31 July 2009

Things I want to know

  • Why do raptors wear jewellery?
  • Why can't I skin centaurs?
  • Where are all the female ogres?
  • What's behind that portal in the middle of Stormwind?
  • Why can't hunters tame druids? (That's for you, Dral)
  • Can the Forsaken reproduce?
  • Why is Gamon neutral?
  • And why can't I resist killing him?
  • Where do troll boots go?
  • Does anyone really understand auctioneer?
  • Really?
  • Are gnomes evil or just plain sinister?
  • Is that night elf stalking me?
  • Why can't I stop thinking in questions?
  • Will this list ever end?
  • Will someone put me out of my misery?


29 July 2009

Master of Arms, the easy way

I respecced my retadin prot on a whim and blew a silly stack of gold to gear her up. I've long suspected I just don't have the temperament to tank, so I'm not sure where this urge came from. Still, here we are, 25k health, still crittable, an utterly baffling array of spells and abilities, and a sword skill of zero.

One thing at a time. Last night, I set out to raise my weapon skills.

I spent a couple of minutes chasing mobs around but this quickly grew tedious. Then I remembered reading somewhere that the elite constructs in Icecrown don't hit very hard. What the hell, I thought, can't hurt to try.

And I can confirm they really do hit like my grandmother. Between the shield thing that increases block chance and the shield thing that absorbs damage, my health barely shifted. (Don't ask me what they're called. Everything on my cast bar is holy, divine or righteous.) Judging light was enough to keep me fully topped up, even missing as often as I did.

I'm sure I must be the last person alive to discover these mobs, but they're a revalation all the same. It took me only four or five of them to max out maces, and I'll finish off swords tonight. It would have been less if some well-meaning allies hadn't decided to 'help me out'. As a former junior charades champion, I thought I was quite good at unspoken communication, but there really is no way to mime 'don't kill this thing I'm hitting, I'm levelling my weapon skill' while getting stomped on by a three-storey ball of dead flesh. 'Fuck off' had no effect, either.

(Incidentally, these things are level 82, so perfect target dummies for testing your performance at heroic level.)

The Master of Arms achievement requires you to raise four weapon skills to 400. For some classes, these elites are almost as good as the blasted lands mobs in achieving that.

When my paladin's done, I'll be right over there with my priest, properly disc specced, to tickle them with staves, daggers and maces. It's just a shame we can't learn enough weapons to max them all out this way.

24 July 2009

A bridge too far

I haven't spent an awful lot of time in Ulduar yet. Partly, I don't like feeling inadequate when I see my dps hovering around mid-table or worse, and partly I feel guilty when I'm asked to heal. I'm not a good healer at the best of times; ask me to heal raid in disc and you may as well go stand in the fire.

But I've spent the last couple of nights storming the place on heroic. My guild has made most of its progress in 10-man, so this was essentially a progression run. We took Ignis out for the first time on Wednesday, and Assembly of Iron bit the dust last night. Second on damage btw, so I'm not completely useless :) Then we came to Kologarn.

You probably know the fight better than I do — very heal intensive but with no enrage. So I was asked to help with the healing. I knew the fight in theory, I'd even healed it a couple of times in normal mode. But I was totally unprepared for it on heroic.

I think we made eight attempts overall, including a heartbreaking wipe at two per cent. That attempt proved to be the exception, though, as we tended to wipe about half way in.

We had two big problems:
1. Bad timing. On several occasions, everything seemed to hit us at once — the arm dies just as it releases three battered healers and adds spawn right at the moment he yells oblivion etc. You know what I mean. Invariably, we'd loose a tank while trying to patch up the raid, or a couple of healers. The more you loose, the harder it gets.
2. We probably could have weathered the first problem if people hadn't kept dragging the eye beams through groups. We'd start in a pretty standard formation but it would break down rapidly as the fight progressed. And when they weren't running through the crowd with a big blue lazer on their arse, they were stood directly in it, completely oblivious.

This was the first time I've seriously contemplated respeccing holy. Spamming prayer of healing burnt through my mana like a dose of clap, while the time locked down on the prayer's long cast times meant I was often too slow to respond to damage elsewhere. I didn't spend nearly long enough popping bubbles. I can't help but wonder if holy's tools are better suited to this fight.

I'm sure with time we'll get Kologarn beat in the end, but last night he proved too much for us — the big dumb lump of rock.

Anyone recognise these problems? What did you do to get over them?

22 July 2009

Ghostcrawler watch part 2

Another Ghostcrawler discussion caught my attention this week. On the surface, it's only of tangential interest to shadow, but delve a bit deeper and it throws a sliver of light on the kind of philosophical issues that Blizzard has been wrestling with since it dragged hybrid dps out of the underclass.

Discussing the merits of tree of life form for restoration druids, Ghostcrawler wrote:

I think the best way to explain it is that when the Shadow priest has a model to follow — there are dps casters and in this case, a class with healing capabilities is deciding to turn its back on those abilities in order to be more like those casters. You can debate the relative power and utility of say Shadow priest and warlock, but at a high level there is a lot of overlap there. Now consider the Resto druid who decides to go Tree of Life. He is becoming a new type of character – he isn’t like the other healers, because they aren’t giving up buttons (except for those already absent from their talent tree). The Resto druid is giving up buttons, and for what? To be as effective a healer as the others. (You can argue Resto druids are overpowered if you’d like, but it certainly isn’t the design that Tree of Life allows druids to be the best healer in the game).

So, to start with, Ghostcrawler is saying it's ok for shadow priests to be locked out of healing in return for the superior dps that shadowform brings, but in the same breath questions whether that same tradeoff for restoration druids is acceptable. I get the impression from this and other comments that Blizzard is concerned that it may not be.

Two questions jumped out when I saw this:
  • Why should healers be any different from dps?
  • Why is he using shadow priests, not moonkin, as the comparison?

First, why are healers so special? You could take Ghostcrawler's statement about resto druids and replace every reference with shadow priests to make perfect sense. Look:

Now consider the Resto druid priest who decides to go Tree of Life shadow. He is becoming a new type of character – he isn’t like the other healers dps, because they aren’t giving up buttons (except for those already absent from their talent tree). The Resto druid shadow priest is giving up buttons, and for what? To be as effective a healer dps as the others.

This cuts to the very heart of what it means to be a hybrid class in World of Warcraft today. Hybrid does not mean you can do all things at once, it means you have the capability to fulfil a variety of functions. We all have to make a choice. There is a reason why we have a finite number of talent points, and why we must invest in specific trees to unlock the best abilities. Shaman and paladins may not have forms, but they make the same sacrifices that priests and druids make on their way to mastering their chosen role — otherwise I would be dual-wielding titansteel guardians on my elemental shaman. Forms, after all, are nothing more than talent choices, albeit with some fancy skins thrown into the bargain. This is a choice we all make willingly.

So why then should Blizzard see restoration druids in a different light? And why is the tradeoff for tree of life not acceptable to the druid healer? Especially when the same trade is made by caster, melee and tanking druids?

I suspect the answer, as usual when issues of balance come up, is to do with pvp. I suspect a priest who can heal in shadow and a druid that can heal in animal form is considered overpowered by Blizzard. I do not know why an elemental shaman or a retribution paladin is not. But resto druids are the only healers shackled by a form — unlike shadow priests, every single one of their counterparts has free access to their entire spellbook at all times.

This, incidentally, is the answer to the second question — why pick on shadow priests, not a druid's other forms? I believe that's because the argument appears unacceptably thin when you're comparing talents of the same class...

I just don't get the distinction. As a shadow priest, I accept my tradeoff, I welcome it. But I'd do the same as a druid, wouldn't I? On a fundamental level, every player hates things that limit them — that why warriors hate stances, and hunters hate changing aspects. But for every limitation, their is a reward. Isn't that what forms are all about? And surely druids, of all the classes, get that?

Ghostcrawler watch part 1

If you're a Ghostcrawler watcher like me, you might have noticed this ominous message from the great man earlier this week. I know it's wrong to jump on Ghostcrawler's words (he told me so!) but it's rather hard not to when he's the only person engaged in any significant community outreach.

Discussing hybrid dps balance, he wrote:

DK and Feral dps should both be lower in 3.2 compared to 3.1. A few other specs received slight buffs, but overall we're pretty happy with the PvE dps balance. You have to look at a lot of different boss fights and break the data down in different and relatively complex ways before you can really stack rank damage done with any kind of authority. As soon as we add a new boss, it's all going to change anyway. Nobody's dps seems so low that it's a liability to bring them. The few damage-oriented specs that are low in PvE have alternative specs in other trees that work out fine. It's always going to be the kind of thing we tweak a lot -- it's a process not a destination.

This comment is the closest we've come so far to a definitive statement on shadow dps. If all pve dps is pretty well balanced, shadow must, by definition, be in reasonable shape.

Your reaction clearly is going to depend on your personal performance, and I've had plenty of feedback from shadow priests who think their dps is perfectly fine. I'm prepared to believe that my hardware is sub-standard, that my gear is not optimal, even that I'm just not that good a player. Nevertheless, I can perform better on other characters with worse gear (and I'm not THAT bad thankyouverymuch). So I stand by my belief that, on balance, shadow priests are at least at little... unfinished.

It's all a bit gloomy if you ask me. The last few Q&As have been met with a rather lukewarm reception by players who were hoping for far more than Blizzard delivered. I'm beginning to think my own expectations of our upcoming Q&A are equally unrealistic. At least I've had this warning to gird my loins for disappointment. I'm beginning to think the unthinkable — if shadow doesn't change, would I be better off raiding on a different class?

9 July 2009

Shadow priests enter arms race

Cold war hots up as face melters get mortal strike.

DALARAN. In two apparently unrelated incidents, weapons inspectors were expelled from the sovereign states of shadow priests and frost mages yesterday as both factions declared their intent to test mortal strike debuffs in open combat.

Both groups defended their actions by saying the technology would be used primarily as a deterrent to open agression.

The international association of arms warriors scoffed at these claims and responded immediately with a statement condemning the developments as irresponsible. They warned of "a new age of escalating hostilities" as Azeroth's class-based organisations strove to reproduce their own similar effects and countermeasures.

The coalition of combat medics, representing healers of all classes and factions, refused to comment publicly, but one inside source admitted the mood was "very sombre indeed".

If shadow priests and frost mages have manage to secure mortal strikes, most seasoned pvp observers fear it will only be a matter of time before more classes follow suit.

"To tell you the truth, this is what keeps me awake at night," one veteran Horde gladiator told this reporter. "It was bad enough when only arms warriors had it. Do you think those frost mages will be able to keep it a secret? No shit, it'll be in the hands of rogues before the season's out. Then all hell will break loose. It's the beginning of the end."

2 July 2009

Wetting my pants

That was a rather lame allusion to rumours of the next expansion, not a confession of incontinence (I'm not ready to admit to that yet). It's a rather wonderful possibility that we will soon be heading to the Maelstrom to kill some naga, set the murlocs free, and face Azshara herself. We might finally get to visit the land of the goblins, and how cool would it be to get water mounts? Your very own dredger or muck crawler. Actually, if I was any more excited, I might really wee.

Shadow priest Q&A

I've just noticed the shadow priest Q&A on mmo champion. It's not the official priest Q&A that we're all awaiting so eagerly, but there will inevitably be some overlaps. I'm not entirely delighted by everything I've read, but it's a start. What do you think?

On first impression, I think many of these questions are rather poorly worded. With a few exceptions, Purplecadet has spotted a problem, decided on the cause and designed a solution before even asking the question - which is invariably, 'will you implement my solution?' It's a rather arrogant way to approach one of the game's designers, not to mention a poor way to try and understand what's going on in their heads.

So while some of Ghostcrawler's answers alarm me, I'm going to remain calm and hope that the official Q&A retains a more open-minded approach to our class.