Tuesday, September 30, 2008

WotLK Beta - Holy Nerfs

Some significant nerfs to Holy paladins in this round of patches. Much angst on the forums.

Judgement of the Wise has been changed to grant you 33% of your base mana instead of 20% of your maximum mana.

As expected, JotW got changed to base mana to prevent healing paladins from using it.

Divine Plea changed to : You gain 25% of your total mana over 15 sec (Old - 10 sec), but the amount healed by your spells is reduced by 100%. (Old - 50%)

This spell is very odd. It's like being being given the ability to drink in combat. Except we can run around and hit things at the same time. I guess it might be good for off-tanking Prot paladins, or maybe Ret paladins during Hammer of Wrath, or maybe as an absolutely last-ditch gambit for Holy (though seriously, 15s of no heals equals a dead tank). I dunno, it just seems like Blizzard is scared of this breaking, so they make it unusable.

Infusion of the Light now reduces the cast time of your next Holy Light spell by 0.5/1sec. (Down from 1.25/2.5 sec)

Blah. Infusion of the Light was the one interesting talent in Holy. Now it's pretty much a Light's Grace clone, only with a trigger that is random.

The thing about IoL is that it was the one talent that changed how Holy played. Given that the current playstyle of Holy is extremely boring, a talent that mixed things up was very welcome. IoL gave a very strong incentive to weave Holy Shock into our healing rotation. It provided mobility, allowing you to heal on the run. You could do things like nurse a instant-HL while getting back mana with Seal of Wisdom, or heal someone else in the raid, confident that you can react quickly to a damage spike on your main target.

With the IoL change, Holy returns to being an immobile single-target-spam platform. Sometimes the spells have a short cast time, sometimes they have a long cast time, but it's still just spam.

Honestly, Holy now looks very unappetizing. It's quite possible that it is still powerful, but it is uninteresting. Pretty much every talent in the tree reduces cast time or increases crit. Very boring, and not very active.

Unconfirmed: Judgement of Wisdom now procs once every 4 seconds on the raid-level.

Previously, each individual would see a JoW proc every 4 seconds. Now it is being reported that one person will see a JoW proc at time 0, a different person at time 4, etc. This is a massive nerf to JoW.

On the plus side, Sacred Shield apparently scales at 0.75 damage prevented per SP per shield.

This looks like a pretty nice change for Sacred Shield, making it a very useful ability.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Warhammer Online:The Chat Box

If you play Warhammer Online, you'll soon notice some odd behavior, at least compared to other MMOs: No one talks on the public chat channels.

It's very weird, everything being so silent. There are plenty of other players around. And it's so unlike the other MMOs I've played. In WoW, you can't get people to shut up, especially in the Barrens. Even Age of Conan, people talked a lot, if only to complain that their systems couldn't handle the game. But people are always chatting or complaining about quests or classes or Chuck Norris, and it's extremely disconcerting not to have that. Heck, there's more talking in Wizard 101, and that game was trying to prevent conversation.

I think the problem resides solely with Mythic's implementation of the WAR chatbox. There are three main reasons why it fails:

1. The font is too large, and the box is too small

A large font means that less information can be conveyed. It means that fewer lines of text can be shown, and a smaller history of the conversation is preserved. It also means that a lot of messages which should only take up one line wrap into two lines, further wasting the limited chat space.

2. Too many useless messages

In particular, the NPCs talk a lot, and quite frankly spam your chat box. This is very annoying, especially those which have long speechs, or multiple NPCs interacting. I think you can turn this off, but it was a mistake to include it in the default settings.

(As a complete aside, ever notice that text in the NPC speech bubbles has quotation marks? That seems weird and redundant to me.)

The other big contributor to this problem is transaction messages when buying or selling items. Again, multiple lines are taken up with each item, making harder to have a conversation with people.

The golden rule of chat boxes is that chat boxes should be reserved for communicating with other players. If at all possible, messages from the game to the player should be handled by the rest of the UI. Only messages that absolutely have to be in the chat box history should show up. Otherwise players will quickly learn to ignore the chatbox, as nothing useful ever shows up.

A further problem here is that general chat appears to be the same colour as game messages, making it even easier to ignore.

3. Lack of feedback when changing channels

Load up WoW, and type "/1 " (with the space). See what happens? The chat channel immediately changes to General, so you know what channel you are sending your message to.

Do the same thing in WAR. Notice that nothing happens. There's no indication that you are sending your message to the right channel. If you keep typing, "/1 test", that will send the message "test" out on the general channel. But the lack of feedback, I think hampers people from figuring out how to talk, makes it less intuitive, especially since no one else is talking.

To my mind, this whole issue indicates the importance of the small stuff. The three concerns I've outlined are minor. The default chat box certainly looks functional on paper. But I think these small issues have kept people from talking, and have made the experience very different from other MMOs. As well, I think this silence is negative. We play MMOs to play with other people, and it's nice to see people talking. Many people have called MMOs "glorified chatrooms", and I think that's a part of their appeal.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Over the Line

I think we've finally taken the "-adin" meme to excess.

Healadin, retadin, protadin, reckadin, shieldadin, shockadin, baconadin, sheathadin, loladin, bubble-hearthadin. All those are okay.

But gorilladin is an "-adin" too far.

Edit: AMG, I can't believe I forgot "tankadin".

Frostwyrm Lair Needs a Key

The final bosses of Naxxramas, Sapphiron and Kel'thuzad, reside in Frostwyrm Lair. Currently, Frostwyrm Lair only opens up after all four wings of Naxx have been cleared. I've posted the following suggestion on the WoW Beta Dungeons Forums.

I think Blizzard should add a key to Frostwyrm Lair. What I would suggest is have a quest requiring a item from each of the four bosses at the end of the four wings. Then you turn the quest in, and the NPC gives you a key that allows you to unlock Frostwyrm Lair. Only one person in the raid should need the key.

Reasoning:

1. Naxx is a large instance. A more-casual guild which only raids for one or two nights a week will have a very hard time killing Sapphiron and Kel'thuzad, simply because of the time they need to spend clearing the instance.

A key makes this much easier. Consider a guild that only raids for one night a week. They can now work on a wing at a time, and when they have cleared all four wings over several weeks, they can start work on Frostwyrm Lair. They can continue to progress at their own pace, without being forced to play more than they want.

2. Naxx is the first instance. That means that at some point it must be dropped from a guild's raid schedule in order to progress forward. But it is very hard for casual guilds to be weaned off farming, especially if they still need stuff from the later bosses. Having a key would allow guilds to move forward, while still farming the parts of Naxx where they still need loot.

Naxx as one large instance was a good model for the capstone raid of original WoW. It is not a good model for the entry-level raid for Wrath. A Frostwyrm Lair Key would go a long way towards making Naxx more casual-friendly and more importantly, more expendable, which is a necessary quality for an entry level dungeon.

Friday, September 26, 2008

On Balance

Random signature seen on the WoW forums (credit to Building of Uldaman):

Dear Blizzard,

Paper is fine, but Rock needs to be nerfed.

Thanks, Scissors

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Warhammer Online: Warrior-Priest

I gave the Warrior Priest in Warhammer Online a whirl. This class is awesome! If the class plays at endgame like it does now, Blizzard is going to lose paladins to WAR. (At least, if there are any old-school hybrid paladins left.)

About a year ago, I posted that the basic nature--the essence--of a paladin was that the paladin heals her allies, and smites her enemies with a giant hammer. Both Retribution and Holy have failed miserably at this.

The warrior priest completely nails this in so many different ways. You need to hit the enemy in order to build up Righteous Fury, which you use to cast your healing spells. So far, my healing spells are a straight HoT, a direct heal + HoT (like Regrowth) and an attack that whales on an enemy and does 250% of the damage as healing to your defensive target.

There's also a lot of smaller touches, like a Righteous Fury-generating attack that does lower damage, but heals your entire party for a little bit. There's an attack which increases the Strength of your defensive target for 20 seconds.

The biggest thing about the Warrior Priest is that you have to attack, indeed you are rewarded for attacking, and attacking does not hurt your healing. Being able to maintain both an offensive and defensive target is what really makes this class work.

The only thing about the warrior priest is that it is definitely a healer, not a tank. It's not really a "knightly" archetype, the way the Warcraft paladin (theoretically) is. It wears medium armor, and is very cleric-like in appearance. I suppose that's irony, that WAR's cleric plays like a knight, while Warcraft's shining knight plays like a cleric.

You can't use shields. And you are expected to heal. But you get to run to the front lines and hit people with a giant hammer. Kind of honestly, that's really all I've ever wanted from my paladin. Though this does mean you get focus-fired a fair amount. As well, juggling both an offensive and defensive target is challenging, as is balancing generating and spending Righteous Fury.

I'm really enjoying playing the warrior priest. Of course, I haven't hit endgame, I'm only Rank 9 (of 40), and we did not see the over-specialization of the paladin until the endgame in WoW. But still, I have to give kudos to Mythic for designing an amazingly fun melee-healer.

(If you play Destruction, the equivalent class is the Disciple of Khaine, with similar mechanics. But evil elves are so 1990s. Plus, as Order you get instant scenario queues!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Streamlining Blessings

Over at Eye for an Eye, Josh notes that Blessings are still much more complicated to maintain than other buffs. To achieve maximum effectiveness, it requires a lot of planning, and even mods like Pally Power. He asks if there is a better way to handle blessings.

The problem with Blessings is that each class-spec has a different priority order for Blessings. Retribution paladins want Might, while Holy paladins want Wisdom. So class-based buffing only works if you have enough paladins to cast every Blessing. And if you have enough paladins to cast every Blessing, you could just as easily buff entire groups instead of classes.

Blessings would be easier to handle if the blessings were deliberately unbalanced. I.e. Blessing One is more powerful than Blessing Two which is more powerful than Blessing Three. Then assigning Blessings in an optimum fashion would be trivial. The first paladin casts Blessing One on the raid. The second paladin casts Blessing Two, etc. In all honesty, balancing the Blessings against each other--while appealing to our sense of symmetry--just makes life harder in raiding.

My suggestion for streamlining Blessings would be to combine Might and Wisdom into a single Blessing: Blessing of Faith. For the most part, Might and Wisdom are mutually exclusive. The priests being able to hit mobs harder with their staves doesn't really matter. The only classes that would benefit are Retribution and Protection paladins, Enhancement shamans, and Hunters. Even then, Wisdom is generally low priority for those classes.

Blessing of Faith would make it much easier to cover entire classes. You hit the Druids with Faith, and the Ferals rejoice over the Attack Power, while the Trees and Boomkins revel in MP5. No need to hand out individual Blessings. As well, Faith comes very close to being the best Blessing overall. The first paladin hands out Faith, the second hands out Kings, and the third hands out Sanctuary.

Next I would clean up the talent trees as follows:

1. Combine Improved Blessing of Might and Improved Blessing of Wisdom into Improved Blessing of Faith (improves Blessing of Faith by 10/20%) in the Holy tree in the same spot as current Imp Wisdom.

2. Make Blessing of Kings baseline at 6%. Add Improved Blessing of Kings (improves Kings by additional 2/4%) to the Retribution tree in the same spot as current Imp Might.

3. Add some other random Tier 1 Protection talent that Holy might like to dip into.

So essentially we have three blessings: Faith, Kings, and Sanctuary. Each tree specializes in one, so you can count on a Holy Paladin to have Imp Faith and a Ret Paladin to have Imp Kings.

Then streamline a bit further by having Greater Blessings buff the group instead of the class. That should make raid buffing on par with all the other classes.

There's still a little awkwardness around the fact that tanks probably have a different priority than the rest of the raid. But I think this system would be better than the current system, while not being too different.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Random + Modifier

In the comments to the previous post, Macawber writes:

I'm not sure if you made a good case that random+modifier isn't a good system for distributing loot...[You] seems to imply that the modifier should be greater, not smaller.

That is another option. Essentially, there are three extremes when it comes to loot:

1. Completely random
2. Order determined by a measured variable
3. Officer-assigned

Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Option 1 might mean that someone could "slack off" and still win the roll. Option 2 is very sensitive to the variable being measured.

For example, if a tank tanks the end boss all the way down, did she have a greater or lesser contribution than the healer who healed her? Versus the dps? What about AoE on the adds vs single-target DPS on the boss?

I don't know. Questions like that are very hard to answer meaningfully. That's why systems which use Option 2 (DKP, etc.) tend to measure time spent instead.

Completely random makes the assumption that everyone contributes more or less equally, and therefore deserves an equal chance at the loot. This assumption is often false, but a lot of the time it doesn't matter that it is false, because the disparity is "close enough" and it is not really noticeable. The times where the disparity does matter, however, can cause a lot of problems.

So that's the problem with Random + Modifier. The system highlights the disparity in contribution by measuring it (well, measuring something the system thinks is contribution) and telling the players. This moves it towards Option 2: "Player A deserves the loot because he contributed the most" vs "You all contributed equally, so you all get an equal shot at the loot."

Both of those narratives are acceptable.

However, what the WAR Public Quest says is, "Player A deserves the loot because she contributed the most, but we're going to give it to Player B because she's lucky." Or "Player B did a terrible job, but she gets the loot anyways."

And those narratives are very annoying.

Personally, for WAR Public Quests, I think measuring contribution might be more hassle than it is worth. Completely random is "close enough" to be fair (with some minimums to prevent people from afking in the area).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Warhammer Online: Public Quests

Many people are touting Public Quests as one of Warhammer Online's killer features. However, so far, I'm not very impressed with Public Quests.

A Public Quest is an area of the game in the open world which goes through a multi-stage fight. Everyone in the area can participate and work together to finish the battle. The first stages usually go through killing increasingly more difficult minions and the last stage is a boss. At the end, loot is distributed by a Random roll + Modifiers. You get a modifier based on how much you contributed to the fight.

The problem with Public Quests is that you need a minimum number of people. You also need a tank and healer. If you play at odd times, or stumble upon a PQ when no one is around, it's pretty much pointless. As well, the Empire and Dark Elves don't have a tank class, which makes PQs in their territory frustrating. Seriously, Witch Elves don't wear enough armour to tank a teddy bear. Perhaps this aspect will get better in later chapters.

Then, if you have too many people, the PQ devolves into a zerg, with everyone running around and spamming spells. There's no strategy or elegance. I don't really find that fun.

I think PQs will work nicely if you start with a good group. But starting with a proper group negates the entire "public" aspect of it, and it becomes just another dungeon fight.

Public Quests remind me of Alterac Valley (before the reinforcement timer) only without any PvP.* It's like a giant zerg. When you hit Drek'thar or Vannadar you hope to God that you have a half-way capable tank and some healers, and dps that doesn't react to getting aggro by running out of the room like a chicken with its head cut off. At least AV ensures that you have 20-40 people. Imagine showing up in AV with only 5 people, no tanks, and no healers. That's pretty much been my PQ experience.

*Let me preempt the wags: "So, just like normal AV, then?"

Finally, I hate the loot system. It's very annoying if you have a high contribution and roll low. If you have a low contribution and you roll high, it feels like you don't deserve the loot. If there are a lot of people in the PQ, only the first 10 or so will get a reward. This is a terrible design decision. Everyone should at least get the smallest loot bag. It's not your fault that a lot of other people decided to show up today. At least the loot bags offer you a nice choice of loot. You usually get to choose between an item for your class, some crafting components, or some gold.

It's a bit odd that I don't like the loot system, given that I don't mind rolling for loot in a normal dungeon. What really makes the difference for me is that PQs explicitly call out your contribution and give you modifiers to your roll. In a normal dungeon, there's a polite fiction that everyone in the group contributed equally, and so gets to roll on equal terms. It really sucks to be first or second on the contribution list, and yet end up with a white loot bag. Random + Modifier is more annoying than Random alone. Honestly, I'd probably prefer if the PQs didn't count your contribution, and just rolled equally for everyone in the group. Or even if everyone got the same loot bag, but the quality of the loot inside was randomly determined.

So those are my thoughts on Public Quests. It's an interesting idea, but being utterly dependent on other people showing up hurts. Also, Random + Modifier is a terrible loot system.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blizzard's Vision of the Paladin

At long last, Blizzard has set out what they expect the paladin to be. Ghostcrawler posted on the Beta forums:

I actually think you know what direction the class is moving towards, because you know your class. But I'll try and pontificate here for a moment if that's helpful.

Protection -- We want more tanks in the game. Main tanks. We think it's fun to have a diversity of players and see how different spells, abilities and class mechanics get used to solve problems. A Protadin with the right skill and gear should be able to tank any fight in the game. Previously, we tried to push Prot into the offtank and AE tank roles. While your abilities are still really well suited for AE in particular, overall our philosophy has changed and we want you to be able to do anything the other tanks do. Note that this means other tanks will get better at AE tanking though. Prot represents a special challenge when not tanking because you can both heal and do dps and some players want to do either. Or both. One final comment, that you have already seen, is we want you to gear like a warrior: collect Strengh and Stam and use tanking weapons instead of caster weapons.

Retribution -- You're a melee dps class, and one of only a handful of classes that can fill the "mana battery" role. With the changes to the way raid buffs work, we are blurring the lines a lot more between "pure" dps classes and hybrids that have the potential to respec if their dps doesn't work out. But we don't penalize classes for having awesome buffs the way we used to. Also remember that one of Ret's big limitations before was just getting in the group with the good melee buffs. That problem is solved. If you're good and know your stuff cold, you should be able to be up there with the rogues and hunters. Maybe not every fight, but not 500 dps below them either.

Holy -- You're still the best high-throughput, single target healer in the game. I suspect you're still going to get called on to heal the tank a lot. Holy was in a really good place in BC, so much so that other healers (probably priests more than anyone else) began to get overshadowed. To shift things back a little, as well to just challenge the player base, we introduced a lot more fights with AE damage and movement. Unfortunately, those mechanics hit Holy. Hard. At the same time, CoH and CH seemed to be able to handle any encounter. Beacon of Light isn't a panacea to solve all of those problems, but it is designed to help. It still needs a little work, but I think the basic spell design is sound.

One thing that has been mentioned is that the three paladin trees feel pretty separated from each other. We've gotten better in some other classes of making it a valid choice to go deeper into a second tree, and not just to get a single, incredible talent, but because there is some legitimate synergy there. It's going to be harder to get that feeling for the paladin than it is for the mage, but it is something we want to mess with some more after Lich King.

Obviously beyond the individual trees, we completely redid the whole seal and judgment system. We think it works pretty well, but we're just going to have to play with it some more to find the rough spots.

Well, that's the plan. Now we'll see how well Blizzard executes it.

Warhammer Online: First Impressions

First off, to placate the WO fanbois, WO is a very good game. My following comments will seem very nit-picky. But to me, the small stuff is very important, and mistakes are often more interesting than successes.

WO looks very good at first glance. The servers were stable and running. I didn't encounter any major bugs, only one graphical anomaly when a PvP scenario (battleground) popped right after a public quest finished. But that cleared itself up when I died.

I really wish Mythic had feature-locked, and just spent two weeks cleaning up the little things. There's lots of little things that are annoying just because they're so small and yet so obvious. For example, when you start the game, it doesn't give focus to the username or password field. So you launch the game, start typing your password, realize that the text field doesn't have focus, and have to manually click the field with the mouse.

Anyways, there's lots of little things like that. In the great scheme of things they're trivial, but it would have been really nice if Mythic had made the effort to fix them. Streamlining your entry into the game, so that you don't have to click through several movies. Not popping the EULA every single time. When you get a new title, clicking the Tome of Knowledge pop up should actually take you to the description of the title, rather to some other random page.

Now there's a lot of things that the game does well. The quest integration with the map is superb. I adore the way you can queue up for scenarios, continue questing, scenario pops, you go fight, and you return right back to your questing spot, and you can queue again. If there is one thing Blizzard should steal from WO, it's this queuing for scenarios. It even makes being on the popular side bearable.

In the end I rolled a Witch Elf on Thorgrim. I did try some other characters, but I didn't like the look, so I deleted them. I'll have to look at options more thoroughly later. The witch elf is pretty much a WoW rogue so far, but with far less clothing. One interesting thing was that you start with a combo-point generating ability at level 1, but you don't get a finisher until level 2. I'm not sure this was a good decision. In WoW, a level 1 rogue starts with a standard move, and a finisher, so the playstyle is obvious from the start. I also kind of see why Blizzard limits combo points per mob. It was very common for me to build to 5 points and then unload burst damage onto a new target.

I got up to about Rank (level) 5, and Renown (PvP level) 4. I do like how you get rewards from both questing and PvP as you level up.

PvP is interesting. In general, the Witch Elf is a decent character. I get a fair number of kills, killing blows and even solo kills. The only problem is that sometimes everyone clumps up into two ranged groups firing at each other. You can't really pick off anyone when this happens, as the group will nuke you as you approach.

I did get to try a Public Quest, and it's kind of cool. I even won the roll! I got some nice armor that revealed even more skin than my previous rags. However, I'm not really sure it's as revolutionary as everyone claims. WO doesn't seem to have "tagging mobs" as a mechanic, and that is a good change.

One thing about WO is that it does really expect you to be somewhat familar with MMOs. WoW had a much more gentle introduction into the genre, but the experienced player ends up modding the UI a fair bit. At points in WO, I was suffering from information overload, and I'm an experienced player.

Also, maybe I'm missing something, but wouldn't it be an obvious move to have the same keybinds as WoW whenever possible? Things like C for Character, etc. A lot of the keybinds are the same already, it just seems odd to me that they didn't copy the others. It would make it even easier to steal WoW players. It's like Microsoft Excel, when they were first entering the market, went to great lengths to ensure that the Lotus 1-2-3 "slash command" system was duplicated exactly in Excel. That made it a lot easier for Lotus 1-2-3 users to switch, as they could use all the commands they were accustomed to.

Graphically, the game is pretty good. The animations aren't quite as smooth as they should be, but it's pretty decent.

All in all, Warhammer Online looks like a solid, stable game. I still don't think I've found the class I want to level up to the cap though. I'll probably end up trying a few more classes on the weekend.

Finally, if someone could tell me where I learn professions, that would be great. I'm looting all sorts of stuff that are for professions, but I'm just vendoring it at the moment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Warhammer Online: What to Play?

So Warhammer Online launches tomorrow. I'll probably pick up the game and give it a whirl. Some of the mechanics being described sound pretty interesting.

The real question is what class to play. The Warrior Priest is probably the closest analog to the paladin. But even though it's a melee-character, it's still a healer, and I don't really want to get stuck in the whole healer cycle again.

Already, if you watch the Warhammer Online blogs, you'll see the subtle bias against the healers doing damage. I was reading a a description of scenario scoreboards at Book of Grudges, when I came across the line:

"Next down is a Zealot, and if he’d been healing more and nuking less Destruction would probably have won this match."
Back to blaming the healers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So I'm really wary about rolling a class that has any capability of healing whatsoever. I envy the freedom of the DPS classes to just have fun. Plus, Warhammer seems to be big on the whole pick-up group PvP thing, so rolling a DPS doesn't look as limiting as in WoW.

The thing about healing is that it is usually very powerful and scarce. And I don't *hate* playing a healer. So I could go healer, and my group or side would probably be more successful. Or I could go DPS, and my group or side would probably be less successful, but I would have more fun. But losing is not fun and winning is. So round and round in circles I go.

It's odd that this is coming up in a post about another game, but that's the way I look at healers (and tanks). The healers are the ones being responsible, letting the DPS have fun. When I'm DPS in a group, I feel bad that I'm making the healers work, while I'm having fun. Which is a bit odd, because I don't mind being the healer. It is fun and challenging, but it's a different sort of fun than what the DPS is experiencing. Maybe it's about creating or sustaining versus destroying.

Anyways, long story short, I have no idea what class to roll in Warhammer. Maybe I'll just try a Witch Elf. They don't seem to believe in clothing, and it's always amusing to see how low the gaming industry can sink. Though, kind of honestly, I think a male version of the Witch Elf (with the same disdain for clothing) would be hilarious. The reactions from the playerbase would be priceless.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Months Behind


I finally got my epic flying mount. It's amazingly fast. Now to work on getting a netherdrake.

I had a lot of stuff on the AH, and was hoping enough of it had sold to put me over 5200g. I logged in, picked up my gold from the AH, and realized I had 5198g. Sigh. One daily quest later, I had enough gold.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

WotLK Beta - Ret, Prot Updates

I don't really have a coherent post, so here's some general thoughts from Beta:

  • Retribution and Protection have been slimmed down and cleaned up. They're really nice trees now, with a fair amount of free talent points to dip into the other trees. As well, the first tiers of each tree are very attractive now.

  • Blessing of Kings got changed into a 5-point talent in Tier 1 Protection. While this makes it cost more for Prot, it's much easier for Ret and Holy to pick Kings up. I can make builds that include Kings for all three specs, and which I'd be happy to play.

  • Art of War got redesigned yet again. It increases crit damage on Judgement, CS, and Divine Storm, and also gives you instant Flash of Lights when you get a melee crit! Unfortunately, at the moment the instant FoLs still reset your swing timer, but as soon as that is fixed, the talent will rock. It's really nice to see Ret be able to heal--if only a little bit--and not be punished for it. Also AoW's damage increase is bugged at 2% instead of 20%.

  • Judgements of the Wise gives 20% of your total mana back. Essentially, Retribution doesn't need to worry about mana anymore. Ret is now limited more by cooldowns than by mana.

  • Judgement of Command was changed. It no longer does double damage when hitting a stunned target. Instead, it's a guaranteed critical when you Judge a stunned target. It's a reduction in burst damage, but hopefully allows our sustained damage to keep pace.

  • To be honest, Retribution is in really good shape at the moment. It plays well and is a lot of fun. It does solid damage. You press several buttons, but there's still room in the rotation to toss out Flash of Lights, Exorcism, Consecrates, Cleanses as you need to. It's quite possible that this is the best shape that any paladin spec has ever been in.

  • There's some concern about JotW and Holy. At 20% total mana, it's really attractive for Holy to go 38/0/33 and pick up JotW. Part of the issue is that so much of the Holy tree centers around mana reduction, but getting back 20% of your total mana every 8-10s swamps all of those talents. It is expected that JotW will change to 20% of base mana, reducing its value for Holy, but keeping it the same for Ret as Ret base mana is roughly equal to Ret total mana.

  • Protection is also in really good shape. It's doing a lot of damage, and is also fun. It's still missing an 11-point talent, so we'll see what Blizzard comes up with.

  • Speaking of tanks, Blizzard appears to be changing course on general tank design. They seem to be doing away with extra threat on abilities, but increasing the damage to compensate. For example, Hammer of the Righteous used to do 100% weapon damage + 30% increased threat. It's been changed to 120% damage, but no extra threat. I think this is a great change in design philosophy, and will make playing a tank much more fun.

  • Holy still needs some work. Kind of honestly, the biggest problem with the Holy tree is that it is very boring. Holy Shock is really the only talent that's remotely exciting. I think the new Infusion of Light, where you get instant Holy Lights after critical Holy Shocks has potential, but we'll have to see how it performs in instances.

  • Beacon of Light is a weird talent. Part of the issue with Beacon is that it only works on effective healing, not raw healing. In a raid situation, this could cause problems, because if your heal target gets sniped by another healer before your heal lands, the Beacon target won't get healed. As the Beacon target is probably the tank, this will cause problems. On the other hand, if Beacon worked off raw healing, you would never ever heal the Beacon target. You'd spray overheals around like crazy, because the Beacon target would soak it all up.

    I'm not sure what's going to happen with Beacon. A healer needs to heal the people who are hurt, not healthy people. At the same time, there's no sense in punishing the paladin because another healer got to her target half a second before her heal landed.

Anyways, that's a round-up of what's up with Paladins in Beta. Retribution and Protection are in good shape, have solid talent trees, and are fun to play. Holy needs some work.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Paid PvE to PvP Server Transfers

Today, Blizzard introduced paid PvE to PvP server transfers. Previously, if you had a character on a PvE server, you could not transfer that character to a PvP server. A character on a PvP server could transfer to PvE, but it was a one-way trip.

I am oddly mixed about this development. On the one hand, I've levelled a character on both server types, and the experience on a PvP server is very different. Unleashing hordes of carebears who think they're something special onto a PvP server, and letting them gank without having had the experience of being the gankee ... well, something inside me rebels at that thought.

There is a certain type of player on PvE servers who is very boastful about PvP prowess. The type of person who'll kill a lowbie Horde who's flagged accidentally, or gank an obviously-AFK Alliance Holy Priest sitting outside a raid instance*, and then start to brag about how "leet" they are. And you sit there and think, "So why aren't you on a PvP server? Oh, that's right, because you'd get beaten into the ground by people who know how to play." The PvP realms are going to plagued by this type of player.

*This was quite funny when three minutes later the entire Alliance raid boiled out of the instance, fully flagged, and proceeded to wipe out every flagged Horde who had hurt their priest. As I was not flagged, this brand of karma amused me greatly.

But on the flip side, the division was really hurting the raiding guilds on the PvE servers. For some reason--probably because Achiever/Killers tend to be very good players--the best raiding guilds have always been found on PvP servers. This has made it very hard for PvE guilds to recruit, as PvP people will not transfer, not even for a trial, because it's a one-way trip. More and more, high end raiding is coalescing around the PvP servers, and that is hurting the PvE servers.

I think the turning point came with the guild Juggernaut of Doomhammer. Juggernaut was one of the premier guilds on a PvE server, but they were having serious trouble recruiting for Sunwell. They managed to get Kil'Jaeden down to 30% before giving up. The entire guild rerolled on the PvP server Mal'Ganis as Juggernaut II. Juggernaut II blew through the raiding scene and downed Kil'Jaeden four months after rerolling.

Maybe if the high end hadn't been so slanted towards PvP, things would have worked out. If the best guilds were distributed evenly between server types, maybe the wall could have been preserved. But this change was probably necessary in order for high-end raiding to survive on PvE servers.

On a personal level, this change has affected me. Three months ago, I was invited to join a raiding guild on a PvP server. I liked the guild, but as it was a PvP server, I ended up making another paladin on that server. I've tried to level it, but my heart really wasn't in it. I managed to make it to 55.

The thing was that this new paladin wasn't my main, and that turned out to be really important to me. It wasn't the paladin I killed Ragnaros and Nefarian with, the character that I've been playing for multiple years, wasn't the character I played back when we had Seal of Fury, the character that was in Defender of the Crown, the character with all my keys and attunements and my Knight-Captain title, my 8/8 Lightforge, and the character I learned to raid with. Yeah, they're not exactly impressive achievements, but still, it was my main, and that ended up meaning a lot to me.

So I've been levelling this new paladin desultorily (also, paladin levelling is extremely boring, which didn't help) and had been slowly realizing that I didn't really want to play a new paladin. That I wanted to play Coriel. Then this change was announced. The first thing I did upon coming home was to delete the new paladin and transfer Coriel to the PvP server.

So in the end I'm not sure what to think about PvE to PvP transfers. I somehow don't think it was a good change, but it may have been a necessary change. And it has allowed me to continue to play my main into Wrath of the Lich King, for which I am very grateful.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ask Coriel: Low Population Servers

Brad asks:

Hello, I have always played Horde characters but am looking to try Alliance for the first time. I really enjoy your blog and rolled a character on Skywall, but I noticed on the offical WOW site that it is listed as a Low population server. Before I spend too much time leveling, do you have any regrets playing on a low pop server? Are the auction house prices too low/high, is it too hard to find pick up groups, etc? I appreciate any feedback you have!

Honestly, I don't think it makes that much difference while levelling. If you catch the main wave when most people are levelling, it's pretty easy to find groups. Right now, when everyone has finished levelling, it's a lot harder, but it's harder even on a full server. Auction House, it's pretty much the same. It's harder to find rare items, like patterns, but price-wise it's more or less the same. If anything, prices may be lower, as full servers usually have a lot more people with lots of gold. Also, if you're looking for specific crafted materials, you may have to look outside trade chat. There are usually people who can make the item, but they aren't readily available. If I'm looking for something rare, I tend to whisper someone in a high-end guild, and they will pass me a name.

The big difference is if you want to raid at endgame. Full servers offer a lot more choice and variety of guilds. They also tend to have more advanced guilds in endgame. As well, low-pop servers tend to have raid guilds that concentrate around a specific time. You need to make sure you are able to make that timeslot. Even being an hour or so off can cause issues. There are also much fewer raid PuGs. You really need to be in a guild if you want to raid on a low-pop server.

I personally like Skywall a lot. It's a very laid-back server, with a nice community, and is not overly gear-focused. But if you're really intent on raiding at the very highest level, it's not the server for you. It's a very casual, very carebear server.

Anyone else have comments on high and low pop servers?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The End of Mana

It seems like the MMO industry is moving away from mana as a resource. Warhammer Online has completely done away with mana, opting for an Energy-like regen system. Warriors and Rogues in WoW use Rage and Energy respectively, and the new Death Knights uses Runes/Runic Power. Even if you look at the mana-using classes, more and more of them are moving away from the tradition version of mana.

The tradition definition of mana is a resource which powers your abilities that starts at full, is slowly depleted, and can only be regenerated out-of-combat or through long periods of inactivity.

If you look at the current WoW mana classes, many of them are moving towards a self-contained cycle for their main resource. For example:

Warlocks: Cast Spells -> Lifetap -> Drain/Heal
Enhance Shamans: Use Abilities -> Shamanistic Rage
Protection Paladins: Use Abilities -> Regain mana through Spiritual Attunement

In WotLK, more classes will join the new model:

Hunters: Full Damage with Aspect of the Hawk -> Mana Regen with Aspect of the Viper
Ret Paladins: (hopefully) Use Abilities -> Judgements of the Wise

The two categories left which use the traditional mana model are mages/boomkins/elemental shamans and healers.

So why are more and more classes shifting away from the traditional mana model? I think the main reason is that mana does not really handle fights of varying length well, especially for DPS classes. If the fight is too long, you run out of mana. If the fight is too short, you have mana left unspent. Indeed, this was part of the reason chaining mana potions was so powerful, as it allowed you to tailor your mana pool to the length of the fight.

As well, in theory the traditional mana model is supposed to make you trade-off longevity for damage. In practice, most people just blasted away with their main nuke, and didn't really adjust tactics in-game to compensate for fight length. The only class which really considered longevity are classes with a 2-cycle spell rotation. And a 2-cycle rotation is perhaps overly sensitive to fight length.

The self-contained model, on the other hand, scales to any arbitrary fight length. The length of the fight is no longer restricted by the mana of the players, it can be as long or as short as desired.

This didn't matter as much in 5-mans, as 5-man fights have an implicit timer: the healer's mana bar. When the healer's mana bar runs out, the fight usually ends. As well, unlike DPS which has very little "over-damage", healers can extend their mana bar by playing smarter and avoiding overheal. Wasted mana is very important for a healer, unlike DPS. However, once you have more than one healer, a healer's mana bar can last a lot longer through efficiencies and trading off regen time, or even just reducing the damage done. Unlike DPS, the rate at which healers spend mana is very dependent on the specifics of the encounter.

I think time has shown that the traditional mana model is not the best resource for an MMO. In a lot of ways, it is either too constraining, or ends up not mattering at all. I think that more and more MMOs will move towards self-contained resource cycles to power abilities.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

On Redoubt

Modulok writes in the comments to the last post:

Redoubt is not a fun talent at all. All it does it make Shield Spec worth 8 points instead of 3. Remember that there are no crushing blows in wrath so your whole reasoning for taking it is moot. This is the definition of bloat. If you really like it don't make it mandatory for tanks to take it for shield spec. Alternatively make it worth one talent point or something. Prot forums have been whining about this for ages.

I think a lot of paladins are looking at Redoubt through the lens of TBC, and not WotLK. In TBC, because we had to reach uncrushable, paladins piled on lots and lots of Avoidance. This greatly reduced--and eventually obsoleted--the value of Redoubt.

WotLK looks to be different. There seems to be a lot less Avoidance gear. There's even a rumor that dodge and parry rating will see non-linear scaling, like Armor. If you have a lot less Avoidance, then Redoubt still does a lot for you, increasing your block rating significantly. As well, with the new focus on Strength, and the fact that 2 Str = 1 Block Value, we have the potential to mitigate significant amounts of damage through blocking.

Now, I don't know how useful Redoubt will be. It might turn out to be useless. It all depends on how much Avoidance is available in raid content. If Sunwell is any guide--remember that Blizzard had to introduce Sunwell Radiance to keep Avoidance in check--Blizzard will be looking to significantly reduce the amount of Avoidance raid tanks possess.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Blizzard Requests Feedback on Protection

On the Beta forums, Ghostcrawler has requested feedback about the Protection tree. Here is my response (also posted to the thread).

Which talents are fun vs. which ones aren't

Talents which are fun:

Reckoning - flurry of numbers is always cool ... plus it has History with Kazzak :)
Holy Shield
Avenger's Shield
Hammer of the Righteous
Ardent Defender - solo play only ... you really notice it in solo play and leveling, coming to the edge of death. It's not fun in group play, as you really can't tell if it is kicking in or not.

Talents which are not fun:

I wouldn't say there's any talents I dislike having to take. Even Redoubt is useful when leveling or when you are still crushable. It was just annoying when it become redundant after we became Holy Shield-uncrushable.

Oh, one talent I dislike is Deflection in the Retribution tree. I keep wanting to make a Protection/Holy build, but I have to dip into Retribution for Deflection.

Areas in the tree that tie up too many talent points vs. areas that feel barren

Pretty much everything from Tier 6 upwards is mandatory. Very top-heavy.

Tier 3 has a lot of nice talents, but Tier 4 is barren (for PvE usually). I usually skip Tier 4. As well, Tier 3 is awkward, because you have to get Kings and Improved Righteous Fury, leaving you with 1 point. So you end up putting a single point in something and leaving a talent unfilled.

Talents that feel mandatory vs. talents that feel fun but optional vs. talents you'd never get

Mandatory - Everything from Tier 6 up (maybe excepting Guarded by the Light), Kings, Imp RF
Fun but optional - Reckoning
Never Get - I don't think there's any talent I would never get. The old Sanctuary came closest to that, but the new one looks quite good.

One last thing about Protection. You have the main chain at the heart of the tree (BoSanc-HS-AS, and supporting talents), which you pretty much have to pick up, as that's the "engine" which drives the tree. All around that main chain are nice talents, but they all cost 5 points. That's where the bulk of the "bloat" comes in. The main chain is mandatory, and to get any of the surrounding talents costs a lot of points.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wizard 101 Review

Wizard 101 is a new MMO aimed at kids. In it, you play a young wizard going to a magic school and having adventures. The basic mechanics are based on collectible card games, where each card represents a spell, though the game itself is a subscription game. You don't buy cards, you get new cards as you level. Each wizard specializes in a specific school of magic, such as Fire or Ice, but can also get cards in a secondary school.

It costs $10 / month, but you can try it out for free. There's also the standard price cuts if you subscribe for a longer period of time.



Positives

  • Gameplay: The basic mechanic of combat in Wizard 101 is elegant. Your spells cost Power Points. The more powerful the spell, the more Power Points it consumes. You build up Power Points at the rate of 1 per turn. However, buffing and debuffing spells cost zero Power Points. So the game revolves around casting buffs and debuffs to build up Power Points, and then choosing an appropriate damage spell. There is some beautiful tension involved, and getting the right mix of buff/debuff spells and damage spells of appropriate cost is a lot of fun.

    Basic gameplay is turn based, with up to four players on each side. Other people can join your battles, and other monsters will also join (if there are more players than monsters).


  • Graphics: The graphics in Wizard 101 are crisp, clean, cartoony, and colorful. It's a kids game, so it's not cutting edge graphics, but the art style more than makes up for it. Gear looks nice, and the monsters and card animations are very well done. I'm a big fan of the art style of this game, but your mileage may vary. In particular, the word "realism" has no place here.


  • Polish: Wizard 101 is nicely polished. It's stable and there were very few bugs when I played it.


  • Character Creation: The character creation system is a series of Ultima-style questions. I kept getting Fire mage, even when I was trying for something different. I'm not sure what that says about me. The naming system is also cool. You choose a first name, and two parts of a last name. My character in beta was a Fire/Myth (primary school/secondary school) mage named Richard Sunweaver. After the wipe, I made a Death/Balance mage named Valerian Ravencaller. I liked the character creation system and naming system a lot.

Negatives
  • Communication: I never thought I'd see the day when I missed Barrens Chat. Because Wizard 101 is aimed at kids (have to Protect The Children™), it's somewhat hard to communicate with people. Nintendo does very much the same thing in their multi-player games. There's no guilds, no parties. Most communication is done through a menu system which I found awkward to use. As well, since all the barriers are so obviously aimed at protecting young kids, as an adult I found myself uneasy at the thought of approaching people for help with tough battles. There's no general chat channel, where you can send requests for help out into the void.

    The closest WoW analogy to this is doing quests with the opposite faction. If you're Alliance, and you come across a Horde working on the same quest, sometimes the two of you will work together to complete it. You can't talk to each other, so there's this odd dance of gestures and inferring meaning (and the dance takes on extra weight on a PvP server). That's what playing with strangers in Wizard 101 feels like.

    I'm a quiet player, but I like seeing guild chat or general chat scroll by. Wizard 101 just felt very lonely to me, even though I was surrounded by other players.

    Obviously, this may not matter to you if you play with friends, or it may even be a positive if you have young children you are concerned about.

Conclusion

Wizard 101 is a great game. It has many good qualities, and is worth trying out even for the jaded adult gamer, just to see the basic gameplay. It is a children's game, so it is cute. It isn't amazingly deep and doesn't have many sub-games like crafting or raiding or PvP (though there are some arcade games and an arena where you can duel). But Wizard 101 focuses on its core gameplay, and that core is executed cleanly and polished to a shine.

Monday, September 01, 2008

On "First to 80" Achievements and Rewards

RJ posts a comment:

Why not reward them? These people still do it as a race, to try and get a world first. What's the problem with having some official recognition of this?

Because having official recognition means that more people will do it, that Blizzard is explicitly approving of this behaviour.

A lot of behaviour is not healthy, but is really hard to prevent without hurting people who are playing properly. Blizzard uses rewards to try and channel people into more appropriate behavior patterns.

For example, consider ganking. There is zero reward for ganking lowbies. No honor, no xp, nothing. Yet people still gank. Now imagine what the game would be like if Blizzard added a title ("the Exterminator") for killing 1000 people who are gray to you. Life on a PvP server would seriously suck.

With rewards, you have to be very careful to only reward the specific behavior you deem good. It's very easy to accidently end up rewarding negative behavior. WoW has had a lot of problems with this in the past. Old PvP system, afking in AV, running Karazhan over and over instead of progressing, etc.

In this case, Blizzard wants to reward efficient levelling. I don't see anything wrong with this goal. But their implementation will reward marathon gaming (aka Catassing) and multiple people playing the same character in shifts, instead of the behavior which is worth rewarding.

Update (reposted from comments because I think it sums up my issue well):

Finally, what the reward is does not matter. The basic problem is the same. Blizzard wishes to reward some facet of gameplay which requires skill. However, the method they choose to measure that skill actually measures a different variable. People obtain the reward by maximizing the measured variable, not the variable that Blizzard wants to measure.

It's that difference which I think is important, and which Blizzard needs to pay more attention to.