20 April 2010

Need more information

Edit: Bugger. A blue post completely invalidated the point of my post. I'm still going to make you read it. Flick through to the bottom for the answer.

Has anyone figured out how Blizzard is going to implement haste scaling for hots and dots in Cataclysm?

The fact that haste will no longer shorten the duration of ticking spells is awesome sauce. But the new design, where haste adds ticks while the duration remains the same, is hurting my brain.

Right now, haste scales smoothly — that is, every additional point you get of haste does something. It might not do a lot, but it all counts towards whatever effect haste provides to your character.

But I just can't wrap my head around how that's going to work when it adds ticks. Unless the ticks are really small. Or oddly spaced.

Take vampiric touch. It ticks once every three seconds for a duration of 15 seconds. Five ticks in total. If haste scales smoothly, the first item of gear you get with haste has to add at least one more tick. Just one tick, of equal power, is a 20 per cent boost to the spell. Clearly that can't happen, otherwise hots and dots will scale astronomically.

It could add a percentage of a tick to the end of the spell, shuffling all other ticks back a bit to squeeze it in. So lets say every point of haste adds 0.05 per cent of a tick. One point of haste would instantly push your three-second ticks to 2.14 seconds, and your seventh tick, at 15 seconds, would tickle like a girl for a couple of spell damage. But that's just weird.

I suppose they could calculate what would be the combined final total damage of the dots, and even it out, but that would be rather odd too — because then, at certain levels of haste, your dots individually would tick for much less even though they were still ticking for more in total. Would that make dispelling in pvp unfairly effective?

The worst possible solution would be if haste didn't scale smoothly at all, but incrementally. Imagine if all haste did was shorten the period between ticks. Let's say it took 20 haste to shorten the interval by 0.1 second. You would need 500 haste to add a tick to the spell's 15-second duration. 499 haste? Dead weight. 999? No better than 500. These numbers are arbitrary, but under this system they must necessarily be large to prevent a spell rapidly growing overpowered. So gearing your character to take advantage of haste would become nightmarish.

All these ideas are very unsatisfactory. Would like more information please. Can someone in the US please ask a forum post — where, you know, Blizzard actually reads them?

And here's the answer, apparently. Thanks mmo champion.
It's probably more accurate to say that haste will lower the duration until you earn a whole additional tick, at which point the duration will go back up again (but with more damage/healing because of that extra tick). Getting more haste will never be a bad thing, but there will be break points where haste is more valuable than others. You should also never want to cancel the spell early.

This is definitely one of those cases where we'll have to see how it feels, but it is more intuitive when you're actually casting spells in the game than it might sound on paper.
We'll just have to take their word for it :P

12 April 2010

The utility paradox

Why bring a shadow priest? I play in mid-range casual guilds and have never had to justify my spot beyond personal, competent performance (or lack of). But if you're a top-end raider, this question matters.

that's why the recent Cataclysm news is a cause for anxiety. Shadow priests (and boomkins) are losing a key debuff (misery), and replenishment is being toned down, but the hybrid tax, which keeps theoretical peak hybrid dps a short way below that of the 'pure' classes, is still very much a reality.

The fewer reasons you have to pick a specific class, the more you are going to pick purely on dps potential. So what happens if shadow priests have nothing unique or significant to add, but do five per cent less damage than a mage?

Blizzard's raid philosophy of 'bring the player, not the class' rightly demands that no one class or spec should be invaluable to a raid. This is both a pragmatic decision (10-man raids just can't fill every hole) and an idealistic one (it shouldn't matter what classes you and your mates rolled when you go raiding).

So here then is the paradox: in attempting to ensure hybrids are not special snowflakes that raids can't do without, Blizzard is in danger of ensuring raids only take pure dps.

You could argue five per cent isn't a lot. Perhaps you could even make that up in skill and gear at some levels of raiding, but then the same is also true in reverse. And to be sure, the tax on hybrid dps is lower now than at any time in WoW's history — but so too is the range of tools and buffs that hybrids bring. As Euripedes eloquently observes, utility is no longer the sole preserve of hybrids.

The only remaining argument for maintaining a hybrid tax is the base flexibility of the classes to switch between dps and healing or tanking, but this is a misleading argument. I think to suggest that raids take hybrids over pure dps for their ability to rescue raids at a clutch is rather far from the norm. Even then, if the damage playing field was completely even, I would argue that most raids would chose the utility that pure classes bring over the theoretical flexibility of a hybrid.

The more I look at it, the more the hybrid tax seems counterintuitive to, even incompatible with, the 'bring the player not the class' philosophy. Is it time the tax was finally dropped?

9 April 2010

Is dps easy mode?

I normally read the Greedy Goblin in the way that lawyers and doctors watch Gerry Springer on their days off — largely for the shock value and the schadenfreude, but with a smug belief that none of it really applies to me.

And then I read this post, in which Gevlon accuses Blizzard of placing all the responsibility for a raid's success on the shoulders of tanks and healers, effectively giving dps a free ride. As you know, I've been chain-healing my ample Tauren butt off lately and this analysis hit a slight nerve.

To be fair, I think Blizzard has come up with lots of devices and strategies to test the dps this expansion — not just enrage timers. Fires, and debuffs, and weird-old buffy things and caster tanking and a zillion phases and target switches. And dps tactics are a lot more complex and interactive than they used to be (unless you're a frost mage). I think the days of facerolling your way through fights that you don't outgear are long gone. It feels like tanks 'n' spanks are very much the exceptional bosses now, instead of the norm.

But I'll admit Gevlon's view feeds a little pocket of righteous anger that bubbles away inside of me every time I wipe to one of Blizzard's Machiavellian encounters. Because every time Blizzard tries to shake up the dps a bit, they invariably take a collateral swipe at the healers — it's either things that healers have to look out for too, or else things that healers have to cope with incidentally if the dps aren't on their toes. (It goes without saying that tanks have it hard too, in my eyes.)

In Cataclysm, healers are going to have to manage their mana pools far more carefully than they do now. They will have a larger array of healing spells to pick from, and casting the wrong one at the wrong time could have far-reaching consequences. The enrage point will be when healers oom, not when bosses get bored and one-shot the tank.

So yes, I find myself in the unfamiliar position of agreeing with Gevlon, and grumbling uncharitably about the injustice of this stupid game.

But a small part of me feels a little soiled, like I've just caught myself enjoying Fox news. Somebody put me straight, please.

8 April 2010

Merlot feels whelmed

Chastity: I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?
Bianca: I think you can in Europe.

— 10 Things I Hate About You

Good job I went to bed instead of waiting up for the priest preview: it turns out there wasn't much to wait up for after all.

Brief shadowy summary (and the full thing for those who haven't see it yet — thanks, as always, to mmo champion):
  • New spell: mind spike, learned at level 81, which deals 'shadowfrost' damage and debuffs the target to increase the damage of the next mind spike. Short cast, spammable, and will not be locked out with other shadow spells.
  • As per the warlock preview, confirmation that all hots and dots will benefit from crit and haste innately, and that haste will not reduce the duration of the spells but increase the number of ticks. Unlike the warlock preview, though, no hint that we'll be able to stop worrying about clipping.
  • Devs are determined to give shadow word: death a place in the shadow arsenal as an execute spell (good luck to that).
  • Shadow should be better equipped for short fights and less susceptible to school lock out.
  • Shadow talents are in for a bit of an overhaul to strip out all the passive boosters.
  • The misery hit debuff will go.
  • The shadow mastery bonuses will provide spell power, crit and a chance to create 'shadow orbs' — which boost spell power and may interact through talents with other spells.
  • Lots of noise about healing, power word: barrier's back on the table, but you're all going to be ooming every five minutes.
These few statements of intent are fair enough — and the noises about burst and spell lock out should be cautiously welcomed particularly by pvp priests, I think.

I'm struggling to see at this stage how dots can scale smoothly with haste if their length doesn't vary, but no doubt this will all become clear over time. And I wish the developers had a consistent view of how dots will behave for shadow priests and warlocks — if locks can't clip their dots, surely priests shouldn't be able to either. But it could be an omission, or indeed a very sensible distinction. No need for nerd rage yet. Edit: an enlightening, if not emphatic, clarification came from Ghostcrawler later, to the effect that they'd like to prevent dot clipping in general.

Mind spike doesn't interest me. No doubt it will have its uses, but it just doesn't grab my imagination. The shadow orbs, however, could be very cool, if only visually. I hope they resemble the old troll priest racial, like our very own purple water shield.

Of course, it's just a very early preview. We don't have enough information to speculate about shadow performance or talent builds or any of the things we're itching to hear about. The fact that we are loosing the misery debuff might worry priests who rely on their utility to secure raid spots. But I say it's too early to panic.

In fact, this preview exercise leaves many questions unanswered — and raises a few more than it answers. I got pretty excited about the shaman preview, so why do I feel so underwhelmed by this?

7 April 2010

Tomorrow, definitely tomorrow

Damn those tricksy US developers, it's my bed time already and no sign of the priest preview. But on the bright side, tomorrow I shall have something to do at work that is fun.

And this little gem from the warlock preview will send me to sleep feeling all warm inside. Wouldn't life be great if priests got the same treatment?

All warlock damage-over-time (DoT) spells will benefit from crit and haste innately. Haste will no longer act to reduce the DoT's duration, but rather to add additional ticks. When reapplying a DoT, you can no longer "clip" the final tick. Instead, this will just add duration to the spell, similar to how Everlasting Affliction currently works.

Night night campers :)

Spring clean in progress

Just wanted to give the six of you that actually visit my blog warning that the design may go a bit awol for a few days weeks. Blogger in draft has recently introduced some sparkly new features that I'm itching to play with. If I break the blog, I'm very sorry.

6 April 2010

Forget everything: class preview incoming

Our first fleshy taste of what Cataclysm will mean for priests is due tomorrow (Wednesday, 7 April), as Blizzard prepare to release a full range of class previews.

In the words of Bashiok:
"The type of information you can expect from these posts are a list of the news spells from 80-85, the new passive mastery bonuses for all talent trees, a brief outline of some of the talent changes we're currently planning, and in some cases new low level spells for select classes."
It's only a day away, but I can't help speculating a little about what we're going to see for shadow priests. Plus, it's a Tuesday morning, and fantasising about WoW is infinitely more pleasurable than the pile of work haunting my inbox.

Wrath has been a bit of a rollercoaster for shadow priests, but I think our current situation is solid. Our mechanics allow skill to shine over gear, and our array of spells enables us to do competitive damage, scale well, and adapt adequately to most circumstances. I think the basic design philosophy of 'keep dots up and use filler spells to their maximum' is unlikely to change. What we can expect is a more varied array of 'active' talents and a stronger focus on managing our own resources in long fights.

Mana management
We've already been warned that spirit will not be a dps stat in Cataclysm, so I am braced to say farewell to spirit tap. It's not the great talent it used to be, but for all of its shortcomings, it remains the only way a priest has of regaining mana beyond drinking until they hit Outland and eventually pick up dispersion and shadowfiend. So I hope that in the shakeup of talents and spell acquisition, we see changes designed to address mana issues early in a priest's life.

And I hope to finally see the death of replenishment in raids. If developers are serious about balancing mana regeneration around a class's own talents, and making a clear distinction between healers and dps, then they really ought to drop this elephant in the room once and for all. I could live with it as a self-only effect, as long as they drop the silly, druidy name and give it a title more becoming of a master of dark powers.

Better still, if we must have it, please unlink it from it's clumsy mind blast trigger. Vampiric touch was once conceived as a leech effect, it would be nice to see a return to that evocative design.

Dee pee ess
As I said, I think raid damage is in a fairly good place right now, but levelling priests could do with a boost to early damage. Damage before mind flay is shameful. It takes a glyph and holy fire at level 20 before our key nuke, smite, can even match a lowly wand. Other classes have it much easier, particularly melee.

They could fix the situation easily by increasing shadow word: pain's base damage — the spell is massively underpowered, particularly at low levels, let along in end game. Inner fire could also provide spell power from the start instead of only at higher ranks.

Developers have also hinted in the past that we may get an entirely new, spammable nuke in Cataclysm — something I currently struggle to see the need for in raiding but which might be a perfect fit for early levelling (more on this below).

New talents and spells?
New spell ranks are going — or rather, won't be learned but will increase automatically as we level. I'm curious to see what this will mean for our regular visits to the trainer. Currently, new spells are learned very unevenly: there's a huge glut of them early on, and large gaps without any between the round levels (20, 30, 40 etc). Could we learn spells less frequently, will the present higher-level spells be learned earlier on, or will there be a mass of new spells to fill the gaps?

We'll almost certainly get new spells as a reward for levelling to 85. My biggest hope is finally to get the dark prayer I have been pleading for for so long. A channelled spell that boosts damage (and possibly healing) temporarily would be a dream. Please Blizzard, I would only write nice things about you from now on :)

As I mentioned above, there was talk a while back of a possible new, spammable nuke, and while I can see this having some application early on, I'm not sure how it could work in end game. Two possibilities that I can see so far: one, it replaces something from our active range of spells (what, I'm not sure), two it becomes an addition to our active range of spells. The first option doesn't appeal to me, the second frightens me. I'm a simple shadow priest, I don't want to have to manage another variable. But it's too early to worry, we don't even know if a spell is incoming.

Finally, we've been promised more active talents and fewer passive 'improves x by y' talents. I don't think we'll see the full talent trees tomorrow, and even if we did it would be way too early to speculate about builds. But we're likely to get a feel for the way the new talents will go. It would be nice to see some possibility for hybrid builds, or even just more variety in build options.

Roll on Wednesday!