Friday, March 20, 2009

3.1 Resto Druid Tree of Life Change

And suddenly, through the rain soaked skies, a brilliant golden crack split the malevolent clouds and a column of fiery light struck the cold and soaking Druid and the voice of angels spoke:
The Tree of Life talent currently grants bonus healing to group members and reduces the cost of your hots in tree form. We would like to change the talent to say "Reduces the mana cost of all your hots and also lets you go into tree form, which grants bonus healing." In other words, you
would not need to be in ToL to get the cheaper hots (in PvE or PvP) so long as you had the Tol talent. In PvP, you could still use tree form when you wanted to be more tanky but your efficiency would not be so bad when in caster form

Well, it probably didn't happen in such a melodramatic manner, but the devs just (if they follow through with this) gave us a damn nice buff.

This buff, while nice for PvE, is mainly a PvP buff. Why? Well, coming out of Tree form as a PvE Resto Druid is rarely called for and I can only think of just a few times in my WotLK raiding experience where I've intentionally come out of ToL in the middle of a fight: Once was when I was screwing around and trying to see how much kitty damage I could do while specced/geared for resto. The other time was when I cycloned a mind controlled teammate on KT so our DPS could keep working on KT instead of having to spend time cc'ing.

The reason why this buff is mainly a PvP buff is because PvP Resto Druid success comes from the versatility found in the Druid's various forms: Crowd control in Caster/Moonkin form, healing in Tree/Caster form, tanking melee in Tree/Bear form, and escape in Cat and Travel forms...all of which cost mana. Simply put, allowing the Druid to save mana by casting cheaper heals caster means that the Druid can spend more mana utilizing their versatility without being forced to sit in Dried Broccoli form, desperately trying to win the mana war. Stupid Druid tricks are what put Druids in the top spot back in TBC, and this change will give Druids a little bit of a nudge towards the top PvP healer spot, currently occupied by OPaladins.

Unfortunately, this change won't push us nearly as far in 3v3 and 5v5 as it will in 2v2. However, there is always the hope that Blizzard will do something to improve Druid throughput to help us counter burst damage.

Until then, lets hope that the devs are listening and the Lifebloom nerf gets reverted!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Consumable Content. Mark of Obsolete?

The very first of the modern MMO's that I've played (Legend of the Red Dragon and Tradewars 2002 don't count) was City of Heroes (CoH). CoH's content was what I call consumable content: once you had hit level 50 and received the very best Enhancements (aka Gear), There wasn't much real reason to redo content because it didn't give you any better advantage over anyone else or over any encounter in the game. As such, the developers suggested that you roll a new character and enjoy the game from a different perspective. For many PvP'ers and PvE'ers, this act of rerolling was a reasonably quick and fun activity, especially with the ability to powerlevel by using high level characters to repeatedly farm instanced quests for quick XP. Before some bugs were ironed out, it only took a few hours to get a brand new max level character. As reference, I only had 10 max level characters whereas some friends had 40+.

When I quit CoH and moved to WoW, one of the big revelations was WoW's emphasis on the amount of content available after I hit max level. There was, for the average gamer, a myriad of activities one could do to improve their gear, such that one could feasibly never run out of things to do...unless you were a Grand Marshal/High Warlord in a Naxx guild with maxxed -everything-, which wasn't that common. My days of having a stable of high level characters to choose to play was over because I became time limited. Not playing my main character would put me behind in Honor in the old PvP ranking system as well as losing out on potential raid spots in tradechat pugs. For the first time, I encountered the opposite of consumable content: repeatable content. This was content that, if repeated, would give me benefits. I wanted to run BWL multiple times for Tier 2 drops. I wanted to run ZG for Reputation for my enchants. I wanted to do BG's for hours on end because I needed Honor.

When TBC came out, some of that repeatable content became consumed content and going back to BWL became a ludicrous concept for any reason other than nostalgia. Why? There was no incentive to redo the old level 60 content because there were no positive gains possible with the old content. However, one smart thing that was implemented with TBC was the revolutionary badge system, represented by the infamous Badge of Justice (BoJ) as a reward for killing bosses found in Heroic 5 mans. There were certain pieces of gear that one could buy for varying amounts of BoJ's, many of which were top level items at the time.

As TBC progressed, more and more 'badge items' were added to the list of rewards, some of which cost an obscene number of BoJ's. However, these items were somewhat on par with the then current top end raid drops. In addition, Blizzard made some tweaks and included the badges as a side reward for killing raid bosses. Even with this tweak, Heroic 5 man runs remained firmly entrenched in the repeatable content column as both new 70's and seasoned raiders could benefit from the gear. Karazhan, the introductory level 70 raid, experienced unprecedented popularity as it was, as raiders put it, 'an easy 22 badges', even over a year and a half after the release of TBC.

When WotLK (LK) came out, all of the old TBC raids became consumed content and this time, Blizzard introduced two levels of badges with two independent sets of gear, each purchasable only with their respective badge. One badge was achievable through heroic 5 mans and 10 man raids, and the other was a reward for 25 man raids. Initially, it would be assumed that the 25 man badges would be hard to get by people who were not in a large enough guild to accomplish that content (and therefor out of reach by the general population), but as more and more people attempted the 25 man content, they found that the initial assumption was completely false. 25 man raids were easy enough for the average gamer to accomplish and obtain rewards from. In the worst case scenario, one could do the 25 man Vault of Archaevon raid every week and have at least 1 piece of il213 gear by now. Unfortunately, while one can trade down a 25 man badge (Emblem of Valor) for a 10 man badge (Emblem of Heroism), in a 1:1 ratio, the opposite is not true.

So where do we stand now? Well, 3.1 will bring us a third badge, the Emblem of Conquest, with its own item list, all with a higher item level than the current available gear. In terms of repeatable and consumable content, for many raiders, much of the 10 man content has already become filed under the 'consumed' column. There's simply little reason to run a Main through Naxx10 anymore as most raiders will already have mostly 25 man stuff by now, unless it's for fun or due to obligation.

To make a few predictions, I see no reason for non beginner raiders to continue with Naxx10 once 3.1 comes out. Uld10 gear will be better itemized and have greater item levels and the Emblem of Heroism badge rewards will be relatively obsolete, if not so already. Additionally, once Uld25 becomes reasonably clearable by the average raiding guild, Naxx25 will then become obsolete. I also forsee people who have come late to the LK raiding scene or alts as possibly having a rough time gearing up appropriately to tackle Uld10/25. To compare, in TBC, latecomers or rerollers could run a billion heroics/Kara and get ~T5/6 gear and remain reasonably competitive. A little 'brute force-esque', but still effective.

The big question is: has Blizzard shifted their design philosphy away from repeatablility and closer to a consumable state on purpose or is this just an oversight? From the availability of the Bind on Account items, the fact that many of those Bind on Account items grant bonus xp, and my overwhelming urge to level my old Mage, I'd have to say that we have, indeed, moved to a consumer culture.

...but is that a good thing?

PS: Another Blue post regarding the difficulty of Ulduar:
It is not a huge leap up in difficulty from Naxx, but it is a step up.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ulduar Designed to be Easy Mode?

Like many people out there in Internetland, I get several news feeds, but, one of my favorites is one that sends me Blue posts from Blizzard developers. Buried within one of the posts over the weekend was this juicy little tidbit:

Now Naxx was designed to be easy, and Ulduar isn't going to be alot
harder. Hard modes on the bosses though are designed to be very hard.



I'll be honest here. I really, reallly, really hoped that this next tier of raiding would actually bring out some challenges. Specifically, I wished that Ulduar would have encounters that would force individual players to get better or encounters that really punish players who have developed bad habits, because the last 9 months have been nothing but an AOE faceroll fest.

I had a pretty good discussion with a raider friend last night with regards to the concept of Progression raiding and WoW's history. The interesting part of this conversation is that this friend jumped into WoW right as TBC was ending, so the only raiding that raider friend had experienced was what I consider the bastardized version of WoW raiding: AOEing mobs down, no focus fire on adds, no CC's, and no penalties for plain being in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing.

The closest comparison, when trying to explain pre-Boss nerf TBC and Classic raiding, was to say, "It's was like doing a Heroic 5 man a few days after hitting 80. You have to CC, you have watch your mana, and you have to pray everyone does their role properly", and even then, I don't think my description conveyed the gut sense of what I was trying to get across because even now, in the first tier of LK raiding, no one uses cc in Heroics. First tier! We're not even at the equivalent of SSC/TK/ZA yet!

So what am I really trying to get at?

Upon reading that above quote, I felt like Blizzard was sucking all the uniqueness out of being a raider. Yes, I realize that millions of people play this game and millions of people raid every day so being a raider isn't unique in the sense of actually being one of a kind. However, in past years, clearing middle tier raid content started to separate the wheat from the chaff. Having the guild organization and the dedication to complete such content was special and was reasonably unique. It meant you were above being a UBRS/Kara guild, and those of us who have been around that long, know the drudgery of never moving up.

The drudgery of being in blues did do something positive though, it forced people to become more social. Small groups of friends created small guild alliances to raid high level content, people went out of their way to get to know others so that they could get raid invites if a more organized guild had openings in the runs, and being in a guild was a pretty big goal for everyone. Right now, on most servers, you can pug everything. You don't have to know anyone. You don't have to have many contacts. You don't have to be in a guild.

I often proclaimed in TBC, when I ran a guild, that "the real challenge to raiding didn't have anything to do with raiding". The real challenge was organizing 30+ people to move in the same direction instead of like 30 retarded lemmings, each following no one off a cliff. I found through trial and error that one way to bring people together is to have a group goal. Something people can get excited about. Raid bosses tend to bring that out in people, especially if they can't win the encounter through faceroll, because motivated players will take it upon their selves to work as a group to 'solve' the issues as to why they're not succeeding.

I may be jumping the gun in a big way here, but when a developer says that the new content won't be much harder, I see a lost opportunity for guild unity and more of a 'gravy train for epics' for a bunch of strangers.

Is there a PvP bent to this? You know me. Of course there is.

When PvE content becomes too easy, two things happen: 1) casual players avoid PvP. If its easier to get phat lewtz from pugging Naxx, they'll do it. 2) Since everyone is an End Game Raider, PvP burst damage becomes much harder to manage and PvP specific gear becomes much harder to itemize. Imagine that you're back in the second week of Season 3 and every Rogue you fight has Warglaives. That's what it's been like to fight vs many teams earlier this season.

I can't say I agree with this decision to tune Ulduar so that it "isn't going to be alot harder", but we'll see just how much of that ends up being true.