Monday, September 24, 2018

War Mode Imbalance

I came across an interesting post on Reddit, Warmode is fastly becoming unplayable by Alliance players:
I have two 120 character I play everyday. One horde and one alliance. Both with war mode on all the time because I like world PvP. With the Horde character it's almost always peaceful. I attack almost any Alliance I come across, but there are just too few of them. 
But when I log on my Alliance character, dear God. Champions of Azeroth quests are the worst, with 10, 20 hordies against me alone. It doesn't matter if I'm playing on an Alliance dominated realm (77% at level 120, according to Realmpop), because the horde comes from many different realms.
And here we have the latest in a long history of examples, dating from Ultima Online, that when given a choice, people choose the non-PvP option, especially when it's likely they will lose.

So how would we fix this, or at least bring it up to reasonable parity?

Here's my idea:
  • Balance War Mode zones to be equal Horde and Alliance. Move all unmatched Horde players into empty zones without Alliance. Better some Horde have no Alliance to kill, than all Horde. These Horde would still get the War Mode bonus.
  • War Mode raids automatically get moved into an empty zone. As well, the War Mode bonus stops applying in raids.
Basically, we are trying to guarantee two things. First, War Mode is always equal in terms of numbers. Second, War Mode is about individual and small group combat.  There's no more forming a large raid and steam-rolling all the opposition.

I think those two guarantees would be enough to allow Alliance to feel like there is a level playing field, and make them more willing to try War Mode. Restricting War Mode to small groups also feels more even.

The downside, though, is that you do give up the raid vs raid clashes, as in the old days of Southshore and Tarren Mill.  It also would make Capital City raids, to kill faction leaders, rather weird. You might need special rules for faction zones.

But I think it would improve the day-to-day experience of War Mode in the regular leveling and expansion zones.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Seasonal Alts

In the Reddit AMA, Watcher discusses alts:
We're often torn when it comes to questions about alt progression, alt catch-up mechanisms, or account-wide systems. Philosophically, what's the point of an alt? For one group of players, the primary desire is to jump into participating in endgame activities from a different perspective (a PvP alt, or a healer alt for a change of pace from your usual DPS main, or whatever). In that context, almost any required progression can feel like a nuisance - an obstacle in the way to the desired endpoint of being raid-ready, or arena-viable. 
For another group of players, an alt represents a fresh set of goals to pursue after reaching a point of diminishing returns on a main, whether that's someone who hits max level and then promptly begins leveling another character, or someone who doesn't have many available gear upgrades left on their main and hops over to an alt where progress can once again come quickly. For this type of player, the more things are account-wide, the fewer new goals they have to pursue.
This is a good point on how there are two groups with opposing desires when it comes to alts. Fortunately, Blizzard has a game which has already solved this problem: Diablo 3.

Normally, new characters in Diablo 3 share a lot of elements: access to followers, crafters and recipes, and a common stash. But Diablo 3 also has "seasonal" characters, which are a new character which does not share anything with the others. The character lasts for the season, and at the end converts into a normal character.

This might be a good system to bring to WoW. Allow people to create seasonal characters, which:
  • cannot use heirlooms
  • cannot receive mail from non-seasonal characters
  • cannot trade with non-seasonal characters
  • cannot access guild banks
  • do not share currency or reputations
  • cannot be boosted
Then allow normal characters to share reputations, and maybe other elements like a common bank stash, or even currencies.

Throw in some achievements, and maybe a pet or mount reward for levelling a seasonal character from 20 to 120 (start at 20 so that you can level Allied races). Maybe automatically give out an old tier set cosmetic armour. That's enough of an excuse for people to try out seasonal characters.  You can link the seasons to the PvP seasons, as they already exist.

I think this would solve the issue between the two groups of people who want to create alts. It would also create a new track of gameplay for people who are so inclined.

Personally, I really like Diablo 3 seasons. It gives you a reason to start a fresh character and level it to max, as well as several points where you can stop and feel satisfied with what you've accomplished. Seasons would be a good system to port to WoW, especially with all the new Allied Races.

Monday, September 17, 2018

More thoughts on Island Expeditions

Since my last post on Island Expeditions, I've done a bunch more. I do them on Heroic difficult now. Most of the time we win, but I have had a couple of losses. Here are a few more thoughts on Island Expeditions:

  • Island Expeditions are a lot more tractable when you start with a clear plan. I usually play with random groups, so it's very hit and miss. Generally, you follow the one person who's most willing to charge ahead. But I did a couple of expeditions with guild members, and we started with a very simple "Go for the X to the east, hitting diamonds, skulls, and quests along the way". Somehow just having that plan at the beginning made the expedition much easier to handle. It was a lot easier to predict where the team would stop and in which direction they would go.
  • Island Expeditions need more varied palettes in flora and fauna. Really, you should be able to identify the island just by the view from the ship at the start. Instead, your first sight is always a tropical beach with some crocodiles. This adds to a feeling of sameness with expeditions. Blizzard should have started with fewer, more distinctive islands.
  • Having Azerite elementals is a mistake. Right now, you run from a beach with crocodiles and end up in an area with Aerite elementals. This adds to feeling of sameness. Both the beginning and end of your charge are the same in every island. Start on a beach with crocodiles, run to the Azerite elementals. As well, you have to fight the Azerite elementals in world quests as well, and they're relatively uninteresting mechanically.
  • Island Expeditions should focus on skulls. In contrast to the elementals, hunting skulls is fun. They're always different creatures, with different abilities and minions. Remove the red X deposits, or have them spawn with a random skull and greatly empower the skull enemy.
  • Encountering the enemy Horde is odd. Maybe this is just coincidence, but in both of my losses, we never encountered the Horde. It feels like, in an average pickup Heroic group, the Horde's ability to collect Azerite outstrips ours. But we can kill them, and set them back enough to pretty much guarantee victory. It's always a close game until the Horde is encountered. It's slightly annoying too, because after you kill them once, they keep coming back and making things take longer. So it feels like you want to see the Horde, because it guarantees a victory, but it also guarantees that the rest of match will take longer and be more annoying ("Sneaky Pete!"). I don't really know how to fix this, or even if it is something that should be fixed.
  • I would like to see a variant that wasn't a race. Perhaps something where all the enemies are tougher and deal more damage, but a single death is automatically a loss. Though that might make tanks and healers mandatory. Perhaps disallow tank and healer specialisations, since every class has a damage specialisation.
Those are some more thoughts on Island Expeditions. After playing several, they're reasonably fun. I do enough to get the weekly quest, and I like doing that. However, I think a few tweaks here and there, especially a greater focus on the skull enemies, could make Island Expeditions better.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Reddit AMA with Ion Hazzikostas

On Friday, Reddit had an Ask Me Anything with WoW's Game Director Ion Hazzikostas (WatcherDev, formerly Gurgthock from Elitist Jerks). It's a very interesting read. Watcher talks a bit about all the perceived issues with the new content in BfA.

For some reason, Reddit (and MMO-Champion) seem to have a lot of issues with Battle for Azeroth. I am not really onboard with the majority of their complaints.

To me, the "meat-and-potatoes" of BfA, the questing, the dungeons, mythic+, the raids, are the best they've ever been. That's where I spend the bulk of my time. A few of the newer "side-dishes" could probably be improved. But even then I don't really think any of them are outright bad. I think the complaints are overblown, and more a community circle-jerking than serious issues that greatly affect players.

Reading Ion's responses, though, I do think that the WoW team is not paying enough attention to "first impressions". They seem to be designing for the steady state, how things play months into the expansion. That's probably good, as it's been a flaw in the past. Something seems amazing on first glance (say Legion legendaries) but five months down the line every one hates it.

But the WoW team are stumbling on the new mechanic's first impression. People look at the new element, or try it once, and aren't excited. This is a real problem that the WoW team needs to address.

The other major issue I saw is that Blizzard is moving to a model where class specializations have strengths and weaknesses. But they have not communicated to use exactly what strengths and weaknesses our specializations actually are supposed to have.

Having strengths and weaknesses doesn't bother me, as I play a Holy Paladin. We're pretty much the archetype for a specialization with true strengths and weaknesses and have been for most of the game's history. We're strong in single/double target healing, and bad at healing many targets at once. So I'm used to it. But I can see how the specializations (especially DPS) which were well-rounded are now disconcerted that they don't have mobility, or lower AoE damage, etc. compared to their compatriots.

I do think that Blizzard should explicitly lay out the expected strengths and weaknesses of each class specialization.

In any case, the AMA with Ion is well worth the read.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Venturing into Heroic Uldir

This week, we decided to go into Heroic Uldir after killing the first 7 bosses in Normal. We didn't actually get attempts on Normal G'huun. I rather think we won't actually attempt it until we get stuck in Heroic. The lure of higher item level gear is too strong for our leadership.

Heroic Taloc

This fight was more or less the same as Normal, except there are laser beams below the elevator as it descends. You have to look below the elevator to see where the beam is, and make sure you avoid it as the elevator goes through it.

In our first attempt, I think everyone was trying to look for the beams. We successfully avoided them all, but the adds on the elevator wiped us. In the second attempt, we paid more attention to the adds and did the fight successfully.

Realistically, if you move as a group, you only need a few people watching for beams. The rest of the group just follows them around while focusing on adds.

Heroic Mother

This fight has a new mechanic in the second room where lasers come down from the ceiling and there is a row of swirlies which mark the safe spot. In the first attempt we all thought the swirlies denoted danger, and got wiped out by the lasers.

We also killed Mother in the second room, and never moved to the third room, where I gather there is another new mechanic.

Heroic Fetid Devourer

This guy hits like a truck. The mechanics are fairly straightforward, but it's pretty much a gear check for your tanks and healers. And in a way, dps as well, as you need to kill the boss before you run out of cooldowns.

We even lost the Thrash tank near the end, and then starting bleeding dps as different melee would run in and try to pop cooldowns to take the Thrash attack.

Heroic Vectis

This is fight we're currently working on. Unfortunately, the strategy we're following requires some choreographed movement to deal with the blood vectors safely. Choreographed movement is a great weakness of ours. So I don't think everyone in the raid really understands it.

We'll see how it goes next week.

I wonder if we will drop Normal and continue working on Heroic. We have three bosses worth of loot, and I think we could to five. That's enough for a reasonable farm, and we'd be able to get back one and a half raid nights to work on Heroic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Azerite Armor

The major new mechanical system in Battle for Azeroth is Azerite Armor. It's kind of a cross between Legion legendaries and artifact weapons. Like artifact weapons, you empower your neckpiece by collecting Azerite Power. Then your head, shoulders, and chest are special pieces which have abilities that unlock based on your Azerite level. You can usually choose one ability from four or so choices.

There are three or four rings which can be unlocked. The first ring has abilities which modify your powers. The second-last ring has defensive abilities, and the last ring gives +5 item levels. Raid gear has a second outer ring with offensive passives.

However, unlike legendaries, it's not a completely random system. Specific pieces have specific abilities, so you can farm exactly the abilities you want. Azerite pieces also don't warforge, so you don't have to worry about getting a better version.

It's not a bad system, but it isn't a great system either.

The greatest flaw is that it's not an exciting system. It's a very "Spike" system, to use Magic: the Gathering terminology.[1] A Legion legendary drop was an event. It was rare, and was raw power compared to normal gear. The only problem was that some legendaries were much more valuable than others. A similar thing happened with Artifact weapons. Getting one was another event, and then you unlocked this giant tree of abilities which you worked on filling out. The anticipation of having a completed weapon was very attractive.

Compared to those systems, Azerite Armor lacks sizzle. Most of the power is in that first ring, so it's very front-loaded. The final reward, +5 item levels, is useful, but rather boring.

The other issue with Azerite Armor is that there is a corner case which is a bad experience if it happens to you. If your necklace is behind on Azerite levels, and you loot a very high ilevel piece, none of the rings are unlocked, and the armor feels useless. It's not quite as bad as getting the "worst" legendary, though. Your comparative power to other players is still the same, and you can leave the armor in your bags until you achieve the required level and you've got an instant upgrade then.

For the most part, though, I think Azerite Armor will play well. It will give players something achievable to chase, kind of like set gear, but without the massive gap between those who have the item and those who don't. It's also different from normal armor, where you chase secondary stats. You also get to collect different sets of Azerite Armor for different specs, but you can get by with only those 3 pieces (and trinkets and weapons).

It's just a very boring system, compared to the pure excitement of the Legion gear systems. Azerite Armor may very well be better in day-to-day play, though. It might have been better received if Azerite Armor had been the mechanic for the next expansion, to put some space between it and Legion.

1. "Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill of Magic is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory."

Monday, September 10, 2018

Wildstar Closing, Eve Online Sold

Last week had some big news in the MMO world. NCSoft announced that Wildstar and Carbine Studios would be closing down. Eve Online developer CCP was purchased by Pearl Abyss, who make Black Desert.

Wildstar Closes

This news is unsurprising. The game never got traction. Even a switch from subscription to F2P didn't help. Apparently there was a lot of internal drama in the studio as well. There are a lot of potential causes for Wildstar's failure: the focus on the hardcore, the polarizing marketing campaigns, the telegraph action mechanics, the sci-fi'ish setting.

I think Wildstar's base mechanics just required too much intensity for an MMO. Casual play was tiring. I remember giving up at level 15 or so in the beta because it was just too much.

I also saw a comment saying something similar about high end gameplay. It was challenging enough that "farm mode" really never existed, and even high-end raiders got exhausted with the pace.

Also, being sworn at on level up really, really annoyed me. Hopefully, every game takes this to heart and never does it again.

Previous posts on Wildstar:

Black Pearl buys CCP

The most amusing thing about this is that it pretty much shuts up Eve Online partisans from now on. "Oh, the game that was bought out by a Korean publisher" is a leveller in any argument.

Though, honestly, I think this was more about CCP being unable to make a second successful game and grow as a company. Eve Online becomes a division of a larger company and the stockholders get to cash out.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Eve. Everyone fears more aggressive monetization, but I think if Eve is relatively stable in revenue, that won't happen. It's quite an old game now, so I don't think anyone is expecting it to suddenly spike in popularity.

It will also be interesting to see if Eve gets a Korean version. That market might be more receptive to a cutthroat PvP game like Eve.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Uldir First Impressions

The first raid of Battle For Azeroth, Uldir, has opened.

From the Alliance perspective, this raid is a little weird because it seems to be tied entirely to the Horde story line. The Alliance are basically tourists following Brann Bronzebeard on his eternal quest to release more Old Gods into the world. I guess this is one drawback of having two very different faction stories in the expansion.

My guild has decided to be a little more hardcore this expansion. We're looking at raiding 3 nights a week, and ultimately aiming to move into Mythic difficulty. I'm going along with it, but ultimately I am doubtful of things working out. I don't think we're really prepared for the roster management that Mythic requires. I also think we're pretty weak at time management, movement, and positioning. Attributes which Mythic will stress. But maybe attempting Mythic will force us to realise that and improve those weaknesses.

In any case, we tried Normal Uldir to start. We killed the first five bosses on Tuesday. They're all pretty decent.

The second boss, Mother, is particularly interesting because you have to slowly funnel raiders from one room to the next, while still handling mechanics and leaving enough dps on the boss in the previous room. It will be quite interesting to see pick-up groups handling this.

On Wednesday, we killed the sixth boss, Zul. This one took us quite a while, as it involves a lot of target switching. It's a pretty interesting fight overall, though. The boss takes control of people and forces them to jump off the platform. You have to cleanse them before they reach the edge. That creates adds which need to be purged/dispelled to be defeated. Interesting mechanics which I don't think we're really seen before.

The seventh boss, Mythrax, is funny because you have to jump down into his room, and that automatically starts the fight. We had an attempt or two which happened because someone overshot the edge and fell down too early.

For holy paladins, I have a feeling BfA is going to be a return to focused tank healing. Stand within 10 yards of your tank so you get full mastery and aura and keep them alive.

All in all, Uldir looks like like an excellent raid instance, and a great start to raiding in the expansion.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Mythics in BfA

I did several Mythics last week.

In general, they aren't that difficult with a tank that pulls safely. You know, pull back to the group so other groups don't get accidentally pulled, use crowd control occasionally, etc.

Trash can be difficult, especially if you get multiple packs at once. I would rotate cooldowns for the trash packs to make life easier. Avenging Wrath - Holy Avenger - Blessing of Sacrifice - Holy Avenger, one per trash pack, was a good pattern that made healing easier.

I strongly recommend Beacon of Virtue for Holy Paladins as well. There's a lot of group damage going out in heroics.

The only bosses that I found unusually difficult were the Triad in Waycrest Manor and the end boss of Shrine of the Storms. Triad you can jump instead of moving, and using Heroism on the second witch got us past that.

Most of the bosses are mechanics checks. Do the mechanics correctly and the fight is easy enough.

One trend I found is that a Brewmaster Monk tank is bad sign in a group. I don't know why, if they are underpowered, or if it's a difficult class to play, but all the dungeons where I had a Brewmaster tank were a lot more difficult than they needed to be. They also seemed a lot more resistant to pulling safely than the other tanks, for some reason.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Kul Tiras

I finally finished Kul Tiras story. It was a solid ending, and quite enjoyable. I really liked Siege of Boralus as well. Using the main city as the dungeon was lots of fun. I did it at i315 with a group in Party Finder who were looking to finish the quest as well.

All the Kul Tiras zones were good. I liked how there was a main story quest line through the zone, but it only took about 40-50% of the quests, with the remainder being side quests to flesh out the country.

I did Tirgaarde Sound first, which focused on the Ashvane company. Then Stormsong to find the fleet, and finally Drustvar. I would recommend switching Drustvar and Stormsong, and going Tirgaarde Sound to Drustvar to Stormsong.

Drustvar was really interesting as well. In many modern books and movies, it feels like witches are usually portrayed as misunderstood, and the prejudice and ignorance of the peasantry is the real evil. Also shades of feminism conflicting with an evil patriarchy, or men being threatened by women with power.

Drustvar played it straight. Witches exist and they are evil. Burn them in righteous fire. It actually felt quite refreshing, and oddly unique. And you get an "Inquisitor" title, excellent for paladins.

All in all, Kul Tiras is an excellent country for World of Warcraft. It actually feels kind of daunting to realize that I still have an entire second country still to do.