29 September 2008

Seven achievements you won't see in WotLK

(But respect for trying.)

  1. Social pariah — be on the ignore list of 100 players simultaneously.

  2. Chief corruptor — turn 20 holy priests to shadow (class: priest).

  3. Conscientious objector — AFK your way through 100 battlegrounds.

  4. Party animal — get drunk and dance with 50 raid and dungeon bosses.

  5. The devourer — cannibalise the corpses of 100 human players (race: undead).

  6. The tormentor — screw up 10 escort quests for the opposing faction by killing the NPC.

  7. Chief inspector — inspect 1000...

[post becomes unintelligible at this point]

26 September 2008

Shadow priests: a study in trust

Long post. Rather preachy. Sorry. But did you see Koraa's comments on the forums earlier this week? This one sentence stood out for me, as for many others:

In a nutshell, we feel we’ve made a lot of progress in our goal of bumping the Shadow Priest DPS numbers/scaling to where we want it to be.

I initially reacted quite poorly (read: steam came out of my ears) and was going to blog about how uninformed he must be. Then I had an out-of-body experience and saw how ridiculous I looked (steam notwithstanding).

I don't even have a beta key; what do I know? Koraa is in fact one of the most qualified people in the game to judge the state of shadow priests in Wrath, which makes the outpouring of scorn and abuse that followed his discussion all the more shocking. I really had to take a step back and re-evaluate my own attitude.

Suddenly, the whole dispute looked rather familiar. You see I work in internal communications, where I spend a lot of time dealing with feedback from staff who think the leaders of our organisation don't know what they're doing, that everything they say is at best spin, or more often just plain lies, and who feel that every decision made will result in the total annihilation of the company and their livelihoods. Wow, where have I heard that before?

I'm not sure where it all went wrong for Blizzard. When you look at some of the key concerns of shadow priests, (pvp survivability, mana efficiency and end-game scaling and itemisation), all have been addressed to some extent in the beta. Even if the execution of some spells leaves a little to be desired, surely it shouldn't feel as apocalyptic as it does. No wonder Koraa doesn't know what we're complaining about.

What it all boils down to, I think, is a lack of trust. Somewhere along the line, Blizzard has lost the trust of shadow priests, and this dispute is the result. This doesn't exclude the possibility that the class really is broken, but I think the fact that so many uninformed people are prepared to take the view of detractors over Blizzard says more about the state of customer relations than it does class balance.

One major contributory factor must surely be the lack of transparency with the development process. We have no clear iteration of Blizzard's vision for shadow priests, so we have no context in which to view certain decisions. We don't know how changes are arrived at. And instead of explaining why certain decisions are made, they are simply released without explanation. Sometimes, they are overturned just as impulsively. It's understandable that not every feature of a beta will make it to live, but unexplained quick changes and reversions look ill-considered and unprofessional.

I suspect another factor in the breakdown of trust is the inconsistent approach Blizzard has taken to development across the classes. When a shadow priest sees one class developer on the forums explicitly requesting feedback on, say, titan's grip or metamorphosis, they understandably feel overlooked when no such feedback is solicited on their own new talents. Debate and feedback on shadow priest talents have been erratic and unpredictable, which in itself leaves concerned players feeling insecure. It generates perceptions of imbalance and leaves them open to accusations of preferential treatment.

And then there is the 51-point talent, which is a PR disaster in its own right. For shadow priests, with only the one dps tree to choose from, the end talent — the flagship talent, the aspirational talent — must work for all purposes. Admitting that shadow priests would not be viable in pvp without dispersion was a terrible, terrible mistake. It simultaneously said to shadow priests that you can't pvp without it while telling those who don't pvp that it is not intended for them. This, in response to weeks of feedback from experienced pvpers who don't like dispersion and don't want it.

Dispersion may well be the saving grace of shadow (although I doubt it) — it was simply a bad decision to slap it at the top of the tree. This point was brought home to me beautifully by a comment on the forums (sorry I can't find it to link), which asked would we be so upset if dispersion was the level 80 baseline spell and mind sear was the top talent. Well, would we?

These perceptions of shadow priests may not be the reality, but in a battle for trust, reality is irrelevant.

It's unclear how this situation will play out. Blizzard's characteristic secrecy leaves a lot of questions unanswered but it appears that they are hell-bent on giving us dispersion. The class may go on to be one of the dps stars of Wrath as they promise, or it may die a slow, agonising death. The difficulty for concerned shadow priests is finding a hook with which to drive Blizzard into action. In the raiding world of Northrend, where no dps class is vital to a raid, our absence from the rosters may well go unregistered. And it's not like this situation is going to hit Blizzard's revenue — the most vocal players out there are talking about rerolling, not cancelling their subscriptions. It seems there is very little need for Blizzard to win us back.

I also have to ask just how representative forums are of the general player base. The numbers who participate are small in comparison to Blizzard's millions of subscribers, so perhaps Blizzard is even right to ignore them.

At this late stage before release, I can't see Blizzard even attempting a reconciliation with shadow priests. We have a fairly solid idea now what the tree will look like. There may or may not be further changes before release, but unless Blizzard re-evaluates its approach, even the most positive things are likely to be greeted with cynicism. The best we can hope for is that Blizzard is right, and that they have learnt some valuable lessons for the future on how to engage with its customer base and maintain a healthy relationship.

23 September 2008

Frog resists disease, fights back

Armoured mistfrog — is that the coolest name for an amphibian ever?

Sadly it's not the latest family of WoW pets, or even a new mount, it's just an Australian frog once thought to be extinct. This remarkable little croaker has apparently shirked off a nasty fungus that is decimating frog populations globally to make its comeback. Three cheers for amphibian resilience!

Now I want one in WoW. This would make the most amazing Troll racial mount. Or an exotic pet — complete with tongue lash or deafening croak. Gief frogs!

20 September 2008

More quick changes than a Cher concert

Another beta build, another quick retraction from the shadow tree. This time, lolspersion's damage buff has been removed. Are they simply running more tests, or is this final?

Does anyone now think Blizzard has a clue what to do with shadow's premiere talent?

Don't panic, there's plenty of time. No, really...

18 September 2008

Dispersion: where Blizzard went wrong

I made a rare visit to the forums last night to check out the popular opinion on dispersion. I'd say a lot of people are really rather pleased with the buffs it received in the last patch. The fact that it now offers a pve buff as well as survivability has placated raiders, while the ability to activate it when incapacitated gives the talent greater functionality for pvpers. It's a minor PR victory for Blizzard in their development of the priest class.

Well I'm not buying it.

You know what? I think dispersion was a better spell when it returned health but didn't dangle the prospect of a damage buff.

There, I've said it.

Don't get me wrong, I still didn't want it as my 51-point talent. But it made sense as a spell — you could immediately see when and how it could be used.

The problem was it was a purely defensive ability at the pinnacle of a priest's damage tree. How did that happen? Here you had a community of players threatened by the loss of a primary raiding role (mana regeneration) and insecure about their ability to perform, seeing warlocks and mages and hunters getting new and powerful abilities. When dispersion was announced, they saw their futures vanish in a puff of pure shadow energy.

I think what happened is the developers saw feedback and concerns about survivability from pvp shadow priests and mana conservation from pve shadow priests and married the two. Dispersion was a well-intentioned attempt to address both of these issues at once.

As we all know by now, the first iteration of dispersion didn't go down too well with anyone. There was much wailing, pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth, all of which served to muddy the waters and mask the true concerns.

Which was a shame, because those concerns were rather simple. You could actually boil them down to one thing: dispersion silenced you.

Pvp and pve shadow priest were united in their horror of the fact that the top talent of the shadow tree provided absolutely nothing to their primary roles. In fact, in both instances, it would likely serve only to reduce their damage output.

Blizzard had a million options for addressing the survivability of shadow priests, both through new talents and abilities and through changes to existing talents and abilities. And no reasonable person would have expected survivability without a cost. But they choose to pin all their hopes on one imba 51-point talent and seem determined to make it work.

Blizzard could simply have enabled shadow priests to cast while dispersed. Raiders would still have been rather grumpy about it, but it at least wouldn't have cut into their dps. There must have been some pvp reason I don't understand why this option would have been overpowered though, because Blizzard continues to resist the concept.

Instead, in an attempt find a use for dispersion in pve, they have bolted on a completely spurious spell damage buff which only activates if you don't take damage while dispersed.

Let's be absolutely clear what this means — dispersion is now an either/or spell. You can either use it to reduce incoming damage or to buff spell damage. You cannot have both.

Am I the only one who sees the joke? Blizzard invents a spell to improve shadow priest survivability but when it doesn't go down too well they add a secondary mechanic that virtually guarantees no priest will ever intentionally use it to reduce incoming damage.

All raiding priests will build this into their spell cycles to ensure maximum uptime of the buff. Even pvp shadow priests are likely to want the buff over the silence. How could you turn down a 25% boost to dps when your job is to kill things quickly?

Blizzard needs to make up its mind about a few things. Does it believe shadow priests need added survivability? Does it believe shadow priests need increased damage potential? And does it believe it is overpowered to provide both of these things in one spell?

Dispersion sells itself as a spell for all people, but fails to deliver in its execution. By forcing priests to choose one benefit or the other, it fails to address at least one current concern about the class and is simply storing up problems for the future.

I can certainly understand why they are reluctant to go back to the drawing board with shadow — they are running out of time. I personally think pvp survivability issues can't be solved by a magic button and it was misguided to even try, but it looks like dispersion is here to stay.

The good news is it shouldn't be hard to fix. You could balance dispersion in any number of ways to ensure it conveyed survivability and a damage boost — perhaps not to the extent it does either right now, but then however you look at dispersion today, 50% of it is wasted.

It's this waste that really upsets me. We've all heard Blizzard talk about their design philosophy for talents and how they assign values to talents to ensure balance across classes and trees. Clearly, we are loosing out on that value with dispersion as it stands.

That's why I still don't like the spell, why I won't be standing up and cheering for it today, and that's why I hope we haven't seen the last change to it quite yet.

How to flog a dead horse

  1. Locate deceased equine.

  2. Procure whip, birch or similar implement.

  3. Strike carcass liberally.

  4. If response is unforthcoming, apply saddle, braids, blinkers, bells and whistles.

  5. Repeat steps 2-4 ad nauseum.

Alternatively, buff dispersion.

16 September 2008

An end to priest racials

Blizzard has finally nailed its colours to the mast on priest racials — with mixed results.

You'll remember, these are the race-specific spells that priests get access to at levels 10 and 20. They've been a source of controversy and bickering on the priest forums since their conception, and some kind of decisive action on Blizzard's part has been long overdue. Well now, wow insider is reporting that class designer Koraa has announced an end to them altogether.

A few things are happening instead:
  • Devouring plague, the undead dot disease that heals the caster for the damage it does, is becoming baseline, with a reduced mana cost and cooldown.
  • Symbol of hope, the draenei spell that returns mana to the priest's party, is also being baselined. The spell is being renamed hymn of hope, but the amount of mana it returns is being severely reduced.
  • Desperate prayer, the human and dwarf instant-cast, mana-free self heal, is replacing holy nova as a talent. Holy nova is being baselined instead.
  • All other racial spells are being removed.
These changes are largely positive, and I think shadow priests come off particularly well. We get an extra dot, a second way to provide mana to our party, and access to holy nova — finally, an aoe for levelling shadow priests (who won't pick up mind sear till Northrend).

I suspect our holy brethren will also be pleased to get desperate prayer as a talent instead of holy nova, which while fun to use, is rather short on utility.

I'll be keen to see how devouring plague scales, and how it's damage per mana compares with our other spells (right now, it's a hideously expensive spell). And I think it's a shame that symbol of hope had to be nerfed so badly, but I understand why. I for one won't miss any of the other spells.

The important thing to me is that the system is now fair, and no longer penalises people for rolling without prior knowledge of the spells.

That's the positive. Well done Blizzard for finally taking some action on this pernicious topic.

Ultimately, however, the majority of priests will probably view these changes as a missed opportunity. I blogged a few weeks ago about a suggestion on the forums for a faith-based system, which would have enabled priests to choose a distinct path for themselves using the racial spells as a basis. that was just the latest in a long line of requests for faiths. It would have been a much more interesting and creative way of ending the perceived imbalance and irritation of priest racials.

This doesn't rule out a faith system at a later date of course, even if it does remove the impetus to implement one. Perhaps it's something we may one day see in a future expansion. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy my newfound disease.

15 September 2008

The final countdown

It looks like we've got a date for the expansion — 13 November.

People have been speculating about November for a while so I shouldn't be surprised. But seeing it written down is somehow different. That's only 59 days away. I'm on holiday for 14 of them. That gives me only 45 days before it lands. I still have so much left unfinished. I'm still grinding gold for epic flying mounts (two down, at least two more to go), I've planned a big reorganisation of my primary professions, I have three alts still on the grind to 70 and I want to kill a few more raid bosses before heading up north. And now BBB has thrown me into a spin with his latest post, documenting all the things I should be doing but haven't. And OMG, I have blog entries on things like talent builds and game mechanics that will all need updating.

Honestly, I'm in a little bit of a panic.

So by way of taking a deep breath, I've put up a new poll. I want to know what you're all planning to do first when the expansion lands. Yes, I realise this is avoiding the issue. That is, after all, the point.

14 September 2008

How to spec for patch 3

Now that the test realm is live, I think it's ok to start looking at possible talent builds — although we won't look too carefully at the talents themselves, because they're bound to change. A quick glance at the current trees reveals some tough choices.

One of the difficult decisions we will have to make is whether to pick up meditation. If you spec the standard 14 points into discipline to get this in patch 3, you will find yourself short of points in the shadow tree. Even if you skip inner focus, spending only 13 points, it will not be possible to max out the top of the shadow tree. Here's the best I could do.

We loose silence, we skip improved shadow form, we struggle to find points for twisted faith, and we fall short of lolspersion.

The big question is: how good is improved spirit tap? It's difficult to tell, because this talent has only been tested in the Wrath beta, where spirit is more prevalent. Our crit rate isn't terribly good and shadow power will almost certainly be nerfed. But we can take a risk, and skip meditation, in which case dispersion might be a small compensation. And if we take three points out of discipline, suddently you have to question the value of what's left. I think we should keep improved power word: fortitude, but we can loose improved power word: shield. So that gives us another six points to play with.

Perhaps we could spend them like this. Max out twisted faith, pick up dispersion, and then go back for silence. I know this wouldn't be everyone's choice but I find it situationally useful. The alternatives aren't too great — two points would probably have ended up in improved shadow form for pushback protection, which frankly will be of equally situational utility.

Unless anything drastic happens to the talent trees during testing, I'll probably be using one of these builds come patch 3. The second build can do a little more damage through twisted faith, but it's longevity is in serious doubt.

If you've got any other ideas, please let me know.

Patch 3 live on test realms

Mmo champion and wow insider are both reporting that patch 3.0.2 is now live on the test realms and that those realms are now open for character copy.

Mmo champion has posted the patch notes, although when I last checked Blizzard's own test realm patch notes page was still displaying 2.4.3. Is that me being dim? Probably.

This patch will deliver many of the changes we have been observing in the Wrath beta, including:
  • New talent trees and 51-point talents
  • The move from school-specific spell damage and healing to a unified spellpower stat
  • The combination of spell and melee varieties of hit, crit and haste (these stats will now apply equally to spells and melee)
  • Changes to spell pushback mechanics
  • An achievement system
  • The new profession, inscription, which will be available to 375
  • And how could we forget barbershops?

What we also expect, though have no confirmation on, is changes to the spell hit mechanics. We think the hit cap will be been raised in this patch to 100%. Taken together with the nerf to shadow focus, we have some re-gemming to do.

Under known issues, the notes state:
  • The current patch notes are incomplete, but will be progressively more comprehensive in each patch.
  • All classes are currently undergoing a balancing pass of all talent trees.

Which probably explains why the listed priest changes are not quite what we might expect. Some talents are missing, some talents will be changed, and some talents are rather misleadingly described. Still, it's something to look forward to.

12 September 2008

Well I guess I deserved that...

It was bound to happen sooner or later: I blog about some horrendous massacre of the priest class in the latest beta build and the minute I turn my back Blizzard is out there chatting about how they are going to make it better. (Thank you once again to Suicidal Zebra. I never tire of that name.) That's the pitfall of trying to keep up with developments and I walked right into it.

I have to say, I'm completely baffled by some of these changes. Why would you take something out in the latest build, only to promise the same day to reinstate it later?

Well, I have a huntard alt, so I know all about misdirection. Er, I am acquainted with the concept anyway. Playing with Tassak is a bit like Russian roulette ("...roll for threat...") but I am at least familiar enough with it in principle to recognise it in action. A deeply cynical person might see a glimpse of misdirection going on here, as Blizzard attempts to divert attention from the PR blunder of the latest patch.

But, well, I'm still feeling a little foolish from my last post, so less inclined to take the cynic's side. I don't really believe Blizzard would do anything like this intentionally. I just think they're probably under an awful lot of pressure at the moment, and on this occasion dropped the ball. They didn't think through this last patch terribly well, and have more or less admitted as much. So we're going to cut them some slack. No whining about beta today. Today is whine free.

That's a very rare moment of empathy from me. Tomorrow I will probably be back to my usual moody bastard self, so enjoy it while it lasts. What can I say — I live, literally, under a cloud.

11 September 2008

Apparently shadow was looking a little too good...

They giveth and they taketh away. Here are the latest shadow changes as reported by mmo champion:
  • Dispersion now reduces all damage taken by 60% (down from 90%) and doesn't regenerate health anymore.
  • Twisted Faith now increases your spell power on all spells (Old - only shadow spells) by 2/4/6/8/10% (down from 6/12/18/24/30%)
  • Improved Shadowform doesn't give a chance to remove all movement impairing effects when Fade is used anymore.
  • Misery doesn't increase the damage of your Mind Blast / Mind Flay / Mind Sear spells anymore.
  • Shadow Resilience now Reduces the chance you'll be critically hit by all spells by 2/4%. (Old - Reduces physical damage taken by 2/4%.)
  • Improved Fade renamed to Veiled Shadows. Now Decreases the cooldown of your Fade ability by 6 sec, and reduces the cooldown of your Shadowfiend ability by 2 minutes.
  • Improved Spirit Tap now let your mana regenerate at a 10/20% (down from 25/50%) rate while casting.
Am I surprised by the dispersion nerf? No. Does this improve Blizzard's argument for making this spell our 51-point talent? Don't make me laugh.

The twisted faith and improved spirit tap nerf, taken together, are very sad. They effectively reduce the value of spirit to shadow priests, who will find it in abundance on our gear anyway. Perhaps that explains the nerf: too much spirit kicking around.

Improved fade continues to be the joke talent of the shadow tree. I simply don't understand it. They removed the movement-impairing escape effect that fade triggered from improved shadow form — which made sense because it was never an improvement to shadowform in the first place — but don't add it to improved fade. Instead, improved fade now reduces the cooldown of... shadowfiend? Did I read that correctly? Did I miss the connection? Does anyone not think they are struggling to find some meaninful way to improve fade? Oh, but wait. They've called it veiled shadows now. That's ok then.

Misery has simply been put back in its place as a simple spell hit debuff. They got my hopes up, now it's shite again.

Shadow resilience is a pvp talent. I honestly couldn't tell you if it's a nerf or a buff to that spell, but it smells like a nerf. Basically, it's free resilience right?

Yes, yes, usual caveats, it's only beta blah blah. Meh.

10 September 2008

This space for sale to highest bidder

Poor Tobold. He writes a wonderful blog about all things MMORPG. It deservedly has a rather large readership and subscription base. He caught the eye of Warhammer's Mythic PR team, who offered him a complementary subscription and took a bit of flack from readers because of it.

Tobold's integrity and even-handed journalism are two of the reasons his blog is so great. I don't believe Tobold's reporting of the game will change one bit.

Mine, however, could.

That's right, I'm completely open to gifts, bribes, flattery and donations of all descriptions.

I have no scruples about lying for my generous benefactors — and that could mean you!

In return for your large sums of unmarked bills, pro-gaming PCs, high def plasma screens, lifetime subscriptions and all-inclusive paid trips to tropical conventions, I will write nice things about you. I won't make the mistake of declaring our relationship first, of course. I am the paradigm of discretion. And as long as you keep me sweet, I won't say anything bad about your product or my experience of it.

Just so we're clear, I am not 100% sold on this whole Misery shadow priest WoW thing — although a beta key could go a long way to changing my mind.

Do you work for Mythic? Alienware? A tobacco company? An arms dealer? You'll find me a versatile, broad-minded ally in your PR battle.

So don't delay, drop me that line now, and you could be the proud, silent owner of an influential blog!

8 September 2008

Critters up in arms at spell hit changes

Azeroth's menagerie of critters was in uproar this week as Blizzard confirmed its intention to remove the 1% miss chance for spells.

Currently all targets, regardless of level, have a small innate chance to resist magical spells and effects. If Blizzard's intended change goes ahead, the World of Warcraft's legion of marauding magicians will be able to achieve a spell hit chance of 100% through talents and gear.

It's the last straw for the critters, who claim a systematic attempt to wipe them out.

"This change will spell certain doom for critters everywhere," said Skunk, a resident of Terokkar Forest.

"For years we have added interest and variety to the landscape of Azeroth, in the face of extreme danger.

"Yet we are terrorised daily by marauding adventurers, chased by beasts, even fried by non-combat pets.

"Our only hope of escape from AOE and malicious pranksters is that slim chance to resist. It's not a lot, it's not something to bank your future on, but it saved my fur once and it's all we have. Without it, I fear this could mean the complete extermination of critter life on Azeroth."

"It's alright for the cute ones," complained one Karazhan rat who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. "But who wants a rat running around the place? We've got no chance now. I should have rolled a bunny."

While this plan came to light in an mmo champion report, the full story behind changes to hit mechanics remain shrouded in mystery. The changes are expected to come into effect with the next, as yet unscheduled, patch.

Blizzard declined to comment on rumours of an impending critter strike.

6 September 2008

Less miserable

In the latest build, misery has been reworked to include a little bit of scaling for us:

Misery (Tier 8 ) changed to: our Shadow Word: Pain, Mind Flay and Vampiric Touch spells also increase the chance for harmful spells to hit by 1/2/3%, and increases the damage of your Mind Blast, Mind Flay and Mind Sear spells by an amount equal to 5/10/15% of your spell power.

See, that wasn't so hard was it?

On a more sombre note, I'm sad to announce for elemental shaman the knock back range of thunderstorm has been slashed from 20 yards to five. Can't say I didn't see it coming but I was really enjoying those videos. Let's have a moment of silence for shaman please.

5 September 2008

Misery and spell hit in patch 3

Edit: a couple of people have told me that spell hit mechanics will be changing in Wrath, along with the talents. If that's the case, most of this post is pointless and you can skip to the next blog in your reader. But if you know what's happening and when, please let me know!

Spell hit talents are being standardised across casters in Wrath of the Lich King, and for some, this means quite a big nerf. Arcane mages, affliction warlocks, elemental shaman and shadow priests are the biggest losers as they are the classes who currently benefit the most from spell hit talents.

These changes will likely land ahead of the expansion, with patch 3, so any caster who intends on continuing to raid may need to check their gear and enchants to ensure they are as close to the hit cap on bosses as possible.

For shadow priests, the shadow focus talent is being changed to provide 1/2/3% chance to hit, down from 2/4/6/8/10%. Misery is being reworked to provide 1/2/3% chance to hit against the target, instead of 1/2/3/4/5% additional magic damage. Because misery is a debuff, and therefore must be applied first, we effectively have a 'soft' hit cap, as well as a 'hard' one — until you reach the 'hard' cap, your spells against higher level mobs will have a greater chance to miss until one of them lands.

The following table summaries the hit rules and the implications of patch 3 for shadow priests. This table assumes the caster is level 70, because spell hit values differ according to your level. At level 70, 12.6 spell hit rating is required to improve your chance to hit by 1%. And remember: all spells have a 1% chance to resist, regardless of all other factors. (And if you know why there's a huge gap in my post, please let me know cos it beats me!)

Spell hitLvl 70 mobLvl 71 mobLvl 72 mobLvl 73 mob
Base chance to hit96%95%94%83%
Base hit rating to cap385163202
Hit rating with talents now00076
Hit rating for patch 3 soft cap000126
Hit rating for patch 3 hard cap01326164

As you can see, for raid trash, this won't make much difference, but for bosses the gap we will have to make up is considerable.

The good news is that you will already probably have more spell hit than you can shake a stick at. Even Merlot, with his very modest raiding career, has enough to spec only 4/5 in shadow focus and still be capped. But if you find yourself significantly short of hit come the patch, there are a few options open to you.

The most obvious way to bridge the gap is via gems, and the most efficient and economic way is via yellow ones — great golden draenite, great dawnstone and great lionseye, depending on your budget. I suspect the price of these gems will soar when the patch hits, so my advice is to snap them up now.

If you're feeling flush, you could jump for purple gems instead — specifically, glowing shadow draenite, glowing nightseye and glowing tanzanite. If you are replacing pure damage gems to get your hit up, these will enable you to save a few more spell damage. But it's not a lot, and you'll need twice as many gems for roughly double the cost of the yellow gems.

If you had the foresight to stockpile your spell hit gear as you progressed, you could also switch back to it. Only you can evaluate if that would be better or worse for your damage than re-gemming. If you are scryer, you can pick up the bloodgem and swap it out for another trinket. Compared to the icon of the silver crescent, for example, the loss in damage is roughly equal to re-gemming, but much much cheaper. There are a few other rep rewards out there with hit, plus badge gear, that you may want to look at.

One thing I won't be doing is swapping my glove enchant for spell strike (15 hit rating). Not only is this a poor trade-off for the 20 spell damage enchant when compared to gems, the materials are likely to be similar in cost to the gems if not more expensive.

So those are the options. But the question is, how much hit do we need? Misery clearly presents us with a dilemma. It is only of benefit to us as long as we remain short of the hard hit cap. But until we reach the hard hit cap, we have a reduced chance of applying it.

In Blizzard's brave new world of raid buffs and debuffs, one other class can provide the same spell hit benefit as misery — balance druids, via improved faerie fire — but you won't find many taking it, because unlike shadow priests, they have to actively cast the spell to apply the buff. It takes a global cooldown, when we don't even have to think about it. Totem of wrath, incidentally, will no longer increase spell hit. So if you thought you could avoid the Hobson's choice altogether, you were wrong. Thanks to Cdin of the awesome Gray Matter blog for putting me straight there.

You might, when patch 3 lands, choose to aim for the soft cap first, depending on your current level of gear and budget. I think that would be fine. Long term, unless something changes significantly, I suspect shadow priests will end up gearing for the hard hit cap while retaining the talent. Why? Because it benefits the raid. Other casters will be able to leave their hit deliberately short of the cap and focus on stats that improve their damage output in other ways.

It's a gamble for the raid though. What if your shadow priest can't make it? What if they die in a fight? What if your focus is split over two mobs? Perhaps, ultimately, all casters will decide it's safer to aim for the hard hit cap, at which point this talent becomes obsolete. There's a risk, in fact, that shadow priests will be dropped as raids progress and pick up better gear. Once again, scaling rears its ugly head.

4 September 2008

From racials to faiths

Blogs are like dinner parties, forums are like biker bars. (Bear with me, there's a point to this eventually.)

A blog is like a meal with your mates, warm and cosy and satisfying and unhurried. You talk about sex, politics and religion in the same breath, you eat enough to kill a small horse, and you always leave feeling more positive about the world. But the most exciting thing you'll do is play twister and it's considered rather rude to get drunk and throw up in your host's bathroom.

Forums, like biker bars, go quiet when strangers walk in. There's broken glass on the floor, and some hairy bloke at the bar who kills anyone who looks at his chick. But everyone is completely smashed and the jukebox is awesome. It's not exactly enriching, but it's a blast.

There's a time and place for both, but these days I'm more of a dinner party kind of guy. My days of getting blind drunk and picking fights are, for the most part, a thing of the past. Which is simply a way of explaining why I hardly ever visit the class forums and nearly missed this great suggestion on priest racials.

Priest racials are those spells you get at levels 10 and 20 following simple quests. The spells differ depending on your race, hence the term racial.

They've always been rather controversial. The spells are considered by many of variable functionality and the fact that they are not available to all priests leads to the inevitable arguments about which are better. The Dwarven priest racial fear ward caused such a loud and persistent outcry that it was eventually baselined for all priests, while the human spell feedback suffers from the opposite problem — nobody wants it.

I never use my racials, I think they are both distinctly underwhelming. And to be honest, I'm not sure I would bother using any of the spells, regardless of my race, although I think some have the odd situational use.

The problem is that racial spells — priestly or otherwise — must necessarily be weak to avoid bestowing a particular advantage on a specific race. They are primarily there for flavour.

Jesinta suggests replacing priest racials with a system of faiths. It's a beautifully eloquent solution that manages to fix the balance issues while enhancing the unique role-playing facet of priests.

Under this suggestion, priests would be able to align themselves with one of several faiths (Jesinta suggests Elune/Mu'sha, Holy Light, and Forgotten Shadow). You pick up spells according to the faiths which could perhaps enhance your chosen role or help to identify you with your chosen faith. The point is, they would be available to all priests, rather like an enhancement to the talent system. This way, you would have much more freedom to make the spells unique and useful.

I love it. When can I have it?

Anothering interesting thing about this post is how it breaks my forum/blog rules. No louts stumbling around bottling people in this thread, no sir. It feels more like a wine bar than a biker bar, lots of people standing around chatting and tapping their feet to the music.

So what about you? Are you a dinner party person or a biker bar bruiser?

3 September 2008

Koraa throws a bone

Mind flay's spell co-efficient will be boosted by roughly 30% and the spell will be able to crit, according to class designer Koraa.

This statement was made in a post on shadowpriest.com and picked up by Wow Insider last night.

Koraa also hinted at a broader review of the shadow tree but remained cautious about the extent of changes. The statement in full:

We'll be increasing Mind Flay's coefficient (base) by roughly 30% to start, and allow Mind Flay to crit. We may also do some tuneups to the Shadow tree as well, but as other players have mentioned the tree is really not the problem, just the base spells not scaling.

Hopefully we can get the new Mind Flay in the next build, but allowing it to crit involves rebuilding the spell completely, which may take some time.

The buff to mind flay's coefficient is a good starting point. A 30% increase will take it from 57% to 74%. That's still far short of other three-second cast spells, but it's a move in the right direction.

The crit component is very interesting and it will be fun to see how it plays out in testing. Crit isn't something we've worried about before. Even with a new talent to increase our crit bonus, it wasn't going to be something we stacked in Northrend. But if every tick of mind flay has the potential to crit, a la arcane missiles, the value of crit jumps massively.

[Edit: thanks MD!] Improved spirit tap suddenly looks rather overpowered, as it could easily become a de facto permanent buff with just a modest crit rating. I would expect some changes to how it works in order to balance the synergy with mind flay. If, indeed, the mind flay changes survive. I suppose if they expand improved spirit tap to cover mind flay crits it would be up practically all the time and overpowered. But there's a chance they will look at this when they review the talent tree. It would be nice for mind flay crits to proc the buff, even if it meant removing the proc from mind blast and shadow word: death.

I think it's great that someone from Blizzard is finally out there talking about shadow priests. While the development of other classes has been an ongoing process with two-way dialogue and discussion conducted on the forums and in the blogging community, the silence on priests has been conspicuous. I hope this is the start of a new and more open approach to our class's future.

1 September 2008

That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger

I can't find one shadow priest who likes what she sees in the latest talent and spell changes. We're in danger of being buried by all the bad news. And yet, in principle, they have done nothing that I haven't asked for. This may well become a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for, but I don't think we're at that stage yet...

To recap then, these are the highlights:
  • Vampiric touch now grants replenishment to the ten players in a raid with the lowest mana. This buff regenerates 0.5% base mana every second 'while you deal damage'.
  • Shadow weaving: we get the same effect for three talent points, but it no longer buffs the damage of other players.
  • Misery: for three talent points, this now increases spell hit against the target by 3%.

The changes to vampiric touch are absolutely the right thing for the spell. As long as it was linked to damage done we were never going to be allowed to scale properly as a class. Wrath will be a world where no class will have the monopoly on mana regeneration and that, believe it or not, is a good thing. I'm still concerned that the improved water elemental is overpowered, but now I can stand shoulder to shoulder with hunters and paladins on an equal footing — at least, where mana is concerned. The only question mark over this spell now is how exactly it works — the wording is odd, to say the least. If we put vampiric touch on the target and did nothing else, would replenishment tick 15 times (every second for the duration) or five times (only when we deal damage)? Let's hope it's the former, otherwise we're going to end up tying ourselves in new knots trying to get the most out of this spell.

The shadow weaving nerf goes hand in hand with a similar change to improved shadow bolt, which also no longer buffs the damage of other players. Taken together, you can see that Blizzard is trying to break the co-dependency of locks and shadow priests. I don't have an issue with that, but given that this talent was nerfed from 15% a couple of patches back specifically to manage warlock damage, it seems very petty not to give us that 5% back. But at least they dropped it to three talent points, which is a marginally better investment cost for this unremarkable talent.

And now we come to the tear-jerker. Misery was a mediocre talent before, but it was unquestionably a buff for the raid; now, it's worthless. That's because the whole point of this reorganisation of buffs and debuffs was to ensure raids would not need to stack particular effects — just as now, all classes will be striving to reach their personal hit cap in Northrend. The minute they do, this talent is rendered obsolete. It also adds to our scaling issues of course, because while it might help a raid in the early stages, nobody is going to be raiding high-end instances 3% short of the hit cap. 5% was 5% though, at any level.

Before we give up hope entirely, we have to remember two things. The philosophy of this reorganisation is to ensure that no class or spec is essential for a raid. What that means in reverse is that any class or spec should be viable. We absolutely have to believe that our functionality will be improved in other ways to balance these nerfs.

And that brings us to the second thing, which is that Blizzard has said repeatedly that they are not done with the class yet. The coffin lid may be closed, but the nails are still missing. If you have a beta key, I hope you are doing everything possible to put shadow priests through their paces and provide solid evidence to Blizzard that we are simply not prepared for the brave new world of Northend.