Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ossiran the Unscarred

I got into an AQ20 run with the prospective guild today. They had already cleared the first couple of bosses, so we pretty much went straight to the final boss, Ossiran the Unscarred. Ossiran is a really cool fight.

There are these crystals which weaken him which spawn in semi-random places in the room. You have to have someone find the next crystal, then the tanks drag him to it, and activate it before he goes into supreme mode and wipes the raid. Everytime you weaken him with a crystal, he becomes extra vulnerable to a specific type of damage. (There are also whirlwinds flying around, but I'm not really sure I understand what that was about.)

It's a cool fight because there is a lot of running around. The raid is constantly trying to keep themselves between Ossiran and the next crystal. It kind of reminds me a bit of Warsong Gulch, and the way you need to heal the flag carrier as she runs past you.

Quite honestly, I love the 20-man zones. Blizzard really outdid themselves here. If the expansion was all 20-mans, with this level of quality, I think this would be the perfect game. It's especially good for hybrids, because there's a lot more opportunity to shift roles. I did some judging, some melee, and some healing (though mostly healing on Ossiran).

Oh, and I got epix! Ossiran dropped [Mantle of the Horusath], and I won the roll! I love getting loot the first time I beat a fight. Somehow it makes it more special.

Honestly, these days are what make WoW fun. An interesting fight, the thrill of victory, and mad lootz. What more can you ask for?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Influence of the Lead Guild

One of the interesting things about Skywall, at least compared to the other servers I have been on, is that the endgame guilds do not have spec requirements. They also have very low gear requirements. Additionally very few of them have extensive loot restrictions. The majority that I've looked at have open loot, but frown on passing on set pieces, or will force people to take them.

This is very different than many of my previous servers. Off-specs, like feral druids or shadow priests, are disdained, and many guilds require people to have a certain spec. Additionally, high end guilds tended to have very high gear requirements, especially when it came to resistances. Finally, class restrictions on gear were the norm, especially when it comes to dps vs hybrid gear.

So why is Skywall different? I think it's mostly due to the influence of the lead guild on the server. The lead guild, or the guild that has advanced the most in the end game, is a guild called Rebirth. Rebirth believes very strongly in the viability of off-specs in raiding. Additionally, their gear requirements are pretty low, though they are very discriminating in actually guilding people after trials. And they don't seem to have loot restrictions.

The lead guild, in many ways, sets the tone for the server. A classical economist might say that this is because of competition. A lower guild cannot set higher requirements than the lead guild, because that would drive better players towards the lead guild.

I'm not sure that is quite right. A lot of guilds have spec/gear/loot restrictions because the guild believes that it is necessary for progression. They get the idea that it is necessary from the lead guild. An appeal to authority, as it were. If the lead guild requires specs, than we probably should as well. People try to imitate people who are successful.

On Skywall though, Rebirth serves as a counter-example. Guilds that want to be successful on Skywall try to imitate Rebirth, and that means that they tend to avoid spec/gear/loot restrictions.

One interesting area where lower guilds do not follow the lead guild is loot systems. The fact that a lead guild uses a specific loot system doesn't seem to influence the lower guilds. Each guild seems to come up with it's own system, and what the other guilds do has less impact. Every server I have been on displays this pattern.

My guess is that the loot system is evaluated on fairness as well as progression, and people feel more able to evaluate fairness than progression. If you ask, "Does having off-specs help us to progress?", you can point to the lead guild for evidence. But if you ask, "Is this loot system fair?", the answer hinges much more on the internal structure of the loot system than what the lead guild does.

In conclusion, the lead guild has a lot of influence on progression-related matters. If a question relates to progression, very often a guild's answer will be the same as the lead guild's answer. However, if the question moves away from progression, the lead guild's influence lessens dramatically.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Blackwing Lair

I switched servers with Coriel again, this time to Skywall. Skywall is a PST server, so guild raid times are a lot more convenient for me. I've applied to a raiding guild, and today they took me on a run to Blackwing Lair.

Blackwing Lair is pretty neat. We wiped several times on Razorgore, but then killed him. I sat out Vael for one of their guildies, but got back in for the Suppression Room and Broodlord. We then killed Firemaw, and called it a night. I forget what loot dropped, but none of it was useful for paladins.

The fights are pretty interesting. I mostly healed, spamming FoL Ranks 1 or 6. I like the Suppression Room. When I got back in, I wasn't assigned a Greater Blessing, so I got to go nuts with Blessing of Sacrifice and Blessing of Protection (the 3 minute cooldown is really useful while running the gauntlet). Sacrifice really adds up. I almost killed myself a couple times as I had Sacrifices on eight or so targets. After that I tried to be more discriminating. :)

I still think that meleeing-healing is the way to go, though. Honestly, I don't think I ever fell below half mana, and I'm sure I had significant overhealing. And my gear is under-par. Rather than spamming FoL-1, melee-healing with FoL-6 still seems to be a much more efficient use of a paladin. It may be that this raid was geared more than normal, or more experienced, but I don't think the full potential of the paladins is being realized. Nothing in this half of BWL has made me reconsider the notion that paladins should be meleeing.

So far, I really like BWL, and hopefully I will get to see more of it. It's much more interesting and chaotic than Molten Core. I also kind of regret missing the Vael fight, as it's supposed to be quite unique.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I Call Shenanigans

I'll go out on a limb and declare the Blood Elf Paladin/Draenei Shaman a practical joke by the Blizzard team.

If both factions are the same, you cut down replayability of this game. If you decrease replayability, you reduce the length of time a player spends subscribed to WoW. If people are subscribed for a shorter time, Blizzard makes less money.

Right now, if a player tires of playing Alliance, they can roll Horde. Because the Horde have Shamans, the experience of the game, both in PvE and PvP, is different for each faction. If both factions have all classes, there is much less incentive to roll a new character, and more incentive to simply quit.

The majority of players do not raid, and thus are unaffected by faction imbalance. Solving faction imbalance in a way which reduces replayability for the majority of subscribers will negatively affect Blizzard's bottom line.

MMO's require subscriber retention. It is their entire reason for being. I believe there is no way any sane cost/benefit analysis would show that improving high-end raiding balance is worth the cost of decreased length of subscription time for a majority of the players.

That's just the financial reasons. I'm not even going to get into the damage this move would do to Blizzard's reputation as the masters of faction balance (see StarCraft).

Or the shattering of the balance of the 1-59 game, which most people believe is superior to the raiding game. Seriously, it's already hard enough finding a primary healer for a lower-level instance. How much harder will it be when only 2 of 9 classes are primary healers?

High-end raiding balance is simply not worth this price.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Tanking Idea: Fear Immunity

Okay, here's a random idea to help improve factional balance AND help us tank.

1. Take Fear Ward away from dwarf priests, and give it to Troll Priests.
2. Make paladins immune to Fear.

Now, Horde gets easy mode on bosses that fear. Instead of having to stance-dance, their priests can Fear Ward them like Alliance does now.

Alliance-side, because paladins are immune to Fear, they become a viable choice for tanking Fear-based encounters like Magmadar and Onyxia. (Or you can have a stance-dancing warrior, but the paladin has an actual advantage.)

This choice also makes thematic sense. Paladins are stalwart defenders of the light. Being immune to fear fits that vision of the paladin.

As well, it shores up one of our big weaknesses in PvP. Because of our lack of speed and range, Fear hurts us far more than any other class. A fight between a paladin and a warlock/priest actually becomes interesting now.

Edit: Okay, as the comments are indicating, a passive immunity to Fear is probably too extreme. How about a self-buff/debuff that breaks Fear and grants immunity for 10s, but increases damage taken by 10%? Maybe make it 'Unyielding Faith', and have the talent be "Improved Unyielding Faith", reduce damage taken by 2/4%?

Update to Factional Imbalance

Well, looks like I was wrong. Possibility #3 (an unbalanced game) was correct.

As an aside, it's funny how Blizzard always releases controversial changes on a Friday. Changes that will be positively received come out earlier in the week.

More thoughts to come later.

Edit: It could also be a complex joke. Blizzard did something similar with the wisps. But that was on April's Fools Day. The problem is that Blood Elf Paladins/Draenai Shamans are too close to an actual solution for any faction balance problems that may exist.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Bit More on Faction Imbalance

Azreal posted a very detailed and interesting comment to the post about faction imbalance. It's well worth reading, and I'm still chewing on a lot of the nuances. However, I'd like to zero in on one idea:

Each encounter requires you do a set amount of DPS in a certain time frame in a controlled environment.

Here are my thoughts:

1. For this game to be at all balanced, a Horde raid must be able to do the same raid-wide DPS as an Alliance raid.

2. However, a single Alliance DPS class can always do more damage than a single Horde DPS class. If the encounter is threat-limited, Blessing of Salvation enables the extra damage. If the encounter is not threat-limited, Blessing of Wisdom, Might, and Kings allow for more DPS than the shaman totem equivalents.

The only way to reconcile statements 1 and 2 is for the Horde raid to get additional DPS from another source. The only possible source that a Horde raid can draw DPS from, which the Alliance cannot also tap, is shamans.

So there are three possibilities:

1. Shamans are expected to add some DPS.

OR

2. Shaman Totems enable as much extra DPS as Paladin Blessings.

OR

3. Blizzard has deliberately made an unbalanced game.

I'm pretty sure that we are all in agreement that Possibility #2 is wrong.

As for Possibility #3, I do not think that Blizzard--the makers of Starcraft--would think that making a game with two factions, where one faction is strictly better than the other faction, is a good idea.

So by a process of elimination, the only possibility left is that Blizzard expects shamans to add DPS. I do not see any other logical explanation for raid and class design.

Crazy Talent Idea

1. Move Repentence to 31pt Protection.
2. Drop Holy Shield to 21pt Protection.
3. Drop Blessing of Sanctuary to 11pt Protection.
4. Move Blessing of Kings to 11pt Retribution.
5. Move Seal of Command to 31pt Retribution AND increase it to 100% of weapon damage (with 7ppm).

Reasoning:

Seal of Command is the talent with the single greatest effect on paladin gameplay. It changes the weapons you try to acquire, and pretty much becomes the default Seal for most situations. The way it changes our gameplay is worthy of a 31pt talent.

However, SoC as it stands is not powerful enough for 31pts. Increasing the damage dealt makes it a seriously powerful option, but requires a heavy investment in Retribution. It becomes our 'Shadowform', if you will.

As well, the increase is mitigated somewhat by moving Repentence to Protection. So no extra stunned JoC. As well, Protection becomes stronger, and Holy Shield becomes more accessible. Additionally, both Blessings are far easier to acquire for raids.

The change also improves the viability of Protection builds. Now the bottom half of Protection is roughly equal to Retribution, so 31/20/0 ~ 31/0/20. And 30/21/0 is also a decent build. Reckoning builds get the added boost of Repentence, making them seriously viable once more.

Indeed, even 0/21/30 has the potential of being an interesting build. Holy Shield + Vengeance + Improved Retribution Aura has some interesting possibilities.

In many ways, the current placement of SoC warps the paladin class. It is too good, too fast. Making it better, but more costly, frees up a lot of potential for new and unique builds.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Is Blizzard Playing the Same Game?

This entire post is completely hypothetical. A thought experiment, if you will.

The Raid and Dungeon forums are currently in an uproar over the slated nerf to Windfury Totem. It is a general consensus that Alliance raiding is easier than Horde raiding, and that shamans are less powerful than paladins in PvE. So to nerf Windfury Totem, which is used by Horde tanks to increase rage and threat, seems nonsensical. If you add this nerf to both the shaman and paladin reviews, it almost begs the question, is Blizzard playing the same game as the rest of us?

Well, what if Blizzard isn't?

In all the discussions on the forums, the only items being taken into consideration are blessings, totems, and heals. All other aspects of the two classes are ignored. In a 40-man raid, the player base assumes that there are 15 healers, who stand in the back, buff and heal. Gregthegreat on the paladin forum summed it up best: "A paladin is better than a shaman because a paladin emulates a priest better."

But what if Blizzard does not have that same assumption? What if they assume that there are only 10 or so full-time healers, and shamans and paladins are meleeing/casting and spot healing? And that their raid design takes into account the additional paladin/shaman damage when they balance the two factions.

I think that a lot of Blizzard's actions regarding the shaman and paladin make more sense when looked at through this lens. If Blizzard believes that the existing optimum raid strategy for paladins is to melee, how are they going to react to calls to improve meleeing? I think they would be confused, and make minor changes, shuffling things around. Which pretty much describes the paladin review. After all, if meleeing is already the best strategy, making meleeing better just breaks things.

I believe that Blizzard tests its content, with raids from both factions. That proposed changes are the result of the internal testing. But if the internal testing makes fundamentally different assumptions than the player base, there will be a disconnect between what the internal team believes is necessary, and what the player base believes is necessary.

From my own personal experience, 15 healers *is* excessive for the majority of fights. 10 healers, with additional spot healing from meleeing paladins, is good enough for most fights. And if that holds Alliance side, it should also hold Horde side.

It also explains the Horde/Alliance disparity a bit. A paladin has a low amount of internal power, but gives a lot of power to her allies through buffs. A shaman has a higher amount of internal power, but gives less power to his allies. So if they both restrict their actions, the Horde raid suffers much more from the withdrawal of shaman power than the Alliance raid does from the loss of paladin power.

Now, I don't know if what I described in this thought experiment is true or not. For this to be true, the commonly held wisdom by the player base about raid roles--that paladins and shamans are primarily healers--is false. But a lot of Blizzard's actions simply do not make sense if the common wisdom is true. So we're left with two choices. Either the common wisdom is wrong, or Blizzard does not know what they are doing.

I'm sure I know what the cynical among you would pick. :)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Horde Edge in PvP

After PvPing for a bit, I've been reconsidering Horde vs. Alliance. I still think that the Horde have a slight advantage when it comes to mobility, and that Paladins are a little too vulnerable to interrupts/fear/shiny distractions. But for the most part, the factions are reasonably balanced against each other in PvP.

However, on average, the Horde are still better than the Alliance. As Horde, I win far more games than I lose. I think that this is because the Horde gets much more practice than the Alliance.

If I'm only on for an hour, as Horde I can get in three to four games. As Alliance, I'm lucky to even get one. So the average Horde gets a lot more practice at the BGs, and thus gets skilled in a faster time than the Alliance. I would estimate that a Horde Rank 6 plays as many games in a week as an Alliance Rank 10+.

As well, the fast queue times allow you to experiment or incorporate new ideas faster. If you have an idea to improve your play, you can instantaneously test it out. If it's a bad idea, and you lose the game, it doesn't matter, because the next game is right around the corner. The feedback cycle is much faster, and thus you can improve your skills faster.

As they say, practice makes perfect.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fear Ward

On the topic of fearing paladins, I actually think that Fear Ward should be taken from dwarf priests and given to paladins. Race should be a mostly cosmetic choice, and Fear Ward is really unfair to the night elf and human priests. If it is given to paladins, it keeps it alliance-only, makes priests of difference races more equal, and shores up an excessive weakness for paladins. Honestly, I shouldn't have been able to toy with the paladins like I was (see previous post).

Paladins already lack speed and range, so Fear is really devasting to a paladin, removing them from combat for both the duration of the Fear and the amount of time it takes to return to melee range. As well, Fear Ward just seems like a paladin ability, helping the paladin and her allies stand strong in the face of terror.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The New Alterac Valley

So I've been PvPing a fair bit the last couple of days. I really like the new Alterac Valley. With all the NPCs cleared out, it goes much quicker and there's more opportunity for actual combat.

It has a really nice balance between offense and defense as well. If you go all offense, and just turn it into a race, you will lose. A few people on defense can delay the enemy advance sufficiently. I actually really like playing defense. It's fun spoiling people's plans. I take special pleasure in Fearing paladins. There was one paladin with Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros, and I just kept fearing him constantly. I find I can also time the bubble quite well, and get a Fear to finish casting just when the bubble comes down. It's a great deal of fun.

(It's entirely possible that I am working out my frustrations with the paladin class in this manner.)

However, you can't have too many people on defense, or your offense stalls out. So there's a bit of a delicate balance there, which is quite nice. Horde seems roughly the same as Alliance, though for some reason the Alliance seems better at rushing and quickly capping a flag. I'm not sure why this would be, and it may just have been because the numbers were lopsided at the flags I was at.

As an aside, some of the Alliance are huge cheaters. I ran into a paladin in a tower killing guards through a wall. He was a terrible paladin though, and was dispatched post-haste. Another time I saw 2 alliance wall-climb the waterfall to get into the Horde base and ninja the Frostwolf Relief Hut. When playing as Alliance, I don't really recall ever seeing the Horde cheat (other than the jump into Dun Baldar North tower, which isn't really in the same league as it didn't really require any tricks).

Honestly, my warlock is crazy good in BGs, at least compared to my paladin. The only BG that is giving me trouble is WSG, and that is mainly because the Alliance honor farming raids hang out there, and the constant firing of Horde BGs means that the Horde side is very unstable, with people leaving and joining constantly. As well, I probably should have taken the slowing curse, which would help a great deal with flag runners.

I'm almost scared to see what the 'lock can do once I actually get decent gear.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Warlock Hits Level 60

My warlock hit level 60 today. Now I have 2 60s. Probably a sign I play this game too much.

Now the question of what should I do now. I need to gear the warlock up, as I'm still wearing level 40 gear. However, since I'm Horde and a DPS class, it occurs to me that PvP may be a viable path to getting some gear. Horde queue times are insanely short, on the order of 5 minutes or less. And PvP gear is pretty good PvE gear for warlocks, as it emphasizes +Int, +Sta, and +Damage.

However, PvP may take longer than instance running. And instance running offers a wider variety of gear. I can also complete quests and get gold.

But instance runnning does not guarantee drops, whereas PvP does. I'm not sure how quickly I can rank up, but I should be able to get the blue PvP gear. I don't think I'll be able to get the epic sets, but the blue set, combined with the AB/AV/WSG faction rewards, should be good enough to set me up for endgame.

And of course, I'm guildless, which means that any instances I run will be strictly pickup groups. That seems like a recipe for frustration.

I guess I'm leaning toward PvP. Maybe I'll try for a week or so, and see how much progress I can make.

Monday, July 10, 2006

World PvP at Level 59

World PvP is a lot more fun at high levels. My warlock is 59 now, and I'm reasonably confident I can put up a fight now. I still don't bother attacking people, but at least I can defend myself against most would-be gankers.

I was questing in Andorhal in Western Plaguelands, and a level 60 dwarf priest attacked me for some reason. He started casting spells, I started DOTs and fearing. Eventually he gave up and decided to run. I chased him all the way across the map, up to the Hearthglen Lumber Mill, before finally killing him. Good times.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Talent Trees

I really like the Warlock talent trees. They are very well designed, and the sheer variety of viable warlock builds is amazing. This is not to say that they are perfect, as there are some mediocre talents here and there, but the top end warlock talents are really strong.

There are different points in a tree where I think you can judge how good a talent tree really is. If you stopped after spending 20, 21, 30, or 31 points in the tree, can you get a good build? So let's look at the warlock trees, and how they stack up:



Affliction

20 pts - Yes, Nightfall/X builds are common
21 pts - No, Siphon Life generally isn't worth stopping at
30 pts - Yes, Shadow Mastery is a great talent
31 pts - Yes, Dark Pact is a staple levelling talent, and gets a serious look from early raiders

Demonology

20 pts - Yes, Dark Pact/20 is considered the best levelling build
21 pts - Yes, I'm currently running an Shadow Mastery/Demonic Sacrifice build
30 pts - Yes, Master Demonologist is possibly the high end raiding build
31 pts - Yes, Soul Link builds are considered the best in PvP

Destruction

20 pts - Yes, contains a lot of staple raiding talents
21 pts - Yes, a lot of builds, including the classic SM/Ruin
30 pts - No, I haven't seen too many builds that stop at Emberstorm
31 pts - Yes, Conflag builds exist


So what we can see is that each tree contains at least 3 of the 4 possible stopping points, leading to a large number of combinations. This gives the warlock class a tremendous variety of builds.

Now lets look at the paladin class:


Holy

20 pts - Yes, Illumination is really good
21 pts - Yes, Divine Favor is also really good
30 pts - Yes, Holy Power is also a good stopping point for healing paladins
31 pts - Yes, shockadins love Holy Shock

Protection

20 pts - No, seriously, this seems like a terrible place to stop
21 pts - Yes/No, in many ways just taking 21 points seems forced by raiding into a sub-par spec, just to get that extra Blessing
*25 pts - Yes, Reckoning is a stopping point
30 pts - No, heh, can't even imagine ending with 1H-spec
31 pts - Yes, this talent is the entire point of the Protection tree

Retribution

20 pts - Yes, enough talents to complement a 31 point build
21 pts - No, Sanctity Aura isn't good enough on it's own
30 pts - Yes, Vengeance is quite good
31 pts - Yes, Repentance is a solid talent


So as we can see, Holy is in really good shape. All four stopping points are completely viable. Retribution is in decent shape as well, with 3 of 4 stopping points. Protection on the other hand has 2, and one is in an awkward position.

Add to this the fact that Spiritual Focus is considered a must-have for paladins, and the number of builds are restricted and are weighted heavily towards to the Holy Tree. Realistically, the trees need to be a bit more balanced, with Protection or Retribution combinations being more viable.

Realistically there are only four paladin builds. Holy/Retribution, Retribution/Holy, Reckoning, or Protection/Holy. And the first two are far more popular than the last two. There needs to be more, and also more differention between builds in the same tree.

In fact, I think that only having two popular builds is bad for the community. It sets up a gulf between Holy paladins and Retribution paladins. In contrast, warlocks--with their multitude of builds--seem to regard differences in build and playstyle as far less of a dividing factor than paladins do.

Edit: After thinking about it a bit more, I think I need to expand on things. It's not just that the warlock trees have better stopping points, it's that choosing one stopping point over another makes a significant difference in playstyle. For example, take a warlock 30/20/0 build. If you put the extra point in Affliction (31/20/0), you get a Dark Pact build. If you put the extra point in Demonology (30/21/0), you get the SM/DS build. These two builds play very differently to each other, and where you put that last point matters a great deal, even if the previous 50 points are identical!

In contrast, take the common Retribution/Holy build (20/0/30). Here you have a choice of of Divine Favor or Repentence. But the one you choose does not matter all that much. It does not really change how you play. The build is dominated by the previous 50 points.

To be honest, the only ending paladin talent that really makes a significant playstyle change is Holy Shield. A build without Holy Shield plays very differently than a build with Holy Shield.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Instance Questing

Coriel is now guildless. Since I'm not really sure what to do, I'm trying to finish quests. Some of these quests I've had for months. It's always been a sad feeling for me to open the quest log and see quests that are still incomplete.

Today, I tried advertising for a 5-man Lower Blackrock Spire run. I've never actually gone on one of these, as everyone seems to prefer raiding it. Surprisingly, I was able to get a good, balanced group fairly quickly.

So we went through LBRS, and did several quests. We didn't actually finish, as we wiped near the end. We'd been in the instance for a long while, and so we called it. It was a good group, and we used Need/Greed for loot, so we didn't have the traditional hassle that is loot in endgame raids. 99% of the time, Need/Greed covers everything, in my opinion. Making things more complicated is pointless. I was raid leader, and got to play with the targeting icons. Makes things so much easier, in many ways.

In any case, I cleared out about 4 quests from my log, which I'm actually really happy about. I'm a bit of a completionist, and I think I actually get more pleasure out of finishing a quest, then from getting a piece of new loot.

As well, 5-manning with a paladin is a ton of fun. You shift between damage and healing and judging and blessing non-stop. It's sort of a pity that Blizzard spends so much time on 40-man instances. I think that the 5-man zone is where World of Warcraft truely shines.

I also finished the Tablets of Mosh'aru questline (starts from Yek'ina the troll at Steamwheedle Port). Major style-points to Blizzard for that questline. It wove together many different elements into a polished whole. I really like the long questlines, and the stories that unfold.

It was a good day. I should do more questing.

Edit: Also, today I found and killed the Winterfall Runners with my warlock!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Winterfall Runners

I always run into them when travelling on the road in Winterfall.

I now have the quest to kill them.

I cannot find them anywhere.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Eternal Legend



Really good anime-style intro for Wow. My favorite parts are the tauren hunter in the desert and the fade into Ragnaros.