Sunday, December 25, 2011

Yet another SWTOR post. Or is it?

Incoming Christmas ramble!

It's that time of year again. I know what you're thinking - the time of year when you decide to leave your comfy computer chair, meet real bodied people and eat something other than ramen - also known as Christmas and/or New Years Eve, but that's not it. I am thinking of the time of year when another big MMO is released and everyone is all antsy-pantsy about whether this one will prove to be the one that kills WoW. We all know that won't happen though, no swift blow will or even can kill WoW, I picture it as a slow but steady decline where one day you wake up and realize you haven't logged on for a couple of months and eventually you read somewhere that the servers have closed down. But that's beside the point, the point is that yet again my Reader has been infested with posts about another MMO than WoW. This time around, the invader is called SWTOR.

I say infested, although in reality it doesn't bother me. Admittedly I never read those posts, mainly because I am completely uninterested in SWTOR, but I really don't mind them being there. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm not interested in any other MMO than WoW. I've mentioned before the very real possibility of me actually switching to playing Warhammer full time, if only I had someone around me who was interested in joining me. WoW has me hooked for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is that it allows me to play with friends, it is something all the other MMOs have to fight against and it is an unfair battle. And on my wishlist on things I'd want if I could wish for anything, the Fallout MMO comes in on a second (only surpassed by "being rich enough to by an island with internet access"). But not so with SWTOR, there is nothing about it that interests me. I'm not a huge Star Wars fan to begin with, and although I love the idea of a space set MMO, my disgust with George Lucas (Episode 1 in 3D, really?!) has put me off SWTOR as well. Unjust perhaps, and probably my loss in the end, but there you have it.

So the SWTOR posts don't bother me, I just don't care about them. Quite different to my reaction to all the RIFT posts that spawned when RIFT was released. But that was different. The SWTOR posts I have glanced at seem straightforward and on the subject, while I recall the RIFT posts verging on fanatical and preaching. Lo and behold, the game that KICKS WOWS ASS! I didn't feel threatened, I was annoyed. It was as if people were actively trying to find features of RIFT that would make it the WoW-killer. Do you remember the shit-storm that crossed through the bloggosphere after I had done a post on RIFT that inspired Reala of Click The Lightwell to create the "RIFT-free zone" button to put on your blog? A post controversial enough to be featured on and This was serious business people, for some reason.

Back then I wrote;
"I'll be honest. Although my first attitude towards Rift was exactly the same as it has been towards any new mmorpg the last years, which is modest curiousity, this was quickly turned to annoyance when people didn't seem to be able to talk about anything other than Rift. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who thinks stuff are uncool just because everyone else thinks it cool. You'll never hear me say "I liked that when it was still underground". But I couldn't help like feeling like there could only be two reasons for the overwhelming reaction to Rift. Either it really is an awesome game, or people just grasp for it because it is not WoW."

Reala wrote;
"WoW may be the lumbering behemoth of the MMORPG sphere but we bloggers are not, damnit. Many of us are experiencing tough times in WoW, we have lost friends, guildies, entire guilds have crumbed and fallen. I don't begrudge Rift the shelf-space, but when there are more Rift posts on a WoW blog than WoW posts... well... I don't like it."

And there was something to it. I had seen mmos come and go, remember Conan? Aion? Warhammer? None of them bothered me, because WoW was still king of the hill. But then suddenly we heard about diminishing subscription numbers, people around me starting to get tired and you could feel the itch. The itch in the back of your head thinking "do I really enjoy this anymore or am I just sticking around because I am too lazy to move?". It does feel like an old marriage, and you will wake up one day and wonder whether there just might be something better out there. Why is this a problem? Why would it bother me that people around me move on and stop playing WoW? Maybe because realizing that something is coming to an end, something that I've spent years enjoying and have had so much fun with, just isn't a pleasant thought. It means change, and we all know how scary that can be. RIFT entered the scene like the new cool guy, and when the masses seemed to move that way I had trouble letting go of WoW, but didn't want to feel left out of all the fun. But I did have fun. I still loved and enjoyed WoW, which only made it hurt more when everyone around me didn't think so anymore. Like when all my friends one day decided they were too old to play with Pokemon Cards, and I still take mine out now and then, look at it, sigh and long for the day when I find someone else childish enough to have a match with me (the main reason I want to have kids tbh).

Although SWTOR quite frankly seems like a lot better contender to dethrone WoW than RIFT ever was (but like I said, I don't think that will happen just yet), this time around I just do /shrug. It might be the style of the posts, how they're actually about SWTOR and not about how SWTOR is like a better WoW. I realize it's impossible to write posts about another MMO than WoW and not end up comparing with the game that has been controlling the market for better and worse the last six years. But there is a right and a wrong way to do it. I felt like the RIFT posts were the wrong way, focusing on everything that people felt were wrong with WoW rather than everything they felt was right with RIFT. You might think it boils down to the same thing, but it doesn't.

Maybe I have just come to terms with the fact that WoW will end some day, or that there are loads of people that don't enjoy it anymore - and that is ok. Maybe I was worried about my own feelings towards WoW, and felt like all the whining really was voicing my own inner thoughts. Maybe I feared exactly that, that I wasn't having fun anymore but just hadn't accepted it yet. And that isn't the case now, I am having loads of fun in WoW. Or maybe I was having loads of fun in WoW back then too, and was worried that everyone leaving me would take away that fun, as mentioned. I don't know. Or maybe I am ready for WoW actually sharing the throne with some other MMO now, eventhough I don't feel like moving on just yet I do feel like there is a need for something new to not just enter the arena, but bloody well stay there too.

Because really, does anyone still play RIFT?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yor'sahj 10 Man Heroic Holy Priest healing Video Guide

Here is my guide to healing Yor'sahj 10 Man Heroic as a holy priest. You have a few aces up your sleeve as a holy that are quite handy, as opposed to discipline, but I am sure this fight isn't too much trouble as discipline either. First of all you have the Lightwell for people to use during the mana void, also there is the stronger aoe healing during the aoe-damage phases, which can get quite intense. Overall I didn't much enjoy this fight as a healer, there are gaps of not much to do which I spent "helping" with the dps, and even the tougher parts of the fight weren't much of a challenge. Since I had just come from lots of wiping on Zon'ozz, a really challenging and fun fight to heal, I was somewhat disappointed by this. I think Hagara will prove to be more fun though.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Warlord Zon'ozz 10 Man Heroic Disc Priest Healing Guide

Here is my texted video guide to healing Warlord Zon'ozz as a Discipline Priest. I really enjoyed healing this fight, it is very intense without being too unforgiving. I tried a whole lot of tries as holy, and it does work if you get into the Black Phases with a good start, otherwise the point healing does get very difficult, which usually means a whole lot of Flash Heals and going very oom. Discipline worked a lot better for me.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Morchok 10 Man Heroic Disc Priest Video Guide

Here is my texted video guide to healing Morchok 10 Man Heroic as a Discipline Priest. If you intend to heal it as a holy priest instead, the big difference will be having to use a lot of Flash Heals instead of Penance/Shields. The fight is fairly simple overall though, and a good opener to the heroic modes and the nasty healing that is to come in figths later on.

And here is another good video guide from a Resto Druid PoV (25 man), made by Beruthiel of Falling Leaves and Wings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The issue of choice (or lack thereof)

Ionomonkey of Screaming Monkeys had an interesting tidbit on the subject of choice in video games, and WoW specifically - as a reply to a post by Gordon of We Fly Spitfires. The discussion basically boils down to whether there ever is such a thing as a real choice in games like Wow or if there always ever will be "the best choice" which everyone end up taking. And what would a good choice look like? Ionomonkey means that as soon as choices that affect our playstyle are given to us, there will be a bunch of people who end finding out whichever is the best one and go for that regardless. And since this is going to happen either way, we might as well have big talent trees instead of small ones. And lets face it, even though in WoW most classes, if not all, at least have a handful of talents that really are up to choice - most people play with a cookie cutter spec whether they're endgame raiding or not. And the talents that are up to choice usually don't matter enough overall to make much difference anyway, which is another problem and exactly what Ionomonkey is getting at. It is the easy way to give players a choice - by handing out talents that don't matter enough. I wouldn't want that either.

I totally agree with the general idea
that whenever choice is given to a bunch of people, there will be some (maybe even a majority) that will all use the best one, but would like to add some thoughts to the matter.

Most importantly, even if there will be a best spec, what one really has to look at is to what extent that spec dominates over your choices. If you have 30 points to put out and 10 of those are things you just have to get in order to do your job properly, that still means the majority of the spec really is up to real choice. How much of the spec has to be "must haves" for it to stop counting as real choice? And even if there is a best-besterest choice, to what extent are people forced to actually go for it? In WoW it has tended to be "very much" at least if you're into progress raiding. Even outside of the really serious business raiding, people will laugh at you for trying dual wield arms or twohanded enhancement. It's a discussion I've been into before. But maybe that is another issue? The fact that people care too much about things that don't actually matter. I know that it has actually put people off the game entirely, knowing that if they wanted to play they would have to do it "properly" and that there isn't much room for fooling around and just do it your way. It's a difficult balance because I am all for letting people try weird things, but on the other hand I don't want that to go out over my instancing/raiding experience. If I wipe because someone thought it would be fun to do 3k dps as a melee hunter, I will be annoyed - obviously. But as long as we get the job done I really don't care much. And I think that might be the key that people are missing - what is good enough? And is good enough really good enough or do we need people to be as good as they possibly could be?

I'd like to think that the different roles in WoW that we currently have
- dps, tank, heal - face this problem to a varying degree. If you'd bare with me here shortly, I will try to explain. I'd like to think that as a healer there usually is a lot of choice presented to us, maybe as much as there can be, whereas dpsers are more locked. I've tried to figure out why this is, and it hasn't been all easy. In essence we all strive to succeed with the same thing - get the bad guy down and get the loots. The dpser makes sure the guy dies, the tank and healers make sure the rest of the raid lives long enough to make that happen. Maybe the solution lies in the target. The tank and the dpsers both have the mob as the target, although in different ways (giving vs receiving damage) whereas healers have the other players as targets. Why does this matter?

Regardless of role, we all have certain limits to reach up to. As a dps you're supposed to deal enough damage fast enough to make sure the bad guy dies before your healers and tanks expire. As a tank you need to be able to take enough damage under any time limit set up by your dps output to make sure you don't die before the bad guy does. As a healer you need to be able to dish out enough health during any time limit set up by your dps to make sure you don't die before the bad guy does. These might seem similar, but they're quite different.

The upper limit that you have to hit before you're overpowering the target enough for your choices to matter less is very high as a dps. Usually this only happens when you switch from one expansion back to an older one. The barr is slightly lower as a tank, but still high enough to not be easily reached within current content. Except for some freak exceptions, there has yet to be a tank that has been able to go through a raid fight of current content without being geared and specced in pretty much the exact way they have the last 6 years (the avoidance rogue tanks of BC come to mind). Basically, a dps should be able to dish out as much damage as possible, a tank should be able to take as little damage as possible, while a healer only really has to heal enough.

This doesn't mean I don't think healers should be able to have as high throughput as possible, just that being "good enough"  or maybe rather "gets the job done" is a limit that is far more easily obtained as a healer than it is for a dps or a tank. And also something that is way more accepted than for dps and tanks. Although at the start of new content you usually have to be as tweaked as any other role, already halfway through FL could I start experimenting with stats and specs to see what I preferred, throwing out spirit as I went and try mastery, crit or haste if I liked. You can always deal a little more damage or take a little less damage, but keeping people topped on health is a limit we healers usually reach within current content. This allows us healers to play around a lot more with specs and stats than I think other roles can.

Let me take discipline priests as an example. Whether you want to use Atonement or not is really the perfect example of a good choice if you ask me. Setting aside the fact that I'm personally no fan of Atonement, and that I think there are things about it that could work better, I still can't think of a better example of a talent that radically changes your healing style all the while it doesn't actually matter if you choose to use it or not. If you're a great healer, you'll be it with or without Atonement. There are only one or two fights where Atonement is considered a deal breaker (like Halfus), and of course a couple of fights where it doesn't work at all due to some mechanics (something I think they're going to change, hopefully), but overall it's one of those talents that really makes you choose - you'll end up being a Smite-healing priest or not. This is not to be mistaken with the abovementioned example of choices that don't matter. It is true that it doesn't really matter whether you use Atonement healing or not, but it will have a huge impact on your healing style. That is exactly the way choices should work, if you ask me.

And as mentioned, the debate on which stats to use as a discipline still rages on - if you go with haste or mastery really doesn't matter, it depends on your heal style. I even know of disc priests who advocate a crit heavy spec. I'm not saying that either of these isn't the better choice if you really sat down with some sims, just that you can actually really get the job done with either and that "getting the job done" is good enough when you're a healer. I wish it was for any role. What other role can say that it depends? Dpsers have the choice of focusing on aoe vs point dps at best (not counting weird specs to accommodate some certain fight mechanic) and tanks between avoidance (physical damage) and mitigation/stamina (magic damage).

But what would the solution be? I really don't think it would be a good idea to make content easy enough for tweaking to matter less, some of the very challenge of dpsing and tanking usually is to do as much as possible of it. Some might even say this isn't even really an issue at all - people who go for dpsing aim to tweak, not to have choices. Maybe the very reason people like to play a dps class is because they want to find that cookie cutter spec, not because they want to fool around with stats and specs. The thing is though, right now people barely even have a choice within a class. If you play a warrior you do have a choice between dual wielding or two handed in theory, but in practice one of them will be considered superior and if you're in serious raiding that will be the only choice. So not only is the spec already cut out for you, the very choice of which spec to go for in the first place is already made for you. It gets even worse for tanks. There usually isn't any choice between whether you want to be a mitigation tank or an avoidance tank, usually the current content dictates the rules. Wouldn't it be awesome if you could have two people playing the very same thing, just differently, and still be equally good? Think along the lines of how dks were originally designed - being able to tank about as good in any of the three specs. This is possible for discipline priests at the moment, but unfortunately that seems to be the only class and spec where Blizzard have succeeded with a real choice - please correct me if I am wrong!

You could add fight mechanics that require you to have players spec differently, but that is usually too fight specific to last very long and only ends up with people having to spec back and forth, something they usually don't enjoy. This is usually what happens when people have to choose between an aoe or point focused spec.

Would it really be so difficult to design a type of mechanic that, similar to Atonement, will do the same thing but in a different way? Or to really succeed in making all three specs of pures be equally viable? And as mentioned, are we really interested in that? Maybe we want choice because we want to be able to do things a little better than someone else, but how do we then prevent people from always making that choice? Maybe the only choices we can be handed are "same same but different" and not really "good or bad", and if that is the case - will people be bothered? I think so, I am really happy about the choice to be able to use Atonement if I feel like it, and equally happy that I don't have to if I don't feel like it. Because right now I don't think that Blizzard has even succeeded with letting us choose properly between specs, even less between talents within a spec.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

First impressions on Dragon Soul and Priest Healing

My guild hurled itself headfirst into the new Dragon Soul instance the other day, and I was lucky enough to be among the ten people picked to do the first clearing (thank you guys!). So how was it? Awesome! So how about a short run through on my initial thoughts?

I know I said I would read up on tactics like never before. I lied. Well it wasn't a lie really, I definitely had the intention of doing so. I even started watching a couple of videos and reading some tactics, so I can't say I went in blindfolded - but not far from. Fortunately, it worked anyway. We did of course have the usual bunch of people who had read up on everything and who gave us the tactics (bless you guys), but in most other cases the healing part of the fights were pretty self explanatory. I usually only fail with this way of approaching new raid content when I miss out on knowing about some crucial healing tactic, like not to dispel the disease on Grobbulus *ahem*. For Dragon Soul it went just well, and I only did major mistakes a couple of times - mistakes I am sure I would've done either way. some things just take a try to get the hang of. We managed to clear the place in one night, although we stretched it for 30-40 minutes in the end when we felt we really had the hang of Madness of Deathwing and just needed to get it right. Last pull of the night was a server first kill! I won't attempt to write actual guides this time around, this is just an initial observation of how the fights felt, overall and healing wise.

This fight reminded me of Slabhide in Stonecore. Overall the Morchok fight was extremely easy, and I seriously mean extremely. We went in with three healers just to be prepared for anything and I don't think I'm exaggerating it if I say that a decent healer with some Firelands gear probably could've solo healed it. He has a raid wide aoe-stomp and an ability where you have to hide behind some pillars. As long as people hide properly there is basically nothing to heal but the stomp, and on normal that did very low damage. There isn't much to say about this fight other than that it went by really fast.

Warlord Zon'ozz
The funny thing about a progression guild like ours is that we usually have people that study up on the boss fights really carefully, but don't bother with reading up on how the trash works. Because of that we usually have a fairly easy time with the bosses (at least the first ones) but can wipe horribly on trash that we just can't figure out fast enough. That is what happened on the trash before Warlord Zon'ozz. Fortunately I lagged behind for the first pull and when I got there the raid had wiped allowing me to do a mass res. we had loads of people die on the next pull as well, but we slowly but surely figured out how to deal with those tentacles.

Warlord Zon'ozz himself was also very straight forward as a healer. As it would turn out to be on most fights in Dragon Soul (and this might be something that will annoy me later on) it is a whole lot about aoe healing. As a disc priest that unfortunately means spamming Prayer of Healing basically, which also was a huge contributing factor to why I want my holy spec back. There is this huge ball going back and forth between the melee group and the ranged group and there is some aoe damage. That was about what I gathered from the fight. Sometimes someone would shout out "move a little more to the left" and I would take a couple of steps to the left, all while keep on spamming Prayer of Healing.

Yor'sahj the Unsleeping
Yor'sahj is where things started getting a little more interesting. I really enjoyed the concept of getting to choose your own debuffs through the blobs, and it was also one of the few fights I had actually studied up on in advance. And it will be really interesting to see how it changes for the heroic mode. It still wasn't particularly challenging on normal with even more - you guessed it - Prayer of Healing spam.

Hagara the Stormbinder
What I liked about this fight is that eventhough you don't have a clue about the skills (like me) all of them were pretty self explanatory (although, in lfr people seem to manage to fail even with the simplest and most obvious things). Don't stand in shit basically. This is the one of the few fights where I've so far tested holy too, and yes, it is even more aoe healing - which holy is doing really well at the moment.

Healers are supposed to get a buff here, it's simple enough as it is called out and a huge crystal spawns which you have to run to and click. I didn't quite get what that buff actually did, I know it boosted my healing somehow (differently depending on crystal) but I didn't notice a major difference. Something that will matter a lot more in heroic mode no doubt. This fight was, yet again, basically only about spamming aoe healing. Fortunately it had one other aspect which I really enjoyed - having to save yourself from certain death by clicking the dream button. It's basically a skill you get that shifts you into the "dream", saving you from Ultraxions big killer. He also puts a debuff on two (in 10 man) random players which kills them unless they shift. I liked it because it wasn't just mindlessly spamming the button, you actually had to time it properly and this too is something I hope they have taken to the next level for the heroic mode. Perhaps even preciser timing or more skills where the shifting has to be used? It puts more responsibility in the hands of the player, where they themselves are the only ones responsible for whether they live or die due to those skills - something I was wishing for in my previous post (albeit in a slightly different way).

GUNSHIP! Basically. Some people loved that fight, some hated it. I was among the ones who really liked it the first couple of times, especially the general concept, although it did turn into "lootship" fairly quickly. Because of this I enjoyed the idea of Blackthorns ship as well, and something I particularly liked was having to take the bombs with your face - everyone gathering for the big bomb and anyone close enough for the small ones. It gave a sense of teamwork that I really enjoyed and also a sense of success when you managed to detect and properly move to a small bomb to make sure it didn't land on the ship. It was also (finally!) one of the few fights where it wasn't all about aoe healing, except just after the big bomb had landed. Properly moving from charge and Shockwave was fun too.

Spine of Deathwing
A messy fight. One of the few where I did a major mistake, twice (!) moving out of the tendrils too soon and being swept off for the Barrel Roll. It was insanely fun to heal though, us healers had to roll mana management cooldowns, raid cooldowns and overall micro manage our healing teamwork on the go. We had nothing set up in advance and it was a blast to have to communicate our way through it. That is what healing is supposed to be all about! We shouldn't have to set up the entire rotation in advance, and play it through like some kind of ballet, we should be able to just deal with it off the top of our hat and with proper skill be able to deal with the situation. We did wipe on this a couple of times, but I haven't had that much fun healing as a proper team in a very, very long time.

Madness of Deathwing
It was a fun fight, I'll say that at once. Real fun. But it wasn't an epic end-of-the-expansion-finally-killing-that-bastard-Deathwing kind of fight. In that sense it was actually a disappointment. Not Spine of Deathwing nor Madness of Deathwing actually made it feel like you were fighting Deathwing. It should be said though that I don't think this fight is the end of it. It is clear something is around the corner and SPOILER BE HERE that we'll probably (hopefully!) get to fight an Old God in whatever raid comes next. There will be another raid right? The Old God fights are always some among my favorites, and I totally love that aspect of the Wow lore (being somewhat of a Lovecraft nerd). But back to the fight in itself - yet more aoe healing, as a healer in fact not that interesting of a fight except when you had to save some cooldowns for the bigger damage. The final phase turned up the heat somewhat, especially since it took back the "save yourself by clicking this button"-mechanic that I enjoyed from the Ultraxion fight.

Healing on our Madness of DW kill.

So far I am quite pleased with the Dragon Soul raid, although I have only done it once. I will probably have completely different attitude towards the fights once I've done them a couple of times and once we get started on the heroic modes (next reset) which should prove to be hard nuts to crack. On the downside normals turned out to be a lot about aoe healing. Fortunately that doesn't have to be a huge problem since aoe healing as a holy priest is quite interesting and fun (more about priest healing soon). On the upside I am quite pleased with the general concept of the fights, the way they managed to (at least for normal modes) make teamwork really fun and rewarding for the healing group. I want more of that!

Priest healing
So what about priests in Dragon Soul? I am pleasantly surprised actually. I topped meters (and we all know that is what matters *cough*) against the other two healers (druid and paladin) throughout the raid, without being more oom than they were. This never happened during Firelands where I was a happy third (or second, since we usually duo-healed) for pretty much any fight. Enter Dragon Soul and boom, my healing just rocks ass. I don't have a good explanation for it. Either they really buffed Prayer of Healing, or they've nerfed paladin/druid throughput/mana regen. I know they have made some buffs to holy healing, like changing Divine Hymn to be similar to Tranquility (finally, thank you) and my initial feeling for holy is very positive. The big issue with holy versus discipline right now doesn't actually seem to be the healing throughput bit, but the mana management bit, since the loss of Rapture usually is noticeable. I have sacrificed quite a lot of spirit for other stats, since my mana wasn't an issue at all towards the end of Firelands. It always is for new content however, and on Spine of Deathwing and Madness of Deathwing I had to struggle with mana towards the end. A talent like Veil of Shadows is worth its weight in gold (hmm... that can't be right) for those situations, and knowing how to properly time your cooldowns will matter - like combining a Hymn of Hope with Borrowed Time and a Shadowfiend. Calling out before you use a Hymn of Hope to allow your fellow healers to prepare for it is another good idea.

I have been able to give holy a try, nothing too fancy really - some of the new dungeons and two LFR-fights - but my initial impression is definitely positive. Divine Hymn is actually a cooldown now! No longer is it a button we push and pretend it actually makes a difference (or in my case, a button to press whenever I want a couple of seconds without having to think too much). I used it twice (omg twice in one fight?!) on an lfr-Yor'Sahj, and it was second on my healing done. Sanctuary my friends, was first. And it wasn't too heavy on my mana, although the fight really dragged on way longer than it should. To me that is plenty of proof that Holy at least has picked itself up from lying down and is ready to give the other healers a fight. I requested a clear niche for holy healing, and we've got it - aoe healing. I did notice neglecting tank healing in a way I rarely do as disc, and I could get whiny about how holy healing now seems to be all about aoe healing while we're still weak on the point healing area - but I won't. I don't mind being really strong in one area alone, especially not since it seems that will turn out to be an important thing to get right in this content. Now this is only my initial impression, and holy could still turn out to be the weaker when compared to discipline. What worries me is the mentioned mana management and the point healing, but for now I am just so happy that there at least seems to be hope, not to mention how much fun holy still is! I am so looking forward to being able to give it a proper go for our raids next week.

We will start doing heroics next reset, and for the first fights I'll probably go discipline. It is the spec I am the most comfortable with at the moment, since I haven't really played holy at all since pre-4.2. But I will try to sneak some holy healing in there as well, both so that I and the rest of the healing team can get the hang of it.

Transmo-what? Tier 13!
No I haven't transmogrified anything yet. Quite honestly, I think the tier 13 for priests looks completely smashing, and although all I have so far is one piece through the LFR (meaning it's actually a downgrade from my heroic t12, since I break 4-set), I can't be arsed to go throught he hassle of getting my perfect gear for transmogrification when all I really want is to be able to run around in t13 already. I have been looking at the set bonuses some and they look decent enough. They're not entirely fair of course, since I can use Power Infusion every 2 minutes but Divine Hymn only every 3 minutes. That's quite a big difference, also considering Power Infusion already lowers the mana cost of spells, disc yet again seems to come out a lot stronger on the mana manegement area. The 4 set bonus doesn't seem fair either. There is a lot to be said about it, but lets start with the discipline bonus. Getting 100% extra absorbtion on your shields doesn't automatically have to be a good thing - it also means it will be trickier to get that Rapture proc. Fortunately, this will probably turn out to be a small issue considering the general damage that goes around in a raid instance is enough to blow even a double-shield. Looking at the holy one I have other questions however. Increasing the duration of Holy Words, in what way would that be good for Holy Word: Serenity? I assume that would simply increase the duration of the crit heal bonus buff you get on your target, but is that really worth much? Increasing the duration on Holy Word: Sanctuary will be awesome however, but it makes me wonder how often we'll end up wanting to use Serenity - forcing holy priests even more into the aoe corner. But like I said, I don't mind standing in that corner if I do it damn well, and so far I definitely think holy priests are getting there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Field Report - Firelands in Retrospect

As Firelands probably is coming to its end quite soon (pre-post edit, I actually wrote this just days before they announced 4.3 would be released), I thought this would be as good a time as any to share some thoughts on What I've thought it's been like.

Ironically, because everything that has gone on around me, I'm probably among the people who dislike the place the least. I never had a good chance to get into it, which also means I've not really had a good chance to get utterly bored with it either. It started out "bad" as it was launched while I was on vacation, so I didn't have a chance to get right into it as I have with basically all the other raids since BC. Then when I got back I had a huge mess with my guild, which meant I had to switch, joining a guild that was far into heroic modes already whilst I had barely even touched normals. I've written about all those issues already so no need to get into any length about it again, but it does mean I've had a very special raiding relationship with Firelands.

It meant having to jump straight into the heavy shit
, without the warming up that normals often offer. This wasn't just stressful out of a skill point of view, it also meant I had a lot less good gear and experience overall to tackle the situation. It hasn't been all bad though, as it did give me an entirely new experience on raiding and a possibility to evaluate myself as a raider as well, with new insights to what I could improve. I have often relied on normals to actually learn a fight, not bothering much with reading tactics and watching videos. Don't get me wrong, I always prepare for a fight by reading up and watching vids, but definitely not as much as probably most other serious raiders do. What I do is get the general idea of the fight in advance, then I actually learn the fight by doing it. Normals are usually well tuned that way, allowing me to get into the "mood" of the fight before stepping it up to heroics which usually introduce a butt load of mechanics that require me to think about more than just the healing. This time I had no such breaking in and it forced me to learn how to tackle the fights in a whole new way. I can't say I liked it, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Firelands to me has been a lot like what Trial of the Crusader was in Wrath of the Lich King. I really liked that instance, but I can't say I really got it. What was it about anyway? To me it felt like a "filler" raid to keep us satisifed until Blizzard could release more content that was actually connected to the expansion. I am not saying that is the case with Firelands, but that is how it felt like to me since I had such trouble getting into the raid. With all previous raids I've eventually ended up doing each boss a trillion times and know them all inside and out, and that just never happened with the Firelands raids. Since I got into a group that had so much more experience than me, I didn't get to learn it with them, but rather tag along and do my best as they did their thing. It means I still haven't fully understood some, very important, aspects of some fights - like how the healing really works on Baleroc. How is that even possible you might wonder? Well, I just walked in there, got my assignment carefully explained to me and did just that. I didn't need to understand the buffs and debuffs, and I haven't had to since. And since I haven't been able to become an important part of the raid team in my current guild in this particular content, I just couldn't really be bothered with it either. It is handicapping, and I don't like it, but it just turned out that way.

I've felt more isolated in my playing throughout Firelands than ever before
. Like a child put in a corner with some toys, told to do this part but not move anywhere and just trying to behave as well as possible. I am not saying this to throw blame or complain, I have been enjoying myself in raids. But it has also been a completely new, and quite odd, experience to me, and it has made all of the Firelands raiding also seem quite unreal. Not something I have dedicated myself to like with previous raids, but something I've just gone and done because... why not?

It has left me quite ambivalent. Objectively (as much as I can be) I quite like Firelands. I think the fights are interesting, well designed and varying. I think some of them have become a little too faceroll after the nerf, removing a lot of what was once considered the sole challenge - I remember our first kill on Staghelm, with three healers and taking 7ish stacks in each scorpion phase, that actually made that fight fun and challenging. Then when we realized how much easier it is done with only cat phases it is so much faceroll we can basically fail on everything and still not wipe. I know this is an inevitable path that raids have always gone, but it has affected me more than before since I didn't really get a chance at the fights as they were originally. I only got to see them a handful of times before the nerfs, and I don't feel like I know much about Firelands at all. If someone were to ask me explain the tactics of any fight, and actually follow my advice, they'd probably die very fast. I have never been this ignorant and out of the loop about raiding and it feels odd.

I have the same ambivalent feelings regarding the role of the priest healer. Disc priests have been good enough this tier, and loads of fun to play. I feel like many fights are well designed to pick out the strengths of disc healing and eventhough some fights have been a lot about spamming my PoH button, I still feel like disc priest healing has been kept versatile and interesting this tier. On the flip side we have holy priests who have ended up pretty much in the opposite corner. I am happy to hear that there are holy priests out there who think they do a good job in this Tier, but the area in which they can shine has become very specific. Preferrably 25 mans and preferrably normal modes. I never thought it would be an issue, but Firelands has been so much about raid cooldowns that not having one has become quite noticeable. Add to that that holy priests can't really compete with druids for aoe healing or paladins for point healing anyway and you've got a priest that is decent at everything but good for nothing, a place I feared priests might end up in eventually - they've managed to stay out of it for all this time, being (according to me) probably the best designed healer for years, so it was bound to change around sooner or later.

It's difficult to say what could've saved holy priests this tier. A little more oomph overall probably. Some cooldowns that actually were useful and just a tad bit more healing output. Firelands was not designed for holy priest healing, or maybe it's actually rather the other way around - holy priests were not designed to work well with Firelands.

A little addition since I now know that 4.3 is coming out - it will definitely be interesting to see how Blizzard will have managed to bring holy priests back into the game, which I pray they have. I would really like it if they moved away from the big raid cooldowns and focused more on personal cooldowns, leaving more into the hands of each player instead of having one player saving everyones ass. It's a nice idea, but it usually means bringing that player (or class rather) is quite vital for the raid group, kind of like how shamans always have been able to join simply because of their Bloodlust. Right now I am getting kind of sick and tired with the big raid-wide cooldowns and would definitely like to see more personalized and individual cooldowns, especially cooldowns like Power Infusion, Dark Intent and Focus Magic that can (or must) be cast on other players but still only affect one or two players and not the entire group. It does require more teamwork and not just good timing, and I would love to see more of that.

This time I am going to throw myself headfirst into the new content as I normally do, reading up on priest changes, checking out fights and tactics and planning my play style well in advance (maybe more than I usually do actually!). I am keeping my fingers crossed that the fights will be as versatile and fun as the Firelands ones were, but that the raid cooldowns will take a step back in favor for more personal responsibilities. I doubt that will happen, but one can always hope.

Friday, November 11, 2011

We're ready for Class Transfers

I read a post by Tjsonntag over at Melted Faces which was a reply to a post by Cynwise of Cynwise's Battle Notes, which in turn was a reply to a post by Vidyala over at Manalicious (still with me?) regarding the troubles of investing time in characters and being able to play whatever you enjoy most.

During my years playing WoW I've definitely come across two major types of players - the ones who play their character and the ones who play their account. Me and Love are good examples. Eventhough I've mained Zinn for the vast majority of my WoW-gaming, it's never bothered me the slightest to accomplish something or receive items on another character. When they wanted to do Glory of the Ulduar raider and needed a shaman I gladly came with my shaman. To me the importance was in me experiencing it, not which character ended up with the mount. I've focused on Zinn because I've loved priest healing, and if I was for some reason forced to play a completely nother priest with no achievements or cool vanity items I'd be only slightly upset because to me the main thing would be to know that I had a way of enjoying the content with the class I enjoy most, not necessarily the character I enjoy most. Love differed quite a lot from this. He always had a huge problem with bringing alts to raids for example because he'd be so annoyed when something happened or dropped that he wanted to "collect" for his main. My brother had a similar attitude. When he was forced a name change on his rogue he basically completely lost interest in playing, since the character was dead when its history i.e reputation was lost.

Most people probably don't know who Zinn is on my server eventhough I have been around for 5 years and it's never bothered me. But to some people all that effort is worth a whole lot and not something easily dismissed. So what happens when the time spent on a character is all that keeps you to it? When nostalgia, and not the class itself, is the only reason you still make yourself play a certain class?

This was actually something Love occasionally mentioned. I know he loved to play feral druid, but I also know that whenever he for some reason felt a drop in interest in that class he probably suffered a lot more than I did in the same situation. Maybe just knowing that he was "stuck" with his druid sometimes made it worse, especially during times when druids would struggle to perform and most people would be happy to be able to join the raid as something more useful. It's awful to feel like a burden to everyone else just because you've happen to play a class that Blizzard isn't loving at that moment, and feeling that it is basically impossible to switch - it just doesn't feel right. He probably didn't identify with the class as much as he identified with the character and everything he had done with it in the game. Cynwise actually puts this way of thinking really well;

"There's no opportunity to say, hey, I like this character, I identify with this character, I want to experience the game through this character, but from a different role. "

In a sense, switching character would negate all that effort put into it, and what good were the last 5 years then? Achievements and past experiences really matter in this game, and even if I don't care which character they're on, everyone around me do;

If you ever decide to level a character on a server completely removed from the empire you've might've built up wherever your main is, you'll notice insane difficulties to advance ahead once you get to max level. At least compared to whatever your alts on your main server usually have to go through - this is also something I have written a post about. A guildie of mine is currently playing an alt on another server to play with a friend of his and has told us some of the difficulties he is currently facing. Eventhough he's an extremely skilled arms warrior (the same class as his main), has killed Rag on heroic and probably knows more about the raids he's trying to join than anyone else in the group, it is basically impossible for him to get to even prove it. Most people won't let him join because his gear level is "only" 359 ish, and when he has no achievement to show they "know" he's bad. Without even getting to join he can't prove that he'll probably out dps and generally outperform most other people in the raid, or in any case definitely not be a boost object, and he'll never get the achievements he need to be able to get in to be able to prove himself. You see the evil circle here?

I had the same issue when I leveled a prot warrior on an off-server. Eventhough I had full knowledge of how to play my class and how to do the fight, it was basically impossible for me to convince people of it because all my "proof" was on the wrong character. My only option was to hit the farming cycle, gathering enough money to get some crafted gear, and doing the older tier of raiding content. Which still wouldn't allow me to get the achievement which seems to be the only thing people really care about nowadays. It's a huge C.V we're walking around with, and we need it one way or another - so maybe it should be easier to use.

In short, the problem is that Blizzard might have made it so enticing and rewarding to invest time in a character that they've also made it very difficult to move out of that comfort zone. So what happens when a person doesn't enjoy playing that role anylonger or wants to try something else somewhere else? The first category probably end up rather quitting WoW than doing what would feel to them like throwing all that time and effort in the gutter. The latter find themselves with the only option to do realm transfers, which is a clunky way to move around your comfort zone if you ask me.

Now, I heard a rumor that Blizzard actually intended to make achievements cross-account, meaning you could link your awesome achievements from any character and not just the one that you were on when you achieved it. I think it's a good idea, because eventhough succeeding with something on one class doesn't mean you'll succeed with another, it would definitely allow people to move away some from the curse that achievements have turned out to be to many.

But that would be far from enough for the people who identify with all their characters achievements. Tjsonntag proposes class-transfers, in which you basically just swap your characters class but keep everything else, and asks "why the hell not?". It is something that has been discussed before and probably will be discussed until they either implement it or WoW ends, but I completely agree - why the hell not?

Blizzard originally intended for your choice of class and even spec within a class to be a very definite choice. Not as definite as in Diablo 1 and 2, but not far from. Throughout the years they have realized that a great way to battle the constant inequalities there are between classes, that there always will be a FotM, and satisfying players need to do something new occasionally, was by letting them  freely (or close to) swap between specs. This is a huge step from their initial design idea, and I can barely imagine how much shorter the life-expectancy of Wow would've been without those changes. Try to imagine playing WoW with those ever increasing respec costs that we had from the start? I know they would be a huge problem for me, and I don't even respec that often. Some, often hybrids, are up in the hundreds of respecs by now, something that would be completely impossible with the old system.

So doesn't it seem like the next logical step would be for people to be able to swap classes? One day you're a warrior, the next you're a mage. Sure, there are practical things to consider (how to swap gear?) and I am sure there will be plenty of doomsday prophecies about how this will be the end of quality and skill among players as we know it, an argument we've heard considering just about any change made to character development (faster leveling, dks starting from level 55, dual-specs etc). There is some credit to those concerns, but I still feel like the gains would outweigh the drawbacks. Like I said, having downed rag hc on your hunter doesn't mean you have a clue on how to do it on a warlock, but it still says a whole lot about your skills in general (because by lord, that is not an easy fight).

Of course, having to start all over if you want to switch class is a completely intentional time-sink on Blizzards part, and not necessarily a bad one. In fact, I don't think WoW has been ready for a class-transfer function before, because making things too easy also has the danger of making it boring. But I do think it is now. Somehow we might have to take into consideration that WoW is coming to an end, probably sooner than later, and this might be the perfect way to squeeze that last interest out of all those people who have now played the same role for several years and would love to "free" themselves from their class and try something else. Would it save everyones interest in WoW? Definitely not, but it would at least give it a chance. Because the option as Tjsonntag puts it;

"I think the only way to save her would be for Blizz to introduce class transfers. I mean, why the hell not, at this point? I could make her a Male Human with a different name on another server; the class is the only thing I can’t change. And that makes me really sad, because I love her. We just don’t have that much in common anymore."

Having to see a loving relationship end like that is just a shame.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Killing the zeros

A recent blue post addresses the issue of constantly increasing the stats in a game like WoW. It is a subject I have pondered myself, trying to figure out a way to navigate around it or preferrably solve it completely, since with each new expansion it feels like the numbers are ridiculous and bloated. What bothers me about it is that eventhough I get 100 more strength from one item to the next, I know that my character hasn't actually advanced at all, when compared to the challenge offered by the surrounding. In fact, to keep us interested, Blizzard have to make it look like we take a step forward, and invisibly in the same time make sure we take one step back. Because if we really only took steps forward, as the gear make it seem, we would soon own everything we see just by looking at it, kind of like going back and soloing Karazhan as a level 85.

So eventhough we get better, so does everything else. No progression is really made. We only get new content and the impression that we constantly overpower content. We are overpowering content, but only current content. Until it's not current anymore and we have a new threshhold to climb. And we do this over and over. Like I said in my old post;

"Cataclysm will have my character just as good/bad compared to the npcs as all the other expansions have. In fact we're rebooting ourselves. Come Cataclysm even those with über ICC gear will have to start out fresh again and start dressing up in greens, struggling in instances and become overjoyed when some "cool" blue item drops. Doing the first raids and getting that first really good epic item, until we're all epic geared again and start replacing epic items with epic items and... Wrath and BC all over again. "

I don't mind it, it is what makes the game still fun after six years, to constantly feel like there still is some challenge in this game and a reward for overcoming it (which isn't just glory, but pretty purple pixels as well). The sense of progression, however imaginary, is clearly a very strong motivator that keeps us interested. But there are casualties of this war, of this constant battle of telling us we're moving ahead when we're really moving back and forth. And the bloated stat numbers are one of them.

If you had told a new WoW player in early Vanilla that characters would once be able to level up to 100 (if we get there) and wear gear with stats that valued up to the tenth of thousands he'd have laughed spittle all over your face. Because everytime there is a new expansion and the new gear is announced I find the new stat values crazy. And those items are usually just the first, measly greens of the expansion. Then we have the epics and whatever item that comes towards the end of the expansion. In fact, I chuckle at my own psychic powers when I guessed what stats we'd be having in Cata in the post I wrote a year ago;

"What can we expect to have in Cataclysm? 10k spellpower? 100k hp on a caster? It might sound ridiculous now, but I'm quite sure these are numbers we'll be working with soon."

We quickly grow accustomed to the new values, but practically there is no difference between an item that has 1000 strength and one that has 10 strength, as long as it is used in current content. The things you fight now will somehow magically take as long and be as difficult to kill as the monsters of the previous expansion. We wouldn't want to have it any other way. So do we just accept that the numbers must increase?

Blizzard tell us they know about this problem (it's kind of hard to miss, so I wonder if anyone thought otherwise), which isn't just aesthetical, but practical as well and they offer two possible solutions - although of course they tell us these are just examples of ways to handle this. Both solutions are similar, and aesthetically close to identical, they do however have different practical values.

"Mega Damage
The first solution could include changes like adding commas and the like to large numbers. We could also compress all of those 1000s to Ks and all of those 1,000,000s to Ms, much like we do with boss health today. Internally, we have been calling this the “Mega Damage solution” because instead of your Fireball hitting for 6,000,000 damage, it would hit for 6 MEGA DAMAGE (queue the Arcanite Ripper guitar solo)."

"Item Level Squish
The second solution actually involves compressing item levels, which is why we call it the “item level squish solution.” If we can lower stats on items, then we can lower every other number in the game as well, such as how much damage a Fireball does or how much health a gronn has. If you look at the item level curves, you can see that most of the growth occurs at the maximum character levels for the various expansions. This is because we keep rewarding more and more powerful gear to make the new raid tier and PvP season in an expansion reward significantly better gear than the previous one. However, those huge item level jumps don’t accomplish a lot once the character level has increased again. Very few players notice or care how much of an upgrade the Black Temple loot is over the Serpentshrine Cavern loot when their characters are level 80.

With that in mind, we could go back and compress the big item level increases that occur at level 60, 70, 80 and 85. The Mists of Pandaria gear would still grow exponentially from patch to patch, but the baselines would be a lot lower. Health could go from 150,000 back down to something like 20,000. The big risk of this approach is that players will log into the new expansion and feel nerfed… even if all the other numbers are compressed as well.

In other words, your Fireball will still do the same percentage damage to a player or a creature that it does today, but the number would be smaller. Logically, this seems like it would work, and it does. But it feels weird. When we tried this internally, everyone agreed that it just felt off throwing a spell for hundreds of damage when you are used to it doing thousands of damage."

We either have the Mega Damage or the Item Level Squish. Aesthetically they both do the same thing in that they devalue the numbers. Instead of a lot of zeros, you have either no zeros or hide the zeros behind the name "Mega". Practically it differs between actually removing those zeros in the calculation or keeping them.

When I first read about these two propositions I thought it was ridiculous that one would feel better than the other. Would adding "mega damage" to the end really make all the difference? Would it bother me if I did 100 damage or 100 Mega damage? I'm not sure how much I'm concerned with the numbers of the skills I do. I want them to be good, but good compared to what? Compared to the numbers I did with this character before I switched weapons or compared to the numbers everyone else around me are doing? I'd like to think the latter, in which case the size of the number in itself is irrelevant, as long as it is on par with what everyone else is doing and as long as it gets the job done. would I feel weak doing 100 damage with my Eviscerate if I knew 90% of all the other rogues only did 90? I'd like to think not.

But I shouldn't underestimate the power of progression and especially the power of suggestion. Getting a bigger power than what I had previously suggests that I have improved - in a way I have, only so has (or rather will) everything else. It is quite possible I will think it is completely horrible that my renews only tick for 50 health, although the tank only has 6k hp. On the other hand, I do remember Blizzard actually devaluing stats before, half way through Burning Crusade they revalued the spell power numbers (or healing power as it was called then for healers), making us end up with roughly half of whatever we had had before. Fortunately, as I recall, it didn't nerf our healing output with half, but it did nerf us somewhat. I was freaked at first when my numbers had dropped by such a significant amount but I quickly got back into rythm when I realized that I could still do my job. And I'd like to think that eventhough people would be freaked at first, what really matters is whether you're winning against the evil guys or not.

I have been pondering whether it would be a good idea to scrap the whole value-based stat system all together. Blizzard initially started out with solid numbers - say, 2% crit - on items, but quickly realized that as they gave better items more stats, it would eventually lead to everyone having 100% of everything. So in a sense they did scrap the value-based stat system when they implemented ratings, a system where the value is completely dependant on your current level. I was writing about something along those lines already in my other post;

"What if gear worked like inverted BoA - the further away from it's required level you are, the less stats it gives. That means only the gear with the right level requirement for you will be really good. So level 60 gear will be really good, but only around those levels and then you have to switch it."

This is actually kind of like how ratings work, but we still have value-based stats, like spellpower, strength, and all the other primary stats. Maybe the next step would be to make those into a sort of rating as well, giving us 15 agility rating which would be valued less or more depending on level. The problem is, ratings aren't there to solve the bloated numbers issue. As it is now, Blizzard can shove as much rating in our faces as they want since the usefulness of the rating usually diminishes the higher level you get, which explains why I actually become less and less good from level 80 to 84, eventhough I have the same gear. The drop isn't proportionate to the increased skill of the mobs, but actually goes downward. Ratings are there to prevent us from capping our secondary stats, not to prevent us from having lots of zeros on our gear. And like I said in my previous post;

"It is clear we need something to differentiate good gear from bad gear. And some sense of individual progression is obviously a really important part of mmorpgs. Maybe numbers really is the only way to make that in an easy to understand way. 10 strength is better than 5 strength (or in WoW rather; epic color is better than blue color). Easy maths. "

It seems whatever idea I come up with it always ends up with numbers somewhere, because it is difficult to show why item A is better than item B without using some kind of value which always ends up being some sort of numbers. Maybe we are simple minded and can only understand "more is better than less", so maybe numbers indeed is the only way to go about it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

MoP Healing Priest Talents

I was really happy about all the cheer me ups I got on my last post, it has really helped me a lot, so thank you guys! Although it's only been 3 days since that post, it's been nearly three weeks since the incident actually happened (which, I can tell you, is about illness, but not my own) and I have had some time to pick myself up. I have good days and bad days at the moment, but I feel that the urge and joy to write is still there. I write to take my mind of things, and because of that my writing will be more randomly posted and slightly less proof-read than before - the topic stays the same however! If I've ever needed this blog, it's probably now.


I've been out of the loop more than ever concerning WoW. First I had the guild issue, then the raiding issue, then the vacation and then the life changing disaster. When I finally crawl back up and peek over the edge of my table and onto my computer screen I notice that shit has been going on while I was gone. Who'd have guessed it? Suddenly I feel like them people who seem to have no clue whatsoever when a patch hits. I usually think "how could he not know?". Now I know how. You know, them people who go;

"Druids have chicken form now?"
"What are these Death Knights I see running around?"

Yeah, that's gonna be me during 4.3, and maybe even Mists of Pandaria if I don't get cracking on reading up on everything that was announced during Blizzcon. Or maybe, I'll just let it be a surprise this time. Maybe I'll just let myself be clueless and bedazzled, kind of like the first time I set foot in WoW.

I have been checking up on one thing though. When I left for vacation, tier 13 for priests hadn't been announced yet, to my great annoyance. I was betting they'd announce it last just to make sure I wouldn't be able to see it until I got home, although I don't actually know if it did come out last or not. Either way, I've seen it now, and I love it. I thought I loved tier 12. I realize now that that was only because I really hated tier 11. When I didn't hate tier 12 I mistook it for love, such an easy mistake. But I knew true love when I set eyes on tier 13.

I'm not even sure just exactly what's so great about it. It feels unique, interesting, cool. It feels like it perfectly suits both the caring (?) healing priest and the not so caring (?) shadow priest. It feels like the designers hit the spot about what I think about priests for the first time since tier 8 - like they managed to put what being a priest is all about into clothing. But maybe even more so since it doesn't actually yell "priest" the way some other nice priest tiers have done. Maybe I am just being delusional. Either way I love it. Now I can only hope that it looks half decent on a goblin (pff, yeah right).

But the tier 13 isn't actually what I wanted to talk about with this post. Because I've been naughty and sneak-peaked on one other thing (oh and I know pandarens will come in Mists of Pandaria). Someone told me the talent trees were getting a complete overhaul, and I initially thought "Sure, for the tenth time in a row". But this time around it actually looks like Blizzard have tried to make a complete overhaul. I know they've been trying to present us with difficult choices since they designed the very first talent tree, and it has been Blizzard wettest dream to have players choose to play different styles of the same spec. In some cases they have succeded, like discipline priests who use or don't use Atonement. But in nearly any other case there is a cookie-cutter spec, and in end game raiding there is just little to warrant using anything but whatever will give you the best chance at killing that ugly boss.

Designing fights and talents that allow for personal style must be a nightmare, frankly I get a headache just thinking about it. It is basically impossible to make two things worth equally much, so how on Azeroth do you make someone choose the lesser choice? The only answer I can see to that question is that you make the choices good enough to warrant some taking the lesser just because it is also needed in the big picture. That way you'll have some people who can do A and some who can do B, and eventhough A might be better than B if you had to choose, having both in a raid is still the best alternative of all. This seems to mean that the one-direction orientation style class specs that we've seen for the last six years are gone as we know it, and I can't say I'm very sorry. I'm usually interested in giving new things a shot. Now, we can only really talk about the class, as each player can choose freely between different style talents. It will indeed be very interesting to see if Blizzard succeed this time around.

I am sure plenty of posts have been written about the choices we can make, but no Jinxed Thoughts post has been done yet! As always most of the talents will probably change until they go into action (whenever that is), but musing about what we know is fun nonetheless.

Now remember that I jumped straight into this and probably haven't really understood it all just yet. I'll just go through the different tiers and discuss which choice would be the best or most interesting from a healing priest perspective.

Tier 1
Void Tendrils: Summons Shadowy Tendrils out of the ground, rooting all targets within 10 yards for 20 seconds. Killing the tendril will cancel the effect.
Psyfiend: Summons a Psyfiend that stands in place. The Psyfiend casts a Psychic Scream on a nearby enemy within 40 yards every 2 sec lasting for 10 sec, preferring anything attacking the priest or her friends.
Psychic Scream: The caster lets out a psychic scream, causing 5 enemies within 8 yards to flee for 8 sec. Damage caused may interrupt the effect.

None of these choices are aimed at healing, since all seem to be about crowd control (for some reason) - something healers aren't known to use very frequently in a pve setting after level 80. I could probably count the amount of times I've found fear to be useful for my healing in a raid on my left hand fingers, which means both Psychic Scream and Psyfiend don't come off as very interesting choices for the pveing healing priest. That leaves Void Tendrils, which basically is a sort of Nature's Grasp/Roots. As I know nothing about how the raid fights will be designed in MoP it's difficult to say how useful this will be, but assuming that Blizzard keeps somewhat the same style as they have for the last couple of years, it still feels like some roots could be more useful than a fear.
Pvpers are going to have a field day with these choices though, and it is also interesting to note that this means Psychic Scream won't be baseline for priests anymore.

Tier 2
Body & Soul: When you cast Power Word: Shield or Leap of Faith, you increase the target's movement speed by 60% for 4 sec.
Path of the Devout: Increases your movement speed while Levitating by 25%.
Phantasm: Anytime you fade, you remove all movement impairing effects from yourself and your movement speed will be unhindered for 3 sec.

To me, the choice lies between Body & Soul and Path of the Devout. What we really got to choose between here is whether we want to be able to give run speed or have it ourselves. Experience tells me run speed is a really nice thing, and I do like Body & Soul. Unlike PotD, Body & Soul is something we can both use ourselves and cast on other people. On the other hand, PotD is a buff that lies on for a lot longer than B&S, unless you're in a fight with continuous aoe damage (and we all know they aint that uncommon). And B&S is handy, but how often do I really use it? In all honesty I use it more often to save my own ass than anyone elses, because giving someone a 60% speed increase without them knowing it doesn't always mean it will be put to good use. In the end I think it comes down to just how many of the MoP fights are about continuous aoe damage, because otherwise I think I would prefer having that 25% runspeed for myself even more than being able to hand out some speed on occasion.

Tier 3
From Darkness, Comes Light (caster form): You have a 6% chance when you Smite, Heal, Flash Heal, Binding Heal or Greater Heal to cause your next Flash heal to be instant cast and have no mana cost.
Divine Star: Fires a Divine Star in front of you, traveling 20 yards doing damage to all enemies and healing all friendly targets in its path. After reaching its destination, it will return to you also dealing damage and healing all targets in its path.
Archangel (caster form): Consumes your Evangelism, increasing your healing done by 5% for each Evangelism consumed.

Two oldies and a newbie. I've never been a fan of Surge of Light the way it was redesigned in Cata. I realize it was perhaps a little too good in its earlier forms (especially when it was bugged to proc from other priests crits!), but nerfing it to the ground wasn't the right way to go. Blizzard have tried to repent by making it proc from more and more spells, but I am still not very satisfied with this talent. Unless they change it to proc more often I still don't feel like it is something I would want.

Throughout Cata, I've had pretty much the same feelings for Archangel. As it is now, Archangel is a nice but not very needed buff to our healing. For MoP however, Blizzard are upping the incentive with 5% extra healing per stack, making the Archangel buff 10% more effective than it is now. 25% extra healing when you need it could actually make a difference, like when say the tank is really taking a pounding and you need that extra oomph, or there is some heavy aoe damage that needs to be healed up quickly. It might just be what Archangel needs to be a real healing tool and not just for funsies. There is also the question as to how you gather Evangelism stacks in MoP, the same way as today or a completely new way? Will that suit the raiding style of MoP or not? If gathering stacks becomes too much of a hassle, it might not be worth it.

Divine Star looks really interesting, but there is no saying how useful it is (which on the other hand, goes for all the skills since we don't know how they'll work in MoP). Being a cone effect basically, it has all the drawbacks of Light of Dawn, like the paladin constantly having to reposition to get the most out of it. This makes it mostly useful for situations where there is a lot of aoe damage and the raid group is huddled. If it is weak like Sanctuary has been most of Cata, there really isn't much use to it either. I don't like LoD, but I know many paladins do, so Divine Star is a pretty open card. Looking at what I do know about these talents I'd probably initially try Divine Star, but keep a very close eye on Archangel.

Tier 4
Desperate Prayer: Instantly heals the caster for 30% of their total health.
Angelic Bulwark: Increases the effectiviness of your own shield effects on yourself by 30%.
Final Prayer: Anytime a damaging attack brings you below 30% health, you gain an absorption shield equal to 20% of your total health lasting 20 sec. This effect cannot occur more than once every 90 sec.

This seems to be the ego-tier, seeing as all talents are aimed at saving your own ass. So which will do that best? Which one equates to the most healing? Depending on how useful shields will be in MoP, seeing as they have climbed up and down the useful ladder pretty frequently the last year, I feel like Angelic Bulwark is a really interesting choice. Assuming shields will work the way they do in Cata, with a 15 sec "cooldown" in Weakened Soul, 30% is quite a lot and will add up to a pretty strong shield. I think it will be more useful than a 2 minute and 90 sec cooldown. I prefer "weak but often" over "strong but rare". "Strong but rare" is usually better for tanks, "weak but often" usually works better for everyone else.

Tier 5
Twist of Fate: Increases the damage and healing done to targets at or below 25% health.
Power Infusion: Infuses the target with power, increasing spell casting speed by 20% and reducing the mana cost of all spells by 20%.
Serendipity (caster form): When you heal with Binding Heal or Flash Heal, the cast time of your next Greater Heal or Prayer of Healing spell is reduced by 10%/20% and mana cost reduced by 10/20%.

To me the choice is fairly simple in this tier. I am a huge fan of Power Infusion, always have been. It is an awesome healing cooldown, or dps cooldown if you want to use it on a fellow caster (like if). Yet again, it will depend a little on how the fights work in MoP, but if these choices were given to me today I'd go with Power Infusion without hesitation. To me it seems like the best from both Twist of Fate and Serendipity, in giving that extra oomph just when I need it.

Tier 6
Vow of Unity: You create a Vow of Unity with the friendly target. whenever you heal the target through spells and effects, you are also healed equal to 20% of this amount. In addition, when the target is attacked, 50% of the damage is redirected to you over 6 sec. if your target is victim to an attack greater than 30% of their total health, the Vow of Unity ends.
Void Shift: You swap health percentage with the current friendly target. After this effect ends, you are instantly healed for 25% of your total health.
Vampiric Dominance: When you deal damage or healing, 15% of the amount is healed to up to 3 low-health nearby allies.

When Blizzard talked about giving us tough choices, this is what they must've meant. Until now I've felt like the choices haven't been that difficult, but these actually all seem very useful. Vow of Unity seems really interesting, although maybe a little too dangerous to be really useful. Taking 50% of a tanks damage as healer could be devastating (like when I used Hand of Sacrifice on the tank on Baleroc just before a Decimation Blade). Would we want to use it on anything else than a tank? Difficult to say. I really like the idea of Vow of Unity, but it seems a little too much out of control to be good in pve.

Void Shift is dangerous too. Saving the tank (or someone else close to death) is a good thing to do, but it also means you instead will be close to death for a short while. How much will this be an issue? Difficult to say, but it means we won't be able to use it at leisure as with most heavy cooldowns, but have to make sure we're not using it just before a huge aoe slams down on us.

Vampiric Dominance is basically a 15% increase to our healing output, which looks insanely tasty. Eventhough both Vow of Unity and Void Shift look good, I'm not sure about their practical usefulness. 15% extra healing however, is always very useful and makes sure that we can do some aoe healing even when focusing on point healing, something priests haven't been very good at during Cata. For tier 6 I'd most likely go with Vampiric Dominance (which probably will be nerfed to 3% or something, before it goes live).

So there you have it! We can be 99% sure that the talent trees will look nothing like this in a couple of months, but I will be following the progress closely. One thing is certain: Blizzard mean serious business about making talents a real choice for us now. I really hope they succeed.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Life hits me full on

Hi guys (and gals)! Stuff happens, as we all know. And they've happened to me. One could call it a major catastrophe or the worst thing that has ever happened to me, but in short - I am going through a pretty rough patch. We all do, sooner or later. It just hurts so damn much. I won't bore you with long talks about whuda, culda and shuldas, because frankly at the moment I don't even have a clue about up and down.

Because of this I don't know if I'll be able to keep on posting (it's also the reason I haven't answered any comments, sorry!). On one hand everything seems meaningless (hey, do I sound depressed or something?), on the other hand I know I love writing and it is fully possible that I won't be able to stay away from it. That it in fact will allow me to move on, in whatever fashion I will have to do that.

I have had so much fun with the blog, you can't even imagine! And I don't want this to be good bye at all, just that things are out of my hands right now and have to settle down into... something, before I know what to do. I want to thank you all for the support and enthusiasm you've shown me over the time, and I really, really hope I'll be back asap.

But for now, and I have no idea for how long, the blog is on a hiatus. Until tomorrow, next week or next year but hopefully not forever. No one is more sorry than me.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Games for education isn't a bad idea

When I wrote my review on Jane McGonigals book "Reality is Broken", I complained about how she tried to hold games above reality in what I saw as basically the opposite of what non-gamers always do towards games - arbitrarily deciding that something is better than something else based on old, faulty or biased information. In that post I wrote;

"The gaming industry, and more specifically gamers, have fought since the late 70's to be considered a part of the normal entertainment system."

Basically, gamers constantly have to fight the common misconception that "gaming" is something bad. That it is something that solely can be about an ultimately wasteful use of time and that that time nearly always could've been spent doing something better. If we by "better" mean something like earn money or get smarter, that might have been true 20 years ago. Few people got richer or smarter by playing Mario (although this line of reasoning of course completely forgets how important good old fun is for anyone to become successful). But they seem to have completely missed the last 20 years of gaming development. Games can be social, they can have you earn money or become smarter, they can do loads of stuff that whatever "good" hobby does. When writing the above, little did I know that real life soon would give me the perfect example to prove my point. Prepare for a small rant.

I was casually reading through one of Swedens largest news papers - Dagens Nyheter (News of the Day) - when I stumbled upon this little pearl. Headline said, with my hobo-translation:

"Got to play video games during class".

Oh? I thought, and clicked to read more. Like I said, although I think there are plenty of games that suit a learning environment I don't think playing Mario during math will have you learn much algebra. But that wasn't the issue at all - no, apparently the Skolinpektionen (swedish School Inspection, set to make sure schools live up to standard and law) had gotten a report of a school that used a dance mat and an Xbox (god forbid!) during gym class. I was immediately intriguied. Because to me, that sounds like farking genious idea - using a dance mat to get people interested in getting sweaty. School Inpection however, did not agree with me. They had raised a warning finger and told this particular school that this was not ok, with this line of reasoning (yet again my hobo-translation).

"The gym teacher who worked with the children during the fall doesn't work there anymore, instead do some of the students go to Gyms or use a video game console - an Xbox - with a dance mat. That can't be enough to reach the goals, says School Inspection".

No I agree, that isn't enough to reach the goals. Because gym class isn't just about busting your ass, it's about learning proper diet and how training affects the body among other things (at least in sweden). Just leaving the students to take care of all that by themselves isn't going to give them the knowledge they need and are supposed to get from Gym Class (it's also not the only issue this school has apparently). And that's not what I have a problem with here either, I totally agree that they need a teacher and more than just training. But that isn't how it is worded. Or at least that isn't how I interpret it.

With the headline "got to play video games during class" and telling us that they have nothing but a dance mat, they want to make us think about that these kids are basically not doing anything during their gym classes. I wonder if anyone at School Inspection (or the journalist in this case) ever has set foot on a dance mat. I think I spend more calories during 30 minutes on a dance mat than I ever did during those 100 times of playing Rounders I did during Gym Class. Because playing the dance mat is seriously no walk in the park, it takes a lot of energy - a lot. Alone it's not enough to reach the goals, sure. But it's a damn good step in that direction.

And what is the real difference between playing Rounders and playing a dancing game on the Xbox anyway? They're both games aimed at having you bust your ass. The only difference really is that one is a lot cheaper than the other, especially if you have 30 students who are supposed to get some sort of training - 30 dance mats, xboxes and tv-screens isn't as practical and cheap as just throwing the kids outside on the football field with a bat and a ball.

But even if it was, even if the school for some reason had perfect opportunity to let a kid play a dance mat instead of Rounders, they wouldn't do it simply because the one is played on a gaming console and the other isn't. And games can never be good for anything else but wasting time, right? This is what really bothers me. I remember from my gymming days in school (which I always forgot to bring shoes to, that sucked during bandy), that half the class didn't bother to show up and or just sat at the sideline every time. I don't think a dance mat would encourage every kid to start training some, but it sure as heck would encourage some of the kids who currently don't. It annoys me when people turn down a perfectly viable and great idea just because it is a game. I would've totally loved to be able to play a dance mat during my gym classes, instead of the endless walking, skiing and rounders that we did.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rammy's Arms Warrior Guide - Part 4: Raid Pointers

Welcome to part 4 of my guildie Ramagos guide on how to play an Arms Warrior!

So, today seems it's a dull day at work, so I have tons of free time which I don't know what to with, so I'll write some more.

This time I'll go into fight specific tips.

Shannox: This fight is annoying as hell. With the tank running around kitting the boss, if you start running too late, you'll be out of range and won't be able to DPS at all. I would recommend you equip the Glyph of Rapid Charge, that way you can charge every 12 seconds instead of every 13. The problem about charge is that the travel distance is until you reach the max Melee range of the target when you charged. What does this mean? If you charge, and the target moves, you won't be at max melee range. Here is a simple drawing I made to explain it better.

Forum Image

The point where the charge ends won't follow the target if this one moves, so never charge when the target is moving away from you. Since you won't be able to reach the boss by walking until the tank stops or starts making a turn, wait until that moment, went he is starting to move sideways or just completely stops. A charge midfight is a very powerful tool since it gives you an extra 25% crit chance to your next MS, and we always love our MS to crit.

Save your Heroic Leaps for Rageface. If you need to bring him to a trap, leap past the trap and you'll trap him.

Make sure to use your CDs when you know your tank won't begin to move in the next few seconds.

Beth'tilac: Haven't done it, no tips.

Rhyolith: No tips really, since I'm driving most of the time, there is nothing special I do as a Warrior here.

Alysrazor: This fight requires a lot of moving around. Use all the spells in your arsenal to move more effectively. Since I've always done the right side, I will base my tips in that you get that side. I would recommend you get the Rude Interruption Talent since every extra DPS is necessary for this fight.

On the pull, don't shout, you don't need the Rage now and you want to save the 10% buff of the 2pset for later. With all the dmg that goes around at the pull plus the initial charge you'll have enough Rage to even spare a couple of HSs. Keep on DPSing Alysrazor until your 4th MS, then turn back and run to the initiate. By that time he should be coming down as a bird, when he is down, charge at him and go on with your rotation.

The first two initiates spawn within a VERY small time span in literally opposite sides of the room, so you need to be REALLY fast in taking down the first one. initiates 98% of the time have the following rotation "Brush Fire - Brush Fire - Fieroblast". So, when he starts casting Fieroblast, interrupt him, cast Battle Shout or Commanding Shout (depending what your raid needs) and blow all your CDs. At that moment you should have the 5% increased dmg from Rude Interruption, the 10% from the shout, hopefully the 10% from an MS crit, your trinkets and Deadly Calm. The initiate shouldn't live to cast a third Fieroblast. If he does, you are in a bit of trouble, but not too much.

When he is dead, start running to the other side of room, Heroic Leap, and then charge the Initiate. Be very careful though, to reach the Initiate you will need to avoid 2 worms that are in the way, the tank that is probably bringing the bird to eat a worm by then, and the brushfires. If you managed to kill the first initiate before the third Fieroblast, you will reach the second Initiate when he will begin to cast his first Fieroblast. If you didn't, that will go off unless someone else interrupts it, since you are probably still running or still killing the first initiate.

After the second initiate is dead, kill the bird and carry on to your closest Meteor. Remember you can either intervene an ally or charge the other Bird (if it's alive) since by then Firestorm will be soon, so the tank will be bring the bird to the meteor.

The third and fourth Initiates are way easier to deal with. You should have your shout back after the Firestorm, so line it up again with your interrupt so you will have a 15% buff. Kill the Initiate as normal and follow up to DPS the bird, since you'll have a lot of time until the fourth Initiate spawn. Be sure not to Charge the bird, since you want to have Charge available for the fourth Initiate.

You WON'T be able to kill the fourth Initiate before Firestorm, so don't try. You keep on the Initiate until there is 7-8 seconds left for Firestorm, because at that moment he'll cast his last Fieroblast, interrupt that and run to the Meteor to hide. After the Firestorm finish off the fourth Initiate and help kill the bird. Right side only has 4 Initiates while left side has 5 or 6. Do not go to the other side to help out with the Initiate, you'll have to cross the whole room to do that and risk a lot of worms and brushfires. Plus, you need to DPS the bird as soon as it spawn in order to kill it before tornados, and even by doing so you might not make it.

Tornados come and then burn phase. By the time the Tornados disappear and the burn phase starts you'll have all your cooldowns ready. You are now presented with a choice: use them or save them. If you save them, you'll use them on the First initiate and have a second P1 identical as the first one. If you use them in the burn phase things will get messy with the first and second initiates, since you'll spend more time on the first Initiate; the second Initiate will launch one or two Fieroblasts until you are able to reach him; you will barely be able to kill the Initiate before Firestorm so you won't have time to DPS the bird, risking a wipe behind meteors thanks to a bird cleaving.

Third and Fourth Initiates are always the same, the only trouble you have is at First and Second if you don't save your CDs.

Baleroc: DPS, DPS, DPS.

Staghelm: Bring an AoE spec for this one, although single target DPS is important, Arms has awesome multitarget DPS. Your tank and healers will appreciate that little tigers go down fast.

Ragnaros: I have one tip for P1, stay at max melee range, that way when you are pushed back, you'll be able to Charge back and gain Rage + 25% more crit to MS. You'll only be able to Charge back if you are at max melee range when pushed, if you are closer to the boss when pushed back, you'll be too close to be able to Charge.

And be very careful! I've known Warriors that for the sake of being at max melee range they chanced the wrath of the hammer! Thoughts like "Ok, two little steps in and the wave won't reach me, so I can get back fast to max melee range" are dangerous! Don't prioritize the chance of a Charge over your own safety!