22 December 2008

Boss quotes

There's a great thread on mmo champion asking: "what's your favourite boss quote?"

There's a line by Keristrasza in the Nexus when she enrages that makes me shiver every time, but I think that's more for the delivery than the words themselves. She screams "Finish it! Kill me, or I swear by the Dragonqueen you'll never see daylight again!" I'm a bit of a sop for tragedy and this particular story is rich with it. I rode on her back, she sheltered me under her wing! And here we are killing her. It's so sad.

Now I'm all miserable again.

Never fear, Tempest Keep always cheers me up! Does Millhouse Manastorm count as a boss? This is my blog so he does now. I love "Who ordered up an extra large can of whoop-ass?" and (on death) "You'll be hearing from my lawyers."

It's a great thread anyway, go see.

18 December 2008

Revised statement on improved divine spirit

For the record, for those who didn't read my last post in its tedious entirety, I did point out that IDS doesn't stack and that it's the poorest form of raid buff in its class purely on spell power. I did say it will hit your personal dps to spec this way, and may not be worth it depending on your raid makeup.

Was I clear enough? With hindsight, probably not. I deliberately tried to keep an open mind about something I had no first-hand experience of. I didn't know how just how bad it was or how much of a compromise the spec would be. I just wanted to throw it out there as an option. Maybe I was a bit too ambivalent in my approach, but I could just have easily ruled it out with a haughty laugh and then been deluged by people who had done the number crunching and found it to be an excellent spec. Such is the life of a blogger :P

So I am indebted to Leigh for trying this spec out and reporting back. I hope he doesn't mind me quoting from his comment (you should go read the whole thing):

"On boss fights I found my DPS was down by about 300 or so on average, more on certain fights then others. Mana management was a big issue. I felt I couldn't go all out and nuke. Even with spirit tap proccing fairly regular it just wasn't enough..."

From the sounds of it, nobody with any talent or knowledge in shadowy ways thinks an IDS shadow build is a good idea, so don't do it. If you can't at least field a shaman with flametongue totem, go home. For the love of god, stop in discipline at meditation.

17 December 2008

The path of discipline

Discipline is a priest's... other talent tree. Not holy, not shadow, just... other.

I love the concept of discipline. It conjures images of solemn, indomitable missionaries and wiry, hermitic monks. The language of the tree's core talents is rich with power, strength and dignity — unbreakable will, martyrdom, pain suppression, penance; I get goosebumps typing them out.

The talent tree does a pretty good job of constructing a priest along these stylistic lines — one who is able to take great hardship in his stride, stand up to injustice and evil, protect the weak and innocent, and call down judgement on the unworthy. But a true discipline priest may struggle to find a natural home in one of WoW's rather rigid roles.

Historically, discipline was a core tree for pvp healers. Indeed, today it remains a strong survival tree, helping the priest perform under fire with talents that boost stamina, provide stun resistance, pushback protection, damage reduction and improved shields.

But for raiding, it was seen mostly as a support tree to holy and shadow, offering utility in the way of mana efficiencies and spell power boosts. Raiders who went further than meditation in tier 3 were usually healers who wanted to pick up improved divine spirit for their raid. And at level 70, this locked healers out of circle of healing, so only one priest was ever required to go this route.

During the development of the latest expansion, while class talents were being reworked and developed, discipline was positioned as a strong damage mitigation tree. Power word: shield, which was always an expensive spell, suddenly became a core mechanic for deep discipline healers. Arguably, it is now a strong single-target healing tree, although I imagine the use of shields on rage-using tanks remains an issue.

So where does this leave discipline? Is it a pvp tree, a utility tree or a healing tree? The answer is either all of these things, or not quite any of them, depending on who you ask.

For shadow priests at least, it remains a solid utility tree, and the addition of ten extra talent points in the Wrath expansion provide an opportunity to delve deeper into discipline for those who are tempted.

Talent choices
The cookie-cutter shadow raiding build for Burning Crusade had 14 points in discipline. That hasn't changed, although a few of those points are now better utilised. The interesting thing to emerge for shadow priests is the divine shadow hybrid, which I proved was awful for levelling but which may yet be a good option for 25-man raids, if not 10-mans.

It's not really a tree you want to delve down for early levelling. While some of the talents are ok, you're much better sticking with shadow until, probably, your mid-sixties.

Here's a run down of the talents you should be looking at when you get round to it:

Tier 1
Twin disciplines increases damage and healing of instant cast spells by 5%. I shed a little tear for wand specialisation, especially when this, it's replacement talent, was nerfed during beta from a flat 5% increase in damage and healing to just instants. But it does contribute to raid dps, no matter how small, so pick it up with a smile in your heart and move on.

Tier 2
Improved inner fire is a wasted talent until level 71. That's the point at which the largely useless armor spell suddenly starts to buff spell power too. Yay for more spell power, and for three points, it's your best option to move up the tree.

I'd also recommend picking up improved fortitude over everything else here. It's important for group utility and you can't always rely on having a healer to do the buffing.

Tier 3
Meditation is the reason you are here. If you want to raid, this 30% mana regen while casting is very important to your longevity. In Northrend, with so much spirit around, it's a very nice use of three points; I'm getting about 150 mp5 at the moment.

And as you've come this far, you may as well pick up inner focus too. It's one free spell every two minutes with a substantial boost to crit. I used to recommend macroing this to shadow word: pain, which was our most expensive dot. But that was while it wasn't refreshed by mind flay and our crits were otherwise underwhelming.

I think it is now best used on devouring plague, which at 25% base mana is even more mana-hungry than SW:P. But as mana seems not so short in supply these days, I'm tempted to hold it back for prayer of healing in those 'oh shit' moments.

For the cookie-cutter build, that's as far as you'll be going. But if you're feeling altruistic and want to give your raid improved divine spirit, you'll need to splurge on a few fillers first.

Edit: For the record, nobody I know thinks going this far is worth it. It's probably a Very Bad Idea. But if you're absolutely, stubbornly determined to give it a go, here's how you might go about it:

Tier 3 continued...
To get to tier 4, you need to blow one more point somewhere. I'd probably put it in improved power word: shield, but really there's no right answer. Drop it somewhere and move on.

Tier 4
On balance, I think mental agility is a reasonable filler at this level. Ten per cent off the cost of shadow word: pain and devouring plague, plus all the other instants you might throw into the mix, isn't so bad.

Tier 5
Which brings us nicely to divine spirit and improved divine spirit, for a total spend of 23 points. If you go this far into discipline, you won't be able to max out twisted faith and you will have to give up any number of key shadow talents. It's a compromise that will affect your personal dps, but on a big enough scale it may well be worth it to the raid as a whole.

It largely depends on your raid makeup as to whether this will be worth it. The spell power boost from improved divine spirit doesn't stack with, and is inferior to, totem of wrath, demonic pact and flametongue totem. But, even if you have one of these other options, some classes benefit from the additional spirit in itself. It becomes a much more attractive option if you're stacking resto and balance druids, locks and priests.

Edit: it's probably still not worth it!!!

In a future post I promise to pull this all together with the shadow talent overview and recommend some possible raiding builds. Not that you need any help from me :) And when I have time, I'll take the improved DS build to a target dummy and see exactly what kind of hit to dps you can expect. So many things, so little time...

15 December 2008

A shadow priest's take on aoe

We have not one but two aoe spells now. It's awesome. To give you an indication of how disadvantaged I felt without one, I was happy when we got holy nova. But now I have mind sear I am ecstatic. Well, for the most part.

Mind sear is a channelled spell that costs 28% of base mana and, according to the tool tip: "causes an explosion of shadow magic around the enemy target, causing 212 to 228 Shadow damage every 1 sec for 5 sec to all enemies within 10 yards around the target".

I've had enough practice with it now to think I've got it figured out. Which is not to say I always use it correctly; knowing and doing are two very different things in my world.

But the more I use the spell, the easier it gets to know when and how to throw it into the mix.

And the more I use it, the more glaring and frustrating its limitations become.

The good
It actually packs quite a punch within a reasonable range, and that mana cost, while significant, is not so huge that you think twice before casting the spell (for comparison, shadow word: pain is 22%).

I'm finding it's doing somewhere around 900-1000 damage per tick — it's like mind flaying multiple targets for two seconds more (which I guess is how they pitched it at design stage).

Situationally, it's great for when a boss summons squishy adds, providing the tank can pick them up; you don't even have to change target. And it's super for packs of one elite and several normal hangers-on. After that it gets a bit tricker.

The bad
The number of talents that buff mind sear is rather limited, while the crit bonus remains just 50%. That's a shame given that shadow priests have only just been allowed into the 100%-crit club. I suppose it gives us something to envy in our mage and lock cousins.

The ugly
What you probably know, but could be forgiven for not realising from the tooltip, is that it doesn't affect the target. This is one of those things that sounds quirky and original on paper but drives short-tempered players like me up the wall.

I know why they did this. It's because if they didn't, mind sear would virtually replace mind flay on trash pulls. And to be honest, if it did hit the target, that's probably exactly what I'd do. Any pull with two mobs or more would get the mind sear treatment in-between dot applications.

Even with this limitation, it's tempting to throw mind sear into the mix on three or four-mob pulls. But you either have to switch targets to mind flay, or else lower your dps on the main target. And while this might improve your standing on the damage metres, in focus fire situations, either option wastes time. It also distracts from maintaining your group utility (you can't trigger replenishment if you're busy mind searing).

You could argue this limitation on the spell doesn't matter. Standard pulls weren't designed for aoe. Six months ago, we would have two or three in each pull crowd-controlled anyway.

That may well be true, but it's not how the game has played out. The fact is, we're only a few weeks into the expansion and already I'm running heroics without crowd control of any kind. Not just with paladin tanks but warriors and bears too. If this was the same time into burning crusade, there's no way the healers would be able to keep up. There's no way, in fact, that tanks would be able to hold agro against aoe. The game has changed.

Does this mean the game is under-tuned? There's a lot of evidence to suggest it is. But if this is working as intended, we might as well get used to aoe trash pulls, and that means finding the best way as shadow priests to contribute.

My Christmas wish list
Mind sear doesn't have a glyph yet. If the Blizzard pixies are reading, I'd like the ability for mind sear to damage the target please — and I'm willing to pay for it.

Maybe a mind sear glyph would reduce damage by 15%, or reduce the range to 20 yards, or increase the mana cost by half, or increase the cast time by a second or two. I think any of those things would be a reasonable compromise. And there must be other possibilities.

But if Blizzard really doesn't want shadow priests to aoe packs down, they might want to start looking at how hard heroic elites hit, how much mitigation tanks have, and how well healers can heal.

But that's a bit off topic. I just want to pew pew stuff. Give me my glyph already!

13 December 2008

WTB that spell

So I'm happily questing around Scourgeholme in Ice Crown, not really paying much attention to what I'm doing. There are some skeletons and some insects and a couple of things that look a bit like that boss at the end of Arcatraz that does that mega mind flay. And suddenly it's casting mind sear on me and I think 'haha, even the npcs don't know how to use it properly'. And then I notice it's doing damage. To me. The target. It's alright for some.

11 December 2008

PTR stocking fillers

The public test realm patch notes went up today (link courtesy of mmo champion). While there's nothing in the form of significant buffs for shadow priests, there's no bad news either. In fact all we see are minor changes of convenience. If you're the jolly, optimistic type, they might even put a smile on your face.
  • Abolish disease and cure disease can now be cast while in shadow form. Situationally useful. Possibly even good news for pvpers up against death knights.
  • Levitate can now be cast on others. Combine this with glyph of levitate to share the floaty love.
  • Shadow form can now be cast while sitting or mounted. Because that was sooo annoying before.
  • The mana cost of vampiric embrace has been removed. It costs 78 mana at level 80; who cares? I'd rather they removed the cooldown and doubled the mana cost, but that's just me.
They also list this rather confusing bug fix:
  • Mind flay: fixed a bug with targeting where you would not deal damage if not facing the target while channeling.
Does anyone know what the hell that means? You can't channel mind flay facing away from the target anyway.
Sadly, the one thing we all wanted to see the most is not there — If Blizzard has a plan to fix the pain and suffering/shadow weaving/shadow word: pain bug they aren't sharing it. It's a test realm, so things could always change. Still, I'm not holding my breath.

Does this mean what I think it means?

From the PTR notes:
Tapping: all player spells which cause a creature to become aggressive to you will now also immediately cause the creature to be tapped.
Tapping. That's tagging, right? No more hunters arcane shotting my dotted mobs? Hooraah! Eat that you gold farming scum!

Moron breaks into prison, has shock, lies down

Not content with his modest spell hit rating, our intrepid hero ventures into the brooding confines of the Violet Hold in search of epixx. We join him as the action unfolds...
Merlot: oo, dragons, it's like an indoor black morass.
Tank: ungh.
Merlot: I know it's only a prison, but I like what those mages have done with the place.
Tank: ungh.
Merlot: coming. Say what you want about the Kirin Tor, they have good taste.
Healer: goddammit Merl, get your ass over here.
Merlot: Which one's this?
Healer: core hound.
Merlot: oh god, growl time. Is it just me or are core hounds bugged? I can hear them in the next zone...
Healer: Jesus.
Tank: ungh?
Merlot: wait wait. Is this heroic?
Healer: /sigh
Hunter: wtf noob.
Rogue: I need teh gun k?
Merlot: it says he's level 82. I thought heroic bosses were three levels above?
Hunter: thatz raid buses noob.
Merlot: yes, and heroics.
Rogue: hunter, u use bowz rite? I need teh gun.
Healer: turn him around.
Tank: ungh.
Healer: heroic bosses are lvl 82. Raid bosses 83.
Merlot: when did they change that?
Healer: didn't.
Merlot: huh?
Healer: hasn't changed.
Merlot: but... so... heroic bosses are TWO levels above?
Healer: goddit.
Hunter: dur.
Tank: ungh.
Rogue: hunter, jool 4 gun.
Merlot: but...
Healer: drink up, next portal.
Merlot: that means I only need 6% hit for heroics. I've got that just in talents.
Healer: Merlot, portal.
Hunter: rogue afk.
Merlot: I haven't even stepped foot in Naxx. I probably won't till the new year. Are you telling me I get all the hit I need from talents?
Healer: MERLOT
Merlot: I've passed over crit and haste for hit gear. I've gemmed and enchanted for hit. I have 12 friggin per cent hit.
Tank: ungh!
Hunter: LOL!
Merlot: I feel sick.
Healer: are you coming?
Merlot: I need to lie down.
Healer: suck it up, we've got two more bosses.
Merlot: sorry, gotta go. It's been fun. I'm getting a headache...
Hunter: rogue afk.
Healer: jesus.
Tank: /wave.

10 December 2008

Sartorial dilemmas

It feels like I'm gearing up in the right order this expansion. Here I am, just turned 80, and I'm in a few nice instance drops and making use of one or two quest rewards. (Did I mention I turned 80!?)

It might be something to do with the crippling expense of levelling tailoring. There just isn't the same volume of cloth in Northrend as there was in Outland, and I can't afford to power level the profession. 10 gold for 5 frostweave cloth? I don't think so. As a result, I haven't managed to craft any of the nice level 80 rare and epic items yet.

And the way Blizzard has opened up epic chains for solo questing, like I mentioned in the last post, means I'm collecting those rewards at exactly the right time. I skipped many of the equivalent quests in Outland, or else went back much later to complete them, and they were pretty much useless by that point.

One thing is clear — getting hit capped really isn't going to be the trivial endeavour it was in BC. The nerf to our spell hit talents, as well as the distinct lack of hit on quest rewards and normal instance drops, means we are going to actually have to work to get capped.

It is still possible to stack a decent amount of hit pre-raiding, and thankfully Alex Ziebart over at WoW Insider has done the work on listing what's available so I don't have to.

But you're going to have to go out of your way to do it. I got lucky last night in my first ever Utgarde Pinnacle run, and picked up the girdle of bane. It's a good start, but most of my gear has no hit on it at all.

If you just wait and let the gear come to you, what you're probably going to end up with is... haste. A lot of haste.

Blizzard has really embraced haste for caster gear this expansion.

I know I'm supposed to like haste now. I even know there are some people who want it. But. Before you're hit capped, before you have a decent amount of spell power, it still sucks. I'm avoiding it. Which isn't as easy as it used to be.


PS Sorry the banner's still screwed. I'm working on it, promise!

8 December 2008

The joy of questing in Wrath

I hope I didn't give the wrong impression in my last post. It's a tough quest, and a little frustrating to not be able to master it easily — but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the design, or even the challenge of a solo quest that can't be completed with one hand while I'm eating. I think it's a wonderful quest, and my sense of accomplishment when I complete it will be all the sweeter for the struggle.
In general, I really feel Wrath is a huge advance on Burning Crusade. As an example, consider Netherstorm as a quest hub. I remember advancing as far as could on solo quests and stalling as my quest logged filled up with three and five-man quests. Anything a little out-of-the-ordinary needed a group to complete.
Not so in Wrath, where Blizzard has worked tirelessly to invent lots of different ways for us to tackle elites and complex scenarios without needing to find four friends to help.
On top of the quest I talked about last time, where you take control of a pet, there are a few of the 'here's something special to weaken the elite' quests. We even had the odd one of them in vanilla. Then there are a couple of quests where you summon friendly elites to help out. Makes me feel special to be so well connected. And we've also been given extra powerful weapons, invited to ride machines, control elite creatures, even go back in time and masquerade as a dead hero of lore.
If I found one them a little annoying, it's because I'm not used to having to learn new strategies, adapt my play style, or even think about what I'm doing.
But it's a good thing that Blizzard is challenging me. It can't be a coincidence that these quests are usually at the end of long chains full of delivering stuff, collecting stuff and killing stuff. They're our reward for persevering with the grind.
There are still plenty of group quests, so the social aspect of questing isn't totally dead. But let's face it, to most of us just trying to level or grind rep, elite quests used to be a pain. Now, much more than ever before, they're a joy.

5 December 2008

I need more fingers

I'm having trouble with a quest in Zul'Drak.

Betrayal is the climax of an epic quest line that starts innocently enough with a caged troll in Grizzly Hills. This is our first encounter with a chap called Drakuru.

Like many of his race, he appears a little savage at first, particularly to the refined tastes of a blood elf, but he implies he has important information about the Scourge. And so we are drawn into a blood pact which leads us on quests all over Grizzly Hills and eventually to Drak'Tharon, where Drakuru's true agenda is revealed.

We encounter him again under very different circumstances in Zul'Drak, where we are guided by the Ebon Watch on a series of quests that lead up to Betrayal.

I hope that doesn't give too much away for anyone yet to get this far. It's a lot of fun to watch the story unfold as you trundle along through the quests.

But this particular quest has been a bit of shock to the system.

You are required to take control of a pet to attack your target but the pet is almost certainly not going to survive the full encounter. You have to take control of a second pet mid-way through. The pet has several actions and spells that you need to mash at every cooldown to beat down your target. At the same time, there is a lot of heavy aoe that you need to avoid, requiring pretty constant movement. The pet has a heal spell which targets you, but it won't out-heal the aoe. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be attacking the target myself at this point. Clearly, it's the logical thing to do, but I'm finding it hard to focus on my pet specials at the same time and keep out of the aoe, not to mention timing when you take control of your replacement pet seems to be crucial. Ergo: I need more fingers.

I can't think of any other quest in the game that has given me so much trouble. It's almost as if it requires... skill! Could this be the prototype of a new World of Warcraft, where you actually need to learn to play to progress? Am I going to have to get good to move on? Are my days of questing on auto-pilot while gabbing in chat over?

Or is this another one of those quests where I'm being hideously dim and don't deserve to complete it?

4 December 2008

A game of two halves

Tobold asked in his latest post: "is levelling in Wrath of the Lich King too fast?"
It's a question I've been wrestling with for a couple of weeks because, while I love instances and am looking forward to raiding in Wrath, I also like questing and solo play.
Less than a month since release, I am level 77. It's almost over for me — and I've been taking my time. I've even spent a good chunk of those last few weeks on alts. One guild mate complained last night that a player he pugged with recently would be seeing raid content before he would — presumably because the rest of us aren't 80 yet. Hurry up already!
I know quests don't stop at 80 — I'm going to have at least three entire zones to explore after I reach the cap — but your focus shifts. Quests become something to do when you're not doing anything else. I would have been very happy if the journey to 80 took twice as long and progressed more naturally through every zone.
It's all relative though. Even if levelling took twice as long, the speeds at which people levelled would be proportionate — you'd still have plenty of people clearing raid content before others had even seen every zone, and there would still be a lot of foot-tapping while guilds waited for players to catch up.
You'll always have that of course — WoW is different things to different people, and that's part of its strength. You don't have to read the quest text and soak up the storyline if you don't want to, and you don't have to get distracted from levelling by things like professions.
So while for me, yes, levelling in Wrath is too fast, that's not really an issue. It's more the fact that levelling and questing is such a distinct and isolated part of the game. For many players, it's a means to an end; the real game only starts when you hit the level cap.
What if 'end game' content wasn't something reserved for the 'end' of your levelling experience? What if raiding was something that unlocked levels and was part of the experience of progressing and improving?
I suppose it would be unworkable. It's hard enough to find mid-level pugs, imagine needing to raid on an alt to progress.
But there's nothing to stop Blizzard adding more raid-related quest chains. Remember the Nightbane quest line? A few of those steps took you into Outland. More of that would be great — with more detailed solo steps — and it might help bring the two aspects of the game a little closer.

2 December 2008

Two columns good, three columns better

Now that I've got my shiny new column I feel liberated. It's a bit like wearing a kilt in a stiff breeze (I'll try anything once).
I've been able to expand my blog roll using Blogger's wonderful new blog list widget (not so new to Blogger but brand spanking new to me). I've set it to show blog name and post title, and order it by date and time of post (the most recent posts at the top). It's set to 25 blogs but you can click to see the full list at the bottom.
I'm worried it might be a little too long but it was either 25 or 10. Let me know if you feel strongly either way. And if you'd like to see your blog in the list please drop me a line.
But that's not all! (I'm on a roll here.) While researching the blog roll widget, I came across Blogger reactions, which enables you to set some simple rating buttons at the bottom of your posts. Unless I've completely screwed up, you should see mine below. I'm hoping it might spur the comment-shy among my readers into giving me some feedback. It's one thing to think you're shit but so much better to know it.

1 December 2008

Do not adjust your sets

If you're reading this on my site (as opposed to in a reader) you'll notice the banner is all screwed up now. But look! I has a third column!

I needed a new banner anyway, so this is a perfect spur to kick me into action. I'm thinking snow and mountains...

Thanks to the Blogger Guide for the great tutorial.