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!

Star people

23 October 2009 § 1 Comment

Tsark 091022 - Algalon killshotA couple of months after we first saw him, and with a raid that is 50% different, yesterday we managed to take down Algalon. Great timing, I must say – my raiding group has gone through some pretty disappointing raids in the last couple of weeks, so hopefully this will be a great morale booster. In typical fashion, we managed to do it on the very last pull of the night (we had 4 mins left on the Algalon timer), and with two raiders replaced just before we started Algalon pulls – one of which is actually only a friend, who had never even seen the room before.

On a side note, Tsark finally has a neat title – “of the Nightfall” is now too inflationed, I missed out on “Champion of Ulduar”, so I had to use “the Diplomat” for the last couple of weeks (which, admittedly, suits Tsark’s personality very well).

On a second side note, yeah I know I said I won’t turn this into a blog glorifying my raid group – but it’s my blog. So I can change my mind. So there.

On a third side note, wow our group sucks at posing for screenshots.

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