Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Third Year Mark

It's been about three years since I started writing this blog.

I think I'm a lot happier with WoW than I was last year. I've sort of made peace with the whole specialization issue. It's not ideal, but it's okay. It helps a lot that Protection and Retribution are very viable. Going Holy is closer to an actual choice, rather than being forced into it. Have to give Blizzard props for making that happen.

The biggest difference between now and previous years is that I am unguilded. To be honest, it's sort of nice not being in a guild. You log on, and do whatever you feel like. As well, there's something to be said for experiencing content in the proper order. I did every single quest before starting heroics. I haven't done any raids yet. But that means that I don't outgear the content yet. It's kind of nice, seeing a blue drop and realizing it's an upgrade for me rather than pure disenchant fodder. I just got to Revered rep with Wyrmrest today, and picked up multiple upgrades.

It's been really pleasant to have been able to go through the content in order, to consume it at leisure and not be rushed, rather than skipping all over the place. However, I'm coming to the end of what you can do solo and I do miss the experience of working on harder content with a team that sticks together.

I think I'm going to take a vacation from WoW for a few weeks before jumping into raiding, though. Cleanse the palate, if you will.

This past year I also tried some other MMOs. Age of Conan was terrible. Wizard 101 was quite good. If you're at all interested in a different MMO experience, give Wizard 101 a shot. The client and the first few zones are free.

Warhammer Online was decent, but I just couldn't get into it. I actually tried resubscribing a month ago to try the new tank class. Mythic has made some significant improvements. Of the five issues I identified, they've made amazing progress with the responsiveness of combat and polishing of systems like the chat interface. I still couldn't get into any of the classes, but if you were on the fence regarding WAR, you might want to take another look. Of course, I never made it past level 11, so I have no idea what endgame is like.

Monday, December 29, 2008

More Thoughts On Healing

  • Why am I always the first one at the instance? Why does it always seem to be the DPS who need summons?

  • Why do DPS players think that that sub-1500 DPS is acceptable?

  • Also, if you aren't over 2K, STFU about damage meters .

  • If I have to run back, you should be running back too. Ressing lazy people after a wipe is a waste of time. Parallel execution, not serial.

  • Please maintain Line-Of-Sight to the healer. Don't hide behind pillars. There's nothing more heart-stopping than seeing a player take a chunk of damage, going to heal them, and seeing an "Unable to cast" message.

  • You know, DPS players really infuriate me when I heal.

  • There's something about the duration of Beacon and Seals that bugs me. I have no problems keeping Sacred Shield up, but I struggle with Beacon and Seals. I think the time--1 to 2 minutes--is short enough that it has to be refreshed in-combat, but long enough that it falls outside my immediate horizon and thus I lose track of it.

  • I'm still mulling over gemming Intellect vs Crit. The math generally points to Intellect, but it really depends on hitting Divine Plea every cooldown. While Crit doesn't require extra effort on my part, and is not that far behind.

  • There was a real lack of blue plate gloves for both Ret and Holy. There isn't a single blue plate glove quest reward for Holy and only one for Ret. I wonder why gloves were overlooked. I'm very slowly working on my Frenzyheart rep to fix this.

  • Working on rep was a lot easier as Retribution.

  • Heh, I complain a lot about Holy, but I actually like healing. The level of control, of immediacy, of concentration is a lot of fun. I don't really feel like a separate member of the group, I feel like I am submerged in the group, or even that I am the group. Everywhere and nowhere.

    What I don't like are DPS who are ... "inconsiderate", may be the best word. It can feel like they are actively working against the group, and that makes the experience extremely unpleasant. In contrast, competent considerate DPS are great to run with. In some ways the DPS have more of an effect on the healing experience than the tank does. I mean, the tank is going to take a beating, and take the majority of heals, and that is going to depend on her gear and skill. But that is expected. How the DPS acts is much more of a wild card, and really makes the difference between a pleasurable run and an unpleasant run.

Friday, December 26, 2008

When Did Healing Become So Hard?

I bit the bullet and respecced to Holy today. I very quickly got into a Heroic Utgarde Keep run. My immediate thought:

"Wow, when did healing become so hard?"

Maybe I've just gotten used to face-rolling my way through instances as DPS, or maybe I'm just undergeared and out of practice, but it feels like paladin healing has gotten a lot more complex.

The following is my thought process throughout the instance:

Begin Stream of Consciousness.

Okay, I have to keep up Beacon of Light, Sacred Shield and a Seal. I've pretty much abandoned Flash of Light and am mainly using Holy Light. Nothing else seemed to keep up with the tank's damage intake. Does Sacred Shield even do anything? You know, Sacred Shield is a lot more expensive than I remembered. Why is the tank's health not going up? Oh, Beacon fell off again! I'm supposed to Judge to do something or the other, but I can't stop spamming Holy Light.

Who thought an AoE silence/interrupt on the final boss of Utgarde Keep was a good idea? Why did the DPSer who does 2K+ DPS just take a 24K Smash? Couldn't you have Smashed one of the other two who are doing less than 1K DPS? Let's try Holy Shock. Yeah, that really did a lot. Back to Holy Light. Sweet, sweet Holy Light. Why are there axes attacking me? Where are you, AoE heal! Oh I see, Beacon fell off yet again. Divine Plea, thank the Light!

End Stream of Consciousness.

What this game really needs is some way to challenge the DPS without affecting the healer. Healing is hard enough without the added worry of standing in the fire. Or more accurately for paladins, spell interrupts and silences.

The thing is that because environmental hazards affect both healers and DPS, they are necessarily less challenging than they could be. They have to be easy enough that a distracted healer can avoid them, and that leads to a difference in challenge level for the two roles. Since a DPS only has to look out for herself, an environmental challenge that is complex enough to challenge her is probably going to kill the healer.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Deflation?

Tobold, The WoW Economist, and Greedy Goblin have noted that there appears to be some deflation going on in Auction House prices at the moment. Each of them attributes it to a different cause. The WoW Economist says it's because of a temporary decrease in demand because most people are levelling. Tobold feels it's a permanent decrease in demand because of the lowered difficulty of WotLK PvE. I don't really understand Greedy Goblin's explanation, but I think he's blaming it on the rich people gouging the poor people (Marx-style class warfare?).

I'll offer a different explanation: Right now, the market in WoW is not obeying supply-and-demand in the classic sense, but is being dominated by the mechanics and side-effects of levelling professions.

Here are my assumptions:

1. Most people are gatherer/crafter. They have one crafting profession and the related gathering profession. There are some double gatherers or double crafters, but they are outweighed by the gatherer/crafters.

2. Most crafters have a personal stockpile of raw materials. They primarily craft using materials from that stockpile and only purchase materials if they are missing them.

What I think is happening is that most raw materials being gathered never enter the market. Instead they are stockpiled to fuel the crafting required to level the profession. Only after the crafter hits 450 skill, will excess raw materials be redirected to the market.

So on the raw materials side, what we've seen is an artificial scarcity of materials, as most materials were being reserved for levelling. Now, a month after the expansion launched, more and more people are hitting 450 skill, and excess materials are starting to be sold off for profit, decreasing the price.

On the crafted materials side, the fastest crafters were the only ones able create the higher level items, and thus could command a premium for their items. Now, more and more crafters are reaching the higher skill level and producing the high level items. The big change here is that the crafters don't care if they are selling the item for a loss. They are crafting for skill points, not monetary gain. Any money gained from selling the item is a bonus. Supply is independent of demand at this point. Even if all the tanks have Tempered Saronite, it will still be made, because it nets the blacksmith a skill point. So a serious excess of supply is being produced, again driving down the price.

The key here is that the crafters are not being driven by traditional monetary incentives, they are being driven by the desire to increase their skill. That warps the market. I think this state will probably last for the next month or two, until a great majority of the crafters have reached 450 skill. Then levelling skill ceases to be a concern, and the traditional economic concerns of profit and supply-and-demand will reassert themselves, and we will see prices stabilize.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ask Coriel: Action Bar Setup

Arnold asks:

How do you set up your action bars? With the now three types of judgments available, and the various seals etc, what fills your hotkeys? What is the most efficient/best/useful setup to use? I currently have all three judgments hotkeyed to button 2, with alt and shift as modifiers to swap between them, though it still feels clumsy. Also the various seals. Ought I not bother with them, or should I try and set them up with modifiers as well? Any recommendations?

I'm not really the best person to be asking this. The sad truth is that I click a lot of my abilities. What I generally do is have the number keys 1-6 bound with the abilities I use most often. The 2, 3, 4 slots are the core spells that are cast all the time. Then I tend to click the other abilities that are used less often. I tend to use the default button bars, and not a lot of mods.

For Retribution:

1 - Hammer of Wrath
2 - Judgement
3 - Crusader Strike
4 - Divine Storm
5 - Consecration
6 - Flash of Light, Cleanse, Hammer of Justice, or Exorcism, depending on the fight.

For Seal refreshes, I click the Seal I want every two minutes. For Judgement, I find that I tend to cast one type of Judgement throughout the fight. You don't often switch Judgements. Whichever Judgement I am
casting I move into the 2 slot.

I'll have similar layouts for Protection and Holy. For example, for Protection, the 1 slot is Righteous Defense. I haven't made a Prot layout yet, but I'm thinking of using two castsequence macros. One for the 6s abilities, and one for the 9s abilities.

Holy has the heals in the 1-6 spot, usually all with mouseover macros. I haven't really gone Holy and made a good layout yet, though.

For another perspective, take a look at Ferraro's setup.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ads on the WoW Forums

Blizzard introduced advertising on the Official WoW forums. So far it looks like mainly WoW tie-in products. I don't really have an opinion, other than the ad on the right is a bit annoying because it wastes a lot of space.

But the ads have spawned the thread Rise Up, Sons of the Horde!, which is legendary. Here are some choice samples:

Foolishly you have sought your own bankruptcies. Brazenly you have disregarded offers beyond your understanding. You have browsed hard to invade the realm of the t-shirts and minis. Now there is only one way out — to walk the lonely path of the checkout line.


The Mengarie is for paying customers only.


RECESSION HERALDS THE END OF YOUR WORLD. COME, MORTALS! FACE THE WRATH OF THE PRICECHOPPER!


Stop clicking me! Me not that kind of ad!


Sales, Bargains. My people are addicted to it... a sale made manifest after the Sunwell went out of business. Welcome to the future. A pity you are too poor to buy all this. No one can stop my T-Shirt bonanza now! SELAMA ASHAL"ANORE!


You landlubbers are tougher than I thought! I'll have to upgrade online to WotLK!


All department stores, all outlet malls, are open to me!

Bargains have brought you here to me. I shall be your salesman.

Simple shoppers, credit is the fire in which you'll burn!


Ragnaros: TOO SOON! YOU HAVE SOLD OUT TOO SOON, EXECUTUS! WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS CLEARANCE SALE?
Majordomo Executus: These mortal customers, my lord! They have invaded your store, and seek to purchase your merchandise!
Ragnaros: FOOL! YOU ALLOWED THESE INSECTS TO RUN RAMPANT THROUGH THE HALLOWED STORE, AND NOW YOU LEAD THEM TO MY VERY CASH REGISTER? YOU HAVE FAILED ME, EXECUTUS! BARGAIN PRICES SHALL BE MET, INDEED!
Ragnaros: NOW FOR YOU, INSECTS. BOLDLY YOU SOUGHT TO PURCHASE THE MINIATURES OF RAGNAROS! NOW YOU SHALL SEE THEM FIRSTHAND!


C'thun whispers: Your friends will abandon you for hot bargains.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Ideal Guild

Each time I leave a guild, it seems like I become more exacting in what I'm looking for. I guess I'm reacting to whatever caused me to leave the previous guild.

The first time, I just wanted to raid. The second time, I wanted to raid and have stable loot rules (i.e. no changes in the middle of a run). Next time, I wanted to raid, have stable loot rules, and a stable leadership structure. And so on.

I thought I'd outline what my ideal guild would look like. I think I probably won't be able to find it, because the vision has gotten a little too precise, but it's an ideal. My ideal guild would:

  1. Raid Three Days a Week - I don't really want to raid for most of the week. I could probably do four nights, but I think that that a guild should raid one less day than it is fully capable. So ideally I'd only like to raid two or three times a week for about 3-4 hours. Also, I'd like raids that started somewhere between 5:30 pm PST to 7:00 pm PST.

  2. Move Fast - The raid moves at a quick pace. No long pauses, no wasting time. Fast and efficient. Starts exactly on time and finishes exactly on time.

  3. Focus on New Content - Of three days, one day should be for farming, and two days should be for wiping on new bosses. People really over-estimate the value of gear. Time and practice are worth far more. Gear comes as you do stuff.

  4. Have a Relatively Fair Loot System - Kind of honestly, I don't really care what system is used anymore. As long as it's fast, and not too biased, it's good enough. Frankly, I think I'd prefer a "Need for Main Set, Greed for Off-Set, Pass Otherwise" system, just because it would be the fastest system and we could move on to the next pull immediately.

  5. Have Friendly, Competent People - Not asking that everyone be super-hardcore (in fact, it probably would be better if they weren't) but people should show up when they say they will show up. They should know how to play their class, maybe not to the absolute cutting edge, but enough to avoid the standard mistakes. They don't need to have the absolute best, most expensive gear, but what they do have should be enchanted and gemmed properly.

    Also, they should pay attention during raids. I understand real life sometimes calls you away, but I disapprove of people who watch TV while raiding. If something is important enough that you do it while raiding, it is important enough for you to stop raiding and step out until you have finished.

  6. Not Mock Casuals - I like the hardcore, and I don't make any "no life" or similar comments. Being good at WoW is as much of an accomplishment as most of us are likely to achieve. Very few of us will become Nobel Prize winners or brain surgeons.

    But this is one habit of the hardcore that I absolutely despise, the mocking of those weaker than themselves. Things like laughing at a random paladin in Shattrath behind her back in guild chat because she's using Spirit gems. Would it really have been so hard to whisper her and help her select better gems instead?

    The strong should help the weak (or, at the very least, ignore them). Mocking the weak only betrays insecurity, and frankly makes the person someone that I do not want to play with. The worst part about this habit is that you cannot say anything to convince them to stop unless you are a better player, as your opinion carries no weight otherwise.

    I am tired of adolescent male bravado, and would like a guild free of it.

Anyways, that's my ideal guild. I wonder how close I can get.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Loken

Loken in Halls of Lightning is an interesting fight. Currently, Loken is the mob with the most kills of players each day. I haven't done Loken on Heroic yet, only regular, but I've been watching some threads about him.

Loken has a bunch of abilities, but we'll only concentrate on two. First, he does a Lightning Nova with a long cast time, somewhat short radius, and lots of AoE damage. Second, he has an Aura which does more nature damage to you the farther away you are.

There are two strategies to deal with this. The first, "correct", strategy is to run away from Loken when he starts casting his Nova. The second strategy is to all cluster at Loken's feet, take the damage, and simply heal through it.

A lot of Holy paladins are complaining about Loken because we are singularly unsuited to healing the second strategy. AoE healers can cope with the second strategy in a much easier manner.

What's really interesting about the fight is that the first strategy is brittle. If everyone runs out successfully, then very little damage is taken, making it easy to heal. However, if a player is slightly slow to react, they may get caught by the edge of the Nova. And they end up taking *more* damage from Loken's Aura than if they had stayed at his feet. That can easily kill them, which makes losing the fight more likely.

The second strategy is robust. The damage taken is a fixed, known quantity. As long as you can heal through it, you're good. There's a high initial barrier, but once that barrier is met, the fight becomes a lot easier. Not to mention that it increases the time DPS stays on Loken, making the fight end faster.

Ghostcrawler is insisting that this fight is still doable by healing paladins. And he's probably right. But if there's a brute-force strategy that paladins can't use, the player base will probably push towards that. Perhaps the only real solution would be to make Nova insta-gib people, forcing people to run out.

Edit: corrected the description of Loken's Aura.

Updates

I don't know if I mentioned it, but I moved back to Skywall at the beginning of Wrath. I really did not like playing on a PvP server.

So I'm guildless, and have been trying to PuG as Retribution. I've done a couple of heroics, but it's quite hard to get groups as DPS. There's a significant healer shortage. It's driving me closer and closer to Holy. I don't really want to, but going Holy just makes so much sense.

I'm at the point where I really need to decide on what to do. Logging in and sitting in LFG for hours while doing dailies is very boring.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Culling of Stratholme

I had a chance to do the new Caverns of Time instance, The Culling of Stratholme, yesterday. My impressions are fairly negative. It is a rather disappointing instance, at least compared to Durnholde and Black Morass.

First off, Blizz makes it very easy for you by having all the citizens turn into Scourge very quickly. Arthas kills a couple civilians, but the vast majority of the time is spent killing undead. It sort of negates the whole impact of this event. In Blizzard's lore, the slaughter of civilians in Stratholme is where Arthas crosses the line, where Uther and Jaina abandon him. However, this instance pretty much puts Arthas on the right side, as everyone in the city seems to be converted to Scourge already. Of course, it would be hard to have players killing civilians, but that's the problem with choosing this event in the first place.

Second, Blizzard is too attached to the whole tourist angle for the Caverns of Time. Warcraft lore is decent B-level fantasy, in my opinion, but it is not strong enough to support tourists. It really only works when the player is a active participant. Maybe Lord of the Rings Online could get away with this, but I don't think Warcraft can. WoW needs the active threat, the notion that the players are needed, to work.

In the first two Caverns of Time instances, the Infinite Dragonflight supplied the motivation for the players to get involved. In Stratholme, they're pretty much an afterthought. They are only in one small section, as the second-to-last boss. It feels like Blizzard just added them in because everyone complained about Hyjal. You could strip them out and--aside from missing one boss--the instance would pretty much be the same.

So that's my view on The Culling of Stratholme. It's a mediocre instance that's little more than a glorified cutscene of an event from Warcraft III. Rather disappointing, really.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hand of Reckoning

Hand of Protection - short term utility buff cast on friendly target
Hand of Freedom - short term utility buff cast on friendly target
Hand of Salvation - short term utility buff cast on friendly target
Hand of Sacrifice - short term utility buff cast on friendly target
Hand of Reckoning - taunt cast on enemy

One of these is not like the others. Blizzard, please change the name to something more appropriate.

(Just to be clear, Blessing of Reckoning, Seal of Reckoning, and Judgement of Reckoning are also inappropriate names.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Paid Character Customization

Or as Blizzard calls it, Re-Customization:

Character Re-Customization is a paid service that lets you change an existing character's gender, face, skin color, and other cosmetic features determined by his or her race and gender combination. When you perform a Character Re-Customization, you may also change the character's hair color and hair style (similar to the in-game barbershop) and select a new name, if desired.

I dunno, I don't think I would pay $15 to change my character's gender. But then again, it's better than leveling a brand new character. I know some people who really regretted making their character a specific gender, and I guess they would be happy with this.

Does this count as RMT? It sort of is, and it sort of isn't. To be honest, more than anything else, I think the price for this, name changes, and server transfers is to offer the service to players who really want it, but keep the demand low.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Storm Peaks and Icecrown

I finished Storm Peaks and Icecrown over the weekend.[1] Both were very good zones. In particular, the first set of quests with the Argent Crusade was great. For the first time, the world changed with you as you accomplished goals.

I was stuck at 139/140 quests for Icecrown for the longest time. I could not find any other quests, and normally Blizzard gives you a little leeway in the quest count for the achievement. Finally after looking up the quests on Wowhead, I found I had missed one questline that started from a drop. I had just never killed that mob type before.

There are two things that disappointed in Icecrown. First, it doesn't come to an end. It's like the first book in a trilogy. All the other zones told a full story. I guess we'll have to wait for a later patch to finish the story. Second, Blizzard stopped doing voiceovers for the Lich King quest cutscenes. I think the Lich King voiceovers really added something to those scenes when they occurred in previous zones, and hopefully they put them in at some point.

I do have to give Blizzard credit for putting the Arthas front and center for this expansion, and really integrating him with the questing. It's a very refreshing change from trend of major storylines which only occur in raids.

So questing is pretty much done for me, and now I have to turn my attention to the other parts of the game. I still haven't decided what to do yet.

Also, where are all the breadcrumb quests that lead into the high end dungeons and raids? Isn't there a quest which sends you to Naxx? It might be deliberate, to allow non-raiders a true sense of completion, rather than having quests in the log which they will never be able to do. If this is the case, I'm not really sure how I feel about that. I can see the advantages, but it also seems wrong somehow.

[1] Technically I have one quest left in Icecrown. But on Skywall it's been bugged for the last few days. Hopefully it will get fixed during the server reset.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

QBar

I've been trying the mod QBar recently.

It's a very simple mod that automatically puts usable quest items on a bar for you. It makes questing easier, as the button for the whatever items you need to use is always in the same place. No need to dig through bags, or try and keep some regular bar space free. No need to worry about cleaning up unused icons after the quest.

It's a great small mod that does one thing, but does it very well.

Questing Updates

The trouble with talking about the next few zones in Wrath is that they are chock-full of spoilers. Especially Dragonblight. Dragonblight is spoiler-city.

Since my last update, I've done Dragonblight, Grizzly Hills, Zul'Drak and Sholazar Basin. The rule of two levels per zone held very well. All the zones are very good, with lots of interesting quests.

I strongly recommend doing Grizzly Hills before Zul'Drak. There is a major questline in Grizzly Hills which sets up Zul'Drak.

I also felt that the rate of gaining gear upgrades was perfect. I was in mostly T4, and I was slowly replacing epics with good blues, starting at around level 74. It was a very gradual process, and felt just right to me. I didn't replace an epic with a green until Storm Peaks. (Technically, I'm also wearing green boots, but that's because I accidentally disenchanted my blue Retribution boots.)

I also did the dungeons Azjol-Nerub, Old Kingdom, Drak'Tharon, and Gundrak. They're solid dungeons. The last fight in Old Kingdom is spectacularly awesome, with an elegant and seamless use of phasing.

Phasing in general is used more and more. In particular, Dragonblight contains the first use of permanent phasing. After a quest, one area of the world is permanently changed. This is very interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Blizzard does when they become comfortable with this technology.

Sacred Shield is really nice for Ret soloing. It doesn't seem to improve with Sheath of Light, but the extra crit chance on FoL means you can keep Sheathed FoLs ticking on you all the time. Sacred Shield -> Art of War -> Instant critical FoL with ticking Sheath HoT. It's very useful for soloing elites. Plus even 500 damage reduction is nothing to sneeze at in solo content.

Two more zones of questing to go, and then I'll have to figure out what to do for endgame. I also have an odd desire to go Holy and heal some instances. Retribution is fun for soloing, but it's sort of boring in instances.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Normalize Illumination

In addition to taking a look at crit talents, perhaps it is time that Illumination got normalized. Currently its effect varies wildly with the spell. With Flash of Light, a crit will restore 123 mana/sec. With Holy Light, a crit will restore 306 mana/sec.

Essentially, Illumination is almost three times as good with Holy Light than it is with Flash of Light.

I think Blizzard does not have an issue with paladins having really high crit rates on Flash of Light. Witness Sacred Shield, which gives the paladin an occasional 50% bonus to FoL crit rates. However, when Holy Light gets really high crit rates, things go crazy.

What I would suggest is weighting Illumination in favor of Flash of Light. Something like a FoL or Holy Shock crit returns 75% of the cost (153 mana/sec), but a HL crit only returns 30% of the cost (153 mana/sec).

(Numbers can be adjusted for balance. This is just a demonstration.)

Of course, Sanctified Illumination would be really bad, so that talent will have to be replaced. But the crit talents need to be looked at anyways.