Wrath no more

23 November 2010 § 3 Comments

The Shattering is happening as we speak, so it is time to say goodbye to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. It may also be time to look back and reflect on different aspects of this expansion – both good and bad.

The levelling experience

I think Blizzard did a good job about the levelling experience. Most of the zones looked gorgeous, with some good stories and some decent foreshadowing of instances/events to come. I liked meeting King Ymiron in Howling Fjord, before facing him in Utgarde Pinnacle, and I wish this kind of foreshadowing was used more often. I really loved the Taunka storyline on Horde, as well as the Matthew Lehner story in Icecrown. If anything, I wish there was a tigher interaction between the storylines used in questing and the dungeons/raid instances of the expansion: why didn’t we do more with the whole story about the Lich King getting rid of his heart?

In a similar vein, let’s not have an Obsidian Sanctum debacle again: that instance had no story link with ANYTHING else in the game, it was just sort of there. I had to have a friend dig out the story behind the instance online, because there is literally nothing in the game to let us know what is it supposed to represent. In a similar vein, I was a bit disappointed with the whole Nexus War story: it features through a good part of Borean Tundra and Dragonblight, but then fizzles out completely in the later zones, and the fact that Malygos was a first-tier boss meant that we “solved it” way too early. Ulduar, awesome as it was, could have used some tighter link to the Scourge: I understand Yogg Saron has been helping with Arthas corruption, but in many ways that actually cheapens the Lich King story, which is more dramatic precisely because it is a story of a Prince choosing to do all those horrible things as a way to save his land. This is a minor gripe though, as Ulduar did have a good storyline throughout Storm Peaks, and I probably could just handle it being just a synchronicity issue, with a new menace emerging while we prepare to deal with Arthas.

We all know that Blizzard lamented that Illidan was a bit of an invisible enemy in Burning Crusade, as non-raiders hardly ever met him. With Arthas, I think they swung the pendulum the other way a bit too much, turning him too much into a 007 villain, never missing an opportunity to explain his plans in details only to let the heroes go so that they could eventually come back and get him. I hope with Deathwing they find a happier middle ground, maybe having major lore figures intercede and save adventurers, porting them to safety and similar, instead of having the boss just walk off the scene of the confrontation.

The gearing-up experience

The combination of badge gear, LFG tool, and higher-level 5-man dungeons meant that gearing was much easier and pleasurable than in either BC or Vanilla. I remember running alts through Karazhan right until the very end of the expansion, while thankfully we were spared running Naxx in the same way. The simplification of the badge system was probably needed, and sounds appropriate. I am a bit scared about what will happen with the LFG tool if instances and heroics are going to require more coordination: in many ways, I think LFG works well because you need no interaction with your group members. Let’s just say that I’ll try my damnedest to level and learn the dungeons with friends, rather than with the anonymous people who are likely to start a blame war (and a group quit) at the first wipe.

I really really like the idea of having some 5-man dungeons being designed for more geared playes, and I hope that they keep that design. One thing though: please do not have once again loot tables as long as the ICC 5-man ones, or at least try to make drop itemisation a bit more even. There were some slots that just required one boss, and one boss only, unless you had access to raid loot (not the case for many alts): caster shield, tank shield and caster offhand are all cases in point here. And please, keep in mind we have TWO trinket slots, so we need to have two decent trinkets per spec.

All in all, Wrath actually managed to reduce the gear gap considerably: right now, I think most 80 characters are in 245/251 gear, while most raiders would be in 264/277, a gap of only 1-2 tiers, which is completely acceptable.

The raiding experience

In raiding, the record is a bit mixed. There is no question to me that the high point of the raiding in this expansion was Ulduar. Bosses were fun, they progressed nicely from the easier Siege ones, to the Keepers, to Vezax and Yogg, and finally Algalon. There were also a nice number of side bosses which you could skip while progressing, and just do on off-nights or as filler. The fight were well thought out, with some nice mechanics, and they were very very different from each other and from what we had seen before. The art was absolutely fantastic, and thus the atmosphere was great.

I want to mention especially the in-game triggers of hard modes, which were, in my mind, the best possible way to have heroics. In-game triggers sometimes were actually a check, because if you could not manage to trigger the hard mode, you were just not geared enough to handle it (XT, Thorim); sometimes they were fun (“What happens if I push this red but… oh…”); and sometimes were just more traditional ways (Yogg, Freya). Blizzard has stated that they did not like the fact that it basically required players to look on outside sites how to actually trigger them, but that’s easily solved: for example, NPCs at the start of the instance could have dialogue options about how to trigger the different hard modes. It certainly made a lot more game sense than toggling an interface button (which is convenient, but a bit of a last resort measure in my mind).

I think there is also no doubt that the low point was Trial of the Crusader. The biggest problem there was the multiplication of instances, so that 10 and 25-man raiders ended up facing Icehowl 4 times a week, which is a surefire recipe for burnout. The fights were not too bad (I personally enjoyed the val’kyrs, Anub’Arak and Faction Champs), and the absence of trash was definitely a plus. The single room though was a definite bummer, as well as the really punishing hard mode of no-wipes (oh the frustration when one of our raiders would die to Faction Champs…). The whole tier of raiding was a bit lackluster, imo: I kinda understand Tirion’s idea of selecting the best fighters to get into ICC, as you want to avoid giving a Lich any more fodder to resurrect, but surely in that case you would want to mix Alliance and Horde (which Tirion doesn’t even try to do), and the selection could be a bit more serious than jousting. It really feels like the developers got enamored with the vehicle mechanic a bit too much, and maybe had a longing for Arthurian stories – but they just felt completely out of place here.

Naxx was not bad, but way too easy and just rehashed to be really enjoyable. Malygos was actually an interesting fight, but proved that players really take a long time to figure out a new mechanic. Controlling the drakes was not hard, but try teaching that to all the people in your 25-man… Sarth was ok, and I liked the 3D version (especially when you could not zerg it, and had to control it), except for its total lack of anchoring to the rest of the world.

Icecrown Citadel was enjoyable, probably just second to Ulduar in terms of awesomeness. I had some issues with stories (if Saurfang and Tirion and Muradin interact at the beginning, why do we suddenly need to race each other to get to the Lich King? Feels a bit contrived to me), and a strong desire for a more gradual progression of the hard modes: the jump between Sindragosa/Putricide to Lich King is a bit too much, it would be nice to have a more gradual progression. I am definitely in favour of a REALLY HARD final boss to the expansion, though, so no complaints there.

All in all, though, this has probably been the most enjoyable of the expansions so far, so I hope Blizzard can keep it up. Who knows, two years from now I may be writing the wrap up to the Cataclysm expansion…

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.

Tsark writes the blues

5 November 2009 § 2 Comments

Nothing to do with the official Blizzard representative posting on the forums, of course. It’s just that… I’m being a bit frustrated with the game recently. In fact, mostly I’ve been frustrated with raiding – which has been my main interest in the game for most of my WoW time.

My raid group is awesome, and after a fairly intense period of drama in May-August, we have settled back and now are doing very well in terms of atmosphere. It’s not even that we are not getting anywhere: as I reported a couple of times before, we basically have managed to conquer all of the current content.

And yet…

Part of the problem is, of course, that I don’t like Trial of the Crusader. Farming an instance we like is painful enough – farming one we don’t like is downright masochistic. At the same time, I adore Ulduar: I find it the perfect combination of trash and bosses, a great balance between normal modes and hard modes, nice lore and beautiful art. So, while I enjoy farming the Siege and Antechamber on alts, so that we can then switch to our mains for Algalon, that’s still not enough. Alt runs are fun, but can also be an additional source of frustration when you wipe on bosses that you should really one-shot. Part of the reason I bring a healer to these alt runs is precisely because I don’t want to weigh the raid group down with my learning curve, once again. Not all of our raiders have the option to do that, though – and many of them prefer to bring other alts. So sometimes alt runs are a bit of a mixed bag too.

I actually think the major source of my frustration is the fact that we’re right at the edge of our skill. We’ve done the top achievements (Algalon and Insanity), but we cannot repeat them consistently. The way they are set up is also very unforgiving. Up until that point, a bad week for a raid group would mostly mean taking more time and attempts to down the bosses than the week before. Starting with the Zul’Aman bear runs, Blizzard introduced other limitations: a time limit in the bear runs, a similar time limit with Algalon, and a no-wipe clause for the Insanity chest.

When we managed to complete a successful bear run, back in May ’08, we repeated that every single week afterwards, until we had the necessary 11 bears to cover our raid. We missed one run, in total, and if memory servers it was the run when we got to the Lynx boss with 11 mins to spare, only to have the tank disconnect from the game, while still being on vent. Something had happened to the internet routing, and he could not manage to connect again – and the worst part was that he was still on vent with us, so it was pretty agonising. However, after that, not a single hitch – we kept getting better and better, and the runs kept getting easier and easier as we improved our gear (from the 25-man we were running at the same time), and we learned the ins and outs of that run better.

Nothing even remotely similar happened with Insanity or Algalon. We managed to get Insanity at the beginning of October. For the following 3 weeks, we didn’t even manage to get Mad Skills – we were getting trounced by Faction Champions and (in lesser measure) Jaraxxus. We then managed to get one more Mad Skills last week, but that was it. This week, again, a bad combo of Faction Champs really kicked our butt (and the fact we had only Mind Blast as a healing debuff didn’t make our task any easier).

On the Algalon front, we killed him two weeks ago for the first time –  on the last pull of the weekly hour. Last week we couldn’t manage to get the raiders for enough time to get the full hour on Algalon, and thus decided to take a week off from him. This week we went again, and we still had people dying to the same stuff as always: black holes, big banks, cosmic smashes… I can understand this case a bit more though: we only got him once, and we also need to expose two of our raiders to the encounter a bit more, as they weren’t there for the kill and, at least in one case, have missed some of our earlier attempts too.

That’s five cloaks we didn’t get, and five mounts, and 8 extra trophies – as well as two cloaks/rings from Algalon. It’s not even so much the loot though. I know full well that we’re going to get more loot in Icecrown (albeit the Insanity cloaks are still probably going to be competitive, given their ilvl), and most importantly, I always believed loot is a means, not an end – and I believe that most of the times I actually manage to act that way. But failing to achieve the same level of performance we managed at least once in the past still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth – and this bitterness plus the dislike of ToC is probably what is causing me to feel a bit less enthusiastic about raiding than I used to.

My biggest worry is that my raiding group think I’m somehow angry or frustrated with them: I am frustrated, but they have nothing to do with it. In fact, I’m trying (if anything) to speak less precisely because I don’t want this frustration to seep through and make my comments any more cutting than they need (or intend) to be.

So, being the practical person that I am, how do I get out of this funk? From a raid point of view, I think we all need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and see how we can improve – especially on Faction Champs, which is really our biggest weakness (although today’s Anub’s attempts didn’t exactly fill me with confidence on our abilities there either). From a personal point of view, I’m spending more time on alts, even on a new alt on another realm (I wanted to try levelling a new character without the support and money of my current stable of alts – I’ll probably post something about my huntress soon). I’m also spending a bit more time outside of the game, to see if I really need to scale my involvement down a bit, or it’s just a passing phase. Icecrown Citadel sounds great, so I’m quite excited about that… and hopefully, that will also help.

I also have some plans for the blog, including my first ever RP post. In fact, I’m accumulating a long list of draft posts that I want to work on. Who knows, maybe this could be a good moment to really find out how well I write!

Surviving Faction Champions – a PvE priest guide to a PvP(-ish) encounter

6 October 2009 § Leave a comment

Over at World of Snarkcraft, Jov posted about her strong dislike for ToC. I made it clear before that I don’t particularly like the instance either, but Jov focuses on a point that seems to resonate a lot with people, judging from the comments. It seems many raiders resent the Faction Champions encounter, because they don’t want to PvP – and sometimes, they have never done any PvP at all.

I really don’t see why a raiding priest that has got as far as this should have an issue. Yes, this encounter is different, but so are many others – and that’s never stopped a raider before. I suspect (and this is Dr. Tsark, doing his best Lucy Van Pelt imitation) that some raiders may just have a psychological block regarding anything with the dreaded three letters (“P”, “v”, and “P”) in it.

So, as a PvE priest who only occasionally dabbles into PvP (often to the dismay of my team members), I’d like to offer some pointers. My experience stems from 10-man, but I have experienced the fight in 25-man, and I cannot say that things are very different at all.

The fundamental thing

Be mobile.

No, really, that’s just about the most important thing to know. More specifically, you want to a) move away from enemies, because incidental AoEs are never fun; b) if mobs are on you, you really want to move, as fast as you can: if your raidmates are doing their job, most mobs are going to be snared somehow (rogue poison, Piercing Howl, Frost Nova, Mind Flay, most frost DK attacks, etc). That means, you move faster than they do, so getting out of the way is the best way to reduce damage on yourself. Oh, and for added bonus, if the mobs are not snared and catch up with you, you get to yell on vent to your raid mates: “WHY AREN’T THEY SNARED?” This is sure to help you release the frustration you built when your raid mates have yelled to you that you were late with the Mass Dispel *sage nod*.

Right, back to mobility. The fact that you’re going to be moving a lot has one important consequence: always favour instant spells over anything that is cast/channelled. If you can do this, you’re already doing about 50% of the fight right.

Your role

As a priest, you have two roles to play in this fight. The first one is the most traditional one you’ve always known: keeping everyone alive. Emphasis here is on everyone, because damage is not going to be soaked by the tanks. The Champions will focus on someone for a few secs, before either killing this person (this would be bad), or switching to the next target (this is good!). Now, here’s the other twist. The direct damage the champions deal is, for the most part, not too high – certainly doesn’t compare to what you healed your tanks through for Northrend Beasts. However, most of the Champions have some sort of DoT that can be really nasty: the SPriest’s SW:P ticks for a lot; the DK diseases ramp up his strike damage considerably; the moonkin’s Insect Swarm can be quite deadly – you get the picture. So, instead of going crazy to heal through all this damage, make sure that you’re dispelling everything (or abolishing disease as the case may be).

This is in fact a very important point: dispelling is, in this fight, as important as straight healing, if not more so. Think about phase 2 Yogg-Saron with no Mimiron up, to give you an idea – or, if you’re a really old fart like me, pretend you’re back at Chromaggus and your raid leader just designated you as dispeller (as an aside, I actually kept a pure mp5 set for such an occasion – ah the days when mp5 and spellpower just didn’t exist on the same gear!)

Your second role is new, and that is to dispel offensively. Now, this is quite important, because we’re one of two classes who can do that (whereas defensive dispels are more common), and compared to Shaman’s Purge (the other offensive dispel), we also have an option do it AoE. There’s three things in particular you want to look out for:

  1. Heroism/Bloodlust – this needs to be dispelled ASAP, as the Champions’ damage output ramps up exponentially. Most boss mods announce when this buff goes up, so that’s when you have to start spamming Mass Dispel. “But Tsark”, I can already hear you say “how can I spam it if I have the rogue/DK/paladin/warrior/mage/felhunter on me interrupting me and silencing me?” That, my dear readers (all 2 of you), is why you have raidmates to help you out. Team up with a paladin, and have the paladin BoP you as soon as Heroism goes up – this will stop you from getting kicked or interrupted by most melee. If the paladin is Holy, and he has Concentration Aura up, he can even pop Aura Mastery, to make you immune from the felhunter/mage/SPriest counterspells. Heroism normally goes up within the first 15 seconds of that fight, so the paladin wouldn’t have to babysit you too long. Also, if he’s the kind of alert paladin who knows his stuff, he can start using his judgement on whether to use his BoP or not – if no mob is on you, he can save it for a better use.
  2. Paladin bubble: if you have a paladin in the opposing team, he will bubble like most paladins do when they get low on health. Unlike most Alliance paladins, he won’t hearth – he will instead proceed to heal himself (sorry Alliance players, couldn’t resist). This is normally when you get a steady stream of screams on vent all yelling at you because they need your mass dispel NOW. The way you can actually save yourself a panic attack is relatively simple: before you pull, focus target the paladin. When you see his health going down, that means he’s the focus of your raid’s attention. Make sure you see where he is (yes, I just asked you to look away from the raid frames and onto the actual game – scary, huh?). Move within 20 yards of wherever he is, and click on your Mass Dispel button to get the targeting circle. Place it under him, and once he reaches 30%, start spamming away. Now, if someone is beating on you (or if the caster interrupters are still around), you may get interrupted. If that’s the case, just say so on vent, and trust that either someone else will get it, or that the rest of your raid will be happy to burn him down again. In other words, dispelling the bubble is nice, but not the essential action that dispelling Heroism is.
  3. Paladin Wings: if you have the Ret Paladin amongst the champions, it is essential that you take his wings off as soon as he pops them – he may well one-shot people if you don’t. So, fortunately you have him on your focus frames, right? So it’s easy to see the icon of Avenging Wrath pop up, and just shoot him a simple Dispel Magic (no Mass Dispel needed this time, so no chance of being interrupted).

There’s other buffs on the Champions that you can dispel (Thorns on the druid, Earth Shield if the Resto shaman is around), but they are by far less essential than the three I listed above.

Your tools

Important note: Before the fight starts, you need to make sure you have easy access to all the tools I’m mentioning below. Some of them are common tools, some are not – all need to be quickly accessible, hopefully keybound to easily-reached keys. If that requires rebinding some of your keys, consider doing it – although I don’t suggest rebinding keys for just one fight, because you need the speed that only comes from habit, so learning a new keybind won’t work too well. At the very least, know where the various buttons/keybinds are, so that you don’t spend precious seconds looking for them.

Healing Tools

I’m sure you’re all fantastic healers, but the specifics of the fight require some adjustment. In particular, forget about Greater Heal – no matter where you stand in the GHeal vs FHeal debate, in this fight GHeal makes you too vulnerable to interrupts. Power Word: Shield is, as usual, your bread-and-butter – spam it with impunity (no cholesterol in cyberspace!). Prayer of Mending is even more awesome than usual. Remember when I said there are no tanks and everybody gets damage? Well, the consequence of that is that your ProM will not get stuck on the mage-in-the-back-who-never-gets-hurt, and instead keep happily bouncing around bringing lots of healing goodness. Renew is another good spell – again, although it normally gets a bad rep, the combination of being instant and the fact that the Champions often switch targets means that you can use it to help bring people’s health up. Penance is a borderline spell – it’s too good not to use it, but it has a cast time (or a channel time, in this case), which means you risk an interrupt. My personal suggestion is to use it ONLY after you’ve shielded someone, and thus have Borrowed Time up. The same considerations apply to Flash Heal, only more so given that it’s a less awesome spell.

Special mention to Pain Suppression – though not strictly a healing tool, it will save lives in this fight. Don’t be afraid to use it: yes, it has a long cooldown, but the early part of the fight is the one where things are likely to be more chaotic and you will need most of your tools. PS will probably be up again before the end, but by then it won’t matter much anymore.

Dispels

Dispel Magic and Abolish Disease are your best friends. With a little bit of practice, you will be able to recognise which buffs/debuffs to dispel first – I tend to focus on the damage DoTs first, then the cc’s (Sheep, HoJ, etc), then the snares (Frost Nova, Roots). Mass Dispel is essential, but we covered that before.

Survival Tools

Desperate Prayer is really your greatest ally here – nothing like a good 6-7k of healing as the Champions decided to make you the next kill target. Psychic Scream is good to get a few of them off you. Be warned though: they all have PvP trinkets and some of them can get out of fear in other ways, so don’t automatically assume Scream will get them all off. Healthstones and Health Potions are a godsend.

One tool which is often not mentioned is Fade. The Champions do have an aggro table, they just play with it a lot more than the average boss, randomly assigning a huge chunk of threat to one player. However, the important thing is that Fade will actually get them off you – at least long enough to throw a heal on yourself or drink a potion.

Racial abilities

Just about every race has at least one ability that is useful in a pvp situation: Will of the Forsaken, Stoneform, Every Man for Himself, Arcane Torrent… Just because you don’t use them normally, it doesn’t mean you must forget about them now. Read well the tooltip and make sure you understand when to use it – you’ll be happy to know how it works when it will save your life.

A typical fight

Just to give you an example, here’s how I handle that fight. I pre-shield myself, and 2 dps which always seem to take a lot of damage (warlock and rogue). I also place my Prayer of Mending on another healer, and make sure my Fear Ward is up, before we pull. The first few seconds are the worst: I focus on dispelling the most, and shielding if I see someone dipping below 60%. I also keep my mass dispel button, and start targeting the area with the most champions. Once Heroism comes up, I spam it, while a Holy Paladin protects me from interrupts.  After 2-3 Mass Dispels most Heroisms are off, and I can focus once more on single dispels.

My priority list, if I were to spell it out, looks like this:

  1. Dispel any debuff on raidmates
  2. Make sure ProM is still going
  3. Throw PW:S
  4. Throw Renews
  5. Use other heals (Only if no-one is on me, and I’m reasonably sure there’s not an interrupt waiting to be cast on us)
  6. Dispel stuff off enemies
  7. DPS enemies (SW:P, Devouring Plague, etc)

The extra mile

You can do two more things, if you feel the extra effort will help. One is to reglyph for this fight. The only glyph that may be worth putting in is the Glyph of Pain Suppression. In my experience, you won’t need it – but I freely admit that my raid is really good at saving my butt if I get stunned with a few melee on me.

The other thing is to get a PvP trinket. Before you start howling in pain, let me assure you that it’s actually not difficult to get one. The best way is to find a friend that likes to PvP, possibly a dps, and just pair with him. Just going to a few Wintergrasp battles will get you a very nice trinket that will enable you to get out of one form of cc. Also, contrary to popular opinion, you can play Wintergrasp without any resilience gear: your additional spellpower acts as a nice defense, making up for the lack of resilience (I normally play WG with a mix of some PvP pieces and many PvE ones, these days).

However, let me reiterate that neither of these things is necessary – especially not after the nerf that Blizzard gave to Champions.

Phew, that was much longer than I thought it would be. Well, we’re done now – thanks for sticking with me till the end… and I swear, the next post is going to be much much lighter.

For the Horde!

30 September 2009 § 2 Comments

Tsark090930 - Horde Wolf small
I’m not gonna turn this into a blog about my raiding group more than it has to be, but some news just need to be shared. Tonight, we went in ToGC aiming to get Tribute to Mad Skills (45 attempts left) – and we ended up with a Tribute to Insanity (all 50 attempts left). To top it all off, the raid decided to give the Horde Wolf to me (well, after I pointed out that I was 2 mounts away from the achievement, but that’s just minor prodding, right? Right?). So in conclusion:
1. ToC still sucks, even when you complete all the hard modes in 3 weeks total
2. My group, on the other hand, rocks
3. Algalon needs to stop playing hard to get and just fall dead.

The success of a raid instance (part II)

7 September 2009 § 1 Comment

The last post left my conclusions implicit, so let me spell them out here. I believe there are three reasons why players criticise Coliseum: it’s too easy, it lacks lore and background, and it feels a lot less epic than previous raid instances. I believe the first reason is a consequence of the gating decision, forcing the skilled players to confront the same encounters everyone has, with no option to start the hard modes. The second criticism is just unfounded: I may not like NPC chatter as a storytelling device, but the story is there. The third complaint is, imho, a lot more valid. Note however that many people enjoy Coliseum: no trash, good loot, some pretty fun fights (I love both the Faction Champions and the Ikaruga encounters), good loot, no trash… Did I mention there is no trash?

So let’s say that at the very least the reviews on this instance are fairly mixed. Does this mean Blizzard should consider Coliseum a failure? Well, this is a question we cannot answer: for all its improved communication with the players, we still don’t know much about Blizz’s evaluation of its instances. So here I’m just going to make some educated guesses.

The first possibility is that Blizzard just pushed its accessibility policy to the extreme. There is no doubt that Coliseum is more accessible than Ulduar. Also, empowering more people to play and participate in more aspects of the game has been the basis of WoW’s success, and a well-publicised deisgn goal of the raiding team for Wrath. So it is certainly plausible that Blizzard just wanted to enlarge the population of raiders. Indeed, I’m already hearing the local apocalyptic prophets who forecast that Icecrown Citadel will be “as easy as Ragefire Chasm” (quoted from Icecrown general chat, a few days ago). While this is certainly a possibillity, I think it may be too soon to dismiss the efforts of the raid design team, and accuse them of “selling out to the casuals”.

One other possibility is that Coliseum was simply meant to reduce the gear gap between harcore raiders and the general population. Though I don’t have numbers, I think a big part of the player population has raided Naxxramas/Obsidian Sanctum/Malygos. I suspect that a lot less has managed to go very far in Ulduar, let alone through the hard modes. Blizzard is well aware of the consequences of having gaping gear gaps within the player population: at the end of vanilla WoW, you had people in Naxx gear facing people in Stratholme gear in various Battlegrounds, and the sight was anything but pretty. Badge gear helped to close that gap in BC, and the recent overhaul of emblems went in the same direction. So, introducing a dungeon that drops ilvl 219 loot (same as Ulduar 10 normal), and a very easy, very accessible raid dungeon dropping ilvl 232 gear will certainly close the gap between the people sporting full Ulduar 25/Ulduar 10 Hard gear, and the rest of the world. I certainly managed to gear up my paladin, who dinged 80 at the end of June, now has 2 acceptable gear sets (Prot and Holy), which allow her to raid as much as she wants, in any of the instances (I would probably struggle in Trial of the Grand Crusader, but that’s still pretty impressive).

A third possibility is that game designers were otherwise occupied, and thus devoted less time to this raid instance than to other, previous attempts. Possible distractions could be Isle of Conquest (which is a really fun BG) or Icecrown Citadel (I hope…). This would certainly explain the sloppy item design: the same items, with the same name and same graphic, dropping in normal and heroic; tier sets looking the same regardless of the item levels, etc. It would also be compatible with the lack of any serious art for the actual dungeon itself – no new model, one room to design only…

So, which one is it? From a personal point of view, I hope it’s not the first one. While I cheered Blizzard on during the previous waves of increased accessibility (and indeed, I probably wouldn’t be playing this game if it was all that hard), I think Ulduar hit the sweet spot for me: normal modes being challenging enough but not too much; hard modes being quite challenging. It would disappoint me if it was just lack of attention – how did Blizzard think we wouldn’t notice? However, this would also be the easiest issue to deal with. If it was a matter of loot parity, then the emblem overhaul was a much better means to the same end, imho – if anything else, adding some more loot on to the emblem vendors, to fill in more gaps.

I doubt, however, that we will ever find out definitely why Blizzard released Coliseum, and whether they consider it a success or not – maybe in the future, looking back, some of the designers will make a comment about it. For now, I guess we’ll just slog through the Grand Crusader and start working towards our wolves.

The success of a (raid) instance (part I) – or, why do so many people not like Coliseum?

3 September 2009 § 1 Comment

We killed Anub’Arak today – after only 2 attempts, which has been more or less the average for the whole Trial of the Crusader instance. So, final boss down, time for some considerations on the raid instance as a whole. Most everyone I know is complaining about how easy it is – but I think the situation is more complicated than that. In fact, all these whining about it made me think a bit about what makes a raid instance a success – and most importantly, a success for whom. This is a bit of a big argument, so I’ll break it into multiple posts.

I think I can identify three main causes of complaint about Coliseum. Let me see if I can examine them one by one.

The first and most apparent is that it’s “too easy”. Many groups one-shot the bosses as they are added weekly, and so after about 10 mins of excitement about the new fight, there’s nothing else to do. This is, however, only partly true. My own raid has (as I said) one- or two-shot all the bosses, and we certainly are no Ensidia. However, I also went in on various alts with other groups, and I think the fights are actually not as easy as they look. I think part of it is the gear requirements on tanks and healers (much less so on dps): even on normal, bosses hit quite hard, and there’s often some unavoidable raid damage. The raid damage is key, though: a good group manages to reduce that to a minimum, by spreading out, healing the Incinerate Flesh, cc’ing/locking down properly the various champions, avoiding the wrong-colour orbs, etc. However, as soon as the group is not on top of its game, this raid damage seems to grow exponentially and become fairly tough to deal with. The skills required to minimise this damage are probably second nature to a raid working on Ulduar hard modes – but it probably is not to a group whose main raiding experience is Naxx. Even my group, on alts (decently geared, but not the toons we would normally raid with) failed miserably, mostly because many of us didn’t have the automatic response to emergency situations, and thus as soon as stuff didn’t go perfectly well, it snowballed quickly to its (and our) bitter end.

So, maybe, it’s not so much that it’s easy, but that it forces everyone to face the same level of difficulty. In other words, the solution of forcing everyone to complete the instance before attempting hard modes may have backfired. ALL guilds from the world top to the average guild had to go four weeks doing regular bosses they would one or two shot, creating a sense of frustration because stuff was too easy. Compare this with Ulduar, where four weeks in some guilds were on Yogg-Saron (like we were), some were working on the keepers and some more were already fighting through the hard modes – or on Algalon, in the case of the very top guilds. Compare also to the gating Blizzard used for Sunwell, where actually GETTING to kill one boss before the next one was released was a challenge. I think Blizzard tried to stretch the release of this content, to avoid a repeat of the cycle of 2 weeks of mad activity and 4 months (or more) of farming. The result, however, has been that the top raids are still frustrated, so I’m not sure they really achieved anything with this gating.

In a different camp, we have the lore freaks, lamenting the lack of background of the new instance – and this is the second major complaint I hear. In its defence, Blizzard actually did give us some background – through the chatter of the various NPCs around the Argent Tournament Grounds. We have King Varian and Jaina, Thrall and Garrosh arriving at the ground, and we also have a short speech by Tirion explaining why the Tournament. Frankly, it makes sense that you would not want to send a big army against an enemy who can raise dead, but instead find the top champions and send them as small squads – it makes less sense that you choose champions by jousting, but that’s another story. I personally don’t like the option of NPCs chatting in a major area to give story clues: to me, it feels interesting the first time, deadly boring (and spammy on my log) any time after that. NPC background chat is great to establish mood (witness the ongoing complaint the Horde has about the difference between Stormwind and Orgrimmar), but as a tool to further story, it feels too much like watching a diorama in a museum. That said, at least this time we DO have an explanation for an instance, and it’s in the game (unlike, say, Sartharion, where a flimsy explanation was in the books, and no tie-in was made to the rest of the game to this day).

This leaves me with the third type of complaints – that it just doesn’t feel epic enough. In vanilla WoW, we fought an Elemental Lord and his lieutenants; a scheming black dragon who had infiltrated, corrupted and influenced the whole Alliance; her brother, who was intent on creating a new dragonflight to dominate the world; an Old God and his bugs; and the main lieutenant of the Lich King. In Burning Crusade, we had an imprisoned Pit Lord; a Gronn (admittedly, why did we kill Gruul?); the two lieutenants of Illidan and their minions; Archimonde (although really, we only had reason to fight Rage Winterchill, and only to do it once to get the key to Black Temple); Illidan and his lieutenants; Kil’jaeden and various Burning Legion figures (including a captive dragon, another pit lord, a captured Naaru and two eredar). In Wrath so far, we had the main lieutenant of the Lich King (again ;-P); a crazy Dragon Aspect; a black dragon creating a new dragonflight (again…); an Old God and his corrupted Titan jailors – and the Titan messenger trying to sterilise the world. If you look at it that way, even with a couple of raid instances not very well explained, it’s difficult to be excited because we’re fighting not one, but TWO Jormungars. The other bosses are not better: an eredar lord summoned by mistake by the comic relief; two lieutenants of the Lich King we never heard about  before; and a Nerubian King who a) we have beaten before at lvl 73; b) just happened to be burrowing beneath the Coliseum (and kudos to Tirion for not thinking about that…. /facepalm material, that). Last week the point was painfully obvious to us, as we went from fighting Algalon (constellations do his bidding, he creates big bangs), to fighting… the beasts of Northrend. I understand that it’s difficult to give players more and newer epic fights that up the ante from the tier before. However, I can understand the players when for the first time they are let down in this progression.

I think this is long enough for one post (I’m starting to see why the main tank in my raid thinks I’m verbose) – in part II I’ll switch gears and try to divine Blizzard’s perspective on Coliseum.

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