23 January 2008

What not to wear (part 2)

So if you followed my advice in the last post you will be well on your way to an obscenely large pool of shadow damage. There are several ways to get it.

I touched on tailoring last week, and recommend this route for all aspiring raid shadow priests. The three-piece frozen shadoweave set is some of the best caster armour this side of 25-man raids and well within reach of even casual players. The downside: it is bind on pickup, the patterns are only available to tailors with the shadoweave specialisation, and spell bonuses apply only to shadow and frost damage, so your bonus healing will take a hit.

Not all the epic tailoring sets are BoP, so whether you are a tailor or not, you should definitely consider the two-piece spellstrike set and the girdle of ruination. The patterns are rare drops from high-end instance bosses, so not easy to get hold of. But if you have the time or money to invest in materials, you will usually be able to find someone to craft them for a modest fee (about 100 g on my server).

While we're looking at crafting professions, it's worth considering the eternium runed blade, which with 168 spell damage is one of the best main-hand weapons outside of raids. Be warned though, it'll cost you. Materials may stretch you to 900 g and you can expect to pay 1500 g at auction. If you don't have easy access to the materials, you're probably better off going down another route.

There are some very shiny quest rewards, reputation rewards and boss drops out there which we can loosely lump together as running instances. Tempest touch gloves, a quest reward from the caverns of time, and terrok's legacy, an offhand reward from sethekk hall, are a very good place to start, both because of their nice stats and the fact that you can easily get them before 70.

After that, there is a whole plethora of lovely blue and purple toys for you to covet but it can be hard to know where to start. Bosses never drop what you want, and reputation grinding can be too tedious to bother. If you try to do all things at once you'll probably never finish anything, so my advice is to pick one item at a time and focus on getting it. Heroic rewards can be a good route to go. You can earn badges of justice from any heroic boss, plus get extra from the daily quest, which takes some of the tedium out of running the same instances over and over. In return, you can snap up the orb of the soul eater and carved witch doctor's stick, arguably the best off-hand and wand respectively in the game.

Reputation-wise, the gavel of unearthed secrets is a good alternative to the eternium runed blade if you can stomach auchindoun long enough to reach exalted with lower city. And, although not strictly gear, the glyph of power from the sha'tar at revered is the best choice for a head enchant.

The final route for gearing up pre-raiding is PVP, either through battlegrounds or areans. A lot of my guild mates have followed this route with some success. I am reliably informed that, for battleground honour at least, it's an easy grind, and certainly the items can look very appealing. They are much higher in stamina and intellect than PVE equivalents without seemingly compromising on spell damage. As you might have guessed, I know very little about this subject, not being much of a PVPer myself. But even with one envious eye on my colleagues, I can take comfort in the knowledge that my inferior gear is more suitable to raid DPS in one small but vital way, because while PVP gear is loaded with resilience, mine has spell hit.

And now I've rambled on for long enough. That promised look at spell hit will just have to wait till next time.

16 January 2008

What not to wear (part 1)

Being purple and transparent, I don't much care what my clothes look like. Still, this game does require a certain amount of fashion sense — enough to know what gear will enhance your class, spec and play style the most. A warrior with intellect or a hunter with a fiery weapon is a sad sight, like a transvestite in their mother's clothes. But figuring out what stats look best on you is the easy part. The real trick is finding the gear to match. And for shadow priests, it inevitably involves some compromise.

The basic advice for levelling priests is to balance intellect, spirit and stamina and add spell damage where you can. If you're specced shadow, you should have five points in spirit tap to reduce down-time in-between fights. With enough spirit, you will rarely need to drink at all in solo play.

As you progress through Outland, the choices become more difficult. The good news is that stamina and intellect are abundant, and this kind of gear usually comes with a smattering of spell damage. It's quite easy to build up a substantial quota of spell damage simply through quest rewards. The trouble is that spirit doesn't really feature on dps gear, so as your spell damage increases your mana efficiency will decline. Speccing into discipline for meditation will help, as will vampiric touch, but the returns from spirit tap will slowly decline and you will find yourself drinking more often in-between fights.

At 70, you face a dilemma. If you want to raid, you need to improve your spell damage. The consensus for Karazhan entry seems to be about +700 shadow damage. But this comes at a cost. The best spell damage gear provides less intellect and stamina. My own health and mana pools are lower now than when I first hit 70. Add to that the high threat caused by vampiric embrace and vampiric touch and you become incredibly squishy.

That's the price of raiding shadow. In return, you will provide more health and mana to your party, which at the end of the day is your reason for being there in the first place, so perhaps it's not a bad compromise after all.

There's one other stat that raiding shadow priests need to consider that I haven't covered here, and that's spell hit. More on that next time, along with some hints on how to gear up for raiding when you hit 70.

11 January 2008

My place in the (5-man) world

I ran Sethekk Halls last night, giving me a rare chance to blow the dust off shackle.

Shackle undead is a priest's only means of crowd control, and it's a beauty. At max rank it will chain a mob to the spot and prevent them from causing any damage for 50 seconds. The only limitation is in the name — it only works on undead.

Most groups in Sethekk Halls contain at least one undead, so for the first time in Outland I found myself in need for more than just my face-melting abilities. And it made me realise how limited my normal contribution is to a 5-man group. Outland instances are very reliant on crowd control and so you would usually look first to rogues, mages and hunters to fill you dps spots.

Sure, I can buff. Nice to have. I can burn mobs down, but any class can do that. I can restore mana and health to the group, but in 5-mans where the mobs go down quickly, the benefits are marginal. I can even mind control, but the spell is so unreliable and is such a drain on 5-man dps that I don't really consider it viable cc. To be honest, right now my spot in a group could easily go to anyone else.

That's why I am so excited about Wrath of the Lich King expansion. A Scourge theme promises a lot more in the way of undead instances and with it a much-needed utility role for shadow priests in small groups.

And I've been thinking about ways the class could be developed to cement that spot in a group. My ideas so far:

  • Shackle could be expanded to cover demons too. It certainly seems to fit with the lore. Why shouldn't masters of light have power over creatures of the underworld? This overlaps somewhat with the warlock banish ability, but I'm not sure that matters. After all, hunters can trap anything.
  • Shadowform could include an aura. Don't get me wrong, shadowform is already very sweet, but I like the idea that a priest in shadow form would give off some kind of buff or debuff, perhaps a flat reduction in damage by mobs, or a small spell hit increase to party members.
  • Make mind control more like enslave demon, so instead of effectively 'switching' to the mind-controlled character, it becomes a pet with an action bar and controls, leaving you free to continue to dps. The duration could be the same, or even reduced, but the reliability of the spell would have to be improved to make this a viable form of cc.
  • Make divine spirit trainable. It's about time. Let all priests carry this fab little buff to the benefit of the whole group. Spec for improved divine spirit if you want.
I really don't think any of these ideas are particularly class-breaking. I want other things which probably would be — more direct-damage spells, an increase to crit bonuses and an aoe attack. I can live in hope. But I'd take any one of the things on the list above before them. What do you think? Overpowered? Underwhelming? What's on the top of your wish list for the expansion?

2 January 2008

The meaning of life

Are you the roleplaying type? I didn't think I was. I picked quests based on how easy they were to finish or the rewards I earned and went about my business with a jolly, egalitarian gusto. I dismissed my magic addiction and decided not to ask why I was on a different side to the night elves, focusing instead on my superior fashion sense. When your main goal is levelling, questions or lore and existence are easily overlooked. But the longer I spend at 70, the harder it is to ignore the historical and political context of the game or the rich back story.

My first real angst hit a couple of weeks ago when I decided to switch allegiance from scryer to aldor. The scryers are blood elves, horde; how could I slope off in the middle of the night and join those funny draenei folk? For the shoulder inscription, of course, and the auchenai staff. And you know, killing demons for insignias is a lot more palatable than killing other blood elves, even if they are on the wrong side. So that's how I chose to justify it. That doesn't mean the decision hasn't left a bad taste in my mouth and I'll be glad to set off for Northrend when the expansion lands.

Questions of loyalty are nothing compared to my current existential crisis. As a shadow priest, I choose the power of shadow magic at the exclusion of holy magic. Or to put it another way, I chose shadow over light. If I was to get philosophical about this (and after a few glasses of red wine I'm liable to), it's hard not to see a priest's talent choices in terms of good and evil. There is a clear correlation in the game between holy magic and the 'light' — which, in the absence of any clear deities, is as close to religion as the game gets. Well, we're priests after all. But what does it mean to turn from the light to darkness? Have I, as the language implies, turned from good to evil?

I don't see any other classes struggling with matters of life and death. I mean, what does a druid or a hunter have to worry about compared to a magic-addicted defrocked priest facing an eternity of damnation?

You see? It's a slippery slope, this game. If you're not careful, before long you'll be writing custom emotes and taking confession from those tree-felling orc shammies.