25 June 2010

In need of some direction

Path of the Titans has gone the way of the... er... Titans. Instead, we'll be getting another layer of glyphs. Warning: old-style Misery rant ahead.

TLDR: if you’re going to add more glyphs to the game, you’d better make sure you know exactly what they are for, and are clearly differentiated from all the other aspects of class enhancements and customisation. Right now, I just don’t see that they are.

I never had Path of the Titans, so I won’t miss it. I never understood it either, so I’m not going to mourn its passing. But it did at least have the feel of something interesting and unique.

With its passing, we are going to get... medium glyphs instead.

/cast doubletake

What was that? More glyphs? Glyphs that aren’t major or minor but are... medium? Seriously? Somebody kick the copywriter and see if he’s dead.

Glyphs already lack a clear purpose, do we really need to go around making it worse? Rohan of Blessing of Kings said it best when he pointed out how many glyphs are virtually indistinguishable from talents, or even enchantments and gems.

Glyph of shadow, for example, is not an interesting glyph. It provides a small, passive boost to damage. It requires no thought whatsoever. There aren’t even any viable alternatives. It is basically just a quick and dirty way to boost shadow dps.

The glyph selections for all classes are padded out largely with glyphs that function in exactly the same way, either boosting the numbers of a specific spell or talent for an overall improvement in performance. In other words, as Rohan said, they are talents.

Inscription was not always supposed to work this way. Once upon a time, it was conceived as a profession which enabled players to change the way their spells worked. Glyph of mind flay worked like this, extending the range of the spell at the expense of its snare. That was just stupid and I’m not advocating a return to the days of our borked range, but you get the point: you had to make a decision, and it had far-reaching implications for how you played your class.

We’ve got some serious differentiation problem between major glyphs, talents, and enchants. (Oh and look, set bonuses do exactly the same thing.) And then we’ve got these annoyingly dull minor glyphs which at best save you a bit of gold on regents but mostly seem to just save you mana when buffing. Woot. Now we’re getting a whole bunch more that do... what exactly? Well, apparently medium glyphs are supposed to introduce the “fun factor” to abilities.


Here’s a truism about life in general. If you need to tell people something is fun, chances are it probably isn’t.

I am now more certain than ever that Blizzard does not understand the purpose of its own profession. If it is, indeed, to enable players to customise their own spellbooks then they have to get much, MUCH smarter at designing glyphs. Shadow has only six viable end-game raiding glyphs and none have any impact on how we play. Even allowing for the fact that we are a hybrid class with other purposes, you can see how a good chunk of priest glyphs were thought up on a Friday afternoon by the work experience kid (see glyph of shackle, fade, inner fire etc).

I agree with Rohan that the original concept for glyphs was much stronger than it is now, so let’s go back to that. Let’s have glyphs that really do present us with some tough choices. If I want my shadow word: pain to hit harder, what am I willing to give up for that? Will the glyph double its mana cost, so I can’t tab spam? Will it reduce the spell’s dispel resistance, so I can’t take it in pvp? I’m clearly not a game designer, but I bet Blizzard’s combined talent could come up with the goods if they put their minds to it.

If we manage to get to even that point, where there are more interesting glyphs than there are slots (a huge leap from today for some classes), glyphs can’t just be about boosting dps, or healing, or reducing damage, because then you’re just adding talents. And another layer of glyphs is not going to alleviate the best-in-slot problem, it’s just going to aggravate it. Instead of three mandatory glyphs, we’ll just have six. Or eight, or however many new slots we get.

And I really don’t want to see on-use glyphs either. They’d just become ghetto trinkets.

I’m not saying it’s easy to design a system like this – theorycrafters will always attempt to assign relative values for raiding. You’ll always end up with one glyph that’s supposed to do more dps than another. And I think this was Blizzard’s problem from the start.

But you know how not to fix it? Add yet more of the bloody things.

If you can't create something with a clear, unique purpose, what exactly is the point of it? If you switched off glyphs tomorrow, would anyone care? Would anyone even notice?

13 June 2010

Cataclysm: priest talent preview

I'm sure you've seen these already; I'm a little late to the party. I'm moving jobs this weekend, from one department to another, which may give me some more time to blog again. It's been hell, so I can pray for a breather:)

We're told: "These talent trees aren't done. They're just far enough along that we're seeking feedback." Which is good. I'm not sure though, looking at the priest, what exactly they want feedback on.

This is not revolution; it's not even evolution, so much as it resembles tinkering. And that's fine if you think the priest is solid. If pressed, I'd say they're in a pretty good shape. I like shiny new things though, and this certainly doesn't deliver on that count.

We have, so far, a shadow tree that very closely resembles live. A few talents are missing (we knew about those already) and a few have filled the gaps, notably:
  • Spirit tap now returns 15 per cent of total mana when you deal the killing blow, in addition to increasing mana regeneration by 100 per cent for 15 seconds. So much improved for the levelling priest, but without improved spirit tap, it's back to near-useless for the raider.
  • Dark thoughts, a new tier one talent, now reduces spell pushback by 70 per cent at max rank. We used to get this from improved shadow form (more on that in a sec) but this position will make be handier for smite spam at low levels and could save burning through mana on shields.
  • Empowered shadow orbs, a new talent on tier four, boosts the effectiveness of our mastery bonus.
  • Mind melt has undergone a bit of a transformation. It now increases shadow word: death damage by 30 per cent on targets under 25 per cent health, and it empowers our new nuke, mind spike, to reduce the cast time of mind blast by 50 per cent, stacking twice for an instant mind blast. As mind blast sits on the global cooldown anyway, this is clearly aimed at pvp. I'm not sure if we'll even be casting mind spikes in a raid, but if we do, it will only be a small help on highly mobile fights.
  • Shadowform has lost its innate threat reduction. I'm not surprised, either. It was silly to have two talents in the same tree that both reduced threat; nobody bothered picking up shadow affinity. Now we'll need to again.
  • Instead of reducing pushback, improved shadow form now includes a five per cent crit aura, like a shaman's elemental oath and moonkin form. Improved moonkin form still increases haste of course, which we were once lined up to get instead of crit. I'm sure Blizzard's raid buff strategy will all become clear with time; right now, I'm lost.
  • Our new talent, shadowy apparition, makes an appearance at tier eight. Shadow word: pain ticks have a six per cent chance to summony a shadowy version of ourself that moves slowly to the target and deals 15 per cent of our mind blast's damage when it arrives. So far so forgettable. 15 per cent of mind blast damage is fairly lame. But the chance to increase a shadowy form jumps by 60 per cent when moving. Expect to see a lot of twitchy shades at the target dummies while they figure out if this is worth trying to force in a fight. My guess: probably not.
  • Pain and suffering has not changed. I bet it's still buggy as hell too.
  • Twisted faith now increased spell hit by 20 per cent of our spirit. Apparently it's a crutch for offspec healers who go dps in their holy togs but it's also going to make healing gear more attractive to shadow priests under the hit cap.

So there we have it. For now. As others noted instantly, there is a dearth of supporting talents in the discipline tree (holy, we have been told, will never be an option for a secondary tree). So the current build would enable you to pick up every single point in the shadow tree and still have one point left over at 85. I suppose you could go for inner focus instead, and have something like this. Still more points than we need. 

So that's where Blizz needs to concentrate. Either discipline must be more useful to shadow at lower levels or they need to throw in a few more shadow talents somewhere.

2 June 2010

PS. Haste buff?

Did I dream that shadow priests are getting a haste aura? Work is rather stressful at the moment; much of life passes like a halucination, so I won't be surprised if I made it up. But a haste aura... sounds neat. I wonder which class we're screwing over to get it?

On pug etiquette

The debate around random groups seems to hinge on the quality of the players you get: either they are rubbish, or they are not rubbish. Observers can be found at both ends of the spectrum, strenuously arguing their corner.

Honestly, I don't care about the quality of players available, except in the extreme. You can succeed in most situations with bad dps, and even bad tanks or healers do not automatically mean failure if other players in the group are skilled enough to compensate. Only the perfect storm of five idiots is guaranteed to fail, but this is a very rare occurrence. (And no smart arse ask me when I've ever been in one, thank you very much...)

In my experience, pugs rise and fall not on the skills of the players but their emotional maturity, their manners, and consideration.

I do not vote to kick bad players. They are there to get better gear, and to learn to play more effectively. I am more patient of the bad player who says 'please bear with me as I'm new to this spec' than the tier 10 jerk who zones in and goes AFK so you can earn his badges while he watches TV. This has happened to me. Many times. I vote to kick for a 10-minute DC, for wiping the group unnecessarily, for harassment of other players, and for general asshattery.

And if I had the power to summon back every tank or healer that has quit for no reason and with no warning and vote to kick them myself, I would.

But if a player can barely muster 1k dps while we are otherwise making good progress, I don't care. Clearly the bar for acceptability lies a little higher for tanks and healers, but the principle is the same.

If I think my fellow players are basically all brain damaged, I will choose a break in combat to politely take my leave and suffer the consequences.

The upcoming changes to the 'vote to kick' feature are therefore a mixed blessing to me.

While they assume that frequent vote kickers are all elitist bullies out to destroy the confidence of new players, we have no evidence of this. What if they, like me, are on a mission to cleanse the game of twats?