead and cancelled my Collector’s Edition order, and substituted it with a digital download from Blizzard. The Lil” Deathwing pet looks awesome, and I am a pet fanatic, but it’s hard to justify a doubling of the price to get a pet and a lot of stuff I really don’t care about. Also, CE would have to be shipped from the US (given that the CE sold in France would be for the EU servers instead) which would mean a delay in playing and a possible cost addition for the VAT I’d have to pay at the customs.

Then, last night we killed Lich King, and weirdly I got a “This cinematic is not available” message. So I went around the net to investigate it, and found this post. I had in fact got an error message two weeks ago, while launching the game, which caused me to reinstall everything from the digital download – and had not killed the LK since then or done the Wrathgate event, so last night was the first time I encountered the issue.

Now, I don’t particularly care about the Wrath cinematics, because I’ve seen them already. I am, however, slightly concerned about the Cataclysm ones, because there seems to be a lot of them, and they are nice. And yes, I can always check them on YouTube, but that’s really not the point, is it? There’s a reason why Blizzard weaves the cinematics into the game, as opposed to having a pop up window in the game appear with a YouTube link.

I also understand the problem: their download servers are probably working overtime, between the 8+GB download of 4.0, and the Cataclysm downloads, and people reinstalling the game left, right and centre. Because cinematics are so heavy, taking them out is probably helping to speed up the queues a fair bit. However, there are several issues with this implementation.

The first one, and the most important one, is that they “forgot” to specify that Cataclysm digital downloads would be cinematics-less. The post I linked to dates to 15 October, and the announcement of the digital download happened this week, so they clearly knew of the issue. Knowing beforehand would have let people make an informed choice about the purchase, as opposed to having us find out after the deal is done (and the credit card is debited). I am also kinda surprised that none of the major news sites covered this issue: no mention of this on either wowinsider or mmo-champion. (UPDATE: as I was writing this, I found a news site I didn’t know before who wrote something about the matter just yesterday).

Now, of course, we can always hope that Blizzard solves the issue before Cata is released: once the heavy load on their server is gone (4.0.1 is several times bigger than 4.0.3 or 4.0.3a, it seems), we could start streaming the cinematics. But the blue post seems very vague about possible solutions, and the feeling is clearly one of “not a priority at all”.

Ironically, I have the Wrath CDs, so I could get the cinematics from there (at least the Wrathgate one, which was in at release – I guess not the LK one which was patched later). But I don’t want to reinstall the whole game again, and I cannot find any quickfire way to just get the cinematics from the CDs.

I’ll try to get the word out to a few more bloggers (ones with wider readership than me), because I think this is an issue that affects a lot more people than just me – and even more with the digital download for Cataclysm coming. Let’s hope we can get some word from Blizzard about this – otherwise, get ready for some alt-tabbing….

25 Kingslayers

30 October 2010 § 2 Comments

The 25-man raid run by Dawn Vigil, my guild, managed to kill Lich King tonight, after a fairly remarkable progression. We extended once again, dispatched Sindy in 3-4 tries (last week she was pwning us), and then proceeded to go poke at the Lich King. Now, keep in mind that I am not sure we had ever got to P3 (I’m pretty sure *I* never got to P3 with the 25-man, but I know I missed a couple of progression nights), and the last we had seen LK was ages ago, as we focused on doing Heroics and getting a Shadowmourne done (we had a couple of Kingslayers from another raid who had kindly taken some of us along).

The raid proceeded to work incredibly well, to work out the MANY problems that were there at the start (from people not focusing on valkyrs to people not spreading out correctly, to defiles…) and steadily progressed to P3. With 30 mins of raid time to go, we got to P3 and 25%, and the following pull, the last pull of the night, everything came together and we managed to get through the whole fight. It wasn’t pretty, our tank died and got b-rezzed because of a failed Soul Harvest management (he may in fact have died twice – soulstone + b-rez – but I’m not sure, I may be mixing attempts up), but in the end, with about 10 people up, we wiped, rezzed, and pwned.

I know I normally just focus on 10-man achievements on this blog, but I want to recognise the effort of everyone in that raid: because of our relatively casual style, the “flexible raid lockouts” (please note the inverted commas of sarcasm) hit us fairly hard, as people were forced to choose whether their main and best characters were going to the 10 or 25-man version of ICC. So, 3 weeks ago we found ourselves with a third of a raid in 264s and 277s, and a third barely in 251s as some of the alts were not exactly the top geared ones. Mad props to Malicent, who since April has managed to lead this ragtag band, and to keep both the “hardcore progression” people and the “social/casual/farm content” people happy.

Personally, I know it took me a long time to stop trying to “backseat raid lead”: this is not my 25-man, and it will not always do what I would like to do. In the beginning, I think I tried to have the advantages of raid leadership (influence, deciding what to do, choosing strategies) without the hassle, and it just didn’t work. After a couple of tense moments with Malicent (which we fortunately solved through tells, posts and other relatively private channels), I’d like to think I’m a much more positive contributor to that raid now. I appreciate the fact that Mali took the the time to answer every time I wrote a /rant post, and I think in the end I’ve become a better raider for it.

Going forward, I think I’ll put my weight behind trying to keep the 25-man going in Cataclysm. My “hardcore fix” will always come from the 10-man: the team we have is likely to go further, and we can push towards hard modes, achievements and all the things that frustrate me to no end, but also get my adrenaline going. I believe however that a 25-man raid serves an important function in a guild as a glue that keeps the community going. Once Cata is released, there will be a flurry of activity as people level their mains and alts, gear up in dungeons, do quests and achievements and grinds. After a few months, though, all though will run dry, as it always does, and the main focus will be on raiding. People will log on during different times, because of time differences and schedule and life styles (and the fact we have people in Europe, Australia, and the US…). Without a 25-man to hold us together, I think we will go back to being effectively a group of smaller communities, and this will make us lose something. Beru posted a great collection of ideas about preparing your guild for Cataclysm, and while we are certainly nowhere close to Monolith’s size, I think her post started me thinking about what we can start doing now, so that Cataclysm doesn’t catch us unawares.

See-sawing our way around

27 October 2010 § 2 Comments

After last week’s completely fail raid, I almost dreaded logging on Tsark anymore. Around this time in expansion, my game time on Tsark is basically spent raiding, and the last raid left such a sour taste in my mouth I wasn’t really ready to try the experience again. So no daily Heroic, no Vault, no PvP for Tsark this week: it’s been strictly Headless Horseman farming on several alts, and daily Heroics and daily quests on my Alliance toons (and some levelling, so my Alliance platoon is now starting to look almost acceptable :-)). Because of the flexible raid lockout (never has name been further from what it designates), of course I had to take someone else to the 25-man, so no Tsark there either – and because our shaman was unavailable on Friday, we did not go back for the rest of the week.

So, today, with a certain dread, we extended the lockout, zoned in, and went straight to the LK.

And it wasn’t as bad.

After three hours, we managed to get into P3 and to 37% health – which is not very far from what we were doing pre-patch. Of course, then we were getting to those percentages consistently, while today we barely managed to get consistently to P2. But it certainly beats our performance last week, by about a gazillion miles. Most importantly, the whole fight felt a lot more under control, which meant that the generalised feeling was that yes, with some work, we could get this done.

Some random observations:

1. I finally managed to get into the new Shield rhythm. I still get a lot of “Spell is not ready yet”, but partly because now I know about it, and partly because I pay more attention, I can handle that. Also, panicking a bit less and watching the general health a bit more, I managed to weave in wome Archangel work, too, mostly for the mana regen.

2. … which we really need, because not being able to proc multiple Rapture at each Infest means we run out of mana like nothing else. Most of our P2 attempts saw me chugging a potion and watching nervously my Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope cooldown. I may look at some of the Spirit trinkets, or at least undo some of my reforging to get some Spirit back.

3. I also ended up being the plague dispeller – the paladin tank was just too busy to be able to do it reliably. This cut into my Evangelism time, but I can still at least do the Infest shielding, which is the essential part.

4. Boomkins being awesome back up healers is a thing of the past, as their mana regen is so tightly linked to proccing Eclipses that they cannot really sustain anything else. Elemental shamans, instead, seem to have more mana than they could use, so Jahag switched to the back up healing position.

5. I suspect our P2 are a LOT shorter than they were – they certainly feel that way to me, which would make sense with the increased dps of most classes. That means less valkyrs, which is an all around good news of course (we used to get about 4-5 valkyrs, I think, and now we’re closer to 3-4).

So there you have it, things are looking a lot brighter than they were. Now, the problem of course is that we do not have any other raiding scheduled this week (our paladin tank is moving across the US, so he won’t have his stuff before next week), then we will have one good week, then one of our rogues is away for 3 weeks for work… So basically we either kill him next week or almost not at all, as by the end of November I doubt we will keep the focus to do this. The thought is slightly scary…

In other news, on Monday we finally got Earth, Wind & Fire – we had tried it a few times before halfheartedly, and this time we got it with 3-4 pulls, so it was nice (albeit it was anything but a clean kill). On the alt levelling front, my Alliance priest is now Holy and enjoying Chakra immensely. She’s also on her way to Outland (2 more levels), so she is almost ready to get to the Big Leagues. Alliance hunter has reached 40, and of course my mage is now gearing up seriously.

Most importantly, Tessarquia, my SAN shaman, has finally managed to get a shield, which means I can go back to being a shaman with a 1H and a shield, not a stupid staff. Seriously though, 35+ runs of Pit of Saron normal, and nothing to show for it: I sincerely hope itemisation is done a bit more carefully in Cataclysm.

The Darkest Hour?

20 October 2010 § 4 Comments

Wow.

I don’t think I’ve felt this angry, frustrated and confused about WoW ever before. I apologise in advance if this post is going to be rambling, or at least if it does so more than usual. I just need to do something to vent, and writing and trying to sort out my thoughts seem to be a better way than, say, uninstalling the game or ranting on the forums.

My usual 10-man raid has gone and extended the lockout, so we could kill Sindragosa and work on Heroic Lich King once again. Sindragosa was a 2-shot, which is about normal for us. Interestingly, she repeatedly gave out Unstable Magic to 2 healers in one go, while leaving our elemental shaman alone. You can imagine what it was to heal Heroic Sindragosa with 2 healers racking up Instability stacks in P3 – but we pulled through, no thanks to me, I admit, but mostly thanks to our awesome druid and paladin healers. Sindragosa is a fight where I always feel like I’m not pulling my weight at all, as I spend most of the time focusing on surviving myself (running out of Blistering Cold, making sure my Arcane Buffet stacks drop, not blowing the whole raid up with Instability, etc.) – all of that seemed to have been cranked up a million times.

That frustration however was NOTHING compared to what waited for us at Lich King. We first saw Heroic Lich King back in May. Then we got a bit distracted with mounts (at least a week), summer holidays, changing multiple raiders and gearing up the replacements, etc, so really it wasn’t until August that we started seriously working on it. Still, this has been one of the longest bosses I’ve ever worked in the game. Before 4.0 hit, we were consistently getting to P3, and working on handling Frostmourne phases and the crazy healing-on-the-go inside there, and Vile Spirit and soaking on the outside. In fact, we were at the point where we were thinking about doing something Beru mentioned on her blog: switch it to normal and work on Vile Spirit soaking, just to get the practice going without having to go through the rest of the Heroic fight. Beru’s group went on to kill the LK the following week, so I had hopes we were very very close.

Then the patch hit.

Today we had 15 attempts on Lich King (by the way, apparently there’s no counter anymore, so you can keep wiping on him if you want all week long), and managed to get to P2 ONCE, to the transition about 4-5 times. It was one of the most humiliating, demoralising and demotivating experiences of my life. Things that just made that fight a lot harder:

  1. Our elemental shaman cannot clear Plague anymore. Both myself and our holy paladin are basically spamming our heal full time, so we had resorted to having our shaman take care of Necrotic Plague very early on. For all his grumbling about it, he had become very very good at it, making split second decisions about fizzling the plague vs giving slow-movers just one split second more to reach the adds. Now we’re having our paladin tank doing the cleansing, but of course sometimes he’s just either GCD locked or too busy checking where the adds are, or where the shadow traps are, or where the plague is bouncing to see whether the Horror is going to live and frenzy or not.
  2. Our paladin tank lost a LOT of cooldowns: Ardent Defender works in a completely different (and much less useful) way, Divine Protection got nerfed to hell and back, and Guardian of the Ancient Kings is a lvl 85 ability, so yet to come. So he went splat a few times before either of the healers could figure out what was going on.
  3. Tricks being changed meant that our fury warrior suddenly found himself tanking the Lich King a couple of times, as soon as the Tricks threat disappeared from the tanks
  4. Healing throughput was just a lot lower, because of course Beacon doesn’t work that way anymore. We never tried to play the “stack the perfect classes for the encounter” game, but just happened to have a holy paladin and disc priest, which worked perfectly pre-patch, not so much now.

Personally, I had to ignore completely Atonement and Archangel, and just focus on shield spamming. What’s worse, I think the game has changed the way the cooldown on Shield is handled. Soul Warding leaves you with a 1 sec cooldown on Shield, which theoretically is not a problem because of the GCD being at least one second (and in fact more like 1.08 secs with my current haste). Yet, what I was seeing was that the cooldown on Shield was NOT overlapping with the GCD, and in fact starting when the GCD was already ¼ of the way through – it felt as though the cooldown on Shield started when the Shield was applied to the target, while the GCD started when I started casting the spell, and somehow the two events were not synchronous (maybe latency?). The consequence of all this was that my Shield was available again about 1.3 secs after I cast the previous one. That sounds ridiculously close to the previous values, but it was enough to completely screw up my rotation, so that I would get “Spell is not ready yet” messages more often than not, which meant I would waste more time then I should have shielding 10 people to prevent Infest, with predictable consequences.

I managed to compound the problem myself, by trying to solve the “Spell not ready yet” with a twitch spamming of my Shield button to make sure it got applied as soon as it was ready – except that the new spell queue system simply meant that I was getting MORE “Spell is not ready yet” messages, as opposed to more Shields.

It really feels like we went from being THIS close to beating Heroic Lich King to the place we were in May, when we began looking at this and felt completely overwhelmed. The problem is, I don’t know if my raid has enough resilience to just start over again – and quite frankly, for the first time in my memory, I don’t know if *I* have enough resilience for that. I don’t know if I want to quit, or respec to Holy, or switch to my druid, or what. I don’t know if I can ever get to doing this with practice, or if it’s just impossible. I don’t even know how to motivate my raid to keep working on this: on one hand we have people who are starting to suggest that maybe we should just sit back and relax and enjoy the time before Cataclysm; on the other I hear others considering that if that’s the case, then they are unlikely to stick around until Cataclysm, and once they are gone unlikely to return.

I understand that Blizzard has always done the pre-expansion patch this way, and that the game has always felt a bit wonky – but normally they pre-expansion patches have been a LOT closer to the expansion release (like, a month or so, not two like this time). Also, both times I felt like raiding got EASIER in the pre-expansion days, not way, way harder.

Bleargh. Writing helped a bit, but I need to mull this over and think what I want to do, and what I should do.

Archangel, Shields and being the last to the party

20 October 2010 § 2 Comments

Just a quick post to mention that my training dummy testing suggests that Archangel doesn’t buff Shield absorbs. Now, I can live with all the nerfs and the changes in mechanics of Disc, but this just strikes me as bad design. If you include a new mechanic in the Disc tree (Archangel), it seems to me you should make sure it works in good synergy with the existing main mechanic of the tree (Shields). I understand that the developers want us to move away from Shield spamming, but I’m just not sure that this is the way to do it.

Disc 4.0.1 – Raiding impressions

19 October 2010 § 5 Comments

A week has gone by, and while a fair few bugs still remain in the game, most of them have been solved by now. We lost one raid day due to our tanks having trouble downloading the patch, and the second one was cut short by rolling restarts (instance server first, then Feathermoon always means we are better off stopping the raid before the restarts, because the servers never come back in time). In all this, we managed to get most of ICC10 down, so it is time to share my impressions. Unfortunately, impressions are all that they are, because World of Logs, our site of choice for combat log analysis, is still a bit buggy (doesn’t show Power Word: Barrier at all; shows Atonement as two separate spells, one for hit and one for crits; doesn’t show pally shields; etc.).

So, in general, it is doable. Disc priests seem to have lost some throughput and flexibility, but mostly it is a matter of getting used to the new spells/new dynamics and I think we will get back into a good place. This, of course, should come as no surprise, given that our healing model really hasn’t changed that much (compared to a lot of the other healers, at least). We did wipe a couple of times because we just could not handle a spike in damage: mostly, I find that we can go along like normal, but our “oh shit” routines just don’t work anymore, so any small hiccups is likely to snowball into a wipe (Tamarind makes a similar observation over at Righteous Orbs, of course with a lot more wit)

Preparation

In the end, I went with a slightly different spec from the one I suggested here a while back, mostly because of comments back in the EJ Disc priest forum thread, pointing out that we will not use Heal at all until higher levels, and so Strength of Souls is a bit of a waste. On the other hand, Darkness gives a nice haste boost, which we now (horror!) need. The single point in Mental Agility is simply needed to get Power Word: Barrier – feel free to put it anywhere else in the tree instead (I should probably put it in Inner Sanctum, as less spell damage is a good thing). Although I ended up not Penancing very much, I will keep the points in Train of Thought, because a) I need to put them somewhere; b) I need to Penance more to stop any stupid minor spike to disrupt our existing teetering balance.

I did not regem, mostly because I wanted to have a better feel for how things were. I did not reforge either, partly because of the same reason, and partly because BobTurkey had warned that Mastery was not a particularly desirable stat. He has since expanded on that, explaining that it may be ok now in ICC with our other ratings being so inflated, so I may reforge some of my spirit into mastery now, to check it out (I need haste for my Smites, and crit for my delicious Aegis, so spirit seems the obvious reforging candidate). I have since reforged all the spirit I could into mastery, and will post next week about how that feels.

The only other thing I changed was to take Inner Focus out of my Divine Hymn macro, and instead put it in a Gheal one. This gives me the chance to note that in my earlier talent discussion I had completely missed the reduced cooldown (45s now). I am still not sure it makes it a useful talent at 85, but it’s certainly better than I thought.

I ended up with 38% crit and about 690 haste, which means I’m not soft capped, but not far either (my FHeal shows 1.08 cast time with Borrowed Time).

Archangels, Barriers, and the lot

Moving on to some more specific comments, Atonement will probably be the one mechanic that will require some adjustment, although at least it got fixed during one of the restarts we’ve had, and is now healing correctly for 100% damage.  Throughout all of Lower Spire, I was basically trying to have it up 100% of the time, so I was getting 5 Evangelism → Archangel, then shielding and mending and penancing. Of course, that’s because mana is still not a concern, so the only interesting part of Archangel is really the healing buff (and the cd reduction of Penance, through Train of Thought). I was probably smiting more than I should have, or rather, I wasn’t switching between job A and job B fast enough: I was smiting to full, Archangel, healing, smiting to full, etc. This means I was not using the cd reduction on Penance as much as I should have, which is a pity. This pattern also created two issues.

The first one is that I would get my 5 stacks of Evangelism up, while Archangel was still on cooldown. Arch has a 30 secs cooldown, and Evangelism lasts for 15, so it is not hard to see how that would happen. The problem of course is that I would then have to Smite again to refresh Evangelism – not a problem right now due to the mana abundant raiding environment, but if mana really becomes a serious issue afterwards, that’s a total waste of mana in our Archangel returns (well, not total waste, because you still get a heal, but yeah, not ideal either). A related issue is that I need to set up an alert in my UI to let me know how many stacks of Evangelism I have, and how long till they expire – I guess I will finally cave in and install Power Auras…

The second and bigger issue is that although Atonement is nice, the throughput is just not there, so we cannot use it during times of heavy damage. Case in point: Festergut, the early phase where the whole raid takes a ton of damage. We just did not seem to be able to keep up with the incoming damage – although the fact I got gassed didn’t exactly help either, but that never used to be much of an issue before. We ended up 3-healing, mostly because we didn’t feel like wiping multiple times, but I think it is possible to 2-heal this still, though it will require some much more careful throughput management. On a more general point, though, the issue is that Atonement will need to be carefully weaved during lull phases, possibly in preparation of bigger damage spikes happening (and Festergut is again a good example, because after the first inhale you can build up your atonement stacks, then keep them up during the second inhale with just a smite or two, and use Archangel to help deal with blight damage and the new spike).

The final consideration is that we will just need some basic experience with it to make Atonement work properly. My personal “d’oh!” moment was on Gunship, when I was smiting Riflemen happily and wondering why I wasn’t seeing Atonement heals (the answer of course is that NO-ONE was anywhere near the riflemen, so Atonement just didn’t find anyone to heal).

You know, as I’m writing this, I just realised one thing: does Archangel buff shields too, or just heals? I remember how shields needed to be included in the ICC buff with a hotfix, and I sincerely hope this is not the case with Archangel. I guess this is important enough to test, so I may grab a friendly fire mage and duel in Dalaran to test this.

Moving on to Power Word: Barrier, I have to admit it was a big disappointment. I cannot produce numbers, because, as I said, World of Logs is not recording any of it sadly. However, I was hard pressed to find a good use for it, partly because of the mechanics of ICC which heavily discourage clumping up, and partly because whenever I did put it down, the Barrier seemed to disappear very very quickly. I suspect it will just need a serious bump up in numbers, before it can become useful. Again, I’m happy to give it the benefit of the doubt, considering the needed adjustment, but so far, I have to say I am not impressed.

What did impress me, though, was Holy Nova. With 10 people in range I am getting hits for around 1k healing, more for people with abilities or talents increasing healing (e.g. our pally tank). With the fact that it’s instant, spammable with a very short GCD thanks to the glyph, I can see some fairly huge potential for it inside Frostmourne, during Heroic LK. The proof is in the pudding, of course, but I am actually excited about having a means to deal with that phase (together with mending, which becomes incredible in there).

Healing teams

I wanted to add one additional note about other healing classes. My healing partner throughout most of the instance was a holy paladin – and yes, it was much harder to keep up with healing with just the two of us healing, whereas we normally have no trouble. Again, I don’t want to say immediately that Holy paladins need a buff – it may simply be adjustment pains as we find our feet again. An interesting note is that we’re normally fairly close in healing outputs, and this was reproduced this time too – which would suggest my healing output has gone down too.

What was instead fairly amazing was how much more output a druid could generate. Our boomkin switched to resto to help us with Plague and Blood Wings. She admits she wasn’t really trying to maximise new rotations or anything, just plain Rejuv spamming, and she pulled ahead by 30% or more. Tildie is a very good healer in general, so it is not uncommon for her to be top healer in fights where the three of us are working together – but not by that much.

All this means may simply be that a basic druid rotation (OMGREJUVOMG!) is more effective than a basic priest one (OMGSHIELDOMG!) or paladin one (OMGFOLOMG!) – or that druids at 80 and in current gear levels and current raid content are more effective.

We will finish the instance tomorrow, and the real test will be to survive P1 of the LK: the increased dps should make the rest of the fight easier, but the spikes in P1 due to Shambling Horrors’ Frenzy kinda scare me a bit.

Irregular blog writing is irregular

14 October 2010 § 1 Comment

Patch 4.0.1 is here, and last week I’ve been busy trying to finish up a few things and get ready for the patch. I will hopefully make a longer post in the next couple of days about my patch thoughts, in the meantime, I wanted to share a couple of things and ideas:

  • If you are a scribe, be warned that there’s a new glyph that comes from Northrend Research (Glyph of Living Bomb) and one that comes from books (Glyph of Colossus Smash). Neither of those was available pre-patch, so if you’re like me and had maxed out your glyphs, be ready to get two more
  • More central to this blog theme, I think Atonement is seriously bugged. I am getting heals for about 10% of my Smites, which is not very encouraging. Can anyone else confirm or deny this?

That’s all for today!

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